Sunday, 1 May 2016

The Month That Was... April 2016

+ International Giveaway

Readathon is great for getting caught up with the reading but not so good for review writing. I think I'll use the bank holiday tomorrow for a big blogging session (although I may get drunk at the pub quiz tonight and spend tomorrow lying around instead, it's 50/50).

I read some fantastic books last month and I look forward to sharing my thoughts on Laura Lam's bonkers book, False Hearts, soon. On the personal front, we're a little bit closer to moving but still don't have a date. Honestly, buying a house takes so long... but I do feel a little bit less stressed now we have the mortgage offer.

Good news! The monthly giveaway is back, just enter below to win one of the pictured books. It's open internationally (non-UK winners will get their prize ordered from Wordery, a non-Amazon-owned retailer who offer free international delivery) and you don't have to follow to enter. But if you do claim extra entries, no cheating or all your entries will be disqualified.

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

Book of the Month:
HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt


Tuesday, 26 April 2016

The Picture of Dorian Gray

To get back my youth I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable.
Oscar Wilde is immensely quotable and witty, I’m sure you’ll all recognise some bits of his prose. The Picture of Dorian Gray is a gothic tale full of various themes, but centrally the fear of aging and the idea that our sins are visible to the outside world through our aging. What would happen if you could halt that process?

If you’re not aware of the story, Dorian Gray is a young, attractive man who sits for the artist, Basil Hallward. As he gazes on Basil’s greatest work of art, a portrait of himself, Dorian wishes that he would always be this perfect and instead the painting would age on his behalf. Sometimes wishes come true, but with devastating consequences. As the outer world only sees Dorian’s youthful innocence, the portrait reflects a soul with plenty to hide.

The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.

I did feel a bit sorry for Dorian in places. He does seem rather naïve at the start and is led astray by Lord Henry Wotton, who thinks being a good person is incredibly dull. It doesn’t go into detail about the sinful things Dorian gets up to but it’s inferred through the fact he ends up with a pretty awful reputation. Yet every now and then there’s a glimpse of the old Dorian and I wished for him to finally see the error of his ways.

This 1891 edition is an extended version rather than that which first appeared in a magazine, and it was also censored in places that hinted at a same sex romantic relationship. I still think it’s quite obvious that Basil fancied Dorian to a modern reader but my clothbound version included endnotes explaining what had been changed. I think I would have liked to have read the original version because I did think it went on a bit in places, it spends a long time talking about the opulence of their surroundings and a lot of conversations about art.

I wonder who it was defined man as a rational animal. It was the most premature definition ever given. Man is many things, but he is not rational.

Not that it doesn’t have things to say about the nature of art, but really I wanted to get back to the painting and what Dorian was going to do. Another thing in the back of the clothbound, is a section containing contemporary reviews and, oh my, weren’t the critics scathing in their day? More-so that even the snarkiest blogger, and these were people writing in the national press. Oddly a Christian paper seemed to say the nicest things about the book, seeing it more as a moral tale than one of degradation.

Lord Henry Wotton is pretty sexist, I’m not sure if he’s meant to reflect Wilde’s own views or not, but in his mind women are air-headed, sub-humans. I could have done without all his mean comments but you wonder how much the way society made women act, made them come across that way. Perhaps the societal pressure around marriage was too much for Wilde, so he lashed out against the opposite sex. Maybe he was just angling for laughs.

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Book Source: Purchased

Sunday, 24 April 2016

#readathon finito

Local time: 13:00
Hours spent reading: 19
Pages read: 1362
Books finished: 4

I'm pretty pleased with the amount I read and I generally enjoyed all the books I picked up. It didn't seem as social to me as some of the previous ones but that might be my fault for not getting around so much and I don't think so many people I know where doing it.

I finally tucked into my carrots, cucumber and hummous in the final hours. I have that weird tired feeling which is a bit like being hungover now, so plenty of fluids and some vaguely healthy food is in order. I will probably even do a bit more reading today after a bit of a break.

Pages read since last update: 226

#readathon: hour 21

Local time: 09:00
Hours spent reading: 15
Pages read: 1136
Books finished: 3

Sleep was soooooo good! I had a bit longer than I planned but I don't feel too much like death this morning. Which is good. I forgot to grind coffee beans last night so I made an awful noise getting myself caffeinated. And I had a giant crumpet for breakfast (which just makes everything else look smaller in the photo).

I'm really enjoying Amy & Roger's Epic Detour and I think I'll definitely get it finished before the end.

Currently reading: Amy & Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
Pages read since last update: 170
Books read: The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson, Five Ghosts Volume 1 by Frank J Barbiere + Chris Mooneyham, Shtum by Jem Lester

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#readathon: hour 13

Local time: 01:00
Hours spent reading: 12
Pages read: 966
Books finished: 3

This is the hour where I start bargaining with myself on whether or not I can have a snooze. I am definitely usually in bed, asleep, by now. It's also eerily quiet, munching on a prawn cracker sounds deafening. My next update will probably be in the morning so I can have a few hours sleep and rest my slightly aching neck.

Currently reading: Amy & Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
Pages read since last update: 305
Books read: The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson, Five Ghosts Volume 1 by Frank J Barbiere + Chris Mooneyham, Shtum by Jem Lester

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Saturday, 23 April 2016

#readathon: hour 9

Local time: 21:00
Hours spent reading: 8
Pages read: 661
Books finished: 2

Finished a graphic novel, made it through a good chunk of Shtum and eaten dim sum and crispy duck pancakes for dindins. Eyes are feeling a bit tired now and it's dark outside. Probably time for a caffeine break! I'm going to try and read until at least 2am and then maybe have a few hours sleep.

I have mixed thoughts on Five Ghosts; loved the artwork but the story was lacking in character development. It felt very much an intro to something I'd have to read more of to get anything out of.

Currently reading: Shtum by Jem Lester
Pages read since last update: 308
Books read: The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson, Five Ghosts Volume 1 by Frank J Barbiere + Chris Mooneyham

We're being punished because we love and care for him and he's not as good at autism as he could be.

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#readathon: hour 5

Local time: 17:00
Hours spent reading: 4
Pages read: 353
Books finished: 1

First book finished! I enjoyed, The Art of Being Normal and had a few teary moments. It's interesting that it's endorsed by Anmesty International too, as a reminder that "all humans are born equal". I'm going to read a graphic novel next, and have a bit of a move around before I seize up!

On the snacks front, I had my quesadillas for lunch and then the Belgian Specaloos from Graze (cinnamon pretzel sticks with cookie goop - yum).

Currently reading: Five Ghosts: Volume 1 by Frank J. Barbiere + Chris Mooneyham
Books read: The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

Besides, who wants to be normal anyway? Fancy that on your gravestone. "Here lies so-and-so. They were entirely normal."

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Ready, steady, #readathon!

Local start time: 13:00
Hours spent reading: 0
Pages read: 0
Books finished: 0

Woop woop! This will by my 9th Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon if I've counted correctly. I missed the last one due to GollanczFest, which was fun but readathon is bookish fun without the travelling, and more snacks. I am all about the reading (and snacking) so I'll only be doing challenges if one really grabs my fancy.

Josh isn't readathoning but he will be partaking in a bit of sleep deprivation to keep me company (and well fed/hydrated/caffeinated).

I'm going to try and stick to my stack (pictured below) but I have started reading The Road to Little Dribbling and might dip back into that at some point. Especially if I'm too tired to start anew with plot and characters. Plus Bill makes me laugh.

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Thursday, 21 April 2016

A Red-Rose Chain

A Red-Rose Chain is the ninth book in the October Daye series and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous books.

Things are finally looking good for Sir October Daye and the Kingdom of the Mists, but there is no time to get comfortable. When the Silences target Arden’s seneschal, they are declaring war, a war Toby’s people would rather not have. The plan? Send Toby as a diplomatic ambassador to try and talk their way out of it. You have met Toby, haven’t you?

Really, you just lie awake all day coming up with new ways to screw yourself over, don't you?

As these series goes on, there’s seems to be more and more that Seanan thinks needs a little recap or explanation in the first few chapters. I know I forget a lot between books but it just means it takes an awful long time to get into what is an otherwise great story. Maybe the (admittedly useful) pronunciation guide at the start could be extended to include these little reminders and leave the body of the novel for the plot to unfold.

Anyways, enough quibbling. A Red-Rose Chain focuses on discrimination in the fae world. Before Arden took over, the Mists wasn’t the most accommodating place for changelings but at least they were free. As Toby visits the Silences, the neighbouring kingdom, she soon learns how bad things can be for those who aren’t pure.

King Rhys of Silences does not let Toby forget who she is, or more importantly to him, what she is. She’s a changeling, so she’s beneath him, yet her blood holds a power he covets. With the scheming former Queen of the Mists at his side, Toby can’t risk turning her back for even a second.

Is this related to the notice I received from Queen Windermere that a war was being beta-tested, and might be cleared for release? I do not have time to allow my coders to be slaughtered. It seems very inefficient.

I was a bit sad that all the politics and defying death meant there wasn’t much time for Toby and Tybalt’s wedding planning. They seem to be doing this at the start of the book, a sign that things are calm and they are getting on with life. So OK, preventing war comes first, but I would have liked a bit more of the happy. Maybe we’ll get the wedding in the next book…if it isn’t the scene of a mass fae slaughter.

Anyway, I love the world-building overall that has gone into this series and it’s my favourite fae world, even when sometimes the individual building blocks may be a bit wobbly. I’m not a huge fan of series going on indefinitely these days though, and I do hope this one doesn’t go on so long it loses its shine.

Note, this series is now published in the UK by Corsair (hurrah) but release dates are behind the US (boo). If you want to read this now, you can still hunt down the Daw edition from a few places.

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Book Source: Purchased

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Memory of Water

Noria Kaitio is following in her father’s footsteps, like each generation before her, and is training to become a Tea Master. In a world where water is rationed, the tea ceremony is a privilege, and only the most important people will come to drink their tea. Noria’s father also keeps a secret, the location of a hidden spring with the purest water. A spring that gives them all the water they could dream of.

The beginning was the day when my father took me to the place that didn't exist.

I have really mixed feelings about Memory of Water; there were some lovely pieces of writing and hints at a future following ecological disaster but the pacing was all wrong. It starts slowly, taking time over describing the tea ceremony and traditions, maybe too slowly as it felt like nothing was happening. It echoes the calmness of the ceremony itself and could have been forgiven if it weren’t for the fact that when things start to happen, they’re over in the blink of an eye, and then it ends.

Noria and her friend Sanja spend their free time trawling through the plastic grave for salvageable items or things of interest. Noria has been collecting TDKs and shiny discs, with no idea of what they are for, but when Sanja finds an object intended for playing audio, they put two and two together. I always wonder what on earth people of the future will think of our discarded items and I enjoyed the passages where they describe things without knowing their names or purpose.

The plastic grave highlights the problem with our disposable consumerism, that we throw away perfectly good things. In the future they repair plastic, one would never throw away a plastic bag, let alone more sophisticated objects. There is no more oil, so no more plastic.

A discovery in the plastic grave links the girls to the past, learning a little of the Twilight Century when the oil ran dry and the sea levels rose. But they are only glimpses of the past. The promise of a journey, and answers, never surfaces. In one way the ending felt final, yet so many things were left hanging, unfinished, unanswered.

Even if we don't see it right away, it is all happening; and if we look away long enough, we will no longer recognise the room and the landscape, when we eventually look at them again.

I’m impressed that Emmi Itäranta translated the book herself, and I don’t believe the fault is in the translation itself. It’s refreshing to read about a dystopian future from the perspective other than the UK or America. The Scandinavian Union appears to be occupied in China, with a mix of cultural references intertwined into the story. However I wasn’t ever really sure what had happened. It’s not a book to read if you are super keen on world-building and the history that comes with that.

I’ve read three, very different, books now about a future where water becomes scarce. I would say The Water Knife was my favourite, despite issues with the protagonist, as it felt cynically closest to what would probably happen, water as a commodity. In some ways, it shares that with Memory of Water but there was still a sense of water as a right here, even if it were heavily controlled. The Well was too intimate a story to get a proper sense of the drought, but again it shared something with having a source that only benefitted the few. Noria at least deals better with the situation, than the characters of The Well.

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Book Source: Purchased