Monday, 31 July 2017


I was expecting S.T.A.G.S to be a dark boarding school tale with a hint of horror and was thoroughly looking forward to reading it. Greer has received a scholarship to attend the prestigious school whilst her single father is working abroad. She's from Manchester and not from old money, so she doesn't fit it. So she's quite surprised when she received The Invitation from the Medievals to the annual huntin' shootin' fishin' weekend at Longcross.

Now at the very start Greer admits to being a murderer and the blurb gives away the fact that people end up being hunted. So the main impetus to carry on reading was to find out who they killed. It was overall a bit tame, no one ever seems to be in mortal danger. Yes, the hunting aspect is cruel but it felt more like pranks played by bullies rather than any murderous intent. I thought there'd be more running (or hiding) for their lives.

The Medievals were all tall, beautiful and clever, as if they were especially bred for the job.

Honestly, I found the Medievals were caricatures of posh people and therefore were a bit unbelievable. They reject technology and all things they consider "savage", wishing that the world had never moved on from feudal days. Although they have more moral arguments against technology. And Greer was so ridiculously mooney-eyed over Henry, even when it was obvious to everyone that he was a bit of a nob.

When you're not caught up in the story or characters, it's a lot easier to be irritated by small details and unfortunately this happened a lot in this case. One thing that's worth saying is there is a spoiler for The Fault in Our Stars. Why do that? I know it's been read/watched by a lot of people but there will always be new readers coming along, especially when you're writing for young adults. There are ways you can reference things that will be understood by fans yet vague enough not to directly spoil.

Pheasants and peasants, both expendable and worthless.

I probably should have DNFed it but I was reading on my daily commute and I'd got so far that I wanted to know who they actually killed. It's all a bit convoluted and I felt it was trying to be too many things at once.

S.T.A.G.S is published by Hot Key Books and will be available in paperback and ebook editions from 10th August 2017. 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, 30 July 2017

Grief is the Thing with Feathers

A family in London is faced with the death of the two boys' mother, the husband's wife. In the depths of their grief, a visitor arrives in the form of a giant crow. Grief is the Thing with Feathers is a surreal book but also manages to be incredibly moving.

Moving on, as a concept, is for stupid people, because any sensible person knows grief is a long-term project.

I'm not familiar with Ted Hughes' poetry but I do understand that this Crow is based on the crow his book of poems, Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow. The father is writing a biography of the poet and appears to be a huge fan, so perhaps Crow was conjured out his mind. Or perhaps he was real.

Crow's narrative is often fractured, as if he is fighting between his animal and godlike states. He is sentimental for this broken family. He could be scary but he is a catalyst for healing. He invites himself in a promises not to leave until they have come to terms with their loss.

Perfect devices: doctors, ghosts and crows. We can do things other characters can't, like eat sorrow, un-birth secrets and have theatrical battles with language and God.

The other narratives are from the perspective of Dad or Boy, always unnamed and the boy could be either, or both, of the children. They appear to be a youngish family, with the father wholly unprepared to be the sole guardian. Yet goes on he does, with grief in his every action.

It is novella length and I think this is perfect for this kind of book. Too long and I would have struggled with the style. But in a small package it perfectly captures a family grieving for the woman at the centre of it. It's very intimate, Crow being the only outsider.

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Book Source: Purchased

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Lost for Words

I picked up Lost for Words thinking it would be a lighter read about a woman who works in a second-hand bookshop with maybe a bit of romance. Turns out it's a lot darker than that but by the time I worked out it wasn't the book I thought it was, I was pulled into Loveday's story.

First lines did not define last pages in real life the way they did in books.

Loveday comes across incredibly judgey in the first few chapters and I felt it was trying a bit hard to say bookish things. However it doesn't take long to realise there is a reason she is like she is. She has put up a shield between her and the world outside the bookshop, socially awkward but also scared people will learn about her past.

I don't want to give too much away, as her background is revealed slowly through flashbacks to her childhood. You know early on her father is dead and her mother is not around either. But then books from her childhood start showing up in the shop, triggering memories. At first they could just be coincidental but then she starts to worry that someone knows and is taunting her.

I'd read enough fiction to know that relationships were:
- well disguised as the best thing ever
- complicated
- doomed to failure, most of the time
- usually comprised of a winner and a loser

I'm not a fan of books where the "bad guy" is suffering from serious mental illness but I thought Stephanie at least handled better than many. Loveday doesn't blame the illness for he ex's behaviour, at least not totally. She becomes aware he's not medicating and has control issues, but that essentially he wasn't a great person anyway. Yet she still seems sympathetic by the end.

I thought there were a few teeny tiny errors that an editor should have picked up. Like when she's saying how she got the first three Harry Potter books as a present with a pre-order receipt for Prisoner of Azkaban tucked in. Well we all know that is the third book. I mean I'm sure it was just an error, but I notice these things.

It isn't overly romantic about the bookselling business. The shop trades online and it's not necessarily making a profit but is kept afloat by the owner's personal wealth. They even recycle all those Dan Browns and Fifty Shades that keep getting dumped outside their door. So I'd recommend to people who like bookish books, plus it's a super bargain on Amazon right now.

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Book Source: Purchased

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The Outrun

I wonder if there's much overlap between readers of nature fiction and those interested in alcoholism. The Outrun has been recommended to me a lot and I liked the idea of reading about Orkney, even if I wouldn't normally pick up a memoir about addiction.

In some ways I could relate to Amy. Whilst I grew up at the other end of Scotland, I understood what she meant by having English parents as a Scottish child, as well as that desire to escape rural life as a teenager. And once you've escaped you want to make the most of it. Whilst I may have got myself into a drunken mess now and again, this is when our experiences diverge. It is difficult to read about someone's self destruction and there is a point where you understand why people abandon her.

The rumblings of mental illness under my life were amplified by the presence of my mother’s extreme religion and by the landscape I was born into, the continual, perceptible crashing of the sea at the edges.

I was surprised to learn that AA was a religious affair. I can understand Amy's reluctance to attend, even after she's sober. The fact that the NHS refer people means there really should be a secular option. It's depressing to think you can only get better if you have something spiritual to embrace. Amy finally embraces nature as her thing, which I guess is the best option.

What I did love was the descriptions of Orkney, the wildlife, history, landscape and weather. How it's at the mercy of the elements and life is restricted by what can be shipped or farmed there, but simpler for it. The people have embraced southerners, as they are the key to the survival of these islands, where so many leave, just like Amy did.

Here I have been mixing with people of all ages and backgrounds – we have to – whereas in London I was in a bubble.

When she returns to Orkney, she intends it to be temporary, just while she gets back on her feet. I think she misses the idea of London rather than what is there for her in reality. There is less temptation on the islands and she spends her summer nights tracking and counting corncrakes for the RSPB. She starts visiting other islands, appreciating the power of nature and the solace. She learns about the birds and about the stars, about the practicalities of living on a small northern island during a harsh winter.

They inform me that the ‘shivery baby goat’ sound I hear is snipe ‘drumming’, an eerie, memorable wobble made by its tail feathers.

It jumps around a little bit between topics, and sometimes there's not always a direct correlation between her thoughts and what she chooses to describe next. I guess in real life it's not always easy to do this.

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Book Source: Purchased

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Do I read the books bought on bookshop crawls?

With another bookshop crawl on the horizon I wanted to take a look at how much I'd actually read out of the books bought on previous crawls. The crawls are great social occasions and there isn't actually any pressure to buy books in every shop but I kind of feel I should support them even if I have more books than I can shake a stick at.

London 2016
Bought 13, read 5

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari + Eric Klinenberg
Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray by Frank J. Barbiere + Chris Mooneyham
Severed by Frances Larson

I still haven't read any of the Persephone titles, sorry to everyone who loves them!

Bought 8, read 4

Ten by Gretchen McNeil
Pyongyang by Guy Delisle
The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood
The Wicked + the Divine by Kieron Gillen + Jamie McKelvie

(Josh has read No Highway by Nevil Shute)
((Midwich Cuckoos was a duplicate so doesn't really count))

London 2017
Bought 9, read 4

Ms Marvel by G. Willow Wilson + Adrian Alphona
Laika by Nick Abadzis
The Power by Naomi Alderman
The Lake District (AA Guide)

(There were a couple of freebies too, which I haven't read either)

So I really should be buying just 4 or 5 books on these crawls! I'm going to take a list of books with me to Oxford and try to stick to that, at least for fiction. I seem to be better at reading graphic novels, comics and non-fiction that I buy on a whim. We'll see how that works out, I'll probably be back here in two weeks' time with a massive haul again.

Oxford Bookshop Crawl is on the 5th August 2017 and you can find out more info at Ninja Book Box.

Monday, 24 July 2017


Read the World: Italy

When the Red Fever came, it killed only the adults. On the island of Siciliy, young Anna and her little brother Astor are left orphaned. Before her death, their mother wrote The Book of Important things, with instructions on how to live without her, practical things like how to treat a fever, but also a request to teach her brother to read. In this world without adults, reading can be the key to survival.

The virus is perhaps a metaphor for the fear of growing up; the death of childhood is literally your death. It can go down on the fairly limited list of books that talk about periods, and that even after the apocalypse you might need to find sanitary products.

When Astor falls ill, Anna must leave him to find medicine which triggers a series of events which exposes them to the different ways children have adapted. Some roam feral, others form organised groups and a kind of new religion. There is the twin left running the local shop, trading good for what he needs most and then there's the boy on a mission to find a certain pair of trainers.

Anna, in her lack of knowledge, sensed that all the creatures on this planet, from snails to swallows, and including human beings, must live. That is our mission; it has been written in our flesh. We must go on, without looking back, for the energy that pervades us is beyond our control.

I often felt a bit distanced from Anna, honestly the most emotional I felt was scenes concerning Fluffy the dog. I'd love to know the dog's third name before translation as Fluffy seems a bit silly and unfitting, although I did look up Maremmas and they are indeed fluffy. I really liked how Fluffy, the dog with three names, had a back story too.

I think I liked it more in parts than as a whole. Pietro's back story was really powerful and at times I was absorbed, but it was the kind of book I could easily put down. The plot is a bit roaming and the end was very sudden.

On the exchange market a watch was worth as much as a mobile phone, a computer or a Boeing 747. Less than a packet of Smarties.

Anna was originally written in Italian by Niccolò Ammaniti and has been translated into English by Jonathan Hunt for Canongate. It will be available to buy in paperback and ebook editions from 3rd August 2017. 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, 23 July 2017

#24in48 Day Two

Time spent reading: 16 hours approx
Books finished: 4
Pages read: 993

Woo, a successful reading weekend completed! A chunk of today was taken up with Scully's birthday celebrations, so as expected I didn't read as much as yesterday. I could carry on going until midnight but I am pretty tired now and just want to zone out.

Compared to Dewey's it was much more relaxed and I spent at lot more time doing other things. Hence why my total hours and pages read are actually less than I would do trying to read for 24 hours straight. I did do a couple of challenges (shelfie and book spine poetry) although I missed a few that were scheduled overnight that I think I would have done had I seen them.

Books read: Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter, Lost for Words by Stephanie Butland, I Hate Fairyland by Skottie Young and Truth or Dare by Non Pratt.

Reviews will be done at some point in the next two weeks if you want to know more about the books.

Book Spine Poem:
Close your pretty eyes,
Let the games begin.
Truth or dare, do no harm.
Only we know it can't happen here.
Warm bodies, shattered minds.
Dead ever after.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

#24in48 Day One

Time spent reading: 9 hours approx
Books finished: 3

It's gone 9pm on this side of the pond, so I'm taking a break. Josh made me a very yummy dinner whilst I read I Hate Fairyland so I've scoffed that and am resting my eyes for a bit.

Scully kindly helped me out by sleeping on my legs for half the afternoon, which meant I was stuck reading unless I wanted to disturb her. And who wants to disturb a snuggly Labrador eh? I think 9 hours of reading is good going considering how little I have been reading at weekends recently. I am currently sipping some refreshing rose wine so I might not read much tonight but I hope to squeeze one more book in tomorrow.

All my books so far have been good and I'd recommend them, probably to different types of readers though, unless you're like me and love a bit of variety!

Books read: Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter, Lost for Words by Stephanie Butland and I Hate Fairyland by Skottie Young.

Friday, 21 July 2017

#24in48 Readathon

This weekend is the 24 in 48 Readathon. Whilst I am a Dewey's veteran, this in my first 24 in 48. If you don't know the premise, it's a bit more relaxed with the aim to read for 24 hours over the whole weekend. This also means people not in North America can start reading in the morning! Really I just need an excuse to boost my reading mojo as I have been terrible of late at weekends, with not much to show for my time off.

Sunday is Scully's first birthday and we're meeting her parents and siblings for a puppy reunion, so realistically my goal is 12 hours and two books, but if I can do more, great! Of course, my TBR is over-ambitious but I like to have a choice:

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Lost for Words by Stephanie Butland
Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter
After the Fire by Will Hill
The Waking Land by Callie Bates
Truth or Dare by Non Pratt
I Hate Fairyland by Skottie Young
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

I'll probably update here at the end of each day and more frequently on Twitter and Instagram. I am not going to be super strict with timing myself as I'm not that interested in prizes and I would most likely keep resetting my stopwatch by accident.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017


Yesterday is set in an alternate reality where the population is split between Monos and Duos. The difference? A Duo can remember two days and a Mono only one. This creates a class divide and Felicia Yap uses it to explore prejudice.

At the heart of the story is a dead woman, assumed murdered however murder is pretty rare as most people don't have the same grudges they would if they remembered everything clearly. However, the victim could remember everything, and had been institutionalised because of it. Her diaries suggest she hadn't the only one either, all condemned to madness.

With no long term memory you would expect civilisation to collapse. To get round this, everyone keeps a diary, once kept on paper but now, thanks to Steve Jobs, people can store them electronically. If they study their diary regularly, they can commit facts to long-term memory. Also, children can remember everything, with memory loss starting at age 18 for Monos and 23 for Duos. This gap strengthens the stereotype of Monos being stupid, as it prohibits a university education. Just as in our world, the working class have greater hurdles to catch up with the middle class, who have better opportunities afforded to them by wealth and connections.
It's a shame the lack of intelligence of a few reinforces the bigotry against the many.

It works if you don't think too hard about it all. With the memory constraints, it's a miracle this alternate world has the same technological advancement. I liked how precious the diaries were, a nod to current concerns over data privacy, as well as the potential for data loss. Claire discovers she is missing a period of time in her old diaries, events she didn't attempt to memorise. They put trust in their diaries just as we trust in hard drives and cloud storage.

It seems to me that thrillers these days must have unlikable characters, and Sophia and Mark definitely fit the bill. Sophia is the victim, whose diary tells us of her thirst for revenge against Mark, a famous writer (books are written to be read over a couple of days at most). Her reasons for revenge are not revealed immediately, which helps keep the pace.

Fortunately for me, Hans the detective and mark's wife Claire, are much more sympathetic characters. It says a lot that these are the Monos, whilst the Duos come across as arrogant and prejudiced. Normally, Monos' career prospects would be limited by their status but Hans has been pretending to be a Duo, his track record at solving crimes within a day contributing to his success, both as a detective and as a Mono in hiding.

It's the sum total of minuscule remembered gestures that makes love powerful. It's the agglomeration of tiny recollected grievances that makes hatred.

Everyone assumes Claire was just the pretty but stupid Mono wife. Mark's running for MP and part of his campaign is about mixed marriages, of which his is one. Yet there's more to Claire than meets the eye. The change in her diary style over 20 years shows she has improved her writing skills.

The diaries provide much of the narrative, jumping around in time as well as between characters. There are also press clippings that add some context as well as shedding light on the mystery, or confusing it more in some cases.

It's an interesting concept and I'd recommend to anyone who is getting a little fatigued by the usual domestic thrillers.

Yesterday is published by Wildfire, an imprint of Headline, and will be available in hardback and ebook editions from 10th August 2017. 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, 16 July 2017

The Girl of Ink and Stars

The Girl of Ink and Stars seems to have been everywhere over the past year. Whilst it was chosen as Waterstones' children's book of the year, I don't think it had occurred to me that it really was a children's book (rather than YA). It is a beautifully written children's book but unlike, say, Scarlett Thomas's Dragon's Green, it didn't feel like it was partly written for adults. Which is fine, just it didn't really spark with me and I have started to feel a bit fatigued with reading younger books of late.

All things have a cycle, Isabella, a habit of returning the way they came. Seasons, water, lives, perhaps even trees. You don’t always need a map to find your path back. Though often it helps.

Anyway, onto the actual book! Isabella is the daughter of a cartographer and best friend to the Governor's daughter, Lupe. Her mother and twin brother are dead, and it is alluded to that the Governor's harsh regime contributed to their fate. When one of their classmates is found dead, Isabella blames Lupe and the two fall out. The next morning Lupe is missing; she's gone to find the killer and prove that she's not rotten.

In order to join the search party for Lupe, Isabella disguises herself as a boy. I'm not a huge fan of this trope; first off why can't girls have adventures anyway? Secondly, I find it hard to believe a haircut and some trousers is enough of a disguise.* Slightly redeemed by the fact one person who knows Isabella isn't fooled. Why are fictional fantasy worlds always a bit sexist? Demon dogs fine, gender equality? Nah, no one will believe that.

Isabella inhabits an alternate world, with similar place names but clearly a world without our level of technology. The island of Joya is based on the real life Canary Island of La Gomera. With all the volcanic activity of these islands I can imagine their mythology is full of danger from beneath, and this is brought through in the book.

As well as the supernatural elements it also has an undercurrent of colonial tensions. The Governor came from another land and took over the island. He brought it laws preventing the native people from leaving and split the island in two. If you break his laws, you are banished to the other side, never to be seen again.

Why had he come here? Why did he treat Joya as if it belonged to him, and not to the people who had lived here for centuries?

I think it would be a lovely addition to your child's bookshelf though. And don't be annoyed by the fact it has girl in the title, for once it is actually about a girl! In the US, it's called The Cartographer's Daughter, but I was pleased to hear that the UK publisher didn't want to use that formula. She's more than just the daughter of a man, and it turns out she's just as much a cartographer of him, using ink and stars to navigate and create her own maps.

*I feel the same way about Arya in Game of Thrones.

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Book Source: Purchased