Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Top Ten: Winter TBR

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

My winter TBR plans are usually scuppered by me desperately trying to meet my reading target over the holidays*, but here are ten books I'd like to get round to reading soon! It's a mix of review copies and recent purchases.

The Lost Plot by Genevieve Cogman
The Book Of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch

Love, Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed
The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant
The End We Start From by Megan Hunter

Sleeping Beauties by Stephen and Owen King
La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli
The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

*This is not necessarily a bad thing, I get to read loads of comics instead!

Thursday, 23 November 2017

The Amber Spyglass

I’ve finished my His Dark Materials re-read and I’m so glad I did pick them up again. They’ve made me look forward to La Belle Sauvage so much more. The Amber Spyglass is the final part of the trilogy but probably my least favourite. Maybe it suffers a bit from successful author editorial syndrome, in which edits aren’t quite so harsh in later books. Because it did feel a bit long and meandering, and lacks a little pace in places. It is still good though, and provides a conclusion to what’s going on with the dust.

Lyra and Will are separated at the start. Lyra is being kept asleep by her mother, who we can’t trust completely but seems to be starting to put her daughter before her own desires. Will is being accompanied by some angels, two who appear as male and are deeply in love. Yet another thing that passed me by on my first read, there are gay angels.

Remember Mary from our world who was studying dark matter and found out a way to talk to it? Well she’s now stepped through into another world where there is an intelligent species who have evolved to use wheels to move around. Mary is accepted into their community and helps them with her knowledge of dust. But the trees that provide their seed pod wheels are dying and it’s something to do with dust.

There is a subtext to this part, as it there to most of Pullman’s worlds, around evolution and climate change. The actions of man have consequences, in this case to dust which is part of everything. Will and Lyra must make some hard choices and put aside their wants in order to do what’s best.

Maybe sometimes we don't do the right thing because the wrong thing looks more dangerous, and we don't want to look scared, so we go and do the wrong thing just because it's dangerous. We're more concerned with not looking scared than with judging right.

The two children also spend some time in the land of the dead, a place daemons cannot go. The separation of daemon and person raises the question of what is death. There is both an afterlife here and also the idea that at death your return to dust, your atoms always exist but become something else. There’s no heaven and hell, perhaps just purgatory and the relief of release.

From the earlier books, you’ll know about dust being original sin. Lyra is becoming more sexually aware, although I’m really not sure what age she is by now, not much time has really passed but she’s presented as more of a young adult by the end. The daemons settle in their final form before the gut-wrenching ending. It’s not dramatic but shows the children as selfless and brave and OMG if only there could be another way. Sniffle.

I stopped believing there was a power of good and a power of evil that were outside us. And I came to believe that good and evil are names for what people do, not for what they are.

So I think there’s going to be a lot of people looking forward to the parts of The Book of Dust that return to an adult Lyra. I haven’t read La Belle Sauvage yet (I’m saving it for a time I can settle down with it in one go) but I understand that’s set before HDM with the forthcoming books much later on.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Hive | Wordery

Book Source: Purchased

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

#NonficNov: Making of a Favourite

This week’s prompt is hosted by Doing Dewey and is all about what it takes to get a place on the non-fiction favourites shelf.

We’ve talked about how you pick nonfiction books in previous years, but this week I’m excited to talk about what makes a book you’ve read one of your favorites. Is the topic pretty much all that matters? Are there particular ways a story can be told or particular writing styles that you love? Do you look for a light, humorous approach or do you prefer a more serious tone? Let us know what qualities make you add a nonfiction book to your list of favorites.

It's something that’s so hard to pinpoint for me, I think it needs to be a magical combination of things.

Topic is super important, although there is a wide variety that interests me. I also like the book to stay on topic, tangents are fine if related but sometimes I just want to get back to the matter in hand. For example, I loved the nature writing in The Outrun and picked it up to read about life in Orkney, but a huge part of the book was about her alcohol addiction, which is a hard sell for me, so whilst I liked it, it wouldn’t be a favourite.

I read non-fiction to be both entertained and informed, so I love an emotional connection combined with a topic that piques my interest. The Radium Girls was incredibly moving, but I was also interested in the history and effects of radium and how the law has been changed since. It ticks all my boxes. You Will Not Have My Hate touches on a topic often on our minds and displays raw grief whilst being beautifully written.

Writing style matters but it should also fit the topic. I don’t like dry textbooks but I’m not a fan of too flippant a tone either. I don’t get on with American humour so much; everyone recommends Mary Roach’s books every November but I found her jokes in Stiff a bit irritating. However, if humour is on my wavelength, it is perfect. I love Yes Man and The Tent, the Bucket and Me, probably because they seem a bit more humble and relatable.

I love books that approach a topic in a different manner. Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep looks at neuroscience through the lens of the zombie subgenre and Rabid explores the disease of rabies via its cultural impact. The Knowledge is a book I recommend often because it is both practical but also illuminating on what life might be like after the apocalypse.

Basically, if it’s a topic I love, told with emotion and skill, looked at from a different angle, whilst teaching me something new without straying too far from the point, it’s likely to get five stars!

Monday, 20 November 2017


I absolutely adored Nevernight when I read it earlier this year and was excited to get around to the sequel. Godsgrave takes a slightly different turn and is mostly based around gladiator style combat as entertainment. How Mia ends up in this position you may ask? Well it takes a fair amount of the book to explain it, with the story going back and forth in time in much the same style as the first.

If Vengeance has a mother, her name is Patience.

This narrative style didn’t quite work as well this time round, there was less intertwining of the tales, and I would have liked it to have been more linear. It took me a long time to really get into it, it’s not the kind of book you can pick up for a few minutes here and there. When the two timelines met, I found it much more compelling – then you know what Mia is really up to.

At the end of Nevernight, Mia’s left in an awkward position of being pretty much the only assassin left so the Red Church has little choice to give a place to the girl who chose mercy over following orders. Jump forward to Godsgrave and she’s letting herself get captured and sold as a slave. She has a plan.

Of course, Mia manages to get herself assigned to a gladiatorial collegium but not all her plans go smoothly. She meets another darkin, not quite like herself, and she still yearns to know more about who she is. Mister Kindly and Eclipse are possibly the best thing; they are constantly bickering and being snarky to each other. They don’t have to both be in Mia’s shadow all the time, and they do have their uses when they go elsewhere. They seem to balance each other out though, they both care about her in their ways, I don’t believe it is ever just about feeding off her fear.

If you can't see your chains, what use is a key?

I’m not massively into lots of action, and assassinations are more my pace than battles, so I did find some of the arena “games” too long and too frequent. The whole concept of gladiators is brutal, and you do wonder if Mia is becoming someone else, someone without a heart. Some of the new characters are cold, some don’t make it through to the end and others you just want a better life for.

There is some romance and it is queer. I did like that it could have been made into something fraught with drama but was actually kinda sweet instead. Although at the end it is all but what does that mean for x, y and z?!

The ending! Yeah, well, you’ll have to read it to find out but gah, what a cliffhanger. Now we all need book three immediately. Despite this not being as perfect as Nevernight I am so excited about reading more.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Hive | Wordery

Book Source: Purchased

Saturday, 18 November 2017

One of Us is Lying

One of Us is Lying is loosely based on The Breakfast Club, but with a more sinister edge. There's the geek, the jock, the criminal, the prom queen and the outsider. Five enter detention but only four leave alive. I read this during readathon and it kept me turning the pages, eager to know who did it. I am not super familiar with the film it's based on.

Simon is the creator of a gossip app that reports on the secrets of Bayview High. There are few people who don't have a reason to kill him, but what are his fellow detentionees hiding? They might all start out as stereotypes but of course, people are so often different from how they present themselves to the world.

Cooper is the jock and his secret is nothing to be ashamed of, it's society that is the problem, especially the attitudes in the sporting community. I think for him, although he lost the choice of telling friends and family, it wasn't altogether a bad thing.

That's the kind of person you can get away with killing: someone everybody else wants dead.

Addy is the prom queen character and seems a bit air-headed at the start but you soon learn her relationship with her boyfriend is controlling. She has relied on him too much and she must earn not to be co-dependent. What she did wasn't right, but maybe it was good for her.

I liked Nate who is the least advantaged of the bunch. He lives with his alcoholic father and makes ends meet by dealing drugs. He is not a bad person but driven by shitty circumstances. He's on probation when the death happens and obviously, everyone thinks he is the prime suspect.

Bronwyn's a straight A student with aspirations of Yale. Her secret will put that at risk. She felt like the main character in this, but maybe the hardest to feel sympathy for. I don't think what she did was dealt with properly either. The media are overly intrusive in all cases though, it's a real problem that people are tried through the media before things even get to court.

I guess we're almost friends now, or as friendly as you can get when you're not one hundred percent sure the other person isn't framing you for murder.

Each character has chapters in first person narrative but the voices aren't that distinct so I did rely on the headings to tell me who was talking at times. These four teenagers who didn't have reasons to mix normally, start to forge friendships, despite lingering suspicion. By the conclusion, it's a sad reminder of the brutal social environment that high school can be. It's so hard to come out of it unscathed.

Read Hanna's review @ Booking in Heels.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Hive | Wordery

Book Source: Purchased

Thursday, 16 November 2017

My Indie TBR

Bex @ Ninja Book Box is challenging herself to buy only independently published books next year. I am rubbish at such buying restrictions and I do want to read more of my TBR in 2018, so I may just stick to pledging to buy one indie book a month. However I thought I'd take this opportunity to show you some of the indie books already on my TBR.

There really is a lot of variety and doing this has helped me to remember what I already have on my shelves! Please do feel free to leave a link to your review in the comments if you've read any of these.

The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch (Canongate)
2084 by various authors (Unsung Stories)
The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James (Walker)
The Clocks in This House All Tell Different Times by Xan Brooks (Salt)

The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss (Granta)
The Cut by Anthony Cartwright (Peirene Press)
Stiletto by Daniel O'Malley (Head of Zeus)
Foxes Unearthed by Lucy Jones (Elliott & Thompson)

Seal Skin by Su Bristow (Orenda Books)
Empire of Booze by Henry Jeffreys (Unbound)
Girl Detached by Manuela Salvi (Barrington Stoke)
The Book Collector by Alice Thompson (Salt)

Blood: A Biography of the Stuff of Life by Lawrence Hill (Oneworld)
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber)
The Most Beautiful Book in the World by √Čric-Emmanuel Schmitt (Europa Editions)
Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta (Granta)

Thursday, 9 November 2017

This Mortal Coil

You know when someone has lots of cool ideas of future tech and projections about what life could be like in the future, so they think they'll write book about it? I have loads of those ideas but I also know my limitations and couldn't come up with a plot to hold that all together. That is exactly how I felt about This Mortal Coil.

Bear with me, this will take a while to lay out. In the future, a terrible virus has spread across the world. The victims explode, the resulting clouds of red mist carrying the pathogen. However, you can temporarily vaccinate yourself by eating some flesh of the infected. I'm always all over a book about super viruses, so I was expecting to like this a lot more on that basis...

Humans have come to rely on technology for everything, implanted with gentech, seemingly a mix of nanobots and something with DNA that's not really changing it but "wrapping it" and this keeps them healthy. Their panel can also be used to change their appearance, provide VR services and make tasteless food taste good. People can run apps in their own bodies. Traditional medicine has now been forgotten about, of course. I can get down with gene therapy but the explanations of what the gentech was doing was a bit contradictory.

There's nothing so dangerous as an Agatta's best intentions.

Enter special snowflake Catarina Agatta. She is somehow allergic to gentech, but she can have some basic stuff. With all the technology they have, they can't cure an allergy? Hrm, well you'll find out more on that later (did someone say Everything, Everything?). Her father is a genius scientist who is taken away by Cartaxus to work on a vaccine for the Hydra virus.

Cartaxus is essentially a huge pharmaceutical company, just relying on code rather than drugs which does raise questions around the ethics of patenting medicines and also propriety software. During a year of living by herself, Catarina joins a group of rebel hackers and passes her days nibbling on infected human flesh. Turns out she's a skilled coder and has been helping to deliver medical hacks to those left behind by evil big pharma. Then one day a mysterious soldier turns up with a message from her father.

There's a special place in hell for whoever came up with DRM for food.

There is just so much going on, it felt like there was a plot twist every few chapters, and there's far too many explanations of tech, with some repetition, just to drive the point home. There is no leaving things for the reader to work out for themselves. I had thought it was a standalone, but it's not. There was enough material to spread over a few books in this one, so I'm not sure where it will go and I don't think I'll be finding out.

It was quite light on the romance, although there's still some weird love stuff going on (I can't tell you why it's weird without spoilers). It appears to be a bit of a Marmite book looking at Goodreads, so if you don't mind super twisty stories with a lot of information on the tech, then it might still be for you.

I've known him less than two days, but there's already a bond between us, forged in blood and urgency. Part of me feels like we know each other now on some fundamental level.

It did make me laugh grimly a few times on the old software development lifecycle stuff, probably the one thing that can be inferred. I mean you really don't want to release untested code into the world... But people still do.

This Mortal Coil is published by Penguin and is available now in paperback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Hive | Wordery

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.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Short Reads, Short Reviews

This is pretty much a catch-up post for a bunch of comics and novellas I’ve read over the past few months. I find these hard to review fully sometimes without giving too much away, so here are some brief thoughts. Links go to Goodreads if you'd like to find out more info.

Miss Marvel: Generation Why is the second volume of G. Willow Wilson’s Marvel contribution about a young Muslim superhero. I am reading this as not much of a Marvel fan and I wasn’t that keen on Wolverine appearing to give sage advice as an ageing superhero. I was wary that is was going to veer into the territory of the main universe, but fortunately it stayed pretty turn to its original vibe. I did love Lockjaw, the giant dog, though, who is sent to help out Kamala.

The ending of this volume seemed laboured in getting the point across, just in case you hadn’t noticed it was about younger generations feeling left behind, used and underappreciated. I liked the theme, I just don’t think readers need it to be spoonfed to them. There was a change in artists at episode 8 and I much preferred Adrian Alphona’s artwork. It seemed less generic comic book style and more expressive, with a beautiful, rich watercolour style. 4/5

I Hate Fairyland by Skottie Young is fun, sweary and gory. Gert entered Fairyland when she was 6 years old, 30 years later she is still there, and she’s still a little girl. She is pretty terrible at completing the quest that will send her home. She’s in a terrible mood and anything that gets in her way will pay. So colourful, so not for kids! 4/5

I liked the concept of Frostbite but it seemed a bit rushed and didn’t go into too much character development. In the future climate change has thrown us into a new ice age. With that comes a plague which freezes people from the inside out, called frostbite, leaving victims little more than frosty zombies. I think it might just be a single volume comic (it’s called a miniseries on the blurb) and I would have been more forgiving if I knew there was definitely some more story to come. 3/5

A Dead Djinn in Cairo had potential but it felt like just a bit too much information to take in for such a short story. Set in Egypt in 1912, the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities investigates any supernatural crime and this story follows Special Investigator Fatma el-Sha’arawi. I would have totally been interested in a longer book or series, I could have just done with a slower introduction to all the supernatural beings. 3/5

Avi Cantor Has Six Months to Live is exactly what’s written on the high school bathroom mirror in this novella from Sacha Lamb. Yet Avi doesn’t think anyone but him knows that name yet. As a trans boy, most of his schoolmates think he’s a lesbian or just weird. The message in the mirror leads to a knew friendship and the discovery of something more supernatural. I really liked this short novella and I loved the resolution. 4/5

Grave Matter is the latest young adult novella from Barrington Stoke designed for reluctant readers. Juno Dawson returns to her love of horror with a story about bringing a girl back to life. It had vibes of Buffy about it (both when Dawn tries to bring their mum back and the start of season six). It is also illustrated with creepy black and white drawings by Alex T. Smith. 4/5