(I apologise in advance for the use of caps lock. Never a good sign when a review makes me use caps lock…)
Chrissie wakes every morning and does not know where she is. She doesn’t know who the man sleeping next to her is, and why the face in the mirror is twenty years older than it should be…
They really made a movie out of this? Well, it started with a strong premise, fair enough, but then quickly ran out of steam. Most of the book is section-break repetition of “Can I trust my husband? Yes. Oh, no, I can’t. Oh, yes, I can. Nope…changed my mind again.”
It really slows the pacing down.
I understand that Chrissie’s mental state is fragile and easily unbalanced, but it gets pretty wearing after two hundred pages, sometimes when it happens from one paragraph to the next. And when it’s essentially the only thing happening, it really slows the pacing down.
So, yes. Let’s talk about pacing. The writer seemed to think thriller means filler. Here’s a paraphrased example:
“I started washing the dishes in hot, soapy water. I made sure the bubbles were frothy before I started. I washed Ben’s breakfast plate. The doorbell rang. I put down the sponge. I dried my hands on a tea towel. I walked to the front door. There was a man there.”
GET. ON. WITH IT.
And I was wondering what about the narrative voice was annoying me until I realised that Christine doesn’t use contractions, making her stilted and artificial:
“I think Ben does not hear me walk into the kitchen. I do not hear him move from the sofa. He has walked into the kitchen behind me. But he does not talk.”
For most of the story, there’s not much else going on but stilted narrative and clumsy dialogue (“It’s your novel,” he said. “The one you wrote”. As opposed to her novel she didn’t write?).
By the time the last third came around, I just wanted to be finished and done. Which is a shame, because the last third is where all the good stuff happens. But by then, it’s too late to save it.
Have you read any books where the story starts off strongly then fades out? Let me know!
Shen and Lawrie are the last humans to be born…or will ever be born. A global infertility epidemic four generations ago made every woman sterile, and the human race destined to die out within the next hundred years. They spend their days mud larking and cataloguing the past, until an accident reveals a truth about their world…
Another solid and remarkable story from Lauren James. She’s rapidly becoming one of my favourite writers, even though this is only the second book of hers I’ve read. Her world building and characterisation is elegant and subtle, and her research feels solid and reliable. This is an end of the world you can feel and touch.
Their romance isn’t insta-love either, but a slow and sensuous burn.
Delightfully, Lawrie is bisexual, and it isn’t her defining characteristic. I’ve read too many YA books recently where it’s the only thing about the character that exists in any solidity, but not here. Lawrie and Shen are both rounded and fully developed characters in their own right, despite their preferences. Their romance isn’t insta-love either, but a slow and sensuous burn of low heat, of shared touches that eventually turn into something more.
There are deeper themes as well about what it means to be human and what it means to love and exist on the edge of extinction and about how it feels to have the responsibility to the rest of your species behind you. How your parents can coddle you or let you experience the world for yourself – and more importantly fail for yourself.
I’ll never know if my experience would be better if I hadn’t worked the twists out.
There was a plot twist about a third of the way through which I mentally called about fifty pages in, so it didn’t come as a surprise to me when it turned up. Another twist at the end was telegraphed earlier as well, so neither of them made me jump in surprise. It felt like it took something away from the story to know they were coming; I’ll never know if my experience would be better if I hadn’t worked them out.
I didn’t see the ending coming though, or a delightful, subtle echo that had been running throughout the whole story that was revealed towards the end. That was a lovely touch – sorry to be so vague, but spoilers would ensue if I wasn’t.
What didn’t work for me was the dialogue between Shen and Lawrie. Mostly, it felt flat and laboured and slipped towards cliché and overused expressions. Their dialogue didn’t seem as strong as that between Lawrie and her parents, for instance. When that major plot twist happens I was just talking about, James feels it necessary to repeat herself three times in three pages, just to make sure we all got it. It felt a little laboured and repetitive in places.
In all though, a book I savoured like a good wine. I shall be back for more Lauren James!
Who’s the best new author you’ve discovered this year? Let me know!
Romy Silvers is the most isolated human in the history of humanity. For six years, she hasn’t touched another human being. She’s never felt the rain on her face, or sat under a tree. Her only company has been a TV show beamed to her from NASA, two light years behind her lonely spacecraft. But someone is coming, catching her up…
I don’t like to drop reviews under such a full spoiler tag, but this book makes me feel like it would be impossible to talk about without it. Look away now if you haven’t read it.
Romy’s follower on his spaceship is a boy called J – or so she thinks. I doubted from the start that J would be as wonderful as he was pretending to be, but when the absolute bombshell of what he’d been doing to Romy dropped in act three, my eyes widened and I swore internally. I never expected it to be so huge.
His manipulation – and downright torture – of Romy is textbook grooming and psychological manipulation. Not only has he isolated her from earth (under the very believable pretense of an imaginary war), he’s sending messages back to earth pretending to be her. He’s also pretending to send messages to her from earth from the “UPR”, a replacement government.
It’s grooming in space, and there’s not a damn thing Romy can do.
He forces Romy to live in the dark, to shower less, to flush the toilet less, all in an attempt to utterly degrade her and control her before he arrives. It’s grooming in space, and there’s not a damn thing Romy can do about it.
You know the best part? Romy doesn’t give in. She never yields or submits to J, even when he tries again to fool her later in the story. Romy is a young woman who won’t quit, despite her insecurities and her self-doubt. She really is stronger than she realises, and she’s a great character because of it.
It’s a wonderful story, full of subtleties and warmth. Parents who try and give their daughter the best life they can, despite the circumstances, and a daughter who loved them and misses them. We really get a feel for Romy and her isolation and cocooned existence. In one instance, she gets cold and doesn’t realise it: She’s never experienced anything other than 24 centigrade temperatures her entire life. Messages sent to earth won’t make it for two years. She really is all alone out there.
So NASA ships run on Windows?
If I have a problem with it, they’re only small ones: The use of zip files, mp3s and pdfs made me frown. So NASA ships run on Windows? And will they really do so in 2048? Mp3s are already being replaced by AACs, for instance. Romy also seems immature for a young woman given such heavy responsibilities. Given her only interactions have been with adults, I would expect to mature faster, not slower.
But as I said, these are only minor points. This is a gripping and thrilling read, and well worth it.
There’s a problem with the human race: For fifty years or so, no girls have been born. Until Eve comes along into the remains of a civilisation that has nearly torn itself apart…
Well, where did that go wrong? The four hundred pages of this seemed to take me forever to read…it seems longer than the two weeks I have it listed as “reading.”
I had hopes something was going to happen as the pace picked up.
It’s the first part of a trilogy, so I wasn’t expecting all the answers to be rounded up by the end. What I was expecting was something more than a painfully slow incremental drip of plot points that tip into something actually happening only 300 pages in. By then, the book was nearly over. I had hopes something was going to happen as the pace picked up…then it dropped off again. So much of this story seemed slow filler that should have been trimmed.
The world building is repetitive and dull. I lost count of the number of times a character describes the waterproofing of their underground home, always with the same details – the rubber panels that drip water, the pipes that snake across corridors. I lost count when we were told something about a character and then had it repeated two pages later. (“They were here to see Eve’s father, Ernie.” A page later: “Ernie – Eve’s father”). The place where Eve is secluded is described as a tower, a dome and mountain-like. Which is it?
A plot-important location falls out of the sky in the later part of the book, and conveniently, Bram instantly knows where it is to the point where they can find it with GPS. How?
Eve often chooses a dramatic course of action as an end–of-chapter hook.
Characterisation is inconsistent. Eve is suddenly aggressive and rebellious, then passive again a chapter later. She is determined to find the truth of her existence, but then gets sleepy and forgets all about it. She often chooses a dramatic course of action as an end–of-chapter hook, then never follows it up. Bram is unable to fight against his father, but manages to kick ass against other males.
There’s no chemistry between Bram and Eve, and the dialogue between them is stilted and insipid. The villain of the piece, Vivian
(She’s obviously a hologram of Isaac Wells),
is mainly petty and a cardboard thin character.
There are a lot of parallels between this and Rapunzel, obviously: A lone woman in a tower (dome/mountain) with limited experience of the world. But there are also a lot more with The Truman Show, even the ending
where Vivian even tells Eve as a voice from the clouds, “You won’t be safe out there”.
The most fun I had with the book was Bram out of the tower and exploring flooded and forgotten London. It gave the story a sense of place that was desperately lacking.
I won’t be back for part two or three.
Have you ever been suckered by a pretty cover and an interesting premise that didn’t work? Let me know!
When Kam gets in an accident that leaves him brain damaged, his brother Sef comes up with an idea to raise money to help him: Dare him to pull pranks. Enlisting the help of social-media expert Claire, things begin to spiral out of control…
It made it hard to guess where you were in the story and how much you had left to go.
This is one of those books where the narrative splits half way through, comes back together, then splits chapter by chapter until the end. Claire’s “half” of the book is flipped and inverted from Sef’s, which I thought was a nice touch. It made it hard to guess where you were in the story and how much you had left to go, which isn’t something you come across often in a story.
What did confuse me was the different fonts used for Sef messaging Claire and Claire messaging Sef, which were intermixed with their own internal voices. Got a little fuzzy who was talking and thinking there a few times.
And yet they felt so flat and predictable.
First the bad news: Claire’s half didn’t grip me at all. Her friends and her relationships with them felt so exactly calculated, you could almost guess to the page where they would be resolved. Despite that, everyone felt very real and their dialogue and characterisation were all spot on. And yet they felt so flat and predictable. No one acted out of character or threw up any surprises.
Sef’s half of the book though…wow. There’s a real sense of his absolute agony and guilt over his brother’s injuries, the explanation of which is hinted at but never explained until the end. And we’re right there with him, going through it as he does and feeling it all. Sef is unpredictable and wild and will do anything to help his brother. It lends his half of the story a sharp edge, and that edge cut me enough to make me tear up a few times.
His story resonated with me on a personal level as well – I had a brother who would dare to do anything. Only one of his didn’t work, and he never came back from it alive. So I certainly felt more connected to Sef than Claire.
I’ve read Non Pratt before, and I know she does tend to veer towards melodrama at points, but there’s only one instance I noticed it and it only bounced me out of the story for a few pages. It didn’t take long before I was right back in the story.
Pratt is an extremely talented writer, and her characters come alive and off the pages. There’s nothing flat here except the predictable sub-plots in the first half. Apart from that, it crackles and jumps with life…and desperation.
I have been reading Charles Dickens for quite a while. I started with A Tale of Two Cities at some point in the 20th century. My mum had an old copy published in the 1950s, I think.
It was kind of weird, since it was my first classic. It took a while to get into the language and the fact people took a page to ask for something simple. There were paragraphs that went on forever. Characters would say things like, “My G–!” and it would be written blanked out just like that. But there was enough there that I wanted to read more.
It wasn’t until 2011 or so when I joined Goodreads and started putting together a TBR list that I decided I was going to read all of Dickens, but I didn’t really make a conscious decision to do it until I found his complete works on Kindle and realised how many I’d already finished. Physical shelf space is an issue when you’re talking about someone who wrote fourteen beefy novels, after all.
So I can’t tell you exactly when I started; I can’t tell you when I decided to go through the whole works; But I can tell you I finished his novels with The Pickwick Papers on the 8th September 2019 at about 1:00PM.
And that’s just his novels – I still have his short stories to go through.
So who was this guy?
I know a bit about Dickens. I know his dad was thrown in prison for debt, and Chuck had to go work at a seriously menial job pasting labels on jars for a while at the age of twelve. Prisons, debt and the lives of the poor run through his stories and his strongest writing is there. He knows the dankness and the dregs of London intimately. He can’t write a female character to save his life.
I know he wasn’t above ditching a plot when it wasn’t working. He sold books in serial form to a specific word count every month, and if his sales dropped one month, he was on it instantly. There are times when plot follows plot until the public got something they liked.
At the bottom of it all is a man who feels like he was in it for the money. He never forgot the public was paying the bills, and wasn’t above toadying to them when they didn’t like what was going on. None of this “write for yourself” for Charlie.
And if his word count was down for the month, he had no hesitation slapping in filler. Oh, so, so much filler! I’ve read a chapter that was nothing more but the description of an inn. For a whole ten pages!
Was it worth it?
Of his fourteen novels, the ones that stand out are the ones most people have heard of: David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations. To that list I’d add Hard Times, which is one I think slips by most people and which surprised me. If you want to experience Dickens, you could read those and call it good.
Avoid Barnaby Rudge and Martin Chuzzlewit. Oliver Twist I can take or leave – there’s an awfully contrived coincidence which is really hard to swallow. The same with Nicholas Nickelby…there’s a lot of filler there.
Charlie was a Victorian, so don’t expect anything from his women but fainting spells and fits (Read Wilkie Collins if you want kick ass Victorian women). His villains are a melodramatic bunch, of course. And since he’s a Victorian, happy endings are a guarantee.
In the end though, I have cried and I have laughed with the characters he created.
I’d call that time well spent.
Have you ever worked your way through an entire authors works? Let me know!
“Being an account of the Pickwick Club”, of Victorian London. (Actually, slightly before Victoria. This was written in 1836, and she didn’t reign until 1837).
I’m glad I didn’t start with this one.
Phew. This was the last Dickens novel I had to read before I finished his fourteen novels…and what a drag it was. I’m glad I didn’t start with this one or I would have lost interest much quicker.
For the first third of the book, Dickens isn’t doing much more than transcribing stories he’s heard or has written down from other people. The book goes like this: Mr Pickwick (or his friends) go somewhere by coach. They meet someone. Someone tells them a story. Repeat for the first dozen chapters.
Perhaps that’s the problem: A lot of this doesn’t feel like his story. There was little through line or plot development to interest me.
There are flashes here and there of what he could accomplish.
I’d seen reviews where it said the story does get better as it goes along, and to be fair it does. But not by much. Dickens stretches his literary muscles and writes for a few chapters about his favourite topic – the poor and the mired in debt. There are flashes here and there of what he could accomplish: brilliant descriptive passages of rainy and foggy London streets, rural coach rides through August fields. There’s some nice wordplay with names – a doctor called Nockemorff (knock-em-off. It took me a while!) and a man called Smorltork (Which sounds like something IKEA might sell to me).
But it’s butter spread too lightly on a thin toast. If you ever feel like working your way through Dickens, start with Oliver Twist and then come back to this one.
Next post: Dickens. Was it worth it?
Do you have a favourite Dickens or classic author? Let me know!
Danny Lodge is one of the unlucky ones when World War Three breaks out – he’s one of the survivors…
First up: I don’t usually mention covers of books, which change from edition to edition, but this one was particularly hideous. I feel like someone let their kid play with Photoshop for ten minutes. Small wonder YA was so unappreciated for so long…
I would have been reading this when I was twelve when it came out.
The book was written in 1984, so it falls right into the middle of my demographic – I would have been reading this when I was twelve when it came out, right in the middle of my watching Threads and The Day After and I have no doubt it would have left a permanent impact on me if I had come across it.
And since it was published in 1984, it’s an interesting experience to see how much YA has matured since. Characterisation is non-existent and the events are sanitised and far more cosmetic than they would be today. Radiation sickness, third degree burns and nuclear winter are all off page or non-existent.
The last YA I read was Dry by Neal / Jarrod Shusterman, published in 2019, and what a difference that was…
I don’t mean this as a criticism of 80s YA. This is simply how it worked for a long time. There was no perception that teenagers could handle anything more than the slim thirty thousand words this book contains, no perception they could handle more than cardboard characters.
One plus for that shortness is that the book zooms along, event after event, with little pause for reflection or for the characters to catch up.
Swindells decides to really go for it.
Then something happens roughly three quarters of the way through: Swindells decides to really go for it. He pours on the bleakness and desperation and ramps it up. This is the book we should have been reading from the first pages, and it’s grim and sobering stuff.
Even sanitised and cleaned, it’s a brutal exploration of a war that might still happen.
Have you ever found a great book hiding behind a hideous cover? Let me know!
No one has seen them and survived. No one knows what they look like – or even if they exist as more than mass hysteria. All people know is the result when they do see one: psychotic rage and suicide. Malorie doesn’t believe it until her sister becomes another victim…
Despite there being moments of absolute and complete cold terror in this story, it all felt flat to me. There’s far too much telling and not enough showing going on. I can understand it when the characters are blindfolded (“Tom sounded happy.”), but not when the blindfolds are off.
I’d rate it a lot higher if I felt for these people.
Because of that, there’s a distance between the characters and their fates that left the apocalyptic climax empty and hollow. Which is a shame; I’d rate it a lot higher if I felt for these people rather than had them described to me.
There are other structural problems as well: Malerman also tells most of the story through flashback, and when flashbacks happen inside that flashback, it’s time to look at that structure again. In one instance, a flash forward takes place inside a flashback. There’s a relationship implied between Malorie and another character, but there’s no evidence of it going on in the story.
We only hear the world, not smell it or feel it.
It’s not easy to take a visual medium like a book and turn it into a world of sounds, and for the most part, Malerman pulls that off very well. But again, there are problems: Malerman focuses on sounds, not smells or textures. We only hear the world, not smell it or feel it.
When the characters are outside in the absolute darkness of their blindfolds, we are as blind as they are, and the mere snap of a twig sends them into a fear for their lives and sends a shock from us. It’s a terrifying feeling, and it stems from a very primal fear: One day, we might wake up blind.
As an extra note, I haven’t seen the movie. But I bet this is one instance where it works better than the book.
Have you seen Bird Box? Is it better than the book? Let me know!
Awaking in a forest, Aiden Bishop has no idea of who he is. He has no idea where he is, or how he came to be there. And, in fact, he doesn’t seem to be himself at all. In short order, he’s informed that’s he’s looping through the same day as different people. He has eight “days” to solve a murder that was never solved…
I’m not sure what to make of Seven… I haven’t read many murder mysteries, and when I do, I always think I’ve missed giant clues that I should have picked up. Sometimes I have trouble picking up the subtext in conversations and actions in stories, and it doesn’t help. The detective gets all excited about something small, and I’m wondering what obvious thing I missed.
It’s fairly traditional in its format: Isolated country house, everyone has a secret (including the maids), people being hit on the head, poisoned, and shot with a variety of weapons. Information is introduced towards the end that means you couldn’t possibly have solved the murder before the protagonist, and the murderer or detective often spends a chapter explaining what they did.
I was expecting something more…off the wall for such a fun concept
I wanted to rate Seven higher, maybe four stars, but hiding under the body-swapping and time-looping is a fairly traditional murder-mystery with a fairly traditional resolution. I think I was expecting something more…off the wall for such a fun concept.
I would have liked to have seen all eight hosts converging on the murderer, or more interaction between them. But because the hosts days are linearly explored, it wasn’t an option without giving away the murderer on loop one. I would have liked to have seen more dialogue and situations from (say) host four to host two, and then seen it from host two to host four, to compare their internal monologues. Even so, if they ever make a movie of it, it’s going to be mind-bending trying to keep it all straight.
A character blackmails another in loop two by finding evidence in loop six
There are some fun time-bending things going on though, like when Aiden talks to himself from a later loop, then repeats it the next loop from the other characters perspective. To give a sense of linearity to the whole thing, Turton takes a character and makes them bed-ridden for the whole day. We pop back into them now and then for some exposition and explanations before popping back out again, a nice touch. A character blackmails another in loop two by finding evidence in loop six, which won’t be for four “days”.
To add to the fun, Aiden keeps meeting a secondary character out of chronological order – for her. I’d love to see the story from her point of view!
Murder and life become cheap when the person you kill is alive again in twelve hours.
One of the deeper themes of the book is who we become when we have no consequences to face in the morning. Murder and life become cheap when the person you kill is alive again in twelve hours’ time. There’s nothing like a mask to bring out our real personalities, a character says. Aiden struggles with that throughout the book, trying to find and keep himself in his hosts sometimes unattractive personalities.
Because it isn’t really my genre, some of the nods to Agatha Christie and other murder mysteries may have gone over my head, which is a shame. It felt like there was a sequel hook or two as well – the character running the loop says someone else is investigating a murder on an ocean liner.
Despite how well researched and planned this story was, I still feel Turton could have done even more with it. Next time around, maybe!
If you like murder-mysteries, did this one work for you? Let me know!