Month: June 2016

Glory and Gore

Review: The Girl With All The Gifts – M. R. Carey

I was one of those kids who hated gore. I hated seeing gory things on tv, hated reading about them in books, hated hearing people talk about things which might possibly have been related to gore, hated things which maybe once were near something which then went on at a later date to be gory…

How times have changed. No longer do I want to throw up whenever anyone mentions anything remotely gross. When I was on my work experience, a guy there told me about trapping his fingers in a door and scraping the skin off. I almost passed out! Now, my legs only go a tiny bit wobbly when I think of it! And now, I am the kind of person who can watch 98% of Game of Thrones. I’m so proud of my lessening sensitivity!

This new me is extending beyond tv, and into zombie books. Yes! Zombie books! The blurb of The Girl With All The Gifts doesn’t give that much away, and I bought it on a whim because… actually, I’m not sure why I bought it. I think I was trying to extend my reading with a few random picks, and this happened to catch my eye.

Well, it is very yellow.

I’m glad I didn’t know it was a zombie book, because then I wouldn’t have read it. I would have denied myself this beautiful book, so far from what I imagine a zombie book to be. It’s a book about humanity, with an ending that will tear your heart.


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.

Melanie is a very special girl.

Melanie’s gifts place her in grave danger, but her rescue puts the one person she cares about in graver danger still. She will do anything to protect the person she loves, even if that means protection from Melanie herself.

A little girl being a monster is not necessarily an unusual premise. I’m thinking of what I would call the “creepy Victorian children” trope. The twins in that horror thing with twins in. You know the one I mean. But Melanie is more like Frankenstein’s monster. She works against what is expected of her. Her love is what defines her, rather than her monstrousness.

On the run with two people who, for their own reasons, wish her dead, Melanie is forced to confront the reality of her condition. The most touching bit – and it chokes me up to think about it, is when we are reminded that Melanie is a little girl. At one point she’s given new clothes for the first time in her life, and can’t believe how beautiful they are. Unicorn jeans! Gah! What a terribly written review this is. But I don’t want to give too much away – if you haven’t read this, you need to discover it yourself, then you can join me in wailing “unicorn jeans!” and clutching at your chest.

This big book of monsters makes us question who the heroes really are.

All that said, I bet I’m too scared to see the film…

Buy The Girl With All The Gifts here, and wail “unicorn jeans!” with me.

How Not to Waste Your Life

Review: In Twenty Years: A Novel, by Allison Winn Scotch

I’m at a point in my life, and seem to have been for the past six or so years, where I feel like I should know what I’m doing.

I spent – and I daresay, we spent – our school years dreaming of the lives we’d have as adults. Be that with marriages and children or with glittering careers, or both! In university I was impatient to start this ascent to the life I dreamed of, that I had been preparing for for so many years. I’m still impatient for it now, but I have no idea how to go about it. I’m nearly thirty, which is pretty much the half way point between having left school and achieving the accolade of being a Well-Rounded and Settled Adult(TM), and I seem further away from whatever it is I want out of life than ever, and have even less idea about what it is I actually do want.

In Twenty Years: A Novel, shows that I am not remotely alone.

Sadly no knitwear is actually featured in the story.

This novel follows a group of friends who lived together at college, and their reunion twenty years later.

One of their number, Bea, who held the group together, is dead. The other five have been splintered and fractured by unrequited loves and petty rivalries. One is a top plastic surgeon, another an ageing and fabulously famous rock star. One is a rich housewife and lady of leisure, one is the Martha Stewart-style head of her own craft empire, and the last, her husband, is a stay at home father and former lawyer.

In spite of each of the characters being unusually successful (not a single one isn’t fantastically wealthy), and all having achieved their dreams, each has lost their way. The lives they envisaged for themselves at college haven’t turned out as they planned. To all appearances they are happy and fulfilled, but each has their own secret shame that they will do anything to hide from their seemingly perfect former friends.

Actually, I can’t relate to that all that much, being as I am neither successful nor wealthy. But nonetheless, these characters all seemed very human, in a way I don’t recall finding in any other novel I have read. Perhaps the idea of losing your way, and the feelings of shame and separation from everyone you used to know, who appear to be doing so well (via their carefully curated lives on social media) are themes all millenials such as myself can relate to.

Over the course of this story, Bea is the central character, in spite of her only being present as narrator for the first chapter. Her death clings to the group, as they each remember how friendship with her made them a better person. Her view of them, if she hadn’t died, is the one which they feel most shamed by – if Bea could see me now, she’d be so disappointed by what I have become. Bea’s zest for life and the feeling that while hers was cut short, theirs has been squandered, is the main driver for the events of the book.

It made want to do things, to shake off the fog of lethargy which seems to accompany me everywhere these days. It made me not want to compromise the things which are important to me, to draw more, to work on my writing, to read more and… to not spend my time at home dreading going to work, and my time at work wishing for home.

This is inspirational self-help dressed as a novel. This is teenage angst meets mid-life crisis. This should be on your TBR pile. Get it now, then start doing the things you always dreamed of.

Coming Home, a Mystery of Lies and Ladies

Review: Coming Home – Annabel Kantaria

Some books just grab you. I spent about a week dipping in and out of a not-particularly-interesting book that I was glad to finish, then started Coming Home. I wanted something exciting, something a bit dark, and this seemed to fit the bill.

Coming Home by Annabel Kantaria

Hey, if Judy Finnigan loved it…

Boy, did it ever.

Evie, 28, has lived in Dubai for 5 years. She left London to escape from the shadow of her brother’s death, and the demands of her unstable mother. She’s had the time of her life, finally free from the emotional shackles of her family and able to become her own person at last.

Then her father dies.

Evie returns home to face not only her father’s death, but also the mother she left behind.

Struggling to cope with a grief she isn’t able to express, Evie begins to uncover her father’s secrets. These are revealed in tandem with flashbacks of therapy sessions Evie had as a child following the sudden death of her brother. Every page seems to bring new questions, and what would be a main plot twist in another book is just another layer in this one.

Who did her father transfer enormous sums of money to, just before his death?

Where did her father really go during the week when he said he was away working?

Why did Evie’s father not tell her about the cancer which had got so bad, so quickly?

Why doesn’t Evie’s mother speak to her brother?

And most importantly of all, how much did her mother already know?

I got a real sense of the confusion felt by Evie as she discovered hidden truths and faced memories she’d deliberately buried. Having spent her life trying to help her parents at the expense of her own grief, Evie’s shock and confusion at being lied to is palpable. In a world which places so much emphasis on the sanctity and perfection of a mother’s love, I am always interested in stories regarding the significant absence or abuse of that love.

It’s an emotionally complex book, and I welled up several times while reading – and I had to read it all in one sitting. We lost someone a few months ago, and the grief in this book rang so true, it brought back everything I’d felt during that awful period. It was a difficult read, but a worthwhile one.

The numbness of grief coupled with having to grapple with what, at the best of times, would be overwhelmingly difficult truths, are sensitively and honestly brought to life by Kantaria’s delicately woven prose.

I couldn’t put this book down and raced to the conclusion, only to find myself left with a moral dilemma. The question of all questions – how far would you go to protect your family? I know which path I’d have chosen. Why don’t you find out what you’d do?

The best mystery I’ve read in a long time, and one I recommend highly. Read it now, so I can talk to you about it!

And if you like it, you may also enjoy The Disappearance – another mystery of lies and ladies by the same author.

Seed Loves You

Review: Seed, by Lisa Heathfield

To return to my roots of reviewing books which have been out for ages, I have just read Seed and aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah cults. I actually thought this had only been out two months, and that I was *almost* on time, but no, alas, it was released April last year and I just didn’t have my glasses on. That would have been embarrassing.

I heard some buzz about Seed on Twitter, and I’ve never read anything about cults, but I’m interested in them because isn’t everybody!?

And what a cover.


Pearl has lived her whole life at Seed, a farm community run by the enigmatic Papa S. The group worship nature, as channelled through their leader, and live a life of idyllic simplicity, free from technology or modern distraction. Yet their peace is shattered at the arrival of Outsiders, Linda and her two children, Sophie and Ellis – the latter being an attractive young man who makes Pearl feel things that she doesn’t understand. As Pearl and Ellis grow closer, the bonds of the Seed community begin to unravel. Ellis dares to question Papa S’s authority, and Pearl begins to question what she has always believed..

The thing about life at Seed is that so much of it sounds absolutely lovely. You know, being as one with nature, growing and picking your own food, and this wonderful, close community filled with genuine love for one another… but then as you read on, you find that there’s also sexual abuse and drugging.

Papa S is a brilliant villain – like Snow from Hunger Games. I imagined him played by Donald Sutherland, actually, and suggest you do too! He has that calm authority, that manipulation, that unsettling attitude and an evil core. I’m a really big fan of a good villain. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t on his side, but the perfect manipulation and the way he was fuelled by his unshakeable belief in his own self, was masterfully done.

On the other hand our narrator and heroine, Pearl, is naive almost to the point of being irritating. When it came to the crimes Papa S committed, I wished her understanding of them had been more explicit, and that Heathfield had pushed it further. It felt, at times, like an 18 edited down to be a PG. The reader knows what happens to Papa S’s “companions”, we can see that Pearl’s friends are being sexually abused, but none of this touches Pearl. Her innocence is barely rippled.

I wanted so badly for her to be more questioning and less trusting, yet in truth she stayed resolutely true to character. It’s difficult to imagine having all my knowledge of modern life taken away from me. To imagine that all I know is told to me by one man, and that I would trust his word absolutely because I knew nothing else. Of course Pearl didn’t have a clue what was going on, she had grown up in a cult. Her innocence is frustrating, yes, but an unshakeable and defining part of her character.

For all that it felt a little tame, Seed was utterly compelling. I enjoyed it so much, but I wanted it to be more. I wanted there to be more. I want a sequel. A Seed-quel! (Sorry.)

Try Seed for yourself here.

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