Saturday, 14 May 2016

Review: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Book cover of The long way to a small angry planet by becky chambers
This was another of my recent lunchtime library hauls. I'd gotten to the point where I was actively skimming blogs just for books I could request at the library. It's not like you pay for it (well, a 90p request charge, but my purse can handle it - just) and therefore why not be adventurous!? The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is by far my favourite book I've picked up so far - it's unique, fun, light and a great page-turner. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Plot summary: When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn't expecting much. The Wayfarer, a patched-up ship that's seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled past.

But Rosemary gets more than she bargained for with the Wayfarer. The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptillian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the constantly sparring engineers who keep the ship running. Life on board is chaotic, but more or less peaceful - exactly what Rosemary wants.

Until the crew are offered the job of a lifetime: the chance to build a hyperspace tunnel to a distant planet. They'll earn enough money to live comfortably for years... if they survive the long trip through war-torn interstellar space without endangering any of the fragile alliances that keep the galaxy peaceful.

But Rosemary isn't the only person on board with secrets to hide, and the crew will soon discover that space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed.

That's actually quite a misleading blurb. It sounds like Rosemary is a criminal stowaway and ends up on a ship full of other people with dark secrets, all trying to keep their past hidden at any cost... Ugh. Thankfully, no. When Rosemary does make her way onto the Wayfarer, she finds a crew of unique and loveable characters, with whom I'd love to spend a day just getting to know. They all have their own sub-plots and histories, and definitely do not feel that 'spaceships are very small indeed.' I do wonder if blurb-writers have ever even read the book in question...

The book is more about those little sub-plots than the overarching storyline about building the hyperspace tunnel.They embark upon a long journey across space to get to where construction can begin, and that is more the subject of the book. We stop off at secret hacker planet for semi-legal ship modifications, visit the home planets of the some of the crew and deal with moral issues relating to medical treatment and consent. It's way more interesting than a travel tunnel!

It's actually really well thought out. I imagine it can't be easy to come up with a whole galaxy of different races and planets, and then create some political turmoil to add to the mix. And that's before  you dream up some sub-plots based on which races don't like other races and the legal jurisdiction of Council legislation! Having said that, it does remain light-hearted and very easy to read throughout - it's a nice juxtaposition that works very well.

I love the atmosphere in The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, but then I'm a sucker for fictional friendships. Romance doesn't interest me much but I do love a good bit of platonic companionship. Friendships are tested to breaking point and allegiences are called into question, but the crew always stick together throughout their differences. Rosemary isn't quite sure where she slots into this to begin with, but the gradual change into acceptance gives you a nice warm fuzzy feeling.

If I had one complaint, and I am nit-picking here, I'd like the relationships to be a little more... demonstrated. We're told that various crew members feel this way about each other (and that varies more than you might think), but we're never actually shown it. I'd just like to feel it a little more, I think. There's a plot point that's meant to be quite moving and upsetting at one point, but it just didn't bother me, and I think that's because I wasn't really emotionally invested. I was academically and narratively invested, but not emotionally.

To conclude, read The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, even if the little does sound like a preachy non-fiction about the importance of recycling. It's so much more than I expected - great characters, perfect world-building and a completely unique plot. I'll be buying my own copy so I can reread it again and again.

Read Rinn's review of The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet at Rinn Reads.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Review: Queen of Bedlam by Laura Purcell

Book cover of Queen of Bedlam by Laura Purcell
I've started using the library near work recently. Firstly because it gets me away from my damn desk instead of actually taking the final step and making a nest out of my paperwork, but secondly because the fifteen minute walk each way won't exactly hurt either. The upshot, book-wise, is that I've been requesting books like mad and I've been able to try out all those books that were on my wishlist but I wasn't quite ready to take the plunge and purchase. Enter Queen of Bedlam.

Plot summary: London 1788. The calm order of Queen Charlotte’s court is shattered by screams. The King of England is going mad. Left alone with thirteen children and with the country at war, Charlotte has to fight to hold her husband’s throne. It is a time of unrest and revolutions but most of all Charlotte fears the King himself, someone she can no longer love or trust. She has lost her marriage to madness and there is nothing she can do except continue to do her royal duty.

Her six daughters are desperate to escape their palace asylum. Their only chance lies in a good marriage, but no prince wants the daughter of a madman. They are forced to take love wherever they can find it, with devastating consequences.

The moving true story of George III’s madness and the women whose lives it destroyed.

I know relatively little about George III and Queen Charlotte, other than he was the father of Hugh Laurie's Prince Regent but went slowly mad (which was the reason for the Regency in the first place). Medical historians now think he was suffering from porphyria, which is a genetic blood disorder that can cause psychiatric disturbance. It's actually really interesting, which is why I wanted to read Queen of Bedlam in the first place.

Unfortunately the book isn't like that at all. Perhaps the clue is in the title - Queen of Bedlam, not Mad King of England. It's about Queen Charlotte and the eldest of their daughters, Princess Royal, and it's so... girly.

It opens right as King George starts to lose his grip on reality. On one hand, we're straight into the action. On the other, we have no basis for comparison. We don't know if Charlotte and George are actually in love, what he used to be like, how his relationships stand... as a result, I just didn't care.  

So Charlotte is stomping around and Princess Royal (why does the narrative refer to her as that? She had a name) is just whining constantly about how she doesn't get to go anywhere. They're not even unlikeable. To be unlikeable you have to have some form of substance.

Thing is, I like historical fiction to give me some background information about the characters and the period, so I can feel like I'm learning as I read. Queen of Bedlam could be any badly written book about any time period. It's just pages and pages of whiny dialogue and thought monologues, with very little actual prose. 

I admit I didn't finish this. I could have, in fairness. It wasn't so bad that I simply wasn't able to finish it, but then I can't think of a single pleasant thing to say about it, other than the subject matter and the author can hardly get credit for historical fact, even if she doesn't choose to reference it in her work. I got about half way through and then gave up. No regrets.

(You know you spend too much time at work when you accidentally end a blog post with 'Regards' and start looking for your e-signature...)

How do you like your historical fiction? Moving and light, or factual and informative?  

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Review: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

Book cover of The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
When I picked up this book to start reading it, the receipt fell out from when I bought it - November 2013. Good Lord. I actually remember buying it, it was when the five of us met up in Leeds, but I had no idea it was that long ago. Two and a half years, guys. Anyway, for some reason the memory of Laura telling me that 'it's really good but you probably won't like it,' has stuck firmly in my head. Actually, come to think of it, I really associate this book with Laura in any event. Why is that? Why Laura? Does she remind me of slightly grubby American gunslingers? Answers on a postcard please.

Oh, and go read Laura's review. Considering I just called her grubby. 

Plot summary: Hermann Kermit Warm is going to die. Across 1000 miles of Oregon desert his assassins, the notorious Eli and Charlie Sisters, ride - fighting, shooting, and drinking their way to Sacramento. But their prey isn't an easy mark, the road is long and bloody, and somewhere along the path Eli begins to question what he does for a living - and whom he does it for. The Sisters Brothers pays homage to the classic Western, transforming it into an unforgettable ribald tour de force. Filled with a remarkable cast of losers, cheaters, and ne'er-do-wells from all stripes of life-and told by a complex and compelling narrator, it is a violent, lustful odyssey through the underworld of the 1850s frontier that beautifully captures the humor, melancholy, and grit of the Old West and two brothers bound by blood, violence, and love.

At least Laura wasn't totally right. How can I put this? Whilst I don't dislike this book, I can see why she thought I might. I can't really put my finger on why, except there's something distinctly non-Hanna-ish about The Sisters Brothers. Sigh. This isn't going to be a very helpful review, is it?

It's not what I expected. I think I was under the impression that it would be a quite dry and quite formal, general Western. It's not; it's actually quite light-hearted. We follow the adventures of George and Lenny Eli and Charlie as they attempt to track down the next in a long list of men they've been instructed to assassinate. Until about two third of the way through, they just kind of bounce from event to event, from town to town. There isn't really an overarcing plot at that point, just a sort of situation.

When The Point became clear though, I thought it was a really interesting plot point, and one that I hadn't seen done before. Not that I read a lot of Westerns, admittedly. I do wish that less time had been spent on the bouncing around, which felt a little repetitive and caused me to lose interest quite quickly, and more time on that particular aspect. It seemed to be over before it had even really begun and then I didn't feel it was dealt with properly.

There's a definite Of Mice and Men feel to it though, and it's way too obvious to have been unintentional. Two brothers, one of whom is smaller, slyer and clearly in control and the other is larger and dopily naive? Because of that I assumed that it would either end in exactly the same way, or the direct opposite (if you know what I mean). Maybe that's why I didn't enjoy the story so much - because I thought I knew where it was going. Also, I hated Steinbeck in school. That helps.

I liked both Eli and Charlie, I suppose. They have very distinct personalities, but they do seem like caricatures. You could argue that that was intentional, but I'm not so sure. I would have preferred a bit more subtlety and fewer attempts at humour. Was it meant to be funny, by the way? The blurb implies that it was but I didn't really see it.

I actually meant to write a lovely, sparkly review that would really show that darn Laura *shakes fist* but it turns out she actually knows me pretty well. I didn't dislike this book at all, but I have to admit that I didn't think there was a great deal to write home about either. It was... fine, and I don't regret the time I spent reading The Sisters Brothers. That said, I don't think I'd particularly feel the need to reread it either.

    Go read Laura's review at Devouring Texts. Is it really only Laura who's read this!? I thought loads of us were reading it at one point!

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Spring 2016 Re-Read-a-thon: Days Two, Three and Four

Pages Read: 293
Books Read From: Something Rotten (Thursday Next #3) by Jasper Fforde
Total Books Finished: 1
Total Pages Read: 393
Tuesday to Thursday have not been the most productive of days this week, either for re-reading or in relation to my general existence.
On Tuesday I went to see Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, which was amazing but they tend to frown upon you reading during the performance. I managed to read a little on the train on the way to work, but nothing to write home about. Then I got given extra work to complete for the next day by 10pm. Fun.
On Wednesday I read a little, but fell asleep on the sofa at about 9pm. 

On Thursday, today, I had to drive to work so couldn't even read on the train, but managed to sneak in a little reading between getting home and having to run back out to my Scout group. 

On the bright side, I have finished reading my Thursday Next book, which is probably more reading than I would have done sans read-a-thon, so I can't really complain. It was worth re-reading too. This series is so perfect - what's not to love about an organisation that polices fiction from inside the books!? I cried at the end of this one; it's just so perfect.

I'll try and get some reading done over the Easter weekend, but I suspect I'll spend a lot of it sleeping and trying to get rid of my three-day-old headache. Wish me luck!

Monday, 21 March 2016

Spring 2016 Re-Read-a-Thon: Day One

Pages Read:
Books Read From: Something Rotten (Thursday Next #3) by Jasper Fforde
Total Books Finished: 0
Total Pages Read: 100

Why yes, I am using Parma Violets as a bookmark.

Yay, it's the first day of the re-read-a-thon! And, against all read-a-thon precedent, I'm actually doing quite well on the first day. I'm as shocked as you.

It being a Monday, I have of course been to work. It's almost the end of the financial year, which means it's been absolutely manic and we've all been working long hours. Today though, I just couldn't face it and I went home at the unusually early hour of 5:10pm.

This freed up some reading time for me, especially after I... might have got on the wrong train. I know, I know. In my defence, I've jumped on the same train at the same platform at the same time for more than year, but today a completely different train rolls up and I naively settle down in my chair. I picked up Something Rotten, became completely engrossed and didn't even notice that we weren't heading in the right direction until we pulled into a completely alien station. Ooops.

Something Rotten, though. I love these books. I'm starting this re-read with Book Three of the Thursday Next series because I reread the other two reasonably recently but then get distracted.

If you haven't read this series, I really recommend it. It begins with The Eyre Affair, and it's essentially about Thursday Next, who can jump into books and eventually joins JurisFiction, the Inter-Book Policing Agency. All sorts of characters pop up, from Miss Havisham to Mrs Tiggywinkle, and they're so well thought-out and funny.

I'm hoping to get a little more reading done tonight (I'm at 80 pages and it's 9:23pm - that's quite a lot for me lately) because I won't have much chance tomorrow. I'm off to see Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat at the theatre with my mother :) 

How's your first day of re-reading going?

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Re-Read-a-Thon Spring 2016!

Yay! It's that time again. I'm ridiculously excited about this, although you wouldn't know it from the length of time it took me to actually sign up. I haven't had much time to read lately, much less blog, but hopefully that will change in time for me to get some much needed re-reading done!

I took part in the first re-read-a-thon whilst hiding out in my car during Scout Camp, and managed to read two books during the week long event - Never Let Me Go and The Night Circus.  This time we've been allocated a full ten days, although I'll still be working ten hour days, taking Russian lessons, running a Scout Group and volunteering for a legal advice charity. I'm aiming for three books over the ten days.

My TBR is below. I may or may not stick to it, who knows!?

The colour theme was unintentional yet oddly pleasing.

I'm looking forward to rereading all of these books, possibly with the exception of The Picture of Dorian Grey, which I didn't like all that much the first time round. It's been eight or nine years since I made the attempt though, and it's possible some of it went over my head. Time to give it another go!

Of them all, I most want to reread Ready Player One (I know I only read it last year, I know, but it's SO GOOD) and The End of Mr Y. I haven't really given that a second thought since I read it (and loved it), but it caught my eye on the shelf this evening and now I'm pretty desperate to pick it up!

I'm also quite looking forward to reading Perfume, but we'll see how dark and miserable I feel when next week rolls around.

Alternatively I may read something completely different...

What book are you looking forward to rereading?


Sunday, 6 March 2016

Review: Winter (Lunar Chronicles #4) by Marissa Meyer

Book cover of Winter (Lunar Chronicles series) by Marissa Meyer
I've been reading Winter for a while, alongside The Crimson Petal and the White as part of the read-a-long at Lit Addicted Brit. That's partly why it's taken me such a damn long time to get through a YA fantasy novel, but it's also due to its 750 page length. As one of the YA series that I've actually manage to complete (and fairly speedily too), I have to admit that Winter is a fitting conclusion to the Lunar Chronicles series.

Plot summary: Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.

Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend—the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.

Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters?

First off, just let me say that this book is unnecessarily long. The other books are two thirds of the size and work perfectly well. I don't mind long books if it's for a reason, but in Winter the tension keeps sort of ebbing and flowing. The revolution finally happens, and it's all exciting and you reach the final boss battle... but then it all goes away again, only to start again in 100 pages. I wish that the author had just chosen a path and stuck to it.

Because of that, I never really felt any particular desperation to get back to reading this book when I'd put it down and when I did read it, I found myself getting distracted and faffing on my phone instead. That's not to say it's not good, but I feel that it could do with being a little faster-paced.

Despite my fears about not liking where I thought the story might go (it didn't, I'm fine), I thought it was actually a pretty fitting conclusion. Not as simple as it could have been, which I give Marissa Meyer full credit for. I've said it in my previous of reviews of this series - it's a good plot. There's a convulted political history and intricate delicacies that stop juuuuuuust short of being too much. You can keep everything straight in your head without feeling like you're being spoon fed. It's unique and interesting and I really like it.

I'm less impressed with her desire to have everybody neatly coupled off at the end, rambling about their love. They're sixteen to eighteen, Good Lord. I like Cinder and Winter's respective relationships, everybody else needs to read some Jezebel and get a grip. 

Oh, Winter! I love everything about Winter. She's my favourite character, aside from maybe Cinder. Her purpose and her little quirks are so well-thought out and her background is perfect. And That Thing She Does Near The End just fits in with the plot so wonderfully neatly. Honestly, she might be one of the best, most unique things about the Lunar Chronicles series.

On that note, what's the purpose of Scarlet, exactly? I mean, she's fine, but Cinder, Cress and Winter all have purposes and unique personalities. Scarlet not so much. If anything, the second book should probably have been called Wolf, considering he contributes more to the story than she does, but I guess that would detract from the strong female role model-y thing we've got going on.  

THE FAIRYTALE THING. I can't believe it's taken me this many paragraphs to start my fairytale rant. I've said it already in every other review, but I've reached new levels of irritation. IT IS NOT NECESSARY. Winter's fairytale link was so forced that I actually had to skip two whole pages just so I didn't have to see it happen. It reads like Ms Meyer had a vague idea of fairytale-dom in the first book and decided that she was going to carry it through, and just became stuck with the concept in later books.

I feel like I'm nit-picking here, but I think it's probably because I like this series so much. I know that sounds silly, but sometimes when something you love is so close to being perfect, it makes all the little niggles stand out more. This is a really good series with a fitting conclusion. It's maybe a little drawn-out and the coupled-up-ness is slightly irritating, but it's nowhere near enough to put a damper on my affection for these books. 

 Read my reviews of Cinder, Scarlet and Cress. And then go read the books.

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