Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Top Ten Books I've Read So Far This Year

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

I don't know if I'm getting fussier with my 5 stars or I've just not read as many blow me away books this year, but I had to add some 4 star reads to make this up to ten. However, the quality of some of my 4 star reads has been stellar, so I'll lean towards fussiness, rather than a declining quality in books. Here are my top picks read this year, in no particular order...

Our Endless Numbered Days
by Claire Fuller

The Day We Disappeared
by Lucy Robinson

Because You'll Never Meet Me
by Leah Thomas

Do No Harm
by Henry Marsh

by Non Pratt

by Sarah Crossan

Days of Blood and Starlight
by Laini Taylor

Smiler's Fair
by Rebecca Levene

by Naomi Novik

Chocolate Wars
by Deborah Cadbury

Monday, 29 June 2015

A Year of Marvellous Ways

At ninety years old, Marvellous Ways is waiting for something. She has lived by herself in a remote part of Cornwall most of her life and has taken to swimming naked in the creek. The year is 1947 and a young soldier is returning, somewhat late, from war with a letter he promised to deliver. When he washes up on the old woman’s doorstep, he is ready for the end but as his body recovers, an unlikely friendship blossoms and they tell each other their stories.

So it all started with a lighthouse keeper? he said.
Yes, I suppose it did, said the old woman. All love starts with the flicker of a flame.

A Year of Marvellous Ways is a meandering tale of memories and connections, lives lived and lost against a backdrop of Cornwall, with miners, fishermen and wise old women.

The narrative is strung together by a soldier arriving on an old woman’s doorstep, or shoreline to be more accurate, but really it is a collection of memories. Some are all too real are harsh, and those take longer to unravel, but many are through the fog of time, embellished for comfort. Marvellous appears to be showing the signs of dementia; Drake finds a collection of notes that she leaves to remind her of facts. She asks who made the tea that she herself had just made.

The thing is, said Marvellous, it's progress I find upsetting because progress finds war. And by the time I got to be old, the things that were once of value have diminished in worth, and it's hard to keep up when you're old. Not keeping up is upsetting. Let the moon be.

After introducing Marvellous, quite a bit of time is spent with Drake, which is contrasting to the rest of the book. His story in London feels like straight historical fiction, and it brushes with some of those the war left behind, emotionally chewed up and left to live in this new world. When Drake arrives in Cornwall, it’s as if he’s been transported to another, more magical, land.

There are some wonderful snippets of wisdom from Marvellous. She might start off as seeming a bit mad, believing her mother was a mermaid, but she truly is the wise woman of the area. She receives as much respect as she does rumour. The story wavers between magical realism and reality, touching on aspects of Cornish folklore. The sea and the living world, are very much a part of it.

The young woman who smells of bread thinks love it like yeast. It needs time to prove. It is complex. She thinks she might get a dog instead.

Beautifully written but left me a bit confused at the end. I’m open to accepting lack of speech marks when it serves a purpose but it just didn’t work for me here and I find myself losing the thread of speech quite often. There’s a slight fairy tale air about some of the characters which meant they didn’t stick in my mind and the connections at the end didn’t fall into place that easily.

A Year of Marvellous Ways is published by Headline and is available now in hardback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Shelve next to: Diving Belles by Lucy Wood

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, 28 June 2015


AKA Showcase Sunday

There were a few books I just had to buy this month and I had some very exciting review copies come in too, including sequels to Smiler's Fair and Apocalypse Cow and new novels from Sarah Winman and Annie Barrows. I've already read A Year of Marvellous Ways, which is beautifully written if a little confusing. Now I just have to find the time to read the rest of them...

For review:

The Hunter's Kind by Rebecca Levene (Hodder)
A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman (Headline)
The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows (Transworld)
World War Moo by Michael Logan (St Martin's Press)
Nothing But Trouble by Matt Cain (Pan Macmillan)*
The Outsider by Jason Dean (Headline)*


For Holly by Tanya Byrne
Remix by Non Pratt
My Real Children by Jo Walton
Night School: Endgame by C.J. Daugherty
A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar

*Unsolicited titles

Showcase Sunday is hosted by Books, Biscuits & Tea.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Quickie Review Time

It's holiday season, so that means I've been reading books without the aim of having a lot to say about them. That doesn't mean I don't want to share a few thoughts though. There's a tiny chance some of this contain spoilers for previous books, so beware! Here's what I've been reading...

I read the second and third Geek Girl books at the airport/on a plane as they’re such fun reads that don’t require too much concentration. In Model Misfit, Harriet jets off to Japan, though heartbroken she may be. She’s already worried about being pushed out of her family by the new baby, she might as well go somewhere fascinating. Life is never that easy though, and Harriet’s shoots start to go wrong. Great supporting characters, some surprises thrown in and lots of great facts and giggles.

Following on from that is Picture Perfect where Harriet moves to America. I did appreciate reading this coming back from the states, as there were several observations Harriet made that I did too. At the end of Model Misfit, Yuka tells Harriet she kept her sheltered from the real modelling world because she didn’t want her becoming ruined by it. Now that Harriet’s flown the nest, we start to see that happening when she gets drawn into other model’s schemes to sort out her life. I found some of it a bit cringe-worthy, although I can see how easily someone like Harriet would be led astray. I found the overall story a bit weaker and it is starting to get a bit predictable, even if still super fun. Who couldn’t love Harriet?

I barely give a second glance at the unsolicited crime fiction that drops through my door but I thought maybe I should give them a second chance. I had heard a lot about Sarah Hilary and had the first two books in the series, so Someone Else’s Skin seemed a logical choice. Although it did subvert some gender stereotypes, I found the overall story very generic, and once a few things had been revealed it became a bit predictable.

Why does every fictional detective need to have things lurking in their past and emotional issues that affect their jobs? Anyone would think our entire police force is completely messed up. And please, stop going into potentially dangerous places alone without calling for backup/telling anyone where you are. I know a huge amount of people like this kind of fiction though, and I don’t think this is a bad example of it, just not exactly what I‘m looking for in my reading these days.

It’s kind of nice to read a trilogy within a few months rather than waiting a year between instalments. I’m sticking with the middle book as the best of Laini Taylor's, which is surprising to me too. Dreams of Gods and Monsters had a few too many new threads for a final book. Its purpose is to reveal more of the history of the seraphim and chimera, which I loved; I would seriously read a history book of Eretz. It shows how easily history that is forgotten can be woven through myths to create prejudice and misunderstanding. I wasn’t too keen on the introduction of a new character with their own plotline though, and a little of the unbearable mushiness came back. Don't get me wrong, I still thoroughly enjoyed this whole trilogy, one can’t expect all three books to be perfect!

Half Bad had some potentially interesting parallels with some of the things Nazis did in WWII. The laws that are released to restrict Nathan reminded me of the way the civil liberties of the Jews were removed. It starts off with small, if completely unfair, decrees. With each one, they get a little bit harsher. Then before you know it, your life has been taken away from you.

And we know at the start that Nathan is in shackles for some reason. All is left for them to take is his life. However I'm a little bit bored of the style of story that starts with a scene from later in the narrative, then I spend the next few hours impatiently waiting for it all to catch up. The ending was pretty flat too, although I had forgot it wasn't a standalone. I lost interest in the characters a bit, they live in a very prejudiced world and I felt sympathy for Nathan but not much else.

The second person narrative, although in small doses, didn't seem necessary. I'm capable of putting myself in a character's shoes without it. Reasonable fantasy but nowhere near what I was expecting from all the love it has received.

The Cat with a Really Big Head is sort of a kid's book for grown-ups, I think, though I'm sure some older kids would love it to bits too. The stories are a delightful in a silly and a bit gross way, but also rather tragic. I loved the artwork, it actually managed to shock in a small way (so no giving to young children who would probably be traumatised). Roman Dirge was the co-creator of Invader Zim, a cartoon I loved but no one else ever seemed to have heard of. So I’m please there’s other outlets for his work.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

UK Goodreads Giveaways

Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase
30 copies, UK only
Ends 23rd June

Too Close to Home by Aoife Walsh
10 copies, UK only
Ends 2nd July

Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne
10 copies, UK only
Ends 1st Aug

Lady: My Life as a Bitch by Melvin Burgess
10 copies, UK only
Ends 2nd July

The Seed Collectors by Scarlett Thomas
20 copies, UK only
Ends 27th June

Because You'll Never Meet Me by Leah Thomas
5 copies, UK only
Ends 1st July

Half the World by Joe Abercrombie
15 copies, UK + Ireland
Ends 24th June

Master of Shadows by Neil Oliver
10 copies, UK only
Ends 10th July

The Last Pilot by Benjamin Johncock
10 copies, UK only
Ends 8th July

The Parrots by Alexandra Shulman
10 copies, UK only
Ends 26th June

Higher Ed by Tessa McWatt
20 copies, UK only
Ends 18th July

The Tabit Genesis by Tony Gonzales
5 copies, UK only
Ends 30th June

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Being a Girl

Being a Girl is a great book for teens who feel their PSHE is lacking in certain areas or just want an honest opinion on whether it’s OK not to shave. It preaches kindness and anti-douchebaggery whilst being amusing and informative on the subject of being a teenage girl.

It covers all the key areas of concern and potentially embarrassing questions of adolescence for girls; periods, boobs and bras, hair (both the kind you want and the kind you’d rather get rid of), spots, clothes, crushes, safe sex, bullying and most importantly having the confidence to be yourself.

It doesn’t shy away from the fact that teenage girls can be pretty mean to one another and peer pressure is a real thing that will have to be dealt with at some point. There’s a great section inspired by one of Hayley’s focus group who responded that girls were bitches, where she goes on to say how girls are much more like cats than dogs. Then there’s all the different types of cats you can be, complete with Gemma Correll’s illustrations of said cats.

Whilst there’s an element of entertainment value for any age, I think it’s most valuable to pre-teens and younger teens. When it comes to sex, drugs and alcohol, it’s about setting a good example. It doesn’t go into much detail about to do if things go wrong. There’s a tiny bit on the morning after pill and abortion, but nothing on sexual abuse or rape. It stops at telling girls if he pushes the subject, then he’s not worth dating. Good advice, but for older teens seeking guidance, it might come across as a bit I told you so.

I really wanted to be able to recommend this book to single fathers but there are occasions when instead of giving information, Hayley just says “ask your mum”. That’s not helpful to girls who are referring to this book because they don’t have a trusted older female in their life. Would it be so hard to have a little section about buying the right painkillers for your period pain rather than referring to mothers? Or is OTC medicine a taboo subject?

However it would be an excellent book to hand over to your daughter after having The Talk. There’s definitely things in there that would have cleared up some questions for me when I was that age. Of course, it’s good to encourage open discussion, but we all know it doesn’t usually happen that way.

Being a Girl is published by Hot Key Books and is available now in paperback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Because You'll Never Meet Me

Ollie is unable to tolerate electricity. He is encouraged to start a correspondence with a penpal, a boy in another country who is also special. Moritz was born without eyes and has a pacemaker fitted to keep his heart beating. The very thing that keeps Moritiz alive would kill Ollie. So they are unable to meet, yet this doesn’t prevent their friendship forming through the written word.

I was sceptical starting this book. Ollie opens with the fact he is allergic to electricity which just sounded a bit ridiculous to me. However that's really just how he chooses to describe his condition. As for Moritz, I have heard about blind people using a form of echolocation, however nowhere near advanced as his. I'd like to imagine that this pair are fledgling superheroes, before they find their feet. It's that kind of reality, and approaching this as a SFF read rather than contemporary YA, will help a lot in accepting the two boys.

Told in letters between Ollie and Moritz, the narrative voices are wonderfully distinctive. They really don’t need their differing fonts, but they both suit their personalities. Moritiz is more of a serious serif type and Ollie is a more carefree sans serif kinda guy. I liked the fact that Moritiz was annoyed at first by Ollie’s puppyish nature and overly personal introduction. And their friendship isn’t always smooth, even if they are only communicating through letters.

Imagine if supernatural abilities didn’t make you into a superhero but were actually just a pain in the ass? Think about some of the superheroes in comics that would be picked on in school or be shunned by society. Being different is not necessarily appreciated when you’re in high school.

We really take electricity for granted. Poor Ollie has to live out in the woods, without school which he envies of Moritz, and the only friend he makes is the niece of a neighbour. His mother is overprotective and his doctor is always trying to experiment with him. He just wants to be a normal boy and share his enthusiasm with other people. It also looks at how when your world view is limited, you attach to one person, for good or bad.

Moritz’s story deals with bullying and also the hardships of living with a face that scares people. He tries to hide his true nature, both his physical and mental, and his path starts to lead him astray. Moritz doesn’t care so much that he won’t meet Ollie, but something about the tenacious boy in the woods keeps him writing anyway.

So if you can get past the weirdness, it’s an amazing story about friendship and bravery. All my little niggles about Ollie’s condition were actually acknowledged in the story. Ollie doesn’t quite understand how the electricity inside his body is OK, but the generated kind isn’t. As more is revealed about the boys, it reminded me a little of one aspect of The Rook. I think perhaps it is packaged a little bit too much like a contemporary which means some people might just not get it. But it’s beautifully written, emotional, frank and warm.

Because You'll Never Meet Me is published by Bloomsbury and will be available in paperback and ebook editons from 2nd July 2015. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

The Water Knife

Meteorologists all talked as if there could be records – and record-breakers – as if there were some pattern they could discern. Weather anchors used the word drought, but drought implied that drought could end; it was a passing event, not the status quo.

Water’s a commodity we take for granted. Imagine if it cost more than fuel? Imagine if your town was completely cut off from the life-giving pipes because it didn’t have rights to the river that flowed downstream to cities with more money, more power?

The Water Knife is set in south west America following who knows how many years of drought. I found it particularly topical reading it in California, a state currently experiencing a drought. You don’t notice much other than lots of signs asking you to conserve water, but we spoke to a lady at a winery who said they’ve got about a year of living normally. If they don’t get the rain (or snowfall) by then, they’ll have to start changing how they use water. Although California appear to be one of the bad guys in this book.

It’s a sad state of affairs to find it so believable that a few companies would hog the water, use it to turn a profit, fight each other for the rights to it. If not water companies, then those who build contained cities, where water is recycled within and kept plentiful, but only for those with the money to pay the high price tag. Las Vegas, always portrayed as a city of indulgence, is no different here. They are at the top of the water hierarchy and ensure their casinos can keep their fully flowing fountains.

Sweat was a body’s history, compressed into jewels, beaded on the brow, staining shirts with salt.

The main male character wasn’t very developed, and whilst he gets shot at a bit, that’s nothing compared to the horrors the two main female characters have to go through. The women are more rounded characters, and in a very violent world it’s na├»ve to imagine that violence towards women has got better. When people are on the brink of survival, they so often turn to crime and violence. However I found it hard to fathom that someone, after surviving bad torture, would want to have sex with someone they barely knew, the same day. And it was a pretty cringey sex scene too.

The character of Angel is what let this book down for me. I could accept the violence due to circumstance, even if it isn’t to my taste. The ideas behind it were thought-provoking and so scarily could be real and I thought the world-building was excellent. But it’s kind of ruined by some man with zero personality, and apparently a callous water knife, running round suddenly going a bit soft and saving women.

Angel doesn’t have faith in humanity. People have always done horrific things to each other, they always will. Maybe he’s seen too much. He contrasts with Lucy who holds out for a better life. She stays in Phoenix reporting when she could move to a life of comfort with her sister in Canada. But instead, she holds on for something that will help the city.

Young Maria was an interesting character. It took me a while to realise she was just a teenager, she lives in such a tough world, she keeps striving to do better, to not get dragged down to the levels of her friends. She had to move from Texas, a state whose residents have gained refugee status, and lost her parents. There are some absolutely heart-breaking moments throughout the book, so much so I completely forgive her for her final decision.

The Water Knife is published by Orbit and is available now in hardback and ebook editions. 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.