What I’ve Read: Life As We Knew It, Songs About a Girl & Roller Girl

What I've Read: Life As We Knew It, Songs About a Girl & Roller Girl
Here are three reviews of books I’ve read recently to get me get out of my reading slump – everything from survival stories to boyband lit and awesome girls doing sports!

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer, narrated by Emily Bauer (Audiobook)

I first read Life As We Knew It five years ago when I couldn’t get enough of post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction. This time, I was looking for an audiobook to listen to on my commute and after a few failed attempts at reading paperbacks while squished on the train, a re-read seemed like the perfect choice!

I loved Life As We Knew It originally because it made me feel like I was surviving alongside Miranda after a meteor collides with the moon, altering the Earth’s climate, making it almost impossible to continue with life as it was. If anything, the audiobook was even more atmospheric. Miranda reading her diary aloud meant that I caught little bits of the story that I think I missed the first time – Emily Bauer has done a fantastic job at narrating the audiobook. It’s been 10 years since it was first published, but Life As We Knew It is still one of the few YA post-apocalyptic novels that had me thinking about it after I put it down.

Songs About a Girl by Chris Russell

I was introduced to Songs About a Girl at a blogger event at Hachette Towers, and this is where we also got to meet the fabulous author, Chris Russell, who’s an utter delight and self-confessed fanboy. He’s in a band himself – The Lightyears – and has previously written for a One Direction fansite, so is in a perfect position to write about the world of music.

I assumed Songs About a Girl would be told from the point of view of Fire&Lights – a hot new boyband – but it’s actually the incredible Charlie Bloom we get to hear from. 15-year-old Charlie is invited to be the band’s photographer after Olly, one of the band members, comes across her photos. Charlie’s a refreshing protagonist who’s simultaneously unaffected by the boy’s popularity and intrigued by their music and complicated friendship. Plus she’s being targeted on social media by jealous Fire&Lights fans; has discovered a baffling secret about her mother, who passed away; and is stuck between frontman Gabe and bandmate Olly and their curious conflict. (I prefer Yuki myself!).

Songs About a Girl was a fun story to read over the summer and I’m looking forward to meeting up with my new friend Charlie in the sequel next year.

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Oh, I loved Roller Girl. I came across it during a shopping trip at Gosh! Comics with my friend Daphne and one glance at the cover me it was the graphic novel for me! Roller Girl is the heartwarming tale of friendship and roller derby over one summer, beautifully written and illustrated by Victoria Jamieson. It perfectly captures what it’s like to be growing up when you’re not a child, but not quite a teenager.

Astrid is 12-years-old and does everything with her best friend Nicole – until Astrid signs up for roller derby and Nicole starts making new friends at ballet. I wish there were more contemporary graphic novels because it’s a wonderful, underrated format for them. Not only do we get a fantastic story, but are able to experience visually the pain, frustration and heartbreak of real life.

I love coming-of-age stories and in Roller Girl, we get everything from realistic confrontations with parents to what it feels like to be the worst at something you so desperately want to conquer. I also learned a lot about roller derby and feel like I got bruises from just reading about it – ouch!

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham (Classic #3)

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham (Classic #3)

Shelved: Classic (science fiction, post-apocalyptic)
Published: 1955 by Michael Joseph
Rating: ★★★
Challenge: Classics Challenge – #3
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

Here’s my third post for the 2015 Classics Challenge!  It’s not too late to join me (and 160+ other people) in reading one classic per month.

David Storm’s father doesn’t approve of Angus Morton’s unusually large horses, calling them blasphemies against nature. Little does he realise that his own son, and his son’s cousin Rosalind and their friends, have their own secret aberration which would label them as mutants. But as David and Rosalind grow older it becomes more difficult to conceal their differences from the village elders. Soon they face a choice: wait for eventual discovery, or flee to the terrifying and mutable Badlands…..

WHEN I Discovered This Classic
I bought The Chrysalids and The Day of the Triffids in 2013 when I visited Daunt Books, Marylebone, one of my favourite bookshops in London. I knew that his books were science fiction modern classics and that the two I picked were his most well-known novels.

WHY I Chose to Read It
It had been a while since I read my first John Wyndham novel. I read The Day of the Triffids in April 2013 and haven’t picked up a John Wyndham novel since, even though I own five now! I read an older classic in January and a children’s classic in February, so it was time to read a modern classic in March.

WHAT Makes It A Classic
All of John Wyndham’s novels are said to be modern classics because they were published during the era of great science fiction. One of the things I noticed while reading both The Chrysalids and The Day of the Triffids was how fresh and timeless they feel – they could have been published today. The Chrysalids also tackles religious fundamentalism and eugenics, issues that are still relevant today. David lives in a world where there are ‘offences’ (unusual plants and animals) and ‘blasphemies’ (humans with something unusual about them). If something is seen as being out of the ordinary – whether it’s a horse that’s a little too large or human with an extra toe – it is banished from society or destroyed, and it was easy to see that this kind of thinking is still prevalent today. It’s why I think science fiction – whether classic or contemporary – is such an exciting genre; it makes you think.

WHAT I Thought of This Classic
I loved The Day of the Triffids when I read it and I hoped that I’d enjoy The Chrysalids just as much, but unfortunately it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. I still enjoyed it, especially as it has a few unexpected twists and turns that make it exciting at times, but sometimes I found the religious aspect of the story to be a little too simple. It’s perhaps because the concept no longer feels that new. I loved the adult and child protagonists; they really brought the story to life. I read an article that said The Chrysalids was also a coming-of-age story, and that encapsulates it very well. Although it’s a post-apocalyptic story about living in a society where those who are seen as ‘different’ are eradicated, it’s also about young people growing up and questioning everything they’ve been told. In The Chrysalids, our young protagonists are much more open-minded than their adult counterparts; they’re curious, inquisitive and open to re-evaluating the morality they’ve been taught.

WILL It Stay A Classic
If you love post-apocalyptic fiction, there’s so many novels to choose from, so will The Chrysalids stand out another 50 years from now? It’s difficult to say because it seems like we’re in a time where science fiction isn’t just read by people who would browse the science fiction section of bookshelves, but perhaps people will continue to keep coming back to John Wyndham.

WHO I’d Recommend It To
People who love science fiction and want to delve into some of the top science fiction novels from the 1930s-1950s. People who adore young adult science fiction novels like The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. People who want a quick classic to read (this one is only 200 pages).

Have you signed up to the 2015 Classics Challenge?

Book Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Book Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Shelved: Adult fiction (science fiction, post-apocalyptic)
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

I really love children’s and young adult fiction; it’s what I’m most passionate about. I also equally enjoy adult fiction, but I just don’t get the chance to read it as much. I named March “a month of adult fiction” and despite the fact that I failed terribly and only read two books, I’m so glad I got the chance to read Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. I was a little apprehensive because I used to adore post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction before it exploded, but when so many people started naming Station Eleven one of their favourite books of 2014, I finally bought a copy – I didn’t want to miss out!

Station Eleven is a delicious, vividly rich story spanning several decades. It follows individuals whose lives are interconnected before and after a highly-contagious and fast-moving flu virus wipes out most of the world’s population, leaving only a smattering of people to figure out how to survive in a new world without electricity. Yet Station Eleven isn’t a story about how to survive in a post-apocalyptic world after a devastating pandemic, but how people survive with each other.

Jeevan Chaudhary is at the theatre watching a rendition of King Lear when one of the actors, Arthur Leander, has a heart-attack. Because he is a trained paramedic, Jeevan jumps on stage but he is unable to save Arthur. Kirsten, a young actress, is watching him from afar. Fifteen years later, she is part of a Travelling Symphony, a small group of travellers who create moments of happiness for the remaining settled communities, from performing dramatic Shakespearian acts to colourful melodies that spark memories. Station Eleven tells the stories – both present experiences and past exploits – of some of these individuals and the relationships they forge.

Station Eleven is so beautifully written that it doesn’t feel like a post-apocalyptic novel. Sometimes in science fiction, characters can be an insignificant device through which the plot develops, but this story wouldn’t be what it is without its characters – a magnificent and vast exploration of people, whether a creative young PA or a dangerous religious prophet. Station Eleven‘s array of characters is its strength. It has just enough world-building to satisfy the reader, but not so much that it overwhelms or becomes unnecessary. It doesn’t feel like a story with a typical beginning, middle and end – Station Eleven could keep on going if you let it.

Station Eleven is my first adult (non-classic) book of the year and it reminded me why I love fiction so much. It’s beautifully written, clever, thoughtful and incredibly exciting, despite the lack of action and adventure – it doesn’t need it.

Because survival is insufficient.

Published: 9th September 2014 (US) 10th September 2014 (UK)
Publisher: Knopf (US) Picador (UK)
Pages: 339

Book Review: World After by Susan Ee

Book Review: World After by Susan Ee

Series: Penryn and the End of Days (#2)
Shelved: Young adult fiction (paranormal – angels, fantasy, post-apocalyptic)
Rating: ★★★★
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

World After is the second book in a series, so I advise you not to keep reading this review if you’ve not read the first book, Angelfall.

Angelfall was one of the most surprising reads for me so far this year. I wasn’t sure whether it would live up to the hype, but it deserves the praise. I was also surprised by its brutality, dangerous – often shockingly – adventure, and blossoming relationship between an unlikely pair, Penryn and Raffe, which turned out to be a magnificent combination. As you can imagine, I was rather excited when World After fell through my letterbox.

Thankfully, World After continues straight on from Angelfall. Penryn is being carted off, paralysed and shaken, having just witnessed the horrific experiments the angels have been conducting in the aerie, which is now just a pile of rubble and smoke thanks to the Resistance. She is being held by her mother, who believes Penryn is dead, and has been reunited with her little sister Paige, who currently looks like a terrifying demon-like doll. Well, that is enough to take in already, but it’s about to get a lot worse.

You’ll be forgiven if you, like me, mistakenly thought that the plot for World After was actually for Angelfall. Paige has been taken, although this time by humans who think she’s abhorrent – a monster – rather than angels, and Raffe is busy tracking down Beliel, who is beaten and damaged, but proudly displays Raffe’s white wings. Yet World After is even more brutal and tragic than its predecessor. We finally find out what the angels are up to – what on Earth are those scorpions for? – and what they plan to do. According to the angels, humans aren’t the problem, just incidental.

In World After, we do not see Raffe again until we’re nearly at the end, making it a very different experience to Angelfall. But Penryn is by no means a diminished character without him. She is still incredibly witty, engaging and a character you want to support. She’s smart, but does not always make smart choices – and who can blame her? I thought it was fascinating to see Penryn’s desperation to save her sister lessen slightly in this sequel, as if she’s settled into the apocalypse and her purpose now is not just protecting her mother and sister. Paige is no longer seen as human by some and it’s clear that Penryn struggles herself sometimes – no longer is Paige the only thing on her mind – until she discovers some video tapes of her sister’s capture…

World After shows us that it is even more difficult to distinguish between angels and demons than ever before. If you read and loved Angelfall, you’ll be wanting some answers!

It’s painful to see that people prefer a bad guy who looks like an angel to a good guy who looks like a demon.

Published: 19th November 2013 (US) 21st November 2013 (UK)
Publisher: Skyscrape (US) Hodder & Stoughton (UK)
Pages: 442
Source: Thank you Hodder & Stoughton for providing this book for review!

Book Review: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Book Review: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Series: The 5th Wave (#1)
Shelved: Young adult fiction (science fiction, post-apocalyptic)
Rating: ★★★★
Buy: The Book Depository
More: Goodreads

I have been feeling a bit overwhelmed when it comes to YA science fiction, in particularly post-apocalyptic and dystopian novels, over the past year or so. There is just so many of them! And they all sound the same! How am I meant to know which one to pick up? I chose The 5th Wave because it had been receiving so much buzz. I was also invited to attend an author event, Rick Yancey interviewed by Lucy Mangan (which I hope to post about soon!), and I thought I had better start reading it.

The 1st Wave: Lights Out
The 2nd Wave: Surf’s Up
The 3th Wave: Pestilence
The 4th Wave: Silencer

What do you do when the enemy looks exactly like you? Are they still human? If so, is it morally right to kill them? Cassie, short for Cassiopeia, the constellation, is struggling with these thoughts every day. She is alone, after the vast majority of the population have been wiped out after an alien invasion, until she comes across an injured man asking for help. Is he human? Or an alien? Luckily, it’s not a predicament we have to deal with, but Cassie does. And she has to start making choices.

The 5th Wave is one of the most impressive young adult science fiction novels I have read so far and although this is partially due to its memorable, distinctive characters, and partially to do with Yancey’s compelling writing style, it’s also to do with the fact that it is quite a hefty book. The 5th Wave consists of 91 chapters in nearly 500 pages. It’s rich with detail and backstory and reasons. It’s easy to say that there has been an alien invasion and then leave it at that, but Rick Yancey goes through each wave and shows us exactly what it was like for Cassie, leaving us in fear of the 5th Wave – and it’s not what you expect.

The 5th Wave is split into sections and told through three points of view – Cassie, her little brother Sammy, and ‘Zombie’, that eventually converge into an explosive end. I loved that each character had a distinctive voice; I could turn to any page and know who is speaking, which is extremely important to me. As a reader, I cannot stand it when I find it difficult to distinguish between characters. Cassie in particular is a brilliant character (and Rick Yancey’s favourite!) because she’s surprising witty and sarcastic the whole way through, making the novel read a little like Zombieland, but a little more serious! (Aliens are no joke). But she can also be deadly serious when necessary:

‘But if I’m it, the last of my kind, the last page of human history, like hell I’m going to let the story end this way. I may be the last one, but I am the one still standing. I am the one turning to face the faceless hunter in the woods on an abandoned highway. I am the one not running but facing. Because if I am the last one, then I am humanity. And if this is humanity’s last war, then I am the battlefield.’

All three of our survivors are intelligent and contemplative. They constantly question why the alien invasion happened and where they now fit. The 5th Wave is definitely an exciting book and one I could not wait to come back to. I found myself appreciating Rick Yancey’s writing, which is concise – no word is wasted, but then a sentence comes along and leaves you stunned. I still feel overwhelmed by the genre, but I have faith that there are still some stories out there, like The 5th Wave, that will blow us all away. Figuratively. Thankfully. Unfortunately, I am not new to young adult science fiction, but if I were, The 5th Wave would leave me with a new favourite genre.

While writing this review, I finally remembered where I had seen the name Rick Yancey before – he is the author of The Monstrumologist, which had been positively reviewed by Priscilla. I want to read it even more now!

Published: 7th May 2013
Publisher: Penguin Books
Pages: 480
Source: Thank you Puffin, Penguin Books for providing this book to review!
If you liked: The Host & Dark Inside