Sunday, 4 December 2016

November Wrap-Up

Image credit
November has been super busy at work but I have had an excellent reading month. Work's been hectic and looks set to continue on that way for the rest of December but we've had a couple of quiet weekends that have been pleasantly chilly before the onslaught of Christmas parties and other festive activities so I've spent a good few hours curled up under a blanket reading. I'm super excited about Christmas and all of the merriment that comes with the season. I love Christmas! I love the decorations, the smell of mulled wine, getting to eat pigs in blankets on a regular basis, buying gifts for family members, socialising and just the general cheeriness. It's just my favourite :)

The Books

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi (5*) - I think I was texting Hanna when she pointed out that I seemed to be on a bit of  good run with books. She was so right! I picked this one up on Hallowe'en while I was tucked up in the back of my house, reading by lamplight so that I wouldn't be bothered by trick or treat people and it is absolutely stunning.  The writing is incredible. I wrote so many quotes into my review notebook and I've yet to figure out how to review it without just typing out huge chunks of it.  The story follows a family who have lived in the same house for generations, a house that is very possessive over its inhabitants.  There are the odd excerpt from the perspective of the house and they're chilling.  I'll be writing about this soon hopefully but know for the time being that I loved it.  One of my favourite books of the year.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling (5*) - Why have I left it so long before re-reading this series?!  I'm so enjoying being reunited with this set of characters.  I've been surprised about how much I remembered about the series but there have also been plenty of moments that I'd either forgotten or hadn't appreciated when I was younger/when I didn't know where the story was heading. 

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs (4*) - Surprisingly, I've already reviewed this one so I won't say too much more about this one.  I really like the series and I've already got the last one in the trilogy, Library of Souls, lined up to get stuck into soon.

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough (3.5*) - The hashtag being used on Twitter for this book is #WTFthatending and I was intrigued enough that I requested a copy on NetGalley. It's a twisted sort of psychological thriller focussing on a psychiatrist, his wife and his secretary and it is so unbelievably addictive.  I sat down to read it last Sunday and flew through the whole thing in a day. I had to know what was going on. It was such a fun reading experience and I had a great day with the book (and I am so glad that I didn't have any plans). #WTFthatending indeed.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell (4*) - It's been a while since I picked up a Rainbow Rowell book. I've had this out from the library for months and I just didn't feel compelled to pick it up. I did finally get to it when I'd run out of renewal options from the library and I'm so glad I did.  Actually, late November was the perfect time to read it. This one sees Georgie and her husband Neal facing challenges in their marriage. It's a bit more grown up feeling than Rowell's other novels that I've read but I loved it for showing how "proper", non-romantic-comedy relationships take work and shouldn't be taken for granted.  Rowell also writes engaging dialogue like nobody else I've ever read and I love her books.

The Other Stuff

I've got back into the gym this month and have been alternating between circuits classes, spinning and yoga. I've joined a local, independently owned gym. It's more expensive than the big chains but I feel better supporting a business run by a lovely couple so I'm happy to commit the extra few pounds a month.  The spinning and the circuits I already knew I'd love because they're hard classes that I can do without putting too much pressure on my dodgy hip.  The yoga was completely new to me. I'm perhaps the clumsiest person I know and my balance is not so great. I thought I'd give yoga a go because it's something new and the class I go to is at 7.30am and I fancied a bit of relaxation as a start to the day once a week. I am terrible at a lot of the poses but after four classes, I do feel as though I'm starting to improve so I'm really going to try hard to stick it out and keep trying.

It was also Boyfriend's birthday in November so we did plenty of eating out and celebrating. We took a trip to one of James Martin's restaurants and had a night out in Manchester with friends and it was a lot of fun!

Looking back, it was actually a jolly good month!

Hope you all had super Novembers and are enjoying the run up to Christmas! I've been trying to keep an eye out for Christmas mysteries and had some great recommendations on Twitter but if you have any particularly good'uns, let me know in the comments please :)

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Review Minis: Recent Comic Reads

Paper Girls: Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan

I've heard a lot about Saga but I've never actually got started on that series (despite owning the first volume…). I was looking for some comics and graphic novels on NetGalley before a holiday earlier in the year and when I saw that this was on and by the man behind Saga, I figured it would be a reasonably safe bet. When I was reading it, I didn't have a clue what was going on (to be honest, I'm still not sure I do) but not in a way that annoyed me. This volume follows a group of paper girls who are out on their early morning round around Halloween. They're threatened by a group of young men and ultimately saved by a man in a weird looking costume. As said weird man is fleeing the scene, he drops a strange looking box that baffles the girls but is familiar to readers as an iPod.  The story gets and stays weird from there on in!  The group of girls are fun to read about but they haven't a clue what's going on in the world, where everybody has disappeared off to or what the devil they're supposed to do now.  Their confusion is readers' confusion and the panels racket about until the final few that hint at where the overarching story might be going.  The whole thing was completely bizarre but because I felt as though it was clearly setting the scene for a bigger story, I still enjoyed it.  It's difficult for me to know what else to say, really, given that this was such an unusual story.  It looks cool and the popping colours and art have a strong 80s vibe that's a lot of fun and packed full of nostalgia. A series I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for in future!

3 out of 5 stars for keeping me baffled but intrigued

Get your own copy (affiliate links):  Amazon  |  Wordery
                                        
The Jekyll Island Chronicles, Book One: A Machine Age War by Steve Nedvidek

Another NetGalley find, it was the alternate history spin in this graphic novel that drew me in.  It's set in the 1900s and features a host of historical figures, just not as we might know them.  As the story opens around World War I, we learn that Jekyll Island is a 'holiday' destination to the rich and influential (Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Morgan, Canegie and Ford all hanging out there at various points).  As it becomes apparent that the world isn't quite done pulling itself apart, the 'Jekyll Island Club' set about trying to track down those with the skills that could be used to combat emerging new enemies.  Their development of the heroes that they find and their forays into battling a lurking evil were entertaining enough.  Not necessarily particularly original but enjoyable to read.  It reminded me of a steampunk version of the X-Men to be honest so if that sounds like your thing, you'll probably enjoy this one.  I think the main thing that I felt that I was missing out on was knowledge of the American 'leads of industry' from the time. I knew the names most of the time but not necessarily what they were famous for and I don't doubt that there were references that I missed as a result.  It wasn't obstructive and it didn't detract from my face value enjoyment but maybe there's more to this for readers who are better versed in American history than I am.  I believe that this is the first in a series of six graphic novels and I liked this enough to give another one a go.  Especially if there's more of the lady whose name I've forgotten but who can conduct electricity!  The art and colour work really add to the vintage, steampunk feel and I liked the way drawing style and how it was more true-to-life than surreal (I feel as though there's a term for that that I just don't know...)

3.5 out of 5 stars for the cameos from British historical figures that I did recognise and for giving me a steampunk action fix!

Get your own copy (affiliate links):  Amazon  |  Wordery

Fables: Volume 2 - Animal Farm by Bill Willingham 

The first volume of this series was actually the first comic book volume that I ever read and I loved it so I was curious to see how the second volume would fare now that I have a bit more graphic experimentation under my belt.  I was pretty jet-lagged when I finally picked it up and although it didn't quite manage to stave off the dreaded mid-afternoon sleep, it did a much better job than I expected and than a lesser volume might have done.  Where the first volume takes place in New York and focuses on those of the Fable outcasts that can blend into modern society, this volume features more of 'Animal Farm', the residence of the talking animals and other creatures that even the more ignorant humans might spot as out of the ordinary.  It's brilliant.  It exposes the conflicts between factions of the human Fables and the non-human Fables and the impact that might have on the overall community. The story reveals something deeper and darker lurking behind the 'fairytale heroes trying to make it in the big city' front. The characters are still as strong as ever (I *love* the Snow White/Rose Red sister dynamic) and the series continues to be just the right amount of dark that it's just possible to offset the sense of impending doom with wry humour.  Meeting new characters and getting to play 'Guess the Fairytale' is as good as ever, too.  I can see why this series has continued to maintain its popularity despite the pretty epic number of volumes.  I already have the third volume and then this series will become the series into which I have read the furthest to date!  My relationship with Fables is seemingly all about the meaningless accolades.

4 out of 5 stars for the black humour, the twisted versions of my favourite fairytale characters and just generally being my favourite comic series that I've read so far

Get your own copy (affiliate links):  Amazon  |  Wordery

Monday, 21 November 2016

Review: 'Hollow City' by Ransom Riggs

Find a copy now
on SocialBookCo
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This is the second novel featuring Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children.  This review doesn't include spoilers for the first book or the second book so I've also hidden the synopsis for the second book - if you want to see it, highlight below :)  

This second novel begins in 1940, immediately after the first book ended. Having escaped Miss Peregrine’s island by the skin of their teeth, Jacob and his new friends must journey to London, the peculiar capital of the world. Along the way, they encounter new allies, a menagerie of peculiar animals, and other unexpected surprises.

I read the first book in this series not too long ago as part of the October Readathon, initially picking it up because I thought the pictures would help if my eyes got tired.  I really wasn't expecting to like the book as much as I did and I'm so glad that I knew I had the second one on its way as I was finishing it!  The first book sees Jacob meeting Miss Peregrine and her peculiar children and learning more about the world that they live in and how he fits in that world.  This second one continues the story after some rather dramatic upheaval is inflicted upon the Home for Peculiar Children in the final pages of the first book.  I'm glad that I read the first and second books pretty close together.  Although there are a couple of sentences that recap main events from the end of the first book at the opening of the second one, there isn't anything too detailed so if it's been a while since you read the first one, you might want to have a quick flick through the final pages of it or search out a quick summary before you get started on the next instalment.

I can't decide if I liked Hollow City more or Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.  Both books are action-packed but where the first one had mostly quite a whimsical, fairytale feeling about it and was almost outside of any time, the second has a darker, more sinister edge to it and plays heavily on the uncertainty and chaos already prevalent in England in 1940.  The pictures obviously continue to be one of the most distinctive features of the series but in the first book, they're creepier and more haunting than in the second; there are still some new characters to introduce and some eery pictures that accompany these but there are also a lot of pictures that aren't quite as quirky on the whole even though they do still hold to the vintage theme.  (Incidentally, there are maybe some that I'd personally say weren't quite suitable for younger readers (dead things, mostly…) so if you have a younger family member reading them, it might be worth vetting the pictures beforehand.)

The interview with Ransom Riggs in the back of my edition of Hollow City describes how with the first book, the pictures mostly came first but with this second book, because the story was already so well advanced, the process was often the other way round; the words leading and the pictures filling out the details so I guess that it makes sense that overall I think I prefer the second book as a story but I prefer the first one as a reading experience, if that makes sense.

One thing I've been impressed with in both books and really wasn't expecting was just how good the writing is.  I wasn't expecting it to be bad but I also wasn't expecting it to be noticeably good.  It's really easy to read and the pages absolutely fly by (helped along by the regular pictures!) but it's also beautiful in its way.  It flows wonderfully and it has some really stand out moments that I actually skipped back half a page just to read again.  Something about the tone just sets off the peculiar subject matter to perfection.
"Through a bombed cemetery, long-forgotten Londoners unearthed and flung into trees, grinning in rotted formal wear. A curlicued swing set in a cratered playground. The horrors piled up, incomprehensible, the bombers now and then dropping flares to light it all with the pure, shining white of a thousand camera flashes. As if to say: Look. Look what we made"
It wasn't quite a five star read for me because the plot was a little too…neat for me in places, even though that slightly twee feeling was thrown on its head towards the end.  (Seriously, though, that ending!)  I already have the next book, Library of Souls, ordered and I'm going to be picking it up as soon as I can, before I forget how much these characters tug on my heart strings and how badly I want to know how their stories turn out.

Overall:  This series has continued to surprise me, with this one throwing me completely off balance in the last few chapters.  The pictures don't feel gimmicky in the slightest; it all just works.  I love how Riggs has taken some odd, discarded photos and built a world around them.  Hollow City takes that world and blows it apart and I can't wait to see whether it gets put back together again.

If you do fancy picking up a copy, you can compare prices over at SocialBookCo, a nifty website that shows you the current price of the book you want at most popular online stores (including Amazon, Book Depository and Wordery).  Some of the books I've seen have varied in price by as much as £5 so it's an easy way to save some cash on the run up to Christmas!  Find Hollow City HERE.

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Date finished:  19 November 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Received from SocialBookCo in exchange for an honest review
Genre: Fantasy fiction; YA
Pictured Edition Published: in February 2015 by Quirk Books 

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Review: 'Dust and Shadow' by Lyndsay Faye

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars


As England’s greatest specialist in criminal detection, Sherlock Holmes is unwavering in his quest to capture the killer responsible for terrifying London’s East End. He hires an “unfortunate” known as Mary Ann Monk, the friend of a fellow streetwalker who was one of the Ripper’s earliest victims; and he relies heavily on the steadfast and devoted Dr. John H. Watson. When Holmes himself is wounded in Whitechapel during an attempt to catch the savage monster, the popular press launches an investigation of its own, questioning the great detective’s role in the very crimes he is so fervently struggling to prevent. Stripped of his credibility, Holmes is left with no choice but to break every rule in the desperate race to find the madman known as “the Knife” before it is too late.

I really loved Jane Steele when I read it over summer and I immediately hopped onto the internet after finishing it to buy something else by Lyndsay Faye.  Not wanting to leap straight into a series, I plumped for this standalone, which also happens to by Faye's debut.  The idea also seemed right up my street – a take on Sherlock Holmes that sees the detective and Dr Watson take on the case of Jack the Ripper.  There's something about Jack the Ripper's crimes that I find morbidly fascinating, which is odd for someone as averse to horror as I usually am!  I don't know if it's because the culprit was never really found and there's a legal conundrum feel to it or if it's just because the crimes were so distinctly horrific.  I'm also a big Sherlock Holmes fan so, after thinking that maybe Lyndsay Faye's writing was worth trusting, I really wanted to read this book.

One obvious potential for downfall that I had reservations about the whole way through was how the story was going to wrap up.  Given that it is in part based on historical fact and Jack the Ripper was never officially identified, I was worried that either the story wouldn't resolve properly (and then wouldn't fit with the picture of the Sherlock Holmes that we all know and love) or that it would resolve too well (and then wouldn't fit with history).  If you do pick this up, worry not!  The novel blends the elements of truth seamlessly with the elements of fiction, filling in the gaps in the "story" of Jack the Ripper in a way that makes so much sense, it was tricky to work out what was real and what wasn't!  The ending is absolutely spot on and I actually went to the trouble of explaining just why it was so perfect to my non-reader (and non-interested!) boyfriend.  I wish there was a TV/film adaptation.

There are plenty of takes on Sherlock Holmes out there and although I'm a complete sucker for them, I know that there may well be potential readers out there wondering why on earth they should bother with yet another one.  I've read a few authors' takes on the classics and this is easily and definitely the best.  If you have been burnt by some less-than-faithful works in the past, please suspend your scepticism and read this one.  The tone of Dr Watson's narrative, the dialogue and the humour, the Victorian atmosphere and the mystique of the popular detective are all much more faithfully recreated than in any of the other modern versions that I've read.  Maybe because the facts of the case are also accurately Victorian and have a very…well, to be honest medieval feel to them but obviously that's inaccurate so I'll go with "old-fashioned" or something of that ilk.

It's bloody good is what I'm saying (pun not intended but appropriate enough that it can stay).  I don't have any complaints but I personally don't feel as though a book that relies so heavily on an established set of characters and established writing style can have five stars (even where the rendering of those characters is as good as this is).  If you like Sherlock Holmes, I can't see how you could fail to like this.
Overall:  This book is a perfect autumn/winter read – it's oppressive and full of darkness and tension (and yes, fog!).  It's not cosy or comforting, obviously, but it is a genuinely gripping story that will help you wile away some of the gloomier evenings.  If Faye had written any more takes on Holmes, I'd read them without hesitation.  As it is, I'll take this one shining example of historical mystery done well and count myself lucky.  Now on to her other books…

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Date finished: 30 October 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought
Genre: Detective/mystery
Pictured Edition Published: in April 2015 by Simon & Schuster
Buy your own copy (affiliate links):  Amazon  |  Wordery

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

October Wrap-up

I feel as though October was a really good month for reading.  I've rolled into November really excited about the books that I'm reading and about the books that I have on 'Read Sooner Rather Than Later' pile, which has made me more excited about chatting about books, both on here and on Twitter. I love that with the arrival of Autumn, it's much easier to "excuse" time under a blanket with a good book!  Over the course of the month, I read 8 books, which for me is pretty damn good!  It was boosted by the Readathon and the fact that I had a long haul flight and plenty of time sat around in airports for the first couple of days of the month.

The Books

Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas (4*) - I love this series.  I've just realised that I actually posted this in my last wrap-up, which is stupid because I definitely finished it on the way home, which was in October...ANYway, the fact that I love this series remains true.  It's the only series that I'm currently reading where I specifically pre-order the next instalment so I can get to it as soon as possible.  This year, I saved it for a couple of weeks so that I could really get into it while I was travelling on holiday and it was absolutely the right decision.  I loved getting to spend time with these characters again, even if there were elements that I wasn't 100% sure about.  I can't wait to see how the series ends next year (book 6 is the end, right?).  Find my spoiler free review here.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J. K. Rowling (5*) - another one that ridiculously made it into last month's wrap-up...oops!  Still, it was great and I'm going to get to Chamber of Secrets soon.

Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman (2*) - the first volume of the Sandman comic series.  I was not a fan.  When I finished the last issue, I was hugely annoyed.  Some miscreants try to capture Death and inadvertently capture sibling Dream instead.  Great idea.  I was totally sold.  The execution was...haphazard.  The issues that focused on Dream and his explorations of the world of dreams and his interactions with Death I really enjoyed.  There were a couple of issues, though, that were SUPER DARK.  One was particularly terrible and I very nearly didn't get past it (some bad guy holed up in a diner making people cut each other up and...I don't know, I skimmed a lot of it because it was gross).  I read an interview with Gaiman in the back of my edition, though, where he picked out those I didn't like and highlighted them as those that he felt were weaker so I'm persuaded enough to pick up the second volume in the hope that it focuses more on what worked and less on what I, to put it bluntly, hated.  I don't think I'll talk about this one again because thinking about it does not make me happy.  Tell me if you've read other volumes and think I need to just give it another go before I psyche myself out.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (5*) - I adored this book.  It was just the right book to pick up when I was feeling sad about leaving Japan and it's one of the best books I've read this year.  I'm trying to write a review to articulate how much I loved it and it's proving tricky.

Bodies of Water by V. H. Leslie (4*) - a real little beauty of a book.  A small but nigh on perfectly formed gothic ghost story about a woman who moves into a flat built in what was a Victorian Water Treatment facility.  Another one I'll review soon.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (4*) - I read this during the Readathon a couple of weekends ago and it was the perfect choice for the event.  Pictures to keep my eyes from going square from all the words and a story that was just the right amount of charmingly weird.  I'm glad I already have Hollow City to get to soon!

An Age of License by Lucy Knisley (3*) - Knisley's graphic novels have such a warm feeling to them. I love the way she writes and draws about her travels and this one had a really nice, introspective feel to it.  It was shorter than I was expecting but I liked it all the same.  A nice way to round off the readathon.

Dust and Shadow by Lyndsay Faye (4*) - oh, this book.  This book.  I loved Jane Steele by the same author and after this, I'll absolutely be buying up everything she's written.  This one was Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson investigating the crimes of Jack the Ripper and it was just fantastic.  Faye got the tone of the Sherlock Holmes down perfectly, it was gloomy and atmospheric and so tense.  Another one I'll just have to review soon!

The Other Stuff

I've been a bit more active on the blog this month, mainly because I've been really driven to talk about what I'm reading.  I really enjoyed the Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon this year and I'm really hoping I'll be able to take part next April. I posted a series of mini reviews of some of my (relatively) recent library picks and wrote a full review of a book I really enjoyed over the summer but never got round to writing about, The Joyce Girl by Annabel Abbs.

It's actually been quite a quiet month generally.  After we got home, we were jetlagged and had some quiet time and then I had a wisdom tooth and some of my jaw bone removed, which was a bit more difficult than expected and took me longer to recover than I'd hoped.  November looks busier because we're celebrating Boyfriend's birthday but the nights are drawing in so I still foresee plenty of reading!

Oh, and I finally got round to treating myself to a Prudence and the Crow subscription.   It's £15 a month and promises to include a vintage book chosen based on the favourites/likes/dislikes/hates that I put into my opening questionnaire together with a few other goodies.  It's a good price point, the website is just lovely and because it's vintage books, I'm not too worried about cross-over with books I already own.  I'll post about my first box around about the middle of the month but it looks fantastic and I'm really excited :)

How was October for you all? Anything you're particularly excited for in November? Tell me everything!

Friday, 28 October 2016

Review: 'The Joyce Girl' by Annabel Abbs


Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


Paris 1928. Lucia, the talented and ambitious daughter of James Joyce, is making a name for herself as a dancer, training with many famous dancers of her day and moving in social circles which throw her into contact with Samuel Beckett. Convinced she has clairvoyant powers, she believes her destiny is to marry Beckett, but the overbearing shadow of her father threatens this vision. Caught between her own ambitions and desires, and her parents’ demands, Lucia faces both emotional and psychological struggles that attract the attention of pioneer psychoanalyst Dr Jung.


I'll be honest: other than the fact that he's a literary great who wrote a book that nobody seems to like but everybody seems to feel as though they should try reading, I know very little about James Joyce or his life.  I guess it follows that I knew even less about his dancing protégée of a daughter, Lucia. Something about the description of The Joyce Girl really got my attention though.  A fictionalised account of Lucia Joyce's life as a dancer and of her struggles with mental illness, filling in the gaps around letters and other real life records of Lucia's life.  The novel opens in 1934 with Lucia talking to a psychiatrist before swinging back to the late 1920s and letting the story of how she ended up there unravel.

Most of the novel is set in 1920s Paris and the sense of time and place is really stunning.  Annabel Abbs manages to perfectly capture the conflict between the freedom that young women were starting to experience in post-war Europe with the restraint of the traditional ideals that older generations were clinging to.  Lucia wants to be a famous dancer and celebrated choreographer with a life full of romance; her mother wants her to give up her improper 'hobby' and settle down with a steady young man from a 'good' family.  The clash of ideals is a constant source of tension in Lucia's life and one that affects almost every aspect of her life.

The issues with Lucia's mental health develop gradually and are subtly explored.  The early signs are quiet and it's easy to take them as part of Lucia's passionate nature.  She meets Samuel Beckett relatively early in the novel and becomes besotted.  Her daydreams of true love and a 'happily ever after' are charming and I'm sure we've all been less dignified than we'd like in the face of romance at one time or another.  The development of Lucia's jealousy over Beckett's fascination with her father and the anger at intrusions into their budding love feel entirely realistic.  Every step that takes Lucia from being an open and happy young dancer to being a tragic figure in a psychiatrist's office is completely believable and my heart hurt to read it.  What's really clever is that not only does Annabel Abbs manage to show Lucia's flaws, she shows the actions of Lucia's family and friends feeding those flaws and insecurities and driving her downward spiral.  She is let down repeatedly but never in a way that seems melodramatic, just in a way that I can imagine all too easily happening to many girls of her age in her era.

One final gushy point and then I'll stop: I'm no dancer but even I loved the writing about that side of Lucia's life.  How real it made the gruelling hours of training and the sheer uncertainty of 'making it' in a creative field where what is 'great' is subject to individuals' whims.  Less dreamy twirling, more bleeding toes and aching muscles.

If I had one criticism, it was that that the chapters set in 1934 were a little repetitive.  I expect that was intentional and it did reflect the monotony of Lucia's life in contrast to her life as a dancer but it was a little jarring at times and I felt that it interrupted my enjoyment of the 1920s story a few times too many.  That's it.  That's my gripe.  So what that really tells you is that I really enjoyed this book and will definitely be keeping an eye out for Annabel Abbs in the future.

Overall:  This is a lovely (if utterly tragic) novel and one that I do absolutely recommend despite it having taken me a ridiculously long time to getting round to talking about. The writing is wonderful and the story is heartbreaking.  More so because it's based on a true story.  Bonus points for the cameo from Zelda Fitzgerald.

And as if this wasn't enough to make you buy a copy, all profits from first year royalties from sales of this novel will be donated to YoungMinds in memory of Lucia Joyce!

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Date finished: 25 April 2016
Format: eBook
Source: Received from Impress Books in exchange for an honest review
Genre: Historical fiction
Pictured Edition Published: on 16 June 2016 by Impress Books 
Buy your own copy (affiliate links):  Wordery  |  Amazon

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Dewey's 24 Hour #Readathon

I originally hadn't signed up for this Autumn's readathon because I had plans.  I had a wisdom tooth out a couple of days ago, though, and it was a bit more complicated than expected so I'm still taking it easy and recovering.  What better way to recuperate than with a solid bout of reading?!

I won't be doing the full 24 hours because of the face situation but I'm hoping to still get plenty of hours in around some sleep.

I'll mostly be tweeting this time (@LitAddictedBrit), I think, and updating here every few hours or so.  I'm going to focus on the reading and socialising and only do the challenges if they're easy and won't take too much prep time.

My TBR Stack

Snapped handily propped in my spot for the day!
I'll be starting the day half way through Bodies of Water so I'll be finishing that first and then I think I'm going to mix in some short stories from In a Glass Darkly (which for some reason is printed as In a Glass Darly on the spine of my edition...) amongst stints with whichever of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and Dust and Shadow that I fancy the most at the time!  It's going to be a great day :)

The Updates

UPDATE #1

Time of Update/Readathon Hour:  2.37pm (Hour 2)
Total Time Spent Reading:  44 minutes
Pages Read Since Last Update:  56 pages
Books Read From Since Last Update:  Bodies of Water by V. H. Leslie
Total Pages Read Today:  56 pages
Total Books Read From:  Bodies of  Water by V. H. Leslie

Opening Meme:

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?  A comfy spot on the sofa in my living room in our home village in West Yorkshire, England.  I was in a patch of sun until the sun went in a little while ago...ah, life in Yorkshire :)

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?  I think Dust and Shadow by Lyndsay Faye - it's a Sherlock Holmes investigates Jack the Ripper story, which just sounds incredible.  I read Jane Steele recently and loved Faye's writing so I have high hopes that this will be another darkly gripping story.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?  I'll try not to mention this again but I can't really snack on anything that isn't mostly liquid at the moment so I'm mostly looking forward to a coconut latte in the afternoon.  Sounds gross but is actually delicious.  I brought them back from Malaysia and only have a few left so I save them for relatively special occasions now!

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!  I'm a 30 year old book blogger from the UK.  I love reading (duh), Fruit Gums and cats.  I don't care for cows or birds (mostly pigeons).

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?  I've done a readathon before but never without any plans for the day so I'm going to make sure I have fewer distractions this time. I'm also going to focus more on Twitter as a means of keeping in touch with everyone because it's quicker than blog-hopping.

Thoughts so far:  I'm really pleased that I had a relatively easy 'book finished' win in my pile - not only was Bodies of Water written beautifully, it was easy to get lost in.  4 stars, definitely!

UPDATE #2

Time of Update/Readathon Hour:  4.50pm
Total Time Spent Reading:  1 hour 50 minutes
Pages Read Since Last Update:  32 pages
Books Read From Since Last Update: In a Glass Darkly by Sheridan le Fanu  
Total Pages Read Today:  88 pages
Total Books Read From: Bodies of Water by V. H. Leslie; In a Glass Darkly by Sheridan le Fanu

Thoughts:  I don't know what I was expecting from In a Glass Darkly but it wasn't an opening story about a man haunted by a ghostly monkey...the writing was quite dense too so maybe not something I'll be dipping back into as the readathon progresses! I've borrowed Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children from my mum and I like the idea of writing a story around a series of photographs so I'm looking forward to finally reading it! 

UPDATE #3

Time of Update/Readathon Hour:  9.44pm; Hour 9
Total Time Spent Reading:  I've totally lost track of this now...
Pages Read Since Last Update:  103 pages
Books Read From Since Last Update: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs  
Total Pages Read Today:  191 pages
Total Books Read From: Bodies of Water by V. H. Leslie; In a Glass Darkly by Sheridan le Fanu; Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Thoughts: I'm glad I moved on to Miss Peregrine's... I've been curious about it for years and so far I'm really caught up in it. It's more complex than I imagined, mixing the stories that a grandfather tells his grandson with the true horror stories of the grandfather's past of a Jewish child during World War II. The pages are flying by and I'm really looking forward to seeing where the story goes. I might not update the blog again tonight but I'll keep updating on Twitter until I go to bed! Read on, friends!


UPDATE #3

Time of Update/Readathon Hour:  9.48am; Hour 21
Pages Read Since Last Update:  90 pages
Books Read From Since Last Update: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs  

Total Pages Read Today:  281 pages
Total Books Read From: Bodies of Water by V. H. Leslie; In a Glass Darkly by Sheridan le Fanu; Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Thoughts:  I always planned on sleeping because I haven't been on top form over the past few days so I'm absolutely fine with having had a decent night's sleep.  Perhaps not very readathon-y but important nonetheless.  I'm still enjoying Miss Peregrine and I'm hoping to get it finished before wrap-up time comes!  Last few hours now!!

UPDATE #4


Time of Update/Readathon Hour:  2.43pm; Post-readathon
Pages Read Since Last Update:  239 pages
Books Read From Since Last Update: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs; An Age of License by Lucy Knisley
Total Pages Read Today:  520 pages
Total Books Read From: Bodies of Water by V. H. Leslie; In a Glass Darkly by Sheridan le Fanu; Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs; An Age of License by Lucy Knisley


Thoughts:  Between my update at 9.48am and the UK finish time of 1.00pm, I managed to finish the last 240 or so pages of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and read the first 50 pages of  a Lucy Knisley travelogue, An Age of License.  After reading time was up, I participated in Ellie's Draw It Out mini-challenge (which is the impressive drawing you can see above) and am finally getting round to wrapping up.  I had a really good time with the readathon this year!  I think because I knew ahead of time that I wasn't going to try keeping up with regular updates here or looking through mini challenges and that instead I'd focus on reading and tweeting.  520 pages is meagre by a lot of participants' standards but to me, it's pretty damn good and I'm really pleased with it!

End of Event Survey

1.  Which hour was most daunting for you?  None were particularly daunting for me because I knew that I was going to be sleeping.  I suppose that in a way it was the last hour where I was hoping to finish a book but wasn't sure if I would.

2.  Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?  I found Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children perfect readathon material.  The pictures helped break up the text and kept things interesting, which is always handy if you're eyes are tiring. Same goes for Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, which is full of neat graphics and different formats that would be great for the early hours when you're not sure if you can look at many more words.

3.  Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next season?  As always, nope.

4.  What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?  I may have mentioned this last time I participated too but Twitter seemed particularly chatty this year.

5.  How many books did you read?  I finished two and I read parts of two others.

6.  What were the names of the books you read?  I finished Bodies of Water by V. H. Leslie and Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.  I also read from In a Glass Darkly by Sheridan le Fanu and An Age of License by Lucy Knisley.

7.  Which book did you enjoy most?  That's a tough one.  The writing in Bodies of Water was stunning and the story was dark and gothic and perfect for an Autumn afternoon.  But then Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children had the eery pictures and was a lot of fun so...one of those.  I'm bottling out of picking!

8.  Which did you enjoy least?  In a Glass Darkly.  I had originally planned on reading a few of these stories but the writing was dense and the first story was weird (not in a good way - it's about a man who drinks a lot of green tea and is haunted by a phantom monkey...).  I'll pick it back up but it just really wasn't right for a readathon.


9. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?  It will depend on timing a lot for me.  I'm getting married on 1st June next year and there'll be hen dos/stag dos/prep weekends before then.  I'll try, though.  If I do, I'll be a reader again.

I'm kind of sad that's over!  If you participated, drop me a link to what you read so I can have a nosey!  See you in April, hopefully.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Review Minis: The Library Edition


I've been on a bit of a library kick lately. Every time I go back to return my books, I decide to "just have a look" to see if there's anything in that I like the look of and then I leave with at least three books to read. Contrary to my normal behaviour, I've actually been reading these books lately. Often I'll get books out, pile them up, forget, renew them 5 times and then return them unread. I think the last time that I returned a batch, I'd actually read them all. Ludicrous behaviour. 

The Ship by Antonia Honeywell

The Ship was one that I'd seen Ellie (of Curiosity Killed the Bookworm fame) talk about and had a pretty stunning cover. The book was…ok. I think it would have made an excellent short story or novella but it felt a bit laboured as a full length novel. The novel opens on a gloomy and tragic London, with citizens huddling together in its once great buildings and hiding from the authorities, who will shoot anyone who can't produce an identity card or commits some other minor infraction of the terrifying 'Nazareth Act'. The environment as we know it is destroyed and civilisation seems to be following. Lalla's father has been secretly hoarding food aboard the Ship, to save a pre-chosen group of people and sail away from the devastation. The opening third or so is outstanding. The set-up is solid and the plot moves quickly and in ways that I didn't always expect despite having read my fair share of dystopian novels. I really liked the writing too and some of the haunting passages about the final moments of certain aspects of our world have really stuck with me, like this incredibly sad image of a lonely polar bear that just gets me every time I see it:
"...I remembered the film of the last polar bear, swimming and swimming in the empty ocean, in search of a mass of ice that had finally melted away"
Out on the open sea, however, I found my interest waning. The writing still has some great moments but I felt as though the narrative became a bit repetitive and Lalla started driving me crazy. She becomes petulant and ungrateful. I understand that circumstances aren't ideal and there are some decisions that other people are taking that were pretty damn creepy but it seemed that there could have been far better ways to address them. Like trying to have a conversation with her father, for example. I really wasn't a fan of the ending, either. I think I can see the point that the author was trying to make but I just didn't buy into it. 

3 out of 5 stars for the concept and the cautionary tale about what we're doing to the world, the philosophical meanderings on who should be saved and what it even means to be saved in the first place and the writing

Buy a copy: Wordery | Amazon

Illuminae by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman

Illuminae was a bit of a punt. I'm not usually a fan of science fiction but this one was billed as playing around with format and I'd seen a few positive reviews so I ordered it in. It was brilliant. Not 'brilliant compared to my expectations' or 'brilliant for science fiction'. Just brilliant. The story starts with a bang and the destruction of the tiny ice-covered speck of an island where hapless young former lovers Ezra and Kady live. A lot of people die and small groups of survivors flee on a few ill-equipped spaceships. Families are split up and it isn't clear who has survived or, if they have, whether they will continue to survive between being chased by their attackers who want to finish the job they started and the lack of resources on the hastily boarded escape vehicles. So far, so standard. What had lured me in in the first place is that it's told through screenshots from computers, messages sent between residents of different ships, security debriefings and other confidential records. The story is pieced together through 'evidence' and it's so much fun. It makes reading the story feel like something unique, like more an experience, and it doesn't feel as gimmicky as it sounds as though it will. I cried at least once. Probably twice. Despite it being over 500 pages, I read it over a couple of days and if I hadn't been busy, I'd have finished it in a day or so. I'll probably be buying a copy of this one along with Gemina (the next instalment that was published recently) soon.

4.5 out of 5 stars for putting together scraps of text and making something that I was completely tangled up in. Absolutely recommended if you're looking for a super quick, gripping read.

Buy a copy: Wordery | Amazon

Leviathan's Wake by James S. A. Corey

Buoyed up on the science fiction success of Illuminae, I was emboldened into thinking that I actually might like science fiction after all and went all out with a "proper" science fiction novel. I did sort of like Leviathan's Wake but it was hard going. It's the first book in an epic space opera series and is just over 600 pages of politics, spaceships, shoot-outs and impending disaster. It felt like it took me forever to read and if I hadn't had a return train journey to London while I was reading it, goodness knows how long it would have taken. 

 The story centres around a few characters that end up at the centre of a war between Mars, Earth and the 'Belts', most of whom I liked but only a couple of which were really developed properly. Chapters alternated between the perspective of Jim, a former Earth resident turned astronaut who's a sort of technician-turned-captain down to earth type of chap, and Detective Miller, a Belter policeman fallen on difficult times (who was hands down my favourite). There are a couple of female characters but only one who I'd class as a main character and even though she is a respected engineer (yey), she is repeatedly described by reference to how attractive she is and ends up with a hugely unnecessary romantic side-plot, which I was not a fan of (boo). The characters and the action are engaging enough but I found a lot of the detail really hard to follow for some reason. I think I'd have hated this book if it hadn't eventually stopped confusing me with its political ramblings and started freaking me out with zombie-based chemical warfare. Admittedly even that ended up being confusing by the end but it livened up the middle no end!

3.5 out of 5 stars for the appearance of the zombies. Cautiously recommended if you're patient and don't feel the need to always follow what's going on in a book that you're reading...

Buy a copy: Wordery | Amazon

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Review: 'Empire of Storms' by Sarah J. Maas (Spoiler Free!)



Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

As this is the fifth book in the Throne of Glass series, I won't be pasting a synopsis here. If you've read the fourth book or just really don't care about spoilers, you can find a synopsis on GoodReads HERE.

This post doesn't include spoilers for this instalment but it does include some spoilers for earlier books in the series so if you haven't read Queen of Shadows yet, look away now!

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First things first, I really enjoyed reading this book. There is something about this story and about Sarah J. Maas' writing that is so readable and completely absorbing. With every instalment, it takes me a few chapters to get back into the world but after that, the story pulls me in and I fly through the pages.  Whatever criticisms I might have of this book, I still think that this series is one of the best YA high fantasy around at the moment (even though it is getting progressively less 'YA' as the series goes on...) and I will absolutely be reading the final book in the series as soon as possible.  The ending of Empire of Storms is a real sucker punch and I very much need to know how the story ends.

There are some characters that deserve particular mentions this time around. Lysandra is fabulous and easily my favourite character at this point in the series. Now that magic is back in the world, we get to see a lot more of her shifting abilities and it's so, so good. If you liked her in the earlier books, you will love her in this one. She kicks arse. I was also a big fan of the development of Elide and Manon. Elide becomes more than the shy, quiet girl that she is in the earlier books but in a way that absolutely feels consistent with the back story we've been given.  Manon has always been one of my favourites and I loved her even more in Empire of Storms.  She's one of the more unique and unpredictable characters and stops the story from becoming too 'Vanilla Fae'. While we're on Manon, oh my goodness, how adorable is Abraxos? If adorable is the right word for a giant, lethal wyvern…Writing this makes me realise that it's the ladies who are the stand out characters in this series at the moment. There aren't any characters that I actually dislike but the male characters are definitely left behind in this book. Aside from Dorian, who is still learning about his magic and still manages to be a lot more complex than the other brawny and slightly dull men otherwise filling up the cast.

So there's a lot that's great. My main gripe with this book, however, is the romance. Not so much the Aelin-Rowan romance (which I have some reservations about but that I'm actually quite a fan of generally) but the all-out romance offensive. I get that the main group of characters have been travelling together for a while by the time that we've got to this book and that maybe some of the relationship dynamics might have started to change into something more romantic but to have pretty much every single character hooking up with another in the space of a single book is a stretch.  I mean, sure, I've never been part of a royal court during a global war and maybe something about the constant peril might drive a lot of people together but everybody?  I'm not sure I buy it.  It also gave rise to a series of raunchy scenes that were pretty repetitive and, honestly, became awkward. In principle, sex in books doesn't bother me but it does need to be well-written. Not all of the scenes in this book are. At the very least, the frequency with which couples start getting together had me rolling my eyes in a 'here we go again' kind of way.

The plot is as twisty as previous instalments and keeps a solid pace for a book that's pretty much 700 pages. I didn't feel bored or as though the story was being laboured, which is no mean feat with such a hefty page count so far into a series.  One thing that I did notice in this book more than I have in others is how heavily the series continues to rely on diversions and twists. Characters are secretive and through neat handling of the multiple POVs, information is doled out often at the last minute and I did a lot of gawping at the pages. Generally, I quite like that about this series and always have. When I get to a Big Reveal, I don't feel cheated or as though it's a lazy way of shifting the direction of the story without having to write any build-up (which I have seen some reviewers raise as a complaint). I feel as though it fits with whoever was doing the plotting's character or actions in preceding chapters. What I had a bit of a grumble about this time around is maybe a bit of an odd one but it bugged me that Aelin doesn't even seem to trust the man who is apparently the love of her life with her plans. I don't know…I guess it does make sense in some contexts but there are some things that I really think could be shared with someone with someone trusted, even if you aren't sure if it'll come off. Worrying about being embarrassed in front of your partner if something doesn't work out doesn't fit with the picture of the equal partnership of a relationship that we're expected to buy into.

Overall:  If you've read and liked Queen of Shadows, the series really is worth carrying on with.  Ditto if you're at any other point in the series but have a cavalier attitude to spoilers!  It's clear that the series is going to keep on going with a similar tone to Queen of Shadows and that one hell of a finale is coming.  Each book is darker than the last and I'm excited (worried) to see where things end up.

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Date finished: 02 October 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought
Genre: YA fantasy fiction
Pictured Edition Published: on 06 September 2016 by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
Buy your own copy (affiliate links):  Wordery  |  Amazon

Thursday, 6 October 2016

August/September Wrap-Up

August and September have both been busy for various reasons and neither allowed me particularly intensive periods of reading.  Around my birthday in August, we were away in Florence for a wedding planning trip and then we were seeing a lot of friends and family.  In September, we had a few busy weekends and then were on holiday for a couple of weeks and (not unexpectedly) the only time I really had to read while we were away was while we were travelling between locations.  So all in all between the two months, I read a not-so-grand total of 7 books, which is actually more than I was expecting.  I'd thought that I'd read quite a mixed bag of genres but when I look at the books, it turns out that that's not strictly true.  The vast majority had a sci-fi/fantasy slant, although they weren't all the same type of sci-fi/fantasy book…

The Books

The Hatching by Ezekiel Boone (3*) - a spider-based dystopian novel that is easy to read and has plenty of action but feels as though it has something missing.  I've actually written a mini review that features this and will be up over the next few days or so I won't ramble too much about it here.

The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (3*) - a bit disappointing if I'm being honest.  I'm trying to read the Sherlock Holmes stories in vaguely chronological order and I'm still in quite the early days (very early days) of the characters and I'm finding that the stories have a different feel to some of the later ones that I read way back when I was in school.  They're entertaining enough but the character development is a bit iffy (this one had some particularly poorly elaborated/set up developments for Dr Watson) and I'm looking forward to getting past them and into more established territory.

One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor (4*) - I started this while I was slightly floundering through Leviathan Wakes because it seemed like a lighter read and I loved it.  Hanna read it too and reviewed it - I totally agree with her review but I'm going to try and scribble out some of my own thoughts soon too.  In the meantime, it's about a time travelling historical research organisation and it's just so much fun.  I have the second one to read soon.

Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey (3*) - this felt like it took me forever to read.  I don't usually read space opera but for some reason I fancied trying some and I crawled through my first effort.  I don't know if it's because I'm just not used to the style or the themes or just because this one is part of a longer series and so is a bit more back-story heavy than others might be but it was a bit like hard work.  Another one I've written most of a review for and will be chatting about soon.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (4*) - I reviewed this earlier in the month and it was pretty damn good.  The perfect gripping follow-up to the much laboured-over sci-fi.

Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas (4*) - I very rarely pre-order books but I did pre-order this one and it was great.  A spoiler-free brief review will be going up soon because I do have some thoughts on how the series is panning out.  I enjoyed this book and I swept through the pages generally but it wasn't perfect and I have some reservations about some of the character development.  Not so much that they'd put me off finishing the series (I need to know how this story ends) but ones that took the extra star from what was otherwise another great part of a tremendous series.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling (5*) - I've never re-read this before and I *loved* it.  Obviously I knew what I was in for but reading this so long after having initially read it (about 17 years ago) was so much fun.  The story's so heart-warming and re-reading the beginning of the friendship of Harry, Ron and Hermione was far sweeter than I remembered.  I think if anything I was surprised by how short it was and how quickly I flew through it.  I'll be setting some time aside for the rest of the series soon, definitely.

Aaaand that's it! 

The Other Stuff

In the non-bookish world, we managed to pick a venue and photographer for our wedding and I've chosen bridesmaids dresses, all of which is tremendously exciting.  It's still a bit unreal that we'll be getting married in about 8 months time but we've got our Save the Date cards out so it's starting to come together!

The biggest event was Hong Kong/Japan, which I've been looking forward to for ages.  Hong Kong was a heck of a lot of fun.  We walked for miles around the city and ate so much delicious Chinese food and tried some local craft beers and it was brilliant.  We stayed on Hong Kong Island and explored Kowloon and the New Territories too.  A blend of cultures and a fascinating place to explore.  And then there was Japan.  I've been wanting to go to Japan for absolutely years and oh man did it live up to my expectations!!  It's an incredible country and Tokyo is one of the best cities we've ever visited.  Shiny new skyscrapers next to beautifully ornate old temples.  Stunning, peaceful gardens and parks bang in the middle of business districts and other commercial areas.  Quaint, traditional restaurants and bars in the glitziest of shopping districts.  It's stunning and immaculate and I took hundreds of pictures.  The people were all super friendly and so helpful.  We didn't struggle half as much as we feared we might and I know that most of that is because the people were so gracious and patient when we were trying to communicate in the very few Japanese words that we were able to pick up.  Visiting Fuji Hakone National Park was something really special too and the traditional dinner that we had that night was absolutely stunning both visually and in taste.  I know how fortunate that we are to be able to travel and experience countries like Japan so I spent the whole time feeling super grateful and just revelling in everything.  We're hoping to go back to Japan soon to visit some other places and see even more!  If you've ever thought about going but weren't 100% sure, I can't recommend it highly enough.

I hope you all had superb Augusts and Septembers and that your Octobers aren't yet too gloomy!