Blog Tour – Sapphire Smyth and the Shadow Five Part One by R. J. Furness

Genre: YA Fantasy

Similar to: A little bit Golden Compass, serialised à la The Green Mile

Could be enjoyed by: People who like their fantasy in bite-size chunks

Publication date: 16th March 2019

Blurb (4)

Have you ever seen something you can’t explain? Did it vanish as fast as it appeared? Perhaps that thing you saw was lurking in the shadows, and you caught a glimpse of it before it went back into hiding. There’s a good chance, of course, that the thing you saw simply emerged from your imagination. Or maybe, just maybe, it didn’t… Sapphire Smyth is no stranger to rejection. When she was only a baby, her father abandoned her after her mother died. Since then, Sapphire has never felt like she belonged anywhere, or with anyone. To make things worse, her foster carers have now turned their back on her – on her eighteenth birthday. After living with them throughout her childhood, Sapphire has to find a new home. Is it any wonder she finds it hard to trust people? Abandoned by the people she called family, Sapphire is alone and searching for some meaning in her life. Except that meaning has already come looking for her. When she discovers mysterious creatures lurking in the shadows, Sapphire soon realises that her fate is unlike anything she had ever imagined.

Blurb (3)Now don’t get me wrong, I love a big epic fantasy novel. The Chronicles of Amber, The Lord of the Rings, The Wheel of Time; I’ve really enjoyed them all (actually, I’m only on book four of WoT… so perhaps let’s gloss over that one. Guys it is SO LONG)… Anyway, I adore getting stuck into a huge heavy tome that I struggle to fit into my handbag and gives me backache. So, I was a little concerned about reading a fantasy novella – how would they fit in all the world-building? Surely the first 100 pages of any fantasy book barely scratches the surface of the storyline? How on earth do you build a narrative arc – won’t it end just as I’m getting into it?

FEAR NOT READERS!!!

Sapphire Smyth and the Shadow Five worked reaaaaaalllly well as a serial. The writing was immediately engaging and fast paced. There was a good narrative arc – the book ended in a *ahem different place to the beginning, which meant that there were some nicely defined boundaries and a natural place to pause. Despite my reservations, I actually quite liked the short novella style – it was different, sure – but once I had got my head round the idea that the story was to be continued, it was much like mentally agreeing to read to the end of chapter four.

EXCEPT YOU CAN’T IGNORE YOUR OWN LIMITATIONS AND READ ON ANYWAY AAAARRRGGHH WHAT EVEN IS THIS

Unfortunately, I did find that the payoff for having such a direct, action filled plot was that the word building suffered a little. I struggled to visualise some elements and thought that in places more detail was needed. I also thought that there were certain parts where a slower build up/acceptance of what was going on would have worked better. For example, Sapphire seemed pretty accepting of certain situations – like her almost comically quick assertion that she was in a different realm – which I felt let the storyline down a little.

However, as a character I really liked Sapphire and her kick-ass persona. I thought that her and Ben’s relationship was great and I’m excited to see how it will develop. I loved the idea of the mythical daemon/patronus/familiar fox that kept appearing and the concept of terrifying shadow creatures was truly creepy.

The only thing I couldn’t get out of my head was the ending on the futuristic transport thing… I’ll just leave this GIF here…

 

Overall, I loved this little gem of a fantasy novella/part one of an epic. The pacing was super quick and engaging, the characters were awesome and the overall idea was really unusual and just the right amount of creepy. I would have preferred slightly more description and perhaps a slower pace in some areas but this was a minor criticism. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

 

Four “What the fox say?”s out of five.

Brilliant writing, an engaging storyline and a fantastic format make Part One of Sapphire Smyth… a winner for me. Can’t wait to read more!

Blurb (2)Author R. J. Furness has been passionate about great stories since he was able to read. At an early age, he would frequently create new characters, worlds and creatures then write crazy tales all about them. However, until now, he has always kept those ideas completely secret. After having a lifelong interest in animals, music and anything spawned from pure imagination, R.J.’s first loves are now his wife and children. Over time, he has also developed an overwhelming desire for mugs of tea and good biscuits to dunk. He lives in Southport, England, with his family, a dog and several fish, chickens and quails.


Please note that I read this book for free in exchange for an honest review courtesy of The Write Reads. Thanks Dave!

 

Blog Tour – The Gilded King by Josie Jaffrey

The Gilded King – Sovereign Book One

Genre: Paranormal romance

Similar to: Well, it’s a romance about gentle vampires… (DON’T SAY TWILIGHT!)

Could be enjoyed by: People who have read the prequel

Publication date: 25th June 2018

Firstly, I’d like to say thanks to Dave and everyone in The Write Reads gang for all of the love and support and for including me on this tour. It’s been AAAGGGEEESSS since I’ve published anything on here so being forced to post asked to participate in a blog tour has been a great way to get me back into the swing of things!

Synopsis…

In the Blue, the world’s last city, all is not well. Julia is stuck within its walls. She serves the nobility from a distance until she meets Lucas, a boy who believes in fairytales that Julia’s world can’t accommodate. The Blue is her prison, not her castle, and she’d escape into the trees if she didn’t know that contamination and death awaited humanity outside. But not everyone in the Blue is human, and not everyone can be contained. Beyond the city’s boundaries, in the wild forests of the Red, Cameron has precious little humanity left to lose. As he searches for a lost queen, he finds an enemy rising that he thought long dead. An enemy that the humans have forgotten how to fight. One way or another, the walls of the Blue are coming down. The only question is what side you’ll be on when they do.

My thoughts…

My initial reaction to this novel was “is this self published? Wow!” Now, I don’t mean to have a go at any of the excellent authors out there who have published their own amazing stories BUT The Gilded King feels… professional. It reads like it’s been edited by someone who isn’t a family friend. The narrative flowed well and I was soon hooked into the story. Most importantly… no typo’s.

Unfortunately, as I began to get deeper into the story, I started to get a little confused. I was expecting some kind of world building or backstory… anything to explain all the things going on like The Fall or the location of The Blue or the link between the vaccine, Silvers and the Weepers. However – nada. In fairness to the author, there is a prequel novella (which I haven’t read) which I guess would explain things in a bit more detail but as a stand alone novel I felt that there should have been more explanation. Plus, every time The Fall was mentioned I pictured this:

 

I quite liked all of the characters, even if Claudia was a bit wet and Cameron was often utterly clueless. There was some good, slow building m/m queer representation and I loved Felix – I think his character will really develop in book two. I liked Julia too and thought it was fantastic to have a self-described “plain” looking girl as the main heroine – what a refreshing change!

As far as the storyline went, I really got into the book and read it in only a couple of days. I have to say though, I did get a bit confused by the three different names for vampires, plus the elite vampire guard and I sometimes struggled to work out who the characters were and what side they were on.

Overall, I liked The Gilded King and now that I’ve got my head around the setting I think books two and three will be really interesting. The novel wasn’t without it’s faults but it was a good narrative  – I could just have done with reading the prequel novella beforehand!

Three and a half “they’re VAMPIRES???”s out of five.

Well written, exciting stuff from a genre that I don’t normally read. The scene is set nicely for book two!

 

*PSSSSSST The Gilded King is FREE right now on Kindle! Links here:

Amazon US and Amazon UK

 

About Josie Jaffrey…

I live in Oxford, UK, with my husband and two cats (Sparky and Gussie), who graciously permit human cohabitation in return for regular feeding and cuddles. The resulting cat fluff makes it difficult for me to wear black, which is largely why I gave up being a goth. Although the cats are definitely worth it, I still miss my old wardrobe.

 


Please note that I read this book for free in exchange for an honest review courtesy of The Write Reads. Thanks Dave!

 

Mid-Month Mini-Reviews

Hello Bookworms!

Welcome to another edition of my mini reviews! Today, I’ve chosen three novellas to discuss, all of which manage to be short on word count but big on ideas…

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Minutes from the Miracle City by Omar Sabbagh

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Last year, I read my first novel published by Fairlight Moderns (Bottled Goods by Sophie Van Llewyn) and absolutely bloody loved it so I was really excited to find that there were a new batch available on NetGalley – woop!

Set during Ramadan in Dubai, Minutes from the Miracle City features several different characters all narrating their interwoven stories – not something that can be easily achieved in such a slim volume. There were some unusual choices – in such a city of wealth I expected to be reading about upper middle-class expats or local rich businessmen but instead there was a real breadth to the types of individuals personified – a taxi driver, a hairdresser, a security guard, an academic, a journalist/writer/mother. I loved seeing their behaviour around Eid regardless of their religion and the challenges that living with the juxtaposition of a modern, metropolitan but also traditional Islamic society afforded them.

My issue with this novella was (as I seem to be writing more and more frequently) that not very much happened. Yes, it was interesting to read about a city that I’ve never been to and to look at the lives of people who are all different to me but I felt like the narrative needed more of an event to pull all of the characters together.

Overall, this was an interesting character driven novella but I personally would have appreciated a more dynamic plot.

 

 

Two and a half “But what happens???” out of five.

 


 

Atlantic Winds by William Prendiville 

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More from Fairlight Moderns – but this time a totally different take on life in an odd pocket of society.

Atlantic Winds is set in Bear Lake, Canada during the 1970’s. It’s a claustrophobic town with just one main employer and a close-knit community who have their own sense of right and wrong. I imagined a family diner, lots of young families with stay-at-home Mums and plenty of men in plaid. Traditional, poor-but-making-ends-meet, safe.

Or not.

Right from the start you get the impression that there are some families who are just a little… off. This creeping sense of unease permeates the text like the mist that I imagined rolled off the lake every morning. The writing is wonderfully atmospheric and added to the overall themes of justice, guilt and duty.

Written primarily about the teenagers in the town, the novella explores the roles of men vs women in a town with limited options and little scope for upwards mobility. I found the characters to be a little one-dimensional (the “hero”, the “victim” and the “villain”) but I could have lived with that… had the hero not been involved in one of the most dubiously consensual sex scenes I’ve ever read:

“And so she’d followed him there… until the moment it happened and she’d seized up and tried to show him, by a tremulous, calming smile, that it didn’t hurt.”

Then:

“‘I’m fine’ she told him, and hugged him to make him feel better.”

I could write for several pages here about how sex is something that women – even young women losing their virginity – can and should be actively, happily engaged in and that THIS IS NOT OK. I mean – seized up? How much more obvious can it be that this girl doesn’t want to have sex? Plus that line about making him feel better (because he clearly feels guilty) REALLY made me angry. However, I understand that a) this is the 1970’s and b) the novella explores the extent to which the female character (Sasha) is denied her own agency through the expectations put upon her to be a good, dutiful daughter – and perhaps the author is trying to show how this affects her life in a myriad of ways.

Maybe.

Overall, I found this complex, evocative little novella to be a really compelling read, even though it did make me incredibly angry. It certainly raised a lot of issues but for me they weren’t fully resolved, perhaps due to the brevity of the text. I can’t say that I liked it, but it definitely made me think.

 

 

Three and a half “THAT’S NOT OK” out of five.

 


 

Skellig by David Almond

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There’s a part of me that wants to ask “what even is this book?” but I think that would be doing it a disservice. Sure it’s a very weird story but it’s also one of those rare occasions where the precise writing and the not-fully-explained subject matter come together to create one of those wonderful little novellas where it’s as much about what isn’t said than what is.

Skellig is the name of the dusty, shrivelled up old man* who is found by 12 year old Michael at the back of a collapsing barn in the garden of the house that he and his family have just moved into. Michael decides to help him, not least as a distraction from his very poorly baby sister who is in and out of hospital.

What is Skellig? Is it all a dream? Is his presence a coping mechanism? Is he *spoiler* an angel? What is he doing eating spiders in the back of a barn? Is he only there because Micheal’s sister is ill? Is he helping her?

Who knows. All I can say is that this wonderfully written, odd little book is an utterly charming one off (or at least, it would be if Patrick Ness hadn’t essentially written the same story in A Monster Calls). It’s about friendship and worry and magic and there’s no kissing and everyone is a kind and compassionate individual – so it’s basically perfect.

*maybe

 

Five “a number 27 and a number 53 please” out of five.

 


 

So, have you read any of these books? Do you enjoy a novella? Is it ok to add them to my Goodreads goal? Let me know in the comments!

 

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Mid-Month Mini Reviews – Victorian Gothic

Hello bookworms!

Welcome to another load of mid-month mini-reviews – this time focusing on the Victorian period…

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Affinity by Sarah Waters

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I picked this book up in a charity shop while I was waiting for my car MOT and I’m honestly so glad that I did. I’d never read Sarah Waters before (despite Tipping the Velvet being on my TBR for about 20 years) so I had high expectations – and this book did not disappoint.

Told from the viewpoint of Margaret, a wealthy spinster (God I hate that term) with a desire to help the poor unfortunates incarcerated within Millbank Prison, an encounter with the notorious spiritualist inmate Selina Dawes leaves her reeling. Is Selina truly psychic? Can she help Margaret to deal with the death of her father? Can Margaret help Selina to obtain justice? And is their friendship… something more? Set against a backdrop of heavy prescription drug taking, it’s hard to see where the truth lies – especially in a relationship so heavily weighted by the privilege that money affords you and the desperation to achieve freedom.

I absolutely adored the way that this book was written. I’m such a scaredy cat that certain scenes about wax castings of ghostly apparitions had me completely freaked out! The overall tone was creepy and gothic – much of the book is set within the Victorian prison – but the writing never dragged. Instead, it gave an almost visceral interpretation of the misery, drudgery and relentless monotony of what it would have been like to be locked up in such an institution. I could almost feel the damp stone walls and see the trudging circles of women getting their daily exercise in the bleak prison yard. I hate to use the term “lyrical prose” but yeah… the writing was absolutely beautiful.

The novel is interspersed with the memories of Selina from when she was working as a spiritualist medium and I got completely sucked in by her “powers” (despite the fact I don’t believe in anything paranormal in real life). The relationship between Margaret and Selina was fascinating, exciting and heartbreaking and I LOVED the way that the book ended. If this is one of Sarah Water’s lesser known novels then I can’t wait to read the rest of her work!

 

Four and a half “Look what money can get you” out of five.

 

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal

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I loved this richly evocative tale set in Victorian London of Iris, a talented artist who is taken out of poverty by Louis, a rich pre-Raphaelite painter. Her rags-to-riches story seems almost too good to be true – a new (scandalous) role as an artist’s muse, a huge increase in salary, a love affair with a soon-to-be widowed man – yet there’s a shadow hanging over Iris’ happiness and he goes by the name of Silas…

I have to say how beautiful that book cover is. Just glorious. Like the novel, it juxtaposes the beauty, art and grace of the period with the claustrophobia, death and creepy gothic sensibilities of Victoriana – and I can’t get enough of it. The writing within the book is also hugely evocative and has a bit of everything – sex, obsession, art,  death, taxidermy, disfigurement, filth, light, sadness, romance… and a wombat. Everything felt very authentic to the time period even though the story of a woman striking out on her own felt very modern.

The characters were beautifully depicted, with an attention to detail that made them jump off the page. I could see the dirt under Silas’ fingernails, the emerald green on Louis’ painting, the crimson lips on the doll that Iris was painting. I loved the use of the Great Exhibition as a backdrop to their lives – again, a juxtaposition of all that light and ingenuity and modernity sat right next to the filth and decay of the London slums.

Yes, the writing was a little slow in places but I can forgive that, since this is the author’s debut. I loved the use of detail, the setting and the characterisation and I thought that the constant playing with light and shade, love and obsession, hope and despair was inspired. Elizabeth Macneal is clearly a writer to watch out for.

 

    

Four “Has there ever been a nice character called Silas?” out of five.

 

Things in Jars by Jess Kidd

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I’d heard a lot about this book on ye olde Twittersphere but I have to say I was a tiny bit let down by it. It’s certainly a fun romp with a highly eclectic cast of characters but for some reason I just didn’t connect with the writing. Not that it’s bad – it’s just not for me.

Bridie Devine, the infamous female detective is challenged to take on the oddest of cases – the disappearance of Christabel, a strange child with colour changing eyes and extraordinarily sharp teeth. Aided by Ruby, the prizefighting ghost and Cora, the towering, magnificently bearded maid, Bridie attempts to find Christabel but on the way encounters everything from beautiful snake charmers to evil surgeons – plus a whole lot of painful memories.

I love the wacky cast of characters and the excitement of the fast paced prose but I just couldn’t emotionally connect to anyone. There was so much going on, plus plenty of back-and-forths in time that I got a bit confused as to who was who and what on earth was happening. Ultimately, I felt like the side plots took over a bit and detracted from the main narrative, so I wasn’t that bothered with the ending. Lots of people have loved this book but it really wasn’t for me.

 

 

Two and a half “Is that the dead guy?” out of five.

So, have you read any of these books? Do you love a good gothic novel? Are there any Cure fans in the house? Maybe The Smiths? Let me know in the comments!

 

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End of Month Mini-Reviews – May

Hello bookworms!

I’ve had a terrible months blogging activity so I’m desperately trying to get reviews done for all of the books that I’ve recently read! Thank goodness for mini reviews!

So, in light of the fact that I’ve not really done very much recently, today’s theme is…

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The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year by Sue Townsend

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Eva’s twins have finally been packed off to university and she’s decided that she’s had enough. Enough of the daily drudgery of housework, enough of her tedious husband, enough of being at everyone’s beck and call. So, she decides that it’s time for a well earned rest. Eva takes to her bed and decides that everyone else can look after her for a change. In typical Sue Townsend style this quickly develops into a farcical comedy, with Eva’s husband Brian moving into his purpose built shed-cum-lovenest with his new squeeze Titania (Tit) and Alexander the white van man being left to hold things together.

I liked the easy style of the writing but what this book (and all of the books in this post) suffered from is a lack of robust plot line. Yes, it’s a fun, light book but it’s hardly a page turner. I love Sue Townsend as a writer so it’s still good but it’s nowhere near her best work.

 

Three “It’s not Adrian Mole” out of five

 

Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney

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Well, this has certainly turned out to be a controversial choice – it’s had accusations of being un-feminist, lacking in plot, failing to follow the basic rules of grammar, being confusing, poorly written… I could go on. And yes (she says, flouting the rules of grammar herself), perhaps all of those things are true – although I don’t think it’s un-feminist to write complicated, emotional female characters – but I still liked it.

Frances is a young, possibly bisexual woman who becomes involved with Nick and Melissa, a slightly older monogamish married couple. Nick begins an affair with Frances, whilst Frances’ ex-girlfriend Bobbi begins a flirtation with Melissa. Frances does very little in the way of work – she’s a performance poet with Bobbi, she lives rent free in a flat owned by her uncle, she states that she never wants a job. Indeed, she’s only forced to get one when her father’s allowance stops, following his descent into alcoholism. Her lack of structure leads to an awful lot of soul searching, in the way that you can only do when you’re young and in love and don’t have to also worry about a million other boring adult issues.

Despite the annoyingly millennial (Gen Z?) characters, I loved the subtlety of the prose, the devastating one liners, the horrid complications of trying to love someone when you don’t love yourself. I could really relate to Frances and her unemotional dialogue which betrayed an ocean of pain and suffering below her bland exterior. I thought that Sally Rooney absolutely caught the aimless horror of being in your early twenties, indecisively drifting between friends, partners and jobs. Urgh. Youth really is wasted on the young.

Four “Not entirely sure how I just enjoyed a book where nothing happened” out of five
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
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An unnamed narrator (I never realise that until I come to write the review) decides that

she needs a rest, so visits a quack “doctor” who prescribes her with ever increasing numbers of sedatives, uppers, downers and everything in-between. The narrator then proceeds to quite literally sleep for an entire year – not going out, not really eating, not menstruating… nothing but popping pills and occasionally buying coffee from the local shop. Whilst I’m sure we’ve all had days where this type of self induced coma sounds rather appealing, it doesn’t exactly make for a page turning novel.

I didn’t like any of the characters in the book (I say any, there’s really only two) but even the peripheral boyfriend and dead parents are incredibly narcissistic, unlovable people. The only vaguely interesting bit of tension comes from your realisation that the “year” is 2001 and the setting is New York City… as you get closer to September you obviously know what’s about to happen but even that gets passed over with very little emotion.

There is something oddly compelling about the writing though. In a weird way it reminded me of American Psycho – that ultra-privileged antipathy, the desire to do something destructive just because you’re bored and you’ve got the money to get away with it. However, murder makes for a far more interesting storyline than sleeping, so I’m only able to give it a Goodreads-unfriendly…

Two and a half “And I thought nothing happened in Conversations With Friends” out of five
AAAAAND RELAX!

 

So, do you think the idea of doing absolutely nothing sounds really appealing? Could you manage to get an interesting book out of it? Do you like books that are more focused on characterisation than plot? Let me know in the comments!

Review: Come Back For Me by Heidi Perks

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Genre: Thriller

Similar to: Now You See Her, The Girl on the Train… all the usual suspects

Could be enjoyed by: Thriller fans – this is definitely a good example of the genre 

Publication date: 1st June 2019

I feel like I need to start this review with an apology – I received an email giving me super early access to read this book AGES ago and I’ve only just got round to writing the review. Luckily I’ve just about managed to beat the publishing date soooo…. yay? Ooops? Not really sure. Anyway, life has taken over a bit from the blog recently so I’m sorry that I’ve not been around much and I’m sorry that it’s taken me until now to write this review – especially as I really enjoyed Come Back For Me.

Grovel over… on to the review!

Stella grew up on a tiny island just off the British mainland and had a seemingly idyllic childhood – think The Famous Five but without the racism. Then one day – completely out of the blue – her Dad decides that they all have to leave, despite the huge storm that makes it totally unsafe to travel. Despite the fact that the family survive the ferry crossing to the mainland, they’re oddly changed by their move. Stella’s parents split up, her brother moves away and severs contact, her mother dies. She has no idea what happened and longs for her picture perfect childhood home. Then one day she spots her old house on the news – it seems that a body has been found buried in the garden. Stella is both horrified and intrigued and as she struggles to understand the implications of the discovery, she realises that it’s not just human remains that have been uncovered – it’s a web of family secrets too.

I really love the way that Heidi Perks writes. Her descriptions of the island and it’s inhabitants were brilliant and I could see the kind of utopia that she’d created – all children doing wholesome activities like climbing trees whilst their mothers baked bread and hung out the washing. There was a real risk that her setting could have felt too old-fashioned for the 1990’s but it was just the right side of modern but cozy.

The family exodus takes places in the first chapter and my heart was absolutely in my mouth. The writing was so tight and the situation so dangerous that it really kicked things off with a bang. It opened up numerous possibilities for the reasons behind the family needing to urgently leave and I loved how I was immediately drawn into the novel, inventing my own theories as to what had happened straight away.

As the book progressed, the tension built brilliantly and there was a good number of red herrings thrown in to the twisty turny plot that kept me constantly re-evaluating what I thought I knew. I loved the way that island setting slowly moved away being safe and secure to being smotheringly claustrophobic once secrets started to be revealed. I actually struggled to put the book down, so much so that I put off doing some major household tasks so that I could sneakily finish it off. Sorry bathroom ceiling, you’ll have to wait for that final coat of paint!

Overall, I really enjoyed reading Come Back for Me and thought that it was a thoroughly engaging read. My only issue with the novel was with the name of the island – Evergreen. Guess what I was singing in my head every time it was mentioned…

 

 

Four “We’re gonna take this life and make it…” out of five

Really addictive, exciting and fast paced – a hard book to put down.


Please note that I read this book for free in exchange for an honest review courtesy of NetGalley and Penguin Random House. Thanks to Natalia Cacciatore for giving me advanced access!

 

Mid Month Mini Reviews – May

Hello bookworms!

Welcome to my a-bit-later-than-planned-mid-month mini-reviews!

I’ve been trying to read more diversely recently and so today I’m focusing on black female authors. All of these books are absolutely excellent and they’ve all made me think about race, racism and privilege (amongst other issues) from entirely different angles. I’d highly recommend them all.

 

Becoming by Michelle Obama

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I didn’t go into this book with high expectations but I was blown away by it – not only by the sheer force of Michelle Obama’s drive and ambition but by how well written and engrossing it was. As a British person I don’t understand the system that the US uses to elect its politicians so I had hoped the autobiography wouldn’t get too politically technical and thankfully, it didn’t. What it did do, however, was show what a truly inspirational person Michelle Obama is. Her sheer determination to do well in life was astounding – just the lengths that she had to go to just to get a good education were ridiculous and her constant willingness to defeat the obstacles put in front of her was amazing.

I loved hearing about how Michelle took the role of First Lady and made it her own, with her unique blend of optimism, personality and hard work. I also loved getting a behind-the scenes glance at what life in the White House was really like, especially when you’re also trying to bring up a young family. It was great to hear about what a nuisance the Secret Service were when you were trying to organise your daughter’s sleepover or what it was really like to meet the Queen when you’d only a vague idea of protocol!

Overall, I thought this was a super-interesting look at an amazing woman and her incredible life so far. My only criticism would be her cheese on toast making skills – guys, she used the microwave. Whaaaaat???

    

Four “That’s not how you make cheese on toast, Michelle” out of five.

 

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

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Book Riot Read Harder Challenge #2 Read an alternate history novel.

Oh. My. God.

I don’t know that anything could have prepared me for this book – especially with that ending – but safe to say that I loved it, even though it was upsetting and graphic and difficult to read in places.

Noughts and Crosses is set in a world where power has been flipped on it’s head – black people (crosses) are the ruling elite over the just-out-of-slavery whites (noughts). Sephy (a cross) has been lifelong friends with Callum (a nought) but when their friendship begins to develop into something more, the trouble begins.

There’s a lot of adult themes in the book – not just around privilege, power and racism but also rape, abuse and murder. These topics are handled incredibly sensitively though and although in parts it’s a difficult read, the writing is so outstanding that you’re unable to put the book down. The characters are multi-faceted, complicated individuals who often act irresponsibly – entirely how teenagers should behave – and this made the story seem all the more real to me.

Overall, I thought this was a great book with a very important message – I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.

 

Four and a half “You can’t do that to a main character!” out of five

 

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

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This is an odd book to review. On the one hand, I enjoyed reading it but I found that it was only after I’d finished that I truly understood how great it was. I just couldn’t. Stop. Thinking. About. It. And every time I considered the novel from a new angle, I found a whole slew of other issues hiding behind it.

An American Marriage is the story of a married couple, Celestial and Roy, who become separated after Roy is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. Roy goes to prison and Celestial is left to build a life on her own, with just the shadow of her husband looming in the background.

It’s the omnipresence of Roy in Celestial’s life that really gives the book some tension. Their marriage is always there in the background, overshadowing every move they both make. The issue of their legal union binds them together and creates all kinds of questions about freedom – it acts as a kind of metaphorical, socially driven prison of their own making. It really made me think about injustice and how punishment of an individual ripples out to affect the whole family.

There’s many things about the book that mean it shouldn’t work – the characters are unlikable, the plot isn’t particularly dynamic, the ending is a bit disappointing. However, there’s something about the writing that compels you to keep reading. I should have hated it but instead I loved it.

 

Four “those dolls sound hella creepy” out of five. 

 

So, have you read any of these books? Do you make an effort to read from a diverse range of authors? Let me know in the comments!

Monthly Wrap-Up Mini Reviews – April

Hello bookworms!

Since my mini-reviews have been such a hit (and I have a massive backlog to get through) I thought I’d attempt them twice a month – ooooh! So, welcome to my monthly wrap-up mini-reviews!

Today, I’m focusing on my recent forays into the world of novellas and short essays – tiny reviews for tiny manuscripts!

 

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimanmanda Ngozi Adichie

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I LOVED everything about this essay/novella that was adapted from Chimamanda’s Tedx talk of the same name. Considering how short it is (60 pages) she does an absolutely brilliant job of defining modern feminism in an eloquent and engaging way. I completely agreed with all of her points about why a patriarchal society is bad for everyone (not just women) and the ways that we can all work together to combat systematic inequalities that hold everyone back.

Many books about feminism are written by white, middle class women with a limited experience of the world outside of Europe/the US/Australia so it was interesting to read about the viewpoint of someone with a completely different background. I thought that all of the author’s points were well reasoned and that her unique perspective brought something genuinely new to the debate.

Overall, I loved the passionate, informative way that the essay was written and think it should be required reading!

Five “It’s not as boring as it sounds!” out of five.

 

Bloodchild by Octavia E Butler

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WHY have I never read Octavia E Butler before? Bloodchild is a tiny little novella that took me about half an hour to read but it was A-MA-ZING. The basic premise (from what I could tell – the writing is s p a r s e) is that there’s a planet occupied by both space aliens and people. The space aliens need human hosts to incubate their eggs which the humans submit to sort-of willingly (presumably for peace? I’m sure this is explained better in subsequent books).

I loved everything about the story – how old school sci-fi it felt, how exacting the prose was, how original the idea was…also, it was free download from the Kindle store (yay!) It really reminded me of something written by Philip K Dick (a personal favourite of mine) but with more – I don’t know – emotion? Humanity? (Tries desperately to avoid gender stereotypes when thinking about how this might relate to the author).

In short (literally) Bloodchild was a fabulous taster of the world that Octavia E Butler has built. I’ll definitely be checking out the rest of the series.

 

Four “I’ve been missing out!”s out of five

 

First Love by Gwendoline Riley

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I picked this novella up in a charity shop while waiting for my car to be fixed purely because it had been previously nominated for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. It was a lovely sunny day, I was sitting in a delightful cafe on the high street with a nice big pot of tea and… this was totally the wrong book to be reading. It is dark and depressing and has absolutely no redemptive arc.

The main character is called Neve and the book focuses on her emotionally and physically abusive relationship with her horrible bellend of a husband. It also moves back and forth through key parts of her life, showing the toxic relationships she has had with other people – her grotesque father, her unreliable mother, her unloving ex. I wasn’t exactly sure what the point of the book was – were these depressing little vignettes meant to offer an explanation as to why Neve didn’t just up sticks and leave? Were they to garner sympathy for the character? Was I meant to be apportioning blame for the choices that Neve had made? I didn’t get it.

In saying that, I thought that the writing was very good. It gave a very realistic portrayal of several abusive relationships and all of the characters were complicated individuals, despite the brevity of the prose and the sparseness of their descriptions. Overall though I felt that the book was too unbalanced, too wayward and too bloody depressing to warrant anything more than an average rating.

 

Two and a half “RED FLAG!”s out of five. 

 

So, have you read any of the above novellas? Do you enjoy shorter books? Am I still allowed to count them towards my Goodreads challenge? Let me know in the comments!

Review: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

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Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Magical Realism

Similar to: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Could be enjoyed by: Lots of people, apparently

Publication date: 2nd July 2015

 

First things first – I hated this book.

There.

I said it.

I’m very sorry to those of you who have told me this is one of your favourite novels but I just did not get on with it at all. This appears to be a Marmite book – you either love it or you hate it – as the reviews on Goodreads seem to be either five stars or one star.

If you loved it… well… you might not want to read what’s coming next…

 

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street – A Rant.

By Lucinda Is Reading, aged 36 1/4 

 

Lets start by describing the story. A man named (urgh) Thaniel (I hated the name – to me it sounded far too modern for someone who was meant to be living in Victorian London) finds a watch in his flat. Six months later, the watch emits some kind of alarm that makes him leave the pub (seems pretty tenuous to me but ok) when suddenly a bomb goes off. Thaniel has been saved by his loud timepiece! He somehow, through his work in the Foreign Office, gets involved in the police investigation because – I think – the bomb was clockwork and he has been given a watch and the clockwork is the same. Or something. I don’t know. So he goes off to live with the watchmaker who he thinks made his watch and maybe the bomb, in order to collect evidence in his official capacity as Home Office admin clerk. He finds out that the watchmaker has special powers but isn’t fazed and just accepts this as though it’s an everyday occurrence. A random scientist called Grace enters stage left. She has to get married to inherit a house, so she marries Thaniel after meeting him maybe twice. Turns out Thaniel likes someone else but we don’t get to find that out until he literally walks up to that person and starts snogging them. On his wedding night. Grace, having given literally no indication that their relationship is anything more than a business deal, is inexplicably jealous. Then there’s another bomb but that doesn’t have anything to do with the first one.

Oh, and there’s a clockwork octopus.

The End.

Now, obviously that’s me being mean for comic effect but I honestly couldn’t make head nor tail of the plotline of this book. There were so many things that didn’t make sense, so many threads that were left open-ended, and so many situations where characters acted so, well, out-of-character that I almost gave up numerous times. I slogged through to the end – but only just – and STILL nothing made sense. In fact, it just got weirder.

The disjointed writing was majorly off-putting. Several times I had to re-read a paragraph to work out who or what the author was referring to. Some parts of the narrative were extraordinarily detailed; others were completely lacking. The dialogue between characters was wooden and I don’t think there was a single emotion either displayed or explicitly mentioned throughout the entire book. That made it supremely difficult to get a handle on anyone’s motivations and made their actions seem, at times, completely random.

I also found the actual plot of the book… dull. Yes, there’s a super cool clockwork octopus that may or may not be alive but there’s also an awful lot of wandering around, not really saying or doing anything meaningful. I wasn’t engaged in the narrative at all as I felt there was a complete lack of tension or excitement.

One part of the novel which I will obliquely refer to as the wedding night came so far out of left field that I just couldn’t believe it had been thrown in. It felt completely inauthentic and the general reaction was far, far too modern for a novel set in the Victorian period. There were numerous other examples of inaccuracy – Thaniel learning conversational level Japanese in about a month, Grace being forced to marry because she got caught staying out late, jokes by the watchmaker about how shit the West Midlands is (one of the major centres for watchmaking during that period)… I could go on.

However, my absolute least favourite part of the book (which I will have to paraphrase, having already returned the novel to the library) was a paragraph in which a character seemed to jokingly suggest that one of the ways in which you could get out of a marriage proposal was to take a trip alone to Hampstead Heath at night. Now, I might have got the wrong end of the stick here (again, the writing is extraordinarily convoluted) but… is that a rape joke? If not – what the hell did it mean?

Overall, this book was really, really, really not for me. Plenty of people seem to love it so by all means don’t avoid it on my account – but don’t say that I didn’t warn you!

 

One “Did I miss something?”s out of five.

“Not for me” is the nicest thing I can say about this book.

 

 

Mid Month Mini Reviews – April

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Hello bookworms!

The mini-reviews continue! I really enjoy writing these, I have no idea why it took me THREE WHOLE YEARS to try them!

Today, I’m focusing on my most disappointing recent reads that I just can’t bring myself to write proper reviews for. Lazy but…meh!

 

The Last Days of New Paris by China Mieville

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I can’t begin to stress how much I hated this book. I just didn’t get it. The premise was that in wartime Paris, surrealist art came to life and seemingly attacked everyone – for what reason I’m not quite sure. There were other bits of surrealism that didn’t attack people but seemed to be stuck in some kind of time loop. Also there were Nazi’s. To be honest I had absolutely no idea what was going on so I was quite glad that my online library loan expired and the book disappeared from the catalogue – a kind of enforced DNF at around 50%. Oh well.

 

One “What the…what???” out of five.

 

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

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This book wasn’t bad exactly – in fact I started off really liking it – but I quickly lost interest. The book centres around Cora, newly widowed and looking for adventure. When she hears about rumours of a mysterious beast roaming the Essex waterways, she and her son Francis up sticks and decamp to Aldwinter to investigate further.

I totally get why lots of people love the novel as it’s beautifully written with lovely, lyrical prose but unfortunately it just didn’t GO anywhere. All of the characters were restrained by their Victorian morals so there was a lot of “should we… oh” *abruptly turns and flees* and gazing into the middle distance that got on my nerves. It suffered from the same fate as Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield in that respect (the two books are so similar I kept getting the stories confused in my head – even the covers look the same). I slogged my way through to the end to find out if there really was an Essex Serpent (spoiler alert: no) so overall I felt pretty letdown by the whole thing.

It is a very pretty book though.

 

Two and a half “it’s a fucking fish” out of five. 

 

A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor (not that one)

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I own a very beautiful Virago Modern Classics Designer Edition of this book and although I have really enjoyed almost every single VMC offering so far, I really struggled to connect with this one. The main problem is that NOTHING HAPPENED.

The story starts out well enough, with an innocent young teenage crush that occurs between Harriet and Vesey. Their fledgling holiday romance is cut short (nothing happens) after Vesey is made to return home and their lives take them in very different directions – Vesey to the stage and Harriet into a comfortable middle class marriage (where nothing happens). However, once Vesey makes a return to Harriet’s life, the cracks in her seemingly solid, dependable life are exposed and what I hoped would be the ensuing torrid, sexy love affair…DOESN’T HAPPEN. Yawn.

I found Harriet and Vesey extremely distant as characters and couldn’t empathise with them at all. I much preferred to hear about Harriet’s shop worker friends running rings around the management, waxing their upper lips in the staff room when they were meant to be on the shop floor or the beautiful, Rubenesque Kitty wafting around in a gin soaked bubble of privilege. It’s a shame that these peripheral characters don’t get more of a look in.

I suspect that the novel is intentionally depressing to showcase the trappings of a “comfortable” life but that lack of passion left me cold.

 

Three (just) “dufferish attempts at lovemaking” out of five.

 

So, have you read any of these books? Are you a fan of Elizabeth Taylor (not that one)’s other works? Could you make any sense of The Last Days of New Paris? Let me know in the comments!