Review: The Historiography of Genocide by Dan Stone

The Historiography of GenocideThe Historiography of Genocide by Dan Stone

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This has been a difficult read for a couple of reasons:

1) Genocide will never (and ought never to be) a subject that is emotionally ‘easy’ to learn about
2) There are a lot of complex ideas and research squashed into a relatively short survey (given how much historiography the book attempts to cover) making it a dense read
3) The book is not only a survey of genocide historiography but it also covers a crash course chapter on an element of the most historiographically prominent genocides (13 are covered in all)

This book is a comprehensive overview of the whole field of genocide studies and its historiography. It’s helpful to learn how genocide research has been conducted in other disciplines (though history-centric, the book does talk about multi-disciplinary approaches, particularly in the ‘Concepts’ section) and the Case Studies section does well to illustrate a lot of the theory that the book goes over in the opening section. Each essay gives a brief overview of the existing historiography with a focus on post-2000 research and concludes with thought-provoking questions for possible further research.

I’d recommend this book to anyone studying an undergraduate degree or above in humanities/social sciences as, unless you’re already familiar with historiography, a lot of the concepts and terminology would be difficult to get your head around and it might be off-putting.

An emotionally and intellectually challenging read, this book is informative and thorough. the sheer amount of scholarship this book covers is both inspiring and humbling – it has raised a wide range of interesting questions for the future of genocide studies and added a great deal more texts to my reading list(!).

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Review: One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

One of Us Is LyingOne of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An interesting twist on coming-of-age character arcs and on The Breakfast Club story that most (older) readers will be familiar with; One of Us Is Lying adds depths to characters that transforms stereotypes without development feeling shoehorned into a plot.

To address and avoid the spoilers that some people have taken issue with; I’d like to throw in my opinion that McManus handled the sensitive issues brilliantly in the context they were in. Had she written about them in another way (as some people have recommended), they would stick out like a sore thumb in a book that beautifully depicts the trials and tribulations of adolescence. As for the secrets of the characters, they were all developed throughout the story and in keeping with the way the mystery unfolded to keep up the suspense and to show that teenagers, just like anyone, have their secrets. Certain issues were not thrown in there for effect or for plot drama, they were well handled and very relevant to how these issues present themselves in the lives of young adults.

Now that’s over with…
This book was a thoroughly enjoyable read. The author’s skill lies in how she adds depths to all the characters and smashes through the stereotypes that feel exhaustively shitty to begin with. Persevere through the first couple of chapters and be aware that they frame the book, they’re not by any means what the author sticks to. Instead, with great subtlety and care, the author takes us along the individuals’ own paths of self-discovery and it feels as painful, dramatic and emotional as teenagers’ lives often are in reality.

The plot is fairly meh and has its clumsy aspects hence 4 stars instead of 5 but it is interesting enough to keep the reader plotting along – you can tell pretty early on that the advertised plot isn’t the book’s main focus but the glue to piece together the more interesting elements.

I’d definitely read this again to get pointers for character development in my own writing and I’d highly recommend it for teenagers facing issues with identity or who are having difficulty in imagining the complexity in the lives of others. The range of characters means there is a good chance one (or many) will resonate with you and the people you encountered growing up; their different viewpoints bring the story to life.

This book can be summed up neatly in just three words: Individuals Contain Multitudes.

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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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