Truly Madly Guilty – Liane Moriarty

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One of the really great things about NetGalley is the chance to read books that I would have read already. I’m a fan of Liane Moriarty, and thoroughly enjoyed her last book. I’ve read three others from before that, and I really think she’s getting better as she goes along, so when I was offered the chance to review this, I jumped at the chance.

Truly Madly Guilty – Liane Moriarty

Six responsible adults. Three cute kids. One small dog. It’s just a normal weekend. What could possibly go wrong?

Sam and Clementine have a wonderful, albeit, busy life: they have two little girls, Sam has just started a new dream job, and Clementine, a cellist, is busy preparing for the audition of a lifetime. If there’s anything they can count on, it’s each other.

Clementine and Erika are each other’s oldest friends. A single look between them can convey an entire conversation. But theirs is a complicated relationship, so when Erika mentions a last minute invitation to a barbecue with her neighbors, Tiffany and Vid, Clementine and Sam don’t hesitate. Having Tiffany and Vid’s larger than life personalities there will be a welcome respite.

Two months later, it won’t stop raining, and Clementine and Sam can’t stop asking themselves the question: What if we hadn’t gone?

In Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty takes on the foundations of our lives: marriage, sex, parenthood, and friendship. She shows how guilt can expose the fault lines in the most seemingly strong relationships, how what we don’t say can be more powerful than what we do, and how sometimes it is the most innocent of moments that can do the greatest harm.

I really enjoyed this book, another of Liane Moriarty’s mummy lit crossed with moral dilemma. One summer day, six adults and three children got together for a barbecue, a seemingly normal event which had lasting repercussions for all involved.
One of the things I love about Moriarty’s fiction is that you’re left guessing the whole way through – this was present in Big Little Lies and is similarly so here. What happened at the BBQ? Who did what? Why is everyone so stressed about it, six weeks later?
The three marriages depicted in this book are masterfully drawn, with three very different couples each struggling to come to terms with the events of that fateful summer bbq. I loved Moriarty’s depiction of complex, nuanced relationships, from Sam and Clementine’s awkward dance around each other to Erika’s strained and damaged relationship with her mother, each link felt totally real and believable.
I’m a big fan of Moriarty’s work. and this is as strong as anything I’ve read by her before. Tense and gloomy at times, sunny and loving at others, the contrasts between the glorious summer day of the barbecue and the heavy rain of the following two months perfectly illustrates how one quiet afternoon can strain even the oldest and strongest of relationships. Investigating guilt, love, obligation, familial ties, and the strange, awkward feeling of obligation, this masterful book was hugely enjoyable as a slice of life which felt like peering into the heads of my neighbours and being immensely satisfied by what I found there.

As this was a digital ARC, there were some formatting issues. Perspectives changed mid-paragraph, there were lots of typos which hadn’t been corrected, and chapter divisions weren’t at all clear. But I would assume that these will all be sorted by publication day, and thus I wouldn’t let that put me off at all – it’s just part of the ARC experience.

Thoroughly enjoyed this book, I will be recommending it to my sisters, who I know enjoyed her previous works.

Four Stars
****

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I Know What I’m Doing And Other Lies I Tell Myself – Jen Kirkman

25814361A picture of the cover art of this book doesn’t do justice to how gloriously yellow it is when sitting on a shelf. If I placed it next to The Yellow Room, I’m pretty sure I’d have a little sun in the corner of my bedroom, beaming out from the, uh, floor where I keep the stack of books I haven’t managed to find a space on my shelves for.

Thankfully, after reading this, I passed it on to my boyfriend, so I don’t have to worry about fluorescence beaming out of my bedroom.

I Know What I’m Doing – And Other Lies I Tell Myself – Jen Kirkman

New York Times bestselling author and stand-up comedian Jen Kirkman delivers a hilarious, candid memoir about marriage, divorce, sex, turning forty, and still not quite having life figured out.

Jen Kirkman wants to be the voice in your head that says, Hey, you’re okay. Even if you sometimes think you aren’t! And especially if other people try to tell you you’re not.

In I Know What I’m Doing—and Other Lies I Tell Myself, Jen offers up all the gory details of a life permanently in progress. She reassures you that it’s okay to not have life completely figured out, even when you reach middle age (and find your first gray pubic hair!). She talks about making unusual or unpopular life decisions (such as cultivating a “friend with benefits” or not going home for the holidays) because you don’t necessarily want for yourself what everyone else seems to think you should. It’s about renting when everyone says you should own, dating around when everyone thinks you should settle down, and traveling alone when everyone pities you for going to Paris without a man.

From marriage to divorce and sex to mental health, I Know What I’m Doing—and Other Lies I Tell Myself is about embracing the fact that life is a bit of a sh*t show and it’s definitely more than okay to stay true to yourself.

I didn’t really like this book. I’m not entirely sure why. I got it for a number of reasons – Jen Kirkman is my boyfriend’s second favourite comedian; I wanted to read a book by a comedian for the PopSugar reading challenge; I had loads of Amazon vouchers and no idea what to spend them on. So I got this right after it was published – I ordered it on my actual birthday, or very soon after, and it was published the day before my birthday.

In any case. I think this is the first book/memoir by a comedian that I’ve ever read, and it just didn’t tick any boxes for me. I read the whole thing relatively quickly, but I didn’t laugh, or even really crack a smile for the majority of it.

And I can’t even explain why. I like Jen Kirkman. I’ve seen her stand-up, and it’s very funny. I’ve listened to a few of her podcasts, and they’re good too (although I did accidentally listen to one on 1.5x speed and wonder why she was speaking so insanely fast). She’s a funny woman. Her stories are funny, her delivery is sharp and her observations are wryly entertaining. So I don’t know why I didn’t like this book. I think it’s the lowest star rating I’ve given to anything on GoodReads this year.

Having checked, yup. It’s tied for lowest so far this year.

I suspect my issue with the book was that my own mental delivery just isn’t a patch on Kirkman’s. My internal voice isn’t as funny as hers, and I don’t know her style well enough to mimic it in my head. So what I was hearing in my head was a little bit like when one of your friends goes to a standup show and retells one of the bits from it. They’re in kinks laughing, but the delivery and the atmosphere are lost in the re-telling, and you’re left bemused as they wipe their eyes and look at you as though you’re humour-deficient. Perhaps, internally, I am humour-deficient.

In any case, I didn’t enjoy this book very much at all. I could see where there might have been humour, and if I were to listen to the audiobook (which is narrated by Kirkman herself) I might like it a lot more, but the hardback was an experience I would not want to repeat.

A humour-deficient two stars
**

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Our Chemical Hearts – Krystal Sutherland

26836966Hot Key Books tweeted the other day that this book was on their NetGalley, so I had a look. it’s just been optioned for a film, but it isn’t even out until October, so that has to be a good sign. I also really liked the cover of this book – so much so that I will consider buying it once it’s published. Look how beautiful those little fish are!

I’m not that fond of John Green. Or, in fact, Rainbow Rowell. But this looked like the kind of smart, funny, cynical book that I would like, so I clicked the download button. It’s definitely one of the best choices I’ve made this year. Whip-smart, heart-breaking, and at times hilarious, this book kept me up until 3am finishing it. The only problem (besides my immense tiredness the next day) was that I had no more of it to read then.

Our Chemical Hearts – Krystal Sutherland

John Green meets Rainbow Rowell in this irresistible story of first love, broken hearts, and the golden seams that put them back together again.

Henry Page has never been in love. He fancies himself a hopeless romantic, but the slo-mo, heart palpitating, can’t-eat-can’t-sleep kind of love that he’s been hoping for just hasn’t been in the cards for him—at least not yet. Instead, he’s been happy to focus on his grades, on getting into a semi-decent college and finally becoming editor of his school newspaper. Then Grace Town walks into his first period class on the third Tuesday of senior year and he knows everything’s about to change.

Grace isn’t who Henry pictured as his dream girl—she walks with a cane, wears oversized boys’ clothes, and rarely seems to shower. But when Grace and Henry are both chosen to edit the school paper, he quickly finds himself falling for her. It’s obvious there’s something broken about Grace, but it seems to make her even more beautiful to Henry, and he wants nothing more than to help her put the pieces back together again. And yet, this isn’t your average story of boy meets girl. Krystal Sutherland’s brilliant debut is equal parts wit and heartbreak, a potent reminder of the bittersweet bliss that is first love.

I absolutely loved this book. So much so, I can’t even really put into words what it was about it that I really liked. Henry and Grace were so real, so vividly drawn that I felt like I was in school with them. Being the editor of the school newspaper was bound to tick boxes for me, but it was much more than that. Henry and Grace felt like they could step off the page at any point, and I would meet them walking down the road the next day.

There was so much about this book that I really liked. Grace walks with a cane, but it’s never presented as pandering, more a consequence of the circumstances which brought her to Henry’s school. The book presents Grace as a classic Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but destroys that trope by acknowledging it in text, and drawing a relationship which is much more nuanced and subtle than that. Grace is damaged and grieving, and for all Henry’s love for her, sometimes things just don’t work out the way you want them to. The book was realistic in its refusal to present Grace as an MPDG, or Henry as a saviour for all of her issues. The supporting characters were strongly drawn, from best friends Murray and Lola to reformed bad girl, his sister Sadie and her adorable son Ryan (a nephew named Ryan? Well I can’t argue that that’s wonderful!) and I felt that all of them were definitely more than just created to push Henry on to his own realisation.

Henry is by no means a perfect character – he’s selfish and whiny sometimes, and fails utterly to understand what Grace is struggling with. But that’s what makes him more believable – he’s very much a teenage boy wrapped up in his own head and unable to see that while what he has is wonderful, Grace might not be on the same page. For most of the book, he totally fails to think about what Grace is thinking, her backstory, or in fact anything about her other than the fact that he thinks she’s perfect. In some ways, Henry is a lot like Tom from 500 Days of Summer – his view of Grace is warped by the pedestal he’s put her on, and his kintsukoroi idea of her is something which is damaging both to her and to him. Henry’s a typically melodramatic teenage writer – he believes that Grace is his one great love, and doesn’t really take into account that she’s a real person with her own life to live. He’s selfish in this way, but also so, so real.

Grace, similarly, is far from perfect – she’s damaged and hurt, she’s grieving, and she’s not dealing with it in the best of ways. Her quicksilver personality and changes of heart about Henry, as well as her utter change of personality when she’s drinking, and using Henry as a crutch to help her grieve don’t make her a nice person, but they make her an utterly believable one. That, I thought, was one of the great strengths of this book. Everyone in it felt so real.

The climax and conclusion of the book were heartbreaking while still being wonderful, and I believed every second of it. It was a really beautifully drawn story of first love, and first heartbreak, of loss and grief and the excitement of the final year of high school.

I really did like this book. I can’t wait to see more from this author, and will also look forward to the film adaptation of this.

Five Stars
*****

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PopSugar Reading Challenge Update

I intended to update on my reading challenge progress at the halfway point of the year, but I ended up being a little behind because I had some new book reviews to post. I still need to review the last book I got from NetGalley, which was Our Chemical Hearts, and was *phenomenal*, but I thought I could break things up a little with a quick update on how the PopSugar challenge is going.

Although I updated in April about how the MMD Challenge was going, I never mentioned anything about the other challenge I’m doing – the PopSugar 2016 Reading Challenge. It’s also blu-tacked up on my wall, feeling ignored and making me feel bad every now and then, so I thought now was an ideal time to have a look at how I’m getting on.

Incidentally, I also set myself a GoodReads challenge to read 100 books. I was really pleased to finish that on the last day of June. Admittedly, I knew that 100 books wasn’t a massive stretch for me, considering I read 129 in 2015 and 154 books in 2014, but it was nice to have a pure numerical goal which I can now happily cross off as done.

In any case. Back to the PopSugar Challenge! I’ll list the ones I’ve done, and maybe a few that I have planned already.

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  • A book based on a fairy tale
    • I read The Lunar Chronicles in the first three months of the year. I’ve actually used this series to tick off a few categories, but this is specifically Cinder
  • A YA bestseller
    • Okay, this one was easy. I read so much YA, that it was just a case of picking one. So I picked Red Queen as it was the first YA book on my list this year
  • A book set in your home state
    • I don’t actually live in the States, so I went with a book set in my home country. That’s Ireland, and I went with Brooklyn. Is that cheating, because it’s half set in Brooklyn? Hmm. Maybe I should go with Finishing Touches instead. Either way. Done!
  • A romance set in the future
    • Shatter Me was my choice for this category. A really overblown, purple prose-laden romance. But a romance nonetheless.
  • A book set in Europe
    • Scarlet, from The Lunar Chronicles fulfils this one. It’s set mostly in and around Toulouse, although there are other stories in other locations. I still think this counts.
  • A book that’s under 150 pages
    • This one was tough, as most of the short books I read are on Kindle or iBooks, so I don’t see a real page count for them. I had to resort to sorting my books on GoodReads by page number, and then making a call about what constituted a book vs a novella. In the end I went with The Wedding Gift, by Lucy Kevin, but lots of other, similar wedding/romance books were around the same length.
  • A New York Times bestseller
    • An Ember in the Ashes (my copy, at least) has “New York Times Bestseller” emblazoned across the top of the cover. I don’t see why they would lie. I will accept their assertion.
  • A book that’s becoming a movie this year
    • I went with Room for this one. Although, after writing it down on the page, I suspect that Room might actually have been released in 2015. I’ll have to consider whether or not this counts. It is subject to change.
  • A book you can finish in a day
    • Lots of books on my list fitted this category, so again I went with the first one. It was Hired Bride by Noelle Adams
  • A book written by a celebrity
    • Dick Francis was a champion jockey before he retired and became a crime novelist. I read Knock Down near the start of the year. Does he count as a celebrity? I don’t care. I’m using him anyway.
  • A book recommended by a family member
    • My sister brought me over Vanishing Girls the last time she came to visit. Admittedly, it was because I asked for it, but I’m going to count it as a recommendation anyway.
  • A book that is published in 2016
  • A book with a protagonist who has your occupation
    • I had to think carefully about this. At present, I’m a student. I didn’t want to count high school students as having the same occupation as me, though, so I went with Starter for Ten, by David Nicholls. The protagonist of that is a university student, so I think that’s the same as me.
  • A book that takes place during Summer
    • London Belongs to Us is set over 24 hours on a hot August bank holiday weekend. If that’s not summer, I don’t know what is!
  • A book and its prequel
    • Winter, the fourth Lunar Chronicles book, was preceded by Fairest, the story of Winter’s stepmother, Queen Levana. I read them both in January/February.
  • A murder mystery
    • Local Girl Missing – I haven’t reviewed this yet, but I received an ARC from NetGalley. I was actually pretty disappointed in this murder mystery, and I’m not entirely sure if it counts as a muder mystery either, because of reasons. It’s more of a missing girl story. Hmmm. I’ll reconsider this category as well.
  • A book written by a comedian
    • I’ve been meaning to review I Know What I’m Doing And Other Lies I Tell Myself, by comedian Jen Kirkman, since I got it in mid-April, but it keeps getting pushed down the list. Some day I’ll manage to bosh out my thoughts on it. For now, though, it can take its place as a category fulfiller on my PopSugar challenge.
  • A dystopian novel
    • This was another one with lots of options to fill in the slot. I went with The Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness. I really enjoyed the Chaos Walking trilogy, and will review it… eventually.
  • 25501939A book with a blue cover
    • You and Me, Always – this nice and fluffy romance was only 99p on Kindle this week, and I flew through it in no time. It’s also the only image for this post (besides the challenge criteria), because hey, it’s the only category which is about how the book looks!
  • A book about a road trip
    • The One Plus One – Jojo Moyes was on fine form with this book, the majority of which involves schlepping a mother, two children, a giant dog, and a somewhat bemused businessman all the way to the tip top of Scotland. Lots of laughs, and a fun road trip story.
  • A book that takes place on an island
    • The Girl From Everywhere is mostly set in Hawaii, which I think you’ll find is indeed an island. It’s also an amazing book. Just saying.
  • A book that’s guaranteed to bring you joy
    • Feeling Sorry for Celia – the first book in Jaclyn Moriarty’s Brookfield/Ashbury series never fails to make me laugh (and cry). I’ve read it so many times the pages are entirely yellowed, but I still adore every word on every page. One of my all-time favourites.

So that’s 23 categories ticked off (although I’m a bit ropey about two of them), and 17 still to be completed. And we’re only just over halfway through the year. That seems about on-target to me. Although, admittedly, lots of the categories filled were easy ones (A YA bestseller? A dystopian novel? Simples!) and lots of the ones left are more difficult (A political memoir? A graphic novel? Errrr…). So it remains to be seen how the second half of 2016, and the second half of the PopSugar Reading Challenge, will pan out. But I’m keeping my fingers crossed and hopeful. I can definitely do this.

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The Yellow Room – Jess Vallance

27809137Another book from Hot Key. Woohoo!

Jess Vallance’s second book, The Yellow Room, is due out this July. I was lucky enough to receive an ARC from Hot Key Books, hence why I’m reviewing it here. This is Vallance’s second book; her first, Birdy, was released last year. This has all of the strengths of Birdy: a new friendship, an unsettling closeness, a dramatic ending, a creepy undertone throughout the whole thing, so I was happy. But here’s the thing! The Yellow Room has all the good stuff from Birdy, but it’s also BETTER.

It also doesn’t yet have a full blurb on GoodReads, so I had to type the following out in full, but that’s probably not really worth complaining about.

The Yellow Room – Jess Vallance

I was wondering, Anna, if you would meet me?

When Anna receives a letter telling her that her father has died, she finds it hard to feel anything very much. She hasn’t seen him for years and can barely remember him. She certainly has no interest in meeting the person who sent the letter; her dead father’s girlfriend, Edit. Anna has her own problems to deal with, including a secret she desperately needs to keep buried.

When Leon, a creepy boy from school, begins threatening to reveal Anna’s secret, Anna’s life starts spiralling out of control. With her own mother distracted and distant, she finds herself turning to the warm and eccentric Edie for support.

But what Anna doesn’t realise is that Edie has some secrets of her own.

I enjoyed this book. To be honest, I was expecting to. Having read Birdy, and liked that a lot, too, I was going in with raised expectations. Luckily, they were all met. The vaguely unsettling undercurrent which runs through both books is deliciously creepy and really draws you in. I also really enjoyed the setting – a small English seaside town, called Oldcliffe-on-Sea. The two main characters, Anna and Edie, are well-drawn and have a really believable relationship – I remember being fifteen, finding a new friend, and developing that intense connection, feeling like they’re the only person in the world who can help you, and I did that without any dark secrets to keep hidden, or weirdos blackmailing me.

The backstory in this was believable in the way that fifteen year olds see drama in everything – I would’ve probably acted the same way as Anna at the time, so I was behind her in all her actions. The supporting characters -Anna’s parents and friends, and Leon, the creepy blackmailer, were maybe a little thinly drawn, but the main pull of this book was definitely the crackling intensity between Anna and Edie, which, again, I was really impressed by.

The end of the book comes to a crashing close, but doesn’t cut off right after the action. It actually resolves somewhat reasonably and I was left with a feeling of satisfaction, rather than the creeping unease that often follows these kind of thrillers. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I liked that it was resolved nicely, but the whole creepy undercurrent of the book was greatly eased by the final scenes, and I don’t know if that was a good or a bad thing.

Nonetheless! A very enjoyable book, with strong lead characters and an eye-catching (although definitely not eye-pleasing) design.

Four Stars
****

I also quite liked this behind-the-scenes look at how The Yellow Room was written –

 

 

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With Malice – Eileen Cook

29604253Hot Key books regularly publish really interesting and fun books with unreliable narrators which keep you guessing until the very end what happened and whodunnit and who’s lying to whom in what way. That’s part of why I love being on their blogger list – Hot Key publish not only swooping fantasy and laugh-out-loud humour, they pick really engrossing thrillers which keep you wrapped up in suspense and almost drag you into the pages with the characters.

With Malice is a great example of this, which intersperses the memories and recovery process of Jill, our narrator, with a variety of other perspectives, from police interviews to blog posts, newspaper reports and television shows which help the reader as they try to piece together what exactly happened on that trip to Italy which two teenage girls went on together, which had such long-lasting repercussions.

Wish you weren’t here…

When Jill wakes up in a hospital bed with her leg in a cast, the last six weeks of her life are a complete blank. All she has been told is that she was involved in a fatal accident while on a school trip in Italy and had to be jetted home to receive intensive care. Care that involves a lawyer. And a press team. Because maybe the accident…. wasn’t just an accident.

With no memory of what happened or what she did, can Jill prove her innocence? And can she really be sure that she isn’t the one to blame?

This book hinges largely on the premise of an unreliable narrator. Jill, the main character, has retrograde amnesia after that fatal car accident, and is missing not only the day of the accident itself, but also the weeks leading up to her trip to Italy. This makes for a tense and unsettling book as Jill discovers the events of her trip like some kind of outside observer – she learns facts through police investigations and press reveals, reading about her own actions and involvement in salacious blogposts and gossip chat shows.

I’ve mentioned a few times before that while I like an unreliable narrator and think it can be done really well, there are situations where it just doesn’t hold up under investigation. Gone Girl and Birdy, for example, do it well, where the reason for the unreliability is believable. On the other hand, books like Dangerous Girls and Black Cairn Point don’t justify the unreliability, since they’re told through an internal monologue. With Malice intersperses internal monologue with external sources, and does a great job of putting across the confusion and unreliability of any evidence. Blog posts are torn apart as the exaggerations of teenage girls who want more attention, police interviews are revealed to be hiding facts out of self-interest, and Jill herself is struggling to distinguish what she remembers from what she’s imagining, and constructing from what she’s been told.

There are two primary relationships depicted in this book – Jill with Simone, her best friend from school, and Jill with Anna, her roommate. Both are intricately drawn, showing the variability and cattiness, codependency and sometimes unhealthy nature of adolescent female friendships, but ultimately also showcasing the solid foundations and support which can come from experiencing life, and life-changing events, together.

I ripped through this book in a day, and was left quietly unsettled by the end. Eileen Cook is a very effective writer, and I thoroughly enjoyed the depiction of Jill’s car-crash experience of life, the justice system, the media, and rehab. Definitely one of the better examples of YA thrillers that I’ve read, a really great example of an unreliable narrator and an ending which felt satisfying while still being vaguely unsettling.

Four Stars
****

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June Round-Up

I’m really stupidly pleased with how June went, mostly for the reason that it’s the sixth month of the year – making it the halfway mark – and I’ve read 100 books this year. Of course, that wasn’t just June, because I read a good eighty books in the first five months, but I am pleased with the nice round number which appears at the half-way point of the year.

Of course, my GoodReads challenge for the year was 100 books, which I’ve now smashed, as I’m six months ahead of target, but I’ll spend the second half of the year focusing on filling up the other reading challenges I’m doing. I’ve got this sussed.

So! In June this year, I read twenty-one books (my highest number this year!), and five short stories. They were as follows:

Books

  1. Everything Everything – Nicola Yoon
  2. Vanishing Girls – Lauren Oliver
  3. Becoming Bindy Mackenzie – Jaclyn Moriarty*
  4. Try Not To Breathe – Holly Seddon
  5. Siege and Storm – Leigh Bardugo
  6. The Winner’s Curse – Marie Rutkoski
  7. Ruin and Rising – Leigh Bardugo
  8. The Winner’s Crime – Marie Rutkoski
  9. Dreaming of Amelia – Jaclyn Moriarty*
  10. The Winner’s Kiss – Marie Rutkoski
  11. A French Girl in New York – Anna Adams
  12. Make-Believe Wedding – Sarah Mayberry
  13. Bride By Mistake – Nicole Helm
  14. Shadow Study – Maria V Snyder
  15. What A Bride Wants – Kelly Hunter
  16. A Negotiated Marriage – Noelle Adams
  17. Vampire Academy – Richelle Mead
  18. Too Charming – Kathryn Freeman
  19. Wait for Me – Samantha Chase
  20. Outcast of Redwall – Brian Jacques*
  21. Love in the Making – Roisin Meaney

Short Stories

  1. The Too-Clever Fox – Leigh Bardugo
  2. Little Knife – Leigh Bardugo
  3. Ice Study – Maria V Snyder
  4. Power Study – Maria V Snyder
  5. Bridge of Snow – Marie Rutkoski

All the short stories were additional snippets of series that I read during the month – the two Leigh Bardugo ones from the Grisha trilogy, the Maria V Snyder from the Study series (although I did point out my dissatisfaction with Ice Study) and Bridge of Snow adding a little prequel to the Winner’s Trilogy.

Three of this month’s books were re-reads. I finished the Ashbury/Brookfield series that I started last month, and continued with my Redwall reread, which I started last year. I read seven Redwalls in 2015, but this was the first I’ve read this year.

Lots of this month’s books were romances from iBooks – I took a notion one weekend that I wanted to read some light, fluffy romances, and worked my way through a lot of the top iBooks romances. I’m not saying I’m generally on board with the insta-love and crazy speedy weddings which proliferate in those books (nor the idea that being 26 and unmarried is some kind of terrible lack of life priorities), but I do get a certain amount of pleasure from reading about happily ever afters which are wrapped up in less than three hundred pages. Nonetheless, those romances are what bulked this month out so much. But they do make for some nice cover art in the mosaic of this month’s covers, I can admit that much. I’ve also put in multiple covers for Shadow Study, because they’re all so beautiful. I can’t help it. I’m a sucker for those covers.

 

Let’s talk covers for a second. It’s not as obvious because they’re split over two months, but Dreaming of Amelia drives me mental. It’s the fourth in a series of epistolary novels (The Ashbury/Brookfield books), the first three of which are neon colours with a fruit on the front and the title in torn-up letters. There is no such cover for Amelia. Unless I were to buy it in German. But I don’t speak German! There’s dedication to matching books, and then there’s excessive. I tend to believe learning a language so that my covers match would border on excessive.

Speaking of beautiful, though – look at that Winner’s Trilogy! Those dresses! Those swords! I wish I hadn’t read these on Kindle, so that I could have those beauties on my shelf to gaze at every now and then. There are also lots of romantic coupled-up book covers. Perhaps next month I’ll go the whole hog and read a Nicholas Sparks!

I was really pleased with how my June reading went. Probably too pleased – having read so many books is an indicator that I’m not doing enough work on my thesis corrections, or job applications. But I suppose nobody can be perfect. I’ll try to get the balance better next month.

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Finishing Touches – Patricia Scanlan

Last year (2015)714973.jpg‘s PopSugar Reading Challenge included one criteria which I thought was interesting – ‘A book your mom loves’.

Now, firstly, I have to say that I never call my mum my mom. Sometimes my mam, if I’m talking to someone Irish, but very rarely – she’s almost always mum. But that’s not really relevant. Near the end of last year, or the beginning of this year, I asked my mum what her favourite book was, and decided to read that.

So in January (or February?) this year, I read Finishing Touches, by Patricia Scanlan, which is my mum’s favourite book.

Finishing Touches – Patricia Scanlan

Cassie, Laura, and Aileen were schoolmates and best friends, sharing the passions, problems, and aspirations of young women coming into their own. Cassie put her life on hold to attend to her family’s needs while Laura and Aileen soared in their careers. Now they were together again as Cassie dared to start her own business and make her impossible dream come true.

As I read this book, I could totally see why it was my mum’s favourite book. It was something which I think would have really resonated with her – the main characters were around her own age, they did similar jobs to her, had similar life experiences, like losing a parent quite young, and moving to Dublin for work, etc. Although I would hope that some of the other experiences in the book (like having an awful wagon of a sister, and a feckless sod of a fiancé) were very different to what she had.

In any case, as I was reading, I could see why my mum would really like this book. For me, although it was enjoyable, it wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever read. I like women’s fiction, and I enjoy reading books set in Ireland, plus I like books which follow several different stories as they intertwine – perfectly demonstrated here by the three best friends and their trials and tribulations – but there was something about this book which just didn’t do it for me.

I think it might have been something to do with the jumping timelines, as the prologue and first chapters set up lots of things about how the book would pan out, which I felt spoiled some of the ride. But I guess that was a stylistic choice that just didn’t work for me.

Nonetheless, I’ve read a lot of books my mum really likes, and this is up there as one of the good ones, much better than others I’ve borrowed off her (*cough* The Last Bride in Ballymuir), and I was left satisfied at the end by this chronicle of the lives and loves of three young women in 1990s Dublin. I certainly won’t hesitate to read another Patricia Scanlan if I’m looking for something nice that reminds me of home.

Four Stars
****

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Shadow Study – Maria V Snyder

Last week, after reading my way through a fantasy trilogy which had absolutely no magic in it, I decided to return to a world with magic which I had really enjoyed – the world of Ixia and Sitia. I’ve read all six of the forerunning Ixia books, although I’ve only reviewed two – Poison Study and Magic Study (in the same post).  So I was looking forward to a return to catch up with Yelena the former poison taster to see what wonderful things she was up to now, being a magician and international liaison as she was.

Shadow Study – Maria V Snyder

Once, only her own life hung in the balance…

When Yelena was a poison taster, her life was simpler. She survived to become a vital part of the balance of power between rival countries Ixia and Sitia.

Now she uses her magic to keep the peace in both lands—and protect her relationship with Valek.

Suddenly, though, dissent is rising. And Valek’s job—and his life—are in danger.

As Yelena tries to uncover her enemies, she faces a new challenge: her magic is blocked. And now she must find a way to keep not only herself but all that she holds dear alive.

So after reading the first three Yelena books early in 2015 (#32, 34 and 38), it was a few months later that I went back and read the followup trilogy, which focuses on another main character, Opal Cowan (although all the main characters from the first trilogy made appearances). Soulfinders, the third trilogy, returns to Yelena as the main character, and the new challenges she faces as a liaison between the two countries of Ixia and Sitia. You would think that I couldn’t possibly forget all the details of what happened in the first six books over the course of less than a year, but you would be totally wrong. I definitely can forget very many things in that time! In any case, it came back to me as I read, mostly.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book – I love the system of magic, the different skills the characters have, and the people we’ve grown to know and love over the course of the six forerunning books. I had a few complaints about this book, though, and they were things which really irked me.

The book was told from multiple perspectives, which is the first time this has happened in the series (I’m pretty sure.) I was fine with that – it’s nice to get into the heads of other characters sometimes, although if it happens mid-series, it often means someone’s going to die (**spoilers**coughcough**Allegiant**). I’m keeping my eyes open about what’s going on here.

In any case, my problem with the multiple perspectives in this book was that one was told in first person, and two were in third person. I don’t know what the reason for that choice was, but it was extremely annoying, and it irritated me every time I changed to or from a Yelena chapter.

My second problem with this book was (and admittedly this might be my fault for forgetting what happened in the previous books) that I found it very hard to read without having read Ice Study, a short prequel story which is available on the author’s website.

I was about a quarter into the book and the characters were talking about Ben Moon escaping from prison. Wait a minute, thought I. Who’s Ben Moon? The way he’s presented feels like I should know who he is, but I don’t recall ever hearing about him. It sounds like there’s more to this story. Was it mentioned in Spy Glass? Have I forgotten about it?

It got so irritating that I put the book down, googled him, and realised that he was introduced in a prequel story which I had not yet read. But he was presented in such a way that, not having read Ice Study yet, I was totally confused. I’m not saying that short stories shouldn’t add extra detail to the books. But I am saying that I disagree with short stories containing major plot points which are crucial to understanding the book and the characters in it. It got even more important towards the end of the book, for reasons which are too spoilery to say.

My third problem with the book is entirely my own fault – I started reading it knowing that the third book in the trilogy hasn’t been published yet, and won’t be until next year. So I’m now debating whether I should hold off on reading Night Study so I can reduce the amount of time I need to wait before Dawn Study, or whether I should read it immediately, because I want more time in Ixia.

As for the final-line reveal of the book? Saw it coming a mile away.

Even still, I really enjoyed this book. Once I had read Ice Study, I was swept away by the intrigue and plotting of Ben Moon as he manipulated Valek, Leif, Yelena, and everyone else he came into contact with. I loved Yelena’s relationship with her brother, her in-laws, her heart-mate Valek, and the other magicians in the keep, as well as her struggle with her new-found status after the events of the beginning of the book. I loved Valek’s plotting and the insight into his childhood as he became the deadly assassin we know and love from the first three Study books. I also enjoyed the new characters – the mysterious Onora especially. This book left loads of loose ends to be tied up – nothing whatsoever is resolved by the end of it, which I find quite frustrating a lot of the time. There was no real defeat of a small bad on the way to get the Big Bad this time. I felt like it finished with no resolution, and is just a stopping point on the way to the rest of the trilogy. It felt a lot more like a second book than a first book (by the end), which is why I’m extra annoyed that Dawn Study isn’t out yet. I don’t do waiting well, and I’m going to have to wait a while to finish this trilogy out.

Still though, Shadow Study was very enjoyable, and I liked getting reacquainted with the world of Ixia. I suspect that the second book will end on similarly hanging scenes, but hopefully by the time the third rolls around, I’ll get a proper sense of conclusion!

Three Stars
***

 

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Red Queen – Victoria Aveyard

22328546Red Queen was one of the first books I read this year. To be honest, I thought I had reviewed it months ago, and only when I was updating the links on The List did I realise that I had completely neglected to talk about this book. That’s a pity, because it definitely deserves some attention.

As usual, I cannot remember how this book caught my attention. I think I might have seen it in a book store coming up to Christmas so, surprise surprise, it showed up under the Christmas tree, and I read it in very early January.

I’m glad it did, though! Richly imagined fantasy, Red Queen has stayed with me as Mare, a lower-class girl thrust into the upper echelons of a society which hates her, struggled to find her loyalties and her place in the world.

This is a world divided by blood – red or silver.

The Reds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the poverty-stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change.

That is, until she finds herself working in the Silver Palace. Here, surrounded by the people she hates the most, Mare discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy the balance of power.

Fearful of Mare’s potential, the Silvers hide her in plain view, declaring her a long-lost Silver princess, now engaged to a Silver prince. Despite knowing that one misstep would mean her death, Mare works silently to help the Red Guard, a militant resistance group, and bring down the Silver regime.

But this is a world of betrayal and lies, and Mare has entered a dangerous dance – Reds against Silvers, prince against prince, and Mare against her own heart.

Mare Barrow, normal girl, is caught up in a political intrigue as she discovers a power that she – as part of the genetically inferior Red race – should not have. Hidden in plain sight as a long-lost Silver and now engaged to a prince, Mare is caught up in a deadly game of lies as she tries to survive and simultaneously bring down the cruel regime which condemns her family and all those like her to poverty.

This book could have been like every other fantasy, where a supposedly normal girl turns out to be a special snowflake, is caught up in an intrigue, and never puts a foot wrong in bringing down a corrupt political system. But Red Queen, actually, is much more than that. Richly imagined and beautifully drawn, Mare’s struggles with her place in the world, her forced fiancé, her loyalty to her country and the crown against her love for her family and the conflicts that throws up. She’s not a perfect girl, and makes mistakes along the way, but they’re the kind of mistakes that have you clutching your heart and hoping it works out, rather than rolling your eyes at her for being stupid – or at least that’s what it was for me.

My only real complaints about this book? It ended on a massive cliffhanger which left me slack-jawed with shock, and didn’t flag this up in any way beforehand. And when I finished it, the sequel hadn’t yet been published. It has now – Glass Sword – but it’s sadly slipped down my ‘to-read’ list. Having just written this review, though, perhaps it will creep its way back up and into my heart.

There will be at least four Red Queen books, so I’m hoping the standard stays as high as it started out with this one. Also, I hate series which are named after one of the books in the series, because that makes it difficult to distinguish which you’re talking about. But these are minor quibbles.

Four Stars
****

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