Wednesday, 29 June 2016

This Week in Books | 29/06/16

This week I'm joining in with Lipsy @ Lipsyy Lost & Found to talk about the books I've been reading recently!

Now: I'm slowly getting back into the reading zone. I managed to read three books last week, which is the most I've read in a week in a long while, and it feels wonderful to be enjoying stories again. I've been trying to get ahead on my eARCs - in fact two of the books I finished last week were NetGalley reads - and now I'd like to challenge myself to finish the books which I've listed as 'Currently Reading' on Goodreads before I pick up anything new. Now considering I'm coming out of the biggest reading slump I've ever had I'm not going to be too strict with myself - if something calls to me, I'm going to read it - but I know I'd really feel like I've accomplished something if I get those books under my belt. One of those books just happens to be Longbow Girl, and I think it's going to be a lot of fun. I'm trying to read more books which feature time travel, and considering I currently live in Wales I haven't read much set in Wales.

Then: Over the weekend I crossed two eARCs off my TBR: Silvia Moreno-Garcia's Certain Dark Things, which I loved, and Anne Tyler's Vinegar Girl, which I didn't. Right now my blog pretty much consists solely of book reviews as I'm catching up on my reading and reviewing, so look out for my review of Vinegar Girl next week to find out why I didn't like it!

Next: Continuing with the theme of finishing books I've started, I'd like to cross The Geek Feminist Revolution off my TBR. I've enjoyed the little I've read so far and heard amazing things about the rest of it, so I'm hoping to really love this one - plus I'd like to read more 2016 releases in 2016!

What are you reading this week?

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Top Ten Tuesday | My Summer TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week you compile a list of ten books which coincide with that week's theme. You can find everything you need to know about joining in here!

This week's theme is a freebie, so I'm going to share my summer TBR with you!

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson: I received an eARC of this book from NetGalley which I still haven't read because I've been saving it for the summer months - I think it sounds lovely.

Summer Days & Summer Nights ed. by Stephanie Perkins: I really enjoyed My True Love Gave to Me, so I'm looking forward to diving into this summery anthology!

Diving Belles by Lucy Wood: My family and I are off to Cornwall in the last week of July. and I'm planning to take Diving Belles with me; this is a short story collection in which all of the stories have been inspired by Cornish folklore, making it the perfect book to take on holiday with me!

The Muse by Jessie Burton: I loved The Miniaturist so, naturally, I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of Burton's second novel at the end of this month.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray: I'm pretty sure Beauty Queens was on my summer TBR last year too, but I still haven't got around to reading it - it sounds like a great read for the summer, and I'm looking forward to some tongue-in-cheek, feminist fun!

The Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger: I finally read Soulless this month and had so much fun with it that I'm planning to read the rest of the series, and I'd love to get all of the books under my belt over the summer.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë: As it's Charlotte Brontë's bicentenary this year, it only seems right to re-read her most famous novel. I love Jane Eyre but it's been quite a while since I read it, so I'd love to read it again this summer.

Which books made your list this week?

Monday, 27 June 2016

Review | The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

by Neil Gaiman

My Rating: 

This is what he remembers, as he sits by the ocean at the end of the lane:

A dead man on the back seat of the car, and warm milk at the farmhouse; An ancient little girl, and an old woman who saw the moon being made; A beautiful housekeeper with a monstrous smile; And dark forces woken that were best left undisturbed.

They are memories hard to believe, waiting at the edges of things. The recollections of a man who thought he was lost but is now, perhaps, remembering a time when he was saved...

I've heard nothing but praise for The Ocean at the End of the Lane since its publication, but while I love Neil Gaiman's work I didn't get around to reading his latest novel until this year. I have to be in the right kind of mood for Gaiman's work, but Natalie @ A Sea Change and I have been taking part in our own version of the Book Buddy-A-Thon and this was the book she chose for me so I was glad of the excuse to cross it off my TBR.

For some reason I always find Gaiman's work difficult to review, but I like to try and review every book I read so here goes nothing!

The Ocean at the End of the Lane follows our nameless narrator as he returns home for his father's funeral and finds himself reminiscing about a peculiar time in his childhood that involved a suicidal lodger, a monster in a beautiful disguise and three witches who lived down the lane.

I've come away from The Ocean at the End of the Lane not quite sure how to feel about it. Like all of Gaiman's work it's beautifully written, so imaginative and wonderfully whimsical; it has a fairy tale quality to it, despite not being a fairy tale, as so much of Gaiman's work does, but having said that it didn't make me feel as much as I'd hoped it would.

I love whimsy. I grew up on fairy tales, Disney movies and classic films like The NeverEnding Story and Labyrinth, but I find some of Gaiman's work more focused on whimsy than substance. I feel like I'm not being fair saying that because I liked The Ocean at the End of the Lane a lot, and parts of it are just beautiful, but I came away from novels like The Graveyard Book and American Gods feeling a lot more and I like to come away feeling something.

Basically what I'm trying to say, not very eloquently, is that The Ocean at the End of the Lane isn't my favourite of Gaiman's novels, but it's still wonderful and I still recommend you check it out. If you've yet to read any Gaiman this would be a brilliant place to start!

Friday, 24 June 2016

The Indecent Minority

Screw you Farage. Today I'm ashamed to be English, and proud to be part of the 'indecent minority' who voted to remain in the EU. 75% of people in my age group voted to remain, so I will have to live with the consequences of the older generation's decision long after they've passed away.

I'm glad to live in a country where I have a right to vote, where we are a democracy, and now that the UK has decided I suppose we'll have to do our best with what we have, but we've lost more money this morning alone than we ever would have 'lost' giving to the EU. Farage has already claimed money once given to the EU will not be going into the NHS, despite many people voting Leave because they thought that's where the money would be going. This is what happens when you put your faith in a man like Nigel Farage.

I'm devastated. I want to be part of the EU - I want to live in a Britain that gives as much as it takes, not a Britain that tries to take as much as it can without giving back. I want to live in a Britain that isn't against immigration, that isn't ruled by racism and xenophobia. There's no such thing as 'Great' Britain, because we were never 'great'. There's no such thing as a United Kingdom, because judging by the way things are likely to go Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson will go down in history as the people who split the UK, and if it does split I'm hoping the Scots won't mind if I go and live with them instead.

Today's a sad, sad day.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

This Week in Books | 22/06/16

This week I'm joining in with Lipsy @ Lipsyy Lost & Found to talk about the books I've been reading recently!

Now: I was thrilled to receive an eARC of Silvia Moreno-Garcia's new novel, Certain Dark Things, from NetGalley. If you've been following my blog for a while you'll know I adored her debut, Signal to Noise, and with Certain Dark Things not being published until October I'm so excited to have the chance to read it early. I've only read the first few chapters as I wanted to finish another book first, but I'm aiming to read it this week. Look out for my review nearer the publication date!

Then: I've now officially read some Gail Carriger, an author whose work has been on my TBR for a long time, and I really enjoyed Soulless. More than anything it's just a lot of fun; it was an easy, enjoyable read, just what I needed, and I'm looking forward to continuing on with the series. Look out for my review of Soulless next week!

Next: Unfortunately Longbow Girl has fallen to the wayside now that I have Certain Dark Things in my life. I'm really looking forward to carrying on with it, I want to read more time travel books, I just want to read Certain Dark Things first.

What are you reading right now?

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Top Ten Tuesday | My Favourite Books

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week you compile a list of ten books which coincide with that week's theme. You can find everything you need to know about joining in here!

This week's theme is 'Top Ten Favourite 2016 Releases So Far This Year', but I can't do that because I haven't read much so far this year, certainly haven't read many 2016 releases so far this year, and haven't read many favourites so far this year. So instead I'm going to talk about my favourite books of all time!

Childhood Favourites

Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl: I had a real hard time trying to decide whether I was going to put Fantastic Mr. Fox or The Magic Finger on this list. Like many, many children all around the world I grew up on Roald Dahl, he's the children's author, and while I love so much of his work, for whatever reason it was always Fantastic Mr. Fox I requested at bedtime. In fact my dad read this to me so many times (at my request) that I knew it off by heart. I loved books about animals when I was a little girl, and I think I loved Fantastic Mr. Fox so much because it was about animals outsmarting humans. This book is always close to my heart, and The Magic Finger is a very, very, very, very close second.

Witch Child by Celia Rees: I think I've mentioned this book many times now on my blog, but it's Celia Rees I have to thank for first getting me into historical fiction when I read Pirates! when I was about eleven or twelve years old. I read Witch Child when I was around fourteen and just loved it. It's influenced so much of what I read and what I write to this day, and a few years ago I was lucky enough to meet Celia Rees and get my copy signed!

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling: Obviously Harry Potter was going to get a mention on this list, how could it not? I don't think The Order of the Phoenix is the most popular book in the series, but it's always been my favourite despite the fact that it's the book in which my favourite character dies. I wrote a blog post all about why I love it so much here if you want to check it out!

Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman: I'm pretty sure I read this book around the same time I read Witch Child, maybe a year later, and it broke me. If you haven't read this book yet, you need to; Blackman addresses racism in such a clever way, and I adore Sephy and Callum.

Sabriel by Garth Nix: Another book I first read when I was around fourteen. I love Lirael and Abhorsen too, and as far as readers go I think Lirael tends to be a little more popular, but I'll forever have a soft spot for the very first book in this series, with a heroine who first introduced me to the idea that a fantasy book about a woman doesn't have to have a romance at the heart of it.

Recent Favourites

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters: Sarah Waters is one of my favourite authors, and while Fingersmith is also a fantastic book it's The Little Stranger I love most. It's slow and spooky and so well executed, and I haven't stopped thinking about it since I read it.

Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Here we have one of the only books partially set during high school that's actually reminded me of how it felt to be a teenager. This book means an awful lot to me for reasons I'm probably never going to discuss on here because they're just too close to my heart, but as well as that personal affinity I felt to this book it also just so happens to be a fantastic story with fantastic characters. If you love magical realism, music and misfits, you need this book in your life!

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison: This is the kind of high fantasy I love. It's not about the end of the world or defeating a dark lord, it's a coming of age story mixed with courtly intrigue and some of the best fictional characters I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. I love this book.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers: To me, this is the sci-fi equivalent of The Goblin Emperor. It's a bit funnier, a little like reading Firefly, but it's science fiction that doesn't involve the future of the galaxy being at stake; instead the story revolves around a group of people on a journey in an enclosed space, and Chambers uses this setting to explore ideas about gender, sexuality, family and what it means to be human. This book is exquisite.

Feed by Mira Grant: I sobbed when I finished this book. I'm still not over it.

Which books made your list this week? I'm looking forward to some 2016 recommendations!

Monday, 20 June 2016

Review | Unicorn Tracks by Julia Ember

by Julia Ember

My Rating: 

After a savage attack drives her from her home, sixteen-year-old Mnemba finds a place in her cousin Tumelo’s successful safari business, where she quickly excels as a guide. Surrounding herself with nature and the mystical animals inhabiting the savannah not only allows Mnemba’s tracking skills to shine, it helps her to hide from the terrible memories that haunt her.

Mnemba is employed to guide Mr. Harving and his daughter, Kara, through the wilderness as they study unicorns. The young women are drawn to each other, despite that fact that Kara is betrothed. During their research, they discover a conspiracy by a group of poachers to capture the Unicorns and exploit their supernatural strength to build a railway. Together, they must find a way to protect the creatures Kara adores while resisting the love they know they can never indulge.

If you somehow didn't already know, I love unicorns. I also love stories that feature leading LGBT+ ladies. So when I discovered that Julia Ember's debut novel combined these two things, I knew I had to have it.

I've had the pleasure of speaking to Julia Ember quite a bit on Twitter and she's absolutely lovely, as is her debut.

Unicorn Tracks takes place in a world not entirely unlike our own where fantastical creatures are the norm. It's common for tourists to travel to Nazwimbe to go on safari and see everything from mermaids to phoenixes, but unicorns are somewhat rarer, so when safari guide and tracker Mnemba is given the job of leading a researcher and his daughter, Kara, into the wilderness in search of unicorns she has a real challenge on her hand, especially when they discover that unicorns are going missing.

Mnemba and Kara decide to investigate and stumble into something much bigger than they anticipated, all while trying to resist the growing attraction between them.

I love the ideas behind Unicorn Tracks; as far as I'm concerned there are way too few unicorns in fiction, and I mean that in all seriousness. There are classics like The Last Unicorn and they pop up in series such as Harry Potter, but they're very rarely included as a main feature in a story, especially if said story isn't aimed at children. There are dragons, vampires, werewolves, mermaids and faeries everywhere, but unicorns have been left behind.

What I love about Unicorn Tracks is this completely new take on unicorns; I've never seen them in anything but a European/European-inspired setting, so to place them as safari animals in a country that I'm assuming is an alternate Zimbabwe is such an original idea and I loved it. I mean if I could go on safari and see unicorns I so would, and I'd never want to leave.

Ember's characters are a lot of fun, too. Through Mnemba and Kara, Ember explores themes of forgiveness, choice and cultural differences, and I really appreciated that this is a book with an LGBT+ relationship at its centre that isn't about the characters' sexuality. 

The only thing I wanted from this book was more. I think Unicorn Tracks could have benefited from being longer, as there'd be more time to discuss everything Ember has included; the story, and Mnemba and Kara's relationship in particular, felt a little too rushed for me. There's so much here that's great, so I would have loved even more scenes of Mnemba and Kara exploring the wilderness and encountering even more mythological creatures.

What's most exciting about Unicorn Tracks is what else we can expect from Ember as an author. We need more voices in fiction that don't treat LGBT+ characters like parables of what it means to identify as queer, but instead write fun, exciting stories where the characters just so happen to be LGBT+.

I'm looking forward to whatever Ember does next!

Friday, 17 June 2016

Review | Among Others by Jo Walton

by Jo Walton

My Rating: 

Raised by a half-mad mother who dabbled in magic, Morwenna Phelps found refuge in two worlds. As a child growing up in Wales, she played among the spirits who made their homes in industrial ruins. But her mind found freedom and promise in the science fiction novels that were her closest companions. Then her mother tried to bend the spirits to dark ends, and Mori was forced to confront her in a magical battle that left her crippled--and her twin sister dead.

Fleeing to her father whom she barely knew, Mori was sent to boarding school in England–a place all but devoid of true magic. There, outcast and alone, she tempted fate by doing magic herself, in an attempt to find a circle of like-minded friends. But her magic also drew the attention of her mother, bringing about a reckoning that could no longer be put off…

I've been meaning to read Among Others for years and constantly putting it off, not only because there's just so much to read but also because I was so certain that I'd love it when I got to it, so why rush? Sadly, it hasn't become the new favourite I hoped it would.

Told entirely in diary entries, Among Others follows Welsh girl Mori who's been sent to boarding school in England after a fight with her mother left Mori crippled and her twin sister dead. Mori and her sister grew up speaking to fairies and practicing magic, while trying to prevent the black magic their mother practices, and there's nothing Mori loves more than reading SFF. When she's sent to boarding school, it's her love of reading, and an SFF book club, that gets her through each day.

I came away from this book with one major thought: it just wasn't for me. This was a bit of a surprise; I'd spent so long hearing so many wonderful things about this book (and perhaps that was part of the problem) that I was disappointed, with myself and with the book, when I realised I wasn't enjoying reading it. This has witches and fairies and books, not to mention it's set in the UK, so why wasn't I feeling it?

I suppose my biggest problem with the book was Mori herself. In all honesty her twin sister, whose nickname was also 'Mori' or 'Mor' due to the girls being called Morwenna and Morgana, interested me a lot more than she did, and we don't even see much of her. Something about Mori got under my skin, and not in a good way.

Firstly, I thought Mori and her sister were about twelve years old until about a third of the way through the novel when it's revealed Mori's fifteen. She still sounded closer to twelve to me. Yes, she thinks about boys and sex - and one thing I will commend Jo Walton for is writing a young girl who masturbates, because too many people think masturbation is something only boys do - but she sounded very juvenile to me, which is especially confusing considering how much she reads. I'd expect her to sound more like Hermione Granger or Lisa Simpson than Sara Crewe.

On the subject of boys, Mori has some strange encounters in this book that are brought up and never mentioned again, and she seems completely undisturbed by either of them. Her estranged father is the one who sends her to school after she flees from her mother, and one night, before she starts attending school, he gets drunk and climbs into bed with her. Thankfully Mori pushes him off, but she's not even remotely upset or confused about what has happened - in fact her reaction is more along the lines of her not really being in the mood. That's your father! Not only are you under the age of consent and unfortunately in the care of someone who's clearly incapable of looking after you properly, but you're literally related to the guy. How can it not bother her that her father tried to sleep with her? She later has an encounter with a boy closer to her own age at a party whom she almost sleeps with, but doesn't because he's only turned on when he feels like he's assaulting her. Mori's reaction isn't to warn any of her friends, it's just to shrug the encounter off as a bit weird and move on, completely fine.

Now fair enough the girl's been through a lot; perhaps, after losing her twin sister, nothing else seems quite as bad, and perhaps, because she is only fifteen, she doesn't really understand the volume of those situations, but this is her diary. The entire book is told through such a personal medium and yet I always felt held at a distance.

'Luckily' Mori's relationship with boys become less worrying as the novel develops, and that's where I had another big problem. Mori starts dating Wim (yes, that's really his name), a guy a couple of years older than herself she meets at her book club, and while I'm all for positive teenage relationships in fiction - I especially loved that Mori went to the GP to seek contraceptive advice just in case she and Wim decided, together, to become sexually active - I think it's a real shame her relationship with Wim is the only real friendship she makes. Also Wim basically dates her because she's 'not like other girls', and Mori loves that.

She speaks to a few girls at school, but for the most part dislikes all of them, and she gets on well with the school librarian and another girl at the book club, whom she sees less and less after she becomes romantically involved with Wim. There's a surprising lack of positive girl friendships in this book. Considering this is a book that features witchcraft, an area of folklore that is pretty much entirely feminine, and a main character who goes to an all girls' boarding school, it's a real shame that the most prominent relationship is between Mori and her boyfriend. Even her twin sister is mentioned a lot less than I would have expected. To me it felt as though as far as Mori was concerned, the whole world revolved around Mori.

As for her mother? Her mother is such a 'bad witch' stereotype that I honestly don't understand how Mori was ever afraid of her. I've seen scarier characters on cereal boxes. This is a shame because Mori's mother is such an enigma for the majority of the novel, there is this sense of fear built up around her, but when we actually meet her it's hard to believe anyone could find her threatening. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed Walton's magic system and I loved the way she describes the fairies, but the final 'battle' between Mori and her mother was so unbelievably underwhelming. I'm pretty sure I scoffed really loudly on the train while reading it, and received a few weird looks because I'd chosen to sit in the quiet carriage. Oops.

I can understand the allure of reading a book about a person who loves to read books, this one was just tiresome. I love books - I wouldn't have a book blog if I didn't - but I also have other interests. Mori doesn't. Each and every day she does nothing but read SFF, and in doing so her diary becomes more like a reading journal in parts, and all the name-dropping of titles and authors gets really old, really fast. I love slow, coming of age stories, but this was samey and dull: we get it, Mori, you like SFF. You're still not better than the rest of us!

I couldn't help wondering if perhaps Walton had made Mori a bookworm in the hopes of making her more likable, as her creator surely she must know that Mori's pretty insufferable, and the sad thing about it is that I would have found Mori fascinating if we weren't meant to like her, if she was the twin who wasn't supposed to live. Instead we have this... horrible, bratty little girl (I know she's been through a lot, but I'm sorry she's still awful) trying to convince us she's SFF's greatest new heroine. Just no.

So as you can tell I really wasn't a fan of this and I'm so disappointed. If nothing else I'm glad I finally crossed it off my TBR, and if it's a book you've been thinking of checking out I recommend it purely and simply because I'm in the minority here; this book is loved by many. If, however, you think you have fairly similar tastes to me I'd stay away from it, it'll just make you mad.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

This Week in Books | 15/06/16

This week I'm joining in with Lipsy @ Lipsyy Lost & Found to talk about the books I've been reading recently!

NOW: 2016 hasn't been a great reading year for me so far, I don't know why; I've been slumpy and uninspired for way too long and I've been waiting for something to come along and that will pull me out of my slump. I don't know if Soulless is going to do it, but one thing I do know is that so far it's a lot of fun. It's so tongue-in-cheek and wonderfully cheesy. I've been meaning to read some Gail Carriger for a very long time, so I'm glad I've finally made a start!

THEN: Last month I finally read Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and I'm still not 100% sure what I thought about it. As with all of Gaiman's work it was very well-written, it just didn't capture me like some of his other work has. Hopefully I'll be able to gather my thoughts into a review soon.

NEXT: Technically I've already started Longbow Girl, I read the first chapter last night on my kindle after buying it on a whim, but I'd like to try and finish Soulless first. Considering I currently live in Wales I've read very little set in Wales, and after enjoying The Girl From Everywhere earlier this year I'm eager to check out more time travel stories.

What are you reading?

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Top Ten Tuesday | Even More Anticipated Releases

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week you compile a list of ten books which coincide with that week's theme. You can find everything you need to know about joining in here!

Back in December I talked about some of my anticipated books for the first half of 2016 (and if I'm being completely honest I still haven't read most of them for a number of reasons) and today I'm back with my anticipated reads for the second half of 2016! These are books which are being released from July-December - with one exception. I'm a lot more excited for these books than my previous anticipated books list, mainly because four of these books are second novels from authors whose debut novels I adored last year.

So, without further ado, here are my ten eight most anticipated releases for the rest of 2016!

As I Descended by Robin Talley: I'm really looking forward to Robin Talley's third novel, which just so happens to be a modern LGBT+ retelling of Macbeth set at a boarding school. Macbeth is my favourite Shakespeare play, so I'm looking forward to seeing how Talley has adapted the original story.

Goldenhand by Garth Nix: Another book in The Old Kingdom series. WITH LIRAEL AS THE PROTAGONIST. I'm so excited I might throw up. Thanks to Micheline @ Lunar Rainbows Reviews for bringing this book to my attention!

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Signal to Noise was one of the best books I read last year, so I can't wait to sink my teeth into Silvia Moreno-Garcia's second novel. I haven't read a vampire book in a long while and I trust Moreno-Garcia to write them well.

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers: I adored The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet - adored it - so I can't wait for this book. I need it in my life now.

Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst: Audrey Coulthurst's debut fantasy novel sounds so much fun. It's got magic and it's got an LGBT+ romance, so I'm already sold.

The Muse by Jessie Burton: So this book is an exception to the rule as it's actually being released right at the end of this month - for some reason I thought it was being released in July so I didn't mention it in my previous anticipated books list, and I couldn't not mention it. I loved The Miniaturist and Burton writes so beautifully that I'm really excited to sink into The Muse.

Feedback by Mira Grant: Another Newsflesh book? Gimme gimme gimme!

The Good People by Hannah Kent: I loved Hannah Kent's debut novel Burial Rites, so I was very excited to learn she's bringing out her second novel in October. This book sounds like it includes a lot of allusions to folklore, and has the potential to be magical realism meets historical fiction. Whatever it turns out to be I'm sure it'll be beautiful and I can't wait to read it.

Which books made your list this week?

Monday, 13 June 2016

Second Novels I Can't Wait For!

I never used to be much of an author follower. When I was younger the only author whose work I'd consciously seek out was Jacqueline Wilson, and while I've often read books by the same author, whether they're in the same series or not, I never used to be too interested in checking out an author's backlist. I don't know why - maybe for no other reason than that there are so many authors in the world I want to read as many as I can, or maybe for no reason at all. Maybe I just never used to notice.

Now, though, I'm a lot more eager to seek out an author's other work if I enjoyed one of their novels. Last year I read four debut novels that I adored and all four authors have a second novel coming out this year, three of which I've already pre-ordered and I'm eagerly anticipating, so I thought I'd share them with you for no other reason than that I think these authors deserve attention.

Hannah Kent's 2013 debut, Burial Rites, was the first book I read last year and it was exquisite. Emotional and haunting, Burial Rites is a fictionalised account of the last months of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last woman to be executed in Iceland. It's historical fiction at its best, and if Hannah Kent can write so fantastically for her debut I can't wait to see what awaits in her second novel. Kent recently announced that her second novel, The Good People, will be released in October; it's more historical fiction, this time set in 19th century Ireland with the possibility of some Changeling folklore. I can't wait! I don't think it's actually coming out in the UK until 2017, but I'm going to try and get my hands on a copy this year if I can because I want it in my life. Check out my review of Burial Rites here.

If you were following my blog last year then you probably got sick of me talking about Silvia Moreno-Garcia, but when I enjoy a novel as much as I enjoyed her 2015 debut, Signal to Noise, I have to rave about it. Moreno-Garcia is also releasing her second novel in October, Certain Dark Things, and I'm so excited to get my hands on it! Also set in Mexico City, it features drug lord vampires. I'm sold. Check out my review of Signal to Noise here.

Published in 2014, Jessie Burton's debut, The Miniaturist, basically took over the publishing world and it's no surprise why. Like Burial Rites, The Miniaturist is historical fiction written so beautifully it's hard to believe it's Burton's first novel. Thankfully her second novel, The Muse, is coming out at the end of this month, so I don't have to wait quite as long for it! The Muse is also historical fiction, set in England in the '60s and Spain in the '30s - I listened to Burton read a couple of extracts from it here and I'm so looking forward to reading it. Check out my review of The Miniaturist here.

Becky Chambers' debut, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, was another of my favourite reads of 2015, and easily one of my favourite books of all time. It's definitely my favourite sci-fi book - it's the kind of sci-fi I've always wanted. In October Chambers is releasing A Closed and Common Orbit, which is set in the same universe as The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet but isn't a direct sequel, and I'm hoping to love it just as much. Check out my review of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet here.

Are you looking forward to any of these releases?

Friday, 10 June 2016

Review | Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

by Daphne du Maurier

My Rating: 

Her mother's dying request takes Mary Yellan on a sad journey across the bleak moorland of Cornwall to reach Jamaica Inn, the home of her Aunt Patience. With the coachman's warning echoing in her memory, Mary arrives at a dismal place to find Patience a changed woman, cowering from her overbearing husband, Joss Merlyn. 

Affected by the Inn's brooding power, Mary is thwarted in her attention to reform her aunt, and unwillingly drawn into the dark deeds of Joss and his accomplices. And, as she struggles with events beyond her control, Mary is further thrown by her feelings for a man she dare not trust...

If Daphne du Maurier had only ever written Rebecca, she'd still be a famous author now. Luckily for us, du Maurier wrote a heck of a lot!

Rebecca, Frenchman's Creek and Jamaica Inn are du Maurier's most well-known novels, and as I've already read Rebecca and Frenchman's Creek, I figured it was about time I got Jamaica Inn under my belt - especially as I might be visiting the real Jamaica Inn later this year!

For me du Maurier is such an easy author to read; I open a du Maurier book and I sink into the story, and Jamaica Inn was no different. Mary Yellan, like all of du Maurier's heroines I've read so far, is so present and jumps from the page. What I love about du Maurier is that she wrote so much, a lot of it historical fiction, and yet none of her work ever feels samey; The Second Mrs. de Winter, Dona St. Columb and Mary Yellan are all so separate from each other, and when pretty much everything du Maurier wrote is compared with Rebecca I love that she wrote so many different kinds of stories so it's almost impossible to directly compare any of her other work with Rebecca. (Aside, perhaps, from My Cousin Rachel, which I've heard is the closest of her novels to Rebecca).

Where Dona St. Columb is privileged and selfish and The Second Mrs. de Winter is meek and shy, Mary Yellan is a tough, salt of the earth kind of girl; she's not afraid of hard work and she's no stranger to how difficult life can be. Mary doesn't have any fantasies about falling passionately in love or becoming an advocate for woman's rights, she just wants to live in the countryside and run her own farm. But when your fate's in Daphne du Maurier's hands, you're destined for something more troublesome than farmwork.

After Mary's beloved mother dies she's sent to Bodmin Moor to live with her Aunt Patience at Jamaica Inn, but when she arrives she discovers that the bubbly, lovely woman she remembers has transformed into a woman who is constantly terrified, thanks to her brutish husband Joss Merlyn. Mary works at her uncle and aunt's inn, where no one ever stays, and soon discovers Jamaica Inn's dangerous secret, all while battling the strange attraction she feels to Joss's younger brother, Jem.

Considering Jamaica Inn was written before Rebecca, I've always thought it unfair that readers who read Rebecca first mark Jamaica Inn down because it isn't Rebecca, but now that I've read Jamaica Inn myself, having read Rebecca, I can understand their point of view a whole lot more. I didn't compare Jamaica Inn with Rebecca, they're two very different stories, but they do have similar themes; they're both fairly Gothic, with heroines in isolated places that feel like characters in their own right, and questionable love interests. In my edition of Jamaica Inn there's an introduction from historical fiction author Sarah Dunant, who claims that in Jamaica Inn it's easy to see that du Maurier was 'on her way' to Rebecca, and I'd agree with that, there's just that extra something missing from Jamaica Inn that makes Rebecca so special.

The more I think about it, the more I think the main problem I had with Jamaica Inn is that it's trying to be two different novels at once. Set in Cornwall, at the height of Cornish smuggling, there's not quite enough action to make this an adventurous, historical romp - Mary spends most of her time cooped up in Jamaica Inn or wandering alone on Bodmin Moor - but at the same time it's not quite slow-moving and atmospheric enough to be the kind of Gothic novel that Rebecca is. It never fully satisfies either type of story, so I couldn't fall in love with it the same way I fell in love with du Maurier's other work.

While this may be my least favourite du Maurier so far, though I still really enjoyed it, I do think Jamaica Inn has a fascinating villain. I won't say too much, I don't want to spoil it for anyone (though I have a feeling the villain is fairly obvious once you get into the book) but he was both unsettling and yet strangely enticing. In fact the villain may have been my favourite character in the book, because while Mary is written very well, as are Jem, Joss and Patience, she just didn't capture me quite as much as the villain did.

As I said above Mary is very different from the other du Maurier heroines I've met, and that I did really appreciate; both Dona and The Second Mrs. de Winter are romantic people, in very different ways, and while Mary does experience a romance of her own it's very different to the other du Maurier books I've read. Mary thinks about romance in the same way she thinks about animals on the farm - at some point it's natural for them to gravitate towards a member of the opposite sex, even produce offspring, but it's not something they think passionately about, if they think about it at all. I found it really refreshing to meet a heroine who was written in the '30s who has such a casual, practical opinion of relationships.

Ultimately Jamaica Inn is well-written, easy to read and a lot of fun, as well as being sinister in places, and I did enjoy it. If you ever find yourself stranded on Bodmin Moor, this would be the perfect book to have with you!