Wow! It’s been a while since I managed my weekly round-up. It’s been INSANELY busy here: family emergencies, increased hours and work, Christmas and New Zealand prep. Phew. I am trying to get myself organised.
I’ve been so stressed lately that I let Twitter pick two reads for me whilst I was travelling, and these are my first two reviews this week:
After the Fire by Will Hill
It will come as no surprise to many of you that I heard about this book from the fabulous Zoe of no safer place You’ve probably seen her mention it once or twice. The love that Zoe gives to this book is 100% deserved. I don’t really know what I was expecting when I picked it up (other than for one of my favourite humans to disown me if I didn’t like it!!) but it was not the absolute awesomeness that is After the Fire. Read it.
After the Fire is the story of Moonbeam, who grew up in a religious cult inside The Fence. One day there is a fire inside The Fence and this divides Moonbeam’s into Before and After. In alternating chapters, her story is unravelled. The Before chapters tell us of her horrendous experiences inside The Fence, where Father John rules, claiming to be the voice of God. Everyone obeys his rules and those who don’t are severely punished. Father John has several wives he has handpicked saying they were chosen by God to serve him. One day Moonbeam will be one of these wives: a position which protects her at the same time as threatening to destroy her. Father John is sinister and I hated his face from the moment it appeared in the book. There is nothing likeable about him, no redeeming feature or hint of humanity in him or anything he does. There were times when I just had to put the book down and sit in silence to absorb the awfulness.
After chapters tell us about Moonbeam’s life once she is outside the fence. This part of her story is told mostly in interviews with a psychiatrist and police officer. Moonbeam is hiding something from them. Her tale is gripping and heart-breaking. She does not trust easily and is very much a product of her childhood. The exploration of her trauma and how she comes to terms with what has happened to her is perfectly written. Will tells Moonbeam’s story beautifully, and we her gradually unfolding and lowering her defences as she learns to trust Outsiders and let go of the voice of Father John. There are other children in the book, also survivors of the fire, whose experiences of life outside the camp are radically different, and these add another dimension to the story. I liked that we got to see this as it showed how different each person’s experience of the same event can be.
The other part of the story that fascinated me was Moonbeam’s relationship with her mother. There is a lot of baggage there. Moonbeam’s mother was forced to leave the camp and left Moonbeam behind, which gives Moonbeam all the complicated feelings. As her story is revealed we learn a lot more about her mother and why she made the decisions she did. It also raises the question of family relationships and forgiveness.
After the Fire is just honestly one of the most perfect books I’ve read. Pick up a copy. Read it. Now.
Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne
This one was really tough for me to read and is proving hard for me to review. It’s testament to Holly’s amazing writing skills and her ability to really get into the tiny day-to-day detail of what it means to live with a mental health problem that Am I Normal Yet? had the impact it did on me. Personally, I don’t suffer from OCD like Evie in the novel, but I do suffer from other MH problems and germs and sickness are a big trigger for me. The scene with the therapist and the chicken sandwich had such a strong physical effect on me, that I couldn’t pick the book up for a good couple of days afterwards. The bleach incident – well, let’s just say I’ve been moments away from a similar moment myself. I also caught myself thinking about copying Evie’s hand-washing techniques in case they were more efficient than my own. It struck a nerve. Also, the therapist shared the same name as my ex-therapist (and that freaked me out a bit, like, is my therapist stalking me through the medium of books?)
Am I Normal? is only the second book of Holly’s that I’ve read and it has cemented her as a firm favourite of mine. She is one of the cleverest writers I’ve encountered, and she’s utterly adorable in person too. #giantauthorcrush
One of the things I loved most about it was how OCD was only one part of Evie’s story. It is very much integrated into her every day life and not the whole of her story. She is not her OCD, she is a person WITH OCD and this is something that is rarely portrayed so well in novels. She also addresses some of the stigma attached to mental ill health and the ways that people use the language around mental illness. I enjoyed seeing Evie form unlikely friendships in her Spinster Club friends and explore her feminist feelings. Her relationship mishaps are just hilarious (particularly her first date who slept with someone else ON THE DATE and then claimed to be a sex addict – I think I read somewhere that this is based on a true story: what is wrong with people?) And I am never going to look at the meadow scene in Twilight again without thinking about Edward Cullen’s potential boner. So, yeah. Thanks for that Holly!
Part of Evie’s story is told in pages from her Recovery Diary where she has homework to do, and these contribute to the sense of Evie relapsing and really strike home how easily her OCD begins to affect her again, without her even noticing. I recognised Evie’s relapse symptoms and her denial / justification of the behaviours that slowly crept back into her life until she was being consumed by them. At other points “Thoughts” are scattered into the narrative, at once showing us Evie is relapsing, but also just what it is like to experience intrusive thoughts.
I cannot rave about this book enough. It is so, so clever. I would only say proceed carefully if sickness / germs and explorations of mental health problems are a trigger for you.
Fiskur by Donna Migliaccio
You might have seen my blog tour post for this one earlier this week, where I said I’d share a full review when I finished. I finished! So here are more of my thoughts, but check out my tour post too!
I definitely think readers would benefit from having read the first in the series before picking up Fiskur. Personally, I haven’t read book one yet and, although it made sense and held up as a story in its own right, I do feel that I would have had a better understanding of the characters and their history had I not jumped straight in with book two.
The action scenes are brilliantly written and utterly brutal and we dive straight into that. I am a big fan of the axing of faces as a general rule, but some of the scenes were so gruesome even I balked a little. I did like that Donna didn’t shy away from showing the less glamorous side of battle and that there were heavy and poignant losses to both sides of the fight. There is a sense that noone is safe in the novel and this adds some tension.
The characters are an interesting mix, and I am hoping that going back and reading the first in the series will give me a greater insight into their characters, because I felt like I had missed that and I wanted to know more about all of them. Fiskur focuses mainly on Kristian, and I would love to know more of the backstory of the his friends.
I loved the development of Kristian throughout as he grew from Gemata in hiding to King, as well as how he responded to the early traumatic events of the book and the lasting effects this had on me. I also loved the magical, mind-control aspects of the story and look forward to seeing the further development of these in the next book (there is going to be a next book, right?)
One that’s worth a read for fans of brutal fantasy novels!
The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren E James
Why didn’t I read this sooner? Who knows? I regret my poor life choices. I’ve had this one since publication day (where I sent poor Husband into the YA section of my local Waterstones – which is far from his natural habitat – to collect my copy…then, you know, put it on the shelf for an eternity). I did see a pretty crucial spoiler and that put me off picking it up for a while because I got the impression that it would ruin the story for me. As it happens, it didn’t.
I do think knowing that part of the story made me read earlier parts of the novel differently to how I would have had I gone in not knowing, but it’s still an utterly fantastic novel.
Romy Silvers is the only survivor on The Infinity, a space ship with a mission to find Earth II, started by her parents. It takes a long time for us to find out what happened to her parents, but there are hints at something unnatural and horrific from early on as well as references to other crew members. One day, Romy gets notice from Earth that she is no longer alone in space: a boy called J is on the spaceship The Eternity and is heading towards her. She will no longer be the loneliest girl in the universe. I’m telling you nothing more. Anything more would spoil the story for you. It really is one you have to just read.
It took a while to get into for me, mainly as it is told in email correspondence / voice messages and very short chapters, but once I got there, I was hooked and devoured the rest in one (very late) night. Once it hit that turning point I could not put it down. There is so much intrigue and mystery, and every time I thought it was safe to put down, Lauren threw in another twist.
I spent a lot of time after finishing it, and since, pondering what it must be like to live completely on your own on a spaceship like Romy does. All her physical needs are met, she has everything practical and physical she could ever need, but she is completely alone, correspondence takes actual years to reach her from Earth and she has never known anything but the spaceship. This is something that’s going to be stuck in my mind for a long time, and I know that this book will be one I will frequently re-read.
I absolutely LOVED it.
What have you been reading recently? Have you read any of these? Come talk to me in the comments or on Twitter @charlotteswhere