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review 2016-11-12 12:36
Women, surgery, love, and mystery, Scottish style.
Black Widow: A Jack Parlabane Thriller - Christopher Brookmyre

Thanks to NetGalley and to Grove Atlantic for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review. I have read several books written by Christopher Brookmyre years back and I loved them. I discovered him by picking up The Secret Art of Stealing at Liverpool Airport on the strength of reading the description and a few lines. The book had me laughing out loud within a few pages, and since then I’ve read a few of his novels, although I haven’t followed any of his series in full. I couldn’t resist the chance to catch up with his newest book, although I hadn’t read any of the other novels in the Parlabane series. And he delivered once more. I loved this book. There were the funny and witty moments the author had me accustomed to (although it is, by no means, his funniest book), the complex and tri-dimensional characters, the Scottish background, the complex plot with twist and turns that keep you guessing. I particularly liked the different points-of-view used to tell the story. Two of the points of views (although one only very briefly) are narrated in the first person, and the rest, including Parbalane’s and the female detective’s, are in the third person. I am fascinated by narrators and their roles in novels, and the way Brookmyre uses the different voices and points-of-view in this novel is a beautiful illustration of how the different options can be put to the best of uses. We get to see the same facts and events from different points of views, some directly involved in them, some who are investigating or being told the same, some at the time and some recounting what happened some time ago. Brookmyre puts the brains of his readers to the test, making them try to create a single consistent story from the different versions of events and different timelines, a bit like trying to complete the picture in a jigsaw puzzle from the disparate pieces. The story is cleverly composed sharing clues that wrong-foot us often, and we keep changing our minds as to our sympathies, suspects, and who the goodies and the baddies are. I can honestly say I kept trying to work out if I was being taken for a ride by the narrators or if I was just being given very partial accounts of the events. It’s difficult to talk in detail about this novel without giving any spoilers away. Being a doctor, and a woman, I felt particularly drawn to one the characters, the female surgeon who tells her version of the story in the first person, Diana Jager. She is by no means perfect and due to her determined actions has come to be feared and disliked, but I empathised with her experiences and her feelings about the career and the inherent difficulties women have to face (I remember as a medical student training in a hospital where one of the surgery firms would not take on female trainees, the only female surgeon with a regular post was known to be the lover of one of the surgeons and never did a day’s surgery in several months I was there, and among women the accepted wisdom was that women had to work twice as hard as men to get less than half the way up the ladder than they did. I hope things have changed since but I’m not confident). But the rest of the characters are equally interesting and non-standard. Although as I mentioned I haven’t read any of the previous Parlabane’s mysteries, I didn’t find that was an impediment to my enjoyment of the book, although I’m sure those who follow the series might enjoy it even more (if that’s possible). The story is dynamically told, and if anything, I thought it accelerates towards the end (as is usually the case when we see the resolution coming). I can’t say I saw what was going to happen from the beginning, although I sometimes beat Parlabane to the post, but just by little. I enjoyed the cleverness of the story and the way was written too. A case of form perfectly matching content. An involved and intriguing story, beautifully told, full of local detail and complex characters, that reflects on serious themes and will keep you guessing until the end, recommended to lovers of mysteries and thrillers. Another great book by Brookmyre.

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review 2016-10-08 14:58
The Hit - Melvin Burgess

This book is trash.

(TW: Rape mention.)

 

I was really disappointed by this. It had a great setting, a great storyline to start off with. The synopsis was pretty thrilling to start off with. Basically, there's a drug called "Death". It costs thousands to buy, and once you take it, you will experience the greatest high of your life. For an entire week, you'll be over the moon, you feel as if you can do everything you want, you'll be living life for the fullest...

 

Why is it just a week, may you ask? Oh, because after a week you're dead. The drug kills you. Taking Death means you get a week of absolute euphoria and then die.

 

And this book is set in a kind of...well, a kind of society where there are riots and people are getting fed up and angry at the corporations taking their money, and so young people are taking Death and experiencing life like that.

 

I didn't really follow that part, to be honest. The society didn't seem much different than now and you don't see teenagers taking this drug which will inevitably kill them. But whatever.

 

It started out great, it really did. Our protagonist - wait, let me just look up his name again - oh I remember now. Adam. 

 

Adam is a bit of a fuckboy to be honest. He's an ass. He's our main protagonist. He goes with his girlfriend to a party, pressurises her for sex at the end of the night. Of course, she's not impressed and throws it back in his face. He also gets beaten up by a gangster at the party, takes too much of a certain alcoholic substance and has a panic attack (or at least as close to it as our author can muster).

 

Basically, he's had a shit night and hates himself. So when he gets hold of a load of free Death pills...he takes one.

 

Pretty bad decision. Pretty stupid. Because for the next week he's on top of the world! He also knows he's going to die after the end of the week.

 

So he makes a bucket list. Which includes....ah, having sex with multiple women, getting his girlfriend pregnant (because, according to him, he "wants to leave something of himself behind"), killing someone who deserves to die, all these other items...

 

His girlfriend Lizzie isn't that pleased when she finds him climbing up to her bedroom in Romeo and Juliet style, all suddenly full of energy and confessing that he wants to do all these things. Especially not that he wants to fuck all these other random women. Or get her pregnant.

 

And she goes along with it anyway.

 

Christ. I don't know why she does. The whole time, Adam is constantly saying "I love you, Lizzie, I love you" like some kind of mantra. No, really. He never shuts up about it. He says it about 12 times per chapter. (Okay I'm exaggerating here but he says it a hell of a lot.)

 

Various events unfold throughout the story, including how Adam and Lizzie rob a shop for booze, get drunk (apparently if you're on Death, you need TRIPLE THE NORMAL AMOUNT to get drunk) do some other stupid shit, get arrested, sneak out again, go to another party...

 

Right, here's the main flaw with the book here. There's a lot of damn sexism going on here.

 

I'm not talking about the "if a guy's on Death he's automatically going to want to have sex with a load of women". I'm talking more about all the violence directed solely at women throughout the book. One chapter starts with a woman being beaten up. Another chapter has a woman being stabbed on the news live on camera, for the sole purpose of shocking Lizzie. The only female character who doesn't get beaten up, tortured or killed, is his own mother.

 

Later on, Lizzie is resolved to find the antidote for Death, to cure Adam (even though no sure cure exists). The gangster she met at the party tells on the phone he'll give her an antidote - on the condition that she has sex with him.

 

She agrees to this without much thought about it at all.

 

What. 

 

It should be worth mentioning that Adam doesn't even want an antidote at this point - nor is he even WORTH saving, he's such a terrible character - and she's going to allow this gangster to rape her to get an antidote? Which doesn't exist? Seriously?

 

I'm going to quote from the book here:

 

"What sort of a bitch would she be to let Adam die, just because of sex? It was the old story. Boys went to the rescue with a gun in their hands, girls with their knickers in their pockets. So which was worse? This way, she thought, at least no one was going to get hurt."

 

Oh sure, the gangster is just going to rape you and possibly kill you too, no one's going to get hurt. Fucking hell.

 

Actually, it turns out that he keeps her prisoner and beats her to a pulp - he tries to rape her but can't manage it because he can't get himself up. I'm not sure if this is supposed to be funny or something?

 

The thing is...the villains in this book are actually pretty comical. They have these running gags and I was sympathetic towards them at first. One of them is insane and has to make medication. Oh, and they kill a guy in a wheelchair too. And beat up women. And may be serial rapists. So I guess they're no longer funny now.

 

Seriously, don't try to make your villains comic relief - and THEN show that they're mass-murderers, women-beaters and potential rapists. Do one or the other. It doesn't mix!

 

...Boy, I really started hating the book after that. I skimmed the rest.

 

If you're wondering about the end, it turns out that the Death pill that Adam took was a fake, and so he's not going to die after all. And some shitty message about how life is precious to you. (Another female character blows herself up, too btw. Because they can't get through one chapter of this damn book without torturing another woman.)

 

The violence wasn't even very realistic, to be honest. Another gangster comes round to Lizzie's cousin's house and beats her up. Like, breaks all her ribs along one side. Breaks her nose. She should be screaming in agony by this point.

 

Except she isn't screaming, she's still talking normally as if he only slapped her or something. It's just...badly done. It's like the author wants to see these characters tortured, but can't quite handle the definition of what happens AFTERWARDS.

 

There's a scene where the gangsters have forced Lizzie to urinate in a potty in front of them, whilst chaining one hand to the bed after they've smashed her face in.

 

I'll be honest with you here - that just sounds like the author's kink or fetish or something. I mean come on.

 

Oh, and by the way, Adam still never stops saying "I love you" to her - even AFTER he's had sex with another woman (which he does, the same woman who blows herself up a few chapters later). He also makes it clear to the reader that he fully intends to screw around with more girls behind her back.

 

This book just makes me angry. It doesn't make sense, the main character is the one who should be tortured for all his shitty actions (not his girlfriend, who almost gets raped), the villains are either highly comical or highly violent against women when the plot needs them to be, the remaining characters aren't great...

 

And really, what disappoints me is that the premise of this book sounded good at first. It was just executed so poorly. Avoid this please.

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review 2016-09-27 20:29
Feeling empowered!
Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History - Sam Maggs

Back in August, Quirk Books reached out to ask if I'd be interested in reviewing a nonfiction book about extraordinary women from history. Of course I said yes. (Who wouldn't have their interest piqued by that pitch?) So they sent over an advanced reader's copy (ARC) for me to check out. XD

 

Wonder Women by Sam Maggs includes stories about 25 women who looked convention in the face and laughed at it. When one looks at STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) careers, it is easy to believe that women have had little to no impact. (The historical record has a few flaws.) Maggs completely turns this notion onto its head by showcasing women who not only braved these disciplines but completely rocked them (many times before men even had a clue). She doesn't just discuss women scientists and inventors but also women adventurers. Those that dared to dream big and push themselves forward to attain those dreams despite all the odds being stacked against them. It's the same struggle that women the world over are still fighting against except for these women lived in times that were even more daunting (I'm talking B.C.E. through the 1940s, ya'll.). These women were not given equal opportunities for education much less employment. Their families, spouses, and society were dead set that they would stay exactly as they always had...in the shadow of men. The biographies are broken up into subsections and at the end of each section are bite size bios and a Q&A with a woman who is currently working in that discipline. Oh and did I mention the art at the start of each biography? An artist's rendering of each of the ladies in the ARC are depicted in black and white but I believe in the on-sale version color has been added. They make a great addition to the book as well as the informal jargon (if you've been on Tumblr and enjoyed it then you'll feel right at home). It was a fun, quick read that showcased some truly kick butt ladies doing some really kick butt things. 9/10

 

You can pre-order Wonder Women today (it comes out on October 4, 2016!) and as an added bonus receive downloadable wallpapers by Jen Bartel and Paulina Ganucheau. O_O

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2016-07-19 17:23
Little Women but with more booze and acrobatics
The Tumbling Turner Sisters: A Novel - Juliette Fay

The following review was requested by the lovely people over at Wunderkind PR who always seem to know just what kind of books I like. :-)

 

One of my favorite things about writing this blog is thinking up creative titles for the posts that somehow convey the essence of the book without giving too much away. (It's also usually the last thing that I do after writing the actual review.) The Tumbling Turner Sisters by Juliette Fay has whispers of Little Women in that the story revolves around 4 sisters who are very different but each with defining character traits. However, this story doesn't take place in the home but out on the road as the girls and their mom leap (quite literally) into the world of vaudeville. It has a strong Water for Elephants vibe in that there is a host of rich characters that crop up and sometimes fade away after only a few pages never to be seen again. The book bounces between two of the sisters: Gert (the beauty) and Winnie (the brains). It's not a jarring transition but I would have liked to see from the eyes of Kit and Nell (the other two sisters).  Fay is able to weave real people (Cary Grant makes an appearance but you won't realize it until you read the author's notes at the end.) and historical events to fit into her narrative (I can't tell you what they are or it'll spoil it.). I love the fact that the theaters chosen for this book can still be visited today and I hope to get to see them in the near future. :-) Our story begins in 1919 with the family visited by two tragedies at once. One of them changes the life of a sister irrevocably and the other sets the family on a path that they never could have foreseen. As vaudeville performers, they glimpse a world that they never could have dreamed of and it strengthens their bonds while also testing their limits. There's romance, daring, anguish, and above all the lure of the limelight. My only regret is that the book ends in such a way that the reader is left feeling saddened that they may never know what became of these characters. I'll definitely be adding more of Juliette Fay's books to my TRL.

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2016-06-21 17:29
Dear Caitlin, I love you.
How to Be a Woman - Caitlin Moran

How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran was the April book from the feminist book club on Goodreads called Our Shared Shelf started by Emma Watson. I am continually thankful for this book group as it has really opened my horizons to some truly fantastic and interesting books that I don't know I would have necessarily picked up on my own. I had heard SO much about this book in particular that I was starting to wonder if it was fated for me to read it. Yes, I have definitely fallen under Caitlin Moran's spell. I challenge anyone to read this book and not think she's the epitome of awesomeness. The basic premise of this book is that Caitlin feels that she has never truly known how to be a "woman" in all the ways that society/family/ourselves tell us are the defining characteristics of a "woman". She talks about growing up in a family of 8 as the oldest in a very poor household and her journey in discovering her place in feminism. However, it was her no-holds-barred satirical take on the pitfalls of trying to mold ourselves to fit one perfect mold that made me truly love this book. 10/10 highly recommend

 

PS This is definitely an adult book. So be prepared.

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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