The Goodreads Book Tag

grbtOn a quiet and not particularly busy Friday afternoon when I’m doing anything I can to avoid having to mark assignments, I noticed Becky had posted a book tag that I found quite fun – The Goodreads Book Tag. I was only discussing with my sister last week that I haven’t put my whole backlist of read books onto goodreads, because I do actually have some restrictions on my time, but I try to use it as often as I can now, both to keep track of what I’m reading and to find new books to read! Unfortunately, it can end up being a massive time suck as I get pulled into lists of books that I absolutely must read and end up with fifteen open tabs and five of them are Amazon, so… in any case!

Let me just open up my Goodreads so I have the answers to my questions, and try not to get lost…

The Goodreads Book Tag!

What was the last book you marked as read?

25181955Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell – I absolutely loved this cardthrowing Western with a magical element, frankly quite useless protagonist, and sardonic talking squirrel cat, and instantly shelved the sequel, Shadowblack, as to-read.

What are you currently reading?

Currently (as of this morning!) I have Sophie Kinsella’s My Not-So Perfect Life on the go as an audiobook, and I’m reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. I’m not far enough into the Kinsella to have an opinion, and I’m very torn on Eleanor Oliphant. She’s compelling as a main character, but utterly infuriating in her obliviousness. Perhaps other people find her endearing, but I really want to throttle the poor woman.

What was the last book you marked as ‘to read’?

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein. I absolutely adored Code Name Verity, and this prequel is being published next week. I only realised yesterday that it was coming (and so sooon!) so it was instantly added to my to-read shelf, and will be bought as soon as I can get my grubby little hands on a copy of it.

34593693Do you use the star rating system?

I do! I try to rate as soon as I finish the book, but I sometimes need to go back and change it as my opinion changes sometimes as I contemplate the book and how it lingered with me. I’d prefer a 10 star rating though. Five is so restrictive!

Are you doing the 2017 reading challenge?

I am indeed! My aim is 100 books, and I’m currently on 46, which isn’t too bad!

Do you have a wishlist?

I have a to-read list on GoodReads, but I don’t always pay attention to it when I’m actually buying books, plus the books on it aren’t always all of the books I do intend to read. So while there are some overlaps, it wouldn’t really be fair to say that my to-read is a wishlist.

Who are your favorite authors?

Garth Nix, Jaclyn Moriarty, Gayle Forman, Elizabeth Wein, Dorothy Koomson, Jodi Picoult, Sophie Kinsella… Turns out I have a serious leaning towards female authors, with Garth Nix as the exception!

Have you joined any groups?

Technically, yes. The groups I have joined are totally inactive though, so it would be disingenuous to say that I’m actually really participating.

How many Goodreads shelves do you have?

11. Currently-reading, Read, To-Read, Favourites and Abandoned, which are all pretty self-explanatory. Then there’s also Read-in-2015, the only year I did that; Books Sinéad sent me picture of, because she sends me pictures of books she likes the look of, and I like to keep track of them; Yalc 2016, which was started with the best of intentions of tracking the books I read from YALC, but was abandoned quickly; Australian Wishlist, which I think I set up for a competition; and dystopia, because I like to read a lot of them. My shelves would be absolutely useless to anyone else ever, except maybe Sinéad, who could probably get some use out of the one about her.

I TAG…

Aoife from Pretty Purple Polka Dots, to save this up for one of her Tag Thursdays.

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Spellslinger – Sebastien de Castell

Funnily enough, I actually almost got two copies of this book. I got one from Hot Key’s blogger list, and then won another online, but asked them not to send it to me, as I would be reviewing it anyway.

I think I liked this book enough to get two copies of it though. A Western-Eastern fusion, with lone gunslingers, a magic system based on elemental uses, and desperate inequality between the have(magics) and the have-nots, I really enjoyed this book even more than I thought I was going to.

Spellslinger – Sebastien de Castell

25181955“There are three things that earn you a man’s name among the Jan’Tep. The first is to demonstrate the strength to defend your family. The second is to prove you can perform the high magic that defines our people. The third is surviving your fourteenth year. I was a few weeks shy of my birthday when I learned that I wouldn’t be doing any of those things.”

Kellen’s dreams of becoming a powerful mage like his father are shattered after a failed magical duel results in the complete loss of his abilities. When other young mages begin to suffer the same fate, Kellen is accused of unleashing a magical curse on his own clan and is forced to flee with the help of a mysterious foreign woman who may in fact be a spy in service to an enemy country. Unsure of who to trust, Kellen struggles to learn how to survive in a dangerous world without his magic even as he seeks out the true source of the curse. But when Kellen uncovers a conspiracy hatched by members of his own clan seeking to take power, he races back to his city in a desperate bid to outwit the mages arrayed against him before they can destroy his family.

Spellslinger is heroic fantasy with a western flavour.

I really, really enjoyed this book. Not least because of the use of different magic systems and worldbuilding which, it is evident, will become more crucial in the later books in the series, but for a whole bunch of other reasons as well.

The book started off with a punch, which I always like, as a poor first chapter can really put me off. Kellen begins the book about to enter a duel with another mage, only it turns out he’s not really magically adept, so he’s relying on his skill in trickery. I loved the fact that not only does Kellen start out the book being useless at the one thing that really matters in his life – magic – he stays that way. Throughout the book, he doesn’t suddenly discover that he’s actually more adept than anyone else, but in a different way, but rather he finds ways to use his own weakness and the other talents he’s got up his sleeve – namely intellect, trickery, and quick thinking – to make his way through a period of intense turmoil in his desert settlement.

Jan’Tep society as a whole is deeply flawed, with the weaknesses pointed out through the book, not only through Kellen’s own musings but also in the systemic inequality of the system which allows unrest to grow. Kellen’s sister is perhaps the most disappointing character in the book, as her personality doesn’t shine through at any point really, but the rest of the cast are shining stars of depth and nuance. Bonds of family, of clan, of loyalty, and of the tug to do the right thing pull Kellen and his companions in different directions, and no choice is an easy one. I really enjoyed the variety and depth of not only characters, but also their reactions to situations and the moral and ethical dilemmas they faced. As well as some of their entirely over the top and ridiculous reactions in their quest for power.

Let’s talk for a second about my two favourite characters – Ferius Parfax, a mysterious roaming stranger. Could be a spy, could be a mage, could be a traitor, is definitely a woman of great intellect, and a force for … something. We don’t know what yet. She’s strange and other, but I can’t wait to find out more about her. And then there’s Reichis. A vicious, sardonic, bloodthirsty talking squirrel cat with a filthy mouth and a resentful debt to pay, he is my aboslute favourite thing about this book. By turns funny and tragic, his exasperated and violent advice is almost never helpful but almost always adds nuance and humour to the book. More than just comic relief, Reichis also adds a depth to the backstory.

The final chapters of the book expanded hugely on what had preceded it, flagging that this is the first of a six-book series, but the story concluded in a way which left me satisfied that the arc was complete and a larger story was yet to come. My main complaint is that a) it hasn’t even been published yet, which means b) it’s going to be ages until Shadowblack, the second in the series, comes out!

Five Stars and highly recommended.
*****

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Like Other Girls – Claire Hennessy

Super productive, Claire Hennessy not only works full time in Penguin Ireland, but also manages to produce novels at a rate of knots. Nothing Tastes As Good was only published last July, and yet Like Other Girls is due to be published next month. I received a NetGalley copy of Like Other Girls thanks to the publisher, Hot Key Books, and read it over the course of the latter half of last week and the weekend. Unsettling and pointed, this book covers a myriad of issues, tackling mainly the pressures on being female-bodied in Ireland but also shining a light on issues of being LGBT (mostly B & T) in Ireland.

Like Other Girls – Claire Hennessy

32860070.jpgHere’s what Lauren knows: she’s not like other girls. She also knows it’s problematic to say that – what’s wrong with girls? She’s even fancied some in the past. But if you were stuck in St Agnes’s, her posh all-girls school, you’d feel like that too. Here everyone’s expected to be Perfect Young Ladies, it’s even a song in the painfully awful musical they’re putting on this year. And obviously said musical is directed by Lauren’s arch nemesis.

Under it all though, Lauren’s heart is bruised. Her boyfriend thinks she’s crazy and her best friend’s going through something Lauren can’t understand… so when Lauren realises she’s facing every teenage girl’s worst nightmare, she has nowhere to turn. Maybe she should just give in to everything. Be like other girls. That’s all so much easier … right?

Hennessy’s books are always packed with strong female characters who are troubled in some way. For Lauren, she’s struggling with issues with her best friend, her kind of rubbish boyfriend, and the main issue of the novel, every teenage girl’s worse nightmare.

My main problem with this book – and I suspect that it was actually written to be this way, meaning that I just didn’t click with it, not that it’s a bad book – is that Lauren is actually not a nice or empathetic character at all. Despite (or perhaps because of) being a teenager identifying herself as LGBT and struggling with the usual issues that most cisbodied teenage girls deal with (periods, hormones, body confidence, etc), she has little to no empathy for the issues that her friends and colleagues are dealing with. Rather it seems like she identifies her own issues as paramount, and brushes anything anyone else might be dealing with to the side.

Now, in a lot of ways this is actually incredibly true to life. Everyone is fighting their own battle, and it seems most of the time (especially when you’re a teenager) that nobody has it as hard as you, and nobody understands what you’re going through. And while that’s true, nobody has the exact same struggle, everybody has some degree of empathy, and if you reach out, you’re likely to find a great deal of support.

Lauren, certainly, doesn’t have it easy in the book. Alone and isolated, without support, she finds herself struggling to obtain the help she needs because of the backwards country she lives in. Hennessy writes with honesty and no small amount of disgust about the near-total unavailability of abortion in Ireland and the struggles pregnant women in Ireland face to obtain control over their own bodies. This is an issue I feel passionately about, and as far as this book deals with it, it is absolutely spot-on. Lauren isn’t especially likeable, and she doesn’t have any tragic circumstances which would ‘justify’ her control over her own body, but she’s presented sympathetically and honestly, and if this were the bulk of the book, it would have been a stellar favourite for me.

But where I thought Like Other Girls fell down is that it throws in a whole lot of other issues at the same time, and I felt like this made it lose focus. The narrative also considers several of Lauren’s trans friends, and Lauren’s reaction to her first sapphic experience (I think… it’s not entirely clear in the book) as well as the struggle of her mother becoming her school principal and the difficulty of the rubbish school musical (when Lauren is a massive musicals fan, and would have been excited to do any of the classics).

Now, again, I realise that real life is messy, and issues don’t pop up one by one to be dealt with in order in nice book-sized chunks. Life can be a clusterfuck and things will all seem to happen at once. And the author does do a good job of representing that. But with something as hugely important as access to abortion services in Ireland, I felt like it deserved more focus in the book than it actually got.

My other issue with this book was actually the title. Or perhaps not the title, but the way it was presented from the blurb. While Lauren is self-aware, and notes that she’s not like ‘other girls’ in her school inasmuch as she’s something of a loner, but it’s problematic to depict the other girls as something less than valid and full human beings, the final two lines of the blurb set this story up as if Lauren would try to hide her ‘other-ness’, her queerness. But she never does that. Lauren is never anything less than 100% herself, trying to deal with life as best she can, and not denying any aspects of herself.

I like the idea that the title could be read differently, that Lauren would like other girls – referring to her own identity as bisexual – but I think that might actually be me reading too much into it.

So, overall, this book had absolutely stellar parts. For wit and pop culture it was spot on, and its handling of issues of access for Irish women to abortion services was absolutely heartbreaking (in a good and important way) but I felt like the book sometimes had too much going on, and lost its impact along the way.

Three Stars
***

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Small Great Things – Jodi Picoult

I make no secret of the fact that I love Jodi Picoult and her ridiculous, scandal-filled books. Generally, I’m pretty sure that her writing method involves throwing a handful of darts at a wall on which she has listed every possible social and personal issue, and just writing a story which includes as many of those as possible, and then making sure to include a court case.

In many ways, Small Great Things was no different to this – there was a big social issue and a court case, and a big sting in the tail (there’s always a sting in the tail!). But actually, I think this was one of Picoult’s strongest offerings because it was focused on one main issue, and not getting side-tracked into seventeen other issues of import.

This has definitely come up as one of my favourite Picoult books, and I’ve been recommending it to my sister (who’s still not read the last Picoult book I got her… in 2015) with gusto. Focused and tight, this is definitely a book worth reading.

Small Great Things – Jodi Picoult

30091287When a newborn baby dies after a routine hospital procedure, there is no doubt about who will be held responsible: the nurse who had been banned from looking after him by his father.

What the nurse, her lawyer and the father of the child cannot know is how this death will irrevocably change all of their lives, in ways both expected and not.

Small Great Things is about prejudice and power; it is about that which divides and unites us.

 

Small Great Things was always on my to-read list, because Picoult books automatically go on my list, but having actually gotten hold of a massive hardbacked copy of it, I was hooked from the very beginning. Despite being almost 500 pages, I had it read within a day and a half, and was left at the end with a feeling of deep unease about race relations in the US.

At times this book felt a little bit like racism 101, with its focus on the invisible (to white people) discrimination that black Americans face every day, but I think that focus was actually important not only as Ruth, the African-American main character, explains this to the white people around her, but also as other characters (notably Turk, the White Supremacist father of the baby at the centre of this book) go on a journey of discovery.

I think it’s hugely important that we have diverse books to read, and that Own Voices are supported. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about Jodi Picoult writing from the perspective of a black woman. Being a middle-class white European, this is not a perspective that I can claim to have any understanding of, but it is one that I appreciate reading about. Picoult’s books are always told from multiple points of view, so Ruth is just one character of the narrators in Small Great Things, along with Turk, and Kennedy, Ruth’s white lawyer.

Sometimes I felt like this book was a bit preachy, with a white author writing about something she will never understand. But then at other times I felt like Jodi Picoult has such a wide audience that her highlighting this issue will make it more widely understood than if written by a black author. Not because Picoult would have a better understanding (of course she wouldn’t), but because by the very nature of her privilege, she’ll reach more people. I don’t know. It’s a tough one, and I don’t really have a conclusion on it.

Story-wise, though, I very much enjoyed this book. It clipped along at a nice pace, and was focused on the central issues in the book, without diverging into the many side-plots that usually pepper Picoult books. Pleasingly, rather than detracting from the book (like it did with Lone Wolf), this made the story more focused and intense, and I appreciated it a lot.

I’ll tell you what I had a massive issue with, though, was the needless reveal at the end of the book. Picoult books almost always have a massive reveal or twist in the last five pages, and this was no different, but it added almost nothing to the story, and I felt like it actually detracted in a large way from the impact of the foregoing plotlines.

But, then, if I read a Picoult book without a big twist at the end, I’d be disgusted that there was no twist, so really I have no strong conclusions here. I do know, however, that I very much enjoyed this book, and would happily recommend it, with the caveat that as a white person, my perspective on race relations is awfully privileged.

Four Stars
****

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A Quiet Kind of Thunder – Sara Barnard

30197201Last Christmas, so three or four months ago, my sister made her displeasure known that as she moved in with her boyfriend, she was suddenly getting joint Christmas presents instead of individual ones.

Given that she’s a big moanbag, I picked her up an extra book for Christmas – Beautiful Broken Things – which she has yet to actually pass on to me so I can read it.

In any case, she enjoyed that so much that she asked if I could get Sara Barnard’s second novel, A Quiet Kind of Thunder, and then pass it on to her.

One day while I was supposed to be buying birthday cards, I did just that, and it sat on top of my TBR pile until my sister came to visit. Then she borrowed and read it, and basically, since I don’t like her having read books that I haven’t, I then had to follow on and read it myself.

But I’m very glad I did, because it was quite a nice story.

A Quiet Kind of Thunder – Sara Barnard

Steffi doesn’t talk, but she has so much to say.
Rhys can’t hear, but he can listen.
Their love isn’t a lightning strike, it’s the rumbling roll of thunder.

Steffi has been a selective mute for most of her life – she’s been silent for so long that she feels completely invisible. But Rhys, the new boy at school, sees her. He’s deaf, and her knowledge of basic sign language means that she’s assigned to look after him. To Rhys, it doesn’t matter that Steffi doesn’t talk, and as they find ways to communicate, Steffi finds that she does have a voice, and that she’s falling in love with the one person who makes her feel brave enough to use it.

From the bestselling author of Beautiful Broken Things comes a love story about the times when a whisper is as good as a shout.

There was a lot I quite liked in this book. The front cover had the BSL alphabet, and each chapter heading was accompanied by a little diagram of the number in BSL. Frustratingly, although I know my ISL alphabet, that is of absolutely no help to me, as British and Irish sign language are not at all similar. I can spell my name in BSL though.

In any case – the book! I enjoyed this love story, as it portrayed Steffi, and her selective mutism, seriously debilitating anxiety, and panic disorder, falling in love for the first time with Rhys, the new boy in her school.

There was a lot of really relatable stuff in this book, from the awkwardness of trying to figure out if someone likes you or, you know, likes you to the self-confidence issues of wondering if you’re just ‘available’ as opposed to desirable. I really empathised with Steffi at times, and felt she was a very likeable main character. She wasn’t perfect, of course, and her anxiety got in her own way half the time as she self-sabotages on the way to her happy ending.

The supporting cast of Steffi’s family and friend, plus Rhys’s wider circle, was realistic, although sometimes lacking depth. Steffi’s mother, especially, seemed to be very one-dimensional, and had no mode other than worry. But then, perhaps that is how some parents react to having a child with chronic anxiety.

Nonetheless, this coming of age story added enough new twists to still feel fresh and innovative, while covering the classic themes of growing up, finding yourself, finding your place in the world, and spreading your wings. And speaking up for yourself – both metaphorically and literally!

I very much enjoyed this book, and will definitley be borrowing Beautiful Broken Things the next time I see my sister.

Four Stars
****

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The Judge’s Wife – Ann O’Loughlin

My mother reads lots of fiction written by Irish authors, set in Ireland, which falls into the ‘women’s fiction’ genre. I hate that as a label, but in any case, when I get my hands on her books, I have lots of choices of books to read by Irish authors. Having noticed that I was missing an O surname in my challenge last week, I figured an Irish surname was an easy way to fix that, so I picked ‘The Judge’s Wife’ by Ann O’Loughlin. I didn’t realise until after I had finished it that this wasn’t actually the first book by this author that I’ve read, but I wish I’d been a bit more attentive, because I didn’t enjoy the first book I read by her particularly, and I enjoyed this second one even less.

The Judge’s Wife – Ann O’Loughlin

51JgJmt0TWLSpanning three decades, this is the moving story of three women and how one great love changed their lives forever.

With her whole life ahead of her, beautiful young Grace’s world changes forever when she’s married off to a much older judge. Soon, feeling lonely and neglected, Grace meets and falls in love with an Indian doctor, Vikram. He’s charming, thoughtful and kind, everything her husband is not. But this is the 1950s and when she becomes pregnant, the potential scandal must be harshly dealt with to avoid ruin.

As soon as she has given birth, Grace is sent to an asylum by the judge and a conniving aunt. Vikram is told that Grace died in childbirth and returns, heartbroken, to India. But it’s not the end of the story. Thirty years later, with the judge dead, his estranged daughter Emma returns home, full of anger and resentment. There she finds Grace’s diaries and begins to uncover a mystery about her mother that she had never suspected. Meanwhile, in India, Vikram is planning a long-awaited trip to Ireland with his much-loved niece, Rosa, who has heard all about Grace and her uncle’s long lost love, so that he can stand, at last, at the grave of the woman he loved.

As secrets are finally uncovered, will they be able to cope with the biggest secret of all?

So there was a lot I didn’t like about this book, actually. Firstly, the writing style felt very clunky. Every single word was written out in its entirety, including during speech, so there was no real vocal flow to reading the dialogue parts. I was on the phone to my sister the other day, giving out about this, and tried to avoid using any contractions in my speech for the rest of the conversation. I lasted two sentences. Now admittedly this book was set in the fifties and eighties, so perhaps speech was more formal then than it is now, but even still, I really did feel like the writing style detracted from immersing myself in the story.

I also wasn’t all that on board with the story. There were some admirably strong parts in it – there’s no denying that the treatment of women in the fifties in Ireland was appalling, and this book highlights that to a degree, through how the women with Grace are treated by those around them, and how their issues are viewed and the general attitude of others towards them. I was on board with that, certainly. But the actual driving force of the plot was, frankly, ridiculous. There were so many revelations that I was turning every page waiting for the next big twist to come, and rolling my eyes from about halfway through.

There are a lot of smaller, niggly things that I could have brought up to complain about with regard to the plot of this book. It actually uses a similar plot device to The Tea Planter’s Wife, which I read a few years ago. The thing is, though, The Tea Planter’s Wife just handled it much better, rather than piling reveal on reveal on reveal until my eyes hurt from rolling them so hard.

I didn’t particularly enjoy the first Ann O’Loughlin book I read, and I definitely didn’t enjoy this, the second, so I’ll have to remember her name and avoid her in future. There are much better authors out there who write historical fiction, fiction which focuses on Ireland’s appalling treatment of women, fiction about enduring love and arranged marriages, about families being split up, but, you know, they make it seem at least a little bit realistic. I will not be seeking out another O’Loughlin book in the near future!

Two Stars
**

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A Dance With Dragons – George RR Martin

It took me over a week to finish A Dance With Dragons – the fifth instalment in A Song of Ice and Fire and the latest available (thus far). Having had mixed experiences with the first four books, I was actually really into it by now. Not having seen half of the cast since the end of A Storm of Swords, I was itching to find out what happened to Dany, Tyrion, Jon, etc in the time that we saw passing during A Feast for Crows.

I mentioned this in my Feast review, but it’s worth reiterating. I really feel like the geographical split of the story between Feast and Dance was a rubbish decision editorially. Not only that, although I knew that Dance carries on past the endpoint of Feast, I was pretty gutted to realise that it doesn’t carry on particularly far, and several characters that I had actually grown to like during Feast (much to my surprise in the case of a certain highborn maid of three-and-ten) made no reappearance in ‘After the Feast’, the second half of A Dance With Dragons. It’s now been twelve years since the publication of A Feast for Crows, and damnit, I want to know what’s going on with that highborn maid of three-and-ten!

tumblr_mm99ivnCS01s9pzsmo1_500.gif

In any case. Besides that complaint!

10664113In the aftermath of a colossal battle, the future of the Seven Kingdoms hangs in the balance—beset by newly emerging threats from every direction. In the east, Daenerys Targaryen, the last scion of House Targaryen, rules with her three dragons as queen of a city built on dust and death. But Daenerys has thousands of enemies, and many have set out to find her. As they gather, one young man embarks upon his own quest for the queen, with an entirely different goal in mind.

Fleeing from Westeros with a price on his head, Tyrion Lannister, too, is making his way to Daenerys. But his newest allies in this quest are not the rag-tag band they seem, and at their heart lies one who could undo Daenerys’s claim to Westeros forever.

Meanwhile, to the north lies the mammoth Wall of ice and stone—a structure only as strong as those guarding it. There, Jon Snow, 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, will face his greatest challenge. For he has powerful foes not only within the Watch but also beyond, in the land of the creatures of ice.

From all corners, bitter conflicts reignite, intimate betrayals are perpetrated, and a grand cast of outlaws and priests, soldiers and skinchangers, nobles and slaves, will face seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Some will fail, others will grow in the strength of darkness. But in a time of rising restlessness, the tides of destiny and politics will lead inevitably to the greatest dance of all.

I did actually quite enjoy this book. A return to lots of my favourite characters (okay, let’s be real, Tyrion and Jon) was welcomed, after their absence from A Feast for Crows, and the twisting, turning plot becomes ever more complicated and intertwined as yet more new characters are introduced, and others are brutally killed.

It’s a very strange thing to read a book which has seeped into the collective cultural consciousness in such a way as A Song of Ice and Fire has, but so much later than it was published. Six years after A Dance with Dragons came out first, and with the TV series having overtaken the books, there was plenty that I was expecting to happen in this book that actually… didn’t. Turns out I was absorbing information from the TV show, rather than the books.

There is a lot happening in this book. Over a thousand pages of words. And yet, as repeated so often in the book itself, words are wind. Despite the lengthy tome, it feels like for a lot of the cast, nothing happens other than continuing on to get to where they’re going. But they haven’t arrived yet. I realise that as the fifth of seven books, there is clearly still a lot of setting up to be done for dénouement of the story, and of course, with such a sprawling and unwieldy array of POV characters, it’s going to take a long time for everyone to have their say, but seriously, there is both too much and really not enough going on here.

But actually, I was mostly able to let Martin away with it. The sprawling, dynastic legacy of the game of thrones, the battle for the iron throne, the actions of the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, I was definitely on board with almost all of it. The expansion of the world as we see travelers making their way to their various destinations (most of them seeking Danaerys and her dragons) gave us new insights into parts of the world that we hadn’t seen before, and new horrendous things to contemplate, such as feeding unsuspecting mummers to lions.

Some characters, I wanted to be eaten by lions, in fairness. Ramsay, on the basis that he’s a twisted and terrifying personification of evil, and Penny, for how unceasingly dull she is, but those were minor diversions. Plus, everyone needs someone to hate, right?

Overall, I was left looking for more adventures in Westeros, which I suppose is probably what Martin wants when writing these. I’m pretty disappointed that I’ve now run out of published ASoIaF books, but there are still the Dunk and Egg novellas, and I could try reading The World of Ice and Fire, although that seems a little like a ponderous encyclopaedia of information dumping, so I don’t know if I’ll be all that tempted to try it.

In any case, I am indeed now one of those waiting for the publication of The Winds of Winter. Last week marked the point at which the gap between the publication of Feast and Dance was outstripped by the gap between Dance and Winds, and there’s no sign of publication any time soon, so I’m not holding my breath. At least I have the TV show to keep me going, and its divergence from the books to ensure that I won’t be spoilered out of all enjoyment of the final two ASoIaF books.

Four Stars
****

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Challenge Update – One Quarter Through

I mentioned briefly at the start of the year that although I wasn’t doing the PopSugar or Modern Mrs Darcy reading challenges this year, I have set myself a GoodReads challenge, and my own personal challenge to read:

  • A book by an author whose first name begins with the letters A-Z
  • A book by an author whose surname begins with the letters A-Z
  • A book with a title that starts with the letters A-Z

So since we’re now into April, and therefore one quarter of the way through the year, I figured what better time to have a look at how I’m doing?!

GoodReads Challenge

I set my challenge number at 100 books for the year, and I’m pretty sure that I’ll surpass it. As of today, I’m on 38, which is 13 ahead of schedule, according to GoodReads. That does include a few short stories, but I’m confident that I’ll still manage to break this challenge before the end of the year.

bookchallengeMar

First Names A-Z Challenge

A
Alyssa B Sheinmel Second Star
Anna Bell The Good Girlfriend’s Guide to Getting Even
B
Brian Jacques Rakkety Tam
C
CJ Redwine The Shadow Queen
Colleen Hoover It Ends With Us
Colleen Hoover Confess
D    
E
Erin Kelly He Said/She Said
F    
G
Garth Nix Frogkisser!
George RR Martin A Storm of Swords
George RR Martin A Feast for Crows
George RR Martin A Dance With Dragons
H
Heidi Heilig The Ship Beyond Time
I    
J
Jennifer Chance Courted
Jennifer L Armentrout The Problem with Forever
Jill Mansell The Unpredictable Consequences of Love
Josh Martin Ariadnis
K
Kendare Blake Three Dark Crowns
L
Lindsey Kelk I Heart Christmas
M
Maria Snyder Dawn Study
Maria V Snyder Touch of Power
Mhairi McFarlane Who’s That Girl?
N
Nigel McDowell The House of Mountfathom
O    
P
Paige Toon The Longest Holiday
Patrick Ness A Monster Calls
Q    
R
Renee Ahdieh The Wrath and the Dawn
Roisin Meaney I’ll Be Home For Christmas
S
Sheena Kamal Eyes Like Mine
SJ Kincaid The Diabolic
Sophie Nicholls Miss Mary’s Book of Dreams
T
Tamora Pierce Alanna: The First Adventure
Tamora Pierce In the Hand of the Goddess
Tamora Pierce The Woman Who Rides Like A Man
Tamora Pierce Lioness Rampant
Trish Moran Mirror Image
U    
V
Victoria Purman The CEO
Violet Vaughn Craving for Love
W    
X    
Y    
Z
Total: 16

With sixteen letters checked off at the quarter-way mark, I’m pretty happy with how this is going. However, most of the letters that are left are more difficult ones, and will require some thought or searching to fill them in. I know of very few authors whose names start with X, for example.

Surnames A-Z Challenge

A
Ahdieh Renee The Wrath and the Dawn
Armentrout Jennifer L The Problem with Forever
B
Bell Anna The Good Girlfriend’s Guide to Getting Even
Blake Kendare Three Dark Crowns
C
Chance Jennifer Courted
D    
E    
F    
G    
H
Heilig Heidi The Ship Beyond Time
Hoover Colleen It Ends With Us
Hoover Colleen Confess
I    
J
Jacques Brian Rakkety Tam
K
Kamal Sheena Eyes Like Mine
Kelk Lindsey I Heart Christmas
Kelly Erin He Said/She Said
Kincaid SJ The Diabolic
L    
M
Mansell Jill The Unpredictable Consequences of Love
Martin George RR A Storm of Swords
Martin Josh Ariadnis
Martin George RR A Feast for Crows
Martin George RR A Dance With Dragons
McDowell Nigel The House of Mountfathom
McFarlane Mhairi Who’s That Girl?
Meaney Roisin I’ll Be Home For Christmas
Moran Trish Mirror Image
N
Ness Patrick A Monster Calls
Nicholls Sophie Miss Mary’s Book of Dreams
Nix Garth Frogkisser!
O    
P
Pierce Tamora Alanna: The First Adventure
Pierce Tamora In the Hand of the Goddess
Pierce Tamora The Woman Who Rides Like A Man
Pierce Tamora Lioness Rampant
Purman Victoria The CEO
Q    
R
Redwine CJ The Shadow Queen
S
Sheinmel Alyssa B Second Star
Snyder Maria Dawn Study
Snyder Maria V Touch of Power
T
Toon Paige The Longest Holiday
U    
V
Vaughn Violet Craving for Love
W    
X    
Y    
Z
Total: 13

At only 13 complete, this one is three behind the first names, so I’m a little disappointed in this one. Again, lots of the letters left are difficult ones (X again…) but there are some common ones in there that I had just assumed would be filled by now as well (D, for example).

Nonetheless, I’ve got 50% of the letters checked off and 75% of the year to go, so I’m in a relatively strong position here as well.

Title A-Z Challenge

A
Alanna: The First Adventure Pierce Tamora
Ariadnis Martin Josh
B    
C
CEO, The Purman Victoria
Confess Hoover Colleen
Courted Chance Jennifer
Craving for Love Vaughn Violet
D
Dance With Dragons, A Martin George RR
Dawn Study Snyder Maria
Diabolic, The Kincaid SJ
E
Eyes Like Mine Kamal Sheena
F
Feast for Crows, A Martin George RR
Frogkisser! Nix Garth
G
Good Girlfriend’s Guide to Getting Even, The Bell Anna
H
He Said/She Said Kelly Erin
House of Mountfathom, The McDowell Nigel
I
I Heart Christmas Kelk Lindsey
I’ll Be Home For Christmas Meaney Roisin
In the Hand of the Goddess Pierce Tamora
It Ends With Us Hoover Colleen
J    
K    
L
Lioness Rampant Pierce Tamora
Longest Holiday, The Toon Paige
M
Mirror Image Moran Trish
Miss Mary’s Book of Dreams Nicholls Sophie
Monster Calls, A Ness Patrick
N    
O    
P
Problem with Forever, The Armentrout Jennifer L
Q    
R
Rakkety Tam Jacques Brian
S
Second Star Sheinmel Alyssa B
Shadow Queen, The Redwine CJ
Ship Beyond Time, The Heilig Heidi
Storm of Swords, A Martin George RR
T
Three Dark Crowns Blake Kendare
Touch of Power Snyder Maria V
U
Unpredictable Consequences of Love, The Mansell Jill
V    
W
Who’s That Girl? McFarlane Mhairi
Woman Who Rides Like A Man, The Pierce Tamora
Wrath and the Dawn, The Ahdieh Renee
X    
Y    
Z
Total: 16

Sixteen of these done as well, so I’m happy with how this one is going. It’s worth noting that I’m not counting ‘A’ or ‘The’ as the actual title words for any books, hence why books are noted as Wrath and the Dawn, the, etc.

Once again, I’m going to have to do some serious research before I fill in all of these categories, since some of the letters left are pretty strange ones, but nonethless, I have lots of time in which to do it, and I’m not a terrible researcher, I like to think.

For the moment, I’m filling books in under all categories. Once I get a bit further into the year, I’ll try to avoid duplicating books by using them to fil more than one category, but we’ll see how that goes – I would need 72 different books to fill all the categories separately!

Overall, at this point in the year, I’m pretty pleased with how my reading is going. Having just bought my first car, my major reading time (while commuting) has vanished (apparently it’s frowned on to read while driving…), so I’m going to have to rejig my life a little to find more time to read, but I’m confident I’ll get there!

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Mirror Image – Trish Moran

I was provided with an ARC of this book by Accent Press in exchange for an honest review.

I thought the synopsis of this sounded really interesting – clones in general are such a fascinating topic, and this was a really interesting approach to them, where the facility wasn’t even sure if they were humans/people/alive, rather than just a collection of spare parts. I was on board from the off, and excited to start this near-future thriller. Just to note – Labs refers to the clones, and non-Labs to non-clones.

34324922It is 2060. Scientific advancements mean that human cloning is much more than a possibility. But what happens when unscrupulous people take that technology into their own hands?

Fifteen-year-old Stella runs away from home the night before she is due to be taken into care. Fending for herself, she runs across a group of teenagers living in a hidden camp. They are the Labs – clones secretly made to replace the body parts or attributes of the rich and famous – who have escaped the sinister ‘Centre’ where they were created. Led by two of the Labs, Abel and Celia, the group assimilates into human culture with Stella’s help.

But the Centre is looking for them – and there are still many more clones inside, facing certain death once they are no longer useful. When Abel leads a rescue attempt, things don’t go as planned, and the fight for the Labs to be recognised as equal to humans seems to be doomed to failure – can Stella and her friends reveal the truth and find a voice for themselves in a mistrustful world?

There was lots in this book that I found really fascinating. The problem of youths falling through cracks in culture was the beginning, with Stella/Ruby struggling to find her place after the loss of her family, and her abandonment of society in general as she tries to make her own way. I also liked the general societal innovations such as self-drive cars, and the medical developments which allowed for the cloning issue to arise.

There were a lot of interesting discussions on the personhood and nationality of clones, the terminology, the classification of clones, the identification of what is a clone, how they would relate to their source, and the family of that source. Several clones are presented with differing situtations with regard to their host/origin, and each is nicely played out in terms of how the scenarios might be considered. As a dystopia, this was an interesting premise, as the society considered how it would view the Labs, as compared to their non-Lab counterparts, and the issues that would arise from granting personhood to Labs.

I also really liked the self-identification of Labs. Rather than calling themselves clones, they came up with their own word, and fought to be recognised as that – a struggle which I felt was really well-played, in terms of identifying and unifying this marginalised group. The book also didn’t skim over the discrimination which Labs faced, with major characters facing backlash and suspicion over their origin and personhood.

But there was a lot I found quite weak in this book, too. The motivations of the characters seemed, at times, extremely thin. Relationships were established and developed in almost no time. Although the clones are all supposed to be around 16 years old, engagement, pregnancy, and serious long-term relationships are all presented as perfectly standard and acceptable. While I realise that 16 year olds can and do get pregnant and married, these clones have only just discovered the non-Lab world, and none were presented as vulnerable people, open to predators who could take advantage of that vulnerability, but rather each was presented as having found someone who would accept them as they are and develop a fulfilling and beautiful relationship. With so many Labs out in the world, it certainly seems like some of them would’ve wound up in a less than ideal situation.I also couldn’t get behind Ruby and Abel – Abe/Abel was a total dick to her, for no reason other than this own personal prejudice, and their relationship was also completely lacking motivation or credibility.

Thirdly, the fact that all the Labs took new names was, at times, terribly confusing. I realise that it was essential for the story, but having only just gotten used to one set of names, it was infuriating to have to adapt to a new set very soon in.

Lastly, the developments in the latter part of the book were interesting, but lacking motivation. It certainly felt to me like the climax of the book was rushed and much less believable than the earlier parts of the book which dealt with assimilation, passing as non-Labs, etc. I really failed to understand the motivations of the ‘villains’ of the final act, and wasn’t convinced by their actions.

Nonetheless, this was still a thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking debut novel from Accent YA. It was certainly left open for sequels, with new relationships and issues to be developed in the coming books, and I would be interested to read them. Funnily enough, for a story about clones, what I felt was lacking was the human element of friendships, relationships, and character development. But I think that there is a huge amount of potential in both this story and this writer, so I will be very much looking forward to seeing what she produces next.

Three Stars
***

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March Round-Up

I can’t believe it’s the last day of March already. The Easter holidays start for schools here today! My birthday is only two weeks away! I can’t deal with the year going by this quickly!

This month was great – I left a job I really liked, started a new one that I think I’m going to love, went home for a few days, had a fab time at a wedding, and bought my first car! Plus I read some fun books, although not as many as other months, since my commuting routine has changed. Even still though – thumbs up for March.

Books

  1. Craving for Love – Violet Vaughn
  2. Courted – Jennifer Chance
  3. The House of Mountfathom – Nigel McDowell
  4. Touch of Power – Maria V Snyder
  5. The Unpredictable Consequences of Love – Jill Mansell
  6. Lioness Rampant – Tamora Pierce
  7. Miss Mary’s Book of Dreams – Sophie Nicholls
  8. The Ship Beyond Time – Heidi Heilig
  9. The Problem with Forever – Jennifer L Armentrout

Cover Art

Favourite Book This Month

Heidi Heilig’s followup to her time-travelling piracy swashbuckling epic of last year was definitely my favourite this month – I loved returning to the crew of the ship, Nix and her fractured relationship with her father, the development of her feelings for Kash and the frustrating inevitability of trying to change the past with time travel. Big thumbs up for this one!

Least Favourite Book This Month

This was an easy one – after three other books, I really didn’t know why I was finishing the Alanna quarter – maybe hoping for something amazing, but that’s certainly not what I got. Easily my least favourite book this month.

Favourite Cover This Month

Some very lovely covers this month – I mentioned in my post about Touch of Power how much I like the international covers for Maria V Snyder’s books, and if that had been the edition that I had, it would have been the clear winner, but having assembled all of this month’s covers, my winner is The Problem With Forever – those splashes of paint across the art are so evocative, and the white text over it starkly indicative of what’s missing for these teens. Wonderful work!

Other Thoughts

Even though it felt like I read a lot this month, in terms of actual books finished, this was the lowest so far in 2017. I think that’s because I’m currently winding my way through A Dance With Dragons, a real behemoth of a book, which I’ve been reading (and very much enjoying) for more than a week now. It’s such a chunkster, it’s pushed down my count for this month, and doesn’t even make it onto March’s list! Ridiculous.

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