Saturday, 31 May 2014

The Month That Was... May 2014

I feel like I had a productive month in May. I got all organised with my review writing and starting drafting stuff up in advance. I read 12 books, a bit above this year's average but helped by several graphic novels.

You might notice a few older books sneaking onto the blog too. I'm trying to delve into my TBR a bit more often. They'll still be plenty of new releases so don't go anywhere. Plus I'm going to start doing more giveaways for unsolicited copies that I really am very unlikely to read.

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

Reviews:




5 stars awarded to: No Harm Can Come to a Good Man by James Smythe, Glaze by Kim Curran + Friday Brown by Vikki Wakefield.

Read and awaiting review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Saga volumes 1 + 2 by Brian K. Vaughan + Fiona Staples, The Rain by Virginia Bergin + Riders of Berk: Dragon Down.

Blogged about:

I chatted with Kim Curran about social media and her new book, Glaze and set up my own virtual bookshop @ My Independent Bookshop.

Win Deborah Harkness Books!
Incoming! (4th May)
Incoming! (18th May)

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Tinder

Tinder is a retelling of the Hans Christian Anderson tale, The Tinderbox, told through the eyes of a soldier who walked away from the horrors of war. The original tale had a soldier too, but in true fairy tale fashion, I don’t think it lingered on his mental state too long and the dogs, now wolves, are turned into more complicated characters. It is also beautifully illustrated by David Roberts.

I wasn’t very familiar with the original tale, but even if you are I suspect you will still be surprised. Sally Gardner’s an excellent storyteller and it keeps the feeling of a folk tale, but with dark turns. It’s probably not for younger children (the first page has a pretty scary illustration for starters) but it will charm older children and adults alike.

The red cloak is a powerful symbol. With the wolf aspect, it may remind you of Little Red Riding Hood, but in my mind, it’s also the girl from Schindler’s List and the creepiness from Don’t Look Now. It really helps to have this illustrated in this case, as the colour is such a visual thing, especially against the greys. There's one page which is just dripping with blood. And the illustrations are wonderful and creepy and make the book worthwhile even if you’re not that fussed about the story. Honestly, I wish more books were like this.


The illustrations speak for themselves don't they? It's a lovely gift for anyone with an interest in illustration or fairy tales. Or, you know, just buy it for yourself.


Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Hive

Also reviewed @ A Dream of Books

Shelve next to: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness




Book Source: Purchased

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Beauty

Beauty is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty interwoven with several other fairy tales. It is deemed that the prince needs an adventure and a wife, but he needs some protection so he’s sent off with the Huntsman. On their travels they find a cottage with a wolf problem and discover a city in slumber. We all know that the prince wakes Beauty up with a kiss but what happens next? It’s not all happily ever after here.

“She’s asleep. You just can’t go around touching girls when they’re asleep.”

I was actually expecting it to be a bit raunchier. It certainly is not for children, there are a few sex bits but overall it felt very much like a fairy tale with extra characters and a bit more grown up. I think Sarah Pinborough wanted to make a point about sexism but there’s a really awkwardly explained scene where the Huntsman is going on about how women shouldn’t be judged if they have sex. Which is true, but seemed an out of place this in the context of this tale. He wasn’t doing anything wrong, so why was he going to lengths to justify it?

“If we wake up in a hundred years with trees growing out of our arses, then I’d say we didn’t make it.”

It was interesting to have an explanation and justification behind why Beauty was put to sleep. I liked the fact that all the fairy tale characters lived in the same world, that they knew of Rapunzel even though she’s not from their story (neither is the Huntsman).

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Hive

Also reviewed @ Uncorked Thoughts | Wondrous Reads



Book Source: World Fantasy Con freebie

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The Man Who Couldn't Stop

A lot of people have misconceptions about what OCD is. Often, they are confusing it with OCPD, where we think of people being overly clean and keeping everything in order. Those with OCPD don't see it as irrational behaviour. OCD on the other hand is obsessing over intrusive thoughts and using compulsions to counteract them. Sometimes those compulsions are cleaning or order, but often not. The book goes into the difference and similarities between anxiety and OCD, which helps put it into context. However awful anxiety gets, there’s a logic to it, an immediate threat that our fight or flight instincts respond to. OCD is usually completely illogical, the sufferer’s obsessing over thoughts that contradict who they are.

Picking this up, I thought it was going to be more of a memoir than it actually is. David does cover his own story in part, but there’s a lot of science and history of OCD. It’s the kind of non-fiction book I am drawn to and enjoy. The book shows varied cases of OCD throughout history and many of the treatments used, some which did more harm than good. Freud is rather amusingly dismissed on several occasions.

The stuff about intrusive thoughts was really interesting. You know when something pops into your head and you’re horrified by it? How on earth could I think that and does it make me a bad person? Well, if you don’t get them, the chances are you’re a psychopath or lying. Most people manage to shake these thoughts free, but OCD sufferers latch onto them and can’t get them out of their heads.

David is both a science journalist and an OCD sufferer. He knows what he’s talking about both from personal experience and the research mentality his work gives him. He isn’t judgemental but he sets everything out straight. It’s a very accessible book to read too. His obsessive thoughts were focused on catching HIV, not through risky behaviour but just through everyday contact. He couldn’t shake the thought that there could be infected blood lying around. No matter how slim the chances, his brain wouldn’t be at peace. This was apparently a common OCD obsession in the 90s, when HIV was considered a horrible death sentence.

There’s some repetition in the first half but somehow it feels appropriate for the subject matter. I found the section on the history of lobotomies morbidly fascinating. Then there’s a great part that explains how drugs gets into your brain after taking a pill. Overall an enlightening and entertaining read.

The Man Who Couldn't Stop is published by Picador and is now available in hardback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Hive



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.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Win Deborah Harkness Books!

Not discovered the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness yet? Well never fear, I am giving one lucky winner paperbacks of A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night, so you can start getting caught up before the release of the conclusion, The Book of Life.

A Discovery of Witches - Review
Shadow of Night - Review
The Book of Life - 15th July 2014



www.adiscoveryofwitches.co.uk

Friday, 23 May 2014

Hidden

Hidden is a novella in the Women of the Otherworld series and chronologically falls after Frostbitten. Therefore this review may contain character spoilers for previous books in the series.

Elena and Clay want their very own family Christmas. They’ve rented a cabin in Canada and taken the twins. As soon as they arrive a mutt turns up at their door. Is he after the children or is he just being polite. She shouldn’t really spend their holiday working, but Elena can’t rest without knowing his story and whether or not he’s a threat to her family.

I’m finally getting round to reading the Women of the Otherworld novellas. Elena and The Pack are my favourite characters in the series, and these novellas are my last chance to read “new” stories about them now the series is officially complete. Hidden does fill in some gaps about the twins’ upbringing and isn’t just a filler story.

There’s not a whole lot of wolfiness in this one. It’s more about Elena’s indecision to tell the kids about what they are. Can they keep a secret? Is it harming them more to be ignorant of the dangers they face? Will they be disappointed if they never become werewolves themselves? Kate is already starting to ask questions.

I wasn’t fussed about the illustrations (I have the Subterranean edition hardback – I don’t know if they’re included in the ebooks). The kids look a bit like creepy doll children. In my head they are much more outdoorsy types. Just like their mum and dad.

If you fancy reading the entire series with novellas and short stories in order, Kelley Armstrong has provided a handy PDF checklist. A big re-read in order is definitely on my to-do list.

This book ticks off #9 on my Lucky 14 Challenge: Favourite Author.

Goodreads | Amazon | Subterranean Press

Also reviewed @ Reading the Paranormal



Book Source: Purchased

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Fracture

The first time I died, I didn’t see God.
Delaney’s on track to become class valedictorian and she’s best of friends with the boy next door, Decker. They’ve played manhunt every winter, usually dressed in white but she no longer fits into her white jacket. In a rush, Decker takes her across the frozen lake. Ungainly, she slips and falls, the ice cracks. Her red coat probably saved her life.

I remembered Fracture being all over the blogosphere back before I really took an interest in young adult. I picked up a copy after reading Hysteria, and both books do a similar thing; they tread along a line of explainable and supernatural, leaving you not too sure which it is all the way through the story. Hysteria does the better job of this and it’s good to see Megan Miranda improving. What it does mean is I think I would have enjoyed Fracture more if I had read it first.

There’s some fantastic passages and pieces of writing throughout the pages, but it’s the glue that holds them together that needs work. The pace slowed in the middle and it lost a lot of the tension it needed (but does return in the final chapters). Troy’s character wasn’t very well developed. He appears out of nowhere and has an interesting story. He should be tragic, we should feel conflicted about him, but at the end I was just meh about his fate. The male best friend plot is a bit predictable too.

Good things? The medical side felt reasonably believable and wasn’t skimmed over. Although would doctors really discuss their patients in earshot all the time? I could understand it more when she was in a coma, but conscious? Delaney ponders what makes her human, what kept her brain going when it shouldn’t have. Her relationship with her mother becomes fraught. Her mother thought she had lost a daughter once and then is faced with the horror of losing her to something else, perhaps the brain damage has irreparably taken Delaney away. Glimpses into her background show that there’s more than one way to be trapped.

And that feeling of being trapped is central to the story. First she is trapped under the ice, then by the coma. She is strapped down to stop herself harming others, but when she is free she feels trapped by her parents, by the drugs she is supposed to take. She hates the idea of there being something wrong with her that will return her to a hospital bed, unable to move or make her own choices.

There’s a short story of Decker’s experience whilst Delaney was under the ice, which I’d be interested to read. The sequel, Vengeance, was published this year and whilst I’m not rushing out to read it straight away, I’d probably read it sometime in the future.

This books ticks off #10 on my Lucky 14 Challenge: It's Been There Forever.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Hive

Also reviewed @ Uncorked Thoughts | Books, Biscuits, and Tea



Book Source: Purchased

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Astonish Me

Jean is a dancer in the corps. She knows she’ll never be good enough for principle, but she has her career ahead of her. She was the one who helped the great Arslan Rusakov defect from Russia, she loves him but she’s not good enough for him. Not a good enough dancer. There has always been one man who loved her, a man who will wait for her. Is it time to leave the ballet behind? And is she capable of turning her back on her life’s obsession?

Astonish Me is a tale of obsession and sacrifice told through evocative and expressive writing. The narrative flits back and forth between Joan’s time as a dancer and her time as a mother. But does she ever really leave her obsession behind? She teaches ballet and moulds a future generation of dancers. Is she just living her life through them?

At times it feels like it’s been written by a dancer. There is a lot of focus on the body, as a machine, a tool to dance with, separate from emotional needs. The characters feel quite distanced from reality, ballet and their bodies being the most important thing of all. It’s a tough choice for female dancers who wish for children but do not want to give up their passion. For these dancers, ballet is a passion, their life, and to give it up is to give up breathing. Although Joan appears to voluntarily step back, as the story unfolds, you see just how much hold ballet really has on her.

Perhaps this means the books will not appeal to those with no interest in ballet. The selfish drive of the characters is only put into context through the extremes of their world. The part about Russian defectors was an interesting piece of social history. They were driven so hard to be the best in the world but they wanted their freedom and they had to be smuggled out to the free world, given homes amongst the ballet companies.

The more I think about it, the more I like the book, although it feels very intense at the time. Harry’s path appears to be following his father’s and then veers off. It touches on the prejudice against male dancers but also on the hardships of all dancers going through puberty and not knowing if their bodies will be kind to them.

Elaine is held up as an example of what could have been for Joan. Although it is inferred that Elaine is the better dancer, had more potential, but she stays in the world whilst Joan is apart. Her story isn’t without sadness though but I liked her, more than the other characters. I felt she was more personable that a lot of the people in the industry would really be. The other characters are probably the norm.

Astonish Me is published by Blue Door, an imprint of HarperCollins, and is available now in hardback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Hive

Also reviewed @ jooley's books | Ciska's Book Chest



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, 20 May 2014

Q+A with Kim Curran


If you could only have six words on the blurb for Glaze, what would they be?

ARGH! So tough. So I’m going to cheat and use James Dawson’s quote for it:

“A chillingly realistic social media nightmare”

Petri’s namesake is pretty unique, is it tough coming up with character names? Do you feel you have to avoid those that have been used before as main characters in YA?

I’m normally pretty lazy with names! I just pick ones I like. Petri’s name came to me as soon as I knew her backstory, (she’s a test tube baby) and I loved how her name and her character came hand in hand.

And absolutely I think you have to avoid names that have been used before in YA. However, I’m also a bit weary of the trend in YA of having ‘snowflake’ names. I know Petri is unusual (or rather non-existent). But I gave her the name not to make it seem that she was somehow precious. But rather, to emphasis the dynamics of her relationship with her mother.

The future portrayed in Glaze feels eerily real. Where do you see social media heading?

Well, I’d already written Glaze before Google Glass was announced. And so that was a bit creepy for me. I definitely think that tech is going to become more integrated into our physical experience, rather than a bolt on. It will start to inform everything we do and see and possibly even think. Now this is either exiting or terrifying. I don’t know. I actually think technology itself is neutral. It’s what’s done with that tech is what worries me.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Incoming!

AKA Showcase Sunday

I went a whole week with no new books (I'm not counting the 2 extras I got from the Humble Bundle - but was great to get the second volume of Saga for no extra money). I thought we might just be hitting a quiet time of year (would be no bad thing tbh), but no, lots of stuff through the door this week!

I'm trying to hold off buying any more books (it's painful) until after my holiday and the Ninja Book Swap. Last swap, my gift was delayed and I'd managed to buy one of the books already, so I really need to remember not to do that again. Also to keep my wishlist very up-to-date. There are loads of books out on 5th June I want, but it's helpful that I'll be away so I haven't pre-ordered anything.


For review:
The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem (Penguin)
You're the One That I Want by Giovanna Fletcher (Penguin)
Herring Girl by Debbie Taylor (Oneworld)
The Final Testimony of Raphael Ignatius Phoenix by Paul Sussman (Transworld)
Surrender by Donna Malane (Exhibit A)
Theft of Life by Imogen Robertson (Headline)
Paradigm by Ceri A. Lowe (Bookoutre)

Humble Bundle Extras:
Saga #2 by Brian K. Vaughan + Fiona Staples
The Manhatten Projects #1 by Jonathan Hickman + Nick Pitarra



Showcase Sunday is hosted by Books, Biscuits & Tea.