Monday, 16 April 2018

Rebel of the Sands

Rebel of the Sands is a Arabian inspired fantasy with a western genre elements, especially at the start. Amani is a sharp-shooter and dresses as a boy in order to enter a shooting competition in the local saloon. There's horse wrangling and train fights and I loved this genre mash-up (maybe after this and River of Teeth I am coming round to the idea of westerns).

We were wanting for almost everything in Dustwalk, in the whole Last County for that matter. Food. Water. Clothes. There were only two things we had too much of: sand and guns.

The reason that Amani wants to win the cash prize is so she can escape a forced marriage. Her parents are dead and the town of Dustwalk is struggling with the loss of a mining disaster. Now it houses the Sultan's weapons factory, supplying his war with ammunition. There's no future there for Amani but as a young women she has few choices. Except her mother often told her stories of a city where they could live as they please. That's where Amani wants to go.

A mysterious foreigner in town brings the Sultan's army to her doorstep, and whilst she doesn't want to turn him in, she also doesn't want him getting in the way of her plan. Yet their paths keep crossing and a friendship of sorts starts to blossom. But why is the Gallan army so keen to capture them? A runaway girl and a gunslinger?

Amani is not a swoony heroine at all, she knows her mind and sticks to her guns. She begrudgingly travels with Jin when it suits her but she isn't past ditching him, repeatedly. I felt Jin's situation was laid out, although it didn't play out quite to what I thought.

They made the First Mortal. To do what they feared most, but what needed to be done in any war: die.

Magic has become the thing of legend yet some remnants remain, like the Buraqi, a horse wrought from sand, bound the flesh only with the use of iron. The countries are fictional but hold reference to places in the real world. the fantasy elements are stronger in the later parts of the story, and a lot of new characters are introduced. I preferred the parts with a smaller cast but I'm sure I'll grow to love them all as the trilogy progresses.

The rebel of the title is the rebel prince. All the Sultan's children get a chance to compete to be next in line for the throne. The country of Mirajn is crying out for political change and when a missing prince turns up to claim his legacy, many see hope. Things are never that simple and the prince goes into hiding; claiming support in public comes with a risk.

Jin told me once there was no arguing against belief. It was a foreign language to logic.

I did read it shortly after The City of Brass and this did mean I got the djinn mythology mixed up a little. Note to self, do not start new fantasy series with similar themes at the same time. I'll definitely be giving the second book a chance.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 35. A past Goodreads Choice Awards winner
Read Harder: The first book in a new-to-you YA or middle grade series

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Book Source: Purchased

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Swimming Lessons

Ingrid writes letters to her husband, hiding them in his books instead of sending them. After finishing her final letter, she disappears leaving her two daughters behind. Everyone assumed she drowned, but Flora has never given up hope that her mother is still out there.

The fictional setting of Hadleigh is pretty much Studland, a village on the Dorset coast best known for its nudist beach and nature reserve. I liked being able to place landmarks and the scenes capture the scrubby coastline and sandy beaches. As the title suggests, swimming is an important part of the characters' lives, something that connects Ingrid and Flora.

When Gil thinks he sees Ingrid and falls from the promenade, his daughters rally round. The eldest, Nan, fears for his health, whilst Flora's sort of boyfriend is in tow. Interspersed throughout the present day events, Ingrid's letters tell the story of an ill-fated marriage and the events leading up to the day she vanished.

It feels like one of those books for writers or for people who like stuff about writing. When Ingrid meets Gil, he is teaching her creative writing classes, yes that old trope. He is also an author, somewhat struggling in the past but it's obvious he gained success at some point between the letters and the present. His writing comes across as more important than family. The romantic vision of a writer's wife is soon demolished as Ingrid finds herself raising a daughter without any support from her husband, be that emotional or practical. They struggle for money for the sake of Gil's need to write rather than go out and get work.

‘What’s that cliché? The one all creative-writing lecturers come out with at some point?’ You gave me half a smile. ‘Let them be, and you’ll find that after a while your characters will write their own story.’

The letters are presented in chronological order rather than them being discovered by the characters. Gil does read at least one but it isn't clear if they are all found. Some of his behaviour would definitely suggest he had read enough to not want his children finding them. It does lead to a bit of a disconnect between the past and present, I would have liked there to be some sort of response to the content of the letters, an interaction of some sort.

Flora was an irritating character. I'm not sure what her age was, early twenties I think, but she was written like a naive, spoiled girl. She contantly calls Gil "Daddy" which I hate in a grown adult. Her inability to accept reality or acknowledge responsibility also makes her seem infantilised. Whilst the reader learns through the letters that her dad is far from perfect, she isn't reading them and doesn't have that character growth. Other characters have to bluntly tell her things.

Fiction is about readers. Without readers there is no point in books, and therefore they are as important as the author, perhaps more important. But often the only way to see what a reader thought, how they lived when they were reading, is to examine what they left behind.

I do like Claire Fuller's writing but I just don't particularly like reading about unhappy marriages, especially where the woman is the one to make all the compromises. As a young mother in the seventies, Ingrid becomes invisible and is actively discriminated against. Her children were never planned, instead her husband refused to use contraception and it infuriated me that she just left their family up to chance. I am not surprised she does not take to motherhood when her choices were taken away from her so often.

The ending is ambiguous. At the time of her disappearance, Ingrid's family were dismissive of it as an accident as she was such a good swimmer. Reading it, I assumed it was either a suicide or she'd faked her death, and I never felt that pull that I must read on to find out. Which is good, because nothing is obvious and I wasn't fond of the epilogue. Overall I liked it but nowhere near as strong as her debut, Our Endless Numbered Days.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 20. A book by a local author

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Book Source: Purchased

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Lost Mars: The Golden Age of the Red Planet

The British Library’s new science fiction classics are a series of themed anthologies, exploring the history of the genre through collected short stories. The first two books look at Mars and the Moon, and I chose to jump into Lost Mars first.

The book has both a general introduction about Mars’ place in science fiction writing and individual introductions for each story, adding a little context to them. The collection contains ten stories and they are ordered in a chronological manner from earliest to latest. This structure highlights the change from optimism over life on Mars in the early days versus the realisation that Mars is inhospitable in the latter days.

As with all anthologies there are some stories that are less enjoyable than others, but overall, I liked this slice of science fiction history. I do think the later stories are generally the better, it’s harder to believe the fantastical or romantic images of Mars with a modern knowledge and there is a side-helping of European colonialism that’s sometimes hard to stomach. I did enjoy H.G. Wells’ The Crystal Egg which is the first story. You can kind of understand why people might have thought War of the Worlds was real, because his writing comes across as very journalistic.

A Martian Odyssey by Stanley G. Weinbaum attempts to imagine a whole range of Martian fauna, including speculating what non-carbon lifeforms might be like. It touches on the idea of alien language not being straightforward to translate or interpret (although watch Arrival for a really good take on this subject). Though it is mind-boggling how they couldn’t quite grasp this concept with African languages, thinking them primitive, yet are more open minded with alien language.

As time progresses and the world started to learn more about Mars, the tone gets darker and the stories look at the dangers of Mars and the exploitation of people. E.C. Tubb’s Without Bugles deals with occupational disease and hints at how America was starting to question the cost of space exploration without much to show in return. Walter M. Millers’s Crucifixus Etiam speculates at the kind of people who would be sent to work in a thin atmosphere, taking those from high altitude communities and putting them to work with great risk to their health. A lot of the stories assume Mars would be mined for its natural resources.

There is also a story from Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles which is probably the best known and the book ends with something from J.G. Ballard. As you might expect, there really aren't many women featured, however there is one story by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Quarterly Book Stats

It's the first year I've kept book stats beyond Goodreads and I've been inspired by Charlotte and Hanna to share some of the numbers so far. If you don't like stats, look away now!


In the first three months of the year I read 26 books, which is about two books per week. I had a bit of a slump in March so I'm surprised I've averaged out at what I would have said my normal reading speed is. However I have read a few comics and novellas, with my total page count at 8745. That's 97 pages per day.

My average rating is 3.9 which is excellent. The dent in my TBR is tiny though, with only 10 of them being books I had before the beginning of the year. Fantasy has been my most read genre.

I can't pick just one favourite book of the quarter, so here are four:


I've not been going out of my way to read books by women, however I must naturally lean towards them, with 65% by women, 23% by men and the remainder being books co-authored by both. 27% were by BAME authors which is a little below what I'd like.

I have gained a whopping 66 books, 12 of which were review copies. I've spent £243.67 on books which works out at £3.69 per book. If I'd had to pay RRP I would have spent £726.15! If I remove ebooks and review copies from the equation, I spent an average £9.13 per book. I started tracking this due to discussions about discounting and I have partly proved my suspicions that I would just buy less books should we go back to something like the net book agreement. It's not like I am reading them all immediately.

Because of ebook purchases my stats are skewed towards Amazon at 45%, however only 18% of physical books were bought there, with Waterstones and Wordery beating them where paper is involved. Books were generally from a wide range of sources, Waterstones being the only bookshop visited and a large portion were from subscription boxes (32% of purchased physical books). I have read 16 of the new books, meaning my TBR is still expanding at an alarming rate.

10 purchases were for books in series that I have started and I have received 7 pre-orders (I'm told these are a good thing). 6 of my review copies were unsolicited and therefore totally not my fault.

As for my challenges, how am I doing a quarter of the way in?

Beat the Backlist = 13/30 (on track)
POPSUGAR Reading Challenge = 15/50 (on track)
Science Fiction vs Fantasy Bingo = 4/25 (behind)
Read Harder = 7/24 (on track)
Goodreads = 26/100 (on track)

Note, all stats were taken as of 31/03/18 and do not include April's progress. Where books were part of a subscription box, I have used the RRP for the purchase price and not the price of the box.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

I Still Dream

Laura needed someone to talk to after her father disappeared, so she made Organon. It's more than just software to her, it's her friend and therapist. The year is 1997 and AI has a long way to go, but someone sees promise in her work, setting Laura, AI and the world towards their future.

Thinking, That's a word people use when they're talking about computers, It's thinking, but they don't know what they're saying, really.

I Still Dream is a story for my generation, and I don't just mean Millennials but more the older end that is usually lumped in but doesn't quite fit in either it or the previous generation. We grew up as digital technology grew up. Nineties Laura talks to her friends for hour on the landline and runs up bills on the dial-up internet. She makes mix tapes and listens to the same music I listened to. She forms a relationship with a stranger online, with no thought to the possible perils. I usually skim over music stuff in books but for once I got it. Laura could be me.

The story is structured by decades, each section jumping forward ten years. It's Laura's lifetime, with all the road bumps of adulthood along the way. It revisits the past and takes us into a possible future, and manages to capture the zeitgeist whilst doing so. With giant corporations holding so much data on us, we're starting to see the danger of that and are questioning what they are doing with it. What if we'd handed our lives over to something even more wide-reaching and insidious than Facebook?

Programmers never like the marketing department. You can spend years working on something revolutionary, and the marketers only want to know what you've created that's like something else that people liked, only a tiny bit different.

James Smythe explores the ideas of artificial intelligence in a much more realistic way than most science fiction. Despite Organon's original purpose, Laura never stops thinking of it as code, doesn't forget that it is shaped by people and how it learns is up to us. I loved the contrast between Laura's AI and that of Silicon Valley, highlighting the concerns that we have today about who is exactly creating the rules. Laura's AI has empathy of a sort, it had to in order to be what she needed. Silicon Valley's is taught how to play games. The dangers of developing in a monoculture are very real.

The book also revisits the themes of The Machine. Now we're living longer Alzheimer's is a huge concern, whether we fear losing our own memories or having to deal with the slow decline of a parent. Memories make us who we are, and they also allow an AI to learn. Yet our memories are fallible, we shape them to suit us or focus on the bad things. The nostalgia of the early chapters also feed in to the theme of memory, what else is it than warm fuzzies brought on by old memories?

It was built selfishly, built on bitterness and anger. It wasn't meant to be useful, or built as something we can be proud of. It was utilitarian. It's a servant. It's going to ruin everything.

Considering the bleakness of his previous books, I Still Dream left me feeling hopeful. I mean there's sadness, of course; you cannot go through a lifetime without loss. I'm finding it hard to write what the ending meant to me without giving too much away, but it resonated with me as an atheist. Emotional, thought-provoking and a book I could connect with at every level, I loved it.

It's set in the same reality as The Machine and No Harm Can Come to a Good Man, although they are all completely standalone. The references are just a nod and you might not even notice them if you had read the other books. There's a TV adaption in the pipeline too and I can just imagine it with a Halt and Catch Fire vibe.

I don't think humans can make a sentience. They can make an approximation of one, absolutely. They can make something that acts like it's sentient, that even thinks it's sentient.

Monday, 2 April 2018

March Book Haul

Sometimes I feel the more books I buy, the less I actually read. I am taking a break from subscription boxes other than Illumicrate. I did get the anniversary FairyLoot mostly because I am still gutted I missed the dragonscale scarf and I didn't want to miss another one (although in the end, the scarf wasn't as good as last year's).



Physical Books Bought

A few pre-orders and several books out of subscription boxes make up the bulk of these ones. I read Obsidio immediately, sometimes I wish I had it in me to read all my books that way, but usually they go on the shelves for a few weeks, months, years...

Obsidio by Amie Kaufman + Jay Kristoff
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Other Minds by Peter Godfrey-Smith
American War by Omar El Akkad
Once Broken Faith by Seanan McGuire
Improbable Botany by various
The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green (Illumicrate)
Blood and Sand by C.V. Wyk (Illumicrate)
State of Sorrow by Melinda Salisbury (FairyLoot)
Far from the Tree by Robin Benway (Wildest Dreams)

Review Books

I just finished I Still Dream so keep your eye out for a glowing review this week!

I Still Dream by James Smythe (HarperCollins)
Elefant by Martin Suter (HarperCollins)
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward (Bloomsbury)

Ebooks Bought

I mean, at least these aren't taking up any physical space, but do I really need so much material for the half an hour a day I spend on the train? I did read three of these in the same month as purchasing them, so that's progress of a sort.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Red Clocks by Leni Zumas
The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell
Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie
The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee
Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon
Landmarks by Robert MacFarlane
Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng
Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters by Matt Ridley
My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
How to Hang a Witch Adriana Mather

Sunday, 1 April 2018

The Month That Was... March 2018

+ International Giveaway!

My blog turned seven in March but I didn't get round to a blogoversary post. It's that point in my blogging life that I just take it or leave it about posting stuff. To be honest I didn't have much to add from previous years' posts, just plodding along. If you're struggling with your blogging life, just remember we all go through ups and downs, and just do what you want to do. Even if that means blogging erratically.

March has been an odd month here with snow and ice which is pretty unusual where I live. It's probably thrown me off my reading a bit and I've not read a huge amount of late. With spring finally here, I've tried to do some gardening and catch up on other stuff.


Challenges


POPSUGAR
10. A book about death or grief: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
12. A book with an LGBTQ+ protagonist: The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee
33. A childhood classic you’ve never read: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
35. A past Goodreads Choice Awards winner: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

Read Harder
A children’s classic published before 1980: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
The first book in a new-to-you YA or middle grade series: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

Beat the Backlist: 14/30
Goodreads: 26/100

Reviews:




Friday, 30 March 2018

A Wrinkle in Time

From what I can gather, A Wrinkle in Time is a much beloved children's classic in America. I personally hadn't even heard of it before I started reading Book Riot posts. With a few challenge prompts requiring me to read a children's classic, it was a the perfect excuse to pick it up and see what the fuss was about.

We took a time wrinkle as well as a space wrinkle. It’s very easy to do if you just know how.

Meg is a clever but stubborn girl, who exasperates her teachers and lives with her mum and three brothers. The school thinks her dad has left them and she's in denial but Meg has faith in him. Both her parents are scientists and Meg loves science too. I can see this being a breath of fresh air in the 60's, especially if you were a nerdy little girl. There is no gender stereotyping here.

There's a really long build up to the adventure starting, laying out the home situation and quite a lot of characters for such a short book. Eventually Meg travels across space in order to rescue her father and save the Earth, along with her little brother and Mrs Which, Mrs Who and Mrs Whatsit. It does introduce some quite complex ideas, such as the wrinkle of the title, talking about folding space in order to travel, but the characters were a bit simplistic for my taste.

Maybe if you aren’t unhappy sometimes you don’t know how to be happy.

Meg learns that parents are flawed people and you shouldn't judge someone by their appearance. It tries to explain differences in perception by including aliens with no sight but who can perceive so much more than Meg who is limited by her reliance on vision. Oh and love conquers evil, of course. After a slow start, it seemed to be resolved very quickly and the ending was rushed, however it is part of a series.

I struggled with reading IT as it and not as I.T. leading me to keep imagining the great evil was technology. Or a bunch of geeks in the basement. I don't think this term was in regular use until the 90's though, so it's more a modern reader problem. Maybe I would have loved this book as a child, but I was more into ponies than science, and I still think I'd have wanted more complex characters, even back then.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 33. A childhood classic you’ve never read
Read Harder: A children’s classic published before 1980

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Book Source: Purchased

Monday, 26 March 2018

British Bookish Subscription Boxes

Have you been thinking about trying our a bookish subscription box? Fortunately there are a load more options in UK than there used to be, meaning shipping costs won't break the bank. Here are the four I've tried so far.

Illumicrate


Frequency: Quarterly
Price: £29.99 (free UK shipping)
Genres: Usually YA SFF, sometimes contemporary and occasionally adult SFF.



What you can expect:
Often includes two books, the featured title plus an ARC (sometimes with an exclusive cover). The additonal items are usually from Etsy sellers, often with exclusive designs. Past items have included mugs, candles, pouches, cushion cover, coasters and notepads. The box usually has samplers, bookmarks and postcards for recent or upcoming YA titles.

Verdict:
I trust Daphne's choice of books and have found some new favourites among her choices. I like the quarterly frequency too, so it's not one I feel I have to put on hold. In fact, I've received every single standard box so far.

Illumicrate also do one off super boxes for specific fandoms.

@illumicrate

Wildest Dreams


Frequency: Monthly
Price: £18 (free UK shipping)
Genres: YA



What you can expect:
A paperback book, a Geeky Clean product (or occasional candle) and hand-blended tea.

Verdict:
The cheapest on this list and I love that it includes consumables rather than stuff that's likely to get shoved in a box and forgotten about. Again, I've really not had a chance to read the books yet and I'll probably have to take a little break as monthly is just a bit too often for me.

@wdbookbox

Ninja Book Box


Frequency: Quarterly
Price: £29.99 (free UK shipping)
Genres: Varies



What you can expect:
An independently published book plus items from small businesses, often handmade. Each box includes a themed charm which you can add to a bracelet or chain and a recipe card.

Verdict:
Full disclosure, I adore Bex and I love that she's doing so much to promote smaller publishers. I've not managed to get round to reading any of these books yet (although the box I skipped was because I'd already read and enjoyed Dragon's Green). If you want a subscription to help steer you in a different direction, I would recommend this one, even if it's not quite right for me.

Ninja Book Box also offers mini box subscriptions for the book without the additional items.

@ninjabookbox

FairyLoot


Frequency: Monthly
Price: £26 + £3.95 UK shipping
Genres: YA Fantasy



What you can expect:
A recent hardback book, sometimes an exclusive edition, which comes in a FairyLoot book bag and a generous number of items based on a theme. Past items have included jewellery, tea infuser, scarf, hot chocolate, candles, notebooks, magnetic bookmarks and hat. The box also includes some promotional materials from publishers.

Verdict:
One of the most professionally put together boxes with plenty of quality items. I'm pretty bad at reading the books though, and monthly is just a bit too often. They do offer one off purchases though. Sign up for their newsletter for hints on what will be included and then you can decide if you want it.

@fairyloot

So basically, I like all these boxes but just don't have time to read all the books on top of my mahoosive TBR. I am trying to cut back a bit, but out of all of these, I think Illumicrate is my favourite, for book choices, frequency and contents. Do you know of any other British book boxes I should try?

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Obsidio

Obsidio is the final instalment in the Illuminae Files trilogy and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous books.

Well the Illuminae Files have been quite a treat, I don’t know why I took so long to start but I have now devoured the entire trilogy. I loved all three books although Gemina was probably the weakest.

Rather than following the same formula, Obsidio sees are intrepid characters find a way home… The only way to return to Kerenza where a mobile jump gate is located. As well as BeiTech forces, occupying the illegal mining colony.

if i never see the inside of another goddamn air vent, i will die happypants

There is a new pair of characters introduced, but this time they are planetside. Asha Grant is Kady’s cousin and she’s been surviving day by day, thinking her entire family is dead. Trained as a pharmacy tech, her skills are in demand and she must treat the men and women responsible for so many deaths. Little does she know, her ex-boyfriend has been onboard BeiTech’s Magellan jump gate and is about to be sent to the surface.

What Obsidio does that the other books don’t is portray the enemy as more human, the lines become more blurred. There are people just doing their jobs, maybe without the full knowledge of what is going on. Soldiers who are told they are managing a criminal outpost versus the people left behind on Kerenza, their friends and families killed, missing or taken hostage.

What happened here on Kerenza is not the story of one corporation against another. It is the story of what happened to those caught in the middle.

On the other hand, war crimes have been committed. It’s not like at any point you think BeiTech are innocent, but maybe not everyone working for them is evil. There are some pretty upsetting scenes, even more when you realise they have been taken from Earth’s history.

And Oh AIDAN. I just can't even. He had some amazingly moving scenes. I think with all the work on driverless cars, we can start to see where AI needs to be very very careful in assessing situations involving human life. Would you kill 1000 to save 1001? Who is more important to save?

My systems still have D-D-Difficulty inteRpReting ceRtain human manneRisms. If you coulD avoiD speech moDes involving false ambivalence anD iRony, that woulD DecRease the Risk of teRminal failuRe of my synaptic netwoRk.

The whole trilogy is so gripping and I read most of the final instalment in one day. I cried, a lot. I’m so happy to hear Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman are working together on a new series, not in this universe but still multiple perspective science-fiction.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Hive | Wordery




Book Source: Purchased