Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Born a Crime

One of the Read Harder prompts I was most dreading was celebrity memoir. Just because I like someone's acting or singing, does not mean I want to read their life story. However, I bought Born a Crime last year without realising who Trevor Noah was and I was interested in learning about life in post-Apartheid South Africa.

One of the most sinister things about apartheid was that it taught colored people that it was black people who were holding them back.

It's a great introduction to Apartheid, a terrible chapter in South Africa's history, but told through the lens of a cheeky boy. When Trevor was born inter-racial sex was a crime. His mother was a no nonsense woman who flouted the rules and lived in the white part of town. There she met a white Swiss man and she asked one day for him to give her a child. I loved the stories of his parents, it wasn't quite what I was expecting from the title. He was born out of a woman's desire to give a child everything she did not have for herself.

She did so much to give Trevor the best possible advantages in life when odds were stacked against him. She was fiercely religious and would hit Trevor but everything was done with love. When his mum meets his stepfather, things go downhill and it was hard to read about the domestic violence.

She would hold my hand or carry me, but if the police showed up she would have to drop me and pretend I wasn’t hers, like I was a bag of weed.

Trevor talks about the genius of how Apartheid turned the majority black population against each other but also the utter lunacy of some of the policies. Chinese people were categorised as black but because South Africa wanted a good trading relationship with Japan, the Japanese were classified as white. Your classification could change too, you could become white if you were pale skinned and acted white but you could also be "downgraded" from white to coloured or coloured to black.

His childhood was one of never quite belonging. He was brought up by a black family yet if he ever ventured out in Soweto he would be called white. They were so separated that many had never really seen a white man and Trevor's paler skin was a novelty. He was educated and spoke many languages, which helped him make friends. If you speak the same language you are familiar and less scary. Yet he didn't feel accepted by coloured communities, he felt black.

Growing up the way I did, I learned how easy it is for white people to get comfortable with a system that awards them all the perks. I knew my cousins were getting beaten for things that I’d done, but I wasn’t interested in changing my grandmother’s perspective, because that would mean I’d get beaten, too. Why would I do that? So that I’d feel better?

I lost a bit of interest reading about his life of petty crime. He started making money selling pirated music, went on to DJing and then started providing loans, albeit much safer than most loan sharks. I tuned back in for the edge of the seat account of what happened to his mother.

It's well written with a good balance of history, humour and personal hardship. I laughed at Trevor's fear of flies going up his bum when he went to the outhouse and the dawning horror of what he does to resolve this.

Forget the gold standard—the hood operated on the cheese standard. Cheese on anything was money.

Thankfully it isn't at all about his time as a comedian or how he got there. I usually have little interest in reading the childhood portions of memoirs but this was the opposite. It was all childhood and a fascinating look at race from the perspective of a country that's not the US or UK.

Read Harder: A celebrity memoir
POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: A book recommended by someone else taking the POPSUGAR Reading Challenge

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Book Source: Purchased

Tuesday, 13 March 2018


13-year-old Sal has been planning their escape for a year. Sexually abused by her mother's boyfriend, she needs to stop the same happening to her younger sister Peppa. After taking care of Robert, Sal and Peppa go on the run, living in the Galloway Forest, armed with stolen goods and a whole lot of survival tips from YouTube.

Whilst I love survival stories and reading about rural Scotland (which takes me back to my childhood), Sal just wasn't for me. I can see that it was trying to mimic how a child would explain stuff, you know how they just have run on sentences and use "and" a lot? Then this happened and then I said this to her and then I did this. It might be realistic, but I found it irritating to read in large portions.

A lot of survival is planning, stopping, thinking and planning and trying to see what can go wrong and thinking about what will happen if things change.

The fact that Sal recites what she has learned from the internet makes it feel like there are a lot of info dumps. I like reading about living off the land, but she just reeled off lots of tasks rather than setting the scene. The girls like to describe things by their brand names and oh god, I hate the idea of Belvita biscuits...they are just biscuits, that some marketing department has convinced people it's OK to eat for breakfast. Just eat some blimmin' digestives! They are mentioned so much in this book I wondered if there was a product placement deal going on.

I am far too practical but I kept thinking they're going to run out of money if they carry on like they were. I don't actually think Sal was that good at survival, despite all the information she had absorbed. Lucky for her, the Galloway Forest is hardly an isolated wilderness, and she can get the bus into town. Sal is smart in some ways but not others. She's managed to research the law on murder in Scotland, yet fails to realise a child is not going to prison for life for killing her abuser.

Early on Sal reveals that she killed Robert, and throughout the book her mind goes back to what happened before. I was more engaged with these parts even though they are troubling. You discover about her mother's alcoholism and how she planned the whole thing. There were people in their lives who cared about them and I was happy with the ending.

I couldn't tell her anything about the flat or Maw or Robert so I used to say I felt fine and I was happy and sometimes I made up things I was worried about because she seemed to want me to feel worried about something. I once told her I was worried about climate change and I am a bit.

It's a short book and otherwise I think it would have gone in the DNF pile, but I was already half way when the mysterious old women appears out the forest and magically provides just what they need. I didn't see the relevance of the old woman's tales of living in East Germany. Is Sal supposed to relate her troubled life with living under Soviet rule? Is it just an adventure story to distract them from reality?

I dunno, maybe it's one of those books if I was a kid from Glasgow with an unstable background, I would love this story of escaping your life and living somewhere where no one can touch you. Perhaps I am just completely the wrong audience.

Monday, 12 March 2018

The Stone Sky

The Stone Sky is the final book in the Broken Earth trilogy and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous books.

Yet because you are essential, you cannot be permitted to have a choice in the matter. You must be tools - and tools cannot be people.

Honestly, I've never read a trilogy where each book has been just as strong the the others and all blindingly fabulous. How I'm meant to review the final book in the Broken Earth trilogy, I don't know, but I'd urge everyone to read it. If you shy away from epic fantasy because you think it's all like Game of Thrones, fear not, please just give Jemisin's books a try.

With Castrima destroyed, the surviving members of the comm must move and find somewhere new to settle. Do they blame Essun for their predicament? How much of herself did she sacrifice envoking the Obelisk Gate? Nassun is also on the move, her youthful innocence gone now that she sees the true evil of the world. Will mother and daughter meet again before the world ends for the final time?

An apocalypse is a relative thing, isn't it? When the earth shatters, it is a disaster to the life that depends on it - but nothing much to Father Earth. When a man dies, it should be devastating to a girl who once called him Father, but this becomes as nothing when she has been called monster so many times that she embraces the label. When a slave rebels, it is nothing much to the people who read about it later. Just thin words on thinner paper worn finer by the friction of history.

The narrative structure completely makes sense by the end of this book. The second person narrative wasn't just a stylistic choice, I just loved getting to that moment. The story of the stone eaters is also played out and how the world got to the state it's in. There is even a bucketful of sympathy for the Wardens, as much victims of circumstance as anyone else. It's so emotional, sad and uplifting at the same time.

It is more explicit about slavery than the other books, although it was always there to see reading between the lines; the forced obedience of the orogenes, breeding programmes and how the Stills didn't consider orogenes human. If the world had enslaved you, and people like you, would you seek revenge rather than save it? It is hard not to think of the terrible things that have been done by humans, to other humans and the earth alike.

The undercurrent of climate change has run throughout the books, it's hard to ignore with all the natural disasters kicking off seasons, however I think the message was strongest here. Father Earth may not be a sentient being in our world but we should respect him and know our limits. The Earth is not just one massive resource to be mined until its gone.

There's nothing we did to provoke their fear, other than exist. There's nothing we can do to earn their approval, except stop existing - so we can either die like they want, or laugh at their cowardice and go on with our lives.

Sometimes it's bittersweet getting to the end of a beloved series, but this time I'm excited because I know there's more of Jemisin's work out there already, just waiting for me to discover it. I also think these books are contenders for re-reading, the world is so complex and I'm sure there's more to absorb.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: An allegory
Science Fiction vs Fantasy Bingo: It's the End of the World As We Know It

Sunday, 11 March 2018

The Travelling Cat Chronicles

Read the World: Japan

I'm not sure why I picked up The Travelling Cat Chronicles, it's not my usual thing and I'm not even a cat person, but I have been wanting to read more translated work, so there is that. I found it a charming and moving tale about saying goodbye, partly narrated by a cat.

We cats get all limp and squishy when we have catnip; for humans, wine seems to do the trick.

Nana is a stray, sleeping on the streets (or on top of Satoru's silver van) when he is involved in a road accident. Kind Satoru takes him in and tends him back to health. When given the choice, Nana decided not to go back to his old life, despite his fierce independence. Fast forward an undisclosed number of years, and Satoru is seeking a new home for his beloved cat. He's not able to take him where he is going.

When an animal’s life is over, it rests where it falls, and it often seems to me that humans are such worriers, to think of preparing a place for people to sleep when they are dead. If you have to consider what’s going to happen after you die, life becomes doubly troublesome.

Nana's voice is typical cat, he's a bit sarcastic and doesn't suffer fools gladly. He doesn't seem impressed by the people Satoru's considering for his new home. Part road trip, the story goes from one old friend to another, each time coming to the conclusion that it's not quite right for Nana. It's almost as if neither human or cat want to part.

The non-cat-narration tells the stories of how Sartoru got to know each person, their childhood history. This tales also shed light on the person Sartoru is today, and unfailingly kind and lovely individual, loved by all who knew him. It's not hard to guess what is happening but it's all about the interactions, and the smart arse cat.

My story will be over soon. But it’s not something to be sad about. As we count up the memories from one journey, we head off on another. Remembering those who went ahead. Remembering those who will follow after. And someday, we will meet all those people again, out beyond the horizon.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

River of Teeth

When I heard that River of Teeth was a western with hippos, I knew I had to read it. It's set in an alternate history where hippos were introduced to America as an alternate meat source. Apparently, this was an actual thing that the US government considered, and sensibly rejected.

It’s not a caper; it’s an operation.

However Sarah Gailey reimagines the Louisana swamps as home to these unpredictable beasts, and the people who wrangle them. The hippos replace both cows and horses in this "western" which isn't set in the west but it certainly has many hallmarks of the genre.

Winslow Houndstooth is rounding up a team to take on a job, to clear out the feral hippos from the area and send them on their way down the Mississippi. Houndstooth also has a spot of revenge to take care of too and it all fits nicely together. The feral hippos lurk in the shadow of a floating casino, waiting for cheats and other unlucky fellas to be thrown overboard. As one can imagine, the owner of the casino isn't exactly a nice chap.

It's fun, how could it not be? I did find it a bit unsubstantial though, like it didn't quite suit being a novella. There are quite a few characters and as soon as I felt I'd just got to know them all it was all over a bit too quickly. There's a sequel so I wonder if reading them back-to-back would help solve this.

The idea was this: import hippos and raise them in Louisiana’s bayous. The hippos would eat the ruinously invasive water hyacinth; the American people would eat the hippos; everyone would go home happy. Well, except the hippos. They’d go home eaten.

The cast is diverse; there's a point where they need someone to collect some explosives but it's revealed no one is suitable because they are expecting a white man. I think that's the first point race is mentioned, which challenges how you imagine the characters. There is also a non-binary character, described using the singular they, whose appearance is never described.

Read Harder: A western

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Book Source: Purchased

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

From Rabbit Holes to Rifts: On portal fantasy, and why it matters (to me)

A guest post by Lisa @ Over The Effing Rainbow.

This will sound familiar enough to avid readers that it may even seem ordinary, but my earliest and fondest memories of childhood are of going into my local library and just wandering around, from one row of bookshelves to another, usually browsing for something interesting but often, also, just going there for the simple pleasure of being somewhere quiet, and comfortable. For a kid like me, it was better than the world outside, sometimes. And that quiet little world of its (and my) own often led me, by way of the books I picked up, to other worlds that were better than mine. Wilder, more magical, more fantastic. And it started with one book in particular that you might have heard of.

'We're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad.'
'How do you know I'm mad?' said Alice.
'You must be,' said the Cat, 'or you wouldn't have come here.'

Ever since the first time I fell down that rabbit hole with Alice, I’ve been a sucker for portal fantasy. My tastes may have broadened as I grew up, but secretly I’ve always looked at old wardrobes and wondered about the worlds that might lie beyond their doors. I’ve always watched my feet when walking along woodland paths, though never quite for the reasons most people do. Wonderland was never weird to me. It was always just wonderful. Dangerous to Alice, for sure, but a refuge for me. (The tea party helped. Don’t look at me like that; it did.)

My fondness for Alice and her bevy of strange and unusual acquaintances became a fierce sort of kinship with Lyra Belacqua, the heroine of His Dark Materials, who told wild stories of her own and didn’t wait around for a rabbit hole to come along underfoot; she sought out her own adventures, fearless and foolish and fighting to be free. No passive acceptance of whatever fate life handed out, for her. It was inspiring, and I fell thoroughly in love with all of it.

Then along came adulthood, and if I’d thought the real world was harsh and hard to bear as a child … well. You know how that one goes, I’m sure. My favourite source of fascination became more of a comfort than ever, even as it became more of a reflection on the world I didn’t like to hang out in. What became fantastical wasn’t so much magical creatures or wicked queens and the epic quests they were part of; it was the realm of possibility where this world was concerned. I stopped wanting to escape from the real world, and started wanting it to be a better place.

Enter Foz Meadows, and the Manifold Worlds duology. These books are openly and unapologetically diverse in their representation; they are political as hell, and they showcase a deeply, richly wonderful world, flaws and all, that’s worth fighting for - even when those who stand up to fight have already done so … and lost. I’d never come across a story that takes place after the epic quest has been undertaken, and to read one about the people who continue to fight after they’ve been beaten was both eye-opening, heartbreaking and yet soul-soothing, in the end. The world - any world - can be a hard place, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth fighting for, or being a part of.

That said, it’s always easier to bear up under the pressures of growing up and finding your place in the world when you don’t have to do it alone. Society will always be hard on people who don’t obviously ‘fit in’, but when you know that you aren’t the only one who doesn’t, it can change everything, whether you decide to try to belong or not. Which brings me to the Wayward Children series by Seanan McGuire, because ye gods and little fishes, if any recent works of fantasy speak more clearly and candidly of the hardships faced by young people in a world that doesn’t care about them (regardless of which world that might be, and Seanan has come up with a dizzying array of them, I’m sure) than these novellas, I’ve yet to find them. The setting of the very first book is a boarding school for the wayward children of the series title, the ones who have been to other lands and come back, who weren’t able to stay or weren’t permitted to, and don’t know how to fit back into the world they live in now.

And what kid can’t relate to that idea, in some way, shape or form? I was hit hard in the feels when I first read Every Heart A Doorway, let me tell you. We might be “weird”, we might be “difficult”, we might wish we could live somewhere completely different, but we aren’t the only ones.

Stories that show us better worlds than these, and ways to keep improving them? Stories that centre our misfit qualities and say “there’s nothing wrong with you” instead of belittling or even demonising us? Stories that tell us we aren’t the only ones who struggle to find our feet, that we can do so much more together? Of course I love them. Anyone who doesn’t is not to be trusted.

(Especially not if they offer you Turkish Delight.)

This is the first in a series of posts exploring the themes from the Science Fiction versus Fantasy Bingo challenge. A huge thanks to Lisa for this heartfelt post and do swing by her blog or follow @EffingRainbow on Twitter. If you'd like to write about one of the other squares, get in touch!

Monday, 5 March 2018

Comics Catch-Up

Every now and then I remember I have a vast store of digital comics from various Humble Bundles. As Book Riot's Read Harder challenge has several comic prompts this year, I thought it best to start looking a bit more closely of what I have unread.

I noticed I had a bundle from Oni Press which would cover the comic from a publisher other than Marvel, DC or Image. I picked out Lost at Sea, a standalone graphic novel from the creator of Scott Pilgrim, Brian Lee O'Malley. Raleigh believes she has no soul, she's adrift in her life, losing touch with her old friends, and seeing cats everywhere. It perfectly captures that time of teenagerhood where things are no longer the same but you don't know where you're going. Maybe she's got no soul or maybe she's depressed.

I think it would have greater appeal to teen readers who can identify a bit more. Some bits were really beuatiful but it's one of those comics that doesn't have a discernable plot and it ended quite suddenly. I did like the kitty catching scene, where Raleigh becomes convinced her soul is in one of the cats.

Read Harder: A comic that isn’t published by Marvel, DC, or Image

Monstress: The Blood is the second volume of these beautiful comics by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda. Read my review of Awakening for an introduction. Maika joins a pirate crew to beg passage to the Island of Bones, with the hopes of learning more about her mother. Obviously, lot's of people still want Maika dead or captured and there's new beasts in the deep. This was more of a straightforward story and wasn't quite as strong as the first but I'm still looking forward to the third instalment later this year.

Read Harder: A comic written or illustrated by a person of color

The latest trade of Saga (volume 8) starts off in Abortion Town, and it does feel like the most political instalment so far, showing how there are different reasons a woman may seek help. In Alana's case her unborn child is dead and she's starting to see visions. It's a sad part to this family's saga, although I'm not sure it did much to further the ongoing plot.

POPSUGAR Challenge: 27. A book set on a different planet

Sunday, 4 March 2018

February Book Haul

Another month of me thinking I barely got any new books when this post clearly proves otherwise! Let's take a look at the damage...

Physical Books Bought

The Wayward Children books are now auto buys and I pre-ordered the latest which is super pretty. I've also been waiting for a few books to be out in paperback before I buy them. I so often buy hardbacks and then don't read them for years, it seems a bit wasteful unless they are nice editions.

Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
On the Noodle Road by Jen Lin-Liu
The Truth and Lies of Ella Black by Emily Barr (Wildest Dreams)
Dead of Winter by Gerri Brightwell (Ninja Book Box)

I am planning on cutting down on subscription boxes, I only narrowly avoided getting three in February only because Illumicrate has been delayed. I think Illumicrate is the one I'm most likely to continue with, I have generally loved the book selections and there is variety in the extras. Plus the quarterly model works best for me. I do still get PawPost for Scully but she easily gets through all the treats each month!

Review Books

I loved Winter Damage so I was pretty happy to get a copy of Natasha Carthew's new book in the post. I'm also looking forward to dipping into the British Library's new classic science fiction anthologies. I got a wish granted for Children of Blood and Bone on NetGalley but I might just wait for my pre-order to turn up. I think I wished for it sometime last year...

Moonrise by various (British Library)
Lost Mars by various (British Library)
All Rivers Run Free by Natasha Carthew (Quercus)
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (Macmillan)

Ebooks Bought

A few wishlist books popped up in the half term sale and The Ninth Rain was a freebie. I also think something weird was going on when I bought Hero at the Fall because I'm convinced Amazon told me it was book two, and I wondered how on earth I'd managed to buy books one and three in a trilogy. Turns out it was wrong, or I'm losing my marbles. Anyway, I've just started the trilogy and so far I am loving it so I'm sure it was worth purchasing...

Hero at the Fall by Alwyn Hamilton
The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson
The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli
Sourdough by Robin Sloan

Thursday, 1 March 2018

The Month That Was... February 2018

+ International Giveaway!

I was about to moan about the weather but the snow's only really hit where I am today, and that's no longer February! I've been without my laptop for half the month (or it feels that way) as it decided to just not turn on. It's been sent out for repairs so I'll wait and see what the outcome is. It is very annoying but at least I have access to other computers.

I am so behind on writing reviews but I still do have a few gooduns available to win this month (including a pre-order of Circe if you so desire. Keep on reading for the giveaway and remember it's open internationally.


I am doing terribly at my own challenge but I feel I will naturally tick things off SFvsFBingo as I slow down on my other challenge reading. I do have a fantastic guest post on portals coming up and if you'd like to write about any of the other squares, let me know!

Kings, Queens and Long Lost Relatives: The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
It's the End of the World As We Know It: The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

7. A book set in a country that fascinates you: The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa
A6. An allegory: The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
A10. A book recommended by someone else taking the POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Read Harder
A western: River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey
A comic written or illustrated by a person of color: Monstress: The Blood by Marjorie Liu + Sana Takeda
A celebrity memoir: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
A comic that isn’t published by Marvel, DC, or Image: Lost at Sea by Brian Lee O'Malley

Beat the Backlist: 11/30
Goodreads: 19/100


Tuesday, 27 February 2018

The City of Brass

Often the mightiest things have the humblest beginnings.

Nahri's story starts in 18th century Egypt but takes her across the Middle East to a magical city with gleaming brass walls. I absolutely loved the setting, and I was pleased to see a map which helped to confirm what region belonged to what tribe, although borders have changed so much in 200 years. Her journey takes her to what is now Turkey and Iran and the djinn come from all over this sub-continent.

Nahri has never known her parents and she makes do with her work as a healer in Cairo, supplementing her income with some theiving. She's always had the uncanny ability to detect what is wrong with her patients and her own bumps and scratches heal with astonishing speed. Until one day, she accidentally summons a great warrior djinn, who sees Nahri for what she is; a shafit, half human half djinn.

A fate worse than death: That's what everyone said about enslavement. Eternal servitude, forced to grant the most savage and intimate desires of an endless slew of human masters. Of the slaves that were found and freed, very few survived with their sanity intact.

It took me a while to absorb all the different tribes, their politics and history, not to mention prejudices, but once I had made the effort with the world-building I was sucked right into the story. It was very late on when some of my outstanding questions about this world were answered, especially around religion. Yes, the djinn adopted a human faith (presumably Islam) yet the Daeva's kept their old religion, and "fire-worshipers" is a derogatory term for them.

It weaves together the stories of the genie in the lamp, explaining how some djinn became slaves to human masters. It also reflects the rifts that can form through deviations in belief, something that has caused huge problems in the real Middle East. I don't really know much about King Soloman but I suspect Suleiman is based on him. Suleiman punished the djinn when he thought they were becoming too powerful, too reckless with human life.

Something told her the squabbles between the various djinn tribes would make the war between the Turks and Franks look positively friendly.

The Daeva feel their blood makes them superior and the shafit shouldn't have equal rights. Then there's the ifrits, evil spirits who are capable of enslaving the djinn... Honestly there is so much stuff, and it's so intricately connected. I'm so glad this is not a standalone because this had laid the groundwork for such an interesting world.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

The Only Harmless Great Thing

I tried to buy The Only Harmless Great Thing twice. After reading The Radium Girls it was recommended to me so I went to pre-order it, only to find I apparently had already done so, six months earlier. It was clearly a sign, so I made sure it didn't sink to the bottom of my TBR. It's also one of Tor's fabulous novella length stories, which I am much enamored with.

They will see how we shine, and they will know the truth.

You may or may not be aware of Topsy the elephant and the real life Radium Girls but Brooke Bolander twists their stories together in an alternate history where elephants and humans have learned to communicate with each other via sign language. Topsy was an elephant, stolen from the wild and kept as an amusement at Luna Park on Coney Island. After killing a spectator, the real Topsy was sentenced to death, in this version of events she is sentenced to paint radium dials after the companies had to admit that the radium was dangerous.

If you don't know who the Radium Girls were, well read my review of the book then come back here (and maybe buy that book because it's amazing). Regan is an ex US Radium employee and is showing signs of poisoning. I think my feelings from reading about the real life women kept flooding back whenever she talked about it, so I am probably biased in my emotional reaction to this story.

Their noses were stumpy, ridiculous things and they couldn’t smell the Wrongness, even as they rubbed it across their teeth and faces. All they could see was how bright it looked, like sunlight through new leaves.

It is a bit weird and won't be for everyone. It's split between a sort of folk tale from the elephants' point of view, Reagan and Topsy and a future scientist working on a way to make people remember about nuclear contamination. It plays on the idea that an elephant never forgets, with the folk tale suggesting that they pass on stories across generations, a sort of genetic memory. And because of the radium elephants, people in this alternate world associate elephants with radiation.

It is a very sudden ending, even though all the threads build up to that moment, it still felt a bit like I was missing a chapter. I'd have quite liked an epilogue in the very distant future. I'm glad I read it and would consider reading longer works from Brooke should she write them.

Goodreads | Amazon | Wordery

Book Source: Purchased

Wednesday, 21 February 2018


If you love Greek mythology there's no way you'll be missing Madeline Miller's Circe, which tells the story of the witch from The Odyssey. You may know her best for turning men into pigs, but this wonderful novel is much more than that. It's her origin story and her side of events, which don't always tally up with what you might know.

Daughter of the sun god Helios and nymph Perses, young Circe shows compassion to Prometheus when he is punished, yet the competition for attention between her sisters leads her to jealousy. She learns how to use herbs to make potions, taking the forbidden flowers which bloom in the blood of the Titans, to transform people and things. She may be immortal but she still can have tantrums, and the combination of her temper and her abilities results in her being banished from her father's court.

This is the grief that makes our kind choose to be stones and trees rather than flesh.

I loved how many origin stories this combined, not just how Circe ended up on that island with the power of transfiguration but also how her extended family fit into myth. Scylla is a sea monster responsible for many a sailor's death but she was also once Circe's sister. Another sibling went on to marry King Minos and give birth to a beast, half man half bull. You know where that story is going... Actually Madeline writes many of the monsters with a sympathetic edge and the heroes in not such a shining light.

The lost poem Telegony is expanded upon, telling the tragic tale of Odysseus's two sons Telemachus and Telegonus. A prophecy foretells that Odysseus will be killed by his son and Athena gets involved, trying to kill Telegonus before he can do any harm. Circe tries to hide him from the goddess as best as he can but he wishes to leave and find his father.

But in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation was he to me.

I just adored this. Circe is lonely but strong and her story feels like it spans generations, whilst she remains the same. Ah, the curse of immortality! If you loved The Song of Achilles, I'm pretty sure this book is already on your radar, I'm just here to say yes, do buy it, you won't be disappointed.

Circe is published by Bloomsbury and will be available in hardback and ebook editions from 19th April 2018 (I know, this is an early review but I just couldn't hold it in any longer). 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, 14 February 2018

The Tidal Zone

What a stunning novel this is, dealing with what happens when we are faced with the fragility of human life. Adam's previously healthy teenager daughter collapses one day at school. Her heart stops. How do you go one with life knowing that life can stop so suddenly? How do you protect your children when they could just die like that?

Where the body's metronome ticked, there is silence. She goes. She goes away. It can happen. It had happened. I needed to tell people that the world was not as they believed it to be.

I've seen The Tidal Zone called a state of the nation novel, and bearing in mind it was written in pre-Brexit I think this is a fair assessment. The NHS is portrayed honestly but not meanly. The limbo of waiting in hospital, of kind nurses and dismissive consultants. The hardship of waiting to know what caused your teenage daughter to die, if briefly, and no one seeming to know.

Adam's a stay-at-home dad and it touches on how that can be perceived. For instance when he takes his younger daughter to a party at a swimming pool, he must navigate the changing rooms and then be accused of staring in an inappropriate manner at the girls when he's just watching his daughter. Yet he is always a parent, he's never trying to get extra credit for being a man and a parent. It highlights how we still have far to come in gender equality.

For days we drifted in hospital time, which is in some ways not unlike toddler time, the weeks and months passed at home while essentially waiting for the child to grow up enough to do something else.

It proves Sarah's talent at writing convincing characters that I kept thinking I was reading a memoir. The tangents probably help with this, Adam's work and his father's history. After reading so much YA, I loved reading about a teenager from the parent's point of view for once. I can just imagine what it would be like from idealistic and frustrated Miriam's perspective.

I don't think I'd ever have picked up a book about the rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral but I was actually fascinated by the chapters which reflect what Adam is writing for his work. It's the story of rebuilding after disaster which reflects what he is feeling in his family life. it is also like having a non-fiction book inside a novel and as someone who quite often splits my reading up this way, I loved it. Coventry was badly bombed during the war and it starts with this, and follows the planning and competition for the new design.

Books that mattered were too demanding and books that didn't were too trivial for the new reality in which death stood in the corner of every room and came to breathe over my shoulder whenever I took my eye off him.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Spare and Found Parts

Spare and Found Parts is a Frankenstein story at heart, but not the kind you might expect. Nell has spent her life with a background ticking, her heart is clockwork and she lives with a scar from chin to sternum. She knows the unnatural sound of her heart is off-putting and she fears no one will ever truly understand her. When a mannequin hand washes up on the shore, she gets the idea to build a boy to be her companion.

In Nell's world computers are blamed for ruining the world, although it doesn't go into the specifics; we were probably starting wars on social media... Disease has left much of the population with missing limbs and this is where Nell's genius father comes in. He created prosthetics, so close to the banned robotics of the past, but allowed due to their immense contribution to society.

There are three rules:

1. The sick in the Pale, the healed in the Pasture.
2. Contribute, at all cost.
3. All code is blasphemy.

There's some great, subtle world-building such as the giant statue that is giving people purpose, jobs created for the sake of jobs. It's hinted that those with less debilitating disabilities are expected to work to create food. They are assessed and sent to The Pasture if they are fit and strong. Those with ideas on how to benefit society can present their Contribution and be allowed to stay in the city if accepted.

Poor, naive Nell decides her robot boy can be her Contribution. In a society that hates computers! Bless her, she thinks adding a human appearance will mean no one's afraid of her creation. I really did have my doubts about Nell's methods, but these things are eventually addressed and don't just happen by magic.

You say hello. Five letters. English. Hotel Echo Lima Lima Oscar. Eta Epsilon Lambda Lambda Omicron. 01101000 01100101 01101100 01101100 01101111. I say hello.

It's a slow book with not much drama but I enjoyed Sarah's writing style. I didn't feel like Nell was going to change the world, it's more about her discovery of the world that came before her and the fallibility of parents. She did seem a little younger than most young adult protagonists too.

The narrative changes between third person and second person, which I think can work when you find out who the narrator is and who they are meant to be speaking to. However it seemed like the second person was at least two different people. So when I thought it was the robot it could have worked but there were other bits that were just confusing.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Down Among the Sticks and Bones

I enjoyed Every Heart a Doorway for the way it explored portal fantasy tropes but it only went so far, what with a whole host of characters packed into a novella. This is why Down Among the Sticks and Bones is the better book, because is takes just one of those stories and tells it fully. It is the backstory of Jack and Jill (or Jacqueline and Jillian) and is standalone (although I think if you're going to read both books, start with the first).

Real places didn't go away just because you'd had a nap.

At its heart is a cautionary tale for parents. One, children are not accessories or status symbols, and two, you shouldn't force a child to be something they are not. Their high-achieving parents wanted a boy but they got twin girls. Their father encourages Jillian to do boy things and their mother dresses Jacqueline up like a princess. They force more and more gender based restrictions on the girls as they grow, both becoming miserable in their shaped identities.

She had tried to make sure they knew that there were a hundred, a thousand, a million different ways to be a girl, and that all of them were valid, and that neither of them was doing anything wrong.

So yes, let your kids do what they want to do and be who they want to be. When the twins discover a door into another world, they get a chance to be new people despite having to apprentice to a vampire and a mad scientist.

As it's a prequel of sorts, you know that they are cast out of the world where they feel like they belong, so the book has a bittersweet tone throughout. It's no wonder Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children needs to exist, it's so sad.

The Moors exist in eternal twilight, in the pause between the lightning strike and the resurrection. They are a place of endless scientific experimentation, of monstrous beauty, and of terrible consequences.

I love how this series of novellas is structured, a tempting glimpse of other worlds in the first book and then the characters get individual books to explain what happened when they stepped through their portals. The third book is about Rini and Sumi and a confectionery based nonsense world, which I'm looking forward to. I hope there are more books planned in this series too.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Top Ten TBR Lurkers

Top Ten Tuesday is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

The deepest corners of my TBR are populated by a few authors whose work I binge bought years ago and never got round to reading, but I really like them so won't let go. There's Margaret Atwood, Chuck Palahniuk, Douglas Copeland and Daphne Du Maurier. I'm not going to list these author's entire back catalogues though, so rather than an exacting oldest list, I am going to use a bit of artistic license.

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Shelved in 2010: At one point I felt like the only person in the world that hadn't read this book but it seems to have faded from general conversation now. I do actually have it pencilled in for a POPSUGAR prompt so it may get dusted off this year!

Babylon's Ark by Lawrence Anthony + Graham Spence

Shelved in 2010: I haven't seen this book in a long time but I really hope I still have it because I think it's something I would read this year. Saving animals from war is likely to leave me blubbing though.

Schindler's Ark by Thomas Keneally

Shelved in 2010: This was the book of the true story that Schindler's List is based on and I know it will be hard work emotionally. Maybe I should just face the fact I will never be in the right frame of mind to read it and pass it on, but I'm holding onto it for now.

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

Shelved in 2011: This is the oldest YA book I have on my TBR. The first book we read at book group was Elsewhere and I felt like reading more of her books but never got round to it.

Changeless by Gail Carriger

Shelved in 2011: Why have i not finished this series already? I really enjoy Gail's books but I never remember I have these when I want something fun and fantastical. I don't know what's going on with that woman's pose on the cover though?

The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness

Shelved in 2012: I'm not sure what's going on here as I enjoyed The Knife of Never Letting Go and clearly bought the whole trilogy but I just never got round to it. I see snazzy black editions have just been released and there's a film on the horizon, maybe I can be topical, and not just very very slow, and read them soon.

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Shelved in 2010: One day I will get round to reading more Atwood. Unfortunately I'm more interested in reading the ones I don't have right now, but I have enough intent not to get rid of them after all this time.

The Flood by David Maine

Shelved in 2010: This book represents the period where I was obsessed with collecting the Canongate Myths series. I have probably read about half of them and keep meaning to get back to them. They are all re-imagined myths and this one is based on Noah's Ark.

Bad Medicine by Christopher Wanjek

Shelved in 2010: I'm not even sure if I still have this book but it is the oldest unread title on my Goodreads TBR shelf (it's been there since I joined the site). It was definitely second-hand as I bought a lot of used books back then, I should probably hunt it down and give it up to charity.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Shelved in 2010: This lacklustre cover is totally putting me off but it does mean it's been earmarked for Read Harder / POPSUGAR ugly cover prompts for this year, so another that might finally be promoted from TBR to read after 8 whole years...

How far back does your TBR go? Which of these books have you read and would recommend?