Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Prisoner of Night and Fog

Gretchen Müller’s father died protecting Hitler. Ever since, she has seen Adolf as an uncle figure and he has taken special care of her. She has always followed his teachings until one day, a young Jewish reporter puts doubt in her mind.

The Müller family are fictional, but implanted into real events. The events of the putsch did happen and people were killed on both sides. What’s really interesting about this, is the plot could so easily be that of our modern day dystopian YA fiction but this stuff actually happened. It’s really quite scary and I hope a few Daily Mail readers will pick this up and take note. In a time of financial hardship, it’s easy to blame people that aren’t like yourselves but that way leads to persecution and to the horrors seen in WWII. Not many people would openly agree with what the Nazi’s did but some of their early propaganda is certainly mirrored in some of the right wing views aired today. It's just different groups of people being blamed.

How much you get out of this book might depend on how much of the history you know. Most of my knowledge of WWII is more around the later years, so I found the early politics quite interesting. I did know what happened to Geli though, which might have been a bit of a spoiler, even though she isn’t a main character.

Reinhard’s character is representative of the sociopathic nature of those who supported Hitler’s plans and indeed, helped carry them out. There was plenty of pressure for people to appear supportive or to go along with everyone else, but those who really revelled in other’s suffering would have been the most dangerous. It did seem a bit tenuous for Gretchen to use her brother’s behaviour as a way to research Hitler’s mental state.

It might be surprising to some readers how Hitler starts off portrayed as just a man, not a beast. Gretchen has always seen him as the man who cared for her family after her father died, he’s her honorary uncle. But she has never done anything to defy him or be subject to his anger. As her perception of Hitler begins to change, his behaviour appears to worsen.

The mystery aspect wasn’t really needed and I found the threads of Gretchen’s story meandered a bit. She could have just befriended a Jewish boy and get into trouble for that without all the pretence at intrigue and piecing together things that seem a bit too obvious for a modern reader. I would be interested in reading the second book to see where their journey takes them. It does work entirely as a standalone novel fortunately.

Prisoner of Night and Fog is published by Headline and is available now in trade paperback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Hive

Also reviewed @ kimberlyfaye reads

Shelve next to: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak



Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Stray

The Path is a virtual reality based on one boy’s memories. Lona Sixteen Always is one of the children on The Path, living Julian’s life as if it were her own. Her only experiences as herself are the moments when she’s disconnected from the system for calisthenics. There, she talks to Finn, a boy who is a few years ahead of her on The Path, sharing their memories that are identical. But one day, Lona goes Off-Path and must learn to live in a world where anything can happen.

The concept behind Stray stems from what to do with foster children. It seems like Path came from a place of good intentions. Children who were orphaned or came from abusive backgrounds could live out a life deemed to be perfectly ordinary. There would be no more shuffling them from home to home, no one taking advantage of them or neglecting them. The lack of individuality or choice is the price to pay for a happy childhood.

When the children reach 18, they are reintroduced into the world, where they will have to find out who they really are at last. Can they cope without Julian? Lona is off schedule, younger than the eighteeners who are given extra time to adjust. But it soon becomes clear, that it’s not as simple as removing them from the virtual reality.

The lack of individuality is continued through with the children’s names. Lona and Finn aren’t real names, they are reference numbers which relate to their date of birth and location within the compound. They might have the love of Julian’s parents on Path, but in reality, they aren’t treated as children with their own hopes and fears. They are a number, to be processed through the system until they reach adulthood, which is often how foster children see themselves anyway.

Whilst Lona’s brain chemistry might have been a bit different, I never felt like she was the heroine about to swoop in and save the day. Her character is suitably naïve and she struggles with interactions. I loved the scene where she is eating real foods for the first time. She may have the memories of eating but they’re not the same as experiencing it.

It didn’t really go into gender identity though which is surprising. They are all growing up as a boy, wouldn’t that be strange to adjust to for the girls? Does the short time they are in calisthenics allow them to understand their own bodies? It’s hinted at that some of Julian’s memories are edited out, but it’s hard to edit out all the times he’s aware of his penis.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Hive | Hot Key Books

Also reviewed @ Choose YA



Book Source: Purchased

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Fangirl

Cath and Wren are twin sisters, they’ve done everything together, including writing Simon and Baz fan fiction. Now they’re off to college but Wren wants to start doing things by herself. Forced to share a room with a stranger instead of her sister, Cath buries herself in the fictional world she loves so much. But is there time for coursework and Simon? And does Cath really need to socialise and make new friends when she’s got plenty online already?

Levi lived in a house, like an adult. Cath lived in a dorm, like a young adult - like someone who was still on adulthood probation.

The main relationship is really sweet and suitably slow and awkward to be completely believable. Falling asleep on other people’s bed in halls of residences was always a common occurrence when I was at university and it wasn’t always because you were drunk. Cath’s nervousness at going it alone and the simple things of college life is really well done; living off energy bars because she’s left it too long to find the cafeteria, not knowing what to do with the stranger she’s suddenly sharing a room with.

There was a lot going on in her family life. There’s a lot left unsaid but can be pieced together when you look back at what’s happened. Yet, sometimes it felt a bit all over the place, lots of threads that didn’t have the depth they deserved. Her father was an interesting case, coping with mental illness for most of it, and clearly a contribution to the break-up of their family, even if no one points the finger at him. They’re all too angry at the mother.

Wren’s determination to separate herself from her sister seemed a bit harsh. I guess siblings do grow apart but it didn’t fit with this girl who used to lovingly write fan fiction with Wren and helped hold her father together when they were little.

"You're not a book person. And now you're not an Internet person? What does that leave you?"
Levi laughed. "Life. Work. Class. The great outdoors. Other people."
"Other people," Cath repeated, shaking her head and taking a sip. "There are other people on the Internet. It's awesome. You get all the benefits of 'other people' without the body odor and the eye contact."

The fan fiction aspect didn’t win me over. I can understand why she used a fictional fandom but I would have preferred it to be something that existed. Simon and Baz were close enough to Harry Potter for people to be able to relate but different enough not to cause legal problems. But my brain struggled to really click with their world and the passages just interrupted the flow of the story. And Cath’s choice to hand in fan fiction as coursework was mind boggling.

I’ve never been the hugest fan of stories about writers and writing though. It’s just personal preference, and maybe I read more than enough writing stuff in real life, that I don’t want it in my fiction. There will plenty of people that will enjoy reading about Cath’s relationship with writing and relate to her special form of writer’s block. I did like her general geekiness though, there's a lot of behaviour there I can nod my head at.

The thing about Rainbow Rowell’s books is that I do really enjoy them but the one I think I’ve enjoyed the most was the one people told me was her worst, Attachments. It’s all about expectations, isn’t it? I don’t think this is as good as Eleanor & Park, which is probably her best but as I said in my review, I was expecting something different and maybe I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for that one when I read it. I’m looking forward to her next one, Landline, though especially as it has some stuff in the past again. I love her snippets of nostalgia.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Hive

Also reviewed @ Reblog Book Club | Book'd Out | Fictional Thoughts | Jess Hearts Books

Shelve next to: Roomies by Sara Zarr + Tara Altebrando



Book Source: Purchased

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Incoming!

AKA Showcase Sunday

I can't believe I didn't know there was a new Danny Wallace coming out. So excited about Who is Tom Ditto? Also a couple of really interesting sounding books from Headline, one a historical YA about Hitler's niece and the other a non-fiction book about a man who became a mathematical genius after a head injury.


For review:
Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman (Headline)
Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth (Canongate)
The Long War by Terry Pratchett + Stephen Baxter (Transworld)
Struck by Genius by Jason Padgett (Headline)
Who is Tom Ditto? by Danny Wallace (Ebury)

Bought:
Masks by Karen Chance

Freebies:
Pandemonium: The Rite of Spring by various



Showcase Sunday is hosted by Books, Biscuits & Tea.

Friday, 11 April 2014

The Winner's Curse

Kestrel isn’t quite sure what she’s doing when she buys a slave at auction. She certainly had no intention of it when she set out that day, but there was something about him… As the general’s daughter, she is being pushed towards a life in the military and must hide her love of music. Music is for the Harrani, the people her race enslaved when they conquered their lands. She doesn’t really know what to do with her new slave, but soon he is escorting her everywhere, into the houses of society, where no one watches what they say in front of a slave.

At first, I felt a little uncertain of the slavery aspect. It’s a fantasy setting, so why does it have to be white “European” owners with dark skinned slaves? Still, as the story progresses, there’s enough to challenge the characters and their history. There’s the issue of consent, which reminded me of the prisoner/guard relationship. If you are owned, you can’t really say no, a sexual relationship between a master and their slave can never be truly consensual, because they feel like they don’t have a choice. And, indeed, in most cases there isn’t.

These slaves were not considered savages by their conquerors. In fact the Valerians were the savages and the Harrani culture was adopted when they took over their lands. Before the war, their people had traded with each other. They were enslaved, not because they were considered lesser (although after time, this opinion prevailed) but because not trusting the defeated to behave it was either slavery or death. I am surprised such a short time had passed between their enslavement and the events in this story. Their slave culture seemed a lot more entrenched into society.

Neither character is intrinsically likable, something that can be a stumbling block in young adult, but they are complicated and any romance isn’t straight forward. Kestrel doesn’t really see the wrongs her people have done, even when she befriends Arin, she doesn’t become anti-slavery. With her military training, she was bound to know that the Valerian’s stole their land, but it doesn’t bother her. Despite everything, her sense of entitlement prevails.

Arin’s position is more difficult. He’s a slave, with no freedom, his people have been betrayed, but he is also a betrayer. It can’t be easy for him to have empathy towards his mistress and it’s hard to make out his true feeliings. In a straight-forward romantic story, his path would be clear but instead it’s troubled, which makes this more than your average YA romance.

It is a bit slow in places, but it gives you time to really think about their situation. It’s an awkward dynamic which isn’t glossed over in favour of love conquers all.

The Winner's Curse is published by Bloomsbury and is available now in ebook editions with a paperback coming later in the year. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Hive

Also reviewed @ Lost in Thought | Lisa is Busy Nerding

Shelve next to: The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke + Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas



Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Nagasaki

Only eight centimetres of juice remained, compared to fifteen when I had left for work. Someone had been helping themselves to it. And yet I live alone.

Fifty-six year old Shimura Kobo lives alone in the suburbs of Nagasaki. His life is relatively uneventful; he goes to work each day and avoids socialising with his colleagues. Then food starts to go missing. The once he could dismiss, but it keeps on happening. Who is in his home, helping themselves to his food?

Nagasaki is a short, but perfectly formed tale, a novella at 109 pages. It doesn’t need to be longer though, it’s a small, intimate story that would likely be damaged with padding. I’ve noticed the French seem much happier with shorter books and yes, it’s French, but somehow seems very Japanese in its telling.

It’s based on a story that ran in several Japanese newspapers and it does make you think. Our homes are our personal spaces, it’s understandable to want them free of intruders. But there’s also a sense of selfishness in the situation…it wasn’t really harming Shimura and there’s a sense of remorse as the story continues. We would like to think we would help those less fortunate in our communities, but when push comes to shove, how many of us do anything?

There’s a lot to think about and discuss which makes this the perfect book for book groups on busy months. Sometimes novellas feel a bit too brief, if ultimately enjoyable, but I don’t think you’d have that problem with Nagasaki.

Nagasaki has been translated into English, from the original French, by Emily Boyce for Gallic Books. It’s available now in paperback and ebook formats and is 99p for Kindle for a limited time. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Hive

Also reviewed @ Me And My Big Mouth | Winstonsdad's blog



Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The Kraken Wakes

It all started so slowly. So much, that a number of seemingly unconnected events mostly went unreported for months. But the increase of shipwrecks starts to raise eyebrows. Could there be something in the deepest reaches of the ocean? And if so, what? Does it mean to cause harm?

I love Phyllis. You’d expect from a book written in the fifties, a certain amount of sexism but Mike and Phyllis are a real partnership. Indeed, there are several occasions where she’s the one who saves him. I love their witty conversations and affectionate teasing. It’s not a love story but their everyday kind of love shines through. I like to think this couple is based on Mr and Mrs Wyndham, especially as he married a friend of 20 years.

As with Triffids, The Kraken Wakes comes across as incredibly timeless. It probably helps that there’s not been a lot of technological shipping advances in the last 60 years, nor do we know that much more about the bottom of the world’s oceans. We’re still concerned about rising sea levels and the effect of mankind on the ocean’s ecosystem.

The Cold War may have passed but Russia’s still having disagreements with the West. Some people still believe whatever the media tells them, with certain tabloids having their own agenda. I like the fact it was told from the point of view of two radio scriptwriters. They had a reason to be involved but out of the action, for the most part. For a story about the world under threat, there’s a very personal feeling. I like to think Mike and Phyllis would be a comforting presence on the radio in that kind of situation.

A lot of the book is full of media speculation. There’s a huge sense of déjà vu with some of it. The whole surmising of what happened to a missing boat section reminded me so much of the recent media coverage of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. We don’t know anything but we have to report something mind-set. Some things never change.

One of Wyndham’s strongest themes is the idea that humans aren’t all that secure in their position at the top of the food chain. His writing isn’t full of doom and gloom and I think he always gives us hope. His choice of protagonists are good, kind people, the sort of people you’d probably want to look after us in a disaster but ultimately never are.

Some of the language is just delightful. It’s a bit old-fashioned in places, yes, but it adds a certain charm. I especially enjoyed the repeated use of the word “boffins”. I’m looking forward to continuing my journey into the works of Wyndham!

This also ticks off #7 on my Lucky No. 14 Challenge for this year (woohoo, I've made a start!).

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Hive



Book Source: Purchased

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Beautiful Day

It’s Rachel’s first day at work since she had her children. Now divorced, she walks into Clifton Avenue Residential Home to start a part time job as a care assistant, looking after adults as well as her children. The deputy manager Rob sees potential in Rachel and assigns her a very special case. It’s Philip’s first day too and he has just lost the one person who ever cared for him. Can Rachel help Philip discover independence at the same time as juggling her chaotic home life?

Beautiful Day is an easy and enjoyable read but I was expecting something a bit weightier. The care home and the awkward carer patient relationship between Rachel and Philip should have been at the forefront but a lot of time was spent on Rachel’s home life. There’s a lot of description of everyday things to do with the kids, especially at the beginning. If you like your women’s fiction with a good dose of the domestic, you’ll probably enjoy it.

For a debut, there’s a lot going on and a large cast of characters. Rachel has three children, all of whom get their own personalities and a fair amount of plot is given over to her eldest, Alec. He’s the one hardest hit by his parents’ divorce. There’s the other woman, Deborah, who Rachel barely manages to be civil to as well as her ex and a useless au pair. He mother-in-law and best friend are in and out of the story and this is even before we get to the staff and residents of the care home. It just could have done with being a tad more focused.

Philip is a grown man who has been kept at home all his life, never really knowing the world around him. He appears severely autistic and much younger than his age. There are both touching and distressing scenes but his situation is a bit glossed over. His mother is dead and he is all alone in a world that he doesn’t understand. Rachel takes a special interest in him but the story doesn’t really explore the hardships surrounding a case like his, nor go into real depth about the abuses of power in some care homes. It’s a plot point, but so much is going on that it doesn’t really hit home.

Whilst Rachel loses her temper from time to time, I never got the feeling things were hard for her. Apart from the daily trials of dealing with shared custody after divorce, she seemed pretty comfortable in her life. I would have thought being a single parent and working as a care assistant would have been exhausting and stressful. The only unpleasantness at her work is her horrid boss and Philip’s toenails.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Wolf

Wolf is the 7th book in the Detective Jack Caffery series and therefore this review may contain spoilers for previous books.

It all started with a lost dog. Attached to its collar, a fragment of card with the words “HELP US” written on it.

Wolf got off to a great start, a growing paranoia that there was something in the woods followed by a family’s worst nightmare. A home invasion turns a safe place into a terrifying prison. It’s frustrating enough being in an area with poor mobile signal without that being your one link to safety. What is really unsettling is the idea that there are some people we let into our homes without question. We are not, generally, afraid to answer our doors, but there could be anyone on the other side.

So the first half was gripping and, as per usual with Mo Hayder’s books, made me want to sleep with the light on. I think her writing has become less reliant on shock tactics and more to do with psychological fears in her last few books. Although both kinds have been able to scare me something rotten! Somewhere along the way, it lost its power and the outcome seemed inevitable. Yet there was plenty of effort to make it not predictable, to the point the twists and turns became a bit much. It stopped being a thought-provoking situation of a family trapped in their own home and, well, I can’t really go into it without spoilers, but I felt let down.

However, there is also a side story of Jack trying to find out more about the last days of his brother’s life. This has been an ongoing thread throughout the books but had been pushed aside recently. The reader, if you’ve been reading the series, knows more than Jack but maybe always had a doubt too.

Flea is never mentioned by name for some reason but Jack keeps referring to her, slightly annoyingly, as the woman he might be in love with or the officer in charge of a specialist unit. It was a bit odd, but I also miss Flea. I would have liked her to at least pop her head in. I hope the next book deals a bit more with their relationship (or lack of it) and the aftermath of what Jack discovers. But yay for doggy heroes!

Wolf is published by Transworld and will be available in hardback and ebook editions from 24th April 2014. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Hive



Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

The Month That Was... March 2014

So my blog passed its three year mark in March but it was otherwise a fairly slow month. It's definitely not a slump, just the natural slow down that can only be expected after a few years (or people get co-bloggers which is something I don't want to do, this is MY blog and I'm selfish ;)). I read eight books over the month and one was titchy.

Of course, April brings the infamous Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon, so I might just get caught up.

In other news, I booked a holiday! A week in Tunisia at the end of May, woohoo! I also watched season one of Orange is the New Black after reading the book. Pondering whether to blog about that or not. I'm looking forward to the new series which goes on NetFlix in June. I started watching Lost Girl and Grimm too... and next week Game of Thrones is back on telly! So yeah, this might all explain why I'm reading less.

Here's what made it onto the blog...

Reviews:




Read and awaiting review: The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham + Wolf by Mo Hayder.

Blogged about:

I wrote a poem out of search terms for World Poetry Day and celebrated my blogoversary with a few words of advice. Christian Schoon also dropped by to tell us all about the starships in his Zenn Scarlett series.

Lots of new books: