Monday, 16 September 2019

The Testaments

The highly anticipated sequel to The Handmaid's Tale needs little introduction. Set around 15 years after we last saw Offred, The Testaments follows three women and reveals more about the rise and fall of Gilead. It also answers some questions you might have had lingering in your mind at the end of the first book.

Reign of terror, they used to say, but terror does not exactly reign. Instead it paralyzes.

One of the women is Aunt Lydia, the leader of the Aunts and most feared of the all. I loved Aunt Lydia's chapters, which show how she ended up in her role and shaped the roles of women in Gilead. At the start of her "testament" she states that things could have been much worse without her.

The other two characters are young women, one living withing Gilead and knowing no other way of life, the other a teenager in Canada who only knows Gilead through the liberal media. Agatha is raised in a Commander's house, with three Marthas, raised to become a wife in another high-ranking home. She doesn't see anything wrong in the way they are living, Gilead only wants to protect her, to stop her being a temptation to men.

Daisy's living a pretty normal life until her parents are killed. The only thing that was ever odd was their rule about no photos. All she knows about Gilead is what she's learned in school and on the news. They're religious fanatics but nothing to do with her. Sometimes the Pearl Girls come into her parents' shop to leave brochures, spreading the propaganda of Gilead to the outside world.

Once a story you’ve regarded as true has turned false, you begin suspecting all stories.

I liked the change in perspective, showing much more about the inner workings of Gilead through the Aunts, the way it's perceived outside the country and about the Mayday resistance. Agatha's schooling shows how the girls are brought up to be pliable wives, or else punished accordingly.

It was such an entertaining and page-turning read. It's different in tone to The Handmaid's Tale and I can see people looking a for a Booker-worthy follow up being disappointed. But I can accept it's evolved into something else and I loved it, even if the plot gets a teensy bit unbelievable towards the end. The message is as relevant as ever.

You’d be surprised how quickly the mind goes soggy in the absence of other people. One person alone is not a full person: we exist in relation to others. I was one person: I risked becoming no person.

I haven't seen that much of the TV show, I found it too bleak, so I can't really comment on any overlap in the story. Ann Dowd does narrate Aunt Lydia in the audiobook though, and does a fantastic job.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 11. A book with an item of clothing or accessory on the cover

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Book Source: Purchased

Sunday, 8 September 2019

The House of Sundering Flames

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.

The House of Sundering Flames is the third book in the Dominion of the Fallen series and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous books. If you're new to this series, read my review of The House of Shattered Wings.

He could taste the rot underneath, the earthy, moldy smell that clung to everything in Paris. A reminder that he was there, that the city was dying, and that he was part of it, trapped in it because no boats would take a Houseless back to the country of his birth.

Silverspires and Hawthorne are weakened but surviving, just about. When a huge explosion takes out House Harrier across the river, both houses are concerned at who would have that kind of power. Someone has unleashed an ancient weapon on the city, and they're seeking revenge, a revenge that threatens to destroy all of Paris, not just the Fallen.

Some months have passed since the events of The House of Binding Thorns and Thuan and Asmodeus have grown to love one another as spouses and joint heads of House Hawthorne. There wasn't a huge focus on their relationship but I enjoyed seeing Asmodeus mellow from the former tyrant, now playing with the dragon children and trying to make the house a better place to be.

I felt there were too many "big bads". There's Guy and his terrifying hawks, able to fly into bodies and drain everything, including bones and organs. Dan Chay, an immortal with immense skill with fire khi and justifiable hate against the houses that bound him. To add to that, there's also the children of thorns from Hawthorne trying to save themselves, as well as all the smaller antagonisms between houses and minor characters. With all this going on, there was a focus on action rather than the interplays between characters that was so well done in the previous books.

I wasn't born when the war ended, but I remember what it meant for our parents to be torn from our homes. Those wounds never really closed. This... we built this. We built our altars and we buried the bones of our ancestors, and every flat that stands is something we made with our own hands, against the indifference of the Houses. This is what home means. And this is where we'll be buried.

Part of the rational behind the attack is that everyone is to blame in a war, everyone who fights or turns a blind eye should take personal responsibility. The Fallen took Annamites for their war, but to then punish those Annamites for fighting when they had no other choice? There is a point when revenge has to stop, to accept and forgive. Again, there was a lot going on so this idea didn't seem fully explored, because the wronged was killing indiscriminately, including children, and it's hard to stop and reflect when someone is being so evil.

However, I would still fully recommend the series. The world-building is unique and the characters ambiguous, with some really lovely and poignant pieces of writing. It often focuses on the impact of colonialism and the meaning of living in a land that's not your homeland. Plus I love the setting of ruined Paris.

The House of Sundering Flames is published by Gollancz and is available now in paperback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Sunday, 1 September 2019

The Month That Was... August 2019

Another month of lots of reading but not much reviewing. I finished my N.E.W.T.s for Magizoologist though and I'll be posting a wrap-up with mini reviews soon as well as some more in-depth reviews later. In the meantime you can see my star ratings at least.


Pictured above is a mini succulent garden I made with a cracked oven dish, planted up with sempervivum.

Josh made awesome pickled courgettes with our home grown veg. They are a bit like gherkins, and it's so nice having some alternative ways of using up courgettes. We're also deluged by cucumbers at the moment and have a bunch of long aubergines forming. I love having veg in the garden but it'll be sad when it's all died down again.

Scully the Labrador being hosed down

Can you believe Scully is three years old already? She's sort of quietened down a bit now but she still gets over-excited when her favourite people visit.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

On My Radar: September

There are some pretty big releases hitting the shelves in September, including the follow up to something called That Handmaid's Tale... But there are also plenty of other books coming out next month that look just as tempting. As always, inclusion isn't an endorsement and books may be available on different dates in different territories/formats (and sometimes they just change). Dates stated are generally for the UK print edition unless otherwise noted.


1st

The Lightest Object in the Universe by Kimi Eisele (US)
Scary Stories for Young Foxes by Christian Heidicker McKay (US)

3rd

The Lady Rogue by Jenn Bennett (US)


5th

Darkdawn by Jay Kristoff
The Nightjar by Deborah Hewitt
Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell + Faith Erin Hicks
For Emily by Katherine Slee
A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier
Brightfall by Jamie Lee Moyer
The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott



10th

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
A Treason of Thorns by Laura E. Weymouth (US)
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi (e)
The Swallows by Lisa Lutz
The Institute by Stephen King


12th

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
Frankly in Love by David Yoon
What We Talk About When We Talk About Books by Leah Price


17th

The Babysitters Coven by Kate M. Williams (US)


19th

Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron
After the Flood by Kassandra Montag
Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi
City of Beasts by Corrie Wang
Let's Call It a Doomsday by Katie Henry
Bone China by Laura Purcell
The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Gotta Get Theroux This by Louis Theroux



24th

Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell (e)
No Judgments by Meg Cabot

26th

Breaking and Mending by Joanna Cannon


(US) = no official UK release scheduled but US edition readily available
(e) = UK ebook release

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Sanctuary

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.

State Detective Maggie Knight is called to the town of Sanctuary when a fire at a party ends in the tragic death of a teenage boy. It should be a pretty simple case, he fell, it was an accident... But then the police chief's son comes forward with video evidence and an accusation of witchcraft. There's only one registered witch in town, and its her giftless daughter who stands accused of murder by unnatural means.

Our moms were drinking champagne when Daniel died. Sipping on bubbles as Beatriz screamed outside the burning party house and I was loaded into an ambulance.

Sanctuary presents a modern day which hunt, it just happens that witchcraft might actually be involved. As prejudices and grief collide, accusations escalate and mass hysteria takes over any logic.

You don't have to look far to see the parallels with the current political climate. The witches could easily have been a Muslim family or immigrants, the townspeople finding someone "other" to blame. MeToo is represented too, sexual crimes hushed up to protect the wrong people and the victims being blamed for their promiscuity. Everyone knows witches are slutty... That's the narrative of those who wish to defend the star quarterback.

Sarah is a witch who helps people, that's her business. Some might seek out a doctor or therapist, others go to the local witch. Sarah knows the secrets of half the town. She was heartbroken when he daughter failed to manifest magical powers but at least that means she knows for certain that Harper is innocent. She can't murder with magic if she doesn't have any.

The ingredients and objects are your ink. The charts and symbols are your paper. And magic is the drawing you make.

Daniel's death drives a wedge through Sarah's circle of friends. At first, Abigail's actions are one of a grieving mother, lashing out, everyone can see that. The others do their best not to take sides, but can their friendships withstand the hate campaign to come?

Whilst witches are legally recognised, the law does not treat crimes involving witchcraft equally, and an arcane state law means Maggie must be absolutely certain before she makes an arrest.

It's not an easy read in terms of content, but I loved the mix of police procedural and fantasy against a contemporary backdrop. It reminded me a little of Megan Abbott, if her books had witches. At the core are mothers who will do anything for their children.

There's a moment in the story when everything seems like it'll turn out all right, I breathed a sigh of relief, only for one action to completely tip it over the edge. I felt pretty anxious for the rest of it, a mark of great characterisation.

Sanctuary is published by Gollancz and is available now in hardback and ebook editons. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

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Sunday, 18 August 2019

The Nightjar

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.

Alice Wyndham spent her childhood seeing birds that weren’t there. Well that’s what she thought until an old woman leaves her a feather as a dying gift. When a mysterious man turns up at her door, he tries to convince her she’s seeing nightjars, the keepers of souls. Alice thinks he’s having a laugh. When her best friend is injured in a car accident, she learns that embracing her gift might just bring her back. As she follows Crowley through the Marble Arch into an alternate London, she embarks on a mission to retrieve Jen’s nightjar from the brink of death.

There was a long pause as she wrestled with the absurdity of it. Rescue the mythical bird that was supposed to be guarding her friend's soul? The one that had taken early retirement and deserted as soon as she'd fallen into a coma?

The Nightjar is an entertaining portal fantasy, borrowing from Finnish mythology. The Sielulintu were birds who protected souls, and here they are portrayed as nightjars, connected by an invisible tether to their humans. Väki are the descendants of Finns and are the residents of The Rookery, a version of London created to keep them safe. Those with magical abilities are often persecuted and the Beaks would like to see them eradicated from the world, but in the Rookery, those with legacy powers are safe.

The legacy powers vary from Väki to Väki but are connected to their ancestry; Mielikki (gifts related to wood, forestry and wildlife), Pellervoinen (stone, rock and opening doorways), Ahti (water) and Ilmarinen (fire and metals). Only aviarists can see nightjars though, making them able to see a piece of people’s souls, and Alice is one of them, her abilities activated when she is given a nightjar feather.

I loved the mythology and how Deborah used this to create a unique portal world, however the way the main character is written let it down. I’m not sure if it’s just that it’s trying to be humorous and failing or if Alice is deliberately meant to be a bit stupid. Whilst the Rookery is stuck in the 1930's, it seems her office is stuck in the 70s. The fact that she's a victim of sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace is treated as a bit of a joke and her best friend's attitude wasn’t great, meaning I felt like Jen wasn't really worth saving.

An anchor stops a ship from coming adrift, but it also weighs it down, rendering it sinkable. Crowley may not be the lifeline you need.

It throws in a bit of a romance that just sprang out of nowhere too. Maybe it was my distance from the main character, but there wasn’t much hint of emotions going on inside her head. Other than she had to save Jen, another character I didn’t feel she had a genuine connection to other than her words.

The rest of the book made up for Alice; it still managed to be engaging despite my dislike of her. And OK, I softened a bit towards the end. I would probably read another book in this world, because I liked the mythology so much. The characters just need a little bit more work.

The Nightjar is published by Pan Macmillan and will be available in paperback and ebook editions from 5th September 2019. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 12. A book inspired by myth/legend/folklore

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