[REVIEW] Idyll – James Derry

IDYLL_Cover2cSummary
Characters – 4/5
Plot – 4/5
Style – 3/5
World Building – 4/5
Overall – 4/5

Quote
“Their loss was like the sea. When judged with distance, it seemed placid, something ethereal, something that could be abided. But to dwell on their loss, to give in to close scrutiny, led to turmoil. They might start to wallow; they might drown. Fixating on their grief, drawing it close and making it the dominant geological feature of their lives, would be a very bad thing. Then again, ignoring that absence entirely could be just as bad.”

Review
A bizarre plague named The Lullaby has Mother Earth’s second chance, Idyll, in its deadly grasp, and it seems that the only guaranteed way to survive is permanent quarantine. Three years after their father left in search of answers, Walt and Sam finally decide that they’ve had enough of hiding and move on from the family ranch to track him down. Travelling through decimated cities forgotten by everyone but faceless monsters, the brothers take their chances on a journey with their infected mother to find a cure and reunite their family.

Carefully and gradually terraformed over hundreds of years, Idyll has been shaped with the best parts of Earth in mind ready for colonisation. Rid of the unnecessary technology and life-extending pharmaceuticals we have come to rely upon, Idyll has been cultivated on the basis of earning your place, proving your worth and allowing natural selection to do her work. Beginning with the humble and tender care of earthworms and insects, generation after generation of the Starboard family has been trusted to farm creatures great and small. Now experienced ranchers, it is a large responsibility that Sam and Walt must leave behind, in the hope of a better life in the capital – Marathon.

The terror of falling into an endless sleep, infecting anyone close enough to hear the endless comatose mumbling of the trigger phrase, is exceptionally psychologically haunting. Destined to waste away and doom the people you love, The Lullaby is a brilliantly crafted motivator behind the narrative and poses much more than simple mortal threats. The details of the epidemic are well thought-out and small nods to its origins and purpose are intelligently woven into the story through short interludes. The reveal is intensely satisfying with every small piece of the puzzle falling logically into place in way that makes sense while still managing to catch you by surprise.

Our narrators’ opposing personalities make their interactions tense and intriguing, as while they have the same ultimate goals, Walt and Sam must juggle their differing methods and come to terms with their changing priorities. At times, Walt and Sam can be more alike than they realise, the dual narrative giving the reader an insight into how their time in quarantine has both wrenched them apart and solidified their shared morals and values.

Miriam and Virginia are fiery characters who push the brothers beyond their comfort zone and give them something tangible to fight for. With a mother wasting away on Walt’s basic medical training and a father they can only dream of finding, Miriam and Virginia keep them focussed on the road ahead. The sisters struck me in particular as, while they are manipulative and brave, they are still vulnerable and scared. They are neither damsels in distress nor one dimensional strong female characters, they are an honest blend of the two, characters that science fiction and YA needs right now more than ever.

From scientific discussions of the primordia teeming on the planet to the soft glow of the sister moons, it is apparent that a large amount of care and attention to detail has been paid in crafting the world of IDYLL. With a bittersweet ending that plays hope against despair, IDYLL is an exciting and heart-stopping race across a tragically beautiful new planet. Exploring both the physical and psychological effects of a sleeping curse-like plague, IDYLL challenges the reader to delve deeper into the story to discover what really caused the world to fall apart.

I received IDYLL from James Derry in exchange for an honest review. My reviews always represent my own opinion.

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[REVIEW] The Human Script – Johnny Rich

Summahuman-script-finalry
Characters – 4/5
Plot – 3/5
Style – 5/5
Science – 5/5
Overall – 4/5

Quote
“Inhumanity is part of humanity as much as suffering is a part of stories. Cruelty is written in the human script.”

Review
More science than science fiction, THE HUMAN SCRIPT: A NOVEL IN 23 CHROMOSOMES is an incredibly intelligent, literary exploration of what humanity means in a world so obsessed with hard facts and scientific proof. I truly felt like I was learning whilst reading THE HUMAN SCRIPT, but most importantly, it gave me a new appreciation and understanding of a variety of topics that I’d never even considered venturing into before.

I find it difficult to discuss the plot of THE HUMAN SCRIPT in complete isolation to its characters, ideas and settings, as the interplay between all of these factors is really what drives the story forward. To try to talk about the plot in any depth would be to ruin the experience of the entire book and to pinpoint Chris’ narrative down to just a few defining moments is practically impossible.

With a mind that is constantly churning over possibilities, connections and events, Chris explores everyday life with an eye that searches for meaning in every single detail he can comprehend. If you like your novels to have very clear-cut conflict/resolution from chapter to chapter, I would suggest that this isn’t the novel for you.

THE HUMAN SCRIPT is fairly heavy on a wide range of thought-provoking topics. We are taken on a whirlwind tour of complex ideologies in philosophy, biology, art, anthropology and religion from the very first page to the very last. Ultimately, this novel is the bemused consideration of human nature – a study on the space inside our protagonist’s head and the circumstances that happen to him and because of him.

The parallels between Chris and his brother are both fascinating and enlightening – the more I read the more I began to understand the context of Chris’ musings on nature vs nurture and cause vs effect. The twins are genetically identical, but born on different days under different signs, they have lived lives that are both the same and entirely different. The development of Chris’ character is integral to the storyline and his arc is executed to perfection. He has a sharp mind and enjoys dissecting his experiences to internalise and justify his feelings, changing ever so imperceptively but dramatically as his life takes the usual twists and turns.

Our second narrator is an omnipotent and manipulative unknown third person. He interjects occasionally, describing how the moments Chris finds himself in were constructed and came into being, pushing his thoughts into the story and even directly challenging the reader with his twisted philosophy (“So who is cruel? You, cruel reader, you are. You.”). This narrator adds a dimension of detachment to the story that becomes increasingly significant as it progresses.

I feel that talking specifics would spoil such a painstakingly crafted narrative and I’ve deliberately tried to keep my review short on details for this reason. A literary/non-fiction hybrid, I would urge you to give this one a go even if it doesn’t sound like your usual reads.

THE HUMAN SCRIPT is a novel that absolutely begs to be shared and discussed and argued over endlessly so please let me know if you’ve already read this book! I would love to talk to people about the themes and philosophical theories considered throughout the novel and learn even more.

[REVIEW] Way Down Dark – JP Smythe

25202767Summary
Characters – 2/5
Plot – 3/5
Style – 3/5
World building – 2/5
Overall – 3/5

Quote
“Don’t die.”

Review
The first novel of the Australia Trilogy, WAY DOWN DARK is another addition to the ever-growing dystopian YA genre. I picked it up after seeing a lot of hype on Twitter but unfortunately was left feeling a little let down.

We follow the story of orphaned Chan aboard the good (space)ship Australia. The huge vessel embarked from a dying Earth hundreds of years before she was born, searching endlessly for a new planet to call home. Chan has learnt to keep her head down and live in her mother’s memory but when the vicious Lows decide to spread out and take her territory by force, she has to decide whether to stick by her rules or sacrifice her safety to help others.

Whilst I found WAY DOWN DARK a reasonably enjoyable read, I just couldn’t squash the feeling that I’d read it all before. Many aspects of the storyline are eye-rollingly stereotypical and it was far too easy to pigeonhole characters into their prescribed tropes. Chan is the feisty female protagonist, orphaned on the first page and thrust unwillingly into leadership. Agatha is her mentor and advisor, disapproving and disappointing but somehow she always manages to come through in the end. Rex is the one-dimensional villain hellbent on utter destruction, her inexplicable hatred for Chan burning with the fire of a thousand suns. And of course there’s the obligatory tease of a love interest.

There wasn’t much complexity in the world-building, limited by the confines of the plot. The inhabitants are unaware of the situation on Earth and which direction they’re floating in, so the social structure of Australia took precedence.

The ship is split down into factions based largely on tired archetypes; religious fanatics, violent lower class savages and genetically engineered warriors. There’s a rebellion of sorts and some exciting battles but ultimately there is a lot of climbing and hiding and gardening in between all the fun parts. And of course when shit finally hits the fan it’s down to the inexperienced, unprepared and seemingly invincible protagonist to save the day.

The style was uncomplicated and relatively easy to digest. With a no nonsense voice, Chan played her part well and I managed to finish WAY DOWN DARK in only a few sittings. Although I found the plot generally predictable, it was still an enjoyable tale that definitely became much more exciting the more I read.

I did occasionally find it difficult to imagine the layout of Australia. The ship I pictured didn’t always seem to fit with how the characters interacted with it and I found it hard to marry everything together. The backdrop is crucial to the atmosphere, especially in such a claustrophobic setting, so I often had to re-read sections to get the story straight in my mind.

The one feature I really took exception to was the few random chapters from Agatha’s viewpoint. They broke up Chan’s narrative to provide some context and background, but they felt lazy to me. I would have much preferred the information being woven into the story naturally rather than shoved in.

Overall, I thought WAY DOWN DARK was a decent read with plenty of bursts of action to keep the story moving. It might be a good introduction to a science fiction style setting for those who aren’t familiar with the genre, but I don’t think I’ll be picking up the next book in the series.

[REVIEW] The 5th Wave – Rick Yancey

16101128Summary
Characters – 4/5
Plot – 4/5
Style – 4/5
World building – 4/5
Overall – 4/5

Quote
“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.”

Review
They arrived on an average day without warning or fanfare, the Mothership hanging over Manhattan like it belonged there. Aeroplanes dropped from the sky, tsunamis and earthquakes destroyed entire coastlines, and the Pestilence took four billion humans with it. Isolated and terrified, the survivors are ripe for hand-picking. Now they are with us, walking in our skins and killing us with our own hands. Nobody can be trusted.

Cassie is on her own. She has survived the 3rd Wave and is managing to eke out on existence in the 4th. She knows the 5th Wave is coming, not when or what or how, but she knows it will come, because the Silencers won’t stop until every last human is silenced. Searching for her little brother after their separation at Camp Ashpit, she refuses to break the promise she made him. Zombie is training to become an alien-killing machine and Evan is just trying to follow his heart.

One of my favourite features of THE 5TH WAVE was the way each character’s storyline began separately and eventually became woven together. Rather than chapter-by-chapter changes, their stories are told in segments, ending each time on perfect, tension-building cliffhangers. This method certainly made for a more dynamic and intricate story-telling experience.

There are some truly thought-provoking and moving moments in THE 5TH WAVE, considering what it really means to be human in a world stripped back to its most basic nature. With just the right amount of humour and teenage dreams, the plot is fast-paced and full of energy. The threat of capture and death is tangible and hangs over the characters constantly, making for an exciting and powerful story.

The story of Cassie and her family takes place against the classic apocalypse backdrop: not quite deserted forests, conflicted survivor camps, lonely highways and the looming watchers above.. Uncomfortably realistic and set firmly in the modern-day, the many scenes of Cassie’s travels feel like an eerie reflection of what our world could be if aliens really didn’t want us around.

The few protagonists and their friends appear to be quite well-rounded and come complete with one fully realised, heartbreaking back story or another. Some characters, such as Ringer, remain charmingly enigmatic, keeping enough secrets to make her interesting. Evan in particular is complex and intriguing, with motives and a history I enjoyed puzzling out. There’s a lot of development in Zombie in particular as he learns the art of war and what it truly is to be brave, while Cassie’s evolution creeps up on her and takes her cold-hearted distrust by surprise.

My only real disappointment with THE 5TH WAVE was that each character didn’t have a completely unique or distinct voice. The style in general was excellent across the board regardless of which character was in charge, but without context I found it difficult to distinguish between Cassie and Zombie. They each had subtle quirks and I especially enjoyed Cassie’s internal conversations with herself, but stylistically there was little to make each one instantly recognisable.

THE 5TH WAVE has the makings to be a brilliant young adult scifi series, with THE INFINITE SEA already available and a third installment on the way. Frantic and believable, every page is completely absorbing with the perfect combination of an unearthly atmosphere and the human condition.

[REVIEW] The Fire Sermon – Francesca Haig

Summaryimage4
Characters – 5/5
Plot – 5/5
Style – 5/5
World building – 4/5
Overall – 5/5

In a Tweet
Time is running out for Cass & the Omegas if her brother’s plans come together. Can she escape & find the rebellion before it’s too late?

Review
THE FIRE SERMON is the stunning debut novel from Francesca Haig, released in hardcover on 26th February 2015.

As a Seer, visions of The Blast which reduced the world to dust haunt Cass. She wakes screaming every night, horrified by the destruction that tore The Before apart and left The After; her world. Being an Omega, these visions are just one of the many burdens she cannot escape.

In The After, children are born in pairs – one perfect Alpha destined for privilege and authority, and one mutated Omega shunned from society and treated as filth. The Alphas reign supreme with the best land, cities, facilities and all the power, while the Omegas are thrown out of the community and horribly oppressed. But still, Alphas can never fully wash the taint of their poisoned siblings away. They are linked. When one twin dies, so does the other.

This bright twist on a timeless tale of segregation and uprising makes THE FIRE SERMON stand out in a well-developed genre. The rules of Cass’ world are logical and binding, no exceptions. Once the Omega is discovered, the twins are ripped apart and sent to live the lives destiny prescribed them. Cass may have escaped the split for a few precious years, but once her visions were discovered there was no fighting back. The Alphas are torn between hating their siblings and wanting to protect them, and what Cass’ powerful twin, Zach, has in mind is truly horrifying.

It is this unique history that makes the typical world and customs of Cass’ setting something more exciting than the expected. With sprawling countrysides and medieval citadels, the surroundings are reminiscent of classic high fantasy, but beautifully imagined.

The narration is full of rich imagery and wonderfully worded language. Haig is fluent in metaphor and Cass’ frequent reflections on her past draw us in to her history and give a true insight to her character. She is often reminded of childhood stories and experiences with her twin, creating a real melanchonly undertone throughout the story.

Cass is a mature and level-headed narrator, filled with a little longing and a good pinch of rebellious ideals about equality, but she always acts with a sense of purpose. She is pulled towards her goals by her visions, her moral compass and her heart. I was really impressed with how Cass was brought to life, and felt she truly embodied what it is to be a strong leader.

The relationships forged throughout the novel feel genuine and personal too. Kip is so endearing with a quick humour and a hidden depth that is slowly revealed as time goes on. They seem to grow together in a natural way, and it’s such a wonderful partnership to read. Even Zach has a soft and gentle side to his hateful coldness, as we see him through Cass’ love tinted eyes. With such a diverse and interesting cast, it was really enjoyable to see each character’s personality and development throughout the novel. Zach especially has a deep and complex motivation for his actions.

Story-wise, the plot and direction of the novel are really strong. I guessed a few of the twists along the way but the final chapters were a complete shock! There is a lot of tension and anticipation built throughout, so the ending worked incredibly well. The originality in Haig’s writing is fresh, so this isn’t just another tale of rebellion.

For me, the execution of THE FIRE SERMON puts it a step above a lot of books in the SF/Dystopia genre. The plot is compelling and exciting and the characters simply breathe off the page. I really fell in love with this book, and I encourage you to do the same.

I received THE FIRE SERMON from HarperVoyager in exchange for an honest review. My reviews always represent my own opinion.

[REVIEW] Brood – Chase Novak

20454069Summary
Characters – 3/5
Plot – 3/5
Style – 3/5
Setting – 3/5
Overall – 3/5

In a Tweet
Teens born from an experimental fertility treatment are becoming cannibalistic & wild. Can Cynthia keep her twins safe or will they succumb?

Review
Set in a modern New York City, BROOD tells the increasingly fraught tale of twins Adam and Alice Twisden. Sequel to BREED, I picked it up without having read the first book and it told a complete story with no assumption of knowledge of previous events.

Cynthia has finally won the custody battle for her niece and nephew, years after her sister met a gruesome end in the very house she now lives in. After their parents underwent gruelling and dangerous fertility treatment abroad, the twins have experienced true horror as they bore witness to the vicious and animalistic behaviour of their parents. Now Adam and Alice are growing up, they are desperately struggling to slow the effects of their own changing and suppress the same wild urges that plagued their parents.

The concept behind BROOD is something really different and intriguing; definitely an idea I haven’t encountered before. Even better was the choice to situate the events in a modern and realistic world, rather than a science fiction or alternate setting. This created some great underlaying social questions too; would people really resort to this dangerous fertility treatment in real life? The wild and frightening effects of the treatment and the children it created are swept under the rug and kept top secret in Novak’s world; I wonder how they would be handled in reality?

The first few chapters didn’t really grab me in any strong clear way, so it took me a little longer than I would have liked to get stuck into the story. However once I’d scoped out the characters, I did find myself really involved with the plot and constantly trying to guess how the story would pan out. It was difficult to predict the progression of the story one chapter to the next, making for a pretty exciting read in the long run.

My favourite part of Novak’s writing was the pidgin language he created for the feral children in Rodolfo’s gang. It really set them apart as a community and highlighted their differences from the adults without having to constantly refer to their physicality. The writing didn’t spark the terror I want from a horror novel, but the tension was built pretty well throughout the novel so I wasn’t too put out by this.

While I enjoyed the truly fresh story, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed with the ending. I would have been happy for the story to end with the final chapter rather than continuing on in the epilogue. The epilogue just didn’t seem to fit the climax at all, so it felt out of character and at odds with what would have been the logical ending.

While I didn’t find any of the characters particularly endearing, I don’t believe you have to like each one to understand and appreciate their stories. Cynthia was especially frustrating, and I much preferred to follow the twins and Rodolfo in their more exciting threads. Cynthia’s voice is suffocating and over-stuffed with the adoration and fear of a new mother, but definitely illustrates her creeping realisation that she is out of her depth. Alice and Adam can be vicious and cruel and most of the side characters are varying degrees of evil too, which were more fun to read.

I thought, overall, that BROOD was an easy and enjoyable read. It wasn’t quite the bone-chilling horror story I wanted, but I will still be going back to read BREED to find out more about Alice and Adam’s troubled childhood.

I received BROOD from Mulholland Books in exchange for an honest review. My reviews always represent my own true opinion.

[BOOKTOFILMFRIDAY] The Hunger Games

HungerGames_Banner01THIS POST AND THE COMMENTS BELOW CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR THE HUNGER GAMES (BOOK #1).

For my first Book to Film Friday I thought it would be best to start with the YA Dystopia that, in my opinion, kicked off a whole generation of book to film adaptations; The Hunger Games. Since its popularity exploded seemingly overnight, The Hunger Games appears to have inspired a huge number of similar dystopian, blood-thirsty plots, with every new addition to the genre being compared to it. I really enjoyed this series of books and I remember being impressed with the way they were (and are still being!) adapted to film.

One of the major things I loved about the book series was the way the style really made me feel like a part of the action. I must admit, while at first I found the first person and present tense narrative a little jarring, it really grew on me as I realised the effect it was having. For me, this was a really clever move from Suzanne Collins as it draws the reader straight into the novel, making them really relate to Katniss in a deeply connected way.

I was so happy with the way the movie managed to capture that same feeling. The up-close camera angles and the sometimes shaky filming created that notion of being part of the action and really pulled me in to the story again. I loved how raw and candid the film felt, and for me the whole style and tone worked incredibly well. This was especially apparent at The Reaping; it was scary and way too close for comfort (especially that Capitol film – shudder).

hungergamestruth-3
I thought almost all the actors chosen to play the characters were just perfect. I especially loved Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss; she was mature and strong and captured those complex emotions hidden by a stoney exterior so, so well. She’s a brilliant, talented actress and The Hunger Games really kicked off her career. I remember some people not being happy with Jennifer as she wasn’t ‘skinny’ enough, which drove me crazy. I despise this notion that women have to look a certain way to be successful and Jennifer has said some really poignant words about this very topic. To me, while Katniss was struggling I never pictured her as painfully thin, and even if that were the case I would never expect an actress to put their health at risk to achieve that.

I really enjoyed seeing Woody Harrelson as Haymitch too, brilliant light-relief and just how I pictured him in the book. However, his alcohol issues were resolved more than a little too easily for me. The film kind of diminished his complexity by undermining the way he had learned to cope with the horrors of his own Hunger Games experience and I felt a bit cheated by it. I realise some things need to be sacrified in the process of adapting a film from a novel, but I feel like it shouldn’t have been this.

My favourite scene of the movie has to be Rue’s death. It was handled so sensitively and beautifully that yes, I definitely did cry! Jennifer was brilliant in portraying that raw, sisterly emotion and caused mass heartbreak across the world. It was done exactly how I pictured it in the book and couldn’t have been happier with how it turned out. It’s such an important, pivotal moment in the story, as Katniss experiences loss and realises what is at stake, and it was perfect.

hunger-games-quotes-32
At the opposite end, I really didn’t connect with the bread scene where Peeta throws Katniss food as she lies starving in the rain. In the book it was a moment something Katniss was truly ashamed of, hating Peeta for seeing that weakness in her, whereas in the film it wasn’t nearly as important. The scene didn’t feel significant or potent in any way, and without the explanation and insight into Katniss’ emotions that comes with the novel it just didn’t come across very well.

katniss-starving
My only real annoyance in terms of deviating from the plot was the story behind the Mockingjay pin. It pains me how different the film version made this; its origins don’t mean anything significant in the film but the pin has such a wonderful back-story in the books. Not only this, they cut out a whole character to make this change and the only person Katniss was friends with! I get the desire to isolate Katniss and make it all about Prim and Gale, but damn does it annoy me!

I hope you liked my first post for this feature! I’d love to chat about your thoughts on both the book and the film and even the rest of the series, so let’s start a discussion in the comments!

Charlotte x