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.

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.

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.

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.

Book Review: The Devil And The Dark Water

I was a little nervous about reading this book, as I’d heard some negative feedback about Stuart Turton’s previous one. I’m glad I didn’t let that put me off though, because I found it thoroughly enjoyable. The blending of murder mystery with more fantastic elements appealed to me, and I liked its slow-burn nature.

The year is 1634, and a detective duo come aboard a ship that was cursed by a spontaneously combusting leper. Here, they need to work to uncover the secrets of Old Tom, a devil closely entwined with their past. The catch? The ‘Sherlock’ of the pair is incarcerated, completely unable to investigate. Will they be able to solve the mystery before the ship is sunk for good?

I thought the plot created a solid foundation for the book. It was certainly well thought out, and each piece of the puzzle fit together nicely by the end. It was quite slow to start, although I personally liked the tense atmosphere this created. When it comes to how easy it is to solve the murder, I would say it’s extremely hard, borderline impossible. However, I still think this is a murder mystery, not a thriller, as the clues are there, just extremely easy to overlook. I was able to get parts of it right, but wasn’t even close to getting the full picture.

All of the characters were well-rounded, but I can’t say any of them particularly captivated me. They all had decent motivations and personalities for the most part, and they weren’t shallow. Nevertheless, they also didn’t quite reach the depth of the characters in stellar murder mysteries (say Agatha Christie). I can’t quite put my finger on what was missing though.

Another thing that was slightly unsettling, although I’m not entirely sure why, was the writing style, at least to begin with. Once I’d gotten into the book, it was fine, so I’m thinking that I might have just taken some time to adapt. My best guess as to why is that I wasn’t fond of the numerous physical descriptions that littered the first 50 or so pages, as they didn’t add much to the story.

There were some interesting comments about the nature of humanity throughout. I wouldn’t say I agree with the broadly pessimistic view presented, but I still liked to see different thoughts. Murder mysteries tend to dig deep into the human psyche if they are truly successful, and this one was no different. It also had something to say about religion and class, even if those things weren’t particularly original.

Overall, I’d give it a 5 out of 7. It had minor issues for me, but nothing that a strong plot and interesting concept couldn’t overcome. Altogether a very enjoyable read. I would recommend to anyone looking for something a bit different, as long as they don’t mind a slow start.

Book Review: Instant Karma

I don’t read a lot of romance/contemporary novels, but this was the February book for a book club I’m part of and I thought I’d give it a try. I felt like it was a fine novel, but nothing special. It had a solid core to the story, but the trimmings, so to speak, felt lackluster.

Chronic overachiever Prudence is unable to cope when she gets a C in a partner project. She blames Quint for being lazy and uncommitted, but ends up working at an animal rescue centre with him in order to redo the project. Add to the mix that she recently discovered she has the ability to bestow karmic justice, and it’s going to be a wild summer break.

The best thing about the book for me was the writing style. No matter how problematic other elements were, the ease with which the text leapt off the page kept me constantly wanting to turn the page. The witty, digestible dialogue successfully brought all the characters to life and really held the book together, albeit in a subtle way. As I often say, good dialogue goes a long way.

I was not a fan of Prudence. I get that she is going on a journey of self-discovery, and that she changes as the story progresses, but having the protagonist being selfish and unempathetic for over half the book is not a way to make them endearing. She’s also very ambitious, but not the good type of ambition (if there is such a thing), but the knife-you-in-the-back type of ambition (at least to begin with).

On the other hand, I thought Quint was great. He has a plethora of attractive qualities, but still makes mistakes. I liked the what Marissa Meyer did with his reaction to being Prudence’s partner, as it felt both normal and human. I don’t really want to go too far into his motivations, but I felt he was well-developed and consistent overall.

I found that the other characters well-defined yet shallow. They more archetypal than anything. Sure, the excellent dialogue brought them to life when we saw them, but the problem was we didn’t see them nearly enough. There were maybe a dozen side characters of import, and not a single one felt satisfactorily developed. Nevertheless, they did feel real in the moment, despite the lack of time dedicated to them, which I guess is a testament to the skill of Meyer’s writing.

I didn’t really like how the instant karma element of the book was handled. It kind of felt sidelined throughout the book, only appearing to remind us it was something that Prudence still had, once it was first introduced. I guess it did drive one particular plot thread forward, but I personally think a different plot thread would have been better. It just didn’t quite mesh well with the rest of the novel.

The plot was good as a whole. The relationship between Prudence and Quint was cultivate well, and felt like it changed naturally over the course of the book. However, I did work out the twist pretty easily. Not that it is necessarily an issue, just something to bear in mind based on your personal preference.

Overall, I give the book 3 out of 7. There were good elements, but I thought they were ultimately outweighed by the problems I had. I don’t think I’d recommend this to anyone, unless they were desperate for a medium-quality contemporary romance.

Book Review: Homo Deus

When I read Sapiens a few months ago, I thought I’d reached the pinnacle of non-fiction. I certainly did not imagine that it’s follow-up book would have an even more profound effect on me. Considerably more. It reached to the core of my beliefs and completely upended them.

While Yuval Noah Harari’s previous book focused on humanity’s history, this one looks to its future. He examines why humanism, the idea that humans have innate value, supplanted classical religions as the core idea that gives our lives meaning. From there, we get a look at how future technological developments might change this belief, some of which are pretty terrifying.

The actual content of the book was fascinating, nuanced and thought-provoking. While much of it is based in historical and scientific fact, a large part is more speculative in nature, since it looks to possible futures. Nevertheless, I found that Harari managed this well, making it clear when he was making predictions that it was by no means certain to pass. The book also examines where science and ethics intersect, which was not something that I’ve personally had much experience with before, and found particularly interesting. I will say that I have seen some people complaining about the accuracy of the book in other reviews. I can’t make any comment on the validity of their argument, as I’m not familiar enough with the subject matter, but the book does seem to be thoroughly referenced.

Once again, Harari’s unique writing style shine through. He breaks down complex concepts into easily understandable segments, employing a wide range of examples, analogies and anecdotes to great effect. It must be said his style is particularly blunt, and he doesn’t pull his punches when discussing beliefs that might be central to your whole identity. Therefore, it is critical to go into this book with an open mind, and consider the arguments he puts forth on a rational level and not get overly emotional. I personally really enjoyed this clinical style of writing, which he adds small amounts of deadpan humour to, but I can see how it wouldn’t be for everyone.

The only small criticism I had was that there were a couple places where I had issues in understanding the content. Not that it was explained badly per se, as I didn’t get lost and utterly confused, but I came away from a couple small sections with only a vague understanding. I think if I were to try and explain those parts to someone else, I would have to go back and read them again beforehand. However, let me stress this was only a couple places, and I found the vast majority of the book easy to comprehend.

Overall, I give the book 6.5 out of 7. I really wanted to give it a 7, but given there were a couple places I only vaguely understood what was going on, I couldn’t justify it. This leaves me in the weird position of liking Homo Deus more than Sapiens, yet rating it lower. However, based on their own merits, I do think Sapiens was the slightly better book. Nevertheless, I’d recommend Homo Deus to anyone who is interested in politics, technology or the human condition. I imagine it might be good if you like dystopia as well.