Review of ‘Split Second’ by Sophie McKenzie

ImageI picked up this book because I received an advanced reading copy of the sequel from NetGalley and thought I should probably read the first in the series before I try to review the second.

Split Second is a YA book set in the near future when the Government’s austerity measures are destroying Britain, leading to social unrest and terrorism. It’s very similar in tone and themes to much of the other YA fiction which is around at the moment, with teenagers teaming up to take violent action to challenge authority and being manipulated by malevolent forces while the world around them disintegrates.

The start of the book is very similar to the last YA book I read (Echo Boy) with the lead female protagonist, Charlie, orphaned following an attack and going to live with her rich uncle and spoiled cousin. I’d say 50% of YA protagonists are orphans; Harry Potter has a lot to answer for!

The themes of terrorism, social unrest, revenge, and the mess teenagers can get themselves into by trusting the wrong people also reminded me of Malorie Blackman’s fantastic Noughts and Crosses series, although the romance is not as strong in this book. It is also similar to the other Sophie McKenzie book I have read, Blood Ties, in which a boy and girl have to go on the run from the authorities against the odds and don’t know who they can trust. I expect fans of that series would also enjoy this book.

So, this book treads familiar YA territory and I was not at all surprised by the way the storyline played out. It was clear from the start that the main characters Nat and Charlie are way too willing to take things on face value and are going to get themselves into trouble. However, this is a very easy read and it’s fairly enjoyable watching them getting there.

The book uses the device of narrating from alternating points of view and ends most chapters on a mild cliffhanger or revelation, so the plot is very fast-paced and doesn’t get bogged down in detail. I thought it took too long for the inevitable romance between Nat and Charlie to get going. Half-way through the book they had not so much as held hands, but I guess McKenzie is saving up the relationship for future books in the series.

The cover is truly awful. The girl in the image looks too young and it looks like a misery memoir rather than a teen thriller. In addition, there is a huge spoiler for a very significant event which happens towards the end of the book on the inside of the front cover. It’s a really odd choice of design and I definitely would not have picked it up if I had not received the sequel to read, but I’m happy that I did. The end of the book is a good set up for the next in the series.

Jorie’s Top Ten Bookish Google Doodles

An amazing, original idea for a Top Ten Tuesday by Jorie.

Jorie's Reads by Starry Night Elf

Top Ten Tuesday | The Broke and the Bookish

For future Top Ten Tuesday topics & info on how to participate, click here!

Top Ten – Freebie

(Thanks for the inspiration, Google!)

1.  Rachel Carson’s 107th Birthday (May 27, 2014)

Rachel Louise Carson's 107th Birthday

2. Octavio Paz’s 100th Birthday (March 31, 2014)

Octavio Paz's 100th Birthday (born 1914)

3.  Zora Neale Hurston’s 123rd Birthday (January 7, 2014) 

Zora Neale Hurston's 123rd Birthday

4. Albert Camus’ 100th Birthday (November 7, 2013)

Albert Camus's 100th Birthday

5. Maurice Sendak’s 85th Birthday (June 10, 2013)

6. Douglas Adams’ 61st Birthday (March 11, 2013)

7. Bram Stoker’s 165th Birthday (November 08, 2012)

Bram Stoker's 165th Birthday

8. 161st Anniversary of Moby Dick

161st Anniversary of Moby Dick's First Publishing

9. Mark Twain’s 176th Birthday (November 30, 2011)

Mark Twain's 176th Birthday

10. Robert Louis Stevenson’s 160th Birthday (November 13, 2010)

Robert Louis Stevenson's 160th Birthday

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My day out at Hay (part one)

Strange book art
Strange book art

Last Saturday my husband and I drove down to Hay-on-Wye for our annual trip to the wonderful Hay Festival.

In my experience at Hay the weather is either absolutely beautiful with the sun shining and people sunning themselves in deckchairs or there is torrential rain, huge muddy puddles and posh people wandering round in floral patterned wellies which they only get out for festivals. There is no middle ground. On this occasion, it was the later. We got drenched walking from the car to the festival site. Happily we’ve been before so we knew to wear wellies and quick drying clothes!

The rain doesn’t spoil a day at Hay; in fact there’s something quite enchanting about sitting in a tent trying to listen to a literary superstar while the rain hammers down and wind shakes the canvas around you.

This year we met up with our friends Olly and Mary. Mary was working in one of the sponsor tents so Olly had accompanied her for a couple of days. I was very jealous because they got free tickets to some of the events! It lovely to see them both although we had such a packed day of talks that I feel likely we barely had a chance to catch up with them properly.

Harkaway and Rahman signing books
Harkaway and Rahman signing books

Our first event was Nick Harkaway and Zia Haider Rahman. I picked this because I wanted to see Harkaway. I heard him on the radio when his first novel was released a few years ago and found him very funny and had been meaning to read one his books ever since. He was talking about his new novel Tigerman, happily I had received an ARC of this book via NetGalley and had just finished reading it the evening before. Read my review here. Rahman is a debut novelist, I had never heard of him before, in fact I was expecting him to be a woman! The connection between the authors’ work was quite tenuous both have background plot themes of the financial crisis and Afghanistan, although I wouldn’t say these are integral elements of Tigerman.

The event would have been more entertaining if it had just been Harkaway, his responses to questions were quick and witty whereas Rahman was a bit ponderous and meandering in his responses. Even so, it was an interesting event. Afterwards I bought a couple of Harkaway’s novels and had them signed at the bookstore. He was wearing a marvelous tiger striped tie to ‘tie-in’ with his book’s title.

Next up we went to see Cassandra Clare in conversation with her co-author and friend Sarah Rees Brennan. My poor 37 year old husband having to sit through that! I felt so sorry for him surrounded by teenage girls while two authors gossiped about how hot the characters in their books are; I really should have booked him an alternative event! However, I was quite happy.

Clare and Rees Brennan
Clare and Rees Brennan

I enjoyed listening to Cassandra and Sarah read sections from an unpublished story in the Bane Chronicles and seeing their excitement about the final installment of the Mortal Instruments series which is published today. It’s a shame there was a delay on the publishing which meant that there weren’t copies available to buy at Hay. This didn’t stop a million girls queuing to get Clare to sign her other books. The queue was so long that I went to my next event and came back to the bookshop over and hour later and they were still queuing around the corner of the tent. It was crazy! But it’s nice that Clare takes the time to talk to all the girls individually and make it worth the wait.

Fry and Fadell
Fry and Fadell

Next we went to see Stephen Fry interviewing Tony Fadell, one of the inventors of the iPod. This was definitely the highlight of the day! It was really fascinating. Fry is really interested in and knowledgeable about technology so they had an engrossing and revealing conversation.

Louisa Young's new book
Louisa Young’s new book

After that I went to see Louisa Young and Kamila Shamsie. Both have written novels set during World War I. Young’s The Heroes’ Welcome is a sequel to ‘My Dear I Wanted to Tell You’ which I read and enjoyed; and Shamsie’s previous novel was short-listed for the Orange Prize, so I was interested in listening to both of them. I thought the atmosphere was a bit flat at this event, maybe these authors were a bit tired of being on the press tour or they don’t really know each other, but there wasn’t much chemistry between them. Since the Telegraph started sponsoring Hay, there have been more of these events where they pair authors up and it’s a bit like watching a tennis match as they take it in turns to answer questions. These events often don’t work as well as when the focus is on a single author; Hay was definitely better when it was sponsored by The Guardian!

Our final event was a second chance to see Stephen Fry. This time he was giving a talk about Shakespeare. I was expecting him to talk about his experiences acting on Broadway in Shakespeare’s plays; however he actually gave a lecture on love in Shakespeare’s poems and plays. He has some surprising a controversial viewpoints. For example, he is convinced that Shakespeare was gay and is certain that it was definitely Shakespeare who wrote the plays (not the Earl of Oxford or Marlowe or any of the other people that conspiracy theorists suggest).

Hay Festival site
Hay Festival site

He also said that Shakespeare knew that he would still be being read all these years later and that that does not mean he was arrogant, he was just that good. I didn’t agree with that assertion on any level, but it made me think.

A fun day out at Hay. Not quite as exciting as some previous years, but we’re going again next Saturday and I’m really looking forward to that and particularly to seeing Tom Hollander, Rob Brydon and Benedict Cumberbatch. Hopefully we’ll get to see the other side of Hay and the sun will be shining! Check back next week to hear about it in part two of my blog.

Top Ten Tuesday: Freebie topic – book covers

This week Top Ten Tuesday hosted by The Broke and Bookish is a freebie week, so we can make a book themed top ten list of our choice. I’ve picked an inspiring topic which featured on Top Ten Tuesday a few weeks ago before I started participating but which I enjoyed reading: Top Ten Book Covers I’d Frame As Pieces of Art.

I limited my options to books and editions I own in order to reduce the almost infinite choice.


From this exercise I learned that I prefer book covers with illustrations rather than photographs; I like intricate illustrations in a limited colour palette; and I like book covers which resemble old-fashioned prints. I definitely prefer book covers which don’t feature people’s faces so that you are left free to imagine the characters for yourself.

Review of ‘Tigerman’ by Nick Harkaway

ImageThanks to NetGalley and Random House for the ARC of this book.

I have been meaning to read a Nick Harkaway book for years, since I heard his first book ‘The Gone Away World’ featured on Simon Mayo’s radio programme, but somehow I have never quite got around to getting a copy. The covers are always so enticing and his latest novel ‘Tigerman’ is no exception. So I was really pleased to receive an advance reading copy via NetGalley, particularly as I was going to see Harkaway talk about this book at the Hay Festival on Saturday.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of this novel. It’s a curious mishmash of a very literary style and a comic book thriller plot. I found that the juxtaposition of prose and plot style acted to diminish rather than enhance the other. I think there’s probably a really enjoyable and funny thriller hidden inside this book but it is obscured by too many pages of dense description and melancholic inner monologue.

The book follows Sergeant Lester Ferris who is the one remaining British representative on the dying island of Mancreu situated somewhere in the Arabian Sea. Mancreu has been so heavily polluted by a chemical factory that it is scheduled to be destroyed imminently. People are abandoning the island and it has been left with a lawless community and a ‘black fleet’ of corrupt international ships just offshore. After the murder of one of his friends, the sergeant forms an unlikely alliance with a boy whom he wishes to adopt in order to find out why this crime happened.

At first this book seems to be the standard fish out of water story, a familiar tale of a solitary white colonial European man living in an exotic location populated with myths, legends and a motley assemblage of larger than life characters. However, halfway through it takes a very unexpected turn into a comic-book style crime-fighting caper when the Sergeant dons a masks and becomes the eponymous ‘Tigerman’ and sets out to combat the dark criminal forces on the island. Just as I was managing to adjust to this storyline and began to find it interesting, there is another almighty plot twist and a ridiculous, unsatisfying ending.

I found this book very difficult to get into. The two main characters are described as ‘The Sergeant’ and ‘the boy’ rather than using their names; I found this device to be a barrier to making a connection with the characters.

I loved the parts of the book where there is dialogue between Lester and other characters, particularly the American representative, Jed Kershaw. Those scenes are generally very funny; the dialogue is sparkling and witty and is so much more enjoyable than the vast sections of dense description written in a much more serious and contemplative tone. The boy also has a wonderfully amusing way of speaking which is informed by the variety of different international media available to him over the internet. For example, he perpetually describes Lester as ‘full of win’.

The parts of this book with dialogue or extreme comic book action hint at the potential this book had to be a funny, enjoyable read, but in the end I found it didn’t quite come together for me. The characters are not engaging enough in the first part of the book to really care about the outcome for them and I never really felt the required connection with ‘the Sergeant’ to enjoy reading his solemn, troubled inner monologue.

Signed copy of Nick Harkaway's The Gone Away World
Signed copy of Nick Harkaway’s The Gone Away World

However, this has not put me off wanting to read Harkaway’s other books. From his session at the Hay Festival, it was obvious that he is a very intelligent and funny man, so I bought his first two books and got them signed after the sessions. I hope that they place more emphasis on the personal and witty style of writing which was in evidence at some points of ‘Tigerman’.

Review of ‘The Report’ by Jessica Francis Kane

The ReportThis is a strange book; it takes a really interesting historical event – a fatal crush at an Underground bomb shelter during World War II – and then takes an oddly detached viewpoint on it.

The author turns the event into a mystery and by doing so is unable to concentrate on the most interesting part of the story – the experience and emotions of the people caught up in the crush. The actual description of the crush only lasts a few pages and the rest of the novel is taken up by the narrative of the people writing the report on the accident and making a documentary about it set 3 years after the event. It would have been more interesting and enjoyable if it had been a blow by blow description of the incident from the viewpoint of the people involved rather than a sterile reflection on the events.

The fictionalisation of events to create a mystery surrounding why the crush started seems to undermine the reportage elements of the story, leaving it confused and lacking in a clear perspective.

It was a shame; this storyline handled in a different way has the potential to be riveting and very moving.

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 books about friendship

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s theme is ten books about friendship. Here’s my list; it took quite a bit of thought because I usually prefer books which focus on romance rather than friendship!

Serious Things Secret History Never let me go

My first three choices are books which similarly focus on the obsessive/envious friendships and rivalries which develop in school/college, particularly when the protagonists are hiding secrets.

Remains of the Day Secret Garden Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The next three are quiet ‘British’ stiff upper lip friendships with much deeper feelings. I particularly love the relationship in The Remains of the Day which should be a simmering romance but never gets past a very proper friendship.

Another Night, Another Day cover image

Next are two books I’ve read and reviewed recently, which is probably why they have stuck in my mind. Both show how friendships can help people through periods of depression.

Lord of the Rings Bel Canto

Finally, two very different books both with large ensembles of characters who forge friendships against the odds. I love Legolas and Gimli’s friendship in spite of the fact that their species are natural enemies in The Lord of the Rings. Bel Canto is my favourite book on this list with a beautiful range of friendships between hostages and their captors.

Book challenge: US states

Since I started blogging, I’ve noticed lots of people setting themselves reading challenges. I’m joining in with my compilation of a book that I have read for each US state.

Read my list here.

States I've read
States I’ve read books from. Map courtesy of

Any recommendations for books set in the 12 states I’m missing would be gratefully received! These are:

  • Colorado
  • Delaware
  • Idaho
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Nebraska
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming