14 April 2015

Review: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer



Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Series: Southern Reach #1

Published: 4 February 2014 by FSG Originals

Pages: 195

Genres: Science Fiction/Fantasy

Source: Publisher for review

Find it: Goodreads ~ Amazon

Synopsis

Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.

This is the twelfth expedition.

Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.

They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them, and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another, that change everything.


My Thoughts

So.

Yeah.

How to talk about this book? It’s a little bit of crazy, a lot of WTF and a whole bunch of confusion is probably the most accurate way I can begin. Basically, Annihilation is the journey of the unnamed biologist who is part of the twelfth expedition to Area X – an isolated, mysterious area that Southern Reach (which I understand to be some type of government agency) sends expeditions to on a regular basis to learn its secrets. In theory this all sounds pretty straightforward, but reading it is anything but.

The narrator isn’t named, but her life is so consumed by her job, that it doesn’t feel particularly strange not to know her name. However, there is a lot of information about her life before the expedition, her relationship with her husband, her fascination with other worlds around her, and some rather candid introspection into her own character. She’s particularly comfortable with herself, which is rather refreshing for a main character.

And then there’s the crazy, WTF and confusion. At first introduction, Area X seems quite straightforward, but quickly escalates into some seriously weird stuff. I’ve always struggled with the super-strange in fiction, but I really enjoyed what Vandermeer does with Annihilation – it’s all a bit strange and I won’t even pretend that I understood, nor spent large chunks of time trying to decipher exactly what was going on, but nevertheless I found it strangely addictive.

I have absolutely no clue who I’d recommend this book to, because really it’s quite hard for me to put it in a nice little box and say ‘yes, this person would LOVE it’ or ‘this person would HATE it’. It’s one of those books that’s very hard to predict who it would appeal to, and why. And I’m keeping this all rather short and quite generic, but I was totally sucked in…even whilst I was scratching my head and trying to figure out exactly what was happening.


06 April 2015

Review: All the Rage by Courtney Summers


All the Rage by Courtney Summers

Expected Publication: 14 April 2015 by St. Martin's Griffin

Pages: 336 

Genre/s: YA, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction

Source: Publisher for review

Find it: Goodreads ~ Amazon

Synopsis

The sheriff’s son, Kellan Turner, is not the golden boy everyone thinks he is, and Romy Grey knows that for a fact. Because no one wants to believe a girl from the wrong side of town, the truth about him has cost her everything—friends, family, and her community. Branded a liar and bullied relentlessly by a group of kids she used to hang out with, Romy’s only refuge is the diner where she works outside of town. No one knows her name or her past there; she can finally be anonymous. But when a girl with ties to both Romy and Kellan goes missing after a party, and news of him assaulting another girl in a town close by gets out, Romy must decide whether she wants to fight or carry the burden of knowing more girls could get hurt if she doesn’t speak up. Nobody believed her the first time—and they certainly won’t now — but the cost of her silence might be more than she can bear. 

My Thoughts

All the Rage is not an easy read.  In fact, at times it is so confronting it would be easier to put it down and move onto something much more light and fun.  But this is what Summers does – she takes a girl, in this case Romy, who has been through a terrible trauma and puts her smack bang in the middle of a group of nasty, vindictive teenage girls who would rather place the blame on one person than admit there is something bigger going on.  

And we could argue until the end of time that not everyone is like that, and we’d stand up and do something about it if we were in that situation, but it’s mob mentality at it’s very strongest – to admit your opinion doesn’t match the group would mean social death, and therefore they continue, despite the mounting evidence otherwise.

Trying to describe this book is almost impossible – it’s confusing, gripping, and mentally and emotionally exhausting.  Romy herself is confused and confusing, she pushes people away whilst trying to get closer, and she’s never quite sure how she really feels about people and situations.  She’s close to her mother but doesn’t confide in her, has an easy relationship with her mothers’ boyfriend and a complex relationship with Leon, her colleague and the boy who openly admits that he likes her.

Romy hides behind her shield of perfectly applied nail polish and lipstick – they are her signature, for better or worse (and made me painfully ashamed of my own nails every bloody time she mentioned it – even now as I type I keep looking at the terrible state of them!) and even when it is cruelly used against her, she sticks to her guns – I love a good stubborn character and Romy is right up there.

Summers writing is rather different than her normal style, but I loved it –nothing is laid out neatly and it was up to me to decipher what was happening and put all the pieces together. Normally this wouldn’t be my kind of style, but it definitely works in All the Rage – it’s so reflective of Romy’s state of mind that anything else wouldn’t have felt right.

If you’re looking for a gritty, emotional read, I can most definitely recommend All the Rage.  It’s tough but compulsive reading, and although there’s no happily ever after (and that’s not a spoiler if you know Courtney Summers’ books), it’s a very satisfying, thought-provoking read.

04 April 2015

Review: We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach


We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

Published: 24 March 2015 by Simon & Schuster

Pages: 384 pages

Genre/s: YA, Apocalypse

Source: Own

Find It: Goodreads ~ Amazon

Synopsis

Four high school seniors put their hopes, hearts, and humanity on the line as an asteroid hurtles toward Earth in this contemporary novel.

They always say that high school is the best time of your life.

Peter, the star basketball player at his school, is worried “they” might actually be right. Meanwhile Eliza can’t wait to escape Seattle—and her reputation—and perfect-on-paper Anita wonders if admission to Princeton is worth the price of abandoning her real dreams. Andy, for his part, doesn’t understand all the fuss about college and career—the future can wait.

Or can it? Because it turns out the future is hurtling through space with the potential to wipe out life on Earth. As these four seniors—along with the rest of the planet—wait to see what damage an asteroid will cause, they must abandon all thoughts of the future and decide how they’re going to spend what remains of the present.

My Thoughts

It was the simplicity of the cover that initially drew me to We All Looked Up, quickly turning into I MUST HAVE THIS BOOK when I read the blurb.  I mean, there is a huge asteroid heading for earth and chances are no one is going to make it through alive – this kind of book is just my thing (yes, I am a fan of impending doom).

When I first started reading, I was hooked – told through the perspective of four very different teens, there was so much possibility for drama and characterisation and relationships, as the world falls apart in the face of impending doom.  I liked that the characters were so diverse, and that their relationships to each other developed and changed as the story progressed.  I particularly liked Eliza, whose don’t-give-a-fuck attitude with a passion for photography made her really stand out, and Anita, who finds the potential end of the world far more freeing than restrictive.

However, I did repeatedly mix the two male characters, Peter and Andy up as the story progressed, and even by the end of the book I was still confusing them for each other.  It’s not that their stories were similar, apart from being connected to each other, their stories and personalities were very different, but I just wasn’t invested in them enough to see them as completely separate.

I did find the timeline a little confusing – it’s linear, but big chunks seemed to have been cut out, and I found it difficult to work out how much time had passed between one event and the next, which by the middle of the book meant that every time I put the book down, I wasn’t always looking forward to picking it up again.  Well that was until the last 10% or so, when the plot picked up major pace and that addictive feeling came flooding back.

It’s definitely a book to make you think though, which comes through quite strongly in the characters as the asteroid gets closer to earth and things that mattered beforehand are no longer important – and it was interesting to see how each of them interpreted and put those thoughts into action, or not.

Overall, I liked We All Looked Up quite a lot – Wallach’s writing style made it stand out from the crowd and the idea was pretty well executed, it was only the jumpy timelines and lack of connection with a couple of characters that disappointed me. 

31 March 2015

Top Ten Tuesday - Recent Additions to the TBR


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. I heart lists!

The Top Ten list for this week is Ten Books You Recently Added To Your To-Be-Read List.  I have a wishlist TBR and an owned book TBR - and the owned books I always list in my Sunday Post post, so instead, I'm going to list ten books recently added to my wishlist.


Zero Day by Jan Gangsei

Bits & Pieces (Benny Imura #5) by Jonathan Maberry

The Suffering (The Girl from the Well #2) by Rin Chupeco

Tangled Webs (Tangled Webs #1) by Lee Bross

The Uniquet by Mikaela Everett

Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson

Consent by Nancy Ohlin

Touch by Claire North


Beautiful Monster by Kate McCaffrey

What books have you recently added to your TBR?  Any you are super-excited about?  Let me know!

29 March 2015

Sunday Post #2


The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer sharing news and new books for the past and coming weeks.

My Life

My first week back blogging at Aussie Zombie has been awesome - thank you to everyone that welcomed me back - it's been surprisingly easy to get back into the groove and I'm really looking forward to what's coming up!

This week was super-busy, as always, and now that the weekend is here I've got a horrible cold that just makes me want to hibernate from the world - so that is what I will do!  I had planned to do my first v-log in like a year but you really don't want to see me all snotty and gross....trust me.

New Books

Olivay by Deborah Reed
Winger by Andrew Smith
We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

Coming Up
As yet I have absolutely no posts scheduled for next week - totally going to fly by the seat of my pants (which is SUCH an odd saying)....so it's anyone's guess what will be here!

How was your week?  What's new in your life?

27 March 2015

Review: Don't Stand So Close by Luana Lewis

Don't Stand So Close by Luana Lewis

Published: 13 February 2014 by Bantam

Pages: 320

Genre/s: Mystery, Psychological Thriller

Source: Own library

Find It: Goodreads ~ Amazon

Synopsis

What would you do if a young girl knocked on your door and asked for your help?

If it was snowing and she was freezing cold, but you were afraid and alone?

What would you do if you let her in, but couldn't make her leave?

What if she told you terrible lies about someone you love, but the truth was even worse?

Stella has been cocooned in her home for three years. Severely agoraphobic, she knows she is safe in the stark, isolated house she shares with her husband, Max. The traumatic memories of her final case as a psychologist are that much easier to keep at a distance, too.

But the night that Blue arrives on her doorstep with her frightened eyes and sad stories, Stella's carefully controlled world begins to unravel around her.
 

My Thoughts

I’ve been going through a phase of psychological thrillers lately – they are definitely a phase kind of book for me – I’ll read half a dozen practically back-to-back and then won’t touch one again for a year.  For me they are like candy – I can eat a whole bunch and then go off them.

Don’t Stand So Close continues the tradition of a British psychological thriller with a bunch of blatantly unreliable narrators, which I tend to enjoy, but again if I read too many everyone becomes the unreliable narrator that I can see straight through – and sadly that was also the case in Don’t Stand So Close.

Stella is the main character of the story, although the perspective shifts occasionally to a few of the other key characters, Stella’s perspective also shifts back and forth in time and worked quite well as her tone differs from past to present, which is a credit to Lewis’ writing.  I didn’t find her the easiest character to connect with, partly because of my frustration with her that gradually built up over time – I’m not the most sympathetic of readers, I like my characters to be on the extreme ends of the love or hate scale.  This also started to impact on how I felt about the story – I didn’t ever really feel a sense of danger for the characters, not necessarily because of the plot but because of my ambivalence towards the characters and during a few key scenes I found it far too easy to lose momentum and concentration.

From a plot perspective, some parts were far too predictable, and other parts were definitely unexpected.   I’d pretty much guessed about 75% of the ending, but there were a few key points that took me by surprise – particularly the epilogue.

I did listen to Don’t Stand So Close on audio, narrated by Julie Barry.  The narration was in a rather plummy English accent which fit the tone of the book in some places, but didn’t really make it stand out.

Overall, Don’t Stand So Close was a good psychological thriller, but not one of my personal favourites.  It may work better for you if you haven’t been mainlining this genre like I have been!

26 March 2015

Review: Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight


Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight
Expected Publication: 14 April 2015 by Harper
Pages: 336
Genre/s: Adult, Mystery
Source: Publisher for review
Find It: Goodreads ~ Amazon

Synopsis


At the end of a long winter in well-to-do Ridgedale, New Jersey, the body of a newborn is found in the woods fringing the campus of the town's prestigious university. No one knows the identity of the baby, what ended her very short life, or how she wound up among the fallen leaves. But among the residents of Ridgedale, there is no shortage of opinions.

When freelance journalist, and recent Ridgedale transplant, Molly Anderson is unexpectedly called upon to cover the disturbing news for the Ridgedale Reader—the town's local paper—she has good reason to hesitate. A severe depression followed the loss of her own baby, and this assignment could unearth memories she has tried so hard to bury. But the history Molly uncovers is not her own. Her investigation unravels a decades-old trail of dark secrets hiding behind Ridgedale's white picket fences.

Told from the perspectives of three Ridgedale women, Kimberly McCreight's taut and profoundly moving novel unwinds the tangled truth behind the tragedy, revealing that these women have far more in common than they could have ever known. That the very worst crimes are committed against those we love. And that—sooner or later—the past catches up to all of us. 

My Thoughts

A small town, a body, a woman who is struggling to regain her feet after a traumatic event, a troubled teen and a seemingly perfect mother are the key ingredients of Where They Found Her, and have all the elements of a psychological-thriller-murder-mystery.

McCreight’s debut novel, Reconstructing Amelia, was a Goodreads Choice Nominee 2013 and was quite popular among many of my blogger friends, yet still sets unread on my bookshelf.  So when I was given the opportunity to read her second novel, Where They Found Her, I was pretty eager to find out what all the hype was about.

Where They Found Her is told through three perspectives – Molly, local reporter and recently having suffered a life-altering trauma, Sandy who is the stereotypical struggling teenager with a plethora of family issues, and Barbara, wife of the head of the local police force and candidate for mother of the year.  Whilst I enjoyed the perspective of Sandy, and didn’t have any particular issues with Molly (who, fortunately is the main narrator), I couldn’t stand Barbara – self-righteousness covering up huge insecurities isn’t the way to get me to feel empathy towards a character.

Sadly, I also guessed a large part of the mystery quite early on.  And the bits that I didn’t guess, well by the time they were revealed, I didn’t really care that much anymore and therefore their impact was greatly diminished.  And this is where reviewing mysteries is difficult, because there is a lot I want to talk about, but can’t because then I would spoilt it for the people who DON’T guess the mystery early on.

To McCreight’s credit, although I guessed the key parts of the plot far too early on, I was sucked into the story and was curious to see what happened.  It’s an easy read, something that I could see myself reading on a long-haul flight or, as did happen, whilst waiting for a badly delayed train.  In short, enough to keep my attention, but not to have me sweaty palmed and gripping the pages.

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