Friday, 21 July 2017

#24in48 Readathon

This weekend is the 24 in 48 Readathon. Whilst I am a Dewey's veteran, this in my first 24 in 48. If you don't know the premise, it's a bit more relaxed with the aim to read for 24 hours over the whole weekend. This also means people not in North America can start reading in the morning! Really I just need an excuse to boost my reading mojo as I have been terrible of late at weekends, with not much to show for my time off.

Sunday is Scully's first birthday and we're meeting her parents and siblings for a puppy reunion, so realistically my goal is 12 hours and two books, but if I can do more, great! Of course, my TBR is over-ambitious but I like to have a choice:


Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Lost for Words by Stephanie Butland
Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter
After the Fire by Will Hill
The Waking Land by Callie Bates
Truth or Dare by Non Pratt
I Hate Fairyland by Skottie Young
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin


I'll probably update here at the end of each day and more frequently on Twitter and Instagram. I am not going to be super strict with timing myself as I'm not that interested in prizes and I would most likely keep resetting my stopwatch by accident.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Yesterday

Yesterday is set in an alternate reality where the population is split between Monos and Duos. The difference? A Duo can remember two days and a Mono only one. This creates a class divide and Felicia Yap uses it to explore prejudice.

At the heart of the story is a dead woman, assumed murdered however murder is pretty rare as most people don't have the same grudges they would if they remembered everything clearly. However, the victim could remember everything, and had been institutionalised because of it. Her diaries suggest she hadn't the only one either, all condemned to madness.

With no long term memory you would expect civilisation to collapse. To get round this, everyone keeps a diary, once kept on paper but now, thanks to Steve Jobs, people can store them electronically. If they study their diary regularly, they can commit facts to long-term memory. Also, children can remember everything, with memory loss starting at age 18 for Monos and 23 for Duos. This gap strengthens the stereotype of Monos being stupid, as it prohibits a university education. Just as in our world, the working class have greater hurdles to catch up with the middle class, who have better opportunities afforded to them by wealth and connections.
It's a shame the lack of intelligence of a few reinforces the bigotry against the many.

It works if you don't think too hard about it all. With the memory constraints, it's a miracle this alternate world has the same technological advancement. I liked how precious the diaries were, a nod to current concerns over data privacy, as well as the potential for data loss. Claire discovers she is missing a period of time in her old diaries, events she didn't attempt to memorise. They put trust in their diaries just as we trust in hard drives and cloud storage.

It seems to me that thrillers these days must have unlikable characters, and Sophia and Mark definitely fit the bill. Sophia is the victim, whose diary tells us of her thirst for revenge against Mark, a famous writer (books are written to be read over a couple of days at most). Her reasons for revenge are not revealed immediately, which helps keep the pace.

Fortunately for me, Hans the detective and mark's wife Claire, are much more sympathetic characters. It says a lot that these are the Monos, whilst the Duos come across as arrogant and prejudiced. Normally, Monos' career prospects would be limited by their status but Hans has been pretending to be a Duo, his track record at solving crimes within a day contributing to his success, both as a detective and as a Mono in hiding.

It's the sum total of minuscule remembered gestures that makes love powerful. It's the agglomeration of tiny recollected grievances that makes hatred.

Everyone assumes Claire was just the pretty but stupid Mono wife. Mark's running for MP and part of his campaign is about mixed marriages, of which his is one. Yet there's more to Claire than meets the eye. The change in her diary style over 20 years shows she has improved her writing skills.

The diaries provide much of the narrative, jumping around in time as well as between characters. There are also press clippings that add some context as well as shedding light on the mystery, or confusing it more in some cases.

It's an interesting concept and I'd recommend to anyone who is getting a little fatigued by the usual domestic thrillers.

Yesterday is published by Wildfire, an imprint of Headline, and will be available in hardback and ebook editions from 10th August 2017. 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.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

The Girl of Ink and Stars

The Girl of Ink and Stars seems to have been everywhere over the past year. Whilst it was chosen as Waterstones' children's book of the year, I don't think it had occurred to me that it really was a children's book (rather than YA). It is a beautifully written children's book but unlike, say, Scarlett Thomas's Dragon's Green, it didn't feel like it was partly written for adults. Which is fine, just it didn't really spark with me and I have started to feel a bit fatigued with reading younger books of late.

All things have a cycle, Isabella, a habit of returning the way they came. Seasons, water, lives, perhaps even trees. You don’t always need a map to find your path back. Though often it helps.

Anyway, onto the actual book! Isabella is the daughter of a cartographer and best friend to the Governor's daughter, Lupe. Her mother and twin brother are dead, and it is alluded to that the Governor's harsh regime contributed to their fate. When one of their classmates is found dead, Isabella blames Lupe and the two fall out. The next morning Lupe is missing; she's gone to find the killer and prove that she's not rotten.

In order to join the search party for Lupe, Isabella disguises herself as a boy. I'm not a huge fan of this trope; first off why can't girls have adventures anyway? Secondly, I find it hard to believe a haircut and some trousers is enough of a disguise.* Slightly redeemed by the fact one person who knows Isabella isn't fooled. Why are fictional fantasy worlds always a bit sexist? Demon dogs fine, gender equality? Nah, no one will believe that.

Isabella inhabits an alternate world, with similar place names but clearly a world without our level of technology. The island of Joya is based on the real life Canary Island of La Gomera. With all the volcanic activity of these islands I can imagine their mythology is full of danger from beneath, and this is brought through in the book.

As well as the supernatural elements it also has an undercurrent of colonial tensions. The Governor came from another land and took over the island. He brought it laws preventing the native people from leaving and split the island in two. If you break his laws, you are banished to the other side, never to be seen again.

Why had he come here? Why did he treat Joya as if it belonged to him, and not to the people who had lived here for centuries?

I think it would be a lovely addition to your child's bookshelf though. And don't be annoyed by the fact it has girl in the title, for once it is actually about a girl! In the US, it's called The Cartographer's Daughter, but I was pleased to hear that the UK publisher didn't want to use that formula. She's more than just the daughter of a man, and it turns out she's just as much a cartographer of him, using ink and stars to navigate and create her own maps.

*I feel the same way about Arya in Game of Thrones.

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Book Source: Purchased

Saturday, 15 July 2017

BH6 Books and Home

There's a new bookshop in town! Well, the town I used to live in. I always thought Southbourne (a Bournemouth suburb) would be a great location for a little bookshop. It gets plenty of tourists heading for the beach, is fairly middle class and has all sorts of hipster establishments cropping up of late. So BH6 is a wonderful addition to the high street.


Today is its first day of trading and the shop was very busy, and not just people being nosy but actually buying books too. This did mean there wasn't much space to move around, but I imagine on a normal day it will be a calming place to browse. The owners have gone for a mostly paperback selection on a mix of old and new shelves. The obligatory card selection was really nice and included a pop-up card with a sloth on it. Unfortunately I could think of anyone's birthday coming up I could use it for *sad face*. There was also a table with cute acrylic jewellery and embroidered brooches.

It passes the Wyndy Test, a mark of whether or not I'm going to get on with a bookshop. It stocked not just one, but three, different John Wyndham titles. The science fiction and fantasy selection was quite limited but they had some good core classics. And there was quite a gap on the shelves, so either they sold loads or are planning to stock more. They did say they had started off with less stock in general and are open for suggestions on what to stock. They seem keen to provide a good service to the local community.


The shelves were filled with a lot of books I have read or are already on my shelves, which is a good sign of matching taste but also meant it was harder to find something to buy. Fortunately there were a couple of books I had been planning to buy on the Oxford Bookshop Crawl anyway; The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss and Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter.


You can find BH6 Books and Home on Twitter and Facebook or pop into the shop @ 69 Southbourne Grove, Bournemouth, BH6 3QU.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

I Know a Secret

Rizzoli and Isles is one of the few crime fiction series I have stuck with over the years. I just love the regular characters so much andthere's always a decent helping of stuff about them, rather than just the crime. I Know a Secret is the 12th book in this series, starring Detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles.

We're growing old together. We've both seen too much death.

The narrative goes between third person, following Jane and Maura, and the first person narrative of Holly, a book publicist. Early on there are signs that Holly could be a sociopath but is she actually guilty of anything?

Jane is investigating two seemingly unrelated murders, ones where Maura cannot identify the cause of death. In both cases the bodies have been mutilated after the victim is dead, possibly in symbolic ways, but there's nothing else to connect them.

Meanwhile Holly is aware of these deaths, and another which is linked. She knew the victims as a child, but is she a victim or a suspect? It takes a while for the detectives to get caught up and find the link, which I can find irritating sometimes but it's a fast-paced page turner and I was glad to catch up with the characters.

This case brings Maura to Daniel Brophy's door once more, but she swears it's only in a professional manner. Jane still hasn't forgiven him for breaking her friend's heart. Another person Maura had sworn to stay away from, but for different reasons, was her birth mother, who is now dying of cancer.

Middle-aged women were too often overlooked, so invisible that they failed to show up on anyone's radar. Everyone focused on the pretty young girls and strapping young men. But older women were everywhere, hiding in plain view.

Jane's life is pretty peachy, with her daughter doing well and Gabriel's sort of in the background here but still supportive. Her only personal thing in this instalment is her parents' relationship. They're back together but Angela is starting to lose her patience. I actually think this book leaves all the characters in a good place...which makes me wonder if this is the end?

Note this book contains references to child abuse. There's usually a specific type of criminal law or procedure looked at in these books and this one is around the psychology of child abuse cases, hysteria and unreliability of young witnesses.

I Know a Secret is published by Transworld and will be available in hardback and ebook editions from 10th August 2017. 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.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Persepolis

Read the World: Iran

I didn't really know much about Iran, other than it doesn't get on with neighbouring Iraq much, so Persepolis gave me a brief introduction on its more recent history. Before the comic strips start there is also a brief recap on the country's history to put Marjane's experiences into perspective.

As long as there is oil in the middle east we will never have peace.

The story spans from 1979 to 1994. Young Marjane is attending a French school when the Islamic Revolution happens. The co-ed schools are segregated and she's forced to wear a veil along with all the other women in the country. She's at the age where she doesn't take things that seriously and the anecdotes are full of humour, sometimes in the face of terror.

Her parents are quite liberal and like to attend demonstrations. She learns about her grandfather's past and his ultimate imprisonment as a communist. Her Uncle Anoosh also spent time in prison and she becomes quite close to him when he comes to visit. She learns a lot about what happens to people who don't conform to what a good Iranian should be. The Guardians of the Revolution go round reporting immoral behaviour, such as wearing make-up or being seen with an unrelated man in public. Marjane laughs at them but they are quite sinister. You can see where Margaret Atwood got some of her ideas from.


This period also covers the Iraq-Iran war, shows how everyday life was affected as well as the huge loss of life. Later on, Marjane writes about the Kuwait refugees from the Gulf War, their attitudes to women making Iran seem positively progressive in comparison.

The second part of the book details Marjane's life in Austria where she is sent after her parents decide Iran isn't safe for a questioning young teenager such as herself. Whilst she is keen to meet and befriend "real anarchists" and get herself a boyfriend, her time is shadowed by the loneliness of a young refugee, split up from her family. She shows how easy it is for refugees to bounce from place to place, never finding a real home and even facing homelessness.

The more time passed, the more I became conscious of the contrast between the official representation of my country and the real life of the people, the one that went on behind the walls.

I did find the parts set in Iran were the most interesting, but I do think her time abroad adds an important angle to this memoir. When she returns to her homeland she feels like she doesn't belong there any more. She's too Western for Iran and too Iranian for the West. It's moving, fascinating and funny, all rolled up into one illustrated package and I highly recommend to anyone wanting to learn a little bit about the Middle East from a more personal perspective.

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Book Source: Purchased

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Labyrinth Lost

Alex does not want her magic. As far as her family knows, she's a late bloomer and yet to come into her power. They can't wait to celebrate her Deathday.

Over the years, modern brujas like to have Deathdays line up with birthdays to have even bigger celebrations. Nothing says “happy birthday” like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

The format did remind me a little of the film Labyrinth, and many other quest type stories. Alex accidentally wishes her family away in an act of selfishness and then has to go into another dimension to rescue them, before time runs out. Along the way she meets an assortment of magical creatures and dangerous geographical features.

Alex's family is Puerto Rican by way of plenty of other countries, but the mythology is crafted from inspirations from many sources. Bruja is the Spanish word for witch and the idea of the Deathday was inspired by Día de Muertos, the Mexican Day of the Dead. It does have a little of the Greek about it too, there's a labyrinth after all and there's a scene that's very similar to the crossing of the River Styx.

Alex is a bit of a special snowflake and I also think the world-building was lacking a baseline in what regular bruja power was like. It's a pretty short book and she has several close encounters with different groups in Los Lagos, not giving much time for the book to feel fully fleshed out. Everything seems resolved just a little too easily, partly in thanks to those snowflake powers.
“Why’s it always the heart or the eye of something?” Rishi asks. “You notice that? There are so many body parts that don’t get enough love, like earlobes and belly buttons.”

When the best friend, Rishi, is introduced they didn't come across as that close. When it starts talking about the strength of her love, it was a bit of a surprise. Generally the secondary characters needed a bit more work to really flesh them out.

It was a quick and entertaining read, so I wouldn't dismiss reading the second book in the series when it's out next year.

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Book Source: Purchased

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Windfall

How many times have you given a lottery ticket as a token gift, something to fall out a birthday but never expecting it to be a winning ticket, not really? When Alice buys Teddy a lottery ticket for his 18th birthday, that's exactly what she was doing. It's one of those rights of passage things. Against all odds, Teddy wins big time, the youngest winner ever.

Sometimes, through good luck or bad, through curses or fate, the world cracks itself open, and afterward nothing will ever be the same.

Windfall explores the impact of that money on a young life, not necessarily for the better. Teddy offers Alice half but she refuses and the tension that the wealth creates starts to drive them apart. She's an orphan but she remembers how her parents did so much for charity and she tries to follow in their footsteps. The ticket was a gift, but she starts to wonder if she was selfish for turning the money down; she could be doing so much good with it.

The money is life-changing for Teddy. Living in a one bed with his mother, left destitute after his father gambled away the family money, this means everything to him. He can buy a good place for both of them. He can have whatever he wants.

Teddy had always been well liked but attitudes towards him shift when the news gets out. Everyone wants their share of the fortune and good-natured Teddy is happy to contribute. His father suspiciously rocks back up, begging for reconciliation that he is a changed man. Teddy refuses to believe Alice's suspicions that he's just here for the money.

Meanwhile Alice feels her best friend is slipping away. She was so close to telling him she loves him before the win and now it just feels impossible. This isn't a fluffy romance, she is stubborn and Teddy is often self-absorbed. Alice dates another guy despite knowing her heart's not in it. They aren't going to be the characters everyone likes but I think this makes them more believable. If you can get past the turning down $70 million dollars bit!

There is a bit of glossing over of some things but overall it's another enjoyable book from Jennifer E. Smith.

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Book Source: Purchased

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Incoming!

I haven't done one of these posts in ages. Since the last one I have received Illumicrate (which I unboxed on Instagram) and done more scouring of Amazon for Kindle bargains (I mean, I need to be prepared if the economy collapses and I can't afford books any more!). Yup and I do have two copies of The Waking Land now, as I had requested a review copy before Illumicrate landed. If you are going to the Oxford Bookshop Crawl next month and would like it, let me know.

Please feel free to leave your links to reviews of any of these books in the comments!



Saturday, 1 July 2017

The Month That Was... June 2017

+International Giveaway

June was mostly taken up with holidays and playing Stardew Valley so not much reading happened. We spent a few very wet days in the Lake District and a week in the Scottish Borders (with flying visits to Ironbridge, Edinburgh and Whitby). Our first holiday with Scully and she was pretty well behaved. She thinks Yorkshire is great because a woman in Whitby gave her biscuits. Who carries round dog biscuits just in case they meet a Labrador?


Half way through the year already and it's a good a time as any to stop and review how my goals and challenges are doing. I'm flagging with Read Harder, the remaining prompts just haven't appealed to me of late. I have completed 12 out of 24 items, so I am technically half way. I can probably manage a few more but I'm not going to beat myself up about not completing it.

As always I'm slightly behind on my overall goal (aka the Goodreads challenge) with 56 out of 120 books read. Easily fixed with a bout of comics and novellas!

I am pretty chuffed at how I'm doing with Diversity Bingo considering I am usually so rubbish at sticking to challenges. I'm not kidding myself that I will cover all the squares by the end of the year but I should have a good few rows and know that I'm seeking out authors from different backgrounds.


If you have any recommendations that fit the rest of the prompts (especially SFF) please leave a comment. Preferably books that have UK publishers as US editions are getting so pricey (thanks Brexit). Here's what I ticked off last month (keep scrolling for the giveaway):