Book Review: The Silent Bluebird

The Silent Bluebird was a decent novel. Was it a masterpiece? No. Was it fun-filled, fast-paced and free-flowing? Absolutely. It balances tension and humour well, and has lots of vivid descriptions that help facilitate the creation of mental images. I didn’t think it was perfect, but that it showed the potential of Elle M. Holmes, given it’s her debut novel.

The premise of the novel is that two secret agencies, the Zeta Defence Agency and Domino, are locked in a secret, perpetual conflict. One wants to use their influence to mold the world to their satisfaction, the other to guard against such maleficence. The advent of a device that can read a person’s thoughts, however, dramatically changes how they go about their missions.

I really like the main protagonist, Sadie. She has a tragic upbringing, and Holmes uses this to bring depth to her character, without it overshadowing her inquisitive personality. She is very thoughtful and considerate, as well as knowledgeable, and i found it very easy to empathise with her (although that might just be that I see part of myself in her). I felt that the author did a good job of making each supporting character unique and noteworthy, with my personal favourites being Piper and Allyn. However, the villains did feel quite flat, and it would have been nice if their motivations had been explained further, so that they might have been more compelling.

On the whole, I thought the pacing of the story was good, and the plot twists were well-utilized, and some were definitely unexpected. This all created the feeling of a more traditional thriller, with a speculative fiction slant, than a more typical speculative fiction novel. My key reasoning for saying this is that I feel some of its more thought-provoking themes were not explored fully, like the moral ramifications of technology that could invade thoughts. However, I thought that the quandaries plaguing some of the characters lent depth to the novel overall, specifically when they related to family.

The ending was satisfying, both nicely setting up the sequel, while still neatly tying off the book in a way that makes it enjoyable as a stand alone read. I really appreciated how Holmes peppered in small references throughout the book that make callbacks to earlier events, most of which are easy to miss if close attention wasn’t paid. I felt this added to the general spy feel of the novel. Nevertheless, some of the plot points felt a little too convenient, which didn’t particularly bother me, but I am aware this is something that many readers don’t like.

My largest issue with the book was that the dialogue was a little lackluster. I felt it often felt forced or unnatural, which could have been (counterintuitive as it sounds) because it tried to reflect real speech too much. This led to some dull moments, because reading how we actually speak is not hugely exciting. However, I did feel this was less of a problem as I got further into the book.

Overall, I found the novel to be a very digestible read. I thought the raw potential was there, even if it felt a little unpolished, and am excited to see what Holmes’ next novel brings. Therefore, I give it 4.5 out of 7.

Thank you to both Elle M. Holmes and Rosie for arranging a free copy of this book for me.

#RRABC Book Review: Jonah

I don’t typically enjoy war stories, specifically those set during World War 2. However, Jonah being set at sea made it stand apart from other books I’ve read from the same time period. Being on a ship inherently creates tension, since there is no escape, and Carl Rackman leans heavily into this. Moreover, this novel has very little combat (other than a battle scene at the very beginning), and is more a look at naval life, with a supernatural undertone.

The book focuses on the life of Mitch Kirkham aboard the US Navy destroyer Brownlee. After surviving a horrific battle, the novel explores Mitch’s naval experiences, and through his interactions, other experiences of different characters. It deals with PTSD and bullying, before switching direction with the introduction of ‘The Brownlee Beast’.

I thought that the character of Mitch was excellent, as Rackman made him feel relatable by having him grapple with moral quandaries. He means well, but doesn’t always make the best choices – similar to most real people. Furthermore, it is very easy to feel sympathy for him, as he often gets into bad situations through no fault of his own.

Many of the supporting characters were also good, with my favourite being Doc. While not actually a doctor, he had rudimental medical training as the pharmacologist onboard. I felt drawn to his strong moral compass and his relentless work ethic. While many of the other characters were strong, I would have liked more development of the captain since he appears in quite a few scenes without us really understanding his motivations.

The author’s deep naval knowledge was obvious, but technical vocabulary never impeded my reading. He created a glossary at the end of the book, but I never felt the need to use this, since he did such a good job of making the meaning of new words obvious by the surrounding paragraph. It felt very well blended.

I don’t want to talk about the themes for too long, as I can’t mention some of the most interesting ones in case I spoil anything. However, I found the examination of chain of command very interesting, as well as the somewhat toxic culture that was found aboard the ship. That being said, the main aim of this book seems to me to be to entertain, which it does very well.

The mysterious element of the book is handled very well, and it kept me guessing until the final reveal. The action is also paced very well, with the tension staying with me long after I’d put the book down for the night.

However, I found the ending to be unsatisfying. The pacing was again good, and it felt like a proper climax, but the resolution just felt too perfect. There were also flashbacks interspersed throughout the book that, while I didn’t dislike them, and thought they were very well written, didn’t seem to add anything to the plot as a whole.

Overall, this book was a 5.5 out of 7 for me. It was easy to get into and this ease of reading continued throughout. The few small things I wasn’t a personal fan of are easily outweighed by the well-crafted plot and relatable characters. I would recommend it to anyone who likes thrillers, especially historical ones, as well as fans of psychological horror (since it shares some similar elements, while not strictly falling into that genre).

Book Review: One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich

One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich demonstrates the utter inhumanity of Russian gulags. It’s worth reading just for this reason. However, I don’t feel it has much more to offer other than a unique look at a horrific time period.

As you might expect, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s novel follows the protagonist Ivan Denisovich (more commonly referred to as Shukhov) for an entire day. It portrays the grueling work the prisoners were subjected to, the savagery of the camp warders, and the injustice that seeps into every single part of camp life.

The book is made particularly poignant by the small details and intricate knowledge of gulag life, which can be provided since the author was himself in a work camp for two years. His experience is said to have haunted him, and it serves the text well. All the details leave a clear imagine in the mind, even if it is a disturbing one.

Shukhov is a very likable character. Despite all his trials, he still remains somewhat upbeat. A sense of positivity exudes from him in parts, as well as a ‘true Russian grit’, a kind of keep your head down and get on with it attitude. The camps somehow haven’t killed his generous nature or his spirit of camaraderie – an inspiring story of survival and determination.

Throughout the novel, many other characters are referenced or described. This was one of the books highlights for me, as we get a window into other lives within the gulag. The multitudinous perspectives amplify all the messages of the book, from the corruption and sadism to the camaraderie and survival-instincts to the self-interest and inhumanity.

Overall, the writing holds up well. The dialogue is sharp and insightful, bringing the many characters to life. The exposition is rarely flashy, but often focused on that which is important to the prisoners, and gives the sense they don’t have time to let their minds wander to superfluous thoughts. While it might take a while to adjust to the writing style (as you are throw right into it), once you do it’s actually a surprisingly quick read.

Many main complaint with the book is the plot is relatively weak. There is very rarely moment of tension to break the monotony – although I guess you could argue that’s the point. I just would have liked the story to go somewhere, or to see some character development.

My rating is 5 out of 7. Just thinking back to the story for my review made me realize that I actually enjoyed it more than I thought I did. Definitely a must read for anyone interested in the Soviet Union, and a worthwhile use of an afternoon even if you’re not. Learning about the atrocities of history will hopefully help us prevent them from happening again – never more relevant with the Uighur camps in China.

~Rickettts

Book Review: Life of Pi

If I had to sum up Life of Pi in one word it would be ‘unexpected’. I thought it would be a typical survivor story, but I was so wrong. The book is spiritual, almost theological, in nature, and left me questioning reality by the end. The whole concept of a boy being stuck adrift with a tiger is strange, and it really feels like there is a metaphor here that I’m missing.

Yann Martel splits his the novel into three sections: before the boat trip; Pi’s time at sea; the aftermath of his voyage. Each section is tonally a huge shift from the subsequent one, so that sometimes I wondered if it was still the same book. I guess that might have been the point? I’m not sure. Each section had its strengths and weaknesses, but none stood out as better or worse than the others.

The first part explores many questions about the nature of religion, sentience and what it means to be human. While thought-provoking, I feel like it was not relevant to the rest of the story to some extent. The other characters lacked agency, and felt as if their purpose was to help tell Pi’s story. I also strongly disliked Martel’s tendency for long lists of things, which just struck me as bad storytelling. However, if you look at the book less as a novel, but more as an existential text, I think it holds up well.

Furthermore, the interesting part is the large middle section of the novel. It’s here that the plot becomes more relevant, and it actually feels like it’s going somewhere. This is where I think the character of Pi really comes into his own, but it heavily relies on the empathy built for him in the first section. It blends philosophy with action in a way that feels natural. Rarely does this section feel unnecessarily slow. There are some pretty grisly scenes, but it just emphasizes how stark his reality is.

The novel has some excellent moments, moments that made me feel truly at peace, or complete revulsion. It’s these moments that make this book worth it in my opinion. The problem is that you have to slog through some not overly inspiring writing sometimes. Thus, I give it 4 out of 7. It definitely gets better as it goes along, so my advice would be if you want to read it, give it at least 100 pages before deciding to stop.

Do you agree with my assessment? Did you take something from it that I haven’t mentioned? Have I entirely missed the point? Let me know your own thoughts.

~Rickettts

Book Review: The Power

I like my speculative fiction to be thought-provoking, and The Power certainly doesn’t disappoint. The politically-charged novel is pretty damning of the Patriarchy, feminism and humanity in general – I think. I’m not entirely sure I got the full scope of what it’s saying, and this is definitely the type of book where everyone is going to take something different away. Moreover, the message doesn’t impede the plot in any way, so it’s also a really enjoyable, if sometimes chilling, read.

The basic premise is that over a short period of time, women develop the power to inflict great damage and even kill with one touch. The science of why is somewhat explained as the book continues, but it has to do with a new organ they have, which allows them to emit electrical charges. The book considers what this does to people’s lives, both men and women, at an individual level, as well on a country and global scale.

This shifting power dynamic leads to some incredible intuitions as to what humanity might look like, and a deep examination of gender. Naomi Alderman has caused me to reconsider my relationship with feminism, but I’m sure the take away from this book for me is very different from how a woman might interpret it.

The book follows a handful of characters: a male journalist, a female mayor, her daughter, an orphan who starts what is essentially a cult, the daughter of a London crime boss. One of the most astounding aspects is that these characters often both ended a world away from where they started, as well as somewhere I was not expecting. Each one is interesting in there own right, but I was particularly drawn to Jocelyn, daughter of the mayor. She has a kind heart and wants to do well – coming to contrast her mother as the book continues.

What makes the novel so impactful is some of the horrifying events within it, and there vivid descriptions. There are some particularly disturbing scene, both violent and sexual in nature. It’s some of these moments that have had a lasting impression on me, and I think to some extent exposed my naivety to what some women face today. I feel this is a book i will want to reread sometime in the future.

6 out of 7 is my rating. I dock one point because the writing feels like its ‘telling not showing’ in places, which I guess leads to a few moments of wooden exposition. However, I stress this is only very occasionally, and most of the writing is excellent or even phenomenal in places. I highly recommend this to any feminist, or person who just cares about the society we live in. I was thoroughly impressed by how much feeling it could evoke from me

Book Review: A Skinful Of Shadows

Frances Hardinge creates the most elegant worlds. I’ve always loved the incredible creativity of her novels, and A Skinful Of Shadows certainly didn’t disappoint. It’s dangerous, delightful and downright creepy in places. The book superbly emanates a sense of unease, so that it makes the skin prick while the most mundane activities occur.

The book is set during the English Civil War and centres around a girl called Makepeace, who has a supernatural ability that relates to spirits in some way. She’s been brought up as a Puritan, but ends up in a family that supports the king, which leads to conclusions about the futility of war. The novel also comments subtly on issues of gender, class and religion.

I was surprised by how compelling the historical portion of the novel was. My lack of knowledge when it comes to the civil war didn’t in any way impede my enjoyment. By presenting a much more human side to the war, I found it considerably more interesting, and even more relevant than most war novel (which I’m not usually a fan of). It allowed for a gripping exploration of a time period that is rarely visited, yet blended it seamlessly so as not to step on the toes of the main story.

Makepeace is a fascinating protagonist, and like all good characters should, changes imperceptibly slowly throughout the book, so that where she ends as a characters is totally different from her starting place as a meek, modest girl. She has strong, relatable motivations, allowing the reader to easily empathize with her. But her most endearing quality by far is her kind heart, and the self-sacrificing determination to go along with it.

The supernatural element to the book starts off slowly, so that within the first 50 pages, you might not even really know it was there. However, it picks up quickly, taking some very dark twists along the way. Once again, the fantasy element feels organic within the novel; complimentary, not detrimental to the overall plot.

This book is 6.5 out of 7 for me. I love the artful blending of genres in a way that nothing feels overpowering. I love the constant plot twists and betrayal, keeping the reader on edge. I really love the depth of socially commentary simmering below the surface – I would be particularly interested in what other readers have thought about its messages on gender and feminism. The only reason I don’t give it full marks is that it is ever so slightly slow to get going, because I found it to be sightly too mysterious. However, I highly recommend this book, and other of Frances Hardinge’s work. It also makes for excellent Halloween reading!

~Rickettts

Book Review: Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race

This is a tough one for me to write, since race is such a touchy subject often, especially for white people. This book lays everything bare, and really doesn’t pull its punches. I don’t think I’ve every read something so candid about race relations, and quite honestly, its refreshing.

Reni Eddo-Lodge dedicates a lengthy first chapter to the history of racism in the UK. This really sets the tone for the rest of the book, as it tries to demonstrate that white people are systemically advantaged, and have been for a long time. Subsequent chapters tackle why this is the case, white privileged and the place of race in the feminism movement.

All the arguments are simply yet eloquently articulated, and are a real slap in the face. As a white guy, it conveys to me exactly what passes me by everyday, and how I have, to some extent, become complicit that allows racism to survive. Not overt, white supremacist racism, but the more subtle, ingrained in the national identity without most people even realizing type.

There is no doubt that this kind of bluntness will challenge many white people who try to read it, as it did me, but it’s confrontational nature makes it no less important. In some sense, that is what give the book its extraordinary power, the feeling that the author is fed up with playing the games of the system and so has decided to stop. It feels like the wake-up call that the UK needed.

While I agree wholeheartedly with a lot of what is discussed, I’d advise those who don’t agree to read this too. That way, they can usefully contribute to the conversation, as well as see the debate from another point of view.

Overall, this is an easy 7 out of 7 for me. I think it’s critical for as many British people to read this as possible, so that we can stop pretending we don’t have race problems in our country.

Book Review: All the Bright Places

Disclaimer: I did not finish this book. (See why I chose to review it anyway here)

The book centres on two teens who are ‘damaged’ in their own ways – Finch, who seems to suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts, and Violet, who is still recovering from the death of her sister and experiencing survivor’s guilt. There paths cross in an unlikely way while in the last year of high school, and their relationship slowly forms as they are paired in a class project.

Why did I stop reading? Simply put, this book wasn’t for me. I’ve never been to an American high school, and the atmosphere where I study couldn’t be any more different from Bartlett High. It feels very much like the stereotypical American high that you see in film, with everyone assigned their designated labels. I have no idea if that’s what it’s really like in the States, but that certainly isn’t the case in the UK, where the school tend to be smaller, and my experience has been that most of the people are fairly decent and respectful (as much as hormonal teens can be).

Moreover, I really couldn’t connect to Finch. We share very few life experiences, with him being the class clown as a defense mechanism, and just generally irritating the teachers. While he does this from a good place often, I just find it insufferable. The mental health aspect to the character is definitely the most interesting aspect, and if I could get passed everything else, I might enjoy his character.

Violet was probably the best part. Her motivation for living was a sharp contrast to Finch, but after the accident that killed her sister, it was clear that she had a totally new, and more mature world view. I think her personal growth could certainly be a highlight.

Overall, the book’s well written. It has some gallows humour, as well as dealing with some really heavy subject matter. Both the main characters feel distinct, which is always a plus. The dialogue is snappy and constantly feels like it is adding to the plot. It is by no means a bad book, it just wasn’t for me. I found it too immature in places, with too much focus on what I guess is typical teenage stuff that maybe I’ll experience one day. Thus, I give it a 2 out of 7. Is that too harsh? I’m not sure. Let me know what you think if you’ve read this book.

~Rickettts

Book Review: See You In The Cosmos

Disclaimer: I did not finish this book

I was really unsure whether I wanted to review this book (and the one that’s coming tomorrow), because I hadn’t finished them. I feel I should be writing about things I enjoyed, rather than slating books that I didn’t. That being said, the book wasn’t fundamentally awful, just not to my liking, and I thought you deserve a full picture of my readings.

From what I could tell, this book centres on eleven-year-old Alex, and the difficult process of navigating the adult world. His mother neglects him, and so he is left to his own devices to come up with ways of entertaining himself. He’s smart, academically speaking, seeing as how he’s trying to build a rocket in order to launch a message into space for aliens to find, but he’s also naive. On the whole, I think the plot was interesting, and it had a lot to say about growing up too quickly.

Why didn’t I keep reading then? I really disliked the writing style. Jack Cheng does such an excellent job of capturing the voice of this eleven-year-old, that it sounds as if the narrator is eleven, and it’s wasn’t fun for me to read. There a lot of this happened and then this happened and then this happened. However if you can get past that, I think it could be decent. It even feels a bit existential in places.

Because the narrator is eleven, the story is dripping with dramatic irony, and it really works. It makes for some exceptionally funny and cute moments – which proves to me just how well Cheng has encapsulated Alex. It often felt like he was talking directly to me, and this was someone I’d known all my life.

Overall, I give it 2.5 out of 7. I wanted to like this book so much, but the thing that makes it feel so genuine unfortunately makes it a chore to read. I sincerely wish it was some other way, and that some of you can get more out of it than I did, because I think it has real potential.

~Rickettts

Book Review: Everything, Everything

For being her debut novel, Nicola Yoon really knows how to tug on the heartstrings. Once I started reading, I couldn’t stop, and suddenly, a few hours later, the tidal wave of emotion was over. It was such an easy read that it was essentially comfort food for the bibliophile.

The premise is that Maddy has Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, otherwise known as being allergic to the world. She has not left the house in 17 years, everything has to be vetted and cleaned before it comes to her, and the only people she sees are her mum and nurse. This all changes when a new family move in next door. They have their own issues, with an abusive, drunk dad. Suddenly she’s falling for Olly, the boy who’s just moved in. The only question is how can it possibly last if she can’t go into the world outside?

For a romance, it does a good job of delving into the fears that are common place among humans. It addresses loss, insecurity around not being good enough, and whether love is true or just fleeting. The most poignant message is that to really live you need to take risks – a sheltered life is a half-life at best.

The characters are very likable, and the writing style is light and readable. I found it really easy to empathize with Maddy, since I haven’t been able to properly leave my house in over six months – some of the problems she grapples with are ones I’ve had to tackle too. I did find Olly a little brooding at first, but I think it could be a pretty accurate representation of a guy who struggles to deal with his feelings properly, as many guys do.

That being said, I’m not a big fan of love at first sight suggestions. Call me cynical, but I just don’t believe that’s how the world works. It wasn’t as glaring as some books I’ve read, but it did move a little quickly for my liking. However, I just cannot get over the twist and the ending. It was really cliched and felt to me like a cop-out to a problem in the story-telling that was quickly becoming apparent. So I’d say if you’re looking for a satisfying ending, look elsewhere.

Due to this problematic ending, I’m going to have to give it 3.5 out of 7. I really liked the writing style, and I definitely feel Yoon has a lot of potential, but she just got the twist wrong. I would say that it’s still worth the read if you like romance or this style of young adult novel though, since 80% of it is really quite good.

~Rickettts