Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Spinning Silver

It completely passed me by that Naomi Novik's Uprooted was based on Beauty and the Beast, but Spinning Silver is clearly inspired by Rumpelstiltskin, yet also so much more. Miryem is the moneylender's daughter, her father being far too nice for the profession. When she takes matters into her own hands, the business prospers and rumour spreads of the girl who can change silver into gold.

In the cold of winter, the glow of the Staryk Road can be seen close to their village. The Staryk lust for gold and are known to kill anyone who takes what is theirs; the white animals in the forest, the colourless trees. The rumours of Miryem's skill reach the Staryk kingdom, and they come to see if what is said is true.

A man who'd marry me like this wasn't marrying me at all; he was making a bargain for a girl-shaped lump of clay he meant to use at his convenience, and he wouldn't need to value me high when my father made it so clear he didn't.

As with the original fairytale, things are done in threes and the power of names is important to the Staryk. However there's no imp making deals to help Miryem, she must save herself.

The story is told from multiple perspectives, and it's useful to notice the little graphic at the top of each change of viewpoint. The coins are for Miryem, the basket for Wanda, the goat for Stepon, the crown for Irina and the spindle for Magreta.

Wanda lives with her abusive, alcoholic father and her two brothers Sergey and Stepon. They barely survive on meager rations until the day Miryem comes to collect her father's debts. Of course, he has nothing, but Miryem demands Wanda come to work of the debt. Wanda would rather work for the moneylender than be married off in exchange for a pig or goat. I loved her story of how she pulls her family out of poverty, even if she doesn't seem to like them much at the start. It also reflects how fair an employer Miryem turns out to be.

Irina is a duke's daughter, destined to be married off, but no one expects a high position for her. Miryem's solution to her Staryk problem, sets Irina on a new path, a union no one expected, especially not the tsar. As the story progresses, the three girl's paths cross again and again, as do their paths with the Staryk, a cold race of people who live amongst the winter.

The world I wanted wasn't the world I lived in, and if I would do nothing until I could repair every terrible thing at once, I would do nothing forever.

It's set in a world where young women are married off, used as bargaining chips. But these characters prove they are so much more than that. In the background hostility to Jews is hinted at, that Miryem's family is better off where they are than in some other places, where Jews are rounded up, echoing Poland's history.

I loved the icy setting, the harsh winter which threatens to overwhelm the kingdom. The Kingdom of the Staryk, where ice is life, versus the heat of summer which they must push back. Maybe it's a tale of good versus evil, but it's not as straightforward as that for all the presented villains.

As with Uprooted there is a definite fairytale feeling and the pages are filled with a magic of ice and fire, and the allure of Staryk silver.

Spinning Silver is published by Tor and is available now in hardback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 22. A book with alliteration in the title

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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.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Turtles All the Way Down

On the surface Turtles All the Way Down sounds like a typical John Green story; missing eccentric billionaire and a teen trying to find him with the help of her best friend. I'm not the biggest fan of his but I had heard that the character Aza was based on his own experiences of OCD, so I gave it a chance. And Aza is what wins this book.

Nobody gets anybody else, not really. We're all stuck inside ourselves.

Now I know a lot of people don't like this book because it bills itself as a mystery or they are expecting a romance they can root for, and these things are really quite secondary. It takes place in Aza's mind and her mind is a busy, messy place. Her Obsessive Compulsive Disorder revolves around her fear of catching and dying from clostridium difficile (C-Diff). She has worried a wound on her finger for years, now leaving an open sore which she has to regularly check, and re-open, which just makes her fears worse. She spirals in her thoughts, there are "turtles all the way down".

The book shows her going to therapy and discussing drug treatments, how she avoids them but her therapist pushes her to keep trying to find something that works for her.

I loved her friendship with Daisy. Aza isn't into Star Wars but Daisy is a massive fan girl and writes Chewbacca romance fan fiction. She can deal with her best friend having different likes. There is a part where it shows how mental illness can put stresses on relationships but good ones will hold out. I liked that their misunderstandings weren't drawn out, they are good friends.

It feels like Davis has been put there for a romance at the start but I think he's there to show how OCD can get in the way of forming romantic relationships. He's the billionaire's son, but really quite sweet. He and his younger brother don't stand to get anything from their father's disappearance, the whole estate is being left to a tuatara, a reptile known for longevity.

Your now is not your forever.

I liked the ending, it was saying you will be OK, maybe not know, but things will be better, you just have to brave the storm.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 16. A book about mental health

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Book Source: Purchased

Monday, 9 July 2018

Lily and the Octopus

Dog people, be prepared to cry. I honestly don't know why I thought it'd be a good idea to listen to Lily and the Octopus on my commute, it was hard to resist turning into a blubbering mess. Lily is an ageing Dachshund, much-loved by owner Ted, and the octopus is a tumour.

When I held my new puppy in my arms, I broke down in tears. Because I had fallen in love. Not somewhat in love. Not partly in love. Not in a limited amount. I fell fully in love with a creature I had known for all of nine hours.

Of course to Ted, he thinks it's an octopus on Lily's head but to the reader I think it's obvious from the get go what it is. It's both a metaphor and a sign of Ted's denial. Since breaking up with his boyfriend, Ted has been single, going through the process of online dating with little enthusiasm. But Lily is always there for him.

There are several ways to read this book, some might call it fantastical or magical realism, but I didn't see Lily as a talking dog, just like I didn't believe the octopus was an actual octopus. I project a voice onto Scully, have conversations with her, as I'm sure many dog owners do, so it seemed normal for Lily to have a voice.

To focus, I think of how dogs are witnesses. How they are present for our most private moments, how they are there when we think of ourselves as alone. They witness our quarrels, our tears, our struggles, our fears, and all of our secret behaviors that we have to hide from our fellow humans. They witness without judgement.

If you read the octopus as real then you miss out of some of the heart-breaking signs of detioration within Lily. It's a story about coming to terms with the loss of a dog, of when to let go. It's one of the saddest books I've ever read, because you just know there's not going to be a miraculous recovery.

It's based on the real life Lily, Steven Rowley's Dachshund. You can tell it's somewhat based on experiences. It doesn't shy away from some of the less joyous aspects of dog ownership. Earlier in her life, Lily suffers from paralysis, something that is a common problem in the breed. You hear about the high cost of vet bills and there's always going to be that moment when you have to apply a financial value on your dog's life.

Listening Notes

Lily's voice is adorable, and spot on. She shouts staccato with excitement, especially in her puppy years when dogs find everything exciting. I found the narrator's tone a little cynical but it fits with the character.

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Book Source: Purchased

Thursday, 5 July 2018

The Hunger

In 1846 a group of American pioneers set out towards a new life in California. They were to be known as the Donner party, and beset by problems, just over half of them made it. Based on this true story, The Hunger adds a supernatural element to explain why they did what they did.

I hadn't heard about the Donner party before picking up this book but it sounds a fascinating tale of survival even without adding the supernatural which I'm not sure contributed much extra. 87 left Independence, Missouri and only 48 survived; disease, exposure, injury and starvation taking its toll.

I'm not averse to historical fiction that inserts something other to explain things that we hope humans wouldn't do, but I don't think this is a good example. When a boy goes missing, he is found butchered and at first they blame the natives. Then some members of the party start worrying they are being followed by a monster, whether human or something else.

The group contains clashing personalities, there's plenty of blame assigned and infighting. There's plenty of nasty characters. As more and more things go wrong, they fall further behind schedule, meaning they will not be able to cross the mountains before winter. It would be easy to see why they might turn on one another and the party splits up.

The book dwells quite a bit on certain pioneers' past, maybe to question why people would leave their lives behind or maybe Alma Katsu just had a lot of research on these people and wanted to insert it. There's a love triangle set up in order to foster jealousy and then it doesn't really go anywhere. Tamsen's referred to as a witch and then there's not the expected witch hunt to follow.

I do not know whether it was just the bland audiobook narration but I just found it lacking atmosphere. Even a routine crossing across America would be full of risk. Sleeping out so exposed in the wilderness with safety hundreds of miles away should be a scary prospect in itself, especially in the 19th century. The harshness of the winter wasn't really conveyed and I honestly didn't care if the characters died.

If you still think you want to read this and know zero about what the Donner party did, stop reading now because I want to talk a little of how it plays out.

The party is well known because they resorted to cannibalism in order to survive. In this version of events, there is this whole set up that there is something out there infecting people and making them crave flesh, maybe zombies, maybe a rabies like disease. For the whole book you think this is what they are going to use to explain why they ate people. Yet no, last minute it turns out they just had to start eating human meat because they had no other food, which was the truth. What was the point in the supernatural bit at all?

Listening Notes

Kirsten Potter didn't suit the book at all. She sounded like she was reading a dry history book but with the occasional odd emphasis and I zoned out repeatedly. Like I'm not sure if they kept to the original deaths or if I missed the passing of an important character. I've read the timeline and it seems to have been the one thing kept faithful so, yeah, I don't think I was engaged with much of it. I'm not in a position to judge what the pioneers would have talked like but she came across as a very modern voice. I'm not sure I'd listen to more narrated by her.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 6. A novel based on a real person

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Book Source: Purchased

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Quickie Reviews

With all this nice weather, it's been hard to sit indoors and write reviews. So here are some brief thoughts on things I read a while ago now.

The Best We Could Do is a graphic memoir by Thi Bui. When she becomes a mother she starts to think about what her parents went through to provide her a safe life. It goes between Thi exploring her relationship with her parents now and the story of the family's escape from South Vietnam in the 70s. I learned quite a bit about the political situation in Vietnam as well as reading the hardships of a family who experienced so much, including the loss of children.

Read Harder: A comic written and illustrated by the same person
Read the World: Vietnam

In Real Life is a short graphic novel about gaming and gold farming with a little lesson about economics thrown in from, Cory Doctorow. It's not very subtle and definitely aimed at the younger end of young adult. Anda befriends a poor Chinese player in Coarsegold Online. Raymond is a gold farmer, working long hours for low pay but he also loves the game and plays it in his spare time too. Anda falls in with a crowd who are paid to kill gold farmers, leaving her with a choice.

Raymond explains to Anda how he hurt his back and doesn't get healthcare in his job. She decides to make him campaign for it, without really knowing his circumstances or how well strikes go down in China... It's a bit ironic an American preaching about healthcare when theirs is such a mess. Anyway, Jen Wang's artwork is cute and it does try and make a point.

I borrowed Blue Lily, Lily Blue from the library in audiobook form and Will Patton's narration was irritating in places, high pitched woman voices and terrible singing. Ronan and Calla had the same voice, like they'd been smoking 40 a day. At least Gansey and Blue were fairly normal, I don't think I could have coped with Blue having a stupid squeaky girl voice.

Anyway, I think I am invested in finding out what happens but I found this instalment pretty slow. Lot's of stuff about Cabeswater and Latin. I think the Algionby Latin teacher position is akin the the Dark Arts position in Harry Potter. Will there be yet another one in the final book? I like the mythology and I need to know if they manage to save Gansey and if so why did Blue see his death? So I will be reading The Raven King, but I'm not sure I'd listen to it.

Home is the second Binti novella by Nnedi Okorafor and follows Binti as she heads home for her pilgrimage. Binti is changed by her experiences, both mentally and physically and does not fully belong in either place. It explores the feelings of returning home as a migrant. It's a bit slower than the first book and again I got the feeling that I'd have preferred it all as one longer book.

I also read the first volume of Paper Girls, which follows a group of paper girls in the eighties when some sort of time travelling incident occurs and there's weird men in cloaks and an Apple device is dropped. And honestly I'm not sure if I know entirely what is going on but I'm intrigued enough to read another volume.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 36. A book set in the decade you were born

Monday, 2 July 2018

The Changeling

Every human being is a series of stories; it's nice when someone wants to hear a new one.

Apollo's father left him and his mother when he was a small boy, so when Apollo becomes a father, he wants to give Brian everything he never had. He is one of those new fathers, doing his part and forever taking photos and sharing on Facebook. But one day his wife, Emma, starts acting odd. She doesn't believe Brian is their baby. When the unthinkable happens, Apollo is drawn into a new reality, one where New York harbours something out of fairytales.

The Changeling is a dark but engaging story. It plays on the fears of being a new parent, that you won't love the child like you should or that something terrible will happen when your back is turned. It also gives a whole new meaning to internet trolls, intertwining ancient folklore with the modern age.

Maybe having a child was like being drunk. You couldn't gauge when you went from being charming to being an asshole.

Apollo is a used book dealer, and the only other black man in the trade is his friend Patrice, and they are often viewed with suspicion. They stick together but when Apollo finds a signed first edition of To Kill a Mockingbird, he keeps it quiet. If the find seems too good to be true, it's the key to leading them down the rabbit hole.

Where a white protagonist could walk to his destination at night without a second though, Apollo is challenged for nothing more than being a black man in a white neighbourhood. As well as the supernatural fear, there is this constant niggle that he might not make it because of his skin colour. It makes me want to shout at him when he lingers too long over a genuine crime, get out of there now!

The world is full of glamour, especially when it obscures the suffering of the weak.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

The Month That Was... June 2018

+ International Giveaway

June has been sweltering, it's like being on holiday apart from the being in work part. I've been swimming in the sea, gone strawberry picking and made progress on the front garden which now looks less like a parking space and more like a garden. My reading volume has been helped loads by listening to audiobooks on the commute since I haven't really been sat around reading at the weekends.

I can't decide whether or not to do 24 in 48 in July. I might wait and see what the weather is like... although I may be fed up of the sun by then anyway!

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

Book of the Month:
A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir



Look at all that progress on Popsugar! No movement on the other challenges though, I could probably have slotted in some for SFvsFBingo but I've been really crap about thinking of it. The Goodreads group for Popsugar is really helping my motivation and accountability!

POPSUGAR (30/50)
4. A book involving a heist: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
16. A book about mental health: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
21. A book with your favorite color in the title: Red Clocks by Leni Zumas
31. A book mentioned in another book: A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.
36. A book set in the decade you were born: Paper Girls volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang + Matt Wilson
40. Your favorite prompt from the 2015 2016, or 2017 POPSUGAR Reading Challenges: Based on a Fairytale: The Surface Breaks by Louise O'Neill

Read Harder (13/24)
Science Fiction vs Fantasy Bingo (9/25)
Beat the Backlist: 27/30
Goodreads: 57/100

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Six of Crows

This book has been all over bookstagram for years and I have been wanting to read it but there was something I had to do first. Although this duology stands alone from the Grisha trilogy, I was aware there was a spoiler contained in the pages, so I was determined to finish the trilogy first. And I finally did last year.

A gambler, a convict, a wayward son, a lost Grisha, a Suli girl who had become a killer, a boy from the Barrel who had become something worse.

Six of Crows is the grown-up, darker cousin to the Grisha trilogy. It follows Kaz Brekker as he prepares his gang for the biggest job of their lives, an almost impossible heist which will pay enough for them all to retire to a life of luxury. Although the job is kinda of a prison break, it follows the formula of a heist story, with the team being assembled and the ensuing disagreements you can come to expect from such a motley bunch.

The characters are fantastic and I enjoyed revisiting the Grishaverse further down the timeline. Although things still aren't peachy for Grisha, many are still slaves and in Fjerda they are hunted down by Drüskelle and face unfair trial for their "crimes". Nina is a Grisha Heartrender, who plies her trade in a brothel, soothing hearts rather than other things. She remains in Ketterdam to right a wrong, to help free Matthias, Grisha hunter who had captured her. You need to read the whole book to get their whole story and the reveal is interspersed throughout.

Do you have a different name for killing when you wear a uniform to do it?

Both Nina and Matthias end up recruited for Kaz's job-of-a-lifetime, and they are forever at each other's throats. Matthias wants his freedom and Nina wants to protect Grisha. The others are more motivated by the money; Inej was freed from her indenture in a brothel by the Dregs and is now Kaz's right hand woman and Jesper is a sharpshooter with his own secrets. Then there's Wylan, the job's insurance policy, who could do with toughening up.

Kaz is an anti-hero and it makes the book stronger that he's not immediately likeable. His backstory is tragic and by the end you will understand what drives him. Like the author, Kaz walks with a cane, but that doesn't stop him being an excellent criminal.

She wouldn't wish love on anyone. It was the guest you welcomed and then couldn't be rid of.

I was sucked into all their stories, the viewpoint switches a lot but unlike some other fantasy books, I was equally invested in all the characters and at least they were all working towards one thing. It did suffer a bit from pairing up syndrome. I mean I want all the characters to be happy but it's all a little bit too neat when everyone finds love in their own circle.

I'll definitely be reading Crooked Kingdom in the near future and can now join everyone else in being excited for King of Scars next year.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 4. A book involving a heist

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Book Source: Purchased

Monday, 25 June 2018

A Reaper at the Gates

Sabaa Tahir hits the spot for my epic fantasy needs. Her characters show compassion in a bloody world but also must do what needs to be done, even if feelings will be hurt. I basically inhaled A Reaper at the Gates and will now be desperately awaiting the finale. If you haven't started this series yet, go out and get your paws on An Ember in the Ashes now.

I am a thing from the Barbarians' nightmares, a silver-faced, blood-drenched demon of the hells, and I will not let them pass.

Blood Shrike Helene must obey her emperor and do her duty as his second, but her heart breaks for her sister, married to that monster. With the rest of her family dead, Helene vows to do whatever she can to protect Livia even if that means towing the line and hunting down those she calls friends. But Livia has taken matters into her own hands, and what she does gives hope, but also an awful lot of worry. Especially when the Commandant would see her dead. I love Helene as a character, she's multi-faceted and you want her to do good knowing that whatever she chooses, someone will lose.

Laia is determined to discover and destroy the final piece of the Star before the Nightbringer can complete it and free the djinn. The Nightbringer is a much more fleshed out character in this book, with Elias's role as Soul Catcher helping to shed some light on his past. And not everything is black and white. There is a lot of context given to the oppression of the Scholars, but should a whole race shoulder the burden of their ancestors' actions?

There is a price paid for greed and violence. We do not always know who will pay it. But for good or ill, it will be paid.

Elias is mostly hanging out in the forest doing a terrible job at being the Soul Catcher. He thinks he has already made his choice, but he must sacrifice even more to keep his promise. And yeah, his mother still seeks out power, helping turn the Empire towards civil war... and that's without having to worry about the djinn or escaped ghosts. Elias doesn't come across as passionate as the others, but I think this allows him to finally make his choice.

Have I mentioned that this book is all about difficult choices? There is so much going on and it keeps up a whopping pace. There is intrigue, politics, prophecy, betrayal and sacrifice. Don't really expect any romance, these relationships are doomed and for once the characters seem to understand there is more at stake than their own happiness.

Curse this world for what it does to the mothers, for what it does to the daughters. Curse it for making us strong through loss and pain, our hearts torn from our chests again and again. Curse it for forcing us to endure.

Sunday, 24 June 2018

A Shiver of Snow and Sky

When the skies above the island of Skane glow red, the Goddess is sending a warning of plague. The plague last ravaged the population seventeen years ago when Ósa was in her mother's womb. Her mother died that year and her father has never forgiven her. Now the island faces the plague as well as another threat and Ósa needs answers to help save her people.

Honestly, I was a bit disappointed about the lack of plague. Instead it's more of a quest, as Ósa must survive harsh weather, avoid being eaten by giants and communicate with people she once saw as lesser as she journeys into the mountains. There is some beautiful evocative writing in this Nordic inspired folk-lore style story. I could imagine this taking place on Svalbard.

It's quite light on romance, Ósa is by herself for much of the story, with her childhood friend Ivar back at home fighting off the enemy from their people's past. Because I listened on audiobook, I'm not sure what they were called but their name was a bit like orc and therefore I imagined them as such and it's not a bad comparison. They are brutal and the people of Skane stand little chance of surviving.

It is a bit slow to get going and I'd picked this up for the plague aspect so it wasn't really what I was expecting. I found the relationship with her father and sister irritating. It was repeatedly stressed how much her father blamed her for her mother's death and it's kind of a horrible thing that happens in fiction a lot, but in reality most fathers would try to love the child, at the very least out of respect for the woman they lost.

Listening Notes

I disliked the breathy, girlish voice Charlie Sanderson uses for Ósa, which was the bulk of the narration. Occasionally it is in third person to follow Ivar and that was much better but still felt a little childish. I would hesitate to listen to other books narrated by her, I'd at least have to listen to sample first. It's quite softly spoken apart from now and then a character will shout and this isn't pleasant if you've turned up the volume and are listening with headphones.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 24. A book with a weather element in the title

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Book Source: Purchased