“I stood looking over my damaged home and tried to forget the sweetness of life on Earth.” // Review of “Station Eleven” by Emily St John Mandel

Title: Station Eleven
Author:
Emiy St John Mandel
Audio book narrator: Jack Hawkins
Genre:LIterary fiction/dystopia
Target audience:
Adult
Date Read: 27/06/18 – 09/08/18
Rating:
★★★

Review:

This book took a while to hook me. As you can see from the dates above, it was on hold for a bit while I listened to other audio books, and intiially I only returned to this one because I had used an Audible credit to obtain it and felt an obligation. Somewhere in the second half, I realised I was looking forward to solo car trips so I could continue with it. I wanted to know how all the story threads came together and what happened to the characters.

Most of the dystopia/post-apocalyptic books I have read before have been YA fiction, actaion-packed and fast-paced. There books are often set so far into the future that it’s quite hard to really place them in any part of the world that we recognise; they might as well be set on a different planet. Station Eleven isn’t like that. It’s rooted in today’s world, and really examines how our lives – you and me in the second decade of the twenty-first century – would be affected if civilisation as we know it collapsed. It made me really think.

I will say that I am not usually one for literary fiction and even thinking about it now, some of the writing is flowery, bordering on wanky. I guess I got used to it in this case, but it’s probably not for everybody. The writing style is quite “tell, don’t show” rather than the reverse and perhaps Jack Hawkins’ narration of the audio book enhanced this somewhat. While I wouldn’t say he read in a monotone, there wasn’t a huge amount of expression.

There isn’t a huge amount of plot; this one iis definitely about the characters and how their lives intersect over the years. It almost feels like you’re reading these characters’ back stories half the time, rather then the parts of their lives the author wants you to know about. But somehow, I eventually did get invested enough in them to care anyway.


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#aww2017 #LoveOzYA “Everything connects, but not everyone hears those connections. ” // Review of “The Foretelling of Georgie Spider” by Ambelin Kwaymullina

Title: The Foretelling of Georgie Spider (The Tribe  #3)
Author: Ambelin Kwaymullina
Genre: YA/dystopian
Date Read: 08/10/2017 – 11/10/2017
Rating: ★★★

Review:

I really wish I could tell you why I wasn’t more into this series. It ticked all the right boxes. Interesting premise, well-developed characters and tight plot, and yet I was never invested. I actually probably found this to be the case with this third instalment most of all.

While Ashala was still a strong narrative voice, I didn’t really connect with Georgie Spider, which made it difficult reading her POV. I liked the theme of the series coming together, that there is one person to look to the past, one to be in the now and one to look to the future, but I found Georgie’s naivety a little too much at times.

The action scenes were really good in this book; as I said, it was tightly-plotted and I loved the way it was structured. That was the one point where I did think Georgie’s POV worked – when she was seeing futures that were only a minute or so ahead of her present and helped the Tribe to be in the right place at the right time to defeat them.

Also, just a ilttle thing, but I loved that this series uses terms like “Detention centre”, terms we’re all too familiar with here in Australia at the moment when it comes to asylum seekers and refugees.

As I said, I think this series suffered from a case of “It’s not you, it’s me” as I was reading it. I would definitely recommend other fans of dystopia checking it out, even if I didn’t have the best run of it.

Reviews to the previous books in this series:

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf

The Disappearance of Ember Crow


(This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016. Click here for more information).

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#aww2016 #LoveOzYA “And whatever you end up discovering – try to think of me kindly. If you can.” // Review of “The Disappearance of Ember Crow” by Ambelin Kwaymullina

Title: The Disappearance of Ember Crow (The Tribe  #2)
Author: Ambelin Kwaymullina
Genre: YA/dystopian
Date Read: 12/09/2017 – 14/09/2017
Rating: ★★★

Review:

Knowing that I enjoyed the first book in this series, The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, well enough but was not blown away by it meant that I went in without expecting to be blown away by this one.  I had pretty much exactly the same reaction to this one: it has a tight, interesting plot and is well-written,  but for some reason, it just didn’t wow me.

Even though it had been over a year since I read the first book, I didn’t have too much trouble getting back into this world, so that was a good sign. This instalment took the world-building of the previous book and expanded on it, and I did enjoy seeing more of the physical setting as well as getting more of the history.

I didn’t find the romance between Ember and Jules interesting at all. They barely knew each other, and there was no chemistry between them. It didn’t really make much sense to me that Jules would go out of his way to help Ember on a few days’ acquaintance.

I did enjoy the climax of the novel. It was exciting and had some good twists. I honestly can’t tell you why I didn’t get more into this book. I think it was just a case of “it’s not you, it’s me”.


(This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016. Click here for more information).

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“Freedom is something you have to take for yourself.” // Review of “Little Brother” by Cory Doctorow

Title: Little Brother
Author: Cory Doctorow
Audio book narrator:
Kirby Heyborne
Genre:
YA/dystopian
Date Read: 18/08/2016 – 22/08/2016
Rating: ★★★

Review:

This is another book that’s tricky to rate, due to some parts being really awesome, and some parts being really… not. However, it is a truly relevant book for today’s society, to the point where there were certain scenes where I was nearly blocking my ears and whispering “Too real, too real!”

In the near-future, Marcus Yallow aka W1n5t0n online, and his friends are caught in the wrong place at the wrong time in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on San Francisco, and are imprisoned by the Department of Homeland Security and treated inhumanely for a week. When they are released, they discover that San Francisco has been turned into a police state, where the population  are forced to give up their privacy in exchange for “security”. But Marcus and his friends are tech-savvy enough to go underground in cyber-space, and pretty soon, a movement is beginning.

I really liked Marcus as a lead character. He is unapologetically geeky. He’s into computers and crytopgraphy and old books and passionate about fighting for his rights. There were some interesting side characters, though so much of the plot unfolds through Marcus’ interactions with people online that it was a little hard to get to know everyone else. I did feel that the development of the female characters left a bit to be desired. The book is written in first person and Marcus would describe every girl or woman he met in terms of attractiveness, and only afterwards perhaps discuss other aspects of them. Overall, though, characterisation worked for the story that Doctorow was clearly trying to tell.

The thing that put me off the book was how info-dumpy it was at times. My partner and I have an arrangement where I drive to the shops then read or listen to a book while he goes in and gets the groceries. I listened to a ten or fifteen-minute diatribe about LARPing (Live Action Role Playing) during one of these shopping trips. There were similar ones about crytography, security systems, gaming, San Francisco geography and other things that I can’t remember right now because I started zoning out. These took me completely out of the story and screwed with the pacing; they killed all momentum the story was building.

As I said above, there were aspects of this book that rang really true in today’s society where we are all supposedly in danger of terrorist attacks. The panic, the additional “security” measures, the blind acceptance of government control by so many members of the public… while the exact technologies described in the book might be a little way off (or they might not; I get the impression they all exist in some form or another already), the methods of using them was incredibly realistic.

While it certainly wasn’t a five-star read for me due to the reasons above, I definitely recommend this book for everyone. It is a good eye-opener in a lot of ways.


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Hard habit to break, friendship.” // Review of “Paper and Fire” by Rachel Caine

Title: Paper and Fire (The Great Library #2)
Author: Rachel Caine
Genre: YA/dystopian
Date Read: 25/08/2016 – 08/09/2016
Rating: ★★

Review:

paperandfirecoverThis is going to be a hard book to review, because I can’t tell you exactly why I didn’t like it, just that I didn’t much. I’ve been having a terrible time with series this year. They keep impressing me at the outset and then ultimately disappointing me. Unfortunately, this was another one to add to the list.

Jess Brightwell is continuing to juggle his family’s smuggling business with the intense training of the High Garda soldiers at the Great Library in Alexandria. When he and his group of friends learn that their friend Thomas may not be dead, but alive and in prison in Rome, they make it their first order of business to rescue him, regardless of the consequences.

I can’t exactly put my finger on why this book disappointed me. Perhaps it’s because I’m in a book slump at the moment. Perhaps it’s because I had read some reviews in the same vein as this one and I let them influence me a bit too much, so I was looking for the flaws as I read. I know I definitely didn’t really care what happened to the characters, and that I never cared about the peril they were in. The aftermath from events in the first book, such as the war in Oxford, didn’t seem to have had much more than a superficial effect on anyone, and life seemed to be going on as it always had for them. Jess and Morgan’s romance didn’t work at all. It’s all tell and no show. It just feels shoehorned in.

I saw another review somewhere that said that the use of the “Ephemera” excerpts before each chapter ruins any suspense and to an extent I agree. If you already know that someone is going to secretly work for the main characters, even if it will cost them their career, because you’ve read an excerpt from their secret journal, there’s very little tension when the characters run into this person. The Ephemera thing worked a lot better in the first book, but it seemed to be used a bit too much and to less effect in this one.

I’ve got a year to decide whether I’ll finish the series or not. Maybe I’ll feel differently when the final book comes out, but this one turned into such a chore to finish, I’m not even sure I want to bother.


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“I walk among my enemies, but I carry my friends with me.” // Review of “The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf” by Ambelin Kwaymullina #aww2016

Title: The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf
Author: Ambelin Kwaymullina
Genre: YA/dystopian
Date Read: 26/06/2016 – 01/08/2016
Rating: ★★★

Review:

I had high hopes for this book, and while it didn’t quite meet them, I really appreciated the fact that it didn’t rely ono so many tired tropes that are prevalent in the YA dystopian genre.

Ashala Wolf is an Illegal, someone with an ability that allegedly causes a disruption to the Balance. She has been taken prisoner by Neville Rose, the Chief Administrator of Detention Centre 3, and is subjected to The Machine, which can harvest memories from a person’s  mind. All the while, Justin Connor, her betrayer stands by… but all is not as it seems, including Ashala’s of her Tribe and her capture…

First of all, there is no love triangle in this book! I know! And on top of that, the dysoptia is not constructed around a regression to bygone sexist and racist ages. Anyone can be born with an Ability (Ashala’s is sleepwalking, and being able to do whatever she wants in her dreamstate; others can cause fires or earthquakes, heal others or alter memories),  and there are people of all races and genders in Ashala’s Tribe. The same is true of Enforcers, Adminstrators and Citizens. So this book gets major props for that, because goodness me, I tired of those awful tropes.

There is a romance, but it was a bit ploddy, and never convinced me entirely. I think part of this is due to the structure of the book. Ashala believes things to be one way for a significant portion fo the story, but a revelation part way through completely changes the way she, and the reader, sees things, meaning a lot of her past is restructured as she comes to terms with it. While I liked this structural arrangement in terms of plot, it did mean the relationships between some of the characters got a little confused.

(^^ I hope that makes sense. I’m trying to be spoiler-free).

The world-building was mostly good; there was definitely enough to go on, and things were explained as they needed to be throughout. However, I think I was hoping for a bit more evidence of inspiration taken from the author’s Palyku (an Australian First Nation) culture. There is a serpent character who is rather reminicent of the Rainbow Serpent, and certainly the idea of the Illegals could be taken as an allegory for the Stolen Generations (up until the 1970s, Aboriginal children were forcibly removed from the families and raised with white people so as to better “assimilate” into “proper” Australian culture), but I was hoping for something more in this vein.

The story actually concludes rather nicely, making me wonder whether Kwaymullina actually intended it to be a series from the outset. Since it feels wrapped up, I don’t feel the need to rush out and get the second book straight away, but the synopsis of the second book is intriguing, so I might still give it a go at some point.


(This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016. Click here for more information).

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Book Review: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Title: The Knife of Never Letting Go
Author: Patrick Ness
Audio Read By: Humphrey Bower
Genre: YA/dystopian
Date Read: 20/11/2015 – 25/11/2015
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

knifecoverI had this book on my GoodReads TBR for ages, then took it off during a clean-up (every now and then I go through it and weed out the books I’m no longer interested in). However, after listening to A Monster Calls (see yesterday’s review), I decided to give the audio version of this a ago as well.

Wow. It was intense. And difficult to describe, but I’ll give it a go.

Todd Hewitt lives in Prentisstown, one of the settlements on New World, a place where everyone can hear the thoughts of men, thanks to the Noise Germ. As far as Todd knows, the Noise Germ also killed all the female settlers, and Prentisstown is home to just 147 men (my number may be wrong, but it was around there somewhere). But just a month before his 13th birthday, Todd hears a gap in the Noise, which turns out to be a girl named Viola Eade, and this kickstarts a chain of events that lead to him having to run away from Prentisstown, an army hot on his heels.

Todd and Viola are probably up there with my favourite characters ever. They’re both stubborn, and somewhat fixed in their ways, but damn are they loyal to one another. Todd is basically illiterate (he can recognise letters, but putting them together to read words on a page is incredibly difficult), and a simple farm boy; for various reasons that I won’t spoil here, Viola has a much better education, and is also rather tech-savvy (there wasn’t much in the way of technology in Prentisstown), but is in a very unfamiliar place and dealing with a lot of awful things in a short space of time. Due to these circumstances, she and Todd sometimes clash, particularly early on, but they’ve only got each other. They save each other’s lives more than once, developing an incredible bond, the likes of which I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a YA series before.

The pace is very fast, and there is a lot of action. Patrick Ness does not hold back – there is a lot of violence and it is vividly described. Also, if violence towards animals will bother you – you should probably skip this one. I won’t say any more, but you should bear that in mind. The book is quite long, and sometimes repetitive, but for the most part, it held my interest entirely. I did find the villain, Aaron, a little bit comical. He tracks Todd and Viola doggedly, and always seems to be screaming “Toodddd Hewwwwitttt!” and bearing more injuries than any normal person could actually withstand without dying. Many chapters end with “Oh, no, Aaron has appeared again!” to the point where I was calling it beforehand and rolling my eyes when he made another appearance.

While the cover image I’ve got up there is for the Candlewick audio, I actually listened to the Bolinda version read by Australian actor/voice artist Humphrey Bower. He used a working class English accent that was perfect for Todd and the other inhabitants of Prentisstown. I have learned since finishing the book that in the printed version, many of the words are spelled phonetically (which makes sense with Todd’s illiteracy), the Noise is depicted in different fonts, and there are often pages with only a few words per line, or only a few sentences per page (which I guess is probably a good visual representation of the Noise). When I first heard about this, I thought it might have put me off, but I have since decided I’m going to check out the print versions as well. It sounds just as unique as the rest of the book.

Come back next Friday/Saturday for my reviews of The Ask and the Answer and Monsters of Men, the second and third books in the trilogy.