Book review – The Girl with all the Gifts by M R Carey

The Girl with all the Gifts

M R Carey

Star rating 4 (max. 5)

The blurb tells you little about the plot of The Girl with all the Gifts, perhaps deliberately so. If I had known it was a book about zombie types, I wouldn’t have bought it. And it’s put you off, too, hasn’t it? Well, don’t let it. This book is brilliant. I can’t say how it compares with other books in the post-apocalyptic cum zombie cum sci-fi vein as I don’t normally read that sort of thing but I found it original, warm and intelligent. I galloped through it with great anticipation, enjoying the ride so much that I didn’t really want it to end. And the end, when it did come, was delightfully ironic and most satisfying. I must admit, though, I did skim the science bits – of little interest to my very non-scientific mind but no doubt essential reading for the boffins and purists who need verisimilitude. And without including the science behind the events, the author might have lost credibility.

What really makes this book, though, is the characters. Melanie is the heroine, a young girl with immense likeability. We know from the start that there is something seriously different about Melanie, something that inspires loathing and fear in others, yet we are with her from the start. Sergeant Parks, an army officer, leads a disparate band of characters, including Melanie, across a zombie-ridden England to reach relative safety. The others in their group are Miss Justineau, Melanie’s adored teacher, Caldwell, a sinister research doctor, and Gallagher, the rookie army recruit. The characters are not all likeable, by any means, but each plays an essential role in the story – Parks is the strategic military leader, Miss Justineau the voice of reason, Gallagher the scared young man, Caldwell the scientist whose search for answers goes way beyond obsession, and Melanie, the fearless girl who gradually pieces together the truth. Every chapter follows a different character – this multiple point of view approach can make a book seem fragmented but the chapters are sufficiently short that you never lose the thread of the story, and the pacing is well judged throughout.

The book quietly raises questions about scientific research and the nature of humanity. It is a book that will stay with you. As I said before, I’m no expert in this genre but I personally found it a compelling and highly enjoyable read.

Book review – Oystercatchers by Susan Fletcher

Oystercatchers Susan Fletcher Rating: 3 ½ (max. 5)
In Oystercatchers Susan Fletcher has created one of modern fiction’s more dislikeable female protagonists. Moira is cold, abrasive, cruel and unloving and yet her parents, her winsome younger sister Amy and, later on, her man appear devoted to her, attracted somehow by qualities that the reader cannot quite see.
The story is narrated by Moira, much of it in the form of a monologue delivered to her captive audience of Amy, who lies in a coma. Moira has not been a kind big sister and the book is in large measure her confession as she seeks to explain – to us, to Amy and to herself – her behaviour.
Moira is well drawn as a character and it is testament to Susan Fletcher’s skill that she has produced a protagonist who, while thoroughly unpleasant, is someone to whom we can probably all relate on one level or another. The other characters are flimsily but interestingly sketched. Her father, George, ‘nodded too much in his bright red tie, with crumbs on it, said, Yes, yes, of course.’ Aunt Til ‘was violet eyes, and cream cakes. She was wooden bracelets that clinked when she coiled her hair up, and then let it go.’ But there was not enough flesh on the bones of the lesser characters to make them particularly likeable, or even dislikeable. In short, I didn’t really care what happened to them.
Not caring about characters usually signals an early return to the bookshelf for me. But in Oystercatchers I was driven to read to the end. Driven by the nuances of Moira’s voice – despite her tendency to self-pity. Driven by her gradual shift from dark bitterness to a realisation that ‘the world is as we choose to view it… Our happiness is, in the end, up to us, and no one else.’ And driven by the lyrical descriptions of the coast that is depicted so vividly it almost becomes a character in its own right…
This is a good book. It is well written and carefully observed but, at 375 pages in a small font, overlong. I don’t think it will stay with me like Fletcher’s debut Eve Green but a good, satisfying read nonetheless.

Review – We Were Liars by E Lockhart

Review – We Were Liars by E Lockhart
Rating: 4 stars (max. 5)
Wow, what a read.
I found Cadence, the narrator, likeable immediately, with her wry introduction to her family (yes we are stinking rich but dysfunctional is our middle name…) on page one. And I loved her voice, her unique turn of phrase, the complexity of her relationship with her mother (‘I never asked her anything again. There’s a lot I don’t understand, but this way she stays pretty sober.’). Her love of her fellow Liars. Her changing perception of her grandfather as she grows older. Her half-memories. The emerging truth.
I loved it all. I was gripped. It was a read-in-one-sitting book.
So why not five stars?
It wasn’t perfect. I found the interwoven parables about a king and his three daughters to be little more than an irritating interlude. I didn’t like the fact that I spent the whole book looking for clues to the Big Event that I knew would be coming because the back of the book told me so. But the thing that left me dissatisfied once the last page had been turned was the implausibility of the Big Event. The who-what-when-where-and-how was all explained very neatly. But the far more interesting reason why they did what they did just didn’t compute with the people I had been reading about. They weren’t sufficiently spirited, imaginative or disaffected to do what they ultimately did.
But it was still a great book. I finished it a couple of weeks ago and still find myself thinking about it, always a good test.
Highly recommended for Young Adults and older.

tough puzzles

how many different sounds can you make in the English language using the sequence ‘ough’? Here’s one to start you off – tough (rhymes with ruff)

brainteaser

What do these words have in common: cusp, kiln, silver, sixth, bulb, cannabis, comment, chimney, width?

Wordteaser I

today’s wordteaser:

name two words in the English language which contain all the vowels in the correct order.

a cuppa char?

Tea

In the old days they called it ‘char’ and the word, or variations upon it, is recognisable across much of the world: Arabic shay, Chinese cha yei, Farsi chaaee, Filipino tsaa, Greek tsai, Hindi chai, Mongolia tsai, Romanian ceai, Tibetan ja, Portuguese cha, Uzbek choy.

 A similar-sounding (but unrelated) word is Charlie, meaning cocaine.

Cocaine is the derivation of Coca Cola (named after two of its ingredients, the coca leaf and the kola nut). Coca Cola is thought to be the second most understood word in the world

 This is topped only by OK, possibly a contraction of old US ‘orl korrect’.

 OK?

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