Thursday, 31 January 2019

The Gilded Wolves

Behind the doors of the lavish L'Eden hotel, hotelier Séverin is working towards claiming his true inheritance, denied to him but the patriarchs of the Houses of Paris. He's a treasure hunter, thief and orphan. The Order of Babel hoards artefacts, forged with magical properties, for themselves, and Séverin takes them from under their noses.

I seem to be drawn to alternate fantasy versions of Paris right now. I thought The Gilded Wolves was a great, fantasy heist romp told through an anti-colonialism lens. It's set in 1889 around the Exposition Universelle, which apart from celebrating scientific achievements also housed a human zoo, something that's hard to believe civilised people would go to look at for entertainment. The theme of colonialism rises its head throughout, but didn't feel heavy handed.

He couldn’t bring himself to look at the looming, salvaged piles. He might help Séverin steal, but the greatest thief of all was the Order of Babel, for they stole more than just objects … They stole histories, swallowed cultures whole, smuggled evidence of illustrious antiquity onto large ships and spirited them into indifferent lands.

It has an ensemble cast, making up Séverin's team, who all have their own reasons for being there. When he was orphaned, Séverin was passed around seven homes (and he names his "fathers" after the seven deadly sins) with another boy, Tristan. He has made a promise to look after his adopted brother, who also has a great skill at forging beautiful gardens and a fondness for tarantulas.

Enrique is a Filipino who wishes to join the revolution. He knows a place in Séverin's house would grant him greater standing with the rebels his wishes to call friends. He's paler skinned and can pass in aristocratic circles, but this means he doesn't feel like he accepted by his fellow countrymen.

Laila had an intriguing back story. She was stillborn in India, and her mother made a deal to remake her. Laila believes she is unravelling and her time on Earth is limited. She knows the answers are in an ancient book, one that Séverin may be able to find. Her gift, or curse, is that she can read objects to see what happened to their owners. She is also a talented pastry chef and works in the hotel's kitchens.

Part of her wondered if the day she turned nineteen, she would split down the middle, unraveling into a pile of shining pelts and worn bones, the barest glimmer of an almost-girl vanishing into the air like smoke.

Then there's Polish Zofia, taken in by Séverin when she fled persecution. She loves mathematics and is socially awkward, preferring her own company.

I loved Hypnos, the heir of the House of Nyx. He's the one who sets them on the path of this particular heist, but he's so much more than a bad guy, holding a promise over Séverin's head. He has a bit of a puppylike need to be loved, and I felt, ultimately he was just lonely.

A fantastic additon to my fantasy shelves and I hope there will be more books to come.

ATY: 4. A book with a criminal character

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Book Source: Purchased

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Origins: How the Earth Made Us

Humans are a product of the Earth we live on. In Lewis Dartnell's latest book, he explores human evolution out of the forests, into the savannah and across the globe. What made us the dominant species we are today?

The narrative threads of history and science will be intertwined throughout this book, making up the warp and weft of its fabric.

I was a huge fan of The Knowledge, but I felt Origins was a little unfocused. Human history is a huge topic to squash into one book, and the lens of of "how the Earth made us" is loosely interpreted to include many factors of the Earth. It probably didn't help that I've read a few things lately that had covered the same ground.

Areas on the same latitude as East Africa are heavily forested with tropical rainforest. This is where our ape ancestors started their long journey, and Lewis explains why this region became savannah, which forced apes to evolve to adapt to a treeless environment. Then, climate change pushed them to new lands.

I did enjoy the fact that I could link some of this to the Broken Earth series, the Rift in Africa is a real thing, and orogeny is actually a real word. I was kind of a bit sad it wasn't more about the geology and climate.

We are the children of plate tectonics.

It goes on to talk about the animals and plants we came to depend on, how ice ages work, how winds and ocean currents dictated later humans' paths around the globe. And of course, the impact of fossil fuels and how they were created. I loved the part explaining how the vast grasslands helped Mongolia become an empire, whilst the Americas hunted horses into extinction and crippled their progress.

Lewis has a habit of saying "we will get back to that in chapter x" or "as we saw in chapter y", which made it feel a bit textbooky. I did learn some interesting facts, and it would probably be a better introduction for someone with less knowledge on the subjects.

Of the 83 stable (non-radioactive) elements in existence, around 70 are used in making an everyday consumer device like a smartphone - which means you carry over 85 percent of the entire available terrain of the periodic table in your pocket.

Origins is published by Bodley Head and will be available in hardback and ebook editions from 31st January 2019. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

ATY: 40. A book you stumbled upon

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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.

Monday, 28 January 2019

Germ Assisted Weekly Update

IMWAYR is hosted by The Book Date.

The seasonal viruses finally got me this week, I took a couple of days off work and having nothing better to do in bed, I read a bit more than usual. I'm feeling better now, although I've been left with a very annoying cough which can hurry up and bugger off!

This week I blogged about the audiobook services I've tried in How to Feed Your Audiobook Habit.

Since I've been reading lots and not emerging from my sick cocoon, I am pretty behind on writing proper reviews for things. I suppose that's why I'm doing these weekly updates, right?

This Week I Finished:

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Red Snow

Red Snow is the sequel to Dark Pines and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous book.

After Dark Pines helped me get the hang of audiobooks, I knew I had to listen to the sequel, Red Snow. I liked revisiting Gavrik and the familiar, odd residents, even though I know a small town can only have so many murders. Tuva is moving on, and I think that's important so that Gavrik isn't some sort of Nordic Midsomer where life expectancy is incredibly low. I will miss Gavrik though!

The story focuses on a bunch of incidents at the local licorice factory, starting with the suicide of its owner. This introduces the Grimberg family who are central to the plot. They are a very private family, and David Holmqvist is writing a book about them and the factory. Only problem is, they are not very forthcoming. In steps Tuva, who wants to find out more about the death, so offers to help David with research.

There is a love interest for the bisexual Tuva. Bad timing considering she's about to leave for a new job in the south. She has one last story to write and then she's gone. She is struggling with guilt over her mother's death and turning to alcohol. Whilst she's not an alcoholic yet, it shows her starting to depend on it to get through situations.

I can still feel the power of it behind me. It's uncomfortable to turn my back, to shun it, the brick factory and those two chimneys and the dead man broken in the snow.

I loved all the details about living in rural Sweden during the winter. Everything is made difficult by the snow, ice and cold. Tuva explains her dependency on a good vehicle and the danger of the cold is a theme throughout. It's not just people that can kill. Again, Will Dean's viewpoint as an outsider now living in Sweden comes through in how he explains things, observations from his real life I suspect.

I did not work out who did it. I thought I had a good theory, but I'd only guessed at the motive not the perpetrator. I was a little sad at the realisation though, I had wanted better from them. I liked that it was a bit more complicated than in Dark Pines, when I could nod and go, yes they deserved to be caught.

Whilst I'm enjoying the Tuva Moodyson series, it is reminding me a little of why I stopped reading crime fiction in large quantities. There is a formula at work which is a little annoying to notice now I know it's there.

Listening Notes

This series is one that I definitely think the audiobook adds to the story, rather than detracts. It's so refreshing to have a real accent. Maya Lindh is perfect as Tuva and she could read to me for hours. I guess she did! It's also great to hear the names pronounced correctly, I know I would not have said Grimberg the right way if I was reading it myself.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 23. A book set in Scandinavia
ATY: 28. A book related to something cold

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Thursday, 24 January 2019

The House of Shattered Wings

In an alternate Paris, fallen angels rule the city. The Great War left its mark on the city, leaving the Seine polluted and grand landmarks in ruins. When Phllipe is present when Isabel falls, he is drawn into House Silverspires, who live surrounded by the remains of Notre Dame.

All you hold dear will be shattered; all that you built will fall into dust; all that you gathered will be borne away by the storm.

I just loved the world created by Aliette de Bodard, twining together elements from both sides of her heritage (Vietnamese and French). Paris is recognisable but changed. None of the fallen know why they were banished from Heaven, but what remains of their power has helped them rise above the humans.

The houses are all at a sort of stalemate, all of them seek power but no one wants another war, so they circle each other, on the look out for weaknesses. When Phillipe finds a mirror which appears to hold memories of the first fallen, Morningstar, little does he know he's opened Silverspires up to something dark.

There were no dragon kingdoms here—no spirits of the rain and rivers, not under the polluted clouds that rained acid; not in the blackened waters of the Seine; not in the wells that had long since run dry.

Phillipe is an immortal, unable to return to his homeland (an alternative version of Vietnam). He hates what the fallen stand for and is angry at being bound to Silverspires. Yet, he has a bond with the new fallen, Isabelle, who is an innocent in all this. The fallen represent colonialism, using their power to spread across the globe, ruling where they don't belong. But then the fallen are also exiles of a kind. I hope the other books explain a bit more of the history of this world and explore how the fallen came to be.

Then there's the house alchemist, addicted to the ground up bones of the fallen and trying to block out the memories of her previous house. The bodies of fallen possess power and when one dies, it's important to harvest every last drop. But this power isn't for humans, and Madeleine is slowly killing herself. She turns to drugs because reality is too hard to bear.

As well as all these fantastic characters, there are the power struggles of the houses, not all of them as kind as Silverspires. Plus the plot lines of the dark forces unleashed by Phillipe, if accidentally, and the mystery of who is behind it.

“Miracles never happen here,” Madeleine said, with terrible bleakness. “Not in this city, not in this House.”

It took me a little while to get into, just because of all the elements. Once I'd absorbed the world and characters, I loved it. A breath of fresh air in a genre so often dominated by US and UK settings.

ATY: 33. A book you have owned for at least a year, but have not read yet

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Tuesday, 22 January 2019

How to Feed Your Audiobook Habit

So you want to get into audiobooks but not sure the best way to access them? Already bitten by the bug but finding it expensive? Let me share with you everything I've tried out, as a UK listener.

One completely free way of listening to audiobooks is via your library's digital services. In the UK there's a good chance your library is either using Libby (Overdrive) or BorrowBox. Mine (Hampshire) has just moved over to BorrowBox and the selection of audiobooks has improved greatly. You won't be able to listen to everything you want to this way, but it's a good way to supplement your listening without breaking the bank.

Not a library member? A lot of libraries will now let you sign up online so you can access their digital services straight away. You can find out who your local library is here.

If you know you're going to want to listen to a lot of new releases via audiobook, bulk buying credits via an annual Audible membership offers a good deal. The 12 credits a year membership works out at £5.83 per book and the 24 credit option at £4.58 per book. You do have to pay these upfront but if you run out they will sell you extra credits at a similar rate. If you haven't tried it before, you'll get one credit free as a trial and sometimes you can get 3 or 4 months for half price.

As much as I try not to give Amazon all my money, Audible do have the best selection and their credit system can be a lot cheaper than buying audiobooks elsewhere. They also offer member only sales (don't use your credits for these) and 2 for 1 offers.

Did you know you can get a discounted Audible audiobook version of Kindle books you own if they have whispersync enabled? You don't have to join Audible to use this feature. Go to Matchmaker (whilst logged into Amazon) to see what books in your library are available. You can also check on the product page to see if it's worth buying a cheap Kindle copy to get the audiobook at a discount. I have a lot of Kindle books bought in sales over the years, so this can be a cheap way of listening to them on audio instead.

BookBeat is a European subscription service which costs £12.60 a month and you can listen to as many audiobooks as you like. They mostly have audiobooks from HarperCollins, Bonnier and Canongate, so if you have a lot of these on your listen list it's worth a few months. The standard free trial is two weeks but you can have a look around for an extended one month trial.

Scribd is a US based subscription service that looks too good to be true, and sadly I feel this is the case. Their advertising is somewhat misleading, as after listening to two audiobooks, they'll suddenly stop you accessing most titles until the next billing cycle. That's not unlimited and I don't think they'd get away with that claim here.

You will still be able to listen to a limited selection for the rest of the month, which does include a lot of Tor novellas and some older titles. Another problem I had was the sound quality, and I had to give up on a few titles because the narrators sounding like they were hissing. If you only listen to two audiobooks a month and you are not fussy about the quality, it's a cheaper option than Audible at $8.99 (about £7) a month. I liked BookBeat more, they at least felt honest.

You can also buy audiobooks via Google Play and iTunes, and sometimes they have good deals on some titles, but I begrudgingly like Audible the best. I know I can get anything I want from them. I wish they would just lower the cost of audiobooks bought without credits (is anyone actually paying £20+ for them?).

All these services offer apps for Android and iOS or can be accessed in browsers. If you have an Amazon Echo, Alexa will play Audible books for you too.

Monday, 21 January 2019

Another Week Gone (IMWAYR)

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by The Book Date.

I've been doing a bit of blog housekeeping this week, including making my mobile template a little less rubbish. Google short links seem to have stopped working already, so I'm down to manual sharing on all social media now. I'm better at Twitter but if you follow me on Facebook, sorry! One day I will get round to redesigning my blog and moving to self-hosted Wordpress, I just prefer to spend my time reading.

If you're interested in what new releases are out next month, check out On My Radar. I also shared my top ten new-to-me authors.

This Week I Finished:

Sunday, 20 January 2019

The Last

Jon is attending a conference in a Swiss hotel the day the world ends. As nuclear war breaks out, a group of twenty survivors take shelter in the hotel. This is Jon's account.

It didn't seem as real as the headlines. Maybe we had all been desensitized to the imagery by too many movies. Watching a whole city vaporized like that seemed too fast, and too quiet.

Some of the survivors find a body of a girl in the water tank, I know eurgh, the water they've been drinking for weeks. I'm surprised they weren't more ill. Anyway, faced with nothing better to do Jon decides to investigate the murder. I say that, but he thinks he's maintaining a sense of right and wrong by doing so.

I liked the small scale of this. Nuclear fallout hasn't reached Switzerland and they are not completely cut off from all modern technology. Sometimes the internet works, they have enough electricity to keep the freezers going and the hotel is secure. These people rally round and form new social structures in a community thrown together.

Our history teaches us that we have built a civilization out of nothing before. So I believe we will do it again.

The bulk of the story picks up around 50 days after the nukes fell, when Jon decides to keep an account of their possible final days. Are they the last people left? Unlikely, but they feel they must try and keep going, even if not everyone does.

I'm not sure the nuclear fallout was that well researched as several times they mentioned the trees had died. There's not enough radiation to effect humans and whilst there is cloud cover, it's not complete darkness. This was less than two months in, if trees died that quickly in gloomy light conditions, northern Europe would have no trees!

I liked the optimism that social networks would still be available if the US falls, but let's face it, superservers have gone down in regular storms before. Anyway, I found the story engaging despite this and it was a good, quick read, without too much hopelessness.

Whilst the US president presumed responsible is not named, there are plenty of hints that it's Trump. Blame is laid at the feet of those who voted for him, with tensions rising between the Europeans and Americans at the hotel.

This is nothing like how I thought dying in a nuclear war would be, but I'm glad there's a free bar.

The Last is published by Penguin and will be available in hardback and ebook editions from 31st January 2019. 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.

Saturday, 19 January 2019

On My Radar: February

What are publishers doing to us? I count a whopping 24 books coming out in February that I'd read if time travel was a reality. I've marked the ones I've actually pre-ordered with *. Dates are based on UK print editions (unless US only) but they might be available earlier in certain editions. Links go to Goodreads for more info.


The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi*
All Is Fair by Dee Garretson


Happy Girl Lucky by Holly Smale*
Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton
Fierce Fragile Hearts by Sara Barnard
The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea
Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds by Gwenda Bond
The Extinction Trials: Rebel by S.M. Wilson
The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
In the Night Wood by Dale Bailey
Making Evil: The Science Behind Humanity’s Dark Side by Dr Julia Shaw


The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders*
The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo
Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hick


Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham
The Year After You by Nina de Pass


The Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty*
Enchantée by Gita Trelease
Slayer by Kiersten White*
The Burning by Laura Bates
The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf


The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon*


Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie