Hidden Figures – Magot Lee Shetterly

Here i review the book based on the true story of the female minds behind the early days of space exploration

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Hidden Figures is the novel by Margot Lee Shetterly, based on the true story of the women behind the space programs in the mid twentieth century. The novel focuses upon the efforts of America to get a man into orbit around the earth, as well as the mission to get the first man on to the moon. Shetterly uses this novel to tell us this previously untold story of a group of black women who were behind much of the maths and calculations that made these missions happen.

Hidden Figures is a true but untold story, so it is difficult to dislike, as it is so unique. It was great to read about how these women fought both racial and gender struggles in order to do the job that they were doing. And what was also fascinating was reading about how some of these women were thought of as being ‘computers’. At a time when we are surrounding with technology it’s hard to imagine a time when computers and calculators did not exist to carry out our work and mathematics. But the reality is, of course there was a time like this. And at this time it was people with ridiculous maths skills that would be in charge of making these calculations – often they were calculations that would mean life or death.

So, from the perspective of Hidden Figures being a big eye opener and a reality check for somebody who takes technology and pretty much life for granted, Shetterly’s novel is a great read. However, for me, I simply felt there were too many scientific and mathematical references. I felt because I am not somebody from that world and I don’t have a real grasp on space and maths, that I struggled to keep track and follow everything that was happening. Obviously for a book that is telling the story of these women in the space program it would be impossible to not include the science and maths, as that is the story. However, unfortunately for me, I did struggle with the novel a little bit.

I feel that Shetterly did a great job in bringing this story to the forefront of many minds, and it was great to learn that a program such as NASA, which most would associate with white males, actually had so many strong and powerful black females at its core. So, I would recommend this book for anybody who is after a book with something a bit different happening and something whereby you can learn from. However, if you’re like me and get a bit bogged down with terminology and references that you don’t necessarily understand, I would not recommend that you read Hidden Figures. Simple because I feel, like myself, you might find reading this book a bit more of a chore than a pleasure. That being said though, in 2016 Hidden Figures was adapted into a film. This I found to be so much more accessible, and allowed me to come to grips with the story so much more. So, although I am not here to recommend films, this is one I would recommend.

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Everything Everything – Nicola Yoon

Have you seen the trailer? Well, here I review the novel by Nicola Yoon

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Everything Everything is the 2015 debut novel by Nicola Yoon. It has recently come back into the ‘limelight’ due to the soon to be released film adaptation. The novel tells the story of a young girl, Maddy, and her budding relationship with the boy next door, Olly. The twist with this first love story is that Maddy suffers from Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID), an illness which means she is allergic to everything and is unable to leave the house.

I do not know a lot about SIDC, so I cannot comment on its portrayal in this novel. However, I thought the story itself provided an interesting and thought provoking read. Everything Everything is simply an exploration of the lengths we will go to, and the risks we take, for love. One of my favourite aspects of the novel was this progression in Maddy. Somebody, who at the beginning of the novel simply accepted her situation, locked in the confines of her house. Yet, by the end of the novel we see how she has progressed into a life loving, adventure seeking woman with a thirst for life. Maddy was certainly a character that I routed for throughout the novel, one that I felt very much invested in. This, I must add, is a reaction to a character I have not had in a while. So, thank you Nicola.

I found Everything Everything to be a very quick read. Alongside a fantastic story, which leaves you wanting more, it has a very unique style and layout. The chapters of the novel are often very short, with some ‘chapters’ only last a few lines. So, if you’re somebody is conscious about paper wastage, maybe this book is not for you. Yoon’s husband, David Yoon also provided the novel with many great illustrations, which you will see throughout the novel. With the illustrations and the often extremely short chapters it is understandably why you may finish this, as I did, in one sitting.

I found this style that Yoon used to be very refreshing, and a very accessible way to write a book, as you are not bogged down by pages and pages of complicated writing. This I feel makes Everything Everything a perfect read for young adults. And with the novel focussing of young and first love I feel this book will appeal even more for young adult readers!

The only problem I found with this novel is that I found the ending and its twist to be very predictable. This appears to be happening very often to me, that I am finding myself disappointed as I have already worked out the plot. Maybe I will have to stop expecting unpredictability, or maybe I’m just not reading the right novels. Either way, I was a little disappointed that the story was so easily guessed. On a positive note though, because I had routed for Maddy’s character and for her journey so much, I was equally pleased with how Yoon closed the novel. So maybe shocking, unpredictable, wow factors are not everything?

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Apple Tree Yard – Louise Doughty

Recently adapted into a BBC drama, here I review the novel

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Apple Tree Yard is the 2013 novel by Louise Doughty. This book has received a lot of popularity recently, with the BCC drama of the same name being aired earlier on in the year. The plot focuses upon a character called Yvonne Carmichael who simply happens to find herself in the wrong place at the wrong time – and this leads to a terrible situation. I could go on about the plot of this novel, but I’m afraid this time I will give too much away. What I will say though is this: Yvonne was once happily married and a successful scientist, but finds herself embroiled in an affair, and later in the witness box for the charge of murder.

This is one of my favourite novels at the moment. Although the pivotal moment that leads to the trial is predictable, I can forgive this because of the depth and the layers of the story that Doughty creates. The subject matter of the affair is so ordinary and humane it makes the progression of the plot even more worrying. It is simply the idea of somebody being in the wrong place at the wrong time – and there is nothing more relatable than that.

Throughout Apple Tree Yard, Doughty uses the second person, and it worked brilliantly. Yvonne addresses us, the reader, as though we are her lover throughout the novel. This approach gives us a great sense of her feelings and her reasonings behind some of her actions. This is perfect as it emphasises just how ordinary of a character Yvonne is, so like you and me, that it is not impossible to see that we could make similar decisions.

Another thing I really liked about this novel is that until the trial we only know the lover by the name ‘X’. By removing the identity of the lover, we see, like Yvonne, how much of a fantasy the adulterous relationship is.  The name of Yvonne’s lover is revealed during the trial. By doing this I feel Doughty emphasised just how ordinary the lover actually is. Therefore, heightening the idea of the fantasy coming crashing down and revealing the realities. This therefore turned out to be an effective technique that the novel used, as it emphasised the contrast between the Yvonne’s fantasy world and its consequences.

I can honestly say I can’t think of a single thing I did not like about Apple Tree Yard. It was a very realistic novel, with relatable characters and a relatable situation for many. Through this it very effectively demonstrated how one decision or one bad choice can lead to very terrible situations. It is a novel that shows us as readers that our life can lead anywhere, no matter how happy and stable we seem at the current time. Understandably then, I would one hundred percent recommend you read this novel. For the reasons I have outlined, I feel like it would be a novel that most people would enjoy and could relate to in one way or another. I have not yet watched the BBC adaptation as I wanted to read the novel first, though I feel it is unlikely that the drama would match up to Doughty’s writing.

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Dear Amy – Helen Callaghan

Here I review Helen Callaghan’s debut psychological suspense novel

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 Dear Amy is the debut psychological suspense novel from Helen Callaghan. The plot focuses around an agony aunt who begins to receive letters from a girl who has been missing for 20 years – and is presumed dead. Margot, the agony aunt, at first believes they are a hoax, but meanwhile another girl has gone missing. As the search for the missing girl gets longer and longer, Margot begins to believe that the letters could mean more than just a silly hoax.

I read Dear Amy quite quickly, which is always a big sign that you are enjoying a novel. It possessed the good elements I like in a psychological thriller, with the tensions continuously climbing. Callaghan’s writing in this novel is also very fluid, which made the reading of story so much easier, hence the quick finish. The premise of the story is also a very interesting one, and I found I grew to like the key character, Margot. So, I found as each page turned I was massively urging Margot to continue in her discoveries, and get to the bottom of the mystery. Like any true psychological thriller there was a huge twist towards the end of the novel. Though this twist turned out to be simply ambitious

When reading Dear Amy, I found it became too obvious where this novel was heading. I can’t pinpoint exactly when I realised I knew where this story was going, but just know I did. This slightly took away from the suspense and tension that Callaghan had been previously developing. Aside from being easily guessed, I feel this last twist is also completely farfetched. So, even if you get to Callaghan’s last twist without guessing the ending, I feel the effect of it is completely diminished by how unrealistic and unbelievable the situation is. Which ultimately takes away from how good the book could have been. So, dare I say that Dear Amy was slightly disappointing?

As I said, I liked the premise of this Dear Amy, and it was well executed until the twist at the end, I was simply left disappointed by how unrealistic it was. However, some might say if you can’t be unrealistic and far-fetched in literature, where can you be? Though personally, I just didn’t feel this was the book to be experimental with realism. I’d recommend you reading this book though if you’re looking for a quick read, something you don’t want to commit to for a long period of time. Its fluidity means it’ll be over in a couple of sittings, whether you enjoy the end or not.

I’d love to know what you felt about this novel, did you guess the ending? Did you find it a little unbelievable? Or did you love it, and find the twist was a great fit?

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The Light Between Oceans – M.L.Stedman

Seen the movie? Thinking about reading the book? Here I have reviewed the book to help make that decision easier

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The Light Between Oceans is the 2012 debut novel by M. L. Stedman. It is a novel classed as war fiction, however, aside from Tom Sherbourne’s (one of the main characters) PTSD and few references about the First World War, there is little content that is explicitly about the war. The novel follows Tom after his return to Australia, from the Western front, and his decision to take a job as a lighthouse keeper on the isolated Janus Rock.

I think this is one of the best novels I have read in a while. It is beautifully written, and is a truly unique story. In the novel, Stedman effectively explores human morals, and the effects our decisions can have, not just on ourselves, but those around us. The struggle I had with this novel, and why it pulled on my heartstrings, was because the main characters Tom and Isabel are good people. They both had good intentions, they just make a bad decision. Stedman created so much depth in the characters and the story that I found myself struggling to dislike the characters for their actions. You truly find yourself justifying their decisions and hoping that their lives will continue happily. However, like any good novel, this does not necessarily happen the way you would expect. Stedman, as the story progresses, does not deliver a conclusion that is easily guessed. The story continues to throw us off, and gives us twists and turns, making it impossible to know where the story will end, until it does.

The novel itself was adapted into a film in 2016, starring Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander. I watched this film after reading Stedman’s novel, and although it is fairly true to the book, I could not help but feel a disconnection with it. I feel in the book we are given a better insight into the run up to the ‘decision’ and the feelings involved in it. Thus, the movie, for me, did not provide the emotional, heart wrenching response that the novel gave me. I wanted to touch upon the film though because sometimes people do the book/film order the other way around to me. I.e watch the film and then read the book. Therefore, if you have watched the film and not connected with it, I do not want you to be put off from reading Stedman’s novel. I promise you, you will not regret it!

This novel is great for those who love a good romance, or who like a good period drama or who want to read something with more depth. I found it to be one of those books that just stayed with me for some time after I had finished it – it truly haunted me for some time. I cannot give enough praise to M. L. Stedman for her work, thus I encourage you to pick up this novel and immerse yourself in the story.

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Alice (The Chronicles of Alice: Book 1) – Christina Henry

A review of the first book in Christina Henry’s ‘The Chronicles of Alice’ series

alice_christina_henryAlice is the first book by Christina Henry in The Chronicles of Alice series. To put it simply, the book is a twist on the popular children’s books Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Through the Looking-Glass, written by Lewis Carroll. Though it is a twist on these children’s books, I would not recommend Henry’s books to be read by a child. It is a dark story with some explicit ideologies, thus it should be left to an older audience.

I thoroughly enjoyed this twist on Lewis Carroll’s original Alice in Wonderland stories. Henry’s story is a completely unique reinvention of the story we all know. The dark and disturbing elements just make the original so much more compelling. Although the story can be vulgar, I think it is a quite enjoyable adventure that Henry takes us on, as she provides twists and turns throughout her novel. Although it is a unique story, Henry effectively includes so many of Carroll’s elements. For example, the characters are all there, just re-imagined into something else, and most of all, Henry’s novel is just as ‘trippy’ (for want of a better word) as Carroll’s original story.

I honestly cannot think of much that I did not like, aside from the fact that the novel did not go on for longer. However, since this is the first in a series, I can accept that this fantastic re-imagination will continue in Henry’s second book, Red Queen. If you are looking for something with a lot of depth and deep meaning, however, this book is probably not for you. I did not find that this book lead me to question our existence, or my path in life etc, but it is a novel that will leave you thinking ‘what did I just read’. – In the most positive way possible!

I am somebody who is not easily offended though. I like reading and exploring a huge range of topics, including the more dark and taboo concepts. However, I realise many people are not like this. So, as a warning, I will say that the book contains a lot of violence, and a lot of references to rape. This is a ‘theme’, is you like, that runs throughout the novel, therefore if this is something that you are not necessarily comfortable with, I would possibly think twice about reading this novel.

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The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson

Looking for something slightly more vintage? This is a review of a 1959 classic horror

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The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson is a twentieth century horror novel, considered one of the best of the century. The story sees four strangers, Dr.Montague, Eleanor, Theodora and Luke, make a visit to Hill House. Hill House is an eighty-year-old mansion built by the long-gone Hugh Crain. The strangers are brought to Hill House by Dr.Montague who hopes to find evidence that the paranormal exists.

This is a novel that I was required to read for my university course, and surprisingly, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is not often I read a book that I am told I must read and find that I really enjoy it. Just like many gothic novels this novel keeps the reader guessing throughout its entirety. The characters experience numerous events, and the reader is left questioning whether the events are really happening. This is because alongside the paranormal events, Jackson creates characters who are far more in depth than the stereotypical characters in horror movies. i.e hot, college students having a sleepover; you know the ones! Eleanor, for example, the reader learns to be a very vulnerable woman suffering from guilt over her mother’s death. And Theodora is very much the opposite, she is an eccentric artist who we learn has had psychic experiences. Therefore, Jackson’s characters are very subjective to what is going on in the novel, so they cannot necessarily be relied upon

Though I believe this novel to be brilliant, I was a little bit disappointed with the ending. I thought the ending of the story was very abrupt. I even had to go back over the last couple of pages when I had finished, as I did not process what had happened. This was not because I could not believe it, but more because I just did not understand what had happened. I felt it was not as explicit as it should have been. Jackson does however carry on after the final event for one last paragraph. I feel this small paragraph is an attempt to close the novel seamlessly, however for me, it just did not work.

Out of all the novels I have read, The Haunting of Hill House has quickly become one of my favourite horror novels. Therefore, I would one hundred percent recommend this novel to anybody who is into horror novels. However, I would also recommend this novel to somebody who is not necessarily a fan of the horror genre. This is because there is so much more going on, aside from the apparent poltergeist. It is an adventure to be discovered!

side note: The novel has also been adapted into two films, both titled simply ‘The Haunting’. One from the 1960’s and the other from the 1990’s which stars Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Owen Wilson. 

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