Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Holiday Reading List: Hong Kong and Tokyo


It's holiday time, friends!  Over the next couple of weeks, we'll be hanging out in Hong Kong and Japan, eating food that I'm sincerely hoping will turn out to be as delicious as I'm imagining and exploring both cities.  As well as all of that normal holiday fun stuff, there'll be long haul flights and down time (possibly), which I prefer to think of as Reading Time.  Here's what I have lined up for the trip: 

 

I pre-ordered Empire of Storms months ago (which I pretty much never do) but I've been busy recently and I wanted to start it at a time when I wouldn't just be snatching the odd page or two here and there so I hid it and have it saved to start at the airport tomorrow morning.  The flight out is something like 12 hours so that should give me enough time to get back into the series!  I may need to remind myself of the plot of the fourth first…

After that, I'm really feeling like reading some fantasy.  I've read a lot of science fiction recently and I fancy something more magic-based.  I think I'm going to go for the second book in the Mistborn trilogy (The Well of Ascension), because I loved the first one and it's been a long time since I read it and I don't want this to be another series that I just eventually forget about it.  I'm a bit torn between that and A Tale for the Time Being, a magical realism novel that is set in Japan and sounds incredible and which I've shamefully had on my Kindle for absolutely years and if I'm not going to read it when I'm actually in Tokyo, when am I? 

After THAT, I think I'm finally going to re-read Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.  I first read this when I was…11/12ish maybe?  I remember being on holiday with my family and us buying the first three at the airport.  Actually, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was in hardback and the two preceding books were in paperback so I'd guess that puts it around the time when the third book was released in…1999.  WOW that's a long time ago.  So I was probably 13.  ANYway, the point of this ramble is that I actually haven't read the first book since that holiday in the summer of 1999.  17 years ago.  I'm not much of a re-reader but even for me, that's just silly.  I did re-read Prisoner of Azkaban at some point but I've never re-read the others.  I've been listening to the Witch, Please podcast recently (which is all kinds of FABULOUS and I'll write about soon!) and it's reminded me of just how rich the world of Hogwarts is and how much more I might spot reading as an adult.  So I'm going to re-read the series during the winter because winter is gross and Harry Potter might cheer it up.  

I'm probably not going to get much chance to read anything else but if I do, I'm going for the second book in the Chronicles of St Mary's series because I had SO MUCH love for the first one.  Hanna reviewed it and I agree with her - it's bloody great and I'm excited for the next one.  I imagine it'll be good flight fodder so I might keep that for the return flight…

Have a super fortnight, friends!  See you in October :)

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Review: 'Six of Crows' by Leigh Bardugo

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

Criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker has been offered wealth beyond his wildest dreams.  But to claim it, he'll have to pull off a seemingly impossible heist.

Break into the notorious Ice Court (a military stronghold that has never been breached)

Retrieve a hostage (who could unleash magical havoc on the world)

Survive long enough to collect his reward (and spend it)

Review

When I read the first book in Leigh Bardugo's Grisha trilogy a few years ago (which was confusingly initially published as The Gathering Dark in the UK while being Shadow and Bone in the US), I was pretty underwhelmed.  The Russian-esque setting was a nice deviation from the usual medieval Europe setting that fantasy writers often plump for but other than that, it felt very much like a re-hashing of all kinds of YA tropes -  young, unexpectedly gifted but remarkably naïve magic wielder, handsome and more experienced magic wielder to whom the young protégé finds herself attracted, impending world-changing evil, the works.  I never picked up the second book.

When Six of Crows came out, I was pretty taken with the idea (six criminals of varying specialties and levels of depravity attempting to break into a seemingly impenetrable fortress sounded like my kind of story) but I was wary after The Gathering Dark.  It was only when I started seeing positive reviews from readers who also hadn't enjoyed or finished the Grisha trilogy either that it hit my wishlist.

I'll start simply:  if, like me, you read one or more of the Grisha books and weren't impressed, Six of Crows is so much better.  So, so much better.  If you'd given me them both and not told me the author, I wouldn't ever have guessed that they were written by the same person.  Six of Crows feels so much more mature in both style and content.  It takes the distinctive setting from the Grisha trilogy and makes use of it, embellishing it to include more politics and history and fleshed out cultures.  The characters are distinctive, feeling flawed and real, and their relationships are tangled and complicated.  It's an objectively really good book, not just a really good book in comparison to Bardugo's earlier books.

Chapters alternate between different characters' points of view in a way that reveals just enough to keep the story moving, secrets revealed and characters developing without getting muddled (although if I do have one criticism, it's that characters' voices do read as quite similar to each other overall). Take Kaz Brekker, the leader of these particular underworld inhabitants.  Readers get to experience how other characters see him and indulge in the mystique of the seemingly always-one-step-ahead criminal while also getting to know him.  It sounds as though it will be confused or as though the chapters where readers get to hear from Kaz will somehow ruin those where we're meant to be intrigued by him.  And yet it isn't confused at all.  It's perfectly paced and cleverly plotted and, frankly, just bloody fantastic.

The book manages to deliver a dark and twisted plot (and in some places, I do mean dark) that is also a heck of a lot of fun to read.  There's slavery, death, violence, racial prejudice and umpteen characters out for bloody vengeance but it never felt heavy.  I was still always dying to pick the story up whenever I'd put it down.  If you want ponderous fantasy, this one might not be for you but if you want something that's full of action and intrigue and will have you staying up way past your bedtime, you could do far worse than Six of Crows.

Overall:  If you've been avoiding this for any reason related to the Grisha trilogy, stop avoiding and get yourself a copy.  There may well have been nuances that I've missed and allusions to the history of the Grisha that have passed me by but I never felt lost or as though I was on the outside of a series of 'in' jokes and references; this series stands up perfectly well on its own  The next instalment, Crooked Kingdom, is out soon and I'll definitely be picking up a copy and carrying on with the series.

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).  Find Six of Crows HERE.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Date finished: 20 September 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Received from SocialBookCo in exchange for an honest review
Genre: YA fantasy fiction
Pictured Edition Published: in June 2016 by Orion Children's Books

Monday, 29 August 2016

30

A couple of weeks ago, I turned 30. 

I had a pretty fantastic time celebrating with friends and family (there was a heck of a lot of food and even more wine) but there's still something about the big 3-0 that's pretty unsettling.  I think because at 30, you're indisputably an adult.  At 30, all of those questions that I could respond to with a "not until I'm in my 30s" (by which I mean those about children), I need a new answer to that isn't just "shush".

Things aren't all scary.  I have a job that I love on a solid career path.  I own a house with a man who I'll marry in less than a year's time.  I really can't complain.  And yet still I feel a bit weirded out by the milestone birthday.  Somebody at work was like, "Pfft - your early 30s will be the best.  It's like your 20s but with money".  Which is true but there's a sense of big life changes just not being that far away...

The occasion was much improved by books (as so many occasions are).  I received some pretty damn brilliant birthday gifts from some pretty damn brilliant people (thank you!).  I had to work on my birthday because I'm low on annual leave this year after being paid out for a week when I left my old job in May.  I treated myself to some books to take the edge off.

The piles (that is still in my living room because I'm planning on using it as a sort of mini TBR over the next couple of months) look awesome...


The pile on the left are the books that were gifted, the books on the right are the ones that I bought for myself.  SO from Hanna, Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde, The Prestige by Christoper Priest and A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab.  I'm really excited about all of them, obviously.  Hanna and I have pretty similar wishlists and I always send her books that I either have read and want to force her to read or ones that I haven't read but that I really want to read and want to use her as a guinea pig.  Hanna adopts the same strategy and all is good in the world.  Shades of Grey and The Prestige both come highly recommended from Hanna and I really want to get to them soon.  A Darker Shade of Magic falls into the second category and was one I'd bought for Hanna for her birthday a couple of weeks earlier.  It looks super fun and Hanna's beat me to reading it (and reviewing it) and even though she didn't love it, I'm still planning on reading it soon because the idea just really intrigues me.

Laura added to my burgeoning Penguin English Library editions with Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte and The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton.  I read Wuthering Heights absolutely years ago and I really want to re-read.  I love these editions and they look gorgeous all together.  I also really love the paper and how easy they are to read.  They're the best.  I've never really heard much about The Man Who Was Thursday but there are secret policemen and an anarchist council and it sounds really, really good.

From lovely Ellie, The Five Orange Pips and Other Cases by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and V for Vendetta by Alan Moore.  I love Sherlock Holmes (who doesn't?) and Orange Pips are a PEL so I can't wait to get stuck into it.  V for Vendetta is a graphic novel that I've been meaning to pick up ever since I started reading graphic novels and comics.  I love the film version and the graphic novel just looks incredible and comes Ellie Endorsed so I know I'm going to love it!

Katie picked one of the books on my wishlist I was the most excited about, Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel.  The hardback is absolutely stunning and it just sounds wonderfully quirky.  It's about a girl who falls through the earth and lands on a giant hand.  I can't wait to read this and have really high hopes for it.

For myself, I headed to Waterstones and took a bit of a gamble that my wishlist was up to date (I opened my gifts later on and figured I could always return/gift on my duplicates if the worst came to the worst).  It's been ages since I just wandered around a bookshop and bought what I fancied so I had a wander around Leeds Waterstones.  I took my time and browsed and it was a super birthday treat.  I bought The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson (a retelling of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale), Bodies of Water by V. H. Leslie (which I've heard nothing but incredible things about), Arcadia by Iain Pears (which a bookseller noticed I was carrying and stopped me to chat about how wonderful he'd thought it was, which cemented its place on my 'to buy' pile), The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard (which is about angels I think and sounds like something a bit different) and Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (a non-fiction written by a lawyer in the US about his experiences of race and incarceration that I first saw on Mercy's Bookish Musings and sounds fascinating).

WHEW!  That got long!  Massive thank you to everybody who sent me books :)  I have some real treats in store, I'm sure. Have you read any of these?  Any I absolutely have to pick up right away?

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Review: 'Jane Steele' by Lyndsay Faye

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Like the heroine of the novel she adores, Jane Steele suffers cruelly at the hands of her aunt and schoolmaster. And like Jane Eyre, they call her wicked - but in her case, she fears the accusation is true. When she flees, she leaves behind the corpses of her tormentors.

A fugitive navigating London's underbelly, Jane rights wrongs on behalf of the have-nots whilst avoiding the noose. Until an advertisement catches her eye. Her aunt has died and the new master at Highgate House, Mr Thornfield, seeks a governess. Anxious to know if she is Highgate's true heir, Jane takes the position and is soon caught up in the household's strange spell. When she falls in love with the mysterious Charles Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him - body, soul and secrets - and what if he discovers her murderous past?

Review
"Of all my murders, committed for love and for better reasons, the first was the most important.  Already this project proves more difficult than I had ever imagined.  Autobiographies depend upon truth; but I have been lying for such a very long, lonesome time" [Page 1]
I think I first heard about Jane Steele on a Book Riot list of upcoming releases to watch out for (which I now can't find, although it also appears in this list of the Best Books of 2016 so far).  Call me morbid but something about the idea of a stabby Jane Eyre really appealed to me and I ordered a copy from my library pretty much straight away.

I was right to: I absolutely loved it.  I was surprised by just how much, to be honest.  I can see why it might not be quite the thing for you if you're a complete purist but for me, it was just how I like my re-tellings/adaptations.  Generally, I don't like 'adaptations' of classics that follow the exact same plot but just modernise the language and give characters new names.  If I wanted to read the exact story of Jane Eyre, I'd read Jane Eyre.  I do, however, like takes on classics that follow some of the plot and have a similar feel to them but that do something new and different with the characters or take the original plot and twist it about a bit.

Jane Steele takes Jane Eyre and injects some violence and a few murders; where the original character might have bowed to convention or absorbed maltreatment, Jane Steele takes action.  The book is written as if it's Jane Steele's autobiography and she addresses the reader in the same confiding way as her namesake, the cover of the version I read going so far as to play on the iconic 'Reader, I married him' with a gaudy 'Reader, I murdered him'.  The writing style is perfect and it works even when it sounds like it shouldn't.

What is clever about this version (and what I think stops it from being gimicky) is that Jane Steele acknowledges that she's a bit of a parody of her literary heroine.  Jane Steele the character loves Jane Eyre the character and her narrative includes wry little references to the original work that stop the similarities feeling trite and over-worked and give a feeling more as though readers are part of an inside joke.
"My boundless affection for the protagonist of Jane Eyre has already been established; and yet, I cannot resist stating that she made the most dismal investigator in the history of literature" [Page 210]
For all of its humour and for all that it is a re-telling, I was totally hooked.  It could easily have been a case of style over substance but it had just the right balance between the outline of Jane Eyre's story and the detail of Jane Steele's.  Every time I picked up this book, I lost an hour.  I read it in a few sittings and when I finished, I genuinely felt at a loss.  Jane Steele is bloody brilliant, obviously, but so are her fellow pupils at the creepy boarding school and the other residents of Highgate House.  One of my favourite books of the year so far, easily.

Overall:  If you're a Jane Eyre fan and don't mind someone taking a few liberties with the story, this book is an absolute must.  It's appropriately gothic and packed full of nods to the original without being anything like a pointless re-hash.  So. Much. Fun.  I've already ordered another of Lyndsay Faye's books (Sherlock Holmes/Dr Watson take on Jack the Ripper...) and I can't wait to read more of her work.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Date finished: 17 July 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Borrowed from my local library
Genre: Historical fiction
Pictured Edition Published: in March 2016 by Headline Review

Sunday, 31 July 2016

July Wrap-Up

Image credit
We've had some summer!  There has been sunshine and outdoor activities!  Sure, it's gloomy now but we managed to squeeze in a longish bike ride this morning (we've become the kind of people who cycle on Sunday mornings...) and I fancy spending the afternoon with a book so I'm fine with a few clouds.  I've been spending a lot of time away for work recently so I've mostly been working and then  we've been seeing friends and spending time outside at the weekend.  It feels like it's been a nice month, all told.  Between a trip to Florence, birthday celebrations and a trip to London, August will be pretty hectic so a relatively low key month was probably important!

Books...

I just checked my GoodReads 'Read' list and I'm actually surprised that I haven't read more.  I've felt as though I've been reading quite a bit and it turns out that I've read 4 books (or at least I will have done by the end of today!).  Not as much as I thought but they have been pretty damn good on balance so it's still been a solid reading month. 

It seems like a long time ago but my first read was Thin Air by Michelle Paver.  I loved Dark Matter when I read it a few years ago and I was so excited to get an early copy of Thin Air from Orion via NetGalley.  As with the earlier release, this one was full of atmosphere and tension and feels incredibly well researched.  It was a brilliant read and I can imagine that it'll be even better when the cold weather draws in and readers can pick it up with wind roaring around outside and rain battering the windows.

Next up was Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye, which I absolutely adored.  I gave it five stars without hesitation.  It's sort of a retelling of Jane Eyre with a serial killer twist.  What's clever is that rather than just being a retelling, the main character, Jane Steele, acknowledges the similarities between her story and her favourite literary heroine's and sprinkles her own tale with quotes from the original.  It sounds kind of gimicky but I thought it worked a treat.  I'm hoping to get a proper review of this one written soon because I haven't heard much about it and it deserves some love.

I fancied some more historical fiction after Jane Steele but then I remembered that I'd had Foxlowe by Eleanor Wasserberg on my Kindle for a while.  The premise of a commune-based thriller really intrigued me.  I wound up a bit disappointed...the writing is good and the style is distinctive but it was all a bit...obvious and frustrating.  It was a three star read but nothing particularly special, unfortunately.  I'm feeling kind of the same about The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway, which I've wanted to read for ages but have been a bit underwhelmed by.  It's readable enough but it's going a little bit overboard on the time travel philosophy/warring factions of time travellers thing and I keep running into great long rambling sections where characters discuss the principles of time travel in a way that feels dry and laboured and really interrupts the otherwise quite entertaining story...I've got about 50 pages to go and it's ok.

...and Blogging

I've made a bit of an effort to scribble down some notes while I've been travelling for work and I've managed to post a few actual review-type posts this month.  I gushed some more about my Wheel of Time re-read with a double review of books 2 and 3, The Great Hunt and The Dragon Reborn.  I declared myself a Wyndham fan and reviewed The Day of the Triffids.  Last up, I posted a set of review minis for some of the opening volumes of comic series that I read in early Spring, The Wicked + The Divine, Rat Queens and Wytches.  Hardly regular posting but it's been nice to be talking about books again and something I'll try and keep up with over the next few months.

Hope you've all had a super July, friends!  Any standout books that I need to keep my eyes peeled for?