Sunday, 7 February 2016

A Grand (Bookish) Day Out

Yesterday was the wonderful London Bookshop Crawl, organised by the fantastic (if hopeless navigator) Bex (who also organises the Ninja Book Swap). It was so good to meet Bex, Laura, Ellie and Katie whose blogs I have followed for years, but also everyone else was lovely. Let's face it, book people are the best. Despite Bex's husband's fears, we were all the right kind of weird people off the internet.

So I think the grand total was 23 crawlers and many books were purchased from some independent, and not-so-independent, bookshops. Our first stop was Foyles on Charing Cross Road where we met up and fortified ourselves with caffeinated drinks and the first round of cake. None of us wanted to peak too soon so I don't think many books were purchased at this stop but we had a chat and received our ration books, which were amazing and made by Ruth and Esther from Bex's clan).

Our next stop was Orbital Comics. As the name suggests, this is a comic shop who sell both single editions and a wide variety of graphic novels. The recommendations started flying and I bought volume one of Five Ghosts off the back of one (but I can't remember from who as we still hadn't learned everyone's names at that point - why didn't we think of name badges?!). I also bought Through the Woods and a signed copy of Nimona both of which I keep hearing about from bloggers.

I also wanted to get something a bit random that I wouldn't normally come across and I thought An Android Awakes sounded interesting, so it went onto my pile. Orbital also gave us copies of the London Bookshop Map which is super useful if you ever want to organise your own crawl. I was tempted to get a single edition of Saga but as I have been reading the volumes, I wasn't sure where I was at, so I shall just be patient.

Laden down with graphic novels, we walked to our next shop, Any Amount of Books, a second hand and antiquarian bookshop on Charing Cross Road (for those that don't know London, this is historically the book shop road). We had to split up at this point as there wasn't enough room for us all, with the rest of the group hanging out in Cecil Court. Whilst there is some organisation, it really is the kind of book shop where you just have to browse and discover something. I found a copy of Wake downstairs and after reading The Ballroom and having seen Ellie's love for it, I had to get it (and a bargain too).

We wandered round Cecil Court a bit and went to look at expensive first editions in Goldsboro Books (although they do sell some nice editions of new books too, often signed). If you have a spare £7500, you can bag yourself a nice first edition set of the Lord of the Rings trilogy...

Everyone was starting to get hungry after all the walking and book excitement so a bunch of us went for burgers, with plenty more book chat. I'll repeat again, book people are lovely and everyone got on even though most of us hadn't met anyone else before. We all at least had books in common.

Next was the highlight of the trip for many, a visit to Persephone Books. Not only a bookshop but also where the publishing magic happens, we all squeezed in for a lovely, enthusiastic talk about what they do and the actual books. We filled the whole shop and scared off one man who had just wandered in to look. Oops! They did such a good job of convincing us all the books are wonderful and I've heard a lot about them from bloggers too.

They publish forgotten classics by women writers, mostly 20th century and a mix of fiction and non-fiction. All the covers are the same shade of grey (though they do do a few bookshop friendly editions too) with end papers that are fabric designs from the year the book was originally published. You also get a matching bookmark and if you buy mail order they wrap the book beautifully.

I bought William by Cicely Hamilton (their first ever book), The Village by Marghanita Laski and The World That Was Ours by Hilda Bernstein.

The books are stating to get heavy at this point and many of us were eager for cake. We were warned that London Review of Books didn't have much room for us in their lovely cake shop, so only a lucky few managed to get cake there. But we did get goodie bags if we bought something. The book shop is dedicated to selling the best books rather than the latest bestsellers, so it's a great place to browse for books you might not normally find (and then eat cake). They also, of course, produce the magazine which reviews books and we got a copy in the goodie bag (along with useful things like pencils, coasters and a calendar).

As I'd already ticked off graphic novels and classics, I was keen to get some non-fiction at this shop. I picked up Blood: A Biography of the Stuff of Life from the science section and Modern Romance from the tables upstairs.

We were all very tired by this point (and some of us had not had cake) so we skipped Daunt Books which was originally on the itinerary and went straight on to Waterstones Piccadilly, Europe's largest book shop. We did some sitting. Cake was eaten.

It's the kind of book shop where there's so much to look at and buy, it can be kind of daunting if you don't have a plan. I wanted to buy Josh a Gollancz Masterworks and ending up getting one that I wanted to read (but he would probably read it too, so that's OK). I have wanted to read A Canticle for Leibowitz since The Fire Sermon event last year (it was part of Francesca's inspiration) so was happy to find a copy.

I also bought War with the Newts, a translated science fiction classic that has been on my wishlist for quite some time and it was mentioned during the day. So I took it as a sign that it was on one of the tables in Waterstones.

After wandering round the popular science section indecisively I settled on Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found as my final purchase of the day. My feet were pretty dead my the weight of all the books by this point and I had lost most of the other crawlers in this massive shop.

Finally reunited on the floor of the history section, the remaining survivors compared their books and energy levels, whilst Laura talked loudly about Bex's drug dealer phone (it's fine fellow book shoppers, no drug deals were taking place, honest). I had planned to stay on for dinner but I was worried my feet wouldn't survive long enough to get me to the train station, so I called it a night after a very fun day out.

Thanks so much to Bex for organising it and I hope there'll be a another one! You can check out the #LondonBookshopCrawl hashtag to see what everyone else bought, photos and blog posts. And finally, here's a photo of the damage to my bank account...

Monday, 1 February 2016

The Month That Was... January 2016

+ International Giveaway

What a great start to the year! I read so many great books last month and I really feel I've got my blogging mojo back. I'm now trying to think up some ideas to celebrate my 5 year blogoversary in March.

I successfully read my classic, a non-fiction book and a graphic novel (well volume of a comic series, I'll probably get told off for wrong usage) in January, so probably the best I've ever done with challenges, ever. I'm going to try and read an older classic in February, maybe Wuthering Heights... But then I do fancy picking up something from Persephone on the London Book Shop Crawl.

I really feel like giving away more books this month since they are so good and plentiful. So providing I get at least 200 entries*, I will pick two winners to receive a book of their choice from those pictured below. And, if I get 400 entries, I'll give both winners an extra book. So it really is to your advantage to share, share, share! Although you can always claim a single free entry if that's your thing. Entry is open internationally and books will be brand new and ordered just for you.

*If I don't get 200 entries there will still be one winner receiving one book.

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

Book of the Month:
The Thing Itself by Adam Roberts


Sunday, 31 January 2016


I am so excited to have a copy of The Map of Bones to read (and as an extra bonus the proof matches my Alpha The Fire Sermon proof) but I've also received some other fantastic sounding books the past few weeks. I may have bought myself a copy of The Trouble with Goats and Sheep to make up for the rubbish weather last week.

Next weekend is London Book Shop Crawl, so I'll be trying to do a post on that next Sunday if my arms haven't fallen off from carrying all the books. I'm looking forward to meeting people and having a glorious bookish day out.

Do leave me a link to any reviews you've written for these already as I do like to see others' thoughts after I've read them (and add other links to my reviews).

For Review:

The Map of Bones by Francesca Haig (Harper Voyager)
The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor (Hodder)
Wilful Disregard by Lena Andersson (Picador)
Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan (Clarion)
Discworld Diary 2016: A Practical Manual for the Modern Witch (Gollancz)
The Butterfly Summer by Harriet Evans (Headline)*


The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
The Well by Catherine Chanter
An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

*Unsolicited titles

Saturday, 30 January 2016

I, Robot

I, Robot is a collection of interconnected stories exploring the Three Laws of Robotics. Anyone with even a passing interest in science fiction or robotics will have heard of Asimov’s laws and they have continued to be influential over 65 years later. The book is also charming to read.

Having learnt that introductions in many editions of classic novels often contain spoilers, I skipped the introduction here, without realising it’s actually part of the story. Take note! The premise is that a reporter is interviewing robopsychologist Dr Susan Calvin for the Interplanetary Press. Calvin has spent her career at the heart of US Robotics and has plenty of tales to tell.

The first story tells us of Robbie the robot who is a nursemaid for a young girl who loves him, but feelings towards robots are starting to turn. Soon robots are to be banned from Earth, but this tells of time when robots could be trusted with the most precious tasks.

1. A robot may not injure a human being or allow a human being to come to harm.

2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Many of the stories follow Gregory Powell and Mike Donovan, two men employed by US Robotics and posted out on remote planets to oversee various models. Working with some of the newer or more experimental robots they start to see where the Three Laws let them down. The stories aren’t necessarily about robots being a danger to us, more that the Three Laws can limit them, or cause bugs.

Yup, there’s one story that felt like Asimov had been working in software development. There’s a new release and there’s something wrong with it. But no one knows what exactly and Powell and Donovan can’t seem to recreate it. It only happens when they’re not looking. This is so very familiar.

In one story we see a politician accused of being a robot in hiding. Calvin is brought in to investigate but should a person comply with the Three Laws, it doesn’t prove them a robot, perhaps they are just a good human being. In fact, it is interesting that the main representative of US Robotics in these stories is the psychologist, putting emphasis on the robots are more than just machines; it explores their behaviour in relation to the Laws and how they may evolve into beings more like us.

It really didn’t feel dated at all. The positronic brain might be an unexplained thing that allows the robots to exist in a time when robots were pure speculation, but they don’t feel too unrealistic now. We might not have humanoid robots wandering our streets, but robots of a kind do have a huge impact on our lives. You can talk to a small computer that you carry round in your pocket after all! The Machines at the end are the closest I’ve seen someone get to the prediction of an interconnected world network in fiction.

If you’ve seen the film with Will Smith, it really isn’t the same story at all although there are elements which made it into the adaptation. A robot with altered Laws hides amongst visually identical robots and a test must be conceived to identify it. Dr Lanning is in both but not really the same character. The idea that humans turned against robots and removed them from the streets is only briefly mentioned in the book, but was more of an undercurrent in the film.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Hive | Wordery

Book Source: Borrowed from Josh

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Carry On

For those that don’t know what Carry On is, it is Rainbow’s own fan fiction of a fictional series that features in one of her books in which the main character writes fan fiction. Yup, it’s all a bit meta at this point. Carry On isn’t supposed to be the in-world canon of Simon and Baz, instead it follows down the path of all those fan fiction writers who shipped the two main characters.

I should probably start off with full disclosure that I didn’t really like the Simon and Baz bits in Fangirl but I was intrigued to see where they would go in a full length novel. In some ways, it’s all quite clever, bringing together plenty of Chosen One tropes and occasionally poking fun at them but not quite enough. If you hadn’t read Fangirl and picked this up blind, you would be forgiven for thinking this was a Harry Potter clone, but with a slightly older tone. I think that was part of my problem with Fangirl, the fact that it wasn’t just Harry Potter fan fiction to start with.

Carry On also feels like you’ve landed in a series part the way through. By the end, it’s clear this would be a final book if it were actually a real series. Whilst a regular feature of the real thing, the info-dumps of what-happened-previously grated a bit. Fortunately they tapered off and I had more of a chance to get into the story of the present.

Well, how am I supposed to know? There isn't a book, is there? All the Magickal Things that Are Actually True and All the Ones that Are Bollocks, Just Like You Thought.

I did like the relationship between Simon and Baz. Baz is absent for the start of the book so maybe that is why I felt it took me a while to get into the swing of things. I also liked the alternate narratives, we get to see what some of the supporting cast thinks too. Agatha would actually prefer to be in the Normal world and there’s even a glimpse into The Mage’s psyche. Plus there's plenty of cute or funny lines.

I know so many people loved all the homage. If that’s your thing you will love it. Yet at the heart there was a really good story trying to get out. This world isn’t quite so black and white as Harry Potter’s. No one’s clearly evil or plain good, just like the real world, and sometimes good people do bad things. I also thought the characters were more believable as real people and they're a lot more in touch with the modern world.

You can't just wave your wand and repeat what you've heard someone saying down on the street corner; that's a good way to accidentally separate someone from their bollocks.

The magic system reminded me a little of The Invisible Library and the power of words. Spells are woven out of common phrases, things that are spoken more have more power and some of the spells come from song lyrics in the modern day. This magic evolves just as language evolves.

It's a fun read but it didn't rock my world. I'm not sure I would recommend it as a standalone fantasy but it's definitely worth reading if you liked Simon and Baz in Fangirl.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Hive | Wordery

Also reviewed @ Jess Hearts Books | Bookevin

Book Source: Purchased

Monday, 25 January 2016

All the Birds in the Sky

One day the Singularity would elevate humans to cybernetic superbeings, and maybe then people would say what they meant. Probably not, though.

I loved this tale of when magic and science collide, full of humour, love and commentary on our modern life. It’s the second book to have a non-humanoid AI that made me cry too.

The story starts with two teenagers, both on the outskirts of school society who become tentative friends. Laurence loves nothing more than spending his life in front of a screen. He built a time machine that can send him two seconds into the future and is now building a supercomputer in his wardrobe but his parents keep sending him to outdoorsy things. So he pays Patricia to lie to his parents that he’s been outdoors.

He had conquered a small piece of time, and they were conquering a small piece of space. They understood, as he did, that this was a down payment.

Patricia loves nature but her parents would rather lock her away in her room. Her sister is possibly evil. One night, after her sister douses her dinner with an excessive amount of spices, Patricia leaves her body and talks to a bird named Dirrp who takes her to the Parliament of Birds. There she discovers she’s a witch and is asked a question she doesn’t answer. Yet years pass, and magic seems to have left her.

Once thing I particularly liked was how these characters do grow up. It wouldn’t have been the same book if it stayed with their childhoods. Their families seem cruel, or at best negligent, but when all is said and done, there was love there. As the characters grow up they can see their childhood with hindsight, just as we all start to see our parents differently with a bit of distance in time and space. The book is told in different parts, each at a different point in their lives, giving more scope to the story.

We don't need better emotional communication from machines. We need people to have more empathy.

When Laurence and Patricia meet again, they are both living in San Francisco. This gives Charlie the chance to incorporate hipsters and start-ups into the mix, giving a zeitgeist feel despite being set in the near future. It also deals with climate change, the awful tragedy of natural disasters and questions whether or not it is inevitable. Magic is a symbol of nature; can science and nature cohabit peacefully?

Of course Patricia is on the side of magic and Laurence science, but their friendship is stronger than that. They might fall out, but they are mysteriously drawn back to each other. They have to make tough decisions and sacrifices as the world falls apart around them. In the end, it would seem that magic and science aren’t all that different after all.

How do you ever know your own emotions are spontaneous and genuine, and not just a programmed set of responses?

I loved the assassin slash guidance counsellor as well. Just a great cast of characters with charm and emotion and a bit of satire on what technology has done to us. I could waffle on forever but I really should leave some of it for you to discover by yourself. It gets a big thumbs up from me. Plus, the cover is gorgeous.

All the Birds in the Sky is published by Titan Books and is available in paperback and ebook editions from 26th January 2016. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review. Charlie Jane Anders is the editor of io9 and this is her debut novel.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Hive | Wordery

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, 24 January 2016

The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World After an Apocalypse

If you survived the apocalypse would you know what to do next? How would you rebuild civilisation? This book aims to put in the hands of the survivors crucial knowledge that will kick-start technological advancement, but also keep them fed and healthy.

I read The Knowledge over the holidays and have told so many people facts from it since, I’d almost forgotten that I hadn’t blogged about. The introduction does speculate a little about different types of apocalypse, but settles on a viral pandemic as our final foe. This would leave survivors the advantage of a fairly intact infrastructure whilst they find their feet as well as little competition for resources.

The book is split into sections dealing with aspects such as agriculture, medicine, power, construction and more advance scientific methods. It’s not just a survival guide but a reminder of how much we take for granted. Josh had recently shown me the TED Talk for the guy who tried to build a toaster from scratch. Just knowing how it works is not enough but you need to know how to mine and extract the base materials required first. This book is very much on that premise, how even simple things will be much more difficult.

The earlier chapters do deal with scavenging and making the most of what’s been left behind. It also points out these things won’t last forever and why the country is a better bet than urban areas in the long term. With easy access to forests and the sea, where I live right now isn’t too bad a location if the worst happens!

Speaking of forests, trees are amazing. Their potential for fuel is not simply just by burning, you can even rig up a car to run on wood gas. Then there’s charcoal, crucial for filtering water and making compounds essential for further technological advancement. There’s creosote (the thing that makes smoked food taste so good as well as being a fine ting to paint your fence with), sticky pitch, acetic acid (think vinegar) and acetone (think nail varnish remover). Plus you can build shelter with it.

I found the agricultural, medical and chemistry bits the most fascinating and accessible, based on my previous knowledge. We’ve already got some sourdough starter and homemade cider in the corner of the room, so we’re ahead in our preparations, at least when it comes to yeast. Some of the engineering bits went a bit over my head. In practical terms, it gives only a brief overview of what you’d need to know, if you have no prior knowledge you would struggle to do all the things in the book.

However it is thought-provoking and full of facts if you like stuffing your head with facts. There are some things that seem easier than I would have expected once they’ve been explained, which can only give us all hope for the apocalypse.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Hive | Wordery

Book Source: Gift

Saturday, 23 January 2016

The Ballroom

She'd heard of it. Since she was small. If you ever did anything stupid: the asylum. For the lunatics. The paupers. They'll send you to Sharston, and you'll never come out.

In an asylum on the Yorkshire moors, a dance is held once a week in a grand ballroom. Men and women kept apart, are allowed this one chance to be normal, to dance and feel the hands of another. Here Ella and John meet. She a poor woman who merely broke a window at the factory where she was once employed. He an Irishman, who has suffered tragedy in a land where he isn’t welcome.

1911 was a time when the asylum wasn’t necessarily the worst option, indeed some of the poorest people actually tried to get committed so they would be fed and have a roof over their heads. Sharston Asylum is loosely based on a real Yorkshire asylum with a ballroom. It’s self-sufficient with the patients contributing to the work and they even have their own farm. Perhaps it seems like a form of slavery, but not all the characters are portrayed as wanting to leave.

Things do start to change though, particularly when a young doctor, with his sights set on advancing his career, starts to think about new ways of doing things. First he strongly believes that segregation and music therapy, along with a once a week dance for those with good behaviour, is all people need. It all seems kind of pleasant. He is interested in eugenics but does not believe the drastic measure of sterilisation is necessary.

At the time, with the teachings of Charles Darwin fresh in their minds, people were beginning to believe madness and being poor were hereditary. Whilst some forms of mental illness have since been found to have some genetic causes, being poor definitely isn’t. However it is so difficult to escape one’s circumstances, so you can see how they came to this conclusion. Most people born poor would have stayed poor. And often the poor had big families too, hence increasing the problem.

Eugenics has become something strongly associated with Nazi Germany however there were plenty of believers in the United Kingdom and America. In America, there were even some cases of forced sterilisation in mental institutions, I’m not sure if it ever went that far here. This story doesn’t really go as far as exploring the consequences of forced sterilisation, it is more of an ominous threat to patients’ human rights.

Given the current climate around immigration, it’s quite fascinating to read about the prejudice towards the Irish at the turn of the century (do we still say that now we’ve changed century?). Following the Great Famine caused by potato blight there was a mass exodus from Ireland as people sought work, and food, abroad. They were treated as second class citizens, and as we see here, were considered genetically inferior to the English. Now, no one bats an eyelid if someone is Irish.

Unlike music, excessive reading has been shown to be dangerous for the female mind.

Asylums and eugenics are something I’ve read a fair bit about over the years, so I the doctor’s eventual decision seemed inevitable from quite early on. He is wrestling with his own demons and he could have done with some nice quiet, relaxation time himself. There really isn’t a lot of difference between the staff and the patients. As the cover says, who gets to decide who is mad? It seems to be determined by class, power and money.

The Ballroom is published by Transworld and will be available in hardback and ebook editions from 11th February 2016. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Hive | Wordery

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.