The Family Plot Review & Giveaway

the-family-plot-1Author: Cherie Priest
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Tor Books
Date: 20 September 2016
Source: Publisher
Buy the BookGoodreads

The Family Plot is a haunted house story for the ages-atmospheric, scary, and strange, with a modern gothic sensibility to keep it fresh and interesting-from Cherie Priest, a modern master of supernatural fiction.

Oh hai, if it isn’t the latest release from one of my favourite writers! I didn’t know quite what to expect from The Family Plot since I’m honestly not that well-versed in ghost stories, but I really enjoyed it. The characters are great, the stakes are believable, the ghosts are pretty darn creepy and the mystery behind their need for revenge is very gripping. Also, THAT ENDING!

Check out my review video if you want to hear more of my thoughts on The Family Plot, and enter the giveaway below for a chance to win your own copy. The giveaway is open internationally until midnight on October 24th and the winner will be selected at random by Rafflecopter.

The review:

The giveaway:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

10 Audiobooks in my Library

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is All About Audio, a freebie on anything audio-related, so of course I wanted to talk about audiobooks!

I’ve gone over my favourites before (shamelessly embedding the video in question right here for you to check out!) so I thought today I’d go for something a bit different and tell you about some of the audiobooks currently sitting in my Audible library: an Audible book haul of sorts!

The MuseThe Muse by Jessie Burton [Goodreads]

London,1967. Having struggled to find her place in the city since she arrived from Trinidad five years ago, Odelle Bastien now works as a typist under the tutelage of the glamorous & enigmatic Marjorie Quick. The plot thickens when a lost masterpiece with a secret history is delivered to the gallery.

Rural Spain, 1936. Artist and revolutionary Isaac Robles & his half-sister Teresa insinuate themselves into the life of Olive Schloss, the daughter of a renowned art dealer, with explosive and devastating consequences…

I enjoyed Burton’s debut The Miniaturist – particularly the detailed & immersive portrayal of historical Amsterdam – so I’m eager to see what she makes of 70s London & the Spanish Civil War. I’ve also heard really good things from a librarian friend of mine – always a good sign!

Packing for MarsPacking for Mars by Mary Roach [Goodreads]

Space is a world devoid of the things we need to live and thrive: air, gravity, hot showers, fresh produce, privacy, beer. Space exploration is in some ways an exploration of what it means to be human. How much can a person give up? How much weirdness can they take? What happens to you when you can’t walk for a year? have sex? smell flowers? What happens if you vomit in your helmet during a space walk? Is it possible for the human body to survive a bailout at 17,000 miles per hour?

To answer these questions, space agencies set up all manner of quizzical and startlingly bizarre space simulations. From the space shuttle training toilet to a crash test of NASA’s new space capsule, Roach takes us on a surreally entertaining trip into the science of life in space and space on Earth.

A new Mary Roach book! About SCIENCE! And SPACE!! I’m so excited to read this after getting on the Mary Roach train with Stiff.

Zer0esZer0es by Chuck Wendig [Goodreads]

Five hackers are detained by the U.S. government at a secret complex known as the Lodge. Forced to work as an elite cyber-espionage team in the service of Uncle Sam to avoid federal prison, these misfits dub themselves ‘the Zeroes’.

Once the Zeroes begin to work, they uncover secrets that would make even the most dedicated conspiracy theorist’s head spin. And soon they’re not just trying to serve their time, they’re also trying to perform the ultimate hack: burrowing deep into the U.S. government from the inside, and hoping they’ll get out alive. Packed with electric wit and breakneck plot twists, Zer0es is an unforgettable thrill ride through the seedy underbelly of ‘progress’.

I’ve not actually read anything by Chuck Wendig before & I’ve been meaning to remedy that – then I saw this in an Audible sale & I just had to pick it up.

Six of CrowsSix of Crows by Leigh Bardugo [Goodreads]

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price – and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge, a sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager, a runaway with a privileged past, a spy known as the Wraith, a Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums, a thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Kaz’s crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction – if they don’t kill each other first.

Here’s another book I picked up in an Audible sale, and it’s 100% booktube’s fault.

UpdraftUpdraft by Fran Wilde [Goodreads]

Kirit can’t wait to pass her wingtest, so she can start flying in service to her home tower, and exploring the skies beyond. When Kirit inadvertently breaks Tower Law, the city’s secretive governing body, the Singers, demand that she become one of them instead. To try and save her family from greater censure, Kirit must give up her dreams to throw herself into the dangerous training at the Spire, the tallest, most forbidding tower, deep at the heart of the City.

As she grows in knowledge and power, she starts to uncover the depths of Spire secrets. Kirit begins to doubt her world and its unassailable Laws, setting in motion a chain of events that will lead to a haunting choice, and may well change the city forever-if it isn’t destroyed outright.

I originally got this because it was being nominated for so many SFF awards, but then Andrea Philips mentioned it has a bit of a Dragonriders of Pern vibe & I got very VERY EXCITED. It’s now moved to the top of my TBR list!

AmericanahAmericanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie [Goodreads]

As teenagers in a Lagos secondary school, Ifemelu & Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are leaving the country if they can. Ifemelu departs for America to study. She suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships and friendships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London.

Years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a writer of an eye-opening blog about race in America. But when Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, and she and Obinze reignite their shared passion – for their homeland and for each other – they will face the toughest decisions of their lives.

I’ve had this in my Audible library for a little while & I was hoping to get to it during #Diverseathon, but it was a bit too long to cram into that week.

The Path of AngerThe Path of Anger by Antoine Rouaud [Goodreads]

Dun-Cadal has been drinking his life away for years. Betrayed by his friends – who turned their back on their ideals in favour of a new republic – and grief stricken at the loss of his apprentice, who saved his life on the battlefield and whom he trained as a knight in exchange, he’s done with politics, with adventure, and with people.

But people aren’t finished with him – not yet. Viola is a young historian looking for the last Emperor’s sword, and her search not only brings her to Dun-Cadal, it’s also going to embroil them both in a series of assassinations. Because Dun-Cadal’s turncoat friends are being murdered, one by one… by someone who kills in the unmistakable style of an Imperial assassin…

I picked this up some time ago to read for my series on translated fiction, but after a couple of disappointing translated reads, I took a short break from that project which turned into a much longer break – woops. I do really want to get back to it soon.

North and SouthNorth and South by Elizabeth Gaskell [Goodreads]

North and South depicts a young woman discovering herself in a nuanced portrayal of what divides people and what brings them together.

Elizabeth Gaskell’s compassionate, richly dramatic novel features one of the most original and fully-rounded female characters in Victorian fiction, Margaret Hale. It shows how, forced to move from the country to an industrial town, she develops a passionate sense of social justice, and a turbulent relationship with mill-owner John Thornton.

You can blame Richard Armitage’s face for this purchase, which may or may not have been made while I was swooning at his Mr Thornton watching the BBC mini-series. When I first heard about this classic romance set in Victoria Britain, with bonus industrial relations subplot & actual working class people, I couldn’t believe I’d gone so long without knowing about it! Now I’m just saving it for a dreary day when I’m in need of a pick-me-up.

City of StairsCity of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett [Goodreads]

Years ago, the city of Bulikov wielded the powers of the Gods to conquer the world. But after its divine protectors were mysteriously killed, the city was conquered, its proud history erased & censored. Progress left Bulikov behind, just another colonial outpost of the world’s new geopolitical power.

Into this musty, backward city steps Shara Thivani. Officially, she is just another lowly diplomat sent by Bulikov’s oppressors. Unofficially, Shara is one of her country’s most accomplished spymasters, dispatched to investigate the brutal murder of a seemingly harmless historian. Soon Shara begins to suspect that the beings who once protected Bulikov may not be as dead as they seem…

This was an impulse buy I got on sale around the time the book came out (if I recall corectly, it was after hearing a particularly good recommendation on Shipping & Handling). I think the sequel is already out too, so I can go straight onto book two if I enjoy it.

Calculating GodCalculating God by Robert Sawyer [Goodreads]

An alien shuttle craft lands outside the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. A six-legged, two-armed alien emerges and says, in perfect English, “Take me to a paleontologist.”

In the distant past, Earth, the alien’s home planet, and the home planet of another alien species, all experienced the same five cataclysmic events at the same time (one example: the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs). Both alien races believe this proves the existence of God: i.e., he’s obviously been playing with the evolution of life on each of these planets.

I’m not gonna lie, this one just sounded hilarious! I’ve read & enjoyed Robert Sawyer before, and came across this one in a sale. The blurb made me laugh & somehow the book found its way into my library. This is why I’m not allowed to click on that gorgeous little ‘Get 3 extra credits’ button any more.

Let me know in the comments what books you’ve acquired recently & if you’ve read anything from this list. If you do your own list, please link back to The Broke and the Bookish, who created and hosts Top Ten Tuesday.

The Obelisk Gate – Review

26228034Author: N.K. Jemisin
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Orbit
Date: August 2016
Source: ARC (publisher)
Buy the BookGoodreads

The season of endings grows darker as civilization fades into the long cold night. Alabaster Tenring – madman, world-crusher, savior – has returned with a mission: to train his successor, Essun, and thus seal the fate of the Stillness forever. It continues with a lost daughter found by the enemy, with the obelisks and an ancient mystery converging on answers at last.

The Stillness is the wall which stands against the flow of tradition, the spark of hope long buried under the thickening ashfall. And it will not be broken.

This is quite a tricky book for me to rate and review because while it’s clearly very well written, I didn’t find it as enjoyable a read as The Fifth Season. I’m glad that I did read it because I’m still interested in the story and characters, but I found it a difficult read – very much worth the extra time and attention but still, not an easy reading experience.

In my review of The Fifth Season, I mentioned that Essun’s point of view was my least favourite since it’s narrated in second person. Once again, the writing of the second person narration is impressively well-handled, as is the reveal that one of the characters is in fact the narrator. This was such a smooth transition that I couldn’t remember if it had been introduced in The Fifth Season, or if it was new information. And yet, I still found the second person point of view difficult to read. It still felt weird and occasionally jarring to me.

The second point of view character introduced in this book is Essun’s daughter, Nassun, who is mentioned throughout the previous book, but who we haven’t yet properly met on the page. I enjoyed Nassun’s point of view a lot, and it was great to see her transform into a character in her own right, when she had been little more than a source of motivation for her mother in The Fitfh Season. It’s fascinating to get Nassun’s take on things, which is so different from her mother’s. Seeing this child’s interpretation of Essun’s careful teaching really underlines the sacrifices Orogenes face in this world for the sake of absolute self-control, which is so crucial to their survival.

It was somewhat distressing to see Nassun align with her father in the full knowledge that he had killed her little brother Uche for being an Orogene. in further very troubling company, Nassun then begins to associate with a character who makes a surprise from The Fifth Season, with a bit a new personality (woot, amnesia & mind-control!). I particularly enjoyed seeing Nassun’s opinion of the people around her and of her distant mother evolve throughout the book. As Nassun grows older and learns more about Orogeny, her father and the Fulcrum, she adjusts her view of the important players in her life in a way that gave me hope for her in the future.

Much like its predecessor, the Obelisk Gate is incredibly brutal and includes scenes of body horror which some people might find a bit too much. I was okay with them, but it did make it a bit more difficult to take genuine enjoyment out of the book when I kept thinking ‘Great writing, very effective, EWWWW’. There was a lot of me cringing at the places Jemisin was willing to go and trying hard not to visualise. There’s a revelation right at the end of the book that makes a lot of sense and that I probably should have seen coming. I won’t say what it is, but I will say it’s making me weary about the amount of graphic description of body horror there will be in the next book. There are some things I don’t really want to read about happening to a main character I care about, especially not when the narration kept calling her ‘you’…

I’m not surprised that this wasn’t an easy read, nor I am saying it’s necessarily a bad thing. Not every book can or should be an easy or straightforward read, and this feels to me like it was written to be layered, subtle and wonderfully challenging. In The Obelisk Gate, Jemisin creates a fascinating and demanding story, whose depth and complexities are well worth taking the trouble to fully engage with.

4 stars

My new shiny ASUS Chromebook C300

chromebookI’ve only had the chromebook for a few days but I’ve been very impressed with it so far. I’ve tried many different combos of desktop and laptop found the perfect combination that works the best for me and my usage. it’s a bit too early to say whether a well optimised desktop which I can upgrade in the future and a lightweight chromebook are the solution but it is looking positive so far.

First, a bit of background:

For at least three years, my main computer was a 15-inch ASUS laptop I bought new in 2012. Even at the time, it was reasonably priced (£400, iirc). I made all of my videos on that laptop for the first year of the channel, and still used it regularly once I got my hands on an old desktop for editing.

A few months ago, I build a desktop computer optimised for video editing (it was such a great process: I learned about computer specs in more detail, honed my parts list until Reddit approved of it, then had a friend over to show me the ropes of actually building the thing). That’s now what I use to make all of my videos, for everyday internet browsing & the occasional bit of gaming.

So now I have a desktop that runs significantly faster, smoother and overall better than my laptop, and that means I hardly ever use the poor, neglected laptop. The only times I’ve reached for it in the past few months have been to go and do some writing outside of the house, which a bulky 4-year old laptop is hardly suited for: it’s quite heavy (it hurts my back to carry it for too long), takes ages to turn on and keeps freezing & going all ‘blue screen of death’ on me.

So I decided to go hunting for a new laptop specifically for carrying out and about, hence…

The Chromebook C300:

The Chromebook does take a bit of getting used to and it is certainly not for everyone, nor the same as a full laptop, but it has definite advantages if you’re after something lightweight & portable.

I’m not going to lie, the main reason I decided to go for a Chromebook was the price: I know there are very high-end Chromebooks but this model has modest specs, and will only set you back £199. Mine is a factory refurbished unit, so I got it for £129! There’s supposedly some cosmetic damage on it that caused it to be reduced but I honestly can’t see any marks or scuffs, it looks perfectly new to me.

As advertised, the chromebook turns on near instantly and is ready to go as soon as you input your password (that’s true for the initial setup as well as everyday use). I’m not entirely happy with how I’ve arranged my Google accounts and my apps yet, but it’s only been a few days. I’ve never really explored browser apps before, so the ones I have so far are things that have a direct phone app equivalent. Even then, I’ve already found a free video editing suite and image editor. If you have any tips on apps to use, leave them in the comments please!

I was on the tube the other morning for six stops (about 15 minutes), and I had time to take my chromebook out, turn it on, log into the right account, get into my writing app and do almost 200 words on a short story outline. As soon as the train started pulling into my station, I saved my work, shut the chromebook, put it into my bag and I was out the door without having to hurry. I’ve done this with other computer and had to walk out of the tube carriage with the laptop under my arm so I could fix my bag on the platform… Not an ideal situation.

chromebookThis is definitely the quietest computer I’ve ever owned, I can’t hear it at all when it’s on & when I turn it off there’s only the tiniest difference. That’s pretty impressive considering I used to have to turn off my previous laptop when I filmed videos to avoid its whirring making it onto the recording.

The battery life also seems very promising: once fully charged the Chromebook promises me over 12 hours of battery life, removing the need to carry the charger around, ie. another victory for lightweight & portable. I haven’t tested that very thoroughly so far (I’ve only had it for a few days), but after a full charge and three days of moderate use on the go and at home, the battery is at 54% with another 5 hour 20 remaining.

I know some people might not like the obnoxiously bright red order shell I picked but for me it’s a big bonus. Every time I look at it, it makes me smile, it’s such a cheerful tone of red. The inside shell around the screen and keyboard is white with regular black keyboard keys, so the colour isn’t actually distracting when you’re trying to work.

Overall it’s a gorgeous little machine and I always want to have it out with me so I can show it off. As long as you know what you’re buying (translation: as long as you don’t expect to get a full laptop!) and don’t mind having to learn to use a new OS provided by our benevolent Google overlords, it’s a really choice in my humble opinion. I’ll let you know if the honeymoon period wears off but it’s looking good so far!

Ghost Talkers – Review

261142914 starsAuthor: Mary Robinette Kowal
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Publisher: Tor Books
Date: 16 August 2016
Source: NetGalley
Buy the BookGoodreads

Ginger Stuyvesant is a medium for the British Army’s Spirit Corps during World War I. Each soldier heading for the front is conditioned to report to the mediums of the Spirit Corps when they die so the Corps can pass instant information about troop movements to military intelligence. While Ginger’s intelligence officer fiance, Captain Benjamin Harford, is away at the front, she discovers the presence of a traitor. Even worse, it is clear that the Spirit Corps is now being directly targeted by the German war effort. Ginger has to find out how the Germans are targeting the Spirit Corps and stop them.

From the moment I first heard the premise of this book, I knew two things: the first was that I would probably cry my eyes out reading this (I did), and the second was that there was A Thing that was bound to happen. I won’t elaborate on what The Thing is, but it was always obvious that it just *had to happen*, the setup was too perfect for it not to. I expected The Thing to take place at the end of the book in the final moment of victory, to better punch the reader in the feels. Instead The Thing happened very early in the book, meaning that the aforementioned punching in the feels happens again and again all the way through. This was fantastic storytelling, but also very upsetting and bittersweet. I spend a lot of my time reading this book with my throat constricting and a bit of dust in my eye.

I always love Kowal’s characters and this was no exception. I particularly loved Ginger for her resilience and strength of character, when her working day consists of sharing in the deaths of hundreds of soldiers in order to report on them to the British Army – not just viewing their deaths but actually living through their final moments and their fears in her own mind. She suffers so obviously from this on top of everything else, by the end I just wanted to give her a hug & make her a strong cup of tea.

It took me a little longer to warm up to Ben because of some of the period-typical attitudes he exhibits: when we first meet him, he has just learnt that the Spirit Corps is in danger, and immediately tries to get Ginger out of danger. Of course, he loves her and wants to protect her, only the way he phrases it is that she somehow has less of a duty to the war effort than he does because she is a woman. Predictably I found this very very annoying – I do think it’s good writing, because it sounds like something a gentleman of that period would say, but it doesn’t mean I rolled my eyes at him any less. But Ginger quickly puts an end to that silly notion, and apart from this one little hiccup, Ben and Ginger’s engagement is always portrayed as a relationship between equals, who have real respect and love for each other.

The book also has fantastic secondary characters, my favourite by far being Ginger’s Circle, a group of volunteers sensitive to the arcane, who support her during her shifts as a medium and keep her anchored to the real world. They are an extremely tight-knit group who all chose to come out to Northern France to help with the war effort, and go through so much together. You can’t help but admire their courage and loyalty and resilience. There are also several characters of colour, both in the ranks of the Spirit Corps and in the Army itself, which was great to see because it is historically accurate for World War I. Probably also historically accurate but quite a bit sadder is the way these characters are often mistrusted, summarily dismissed and generally given far too little credit for their work.

All in all, I loved this book but I am giving it a slightly lower rating than I did the Glamourist Histories series. I got choked up and teary-eyes quite a few times reading this, and I found the reading experience a bit draining. I would definitely still recommend this book to people (so they can get punched in the feels like I was), I think it’s beautifully done but intentionally bittersweet. I mean, if you write a book about WWI and your readers end up feeling all light and happy and fluffy, you’re probably doing it wrong.