Saturday, 28 November 2015

This is Where it Ends

10:00 The principal finishes welcoming the entire student body to a new semester.

10:02 The students get up to leave the auditorium.

10:03 The auditorium doors won't open.

10:05 Someone starts shooting.

This is Where it Ends is a fast paced, page-turner, with tragedy at its heart in the form of a school shooting. Should you worry about the child who enlists and goes to war, or the one still at school? School is hardly a safe place in modern times, both mentally and physically, and it’s all the worse in a country which such lax gun control. I read it in one sitting but it failed to live up to potential and at times felt like a first draft.

If it were a 54 minute commentary on the senselessness of violence, it might have worked. However flashbacks interrupt the now and draw it out, yet still not long enough for any real character development. Multiple narrators can be a powerful tool done well but none of the voices were distinct. I often found I could only tell which character was narrating by who they were referring to.

One narration I felt was missing was the shooter’s. There was a bit of a mixed portrait of him through the flashbacks of the others. I’m not sure why his ex-girlfriend had such a big part other than to get across the point he seemed like a nice guy, when quite clearly he wasn’t. Was he damaged by trauma and domestic abuse, a huge homophobe or was he a sociopath all along, with his charming ways? Maybe the point is we never know what goes on in the heads of those who commit such crimes, but it wasn’t clear.

Whilst I can’t imagine what I’d do in the circumstances, some things didn’t quite sit right with me, like with Autumn thinking about dance whilst her brother is shooting people. Would a lone shooter go unchallenged for nearly an hour? Why did the police take so long to respond? I found it hard to swallow that they would ignore dying children in favour of clearing the area and getting the healthy ones out when a whole SWAT team was up against one teenage boy with one gun.

It was a bit of a squash to fit in as many issues as possible and none of them really got the time they deserved. The reaction to rape was just off, and not dealt with any further. Sylv’s mother has what I assume is early onset Alzheimer’s; how hard is that to deal with both as a daughter and breaking awful news that she may not be able remember. Autumn is dealing with domestic abuse at home. In some ways, I wanted the book to be twice as long to explore these areas, or at least deal with the consequences of the shooting.

The epilogue was out of place too. I would be able to believe that kind of gathering a few days after, but the same night, in the same place? Nope. People would want to be in safety with those they love. It wasn’t used to deal with the aftermath at all. It was a bit, it’s over, let’s remember people, but that’s it.

As Marieke Nijkamp is part of the We Need Diverse Books movement, the cast is at least a diverse bunch; Latino siblings, an Afghan friend, a lesbian couple and a physically disabled brother.

This is Where it Ends is published by Sourcebooks Fire and will be available in hardback and ebook editions from 5th January 2016. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy to 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, 24 November 2015

Wolf by Wolf

The world is wrong. I'm just doing my part to fix it.
It’s been over 10 years since the Nazis won WWII. 18-year-old Yael has one mission, to kill Hitler. The only way she can get close enough is to take the place of Adele Wolfe, the only girl ever to win the Axis Tour, a motorbike race from Germania (formerly Berlin) to Tokyo. Yael is in a unique position; after years of tortuous experiments carried out on her, she was left with the ability to change her appearance. She just has to win the race…

Alternate histories where the Nazis won the war seem to be quite popular at the moment. In games there’s Wolfenstein and in telly there’s the adaptation of The Man in the High Castle. Wolf by Wolf is a welcome addition, including a supernatural twist. I’ll just add, try to keep your alternate histories to one at a time, as I found myself getting the backstory confused with that of TMitHC.

Born Jewish, Yael was sent to a concentration camp when she was just six years old. She is experimented on by a doctor, clearly modelled on Auschwitz’s Josef Mengele, among whose horrific experiments included attempts to change eye colours of his subjects. Yael is subjected to numerous injections to change her hair, skin and eye colour. Little do the Nazis know that they gave her a gift, one that could bring them down.

At the start of the book, Yael has finished having her camp tattoo covered up with five wolves, each representing someone important to her. As the core story unravels, Yael remembers each person which reveals her backstory, from her heart-breaking time in the camp to how she became involved in the resistance.

I liked Yael. She starts off hardened to the world, having lost so many people she holds on to the hope that she can change things. She starts the race prepared to be ruthless, to see the competitors as the supporters of the very thing she wants to bring down. Yet she is capable of empathy. She’s not exactly had that many long lasting relationships in her life, and her desire to form bonds leaks through even though it would be impossible to continue them beyond the race. And she’s not stopping in a crucial point to moon over any boys.

Near the start I was a bit concerned it was going to spend lots of time talking about motorbikes, but thankfully it wasn’t the case. The race is harsh and Yael soon has a clear enemy. I was a little sad not to learn more about what was going on in the other competitors’ heads, although it would have been hard to do considering the context. It’s not exactly an environment to open up in.

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Also reviewed @ Snuggling on the Sofa | prettybooks

Book Source: Illumicrate

Saturday, 21 November 2015

The Masked City

The Masked City is the sequel to The Invisible Library and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous book.

When Irene’s assistant Kai goes missing from an alternate London, the Librarian soon discovers he’s been kidnapped. An action that could bring forth a war between dragons and Fae. Yet Irene’s more concerned about saving her friend, even if it means travelling to a world where chaos rules.

The purpose of the Library is to preserve humanity from either absolute reality or absolute unreality.

The second instalment in this series made the alternate worlds seems much more like book worlds, which has fuelled the comparisons to Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next books. This time Irene finds herself in a version of Venice ruled by the Fae and whilst Lord Silver isn’t exactly her friend, he’s not the enemy he once seemed. Though one has never entirely trust a Fae.

This alternate Venice is a high chaos alternate; the kind that are padlocked and barred from the Library. To travel there risk becoming contaminated. The narrative of this world bends itself around the most powerful, in this case the Fae in charge. Irene must avoid becoming noticed by the main players of this story and remain a background character. If it’s not her story, then surely she’ll be killed if she crosses the protagonist.

I really enjoyed the way storytelling was portrayed. There are narratives so strong that they can’t fail to play out in this world, unless you are powerful enough to bend them. Or, of course, avoid the scenarios that trigger them.

Irene mentally cringed at the dialogue, lifted straight from Plots Involving Heroines Too Stupid to Live, Unless Saved by the Hero.

This version of Venice is the romanticised city of our imaginations. Irene notes how it doesn’t smell of sewerage and of course it is Carnival, where the city is flooded by masks and masquerade balls. A handy disguise for any good Librarian. The gondoliers still seem eager to take advantage from out of towners in this alternate.

I found the ending a bit abrupt. It’s definitely left at a place for there to be another book. I don’t think I’m too worried about Irene though. I think she did good by the Library, even if she did bend a few rules.

Most people don't want a brave new world. They want the story they know.

The Masked City is published by Tor and will be available in paperback and ebook editions from 3rd December 2015. 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.

Thursday, 19 November 2015


I knew from an early age I wasn't cut out for sport. I successfully managed the carb loading, so I was 50 per cent of the way of the way there, but the bit after that, the running and jumping bit, just bored the tits off me.

Spectacles is Sue Perkins’ memoir covering her life so far from the day she popped out (her mum made notes during labour) through to her time filming shows such as The World’s Most Dangerous Roads (she was told it was Interesting Roads when she agreed) and some baking show called The Great British Bake Off.

Sue on paper is pretty much the same as Sue on TV and she comes across as a genuinely lovely, if self-deprecating, person. I’m pretty sure Bake Off wouldn’t have been such a hit without her and Mel. If you’re hoping for loads of behind the baking scenes gossip, this isn’t that book. One chapter deals with Bake Off, which Sue initially turned down (this is a recurring theme in her life), but mostly covers the first series. Following on from this we’ve gone and downloaded series one from BBC Store and the show has come a long way. There’s also a few tongue-in-cheek bits, where Sue answers some FAQs and gives a fake sneak peak of next year’s show.

The production company was used to making award-winning, intense and provocative documentaries on multiculturalism and poverty, and took this journalistic ethos right into Bake Off.

I’ve been a fan of Sue since the days of Light Lunch and I’ve recently re-watched the wonderful Supersizers where she and Giles Coren eat their way through history and get thoroughly drunk. I wasn’t aware she started out as a comedy duo with Mel and this book covers their early days.

It also has a lot about Sue’s childhood but told in a rather entertaining way. There’s some sad bits too. I nearly cried on the bus reading the letter she wrote to her dead dog. Yup, this book needs a Death of Dog Warning. But she also made me laugh in the very same letter. That’s a skill. I particularly liked the part where Sue tries to report a hate crime to the police...well you'll just have to read it to find out.

First rule of Cheese Swap, you don't talk about Cheese Swap.

I would like to think I'd get along with Sue if I met her. If you're intent of buying people celebrity autobiographies for Christmas, you could do a lot worse than Spectacles. Unless maybe they're expecting Jeremy Clarkson's...

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Book Source: Purchased

Monday, 16 November 2015

Quickie Reviews

The Haunting of Hill House was my Halloween read this year, even though I didn’t read much of it on the actual day. Something I love about books from this sort of period is the amount of booze consumed in a casual sort of way. Worried the house is evil? Never mind, have a brandy! It seemed there was a time where a drink solved everything. Or maybe it just helps to distract you from the ghosts…

It’s not a very scary book though. The only time I got a bit creeped out was because I was reading on the bus and then had to walk down the road in the dark and fog on quite a cold evening. The haunting manifests itself in cold spots in the book, so clearly it managed to latch on to one bit of my brain.

I did enjoy it though, more as a period piece about an odd group of people staying in an isolated house. There was a point where I did start to wonder if it were all in Eleanor’s mind; which is scarier, ghosts that can’t harm you or being terrified by your own mind?

I wanted to read You’re Never Weird on the Internet on the basis that I quite like Felicia’s tweets rather than being a huge fan of her work. However you’ll be glad to know the book is worth reading on its own merit. There’s plenty of the kind of material you’d expect in a memoir, told in a friendly and amusing voice, but more importantly it gives a little slice of recent history: one girl’s experience of growing up alongside the internet and video games.

Felicia’s just a couple of years older than me, so whilst I wasn’t on the same sites as her, it’s still a time I can recognise. Remember the sound of dial-up signalling a connection to the outside world? A home-schooled, somewhat weird child, Felicia found a world she could belong to online. The book follows her life through to the point she starts The Guild. The final chapter touches a little on #GamerGate and it’s rather saddening to think that a world that was once so welcoming to Felicia, has become threatening in places.

Sometimes I like to dip in the fluffier end of chick-lit for a light read now and then. So when I saw that Step Back in Time also had time travel, it went straight on my wishlist. When Jo-Jo is hit by a car crossing a zebra crossing on Kings Road, she wakes up in 1963. She’s still her but she has another life back in the past, and weirdly Harry and Ellie, from her present, are there too. Then it happens again and again, with Jo-Jo time-hopping through the decades.

If you don’t think too closely about the logic of it all, it’s a fun read. It did suffer a bit from over-explaining the references to music and culture. And Jo-Jo is forever referring to the year 2013 like we might have forgotten she’s time travelling. There’s a lot of Beatles references going on, I’m not sure if it would be more enjoyable or just irritating if you’re a big fan of the band. Overall it relies a lot on the music to define each decade she lives in, I’d have liked a bit more variety in the nostalgia.

I’m not sure what else I can say about Saga that I haven’t mentioned before. I recently read volume five which didn’t disappoint. If you’re looking to get into comics and want a diverse space opera with snark and emotion (and don’t mind a bit of illustrated sex or nudity), get yourself volume one right now.

Book Sources: Bought / Gifted

Saturday, 14 November 2015

The first Illumicrate has landed!

Illumicrate is a new bookish subscription box started by Daphne of Winged Reviews. She's done a wonderfully professional job with the first box. I'm sure they'll be plenty of unboxing videos around but just let me say it was obvious a lot more care had been taken in the presentation than most the geek boxes I've seen.

I really wanted to avoid spoiling the box for anyone who is still waiting for theirs to arrive so I've not posted pics anywhere else and this is your opportunity to stop reading.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The Rest of Us Just Live Here

Some problems are bigger than the end of the world. With the end of school looming, it is Mikey’s last chance to tell Henna how he feels. He’s not one of the Indie kids, the chosen ones who always seem to be battling something. This time there’s a strange blue light. He just hopes he can graduate before they blow up the school…again.

I loved the concept behind The Rest of Us Just Live Here, imagine the story of all those people who lived in Sunnydale that weren’t part of the Scooby gang. It’s not set in the Buffyverse, but it very much reminded me of it, right down to the poor high school that keeps getting blown up and the references to the Chosen One. These things come in cycles, each generation having its own supernatural thing that the Indie kids fight off and the adults seem oblivious too.

This story doesn’t follow that though. This is about the regular kids who are living their own dramas. Mikey, Mel and Meredith are the offspring of a politician mother and an alcoholic father. Mikey suffers from OCD and Mel is recovering from anorexia. Both of them wish to protect their younger sister from getting as messed up as they are.

I liked the inclusion of a boy who has a gay best friend. It’s usually the clichéd girl/gay bestie friendship so it was good to show that everyone can be friends no matter what your sexuality. The platonic, romantic and familial love between the whole group is lovely. They care so much for each other even if that isn’t always obvious to the person feeling left out.

Kindness is the most important thing of all. Pity is an insult. Kindness is a miracle.

The only thing that didn’t quite work for me were the chapter introductions. You know how in some older books there would be a summary of what was going to happen in the chapter? I get what Patrick was trying to do, each chapter starts with a description of what is going on in the Indie kids’ story. Maybe they contained a bit too much detail, like I was meant to keep track but it was so simplistic that none of it really stuck. I thought the glimpses the main characters get of what was going on was enough for me.

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Also reviewed @ prettybooks | ShinraAlpha

Book Source: Purchased

Monday, 9 November 2015

Carrying Albert Home

When Elsie gives her husband Homer the ultimatum “it’s me or the alligator”, the couple find themselves on a journey from West Virginia to Florida in a 1925 Buick convertible with an alligator and a rooster on the back seat. With America in the midst of the Great Depression, they meet bootleggers, radicals, John Steinbeck and a whole cast of characters.

She loved Albert more than just about anything in the whole world. She knelt and scratched his belly while he waved his paws in delight and grinned his most toothsome grin.

I loved Carrying Albert Home, a charming tale based on the tall tales the author’s parents told him about that time they took their pet alligator to Florida. It’s a testament to oral storytelling on a family scale, where the events are embellished but hold a grain of truth. Who knows if Albert really was a team mascot or starred in a film…

Albert is the star of the show. Baby Albert was sent to Elsie as a wedding gift from Buddy Ebson, the man she never stopped loving. As he grows, Albert’s a constant reminder to Homer that his wife’s heart is elsewhere. But even Homer can’t resist Albert’s charm as the journey unravels. I’m not convinced an alligator would act so dog-like but I still loved him. He’s on the younger, and smaller, side so it’s more believable that he wouldn’t be trying to eat people, despite what Homer may think in the beginning.

Elsie was found.
But that wasn't what mattered.
What mattered was that he had looked.

Elsie never wanted to be stuck in a coal mining town, married to a coal miner. She yearns for a more exciting life, with a more exciting man. Yet their journey south isn’t exactly boring and maybe the couple can meet halfway; Homer can grow beyond the coal mines and Elsie can realise a good, kind man is better than the exciting, dangerous type, any day. The fact that the story is introduced by their son (the author), means we know it must work out some how.

Who knows how much is true? It seems it really doesn't matter at all...

Carrying Albert Home is published by HarperCollins and will be available in hardback and ebook editions from 19th November 2015. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Also reviewed @ ireadnovels

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, 8 November 2015


A Christmas book has snuck in already! Actually, I've been drinking festive drinks and eating festive sandwiches for a while already, there's no holding me back this year. Now that my birthday's out the way, I've even started my present shopping! Of course, I got some books for my birthday, as well as the usual vouchers and cash, and some Qwerty t-shirts and the cutest cat money box ever (which we first saw in a cat video).

Work gave me Amazon vouchers, and despite already being surrounded by books, Josh suggested I check out the 3 for £10 offer. I was going to be good and get something non-book-shaped but with that kind of encouragement... There was a lot I had already read in the offer, so that helped, but I did find 3 off my wishlist and I spent the remaining on Sue Perkin's autobiography and a Kindle copy of Red Queen.

I tend to grumble about all the biographies this time of year but I've gone and got two in one week. I've already read Felicia Day's which I enjoyed, plenty of laughs and a interesting slice of history around the early days of internet and gaming. I've also already read Carrying Albert Home which is lovely and charming. Reviews of both coming soon.

For Review:

Carrying Albert Home by Homer Hickam (Harper Collins)
The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman (Tor)


You're Never Weird on the Internet by Felicia Day
Command and Control by Eric Schlosser

Gift Card Purchases:

Spectacles by Sue Perkins
Step Back in Time by Ali McNamara
Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider
Where She Went by Gayle Foreman
Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard


The Great Christmas Knit Off by Alexandra Brown

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

All the Light We Cannot See

When Germany occupies France, blind Marie-Laure and her father must flee Paris to the relative safety of the walled city of Saint Malo. Her father, in the employ of the Natural History Museum, takes with him what might be the museum’s most valuable stone. Meanwhile in a German orphanage, men from the Party take note of Werner’s talents with radios; a much needed skill in the war to come. Sent off to a high profile school to be shaped into instruments of the Reich, Werner does his best to be the same boy his sister once loved.

All the Light We Cannot See has received bundles of praise and a Pulitzer Prize so I’ve been left wondering if I missed the point. With the exception of the last 100 or so pages, I felt the prose was unemotional and the characters were rather romanticised.

Marie-Laure loses her sight aged just six. It didn’t portray any of the frustration you would expect of a young child going blind and her father is so perfectly patient with her. By nine years old she is a proficient braille reader, reading Jules Verne, imagining worlds she will never see. During her childhood, war breaks out across Europe and France is occupied. Yet she still seems to lead a mostly privileged lifestyle, even if she must stay indoors.

Marie-Laure’s story just didn’t seem to go anywhere. The chapters are short and alternate mostly between her and Werner’s stories, which had the very tenuous link of radios. For the most part, I felt like I was reading two different stories, constantly being torn away before I could connect with either.

Understandably, Werner is something of a spectator to his life, an orphan with no choice to follow the desires of the state. A state whose ideals he’s not sure he believes in. He stands by while awful things are done, so his portion of the story seems distanced. There are glimpses of a boy who cares, but it takes him time to do anything noteworthy.

The plot regarding the mysterious and valuable diamond might have been more enjoyable in a short novel, but I’m not sure it bound together the narratives. There’s a German on the hunt for it, who becomes obsessed, maybe believing in its curse. Not to forget an immensely talented forger who can make faultless copies of a rather unique gemstone.

There’s a completely unnecessary rape scene. It does nothing to further the plot or characters, in fact it’s minor characters that are involved and it isn’t revisited. It was a bit like the author thought he hadn’t got round to mentioning how awful the Russians were in this war, so let’s throw in a rape to show that.

It’s all just a bit meandering and went on far too long. There’s better examples of WWII novels and portrayals of blind characters out there. I spent ages being annoyed by the use of the term terrorist, which seemed modern and out of place. However I did look it up, and will let Anthony off, as it was originally coined during the French Revolution, so it is possible it was commonly used in France during the war.

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Also reviewed @ For Winter Nights

Book Source: Purchased