Book Review: We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

Book Review: We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

Shelved: Young adult fiction (contemporary, science fiction)
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

“The best books, they don’t talk about things you never thought about before. They talk about things you’d always thought about, but that you didn’t think anyone else had thought about. You read them, and suddenly you’re a little bit less alone in the world. You’re part of this cosmic community of people who’ve thought about this thing, whatever it happens to be.”

We All Looked Up was the May pick for my informal we-actually-just-want-an-excuse-to-meet-up-and-chat book club and I was really looking forward to reading it. I’ve read a lot of young adult sci-fi but We All Looked Up is different – a mix of science fiction and contemporary, one of my favourite genres. I tweeted about We All Looked Up when I started reading it, saying it was The Breakfast Club meets the apocalypse, and I still think that’s true. But our four teenage protagonists are confined to one town rather than one building!

Before the asteroid, four teenagers lived their lives defined by four neat labels: athlete (Peter), the outcast (Eliza), the slacker (Andy), the overachiever (Anita), but now that the world’s changed, they have the opportunity to think about themselves, others and the world around them a little bit more. I love how We All Looked Up is told, in alternating chapters narrated by our protagonists, going back and forth between the present and the immediate past. I used to think of myself as someone who would pick ‘plot’ over ‘characters’ but while others are perhaps a little disappointed in the lack of wider world-building – what’s happening in the rest of the world as  Arden is approaching and what governments are doing to stop it – I didn’t feel that that was the point of We All Looked Up. All of the teenagers are flawed and the asteroid is just a device through which we get a modern coming-of-age story.

As with any young adult contemporary novel, we still get our love stories, family arguments, difficult choices and complicated friendships. Peter’s dealing with breaking up with his girlfriend and dreaming about his brief romantic encounter with Eliza – who went from shy to ‘slut’ as a result – and is in competition with Andy, who is amongst the wrong crowd, while Anita is struggling to live up to her parents’ crushing expectations. She takes the opportunity, as it is likely the end of the world after all, to pursue her desire to be a singer. We All Looked Up gets complicated and messy – adolescence often is – as the characters become closer, and I thoroughly enjoyed taking part in their journey.

We All Looked Up is a wonderful, poignant look at what it means to grow up. It makes you wonder whether you have the determination to change the course your life is on, whether you’ll ever have the opportunity to look up.

Published: 26th March 2015
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK & US
Pages: 384


The Chrysalids by John Wyndham (Classic #3)

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham (Classic #3)

Shelved: Classic (science fiction, post-apocalyptic)
Published: 1955 by Michael Joseph
Rating: ★★★
Challenge: Classics Challenge – #3
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

Here’s my third post for the 2015 Classics Challenge!  It’s not too late to join me (and 160+ other people) in reading one classic per month.

David Storm’s father doesn’t approve of Angus Morton’s unusually large horses, calling them blasphemies against nature. Little does he realise that his own son, and his son’s cousin Rosalind and their friends, have their own secret aberration which would label them as mutants. But as David and Rosalind grow older it becomes more difficult to conceal their differences from the village elders. Soon they face a choice: wait for eventual discovery, or flee to the terrifying and mutable Badlands…..

WHEN I Discovered This Classic
I bought The Chrysalids and The Day of the Triffids in 2013 when I visited Daunt Books, Marylebone, one of my favourite bookshops in London. I knew that his books were science fiction modern classics and that the two I picked were his most well-known novels.

WHY I Chose to Read It
It had been a while since I read my first John Wyndham novel. I read The Day of the Triffids in April 2013 and haven’t picked up a John Wyndham novel since, even though I own five now! I read an older classic in January and a children’s classic in February, so it was time to read a modern classic in March.

WHAT Makes It A Classic
All of John Wyndham’s novels are said to be modern classics because they were published during the era of great science fiction. One of the things I noticed while reading both The Chrysalids and The Day of the Triffids was how fresh and timeless they feel – they could have been published today. The Chrysalids also tackles religious fundamentalism and eugenics, issues that are still relevant today. David lives in a world where there are ‘offences’ (unusual plants and animals) and ‘blasphemies’ (humans with something unusual about them). If something is seen as being out of the ordinary – whether it’s a horse that’s a little too large or human with an extra toe – it is banished from society or destroyed, and it was easy to see that this kind of thinking is still prevalent today. It’s why I think science fiction – whether classic or contemporary – is such an exciting genre; it makes you think.

WHAT I Thought of This Classic
I loved The Day of the Triffids when I read it and I hoped that I’d enjoy The Chrysalids just as much, but unfortunately it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. I still enjoyed it, especially as it has a few unexpected twists and turns that make it exciting at times, but sometimes I found the religious aspect of the story to be a little too simple. It’s perhaps because the concept no longer feels that new. I loved the adult and child protagonists; they really brought the story to life. I read an article that said The Chrysalids was also a coming-of-age story, and that encapsulates it very well. Although it’s a post-apocalyptic story about living in a society where those who are seen as ‘different’ are eradicated, it’s also about young people growing up and questioning everything they’ve been told. In The Chrysalids, our young protagonists are much more open-minded than their adult counterparts; they’re curious, inquisitive and open to re-evaluating the morality they’ve been taught.

WILL It Stay A Classic
If you love post-apocalyptic fiction, there’s so many novels to choose from, so will The Chrysalids stand out another 50 years from now? It’s difficult to say because it seems like we’re in a time where science fiction isn’t just read by people who would browse the science fiction section of bookshelves, but perhaps people will continue to keep coming back to John Wyndham.

WHO I’d Recommend It To
People who love science fiction and want to delve into some of the top science fiction novels from the 1930s-1950s. People who adore young adult science fiction novels like The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. People who want a quick classic to read (this one is only 200 pages).

Have you signed up to the 2015 Classics Challenge?

Book Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Book Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Shelved: Adult fiction (science fiction, post-apocalyptic)
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

I really love children’s and young adult fiction; it’s what I’m most passionate about. I also equally enjoy adult fiction, but I just don’t get the chance to read it as much. I named March “a month of adult fiction” and despite the fact that I failed terribly and only read two books, I’m so glad I got the chance to read Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. I was a little apprehensive because I used to adore post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction before it exploded, but when so many people started naming Station Eleven one of their favourite books of 2014, I finally bought a copy – I didn’t want to miss out!

Station Eleven is a delicious, vividly rich story spanning several decades. It follows individuals whose lives are interconnected before and after a highly-contagious and fast-moving flu virus wipes out most of the world’s population, leaving only a smattering of people to figure out how to survive in a new world without electricity. Yet Station Eleven isn’t a story about how to survive in a post-apocalyptic world after a devastating pandemic, but how people survive with each other.

Jeevan Chaudhary is at the theatre watching a rendition of King Lear when one of the actors, Arthur Leander, has a heart-attack. Because he is a trained paramedic, Jeevan jumps on stage but he is unable to save Arthur. Kirsten, a young actress, is watching him from afar. Fifteen years later, she is part of a Travelling Symphony, a small group of travellers who create moments of happiness for the remaining settled communities, from performing dramatic Shakespearian acts to colourful melodies that spark memories. Station Eleven tells the stories – both present experiences and past exploits – of some of these individuals and the relationships they forge.

Station Eleven is so beautifully written that it doesn’t feel like a post-apocalyptic novel. Sometimes in science fiction, characters can be an insignificant device through which the plot develops, but this story wouldn’t be what it is without its characters – a magnificent and vast exploration of people, whether a creative young PA or a dangerous religious prophet. Station Eleven‘s array of characters is its strength. It has just enough world-building to satisfy the reader, but not so much that it overwhelms or becomes unnecessary. It doesn’t feel like a story with a typical beginning, middle and end – Station Eleven could keep on going if you let it.

Station Eleven is my first adult (non-classic) book of the year and it reminded me why I love fiction so much. It’s beautifully written, clever, thoughtful and incredibly exciting, despite the lack of action and adventure – it doesn’t need it.

Because survival is insufficient.

Published: 9th September 2014 (US) 10th September 2014 (UK)
Publisher: Knopf (US) Picador (UK)
Pages: 339

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

Book Review: The Girl with all the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Shelved: Adult fiction (horror, science fiction)
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

The Girl with All the Gifts was another book I bought because everyone was raving about it. (I promise I don’t just read books everyone else loves, but I do hate missing out!). It’s a positive sign that I read it shortly after buying because it usually takes months to years before I finally get around to reading a particular book from my teetering bookshelves. I purposely avoided knowing too much about The Girl with All the Gifts before starting, although I don’t think this is necessary to enjoy the story because you find out all you need to know pretty quickly. It’s littered with bold statements all over the cover, including ‘the most original thriller you will read this year’. I think this rests one particular aspect of the story: Melanie.

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks 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.

Before you begin the book, this is all we know about Melanie. We know she’ll be the main focus of the story, but I didn’t quite understand how invested I’d become in her character. To put it simply, she’s a curious, intelligent 10-year-old girl who love stories and learning, especially Greek Mythology, particularly when accompanied by her favourite teacher, Miss Justineau. But Melanie doesn’t live in a normal world where young girls can enjoy going to school and reading books. It’s a future, alternate United Kingdom where most of the population has been destroyed and the rest are hidden away, attempting to protect themselves.

Yet, although I have not read many horror novels, The Girl with All the Gifts feels different. Our five characters – Melaine, Miss Helen Justineau, Sergeant Eddie Parks, Dr. Caroline Caldwell and Private Kieran Gallagher – are all trying to survive, but have very different views on the best ways of survival. It’s now a world where ethics are the least of everyone’s worries, which is why it’s a common theme throughout the novel. And that throws up all sorts of problems for our five survivors.

The Girl With all the Gifts is wonderfully thrilling and cinematic – full of believable science, emotion and fear. I was particularly taken by a scene where the team come across a car full of thousands of pounds rolled up. They comment on the ridiculousness of it – at the thought of someone treasuring these pieces of paper that no longer matter – and throw all the money like confetti all around them. Can you imagine living in this world? It’s easy to imagine the apocalypse as either gruesome or comical, but what about the in-between? The Girl With all the Gifts provides us with a horror story that isn’t black and white. Read it. See if you feel the same.

Published: 14th January 2014 (UK) 10th June 2014 (US)
Publisher: Orbit
Pages: 512

Book Review: Don’t Even Think About It by Sarah Mlynowski

Book Review: Don't Even Think About It by Sarah Mlynowski

Series: Don’t Even Think About It (#1)
Young adult fiction (contemporary, science fiction lite)
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

If Don’t Even Think About It was a movie, it would be the sort of teen movie that you would watch curled up on a Sunday afternoon (preferably with snacks and friends), a bit of contemporary + science fiction lite mixed with The Breakfast Club + Gossip Girl. I wasn’t having a brilliant week when I began reading and it turned out to be the perfect antidote. I started it on the way to work and finished it that evening, so if you want to just forget everything and delve into a fun, light-hearted and witty story, this could be what you’re looking for!

It’s time for Class 10B to get their flu jabs. No big deal, right? Wrong. It starts with Mackenzie thinking she’s going crazy, but then the whole class start develop telepathy, a kind of extrasensory perception (ESP). Awesome! But for 10B, life is about to get much trickier to navigate. We like to think that we want everyone to be honest with us. To tell us what we really look like in our favourite outfit. Or if we’re being embarrassing or stupid or annoying. But do we really? Now everyone knows that Mackenzie cheated on her boyfriend Cooper, that Tess has a crush on her best friend Teddy – and that he’s in love with someone else – and that Nurse Carmichael used to be a stripper. It’s light. It’s hot pink. And it’s full of high school drama. You won’t like all the ‘ESPies’, but you’ll revel in the fact that you’ve now joined their exclusive club.

Don’t Even Think About It is narrated by the chorus of ESPies after they’ve had a chance to spend more time as telepathic teenagers, which would have taken time to get used to if I hadn’t recently read David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing. In fact, it worked really well and it was easy to see how the group of classmates became ‘we’. And it’s only just getting started as this is the first in the series. I loved reading the characters’ reactions to their new-found talent – and each others’ – plus reactions from those who were fortunate – or unfortunate, depending on how you see it – not to be able to hear everyone’s thoughts. Imagine watching two people who aren’t even friends stare at each other meaningfully, in silence, for no apparent reason. And as someone who struggled with shyness in school, it was refreshing to see one of the characters use her telepathy to overcome it. One of the reasons for shyness is the anxiety caused by not knowing what’s going to come next or how people are going to react. What if that was removed? Olivia, one of the Class 10B students, is constantly worried about what other people think of her, when in fact they’re not even thinking about her at all. She now always knows what’s coming next and can change her behaviour accordingly, so she never messes up, and she was one of the most interesting characters to follow as the classmates attempt to figure out how to live in a world without secrets.

Don’t Even Think About It is a sunny young adult contemporary novel with a fun science fiction twist that’ll get you thinking about how difficult it is not to think.

Published: 11th March 2014 (US) 1st May 2014 (UK)
Publisher: Delacorte Press (US) Orchard Books (UK)
Pages: 304
Source: Thank you to the publisher for providing this book for review!

Book Review: Champion by Marie Lu

Book Review: Champion by Marie Lu

Series: Legend (#3)
Young adult fiction (dystopia)
Rating: ★★★★
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads
Published: 5th November 2013
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile/Penguin Books
Pages: 368

Champion is the third book in the Legend trilogy, so you might not want to continue reading this review if you’ve not read the first book.

I first found out about Legend back in February 2011 and in January 2014, I read the last book in the trilogy. At the end of Prodigy, we were left with the shocking news that Day is sick; he has a brain tumour and will most likely die. But Day and June cannot focus purely on themselves – and their fraught relationship – because the tension between the Republic and the Colonies does not look set to subside any time soon. With Day battling with crippling headaches and trying to keep his brother Eden safe, he has enough on his plate to last a lifetime. And June, as Princeps-Elect, stands alongside Anden while struggling to ensure that she keeps to her own principles. Champion is the explosive finale to one of the most enjoyable YA dystopian series’ out there.

Champion is just as fast-paced and thrilling as the previous two books. Legend fortunately is a believable and well-constructed series. Marie Lu chooses to follow a logical continuation rather than throw unbelievable choices into the mix; politics is tough, frustrating and cannot be sorted out at the push of a button. Anden has to stay true to his word, but that doesn’t mean he does not make some controversial choices. Champion also fills in the blanks that we were left with by Legend and Prodigy – I particularly enjoyed the tense snapshots of Thomas and Metias – and it provides an ending that really does make you feel like you’ve come full circle.  In Champion, familiar characters try to save the broken USA that we’ve come to know over the past couple of years, and it’s not going to be an easy solution…

Day and June. June and Day. Where do I start? They are one of YA dystopia’s most loved couples. In Legend, we now see, they were just two inexperienced and terrified teenagers on the run and now they are among the most revered and trusted. Although, I will admit, it’s hard to believe that it’s up to two young people to save the world, I cannot deny it’s been a pleasure to watch them develop and mature over all three books. We see June and Day become less idealistic – and for good reason – but they are determined to be there for each other, even it isn’t going to be easy, and even if they’re not entirely sure that it’s healthy for either of them. And even if you’ve not been an advocate of June and Day throughout the series, the heartbreaking epilogue is sure to leave you with a tear in your eye.

Legend was one of the drivers of YA dystopia and it’s a series that I always suggest to people who love The Hunger Games or Divergent, but this finale will leave readers more satisfied than the former trilogies did.

Book Review: More Than This by Patrick Ness

Book Review: More Than This by Patrick Ness

Shelved: Young adult fiction (science fiction, contemporary, mystery, horror… !)
Rating: ★★★★
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

I am likely not alone when I say that More Than This was one of my most anticipated novels of this year. I co-hosted #readchaos in preparation, but actually, as it turns out, I wasn’t prepared at all. More Than This is an unusual blend of genres. I’d say it’s primarily science fiction, but it easily works in contemporary, mystery or horror. As you can imagine, this makes it impossible to know what is going to happen next!

Sixteen-year-old Seth, disoriented and confused, wakes up in a house that feels familiar. It seems to be his childhood home, in England, but that cannot be, can it? His family now lives in America. It’s derelict and dusty, and the village has been destroyed and abandoned. He’s bruised and hurt and oh, dead. He must be. He remembers drowning in the sea; the current pushing him under and the crack of his head hitting the rocks. Seth is exhausted so he closes his eyes to rest, only to experience alarmingly vivid dreams that make him relive the most poignant and hard-hitting memories of his life.

Memories are tricky things. It would be impossible to function without them, but it can also be difficult to go on with them. Seth is haunted by a tragic event that occurred when he was a child, involving his younger brother Owen, and a relationship, with another boy called Gudmund, that is no more. Seth’s memories are painful and we relive them with him, discovering that Seth can only picture himself in a way that suggests he’s to blame. But is he really?

Some novels are difficult to put down, some novels are perfect for reading on a rainy day. More Than This is both of these. I hated having to close the book and go to sleep, wanting to find out more and more about what Seth was going through. I always find grief more compelling than joy – which is why I enjoy dark stories the most – and I was constantly kept on edge. What happened to Owen? Where is everyone else in the village? What is the point? More Than This is split into four parts, each providing us with significant revelation about Seth’s new world, and part one – which is nearly 200 pages – was my absolute favourite. I almost felt like I was drowning with Seth, yet it was also strangely calm. I would never have thought a story with just one character could work, let alone one that works perfectly. Unfortunately, this perfection meant that it was harder for the subsequent parts to live up to it, and although they didn’t have quite the same impact on me, it’s where the story starts to come together and we are finally given some answers, some even more tragic than we imagined, and some perhaps a little more hopeful.

More Than This is everything you would expect from Patrick Ness. It’s rather difficult for us to make sense of everything in the world, but we ought to realise that just because we perceive something as so, doesn’t mean it’s true. Seth is about to realise this too.

More Than ThisPublished: 5th September 2013 (UK) 10th September 2013 (US)
Publisher: Walker (UK) Candlewick Press (US)
Pages: 480

Book Review: Fearsome Dreamer by Laure Eve

Book Review: Fearsome Dreamer by Laure Eve

Series: Fearsome Dreamer (#1)
Shelved: Young adult fiction (fantasy, science fiction)
Rating: ★★★★
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

Vela Rue is a dedicated young hedgewitch-in-training, living in the Angle Tarr (extra points if you understand the etymology of the name!) countryside, always wishing for something more. White is a boy who lives in the technologically advanced World, and has been locked up and tortured because of his gift. Rue and White have both been experiencing strange, realistic dreams all their lives, but are unaware what it means and how far it could go.

Fearsome Dreamers‘ strength is its intricately woven and immensely detailed world-building, but its vivid characters stood out to me the most.

Rue is stubborn, outwardly confident yet quietly unsure. She is unsatisfied with her monotonous life as an assistant in the countryside, and feels like everyone in her village is merely existing rather than living. She often watches them gather round to gossip; today’s news surrounds a forbidden couple who have run away together. (Although, Rue may have had a part to play in this debacle!). Rue wants to see what else is out there, but running away never crosses her mind. I admired Rue’s strength, determination and ability to brush off unwarranted criticism, but thought she was believable in her lack of desire to simply take off, leaving the only place she’s ever known to see what is beyond her tiny bit of Angle Tarr – until Frith comes to visit.

Frith is a government spy, working at the university. It’s his job to discover and bring back the Talented – people who experience these unusual dreams – and see that they are trained. It is in Angle Tarr that he is unexpectedly introduced to White, who’s run away from World in search for a life free from persecution, and quickly realises he’s the most Talented yet. Months later, White and Rue clash instantly (and, for us, humorously!) but do not realise how alike they are.

Fearsome Dreamer delicately explores the tension between Rue and White throughout, developing them as individual, strong-willed characters until they eventually collide. We get to watch them circle each other, seeing the worst in one another, while trying to ignore the inevitable attraction; both outcasts even in a sea of non-conformity. And all this takes place in a well-developed and fascinating setting, which we learn more about as the story progresses.

Fearsome Dreamer does an excellent job of pulling you into the alternative world where technology is shunned yet there are people who exist that surpass the most technically advanced. Alternative reality is blended with the modern world as we know it. It’s different, but it’s there, and if you’re a fellow Brit, it’ll make you feel very small indeed.

Published: 3rd October 2013
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Pages: 384
Source: Thank you Hot Key Books for providing this book for review!
If you liked: Tempest

Book Review: Fearsome Dreamer by Laure EveBook Review: Fearsome Dreamer by Laure Eve