Monday, 27 January 2014

Review: The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey

While programmes like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead have found mainstream popularity, it's still unusual in the book world for genre fiction to break out of its confines and find a wider audience.

One novel that is doing that is M. R. Carey's The Girl With All the Gifts - a zombie novel which transcends the boundaries of its genre to become something more.

Melanie is a very special little girl. She loves to learn, especially from her favourite teacher Miss Justineau. Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When the soldiers come for her, one points a gun at her, while the other straps her into her chair so she can't even turn her head.

Our protagonist is 10-year-old Melanie, a zombie child in a world where zombies - or 'hungries' as they're called in this novel - have taken over Britain. The only survivors live in army bases like the one Melanie lives in, enclosed havens like the distant Beacon, or out on the streets, as vigilantes.

Melanie might be a 10-year-old hungry, but she's an intelligent, emotionally aware human being, and one whose voice immediately draws the reader in. I found myself liking Melanie from the moment I met her. As we see the world through Melanie's eyes, we learn about the other characters true selves - there's no hiding from children, and her outlook and opinions are brutally honest.

The story is told in third person, with chapters switching between Melanie, Miss Justineau and occasionally tough soldier Sergeant Parks and scientist Dr Caldwell (and, briefly, young soldier Gallagher). As the world Melanie lives in changes rapidly, the changing focus becomes important. We learn more about Britain as it is now, the town of Beacon, where the group are headed, and the hungry pathogen.

The Girl With All the Gifts is not a book that is heavy on plot. If anything, it's a road trip book, but with some zombies chucked in. The Girl With All the Gifts concentrates on human emotion and interaction, and examines how we perceive threats to our lives and where danger truly lies. It's a book about relationships - between colleagues, enemies and friends, but primarily between mentor and mentee, teacher and student, and, I believe, between mother and child.

My edition of The Girl With All the Gifts features a quote from Jenny Colgan, describing the book as "Kazuo Ishiguro meets The Walking Dead". I've never seen the latter, but I completely agree with the former. The Girl With All the Gifts packed the same emotional punch I experienced when I first read Never Let Me Go. I found the last few chapters of The Girl With All the Gifts heartrending, and had to take a few deep breaths when I got to the end (which I still find myself thinking about).

If you're a little wary of genre fiction, and don't really like to touch sci-fi/fantasy, I urge you to give The Girl With All the Gifts a go. You'll soon forget it's about zombies (that word isn't used) and instead you'll just find yourself caught up in a brilliant story.

How I got this book: From the publisher, Orbit. This in no way affected my review.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

The Sunday Post (#34) and Showcase Sunday (#20)

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, and Showcase Sunday is hosted by Books, Biscuits and Tea and inspired by Pop Culture Junkie and the Story Siren. They're a chance to share news, a post to recap the past week on your blog, highlight our newest books and see what everyone else received for review, borrowed from libraries, or bought.

It's been a busy week, with lots of meetings, so I've acquired quite a few books. But first, here's (what little) has been happening on my blog.

Book review: Storm and Stone by Joss Stirling
Book review: A Lovely Way to Burn by Louise Welsh

Added to my shelves

Most of my stuff this week comes from Little, Brown and its various imprints. 

First up, I met with two of the editors from the Virago, Abacus and Blackfriars imprints. They gave me:
The Fields by Kevin Maher
Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon.Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage. by Rob Delaney
The Walk Home by Rachel Seiffert
Never Mind Miss Fox by Olivia Glazbrook
The Pink Suit by Nicole Mary Kelby
The Spring of Kasper Meier by Ben Fergusson
Friendship by Emily Gould

From the same people I also got The May Bride by Suzannah Dunn, which I'm showing separately because the cover is beautiful (although you can't tell from my rubbish picture!).

From the guys at Orbit, I got The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North, which looks like it'll be a genre-busting novel, and I also got Blood Song by Anthony Ryan, the first in an epic fantasy series.

And finally from Little, Brown, I got sent Salvage by Keren David, which looks like a great YA novel.

And last but not least, I picked up a couple of books from the spare books room at work. 

First up is Oksa Pollock: The Forest of Lost Souls by Cendrine Wolf. This series is being billed as a French adventure series to rival Harry Potter, with a plucky heroine. This is the second book in the series, I need to get my hands on the first.
And I also picked up Jojo Moyes The One Plus One, which I've been hearing so much about. I read a couple of chapters on the train on the way home from work, and am enjoying it so far.

What have you added to your shelves?

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Review: A Lovely Way to Burn by Louise Welsh

What do you do when someone's murder is made to look like the thousands of other deaths occurring in London, caused by a mysterious influenza-like plague?

If you're Stevie Flint in A Lovely Way to Burn by Louise Welsh, you try to find the murderer, even though around you the city is morphing. As plague takes over London, Stevie finds herself heading deeper into dying capital on the trail of the person or people who killed her boyfriend Dr Simon Sharkey.

A Lovely Way to Burn is a crime novel set in present day London. Everything we know and love and hate is there - tourists, hip nightspots, mundane jobs, boyfriends who stand you up. When Simon fails to show for a date, Stevie is rightly annoyed, and it's a few days before she decides to head to his flat and get her stuff back. Instead she finds Simon dead in bed, seemingly of natural causes.

Before she can think about it too much, Stevie is struck down by something flu-like. Welsh dedicates pages to Stevie's illness and her slow recovery. We learn about the plague before we even know its name - The Sweats - and we also learn just how tough Stevie is from how she survives, not just physically, but also mentally. It's clever of Welsh to give Stevie the plague so early, it tells us so much about Stevie's no nonsense, independent character that we otherwise could have wasted chapters learning about.

A former journalist turned shopping channel saleswoman, Stevie isn't your typical detective, but she's forced to become one when no one else will take up the task of finding Smon's murderer(s). Her lack of investigative power is more than made up for by her bravery - there were plenty of times when I found myself just wanting to reach into the pages and hold Stevie back from where she was going. But that tension Welsh creates really works - I was utterly hooked even as I dreaded what was coming next.

Welsh constructs an intelligent mystery within the pages of A Lovely Way to Burn, which had me guessing this way and that as to the identity of Simon's killer or killers, and his/her/their motives. Every time I thought I'd figured it out, I began to doubt myself because Stevie encountered a new piece of evidence, or I remembered something that had happened or had been mentioned pages before. Even at the very end, when it came to the big reveal, Welsh threw in some surprises.

A Lovely Way to Burn is primarily a crime novel, but it also explores dystopian London, and the issues that a rapidly changing world would bring. Stevie investigates Simon's murder herself because there are few police around to do so - those that aren't ill or haven't already died of the plague are exhausted from working non-stop. Resources are thin on the ground, and policing becomes about fighting blazes rather than anything proactive.

The plague also leads to deserted streets, the army locking things down and a curfew being instituted, and people fleeing their homes in the city for the countryside, in the hopes the plague won't follow them there. Welsh shows us glimpses of reactions to the plague (which has struck across the world) but there are plenty of questions to be answered in the next books following A Lovely Way to Burn in The Plague Times trilogy. We see no direct government response (although I assume the army and the curfew is down to them) and we see very little about how the rest of the world is reacting, or how places outside London are coping (if everyone in London heads to the countryside, doesn't that just become another London?).

A Lovely Way to Burn is a brilliant crime novel set in a slightly dystopian world. It's close enough to what we know to be utterly terrifying (remember H5N1?), and that was part of its hold on me. As I read it on the train, I was ultra sensitive to every person around me who coughed or sneezed or even so much as sniffed. Welsh has taken our everyday lives, given them a twist, and put them in the background of an intriguing, addictive novel.

How I got this book: From the publisher, Hodder. This in no way affected my review.

A Lovely Way to Burn is out on March 20, 2014.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Review: Storm and Stone by Joss Stirling

The Finding Sky series by Joss Stirling was something I stumbled upon by accident, so when I got her new book, Storm and Stone, through the post, I was pretty happy.

I delved into Storm and Stone expecting more of what I'd found in the Finding Sky series - some danger, a little bit of angst, a whole lot of romance and a happy ending.

Instead, I got quite a lot of angst, and a crime story nestled in between a tale of growing up and surviving secondary school. In Storm and Stone Stirling has taken a typical tale of growing up - complete with Mean Girls - and stuck in a healthy dose of mystery.

American student Raven Stone starts off the new term at her English boarding school with a missing roommate and an encounter with the bitchiest girl around, who is set on making life for Raven as difficult as possible. With few friends, Raven finds herself striking up conversation with the new boys, Kieran Storm and his friend Joe Masters. But the new guys aren't what they seem, and neither are some of the students she goes to school with, who have weirdly morphed into Stepford kids.

As mentioned, Storm and Stone is primarily a novel about growing up. Raven faces bullies (really, really mean bullies) and family problems. She experiences the wonderful feeling of having a crush on someone who seems to have no interest in you (note the sarcasm) and is constantly trying to figure out why she doesn't fit in. There's at least something that Raven goes through that every female can relate to and has gone through at some point in their life.

While Raven tries to navigate life, she's also thrust into a mystery which seems almost impossible to unravel. All around her, students are disappearing and then coming back, devoid of their original personalities and more inclined to turn on the not-so-perfect, very human Raven. Although this might seem unrealistic, Stirling makes this plot point seem realistic by having Raven's friend Gina turn into one of these shells, causing her to completely ignore Raven. While most of us have probably never had brainwashed friends, I can definitely think of instances in my life where one day you were best friends with someone, and the next day they completely ignored you. Throwing Gina into the mix makes the mystery surrounding Raven much more believable.

I must throw in a mention of Kieran, Raven's love interest. There's no insta-love between the pair, thank goodness, but there is the more realistic insta-attraction. That's followed by the fact that Kieran is a very flawed human when it comes to emotions and communicating with people, even if he is super clever and a young James Bond of sorts. It's great to see a love interest with so many faults, and to have a love interest called up on those faults by the author, instead of having them ignored (coughEdwardfromTwilightcough).

Storm and Stone is a dark read at times. One section where Raven is attacked is particularly brutal, and seems like it's going to end very, very badly. Stirling isn't afraid to address tough issues like bullying, although some of her bullies don't get the comeuppance they deserve, even though they bullied her long before the events of the book took place. The central mystery is also a little weak, only because I felt the villains were a little one-sided and we didn't see enough of them for them to justify what they were doing. Since the focus of the book was Raven though, I understand why this was, as she also didn't see much of the criminals.

Overall though, Storm and Stone is a solid read, especially if you're looking to read some genre YA. With its mix of crime and mystery, Storm and Stone is a great alternative to all the YA dystopia out there.

How I got this book: From Oxford University Press for review

Storm and Stone is released on February 6 2014.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

The Sunday Post (#33) and Showcase Sunday (#19)

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, and Showcase Sunday is hosted by Books, Biscuits and Tea and inspired by Pop Culture Junkie and the Story Siren. They're a chance to share news, a post to recap the past week on your blog, highlight our newest books and see what everyone else received for review, borrowed from libraries, or bought.

I haven't done one of these posts in a couple of weeks, so there's been a bit going on.

On the blog
Book review: Cress by Marissa Meyer
Book review: It Felt Like a Kiss by Sarra Manning
Book review: Inferno by Dan Brown
Film review: The Wolf of Wall Street
Book review: The Arab Uprisings by Jeremy Bowen
Book review: A Hundred Pieces of Me by Lucy Dillon
Top 10 Tuesday (#17) - top 10 bookish resolutions
Reading challenge 2014 - I lay out the rules for myself

Added to my shelves

I went to visit an agent this week, and he gave me a few books by authors he represents: Secrecy by Rupert Thomson, Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas, and Idiopathy by Sam Byers (not pictured).
I also got Cress by Marissa Mayer after sending a begging email to the publicist, while another publicist sent me Sue Monk Kidd's The Invention of Wings (she sent it before Christmas but it's only just arrived). I also met a PR for coffee and she brought along Matthew Reilly's The Tournament for me. And finally, I popped to the library and picked up a copy of The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan (not pictured),

What did you add to your shelves?

Review: Cress by Marissa Meyer

You know how books in a series tend to get progressively worse? How even when they're very good, the second book isn't better than the first, and the third isn't as good as the second and so on? Well, forget that when it comes to Marissa Meyer's The Lunar Chronicles, because somehow every book in the series just gets better and better.

Cress, the third book in The Lunar Chronicles (following Cinder and Scarlet), was one of the books I was most anticipating this year, and I'm so glad I didn't have to wait too long to get my hands on it.

While Cinder and her gang - Scarlet, Wolf, Thorne and Iko - float on their ship in space hiding from the many, many people chasing them, and while Emperor Kai prepares for his wedding to the evil Queen Levana, Cress sits aboard her spaceship dreaming of freedom.

When an opportunity to be rescued presents itself, Cress imagines being swept off her feet by Thorne and finding a great group of friends. What she gets is days of wondering through the desert, a hero who doesn't love her, and a group of allies who find themselves scattered and injured, all while trying to execute an audacious plan to stop the wedding of Kai and Levana.

I won't give too much away about the plot, but Cress is the most action-packed books of The Lunar Chronicles so far. Much of that action comes in the last quarter of the book, with the rest spent preparing for the battle to come, but it's all worth the wait.

Meyer is deft at bringing together the various storylines we've been following so far - the stories of Cinder, Scarlet, Wolf, Kai, Thorne, Cress and Dr Erland (and Iko, mustn't forget Iko) are all brought closer together even as the characters sometimes move physically far away from each other. Into this mix comes Jacin Clay - a Lunar who works for Queen Levana's right-hand woman Sybil - and Princess Winter, Queen Levana's stepdaughter and the central subject of the next book in The Lunar Chronicles series. Our glimpses of the latter are very brief, but Winter looks like one of the most intriguing characters we've been introduced to so far.

Cress is a dark novel - unsurprising since it deals with mass murder, good and evil, dictators and more - but it's not all doom and gloom. There are some very funny moments, mainly featuring Iko, who despite being a robot continues to be as human as anyone you might encounter in real life. And Thorne brings a sense of humour to the proceedings as well, despite everything that happens to him during the course of the book. He's definitely the hero I'd choose, so I can see why Cress loves him, even though she doesn't need him.

For me, Cress is the most fairytale like of The Lunar Chronicles books so far, with a princess in her tower waiting for a prince to rescue her. While Cress is very, very clever and self-sufficient, she holds on to the image of being liberated from her spaceship by Thorne, rather than doing the liberating herself.

Thankfully, Meyer twists the fairytale trope pretty deftly. While Cress may not realise it, and while she spends much of the book falling deeper for Thorne while he plays the just friends card, she's actually the real hero of this book. Cress is the one leading the way, fighting for survival and putting herself in real danger - in short, she takes on the traditional role of the prince in the fairytale. Thorne, meanwhile, has to spend much of the book dependent on others, after a fight leaves him injured.

Cress is about a book about heroes and heroines, and its strong female characters are the true stars of the novel, and that make this book worth reading. It's the women who stand head and shoulders above the men in The Lunar Chronicles (though not all of them good), and it's these types of women (the good ones, anyway) who should be at the centre of fairytales being told to children the world over.

How I got this book: From the publicist at Puffin (thanks!)

Cress is out on February 4

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Review: It Felt Like a Kiss by Sarra Manning

Sometimes what you need to read is some good old-fashioned romance, and few people do it better than Sarra Manning.

From Diary of a Crush through Guitar Girl and now her new novel It Felt Like a Kiss, I've never read anything by Manning I didn't love.

Ellie Cohen seems to have it all - a great job at an art gallery (even though her boss can be demanding), great friends (even if they don't always get on they love her), an amazing mum (who can be a bit too hip), and a boyfriend. He's not so great. And neither is her dad, rock star Billy Kay, who doesn't acknowledge her existence.

When her boyfriend who turns into an ex tells the papers Ellie is Billy Kay's daughter, her life turns upside down. Suddenly, the nation thinks she's everything she's not, and the hot guy she bumped into at a festival turns out to work for her dad.

It Felt Like a Kiss is a great, fun, funny, and sometimes sad novel. The narrative flits between Ellie in the present day, and her mum's romance with Billy Kay. The latter is filled with tension, since as readers we know from the beginning that the relationship is doomed, so every step Manning moves closer to that conclusion had me filled with the kind of dread you only experience when you know it's going to end badly.

Meanwhile Ellie's story almost fulfils the opposite trajectory - she too, is falling in love, like her mum did, but I had much more hope for her that it would end well, even if it seemed to be falling apart most of the time.

Ellie is a great character. She might be the daughter of a rock star, but I found it easy to relate to her, with her stresses over her job, her experiences of London and her fun friends. Importantly, Ellie wasn't perfect, even when she tried to be. She acts irrationally at times, loses her temper, and jumps to conclusions without knowing the full story, things we all do.

Her mum, Ari, is super cool, but has her faults too. I found myself wishing for one kind of ending for her, which didn't happen. What did happen was better though, and I wanted to whoop and cheer for her during her big scene at the end.

And then there's David. Lovely, lovely David, who is exactly the kind of romantic lead you want in a book. He's a bit Mr Darcy, a bit Mr Bingley, a bit Mr Wickham (only the best bits of the latter). And he's also a bit of a mess. Guys like David don't exist in real life, but that doesn't matter in the pages of a book.

I won't tell you how it ends, but I will say that the final scene reminds me of the ending of one of the greatest rom coms ever made. That ending isn't the only film-like bit of It Felt Like a Kiss - in fact, I'd love to see this book realised on screen.

If you're looking for great characters, a fun story and a teensy bit of angst, It Felt Like a Kiss is for you (and me).

How I got this book: From the publicist (thanks @madstoy)

It Felt Like a Kiss is released on January 30.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Review: Inferno by Dan Brown

Oh, the time I spent reading those 462 pages of Dan Brown's bestselling novel Inferno is time I will never get back.

When Robert Langdon wakes up in a hospital room with no memory of how he got there, he doesn't realise that memory loss is the least of his problems. Soon, he's on the run from shady gun-toting people in Florence, trying to track down the answers to a puzzle which has the potential to change the world.

Inferno gives readers another chance to connect with the popular Langdon, who also featured in Brown's Angels and Demons, The Lost Symbol and, most famously, The Da Vinci Code. As always, Langdon is in a race against time to do something or other, and must use his famously large brain to get to the bottom of whatever it is he's trying to solve. 

But to me, Langdon is not a compelling character. My reading of him is that he thinks he's far more clever than he is, that he constantly underestimates people because he thinks they're not as clever as him, and that he misses things right in front of him because he thinks he's being so clever looking for the more complicated things.

Brown has tried to create a likeable hero, an Indiana Jones of sorts, but Langdon just spent 80 per cent of Inferno annoying me, and it's only not 100 per cent because I'm reading about other characters. Not that those other characters are brilliant. I personally feel Brown isn't good at writing women. His two female protagonists in Inferno - Sienna and Sinskey - are stereotypical. Sinskey's regret over never having children is brought up a number of times, and seems to be her defining feature, despite the fact that she's a successful career woman, while SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT Sienna thinks being bald makes her hideous, which completely goes against everything else we know about her (child genius, brave etc) and dumbs her down.

As with The Da Vinci Code (the only other Langdon book I've read) Inferno is full of symbols and secret messages, and while this is clever at first, after a while it just gets overcomplicated. As do the constant "twists". Brown litters the book with one twist after another turn, and it's far from surprising. If a book wants to shock readers, it should keep the twists to a minimum, and make them really shocking. There are so many in Inferno that it deadens the impact of them all.

Much of the time I just felt like I was reading a tour guide to Florence and the various other settings in the novel. I can't help but feel that if Langdon had spent less time gazing in wonder at buildings and more time doing stuff, he wouldn't have been in half the trouble he was during the book.

In case you hadn't guessed by now, I didn't like Inferno. I thought it was overwritten, with badly rendered characters and a plot that tried to do too much. It may be a bestseller, but Inferno is not my kind of bestseller.

How I got this book: Gift from a friend

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Film review: The Wolf of Wall Street

If Leonardo di Caprio was a stock, most people would say you should invest, so it's fitting that he plays former stockbroker Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street.

Based on the real-life Belfort's book of the same name about his life, which recounts his shady business practices, spectacular rise and bad fall in the financial sector during the late 1980s and early 1990s, The Wolf of Wall Street is all about having too much - too much money, too many women, too many parties. Everything is supersized (apart from the women).

The Wolf of Wall Street is a comedy more than anything else. There is no real plot - FBI agent Denham's (Kyle Chandler) chase of Belfort forms just a small part of the film - and at times, this film just feels like a collection of comedy sketches and scenes featuring money and naked women thrown together. There are moments and scenes that are absolutely hilarious, and in a film that clocks in at just under three hours, those moments were the only ones keeping me paying attention at the end.

Di Caprio is, as always, very good to watch. Speaking as someone who's had a crush on him since Romeo and Juliet circa 1997, this is the first film I've seen di Caprio in where he was completely unattractive. His Belfort is vile, greedy, and, at the end of it all, a massive coward and a snitch. I found not one single redeeming quality in Belfort, and felt uncomfortable in parts watching a film about such a horrid character.

Also brilliant is Matthew McConaughey, who absolutely steals the scenes he's in as Belfort's mentor and first boss. Despite his role being very small, his influence on Belfort is felt throughout the film.

The Wolf of Wall Street is all about excess - I wouldn't be surprised if you saw more drugs and naked female bodies in this film than during all five seasons of The Wire (seriously, there's that many) - and unfortunately the excessiveness slips into the editing. This film is, at the very least, 30 minutes too long, and there are scenes that feel neverending. One that sticks out is a speech Belfort makes to the employees at Stratton Oakmont on the day they take their first company public - it went on for so long I'm surprised there were trading hours left in the day by the time he finished.

There are also excess characters floating around. I was never quite sure what the purpose of Belfort's dad was - he shouts a bit, and that's it. Belfort's mum is shown a bare minimum of times, and we never see her speak - I felt like she was a non-entity in the film.

And the women. Well, what women? They're either naked, faux strong or naked. The one female stockbroker we actually hear from ends her scene in tears, while Belfort's secretary is a one-dimensional harpy. Belfort's wife Naomi, nicknamed The Duchess, gets a little bit more to do, but her real role in the film is to make sure Belfort has someone to lust after, love, hate, fight with, lust, hate and fight with again, and has no real character of her own.

A little more plot, a little less of just about everything else, and The Wolf of Wall Street could have been a film I enjoyed. As it was, by the end, despite the laughs, I felt like I'd suffered through it, which is more than I could say for Belfort, whose bad deeds seemed to have very few consequences. And perhaps that was what I disliked most of all.

Review: The Arab Uprisings by Jeremy Bowen

During 2011 it was difficult to switch on the news without seeing an item about protests and demonstrations against a leader in Africa or the Arabic world. Even now, unrest in Syria, where a civil war is under way, still hits the headlines regularly.

Reporting on the Arab uprisings, as they were called, was the BBC's Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen. In The Arab Uprisings: The People Want the Fall of the Regime, he gathers together information gleaned from his reports into a book chronicling what happened in the region.

Given that there is no sign of peace yet - Syria is still in the midst of a battle, Egypt has removed its democratically elected leader, Tunisia is to hold elections later this year - the events of this book already seem like distant history.

Bowen traces the beginnings of the unrest, not just the self-immolation of Muhammad Bouazizi in Tunisia in December 2010, but also the wider political and economical situation in the region which led people to feel unhappy with their governments.

We also get insights into how the media works when it reports on conflict, from the struggles of getting visas to the cooperation with regimes who want to hide certain parts of their country. Bowen recounts interviews with Libya's Muammar al-Gaddafi (arranged by the late Marie Colvin) and Syria's Bashar Assad and gives an insight into both men, as well as looking at why Russia and China won't offer support for intervention.

However, while at the core of this book lurked an interesting concept, mostly it was a dense read which largely recounted everything that I'd already seen on television or read in newspapers or online or seen discussed on social media. 

As a journalist working in the medium of television, I expected Bowen's book to be a little livelier and more engaging, but it seems that being given the option to get across a story in more than a two minute time slot led to a lot of overwriting, which made this book a hard slog. There is constant repetition, particularly in the first half of the book - at times it's like Bowen has forgotten he's written a phrase just 200 words before. The slogan 'the people want the fall of the regime' is oft-explained and repeated in the first few chapters, as if it's a scientific concept that most people would find difficult to grasp.

There are also some really interesting aspects that are just completely ignored. For example, Bowen mentions an American woman called Jackie Frazier, who is the assistant to one of Gaddafi's sons, Saadi al-Gaddafi. Hang on a second, what's her story? How did she find herself working for the son of a military dictator? Bowen has clearly spoken to her, or has some sort of connection, so why is she nothing more than a passing reference?

The Arab Uprisings is at its most interesting when Bowen is telling stories about specific, everyday people he meets, regardless of which side - regime or rebel - of the conflict they are on, or when we see extracts from Bowen's diaries that he wrote while in Libya or Syria and so on. Unfortunately, these are few and far between. Instead, the book is a repeat of everything that someone with an interest in current affairs would know (anyone not with an interest would put this book down within the first few pages), and one that misses the opportunity to have an authority on the area, a journalist with years of experience in the Middle East, give some real analysis of a charged situation.

How I got this book: Borrowed from the library

Friday, 10 January 2014

Review: A Hundred Pieces of Me by Lucy Dillon

After the excesses of Christmas, the rush of new year and the stress of setting yourself resolutions, what you really need in January is a palate cleanser - and that's what Lucy Dillon's A Hundred Pieces of Me provides.

Gina has battled cancer and come out the other side, only to split up with her husband. She moves from her dream home into a flat, and decides the time is right to have a clear out. As she sifts through all the material belongings she has accumulated, Gina reflects on her past and her future.

A Hundred Pieces of Me isn't the type of book I usually read - namely "women's fiction". I'm far more into dystopia, or crime, or genre fiction that has a romantic element to it. So it was with some apprehension that I started Dillon's novel.

What I found was something that tugged at the heartstrings, but in a gentle, largely angst-free way. Sure, there was a bit of heartbreak along the way, but this is really a story about Gina and the experiences that have shaped her, from her relationships with her family and friends to her fight against cancer to her marriage, and not necessarily a love story.

Split between the present day, as Gina sorts through her belongings and starts her new life as a single woman, and her past with Stuart, another man, Kit, and her mum and stepdad, A Hundred Pieces of Me is a layered book which really builds a sense of character. We see young, naive Gina, Gina the wife and Gina the daughter, Gina the friend, and Gina the divorcee who survived cancer. This makes for a book where the reader is really connected to the protagonist. I felt invested in Gina, and found myself wishing and hoping things for her.

Personally, the most thought-provoking element of A Hundred Pieces of Me was Gina's mission to clear her life of material things. While I certainly won't be paring my belongings down to just 100 things, the idea of clearing away extraneous elements is certainly an interesting one. As Gina threw and gave away her things, she also experienced an emotional cleansing. I think perhaps if I got rid of a few books, CDs and clothes that I really only have a slight emotional connection to, it would help clear my mind a little!

A Hundred Pieces of Me is not a difficult read, or one that explores big themes or issues. Rather it's just about living life as best you can. It is a perfect January read - gentle, undemanding, and heartwarming.

A Hundred Pieces of Me is released on February 27.

How I got this book: From the publisher, Hodder

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Top 10 Tuesday (#17) - top 10 bookish resolutions

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish, where the writers, like me, are particularly fond of lists.  - See more at:
Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish, where the writers, like me, are particularly fond of lists. This week's top 10 is... top 10 bookish resolutions. In no particular order...

1. Read more poetry
This is my big reading challenge for 2014. You can find out more here.

2. Set time aside weekly to read the Quran
This is obviously a very personal one for me, and a very important one that falls outside the realms of blogging, but I wanted to include it. I usually only read the Quran during Ramadan and a few other occasions during the year, but I've been feeling the need to get more in touch with my spirituality, and would like to set aside at least half an hour a week to read the Quran. 

3. Read some classics
Like with poetry, I haven’t really read many classics since I left university. In fact, I can think of one – Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. This year I’d like to read a few more – Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, which I’ve *gasp* never read; Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, which I’ve been wanting to read for more than a decade; and something by Charles Dickens that I haven’t read.

4. Don’t be scared to let books go
My bookshelves are stacked to bursting, and there are now books in bags waiting for space, plus books in the office. Proofs I have to keep or recycle, but those books that I haven’t read in years or didn’t particularly love in the first place – they can be donated to the charity shop or the library.

5. Don’t buy books from Amazon
Having recently started a job where I talk to publishers and bricks-and-mortar book retailers nearly every day, I’m more aware than before about how Amazon’s low prices affect so many people. Yes, Amazon is convenient, but I’d rather support my bricks-and-mortar stores – be they chains or indies.

6. Be more proactive with promoting my own blog
I often write reviews and posts, and then forget to promote them. For 2014 I’m making a resolution to promote my work on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

7. Do all the little cosmetic things I want to on my blog

I have a to do list which has things like ‘create banner’, ‘redo about me page’ and the like on it. They’ve been on my to do list for months. 2014 is the time to get them done.

8. Keep up My Week in Books, but find a new name for it
Although many people aren’t reading it, I enjoy compiling my feature where I link to all the things I read during the week about books and blogging that I found interesting. I want to continue doing the feature, but it really needs a better name! All suggestions welcome.

Leave more comments
I love reading other people’s blogs, and I’m a big fan of reading reviews, so I pledge to leave more comments on all posts I read, but especially the reviews, since I know they take a while to write.

10. Have fun blogging
I started blogging for fun, and as an outlet to the professional writing I do. I want to make sure I remember that whenever I blog.

Reading challenge 2014

I'm a few days late with this, but it's time to announce my reading challenge for 2014. After successfully tackling non-fiction in 2013 (12 months=12 books), I've decided to continue expanding my reading horizons, so this year my challenge will focus on... poetry.

I've read hardly any poetry since leaving university, and even then everything I read was required for my course.

I'm not going to make this year's challenge too rigid, so, for 2014, I plan to read a number of works by a different poet each month. That's 12 poets over the course of the year, and while I won't be strict on how many poems I read, I will stick more closely to a timeline - meaning you'll find one post a month (rather than a flurry in December) talking about a different poet.

If you've got any suggestions of poets for me to try, please let me know, and also tell me about what reading challenges you're setting yourselves in 2014.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

The Sunday Post (#32) and Showcase Sunday (#18)

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, and Showcase Sunday is hosted by Books, Biscuits and Tea and inspired by Pop Culture Junkie and the Story Siren. They're a chance to share news, a post to recap the past week on your blog, highlight our newest books and see what everyone else received for review, borrowed from libraries, or bought.

Happy new year everyone. I hope you had a pleasant festive period and managed to get lots of reading done. It's been a while since I did one of these, so here are a few links to what's been happening on my blog since then:

Book stuff
2014 wishlist - to read and to see
2013 End of Year Book Survey
Top 10 Tuesday (#16) - best books I read in 2013
Reading challenge 2013 - the results
Review: Dedicated to... compiled by W B Gooderham
Review: The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie
Review: Very British Problems by Rob Temple
Review: Front Row, Anna Wintour: The Cool Life and Hot Times of Vogue's Editor in Chief by Jerry Oppenheimer
Review: How to be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis

Added to my shelves

Not a whole lot, but since I'm having a clear out that's a good thing.

I did get sent this film tie-in edition of The Wolf of Wall Street by Jordan Belfort. I won't have time to read it before I see the film (on Tuesday) but it looks good. Thanks Hodder!

What did you add to your shelves?

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

2014 wishlist - to read and to see

A new year, a new set of books, television programmes and more to look forward to. Here are a few of things I want to read and see in the next 12 months.


This is far from a comprehensive list of the books I want to read - for fear of going overboard I've kept it to four 2014 releases I haven't read yet (although excitingly I have proofs for some).

Cress by Marissa Mayer - I'm so, so excited about this. Everything I've read and heard so far leads me to believe this is going to be just as good as Cinder and Scarlet.

Throne of Glass book three by Sarah J. Maas - I believe this is as-yet untitled, hence my clunky introduction. Maas created an absorbing world in Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight, one I've no doubt she will continue expanding in the third book in the series. 

The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey - This looks pretty scary, but also really, really interesting. Here's the Goodreads description: "Melanie is a very special girl. Dr Caldwell calls her 'our little genius'. Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite, but they don't laugh. Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children's cells. She tells her favourite teacher all the things she'll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn't know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad."

The Quick by Lauren Owen - another one that looks really intriguing, and I understand there's a massive twist in it. Here's the description from the publisher Jonathan Cape: "You are about to discover the secrets of The Quick - But first, reader, you must travel to Victorian England, and there, in the wilds of Yorkshire, meet a brother and sister alone in the world, a pair bound by tragedy. You will, in time, enter the rooms of London’s mysterious Aegolius Club – a society of the richest, most powerful men in England. And at some point – we cannot say when – these worlds will collide. It is then, and only then, that a new world emerges, a world of romance, adventure and the most delicious of horrors – and the secrets of The Quick are revealed."


Links go to IMDB, and release dates are for the UK unless otherwise stated and are subject to change.

Pompeii - I'm a sucker for stuff set in Ancient Greece/Rome/that kind of time, and as a bonus this has Kit Harrington, who has to save the woman he loves as SPOILER ALERT Pompeii is destroyed. Out February 21.

Veronica Mars - I want to scream with joy when I think about the Veronica Mars film. That is all. Out March 14 in America.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier - Captain America may not be the most exciting of Marvel's Avengers, but I enjoyed the first film, and Chris Evans is back for a second solo outing, joined by the lovely Sebastian Stan as the Winter Soldier. Out March 28.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 - this reboot has been much better than the Tobey Maguire films (sorry!), and I love Emma Stone. Out April 18.

Maleficent - I'm also a sucker for fairytale retellings, and this film telling the story of Maleficent is right up my alley. Out May 30.

The Fault in Our Stars - one of the best books I read in 2013 turned into a film sure to make me cry. Out June 20.

Gone Girl - another of the best books I read in 2013 turned into a film. I'm not sure whether this will do the book justice, but I'd like to see it anyway. Out October 3 in America.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 - I object to Mockingjay being turned into two films, but I'll still go see this. Out November 21.

The Hobbit: There and Back Again - I object to The Hobbit being turned into three films, but I'll still go see this. Out December 19.


Sherlock - there's not a long wait for this, since it's on tonight on BBC One! I know Watson (Martin Freeman) only really cares why Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) disappeared, but I still want to know the how.

Game of Thrones - This is my favourite television series that's currently still producing new episodes. How on earth series four will top The Rains of Castamere episode I don't know, but I'd bet the team behind the series have something up their sleeves.

Doctor Who - I'm going to miss Matt Smith, but Peter Capaldi is sure to bring a fresh outlook to the Doctor, and hopefully the programme will be a little easier to understand as well.

Orphan Black - One of the best new programmes I watched in 2013, I'm intrigued about where this is going.


Links go through to official pages where possible.

The Duchess of Malfi – Shakespeare's Globe has a new indoor theatre, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, which is a short walk from where I work. The theatre's first production will be The Duchess of Malfi, kicking off January 9 and starring Gemma Arterton.

King Lear - I've not been to the National Theatre nearly enough, but what I have seen there has been brilliant. On January 14 a run of a production of Shakespeare's King Lear, with Simon Russell Beale in the lead, begins.

Shakespeare in Love - this is one of a few film-to-stage adaptations next year. I enjoyed the film, although it was way too long. I'm hoping the stage show, at London's Noel Coward Theatre from July 1, will tighten the story up a bit.  

Miss Saigon - I've never seen Miss Saigon, but one of my housemates at university absolutely loved it. The show's run at the Prince Edward Theatre from May for its 25th anniversary seems like the perfect time to go see it.

Backstreet Boys at The O2 - I'm not ashamed. The Backstreet Boys were my first proper celebrity crushes, and they're back on tour in 2014, supported at The O2 by All Saints, one of the best late 1990s girl groups (the other being the Spice Girls, of course).

What are you looking forward to in 2014?


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