Sunday, 18 August 2019

The Nightjar

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.

Alice Wyndham spent her childhood seeing birds that weren’t there. Well that’s what she thought until an old woman leaves her a feather as a dying gift. When a mysterious man turns up at her door, he tries to convince her she’s seeing nightjars, the keepers of souls. Alice thinks he’s having a laugh. When her best friend is injured in a car accident, she learns that embracing her gift might just bring her back. As she follows Crowley through the Marble Arch into an alternate London, she embarks on a mission to retrieve Jen’s nightjar from the brink of death.

There was a long pause as she wrestled with the absurdity of it. Rescue the mythical bird that was supposed to be guarding her friend's soul? The one that had taken early retirement and deserted as soon as she'd fallen into a coma?

The Nightjar is an entertaining portal fantasy, borrowing from Finnish mythology. The Sielulintu were birds who protected souls, and here they are portrayed as nightjars, connected by an invisible tether to their humans. Väki are the descendants of Finns and are the residents of The Rookery, a version of London created to keep them safe. Those with magical abilities are often persecuted and the Beaks would like to see them eradicated from the world, but in the Rookery, those with legacy powers are safe.

The legacy powers vary from Väki to Väki but are connected to their ancestry; Mielikki (gifts related to wood, forestry and wildlife), Pellervoinen (stone, rock and opening doorways), Ahti (water) and Ilmarinen (fire and metals). Only aviarists can see nightjars though, making them able to see a piece of people’s souls, and Alice is one of them, her abilities activated when she is given a nightjar feather.

I loved the mythology and how Deborah used this to create a unique portal world, however the way the main character is written let it down. I’m not sure if it’s just that it’s trying to be humorous and failing or if Alice is deliberately meant to be a bit stupid. Whilst the Rookery is stuck in the 1930's, it seems her office is stuck in the 70s. The fact that she's a victim of sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace is treated as a bit of a joke and her best friend's attitude wasn’t great, meaning I felt like Jen wasn't really worth saving.

An anchor stops a ship from coming adrift, but it also weighs it down, rendering it sinkable. Crowley may not be the lifeline you need.

It throws in a bit of a romance that just sprang out of nowhere too. Maybe it was my distance from the main character, but there wasn’t much hint of emotions going on inside her head. Other than she had to save Jen, another character I didn’t feel she had a genuine connection to other than her words.

The rest of the book made up for Alice; it still managed to be engaging despite my dislike of her. And OK, I softened a bit towards the end. I would probably read another book in this world, because I liked the mythology so much. The characters just need a little bit more work.

The Nightjar is published by Pan Macmillan and will be available in paperback and ebook editions from 5th September 2019. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 12. A book inspired by myth/legend/folklore

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Monday, 12 August 2019

The Time Traveler's Wife

You might be wondering why I'm reading a massive bestseller from over a decade ago now, but one of the Popsugar prompts this year is to read a book with more than a million ratings on Goodreads. The Time Traveler's Wife had been on my TBR a long time, and my interest had waned a lot, but this was an opportunity to give it a go.

If you're not familiar with the story, Henry has a rare genetic disorder which causes him to spontaneously travel in time, usually backwards, always naked. On many of these trips he meets the woman who will become his wife. The narrative switches between Henry's non-linear lifetime and Clare's present, slowly bringing the multiple timelines toegther.

Time is priceless, but it’s free. You can't own it, you can use it. You can spend it. But you can't keep it. Once you've lost it you can never get it back.

I can't say I am impressed. Did no one else find it a bit icky that grown Henry was visiting his wife when she was a child and grooming her to be his wife? It was portrayed like they were dating already. He doesn't really give her the opportunity to find out for herself, telling her they'll be married in the future. Then when they do get together in the present, it's like they don't really like each other that much, Clare seems to be waiting for the Henry she knew as a child.

Henry goes through time beating people up, stealing clothing and money, without a single consequence. He even teaches his younger self how to pick pockets. Just because he disappears from that time, doesn't mean his actions don't affect others. So I didn't like Henry one bit, and the book is really about him despite the title.

Clare is a bit of a one-dimensional character, her world revolves around Henry, and then making a miniature version of Henry. I mean the genetics and the implications of trying to have a time-travelling baby were interesting but it was a novella's worth of material in an overly long book.

So I found it all a bit boring. Maybe if you like books about the every day happenings of life, you'd enjoy that with the extra time travel dimension. Henry doesn't time travel anywhere exciting, just to moments in his, or Clare's, past. Then there's moments of odd metaphors and language which felt like it was trying too hard.

When I am out there, in time, I am inverted, changed into a desperate version of myself. I become a thief, a vagrant, an animal who runs and hides. I startle old women and amaze children. I am a trick, an illusion of the highest order, so incredible that I am actually true.

Oh and there's some pretty convenient things thrown in which don't really fit with the whole determinism thing, was Henry destined to win the lottery? If he could manage that I don't see why he couldn't have changed other things.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 5. A book with at least one million ratings on Goodreads

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Book Source: Purchased

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

The Kingdom

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 Kingdom™ is a magical place where your dreams can come true, with species brought back from extinction and the most perfect princesses to see to your needs during your stay. Ana is one of seven Fantasists, androids designed to be beautiful and to obey. But when Ana is accused of murdering a park employee, she must go to court to prove she's incapable of moral judgement.

In my Kingdom, Happily Ever After is not just a promise: it's a rule.

I devoured The Kingdom, this Westworld/Disneyland mash-up was just what I needed. It could so easily be twee but Jess Rothenberg has shown the darker side of an entertainment industry, in a page-turning tale.

The narrative switches between the trial transcripts and Ana's life in the park. The trial's purpose is to decide if Owen's murder was the result of a malfunction or if Ana had evolved beyond her programming and committed murder with intent.

Ana is one of the later models, with more advanced AI compared to some of the other Fantasists, who regurgitate on-brand lines, and are less likely to think for themselves. Even under times of stress, Ana's programming returns her to this more simple state, removing her ability to act upon her feelings.

As the story unfolds, it becomes clearer that the Fantasists are controlled through more than just their programming. They are fed lies about the world outside, believing the visitors are there to escape a ravaged land. It's inferred that the investors are using the Fantasists for sex, then their minds are wiped, so they can never speak out.

Anomalies are dangerous. Magic is routine.

I felt a bit sad for the hybrid animals, as one might a sociable creature kept alone in a zoo. I'm not entirely sure why they were part android, part genetically engineered though. Were clones just too unpredictable and android not realistic enough? That doesn't seem right if the Fantasists were as real as humans...

Anyway, I really enjoyed it. It's not anything particularly new but I liked how it was done.

The Kingdom is published by Pan Macmillan and is available now in paperback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publishers for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

In the end, it does not matter what a story is about. It only matters who gets to tell it.

ATY Rejects: Circus/carnival/amusement park setting

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Monday, 5 August 2019

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter

When Mary Jekyll's mother dies, she discovers a secret bank account used to make payments in connection with Mr Hyde. Mary cannot fathom why and faced with an uncertain financial future, she seeks out Sherlock Holmes to find out if there's still a reward for the capture of Mr Hyde. Their investigation leads them to meet many other young ladies who have been wronged by a mysterious society of alchemists.

She had longed for adventure, and now that it was happening to her, she was not sure how she felt about it.

The Strange case of the Alchemist's Daughter is the first book in Theodora Goss's Athena Club series, which follows family members from classic genre fiction. Whilst Mary is obviously Mr Jekyll's daughter, when her father was Mr Hyde, he had another daughter. There are also characters from Frankenstein, The Island of Doctor Moreau and Dracula.

Beatrice Rappaccini is a character from a short story (by Nathaniel Hawthorne) that I had to look up, but like the others she is given life beyond that short fiction. Some of the characters have had to lead lives as sideshow freaks in order to make a living, until Mary takes them in. I liked how it explored what happens outside those stories, that there are innocent people left behind.

I listened to this on audio and the characters interrupting the narrative all the time was a bit pointless and distracting. I don't know if this works better in print at all. Catherine is the one supposedly writing the story and they other characters keep chiming in to correct her or agree.

This first story also borrows from the Whitehall Murders attributed to Jack the Ripper and, like many writers before have done, an alternate narrative is given with a supernatural angle.

What could women accomplish if they did not have to continually mind their skirts, keep them from dragging in the mud or getting trampled on the steps of an omnibus? If they had pockets! With pockets, women could conquer the world!

It was a little slow in places, spending a lot of time on each woman's backstory as well as the character comments. I think now that I'm familiar with all the characters I would consider reading more. It was simple, escapist fun set in a mock Victorian era, where attitudes to women and science are just starting to turn.

ATY: 25. 4 books inspired by the wedding rhyme: Book #3 Something Borrowed

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Book Source: Purchased

Sunday, 4 August 2019

The Bath Bookshop Crawl

Winged

The summer bookshop crawl is a great bookish day out organised by Bex of Ninja Book Box fame. This year's location was Bath again (the first summer crawl was held there in 2016), which is a beautiful place to wander round as well as having some excellent bookshops.

We met up in the Parade Gardens, after much fake outrage at paying £2 to get in, which turned out to be great as you could go back and get away from the crowds (who also did not want to pay £2). They even supply deck chairs for you to sit in (and read).


Moomin books

Our first stop was Skoobs, a secondhand books stall in the Guildhall Market. This place has a great selection of books, but I found that I already had a lot of them! This should have been a sign that I shouldn't be going round buying piles of books, but I chose to ignore that small fact.

We next went onto Oxfam which had some very tempting Moomin merchandise and a lovely window display. Bex likes to include a few secondhand options in the crawls to help everyone's budgets go further.

Sign outside Topping & Co
Books at Topping & Company

The first time we went, we felt like Topping & Company was at the top of a massive hill. Turns out we were just tired and laden down with books then, as earlier in the day we bounded up the hill with ease! Toppings greeted us with tea, coffee and biscuits (I think the very yummy biscuits were just for us but they give all visitors a free hot drink if they want one).

Thursday, 1 August 2019

The Month That Was... July 2019

Whilst I didn't get the extreme temperatures many people suffered, July has been a hot old month. My parents came to visit and it's the second year that I've swum in the English Channel. I guess I should be worried about climate change, but it's hasn't seemed quite so dry this year. We had some stormy weather this week which has battered the tomatoes somewhat. The poor sunflowers didn't make it.


Giant redwoods in the New Forest.

I'm starting to get back into review writing, though still have loads of read books without reviews. I think it's partially having a bunch of meh reads due to challenges and I don't really want to fill the blog with me moaning about books! Also it's harder for me to review audiobooks it seems. I've never changed my review policy to say I accept audiobooks for review and I think that might be sensible, as sometimes my commuting frame-of-mind doesn't absorb enough. Though it does depend a lot on the book in question.


Donkeys at Beaulieu.

Oh yeah, my phone broke this month too, but Google were really helpful in getting me a replacement despite me not buying it from them (Currys were useless, they said they'd repair it but not replace it, yeah right).


Scully is unimpressed by the dogs guarding the Montague Arms.

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Trinity

Trinity was the code name of the US project to create a weapon to end all wars, the atomic bomb. Behind that invention was a man who had to come to terms with what he had created, J. Robert Oppenheimer.

Louisa Hall has chosen to create a portrait of Oppenheimer through the narratives of seven characters whose lives touched his at some point. These characters are fictional but weave together facts from the era to give a sense of who Oppenheimer was, as well as the sense of the time.

We tell our lives to other people like stories. We make characters out of ourselves. If we're skilled, we make ourselves almost lifelike.

I thought this was an unusual approach which worked to varying degrees. There's the FBI agent assigned to watch him, a WAF (Women in the Air Force) at the base in Alamo, a student who attends one of his lectures, acquaintances from his time on St Johns... It shows a man conflicted by pride in his scientific achievement, yet faced with the guilt of the destruction wrought on Japan. A man who was not always faithful, who was held practically hostage by his government, threatened with his links to communists.

I did zone out over the reporter's account of her marriage. I wasn't quite sure what this had to to with Oppenheimer, other than when she started the interview he reminded her of her husband. Maybe it was meant to represent Kitty or some other element of his life, I'm not sure. She talks of her husband's betrayal like Oppenheimer's betrayal by allowing the bomb to be used, which was a bit extreme. This meant it ended on a down note.

He said such boundaries were hypothetical in a day and age in which whole nations could be destroyed by one weapon. What about radiation? And what about fallout? Do they operate according to national boundaries?

I would say if you specifically wanted to learn more about the project or Oppenheimer, you'd be better off reading a biography. Trinity was interesting to read though, and if you like interconnected short stories, this might be your thing.

ATY: 10. A book featuring a historical figure

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Book Source: Purchased

Monday, 29 July 2019

Sadie

When Sadie's little sister is murdered and the investigation goes nowhere, she sets off to bring the killer to justice. Some months after, a journalist picks up the story of a missing girl and her murdered sister. Can he piece together what happened and where she is now? Or will Sadie just be another statistic...

I wish this was a love story because I know how it goes in one like mine, where the only moments of reprieve are the spaces between its lines.

First up, if you're interested in reading Sadie, do check out the audiobook version, it is so well done. Sadie has a stutter and Rebecca Soler reads it in a way that conveys Sadie's frustration at not getting the words out. It's full cast, so no dodgy fake accents for dialogue but also the podcast sections are totally believable as a podcast. There's even subtle background noise that you would expect if you were recording an interview out and about.

It alternates between "The Girls" podcast and Sadie's narrative, the investigation following Sadie's trail. It shows how difficult a missing persons case can be, they find loads of clues to Sadie's whereabouts, but each time she's moved on. People don't always come forward with the information they know, and not always for nefarious purposes. Sometimes they just don't know something's important.

But love is complicated, it’s messy. It can inspire selflessness, selfishness, our greatest accomplishments and our hardest mistakes. It brings us together and it can just as easily drive us apart.

Sadie had a tough life. Her addict mother had a string of boyfriends, and it doesn't take long to come to the conclusion of what was going on. She did her best to look after her sister, right up until the night she was killed. They live in a trailer and money is tight. However it acknowledges that her mother was a human being too, with faults and a huge amount of guilt at not being able to protect her girls.

Sadie's got a tough exterior, but her facade cracks under stress. She is really a lost young women who has had her world ripped apart. She feels adrift, and the only thing left is revenge, or justice. Full of tough subject matter, it's full of emotion. Although not one for people who like neat endings.

ATY: 41. A book from the 2018 GR Choice Awards
POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 30. A book featuring an amateur detective

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Book Source: Purchased

Thursday, 25 July 2019

N.E.W.T.s Required Reading

Magical Readathon is hosted by Book Roast.

I nearly forgot that the N.E.W.T.s protion of the Magical Readathon was happening, after all that hard work to get my O.W.L.s! It runs for the month of August and I'll be reading for the Magizoologist career which means I need O in Care of Magical Creatures, E in Charms and E in Herbology. Here's what I'm aiming to read:



Care of Magical Creatures

A: Follow the spiders! Why couldn't it be follow the butterflies!
Book title that starts with a letter A, for Aragog!

Authority by Jeff Vandermeer
BACK-UP: After the Flare by Deji Bryce Olukotun

E: Book under 300 pages
To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers
BACK-UP: Broken Places and Outer Spaces by Nnedi Okorafor

O: Grab onto Fawke's tail! Read a book with a bird on the cover
The Nightjar by Deborah Hewitt
BACK-UP: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo



Charms

A: Read a book that you think has a gorgeous cover
The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
BACK-UP: The Border Keeper by Kerstin Hall

E: Read a comic/graphic novel/manga (or book under 150 pages)
Heartstopper Volume Two by Alice Oseman
BACK-UP: Finding Home Volume One by Hari Conner

BONUS: O: Spongify (softening charm) - read a paperback book



Herbology

A: Mandrake! Quick, put your headphones on! Listen to an audiobook (if not - green cover)
The Heartland by Nathan Filer
BACK-UP: Wilding by Isabella Tree

E: Read a book between 350-390 pages
Heartstream by Tom Pollock
BACK-UP: Unleashed by Amy McCulloch

BONUS: O: Read a book with a flower on the cover

Monday, 22 July 2019

On My Radar: August

Sometimes I think I spend more time looking for books to read than I do actually reading. Ah the perils of being a book blogger. Here is another month's worth of tantalising new releases for you to add to your wishlists and TBRs.

Dates are for UK print editions unless otherwise noted and books may be available earlier in different countries or formats. As always, inclusion is not an endorsement as I haven't read them!


1st

All the Bad Apples by Moira Fowley-Doyle
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
The Spaces Between Us by Stacia Tolman (US)
We Walked the Sky by Lisa Fiedler (US)


6th

House Of Salt And Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

8th

To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers
Sanctuary by V.V. James
Why You Should Read Children's Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise by Katherine Rundell
The Conscious Closet by Elizabeth L. Cline
The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware


13th

Inland by Tea Obreht
The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee
The Warehouse by Rob Hart
Start Here by Trish Doller (US)


15th

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa
The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G. Parry (US)


20th

Empty Hearts by Juli Zeh (US)


22nd

Unleashed by Amy McCulloch
Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames by Lara Maiklem


29th

The Burning Land by George Alagiah
The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy