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

Book Review: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Book Review: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Series: The 5th Wave (#1)
Shelved: Young adult fiction (science fiction, post-apocalyptic)
Rating: ★★★★
Buy: The Book Depository
More: Goodreads

I have been feeling a bit overwhelmed when it comes to YA science fiction, in particularly post-apocalyptic and dystopian novels, over the past year or so. There is just so many of them! And they all sound the same! How am I meant to know which one to pick up? I chose The 5th Wave because it had been receiving so much buzz. I was also invited to attend an author event, Rick Yancey interviewed by Lucy Mangan (which I hope to post about soon!), and I thought I had better start reading it.

The 1st Wave: Lights Out
The 2nd Wave: Surf’s Up
The 3th Wave: Pestilence
The 4th Wave: Silencer

What do you do when the enemy looks exactly like you? Are they still human? If so, is it morally right to kill them? Cassie, short for Cassiopeia, the constellation, is struggling with these thoughts every day. She is alone, after the vast majority of the population have been wiped out after an alien invasion, until she comes across an injured man asking for help. Is he human? Or an alien? Luckily, it’s not a predicament we have to deal with, but Cassie does. And she has to start making choices.

The 5th Wave is one of the most impressive young adult science fiction novels I have read so far and although this is partially due to its memorable, distinctive characters, and partially to do with Yancey’s compelling writing style, it’s also to do with the fact that it is quite a hefty book. The 5th Wave consists of 91 chapters in nearly 500 pages. It’s rich with detail and backstory and reasons. It’s easy to say that there has been an alien invasion and then leave it at that, but Rick Yancey goes through each wave and shows us exactly what it was like for Cassie, leaving us in fear of the 5th Wave – and it’s not what you expect.

The 5th Wave is split into sections and told through three points of view – Cassie, her little brother Sammy, and ‘Zombie’, that eventually converge into an explosive end. I loved that each character had a distinctive voice; I could turn to any page and know who is speaking, which is extremely important to me. As a reader, I cannot stand it when I find it difficult to distinguish between characters. Cassie in particular is a brilliant character (and Rick Yancey’s favourite!) because she’s surprising witty and sarcastic the whole way through, making the novel read a little like Zombieland, but a little more serious! (Aliens are no joke). But she can also be deadly serious when necessary:

‘But if I’m it, the last of my kind, the last page of human history, like hell I’m going to let the story end this way. I may be the last one, but I am the one still standing. I am the one turning to face the faceless hunter in the woods on an abandoned highway. I am the one not running but facing. Because if I am the last one, then I am humanity. And if this is humanity’s last war, then I am the battlefield.’

All three of our survivors are intelligent and contemplative. They constantly question why the alien invasion happened and where they now fit. The 5th Wave is definitely an exciting book and one I could not wait to come back to. I found myself appreciating Rick Yancey’s writing, which is concise – no word is wasted, but then a sentence comes along and leaves you stunned. I still feel overwhelmed by the genre, but I have faith that there are still some stories out there, like The 5th Wave, that will blow us all away. Figuratively. Thankfully. Unfortunately, I am not new to young adult science fiction, but if I were, The 5th Wave would leave me with a new favourite genre.

While writing this review, I finally remembered where I had seen the name Rick Yancey before – he is the author of The Monstrumologist, which had been positively reviewed by Priscilla. I want to read it even more now!

Published: 7th May 2013
Publisher: Penguin Books
Pages: 480
Source: Thank you Puffin, Penguin Books for providing this book to review!
If you liked: The Host & Dark Inside

Book Review: The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

Book Review: The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

Shelved: Adult fiction (classic, science fiction, post-apocalyptic)
Challenge: Classics Challenge – #3
Rating: ★★★★★
Buy: The Book Depository
More: Goodreads

I chose The Day of the Triffids to be my third classic book of the year because I knew that John Wyndham’s books were cult classics within the science fiction genre. The Day of the Triffids was published in 1951 and except for the lack of modern technology, you would scarcely believe that it was not published yesterday.

I’d be forgiven for expecting The Day of the Triffids to be really quite silly. I did not mind at all, but that’s just what I expected. The Day of the Triffids starts with Bill Masen waking up in a hospital bed, in silently chaotic London, England, as one of the last people to retain their eyesight. Widespread blindness has turned people either vulnerable or violent, with some attempting to enslave those who can see, turning them into personal guide dogs. But there’s another menace – Triffids, walking poisonous, flesh-eating plants, who shoot to kill.

Bill Masen must simply survive in this lonesome world. He must accept the bleak future ahead, and that is why The Day of the Triffids is so captivating. I pictured the Triffids to be more bulbous than they appear in the BBC adaptation, but no less freakish. Yet, as I said, The Day of the Triffids never once comes across as silly. Perhaps it’s because it is set in familiar streets, such as Piccadilly and Shaftesbury Avenue, or because the Triffids are not cartoonish monsters, but eerie, dangerous organisms that can kill a human being within seconds by blasting them with poison.

The Day of the Triffids also paints a chilling picture of how quickly social structures are altered the majority of the population are unable to see. It no longer matters what social class you are, or where you buy your fancy clothes, just how useful you can now be. It shows just low in the food chain humans can become if a worldwide bodily catastrophe occurs. What, now, is the enemy?

The Day of the Triffids is not particularly action-packed or fast-paced, but it will have you on the edge of your seat all the same, as it’s strength is in its ability to allow you to imagine how you would react while everybody around you is in despair. I’m excited about John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids, which I’ve already purchased, and I’d also like to check out The Midwich Cuckoos.

‘When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.’

Published: 2008, originally 1951
Publisher: Penguin Books
Pages: 272