Into the Drowning Deep – Mira Grant [Books]

into the drowning deepI’m still relatively new to audiobooks. During February, I tried to only start books written by women. I picked up Into the Drowning Deep as I was looking specifically for horror titles, and this seemed a good choice on Audible.

I was not wrong.

Into the Drowning Deep tells the story of a group of scientists, searching for mermaids. Prior to the events of this book, another ship had searched for the same, mysterious creatures, only for the ship to disappear along with everyone on board. All that remains is footage of what looks like a mermaid, attacking those involved.

Victoria Stewart’s sister was on board the ship, and she searches for some way to make sense of what happened. When she’s approached and offered a chance to join the new voyage, she takes the chance.

Christine Lakin, the narrator for this, did an absolutely fantastic job. Audiobooks are not something I’m used to, but Lakin really did well to bring every character to life in the dialogue.

The atmosphere builds up really well, and it becomes easy to imagine the main setting of the novel, the huge cruise ship full of scientists and models-dressed-as-security. The real nature of the company behind both ventures is clear, but the individual characters all have their own motives and desires, threaded throughout the story and driving them forward.

Whether it’s searching for answers, validating their life’s work, or just being part of something amazing, each character is fully realised, drawing the reader in and allowing them to understand even the most minor characters.

The book really shines in the second half. Like most good horror, after we’ve met the characters and formed a relationship with them, the fun really begins, and Grant doesn’t hold back, teasing us with her use of tension and buildup of suspense.

I’m really glad I listened to the audiobook for this one, as Lakin really adds that extra punch to the story, and was easy to get absolutely lost in the story. If you’re looking for creepy, sea-based horror – with an interesting, diverse cast of characters – this is definitely one to check out.

A Touch of Death – Rebecca Crunden [Books]

a touch of deathCatherine is content in the world she lives in. The daughter of the King’s Hangman, she lives in comfort and safety, oblivious to the real dangers lurking outside her home. She is in love with Thom, but when his brother Nate returns one night, Catherine finds herself accompanying him on a short overnight journey which ends in disaster.

Discovering they are both infected, Catherine and Nate face two options: stay and face whatever awaits them in the hands of the king’s men, or flee.

A Touch of Death is a different take on the dystopian subgenre, with this world so far removed from ours it’s hard to really pinpoint it as our world, but with plenty of hints to show how we could get from this point to there. It’s a world ravaged by disease and pollution, where those in power care more about clinging onto that power than protecting anyone around them.

There are aspects in here familiar to those who have read dystopian novels before – corrupt government, unhappy population ruled by fear, a decaying world – but Crunden really uses these to her advantage, and her characters sparkle with life.

The story is gripping, taking the reader on an adventure across this strange world, leaving them trying to work out who to trust as much as Catherine and Nate do. And through it all, we’re left wondering how things will end, whether the pair will be saved by any miracles.

Crunden has created a dystopia that feels different to those I’ve read before, one where the dangers aren’t as obvious as they first seem, while using some familiar elements to show the stark contrast in those who have grown up with privilege, and those who haven’t.

This was a really interesting dystopian book, tackling a variety of themes and having, at its centre, really engaging characters who change and progress throughout the novel. For me, this is a strong recommendation if you’re looking for something a little different.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Volume Two – Alan Moore [Books]

league vol 2It took me a long time to get around to reading The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and now I’m two volumes in I feel deeply invested in this mash of classic genre characters. For those who aren’t aware, the first volume introduces us to the core group of characters, pulled from works like Dracula, The Invisible Man, and Jekyll & Hyde.

If you’ve seen the 2003 film, you might have some idea of the characters encountered, but honestly from what I can remember of that film, it’s really not a great adaptation. If you want something a touch closer to the tone, style, and characterisation found within the graphic novel, Penny Dreadful is a much better choice.

The group is made up of Mina Murray, Allan Quartermain, Captain Nemo, Hawley Griffin, and Henry Jekyll. Other characters from classic genre fiction are pulled in to serve various purposes, and the second volume follows the core characters as they battle against an invasion force from Mars.

This volume feels a bit darker than the first. From the moment we meet Griffin in the first volume, we know he’s a POS, a fact which is emphasised and really comes to play in this volume. From what I can remember of the first, the plot mainly revolves around gathering the League, and a plot against London. In this volume, the threat feels larger.

Not only that, but we get to see more of the characters, good and bad sides, as they are separated in order to find a way to end the war. Mina isn’t perhaps as formidable and powerful as she feels in the first volume, but the events that transpire almost push her to breaking point – and, fair warning, there are some graphic scenes regarding this. Not to mention each character feels as if their death is waiting, very close with the Martians seemingly unstoppable attacks.

This feels like a fitting sequel to the first volume, and pushes the events along nicely, leaving the reader with the sense of time passing as the century comes to a close.

There was one element I wasn’t too fussed on. At the end of the first volume is a story, giving the reader an idea of what Quartermain had been up to, prior to the events of the graphic novel. It was entertaining and interesting. At the back of this volume is a sort of traveller’s guide to interesting places around the world, mixed in with some glimpses as to what the League members might have got up to, both before and after the events in both volume one and volume two.

And it dragged. There are some interesting nods there to other classical works – such as a group going down a rabbit hole after a young girl disappeared, only to reappear sprouting nonsense about a strange land. The guide is worldwide, but it felt like it was too much information relayed in a really dry way.

The best parts of the guide were, without a doubt, the moments we dropped back in with Murray and Quartermain. Where we got to witness what happened to them after leaving London, and I suspect these were designed to plant the seed for the next volume in the series.

Overall, I think if you’re already read and enjoyed Volume One, Volume Two is worth picking up. It adds to the characters, and it has some brilliant references to other works that’ll make readers smile, as well as the interesting take on War of the Worlds.

 

 

 

The Testaments – Margaret Atwood

the testamentsThe Testaments is the sequel to Atwood’s outstanding novel. The Handmaid’s Tale, and takes us further into Gilead, allowing us to see more of the messed up, dystopian world ruled by the Sons of Jacob.

While The Handmaid’s Tale was told through one POV (Offred), The Testaments is told through three – Aunt Lydia, who expands on the treatment of women in the early days of the regime, Agnes Jemima, a young girl growing up in Gilead, and Daisy, a teenager in Canada.

Aunt Lydia’s sections read most like The Handmaid’s Tale, as she records her diary and hides it from prying eyes, giving the reader an insight into the function of the Aunts, and how they came to be in their position.

In contrast, Agnes’ and Daisy’s chapters read much more like a YA novel, presented as ‘witness statements’ as the girls reveal how they came to be in their current situations. The chapters switch back and forth, painting deeper pictures of what growing up in Gilead is like, and how the rest of the world views the situation.

One thing that struck me when I read The Handmaid’s Tale last year was how, after all this time, it’s still so scaringly relevant. With The Testaments, Atwood doesn’t shy away from current issues. Countries are too scared to step in and deal with Gilead, preferring to watch from afar as Gilead puts out its own propaganda, meant, at times, to make places like Canada feel better about doing nothing. Fleeing refugees are dealt with poorly, with some people resenting their presence. And children protest against Gilead, while others raised there see no wrong in the way they are brought up.

The contrast between the two girls works really well, especially when we get glimpses of Agnes’ school life, and her best friends. Gilead is very much a patriarchal (in the strongest sense) and classist society, Agnes’ classmates treatment of her affected by how many Marthas she has, by the fact her father gets a handmaid, and so on. Although things do not sit quite right with her, she accepts them, only acting to change things once she receives permission.

In contrast, Daisy is strong-willed and stubborn, keen to make her voice heard, though at most times she comes across as apathetic, almost like a mask to conceal what she actually feels.

The characters in The Testaments feel as real and vivid as Offred, from Aunt Lydia’s recollections of how Gilead started, to the words of the two girls who have never known a world without Gilead. Despite her sheltered upbringing, Agnes does have empathy for people around her. Lydia quietly works to maintain her place, and Daisy searches for answers once it becomes clear her parents haven’t always told her the truth.

At times, it becomes easy to dislike some of the characters, but questions are raised regarding whether you would take the same course of action, or do something differently. Whether it is worth risking your life for the innocents around you, or risk the life of people you love for the greater good.

The Testaments isn’t as good as The Handmaid’s Tale, and it is, in many ways, an easier read, feeling a little bit more removed, more with a dystopian YA feel than The Handmaid’s Tale, but it is still powerful in its own way, and still carries the threat of Gilead, showing how easy it would be for a regime such as that to take over, and for many to ignore the suffering happening right before their eyes.

Blogmas #1 – Christmas TBR

Blogmas #1.pngSo I thought I’d give Blogmas a go this year, because why not. Although I likely won’t be posting every day, I’ll do my best to post as often as I can and offer up some Christmassy posts for your enjoyment. Jenn, who has an absolutely fantastic blog you really should check out, pointed me in the direction of her Blogmas list, (which you can check out here) so I’ll mostly be using that, with some amendments of my own.

My Christmas TBR, much like my October TBR which I talked about at the start of Blogtober, isn’t really centered around Christmas. Mainly because I have so many books waiting to be read, and with my Goodreads challenge cleared, I want to try and get to some of the bigger ones.

However, there is one book I’ve been waiting a good few months to read, and which I started last night.

season of wonderSeason of Wonder is an anthology of science fiction and fantasy stories, all centered around winter, Christmas and holiday themes. Edited by Paula Guran, the anthology brings together many names familiar to genre readers, and after reading the first story last night, I’m excited to dig into the rest, and nestle in with these wintery, Christmassy tales.

I tend now to have one book on the go for ‘pleasure’, and another for review. I do review ‘pleasure’ books, but they’re not ones I’ve specifically been asked to review and review books tend to be on my Kindle anyway. Right now, I’m reading Follow Him, by Craig Stewart, reading for a blog tour in Feb. I am really enjoying this one. It’s creepy and eerie, and I’m not really that far into follow himit. But it’s building up to be a tense, exciting read – keep an eye out for my post early next year.

Sticking with review books for now, I also want to try to get to Ritual by Steve Stred. I’ve heard really good things about this on Twitter from the horror community, so I am excited to dig into it. There’s also Cricket Hunters by Jeremy Hepler, which looks like a fantastic horror read.

The other two books I want to try and get to by the end of the year are both 2019 releases, and both sequels to books I’ve absolutely loved. The Testaments arrived with great fanfare, and because I pre-ordered with my local bookshop, and was the testamentsone of the first to do so, I was extremely lucky to get a signed copy. I’m eager to read this – I only read The Handmaid’s Tale this year, shortly before the sequel was announced, and one thing that kept hitting me was how relevant the novel still is. That’s not a good thing, but I think The Testaments is really needed in the current climate.

The last book is The Dragon Republic, which I feel everyone has probably read by now except me. The Poppy War was an amazing novel, and again, if I can get to this by the end of the year I’ll be super happy, especially as these are both fairly big books. We’ll see how it goes.

What about you, friends? What’s on your TBR for this month?

25-Post-Ideas-for-Blogmas

That Dreaded TBR #2

A while ago, I did a post about cutting down my Goodreads TBR. I thought it would be worth revisiting, and seeing if I can’t get it down just that little bit more.

I originally saw this at Becky’s Book Blog, as explained in the previous post.

Rules

Go to your Goodreads to-read shelf.

Order on ascending date added.

Take the first 5/10/however many books. If done again, start form where you left off.

Read the synopses of the books

Decide: should it stay or should it go?

what happensWhat happens in office, stays in office – Ankur Mithal

A no-holds-barred account of life in the cut-throat world of large corporations, told in a unique humorous and ironical style. A world where millions are employed and are forever engaged in finding a balance between doing right for the organization and doing right for themselves. The domineering boss, the whining employee, the counter-productive policy-making, the jockeying for visibility, are all products of this interesting world. Not all, however, is as it appears on the smooth and shiny surface of this world. There are personal anxieties and fears which get carried into business interactions.

Though informal outlets are available to people in corporations, mostly through the often innocuous art of bitching, many of these subterranean currents never get recognized or discussed openly. Perhaps for the first time ever, this book discusses situations where these subtle (to the doer) and shameless (to the doee) acts often create outcomes that are both poignant and funny and, at times, downright disgusting. In the garb of humour and satire, this book delivers some hard-hitting management lessons. In doing so, however, Ankur may have inadvertently let out some never before talked about secrets of success of The Club that the Corporate world appears to be from outside.

I added this book to my TBR way back in May 2013, just under a year after graduating from uni, less than a year into an office job I would remain at for five years. Something about this book really intrigued me at the time, but I feel like now it might even have more of an impact. I’ve been in two office jobs since leaving university, and it would be great to read about different experiences. The one I was in for five years was for a big, global organisation. The company I work for now is much smaller, but some elements remain the same. I’m going to keep this one on, because rereading the synopsis has rekindled my desire to read it.

a prayer for owenA Prayer For Owen Meany – John Irving

Eleven-year-old Owen Meany, playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire, hits a foul ball and kills his best friend’s mother. Owen doesn’t believe in accidents; he believes he is God’s instrument. What happens to Owen after that 1953 foul is both extraordinary and terrifying. At moments a comic, self-deluded victim, but in the end the principal, tragic actor in a divine plan, Owen Meany is the most heartbreaking hero John Irving has yet created. 

I’m kind of on the fence about this one. Okay, so it has a lot of positive reviews on Goodreads and is one of those ‘must read’ books, but I’ve had really mixed experience with all kinds of absolute must reads. Hmm. Although I do kind of want to read this, I don’t really think I’m ever going to. It goes.

something wicked this way comesSomething Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury

A carnival rolls in sometime after the midnight hour on a chill Midwestern October eve, ushering in Halloween a week before its time. A calliope’s shrill siren song beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. In this season of dying, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. And two inquisitive boys standing precariously on the brink of adulthood will soon discover the secret of the satanic raree-show’s smoke, mazes, and mirrors, as they learn all too well the heavy cost of wishes – and the stuff of nightmare.

This is another of those must read books, but more for horror rather than ‘literary’ purposes. I know this book has inspired a fair few American horror authors. Goodreads has it noted as the second in a series (after Dandelion Wine) but as far as I’m aware, they can be read as standalones? I definitely still want to try and read both, however. This one stays.

divine comedy

The Divine Comedy – Dante Alighieri

The Divine Comedy describes Dante’s descent into Hell with Virgil as a guide; his ascent of Mount Purgatory and encounter with his dead love, Beatrice; and finally, his arrival in Heaven. Examining questions of faith, desire and enlightenment, the poem is a brilliantly nuanced and moving allegory of human redemption.

I want to read this, I really do, and I’ve tried a few times, but I never can quite get into it. Maybe I need to give it another chance. Or, as I did with Camilla, try and find an audio version? I slogged my way through Paradise Lost, and most of that was – excuse the pun – hell to get through. There’s just too many other books I physically have that I know I’m going to enjoy, to get a book which I have a feeling I might not enjoy as much. Like I said, I’ll probably check out an audio version eventually, but for now, this goes.

brave new world.jpgBrave New World – Aldous Huxley

Far in the future, the World Controllers have created the ideal society. Through clever use of genetic engineering, brainwashing and recreational sex and drugs all its members are happy consumers. Bernard Marx seems alone in feeling discontent. Harbouring an unnatural desire for solitude, and a perverse distaste for the pleasures of compulsory promiscuity, Bernard has an ill-defined longing to break free. A visit to one of the few remaining Savage Reservations where the old, imperfect life still continues, may be the cure for his distress …

Huxley’s ingenious fantasy of the future sheds a blazing light on the present and is considered to be his most enduring masterpiece.

I have a feeling this is one those books which are now considered…problematic. I’m not entirely sure, but the fact ‘Savage Reservations’ is in the blurb makes me think yeah, I probably wouldn’t want to actually touch this. Even if that wasn’t the case, it’s another of those ‘classics’ that probably don’t hold up well, and there are way too many better books out there, by writers who aren’t white men, I’d rather spend time on. This one goes.

Not too bad today – three out of five taken off the Goodreads TBR. These ones leaned more towards ‘classics’ too, and I think I’ve grown out of feeling there are particular books I have to read. I’d rather spend my time now reading books I enjoy.

Have you read any of these? Agree or disagree with my choices?

Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds – Gwenda Bond [Books]

Suspicious_Minds_Cover.jpg

Suspicious Minds is the first Stranger Things tie-in novel, and as such, I was really excited to read it. I love the Netflix series, adore the characters, and was eager to find out more about the Stranger Things universe, prior to the events of the TV show. Especially as this novel focuses on Terry, Eleven’s mother.

And boy, was I disappointed.

[MILD SPOILERS AHEAD]

I read this book prior to the release of season 3, and it honestly managed to drain my excitement for the upcoming season. (Luckily, excitement was full-blown shortly into the first episode)

It is so difficult to write a novel. It’s even more difficult when it is a novel based off an existing property, where fans are already going to have their own ideas about events, especially in a prequel book.

The writing wasn’t bad. But the way the events of the novel pan out just really did nothing for me. The characters surrounding Terry felt flat, including her boyfriend, especially her sister, and even the others going into the lab. The doctor is supposed to be the big bad, but he doesn’t feel anywhere near as scary as he did in the series. And Kali…

God, Kali was so badly used in the novel.

There are references literally every page, either to 60s events or, repeatedly, LOTR. I get that LOTR is important to Stranger Things, as much as D&D is, but almost every character in here references, persistently, and it just feels forced. I could have a checklist of 60s events next to me, and have ticked them all off within the first few pages. Moon Landing. Manson Murders. Woodstock. Vietnam. Etc etc etc.

It just got a bit boring. And the ‘Fellowship of the Laboratory’ all come up with different ways to try to stop Dr Brenner, but way too often their schemes come down to

-Use Kali

-Hope she doesn’t tell

And, oops, she’s a kid! A kid who gets punished for lying to Brenner, yet these ‘adults’ put it on her over and over again.

I wanted to find out more about Brenner, and Terry, and the experiments conducted at the lab and maybe some of the other kids involved. Instead, we get very little of that. Just Terry and friends running around like the Scooby Doo gang, peeking behind doors and DETERMINED to bring down the lab. There’s no tension with this, because having seen season one of Stranger Things, we know this doesn’t happen. We know the experiments continue and Brenner takes Terry’s child and Jane becomes Eleven. It’s the same problem many sequels have – trying to build tension from events where we already know the outcome.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work.

I think, even for diehard Stranger Things fans, it might be worth passing over this book. Nothing gets added to the wider world of the series, and personally, it left me feeling a little cold. Hopefully the other tie-in novels will be better.

The Fever King – Victoria Lee [Books]

 

the fever king

Before I get into this, I just want to mention I received this book from Ashleigh (@edwardanddamon on Twitter), after winning it in one of her monthly giveaways. You should definitely go check her out because she’s awesome.

In a future version of the USA, Noam, the bisexual son of undocumented immigrants, survives an outbreak of a disease that leaves some survivors with the ability to do magic, although what kind of magic varies from one person to another. He is taken to a training centre, and put under the watchful eye of the charismatic, mysterious Calix Lehrer, former king, alongside Calix’s ‘son’, Dara.

I wanted to like this. Maybe my expectations were a little bit too high, but the premise sounded brilliant, and the writing itself is good – certain sentences were a joy to read, and some scenes were really gripping. But by the end, it just felt like there was too much crammed in, too much going on. The cast of characters is a little too big, filtering in and out, the other students a little flat compared to the actually well done characterisation of Noam and Dara.

Calix himself just read as untrustworthy, and it was hard to see why Noam trusted him so much, why he felt so willing to go along with everything.

Plot-wise, again, there were some really good elements here, but a lot got crammed in, and the moment one thing picked up, the plot seemed to take a sharp left turn into something else. There were some confusing moments, some really ‘huh?’ moments, and the ending…the ending to me just felt a little contrived, a touch rushed, with everything being a little too coincidental at certain points, and confusing at others. More than once, I found myself going back to reread a paragraph or two.

This is definitely not a bad book, nor is it badly written. The fault – to me – lays in too many ideas jammed into a fast paced scenes, with slower, meandering interruptions throughout where the students do nothing but sit around, repeated quite often, when it feels like the pace should be faster, coupled with too many characters. I really would have liked to have seen more of their training, maybe an example or two of their classes, and what life was really like for the students in this school, rather than just skipping over the interesting parts to show them in the same room or in Calix’s study.

Now, the important question. The Fever King is the first in the series, named Feverwake, and at the end I had to ask myself – will I read the next one?

The honest answer is… (drum roll please) probably yes, actually. Like I said, Lee isn’t a bad writer, and I think the next book will likely show lots of improvement, plus, by this point, I do feel invested in the story. So maybe, despite the things I disliked about it, the book has done its job, after all.

Star Wars: Tales of the Bounty Hunters [Books]

c_tales_bhuntersI like Star Wars, and have done since seeing the original films as a teenager. I was excited when the new films were announced, loved TFA, TLJ, and Rogue One, sort of enjoyed Solo (I guess), but it was only in the last couple of years I watched the prequel films. (Which kind of left a bad taste in my mouth)

But until now, I had never actually read a Star Wars book.

My BF has an extensive library, including quite a lot of the Star Wars novels. He did want me to read one originally linked to the prequel films, but I shot him down, pointing out if I didn’t like the first one I read, I likely wouldn’t pick up the others, because life’s too short to waste on books I don’t enjoy.

Anyway, I ended up reading Tales of the Bounty Hunters, and it was actually a good place to start. Even if some of it is now invalidated by both the prequels and sequels, but even though it’s no longer ‘canon’ to Star Wars, it was still enjoyable.

The collection of short stories, edited by Kevin J. Anderson, was released in 1996. Before the prequels, before the Disney films, before…well, before I’d ever seen Star Wars. (It was a simpler time) Each story focuses on a different bounty hunter, but all contain one key scene – the moment when Darth Vader sends the hunters out to find Han Solo.

Bounty-Hunters

Therefore I Am: The Tale of IG-88

This was a good story to start the collection. It’s not the best, but it’s compelling enough, watching the assassin droid advance and ‘evolve’.

Payback: The Story of Dengar

I really liked this one, and it had me completely rooting for Dengar, wanting to see him succeed in some way, though not in the way he wanted to.

The Prize Pelt: The Tale of Bossk

First things first, Bossk is not a likeable character. So it’s good that this story gives us two completely new characters – a human and a wookie, who offer to help Bossk hunt down Solo and, more importantly, Chewie, as Bossk desperately wants his pelt. Works nicely, and I think I’d have rather seen a film with these two characters than Solo.

Of Possible Futures: The Tale of Zuckuss and 4-LOM

I found this to be kind of sweet. Zuckuss is gravely ill, and 4-LOM is constantly trying to learn new skills – the latest being that of ‘intuition’, which he hopes to learn from Zuckuss. But the bond between them, I think, also teaches 4-LOM a bit of empathy, as they try to gain enough credits to pay for Zuckuss’ treatment. This and The Prize Pelt are my two favourite stories out of this collection.

The Last One Standing: The Tale of Bobba Fett

Maybe because there’s so much ‘weight’ to the character of Bobba Fett, but this, to me, was the weakest story. Not because it contradicts anything that came after (I am more than happy for that to happen) but because it just felt at odds with what little we knew of Fett in the original films, and parts of it felt a bit…mundane. I think I would have preferred to see Fett continuing from the end of Payback, but instead we get a short story that spans decades, jumping forward to relevant points. This version of Fett is obsessed with ‘justice’, but that justice seems awfully dependent on the Empire’s view of black and white, rather than any internal moral compass. It felt a little weak.

bounty-hunter

Overall, I really would recommend this book, if you like Star Wars. If you’re a fan of the prequels OR don’t want to get into the now non-canon extended universe, however…maybe give it a miss? All I can say is, I really enjoyed it, despite knowing nothing about these characters except their brief on-screen appearances in the original films.