Tuesday, 26 April 2016

The Picture of Dorian Gray

To get back my youth I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable.
Oscar Wilde is immensely quotable and witty, I’m sure you’ll all recognise some bits of his prose. The Picture of Dorian Gray is a gothic tale full of various themes, but centrally the fear of aging and the idea that our sins are visible to the outside world through our aging. What would happen if you could halt that process?

If you’re not aware of the story, Dorian Gray is a young, attractive man who sits for the artist, Basil Hallward. As he gazes on Basil’s greatest work of art, a portrait of himself, Dorian wishes that he would always be this perfect and instead the painting would age on his behalf. Sometimes wishes come true, but with devastating consequences. As the outer world only sees Dorian’s youthful innocence, the portrait reflects a soul with plenty to hide.

The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.

I did feel a bit sorry for Dorian in places. He does seem rather naïve at the start and is led astray by Lord Henry Wotton, who thinks being a good person is incredibly dull. It doesn’t go into detail about the sinful things Dorian gets up to but it’s inferred through the fact he ends up with a pretty awful reputation. Yet every now and then there’s a glimpse of the old Dorian and I wished for him to finally see the error of his ways.

This 1891 edition is an extended version rather than that which first appeared in a magazine, and it was also censored in places that hinted at a same sex romantic relationship. I still think it’s quite obvious that Basil fancied Dorian to a modern reader but my clothbound version included endnotes explaining what had been changed. I think I would have liked to have read the original version because I did think it went on a bit in places, it spends a long time talking about the opulence of their surroundings and a lot of conversations about art.

I wonder who it was defined man as a rational animal. It was the most premature definition ever given. Man is many things, but he is not rational.

Not that it doesn’t have things to say about the nature of art, but really I wanted to get back to the painting and what Dorian was going to do. Another thing in the back of the clothbound, is a section containing contemporary reviews and, oh my, weren’t the critics scathing in their day? More-so that even the snarkiest blogger, and these were people writing in the national press. Oddly a Christian paper seemed to say the nicest things about the book, seeing it more as a moral tale than one of degradation.

Lord Henry Wotton is pretty sexist, I’m not sure if he’s meant to reflect Wilde’s own views or not, but in his mind women are air-headed, sub-humans. I could have done without all his mean comments but you wonder how much the way society made women act, made them come across that way. Perhaps the societal pressure around marriage was too much for Wilde, so he lashed out against the opposite sex. Maybe he was just angling for laughs.

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Book Source: Purchased

Sunday, 24 April 2016

#readathon finito

Local time: 13:00
Hours spent reading: 19
Pages read: 1362
Books finished: 4


I'm pretty pleased with the amount I read and I generally enjoyed all the books I picked up. It didn't seem as social to me as some of the previous ones but that might be my fault for not getting around so much and I don't think so many people I know where doing it.

I finally tucked into my carrots, cucumber and hummous in the final hours. I have that weird tired feeling which is a bit like being hungover now, so plenty of fluids and some vaguely healthy food is in order. I will probably even do a bit more reading today after a bit of a break.

Pages read since last update: 226


#readathon: hour 21

Local time: 09:00
Hours spent reading: 15
Pages read: 1136
Books finished: 3


Sleep was soooooo good! I had a bit longer than I planned but I don't feel too much like death this morning. Which is good. I forgot to grind coffee beans last night so I made an awful noise getting myself caffeinated. And I had a giant crumpet for breakfast (which just makes everything else look smaller in the photo).

I'm really enjoying Amy & Roger's Epic Detour and I think I'll definitely get it finished before the end.

Currently reading: Amy & Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
Pages read since last update: 170
Books read: The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson, Five Ghosts Volume 1 by Frank J Barbiere + Chris Mooneyham, Shtum by Jem Lester


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#readathon: hour 13

Local time: 01:00
Hours spent reading: 12
Pages read: 966
Books finished: 3


This is the hour where I start bargaining with myself on whether or not I can have a snooze. I am definitely usually in bed, asleep, by now. It's also eerily quiet, munching on a prawn cracker sounds deafening. My next update will probably be in the morning so I can have a few hours sleep and rest my slightly aching neck.

Currently reading: Amy & Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
Pages read since last update: 305
Books read: The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson, Five Ghosts Volume 1 by Frank J Barbiere + Chris Mooneyham, Shtum by Jem Lester


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Saturday, 23 April 2016

#readathon: hour 9

Local time: 21:00
Hours spent reading: 8
Pages read: 661
Books finished: 2


Finished a graphic novel, made it through a good chunk of Shtum and eaten dim sum and crispy duck pancakes for dindins. Eyes are feeling a bit tired now and it's dark outside. Probably time for a caffeine break! I'm going to try and read until at least 2am and then maybe have a few hours sleep.

I have mixed thoughts on Five Ghosts; loved the artwork but the story was lacking in character development. It felt very much an intro to something I'd have to read more of to get anything out of.

Currently reading: Shtum by Jem Lester
Pages read since last update: 308
Books read: The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson, Five Ghosts Volume 1 by Frank J Barbiere + Chris Mooneyham

We're being punished because we love and care for him and he's not as good at autism as he could be.


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#readathon: hour 5

Local time: 17:00
Hours spent reading: 4
Pages read: 353
Books finished: 1


First book finished! I enjoyed, The Art of Being Normal and had a few teary moments. It's interesting that it's endorsed by Anmesty International too, as a reminder that "all humans are born equal". I'm going to read a graphic novel next, and have a bit of a move around before I seize up!

On the snacks front, I had my quesadillas for lunch and then the Belgian Specaloos from Graze (cinnamon pretzel sticks with cookie goop - yum).

Currently reading: Five Ghosts: Volume 1 by Frank J. Barbiere + Chris Mooneyham
Books read: The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

Besides, who wants to be normal anyway? Fancy that on your gravestone. "Here lies so-and-so. They were entirely normal."


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Ready, steady, #readathon!

Local start time: 13:00
Hours spent reading: 0
Pages read: 0
Books finished: 0


Woop woop! This will by my 9th Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon if I've counted correctly. I missed the last one due to GollanczFest, which was fun but readathon is bookish fun without the travelling, and more snacks. I am all about the reading (and snacking) so I'll only be doing challenges if one really grabs my fancy.

Josh isn't readathoning but he will be partaking in a bit of sleep deprivation to keep me company (and well fed/hydrated/caffeinated).

I'm going to try and stick to my stack (pictured below) but I have started reading The Road to Little Dribbling and might dip back into that at some point. Especially if I'm too tired to start anew with plot and characters. Plus Bill makes me laugh.


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Thursday, 21 April 2016

A Red-Rose Chain

A Red-Rose Chain is the ninth book in the October Daye series and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous books.

Things are finally looking good for Sir October Daye and the Kingdom of the Mists, but there is no time to get comfortable. When the Silences target Arden’s seneschal, they are declaring war, a war Toby’s people would rather not have. The plan? Send Toby as a diplomatic ambassador to try and talk their way out of it. You have met Toby, haven’t you?

Really, you just lie awake all day coming up with new ways to screw yourself over, don't you?

As these series goes on, there’s seems to be more and more that Seanan thinks needs a little recap or explanation in the first few chapters. I know I forget a lot between books but it just means it takes an awful long time to get into what is an otherwise great story. Maybe the (admittedly useful) pronunciation guide at the start could be extended to include these little reminders and leave the body of the novel for the plot to unfold.

Anyways, enough quibbling. A Red-Rose Chain focuses on discrimination in the fae world. Before Arden took over, the Mists wasn’t the most accommodating place for changelings but at least they were free. As Toby visits the Silences, the neighbouring kingdom, she soon learns how bad things can be for those who aren’t pure.

King Rhys of Silences does not let Toby forget who she is, or more importantly to him, what she is. She’s a changeling, so she’s beneath him, yet her blood holds a power he covets. With the scheming former Queen of the Mists at his side, Toby can’t risk turning her back for even a second.

Is this related to the notice I received from Queen Windermere that a war was being beta-tested, and might be cleared for release? I do not have time to allow my coders to be slaughtered. It seems very inefficient.

I was a bit sad that all the politics and defying death meant there wasn’t much time for Toby and Tybalt’s wedding planning. They seem to be doing this at the start of the book, a sign that things are calm and they are getting on with life. So OK, preventing war comes first, but I would have liked a bit more of the happy. Maybe we’ll get the wedding in the next book…if it isn’t the scene of a mass fae slaughter.

Anyway, I love the world-building overall that has gone into this series and it’s my favourite fae world, even when sometimes the individual building blocks may be a bit wobbly. I’m not a huge fan of series going on indefinitely these days though, and I do hope this one doesn’t go on so long it loses its shine.

Note, this series is now published in the UK by Corsair (hurrah) but release dates are behind the US (boo). If you want to read this now, you can still hunt down the Daw edition from a few places.

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Book Source: Purchased

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Memory of Water

Noria Kaitio is following in her father’s footsteps, like each generation before her, and is training to become a Tea Master. In a world where water is rationed, the tea ceremony is a privilege, and only the most important people will come to drink their tea. Noria’s father also keeps a secret, the location of a hidden spring with the purest water. A spring that gives them all the water they could dream of.

The beginning was the day when my father took me to the place that didn't exist.

I have really mixed feelings about Memory of Water; there were some lovely pieces of writing and hints at a future following ecological disaster but the pacing was all wrong. It starts slowly, taking time over describing the tea ceremony and traditions, maybe too slowly as it felt like nothing was happening. It echoes the calmness of the ceremony itself and could have been forgiven if it weren’t for the fact that when things start to happen, they’re over in the blink of an eye, and then it ends.

Noria and her friend Sanja spend their free time trawling through the plastic grave for salvageable items or things of interest. Noria has been collecting TDKs and shiny discs, with no idea of what they are for, but when Sanja finds an object intended for playing audio, they put two and two together. I always wonder what on earth people of the future will think of our discarded items and I enjoyed the passages where they describe things without knowing their names or purpose.

The plastic grave highlights the problem with our disposable consumerism, that we throw away perfectly good things. In the future they repair plastic, one would never throw away a plastic bag, let alone more sophisticated objects. There is no more oil, so no more plastic.

A discovery in the plastic grave links the girls to the past, learning a little of the Twilight Century when the oil ran dry and the sea levels rose. But they are only glimpses of the past. The promise of a journey, and answers, never surfaces. In one way the ending felt final, yet so many things were left hanging, unfinished, unanswered.

Even if we don't see it right away, it is all happening; and if we look away long enough, we will no longer recognise the room and the landscape, when we eventually look at them again.

I’m impressed that Emmi Itäranta translated the book herself, and I don’t believe the fault is in the translation itself. It’s refreshing to read about a dystopian future from the perspective other than the UK or America. The Scandinavian Union appears to be occupied in China, with a mix of cultural references intertwined into the story. However I wasn’t ever really sure what had happened. It’s not a book to read if you are super keen on world-building and the history that comes with that.

I’ve read three, very different, books now about a future where water becomes scarce. I would say The Water Knife was my favourite, despite issues with the protagonist, as it felt cynically closest to what would probably happen, water as a commodity. In some ways, it shares that with Memory of Water but there was still a sense of water as a right here, even if it were heavily controlled. The Well was too intimate a story to get a proper sense of the drought, but again it shared something with having a source that only benefitted the few. Noria at least deals better with the situation, than the characters of The Well.

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Book Source: Purchased

Monday, 18 April 2016

Nimona

Nimona is so much fun but also pretty moving in places. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a supervillain and Nimona is a young sidekick looking for a position with a supervillain. Perfect! Except that Blackheart isn’t really looking for a sidekick, especially not a trigger-happy, shapeshifting teenager. Nimona wants chaos and destruction and the death of their enemies, but that isn’t really the done thing. Blackheart would rather not kill anyone, definitely not his nemesis Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin, who was once his friend.

I do like stories told from the supposed villain’s point of view. Things aren’t usually so black and white and you soon start to see the side of the good isn’t necessarily all that good. It has a play around with some of the superhero tropes and fits in plenty of laughs as well as a more serious side, which I won’t spoil for you.

Nimona is not drawn with muscles, physics-defying boobs or anatomically improbable proportions, she’s pretty much an average human being, within the constraints of the style. It’s something that’s quite rare, even these days, so deserves a shout out. Although the other main characters do tends towards the tall and spindly.

Nimona started off life as a web comic and, whilst the full story has now been taken offline, you can read the first three chapters on Noelle’s website. It’s a delightful story and really recommend it to anyone not sure where to start with graphic novels (as well as you die-hards of course).


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Book Source: Purchased

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Long Dark Dusk

Long Dark Dusk is the second book in the Australia trilogy and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous book, Way Down Dark.

Having escaped Australia and survived the crash on Earth, Chan has never been more alone. She has lost the people she loved; her mother, Agatha, Jonah. She has one hope, that she can still save Mae, the little girl she promised to keep safe. But life off the radar in Washington isn’t so easy and Chan must learn to trust strangers to get what she needs.

People live in a state of stasis for long enough, and then it gets hot and they explode.

Way Down Dark dealt with the idea of being punished for the crimes of your ancestors, being unable to escape your circumstances in life, and the themes of incarceration and rehabilitation are explored a bit further in Long Dark Dusk. As well as people an action packed ride through a future earth where populations have plummeted and every human being should be a productive member of society.

Chan finds herself living in the docks, surrounded by those at the bottom, the junkies, the criminals, those that just can’t get ahead in this highly controlled city. She feels like she has made a few friends, Ziegler, a reporter keen to tell her story of life on board Australia and the crash that has been kept secret, and Alala, a woman who trades in anything that might be needed, be that information or drugs. I’m not quite sure why the slums at the docks were left to run riot if this is a future where every human life is precious, where the state wants every to contribute. It is reflective of the kinds of places where the poor end up, but it seemed at odds with what the people in charge said they wanted. Maybe that’s the point.

It's amazing how fast peace can turn into a riot, how quickly a single violent act can upend the status quo.

I was really keen to know what had happened to Earth to lead it to send prisoners into space. Chan reveals plenty of snippets about the history, through visits to the museum and things Ziegler tells her. Overpopulation and global warming has changed the face of the Earth, now the obliging live within walled cities, the air filtered and every move monitored. Some of the constraints of the new world are shown through encounters Chan has. As the book opens she is trying to help a girl with an illegal baby, suggesting that reproduction is now strictly controlled. These things aren’t central to the story but they help to shape the world it unfolds in.

I liked the evolution of some of our familiar technology now into Gaia, the Siri/Cortana of the future, and driverless cars. The augments might seem further fetched but there are already bionic limbs and you can have your retinas zapped with lasers to help you see better.

Just as the second part of the first book made more of an impact on me, the things I really liked about the second instalment fell in part two. Again! So I don’t feel I can talk about much without dropping some spoilers. The people from the Australia are still considered criminals, even though they were never sentenced, not in a court of law at least, and there is no proof of what they did on board the ship. They deserve the chance at rehabilitation but not without the chance to be themselves, to prove that they can be better without state intervention.

I've really only ever known three places properly [...] and really, they're not so different. They're all prisons in their own way.

Chan is a good person at heart, despite what she may have done to survive. She wants to help other people, keep her people safe and ultimately keep her promises, no matter how hard that might be. Her treatment feels a lot like an injustice, her past clouding the judgement of those who might otherwise see her as an individual.

I did find it a bit slow to get going, like I said of the previous book, action isn’t really my thing so I was glad that it was in three distinct parts, with some of it being a bit more introspective. I am still excited to read the third book, Dark Made Dawn (that's a positive title, right?), which is out October this year. So not too long to wait!

Long Dark Dusk 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.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Head Over Heels

Head Over Heels is the fifth book in the Geek Girl series and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous books.

Scientifically, a hill feels a lot less steep when climbed with a friend.
Harriet Manners loves facts and she loves plans. She has her life planned out down to the minute, and that of her friends. They have a new grown up meeting place and everything’s going to be perfect. That would be a fact is everyone would just stick to her carefully laid plans.

I actually think Harriet grows up a bit in Head Over Heels. I mean, yeah she still ends up in some ridiculous scenarios but she actually stops to realise how unprofessional she can be. Circumstances lead her to think about how, even if she doesn’t care about the fashion industry, there are other people whose jobs depend on it. And one of those people is her agent Wilbur, who she decides she must help.

As she goes to look sees, she actually experiences a lot of what models must do on a regular basis; rejection. No one’s swooping in to save her this time. And her family are much harder to fool these days. Sometimes she still does get lucky. I absolutely loved the part where she goes to India, it was full of adrenaline and joy.

She does meddle quite a bit in other’s lives. I think that’s partly the point of this book. She has decided to put romantic love on the back burner and focus on friendship. But when Harriet focuses on something, out come the co-ordinated binders and spreadsheets. When she sees an opportunity for romance amongst her friends, there’s no holding her back. She must make sure everyone is happy and having the most fun ever. Even if that’s not what they want.

A lot of people don't know this, but Cupid actually had two types of arrow. The famous one was made of gold and dove feathers, and when shot into the heart it caused intense feelings of love and desire. The other, less well known, type was made of lead and owl feathers, and resulted in indifference and apathy.

Like every Geek Girl book, there’s still plenty of facts and a whole lot lovely family relationships. And fingers crossed she hasn’t driven her lovely friends too far. I'm a bit sad Nick hasn't come back but in the end there's hope for something new for Harriet. No one needs to be hung up on their first love forever.

Head Over Heels is published by HarperCollins and will be available in paperback from 28th July 2016 but if that seems too far off I've seen plenty of offers on the hardback. It's currently half price in WH Smith if you pop in store. 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, 12 April 2016

HEX

One evil spawned another, greater evil, and ultimately everything could be traced back to Black Spring.
Welcome to Black Spring, once you move in there’s no going back. The town keeps a secret, it’s home to a witch who walks the streets, and often lurks in the rooms, of the town. Communication is strictly controlled, you don’t speak about the witch to outsiders. But the teenagers of the town are getting restless, they want to push the witch to the limits and share their knowledge.

Disclaimer, I’m a bit of a wuss so don’t read much horror but HEX is the right balance of creepy and engaging plot with developed characters. It’s a great concept to write about witch hunts in a town that has a quite obvious witch. People always want a scape goat, someone to blame the bad stuff on. You would think they would blame the witch which haunts their town but no, they blame each other. The townsfolk point fingers at those who have angered or insulted the witch in some way. It is not Katherine’s fault, there must be someone else to blame, and punish.

The Witch of Black Rock is quite creepy, I had a few moments when I half expected an apparition to appear in the room after reading. She has had her eyes and mouth sewn shut and the single attempt to release them led to disaster... Yet that isn’t what really makes HEX the excellent book it is. Giving the ghost a name, Katherine, helps humanise her and I actually felt some sympathy for her.

The enforced isolation of the town permits a more primal justice system, there is no one who is going to run to the authorities to complain about a miscarriage of justice. One character likens the town’s legal system to Sharia law and how difficult it becomes for people to speak against it. If it’s not affecting you, you just go with it and hope for an easy life. The town leaders drum up group hysteria and mob mentality. With few people able to look at the situation in an objective manner, things soon get out of control.

This is a town matter. Black Spring has always taken care of itself, and we will take care of ourselves now.

It also touches on censorship and privacy issues. The teenagers rebel against their controlled internet. They told them it’s for their own good, their own protection, but they want the freedom to go on social media. They also want the freedom to talk about it with people outside the town. Everything they do is monitored, something many of us feel is already happening.

It kinda felt like there was a little bit product placement, do we really need to know how good a GoPro is? It did tend towards mentioning brand names rather than the object, but maybe that’s just how we think these days.

HEX is published by Hodder and will be available in hardback and ebooks editions from 28th April 2016. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review. Originally written in Dutch by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, HEX has been translated into English by Nancy Forest-Flier.

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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, 10 April 2016

Incoming!

I started reading Long Dark Dusk today, it feels ages since there was a new Smythe but I guess that's just because he used to have them coming out so close together before. However the final book in this trilogy will also be out this year, so yay for not waiting arbitary times for completion! If you haven't read Way Down Dark yet, you can grab a bargain as the ebook is currently only 99p.

I've had some interesting sounding unsolicited copies lately too. I'm going to make a bit more effort to read the first chapters of these (unless it's something definitely outside my preferences) as I might be missing out on something perfect. I've already read Head Over Heels and it gets a big Geek Girl thumbs up from me (review coming soon).

For Review:

Long Dark Dusk by J.P. Smythe (Hodder)
Head Over Heels by Holly Smale (HarperCollins)
Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain by Barney Norris (Doubleday)*
The Gun Room by Georgina Harding (Bloomsbury)*
The Bones of Grace by Tahmima Anam (Canongate)*

Gifted:

Shtum by Jem Lester
The Book Collector by Alice Thompson
Mr Men and the Tooth Fairy by Roger Hargreaves

Bought:

On the Merits of Unnaturalness by Samantha Shannon
Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta


*Unsolicited titles

Saturday, 9 April 2016

The Thing About Jellyfish

Some hearts beat only about 412 million times. Which might sound like a lot. But the truth is, it barely even gets you twelve years.
Zu is just twelve when her best friend dies. She is told sometimes things just happen but she has learned from her science teacher that all that means is the answer hasn’t been found yet. Franny was an excellent swimmer, how could she have drowned? After a trip to the aquarium, Zu comes to the conclusion that she was stung by a tiny, yet deadly, jellyfish and she embarks on a mission to provide proof of this fact to the rest of the world.

Prepare yourself for jellyfish facts! I was drawn to this book merely for the fact that I am one of Zu’s statistics, someone who has been stung by a jellyfish, although not a deadly one, obviously, as I am still here. I did have an awful reaction to it and it took years for the marks to disappear. So I have a bit of a funny relationship with them, they are amazing creature scientifically and are very pretty when viewed behind glass tanks, but I’d rather not be in the water with them.

The Thing About Jellyfish
is aimed at a younger audience than I would usually go for but has a lot to say about loss, grief and guilt. As the story progresses we see how Zu and Franny grow apart, one maturing faster than the other, becoming interested in different things and the strain of peer pressure on a childhood friendship.

Everyone's story is different, all the time. No one is ever really together, even if it looks for a while like they are.

Zu reminded me of a younger Harriet Manners, she loves facts and talking, but not quite so aware of how this makes others see her. Accused of talking too much, after her friend dies she chooses to not talk. I liked this more than Silence is Goldfish because Zu is sensible enough to acknowledge sometimes you have to speak, she is just fed up of small talk (I can relate). Her not speaking doesn’t get her into trouble, other than the fact her parents are concerned about her.

The writing is beautiful and poignant. The chapters start with a lesson learnt from her science classes and the book follows her research into jellyfish as well as flashbacks to her time with Franny, showing the two girls growing up together and apart. By the time I got to the end I wished Zu well for the future, wanting her to grow into a new person with new friends. She’s just got left behind a little but there is hope.

The Thing About Jellyfish is published by Pan Macmillan and is available now in hardback and ebook editons. 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.