Sunday, 14 January 2018

The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage

When Philip Pullman’s new trilogy was announced, he told us it wasn’t a prequel, but the first book, The Belle Sauvage, is definitely a prequel to His Dark Materials. If you haven’t read the original books I would do so first, as even though this story happens before, there are certain things revealed that I would consider spoilers.

This is the story of how Lyra ended up at Jordan College, via a biblical scale flood and the rise of the Magisterium. Malcolm Polstead is the son of a landlord and is generally a well-liked boy among those who visit The Trout. He learns a lot by listening to conversations, those drinking at the pub rarely pay attention to a boy. He learns that the nuns are looking after an infant, a little girl who is attracting a lot of attention.

The child is, of course, baby Lyra and if you’ve read His Dark Materials, you know all about the prophecy and why people might want to control her. Malcolm becomes quite fond of Lyra and when Oxford floods, he rescues her in his canoe, The Belle Sauvage of the title.

It's about wrong and less wrong. Bad and less bad.

It shows a little of the growing relationship between child and daemon, Pan must grow and learn as much as Lyra. She babbles away to him, teaching him to babble back, which is part of how we learn to speak. Baby daemons also present themselves as baby animals, Pan is so cute.

I was a little bit irritated that Alice was repeatedly referred to as being there to take care of the baby and that Malcolm wouldn’t be able to. However, I did have to remind myself that Malcolm is pretty young and Alice was older, and maybe it was more that than their gender dictating the parenting skills.

Malcolm’s schoolmates are encouraged to tell on anyone who might be doing or thinking anything heretic, the Church setting up an organisation reminiscent of the Hitler Youth. It didn’t really expand on anything about Dust, I expect that is coming later, it felt like things were moving into place for the events of His Dark Materials.

Once we use the word spiritual, we don’t have to explain anymore, because it belongs to the Church then, and no one can question it.

I don’t think it was as good as the original trilogy, it is more of an adventure with a hint of subtext, rather than exploring the big themes of this series. I did enjoy it though and it’s nice to have a bit of back story to a much-loved character. I am most excited about reading the books that are set later on, when Lyra is older.

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Book Source: Purchased

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Monstress: Awakening

Monstress is one of the most beautiful comics I have ever read, its art taking inspiration from Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles and a hit of ancient Egypt. It’s a joy to look at even without the fantastic story, themes and characters. It’s rare to see such well-drawn and powerful emotion in the faces of comic book characters. Sana Takeda has so much talent.

Teenage Maika Halfwolf is considered a monster by humans. She’s Arcanic, although she would pass for human when many of her kind display animal characteristics. She is the survivor of a terrible war between humans and her kind. The Cumaea round up Arcanics for sinister purposes, experimenting on children and consuming their life force.

Maika may look innocent but there is a darker being lurking beneath the surface. Yet she is kind and tries to save the children she can. One of which ends up accompanying her on her travels, along with a rather wise cat.

The world Maika inhabits is brutal and terrifying, but the beauty of the artwork absorbed me, kept me turning the pages and I soon became attached to these characters, became afraid for their safety. Marjorie Liu was inspired to create Monstress by the tales her grandparents told her about wartime China. The horrors of the opening chapter definitely echo the atrocities of war.

It’s a story of corrupt power but also prejudice. It looks at how the actions of a people can taint their ancestors, breeding hatred and distrust, meaning peace is a distant prospect. It attempts to show how war affects those left behind. But there is also magic, and demons, and talking cats!

Most of the chapters end with an excerpt from the lectures of Professor Tam Tam (one of the Children of Ubasti, a race of many-tailed cats) which fills in some of the gaps in the world-building. And of course, there are the gorgeous full-page illustrations that Image Comics are known for putting in each issue.

I got the first issue of Monstress in a Humble Bundle but I promptly went out and bought the first volume in physical form. The trades are good and chunky, this first volume coming in at around 200 pages. I can't wait to continue this beautiful series and learn more of Maika's story.

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Book Source: Purchased

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

The Idiot Brain

In The Idiot Brain, Dean Burnett explores how the brain makes us behave how we do, in an accessible and friendly manner. I find this stuff fascinating. Dean also makes it clear that we don't know everything and what we do know sometimes changes, but this book is a great place to start.

Who needs predators when we have our expanded craniums to drag us down with persistent stress?

Basically our brains are wired to be looking for danger all the bloody time. It might have been useful to our primitive ancestors, but it can be a pain in the arse to modern humans. It's also keeping us alive without us consciously thinking about it and spending a lot of time re-writing our memories so we seem better, or more important, than we are. Because to your brain, you're the centre of the world.

It also explains briefly how our senses work, why smell is stronger than taste (you know how bacon always smells better than it actually tastes?), how the eye transmits a pretty rubbish picture for the brain to interpret and that touch and hearing are nearly the same thing.

Some of the parts on memory were familiar to me, from reading (and storing to long term memory it seems) other books, but I did marvel at how short term and long term memory must interact when we read. Short term memory doesn't last very long, so if you're not that invested or emotionally impacted by what's currently happening, it's probably not going to make it into long term storage. It's why it's so easy to lose your keys when you had them five minutes ago.

The idea that all of human society is just bumbling along due to haphazard occurrences and luck is, in many ways, more distressing than there being a shadowy elite running things.

It did such a good job of explaining why anxiety happens. Part of the brain's danger detector is keeping an eye out for social dangers too, because being a social outcast isn't something the ego can handle. It's a surprise we're all functioning so well really. If you find understanding the biological side of things reassuring I'd definitely recommend Dean's perspective on it.

As he is a psychiatrist, when he talks about what happens when things go wrong, he does so with compassion and understanding. I think it's the first time someone's explained schizophrenia where what happens makes sense.

POPSUGAR Challenge: 17. A book you borrowed or that was given to you as a gift

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Book Source: Gifted

Monday, 8 January 2018

The Book of Joan

Keep reading for a chance to win a copy along with a matching tote bag! (open internationally)

I get the feeling The Book of Joan is going to be a Marmite book, there were definitely parts I liked more than others and some things I felt I needed better knowledge to really get. If you have an interest in gender identity an body art, you'll probably get different things out of this, at times surreal, book.

We are what happens when the seemingly unthinkable celebrity rises to power.

I only knew the basics about Joan of Arc, although since I have read up a bit more on her, for instance her trial for heresy was based on her cross-dressing in male clothes in order to deter rape in prison. Later, when she was pardoned, the Catholic Church said that's a totally acceptable reason to cross-dress. Anyway, this fact felt relevant to the contents of this book.

The human race is dying. A geocataclysm has wiped out plant life and destroyed the reproductive organs of people, they are now effectively genderless, despite remembering what it was once like to be otherwise. Orbiting Earth is CIEL, a group of the privileged few who are permitted to live until the age of 50. Christine is one of them, a specialist in grafting, burning stories into skin. It's pretty much the only sensory experience they have left.

Love was never meant to be less than electrical impulse and the energy of matter, but that was no small thing. The Earth's heartbeat or pulse or telluric current, no small thing. The stuff of life itself.

I was a bit thrown off by it being set in 2049. I know humanity's set on a course of destruction but it all seems a bit too quick and it wasn't necessary to state the date. It's a very short shelf-life for a science fiction novel.

Where does Joan fit in? Christine is burning her story onto her body, the Book of Joan. She was on the side against CIEL in the never-ending wars. She starting seeing visions as a girl, seeing a future where there was nothing but suffering, nothing but war. And she had the power to stop it.

But Joan knew one thing we never learned: to end war meant to end its maker, to marry creation and destruction rather than hold them in false opposition.

Once captured, CIEL sentences Joan to burning at the stake, a symbolic exceution to send a message and make a spectacele. As the books goes on, whate appears to be a bit random and weird turns out to all be connected. Christines burns as Joan burnt.

I enjoyed the parts that followed Joan, back on Earth, a lot more. There's a lot about environmental damage but also about how life goes on. Perhaps not humans, but other life will evolve and take our place. Whilst it felt hopeless for a while, the ending isn't without hope. There are some excellent passages and themes, but sometimes it was just a bit on the weird side for me.

At the heart of torture there is a brutality beyond inflicting pain. It is the brutality of stealing an identity, a sense of self, a soul.

It certainly feels like a book written is the political climate of 2016/17. You can't help but see elements of Trump in Jean de Men.

Warning, the book contains some extreme violence and is a little vulgar in places.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Love, Hate & Other Filters

Maya wants to be a film-maker but her Indian-born parents have other ideas for her. They'd also love for her to find a nice Indian boy, and Kareem seems the perfect choice. Maya is slightly annoyed that she doesn't hate him on sight, but she faces up to the fact that she'd much rather be with her childhood crush, football star Phil. Who isn't exactly available right now.

A meet-cute with the suitable Indian boy. The hot football player at my locker. I feel queasy. I was joking with myself earlier, but now I'm wondering how it's possible that I've stepped into the most predictable teen rom-com ever. How is this my real life?

Maya sees her life through a lens, sometimes literally. She's the go-to person to film her extended family's weddings and dreads the day she'll be in front of the camera. She's just not ready for that yet, no matter what her pushy parents want. There are plenty of references to romance films, as she compares her life to those. But basically, she is really into film.

This was pitched as a girl facing Islamophobia following a terrorist attack and to be honest I was disappointed in this aspect of the book. One person in her town has a problem with her (blurb suggests everyone turns on her, this is not the case). No one should have to deal with harassment or assault of course, but it only occasionally touched on the insidious fear of day-to-day prejudice, often flamed by the media after such attacks. She worries about her dad being stopped at the airport but soon goes back to thinking about college and boys. Her family are treated with respect and dignity by the local police when their property is targeted (as they should be, but we all know this is often not the case).

There are passages running up to the terrorist that are from a different perspective, that of the terrorist himself. I found Samira Ahmed was generous towards her fictional terrorist, recognising that he was a product of his life experiences, that things could have gone differently for him had someone stepped in earlier. These parts added a real edge to the book, along side the romance.

It's selfish and horrible, but in this terrible moment, all I want is to be a plain old American teenager. Who can simply mourn without fear. Who doesn't share last names with a suicide bomber. Who goes to dances and can talk to her parents about anything and can walk around without always being anxious. And who isn't a presumed terrorist first and an American second.

Maya generally seems more upset about not being able to follow her dream. Her parents reaction to the wider Islamophobia (I'm assuming a lot went on off-page, it's told from Maya's perspective after all) is to try and protect her by keeping her close. They seem quite traditional Indian parents whilst Maya is a modern American girl (and not a devout Muslim).

Overall it's quite a sweet romance, which I can't really call fluffy because of the other content. It's kind of a mish-mash of things, and I'm not sure it all worked for me, but I still enjoyed it. I also felt her parents were a bit harsh on her at the end, they seemed kinder people than their actions.

Love, Hate & Other Filters is published by Hot Key Books and will be available in paperback and ebook editions from 16th January 2018. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

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

Thursday, 4 January 2018

#SFvsFBingo Linkies!

Science Fiction vs Fantasy Bingo 2018 is go!

OK you can join at any time in 2018, just add your links to books read/reviews in the linkies below and try and use the #SFvsFBingo hashtag on social media now and then. Choose a line or two or try the whole board!

Please use your own rules to determine whether a book counts as science fiction or fantasy and add the link the the appropriate linky list. Please include the book title and the square it fits with (your name or blog is optional) eg. The Explorer (Space) - Curiosity Killed the Bookworm or The Explorer by James Smythe (Space). This will help give people ideas for book to read (I hope).

At the end of the year we will see which genre has the most books read and is crowned the winner.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

The Cruel Prince

Jude and Taryn are seven when their parents are brutally murdered by a fae, a fae who happens to be their half-sister's father. All three girls are whisked away to Faerie to be raised by the murderer.

Faerie exists beside and below mortal towns, in the shadows of mortal cities, and at their rotten, derelict, worm-eaten centers.

Jump forward ten years and you find out things haven't been as bad as you'd imagine based on that opening. In the prologue, you get the feeling the story will focus on Viv who is the daughter of Madoc, but as it switches to the first person narrative you discover that mortal Jude is the narrator. Viv is the one who rebels the most against life in the High Court of Faerie, but Jude and Taryn are more accepting. After all, they barely knew the human world.

Things aren't all peaches though, and Jude is being bullied by the popular, posh, kids. Their ringleader? Prince Cardan, fifth in line to the throne (not that it works like that there, but he's pretty unlikely to be king compared to his siblings). A large portion of the book focuses on Jude's bullying. Taryn things she should let it slide and do what they want to make life easier for them, but how far can you let them go?

Only in Faerieland is a giant toad the less conspicuous choice.

Jude's adoptive father (and, don't forget, parent killer) Madoc is in charge of the High King's military and Jude would love nothing more than to be one of his knights. Taryn just wants her happy ever after and Viv wants to live with her mortal girlfriend in the human world. The current High King is abdicating and a coronation is on the horizon.

It's only about two thirds the way in that things get interesting, until then it felt like quite a generic fae storyline, with added bullying. I mean, if you haven't read many books about the cruel and brutal type of fae, you might feel a bit more engaged but it was a very slow start for me. Yet the last third? It was gripping and full of political manoeuvring. Lots I didn't see coming! Honestly, I know a lot of the build-up was necessary to make everything work, I just didn't love it until I knew that was happening.

Here's why I don't like these stories: They highlight that I am vulnerable. No matter how careful I am, eventually I'll make another misstep. I am weak. I am fragile. I am mortal.

Although mortals are looked down upon in general I liked that they did have one prized skill, the ability to lie. Whilst the fae can be tricksy with their words, they can't lie outright. They totally don't get sarcasm!

Based on the ending I would definitely read the second book, even if this one didn't tick all my boxes.

The Cruel Prince is published by Hot Key Books and is available now in hardback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

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

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

2017 End of Year Book Survey

Instead of my usual end of month wrap up I've decided to do Jamie's fab End of Year Survery. Doing this has made me realise I've had a pretty good reading year with so many 4 and 5 star reads. I haven't answered all the questions, so make sure you visit The Perpetual Page-Turner to get the full list and to link up.

Reading Stats

Number Of Books You Read: 115
Number of Re-Reads: 3
Genre You Read The Most From: Fantasy

Best Book You Read In 2017?

I keep banging on about it so you can probably guess at The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin. Honestly, such an inventive and immersive world and deals with themes usually absent from epic fantasy.

Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

Unlike some fans, I wasn't annoyed that Sarah J. Maas was going to pause Aelin's story for a story about Chaol but OMG Tower of Dawn was soooo drawn out and really should have been a novella. It kind of put me off Chaol too who was previously one of my favourite characters. Boo!

Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read?

I am going to say Ms Marvel just because I don't really like Marvel stuff but this comic is full of heart and humour.

Best series you started in 2017? Best Sequel of 2017? Best Series Ender of 2017?

The Broken Earth trilogy obviously tops the list. For best sequel I'm picking something that I don't think is part of a larger series (remember when duologies were normal?); The Other Half of Happiness by Ayisha Malik. Best ending was Forever Geek just because I'll miss Harriet (and it was probably a good time to end).

Favorite new author you discovered in 2017?

Obviously just new to me but you guessed it, N.K. Jemisin. I'm so glad she has a decent body of work for me to dive into.

Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?

I'm not a big reader of literary fiction, especially not the experimental kind like Grief is the Thing with Feathers but I found it quite moving.

Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

Illuminae was such a blast to read.