2017 Baileys Women’s Prize Winner

The 2017 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction was awarded last night to Naomi Alderman for her fourth novel, The Power.

The 2017 Chair of Judges, Tessa Ross, said: “The judges and I were thrilled to make this decision. We debated this wonderful shortlist for many hours but kept returning to Naomi Alderman’s brilliantly imagined dystopia – her big ideas and her fantastic imagination.” (Source)

The Power by Naomi Alderman

In The Power the world is a recognisable place: there’s a rich Nigerian kid who larks around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power – they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.
This extraordinary novel by Naomi Alderman, a Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year and Granta Best of British writer, is not only a gripping story of how the world would change if power was in the hands of women but also exposes, with breath-taking daring, our contemporary world.
(GoodReads)

Have a look at the 2017 Baileys Women’s Prize Shortlist for more reading inspiration.

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Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro was published in 2005 and was a Man Booker, Arthur C. Clarke, and James Tait Black Memorial Prize Nominee.  Though the novel didn’t win any of those awards it is one of Ishiguro’s most popular novels.

Last year I read Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day which I really enjoyed.  I ‘discovered’ Ishiguro’s writing in that book and I liked it so much that I feel I would follow him into any story he wrote.  This is why I decided to read Never Let Me Go.  It felt a natural progression into the works of an author I intend to continue reading.  The thing is, I wasn’t sure what to expect because the blurb, which you can read below, and its mention of boarding school ongoings didn’t really strike me as my cup of tea.never-let-me-go-by-kazuo-ishiguro

“From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day comes a devastating new novel of innocence, knowledge, and loss. As children Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were.  Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life. And for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special–and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together. Suspenseful, moving, beautifully atmospheric, Never Let Me Go is another classic by the author of The Remains of the Day.” (GoodReads)

However, and this is a big however, I had no idea what I was in for.  That blurb gives you absolutely no clue as to the world you are about to step into.  And thank goodness for that.  Not knowing beforehand is key to the surprise, especially together with the way Ishiguro tells this story.

As always, his writing is lovely and his characterisation is spot on.  The pace and the sprinkling of breadcrumbs is well planned.  I can not tell you what this is actually about, of course, because I won’t take the shock of the discovery away from you.  It’s what makes this book.  It’s what contrasts the normalcy of the rest of the story which is an important detail.

Never Let Me Go was a good book.  My advice is read it, without reading any blurbs, articles, or conversations about it.  Don’t let anyone spoil it for you.Save

Review: The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller is a dystopia novel published in 2012.  It was a 2013 nominee for the Arthur C Clarke Award for Best Novel.  This is another novel that has been on my TBR list since it came out.  dog-stars-peter-heller

Hig somehow survived the flu pandemic that killed everyone he knows. Now his wife is gone, his friends are dead, and he lives in the hangar of a small abandoned airport with his dog, Jasper, and a mercurial, gun-toting misanthrope named Bangley.  But when a random transmission beams through the radio of his 1956 Cessna, the voice ignites a hope deep inside him that a better life exists outside their tightly controlled perimeter. Risking everything, he flies past his point of no return and follows its static-broken trail, only to find something that is both better and worse than anything he could ever hope for.  (GoodReads)

Without intending to I’ve read a few dystopia novels from my TBR list fairly close together.  They all offer something different.  Some offer a view into an alternate world resulting from an idea or technology taken too far.  Others, like this one, aren’t really about an alternate world but instead about the people left behind.

In The Dog Stars the world is still the world we know just without all the people.  There are only tiny pockets of people left alive trying to survive a world without a modern economy.  They’re trying to live in the face of the loss of their loved ones and the comforts of their prior lives.

It’s a lovely book that mostly takes the form of Hig’s internal dialogue or thoughts.  Some people didn’t enjoy the way it was written because of the punctuation and sentence structure.  Honestly, I barely noticed it.  Reading it was like following Hig in his mind and everything made sense.  I enjoyed reading it and it was a different take on the dystopia story.

lilolia review rating 3 stars good

 

Review: The Circle by Dave Eggers

Eggers’ The Circle was published in 2013 and there was a lot of talk about the book that year.  This story about a young woman who goes to work at a powerful tech company is still pertinent this year, if not more so, given the evolution we’ve seen recently of major tech companies.the-circle-by-dave-eggers

When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency. As Mae tours the open-plan office spaces, the towering glass dining facilities, the cozy dorms for those who spend nights at work, she is thrilled with the company’s modernity and activity. There are parties that last through the night, there are famous musicians playing on the lawn, there are athletic activities and clubs and brunches, and even an aquarium of rare fish retrieved from the Marianas Trench by the CEO. Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in America–even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge. (GoodReads)

Eggers gives us a look at the extremes of living in the digital age.  It asks us to think about how our behaviour and relationships change as we increasingly intertwine our lives with digital tech.

Right now we all know people who are avid users of Facebook, for example, who share most of their lives on their timeline as well as people who either choose not to use Facebook as often or at all.  It’s a personal preference and we respect that.  But what if it was mandatory to share your life on the internet for all to see?  What if your right to digital privacy and anonymity was no longer seen as a right and you could no longer opt out of the online sharing frenzy?

This may or may not terrify you depending on your personal preferences.  As The Circle unfolded and I followed Mae’s journey within the company and their requirements, values, and ideas were slowly revealed I felt a strong sense of foreboding.  I felt an overwhelming sense of how it could all go horribly wrong.  I had a feeling, too, that if the circle were to be completed in the real world, as they seek to do in the book, then a great deal of us would feel very violated.

That was just my response though.  From the way the story is written Eggers passes no judgement one way or the other.  I think when you read this book how you feel as it develops will show if, at the end, you are a Mae or a Kalden.  You are either comfortable with The Circle world or not.

I enjoyed reading The Circle and recommend it.  It doesn’t have the ending that you might be expecting as you read it but I thought the actual ending was pretty terrifying, honestly.  A major film adaptation of this book is set to be released in 2017 starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks.

lilolia review rating 4 stars great

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Review: Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and Crake was published in 2003 and shortlisted for the Man Booker and Orange Prize for Fiction.  It is the first of the MaddAddam trilogy.  The novel is described by the author as speculative fiction and in general as a dystopian novel.

This is the second of Atwood’s novels that I’ve read, the first being The Handmaid’s Tale, and while they are very different in storyline they are similar in that they are both unsettling stories about a very plausible end of the world as we know it.  oryx and crake atwood

Oryx and Crake is at once an unforgettable love story and a compelling vision of the future. Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved. In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey–with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake–through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city, until powerful corporations took mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride. Margaret Atwood projects us into a near future that is both all too familiar and beyond our imagining. (GoodReads)

The GoodReads blurb describes it as an ‘unforgettable love story’ which I wouldn’t agree with.  This book isn’t about love; it’s about a world of segregation between the haves and have-nots, the ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’, the obedient and the rebels.  It’s what our world could very seriously resemble if we continue on the path of fixating on living in security complexes, on being young and immortal, and on unscrupulously modifying genetics to solve immediate problems.

It’s a bleak and horrifying world which could easily have turned into a horror story but told through the eyes of down-to-earth Snowman we are able to experience this story as if it were completely normal.  He is the perfect narrator for this story and an unforgettable character.

I enjoy reading Atwood’s books very much and look forward to reading more as well as carrying on the MaddAddam adventure.  I did enjoy The Handmaid’s Tale more but Oryx and Crake did not disappoint and I’m happy to have finally read it.  I would definitely recommend this book.

 

lilolia review rating 3 stars good

Review: The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin

The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin is the long awaited final novel of The Passage trilogy.  This epic literary journey began with The Passage followed by The Twelve and now, after a 3 year wait (or 4 years if you read The Twelve right when it was published), draws to a close with a final crescendo in The City of Mirrors.city-of-mirrors-by-justin-cronin

In The Passage and The Twelve, Justin Cronin brilliantly imagined the fall of civilization and humanity’s desperate fight to survive. Now all is quiet on the horizon, but does silence promise the nightmare’s end or the second coming of unspeakable darkness? (GoodReads)

As with the previous two novels, The City of Mirrors is a well written novel of great suspense.  It has its own surprises and yet continues the story of our beloved characters.  It continues to be an epic tale of humanity in the face of extinction highlighting the human heart and spirit.

It is one of the best final books I have read.  It neatly and satisfyingly brings to a close a story that will remain a readers’ favourite for a long time to come.  The Passage trilogy really has been one of those great literary journeys that come along very rarely.

What sets this trilogy apart from others in this genre is its magnificent breadth of story which spans many centuries and Cronin’s undeniable writing skill.  To those who have read the previous novels: you will not be disappointed with this final installment.  And to those who have not yet read this trilogy: you are blessed for you will get to read this epic story from beginning to end without pause.

 

lilolia review rating 4 stars great

 

 

Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale has been on my TBR for a while now and I was blown away.  If you’re not familiar with this book yet let me The Handmaid's Taleshare with you the GoodReads blurb:

“Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now…”

What a thought provoking and well written book!  The way Atwood chose to write this book lends itself to the fear it makes you feel (even now despite being published in the 80’s) when you begin to realise that this could happen to us now.  This isn’t about a time long ago before the fight for gender equality began.  It is about a time that very much resembles the world we live in today.  It is a bit shocking but also a consuming read.  I loved how Atwood did not reveal all at once but very slowly made revelations about this world and the ending is like an anvil to the head.  I cannot give you any details for fear of ruining this book for you but I really enjoyed it and can’t wait to move on to Atwood’s other books.  Highly recommended.

 

lilolia review rating 5 stars excellent

 

 

Review: California by Edan Lepucki

California was another popular book this year and I couldn’t wait to read this one.California

Here is the blurb from GoodReads:

“The world Cal and Frida have always known is gone, and they’ve left the crumbling city of Los Angeles far behind them. They now live in a shack in the wilderness, working side-by-side to make their days tolerable despite the isolation and hardships they face. Consumed by fear of the future and mourning for a past they can’t reclaim, they seek comfort and solace in one other. But the tentative existence they’ve built for themselves is thrown into doubt when Frida finds out she’s pregnant. Terrified of the unknown but unsure of their ability to raise a child alone, Cal and Frida set out for the nearest settlement, a guarded and paranoid community with dark secrets. These people can offer them security, but Cal and Frida soon realize this community poses its own dangers. In this unfamiliar world, where everything and everyone can be perceived as a threat, the couple must quickly decide whom to trust.”

I enjoyed this book.  It was a different and probably more realistic take on the “post-apocalypse” world.  It was an easy read with intrigue and some unexpected twists.  If I’m honest though it wasn’t all I expected it would be and the ending left much to be desired…unless there is a sequel in which case I will happily read the next installment.  Don’t think the ending was bad – it just was no ending at all.  Here’s hoping there’s a sequel.

 

lilolia review rating 3 stars good

 

 

 

BkFt: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

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A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess was published in 1962 and is one of the most famous dystopian novels.  It is about a future society in which juvenile delinquency has taken over.  This book is high up on my TBR list and I’m sure many of you have read this book.  Richard Lacayo from TIME describes the novel:A Clockwork Orange

Like 1984, this is a book in which an entire social order is implied through language. And what language! To hint at the vile universe of the 15-year-old delinquent Alex and his murderous buddies, Burgess created “nadsat,” a rich futuristic patois. “Sinny” for “cinema.” “Viddy” for “see,” “horrorshow” for “good” — from the Russian, khorosho, which gives you some idea of which political system has prevailed. The words locate him in a world of corrupted values, violence and boundless infantile indulgence. (His drug is “milk plus.”) When Alex is apprehended by the authorities and subjected to psychological conditioning to make him nauseated at any impulse towards violence, Burgess’s book becomes a meditation on whether a world in which evil can be freely chosen might still be preferable to one in which goodness is compelled. Stanley Kubrick’s coldly magnificent “sinny” adaptation has sometimes threatened to overshadow this great novel. Don’t let it happen.

There’s a lot of discussion about the title of the novel and where it comes from.  All I can say for sure is that apparently Burgess overheard the phrase “as queer as a clockwork orange” in a pub in London in 1945.  According to the author’s article A Clockwork Condition in the New Yorker: “It’s an old Cockney slang phrase, implying a queerness or madness so extreme as to subvert nature.” Some, like Kingsley Amis, disagree.

Another interesting detail of this novel is the way it is divided.  The book is split into 3 parts each with 7 chapters which brings the total number of chapters to 21.  This detail was Burgess’ intentional nod to the age of 21 being recognised as a milestone in human maturation. (wikipedia)  Strangely, the final 21st chapter was omitted in American editions of the book as it was deemed unrealistic for the American audience.  I find this a tad strange as the final chapter 21 is the redeeming chapter wherein Alex realises the error of his ways and turns away from violence.

A book fit to sit along side other great dystopian novels such as Orwell’s 1984 or Huxley’s A Brave New World.  I’ll leave you with a paragraph I particularly like from the above mentioned article A Clockwork Condition:

“The maintenance of a complex society depends increasingly on routine work, work with no zest or creativity. One of the slogans of George Orwell’s superstate in “1984” is “Freedom is slavery.” This can be taken to mean that the burden of making one’s own choices is, for many people, intolerable. Perhaps there is something to be said for conformity in social life when our working lives have so little room for rugged individualism. But when patterns of conformity are imposed by the state, then one has a right to be frightened. It is significant that the nightmare books of our age have not been about new Draculas and Frankensteins but about what may be termed dystopias—inverted utopias, in which an imagined megalithic government brings human life to an exquisite pitch of misery.”

Share your thoughts with us about this book.

All TIME 100 Novels – A Clockwork Orange

Review: The Twelve by Justin Cronin

The Twelve is the 2nd novel of The Passage trilogy by Justin Cronin and an incredible follow up to the impressive first novel The Passage (read my review of The Passage)  When I read the first novel I was taken by the proportions of the story.  It spanned many The Twelve (The Passage, #2)decades and every character would play some important role in this epic take on a post viral world.  There is a great connectedness of the characters both in the moment and across generations and The Twelve takes us back to year zero when the virus first gets out, to a time before the First Colony, and then into the time after the end of The Passage.

“At the end of The Passage, the great viral plague had left a small group of survivors clinging to life amidst a world transformed into a nightmare. In the second volume of this epic trilogy, this same group of survivors, led by the mysterious, charismatic Amy, go on the attack, leading an insurrection against the virals…”

It is another epic novel introducing us to more characters all connected to those we’ve already followed in the first novel and no doubt who will be connected to those of the third novel to come in 2014, City of Mirrors.  Cronin has once again woven a story of suspense and reveals an element of the world we came to know that we really could not have guessed at.  The plot is different and you won’t be disappointed with this book after having read The Passage but I wouldn’t recommend reading this without reading the first…you simply won’t get some of the surprises and some of the magic of it will be lost on you.  Not to mention that you won’t have a clue as to who all the people in the novel are! For those of you, like me, who read the first novel ages ago you may need a refresher on the character list which you can find on wikipedia except beware as there are spoilers in it.

Again we are privy to the hardships of this post apocalyptic world and more importantly the strength of the human spirit to go on through a desire to survive and through the love they have for their friends and families in the face of fear and loss of hope.  There’s something for everyone.  I really enjoyed reading it.

 

lilolia review rating 4 stars great

Review: Justin Cronin’s The Passage

“It happened fast. Thirty-two minutes for one world to die, another to be born.” 

Epic.  I don’t use this word lightly when refering to books but Justin Cronin’s The Passage is epic in every sense of the word.  An incredible work skilfully dealing with decades and decades of events which tumble together to form a story of the passage croningigantic proportions.  I noticed this book a while back when it entered the New York Times Bestsellers’ List and not long after that the buzz began.  Initially I thought this hype was owed to the vampire subject matter but when authors like Stephen King and Terry Brooks started giving the book such high praise I realised that this story must be fresh and brilliant.  So, I got a copy and read it.  Epic.  I have not read a book so incredibly captivating in a very long time.

The Passage is extremely well written.  There were passages in the book where I laughed out loud and then there were moments of almost unbearable suspense.  Cronin is a master plotter if The Passage is anything to go by.  He has woven a story so intricate and detailed, one which spans over a century, with different kinds of characters, settings and lifestyles and he has done an incredible job.  Every word propells you forward, I like this – it is a sign of a great writer I think, when you know that every word on the page is deliberate – every word carries meaning for later events in the story.  I loved the way the story unfolded, it was done with the most avid of readers in mind in that nothing was given away too soon and nothing could be guessed really.

As for the vampire subject matter, don’t worry if you are not into the teen vamp craze and the associated reading drivel because this is nothing like any of the vamp stuff out there (specfically, it’s nothing like Twilight).  The Passage, if anything, is a plausible account of how vampirism could exist in the world and what would happen to the world if vampires outnumbered humans.  This story is not only about vampires and the terror humans go through alongside them, it’s also a story about human nature and the strength of the human spirit in the face of extinction.

As always, you’ll get no specific details here.  What you will get is a strong recommendation to read this book because it is honestly a story for everybody; men, women and teens.  It is fresh, well-plotted and very fast-paced.  Everything you want in a great book.

The only downside, I guess, is that we have to wait until 2012 for the second novel; The Twelve and until 2014 for the third; The City of Mirrors which concludes the trilogy.  Torture indeed.  Apparently the film rights have been bought so you can expect a movie soon.

For more: http://enterthepassage.com

 

lilolia review rating 4 stars great