Reviews

Plague Dogs review by Damilare, a student of British International School, Lagos, Nigeria

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A Review of “Plague Dogs” by Richard Adams

I don’t really know what I was expecting from a Richard Adams book. Adams’s reputation for gory gut wrenches featuring four legged protagonists is inescapable. In an alternate universe, this might even be a review of Adams’s similar story, Watership Down. There are clear parallels between the two novels: both feature animal protagonists; both are very dark; and one of the main characters from Plague Dogs, Snitter, shares similar brain damage symptoms to the character, Fiver, from Watership Down.

A novel being narrated from the point of view of an animal is nothing new; however, I initially found it jarring to read a novel told from the point of view of two dogs.  Suffice to say, I got over this hang-up sooner than expected and, in fact, grew to like it. There’s a line towards the beginning of the novel in which one of the two canine protagonists talks about a “Whitecoat making the gesture to create light”. Obviously, this is a person in a white lab coat using their hand to turn on a light switch, but from a dog’s point of view, magic is being performed. Adams’s treatment of moments such as this is touching without being cliched or cutesy. Crucially, it provided the reassurance I had hoped for that my time would be well spent and no doubt about it, he’s an expert storyteller who writes with skill and style, and his chosen point of view – the two dogs –  appeared pretty quickly for what it is: a master stroke.

I’m not a particularly sentimental person but even I grew to care about and root for the book’s canine heroes, Rowf & Snitter. These are two dogs used for – frankly – inhumane experiments, and  who make a miraculous escape in an attempt to  hide from those who would seek to return them to captivity. Along the way they are helped by Tod, a fox with a thick Scottish accent (how cool is that!) and they encounter a naturalist, Sir Peter Markham Scott, who helps the justifiably jaded Rowf to understand that not all humans are bad.

But this is no mushy sentimental  book – by any stretch of the imagination. Those familiar with Adams’s work will understand that it is bleak and painful and tragic:  an emotional  runaway train ride. Brace yourself for an ending which is nothing short of shocking.  But that’s a good thing because it  reveals Adams’s supreme skill in reaching us to the point that we truly care  about these characters. Although I shed  no tears,  I have spoken to people who have said that they were physically unable to read the ending, and others who did  said that they could never read the book again.

Part of the reason everything hits so hard in Plague Dogs is because the world  we are invited to inhabit feels so real. Not an easy feat when the main characters are talking dogs. Adams’s writing style is graceful yet packs a mighty punch; it’s dark but somehow dazzles.

If I can’t give Plague Dogs a resounding ovation, it is simply because it’s not the genre of book I normally go for. That said, I know a good book when I read one.

Go buy it.

 

Mindwalker review by Damilare, a student of British International School, Lagos, Nigeria

A three-word summary of Mindwalker: “1984 for Millenials.” From quite literally the first line of chapter 2,  I  deciphered the nature of this book and the world it depicts. Orwellian worlds are easy to make but difficult to pull off, and I found myself pleasantly surprised that Mindwalker does indeed pull it off. At times the parallels to 1984 are like mirror images, if a bit simplified for a younger audience.

Here are some of the similarities I observed:

  • The Blackcoats in Mindwalker fill the same role as the Brotherhood in 1984. These are Rebels who fight against the totalitarian state. They are painted as terrorists and monsters by the government and the media.
  • IFEN, the organization that trains the Mindwalkers and puts them to work fills the same role as the Ministry of Truth. Revising history in order to keep the people placated and unaware of what’s really going on.
  • Just like in 1984, those who criticize the government are deemed mentally ill and are mentally conditioned.
  • Just like in 1984 there is an organization at play in the world that maintains control of the past. While in 1984 it was through the destruction and alteration of records held in libraries, in Mindwalker it is through the destruction and alteration of people’s very memories!

Aside from those there are a few things about this world I would like to briefly talk about:

  • Somnazol- A little pink pill, which is advertised to everyone, including minors in schools. A little pink pill that almost anyone can get, that kills you a few minutes after you ingest it. What really interests me about Somnazol is the parallels it seems to have with abortion, but that might just be me.
  • New Vitro- As part of the Government’s plan to create the perfect, ultra mentally healthy master race. Yes, that is this book’s “thing”. Those considered “mentally healthy” (Those who don’t question authority), are pressured to clone themselves instead of having children the traditional way.

Returning to the Mindwalkers. These are individuals, primarily teenagers, who specialize in the deletion of traumatic memories. Understandably there is some contention in this world about the practical and ethical nature of the Mindwalkers and what they do.

The main character, Lain Fisher is a 17 year old girl who aspires to be a Mindwalker, and is training to become one. She aspires so much that the thought of losing her job is enough to drive her to hysteria and cause her to lash out. Understandably: without any parents or friends, her “purpose” is all she has. That and a lot of stuffed animals.

Lain is an interesting character if a bit un-original, seeming to fill the Cookie Cutter archetype of “troubled hero”. But it’s a shape she fills well and she never becomes annoying or tedious. The other two main characters are as follows:

  • Steven Bent: A troubled boy who attends the same school as Lain. He is a Type Four on the mental illness scale of 1-5. As such he is barred from most job opportunities and is constantly looked down upon and mistreated by those around him. The reason for his condition is that as a young boy he was kidnapped and tortured for months. Steven is a good character, I found him funny and relatable and there were times when his interactions with Lain tugged at my heart strings.
  • Swan: Director of IFEN and Lain’s father figure after her biological father died, as well as the book’s main antagonist. I like the fact that he never succumbed to the stereotypical villain role, all the things he does are motivated by a genuine desire to help people, and he almost never lets his temper make him irrational. However I profoundly agree with Lain that what he does in the name of the greater good, is heinous.

There are a few supporting characters such as Ian, one of Lain’s fellow Mindwalkers; Greta, her housekeeper, and Chloe, her holographic cat. They all play their parts well. Ian and Lain have a particularly poignant and emotional interaction towards the end of the book that shows you just how damaging Mindwalking is. Ian had to experience the memories of multiple sexual assault victims before he could erase them. This would break anyone.

In final summary, Mindwalker is a very polished title, well worth the asking price; one which I hope will grow into an expanded series. I am dying to know what happened before the story; what really happened in the war against the Blackcoats. What else have the people been made to forget?

 

Damilare is a student of British International School, Lagos, Nigeria

 

©Damilare Williams-Shires 2015

Carina Olsen’s Love for Illuminae

My name is Carina and I blog at Carina’s Books. I’m twenty two years old, and I live in Norway. I don’t have any bookstores to buy from, so I buy all my books online. I own a lot. I just cannot stop buying pretty books. I read mostly YA, but I also adore some MG books. My favorite genre to read is Fantasy, and I cherish those books. I have so many favorite books, including everything by Jay Kristoff. All-time favorite book is Graceling and Fire by Kristin Cashore; those books are just the best. I also very much adore the His Dark Materials trilogy. I love reading the very most. And I have met so many amazing people doing so.

 

Carina's ARC collection
Carina’s ARC collection

 

I knew I had to read Illuminae the moment I heard about it, which was many months ago. And then the authors shared about different ARCs coming out. I emailed the US publisher at once, and was told I could get a copy in a few months, which made me sad, but then in May I got a surprise package in the mail: the special paperback US ARC edition of Illuminae. It was the sweetest thing anyone have done for me; and I cannot thank Becky enough for it. I read it right away. And loved it so much.

And then there was news about another ARC copy; a special US hardcover edition. I had to own it. I just had to. I was lucky enough that my friend Andye in the US was able to get an extra copy for me at BEA. I got it in June and it was the most gorgeous thing. The same week I was sent the first US paperback edition from the publisher, and so I have two copies of it. Aisha is the very best. They are stunning. A few weeks after that I learned about the UK ARC version. And I knew I had to have it, no matter what. I emailed the publisher and asked if there was any chance they could send one to me in Norway, and Cailin was so kind to do so. It arrived in August, and it is so gorgeous. I love it lots.

And so my collection ended up being four ARCs so far. In September I remembered the precious ARC box that I had seen Jay getting. And I wanted it. Badly. And so I emailed Aisha to beg for it, to see if she might send it to me. And she did. It was the kindest because this box is gorgeous. And so I had five ARCs. Two US paperbacks. Two US hardcovers. One UK paperback. I’m missing the AUS ARC version, and that breaks my heart. But it isn’t possible to get it, since they printed so few.

I adored Illuminae so much. And I love my collection to pieces. My favorite of all the ARCs is the US hardcover edition, which is just all kinds of precious. But I love them all the same, I think. Because they are all stunning. I also cannot wait to add finished copies to my collection. I have pre-ordered three hardcovers, one of which will be signed. Also one audiobook, one UK paperback and one AUS paperback. I cannot wait to see them all, and add them to my collection 🙂

 

Read Carina’s review of Illuminae on her blog

Damilare, a student at the British International School in Lagos, reviews “Conversion” by Katherine Howe

Conversion doesn’t pull many punches. Within the first 40 pages the action’s already off to a great start. With the first victim of the mysterious illness which goes on to plague St. Joan’s, a school so preppy it hurts, falling ill. She is quickly joined by 2 others and this illness serves as the major plot line within the narrative, as well as the driving force behind several smaller ones.

Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, serves as a major plot device within the story. The flashbacks that feature prominently in the story utilize the same characters. The events and characters within the Crucible flashbacks parallel the ones currently happening, very well.

I cannot tell a lie and say this book is perfect. The frequent flashbacks do a great job of adding another layer to the story but less patient and less meticulous readers may find it hard to keep up with the simultaneously occurring plotlines. I had to turn back every now and again to re-read a flashback chapter to make sure I wasn’t missing anything.

Aside from that the book is an eternally suspenseful read from start to finish with its cards never more than an inch from its chest. As the book places each one down on the table, you shall grow more and more impatient to discover the true nature of what is going on in the town of Danvers, Massachusetts.

The main character Colleen Rowley is by today’s standards a fairly average teenage girl. Average in everything except her GPA. Coleen is gunning for valedictorian and is taking every opportunity she can to push herself to earn those vital points. She is so determined she even wishes ill upon her friends and hopes they fail in order to guarantee her success, and a place in Harvard University. This makes her hard to relate to and easy to dislike at times but on the whole it is obvious she means well and is simply struggling under the immense pressure and reputation of her school.

Colleen’s group of friends all have just enough substance to be interesting, but save for Emma, who is the focal point of one of the side plots, and a major player in the story’s ending, they lack depth. Aside from Colleen, the two most fleshed out and interesting characters are: Spence, Colleen’s new boyfriend, and Jennifer Crawford, a pink haired Goth girl who smokes. Both are well developed and well used standout characters.

The biggest question on everyone’s mind, fictional or not, is what exactly is causing the illness? Multiple explanations are arrived at and discarded one by one within the story. In between reading sessions I theorized as to the nature of an illness that manifests completely differently in each victim. Given the…. ‘history’ of the town and the heavy influences of The Crucible, most readers will come to the same warts and flying broom conclusion. The book will never allow you to rest on your laurels though and the feeling of having my theory challenged invigorated me to keep reading to discover the truth.

The ending will knock you for a loop and have you pacing up and down shouting “What?!” at whoever and whatever will listen to you. After I took a seat and grabbed some hot cocoa, I was able to think about what I’d read and came to a very interesting conclusion.

I can’t guarantee what another reader’s conclusion will be, but I can guarantee this: you’ll have a fun time getting there.

© Damilare Williams-Shires

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