Review: The Power by Naomi Alderman

9780670919963What I Thought:

I love books like this: books that force us to question the world around us, to question how we would react if normal was no longer normal. The premise for The Power is certainly an attention-grabbing one: “All over the world women are discovering they have the power. With a flick of the fingers they can inflict terrible pain – even death. Suddenly, every man on the planet finds they’ve lost control. The Day of the Girls has arrived.” Winner of the 2017 Bailey’s Women’s prize for fiction, this book has had its share of attention, and deservedly so. 

The Power has been touted as The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Hunger Games (two books that are firm favourties of mine) but I’m afraid I can’t agree. The book didn’t feel cohesive enough to me although I do recognise that that may well have been the point, being set in a society that is both crumbling and back-lashing simultaneously. I liked so many aspects of this page-turner, but I also admit I did find myself becoming somewhat confused at various point throughout. Again, maybe this was the point.

The book begins and ends very cleverly, with letters between Naomi and a man called Neil who has written a novel based on his historical research. These letters are set in the “present” although this present is actually 5,000 years in the future where things are not as we know them – this is a world where women have the upper hand and have the same sense of entitlement that men do today. Neil has written a story about The Cataclysm, which is what the beginning of the shift is known as, and he has written it as fiction (based on fact) rather than some dry textbook. That novel is The Power.

Centering around a few key players in this dystopian (or utopian depending on your viewpoint) tale included Roxy, daughter of a criminal gang leader and Allie, runaway teenager who had been passed from abusive foster home to abusive foster home. While both great characters for a book of this ilk, I did find that I couldn’t empathise with most of the main characters. It would have been good to have some “ordinary” people in there too  – and by ordinary I mean girls who had an average upbringing, who went to school, had friends, did their homework and then suddenly found themselves in possession of the power. How did this new found power affect them? How did their parents, teachers, boyfriends etc. suddenly deal with these girls? What happened to their lives as society began to shift. These were questions that were never really answered for me and personally would have liked to have seen explored more.

The book takes us around the world, from Saudi Arabia, India, the UK to the USA and also a newly created country where women take over. It doesn’t shy away from religion, terrorism, uprising or even rape. It doesn’t portray the changing world as better for women having the power. It’s gritty, it’s raw and it’s frightening.

Verdict:

Despite some misgivings, I still heartily recommend this book. It will challenge your thoughts, preconceptions and give your brain a damn good workout. It’s clever, shocking and will hopefully make you question things you had never even thought to question. And the last sentence of the book is a corker!

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Review: Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon

9780008196912What I Thought:

Aside from having a cover depicting cake (sold!) I had high hopes for this book anyway, having read (and loved) The Trouble with Goats and Sheep just a year earlier. In the same way that its predecessor did, Three Things About Elsie gently invited me in by way of a character whose story I immediately wanted to know more about, and whose side I walked by until the final page.

Florence, narrator for most of the book, is 84 years old and living in Cherry Tree home for the elderly with her best friend from childhood, Elsie. Flo is losing her memory and finds it hard to remember the simplest things sometimes,  and being part-narrated by two members of staff from Cherry Tree this also helps us to see how overlooked the elderly become, almost to the point of dehumanisation. There are times in the book when I had to pause and think. One example of this is when Flo is asked about another resident, Mrs. Honeyman, and whether she has lost someone: “only who she used to be” replies Flo.

What I didn’t realise this book would also be, was a mystery. A new resident moves into Cherry Tree; someone whom Flo recognises from her past and someone who causes her distress. Having Flo as our protagonist adds a whole extra level to solving the mystery, as she is an unintentionally unreliable narrator. As Flo picks away at the threads of her memory, supported by Elsie and another resident, Jack, we are able to put together pieces of the puzzle, but only at the same time as Flo, meaning that there are questions, doubts and hold-ups along the way.

Verdict:

Poignant, tender, delightful. A book about friendship, hope and about how our lives can touch others in such a small way but ultimately have the biggest impact. A wonderful read.

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Review: Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

34466492What I Thought:

When I read this book back in the summer, it was both shocking and unsurprising (that is, the content is shocking but unfortunately I wasn’t so surprised). What I didn’t realise, however, was how closely life would mirror art (or is it the other way round?) so soon after reading it. Seldom does a book I read become so topical so suddenly and in such a huge way.

James Whitehouse, a junior minister in the British Home Office, seems to have it all. Educated at Oxford, James is privileged, handsome, well-off and a close friend of the prime minister. Married to Sophie, whom he met at Uni, and father to Emily and Toby, he appears to have the perfect life from the outside. However, one night he finds himself having to confess to Sophie that he had an affair with his assistant, Olivia. The affair is finished, he says, but he had to confess as the tabloids have got hold of the story and are about to announce it to the world. Shocked and upset, just as Sophie is coming round to this revelation,  James is arrested. Olivia has filed a charge of rape against him.

The book is narrated in turn by James, Sophie and Kate, who is prosecuting James and seems to have an agenda of her own. James claims he’s innocent, Kate is determined to bring him down and Sophie wants to believe James and stand by her husband, preferring to believe his version that Olivia consented. We, in effect, are the jury as we try to piece it all together and work out who is telling the truth.

But that’s not all: there’s another story unfolding as well. This one is set in the early 90’s when James, Sophie and Tom (the current prime minister) were at Oxford. This is integral to the plot as it helps us to gain insight and also adds a layer of mystery to the plot.

Verdict:

Topical and shocking. I predict big things for this book in 2018. Would make a great read/debate for book groups too.

Review: How To Be Happy by Eva Woods

36113868What I Thought:

Reading this book over the new year period felt kind of poignant as this is the time of year when a lot of people make resolutions to try to better themselves. Fortunately, this wasn’t some eat clean, train dirty, find-your-inner-zen-in-order-to-better-yourself claptrap. In fact, much to my joy, eating cake for the hell of it features often among the pages. No, it’s more about trying to find even the smallest bit of happiness in the most mundane of things: eating breakfast off a nice plate, lighting an expensive candle rather than saving it for some undefined moment, getting away from your desk at lunchtime, getting off the bus a stop early to notice what’s around you or to go to a nicer coffee shop. Things that take minimum effort but that may just make your own (or someone else’s) day.

How To Be Happy is inspired by the Facebook challenge that did the rounds a year or so ago – #100HappyDays. The book begins with Annie, alone and desperately unhappy, visiting her mother in hospital when she is knocked off her feet by a kaleidoscopic whirlwind by the name of Polly, who has been diagnosed with a brain tumour and has 3 months left to live, and who also insists on infiltrating Annie’s miserable life in the most irritating manner. After several unsuccessful attempts to avoid Polly, is Annie finally ready to let a little colour back in to her life?

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Each chapter is one of the 100 days and during those days, secrets are shared and obstacles overcome, there is joy and there is sorrow and much heartache but despite that this is such a heartwarming book. The developing friendship between Polly and Annie is touching and real (nothing is sugar-coated) and I love the fact that the challenge was about doing and celebrating the little things and not about bucket lists or trying to make yourself into something that you’re not.

Verdict:

Funny, sad and very real. A tonic without being schmaltzy. I loved it.

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Review: Faking Friends by Jane Fallon

91lsl5dyDQLWhat I thought:

I am like a child at Christmas when a new Jane Fallon book comes out: wide-eyed and giddy with excitement. Just so with Faking Friends: it’s chock full of laughs, romance and revenge…

You know when you’re reading a book and your mouth does this – O. That happened. Lots. I love that! Getting so lost in a plot and the in the company of the characters that something sideswipes you without you seeing it coming is one of my favourtie plot devices.

Amy is a budding actress, working on a series in New York. She has a great new job, a gorgeous fiance, Jack, at home in London and a best friend, Mel, who she’s known since they were children. She’s on the up and she’s happy and who better to share in her excitement than her best friend and fiance? On a surprise trip back to London, Amy finds out that the one person she thought she could trust more than anyone has been making herself at home. In her flat. With her boyfriend. Amy has two choices: she can walk out and move on, or she can have a little fun of her own…

I love a good revenge plot, but I love it even more when the author throws in a few surprises to keep us on our toes.

Verdict:

Gipping, unpredictable, a hoot.

Warning: Keep your friends close and your best friends damn close!

 

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Review: Anything You Do Say by Gillian McAllister

A1KeMQs1M0LWhat I thought:

This book started off great guns: I started the book one night before bed “just to see how it is…” and found myself flipping the pages furiously and unwilling to put it down. It was less than halfway through that I then noticed my interest waning and by three quarters I could happily have abandoned it and moved on… but I still liked the idea of the plot and really wanted to see how it would all resolve itself.

Set in a sliding-doors fashion, the first chapter follows Joanna on her night out with friend Laura, from her selfie with a stranger through to unwanted attention from a man that leads to them leaving the club early. Walking back along the canal side, and still upset from her earlier ordeal, Joanna hears quickening footsteps behind her and a split second decision makes her do something that will have long-term consequences for so many. The following chapters are then alternate between reveal (she confesses) and conceal (she runs away).

Such a great idea for a book and one I was looking forward to enormously to see how the consequences of our actions can affect us so utterly. It should have been great. But I got bored: bored of Joanna, whom I found it was difficult to empathise with, bored of the plot which didn’t seem to go anywhere for a huge chunk of the book and bored of waiting to find out how it would all pull together. If in fact, if it had pulled nicely together at the end (by way of a twist or something jaw-dropping) it would quite possibly have redeemed itself but I found the ending to not only be convenient in an attempt to wrap it all up but a bit of a damp squib.

I feel my main issue is that I couldn’t connect with Joanna or any other members of the cast, at all. It wasn’t simply that I didn’t like her; I couldn’t “get” her in either the reveal or conceal stories. That made it difficult to invest in the book overall as I was not engaged.

Verdict:

Not a bad book, just not a great one. I haven’t read Everything But The Truth (McAllister’s first book) yet but I do have a copy and I have heard great things so I wouldn’t be put off reading this at all.

Great concept, not so great execution.

Review: Force of Nature by Jane Harper

35323055What I thought:

Earlier this year I read Jane Harper’s debut novel, The Dry, and loved it! A fresh new voice in an overcrowded genre: I loved the setting, the protagonist and the plot. I couldn’t wait to get my mitts on her second book, Force of Nature, and was thrilled that it started in a way that drew me straight back in. Unfortunately, this book didn’t continue down that same route for me: the one that pulls me along with it. For a whole section in the middle, I actually grew bored. I don’t need a crime book to be high octane all the time, but I actually found myself losing interest in both the characters and plot for a large chunk.

Aaron Falk, our Detective from The Dry, is back which pleased me, as did the setting which was remote and away from the more usual urban backdrop. Falk is drawn into the mystery of a missing woman, Alice, who is on a corporate team-building hike in the bush. Four of the five women in the group return late, battered, bruised and frightened as not only did they lose their way in the bush, they also lost one of their group along the way. As a search party sets out to find Alice, the book alternates between the present time and going back a few days to allow the reader into the women’s trek and what really happened.

I think my main issue was that I never really got a feeling of how frightened or exhausted the women must have been. They were lost in the wilderness with dwindling supplies and it was raining and cold. I would have been terrified. I have done a solo hike of 120 miles in the UK and at one point I got lost on a foggy moor for an hour or so and the feeling of frustration and weariness just in that short timeframe was so hard to deal with, never mind wandering around with no food for days on end. There wasn’t enough plot to grab me in the middle section and with no real sense of terror or impending doom, I lost interest to the point that I almost gave up altogether.

I am glad I stayed with the book, however, as it did pick up again in the last quarter but even so I wasn’t blown away by the book.

Verdict:

Somewhat disappointing after having loved The Dry so much, but I will definitely read more of this series with Aaron Falk. I am still a fan of Jane Harper despite not being so enamored with Force of Nature.

 

Have you read either book? What did you think?