What I Read in June

The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan

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When their mother dies, rather than face foster care, her children bury her in a cement tomb. The two eldest, Julie and Jack, act out a sordid game of house as the magnitude of their actions slowly eat them alive.

The Cement Garden is moderate on the incest from the get go and honestly, I was sickened. It’s not particularly shocking, I’ve read far worse, but McEwan writes it in such a nonchalant, nothing to see here, way that it made my skin crawl. The actual plot of burying the dead mother plays second fiddle to the day-to-day life of Jack, the narrator. Jack is a confused teenager, struggling to come to terms with growing up, his budding sexuality, combined with the temptations of his elder sister Julie as well as the complications of what they have done to the body of their mother. The resolution seemed forced and done to deliberately to shock the reader, when in actuality it added little to the story. I think that a more gentle approach would have been far more effective.

Rating: 3/5

Beastly by Alex Flinn

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A modernisation of Beauty and the Beast, Beastly tells the story of a shallow teenager who is transformed into an animal-human hybrid as punishment for cruelty towards those he deems ugly. His curse will be broken if he can find true loves’ kiss within the next two years.

I saw the film recently (which is not much like the book at all) and I wasn’t exactly impressed, so I’m not sure what possessed me to the read this. It’s a Y/A book, but parts of it seemed like it was written for little children, whilst others have quite an adult feel, as if Flinn couldn’t quite get his genres in order. Flinn oversimplified some aspects and tried to modernise a classic in a way that was simply ridiculous. A chat room for people turned into other animals by witches? Come on. With its Stockholm Syndrome overtones and melodramatic tendencies, Beastly quickly became downright daft and boring.

Rating: 1/5

Apt Pupil by Stephen King

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Todd Bowden is an apt pupil. Good grades, good family, a paper route. But he is about to meet a different kind of teacher: Mr. Dussander. Todd knows all about Dussander’s dark past. The torture. The death. The decades-old manhunt Dussander has escaped to this day. Yet Todd doesn’t want to turn him in. Todd wants to know more. Much more. He is about to learn the real meaning of power—and the seductive lure of evil. – Goodreads

It’s been a hot minute since I read anything by the Master of Horror that is Stephen King, and it was about 1/3 of the way through this book that I remembered why I lost interest in his work in the first place. Even though it’s a short story, at only 179 pages, Apt Pupil took forever to get through.

The whole point of the book is escalation and I get that it has to be a slow transition, but Apt Pupil feels drawn out. The horror in this book is all man-made, and it probably was a shocking piece of literature back when it was written, but now it seems a bit flat. I’m not sure this is because today’s media is saturated with violence that no longer fazes us, or it’s just not my type of book any longer. In saying that, I enjoyed the conclusion. It was much more on the nose and satisfying than I had been expecting.

Rating: 3/5

The Girl Who Never Came Back by Amy Cross

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Twenty years ago, eight-year-old Charlotte Abernathy vanished while playing near her family’s house. Despite a frantic search, no trace of her was found until a year later, when the little girl turned up on the doorstep with no memory of where she’d been.
Today, Charlotte has put her mysterious ordeal behind her, even though she’s never learned where she was during that missing year. However, when her eight-year-old niece vanishes in similar circumstances, a fully grown Charlotte is forced to make a fresh attempt to uncover the truth – Goodreads

The Girl Who Never Came Back started out as an interesting parallel story of two missing children and ending on a frankly unbelievable note. I mean that it was literally unbelievable. I read the climax with a look of utmost irritation on my chops, thinking “Are you kidding me? This is what I waited 200 pages for?”. If just ONE of these storylines had been introduced, I could have got behind it but to have two was unnecessary.

However, there were a lot of good points. I love Amy Cross’ writing style; it’s down-home, the characters are well-rounded and interesting (I particularly liked the sarcastic Charlotte) and it had distinct notes of ye olde gothic horror. I couldn’t get behind the occasional American lilt as it’s meant to be based in the British countryside and no one in Britain says “ass” instead of “arse”. Let me put that out there. But otherwise, I have no complaints about the plot structure or story arcs at all. Except the subtle little digs that women can only be truly happy if they have children.

Rating: 3.5/5

Hate List by Jennifer Brown

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Five months ago, Valerie Leftman’s boyfriend, Nick, opened fire on their school cafeteria. Shot trying to stop him, Valerie inadvertently saved the life of a classmate, but was implicated in the shootings because of the list she helped create. A list of people and things she and Nick hated. The list he used to pick his targets. Now, after a summer of seclusion, Val is forced to confront her guilt as she returns to school to complete her senior year. Haunted by the memory of the boyfriend she still loves and navigating rocky relationships with her family, former friends and the girl whose life she saved, Val must come to grips with the tragedy that took place and her role in it, in order to make amends and move on with her life – Goodreads

I started this book on my lunch hour in work and really struggled to put it down again. Hate List is poignant and compassionately written. In a world where school shootings have so quickly become the norm, it can be hard to make sense of the violence and why it occurs in the first place.

Hate List doesn’t try to wrap things up in a neat bow, it leaves you with as many questions as when you began. In that sense, its true to real life. The only person that knows why it is happening is the one with the gun. Its emphasis is not on the victims, but the ones left behind. The characters are all deeply flawed, particularly Val’s parents and some of her teachers, and this is where the real stories lie. The realism is what kept me gripped for the entirety of the novel. However, the ending was moderately disappointing. It wasn’t exactly out of character for the protagonist, so it can be forgiven. Otherwise, I loved this book.

Rating: 4.5/5

Glitches (The Lunar Chronicles #0.5) by Marissa Meyer

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Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. In Glitches, a short prequel story to Cinder, we see the results of that illness play out, and the emotional toll that takes on Cinder. Something that may, or may not, be a glitch… – Goodreads

I was ramping up to read The Lunar Chronicles and wanted a taster of Meyer’s writing. Glitches did not disappoint. You really get a feel for Cinder, despite it only being 30 pages long. I would have liked it to have been a bit longer as it was very brief, but its only a prelude. It was kind of sad, I felt bad for the main character and I was so excited to start the first novel of the series.

Rating: 3/5

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles #1) by Marissa Meyer

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Sixteen-year-old Cinder is considered a technological mistake by most of society and a burden by her stepmother. Being cyborg does have its benefits, though: Cinder’s brain interference has given her an uncanny ability to fix things, making her the best mechanic in New Beijing. This reputation brings Prince Kai himself to her weekly market booth, needing her to repair a broken android before the annual ball. He jokingly calls it “a matter of national security,” but Cinder suspects it’s more serious than he’s letting on.
Cinder’s intentions are derailed when her younger stepsister is infected with the fatal plague that’s been devastating Earth for a decade. Blaming Cinder, her stepmother volunteers her body for plague research, an “honor” that no one has survived.
But it doesn’t take long for the scientists to discover something unusual about their new guinea pig. Something others would kill for – Goodreads

I put off reading Cinder for about a year because I didn’t want to be disappointed. There were so many good reviews, but I somehow managed to convince myself that this book was going to be terrible. I was very wrong.

Compared to many other novels from the dystopian y/a genre, Cinder is a damn masterpiece. However, it’s obviously written for teenagers. But that isn’t something that should put you off. Our protagonist, Cinder, is a girl aged beyond her years by verbal abuse coming from every direction in her life. She’s utterly likeable and unlike most y/a female characters, not at all whiny. Adri, her step-mother is less Disney villain and more real-life evil; which is even more dangerous as you actually understand and almost accept the reasons for her actions. Although I wanted to put her on a pedestal and label her profligate, I couldn’t. Each character is flawlessly written and I was incredibly impressed with Meyer’s world building around them. Some novels throw in random words to really enforce the future teen culture, which just serves as an annoyance (I’m looking at you, Scott Westerfeld), and thankfully, Meyers doesn’t force this upon us. The writing is simple and incredibly effective. The plot flows perfectly and ends on a cliffhanger, meaning that I now have to get hold of the rest of the books immediately.

The only thing I have to complain about is lack the background on the Lunar people. There is some information on the history but not enough to explain, well, anything. I’m assuming that book 2 goes into more detail.

Rating: 4.5/5

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7 responses to “What I Read in June

  1. Pingback: Book recommendation; Cinder « Lushtivity·

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