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.

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Book Source: Purchased

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Circe

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.

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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.

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?

Sunday, 4 February 2018

January (and a bit) Book Haul!

Remember the days when every Sunday bloggers would post what new books they had in? I used to love hopping round blogs being nosy but it's something that has gone out of fashion. There were scandals and other hosts just stopping blogging and it's faded away. I kinda like reminding myself of the damage once a month so I'm going to start doing these posts again. I usually share new physical books on Instagram when I get them but I never keep track of the hoards of ebooks I buy.



Physical Books Bought

Most of these were bought with a combination of gift vouchers from Christmas and loyalty points and The Extinction Trails was in the Wildest Dreams subscription box. So I haven't been spending much money but still seem to have used up a fair amount of (non-existent) shelf space.

Discworld Imaginarium by Paul Kidby
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J.K. Rowling + Olivia Lomenech Gill
The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
Saga Volume 8 by Brian K. Vaughan + Fiona Staples
Monstress Volume 2 by Marjorie M. Liu + Sana Takeda
The Extinction Trials by S.M. Wilson

The Wildest Dreams box contains a tea and bath/beauty product with each book. This toffee apple rooibos was pretty yummy and came in a test tube masquerading as dinosaur DNA.



Review Books

Because I have an aim to read more backlist this year I have been very good at not requesting much, however Canongate and Hodder have naughtily been sending me goodies, and of course I want to read them all. Argh!

Spare and Found Parts by Sarah Maria Griffin (Titan)
Sal by Mick Kitson (Canongate)
The Hoarder by Jess Kidd (Canongate)
The Valley at the Centre of the World by Malachy Tallack (Canongate)
Fireblood by Elly Blake (Hodder)
Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh (Hodder)
The Charmed Life of Alex Moore by Molly Flatt (Pan Macmillan)

Ebooks Bought

I am terrible at boredom browsing the Kindle offers and if something on my wishlist is under £2 I snaffle it up. At least I will never be stuck on my commute without something to read...

A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab
The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
The Arrangement by Sonya Lalli
The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa
Girls Can't Hit by T.S. Easton
The Fandom by Anna Day
Contagion by Teri Terry
The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johanson


Saturday, 3 February 2018

The Belles

Who wants love when one can be powerful?

How far would you go to be beautiful? Expensive treatments? Pain? In the world of The Belles most people are born grey, ugly in the eyes of high society. Into each generation Belles are born, destined to serve the crown by making people colourful again.

Camellia is one such Belle and she is eager to be chosen as favourite and serve in the palace. Whilst she loves her sisters she has been taught to compete against them, and they will surely be happy serving in the kingdom's tea houses. Actually the monarchy here is matriarchal but it's not called a queendom.

It's not just colour the Belles add but they can shape bodies, grow hair, completely alter appearances. The process is not painless but for many, that is a small price to pay. It's tiring work for the Belles too and they get little say in how their lives are managed. They are slaves, and the tea houses and madams put me in the mind of brothels.

The queen's reign is coming to an end and Princess Charlotte, next in line to the throne is in a coma. Unless she awakens soon, Princess Sophie will be named regent and her mother has fears that she will not be a good ruler. Camellia soon discovers how hard it is to obey a cruel mistress, she can only stay in her favour by following orders but she knows she isn't doing the right thing.

At times I was frustrated and disappointed in Camellia, but she was raised a certain way and she often has little choice. She tries to make amends where she can. It's sad to see a world ruled by women but where they are still so pitted against each other, still judged by how they look and their sexuality controlled.

Always remember that emotions are tethered to the blood, and the blood is where your gifts are. Any excess passion can cause contamination and too much pressure. It can damage the arcana.

For a book about beauty, it is expected that it will be heavy on the descriptions; the opulence of their homes, the dresses and hairstyles. There's an over-reliance on using food to describe appearances, perhaps this is on purpose, but a chocolate chip cookie complexion does not sound flattering (and you know, vanilla isn't the colour people seem to think it is).

I didn't quite understand why the Belles applied make-up before a transformation or use metal implements. The tools do strengthen the link between plastic-surgery and what the Belles do but it's meant to be magic. Belles aren't supposed to reveal their secrets and it's first person narrative, so it's just not explained in detail. I have liked a bit more world-building outside of the palace life.

I dislike the fact that I need to be altered. The ship had to dock every month for us to have this maintenance done. It always felt so ridiculous. Unnecessary.

It took me a while to get into but by the end I was thoroughly absorbed. There better be another book because I want to know what happens next. I want to know those baby Belles will be OK and did Camellia's actions have any effect on anything? More please!

Thursday, 1 February 2018

The Month That Was... January 2018

+ International Giveaway

New year, new monthly updates! As well as what I've been reading I'd like to also track what I watch and other things I do over the month. There is still a chance to win one of the books I've reviewed, just keep reading.

I'm enjoying being ahead on my Goodreads goal this year. I think I'd still be on track if I'd set it the same as last year but it is so less niggling when it's lower. I read ELEVEN whole books last month across a range of genres. I also made good progress on challenge prompts. I thought I was doing well with keeping up with review writing so far this year, but I still have five outstanding. Expect a flurry of them soon.


What I've Watched:

I have Hidden Figures on my TBR but I felt like watching the film... so I watched the film. It shows how ridiculous and hypocritical segregation laws were. Who cares what toilet you use?! The toilet issue was a big part of the film, but also shows how important these women were to the success of the US space programme. Plus computers used to be actual human beings! Mostly women too. Laura recently reviewed the book and it sounds like it has enough additional material to still be worth reading (and it would fit a POPSUGAR prompt).