Thursday, 14 January 2021

Cobwebs everywhere... a weekly check-in

Days can get monotonous right now but to break up the dreariness we had a hoar frost at the weekend, which coated all the spiderwebs and tree branches, making our daily walk quite magical. It's amazing how much of the world is covered in cobwebs! I think much of the frost had melted by the time we went out, but it was still something different to look at. Hah, so easily pleased right now. Mornings have been a struggle since the holidays, I wish spring would hurry up.


This week I finished three books and posted two reviews. I also made some more progress on the Great Blog Migration Plan, so I think it'll be going over to Wordpress next month. This week's reviews are Mrs Death Mrs Death by Salena Godden and A Sky Beyond the Storm by Sabaa Tahir.


I started listening to the audiobook of The Year of the Witching last year but didn't make much progress over the holidays. I finished it off this week and I can tell you I was kinda rooting for those evil witches...because the prophet was not the good guy. It was interesting to have a cult story where the main character doesn't abandon her faith but sees the wrong being done in its name.

I am so happy that P. Djèlí Clark has written a full length Fatma el-Sha’arawi story as these smaller instalments are just not enough. The Haunting of Tram Car 015 was longer than the first though, and more of a complete story. It was loads of fun and I can't wait for A Master of Djinn.

New books acquired:

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix (ebook)
After the Silence by Louise O'Neill (ebook)
The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult (ebook)

Tuesday, 12 January 2021

A Sky Beyond the Storm

A Sky Before the Storm is the final book in the Ember Quartet and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous books. If you haven't started this series, please check out my review of An Ember in the Ashes instead.

You are broken. But it is the broken things that are the sharpest. The deadliest. It is the broken things that are the most unexpected, and the most underestimated.

The jinn are free and Commandant Keris Veturia has declared herself Empress and allied with the brutal Karkauns. The Nightbringer still seeks vengeance for the wrong done to his people so long ago, an act that has led to the persecution of Laia's people for centuries. The Blood Shrike seeks to protect her sister and the real Emperor, just a baby, from assassination attempts. And with his memories of his friends gone, Elias is no more, as the Soul Catcher all he cares about are the ghosts.

Whilst I did like the actual ending, I was disappointed overall in this final instalment of what has been a great series. I don’t think it needed to be so long, with not much happening in the first half. It laboured the fact that the Soul Catcher was no longer Elias, long after the point where you knew he was lying to himself, the Shrike was unshrikelike and Laia’s main role appeared to be putting herself in the way of danger unnecessarily. Did Sabaa Tahir grow tired of the series? Maybe there is a reason that trilogies are more common that quartets.

Would that we all knew the cracked terrain of each other's broken hearts. Perhaps then, we would not be so cruel to those who walk this lonely world with us.

Maybe if you like fighting scenes, you’ll like the first half more, but I wanted them to hurry up and reunite so they could work out how to end the war, save the world, etc. About halfway things did improve; there is a tragic turning point, as well as Elias realising something is wrong in the Waiting Place, and maybe he needs to stop being a stubborn idiot and seek help. And finally Laia comes up with an idea.

I am not so sure about the passages from the Nightbringer’s point of view, trying to make us sympathise with him. It’s understandable that his original tragedy scarred him, it doesn’t really forgive the decades of slavery and planned genocide he brought forth. He goes on about having loved Laia, but it makes more sense if he tricked her, as it was surmised in the previous book.

I can’t really remember if the seeds were sown in the previous book for a romance between Helene and Harper, but it seemed a bit out of place and I didn’t feel an emotional connection. Considering what happens I would have expected to have more feels, but it didn’t come across as convincing.

War is like the sun. It burns away all the softness and leaves only the cracks.

However the ending, once I learned the Nightbringer’s plan was gripping, and I think that saved this book for me. That are there are some lovely lines of writing throughout.

Popsugar Reading Challenge: 24. A book by a Muslim American author

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Friday, 8 January 2021

Mrs Death Misses Death

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.

Death is getting tired. Disguised as someone often invisible to society, an elderly, working class black woman, she seeks out someone to unburden her conscience to. She uses a desk to connect to a young writer, Wolf, who is no stranger to death.

Mrs Death Misses Death is blend of poetry and prose, all on the subject of death, the regret, injustice, forgiveness, acceptance, relief, the whole complicated mess of feeling attached with the end of life. It takes the form of Death's memoir of sorts, with Wolf writing it on her behalf, being told tales of deaths from the past.

I've often wondered how very different this living life would be if we were born with our expiry dates stamped on our foreheads. Imagine that. Imagine if we were like pints of milk with our best-before dates on our foreheads. I mean, if we knew exactly how long and how little time we have to love each other, maybe then we would all be more kind and loving.

Wolf lost his mother in a high-rise fire, one that has echos of the Grenfell tragedy even if left unnamed. From his loss, Death takes him to others who have been forgotten, and those who would be better off forgotten, to heroes mourned by many.

It’s a book without much in the way of plot. There is a little of Wolf dealing with his mental health, but it’s not a conventional story, much more of an exploration. Salena is playful with words, her background as a poet shining through. Some chapters are poems, some are tales of those Mrs Death has visited, some are real people. One or two felt more like essays than fiction, but fitting in their inclusion.

Temporicide: a good word. It means to kill time. I roll the word around my mouth. I imagine killing Time once and for all. Can Death kill Time?

It’s a sombre start to my reading year, and for some a book dwelling on death might not be what they need right now. But it may also help you reflect on the loss of the past few years. There are six pages left blank at the end of the book for you to write down the deaths that were not included, your own personal tragedies or heroes you lost.

Mrs Death Misses Death is published by Canongate and will be published on 28th January 2021 in hardback, ebook and audio editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

Around the Year in 52 Books: 4. A book with a monochromatic cover

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Thursday, 7 January 2021

Refreshed and raring to go... a weekly check-in

This is my fourth blog post of the year! I feel I needed a couple of weeks off work to detach from reality a bit. I still find myself doomscrolling now and then but I'm trying to redirect my attention into more productive things, like writing blog posts and sorting out the move to Wordpress.

On My Radar: January
Review: The Mask Falling
Afrofuturism On My Shelves

I've also read three books so this year. Go me! The first was Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson, the first in a YA mystery series. It took me a while to get into it, the historical bits weren't that engaging but I loved Stevie and the friends she makes at Ellignham. I'm looking forward to reading the rest, just have to find challenge prompts to squish them into!


Just before Christmas my Fairy Loot edition of How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories turned up and OMG it's gorgeous, with shiny gold edges against a purple cover and beautifully illustrated by Rovina Cai. I sort of liked the stories more than the main books, just because I thought each and every one of the novels had pacing issues (but with great endings, so I kept reading). I found out that Holly Black shares my zodiac sign so that has ticked off that annoying Popsugar prompt early too!

Finally I read my review copy of Mrs Death Mrs Death by Salena Godden (thanks Canongate!). It's a mix of poetry and prose on the subject of death, without much plot but I liked it. It's a bit sombre for this time of year though, I'm not sure what they were thinking choosing to publish it this month. I will have a full review up soon.

Here's a photo of Ms Scullychops with mud all over her face, because being clean is for wimps.

New books acquired:

The Once and Future Witches by Alix Harrow (ebook)
[gifted] The Unbroken by C.L. Clark (Orbit)
When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole (ebook)

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Afrofuturism On My Shelves

The second Popsugar Reading Challenge prompt has resulted in a lot of discussion about what is afrofuturism in the Goodreads group for the challenge. There are some better definitions here and here, but how I understand it, it's a cultural movement imagining different realities or futures, centred on black people and African culture. It does not have to be set in Africa nor in the future to count. However many fantasy books fall into a bit of a grey area, just because they are by black authors does not always mean they are afrofuturism... Whatever you choose as your definition, it's a fantastic sub-genre of speculative fiction!


When I first saw this prompt my mind immediately went to the Rosewater trilogy by Tade Thompson. Set in Nigeria, a mysterious dome appears and those nearby find their ailments cured. Around the dome the town of Rosewater rises, full of all the politics you'd expect from a new settlement. I loved this take on alien invasion. I'm pretty excited about Tade's space-set science fiction (due this year but who knows during these weird times).

Another great choice would be Nnedi Okorafor, especially The Book of Phoenix and her Binti trilogy, which I still have the final book to read. She also has a new book out this month, Remote Control.


In War Girls, Tochi Onyebuchi imagines a future where the Nigerian-Biafran civil war never ended. The story is told from the point of view of child soldiers, their childhood stolen as they are turned into killing machines.


Afrofuturism can also look to the past, using alternate histories or time travel. I know a lot of people are planning on using Kindred for this prompt, even though I'm not entirely sure if it fits. I recommend reading it anyway! Another option could be Dread Nation by Justina Ireland, an alternate history with zombies.

And what about fantasy books? N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy is one of the best things I've read ever, is it afrofutrism? I don't know but you should read it!


I'm not sure if I've helped or hindered your quest to find the perfect book for this prompt. I haven't picked what I'll read for it, maybe Remote Control or could be something else that catches my attention. If you're doing the challenge this year, let me know what you're planning to read!

Monday, 4 January 2021

The Mask Falling

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.

Want your heart put through a wringer? Get ready for the fourth Bone Season book! It has been a while since we last left Paige and the Mime Order, so I recommend a quick recap. The back of the book has a good reference guide of characters and terms, which might help jog your memory.

If you have not started this series yet, go read my review of The Bone Season instead. This review may contain spoilers for the previous books.

It is a beautiful mask, but all masks fall. In the end.

The opening chapter covered much of the same ground that the novella The Dawn Chorus contained, although without so much focus on Arcturus helping her with her new-found phobia of water. If you had forgotten, Paige was tortured by Scion and she has been left fragile and worn out.

Now in a safe house in Paris, Paige is expected to assist the Domino network in their work against Scion. She is to be a spy, despite her not seeming to be up to it. Arcturus is her associate, and I was so happy to see him back playing a role in her life. The Mask Falling is a little slow in places but honestly, I could have read a whole novel on their domesticity! It would have definitely been less harrowing.

I am of the considered opinion that for every person, there exists a book that will sing to them. I trust that you will find yours.

I enjoyed the new setting with familiar aspects. Paige must infiltrate the house of France’s leader to find information to help sow discord between France and Scion. A broader picture is painted of how Scion operate in other countries. Along the way there are returning characters but plenty of new faces, a lot of betrayal and secrets to be unearthed.


The Mask Falling is published by Bloomsbury and will be available in hardback and ebook editions from 26th January 2021. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Saturday, 2 January 2021

On My Radar: January

New year, new books! Of course, I still have piles of books still to read from 2020, and 2019, and... yeah you get the picture, but that doesn't mean I'm not excited about adding to those piles!

Dates are for UK print publication unless otherwise noted, (e) means it's ebook only and (US) means there's no UK publisher at this time but you should still be able to get a copy here.

*Indicates that I've received a copy for review from the publisher.


5th

Monsters Among Us by Monica Rodden (US)
The Ravens by Danielle Paige + Kass Morgan


7th

A River Called Time by Courttia Newland*
Last One To Die by Cynthia Murphy
First Day of My Life by Lisa Williamson
The Last Thing to Burn by Will Dean
The Death of Francis Bacon by Max Porter
Blood Metal Bone by Lindsay Cummings
The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn
Languages Are Good For Us by Sophie Hardach


14th

Gut Feelings by C.G. Moore
The Ruthless Lady's Guide to Wizardry by C. M. Waggoner (US)


19th

Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor (e)
Wench by Maxine Kaplan


21st

Rescue Me by Sarra Manning
Love is for Losers by Wibke Brueggemann
How to Solve a Murder by Derek + Pauline Tremain
The Island by C.L. Taylor
The Mask of Mirrors by M. A. Carrick


26th

The Mask Falling by Samantha Shannon*

28th

Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden*