Tuesday, 30 August 2016

The Deviants

They were the Fearless Five; Ella, Max, Fallon, Corey and Zane. But when Max’s sister Jess died, the distance grew between them. Ella and Max are still dating, but she’s starting to feel the pressure to have sex, something that fills her with dread. Zane’s turned into a different person, a bully, and his target of choice is Corey. And Fallon? Well they haven’t seen her for years, not since her mother lied at Jess’s inquest.
We lost touch just after she died, didn't we? We were all... ruined.

The Deviants is a dark and compelling story dealing with the tough subject of sexual abuse. Chapters start with a question, one being asked to Ella, who narrates, which gives it the feeling of her being in therapy or perhaps being questioned by police. The book starts with a body washing up on shore, then goes back to the events leading up to that point.

Ella is a star 400m runner sponsored by Max’s father but she has anger issues she refuses to deal with or talk about. She’s rather just punch something. Her relationship with Max is strained and I think it’s something that happens a lot and doesn’t get talked about. The assumption that everyone is having sex and it’s abnormal not to be, so they try and get it over and done with. Max seems to care about her though, and he ends up angry that she thinks she has to do something she doesn’t want to do to please him.

Corey is such a sweet character. He has cerebral palsy but that has never stopped him being a great friend and it’s not his defining feature. When his beloved cat Mort goes missing, the hunt brings the group of friends back together, all but one, and soon they are plotting revenge. But there are two sides to every story and the sleepy seaside town of Brynston is swimming with secrets.

I liked the twisted Famous Five vibe. There is a definite sense of loss of innocence amongst the group and a desire to go back to the simple old days, where they had picnics and adventures and they could dare Fallon to do pretty much anything.

Why bother? As soon as the picnics and the fishing are done, it's all exams, and jobs, and divorce and bullying and rejection and cancer. And death. Childhood's just one tiny little window of hope.

There were a few little details here and there which didn’t seem quite right and pulled me out of the moment, but I think that was just my picky brain. Like there’s a real food hygiene problem going on in Fallon’s basement if her mum is actually making black pudding for sale down there and Neil seemed awfully rich for someone who owns some garden centres in what felt like quite a rural place. But none of these things are crucial to the characters or plot. Neil managed to still be perfectly repugnant and smug with his obsession with how much he spends on things.

I’m not sure I liked the epilogue, it went on quite a bit about how everyone was doing after the story had really ended. It took a little bit of the wind out of what was otherwise a powerful story.

The Deviants is published by HQ Young Adult, the new name for Mira Ink, and will be available in paperback and ebook editions from 22nd September 2016. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

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Also reviewed @ Jess Hearts 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.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Good Morning, Midnight

Augustine has spent his life looking to the skies, a brilliant astronomer who has not always been the best human being. Now an old man, he is stationed at an Arctic outpost when the call to evacuate comes. He does not know what has happened but he wants to spend the rest of his days where he is. He has nothing to go back to, his work is here. The crew of the spaceship Aether are returning from a pioneering mission to Jupiter, only to find communications with Earth have halted. Not a single broadcast. All they can do is head home and wait.

Good Morning, Midnight is a beautifully written story about the loneliness at the end of the world. Set in the beautiful but hostile environments of the Arctic Circle and deep space, but Augie and Sully are cut off from whatever it is that has happened. All they know is that the airwaves are silent.

The receivers were picking up the murmurs of space all around them, from celestial bodies millions of light years away - it was only Earth that wasn't saying anything.

In both locations, the characters are in isolated situations with a huge reliance on radio communication but also they are detached from the diurnal cycles of day and night. The Arctic winters bring endless night and the summers bring long bright days. In space, they rely on artificial lights to signal night and day, a pretence to make them feel more at home.

The characters have plenty of time to reflect on their lives, and their regrets. Sully only took one photo of the daughter she left behind, something that starts to feel significant to her as her links to the people left behind seem to fade.

I didn't feel overwhelmingly sad whilst reading but when I sat down and thought about it all afterwards, I wanted to cry. What really makes you carry on when you believe everything you ever knew is gone? The crew of the Aether and Augie are waiting for the end, whatever that might be. Augie is old and is expecting death but given new purpose by Iris.

On his best days the blank canvas of the landscape set him at ease; on his worst he contemplated madness.

When the connection between the two sets of characters became clear, I felt it was a bit too much of a coincidence but then it turns out it really is important. It made it even more poignant.

It might not be one to read if you hate open endings. There's no reassurance that the characters will be OK or if everyone is doomed. It's left up to the reader to decide what happens next but it is also very fitting with the themes of the book. We have lost communication with our characters as they have lost communication with the world.

Time didn't matter any more. The only reason to keep track of time was to stay connected with the outside world, but without any sort of connection it was meaningless.

The novel shares its name with a 1939 novel by Jean Rhys which I wasn’t previously aware of but it sounds like they share some themes, of loss, loneliness and vulnerability. There is also a character from the past called Jean which could well be a nod to its namesake.

Good Morning, Midnight is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson and is available now in hardback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

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Also reviewed @ For Winter Nights

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, 25 August 2016

A Little Knowledge

A Little Knowledge is the fourth book in Emma Newman's Split Worlds series and therefore this review may contains spoilers for the previous books.

There’s a pamphlet circulating the fae court teaching the ladies of society certain things about their bodies, a pamphlet the men consider scandalous. These are things women should learn from their husbands. Now that Will is Duke of Londinium, Cathy is using her new position for change, but no one else seems to agree with her, not even her loving husband.

A key premise of the later books is the oppression of women in the Nether and Cathy's fight to bring them feminism. There’s loads of fantastic threads but Cathy’s unending desire to fix society is forefront in A Little Knowledge.

It's breaking the rule you all defend the most: that men are more valuable than women.

I am getting into Sam's story a lot more. He is now Lord Iron and in charge of a massive, unethical, corporation which he very much wants to change. He’s getting as much resistance as Cathy in his desire for change. The Elemental Court is full of people who care more about money than caring for the environment, but maybe there’s more to it than meets the eye.

I wish more time was given to Max and the Gargoyle. It’s starting to come across that maybe what was done to Max wasn’t right and there’s something intrinsically wrong with removing a soul to make an arbiter. The Gargoyle’s been starting to act a bit oddly, with a lot of interest in Max’s past.

Don't look so scared! It's only a lump of stone with a soul trapped inside it, animated by arcane means.

One thing I've found with this series is that each instalment takes a long time to get going. I get to a point where it suddenly becomes amazing but then it's over all too soon. It has been a while since the last book was published but if you were reading the series back to back there would be a lot of re-treading of old ground.

Cathy's plans for social change are not moving quickly, in fact at times they seem to be going backwards. She doesn't want to do things by halves but often she's in a situation where a compromise would be the best option. Compromise doesn't seem to be in her vocabulary though. Previously Will had come across as supportive of Cathy but he's starting to see how Cathy's beliefs are making things awkward for him. I think he genuinely cares for Cathy but their wellbeing is more important to him than the rest of the female fae.

I love this series but I am getting to the point where I crave some sort of conclusions. Some of the threads appear to have gone full circle and sometimes I feel as frustrated as Cathy. I’m looking forward to some closure in the next book.

A Little Knowledge is published by Diversion 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.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Bath Bookshop Crawl

Yesterday, 10 lovers of books congregated in a slightly damp Bath for the Bath Bookshop Crawl, organised by the wonderful Bex @ Armchair by the Sea (also of Ninja Book Swap fame). The trains were running a bit late so I missed the first stop which was Good Buy Books. Well I did go in the shop very briefly and saw no one was there and backed out again. Fortunately as I was walking towards the Guildhall Market I spotted a bunch of familiar looking tote bags...attached to familiar looking people.

The market has lots of great stalls to look at and we were briefly distracted by tea and cheese and other nice things before turning the corner to find Skoobs. This stall reminds me of my own bookshelves as so many were double stacked. There's a real feeling of rummaging around to uncover some hidden gems. Katie very enthusiastically pointed out all her favourite fantasy and horror. There is a really great selection so something for everyone and as it's second hand, there were some bargains to be found.

I picked up Ten by Gretchen McNeil which has been on my wishlist for years and I'm not sure it's even had a UK release. the premise reminds me of Point Horror with a bunch of teenagers stuck on an island in a storm, with them being picked off one by one. I also found a blue Penguin Classics version of The Midwich Cuckoos for our Wyndham collection.

Next stop was Waterstones who very kindly offered us a free lunch. We were asked if we were famous so we hope they weren't disappointed that we weren't a group of Zoellas! However we were waited on hand and foot by a member of staff who fed us yummy sandwiches and cake as well as drinks. When we first saw the table we were so excited as they'd put out waters jugs with fresh strawberries and mint in, all laid out in the cook books section.

Recently I've noticed Waterstones have lost their Costas and have been putting in their own Cafe Ws and from what I've seen so far, that can only be a good thing. Food was so much better than anything I've had in a Costa (and coffee was good too). Going in, Bex had said we wouldn't need the full two hours there however they sucked us in and we went well over our allotted time slot.

The shop is laid out with a lot of (very interesting sounding) non-fiction at the front and plenty of fiction on the rest of the ground floor. There were so many books I wanted but I was mindful that we had several other shops to visit. They have a really good graphic novel section and I wish I'd bought more from there, but at the time I thought I'd see some of them again in the independent shops later. I was happy to see several Shutes on the shelves and picked up No Highway, about a mysterious plane crash and the man who investigates it has interest in both quantum mechanics and spiritualism.

I noticed the group were seeming to hang round the sci-fi and fantasy sections a fair bit and there was a lot of recommending going on. I'm not sure Katie found any new victims to sell Angry Planet to but she did try! There was some discussion going on about Catherynne M. Valente at one of the tables and as Radiance is now out in paperback I grabbed a copy of that too.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

What's a Girl Gotta Do?

When Lottie is harassed in the street on her way to college, she knows something has to change. So, time for a Spinster Club special project! Lottie decides to call out every incident of sexism she sees for a whole month. No matter that her parents, teachers and peers aren't so sure about her sudden unruly behaviour. It's a great project, but is it really the time when she should be planning for her Cambridge entrance exam? Nothing can stop Lottie and her comedy horn, or can it?

Days before the release of What's a Girl Gotta Do? Holly Bourne started the #IAmAFeminist hashtag. I tweeted a few things on it, one a general reason and the other was a specific event that happened to me some time ago but stuck with me. Neither were particularly controversial but they attracted several responses from complete strangers telling me I was wrong. I am pretty sure everyone using that hashtag got the same kind of response. The fact that we can't use a hashtag about feminism without getting trolled is kind of a reason why we still need it.

So Lottie's experiences are not uncommon. Most I have experienced at some point and if not me personally, I know people who have. And yeah, by themselves, some of them are not big things but Lottie ponders whether all these small things we let slide, snowball into the big things that ruin lives.

If you've read Holly's other books, you know there's plenty of fun alongside the important messages and there's a lot to love about Lottie. The honking a horn at people is a bit ridiculous but fabulous and I love that sometimes she even honks it at herself.

Rule no. 1 - Call out anything you see that is unfair or unequal to one gender
Rule no. 2 - Don't call out the same thing twice, so you can sleep and breathe
Rule no. 3 - Always try to keep it funny

The opening scene is actually something that happened to Holly and wanting to address that fear in fiction helped form the Spinster Club. I've had some horrible things shouted at me in the street and I've had my way blocked by men "having a laugh" too. Why is this acceptable? We're just meant to shrug it off but Lottie decides to do something about it and stands up to them. Even if I as a reader felt a little scared for her at times.

Lottie talks about cognitive dissonance, when we hold two views which contradict each other. She thinks her attitude to body hair is one but not her love of make-up. One of the best bits is her insistence to carry on wearing the make-up that is part of her identity. Yes you can wear lipstick at the same time as caring about women's rights. If you enjoy something that's traditionally feminine, you do not have to stop doing it in order to be a "real feminist".

But you know, we all get tired of the constant barrage of things we should be annoyed at. Media is dulling us to the endless horrors in the world and some of us just want a quiet life. The book looks at activist burnout too and when it's right to take a step back and look after yourself first.

It said something about how society can't be changed in a lifetime. That so many people who fight for what's right won't see the results before they die.

Will is set up to not be liked for his views from the start, although Lottie clearly fancies him. He does want gender equality but he has a problem with the word feminist. And I get it, it has negative connotations to a lot of people, and a certain group find the fem bit means it's not for all genders. A few years ago I wouldn't have called myself a feminist because it implied you were a certain kind of person rather than someone who cared about equality.

But through fiction, and a lot of vocal authors on social media, I've become OK with the label. Just today I read a news article on Olympic medalists (which has thankfully been corrected since) where the man was the cyclist and the woman merely his fiance rather than the Olympic medalist she is and I wanted Lottie's horn to honk at it.

Oh and if you haven't read the other Spinster Club books, this is the third in the series and whilst each is standalone there are a few things that could be spoiled by reading this one first (like relationship story arcs).

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Book Source: Purchased

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Comics Catch-Up

After realising I was going to be on a comics panel at Nine Worlds last weekend, I had a bit of a binge of comics. The panel went fine (no one stood up and yelled imposter at me) and I feel I at least managed to recommend a few things. Sat next to me on the panel was Kieron Gillen, who apologised for talking so much (!) so I’ll be checking out his work and some of his recommendations soon.

Trees by Warren Ellis and Jason Howard has very mixed reviews over on Goodreads but I found much to love in it. I believe it’s one of those comics definitely better read as a trade (new term learned at the weekend, that’s what I’d been calling a volume or bind-up) rather than individual issues as it has a lot of storylines going on.

Trees is set ten years after an alien invasion. Giant tree-like structures came down from the sky, landing on cities around the world, but the aliens never made any attempt to communicate. Or do anything much. The trees are a mystery. The stories follow different groups of people living in the shadow of these alien structures, exploring how life has changed, and in some ways everything’s the same.

Some of the stories are quite intimate in feeling and I had definite moments of shock near the end of this first volume. I will definitely be picking up the second volume later this year.

Next up is Limbo, by Dan Watters and Caspar Wijngaard, which I believe is a complete mini-series, although, that ending! I could do with more. It’s all a bit surreal noir with a dash of voodoo and a bunch of outdated technology. Our amnesiac detective gets sucked into a TV by a teleshaman via a VHS and the voodoo priestess uses mixtapes as sacrifices. It’s a bit hard to get into and kinda crazy but I really enjoyed it and I loved the artwork.

Descender, by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen, has the most beautiful watercolour artwork which is so fitting to the story. Some time ago there was an attack from space by giant robots, which made humanity worried about the robots in their midst. Many were destroyed but on a distant mining colony, a companion robot boy survives an accident which kills his family. Back to the present future day, the robot boy, Tim 21, wakes up to find he’s alone. Well he still has a cute robot dog and a killer driller robot to keep him company!

I feel like I need to read more of this. There’s a robot designed to be like a child who is naïve and innocent, yet scientists think they’ve found a link between him and the robots who attacked. Another one to add to the list of second volumes.

ODY-C, by Matt Fraction and Christian Ward, sounds like something right up my street; Homer’s Odyssey reworked with females in all the roles (oh and a new gender called Sebex). I have a decent knowledge of the general story yet I still found the first volume, Off to Far Ithicaa, hard to follow.

Zeus destroyed all men for some reason and one of the other gods (a version of Prometheus I think) created the Sebex so that women could reproduce without men. In the meantime, Odyssia is returning home from battle with her spaceship and crew. It’s all very dramatic and gory, but the artwork is lovely vibrant stuff. If you like pretty comics, give it a flick through when you’re next in a comic shop. I kind of enjoyed the Cyclops (“all men did this to me!”) part and I wonder if it’s a comic I could read individual issues of if it’s a bit of the Odyssey I like. Overall, I’m not sure about it.

Austin Wilson’s Re-Pro-Duct was a bit of a non-starter for me, I didn’t mind so much the simple drawing style but the robot characters we’re introduced to are jerks. I guess maybe it’s saying these robots are just like humans, not just the good elements. They have been given rights as living human beings and can go to university and learn. They are not allowed to just download the data. I thought there was an interesting idea in here but it struggled to become fully fledged.

I.D. by Emma Ríos is a graphic novel following a group of people contemplating a body transplant. It spends a bit of time explaining the practicalities of it as well as exploring the reasons someone might want to do it. Do they want a new identity, a sex change, do they see it as a psychological experiment or are they just bored? Some good ideas but not really fleshed out enough.

Oh yeah and last month I read the latest Saga trade, and yes, I do still love it and heartily recommend it! All the characters are still fabulous, even the "bad ones" I'm starting to grow very fond of, Hazel's getting older and more likely to say things she shouldn't...and the artwork is still gorgeous. More, please!

I received copies of Limbo, I.D. and Re-Pro-Duct for review from the publishers via NetGalley and all other comics were bought by myself.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Illumicrate Unboxing

I'm pretty excited about the latest Illumicrate, I think it's the best one yet. If yours hasn't arrived yet, stop now to avoid spoilers! Find out how to subscribe at illumicrate.com.

When I opened the box I immediately thought it contained an umbrella. It doesn't (maybe there's an idea there) but it did contain not one, but TWO amazing books. One of which I was definitely planning on buying and the other had already piqued my interest. The Graces by Laure Eve isn't out until next month, woo, and it came with a handwritten letter from Laure. Honestly, I can't tell if it's just a very good copy or she's crazy enough to have hand written every one. Anyway, it's a nice touch.

The second book is Nevernight by Jay Kristoff, the first in a new fantasy series. If you have this book and haven't looked under the dust cover, it's a gorgeous naked book! The rest of the artwork is pretty cool too and it comes with a bookmark and card copy of the cover. Both books come with signed bookplates as well. The colouring cards tucked under the book are actually inspired by Grisha and Six of Crows.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

The Unexpected Everything

Andie’s father is a congressman, well he was until scandal hits and he takes a break for summer. She’s not that concerned until her coveted medical placement is cancelled last minute. Possibly because of the scandal. With all her summer plans cancelled, and her dad suddenly at home, Andie is at a loss and desperate for something useful to put on her resume. The only vacancy she finds is far from perfect yet it might be just the thing she needs.

The Unexpected Everything is the saga of one summer amongst friends. Whilst told from Andie's point of view, there are several threads making this a longer than usual YA, but still thoroughly enjoyable.

I can't think of a better summer job than dog-walking and Bertie is adorable. When he gets sick, I just couldn't stop reading. The job also comes with a boy, one who Andie thinks is cute. Her relationships tend to last no more than three weeks and that’s how she likes it. No commitments, no feelings hurt, and she could do with a cute boy for the summer.

Theoretical crushes could remain perfect and flawless, because you never actually had to find out what that person was really like or deal with the weird way they chewed or anything.

Actually, I can see Andie rubbing a reader the wrong way for a lot of the book, but it’s one of those stories where she comes to realise how others see her, how the way she has been living her life up to now might not be as perfect as she thinks. And you can’t blame her friends too much when they fall out with her.

One of the aspects I liked the most was the relationship between Andie and her father. She’s always thought of him, aware that how she presents herself reflects upon him in the all too intrusive media. Her choices in life have been geared towards being the perfect daughter, not addressing her own happiness. The two have been strangers to each other for so long, and he struggles to find the balance of being a parent to her and being a friend.

In the end it was decided that when there was press around, I could no longer order five-dollar iced sugar-free vanilla soy lattes - they didn't want me to seem like a rich kid, throwing her money around while the people of Connecticut struggled to put food on the table. They also didn't want to offend the dairy lobby.

I liked the fact that Andie had no idea about any of the geek references that came up, that she was capable of a relationship with someone who has different interests. Because that happens all the time if real life, but fiction would have us needing to be in love with all the same things. Obviously it's set in America, but don't read too much into the publisher having a massive house! It doesn’t quite fit in with the average publishing salary.

I don’t think the snippets of the fictional fantasy novel in the book were all that well done, although I did like the final one, which did relate to the central story. It’s not one where I’ll be hoping for a spin-off book anyway.

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Book Source: Purchased

Friday, 5 August 2016

Things We Know by Heart

It must've must been everything he didn't want - a connection to his past, and the acknowledgment of a stranger's death, and the pain of those mourning that death.

Quinn’s world is shattered when her boyfriend is killed in an accident. His organs donated, it’s suggested that she write to the recipients to help get closure, to understand the life and chances that came out of the tragedy. But one recipient doesn’t reply, the most important of all, the boy who received his heart. Quinn tries to track him down, promising she won’t approach him, won’t interact, but fate has other ideas.

Things We Know by Heart
is a tender story about moving on with your life after tragedy. At the start, Quinn hasn’t really accepted that Trent is gone and she’s become obsessed with the recipient of his heart, tracking him down online. She feels that a piece of Trent is still out there, unaccounted for.

Quinn knows what she's doing is wrong, she feels the same awkwardness as the reader. She should stop this now but it’s never the right time. I really felt for her, but I also loved her discovering the Californian coast. It made me want to go back there and go sea kayaking.

It's completely understandable that Colton would be drawn to Quinn. When someone has been that close to the brink of death, people who knew them at that time are likely to treat him with care. They will always see him as the sick kid and know what he's been through. Quinn is a blank slate, or so he thinks.

It's terrifying to realize how much of your world is wrapped around loving another person.

Each chapter starts with a quote on hearts or transplants. Some refer to the heart as more than just an organ; that maybe a part of the person stays with the transplanted organ. However the story itself is much more rooted in reality. The sunflower connection can be a coincidence but also leaves a little doubt in your mind.

Things We Know by Heart is published by HarperCollins and is available now in paperback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review. Please note, the photo at the top of this post is taken my me and should not be used without my permission.

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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.