Thursday, 23 March 2017

The Other Half of Happiness

The Other Half of Happiness is the sequel to Sofia Khan is Not Obliged and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous book.

Reader, she married him. After eloping in Pakistan, Sofia is worried her mother will never forgive her. It's not that Conall's white, it's the fact they denied her a wedding. Wedded life isn't bliss either. Stuck in a poky flat in Karachi, with her husband out all hours making his documentary, Sofia starts to miss home. What the hell has she done?

Note for book: There is an abyss in the line between glad and unhappy; make sure you don't fall into it.

I loved Conall's character in the first book so I was a little disappointed in the direction the sequel took. However, married life is never going to be perfect and the reality of marrying someone she barely knows hits Sofia not long after the deed is done. This must be a real problem for those who don't do long term relationships before marriage, whatever culture you're from. Doubled with the fact that divorce is so frowned upon.

Following her father's death, it's clearer that Sofia's mother didn't have the marriage she wanted. Her husband wasn't her first love and in the main, their marriage was hard work. She thinks her daughters should work at it rather than face the disgrace of divorce. Though I did like the simplicity of the Muslim divorce (just say it three times with an Imam present and you're done).

If I'd built my emotional immune system more before I married Conall, would this hurt less?

More is revealed about Conall's family and his past, including something everyone is shocked to hear. His family is Catholic and his brother suspects Conall has been radicalised, or as Sofia's mum would say, become a fundo. Not by Sofia, of course, but that stresses have left him vulnerable and he's run off to do harm. Despite everything, Sofia still has faith in him.

Anyway, it's not quite as fun a book as the first, but it maintains the tone of narration if not of subject matter. I guess the first book is about dating and the second is about marriage, and the baggage it comes with. Plus Sofia gets some purpose beyond finding, and keeping, a husband.

In the end, I've realised that people are just obsessed with others living like they do. No matter who they are.

The Other Half of Happiness is published by Twenty7, an imprint of Bonnier Zaffre, and will be available in paperback and ebook editions from 6th April 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.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Top Ten #Readathon Books

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

So this week is all about short reads or books you read in one sitting. With Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon happening next month, I thought it'd be the perfect opportunity to combine the two with ten books that will help you through a readathon!


The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan

The story of a relationship told in short chapters, each based on a word presented a little like a dictionary definition. Trust me, it works.

One

Told in free verse and incredibly moving, this is a tale of two sisters, conjoined at birth, facing school, and the decision whether to undergo surgery.


Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Fabulous and creepy graphic novel warning of the dangers lurking in those woods.

The Explorer by James Smythe

One of those books that tells you the end at the beginning and then you speed through the pages to find out how they got to that point.


You Will Not Have My Hate by Antoine Leiris

You will cry but this little book is powerful and has a positive message in amongst the grief.

The Beauty by Aliya Whiteley

Thought-provoking and weird, but also exactly the right length. I think you can have too much weird in one sitting sometimes!


The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

One of my all-time favourite books, Wyndham comes from an era where short books were all the rage.

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner

I actually did read this one during a readathon. Short and sad, but also very good.


The Selection by Kiera Cass

One of my guilt-free pleasures (lets not feel guilty about reading anything, right?), the only drawback with this is you'll want the other books on standby. So easy to whizz through them.

Diving Belles by Lucy Wood

My favourite short story collection ever, magical but also somehow grounded in reality.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Six Years of Blogging

It's customary to say some words to mark a blogoversary and I had a waffling post on the go. Then I thought, why not just do an infographic with inaccurate pie charts? The numbers are not spot on but they vaguely illustrate how my reading has changed from my first year of blogging to this year just gone. Also, numbers!


When I started out, I was single, renting a shared flat and had loads of time to read. Now I have a Josh and a Scully to keep me distracted and our very own house. So I don't blog or read as much as I once did, but that's OK because it's just one little part of my life now.

I've quietly added a Read the World challenge page to my blog. I know others are doing this to deadlines but I'm going for a leisurely, get done in my lifetime sort of thing.

My blog was meant to be getting a new template for its birthday but we've had some teething troubles, so that will happen when I have time to wrangle it back into shape. Here's to another year!

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Incoming!

Wow, I haven't done a new books post for two months (except for the book shop crawl). So there'll be things missing, I'm sure, some I've passed on already, and some I've read. It does look like a massive pile of books... Oh well, I haven't bought ebooks in a while and they can be useful on my commute. The rest are mostly review copies and pre-orders. I had kind of forgotten about The Song Rising after ordering it so long ago, so that was a nice surprise.



Friday, 17 March 2017

Laika

I may have read Soviet Space Dogs only last year but Laika gives a much more emotional slant on the story. It's a mix of fact and fiction, giving her a backstory of how she became a stray and her life on the streets. For most the story, her original name is used (which means curly tail). This is interwoven with the human characters of Yelena, a fictional dog handler within the space programme, and the man who went on to become the Chief Designer.

Having read up on the subject previously, I know that the scientists did grow attached to the dogs and they were not detached about their fates at all. I thought that the emotional connection with the dogs was cleverly done. The dogs don't really talk, Yelena just projects a voice onto them. This is what humans do around dogs, Scully has a little internal monologue we give her and you do start to believe in it. It is not hard to imagine the panic and hurt Laika would project when locked up for her flight.

The main complaint I have seen in other reviews is that it's emotionally manipulative. I don't know about you, but I believe that's what good fiction does, makes us feel things. What kind of person goes into a fictionalised version of Laika's life and doesn't expect their heart strings to be tugged? And, yes, I cried.


I didn't like how the humans were drawn to be honest. They're a bit blobby and I found the male characters hard to tell apart. The dogs are pretty cute though and the rest of the artwork fitted the story. There's also a recurring motif of Laika flying, maybe she had a premonition of her fate in her dreams, but mostly she seems happy in them.

One lovely touch in the edition I have are alternative endings, where she is rescued or doesn't go to space at all. They just lift the heart a little after such a sad, and true, ending.


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Book Source: Purchased

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The Wrath and the Dawn

2015 brought with it two young adult interpretations of Scheherazade’s story from A Thousand and One Nights. I had previously read E.K. Johnston's A Thousand Nights and I think my reading of The Wrath and the Dawn suffered from a bit from over-familiarity.

After all, every story has a story.

In this version, Shahrzad volunteers herself as a bride, shocking her family. Her best friend died at the hands of the king and she knows the only way to avenge her death is to get close to him. To put off her death she tells him a story, a story that can’t be told in one night.

In the original stories, the king starts murdering his brides after his first wife is unfaithful, here it's Khalid's father who had an unfaithful wife. For most the book, the reason for the deaths is kept secret, with Shahrzad growing less and less dedicated to her revenge because she starts to quite like him.

The fantasy elements don't really emerge until quite near the end. It seemed obvious from quite early on that there would be a reason for Khalid's murderous ways. I wanted the reveal over and done with earlier because otherwise it's just a bit odd that she forgets her purpose and hatred so quickly. He stays distanced from his brides, which makes sense, but her behaviour doesn't.

"And there's nothing you can do about the past."
"You're wrong. I can learn from it."

Tariq, the childhood love interest, is the possessive kind and it came across as if he felt she belonged to him. At no point did I really want her to go back to him.

Whilst there were sumptuous descriptions of food, it was lacking the magical world-building to support the core aspects that the tale revolves around. What was going on with Shahrzad's father all this time? It pootles along like a historical romance and then wham, there's magic all of a sudden.

Only one of Shahrzad’s stories is told fully, although it is inferred that she tells a lot more. The problem with the inclusion of one, it didn't come across as told captivatingly enough to persuade a bloodthirsty king not to kill her.

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Book Source: Purchased

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Top Ten: Spring TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

In which I commit myself to reading pre-orders and review copies promptly. Hah! In all seriousness, I am really excited to read all of these, but sometimes I get distracted.



Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
The Song Rising by Samantha Shannon



The Cows by Dawn O'Porter
Dragon's Green by Scarlett Thomas



The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Out of Heart by Irfan Master



American Street by Ibi Zoboi
Saga Volume 7 by Brian K. Vaughan + Fiona Staples



The Lonely City by Olivia Laing
Shark Drunk by Morten Str√łksnes

Monday, 13 March 2017

Nevernight

In a land where the three suns keep darkness at bay, there’s a girl with a shadow darker than it should be. After her father is executed and her mother thrown into the deepest, darkest jail cell, Mia Corvere finds herself, not quite, alone and somehow not quite as afraid as she should be. Taken in by Mercurio, she is tutored in the ways of the Red Church, an elite organisation of assassins. In order to become a Blade, and enact the revenge she so desires, she must first find the school and pass its difficult and cruel tests.

The brighter the light, the deeper the shadows...

A few people told me Nevernight was like Harry Potter with assassins, and frankly, that kind of put me off for a while. But never fear, I did give it a go and they were wrong and I loved it! Well, there's a tiny bit that could be Harry Potter-like if you hadn't grown up with other boarding school stories as a reference point.

The story is rich with world-building and there is so much mileage in this world. It took me a while to understand that it was switching between two versions of Mia but this soon became clear. Additional information is included in footnotes (much in the style of Discworld) but if you find these an annoying distraction you can easily skip them and not miss anything crucial to the plot or characters.

But though they were still mostly strangers, she knew one thing about every acolyte around her. Murderers, all.

Mr Kindly is a shadow creature who appears as a cat with no eyes. It is implied that the Darkin are something to be feared so I love that he has such a benevolent name. Actually, throughout the book, there is very little to suggest that Darkin are in fact evil, other than the, most probably evil, followers of the light don’t like them.

Back to this school of assassins then. I liked that so much of the books revolves around Mia’s backstory and also that it is a huge trial just finding the school. Mia must prove herself again and again, and sometimes she must prove that she is heartless. She finds little kindness in the masters, who want to hone her into one of the finest and detached killing machines. Yet sometimes compassion comes from the most unexpected places.

Mia reached out and took hold of the shadows about her. Thread by thread, she drew the darkness to her with clever fingers, like a seamstress weaving a cloak, a cloak over which unwary eyes might lose their way.

I cannot wait for the next book, it’s such a multi-layered fantasy and not as grimdark as it might seem at first. Yes, there is sex and swearing, and even the more complex language used means this is definitely not a book aimed for younger teens.

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Book Source: Illumicrate

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Not If I See You First

Parker doesn’t want to be treated differently because she’s blind. After her father dies, her aunt, uncle and cousins move in so she doesn’t have to learn a new school, but they don’t understand her like her dad did. And her school has merged with another, meaning a lot of new, and not-so-new, voices in the halls, including the boy who broke her heart and her trust.

It’s a common belief that losing your sight heightens your other senses, and it’s true, but not by magnifying them. It just gets rid of the overwhelming distraction of seeing everything all the time.

Parker’s attitude is common to people who want to hide their weaknesses. In her case, it’s not her blindness but her grief. She says she speaks the truth but denying her own feelings a lot of the time. She might not be a character you warm instantly to, but she does grow on you.

Parker wasn't born blind but lost her sight in an accident. Conveniently for the narrative, she would have been old enough to know about colours and expressions yet young enough that she would be able to adapt quickly. Her narration doesn't shy away from describing things by their appearance, relying on the fact her friends tell her what things look like. It would have been stronger if it tried to focus more on just her other senses. Linda Gillard's Star Gazing, for instance, does a fantastic job of trying to describe the world through someone who has never seen it.

One thing that Parker can’t do is make snap judgements based on appearance. What Molly looks like makes no difference to her, as a reader we might have made judgements though, and what she looks like is only revealed after Parker has got to know her. I liked that Faith goes against the grain of the archetypal popular girl. Her first words spoken might seem like the stereotype of mean girl but she turns out to be so lovely and loyal, whilst still having a life separate from Parker.

They don’t follow The Rules. Which shouldn’t even be called Parker’s Rules anyway. It’s just a lot of common sense that common people commonly lack.

She has a set of rules that people should abide by in order to interact with her. These are generally good rules to keep in mind, no sudden touching or sneaking up, using her blindness to deceive her or trying to be helpful when she doesn’t need it. However, rule infinity is her zero tolerance policy for breaking the rules, a refusal of forgiveness. And her ex is the reason for its existence. She slowly must come to terms with her stubbornness.

Parker’s also a runner, even if she tries to keep it secret. The story cover a little of the ins and outs of running competitively as a blind person, but also how it can be something liberating.

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Book Source: Purchased