Tuesday, 23 April 2019

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World

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.

When people stop reproducing, the population got older and older, until there was barely anyone left. A few outliers continued to have babies, living in isolated corners of the world. Griz's family is one such group. When one of their dogs is stolen, Griz sets off without thinking to bring back Jess.

We're out here on the wrong side of a dying world trying to piece together the story of what's happened from the torn fragments that we can only snatch at as they flutter past us in the wind.

By removing humans with a whimper, rather than a bang, it is easier to create a low-conflict world in which to explore what Britain looks like without us. I loved the familiar locations made unfamiliar through decades of neglect. The story is told through Griz's journal, writing to a person from the past who lived in the world before The Gelding. I liked the references to classic post-apocalyptic fiction and you can tell the author is a fan of this sub-genre. And I do agree with Griz's view of The Road.

Griz's journey starts in the Uists, two islands off the west coast of Scotland, but continues south east, via Blackpool's ruined amusements and Birmingham's concrete bridges of wonder. It's a reminder how we take things for granted, how Griz sees things for the first time and thinks how amazing they are, when they might be things we use every day but ignore.

Of course, Griz is not the only person roaming Britain. There's the dog thief for starters, and others who are doing what they can to survive. Not everyone left will speak the same language, and some will have nefarious plans to get the world back on track. But mostly, Britain is empty and being reclaimed by nature.

You might wonder why dogs are so valuable when they must be roaming free in packs by now? But something also happened to the dogs, maybe the same as humans or maybe humans did it to the dogs. Breeding bitches are rare, and so worth stealing. Griz does take Jip on the journey, their male dog, who proves how good a companion a dog can be to a human living wild. That's why we domesticated them in the first place. The theft of Jess is somewhat of a foreshadow too.

If we're not loyal to the things we love, what's the point? That's like not having a memory. That's when we stop being human.

It's a book that purposefully leads the reader astray. I can see it an experiment to see what the reader will assume, but I'm not convinced that works when you are told what to think in the first place. Would I have viewed things differently had I been told something from the outset? I'm not so sure for myself, but then again I do know that people make certain judgements.

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World is published by Orbit and will be available in hardback and ebook editions from 25th April 2019. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

ATY: 11. A book related to one of the 12 Chinese Zodiac Animals

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Monday, 15 April 2019

The Art of Racing in the Rain

Enzo believes he is destined to be human. In reality, he's a dog belonging to racing car driver, Denny. The Art of Racing in the Rain is the story of Enzo and Denny's life together, and how their family is torn apart.

I'm not sure I read the same "heart-warming book" as everyone else! I started off liking the canine commentary on life but then Denny hits Enzo. This is after the dog has been left alone for three whole days, of course he's going to destroy things (incidentally, I loved how Enzo thought it was a demon and not himself who did the damage). So now I didn't like Denny and my patience wore thin as the story progresses into darkness.

Enzo sniffs out the illness in Eve's head well before she is symptomatic, but even then she refuses to see a doctor. Why, is something Enzo is never privy to. Eve and Zoe go to live with Eve's parents, who don't like Denny much. If you think your wife is dying, why wouldn't you want to spend more time with her? Was there something more going on that the dog didn't see?

Maybe Denny's really a bit of a failure but Enzo worships him. Though Enzo is a little too human for me to be really charmed by him; I liked his obsession with opposable thumbs and his theories on dew claws. He learns all he knows from watching TV and he believes he will be reincarnated as a human because he heard it on the National Geographic channel, so it must be true. He loves motor racing and peppers his narrative with lots of racing facts. He's part Labrador, part who-knows-what, but he definitely doesn't have that many Lab behaviours.
So much of language is unspoken. So much of language is compromised of looks and gestures and sounds that are not words. People are ignorant of the vast complexity of their own communication.

It really felt like the point of this book was to raise men's rights issues... Of course fathers are capable of looking after their children and no one should have their lives ruined by false accusations. But the way it is done, with the seductive fifteen-year-old girl and clueless Denny, is just icky. Not to mention the father-hating in-laws ready to swoop in the day of their daughter's death to start custody proceedings for their granddaughter. The limitations of Enzo's viewpoint means the whole thing isn't handled with any delicacy. Plus he earlier demonstrated how he is not a reliable narrator, or witness. It's hard to read a book where it's all about the man's life being ruined by false claims, when so many rape cases do not have enough evidence to even make it to court.

I can't imagine how they're going to make this into a film. It looks like there is a kids' version so maybe they have already done a family-friendly edit. I won't be rushing to see it at any rate.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 1. A book becoming a movie in 2019

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Book Source: Purchased

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Other Words for Smoke

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.

When the house burned down, Rita and Bevan were never seen again. Several summers earlier, fourteen-year-old twins Mae and Rossa went to stay with their aunt in a house that contained more than it seemed. Mae becomes infatuated with Bevan, who in turn only has eyes for Sweet James, a creature that promises her the world in exchange for tastes of flesh. Rossa feels distanced from his sister for the first time ever, excluded from whatever the women are up to.

It'll get huge, for a while. It'll walk around your veins and your stomach. You might even feel it in your rib cage, or your heart, like the songs say. But eventually it'll get smaller and smaller and will run out of steam, until it's a tiny thing that you barely remember. It'll get replaced by other loves.

Other Words for Smoke is the most beautifully written creepy tale, set over several Irish summers. The owl that lives in the wallpaper of Bevan's room has her twisted round his wing, demanding bones in exchange for glimpses into the other rooms. He is named Sweet James, which seems even more sinister and he teaches Bevan to be manipulative. Bobby is more than a cat who warns them all away from the owl, knowing just how much damage he can do.

It is almost romantic, you think. A reunion, a rekindling. You, the girl, and he the great and terrible interdimensional beast. Tale as old as time.

The pages contain the awkwardness of coming of age, adolescent feelings, first loves and period pains, mingling with the wrongness of the house. Bevan's chapters are told in second person, something I'm getting more used to, and it helps get across the idea that there's something getting into her head. It is one of those occasions where second person just works, adding to the atmosphere.

I loved the intertwining of a dark piece of Ireland's past, the wrongs done to girls in the name of religion coalescing into something other. The ending was fitting and it was the perfect standalone. It's as gorgeous on the inside as it is on the outside.

Rossa counted the indentations in the white metal as he breathed himself back to sanity, each corrugated ridge his breath, an up and a down, a pattern until it wasn't. Until the white metal became matte, like bone. Until each ridge was no longer even, but toothlike, all wrong, a white mouth of fangs in his vision. A sinister origami of white.

Other Words for Smoke is published by Titan Books and is available now in paperback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 26. A book that's published in 2019

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Tuesday, 9 April 2019

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

When Vivant gets the call from Evelyn Hugo, they scramble for an exclusive from the famous yet elusive movie star, now at the end of her life. But Evelyn will only speak to one person, Monique. She wants the reporter to write her life story, warts and all, and to publish it after her death.

Sometimes divorce isn’t an earth-shattering loss. Sometimes it’s just two people waking up out of a fog.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is partly inspired by Elizabeth Taylor's seven husbands as well as other starlets from the golden age of Hollywood. This is a sweeping story from 1950's Hell's Kitchen to present day New York via the unforgiving environment of Hollywood.

A Cuban immigrant, the fourteen-year-old Evelyn dreams of fame. She soon seduces her neighbour (husband one) for a ticket to Hollywood, where she learns to use her body to get what she wants. The story follows her career and her marriages up to the present day. She's abrasive and ambitious. I would say she's an unlikeable character but I liked her unlikeableness. It's who she is and she redeems herself through her love for her makeshift family.

I would have liked a bit more historical detail on the movie side, but it focuses mostly on the suffocating attitudes towards women and LGBT people and the double standards when it came to male and female actors. Evelyn must present a perfect impression to the tabloids and her marriages are often calculated to further her career.

Don't ignore half of me so you can fit me into a box.

For Evelyn is bisexual and her one true love wasn't any of her husbands, but a fellow actress. The two must hide their affections or risk being outed from Hollywood, or worse. They can't even hold hands in public. It's really a heartbreaking story of a love that was not allowed to blossom, of decisions made purely to protect their secret and deflect prying eyes. It soon becomes clear why Evelyn had so many husbands.

There are extracts of the tabloid news throughout, showing the differences between reality and what was reported. Often wildly different, but often exactly the narrative Evelyn was aiming for.

People think that intimacy is about sex. But intimacy is about truth. When you realize you can tell someone your truth, when you can show yourself to them, when you stand in front of them bare and their response is 'you're safe with me' that's intimacy.

Evelyn's story is framed by that of Monique, who is considering her own divorce. She allows Evelyn to reflect on her life and add the occasional bit of judgement. Monique's decisions come to be shaped by the lessons she learns from Evelyn's life. I could have done without the big reveal of the connection between her and Evelyn, I don't think it was really needed. It's Evelyn's story after all.

Listening Notes

It's a well-produced audiobook with three very well-suited narrators. Robin Miles reads Monique, who comes across as reliable and earnest. Alma Cuervo reads Evelyn, adding a cynical tone, and Julia Whelan reads the extracts of tabloid news in a very Hollywood-reporter style voice.

ATY: 34. A book with a person's name in the title

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Book Source: Purchased

Sunday, 7 April 2019

#Readathon Wrap-Up

Local time: 13:00
Hours spent reading: 14.5
Pages read since last update: 362
Total pages: 1067
Total books: 4

Books read: Other Words for Smoke by Sarah Maria Griffin, Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol, Dry by Neal + Jarrod Shusterman + The One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg.

Josh thinks I'm allergic to Readathon as I've had bad snuffles quite a few times now. I'm feeling better today and managed to read four books, so the weekend wasn't a total bust. Even better, I loved all the books I read.

Dry was probably the best one for readathonning as it was gripping, fast-paced and easy to read. I loved Other Names for Smoke the most though. Reviews coming sooner or later!

#Readathon: Hour Twenty

Local time: 08:30
Hours spent reading: 10.5
Pages read since last update: 261
Total pages: 705
Total books: 2

Books read: Other Words for Smoke by Sarah Maria Griffin + Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

This readathon is soooo relaxed, I slept for half of it! Oops. I wasn't feeling well yesterday though, and the sleep has done me good. I have read for an hour in bed this morning and hope to at least finish Dry.

Now time for some strong coffee!

Saturday, 6 April 2019

#Readathon: Hour Five

Local time: 17:30
Hours spent reading: 4.5
Pages read since last update: 444
Total pages: 444
Total books: 2

Books read: Other Words for Smoke by Sarah Maria Griffin + Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol.

Ahhh, big stretch! I finished Other Words for Smoke which was fantastic, creepy and beautiful. I'm doing a bookstagram tour for it next week so you will see my mini review then. Be Prepared was adorable and funny too. Readathon for the win!

I don't know if I have mega-hayfever today or I'm ill, but I'm a bit of a snot-fest right now. Which sucks. I'm powering through and ready to select book three. If you'd like to see more updates or more of Scully, follow my Instagram stories.

It's #Readathon Weekend!

Local start time: 13:00
Total pages: 0
Total books: 0

Starting book: Other Words for Smoke by Sarah Maria Griffin

Limber up, it's nearly time for Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon to begin!

I'm also doing the Magical Readathon this month so I'm hoping to include some of my O.W.L.s required reading this weekend. My TBR includes graphic novels and comics to help break up the prose. My starting book isn't even in my TBR pile as I'd hoped to have finished it by now. Follow me on Instagram for extra doggo updates.

Good luck to all participants and remember, there is no wrong way to readathon!

Thursday, 4 April 2019

War Doctor

From war zones to natural disasters, vascular surgeon David Nott has volunteered his time to treat the victims in some of the most dangerous places on Earth. His memoir covers just some of his life-long work and the challenges faced in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Darfur, Congo, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Gaza, Syria, Haiti and Nepal.

This book broke me. David has treated the victims of some of the worst acts humans can do to one another. He spends a considerable portion of this book talking about Syria, and with good reason. Assad's regime made doctors the outlaws for treating those injured by government sanctioned fire. His accounts of operating in war-torn hospitals, front rooms and basements put the whole thing into perspective. It's awful and heart-breaking that a country would do that to itself.
There were as many as 70 individual snipers dotted around east Aleppo at that time. They simply picked people off as they were crossing the street, going to work or going to the shops. From babies to pensioners, no one was immune.

For each conflict, he provides a succinct background to how the trouble started, which I found useful and easy to follow. He explains the kinds of injuries common to each, including a few examples of the surgeries carried out. He is full of compassion and sees the victims as people. He goes above and beyond to save some, often children whose only mistake is to be born in the wrong time and place.

Not only did he provide urgent, on the spot care to life threatening injuries in dangerous situations, he realised he would do even more good by training the local doctors. He set up training courses where he could, and set up a charity to provide sponsorship to doctors around the world operating in austere situations.

He ponders whether or not its right to treat terrorists knowing they might go on to do more damage. But he upholds the Hippocratic oath at all time, and he has enough hope that maybe one day, they will remember the western doctor who saved their life.

The doctors looked drained, hollow. They were under constant barrage from barrel bombs, rockets and machine guns. Simply getting around the city had become exceptionally dangerous.

David does help break up the onslaught of despair by a few chapters detailing his road to surgery and his love of flying (not only is he a talented trauma surgeon, but he also trained to be a commercial pilot in his spare time). He talks about meeting his wife late in life, and how having someone back home changed things.

The final chapter was surprisingly gripping as David fights against the clock to help facilitate a ceasefire, that would mean the Syrian doctors he called friends could escape Aleppo.

Back in London, I returned to normality. Except things weren’t normal. I was exhausted from the physical work, and brutalised by the psychological trauma of seeing so much suffering.

I'm grateful that I had the pressure of a library loan to make me listen to this. I didn't feel in the mood for it when my reservation came in, but there were a lot of people waiting for it, so I didn't cancel it. I'm so glad I powered through. It's hard going but has altered my perception of modern warfare and the suffering it inflicts.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 37. A book with a two-word title

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Book Source: Purchased

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

The True Queen

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 True Queen is the sequel to Sorcerer to the Crown and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous book.

In the Malaysian village of Janda Baik, two girls awake with no memories of who they were, just their names; Muna and Sakti. Sakti possesses magic but Muna does, yet the witch Mak Genggang takes them both in. When they become desperate to learn the truth, the girls go against their mentor's wishes and are sent off to England to make amends at the Sorceress Royale's academy for female magicians.

It's been a long wait since we last saw Prunella and Zacharias I loved the different direction The Last Queen took, whilst still revisiting beloved characters from the first book. I instantly warmed to Muna, her love for her sister and her willingness to march into danger to save her.

Mak Genggang's magic was a wild, living force, as everyday as the weather and as untameable. The English made their magic sound exceedingly dull in comparison.

The English magiciennes are still battling with the prejudice of the patriarchy. Among the upper class, ladies doing magic is pure scandal. Harriet plays a bigger part in this story, resigned to marriage in order to help her family, she can go on one last adventure. When the Queen of Fairy accuses England of stealing a powerful artefact, someone needs to venture into the Fairy Court to sort things out.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable sequel and Zen Cho's storytelling has only got better. I did work it all out well before the characters but it was still a delight. I hope there won't be too long until the next one!
No one can say I have not behaved correctly. I offered to rob That Woman's neighbours, or afflict her rivals with embarrassing diseases. If she desired an angel to assist her she ought to have studied her Qur'an, instead of raising a polong!

The True Queen is published by Tor and is available now in hardback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

ATY: 51. A book published in 2019

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Monday, 1 April 2019

The Inevitable Fortnightly Update

All this lovely weather means I haven't really been in the mood to sit indoors blogging. I have loads of reviews to write and this is another two week update.

I'm sitting my O.W.L.s this month with the Magical Readathon and it's also Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon this weekend. Check out my TBR on Instagram.

Scully has been enjoying any opportunity to go swimming, I'm not sure she's even bothered by it being cold, but we've encouraged her more now it's warming up. I posted a short video of her in the water on Twitter from the weekend.

This Fortnight I Finished:

The Everlasting Rose by Dhonielle Clayton
There were some great concepts in the first book but this one felt a little bit like she didn't know how to continue the story. Quite a basic plot, would maybe appeal more to younger readers. I liked that it was a conclusion after two books though.

ATY: 3. A book where the author’s name contains A, T, and Y

The Familiars by Stacey Halls [GIFTED] ☆☆☆☆☆
Read my full review.