Book Review: Devolution by Max Brooks

I love World War Z. The book, not the film (the film being, at best, fine). Max Brooks has a real talent for horror that feels grounded absolutely in reality, and that makes it all the more frightening. Devolution had entirely passed me by, but I happened to see it suggested on the Audible app and could not resist.

This was not a mistake.

Devolution is- and stay with this, because it might sound a bit wild- a horror story about Bigfoots. (Bigfeet?) The story is presented, similarly to World War Z, on an investigator looking into this after the situation has happened. The main bulk of the narrative is presented through the diary of Kate, a woman who moves to a deliberately remote village in the woods, following the trendy idea that humans need to get back to nature and shake off the shackles of modern life. Then, a volcano erupts, cutting the remote village off from the outside world entirely, preventing their escape, and sending the Sasquatches down the mountains in search of food.

I think there is a definite risk that a story about Bigfeets could be ridiculous but this absolutely never is. It is intense, frightening and absolutely addictive. I could not stop listening to the audiobook- I had several late nights where I just had to listen to one more chapter. (Also- I highly recommend the audiobook- the actors reading it are excellent.)

It follows a lot of the classic survival horror tropes- group of misfits struggle to work together etc- but it does so in a way which feels fresh and exciting. There is lots of interesting science given around primatology, enough to make it feel like what is happening with the Bigfeeties is possible.

Kate is an excellent character, as well- her progression, from slightly useless millennial stereotype to the type of badass woman Ripley would be proud of, is delightful.

Overall, I highly recommend this one.

Book Review: Fangirl Vol 1: The Manga

I love the Fangirl novel by Rainbow Rowell. It is one of my favourite books ever, and it is still something I will reread when I need something comforting. It follows Cath, a nerdy college student whose love of Simon Snow (essentially Harry Potter) is the most important thing in her life.

I think it is important to preface this by saying that Rainbow Rowell has received criticism about her portrayal of her Korean character Park in Eleanor & Park, and she hasn’t really addressed this. It doesn’t pertain specifically to this book, but I think it is useful information to have when thinking about whether or not to go for a book. My love of Fangirl predates this particular issue, so I imagine I may feel differently about approaching it for the first time if I was to think about it now.

This manga adaptation is by Sam Maggs, who has worked on all sorts of comics, and by manga artist Gabi Nam in her first English manga. The first thing I have to say about this is that it is beautiful. Every panel is absolutely gorgeous and there’s something whimsical about the way the characters are drawn that I just love.

The plot is exactly the same as the novel- shy, nerdy fanfiction writer Cath heads off to college. She’s feeling disconnected from her twin sister Wren and struggles to find her place in college. Her roommate Reagan and Reagan’s sort-of boyfriend Levi take Cath under their wing. All of this takes place while Cath’s dad is struggling with his mental health.

The characters in this story are great- I personally love Reagan, who is big (literally, she’s portrayed in such a powerful way in the manga) and brash, completely unapologetic about the space she takes up in the world.

It’s sort of romantic; there are definitely romantic elements, but this story is really about Cath. I think it deals beautifully with the idea of fandom: to what extent is fandom a good thing? Is fanfiction a valid form of creative writing? (To which the answer, in my opinion, is yes, of course.)

It is sweet, and feel-good, and beautiful. I’d definitely recommend this one.

Book Review: The Last by Hanna Jameson

This is a wonderful book. I was initially drawn to it because it deals with life after the end of the world, which is a subject I find fascinating, but I feel like this book is actually so much more than that.

The novel takes the form of the diary entries of our main character Jon, who takes it upon himself to record the events that happen after the world ends. He is staying in a hotel in Switzerland for a work conference when the nuclear bombs fall, ending civilisation as it currently exists.

After the bombs fall, Jon must adjust to life in this post-apocalyptic setting. He stays at the hotel with a host of other interesting characters and, as they try to carve out their way to survival, they make a grizzly discovery: the body of a young girl in a water tank in the hotel.

Jon becomes obsessed with solving this crime, and the novel does an amazing job of showing his descent mentally as his obsession devours him. Jameson constantly toys with the reader, using the unreliable narrative to twist reality.

As time goes on, tensions rise in the hotel as people turn on one another. The other characters in this book were great; I loved their different personalities and the exploration of how different types of people might cope with this sort of experience. As their society begins to inevitably crumble, characters start to break down, and their slice of civilisation is further tested when it becomes apparent that they might not be the only survivors. Isolated and vulnerable in a lonely hotel, the characters plight is genuinely unsettling.

I adored this novel. I felt Jameson did a great job of writing a twisty, unpredictable narrative that went beyond the constraints of genre. It’s not a light read, but it certainly an addictive one that stays with you.

Reasons to read:

  • A unique take on what life might be like at the end of the world
  • Well written characters
  • Good range of diversity in the characters
  • Unpredictable and unsettling

Possible trigger warnings:

  • Suicide
  • Drug use
  • Mental health topics
  • Death and violence
  • Domestic abuse
  • Discussion of rape

Book Review: Loveless by Alice Oseman

This is an absolutely gorgeous book and I think everyone should read it. Alice Oseman is a powerhouse of a human. Her comic Heartstopper is amazing and she has a real gift for capturing the strange feeling of being a young person.

Loveless is a novel about a girl named Georgia who has never had a crush on anyone. As she begins her university life, she sets out to change this and to find love- after all, she loves love, thinking about it constantly and obsessing over fanfiction. With the help of her seemingly confident and knowledgeable roommate Rooney, and her best friends Jason and Pip, she embarks on her university journey towards true love.

Except- it doesn’t play out that way. As the novel progresses, Georgia has to come to terms with the fact that, actually, she doesn’t experience romantic or sexual attraction at all. With the help of Sunil, the aromantic asexual president of the Pride Society, she begins to accept her sexuality.

One of the amazing things about this novel is the characters- even the secondary characters feel fleshed out and believable, with their own quirks and personalities that make you love them. They are all real, flawed people, who are capable of doing both good and bad things and react in believable ways to the things that happen. Rooney was a particular favourite of mine; she is an absolute treasure and, as the story developed and I learned more about her, I just adored her.

The interaction between the characters felt so authentic; the group starts a Shakespeare Society and a lot of the story involves their attempt to put on a showcase of some of Old Shakey’s most romantic plays. The fact that Georgia is trying to come to terms with who she is around this is really affecting. The core message of the book is that the love between friends is just as important and as authentic as the love two humans can share romantically. This works so well here because the friendships depicted in the book are so raw and real.

In addition to Georgia’s journey of self-acceptance, there is also the absolute treat of the enemies-to-lovers, will-they-won’t-they romance between Pip and Rooney. I love this trope so much, and seeing it done so effectively between two queer female characters is a delight.

There is absolutely nothing I didn’t like about this book. It feels like an important piece of #ownvoices writing and a truly authentic and heartfelt story.

Reasons to read:

  • A heartwarming, authentic story about an aroace character discovering and accepting themselves
  • Diverse characters
  • An amazing cast of characters who feel real and who are delightful
  • Queer women in an enemies-to-lovers extravaganza
  • Wholesome content

Possible trigger warnings:

  • Mentions of past abusive behaviour
  • Acephobic references
  • Some experimenting with a character without them knowing

July 2020

This year is such a blur. I imagine everyone feels exactly the same way about it as I do. It’s almost time to get the Halloween decorations out! It’s almost… dare I say it… Christmas. With some restrictions easing up in my part of the world, I’ve had a slightly more interesting month than last month, but life is still far from back to normal. I don’t love having to plan ahead in such detail to go out.

Things I Watched

I missed Spaced the first time around because I was, well, a tiny child. It isn’t perfect, but it is definitely hilarious and feels like a very specific moment in time captured.

I’m not as into Disney/Pixar films as a lot of people; I think I just didn’t watch enough as a child, so it isn’t a part of my life in the way it is for other folks. That said, Onward was adorable and very worth a watch.

Bad Times At The El Royale
This wasn’t quite what I expected, but it was awesome- really entertaining, very slick, very well-written. A great film.

Things I Read

Happy Fat- Sofie Hagen
I love Sofie, and this is such an affirming, amazing book. I mentioned it last month and just finished the audiobook this month.

The Last- Hanna Jameson
I’m planning on writing a proper book review of this one, but I adored it. One of my best reads of the year. If you’re into post-apocalyptic settings, this is definitely worth a read.

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper- Hallie Rubenhold
A really interesting non-fiction book about the lives of the victims of Jack the Ripper. If you’re interested in this period of history, it’s a fascinating read. I loved how this book disproved the myths around these women.

Things I Played

I am still on my Animal Crossing binge. I have also been dipping my toes in the mobile otome game Obey Me but I’m not sold on it yet.

Other Stuff

I have been really getting into walking, and just generally being outside. I spent years of my life thinking that I hated being outdoors, but it seems I was wrong. I have even bought a bike.

Looking Forward

I’m off work until September, so August is going to be about relaxing, catching up with friends, working on some projects and generally having a nice time.

Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

Firstly, I can’t believe I’ve managed to get to the age of thirty without reading this book. I’ve always had a sort of grumpy avoidance of things other people really recommend; it isn’t snobbishness, it’s more the feeling that when something is built up that much, it can’t possibly live up to it. It’s that awkward moment where your friend is showing you their favourite film and you’re just not feeling it. So I have been aware of The Handmaid’s Tale forever, been told to read it hundreds of times, but just not done so. What a mistake.

This is one of the best books I have ever read. I read Vox a few months ago, and I also read The Power last year, both of which draw heavily on the ideas in The Handmaid’s Tale. (Incidentally, I read all three of these books for the same reason- the Newcastle Girl book club.) This female-focused, dystopian, morally heavy style of story really does it for me.

The thing about The Handmaid’s Tale is that it isn’t overly difficult to imagine a world in which the horrifying reality presented is true; we already know, don’t we, that there are people who live in liberal, western countries who oppose women’s rights to do what they want with their bodies? There are people who oppose feminism. There are people who use religion to push their own beliefs onto the masses. That’s the real power of this book- it’s not a completely alien world that is presented, but one which could fairly easily be reality.

The story itself is very loose; the narrative style is erratic and conversational, flicking back and forward in time, and it works so well. Our protagonist, who we know only by her enforced name of Offred, is a Handmaid, a fertile woman in a world where that is rare. She is forced into a life of horrifying servitude in which she must attempt to conceive the child of a powerful man, a child who will be raised by the man’s wife.

I was absolutely gripped by this book. I can’t imagine many people are reading this who haven’t read this yet, but if you are one of them, you absolutely have to read it. I was furious, heartbroken and horrified by it, and it absolutely deserves the praise it receives.

June 2020

I cannot believe we are halfway through this year. The whole Covid thing has meant that I (and, let’s be honest, millions of other people) have spent months inside. It is absolutely baffling to me how this year feels both extremely long and terrifyingly short.

Anyway! June! I turned 30, so that is the biggest thing really. I had a wonderful time actually, all things considered. I ate lots of good food and drank lots of alcohol.

Things I Watched

Bob’s Burgers
I’ve been watching Bob’s Burgers for months, and I’ve just finished Season 9. (Season 10 is on Prime but it’s not free, so I’m going to pay at some point to watch the rest.) It is up there with my favourite animated shows ever. It is so funny and sweet and well-written.

Look Who’s Back
A truly bizarre German film about what might happen if Hitler suddenly woke up in modern Berlin. I enjoyed this immensely, and it was surprisingly emotive.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
I love Eurovision. This comedy was okay! It was a bit long and silly, but worth a watch.

Things I Read

The Zombie War: Battle for Britain by Tom Holroyd
I listened to this on Audible and it was so good. If you enjoyed World War Z, you’ll love this. A really great read.

Happy Fat by Sofie Hagen
I’m still reading this at the minute but it is brilliant. Absolutely wonderful.

Things I Played

Grand Theft Auto V
In a classic Cole move, rather than playing one of my enormous backlog of games, I have decided to restart GTA V. I love the characters and think the story is surprisingly touching. The writing is hilarious and I just love it.

Other Stuff

For my birthday, I treated myself to a Razer keyboard, and it is honestly amazing. Possibly a fairly tragic thing to be excited about, but I love the way the keys clack.

I have been gardening! I’m fairly sure that my flowers are dying, but I’m crossing my fingers.

Looking Forward

July is CampNaNoWriMo, and I’m hoping to finish the novel I started (and failed to complete) in April. I’m also going to be starting my challenge of walking one million steps for Diabetes UK, so I’m looking forward to getting outside a bit more.