illegitimi non carborundum

illegitimi non carborundum

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Imagine if you will a world not quite like our own. One thing is different. It is the seed that grows the tree of our alternative realities. In 1984, we had a different outcome during WWII. In The Handmaid’s Tale, birth rates are down and it’s all out fault. We use pills to mess up our hormones, condoms to prevent conception and abort it if we don’t want it. Fewer and fewer women are getting pregnant and the extremist Christians get to do their ‘told you so’ dance. They overthrow the government and step in to fix the mess they warned us so frequently about. Passages of the bible are taken literally and women are reduced to their basic biological function. Those that can produce, will. Warning, this is a very blunt review.

This book is terrible. For many reasons. Firstly, terrible things are happening to our narrator: Offred. She’d named so because she is the Handmaid of Fred. She belongs to him, his household and his country’s future survival. All of the staff gather for the ceremony; the reading of the bible and then husband, wife and handmaid are excused into another room. If you had healthy ovaries or had children ‘before’ this was your life now under the watchful of everyone. Her life is dictated her the bible and the new regime and it’s terrible. And the telling isn’t not great either.

Offred is not a wordsmith. Her life is dire and repetitive. This comes across in the writing. She doesn’t exactly transport us to a new world; the sights, the smells and scenery. But who would want to? It reads like a documentary, a diary, non fiction. Given that handmaids like the majority of Gilead can not communicate or write, our narrator conveys facts over feelings. As if she knows she’s speaking to someone outside the boundaries, someone that can help. That doesn’t stop her throwing out the odd commentary on the state of affairs with her favourite swear word: fuck. So it’s not all terrible, Offred has a great sense of purpose. She knows how things should be and that she has to survive to be reunited with her daughter. We’re cheering her on from the sidelines.

I have always meant to read this book as it’s a modern classic. With the announcement of the television series, I bought it and reading it as soon as possible. I have now seen the TV series and I have to say, and I never say this, the TV series is better than the book. The Hulu production gave us so much more than the book could because it can. The book, it transpires, is an organised collection of tapes that were discovered after the fall of Gilead. Offred is not a bad narrator, she is a restricted narrator. With the magic of television, we find out what happened to characters after the formation of this ‘great’ society. And if you read my rambled frequently, you know I always want more. It was far more satisfying than the book. And we’ve only been given the first season. Timed perfectly too. I could discuss why but then this would turn into an essay. I’ll end with Fuck You Trump. Illegitimi non carborundum.   

Second Life by SJ Watson

Second Life by SJ Watson

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I don’t know if you can call yourself a fan of an author if you’ve only read one of their books. But if they only have one, that’s hardly their fault. I read Before I Go to Sleep a while ago. Certainly before it become what I understand to be a pretty average movie. I haven’t seen it. I liked the book. It’s twist caught me by surprise through clever writing and the now infuriating troupe of the unreliable narrator (more on that next week). So I was more than happy to jump into his second book: Second Life. Once upon a time, I called myself a fan of SJ Watson.

“She knows what she’s doing. She’s out of control. She’s innocent. She’s guilty as sin. She’s living two lives. She might lose both…” I was drawn in by these conflicting ideas and brutal murder. Julia learns her sister is violently killed in an alley in France, the killer is at large. With no leads or suspects, Julia becomes obsessed with finding truths and answers, and she is willing to risk it all. Her sister isn’t a saint. She uses the darker side of the web to find … friends. Our narrator thinks in order to trap the killer, she must mimic her dead sister. She begins her second life and falls in lust. This, of course, fucks everything up.

I shouldn’t judge a book on ‘plausibility’; my favourite novels include magic and aliens. However, things can go too far. Julia is consumed with finding out the truth she puts herself in great danger. I love my sister but if I believed she was murdered by a sex mad bloke off the Internet I wouldn’t start meeting sex mad blokes off the Internet. Would you? Nothing is going to bring her back, will the truth really bring her closure or does she just enjoy the thrill of her new secret life?

The truth will shock. There are no clues to the reveal making it seem contrived. I fear this is a fashionable summer read that will be lost with the other shocking, unreliable narrator crime books with massive twists that all merge into one when discussed at dinner parties. ‘I couldn’t believe it was the husband all along, wait I think that was someone else. Wasn’t it the long lost twin brother? Never mind, did you see Bake Off last night?’ Success is a tough act to follow, I await the third to know if I am a fan.

Gods and Conquerors

Gods and Conquerors

I like space. Every time I read a new science fiction book with rockets and aliens I fall deeper in love. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet: Loved it. The Book of Strange New Things: fascinating. Space Jam: Classic. Okay, that last one isn’t a book but it’s the standard I hold most things too. For me science fiction is a way of exploring modern day politics in the ‘safer’ setting of a fictional out of space world. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet: diversity. The Book of Strange New Things: colonisation. Space Jam: don’t mess with Earth. One thing’s for certain, space is dangerous.

Gods and Conquers is set on another world. A small crew seize the one way ticket off of planet Earth and head into the unknown. Why? Because it’s there. Why are they leaving Earth? All will be explained. When the team lead by James Verne awake from their ship they are met with desert. They pilgrim into a town to find it empty and abandoned. There are hints of the life that once inhabited the tower blocks. There are also sinister hint that they know about humans begging the question; who conquered who first?

This is Aaron Kane Heinemann’s first novel and it’s unlike anything I’ve read before. The author knows every detail of his character’s lives and personality. Each of them have their own secrets and struggles. They must face their mortality as their own chance of returning home is left smouldering behind them. Like many science fiction greats that has come before, this book is not afraid to ask big questions and deep themes. Heinemann just does it in his own special way; using impossible metaphors and using smilies that would put the classics to shame. An epic story and a telling that is out of this world.    

Gone by Michael Grant

Gone by Michael Grant

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If there’s one thing I can’t get enough of is dystopian fiction. We all know the Hunger Games and many may turn their noses up claiming to have read the original Battle Royal, the genre is heaving. I admit, I’m a little late to the game but I have finally begun the Gone series by Michael Grant. Being a fan of the genre, hearing colleagues swoon over it and finding the first book in a charity shop for a pound, I jumped straight to it knowing that all the books were out and nothing was going to slow me down. I’m so clever and wise because it happened: I am hooked.

So here’s the situation, it’s a normal day. Sam is at school and ‘poof’. He finally looks up to the board and sees that his teacher has disappeared and so have some of the boys in his class. There’s noise in the corridor. All the teachers have disappeared. There’s awkward jokes about school being over, no more teachers and no more homework. Something is very wrong. Everyone over the age of 15 have disappeared: ‘poofed’. There’s not parents at home, no grown ups, no police and no idea what or why this is happening. This is the ‘Lord of the Flies’ aspect of the commonly used description of ‘modern day, supernatural Lord of the Flies’.

The supernatural was the unique selling point for me, that’s what makes it stand out from the other dystopian fiction I’ve read. Apart from ridiculously advanced technology, other novels and series I have read have been entirely plausible. A great wealth divide and killing for entertainment? That’s seems to be the way the world is going. In Gone, there is not reasonable explanation for the disappearance, and don’t get your hopes up about getting one. I loved the hints to the nuclear power plant. Is it to blame or worse, who will control it?

Another UPS (my word of the moment, not sorry), is the power struggle. Before, we have seen this with rich versus poor or young versus old. That’s not the case here as children don’t carry too much for money. After the adults disappear, most of the children revelled in eating sweeties and staying up past their bedtime. They didn’t think much about raiding daddy’s wallet or claiming land. The land is owned by all and is declared: the Fayz (Fallout Alley Youth Zone). The rival comes from a secret. This is a promising start to a series. I expect many more twists and reveals as these children grow… that is up until the age of fourteen years and 363 days.

The Girls by Emma Cline

The Girls by Emma Cline

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They say you should never judge a book it by it’s cover, but should you judge it on it’s blurb? How does this sound: “Willingly, Evie begins to drop into their tranquilised circle, oblivious of the danger that sits so cruelly at its centre. If not for Suzanne, she might not have gone. But, intoxicated by her and the life she promises, Evie follows the girls back to the decaying ranch where they live.” I’d heard rumours that it was Charles Manson-esque thriller of hypnotising leaders and deadly consequences. Being a morbid and fascinated with serial killers, I dived right in. I knew it was fiction, what I did not know was how dull such events could be.

Our leading lady is a fourteen year old by the name of Evie. She has troubles at home so it’s easy to see why a carefree life without the restrictions of money would be so appealing. Evie lives as her grandmother’s granddaughter and her mother’s child. Being a famous actress, their late grandmother left them comfortable. There’s nothing exciting about confortable. She sees girls rummaging through a bin and she envies their beauty, grace and nerve. She follows them, befriends, becomes ‘part’ of their world through a series of intimate meetings with the ranches leader and guests.

Unlike some of the other girls, she does not fully commit herself. She keeps one toe at home, leaving and returning much to the leader’s pleasure. Evie’s not vying for the leader’s attention, she wants to be accepted by The Girls. One in particular: Suzanne. To be honest, it was a disappointing read but this is my own fault. I’d heard parts of the story and the bits that thrilled me are second place. They happened to be going on in the background. This is a coming of age story of someone who is bored and listless. She is constantly an outsider to this ‘family’ and that wasn’t satisfying as a reader. Did not meet expectations.

Truth or Dare by Non Pratt

Truth or Dare by Non Pratt

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Never have I had to pick up a book and make sure I was reading it the right way around. One story and two sides. As this is teen fiction, these two people are two complete opposites. Our girl is shy and our guy is bold. Our girl has been the laughing stock of the school and our guy is popular. Claire Casey and Sef Malik team up to create the internet duo known as Truth Girl and Dare Boy. They’re not seeking YouTube stardom, its for a good cause. It’s to support Dare Boy’s brother’s care.

There’s a lot of comedy to come from opposites being in such a tight space; their studio is a sheet up in a caravan. There’s a lot of drama to come such high stakes. There’s a lot of heart to come from finding the real person. I was so engrossed with these two characters because I cared so much but that’s the nature of the game. Truth and dare. Their dares made them fun. The truth made them human and unfortunately, that was lacking. The details of the video were said in passing. The drive is the fundraising but the channel made it an entertaining read. That’s really the only criticism I have, and is it a criticism? To want more? A book full of the thrill of running away from pranks and the dangers of running away from your problems.

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

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Survival. Survival. Survival. This is a book about survival. The place is Poland and the time is 1939. Anna is just seven years old when her father disappears. He said he would only been gone for a few hours and she is left in the care of a friend. When her father doesn’t return, she is thrown out on the street to fend for herself until she meets The Swallow Man. A gentleman who is more chameleon than a small bird. War is coming and the Swallow Man knows how to survive.

They leave for the cover of the woods. It’s cold and barren. They live on the smallest amounts of food and thin clothing. Winters and summers come and go. Anna learns how to forage but with the threat of war the most important technique she learns is how to adapt to people. The Swallow Man teaches her how to let the other party speak first. Mimic their language and mannerisms. You must present yourself as an ally rather than a foe. Never speak first and speak Road; a mixture of this technique and a back story that will help them live another day.

This book reminded me a lot of Our Endless Numbered Days. It is a survival story. Unlike Our Endless Numbered Days, there seems to be no end because there is no past and present told at the same time. There is only the present. Much like for Anna and the Swallow Man, we don’t know the destination or how many days they have. The only end we know is the end of the book. You’re running out of pages and there’s no hint of a resolution. How will it all end?! I wonder if the author knew or like Anna, we take each day as it comes and hope for a tomorrow.