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



Wednesday, 15 January 2020

The Places I've Cried in Public

A school project gives Amelie the idea. She'll create a memory map of all the places he made her cry.

I've run out of words to use that mean "crying", and we're not even at the Cube yet. I'm going to have to thesaurus.com the word. By the end of this, I'm going to be bewailing and lamenting just so I don't bore you with the word cry.

The Places I've Cried in Public chronicles the highs and lows of an unhealthy teenage relationship. It never fools you into thinking it's going to be a romance, the current timeline narrative clearly lets you know it went sour. That narrative is second person, directly addressing Reese.

When her dad is made redundant, their family is uprooted from Sheffield to the South of England, meaning Amelie leaves her friends, and boyfriend behind. She and Alfie have an agreement, they'll meet again at university but in the meantime, they are free to live their lives apart. But this story isn't about Alfie, the boy who is there as an example of a healthy relationship.

The "it" that I'm working through now. The messy line of biro. The dots on a map where you made me cry - I'm sure it's all my fault somehow. If only I'd done things differently. Been... less me, then I wouldn't have driven you away.

Amelie is just starting to make friends when the whirlwind that is Reese enters her life. Alfie appears to be distancing himself from her, and Reese says and does all the right things. He makes her feel intoxicated, not like the steady love she had before. She ignores the warnings of her new friends, and jumps in head first into a new relationship.

What happens between them is told through flashbacks, connected to all the places she cried in public, mostly because of him. It shows how an abusive relationship doesn't need to involve black eyes and broken bones, it can be emotional and insidious. She finds herself changing herself to please him, to stop him getting angry with her. Like many young women, she is manipulated into things she really doesn't want to do, just because he says it's what everyone does. Doesn't she want to make him happy?

I wish I had listened to my gut. It takes guts to listen to your gut, though. It takes bravery to walk away from something because part of your bowel tells you to. I mean, who does that? That is crazy.

It's pretty upsetting in places. Holly Bourne does have the knack of hitting the nail on the head when it comes to the harsh realities of being a teenage girl in the here and now. This is so far from the fluffy romance that a lot of people think YA is.

ATY Challenge: 2. A book by an author whose last name is one syllable

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Book Source: Purchased

Monday, 13 January 2020

Crooked Kingdom

Crooked Kingdom is the sequel to Six of Crows and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous book.

Kaz's crew are left reeling after their daring break in to the Ice Court. Nina's fighting withdrawal and Wylan's stuck with the face of a stranger. The stranger who holds secret of jurda parem and is safely in their custody. Kuwei is Ketterdam's most wanted man, can they smuggle him out the city or will they hand him over?

We meet fear. We greet the unexpected visitor and listen to what he has to tell us. When fear arrives, something is about to happen.

My love of the Grishaverse has certainly been slow to bloom. I wasn't that impressed with the first book (which was called The Gathering Dark at the time) but didn't write off the trilogy. In the meantime, the fan following grew and eventually I gave in and read the others. Six of Crows really was the turning point though, and Crooked Kingdom is my favourite by far.

Even though I went and read King of Scars first, so I had quite a big thing spoiled. I don't know what I was thinking, I'd got it into my head that it was a prequel and, well, it wasn't. Now having read Crooked Kingdom, I wish I had read in order as Nina's continued story would have had more oompf. I got to the end and I was desperate to know what happens next, even though I'd already read what happens next!

The characters are what make this duology so good, and having had their personalities established in advance, I could fall straight into rooting for them. They are all flawed, fighting with their personal demons, addictions and personal intimacy issues. And the fact that they all care for each other, this band of criminal teenagers, even if they don't always show it.

I would have come for you. And if I couldn't walk, I'd crawl to you, and no matter how broken we were, we'd fight our way out together-knives drawn, pistols blazing. Because that's what we do. We never stop fighting.

I also love that it's like Mission Impossible in its tropes. What genre is that, like they're not spies and it's not simply a heist? Anyway, it was oodles of fun and emotional, and I wish there were more books set in Ketterdam.

It'll be interesting to see what Netflix do with their adaptation. I'm not sure how they're going to smoosh Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows into the same season, they're not meant to be happening at the same time and they are such separate storylines. Her later books feel much darker and more grown-up, and I'd really like to see that in the TV show.

ATY Challenge: 1. A book with a title that doesn't contain the letters A, T or Y

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Thursday, 9 January 2020

The Starless Sea

When grad student Zachary finds an untitled book in the library, he is shocked to find it contains a chapter about him. An event that happened years ago, that no one else could have known about. The day he found a painted door on a wall and didn't go through it. This mysterious book leads him to the world it describes, one of silent acolytes, guardians and keepers, of bees, swords and keys, of stories kept safe in a harbour on the Starless Sea.

I wasn't the biggest fan of The Night Circus, but I liked the sound of a secret underground book cult enough to give Erin Morgenstern another chance and I'm glad I did! Now don't expect to be sucked in immediately, it takes a while for the seemingly unconnected stories to come together.

Not all stories speak to all listeners, but all listeners can find a story that does, somewhere, sometime. In one form or another.

The Starless Sea is metafiction, several books within a book. The opening chapters are from a book Zachary finds, and it alternates between his story and "Sweet Sorrows". The fictional book is not all that linear either, but at some point it just clicks. There are other fictional books used in the same way, giving up new bits of the story. It is a story about stories, whether written, oral or in a game...

I'd heard that this book was a kind of ode to video games, and at first I thought that it was just her character's choice of study that was the tribute, but then the game tropes start appearing. A character must get something for another character in order to continue with their quest, found objects reveal a little bit of story, the visual symbolism, putting things in conveniently shaped holes reveals a hidden stairway... Those kind of things. Knowing the game connection made me much more accepting of these plot devices, it's just like a game! There was one point when I thought they might actually be in a game.

Reading a novel, he supposes, is like playing a game where all the choices have been made for you ahead of time by someone who is much better at this particular game.

I quite liked the stories from "Sweet Sorrows", "Fortunes and Fables" and "The Ballad of Simon and Eleanor" by themselves. They are myths and fairytales, almost standalone short stories until you piece together the players. I totally understand why some people went back and re-read it straight away. There are some things I don't quite have connected, and I had to do a bit of flicking back and forth at points near the end. To be honest, the things I'm not clear about don't really matter.

Morgenstern's writing is beautiful and there are plenty of quotable lines. I thought the characters and plot were much stronger in this than The Night Circus, and her prose had more purpose.

Occasionally, Fate pulls itself together again and Time is always waiting.

The ending was a teensy bit unsatisfying. I suppose the point was that whilst stories have endings, there's always more story possible. I just don't see Fate accepting it considering what they were trying to achieve.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 21. A book published the month of your birthday

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Book Source: Purchased

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

The Rosewater Redemption

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 Redemption is the conclusion to the Rosewater trilogy and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous books.

Mayor Jack is handing over the dead of Rosewater to the Homians, allowing them to supplant their consciousnesses in physical forms. The Mayor's wife is on a mission to prove that the reanimates are not truly gone, going up against Rosewater's policy, which was put in place to keep them safe. But it will only last so long, eventually humans will be replaced on Earth unless someone can find an alternative.

Part of this instalment is told in first person from the point of view of Oyin Da, otherwise known as Bicycle Girl. This reveals her back-story and her part to play. I'll admit I wasn't in a great headspace whilst reading this and there's a lot happening, so I'm not sure I absorbed it all. I didn't completely understand what was going on with Bicycle Girl. Was it the xenosphere giving her the ability to time travel or was she not even time travelling?

Kaaro's keeping his head low whilst Aminat works for what's left of the authorities. The Synners are Homians taking things into their own hands, suicide bombers of sorts, speeding up the transfer process by taking more lives. Aminat wants something to be done, a punishment to those who get away with it, given a new body without consequences.

Death has to mean death, otherwise Rosewater, Nigeria, heck, the world will just be a video game for them where they will just re-spawn and humans will be non-player characters.

Rosewater, now independent from Nigeria, makes the choice to decriminalise homosexuality and the endgame plays out against their first, yet very small, Pride march. This was a nice touch. However for such an innovative alien invasion, I felt the solution was a bit cliched. Overall I enjoyed the trilogy but I think the other books were stronger in plot and pacing.

The Rosewater Redemption is published by Orbit and is available now in paperback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Sunday, 5 January 2020

On My Radar: January

Happy New Year! Are you ready for all the new books 2020 is going to throw at you? January seems a slowish start to the publishing calendar, but there are still some goodies to tempt 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.

7th

Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire (e)


9th

One Of Us Is Next by Karen McManus
The God Game by Danny Tobey
Followers by Megan Angelo (e)


14th

Infinity Son by Adam Silvera

23rd

Pine by Francine Toon
The Hungry and the Fat by Timur Vermes
The Other People by C. J. Tudor
Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer


28th

Prosper's Demon by K J Parker
Parable of the Sower: A Graphic Novel by Octavia Butler + John Jennings


30th

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara

(e) = early ebook release