Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Top Ten Tuesday | Comic Comic Comic Comic Comic Chameleon

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 'All about the visuals', so I'm going to share with you the graphic novels that are on my TBR!

The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg: I read Greenberg's The One Hundred Nights of Hero (reviewed here) and really enjoyed it, so I'm interested in checking out more of her work.

Ladycastle by Delilah Dawson and Ashley Woods: This is a retelling of the Arthurian legends with women at the centre. Yes please.

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki: I read the Tamakis' other graphic novel, Skim, a couple of years ago and loved it, so I'd like to check out this one too.

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler, John Jennings and Damian Duffy: I'm fascinated to see how this story has been adapted into a graphic format, and even though it's harrowing I'm totally drawn in by that cover.

Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh: Despite only being a few years old this feels like one of those classics I should have read by now. It really doesn't seem right to me to leave out that extra 'u' though...

Fun Home and Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel: I haven't read any Alison Bechdel yet and that's something I need to change, especially as she's the creator of the Bechdel Test. Fun Home is something of a classic, but I really like the sound of Are You My Mother? too.

Baba Yaga's Assistant by Marika McCoola and Emily Carroll: This looks so fun, and I feel like I haven't actually read many stories featuring Baba Yaga. I liked Emily Carroll's Through the Woods a lot, so I'd like to see more of her illustrations and I love the colours on the cover.

Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton: How have I not read this yet? I love Beaton's Step Aside, Pops so I need to read this one, too.

The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil by Stephen Collins: I've yet to hear a bad thing about this graphic novel. It's just so huge (the book that is, not the beard).

Which books made your list this week?

Monday, 30 January 2017

Review | McTavish Manor by Inés G. Labarta

by Inés G. Labarta

My Rating:

Scotland, 1803. A rejected marriage proposal compels a doctor to escape to the Highlands, where he takes care of a local family. What started being as a rural retirement soon becomes a dangerous challenge when he realises that the inhabitants of the house are more threatening than the wild mountains themselves. In the cruellest point of the winter, a mysterious illness descends on the house, turning people into monsters. The servants claim that a bhampair is hiding among them, but Mrs McLean doesn’t give credit to their pagan beliefs and tries to find a logical explanation. The doctor wants to develop a vaccine against the disease, but he is hunted by the memories of his bloody past. Who is the real monster inside the isolated mansion in Glenfinnan?

I was sent a copy of McTavish Manor by the author in exchange for an honest review.

If there's one thing I enjoy more than historical fiction, it's Gothic historical fiction, so when I was offered the chance to review McTavish Manor I wasn't about to say no.

Set in the spooky landscape of the Scottish Highlands, McTavish Manor is a grotesque and darkly erotic tale of superstition, science and the ways in which we can turn mad and turn on each other when we're isolated. Reading this felt like reading something written in the 19th century, and I mean that in the best possible way; I took a module in Victorian Gothic in my third year of university and ended up reading a lot of short ghost stories and monster novellas for the course, and McTavish Manor is a wonderful homage to all those earlier works while still being a completely original tale in and of itself. This is the kind of story that Crimson Peak should have been.

Like many of the great Gothic stories of yore, such as Dracula and The Moonstone, McTavish Manor is partly an epistolary novella; our two scientists (one far more experimental and a little more unhinged than the other) give their accounts of the goings-on at the Manor in the form of a diary and letters, which is always a fun way to read a book as we're only told what the characters choose to share with us, or with whoever they believe will be reading the documents. What I loved most, however, is that sections in first person were dedicated to Mrs. McTavish's Yoruba servant - Mrs. McTavish refers to her only as 'dubh', the Gaelic word for 'black' - and I always enjoy it when direct voices are given back to the voiceless in historical fiction.

The real star of this novella, however, is Labarta herself. This is an excellent book if you enjoy the way a book is written as much as the story itself, perhaps even more so. Labarta doesn't sugar-coat anything - when I say this novella is dark, it really is dark - but she writes it so brilliantly and with such attention to detail that it never feels melodramatic, never erases the feeling of unease that seeps through the pages. This is the very beginning of a new author with real, raw talent for writing, and I'm really looking forward to whatever she does next.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Review | The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark

by Muriel Spark

My Rating:

Lise is thin, neither good-looking nor bad-looking. One day she walks out of her office, acquires a gaudy new outfit, adopts a girlier tone of voice, and heads to the airport to fly south. On the plane she takes a seat between two men. One is delighted with her company, the other is deeply perturbed. So begins an unnerving journey into the darker recesses of human nature.

I read my first Muriel Spark novel last year when I finally read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and I enjoyed it enough to check out more of Spark's work. I'd heard so many good things about The Driver's Seat and now that I've read it I can safely say it's probably one of the most disturbing books I've ever read. And I really liked it.

This is one of those books that deserves to be read in one sitting - it's only around 100 pages long, so it can easily be read in one night - and once it's finished there's a good chance you'll need to let it stew before you can figure out how you feel about it, but however you feel at the end of it this book is certainly an experience.

Lise, bored with her office job, decides to go on holiday, but everything has to be perfect. She finds a new outfit, creates a new persona for herself and sits between two men on the plane. What follows is deliciously dark.

It's difficult to review this book without giving anything away, and while Spark herself tells the reader what's going to happen at the end long before the end I don't really want to spoil the surprise for anyone out there who wants to read it. (If you'd like to read a review that includes spoilers, check out my review on Goodreads here). All I will say is that The Driver's Seat was described (by Muriel Spark herself, I believe) as a whydunnit rather than a whodunnit; who commits the crime within these pages isn't important, but why the crime is committed is the focus of the book and it's written so brilliantly. Spark has a real talent for writing peculiar, unhinged women and it wouldn't surprise me if Gillian Flynn had learned a thing or two from her.

I would have liked to have gotten into Lise's head a little more, which is why I didn't give The Driver's Seat five stars. We're always held at a distance from her, though the book still packs a real punch, but I'm not sure if I got enough why from this whydunnit or if Spark intended for us to fill in the blanks ourselves. This book will stay with me, though, and I'm going to be recommending the hell out of it to people just so I have someone I can talk to about it.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

This Week in Books | 25/01/2017

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

Now: I really, really enjoyed The Fifth Season, so much so that I immediately bought a copy of The Obelisk Gate and I think I might be enjoying this one even more. It's frustrating to know that once I finish this I'm going to have to wait until August for The Stone Sky.

Then: Unfortunately I had to DNF The Winter Witch. I got bored and I wasn't keen on the characters; the heroine was irritating and the villains were stereotypical.

Next: I'm planning to continue with my DiverseAThon reading and finish The Other Half of Happiness once I finish The Obelisk Gate, as I was very kindly sent an ARC by the publisher. I'd like to get on top of my ARCs this year!

What have you been reading recently?

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Top Ten Tuesday | DiverseAThon Recommendations

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 as it's currently DiverseAThon I thought I'd share some of my recommendations with you for anyone who's taking part! There's a focus on #OwnVoices this DiverseAThon - e.g. an LGBT+ book written by an LGBT+ author - so that's my focus here, too.

For more information about DiverseAThon, check out these videos!

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie: This has to be one of my favourite fairy tale inspired stories out there, all about the power of older stories and how they influence our stories of the future. The 1001 Nights is a particular inspiration behind this book, so if you're a fan of A Thousand Nights, The One Hundred Nights of Hero or The Wrath & the Dawn and you haven't read this yet, you're missing out!

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley: This is Talley's debut and I loved it. Set in 1959, it explores a mixed-race, LGBT+ romance in an American high school that has started to admit black students for the very first time. It's heartbreaking, but so worth reading given the current political climate.

Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: I take every chance I can get to mention this book because I love it so very much, and it's such a unique take on witchcraft. Moreno-Garcia is a Mexican writer and both her published novels, Signal to Noise and Certain Dark Things, take place in Mexico City with a Mexican cast. She's so worth reading if you haven't already!

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng: My favourite book of 2016, this is Ng's debut and follows a mixed race family in 1970s America after the death of one of the family's children. It's harrowing, but so well-written and well-plotted and just so good.

Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman: This is pretty much a classic by now, right? This is a must-read.

Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik: I really enjoyed this when I read it last year, and it made me realise how few books I've read that feature Muslim characters, never mind a Muslim protagonist. It's so much fun, and funny, but also knows when to be serious and is just really worth reading.

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters: If you're new to LGBT+ fiction and you're not sure where to start, may I present you with Sarah Waters. Five of Waters' six publish novels feature lesbian protagonists and Fingersmith is widely considered to be her masterpiece - it's definitely a fun one to start with if you're new to her work!

The Good Immigrant ed. by Nikesh Shukla: Such an important book. Read it, read it, read it.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin: This must be the most diverse fantasy book I've ever read, and on top of that it's written and plotted fantastically, too. Highly recommended!

The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: I love Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This is her only short story collection and if you're interested in fiction set in Nigeria written by a Nigerian, then you need to pick this book up.

What did you talk about this week?

Monday, 23 January 2017

Review | The Good Immigrant ed. by Nikesh Shukla

ed. by Nikesh Shukla

My Rating:

How does it feel to be constantly regarded as a potential threat, strip-searched at every airport?

Or be told that, as an actress, the part you’re most fitted to play is ‘wife of a terrorist’? How does it feel to have words from your native language misused, misappropriated and used aggressively towards you? How does it feel to hear a child of colour say in a classroom that stories can only be about white people? How does it feel to go ‘home’ to India when your home is really London? What is it like to feel you always have to be an ambassador for your race? How does it feel to always tick ‘Other’?

Bringing together 21 exciting black, Asian and minority ethnic voices emerging in Britain today, The Good Immigrant explores why immigrants come to the UK, why they stay and what it means to be ‘other’ in a country that doesn’t seem to want you, doesn’t truly accept you – however many generations you’ve been here – but still needs you for its diversity monitoring forms.

Inspired by discussion around why society appears to deem people of colour as bad immigrants – job stealers, benefit scroungers, undeserving refugees – until, by winning Olympic races or baking good cakes, or being conscientious doctors, they cross over and become good immigrants, editor Nikesh Shukla has compiled a collection of essays that are poignant, challenging, angry, humorous, heartbreaking, polemic, weary and – most importantly – real.

This book has been on my radar since I first heard Nikesh Shukla talking about it at last year's London Book Fair, where I was lucky enough to hear him talk about the time he sent a porkchop into space. Yeah. That happened.

In the current political climate after the complete shitstorm that was 2016, this is one of the most important books that any British person - or any person anywhere - should read. Even if you don't read much non-fiction or you're not keen on essay collections, I can promise you that this book is worth reading. Especially if, like me, you're white, privileged and currently living in the country you were born in.

It's natural for us to be on edge if we think we're about to read something that's going to accuse us of racism. No one likes being accused of being racist - especially racists. The thing about racism is that you can be racist without really realising it; as a white person I have no right to tell a person of colour that something I just said to them wasn't offensive, especially if it's something they've felt offended by. The only thing I'm not privileged in is the fact that I'm a woman, and I know I hate it when a guy says something offensive to me and then tries to argue that it's not offensive because he didn't mean it that way. 

The Good Immigrant is the perfect antidote to ignorance, and while some of the essayists are very angry - and rightfully so - the collection as a whole doesn't feel like an attack, instead it feels like a group of people trying to explain why we shouldn't believe that there's no such thing as racism anymore, that just because you might not be racist isn't the point because racism isn't going to go away unless you start calling people out on their ignorance, even if those people are friends and family. Especially if those people are friends and family.

As with all collections there were some essays I enjoyed more than others; I particularly enjoyed the essays written by actors because I'm always interested in the representation of poc in film and the media, but there wasn't a single essay I disliked and every single one of them made me think and made me consider what more I can do to stop my country from becoming the next Nazi Germany. That may seem like I'm being over-dramatic, but so many of the views being spouted by people in politics right now are the same views that were being thrown around Germany in the 1930s. Nigel Farage has directed hatred towards immigrants in the same way Hitler directed hatred towards Europe's Jewish population and it's dangerous.

Basically I loved this collection and I do genuinely believe it's one of the most important books around at the moment. Please read it.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

#DiverseAThon 2.0 TBR

DiverseAThon is back!

I'm sure it'll come as no surprise, if you've been following my blog for a while, that I'm a huge, huge lover of diversity in the publishing industry, in the media and, most importantly, in our stories - in whatever format those stories happen to take. I'm not perfect by any stretch of the imagination; I'm privileged and white and I'm sure there's a whole lot of crap I still perpetuate despite my constant work to improve myself and become a better human being. That's why I love to read diversely, particularly from diverse authors, because that's how I learn and get called out on the crappy stuff I may still be doing without even realising it. Ignorance is forgivable if I'm prepared to learn to do better, but that still doesn't excuse it.

Anyhoo, DiverseAThon was started over on BookTube last year as a response to a video that I'm not going to bother linking because it made me very angry, in which someone essentially tried to argue that we don't need diversity in our books anymore, that diversity isn't needed anymore.

Smell that? It's bullshit.

Sadly I was in a horrible slump when the last DiverseAThon came about, so I couldn't do anything more than recommend a few books/authors over on Twitter, but this year the DiverseAThon is back - from the 22nd-29th January - and I'm going to take part. So I've made myself a small TBR, and while I'm still not a big fan of TBRs these are a small selection of books that I'd like to read at least one or two of during the week, though I might pick up something else instead, but I thought I'd share them with you - not only to share these books with you, but also to share DiverseAThon with you just in case you weren't already aware of it. If you'd like to know more, here are some videos all about it!

The Other Half of Happiness by Ayisha Malik: I read and really enjoyed Sofia Khan is Not Obliged (reviewed here) last year, and I was contacted by the publisher who kindly sent me an ARC of the sequel which is due to be released in April. I've actually started this one already and it's so readable, just as the first one was, and I love reading about a Muslim protagonist written by a Muslim writer. Considering stories centred around Islam can often be so dark and racially stereotypical, it's super refreshing to read what is essentially Muslim Chick Lit. No, not even that - it's Chick Lit that just happens to have Muslims in it.

The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin: I've been in the mood to get back into fantasy in 2017 and after Natalie @ A Sea Change recommended Jemisin to me I bought and read The Fifth Season, and I really enjoyed it. I'm a bad finisher, which is why one of my 2017 Resolutions is to finish a series this year, so I want to continue with this trilogy. Not only is Jemisin herself an author of colour, but this has to be the most diverse fantasy series I have ever read. Ever. I don't know if I'll get to this during DiverseAThon, but I'm planning to read it soon either way.

As I Descended by Robin Talley: This is another ARC I received last year and still haven't read because I'm secretly a terrible person. I loved Robin Talley's debut, Lies We Tell Ourselves (reviewed here), and As I Descended is a lesbian retelling of Macbeth written by an LGBT+ author. Why haven't I read this yet? All of Talley's novels focus on the LGBT+ community, particularly lesbian relationships, and I think she's a super important voice in the YA world.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi: I've heard nothing but amazing things about this one and I love the sound of the way it's written. I'd really like to get to this one during DiverseAThon if I can, but I'm not going to beat myself up if I don't.

What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi: I've read the first story in this collection and I really enjoyed it, and then I put it down for a reason I can't remember. I really like the way Oyeyemi writes, though, so if I could return to and finish this collection during DiverseAThon that'd be great!

Love & Other Poisons by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: You all know how much I love Silvia Moreno-Garcia by now. Her debut novel, Signal to Noise (reviewed here), is one of my favourite books of all time, her second novel, Certain Dark Things (reviewed here), is fantastic, and I really enjoyed her short story collection, This Strange Way of Dying (reviewed here). Her third novel, The Beautiful Ones, is being released in October, so I've been saving her other short story collection, Love & Other Poisons, to fill the void in my Moreno-Garcialess life until October. She's such an original voice in the realm of speculative fiction and I can't recommend her enough.

Are you taking part in DiverseAThon? What are you planning to read?

Friday, 20 January 2017

Review | The One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg

by Isabel Greenberg

My Rating:

From the author who brought you The Encyclopedia of Early Earth comes another Epic Tale of Derring-Do. Prepare to be dazzled once more by the overwhelming power of stories and see Love prevail in the face of Terrible Adversity! You will read of betrayal, loyalty, madness, bad husbands, lovers both faithful and unfaithful, wise old crones, moons who come out of the sky, musical instruments that won't stay quiet, friends and brothers and fathers and mothers and above all, many, many sisters.

If you say: lesbian retelling of The 1001 Nights, I say: gimme gimme gimme!

When it comes to fairy tale retellings I usually end up reading the Brothers Grimm with a fresh lick of paint, so to read a story inspired by The 1001 Nights instead is always refreshing. To read a retelling with the added twist of LGBT+ protagonists is even better - frankly I think we need more LGBT+ retellings in the world.

I haven't read Isabel Greenberg's The Encyclopedia of Early Earth but I know it was very popular upon its release, but I heard so many people talking about The One Hundred Nights of Hero, and plenty of people including it in their list of favourite reads of 2016, that I couldn't resist picking a copy up for myself. It's been a while since I read a graphic novel and reading this one was like reading Through the Woods meets Nimona: it's a gorgeous tribute to the power of storytelling (and what is The 1001 Nights if not a testament to the power of a good story?) that's both bittersweet at times and brilliantly funny at others.

Hero and Cherry are lovers in a land where women are second-class citizens, and when Cherry's idiot husband makes a horrible bargain with his idiot friend that said friend won't be able to seduce Cherry over the course of one hundred nights, Hero, who works as Cherry's handmaiden, tells the 'gentleman' stories that distract him from his less-than-noble quest. The novel subsequently weaves in and out of stories with women at their centre, stories that are both dark and whimsical.

I love the clever ways the stories link to one another, the way they cross the line between fantasy and reality in Hero and Cherry's world, and the art style is lovely. Reading this has definitely made me want to check out more of Greenberg's work in future.

I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about the ending, but I had to give The One Hundred Nights of Hero five stars; it's funny and heart-warming and just so darn good. If you haven't read this yet, I highly recommend it!

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

This Week in Books | 18/01/2017

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

Now: I received an eARC of Mark Lawrence's latest novel, Red Sister, from NetGalley and I'm starting it today - I want to get to it in plenty of time ahead of its release in April because I can be quite bad at reading the books I get on NetGalley. I haven't read any Mark Lawrence yet but I'm all for a story about assassin nuns, so I'm hoping to enjoy this one.

Then: I read The Fifth Season and I don't think I've recovered yet. What an adventure! I got myself  a copy of The Obelisk Gate after I finished this, but I'm going to give myself a little break before I dive into that one. Look out for my review of The Fifth Season in the next couple of weeks!

Next: After two fantasy books in a row I think I'm going to be in the mood to read something completely different, so I think I'm going to pick up some non-fiction and read Samantha Ellis's new book, Take Courage.. I loved her memoir, How to Be a Heroine (reviewed here), and I love Anne Brontë, so I've been looking forward to this one. I'll see what I'm in the mood to pick up, though, because I still need to read A Closed and Common Orbit and I'd like to read Homegoing soon, too.

What are you reading?

Monday, 16 January 2017

Review | Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

by Nnedi Okorafor

My Rating:

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti's stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself - but first she has to make it there, alive.

I've been meaning to read something of Nnedi Okorafor's for a while now. She's very popular in the realms of SFF and so much of her work seems to deal with themes that I love to read in my fiction, while also dealing with fantastical characters and places influenced by Africa as opposed to all the American and European-based fantasy and science fiction out there. Binti won the Hugo Award for Best Novella in last year's Hugo Awards so I was eager to check it out, especially as I don't read many novellas and I was hoping this story would give me the same kind of vibe I got from Becky Chambers' The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet which I love very much.

Like The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, Binti is a piece of science fiction that explores how we react to and treat cultures different to our own, and how mutual respect can lead people from war to peace, but I found it to be a much darker story than Chambers'. This isn't a bad thing and is truly no surprise considering the situation Binti finds herself in after she flees her homeland to attend university, something her people never do, on a ship that is doomed when it finds itself caught in the crossfire of a war that has been raging on for years.

I love Okorafor's imagination, particularly Binti's culture and how it's viewed by outsiders versus people like Binti who understand the importance of her people's customs and traditions. To be honest I wanted to know even more about Binti's life before she left for university; I wanted to meet her family, to see what life was like at home for her and how she fit into her society and what everyone she knew at home thought of her and how she'd ended up applying to university in the first place. In fact I'd've liked Binti to be longer in general, because I enjoyed what I read but there was so much that I felt could have been explored more that the novella left me a little dissatisfied; I felt as though I didn't really get to know Binti's friends very well at all or what her relationship with them was like, which made it difficult to feel emotionally connected to the story during its darker moments.

In general I felt as though everything was wrapped up a little too quickly for my liking - I was particularly frustrated with a section near the end of the novella where Binti accepts something about her being physically changed without her permission more easily than I was expecting her to - so I'm looking forward to the sequel, Home, which is being released at the end of this month and I'm hoping will explore a lot of the things I was hoping would be explored in this novella.

All in all I didn't fall head over heels in love with Binti as I was hoping to, but I still really enjoyed it and I think Okorafor is completely worthy of all the praise she's been receiving for it. I think this was a great introduction to Okorafor's work and I'm definitely planning to read more of her work in future - I've got my eye on Akata Witch.

If you want to read science fiction that explores cultural differences and is less Americanised than so much science fiction out there, I recommend picking this up and giving Okorafor a chance. She's a much-needed voice in the realms of SFF and I can't wait to see what she does next because Binti is full of potential.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Review | The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

by Emma Donoghue

My Rating: 

An eleven-year-old girl stops eating, but remains miraculously alive and well. A nurse, sent to investigate whether she is a fraud, meets a journalist hungry for a story.

Set in the Irish Midlands in the 1850s, The Wonder—inspired by numerous European and North American cases of “fasting girls” between the sixteenth century and the twentieth—is a psychological thriller about a child’s murder threatening to happen in slow motion before our eyes. Pitting all the seductions of fundamentalism against sense and love, it is a searing examination of what nourishes us, body and soul.

I've been meaning to read some Emma Donoghue for a while now. She's most famous for Room, which she also adapted into a screenplay and was subsequently nominated for an Oscar for, but she's also an author of numerous historical fiction titles, and I'm sure you all know by now how much I enjoy my historical fiction. Thankfully, I enjoyed this too.

The Wonder takes place in 19th century Ireland, where English nurse Elizabeth 'Libby' Wright has been sent to watch over a young girl who is living on no food and has been doing so for longer than should be possible. Is eleven year old Anna O'Donnell really living off manna from Heaven or are she and her family tricking the public into making their home a site of pilgrimage that people will pay to visit?

The first thing I must say about this book is that I think it's been a victim of dishonest marketing. Frequently I've seen The Wonder described as a 'psychological thriller' and it isn't - it isn't even a thriller. Dark Places is a thriller, The Wonder is straight-up historical fiction and that's fine if you haven't picked it up expecting an atmospheric, fast-paced mystery. If you're a fan of quieter stories, more along the lines of Burial Rites than Gone Girl, then I think you'd enjoy this novel. The Wonder is a very slow book - though it certainly picks up at the end with a finale which, though I liked, I wasn't entirely sure suited the tone of the rest of the book - and it did become fairly repetitive after a while as Libby's days bled from one into the other, so don't pick this up if you're expecting something action-packed.

As is so often the case in historical fiction, our heroine is strong, intelligent and appears to be hiding a secret from her past that has distanced her from the rest of her family. In all honesty I got a little bored of Libby's secret towards the end of the novel, especially as I had a sneaking suspicion (ultimately proven to be correct) that she hadn't actually done anything terribly wrong, though of course I'm looking at her from the perspective of a woman in the 21st century. Even so I don't think her secret really warranted so much secrecy, at least not between Libby and the reader, but despite all that I still found Libby an engaging heroine. In fact one thing I liked about Libby a lot was that she wasn't a shouting, screaming suffragette - don't get me wrong, I love me some shouting, screaming suffragettes - but it was nice to see a heroine who was a little quieter, more serious than fiery.

It's revealed very early on in the novel that Libby worked under the tutelage of Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War and I was wary that The Lady with the Lamp would overshadow the story, but any allusions to her were used sparingly and I liked the way she was portrayed; she wasn't deified, at least not by Libby, and that made all the difference.

Our secondary heroine is Anna herself, who's a charming little girl. It can be difficult to write children, and especially difficult to write nice children without writing a saccharine book, so it's a testament to Donoghue's writing that Anna is a very likable little girl. I loved the recurring theme of food that surrounded her, from Ireland's Potato Famine to fasting in the Christian faith and the idea of surviving on 'manna from heaven'. My only problems with Anna are less with Anna herself and more with the people around her, and these were problems that persuaded me not to give The Wonder a higher rating than three stars.

Firstly, there's a romance in this book that I wasn't expecting. The romance itself I actually don't have a problem with; Libby's love interest is a journalist who's covering the story of Anna's miraculous survival despite her lack of food and it was really refreshing to read about a journalist who doesn't fall into the 'evil journalist' trope. My issue was more that I wasn't sure if the romance was necessary to the plot. It certainly didn't ruin the book for me, I actually liked the two characters together a lot, but it made the book feel like it was more about Libby than Libby and Anna; as the story wore on Anna began to feel like more of a sidekick in Libby's story than the star of her own, if that makes any sense at all.

Anna also has a secret of her own - after all Libby's there to see if she really can survive on no food or if her starvation is linked to something more sinister - and I'm still not sure if I'm satisfied with the way it was handled. I won't give anything away, but her secret is revealed fairly late in the novel and while Libby tries to do something about it, and rightfully so, it seems to be brushed under the carpet very quickly for something so serious. If you've read The Wonder hopefully you'll understand what I mean.

That being said, I did enjoy the relationship that develops between Libby and Anna; they're a very sweet duo and their friendship develops very naturally. Libby doesn't make herself easy to get along with but Anna gets under her skin, and under the skin of the reader, in a way that doesn't make her feel like a watered-down (and less annoying) version of Pollyanna. Through Libby Donoghue explores the darker side of the church, willing to exploit a starving child to attract pilgrims in a country that's already no stranger to starvation, but Ireland itself isn't portrayed as a 'bad' place, which I appreciated.

If you enjoy your historical fiction and you like slow, quiet stories I'd recommend checking this one out. Regardless of the few problems I had with the story I do think it's written very well, and I'd be interested in checking out more of Donoghue's fiction in future.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

This Week in Books | 11/01/2017

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

Now: I'm just over half-way through Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's short story collection, The Thing Around Your Neck, and I'm enjoying it so far. It's so refreshing to read about a place I know very little about and to read about it from the point of view of someone who actually knows what it's like. It's whetting my appetite for Adichie's novels.

Then: I was very kindly sent a review copy of McTavish Manor by the author, who I met at uni, and read this chilling novella over the weekend. Look out for my review later this month!

Next: I was planning to read one of my Netgalley reads next, and I would like to read one of them this month if I can, but then Natalie @ A Sea Change recommended N. K. Jemisin to me. I looked her up and ended up scouring through so many five star reviews of The Fifth Season that I couldn't not pick it up, so it's now waiting patiently for me on my kindle. I've actually read the prologue already and loved the way it's written and I'm so bloody intrigued, but I had to put it down so I can finish The Thing Around Your Neck first.

What are you reading?

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Top Ten Tuesday | Shoulda Woulda Coulda... But Really Shoulda

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!

It's no secret that 2016 was an absolutely rubbish reading year for me; I read half the amount of what I read in 2015 and, what's worse, there wasn't much I read that genuinely wowed me. As I'm sure you can imagine there were plenty of 2016 releases I ended up not getting to during 2016 and I'm hoping I can cross them off my TBR sooner rather than later!

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers: Considering The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (reviewed here) is one of my favourite books of all time, I don't know why I haven't read this yet. I think I loved TLWtaSAP so much I've been nervous that A Closed and Common Orbit won't be as good, but I won't know until I try and, frankly, I'm excited to read a story about two ladies in space.

The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss: This is one of those novels I've heard nothing but good things about so I'm hoping to get to it soon, as with every other book on this list!

The Muse by Jessie Burton: I enjoyed The Miniaturist (reviewed here) way more than I was expecting to and I think, like A Closed and Common Orbit, I haven't picked up The Muse yet for fear that it won't live up to my expectations. I do love stories about art, though, so I'd like to get to this one at some point in the coming months - especially as I've owned a copy since its release!

A Tyranny of Petticoats ed. by Jessica Spotswood: I love historical fiction centred around women, which is why it makes no since that I haven't read this anthology yet. My only excuse is that the only other anthology I read in 2016, Summer Days and Summer Nights, I ended up DNF-ing. March is Women's History Month, though, so I think I'll aim to read it around then!

Goldenhand by Garth Nix: I was so excited to discover Nix was bringing out another novel about Lirael, but it's been so long since I read The Old Kingdom series that I'm considering re-reading Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen before I tackle this one so I can refresh my memory.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry: This book has pretty much everything in it that I love about historical fiction, it was voted Waterstones Book of the Year in 2016, and I've even read about a quarter of it, but I just wasn't feeling it this year and I've heard such good things that I decided to put it down so I could come back to it when I could give it the attention it deserves. Hopefully that will be sometime soon.

The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley: 2016 wasn't a great year for non-fiction, especially when compared with 2015, so a lot of the non-fiction releases I was looking forward to I just didn't get to. This is another one I'm aiming to get to soon!

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly: This is another one I'm probably going to get to for Women's History Month if I can't read it before then. I'm really looking forward to the film!

What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi: I've actually read the first story in this collection and really enjoyed it, but I ended up putting it down for some reason I can't remember. Hopefully I'll return to it soon.

As I Descended by Robin Talley: I have an eARC of this that I still haven't read because I'm not so secretly a terrible person. But this is also an LGBT+ retelling of Macbeth, so I will definitely be reading it at some point soon. I wonder how many times I've said the word 'soon'...

Which books made your list this week?