Sunday, 30 September 2018

September Book Haul

I seem to be getting a lot better at reading books promptly after buying them. I've got an audiobook rule that I can't buy a new one until I'm ready to listen to it, which has helped reduce the TBR expansion speed!

However October seems to be quite a big release month, so I'm sure I'll fall behind again soon enough!



Review Books:

Origins by Lewis Dartnell (Bodley Head)
An Unexplained Death by Mikita Brottman (Canongate)*

Physical Books Purchased:

Saga Volume 9 by Brian K Vaughan + Fiona Staples
Monstress: Haven by Marjorie M. Liu + Sana Takeda
Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl
Rituals by Kelley Armstrong

Audiobooks Purchased:

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

Ebooks Purchased:

A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived by Adam Rutherford
All Systems Red by Martha Wells
The Black God's Drums by P. Djèlí Clark

*Unsolicited titles

Saturday, 29 September 2018

Assassin's Apprentice

Fitz is the illegitimate son of Prince Chivalry, in a land where royalty are named for the qualities they will possess. A bastard can be a liability and Chivalry abdicates his position as king-in-waiting, but not to care for his son. Instead Fitz grows up on the edges of the court, learning many skills, but never claimed.

It is a wonder we did not all break our necks. But there it is; sometimes luck belongs to children and madmen. That night I felt we were both.

It was probably about time I tried some Robin Hobb, so I started at the beginning. It's worth bearing in mind Assassin's Apprentice was first published in 1995 as the premise of a royal bastard seems a bit of an overdone trope now. I'm really not keen on people blaming children for something their parents did. I found it very slow paced at first, with plenty of time recounting Fitz's early life and it was only in the second half that I found myself enjoying it.

Fitz possesses both Wit and Skill. The Wit is a deep connection with animals, sharing minds and feelings. In some cases a bond forms between human and animal, and this can lead to the animal side taking over. It's considered a terrible thing to possess and Fitz is warned off using it. The Skill on the other hand is considered a royal trait and it's a connection between humans. If you ask me, they sound like the same thing.

However, Fitz finds himself being raised by the stablemaster Burrich. Understandably, Fitz gets along well with the horses and dogs, and Burrich discovers what he can do and forbids him from bonding with another animal. I liked the idea of the Wit and was a bit frustrated that it was considered such a bad thing. Fitz is the first person narrator, so you can tell it's not corrupting him. It seems to be the Skill that's more of a danger to him.

Very little worth knowing is taught by fear.

Eventually Fitz is brought into the royal family to be trained as an assassin. Eventually his new status as assassin's apprentice leads him to the town of Forge, where they discover something terrible has been done. This is where things picked up for me, suddenly there was a plot to get attached to. I think this whole book is mostly setting things up for a longer series. And it is long, but divided into trilogies.

Whilst I'm not chomping at the bit to read the next book, I think I will give it a go in the future. I've put in the work getting to know this world and characters and hopefully there's won't be as much of a slow build up next time.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 11. A book by a female author who uses a male pseudonym
Science-Fiction vs Fantasy Bingo: Epic

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Book Source: Purchased

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Save the Date

Charlie's the youngest member of the Grant family, a family whose life has been semi-fictionalised in a newspaper comic strip for as long as she can remember. Grant Central is coming to an end, and with it the sale of their family home, but first her older sister Linnie wants to get married there. With a rush wedding on the cards, they employ the help of a wedding planner... one that disappears days before the wedding, leaving behind chaos.

What fun. Everything that can go wrong with this wedding does! Whilst the outside world think they are the perfect family, things aren't as they seem. Her brother Mike left for college and didn't return for Thanksgiving, or Christmas, there's no way he'll come for the wedding? He hasn't forgiven their mother for something, the what you'll have to wait patiently to find out.

It's a large family with lots of loud and lively characters. The missing wedding planner is replaced by William and his nephew Bill and Charlie does what she can to help fix the many disasters that happen. Despite family tensions, nothing was overly dramatic or mean. Things do get sorted out, often with humorous results.

All you've been talking about for months is this weekend, and getting to be with your family again. What happens when this weekend is over?

I liked that it focused more on familial relationships than romantic ones. Charlie's mission to sleep with her long time crush is destined to go wrong, but she seems to be the only one that doesn't realise what Jesse is doing. I am glad that wasn't the main point of the story as I must admit to being irritated by that a bit.

It's also about coming to terms with change, that nothing can stay the same forever and parents are not infallible. Charlie's rose-tinted perspective on many things is disrupted by the end.

I feel I can rely on Morgan Matson for a good, uncomplicated contemporary YA. This is set in the same universe as The Unexpected Everything as a few characters pop up at one point, albeit in a very minor moment.

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Book Source: Purchased

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

The Silence of the Girls

Briseis is a young Trojan woman whose city falls to the Greeks. The men and boys are slaughtered and the women taken as slaves. Briseis is awarded to Achilles as a trophy of war. This is her story.

Great Achilles. Brilliant Achilles, shining Achilles... How the epithets pile up. We never called him any of those things; we called him 'the butcher'.

The Silence of the Girls is a retelling of The Illiad that does not shy away from the brutality of the Trojan War, nor the terrible treatment of women and girls. The young, pretty, Trojan women are treated as objects, things to be traded and used. Briseis tells the story from a different side, that of the women whose fates are tied to those who killed their families.

At least Patroclus, Achilles' lover, is kind to her and her circumstances could be a lot worse, but she never forgets that she is a slave. Her life is not her own and she must go to bed with the man who killed her father and brothers. Do not mistake this for a romance. Death is not pretty and war doesn't smell good.

The quote at the start of the books reminds us that The Illiad is the tale of men fighting over a woman. Helen was just one of those women caught up in the conflict of men. Pat Barker imagines what those silent women would have seen, how they might have impacted the lives other characters the epic poems hold in high esteem. It's a tale of survival and bravery. Briseis is a great heroine.

We’re going to survive – our songs, our stories. They’ll never be able to forget us. Decades after the last man who fought at Troy is dead, their sons will remember the songs their Trojan mothers sang to them.

It probably helps to have a rough idea of the original story but I find these contemporary retellings are a much better way of getting the story across. It's not like Homer was the only person to write about these myths, so today's writers are just carrying on the tradition.

For those that know the story well, it handles the grief well and I felt moved by the transition of Achilles from brutal soldier to a man who has lost that closest to him. Briseis is in eternal grief, for her life, her friends, her freedom.

Listening Notes

Kristin Atherton does a fanastic job as Briseis. Her reading comes across as a disillusioned young woman, resigned to her fate but not losing herself. Whilst most of the book is first person from Briseis's point of view, there are some third person chapters following Achilles. These were read by Michael Fox and weren't as powerfully narrated, they felt more functional, but maybe that suited Achilles.

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Book Source: Purchased

Monday, 24 September 2018

By the Pricking of Her Thumb

By the Pricking of Her Thumb is the sequel to The Real-Town Murders and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous book.

Alma's debt is piling up and she really needs a few good jobs to keep paying for Marguerite's increasingly obscure medication. The police approach her about a murder, the woman appears to have been killed with a needle pushed through her thumb. How is that even possible?

I'm offering you your first whodunnit-to.

I was so excited to return to R-Town, a future version of Reading where most the population spend their time in virtual reality. Except for our intrepid private investigator, Alma. She still has to attend to her partner every four hours and four minutes and now she has to worry about declined credit each time too. Poor Alma, you can really feel her wits stretched.

She's also having to deal with the unwanted attentions of a police officer, but without being so rude as to lose the case. Then one of the super rich gets in touch. She thinks one of her group has been murdered but doesn't know who. They interact in Shine only but the gestalt feels off. If Alma can figure out who's been murdered, maybe the fee will help drag her out of debt.

Meanwhile, her exploits have garnered somewhat of a fan club in Shine. Marguerite's been writing fan fiction and she wants to find some way to monetise in order to help pay her way. Her fame attracts an odd individual with an obsession with Kubrick.

Money is belief. Simple as that. A complicated network that subsists from month to month because people believe in it.

It's a true Adam Roberts style puzzle, clever with a side-helping of economics (which is much more interesting when you understand it's about people, not numbers) and 2001: A Space Odyssey. I loved the solution to it all.

There's also something very sad, but I felt it had to happen if Roberts intends on making it a longer series as there's only so much that could have been done with the constraints. I wholly recommend these books, it would work as a standalone but you would get a better sense of the world by reading in order.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 2A. A cyberpunk book
Science-Fiction vs Fantasy Bingo: Cyberpunk

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Book Source: Purchased

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Top Ten: Autumn TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

I've read about half of what I put on my most anticipated spring TBR, but here I am again with ten books I have good intentions of reading soon.



Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor
The Mortal Word by Genevieve Cogman



Saga Volume 9 by Brian K Vaughan + Fiona Staples
Monstress Volume 3 by Marjorie M. Liu + Sana Takeda



The Loosening Skin by Aliya Whiteley
Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J. Maas



East of Croydon by Sue Perkins
Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri



Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa
Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

Monday, 17 September 2018

Neverworld Wake

Bea wants to get to the bottom of how her boyfriend died. After a year of grieving she's given the opportunity to meet up with the friends she's drifted apart from. They will be the key to finding out what happened to Jim. But that night, the five friends are involved in a car crash and find themselves re-living the same day. They are in the Neverworld, and only one them can return to the land of the living.

Time does not travel in a straight line. It bends and barrels across tunnels and bridges. It speeds up. Slows down. It even derails.

Neverworld Wake was one of those books I had on my wishlist but wasn't quite sure why. Then Hanna @ Booking in Heels read it, compared it to The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, and I suddenly wanted to read it again. I don't think the cover blurb does it any justice, which is maybe why I had no idea what it was really like. It has vibes of E. Lockhart and would be a great atmospheric Halloween read.

In order to end the cycle, they must vote unanimously on who gets to live. Actually, the Keeper says unanimous but one, which they all seem to forget about. The repeating day goes on for years, at one point Bea mentions it's been a century. It's always raining. For a time, they find ways to pass the time, living with no consequences, but Bea thinks the mystery behind Jim's death is the key to ending it.

It's so easy to hate the pretty one, worship the genius, love the rock star, trust the good girl. That's never their only story. We are all anthologies. We are each thousands of pages long, filled with fairy tales and poetry, mysteries and tragedy, forgotten stories in the back no one will ever read.

The Keeper is an ominous presence. A mysterious figure there to remind them that they must vote. There were a few things that didn't make sense, but most things could be forgiven by the strain of reliving the same day over and over. Memories are fallible, especially after trauma and it was absorbing enough for me not to mind.

The writing is excellent, despite the continuity errors, and I'm tempted to pick up Night Film, another book by the same author that was demoted off my wishlist at some point.

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Book Source: Purchased

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Rosewater

Rosewater is a Nigerian town grown up around a mysterious alien dome. Kaaro is a sensitive who was there from the start, the dome sending out spores which give people like him a telepathic gift. No one knows what the aliens want, but once a year the dome opens briefly, healing anyone in the vicinity. As word gets out, more and more people make the pilgrimage to Rosewater.

The story is split between 2066 and Kaaro’s past. His gift meant he could always find people’s valuables and led to his life of crime as a thief. In 2066, he is a government agent, helping a mysterious organisation with interrogations, with a part time job at a bank being part of their firewall.

From a lay person's perspective, psychics were once unreliable and have been more reliable since 2012 or thereabouts.

It took me a while to get into, it spends time world-building before the meaty plot starts, but the reward is worth it. I liked the Nigerian setting, it felt like a not-too-distant future with the country finding their place in the new world, one where Britain has shot itself in the foot with Brexit and America has isolated itself completely. It had a unique take on alien invasions, but you’ll just have to read it to find out exactly what.

The spores released by the dome allow sensitives like Kaaro to enter the xenosphere. Here they are exposed to the images inside the heads of people nearby, to protect themselves, they appear as an avatar. When they would like to switch off they use anti-fungal creams to dampen their skills. But sensitives are starting to get ill. Is someone targeting them and their work?

Luckily lying in the psyche is part of my training. Thieves must lie well to survive. Government agents must lie even better.

Random thought, I wonder if the town’s name came from Outkast’s Roses, because there is a passage talking about how the town was named and it mentioned how terrible it smelled because of all the sewerage...

I’m super happy that this is the start of a trilogy, because Tade Thompson has really drawn me in and I want to know more. It does work as a standalone too, so you can read it without worrying about a lot of unanswered questions.

Nobody should be able to do what you do. The mind is supposed to be the last sanctuary of a free human.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Other Minds

Peter Godfrey-Smith is an Australian philosopher and diving enthusiast, with particular interest in cephalopods, which goes someway to explaining this book. I did find it quite hard to absorb and switched to an audiobook part way through. I possibly missed something important but it seemed to drift from topic to topic and not really explain how the octopus can show us how human intelligence evolved.

When you dive into the sea, you are diving into the origin of us all.

You have to go a long way back the evolutionary tree to find a common ancestor between humans and octopus; our intelligence evolved in parallel. The book starts out explaining how single cell organised evolved into more complex creatures, how eyes might have coming into being and most importantly, the development of the nervous system. There was plenty of interesting bits but it was hard to just sit down and read it for long periods of time. It is a little dry in the delivery.

Godfrey-Smith recounts some of his experiences diving with cephalopods, including quite a moving scene where he sees cuttlefish at the ends of their lives; slowing decaying into the water. These creatures only live a couple of years and he ponders why they are as intelligent as they are in such a short lifetime. I loved the fact that Octopolis exists, a community of, usually anti-social, octopus living together off the coast of Australia.

Some of the experiments documented will be distressing to animal lovers, and octopus have only fairly recently been granted honorary invertebrate status to help protect them from cruelty.

It's not all about cephlapods though. There is a chapter about inner voice, how it's an important part of our intelligence. However it's not something scientists think octopus have, so I can only guess it was put in to show how we evolved differently.

The chemistry of life is an aquatic chemistry. We can get by on land only by carrying a huge amount of salt water around with us.

If you are particularly interested in marine biology, I would say it's worth reading but it wasn't a very engaging "popular science" type book.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 8A. A microhistory

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Book Source: Purchased

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Jinxed

Lacey Chu wants to be a companioneer at MONCHA, one of the engineers responsible for creating the robotic pets called baku. First she needs to get into Profectus and get a level 3 baku. Her dreams seem to be at an end when she receives a rejection letter and has to settle for a level 1 beetle, until she discovers a broken baku at the bottom of a ravine. But Jinx isn't just any baku...

As it syncs, my nose begins to tingle, and I sneeze. At almost the exact same time, the baku's whiskers judder, the first sign of potential life.

Ahh this was such a fun, lovely book with a career in STEM at the heart of the character's desires. It has a similar feeling to Amy's Potion Diaries books, although published under different names. The setting is reminiscent of the campuses in Silicon Valley, massive tech companies in control and keeping their employees close, whilst providing what looks like a dream from the outside.

Set in the near future, baku are replacements for mobile phones, providing connection to the world without having to worry about charging. They can be seen as status symbols, with level 1 insect bakus being the cheapest but least impressive. Kids still have phones but when they are 15 they get their first baku and celebrate by destroying their old phones in various creative ways.

It opens with a chase and a lost baku, which leaves it pretty obvious to the reader that it was Jinx but Lacey does not know that. After fixing the mangled cat baku, Lacey gets a message from Profectus confirming her admission and showing her registered baku as Jinx. Something's not right but to question it might jeopardise her future.

You two chose each other. That's what true friendship is. That's what life it. Being presented with options and choosing your own path.

Jinx has typical cat attitude, not obeying commands and running off at the worst moments. Something's not right, bakus aren't meant to act like that. Is it possible that Jinx is thinking for himself?

Part of the book follows the baku battles at her new school, a bit like Pokemon battles! I wasn't too keen on this aspect but I liked the fact that they could win points for fixing baku as well as destroying them. The skills are equally important.

Things are just getting really interesting when the first instalment ends. So I will be eagerly awaiting book two.

Science Fiction vs Fantasy Bingo: This is Totally Going to Happen One Day

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Book Source: Purchased

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Kindred

I lost an arm on my last trip home. My left arm.

Each time Rufus puts his life at risk, Dana is sucked back through time to save him. The trouble is, Rufus is the son of a slave-owner in the ante-bellum south and Dana is a black woman. What must she do to survive and return home?

I felt super anxious for Dana throughout, knowing the risks for her. At one point early on Kevin says that it doesn't seem that bad, and I must admit I felt the same at that time in the story. Of course Kevin is a white man which lends him a lot of privilege and Dana challenges him. It doesn't take long for the violence to escalate and for Dana to see the reality of her removal of rights.

It also shows how through fear, someone can become a compliant slave. Many wonder why slaves didn't band together to overthrow their captors, and Kindred tries to show why that might be. The master uses children as bargaining chips, the love of others to keep slaves in their place. And once Dana has experienced the pain and humiliation of a whipping, she is much more cautious about her actions.

The ease. Us, the children . . . I never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery.

She's also in the awkward position of needing to protect Rufus or be erased from existence. She has to basically endorse rape in order to exist. It's difficult to read in places.

First published in 1979 it must have had such an impact on readers who had probably not been exposed to much about slavery, especially from the slaves' point of view.

Slavery was a long slow process of dulling.

It doesn't really tackle any of the paradoxes of time travel, and there are no implications of the modern day items she takes back with her. I felt her a very sensible woman to take some of the things she did. You just kind of have to accept what happens, happens.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 23. A book about time travel
Science Fiction vs Fantasy Bingo: Wibbly Wobbly Time Travel

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