Thursday, 20 February 2020

In Pain

Well this was a jaw-dropping account of the opioid crisis. I never knew heroine was once prescribed for coughs, and that the current opioid crisis is repeating past mistakes that were never learned from. In Pain is partly a memoir, detailing the very horrific injury Travis sustained that led to him being reliant on pain medication. As he describes his own journey, he talks about what pain is, how pain management is handled (or mishandled), the history of opioid use and his plea for a future where pain patients receive the care they need, both to treat their pain and to support them in withdrawal.

Travis is aware of his privilege and his own struggles as a well-educated, white man only give you a hint at to how difficult it can be for those less privileged, those whose pain isn't taken seriously due to medical bias or prejudice or those with a genetic predisposition to addiction. Travis wanted to be off the drugs, yet he didn't receive the help he needed. In the grips of withdrawal his family doctor merely suggests going back on the drugs and trying again later. He goes onto explain that giving the brain that kind of reward makes it even harder to detox in future.

Doctors have been given conflicting information and very little training on pain management. Vets in the US get more training on pain than doctors. They don't know how to safely taper their patients off the drugs the prescribe. Those who have been prescribing opioids in increasing amounts to their patients suddenly withhold the drugs, worried about addiction and drug seeking behaviours, driving their patients to the black market. Or in other cases, prolonged opioid use is causing patients to experience more pain than if they were taking NSAIDs.

Heroine becomes the cheaper option than illegal prescription drugs, but more likely to be cut with dangerous substances. He explains the reasons why people overdose and what can be done to help addicts.

It's heart-breaking to think doctors were told that Oxycontin was not addictive, that they thought they were doing good when they prescribed it, but now they are left without the tools to fix it. Some drugs are better at relieving certain sorts of pain than opioids, but costs make them prohibitive. Opioids are cheap.

I don't often say a book is a must-read, but this is an accessible look on the problem, told from someone who has both been through it and has the background to explain it concisely and frame sensible arguments. If you or someone close you are taking opioids, or you prescribe them yourself, this would be a great way to educate yourself further.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 40. Your favorite prompt from a past POPSUGAR Reading Challenge

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Book Source: Listened to via Scribd free trial

Monday, 17 February 2020

The Foundling

Bess is a young, unmarried mother in 1754 and she makes the difficult decision to place her child in the care of The Foundling Hospital. For six years she saves every penny she can, in the hope of reclaiming her daughter. When she goes to collect Clara, she finds out she is too late. Someone else, masquerading as Bess, has already taken the child.

All the babies were wrapped like presents ready to be given.

As you may remember, The Familiars was one of my top books last year and I was eager to read Stacey Halls' second novel. I love how her historical fiction is well researched but she never feels the need to info-dump it all on us. It's little things like the doctor living on Great Ormond Street, whose house is to be turned into a hospital. This got me thinking about Great Ormond Street Hospital so I looked it up and its history can be traced back to that house and that doctor was a real person. But also, if you're not being geeky you can just read on by without that info slowing you down.

The Foundling is told from two perspectives, Bess and the woman who raised Clara (or Charlotte) as her own. It doesn't alternate every chapter, instead giving you time to really get invested in each character. In this way, you can totally understand and sympathise with both women. Clara is Bess' daughter and was stolen from her, but the other woman has given Charlotte a better standard of life than Bess could ever have given her. She has raised her as her own for six whole years. Both are her mother in different ways.

Charlotte's adoptive mother might not have to worry about money, but she lives in fear of the outside world. Now a widow, a terrible childhood tragedy had left her with agoraphobia. Charlotte just wants to go outside and see the world, but her mother is scared for what will happen out there. The two live a secluded life until Dr Meade suggests they take on a nursemaid.

The Foundling Hospital was a real place (you can visit the museum on the site of the hospital) which took in children from unmarried mothers and raised and educated them, with the hope of finding them employment at the end. Very few children were ever reclaimed, as Bess finds out, the fees that need to be paid are much higher than working class women of the time could hope to earn. However those leaving their children there could do so without guilt, knowing they had given them a fighting chance in a world that is not kind to mothers out of wedlock.

The Foundling Hospital was on the very edge of London, where pleasant squares and tall houses gave way to open roads and fields that yawned blackly into the distance.

It's one of several books this year that has had the gambling, drunk brother taking advantage of his sister's good nature and ability to earn a living. I could have done without Ned's character but perhaps that is just because I have read a lot recently that was similar. Bess had a hard enough time without him taking her money and getting her into trouble.

Otherwise I enjoyed this tale of two women and one daughter, whose lives become irrevocably intertwined. I kept reading for the mystery of how Clara was claimed, and with hope for all of them to have a happy ending.

ATY: 8. A book with a two-word title where the first word is "The"

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Book Source: Purchased

Thursday, 6 February 2020

The Calculating Stars

When a huge meteorite strikes the Earth, history is set on a new trajectory. The story starts in 1952 when much of the Western US is destroyed, first by the impact and then by the resulting tsunami. Former WASP pilot and mathematician Elma York is on holiday in the Poconos when it happens. Knowing much of her family has been wiped out, she seeks refuge at a military base, along with her rocket scientist husband Nathaniel. They soon see the usefulness of Nathaniel, but Elma must fight for her right to be involved. She knows how to fly and how to do crucial calculations. The only thing stopping her becoming an astronaut is her gender.

If you were anywhere within five hundred miles of Washington D.C., at 9:53 am on March 3rd, 1952, and facing a window, then you remember that light. Briefly red, then so violently white that it washed out even the shadows.

The Calculating Stars starts off like a 90s disaster film, which I love, and then heads off into Hidden Figures territory. Having watched and read the latter, it gave me plenty of context to the computers and the prejudices and pressures they faced. This does focus more on the sexism of the era but does touch on racism too, with Elma confronting her own privilege when she realises how harder the black pilots have it.

In this alternate version of history there is a more compelling reason to allow women into space, which Elma uses to her advantage. The meteor strike has disrupted the climate and Elma and her meteologist brother predict an increase in global temperatures. Humans need to find a way off this planet. Once she manages to convince them of her theory, then a colony will need to be established, and that requires women.

Without a plane, what was I supposed to do? Math the problem to death?

Elma suffers from anxiety, specifically performance anxiety which hampers her rise to fame. This explores the stigma attached to mental illness and the fear of if affecting her job. She also needs to handle Parker, the first man in space, who holds a grudge against her. Will she ever get the chance to go into space?

I listed to the audiobook which is read by the author and Mary Robinette Kowal does an excellent job conveying Elma's pride and worry. I can't wait to continue the series. The third book will be out later this year, so I hope to get caught up with The Fated Sky before then.

ATY: 5. The first book in a series that you have not started

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Book Source: Purchased

Sunday, 2 February 2020

The Last Day

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 Earth stopped rotating, half the world was thrown into permanent night, the other into an endless day. On the edges of this global divide, life continues. Being in a fortunate position when the Stop came, the United Kingdom closed its borders and declared itself a survivor when all else was lost. Ellen Hopper lives offshore on a rig, monitoring the changing ocean currents. When some government officials appear on the rig, they come on behalf of her old Professor, someone she has no desire to see but when she is given little choice, she is set off on a path to discover something they want to stay hidden.

The Last Day is a mix of thriller and musings over what would happen if the world stopped turning. Unusually for me, the thriller plot was the most entertaining part with the environmental aspects falling short. Once Ellen gets to the mainland, her every move is dogged by members of Internal Security. People keep dying, and she isn't even sure what it is she's chasing.

It was the same story everywhere these days, Hopper knew. Shortage, shortage, shortage; shortages of food, of water, of fuel, of sleep, of levity, of decency.

I think I would have liked this more if the perspective wasn't just from the UK, where the Stop had the least impact. It seems we just became extremely isolationist (I mean we're getting there already without an extinction level event) and got better curtains. I suppose it's trying to be a post-Brexit novel, with the nation cutting itself off from the rest of the world. The information about the Slow and Stop worldwide came across as info-dumped. I'd have liked to have seen characters dealing with the extremes, not just the hard-to-believe position of the UK in the one spot where the sun was bearable. Let's face it, there was a good chance it'd be in the middle of the ocean.

I felt some of the flashback chapters were better written. They weren't stopping to explain something that had happened to the world, they were letting the story unfold in those moments. They also shed some light on why on earth Ellen was not just returning to the rig. I'm not sure I got her motivation at the start.

If Richard can persuade enough people their self interest is best maintained by living in the world he's built, he'll stay. But there are two ways of doing that. To persuade them their world is bright and good - that's the first, But to persuade them the alternative is catastrophe - that's even more powerful.

If productive arable land is precious why are they growing tobacco still? People keep having cigarettes like it's not the end of the world. They're not even people who would be in a privileged position to access restricted items. And coffee! A crop that is notoriously susceptible to climate change. Not to mention the lack of major environmental changes. Floods are briefly mentioned, but these subsided and clearly couldn't have been that bad if everyone is living in London still...

I'm not a fan of the narrative referring to characters by their surname all the time, it's kinda distancing. It just seems that the people that know Ellen use her first name, so why is the narrative using Hopper all the time? I found the characters a little unemotional in general, but for a thriller that's not unusual.

Whilst the ending provides an answer, it definitely felt like it was setting up for a sequel. I'd have preferred an epilogue, but then I don't feel inclined to read another one, so maybe I wasn't that excited about the thought of unanswered questions.

The Last Day is published by Cornerstone and will be available in hardback and ebook editions from 6th February 2020. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

ATY: 4. A book set in a place or time that you wouldn't want to live

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Saturday, 1 February 2020

The Month That Was... January 2020

After a bit of a slumpy December, I've had a great start to the year book-wise. I read two five star books, Crooked Kingdom and The Calculating Stars. I do find it a bit harder to write reviews of books I loved, but do expect a review of The Calculating Stars soon. Overall I read 13 books (5 of which were audiobooks) and DNFed one book that I just wasn't feeling. I've managed to get slightly ahead on my ATY challenge so I can fit in February releases whilst still reading in order.

The sea looking towards the Isle of Wight and Hurst Castle

I haven't quite got back into the habit of reviewing everything I read yet but this last month has been a little bit more lively on the blog.

Reviews:




Also read:

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal ★★★★★
Before Mars by Emma Newman ★★★★
Lumberjanes: Beware the Kitten Holy ★★★★
Lumberjanes: Friendship to the Max ★★★★
Hostage by Guy Delisle ★★★★
The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray ★★★
Enchantée by Gita Trelease ★★★

Blogged about:

On My Radar: January
On My Radar: February

Challenge progress:

Goodreads: 13/100
Around the Year: 6/52
Popsugar: 5/50
Book Riot: 1/24


Scully the Labrador with frisbee coming out of sea

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line

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.

Nine-year-old Jair loves watching police shows where they solve real crimes. He knows he can solve the case of a missing schoolmate with the skills he has learned from Police Patrol. His friend thinks a djinn took them but soon more children are missing and Jai is no closer to an answer.

Our gods are too busy to hear our prayers, but ghosts - ghosts have nothing to do but wait and wander, wander and wait, and they are always listening to our words because they are bored and that's one way to pass the time.

I was actually expecting it to be about djinns, but the only supernatural elements are two spirits, who each have a chapter each and the rest of it is a pretty straight mystery. It's a shame because I loved the opening chapter about Mental, who protects his band of kids from beyond the grave. The other ghost is a woman who avenges her daughter's lethal rape.

The bulk of the story is told from Jai's point of view and I'm not the biggest fan of child narrators in works intended for an adult audience. Sometimes it works but I just found Jai a bit of a simple character. He's not a great detective and I didn't feel like I could use his investigation to guess who was responsible. There were moments when he was charming or funny but I definitely preferred the chapters in third person.

'Do your parents know you're here?' the didi asks. This is the biggest problem with being a child detective. I bet no one ever asks Byomkesh Bakshi or Sherlock-Watson about their parents.

The core of the story is the plight of poor children in India, where it's estimated that 180 children go missing every day. Jai and his friends live in a basti, which is basically a slum, but they are better off than the street kids. Some of the parents work for "hifi" people, the middle classes who live in gated communities and shut themselves away from the poverty on their doorstep.

As more children go missing, racial tensions start to rise and people start to blame the Muslims who live peacefully among them. This Islamophobia is sadly a common occurrence, and India is no exception. The police are also indifferent at best and corrupt at worst, preferring the protect the rich from the poor than find the missing children. It highlights the divides along wealth and religion in modern India.

Deepa Anappara does an excellent job conjuring up the sights and smells of the basti and bazaar, with food being not far from Jai's mind. The kids make sure they go to school to get a free meal and any spare rupees they can scrounge together will be spent on the food stalls.

Maybe Pari is so quick at coming up with lies because she has ready many books and has all their stories in her head.

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is published by Chatto & Windus and will be available in hardback and ebook editions from 30th January 2020. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 38. A book by or about a journalist

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Sunday, 26 January 2020

One of Us is Next

The kids of Bayview High are no strangers to gossip. When everyone in the school receives a text message inviting them to play a game of truth or dare, they think it's just another Simon copycat. But when they are ignored the truths start to be revealed. Soon dares are being accepted. Who is behind this new round of damaging gossip?

"It's the second tragic teenage death in the past eighteen months for this small town, and the mood outside the school is one of shocked déjà vu."

One of Us is Next had such a slow start. The nice things about sequels is that you don't have to spend time getting to know anyone...but here the main characters are new, or had minor roles in One of Us is Lying. Also I think the Breakfast Club angle in the first book helped with getting to know the characters. The book does open with a list of all the characters and who they are, which is quite helpful, but also I'm wary when a book needs this.

The point of view characters are Maeve, Knox and Phoebe. Maeve is Bronwyn's little sister, and is trying to hide the signs that her leukaemia is back. Her ex Knox is interning for the lawyer Eli. Since her dad died, Phoebe's life has been downsized, her sister barely speaks to her and her little brother is just, well, annoying. The game creates rifts in all their lives, but also brings them together.

The truth or dare game didn't seem that threatening, and it's only really in the second half where things get exciting. Whilst they have suspicions over which Simon-wannabe started the game, it takes tragedy to spur them into really finding out who is responsible.

I wanted to bash Maeve over the head for ignoring her symptoms... and I wasn't that invested in Phoebe and Emma's little spat over their truth. I felt the story wasn't really going anywhere for so long. I did enjoy the second half though, but I generally feel Karen McManus hasn't managed to replicate the success of her debut yet.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 33. A book with at least a four-star rating on Goodreads

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Book Source: Purchased

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

The Vanished Bride

When Elizabeth Chester goes missing, she leaves behind a room covered in blood. The news falls on the ears of the Brontë sisters, who are both intrigued by the mystery and concerned for the fate of the woman. With no one else finding answers, they become lady detectors with the hope of finding the truth.

Is it truly terrible that I am a little thrilled to think of us as three invisible lady detectors seeking out the truth? I believe we could be quite the only such creatures in all existence.

This was charming! The Vanished Bride is set before any of the Brontë sisters have had books published and they are keenly aware that they need to find a way to support themselves financially. However they don't open a detective agency or anything so far out, they just start on a mission to seek out the truth for their friend who works as governess for the victim. As parson's daughters they are unassuming and can often gain the trust of women or notice details where the police are lacking.

Of course, it is set in a time where policing is minimal. Emily reads about the progress in the Metropolitan Police in the newspaper and is taken with the idea of being a lady detector. Emily's the most high-spirited of the women, with a wild imagination and most likely to blurt out questions that the others would try and be tactful about.

Emily recalled all too vividly how women such as they had precious little defence against the cruelty of the world, and she saw the same thought returned a hundred times in her sisters' expressions of quiet determination.

Branwell made me laugh, he's the one put in charge of his sisters for the sole reason that he's male, but he's the least responsible of them all. He is not unkind, but he thinks highly of himself yet has a problem with drinking, gambling and general cavorting.

The historical details of what their lives were like are incorporated without seeming forced. Obviously they are fictionalised but a lot has been documented about the family and you get the feeling this is a work full of fondness for the sisters.

Bella Ellis is a pseudonym for Rowan Coleman. A second instalment, The Diabolical Bones, is due later this year and I will definitely be adding it my TBR.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 12. A book that passes the Bechdel test

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Book Source: Purchased

Sunday, 19 January 2020

On My Radar: February

We get an extra day this February but that's still not enough to fit in all these amazing sounding new books. I'm especially looking forward to The Foundling and Deathless Divide. What about you?

As always, inclusion here 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

Black Girl Unlimited by Echo Brown (US)
Layoverland by Gabby Noone (US)


4th

Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland
The King of Crows by Libba Bray
The Resisters by Gish Jen (US)



6th

The Foundling by Stacey Halls
Heartstopper Volume Three by Alice Oseman
Wranglestone by Darren Charlton
The Year Without Summer by Guinevere Glasfurd
Gathering Evidence by Martin MacInnes
The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams
The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Kingdomtide by Rye Curtis
The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray
Strange Hotel by Eimear McBride
Glass Town by Isabel Greenberg
Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica