August Wrap-Up 2017

May Wrap-Up (1)

It’s wrap-up time again already! Again, this one is a bit late because I’ve been very busy with work and my spare time has been spent applying for new jobs as my contract ends this month. However, that does mean I’m about to have a lot of free time again so I can focus a lot more on this blog and on catching up on all my review copies!

For those that don’t know, I live in Edinburgh and in August the city literally doubles in size and we have a whole bunch of festivals taking place.  That means I have a lot of fun seeing lots of strange and fun shows (one was literally just a guy playing Mario Maker and it was brilliant) but not so much time for reading or posting. Still, despite all that I managed to read a total of 10 books so I’m rather pleased about that.

So, here are the books!

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I’m quite pleased with the books I read last month as I feel I managed to stay quite diverse even with just 10 books and I managed to get several books off my to-read list. I’ve reviewed a couple of these books already, and I plan on reviewing quite a few of the rest soon so those should be up throughout this month.

For those who regularly read my blog, you’ll notice I’ve stopped doing the “Down the TBR hole” tag as I felt that I’d got rid of quite a lot and I was getting too obsessed with getting it to a low number that I wasn’t adding new books to it. So, I’m taking a break from it and increasing my TBR again with all the wonderful books I see other bloggers reviewing and discussing.

So, I hope everybody else had a great August and got more reading done than me! My goal this month is to catch up on all the review copies I have so I shall mostly be focusing on that which means lots of Sci-Fi and Fantasy reviews coming up!

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Book Review – Iraq +100 ed. by Hassan Blasim

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Iraq + 100 poses a question to ten Iraqi writers: what might your country look like in the year 2103 – a century after the disastrous American- and British-led invasion, and 87 years down the line from its current, nightmarish battle for survival? How might the effects of that one intervention reach across a century of repercussions, and shape the lives of ordinary Iraqi citizens, or influence its economy, culture, or politics? Might Iraq have finally escaped the cycle of invasion and violence triggered by 2003 and, if so, what would a new, free Iraq look like? 

Covering a range of approaches – from science fiction, to allegory, to magic realism – these stories use the blank canvas of the future to explore the nation’s hopes and fears in equal measure. Along the way a new aesthetic for the ‘Iraqi fantastical’ begins to emerge: thus we meet time-travelling angels, technophobic dictators, talking statues, macabre museum-worlds, even hovering tiger-droids, and all the time buoyed by a dark, inventive humour that, in itself, offers hope.

Review:

First I’d like to thank Macmillan-Tor for the ARC of this book. It had been on my to-read list for a while as it looked perfect for my Read Around the World challenge and so when I saw it was being re-released I jumped at the chance to get an ARC.

This is a collection of short stories all set 100 years in the future and all written by Iraqi authors and translated by a variety of translators. It’s incredibly fascinating to see all the different ideas they have about what Iraq will be like in the future as they are all so different and varied – and I found it amusing that quite a few all ended up with the same ideas for the US.

Because it’s a collection of short stories, it’s naturally hard to discuss too much without spoiling them but I will say that I really enjoyed all the stories in this collection. Some were definitely stronger than others, but they were all excellent and it was very refreshing to read about Iraq from the perspectives of those who live there themselves rather than from a Western perspective.

This book is a perfect choice for those wanting to read more Muslim authors and I’m very pleased to use it as my pick for Iraq on my Around the World challenge. There is also a fantastic introduction to the collection which discusses the literary scene in Iraq which was very interesting.

Book Review – Skyfarer by Joseph Brassey

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Goodreads Synopsis:

An apprentice sorceress is dragged into a vicious quest across an endless sky in this Star Wars-inspired space fantasy

The Axiom Diamond is a mythical relic, with the power to show its bearer any truth they desire. Men have sought for it across many continents for centuries, but in vain. When trainee sorceress Aimee de Laurent’s first ever portal-casting goes awry, she and her mentor are thrown into the race to find the gem, on the skyship Elysium. Opposing them are the infamous magic-wielding knights of the Eternal Order and their ruthless commander, Lord Azrael, who will destroy everything in their path…

Review:

First I’d like to thank Angry Robot for giving my an eARC of this book which turned out to be much better than I ever thought. I saw it and thought “Hmm, space fantasy sounds fun – especially with skyships!”. I was expecting something steampunky and fun, but I didn’t expect it to be just as fun as great as it turned out to be.

Several other reviews have described this as being Final Fantasy crossed with various other franchises and I would definitely have to agree. I am a huge fan of Final Fantasy games and I could see a lot in this novel that could have been inspired by various games.

The plot revolves around trying to protect the Axiom diamond to stop the Knights of the Eternal Order getting it. The characters are just fantastic and I had so much fun reading about their adventure that honestly the second book could just be them chilling at a bar talking about life in their world and I’d still love to read it. The worldbuilding is brilliant and is something I hope we get to see more of in future books because I’d love to learn more about the magic systems and about the history of the worlds.

It’s hard to write a good review of this book because the entire time I was reading it, I was just having so much fun and couldn’t put it down, but that meant that I didn’t pay as close attention to things as I usually would when planning on reviewing it. However, I’d say that’s a very good sign given that I enjoyed it too much to focus on how good it was at various things.

I already know several people who I’m going to make read this when it comes out, and I can’t wait on the next book. This is a book that I would very highly recommend and is one that I will happily re-read multiple times. If you enjoy Fantasy or Sci-Fi, I would definitely suggest giving this a chance. It’s a fast and fun read and I just had so much fun reading it.

Book Review – Engraved on the Eye by Saladin Ahmed

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Stories to Captivate the Imagination: Welcome to the worlds of Saladin Ahmed
A medieval physician asked to do the impossible. A gun slinging Muslim wizard in the old West. A disgruntled super villain pining for prison reform. A cybernetic soldier who might or might not be receiving messages from God. Prepare yourself to be transported to new and fantastical worlds.

The short stories in this collection have been nominated for the Nebula and Campbell awards. They’ve been reprinted in The Year’s Best Fantasy and other anthologies, recorded for numerous podcasts, and translated into several foreign languages. Now they are collected in one place for the first time. Experience for yourself the original voice of one of fantasy’s rising stars!

Review:

I was looking through a huge list of SFF short story collections and when I saw this, I just had to get it. I really enjoyed Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed and so knowing he had a short story collection, I needed to read it. Even if I wasn’t already a fan though, that description is incredible. I read it aloud to my partner and he immediately got the book too. Did I mention the best thing about this collection? It’s currently free on Amazon so it’s super accessible to everybody!

As they’re all short stories, I’m not going to discuss them much as I find reviewing collections of short stories difficult as it’s hard to review a short story without spoilers. I will say however that his writing is absolutely delightful and I enjoyed every single story in this collection. It’s very difficult to choose a favourite too as they were all so brilliant. Two of the stories are set in the world of his novel, however even if you haven’t read it you will still be able to enjoy them as stand-alone short stories.

I would highly recommend this collection of short stories to anybody who enjoys SFF, it’s very diverse and presents stories from different viewpoints than we usually get to read in this genre. It’s especially useful for anybody who was interested in the #MuslimShelfSpace challenge on twitter.

July Wrap-Up 2017

May Wrap-Up

So, this post is very late and I apologise. As mentioned last time, I’m now working and I was still in the middle of moving and so I’ve not had much free time. However, I have now fully finished moving (still some unpacking to do, but that’s mostly just books) and cleaned the old place so should have much more time now that I don’t have to keep travelling across the entire city all the time.

I had a friend staying with me for a while and I’m currently enjoying the Edinburgh Fringe so that’s also eating a lot of my free time. The Book Festival has also just started and so I’m very excited about going to see a show soon with two authors I really love (and I imagine once I read books by the others at the show, I’ll love them too).

Anyway, because I was so busy throughout July it meant I didn’t have much chance to read either. Without further ado, here are the books I read for July!

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Of these, three of them were ARCs so I’m pretty pleased about that – still need to write reviews for two of them (Skyfarer and The Last Namsara) which are both excellent. Hustlers, Harlots and Heroes was my read for the non-fiction square on Fantasy Bingo so although I’ve not read that much, I have at least still moved further forward on my goals – especially as The Man with the Compound Eyes is also a read for my Around the World challenge and is also just beautiful.

In good news, I also completed my Goodreads challenge last month! I’ve now hit 150 books for the year which I’m super pleased with. I’m not going to increase it any further though because well I’ve already read way more than I did last year and so I’m just going to see how much over 150 I can get.

Anyway, my goals for August are to get the number of books read into the double digits again and to work more on my blog. I’ve got a few days off this week now so should definitely catch up on the blog side as I have a bunch of books to review and I’ll probably also make some posts about the book festival too. For those that follow me on Twitter, apologies that my feed is now very focused on the Fringe rather than books, but well that’s what happens during August!

 

Book Review – Hustlers, Harlots and Heroes by Krista D. Ball

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Get ready to step into the back alleys of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens’s London, and explore the alternative worlds of steampunk in this new guide book by fantasy author Krista D. Ball. Ball takes readers on a fascinating journey into the world of the Have-Nots, and explores the bustling, crime-ridden London during the Georgian and Victorian eras. Discover the world of knocker-uppers (it’s not what you think), mudlarks, and costermongers. Learn how to scrub floors and polish knives, pick for bones, and catch rats. Learn about race and social status, and the difference between a lady’s maid and a scullery maid. With her usual wit, insight, and snark, Ball gives historical, romance, and steampunk authors the tools to create vibrant, realistic worlds. Whether you’re an author, a Janeite, or just a fan of history, Hustlers, Harlots, and Heroes gives you a fresh look into the dark past.

Review:

So, one of the Fantasy Bingo squares is non-fiction relating to Fantasy and so this was my pick for it. I got a free copy from the author during a celebration of 2 years since she quit her job to focus on writing and finally got around to reading it.

This is a very well researched book and I would highly recommend it to anybody thinking of writing a novel in this time period. It’s clear that a lot of work has gone into it and the endnotes and bibliography are fantastic (I adore books with great bibliographies and the bonus for this one is that a lot of the books mentioned are now in the public domain)

What makes this stand out though is the author, it reads like you’re sitting with your friend in the pub and she’s excitedly telling you all these awesome facts that she recently learned while doing research for her novel. The author has such a great voice and includes plenty of humour amongst the facts – I also particularly enjoyed reading about trying to re-create the experiences such as follow old recipes and cleaning in a period outfit. I’m a big fan of history and this was a fantastic and vivid way of bringing it to life, it almost makes me want to start writing a novel set in Victorian London just so I can use all this new knowledge!

If you’re taking part in the Fantasy Bingo, I highly recommend this for the non-fiction square. If you enjoy history or are planning on writing a novel set during this time period then I recommend this as a source of excellent information with a good bibliography to lead you to further sources. Finally, if you don’t like reading non-fiction because you think it’s not as interesting, I recommend this as it had me hooked! Basically, I adored this book and would highly recommend it to everybody.

Book Review – Embassytown by China Miéville

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Goodreads Synopsis:

In the far future, humans have colonized a distant planet, home to the enigmatic Ariekei, sentient beings famed for a language unique in the universe, one that only a few altered human ambassadors can speak. Avice Benner Cho, a human colonist, has returned to Embassytown after years of deep-space adventure. She cannot speak the Ariekei tongue, but she is an indelible part of it, having long ago been made a figure of speech, a living simile in their language. When distant political machinations deliver a new ambassador to Arieka, the fragile equilibrium between humans and aliens is violently upset. Catastrophe looms, and Avice is torn between competing loyalties to a husband she no longer loves, to a system she no longer trusts, and to her place in a language she cannot speak yet speaks through her.

Review:

I’m a big fan of Miéville’s work and am slowly working my way through all of his books. This one was recommended to me because it focuses on Language and well, that sounded fascinating so I just had to read it! Like all his books, these are novels that you don’t read quickly as there’s just so much to take in. It took me ages to read this book as I got interrupted halfway through and as it requires a lot of concentration, I’d just been too tired from work. Finally though, I finished it and it was absolutely brilliant, as I’ve come to expect from him.

The main character, Avice, is a simile. When she was a child, the Hosts or Ariekei, made her perform certain actions so that they could then use her in their language to express abstract ideas. In the Ariekei language, speech is thought and so they cannot lie and rely on the humans to express more complex ideas. The main focus of the novel is that of Language and how it works. It’s linguistically fascinating due to the fact that it requires two humans, in perfect sync, to be able to speak it and these are known as Ambassadors. These Ambassadors are usually bred specifically for the task and are identical clones of each other, undergoing alterations each day to ensure they continue to look identical.

I was absolutely enthralled by this novel and honestly, even if the plot was awful I would have enjoyed it just for all the interesting analysis of how language works. Luckily, the plot is excellent and explores what happens when a new Ambassador arrives who is unlike any of the previous ones.

It’s rather difficult to talk in too much detail about what happens but the worldbuilding, as always with Miéville is absolutely fantastic and is the main reason I continue to read his work. The descriptions manage to constantly convey that slightly alien feeling about the world and the inhabitants. We slowly learn more as the book goes on and it’s a constant delight and full of surprises.

I would definitely recommend this novel to fans of SFF, as I’m a huge fan of Miéville. His work is challenging so I recognise that it’s not for everybody, but it’s definitely worth it and I recommend sticking with it as it just kept getting better and better the more I read.

Book Review – The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

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Goodreads Synopsis:

The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a Wizarding classic, first came to Muggle readers’ attention in the book known as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Now, thanks to Hermione Granger’s new translation from the ancient runes, we present this stunning edition with an introduction, notes, and illustrations by J. K. Rowling, and extensive commentary by Albus Dumbledore. 

Never before have Muggles been privy to these richly imaginative tales: “The Wizard and the Hopping Pot,” “The Fountain of Fair Fortune,” “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart,” “Babbitty Rabbitty and Her Cackling Stump,” and of course, “The Tale of the Three Brothers.” But not only are they the equal of fairy tales we now know and love, reading them gives new insight into the world of Harry Potter.

Review:

Despite being a big fan of Harry Potter, I somehow never got around to reading it when it came out and then just kinda forgot about it. Luckily, thanks to the Down the TBR Tag I decided to request it from the library to get it off the list, especially since it’s a very short book so didn’t take me long at all.

The stories in this book are okay, they’re nothing particularly special compared to most fairy tales. However, where this book really shines is the fact that the tales contain commentary written by Dumbledore with comments about the academic value of these texts and the history of the various translations. This is actually very similar to what I did at Uni (except I studied medieval Irish tales instead of ones from the Wizarding World) and so I loved it. There’s also various little notes and lovely illustrations in the book.

I can’t believe it took me this long to finally read it, and I would definitely recommend this to any fans of Harry Potter. If you’re not a fan, it’s probably not something you would enjoy as on their own as there are much better fairytales out there but you might still enjoy it for the comments afterwords.

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 Update

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Right! We’re halfway through the year so it’s time for an update on the #ReadHarder challenge!

First, let’s have a reminder of what the list is!

The List:

  1. Read a book about sports.
  2. Read a debut novel.
  3. Read a book about books.
  4. Read a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author.
  5. Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative.
  6. Read an all-ages comic.
  7. Read a book published between 1900 and 1950.
  8. Read a travel memoir.
  9. Read a book you’ve read before.
  10. Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your location.
  11. Read a book that is set more than 5000 miles from your location.
  12. Read a fantasy novel.
  13. Read a nonfiction book about technology.
  14. Read a book about war.
  15. Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+.
  16. Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country.
  17. Read a classic by an author of color.
  18. Read a superhero comic with a female lead.
  19. Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey (From Daniel José Older, author of Salsa Nocturna, the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series, and YA novel Shadowshaper)
  20. Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel (From Sarah MacLean, author of ten bestselling historical romance novels)
  21. Read a book published by a micropress. (From Roxane Gay, bestselling author of Ayiti, An Untamed State, Bad Feminist, Marvel’s World of Wakanda, and the forthcoming Hunger and Difficult Women)
  22. Read a collection of stories by a woman. (From Celeste Ng, author Everything I Never Told You and the forthcoming Little Fires Everywhere)
  23. Read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love. (From Ausma Zehanat Khan, author of the Esa Khattak/Rachel Getty mystery series, including The Unquiet Dead, The Language of Secrets, and the forthcoming Among the Ruins)
  24. Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color. (From Jacqueline Koyanagi, author of sci-fi novel Ascension)

Update:

As you can see, I’ve completed 14 books so far. Not all of them have reviews so might add some for those. A couple of the ones not completed yet may actually already be done but I’ll need to double check for 7 and 16. I’m pretty pleased with my progress so far and some of the other ones won’t be too difficult (such as 23 and 18). I’d been neglecting this recently for the Fantasy Bingo but I think this month I might aim to cross another four books off this list. One is to re-read a book so that should be easy enough and gives me a reason to re-read a book to review it.

Are you taking part in the #ReadHarder challenge too? How’s your progress going? Any books you’d recommend for some of my remaining goals?

Book Review – The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

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Goodreads Synopsis:

In this pulse-quickening novel, Alfred Bester imagines a future in which people “jaunte” a thousand miles with a single thought, where the rich barricade themselves in labyrinths and protect themselves with radioactive hit men – and where an inarticulate outcast is the most valuable and dangerous man alive. “The Stars My Destination” is a classic of technological prophecy and timeless narrative enchantment by an acknowledged master of science fiction. 

Review:

As I mentioned in my review for The House of Shattered Wings, I like trying to read a book from every shelf at my local bookstore and so along with reading a Fantasy novel, I also chose a Sci-Fi novel from the same shelf to read – especially as this had actually been on my to-read list for quite a while.

I went into this book knowing almost nothing beyond the synopsis. The world is ours, but in the future where we have space travel and colonies on other planets. There is a dispute between the outer colonies and the original planets over resources and that is the backdrop to the novel.

The main character, Gully Foyle, is the sole survivor on his ship and and when a nearby ship passes by and doesn’t stop to rescue him, he is consumed by thoughts of revenge on that ship. He becomes determined to survive and will learn as much as he can in order to achieve this goal.

The book follows Gully throughout his travels to get his revenge as he learns more about the ship that passed him over and the reasons behind that decision. Along the way, we meet several other characters that aid him in this quest, each with their own motivations.

The ability to “jaunte” is something that plays an important role in the novel, this allows users to teleport around and Gully Foyle is particularly skilled at this. Various methods have been devised in order to prevent jaunting and this leads to some interesting worldbuilding.

I’m very glad I picked this book up and I really enjoyed reading it and seeing the development of Gully throughout the novel. It’s definitely one I’d recommend to fans of Sci-Fi and I definitely plan on trying to read more of Bester’s work.