Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Geek Girl: Sunny Side Up

How did Harriet Manners - Destroyer of International Fashion Shows, Knocker-Over of Models, Sitter-Downer on Catwalks and Compiler of Compound Nouns - get selected to participate in Paris Couture Fashion Week?

Yay, another Geek Girl, albeit a bite-sized novella! Sunny Side Up is the second Geek Girl special and sits between All That Glitters and Head Over Heels. I had read the latest earlier this year so I was a bit confused about timelines at first but really, it doesn't matter. There's no real earth-shattering series points happening, but it is loads of fun.

Harriet and Wilbur are off to Paris Fashion Week and Harriet hopes to get some time with her agent, but of course she's not the only girl he has to manoeuvre through the streets of Paris. Can Harriet actually be trusted by herself for once?

My main knowledge of fashion shows comes from Next Top Model, but actually some of the set-ups seemed really familiar to what's been on the show in the past. I loved that one of Harriet's cock-ups actually turns out beneficial for a friend and she also gets to meet a familiar face from the past.

Sunny Side Up is published by HarperCollins and hits the shelves tomorrow, in hardback and ebook formats. 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, 28 June 2016

Win Hope and Red!

In a fracturing empire spread across savage seas, two people find a common cause.

HOPE, the lone survivor of a village massacred by the emperor's forces, is secretly trained as a warrior and instrument of vengeance.

RED, an orphan adopted by a notorious matriarch of the criminal underworld, learns to be an expert thief and con artist.

Together they will take down an empire.

I have a spare copy of this new fantasy from Jon Skovron to give away to one lucky reader. Open to Europe only (yes, that includes the UK), entry is via the Rafflecopter below.

Monday, 27 June 2016

The Hidden Oracle

Apollo has upset Zeus again, he’s just not sure why. Cast down to earth as a mortal teenage boy, Apollo must find a way to get back his godly powers, and looks, perhaps he needs to serve a demigod for a year or two. When street urchin Meg saves him from an otherwise certain pummelling, the two make their way to Camp Half-Blood to get to the bottom of what’s really going on.

I absolutely loved Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series but had never got round to reading the follow up, Heroes of Olympus series. So when I saw there was a new series set in the same world, I was excited to give it a go without feeling the need to catch up, so to speak. Unfortunately, I felt The Hidden Oracle was very much a follow on from the other books and it seemed like I was missing information in places. It also contains spoilers for those Heroes of Olympus books if you haven’t read them.

The idea of Apollo falling to earth in a mortal teenage boy’s body was a good one and the story is narrated by Apollo which gives a bit of a different point of view. But I didn’t feel all that attached or sympathetic towards him. He’s a bit of a self-entitled whiner, and his self-discovery that he’s not all that likeable was a bit clichéd.

Maybe the thing that really didn’t work for me was the fact that Apollo is thousands of years old and quite wise to the world but he’s narrating a book for children. So he’s not quite got the voice of the teenage boy he has become, but he’s not convincing as a god either. This is probably less of a problem for the book’s target audience.

Exercise is nothing more than a depressing reminder that one is not a god.

I mean, there’s loads of fun, because this is a Rick Riordan book. Yet it was lacking all those wonderful mythology in jokes from the Percy Jackson days. I would have liked a bit more inkling to what Apollo had done and some development towards him becoming a god again. I guess Rick must be planning on keeping him mortal for the whole “Trials of Apollo” series though.

If you like haiku, each chapter starts with one. Although they are of varying quality and humour as Apollo has also lost his godly poetry skills too.

The Hidden Oracle is published by Puffin and is out 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.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

This Savage Song

Twelve years since the Phenomenon, when violence started taking shape, and V-City fell apart.

Six years since the truce that put it back together, not as one city, but two.

Kate Harker and August Flynn come from powerful, rival families on opposite sides of a city divided. Where the worst deeds carried out by men literally create monsters, the citizens look to these families for protection. Kate has bounced from school to school, finding new ways to be expelled. All she wants is to return home, prove her father that she is a worthy daughter. And August? He is one of those monsters, created by the worst kind of crime.

This Savage Song is a promising start to the Monsters of Verity series, setting up a world in which violent crime manifests itself in monsters. There are three different types, each created by different types of crime; Malchai, Corsai and Sunai. The Malchai and Corsai didn’t seem all that different, both vampiresque, but the Sunai is the one we learn most about, as that is what August is, although he wishes he were human.

It does take a while to get into, there’s a lot of information about the world to introduce. It didn’t feel like one of those books where it wouldn’t matter if you hadn’t picked up on the context of the world. Once I got into it though, I really enjoyed it and I think it has plenty of mileage as a series. I would have liked a more gradual, and therefore maybe mysterious, introduction.

The Sunai are created out of acts of violence which result in the loss of multiple lives. You would think the worst crimes would create the worst monsters, but August and his siblings seem more like the judicial system of the monsters. They feed off sin with music that steals the soul. If they don’t feed, well you’ll learn what happens.

Kate is the daughter of the criminal boss of one side of the city, the one that is supposedly safer, but only if you’re under his protection. She isn’t under any illusion that her father is a good man, but the truth is harder than even she expected. There’s plenty of that classic YA theme about discovering truth and the realisation that family are flawed people too.

He’d been talking about monsters, not teenagers, but they had a lot in common. Both had hive minds; they thought – and acted – in groups.

August is sent to school to get close to Kate but this is not a romance. I started the book expecting to feel like one party had been used, but a reluctant friendship, of sorts, forms between the two. On one hand is a daughter who wants to get on the good side of a criminal father, the other is a monster created through sin, but somehow you end up rooting for both of them.

This Savage Song is published by Titan 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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Also reviewed @ A Daydreamer's Thoughts

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.

Monday, 20 June 2016

The Last One

I loved the concept of The Last One; what if you were taking part in a reality show and something happened to the outside world, something big, and you were oblivious? What if you assumed everything you heard was just part of the show? The very first page shows the reader something Zoo doesn’t, that a deadly disease takes down the production crew; that the contestants are on their own.

The chapters alternate between the filming of the show, In the Dark, and the present from the perspective of one contestant, named Zoo by the producers. She’s not on the show for the money but instead she wants one last adventure, one last bit of irresponsibility, before she settles down and starts a family, a family she’s not sure she’s ready for. We learn a little about her background, but not much, and it focuses mostly on how happy she and her husband are, how much they love each other. In the reader’s mind, there’s the constant reminder that he could be dead and she wouldn’t know.
Hours and hours of walking; who has the patience for so much walking? It's unwatchable. All that walking, all that struggle, condensed into a single subtitle: HOURS LATER.

The narrative from the production company’s point of view highlights a lot of what is fake about reality TV. They choose personas for the contestants and edit the footage to maintain them, even if they stray far from their original selves. In these chapters, the characters are referred to by nicknames, based on their occupations, further dehumanising them and emphasising those personas. They are playing a part, even if they don’t know it.

In the early chapters the producers seem obsessed with appearance. More time is taken in describing what they look like than who they are, in contrast to Zoo’s descriptions which use their real names. The cast is diverse but in an engineered way that makes sure they tick all the boxes. They bring in Waitress to be the red head, but also play the bimbo character. There are hints that another character is there partly for looks.

Honestly, the use of present tense for the entire book didn’t really work for me. I struggled to get into the style at first and it irks me a bit that despite the narrative going back and forward in time, it’s always present tense. I mean it kind of worked for the production company in the way that it could have been like stage directs, explaining what’s happening as it’s happening. There’s one particular scene near the end where it was put to good use, but overall it just jarred a little.

You might think our protagonist is a bit slow on the uptake, convinced that everything going on around her is a construct of the show. I was about to get annoyed with her until I remembered some experiments Derren Brown did, how people can be manipulated into believing something’s real, even something they believe is impossible. Taken from Zoo’s point of view, she thought she was in a TV show that some felt had already crossed the line in terms of taste, where reality and staging combine. It was known to be a big budget show, she can be given for assuming everything is there to create a narrative.

Are there enough people left for the proper nouns of history to matter?

Considering how little we know about some of the characters, I became surprisingly attached to them. It gives you plenty to think about, how we perceive people on TV but also what would our reactions to an actual apocalypse be? Have we become so blasé about seeing it in fiction, would be believe it if it happened?

The Last One is published by Michael Joseph and will be available in hardback and ebook editions from 14th July 2016. 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.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Lazarus: Family

I hadn’t reached my graphic novel quota on the last day of May so I delved into my Humble Bundle hodgepodge of comics for something quick and pulled out the first volume of Lazarus, story by Greg Rucka and art by Michael Lark. It contains the first four issues and a “short” although it seemed to be a very short volume compared to others I’ve read. By the time I got into it, it was over and I felt a bit disappointed.

The world-building isn’t handed to you on a plate, which is fine (and usually good) but it did mean I didn’t quite get all the references. In a near-future, the world is run by “families”. It was unclear to me if they’re actual families or constructed. Forever is part of the Carlyle family, who don’t seem all that nice yet she fawns over her father, assumingly the head of the family.

What makes Forever different is that she’s a Lazarus. She cannot be killed and therefore she is used to handle the family’s dirty work. Yet the other members of her family don’t appear to want her around.

I don’t feel I read enough to get a good feeling of the series, which is something I would expect from a bind-up volume. I thought it had potential… yet I would worry that Forever’s daddy issues might grate, but they could do something interesting with it.

If you fancy this series, then I would be inclined to suggest getting more than one volume to start off. I might pick up volume two at some point, but a few weeks on from finishing, I’m not as tempted to buy another as I was when I was in the midst of reading. If you’ve read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts on whether it’s worth continuing!

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Book Source: Purchased

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

Well, Quiet was quite an illuminating read. I read most of this thinking this is me. We introverts have long been thought of as being something less than our extroverted peers, living under what this book explains as the Extrovert Ideal. In work and social life, we are expected to outgoing, team players. That awkwardness you feel when you’re asked what you’re doing at the weekend and you have a lovely two days of peace and quiet but you think your colleagues won’t understand? That’s the Extrovert Ideal at work. Life expects us to be extroverts.

However this lovely book shows the positive side of introverts; all that we can achieve if we are just left to be who we are, and how we cope in a world not set up for us. It highlights that it is a spectrum of personalities rather than black or white, shows how both nature and nurture shape who we become. It’s crazy to think that introverts can be identified when they are babies (they are, ironicaly, the noisier ones) although that does not mean they will be shy children.

In fact, introverts have a huge capacity for empathy and will likely be the kind of friends that people treasure. And there’s always the introverts that learn to fake it, so many people just find it easier to have a work or social persona when required, and then in their personal lives, they get to have that all important down time.

One of the key differences between the two personalities is how we feel after a day full of interacting with people. Extroverts will feel energised by this, wanting to carry on the feeling, whilst introverts will feel drained and just want some quiet time alone. Introverts are just more sensitive to stimuli and this is just how our brains work. I found the brain bits fascinating and it all makes perfect sense.

If personal space is vital to creativity, so is freedom from peer pressure.

There’s a little bit of self-help in places too, that won’t just help introvert readers but also people managers and parents could learn a lot from this book. There’s a fair amount that revolves around business, as work is such a huge part of adult life, but it explains so well why some jobs just don’t feel right. Then there’s the part that looks at why some people take bigger risks…and how that’s linked to extroverted behaviour. Most importantly, the book emphasises how a mix of both types makes the world, and businesses, work smoother.

There are a few examples of successful extroverts throughout the book, from Wozniak to Einstein as well as some of the author’s acquaintances (and the author herself). Interestingly, Josh had recently read How to Win Friends and Influence People, and Dale Carnegie is cited as a possible catalyst for the Extrovert Ideal in America, despite him being a natural introvert. He changed his personality and created a generation of charming, out-going salespeople with his training and writing.

Introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man's world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are.

It’s all from a very American perspective, but we are very heavily influenced in business matters, as well as cultural, by the US over here. Even though Europeans are repeatedly called extroverts, it doesn’t take into account the cultural differences between different countries. I would say Britain probably falls somewhere between Asia and America on the spectrum. Just look at the Very British Problems Twitter account, so much of that is introverted behaviour, and we all nod at it.

I did finish the book feeling I understood the American psyche a little better, but also I now know so much more about extroverts, the people who have always seemed a little alien to me. Perhaps I will be better able to manage my behaviour around them as well as talking them round to the introverted way of doing things now and then. I am also super grateful that I have ended up in a workplace that values introverts.

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Book Source: Purchased

Sunday, 5 June 2016

False Hearts

This is the first time I have ever been alone.
Taema and Tila spent their whole childhoods together, joined at the heart, but when they are separated, more than their bodies go different ways. Taema works hard at her respectable job, delving into the technology she was denied as a child, and Tila works as a hostess, her life brushing against the criminal underbelly of San Francisco. In a world where murder is almost non-existent, when Tila turns up at Taema’s apartment covered in blood, with the police hot on her tail, Taema must learn more about her sister’s world in order to save her.

If you love cyberpunk but find it often lacks an emotional side, get yourself a copy of False Hearts. Whilst writing the book, Laura referred to it as her “bonkers book” but whilst there’s a lot going on, it isn’t particularly weird or illogical. Like all good titles, the false hearts are both literal, when the twins are separated they are given mechanical hearts, and also symbolic. In short, I loved it!

The narrative is shared between the twins, Taema getting the present and Tila describes their past in the cult of Mana’s Hearth. Both were captivating stories in their own right, but of course they intertwine with each other. The link between the two, with the exception of the twins, was quite clear to me early on but not the full extent. It definitely didn’t hamper the page turning quality of the story.

These days, so many men and women work all alone, connected to their wallscreens and their small, cramped apartments. They don't seem to understand how to make real friends, or maybe they want some who are a bit less... complicated.

The cult rejects post-1969 technology. It’s a huge contrast to the world they find themselves in after they have been separated. It’s an interesting area to explore in fiction, are we better off with or without technology, has it gone too far. I would have loved to have read more about the cult and their reasoning for living a more simple life but I readily admit it wouldn’t have fit with the narrative and would have slowed the whole thing down.

As Taema starts to live Tila’s life, the cyberpunk side comes out more. It’s common practice to use drugs to enhance dreams, interacting with their implants, plugging in to live out fantasies and purge negative urges. This is the reason the murder rate is so low, after using the drug violent desires are dampened. They carry out the violence in their dreams, in a situation that feels real, then they wake up and get on with their lives. Some people get addicted to this, but Tila and Taema’s upbringing means the drug has little effect on them. But there’s a new drug in town, one that might not be so good for society.

There hasn't been a murder by a civilian in San Francisco in years. Not since Pacifica was formed after the United States fractured forty years ago. Not since VeriChips and implants and cameras on every corner.

The UK hardback edition is super sexy, with a brushed steel effect metallic cover (designed by Neil Lang) and contrasting red sprayed edges. It’s definitely one I’ll be buying a finished copy of when it’s out. False Hearts is published by Tor and will be available in hardback and ebook editions on 16th June 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.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

The Month That Was... May 2016

+ International Giveaway

Gah, buying a house is stressful! We have a moving date now, so things on the blog will likely be a bit quiet for a while. We are moving to the edge of the New Forest, into a little two bed house, with a garden. Which will be a lovely change from being stuck in a one bed flat. Although we are moving a little bit further away from the beach. I'm kinda excited about arranging my I go for colour or something more practical?

I didn't quite finish my non-fiction book for May and I only just snuck in a short comic bind-up to count towards my graphic novel reading. But I guess I have good excuses! Reading Quiet whilst things have been so hectic has really struck home about how introverted I am (and as the book says, this is not a bad thing).

I'm running this month's giveaway a little longer to make sure it ends after we've settled in (and hopefully have the broadband sorted). it's open internationally and you can choose one of the books I reviewed in May (a nice new copy, not a dog-eared one). You don't have to follow to enter but you can gain extra entries if you'd like to.

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

Book of the Month:
The Fireman by Joe Hill