book reviews

Heartstream

43151477._SY475_Heartstream by Tom Pollock

Rating: XXXXX

Published July 4th by Walker Books

I just wanted to see you. Before the end. A taut psychological thriller about obsession, fame and betrayal, for fans of Black Mirror. Cat is in love. Always the sensible one, she can’t believe that she’s actually dating, not to mention dating a star. But the fandom can’t know. They would eat her alive. And first at the buffet would definitely be her best friend, Evie. Amy uses Heartstream, a social media app that allows others to feel your emotions. She broadcasted every moment of her mother’s degenerative illness, and her grief following her death. It’s the realest, rawest reality TV imaginable. But on the day of Amy’s mother’s funeral, Amy finds a strange woman in her kitchen. She’s rigged herself and the house with explosives – and she’s been waiting to talk to Amy for a long time. Who is she? A crazed fan? What does she want? Amy and Cat are about to discover how far true obsession can go.

This was my first Tom Pollock novel, I had heard of him before but I had no idea what kind of books he wrote or much of anything about him. Walker Books contacted me and asked if I would be interested in an early finished copy for review and after reading the synopsis I was sold. I’ve started reading a few more thriller and psychological horror books over the past year or so, having not read anything like that at all until The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James but there are some absolute gems and Heartstream is one of them.

Heartstream is told from two different points of view, always alternating back and forth with each chapter which was equal parts infuriating (in a mostly good way) and absolute genius. Often there would be a revelation of some kind of things will just start heating up and you’re dreading the end of the chapter because you know it’s going to switch to another part of the story. It creates a whole load of tension on its own, that paired with Pollock’s fantastic tension building and writing style is a winning combination, especially as things begin to develop throughout the story.

The characters were interesting but instead of being focused on them I found I was more focused on the things that were happening to them in a terrifyingly personal way, I can remember their hair colour or details about them and they’re not bad characters but in a very fitting manner for a book featuring a software that allows you to experience others emotions first hand for yourself, the main impressions I have from them are their emotions. When the book released last week I described Heartstream as being “Slightly traumatising” one reason for this is that each emotional beat feels like it leaves a mark on you and a lot of the feelings are very intense.

For me personally I find it difficult to cope with situations where I feel there is no way out or that are seemingly hopeless and/or the main character is helpless to control things around them in any degree, (I’ve never actually seen the end of Face-Off because I decided it was a no way out thing) which are things our two main characters definitely confront throughout this novel. Some parts really terrified me in a helpless kind of way and absolutely hit some nerves for me as a mother as well, it was a little like watching a horror film in that I felt scared/freaked out but in an almost enjoyable way? It definitely lives up to the description of a psychological thriller for sure.

Tom Pollock is an incredible storyteller and Heartstream is a bold intricate tapestry with a striking red thread of tension woven in and throughout the stories of both Amy and Cat, binding them together.  It captures the toxic, obsessive, abusive and entitled side of fandoms we are beginning to see more and more of lately as well as a hauntingly accurate and intense look at cyberstalking and harassment. Heartstream is gripping, yet moving, an addictive ride that will have you feeling like you’re “streaming” from the characters yourself throughout.

Have you ever experienced any fandom related moments that you felt were just too much or too far? Years ago I met with a group of other fans of “My Little Pony” and was shocked and appalled after witnessing them loudly tearing a display apart, arguing over blind bag figures and being confrontational with the staff in a toy store. I actually stopped watching the show after that and since tend to distance myself from a lot of communities since then.

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Starfish Review

29456598Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Published: April 5th 2018 By Ink Road

Rating: XXXXX

“Beauty isn’t a single thing. Beauty is dreaming一it’s different for everyone, and there are so many versions of it that you mostly have no control over how you see it”
Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin.

But then Kiko doesn’t get into Prism, at the same time her abusive uncle moves back in with her family. So when she receives an invitation from her childhood friend to leave her small town and tour art schools on the west coast, Kiko jumps at the opportunity in spite of the anxieties and fears that attempt to hold her back. And now that she is finally free to be her own person outside the constricting walls of her home life, Kiko learns life-changing truths about herself, her past, and how to be brave.

From debut author Akemi Dawn Bowman comes a luminous, heartbreaking story of identity, family, and the beauty that emerges when we embrace our true selves.

This book has a gorgeous cover. That was my first thought when I saw Starfish on NetGalley a little while back, I had a quick glance at it, realised it was contemporary and I already had a mound of books to get through and moved on. A month or so later I came across the author on Twitter and I thought she was (and still is) lovely and that I would share her promoting posts etc because although this book wasn’t for me I wanted it to do well. A few weeks before it’s release Zoe from NoSaferPlace posted a quote from the book about anxiety at a party and it resonated so much with me that I immediately went back to NetGalley and requested it. My request was approved and I devoured this book over the course of a few days and I think it may be the most important book I have ever read.
This book touches on so many subjects, mental health, emotional and sexual abuse, divorce, beauty ideals, racial discrimination, family issues, suicide and the terrifying feeling that you have no idea what to do with your life when things don’t go how planned. I honestly don’t know how to describe the emotion this incredible book is filled with, it manages to somehow be so tender and painfully raw at the same time. Kiko is a character I think a lot of young people (and like myself, not so young) can relate to today for one reason or another and she’s  such an easier character to empathise with because of that.
The writing is a joy to read, it feels like Akemi seems to be able to pluck these emotions right out of our souls and paint them onto the page in the form of words. I laughed, I cried, I was devastated, shocked and proud throughout this book, it completely sucked me in and I was there right along side Kiko watching her learn and grow and I felt like I was learning and growing too. Kiko is a great example of when we know we’re doing something that is detrimental to our health or isn’t good for us but we can’t stop because we rely on it and watching her learn to be strong and do things for herself was eye-opening and heart warming. It made me want to be a better person.
The story itself is balanced well, it doesn’t drown out the important thoughts and choices Kiko has but still keeps everything moving and interesting. There are some great twists and turns hidden away in this beautiful unassuming book with a perfect ending for a stand alone novel. There aren’t many books now days that I will reread, no matter how good they are but this feels like a book I’m going to read every once in a while to remind me of all the lessons is teaches. This has been a hard book to review because it’s one that has felt so important to me and I’ve had trouble trying to find a way to put how I feel about it into words so I’ll close with a few of my favourite quotes
“Beauty isn’t a single thing. Beauty is dreamingit’s different for everyone, and there are so many versions of it that you mostly have no control over how you see it”
“We all have to dream our own dreams. We only get one life to live—live it for yourself, not anyone else.”
“I’ve always felt like I desperately needed to say my feelings out loud – to form the words and get them out of me, because they’ve always felt like dark clouds in my head that contaminate everything around them.”
“I draw a girl without a face, drawing somebody else’s face onto her own reflection.”