Who needs friends when you can have followers? – Book Review

The shiny brightly coloured cover of Followers  by Megan Angelo hides beneath it a dark tale of corruption and the skewing of reality in a neat representation of the social and moral questions the book asks with regard to Social Media.

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Reading Followers next to the River Ness in Inverness, Scotland

Followers juxtaposes two different timelines: one in 2015 where two young ambitious women, Orla and Floss, find common ground in the creation of a social media personality and become intoxicated with the power and notoriety it brings; the second is much further in the future, in 2051 after a mysterious world-changing event known as the Spill. Marlow has grown up in the public eye, in the media city of Constellation; a place reminiscent of the Truman Show but with full awareness by the participants. Here volunteers have stepped up to be watched and commented on by the American public in a fully pervasive government run form of reality TV. The media world has broken into extremes since the events of the Spill – professional content makers and those that avoid it completely. The general public no longer trusts the internet and is generally much more tech averse causing a desperate Government to go to extremes to encourage them to make use of the state run services.

Marlow entered Constellation as a child with her parents and has only faint memories of life before. But a new “story line” she is presented by her network starts her asking questions about what constitutes her life, what she wants from it and what the past, that her mother has worked so hard to run from, is, setting her on a quest to find answers.

Harper Collins is describing Followers as 1984 for the Instagram generation. It’s not a bad analogy, though like the social media followers its’ heroines have to navigate, it remains to be seen if Followers will stick around long enough to warrant the comparison.

What seems a more fitting comparison is an episode of Black Mirror; very well written, unsettling and horrifying; a stark demonstration of the dystopian paths we risk with our reliance on different forms of technology and obsessions with social media.

It’s a complex plot which is neatly laid out so that you know there is a link between the two timelines, but you’re never entirely sure of what that link is until the book wants you to know.

None of the characters should be likeable. Floss is narcissistic, manipulative and shallow; Orla is at times insipid, always desperate and fairly selfish and Marlow, as a result of her upbringing, struggles to demonstrate any sense of agency or opinion. They have all done bad things, from the carelessly uncaring to the downright unforgiveable, and yet these women are compelling in their flaws and complexity. We all know hundreds of people like Floss and Orla (although the combination of the two women is clearly toxic), we may even have acted like them from time to time, and so even in the depths of their mistakes they are identifiable. Marlow is less recognisable as her storyline is a warning of possible consequences – but one which many children growing up now may face (albeit in a milder form) as they encounter their parents’ social media presence.

It’s an engaging and thought –provoking read but also highly entertaining.

Followers by Megan Angelou is released today: 9 February 2020

My 19 best books of 2019

I’m stuffed on turkey, sleepy after all the excitement of Christmas and ready to try and snooze and eat my way into oblivion over the next couple of weeks of holidays; so of course my thoughts turn to lying under a duvet with books and what to read next. Before I jump into my TBR pile for 2020 though I’m doing the obligatory, ultra-cool, totally-not-overdone round up of my reading year.

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The cart of joy!

This is not a round up of best books which have been published this year; although some of them have been. I can’t even dream of writing that post because I haven’t managed to read everything that’s been published this year (I’m such a slacker.)

Instead this is a list of the best books I’ve read. Some of them are years old and I’m waaay late to the party. Some of them were released this year and as my first flush of enthusiasm fades I may scale back my gushiness. But all of them I’ve raved about to people, bought as presents for people, foisted them on people even as they insist they’re not looking for anything to read (annoying I know. It’s a flaw, but a useful one as a book blogger!) and generally not shut up about. I really would recommend you track these down and give them a shot.

Unlike my usual monthly round ups I’ve not listed these in order of preference but instead tried to group them as genre, and I’ve not critiqued them (you can look back at round-ups if you really want to, but they’re all five stars, high four stars at a stretch). My last caveat is that these are the absolute tops of what I’ve read but I’ve read loads and loads of other excellent stuff, I just couldn’t include it all.

What have been your books of the year? Have you read any of these and did you like them?

Non-Fiction

When they call you a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Asha Bandele, Angela Y.Davis

The tale of the birth of a movement, When They Call You a Terrorist details the horrifying and very personal account of what led Khan-Cullors to help found the Black Lives Matter movement. From the start it makes it clear why the movement was, and is, so vital and essential for Black People around the world as they campaign to be able to feel safe in their day to day lives. For those of us who have the privilege of not facing this level of aggression and oppression in the smallest of our interactions, and who can call for help without fear of repercussions, this is truly eye opening and terrifying. But shows how that fear was utilised by a group of women who believe a better future for them and their families is possible.

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

20190411_085121.jpgStepping inside a library for the first time in years, Orlean’s interest was peaked and she began an investigation into the inner life of the Los Angeles Public Library which had suffered a catastrophic fire. Part history lesson, part sociology study, it’s hard to describe how compelling a tale this is. If you thought librarians were society’s heroes before this will just solidify that opinion. And it’ll remind you of the full extent to which a library is a vital part of every community.

Young Adult Fiction

The Burning by Laura Bates

Absolutely everyone who is and ever was and has anything to do with teenagers must read this, a novel which brings the realities and dangers of life growing up with social media into sharp relief. Anna and her mother have escaped from a past to a new school, new job and a new life in rural Scotland. But as Anna tries to rebuild her life and her trust in people, her past is looking to track her down. All the while she is undertaking a project on a young girl, Maggie, who used to live in her house a few hundred years previously and was burned as a witch. The similarities between Maggie and Anna’s persecutions are horribly real, all that’s changed is the methods with which they are enacted.

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Sonny and Daughter are two 15 year old boys trying to survive in their fourth year when their one and only favourite teacher vanishes mysteriously. Of course they can’t let this lie, how will they possibly pass National 5 maths without Miss Baird to help them out? So off the boys set to find out where she is and when she’s coming back. What they discover is a web of gossip, intrigue and murder that they were entirely unprepared for, but handle with wit and a twinkle in their eye. This is one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long long time and really will have you laughing from page 1, but it’s also full of heart and warmth and kindness.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Star is a teenager from a mostly black neighbourhood who goes to a mostly white private school. As such she feels she is having to live two different lives and regularly switch between two different versions of herself in order to fit in to both her worlds. She begins to question this when for the second time in her life she sees a close friend shot and killed in front of her. This time by the Police. While trying to process her trauma she gets caught up in both the activism from her home town and the subtle and not so subtle racism from her school life, all while trying to come to terms with the duality of her existence. It’s a harrowing read about experiences that far too many children are having to traverse.

Toffee by Sarah Crossman

Toffee is the intergenerational tale of a friendship between a runaway who is emotionally lost; Allison and a woman with dementia; Marla. They are two lost souls who find a home in each other. After Allison is mistaken by Marla as Toffee, she decides to take advantage of that in order to get a warm bed and maybe survive another night. What develops is a friendship that allows Allison to begin to heal and Marla to regain some of the dignity and passion that have been stripped from her. Toffee is written in beautiful lyrical verse and yet contains miles of emotion and some of the best of humanity.

Historical Fiction

The Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes

The Giver of Stars will either be heartwarming or Twee depending on your viewpoint. It follows the story of 5 women who establish and run a horseback library based in remote hills of Kentucky. As well as showing the different acts of heroism stemming from the librarians, it shows them as they navigate their way through small-town politics and dead marriages to find true friendship in each other. It was a real passion project for Moyes based on a photo of the real-life horseback library and I adored it.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

homegoing.jpgTwo half sisters who have never met, Effia and Esi, end up leading very different lives, with Effia marrying James Collings the British Governor in charge of Cape Coast Castle and Esi being taken prisoner in the dungeons of the same castle. What follows is an epic sprawling inter-generational tale following the two family lines as the face racism, prejudice and superstition at home and abroad. Each chapter follows a new descendant of the family. It’s heartbreaking and harrowing and captivating and utterly unputdownable.

Things in Jars by Jess Kidd

Bridie Devine is a Victorian era detective, interested in figuring out how things work and helping people that most would overlook. Having risen from an Irish Street rat to a doctor’s apprentice and now an independent woman who advocates for the less privileged, Bridie’s reputation is still recovering from her last case. Which is why a Baron with something…fishy to hide feels confident that she’ll keep his case confidential. So Bridie and her 7 foot tall ferocious maid, Cora get drafted in to find Christabel Berwick; a missing child that no one was supposed to know even existed, and who has a little air of Kirstin Dunst’s “butter wouldn’t melt/oh so vicious” character from Interview with a Vampire about her. Oh and Bridie absolutely doesn’t believe in anything inexplainable or supernatural. She DEFINITELY doesn’t believe in ghosts, and definitely isn’t developing feelings for the really handsome half dressed spectre from her past who just so happens to be following her everywhere.
What Jess Kidd has produced here is a book full of warmth, heart and genuinely hilarious quirks.

Fantasy

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

800 pages of queens and prophecies and dragons, and secret agents, and love. I have heard many many people say that the size of the book intimidated them, but the story flows so naturally, the characters are so compelling and the adventure so careering that you will never notice the length of this book, and will likely grieve when it does end. It’s phenomenal and does so without having to lean on gratuitous violence or misogyny. Ead and Sabran’s blossoming relationship is one for the ages.

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

Mia was born into a highborn family, with a life of wealth and privilege and a warm and loving family. However her father attempts a failed rebellion, he is summarily executed and her family imprisoned. With the help of her rage and a shadowy familiar named Mr Kindly Mia manages to escape and finds herself seeking out The Red Church, in order to graduate as an elite assassin called a Blade and exact her revenge on those that destroyed her family.

From page one this is engrossing, and brutal and unforgiving and utterly addictive.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Upon returning home for a funeral, the narrator starts to remember strange events which occurred 40 years earlier, including a malevolent spirit and the mysterious girl next door who offers to help him bind it. It’s impossible to describe what follows without giving too much away but it’s haunting and universally awestriking. And weird. But beautiful. This is the book that has ignited m love for Gaiman’s writing.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Vasya is the youngest daughter of a rural Russian Boyar named Pyotr, thought both cursed and gifted. Her birth led to her beloved mother’s death but she also wieldsthe-bear-and-the-nightingale.jpg extraordinary powers inherited from her maternal grandmother – including the ability to speak to spirits and creatures of folklore. Unfortuantely her stepmother (who shares her gift but believes she sees demons) condemns Vasya as a witch and shuns her and the culture that the creatures of folklore come from. Vasya’s gifts soon draw the attention of greater and more powerful spirits.

It’s a hauntingly beautiful tale based in Russian folklore and exploring Vasya’s journey to discover and accept herself.

The Binding by Bridget Collins

In a world where books are taboo as they are created by binding people’s undesired memories, which are then prayed on and traded by the elite, Emmett and his sister lead a sheltered life in a rural farm. Then one day Emmett is summoned to be a bookbinding apprentice – a profession and world he knows nothing about. Then one day he finds a book with his name on it.

This is a love story. One that is passionate and haunting and terrifying and where Emmett and Lucien have to fight prejudice and members of the powerful elite in order to find happiness.

Circe by Madeline Miller

20190110_152004The epitome of there are two sides to every story, Circe tells the story of a banished Goddess who was a side villain in the Odyssey, but from her point of view. Events play out just as they did in the Odyssey but from a very different perspective which follows Circe from her position at the bottom of the divine social ladder to her own ownership of herself as a person. A beautiful reimagining of a classic which makes it much more accessible and feminist for modern day audiences.

 

The “I don’t know what to call it” genre

I wanted you to know by Laura Pearson

If you want an uncontrollable tearjerker this is the one for you. Jess is a single mother who is at the end stages of terminal breast cancer, and her daughter, Edie is still a baby. So Jess sets about writing Edie a series of letters telling her how to love, how to forgive and how to move on. This is juxtaposed with Jess’s goodbyes to everyone around her. It is heartbreaking and powerful and cruel – the very nature of cancer. And completely unforgettable.

My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

A blackly comic look at the depths and limitations of family loyalty between two sisters in Lagos. Ayoola is charming, manipulative and deadly. Korede appears average by comparison but is fiercly protective and obsessively organised. As sisters they have a bond forged in the heat of an abusive childhood and they make a deadly efficient team, but what happens when they set their sights on the same man and can their relationship surivive?

Sal by Mick Kitson

It’s hard to define which genre Sal sits in; it could fit in so many. Sal and her sister have been living in an abusive home where their needs and welfare are neglected at best, and at worst…well: Sal is driven to plan an escape in order to preserve her sister. The story follows Sal and her sister as they find their feet, independence and general freedom in the Scottish wilderness, while also flashing back to the lives they escaped. Despite the circumstances it is hopeful and joyous in places and Sal is a compelling heroine who is determined to overcome the obstacles and lack of choice that were her lot in life.

The Lost Ones by Anita Frank

In 1917 Stella Marchem returns from nursing in the Great War, traumatised and having to come to terms with the horrific loss of her childhood sweetheart and fiancé. Steeped in a deep depression, Stella is given the mission of attending to her lonely and newly pregnant sister, Madeline, who currently lives with her mother-in-law and a handful of servants in an oppressive and chilling country manor. And so off she sets with her maid, Annie Burrows; a young girl who makes everyone around her nervous and who seems to on the knife edge of madness. But Madeline is facing more than simple loneliness; from running footsteps to sudden chills; misplaced items and sobbing in the night.
Is it hormonal hysteria, or is there something more sinister at work?

A Halloween Treat – Safe House by Jo Jakeman, Book Review

20191030_121401Charlie Miller is a woman on the run from her past. She’s just been released from prison for perverting the course of justice, but is also having to come to terms with her own guilt and the abuse she suffered at the hands of ex-boyfriend and serial killer Lee. With few ties to her old life and hankering after a new start, she flees to Cornwall, intending to keep her head down and try and acclimatise to her new freedom and self-awareness. But her new start is haunted by her past mistakes and it quickly becomes apparent that Charlie is being hunted by multiple people. Can she really just start anew?

I grew up obsessively watching Columbo films at weekends. I used to play a game where I would switch on the film 20 minutes in so that I missed the murder and then see how many seconds it took me to go “They did it”. As an adult, obviously this is hardly a challenge – it’s whoever Columbo insists on sharing the screen with in every scene – but as a kid I loved playing detective and that feeling has never really gone away. I love trying to solve the puzzle.

But thrillers are brain popcorn for me. I read them as a palate cleanser; a mini puzzle where I try and figure out the twists and turns as soon as possible. Usually the foreshadowing is pretty obvious but not with Safe House and I loved it for that. This genuinely kept me second guessing myself until the last page, and even when I did just about figure it out (about a chapter before the reveal, but I was never 100% certain) Jakeman still managed to throw a twist at me that I REALLY didn’t see coming. (It’s fairly minor, but I appreciated the surprise).

Charlie is an identifiable character who made catastrophic mistakes. She was a victim herself, but is having to find the balance of accepting her own vulnerabilities, complicity and abuse ensuring a complex and well-rounded heroine. I enjoyed that as she re-built her new run down home she began to recover herself and a semblance of a life, but more than that I loved the empathy and kindness she showed to the people around her who she initially had no intention of engaging with. Her relationship with the elderly man next door was one of the highlights for me.

There was the odd scene, particularly towards the end, which felt like it was written with cinematic rendering in mind (It strongly reminded me of Julia Robert’s ‘Sleeping with the Enemy’ which is no bad thing!) and I stumbled with the prologue which is driven by a character who is nowhere near as likeable as Charlie but he’s quickly relegated to the background.

But these are quibbles; this is a well-drawn, subtle, character-driven story with edge of the seat tension and jeopardy. The thriller elements; the paranoia of the prey and the twisted view point of the hunter, are ratcheted up so expertly and in such clever increments that the you can feel the tightening claustrophobia make your heart race.

A really top-notch thriller, and one that I’d definitely recommend.

I received a preview copy of Safe House in exchange for an honest review, but it’s out today (31st October) and the Publisher has confirmed that it is going to be available on Amazon Kindle for 99p throughout November – definitely one to add to your TBR pile.

A Spooky story for Spooktober

The Lost Ones by Anita Frank – Book Review

“Behind the crass grandeur and tasteless opulence, the walls of Greyswick were infused with so many secrets and lies that the very fabric of the building breathed deceit.”

The Lost OnesIn 1917 Stella Marchem returns from nursing in the Great War, traumatised and having to come to terms with the horrific loss of her childhood sweetheart and fiancé. Steeped in a deep depression, Stella is given the mission of attending to her lonely and newly pregnant sister, Madeline, who currently lives with her mother-in-law and a handful of servants in an oppressive and chilling country manor. And so off she sets with her maid, Annie Burrows; a young girl who makes everyone around her nervous and who seems to on the knife edge of madness. But Madeline is facing more than simple loneliness; from running footsteps to sudden chills; misplaced items and sobbing in the night. Is it hormonal hysteria, or is there something more sinister at work?

Written with a similar depth to classic gothic fiction and horror such as Rebecca, the Haunting of Hill House and The Woman in Black, Anita Frank has woven together a terrifying and nerve wracking tale which warrants becoming an instant classic of the genre.

The first half ratchets up the tension unbearably; I genuinely found myself with goosebumps and nervous to go into unlit rooms, before unravelling its macabre revelations. It creates a tangibly unsettling atmosphere which, even with a satisfying ending, stays with you long after the book closes.the-lost-ones-back.jpg

Stella is a capable and defiant heroine, driven by her love of her sister and those that she’s lost, and despite her misgivings and fear she never once succumbs to damselhood. Annie is intriguing and engaging as she awakens to her gifts and begins to accept who she is. In fact the entire story is driven by strong female characters, be they overbearing, hopeful, cynical or psychopathic.

The male characters are generally misogynistic as they sneeringly try to force the women back into their societally approved boxes, and inevitably fail.

Chilling and terrifying this had me gripped from the start to the end and I’ll be recommending it to everyone for some time to come.

Appropriately enough The Lost Ones is out on 31st October.

A Taste of Scottish Folklore in a Fantasy Realm – Book Review

The Stone of Destiny by Caroline Logan

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The Stone of Destiny by Caroline Logan

Ailsa is a 19 year old Hermit. Living a life of self-imposed isolation in a beach cave 5 years after her mother died, Ailsa has come to terms with her loneliness and convinced herself that she’s happy. Then she saves two selkies from ravagers and her life is flip turned upside down leading her to discover more about her own history.

In a world where Fae run rampant and the imprisonment of the evil faerie queen Nicnevan is perilous at best, Ailsa finds herself thrown into a quest to secure the throne for the royal family and protect her new friends from the powers that want to destroy them.

Logan has created a wonderful fantasy world, heavily influenced by Scottish Culture – kilts, bagpipes and thick Scottish accents abound, the Selkies themselves are named after Scottish Islands which don’t exist in this realm – and an engagingly grumpy heroine whose heavily foreshadowed destiny is much greater than she’s initially willing to accept.

There are a couple of minor problems, such as a relatively confusing backstory timeline that seems to give different time stamps every time it’s brought up and Harris, the younger of the two selkies that Ailsa rescues. His arrogance is more irritating that endearing, however there are enough hints that Harris’ main problem is immaturity that I’m hopeful he will grow out of his less likeable character traits and vindicate Ailsa’s faith in him.

But these are quibbles, and there are many many joys in this tale. The themes of family, both blood and found, which run through this are wonderful; there are themes of mental health and trauma; bullying and superstition and things not always being what they seem – be that monsters or people’s intentions. Groundwork is laid for what promises to be an epic multi-part tale. There are intriguing hints that Nicnevan may not be entirely bad, but rather wronged and misunderstood and perhaps even empathetic – I’m thinking Angelina Jolie’s Maleficient.

The initial characterisation and scene setting is sedate and then about half way through the story picks up a headspinning pace and revelations come thick and fast. Certainly enough is laid out to keep you excited for the next instalment and see what’s next for Ailsa. A real joy of a new Fantasy series. (AND IT HAS A MAP…and I LOVE MAPS!)

Thanks to Cranachan Books for letting me review this as part of their Blog Tour, and thanks to Caroline Logan for writing it!

Autumn begins with a few good reads – September Round-up

September was an odd month for me (I blame the Autumnal solstice and the darkening nights, cause it couldn’t POSSIBLY be my laziness. Nope. Not that.). The books I managed to read were all generally good and I would recommend them, however I spent far too long persevering with a book which I desperately wanted to like and ended up abandoning after about 2 weeks; and then the rest of the month scrolling the internet instead of reading (this I blame on the whole Sony/Marvel debacle while I not-so-patiently waited for confirmation that they were PLAYING US THE WHOLE TIME. Ahem. Moving on.) So there’s not a lot here, but other than my DNF I’d give any of them a shot!

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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I am so late to the party on this one, but it has been sat on my TBR pile for months. This is the book that kickstarted me reading again after “it-that-shall-not-be-named” (at the bottom of this list.) and I suspect you already know how powerful and phenomenal it is.

Starr Carter is a typical teenager, studying for exams; navigating changing friendships; hiding boyfriends from parents. But as she and her childhood friend Khalil are driving home from a party one night, tragedy strikes and Khalil is brutally shot dead by a cop in front of her, igniting the racial tensions in the community and forcing Starr to question the prevalent institutional prejudice being aimed at her community. All while she is trying to grieve and come to terms with her own  heartbreak and trauma. Worse still, it’s not the first time Starr has had to witness the death of a friend.20190925_121435

Starr is a girl who straddles two worlds, the one she grew up in where she feels she can be herself, and the one her school sits in, one of opportunity and privilege but where she feels she needs to censure herself in order to fit in. What follows the horrific murder of her friend is a clash of those two worlds, and Starr’s journey to see if she can bring the two versions of herself together in a way that she is comfortable with. It is an astoundingly powerful story and should absolutely be a recommended text for all schools everywhere.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I love love love The Handmaid’s Tale – not the TV show, the book (although I watch the show avidly too). I think it was probably the last book to surprise me. I’d heard of it, but somehow my brain had assumed it was a historical story about a servant. I had no idea what awaited me; how horrifying; how powerful; how plausible a dystopia it contained. And through the horror I fell in love with Offred and Margaret Atwood’s sinisterly powerful writing. The Testaments is NOT the Handmaid’s Tale. It doesn’t contain the creeping horror or the unavoidable dread. But it is exactly what fans of the original 20190920_143823needed 30 years later, in a world skirting scarily close to an oppressive dystopia.

It is a more streamlined look at the world of Gilead, focussing on three separate female voices and experiences of the regime: Agnes who was raised a believer; Daisy who was raised in Canada but whose parents hold secrets close to their chests; and Aunt Lydia. Yes. That one. Each woman’s voice is individual; Daisy is a child of privilege, awakening to some of the global issues around her, Agnes is that of a devout believer and Lydia is…complex and will genuinely keep you guessing until the end. Most importantly in this political climate, it offers hope and shows that individual actions always count for something.

A Pinch of Magic by Michelle Harrison ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Betty Widdershins and her sisters live with their sullen grandmother in Poacher’s Pocket; a rowdy, inn on the dreary island of Crowstone.

Desperate for a life of adventure, Betty plans a secret outing with her youngest sister to neighbouring Marshfoot for her 13th birthday, but is mysteriously caught mid-voyage by their Grandmother. Betty is then devasted to discover that all Widdershins’ girls are trapped by an ancient curse and if they ever leave Crowstone, they will die by the following sunrise.

Her grandmother attempts to soften the blow by showing the girls three magical objects which have been passed down through generations: an old bag that transports the bearer wherever they wish to go, a mirror which shows the holder whatever they want to see, and a set of Russian dolls containing the power of invisibility. When Betty tries to use these objects to change their fate, she inadvertently puts her sisters in mortal danger and has 24 hours in which to save them all.

This is a lovely, engaging story led by a brave and likeable heroine.

The Stone of Destiny by Caroline Logan ⭐⭐⭐ (and a half!)

I’m on the blog tour for this one next Monday, so I’ll post a full review then – but it’s ace!

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A School in South Uist: reminiscences of a Hebridean Schoolmaster 1890 – 1913  by F.G. Lea ⭐⭐⭐

This was a bit of a comfort read for me. Although it’s events take place over 100 years ago, the community, people and traditions it so gently describes are alive and well throughout the Hebrides, and defiantly recognisable to any who have experienced the way of life here… except now we have more cars. It’s not a dramatic story, but it is a cosy snapshot of Hebridean life and so would invoke homesickness in ex-pats or give a nice taster for those wanting to know more about the Hebrides. My only complaint is FG Lea spends WAAAYYYY to long talking about sport. Especially fishing.

Kraken by China Melville (uch…DNF)

I wanted to like this one so badly – from the cover (yes, I know, but LOOK at it ! ↓) to the concept (Copper is20190902_131936.jpg thrown into the underground world of Secret London Cuthulu Cults worshipping giant squid) this just looked my bag.

It was my curated book subscription book too, so chosen specifically for me; but at one point I actually googled the history and current stance on Cursive Writing, just because I was so easily distracted. Trying to keep my brain on this story was HARD work and even though I tried for nearly two weeks I only got about 8 chapters in. I couldn’t invest in the characters, I could barely understand what was happening half the time, and while generally I tend to let narratives like that flow over me until it clicks, I just couldn’t make myself care with this one…so apologies if it suddenly gets good 3 pages after I quit but Life’s too short.

 

Pick of the month: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

 

Dud of the Month: Kraken by China Melville

August Reading Round-up

Whaddya mean it’s 3 days late? Phst nonsense..nope..*Sticks fingers in ears* La La La La Can’t hear you!

Ahem…

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Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Not due out until early 2020. Dear Edward tells the story of a 12 year old who is the only survivor of a plane crash that kills 191 people including his whole family. The book juxtaposes two time periods: the last 6 hours of the ill-fated flight and it’s passengers; and the following four years as Edward tries to come to terms with the disaster and find a way forward through his shock, survivor’s guilt and PTSD.

It’s a tragedy with no real narrative surprises but such beautiful insight into the good and bad elements of humanity that it proves compelling and heartbreaking in equal measure. It looks at the significance of mental health and examines how much harder emotional scars are to heal than physical ones and the importance of empathy and kindness in the building of relationships. This is going to be a must read for book clubs.

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

JoJo Moyes has produced another readable and captivating story with The Giver of Stars, due out in October 2019. It follows the story of the 5 women who make up the Horseback Library between in the late 30s/early 40s and in doing so they find their independence, confidence and friendships that will last forever.

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Inspired by a real Horseback Library (but with fictional librarians) it’s a heartwarming, optimistic and empowering story who’s galloping pace and engaging characters manage to completely eclipse any moments of cheese and tweeness. AND it celebrates the heroism and natural subervisiveness of librarians. It’s going to be a crowdpleaser.

Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Peter Grant is at it again, trying to make sense of the mystical world of River Gods and Fey and malicious poltergeists running riot around London. In Lies Sleeping, Grant and Nightingale close in on Chorley as he nears completion of his long term and devastating plan, and have to consider making a tenuous alliance with the most dangerous partner yet in order to ensure mutual survival.

The Breakneck pace and crime novel writing style belie the complex world building and story arc that means that, despite having read every other Peter Grant novel, I STILL have to revise the ongoing story arc on Wikipedia to remind myself of the historic and dimensional jumps and whether Leslie May is currently a friend or foe. I love these books, and there’s nothing else out there like them (Please ignore the comments that this is Harry Potter for adults, while I love Harry Potter this is much darker, gorier and grittier…and Peter has is a lot smarter), but be warned, you can’t just jump in in the middle of the series or you really will be lost. Go back and enjoy them from the start.

Animal: The Autobiography of a Female Body by Sara Pascoe ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Sara Pascoe is one of my favourite comedians, so I expected the breathless irreverent humour present in this, what I wasn’t expecting was to learn so much about my own

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body.

In Animal, Sara has done research into what is known about the female body and how it responds to situations, and details what she has discovered, while dotting throughout some rather funny and touching anecdotes that demonstrate her newly discovered understanding of her psychology and physiology. If you are a woman, it is likely you will know a good portion of what is contained in here, but there’s always more to learn, and it makes an interesting and more identifiable take on the autobiography genre – one which while making you laugh – acts as an autobiography for the reader and their own body as well.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones ⭐⭐⭐

Ooft this was a tough one. The quality of the writing; the nuance and delicacy with which Jones tackles the havoc wrecked on the lives of the characters, and the adept handling of the complex feelings involved are all beyond excellent, and allowed me to read this book in less than a day. I sympathised and felt for the characters and felt rage at the horrific injustices done to them and the repercussions. But I didn’t like them. The levels of misogyny in Roy and Celestial’s father were stomach churning, and at times terrifying – even the way that Roy thinks and speaks of Celestial before the tragic night that rips them apart are framed in ownership and viewing her as a trophy – seeing her as a tick box accomplishment. Celestial was more likeable, and in an impossible position, but displayed moments of selfishness that it was hard to empathise with, mostly involving in-laws and parents. Ironically, in creating such well-drawn characters, such fully-formed people with the good and the bad, Jones has created characters that are fairly unlikeable

The Girl the Sea Gave Back by Adrienne Young ⭐⭐⭐

As a child found washed up on the beach, Tova found a home among the Svell, a private clan who fear and ostracise Tova for her gift of reading the future in the Runes, yet use her skills to guide their major decisions. When the Chieftain who provided her with at least a fragile protection takes offense at an unfortunate reading, Tova finds her position is even more brittle, but having been told for her whole life that she is a cursed Tova has nowhere else to turn. But once again her gift as a truth tongue sets in motion a series of events that might just lead her home.

This had all the elements of a book I should have loved, and it was good. But I didn’t find myself as emotionally invested as I had hoped. The characters are interesting but felt two dimensional and predictable which stopped them being compelling. Tova had very little agency, and even when she made a life-changing decision it felt as though she did so as a pawn of fate rather than a heroine in her own right. With everything seemingly pre-destined and controlled by the Spinners it removed any sense of jeopardy or intrigue. Very readable, but pretty forgettable.

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Turning Darkness into Light by Marie Brennan ⭐⭐⭐

I’ve jumped around with this series a little, given I only just read the first novel in the Lady Trent Memoirs series last month, but I was excited to get my hands on the newest release, which is a spin off from those memoirs. Following the academic writings of Lady Trent on her findings on Dragons, this spin off focuses on the efforts of Lady Trent’s Granddaughter, Audrey, as she attempts to make an academic name for herself and step out from her famous Grandmother’s shadow. Audrey is commissioned to translate stone tablets which may hold the key to lasting peace between Scirling and draconian society, but political manoeuvrings and secret plans might be using her as a pawn.

Because I haven’t covered the whole series yet, I found a lot of the information in this one took so long to unfurl (Draconeans clearly appear much later in the Lady Trent series, but here knowledge of this half human half dragon race is assumed) that it probably had a significant impact on my enjoyment. But structured through journal and newspaper extracts as well as letters, this is a book whose structure is more compelling than the narrative it tells. Suspicions are raised early that all is not as it seems, but the reader can quite easily see the schemes afoot so long before Audrey herself figures them out that the story feels grindingly so until about three quarters of the way through when the action suddenly kicks in. A decent enough read, but not a standalone spin off and does drag for a while.

The Pisces by Melissa Broder ⭐

So a little glimpse of my haphazard review process: I keep a list of what I read in a word document so that I can remember and add to it or write reviews whenever I get a chance through the month. I never do – it’s always a last minute panic accompanied by “Shit, Shit, Shit, why am I doing this again?”

This month as I looked through my list to put them in some semblance of preferential order, but when I came to The Pisces I couldn’t even remember what it was about – just that I hated it. I had to go and look up the synopsis again at which point I shuddered and realised it’s not that it’s a forgettable book, I’d just blocked it from my memory for self-preservation.

The Pisces is described in the blurb as “whip-smart, neurotically funny, sexy and above all, fearless.” It’s none of these things. Lucy is horrible. Not in her anxieties or fears or neurosis which I think everyone can identify with, but in her selfish behaviour and actions. The Dog dies FFS because she’s too busy off shagging people who frankly aren’t worth anyone’s time. She lost any inkling of sympathy or redeemability from me instantly. And “sexy” could not be further from the truth. The sex is awful, and fairly skin crawling, as are all her love interests. There’s no one to root for in this book, except the dog. And he dies due to neglect. Therefore this is a tragedy. Go to Ao3 if you’re looking for sexy fiction, cause this ain’t it.

Pick of the Month: Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

Dud of the Month: The Pisces by Melissa Broder