Red Rising – Pierce Brown

Red RisingThe story:
Set in the distant future, where the human race is divided by a rigid class system of colours, colonies of Red miners toil under the surface of Mars, harvesting natural elements that will terraform its surface and make it an inhabitable environment in the future. Sixteen year old Darrow is one of these Reds, born underground and raised to risk his life on a daily basis. Food is scarce and life expectancy is short. The rules are enforced by a strict hierarchical class system that’s preceded over by the Gold’s – supposedly superior to all other colours both physically and mentally. When Darrow discovers that his life is built on a lie, he’s given a dangerous mission to integrate himself into the very heart of Gold society.

My thoughts:
Darrow is sent to the Institute, where young Gold’s play deadly games to win power. It’s a trial by fire that is designed to push them to the limits and teach them how to wage war and become the leaders of tomorrow. Weakness isn’t tolerated and not everyone will make it through. Parallels could be drawn to the Hunger Games, but it’s a very different type of competition. The aim here is for power and ultimate victory – achieved through intellect and strategy and the ability to command their peers.

Darrow is a great character. He’s definitely not perfect – he’s reckless, angry and overly bold. He’s smart but he also shows that he can be ruthless and brutal. This means that he’s not always a particularly likeable character, but you still end up rooting for him all the same. Throughout the book he goes through some intense challenges, questioning his own identity, who to trust and what actions can be justified for the greater good.

There are inevitably a lot of the generic running themes that seem to pop up in every dystopian YA – a challenging and brutal landscape, segregated society and a deadly competition, as well as an angry and repressed protagonist rising up against the ruling classes. That said, I think the author does enough to make Red Rising stand apart from the masses.

There are plenty of action scenes and the tension remains ramped up all the way through. There are also ongoing political undercurrents as Darrow struggles to keep his ultimate goal of infiltrating the highest level of society within his grasp. Immediately after finishing this book I downloaded and binge-read the next two in the series – and as much as I liked this book, I think they get even better as they goes on.

Top 5: A literary tour of Amsterdam

In the spirit of blogging more regularly, I’m going to try and start a new regular top five feature. To start off, I’m looking at the wonderful city of Amsterdam. Recently we went for a weekend break in the city and kept coming across interesting bookish-related things to see and do without even trying. Here are my top five:

  1. Book boxDe Pijp book exchange boxes

We were wandering through the De Pijp neighbourhood looking for somewhere to eat and came across three or four of these book exchange boxes. They’re spread around and you can borrow the books or leave one of your own for others to enjoy. They’re mainly in Dutch but I loved the spirit of sharing and community.

  1. Rijksmuseum Research Library

The library in the Rijksmuseum is one of the best I’ve seen. The walls are lined with old books and there’s a beautiful spiral staircase leading up the levels, while large ornate windows flood the room with light. If it wasn’t for the people studying and the tourists peeking through the doors, it would feel like you’d stepped back in time.

  1. Petronella Brandt’s dolls houseFullSizeRender

I read The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton a few months ago, and although I knew it was based on events that took place in real life, I was still excited to come across the original dolls house of Petronella Brandt in the Rijksmuseum. I didn’t expect it to be as large or as detailed as it was in real life. It was fascinating. I couldn’t take any pictures unfortunately as it there were too many people milling around trying to get a look!

  1. The Book Exchange second hand bookstore

If you want to pick up something to read in English in Amsterdam, I recommend you go to the Book Exchange. It’s centrally located (close to Dam Square) and really easy to get to if you’re already out and about exploring. There are thousands of second hand English books here from every conceivable genre, stacked floor to ceiling in a sprawling collection of rooms.

  1. Books set in AmsterdamIMG_7515

I’ve already mentioned Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist, which centres on the lives of Petronella and Johannes Brandt in 17th century Amsterdam. If you want to read more books set in the city, I’d recommend The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Tracey Chevalier, set in the household of famous Dutch painter Vermeer. There’s also The Dinner by Herman Koch, which features two couples who will go to any lengths to protect their children.

Have you been to Amsterdam or are you planning a trip soon? Is there anything else that you’d add to this list?

I’ve also attempted to do literary round-ups of London and New York in the past – you can view them here and here.

Let the Dead Speak – Jane Casey

Let the dead speakThe story:
When eighteen year old Chloe Emery returns to her house to find it covered in blood and her mother missing, and DS Maeve Kerrigan and the murder investigation squad are called to investigate. While investigating the various shady neighbours living on the street, all of whom seem to be hiding something, they uncover a complicated web of lies, deceit and deeply buried secrets.

My thoughts:
If you’ve read the previous books in the series, you’ll already be familiar with the main players. As always, the investigation, processes and team dynamics were totally believable. Maeve’s own relationship with Derwent and the rest of the team has also evolved from the earlier books in the series. She’s now a Detective Sergeant and an integral member of the team with a junior to manage. Continue reading

Hold Back the Stars – Katie Khan

hold-back-the-starsThe story:
Carys and Max are floating through space with only 90 minutes of air left in their tanks and no conceivable means of getting back to their ship. As the clock ticks down, the young couple grow try everything they can to make it back to safety, while in flashbacks we learn about the history of their relationship, how they ended up stranded in space and the earth they left behind and how they

My thoughts:
I really enjoyed this book. We really got to know Carys and Max as characters. They’re in an impossible situation and their reactions seem incredibly real and incredibly human. They swing between from optimistic, practical bursts of activity to hopeless despair as the minutes tick by. They bicker and argue, but also laugh and joke and hold each other together.

I was completely emotionally invested in whether or not they’d make it and for the last 25% of the book I was literally holding back sobs on the train on my way to work. I really didn’t like the ending though. It’s hard to discuss without spoilers, but I just thought it was a bit of a cop out and it made me angry! Continue reading

The Book of Strange New Things – Michael Faber

the-book-of-strange-new-thingsThe story:
Peter, a Christian missionary, is sent to spread the word and provide spiritual guidance to the native inhabitants of Oasis – a colony that’s been established on a planet light years away. He arrives in a new world that is the complete opposite of everything he’s imagined. At the same time, his wife Bea is left to face her own personal problems on an earth that is gradually falling apart.

My thoughts:
At the start of the book, Peter comes across as anxious, needy and reliant on Bea’s emotional support. Separated from Bea across an infinite chasm of time and space, and preoccupied with his mission and with building a new community with the Oasans, Peter cannot comprehend what she’s going through at home. He essentially abandons her in the time when she most needs him. As a character, he didn’t win me over.

The religious aspect of this book didn’t appeal to me at first, but as more of Peter’s past and the situation on Oasis are revealed it became more interesting. Rather than being the central focus of the book, people’s beliefs are used to expose their motivations, backgrounds and various character flaws. Continue reading

The Chemist – Stephanie Meyer

the-chemistStephanie Meyer’s first foray out of the supernatural/science fiction genre was always going to get mixed reviews, but I thought it was a good read and a decent thriller. It’s also worth saying that I listened to this as an audiobook – I always think thrillers work particularly well in this format and The Chemist was no exception.

The story:

An ex-government interrogator is living in hiding, in fear of her life, when her old employer draws her in for one last job that could mean the difference between life or death for thousands of people. But when it becomes clear that her target may not be who she thought he was, she has a decision to make. The situation escalates fast, the stakes are high and it’s not only her life that hangs in the balance.

My thoughts:

There’s nothing too deep about The Chemist – it’s just an easy, entertaining read. There’s a good amount of action – but also quite a lot of description for a thriller. This is all backed up by a decent back story and a bit of romance. It’s quite predictable, if you read thrillers regularly then you’ll be able to see the main story arcs coming together easily. I kept seeing plot twists where they weren’t any and expecting characters to be hiding secret agendas when they weren’t – things were actually just that easy to guess!

I wasn’t overly keen on the romance aspect. The love interest seemed way too nice and just didn’t seem to have much of a personality at all. I kept waiting for him to show hidden depths and double-cross her. Continue reading

Back to Blogging

I’ve been absent from the blogosphere for a while now, an unconscious decision that mainly came down to work commitments, a long commute and general life meaning that I’ve had very little time to dedicate to writing reviews. But 2017 is a new year, and I’m trying to start the way that I mean to go on…

My 2017 blogging resolutions:

Start writing – This one is pretty self-explanatory. The longer it’s been since my last post, the more I feel guilty for neglecting The Stacked Shelf. I’m starting off by aiming for at least two posts a month – something that’s hopefully manageable without being too daunting!

Making reviewing more interesting for me as a writer – Sometimes I’ve found that reading a book critically and analysing the main talking points takes away from the experience as a reader. I’m also guilty of sometimes seeing reviewing as a chore that has to be done rather than a way of sharing the things that I’m really interested in with readers. This year, I’m going to try not to overthink it, and to keep review posts shorter and centred on what I really enjoyed/didn’t enjoy about a book.

Read more classics – This one’s been on my resolution list for many years, and despite building up quite a collection of classic reads on my shelves, I’ve yet to really get stuck in. I’m aiming to start with something with something shorter and more manageable – The Scarlett Letter – and work my way up to some of the more weighty tomes (Anna Karenina I’m looking at you!)

Break out of my comfort zone – When I first started blogging I tended to read a wider selection of genres. Recently I’ve been guilty of just sticking to what I know. I’ll be trying to branch out and get recommendations from other reviewers for books that I wouldn’t usually read.

Persevere even if something doesn’t immediately catch my interest – These days, much of my reading gets done on the way home from work, when all I want is something easy and interesting to read. If something doesn’t catch my interest immediately, it joins the pile of unread books that’s been steadily building. 2017 may not be the year that I tackle the whole pile, but I’ll be trying not to add to it!