The Power by Naomi Alderman

As soon as I read the premise for this novel, I knew I had to give it a go. This story was literally marketed as “perfect for a fan of Margaret Atwood” … and I am definitely a fan of Atwood’s work. Another thing I found out about this author and this book that made me interested in reading it is that Margaret Atwood was this author’s mentor and had really loved this novel. What better endorsement could I ask for? So I got myself a copy… and now, here is my review:

The world is a recognisable place: there’s a rich Nigerian kid who lounges around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But on a day like any other, something has happened, something that will cause the lives of these individuals to converge. Teenage girls have developed an immense physical power – they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

The concept for this novel is absolutely brilliant. I love the idea of girls and women having an incredible ability, lying dormant in their bodies until something causes it to just come alive. And this novel is really a testament for how it only takes one to cause a revolution. The story is told from alternating perspectives where each of the characters mentioned here (and maybe some others) get a chance to tell the story from their point of view. There is only one male voice that is a main character: the rich Nigerian boy, Tunde. All of the other characters are female and they all have their own unique personalities that really comes through when they get their moment in the spotlight. I’m going to tell you right now: the strange power that females in this novel have is the ability to produce and channel electricity inside of their bodies. With this power, they can kill or hurt or shock anyone. Now, women are more powerful than men and they are using it to their advantage. The whole story is about reimagining the world: what would it be like if women were now in control instead of men? How would that takeover happen and how successful would it be? And the author really takes the time to answer this question through a multitude of issues from terrorism to politics to religion. I really appreciated the time and effort that went into cementing this concept. But this wasn’t really a story. It was more of a documentary or a research paper if anything else. In fact, this novel was shaped as a book proposal being submitted by someone named Nell to Naomi Alderman for review, which I thought was interesting … but also just made it less of a story and more research-like. The novel doesn’t allow for a great deal of emotional connection with the characters, and the story dragged on after the initial high-intensity chapters. There were a lot of cliché moments in the novel that took away from the novelty of it all. I guess I just wanted more story at times, and less of an explanation of the political situation. Overall, this was a fascinating concept and I liked a lot of the things the author had to say; I just wish the delivery of it all had been more story-like and less like a documentary. I’m giving this a 3/5 stars but really, the points are mostly just for the concept and the first half of the novel.

Happy reading ~

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Soulless by Gail Carriger – Parasol Protectorate #1

Going into this novel, I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that the premise contained all of my favorite things: supernatural beings, the Victorian era, and a feisty heroine. That was enough to intrigue me and give this book a shot. After reading it, I am so glad I did. Here is my review:

Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she’s a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette. Unfortunately, Alexia accidentally kills the vampire while protecting herself – and the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate. News on this vampire’s death leads to an investigation that reveals that unexpected vampires are appearing and expected vampires are disappearing. And everyone seems to believe that Alexia is somehow involved. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London’s high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy?

To define this book by one genre would be doing it an injustice because it is such a mashup! You’ve got steampunk, Victorian social etiquette, comedy, romance, and of course, supernatural/paranormal fantasy. I loved this eclectic mix of themes because it added so much variety to the story! I absolutely adored Alexia. She is funny, and inquisitive, and everything I wanted her to be! She adheres to Victorian etiquette standards only when it suits her and her independent thinking gets her into a great deal of trouble. I love that the author always keeps her in the center of the action and never makes her rely on men to fix things for her. I also loved her romance with Lord Maccon, which I had guessed would happen right from the start; it is VERY believable and not exactly pg-13 (so I would advise younger teenagers to not read this book). The story itself was intriguing, with witty humor thrown in every now and then. I liked the mystery and the action, and the different supernatural beings who were involved. If anything, I wish the organization of the different societies had been given more details, as that would have given me a better understanding of this world that Alexia lives in. I had a great reading experience with this novel because I just found it to be so funny and interesting that I couldn’t put it down. I’m giving it a 5/5 stars for being weird and funny and everything else in between!

Happy reading ~

Lies She Told by Cate Holahan

I received this novel as an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I really like stories about writers, regardless of genre. While I am an avid reader, I have very little skill when it comes to writing anything. And believe me, I’ve tried. So I have a lot of respect for authors and people who make writing their profession. When a story has an author as a main character, it really opens the reader’s eyes to the writing process and how different it can be from one person to another. To me, that understanding is just as enjoyable as the story itself. It was one of the things that drew me to this novel, but the thriller’s premise was also intriguing enough that I couldn’t let it pass me by. So here is my long-overdue review:

Liza Cole, a novelist, has only 1 month to write the thriller that will put her back on the bestseller list. If that wasn’t enough pressure, she’s struggling to start a family with her husband, who is too distracted by the disappearance of his best friend, Nick. As stresses weigh her down in her professional and personal lives, Liza escapes into writing the chilling exploits of her latest heroine, Beth.

Beth, a new mother, suspects her husband is cheating on her while she’s home caring for their newborn. Angry and betrayed, she aims to catch him in the act and make him pay for shattering the illusion of their perfect life. But before she realizes what she’s doing, she’s tossing the body of her husband’s mistress into the East River.

Liza is happy with the way Beth’s story is turning out … until the lines between fiction and reality begin to blur. Nick’s body is dragged from the East River, and Liza’s husband is arrested for his murder. Liza will have to face up to the truths about the people around her. If she doesn’t, the end of her heroine’s story could be the end of her own.

This story is told in alternating chapters, one being Liza’s story, the other being Beth’s story. While I really liked the author’s use of parallel storylines, it got confusing very quickly. There were a bit too many things similar and it became hard to keep things straight. While it was obviously the author’s intent for the reader to be able to pick up the similarities between the fiction and the reality, it would have been helpful if certain details (like names) hadn’t been so similar; I had to reread certain chapters and sections to make sure I didn’t confuse the different story lines and I really hate having to go back and forth in a novel to address confusion issues. Whenever there are 2 story lines, I inadvertently find myself drawn to one more than the other. In this case, I was more intrigued by Beth (who was part of the fictional aspect of the novel) who was a stronger protagonist. Both story lines were written well and it was easy to connect with both protagonists emotionally. As the story continued, I could really feel the fiction and reality aspects blurring together, and the tension was insanely high! I couldn’t wait to see how things would end … and then it did. And I wasn’t so pleased. I think that I liked the ending for Liza’s story line but the one that was fashioned for Beth took me completely off-guard and not in a good way. After so much suspense and tension, the ending fell quite flat for me. However, I did enjoy everything else about this novel. For those reasons, I’m giving this a 3/5 stars and would recommend this to anyone who likes thrillers and dual storylines.

Happy reading ~

Amatka by Karin Tidbeck

I received this novel as an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

What I love about dystopian novels is that each is unique in the way they describe the destruction of the old world. Each one has its own take on the degradation that took place to create the world where the story exists. It means that the reader has no idea what to expect – and those are the best kind of novels. I had no idea what I was getting into with this book … but now I do. Here is my review:

Vanja, a government worker, leaves her home city of Essre for the austere, winter colony of Amatka on a research assignment. Her job is to look into hygiene standards to determine how well-received new hygiene products would be in this commune. However, Vanja finds it hard to get answers: the people here are more guarded than in Essre, and citizens are constantly monitored for signs of subversion. Vanja planned on staying for only 3 weeks. However, she didn’t expect to fall in love with her housemate, Nina. Things seemed pleasant at first. But when Vanja stumbles upon evidence of a growing threat to the colony, she begins an investigation that puts her – and the residents of Amatka – at risk. In Amatka, language has the power to shape reality. Unless objects, buildings, and the surrounding landscape are repeatedly named, and named properly, everything will fall apart. Trapped in the repressive colony, Vanja dreams of using language to break free, but her individualism may well threaten the very fabric of reality.

This novel had an interesting premise and concept. The idea that language shapes the world is one that is prevalent among sociologists but it is a concept that is not really considered by many people. The idea to base a story on this is remarkable and I think the author created a very provocative novel here. The writing style is unique in that it doesn’t actually tell you things straight to your face. The information needs to be gleaned through careful reading and connecting of the different clues laid out by the author. The magnanimity of the situation at hand only becomes clear as you continue to read the story. The ability to make the reader think deeper is not easy to do, but the author does it here effortlessly. For those reasons, I loved the prose and writing style employed here. This is not a fast-paced story and you will be sorely disappointed if you are looking for a high-intensity action novel. This didn’t bother me in the slightest because the pacing worked to convey the intent of this novel. However, I wasn’t as happy with the characters. It was very difficult to connect with Vanja (or any of the characters). All of the characters were aloof and it was hard for me as a reader to understand them. While I understand that the dystopian world in this novel discourages emotional connection, I thought the author could still have found a way to make the characters feel things in a way that would make sense to the reader. This lack of emotional connection is especially problematic when considering the relationship between Vanja and Nina: there didn’t seem to be any. I didn’t expect there to be a full blown romance but the interactions between these 2 characters was not strong enough for me to feel they were in love. However, this was the only real negative I could find with this novel. Overall, this is a compelling and interesting story that will really force the reader to think deeply on the various themes that come into focus in the novel. I’m giving this a 4/5 stars because it deeply resonated with me; this is a story I am not likely to forget any time soon!

Happy reading ~

The Vanishing Season by Joanna Schaffhausen

I received this novel as an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Ellery Hathaway knows a thing or two about serial killers, but not through her police training: she was once victim #17 of serial killer Francis Michael Coben. She was the only who survived. Back then, she was Abigail. Now, she has shed both her name and all connections to her past, in order to focus on the future and try to stop other innocent people from getting in harm’s way. But when 3 people disappear from her town in the span of 3 years – all around her birthday – Ellery fears someone knows her secret. Her superiors dismiss her concerns, but Ellery knows the vanishing season is coming and anyone could be next. She contacts the one man she knows will believe her: the FBI agent who saved her from a killer all those years ago. Agent Reed Markham may have become famous for solving the Coben case, but his luck has changed since then. When Ellery calls him, he reluctantly agrees to help her. Now both of them are about to be sucked into the past, back to the case that made them…with a killer who can’t let go.

While the beginning of this novel started off as a thriller, I think this would be better described as a crime story. The author maintained a good pace and I quite enjoyed the writing style, which switched between the perspectives of Ellery and Reed. This was a short book compared to most other crime fiction/thrillers that I read, which meant that things moved along quite quickly. This may have been why I hesitate to call this novel a thriller; there really wasn’t the time to allow the tension and questions to build up. I thought that the story was interesting and it definitely had my attention from the start. It was a little too detailed at times, with side information that was not really important or necessary for character development or the story. I would have preferred if there had been more of an emphasis on profiling criminals and more red herrings in place. The ending was also easy to predict but enjoyable nevertheless. Overall, this was a nice mystery and I would recommend it to anyone who is a fan of crime fiction and is looking for a short read. Solid 3/5 stars from me!

Happy reading ~

Tarry This Night by Kristyn Dunnion

I’m always fascinated by cults and I always grab any book that deals with this subject matter so that it might help me understand the mentality behind cults better. What could possess people to give everything up and believe in one person who claims they know the future? What could cause people to wholeheartedly give in to a completely different way of life? These are just a few of the questions that I try to answer through fiction and non-fiction on this fascinating topic. Anyways, I stumbled upon this book and thought it would be a great read for me. Here is my review:

As a civil war brews in America, there lies a cult ensconced in an underground bunker, waiting for the conflict to end. Father Ernst is the leader of this cult, and his “Family” depends on him to guide them through this troubling time and into the period of Ascension promised to them. But when “The Family” runs out of food, one among them must go out and forage for supplies, leaving behind the rest to the madness of Father Ernst. Ruth is a young girl but she is soon to come of age. Terrified of serving as Ernst’s next wife, she must choose between obeying her faith and fighting for survival.

I thought this was a very interesting cult fiction with dystopian elements thrown into it. The summary is quite apt: there is a cult with its leader living in an underground bunker waiting out the civil unrest happening above ground, but tensions are high and they are on the brink of starvation. It’s the perfect setting for desperation to settle in and for something climactic to happen. I really liked that the story was told from multiple perspectives; it allowed us to understand the main characters better, while also showing us the situation they were in and how being a part of this cult had changed them. There are characters across all ages, each with their own unique experience and viewpoints. This is a gritty story that explores many different themes: the divide between blind faith and the ability to make one’s own choice, the loss of innocence, the desperation to survive, and the meaning of happiness and freedom. I really enjoyed the story but I just wish it had been longer! A longer story would have given more tension, and would have made me feel more satisfied about the ending. Overall, a really good story that I wish had been longer so that I could have enjoyed it more! 3/5 star rating from me!

Happy reading ~

The Wages of Sin by Kaite Welsh

I heard about this book when it first came out in March and added it to by TBR list. I really liked the idea of reading from the perspective of a female medical student from the 1890s, a very unheard of phenomenon back in the day. I also just love a good historical murder mystery. Here is my review:

Leaving behind London society after a scandal, Sarah Gilchrist has joined the University of Edinburgh’s medical school. This is the first year that the university has admitted women and Sarah is determined to become a doctor, despite the misgivings of her family and society. However, there are many barriers at the school itself: professors who refuse to teach their new pupils, male students determined to force out their female counterparts, and her female peers who will do anything to avoid being associated with a fallen woman. Desperate to get some training, Sarah begins to volunteer at the St. Giles’ Infirmary for Women, a charitable hospital for those who have nowhere else to go. Sarah enjoys her time volunteering there, even when the environment is grim. But when Lucy, one of Sarah’s patients, turns up in the university dissecting room as a battered corpse, Sarah finds herself drawn into a murky underworld of bribery, brothels, and body snatchers. Sarah is determined to find out what happened to Lucy and bring those responsible for her death to justice. But as she searches for answers, Sarah comes closer and closer to uncovering one of Edinburgh’s most lucrative trades, and, in doing so, puts her own life at risk…

I quite enjoyed this novel, with its fierce heroine! This is a well paced novel with a great deal of suspense and mystery that kept me enthralled from start to finish. I thought the author had done a great job in researching details of life in the 1890s, especially in terms of the rights (or lack thereof) for women, the cultural norms of the times, and the medical procedures that were popular at the time. There were times, I will admit, where I grew weary of Sarah’s constant complaints about the injustices women faced. It’s not that this wasn’t relevant or important; however, there came a time when the point had been made and I just wanted the story to move along. That being said, the mystery itself was interesting. There were many different clues and avenues that the story took to get to its conclusion, and I quite liked all of these twists and turns. I thought the mystery was well planned out and executed and the conclusion was enjoyable. However, character development was another weak point in this novel: while some of the other characters showed growth throughout the story, Sarah did not. This feeling of lack of growth might have been because of her constant complaints but it just felt like Sarah remained the same throughout the novel, and I would have liked to see her change through her experiences. Overall, this was a compelling and engaging read that I really enjoyed, with a good amount of historical detail and a strong heroine. I’ve heard that there will be a sequel to this novel, and I look forward to reading it when it comes out (February 2019)! I’m giving this a solid 4/5 stars!

Happy reading ~

A Matter of Oaths by Helen S. Wright

I received this novel as an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I thought this would be an interesting read for me since I’ve never read a space opera. I’m always trying to give new genres a chance, and have enjoyed the opportunities I have received thus far. I thought I would try my luck here. Apparently, this novel was originally published in 1990, which was surprising to me. The version I read was newer, from 2017. Apart from the cover art, I don’t think anything has changed in terms of the story. But anyways… here is my review:

Commander Rallya of patrolship Bhattya thought she had a talent for making enemies–until she met Rafe. For no crime on his record, the young officer had been identity wiped, and his innumerable, now-forgotten enemies were still tracking him across the galaxy.

I don’t think space operas are my thing, as I really didn’t enjoy this novel. I don’t think there was anything wrong with the novel itself; it’s just another instance where the book and I didn’t match. I thought the characters were interesting and very unique: there’s a gay person of colour and an older woman who are the main characters of the story. I loved Commander Ralya’s sharp tongue and wit! However, I didn’t really like the writing style and I wish there had been more world-building so that I could better understand the context of the story. Since I wasn’t able to connect with the story, I wasn’t able to enjoy it as much as I could have. I’m going to give this novel a 2/5 stars as a rating, but would strongly urge others to check out more reviews before deciding whether they should read this book or not.

Happy reading ~

The Party By Robyn Harding

This novel has been on all the trending reading lists. I really wanted to know what the hype was about. There’s been a trend in stories that talk about parties going wrong, but this one seemed unique in that it was not just told from the perspectives of adults but also from teens. Here is my review:

Sweet sixteen: it’s an exciting coming of age. To celebrate this milestone, Jeff and Kim Sanders plan on throwing a party for their daughter, Hannah, a sweet girl with good grades and nice friends. Instead of an extravagant affair, they invite 4 girls over for pizza, cake, movies, and a sleepover. But things go horrifically wrong. After a tragic accident occurs, Jeff and Kim’s flawless life in a wealthy San Francisco suburb suddenly begins to come apart. In the ugly aftermath, friends become enemies, dark secrets are revealed in the Sanders’ marriage, and the truth about their perfect daughter, Hannah, is exposed.

This novel was confusing in that it wasn’t sure what it was meant to be. In the beginning, I thought this story would pan out into a thriller, with increasing tension and a grand reveal. It started off giving every indication that that was exactly what would happen. And then it suddenly became a drama. Now, we are reading from the perspectives of adults and how this situation has changed their views on their children, and how they now question their parenting. It becomes a story about culpability, and guilt, and revenge. When the teen perspectives are shown, it’s all about bullying, guilt, and self-esteem and identity. And this is fine. There is nothing wrong with any of these themes. But it just came off a bit cheesy and overdone. It didn’t help that the adults were all extremely selfish and annoying. Just when I got used to all of this melodrama, the story begins to show hints of this big reveal. Once again, I’m feeling confused as to what I’m reading. In the end, the reveal really wasn’t anything out of the ordinary; it’s something that was easy to suspect, and may not even have been necessary. There were also a specific detail that the author mentioned (I will refer to it as the introduction of a psychopath) that really bothered me; it didn’t have to happen and was just there to add more drama to an already cringe-worthy situation. Overall, this novel was just confusing: it didn’t know if it wanted to be a thriller or a soap opera. It might have been better as the latter, since I felt that the grief and emotional aspects of the story were not too shabby. I’m giving this a 2.5/5 stars, but I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone looking for a good read; for me, this was just okay.

Happy reading ~

Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak

I received this novel as an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This novel intrigued me because it was completely out of the norm. I don’t really read books that discuss religion, philosophy, and politics, but this story was just too interesting for me to pass on. Here is my review:

While on her way to a dinner party in Istanbul, Peri, a wealthy married Turkish woman, is robbed. As she wrestles to get it back, a photograph falls to the ground. It’s an old polaroid of 3 young women and their university professor, a relic from a past that Peri has held onto while also trying to forget. Over the course of dinner, terrorist attacks occur across the city. Competing in Peri’s mind, however, are the memories invoked by her almost-lost polaroid, of the time years earlier when she was sent abroad for the first time to attend Oxford University. There, she had become friends with the charming, adventurous Shirin, a fully assimilated Iranian girl, and Mona, a devout Egyptian-American. Their arguments about Islam and feminism find focus in the charismatic but controversial Professor Azur, who teaches divinity, but in unorthodox ways. As the terrorist attacks come ever closer, Peri is moved to recall the scandal that tore them all apart.

I thought that this novel was quite interesting. Peri’s character takes us on a journey into the past and the present through alternating chapters. In this way, the reader gets to understand Istanbul, the country of her birth, and what it means to be Muslim. I really liked the time the author spent explaining Peri’s experiences to the reader; it gave me a new perspective to consider. This novel also talks about tensions in the family, and how secrets and frustrations can upset family dynamics. I will admit, I was more interested in the past than in the present events, but I found Peri’s grown-up character (during the present) to be wonderfully mature in her views on politics, religion, and the role of females. I also loved watching Peri grow up and become confused about her views and identity, especially once she attends Oxford. I wish there had been more tension in the events that occurred in the past, and wish certain things had been explained in more detail because they seemed to happen out of nowhere and caught me off-guard. After all the lovely explanations about Islam and the cultural mosaic in Istanbul, I wanted the author to help me understand more of Peri’s actions. I also wish there had been some tie-in to explain how Peri got to where she was in the present time, as that would have been a good transition. Overall, I found this novel to be thought-provoking and insightful, but not a thriller in any sense. This is a slower novel but it is beautifully written and I would recommend it to anyone interested in philosophy and religion, and the way these 2 aspects can shape a person’s identity. 3/5 stars from me!

Happy reading ~