Andrea Gonzales & Sophie House – Girl Code

Girl Code

I stumbled across this book when looking for any coding books on my library app – turns out there aren’t that many.  But actually, I’m really glad I ran across it as I found it such a relateable story. Sophie and Andy were two teenage girls who found themselves at a coding camp together and through that camp, they built a game called ‘Tampon Run’ which was intended to challenge the taboo of talking about periods when people are perfectly fine with guns and violence. The game was only really intended for a few people to see, but it ended up going viral and getting international attention.

Partly a story about their experiences with the reaction to such a ‘controversial’ game, the part of the story I related most to was their experience of being a female in the world of coding.

I was the only girl in most of my computing classes at school, I spent 8 years at my last company and I was the only woman who was ever on the development team, and although I’m really lucky that the place I work now has a more even gender balance, there’s still such a disparity in the dev world in general and it was great to hear about the more positive experiences that Sophie and Andy had.

I really appreciated that the book was written by both girls. Although they both have a huge shared interest, they’re very different people and this book celebrates that. It’s also intensely personal in parts, with both girls opening up and sharing things about their private life which impacted on their coding life too.

I’d guess this book was mainly aimed at young girls looking to get into coding, but actually I’d say it’s a valuable read for a much wider range of people than that – whoever you are, you’ll probably learn something.

One of my favourite quotes from the book (although completely serious, it really made me laugh):

“Coding is like making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for someone who has never heard of either ingredient, never opened a jar, or used a knife. You can’t just tell them to put jelly and peanut butter on a piece of bread and smush it together. You need to explain how to pick up the bread and how to pull it out of the packaging and then how to open the jar and how to pick up the knife…

And if your steps don’t make sense, you get a coder’s worst nightmare: a bug, the programming term for when a program fails to run the way you expect it to. The bug will either make the computer follow the steps incorrectly (like trying to spread the peanut butter on the plate instead of the bread), or the program won’t run at all.”

My Rating: 5/5
Year Published: 2017
Number of Pages: 304
Format: E-Book
Date Read: 4th March 2018 – 8th March 2018
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.09
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Katherine Rundell – The Explorer

Katherine Rundell

Part of my Book Bingo for this year is to read a Costa Book Awards winner. So when I was at Waterstones and this beautiful cover caught my attention, and then I saw the Costa Book Awards Winner sticker on it, I knew that this would be the one.

I didn’t realise until I started reading it that it is actually a children’s book, I’ve never really come across a children’s book thats’s 400+ pages long before, and although I can see how the story is definitely aimed at children, there were definitely many reasons why this was a great book for an adult too.

The picture that the author creates in your head is so vivid that you might as well be stranded with these four kids in the rainforest. I was so lost in the book that I didn’t realise how many pages I was turning subconsciously until I stopped for a tea break and I realised I’d read 150 pages. To me, that’s a sign of a great book, when you’re so enthralled that you sink into the pages and it becomes like a live-action film in your head.

When I’m reading a book and come across a quote that I like, I usually take a photo of it on my phone so that I can read it back later. Needless to say, my phone is peppered with quotes from this book. Some of the phrases that jumped out at me would probably have sailed over the head of a child, but sometimes left me feeling a bit stunned or made me laugh out loud.

I’ll repeat a few here:

“I just liked the idea that there’s still things that we don’t know. At school, it’s the same thing, every day. I liked that it might be all right to believe in large, mad, wild things.”

“Can’t bear moustaches myself. Grotesquery mouth-eyebrows, I always thought”

“The time will come, I hope, when the world values people as much as it values land. But for now, we do not need more men in pith helmets marching through the jungle towards us”.

“And cut only what you need. Don’t hoard. Leave enough that the tree can replenish itself. The greatest threat to living things is man, which is not a thought to make one proud”.

I won’t go into too much detail on the story itself as I would just recommend that you buy this book and read it. Either to yourself, or out loud to your children. But definitely read it, and if you’re an adult – don’t be put off by the ‘children’s book’ label – you’ll definitely get a lot out of it too.

My Rating: 5/5
Year Published: 2017
Number of Pages: 416
Format: Paperback
Date Read: 3rd March 2018 – 4th March 2018
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.18
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Jeff VanderMeer – Annihilation

Annihilation

What the heck did I just read? When I was about three quarters through this book, I turned to my husband and said “I’m not quite sure what’s happening in this book”, and having got to the end, I’m still not quite sure!

But even though I’m completely confused, I really want to read the second book to see if it answers some of the many many questions that I have. And since it has left me wanting more and it kept me so interested, I’ve given it 4 out of 5. But if the second book doesn’t make more sense, I can’t see myself giving it as many…

Four women, going on the twelfth expedition into the mysterious Area X to observe and collect samples. None of the previous expeditions have been successful (far from it), and from the start, it seems like we’re waiting for this one to go wrong too.

I definitely found the book thrilling and enthralling and it was really well paced to make me keep turning the pages, but I really hope the next book in the trilogy explains more about what is actually going on in Area-X, as I still don’t think I’d be able to explain it to anyone who asked me…

The imagery in the book was beautiful, I was completely drawn into the world that the biologist was describing in almost a stream of consciousness. It was definitely a book to be read slowly and savoured to really appreciate.

But having said that, I still can’t figure out if this is a real world, or some sort of induced state of reality (are the people part of some weird experiment in the real world and not actually leaving – is it all chemical)?

The thing that creeped me out the most is that none of the characters are ever named – just referred to by their job title. And we only ever hear from the perspective of the biologist, who seems to be going slowly more and more crazy and delusional. It was just very hard to know whether to trust anything she was saying.

Onwards to the second book and fingers crossed it makes more sense!

My Rating: 4/5
Year Published: 2014
Number of Pages: 195
Format: Paperback
Date Read: 22nd February 2018 – 28th February 2018
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.65
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Antoine Leiris – You Will Not Have My Hate

You Will Not Have My Hate

Do you remember reading about the terror attack on the Bataclan in 2015? I remember seeing it unfold on Twitter and being horrified at what was happening, but also feeling a sense of disconnect because it was happening so far away.

Imagine if you saw what was happening and realised that your wife was there? That was the reality for Antoine Leiris, and the heartbreaking story in this brilliantly written book.

Inspired by an open letter that the author wrote to his wife’s killers on Facebook, this memoir of how he dealt with the death of his wife and realising he was alone with his baby son Melvil was extraordinarily courageous and made me so sad that we live in a world where this could happen.

The author is unflinchingly honest, leaving himself emotionally open to the world as he describes how he dealt with such tragic events, but there’s not a hint of anger in his voice, he does not want to give the killers such satisfaction.

There were so many quotes I could pick from this book, but this one stuck with me the most:

“No one can be healed of death. All they can do is tame it. Death is a wild animal, sharp-fanged. I am just trying to build a cage to keep it locked in. It is there, beside me, drooling as it waits to devour me. The bars of the cage that protect me are made of paper.”

My Rating: 5/5
Year Published: 2016
Number of Pages: 99
Format: E-Book
Date Read: 22nd February 2018 – 25th February 2018
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.32
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Karen McManus – One of Us is Lying

One of Us is Lying

Five people find themselves in detention together. From the surface, they’re about as different as can be: the jock, the geek, the criminal, the spoilt princess and the loner.

But when the loner dies from a huge allergic reaction to peanut oil, suddenly the focus is on the other four in the room. The loner, Simon, had a website where he published sallacious gossip about the whole school, and it seems like he had dirt on each of the four in the room that was due to be published within 24 hours of his death. Not just your ordinary gossip, but things that could ruin their lives. Pretty big motive, right?

As the scrutiny of the police bears down on the remaining four, they find that they’re not all as different as they originally thought. And rather than turning on each other to take the heat away from themselves, close friendships are formed in the most unlikely places.

I have to say, I really didn’t expect the ending at all. The book was told from all four different perspectives and it switched often, which meant you could never feel too attached to one person’s thoughts before you were in the mind of someone else.

[Potential spoiler alerts from here downwards]

Pretty quickly, I got the feeling that none of the 4 were guilty, but the twist at the end was completely out of the blue! I had in my head a specific person who I thought was the culprit, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Usually I would have expected my predictions to change, but everything I read seemed to point more and more towards them. Alas not. Well played Ms McManus!

But more than just being delighted by the surprise twists, what impressed me more was the character development and the fact that I could relate to each and every character. And the way that this horrible situation caused each of them to grow and develop throughout the book made me even more attached to them, to the point when there were times I was truly convinced that this book was going to break my heart!

I can definitely see this being made into a film at some point in the near future…

My Rating: 4/5
Year Published: 2017
Number of Pages: 360
Format: Paperback
Date Read: 12th February 2018 – 21st February 2018
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.07
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Jeanne Ryan – Nerve

Nerve

I’d been eyeing this film up on Netflix for a while, but hadn’t realised it was based on a book, so when I came across it on my library app I was glad I hadn’t already watched it so I could read it first.

Now I’ve read it, I’m not quite so sure I want to watch the film. It started off quite thrilling, but not too extreme and I was definitely enjoying the excitement of the online game that Vee had found herself drawn into – even if the dares seemed quite juvenile and to start with Vee had problems completing even the most basic ones without having a breakdown.

But somewhere in the later half of the book, I felt like something changed and the story became way more twisted and a bit too horror-movie like for my tastes. And then after so much build-up and suspense, the actually ending was such an anti-climax that I wished I hadn’t wasted all my time on this book.

On top of that I just found the main characters completely unrelatable. Vee was so whiny that I just felt like I wanted to grab her shoulders and shake her to snap her out of it. The most annoying thing was that she was constantly whining about the game that she herself had signed up for.

She was after the money and the glory and living up the newfound popularity that she had been given, but still whining about all the negatives that came with that.

My main two gripes however:

1. The book was mentioned in the details as comparable to The Hunger Games. I wish people would stop comparing every young adult book to The Hunger Games when they’re nothing alike. What they actually want you to do is compare it to the success of The Hunger Games, but to do that, they should put more effort into what they’re writing.

2. The book started with a really odd prologue. I figured that when the prologue finished, we’d skipped back in time and would catch up to the prologue timeline by the end, but it’s never referenced again and I’m just so confused by that. It made no sense whatsoever.

I’m tempted to watch the film just to see if the screenwriters managed to make a better plot from it, but I’m not holding out much hope!

My Rating: 2/5
Year Published: 2012
Number of Pages: 306
Format: Paperback
Date Read: 3rd February 2018 – 11th February 2018
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.39
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George R. R. Martin – The Ice Dragon

The Ice Dragon

Having read the entire Game of Thrones series a few years ago, this was definitely not what I expected to come from the same author. More a Grimm’s fairy tale than an epic fantasy, it’s miles away from the violence and sex filled saga that I’d read previously.

Having read  a bit more into it, this was actually first published in 1980 and is most definitely a children’s novel – a story of an unlikely friendship between a little girl and a dragon, but one that is overwhelmingly sad.

The book was short, it only took around 30 minutes to read, but the illustrations were beautiful, I did wish I had the physical book rather than the kindle version so I could appreciate them more.

There were definite morals/things that you can take from reading this short tale, but I don’t want to give away any spoilers for a beautiful little story, so all I’d say is if you like George R.R. Martin and you’re a fan of fairy-tales, I’d recommend picking this up for a quick read. Make sure you read it through for yourself first before reading it to a child though, it might not be the disney-style everything-is-okay tale they’re used to.

My Rating: 4/5
Year Published: 1980
Number of Pages: 128
Format: E-Book
Date Read: 1st February 2018 – 2nd February 2018
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.78
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Max Lucado – You’ll Get Through This

You'll Get Through This

I feel like God really needed me to read this book. At Church at the moment we’ve been talking about Joseph, and with our youth group as well, plus my Bible in One Year app went through the story of Joseph at exactly the same time, and then I open up this book and find that it’s entirely about Joseph too. Too much of a coincidence to not be intended.

And right now the story of Joseph was just what I needed to read. The amount of suffering he went through in this life was obviously uncomparable to anything that I could ever go through, but what we learn from his story is that when you’re going through something that seems unbearably hard, God intends good for it and there will be a light at the end of the tunnel. As the blurb says:

You’ll get through this.
It won’t be painless.
It won’t be quick.
But God will use this mess for good.
Don’t be foolish or naive.
But don’t despair either.
With God’s help, you’ll get through this.

And as the author says: “Deliverance is to the Bible what jazz music is to Mardi Gras: bold, brassy, and everywhere.”. We just need to trust God to deliver us from whatever evil is present in our lives.

Interspersed with anecdotes about people who have entered Max’s life and can be related directly to the different times of trouble that Joseph went through, the book was filled with hope for a better future and comforting words that will stay with you long after you finish reading.

I’ll never read the story of Joseph in the same way again. It’s a story we’ve probably all ready many times from our childhood, but I’ve never sat down and specifically thought about how many times Joseph was thrown to the ground and disregarded, yet he ended up in charge of all Egypt and responsible for making sure the nation didn’t die from the famine – all because he kept an unwavering trust that God was with him and would deliver him from those situations.

If you’re going through a tough time, this book may be just what you need.

My Rating: 5/5
Year Published: 2013
Number of Pages: 195
Format: Paperback
Date Read: 22nd January 2018 – 31st January 2018
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.44
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Emily Barr – The One Memory of Flora Banks

The One Memory of Flora Banks

I think the biggest mistake I made when reading this book was not actually reading it. I decided to listen to it as an audio book, but I’m not sure it really worked for me.

The main character is called (unsurprisingly) Flora Banks, and (also unsurprisingly) she has memory problems, namely anterograde amnesia. This means that she can’t form new memories. Every half an hour or so her memories reset and she can’t remember anything since she was a child. The only clues she has are the ones she leaves for herself, notes in her notebook, post it notes, and mainly messages scrawled on her arm – the main of which simply says ‘Flora, be brave’.

My main problem with this as an audiobook is that due to Flora’s problems, there are a lot of repeated parts of the book when her memories reset and she discovers herself again. Normally if I was reading, I’d start to skim- read these after a while, but with the audio book I had no choice but to listen to them. It also didn’t help that the narrator had a really slow speaking voice, I had to listen at 1.5 speed to keep the pace going.

Problems with the format of the book aside, I actually found the story captivating. As instructed by her arm, Flora was a very brave girl, conquering things that even I would be scared of. Sometimes foolhardy and slightly lovey-soppy, but mainly due to her condition, she was a very likeable character.

We start the book with Flora remembering something for the first time in years. This has never happened to her before and it starts her off on a crazy chase across the world to find the boy who sparked it all.

But as she goes on this grand adventure, the story around her amnesia seems to be unravelling, it’s  just that as a reader you’re not quite sure what to trust and I was kept on tenterhooks to the very end – I’d definitely never have guessed what was coming.

I did feel slightly disappointed by the very end, I was expecting something a bit more, I’m not exactly sure what, but it didn’t seem quite finished off to me.

I think I’d like to actually read this book at some point to see if the experience is different, but I’m still giving this 4 out of 5 since I was so hooked!

My Rating: 4/5
Year Published: 2016
Number of Pages: 311
Format: Paperback
Date Read: 1st January 2018 – 28th January 2018
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.54
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Becky Albertalli – The Upside of Unrequited

The Upside of Unrequited

I have to admit I only picked this book because the cover jumped out at me when I was scrolling through the library ebook app. I know, I know, don’t judge a book by it’s cover.

But I did, and it was a mistake,  I just couldn’t get into this book at all. It felt hugely predictable to me which definitely diminishes the enjoyment I get, I want some surprises thrown in to keep me on my toes!

And it might just have been me, but it felt like the author was trying to throw in as many stereotypes and minorities into the book as she could. I’m all for full representation and diversity in literature, but I feel like it just felt forced in many places, and it felt like the author put more effort into doing that than giving the characters personalities that I could actually relate to.

Apart from that, this book just felt like many many other books in this genre, overweight girl who has never been kissed is desperate not to be a virgin anymore and feels like her life is terrible, until the hot guy falls in love with her and everything is right with the world again. To me, I don’t really think that’s a very empowering message to send – I’d rather the girl figures out that her life is good without the boy.

Clearly this is a popular book as it has a lot of good ratings on Goodreads, but just not for me!

My Rating: 2/5
Year Published: 2017
Number of Pages: 352
Format: E-Book
Date Read: 14th January 2018 – 18th January 2018
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.03
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