Sunday, 4 December 2016

November Wrap-Up

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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.

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…

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!