McIntosh’s debut novel, Soft Apocalypse, is a bit of a different take on the apocalyptic genre – rather than one event being the tipping point that puMcIntosh’s debut novel, Soft Apocalypse, is a bit of a different take on the apocalyptic genre – rather than one event being the tipping point that pushes the world into full melt-down, it’s a thirteen year ride through a gradually deteriorating world.
Soft Apocalypse is told through the perspective of Jasper – who at the beginning of the novel is living with his nomadic ‘tribe’, homeless due to rocketing unemployment that has made their skills and education obsolete. On first impression I didn’t particularly like nor dislike Jasper – he didn’t seem to have any real passion or personality, and I was cautious as to how I would feel after spending a whole book with him. However, as the story progressed, I found myself liking him more and more, despite the fact that he spends a lot of time obsessing about finding true love, which sounds a little odd for an apocalyptic novel, but worked quite well for me.
The story also revolves around Jasper’s group of friends, who initially form his tribe, and later remain close through the ups and downs of the story as the world gradually falls more and more apart. I found most of the characters either likeable and could understand why they did certain things – even if at times Jasper’s never-ending quest for true love was a little irritating, when the world is falling apart in stages, there would be times when the survival adrenalin stops pumping and hormones and the need to be with someone are leading emotions.
For those who like to know all the details of why, when and how the apocalypse occurs, Soft Apocalypse may be a little disappointing. McIntosh limits the story to the characters and what they themselves know through media or personal experience – there are quite a few tantalising hints at what is happening outside the group’s immediate experiences, but I preferred the lack of info-dumping – it fit the plot much better. The parts that are revealed I found infinitely fascinating, the splintering of law and order into different factions with their own agendas, bio-terrorism and engineered viruses were all new ideas to me and were convincingly presented in their implementation, if not in the science.
The action ebbs and flows throughout the story, and perhaps the only real disappointment was the large time jumps where something major had obviously happened to change the fortunes of the characters, but the details fall into the gaps between.
Although I enjoyed the whole of Soft Apocalypse, it was the last third or so that really hooked me in, not surprisingly it’s where the stakes are raised and the action really picks up, and again, it was fitting for this novel.
As the second McIntosh novel that I’ve read, the comparison between his debut and his most recent novel, Love Minus Eighty is easy for me to make – McIntosh obviously aims to make his characters, and their relationships the driver of his novels, and has a knack for tantalising science fiction which poses new ideas without going into great detail of the execution – which is actually MY kind of science-fiction read....more
As I read the first pages of The Book Thief, I was confused. Everyone and their dog has loved this book, and yet I’m trying to figure out what the helAs I read the first pages of The Book Thief, I was confused. Everyone and their dog has loved this book, and yet I’m trying to figure out what the hell is going on and the prose is waaaaaaayyyy too purple for my tastes. But I persevere, I keep reading because either I’m missing something terribly obvious or I’m going to lose my faith in all my book loving friends. Before I know it, I’m completely sucked in and only stop reading for other compulsory life activities.
Normally, when I have trouble getting started with a book, even if I end up loving it, I’ll deduct a star or half as penance. But you know what? Fuck it, this book redeemed itself rather quickly and then had the audacity to make me want to cry. (Not actually cry because my reading heart is made of stone, but WANT to cry). So five stars it is.
Narrated by Death, The Book Thief is the story of Leisel Meminger, who finds herself living with a foster family just outside of Munich, after her mother puts her in foster care, and her younger brother dies. It didn’t take very long for Leisel, and her foster parents Hans and Rosa, to find a place in my heart – whether good or bad, almost all of the characters, and especially the main characters of The Book Thief are larger than life. I loved both Leisel and her best friend Rudy, her foster father Hans, but most tellingly, the seemingly abrasive Rosa Hubermann who really does have a heart of gold (albeit a well-hidden one), and on and on – Zusak invests a lot in his characters and it was so easy to imagine them in my mind.
The most telling thing, however, is that I loved this book despite two things that would normally irritate me:
- Death tends to go off on one a little bit – the colours, the way of speaking, at times it was beautiful and poetic, at other times I thought perhaps he’d been partaking in an afternoon tipple.
- The story is not linear – Death occasionally jumps back and forth, and he’s a terrible one for dropping hints, or even outright telling part of the story before Leisel’s story has arrived at that point.
So in the end, I loved The Book Thief - so much that I also bought the movie tie-in enhanced Kindle version and the audiobook so I could read for every possible second. Its great historical fiction with fantastic characters, a unique narrator and although a little unconventional in approach, it’s definitely memorable....more
Down From the Mountain is yet another 2015 book that had me captivated, but yet strangely unmoved. Reading it was like what I imagine watching a car cDown From the Mountain is yet another 2015 book that had me captivated, but yet strangely unmoved. Reading it was like what I imagine watching a car crash in slow motion would be like – I felt disconnected from the people that were involved, but compelled to keep going, even though at times I’d developed a case of couldn’t’-give-a-fuck-itis.
Eva, at fourteen, has lived for the majority of her life in the compound of the Righteous Path. Led by Ezekiel, with only one other grown male and a bevy of women and small children, they live an isolated life, dominated by prayer and punishment for those who break the increasingly strict rules. It’s only when she is temporarily allowed to leave the confines of the compound when she shows an unexpected flair for jewellery making that she really starts to question how the Righteous Path members really live.
I can completely imagine that some readers would get rather frustrated with Eva – she retreats back to the safety of the commune at every moment, and at times I felt frustrated with her too, but when I stopped to think about it, it was logical. She’s been brainwashed – and the normal human reaction in any uncomfortable or scary situation is to fall back on the familiar, and apart from some patchy early memories, the commune is all she has ever known.
What made Down from the Mountain so addictive to read however, is knowing there’s a crunch time coming, and although it’s obvious quite early on what it is going to be, I was so curious to see how it would play out and Fixmer definitely drew me into the climax of the story.
The reason I felt rather disconnected from the book, however, was the characters. Eva was strong and brave, going against everything she had been taught, knowing the consequences would be dire, and yet I never really felt like I knew her very well. She bonds with one of the other ‘mothers’, Rachel, and yet I never really got to know Rachel, or any other secondary character either. And guys, there is no romance – although for everyone that assumes there is romance just because it’s a contemporary YA novel, this is why we should never assume – because there isn’t one.
Finally, Down from the Mountain ends rather abruptly, and it felt a little awkward to me – everything is a little too neat, despite all the trauma that Eva has been through, and it was just over too quickly for my liking.
Down from the Mountain was an interesting read – there is a lot to think about in terms of the way that human beings can be convinced by others to believe in something, even if it is illogical. An interesting premise that just didn’t quite hook me in....more
Even if the publisher hadn’t made the comparison, it’s easy to see that Finding Jake is along the same lines as several other books told from the persEven if the publisher hadn’t made the comparison, it’s easy to see that Finding Jake is along the same lines as several other books told from the perspective of a parent whose child is accused of committing a crime, such as Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin. And it was my love for We Need to Talk About Kevin as a novel that particularly drew me to Finding Jake.
The perspective is a little different in that it is told from the view of Jake’s stay at home father, Simon. His wife, a high powered lawyer, works long hours, whilst Simon, who is a professional writer, cares for Jake and their younger daughter, Laney. Told in alternating chapters between present day and different times in Jake’s childhood, Reardon takes an intricate look at childhood, parental influence, and how Simon deals with his discomfort at being the sole father in their neighbourhood who stays at home.
As well as his own insecurities about himself, Simon is also rather insecure about his children – Jake is more of a solitary child, and it’s obvious that Simon sees himself in Jake, which in turn is very confrontational for him after the shooting. Did his actions and decisions as a father make Jake a loner, did he not have the right influence over his choice of friends and social interactions, and how can his outgoing daughter Laney, have turned out so differently? I did like that the story flashed between past and present, and that Reardon spent a lot of time in building Jake’s childhood, and although there’s never anything that particularly stands out as a warning sign, it’s Simon’s insights and ideas that pushed me into indecision. Did Jake do the terrible things he is accused of? Did Simon’s choices isolate him and stifle his social interactions? It’s all very thought provoking and kept me reading as I was rather desperate to find out whether Jake was guilty or not.
The other angle that I found particularly interesting was the role of the media and the way that social media influences the reactions of the general public to the shooting – Jake is immediately vilified as being violent and socially inept based on some very innocuous videos he has uploaded, and the print and television media immediately jump all over the Connolly family, before Jake is even found. Finding Jake isn’t a particularly original plot, but it does bring some interesting perspectives and ideas to the table. It’s thought-provoking, intense and at times incredibly moving and although quite similar to another book, it’s definitely a worthwhile read....more
Describing Broken Monsters is like a running train of thought. Initially I would say it’s a murder mystery, with a touch of fantasy, and then and thenDescribing Broken Monsters is like a running train of thought. Initially I would say it’s a murder mystery, with a touch of fantasy, and then and then and then…it’s pretty much a bit of everything with a whole bunch of possible discussion points. In that way, it’s the kind of book that really had me thinking when I turned the last page, but I wasn’t quite sure in which direction my thoughts were going.
Broken Monsters is told through multiple POVs – Gabi is the main character but there are also several other, very different characters – Jonno with his spotty past and his dreams of becoming an internet sensation, Gabi’s teenage daughter Layla who is on a vigilante crusade, and homeless man TK, who has become a master of taking every possible advantage he can find. What I did like very much about Broken Monsters is the amount of time Beukes spent on the mother daughter relationship without ever feeling that the pace was slowing down – it’s a complicated relationship, but it’s also a heartfelt one, that felt just right.
Oh and there’s a serial killer. One of the most disturbing killers I’ve ever come across in fiction – and at times that can be a little bit of a downfall, because whilst Beumkes is great at building feeling and atmosphere, I couldn’t quite envisage what the killer had actually done to some of his victims. Overall this probably makes it more appealing to a wider range of readers because it feels more like fantasy than horror, but I wanted to know ALL the gory details. The only exception is the ending, because Beumkes really rolls out the imagery and the pacing, and it’s all a bit climax of killer-y goodness.
There’s also a rather unexpected focus on social media – as well as text messages between characters, there are excerpts of police reports, phone transcripts, blog post comments etc, and I’ve developed something of a fascination with this type of format in books. It fits the plot perfectly, and there was just the right amount of it to create an impact without being overwhelming or distracting.
I very much enjoyed Broken Monsters – it definitely contains more than it says on the box, and despite me wanting a little shock and gore in some places, I won’t be forgetting this one for a while. And I will be reading another Lauren Beumkes book very soon – there’s just something about her style that I really feel drawn to....more