Thursday, 31 December 2015

Top Ten 2015

Whilst most of these were published in 2015, this is really a list of my favourite books that I read this year. My average rating for 2015 is 3.8 which I take as an excellent sign. I did try to read more older books with mixed results. It's nice to be involved in the buzz around new books and I feel I missed out a bit. You can view my "Year in Books" on Goodreads.

So, without further ado, here's my top ten for 2015, in no particular order:



The Hunter's Kind by Rebecca Levene
All Involved by Ryan Gattis




The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
All of the Above by James Dawson




One by Sarah Crossan
Carrying Albert Home by Homer Hickam




Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller
The Day We Disappeared by Lucy Robinson




On the Beach by Neville Shute
Trouble by Non Pratt

HAPPY NEW YEAR!
May you be blessed with many excellent books in 2016.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Top Ten Most Anticipated

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

This is my Top Ten Most Anticipated Releases For The First Half of 2016, although I haven't done loads of research into new releases lately, so I'm probably missing some good 'uns. These have made it onto my wishlist so far (links go to Goodreads for more info).



False Hearts + Masquerade by Laura Lam

Laura gets two books on this list. I'm looking forward to finding out what her "bonkers book" is like but also really excited that Micah Grey's story is finally continuing.
Two formerly conjoined sisters are ensnared in a murderous plot involving psychoactive drugs, shared dreaming, organized crime, and a sinister cult.



Eleanor by Jason Gurley
When Eleanor's reality begins to unravel, she starts to lose her grip on time itself, slipping from the present into strange other lands where she's in danger of losing herself altogether.

The cover first drew me to this, then the fact that it shares my proper name (spelled correctly), so when I found out that it was also about ripples in time, it went straight on my wishlist.

The Detective and the Devil by Lloyd Shepherd

I've thoroughly enjoyed Lloyd's historical fiction with a hint of supernatural in the past. This is the 4th book featuring Constable Horton and deals with the East India Company.



Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston
In every class, there’s a star cheerleader and pariah pregnant girl. They’re never supposed to be the same person.

I love the title. It's the tale of a star cheerleader whose drink is spiked at a party and her status changes very quickly. I don't think there's a UK release for this yet, but I'm sure I can get my hands on a US copy.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere... else.

I love Seanan's books, under both her names. This one is about a home for children who stumbled into magical lands and returned. What a lovely idea; they're clearly not going to come back and just fit right back into boring, normal life.



City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong

I was surprised how much I enjoyed Kelley's standalone YA thriller, The Masked Truth, so was please to see she has a standalone adult thriller comingout next year too. The blurb does sound a little Cainsville but I think this is non-supernatural.

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

I loved Solitaire and was so surprised at the quality of writing for such a young author, I can't wait to see what she does next.



Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Sounds utterly heart-breaking. Based on a true story from the Second World War. When the German ship the Wilhelm Gustloff was sunk in port in early 1945 it had over 9000 civilian refugees, including children, on board. Nearly all were drowned.

Long Dark Dusk by J.P. Smythe

It wouldn't be a proper list without some Smythe and a little bird thinks I will definitely like this one. It's the sequel to Way Down Dark if you haven't read it already, get prepared.

I've realised I've not included any of the 2016 books I already have to review but I am looking forward to them. Maybe it's harder to feel anticipation when they are already sat there, calling to me! Special mentions to:

Down Station by Simon Morden
13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough
Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
This is Where the World Ends by Amy Zhang
The Ballroom by Anna Hope
The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood

Which books are you most looking forward to next year?

Monday, 28 December 2015

The Masked Truth

Riley Vasquez and Max Cross each have their own problems but neither of them wants to be shipped off to a residential therapy camp. Events take a turn for the worse when three masked men break in, holding the teenagers hostage to extort money out of the richest of them. With the door locked tight, troubled kids kept captive and guns don’t mix. When the deaths start, Riley and Max must turn to each other if they’re to survive.

The Masked Truth is a really strong YA thriller. Behind a lot of Kelley’s fantasy novels have been a core mystery or thriller plot and I was excited to read something that she described as a bit different from her normal stuff.

So often in thrillers, the schizophrenic is painted as the bad guy, the bogey monster or someone who we should pity but be wary of. Here he is one of the good guys but it also demonstrates how people are prejudiced towards the illness. You hide it because you don’t wanted to be treated like a dangerous person but when people find out they blame you for lying.

It was clever to leave Max’s narrative in third person whilst Riley’s is in first person. Max would have been an unreliable narrator telling the course of events himself. When others doubt what happened, the reader doesn’t. We’re led down the path of injustice rather than suspicion.

But it's not whining. It's guilt. Horrible, suffocating guilt, because I lived and the Porter's didn't.

The other main character is suffering from PTSD and survivor’s guilt. She suffers from flashbacks, freezing up, and she can barely get a rest from her thoughts telling herself she should have done more. She hates it when she’s called a hero because she thinks her act of bravery was cowardice. When is reality there was nothing she could have done to save

The overnight therapy weekend seemed a bit odd; why would you put a bunch of troubled teens together in a confined space? And the therapists were a bit rubbish, not appearing to handle the inevitable interactions in a manner that seemed sensible to me. Yet it all eventually comes together.

The timeline confused me a little too. At first it was as if they’d all just met but later on it comes out that they had known each other longer. Maybe they were doing these group sessions every week? Maybe the weekend thing was a one off.

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Book Source: Purchased

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Incoming!

I hope you're all enjoying your holidays and eating loads of lovely food. My Christmas present books have been of a more practical nature this year. Yes, I'm counting dinosaur origami as practical. We'll be testing out the tapas book next week and I'll be preparing for the apocalypse with The Knowledge. On the non-books front I got a herb chopper, cute taco trucks (taco stands), cactus oven gloves, an "impossible" minions jigsaw puzzle, Chambord, Mr Happy mug and some mad Spongebob socks. I also have a bunch of Etsy vouchers to spend.

In amongst our joint presents there was also The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart which I forgot to include in the photo. Combines two of my interests, books and booze!

Not that impressed with online sales offerings this year, but I did grab three ebooks yesterday in a small nod to consumerism.


For Review:

Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Hodder & Stoughton)
This is Where the World Ends by Amy Zhang (HarperCollins)
The Ballroom by Anna Hope (Transworld)
The Last Kiss Goodbye by Tasmina Perry (Headline)*

Gifted:

The Knowledge by Lewis Dartnell
Tapas Revolution by Omar Allibhoy
Dinogami by Mari Ono + Hiroaki Takai
The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart

Bought:

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Authority by Jeff Vandermeer
Mr Mercedes by Stephen King



*Unsolicited titles

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

When I Was Me

Ella wakes up one Monday morning and her bed is in the wrong place. In fact her whole room is wrong. Yet she’s still at home. Her hair is longer and her clothes are not her style at all. Her mum’s hair is grey. She appears to be a completely different Ella with a whole life she can’t remember. Yet she still remembers the Ella she used to be. Which one is real?

I liked the concept of When I Was Me; what if you woke up one day and your life was different? You’re still you but nothing else is quite right? Ella starts to question her sanity; she was told she was in a car crash, so maybe she hit her head harder than everyone thought? Or maybe she’s living a life that could have been. One decision can change everything…

It makes you think about identity and what makes us who we are. Teenagers are going through a huge period of change, friends come and go and it does sometimes feel like they have changed into another person overnight.

Ella’s amazingly self-centred and a tad arrogant. I think her character’s pretty realistic but I did find myself getting annoyed with her. What if it was a body swap where the other Ella would eventually return to find stuff had been done to her? Changing your hair and clothes is one thing, but there were other things that felt a bit wrong. Ella never considers this at all.

The truth is, I have already lived many lives in my lifetime; there have already existed more versions of me than I can count. I have been constantly changing, little by little, cell by cell, pore by pore. All these other transformations were so slow I simply didn't notice them happening.

I’m not sure she’s the brightest spark either. I can understand being confused and disorientated, but even once she’s got the hang of the fact her life is different, she still goes around expecting everyone else is going to be the same. After the first few mistakes, it gets a bit tiring and predictable. On one hand, it’s going to be hard to separate her feelings from the new reality, but a bit of common sense would have been nice.

I want to avoid spoilers but I found where Ella is led at the end a bit on the icky side. It felt like taking advantage of a disturbed young woman but I suppose it depends how you read it. I did like the fact that there are multiple endings, different ways the story could go. Each one shows a different choice she could have made and a different path. Maybe they are all the dimensions that were created at the end.

When I Was Me 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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Also reviewed @ Page to Stage Reviews




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

Saturday, 19 December 2015

The Great Christmas Knit Off

If being left at the altar wasn’t bad enough, Sybil’s fiancée left her for her twin sister. She’s so distracted at work, she believes she’s made the biggest cock-up and flees to the country to visit her best friend. Completely unprepared, the locals take pity on Sybs and take her in. Whilst staying in Tindledale, she soon discovers Hettie’s House of Haberdashery, a shop in need of a helping hand and a bit of modernisation, with the elderly owner struggling financially. It’s serendipity that Sybs has always dreaming of running a knitting business.

I loved the heart-warming message behind The Great Christmas Knit Off. Whilst many of these festive books focus on romance, this sees a community banding together to help an old lady out of financial difficulty, but without doing anything to make her feel embarrassed.

It might be far-fetched for a stranger to take so much interest in a stranger but Sybil and Hettie bond over their love of knitting. Once the locals see someone doing something practical to help her out, they are all eager to join in. I’m not sure people would be willing to give up s much time for free, but it’s the kind of fuzzy book that you just have to not think too hard about.

There’s a hint of a romantic story too. Sybs is quite expectedly burnt by her experience with Luke, who even left her with the bill for the Star Wars themed wedding that never happened. On her train journey to Tindledale someone leaves her an invitation to call written on a newspaper and she’s sure it must be the handsome man whose muffin was nearly eaten by her dog.

There’s plenty of false starts and a gentle bit of romance, but the main focus is Sybs refinding her confidence whilst creating a Christmas miracle for one old lady. It’s sad to think there are people in the world more interested in the inheritance than making sure their relatives are happy.

It’s set in December in a snow filled village and there’s plenty of Christmas jumpers being knitted. So I would give this a big thumbs up if you’re looking for a light festive read for the holidays.

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Also reviewed @ I Heart Chick Lit | Reading in the Sunshine




Book Source: Purchased

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Extraordinary Means

Latham House is a school for sick teens; those diagnosed with the now incurable tuberculosis. They are given a chance to recuperate and continue their studies but Lane doesn’t want to ease off. He wants his life back, with his achievements and his girlfriend. Sadie has been at Latham for years, never well enough to leave or ill enough to succumb completely to the disease.

Where I once was, there was now an active case of TB. Everything who I was and who I wanted to be had been evicted to make room for the disease.

Extraordinary Means plays on the idea of the Victorian sanatorium, reinventing them for a not too distant future. Victorians believed that rest and fresh air were the best things for consumption and not having the drugs to treat it, this wasn’t too bad an idea. It at least quarantined the ill.

Here children are shipped off to a boarding school for those diagnosed with TB. They are encouraged to lead a stress-free lifestyle and are not pressured in classes. In some ways the dynamics are like so many school settings, but the children have been abruptly taken away from the lives they know and they are cut off from the world. And then there’s the possibility they may never leave.

Lane is a straight-A student determined to keep up his academic achievements whilst he’s at Latham House. Initially floundering, he defaults to hanging out with the religious kids, yet he is drawn to another group, one that seems to know how to live in this restricted world.

And Latham wasn't just a lack of freedom, but a lack of privacy.

I equally liked Lane and Sadie’s narratives. The misunderstandings weren’t overly drawn out and I wanted them to be friends. I wanted them to get a chance outside the walls of Latham. It touches a little on the prejudice they would face in the outside world should they recover. I would have liked it go to into more detail on this but maybe there will be a sequel…

TB is actually on the increase as people stop vaccinating thinking it’s a disease long dead and forgotten. So the scenario isn’t too far-fetched. The over-prescription of antibiotics has led to many drug resistant strains of bacteria, tuberculosis could so easily be one of them given a new outbreak.

Latham had reinvented us. Made us more offbeat, more interesting, more noticeable than we would have been anywhere else.

I feel a bit nitpicky here but as a bit of background, Robyn gives a few examples of diseases coming back. Spanish flu did not come back as swine flu. The Spanish flu triggered a cytokine storm which made strong immune systems attack themselves, thus being deadly to the population usually spared from seasonal flu. Swine flu was just a regular flu, which does kill lots of already weakened people, but it was not the same thing. We had plenty of cases of swine flu at work and people just had some time off work feeling shit and drinking Lemsip.

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Book Source: Purchased

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

The Penguin Lessons

When Tom Michell takes a teaching job in Argentina, he hopes to see the world, despite reservations from his friends and family back home. Yet whilst on his travels he comes across an oil-slicked beach in Uruguay, and a swathe of dead penguins. In amongst the horror is one lone, living penguin. Against all common sense he takes the bird back to his friends’ luxury apartment. Once clean, the little bird refuses to leave him, leaving Tom with an unlikely pet. One he must now smuggle across the border and into school…

The Penguin Lessons is a mix of memoir and travel writing, with an adorable penguin at the centre. I was struck by the apparent intelligence of Juan Salvador. When Tom first rescues the penguin, he struggles as you would expect a wild animal to. Yet as soon as Tom starts cleaning the oil off his feathers, he settles down and overs his wings as if helping. It’s like he was aware of what Tom was doing. And the rest of the book has plenty more examples of this potential awareness, even if Tom himself admits to anthropomorphising him at times.

I was hoping against hope that the penguin would survive because, as of that instant, he had a name, and with his name came the beginning of a bond that would last a lifetime.

If you’re expecting a book just filled with cute penguin anecdotes, you may be disappointed. However I enjoyed the travel writing aspects as well. Set during the 1970s in Argentina, Tom is working at a private school where he lives with Juan Salvador. In this time, there is a lot of political upheaval in the country and his time there touches a little on it. It was also fascinating to read about the hyperinflation. When he first arrived he was given money and told to spend it all at once on things to trade as the money could become worthless overnight.

Tom also spends some time travelling around South America, which was how he first came across Juan Salvador in Uruguay. He details some time spent living with gauchos, Argentine cowboys, and a trip down to a penguin colony. He also learns how it’s best not to mention the Falklands if you’re English…


The book contains cute illustrations by Neil Baker between chapters. In the absense of any remaining photographic evidence, I like to think they capture the penguin's personality.

I learnt a little about penguins that I didn’t know, but probably more about Argentina. Overall it’s a charming little book, even if Tom does come across as a certain generation of posh, Englishman now and then. Yet he did seem to show genuine affection towards the cleaning staff and some of the less fortunate boys at the school.

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Book Source: Purchased