Tuesday, 29 August 2017

The Grisha Trilogy

I finally got round to reading the rest of Leigh Bardugo's Grisha trilogy, only five years after reading the first book. There was plenty I had forgotten in the meantime, like the first book was called The Gathering Dark when I read it, not Shadow and Bone! Maybe that's why I couldn't find my review... Anyway, I wasn't hugely enamoured with the whole thing back in 2012, but I want to read Six of Crows, and as people have told me that it has spoilers for Grisha, I felt I had better at least try and finish it rather than get annoyed about spoilers.


Thankfully Recaptains exist, and I jogged my memory from their fantastic recap. I pretty much remembered the Darkling, the Fold and the stag, but not much about Alina and Mal. I have my suspicions that I didn't like their relationship that much (why didn't I write this down?), because as I started reading Siege and Storm, I just didn't feel any chemistry between them.

Beware, the rest of this post may contain spoilers for Shadow and Bone, so if you haven't started the trilogy yet but want my opinion, it gets better after the first book. Also I didn't read much fantasy set in a secondary world back when I started, so I may well have found it easier to get into if I had picked it up now. Or maybe not.

What is infinite? The universe and the greed of men.

So onto Siege and Storm, which is much fresher in my mind. Alina and Mal are on the run having escaped the devastation wreaked by the Darkling, but the leader of the Grisha Army is never far behind. Alina now carriers the first of Morozova's amplifiers round her neck, and the Darkling wants her power maximised by getting the other two. The search for these amplifiers, whilst trying to avoid the Darkling, is the main driver for the rest of the trilogy.

So back to the relationships. Honestly, could Mal stop moaning? The love of his live is trying to save the world and not become a slave to a power-hungry Grisha, but he's always thinking about what he wants, how his life doesn't fit with Alina's path, how it's not fair on him. Once Nikolai pops up, Mal also spends a portion of his time being jealous. Mal does redeem himself a bit in the third book but I just didn't feel like there was much for Alina to lose in Siege and Storm if he were to flounce off.

I really liked Nikolai though, he's humourous but also good without being too shiny perfect. He likes to think that he's perfect though! For a land so plagued by tragedy, it is so hopeful in a story to have a potential leader who would be good. It also meant that the thing that happens to him in Ruin and Rising had my heart in my throat. He elicited the feelings that I felt I should have had for Mal.

Ruin and Rising finds Alina and her ragtag group prisoners of the Apparat and a bunch of religious fanatics who claim to serve her but seem to want to keep her to parade round as a saint. Everyone wants to use Alina. I liked the story arc, although I was a bit worried she was going to end up with everyone as enemies.

You know the problem with heroes and saints? They always end up dead.

Sometimes the bad guys in fantasy seem to have all the odds in their favour. If you've got monsters of darkness at your fingertips, it doesn't seem like there is any chance for good to prevail. I suppose what gives Alina a chance is the fact that the Darkling wants her by his side, perhaps he really is lonely. A human weakness that makes the climax just a little bit easier to believe.

OK, I totally guessed about the third amplifier. The ending was all a bit too neatly tied up though, especially after a long run up and it was over very quickly. However I'm glad I went back and read these books. There are a lot of characters who have their own complexities, and sometimes I felt I wanted a bit more that wasn't just about Alina.

I also picked up a companion story, The Witch of Duva. You can completely read this as a standalone, it doesn't share any characters and you don't need to know about Grisha. It has a Hansel and Gretel kind of vibe, but it turns out not to be what you expect. It was a bit darker in tone than the Grisha trilogy feels which makes me more interested in her forthcoming story collection.

Siege and Storm:
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Ruin and Rising:
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Book Source: Purchased

Monday, 28 August 2017

Moonrise

Warning, you will need tissues for Sarah Crossan's next book! Moonrise's sparse yet beautiful free verse tells the story of Joe whose brother is on death row. It follows Ed's final weeks as well as flashbacks to their childhood, which builds up your compassion for the family.
I didn't know that to be accused of murder in the wrong state was fatal.

Like many awaiting execution at the hands of the state, Ed is going through the appeal process. Initially he couldn't get a good lawyer but now that his execution date has been set, he has pro bono help. Joe travels to Texas to spend what time he can with his older brother. He's not sure if he is innocent, he's never asked, but he knows he doesn't want to lose him.

This book will make you angry about the US justice system. Coming from a country without the death penalty, death row seems incredibly cruel, not just for the convicted but for their families. Told from the brother's point of view you see the impact, not only the grief but the perception of the relatives. Joe feels like the state is murdering his brother. I strongly believe that prison should be about rehabilitation, not just punishment.

When news broke in New York that Ed was a suspected murderer, kids in my class were warned by their petrified parents to keep away from me, the bad boy, sad boy, God-only-knows-what-boy. Ed came from our house - a place they suddenly assumed was brewing evil like chicken soup.

What kind of system lets a vulnerable teenager be interrogated without legal representation, by people who are emotionally connected to the victim? I didn't care if he was guilty, I just felt rage at those cops. Ed might technically be an adult at eighteen but most parents would see him as a child still, and his background should say he needs more help, not less. Should we not give people second chances?

It would be easy to hate Aunt Karen too, but I think she is doing the best she can to protect her sister's children. With their father dead and their mother a mostly absent alcoholic, Karen is the closest thing they've got to a parent. She cuts Joe and Angela off from Ed to save them pain. She is sure he is guilty and there's nothing that can be done for him, but she can help the rest of the family.

You can't save anyone's life but your own.

Don't let the free verse put you off, you can read Sarah's books as if they were prose. They are stunning and so very effective at stabbing you in the heart.

Moonrise is published by Bloomsbury and will be available in hardback and ebook editions from 7th September 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, 27 August 2017

Book Box Unboxing Bonanza!

I received three whole bookish subscription boxes this month, so I thought I'd unbox them in one post. This post contains spoilers for Illumicrate, Ninja Book Box and FairyLoot, so don't scroll past the photo of Scully checking out the fairy scoop if you are still waiting for any of these boxes! They are UK based so check out the links if you're interested in trying them out.


First to arrive was Illumicrate. I'd seen the hints before it arrived and guessed correctly what the main book would be. The red-sprayed edges are an Illumicrate exclusive, and I love sprayed edges! I'm pretty happy to receive Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo in the box because I wasn't sure if I'd buy it but was curious about it. I am not a huge fan of the endless parade of superhero stuff coming out of Marvel and DC, but it's Leigh Bardugo and everyone seems to love the new Wonder Woman film. So it's good that the choice has been taken out of my hands!


So my absolute favourite thing was the Alethiometer coaster! If you don't know what this is, you have to go out and read the His Dark Materials trilogy immediately! I hope with the new book out soon we get more merchandise for it. The coaster is an exclusive item by Hannah Hitchman Art who has loads of lovely things for sale.


Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Release

The contemporary story at the heart of Release is powerful and moving. Adam is a preacher's son and he is gay. He's quite comfortable with his sexuality but his family are in denial. The boy he thought he was in love with is leaving town and he's facing unwanted attention from his boss.

It all happens in one day, although it is an eventful one so feels like longer. On one hand it's a microcosm of the type of things a gay teen in a small town might have to face. It's hard to fathom how parents can not want happiness for their child because of their sexuality. His father puts his religion before his son. It's also a bit about how it feels when it seems like everyone is moving on and you're being left behind.

They're your parents. They're meant to love you because. Never in spite.

Having heard a little about Patrick Ness' past, this book feels highly personal, perhaps reflecting some of what he went through with his parents (although the author's note says his dad is not in the book).

What I didn't really get on with was the secondary fantasy story and I didn't see how it was relevant to Adam. A girl has been murdered by her drug addict boyfriend and she returns to walk the world, with a faun at her side. The faun is worried that if she doesn't return by the end of the day, their world will end. The girl and his Queen are intertwined, both the same person and different. I suppose it was about how hard it is to escape your circumstances but the whole switching between Queen and dead girl confused me greatly.

Never pass up the chance to be kissing someone. It's the worst kind of regret.

The book is inspired by Mrs Dalloway and Judy Blume's Forever, two books I haven't read so may not have got the references. Although Mrs Dalloway cropped up in Yesterday so I can make one connection between that book and the girl's fate. If you've read these books maybe it will all click into place!

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Book Source: Purchased



Sunday, 20 August 2017

Murder on the Orient Express

I've most likely seen an adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express in the distant past but I didn't remember any details of the plot other than Poirot is stuck on a train and murder happens. So it was quite fun to read a bit of vintage mystery.

All around us are people, of all classes, of all nationalities, of all ages. For three days these people, these strangers to one another, are brought together.

At the start of this book, Poirot is travelling back from Syria (I know, how things change) which involves boats and luxury, long distance trains. After briefly acquainting himself with everyone in first class, Poirot retires for the night. In the morning he awakes to a train at standstill and a dead body in one compartment. With the train stuck in snow, he might as well go about solving the crime.

He sets about discovering the past of the victim and questioning all the passengers in a very Poirot fashion. Using his little grey cells he pieces together the events of that night by interviews, supposition and very circumstantial evidence. As the investigation goes on it seems there are far too many coincidences but it all comes together in the end.

But have I not heard you say often that to solve a case a man has only to lie back in his chair and think?

It's of the time in the sense there are a lot of stereotypes based on nationality. It is suggested that the murderer can't be English because stabbing is a very Latin way to kill someone. However making Poirot Belgian means he is also harsh on the English too, which stops it from being a bit smug. Still, if you are sensitive to this kind of thing in older books, it might ruin your experience.

When I got to the end, it jogged my memory a bit, at least the idea of how it was carried out. I think the concept of how the murder was committed is one that's not been too overused, but it's probably that which makes it one of her most read, along with the train based setting. Needless to say I found it gripping enough, although it takes while to get into because there's so many characters. If you fancy trying Agatha Christie, this is good place to start.

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Book Source: Purchased

Thursday, 17 August 2017

The Real-Town Murders

Adam Roberts' books are definitely for those people who want extra layers in the stories they read. On the surface, The Real-Town Murders is a locked room mystery, albeit in a future setting, but it's also about how governments seek to control and manipulate their citizens. The future technology is written from the point of view of someone who clearly keeps up-to-date with technological advancements of now.

Conspiracy is possible. Dead bodies appearing from nowhere is not.

Alma is called in to investigate a murder at a wholly automated car factory, where humans aren't allowed on the shop floor, well not in person. The body was found inside a newly made car, with no evidence to how the killer got in or out.

It's not an unusual thought to wonder how VR could transform our work lives. Imagine not having to commute, just logging in from home and interacting with your colleagues as if you were there. Think how liberating it would be not to be restrained by proximity to work when choosing where to live. This future does not have a housing crisis.

Life is all about the compromises people make between desire and finances. Or, more precisely: life in the real world was all about those compromises. The Shine was different.

It's taken a bit further than that, a lot of people now live in cupboards because they rarely leave the Shine. They get their exercise in mesh suits whilst their mind is elsewhere. Towns in the real world have re-branded in attempt to lure people back Real-Town was once Reading, Basingstoke is now BasingStoked! Even the White Cliffs of Dover have had a face lift.

Of course, in this kind of world there's a lot to say about surveillance and data privacy. What exactly do you sacrifice in exchange for the life you have in the Shine? And what are the disadvantages if you're one of the few not connected?

Alma is a carer, as well as a private investigator, one who has no chance to pass her duties on. Her partner Marguerite is living with genehacked malware, which requires treatment every four hours and four minutes. Alma's DNA has been coded into the cure so only she can administer it. As you can imagine, this is problematic when you're wanted by the authorities and it doesn't help that Marguerite is too large to leave their home. It really adds an element of urgency to the story.

The two great dangers of governance are complacency and cruelty.

Women are not sidelined in this science fiction nor are they stereotypes. Alma is tough but she is also capable of crying, of caring deeply for the woman she loves despite hardship. It definitely passes the Bechdel test with most the key characters being women, even the baddies.

The Real-Town Murders is published by Gollancz and will be available in hardback and ebook editions from 24th 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.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Top Ten Science Fiction Books to Read if You Think You Don't Like Science Fiction

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Despite its huge popularity on the screen, readers often shy away from science-fiction, but it's not all aliens, technobabble and space battles. I would say I am a fan of science fiction but I don't tend to read that hard SF that everyone thinks of when the genre is mentioned, there is so much scope in it. So here are ten books I would recommend to reluctant genre readers...



The Machine by James Smythe

This is one of my favourite books but you wouldn't go wrong picking up any of James' books. They are very much character driven but with plenty of thought-provoking themes. This one is particularly good if you like books about memory.

The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor

African centred science fiction, you must read Nnedi Okarafor, especially if you're interested in reading about the effects of exploitation.



The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers


It's just the most wonderful, comforting, fuzzy feeling of a book. Honestly the description didn't do it for me when I first heard about it but I was swayed by so many positive things and I beg you to read it!

The Thing Itself by Adam Roberts

One for those of you who like philosophy or want to exercise your brain.



The Fireman by Joe Hill

The science of oxytocin at play in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by a self-combusting spore.

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

Weird and biological science fiction, the first instalment of the Southern Reach trilogy is also on the eery side.



Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Or any of Margaret Atwood's speculative fiction works. There's this one called The Handmaid's Tale too...

The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke

The most feelings I've ever felt for a robot.



Saga by Brian K. Vaughan +Fiona Staples

(Contains graphic imagery) A tale of two parents from opposing sides of an intergalactic war trying to raise their mixed race child whilst running for their lives. It's THE best comic out there.

The Humans

Warm and funny, with a serious message at its heart.


Monday, 14 August 2017

A Quiet Kind of Thunder

I loved this adorable story about Steffi and Rhys, filled with so much damp-eye inducing kindness, which can be so hard to come-by (although I hear a rumour that kindness is all set to be the next big publishing trend).

Meekness is my camouflage; silence is my force field.

Steffi suffers from anxiety which results in selective mutism, meaning she doesn't speak except in situations she feels comfortable doing so. She is silent at school but talks to her family and best friend. She wants to go to university and her family want to see that she'll be able to cope. She must try talking more.

It's the start of senior year and Rhys is one of the new kids. Steffi is baffled to why the headteacher thinks she should be personally introduced but soon it becomes clear that he is deaf and she knows basic BSL (British Sign Language). Turns out that Steffi is much more comfortable talking with her hands and their friendship quickly blossoms.

The thing with having limited BSL skills is that it forces you to condense complex emotions into their simplest form in order to communicate them.

I loved her friendship with Tem and her relationship with her parents. They are separated and her dad is so lovely. Her mum is devil's advocate, some might she her as the bad guy, but both of them have Steffi's welfare at heart. Everyone in this book is so accommodating, it's really nice to see a book about anxiety that doesn't make you feel anxious yourself.

I'm not sure selective mutism was a term when I was at school but I relate a lot to Steffi's experience. I was just labelled one of those quiet kids. I could talk to teachers, especially if it was a subject I liked, but I really struggled with talking to classmates (other than my best friend, just like Steffi). Away from the school environment, things got easier but I still sometimes have to psyche myself up for talking to strangers, especially on the phone. The internet was a revelation to me, because sometimes a different form of communication can be liberating.

It's hard to say if it does a good job explaining that kind of anxiety to someone who has never felt it, but it does feel spot on from my point of view. I can imagine for some people it's hard to get your head round the idea that words just don't come out because you're too busy worrying about the consequences.

I found there was a bit too much exposition around both Steffi's muteness and Rhys' deafness. It wanted to explain a lot, which on one hand is noble, but it could have been shown a bit more through the story. It does highlight some of the things you can do around deaf people to make them feel more included, things hearing people take for granted.
Little victories are everything in a world where worst-case scenarios are on an endless loop in your head.

I was recommended this book for Diversity Bingo and so I'm going to use it for a square even though the protagonist isn't deaf. Rhys is still a major character, if not the main one, and it is the spirit of showing a disability in a positive light.

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Book Source: Purchased

Saturday, 12 August 2017

The Reading Quest

Hosted by Read at Midnight, character art by CW @ Read, Think, Ponder.

I saw Charlotte tweeting about this super fun reading challenge yesterday and I think there's enough books on my immediate TBR that fit the Mage path so sign me up! The quest runs from Sunday 13th August to Sunday 10th September, 2017.


MAGE: As wielders of spells and witchcraft, these players will conjure and summon their way through the First Down path on the quest. Their tomes contain magic and whispers of alternate lands.

One Word Title: Release by Patrick Ness
Contains Magic: Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
Based on Mythology: Antigoddess by Kendare Blake OR Circe by Madeleine Miller OR Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
Set in a Different World: Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
--> Expansion: The Witch of Duva by Leigh Bardugo
First Book of a Series: The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin


I will be trying to keep track of my XP and levels and I'll sort out my super duper cute character card later on. For more information on the rules and to sign up please visit Read at Midnight's original post.