Thursday, 31 December 2020

Best of 2020

My blog may have been a barren wasteland for much of the year but I still read 117 books with an average rating of 3.8. That's not too shabby. So as we turn our backs on this rubbish year, I share with you my top ten books read in 2020.


The Empire of Gold by S.A. Chakraborty

What an ending to a series! Just perfect, I loved how everything came together, questions were answered and the plot ploughed through this brick of a book. If you aren't familiar with this trilogy, go check out my review of The City of Brass. I just cannot wait to see what S.A. Chakraborty does next!

A Good Girl's Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

Apparently young adult crime fiction was exactly what my reading diet was missing and I absolutely loved the adorable sleuth, Pippa Fitz-Amobi, in this and the second instalment.


The Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde

Who knew anthropomorphised rabbits were the perfect characters for a satire on Brexit Britain? Jasper Fforde at his best, funny, thoughtful and somehow you end up caring for human sized rabbits more than the humans. I can highly recommend the audiobook version.

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

A fantastic take on the myth of the Knights of the Round Table, brought up-to-date with added demons and a lesson on generational harm. I liked it so much I actually wrote a whole review!


The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

This was beautiful, and sad, the story of a girl who does a deal with the devil only to find her payment is to be forever forgotten. An immortal life of loneliness follows.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Why exactly did I not read this sooner? It was totally my cup of tea, I've since learned this whole vibe is called dark academia, and I love it. It is dark but it all serves a purpose and I hope we get a sequel. Read my full review.


In Pain by Travis Rieder

My non-fiction pick of the year was an eye-opening look at the opioid crisis in the US, told partly in memoir by someone who has struggled through a horrific injury followed by addiction. He talks about what pain actually is as well as giving a good overview of the situation. Read my full review.

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

A bit of a departure from my usual reading, I was sucked into this legal drama about an explosion at an experimental treatment facility, being used for everything from fertility to autism. It delves into the secrets and struggles of all the families involved and suspicion hops from character to character.

A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green

Surveillance capitalism, private equity and the struggles of being a "thought-leader" don't necessarily sound like a fun recipe for a science fiction story, but all that and more is wrapped up in this thoroughly likeable duology from Hank Green. Read my full review.

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire

I can't think of anything else quite like Middlegame, if you're a fan of Seanan and haven't read it yet, what are you waiting for? Read my full review.

Thursday, 17 December 2020

My festive reading... a weekly check-in

Things are getting a bit more active on my blog, there's a five star review of Legendborn if you missed it and I rounded up a selection of 2021 releases for the first of my Popsugar Reading Challenge inspired posts. Next week, afrofuturism!

I've been reading festively this week and am writing this in a sequinned Christmas jumper and antlers on my head with Christmas songs in the background. Yup, I'm not letting a pandemic get in the way of festive cheer! Had my office party today which was really just an hour off work to chat on Teams whilst having a drink.

Scully the Labrador in winter woods

I read Alice Oseman's This Winter which is the perfect book to read if you sometimes feel like the holidays are just too much to cope with. It's set before Solitaire and is Charlie's first Christmas after being diagnosed with an eating disorder. With a serious message but overall extremely sweet, I recommend the new edition which Alice has illustrated.

Then I read Someday at Christmas by Lizzie Byron, Tanya Byrne's adult romance pen name. This is a great body positive romance without it being about that, it's warm and fuzzy just as you'd want a festive romance. The premise is really quite relevant with the demise of the high street lately, a department store is struggling to stay afloat and the grandson steps in to try and turn things round. The main character works at a make-up counter, so there is a lot about make-up which I kinda skipped over, but otherwise it was exactly the type of read I like at this time of year.

Now I'm reading Adam Kay's Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas which is making me laugh, even if sometimes in a morbid way. Once I'm done with that I think I'm going to start with next year's review copies, which seem to have started arriving all of a sudden.

Tuesday, 15 December 2020

Legendborn

The day Bree gets accepted into an early college placement at UNC, is the day her mother dies. The last words they spoke were of anger. Unable to deal with her dad's grief on top of her own, Bree goes ahead with the placement. Once on campus she witnesses something she shouldn't and Selwyn tries to take her memory of the incident away, but his mesmer does not stick. As she comes to terms with a world of magic, she must also learn about her ancestors, the women she never had a chance to know.

Demons. Aether. Knights. Homework. A boy who makes me feel fuzzy.
Legendborn was just amazing. Honestly, it was a bit of a random pick as I'd seen it in the Goodreads Choice Awards and then it popped up as an ebook deal, and I though what the hell, I'll give it a go. I haven't actually been that impressed with YA fantasy recently so I went in with low expectations, which turned into me being stuck to the book for three consecutive evenings.

The concept is inspired by the myths of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. I don't really want to give too much away because the secrets unfurl as Brees gets deeper into the secret society. It has the right mix of away from home for first time experience and monsters from another dimension, plus secret societies and hot boys. But it also has a more serious side, looking at generational harm caused by slavery and ongoing systemic racism. The society's obession with lineage, traced back millennia is in sharp contrast to Bree who didn't even know her grandmother and has no idea of the magic that flows through her family.

To be able to trace one’s family back that far is something I have never fathomed. My family only knows back to the generation after Emancipation. Suddenly, it’s hard to stand here and take in the magnificence of the Wall and not feel an undeniable sense of ignorance and inadequacy. Then, a rush of frustration because someone probably wanted to record it all, but who could have written down my family’s history as far back as this? Who would have been able to, been taught to, been allowed to? Where is our Wall? A Wall that doesn’t make me feel lost, but found.
After Bree gets in trouble by going to an off-campus party, she's assigned a mentor, Nick, who then has to save her from hellhounds and mistakes her for a page, whatever they are. Bree isn't meant to even be able to see hellhounds, and the other magic users seem determined to keep Bree out of their club. In their world, people like Bree are there to serve dinner, not fight their battles or gain the privileges of membership.

I loved the characters. Some of the society is welcoming to Bree and she finds friendship there. Selwyn is intent on keeping Nick safe, it's his job and his animosity has justification, even though to Bree he is just making assumptions of her. Then there are those who are quite obviously racist bigots (there's a non-binary character who also feels out of place but has the benefit of family ties).

Everything has two histories. Especially in the South.
It's long enough to feel like a whole season arc, many writers may have tried to string the story out over a couple of books this felt so satisfying. Of course it ends with plenty more potential for other books and it is the start of a series. I can't wait to see where the story and charcters go in the future.

Goodreads | Amazon* | Waterstones | Hive | Wordery | Blackwell’s* | Bookshop.org*


*indicates an affiliate link

Monday, 14 December 2020

2021 Releases for your Popsugar Reading Challenge

No, not two-thousand and twenty-one books to choose from, though it sometimes feels that way when you look through new book announcements. As well as reading a book for each Popsugar prompt, I'm going to be using them to inspire blog posts. So for starters is the first prompt to read a book published in 2021, for which there are loads of amazing sounding options. Here are just a handful of books to look forward to (and if you'd like to take a peek, you can see my whole 2021 wishlist on Amazon).

*indicates I received a copy from the publisher for review


Fantasy

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna (4th Feb)
The Mask Falling by Samantha Shannon* (26th Jan)
Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart (20th Apr)


Science Fiction

The Edge by James Smythe (18th Feb)
The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers (18th Feb)
A History of What Comes Next by Sylvain Neuvel (4th Mar)


Contemporary Fiction

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris (1st Jun)
Maxwell's Demon by Steven Hall* (4th Feb)
Dog Days by Ericka Waller (11th Mar)


Non-Fiction

The Circling Sky: On Nature and Belonging in an Ancient Forest by Neil Ansell (15th Apr)
Languages Are Good For Us by Sophie Hardach (7th Jan)
Brown Baby: A Memoir of Race, Family and Home by Nikesh Shukla (4th Feb)

Contemporary Young Adult

Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley (18th Mar)
The Project by Courtney Summers (2nd Feb)
Pumpkin by Julie Murphy (25th May)


Historical Fiction

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo (18th Mar)
The Women of Troy by Pat Barker (26th Aug)
Ariadne by Jennifer Saint (29th Apr)

Crime Fiction

Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Sutanto (29th Apr)
A Stranger in Town by Kelley Armstrong (2nd Feb)
The Castaways by Lucy Clarke (18th Mar)


Romance

The Road Trip by Beth O'Leary (29th Apr)
Afterlove by Tanya Byrne (22nd Jul)
Rescue Me by Sara Manning (21st Jan)

Thursday, 10 December 2020

Getting into the Christmas spirit... a weekly check-in

Got our Christmas tree at the weekend, watched a Christmas film (Last Christmas with Emilia Clarke, which was cute and not as predictable as I'd thought it would be), listened to Christmas music, set my Teams background to A Muppet Christmas Carol and ate some Ferrero Rochers (no Ambassador required). So I feel I am getting into the spirit of the season. It's just nice to see decorations up around town and have something to look forward to. We usually have Christmas Day as just the three of us, so not too different this year, just less dinners to go out to.

Scully's Christmas face

I think the festive cheer has knocked loose my reviewing abilities! Two whole reviews this week, lets see if I can keep it up. Check out my thoughts of The Dark Archive and Leave the World Behind. I'm ready to start my festive themed reading now too.

I read Legendborn this week which I absolutely loved. The kindle edition is still on deal if you want to snap it up. It's a new take on Arthurian legend, set at a North Carolina university, one steeped in the history of slavery. Bree stumbles into a secret society full of magic, monsters and men who are obsessed with lineage. Not somewhere where Bree feels she can fit in, but she needs answers about her mother's death.

I also finished the audiobook of Pandora's Jar, which I've been listening to in little chunks, so it's taken me a while despite my enjoyment. I love how Natalie Haynes makes the classics accessible, using pop-culture references here and there to give modern day examples of these enduring stories. In this book she gives centre stage to the women so often maligned, despite being crucial to the myths.

Scully the Labrador in wintery New Forest

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

The Dark Archive

Let me introduce you to the Invisible Library. Thousands of worlds exist in a delicate balance between chaos and order, their links to the library kept alive by books unique to each world. To secure those links, librarians such as Irene must steal the books and bring them back to the library. Once a world falls to chaos, the fae and their narratives take over, and the library's door is closed forever. The job is dangerous but at least Irene has The Language on her side. Precise use of language is very important to librarians.

If you're new to this series you should start with The Invisible Library, but you should know they are loads of fun, with spy librarians, dragons and fae galore. The rest of this review is about the 7th book in the series, The Dark Archive, and therefore may contain spoilers for the previous instalments. You've been warned.

I want to get in among those books. If Irene can do that for me, for all I care, my uncle can fornicate until syphilis makes his private parts drop off.

So at the end of The Secret Chapter, Irene took on an apprentice librarian, and not just any apprentice, Lord Silver's niece who is of course a fae. A fae has never entered the library before, too contaminated with chaos to cross the threshold. But it's good for the treaty to appear to try.

Catherine actually loves books, and her desire to be librarian is part of her fae narrative. She not that bothered about what Irene does. I loved that we had a fae whose narrative wasn't evil, as generally they've been the baddies in the past books. She's a great addition to the team.

Of course, it's not all about the books, as never a day goes by when Irene, Kai and Vale aren't in mortal peril. On a routine book-stealing mission to Guernsey, Kai is poisoned and Vale is nearly killed and someone who should be dead, isn't quite as dead as Irene thought. Their investigations take them back to London and onto Barcelona, and some dark secrets are revealed.

This was just what I needed, a fantastic escape from reality.

Goodreads | Amazon* | Waterstones | Hive | Wordery | Blackwell’s* | Bookshop.org*


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