The Martian – Andy Weir

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The Martian is the 2011 science fiction novel by Andy Weir. The story centres around the astronaut Mark Watney, a botanist and an engineer, who with five others travelled to Mars for the mission called Ares III. On the sixth day of the team’s mission however disaster strikes, and the team are forced to make a quick exit from Mars. The twist of this story though is that Mark, who is impaled by an antenna is flung out of sight by extreme winds, as a result he is presumed dead and gets left behind. I say presumed, because it quickly becomes apparent that Mark does not die, he survives, though is stranded on Mars. The novel explores Mark’s isolation on Mars, and the fight for his survival and return to Earth.

If you don’t live under a rock you will be aware that Weir’s novel was adapted into a film starring Matt Damon in 2015. I watched this film prior to reading The Martian. Usually I try to do the opposite, as I find my motivation to read a book hinders when I already know what happens from a film. I was excited to find though, that this order of film then book, did not hinder my reading experience at all! I found myself just as intrigued and swept away with the plot as I would have been had I not seen the film adaptation first. – which I feel is a real testament to Weir’s writing.

First things first, you may be thinking that because The Martian is about space, botany, and engineering, that it is not a book for you. And, I must admit I had similar feelings. Having read sciency novels in the past that included a lot of scientific terms, I was a bit sceptical. This is because I feel that in these types of novels all the language goes over my head, and I simply do not connect with the story or the characters because I do not understand. However, I found that although Weir does include science talk, it is not something that dominates the novel, and the stuff that is there is very accessible. So, if the idea of science talk is the only thing putting you off about reading this book then you have little to worry about.

What I loved most about The Martian is Weir’s character Mark. The novel is by large written through diary logs kept by this character, so we really get a feel for him as a person. The logs are used to reflect of what Mark has been doing throughout the day, and what he plans to do as he continues his mission to survive. Though, they are not as serious and technical as you may imagine. The logs are humorous, thoughtful, and determined accounts which demonstrate the character perfectly. Mark is certainly a character who strives to see the positive in situations, and doesn’t let setbacks stop him. Alongside that though he is an extraordinarily smart and logical thinking individual, if only we were all more like him.

When I began reading The Martian though I did worry that the novel would be one dimensional and would focus entirely on what was happening on Mars. However, after a few chapters, I was happy to see the inclusion of what was happening on Earth, and then further on what was happening on the spaceship that held the rest of the mission teammates. So, throughout the novel we are presented with a very rounded story, which was effective in building up the tension. It was also interesting to see three very different settings, we had Mars, the space stations on Earth and a space shift travelling through space between Mars and Earth. It is not often you get to discover settings that are so different yet so similar at the same time.

Whether you go on to enjoy The Martian or not, what is unarguably brilliant about this story is how everybody rallied around and wanted to help this one man. It truly demonstrates the best in humanity by showing how people come together when somebody is in trouble. Suffice to say, I would highly recommend Weir’s novel. It is a humorous, engaging, and thought-provoking story that is too brilliantly written. I struggle to find faults with Weir’s work on this novel, though if you feel differently, I would love to hear your thoughts.

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The Road – Cormac McCarthy

Here i review McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel

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The Road is a post-apocalyptic 2006 novel by Cormac McCarthy. The story focuses upon a father and son who are travelling through a burnt out America, with their sights set on reaching the coast. The duo have nothing but the clothes on their back, a pistol with limited bullets and a small supply of food to keep them going along their journey. The novel sees the pair scavenging through the derelict, burned out towns and cities whilst trying to avoid running into ‘bad guys’ who stalk the roads.

In The Road we are presented with a truly disturbing and terrifying scenario. There are few people left in the world, and some of those left are savage beyond belief. We are not explicitly told what happened to cause such a brutal world, though I believe this leaves for a much more haunting story as so many scenarios could have led to the ultimate downfall of humanity. In all the savagery that we witness though, it is clear that this is a book that acutely portrays the best and the worst of mankind. From the unbreakable, trusting and loving relationship of the father and son to the ‘bad guys’ who we witness keeping prisoners for their cannibalistic needs. With this McCarthy offers us a magnitude of characters that portray how far humans can be pushed.

I finished The Road in two sittings, but if I had had the chance I am certain I would have finished the novel in one go. McCarthy writes with no chapters and allows his novel to flow with the progression of the father and sons travels. So, you find yourself turning page after page with no thought of having a break. Usually, I am all for chapters, and cannot comprehend a novel that does not use them. However, I felt this style was extremely effective for this novel and I truly felt that I was a participant in the journey across America. Not only that though McCarthy’s language and imagery creates some fantastic scenes, so it is difficult not to picture yourself alongside this family.

McCarthy created characters and a novel in The Road that kept you routing for a positive outcome. So much so, that it is so easy to forget that such a terrible situation has already been thrust upon the father and son. Like most, the ending of a novel is something I always battle with. I rarely find that the finishing pages of a novel end in a good or satisfactory way. On the one hand, with McCarthy’s novel, I feel exactly this way. I feel that McCarthy has left so much unsaid, and left me wanting so much more from this world and his characters. However, on the other hand, the journey has been completed, the goal has been met, and in the end we are given a positive outcome. So, it is difficult to argue that The Road ends on a bit of a flat line.

The Road is a novel unlike any others that I have read, and I am a little annoyed at myself for letting McCarthy’s novel sit on my bookshelf for as long as I did. So, I would recommend it to you all without a doubt. Although if you’re currently looking for a light read, something to relax by the pool with on holiday, maybe try something a bit lighter than McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel.

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Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk

Seen the movie? Well, why not read the book?

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Fight Club is the 1996 novel by Chuck Palahniuk. The novel focuses upon an unnamed protagonist who sets up a ‘secret’ club allowing men to fight one another. You’ve surely heard the number one rule about fight club in your lifetime, ‘The first rule about fight club is you don’t talk about fight club’, well this is the origins of that reference. And, I apologise in advance for breaking this crucial rule.

I first read this book as part of my university course, on a module that explored the representations of masculinity in fiction. So, I’m finding it slightly hard to look at this novel without the discussions we had at university niggling away at me. For me, Palahniuk’s Fight Club is all that masculinity is. It demonstrates that archetypal need to prove ones masculinity continuously. I mean it is a novel about the creation of a fight club, a fight club that allows men to escape their everyday and act in violent ways, ways that society views as masculine. So, understandably it is painfully hard not to talk about this novel without referencing the portrayal of the masculine figure.

I felt that Palahniuk’s novel was too much of a blanket statement. By this I mean that the novel only portrayed males as being this architype of masculinity. I don’t recall hearing of a male character that knew about the club turn their nose up to it. Instead we were given male after male who felt they needed to be involved, and ultimately prove how masculine they were. Maybe this was the point though, that within every male there is that man who is struggling with their identity and struggling to accept their masculinity. Either way I felt it would have been more interesting to include somebody who did not bow down to these pressures, somebody who could see the club for what it was; a performance. Therefore, for me, although this novel attempts to portray masculinity it does not do a rounded job, as in reality not all men are like this.

That being said though, I did enjoy the way that Palahniuk wrote this novel. It is only a short novel of around 210 pages, yet he included such a brilliant plot twist that books of twice the length are unable to achieve. We know throughout the novel that the unnamed protagonist is an insomniac and that he has a friend Tyler who he talks about a lot. In fact, it was Tyler who the protagonist sets up the fight club with. Yet, what I was not expecting was the shocking twist of events towards the end of the novel. Which, if you read Fight Club yourself, you will find flips the plot and puts into question the events of the entire novel.

I think it’s safe to say that everybody knows of the movie adaptation of Fight Club. I, myself, have not actually seen it – and no I don’t live under a rock. So, I cannot compare the novel with the film in anyway. Though, after reading Palahniuk’s novel I will definitely be adding Fight Club to my list of ‘movies to watch’, as I am very intrigued as to how this novel has been adapted for the screen.

Palahniuk’s novel has a lot of violence and aggressive imagery in it, so if that is something that you don’t like reading, then obviously this book is not for you. However, I would recommend this book if you are interested in stereotypical masculine behaviours. Though, like I previous said, don’t be expecting a rounded evenly weighted argument of masculinity, as you will not get it.

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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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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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