Sunday 5 November 2017

Review: One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus

one of us is lying uk book cover by karen m. mcmanusI should actually have reviewed One of Us is Lying ages ago, ideally some point after I read it way back in August. I wasn't going to bother because I had ridiculously conflicting opinions about this book, but then I've seen just one two many glowing review to not stick my oar in.

Plot summary: On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.

Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule. Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess. Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing. Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher. And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.

Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention Simon's dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose?

Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.

I suppose the most important thing is that I enjoyed reading this book. It's written reasonably well, the dialogue isn't stilted and weird, and the narrative isn't clunky. It flows great and I kept turning the pages. My problem was that I didn't think certain... issues are dealt with in a respectful fashion.

The narrative follows four characters, each with their own chapters told in the first person. Perhaps surpringly for a YA contemporary novel, I actually quite liked them. Each character fits neatly into one of the teenage stereotypes - the vapid popular girl, the sports star, the tortured soul and the nerd. I think this is done intentionally so it's not as cloying as it sounds.

They're actually pretty great. Each character has a distinctive voice to separate them from the others and their personalities have a surprising depth. My favourite was Addy, the popular clique girl who is slowly starting to break free of her pre-determined role and consider whether this is really who she wants to be after all. 

Each of these characters has a secret, hence their potential motive for murdering the person about to reveal it. Some of these 'secrets' are infinitely more interesting than others - Bronwyn's, for example, is most definitely not a big deal and Nate's is practically plastered on his forehead. That said, I really liked Cooper's grand reveal, which I didn't see coming at all. It's a mix, in short. 

So who killed Simon? ARGH, I really need to talk about this but it's obviously ridiculously spoilery. I'm just going to have to say that I was really disappointed with the ending. I guessed the ending almost immediately but decided I was wrong because it was too obviously and there must be a twist. There wasn't.

But that's fine, I can deal with a predictable ending because I really enjoyed the characters. I have massive issues with another area of the book though, but it's an issue that would be spoilery if I even told you what the issue was.

Essentially, a certain character's actions are promoted and almost encouraged in a very damaging way. There's no discussion as to the reason behind their actions and it results in only benefits to that person, which is horrific. Nobody gets any comeuppance for their actions, neither for the issue that I'm dancing around or for the 'secrets' that made the characters suspects in the first place.

So yes, while I enjoyed the act of reading One of Us is Lying due to the great character development, the ending was predictable and certain serious issues are dealt with in a very cavalier light.  

If you've read this, please talk to me about it. Am I the only one who had similar issues? 

My To Be Read List - November 2017


As I mentioned in my October Wrap-Up post quite literally eight minutes ago, due to the massive amount of library books that fall into my bag every weekday, I've been struggling to get to my own books.

I was sat here dramatically swooning in dismay, when I stumbled across this fun new feature by Michelle at Because Reading. 

The idea is that on the first Saturday of the month, you post a poll with three of the books on your TBR list. Your readers choose which of these books you should read that month, and then you post a review of said book by the last Saturday of the month.


To aid with the issue outlined above, I'm going to pick from only the books I own and I'm going to give you one book that has been on my TBR forever, one that is newly acquired and one that's sort of middle ground. 

Newly acquired

Added: September 2017

For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. Needing to make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.

Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem . . . and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire.

Hovering in the Middle

Added: February 2016 
I didn't ask for any of this. I didn't ask to be some kind of hero. But when your whole life gets swept up by a tornado - taking you with it - you have no choice but to go along, you know?

Sure, I've read the books. I've seen the movies. I know the song about the rainbow and the happy little bluebirds. But I never expected Oz to look like this. To be a place where Good Witches can't be trusted, Wicked Witches may just be the good guys, and winged monkeys can be executed for acts of rebellion. There's still a yellow brick road - but even that's crumbling.

What happened? Dorothy.

They say she found a way to come back to Oz. They say she seized power and the power went to her head. And now no one is safe. My name is Amy Gumm - and I'm the other girl from Kansas. I've been recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked. I've been trained to fight. And I have a mission.
The TBR veteran 

Added: February 2013


God of Mischief. Father of Lies. Harbinger of Destruction. Exiled and tortured by the gods, Loki swears vengeance. He will summon the mighty Fenris Wolf and the legendary Midgard Serpent, and they will lead an army of giants and all the dead in Niflheim. Brimming with the power of the most destructive being in the Nine Worlds, he will not rest till Asgard is in ashes and all the gods are dead under his heel. 

Definitely make sure to vote for one of the above and check back next week to see which book I'll be reading. If you want to take part, visit the rules page at Because Reading.

Saturday 4 November 2017

September and October 2017 Wrap-Up

I have so many books to review and so many posts to write, but I just haven't had the time. It's hard to say why, really. Although it's taking me longer to get too and from work now, I'm not really working any longer than I was previously. Obviously there is the new household resident who is taking up a lot of my time, but I can't really begrudge her that. I think I just need to find the balance between spending time with my family whilst ensuring I also get Hanna Time in which to read.

I didn't get round to doing a September Wrap-Up, but considering how little I read, I didn't feel too bad about it. That was Moving Month, so I feel like it can be excused. I've read a bit more this month, thankfully.

I feel really lucky in that I've had such a good run of books over the past few months. I've started thinking about my Best of 2017 list already and, for the first time ever, I think I'll be leaving books out instead of scrabbling for additions so I can reach the total.



The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
The Birds and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier
A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan 
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas


The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland
How To Stop Time by Matt Haig
The Red Knight by Miles Cameron
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
The Tropic of Serpents (Natural History of Dragons #2) by Marie Brennan
Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf



Teach Yourself: Art History by Grant Pooke
The Radium Girls by Kate Moore 


Past Mortems: Life and Death Behind Mortuary Doors by Carla Valentine 
Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach

There are so many of these books that I'm dying to review and talk about - I have pages and pages of notes for My Friend Dahmer, the graphic novel by one of Jeffrey Dahmer's classmates, and I have Things To Say about How To Stop Time as well.

I'm definitely not going to do a book haul this month because my trips to the library have become ridiculous. I don't feel too bad about it because I haven't yet had to return a book unread, which means that at least I'm not unnecessarily hogging books that other people could be reading. Of course, it does mean that I haven't really been reading my own books a whole lot, but that's not the end of the world.

Huddersfield Library really is brilliant though - they get so many new releases in and they seem pretty good at purchasing the latest trending books as well. Hence my groaning library card.

Between that and a book buying trip with Charlotte, I have more unread books than every before. It's hard to complain though, when so many of them have been brilliant and I haven't actually paid for the majority of them.

Best Book of September 2017:
The Radium Girls by Kate Moore
Best Book of October 2017:
The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson 

Wednesday 18 October 2017

Review: The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland

UK book cover of The Rise and Fall of Dodo by Neal Stephenson
I knew as soon as I stumbled across this book online that we were destined to be together. A chunky book about a time-travelling government department attempting to reinstate magic? Yes please. DEFINITELY yes. So when I accidentally stumbled across a signed copy in London's Forbidden Planet, I honestly didn't shut up about it for days. I got home, read it immediately... and still haven't shut up about it. Sorry everyone (but not that sorry).

Plot summary:
1851 England
The Great Exhibition at London’s Crystal Palace has opened, celebrating the rise of technology and commerce. With it the power of magic – in decline since the industrial revolution began – is completely snuffed out. The existence of magic begins its gradual devolution into mere myth.

21st Century America
Magic has faded from the minds of mankind, until an encounter between Melisande Stokes, linguistics expert at Harvard, and Tristan Lyons, shadowy agent of government, leads to the uncovering of a distant past.
After translating a series of ancient texts, Melisande and Tristan discover the connection between science, magic and time travel and so the Department of Diachronic Operations – D.O.D.O. – is hastily brought into existence. Its mission: to develop a device that will send their agents back to the past, where they can stop magic from disappearing and alter the course of history.

But when you interfere with the past, there’s no telling what you might find in your future…

I loved this book. Loved, loved, loved this book. I always knew I was going to, but I feel like it defied even my highest of expectations.

It's almost like a way more detailed and technical version of The Chronicles of St Mary's series - I always complained that the concept was great but it was hugely lacking in detail - and now we have The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. In this book, we get to see the creation of the organisation from the ground up, as the machines are invented and the concept of D.O.D.O. (Department of Diachronic Operations) comes together. It could be boring, but it's not. It's time travel and so I will suck up every scrap of detail and love it.

It's told through a variety of different formats, but not so many that it becomes wearing (I'm looking at you, Illuminae). We mostly see mission reports and journal entries, but there's the odd internal company memo or policy briefing to add a dry and fun sense of humour. I wasn't over keen on the letters from Grainne O'Malley (a 16th Century witch) as I really didn't like her and they dragged on a bit but, looking back, they probably were necessary to the overarching plot, so I won't complain too much.

Ohhhhhh, the plot. It's ingenious. A lot of time is spent on setting the scene and I loved every second. However, the actual over-arching point of the novel is deeply hidden and quite subtle, so that you start to feel genuine little twinges of anxiety before you even really know what's going on. It's hard to pinpoint, but it's there. When it really gets going, towards the end, my stomach actually hurt, I cared so deeply about the characters.  It's honestly a masterpiece.

Of course you get some detail of their time-travelling exploits - what's the point of a time travel book otherwise!? I loved Melisande travelling back to bury a rare book, and managing to navigate the 16th Century slightly better every time she headed back. I'd probably have liked more of that, but not at the expense of the amazing plot so I'll pipe down. There's a reasonable amount there anyway, in fairness.

I can only imagine how long it took Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland to plan this book. Not only the set-up of D.O.D.O. but the intertwining threads of narrative that come together to make absolute sense. It is time travel, after all - it's not meant to be simple. This is the only book I've read by these authors, but I've already added a few more to my wishlist.

The only problem with The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. is that I was torn between frantically needing to read it, but then not wanting to read it because then I'd have finished it and couldn't read it anymore... *breathes into a paper bag*

Visit Neal Stephenson's website here, or find him on Twitter. 
Nicole Galland can be found here. 

Saturday 7 October 2017

Review: The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

UK book cover for The Radium Girls by Kate Moore
Arrrrrrgh, this book. This book, this book, this book. I've been putting off reviewing it for ages because my notes are a garbled mess of exclamation points, page numbers and quotes, and every time I think about this book my heart (and head) hurt all over again. It's a brilliant, brilliant book and, even if you can't make it to the end of this mess of a review, I really encourage you to read it.

Summary: 1917. As a war raged across the world, young American women flocked to work, painting watches, clocks and military dials with a special luminous substance made from radium. It was a fun job, lucrative and glamorous – the girls themselves shone brightly in the dark, covered head to toe in the dust from the paint. They were the radium girls.

As the years passed, the women began to suffer from mysterious and crippling illnesses. The very thing that had made them feel alive – their work – was in fact slowly killing them: they had been poisoned by the radium paint. Yet their employers denied all responsibility. And so, in the face of unimaginable suffering – in the face of death – these courageous women refused to accept their fate quietly, and instead became determined to fight for justice.

Drawing on previously unpublished sources – including diaries, letters and court transcripts, as well as original interviews with the women’s relatives – The Radium Girls is an intimate narrative account of an unforgettable true story. It is the powerful tale of a group of ordinary women from the Roaring Twenties, who themselves learned how to roar.

This is technically a non-fiction work about the women who earned a living by painting luminescent dials on watches in the 1920s. I say 'technically,' because I have never cried this much over a non-fiction book (or any fiction book either, in fairness). The tone is a rarely-seen perfect mix of the emotional and the technical - although every single page contains near constant quotes from the women and their families, the remaining text tells the women's story with a very sympathetic narrative.

That's not a criticism. I never felt like I was being emotionally manipulated and it would be very, very difficult to write a book of this nature and be objective. Aside from the original horror of the women being told to put radium in their mouths in the first place, they were lied to nigh-on continuously by the company and even so-called medical experts. Their bodies collapsed, their hearts broke and their bank accounts emptied, but the company continued to Appeal, even after the Courts had already made a decision.

The tone of the text is light and very accessible, but the subject is not. Their jaw bones literally fell out of their mouths. There are photographs in the middle of the book - most are included to emphasise that these women were real, human, living people (temporarily, at any rate) but there are a few that show the size of tumours, disintegrated bones, etc. There is one particular photo that I kept turning back to and I cried every single time I looked at it. One of the women collapsed during a Court hearing after she was told that her condition was fatal (her well-intentioned doctors had decided to keep this information from her) and a photographer somehow got a shot mid-collapse. It really demonstrates the lack of knowledge provided to these women and their emotional state at that time.

There aren't words to describe how much these women suffered. It's not just the physical horrors, but the way they were treated. One woman was posthumously slapped with a 'syphilis' label even though there was no indication of any sexually transmitted disease and another woman's body was pretty much stolen from the hospital by the organisation before the family could pay their respects. They were shunned by their communities for creating trouble for the factories that provided jobs for local people and some of the women's husbands became jealous of their (later) wealth and threatened to gas them.

I cried on a train, I cried on a bus and I cried in a cafe. This was real, this happened and people did nothing. My eyes are watering with angry tears as I write this six weeks after I read it.

It's very hard to separate the topic from the book, but I'm going to try because I don't think Kate Moore's skill deserves to be overshadowed by the tragedy she writes about. She writes very well - to say that a good 300 pages of The Radium Girls is about a legal battle, it flows, it's interesting and it's engrossing. She has clearly put a tremendous amount of effort into research and interviewing the relatives of the deceased, and she appears to genuinely care about the plight suffered of the radium girls. 
And Grace Fryer was never forgotten. She is still remembered now – you are still remembering her now. As a dial-painter, she glowed gloriously from the radium powder; but as a woman, she shines through history with an even brighter glory: stronger than the bones that broke inside her body; more powerful than the radium that killed her or the company that shamelessly lied through its teeth; living longer than she ever did on earth, because she now lives on in the hearts and memories of those who know her only from her story.

Please read this book. Firstly, it's important that we acknowledge these brave and strong individuals who were so profoundly abused in so many different ways. Their bodies and their fight went on to form the basis of ground-breaking legislation that is still in place in the US today, and allowed for progress to be made with preventing radiation toxicity in others. They were ignored and shunned when they were alive, and that was not acceptable. At least now we can look back and retrospectively apologise.

Secondly, I'm desperate to talk about this book so hurry up and read it! I want to talk about the women, the people and especially how radium affected the whole town. The factory was eventually used as a meat locker - so naturally everybody who ate the meat became severely ill. After that the factory was knocked down... and the rubble was deposited around town. Dogs died prematurely, citizens developed an inordinate amount of tumours... you get the idea. I want to talk about it. 

Lastly, it's just a brilliant, brilliant book. Kate Moore is a wonderful writer who has tackled an extremely difficult subject with dignity and grace. Every second that I wasn't reading this book, I wanted to be. It's riveting and completely engrossing.

So there, you go. Read The Radium Girls because it's important, discussion-provoking and enjoyable.
Read Ellie's review of The Radium Girls at Curiosity Killed the Bookworm. 

Sunday 1 October 2017

Review: A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

Book cover of A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan
It really profoundly irritates me that I've had the opportunity to read this since 2014, when A Natural History of Dragons was first published. Did I read it? No. Did I even consider buying it? No. And this, people, is why I shouldn't be trusted with my Book Blogger Practising Certificate. 

Plot summary: All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world's preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day.

Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever.

I loved this book from the very first page. I was completely hooked by the premise which, for some reason, I'd never bothered to take in for three whole years, even though this is absolutely my sort of book. 

Lady Trent writes her memoirs from several decades in the future, when she's clearly an accomplished scholarly adventurer of some renown. In her twilight years, she has taken some leisure time to finally write an honest account in response to the hundreds of letters she receives from young fans, clamouring for details on her exploits. This results in a charming first person narrative that has the benefit of hindsight - the elderly Lady Trent looks back on her younger self with some fondness (and occasionally frustration) and muses on how the world has changed.

Not a day goes by that the post does not bring me at least one letter from a young person (or sometimes one not so young) who wishes to follow in my footsteps and become a dragon naturalist. Nowadays, of course, the field is quite respectable, with university courses and intellectual societies putting out fat volumes titled Proceedings of some meeting or other. Those interested in respectable things, however, attend my lectures. The ones who write to me invariably want to hear about my adventures: my escape from captivity in the swamps of Mouleen, or my role in the great Battle of Keonga, or (most frequently) my flight to the inhospitable heights of the Mrtyahaima peaks, the only place on earth where the secrets of dragonkind could be unlocked.  
This does not interrupt the action-filled plot in the slightest, however. In A Natural History of Dragons, Isabella (as she then was) tags along to the perilous mountain region of Vystrana, at the affectionate sufferance of her somewhat bemused husband. She's slightly out of her depth, but determined to prove that she can be a useful addition to the party due to her lifelong love of dragons.

Isabella's favourite topic is, of course, the natural history of dragons and the narrative spends some time discussing her theories on their anatomy and whether they have since been proved correct. However, as she's writing from a more advanced age, she recognises that are other books (including her own) that detail these issues and so she has chosen to focus on the more personal and exciting aspects of her adventures.

Sparkling illustration - Lady Isabella Trent - Natural History of Dragons - Marie BrennanAnd hey, it's dragons! I'm more than willing to sit through discussions regarding the provenance of a dragon's fiery breath. It helps that the novel is interspersed with beautiful illustrations sketched by 'Isabella' herself. 

The overarching plot relates to the sudden aggression shown by the dragons in the Vystrana region and the potentially related disappearance of their pre-arranged guide. It's a really good story, with some really clever ideas and plot devices that I just didn't see coming.

In short, I have absolutely nothing negative to say about A Natural History of Dragons and I genuinely wish that I'd read this three years ago. I've actually already bought the next two books in the series and I'm eyeing up The Tropic of Serpents already. Definitely read this - it's charming, well-written and a great story.

Visit Marie Brennan's website, or find her on Twitter. 

Tuesday 26 September 2017

Review: Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

UK book cover of Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
So one day I roll up to work without a book, which is quite a distressing situation considering I work about an hour away by public transport. Naturally I go to the library to grab a book (or four, actually, but that's a whole other issue) with which to entertain myself on the way home. One of these, and the book I actually started reading, was Sleeping Giants. I knew nothing about it going in but it turned out to be amazing.

Plot summary: Deadwood, USA. A girl sneaks out just before dark to ride her new bike. Suddenly, the ground disappears beneath her. Waking up at the bottom of a deep pit, she sees an emergency rescue team above her. The people looking down see something far stranger...

That girl grows up to be Dr. Rose Franklyn, a brilliant scientist and the leading world expert on what she discovered. An enormous, ornate hand made of an exceptionally rare metal, which predates all human civilisation on the continent.

An object whose origins and purpose are perhaps the greatest mystery humanity has ever faced. Solving the secret of where it came from - and how many more parts may be out there - could change life as we know it.

But what if we were meant to find it? And what happens when this vast, global puzzle is complete...?

I think it's probably best to read Sleeping Giants without knowing too much about the plot, like I did, so I'm going to keep it vague. Suffice it to say that the story just flies past and I'd finished the book before I knew it.

It's not told in the standard, narrative prose. Instead, it's comprised of a series of interviews conducted by a myserious, yet ever present, figure. Part of the mystery is determining exactly who this individual is, and why he's so interested in the recently discovered rare metal. The interviews allow each of the characters to move the story on, but also to share their own views and opinions which are occasionally controversial.

It works really well - you never actually see anything happen, as you're told about everything second-hand, but it still somehow feels like an action-packed novel. It also means that you can feel the characters reactions more viscerally than if you were merely reading it from the distance of a third person voice.

The plot takes some quite dark turns, which demonstrate that it's clearly not meant for a younger audience. I think I might have actually gasped twice. It's a very odd experience, being shocked by an event that you're reading one person relay to another, and it possibly makes even more of an impact.

Sleeping Giants ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, but quite an obvious one. I did see it coming, but it's a twist that I feel positive about so I can't say I really mind. I've already reserved the next book, Waking Gods, at the library and I'm definitely looking forward to reading it.

I'd really recommend this book if you're looking for accessible, action-packed sci-fi with a dark twist.

Visit Sylvain Neuvel's blog here, or find him on Twitter.

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