Wednesday, 26 December 2018

#bookreview: To Best the Boys | Mary Weber

To Best the BoysTo Best the Boys by Mary Weber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

All Rhen Tellur wants is to find a cure for her dying mother. But two things stand in her way: first, she's a Lower so no one is going to take her seriously as a scientist and second, she's a girl so no one's going to take her seriously as a scientist. There's only one way to get into university--to best the boys in Holm's annual scholarship competition, and then somehow convince the university to let her take the entrance exams.

To Best the Boys has shades of The Hunger Games in it--to win the full scholarship, the boys enter a labyrinth where they must defeat the levels, and each other, to emerge the winner. It's hinted that boys have died before, though only because they didn't play by the rules.

In some ways, the world feels briefly sketched--you don't get a full picture of Caldon, but you know that it's a dangerous place. Sirens and ghouls are bloodthirsty; it's best not to be out in the dark when the mist is about. There's magic in this world, but Weber never really tells us what it is or how it works. Does Holm perform real magic? Or are they just illusions? What truly happens in the Labyrinth? It's masks and illusions, rather like V for Vendetta: what's real and what's not?

Yet at the same time, you also feel that you don't need it fully sketched out--the problems they face seem too real, too much like the real world. There's a stark divide between the Uppers and the Lowers, where the ruling elite make decisions for the working poor without understanding the full impact of what they do. The anger the men of Pinsbury Port feel is all too real--the unthinking anger that fills us when we feel trapped by our circumstances, by the things that those entrusted with our welfare betray us.

Weber is at her best when she's tapping into Rhen's emotions; the awkwardness of youth and young love, anger at the injustice of life and societal expectations, the passion that informs her rash decisions and the strength she gains from true friends. As smart as Rhen is, she has her blind spots, especially when it comes to Lute Wilkes and Victor King.

The Labyrinth reveals the characters of the youth of Caldon, even as it forges them in the fire of its trials. And Holm stands in judgement of their worth.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson via Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Thursday, 20 December 2018

The Painted Hall Collection releases today!

If you've been following my instagram, facebook page or twitter, you'll kind of be aware that I've put together a new book. Well, not a new new book, but a boxset collection of the short stories in the Painted Hall series, which was formally just called the North series, because I'm unimaginative at titles like that. (If you're on my mailing list, check your email!)

AT ANY RATE!


Since I've put them all into a single book, plus a bonus short story (brand new! yay!), I decided to also make it a print book that you can purchase off Amazon.

If you want them as an ebook, you'll find all the links here!

Around the Web

The Painted Hall Collection has been reviewed by Leon Wing here.

Also, check out my interview with Laura on Unicorn Quester!

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

#bookreview: Catch-22 | Joseph Heller

Catch-22 (Catch-22, #1)Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So on my second read, mainly because it's on the reading list, I think I enjoyed it a little better.

It's still confusing, but maybe a little less so because I have some sort of a basis to start with. I do find that Heller executes the little time jumps back and forth very seamlessly, so that you do feel like you're reading one single novel, rather than several pieces stitched together. Heller leads you through a narrative that flows from timeline to timeline, character to character, scene to scene, though gentle jump-off points. Sometimes this seems jarring if you stop reading at a chapter and come into the next chapter that seems to be about something totally different, but if you backtrack a little to the end of the previous chapter, you can kind of see the little clues that the narrator is going to change tack soon. (Not all the time, but quite often) That doesn't mean it isn't disorienting, though--I found myself mostly keeping track of when it was by noting how many missions they're supposed to achieve at that point in time. (Colonel Cathcart keeps raising the number.)

One thing to remember in reading Catch-22 (at least for me) is that it's meant to be satire. Which means everything that happens IS going to be over-the-top (whether funny or stupid or ridiculous) and it's not supposed to be realistic in any sense.

Though I suppose death and dying is realistic.

I wouldn't say I particularly loved or hated this book. I rather enjoyed bits of it. But it's not the kind of story--or the kind of wit--that I particularly like.

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Monday, 17 December 2018

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

#bookreview: Suspense week, with a lot of blood!

BaptismBaptism by Max Kinnings
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, I generally like crime thrillers, so this one was pretty fun to read. It was also an interesting turn (for modern-day thrillers) of having a Christian terrorist instead of a Muslim one. The use of symbolism (baptism of fire and water) was chilling.

Kinnings moves things along quite quickly with the jumps between perspectives and places through the use of time, tracking movements of the main players in this drama throughout the day. He does start at a strange place though, somewhere probably in the middle (well, 10 hours in, if I remember correctly) before jumping back to the start of the story. I'm not quite sure what that was for, because it wasn't anything that we really needed to know at the start? Unless he wanted to start us off with a tragic death and high stakes.

The story is also particularly twisty. Every time you think there's going to be a solution, something else happens to make things worse. Yet I also spent a lot of time thinking: can people really be that deluded? At the risk of being a little spoilery, there are at least three characters who don't act like normal, rational people. Well, the terrorist, for one, because obviously there's something wrong with him to commit such a heinous crime and for no obvious reason, other than "God told me to". The second is his assistant, who just follows along and accepts everything blindly. It feels as if there must be something wrong with them; maybe they're defective? Mentally ill? A little slow? And the third one, unexpectedly, is a person so blinded by ambition and fear that he would turn to murder to save his own skin? It feels a little unbelievable... but then again it's fiction so... idk.

Overall, I enjoyed it, though there are little niggling things (as mentioned above) and also the fact that the people in Cruor Christi who knew, or had at least some forewarning, of the things to come were absolutely useless and brainless. Maybe I'm a little too rational for a story where almost every character is acting irrationally.


The Intrusions (Carrigan and Miller, #3)The Intrusions by Stav Sherez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Intrusions takes you into the realm of cybercrime. It kind of reminds me of that TV series my mum watches, Law and Order I think? Being book 3 of the series (I did get books 1 and 2 because the series sounded interesting, but I started with this first because it's on the reading list), Sherez alludes to things that presumably happened in the earlier books. Nothing that very jarring, just some odd moments of confusion going, "uh, what was that then?"

The thing about The Intrusions is that, at times, it feels like the murder itself is only part of the story, instead of being the main focus of this detective novel. A lot of the complications in the investigation seems to arise from the personal problems of the DI, Carrigan rather than any active intervention on the part of the killer; in a way, this echoes Rebus in Rankin's famous series. Actually, I think I had quite a lot of throwbacks to Rebus when reading this, although there wasn't any random song titles thrown in and Carrigan isn't quite as depressed and drunk or repressedly traumatised.

One thing that really threw me off quite a bit was having a female character named Singh because in Malaysia, Singh = male, Kaur = female; or, at least, that's what I've been told. Maybe that doesn't work in the UK because of the insistence on surnames?

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Wednesday, 5 December 2018

#bookreview: Global Fiction

Back on the reading list, we read two stories deemed "Global Fiction", one of which was written by one of my tutors, Christy Lefteri. So obviously I had to get her to sign my book :p
(She said, "This is so weird." But why should it be? haha)

By the SeaBy the Sea by Abdulrazak Gurnah
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

By the Sea is beautiful, a meandering story of remembrance that takes you from Zanzibar to London, through Malaya and Persia, a story of business, love, and revenge.

Wandering through Saleh Omar's memories and Latif Mahmud's accusations, Abdulrazak Gurnah reminds you again and again that what you perceive as a child may not always be true. Related tenuously by marriage, the two men's lives have been intertwined by a series of slights and betrayal, each branch of the family grasping for the property and wealth of the deceased as their own family's prosperity rises and falls over time. Behind the scene, pulling the strings, is Hussein, who both entrances and tricks, then disappears home to Persia to let things fall out as they may.

Yet it's not Hussein himself who brings about their downfall. It's their pride and greed, hidden behind a veneer of religion and holiness, supported by a belief in their own perception of right.

At times, the story seems to drift too far into the past, and you end up on distant shores wondering why Abdulrazak has left you there, but down each branching river, you end up by the same shore, realising that each diverging stream had an effect that ultimately led to Saleh's persecution and need for asylum. And it's by the sea in London, where Saleh tries to build a new life--or at least to let what's left of his life end peacefully--that he has to face the painful past and finally lay it to rest.


A Watermelon, a Fish and a BibleA Watermelon, a Fish and a Bible by Christy Lefteri
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm fighting the urge to write only complimentary things because Lefteri is my tutor lol.

Again, I feel that the reading of this book was slightly impacted by the fact that I was reading it in spurts, mainly while on various trains, and whilst really sleepy. Still, this goes to show that it wasn't particularly exciting to me, because I've powered through books in the middle of the night whilst dead-tired because I really wanted to know what happens next. At any rate, I liked it enough despite the fact that it's historical fiction and not fantasy, so *shrug*. Thinking it over, I'm not too sure if the 4-star is impacted by bias. Now that I'm writing the review, I'm wavering down to about a 3-star, so I'd say it's a tentative 3.5-star book, just because I'm not sure.

The best bits of this book are the beginning and the end. It starts off with this really fairy-tale like sequence, full of symbolism. It's beautiful, and sad, setting you up to journey through war-torn Cyprus in 1974. Lefteri moves you through the capture of Kyrenia through several viewpoints: Maroulla's childish innocence, Adem Berker's loss and guilt, Richard's longing, Commander Serkan Demir's anger and hatred, Koki's fear. Sometimes it's too much--the core of this story feels like Koki's, the way she's caught between Greeks and Turks, an outcast to both groups as much as she is deeply tied to both. I loved the way Adem's, Richard's and Koki's stories weaved in and out of each other, I didn't care so much about Serkan (Lefteri admitted that he was a rather two-dimensional character without an arc) or what his whole confusing interaction with the baby was about, and whilst I loved the thread of the rose and the petals and the innocent fairy tale of Maroulla that both starts and ends the novel, she wasn't ultimately very important to the story. Whilst she acted as a sort-of impetus for Koki to keep moving, keep trying to survive, I kind of feel that she could have been replaced by anything (or anyone) else.

The middle dragged a little as events played out over the five days. There's an immersion in memories of the past, both a sense of longing for what was as well as a lingering regret over how things played out over the years. Ostracism of the Other seems to be a key theme which recurs over and over again, both on a personal and a national level, with the microaggressions of the Greek-Cypriots against Adem and Koki seemingly representative the aggressions of the Greek-Cypriots towards the Turkish-Cypriots and the British in their midst on a national level. In retaliation, the Turkish soldiers rape the women and murder the men on a macro scale of revenge, even though these specific women have done nothing to them personally.

The ending (which I can't say too much of because of spoilers? maybe?) is a beautiful execution of the classic race against time, leaving you braced in your seat with bated breath, hoping that yes, they will meet, yes, things will work out in the end, no, no, please don't miss each other.

Yes, so I was hooked by the beginning, got slightly bored by the middle and then loved the ending, so overall, I'm not very sure how much I actually liked it.

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On a final note about global fiction, it feels as if books tagged with the label always seem to be sad stories about refugees and war and displacement, and I'm wondering why.