Saturday, 30 March 2019

Magical Readathon - O.W.L.s

It's time to sit my O.W.L.s! The Magical Readathon is hosted by BookTuber Book Roast and runs for the month of April. I'm just going to try and get as many O.W.L.s as I can and work out a wizarding career path later. So I've pencilled in a book for each subject even though I doubt I'll get to all twelve. I don't really like planning my TBR too much in advance, so expect a few books to be switched out.

Ancient Runes - Retelling

Everything Under by Daisy Johnson

Arithmancy - Work written by more than one author

Dry by Neal + Jarrod Shusterman

Thursday, 28 March 2019

The Familiars

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.

In 1612, young Fleetwood Shuttleworth is pregnant for the fourth time, but still not a mother. On discovering a doctor's note stating she will not survive this time, Fleetwood seeks out a midwife, Alice Grey. As Fleetwood starts to feel better under the care of this local woman, rumours of witches in the area gather. When Alice is suspected by the power-hungry local magistrate, Fleetwood will do anything to save her.

The Pendle witch trials were England's most infamous witch hunt, with more women convicted than anywhere else. Stacey Halls has woven a fantastic debut novel around the sparse facts. The characters are real people, known through records and not much else. She has also chosen wisely in Alice, where certain records were lost to history, so she is free to make up a new story for her.

Not for the first time, I wondered what the darkness felt like when you were half in the light. I think I may have come close to it before, but the pain anchored me to the earth.

Poor Fleetwood, married off young and now terrified that this pregnancy will be the death of her. I am very glad to be alive now, with the wonders of modern medicine, as well as the right to independence. I appreciated that her husband Richard was mostly kind to her, so often in these stories the marriage is abusive. Her role was to be a mother, and she had no other choices. In comparison, the poorer women who made lives for themselves were accused of witchcraft.

At the start, the magistrate, Roger, is their friend, bringing with him scandalous tales of witchcraft which introduces the historical facts. But it becomes apparent that he is on a mission to convict as many witches as he can. At one point, even Fleetwood is threatened, she has a large dog that goes everywhere with her, it would be easy to say it was her familiar.

Roger doesn't do things by halves - he's not content with sending a whole family to trial, oh no. He wants the glory days back; he wants his name in the London pamphlets. I swear he's after a knighthood. He is already known at court, but he won't stop there. You know him as well as I.

Alice, like many women who were accused of witchcraft, treated the poor with herbal remedies, at a time when many wouldn't have had access to doctors. Indeed the doctors might have done more harm that good. Certainly they weren't comforting to Fleetwood.

The story slowly builds the fragile friendship between mistress and midwife. It highlights their differences in position, as Fleetwood comes to terms with the inequality between them. I liked the hint that the familiars could have been real, that maybe they were witches, but it was still left as historically plausible.

A stunning red fox fixed me with its wide amber eyes and placed a hesitant paw on the grass. We stared at one another, and time stood still.

Whilst I recognised Alice Grey's name, I wasn't sure of her fate and was gripped right up until the end, with Fleetwood's race against time to save the one woman she thinks can save her life.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Do You Dream of Terra-Two?

Terra-Two is humanity's hope for the future. A new planet. A new chance at life. Ten specially selected astronauts will make the first journey and start the process of colonisation. It will take 23 years to get there, so six young adults are selected to accompany the more experienced astronauts. But things start to go wrong even before they've left Earth...

Do You Dream of Terra-Two?
is a character driven exploration of what happens when you send a group of barely adult astronauts on a one-way mission. It's set in an alternate version of history, where a planet was discovered a hundred years ago which could sustain human life. That planet is Terra Two, its discovery fuelling a space race and resulting in Britain having a space programme.

The younger astronauts attended the elite school of Dalton. The story starts as they find out if they've been chosen or not. They come from various backgrounds but have all been working towards the dream of Terra-Two for years. I loved getting to know them all. The focus is on the young adults, and I do say young adults over teenagers as they are pushing twenty. The themes are reminiscent of the new adult sub-genre that failed to really emerge a few years ago.

Whilst they knew each other at Dalton, and Astrid and Juno are twins, they are not really friends with each other. They must learn to live in close quarters, having arguments over missing chores, or being a bit too competitive. Harry is suspicious of Eliot and Jesse and Poppy retreats from social interactions.

They must all come to terms with their decision to leave Earth. It's not action-packed, even when emergency strikes, it's often drawn out, much like life in space must be in reality. The science generally seemed quite close to real, current day science too. It felt like it was written by someone fascinated with space travel. I loved my time with them and felt attached when it was time to say goodbye.

I was a little sceptical for much of the book on the size and selection of the crew. Why only ten people, when something could easily incapacitate them in 23 years? They supposedly had strict psychological evaluations at Dalton, so how on earth did this bunch make it? Harry is not fit to be a leader with his arrogance and bullying. Juno has an eating disorder, one she has been doing her best to hide. Poppy is depressed. And then there was the suicide at the start. However, during one conversation, the characters also ponder this, maybe they had ulterior motives for sending this crew.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 16. A book with a question in the title

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Book Source: Purchased

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

The Rosewater Insurrection

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 Rosewater Insurrection is the second book in the Wormwood trilogy and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous book.

Rosewater is a bustling city and its mayor, Jack Jaques, wants to declare independence from Nigeria. Whilst Kaaro is retired, Aminat still works for S45 who are trying to find ways to separate the xenoforms from the people. But something's going on with the dome, Anthony is ailing and a mysterious plant has arrived in town.

Organisms have swallowed other organisms in the history of your planet. Your existence is evidence of that. You are only here because one bacterium swallowed another. What you call a human is a walking culture medium for bacteria.

I was so excited to revisit Rosewater and this second book doesn't disappoint! There are some new characters thrown into the mix as well as familiar faces. Alyssa wakes up one morning with no memory of who she is, her husband or daughter. She could almost be another person entirely. It's not hard to come to the conclusion that the aliens have started the next phase of their invasion.

Eric is a sensitive who managed to avoid the cull, and now he's been sent to kill the mayor of Rosewater before he causes too much trouble. Kaaro plays a much smaller part in this book but is still around. Everyone's better informed about the aliens now, so he can't just pop into the xenosphere for everything. He finds ways though.

Ghosting. It's a duplication. You will not be in pain and you will live for ever as a god because information can never die. Lie. Information degrades, gets corrupt, misses its target, and it did hurt.

The mayor's wife is campaigning for rights for the reanimates... or differently animated. Jack has bigger things to worry about, like a possible war with Nigeria over their status. Plus the alien dome looks sickly and people aren't healing so well. What does Rosewater have to offer if not the health benefits of the dome?

I wasn't so keen on the chapters from Walter, the author. Some of them are "extracts" from his novels set in Rosewater and others are his account of events as he was hired to do. I'm not sure this added that much to the narrative or world-building and it took me away from the action.

For some inexplicable reason Earth does not value artists, especially ones that are still alive.

S45 still wants to rid the world of the alien presence and save humankind... But maybe there's a different solution? One beneficial for all. Tade Thompson does a great job of balancing the position of the aliens versus humans. At first they are benevolent, helping cure people. Then at the end of Rosewater, it's revealed they're in the midst of a slow invasion, which continues here. Yet the alien plant suddenly seems like more of a threat. Maybe it's the choice of host the plant chooses, a thoroughly unlikable character.

Monday, 18 March 2019

A Naked Giant and Other Stories...

IMWAYR is hosted by The Book Date.

This is two weeks of round-up again... Last weekend we went camping in Dorset, the first time we've slept in the tent with Scully. Once she got her creature comforts (she's a blankie fiend) she seemed to enjoy it.

Cerne Abbas Giant

Otherwise we nearly blew off the cliff at West Bay (not far from the place where it broke off last week) and walked across the hills to see a big naked man with an erection. That'd be the Cerne Abbas Giant, thought to be from the 18th century. We took a bit of a wrong turn and ended up at the top of Giant Hill, where my glasses blew off. I can just imagine the people at the bottom looking up at the giant and seeing us floundering about in the wind. Haha!

Anyway, it was nice to get out the house for a weekend. The garden now has green sprouts appearing and the peach tree has three blossoms. If they all pollinate, I'll have one more peach than last year!

On the blog, I compiled a list of a whopping 27 April releases that I'm interested in. I've also signed up for the next Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon on the 6th April.

This Fortnight I Finished:

The Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty ☆☆☆☆
Read my full review.

ATY: 18. A book related to one of the elements on the periodic table

Do You Dream of Terra Two? by Temi Oh ☆☆☆☆
Set in an alternate 2012 where Britain has its own space programme, this is a character driven story about a group of young astronauts on their way to a new planet. It's very much about coming to terms with their decisions to leave their lives behind as well as dealing with living in close quarters with others for the first time.

POPSUGAR: 16. A book with a question in the title

The Rosewater Insurrection by Tade Thompson ☆☆☆☆
Lots of new characters thrown into the mix in the second book in the Wormwood trilogy. The alien dome is in trouble and I loved finding out a bit more about the Homians as well as continued life in independence-seeking Rosewater. I should be reviewing it properly this week.

ATY: 17. A speculative fiction

The Steel Prince by V.E. Schwab + Andrea Olimpieri ☆☆☆
A prequel comic to the Shades of Magic books. It was great to visit Maxim's past but this story seemed a little simple. The colouring was on the murky side, not sure if that was just the printing of my edition, but I would have liked it to be more vibrant.

Eat Up by Ruby Tandoh ☆☆☆☆
Common sense from the former GBBO contestant on our relationships with food and how we should follow our appetites not the latest fad diets.

ATY: 47. A book related to food

Sunday, 17 March 2019

On My Radar: April

So... many... books! As always, these are forthcoming releases that have struck my fancy and inclusion is not an endorsement, because I haven't read them yet. In the interest of full disclosure, where I have received a free review copy, I have marked it as [GIFTED].


When the Sky Fell on Splendor by Emily Henry
The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum (US)
Infinite Detail by Tim Maughan
The Half-God of Rainfall by Inua Ellams


Other Words for Smoke by Sarah Maria Griffin
The Princess and the Fangirl by Ashley Poston
The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley


The Dollmaker by Nina Allan
Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver [GIFTED]
You Will Be Safe Here by Damian Barr
We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia
Girls with Sharp Sticks by Suzanne Young (US)
Opposite of Always by Justin Reynolds
A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob


The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman [GIFTED]
Starworld by Audrey Coulthurst + Paula Garner (US)


If, Then by Kate Hope Day
Sunfall by Jim Al-Khalili
Atlas Alone by Emma Newman
Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan
Losing Earth: The Decade We Could Have Stopped Climate Change by Nathaniel Rich


Emily Eternal by M. G. Wheaton
The Tiger at Midnight by Swati Teerdhala (US)


A Boy and his Dog at the End of the World by C. A. Fletcher [GIFTED]


Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan (US)
Exorsisters Volume 1 by Ian Boothby + Gisele Lagace

Books marked as (US) aren't officially available in the UK and may be hard to find in UK bookshops (but you should still be able to get your paws on them online).

Saturday, 16 March 2019

The Kingdom of Copper

The Kingdom of Copper is the sequel to The City of Brass and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous book.

Nahri's new life in Daevabad is far from easy. Now married to the emir, she must tread carefully around King Ghassan who hasn't shown any more interest in uniting their people. But Nahri has a dream to help people, and the discovery of a ruined Nahid hospital gives her an idea.

Because a lost little girl from Cairo thought she was living in some sort of fairy tale. And because for all her supposed cleverness, she couldn't see that the dashing hero who saved her was its monster.

The Kingdom of Copper takes up the story around five years after the final events of The City of Brass. Things have got worse for the shafit, the mixed blood offspring of Daeva and humans. It seems more than one group of djinn would like to rid the city of them, and they are often the scapegoats for any unrest. Nahri has a dream of treating both djinn and shafit patients, no matter the taboo surrounding it.

Ali has been banished to the desert but survives thanks to a worrying new ability. Did the Marid leave something behind after their possession?

In Daevabad, everyone believes Dara is dead. He has been brought back to the mortal world by Nahri's mother (also thought to be dead) and he is to be used to rally an army against the King.

Whilst the three main characters are separated at the beginning, their paths will cross again. I loved how this world isn't morally black and white. It reflects many of the problems suffered in West Asia around religious conflicts and lands divided where people want to reclaim their homelands. Daevabad was a city created for the Daeva, but the land was taken by force from the Marid.

Daevabad had crushed everyone in it, from its tyrant king to the shafit laborer scurrying through her garden. Fear and hate ruled the city-built up by centuries of spilled blood and the resulting grievances. It was a place where everyone was so busy trying to survive and ensure their loved ones survived that there was no room to build new trust.

There is so much prejudice reflected in the pages, so much injustice that Nahri must fight against. But even she isn't immune to thinking the worst of people. She is basically imprisoned by the Qahtanis, and blames Ali for the actions on the lake without finding out what happened to him. Some people think Ali is a hero, others worship at the shrine of Dara, their martyr.

I don't know why this took me so long to read. Like the first book, it gets off to a slow start, but I just love the setting and being back in this world. Once I got to the final third, I was hooked once again. And that ending! I cannot wait for the final book to see what happens next.

ATY: 18. A book related to one of the elements on the periodic table

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

The Salt Path

After losing their home and business, Raynor and Moth receive more bad news. Moth is diagnosed with CBD. There's nothing they can do for him. When hiding out from the bailiffs, Raynor spots a guide to walking to South West Coastal Path. What if they just walk? Leave what's left of their life behind, and live in a tent.

Why does nature writing have to come with a helping of personal tragedy these days? I felt thoroughly depressed reading the introductory paragraphs. Sometimes the tragedy is just an aside but it really is dominant throughout their whole walk. An anecdote can't go by without reminding the reader of their lack of money, homelessness or Moth's failing health.

I can't deny that life struck some hard blows one after another. Going on a long distance walk is one way of not dealing with it. Raynor uses this book to talk about the unfairness of legal aid reforms and the state of homelessness in Britain. She does come across a bit like she thinks she's better than other homeless people, but maybe that's just how you feel when it first happens.

It's all from Raynor's perspective, and it would have been good to know a bit more about what Moth thought about it all. He's the one with a degenerative disease after all, and it's all about Raynor's feelings. What about the trip made his symptoms better? Was it the exercise he was told to avoid? Ceasing his prescription medicine? Or simply the removal of stress?

Had I seen enough things? When I could no longer see them, would I remember them, and would just the memory be enough to fill me up and make me whole?... Could anyone ever have enough memories?

I picked this up because I'd quite like to walk the South West Coastal Path one day, I've walked bits of it and it ends not too far from where I live. This book did not really inspire me. The bits about the culture or history were brief and felt inserted into the narrative.

I got a bit irritated with their attitude to money. I'm assuming they went from comfortable to nothing overnight, but there's a lack of self-awareness in the writing. £48 a week isn't a lot for two people to live off, but it will go a lot further if you don't buy lunch in tourist cafes. I appreciate the need for some high calorie food and occasional indulgences, but they had cooking equipment, they could have made cheese toasties instead of buying fancy paninis.

A lot of people will find this book inspirational, but I was more in the mood for a book about escape to the natural world, not the struggles of the real world, so it missed its mark with me at this time.

Listening Notes

The author is 50 at the time of their walk, but for some reason they chose an 80-something narrator. OK, the reason probably being that Anne Reid was on Coronation Street, but she just sounded frail and a bit pitiful to me, making Raynor seem much older than she was. It improved with a faster speed, but I think she made Raynor come across as a bit whiny.

ATY: 50. A book that includes a journey

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Book Source: Purchased

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

The River

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.

Best friends Jack and Wynn are canoeing down the Maskwa River, a big adventure into the Canadian wilderness, when a wildfire starts licking at their heels. They go back to warn others, only to find the fire isn't their greatest threat.

The earth stripped to its geography did not feel like home.

The River was one of those books where I liked the sound of it before realising I'd read the author before. The Dog Stars made my top ten list in 2012 and I wasn't disappointed with Peter Heller's latest. I thought the fire might be a bigger part, but it's always in the background, herding them into the human danger ahead.

Jack lost his mother in a riding accident, but he never turned his back on the wilderness that took her. He recollects his loss and grief throughout the journey. Wynn is much simpler, kind and gentle, never wanting to assume the worst of people.

If you've not got much interest in the minutiae of wild camping and long-distance canoeing, this might not be the book for you. It reminded me of a YouTuber my partner's recently started watching and I think there's something in that desire to escape to the wild and live a simpler life for a few weeks.

It smelled like a river, like moving water, a colder, cleaner scent, and he pulled it into his lungs, from where it seemed to run through every capillary of his body, and he felt happy.

The fire and the potential killer adds tension to the story, but it still takes time to take in the landscape. It isn't a fast-paced book, they go at the pace of the river, but that's fine. It spends time describing the landscape, and the experience of being in it.

Be prepared to cry at the end. I was not expecting to be moved by this, expecting more of an adventure story. Whilst the woman in the story is a victim, the two men are kind to her, treat her with the compassion one would want if your husband had just tried to kill you. They have zero patience with anyone wanting to harm her, not something you can take for granted in fictional survival scenarios.

Whatever malevolence the couple had ignited they had brought with them. That puzzled him. Why come so far if you were doing so badly? As people, as husband and wife? Why come the hell up here?

The River is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson and is available in ebook now, with the hardback released on 16th May 2019. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 8. A book about a hobby

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