Review: Magpie’s Song (IronHeart Chronicles #1) – Allison Pang

35428398My rating: 3/5 stars

Date read: 14 August 2017

Published by Indie, August 2017

Verdict: Fun, solid read.

Find it on Goodreads.

In the slums of BrightStone, Moon Children are worth less than the scrap they must collect to survive. It doesn’t matter that these abandoned half-breeds are part-Meridian with their ancestors hailing from the technologically advanced city that floats above the once-thriving, now plague-ridden BrightStone. Instead they are rejected by both their ancestral societies and forced to live on the outskirts of civilization, joining clans simply to survive. Not to mention their role as Tithe, leading the city’s infected citizens deep into the Pits where their disease can be controlled.

Nineteen-year-old Raggy Maggy is no different, despite the mysterious heart-shaped panel that covers her chest. Or at least she wasn’t… Not until her chance discovery of a Meridian-built clockwork dragon—and its murdered owner. When the Inquestors policing the city find Maggy at the scene of the crime, she quickly turns into their prime suspect. Now she’s all anyone can talk about. Even her clan leader turns his back on her, leading her to rely on an exiled doctor and a clanless Moon Child named Ghost to keep her hidden. In return, all she has to do is help them find a cure for the plague they believe was not exactly accidental. Yet doing so might mean risking more than just her life. It also might be the only key to uncovering the truth about the parents—and the past—she knows nothing about.

This was a solid, fun read, with a brilliant premise and world building I enjoyed a lot. While there were some flaws, I am still intrigued enough to want to read the next book in the series, whenever that will be published. As I am chronically bad at reading second books in series, this says something about how much I adored parts of this.

Set in an unspecified world, that is kind of steam punky, kind of dystopian, there is a (tropey) society with the rich (maybe alien?) upper class living on a floating city, while the middle class scramble to make a living on the ground and the lowest class is just trying to survive. The world is never really explained, as the main character – Mags – doesn’t really know much about the city’s history or political order. Mags is a Moon Child: some children turn into those when they are around 12, pale, with white hair, and mysteriously immune against rampant plague. She finds a clockwork dragon and sets into motion a frantic sequence of events where she is never quite sure what is going on or how she will survive the next day.

The story itself is in points predictable but always fun; it’s frantic pace was enough to keep me reading during a week where I was pre-occupied with other things. Mags is a fun character and many of the others of the fairly large cast of characters are brilliant.

My main problem was the fact that I thought that the first-person-narration didn’t really work here. Some of the metaphors used do not sound like things somebody like Mags, with very limited education (formal or informal), would ever use. I often thought that there was no way a young girl who grew up on the streets would know those things (would she really know what a waltz is and then use this term to explain how her climbing on rooftops feels like?). It took me out of the story and made it difficult to really connect to her.

But, overall, a really fun first installment of a series with plenty of loose ends that I cannot wait to be picked up again.

Also, where can I find myself a clockwork dragon, please?

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I received an arc of this book curtesy of NetGalley and the author in exchange for an honest review. Thanks for that!

 

Review: Exit West – Mohsin Hamid

34518348My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Date read: 09 August 2017

Published by Random House Penguin/ Riverhead, 2017

Verdict: Prose so brilliant I would read his shopping list.

Find it on Goodreads.

In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through.

This was beautiful, stunning, memorable, and really special; an anti-war and pro-tolerance piece with a human heart. Mohsin Hamid never loses sight of the important factors of his story: his characters and their interactions; he doesn’t stray from the emotional heart of this story to make a point; and he writes with a precision and beauty that is absolutely breath-taking.

This is Nadia’s and Saeed’s story; from their first meeting in an unnamed muslim country on the brink of civil war, to their subsequent journey to places that are hopefully safer. These two form and their ill-timed relationship are the core of this novel.

Mohsin Hamid uses his brilliant premise (what if there were suddenly doors all over the world leading to other places?) to explore the emotional impact of being a refugee instead of the logistical impact. He can ignore the hardships of travelling over land to other countries that are safer, to focus instead of the intimate experience of being foreign – of being a stranger in a strange land without having wanted to be that. I adored this. I thought this focus worked really well and made this story something really special.

He has a unique way of structuring his sentences that I found beyond brilliant. He made me reread sentences and reread passages. This is where this book truly shines: It is unbelievably beautifully written and breathtakingly structured. His command of his story-telling voice is beyond impressive. While I thought his characters were vividly painted and their relationship believable and heartbreaking, they are not what I will keep remembering. But I think that is ok – because while their story humanizes the book, it is both universal and personal in a way that kind of renders the characters irrelevant in the broader scope of the work.

First sentence: “In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, a young man met a young woman in a classroom and did not speak with her.”

Booker Longlist Thoughts:

I think this might be the winner in the end – and I would be perfectly fine with that.

Review: City of Blades (The Divine Cities #2) – Robert Jackson Bennet

28436115My Rating: 4/5 stars

Date read: 06 August 2017

Published by Jo Fletcher Books, January 2016

Verdict: Go and read it!

Find it on Goodreads.

The city of Voortyashtan was once the domain of the goddess of death, war, and destruction, but now it’s little more than a ruin. General Turyin Mulaghesh is called out of retirement and sent to this hellish place to try to find a Saypuri secret agent who’s gone missing in the middle of a mission, but the city of war offers countless threats: not only have the ghosts of her own past battles followed her here, but she soon finds herself wondering what happened to all the souls that were trapped in the afterlife when the Divinities vanished. Do the dead sleep soundly in the land of death? Or do they have plans of their own.

I am in love with the world and the mythology Robert Jackson Bennet created. I am very much in awe with its intricacy and originality. I was getting a bit disillusioned with the genre but this fantasy trilogy is making me a very happy fan. If you haven’t already: go and read it!

Set several years after the events of the first book, the world has not changed as much as Shara wanted it to. When a Ministry operative disappears in Voortyashtan (the city created by the nowdead Goddess of War), Shara manipulates Turyin Mulaghesh to go and try to find her. Mulaghes is still struggling with the awful things she has done in life and feels like she has to atone.

I adored this theme of atonement and of doing better and of trying to leave the world a better place. This book is decidedly darker than the first; Turyin is a lot more hardened and she has done some truly terrible things in the past wars. I loved spending more time with her and this book manages to make her even more badass than the first while also rendering her more human and fragile. She is a brilliantly done character – which is important to me because I always struggle when series shift to a new view point.

What makes this book stand out even more is the absolutely stunning way Robert Jackson Bennet has with words – he creates wonderful sentences and turns of phrases that lift this already brilliant book even higher. His descriptions of the otherworldy settings are a beauty to behold and I cannot wait to see what he conjures up in the next book.

First sentence: “Somewhere around mile three on the trek up the hill Pitry Suturashni decides he would not describe the Javrati sun as ‘warm and relaxing’, as the travel advertisments say.”

Review: The End We Start From – Megan Hunter

32991198My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Date Read: 2 August 2017

Published by Grove Atlantic, November 2017

Verdict: Beautifully and frustratingly sparse.

Find it on Goodreads.

As London is submerged below flood waters, a woman gives birth to her first child, Z. Days later, she and her baby are forced to leave their home in search of safety. They head north through a newly dangerous country seeking refuge from place to place, shelter to shelter, to a desolate island and back again. The story traces fear and wonder, as the baby’s small fists grasp at the first colors he sees, as he grows and stretches, thriving and content against all the odds.

Written with poise and poeticism, The End We Start From is an indelible and elemental first book—a lyrical vision of the strangeness and beauty of new motherhood, and a portentous tale of endurance in the face of ungovernable change.

Beautifully and frustratingly sparse. This book is written in absolutely stunning prose that in places feels like poetry. It is stylistically wonderful – its sparseness works great in conveying the way the world has shrunk around the protagonist; minimizing her field of vision around the essentials: her new-born son and her husband.

Set in the not so distant future when the oceans have risen dramatically and drowned much of England, the main character has just given birth to her son when she has to leave London to go North. We follow her from place to place, meeting people, losing people, finding people. The plot is near irrelevant though: it is more a meditation on motherhood, on beginnings and endings, on love and loss. All the characters are only referred to by their initials, leaving the reader at a distance and rendering this very personal tale universal.

I adored the way this book was told; I enjoyed the juxtaposition of motherhood and the end-times and I found many sentences beautiful beyond words. It was a highly satisfying reading experience – however, I am not sure how much of it will stick with me. The book is too short and sparse to really tell a story and the language while stunning does not help the feeling of detachment. The book is full with metaphors and foreshadowing and mixes the personal and the universal in a highly stylized matter. But sometimes I like books told in style and glitter and beautiful sentences. Here I did.

First sentence: “I am hours from giving birth, from the event I thought would never happen to me, and R has gone up a mountain.”
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I received an arc of this book curtesy of NetGalley and Grove Atlantic in exchange for an honest review. Thanks for that!

Review: See what I have done – Sarah Schmidt

33779103My rating: 2/5 stars

Date read: 31  July 2017

Published by Grove Atlantic, August 2017

Verdict: I might never eat pears again.

Find it on Goodreads.

When her father and step-mother are found brutally murdered on a summer morning in 1892, Lizzie Borden – thirty two years old and still living at home – immediately becomes a suspect. But after a notorious trial, she is found innocent, and no one is ever convicted of the crime.

Meanwhile, others in the claustrophobic Borden household have their own motives and their own stories to tell: Lizzie’s unmarried older sister, a put-upon Irish housemaid, and a boy hired by Lizzie’s uncle to take care of a problem.

This unforgettable debut makes you question the truth behind one of the great unsolved mysteries, as well as exploring power, violence and the harsh realities of being a woman in late nineteenth century America.

There are many good things in this book that would make this a great choice for a different reader. Sadly I am not that reader. I was super excited about this book – it was on plenty of people’s “most anticipated” lists, both covers are absolutely stunning, and the bit of the blurb that I read sounded exciting. I had some misconceptions though: I did not realize that this book would be gritty historical fiction, I did not realize that Lizzie Borden was 32, and for some reason I thought it would have magical realist pieces.

Sarah Schmidt sets out to retell the story of the Borden murders – murders so famous that most people in the English speaking world have heard of them (I was not one of those people). Told in alternating viewpoints following Lizzie Borden, her sister Emma, their maid Bridget, and an involved bystander Benjamin. Every single one of those characters, save maybe Bridget, is unbelievably awful. They are nasty, self-involved, blind to their own faults, and unbearable to spend time with. Especially Lizzie’s chapters made me want to throw things – she is without a doubt the worst person I ever had to listen to (figuratively). Every time her name was above the chapter, I groaned. I know many people do not mind unlikable characters but I think I just need to be honest with myself here. I am not one of those people; I need the characters I spend time with to be at least sympathetic or have any redeeming traits.

Sarah Schmidt has an undeniably brilliant way of painting vivid pictures that engage the readers senses in a near unique way. Sadly, here it is mostly used to paint a vivid picture of the awful living conditions of this wealthy family (the father was famously stingy). There are long and evocative descriptions of vomit, sweat, blood, period blood, and everything else nasty. The characters all eat fruit in a way that apparently leaves them covered in its juices. They do not swallow, they gulp (side note: I think this is my alltime least favourite word – it might be because I am not a native speaker but for me the action of gulping sounds super loud in my head).

This is not a bad book but it is one I did not enjoy one bit. I was undeniably the wrong reader. Sarah Schmidt has a very evocative way with words and I think she succeeds in telling her story in an original way; I thought the time jumps worked very well and the execution was really well-done. I just did not enjoy reading this and was sad to be so glad to be done with this book. But I was very glad.

First sentence: “He was still bleeding.”

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I received an arc of this book curtesy of NetGalley and Grove Atlantic in exchange for an honest review. Thanks for that!

Review: Reincarnation Blues – Michael Poore

33571217My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Date Read: 27 July 2017

Published by Random House – Del Rey, August 2017

Verdict: Imaginative, wonderful, seems to be written with me in mind.

Find it on Goodreads.

What if you could live forever—but without your one true love? Reincarnation Blues is the story of a man who has been reincarnated nearly 10,000 times, in search of the secret to immortality so that he can be with his beloved, the incarnation of Death. Neil Gaiman meets Kurt Vonnegut in this darkly whimsical, hilariously profound, and wildly imaginative comedy of the secrets of life and love. Transporting us from ancient India to outer space to Renaissance Italy to the present day, is a journey through time, space, and the human heart.

So very wonderful and imaginative and funny and sad and brilliant and beautiful.

Milo is an old soul – he has lived 9995 lives so far and has yet to achieve perfection. In fact he isn’t even sure he wants to achieve perfection as he is in love with Death (or rather a Death – Suzie). This has to change when he is informed that every soul has in fact only 10000 lives to get it right or it will be erased. This short synopsis doesn’t really do the book justice but it will have to suffice because I think going into this book relatively blind worked well for me.

I adored this book and enjoyed reading it immensely. I love stories told unchronologically and this story is told in a series of interconnected glimpses into Milo’s lives; some of these glimpses were very short and some a bit more elaborated and I thought this worked absolutely wonderfully.

This book combines many of the things I adore in fiction and does so in a way that feels uniquely catered to me. I am genuinely in love with this book and spent most of my time reading with a huge grin on my face. I love short stories – so I adored the longer descriptions of some of his lives so very much. In fact, the first complete life we get to spend with Milo would work brilliantly as a short story, even without the added layer of the rest of the book.

I even enjoyed the love story, which is something I do not often do. But here I found it believable and unique and essential for the story told. I was keeping my fingers crossed for Milo and Suzie to find a way to stay together and to carve out their own place for their love. This is due mostly because they were such well-drawn character in their own rights first and their relationship grew out of that.

While I enjoyed the whole book, I found the ending to be a bit weaker than the rest; however the very last chapter was beautifully executed and so it ended on a high note for me.

First sentence: “This is a story about a wise man named Milo.”

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I received an arc of this book curtesy of NetGalley and Del Rey in exchange for an honest review. Thanks for that!

The Man Booker Prize Longlist is here.

Guys, I am so excited for the longlist to be finally here. I do love awards and especially the months leading up to them with first the longlist and then she shortlist and everybody talking about the same books.

The 2017 longlist:

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster (US) (Faber & Faber)
Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (Ireland) (Faber & Faber)
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (US) (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Pakistan-UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
Solar Bones by Mike McCormack (Ireland) (Canongate)
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor (UK) (4th Estate)
Elmet by Fiona Mozley (UK) (JM Originals)
The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (India) (Hamish Hamilton)
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (US) (Bloomsbury Publishing)
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (UK-Pakistan) (Bloomsbury Circus)
Autumn by Ali Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
Swing Time by Zadie Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (US) (Fleet)

Unlike last year I have heard of nearly all the books, have read a couple, and have some on my TBR. I am both excited by this and a bit dissappointed because I was hoping for a bit more obscure authors and books to be on it to be discovered in the next few weeks.

Books I have read and reviewed:

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster (US) (Faber & Faber)

I really enjoyed this. For a book this long it is surprisingly not indulgent but every scene feels necessary. It is a book that has stayed with me since I read it in the beginning of the year. I have already pre-ordered the paperback and have gifted the hardback to my stepmother. So yes, I adore this and am glad it is nominated. You can find my review here.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton)

I am a bit more ambivalent when it comes to this book. I adored parts but others felt like they would never end. The unnamed protagonist and her lack of personality drove me a bit up the walls, while Zadie Smith’s unflinchingly honest way of describing the world is beyond genius. You can find my review here.

Currently reading:

The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (India) (Hamish Hamilton)

I have been reading this book for what feels like months (it has actually been months) and I haven’t made nearly no headway. I don’t know what it is but there is always another book calling my name that I am more excited about. Maybe the nomination will give me the kick I need to finally finish it.

Books that have been on my list for while:

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Pakistan-UK) (Hamish Hamilton)

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (US) (Bloomsbury Publishing)

Autumn by Ali Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton)

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (US) (Fleet)

So, yes I am excited for this longlist and for quite a few of the books. I seems to be an awesome mix of different genres and viewpoints and I am there for this.