‘The Survival Game’ – Nicky Singer

Thank you NetGalley for granting me access to this prior to publication. A chilling tale of what might yet come to pass.

In our future climate change has reached what might be seen as an inevitable conclusion. Parts of the world are inhospitable. The world’s population is moving northwards and, inevitably, some react better to this than others.

We follow 14-year old Mhairi as she escapes the detention centre she’s placed in after travelling illegally from Cairo following the death of her parents. She is determined to walk to Arran, the home of her grandmother. Along the way she reveals snippets of her story which it might be easy to miss as they’re quite understated. These snippets build a truly terrifying picture of this new reality.

Once she – and a young boy she saves en route – make their way to Arran it would be lovely to think their story was over. Far from it. In fact, it’s once they arrive with Mhairi’s grandmother that the difficult questions start.

Some very difficult questions raised in this, and the ending of the novel rather took my breath away.

‘Vox’ – Christina Dalcher

‘Vox’ is being heralded as ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ for a new generation. If that’s the push people need to pick this up then so be it., as this is a book that really should be read. By everyone.

Dr Jean McLellan is an eminent neuroscientist. She has her personal flaws but in her career she was at the forefront of studies into the brain and how it’s impacted by illness. I use the past tense because when we meet Dr Jean her role has been drastically reduced, like that of many women.

In this America women are no longer part of the work force. Their role is to nurture children and keep the home. Their rights have – as we learn in bits and pieces – been eradicated. This alone was enough to anger me, but the fact their voices are taken away was jaw-dropping. Each female wears a wrist counter. It allows them 100 words a day. 100!

The fact that nobody openly questions this tells us just how different things are in this imagined world.

The premise of this story was absorbing. I particularly liked the way we learn how such a situation came into being. Like so many periods in history where such things happen it’s always easy to look on in hindsight and question the actions of those alive at the time. Sadly, Dalcher paints all too vivid a picture of how this came to pass.

The story was chilling as we come to understand just what is at risk here. A timely reminder of the need to question decisions made by those in power.

Thank you NetGalley for granting me access to this prior to publication.

‘Ringer’ – Lauren Oliver

Bestselling author Lauren Oliver digs deep into questions of how to be a human being in a world where humanity cannot be taken for granted.

In Ringer we catch up with Lyra after she has escaped from the Haven. She and Caelum are on the run, trying to work out who can help them.

Again, we have the flip book format. You can read alternate chapters or the stories in turn. For this one I read Lyra’s story before Gemma’s and, having got to the end of the story, I confess to feeling rather perplexed.

I loved the idea behind this story, and it was good to see a little more into the minds of those who have created the replicas. It posed interesting questions about mankind and what it means to be human.

While the idea is exciting, there were sections where I found my attention wandering. Splitting the focus between the characters meant I never felt fully engaged by either.

‘Zeroes’ – Scott Westerfeld

Having a superpower must have been high on everyone’s wish-list as a kid. But what do you do if you actually have a superpower…and don’t really know how to control it?

In Zeroes – the first in a new trilogy – we meet a group of teens who each have their own power. They’re not always in control of their power, and the after effects of them using their power can be catastrophic.

We open meeting Ethan, Scam, a boy who has two voices; one of which always knows just what to say. Unfortunately this voice doesn’t always think about the consequences that come into play. When he is caught up in a bank robbery and becomes an internet sensation, he has little choice but to contact the friends he hasn’t really seen for the last year. The Zeroes.

There’s nothing particularly new here, but this story of a group learning to use their powers is a thrilling story. It introduces us to a very varied cast and makes us intrigued by all of them, which is no mean feat. Of course, you’ll have a favourite but it’s fascinating to watch them go about their business. There’s also some explosive action, some serious villains and a real need to see what happens next.

‘Brightly Burning’ – Alexa Donne

The gravity stabilizers were failing again. I glanced up from my sketchpad to see globules of liquid dancing up from my drinking glass. They shimmered red, like droplets of blood, though I knew it was just cherry-flavored nutri-drink. Dammit, that’s my protein ration for the day wasted.

A sigh escaped me, and resignedly I stowed my drawing tablet and stylus in the drawer under my mattress. They would be calling me any minute.

A moment later, right on time: “Stella Ainsley, please report to Area Twelve.” The speaker crackled and popped, as it had done for years. I’d tried to fix it, but on a ship as old as the Stalwart, there was only so much you could do.

With this extract from the opening chapter of Donne’s debut, due for publication in May 2018, we can see this is no ordinary retelling of Jane Eyre.

From the moment I saw this on NetGalley I have to say I was curious about how it would work. There’s a few differences in order to fit the futuristic space setting, but it’s quite faithful to the original text.

Seventeen year old Stella is determined to not end up an engineer the rest of her life. With her space home looking close to the end, her choices are limited. When she gets a post as governess on board the much better-equipped Rochester we know exactly where this is going.

Many of the expected events are there. It was good fun to spot the links (while not being too precious about the adaptations made to fit the new setting) and I could see this appealing to teens with no sense of the source material, as well as being a bit of fun for those who know what’s coming.

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the chance to read this prior to publication.

‘The List’ – Patricia Forde

I’m finding it increasingly hard to not be too dismissive of books marketed as middle-grade simply because I’m so far away from the target age of the intended readership. Sometimes, a story comes along that just carries you away regardless of age and though this wasn’t quite there it was a story that I can see appealing to many readers.

John Noa (obvious parallels) is not a man we know much about until later on in the story. However we are told that he is the founder of the new community, Ark, and that he has made many changes to this new society to help them adjust to this future world. He’s no genial gentleman though – his actions throughout the story hint at a steely determination and a willingness to do anything he deems necessary to carry his plans to fruition.

The focus on words is what drew me, and it’s an obvious link to want to feel for the main character Letta whose job is to record the few words prescribed as permissible to use under List. Far too young to be placed in the position she is, her refusal to turn her back on an injured boy leads to some dangerous meetings that have her questioning everything she’s been led to believe.

Throughout, there were many echoes of other well-known stories but I don’t think this is a problem per se. My main issue with the plot was that it was quite predictable and that we never seemed to get a fully-developed sense of the world/people in it.

‘How to Stop Time’ – Matt Haig

This has been one I’ve wanted to read for a while, but needed to ensure I had time to do it in one stretch.

Tom Hazard is a forty-one year old history teacher. He has a passion for bringing the past to life, and is desperate to start a relationship with fellow teacher Camille. Unfortunately Tom has anageria,which means he has actually been alive for centuries, is part of a secret society and has been given only one instruction-not to fall in love.

We dip in and out of Tom’s past and present, following him through his various guises as he tries to avoid drawing attention to himself.

Though the book tells Tom’s story, and gets us to focus on his search for his daughter, I was most intrigued by the insight it offered into the human condition. What makes us human? How do we make our mark in time?

I enjoyed the sense of dipping into different times, and I feel the novel offers some interesting ideas about what it means to be human. I would award 4.5 stars, but I didn’t feel all of the extra details about Tom’s past were strictly necessary.

‘Satellite’ – Nick Lake

Satellite is one of those reads that had some wonderful moments but which also left me feeling rather flat. A tough one to review, and this will be one that I think splits views.

In this novel Lake focuses us on Leo, a young boy born in space who is desperate to ‘go home’, to earth. It’s a journey he and his two companions, Libra and Orion, have been looking forward to for as long as they can remember.

Our story is split into distinct parts. We watch the teens in space, planning their lives on earth. We see them journey to earth and look at their experiences. Then, perhaps most oddly, we return from whence we came.

Leo’s voice is distinctive. Overcoming the writing style will be a big factor in your response to the story. It’s written in what seems to mirror the language of the transmissions that Leo and the others are used to communicating in, and clearly marks Leo out as ‘other’ – an alien in his environment. However, if you can look beneath this you’ll probably find yourself quite taken with these kids.

As we learn more about Leo’s family, and get a sense of just where he’s come from, it’s hard not to fall a little under his spell. Seeing the experience of life on earth from the view of someone who’s not physically prepared for it is intriguing. Watching the relationships Leo has develop is pretty compelling.

Unfortunately, much as I liked Leo and grew to care for him I felt the latter stages of the novel took us so far into the realms of incredibility that I really didn’t enjoy it as I’d hoped to.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an advance copy in exchange for my thoughts.

‘The Power’ – Naomi Alderman

‘The Power’ is a book I’d been desperate to read since I first heard about it, but it has taken me a long time to get round to.

My initial reaction upon finishing the book was one of bemusement. In this novel Alderman highlights issues of gender and power in contemporary society, by turning our expectations and norms on their head.

I liked the fact the book focused on four separate characters during this time, but that inevitably led to a sense of detachment as we never fully get under their skin and jumping from one to the other means the links between their stories aren’t always clear.

I found the basic premise of the girls’ power fascinating, but it seemed to descend into abuse of such magnitude that I felt a real bleakness towards people and their basic humanity.

While this book seems to fit into science-fiction/dystopian writing, I think the messages it gives us about how we live now are really depressing.

I can admire much about how this has been constructed, and the writing style but it was an unnerving experience and one that I’m left uncertain about how to respond to.

‘The Dazzling Heights’ – Katherine McGee

New York City, 2118. A glittering vision of the future, where anything is possible – if you want it enough. 
Manhattan is home to a thousand-story supertower, a beacon of futuristic glamour and high-tech luxury… and to millions of people living scandalous, secretive lives.

In this novel, the story picks up not long after the death of Eris. Each of the characters on the roof that night has their secret to hide, but someone is watching and is determined to make them pay for what they did.

For large parts of the book I had the sense of things being put in place to set up our finale. This isn’t big on action as such, but there’s a manipulation of characters and events to suit where we end up.

I’m still uncertain where I stand on the Avery and Atlas relationship. I know they’re not related – so it isn’t that element that bothers me – but they seem to spend very little time trying to do the best for the other. It’s as if they’ve got into a pattern of behaviour that they can’t break away from.

The introduction of con-artist Calliope brings a different level into the mix, and she struck the right blend between participant and observer. While she is doing something awful, and we are meant to see her as shallow and unpleasant, there are moments when she offers an interesting perspective on these characters. I felt very much as though we were digging under the surface of characters a little.

Towards the end I feared we were going for a rehash of book one. Thankfully not, but there is a death and it binds our characters in a way that sets up intrigue for the final part of the trilogy.