Book Review – The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette De Bodard

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Paris in the aftermath of the Great Magicians War. Its streets are lined with haunted ruins, Notre-Dame is a burnt-out shell, and the Seine runs black, thick with ashes and rubble. Yet life continues among the wreckage. The citizens retain their irrepressible appetite for novelty and distraction, and The Great Houses still vie for dominion over France’s once grand capital.
House Silverspires, previously the leader of those power games, now lies in disarray. Its
magic is ailing; its founder, Morningstar, has been missing for decades; and now something
from the shadows stalks its people inside their very own walls.
Within the House, three very different people must come together: a naive but powerful Fallen, an alchemist with a self-destructive addiction, and a resentful young man wielding spells from the Far East. They may be Silverspires‘ salvation; or the architects of its last, irreversible fall . . .

Review:

This is a book I chose to start reading for a very trivial reason but I’m so glad I did because it’s fantastic. Every time I go to a bookshop, I play a game in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section where I see how many shelves I’ve read a book from. Last time I did this, there was only one shelf I didn’t “have” and so naturally I just had to read a book from it (actually I read two, just to be extra certain). This book sounded fascinating and the cover is just beautiful so I just had to read it. Best part is that since it’s urban Fantasy and the author lives in France, I’m counting this as my French entry for my Read Around the World challenge.

The setting for this novel is absolutely fantastic. It’s set in Paris, but not the Paris we all know and love. This Paris is the decaying remains of the once great city with ruins everywhere and the Seine is now a lurking source of danger. In this novel, many of the characters are either humans or Fallen, who are the Fallen Angels from Heaven that have been cast out.

Our main characters are Philippe who is neither mortal nor a Fallen and Isabelle, a newly arrived Fallen and together they are bound by some sort of link. Isabelle is rescued by house Silverspires and the novel focuses on both her and Philippe as they, along with other members of the house, work on trying to figure out what is haunting House Silverspires.

There is quite a bit of diversity in this book which is always great to see in Urban Fantasy. Philippe himself is from Vietnam and quite a few of the major characters are in same-sex relationships.

What originally was chosen as a book just to complete a personal challenge turned out to be a fantastic Urban Fantasy which I absolutely adored and I’m definitely planning on both reading the next in the series and of trying to get the rest of her books as I was a huge fan of both the plot and the writing itself which I found very descriptive.

For those looking to get into Urban Fantasy, this is a book I would highly recommend. It’s a genre that I don’t read much of but from what I’ve read, this is by far one of my favourites.

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Book Review – An Oath of Dogs by Wendy N Wagner

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Kate Standish has been on Huginn less than a week and she s already pretty sure her new company murdered her boss. But extractions corporations dominate the communities of the forest world, and few are willing to threaten their meal tickets to look too closely at corporate misbehaviour. The little town of mill workers and farmers is more worried about the threat of eco-terrorism and a series of attacks by the bizarre, sentient dogs of this planet, than a death most people would like to believe is an accident. When Standish connects a secret chemical test site to a nearly forgotten disaster in Huginn’s history, she reveals a conspiracy that threatens Standish and everyone she’s come to care about.

Review:

I received this as an e-Arc from the publisher as I’m a big fan of Angry Robot and as soon as I saw the cover for this, I just had to read it. It’s a sci-fi novel set on the planet Huginn which is earth-like but with very different native flora and fauna. Kate arrives to find her boss dead and so she slowly tries to figure out what happened as she learns more about the society which compromises mill workers and a group of religious people called Believers.

Kate’s story is also interspersed with entries from the diary of one of the Believers back when they first settled on the planet and these are very fascinating as one aspect of Sci-Fi that I love is the early settler period where they are discovering all the differences from earth and trying to figure out how to make a living on the planet.

The characters are all fantastic and I just adore Kate. She has a service dog, Hattie, who is by far one of my favourite characters because I adore dogs. I’m breaking my no-spoilers policy here to mention that Hattie does not die. I spent a lot of the book worrying about that and I would have enjoyed it much more if I’d known that going in, and I also know that some people might not want to read it unless they had that guarantee so don’t worry – the dog lives! The other characters are all very interesting too and the Believers in particular are very interesting to read about – especially as you slowly learn more of their history through the diary.

I really enjoyed this novel, it’s exactly the kind of Sci-Fi that I adore with strange alien biology, stories of settlers trying to make a living and it has an adorable dog in it. I would definitely recommend this novel to those that enjoy Sci-Fi as it’s just excellent and I can’t wait for it to be released to I can make my friends read it.

Book Review – Godblind by Anna Stephens

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Fantasy’s most anticipated debut of the year

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

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

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

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

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

Review:

I received an e-ARC of this from the publishers and I was quite excited due to it being marketed as Fantasy’s most anticipated debut of the year and the title just grabbed me. It’s also exciting as it’s a Grimdark novel written by a women when up until now, most of the well-known Grimdark authors were men.

The story itself is told through a variety of POV characters spread throughout the kingdoms of Rilpor and Mireces. We have characters from both kingdoms although it’s made very clear which characters are “good” and which are not. The chapters in the book are very short, jumping around a lot between all the characters which was slightly difficult at first as it didn’t give much time to get used to a character before jumping away to yet another one, however as you get deeper this lets you progress much faster and I definitely fell into the “just one more chapter” trap multiple times. It also means that if you’re not a fan of a particular character then you don’t have to spend ages with them until you get back to a chapter of your favourite.

The characters themselves are all excellent and well-written and I adored seeing their growth throughout the novel. In particular, my two favourite characters are Rillirin and Crys as they really grow throughout the novel.

I won’t say too much about the plot because part of the enjoyment came from it slowly being revealed and constant twists that made it very hard to predict what would happen next but it was very enjoyable.

The writing is excellent and very descriptive – I was able to really picture many of the locations mentioned and the world building was excellent – I very much enjoyed learning about the various Gods in the world and their goals. The book is almost 500 pages long however it doesn’t feel long at all and I just sped through the second half of the book.

The one thing that disappointed me was that this is the first in a series which wasn’t made clear when I requested it. I feel if I’d known that, I would have given it a higher rating as I would have read it differently. However, I still really enjoyed it and will definitely be picking up the rest of her books when they come out.

I would definitely recommend this book to any fans of Grimdark Fantasy, particularly those wanting Grimdark with strong and well-written female characters. Because it’s Grimdark, there is obviously a lot of gruesome aspects involved and so I need to include trigger warnings for rape, torture and violence.

Down the TBR Hole #6

Top Ten Tuesday (1)

It’s time for another TBR post!

So, last week we got down to 728 books and I’m now at 723 which is excellent as it means I managed to remove 5 during the week – two of those were books I read and so got off the list, and I deleted a couple more books. I actually ended up getting rid of two historical fiction books I kept in previous weeks (I kept them due to owning them, but I decided to donate my copies instead)

Anyway, as you all probably know by now, this tag was started by Lia  and the rules are:

  • Go to your goodreads to-read shelf.
  • Order on ascending date added.
  • Take the first 5 (or 10 if you’re feeling adventurous) books
  • Read the synopses of the books
  • Decide: keep it or should it go?

Now, this week isn’t going to be as exciting as the rest because it turns out the next five books on the list are all classics and so I’ll be keeping them all as part of my goal to read more classics.  This means I won’t be doing my usual “Keep/Remove” part as it’ll basically be the same each time. Instead, I’ll just show you the five books that I’m keeping.

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These are:

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – I’ve read a couple of Dickens already and always meant to read more. It’s one of my “one day I’ll read this” books.

The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer – I have a really cool old copy of this and so I need to get myself a modern version to actually read (because I don’t want to damage my copy)

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe – Another of those classics that everybody knows that I just haven’t got around to reading.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle – This is the third book in the Sherlock Holmes collection as I read the first two years ago and adored them. I think I didn’t have the third one at the time and then I just forgot about reading more. Shall definitely need to change that as I really enjoy them!

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens – Another Dickens. I think I might read this one before Great Expectations as I’ve seen the film and adored it.


 

So, as you can see my TBR list remains at 723 but it’s slowly going down due to my pruning the middle of the list. I’m going to stop removing books from it now except for this tag as I no longer feel as much pressure and my goal of reading books to get them off the list has been very effective so I think I’m going to focus more on removing books by reading rather than deleting them. Because of this, I’m thinking of doing a feature on Sundays where I post about the books I read that week and mention any that I read thanks to doing this tag. I figure since I read so many books that I can’t discuss them all in detail at my monthly wrap-ups, a weekly wrap-up will make more sense, especially as I don’t always review all the books I’ve read and this gives me a way to talk about them.

Have you read any of these classics? Which would you recommend I read first? Any other classics you think I should add to my list?

Book Review – So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ

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Goodreads Synopsis:

It is not only the fact that this is the most deeply felt presentation of the female condition in African fiction that gives distinction to this novel, but also its undoubted literary qualities, which seem to place it among the best novels that have come out of our continent. – West Africa

This novel is a perceptive testimony to the plight of articulate women who live in social milieux dominated by attitudes and values that deny them their proper place. It is a sequence of reminiscences, some wistful, some bitter, recounted by a recently widowed Senegalese school teacher. The letter, addressed to an old friend, is a record of her emotional struggle for survival after her husband’s abrupt decision to take a second wife. Although his action is sanctioned by Islam, it is a calculated betrayal of his wife’s trust and a brutal rejection of their life together.

Review:

So this is another book I picked up for my “Read Around the World” challenge, this time from Senegal! It’s a very short novel and so was a very quick read but it was very powerful and incredibly interesting and I feel I learnt a lot about Senegal through reading it.

The book takes the form of letters, and I really enjoy epistolary novels when they’re written well, which this book certainly is. Ramatoulaye’s husband, Modou, has just died and so she has entered the mourning period and discussing this with her friend in a lot of detail and including information about how she dealt with being a co-wife and being abandoned by her husband for a younger woman.

The characters in this novel are all excellent and very well-written. I really loved Ramatoulaye and found myself hooked to find out more of what was happening in her life. The book mentions several other strong female characters and given the time that this book was written, it’s excellent to see how well they are represented and you can really see how strongly the author feels about the role of women in Senegal.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novella and would definitely recommend it as I feel it’s so short and so fascinating that anybody that wants to broaden their reading should give it a go because it doesn’t take long at all to finish it and it was such a rewarding experience.

Down the TBR Hole #5

Top Ten Tuesday (1)

It’s Monday! That means time for another Down the TBR Hole post! Apologies for not having one up last Monday as I was deciding whether or not to continue doing this feature due to the fact I’m now making a lot of progress reducing my TBR without this tag. However, it is still quite fun and I enjoy reading these when done by others and I can never get tired of talking about books!

So, last post I’d got my TBR pile down to 750 and I’m proud to say that it’s now at 730 which means in the last two weeks I managed to reduce it by a whole 20 books! Most of that has been through removing books however I’m also making a concerted effort to find and read some of the shorter books on my list.

Anyway, as you all probably know by now, this tag was started by Lia  and the rules are:

  • Go to your goodreads to-read shelf.
  • Order on ascending date added.
  • Take the first 5 (or 10 if you’re feeling adventurous) books
  • Read the synopses of the books
  • Decide: keep it or should it go?

Time for the books!


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It’s another Arthurian book! I’m definitely keeping this on my list as I do still plan on reading more Arthurian literature eventually and I think I might pick one up soon as part of my “Read more Classics” goal.

Verdict: KEEP

 

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So, despite me adoring the Celts and everything Celtic, I have not actually read this book and only really added it because I was adding all Celtic-related books at the time. I feel I know enough about the Celts now that reading this won’t teach me anything new and I have other books I can read if I want to strengthen my knowledge.

Verdict: REMOVE

 

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Did you know I’ve never read the Percy Jackson series? Yep, it’s been on my TBR list for a while but I never got into it when it first came out and so it’s always been one of those “I’ll get around to it eventually”. I have the first book already otherwise I would have selected this as one to get out from the library. I’m holding off on reading it for now though because I know if I enjoy it, I’ll have the entire series to read which will only increase my TBR list!

Verdict: KEEP

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So, I like wolves and I adored The Sight when I was younger and so decided to try and find more books involving wolves. Of course, I added this book based on the name alone and then promptly forgot about it. While checking it out for this tag, I noticed a lot of bad reviews and so feel it’s probably not worth checking it out.

Verdict: REMOVE

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It’s another wolf book! This one, however, I actually own as I read a lot of positive reviews and I think it was a personal recommendation from a friend. I never got around to reading it because it’s the first in a series and so that was putting me off, however my library has the second two in the trilogy and so if I choose to read it, it’ll be easy enough to read it all if I enjoy it.

Verdict: KEEP


 

So! At the end of that, my TBR pile is now 728 books which I’m quite pleased with given my goal for this week was 730 and that’s what we started with. I’m hoping to hit 725 by next Monday and as I think I want to keep all of the books next week, that means I’ll need to read at least 3 books off my list. I’ve taken a couple short ones out from the library though so fingers crossed I can make my way through them all!

Have you read any of these books? Do you agree with the decisions I made? Are there any books you think I’d like based on what I kept? Let me know!

Book Review – Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton

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Goodreads Synopsis:

A tale of love, money, and family conflict – among Dragons.

A family deals with the death of their father.
A son goes to court for his inheritance.
Another son agonises over his father’s deathbed confession.
One daughter becomes involved in the abolition movement, while another sacrifices herself for her husband.


And everyone in the tale is a dragon, red in tooth and claw. Here is a world of politics and train stations, of churchmen and family retainers, of courtship and country houses… in which, on the death of an elder, family members gather to eat the body of the deceased. In which the great and the good avail themselves of the privilege of killing and eating the weaker children, which they do with ceremony and relish, growing stronger thereby. You have never read a novel like Tooth and Claw.

Review:

I picked up this book for the “Fantasy of Manners” square on Fantasy Bingo due to a number of recommendations I saw for it and I am so glad I did because I adored this book. I am already a big fan of dragons and always excited to read new books including dragons but this just takes everything to a whole new level with the fantastic worldbuilding and characters.

The novel follows the story of the children of Bon Agornin who passes away at the start of the book. The two younger daughters have to deal with being separated and worry about making good matches while one son is enraged by the behaviour of his brother-in-law regarding the inheritance and so takes him to court. This novel is very Victorian in feeling and I loved all the little glimpses we saw of the dragon society including things such as the importance of wearing the right sort of hat, or that of how the female dragon skin colour changes when she is close with a male. Each character has their own focus and I just couldn’t put the book down as all of them were so compelling to read.

The writing in this is lovely and I felt myself being carried away into their world and unable to put the book down. I’m incredibly happy I read this and I’m already looking to read more of Jo Walton’s books because of how much I adored this. Words cannot express just how much I recommend this book, and due to the heavy Victorian themes I feel it is a novel that even those that aren’t fans of Fantasy will enjoy. If you’re doing the Fantasy Bingo, you should definitely check this out for one of your squares. I’m tempted to read a couple more Fantasy of Manners book now though given how much I enjoyed this one.

The Bailey’s Prize Shortlist

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It’s finally here! Today the winner of the 2017 Bailey’s Prize will be announced and I don’t envy the judges having to make such a tough decision.

This is the first time that I’ve read the entire shortlist for a prize and I really enjoyed the experience. I decided to read an entire shortlist as part of my goal to expand my reading more and as one personal goal is to read more books written by women, the Bailey’s Prize made perfect sense.

So! What are the books shortlisted and what did I think of them all?

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The Power by Naomi Alderman was the final book I read as I was unable to get a copy from my library for quite a while. However, it seems I saved the best for last as I adored it. This is definitely my pick for the winner!

Read my review of it here.

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First Love by Gwendoline Riley was one of the first few I read due to the fact it’s a very slim novel and doesn’t take long to read. However, as brilliant as the writing is for this book, I found it rather distressing to read at some points due to how realistic the portrayal of an abusive relationship was. Of course, my discomfort is a sign of how powerful her prose is and so even though it was my least favourite, I could still recognise this as a very strong book.

Read my review of it here.

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Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien is a multi-generational story of two families from China following them through the civil war up to the present day. The history of China is shown through the characters who live through it and it is very educational for those who do not know much about Chinese history. I feel I learnt a lot from this novel and was constantly hooked wanting to find out the next section of each character’s story.

Read my review of it here.

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Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ was the first of the shortlist that I read due to receiving an ARC of it earlier in the year. At the time I read it, I adored it and found it a very powerful story and so I was not at all surprised to see that it had made the shortlist. If this won, I wouldn’t be surprised at all and until I read The Power, this was definitely my favourite to win.

Read my review of it here.

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The Dark Circle by Linda Grant is a novel that from the blurb, did not appeal to me at all. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the story and although it is very slow paced, it has delightful characters that I was more than happy to read about in great detail and I thoroughly enjoyed both their journey and the portrayal of sanitariums during the period of their decline.

Read my review of it here.

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The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan was the largest of all the shortlist and so I put it off for a while due to it’s daunting size. I found the beginning rather slow as I was not invested in any of the characters and I’m not a fan of this type of novel. However, as I read further I became more attached and although I have no interest in horse racing or breeding, I was able to enjoy the narrative and the beautiful writing. I am ultimately glad I read it, and although I can recognise why it was nominated, it just was not something I personally enjoy.

Read my review of it here.

 


 

That’s all the books! The winner will be announced tonight and I’m very excited to see who it is. I also definitely plan on repeating this next year with the 2018 shortlist, and might even attempt to read the longlist if I have enough time.

Have you read any of the novels shortlisted? What did you think? What was your favourite and what book do you think will win?

Book Review – Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

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Goodreads Synopsis:

In Canada in 1991, ten-year-old Marie and her mother invite a guest into their home: a young woman who has fled China in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square protests.

Her name is Ai-Ming. As her relationship with Marie deepens, Ai-Ming tells the story of her family in revolutionary China, from the crowded teahouses in the first days of Chairman Mao’s ascent, to the Shanghai Conservatory in the 1960s and the events leading to the Beijing demonstrations of 1989.

It is a history of revolutionary idealism, music, and silence, in which three musicians, the shy and brilliant composer Sparrow, the violin prodigy Zhuli, and the enigmatic pianist Kai struggle during China’s relentless Cultural Revolution to remain loyal to one another and to the music they have devoted their lives to. Forced to re-imagine their artistic and private selves, their fates reverberate through the years, with deep and lasting consequences for Ai-Ming – and for Marie.

Written with exquisite intimacy, wit and moral complexity, Do Not Say We Have Nothing magnificently brings to life one of the most significant political regimes of the 20th century and its traumatic legacy, which still resonates for a new generation. It is a gripping evocation of the persuasive power of revolution and its effects on personal and national identity, and an unforgettable meditation on China today.

Review:

This is another of the novels shortlisted for the Bailey’s Prize and I was quite intrigued as it is set in China telling the story of several generations covering important events in recent Chinese history such as that of the Cultural Revolution and includes events such as that of Tiananmen Square.

First and foremost, I found the book incredibly educational into a culture and history that I knew little about. By following the experiences of the characters, it helped bring the history alive in a way that non-fiction can’t really do and managed to cover a large and complex period of time in a way that was easy and compelling to read.

I was very interested in all of the characters that we follow throughout the story and was very intrigued to learn the connections between the families of Ai-Ming and Marie. Music also plays a very strong role in the novel, with many of the characters being musicians or composers and it references a lot of musical pieces. I do not know much about classical music, however this novel really made me want to expand my knowledge of it and if music didn’t distract me, I would have played the pieces mentioned while reading.

I definitely recommend this novel and have chosen to use it for China in my “Around the World” reading challenge as I feel it fits perfectly.

Book Review – The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Hellsmouth, a wilful thoroughbred filly, has the legacy of a family riding on her.

The Forges: one of the oldest and proudest families in Kentucky; descended from the first settlers to brave the Wilderness Road; as mythic as the history of the South itself – and now, first-time horse breeders.

Through an act of naked ambition, Henry Forge is attempting to blaze this new path on the family’s crop farm. His daughter, Henrietta, becomes his partner in the endeavour but has desires of her own. When Allmon Shaughnessy, an African American man fresh from prison, comes to work in the stables, the ugliness of the farm’s history rears its head. Together through sheer will, the three stubbornly try to create a new future – one that isn’t determined by Kentucky’s bloody past – while they mould Hellsmouth into a champion.

The Sport of Kings has the force of an epic. A majestic story of speed and hunger, racism and justice, this novel is an astonishment from start to finish.

Review:

So this is the final Bailey’s Prize shortlisted book I had left to review! It was actually the second last one I read but I adored The Power so much that I just had to review it first. Anyway, this was the book that I was least looking forward to reading because I have absolutely no interest in horse riding and it was described as a “Great American Novel” which I’m also not a huge fan of. Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised and ended up enjoying the book even though it’s definitely not something I would have chosen to read if not for my goal of reading the entire shortlist.

As the synopsis says, the story follows Henry Forge as he inherits his family farm and turns to horse breeding. We start off with Henry as a child and follow both him and his family through the struggles that face them in their goal of the ultimate racehorse.

This is a very slow book, focusing heavily on the characters themselves and their growth and so it took me a while to get into it due to not being that interested in them. However, once I grew fond of the characters, I found it much harder to put down as I wanted to keep reading and find out how they would manage and how Hellsmouth would do in the races.

It is quite a large novel, however don’t let that put you off as it’s a very rewarding read. I would definitely recommend this novel, as I would with most of the shortlisted books for the Bailey’s Prize. I can see this book winning, although personally it would not be the one I would choose to win. I’ve also chosen to use this for the USA for my Around the World challenge as I feel it’s a very good representation of America.