Book Review: The Ruins (Scott B. Smith)

Publisher: Corgi

Pages: 528

Release Date: August 1st 2007

Summary (from Goodreads):

Trapped in the Mexican jungle, a group of friends stumble upon a creeping horror unlike anything they could ever imagine.Two young couples are on a lazy Mexican vacation–sun-drenched days, drunken nights, making friends with fellow tourists. When the brother of one of those friends disappears, they decide to venture into the jungle to look for him. What started out as a fun day-trip slowly spirals into a nightmare when they find an ancient ruins site . . . and the terrifying presence that lurks there.

Review:

The Ruins follows four American friends on a holiday in Mexico as they travel to an ancient ruin site to find the brother of fellow tourist Mathias. Along with Pablo, a Greek tourist, they are trapped on the ruins with no explanation and very little food and water. The Mayans will shoot them if they leave and they’ll die of thirst if they don’t. But there’s something more sinister up there with them.

The book is fairly similar to the film, but there were enough differences for it to still feel new to me, even though I knew the general gist of the plot. The story is told in alternating third person view points between the four friends: Amy, the uptight one, Jeff, the boy scout, Stacey, the ditzy slut, and Eric, the funny guy. That’s a pretty simplified way of describing characters but that’s pretty much how they came across in the book. The characters were pretty 2D and the way it was written felt quite passive at times: there was lots of telling how the characters felt about things and recounting things from the past, so it didn’t often feel like the story was in the present.

I thought it was a shame the story only came from the Americans’ point of view. It would have been good to hear from Mathias, who has led them all up there to find his brother, or from Pablo, who can’t speak the same language as anyone else and also has a pretty crappy time of it – seriously, all the worst things happen to him, poor guy. It was also a shame that the two female characters felt pretty weak: they completely relied upon the men for everything and that was really frustrating.

Despite feeling the book was a little passive, I did really enjoy it. I was just fascinated by the vine and how it was able to manipulate and torment them. I’ve seen a lot of complaints that the book doesn’t explain where the plant came from and everything isn’t tied up neatly at the end, but that’s actually one of the things I liked about it. I was happy to see how it trapped them up there and wore them down until it got what it wanted. If it had tried to shoehorn an explanation in I think it would have made the book weaker.

There’s some really gruesome things in this and I got chills reading it sometimes. It may not be the kind of horror that appeals to everyone, it’s almost a character study, setting them up in a horrible situation and seeing how they all react. There’s so much working against them: the Mayans and their guns, their hunger and their thirst, and the vine that wants to pick them off one by one. It’s interesting to see what happens to these different characters in that situation.

The ending might be frustrating but it worked for me, as I don’t like happy endings and this one felt more realistic to me. I feel like I’ve said a lot of negative things but I did really enjoy this one and would recommend it as a creepy read. Also watch the film as it’s awesome too!

4

Book Review: No Virgin (Anne Cassidy)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Hot Key Books

Pages: 192

Release Date: November 3rd 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

My name is Stacey Woods and I was raped.

Stacey is the victim of a terrible sexual attack. She does not feel able to go to the police, or talk about it to anybody other than her best friend, Patrice. Patrice, outraged, when she cannot persuade her to go to the police, encourages Stacey to write everything down. This is Stacey’s story.

Review:

I loved Looking for JJ and Finding Jennifer Jones by Anne Cassidy so I was excited to read something else from her.

This is a bit of an odd book. Straight away, Stacey tells us what happened to her: she was raped. We see a glimpse of the aftermath, before she goes back to the beginning and tells her story. Her best friend has told her to write it down, starting at the beginning and leaving nothing out. And it does read more like an account than a story at times: maybe a little cold, maybe a little simple, which might not be to everyone’s tastes, but I found it very effective.

This was a very short read but I felt connected to Stacey and really rooted for her as she struggled to come to terms with what had happened to her. The worst thing about it for me, but also the most accurate, was the way she blamed herself for it. She’s had sex before, she went back to a house with a basic stranger, she tried to initiate sec with him the night before: all these things she feels work towards her being to blame in some way for what happened to her. She’s afraid of what others will think if they know all the details. She’s ashamed.

This is such a common narrative in abuse in real life, and it’s so sad to read. It shouldn’t have to be said, but if you are raped or abused, you are not to blame, no matter what you were wearing or what you drank or how many people you’ve had sex with before. This book really hammered home the point for me. As Stacey tells her story, it doesn’t make me think she was asking for it or deserved it because she got herself into a silly situation. I only felt sympathy. The idea that no one would believe her, an average girl with divorced parents a teen-mother sister over some rich and well connected boy really angered me too.

Cassidy really gets into the mindset of the victim in this book. Although it doesn’t have as big an impact as other books might (Asking For It by Louise O’Neill springs to mind) it still gets under your skin and takes an unflinching look at rape victims and blame culture. It’s an important read, and I’d recommend you pick it up.

4

Book Review: The Hypnotist (Laurence Anholt)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Corgi Childrens

Pages: 352

Release Date: October 6th 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

Jack has left his native Ireland and is making a new life as Professor of Neurology at a university in the American South. He has certain skills, honed over his lifetime, that he mostly keeps hidden. Skills in hypnotism and mind control . . .

Thirteen-year-old Pip is plucked out of an orphanage by a farmer, hired as a farm-hand, and as carer for the farmer’s wife. But Pip is black. The farmer and his wife are white. And this is 1960s America, where race defines you and overshadows everything.

As racial tensions reach boiling point with a danger closer to home and more terrifying than either thought possible, Jack and Pip’s lives become inextricably linked. And Jack’s hypnotic skills are called on as never before . . .

Review:

I had no idea what this was really about going into it, and I struggled at first because I just didn’t know where it was going. About 100 or so pages in things started kicking off and I was suddenly really invested in the characters and their story.

The story is told in dual narrative, from Pip, a young black boy working for a white couple and their racist, radical son, and Jack, an Irish professor and hypnotist. There’s also songs sprinkled throughout by Hannah, a selective mute Native American girl who also works for the family.

I have to admit this isn’t a period I know much about, aside from some historical facts. We weren’t really taught it at school and I haven’t read many books set in this era so it was something new for me, and I found it really interesting. I think the thing that sucked me in was the scene where the KKK was introduced: it was genuinely scary and I felt Pip’s fear. There’s also a seemingly nice and rational character who professes his support for the group and tries to normalise their actions and describes them as a ‘family group’, making it sound more like a country club than a violent, racist organisation.

While reading there was part of me thinking, ‘phew, thank goodness we don’t live in a world like this any more.’ And part of me despaired at the parallels I could see between then and now. No, we don’t have segregation anymore and yes, race relations are better. But they’re not perfect and there’s still a myriad of issues. There’s still people who think like this. When reading some of the racists rants, it sounded too much like things you still hear today, especially in post-Brexit Britain. The story served as a warning to me, as it shows the awful consequences of when these dangerous views go unchallenged.

All that aside, this was a really interesting story, with a great set of characters that you can’t help but root for. I loved Pip and wanted him to get his ‘great expectations’. He was just too sweet and adorable, and I loved his simple love for Lilybelle and Hannah. I struggled to get into Jack’s narrative at times: I found his colloquial address to the audience a bit awkward but I loved his skills and his reactions to the racism. It was really interesting seeing it from an outsider’s point of view, as it wasn’t something he was used to in Ireland. I also really enjoyed Hannah’s songs – Anholt is quite a poet.

With the world in the state it is, I feel this is a really important read, as well as being endearing and even funny at times. A great YA debut, and one everyone should pick up this year.

4

My Weaning Essentials

I was really looking forward to weaning and couldn’t wait to get started (although I did wait, as guidelines say babies should be at least six months and able to hold their head up before starting weaning). Now we’re a few weeks in and although the initial excitement may be over, I’m still enjoying introducing Little Moore to new flavours and textures and love watching the faces he pulls and learning what foods he likes and what he’s less keen on.

I thought I’d do a little post on some of my weaning essentials from our journey so far.

1. High Chair

This is an obvious one, but I’d say make sure you invest in a good one. We have the Mamas and Papas Pesto High Chair. It folds up a little so can be kept out the way, but also opens out with one hand (or kick of the leg) so you can do it whilst holding baby. There’s a handy pouch underneath where we keep bibs and wipes, which you’ll need in good supply once you’re weaning!

2. Coverall bibs

I can’t stress this one enough. I hadn’t really thought about these before, though we had two someone bought for us when Little Moore was born. Weaning is messy work, and if you don’t want to ruin all your baby’s beautiful clothes then it’s good to cover up with these. We’ve bought another couple but I don’t think four is nearly enough – I’m going to keep buying until we have at least one per day!

3. Feeding spoons

Although we wanted to follow a more baby led weaning approach, we got some spoons for Little Moore to try feeding himself/play with and for us to use if we did want to give any purees. Get ones with grips so they can hold them. Rubber ones are best for their gums. We keep ours in the fridge so Little Moore can gnaw on them when teething too.

4. Pouches/ready made purees 

Like a lot of new mums, I wanted to be making all my own baby foods. As we’ve gone for mostly finger foods I’m yet to make any purees, but I have given him a few ready made ones. These are great for things you’d like baby to try which can’t be given as finger food (i.e. peas) It’s also handy to have some there just in case: sometimes if he’s fussy and Nathan’s at work, I don’t have the time/hands to make something from scratch. Check what’s in the pouches so that you’re happy with what you’re feeding them. I’ve used Ella’s Kitchen and Hipp. These were mostly things I had vouchers for so we’ll see if I want to buy them full price when these have run out!

5. Small food containers

Whether you’re doing purees or finger food, you’re going to need a bundle of these. I bought a huge pack from Tesco in all different shapes and sizes – these are much cheaper than any special baby ones you can buy, and do the same job. It’s really handy to have something ready in the fridge for those busy days. When we do veg sticks etc for Little Moore I usually cook some extra and store them in the fridge for the next day. Cold veg sticks are great for teething, and even if the idea of eating courgette sticks grossest you out, your baby will probably love it!

Book Review: Revenger (Alastair Reynolds)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Gollancz

Pages: 432

Release Date: September 15th 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

The galaxy has seen great empires rise and fall. Planets have shattered and been remade. Amongst the ruins of alien civilizations, building our own from the rubble, humanity still thrives.

And there are vast fortunes to be made, if you know where to find them.

Captain Rackamore and his crew do. It’s their business to find the tiny, enigmatic worlds which have been hidden away, booby-trapped, surrounded by layers of protection–and to crack them open for the ancient relics and barely-remembered technologies inside. But while they ply their risky trade with integrity, not everyone is so scrupulous.

Adrana and Fura Ness are the newest members of Rackamore’s crew, signed on to save their family from bankruptcy. Only Rackamore has enemies, and there might be more waiting for them in space than adventure and fortune: the fabled and feared Bosa Sennen in particular.

Revenger is a science fiction adventure story set in the rubble of our solar system in the dark, distant future–a tale of space pirates, buried treasure, and phantom weapons, of unspeakable hazards and single-minded heroism and of vengeance…

Review:

I’ve been struggling with reading a bit the last few weeks so this took me longer to get into than usual, and I wasn’t sure about it at first. I’ve decided to put that down to personal struggles rather than the fault of the book, because towards the end I was hooked and raced to the finish.

Fura and her sister Adrana sign on to work as Bone Readers on a ship crewed by Captain Rackamore. They want to work to save their family from bankruptcy but space has other plans for them: Baubles, prickly ship mates and the infamous Bosa Sennen.

I loved that this book was about sisters rather than romance. I’m so sick of unrelateable romance stories. As someone with three sisters, this is the kind of relationship I want to read about, and I’m sure I can’t be the only one.

I struggled to get into the story at first and I think part of it was the language. The crew use slang words that it took me a while to get used to. While this all helped with the world building and the space setting, sometimes I just wasn’t sure what they were talking about, and it wasn’t until quite far into the book that I really felt I understood it all. It also moved very quickly from ships to land to ship, introducing lots of new characters with complicated names and then abandoning half of them for various reasons (no spoilers!) It made it hard to keep up sometimes.

Our narrator, Fura, undergoes a huge change over the course of the book, as characters often do, but I felt hers leapt suddenly without warning: one moment she was a naive girl with no idea what she was doing aboard a ship, and the next she was this hardened space veteran, and I felt the change was too sudden for me. On the other hand, it’s good to see events affecting a character, as it does irk me when they go through terrible things and act like nothing has happened.

I was intrigued by the mystery of the quoins and aliens looking after the banks, but have to say I was disappointed by the revelation: although it helped explain a certain characters motivation, the whole thing seemed rushed and just didn’t have much of an impact on me.

My favourite thing about the book was definitely the villain. Bosa Sennen is one creepy villain with a mysterious history that causes one character to kill himself at the sight of her. I’d love to read more of her space adventures as her back story really intrigued me.

Despite some difficulties getting into the book, I really enjoyed it overall and it’s made me want to read more sci-fi/re-watch Battlestar Galactica (again!)

4

Book Review: His Dark Materials (Philip Pullman)

Publisher: Everyman’s Library

Pages: 1102

Release Date: 2011

Summary (from Goodreads):

Northern Lights introduces Lyra, an orphan, who lives in a parallel universe in which science, theology and magic are entwined. Lyra’s search for a kidnapped friend uncovers a sinister plot involving stolen children and turns into a quest to understand a mysterious phenomenon called Dust. In The Subtle Knife she is joined on her journey by Will, a boy who possesses a knife that can cut windows between worlds. As Lyra learns the truth about her parents and her prophesied destiny, the two young people are caught up in a war against celestial powers that ranges across many worlds and leads to a thrilling conclusion in The Amber Spyglass.

Review:

I started reading this for the Rereadathon hosted by the lovely Bex. I had the books as a child and adored them, though I’ll admit it took a while to get into them. I distinctly remember reading the first page of Northern Lights and putting the book down, deciding it was boring. Luckily I got past that and it was one of my favourite series for a long time. My copies of the books are pretty battered and last year Nathan bought me a beautiful edition of all three stories and I thought the Rereadathon was the perfect time to read it.

Northern Lights, the first book, is by far my favourite. I think because it’s more focussed on Lyra than the other two, and she’s the reason I fell in love with the series in the first place. She’s easily one of my favourite protagonists. She’s brave and rude and stubborn and she grows and changes so much over the series, you really see her grow up and I love the progression. She lives in an alternate world and undertakes a dangerous journey to rescue her friend from the child-stealing Gobblers, and encounters armoured bears, witches and what is basically child torture at the hands of the Church.

The second book The Subtle Knife, introduces Will, a young boy from our world who is searching for his missing father and stumbles into another world. I always find it a bit jarring to start the second book without Lyra but I soon settle into it and love Will (almost) as much as Lyra. Unlike a lot of second-in-the-trilogy books, this one doesn’t feel like a filler ready for the finale: it’s fast paced and shows the multitude of other universes that are there for Lyra and Will to discover.

The final book, The Amber Spyglass, ties together all the previous story lines with some of my favourite scenes: Lyra and Will venturing into the land of the dead is one that’s always stuck with me. The ending is so bittersweet, it’s one of my favourite ever endings. Much better than your typical happily ever after.

The use of daemons in the book is fantastic. They’re animal versions of what some might call your soul. As children they can take whatever form they like but when you reach puberty they settle, and the shape indicates something about your nature i.e. servants tend to have dog daemons. While this made me want a daemon really badly, it’s also a great literary device: Lyra rarely goes over thoughts in her head or spends pages monologuing. Instead she has conversations with Pantalaimon, her daemon, which shows her thought processes and them deciding things between each other.

Rereading as an adult I can see how controversial this book is to some people. There’s so many complex story lines involving the Church and religion – in the final book we actually see God die. When I was younger I don’t think I was really bothered about those story lines, I just wanted to know what happened to Lyra, but I found it more interesting this time round. I didn’t take from it that Christianity/all religion is bad, but that we should question authority instead of following something blindly.

I love this trilogy but couldn’t quite bring myself to give it 5 stars, and that’s mainly because of the Mary Malone chapters. I found them pretty boring as a child and hoped I’d be more interested as an adult, but they still felt slow and over detailed to me. I understand why they’re there but, as with some other chapters, if there’s no Lyra them I’m just not as interested!

Still, this is a fantastic series, a definite modern day classic and one that I recommended to everyone when I was younger, and still do to this day. This edition has the addition of ‘Lantern Slides’ little snippets from the author that show moments from the characters lives that we don’t see in the book. As someone who’s loved the world for years, it was great to get a little new information too.

I understand this book isn’t for everyone and that some take offence to its content, but it was a huge part of my childhood and it’s still incredibly satisfying to read as an adult. Pullman’s writing is beautiful and the worlds he builds are colourful, imaginative and so detailed you believe they could be real. If you’ve not read this yet then give it a go!

4

Book Review: Mango and Bambang – Tiny Tapir Trouble (Polly Faber & Clare Vulliamy)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Walker Books

Pages: 144

Release Date: September 1st 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

Mango and Bambang’s adventures continue in the third book of this charming illustrated series about a little girl and a tapir, described by The Sunday Times as having real charm reminiscent of Paddington. When a small but mischievous tapir guest comes to stay with Mango Allsorts and Bambang in the busy city, things soon get into a rather troublesome tangle.

Review:

This is the third book in the Mango and Bambang series and it’s just as fun and charming as its predecessors. In this book, Mango and Bambang go to the seaside, meet a relative of Bambang, play in a chess tournament and deal with illness.

I loved the story featuring Guntur, Bambang’s tiny and very annoying cousin. He does his best to get between Mango and Bambang and make poor Bambang look bad, but their friendship wins through in the end.

There’s a family theme to this story, as Bambang wonders whether he really fits in with Mango, especially after an upsetting experience at the beach. They realise in the end that family is what you make it and their friendship keeps them together through all the trials life throws at them.

This is another beautiful edition in a fantastic series which I hope will be one of Little Moore’s favourites in the future!

4