Blog Update: I’m Back (Sort of)

Hello everyone! It certainly has been a while since I’ve last posted. However, my exam’s have been over for a couple weeks now, and I’ve been slowly catching up on everything I missed while I was dealing with them. I feel like I’ve done well, but only time will tell. It feels strange to wake up and have nothing specific that needs to happen, yet I have definitely needed some time to just do nothing to recharge.

Based on the title, you might be wondering why I’m only sort of back. The reason is that I’m going away for the next week to visit some family, so I won’t be posting again for another week, at which point I’ll be back on schedule. I wanted to write this post before I went away though, as I thought it would motivate me to actually get on and write my book reviews when I get back, instead of telling myself I’ll write them and then the day mysteriously vanishing and I’ve still made no progress.

During my time away, I did give a decent amount of thought to my blog, and whether I wanted to change anything. However, I think I’m going to keep my schedule of posts roughly the same, although perhaps writing a little less than before, and just take it from there. I want to make sure it is sustainable when I have other things going on in my life, but I’m not entirely sure how that happens, and if anything even needs changing.

I read a decent number of books while I was absent, although maybe not as many as I would have liked. I’ll probably retroactively review some of them – it might be interesting to see how much of an impression they left on me a few months later on. I think my favourite during this period was probably Legendborn by Tracy Deonn, which I read for a book club. I didn’t know that much going into it, but it was considerably better than I thought it’d be. I was surprised at the depth it managed to access in its themes without sacrificing any of the fantasy elements. I’d strongly recommend taking a look at it if you haven’t before and you like fantasy.

I also read a really excellent non-fiction book called The Crusades: The War for the Holy Land by Thomas Asbridge. I like history, but have never been that interested in this time period before. However, this book was written so fluidly and the whole narrative of the Crusades was so easy to follow that I was captivated right from the start. In places, it almost felt like I was reading a piece of fiction, between the author’s accessible writing to the remarkable events he was recounting.

Weekly Preview 21/3/21

Hello everyone. I’ve reached the unfortunate conclusion that I need to focus all my efforts on my exams. I thought I’d be able to continue writing some blog posts alongside, but I’ve just been too exhausted to do it, and I think it’ll just cause too much stress if I continue to try. I’ve still got a review for Something Wicked which I have agreed to write, but apart form that, this’ll be my last post for a while. Hopefully I’ll be back soon-ish, but I don’t know how thing’ll turn out.

Weekly Preview 14/3/21

Hello everyone. This past week has been a pretty slow one, where I’ve been cramming revision into most of my waking hours. Not exactly glamourous, but it needs to be done. Next week, however, is much more exciting. To start with, I’m going back to school tomorrow, which hasn’t happened in a year. I’m definitely looking forward to it, but there are some nerves too. Then I start the training for my census job on Tuesday. Not really sure what it’s going to be like. Anyway, all this combines to give me a very busy week. Given this, for the foreseeable future I’m going to try to post one or two book reviews a week, as well as my continued analysis of The Grapes Of Wrath, Music Monday, and this weekly catch-up post. I think trying to do any more than that is just setting myself up for failure.

I’m planning to review Lustrum, which I really enjoyed as it tied directly into the topics we cover in my latin lessons, as well as being an exceptional political thriller. I felt like it continued the story of Cicero well, and I plan on reading the final part of Robert Harris’ trilogy soon. Also, I hope to review Something Wicked, which was a surprisingly good indie book about a police investigation of vampires. I’ve also started The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson, but it is a pretty meaty book.

Book Review: The Empire Of Gold

The Empire Of Gold is the final book in the Daevabad trilogy. It sets itself apart in the high fantasy genre by effectively using the setting of Ottoman-empire-age Persia. This setting adds a richness and novelty to the trilogy, alongside having excellent political intrigue. I’m not really sure how to write this review without spoilers for the first two books, so if you’re interested in the series as a whole, I’d suggest reading my reviews for The City Of Brass and The Kingdom Of Copper instead. You’ve been warned.

At the end of the last book, Ghassan was dead, Manizheh had succeeded in taking the city of Daevabad, and Nahri had fled the city with Ali. Also, the magic of the world seems to be broken. This book follows the attempt by Nahri and Ali to regain control of the city, and restore magic to the world. We also see how Dara copes with the guilt of being part of another slaughter.

Honestly, I wasn’t that impressed with the plot of this book. There was much less of the intrigue I’d come to expect from the series, and instead it felt like a haphazard series of events that pushed the characters across the world and built towards a climactic final battle. There wasn’t anything wrong with that, but it felt a little bit cookie cutter for the final book of the trilogy, like it had lost the elements that made the first two novels shine so brightly.

The characters were also a mixed bag. It’s no secret I didn’t like Dara in the past, and I still was not a big fan overall, but I did like his character arc in this book. I felt like he drove forward the political intrigue elements. I also thought that Jamshid got decent character development, and the final parts of Nahri and Ali’s arcs were satisfying. I did like the interaction between the ifrits, and how distinguished they all were.

However, I thought there was a wasted opportunity in Zaynab. It would have been really easy to see what was going on in other parts of the city through her. I feel she underwent character development somewhere throughout the trilogy, but it was not written. Honestly, I could see her getting her own spin-off novel in the future if Chakraborty wants to return to the world. Also, Kartir didn’t really get any development, which was a shame. We never really got to see how he was affected by his part in the slaughter at the end of the previous book. I was not a fan of Manizheh either, as she was just too evil. I guess an effort was made to give her some redeeming qualities, but it wasn’t enough for me. I preferred the grey areas that Ghassan gave us.

I liked how we finally got much more of the magical parts of the world that were teased in the previous novel, but the rules still didn’t feel very clear by the end. There were a handful of occasions where it wasn’t quite clear to me how the rules worked, and why something could happen within their confines, or why they could be broken at a specific point.

The writing really made the book come alive, as it did in the previous ones, and continued to drive forward my desire to continue reading. The dialogue was excellent, and, as I’ve often remarked, good dialogue goes a very long way. 
Overall, I’d give the book 5.5 out of 7. It was a relatively satisfying conclusion to the whole trilogy, although I do think it was the weakest book of the three. However, the series is worth reading as a whole, and so is this novel if you’ve already read the first two.

Weekly Preview 7/3/21

Hi everyone. You might remember that I said I was going through a period of demotivation last week. Well, I’ve come out the other end, and everything seems to be looking up (even if I’m still not happy about the exams situation). I think part of the reason for this is that I now have a lot on my plate. Alongside near constant revision, and the possibility of returning to school, I’m also starting my job in just under a week and a half. I find having a lot going on helps me stay focused. The downside of this is that I’m not sure how much time I’ll have to write blog posts, but I’m hoping it won’t be affected too much.

Bookwise, I’ve read a lot this week. I reviewed two indie books, both of which were very good, Realms and Penny Pinching Tips For The Morally Bankrupt. I also finished reading The Empire Of Gold, which is the final book in the Daevabad trilogy (reviews for the first two here and here). I thought it was a pretty satisfying conclusion, although I think I enjoyed it a bit less than the previous two. My full review will be coming soon.

This week I’ll be reading another indie book, Her Mad Song. I’ve read the first few chapters and I can’t say I’ve been particularly captivated, but there is still plenty of time for that to change. I’m also just over halfway through Lustrum, and I’m loving it. The politics of ancient Rome is absolutely my thing. I’ll probably be reviewing one of these this week as well, although which one depends on my mood at the time, as well as how quickly I finish them.

Book Review: Penny Pinching Tips For The Morally Bankrupt

This is probably the first collection of short stories I’ve ever read, and I had such a good experience that I will definitely be doing it again in the future. Libby Marshall has a seriously twisted sense of humour, and I loved it. The stories themselves were very short, with the longest being maybe twenty pages, and the majority being about five.

I couldn’t possibly cover all the stories in this review, but some of my favourite were: Act Of God, where a recently homeless woman has a morbid, yet uplifting conversation with a Sears employee about buying a fridge; Signs, in which a woman has become dependant on a sign that tells her what her current emotion is; 90 Day Fiance: Dracula (the title really speaks for itself). 

One of the key draws of this collection was its black humour. Its ironic, sarcastic and sometimes snide nature lined up well with the type of book I enjoy reading. I felt that it would probably be best enjoyed by a young, liberal audience.

The nature of reading short stories means that you will inevitably enjoy some of them more than others, and it was no different for me. There were a handful of the 43 stories that I didn’t like very much, and a number that I thought were mediocre or didn’t fully grasp. However, that’s the beauty of an anthology: the next one is a fresh start. Moreover, the extremely varied nature of the stories means that there is a significant chance you will find ones that you enjoy.

The stories themselves were very imaginative and out there. On multiple occasions I was astounded by just how strange the premise of one was. However, there were also plenty that were beautifully simplistic, although no less poignant. They covered a wide range of themes, with jokes on almost every topic relevant to the current social climate.

Due to just how short the stories were, the characters were often quite archetypal, although in some ways that was good. Playing into such stereotypes allowed the humour to be punchier and sharper, I thought. The dialogue was excellently constructed to give a sense of the character in the shortest space possible. However, a few of the characters were a bit deeper in some of the longer stories, which again was nice for the sake of variety.

Overall, I’d give the collection a 5.5 out of 7. There were plenty of stories that I liked and a few that I loved. The experimental ones that didn’t quite work for me were easily overlooked. If you haven’t read a short story anthology, this is a really easy place to start.

Many thanks to Rosie Amber and Libby Marshall for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

February Wrap-Up: Homo Deus, The Devil And The Dark Water, and more

February was a strange month for me. I spent a large part of it being generally demotivated from a combination of factors, and so didn’t read or blog anywhere near as much as usual. However, I’m feeling more energized now, and am hopefully out of the slump I was going through.

I got through 5 books this month, which is less than I would have liked. I think part of the reason is that, while I liked most of the books, only one of them felt exceptionally good. I think the average ratings for books this month has been by far the lowest since I started blogging.

However, I still managed to keep learning and improving my blog. I’ve found new places to read ARCs, although I’m yet to actually use them yet. I’ve also continued to strengthen relationships with people in the community. This is definitely something I intend to continue to focus on next month. I’ve decided to only have a top two books this month, given how few I’ve read (click on the book cover to get to my review):

Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari

An earth-shattering look at where we might be heading as a species (6.5 out of 7).

The Devil And The Dark Water by Stuart Turton

A clever mystery with fantasy and historical elements interspersed (5 out of 7).

Next, I want to spotlight my favourite indie book of the month again. I think it’s important to help them get more exposure, since they can be great and easily overlooked.

Tokyo Mayday by Maison Urwin

A chilling yet very realistic dystopia, with a relatable take on immigration (4.5 out of 7).

Finally, links to my reviews of the other books I read this month, with the one that I read for the book club I’m part of first:

Instant Karma by Marissa Meyer (3 out of 7)

Pariah’s Lament by Richie Billing (4 out of 7)

Book Review: Realms

I was thrilled when Patrick Morgan reached out to ask if I would review his sophomore novel. I thoroughly enjoyed his previous one, Apparent Horizon, although it didn’t necessarily line up with my worldview very well. Luckily, I felt Realms was fundamentally much more accessible to the average reader. It was heartfelt and genuine, even while having some more fantastical elements.

David awakes after spending two months in a coma. The doctors think it’s a miracle. Yet it isn’t all happy news; as hard as he tries, he cannot remember a single thing about his previous life. Things just get stranger when he finds himself inexplicably drawn to a girl who claims to know him and has some impossible beliefs.

Easily my favourite aspect of this book is Morgan’s writing style. It’s very introspective, and leads to a slow-burn when it comes to pacing, yet contributes to his relatable characters. As I often say, dialogue can make or break a book, and it was excellent here. It caused each character to come across as unique, and contributed to a ‘showing’ not ‘telling’ atmosphere.

There was a small but well developed cast of characters, giving the book even more of an intimate feel. Each one got enough time to feel developed, and many of them felt like they changed throughout the course of the novel. Although none more than David, since at its heart, this is a story about his personal development. I found it easy to connect with him simply because we get so much time inside his head, even if, looking back on it, he isn’t the most novel character.

I can’t say much about the plot, as it takes a while to come into its own, other than it was an interesting concept. It was a different take on a very common sci-fi trope that I thought worked quite well. Similarly, it had a different look at the instant love trope that often plagues romances, that impressed me quite a bit. However, there were some places where it felt like there was a disregard for some of the characters’ lives, which was hard to reconcile with the empathetic view I had of most of the characters.

Overall, I thought this book was great. I think it’s probably the perfect fit for me, in terms of how it is written. However, it did have the couple of issues I mentioned above, as well as Morgan walking a fine line between very introspective and the pacing being too slow in places. Therefore, I’d rate it 5.5 out of 7. I’d highly recommend it if you are looking for something quite intimate, where the characters feel strongly. I would say it’s also hard to pin it down to one genre, so if transcending the regular genre boundaries is your thing, you might like this.

Many thanks to Patrick Morgan for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Weekly Preview 28/2/21

Hello everybody. I hope you’re all having a better time than me. Most of my week has been pretty standard (as much as is possible during covid), but two big issues have made the last few days worse. Firstly, the announcement about what was to replace exams happened. We’re getting teacher assessed grades, with no algorithm, which I guess is the best we could have hoped for. But it’s left me feeling completely nihilistic about the situation (if it’s even possible to feel nihilistic about something). I just don’t see the point in going to school to revise for months for exams we’re not even taking to obtain grades that are likely to be completely inaccurate. I can’t help but think is the months of revision worth my time, because does it really make a material difference what grades I get, as long as I get into the uni I want to go to? If anyone has a different perspective on this to me, I’d love to hear it.

The second thing that happened was my step-dad explained the situation with pensions to me. Who knew the future looked so bleak. I guess the only positive is that we’re all living longer.

Turning to books, last week I reviewed both The Devil And The Dark Water, and Tokyo Mayday. They were both good reads, with one being a decent murder mystery, and the other having strong themes to carry it. I’m currently in the middle of Realms by Patrick Morgan (which isn’t on Goodreads yet). I really enjoyed his debut novel, and was grateful that he reached out to me to provide an ARC of his sophomore book. His writing style, being slow-burning and introspective, line up perfectly with what I like to read. Hopefully I’ll have a review coming on Tuesday.

I’m also reading Penny Pinching Tips For The Morally Bankrupt, which is an excellent series of short stories (some extremely short), which are both comedic and thought-provoking. And sometimes very chilling. Review coming Thursday.

Book Review: Tokyo Mayday

Maison Urwin’s book takes a novel approach to addressing the increasingly isolationist perspective of England by flipping the problem on its head. Instead of other migrants trying to enter the UK, citizens of the FREW (Federal Republic of England and Wales) are desperately trying to migrate to the economic powerhouses in Asia. It turns an unrelatable situation into a relatable one with great success.

When car manufacturing giant, Matsucorp, decides to close its plants in the FREW due to lack of economic viability, it decides to keep one worker on from each. For Jordan May, this opportunity provides stability in an uncertain time. However, the cost is uprooting his family and bringing them to a new, sometimes hostile climate.

My favourite element of the book was its strong political themes, which were well developed. I really felt as if I had a window into the world of migrants, and the problems they face, ranging from the language barrier to being the target of hate attacks.These themes stayed strong throughout the novel, and gave the book depth.

The plot also held up well, binding the novel together without being over the top. There were plenty of twists, some of which I saw coming, others I didn’t, which continued to drive the book forward. Each of the May’s have their own plotline, which all show different facets of the challenges they face, and are all equally good.

The majority of the important characters are conflicted, and don’t always make the right choices, but are inherently good. The exceptions to this are Matsubara and Struthwin who are morally grey, as they balance their business agenda with human decency. They presented a different perspective on situations that aren’t typically found in books. 

The biggest issue I had with the book was the writing style. It just felt a bit rigid to me, and I thought it threw off the flow of the story a little. I wasn’t particularly enamoured with the dialogue either, which often felt unnatural and not different enough between characters, with the exception being Struthwin, who I thought had decent lines. Also, the japanese terms were often not translated. Although this does help put the reader in the May’s shoes, I would have liked a glossary of terms at the end of the book. Throughout the novel, there were also places where the perspective would shift to a different character with little warning. While this was initially off-putting, I grew to quite like this element. 

Overall, I’d give the book a 4.5 out of 7. If you enjoy strong themes presented in a creative way, like I do, I’d easily recommend this book. I thought it was worth it, despite the issues I had with the writing style.

Many thanks to Rosie and Maison Urwin for supplying me with a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.