Sunday, 4 December 2016

Illumicrate: One Year On

So Illumicrate has been running for a whole year now and early subscribers got an extra thank you gift in November's box. When it started there really wasn't much choice in the UK book subscription box market but it seems to have exploded since. Illumicrate still holds its own and definitely has a certain brand identity now.

I haven't read all the books I've received in the boxes but those I have, I did enjoy. I only received one book I already had, Truthwitch, and I really liked Wolf by Wolf and The Graces. I do intend of reading the others! You can see all my Illumicrate posts here, but now to talk about what was in the latest box.

So the first item is something that wasn't in every box. As I have been a subscriber since the beginning, I received the sequel to the first book. I am looking forward to reading Blood for Blood. For those not familiar with these books, they are set in an alternate history where the Nazis won the war and there is a supernatural aspect as well.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Thin Air

In 1935 the summit of Kangchenjunga in the Himalayas remained unreached. Stephen Pearce joins his brother, Kits, as the expedition’s medic as they follow in the footsteps of Lyell’s disastrous 1907 attempt. But on the eve of their descent, the only other survivor warns Stephen off the route with what he dismisses as superstitious claptrap. Five men lost their lives but only four were laid to rest…

People don't cry out when they fall.

I started off thinking what a bunch of arrogant, privileged men, thinking the world belongs to them and dismissing the local people. Good riddance to them when something horrible happens! It is written in the manner of a 1930s account and the attitudes are sadly very of the time. There's a bit of a tendency to apply modern values to historical fiction to make it more palatable but all that's doing is pretending things never happened. So yes, they are racist and completely disrespectful of local culture, and this may mean it's not for you. But our narrator does start to see the Sherpas as people, at least more than his companions.

There's a lot of detail about their climb, it would be a fantastic book for someone who loves mountaineering and a lot of the less supernatural elements are taken from real expeditions of the time. I can imagine how easy it is for the brain to play tricks on you from the remote surroundings and harsh weather to the effects of altitude sickness. Just like in Dark Matter, it's an excellent subject to base a ghost story on; it would be easy to argue the men are driven mad by their situation.

I suppose it's only to be expected that I'm out of sorts. The remoteness of this place... It forces one to confront one's own insignificance as never before. And we are so very far from help.

The horror aspect of it is subtle, but insidious. I don’t think a rucksack has ever been so sinister! It’s a slow build but a lot more effective than trying to do too much. Not one to read more a climb or camping trip.

The brothers have worshipped Lyell since childhood, with his memoir describing his seemingly selfless act of bringing the bodies of the fallen down the mountain. Yet Stephen’s hero was far from perfect and whilst Kits might not want to think otherwise, Stephen’s devotion starts to wane as he gets closer to the truth. There is a lot of sibling rivalry between them, Kits always trying to belittle his younger brother.

Thin Air is published by Orion and is available now in hardback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

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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, 1 December 2016

The Month That Was... November 2016

I enjoyed taking part in Nonfiction November last month, whilst I only read two non-fiction books, that's more than normal and I added loads to my wishlist. I've kinda enjoyed blogging about a few non-book things too, and I'll be back with some more subscription box reviews soon. I know a lot of people have asked about the gin one!

This does mean I'm a bit behind on my reviews though. Expect some quickie review style catching up. No giveaway this month either but I will be having an end of year one instead. As always, I'll be waiting until the very last day for my best of list.

This month I'm doing #bookishadvent over on Instagram. Feel free to join with a daily bookish post between now and Christmas. If I want to meet my Goodreads target for 2016, I need to read 21 books this month. I am only working half of December, so it's not impossible, especially if I pick up a few graphic novels and novellas.

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

Book of the Month:
...And a Happy New Year? by Holly Bourne


Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Top Ten Holiday Gifts Under a Tenner

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

So I started doing this list with lots of cool things, but I stopped and thought, who can afford this stuff, really? So I changed my mind and found you ten bargain items that are £10 or under.

Peropon Drinking Animal Planter

Do you always forget to water your herbs? Well these super cute plant pots make watering fun! Fill up their saucers and their little tongues will suck up the water and stop your plants getting thirsty without drowning them. The small size are £9.99 @ Firebox, with seeds included, and come in panda (basil), frog (mint), dog (clover) and cat (wild strawberry) versions.

Property of Hogwarts Mug

Primark have loads of Harry Potter stuff in at the moment, from muggle socks to "waiting for my letter" bedding, but this mug is an absolute bargain at £2.50, and mugs are always useful. I have also seen a polyjuice potion, hipster-style, glass mug in store.

Stranger Things Colouring Book

This unofficial colouring book is pretty cool, and as there's not much merchandise about it's a great gift for a fan of Stranger Things. Plus it's only £7 on Etsy.

Wooden Bookmark

IngrainedInc have loads of these bookmarks in their Etsy shop but I think my favourite is the giraffe. It costs £7.50 and can be personalised on the back.

Pokeball Grinder

If you know someone who likes cooking and Pokemon, this could be the perfect gift. It's £9.89 on Etsy and will grind herbs and spices

Microwave Penguin

These microwavable bean bags are pretty handy if you feel the cold and a little less hassle than a hot water bottle. Perfect to snuggle up to whilst reading. This one from New Look is pretty cute and is currently reduced to £8.24.

Hip Flask

To help get anyone through the holiday season. If you've got money to spare, give your friend something to fill it up with too. This Sass & Belle adventure flask is £7 @ ASOS

A Dragon!

Can't afford the real thing? Paperchase have a selection of plastic dragons at £6 each.

A Hand-Picked Book

Duh! Of course you know books are great presents, but rather than me telling you books I like, you should always pick a book based on what the recipient likes. If your dad loves epic fantasy, but you never read it, find a blogger you trust to give you some ideas. It's great if your family and friends have the same taste as you but if not, don't fall into the trap of just buying them something you love.

Personalised Book Token

National Book Tokens can be used in bookshops all across Britain including chains. Earlier in the year they introduced personalised book tokens which you can get to look a bit like a Penguin Classic, as well as other designs (or create your own). It costs a bit extra to get a custom one, but they can be topped up so your friend/family member can use it for their book shopping forever if they like! I have seen codes (maybe on O2) to get a personalised one without the fee, so do look around.

Monday, 28 November 2016

#NonficNov: Wishlist Additions

I've enjoyed spending the month pootling round new blogs and hearing about many interesting books. There's a mix here of books bloggers have recommended, ones I've just stumbled across this month and a few from the Goodreads Choice Awards lists. I'm sorry I haven't linked to the blogs I found these on here, but my laptop's been blue screening and I've just not had the time. But if you see a book your mentioned in your posts this month here, be sure that you influenced me!

I've come to realise that US and UK non-fiction is much more separate than fiction for some reason. There's a few books I've added to my wishlist that are US only and I'll be keeping my eyes out for UK publishers picking them up.*

This week is hosted by Emerald City Book Reviews.

Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation by Judith Mackrell
Adrift: A Secret Life of London's Waterways by Helen Babbs
They Can't Kill Us All: The Story of Black Lives Matter by Wesley Lowery

Empire of Booze by Henry Jeffreys
Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster by Svetlana Alexievich
Born A Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

The Wonder Trail: True Stories from Los Angeles to the End of the World by Steve Hely
Truffle Boy: My Unexpected Journey Through the Exotic Food Underground by Ian Purkayastha
Locally Laid: How We Built a Plucky, Industry-changing Egg Farm - from Scratch by Lucie B. Amundsen

Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye by Marie Mutsuki Mockett
A Thousand Naked Strangers: A Paramedic’s Wild Ride to the Edge and Back by Kevin Hazzard
Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body's Most Under-Rated Organ by Giulia Enders

On the Trail of Genghis Khan: An Epic Journey Through the Land of the Nomads by Tim Cope
The Idiot Brain: A Neuroscientist Explains What Your Head is Really Up To by Dean Burnett
I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong

*Yes, I know it's fairly easily to get books imported these days, but the exchange rate is pretty awful right now.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

The Inaugural Ninja Book Box

The first Ninja Book Box arrived on Monday along with my Kickstarter rewards. The box supports independent publishers, giving you a chance to discover books off the beaten track. It's also put together by the amazing Bex @ Armchair by the Sea. If you don't want the contents spoiled, stop reading now!

The theme of the fist box is "Slightly Surreal" and I'm assuming the gifts have a connection to the book in some way. As part of the subscription, you are also invited to the Ninja Book Group to discuss the book after you've read it. And the first book is... Star-Shot by Mary-Ann Constantine, published by Seren Books. You get a bit more information about the book and publisher in the box. Seren is a small, Welsh publisher specialising in English-language writing from Wales.

Part fable, part mystery, Star-Shot is a stylish debut novel set in and around Cardiff's National Museum in a time that is almost, but not quite, our own.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Yes Please

Most of the recommendations I got for Yes Please were from people who had listened to the audiobook, which is narrated by Amy herself. I was tempted, but I still have loads of unlistened to audiobooks which I have failed to get into, so I went for the book. I wonder if I would have enjoyed the audio version more, although I did like some of Amy’s old photos which are included.

I really only know Amy from her role in Parks and Recreation, which I love, but there is something about her which is very likeable, indeed the blurb on the book says everyone wants to be her friend. It’s definitely a feeling I got from her more personal chapters, which are more essays on life in general than specifics about her career.

The chapter on saying sorry was touching and on the point. So often a sorry comes with a caveat, we make it a selfish thing for ourselves than a real act of apology. Sometimes we are too angry to even think we should apologise. Her example is something I’m sure we’d all regret and I sniffled a bit at the final response.

Sometimes we get defensive about what we feel guilty about.

Other good bits are on the positives of getting old; you get superpowers! She reveals how bad a sleeper she is and pitches her ideas for books on divorce rather than talking about her own divorce. She reveals she is a kind and dedicated mom who makes parenting work with her career, at the same time pointing out how much women can be really down on other women who are doing the opposite.

Fighting aging is like the War on Drugs. It's expensive, does more harm than good, and has been proven to never end.

I’m not that familiar with Saturday Night Live and there is a lot about that. It came across a bit name droppy and was a list of this happened one time, and this happened another time. It was lacking the general charm displayed in other areas.

She does go on a bit at the start about how hard it is to write a book. I’m not doubting that, but in places it does feel like maybe she was going through the motions. Maybe if she hadn’t felt the need to “cover her career” I would have fallen in love, but I did find myself skimming some of it.

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Also reviewed @ Lit Addicted Brit

Book Source: Purchased

Monday, 21 November 2016

#NonficNov: Be the Expert

This week, Nonfiction November is hosted by JulzReads.

Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

Be the Expert - Biology

Whilst I am far from an expert in biology, it is the topic I seem to read the most of when it comes to non-fiction. I'm generally fascinated at how the human body works. It's amazing we're all here, reading the internet, when you think about it!

The Violinist's Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code
by Sam Kean
Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus
by Bill Wasik + Monica Murphy
Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery
by Henry Marsh

These three books look at aspects of biology from different angles, I'm not really the kind of person who reads a lot on a very niche subject, I like to spread my learning around! The first book looks at the basic building blocks of life on earth; DNA. Sam Kean manages to make something very complex a lot easier to understand whilst taking an alternate trip through history.

I've mentioned Rabid already this month, but reading about deadly diseases appeals to me somehow. Maybe the more I understand it, the less I have to fear? Although rabies is a pretty scary virus and I'm glad I live in a country that is (mostly) free of it. This book looks at the virus from a cultural view as well as a biological, which adds a bit more material.

My third pick is the memoir of an NHS neurosurgeon. The brain is such a mystery yet every day surgery is carried out on it. People put their most precious organ in the hands of fallible human beings. I liked both the technical and the personal aspects of Henry's book.

Sunday, 20 November 2016


Taking part in Nonfiction November encouraged me to seek out some non-fiction books to spend my birthday vouchers on this month. You may have noticed I've read some of these already and some of the reviews are already up on the blog. Which makes me sound all organised and efficient but I am anything but at the moment! It's good to sometimes buy a book and just read it straight away though.

I'm looking forward to the third Invisible Library book and whilst I know Ben Fogle's Labrador isn't meant to be the best book in the world, I think it will still be interesting to read now we have one.

For Review:

Dark Made Dawn by J.P. Smythe
The Burning Page by Genevieve Cogman (Tor)
You Will Not Have My Hate by Antoine Leiris (Vintage)
After the Crown by K.B. Wagers (Orbit)*


Yes Please by Amy Poehler
One Summer by Bill Bryson
The Shepherd's Life by James Rebanks
The Yorkshire Shepherdess by Amanda Owen
The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink
The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
Lying About Last Summer by Sue Wallman


...And a Happy New Year? by Holly Bourne
Labrador by Ben Fogle

*Unsolicited titles

Thursday, 17 November 2016

...And a Happy New Year?

...And a Happy New Year? is a follow-up special to the Spinster Club trilogy and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous books.

It’s the first time since the girls left for college that the Spinster Club has met up and Amber’s throwing a New Year’s Eve party. They’re all looking forward to the countdown to midnight with their boyfriends with them. But distance has put a strain on their friendship and they are all keeping secrets from each other.

Happy endings aren’t forever. I loved how this book showed how the girls’ lives went on after their books and that not everything is perfect. I’m particularly pleased to get this follow-up novella as I wanted to know what happened with Lottie’s Cambridge application.

It also looks at the very real experience of drifting apart from your friends as you grow older. They go away to different cities to study or choose other paths, and it’s often difficult to keep things as they once were. Some people might feel they are being left behind.

Lottie’s not having a great time in London, but as far as her friends are concerned she is, so much so that that they think they’ve lost her to a better life. It’s pretty common for people to put on a happy face and pretend they are doing better than they are, but all it ends up doing is alienating people.

Evie is finding her relationship straining under their combined mental illnesses. She thought Ollie was doing OK but he seems to be relapsing. She still has her bad thoughts and she’s worried that confiding her problems will only result in one answer.

Amber’s also got a secret, but how does she find the right time to tell her friends. Everyone’s fragile and New Year’s Eve is meant to be fun, right?

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Book Source: Purchased