Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Top Ten Tuesday | Unique, just like everyone else

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week you compile a list of ten books which coincide with that week's theme. You can find everything you need to know about joining in here!

This week's theme is 'Top Ten Of The Most Unique Books I've Read', which is a topic with a whole lot o' scope. How do we judge what's unique when every single one of us reads different books and even reads the same books in a different way? But there's no need for me to get all philosophical.

Here are ten of the most unique books I've read, all for different reasons, and if you haven't read them yourself I recommend them! Or at least most of them...

Holes by Louis Sachar: I was lucky enough to read Holes in school, and when I was first told I was going to read it I wasn't impressed. It's essentially described as a story about boys digging holes but it turned out to be so much more than that and I have such fond memories of it now.

Blood Red Road by Moira Young: This one was a unique read for me because of the way it's written. Usually I find it hard to get into books written in dialect, but this book pulled me through it and I ended up loving it. I still haven't read the sequels because it turns out I'm rubbish at reading series, but I do still love this one.

Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: As always, I refuse to miss a chance to mention this book. I love witches and I love stories about witchcraft, but there are a lot of samey ones out there. Signal to Noise, however, is such a fresh witchcraft story; it's set in Mexico in the 1980s, where fifteen year old Meche learns to cast spells with her vinyl records. It's so good and you need to read it immediately.

The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig: I don't read many time travel books, but I think the way time travel happens in Heilig's debut is such an exciting, new way. The characters in The Girl From Everywhere don't find secret portals or build time machines, instead there are certain people who can sail to places on a map - but there's a catch, if they find a map to 17th century France then they'll travel to 17th century France. It's just so cool, and a really fun novel, too!

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli: My favourite book of 2017 so far, it's still gives me the warm fuzzies just thinking about it. The protagonist, Molly, is overweight, but something about this book is truly miraculous: the story isn't about Molly wanting or trying to lose weight. I know, it's astounding, isn't it? Read this if you haven't already, it'll make you feel better about the world.

Wise Children by Angela Carter: Sadly I'm not the biggest Carter fan, aside from The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, because her work is just a little too weird for my tastes - Wise Children is no exception. I had to read this during sixth form and it's just bizarre. I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't read it yet, but any book that ends with a seventy-five woman sleeping with a one hundred year old man who she knows is either her uncle or her father is definitely unique in my book. And bloody weird.

Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix: Sadly, this story about a haunted store rather than a haunted house turned out not to be as different as I was hoping, but the way it's been published is definitely unique. Horrorstör has been published to look and feel like a department store catalogue and I love it for that alone.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin: Probably the most unique high fantasy book I've read, which doesn't really say much because I haven't read much high fantasy since I was a teenager and have only started getting back into it in the past year. The way this book is written is unique, the characters are unique, the relationships are unique, the ways magic and science intersect are unique. It's a brilliant book and you should read it.

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson: I've yet to come across any other books in which the narrator is a nameless pornographer recovering from severe burns. That's pretty unique to me!

The Meat Tree by Gwyneth Lewis: This is a retelling of one of the stories in The Mabinogion. Now The Mabinogion is already weird in and of itself, and this sci-fi retelling took it to a whole other level that, to be honest, I didn't really enjoy. I haven't read anything else like it, though!

Which books made your list this week?

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Top Ten Tuesday | Tonight, Matthew, I'm going to be...

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week you compile a list of ten books which coincide with that week's theme. You can find everything you need to know about joining in here!

This week's theme is a fandom freebie, so I'm going to talk about some of the characters I'd love to cosplay as. I love a good Comic Con, though I've never been able to go to the biggest one in the UK which is, of course, in London, but I haven't cosplayed since my teens. These are the characters I'd love to be for the day if I ever have the confidence to cosplay again!

(Sorry, I think only people who can remember Stars in Their Eyes will get the reference in my title...)

Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas: This is one of my favourite films from my childhood and every Halloween I try to dress up as Sally before I go out for cocktails, but unless I want to try making her dress myself (which would be a terrible idea) her outfit is either too expensive or the cheap ones aren't made of very nice (or flattering) material. One day!

Katrina Van Tassel from Sleepy Hollow: Another much-loved film of mine, and to be honest the main reason I'd love to cosplay as Katrina is down to the dress she wears right at the end of the film - I call it her Beetlejuice dress.

Belle from Beauty and the Beast: My favourite film of all time, I love it so much. I actually had a fancy dress party for my 18th and dressed up as Belle in her ball dress, but I'd love to cosplay her in her blue dress; she looks most like herself in that dress.

Violet from Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Various Artists: This is probably my favourite graphic novel series and I just adore Violet, plus I think one of my friends would be a fantastic Hannah - I'll have to try and convince her to cosplay with me.

Alexia Tarabotti from the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger: I've only read Soulless (reviewed here) so far, but I still think Alexia is such a fun character and I could have a lot of fun putting together a 19th century outfit.

Evy Carnahan from The Mummy: If Beauty and the Beast is my favourite film, The Mummy is a very close second and most of that is down to Evy. As you can see, I have a thing for nerds and bookworms in films - I think The Mummy is the first time I saw a person a bit like me in an action movie, and that was quite a big deal.

Clarice Starling from The Silence of the Lambs: Another cinematic heroine of mine, though I enjoyed the book, too. I like Clarice because she's not perfect; so many women in thrillers are unrealistic because filmmakers feel the need to make a woman flawless to make her likeable, but they didn't do that to Clarice. She's still learning and she can make mistakes, but that doesn't take anything away from her successes.

Éowyn from The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien: This lady is the mother of the Warrior Princess trope, and she's fantastic. She's one of my favourite characters from The Lord of the Rings and I'd love to swish around in one of her dresses while also feeling bad-ass.

Alice from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll: This is another one of my favourite classic stories, and I think so much fun could be had with an Alice cosplay; you can be as innocent, as mad or as dark as you like, that's why the story's constantly being retold.

Rowena Ravenclaw from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling: All I'd need is a medieval blue dress and the Ravenclaw diadem and I'd be set! I'm still waiting for Rowling to write me a book about the Founders to be honest...

What did you talk about this week?

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Top Ten Tuesday | O Captain! My Captain!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week you compile a list of ten books which coincide with that week's theme. You can find everything you need to know about joining in here!

This week's theme is 'Top Ten Authors I'm Dying To Meet / Ten Authors I Can't Believe I've Met  (some other "meeting authors" type spin you want to do)'. You may or may not know this, I have no idea, but I studied Creative Writing for four years at university and got tutored by some brilliant writers, but today I thought I'd talk about some of the authors I wish I'd been able to have some lessons with while I was a student - they're all writers I still wouldn't say no to a lesson with now!

Sarah Waters: I love Waters' fiction, The Little Stranger is one of my favourite books, and I think the stories she chooses to tell are fantastic. The focus of my MA was how historical fiction can be used as a tool to write women, the LGBT+ community, poc and any other form of 'other' back into history, so to be tutored by a woman who specialises in LGBT+ historical fiction would have been amazing.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: I read Adichie's story collection, The Thing Around Your Neck, earlier this year and loved it. She's also a very political, outspoken person and I think I could learn an awful lot from her.

Margaret Atwood: The woman's a genius, what more is there to say?

Samantha Ellis: Some Creative Writing MA courses in the UK make you choose between focusing on solely prose or solely poetry, but what I liked about my course at Lancaster University was that you could explore anything you wanted to. Having said that, I've never tried my hand at writing scripts and I think part of that is because we didn't have any tutors who specialised in them, and Ellis is a playwright as well as a writer of non-fiction. She also seems like a genuinely nice human being and I think a workshop with her would be really interesting - if nothing else we could gush about Anne Brontë together.

Alison Weir: I haven't actually read any of Weir's books yet (something I'm hoping to change this year!) but I think she'd've been a great tutor for me during my MA because she's both a historian and a novelist, and I think I could have learned a lot about knowing when to separate fact from fiction and knowing how much research to do without driving myself around the bend as I sometimes found myself doing.

Gail Carriger: I've been struggling to write fiction since I finished uni and entered the world of full-time work, which I'm finding really frustrating and it's making me lose my confidence when I sit down to finish an incomplete short story, and there's something about Carriger's work that seems so indulgent and fun that I think a workshop with her would encourage me to actually get some words on the page.

Angela Carter: Sadly Carter died in 1992 when I was a measly 4 months old so I'll never have the opportunity to be taught by her, and, if I'm being honest, I'm not actually the biggest fan of her work aside from The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories. She did teach at the University of East Anglia, one of the best unis in the UK for Creative Writing, and I think workshops with her must have been fascinating because she was so radical.

Robin Hobb: Another author I haven't read but I'm planning to read this year. I think we can all agree that Hobb is the biggest female author in the world of high fantasy and I think she'd have a lot to teach me about building a whole world, with its own countries and cultures and environment, from scratch.

Kurtis J. Wiebe: Something else I wasn't able to explore at uni is writing for comics and graphic novels, and as Rat Queens is my favourite graphic novel series I'd be happy to have a workshop all about writing for comics with Wiebe.

Roald Dahl: Yet another author who has shuffled off this mortal coil, and one who would be 100 now if he was still alive. Dahl died the year before I was born but he was still a huge part of my childhood - I got my dad to read Fantastic Mr. Fox to me so many times that I think we both knew it by heart - can you imagine having a workshop about writing for children with this man? Yes please.

Who did you talk about this week?

Monday, 27 March 2017

Review | A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

by Becky Chambers

My Rating:

Lovelace was once merely a ship's artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in an new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who's determined to help her learn and grow.

Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.

Considering The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is one of my favourite books of all time, I'm a little ashamed it's taken me quite this long to get to A Closed and Common Orbit. If you haven't read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet yet and you're planning to, I advise you to stop reading this review now! I try to keep my reviews spoiler-free, but I don't think you should go near A Closed and Common Orbit at all if you've yet to read the first book.

It was lovely to be back in this world, in this universe I fell in love with in the first book, and stepping back into it felt like stepping into a place that restores my faith in humanity. Unfortunately I didn't love this one as much as I loved the first one, but I also wasn't expecting to; The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is one of those rare books that's simply perfect.

When I read the blurb for A Closed and Common Orbit I predicted that I'd find Lovelace's story much more interesting than Pepper's, but it actually turned out to be the other way around. That's not to say that I didn't find Lovelace's chapters interesting because I really did; as I expected, Chambers' exploration of AIs was fantastic throughout the novel, but while I enjoyed those particular parts of Lovelace's chapters and completely empathised with her frustration at being trapped in a body she felt she wasn't suited for, Lovelace just didn't grow on me in the same way that Pepper did.

I'm not sure I can accurately pinpoint what it was about Pepper that made me so fond of her. We discover how much crap the poor woman went through as a child, so I found something really rewarding in watching her overcome all that hardship with the help of a woman called Owl who may have been my favourite character in the book. The relationship between the two of them was heart-warming, and while it became just the slightest bit saccharine near the end of the novel I didn't mind; I needed to read something nice, something hopeful, and though this book isn't hopeful in the same way The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is, it's still lovely.

It would be unfair to compare another book, even a book set in the same universe, with A Closed and Common Orbit. The two books are such different stories - A Closed and Common Orbit is a much more confined, secretive story, as the title suggests - that it's impossible to truly compare them. Chambers excels at quiet, kind science fiction, and I enjoyed learning more about AIs and Aeluons in this book. I can't wait to return to this universe for a third time, and will happily gobble up whatever Chambers writes.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Review | The Other Half of Happiness by Ayisha Malik

by Ayisha Malik

My Rating:

Sofia Khan is just married. But no-one told her life was going to be this way . . .

Her living situation is in dire straits, her husband Conall is distant, and his annoyingly attractive colleague is ringing all sorts of alarm bells.

When her mother forces them into a belated wedding ceremony (elopement: you can run, but you can't hide), Sofia wonders if it might be a chance to bring them together. But when it forces Conall to confess his darkest secret, it might just tear them apart.

I received an ARC of The Other Half of Happiness from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Check out my review of Sofia Khan is Not Obliged here!

Last year I read Ayisha Malik's debut, Sofia Khan is Not Obliged, and really enjoyed it, so I was thrilled when I was approached by the publisher and offered the chance to receive an ARC of the sequel, The Other Half of Happiness. If you haven't read Sofia Khan is Not Obliged and you're planning to then I suggest you stop reading this review now; I try to keep my reviews spoiler-free, but as this book is a sequel there will be spoilers for the end of the first book here.

One of the things I mentioned in my review of the first book was that it felt like two different books in one; the first half of the book was very much a Muslim Bridget Jones's Diary while the second half took a more serious turn, leaving me a little unsure as to the kind of tone the book was trying to hit. The Other Half of Happiness felt much more like the latter half of the first book, but Malik has still littered the story with a great sense of humour and Sofia is still such a fun protagonist to follow.

Honestly, I found this book difficult to rate and see-sawed between 3 and 4 stars for a long time before I finally compromised and settled on 3.5. I loved the relationship between Sofia and Conall in the first book - the end of Sofia Khan is Not Obliged definitely gave me the warm fuzzies - and I'm still not sure how I feel about what happens to their relationship in this book. As the blurb suggests, Sofia discovers that Conall has a pretty big secret and that secret turned Conall into someone I wasn't sure I liked anymore. I appreciated that Conall became more complex, that he's definitely not perfect despite Sofia's idolisation of him in the first book, but the secret he keeps from Sofia is not okay (the keeping it from her that is, not the secret itself) and I got a little frustrated by the way he seemed to look down on Sofia's writing career in this book while expecting her to put up with his own passion project. This was especially confusing considering he was so supportive of her in the first book.

What Sofia was lacking in romance in this book, however, she certainly made up for in the relationships with the other women in her life. I loved that Malik chose to explore the relationship Sofia has with her mother, in particular, as well as her sister and her friends. They're all incredibly supportive of Sofia, and it was nice to see this focus when so much of the first book was focused on Sofia's romantic life. So much of Sofia's life seems to have been focused on romance and marriage that, in this book, it felt as though she was finally able to pour more of her energy into the other areas of her life, such as her career.

Unfortunately, I didn't quite enjoy this book as much as I enjoyed the first one. I loved the themes that Malik chose to explore, but so much of the book was Sofia being sad and moping; this is completely justified considering what happens, but it didn't make for particularly thrilling reading. In fact parts of this book felt like reading the first book again, with Sofia once again unsure where her life is going or what's going to become of her career - I desperately wanted her to use her own initiative more rather than simply jumping on the opportunities other people offered her. She's a bright woman, she just needed a bit of a kick up the backside from time to time.

I did still like this book, though, and I recommend both Sofia Khan books - particularly if you enjoy contemporary, and especially if you're interested in reading a Muslim protagonist written by a Muslim author.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Top Ten Tuesday | Down in One

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week you compile a list of ten books which coincide with that week's theme. You can find everything you need to know about joining in here!

This week's theme is a 'Read In One Sitting' theme, so, shockingly, I'm going to talk about the books I read in one sitting. Because I lack imagination today.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling: This arrived during the weekend, a blissful day when I wasn't at school and had nothing to do, so I holed myself up on the sofa with snacks and started reading as soon as this book arrived and finished it that same day. I had to know what happened, and I had to know what happened before the internet ruined it for me.

Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant: This little horror novella is the perfect read for anyone who loves horror movies, particularly found footage movies like The Blair Witch Project or Trollhunter. I read this in an hour or two, so it's a great book to pick up if you're in the mood to start and finish something in the same day.

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli: My favourite book of 2017 so far, which I really wasn't expecting because I loved Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and I didn't see how this book could be any better. I was lucky enough to read it early thanks to NetGalley, and once I started it I couldn't stop and devoured it one evening after work.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson: It's a very rare instance in which I don't read a graphic novel in one sitting, but I have such fond memories of this one because it took me on such an emotional rollercoaster. Like The Upside of Unrequited, I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did and it ended up giving me lots of feelings.

Malkin Child by Livi Michael: I read this little book in one sitting while I was studying for my MA, and was lucky enough to meet the author and get a signed copy. The Pendle Witch Trials are one of the most famous witch trials in Britain, most famous for the fact that it was the testimony of a nine year old girl who sent ten people, including her own mother, sister and brother, to the gallows. That little girl, Jennet Device, has been depicted as something of a cruel child ever since, and I enjoyed Livi Michael's more sympathetic view of her.

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood: Another one I read at uni, this time while doing my undergrad degree, and a book that also happened to be my very first (and so far only) Margaret Atwood read. I'm determined to read more of Atwood's work this year, but this was a brilliant introduction to her. If you're a fan of retellings I recommend picking this one up!

The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark: I think this book has to be read in one sitting to really feel the impact of it, and I recommend picking it up if you haven't already - I read it in January and loved it.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll: I'm sure I read this as a child, but I remember reading it one sitting during a five hour coach ride; I had to study it at university, so it was a lot of fun to revisit it as a student rather than only a reader and there was so much in it that passed me by as a little girl.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman: It's easy to read this book in one sitting, it's not long at all, but this is one of those rare instances in which I enjoyed the film adaptation more than the book itself.

Woman Who Brings the Rain by Eluned Gramich: This teeny memoir made the English-language non-fiction shortlist at last year's Wales Book of the Year and it ended up being the first book I read this year. I enjoyed it, but I'd love Eluned Gramich to write a longer book about her time in Japan.

Which books made your list this week?

Friday, 17 March 2017

Review | Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

by Ariana Franklin

My Rating:

Adelia Aguilar is a rare thing in medieval Europe - a woman who has trained as a doctor. Her speciality is the study of corpses, a skill that must be concealed if she is to avoid accusations of witchcraft.

But in Cambridge a child has been murdered, others are disappearing, and King Henry has called upon a renowned Italian investigator to find the killer - fast.

What the king gets is Adelia, his very own Mistress of the Art of Death.

The investigation takes Adelia deep into Cambridge; its castle and convents, and streets teeming with life. And it is here that she attracts the attention of a murderer who is prepared to kill again...

It's no secret that I love a bit of historical crime, but if there's one thing the genre's lacking it's leading ladies. Enter Adelia Aguilar.

When it comes to historical fiction I rarely venture into stories set before the sixteenth century; while I find certain aspects of the Wars of the Roses interesting there's far too many people involved for me to be able to keep track of everyone, and my knowledge of the Middle Ages is very limited so historical fiction set in that period doesn't attract me in the same way a book set during the reign of Henry VIII does. As such I couldn't be certain what was and wasn't historically accurate while reading Mistress of the Art of Death, but that's not the book's fault and I tried not to let it bother me. Ultimately there's no way to enjoy historical fiction if you don't suspend your disbelief a little - after all, none of us were there in the Middle Ages, so how are we really to know what was accurate in the first place? - and I'm a big believer in the power historical fiction has to encourage readers to learn more about history.

That being said, I did feel as though it was obvious this book had been written by a 21st century woman. I know that's a strange thing to say because, obviously, it hasn't been written by a medieval woman, but I didn't feel completely engrossed in the Middle Ages like I was hoping to be. Some of Franklin's descriptions are wonderful and she was clearly a woman who was very passionate about this period of history, but every now and then Adelia said something that was a little jarring and a little too modern. I hate to say that because I am all for more women with agency in historical fiction, particularly pre-suffragette historical fiction, but we must be able to give women in history agency without making them feel like 21st century women in period costumes.

Where Franklin excelled in this novel was with her side characters. Adelia has a charming array of companions who grew on me very quickly, and I thought her characterisation of Henry II was fantastic. Writing a monarch is a difficult thing to do but Franklin wrote Henry II the way I imagined him. Sadly, it was Adelia herself and her love interest whom I had more of a problem with.

Considering this is marketed as a historical crime book first and foremost, the romance took over way too much for my liking and seemed to come out of nowhere. I actually liked the two characters together, there were moments when they had great chemistry, but they seemed to go from distrust to love/lust very quickly and it all got a tad Mills and Boon to the point where Adelia's relationship appeared to be the main focus of the plot rather than her skills as the Middle Ages' answer to Sherlock Holmes. 

I was also a little disappointed that I guessed who the killer was fairly early on. There were enough potential culprits to keep me guessing, just in case I was wrong, but the feeling that I had around half-way through the novel ultimately proved to be correct and it was a shame; I like to be surprised.

Mistress of the Art of Death isn't the best historical crime has to offer - the beginning isn't written particularly well, jumping from perspective to perspective within the chapters so much that I almost stopped reading - but ultimately it's refreshing to read some historical crime with a female lead, and I'm hoping that Adelia has paved the way for even more heroines. I'll continue with the series, if for no other reason than to find out what happens to the side characters and to see if Franklin improves as a writer, and I think this would be a good place to start if you're looking for female-led historical crime. If you're a Medieval expert, however, this book is not for you.