Friday, 31 May 2019

A Thousand Ships

The tale of the Trojan War has been told many times, the heros and gods taking the starring roles. But the women in the shadows had just as much impact of events, showed bravery beyond the battleground. It was a women's war and A Thousand Ships tells the story through their eyes.

This was never the story of one woman, or two. It was the story of all of them...

These retellings of The Iliad are like catnip to me although, as Natalie Haynes points out in her author's note, the source material is actually a range of epic poems, not just Homer's. Unlike The Silence of the Girls, this follows a lot of characters rather than one, but shows how you can tell the story through the women's perspectives just as well.

It starts off with Calliope becoming exasperated with an unnamed poet. As a muse he expects her to inspire his stories, and she is trying to tell him the stories of the women, to convince him theirs are just as worthy as the men's.

How much epic poetry does the world really need? Every conflict joined, every war fought, every city besieged, every town sacked, every village destroyed. Every impossible journey, every shipwreck, every homecoming: these stories have all been told, and countless times.

Some of the women's appearances are brief yet show the impact of their actions on events. They suffer grief and do what they can to protect the ones they love. They are taken as trophies of war, or sacrificed to the gods.

I loved how it went back further than most stories to explain why and how the war started. Everyone knows the war was fought over Helen, the most beautiful woman in Troy. However Natalie tells the story of the golden apple, which I hadn't heard before, and the three goddesses making Paris choose who should get it. It goes even further, to the reason why a war is needed, the pain of Gaia dealing with overpopulation, and the goddess of strife coming up with a plan.

It is also interspersed with letters from Penelope to Odysseus, gradually getting more snarky as he fails to return home. Just how many things can go that wrong? Did he really need to spend so much time with a sorceress? I loved Penelope in this.

Because it follows so many characters, I'm not sure how well this would go down with people new to the story, but I highly recommend to Greek mythology nerds! Also if you loved The Song of Achilles or The Silence of the Girls, as you'd probably have enough background on the Trojan War to follow this.

Listening Notes

If you fancy the audiobook, Natalie reads it herself and does a fantastic job. It probably helps that she is a classicist so can pronounce all the names correctly, but she also varies the narration slightly between the different women. I could always tell when it was Penelope's section.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 15. A retelling of a classic

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Book Source: Purchased

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

On My Radar: June

June seems a slightly quieter month for new releases but there is still plenty to catch my eye. Dates shown are for UK print editions unless otherwise noted and the books may be available earlier elsewhere or in a different format.


1st

Lent by Jo Walton
Tears of the Trufflepig by Fernando A. Flores (US)

4th

Unraveling by Karen Lord (US)
The Chosen by Taran Matharu
Oval by Elvia Wilk (US)


6th

My Name Is Monster by Katie Hale
The Heartland: Finding and Losing Schizophrenia by Nathan Filer
Rough Magic: Riding the World’s Wildest Horse Race by Lara Prior-Palmer


11th

Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim (US)

13th

The Paper & Hearts Society by Lucy Powrie
This Green and Pleasant Land by Ayisha Malik
The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective by Susannah Stapleton
Recursion by Blake Crouch


18th

Broken Places & Outer Spaces by Nnedi Okorafor
The Record Keeper by Agnes Gomillion


20th

The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind by Jackson Ford

25th

Wicked Fox by Kat Cho (US)


27th

My Past Is a Foreign Country by Zeba Talkhani
Missing, Presumed Dead by Emma Berquist (US)
The Mating Habits of Stags by Ray Robinson
When We Were Lost by Kevin Wignall (US)

Monday, 27 May 2019

Across the Void

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.

Commander May Knox awakes from a medically induced coma to find her ship damaged and her crew gone. The Hawking II was on a mission to collect samples from Europa and hopefully find proof of alien life. But something has gone dreadfully wrong and May needs help.

Sole survivors never get fanfare, just questions and suspicions.

S.K. Vaughn is a pseudonym for a screenwriter and I can only think they are writing for those dreadful daytime soaps, based on the plot of this book. What starts of as a reasonable space survival story, if somewhat cheesy in its dialogue, soon descends into nonsense. I suppose it's entertaining in its own way if you don't try and take it at all seriously.

May awakes on the Hawking II with amnesia, she can't remember what happened to the rest of the crew or even her own divorce. Why does her divorce matter? Well back down on Earth Stephen is working for NASA, and May thinks she still loves him. Her amnesia seems to go back a conveniently long way. The story goes back and forth between the action in space, Stephen's frankly possessive behaviour back on Earth, the story of how they got together, and May's relationship with her mother.

The writer isn't great at writing emotion so it's mind-boggling that they inserted this awkward relationship plot into what should have been an acceptable action-thriller. I'm going to talk about a bit more of the plot than I usually would in reviews, so stop reading now if you think you still want to read it unspoiled.

Retrograde amnesia. Don't you think the word amnesia just makes this whole thing sound like a crap move? Or, like the old soap operas, right?

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Girls of Paper and Fire

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 Ikhara there are three castes, Paper, Steel and Moon. Each year the Moon caste demon king takes eight paper girls as concubines. For many families, it is seen as an honour if their daughter is chosen, but in reality the girls are slaves, forced to entertain the king whenever he pleases.

When the world denies you choices... you make your own.

The Paper Girls had already been chosen when the royal guards came to Lei's village. Lei is Paper but her fiery eyes make her a worthy present for the king. Torn from her family, just as her mother was years before, Lei is taken to the palace to join the Paper Girls.

Girls of Paper and Fire does not gloss over what a concubine is. They appear in so many stories, but in reality they are beautiful young women kept as slaves, with no option to say no when their master wants sex. Natasha Ngan starts with a foreword clearly stating this book contains rape, it is not romanticised, despite one of the girls' possible Stockholm syndrome.

The Paper Girls are kept separate in the court, only visited by their teachers to train them to be suitable companions to the king. Lei dreads seeing her name chosen, and she tries to deny him. Whilst they are living in close quarters, some of the girls become friends and Lei finds herself attracted to Wren, daughter of the Hannos, the only Paper tribe to have allied with the demon king.

They can take and steal and break all they want, but there is one thing they have no control over. Our emotions. Our feelings. Our thoughts. None of them will ever be able to control the way we feel. Our minds and our hearts are our own. That is our power.

I'm not sure I particularly enjoy reading books where the characters are so clearly doing something they'll get into trouble for, and not doing a very good job of being secret. The walls of the girl's rooms are described as being thin from the start, privacy is an illusion.

I liked the idea of exploring what it meant to be a concubine in this Asian inspired fantasy setting, but I never really got sucked in. There is the political situation in Ikhara, the romance and the minutiae of life as a Paper Girl. The focus was taken away from this horrible concept of someone in power keeping teenage girls as sex slaves. At least the romance is not with the abuser. The single first person narrative was slightly limiting, I would have loved to have got inside the heads of the other girls and know why they did what they did.

I would have liked this more as a standalone. The very ending is such a trope, thrown in when you think a story has concluded and I wish it had finished one page earlier.

Girls of Paper and Fire is published by Hodder and is available now in hardback and ebook editions. The paperback will be out on 11th July 2019. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Emily Eternal

Scientists predicted the sun would die, just not how soon that would be. At MIT, the dedicated few are working on an artificial consciousness, able to access the minds of her subjects and help them come to terms with their issues. She's a virtual therapist. Facing extinction, some start to think Emily holds the answer to the future of humanity.

Emily has been shaped by her interactions with humans, encouraged to think and behave like them. Nathan creates her a dorm room and a simulation of the campus so she can live as much like a person as she can. She appears to exist to anyone wearing an interface chip, without the chips or her simulation, she blinks out of existence.

Later in the book, you see how important Emily's upbringing is. Without her perspective of humans, she would think of purely logical solutions, maybe ignoring the moral implications. She is quite naive at times, her life has been short after all and her world limited to the campus.

I'm an artificial consciousness (AC), which is totally different from artificial intelligence (AI) (Kind of? Sort of? To me at least), and was in the fifth year of this experiment when the sun began to die.

Of course, her cushy existence comes crashing down when someone tries to seize the technology. Emily goes "on the run" but she remains determined to find a way to preserve the human race in some way. She likes humans, sees herself as one.

I can get behind the idea of a neural interface being able to alter perception, even maybe controlling muscles and hormonal excretions, but the direction of the story gets a bit too far-fetched. There are good ideas in there but there is a big leap from what current biology is capable of to what Emily does towards the end.

I also found the whole chip part wishy washy, it just gets placed on your skin and then Emily has access to your whole brain processes. Oh and she is capable of doing her thing via any networked electrical device. I know we're not sure exactly how the brain works, but I had a hard time just accepting this considering it was trying to be scientific.

Since Emily has been shaped to think and behave like a human, it's understandable she might want to try a romantic relationship. She makes a mistake when going into the mind of her infatuation. What she does is a huge violation and I'm not sure I'd be so forgiving. The secondary characters weren't fully fleshed out so I didn't get behind them. I didn't believe in their love, and the sex part, well the mind boggles. Just remember, Emily doesn't exist physically.

Emily just needed some limits to her powers. It got to the point where it seemed she was capable of anything and that ruins a story for me.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 17. A book set on college or university campus

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Book Source: Purchased

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

The Flatshare

Tiffy needs somewhere new to live but her editorial job at a hobby-based publisher just doesn't pay enough. After viewing the dregs of the London rental market she answers an ad for someone who wants to share a bed... Leon is a palliative care nurse who works nights and only needs the flat when the rest of the world is at work. What could go wrong?

You’ve got to say this for desperation: it makes you much more open-minded.

Ahhh such a warm and fuzzy book with a serious centre! The idea behind The Flatshare is not that far fetched and it is one of the most honest books on the state of living in London that I've read. Young publishing professionals are definitely not living by themselves in central London. Tiffy and Leon start communicating through post-it notes left around the flat, slowly getting to know each other before they've even met.

Tiffy has just come out of an emotionally abusive relationship, although she isn't aware of how bad it what. It raises the issue of gaslighting, making someone doubt themselves so much they start believing a different version of reality. Through the help of her friends, Tiffy starts to realise just how controlling her ex was.

The last time I was on a cruise it was through the Greek islands with Justin, and I was positively glowing with love and post-sex hormones. Now, huddled in a corner with three Aldi bags of knitting needles, crochet hooks and wool, accompanied by an ex-hippy and a sardine sandwich, I can no longer deny the fact that my life has taken a turn for the worse.

Leon's adorable. He is renting out his bed because he needs extra money to pay for his brother's appeal. He's not a big talker, preferring to spend time with his ill patients than the outside world. His narrative is distinguished from Tiffy's by his lack of first person pronouns, making his voice seem really natural.

Tiffy's job means she spends a lot of time discussing, and modelling, crochet and the book is filled with humorous incidents from her small publisher life. It starts off pretty light hearted but as it goes on, gets more serious.

Listening Notes

I loved the audiobook narration by Carrier Hope Fletcher and Kwaku Fortune. They were just so friendly and perfect for both the characters. I highly recommend!

ATY Rejects: Romantic element

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Book Source: Purchased

Monday, 13 May 2019

The Devouring Gray

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.

Following the death of her sister, Violet Saunders moves with her mother to the sleepy town of Four Paths. Everyone seems to know who they are, one of the founding families, feared and respected. Why does she know nothing about her family's past? Each of the founders played a part in banishing a monster, and their families continue to keep it at bay.

She was pretty sure love was supposed to feel like growing stronger, not rotting from the inside out.

The Devouring Gray was pitched as Stranger Things meets The Raven Boys, and for once I can say that comparison actually has some validity. It borrows a desaturated other dimension with a monster from Stranger Things, but lacks the shows atmosphere and 80's nostalgia.

Each of the families has a ritual, revealing their powers and securing their place as protectors of the town. Harper has failed hers, shunned by her friends and desperate to make Violet see how she can't trust the others. The Hawthornes seem to be the big players in town and they all want something from her. Meanwhile she keeps finding herself transported to the forest, a place without colour but home to something terrifying.

It spends a lot of time introducing the key characters of the founding families before anything really happens. Once the action kicks off it's much more engaging, but it was too slow getting there. I thought it go so much more interesting when the mayor's powers were revealed and there was a shadowy secret society. Maybe there was just too much to fit into a book of this length.

Being invisible when you used to be seen... it's like being dead, but no one mourns you.

I wouldn't say I wouldn't read another book now that the world has been established, but not if it were to throw in a bunch of new characters or powers. I kinda want to know what happens next with a few of the characters.

The Devouring Gray 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.

ATY: 26. 4 books inspired by the wedding rhyme: Book #4 Something Blue

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Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Wakenhyrst

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 journals of painter and historian Edmund Stearne have been kept safely in Wake's End since his admittance to an asylum for the criminally insane. He admitted he did it but that he never did anything wrong. 60 years later, his daughter releases his, and her, story to the world.
The gulf between these two existences was vast. There was no in-between. Either he was a murderer, or he was not.

Wakenhyrst is a gothic style horror set in the fens of East Anglia. While the characters are fictional, much of the story is based on real historical accounts; the delirious writings of a spiritualist, the disturbing paintings of asylum inmates, and the doom, a religious mural depicting the Day of Judgement.

Through Edmund's journal, his entitlement of his position in the world is clear. He can treat those in his household how he pleases, as long as he keeps up appearances to society. As Maud's account starts, she knows her mother is constantly ill, resulting in "the groaning". Edmund's sexual desires take precedence over his wife's health, who repeatedly suffers miscarriages. Young Maud makes up her own version of events until she starts to read her father's journals.

Like Alice, Maman had never been allowed to do anything; she'd always had things done to her. She had been 'given in marriage' and 'permitted' fine clothes - although only if Father approved of them.

I loved the decision to switch between the despicable man of the times and the girl's perspective. In Thin Air, the main character was racist and arrogant, and despite it fitting for the time, it was a little off-putting. In Wakenhyrst, Edmund can have horrible attitudes towards women but it's tempered by Maud's perspective. He might think her weak minded but she's quite the opposite. It also means you're looking forward to something bad happening to him!

Maud's a fantastic character. As she reads her father's journal, her opinion of him changes rapidly and she starts to subtly annoy him on purpose. She saves and befriends a magpie, hence the cover, and she strikes up a friendship with the handsome gardener, someone below her station as far as her father is concerned. Through this it highlights the power imbalance caused by poverty.

To her the fen was a forbidden realm of magical creatures and she longed for it with a hopeless passion.

Maud loves the fen and feels at home wandering its watery wilderness. However her father is scared of it, his guilt manifesting in his paranoia. The pervasive marsh smell starts to haunt him as he becomes more and more obsessed with the rantings of Alice Pyett, ironically a female spiritualist. It's gripping and tense, and my favourite Michelle Paver book by far.

Wakenhyrst is published by Head of Zeus and is available now in hardback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

ATY: 39. A book with a strong sense of place or where the author brings the location/setting to life

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