Books that surprise you and keep you guessing.

I know I know the title is a bit out there but honestly I couldn’t think what else to call it. You know what I mean, right? You’re reading a book and you are just sat there thinking to yourself WTF. Yes, well these are these types of books.

Heartbreaker

This book was sent to me in the cutest package with lots and lots of great 80’s goodies, so of course, I was fascinated to read it.

I have to say for me that the first 100 pages were quite tough, and I did at one point put it down. But I picked it back up and boy, am I glad I did! I finished it a few days ago and I’m still thinking about it.

The book is about a mother who just walks out of her home one night and we get to find out what happened through three narratives; the daughter, the dog, and a boy.

I think I had so much trouble with it in the beginning because I didn’t know what was happening and the books jumps around from past to present with no chapters, so chronologically it wasn’t making sense and it was jumbling my mind. Also, it is set in a very remote part of the US where they all talk a bit weird and have strange nicknames for each other; it seemed like Hicksville to me and took me ages to get used to. It just wasn’t a world I could imagine and the outlook of the people was infuriating.

However, when I got over myself and just went with it rather than trying to figure out, this book was an absolute gem.

It was disturbing, but beautiful and uplifting at the same time; hard to describe other than saying it was an experience that I found both thoroughly enjoyable and unsettling. Heartbreaking and also heartwarming, confusing, and totally understandable, it was a real wild ride and the twists and turns were wonderful placed; one I suspected, one I didn’t. I just adored the way it all came together in the end to make perfect sense and my immediate thought was that I needed to read it again instantly to pick up clues that I may have missed the first time, and I am somebody who never reads a book twice!

I have never read a book like this, but I wanted to read more. I loved the feeling of confusion and not knowing; it was like watching a thriller film, which is a feeling I love.

Suicide Club

When I first saw the title I was apprehensive to say the least, but the story sounded good and I hadn’t read any speculative fiction/dystopia for a long time, so I thought I would give it a try. From the very off I was drawn into the story and the world the author builds. It was a world that felt very real and you could really believe it happening. It’s a book that really makes you think about what you would be willing to do to stay young and live forever and it is a mix of terrifying and intriguing.

I was hooked on the plot, wanting to see where it went and while reading the first half I really thought that a rebellion was afoot, only to have the novel take an unexpected turn, which I personally loved.

I never really warmed to any of the characters in this book but I’m not sure you are really meant to and this could have been purposeful. I also found that I wanted to know more about The Suicide Club and I wanted a little more back story. I was left feeling that the book could have gone deeper.

However, all in all, I loved it; it was innovative, different, well-written, thought-provoking, and surprising. All things I love in a novel.

girl holding book. photoshopped water is pouring from phont landing in a glass

Three Hours 

Three Hours essentially starts off as a believed school shooting and escalates from there. An interesting thing about this one though is that it is set in the U.K. It’s not sensationalized, has lots of twists and turns and is very English. While you are reading it you can imagine the situation happening this way.
The book got a little slow towards the middle but then sped up. I read it easily within a few days and I am not a quick reader.
I can’t give too much away about what the story other than to say it touches on racism, privilege and mistreatment.
Nothing is really as it seems in this book.

Vox

What would you do if you were limited to 100 words a day? What would you if you weren’t allowed to work, read, or use any form of communication such as sign language?

In Vox, this is the reality for women.

This review contains spoilers.

Set in a not too distant future, the women of America are limited to saying 100 words a day, or else a band on their wrist will give them an electric shock. There are cameras everywhere to make sure they are not communicating any other way. Mothers are not even allowed to blow a kiss to their daughter as she says goodbye to her on her way to school.

I was really, really intrigued by the plot of this book. I have been loving feminist fiction lately and I really couldn’t wait for this book to arrive! I really did end up liking this book, but I didn’t LOVE it in the way that I wanted to.

The book follows Jean, a married woman (who is actually also having an affair) with three children; two boys and a little girl who doesn’t really remember a life before her 100-word limit. I really liked the dynamic of this family and I think the characters were all written really well. The eldest son supports the ‘Pure Movement’ (having the 100 word limit on women and reverting them to pre-1950s lifestyle) and it was really interesting to see Jean battle with having to love her son but also kind of hating him at the same time. She completely dotes on her young daughter, for obvious reasons and I really understood the relationship between them.

While I thought the premise was really strong, I thought the execution of it could’ve been stronger. I think part of the problem was that this book wasn’t really what I expecting. I was expecting something Handmaid’s Tale-esque and by that I mean we are just following the everyday lives that women now have. But it turned into something completely different. It turned into Jean working for the government, eventually overthrowing it, and then leaving the country. For me, this didn’t seem right for this book and it wasn’t the sort of book that I wanted it to be, but hey, it was enjoyable to read.

The second problem that I had was that I didn’t really connect with Jean at all. I felt for her, I really felt for her. She had just had her power of speech taken away from her, she is having to watch her daughter grow up in this toxic world and she was stuck in a marriage that she was actually really unhappy in. But for whatever reason, I couldn’t find anything relatable about her. She spoke about her Italian lover a heck of a lot and I didn’t find anything that interesting about him either for her to be obsessed with him so much (he was so forgettable that I actually can’t remember his name!)

My third problem is probably a bit of a controversial one. I think that Jean should’ve had her 100-word limit band on her for much, much longer. I know, I know I am a terrible person but hear me out. These bands were horrible things, one woman even committed suicide by repeated electrocution with one of these things! BUT, I didn’t see it impact Jean personally as much as I wanted to. For the majority of the novel, neither Jean nor her daughter have the bands on them and to me, this diminishes the whole premise of the book. For the most part, Jean was able to speak as freely as she wanted and I often forgot that she actually lives in a world where women are not meant to be speaking more than 100 words. In my opinion, the book would’ve been a lot stronger if Jean had to work for the government with the band still on her and it would’ve become so much more impactful. I totally get that having the band taken off was what Jean’s conditions were to working for the government, but it didn’t seem all that believable to me that they would agree to these terms despite what is at stake. I’m sure this ruthless government could’ve found more ways to persuade Jean into working for them. For me, that would’ve been more powerful.

I know that this review might seem a little negative and complain-y but it really isn’t. It’s the type of book that everyone will have different opinions on because it is such an interesting premise. The things I didn’t really like about the book aren’t negative at all, they show that the book got me really thinking. I really was completely submerged into this world that seemed so real because it was so, so current. The world-building was absolutely incredible, no stones were left unturned and I believed with every part of me this world could exist.

Despite my own opinions, I think that this is a book that everyone should read, not just women. It is often incredibly hard to read and it will really set your emotions on a roller-coaster, but feminist books and reading about women have to go through, real or not real, is incredibly important.

girl with the word 'vox' in front of her mouth

What Red Was

**TRIGGER WARNING*** This book, and therefore this review, talk about sexual assault.

It’s one of those books that feels brave, raw and so needed.

When the arc of this book arrived on my doorstep I devoured it almost immediately. It’s one of those books that feels brave, raw and so needed. Yes, it is about a serious sexual assault, but I think it’s about more than that. It’s about how we keep secrets, how we cover for others, how we are all connected, and how we often don’t ask enough questions of those around us. It’s a book about humans and experiences. This book doesn’t try to cover anything up; the rape scene isn’t necessarily brutal, its more matter of fact, not overplayed. It’s probably one of the most ‘normal’ books I have read on the subject. And that I think is what makes it so effective; it’s a normal girl, a normal situation and something that you can, unfortunately, imagine happening. It feels like you are witnessing an important story.

The aftermath is as heart-rendering and emotional as you would expect but with a quiet, understated, normalness about it. It just feels so real and you don’t feel detached from the situation, which I think makes it an important book. You are left feeling shell-shocked, feeling a bit bruised but with, I believe, a much deeper understanding of what some girls go through.

The relationship between the two main characters is complicated, yet brilliant; you feel everything and often find yourself screaming internally at them to communicate more. You are left with the overriding feeling that if only they had communicated more, things may have been different.

There was a few places where I thought the story was a little slow and muddled and a few characters that I felt were unnecessary, but overall I thought it was a great read that really left you thinking about it afterward.

Please note though, as I said it’s brutal in its rawness and very realistic emotionally, so I think it won’t be the perfect read for everyone. However, for those of us who feel able to witness someone else’s story, it’s an important one to read.

My Dark Vanessa

**TRIGGER WARNING*** This book, and therefore this review, talk about child abuse. This review was written by my mum Sarah Newton. 

So apart from the fact that the cover is amazing the idea that a book could be written about child abuse at first perplexed me, so I had to dig in and see what it was all about.

As a start I want to say that this book is written so well, it doesn’t try to be anything other than an account, a story told from Vanessa’s perspective. At its essence, it is her telling the story of her first love, an obsession that destroyed her, dark yet somehow beautiful. You find yourself getting pulled along with it and then you have to stop and realise that she is a 15-year-old schoolgirl and he is a much older teacher. And I think this is what makes this book so good; we are reading the relationship as she saw it, which changes and shifts as she gets older and with what she goes through. It’s messed up, uncomfortable and yet you still find yourself fascinated. drawn in and sometimes unable as she is to see the abuse which, let me tell you, messes with your head. at times, I even found myself feeling for the abuser and somehow seeing what he was saying as romantic.

I don’t know how someone can write a story of child abuse and yet have you understanding it somehow; it is honestly a masterpiece.

As an ex-police officer who dealt with many child abuse cases similar to this, a 15-year-old girl with an older man, I could see so much of Vanessa in the girls I had spoken to who went through similar; the belief it was somehow their fault, the belief that it was love and the belief that they are in a normal relationship and the rest of us just don’t understand or can’t see it.

I think that it’s all too easy sometimes for outsiders to see abuse just abuse and forget that for the girl it felt like something else. It’s far too easy from the outside to judge why someone doesn’t speak up and report, yet often we fail to see how nuanced these situations can be, how carefully we often need to tread and however many times you tell a girl that she was abused, she will only believe you when she believes you. As heartbreaking and bizarre as this is, it’s the uncomfortable truth. These girls are groomed so well that they believe, while they know it’s wrong for them, that it’s right. My Dark Vanessa shows you that. 

I think that everyone reading this book will have a different reaction, will see it differently and will have their own personal experience with it and I don’t know many books that do that.

We follow Vanessa from the early days to her later adulthood, oscillating between the past and present with ease, seeing what happened then and the impact it is still having on her and her own inability to believe what happened was wrong. There were tears for me in the end as we finally see a spark of closure for Vanessa and a glimmer of what might come but it’s fleeting, just mentioned and nothing that leaves you celebrating.

I didn’t think I’d love this book as much as I did, I wasn’t sure it would tell the whole story, but boy it really does; you feel every inch of it. It messes with your mind, your way of viewing your world and your emotions in a way that is hard to make sense of .

Honestly if you can handle these sorts of books, please give this a read. It really is the testimony of a victim in a way we so rarely see.

I absolutely loved this book and It’s real and rawness.

Girls holding the book My Dark Vanessa

The Power

I held off from reading this book for quite a while because I’d heard quite mixed reviews about it. But I’m currently loving feminist fiction so I decided to give The Power a shot.

In simple terms, The Power is about a future where women have the power to electrocute people and subsequently seize control of society. There are new religions, murderous gangs and the rights of men are gradually slipping away in certain countries. There’s a lot going on, but none of it is unbelievable.

I will start off by saying that the writing style can be quite hard to get used to. I don’t know why, but there was something about the way that it was written that meant I really struggled through the first 150 pages of the book. But once I got used to the author’s way of writing I was completely submerged in the story and invested in the characters. While I found all of the different narratives interesting, I found myself particularly liking Roxy’s and Tunde’s segments of the book. All of the characters have some particularly horrific things happen to them, but scenes involving these two characters were pretty unnerving. Specifically, the scene in which Roxy gets her ‘skein’ (the thing that holds her power) removed and planted into her brother was surprisingly extremely unnerving and really difficult to read. Despite Roxy’s horrible life, her narrative is really fun to read with her strong London dialect and provides a bit of a break from all of the tragedy around this novel.

So yes, this book is hard to read because of all of the events that take place in it. It’s actually rather haunting and harrowing and is a book that I’m going to be thinking about for quite some time. But isn’t that the point of books? To be thought-provoking?

While trying to put my thoughts into words for this novel I took to the internet to look at some other reviews on it. Unsurprisingly, many men were calling out this book saying “if this were the other way around and men were electrocuting women, there would be an uproar” and well, of course, there would. Living in a society where one of the sexes is oppressed through physical and sexual violence is an awful thought but, OH WAIT, it happens. The Power merely holds a mirror up to society and the fact that so many men have missed the point of this book proves that this is why books like The Power are needed.