Book Review: “I Am Pilgrim” by Terry Hayes

“I have heard people say love is weak but they’re wrong — love is strong. In nearly everyone it trumps all other things — patriotism and ambition, religion and upbringing. And of every kind of love — the epic and the small, the noble and the base — the one that a parent has for their child is the greatest of them all…”

I AM PILGRIM

Atria/Emily Bestler, 2014, 624 pages.

I Am Pilgrim is a spy thriller which finds a former top U.S. secret agent coming out of retirement to try and foil a terrorist’s plan to commit mass American genocide. The idea that the terrorist (called The Saracen) develops is terrifyingly genius but our guy, who on this new mission decides to give himself the code name Pilgrim, is quite an expert and does everything he can to attempt to catch The Saracen before it’s too late. Along the way Pilgrim also tries to figure out who has committed some very gruesome murders in New York City and Bodrum, Turkey, because they used tips and tricks lifted from his own criminology book.

This book surprised me! The first few chapters were really intriguing, but the middle of the book had a lot of backstory and what I felt to be filler. A lot of this ended up being important and I had to go back to review it, but it was in the middle (at around 350 pages of the 600) that I put this book down for about two months. Finally last night I decided I was just going to get it done. I thought that the buildup to the end was a lot better than the middle and enjoyed the ending a lot. It makes complete sense to me that Terry Hayes was formerly a screenwriter before turning to writing this novel – parts of it, especially the end for me, sort of flew by like I was watching a spy movie.

Some critical reviews of I Am Pilgrim have focused on the fact that this book is quite pro-American, anti-Muslim, somewhat xenophobic and generally very right-wing. I cannot say that I disagree with the reviewers who have noticed this and can absolutely see all of these themes present in this book. There was a lot of emphasis placed on things like the benefits of government surveillance and government-sanctioned torture and imprisonment and I think what is really scary about this and the tone that pervades the book as a whole is that a lot of it is probably a lot closer to reality than we even know.

I felt like there was a particular target audience to this book, and I am not exactly sure if I was a part of it but now that I am FINALLY done I am still glad that I read it. Even with the presence of these attitudes which some might find questionable I thought that the book was obviously exceptionally well-researched and entertaining once I did push through that more boring middle section. I thought the character development was strong as to the main characters like Pilgrim and The Saracen but could have been better for some of the supporting characters. I am giving I Am Pilgrim 3.5 stars and will probably see the eventual movie. I feel like I say that a lot and must read a lot of books with movie adaptations :p

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Book Review: “The Girl With All the Gifts” by M.R. Carey

“The horror of the unknown is more frightening than any horror you can understand.”

Hardcover edition; Orbit, 2014. 416 pages.

Hardcover edition; Orbit, 2014.
416 pages.

One thing you should know about me that I don’t think I’ve mentioned on the blog yet is that I’m fairly squeamish. For the most part, I’d rather watch any other type of movie besides a horror movie. I cannot stand the sight of someone vomiting whether on film or in person. I can’t even watch certain scenes of shows like Grey’s Anatomy if they’re particularly bloody. So why was I desperate to read this book, which was confirmed to be extremely terrifying and gory? Well… I can’t tell you without giving anything away, but I knew from reading a couple of reviews (some of them a bit spoilery) that I was going to love this. There are specific niches within the horror genre that I will always go for, but I don’t want to say what type without revealing more, and for this book it’s best to approach it with a blank slate. But you should check out the description from Goodreads, which is what initially drew me in:

Melanie is a very special girl. Dr Caldwell calls her “our little genius.”
Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.
Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children’s cells. She tells her favorite teacher all the things she’ll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn’t know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.

By looking at a horrific situation through the lens of a brilliant, gifted (you will see very early on exactly how gifted) child, M.R. Carey makes it possible for readers to feel such a huge range of emotions despite being totally grossed out by many of the scenes herein. I CRIED at the end of this book. In addition to the obvious gore that comes with a horror novel, there are truths in The Girl With All the Gifts about love, friendship, and family. None of the violence is gratuitous; the science behind what unfolds is incredibly believable; the characters are so well-developed for this type of book that the focus is perfectly balanced between them and the plot. Carey is an amazing writer and gives away exactly enough information at the right time to maintain the intrigue and build up to each next horrifying scene. I’m deliberately being vague about everything that goes on because it will be SO much better if you go in blind. This was undoubtedly one of the best books I’ve read in “my” sub-genre of horror that I enjoy and I gave it an enthusiastic 5 stars.