Sunday, 16 April 2017

All Is Not Forgotten - Wendy Walker; Review

  

Book Details:
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: HQ (23rd Feb 2017)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0008203482
ISBN-13: 978-0008203481

Summary:

In the small, affluent town of Fairview, Connecticut everything seems picture perfect.

Until one night when young Jenny Kramer is attacked at a local party. In the hours immediately after, she is given a controversial drug to medically erase her memory of the violent assault. But, in the weeks and months that follow, as she heals from her physical wounds, and with no factual recall of the attack, Jenny struggles with her raging emotional memory. Her father, Tom, becomes obsessed with his inability to find her attacker and seek justice while her mother, Charlotte, prefers to pretend this horrific event did not touch her perfect country club world.

As they seek help for their daughter, the fault lines within their marriage and their close-knit community emerge from the shadows where they have been hidden for years, and the relentless quest to find the monster who invaded their town - or perhaps lives among them - drive this psychological thriller to a shocking and unexpected conclusion. 

Links To Buy:




Rating:
Review:

Warning - spoilers up ahead. 

As you can probably tell from my previous reviews, that I’m no stranger to reading books on issues like rape and sexual consent - and I say this because this last year or so I’ve been reading these books, books that are hard to digest, to see what the representation of such issues are in fiction and mainly YA. Reviews for books like What We Saw, What Happens Next, Exit, Pursued By A Bear, and The Butterfly Garden can all be found on my blog. 

Of all those books though, this, All Is Not Forgotten - was the hardest one to read for me. This story is about the sexual assault of a 15 year old girl, and how her parents take the decision to administer her a drug that allows, within certain conditions, to erase that memory of that horrific night. The hardest thing, which often led me to putting the book down and taking a step away from it - was the sheer graphic detail in which the assault was described. Trigger warnings, and to those who are sensitive, please don’t read on. I talk about this in terms of a review and to get my feelings out, and not in any way to recite what happens to cause anyone any distress. 

Our main character Jenny, stumbled into the woods after something that happened at a party. Here, is when our story starts, a very bold and shocking opening, to start with the assault itself. It goes on to detail that she was raped repeatedly for almost over an hour - in different ways, each way leading to tearing, bleeding. Then, she was carved on her lower hip, and left on the forrest floor until she was discovered. This scene, as horrific and scarring as it is, is unfortunately repeated throughout the whole story, whether in a police report, or through her parents discussing what happened, or Jenny’s psychiatrist talking about the assault. To me personally, it was not necessary to continuously, in such detail, relive that moment over and over again in the book. Reading it once was hard enough, but to read it over and over again was just one too many times without any relative cause or need for it. I had a few issues with this book, but this is my strongest one - the level of detail about he assault and the numerous mentions of it, just should have been left out and the book itself should come with some kind of forewarning about what is coming up.

The writing itself both annoyed me, but also kept me hooked. When you start reading, you’ll wonder who the narrator is because at first it’s not clear. I kept asking my colleagues who it was, whether it was a subconscious part of Jenny’s brain, or an alter-ego of her Dad’s more violent side, or, in the end, I settled on whether or not it was the voice of her psychiatrist - which is where I hit bingo. I mentioned in another review of mine, for The Butterfly Garden, that I hugely enjoy narrators who are somewhat unreliable and can’t be trusted - but in this case, the vague-ness of the character really put me off. It’s because he came across as being egotistical, overly self assured in his abilities and character - but more than that, he was condescending. Thinking himself above others simply because of the nature of his job and what that allows him access to. 

*Warning, this may just be me going off in a tangent and mini rage but.. yeah*
Throw in the fact that his ethics and moral compassion are thrown off track when his son falls into the equation, I found him lacking the empathy and compassion he claimed he was adept at, and instead he was selfish and evil in his pursuit to plant what he KNEW was false evidence simply to shift attention from his son. He compromised the innocence and belief of a 15 year old girl who was so brutally raped and placed her trust in you to help her bring back those memories - and the moment he had the slightest inkling that his son could be involved in a small way, he threw her to the wolves and actually manipulated Jenny’s and Sean’s vulnerable state and trust, to lead them away from his son. I felt disgusted at his behaviour and the rationale behind it - surely as a psychiatrist you are actually trained to be impartial no? 

*back to coherent reviewing* 
For that reason I think, the narrative style also kept me hooked - it’s messy, it’s disgusting, morally questionable - but that also led me to believe that it was honest and very raw. While one half of my brain was all rage against the psychiatrist, the other half totally got him - of course he would pick his son and his safety over everything else, it’s natural instinct, regardless of whether he’s guilty or not - which at that point hadn’t been determined in the story. The narrator was also very self aware of his shortcomings and pitfalls in character - which I can appreciate. But the downside to this was, it became more his story than the unravelling of Jenny’s. 

The complex relationships and bonds interweaved throughout; Sean’s, Jenny’s mother, Jenny’s Dad. But I felt what was lacking was the depth into Jenny herself and weirdly enough, the perpetrator. The final chapter where we actually find out who it was, so was anti climatic. We spend the ENTIRETY of this book, delving into Jenny’s memories, the events of that night, to find out who actually did it - only to have the revelation over and done with, within a mere few pages. Not asking for a long drawn out justice-scene or anything - but it would have been good to have planted more substantial clues throughout the book at least so that the ending didn’t feel so short-lived. As for Jenny - as often is the case in reality, the true victim of a rape crime lives in the shadows - in this story, we didn’t get enough depth, enough book-time on Jenny herself, on her feelings, her struggles - except through the eyes of the narrator who, lets face it, wasn’t in the best of positions to be doling out observations. 

The other characters we see in this book are fleshed out pretty well - almost too well? Sean struck me as an oddity for a number of reasons. I get his role in the book and in the story the narrator tells, as Sean was a previous patient of his who comes to befriend Jenny. But I just found it messed with this book slightly, in the sense that there is a lot of Sean’s story and suffering and he deserved his own book in a way - rather than being a background character to this one. It would have worked better to not give such depth to his character only to have him not be the main one - the same desired effect from Sean being in the story could have been achieved with minimal information about who he is. The same, for instance, can be said about all the other characters. Jenny’s Mum and Dad - the psychiatrist gets them to open up about their past, their present and all their issues - which again for me, distracts from the main story because there’s just too much going on with these other characters and what their bringing to the table. 

The narrator *it seems my gripe with this guy is never ending* also goes off on so many tangens when trying to tell a story. He’ll be trying to tell us about the time Jenny tried to kill herself, but oh, let’s just rewind back to few weeks ago when my wife said something about something *okay probably a really bad example since the above didn’t happen* but I’m sure you’ll get the gist of what I mean. To say this guy infuriated me would be an understatement - but like I said before, there’s a pull, having such a character that draws the darkness out of you and has you swearing at the pages, is a smart one, if not a horrible one. 

The writing itself was gripping and I seriously couldn’t put the book down. It was the just-one-more-chapter-before-bed syndrome until you realise it’s past 1am and you REALLY need to get to sleep for work. The pace was slow, to ensure there was substantial buildup, but weirdly, the book still felt fast? Months elapse in the book, from the moment it happened to Jenny getting through therapy, yet it felt so quick to me - maybe because in an effort to find out who did it, I was reading this a breakneck speed. I will say, you will not be bored with this book. All, really Is Not Forgotten *just had to throw a pun in there at some point, you know me*. 


Sunday, 2 April 2017

The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas; Review

 

Book Details:
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Walker Books (6th April 2017)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1406372153
ISBN-13: 978-1406372151

Summary:

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalils name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

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Rating:
Review:

Holy mother of feels. This book. This book. THIS BOOK. Can you tell my nose is flaring, I’m breathing hard like my fat-cat-Garfield-like-self? That rarely happens, except for when I finish a book and feel like I’m about to spontaneously combust. But less about my internal emotions and more about this book. 

While this may be one book, there are so many stories told within it. So so many. A story about racism. About stereotyping. About our current social climate. About interracial couples. About friendship and loyalty. Family. (Has the word ‘about’ started to lose all meaning to you too? About time, eh?). 

Angie Thomas has written one of the most relevant, moving, and fiercely powerful stories of this year, of many years even. She’s given a solid, authentic and undeniably moving voice to a movement, to a group of marginalised and hurt people, who are being killed in broad daylight at the hands of the system meant to protect and serve - simply because of the colour of their skin. As a muslim woman myself, who wears a hijab - I have had my fair share of verbal abuse, endless streams of stereotyping and rude comments - but the plight of black people, the plight born and raised into the #BlackLivesMatterMovement is far more dangerous and horrifically, far too common. There are many, MANY groups of people, races and faiths, that are marginalised and abused - but in this current day and age, none more so than Muslims and black people. Yet put one of each in a car, in current day America, who do you think is more likely to be stopped, stereotyped on the spot as a thug, and shot at for no reason? 

There’s so much in this book that makes you sit up and take notice, to really hone in on what’s going on, both on the surface and under the radar. Angie takes on a lot of really hot topics, and despite being a debut author, with her flawlessly on-point narrative and honest commentary through her character of Starr, shines *pun intended* light on issues such as the drug industry and the vicious cycle of damage it causes in black neighbourhoods. These “thugs” in her story, are mostly borne of unfortunate circumstances and poor prospects for their future which pushes them into this cycle and never lets them leave. The media, it’s representation of minorities and the tragic way in which it can distort reality, make people see and believe what they want them to, sometimes without even saying a word. Racism, the many faces of it, whether intentional or not, like even a simple comment about fried chicken being thrown out there - is racism. You may not be a racist person, but that sure as hell doesn’t stop you from making racist remarks. Intentional or unintentional, it’s racism, white privilege, and prejudice at its best.

At the heart of it all, is the issue of police brutality, how all it takes is one single misinterpreted moment, for literally, your life to come crashing down around you. For your life to be taken. And all you will hear about it, is the race of the person killed, the colour of their skin, their age, and their stereotyped persona - in that order. Black teenager, aged 18, killed in connection to suspected drug cartel and in possession of a gun. Often not even a name, no mention at all that they might have been a straight A student, a kind boy who helped around the neighbourhood, unless of course, it’s a white person. In which case their name, followed by their many accomplishments and possibilities of a scholarship, promising athletic career, are the first things you’ll hear about. Layers and layers of positives to hide the dirty deeds of rape, or assault, or the fact that they stabbed an unarmed, innocent black person in the back simply because he was black. Can you tell I’m angry? I am. You should be too. We all should be. This story, though about unarmed Khalil, is more than just a story, though brilliantly told, it’s the reality of black people in this day and age. 

The characters in this story are outstanding. Every single one. Starr, her courage and fear, both go hand in hand in making her an extremely relatable, honest and raw character to perfectly move this story forward. Her parents and family, who I simply adored, especially her uncle - were heartwarmingly real, putting the needs and wants, and safety of their children first and foremost. Her dad, who I especially loved, was such an important character - he didn’t coddle Starr, but nudged her to be her own person, to be brave, whether that meant putting a target on her back, because as her Dad, he will always have her back and wouldn’t let anything happen to her. He wanted her safe, but he also wanted her to be honest, unafraid, unashamed, and fierce - for her voice to be heard. Starr’s Uncle - a police officer himself, who bruised his knuckles on the man who dared point a gun at her. Her half brother Seven, who jumps in the middle of a fight to protect his sister in school. These black men, aren’t heroic and meant to be glorified - but rather these are what real, normal, black men are. Family men, men who love and protect - not moulded to fit the stereotype of thug, gangster, druggie. Starr’s white boyfriend, Chris - though this book wasn’t about the romance, throwing that in there was another great move from the author, to highlight the differences in Starr’s world, vs Chris’ - but also how through understanding and communication these differences and why it matters to each, can strengthen a relationship. 

There's so much to say about this book, the characters, the story, the love and the loss - the feelings it gave me when reading it and the many, MANY moments I was brought close to tears. This is such an important book that dissects facets of our society, the flaws, the pitfalls, and also the hopes for the future, about human resilience and courage. But also, it’s a fantastic book in itself, written with such authenticity from a black author, weaving together not just some of the most important parts of our history, but also bringing together a book worthy of reading, and weirdly, enjoying, as there was laughter, sadness, and so much more hidden under the many layers of this story. Characters that stand out, events and dialogues that really pack a punch - this was one hell of a debut from Angie Thomas and I would trade my left arm to read more of her writing in the future. Believe every word of hype about this book, and then some - because you will not be disappointed. You will laugh, you learn, and you will hopefully come out the other side, just a little bit more aware, a little bit more attuned and a little bit more courageous.

This review will also be featured online on MuggleNet (eep) at the end of next week in a collab with @CharlieInABook. Keep an eye out!

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

The Problem With Forever - Jennifer Armentrout; Review


Book Details:
Paperback: 480 pages
Publisher: MIRA Ink (16th Jun 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1848454570
ISBN-13: 978-1848454576

Summary:

For some people, silence is a weapon. For Mallory “Mouse” Dodge, it’s a shield. Growing up, she learned that the best way to survive was to say nothing. And even though it’s been four years since her nightmare ended, she’s beginning to worry that the fear that holds her back will last a lifetime.

Now, after years of homeschooling with loving adoptive parents, Mallory must face a new milestone—spending her senior year at public high school. But of all the terrifying and exhilarating scenarios she’s imagined, there’s one she never dreamed of—that she’d run into Rider Stark, the friend and protector she hasn’t seen since childhood, on her very first day.

It doesn’t take long for Mallory to realize that the connection she shared with Rider never really faded. Yet the deeper their bond grows, the more it becomes apparent that she’s not the only one grappling with the lingering scars from the past. And as she watches Rider’s life spiral out of control, Mallory faces a choice between staying silent and speaking out—for the people she loves, the life she wants, and the truths that need to be heard.

Links To Buy:





Rating:
Review:

I picked this book up right around the time I finished It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover (review here) and was really looking forward to this kinda story after reading the other book which I LOVED. So much. But sadly, as much as I wanted to, I didn’t like this book much and and instead felt really deflated given how many people love it and, not that it’s the most important factor, but also how gorgeous the cover is. 

The reviews for this book were really gushy, and to me, after having finished it, I felt really mehhhh. It washed itself into the background of all other YA contemporary novels and there’s nothing in the writing, in the plot, or the characters, to make it memorable and stand out. The promise *pun intended* was there with the plot and the story it could have told - but as fine as the writing was to read, the story just didn’t do anything for me. It was bland, uneventful and lacking pull. The characters were flat and the connection between them though understandable, there was no fire, no chemistry, nada. 

I found that it didn’t sit well with me that though Mallory and Rider share a real, deep seeded connection, when Mallory comes back into the picture, Rider blows off his girlfriend Paige so easily, so quickly, and she’s then made out to be the villain when in truth she had every right to be annoyed. Rider had his share of crap after the childhood he went through, and though Mallory’s outcome was different, Rider leaned on Paige for support. She had obviously been there for him for a lot, and to just forget that, drop that, when Mallory comes back, was not cool. 

As for Rider and Mallory themselves, I feel like Rider is the kind of character that I really really would have liked. He has it going for him, with his name *which I am weirdly partial to* and the fact he protected Mallory when they were younger, he looked out for her and obviously still cares about her and wants to continue protecting her. But.. he sounds better as an idea than on the page. I didn’t like him that much, there was nothing wrong with him, I mean he ticked all the boxes in potential swoon-worthy-ness but in reality just reading him in the story, I felt nothing for his character. 

Mallory was pretty much the same for me - I just really didn't connect with any of the characters at all - maybe except Mallory’s parents - who I did actually like. I understood them, everything they did and said was all for her, to benefit Mallory. I’m glad that Mallory started speaking, speaking up for herself and what she wanted - but for some reason she still seemed unsure of her choices and what she wanted - there was no conviction to her. I totally get her desire to want to pursue a career in social work and to help others - but I wanted that moment when she spoke up about following that path to be more empathetic, maybe even more emotional to really hammer home her past and the possibility of her future. 

The scene where a certain someone gets *cough* my attempt at not being spoilery, but that scene out on the street just felt so random and weird and reminded me of Save The Last Dance. You’ll know which scene I’m on about if you’ve read the book and also seen that movie. I know it was used to move the story along, but it was just really random. 

I really did want to like this book, and maybe it is a great book to others, but I just couldn’t find any ways to connect with the story and everything in it. It has a gorgeous cover, I will say that, but sadly nothing else going for it aside from that.