Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Monster

School was a scary enough place to be stranded during the Christmas holidays without some starey-eyed imp like Regan banging on about man-eaters and things that go rawr in the woods.

Nash’s brother is missing in the depths of Columbia. With her parents away that means she’s left at Bathory School for Girls over the Christmas holidays. She’s worried about her brother but she doesn’t mind school so much, she’s eagerly awaiting the announcement that she’ll be made the next Head Girl. Yet the nearby town is alive with rumours of an attack. The Beast of Bathory has killed once more! Is this just wild imagination, or is there something out there on the moors, waiting to pick them off one by one?

I love a good boarding school setting and the addition of a Beast of Dartmoor style myth made Monster sound right up my street. Out of all of Britain’s myths, the one I’m mostly likely to believe is that there’s big cats living wild on some of our moors. I found it an easy and perfectly enjoyable read but it just didn’t excel at anything.

It was a little lacking in tension and wasn’t particularly scary. It takes a long time to get going, setting up the reason for Nash being left at school over Christmas and introducing the cast. Yet this time isn’t really spent building up suspicion. I felt her brother’s disappearance should have had more relevance. It was quite built up to be just used as the reason for her being there.

The place is fundamentally flawed. Why else would we be allowed up on this very old, probably very unsafe roof, to scrub tiles? No one gives a crap about Health and Safety here do they? No one gives a crap about us.

Throughout the text different characters are described as being monsters, showing there are different ways to be one. People can be worse than any beast lurking in the darkness. However this wasn’t really expanded upon. Nash has these moments where her rage overtakes her but there’s just no follow-up. I’m not sure if the ending was leading up to a sequel but I very much wanted it to be a standalone, with all the threads considered, if not tied up.

I liked the Devon setting. Bathory is a fictional place but it is clearly modelled on the type of small tourist town on the edges of Dartmoor. There’s not a lot to do out of season and they thrive on the legends of the area. I’m not entirely sure Nash’s date was required for the plot but I actually really enjoyed reading about the town.

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

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Also reviewed @ Cosying Up With Books | A Dream of Books




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, 29 September 2015

Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty and the Mad-Doctors in Victorian England

An Englishman had the right to marry a courtesan, calamitously impersonate petty officials, vomit at table, indulge as much solitary vice as he pleased, and spend as much cash as he liked.

Think lunatic asylum and the words will instantly conjure up an image of a Victorian institution with mad-doctors and deranged patients in straight-jackets. This book, pieced together from correspondence and court reports of the time, tells the story of how the asylums got their image today. Mad-doctors indeed, this was just what Victorians called doctors who dealt with the mentally ill; they were also referred to as alienists. Neither term elicits confidence of the profession from a modern mind-set.

I found the subject matter fascinating however it did get a little repetitive. Each chapter deals with a case study, most of which share some similarities, and the writing is quite dense. Yet the historical detail, and unwillingness of Sarah Wise to embroider the truth with modern sensibilities, drives home that fact is stranger than fiction. Some of these plots would be laughed at in a modern day novel, yet these cases did actually happen.

It does dispel the myth that Victorian women were more likely to be locked away than men. Figures are actually quite even between the sexes. One of the cases does highlight how the female plight was given more coverage in the press, with one victim making the most of her publicity skills to further the feminist cause. Fiction writers found a female lunatic was much more popular with their readers than a man wrongly confined. Yes, hysteria was coined to refer to “excitable” women but men were at greater risk of being locked away for their money.

The reoccurring theme from both the male and female cases was the fact that the family were after something and the easiest way to get it was to declare their relative insane. There was huge injustice in these cases, where wrongful incarceration was charged to the victims’ accounts. The law just wasn’t on the accused side. Whilst there is a huge list of things that you could be declared insane for doing, it seemed they were usually just an excuse.

It was morally right, argued Conolly, that society be helped to become more pleasant and more decent by the removal of its upsetting and disgusting elements and those who did not know right from wrong.

There was one case that stood out as different to me, the case where a mother was trying to free her daughters from what I can only call a cult. The lunacy laws were her only tool and I felt sympathy for her. They might have had the right to believe in whatever religious nonsense they liked but there was a distinct whiff of brainwashing to it. It's probably still a grey-area in law, when does something go from harmless to needing state intervention?

The cases are in roughly chronological order and they do show how public and legal attitudes shifted over the years. There’s also a few places which refer to them literature of the time, most prominently Jane Eyre and The Woman in White and Charles Dickens crops up repeatedly in his role as journalist, publisher and friend to many of the men involved. It seems Victorian society was a small world indeed.

Some of it is uncomfortable reading. It it wasn't bad enough to have your liberty taken away, many also had their dignity removed. Whilst some mad-doctors believed a nice, calming stay in the country away from family would help matters, many also believed in restraint and punishment. I would recommend this as research for anyone using a Victorian asylum in their writing, although I think reading it in one go for entertainment isn't such a good idea.

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Book Source: Purchased

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Incoming!

September has seen the start of 2016 releases trickling in. I guess for a lot of publishers the pre-Christmas period is all biographies and cookbooks, so the next batch of fiction will be the new year. Gives us time to take a breather at least!

You may be surprised to hear I've bought, read and reviewed some of these in the space of a few weeks. Links to my reviews of Queen of Shadows, Asking For It and Everything, Everything below. I'll be starting After You after I post this, but let me know if I should bump any of the others up the TBR.


For review:

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard (Tor)
Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas (Bloomsbury)
When the Professor Got Stuck in the Snow by Dan Rhodes (Aadvark Bureau)
Cloud 9 by Alex Campbell (Hot Key Books)
When I Was Me by Hilary Freeman (Hot Key Books)
The Drowning Lesson by Jane Shemilt (Penguin)*
Black Mass by Dick Lehr + Gerard O'Neill (Canongate)*

Bought:

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
After You by Jojo Moyes
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
Asking For It by Louise O'Neill


*Unsolicited titles

Thursday, 24 September 2015

The Copper Promise

Wydrin of Crosshaven, a.k.a. The Copper Cat, and her companion Sir Sebastian, formerly of the Knights of Isu, have a job to do. They have been hired by the withered Lord Frith to go exploring the caverns beneath the Citadel; a dangerous job but he promises good coin. Little do they know what they could awaken down there, nor what Lord Frith is really after.

The word 'nightmare' occurred to the Thirty Third although she wasn't entirely sure what it meant.

Originally published as four novellas, The Copper Promise retains an episodic feel. There is an overall story arc but each stage of their adventure feels slightly partitioned. It's a good, fun read, even with the pacing niggles. There are dragons, near-death experiences, lost magic and plots aplenty.

It’s more about the adventures than character development. There are little glimpses into the inner turmoil beyond their facades, but they could have been fleshed out so much more. I hesitate to call it a romance, but when someone announces they feel a certain way about another, you would have hoped to have some sort of build-up. Instead, there's just not-so-subtle comments about their appearance. Maybe adventurers just have repressed emotions that they find difficult to share.

The written word is powerful precisely because anyone can use it. We learn the words and find great meaning in them, even if we lack the raw power of the mages to work spells.

Having said that I loved the brood army and their slow transition from killing machines to individuals. I would have read a whole book from their perspective. There are some lovely little observations about words in their chapters, a few of which are echoed in Frith’s. Words are powerful things, they give us identity and power, if chosen wisely.

I did like the characters by the end, it was small things that endeared them to me but also their loyalty and friendship, despite them not showing it emotionally. Their actions speak louder than their words.

The Copper Promise is published by Headline and is available now in paperback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Also reviewed @ A Fantastical Librarian




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, 22 September 2015

Top Ten: Autumn TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

Autumn's great for cosying up with familiar characters and the odd spooky book as we approach Halloween. It's also that time of year where I start to look over my TBR and lists of books I should read this year... Yeah, not so much progress made there! Let me know if you've read any of these.


After You by Jojo Moyes

I'm a little wary of a sequel, but early murmurings are sounding positive and how could I not? Me Before You ripped my heart out, I want to know she's doing OK. Plus I have loved all of Jojo's books I've read so far.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

I bought a lovely special edition so I should really read it rather than just look at it right?

The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett

So many people rushed to read this but that just means it's all over sooner. *sniff* I do still have Raising Steam left to read from Discworld but I'm looking forward to visiting Tiffany again first. I got a fancy, sparkly edition, which means I have to have an opportunity to read it without ruining it.


The Potion Diaries by Amy Alward

Just seems like a fun read. As the nights draw in we need some fun.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

I nominated this for book group so that I would definitely read it and then it ended up being chosen the month I was in America. It's another book I bought a special edition of, think this is becoming a theme...

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

My lovely boyfriend bought me this when I needed cheering up months ago. I imagine reading it will make the gift more worthwhile. Oh yeah, I think it's a special edition too...


A Red-Rose Chain by Seanan McGuire

Not that I have guilty pleasures as there's no guilt here, but October Daye is one of the few urban fantasy series I have kept up with. Every now and then I feel like trying to get back into some others. Maybe 2016 will be the year of series.

Chimera by Mira Grant

Symbiont wasn't quite as good as Parasite but I really like Seanan's characters and narrative voice so I find her books kind of comfort reads even if the subject matter isn't rosy.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

I think this will be my Halloween read for this year.

Monster by by C.J. Skuse

It sounds like a good book for Halloween but is set over Christmas. It's out this month though, so I'll allow the C-word to sneak in early.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Queen of Shadows

Queen of Shadows in the fourth book in the Throne of Glass series and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous books.

It was ancient, and cruel, and paced in the shadows leashing his mind. It was not of this world, and had been brought here to fill him with its primordial cold.

I don’t think this series needs much introduction. If you’ve not read Throne of Glass yet, go and get yourself a copy now. I think it has been the driving force in more and more accessible epic fantasy for those who are wary of grimdark. Since its initial arrival on the scene, we’ve seen more and more otherworld fantasy with lead female characters who are more than just queens and daughters and victims.

Aelin, formerly Celaena Sardothien, has come a long way since we first met her in the mines of Endovier. She has unleashed her magic in the lands beyond the King’s reach but must return to Rifthold where magic is still trapped. There is one man who claims to know how to free it, the downside that it is Chaol, once her love but an irreparable chasm now exists between them. If he thinks her a monster without her powers, what could she be capable of with them?

I liked the darker side of this instalment. Previously left with a cliffhanger ending, we know that Dorian is suffering a fate worth than death, trapped in his own body. The Valg are a sinister enemy, and those who invite them into their hosts are despicable. Not to mention some of the horrors that occur in the depths of Morath.

I managed to read Heir of Fire without quite grasping that the Ironteeth witches are the enemy. I was so caught up in Manon and Abraxos’ personal story arc, I never placed them in the world as a whole. So the witches are working for Duke Perrington, who is up to some dark and evil plans with the Valg. Manon is only following orders but she is starting to question some of the things they do. Manon is such a strong and complex character, I hope she plays a big part in the future to come.

I wasn’t so keen on the romance aspect this time. The storyline has rather burnt bridges with Chaol, which is disappointing but I accept that characters don’t always end up with the ones we want them to. Given their hostility to each other, romantic reconciliation will be a bit of a stretch. There was an excessive amount of territorial posturing from Rowan and Aedion, which bored me a little. Aelin doesn’t need possessive men to look after her and it made her seem like an object to be fought over.

There’s no cliffhanger this time. It felt like a conclusion of sorts, but there’s plenty left to explore in this world, and certainly more challenges to come.

Queen of Shadows is published by Bloomsbury and is available now in paperback and ebook formats. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Also reviewed @ Tea in the Treetops




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, 19 September 2015

Everything, Everything

Maddy is trapped inside her own house. She suffers from a rare disease; she’s allergic to the world. Her mother and nurse do everything they can to keep her safe, limiting her contact with people and ensuring everything that comes into contact is sterilised. Yet when a family moves in next door she watches their lives, and realises she wants to meet the boy next door.

I really feel a bit cheated by Everything, Everything. I thought it would be a fascinating exploration of what it’s like to lead such a restricted lifestyle, where going outside might very well kill you. As I was reading there were so many things that didn’t seem quite right and I got to a point and then there’s this thing, which pretty much exonerates the author from all of what felt like poor research.

Maddy supposedly has SCID, Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, which I looked up after reading the book. She says she is allergic to everything but the disorder is actually a severely compromised immune system which means she would be very susceptible to picking up bacteria, viruses and fungal infections and be unlikely to fight them off by herself. That’s not an allergy (in which the immune system over-responds to mostly harmless substances).

The SCID would have made more sense at some points. Like she is allowed paper books as long as they have been through a sterilising process. I would have thought an ereader would be a much more sensible option for keeping allergens out, yet brand new books are not likely to contain pathogens. Still, there are comments that are clearly referring to not knowing what kind of things could kill her, going back to her being highly allergic.

Maybe it started out as a story about a girl with allergies but it got lost along the way, along with a misdiagnosis. Plus it’s very short and doesn’t give much time over to the other characters, who really do have their own problems that deserved more development. I liked Maddy’s voice so it was a bit frustrating that the rest of it felt rushed. More like a first draft than a finished piece of work.

I can understand Maddy’s recklessness though. A desire to lead a life that seems effortless to others. What is life if you are restricted to viewing it through other people? If you can never go out and experience it yourself? Is it worth the risk of death?

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Also reviewed @ No More Grumpy Bookseller | kimberlyfaye reads




Book Source: Purchased

Thursday, 17 September 2015

The Machinery

Ruin is coming.

For nearly 10,000 years, the leaders of the Overland have been selected by the Machinery; a mysterious entity overseen by the Operator. Yet there is a prophecy that in the 10,000th year the Machinery will break and the land will be thrown into chaos. With the date looming and the Tacticians making sure no one speaks of such things, Strategist Kane dies unexpected triggering a Selection. Did he fall or was he pushed to make the prophecy come true?

The Machinery is a strange book that left me with more questions than answers. It focuses on the politicians of the world that the Machinery inhabits, giving a rather insular feeling. The use of the Machinery was meant to have created a great empire, thriving with science and arts but not much of this is covered. You don’t get to see what going on in the normal citizens’ lives and whether or not they really care what’s going on behind closed doors.

At the start of the book I was quite intrigued that the Machinery was sentient and was aware of its decline. It speaks to Alexander Paprissi, before he is swiftly carried away by the Operator. However that appears to be the end of that and I was disappointed that the Machinery ended up being a background plot device.

Whilst I would have liked to have known about the impact beyond the world of the Tacticians and Watchers, I became quite fond of this bunch of odd characters. They are obsessed with keeping their head in the sand, avoiding the fact that the end of the Machinery is even possible. Doubters of the system are caught and punished by the Watchers.

I liked that the Machinery could select anyone from any background to be in charge. Did it choose good people or those right for the time? I wonder if power warps them all in the end. One Tactician hides in her books, another schemes to keep the status quo. The Watchers end up being strangely likable for enforcers and torturers…

I basically wasn’t paying attention that this was the first in a trilogy when I picked it up. I’m not sure it works as a standalone at all, so be prepared to read more if you’re interested. I’d like to know what happens next but I’d like some reassurance that things will be answered and the world will make a bit more sense.

The Machinery is published by Harper Voyager and is available now as an ebook with a paperback coming 24th March 2016. 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.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Asking For It

Emma is the prettiest girl in town and she wants everyone to know it. When her partying gets out of control, she’s discovered on the doorstep of her house, with no recollection of how she got there. She doesn’t find out what happened until she goes to school on Monday. How can she know if it was rape if she can’t even remember?

You should have seen her there, on that porch. Just lying there. It was as if she was a bag of rubbish, ready to be thrown away.

Louise O’Neill’s writing definitely deals with extremes. As with Only Ever Yours, Asking For It is relentless in piling on the worst case scenarios, this time dealing with rape and the question of consent. Told in first person narrative from Emma’s perspective, the prose is full of guilt and despair and an inability to escape.

The reader isn’t inclined to sympathise with Emma because she’s a nice person; it’s a brave choice to build up a dislikable character in a story where she is the only one who deserves sympathy. As Emma is introduced, she displays all the characteristics that victim blamers will pounce on. To top that off she is self-obsessed, vain and really not very nice to her friends. Though to be fair no one in this town is nice with the exception of Connor. She measures her own self-worth in how attractive she is to the opposite sex. Maybe she was always a tragic figure...

I’m not all that familiar with Irish law, except that I know they are still a little backward when it comes to women’s sexual rights. Something that really struck me was if this happened in the UK in 2015 that the act of sharing explicit images (and video) without Emma’s permission would be a crime in itself. A crime much easier to prosecute for.

They are all innocent until proven guilty. But not me. I am a liar until I am proven honest.

It’s not exactly an enjoyable book to read, and the fact that it’s a hugely popular book exploring an issue in need of exposure, means that it’s hard to be the one that goes, well I’m not sure I liked it that much. The constant bombardment of “she deserved it” messages, even from Emma herself at times, is rather challenging. Louise says in her author note that she didn’t want to be manipulative, but I think she is. She gives you every possible reason to blame the victim and you have to fight against it.

I wanted more compassion. I wanted someone in that town to maybe report the images in the first place – they do, without doubt, break Facebook terms of service. I wanted people to judge the boys as much as Emma; should the priest not have condemned their sexual acts outside of marriage too? How on earth can people carry on thinking they are “good boys” when they are creating and sharing porn on social media is beyond me.

Yes, these are all examples of injustice in the real world, but the amalgamation of so many into one little town was too much. And her parents, they were perhaps the worst. Should they not want to protect their daughter, even if she made mistakes? Even if it wasn’t rape? With the media attention and the horrible townspeople, I was begging them to move away. Yet her father can’t even look at her and her mother is more concerned about keeping up appearances.

The mob mentality on social media, and what is effectively online bullying, was the most destructive force in this town. Not the rape accusation by itself. And from Emma’s narrative, for right or wrong, I don’t think she would have been as hugely affected if it hadn’t been recorded and shared. She has to relive her violation again and again, when otherwise she may not have remembered it. She was the one at the start who dismissed her friend’s rape as something you just have to let go. I wonder what her reaction would be if the tables were turned and hers hadn’t been so public.

Drink-driving is bad, we had always been told. Drink-driving is dangerous. Drink-driving kills people, it ruins lives. There are other ways to ruin lives. We were never warned about those.

I think Emma’s decision at the end is entirely understandable and as a reader I shared a sense of relief. On one hand, the book does exactly what it sets out to do, but on the other, it overloaded me so much that I wanted it over.

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Book Source: Purchased

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Deceptions

Deceptions is the third book in the Cainsville series and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous books.

Olivia’s ex-fiancĂ© still won’t leave her be. As he continues to try to get between her and Gabriel, she’s still trying to get to the bottom of the truth about her parents. Is it time she faced up to their crimes?

I love the mythology of the Cainsville universe. Olivia’s visions are getting more frequent, and possibly more dangerous, which fill in gaps in the fae’s history. As one elder tells her, she can’t rely on the fae to tell her what’s what, they’re all a bunch of liars looking out for their best interest.

I missed the Matilda of the Night significance until I read the short stories in Led Astray, so I’m not sure if that was just me or if it won’t be so obvious going in. It’s a pretty important part of this third book but the myth is recapped a bit if you’re still clueless.

I was reading quite happily thinking isn’t it nice for a woman with a boyfriend to have such a close male friend with no weird love-triangle going on, but then this Matilda business throws a spanner in the works. The fact that they are reliving an ancient cycle of events suddenly brings into question whether Gabriel is something more to Olivia. The elders have explained that the same decisions aren’t made each cycle, so fate isn’t controlling them, but she doesn’t dismiss it outright.

I’m not quite sure why they’re marketing these as crime, other than that may be a more buoyant market at the moment. If you’re expecting a thrilling mystery escapade, you might be disappointed. It’s more about exploring Olivia, Gabriel and Ricky’s links to the mythology they are wrapped up in, whether they like it or not.

There’s a portion that seems very much a repetition of something that happened in Visions, even so that Olivia actually comments as such. It feels like Kelley is running out of plots which would be a shame as the universe is promising. I did enjoy Deceptions, but it’s not as strong as the first two books in the series, which I loved.

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Book Source: Purchased

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Sorcerer to the Crown

The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers has been responsible for advising the government on the use of magic, and supplying said magic, for centuries. But now the magic in England is fading and the newly appointed Sorcerer Royal is the ideal scapegoat; a freed slave without a familiar who was a mere apprentice to his predecessor.

If I had been relying on reading a sample, in all honesty I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. The faux-Regency style of writing is a little hard to get into if you’re not used to it and the initial characters come across as rather stuffy. Yet if you read on, you see that it is just setting up the world that the brilliant Prunella must endure.

The story really starts to come into its element with the introduction of Mrs. Daubeney's School for Gentlewitches. It is forbidden for women to practice magic, the excuse being that their bodies are too frail to handle its power. Yet there are doubles standards and the working classes household spells are overlooked. Yet those born of status must have the magic sternly taught out of them.

The inmates of every good girls' school are perpetually on the brink of expiring from boredom, and you would stir them up nicely.

Prunella is an orphan brought up by Mrs Daubeney and has taught herself plenty of magic whilst also teaching the opposite at the school. Yet when a potential diplomatic incident breaks out, Prunella grabs her chance to escape to London and make something of her life.

Zacharias comes across a lot older than he is, although maybe this is just the period, where youngsters were considered grown up at a much younger age than they are now. He is also quite formal and hard to warm to, but I could certainly sympathise with his situation. He is fighting against the establishment and their prejudice just as much as Prunella. He just wasn't that great a character and could have done with more development and emotion.

A mix of adventure, pompous society and a splash of humour; it’s a solid debut, with some room for improvement. I reckon if you like books such as Emma Newman’s Split Worlds trilogy and The Invisible Library, this’ll be up your street.

Sorcerer to the Crown is published by Tor and will be available in hardback and ebook editions from 10th September 2015. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

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Also reviewed @ Nocturnal Book 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.