Monday, 20 August 2018

After the Fire

Seventeen year old Moonbeam has spent most of her life in the compound of the Lord's Legion, until the government come to take her away, the very people she has been taught are servants of the serpent. Now in the clutches of the enemy, Moonbeam must face the events leading up to the raid and decide who to trust.

After the Fire is based on the Waco Siege and the Branch Davidians cult, however Will Hill created a new organisation and characters in order to remain respectful to the survivors. Father John takes wives according to who the Lord chooses and the other men must vow to a life of celibacy. Before him there had been a much more benevolent leader, who let them leave the compound in order to spread the word. They were allowed to read and watch TV before the purge.

The story is told in chapters alternating between Before and After. After is when Moonbeam is being held in a government facility, being interviewed by a psychiatrist and an FBI agent, as well as her interactions with the other children who were freed. They have traded one prison for another, but it's not like they can just be released into the world.

In the Before chapters, she tells of life in the compound, how her mother was banished and her growing disillusionment at the cause. The Centurions are appointed by Father John to serve him and carry out punishments, some of which could be considered torture, but the children know this as justice and the will of the Lord. They are always men and they abuse their power nearly as much as the prophet.

Because nothing is ever only good and nothing is ever only bad. Everything is somewhere in the middle.

I liked that it looked at a cult from the perspective of someone who had been freed. Moonbeam and her "siblings" need to be deprogrammed after a life of what is essentially domestic abuse. Father John controlled them through fear. He claims to be a prophet, that the Lord speaks through him, meaning he can get away with anything he likes. To question him, is to question the Lord.

I would have liked it to explore the reason why people join cults a bit more but, being told from Moonbeam's point of view, it was never her choice. Her mother took her there as a child, and it turns out it was really her deceased father's choice. Once assimilated into the cult, it is easy to see how people were made to stay compliant.

Listening Notes

I feel that if you want an audiobook narrated in a Texan accent, you get someone from Texas to read it. The accent just sounded fake to me throughout and it hadn't the added annoyance of the narrator trying to sound young. Maybe should would have been whiny and gasping, but I didn't like the narration. I think she used her natural accent for Dr Hernandez as I could hear it in Moonbeam's voice now and then, but the doctor was meant to be a man and the voice was much more feminine than the girl.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 32. A book from a celebrity book club

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Book Source: Purchased

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

My Favorite Thing is Monsters

My Favorite Thing is Monsters is a beautiful brick of a graphic novel. It's in the format of 10 year old Karen Reyes's journal, drawn on ruled paper. She loves horror B-movies and wishes she was a monster rather than a girl. She draws herself as a little (kinda adorable) werewolf, rarely acknowledging the reality.

Sometimes a thing happens that's so bad that it feels like things should be made to look on the outside, the way they feel on the inside.

Set in 1960's Chicago, against the backdrop of political turmoil, real-life events creep in around the edges but are not pivotal to the plot. When Karen's neighbour, Anka, is found dead in a kind of locked room mystery scenario, she sets out to find answers.

Anka's history takes the reader back to 1940's Germany, where she lives with prostitutes and becomes the focus of a creepy Nazi who likes children. It bounces between historical and surreal, with Karen grappling with her sexuality in her present day.

I loved the fake horror magazine covers that separate out the main story. I felt each one was connected in some way to what was going on. It would definitely be worth a re-read, if only to gaze again at the gorgeous artwork. I'm not sure I know what the hell happened at the end but it there is a volume two coming soon which I hope will provide answers. I did read it during readathon though, so it might just have been my tired brain!

Emil Ferris worked on this book for fifteen years, including her recovery from West Nile Virus, which left her drawing hand temporarily paralysed. It's had a bumpy journey into the world, with financial collapse of the shipping company leaving the books stranded in Panama, basically held hostage by the government there. Like its characters and author, it's a survivor and well worth the trouble it took to bring it to the world.

If the paperback edition is a bit too expensive, I highly recommend seeing if your library has it before you buy the ebook version as it has stunning production worth seen in person.

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Book Source: Purchased

Monday, 13 August 2018

Ghost Wall

Sylvie's dad is obsessed with the past. She's been forced to spend her summer in a recreation of an Iron Age settlement, wearing scratchy tunics, peeing in the woods and eating meagre rations found in the hedgerows.

Ghost Wall has a slow build tension, as it becomes clear that Sylvie's dad is abusive, controlling every aspect of his wife and child's lives. The camp is being run by a professor, with students who don't take things too seriously, a sore point with her dad. It doesn't take much to set him off and it isn't the students who are the focus of his wrath. I feel like Sarah Moss set out to write a father that was the opposite of Adam in The Tidal Zone.

It's told from the perspective of Sylvie, who makes excuses for her dad. I think deep down she knows what he does is wrong, but she doesn't know any other world. She takes a shine to Molly, one of the students who is confident and carefree. Molly can see through Sylvie's excuses, but what can you do when help is refused?

Cranes reared above us like ceremonial pillars of a lost civilisation, intricate with rust and disintegration.

This all takes place against a backdrop of faux survivalism. As the group try and live the life of ancient Britons, you see how useless modern day humans would be if they really needed to live like that. Has modern farming made things harder?

I enjoyed the parts about what we think life would have been like back then. The professor is academic enough to make it clear we don't know things for certain. Sylvie's dad is quite interested in the bog people, those sacrificed to the peat. The book opens with a scene of from the distant past of a girl being sacrificed, perhaps the one who now resides in a Manchester museum.

Mum often spoke of sitting down as a goal, a prize she might win by hard work, but so rarely achieved that the appeal remained unclear to me.

It also touches on class and what it means to be British. Sylvie's dad is not too keen on thinking about his ancestors coming from all over the place, but Britons didn't just appear on this island. The students are from the south and Sylvie's family from the north. At times she feels like the students are mocking them, she wants to defend her family even if they are far from perfect.

I did see the end coming, it seemed a logical conclusion, even if I do wonder why certain people went along with it. My heart was in my mouth, although it did end a bit too suddenly. I think open endings are very much a thing Sarah Moss does.

Ghost Wall is published by Granta Books and will be available in hardback from 20th September 2018. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 4A. A book tied to your ancestry

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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, 12 August 2018

Record of a Spaceborn Few

The Exodus Fleet carried humans from a broken Earth to new planets, but not all chose to leave those ships. A Record of a Spaceborn Few explores the lives of those who live on board the Asteria and the customs developed over centuries of life in space. It's about belonging and the journey you take to find where you belong in the universe.

From the ground we stand. From our ship we live. By the stars we hope.

It starts with tragedy, an explosion on board one of the fleet's ships, witnessed by a little girl. This develops into a phobia for her, living on a ship yet scared to go near walls, to look out the windows and the great expanse of nothingness. Yet she is not the only one who craves life on solid ground. Kip is a teenage boy, constrained by life on board. He wants to experience the full breadth of life, and he can't do that here.

This tragedy introduces the job of caretaker and the death rites on board a ship. What do you do with bodies in space? Use them to grow crops of course, to be part of the cycle of life and help feed future generations. Eyas is respected yet lonely as a caretaker. She visits a tryst club for companionship and sex, the sex workers having as much a valid place in the workings of the fleet as anyone else.

We destroyed entire worlds - entire species. It took a galactic war to stop us. We learned. We apologised. We changed. But we can't give back the things we took. We're still benefiting from them, and others are still suffering from actions centuries old.

A Harmagian is visiting the Asteria, on a anthropological mission to learn more about Exodans. We see them through her eyes as part of her logs, and learn about the prejudice afforded humans, the newcomers to space. It acknowledges the affects of colonialism as science fiction can do, not bound by the history of Earth. If humans did go out into space and find intelligent life, we would be treading on toes, and we might not be the top species any more.

It's really a book exploring culture, there's not much of a grand plot, but Becky Chambers is so good at this sort of thing. It loosely follows Sawyer, an outsider who is looking for something different and has come to stay in the Exodan Fleet to see if he can find it there. He's feeling isolated, apart from the community and viewed with suspicion by some. Just a tourist, they think.

Knowledge should always be free. What people do with it is up to them.

He's then offered a job, a place where he could belong. He's very trusting and I was immediately suspicious of the situation. Close communities are all very well when you're inside them, but it can be hard being an outsider.

If you're already a fan of the Wayfarers then you'll love this book. They are all standalone but would I suggest reading them in order to get the most out of them.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

The Diviners

It's 1926 and Evie O’Neill has been packed off to stay with her uncle in New York. It's meant to be punishment but Evie cannot wait to escape her provincial life and discover the delights of the Big Apple. Her crime? She's a seer and she shared something she shouldn't have at a drunken party. But she can't just tell her parents what really happened.

There were few things worse than being ordinary, in Evie’s opinion. Ordinary was for suckers.

Prohibition is in force but that won't stop Evie having a good time. She meets Ziegfeld girls and shows off her gift in speakeasies. But whilst she's being young and frivolous, a dark force has been released into the city. Her uncle's called in to consult on a string of murders showing elements of the occult and she's eager to help out.

It's set against a backdrop of prejudice, a reminder that America has always been a country of immigrants, a melting pot of culture and there was always someone to blame for society's ills. The cast is diverse too, with a black family and LGBT+ characters (I think the second book will focus more on them).

Evie is one of the diviners of the title. A group of people with special gifts, who have had to hide them in fear of persecution. Not everyone's gifts are the same and as you meet more characters, you soon learn that many of them are diviners too, they just don't know who else is and keep it close to their chests.

I thought research would be more glamorous, somehow. I'd give the librarian a secret code word and he'd give me the one book I needed and whisper the necessary page numbers. Like a speakeasy. With books.

I liked the murder mystery element and it's been ages since I read this kind of urban fantasy. Uncle Will runs a museum of the supernatural and their attempts to solve the murders reminded me of Buffy's Scooby gang. Evie hides her supernatural powers from the rest but this means no one takes her seriously when she reveals her theory.

The fact that Evie uses a lot of twenties slang in her speech is in keeping with the fact that she's trying to fit in with a more cosmopolitan crowd than she's used to. She's probably overdoing it but she seems so naive and sweet, you can forgive her.

It is a bit long and meandering at times. There are a lot of aspects about New York at the time that the author has tried to include, and it all adds to the mood, but it does kill the pace at times. It also felt that a lot of back stories were included for characters who I suspect will have a bigger part to play in the rest of the books, but it just felt like their stories didn't go anywhere.

When the world moves forward too fast for some people, they try to pull us all back with their fear.

I remember when this book was all over the blogosphere and it's taken me a few years to get to it. It stands the test of time but I'd like to think it would have had a tighter edit, if published today. I'll definitely be listening to the second book sometime.

Listening Notes

January LaVoy's narration was loads of fun, with lot's of (probably cheesy) twenties accents. I liked that the accents were restricted to the dialogue, so it didn't go over the top.

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Book Source: Borrowed from library

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

The Bumblebee Flies Anyway

When I heard that The Bumblebee Flies Anyway was about reclaiming a decked over garden for the wildlife, I thought this is my kind of gardening book. When we moved into our house, the small garden (front and back) had been covered in concrete paving and gravel, not a bit of green in sight except for the occasional resilient dandelion. Why do people hate living things so much?

It's a garden made from cuttings and stolen seed, dead turf and bits of root. Broken rules and a broken heart.

When Kate Bradbury moves to Brighton her budget is tight but she manages to find a basement flat with a small patch of garden. She sets about removing the decking and installing her bee hotels, planting species that will attract wildlife back into her garden. On either side, the gardens are all the same, barely any sign of life, does urban wildife stand any chance of finding her?

She talks about the different species who call Brighton home, how modern lifestyles and the ever increasing need for housing has made life difficult for wildlife. There are a vast variety of different bee species and I learned a bit about our resident solitary bees that are nesting the the holes left by a satellite dish. We thought they'd abandoned it but now I know they will stay in there over winter and emerge in spring.

In the garden it's been winter for thirty years. It doesn't change.

Whilst Kate wants to give over her whole garden to wildlife, she also highlights how even little things can help. A small pond will attract frogs soon enough. A few climbing plants or shrubs can give small birds privacy. A hotel made out of hollow stalks and a few bee-friendly flowers will soon get helpful bees hanging out to pollinate your veg.

I loved the gardening and wildlife bits, but like most nature memoirs these days, there is a large portion about personal tragedy. Kate's mother suffers a stroke, and the change in the woman is heartbreaking. Yet it's not really what I wanted to read about when I picked this book up.

The Bumblebee Flies Anyway is published by Bloomsbury and is available now in hardback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

Read Harder: A book about nature

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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.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

A Canticle for Leibowitz

I first heard about A Canticle for Leibowitz at a blogger event for The Fire Sermon. I had picked up on the influences from Wyndham but not Miller, so now I know how much this work shaped Francesca Haig's trilogy.

Listen, are we helpless? Are we doomed to do it again and again and again? Have we no choice but to play the Phoenix in an unending sequence of rise and fall?

It's split into three parts. Fiat Homo (Let There Be Mankind) follows Brother Francis, a young novice in the Albertian Order of Leibowitz in the 26th century. This is 600 years after a nuclear war. The human race very nearly died out and many are born with birth defects. In a backlash against technology and learning, the Simplification destroyed books and killed scientists, leading the world into a new dark age.

The monks preserve Memorabilia, relics of Leibowitz who they are trying to get canonized. As a reader you soon realise what these relics are, but the monks have no idea of their meaning. It shows the importance of preserving knowledge but also the context.

Brother Francis is a bit of a nervous, naive chap. He discovers a fallout shelter in the desert, in which he believes he's found a relic, a drawing made by Leibowitz himself. The Abbot isn't too keen on miracles right now, they'll only interfere with their petition to New Rome for Leibowitz to be made a saint. It pokes fun at the Catholic church but also ponders how religion and science co-exist. It's actually quite amusing in places and some of the characters wouldn't feel out of place in Discworld.

Men must fumble awhile with error to separate it from truth, I think- as long as they don't seize the error hungrily because it has a pleasanter taste.

Fiat Lux (Let There Be Light) is set in 3174, where scholars are starting to take an interest in recreating the technology of the past. At the abbey, one monk has used the teachings of Leibowitz to generate electricity. Whilst some view this with suspicion, others see the potential.

Fiat Voluntas Tua (Let Thy Will Be Done) takes a much sadder turn. The year is 3781 and mankind has not learned from their mistakes. Perhaps the point is that as history was destroyed and forgotten, no one remembered how bad it was last time. It's very much a Cold War era book.

To minimize suffering and to maximize security were natural and proper ends of society and Caesar. But then they became the only ends, somehow, and the only basis of law—a perversion. Inevitably, then, in seeking only them, we found only their opposites: maximum suffering and minimum security.

In what I imagine was quite shocking at the time it was published, it talks about the right to die. I found it quite upsetting how the Abbott resisted the state sanctioned suicide for those suffering with no hope of recovery. A mother just wants her daughter to not be in pain and the Abbott is forceful about how God wants her to suffer and they must carry on to avoid hell.

A satire that starts out with humour definitely ended on a much more sombre note. I'm glad I read it and I can see its influence on other, post-apocalyptic, works.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 31. A book mentioned in another book (Among Others)

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Book Source: Purchased

Monday, 6 August 2018

Bright Ruin

Bright Ruin is the final instalment in the Dark Gifts trilogy and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous books. If you'd like an idea of what they are about, read my review of Gilded Cage or this interview with Vic James.

Fear was the superpower they all possessed.

After the Blood Fair, Luke is fleeing the capital with Silyen and Abi is hiding out with Gavar, Daisy and Libby. The fates of the Hadleys and Jardines are forever entangled and the future of Britain, for better or worse, is in their hands. Will the privileged Equals squash the rebellion for good or can a compromise be made? Will enough bad people die so the sort-of-good people can be left in charge?

Things are escalating. The fact that the official hashtag was #dontkillmyfave gives you a hint of how brutal this series can be, with plenty of surprising deaths. If you've been wondering why the Skilled weren't in charge of Britain all along, you will find answers too.

I loved the trio of Silyen, Luke and Dog in this final instalment. Silyen's character arc across the trilogy is fantastic. You start off thinking he's cruel and only interested in experiments with Skill, and slowly you find out he's been trying to get the bottom of something he did by accident as a child. He doesn't have much time for the political manoeuvrings of his family, and he shows kindness that I think was more than just convenience, although he always has that excuse.

I wasn't that keen on Luke at the start but his relationship with Silyen is one of the high points of the final book. The flirting, the denial, the looks. I think the very end is left open to interpretation but I know what I have decided.

You learned in school about countries that went backwards. Peaceful nations that flared up in civil war. Democracies that fell under the sway of fanatics. You never imagined such a thing might happen here in Britain. But it could.

Even Dog turns out to be not that bad, he reminds me a little of Game of Throne's The Hound, which might be the inspiration. Gavar's forced by his family to infiltrate the resistance, and you never quite know where his loyalties lie, except for his love for his baseborn daughter who he so desperately wants to protect from his toxic family.

The villains are suitably villainous. Whittam is just horrible and it explains a lot what is revealed about him at the end. It also explains some things about other characters which might otherwise be unforgivable. You find out how nasty and petty Corvan really is (beyond the torture that is). Bouda is never good but she does sometimes seem the best of a bad bunch, like she might just be open to reform if Whittam is removed from her path.

What an ending! I wasn't expecting, to be honest I had no idea how this would be resolved but I think it's the only way it could have worked. At least to leave us happy that change had happened. There were gasps a plenty on the journey and I'd thoroughly recommend this trilogy to anyone a bit bored of the usual urban fantasy fare.

Bright Ruin is published by Pan Macmillan and is out now in paperback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

Science Fiction vs Fantasy Bingo: Rebellion

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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, 1 August 2018

The Month That Was... July 2018

+ International Giveaway

July was a very productive reading month. Since a surprise Dewey's readathon was announced, I skipped 24 in 48 in favour of that. I read 13 books and at some point I was up-to-date with reviews, but now I have loads to write again!

My parents also came to visit and we had a very hot week pottering about locally. I also managed to add a few more dots to our map of places visited. Our little garden actually has sweetcorn growing in it, not quite Stephen King film levels, but it's still pretty amazing to see it grow from seed.

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

Book of the Month:
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik



POPSUGAR (33/50)
I'm starting to be a little flexible with my remaining prompts, although I know I will just have to bite the bullet and read things just because they fit some of the more difficult prompts. I'm excited about completing this one though, so on I continue!

6. A novel based on a real person: The Hunger by Alma Katsu
9. A book about a villain or antihero: Scythe by Neal Shusterman
22. A book with alliteration in the title: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Science Fiction vs Fantasy Bingo (13/25)
I'm starting to tick these off at last! I'm realising I missed a few obvious things now I'm trying to slot in my normal SFF reads.

Alternate Reality: Tarnished City by Vic James
Rebellion: Bright Ruin by Vic James
Fantastic Beasts: Angelic: Heirs & Graces by Simon Spurrier + Caspar Wijngaard

Read Harder: (13/24)
Beat the Backlist: 29/30
Goodreads: 70/100