Friday, 31 January 2014

Plague and Cholera

The history of science is often rolled out as a broad avenue leading straight from ignorance to truth, but that is false. The history of science is a network of dead ends in which thought loses its way and ties itself up in knots. An anthology of pitiful failures, some quite ridiculous.

Yersinia pestis, the bubonic plague, named after its discoverer Dr Alexandre Yersin, a Frenchman taken under the wing of microbiologist Louis Pasteur. His name is not a well known one but this is his story.

Yersin’s story is told against a backdrop of turmoil that was 20th century Europe. The narrative wobbles between 1940 and earlier moments in the timeline which I found hard to keep track of. Indeed the historical events were a huge help in placing the time. I think it would be a real struggle if you weren’t somewhat familiar with the history. I found it easily to place myself in time via Louis Pasteur’s work, but only because I’ve read (and magically absorbed lots of fact from) Rabid.

I have to admit I was much more absorbed in the second half than the first, and contemplated putting it down. Once he settled in Vietnam, I became fascinated with his chicken experiments and his interest in botany. Little things like trying to find the right growing conditions for the tree that provides quinine (Malaria was a real problem in the area). He had his fingers in many pies and it was a little sad that his contemporaries were forever being awarded Nobel prizes, but his great discovery, that of the plague bacillus, came before the prize existed.

Amazingly, most of Yersin’s correspondence was saved, discovered years after his death in the Pasteur Institute. Pitched as a novel, it does feel much more like a biography, and it sounds like there was plenty of material to go on. Nothing much was embroidered upon and many aspects were touched on so briefly, it seems that the author didn’t want to make things up. Then again, there are some thoughtful snippets that may not have come from the man himself.

Because at the end of the day, one may or may not have a vaccine against plague but never, as one knows full well, will a vaccine be found against the death of friends, there is no sense in thinking it will.

I wonder if Yersin would have liked all the travel titbits. There is a moment where he is dealing with his biographer and he wished he wasn’t steered away from talking about exploration; everyone wanted to know about the plague. His travels are relevant to his discoveries but I found myself glazing over a lot. If you’re interested in the history of microbiology, there’s better books out there but if you are genuinely interested in the man, and his place in history, there’s plenty of food for thought.

I did learn some interesting things, like the origin of the word “posh” (port out, starboard return). And Yersin probably invented Coco Cola, but didn't patent it. Yet I got to the ending and was left wondering where cholera was (there's a short passage in which one of his friends dies of the disease, but if there was more, I must have skipped over it).

Plague and Cholera has been translated from the original French to English by J.A. Underwood and will be published by Little Brown in hardback and ebook formats on 27th February 2014. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

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Shelve next to: Rabid by Bill Wasik + Monica Murphy



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.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Review Copy Cleanup 4.0


Celine and Vicky are hosting their 4th Review Copy Cleanup as a bit of motivation to work through those malingering review books. Sign up here.

My main aim is to get my NetGalley feedback ratio to 90%. It's currently at 78.4% so is a bit of a stretch for February but I can at least aim towards it. There are a few paper review books that I really, really want to get round to too, so I'll see how it goes.

Updates

Week One:

So I gave my blog a bit of a makeover which wasn't in the plan and has probably resulted in me reading a bit less than I would have. Oh well, it needed doing! I've read and reviewed Burn and Roomies this week and started The Seers.

I'm also trying not to request books on NetGalley but there is so much good stuff up there at the moment. I may end up breaking and letting my ratio tumble. But I'd like to clear up my virtual shelves a bit first. Clean slate and all that.

NetGalley Ratio: 81.4%



Week Two:

I read a couple of newer review books this week, which I'm not sure really counts as "cleaning up". If I manage 3 more NetGalleys this month, I'll be happy.

NetGalley Ratio: 82.4%



Week Three:

My review reading momentum has slowed right down. Read Attachments which was a personal read (and glad I read it) and The Wicked We Have Done but not yet reviewed.

NetGalley Ratio: 82.4%

Week Four:

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

The Dark Inside

Thirteen-year old Jamie lives with his stepfather after a car crash killed his mother. Escaping to an abandoned house he meets a homeless man who tells him of a dark curse. Not wanting to return home, Jamie flees with the man, determined to find a cure for the curse.

The Dark Inside is basically a modern fairy tale. It has all the ingredients; a “wicked” stepfather, a curse, a witch and a journey ending in a moral lesson. It felt, in parts, like a rather grim, more realistic version of Stardust, I think maybe it was the travellers that did it. It's firmly set in our world, with only a dash of supernatural.

One aspect of it was the question of whether the curse was real or not. However I think the ambiguity was lost with the wooden boy, who didn’t serve much purpose apart from being creepy. Without him, the old traveller woman could have just been using herbs and not magic. Maybe Webster was just suffering from PTSD. I would have liked to have been left with that unanswered.

I didn’t really connect with the characters. In a way that’s more acceptable in a shorter fairy tale, it’s kind of their hallmark, but this novel was a tad too long to not be bothered what happens to them, good or bad. I will admit, I think I’m outside the age bracket; it feels much more middle grade despite some dark themes and acts of violence. I think it will appeal to the younger reader who doesn’t want to be patronised.

There are some wonderful pieces of writing within and I’m sure it will be a well-received debut but it just didn’t click with me. If you think it’d more your thing, I’m giving away a spare copy (UK only), just use the Rafflecopter at the end of this post to enter.

Friday, 24 January 2014

The Lemon Grove

One hot week in Mallorca. Jenn and Greg’s annual holiday is a time for relaxation and indulgence, but this year, the peace is broken by the arrival of Emma and her boyfriend Nathan.

It would be easy to do The Lemon Grove an injustice in its description. A family on holiday in Mallorca, a forbidden attraction between a step-mother and her daughter’s boyfriend, sun, sand and sex. There is a little bit of smut of course, but it’s so much more than a frivolous beach read.

Like in Helen Walsh’s Go To Sleep, this tale explores another side of motherhood, one that would be disapproved of but shows that mothers are still human beings, still capable of mistakes and bad judgement. Jenn’s relationship with Emma is that awkward one of stepmother and there are notes of resentment that creep in on both sides, but overall she is a character you can empathise with.

The writing itself is wonderfully evocative. Reading it during a cold, damp winter, will certainly make you want to head to warmer climes. You are drawn into the family’s holiday, the warm water and hillside trails. As the tension rises, so does the temperature, the emotion and the weather, cleverly intertwined.

As Jenn looks upon Emma and Nathan, she’s reminded of her aging body. Her descriptions of the teenagers lead her to nostalgia and regret. I think this is something many of us can relate to…not appreciating youth at the time. I’m not sure if Greg’s side story was too brief, but it did add an extra layer of sadness to the betrayal. The ending is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it one, yet powerful and leaving me with an oh on my face.

The Lemon Grove will be published by Tinder Press, an imprint of Headline, on 27th February 2014 in hardback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Win a copy on Goodreads (ends 10th Feb)




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, 23 January 2014

Wild Justice

Wild Justice is the final instalment of the Nadia Stafford trilogy and therefore this review may contain spoilers for Exit Strategy and Made to Be Broken.

Jack brings Nadia an offering, a file on the man who raped and killed her cousin and got away with it. If she wants, she can kill him, or Jack will do the honour. But stirring up the past brings Nadia face to face with some harsh truths and someone is out to get her.

It’s been such a long time since the last Nadia Stafford book, I had given up hope of getting more but I am so glad Kelley Armstrong decided to finish off her story. I always enjoyed the tenuous relationship between Nadia and her mentor, Jack, and here we get some closure and well as delving into her uncomfortable past, the very reason she became a professional killer in the first place.

If you never liked Jack, you may be in for a disappointment. This is mostly about the tentative relationship between him and Nadia. He is still gruff and economical with his words, but his sentences do get longer…well, yes he speaks in sentences. In the previous book, Nadia had realised she wanted more from him than the fatherly, mentor role he provided but was clear that he didn’t want the same. He’s a lone wolf, but one that’s aging in a profession that doesn’t take kindly to age. That foundation is built upon in Wild Justice and I thoroughly enjoyed the dynamics between them.

As for the thriller side. They’re hitmen (or hitpersons, not sure what you’re meant to call them) so there is a certain amount of subterfuge and killing, but I think Kelley’s voice shines through it all. Nadia is often the first to point out the clichés or schoolboy errors that others might make or think about when it comes to her profession. The warmth in her characters is the same as her other series, and makes this trilogy one to read even if thrillers aren’t your thing.

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Book Source: Purchased

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

She Is Not Invisible

One final time I told myself I wasn’t abducting my little brother.

Laureth Peak is heading to New York, with her little brother Benjamin. She borrowed her mum’s credit card to pay for the flights and told Benjamin they’re off to visit their dad. Which isn’t entirely a lie. Their dad has gone missing and Laureth needs to find him, but she just couldn’t go by herself. Her only clue is one of her dad’s notebooks, found by a stranger, containing the notes for THAT book.

She Is Not Invisible is an absolutely wonderful book. Blindness isn’t Laureth’s defining feature. I picked up the book not knowing anything about it and I slowly came to realise that she is blind through some of her actions rather that it being blatant. The first thing we learn is she’s abducting her little brother and getting on a plane. It’s not a story about blindness, it’s a story about a girl looking for her dad who happens to be blind. Saying that, it does a fantastic job of relaying what everyday life is like for her and the things most of us take for granted.

At first I thought it was a little overdone and unbelievable that everything Benjamin touches would break, but as we read about her dad’s research into coincidence, it becomes more relevant. There are “extracts” from her dad’s notebook that contains his research for his book. It explains that Pauli started looking at synchronicity just because he had these weird coincidences (breaking experiments), which became known as Pauli’s syndrome. As a side note, my mum always said she broke electronic items (I think it wore off after she discovered eBay).

So there’s two aspects to this book, one is Laureth and Benjamin’s sometimes perilous journey around New York, and the increasing worry about their dad’s fate. It’s full of warmth and humour and a dash of tension. Then there’s all the stuff about coincidence which is thought-provoking. And when you get to the end, don’t skip the tiny bit of advice, it will make you smile.

This was my first book by Marcus Sedgwick but I have a few others on my TBR. He’s certainly an author I look forward to reading more of.

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Also reviewed @ Lovely Treez Reads | Serendipity Reviews

Shelve next to: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer



Book Source: Purchased

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Incoming!

AKA Showcase Sunday

I bought a Kobo Touch this week as they're currently only £30 from WH Smith. After hearing this news, my Kindle decided to throw itself off the bedside table and hide under the bed. I'm pretty sure I'll still use the Kindle, there's lots unread on there and it's just easier for NetGalley. But it's also nice to have options. Kobo is way prettier, it's white with a blue "padded" back.


For review:
The Three by Sarah Lotz (Hodder)
Cemetery Girl by Charlaine Harris + Christopher Golden (Jo Fletcher)
Season to Taste by Natalie Young (Tinder Press)
We Are Here by Michael Marshall (Orion)
The Wicked We Have Done by Sarah Harian (Headline)

Bought:
Tinder by Sally Gardner


Showcase Sunday is hosted by Books, Biscuits & Tea.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Pawn

Yesterday, Kitty wouldn’t face the consequences of stealing an orange. But today is Kitty’s seventeenth, today she could be killed for that theft. She has just been tested, she is a III. She was hoping for a IV but now her life has been decided for her, and it’s not the one she expected. But when she receives a mysterious offer, she clutches at it, not realising she is giving up her identity for a chance at privilege.

If you’ll excuse the pun, it’s all a bit dystopia by numbers. There’s a test for starters. Can we drop this plot device please? Otherwise the numbering is a believable system, keeping people in their place. At least people believe they have a chance to rise.

Kitty starts off with a boyfriend and Lila, who she takes the place of, has a fiancé but it doesn’t fall into the love triangle trap. Which is another point in its favour. However overall it’s lacking emotional depth, especially considering she’s meant to be constantly in fear for her life, or the lives of people she cares about. She nearly goes into prostitution, thinking that is a valid life choice, but it just seems like a night out to a club to her. I really think having her life ripped away would be more traumatic than she lets on. Instead she recovers quite quickly to all the horror thrown at her. And really, it’s a horrible world, one deserved a bit more depth.

Maybe I’m tiring of the young adult dystopia sub-genre. I think there’s still a place for strong stories which explore the threat of today’s politics, but I don’t believe that’s really what the whole trend was about. It was rebellion against authority, but even that has lost its way a bit.

A lot of Pawn reminded me of The Selection trilogy by Keira Kass. It’s a different situation but something in my mind just melded them together. Perhaps it was the privileged family and hiding in the safe room away from the rebels. It’s an easy enough read and enjoyable, just nothing new. If you fancy giving Aimee Carter a go, I would recommend the Goddess books instead.

Pawn is published by MIRA Ink and is now available in paperback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

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Also reviewed @ Tea in the Treetops | whY.A.not?

Shelve next to: The Selection by Kiera Kass



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.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The One Plus One

Jess is a single mum, who works cleaning the homes of those much more fortunate than her. Some of her clients are barely there, including Ed Nicholls, who she thinks has more money than sense. Some weeks she can barely make ends meet. When her daughter, Tanzie, is offered an amazing opportunity at a private school, Jess knows she can’t afford it but wants to do everything in her power to get her there.

I read The One Plus One a while ago and made the mistake of not writing down my thoughts, but what I do know is that it left a warm and fuzzy feeling behind. Now that’s quite a change from some of Jojo Moyes’ other books, which have left me destroyed (you know what I’m talking about).

As the story unfolds, Jess finds herself with her two children and smelly dog being given a lift up to Scotland by Ed. A man she may have stolen some money from; only because it had fallen out of his pocket when drunk. If he was careless enough not to notice so much cash gone missing, she reckons it won’t hurt. And she really needs it for Tanzie. The ensuing road trip is full of humour, and dog farts. Oh I so loved the doggy character of Norman.

It feels like an incredibly topical book; about a fairly normal family who have to constantly worry about money. Ed is facing financial ruin himself but he has always been comfortable and the difference between their attitudes is eye opening. He will just buy a sandwich, she will buy the cheapest ingredients she can find and eat them in the car. He will pay for a room, she will sleep in the car overnight.

Nicky, the teenage boy, is a fascinating character too. His evolution from surly teenage to someone who does the most amazing thing is wonderful. Of course Jess gets frustrated with him, and he with her. All the characters were amazingly real, even if the whole lift to Scotland thing was a bit far-fetched.

The One Plus One is published by Penguin and will be available in hardback and ebook editions from 27th February 2014. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Also reviewed @ The Little Reader Library | So many books, so little time | Being Anne | Page to Stage Reviews



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, 14 January 2014

Autumn Rose

The last sage let a human die. Autumn Rose is now sage and protector at her school, which doesn’t make her popular. When another sage turns up, she is dragged back into a world she would much rather leave behind.

I was a little confused when I started Autumn Rose as I was expecting a follow on from The Dark Heroine: Dinner with a Vampire. Instead, this runs concurrently with the previous story, introducing new characters whose timelines slowly start to merge. Abigail’s writing is becoming a lot more consistent, but overall I felt it lost some of the appeal of Violet’s story. Maybe she made Fallon a bit too nice and respectable in response to Kaspar.

I liked Edmund as a sort of father figure to Autumn. I think he puts her age into perspective sometimes. If she acts like a spoilt child at times, well it probably because she is. She’s only supposed to be 15 at the start of the book. There’s less sex this time round but it still touches on teen sex, and decisions to take the extra step.

Autumn’s depression wasn’t entirely convincing. I don’t think you should need to be explicitly told that a character is depressed to be aware of it. It didn’t come across in her narrative and if Fallon hadn’t had that conversation about suicidal thoughts, I don’t think I would have thought of her as suffering depression. Yes, she’s been bullied at school, but the way it was introduced was that she had no one. Yet, later on we find she has plenty of people behind her and she had also stuck up for another, younger, girl and become firm friends. She seemed to be coping with life pretty well considering her unusual circumstances.

It needed a bit more world-building for my liking. The multiple dimensions weren’t all that clear. They had shared history and culture, so are people meant to exist in all or one? Autumn’s news covered Violet’s kidnaping but she’s in another dimension. I couldn’t get my head around it and was unsure of the purpose of making Autumn’s world nearly the same as the vampire’s dimension (which I also think is ours). Why did she have to go to a school? When really the author’s fondness for manor houses comes through eventually.

I was really looking forward to read more about the heroines. Because it’s running concurrently rather than a true sequel, it only gets picked up again near the end. I’m not sure if I’d continue with this series. I would probably want to see the next instalment pick up with both Violet and Autumn, rather than investing and getting to know yet another main character. We’ll see…

Autumn Rose is published by Harper Voyager and will be available in paperback and ebook formats from 30th January 2014. 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.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Incoming!

AKA Showcase Sunday

My iron willpower broke shortly after last week's incoming post went up. I bought a few Kindle sale books that I had passed on in 2013 and ordered a non-fiction book that I'd been wanting to read for ages. The Discworld Collector Editions were pre-ordered (and super cheap) so really don't count towards this week's slapped wrists. I've also wanted to re-read The Wolves of Willoughby Chase for years (literally) and I love the Vintage cover, so that was the perfect excuse.


For review:
The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith (Headline)

Bought:
Inconvenient People by Sarah Wise
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
Indexing by Seanan McGuire
The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Small Gods by Terry Pratchett
Pyramids by Terry Pratchett
The Winter Witch by Paula Brackston




Showcase Sunday is hosted by Books, Biscuits & Tea.