Review: The Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy #3) by Katherine Arden

38391059Verdict: Still in love.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy, Re-Telling

Published by Ebury Publishing, January 10 2019

Find it on Goodreads.

One girl can make a difference…

Moscow has burned nearly to the ground, leaving its people searching for answers – and someone to hold accountable. Vasya finds herself on her own, amid a rabid mob that calls for her death, blaming her witchery for their misfortune.

Then a vengeful demon returns, renewed and stronger than ever, determined to spread chaos in his wake and never be chained again. Enlisting the hateful priest Konstantin as his servant, turmoil plagues the Muscovites and the magical creatures alike, and all find their fates resting on the shoulders of Vasya.

With an uncertain destiny ahead of her, Vasya learns surprising truths of her past as she desperately tries to save Russia, Morozko, and the magical world she treasures. But she may not be able to save them all…

I adored this beyond measure.

I am a huge fan of this trilogy, have been ever since reading the very first chapter of the first book. I was both super excited and a bit apprehensive before reading this book – but I didn’t have to worry because Katherine Arden absolutely sticks the landing here. This book is both a great conclusion to this brilliant series as well as a great book in its own right.

What Arden does better than most authors I read is building an atmosphere so immersive I become lost in her (impeccably researched) world. I found reading this book a very rewarding experience and I am definitely a life-long fan. Drawing on Russian fairy tales and real world figures to build a world uniquely her own, Arden tells a story of a girl and her choices. Whatever happens in this book is always filtered through Vasya’s lenses and her destiny and I am in love with this. Vasya is a difficult character but someone I could not help root for. I wanted her to find her place and be happy. She is allowed to be prickly and nurturing, she can be rash and caring, and altogether wonderfully rounded. Her relationship to the Winter King just worked for me in this book (I was not fully on board in the book before) and I really liked the overwhelming tenderness between those two.

I adore how the world becomes more complicated as Vasya grows and the scope increases. Things that seemed very black and white to her in the first book become more ambivalent, people grow while staying true to their characterization, and overall the world becomes ever more believable.

Arden has a very distinct and very beautiful writing style that hints at her influences while being very much her own thing and from the very first chapter I was glad to be back in her capable hands. There is a rhythm to her writing that I find very beautiful and this coupled with a story that wraps up strong makes this a strong contender for my favourite book of this year (I just know it’ll make the list).

Other books in the series:
The Bear and the Nightingale: 5 out of 5 stars
The Girl in the Tower: 4 out of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Ebury Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Lies Sleeping (Rivers of London #7) by Ben Aaronovitch

36534574Verdict: Great, as always

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Published by Gollancz, November 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

The seventh book of the bestselling Rivers of London urban fantasy series returns to the adventures of Peter Grant, detective and apprentice wizard, as he solves magical crimes in the city of London.

Martin Chorley, aka the Faceless Man, wanted for multiple counts of murder, fraud, and crimes against humanity, has been unmasked and is on the run. Peter Grant, Detective Constable and apprentice wizard, now plays a key role in an unprecedented joint operation to bring Chorley to justice.

But even as the unwieldy might of the Metropolitan Police bears down on its foe, Peter uncovers clues that Chorley, far from being finished, is executing the final stages of a long term plan. A plan that has its roots in London’s two thousand bloody years of history, and could literally bring the city to its knees.

To save his beloved city Peter’s going to need help from his former best friend and colleague–Lesley May–who brutally betrayed him and everything he thought she believed in. And, far worse, he might even have to come to terms with the malevolent supernatural killer and agent of chaos known as Mr Punch….

This is one of my all-time favourite series – and this installment was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint, as usual. There is just something charming and compulsive about this series that makes me very happy.

I won’t write about the plot so much, because doing so invariably would spoil the books that came before (and what twists and turns there were) except to say that I found the way the story went and how some parts wrapped up highly satisfying. I know that there is a novella coming out in a few months (I am so glad!) but except for that I do not know where the story will go next – but wherever it is, I am sure I will be reading it.

The best part, as always, is Peter’s wonderful narration, this time aided by the absolutely brilliant Kobna Holdbrook-Smith who narrates the audiobook to perfection. I felt a bit spoiled, having pre-ordered the paperback and then buying the audiobook but it was definitely worth it. Peter’s tone and his sense of humour are as brilliant as ever – but what I appreciate most is that he is a genuinely good person, always striving to be better. This is something I am always looking forward to in my reading, especially in a genre saturated by anti-heroes, and something I needed at the end of the long year that was 2018.

There were some genuinely heartbreaking and heartwarming scenes in this book (the dancing! It made me teary eyed) and the ending was so very wonderful – I cannot wait for my partner to read this book so that I can squeal at him.

If you like Urban Fantasy and haven’t checked this out, I highly recommend you do – I love Ben Aaronovitch’s mix of police procedural and highly inventive fantasy, his characters are wonderfully drawn and realistically diverse (it is set in present-day London after all), and his storylines (especially the overarching ones) are exciting and well-thought-out.

 

Review: Heavy by Kiese Laymon

29430746Verdict: Brilliant but near unbearable to read.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Memoir

Published by Bloomsbury, October 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

In this powerful and provocative memoir, genre-bending essayist and novelist Kiese Laymon explores what the weight of a lifetime of secrets, lies, and deception does to a black body, a black family, and a nation teetering on the brink of moral collapse.

Kiese Laymon is a fearless writer. In his essays, personal stories combine with piercing intellect to reflect both on the state of American society and on his experiences with abuse, which conjure conflicted feelings of shame, joy, confusion and humiliation. Laymon invites us to consider the consequences of growing up in a nation wholly obsessed with progress yet wholly disinterested in the messy work of reckoning with where we’ve been.

In Heavy, Laymon writes eloquently and honestly about growing up a hard-headed black son to a complicated and brilliant black mother in Jackson, Mississippi. From his early experiences of sexual violence, to his suspension from college, to his trek to New York as a young college professor, Laymon charts his complex relationship with his mother, grandmother, anorexia, obesity, sex, writing, and ultimately gambling. By attempting to name secrets and lies he and his mother spent a lifetime avoiding, Laymon asks himself, his mother, his nation, and us to confront the terrifying possibility that few in this nation actually know how to responsibly love, and even fewer want to live under the weight of actually becoming free.

A personal narrative that illuminates national failures, Heavy is defiant yet vulnerable, an insightful, often comical exploration of weight, identity, art, friendship, and family that begins with a confusing childhood—and continues through twenty-five years of haunting implosions and long reverberations.

I find this memoir near impossible to review for a number of reasons:

  1. the book was near impossible to read for me;
  2. the book is brilliant;
  3. the book is not written for me.

If you only take one thing from my review, let it be this: Kiese Laymon is utterly, utterly brilliant. On a simple sentence by sentence level his writing is absolutely stunning, it wrecked me in the perfection of his prose. But even more so, the structure of this memoir is impeccable and the way he tells his story and makes is points is just brilliant. I read very many memoirs but it is rare that I have a reaction as visceral as I had here. The whole book is a lesson in how to gut your reader with your words. And I mean this in the best possible way (and the worst: it took me forever to finish this because I needed to take breaks to read something else).

Laymon tells the story of his body – and how his relationship to his body is influenced by his difficult relationship to his mother. The way he grounds his experiences in the way his body reacted to them added a layer to this memoir that I appreciated immensely. Written in second person narration addressing his mum, Laymon lays it all bare for the world to see. Especially the first and last chapters really drove home how incredible his craft is and how deep the cuts his life made are. I found the book near unbearable in the claustrophobia of the unfairness of it all: the unfairness of racism, of poverty, of eating disorder, of addiction. The book is this successful because it is written for black people rather than about black people – a point Laymon makes at various points throughout the book, something he learned from his mother and his own mistakes.

Ultimately this is an intimate love/hate letter to the most important person in his life and I feel very grateful to have been able to read this.

 

Series-Review: Kate Daniels #6 – #10 by Ilona Andrews

I am usually not good at finishing series – but this one I could not leave alone. I had a rather longer break between the ninth and the tenth book because I wanted to read the spin-off book inbetween but was not all that excited about reading about Hugh d’Ambray. And then I did not want this series to end.

While I think that the first five books were overall stronger, I still enjoyed the second half of the series a whole lot. Ilona Andrews really are one of the high points of my reading year. (I did also read their Hidden Legacy series before finishing this one.) I don’t feel like I can write proper (or even mini-) reviews for this second half of the series as I mostly sped through the books. Also reviews would need to be spoilery and I don’t want to do that. So what I will do is tell you the ratings I gave the books and then gush about what I loved in the series as a whole.

Continue reading “Series-Review: Kate Daniels #6 – #10 by Ilona Andrews”

Review: Bad Blood by John Carreyrou

40217960Verdict: Mesmerising. Unbelievable. Compulsively readable. Highly recommended.

My rating: 4,5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Non-Fiction

Published by Random House Audio, May 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

The full inside story of the breathtaking rise and shocking collapse of a multibillion-dollar startup, by the prize-winning journalist who first broke the story and pursued it to the end in the face of pressure and threats from the CEO and her lawyers.

In 2014, Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was widely seen as the female Steve Jobs: a brilliant Stanford dropout whose startup “unicorn” promised to revolutionize the medical industry with a machine that would make blood tests significantly faster and easier. Backed by investors such as Larry Ellison and Tim Draper, Theranos sold shares in a fundraising round that valued the company at $9 billion, putting Holmes’s worth at an estimated $4.7 billion. There was just one problem: The technology didn’t work.

For years, Holmes had been misleading investors, FDA officials, and her own employees. When Carreyrou, working at The Wall Street Journal, got a tip from a former Theranos employee and started asking questions, both Carreyrou and the Journal were threatened with lawsuits. Undaunted, the newspaper ran the first of dozens of Theranos articles in late 2015. By early 2017, the company’s value was zero and Holmes faced potential legal action from the government and her investors. Here is the riveting story of the biggest corporate fraud since Enron, a disturbing cautionary tale set amid the bold promises and gold-rush frenzy of Silicon Valley.

I cannot recommend this highly enough. I sped through this audiobook in a few days because I just could not stop listening to it. There were so many unbelievable things in this true account of the Theranos scam that my mouth dropped open in a way I did not think happens in real life.

John Carreyrou traces the story of Elizabeth Holmes and her medical start-up Theranos from the beginning with the help of countless interviews and other insights. The picture he paints is breathtaking: of a firm run like a cult, of incompetence that can only be explained by a complete lack of understanding of science by nearly everyone involved, of unethical hounding of those who did see the bad science for what it was. I can tell you, if I can see the science as flawed it is really flawed – my knowledge of biology and chemistry is lacklustre to say the least.

While I overall enjoyed this book a whole lot, there were a few things that did not quite work for me. First and foremost the framing of the story – as Elizabeth Holmes did not give any interviews for this book, her story is told from the other end, which I am absolutely fine with and I do think Carreyrou did an exceptional job with this, but his clear distaste for Holmes shines through in a way that I did not always appreciate. For example, early on he uses an anecdote of her playing Monopoly with her brothers and being a super sore loser as an indication for how horrible and competitive a person she is – and I don’t buy that. Lots of kids are sore losers, most of them grow up not scamming patients. I do agree with his assessment that Holmes scammed her investors purposefully and did not care about the patients being misdiagnosed because of her flawed technology but I wish he had let me come to this assessment on my own a bit more.

As a case study of how the lack of diverse knowledge can harm a company, this book is priceless. There were many instances where having somebody on the board of directors with just a little bit of knowledge of the science between the big idea would have led to a totally different ending. I would have liked to have seen an analysis of the social structures in place that enabled Holmes to build her company and run it for many years without any pertinent experience as a 19-year-old college dropout just based on knowing the right people and acting the part. But still, this book is amazing in achieving what it set out to do.

Favourite Book Covers of 2018

I want to talk about so many of my bookish thoughts of this nearly finished year that I figured I might as well start early. Because while I think my favourite books my still change (there are over two weeks left yet), I don’t think my favourite covers will. I will be concentrating of the covers of the books I have actually read because otherwise we might be here forever.

Vita Nostra by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko

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The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh

35448496

I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell

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Heart Berries by Terese Mailhot

35840657

The Pisces by Melissa Broder

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And finally my absolute favourite cover of the year, even if the book has been published for a while:

A Guide to Being Born by Ramona Ausubel

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Review: Sadie by Courtney Summers

40820097Verdict: My heart hurts.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: YA Thriller

Published by MacMillan Audio, October 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

A missing girl on a journey of revenge. A Serial―like podcast following the clues she’s left behind. And an ending you won’t be able to stop talking about.

Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him.

When West McCray―a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America―overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.

This book broke my heart. I listened to the ending of this walking to the garage to pick up my car. And I had to wait around a corner from it to gather my feelings and stop crying. Now, I am famously easy to cry but I don’t usually do it outside, so this really does speak to how hard this book hit me.

This book follows two perspectives, that of Sadie whose sister has been killed and who is single-minded in her pursuit of the murderer, and that of the podcast The Girls, where West McCray is trying to figure out what exactly happened to Sadie after she went missing. These dual perspectives are the book biggest strength and listening to the audio version of this is something I highly, highly recommend. It is produced with a full-cast and impeccably done so. As a result, for me the podcast element worked exceedingly well and I always wanted to follow this part of the narrative. Sadie’s narration is brittle and broken and full of spiteful strength, which I appreciated but also made for a stressful listening experience (and I don’t always deal well with stressful). Her life is on a collision course with something awful, you can just tell, and the loss of her sister is only the newest of a whole string of horrible events.

I haven’t read very many young adult novels this year but this one I can wholeheartedly recommend. It is compulsively readable, incredibly heartbreaking, and important. Courtney Summers manages to tell a great story while also keeping her eyes on the climate that makes these crimes against girls possible. She shows great restraint in never letting the political core overshadow the storytelling, but the core makes her book all that more impressive.