Tuesday, 31 January 2017

The Yorkshire Shepherdess

Amanda Owen always wanted to work with animals. A townie from Huddersfield, she tells her story of how she met her husband, Clive, and moved into Ravenseat, a hill farm in the Yorkshire Dales.

Once you've accidentally got your nose caught up in wool that is still attached to a sheep, you know you've made a mistake.

The subtitle of this book is misleading. I still enjoyed reading about sheep farming in a remote environment, but she really didn't leave a city life to become a farmer. She lived in a Yorkshire town and chose to go into farming straight from school. There are none of the anecdotes of someone trying to start something unfamiliar that I had expected. Yes, she was considered a townie at first, but she works her way up like anyone else. Which, is still interesting just not what I was sold.

The book is full of anecdotes about farming, the realities of living far from civilisation and a little history about the Yorkshire Dales. Her writing is very matter of fact and quick to get to the point, meaning some of the anecdotes felt a bit short and the overall effect was choppy. There were things I would have liked to carry on reading about but suddenly she was onto another topic.

Probably the most powerful bit for me was her account of the foot and mouth crisis. She was pregnant with her first child at the time and their sheep were being kept elsewhere for winter. I know we produce sheep for meat but it was such a wasteful and tragic loss, and many farmers didn't go on.

We watched as the disease moved inexorably onwards and people's lives were destroyed along with their sheep.

I get the feeling Amanda makes the assumption that anyone reading this book has watched The Dales. I haven't and I found it a bit irritating that she broke the past narrative by mentioning things in the present. No I don't know about what Ravenseat looks like now so describing something that way is unhelpful.

She does have seven children and she does include the birth of each one in the book. I suppose she doesn’t want them to feel left out, but there’s a limit to how many child birth stories I can read. She’s a bit unusual in that she doesn’t have the usual contractions, but at times she comes across a bit smug about it.

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Book Source: Purchased

Monday, 30 January 2017

Sofia Khan is Not Obliged

Sofia Khan can’t believe her possible husband-to-be wants her to live with his family, with a hole-in-the-wall so they will never have privacy. She wants to marry a Muslim but she must draw the line somewhere. When she gives her boss the idea of a Muslim dating book, little does she know she’s expected to write it too. Sofia is ready to give up on men, but with the advance in her bank account, she dives into the world of online dating.

Better to be undignified for a few moments, than undignified for a lifetime.

How can you not love Sofia Khan? She’s so honest about her research for her book on her dates, it’s fantastic. I mean she’s honest in general, except when hiding her father’s contraband, and she sticks to her guns. She’s not really expecting her dates to go anywhere, so she doesn’t really try at first. The modern world of Muslim dating is not all that different to mainstream dating; with weird expectations, dashed hopes and a long line of false starts.

In a lot of ways this book reminded me of Bridget Jones. They are both under pressure to marry at a point in their lives where some people think it’s too late. They both work in publishing and know they should probably smoke less. They both write in an informal, diary style with plenty of warmth and realism.

People are always going to ask when you're getting married. That's what makes people actually get married.

People make snap judgements all the time. In fact, Sofia makes assumptions about her white Irish neighbour, which turn out to be so far from the truth. Even her own mother thinks Sofia is making life harder for herself by wearing a hijab, but it’s what she wants and she sticks to it. Although there is an amazing part where she accidentally ends up with a t-shirt on her head instead. At least is wasn’t pants!

Whilst Sofia is busy dating, she also asks her friends and family about their dating experiences to include in her book. One is a second wife, another divorced and older generations had a different outlook altogether. Her sister is preparing for her own marriage too, less worried about the in-laws than Sofia.

Note for book: No one falls in love any more. (Bit sad? Tough. That's life.)

I would love to see more books like this. It’s easy to read and loads of fun, but books like this can only help with the general perception of Muslims, in a time when it’s sadly needed. Sofia could be any of one your friends. Probably the people that need to read it most won’t, but there might also be people that are just a bit unsure of what Islam actually means, and this lovely character shows you can combine religion with the modern world.

Anyway, I'm pretty excited that there's a sequel coming out in April. Sofia Khan is Not Obliged is still available super cheap as an ebook, so give it a go!

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Book Source: Purchased

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Margot & Me

Fliss loves her mother, so when she suggests a spell in Wales will help her recovery from cancer, she can hardly refuse. Internally she can complain all she likes, as they go to live on her grandmother’s farm in the absolute middle of nowhere. There’s not even internet! Fliss and Margot instantly get off on the wrong foot and Fliss can’t wait to get back to London. But when Fliss find’s Margot’s journal, she learns of a different woman, one who lived through the war, who had compassion and fire. How can she reconcile these two Margots and what happened in between?

The war is real to us now. Any delusion that this was all a jaunty holiday to the Welsh countryside is forgotten.

From the very first page I loved Margot, as she explains the problem with today’s kids is that they all think they’re special. Hah, I know we are probably meant to side with Fliss and slowly come around to like her grandmother as the story unravels. My age is probably showing! Plus, I’d love to go live on a farm in Wales.

It’s set in the late 90s in order to make Margot’s age work. It’s not immediately obvious, just a mention of 1988 being ten years ago, and they still watch videos. There’s also a lack of mobiles and social media, which allows for greater isolation from Fliss’ old life.

Sometimes progress is saying no and meaning it.

The narration is shared between Fliss and her grandmother’s journal entries. Fliss isn’t exactly fitting in at her new school and the journal becomes a distraction for her. She reads about how Margot was evacuated from London in the 40s, going to live on the farm where she finds herself now. There are tales of hot boys and prejudice, and a woman who stood up for what she knew to be right, even if other people hadn’t caught up yet.

Fliss is a spoiled brat and really quite rude at the start of the book. I was a bit concerned about the portrayal of the Welsh versus Londoners, although Fliss does come around later. She’s quite superior, thinking that Londoners are more progressive and civilised. It doesn’t help that the first girls she meets at school are the bullies. It’s important to keep in mind everywhere has moved on since the 90s and I hope Welsh kids don’t pick this up and feel insulted. There are good Welsh people in it too.

It makes me so mad. I don't get how you can be so horrible to each other. Can you imagine if adults carried on the way some of you lot do?

As Fliss gets to know Margot through her journal and makes friends at school, she starts to soften as a character. She even gives up meat to rescue a piglet from the slaughterhouse (OK, also to prove a point to Margot). By the end, it’s incredibly moving both in sad and positive ways.

Margot & Me is published by Hot Key Books and will be available in paperback and ebook editions from 26th January 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.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Radio Silence

The most important thing to Frances is her education, on track to get into Oxbridge her only guilty pleasure is a podcast no one else really knows about. Aled’s sister disappeared and Frances thinks she’s the reason why. When the two becomes friends, she learns that Aled is the secret creator of her favourite thing.

Being clever was, after all, my primary source of self-esteem.

I loved Solitaire and Radio Silence, Alice’s second novel, is just as good. I love her voice and the authenticity of her characters. They feel like real young people in Britain today. I get the feeling Frances is very similar to Alice in some ways.

Universe City is a podcast on a similar vein to Night Vale. It's a bit niche and Frances thinks that people will think she's weird, or otherwise ruin it for her, if they know. She has her school persona which is kept separate from her real self, and she knows that loving a weird podcast is not the Frances that is head girl material.

The podcast was created by Radio Silence, the identity of which is much speculated upon within the fandom. When Frances discovers Aled is Radio Silence she vows to keep his secret, because not everyone want to be famous. As they work together on the show, they become close friends, best friends even. It is so nice having books about friendship.

Being friends with Aled made me feel like I'd never had a real friend before.

Of course, nothing can stay secret forever. The hounding of people on the internet is spot on and I think it’s positive to have stories which show there are actual human beings behind online anonymity.

In the UK, the expected path of bright young people is to go to university, whether or not that is still the best option for them. It was good to see this picked up on in a YA book, where the characters start to really think whether or not that's what they want. There's parental pressure but also just the sense of that's just what you're supposed to do.

It's been praised a lot for being a non-romantic story with a bisexual main character. Alice demonstrates that you can quite easily make your characters a diverse bunch and still write about what you want. There is a mix of sexualities and races, never just defaulting to cis white.

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Book Source: Purchased

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Incoming!

The key thing I got in the post so far this year were some softbox studio lights, which have made a world of difference to my Instagram photos. I just got cheap ones off eBay and whilst they can be a bit fiddly to click into place, I would generally recommend them if you're fed up of the gloomy winter light ruining your photos.

This past week has been pretty busy for book post and there's plenty I can't wait to dive into. I've already read the latest from Juno Dawson and Seanan McGuire so keep an eye out for reviews next week. Out of the others, I'm looking forward to Wintersong the most. Let me know if you've read any of these already!



For Review:

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti (Tinder Press)
Margot & Me by Juno Dawson (Hot Key Books)
Wishbones by Virginia Macgregor (HQ)*
Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones (Titan Books)
Octavio's Journey by Miguel Bonnefoy (Gallic Books)
This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel (Headline)*
The Wild Other by Clover Stroud (Hodder)
Windwitch by Susan Dennard (Tor)*
Freeks by Amanda Hocking (Tor)*
The Riviera Express by T.P. Fielden (HQ)*

Bought:

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire
Complications by Atul Gawande
Electronic Dreams: How 1980s Britain Learned to Love the Computer by Tom Lean
First Bite: How We Learn to Eat by Bee Wilson



*Unsolicited titles

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Q+A with Vic James

Today I'm excited to welcome Vic James to the blog. I reviewed Gilded Cage earlier this month and was eager to hear about how it came to be. Read on to find out more...


How would you describe Gilded Cage in 140 characters or less?

In an alternate modern Britain, everyone must perform 10 years’ service to the ruling magical aristocracy. A brother & sister must survive – & make a different world.

Where did the idea of ‘slavedays’ come from?


In the world of GILDED CAGE, the ‘slavedays’ are a decade of labour demanded by the elite 1% from the 99% of ‘us’. In our world, what sets the 1% apart is their wealth and power. I was making a BBC TV series called The Superrich and Us when I thought, one day, that their advantages over the rest of us were so great as to be almost like magic. Lightbulb moment, right there!

So the aristocrats of GILDED CAGE are like our own elite 1%, but with even more power. And the commoners of GILDED CAGE are like the 99% of us, but enduring conditions even harsher. The slavedays are a blend of many things that feel wrong and unjust to me in our society today – especially how they affect young people: How work can be relentless, just to keep your head above water. Pitiful prospects of ever owning your own home. Political disenfranchisement. Unfulfilling jobs that don’t use or value the education you have.

Do you have a favourite character?

Impossible question! I love Luke’s honesty and courage, Abi’s intelligence and determination, Silyen’s brilliance and lack of scruples, and Renie’s resilience and cheek. Two characters I came unexpectedly to love writing – though both are far from lovable! – are arrogant playboy Heir Gavar, and deranged Dog.

In your alternate history, the monarchy was removed with Charles I, why did you choose this point in history to deviate from ours?

Partly familiarity – I did a PhD on the reign of Charles I. Partly drama and impact – it was the only time since the Norman Conquest that regime change on that scale has happened in Britain. And partly because it fitted the shape of the ‘slavedays’ system. Introduced in modern times, the slavedays would make no sense. But they would have been perfectly logical 400 years ago. The ‘slavedays’ are not enduring slavery, but a form of indentured service (when you’re unfree, but for a fixed period of time), which was commonplace in the seventeenth century.

How has your background in current affairs shaped your writing?

It’s given me insights into everything from the harsh realities of life at the bottom of our society today (when I made UK reports for Channel 4 News), to how sexual coercion is commonplace in politics (I made a report dubbed ‘Sexminster’), to how elites live and operate, as with the Superrich series. I couldn’t have written this book and expected it to be convincing without that experience.

The political climate in Gilded Cage hints at the current dissatisfaction with Westminster from many parts of the country. Do you feel fantasy gives you more freedom to explore class and inequality?

It’s not a question of having more ‘freedom’. It’s simply a personal preference for fantasy, as both a writer and reader. I wouldn’t hesitate to write a searing critique of contemporary politics and economics in an entirely real-life setting, if I wanted to. But my whole life I’ve loved stories that tell us about our world, while taking us to a different world. So that’s what I wrote in GILDED CAGE.

What was your experience using Wattpad?

I used Wattpad for a very specific reason: to get the book written when I was extremely busy at work! I loved the idea of being accountable to readers. So I wrote a chapter a week and posted it to the site every Friday. It didn’t affect what I wrote or how I told the story, but it gave me a deadline that I felt I had to stick to – even if it meant getting up at 5am to write before work!

Can you give us any clues about what the future holds for the Hadleys?

Seriously? Clues?

Well, I can tell you the cover strap-line for book 3 is “Not all will be saved”. *looks around* *whistles*

What are you currently reading?

A stack of 2017 YA debuts! Right now: Cecilie Vinesse’s SEVEN DAYS OF YOU (an expat teenager’s last week in Tokyo, out March), Laurie Forest’s THE BLACK WITCH (if Hogwarts was a university, not a school, out May) and Heather Maclean’s TOWARD A SECRET SKY (Outlander meets Dan Brown, out April)

What's your favourite cake?

My Mum’s coffee cake with chocolate buttons on top. She still makes me one for my birthday each year!

Is there anything interesting/relevant/funny that you've found online recently that you'd like to share?

I heart twitter. It brings these things to you all the time. Pictures of 2,000-year-old mummified penguins. Awesome GIFs. Bonkers things that make me snort out coffee. So find me there @DrVictoriaJames if you’re curious what small things amuse my small brain…

Vic James is a current affairs TV director who loves stories in all their forms, and Gilded Cage is her debut novel. She as twice judged the Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize, has made films for BBC1, BBC2, and Channel 4 News, and is a huge Wattpadd.com success story. Under its previous title, Slavedays, her book was read online over a third of a million times in first draft. And it went on to win Wattpad’s ‘Talk of the Town’ award in 2015 – on a site showcasing 200 million stories. Vic James lives and works in London.

Gilded Cage by Vic James is the first instalment of the Dark Gifts Trilogy. It is published in paperback 26 January 2017 by Pan Macmillan £7.99


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Tuesday, 17 January 2017

The Sun is Also a Star

Natasha believes in science, not fate. She’s not even sure love exists. Today is the day she is due to be deported but she’s not given up yet. Daniel wants to be a poet, he believes in romance and believes fate has led him to Natasha. As she tries to rescue the rest of her life, her path crosses with Daniel’s, and even science can explain that every action can cause a change in an object’s trajectory.

She knows: love is just chemicals and coincidence.

Daniel is lovely. The second son of Korean immigrants, he has only felt the full pressure to succeed since his brother Charlie started to falter. His father wants the American Dream for them, but Daniel doesn’t really want to be a doctor. There’s a lot in this book about disappointing your family, or your family disappointing you.

He is so nice to Natasha, who might seem like she is undeserving. Understandably she has a lot on her mind, but Daniel does everything right. She slowly comes round to his way of thinking. Maybe it all happens too fast, but the book relies on everything happening in one day.

What I liked the most were the chapters from the perspective of the minor characters. Everyone is always caught up in their own lives with their own problems, we barely stop to think about the people we interact with on this level. And if we do, our assumptions are so often wrong. It also reflects how even the smallest of actions can change the course of a life.

As part of parental expectations, it also touches on their own racism. Both families wish their children to settle down with their own kind. In a world that is prejudiced towards them, they want the familiarity of their own culture, without realising their children are more American than Jamaican or Korean.

He can't see past his own history to let us have ours.

I guess I made the same mistake as the immigration official at the start of the book, thinking that Jamaica doesn't sound like the worst place to be deported to. I wasn't aware of the high rates of serious crime or the poverty levels. And America isn't exactly perfect right now but I get that we quite often only see part of the picture when it comes to another country. The book focuses a lot more on a rather charming romance and having to leave a life behind than a genuine fear though.

There are also chapters that talk about the history and culture of those involved, and also that not everyone is always aware of it. Especially younger generations, who may not want the weight of their legacy on their shoulders. And why should they? I did find the passage about the Korean monopoly on black hair care pretty amazing, what an odd world we live in.

This book is a huge improvement over Everything, Everything which, as you might know, irritated me greatly. There's a little bit of me that does think, really, you're leaving this to the day you're leaving to sort out, but mostly I liked the single day approach. And if you're wondering if you find out what happens with Irene, it's OK, there's a lovely little epilogue about everyone's future. I welled up a bit.

If you're particularly interested in the process of trying to stop deportation from the US, you might want to try Something In Between by Melissa de la Cruz which is a bit more on point.

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Book Source: Purchased

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Frostblood

Ruby has spent her life hiding her power. She is a Fireblood, gifted with the ability to manipulate heat and flame, well she would if she had a chance to practice. But in her eagerness to learn, she draws the Frost King’s soldiers to her village. In a land ruled by ice, Ruby’s very existence is outlawed. After she is captured, a mysterious warrior gives her a choice, rot away in prison or help them seek vengeance against the king.

You know when you’re reading a book and so much about it seems incredibly familiar? That’s kind of what I got from Frostblood, which is a wannabe Throne of Glass but doesn’t quite get there. I mean, it was enjoyable enough but I don’t like feeling as if a book is trying to be something else.

The story is in two halves, the first focusing more on the romance, and the second where things get exciting and more of the worldbuilding is done. It starts off strongly, with Ruby witnessing the unjust death of her mother, and her village punished just because of her heritage.

I suddenly wished I had never learned to care, that I was free from feeling, as I had been in the prison where all I had was hate.

I liked the monks. In a world of prejudice, they take in those unfairly persecuted, even Firebloods. Ruby learns some of the folklore and history, including the reasons so many hate her kind. I liked the origins story about the gods of the South and North, East and West, how they create creatures of fire and ice as well as the children of light and dark.

I didn’t emotionally connect to Ruby and Arcus’ relationship. They start out not liking each other but it is clearly setting it up for something to happen. Then next thing you know, bam they are in love and there is no showing of that gradual change from animosity to passion.

If we all had names to suit us, you'd be called Thorn in My Backside. Or Plague of the Gods.

The Frost King is a cruel leader, as those before him have also been. There is something about the throne which manipulates them and Ruby’s goal is to destroy it. In the meantime, the King sits through gladiator style battles, fights to the death in his arena. I was a bit sad about all the glorious creatures that were callously murdered in this part.

I’m not surprised most of the Firebloods have been wiped out. Throwing a bucket of cold water on them dampens their powers. On multiple occasions Ruby is neutralised by some cold water, yet the Frostbloods barely flinch at her fire.

Frostblood 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.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Defender

When they started hearing the voices, chaos ensued. People turned against their friends and families, then turned on themselves. Not everyone hears them, but Pilgrim does and he’s found an uneasy truce with the voice in his head. Him and Voice get by on their own OK until the day he stops to buy lemonade from a girl on the side of the road. A rare occurrence in this new, hostile world.

I picked up Defender as I was interested in the idea of the voices but it didn't quite deliver for me. The arrival of the voices is only covered in a few passages here and there, but somehow, they brought down society. They encouraged people to commit suicide and take their families with them. What I wanted to know was, why? Could the voices not bear sharing a head with humans? Why would the voices want to kill themselves along with their hosts? It is part one of four, so maybe it will be expanded upon in the next book.

Pilgrim is a loner forced to share his head with Voice. Voice has a distinct personality and often argues and manipulates Pilgrim, but for some reason they haven't tried to destroy each other. It could be a mass hallucination but something does happen during the course of the book to show the voices are something other.

Pilgrim wanted to tell Voice to shut up, but he'd learned early on that engaging with him at times like this only made him worse. He'd get tired of talking soon. He always did.

Lacey's not a loner but she has been alone. She is full of optimism, having been sheltered from the worst of what happened by her grandmother. She wants to find her sister who she hasn’t heard from for eight years. She’s in denial about what has happened to the world. Pilgrim begrudgingly agrees to help her get to her sister’s house and along the way he starts to soften, becoming a protective father figure.

It felt quite long and had a bit too much dependence on action over character development. Lots of descriptions, especially of abandoned places, so if that's your thing you may like it more than me. I did keep reading, so it has some merit as a post-apocalyptic thriller, but I was willing it to come up with something special. I guess I would probably classify it with The Road as not the right tone of apocalypse for me.

She wanted to say again that she was sorry, but she was so sick of those words. Sick to death of them. They tasted hollow and dusty in her mouth.

I'm uncomfortable with a fact one character gets kidnapped by sadists twice, like this is her only purpose in the novel, to be abused, with no exploration of what this does to her. Then there's the attempted rape of a teenager, and whilst an effort is made to show it affected her, it wasn't really necessary to the plot. I don't like sexual abuse being used as a world-building tool, it doesn't say the world is any worse than it is now.

Defender is published by Headline and is available now in hardback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Top Ten 2016 Releases I Meant To Read But Didn't Get To (But TOTALLY plan to)

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

I was much better at reading books I'd bought or requested last year, so I had to hunt around for 2016 releases still on my TBR. Some of these I was super excited for, so I don't know why I haven't read them yet. Also I used UK release dates as I think some of these may have been around longer. Have you read any? Where do you recommend I start with them? Or is there anything I should just stick in a charity bag?!



The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon
Eleanor by Jason Gurley



Smoke by Dan Vyleta
Faceless by Alyssa Sheinmel



Girl Detached by Manuela Salvi
The Last Star by Rick Yancey



Crosstalk by Connie Willis
Nevernight by Jay Kristoff



A Whisper of Horses by Zillah Bethell
Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari