Thursday, 19 November 2020

Cold war dragons and leaky wellies... a weekly check-in

I finished the Popsugar Reading Challenge this week! Just one left on ATY and I'm freeee! Which is a silly thing to say because I choose to do these challenges, but it's been a year. I'm looking forward to catching up with some of my recent purchases and a couple of festive books.

If the only bad news I have is that my wellies split, them I am doing OK! I wasn't impressed at the time. I stepped into a flooded path with complete faith in my footwear only for my welly to fill up with icy, muddy water. So I had to walk back home with a squelch in my step.

I want to talk about Patrick Ness' Burn which I don't think has had enough attention this year. I bought it because Patrick Ness and dragons, but only just got round to reading it and it is so much more. It's set in 1957 during the Cold War, and in a universe where dragons just exist. Sarah is mixed race and just trying to get by in a small town with a racist deputy when her father hires a dragon to work on the farm. Meanwhile an assassin from a dragon-worshipping cult is on his way to stop a prophecy and the FBI are on the trail. The country as a whole is just worried about the Russians spying on them with Sputnik.

So much going on and it was great! It's such a different take on dragon fantasy. Plus is had great characters and plenty of twists and turns in the story. If you like Patrick Ness or dragons, please give it a go.

I also read A Cheesemonger's History of the British Isles by Ned Palmer which was full of cheese facts as well filling me in on gaps in my British history knowledge. It's starts way back in Neolithic times, talking about history in relation to cheese, from how society was shaped by cheese and cheese shaped by the history of the British Isles. Plus each section has a cheese being made now in the traditional manner as its mascot, so you can go and search out that cheese later. And trust me, I will!

My final book for Popsugar was Yuval Noah Harari's 21 Lessons for the 21st Century which was a bit disappointing. I loved Sapiens and I do prefer him when he's writing about history. His predictions need to be taken with a pinch of salt, there is very little criticism of Big Tech and the Cambridge Analytica scandal only got mentioned in passing. Some of it is very relevant, and your mileage may vary, but I didn't think there was much new to me.

Lots of new books this week:

The Mask Falling by Samantha Shannon (review copy provided by Bloomsbury)
The Betrayals by Bridget Collins
Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
The Dark Archive by Genevieve Cogman
Monstress: Warchild by Marjorie M. Liu + Sana Takada
Dying With Her Cheer Pants On by Seanan McGuire (ebook)
Someday at Christmas by Lizzie Byron (aka Tanya Byrne) (ebook)
The Nesting by C.J. Cooke (ebook)
Countless by Jennifer Niven (ebook)

Thursday, 12 November 2020

Let snoozing dogs snooze... a weekly check-in

Not much going on this week but I did write a blog post about boarding school stories. I read and loved The Year After You by Nina de Pass at the weekend and it made me think of how many boarding school stories I'd read lately.

And then I remembered I could make a list on (affiliate link) for them. This website is designed to support independent book shops in the UK. If you buy direct from a book shop's page they get all the profits, so it's a much better deal than Hive. I think if you just buy by searching or via a non-shop affiliate, shops get a small chunk of the overall site profits. So please feel free to use the book shop lists rather than mine. They need all the help they can get right now.

Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Boarding School Stories FTW

I've found myself reading a lot of books set in boarding schools recently. I've always enjoyed this kind of setting, maybe its appeal stems from when, as a teenager, I daydreamed of being sent away to a more exciting place, with new opportunities for friendship, and the possibility of having horses on site. Hah, adult me is under no illusion, but I still like books set in them.

From a literary point of view, a boarding school is one way of getting the parents out the way without killing them off. Hundreds of teenagers all under one roof, living alongside people they wouldn't normally interact with, gives an author all sorts of dramatic possibilities.

Years ago I compiled a list of my top ten boarding school books, but what have I been reading lately? First up is The Year After You by Nina de Pass, a book I had on my Kindle for 18 months that ended up being one of my favourite reads of the year.

Nine months after the death of her best friend, and suffering from PTSD and survivor's guilt, Cara is packed off to a Swiss boarding school. Her roommate is determined to make Cara feel welcome, even if Ren is an outsider herself. Cara is very resistant to friendship and I just loved the care put in by her new aquaintances to help her adjust to this new reality. The romance isn't central, but it was slow burn and it was exactly the kind I wanted to just work, even if things were difficult and nothing seemed certain.

In this case, the school setting separates Cara from her old life, although her guilt and fear is not something that can be run from. Her new friends would never have been her friends in another setting, and the remote mountain location means she is more trapped than at a normal school.

A Deadly Education is set in an even less conventional school, the Scholomance, where manifestations try and kill all the students. The school magics up their assignments based on the languages they're learning. But what endeared me to this story was that El is an outsider, who doesn't immediately get a new set of best friends when she goes off to school.

At the start of the book, she has been there some time and is resigned to getting through it by herself. People just don't warm to her; even her mother's family, thinking she is part of some dark prophecy, want her gone and her magical affintiy bleeds into her ideas of what others will think of her. She might be considered one of the "bad wizards" in any other story, but she tries not to use her power to cause damage. Allies are a strategy for survival, not company. So when she very slowly starts to form relationships, it's all the more rewarding.

Even the Poirot mystery I picked up to fulfil a challenge prompt ended up being set in a boarding school. Cat Among the Pigeons is set at the prestigious, but not necessarily traditional, Meadowbank school for girls. There's not much Poirot in it, he just rocks up at the end to solve it. The premise was a bit silly at times, a Middle Eastern prince, expecting revolution, asks his friend to transport some jewels out of the country and he choses the belongings of his sister and her daughter to hide the jewels. Back in England, various suspects work out the jewels must be at the school, but no one there has any idea why the teachers keep getting murdered.

For an Agatha Christie novel, I felt the headmistress was surprisingly progressive in some of her views. She wanted the girls to learn more than just how to be a wife and she would correct some dodgy opinions that seem to be prevalent in Poirot stories. I felt like one of the school girls was the hero of this one.

Last year I read Ogliarchy and Vita Nostra and I'm looking forward to getting to The Magpie Society soon. I just can't help myself, these settings are like catnip. What are your favourite boarding school stories?

Affliate Link: Check out my boarding school story recommendations on and support independent book shops.

Thursday, 5 November 2020

Crisp mornings, autumn colour and a muddy dog... a weekly check-in

Well, back to lockdown. Things are not too different for me to be honest, I've been working from home since March and we tend only go out to walk Scully, which we're still allowed to do. I don't know how crazy she would get if she couldn't have her walks...

I did go out for a birthday lunch in Lymington this week. Ooh and I finally finished my Ankh-Morpork puzzle that I started nearly three years ago! Honestly trying not to think about world events too much, puzzles help.

The temperature has turned cold, and the first frosts have brought beautiful crisp mornings. So much nicer than soggy rain.

I'm getting close to finishing the Popsugar reading challenge, just need to finish my current two books and one more, so hopefully I can do that before the new list is out. This week I read Cat Among the Pigeons a Poirot mystery without much Poirot in! It's set in a girl's school and was quite enjoyable if a bit silly. I thought the headmistress was surprisingly modern for an Agatha Christie!

I also read These Witches Don't Burn which was a cute, queer, witchy YA. This is the first book in a series but it kept referencing a couple of things that happened prior to the story in a way that made me feel like I'd missed something. The before action could have been presented better but overall I enjoyed it, and will probably read the next one.

I also read Becoming Unbecoming for a bit of a cheaty "bildungsroman" because I don't think it technically fits the definition since it's a graphic memoir, but there's no challenge police to tell me off. It's about sexual abuse and victim blaming set against the Yorkshire Ripper cases. Very impactful.