A to Z Reading Challenge

REVIEW: Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh

At seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to marry a man she did not choose, a man who is the son of the Emperor. But her journey is cut short when her convoy is attacked by the Black Clan – a group of bandits and thieves who were hired to kill Mariko before she could reach the palace. But Mariko survives and vows revenge on those who want her dead. Disguised as a peasant boy, she infiltrates the Black Clan, becoming one of them, impressing them with her wit and ingenuity. But as she gets closer to her enemies, Mariko begins to discover a web of lies and a history of secrets that will change everything she thought she knew.

Flame in the Mist is set in Feudal Japan but there’s also some magical elements in it too. I really in the liked how the historical was entwined with the magic and myths, both seemed very groundedses characters reality. When this book first came out I heard it was a Mulan retelling or inspired by Mulan, and it’s really not. The only similarity to Mulan is that the main protagonist is a girl who disguises herself as a boy in order to further her aims. Mariko’s goals are very different to Mulan’s. Mariko is very smart in terms of academia and alchemy, but is incredibly naïve when it comes to life outside her gilded cage. She doesn’t know how to hunt or cook or fight and often gets into verbal sparring matches with those around her to try and hide her failings.

Mariko likes to think she’s good at reading people, and has learnt to be underestimated, being a daughter of a prominent Samurai, but when she meets Ōkami she has a much harder time getting a read on him. The dynamic between Mariko and Ōkami is an interesting one and they bounce of each other really well, managing to intrigue and unsettle one another at the same time. Ōkami is just the sort of character I end up really liking. He’s slow to trust but loyal, has a deadly set of skills and is smart. He and Mariko make an unconventional partnership.

Flame in the Mist was a bit slow to pull me in. While it kicked off straight away with the attack on Mariko’s convey, I found it took a while to connect with her and her story. As the story progressed, more characters began to reveal themselves, their political aspirations and loyalty, slowly showing that Mariko was caught up in plots much bigger than herself. The second half of the book sped along though. There was a lot of action, fights and secrets revealed and it became a proper page-turner.

Flame in the Mist is the first book in a duology so natural there’s a lot of threads left hanging, though there was some good character stuff throughout the book. While I won’t be rushing out to get it as soon as it’s released later this year, I will be picking up Smoke in the Sun at some point as I did end up enjoying Mariko as a character and am interested to see how all the plot threads are wrapped up, especially the political ones. 3/5.

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READ THE WORLD – Australia: Gould’s Book of Fish: A Novel in Twelve Fish by Richard Flanagan

When a young Australian con artist discovers a book titled Gould’s Book of Fish, a book with paintings of fish as well as a man’s story as a convict on Van Diemen’s Land in the 1830’s, he becomes obsessed with it. And so, begins the story of William Buelow Gould, his adventures before and after his incarceration on Van Diemen’s Land, the people he meets and how he becomes a reluctant painter of fish.

Gould’s Book of Fish is a weird one. It’s funny and gruesome and fantastical and sometimes makes very little sense at all. William Buelow Gould is a witty narrator as he recounts his life and his exploits, the way he notes his limitations and then straightaway goes against any common-sense is often farcical and hilarious. The situations he gets himself in are almost like watching a car-crash in slow-motion, you cant look away and instead are captivated and horrified.

The historical setting is an interesting yet brutal one. The descriptions throughout the novel are incredibly vivid, for instance, the way the prisoners are punished is cruel and disgusting and it doesn’t shy away from the brutalities that the prisoners experienced. Also, the way the landscape of Van Diemen’s Land (what we now call Tanzania) is described makes the location seem just as harsh and unforgiving as the people who are living there.

A lot happens in Gould’s Book of Fish and it doesn’t always seem believable. In fact, the way the story ends leaves you wondering what’s real and what’s not and even if the character of William Buelow Gould was actually a real character in the story or was he a stand in for someone else. It’s a fantastical story, especially with the prominence of the fish, each of them being related to either a significant character or event in Gould’s life. The fish are a part of him and his connection to them ends up being an almost magical thing. Though, a magical thing that’s not always logical.

I listened to Gould’s Book of Fish on audiobook, which I think certainly helped me follow the story thanks to the brilliant narrator Humphrey Bower. I don’t think I would have got on with the book if I was reading a physical copy. So much happens, and not always in a linear order, that it would perhaps be a bit of a dense book to get through. The audiobook had a great narrator though and made the nonsense story just a bit more understandable.

Gould’s Book of Fish is a weird but enjoyable read. It’s got some bizarre characters and the situations Gould ends up a part of are often bonkers and farfetched, but they’re certainly not forgettable. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Peru: City of Clowns by Daniel Alarcón and Sheila Alvarado

Oscar “Chino” Uribe is a young Peruvian journalist and after the death of his philandering father, he must confront the idea of his father’s other family. While deals with his grief Chico’s latest assignment is to chronicle the life of the street clowns who populate the vibrant and violent city streets of Lima and while doing so he becomes drawn into their haunting yet fantastical world.

City of Clowns was originally a short story by Alarcón and the he and Alvarado collaborated to turn it into a short graphic novel with striking black and white illustrations. How the illustrations and the text is set out on the pages, with it not being afraid to leave a lot of negative space, really puts across how Chico is feeling. There’s black pages and isolated figures when it comes to Chico, but with the clowns it’s often a mixture of lively figures with melancholy faces.

After his father dies he and his mother are suddenly introduced to his father’s mistress Carmela and their sons, Chico’s half-brothers. His mother takes everything in her stride and the relationship she appears to form with Carmela is incomprehensible to Chico, further isolating him as he refuses to acknowledge his emotions.

City of Clowns is a interesting look at grief, emotions and identity. As Chico learns more about the clowns, he admires the way they are hiding behind a mask, that people pay them little attention and they can be whoever they want to be when they perform.

City of Clowns is a quick read but a memorable one. The writing is simple yet eloquent while the illustrations convey so much emotion. 4/5.

REVIEW: Artemis by Andy Weir

Jazz Bashara is the best smuggler in Artemis – the first and only city on the moon. Life’s tough if you’re not a rich tourist or a billionaire, so smuggling in the occasional bit of harmless contraband helps cover her debts and pay the rent. Then Jazz gets the chance on commit the perfect crime, with the pay-out being too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible heist is just the start of her problems, as things go wrong and her life becomes endangered. Soon Jazz discovers a conspiracy in Artemis, and her only chance at survival lies in a scheme even riskier than the first.

I was so excited about Artemis when I first heard about it. It’s about a heist (I love heist stories) on the moon (it’s always cool having stories set in space) by the guy who wrote The Martian (one of my favourite books I read over the past few years). Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to my expectations.

I found it difficult to get into Artemis, mainly because I couldn’t get used to Jazz’s narrative voice. It’s very conversational as if she’s talking to someone else. It is quite similar to Mark Watney in The Martian – but there was a reason his voice was like that, he was recording himself. With Jazz it felt forced, the humour didn’t land a lot of the time and the way she talked about herself and her body was weird and in my experience, not how women generally talk about themselves.

Naturally there’s technical and science jargon but the way it’s explained makes it pretty accessible and easy to understand. However, there is a lot of it and it can bog down the action and I found myself skim-reading it more often than not. The heist itself was pretty good and I didn’t see many of the twists and turns coming as things naturally went wrong for Jazz and her plans.

Artemis is just a bit meh. The whole idea of a city on the moon is really cool and the way the city is described makes it vivid and exciting but the story itself is just OK. Jazz is more grating than a sarcastic hero the book tries to make her out to be and I couldn’t connect to her or any of the characters really. Artemis was an alright book, but it was a disappointing one for me. 3/5.

Reading Challenges in 2018

It’s that time of year again where I start finding some interesting challenges and I decide to sign up for a bunch of them. To save space I’m going to put all the challenges I maybe somewhat foolishly sign up for here.

Over on Twitter I saw the hashtag #BeatTheBacklist doing the rounds and after checking it out I knew I had to sign up for the challenge.

Beat The Backlist is hosted by Novel Knight and the challenge is to read books during 2018 that were published before 2018 – thus not letting us forget about the potentially awesome books that are sitting on our shelves just because a shiny new release has come out.

My target is to read 30 books published before 2018 – a target I should meet as I the majority of my reading is “older books” and my physical TBR is close to 100 hundred books so I’ll have plenty to choose from.

There’s Instagram challenges as well as the chance to win points for your team (I’m a Novel Knight!) if you post reviews of your Backlist Books on your blog/Goodreads as well as on retail websites like Amazon.

Another challenge I’m signing up for is the A to Z Reading Challenge hosted by Ginger Mom Reads. The aim is to read books that start with every letter of the alphabet during 2018. Words like “The”, “A” and “An” don’t count as a title, instead it’s the following word that counts towards a letter, and you don’t have to read books in alphabetical order.

Having a quick look at my physical TBR, I have books for every letter but Q, X and Y at the moment, so this challenge is doable. Plus, you have one “Freebie” you can use for a letter that you can’t find a book for. So for example, if I couldn’t find a book I wanted to read that began with X, I could choose any other book beginning with any letter and put it as my X read. A Freebie can only be used once so I better make it count.

The final challenge I’m signing up for (at the moment anyway) is the Monthly Motif Reading Challenge hosted by Girlxoxo. This challenge is to read a book that fits the assigned motif or theme for each month. I like how each theme is pretty broad so there’s a lot of choice when it comes to deciding what books to read while still making it a challenge.