Thursday, 21 June 2018

Red Clocks

In a not too distant future, America has implemented the Personhood Amendment, giving an embryo the same rights as a person from the very moment of conception. Seeking an abortion is now a criminal offence, in-vitro fertilisation is banned and women are forced to pay for funerals for foetuses lost through miscarriage. On the horizon is a new law preventing single parents adopting.

There is a tendency for people to compare any book on reproductive rights to The Handmaid's Tale and I don't think that has done Red Clocks any favours. It's much more a reflection on what it'd be like if these laws were applied to the present day. The blurb says it explores the question of what a woman is for but it answers that in a very narrow way, it's definitely focused on motherhood.

It follows five women in a small Oregon town. The Biographer is a history teacher, writing a biography of a forgotten arctic explorer whilst trying for a child. She is single, the law has stopped her using in-vitro fertilisation and soon even her back-up plan of adopting will be out of reach.

The Daughter is a fifteen-year old who becomes pregnant and seeks abortion. Through her we see all the ways women try and circumnavigate the law. Her fear and desperation shines though. She visits The Mender, a woman whom lives out in the woods and is considered by many to be a witch. The Mender uses herbal remedies to help women with many gynaelogical problems.

She knew—it was her job as a teacher of history to know—how many horrors are legitimated in public daylight, against the will of most of the people.

The Wife has two young children and her married life is not as happy as it seems from the outside. She is connected to the other women through her husband. I found her story to be a bit boring to be honest, and it didn't contribute as much to the discussion as the others.

The fifth woman is the arctic explorer that Ro (The Biographer) is writing about. You only read about her through extracts from Ro's manuscript and so she felt like an incomplete character. Though she does highlight the struggles of women in the past, and she helps provide an answer at the end of the book. There are ways to leave a mark on the world that don't involve children. She also provide a link with the past and present, via the whales.

I thought at the start that the women would all remain anonymous, but as they interact with each other, their names are revealed. They are more than just their label. I liked how their stories connected, revealing different aspects of how the laws affect them.

I could easily believe this happening in America, especially with recent political events. I don't think that Canada would be so compliant though. The "Pink Wall" is the border that desperate girls and women cross in order to seek a termination. If they are caught, they hand them over to US law enforcement. I'd like to think Canada would be more compassionate, to provide the help that Britain has been providing to Irish women over the years.

There are plenty of mentions of vaginas. Ro talks a lot about her attempts to get pregnant, her visits to the doctor. Jin is open about them too, what with treating them, and Susan laments her ageing body parts.

Listening Notes

The audiobook has two narrators, Karissa Vacker and Erin Bennett, which helps a lot with the multiple viewpoints. Each voice felt distinct but not silly. I did get a bit paranoid that my headphones would get pulled out right when they were in the middle of talking about their vaginas. I don't think I could cope with listening to any raunchy romance for this reason!

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 21. A book with your favorite color in the title

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Book Source: Purchased

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Top Ten: Summer TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

My summer reading is very unlikely to take place next a body of water this year. I used to live right by the beach and any fair-weather reading would be done with the sand beneath my toes but now beach time is generally walkies and swimmies time for Scully. So here are ten books vying for the top spots of my TBR (links go to Goodreads).



Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers
How Do You Like Me Now? by Holly Bourne



Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
The Changeling by Victor LaValle



Save the Date by Morgan Matson
Puddin' by Julie Murphy



Tamed: Ten Species That Changed Our World by Alice Roberts
Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer



I Was Born For This by Alice Oseman
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Sunday, 17 June 2018

The Surface Breaks

The Surface Breaks is Louise O'Neill's retelling of The Little Mermaid. I have a love hate relationship with her writing but I thought her foray into fantasy might not be as bleak. The mermaid in question is Gaia, daughter of the Sea King, who is fast approaching the age where she can be married off.

The Sea King is all your misogynistic dictator stereotypes rolled into one. He believes that maids should be for looking at and making babies. He's a classic abuser personality, his daughters must choose their words carefully around him and he pits them against each other. He trades his youngest daughter to a war-mongering friend to help cement his position in court. Gaia is 15, her husband to be is an old man. It's really quite a grubby thing to read about.

I shall be passed from one man to the next, ownership transferred with the ease of a handshake, and I will be expected to smile as the deed is done.

On her birthday Gaia is permitted to swim to the surface despite the fact that her father hates humans and blames them for taking his queen. Not that him being a massive jerkwad would make her want to leave him. Gaia sees a human boy and saves him from the Salka, their mortal enemies. She is instantly besotted with him and can't stop thinking about him when she returns home.

I suppose the instalove represents a desire to escape her abusive home, but he could just as easily be as horrid as her betrothed, just younger. Anyway, you know the story, she gives up her voice so that she can go ashore. This isn't a pretty fairytale though and what she must endure to be with a man she doesn't know is extreme. The second half of the book is much stronger, it dwells a bit too long on the awfulness of merfolk society before it really gets going.

Slowly Gaia starts to question her choices. I loved the ending, it really rescued the book for me after wondering if it was just going to be another depressing outlook for women. I liked all the revelations and what Gaia finally chooses for herself. If you've ever worn shoes that have ripped your feet apart but continued to wear them, you will sympathise with Gaia, who puts up with pain in order to have the legs she thinks Oliver desires.

The only time I was ever happy under the sea was when I was singing, and I sewed my mouth shut in the hopes that a boy I barely knew could kiss it open again.

I do feel that feminist fiction can focus a lot on terrible things that happen to women. Why can't they be about amazing things women do or just lovely worlds where we have equality? I know the point of this is to show how the original story sets a terrible example, that you shouldn't be sacrificing yourself for a man you barely know, but it was a bit heavy-handed getting that point across.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Legendary

Caraval was one of those surprise favourites where the world just sucked me in a for a whole day, so I was excited to pick up the sequel, Legendary. However the story didn't grab me quite as much and I could see the flaws in the writing this time. Not to say it wasn't enjoyable, but not to the same extent.

Every good story needs a villain. But the best villains are the ones you secretly like, and my nana always said Legend was the villain in Caraval.

After Scarlett won the last Caraval, it is announced that there will be another, sooner than expected, in honour of Elantine’s Day. Tella has been writing to a mysterious friend who now demands payment for his help, the true name of Legend himself. The only way she can get this is to win Caraval.

Legendary introduces the mother's story. Tella has seen her fate in the cards and believes her mother is still out there. She wants to find her and she needs this stranger's help. The Decks of Destiny are similar to tarot and the secret covers for this edition show some of the cards relevant to this story. Tella has always distanced herself from romantic love because of the cards and that comes to a head here.

I do like the darker aspects of the story, deadly kisses and playing with the fates, but at times the characters seemed a bit flat. For the first few chapters I couldn't remember which sister did what in the previous book, they just didn't have their own personalities. They were both writing to unknown men, they would have been sucked right into the Nigerian prince scams had they lived in modern times. I liked Dante though and could even cope with Tella's pretense of not-liking him.

I know Caraval can be magical and romantic and wonderful, but the spells it casts aren't easily shaken off, and half the time I don't even think people realize they have been bewitched.

Knowing the secrets of Caraval make it less mysterious and exciting. We know everyone could be lying, can come back from death and Tella knows the identities of Legend's players. I understand the game was used so that Tella could be led to do something, but it felt a little repetitive at the start. She's given so many advantages so she can win, I'm not sure she is clever enough for this game otherwise.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

The Three-Body Problem

Read the World: China

Where to begin? The Three-Body Problem is the first instalment of a popular Chinese science fiction trilogy by Cixin Liu* which has been translated into English by Ken Liu. It's the first Chinese book I have read but the prose had a similar feeling to some of the translated Japanese books I've read.

It opens in 1967 during the Cultural Revolution. Scientists and those who show western, capitalist values are being tortured, imprisoned or killed. Ye Wenjie witnesses her father's death at the hands of the Red Guard and the rest of her life will be marked by her association with a radical.

But Ye had the mental habits of a scientist, and she refused to forget. Rather, she looked with a rational gaze on the madness and hatred that had harmed her.

Four decades later, nanotech engineer Wang Miao is approached by the police to join a secretive group of scientists, which leads him to an online game. In this game he must join other scholars in solving an alien planet's dilemma. Trisolaris suffers from extremes in temperatures, unpredictable seasons which halt all scientific progress until the stable season reappears. The inhabitants can dehydrate themselves, a kind of hibernation until temperatures become stable again.

Understandably one of the big themes covered is climate change, not only on Trisolaris but also the damage humans have done to Earth. I knew a little of the damage done in China by ignoring what was considered capitalist thought in agriculture although this focuses on the felling of forests, which everyone has been guilty of. It talks about technological progress and the search for intelligent life, and what that would mean to the human race.

It was impossible to expect a moral awakening from humankind itself, just like it was impossible to expect humans to lift off the earth by pulling up on their own hair. To achieve moral awakening required a force outside the human race.

I think you've got to have at least a passing interest in physics to enjoy this book, the science fiction is pretty hard and some of the physics went over my head. It is not a fast-paced alien invasion book at all, but some of it feels extremely timely. Slowly all the threads come together and things start making sense. I did enjoy reading a non-western perspective for once, it would be crazy to think only the US would be trying to communicate with extra-terrestrial life after all.

Considering the Three-Body Problem is an actual real world physics problem, I'm a bit confused as how the people playing the game didn't get past the first stage quicker. The name is kind of a big giveaway! Is this a failure in translation and the problem has another name in Chinese? I only looked up the problem after reading the book, so it didn't bother me at the time.

How wonderful it will be if the universe really contains other intelligences and other societies! Bystanders have the clearest view. Someone truly neutral will then be able to comment on whether we’re the heroes or villains of history.

*Note, some editions state the authors name as Liu Cixin but the edition I read used the western name order, so I've used that here.

Read Harder: A book of genre fiction in translation
Science Fiction vs Fantasy Bingo: Asian

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Book source: purchased

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

White Rabbit, Red Wolf

Peter Blankman is scared of everything. Suffering from severe panic attacks, he uses maths to help calm his mind. His mother and sister are his support network, understanding his needs and being there for him. Then the unthinkable happens, his mother is stabbed and his sister goes missing. Peter is sucked into an undercover world of spies, never sure who he can trust.

All translation is encryption, after all. There's no such thing as plain text; there are only codes you understand and codes you don't.

White Rabbit, Red Wolf is a twisty turny young adult thriller which challenges the stereotype of the spy book hero. It is so twisty it's a bit hard to review much about the plot without giving things away. I read most of it in one day, which is a big endorsement from me these days.

The story opens on a panic attack, showing how bad things are for Peter, where he compulsively eats when his maths fails him. It also shows the supportive nature of his mother, who doesn't question him, just tends to his injuries. I loved that he had understanding people in his life, which makes what unfolds even more shocking.

His mental health makes it hard for him to make friends and he is an easy victim of the school bullies. His twin sister Bel looks out for him but things do start to look up when he befriends Ingrid, a girl with OCD. But wait, this is not a smooshy teen romance and you will go between doubting every relationship to being grateful for them like a ping pong.

Repetition builds meaning; repeat enough times and that meaning becomes a cage, a cage whose bars you can rattle and shriek at, and never more.

There's a small element of science fiction which is important to the plot. I'm not sure I liked the very ending, it seemed a bit of an unkind thing to do to Peter. I suppose that was the point, it leaves both you and the character wondering and ties in nicely with the liar's paradox, a philosophical (and in this case mathematical) problem resulting from the sentence "this statement is a lie". That gives you a hint to how mind-bending this book will be...

Note, this book is published in the US under the alternative title of This Book is a Lie.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 26. A book with an animal in the title

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Book source: purchased

Monday, 4 June 2018

Dark Pines

Gavrik sits on the edge of Utgard forest, a dark and dense expanse of spruce trees. The town relies on two things, forestry and hunting. At the start of elk hunting season a body is found in the forest. Twenty years ago the Medusa killer stalked these very woods, have they returned?

I've been saved by a rifle shot on the first day of elk the hunt. Three years ago, in London, that sound would have been a headline and it would have been horrific. Now, here in Värmland, in this life, it's normal. Safe, even.

The story is told from the perspective of Tuva, a deaf reporter who has moved to the Swedish town to be closer to her dying mother. Tuva is scared of nature, the creatures that dwell in it and the very likely possibility of getting lost in there. I don't think much of the UK's woodland is that intimidating but if you have ever wandered into a big commercial forest, you know how eerie they can be. Utgard is its own character in this tale.

Gavrik is a small town where everyone knows everyone else's business and it can make investigating difficult. Tuva is an outsider, she doesn't have loyalties other than to her story, but of course people will close ranks. With the national press arriving, the townspeople are worried that her words will scare off visitors.

I loved all the different oddballs of the town. So many potential suspects! Whilst some definitely feel like red herrings I was left guessing right up until the reveal. I'd love to revisit Gavrik but I fear Tuva might decide to go back to the city for future instalments.

It's a slow and thoughtful murder mystery, and much of the tension is provided by other things. Will Tuva actually make it to her terminally ill mother's bedside? Is her fear of nature going to best her? Will her hearing aid batteries last out the day?

Tuva doesn't let her deafness get in the way. She lost her hearing as a child and uses hearing aids. Her narrative shows how she experiences the sounds of the world, through the feedback, missed snippets of conversation, the silence when she wants it and when she doesn't. It's part of who she is and it doesn't stop her doing her job. Tuva's fear stems back to the death of her father, a car accident involving an elk. She knows how deadly nature can be.

Will Dean moved to a remote part of Sweden and I get the feeling that some of Tuva's feelings towards the remote lifestyle are shaped by the author's own experience.

Listening Notes

Maya Lindh was the perfect narrator for Tuva. Dark Pines is the first audiobook I managed to get to the end of, although I did find the speech a little too slow and had to listen at a faster speed. Maya has a lovely, soft and slightly accented voice which fitted with a character a little out of her comfort zone. I'd definitely listen to the next book in the series if she is chosen to narrate it. I'm not sure I would have liked the book so much without her narration, she added so much to the atmosphere.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 5. Nordic noir

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Book source: purchased

Sunday, 3 June 2018

May Book Haul

Big thanks to Katie for sending me her bookseller proof of Spinning Silver (which I forgot to include in the main photo). I've not been requesting review copies lately but have still had plenty drop through the door.

Have you read any of these? Should I be pushing any of them up to the top of the TBR?


Review Books

The Changeling by Victor Lavalle (Canongate)*
Rotherweird by Andrew Caldecott (Jo Fletcher Books)*
Wyntertide by Andrew Caldecott (Jo Fletcher Books)*
The Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry (Canongate)*
Shattermoon by Dominic Dulley (Jo Fletcher Books)*
You Were Made For This by Michelle Sacks (HQ Stories)*

Gifted

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik



Physical Books Bought

I Was Born For This by Alice Oseman
Legendary by Stephanie Garber
The Surface Breaks by Louise O'Neill
Kindred by Octavia Butler

Ebooks Bought

Talking to My Daughter About the Economy by Yanis Varoufakis
Sound by Bella Bathurst
The City of Woven Streets by Emmi Itäranta
The Kept Woman by Karin Slaughter
Clean by Juno Dawson
Notes on Blindness by John M. Hull
The Feed by Nick Clark Windo
To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo
It's All in Your Head by Suzanne O'Sullivan

Audiobooks Bought

A Shiver of Snow and Sky by Lisa Lueddecke

Audiobooks Borrowed

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

*Unsolicited titles

Friday, 1 June 2018

The Month That Was... May 2018

+ International Giveaway

May marks the month where I finally got the hang of audiobooks, just as long as I'm walking somewhere or doing a mindless task and I seem to need to listen at x1.25 speed. As always, I'm behind on writing up my thoughts but you should start seeing audiobook reviews on the blog soon.

The weather has been suspiciously glorious. Even the weather warnings failed to produce much more than a few showers and some fog. Here's hoping that doesn't signal a terrible summer. We managed to add a few more spots to our map of local places visited and the garden is starting to look a bit more green.



Book of the Month:
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Reviews:




Challenges

It's been a successful month for challenge progress and I actually think I might complete POPSUGAR partly in thanks to the great Goodreads group. Starting to feel a bit less enthusiastic about Read Harder though.

POPSUGAR (24/50)
2. True crime: I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
5. Nordic noir: Dark Pines by Will Dean
24. A book with a weather element in the title: A Shiver of Snow and Sky by Lisa Lueddecke
25. A book set at sea: Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant
26. A book with an animal in the title: White Rabbit, Red Wolf by Tom Pollock
38. A book with an ugly cover: SLAY by Kim Curran

Read Harder (13/24)
A book of true crime: I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
A book of genre fiction in translation: The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu
A book with a cover you hate: SLAY by Kim Curran

Science Fiction vs Fantasy Bingo (9/25)
Asian: The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
Demonic: SLAY by Kim Curran

Beat the Backlist: 20/30
Goodreads: 45/100

Monday, 28 May 2018

Out of the Blue

Shortly after Jaya's mother dies, angels start falling from the sky. Her father become obsessed, tracking the angels and predicting where the next one will fall. None of the angels survive their descent to earth, not until Jana stumbles across one on Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh.

What I thought would be a quick, fun read about fallen angels turns out to be a touching story about death, grief and searching for answers. Jaya has been dragged to Edinburgh with her sister, who is more of an enabler of their father's obsession. Angel mania has spread across the world and there is a big market for those who would like a piece of a real angel. And of course there's a cult that has risen up, sucking in the vulnerable.

Sometimes, I imagine alternate endings to the story: last-minute miracles, touches of magic. I picture how things might have gone, if I wasn’t there. If I’d left just a few minutes later. If I hadn’t been alone. It doesn’t make any difference. One way or another, the crash always comes.

Jaya decides to hide the angel, to protect her from those who would exploit her. She struggles to communicate, with no shared language other than a fondness for Tunnock's Teacakes, leading to the affectionate name of Teacake for the angel.

Along the way, Jaya befriends a brother and sister, Calum and Allie, who help her hide Teacake from both her father, the cult and everyone else who wants a piece of her. Allie has cystic fibrosis and is a great representation of someone who is more than their illness. Sick kids can have adventures and romances too.

It's an own voices LGBT+ book and it feels unashamedly Scottish, from the streets of Edinburgh to the glen where Jaya's life changed for ever.

Don't expect to find out much about the angels, it's much more about the human relationships and how people might react to such a phenomena. It's a short book and doesn't go into huge amounts of depth but it suited it. I found it sweet and sad.

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Book Source: Purchased