Posted in Literature

Read: Convenience Store Woman & Knight’s Shadow

Convenience Store WomanConvenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a bit of a weird one to rate and categorise for me. It’s billed as being ‘darkly comic’ but I didn’t feel anything like that coming through. It’s a tale of a woman who does not fit in and trying to fit in the only ways she knows how. It explores ideas of normalised behaviour within society and how these normalisations can make anyone who doesn’t adhere to them feel alien or, in Keiko’s example, not human.

She goes from trying to be normal based on what her family and sister want or react to, to people she’s known from school, to her colleagues at the convenience store, including Shirara, who also falls outside social norms but is equally no good for Keiko.

This is a story about following your instincts whether or not that makes you appear ‘normal’ and ultimately trying to shake off the restrictive expectations that are placed upon us by societal and cultural norms.

Keiko is a well-written, neurodiverse character in a story that does not focus on naming and parading her differences. The author has successfully made a sympathetic character and does an excellent job of telling the story through the eyes of someone who feels out of place and as if they don’t understand the world swirling around them. Keiko’s slice of normalcy as a ‘Convenience Store Woman’ feels tangible and provides an excellent opportunity to explore the difficulties she faces getting on in life.

Knight's Shadow (Greatcoats, #2)Knight’s Shadow by Sebastien de Castell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ah, Falcio, Falcio, Falcio; sometimes you are a bit of a great big dumb-dumb.

As this book was significantly longer than the first I was expecting it to take longer to read but somehow it was just as easy to make progress with and went by quite quickly for 600 pages. Compared to the first book there was also a lot that was very similar and Falcio seems to be somehow both clever and utterly oblivious all at once, which did start to grate on me a little in this installment.

How is he so intuitive in battle and negotiations and putting all the pieces of the puzzle together to see the picture no one else can and yet still never figure out who is behind the grand machinations that are sweeping Tristia? I guessed both “big reveals” of who was behind the two different forms of atrocities fairly early on and found myself getting more and more frustrated by Falcio’s dumbest genius routine. This happened in the first book too but as that was a lot shorter it didn’t impact my overall enjoyment quite so much; in this book I found myself getting a bit bored of Falcio’s selective stupidity.

Oh, and can we stop calling every woman in the book a ‘whore’? I mean, c’mon! Use your imaginations, boys & girls.

DESPITE the drawbacks above, I still enjoyed the story overall though it feels very compact. I will continue with the series to Saint’s Blood and I’m curious to see if any of my other predictions will come true.

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Posted in Literature

Read: When We Cease to Understand the World & The Turn of the Key

When We Cease to Understand the WorldWhen We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamín Labatut
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When We Cease to Understand the World features an exploration of major scientific advances in the 20th century alongside the idea that genius is often beset by madness. It is important to note, however, that there are increasing fictionalised elements as the book goes on and it becomes hard to determine what is truth and what is fiction. I was unsure how to rate this book because of this. On the one hand, I enjoyed the scientific content whereas on the other hand I would’ve appreciated more a genuine account of genius vs madness, to see what the real correlation is (if, indeed, there is one).

In order to separate facts from fiction, the onus is placed on the reader to go and do further research to determine what is true and I have two issues with this:
1) I don’t read a book in order to be left with the prospect of extensive research to unravel it, and;
2) There is a risk others will not read the Author’s Note (noticeably at the end of the book) to see that parts have been fictionalised and continue believing everything within it’s pages as truth and fact. In an age of ‘Post-Truth’ this is a bit of a risk to take and I felt like the scientific discoveries detailed are diminished because of this.

Otherwise, the book is well written and interesting. It’s not too heavy to read and seems to have been translated well.

The Turn of the KeyThe Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As a modern retelling of The Turn of the Screw I was sceptical at first as I didn’t enjoy the original. I saw a lot of positive reviews for Ware’s interpretation and ended up receiving this via a giveaway on bookstagram.

I enjoyed this much more than ‘…of the Screw’! The modernised elements (such as the smart house) gave more avenues to explore strange goings-on at Heatherbrae and had me guessing. It is a clever use of technology in a ghost(-ish) story, proving that not all spooky things have to be in ancient mansions purely by candlelight.

I would have liked to have known what happened to the characters after the end of the main story – written as a letter from the protagonist as she waits in jail for trial – but I’m content enough to draw my own conclusions.

A good thriller, cleverly written and enjoyable (so much so I finished it all in one day).

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Posted in Literature

Read: The Priory of the Orange Tree

The Priory of the Orange TreeThe Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a book with a lot to offer. We have four POV’s from two main characters and two slightly more secondary characters. The narrative swaps between these four in a chronological fashion, as opposed to simultaneous so the book covers a good period of time and develops events and characters over this. Our two key protagonists are Ead and Tané, two women from opposite sides of the known world who each come to discover their importance to the endeavour to save the world from the returning Nameless One: a big, nasty fire-breather dragon (or wyrm as the book prefers) who will destroy humankind just as he attempted to do before, 1000 years ago.

Both face danger, tragedy and huge feats of endurance and strength to reach the end battle; Ead as a member of the eponymous Priory of the Orange Tree and Tané as an Eastern dragonrider. The East reveres dragons – these are water and air dragons, not fiery fiends – as gods and to be a dragonrider is a great honour that requires years of training to compete in a once-every-50-year selection process. These Eastern dragons are graceful and beautiful and able to live in harmony with humans; the Western dragons/wyrms are the fire-breathing kind who seek to dominate the world and they are waking up from their slumbers to heed the coming of The Nameless One.

Without going into the story much more (trying to avoid spoilers) I can only attest that it is well pace, cleverly written and highly engaging. While I found the first few chapters a bit of an ‘info-dump’ and a little difficult to get used to the dialog, after this I was constantly wishing I could stay awake a little longer to squeeze one more chapter in. Shannon does a great job of dripping mystery and questions into the story; as one resolves, another question appears to keep you intrigued.

It is a long book at 804 pages of story and while there are sections/parts that this is divided into, each part could not be separated out to make this into 2 or more books. It all flows together and is well worth the commitment. Commendations to Shannon on creating such a massive tome that doesn’t feel like a chore and keeps the reader interested throughout.

There are a lot of themes that are explored in the course of the story including, love, duty, justice, courage, honour, religion and the overcoming of our differences. The two key Western religions both venerate a female figurehead of one sort or another; and same-sex relationships are not frowned upon in these societies. There is a historical m/m relationship and a present-day f/f one; while both encounter resistance, this is not because the relationships are queer, as we would see it, moreover because they each involve a member of nobility or royalty who is controlled by other forces to conceal their relationship – one of the men is already married and a father, honour-bound to remain so; and one of the women is controlled by external, malicious, forces to the extent she keeps her true self thoroughly hidden.

While there are battles and tragedy, romance and intimacy, there is nothing particularly graphic or gory in this book; if that is any concern to you. What you will find are beautifully written characters and compelling story with mages, witches, queens, emperors, dragons, wyrms and many other magical beasts besides. It is a great read and this edition has magnificent cover art so that The Priory of the Orange Tree will shine on your shelves for years to come.

This was book 57 of 2020.

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Posted in Literature

Read: Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are a lot of things that can be said about this book and given it’s almost 70 years old at this point I’m sure most of what I have to say has been said before. Nevertheless, in trying to keep up the habit of reviewing what I read, here we are.

The first thing that struck me about Fahrenheit 451 was how lyrical it is; I was not expecting a dystopia about burning books and controlling knowledge to be so beautifully written. Bradbury did an excellent job in composing some brilliant prose that still managed to feel light and easy despite the dark topics it explored.

In addition to this, Bradbury has woven in quite a few literary references in the telling of this tale that it feels exciting to pick up on when you spot something not in quotation marks. It doesn’t feel like he was trying to be too ‘high brow’ about it either, moreover it seems like an extra dimension to a story about how and if literature is worth saving from destruction. It was also interesting to wonder why exactly Bradbury picked the references he did, how they are related to the story of Montag and what extra depth can be eluded to.

The second thing that I’m sure everyone notices is how prescient the content of the book is: personality politics, war, inundation of information, control of information, valuing the sciences over the arts, TV, social media, even down to the little ‘green bullet’ that sounds awfully similar to Bluetooth earpieces! There is a lot to unpack in such a short book and you will end up thinking about it long after you finish. While we now have greater access to books than ever before that isn’t to say that Bradbury was wrong about other aspects of Fahrenheit 451.

Lastly, though I could talk for quite some time on this book, if you haven’t read it let me highlight that this is not just a story about burning books vs saving books. It explores censorship, yes, but not simply in the forbidding of the printed word. Who controls the information you are fed? Who controls the ideas that are allowed out into the open? How do we censor ourselves within a society even without a government to do it for us?

Fahrenheit 451 will certainly make you think, if nothing else.

This was book 54 of 2020.

This was also the first choice of a Book Club I started at work and below are the discussion questions I went through with our participants:

  1. Have you read the book before? What are your impressions, whether you are reading it for the first time or re-reading it?  
  • Were there any parts of the book you found disagreeable? 
  1. Is the book’s title a good one? 
  1. On the 50th anniversary edition there is a quote from Barack Obama on the front cover: “Ray Bradbury’s gift for storytelling reshaped our culture and expanded our world.” Would you agree? 
  1. Montag comes to learn that “firemen are rarely necessary” because “the public itself stopped reading of its own accord.” Bradbury wrote his novel in 1953; to what extent has his prophecy come true today? 
  • What other prescient elements did you notice in the book? 
  1. Aside from directly quoted passages, did you spot any literary ‘Easter eggs’ woven into the story by Bradbury? 
  1. As Montag is on his way to see Faber, he is trying to memorise Matthew 6:28: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin.” Do you think this was a significant choice? 
  1. How can Beatty’s knowledge of and hatred for books be reconciled? 
  • Do you think Montag’s assessment was correct, and that Beatty wanted to die? Why might he have wanted to die? 
  1. If Bradbury had written Fahrenheit 451 today, what do you think would be different about the novel? 
  1. Are there any circumstances under which the banning of a book might be a reasonable or beneficial action? 
  1. If you had to memorise one book (or risk it’s complete loss), what would you pick and why? 

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Posted in Literature

Read: The Obelisk Gate & We Are All the Same in the Dark

The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth, #2)The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

*chef’s kiss* Muah!

Mm. Yes. Please. More. Thank you.

Loved this, – perhaps not as much as The Fifth Season but – it was everything I wanted from the series so far and more.

The writing is excellent; character building is balanced and the sections with 2nd person PoV are well done and didn’t effect my immersion whatsoever.

The story covers a shorter overall period of time than the first book; in this entry a little over a year passes during the course of the story in which both Essun and her daughter Nassun are improving and honing their skills, albeit they seem to be on a collision course with each other for the third instalment.

Besides this I don’t think I can say much more without spoilers so sufficed to say this is a worthy follow-on and deeply enjoyable ‘next step’ in the trilogy. If you read and enjoyed The Fifth Season, definitely keep going.

This was book 52 of 2020.

We Are All the Same in the Dark: A NovelWe Are All the Same in the Dark: A Novel by Julia Heaberlin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an Advanced Reader Copy via NetGalley & the publishers in exchange for an honest review.

We Are All the Same in the Dark is a mystery/thriller set in small town Texas where the stories of two missing girls ten years apart weave and wind together as local cops try to solve these cases.

The PoV switches quite dramatically midway through so we primarily see things through the eyes of two different women. This keeps the story fresh and sets it apart from some the usual police-hunt-badguys thriller staples out there.

Heaberlin builds up two solid, well built main characters who we can sympathise with and understand their motivations. Some of the supplementary characters are a little more obtuse but that’s necessity of the mystery genre.

Overall it’s a well-structured, -paced and -finished novel that delivers a good storyline with believable characters.


I dropped it a half star in my mind because I guessed who the killer was in the first half.

This was book 53 of 2020.

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Posted in Literature

Read: Reality is Not What it Seems & Artificial Condition

Reality is Not What it Seems: The Journey to Quantum GravityReality is Not What it Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity by Carlo Rovelli
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An inspirational read despite some rather dense science involved.

Carlo Rovelli does a good job and explaining complex scientific ideas to non-experts. His prose is well-written and quite beautiful. It isn’t all hard science as there is a certain element of story-telling as he recounts the journey of knowledge that has brought us to where we stand today with quantum gravity and loop theory.

That being said, you almost definitely need to have an interest in theoretical physics in order to persist through the more obtuse and complicated sections. I feel like I absorbed maybe 70% of the science explained in this book and the remaining 30% I suspect I may never fully grasp, although, as Rovelli argues science is all about butting up against those things we don’t know or don’t fully understand. I’m happy with what I did take away from the book.

Aside from the formulae and theories and equations, this is an enlightening and inspirational read that will provoke some philosophical questions in its reader. How much more might we know now if the science of antiquity had not been destroyed? What might we be able to do if 1400 years hadn’t been lost to the dominion of religion over science? It’s an interesting question to think on, when reading Rovelli’s accounts of how much science has advanced since 1900, when it was free to do so.

This was my 51st book of 2020.

Artificial Condition (The Murderbot Diaries, #2)Artificial Condition by Martha Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Did Murderbot just make a… friend? In as much as it can, wants or cares to.

Our anxious misanthrope of a free bot seeks out answers as to what happened to make it become Murderbot in this 2nd instalment of the series. Everything you loved about Mb in the first novella is still there now with added… hair? Thrown into the mix this time around is ART, the Asshole Research Transport Mb meets on the way to finding answers.

Once again this is a brilliantly witty and well-written story by Wells, told in a diarised style (hence the series name) from the point of view of the eponymous Murderbot. The experiences with social anxiety are cleverly done and accurate. There’s not too much ‘hard science’ involved in these books so if you’re not a fan of that in your sci-fi then these books are definitely worth a gander. They’re short, quick reads that are immense fun.

This was my 50th book of 2020.

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Posted in Literature

Read: The Gravity of Us & Jonathan Livingston Seagull

The Gravity of UsThe Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An easy, light read that is good fun with a m/m romance that is very sweet.

I am not typically either a YA or Romance reader so if you’re in the same boat; I found this definitely worth the read. It’s easy to read, first-person story told by Cal, an internet-famous 17 year old whose life is uprooted when is dad is (unexpectedly) accepted into a space program to Mars. The family moves from New York to Texas to take up residence in Houston for the father’s astronaut training.

It is written in the lexicon of a teenager in 2020 and I feel that lends to a more authentic feel as a personal coming-of-age story under exceptional circumstances. The romance is key to the story but not 100% central so you can’t get sick of too much soppy stuff. Not that there’s much anyway as Cal and Leon are more the kind of sweet young love than the drippy overly saccharine sort.

Besides the queer romance, the book deals with themes of mental health, loss, fame and integrity and does so very well. All of these aspects come together to build the story up and to ensure it has the strength to stand on it’s own and is not just a romance novel. It is clever, funny and moving.

Jonathan Livingston SeagullJonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a short philosophical book that explores the cycles of community beliefs and how a single pebble can cause ripples that change far more than could have been predicted. This version is one reprinted with the fourth section (previously languishing in a desk drawer) and I definitely think the addition of that final section makes the whole story feel more finished. The cycle is completed by that last section; a full turn of the wheel.

“…the forces of rulers and ritual slowly, slowly will kill our freedom to live as we choose.”

Yes there is an obvious spiritual aspect to the tale but don’t be put off if you are not religious; it seems equal parts positive and critical of organised religion or organised belief systems. It is worth reading regardless.

These were my 45th and 46th books of 2020.

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