Saturday, 31 October 2015

Barricade

Don't you comprehend by now that they don't feel guilt or pity? Control was built as an incorruptable arbiter, a trustworthy leader...

Kenstibec was engineered to build a new world, designed to work in construction with no human desires to do anything else. Now he is a taxi driver. In a future broken Britain, he takes fares across land no one else would dare go. His latest job; to drive a journalist from the Edinburgh barricade to London, it will prove to be his toughest yet.

Imagine if you set an artificial intelligence the task of protecting your country. Imagine if humans are the biggest threat to that country. Barricade shows us a bleak future where no parameters were set to safeguard the protection of the human race. Once Control had finished protecting the borders, it went to war against the very people who made it.

Told from the perspective of one of the artificial life forms, it soon becomes clear that whilst they look like humans, the Ficials aren’t human. They are lacking emotions and empathy, the destruction of one of their kind, does not register as something they should be upset about. They were not built to care. Flashbacks to Kenstibec’s past reveal several scenarios where they just do not react the same way as us, that we shouldn’t expect them to think like us either.

The introduction of Starvie, a female designed as a pleasure model, worried me a little at first. There is one point where they wish to hand her over as a distraction to be used. Neither her or Kenstibec see this as a problem, it’s what she was made for. Yet in the end, she turns out to be a more complex, kick ass character and does the job of highlighting how different they are. Fatty, their human companion has to become their moral compass, when his is set pretty low to start with.

Our kind is incapable of thinking rationally, or cooperating to solve problems. We were always going to destroy each other, with or without my creation.

The flashbacks also show how the war between Reals and Ficials started and how, in the beginning, there was a goal for something better. Yet the Britain in the pages is diseased and polluted. Fatty is on his last legs, suffering from an illness name Blue Frog which is slowly destroying his body, and turning him blue. Of course, his repulsive state solicits no sympathy from the Ficials.

It’s a brutal future. I loved the world building but it’s not a book that’s easy to read in small portions as it takes a while to get back into it. I would advise on giving yourself some time over to reading it in one go.

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Also reviewed @ For Winter Nights




Book Source: Purchased

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Horrorgami

Horrorgami will keep you occupied for hours, painstakingly cutting and folding 20 horror inspired scenes. Kirigami is a form of origami that includes cutting as well as the better known folding techniques and creates 3D models from a single sheet of card or paper.

I had previously seen photos of Marc’s Horrorgami exhibition, showcasing intricate cut-outs of houses from horror films so I was really excited to give it a go myself. The book contains 20 templates of varying complexity including the castles of Frank-N-Furter and Dracula as well as a Godzilla inspired monster attack on a city skyline.

Cutting out is harder than you think, but like colouring in and puzzles, it’s great to have something really focused that takes your mind off other things. I didn’t have time to try and tackle the harder scenes but I will definitely be giving them a go. This book is not just for Halloween!

The templates are all printed on card of a good weight for folding. The finished pieces will stand up by themselves as well as fold flat. If you wanted to keep the book intact Marc suggests scanning the templates and printing them on 180-220 g/m2 card. I chose to use the card in the book, but it would be possible to lay the finished piece flat to scan it at a later date (though obviously depends on how precise your cutting was).


You will also need a cutting tool (scalpel is recommended but I used a sharp craft knife), metal ruler and a cutting mat. A bone folder is also recommended for scoring, but I just used scissor blades, and toothpicks for poking out bits of card.

Below you can see my attempt at "The Thing under the Stairs". I found the folding instructions for the stairs a bit vague and took a few failed attempts before it clicked into place. However I think once you’ve done a few, and learned the techniques, you could even try making a few templates of your own.


Do check out Mark’s website Paper Dandy to see more examples of his work including some amazing Star Wars scenes.

Horrorgami is published by Laurence King and is available now. Thanks go to Midas PR for providing a copy for review. If you'd like to find out how I do with the other scenes, follow @patchworkbunny on Instagram. Please link to your photos if you've also had a go!

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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, 25 October 2015

Cloud 9

Leata; a small pill that takes the edge off life. Nearly everyone takes it and everyone’s happy. Tom’s father was a journalist investigating a story on Leata when he died; the police confirm it was suicide. His father wasn’t on Leata after all. Tom had never taken it, and consumed with grief he starts following the story to find out what really happened to his father. His next door neighbour, Hope, is one of the faces of Leata and runs a successful blog and YouTube channel, Live Life with Hope, and sees Tom as the perfect project. She will help him see how to live life positively.

With awareness of mental illness rising, it’s not a big stretch of the imagination to see a world where everyone is on mood altering drugs. Yet Leata is not an anti-depressant. There are still people with depression, those that Leata fails on get shipped off to health farms or worse, they just disappear. The happiness has an overly cheery falseness too it. It’s more about fitting in and not doing anything that might upset the balance. And how do you measure happiness if there is no sadness?

The protagonist is a teenage girl who is a YouTube star; the person she presents to the greater world is always happy and perfect. She truly believes that she is important to her fans, it’s her duty to help people be the best they can. Her channel is sponsored by Leata, it’s important that she presents the perfect Leata spokesperson on screen.

I need my followers to see I'm always evolving, growing, embracing life.

In younger generations, YouTube stars have become role models, seemingly leading amazing lives but there being an assumption that YouTubers are somehow more genuine than big media. There’s been plenty of scandals among gaming YouTubers where sponsorship was not disclosed, often at the request of the client. With millions of fans, how down-to-earth do we really expect them to be? Not to mention they are presenting a heavily edited version of their lives, just like any other celebrity.

It’s hard to say what really made this book stand out without revealing a spoiler. It might seem like it’s about a world where everyone is controlled by mind-altering drugs, but I think this idea of marketing infiltrating every part of our lives is paramount.

The truth is all that matters isn't it? Even if it makes people miserable?

Cloud 9 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 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, 20 October 2015

Welcome to Night Vale

That was what the Tourism Board’s new brochures said right on the front (“A town full of hidden evils and the secretly malevolent”).

19-year-old Jackie has been running Night Vale’s pawn store for decades. She is given a piece of paper by a man in a tan jacket holding a deerskin suitcase. On that paper reads the words “King City”. She can’t seem to put the paper down. She can’t seem to write anything other than “King City”. Diane is a single mother raising a shape-shifting teenager, who has started to try and find his biological father. As Diane tries to protect her family unit of two, she keeps running into Jackie and a man no one can remember...

The creators of the popular and surreal podcast, Welcome to Night Vale, now have written a novel of the same name. Full of contradictions and tangents, don’t go into the dog park, the prose has the same quality as the podcast and I found myself reading in Cecil’s voice.

Cecil Palmer spoke of the horrors of everyday life. Nearly every broadcast told a story of impending doom or death, or worse: a long life lived in fruitless fear of doom and death.

Speaking of Cecil, you’ll be happy to know Night Vale Community Radio has its place in the book, with Jackie and Diane’s story interspersed with broadcasts from our favourite presenter. Did he mention Carlos is his boyfriend? You won't get much additional information about him, or the history of Night Vale, but there's plenty of familiar references.

No one knows why science fiction is kept separately from the rest of the nonfiction. Tradition is a powerful thing. These shelves were much less censored than the main nonfiction, since science fiction tended to be about day-to-day stuff that everyone already knew.

With the podcast, they don’t really need to worry about plot and they are short enough to hold your attention with the weirdness. If you were picking up the book without being a fan of the podcast, you might feel you are waiting a bit too long for the main story arc to pick up. I found myself getting Diane and Jackie mixed up in the early parts as their characters aren’t that distinct.

The plot is really just there to hang off the wonderful weirdness of Night Vale and some quite poignant passages. I enjoyed the non-sequiturs myself, but I’d probably suggest trying the podcast first, then the book if it’s your kind of thing. Find out more about Night Vale on their website.

Welcome to Night Vale is published by Orbit and is available now in hardback and ebook editions. There is also an audiobook available narrated by Cecil which I imagine adds to the experience. 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, 18 October 2015

Incoming: GollanczFest Edition

A bit of a bumper crop this week. I attended the fantastic GollanczFest event at London Picadilly yesterday and, as always, hearing some of the authors speak made me change my mind about wanting to read their books. I bought a few in store to get signed and then came back and got a few more in ebook form. Check out their sale as most of the featured authors have ebooks available for £1.99. I also have a couple of review copies from Gollancz for next year too.

I also received my Ninja Book Swap gift from Louise which came with a bunch of cute dinosaur stuff. Then the Moomins book was part of Waterstones' Buy Books for Syria campaign. So basically I got a free book in exchange for a donation.

This is pretty much my last splurge of the year, what with my birthday and Christmas fast approaching, I shouldn't be buying myself stuff. Not to mention I have an awful lot to keep me going (I know, when has that ever stopped me?).

For review:

Horrorgami by Marc Hagan-Guirey (Laurence King)
Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink + Jeffrey Cranor (Orbit)
13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough (Gollancz)
Down Station by Simon Morden (Gollancz)
You and Me, Always by Jill Mansell (Headline)*
Cemetery Girl: Inheritance by Christopher Golden + Charlaine Harris (Jo Fletcher Books)*

Bought:

Saga: Volume 5 by Brian K. Vaughan + Fiona Staples
A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston
Luna by Ian McDonald
Barricade by Jon Wallace
The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard
Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
The Moomins and the Great Flood by Tove Jansson
The Boy with the Porcelain Blade by Den Patrick
The Beauty of Murder by A.K. Benedict
Rawblood by Catriona Ward
The Children Act by Ian McEwan

Gifted:

The Lost and the Found by Cat Clarke



Ninja Book Swap


*Unsolicited titles

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Quickie Reviews: Book Group Edition


The fact that I have spewed my thoughts out to a group of people in person means I rarely feel the urge to write proper reviews of book group reads, but I do have a few comments on what we’ve been reading over the last few months.

First up is Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith, the first thriller to be Booker longlisted. The historical element of this book is top notch and I was drawn into Soviet Russia; its hardships and its hypocrisy. For the first half I felt like I was reading a dystopian novel. I guess we often forget the driving influence behind the first dystopias was indeed the Soviet Union.

What let it down for me was the actual thriller part, which went on too long and involved one too many they got away, oh no they’ve been caught again, scenario. And the connection between it all was just ridiculous.

Then we read The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August which seemed much more up my street straight away. After Harry’s first death, he finds himself reborn with his memories intact. His second life drove him mad. The story jumps back and forth through Harry’s lives and the 20th century, following one man’s efforts to live his life again and again.

There have been a few similar books going around, most notably Life After Life, but overall I enjoyed this take. Rather than trying to change things, Harry meets an organisation that tries to preserve history. Passing messages back in time, Harry receives the warning that the end is coming.

Harry’s voice is excellent, a perfect, slightly tired with life, old man. His age comes through even when he is narrating the parts of his lives where he was younger.

Our latest group read was one I wasn’t looking forward to reading at all, and I must say my bookish spidey sense is spot on. The Girl on the Train just wasn’t my kind of book at all, loathsome characters and a confusing timeline. I had no sympathy for any of them and they included a few of my pet hates. There is more to being a woman than being a wife and mother. Megan is stuck at home bored out of her mind, I cannot fathom how someone cannot find anything to do with their time. If I was a kept woman, I’m pretty sure I could fill the time.

Rachel is driven to alcoholism by the fact she cannot have children and Anna seems to not care about anything other than her child. And the men! God, I can’t say much without spoilers, but this wasn’t a very pleasant reflection on society. Even the one character, Rachel’s housemate, who was “nice” had her niceness portrayed as something negative.

I did like the concept though, the repetition of the daily commute, the glimpses into someone else’s life, if only for a few seconds. I just don’t like this current trend to not only have an anti-hero but to also make everyone else unlikable.

You can find Bournemouth Book Club on Facebook and Goodreads. We're open to new members and meet in a public place once a month. Our next three books are All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, The Children Act by Ian McEwan and I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

When the Professor Got Stuck in the Snow

Professor Richard Dawkins is on his way to lecture the Women’s Institute of Upper Bottom on the non-existence of god when heavy snowfall hits. Stranded in the nearby village of Market Horton, the Professor and his assistant find safe haven with a retired vicar and his wife.

When the Professor Got Stuck in the Snow is both a bit odd and an amusing satire on the old science versus god debate. The silliness of the story highlights how silly people can get when it comes to arguing about each other’s beliefs. It’s also got a cosiness to it, with the various characters of the Bottoms not quite getting what the Professor is talking about or just letting it go over their heads on purpose.

The Professor has done all the experiments, yes all of them. So he knows for certain god doesn’t exist and science is right. No forget that, the Professor is always right. Long suffering assistant Smee idolises him but doesn’t always quite agree. Not that he can let the Professor know if he wants to keep his job.

One cannot beat ridicule and mockery for making someone come around to one's point of view.

Underneath the slapstick and puns, there’s actually some valid points being made. The people of Market Horton are very polite and accepting of the Professor, when he’s rude and obnoxious, pushing his views onto anyone who will listen, and some who clearly will not, but that won’t stop him. If the tables were turned, and someone turned up pushing their religious views onto a stranger, I’m not sure it would be tolerated.

When the Professor finds he is staying with Christians he says his motto is “cordiality always” yet he takes every opportunity to insult them. To enjoy this book you have to take it as tongue-in-cheek. The Professor’s rants get more and more extreme, until he’s lecturing the Christmas-lights-turning-on crowd about infanticide. All they really wanted was for the kids to see Mr Tumble.

When the Professor Got Stuck in the Snow is published by Aadvark Bureau 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, 8 October 2015

Silence is Goldfish

Tess has always wanted to please her dad, so she’s tried so hard to fit in for his sake. When she reads six hundred and seventeen words of truth on his laptop, her world is turned upside down. Her family’s lied to her and she doesn’t know who she is any more. Face to face with her father’s lies, Tess chooses to stay silent, and not just with his secret. She chooses to stop speaking altogether.

I loved Annabel Pitcher’s previous books, Ketchup Clouds and My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, and I do think she is an excellent writer, but I have mixed feelings about Silence is Goldfish.

Some of what Tess goes through is understandable. She’s just discovered her dad isn’t her biological father; the man she once idolises is now a stranger in her mind. She chooses silence as a form of rebellion. As the story progresses she starts to see his faults, the ones he probably always had but children don’t usually notice about her parents. But now Tess is determined to find her father, projecting her fantasy father figure onto a teacher.

They might not be able to hear them, but there are words, thousands of them, flurrying about beneath the surface like flakes in a snow globe, hurling themselves noiselessly against the glass.

I wish I knew the difference between selective and elective mutism before I decided to read this as Tess’s silence really started to grate on me. Elective mutism is no longer recognised by psychiatrists, however selective mutism is triggered by trauma and/or anxiety. Tess has just chosen not to speak and continues her protest even when she doubts herself.

It’s pretty frustrating at times knowing Tess isn’t going to stand up for herself or even just be polite. And it’s hard to feel sorry for her when it’s a conscious choice she’s made. In place of real dialogue, Tess has conversations in her head with Mr Goldfish, the fish shaped torch she bought when she was planning on running away. It’s not clear throughout whether Tess is actually hallucinating or if she’s aware she’s talking to an inanimate object.

That's how bad things have got, like I'm envious of a tree where Jedi has definitely peed six thousand times at a conservative estimate. At least the tree knows where it stands. It has a sense of place. It's fixed. Attached. And I am lost.

Tess never makes it to her appointment with a mental health specialist. I think it’s a bit vague on the subject of mental health overall; Tess is mostly portrayed as bringing it on herself but then there are little tells that suggest she’s not OK. She goes to Mr Goldfish for comfort, clicking his switch on and off repeatedly, a sign of anxiety. And that’s not even taking into account the talking torch…

There is one wonderful passage which really is more of a lesson that Jack learns; why is normal not good enough for people any more? We are living in a rat race to be the best at everything, to live glamourous, successful lives, when we could be happy with being safe, loved and comfortable.

Silence is Goldfish is published by Indigo, an imprint of Orion, and is available now in hardback 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.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

The Potion Diaries

The Princess of Nova knows she must marry soon, or her magic with overcome her. She makes an illegal love potion intended for her chosen. Unfortunately, she accidentally drinks the potion herself and falls in love…with herself. Oops! With the kingdom under threat, the race is on to find the cure, calling all alchemists to an age old tradition of the Wild Hunt. Winner takes all.

The Potion Diaries was loads of fun. I was happy to see a fairyland world with some technological advancements. However in this world, instead of taking drugs to cure all ills, the people take potions. Once hand crafted by alchemists like the Kemi family, now large corporations make synthetic potions for half the price. Big Pharma exists in this world in the form of companies like ZoroAster, the leaders in synthetic potions.

It’s an underdog story, old craft versus new business models and a reflection of modern society but really adventure is the main ingredient. With a sprinkling of love, of course. Samantha Kemi is our young alchemist, carrying on the once famous family name in their shop which is struggling to survive. The Wild Hunt is her chance to save the business, with both fame and fortune being the reward, as well as saving the Princess of course.

There is also a love interest. It just so happens the boy Samantha has liked from afar for years was around when the Princess was poisoned. He’s also her rival in the hunt, can they possibly remain friends or does he just want to use her for her potion skills?

I loved the different elements of the potion. Each ingredient is rare and the alchemists must go to great length to source them. Their properties reflect the nature of what they came from and there’s a reason love potions have been banned…

So if you want a different kind of fairy story, I highly recommend The Potion Diaries, which is published under the alterntive title of Madly in the US.

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Also reviewed @ A Dream of Books




Book Source: Purchased

Saturday, 3 October 2015

After You

After You is the sequel to Me Before You and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous book.

Lou made a promise to Will, a promise to live. Yet after a couple of years’ travelling, she’s living in a barely furnished flat and working in an airport bar, watching the world around her move on. It’s not the life Will imagined for her. Then a teenage girl walks into her life, with something to tell her. She gives Lou a new found responsibility. Or perhaps just another excuse not to grab a new life with both hands…

Perhaps all freedom - physical, personal - only came at the cost of somebody or something else.

Unlike the thousands that begged for a sequel, I was content (happy is not the right word to use) with Lou and Will’s story ending. I was a bit sceptical when I heard about After You but of course I had to read it. I don’t think anything can quite capture the magic and raw emotion of Me Before You, but I did enjoy revisiting the characters.

The plot is a bit meandering but it follows Lou a few years on when people are starting to think she should be moving on. It looks at ongoing grief from different angles, from Will’s family to those she meets in her grief counselling group. It’s not about the immediate, strong emotions, but living with a loss, that will never completely leave you, long term. It only slightly touches on the impact of being involved with an assisted suicide.

There was a peculiar scent to grief. It smelt of damp, imperfectly ventilated church halls and poor-quality teabags. It smelt of meals for one and stale cigarettes, smoked hunched against the cold. It smelt of spritzed hair and armpits, little practical victories against a morass of despair.

The introduction of Lily was useful to allow Lou to revisit her memories, put her back in touch with Will’s family and also learn a little more about him. Despite being told to live by Will, Lou is still struggling to live her life to the full. Her fear of change is keeping her in a dead end job, anxiety keeping her in something that pays the bills at least, rather than venturing out into the unknown. Lou’s a fantastic character that I think many readers can relate to.

There were unexpected moments when I was reading and would just tear up over little things. It makes you wonder if you can grieve for fictional characters. There’s plenty of evidence which suggests we temporarily experience genuine emotions as we feel what characters feel, at least in a good book. So many of us were broken by the ending of Me Before You after all.

My name would be tied to his for as long as there were pixels and a screen. People would form judgements about me, based on the most cursory knowledge - or sometimes no knowledge at all - and there was nothing I could do about it.

Lou’s mum’s discovery of feminism didn’t seem connected to the rest of the story and appeared to be more for comic effect than to make a valid point. She has been living in a traditional wife and mother role all her life; how do you deal with a husband you love that just can’t accept the change? Mr Clark gets the raw deal out of his portrayal and I think it’s a subject that deserved something more than just being an aside.

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Also reviewed @ Random Things Through My Letterbox | So many books, so little time




Book Source: Purchased