Truthwitch/Windwitch

In a land ruled by three empires, where people can be born with one of five (really six) witcheries, a twenty-year truce is about to come to an end. Safiya fon Hasstrel, domna of the Cartorran empire, is a truthwitch – able to discern truth from lies, her magic is highly valued, and highly dangerous – for some would kill to have that power at their side (or kill to prevent others from having that power). Together with her best friend and thread sister, Iseult det Midenzi, Safi tries to navigate the political climes she is an unwilling participant in.

In a continent on the edge of war, two witches hold its fate in their hands.

Young witches Safiya and Iseult have a habit of finding trouble. After clashing with a powerful Guildmaster and his ruthless Bloodwitch bodyguard, the friends are forced to flee their home.

Safi must avoid capture at all costs as she’s a rare Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lies. Many would kill for her magic, so Safi must keep it hidden – lest she be used in the struggle between empires. And Iseult’s true powers are hidden even from herself.

In a chance encounter at Court, Safi meets Prince Merik and makes him a reluctant ally. However, his help may not slow down the Bloodwitch now hot on the girls’ heels. All Safi and Iseult want is their freedom, but danger lies ahead. With war coming, treaties breaking and a magical contagion sweeping the land, the friends will have to fight emperors and mercenaries alike. For some will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.

I read (or rather listened to) Truthwitch and Windwitch in quick succession, and find it hard to remember what happened in which book, so I’m reviewing them together. Truthwitch was the better of the two, for one major reason, which was the friendship between Safi and Iseult. Strong female friendships where the women complement each other, understand their own and each other’s strengths and weaknesses, mess up, get into trouble, forgive each other, work together, and kick butt? I am all about that. I’m also all about the fact that Safi and Iseult support each other unquestioningly, even though it leads to some stupid damn consequences, but if these girls were sensible and did everything right, there’d be no interest, drama, or conflict in the books. so there’s that.

The worldbuilding in these books is somewhat lacking – perhaps because I was listening to audiobooks, I found it incredibly difficult to visualise what was going on, and where each empire was, and where the disputed territories were. There also wasn’t any real explanation of what the story was with witcheries until midway through the second book. Essentially, there are six elemental witcheries (earth, air, fire, water, aether, and void), although void witchery has been forgotten and dismissed as legendary. Some people are born with witcheries, but their strength varies. A full water witch, for example, can control water in all its forms, including ice, vapour, rivers, etc, and create it from water vapour in the air, whereas a tidewitch (a lesser water witch) can control the tides (shocker). Witcheries and strengths are innate, not learned, and seem to be related to where you’re from, but not always. Merik, for instance, is a windwitch, whereas his sister Vivia is a tidewitch. Threadwitches are always female, and always from the nomad Nomatsi tribe. So essentially it’s like the Avatar: The Last Airbender universe, but with added Aether and Void elements.

I actually very much enjoyed both of these books, as evidenced by the fact that I finished Truthwitch and immediately downloaded Windwitch. My main complaint at this point is that Bloodwitch isn’t out until 2018!

Although, as I said, there was some sketchy world-building in the beginning, and not enough Safi and Iseult time in the middle/second book, there was still plenty to keep me entertained, with a new OTP for me to fangirl over (Aeduan, the bloodwitch, and Iseult, the threadwitch, have tried to kill each other at least fifty times by now, and I SO ship it (yes, I’m exaggerating)).

I had some other issues with the fact that the two girls are obviously the Chosen Ones, and the romances are discernable from the very beginning, as well as there being a whole host of boring and underdeveloped supporting characters running around in the background in the first book especially.

However, with two more books to go, I’m hopeful that Safi and Iseult will reunite and I’ll be on board with their butt-kicking antics once more. There were plenty of giggling moments as I read/listened to both books, and Dennard can sure write a fight scene, as well as a love/hate relationship that I’m so on board with, so I very much look forward to the third book, Bloodwitch. Not perfect, but very, very enjoyable.

Side note: The audible recording of this that I listened to was incredibly, incredibly slow. Like I’m talking I thought when I turned it on first that I had accidentally set it to 0.5x speed. I lasted all of about four seconds before I sped it up, then sped it up again. I also have no idea how to spell the names of any of the characters, since I’ve only heard them. For the first three hours, I thought Safi was called Sofia, and that Cassandra Campbell was just saying it strangely. But once it’s sped up, there’s plenty of expression, a variety of different accents, and an enjoyable listen overall.

Three Stars for both books.
***

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The difficulties of being a book lover

There are many things which I love about books. The ability to fall into a new world every time you pick up a page, to discover and root for new relationships, to follow along as you watch people overthrow corrupt systems, learn new things, explore new worlds, and live a thousand lives, but let’s be real. There are many difficulties inherent in being a book lover too.

Here’s a list of the top 5 difficulties I have with being a book lover:

1. When you have to do things, but you just want to READ

You know the feeling. You have to do the washing. You need to write an essay. You really should go shopping. You have to cook dinner. Your best friend who lives halfway across the world is coming to visit for one day and you absolutely must leave now if you want to see them. But you’re at such a good point in your book! Everything is tense and exciting! The romance is swoon-worthy! The witty banter is flying! If only there were more hours in the day, so that I could read all I want and also do all the things I have to (and want to) do as well.

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My desk at present. I’m supposed to be marking the dissertations on the right, but ACOWAR on the left is calling to me in plaintive tones.

2. When you lend someone a book and they give it back damaged

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Inside of damaged book, Erica Cheup, CC-BY-ND 2.0

I will admit that some of my books aren’t in the best condition. The older ones, certainly, and my favourite ones, have been through half a lifetime of being squashed onto book shelves, read, reread, loved, slept on, probably drooled on… but they are all extremely precious to me. So if I lend someone a book and they give it back damaged, a part of me dies inside. And I remember never to lend that person a book ever again.

I have to confess, though, I have been guilty of this. I borrowed a book off a friend of mine, and my perfume leaked in my bag. So when I returned it, it smelled quite strongly of DKNY Red Delicious. Which, okay, is my favourite perfume, but probably not the case for him. By way of apology, I bought him the next book in the series.

Bonus difficulty: When you lend someone a book and they never give it back

Extra bonus difficulty: If you can’t remember who you lent the book to.

3. When you finish the latest book in a series and realise you have to wait forever for the next one to be published

A Song of Ice and Fire, anyone? Or those terrible years waiting for the Harry Potter books to be released? An Ember in the Ashes (I NEED more Elias and Laia). Tower of Dawn, and ToG 6, which doesn’t even have a title! Fireblood! Bloodwitch! Shadowblack!

I believe we should institute a Netflix-type model for releasing book series. The entire season should all be made available at once, so that you can binge to your heart’s content!

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My GoodReads tbr is filled with books which are the next in a series, often without a title or a cover, but I’m suffering through the waiting time. The only problem is that while I’m waiting, I pick up a new series to read, and then I finish the available books in *that* series and I have to wait for even more books!

4. The exquisite joy/misery of being in a bookshop

It’s so beautiful. I want to live there. I want to pick up every book that catches my eye, and bring it home with me, snuggle it up to me, and love it forever. But unfortunately I don’t have all the time in the world. Or, in fact, all the money. So every time I enter a bookshop it becomes a balancing act between ‘I want all of them!’ and ‘I don’t want my bank account to hate me!’

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Waterstone’s by Raymond Snijder, CC-BY-NC 2.0

Of course, then, there is also the almost guaranteed fact that if you lose me in a shop, I’ll have wandered over to the books (that, or the underwear. Unrelated), and you’re likely to find me desperately clutching several books, wanting to take them all home with me and adopt them. You know the way some people get about puppies? Yeah. That’s me with books.

5. The difficulty of choosing which book to read next

8b03c20d-c416-4491-864d-901cfd8d70e7I’m not particularly good at choices. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that I am wildly indecisive. So when it comes to the point where I’ve just finished a book and I’m deciding what to pick up next, I am inevitably gripped by paralysing indecision. If I enjoyed the book, should I continue in the same genre? Is there a sequel I could read? Do I want a break from this author? Should I sprinkle my reading with diversity? Do I want to read a book on Kindle? Or do I want to read a physical book? Do I have ARCs to read and review? Do I want a long book, or a short book? Do I want fantasy or realism, or a blend of the two? YA or Adult? Children’s? Middle Grade? What if I don’t like this one? What if I ruin the reading high I’m on? What if I wait too long to read a book, and it somehow… vanishes? (Sometimes I do wonder this. It has never yet happened, but I always fear that it might.) Was it recommended by someone I know? Do I need to read it so I can discuss it with my sister? Will I be able to retrieve it from my TBR stack without it collapsing? (A very real issue, which reared its head when my friend Kellie suggested I should read All The Light We Cannot See, and I said that it was a physical impossibility, due to its position in the stack).

So while I ponder all of these questions, I seriously struggle to choose what to read. What if the book I really want to read appears on my doorstep (via, I dunno, magic?) and I can’t read it because I’m already reading something else? (Just read two books at once, I know).

And then inevitably, when I have chosen which book I want to read next, I will forget to put it in my bag, or download it onto my kindle, and when I try to start reading, I’m faced with the same question again, augmented by the worries of whether I should just wait and find the book I wanted, or start a new book in the meantime.

I’m telling you. For a relaxing pastime, reading comes with a lot of struggles! What are your top difficulties of being a reader?

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Godblind – Anna Stephens

I received a copy of this book via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. Although if this is a dishonest review, I would hate to see an honest one, because I really did not like this book.

34467320Fantasy’s most anticipated debut of the year

There was a time when the Red Gods ruled the land. The Dark Lady and her horde dealt in death and blood and fire.

That time has long since passed and the neighbouring kingdoms of Mireces and Rilpor hold an uneasy truce. The only blood spilled is confined to the border where vigilantes known as Wolves protect their kin and territory at any cost.

But after the death of his wife, King Rastoth is plagued by grief, leaving the kingdom of Rilpor vulnerable.

Vulnerable to the blood-thirsty greed of the Warrior-King Liris and the Mireces army waiting in the mountains…

GODBLIND is an incredible debut from a dazzling new voice of the genre.

Although excited by the blurb of this book, after slogging through all 500+ pages over the course of a week and a half, I was left decidedly cold, and not at all interested in further work from this author.
Grimdark is a genre that I’ve read a few examples of, but have recently come to the conclusion that I actually don’t particularly like. While realism in a fantasy series is difficult to pull off, I don’t think that unnecessarily graphic violence is the way to add believability to your work. Bearing in mind that I’m not really a fan of grimdark, that might explain why this book grated on me so much, but even without that, I was left unimpressed.
An ensemble cast of characters should have led to a book which I really enjoyed, with two warring countries, differing religions, and a host of treachery, backstabbing, and influence in the form of the gods. But I did not enjoy this book at all. From the off, it totally failed to grip me, and I read/listened to four other books while guiltily avoiding the points at which I thought my kindle might be looking at me. When I eventually did settle down and pick up the kindle to get reading, I realised that the book dragged massively. Besides a horrendously and unnecessarily graphic scene of torture/human sacrifice about 40% of the way through the book, there was very little that was memorable.
Two further complaints – this book does not finish the story. It doens’t even try to set itself up as having completed a story arc, leaving space for more. At the climax of the book, we’re left with one army just about to start a pitched battle, and one army caught in an ambush. The book literally finished mid-battle, which is just lazy writing. I would have accepted the tension of ending with an army outside the gates and battle about to begin, but I just cannot get on board with ending the action in the middle of what’s going on in the first installment of a series.
Secondly, (spoilers!)

The blurb which I read on Goodreads (which I accept may be an older blurb) mentions Rivil’s failed attempt to kill his father. That attempt (which isn’t specified as failed in the book) happens 97% of the way through the book, and spoils before you even begin reading the big reveal that Rivil is actually a major antagonist. Having checked on the HC website and Amazon, that’s no longer in the blurb, so that might not be an issue for new readers. Unless, of course, they happen to read Goodreads blurbs.

My final complaint, which admittedly is quite esoteric, is that one of the characters, a skilled archer (to the extent that their surname is Archer), in testing out her abilities, picks up a bow and fires it without an arrow in it. This is called dry firing, and is literally the worst thing you can do to a bow. All of the power from the limbs which is supposed to go into propelling the arrow forward is left still in the bow, and can often shatter the bow. The worst part? This character doesn’t even do this with her own bow – she does it with someone else’s!
I realise that this is a factual complaint based on the fact that I have some experience in archery and therefore know that this is just about the worst thing you can do, but it smacks of a lack of research on the part of the author, for the sake of dramatic tension (the empty bow is aimed at another character) and really turned me off the book. Even more so than the scene which involved nails (the steel kind, not the finger kind) and testicles.

Various complaints linked up to make this a less than enjoyable experience for me, and not a series which I will be interested in continuing.

Two Stars
**

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Sometimes I Lie – Alice Feeney

32991958Sometimes I Lie was on my radar for quite a while before it dropped to only 99p on Kindle and I snapped it up. An unreliable narrator thriller, it was touted as the next in the vein of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, and I’m a sucker for some good advertising and a cheap price, especially when it’s less than a pound. My sister read this before I did, but there was less than a week between them, and even with such a sparse blurb, I was looking forward to a tense, taut, densely plotted thriller.

My name is Amber Reynolds. There are three things you should know about me:

1. I’m in a coma.
2. My husband doesn’t love me anymore.
3. Sometimes I lie.

For the most part, I did very much enjoy this book. With two concurrent narratives, one being Amber in her coma and the other a childhood set of diaries, there was a lot going on, especially as Amber tried to figure out how or why she had ended up in this coma, and what was happening while she was in the hospital bed, helpless, yet aware of everything around her. A cast of characters is quickly introduced – Amber in the bed, her husband, her sister Claire, and the tense relations between them, despite this not always having been the case.

So for the first eighty to ninety percent of the book, I was very much enjoying what was going on. Amber was helpless, trying to figure out what had happened, watching things unfurl around her, although obviously not literally watching, and reassessing her actions in the days leading up to Christmas, which was when the accident happened. Someone was in the car with her, but she doesn’t remember who, and everyone is under suspicion. In the  past, then, we are treated to details which tie in with Amber’s current situation – childhood traumas, intense friendships, and a character named Jo who is present in both distant and recent past narratives.

So I was hoping for a really excellent denouement and conclusion which would unfurl elegantly and tie together all the threads which had been dangling throughout the book, tantalisingly hinting at an amalgamation of old hatred and current love which would lead to an explosive finale.

What I got, though, was something a bit more complex than that. Reveal after reveal after reveal was thrown at the reader with no chance to digest or process or sometimes even accept the developments. With a crash, bang, and a wallop, the ending of the book left me feeling like I’d been hit with a cinder block, totally in contrast to what the previous few hundred pages had felt like.

While I understand that in a book with an unreliable narrator (as would be expected in a book called Sometimes I Lie) has to have a huge conclusoin, the slow, insidious pace of the previous ninety percent of the book meant that the final reveals, all of them, felt out of pace, out of place, out of step with everything that had preceded it. Too many characters were running around, with too many motivations, and it lost the thread of believability which had been running through it for the majority of the book.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this book is lauded as fantastic, as it delivers some twists with aplomb, and there’s certainly a good deal to be praised in it, but I just couldn’t get on board with the fantastically over the top ending, and the more time passed after I finished, the less I could justify the high rating I thought I would be giving from the beginning.

Three stars
***

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The Princess Bride – William Goldman

Full title: The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure: The “Good Parts” Version Abridged by William Goldman.

I don’t know what it was that prompted me to pick up The Princess Bride. Having never seen the film or read the book before, I decided it was time to fill this gap in my knowledge, so got around to it post-haste. Knowing almost nothing about it other than the eminently quotable ‘you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means” and “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”, I was delighted to find out that they were actually encased in a wonderfully witty, snarky, meta story of true love, high adventure, the most beautiful girl in the world, and, well, everything.

 

21787What happens when the most beautiful girl in the world marries the handsomest prince of all time and he turns out to be…well…a lot less than the man of her dreams?

As a boy, William Goldman claims, he loved to hear his father read the S. Morgenstern classic, The Princess Bride. But as a grown-up he discovered that the boring parts were left out of good old Dad’s recitation, and only the “good parts” reached his ears.

Now Goldman does Dad one better. He’s reconstructed the “Good Parts Version” to delight wise kids and wide-eyed grownups everywhere.

What’s it about? Fencing. Fighting. True Love. Strong Hate. Harsh Revenge. A Few Giants. Lots of Bad Men. Lots of Good Men. Five or Six Beautiful Women. Beasties Monstrous and Gentle. Some Swell Escapes and Captures. Death, Lies, Truth, Miracles, and a Little Sex.

In short, it’s about everything.

The basic framing of The Princess Bride is that Goldman, as a young child, was read a book by his father, which not only became his favourite book, but also ignited his love of reading and writing, inspiring him to become a writer himself. When Goldman gave the book to his son, he realised that actually his dad had skipped over pages and pages of satirical history about the excesses of Florinese royalty, so Goldman decided to stitch those parts together to create the fairytale that he knew and loved.

However Morgenstern, Florin, the Princess Bride, and indeed Goldman’s son, are all inventions solely for the purpose of creating this multi-layered story which stitches together elements of truth with elements of fiction. I didn’t realise this, however, at the beginning of the book. Having picked up a 30th anniversary edition of TPB, I began by reading the special introduction for this edition, followed by the introduction for the 25th anniversary edition, followed by starting the actual book, meaning that it took me something in the region of two days to actually get to the beginning of the story. Over the course of those two days, I googled the book, and realised that many of the details in the introductions were fictional, so once I got my head around that, I settled in to enjoy the story, and accept the bizarre, yet entertaining, interjections from Goldman’s semi-fictionalised personage.

I think, in the end, those interjections were part of what made this book so enjoyable. Goldman, through the conceit of abridging a longer text, was able to point out difficulties in his book, summarise boring sequences, even criticise his own text with a meta humour that was difficult not to love.

Admittedly, I love fairy tales anyway, and this was peppered with such flawed and adorable characters that I would be highly surprised if I had ever not liked it. Full of charm, wit, adventure, and true love, this book was slightly cheesy but acknowledged it, and embraced that cheesiness whole-heartedly.

The next thing on my to-do list is to immediately watch the film, to see if it has the same kind of humour and loveliness as the book. Given that Goldman wrote the screenplay, I sincerely hope it does, because I did really very much love this book.

Five Stars
*****

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The Fifth Letter – Nicola Moriarty

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I absolutely love Jaclyn Moriarty’s Brookfield/Ashbury series. I’ve also read The Spellbook of Listen Taylor, and quite enjoyed that, and have long-term intentions of eventually reading The Colors of Madeleine trilogy, and count Jaclyn Moriarty as one of my favourite authors. I also very much like her sister Liane Moriarty’s books, especially Big Little Lies. So when I realised that there’s actually a third Moriarty sister who is also an author, I obviously had to read at least one of her books as well. So when I noticed that The Fifth Letter was less than £2 on Kindle, it was an insta-buy, and I don’t regret it at all.

The Fifth Letter – Nicola Moriarty

33975625Four friends. Five Letters. One Secret.

The scandalous breakthrough novel from Nicola Moriarty that will leave you asking, how well do I really know my friends?

Joni, Trina, Deb and Eden.

Best friends since the first day of school. Best friends, they liked to say, forever.

But now they are in their thirties and real life – husbands, children, work – has got in the way. So, resurrecting their annual trip away, Joni has an idea, something to help them reconnect.

Each woman will write an anonymous letter, sharing with their friends the things that are really going on in their lives.

But as the confessions come tumbling out, Joni starts to feel the certainty of their decades-long friendships slip from her fingers.

Anger. Accusations. Desires. Deceit.

And then she finds another letter. One that was never supposed to be read. A fifth letter. Containing a secret so big that its writer had tried to destroy it. And now Joni is starting to wonder, did she ever really know her friends at all?

‘With secrets and intrigue, this is a compulsive read’Sun on Sunday

‘Entertaining and easy to read’Sunday Mirror

‘A darkly humorous story about friendship’ Best

The blurb to this is slightly misleading. There are four friends and five letters, but far more than one secret. Each of the four friends confesses to a secret in her letter, but then one letter writer changes her mind about her secret, and tries to destroy the letter.

Told mostly in flashbacks, with a hugely entertaining priest wondering why he’s being used as an amateur detective, Joni pours out the story of her week away with her friends and the fallout from it to this priest, as they try to figure out who the fifth letter might have been written by, and try to salvage their fragile friendship. Why she’s pouring it out to a priest and not a counsellor, detective, her husband, or friend, is actually relatively well-explained, making this plot device solid enough for me to respect it heartily, and very much appreciate it.

Honestly, my favourite character in the entire book was the priest. Perfectly timed, witty remarks and a general state of bemusement at how Joni is using his confessional only served to emphasise how bizarre and yet wonderful this was, and helped me to get just as caught up in it as the priest himself.

Four main characters, Joni, Deb, Eden, and Trina, have been best friends since their first day of secondary school, at the age of eleven. Twenty years of love, marriage, kids, growth, and they’re still holidaying together, spending a week bonding (and drinking), and learning things about the women they thought they couldn’t know any more about. Each character has her own distractions, difficulties, and drama, although they intertwine in some ways, and obviously it can’t all be resolved on the week of the holiday. Stretching out a little further than that, we get to see the fallout of this disastrous week away as friendships are stretched and perhaps even broken.

Slightly over the top, with the convergence of issues at the same point in time, I let the book away with it because the framing device – of the letters confessing to secrets – was pretty solid. Well-developed and solid, I really believed the foundations of this twenty-year friendship and the secrets they hid from each other. The central mystery of who wrote the letter was one I thought I had figured out, but although I got some of the twists, and was a step ahead of Joni, the central character, I was still caught out by the ending, but in a good way.

Definitely worth the read, I very much enjoyed this tale of female friendship – and more! – and would happily pick up another Nicola Moriarty in the future.

Four Stars
****

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My Not-So Perfect Life – Sophie Kinsella

Starting to drive to work has meant that I’ve lost out on a whole bunch of reading time, which I think I’ve mentioned before, but I’ve started to counteract this by diving into the world of audiobooks. I signed up for Audible a few weeks ago, and this was what I chose to select as my free trial book. Knowing that Kinsella books are always a winner for me, and not so in-depth that I would struggle to keep up, or pay too much attention and stop concentrating on the road, I thought this was the perfect way to begin my audiobook adventure. And I was kind of right.31295340

Cat Brenner is living the dream – she has a flat in London, a job in creative branding, and her Instagram feed is full of all the amazing things London has to offer: delicious food and beautiful sights and lots of fun.

Ok, so the crappy truth is that she rents a tiny room in Catford with no space for a wardrobe, spends most of her days engaged in tedious admin on the other side of the city, and posts photos of food she could never ever afford to eat. But it’s all just about worth it.

Until her bright and shiny life comes crashing down: her demanding boss Demeter gives her sack, and with no means to live in London any more, Cat has to move home to Somerset. Now she’s plain old Katie Brenner again, helping out her dad and her stepmum as they attempt to launch a glamping business on their farm. (They think she’s on sabbatical from her job, and she can’t quite bear to tell them the truth…)

With Katie’s creative branding experience, the glamping is soon a big success. So much so that Demeter and her family book in on holiday – and Katie sees her chance to get revenge on the woman who ruined her dream. So long as Demeter doesn’t see beyond her disguise and give the game away to her parents, of course.

It’s time to see who’s the boss…

So this blurb isn’t the best one I’ve ever read, to be honest. Firstly, when I took it from GoodReads, it referred to the main character as Caz, when she’s actually called Cat (or she tries to be called Cat anyways…). As far as plot goes, this is a solid Kinsella offering. Always full of relatable, far less than perfect heroines, some bad judgement, a dreamy guy or two, and situtations which are so unbelievable that htey just couldn’t happen in real life, yet still seem totally plausible (and also hilarious) when caught up in the moment of the book, this was actually one of Kinsella’s better recent offerings, I thought. No fan of the ghost aspect of Twenties Girl, and lukewarm about the ‘I suddenly became a bitch but can’t remember how’ aspect of Remember Me?, this is more like my absolute favourite Kinsella The Undomestic Goddess, or her other madcap offerings like Wedding Night and I’ve Got Your Number – funny, relatable, somewhat ridiculous, but terribly heart-warming, and with a feeling at the end like you’ve just eaten a bar of chocolate, but not so much of it that you feel like a glutton.

There was one thing in this book which hugely irritated me, though. Somerset girl Katie-Cat referred to her fringe as her bangs throughout. I’ve lived in England for 13 years now, and have never yet heard someone use that word for hair, unless they were asking what it meant. And, surprisingly, it came up a LOT. I mean, far more than I would have expected the book to be talking about fringes.

But other that that, this was a really solid, enjoyable, humorous, warm novel from Kinsella which shone with her usual wit and true-to-life, flawed, yet loveable characters. Over-the-top? Yes, sometimes, but never in a way that felt like it was anything less than the fun I expected from this book.

Four Stars
****

 

*A note regarding audiobooks: I’m not really sure I’m cut out for audiobook listening. My issue, you see, is that I’m too impatient. The fact that you can listen to audiobooks at 1.5 or 1.7 speed, which makes it faster, a little chirpier, but not unintelligible or chipmunked, is a godsend for me. If it weren’t for that, I think I’d have screamed my way out of the car ages ago, in frustration at how slowly the narrator speaks. I think it’s probably something to do with the fact that I read very quickly, both in my head and aloud, so listening to someone who’s reading for effect, with good diction and enunciation of every word, plus pauses for effect, infuriates me. Thankfully, the ability to listen at speed largely eliminates this frustration for me. If I meet a book that chipmunks at 1.5x speed, I’m afraid it’ll be a DNF for me, but we will see.

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The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

Given how many dystopian books I’ve read (I even have a whole shelf of them on GoodReads), the recently released adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale for Hulu,
and the fact that I had a free Audible credit, the circumstances aligned to let me spend the last week or so working my way through The Handmaid’s Tale in audiobook on my way to and from work. Surprisingly, considering it’s a bastion of the genre,
and the inspiration for a whole slew of books that I’ve read and enjoyed,
or outright loved (Only Ever Yours for love, Bumped/Thumped for enjoyed),
I actually didn’t really like this all that much.

38447Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now…

 

So the basic story of this book is that there’s been some kind of revolution, and women have had all their rights removed, and are reduced to single functions – wives, daughters, Marthas, Aunts, Econowives, or the titular Handmaid that Offred’s first person account introduces us to.

While lots of the themes of the book were chilling and offered a stark and bleak look at the position of women and their subjugation as they are reduced to their reproductive capacity, or menial labour. Not permitted to read, associate, work, the feminist themes of this book are strong. From that point of view, it’s a strong piece of work, iconic in its field as a piece of speculative fiction which takes to its logical end the worrying attitudes towards women, and even men, in the 1980s, accelerating forward to a point (probably around 2005) where society has utterly changed, and the Republic of Gilead has created this stratified society where women have very little status, and men are strictly divided into different classes and categories.

So from a feminist perspective, it was hugely interesting, but as a dystopia, I just didn’t buy it. Offred is young enough to remember going to college, marrying, having a child, and the freedom of association, dress, and conduct which was expected and normal in her own childhood and early adulthood. And yet she has been so totally subjugated, indeed many women have, that society has been entirely revamped, and it’s just accepted that this is the new world order? In a timespan short enough that Offred is still in her childbearing years? I just don’t buy it.

The governmental overthrow and coup was orchestrated by a fundamental religious group known as the Sons of Jacob, who eliminated the President and the Cabinet in one fell swoop, giving them the chance to enact martial law and suspend the Constitution, then create the Republic of Gilead, prizing fertility massively and taking proven fertile women as the handmaids of those families deemed to ‘deserve’ a child. But there’s just a lot in this that I don’t understand. If Moira was in the red centre with Offred, she must have also had a child, or else how did she end up in that centre? Plenty of other handmaids are mentioned, but their existing children aren’t given more than a passing thought.

I just don’t understand how more than 50% of the population could just roll over and accept that they’re no longer allowed to have jobs, money, read, or choose their own clothes. And in a short enough time that Offred’s daughter is still a child? We’re talking less than a decade here. Surely change cannot be enacted that quickly. I realise that all dystopia requires a certain suspension of disbelief,  but I really feel like The Handmaid’s Tale was taking this too far.

At least with Only Ever Yours, it’s explained that women are actually manufactured, so that gives some explanation for why they just accept this as their lot, but The Handmaid’s Tale is women who’ve lived and loved and had the chances that are expected and deserved, so why did they just accept this sudden denigration of all their rights?

The lack of racial diversity in the book is also bizarre – there’s only a single mention of non-white characters, and they’re just dismissed as segregated into the midlands. Much like the case of women, I find it incredibly hard to believe anyone would just take this, whether they were those affected, or those close to them.

Structurally, then, I also didn’t particularly like the way the book was framed. Interestingly, because I listened to it on audiobook, it was actually closer to the way it is portrayed in the book itself, because Offred’s story is said to have been found on cassettes in a safehouse from the Gileadean period. The final twenty minutes of the book are presented as a discussion of these tapes and the attempt to verify their authenticity, by academics many later, in 2195. It’s implied that a more equal society exists now, but that grated with me. The final chapters are largely an information dump about the development of Gileadean society and the issues they faced with infertility etc in the time of the overthrowing of the government. Those final chapters felt, to me, like an easy way to fling in a lot of information which supports the shoddy world building in the tapes themselves. Funnily enough, I think I would have actually appreciated the book more without the final commentary – a world built by the recollections of a similar woman who doesn’t understand how it happened either is much more believable than a bunch of academics then trying to justify how this happened, and I was left kind of cold by the end of the book.

I appreciated a lot of the ambiguity of the book, the seedy underground which existed regardless of how strictly life was regulated, or how harsh the penalties were, the non-personhood of women (highlighted in particular by the character Ofglen, Offred’s shopping partner, in the final chapters), and the brutal, animalistic rituals which bonded the women together. The biblical undertones were hard to miss, with the Sons of Jacob, the use of biblical names and concepts, and the nature of language used throughout the book (including everyday greetings), and they underscored how patriarchal the society was, with men holding property and being the head of the household, sterility being attributed only to women, the prizing of male children over female, etc. There was loads in this book that was really, really great, and chilling to think about. I just don’t think that the framing was particularly stellar.

I can absolutely see why this is a cornerstone of dystopian fiction, a feminist holdfast, and still wildly popular thirty years after it was first published. I just didn’t really love it. Perhaps part of that was due to listening to an audiobook version, that I lost some of the impact it would have had on paper, or it was just that I’m a cantankerous old sod. Alternatively, it could be that because I read this book after I read others that were acclaimed as retellings of the handmaid’s tale, I was already jaded to the story. Whatever it was, while I acknowledge that this is definitely an important, chilling, and skillful book, it was definitely not for me.

Three Stars
***

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One Of Us Is Lying – Karen M McManus

I was given a copy of this book via NetGalley for an honest review. And honestly, I loved this book.

A school murder mystery, a breakfast club style group, a deadly allergy, and a whole host of secrets that nobody wants to get out – the stage was set, I was so ready for this book!

One Of Us Is Lying – Karen M McManus

 

32887579One of Us Is Lying is the story of what happens when five strangers walk into detention and only four walk out alive. Everyone is a suspect, and everyone has something to hide.

Pay close attention and you might solve this.
On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.
Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.
Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.
Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.
Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.
And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.

Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose?

Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.

What I really loved about this book was not only the diversity and representation that it offered, with a bunch of different characters who poked fun at the stereotypes that they were supposed to represent, but also the different perspectives that we saw as they each struggled through the difficult days after the loss of a classmate that they weren’t actually sure they liked, and the ensuing murder investigation.

Besides the Bayview Four, there were a cast of other, interesting characters propping up this schooltime thriller, from Bronwyn’s sister Maeve to Addy’s boyfriend Jake, and Simon’s only friend Janae, each had their role to play, and you felt like there was more to them than just their role in the story. If I had a complaint, it would be that a) it’s never explained how old Maeve is, and why she’s hanging out with people who are clearly older than her, and b) she doesn’t seem to really have any interests outside of Bronwyn. But I can forgive that on the basis that if my sister was accused of murder, I’d drop all my outside interests too.

A host of unhelpful and often distant parents was the typical setup to allow these four to solve their own murder mystery, despite having been advised to stay away from each other until the investigation was complete.

While I thought at first that this might be jam-packed full of cliches, with the typical stereoptyped, one-dimensional high-schoolers and the secrets they don’t want to get out, what actually unfolded over the course of the book was much more nuanced than that.

Each of the Bayview Four has something to hide, and inevitably, as is the way of teen dramas, those secrets are gradually revealed and the stakes raise higher and higher, with a mysterious Tumblr blog amping up the tension by revealing details that couldn’t have been known to anyone outside the room.

I figured out the killer roughly halfway through the book – much earlier than the characters, but then I suppose I have the advantage of the omniscient presence, and having read a lot of thrillers – but that didn’t dampen my enjoyment of the story. There was still plenty going on as they – and I – unravelled the tangled web of secrets and lies, figuring out who knew what and who was where at which point. The tension was as much in what would happen next as in figuring out whodunnit.

I devoured this book in a day and a half, skiving off work, hanging around too long during downtimes, lingering overlong during lunch, and staying up late while my boyfriend snored beside me. It was compulsive reading, with enough variety and intrigue to keep me interested even after I figured out who the liar was.

Five Stars
*****

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Weekend Book Haul

This weekend was great for a whole variety of reasons. Number one, of course, it was the weekend. I love my job, but I love weekends, too. Number two, this weekend was the annual Pieta House flagship fundraiser, Darkness into Light. A 5km walk which starts in darkness and ends in daylight, this was the second year in a row that I participated, and it’s a really great experience. With 150 walks worldwide, the feeling of connection with friends and family in London, Copenhagen, Maynooth, Cork, and many other places, was a surge of support for those who may be struggling, and a resounding chorus of voices saying ‘It’s ok not to be ok.’

But this weekend was also great for a number of other reasons, because I got tons of book post and new books. In three days, I got six new books, and I’m super excited to read ALL of them, so I figured I’d post about them today.

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

I entered a MaximumPop! competition to win a signed copy of the book that it seems like everyone is talking about, oh, weeks ago, and then promptly forgot about it. I enter a lot of MaximumPop! competitions, because their prizes are almost always awesome, so I was delighted that I had forgotten I was even in the running to win this gorgeous signed copy of a book that I absolutely wanted to read so much that I had already bought a copy. So now I have a spare copy of THUG, and I’ll need to decide what to do with it, and I’m super hyped to read this fictionalisation of the Black Lives Matter movement20170508_080134[1]

One Of Us Is Lying – Karen M McManus

32887579This is the book I’m currently reading. A NetGalley from Penguin, it sounds like a subversion of the teen movie tropes, as five social stereotypes walk into detention, and one doesn’t walk out. As the school’s gossip mill, Simon, the victim, had secrets on all four other detention-ites and his death wasn’t an accident. All of them are suspects, all of them had something to hide, but which of them was the killer? Or is someone else lurking out there, using these four as their fall guy? I’m only two chapters in, but already the conspiracies have been set up, Simon is choking on the floor, and I’m tempted to just sack off work so that I can dig my teeth into this book which looks sure to be an entrancing thriller.

A Court of Wings and Ruin – Sarah J Maas

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I posted a few months ago about how much I was looking forward to the release of ACOWAR, the third in the ACOTAR trilogy. In classic me style, I’ve managed once again to post about the first book and forget to review the second. Suffice it to say that A Court of Mist and Fury was actually a big step up from A Court of Thorns and Roses, with development of the different courts, a new threat looming, and Feyre really coming into her own as she navigates her new life among the Fae. This conclusion to her story promises to be full of deception, intrigue, secrets, magic, and hopefully loads and loads of Rhysand, the dark, moody, complex Lord of the Night Court, as well as his posse of motley companions and friends. I can’t wait to get started on this!

Our Chemical Hearts – Krystal Sutherland

30795525I read this last year, and it was one of my favourite books of 2016. Because I read a NetGalley of it, I felt like it was the kind of book that I liked enough to buy a hard copy to sit on my shelf, and it was only £4 on Amazon, so now it’s sitting in my pile of ‘read’ books, waiting to be shelved. Admittedly, I didn’t think about the fact that my bookcase is so full that I actually won’t be able to put it in there for at least several months, until I clear it out, or get new shelves, but at least I have it. And it’s so pretty with its bright white cover and gorgeous blue fish! Definitely a happy camper after this purchase.

Close Your Eyes – Nicci Cloke 

33765805

The second offering that I’ll have read from Nicci Cloke, after Follow Me Back, one of last year’s earliest reads, I actually wasn’t going to pick this up, because I didn’t love Follow Me Back. But actually, after reading the blurb of Close Your Eyes, and bearing in mind how much I enjoy school shooting books (yes, I know that’s weird, I don’t know why I like them so much, but I do), I figured I may as well give this one a try. If it’s anything as good as This Is Where It Ends, I’m onto a good thing here.

Nomad – James Swallow

28954858Somewhat bizarrely, I’m not entirely sure why or how I got this book. I got a missed parcel slip last week, and assumed that it was THUG, because I knew that it was on the way. But then when I picked up the parcel, it was Nomad, a book published by Zaffre (which I am on the blogger list for, admittedly) in 2016, this isn’t a new book, so I can’t quite figure out why I got it. But nonetheless, the blurb sounds intriguing, and it’ll be a real change of pace from the other books on my list from this weekend, as it covers totally different ground. Not a fantasy, not a YA, not set around a school, it looks like it’s going to be tense, taut, and a total change of pace for me.

20170508_080120[1]So that’s everything that showed up on my doorstep (or Kindle) over the weekend. Quite a range of books, tackling a bunch of different issues, I’m excited to read them all. So far in 2017, I haven’t actually re-read any books. Everything has been fresh and new. But I might break that streak with Our Chemical Hearts, because I enjoyed it so much last year (and it’s so pretty). Still though, with five other new books clamouring to be devoured, it remains to be seen whether or not I’ll restrain myself enough to revisit a prior favourite. Either way, my TBR just got a few books longer, and my free time has a few more demands on it!

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