Reading Round Up – September

At the start of the year I set myself the challenge of reading one book a week, and am actually ahead of schedule – go me! For fun, I’ve started to number the books in my reviews.

46. 1984

George Orwell

Rating: 3 out of 5.
1984

Among the seminal texts of the 20th century, Nineteen Eighty-Four is a rare work that grows more haunting as its futuristic purgatory becomes more real. Published in 1949, the book offers political satirist George Orwell’s nightmarish vision of a totalitarian, bureaucratic world and one poor stiff’s attempt to find individuality. The brilliance of the novel is Orwell’s prescience of modern life—the ubiquity of television, the distortion of the language—and his ability to construct such a thorough version of hell. Required reading for students since it was published, it ranks among the most terrifying novels ever written.

Is my three star rating unfair given what a classic this book is? Perhaps. The world is terrifying (and given the current state of things, the reason I decided to read the book at last), but I had little interest in main character Winston, who served as no more than the vessel through which we see this terrifying world. Apologies for what is probably my unpopular opinion, but honestly, who has ever mentioned 1984 to discuss Winston and not Big Brother?


47. Half a King

Joe Abercrombie

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Half a King (Shattered Sea, #1)

Betrayed by his family and left for dead, prince Yarvi, reluctant heir to a divided kingdom, has vowed to reclaim a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains and the bitter waters of the shattered sea itself – all with only one good hand. Born a weakling in the eyes of a hard, cold world, he cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so has sharpened his mind to a deadly edge. Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast, he finds they can help him more than any noble could. Even so, Yarvi’s path may end as it began – in twists, traps and tragedy.

Thanks to this book, I’ve really pinned down my love of the Coming of Age trope. As a character, Yarvi is instantly relatable, which is not a surprise as this book is penned by Character Master Joe Abercrombie. What is a surprise is that not everyone in this book is a back stabbing stain on society, as I’ve also come to expect from Abercrombie, who can sometimes take Grimdark to such depressing depths I feel the need to shower in Rom Coms afterwards.

While I absolutely loved this book, I have two criticisms. First, was that the “surprise” twist at the end was so obvious it may have been flashing headlights and banging a drum. Second, I have no desire to read the next is the series. Perhaps one day I’ll read it and call myself an idiot, but right now reading the blurb of what’s to come… no interest.


48. 100 Days of Sunlight

Abbie Emmons

Rating: 4 out of 5.
100 Days of Sunlight

When 16-year-old poetry blogger Tessa Dickinson is involved in a car accident and loses her eyesight for 100 days, she feels like her whole world has been turned upside-down. 

Terrified that her vision might never return, Tessa feels like she has nothing left to be happy about. But when her grandparents place an ad in the local newspaper looking for a typist to help Tessa continue writing and blogging, an unlikely answer knocks at their door: Weston Ludovico, a boy her age with bright eyes, an optimistic smile…and no legs.

Knowing how angry and afraid Tessa is feeling, Weston thinks he can help her. But he has one condition — no one can tell Tessa about his disability. And because she can’t see him, she treats him with contempt: screaming at him to get out of her house and never come back. But for Weston, it’s the most amazing feeling: to be treated like a normal person, not just a sob story. So he comes back. Again and again and again.

Tessa spurns Weston’s “obnoxious optimism”, convinced that he has no idea what she’s going through. But Weston knows exactly how she feels and reaches into her darkness to show her that there is more than one way to experience the world. As Tessa grows closer to Weston, she finds it harder and harder to imagine life without him — and Weston can’t imagine life without her. But he still hasn’t told her the truth, and when Tessa’s sight returns he’ll have to make the hardest decision of his life: vanish from Tessa’s world…or overcome his fear of being seen.

100 Days of Sunlight is a poignant and heartfelt novel by author Abbie Emmons. If you like sweet contemporary romance and strong family themes then you’ll love this touching story of hope, healing, and getting back up when life knocks you down.

I decided to read this book after watching Abbie’s YouTube series about character and her mantra of ‘Why It Matters!’ I would say in this she has achieved to set out what she intended, with characters built to test each other, with Tessa and Weston (I keep wanting to say Tessa and Will) perfect for each other’s issues.

Is the book perfect? (Are any?) No. The opening is a tad cliched and all the characters are just too… good? Perhaps it’s that I lurk in the realms of Grimdark Fantasy that skewed my opinion here. I’m not asking for Weston to be Jorg Ancrath (poor Tessa if he were…), but I wish there was a little more lurking beneath the surface. But maybe that’s just me! Overall, a good read.


49. Great Expectations

Charles Dickens

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Great Expectations

‘In what may be Dickens’s best novel, humble, orphaned Pip is apprenticed to the dirty work of the forge but dares to dream of becoming a gentleman — and one day, under sudden and enigmatic circumstances, he finds himself in possession of “great expectations.” In this gripping tale of crime and guilt, revenge and reward, the compelling characters include Magwitch, the fearful and fearsome convict; Estella, whose beauty is excelled only by her haughtiness; and the embittered Miss Havisham, an eccentric jilted bride.

I knew enough about this book going in (thanks to adaptations and parodies) that I was familiar with the characters of Pip, Estella, and Miss Havisham. But I was not prepared for the character of Joe Gargery, who I absolutely fell in love with. Starting the book, I expected Joe to be Pip’s childhood antagonist (rather than Pip’s sister). How wrong I was and how I raged at Pip every time he treated Joe badly.

This novel was Grimdark before Grimdark was a thing, a complete study of character and human flaws. It could have done with an edit (I say, passing judgement on a classic), but in a book already so long did we need scenes about Pip and Herbert writing lists of debts, or the many, many characters there were to keep track of. 

The bonus of Dickens’ works (I say after reading just two of his novels) is that even when writing, he set his novels in the past already, and as a result explains how things are different. There’s no assumptions from the author as there are in Austen’s work, for example, where owning a chaise and four makes a gentleman of a certain wealth bracket. So it’s easy to read and understand, despite its age.


50. The Court of Miracles

Kester Grant

Rating: 4 out of 5.
The Court of Miracles (A Court of Miracles #1)

In the violent urban jungle of an alternate 1828 Paris, the French Revolution has failed and the city is divided between merciless royalty and nine underworld criminal guilds, known as the Court of Miracles. Eponine (Nina) Thénardier is a talented cat burglar and member of the Thieves Guild. Nina’s life is midnight robberies, avoiding her father’s fists, and watching over her naïve adopted sister, Cosette (Ettie). 

When Ettie attracts the eye of the Tiger–the ruthless lord of the Guild of Flesh–Nina is caught in a desperate race to keep the younger girl safe. Her vow takes her from the city’s dark underbelly to the glittering court of Louis XVII. And it also forces Nina to make a terrible choice–protect Ettie and set off a brutal war between the guilds, or forever lose her sister to the Tiger.

Les Misérables meets Six of Crows in this page-turning adventure as a young thief finds herself going head to head with leaders of Paris’s criminal underground in the wake of the French Revolution.

I decided to read this book after hearing about it at Voyager Con. I’m a huge fan of Les Mis, though I must admit to not having read Victor Hugo’s original (the audiobook is 57 hours! I’m daunted, okay!), and have always had a soft spot for Eponine. Author Kester Grant is right, she is the best. 

I had expected something more like the film Ophelia, with the novel simply playing out from Eponine’s point of view with scenes previously unseen. This was definitely better. I loved the story, but in a way would have preferred it to have been an original. That way, I wouldn’t have been constantly comparing changes. [SPOILERS AHEAD] For example, I love Val Jean and Cosette in the original, and to find that even in the two years they spent together they had no bond… crying… And perhaps controversially, I love the original Javert. I was a bit devastated to see the new Javert reduced to a woman scorned (she’s hunting Val Jean because he hit it and quit it; he banged her then canned her). This is supposedly a feminist retelling, and that one just didn’t sit right with me. But I loved the other changed involving Nina (Eponine) and Ettie (Cosette). [NO MORE SPOILERS]

I was disappointed with one aspect of the plot, where the reader is essentially tricked into believing something which it is later revealed POV character Nina knew was a lie all along. That knocked a star off for me.

One thing to point out, because for a while it confused the hell out of me, is that the blurb states the book takes place ‘in the wake of the French Revolution’. So you aren’t confused when Nina runs across the Dauphin, the novel is set in an alternative Paris where the French Revolution was only a failed uprising and the monarchy is still very much in play. 

Reading Roundup – June

June’s book selection is a little smaller than last months, but my reading levels do vary depending on whether I’m working the day job (always done with an audiobook), or writing. I can’t read fiction while writing, I find it too distracting, and given that halfway through the month I started a new project, the reading stopped. But here’s the round up 🙂

We Ride the Storm

Devin Madson

Rating: 4 out of 5.
We Ride the Storm (The Reborn Empire #1)

In the midst of a burgeoning war, a warrior, an assassin, and a princess chase their own ambitions no matter the cost in Devin Madson’s visceral, emotionally charged debut.

War built the Kisian Empire. War will tear it down.

Seventeen years after rebels stormed the streets, factions divide Kisia. Only the firm hand of the god-emperor holds the empire together. But when a shocking betrayal destroys a tense alliance with neighboring Chiltae, all that has been won comes crashing down.

In Kisia, Princess Miko Ts’ai is a prisoner in her own castle. She dreams of claiming her empire, but the path to power could rip it, and her family, asunder.

In Chiltae, assassin Cassandra Marius is plagued by the voices of the dead. Desperate, she accepts a contract that promises to reward her with a cure if she helps an empire fall.

And on the border between nations, Captain Rah e’Torin and his warriors are exiles forced to fight in a foreign war or die.

As an empire dies, three warriors will rise. They will have to ride the storm or drown in its blood.

This was a multi-POV book that really made me look at and evaluate how I might use multi-POVs in writing. Some multi-POVs are different views on one immediate story, this one was different POVs that lead their own story, until they all eventually collided. From time to time I found that my interest in some of the characters stories was dropping, and I was reading their chapters in order to reach the characters I preferred, though equally a few chapters later my interest would have risen in them and it was their chapters I devoured. But occasionally I did feel like some characters had filler chapters in order for the reader to keep checking in with them.

That being said, I did really enjoy the book. It took me a while at the start to sort who was who, and how they and their countries related to the rest. Some parts of the book had my mouth hanging, and I blazed through the finale. I would have preferred the ending to feel a little more concluded, but it is the first in a series (not certain a series of how many, but given that it’s called We Ride the Storm, The Reborn Empire #1, I assume it’s not a standalone!) so I’ll just have to wait and see what happens next.


The Bone Maker

Sarah Beth Durst

Rating: 3 out of 5.
The Bone Maker

Twenty-five years ago, five heroes risked their lives to defeat the bone maker Eklor—a corrupt magician who created an inhuman army using animal bones. But victory came at a tragic price. Only four of the heroes survived. 

Since then, Kreya, the group’s leader, has exiled herself to a remote tower and devoted herself to one purpose: resurrecting her dead husband. But such a task requires both a cache of human bones and a sacrifice—for each day he lives, she will live one less.

She’d rather live one year with her husband than a hundred without him, but using human bones for magic is illegal in Vos. The dead are burned—as are any bone workers who violate the law. Yet Kreya knows where she can find the bones she needs: the battlefield where her husband and countless others lost their lives.

But defying the laws of the land exposes a terrible possibility. Maybe the dead don’t rest in peace after all.  

Five warriors—one broken, one gone soft, one pursuing a simple life, one stuck in the past, and one who should be dead. Their story should have been finished. But evil doesn’t stop just because someone once said, “the end.”

This was an enjoyable read, and I got quite into guessing at twists before they came (always good fun). It couldn’t pick fault with joy in the fun of the story, but I struggled with the originality of it. Likely it’s because I’d just read both The Bone Shard Empire and Kings of the Wyld, but comparison niggled at me. Given the release dates of the books, I’m sure The Bone Maker and The Bone Shard Daughter were coincidences, but given that there was even an overlap of terminology, I occasionally found myself confusing the magic of both books. 

But until about halfway through this book, I was fairly convinced I was reading a gender swapped Kings of the Wyld. We follow our hero who, who is well past the glory days, who must get the band back together to save someone they love. The story to switch thing up about halfway through and went in a different direction, but for a while I was matching up characters, etc.

Overall, I preferred The bone Make to The Bone Shard Daughter, but Kings of the Wyld wins hands down. Is that fair? I don’t know; I guess female protagonists just can’t accidentally get hit by erectile dysfunction potions mid battle. And I’m immature, so that will always win!


Peaky Blinders: The Legacy

Carl Chinn

Rating: 3 out of 5.
Peaky Blinders: The Legacy

The Peaky Blinders as we know them, thanks to the hit TV series, are infused with drama and dread. Fashionably dressed, the charismatic but deeply flawed Shelby family have become cult anti-heroes. 

Well-known social historian, broadcaster and author, Carl Chinn, revealed the true story of the notorious gang in his bestselling Peaky Blinders: The Real Story and now in this follow-up book, he explores the legacy they created in Birmingham and beyond. What happened to them and their gangland rivals?

In Peaky Blinders: The Legacy we revisit the world of Billy Kimber’s Peaky Blinders, exploring their legacy throughout the 1920s and 30s, and how their burgeoning empires spread across the UK. Delve into the street wars across the country, the impact of the declaration of War on Gangs by the Home Secretary after The Racecourse War in 1921, and how the blackmailing of bookmakers gave way to new and daring opportunities for the likes of Sabini, Alfie Solomon and some new faces in the murky gangland underworld.

Drawing on Carl’s inimitable research, interviews and original sources, find out just what happened to this incredible cast of characters, revealing the true legacy of the Peaky Blinders.

No reading fiction while writing, I’m turning to non-fiction. I recently binged Peaky Blinders, loving the atmosphere of the early seasons and then hooked by the story. So one a late night browse of the history section on Borrow Box, I stumbled across this one, and thought why not? Let’s get the true history behind the series (and I love history, so it has to be done).

I love the cover, how it’s clearly not affiliated, but they’ve done their absolute best to match the characters in the show.