Review: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie WarWorld War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

World War Z is as difficult to forget as it is to read, but by no means does that make it a book to avoid. Its unique structure brings life (haha) to an overdone genre by giving it the credibility it drastically needs without withholding the horror that appeals to so many zombie enthusiasts.

Pros:
– It’s easily the most convincing horror book I’ve read, which, for a zombie apocalypse-esque book, is really saying something.
– The interview structure of World War Z means it isn’t your typical gore-fest but is instead all the more chilling because it feels far too realistic.

Cons:
– It’s a dry book. Since there aren’t any continuing characters, plots, overarching storyline etc. the fictional accounts in the book have to work really hard to keep up the reader’s interest and for me, quite a few of them failed.
– Most of the accounts are far too short. Though this leaves you with nicely creepy question marks hanging over each account, it’s also pretty frustrating as, just when you begin to warm to an interviewee, their story is over. Some of these accounts didn’t even amount to a full page on my e-reader and this itty-bitty nature of the book becomes tiresome.

I went into World War Z knowing as little about the book as I could other than the often-repeated phrase, ‘it’s completely different to the film’. The oral history structure took me by surprise as I’ve never seen it orchestrated as convincingly and as comprehensively as Brooks has managed to in this book. This credibility is the main appeal of the book for me as I get bored of all the gore in the zombie genre which usually comes at the cost of believability so it was something special to find a book this disturbing in its realism.

That being said, the realism had the double-edged sword of also making for quite dull reading in some parts. A few times I had to force myself to keep on going because I was bored stiff of a particular account but didn’t want to miss any of the story we’re tasked to piece together from fictional interviews. This is often the case with non-fiction oral history – it’s incredibly difficult to weave different accounts together to build-up a bigger picture without being too selective and distorting the picture altogether. So again, its occasional dullness was bearable and gave greater weight to the book. Just bear in mind that it’s not something you’ll likely want to read for long periods of time without a break, nor is it something you’ll want to read before you sleep (it led to some pretty convincing and disturbing nightmares for me!).

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Review: Marly’s Ghost by David Levithan

Marly's GhostMarly’s Ghost by David Levithan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A generous 3 stars.

I didn’t know this was A Christmas Carol retelling when I picked it up (otherwise I would have quickly put it down – studying ACC for my GCSEs in-depth took away a lot of the joy from the story), I just remembered Levithan having a refreshingly different take on relationships from when I read Will Grayson, Will Grayson (co-written by the amazing human that is John Green). This book wasn’t refreshing however, it was cute but the fun ended there. After the ghost of Valentine’s Day ‘present’ the story car crashes into a cheese-fest.

Pros:
– The relationship between Tiny and Tim really warmed my heart and was the best part of the book by miles. There was a beautiful picture of affection in those characters and it was wonderful to imagine. It’s just a shame I can’t figure out how (other than the obvious name reference) they relate to the rest of the book.
– Ben, the protagonist, was a very relatable character and this gave the beginning of the book some much-needed depth.

Cons:
– Victorian dialogue in a book about contemporary teenagers. Oh dear.
I hated having Dickens’ references so crudely forced into present-day culture, it could have been far better if it was done with a bucket load more subtlety. Have you ever heard a teenager say the word ‘beseech’…?
– For a book with serious themes (death, loss, love, hope, depression plus others that I can’t mention without adding spoilers but trust me when I say they’re on the more mature end of YA fiction), this story was written in an incredibly simple, child-like style. I’m pretty confused at who the target audience is. The story is aimed at 14+ years old (by my humble estimation) but the text reads like it’s meant for older children (around 10 years old) rather than teens.
– After the second ghost, the rest of the book is so disjointed and cheesy that it makes for painful reading. It’s a downright shame because the majority of it until that point is building up to an inspiring and heart-warming story. It felt rushed and awkward in the last 40 or so pages and that broke the intention of the whole story (as explained in the author’s note at the end) for me.

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Review: Stranger Child (DCI Tom Douglas, #4) by Rachel Abbott

Stranger Child
Stranger Child by Rachel Abbott

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For an ambitious plot, this book succeeded in having a brilliantly realistic human feel to it that carried the suspense wonderfully throughout the novel.

Pros:
– I was genuinely moved by how compassionate Emma was and how the author showed how this heightened compassion faced some tough decisions with the arrival of Tasha. My favourite part of the whole book was seeing how this character coped with impossible situations and how real her love for others felt.
– This book is advertised as a gripping thriller and it certainly delivers, the plot keeps you intrigued the whole time and its fast-paced action keeps you on tenterhooks as Abbott pulls no punches in dishing out twists and turns.
– Stranger Child is immensely absorbing – seriously. It should come with a warning that reading it will result in you detaching from everyday life for a few hours as you end up thumbing through the pages.
– The ending truly brought tears to my eyes, it was wonderful.

Cons:
– A small criticism but Tasha herself could have done with being a more developed character. In comparison to how well-written Emma’s characterisation is, most of the other characters paled in my mind when reading.

I picked up this book from Amazon’s new Prime Reading service that allows people with Amazon Prime memberships to ‘borrow’ 10 books from a small selection for free. Because this book was one of the few options to borrow for free, I really wasn’t expecting very much from it at all – I hadn’t heard of the author before and I didn’t even realise the book was meant to be part of a series. I just saw the cover and wanted an easy read to take my mind off real life for a few hours.
Boy, did this book go above and beyond my expectations!

Instead of it being a lazy read to relax with, I found myself fighting off tiredness to finish the whole book in one sitting. The plot is entirely absorbing and the characters, especially Emma, feel so life-like that you’re drawn to them. In fact, Emma is pretty much the whole reason I was in love with the book, she felt incredibly real and her compassion for all the characters around her brought the whole story to life, particularly her love for Ollie, it almost felt too tender to intrude on.

Do yourself a favour – don’t read anything else about this book. Pick it up, clear your schedule and dive right into the story, if you like suspense thrillers, you will love this book!

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Review: The Devil’s Prayer by Luke Gracias

The Devil's Prayer
The Devil’s Prayer by Luke Gracias

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received this in exchange for an honest review from NetGalley. Thank you to the author, Luke Gracias, and the publisher for this opportunity.

The first half of this book was a solid 4 stars full of suspense, twists and intrigue. The second half, however, was a shaky 1.5 stars and completely pulled the book down.

Pros:
– Its fast pace and constant twists and turns will keep you hooked for the majority of the book
– The story is intensely creative and has a great shock impact – you won’t want to read any spoilers for this book, its surprises in the first third are the best part!
– It’s super easy to get emotionally involved in this book, the sheer suspense alone leaves you feeling like a nervous wreck desperate to know more.

Cons:
– The book should have ended in the middle with the latter part condensed into an epilogue or a companion book perhaps. There is a huge disconnect between the first part of the novel and the second part, it’s the biggest gap I’ve seen in a fiction book and it just completely derails the whole novel by giving a racy thriller a rather information-dense, bland ending.
– I found it really hard to care about any of the characters, making them more likeable would give this book a lot more impact, particularly when it comes to Denise’s friends and her daughters.

This book is a struggle to review. The majority of the book is fantastic, it has everything you could ever wish for in a fast-paced thriller and then some. It took me a little time to get into it but once I got past the initial story-building (which seems disjointed from the rest of the novel until you can make more sense of it), I couldn’t put the book down…until the second part.

The second part of the book is where things get a bit woolly – we’re given a lot of information. Seriously, a lot . It begins to read like a dry academic history textbook and as a university student studying history, I’ve endured a fair few of these. It’s clear that Gracias is incredibly passionate about the authenticity of the history presented in the book and that it is well-researched but shoehorning this into the main narrative just pulls the rest of the book down. It’s not that the latter part is particularly badly written (which it isn’t), it’s that it just doesn’t fit in with the rest of the book and it’s as though the author decided to add another book on the end of the original one. It puts a complete spanner in the pace of the reading as instead of racing through the pages on tenterhooks with suspense at every turn, you’re suddenly given a lot of dense historical information that is completely out of tone with the first part of the book.
I think this is done to try and add some realism to some of the more far-fetched elements of the main story but it just doesn’t mesh well and instead of adding to it by showing the reader that the story is grounded in historical research, it gives the effect of bombarding the reader with information that is tenuously linked to the story and doesn’t belong in the main book. As I said earlier, if this information was condensed and made more accessible so it was as easily read and understood as the first part of the book, it would make a solid epilogue or even a companion book for readers who want to find out more.

All in all, it’s a good book so long as you don’t mind skipping large chunks of the latter part or battling through it. The first part is a brilliant read and I sincerely hope the author seriously considers reshaping the novel so the first part can be read on its on merit because it’s a gripping thriller that’ll keep you up reading into the early hours of the morning. Its clever twists and the care taken to reveal the story in bitesize amounts to keep you guessing throughout are well-worth giving this book a chance and popping it on your TBR list.

I probably wouldn’t read it again unless it was reformatted in some way, I bet knowing the plot points will make it significantly less interesting the second time around too. I’d recommend this book to anyone who reads the likes of Dan Brown for its history/mystery/religion and/or Martina Cole’s books for their suspense/grittiness but with the advice that, unless the book has sparked an interest in the history of religion, they could skim most of the book’s latter part.

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Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Monster Calls is the sort of book that transports you to feel what you felt at the most heart-breaking moments of your life. It’s a book that, despite being short in length, it can only be read deeply as it’ll provoke you to speculate about what it means to lose the people you love.

Pros:
– Outstanding way to broach the subject of grief and loss with young people
– It’ll make you reflect on your own life and how you feel about the people in it
– It doesn’t try to pull at your heartstrings, it just does without it feeling forced or over the top.

Cons:
– I feel like it would be a good idea, especially for young readers, to have someone to talk to about the book if you’re particularly affected by it. Not so much a ‘con’, but a warning perhaps.
– It’s marketed at young people but I think that’s misleading, though it’s simply written in parts, this book has something for everyone, regardless of age.
– It has received some criticism for being predictable, however, I think this is done on purpose so as not to take away from the emotional gravitas of the overall story: being true to yourself and letting go. Also, it’s important to bear in mind that this book isn’t so much a lead up to the ending but more about the journey it takes to get there.

I imagine this book hits every person in a different way depending on where they are in their life and how much they can relate to Connor’s pain at facing unbearable loss. For that reason, it’s clear to see why some people have a powerful, emotionally heart-breaking reaction to it and why others perhaps, are left wondering what sets this apart from any other sad story. At first, the book feels as though the most interesting feature is the monster – the mystery behind his stories and his appearance – but the more you read on, you realise that the monster is only a small aspect of a much bigger story – one that will be familiar to most people because they will have felt what Connor feels at some point in their lives.

As it’s a very short book, I recommend people go out and read it for themselves rather than reading too many reviews, I don’t think having the hype of the book’s reviews will do anything but take-away from the experience of reading it. At most, it’ll take two hours of your time to read the book but it’s a story that will stay with you long after reading.

If Ness could do anything to extend the story without it losing its emotional potency, what I would love to see come out of this book would be a spin-off story of the book from Connor’s mother’s point of view. It can’t be easy being the parent in this situation and I think it would be interesting to see the mother’s need to protect versus Connor’s need for transparency and stability.

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Review: The Bad Mother’s Diary by Suzy K. Quinn

The Bad Mother's Diary
The Bad Mother’s Diary by Suzy K. Quinn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A light-hearted read with a few funny moments and an uplifting feel-good factor.

Pros:
– It’s a fun enough book that’s well-suited to when you need a light read to perk you up
– The Duffy family are pretty great albeit swamped with clichés e.g. irresponsible young mother ‘who’s just a baby herself’, studious older sister who’s a bit boring but knows exactly what to do in each situation
– The main character felt believable and utterly relatable

Cons:
– There are no surprises in this book whatsoever, it’s entirely predictable but in a cutesy romance, that’s not necessarily an awful thing.
– The ending is far too rushed and that lets the book down, the book continually references fairytale tropes and happily-ever-afters so you kind of expect this from the very off but the conclusion just wasn’t enough.
– All the male characters in the book are very simply written and are two-dimensional. Their motives are always obvious and their back stories aren’t detailed or particularly interesting.

Extra note: I don’t know how I feel about this as I’m torn between finding it sweet and finding it a bit cringey but in the middle of the book, the author ‘interrupts’ and congratulates you ‘lovely ladies’ on getting that far. At the very end of the book as well, there’s a truck-load of self-promotion promising competition giveaways, an exclusive prequel and, what in my view amounts to emotional blackmail though it did give me a giggle, a note from the author saying, ‘I read ALL my Amazon and Goodreads reviews (and yes, the bad ones do make me cry) and pay special attention to my favourite reviews and sometimes send special gifts as a thank you.’

The last part however, just didn’t sit well with me at all, if an author wants genuine feedback from readers then saying that mean reviews make them cry and that they’ll send gifts to ‘favourite’ reviews just sounds like they’re clutching at straws to make sure they get good publicity and favourable mentions. Okay, so maybe the less cynical person could argue that Quinn is just trying to bond with her readers or something but for me, this just feels unethical and a bit desperate.

Anyway, onto the review.
I picked up this book because it was free on the new Amazon Prime readers programme for Kindle and because I was having a coffee after a stressful presentation and I wanted an easy read to relax with (the last two books I read were super heavy in the religious/murdering/widowhood grief/devil worship department).

As I said above, The Bad Mother’s Diary is an easy read with its predictability, diary format, and humour making it simple to understand – it doesn’t ask the reader to do any hard work whatsoever. This can be a good thing, in my situation it was and I imagine to many readers – particularly those who are busy mums looking for a book to dip in and out of while they’re exhausted and waiting for their child to settle down – it’s part of the book’s main appeal far from it being a drawback.

The plot is cheesy in its obviousness but again, this doesn’t really detract from the book as you keep plodding along with it to see exactly how Jules gets from A to B and the funny struggles she encounters in the meantime. And the struggles are funny – from the perspective of someone who doesn’t have a child, it’s refreshing to see a more realistic view of motherhood away from the Instagram world of avocado smoothie drinkers who jog 5 miles before 6am and have their children enrolled in prep school from the moment they’re born. I’d much rather hear about shitty nappy disasters and a mum’s struggle to do parenting her own way rather than the ways of the people around her. That being said, considering the title – this book doesn’t seem to be centred on motherhood. I’d say the plot was more centred around how a woman copes with hitting rock bottom and then pushing herself to achieve and to find happiness in her life in spite of the critics around her. In that sense, it’s quite an uplifting story, I just wish the focus had been more on that and a bit more attention had been paid to some of the more significant challenges Jules faced – we find out way more about her struggle than we do about her struggles with completing her goals.

The male characters pretty much suck but this is compensated for with how great the female characters are. They’re wholly relatable and though this means they rely on clichés a lot of the time, I guarantee most readers can think of someone in their lives that’s similar to members of the Duffy family, Althea, Clarisse or Helen.

All in all, I probably won’t read this again but if I knew someone who was in a bit of a funk, I’d recommend they pick the book up. Its easiness to read and the diary format meaning you can dip in and out of it without having to pick up lost threads means it’d be a solidly uplifting read for someone having a rough time of things or having problems with concentration.
I plan to keep the sequel in mind for when I next could do with a bit of encouragement and a light-hearted read with a feel-good factor and hope the embarrassing anecdotes of Jules’ struggles with motherhood, weight, and relationships only get funnier.

[MODERATE SPOILER BELOW]

My biggest criticism of the book, though this is a personal one, I’d have much preferred it if it ended with Jules feeling good about herself for one of her biggest achievements rather than it ending really abruptly on a romance story. For me, her overcoming her own personal obstacles was way more interesting and empowering than some guy deciding he does, after all, fancy her. Big whoop – she was awesome all along anyway.

[SPOILER]

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Review: Traumatic Realism: The Demands of Holocaust Representation by Michael Rothberg

Traumatic Realism: The Demands of Holocaust Representation
Traumatic Realism: The Demands of Holocaust Representation by Michael Rothberg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A truly enlightening book for anyone interested in the memory of the Holocaust and how it has been interpreted by survivors, academics and creatives alike in recent years.

Pros:
– Rothberg’s analysis is straightforward to understand and insightful
– Far from expecting his readers to know the in-and-outs of Maus, Schindler’s List, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (which I’m sure, many of them will), Rothberg takes care to provide context

Cons:
– The initial chapters on realism and postmodernism are complex to read as you would expect on those subject matters but the rest of the book is easygoing in comparison – don’t be put off by them!
– This is personal interest but I would’ve enjoyed the book a great deal more and given it that precious 5-star mark had there been more analysis on how the Holocaust is presented in contemporary culture. Rothberg limits the analysis to several things including Maus, Lanzmann’s Shoah documentary, and the ‘year of the Holocaust’ on Saturday Night Live (in the mid-1990s) and though it’s very insightful, analysing a few more sources would’ve been helpful.
– On a similar note to above, this is personal interest rather than a criticism – the chapter on the Americanisation of the Holocaust was fascinating and I wish Rothberg had written more on the subject.

I opened this book looking for some short and sweet analysis to put in an essay I was finishing that needed to pack a little more of a punch before I submitted it two days later. Instead, I spent a good chunk of that essay-writing time poring over the pages completely fascinated by Rothberg’s analysis of Holocaust representation, particularly his analysis of Maus and of the Americanisation of the Holocaust.

This is an insightful book for anyone interested in that field of research and Rothberg’s thoughts on how the memory of the Holocaust is being used to propagate American values is both chilling and intriguing.
For an academic text, this book manages to be both highly comprehensive and very readable which is a hard balance to manage, particularly when it comes to talking about postmodernism and the effects of the memory of historical events in contemporary culture and politics. It’s well worth a read and I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest, whether casual or academic, in how the Holocaust is being represented and why this representation is of vital importance to its memory and the place historical trauma has within modern society when it comes to commercialism, globalisation, identity politics, and the media.

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