Book Review: Tokyo Mayday

Maison Urwin’s book takes a novel approach to addressing the increasingly isolationist perspective of England by flipping the problem on its head. Instead of other migrants trying to enter the UK, citizens of the FREW (Federal Republic of England and Wales) are desperately trying to migrate to the economic powerhouses in Asia. It turns an unrelatable situation into a relatable one with great success.

When car manufacturing giant, Matsucorp, decides to close its plants in the FREW due to lack of economic viability, it decides to keep one worker on from each. For Jordan May, this opportunity provides stability in an uncertain time. However, the cost is uprooting his family and bringing them to a new, sometimes hostile climate.

My favourite element of the book was its strong political themes, which were well developed. I really felt as if I had a window into the world of migrants, and the problems they face, ranging from the language barrier to being the target of hate attacks.These themes stayed strong throughout the novel, and gave the book depth.

The plot also held up well, binding the novel together without being over the top. There were plenty of twists, some of which I saw coming, others I didn’t, which continued to drive the book forward. Each of the May’s have their own plotline, which all show different facets of the challenges they face, and are all equally good.

The majority of the important characters are conflicted, and don’t always make the right choices, but are inherently good. The exceptions to this are Matsubara and Struthwin who are morally grey, as they balance their business agenda with human decency. They presented a different perspective on situations that aren’t typically found in books. 

The biggest issue I had with the book was the writing style. It just felt a bit rigid to me, and I thought it threw off the flow of the story a little. I wasn’t particularly enamoured with the dialogue either, which often felt unnatural and not different enough between characters, with the exception being Struthwin, who I thought had decent lines. Also, the japanese terms were often not translated. Although this does help put the reader in the May’s shoes, I would have liked a glossary of terms at the end of the book. Throughout the novel, there were also places where the perspective would shift to a different character with little warning. While this was initially off-putting, I grew to quite like this element. 

Overall, I’d give the book a 4.5 out of 7. If you enjoy strong themes presented in a creative way, like I do, I’d easily recommend this book. I thought it was worth it, despite the issues I had with the writing style.

Many thanks to Rosie and Maison Urwin for supplying me with a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

My 2020

I’ve been wondering what to do with this post for a while now. I knew I’d like to summarize my year somehow, but I didn’t want to rank my favourite books. In the end, I’ve decided to talk about my year from a personal standpoint, and tie that into the books I’ve really enjoyed. Hopefully it works well. (P.S. I chose the most appropriate image of myself I could find from the last year for the featured image – I didn’t have much to work with but I hope you like seeing me for once.)

Let me start by going back to the end of 2019. I had wanted to read 50 books that year, and had only managed about 40. I was disappointed with the result, but also somewhat pleased as it was many more than in 2018. I was building back good reading habits. So I decided to renew the target for 2020. Which brings me to the first book of the year:

First Book of the Year: Dune by Frank Herbert

This kick the year off with a bang. followers of the blog will know I adore intrigue stories, with subtle political maneuvering, characters outplaying each other (and sometimes themselves). Dune is the granddaddy of that genre, and I loved it from about the sixth page.

I especially liked the use of prophecy, and how it made certain events even more heart-wrenching.

Time continued on. There were whisperings of a virus spreading in China, but they were nothing to pay attention to. I had a blossoming social life, where I met new, interesting people, where I actually went to parties, where my best friend got a girlfriend. These were the days when I still volunteered at my local library. Which brings me to the next book:

Most Anticipated Book: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

I’d read The Handmaid’s Tale the year before, and it chilled me to the bone. I like my speculative fiction/dystopia to have something profound to say, and it was The Handmaid’s Tale that taught me that. So I was thrilled when I heard Atwood was writing a sequel.

I turned up to work at the library one day, and I immediately saw about 10 copies of the book had been reserved for different people. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before, and I’m not sure I’ll see it again. Luckily, one of those people was me, and I devoured the book the following night. It certainly didn’t disappoint.

Reading The Testaments finally prompted me to read the next book:

Book Longest on my TBR: 1984 by George Orwell

I had been told to read this for years. I had just never got around to it. I wish I’d read it sooner, as I think it lacked the full impact because I’d already read too many similar books.

There is what is essentially a political manifesto in the middle of the book. I think it has no business being there, yet was the most interesting part for me due to my interest in politics and sociology. It definitely separated the book from anything else I’d ever read.

I may still prefer Brave New World, but this book kept me thinking for weeks afterwards. Which was a very useful distraction as it turned out, as the whole world was turned on its head with COVID. At first, I took it in my stride, just adapting to the new way of life. I thought of it as a blessing, in a way, as I had plenty more time to pursue my other interests. I look back on that optimism and I think it was the only thing keeping me sane. But I digress…we have arrived at the next book:

Most Influential Book: The Price Of Inequality by Joseph Stiglitz

This book has truly shaped my life. There are many that have influenced me, but this one actively helped me decided on my uni course.

After reading the tragedy that befalls so many people, I knew I wanted to be part of the system working to fix these injustices.

I was already interested in politics, but the clarity with which this book was written made plain my path. And it was COVID that made me reach for something more meaty.

However, the small benefits of COVID didn’t last. I ended up throwing myself into my work in order to find something to do with myself. Thus the reading I thought lockdown would bring never really happened. However, I find escapism in the strangest place:

Favourite Sci-Fi Book: Wanderers by Chuck Wendig

This book could possibly be my favourite of the year, but I don’t want to commit to that. Nevertheless, it’s right up there.

It’s a book about a pandemic, about a failing political system and about immense loss. Oddly prophetic. Yet it offered me escapism when I needed it most. A kind of ‘you might have it bad, but it could be so much worse’.

Plus, you can always tell Chuck Wendig has fun with what he writes.

As I finished Wanderers, I entered one of the toughest periods of the year for me. The lockdown in Britain was ending, and my friends were meeting up and socializing again, but my parents still wouldn’t let me go out and see other people. So I had to find more distractions, and fast. Luckily, there was a book for me:

My Greatest Regret: Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner

I honestly have no idea if this book works. The writer sounds like he knows what he’s talking about, but I didn’t commit to the practices he talks about long enough to know.

I thought I’d try to keep learning French, since I’d done many years of it, and didn’t want to lose it. Turns out I just wasn’t cut out for it at that time.

It provided a great distraction, and someday I’d like to learn another language (that isn’t Latin).

Then, in early September, I found a new way to keep my mind off things. This blog! At first it was more personal, and I talked about politics much more. The I posted a book review, and I knew I’d found my calling.

First Book Review: The Murder Of Rodger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

This book was a good first choice for a review. Agatha Christie is such an excellent writer, there were plenty of elements I could praise. Constructive criticism could be learnt later.

The book also reignited my love of murder mysteries, which has resulted in watching many in the evenings with my mum. It has been nice we can find a shared activity, given I’ll be leaving home so soon.

I was also lent this book by a new friend I’d made during lockdown, so I feel it represented a turning point in many ways.

From here, things just got better. I created deeper connections with the people that mattered to me. I started to understand more things about blogging. I found others with similar interests. Which lead me to Rosie’s Review-A-Book Challenge:

Favourite Indie Book: Wasteland by Terry Tyler

Looking back on my review, I feel that I might have been too harsh on this book. I think it might be because I’d never read an indie book before.

I loved the fast pace of this novel, and there is still a twist in it that I think of from time to time because it left such a mark on me. But what impressed me most was all the subtext that was just bubbling below the surface for me to examine. Maybe I’ll return to it one day.

The rest of the year passed in a blur. I was so caught up in uni applications and keeping up with school work despite not being allowed to return while my classmates were, I was thankful for reading and the blog to act as a distraction. I ended up joining Rosie’s review team, an opportunity I am endlessly thankful for given how much I enjoy it. I also spent a fair amount of time learning about Universal Basic Income for my EPQ (Extended Project Qualification), which I’m sure I’ll talk about in great depth some time in the future. Then, suddenly, I’d reach my 50 book goal:

50th Book (and Darkest Book): Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig

I gush about Wendig all the time, so I’ll keep this one brief. He has such an amazing ability to create hope even in the darkest situations. Moreover, he thinks up some pretty twisted things; I would not want to meet him if he was a serial killer. (Although, thinking about it, I wouldn’t want to meet any serial killer)

One thing I have noticed is that I think reviewing his books brings out the best in my own writing. I think it is a testament to how deeply I enjoy them. I’m curious to see if you agree.

Another high point in my blogging has been the ‘Slow Reads’ series of posts. I have no idea how popular they are, or if anyone even reads them, but they are some of my personal proudest work. I absolutely love being able to dissect a book over a number of weeks and see what it can tell me about myself, the people I know, and society at large. My hope is I’ll get some back and forth with one of the books I choose at some point.

Hardest Book: The Color Purple by Alice Walker

This was the first book I chose for the ‘Slow Reads’ series, and it worked even better than I’d hoped. There was a whole pile of things to write every week, and I’m sure plenty that I completely missed.

However, this was by far the most difficult book to read of the year. I’m glad I only read it in chunks of 50 pages, because it both made the horror bearable, and served to never diminish the effects of the writing.

It was also the only book I read this year in which the grammar was intentionally very poor, which added a whole new layer.

I’d highly recommend you check out my analysis if you only have time to read one other thing of mine. Anyway, shameless plug aside, Christmas was upon me at this point. It was a strange one, as I saw none of the family I expected to, other than my parents and siblings. However, I also saw my step-sister, who had become estranged a few years prior. It was surprising, yet caused me much joy. I’m really hoping she truly wants to be part of my life again. I also received 22 ebooks over Christmas, so have plenty of reading. The final book is the first one of them that I read:

Final Book of the Year: Six Of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

I’m yet to write a review for this one yet, so I’m still getting my thoughts in order. That being said, I thought the relationships between the characters were exceptional and extremely nuanced. the plot was also good, but definitely not the thing that kept me hooked.

Thank you Cherelle for recommending this. I’m already reaping the rewards of being part of a community!

If you are reading this, thanks for sticking it out! This post is much longer than the ones I usually write, and I know how the mind wanders. After reaching the end of writing this post, I feel like it is one of the most important I’ve written so far. It catalogs my entire life over the past year, even if it is somewhat brief, and reveals much more about my personal life than I usually do.

This is the first post in a pair, so look for one about where I see myself going in 2021 the new year. Please let me know what you think about my book choices, about my life the past year, about my reviews of Chuck Wendig’s books, about this style of extended post, about how your own year was, or about anything else on your mind. See you in the new year!

Book Review: A Touch Of Death

The book was a decent addition to the dystopia genre. It felt like Rebecca Crunden was very aware of the typical tropes of the genre, and tried to put a unique spin on them to create a fresh take. It was a darker book than I was expecting (although maybe my expectations were off since it does have death in the title), yet it was almost exclusively conveyed tonally, since there was very little explicit, graphic, mature content.

Set against the backdrop of an oppressive state, Nate and Kitty, both of noble birth, question the morality of the society they live in. When they both get a mysterious illness, they are forced to flee the comfortable lives they know, and so begins a desperate fight for survival.

I liked Kitty, a strong female protagonist, who starts out slightly misguided, but gradually lets her firm moral compass lead her. Her relationship with Nate was complex, and it definitely could have turned out quite clichéd, but I thought that it ended up at a very reasonable place. It felt like it evolved naturally, therefore avoiding the trap that often occurs in a forced enemy-to-lovers trope.

I also thought Crunden took Nate in an interesting direction. I won’t say too much, but he isn’t a typical macho protector, although I would have liked her to play into that idea even more than she did. Nate is emotional without feeling sappy, and dedicated without feeling one-dimensional. The most interesting part about him is his history, and how he came to be where he is, rebellious, when so many other nobles didn’t.

While the characters stood out, the plot didn’t for me. Not that it was bad, because the book was very readable, but just that it wasn’t anything special. Nate and Kitty seemed to go through an arbitrary series of events until the final part of the book, which I thought was actually a very satisfying denouement. It seemed to be a case of the journey being more important than the destination, which is completely fine, but usually the reader is made to feel the destination is important even if it isn’t. I think that there was a lack of urgency that made it feel uncompelling. There was plenty of danger, but without a map, I always felt the characters were wandering aimlessly because I couldn’t physically see there progression.

That being said, the plot was sort of unobtrusive, so the book still functioned well. It was also buoyed by the ending in my opinion, which was unexpected and once again subverted expectations by not following typical genre tropes. It gave the book a clean finish, without a huge cliffhanger, so that it could be read as a standalone novel, but it is clear that the story has much further to go.

The writing was of a high standard, which compensated for the plot and brought the characters and world to life. The descriptions were often innovative, and the dialogue was decent, although not heavily relied upon. However, I did feel that the novel could do with being slightly shorter, as it would make it just that bit more snappy in places.

As you may know, my personal preference is for dystopia (and sci-fi) to have interesting themes I can sink my teeth into. I felt that they were somewhat lackluster in this novel; only addressed at a surface level, or in a very simplistic way. Ideas about authority, censorship and the pursuit of science were dealt with in a black-and-white way, leaving very little grey area to dissect. However, this is only my personal preference, and in no way affects the quality of the book, which functions perfectly well without these explorations.

Overall, I’d give it a 5 out of 7. It had some issues, but nothing insurmountable, and I enjoyed it enough that I plan to read more of the pentalogy. I’d recommend to fans of dystopia, especially if you are looking for the genre to be subverted, as I felt like the book is quite self-aware.

Many thanks to Rebecca Crunden for providing me with a free copy of the book.

Book Review: Synthetic Selection

I really like the sound of Synthetic Selection when I first read it’s description on Rosie’s blog. While it did raise some interesting questions, and had some more unique perspectives on different moral themes, I felt the execution was unfortunately clunky in places.

The premise of the book is that humanity has collectively failed, and has made the world almost unlivable for their frail bodies. However, an artificial intelligence called Galileo offers the human race salvation by transferring their minds into synthetic bodies. However, this process alters the way they think, deepening their understanding of the world. This causes a schism in society, between those who want to undergo the process and those who don’t.

The main characters are a pair of lovers, Ari and Lil, who I found to be uninspiring while apart, while very enjoyable when together. Their relationship was one of the highlights of the book for me, as they seemed to bring out the best in each other, and there were a lot more subtleties during that time that was lacking from the rest of the novel. However, I found that while they each had individual quirks, we never got below a surface level with them individually, since the author, Arda Karaca, fell into the trap of ‘telling not showing’.

The best supporting characters were the ones who were directly connected to Ari and Lil, such as Lil’s grandmother Judy. I think this was because they allowed a new perspective into the main characters’ thoughts, while contributing to the story themselves. However, there were many characters introduced, who seemed to have no bearing on the story overall, and were underdeveloped. There were often a few pages dedicated to such a character’s point of view, only for them never to reappear in the book. This was a truly odd decision by the author.

Similarly, the plot had events that I thought were unnecessary and just interrupted the flow of the novel. However, there were not that many of these, and the overall structure was quite good. There was a large and unpredictable twist in the middle of the book that sent the story flying off in a direction I wasn’t expecting at all. The plot facilitated the core themes of the novel nicely, and allowed time for the author to properly develop these. However, the ending did feel a bit rushed, and there were multiple instances of logical inconsistencies. For example, at one point it is stated that children under 15 were rare, yet children constantly came up from this point on.

The lighthearted banter between Ari and Lil was again a highlight, as it added some light to an otherwise bleak story, and restored hope in humanity. However, the rest of the dialogue in the book was quite flat, and rarely distinguished one character from another. This was unfortunate, as good dialogue can buoy a story, but if it’s less well-written it is glaringly obvious.

Overall, I give the book 3.5 out of 7. The story itself was decent, and in some places caused me deep reflection of the world we live in, which I see as the hallmark of good sci-fi. Unfortunately, the language didn’t hold up to this standard. I might recommend this for fans of thoughtful sci-fi, but wouldn’t go much further than that.

Many thanks to Rosie and Arda Karaca for giving me a copy of this book for free.

Book Review: We

We is a classic, essentially being the founding father of dystopia and directly inspiring some of the most famous books of the genre. Yevgeny Zamyatin’s masterpiece is definitely thought-provoking, and I can clearly see why it has wide appeal. However, I found the book hard to read, in the same way that I found 1984 hard to read. I just wasn’t a fan of the way it was written I think.

The novel is set in ‘OneState’, many years in the future. OneState controls every aspect of its citizens, or Number’s, lives. Everything is meticulously times, creativity is stifled and science reigns supreme. Yet beneath this perfect exterior, discontent has begun to foment.

The best part of the book is definitely the themes within it. It explores love, logic, beauty, creativity, the nature of the human soul and mind, the meaning of life and more. This exploration is one of the fullest I’ve experienced in a long time, and left me feeling like I have only scratched the surface of what’s on offer.

The imagery was also excellent. Its vividity made conjuring mental images easy, and the nature of some of the figurative language fit perfectly into the world that had been created. These descriptions helped to make the book more interesting, although they also made the flow worse. The descriptions also helped me to identify with the main character, D-503, since they were told from his perspective as the novel is in first person.

However, I didn’t like D-503 very much. It was clear that he was a character in turmoil, but I found him to be quite whiny. Yet it seemed clear to me that he had a distinct personality, and was well written. The same cannot be said for the rest of the characters. Most felt more like placeholders to embody certain themes than autonomous agents. I found it hard to connect with them, as we often knew very little about there motivations or feelings.

Some classics I’ve read in the past are still very readable despite their age. I did not find We fell into this category. I didn’t find that the plot or the language gripped me, and kept me hooked, but I can’t say why. Overall, the book felt like it should be really good, but it just didn’t do it for me. Therefore, I’ll give it 5 out of 7, although I wouldn’t personally recommend the book to someone looking to get into dystopia.

#RRABC Book Review: Wasteland

Today’s book review is special, as it’s part of Rosie’s Review-A-Book Challenge. I’d like to thank Rosie for the free copy of Wasteland I got for the challenge, and I think there is still time to participate if you’re interested. Without further ado, onto the review!

Wasteland just got better and better as I was reading. It might start off slowly, since it’s worldbuilding is monumentally ambitious, but once it gets going it never slows down. The book has plenty to say about family, poverty, activism and democracy, social media, liberty… the list just goes on. I could spend all day dissecting its multifaceted themes. For me, it felt very reminiscent of the Children of Men film.

The novel is set in a dystopian version of the UK far in the future. Most of the population has moved or been moved into megacities – vast urban centres that can meet all needs, so that their residents never have to leave. The government controls almost every aspect of its citizens’ lives, and they are taught not to question. Outside the megacities is the wasteland, home to those who have escaped the government’s iron fist. 

The story centres on Rae, a young woman who has grown up in the orphanage system within a megacity. Upon learning that her family might still be alive, she starts to question what it is that she wants. Along her journey, there is a constant flow of diverse characters – it’s a real strength of the book. We can see the effects of the harsh world upon a whole host of characters, which gives small insights into a whole host of differing viewpoints and allows for interesting discussions of the various themes.

While Rae’s story was great, and she evolved seamlessly throughout the book, it was Dylan’s journey that was a highlight. His part was relatively small, since he was a secondary character, but I believe it to be crucial to understand the human aspect of the government’s policies. He encapsulates the idea that luck has a lot to do with your position in the world, and I found it impossible not to feel for him.

I found that the themes of the book mesh together to act as a study of humanity. It painted a poor picture of us, often being very cynical. Yet, despite all the flaws it exposed, it manages to maintain a spark of hope throughout – the idea that no matter what, humanity will find a way. I also don’t feel that Terry Tyler’s exploration of themes in any way impeded the overall flow of the story, something I’m always wary of when books have a strong message. However, the ambitious nature of the novel did mean that some themes are only touched on at a shallow level. I didn’t find this an issue personally though, since there is more than enough food for thought.

In my opinion, the book really comes into its own in the last 3rd. There was a twist that I didn’t see coming at all, which was great, and then the pace is relentless from there on out. It’s one of those that I just couldn’t put down, since the tension and stakes are so high and I was hugely invested in the characters.

Overall, this book has made me really excited to read more of Terry Tyler’s work. It was really easy to read as a standalone book, despite kind of being a sequel (it’s set in the same world as another book, but many years later). My only small criticism is that the writing occasionally was a bit awkward, so I had to reread bits which I misunderstood because I’d missed a word that was in an unexpected place. However, it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment, and would suggest that you don’t let it put you off in any way. Therefore, I give the book 6 out of 7, and would easily recommend it to lovers of sci-fi and dystopia. I’d also recommend it more widely, but warn that it can be quite bleak in places, so don’t go for it if that’s not your thing.