Thursday, 29 November 2018

#NonFicNov Wrap-Up

I've not really kept up with my Non-Fiction November this year but I did read four non-fiction books and I wrote two reviews. I promise the rest of them will be up next month when I have more time.

This week's prompt is hosted by Doing Dewey. Most of what I added to my wishlist was from the Goodreads Choice awards although so many participants recommended Educated, I am certainly going to try and read it next year. The others , I have no idea where I heard about them. I say every year I need to make a note when I add books to my wishlist but clearly I did not do that once again.

Wishlist Additions:

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Vita Nostra

Read The World: Ukraine

Sasha Samokhina is a straight A student looking forward to going to university. When on holiday with her single mother a strange man starts to follow her. He sets her a challenge to repeat every day, to go swimming naked the same time every morning. If she doesn’t oblige, she will be stuck in a time loop or worse, her family will be hurt. And hurt in a way no one can prove was anyone else’s fault… When she succeeds, Sasha is offered a place at the Institute of Special Technologies. An offer she cannot refuse.

The afternoon sun was just as scorching, but Sasha's instant chill felt like a lining of frost in her stomach. Not really sure of why she was so afraid of the dark man, Sasha shot up the street, her sandals drumming a feverish rhythm and passersby hastily moving out her way.

What on earth was this? It’s either genius or insane. Metaphysics, philosophy, the trials of growing up and going to university, a totalitarian regime at a mysterious university where they learn “special technologies”, emotional blackmail... You’re either going to love it or hate it.

The beginning captures the feeling of street harassment so well, that second sense that someone is watching you and the paranoia that something really bad will happen. Sasha asks Farit Kozhennikov if he is a pervert, because that is the initial reaction of anyone sane. And then suddenly it changes direction, but there is this huge sense of anxiety in the background. Whatever is happening cannot be good.

Sasha slumped at the edge of the cot, laden with the firm conviction that something terrible had just happened. Something unidentifiable, inexplicable, some unknown threat - and thus, her terror grew in a geometric progression.

Usually when characters in books get whisked off to a secret, magical school, they love it. They are being taken out of a life they hated and given new opportunities. But Sasha does not wish to go to Torpa, a place she has never heard of, and explain to her family why she’s suddenly changed her mind about her education. No one at the special institute seems to want to be there. At one point her mother becomes convinced she has been brainwashed by some cult. Her first year there is not a cheery experience.

So it gets really weird but I also found myself trying to do the exercises along with Sasha. She doesn’t know the point of what she is doing. Her family’s health is held hostage, bad things will happen if she doesn’t comply. I liked that it intertwined normal university life, like not getting on with your roommates or dealing with a communal kitchen, with the metaphysical weirdness.

I never ask for the impossible.

I did find it dragged a little in the middle, the only thing stopping me from giving it 4 stars. The exercises are repetitive for a reason, but I did want the story to move just a little bit faster. I think I love it, but I’m not sure I understand all of it.

I’ve seen a lot of people call this a Russian fantasy but it’s Ukrainian, maybe that’s a political distinction considering the Crimea. The seaside town it starts in, Nikita, is in the Crimea and the authors are Ukrainian but it was originally written in Russian and has been a bestseller in Russia. There is a bit of a Soviet vibe to it. Vita Nostra has been translated into English for the first time by Julia Meitov Hersey.

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Book Source: Purchased

Monday, 26 November 2018

The Mortal Word

The Mortal Word is the fifth book in the Invisible Library series therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous books.

The dragons and the fae are considering a peace treaty, but the talks are disrupted by the murder of one of the diplomats. Vale is brought in as an independent investigator, to be accompanied by a representative from each of the interested parties. The future hangs in the balance, can the talks be saved if one side was responsible?

If I were going on a heroic quest I'd probably start off by making a list of things I'd need on the journey. Including some books to read during the dull bits.

Ahhh these books are so much fun. Irene is chosen as the Library investigator of course, she is the perfect person with connections on all sides. They are transported to an 1890s version of Paris, similar to Vale’s world. All fingers point to a murderous fae, the Bloody Countess, her narrative formed from the legends surrounding Elizabeth Bathory. But what Irene really needs is some solid proof before she risks derailing the peace talks.

Irene must fight against the pull of powerful fae, their narratives trying to pull her in. On the other side are the environmental effects of the dragon royalty attending. And to make things worse, there’s a possible traitor in the Library…

After all, dragons and Fae possibly signing a peace treaty, was already one impossible thing before breakfast. Why not a few more, while she was at it?

She has to try and separate herself from Kai too. He’s no longer part of the Library but Irene makes her excuses to see him. It might not be a good idea for everyone else to know how close she is to a dragon.

It's a good who-dunnit mixed with the wonderful world of the Library where worlds hold power if you know how to use the Language. Reader of this blog, buy the book called The Mortal Word! Did I use the Language right there? I did get the feeling this book was written as a possible series ending, but good news, Genevieve has signed for another three books. Huzzah!

Just because you've had a near-death experience with a powerful kindred of mine down here in the cellars, all on your own, and you didn't even get to drink any of the brandy yourself, does not mean that you get to take it out on me.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Tamed: Ten Species That Changed Our World

I often wonder how humans someone how managed to invent things, like cheese or bread, was it all a big accident? In Tamed, Alice Roberts takes ten species and looks at how they became domesticated into what we know today.

The book is ordered in a chronological way, with the oldest cases of domestication first, based on archaeological findings and carbon dating. The first being dogs and it explains how the wolves may have become friendly with humans in exchange for food and then they became beneficial for hunting. In each case, there is quite a lot of dry data to go with the hypotheses, and Alice is often clear that we don’t have absolute proof.

It also covers cows, chickens and horses and well as plants such as wheat, maize, potatoes and rice. These foods don’t necessarily come from where we think they do and they quite removed from their ancestors. There's quite a lot of history mixed in with the archaeology as we follow the parts these species played in the lives of humans.

The reason for the late adoption of this vegetable seem to include some deep-rooted but rather odd superstitions. Potatoes, perhaps because of their odd, misshapen tubers, like deformed limbs, were linked to leprosy. The fact that potatoes were not mentioned in the Bible was also a source of suspicion.

I found the parts about genetic modification fascinating. It looks at both sides of the argument, the environmental concerns and the involvement of big businesses that take advantage. But it also had case studies of crops that have helped poorer countries feed themselves. At what point does it go beyond selective breeding and into dangerous territory? And is it as dangerous as we have been led to believe. I didn’t feel Alice was arguing for either side which was very refreshing.

I wasn’t that clear on why apples were included as being instrumental to human success. Yes, they can be stored over winter and transported easily compared to other fruit, but it felt a bit like she was running out of species to get to a round number.

As human society evolved, and our ancestors began to live more densely, as well as relying on extensive social networks to survive, it seems that we may have - quite inadvertently - domesticated ourselves.

The tenth species is actually humans, which seems a bit of a cop-out and is used to round up the rest of the book. At this point I felt it was getting repetitive, but overall it was an interesting read that gave me some theories to my questions. I would say you’d need some basic biology knowledge before going in but overall it was an accessible read on a fascinating subject.

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Book Source: Purchased

Sunday, 18 November 2018

East of Croydon

Since it’s Nonfiction November I should probably share some non-fiction reviews! East of Croydon follows Sue Perkins on her travels around Asia whilst filming documentaries for the BBC. It also covers her father’s terminal cancer and coming to terms with death of a loved one.

Historically, the Perkins tribe were neither explorers, nor adventurers.

I want to be friends with Sue, she is funny and kind, and I loved spending time with her by way of her audiobook narration. I laughed, I cried. I laughed whilst crying (honestly, she’s the only person I know that’s made me laugh whilst recounting time spent by a parent’s death bed).

If you’ve watched Sue’s travels down the Mekong River or in India, you may find some parts familiar as this is kind of a behind the scenes version of those documentaries. However, I loved the interactions between her and her film crew, the countless bouts of food poisoning and all the times they are not on the same page when it comes to the film they are actually making.

There are sections on translations between what a producer says and what they really mean. At one point Sue talks about which words for vagina are suitable for which BBC channels, which is relevant because she finds herself in classrooms on several occasions, often shouting out the English words for body parts…

The most glorious and the most difficult thing about my job is that I get to observe. I get to watch some of the most exciting, breath-taking and curious things on the planet; I also get to watch some of the most cruel and heart-breaking too.

It’s not all laughs, there are times when she sees through the fa├žade that travellers are often presented. She meets the street kids of India, whole families living beneath bridges and I remember her breaking down on the TV show. She is saddened by poverty and environmental damage.

I am usually not fond of writers sneaking in personal trauma into books seemingly about other subjects, but I’ll let Sue off. She needs to vent about some things, and the parts about her father are done with tenderness and humour.

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Book Source: Purchased

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Popsugar Reading Challenge 2019

The Popsugar Reading Challenge for next year has been released. There are 40 regular and 10 advanced prompts to interpret as you wish and a fantastic Goodreads group to keep you motivated.

The list has been out for a week now so I've had time to consider the list. I'm not too happy with the book recommended by a celebrity, another posthumously published book, over a million ratings or LitRPG, but the others are all do-able without straying too far into books I don't want to read.

I've felt a little lost these past few weeks without my challenge reading to guide me, so I'm definitely doing this again next year. Do join the group for weekly check-ins, help with prompts and just general bookish friendliness.

Here's the list in full:

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Not Just for Christmas

It's that time of year everything turns festive and today saw a swathe of Christmas themed chick lit released. I do like to read one or two of these during the holiday season to help get me in the mood, and one about dogs seemed right up my street.

Who needs men when you have mutts?

Newly single Charlie doesn't like most things about Christmas. When a gas leak forces her out of her London flat, she's packed off to stay with her cousin in rural Devon. When her cousin gets the opportunity for a romantic trip to Lapland, Charlie steps in to look after the dogs at her up-market dog care centre.

Another thing, Charlie doesn't actually like dogs, and I found her attitude to them at the start a bit irritating. However, with it being Christmas, she soon mellows, both to the dogs in her care and the people around her. There are a couple of attractive men, one an engaged Great Dane owner and the other a grumpy vet, and the romantic element is predictable but that's fine for this kind of book.

There are misunderstandings and several near disasters that Charlie must avert. She has a very pregnant Beagle and a constipated Poodle to care for, not to mention the two wolf-like Malamutes who pester her to go out in a sulky. It was a quick read with a few laughs and I came to quite like the various characters by the end. The dogs are always the best ones though.

In the end I decided that London's something of a chimera. It's what we project onto it. And often, the picture in our head doesn't quite come together.

Not Just for Christmas was previously published as Mutts and Mistletoe and has been released under the new title by Orion. The ebook is available now and the paperback will be out on 29th November 2018. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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

Wednesday, 14 November 2018


It all started with a seed.

Planetfall reminded me in some ways of Annihilation, but less weird and more human. Ren is a 3D-printer engineer on a colony at the base of a mysterious alien structure called God's City. Twenty-two year's prior, Lee Suh-Mi led her faithful followers into space to find a new future for humanity.

Then a stranger walks up to colony, claiming to be the son of one of the survivors from planetfall. They believed all the others were dead, how could this happen?

It's a slow reveal kind of story, and bit by bit, the pieces start to come together. I did find it a little slow to get into because there were a lot of terms to get to grips with, but one I was in, I was hooked. There is a constant feeling that there's something being hidden, a secret at the heart of the community, and the stranger puts that all at risk.

That scared me more than anything, sometimes; the noise of my thoughts, the sense that even the space inside myself wasn't safe.

Suh-Mi entered God's City and never returned, believed to be living there. Once a year, she offers the alien seed to one person from the colony, so they can become enlightened. There is a cult-like feeling around the whole thing.

The story follows Ren, who knew Suh-Mi during her student days back on Earth. her past is filled in through flashbacks. In the present (future) she is suffering from anxiety and an a severe hoarding obsession. She holds onto possessions as if they hold her memories, she tells herself she will fix things. They don't need to fix things, they have 3D printers to recycle everything.

What happened to make her like this? Is it just the consequences of living on an alien planet? There is a traumatic scene for Ren, which made me so angry at the other characters. It turns out that their behaviour is incredibly relevant, but my heart breaks that Ren's illness wasn't handled carefully.

I look forward to reading the rest of the books in the series.

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Book Source: Purchased

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Empire of Sand

Mehr is the daughter of two cultures, half noble Ambhan, half heathen Amrithi. She lives with her father, a governor, her step-mother and her little sister. For her's sister's sake, she tried to follow the wishes of her father but she can't turn her back on the sacred rites taught by her absent mother.

A choice like a knife to the throat is an illusion.

Empire of Sand got off to a fantastic start, with rich world-building based on Mughal India. The Amrithi are hated in the empire for their association with daiva, and Mehr must suppress that side of her heritage. Yet, some people still cling to the old ways and wish to use her blood for protection. It would seem that daivas are real and can be controlled by the Amrithi.

When one fateful night draws the attention of the empire's mystics, Mehr is forced to take a husband. There is a huge amount about arranged marriage in this book. It is important that she has a choice, it is a noblewoman's right to choose her husband even when the introductions are made for her. What Mehr does is choose someone in order to protect her family.

It explores what happens in an arranged marriage, where affection can come later. Just because it is arranged does not mean it cannot be good. However there is a dark edge to this because the mystics want her bound to them for nefarious reasons. There is a reason why Amrithi never marry. I liked the way the relationship between Mehr and her husband develops. They are both being used, manipulated, and they make the most out of a bad situation.

The writing is wonderfully descriptive and it's easy to imagine the opulence of the governor's residence versus the sparseness of life in the desert. However I felt the pacing was a bit slow and I lost a bit of interest in the middle section.

You belong to your father. And you will belong to any husband you choose. His duties will be your duties, his burdens your burdens. Your immortal soul will be bound to his.

I liked the message that you can't just rid evil from the world without upsetting the balance. We have seen so many countries destroyed by leaving power vacuums in the real world, it's nice to have fiction that takes this into account. It even shows how good people can fall victim to evil, because when they have nothing else, a little kindness can mean the world.

Some ends were tied up a little too neatly but it's a refreshing change to read a fantasy debut that stands by itself. I believe there are other books planned but whether or not they follow on directly or are companions, it really doesn't matter.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Around the Year in 52 Books Challenge

I had such fun (and success!) doing the Popsugar Reading Challenge this year. I've decided to add the Around the Year in 52 Books (AtY) to my schedule for 2019. The challenge is hosted on Goodreads and the list has been compiled through a series of polls, complete with debates and enthusiasm.

The final list is now complete:

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Washington Black

I'm not a big follower of the Man Booker Prize but a handful of this year's longlist titles piqued my interest, and at the top of the pile was one adorned with an airship. It sounded like an adventure story, in the Booker! Needless to say I had to read it.

The story follows young George Washington Black, Wash for short, a slave born on a sugar plantation on Barbados. The first few chapters have a horrific familiarity to many slave stories, but the difference here, Wash is allowed to have an adventure. Esi Edugyan has argued this is a post-slavery story because of that, but you are reminded that in reality, life wouldn't have been so good for Wash.

But Wash is selected by his master's brother to help him with his experiments, specifically his airship. The relationship between Titch and Wash is awkward and highlights the complexities of the dynamics between slaves and white men, even when the white man is trying to be nice. Wash is a possession, he is used to following order or being punished. He can't easily fall into the jovial role of apprentice that Titch seems to want, and Titch does not truly understand.

You were more concerned that slavery should be a moral stain upon white men than by the actual damage it wreaks on black men.

Even when Wash is free from the plantation, he does not have true freedom. He is still a runaway slave, he is still seen as less than a white man and he is still wholly reliant on the protections afforded by Titch.

If that all seems a bit heavy, there is adventure too. From airships to pirates, the Arctic to London, Wash sees the world through the eyes of a slave. The airship didn't feature for the whole book and I must admit to being slightly disappointed that he wasn't travelling the world in it.

Wash turns out to be gifted in illustration, and this leads him to a renowned naturalist. I had the odd experience of a historical figure clicking into place, only later to look him up and find he wasn't quite that figure. Philip Henry Gosse was the man who is credited with the idea of the modern aquarium and was responsible for Ocean House at London Zoo. He was known to employ young black boys as apprentices, and he had several beautifully illustrated books published. It would not have a been a stretch to have him as Wash's mentor. But no, the character is called Goff, which is just too close for you not to assume it's the same person. I'm sure not many people are making the connection (unless you've read the zoo's history boards recently) but I felt it was an odd choice.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Dion Graham who did an excellent job as Wash. He read it as if being told by the grown up man, only resorting to childish voices in the dialogue. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it has made me want to dig out Half Blood Blues, which I know I have somewhere!

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Book Source: Purchased

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

If you liked this novel, try this non-fiction!

This week's Nonfiction November prompt is hosted by Sarah's Book Shelves.

I love fiction/non-fiction pairings, so much so I've been researching them to fit a AtY challenge multi-week prompt. So this list is a mix of books I've read and those I intend to read.

Turtles All the Way Down and I Contain Multitudes

Aza's life might be easier if she didn't know about the multitudes living inside her. John Green's novel is about a girl suffering from OCD, with her obsession being bacteria, and she talks about some of the things that are covered (I assume) in Ed Yong's book. "I contain multitudes" is a Walt Whitman quote that also pops up in Turtles All the Way Down.

The Only Harmless Great Thing and The Radium Girls

Knowing the history of the Radium Girls makes Brooke Bolander's novella all the more sad. In The Only Harmless Great Thing, the girls are replaced by elephants after they discover the damage radium does. It interweaves an alternate history with Topsy the elephant, radioactivity, and the language of elephants.

The Incredible True Story of the Making of the Eve of Destruction and Full Body Burden

This is one of my researched pairings so I can't say if either are any good but I recently stumbled upon this YA novel about a girl living in the shadow of a nuclear facility, and Full Body Burden is about the real life version (minus the film crew).

Washington Black and Barracoon

I sort of chose this pairing because the covers look so good together, but they are also both about life after slavery. My review of Washington Black should be on my blog this week.

You can find links to more book pairings over on Sarah's Book Shelves.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Muse of Nightmares

Muse of Nightmares is the sequel to Strange the Dreamer and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous book.

After saving the city of Weep from the falling citadel in the sky, Strange and Sarai find themselves at the hands of a small angry godspawn. Will Strange turn on the people who welcomed him in order to save the ghost of the woman he loves?

It’s the mind. It’s the most complex and astonishing thing there is, that there’s a world inside each of us that no one else can ever know or see or visit.

I loved Strange the Dreamer and after that ending was eager to read the sequel (apparently these things are called duologies these days, it's not a series or a trilogy, just two books). It took me a while to really get into Muse of Nightmares, it lingered a little too long on Sarai and Strange's unfulfilled desire for each other and how they can't act on it. However the reason they can't do anything is more interesting; Minya's total control over Sarai's existence.

Ahhh Minya, I loved her character development, it would be so easy just to make her power hungry and evil but her backstory is so sad, and in the end, she really does care. There is something revealed which completely explains how she got to the point where she felt she could use Sarai's soul as a bargaining chip.

We're all on the same side. Even her. You can be on the same side and have different ideas.

The story also uses an alternate timeline to explain how the Godspawn came to be and the history of their conquered lands. You finally understand what that nursery was all about.

My least favourite bit was definitely the romance, but the rich world building totally made up for that. I would love to read further adventures in this world, or other worlds as the case may be.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

The Month That Was... October 2018

+ International Giveaway

I reached by Goodreads target and completed the Popsugar Reading Challenge last month, woohoo! I did set my overall goal on the low side because I didn't want to feel like I was behind half the year. I think this is the best way to approach it, unless you need a specific push to read more.

I got plenty read in November, partly thanks to Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon. I haven't even started to tackle the brick that is Kingdom of Ash and may just hold out until I'm on holiday. I am behind on writing reviews once again, I can never get the balance right!

Keep your eye our for more non-fiction content this month as I'm taking part in Nonfiction November again.

Here's what made it onto the blog...

Book of the Month:
Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman