Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Prequels and Whatnot: Midnight Sun and The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

So yeah, I read both the Twilight rehash and the prequel to The Hunger Games, with varying success. I was never a massive Twilight fan but when I first read the books they were fun diversions, read at an age where Edward's posessiveness didn't grate on me, and I didn't like the film adaptations at all. But I thought Midnight Sun would be fun, I remember reading some of it a few years back when it was leaked and Stephanie declared the project over.

Well it wasn't over, she had over 700 pages left to tell us. I do not remember Twilight being so long, it's meant to be the same story told from Edward's point of view. There were theories that maybe it covered more than one book, but no, it ends as Twilight ends. I would have enjoyed it so much more as a novella. It was funny at first, Edward is thinking like a hundred year old vampire forced to go to school, he plans how best to kill Bella and cover it up. This was great! But then he turns into a mushy, possessive, boy and I still have no idea why he liked Bella so much other than she smelled good.

There were some other aspects I enjoyed though, the snippets of backstory of the Cullens and the whole ending, and cover up, with Alice's visions guiding their way, was brilliant. It just needed most the middle chopping out.

Another chunkster returning us to a beloved YA franchise was The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. We knew a Hunger Games prequel was coming, but there was widespread dismay when Suzanne revealed it was to focus on a young Corilonius? Snow. I was intrigued...

Snow is not a likable character, you are not meant to like him. He craves control, his background shedding some light on that, they nearly lost everything thanks to the war. There are moments you can pity him, but he is not a simple character and his arc is not one of redemption, even if it comes close at times. We know what he becomes, it was nice to think he was becoming a better person but as you read you are just waiting for the defining moment to happen.

It provided a better understanding of how the games came to be in their current format. Initially more gladiatorial in nature, it's part of Snow's education to come up with ideas to keep people engaged, and to keep the people in line. Lucy Baird is the tribute assigned to Snow, coming from a travelling group of performers, and her personality and singing helps get to the point where you can see the idea of the new games forming, with entertainment, a way to gamble and sending favours to your favourites.

In the edition I bought, there's a Q&A with Suzanne where she talks about the different philosophies contained in the book, how different characters represent different ways of seeing human nature. Do you believe everyone has common decency or is everyone just out to save themselves? Will people behave out of a belief in the way society is run or do you need to scare them into submission by holding the Hunger Games?

Anyway, I thought it was a lot deeper than I was expecting. It wasn't just a rehash of the first two books, it was much more about the kind of people who allowed that way of governance to take hold and how difficult it can be to effect change when the odds are never in your favour.

Wednesday, 9 September 2020

The Court of Miracles

The Court of Miracles is a criminal underground, a place where those who don't belong in polite Parisian society can be accepted and find protection. Thieves, prostitutes, assassins, smugglers, mercenaries, gamblers, beggars, drug addicts and forgerers, they all have their guild and a lord or lady to rule over them. But something is rotten in the Guild of Flesh, where women are bought and drugged, forced into the profession by The Tiger. Once he sets his sights on you, there is no escape.

OK, hands up who bought this book because it was pretty and promised sexy naked-bookness? I admit that was part of my reasoning but alternate history fantasy set in Paris is kind of my catnip, so I couldn't resist The Court of Miracles. I'm glad I didn't, despite a bit of a luke-warm reaction across the blogoshpere. Once I got into the worldbuilding I was absorbed.

First off, I know nothing about Les Miserables, which might help in me not trying to make comparisons or connections. I think a lot of the characters have Les Mis names? It is also combines elements of The Jungle Book which I am more familiar with and I felt was done well. Nina is known as the Black Cat, so is Bagheera, and Ettie is Mowgli, the child wanted by The Tiger. The structure of it had a feel of The Jungle Book too, taking the child from place to place.

Nina loses her sister to The Tiger and initially sees Ettie as a bargaining chip to get her back. Fortunately, she sees the error of her ways before she does anything she can regret, but Ettie is already in danger. The only way she can be safe is to join a Guild, but who will take her knowing she is The Tiger's prey? Once I understood what was going on, I loved the journey around this alternate Paris, going from guild to guild, learning what they were really about.

I think the dauphin is an emotional, lonely boy who would care for a hat if it showed him the least bit of attention.

There is only a touch of magic, and it doesn't really have a romance. Nina's path crosses with the young dauphin but it is not that kind of rags to riches story. This is set after the revolution failed, the uprising was quashed before anyone could storm the Bastille. But the mumurings of revolution have never really subsided, and the rebels are yet another layer of this world.

I went into it expecting it to be a standalone, and I felt satisfied with it as it is, but I hear there will at least be another book and I will definitely be reading it. This was a solid debut and Kester Grant is one to watch.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 9. A book with a map

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Hive | Wordery | Blackwell’s

Monday, 7 September 2020

The two series that broke my lockdown slump

As you might have noticed, 2020 has not been a great reading year for me. I was dusting off my challenge lists to see if I could get started again and was faced with reading a mystery. I mean I like mysteries in crossover genre, but my days of consuming large amounts of crime fiction are over. Or are they? I had binge read Kelley Armstrong's Rockton series during lockdown and whilst its characters were pretty much Elena and Clay without the werewolves, it was kinda crime fiction.

City of the Lost

Someone kindly gave me City of the Lost in a Ninja Book Swap, many years ago (I haven't checked, but I'm sure of it). I had lost a little faith in Kelley after the Cainsville series dragged on, but I had this book and I should really read what I already have, so I did. I loved the setting, Rockton being a sort of sanctuary in the middle of the Yukon, where criminals and victims alike go to hide for a few years.

When I found myself not reading much during lockdown, I reached for the next Rockton book, and the next and the next, until I was all caught up with the five books currently in existence.

As the series progresses, the background of Rockton and its residents is revealed bit by bit, but each story containing a mystery, a lot of trekking through wilderness and battling the elements. Alone in the Wild was probably my least favourite, partly down to the fact Casey was fine about not being able to have kids and then they throw in a mysterious baby, and suddenly she's all broody. Yes women can change their mind but it felt a bit out of character, and makes me think there'll be some suprise-you-can-get-pregnant introduction of motherhood at a later point.

Anyway, back to that challenge dilemma. I delved into my Kindle and found that I had bought The Kept Woman at some point, the next book in the Will Trent series. I had seen some marketing fanfare about Karin Slaughter's 20th book this year, so this could be a chance to take out several challenge prompts with one series! Cue metaphorical rolling up of my sleeves. Note, all Karin's books should come with a trigger warning for rape.

I was kind of expecting it to be a bit of a struggle to get back into, but I instantly remembered Will, Sara, Faith and Amanda, even the love-to-hate character of Angie. The Kept Woman is very much character driven, delving into Angie and Will's complicated relationship. They feel like old acquiantances I'm catching up with. It was very much not a chore, and I went and bought the next book in the series straight away.

I didn't enjoy The Last Widow quite as much, which is a shame as the biological weapon and cult angles are things I would go for when choosing a book. Its pacing was off. I think she was trying new things with repeating conversations from different perspectives, which meant it was slow and repetitive at the start and then the big finale seemed rushed and over too quickly. The Will/Sara neediness dynamic seemed a bit overdone...yet I was still left wanting to know where they go from there.

And then I read The Silent Wife, Karin's latest book. I was thinking I'd maybe overdone it with back-to-back reading until the plot pivoted towards a Jeffrey Tolliver connection, and I was hooked once more. This one felt much more a return to her Grant County books, not just with the characters, but the disturbingness of the crimes.

I've missed reading series like this. The problem with picking up new books all the time is the wait between instalments. I don't want to put off buying books until a series is complete though, as we know that ends up in the series never being complete, but it'd be nice to discover some more complete series that are new to me.

Now here's hoping my blogging slump is over too!

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

On My Radar: More September Releases

Well the week of 600 releases is upon us (though it has been pointed out that many of these are academic books so maybe we shouldn't panic). Here are the September releases that I have yet to cover here or here, including science fiction and historical fiction, but a few others I missed earlier too.


Night of the Mannequins by Stephen Graham Jones
Architects of Memory by Karen Osborn
The Bridge by Bill Konigsberg

Afterland by Lauren Beukes


Afterland by Lauren Beukes
A Girl Made of Air by Nydia Hetherington
After the Silence by Louise O'Neill
Sad Janet by Lucy Britsch


The Phlebotomist by Chris Panatier


The Girl from the Hermitage by Molly Gartland


An Unnatural Life by Erin K. Wagner


The Art of Saving the World by Corinne Duyvis (US only)


Crownchasers by Rebecca Coffindaffer (US only)

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

On My Radar: September's Contemporary Fiction and Non-Fiction

I can't believe Christmas books are already sneaking into the line-up, but I had to include Tanya Byrne's festive romance (published under the pen name of Lizzie Byron) which is out in ebook next month.

If you're looking for new fantasy releases, head over to this post, and there's more on my radar still to come!


Fake Law: The Truth About Justice in an Age of Lies by The Secret Barrister
Red Pill by Hari Kunzru
Someday at Christmas by Lizzie Byron (e)
Love Orange by Natasha Randall
The Story of China by Michael Wood
The Harpy by Megan Hunter
Burning the Books by Richard Ovenden
Our Story by Miranda Dickinson
Wrecked by Louisa Reid


Watch Over Me by Nina Lacour (US only)
Even If We Break by Marieke Nijkamp


Dear Reader: The Comfort and Joy of Books by Cathy Rentzenbrink
Look Up: Our Story with the Stars by Sarah Cruddas
And Now for the Good News by Ruby Wax


Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

On My Radar: September's Fantasy Releases

We all know by now that September is going to be a massive month for book releases, some of which have been pushed back due to you-know-what. So I'm splitting up these On My Radar posts into genre, just to make them a little bit easier to digest. Links go to Goodreads for further info.

Out of all the fantasy releases, I am most excited about Naomi Novik's new book set in a deadly magic school and Roshani Chokshi's follow up to The Gilded Wolves


Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles
Fable by Adrienne Young (US only)


The Time-Travelling Caveman by Terry Pratchett
Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar


Master of Poisons by Andrea Hairston
The Other Side of the Sky by Amie Kaufman + Meagan Spooner (US only)


The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart


Each of Us a Desert by Mark Oshiro (US only)


The Silvered Serpents by Roshani Chokshi
Miss Meteor by Tehlor Kay Mejia + Anna-Marie McLemore (US only)
The Seventh Perfection by Daniel Polansky



A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik
Burning Roses by S. L. Huang

What are you looking forward to in September? Have you got a book due out next month? I'll be following this up with science fiction, non-fiction and general fiction posts, so do make me aware of anything I might have missed.