Sunday, 28 February 2016

Incoming!

I have already covered the books I got on the London Bookshop Crawl, but I did have a few new ones before then which are included here. We're house hunting at the moment so I'm aware I will have to move all my books at some point, so I'm trying not too add too much to the shelves. Here's hoping we can find somewhere compatible with my bookshelves!

I'm very excited to have False Hearts and The Winner's Kiss in my paws this week. I also grabbed the ebooks of Rainbow Rowell's and Juno Dawson's World Book Day novellas as I'm pretty sure they'll be perfect bus reading. I've already read Holly Bourne's latest and Peirene's The Man I Became so you can read my thoughts on the blog already.

I also got another Illumicrate this month. I think the contents were in general better but the book was Truthwitch which I already have, which has kind of put me off continuing. I would prefer it to be slightly less known authors so as to discover something new, and I would be more accepting of sometimes getting a duplicate. But when it's a book that had a lot of marketing push prior to publication, it seems that a lot of people would have it already... Anyway, I'm considering giving away my box so watch this space.


For Review:

The Winner's Kiss by Marie Rutkoski (Bloomsbury)
False Hearts by Laura Lam (Tor)
The Man I Became by Peter Verhelst (Peirene Press)
The One in a Million Boy by Monica Wood (Headline)
Underground by S.L. Grey (Pan Macmillan)*
Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase (Penguin)*

Bought:

The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson
Faceless by Alyssa Sheinmel
How Hard Can Love Be? by Holly Bourne
Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell
Spot the Difference by Juno Dawson
Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine


*Unsolicited titles

Saturday, 27 February 2016

The Book of Phoenix

Phoenix has lived all her short life in Tower 7. She is one of the SpeciMen, an accelerated, genetically modified human being. When the man she loves sees something awful, he takes his own life, leaving Phoenix alone. She soon starts to doubt the sanctuary of her existence and questions what the Big Eyes are doing.

What they are doing in the towers will be the end of humanity if it is not stopped.

The exploitation of African people is repeated in this futuristic tale, this time for their genetic make-up. The bulk of the SpeciMen in the towers are of African descent and most of the Big Eyes, the scientists working on them, are Caucasian. People outside the towers don’t question them, they just see the positive spin, like the tower which discovered the cure for HIV. No one questions the means.

It’s a tale of slavery in a new form and questions how far should science go. Genetic modifications are for the sake of the country rather than the individual. A person grown in a lab is treated as property, without human rights, and Phoenix soon starts to see the injustice of her life once she is outside the tower’s walls. The cruelty the characters endure is shocking and the glimpse Phoenix sees of the Holocaust is a saddening reminder that this sort of experimentation isn’t entirely fiction.

There is a mix of magical realism and some grounding in African mythology in amongst the science fiction, which makes it a hard book to define, but one I would definitely recommend reading. The message might be a hard one to read, as it puts exploitation and institutional racism right in our faces, but it’s important to acknowledge and it’s also a piece of fantastic storytelling.

For the first year of my life, in Tower 7, I'd wondered if I was made from inferior DNA. Then I started mixing books written by Africans about Africans into the ones I was reading. These stories were different.

I wasn’t aware that this was written as a sequel, but it really doesn’t matter if you haven’t read Who Fears Death. The book is introduced by a man living in a future which I assume is the setting of the previous book. He finds and listens to Phoenix’s story and comes to realise this is how his world came to be how it is. The framing of the story makes more sense in the context of a wider world and it has definitely made me more inclined to read Who Fears Death.

The Book of Phoenix is published by Hodder 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.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Modern Romance

Just how do you go about finding the love of your life in the 21st century? How had technology shaped dating and romance, and is it all really for the better? This book, a collaboration between comedian Aziz Ansari and social scientist Eric Klinenberg, explores the world of modern relationships.

A lot of what’s covered in Modern Romance applies to other areas of modern life. Text messaging is damaging our ability to conduct spontaneous conversations, people don’t want to speak on the phone and we’d much rather do everything over the internet, thanks very much.

The books has plenty of statistics and looks at how dating has changed, just over a few generations. We no longer marry the boy next door, or the just good enough partner, instead we’re searching for a soul mate and over a much wider geographical area. Much of this has been thanks to the rise of the internet and mobile technology.

The section on romance in Japan was the most interesting. Birth rates have dropped significantly in recent years and the government is worried that the Japanese race will die out, or at least they’ll have an elderly population with no one to look after them. Younger Japanese generations are just not interested in dating or sex any more. The book briefly looks at some of the cultural reasons behind this as well as what the government is doing to help. I could probably read a whole book on this.

Finding someone today is probably more complicated and stressful than it was for previous generations - but you're also more likely to end up with someone you are really excited about.

There’s a fair bit of padding and repetition of points, but I imagine if you were reading this in snippets, this wouldn’t be much of a problem. The cover states that it’s hilarious but I’d say it’s mildly amusing, with much of Aziz’s personality coming through, especially in his mission to feed his tum tum wherever he may be researching.

I reckon if you’re internet dating at the moment, you should definitely read this, if only to make you aware of your own behaviour, but also maybe why other people are doing the things they do. It’s also a bit of an eye-opener for anyone who’s been out of the dating scene for a while, it’s not pretty out there. I can’t imagine having to rely on something like Tinder to find a date and feel very fortunate to have found my soul mate having read this.

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Book Source: Purchased

Sunday, 21 February 2016

The Man I Became

This is the story of a gorilla who became a man. Plucked from his natural habitat, he learns how to speak, how walk and how to act like a human. Yet humans remain his masters.

Periene’s mission is to provide books that can be read in one sitting, and I often love this short burst of literature, but in this case I wanted more. It does have that parable feel without me quite not knowing what the parable was. The beginning felt like a tale of slavery, later on perhaps it is a message on messing with nature, or is it about the superficial nature of humans? The overriding theme is evolution, a reminder of our beginnings. I don’t know, maybe it’s all of the above, but that’s a lot to fit into 121 pages.

I did enjoy reading it though. The prose is easy to read but at times unnerving. Teaching the gorillas human etiquette highlights how ridiculous some things are. It becomes quite surreal when we meet the other animals, it seems almost believable to try and force the evolution of apes, but taking giraffes and lions to a dinner party?

The performance of the savannah is quite disturbing really. Here are animals who have been evolved so to speak, to be intelligent and cultured, yet they must play out their origins, a reminder of how fragile their life is, how some of their peers could quite easily eat them.

Peter Verhelst is a Belgian Flemish writer and The Man I Became is his eleventh novel. Translated from Dutch into English for the first time by David Colmer for Peirene Press, this edition is available in paperback and ebook editions from 22nd February 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.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

The Well

Ruth and Mark moved to The Well to start a new life in the country. Yet in the grip of the worst drought Britain has ever seen, their farm continues to prosper. As their neighbours struggle to feed their livestock and water their crops, The Well continues to be blessed with green and plentiful pastures. Suspicion soon starts to grow; are they stealing water? Is Ruth a witch? The escalation from quiet retreat to being the centre of the nation’s attention is swift and will end in tragedy.

Another book group read, The Well had an interesting premise and plenty of food for thought but boy did it waffle on in parts and I’ll admit to skim reading some of the middle. Previously a short story writer, some of Catherine’s prose is beautiful but I think it needed to be much more tightly edited.

It does raise the interesting question whether to give up your home for the greater good or hang onto it for your own survival. We’d all like to think we would be generous in this situation but what if handing your property over meant starvation for yourself? Unfortunately the novel doesn’t go into too much detail about what is going on in the rest of Britain, so it feels very insular and that they might be making a bit too much fuss over sharing.

I instantly took a dislike to the main characters due to their selfishness. OK it’s at the start of the drought that they move out of London but Ruth talks of marrows and apples left to rot because they can’t eat them all. No wonder the locals didn’t like them, even if they didn’t want to give them away they could have sold them or made cider and chutney. Mark refuses to run any pipes into neighbouring properties to share their plentiful water. It’s the old story of entitled city folk moving to the country and feeling like the locals should accommodate them rather than the other way round.

Little did I know when we ploughed our time and money into renovating the barn that we were building a barracks for my own guards.

In harsh times there will always be people who take advantage as well as people who turn to religion for reassurance. About halfway through the book the Sisters of the Jericho Rose turn up, a group of women who believe Ruth is their chosen one and women shall inherit the earth. They are not happy that Ruth’s grandson is set to inherit their holy land, The Well.

Mark is happy to escape the city, partly because it was his dream to be able to work the land, but also to escape prejudice. A false accusation at work, unwanted press attention and a suspicion placed that will never go away. There is an absolutely amazing scene which can be read two ways, one if you believe what he was accused of, the other perfectly innocent. It was interesting to explore the damage those kind of allegations can do to an innocent man.

My main problem with The Well was the fact so much was given away right at the start. We know a child is dead and Ruth is under suspicion. We know she was in prison for endangering The Well, a crucial source of water under the Drought Emergency Regulations Act. We know Mark is gone and the sisters are untrustworthy. The story alternates between the present where Ruth is serving a strange kind of house arrest, and the past events which led her there. I was waiting the whole book for the person who I thought did it to be revealed and what a surprise it was them. So predictable and a bit of a cop-out ending in regards to the national state of emergency.

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Also reviewed @ For Winter Nights




Book Source: Purchased

Saturday, 13 February 2016

How Hard Can Love Be?

Amber hasn’t seen her mother in two years, she didn’t even get invited to the wedding. Ever since she sobered up, she seems to have had a personality transplant. This summer she hopes to fix everything, by spending six weeks helping out at the California Summer Camp her mother now runs with her new husband. Amber just wants to be loved, is that too much to ask?

Why does it sometimes feel like we're babysitting the zombie apocalypse?

I liked the summer camp setting which took me back to a nostalgic time when read books about pony camp and dreamed about being sent to America for the summer. Yet this summer camp is hard work, with most of Amber’s time spent trying to look after the kids and desperately trying to get her mum’s attention. She feels Bumface Kevin is always getting in the way.

Amber’s mum is a recovering alcoholic and the book explores what that means to a child who has often had an absent mother. She remembers times when her mother couldn’t take her to school or her dad had to cover for her behaviour. Even now she’s sober, she still have to be selfish to keep herself alive. It’s still hard for both of them, but Amber learns how to be a more accepting person by the end of the book.

Whilst I preferred Am I Normal Yet? on a story and character level, How Hard Can Love Be? does a much better job of including feminist issues without them being an info dump which I found in her previous novel. We learn about raunch culture and the idea of a Female Chauvinist Pig through one of the characters and also how feminism can help men escape gender stereotypes.

Why were kids so cruel? Everyone always moaned about the innocence of children, whereas, from what I remembered on the playground, children were mostly dickheads to each other.

I really liked the fact that the idea of a nice guy being boring is explored. So many novels focus on troublesome relationships, and women do claim to love a bad boy persona. Yet finding someone good, kind and trustworthy, who won’t mess you around is actually a good thing. I probably would have scoffed a bit at the romance when I was younger, but it is good to see a writer showing how relationships don’t have to be all drama.

Whilst this book does contain characters from Am I Normal Yet? it can be read independently. There are a few references to Evie that could be considered spoilers, so if you want to reads both they are best read in order. There's also plenty of humour in amongst the serious issues; Holly generally writes really likeable charaters.

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Book Source: Purchased

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Down Station

At night, after the tubes shut down, the workers come out to fix and clean the tunnels under London. This night everything will change. As London burns, a few trapped underground will flee. They seek refuge through a mysterious door in the unused Down Station. A door that leads to another world and disappears soon after. Can the group find answers and will they ever return to London?

My favourite part of Down Station was the beginning, where we are introduced to our cast in the belly of the London Underground. Mary is one of the forgotten people who clean the tracks after hours, finding lost and discarded items and a whole load of rubbish. On parole, she works with others society might like to forget.

On the other hand, there is Dalip, a Sikh engineering student learning the practical side by shadowing one of the men, Stanislav who repairs the rails. Stanislav has his own past which he is hiding from, a trait that most of the people underground seem to share. Except for Dalip who is happy and well adjusted, his faith not the most important thing in his life but it keeps him grounded.

Whilst at work, something terrible happens and the tunnels fill with fire and molten tar. The passages where they flee from this unknown disaster are full of tension and pace. We never really know what happened that night because the survivors flee through a doorway to a different world.

The fire, the burning buildings, the cindered bodies: she'd been expecting that, had steeled herself to see it. But not this, this wide-open vista, nothing recognisable, no sign of brick or glass or plank or metal or dressed stone.

To be honest, I was a bit disappointed that the land of Down didn’t reflect London at all. I’ve re-read the blurb and it sounds like a few places share names that I missed and there is a river which divides north and south, but I’m not sure I picked up on that. And there was a point I started to wonder if it was all a bit like Lost. Maybe they never made it out of London at all.

I would have liked a bit more character depth, especially as one of the themes was that Down showed you who you really were. It’s a chance for a fresh start but that all depends on being true to yourself and your decisions. Stanislav, for instance, has something that happens to him that felt very sudden. It could have been explored more carefully and gradually, and therefore been a more powerful moment.

If Dalip was struggling with the idea of a world where nothing quite worked the way it ought, she was struggling with the idea that it was going to work exactly the way she'd always wanted it to.

The secondary characters were very cardboardy. They all came from London at different points in time, yet this isn’t taken advantage of in their behaviour or dialogue. Yes, maybe they have been in Down a long time, but most of them were living in isolation. There’s very little sense of being lost somewhere strange and potentially dangerous.

It’s a perfectly readable portal to another world story but nothing special. There’s some interesting magic elements like the buildings growing out the ground where people choose to live, and the ability to change into another form connected to who you are.

Down Station
is published by Gollancz and will be available in trade paperback and ebook editions on 18th February 2018. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

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Also reviewed @ Blue Book Balloon | Random Redheaded Ramblings




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, 7 February 2016

A Grand (Bookish) Day Out

Yesterday was the wonderful London Bookshop Crawl, organised by the fantastic (if hopeless navigator) Bex (who also organises the Ninja Book Swap). It was so good to meet Bex, Laura, Ellie and Katie whose blogs I have followed for years, but also everyone else was lovely. Let's face it, book people are the best. Despite Bex's husband's fears, we were all the right kind of weird people off the internet.

So I think the grand total was 23 crawlers and many books were purchased from some independent, and not-so-independent, bookshops. Our first stop was Foyles on Charing Cross Road where we met up and fortified ourselves with caffeinated drinks and the first round of cake. None of us wanted to peak too soon so I don't think many books were purchased at this stop but we had a chat and received our ration books, which were amazing and made by Ruth and Esther from Bex's clan).


Our next stop was Orbital Comics. As the name suggests, this is a comic shop who sell both single editions and a wide variety of graphic novels. The recommendations started flying and I bought volume one of Five Ghosts off the back of one (but I can't remember from who as we still hadn't learned everyone's names at that point - why didn't we think of name badges?!). I also bought Through the Woods and a signed copy of Nimona both of which I keep hearing about from bloggers.

I also wanted to get something a bit random that I wouldn't normally come across and I thought An Android Awakes sounded interesting, so it went onto my pile. Orbital also gave us copies of the London Bookshop Map which is super useful if you ever want to organise your own crawl. I was tempted to get a single edition of Saga but as I have been reading the volumes, I wasn't sure where I was at, so I shall just be patient.


Laden down with graphic novels, we walked to our next shop, Any Amount of Books, a second hand and antiquarian bookshop on Charing Cross Road (for those that don't know London, this is historically the book shop road). We had to split up at this point as there wasn't enough room for us all, with the rest of the group hanging out in Cecil Court. Whilst there is some organisation, it really is the kind of book shop where you just have to browse and discover something. I found a copy of Wake downstairs and after reading The Ballroom and having seen Ellie's love for it, I had to get it (and a bargain too).


We wandered round Cecil Court a bit and went to look at expensive first editions in Goldsboro Books (although they do sell some nice editions of new books too, often signed). If you have a spare £7500, you can bag yourself a nice first edition set of the Lord of the Rings trilogy...

Everyone was starting to get hungry after all the walking and book excitement so a bunch of us went for burgers, with plenty more book chat. I'll repeat again, book people are lovely and everyone got on even though most of us hadn't met anyone else before. We all at least had books in common.


Next was the highlight of the trip for many, a visit to Persephone Books. Not only a bookshop but also where the publishing magic happens, we all squeezed in for a lovely, enthusiastic talk about what they do and the actual books. We filled the whole shop and scared off one man who had just wandered in to look. Oops! They did such a good job of convincing us all the books are wonderful and I've heard a lot about them from bloggers too.


They publish forgotten classics by women writers, mostly 20th century and a mix of fiction and non-fiction. All the covers are the same shade of grey (though they do do a few bookshop friendly editions too) with end papers that are fabric designs from the year the book was originally published. You also get a matching bookmark and if you buy mail order they wrap the book beautifully.

I bought William by Cicely Hamilton (their first ever book), The Village by Marghanita Laski and The World That Was Ours by Hilda Bernstein.


The books are stating to get heavy at this point and many of us were eager for cake. We were warned that London Review of Books didn't have much room for us in their lovely cake shop, so only a lucky few managed to get cake there. But we did get goodie bags if we bought something. The book shop is dedicated to selling the best books rather than the latest bestsellers, so it's a great place to browse for books you might not normally find (and then eat cake). They also, of course, produce the magazine which reviews books and we got a copy in the goodie bag (along with useful things like pencils, coasters and a calendar).

As I'd already ticked off graphic novels and classics, I was keen to get some non-fiction at this shop. I picked up Blood: A Biography of the Stuff of Life from the science section and Modern Romance from the tables upstairs.


We were all very tired by this point (and some of us had not had cake) so we skipped Daunt Books which was originally on the itinerary and went straight on to Waterstones Piccadilly, Europe's largest book shop. We did some sitting. Cake was eaten.

It's the kind of book shop where there's so much to look at and buy, it can be kind of daunting if you don't have a plan. I wanted to buy Josh a Gollancz Masterworks and ending up getting one that I wanted to read (but he would probably read it too, so that's OK). I have wanted to read A Canticle for Leibowitz since The Fire Sermon event last year (it was part of Francesca's inspiration) so was happy to find a copy.

I also bought War with the Newts, a translated science fiction classic that has been on my wishlist for quite some time and it was mentioned during the day. So I took it as a sign that it was on one of the tables in Waterstones.

After wandering round the popular science section indecisively I settled on Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found as my final purchase of the day. My feet were pretty dead my the weight of all the books by this point and I had lost most of the other crawlers in this massive shop.

Finally reunited on the floor of the history section, the remaining survivors compared their books and energy levels, whilst Laura talked loudly about Bex's drug dealer phone (it's fine fellow book shoppers, no drug deals were taking place, honest). I had planned to stay on for dinner but I was worried my feet wouldn't survive long enough to get me to the train station, so I called it a night after a very fun day out.

Thanks so much to Bex for organising it and I hope there'll be a another one! You can check out the #LondonBookshopCrawl hashtag to see what everyone else bought, photos and blog posts. And finally, here's a photo of the damage to my bank account...


Monday, 1 February 2016

The Month That Was... January 2016

+ International Giveaway

What a great start to the year! I read so many great books last month and I really feel I've got my blogging mojo back. I'm now trying to think up some ideas to celebrate my 5 year blogoversary in March.

I successfully read my classic, a non-fiction book and a graphic novel (well volume of a comic series, I'll probably get told off for wrong usage) in January, so probably the best I've ever done with challenges, ever. I'm going to try and read an older classic in February, maybe Wuthering Heights... But then I do fancy picking up something from Persephone on the London Book Shop Crawl.

I really feel like giving away more books this month since they are so good and plentiful. So providing I get at least 200 entries*, I will pick two winners to receive a book of their choice from those pictured below. And, if I get 400 entries, I'll give both winners an extra book. So it really is to your advantage to share, share, share! Although you can always claim a single free entry if that's your thing. Entry is open internationally and books will be brand new and ordered just for you.

*If I don't get 200 entries there will still be one winner receiving one book.

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

Book of the Month:
The Thing Itself by Adam Roberts

Reviews: