Thursday, 27 February 2020

After Atlas / Before Mars

I don't think I've talked about how much I love the Planetfall books by Emma Newman, partly because I've been devouring them during my lax blogging months. Whilst part of the same universe, each book has a self-contained story. You can read my review of Planetfall, which gives background to the religious cult that appears throughout, and can definitely be treated as a standalone. What I specifically enjoyed about After Atlas and Before Mars was how they spanned the same time period, but from different perspectives.

After Atlas is set on Earth and is a sort of noir, murder mystery. Carlos is an indentured slave, a non-person bought by a corporation, and is "working off" the lifetime debt as an detective. He is connected to The Circle through his father only, wishing to keep his distance from the cult, but when their leader, Alejandro Casales, is found dead he is brought in as someone with insider knowledge.

As well as having an intriguing mystery to solve, it explores what it means to be owned by someone, to never be free to make your own choices and to life with the threat of being sold. Carlos is drawn into a bigger game, where the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

Before Mars is set on Mars, with Anna arriving on the base, an artist commissioned to make unique paintings using the minerals of the red planet. When she finds a note in her own handwriting warning her not to trust the base's psychologist, she starts to worry she's suffering from immersion psychosis, just as her father did.

Having left her child behind on Earth, she knows she should feel guilty but instead feels relief. The story explores how postnatal depression can affect a family, but essentially Anna loves her child very much. As the story starts to gather pace, you start to link things to what happened on Earth in the previous book, which is happening at the same time, only thousands of miles away.

All the books in this series have complex characters dealing with mental health issues at the same time as having gripping plots and mysteries to solve. They are full of questions about the future of humanity, inequality and faith. I'm looking forward to reading Atlas Alone soon, and I promise to write a review this time.

Sunday, 23 February 2020

On My Radar: March

Obviously I am most excited about the new N.K. Jemisin novel next month, but there are plenty of other books to whet my appetite in March. Let me know which new releases you're looking forward to.

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.


The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski
We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry (US)
Under the Rainbow by Celia Laskey (US)
When We Were Magic by Sarah Gailey (US)
Havenfall by Sara Holland
Be Not Far from Me by Mindy McGinnis (US)
Docile by K.M. Szpara
House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas


Grief Angels by David Owen
The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey
The Recovery of Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel
Anna K by Jenny Lee
The Rearranged Life of Oona Lockhart by Margarita Montimore
And the Stars Were Burning Brightly by Danielle Jawando
Hold Back The Tide by Melinda Salisbury
By Force Alone by Lavie Tidhar
The Deep by Alma Katsu
Beneath the Rising by Premee Mohamed


Black River by Will Dean


The Breach by M. T. Hill


The Fire Never Goes Out by Noelle Stevenson
The Ninth Child by Sally Magnusson
Coming Up for Air by Sarah Leipciger


Thorn by Intisar Khanani
Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo


The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin


Anthropocene Rag by Alex Irvine

(US) = US publisher only

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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