Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Oligarchy

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.

The daughter of a Russian oligarch, Natasha is sent to an English boarding school on the outskirts of Stevenage. All the girls there are rich, and thin. They swap their tips for getting thinner. They are left unchecked until one day tragedy strikes.

If you had to choose between being ugly and happy, or beautiful and miserable, which would you pick?

Oligarchy is an unflinching look at eating disorders with an edge of dark humour. Whilst it is set in a boarding school, the fact that it's not marketed as young adult allows the characters to be uncompromising. They don't set a good example, yet they do portray the warped thinking that goes hand in hand with eating disorders. The myriad of myths they absorb about food are both ridiculous and heart-breaking.

When one girl dies, an outbreak of anorexia is declared at the school. This doesn't seem to deter many of the girls but through their frankly dreadful counsellors, the book can highlight some of the thinking patterns connected to eating disorders. The teachers don't appear to be doing a very good job of handling things and as the situation escalates, you really start to doubt the motivations of the school. An outbreak of suspected norovirus among a group of unready malnutritioned teenagers is handled shockingly.

That her friends' diets are so secret and weird that you could never, ever discuss them with an adult? Why is that? Because they are ridiculous. Because their diets, and everything they think, and everything they do, is ridiculous when compared to real life.

Tasha's father might be an oligarch but she didn't grow up in that world, and her mentality isn't quite as bad as the other girls. This starts to show when she's in group therapy and the worst she can think of was throwing away a box of chocolates. I loved Tiffanie and her dib-dob obsession. The girls, these "bad apples", have their own private ways of speaking, and there is warmth between them that only makes you wish they would support each other in ways that wasn't about their diets.

None of the girls are given anything to aim for in life, they are the daughters of the rich, expected to be pretty, but not to carve out a career or meaning. Left detached to life, they seek something to control, something that will make them better. That is their weight and the calories they consume. The internet has given new avenues to those seeking advice on extreme weight loss. And throwing these susceptible girls together at boarding school just intensifies the problem.

Every night after supper the girls - the bad ones, the rotting apples from the attic dorms - walk past the pictures of Princess Augusta in the lake and into the headmaster's study where he reads to them from Great Expectations, a story of a boy called Pip who will do anything for a beautiful, thin, rich girl called Estella, who never eats and who lives in a house full of cobwebs.
This book isn't going to be for everyone, if you have a difficult relationship with food or body image it might be hard to read. The girls think that being fat is about he worst thing you can be, and whilst that is part of their illness, it does mean they can come across as fat shaming.

Oligarchy is published by Canongate and is available now in hardback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Wednesday, 4 December 2019

The Month That Was... November 2019

Another month of pathetic blog activity has whooshed by! I barely made a dent in my planned TBR for November and mostly just listened to audiobooks. I'm so thankful I finally learned the knack of listening to stories as it means I can at least get through some books on my commute.


I'm getting antsy to start on my 2020 challenges though, they've helped me focus my reading a bit this year and I'm all adrift without any to follow. I'll be doing Around the Year in 52 Books and Popsugar properly and then I'll tick off Book Riot's Read Harder prompts if I can but am not fully committed. I call it the Read Not Much Harder challenge.

Oh yeah, and one of my suggestions made the Popsugar list! It's an author with flora or fauna in their name.

If you missed it, check out what was on my radar for November.

Reviews:



So what did I read?

Bitten by Kelley Armstrong

Urban Fantasy - Werewolves
Verdict:
Re-read of the first book that got me hooked on fantasy. Older me doesn't like Elena so much in this first book, she really jerks around the men in her life. I'm not re-rating this though as I try to use my first impressions, and I did previously love it. Still tempted to re-read the rest too (Elena gets better).
POPSUGAR: 7. A reread of a favorite book

The Toll by Neal Shusterman
★★★★★

Science Fiction - Immortality - Season Finale
Verdict:
I've listened to this whole trilogy on audio and I highly recommend. I've seen a few negative reviews on the final instalment but I love being absorbed in this world and it surprised me with where it went. I guess if you're just in it for the main character arcs and not the world-building and politics, it might have dragged on a bit. But I loved it.

Nigel: My Family and Other Dogs by Monty Don
★★★★

Dogs - Non-Fiction - Memoir
Verdict:
Lovely book about Nigel and dog-ownership in general, narrated by Monty himself on audio. Does not shy away from the fact that dogs die, as he talks about dogs he's had in the past.

Underland by Robert Macfarlane
★★★

Non-Fiction - Caves - Natural History
Verdict:
Not sure this is my thing, I don't really need poetry in my non-fiction, although I can understand why people like him. The descriptions of people going into caves got a bit repetitive. More interesting to me were the parts about the ice and the nuclear waste storage.

Monday, 25 November 2019

The Secret Chapter

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.

I would like to remind everyone that we are not here just to obtain books for our personal reading lists. The Library is tasked with maintaining the balance between order and chaos, between the dragons and the Fae, and is bound to protect the alternate worlds they claim, and the humans living in them.

The Secret Chapter is the 6th book in the Invisible Library series and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous books. They are loads of fun though, so you should check out the series if you haven't already.

The world where Irene attended boarding school is at risk of being lost to chaos...in ten days' time. Fortunately, there's a unique book that can help anchor that world to the Library. Unfortunately The Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor is in the collection of a mysterious Fae who lives on a top secret island. When Irene and Kae secure an invite to Mr Nemo's island, they are to discover the payment required for the book is the theft of a painting and the Fae has assembled an unlikely team to perform the heist.

Irene had seen dungeons, bloodstained theatres, battlefields and conflagrations - but now she had truly experienced hell. And it was inside a minibus with four Fae and two dragons.

The Secret Chapter vibes are a mix of Bond villainy and heist plot, with the usual charm of this series. The theft of The Raft of Medusa takes the team to Vienna in a world apparently plagued by supernatural creatures. They need to keep out of the sights of CENSOR, the government organisation that hunts down all things that go bump in the night. Irene's not sure if that includes her but she doesn't want to risk finding out.

Also on the heist is an estranged dragon from Kai's extended family, they are not pleased to see each other, and four Fae representing the archetypes of gangster, gambler and getaway driver. This leads to plenty of opportunities for cheesy lines as they live up to their Fae narratives, but they also have they're touchingly "human" sides at times. The flung together team soon become a real team.

He was such a truly perfect example of the genus Thug, species American Thirties Gangster, that he had to be Fae.

However all is not as it seems and this instalment is sort of a join between series arcs. It picks up a loose end from the treaty that was signed in the previous book, but also hints at what may be in store for the future. It's quite a standalone plot though, so you could probably enjoy it by itself, even though you should read all the others. Who wouldn't want to read about Librarians hopping between alternate worlds?

You are tough dragon, You will break less easily than puny Librarian.

The Secret Chapter is published by Pan Macmillan and is available now in paperback and ebook formats. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

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Tuesday, 12 November 2019

The Warehouse

With temperatures and unemployment rising, one American company is striving. Cloud. Each MotherCloud is a city, a huge warehouse with accommodation, food, healthcare and entertainment for its thousands of employees. There's no reason to leave. You're lucky to get a job there.

Cloud is quite clearly based an Amazon and some of the dubious working practices that have come out in recent years. Employees live on site, have strict quotas to fill, are searched leaving the warehouse to make sure they don't steal, and they are underpaid, of course. They work long hours and risk their safety, just to keep their star ratings and calling in sick has penalties. Their every move is tracked by their CloudBands.

Stay hydrated. Hit your numbers. Don’t complain. If you get hurt, walk it off. The less you have to talk to the managers, the better. Don’t even SAY the word union.

Paxton is an ex-prison guard who doesn't want to work security...but that's the job he's assigned at Cloud. His business (some egg gadget that wasn't very convincing) was driven under by Cloud, but now his one time competitor is his only option. He's put on a special task force to get to the bottom of the Oblivion problem, how's the drug getting in and who's involved? He meets another new recruit, Zinnia, a corporate spy, on a mission to steal Cloud's secrets.

It's a bit cheesy in places and the characters are a little cliched. Zinnia's "tough guy" persona was a bit much (she's beautiful and clever too). It tries to address sexual harassment but I think having it happen to Zinnia was the wrong move. She's calculated, rather than afraid. Yes, she doesn't want to lose the job at Cloud because of her other job, but she's not put in a position of desperation. She manages to get revenge rather than justice.

Cloud isn’t just a place to work. It’s a place to live. And when you’re here, you’ll never want to leave.

The blog posts from Cloud founder, Gibson Wells, show how his vision of the company differs from the reality of working there. He believes he is a philanthropist, helping to save the world. He has kept people in jobs, when automation was looming, but at what cost? He's also a multi-billionaire in a world with increasing inequality.

What is never explained is who is buying all the stuff? Apparently jobs are hard to come by outside of Cloud, even teachers are being laid off. The delivery drones mean they're not just selling products internally and a lot of things are non-essentials. So who were the customers?

There were other things that would be easy to pick holes in if you start thinking about them, however it was an entertaining thriller, with some quite valid points to make about monopolies.

ATY Rejects: Related to Monopoly

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Book Source: Purchased

Saturday, 2 November 2019

On My Radar: November

A little later than usual, here's my round up of intriguing sounding books hitting the shelves in November. I'm most excited about The Toll and The Secret Chapter. As always, inclusion here isn't an endorsement and books may be available on different dates in different territories/formats (and sometimes they just change). Dates stated are generally for the UK print edition unless otherwise noted.


1st

Lifestyles of Gods and Monsters by Emily Roberson (US)


5th

Skein Island by Aliya Whiteley
Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
The How & the Why by Cynthia Hand (US)
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machad (US)
Jakarta by Rodrigo Marquez Tizano (US)
They Will Drown in Their Mothers' Tears by Johannes Anyuru, Saskia Vogel (US)
The Book of Lost Saints by Daniel Jose Older


7th

The Toll by Neal Shusterman
The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis
The Light at the Bottom of the World by London Shah
Oligarchy by Scarlett Thomas


12th

Day Zero by Kelly Devos (US)
The Factory by Hiroko Oyamada


14th

The Secret Chapter by Genevieve Cogman
Realm of Ash by Tasha Suri
Body Tourists by Jane Rogers
On Swift Horses by Shannon Pufahl
Now Entering Addamsville by Francesca Zappia


19th

The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black


21st

Blood Heir by Amélie Wen Zhao


27th

The In-Betweens by Mira Ptacin (US)

28th

The Never Tilting World by Rin Chupeco

Friday, 1 November 2019

The Month That Was... October 2019

Last month has been my quietest blog month since I started waffling here in 2011! I've not been feeling that great and I think it's impacted my enthusiasm for blogging. Then I got a cold and even missed Readathon, which was a bummer. I have a few ideas to get my blogging mojo back, and I will have my November "On My Radar" post up this weekend.


I finished the Around the Year in 52 Books challenge though! And I'm one book away from completing Popsugar. The 2020 ATY list is ready now so take a peek if you're looking for a prompt based reading challenge next year.

I reviewed Pet on the blog and War Girls on my Instagram (another place I've been neglecting).


So what did I read?

Command and Control by Eric Schlosser
★★★★

Non-Fiction - Nuclear War
Verdict:
This history of nuclear war and the many near-disasters is terrifying. I do not know how we are still on this planet after reading this. If you've seen the Netflix documentary already, this book has the specific accident in the Arkansas silo runnign through it but has a lot more information on the history of the bomb, its effect on world politics and a lot of other near misses... Highly recommend if you're into this subject matter.
ATY: 8. 2 books related to the same topic, genre, or theme: Book #2

Sweet Fruit, Sour Land by Rebecca Ley
★★★★

Cli-Fi - Dystopia - Reproductive Rights
Verdict:
Whilst not specifically a Brexit book, this does feel like a depressing premonition of our future. The population is dwindling and there are policies in place to make women reproduce, all the while food shortages mean everything's rationed, yet somehow there's still the elite who manage to have it all. Slightly Ballardian.
POPSUGAR: 22. A book with SALTY, SWEET, BITTER, or SPICY in the title

Gotta Get Theroux This by Louis Theroux
★★★

Autobiography - TV
Verdict:
I knew going in that there would be a lot about Jimmy Saville, but gah, there is a little too much. I can totally understand Louis having to come to terms with his friendship knowing what we know now, but I didn't really want to read about it in depth. I listened to this on audio though and it was nice having Louis chat in my ear. If you've seen all his documentaries, there's not a lot new here, he really doesn't have much artifice in his TV.
ATY Rejects: By, or about, a current or former journalist



Sunday, 6 October 2019

Pet

Lucille is a place free from monsters, without prejudice or danger. But when a creature climbs out of her mother's painting, Jam is faced with the idea that maybe there are still monsters in this world. The only problem is, no one believes in them any more.

It was no small thing to try to restructure a society, to find the pus boiling away under the scabs, to peel back the hardened flesh to let it out.

Akwaeke Emezi's first young adult novel is a fantastic little moral tale about what happens when we become complacent. Lucille is a wonderful place to live, free from fear. This is seen in the way everyone just accepted when Jam announced she was a girl, that she chooses to sign rather than speak. It's nice to see a trans character in a book that's not about the challenges of living as trans, she just is, and she's got more important things to be doing, like hunting monsters.

You can't tell a monster by looking at them, so they can hide in plain site. The problem with Lucille is that people have forgotten what monsters did, and how to be aware of the signs. They are also adamant that they are gone. Who is going to believe a couple of kids?

It’s not the same when the monsters are gone. You’re only remembering shadows of them, stories that seem to be limited to the pages or screens you read them from. Flat and dull things. So, yes, people forget. But forgetting is dangerous. Forgetting is how the monsters come back.

There's a poignant moment when the librarian shows Jam and Redemption some leaflets from the olden days. These are basic information that would be available in any school, doctor's office or community setting. Things like the signs of abuse and how to seek help. These are now restricted documents, no one wants to cause distress by telling kids about them. But knowledge is power, and not knowing about the bad things, is not knowing how to do something about it.

Her mother, who refused to believe in keeping animals indoors and never let her get so much as a goldfish, had gone and painted a thing with goat legs and ram horns, a thing that could have fallen out of some apocalyptic last pages of an old holy book, a furry, goldfeathered thing that was squatting in the studio like no man’s business.

Note, the UK paperback is not out until November but you can buy the ebook now.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 32(b). An author from Africa

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Book Source: Purchased