What She Left by T.R Richmond (Out next week!)

whatsheleft
Title: What She Left
Author: T.R Richmond
Series: N/A
Edition: Advanced Review Copy, 380 pages
Publication Details: April 23rd 2015 by Michael Joseph
Genre(s): Crime; Thriller
Disclosure? Yep! I received a copy in exchange for an HONEST review.

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Gone doesn’t mean forgotten.

When Alice Salmon died last year, the ripples were felt in the news, on the internet, and in the hearts of those who knew her best.

But the person who knows her most intimately isn’t family or a friend. Dr Jeremy Cook is an academic whose life has become about piecing together Alice’s existence in all its flawed and truthful reality.

For Cooke, faithfully recreating Alice’s life – through her diaries, emails and anything using her voice – is all-consuming. He does not know how deep his search will take him, or the shocking nature of what he will uncover…

Review

I was really looking forward to a gritty crime thriller after a string of YA reads, and I thought What She Left would be just the thing, but unfortunately it didn’t quite live up my expectations.

Alice Salmon was a good-time girl who liked to party a little too hard. When she’s found dead in the river, no one is quite sure what to believe; suicide, a tragic accident, or something more sinister altogether. What She Left pieces together Alice’s life and repercussions of her death on those that knew her.

The premise of this book is great, and I can see what the author was attempting, but it really didn’t work for me, and I put it all down to the format. We only discover what has happened to Alice through her digital and recorded footprint; her facebook posts, her tweets, email conversations, blog and diary entries, letters, and newspaper articles.

The idea is that Professor Cooke, of whom we’re not quite sure of his true intentions or of his relationship with Alice, is collating all of this information as some kind of experimental research – can we really know someone solely from what she left behind?

It’s an interesting hypothesis, and I was really determined to get to the end and find out what did happen to Alice, but let me tell you, it was such a chore. Using such a huge range of formats made What She Left feel very disjointed to me, and so much of it I just wanted to skip.

Also, I felt like all the letters were completely unbelievable. They made no sense, as the actual content of them seemed like nothing anyone would write to someone else. They tended to rehash whole conversations, and jump from one event to the next telling only half the story of each. It was so frustrating.

I thought the format got in the way of me getting to know the characters too, which considering that the idea was for Alice’s digital footprint to tell us who she was, was quite ironic. Her diary entries told me very little of her actual personality and essence, which made it hard for me to care what had happened to her. But saying that, I did keep on reading, so I guess the author was successful in that respect.

I didn’t hate this book, I just wish the format had worked better. Maybe it’s just not for me, as I’ve seen some good reviews of it already. If you like the idea of a story told through various mediums, then you should give it a go.

unicorn rating 2

The hardback is available to pre-order from Waterstones now.

Lazy Saturday Review: The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick

ghosts
Title: The Ghosts of Heaven
Author: Marcus Sedgwick
Series: N/A
Edition: Hardcover, 424 pages
Publication Details: October 2nd 2014 by Orion Books
Genre(s): YA; SciFi
Disclosure? Nope, it was a gift!

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The spiral has existed as long as time has existed.

It’s there when a girl walks through the forest, the moist green air clinging to her skin. There centuries later in a pleasant greendale, hiding the treacherous waters of Golden Beck that take Anna, who they call a witch. There on the other side of the world as a mad poet watches the waves and knows the horrors the hide, and far into the future as Keir Bowman realises his destiny.

Each takes their next step in life. None will ever go back to the same place. And so, their journeys begin…

Review


You should all know by now that Marcus Sedgwick has become one of my favourite authors in recent years. His books seem to fall into two categories; dark and foreboding, or beautifully poignant, but they all have one thing in common – they are written wonderfully.

The Ghosts of Heaven is no exception, but… sigh, I was quite disappointed. I think my main issue was the format. It was hailed as a book in which the four parts of it can be read in any order and still make sense. I thought the idea was pretty cool and wondered how he’d managed it.

Well, in my opinion, it can be read in any order because this is a book of four completely different stories. I mean sure, I get the spiral thing, and see the tenuous links between each of the stories, but they are essentially four short stories with one common element. It kind of reminded me of some of David Mitchell’s books – all of which I didn’t enjoy.

That being said, I was completely enthralled by the futuristic part involving Keir Bowman who is scheduled to wake up on a spaceship every ten years, and is journeying to a new earth-like planet to inhabit. Only every time he wakes up, more of the crew are dead…

This one was definitely my favourite of the four, it was dark and twisted and reminded me why I love Sedgwick – he can write in every genre – so I’ll try not to dwell on my disappointment of this one. You can’t win them all, right? And anyway, the book is very pretty!

unicorn rating 3

Available to buy in both paperback and hardback, from Waterstones now.

When Mystical Creatures Attack by Kathleen Founds

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Title: When Mystical Creatures Attack!
Author: Kathleen Founds
Series: N/A
Edition: Digital Reader’s Copy, 206 pages
Publication Details: October 1st 2014 by University Of Iowa Press
Genre(s): Short Stories; Fantasy
Disclosure? Yep! I received a copy from the author/publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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In When Mystical Creatures Attack!, Ms. Freedman’s high school English class writes essays in which mystical creatures resolve the greatest sociopolitical problems of our time. Students include Janice Gibbs, “a feral child with excessive eyeliner and an anti-authoritarian complex that would be interesting were it not so ill-informed,” and Cody Splunk, an aspiring writer working on a time machine. Following a nervous breakdown, Ms. Freedman corresponds with Janice and Cody from an insane asylum run on the capitalist model of cognitive-behavioral therapy, where inmates practice water aerobics to rebuild their Psychiatric Credit Scores.

The lives of Janice, Cody, and Ms. Freedman are revealed through in-class essays, letters, therapeutic journal exercises, an advice column, a reality show television transcript, a diary, and a Methodist women’s fundraising cookbook. (Recipes include “Dark Night of the Soul Food,” “Render Unto Caesar Salad,” and “Valley of the Shadow of Death by Chocolate Cake.”) In “Virtue of the Month,” the ghost of Ms. Freedman’s mother argues that suicide is not a choice. In “The Un-Game,” Janice’s chain-smoking nursing home charge composes a dirty limerick. In “The Hall of Old-Testament Miracles,” wax figures of Bible characters come to life, hungry for Cody’s flesh.

Set against a South Texas landscape where cicadas hum and the air smells of taco stands and jasmine flowers, these stories range from laugh-out-loud funny to achingly poignant. This surreal, exuberant collection mines the dark recesses of the soul while illuminating the human heart.

Review

I can honestly say this was one the strangest things I’ve ever read. And I usually like strange, but for some reason I couldn’t get on board with this.

The book begins with a series of short stories/essays in which students use all manner of mystical and mythological creatures to solve the world’s problems. They are sometimes funny, and always bizarre, but none of them really worked for me. I don’t think I quite got the point 😦

We soon learn that the school teacher, Mrs Freedman, has been admitted to an insane asylum and through letters from two of the students we follow their lives, and the impact that the teacher’s incarceration has had on them.

This part of the book I enjoyed more, but again, I wasn’t gripped. It was very fantastical and unfortunately I couldn’t get into it. The story is revealed through many different mediums; short stories, advice columns, diary entries and it made the book feel very disjointed to me. There was just too much going on.

I thought this was a huge shame, because I think the idea is very unique and could have been great. There was just nothing that made me want to keep reading. Perhaps I just wasn’t in the mood for something so different, I don’t know.

What I would say, is that if you’re a fan of the short story format, and want to try something a bit different, this may be the book for you. I thought it was a very ambitious book, even if it didn’t work for me. I certainly wouldn’t write it off.

unicorn rating 2

This is Endgame!

Endgame
Title: Endgame: The Calling
Author: James Frey & Nils Johnson-Shelton
Series: Endgame #1
Edition: ARC, 464 pages
Expected Publication: October 7th 2014 by HarperCollins
Genre(s): YA; Sci-Fi
Disclosure? Not really. I received a copy from the publisher/author but I was not obligated to write a review.

Goodreads
Pre-Order

Twelve thousand years ago, they came. They descended from the sky amid smoke and fire, and created humanity and gave us rules to live by. They needed gold and they built our earliest civilizations to mine it for them. When they had what they needed, they left. But before they left, they told us someday they would come back, and when they did, a game would be played. A game that would determine our future.

This is Endgame.

For ten thousand years the lines have existed in secret. The 12 original lines of humanity. Each had to have a Player prepared at all times. They have trained generation after generation after generation. In weapons, languages, history, tactics, disguise assassination. Together the players are everything: strong, kind, ruthless, loyal, smart, stupid, ugly, lustful, mean, fickle, beautiful, calculating, lazy, exuberant, weak. They are good and evil. Like you. Like all.

This is Endgame.

When the game starts, the players will have to find three keys. The keys are somewhere on earth. The only rule of their Endgame is that there are no rules. Whoever finds the keys first wins the game. Endgame: The Calling is about the hunt for the first key. And just as it tells the story of the hunt for a hidden key, written into the book is a puzzle. It invites readers to play their own Endgame and to try to solve the puzzle. Whoever does will open a case filled with gold. Alongside the puzzle will be a revolutionary mobile game built by Google’s Niantic Labs that will allow you to play a real-world version of Endgame where you can join one of the lines and do battle with people around you.
Will exuberance beat strength? Stupidity top kindness? Laziness thwart beauty? Will the winner be good or evil? There is only one way to find out.

Play.
Survive.
Solve.
People of Earth.
Endgame has begun.

Let’s face it, James Frey likes to fuck with people.

First there was A Million Little Pieces, a harrowing memoir of a self-destructive alcoholic going through rehab which turned out to be more fiction than fact, and then came The Final Testament of the Holy Bible in which The Messiah sleeps his way around New York with men and women, collecting followers along the way, and damning religion as he goes.

And now…well, now There’s Endgame.

I’ve already ranted about the barrage of shit people have been spouting about the book on Goodreads based solely on the synopsis (OMG it’s like SO Hunger Games… how dare he…etc), and their personal opinions of Frey – and the best thing is that it turns out that Endgame isn’t really very THG at all, he’s just fucking with you.

JOKE’S ON YOU.

In all seriousness, I can’t see any other reason why Frey and Johnson-Shelton decided there had to be twelve ancient lines, with one player chosen from each, or why protagonist Sarah Alopay had to have her hair in a braid… things pretty synonymous with The Hunger Games these days, but look at the bigger picture (or y’know, just read the book) and you may find something other than a passing resemblance to the popular dystopian franchise.

Endgame: The Calling is like nothing I’ve ever read before. As the 12 players of Endgame search across the globe for the first key to the puzzle, we too are given clues of our own to solve.

I absolutely love this concept. When I first heard about the Masquerade phenomenon of the 70s I was jealous I never got to experience it. I also used to really love those ‘choose your own path’ books, and Endgame felt a bit like those, but on a far bigger, more sophisticated scale.

As far as the story itself is concerned, I couldn’t put it down but I did feel like something was missing. I liked that it wasn’t a last-one-standing kind of deal, which was another element that set it aside from the likes of The Hunger Games and Battle Royale.

Instead, each player is playing for the survival of their lineage, so basically everyone they know and love. A clue is implanted into their heads by Kepler 22b, the ancient alien-being overseeing Endgame. This gives the players the chance to form unlikely alliances and work together to solve the clues and find the keys. Only one can win, but the objective isn’t simply to maim each other.

I thought that idea could be a great base for some intense character relationships and drama but it never really amounted to enough of a climax for me. I liked the alliance and growing romance between Sarah and aloof Jago, especially when Sarah’s non-player boyfriend Christopher is thrown into the mix, but I didn’t get very emotionally invested in any of them. Perhaps there’s just too many players to care about at this point, or maybe it’s that most of them were too focused and came across as cold.

I did like a lot of things about the book though. As with most of Frey’s work to date, Endgame is about more than it first appears. There’s a sense of a greater power at work, something ancient and spiritual which I look forward to exploring further in the series.

However, the thing I liked most of all is that every reader’s experience of Endgame will be different. I enjoyed looking up all the links and clues provided even if the whole thing hasn’t gone live yet (publication day, guys). Having to flick to the end of the book each chapter to get the link was a bit of an effort at first (I imagine this won’t be as much as an issue with digital editions), but I thought it was totally worth it in the end. Links to YouTube Videos, Wikipedia pages and google images, consisting of everything from Mongolian Warrior music, to watching a sunset changes the way you read and think about the story as you go along.

Overall, I thought Endgame was a fast-paced, fun, read, but not one that completely blew me away. What Frey and Johnson-Shelton have created here is a unique reading experience, and even if you have doubts about the synopsis (Yes Goodreads’ trolls I’m looking at you) you have to appreciate the innovation and scope of it.

Endgame will begin if the human race has shown that it doesn’t deserve to be human. That it has wasted the enlightenment They gave to us.”

unicorn rating 4

Endgame: The Calling is available to Pre-Order now.