Wed, Read and Dead – VM Burns

wed read and dead cover

“‘If you don’t get your fanny out of that dressing room in the next thirty seconds, I’ll come in and drag you out.'”

Sam Washington runs a mystery bookstore with help from her grandmother, Nana Jo, her twin nephews, and Dawson, the student she took in several books ago (the series starts with The Plot is Murder). In the latest volume she’s also preparing to be a bridesmaid at her mother’s wedding – at least, that is, until a body shows up!

True to the series, one of their friends/family is top of the list of suspicions – and Sam and the ‘Silver Sleuths’ must solve the crime quickly enough to keep that person out of jail and the wedding from being ruined.

I largely enjoyed this book. It doesn’t vary vastly from the previous three, with regular breaks to read bits of Sam’s own ‘period English’ mystery. These provide a bit of a break, a comparison that makes the rest of the book look better (sorry, Sam!), but most importantly a way for Sam’s subconscious to start solving the real-life mystery.

However, as the ‘who why and how dunnit’ elements start to be revealed, it all felt very familiar. I don’t pay enough attention to my cosy reads to pinpoint it exactly, but I could’ve sworn the same plot had been used elsewhere.

Still, I think what I like most about it all is how nice the group is, supportive of each other, making this a lovely as well as non-taxing kind of a read. There are times for that!

NetGalley eARC: 272 pages / 16 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: Mystery Bookshop book x4
Read from 16th-23rd April 2019

My rating: 5/10 – not bad, but I felt like I’d read the mystery before which was odd

Advertisements

Tiny Leaps Big Changes – Gregg Clunis

tiny leaps big changes cover

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes.”

Reading this straight off the back of Burnout really flagged to me the different approaches self-help books can take. Burnout felt supportive, wanting you to have a happier life, helping you tackle some of life’s obstacles to achieve that. This, on the other hand, felt like it was castigating you for being such a lazy loser, and if you really wanted something you can have it simply by applying yourself enough.

I have serious concerns about the advice in the book. The example given is Dave, a dad who wants to make more money so that his daughter can (eventually) go to college without a big debt hanging over her. So he puts in extra hours and stresses himself out and argues with his family because he’s exhausted. But oh, he’d be a horrible person if he let himself slack – how could he look his daughter in the eye if she had to take out loans for college?

Wow. Just… no. How about enjoying life, not being a shitty parent who’s never there, or finding other ways than becoming a monster?

I think my main issue with this book is that the author is in his mid-20s. I am turning into an old grump, but quite frankly I don’t think Clunis has the life experience needed to write a book like this – at least, not for people outside his own age group. He talks dismissively of people who never take risks, are never willing to lose everything to gain something better, and uses the example of Jim Carey’s father from a talk the actor gave once. Urm, right. ‘Cos a sane, responsible parent can afford to take that kind of gamble o.O

There are snippets of good advice, but that can’t mitigate the awful, smug tone, and quite frankly dreadful suggestions at times. Avoid.

NetGalley eARC: 224 pages / 12 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 3rd-17th April 2019

My rating: 3/10

Preludes and Nocturnes – Neil Gaiman

preludes and nocturnes cover

Graphic novels should, it feels, appeal to me a whole lot more than they do. As it is, I read so fast the artwork tends to get lost, and it’s tough to make myself slow down enough to savour it. It works, then, to go back for rereads – like this, of a series that I rather adore.

I love Neil Gaiman’s work anyway, but never more so than with his tales of the Endless: Death, Dream, Desire, et al. The first collected volume is wholly centred on Morpheus, the ‘Sandman’, the King of Dreams.

We start when a cult’s ritual to summon and bind Death (Dream’s big sister) goes awry, and it’s the dreamlord who ends up trapped in a bubble for decades. Meanwhile more than one world starts to fall apart. Fair enough to assume Morpheus will escape, but can he fix everything his absence has caused in the worlds?

And so we set off on an extremely dark and bloody tale that takes our hero to hell and worse. There’s no shortage of cameos, tying this into the wider DC universe: from Arkham Asylum and a few familiar inmates, to a certain John Constantine, and a character that would go on to spawn (pun intended) further comics and a whole TV series: Lucifer Morningstar (looking not very much like Tom Ellis, and a great deal like David Bowie, as it happens…!).

Talking of looks, the artwork… to be honest, doesn’t do a great deal for me here. It’s fine, but it’s not as special as my brain remembers or I think the series deserves. It does improve, but at this point in both the series and the decade, it’s all just a bit so-so.

The story, however, is where it’s at. Gaiman also draws heavily from myth, from Cain and Abel to the Fates, and much more. It makes a lot of sense that Dream is so key to story telling, and all stories are part of it. I love the interplay, the different strands, the way all these realities clash and combine.

Much as I adore the overreaching story (in 11 volumes or so) I’d have to agree with the author in his afterword that these opening chapters are him finding his feet. It’s only towards the end that I really felt we were starting to settle into the characters.

But, the best is very definitely still ahead, so well worth dipping a toe into the beginnings…!

Trade Paperback: 240 pages / 8 sections
First published: 1989
Series: Sandman book 1
Read from 31st March – 6th April 2019

My rating: 7/10 – and so much more love for the rest of the series

Bound – Mark Lawrence

bound cover

“‘So what, Nona Grey, is X?'”

This short story takes place between the events of Grey Sister and Holy Sister in the Book of the Ancestor trilogy. You don’t need to read it to enjoy the main series. Indeed, you’d need to be quite the fan to get this, as it’s quite costly for its brevity – I would have baulked totally if the rest of the series hadn’t come to me as review copies.

The aftermath of the events at the end of the former book aren’t described until flashbacks in book 3, but we pick up with the novices back in Sweet Mercy convent. Someone is poisoning the younger members of the Sis nobility, and Sister Kettle is determined to find out who. Who better than Ara to go undercover, back in the society role she left behind?

There’s nothing to dislike about this story. It deepens the bond between Nona and Ara that we’ve seen along the way, and explains a little more about ring fighter Regol’s place in the ongoing story.

That said, it’s a bit of an outtake in my opinion. You don’t need to read it for the rest of the series – and, that in itself detracts from the tale. Still, one for fans, and I am definitely that!

kindle: 49 pages
First published: 2018
Series: Book of the Ancestor book 2.5 (of 3)
Read from 17th-18th April 2019

My rating: 7/10

Grey Sister – Mark Lawrence

grey sister cover

“The dissolution of any monastery or convent is not something to be lightly undertaken.”

Red Sister was one of my favourite fantasy novels in years, so much so that when the final installment (Holy Sister) fell into my little paws I didn’t hesitate to go back for a reread before this middle installment.

Following the events from that first book, the surviving novices and sisters have returned to the convent of Sweet Mercy. But politics abound in the Empire, and Nona Grey has to face not only the trials of Mystic classes, but the hatred of a wealthy lord, the schemings of an emperor’s sister, and the horror of the Inquisition.

One of the things I loved about the first book was the world building, and the hints that things were more than they seem. Where are the four races from? Who are the Missing? We get a little more information about the shiphearts and the Arks here, but no real answers. More questions, of course! Foremost of those would be: who the heck is this Keot? The author even pre-warns us before starting the story that we’re not meant to know who he is, he has just ‘appeared’ since the first volume.

We also seem to have jumped forward a fair bit of time which felt a little jarring. Given the amount that happens in book 1, especially at the ending, it doesn’t feel right that the span from then to ‘now’ was so quiet – Keot aside. And to skip over all of his introduction… argh!

Some of the characters have changed, too, in ways that might have made more sense if the passage of time wasn’t so truncated. Kettle, for instance, is almost more friend than teacher now, which doesn’t not make sense, but still.

But, that all soon falls by the wayside as we are once again caught up in the politics and scheming of a world that is slowly being consumed by ice. Nona’s self-discover has led to much great confidence and some new fighting techniques, and if that at times felt a little Logan-esque to me the action still stays high and the intrigue abounds.

Of course there is an element of middle book syndrome, with most things already explored to an extent but no resolution. Still, book three is in my hands and started, so I won’t complain too much! It’s still very well written, intriguing fantasy, and I cannot wait to see where it’s going to end.

NetGalley eARC: 417 pages / 47 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: Book of the Ancestor book 2
Read from 26th March – 15th April 2019

My rating: 8.5/10

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle – Emily & Amelia Nagoski

burnout cover

“This is a book for any woman who has felt overwhelmed and exhausted by everything she had to do, and yet still worried she was not doing ‘enough’.”

I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say this book has made me a better person (maybe a bit?) but I do think it’s made me a better feminist. I am so guilty of proudly feeling that I can ‘play with the boys’ at their own game, swearing and telling bawdy jokes, that being faced with a book about stressors faced by women, and how we marginalise ourselves, was something of an eye opener.

I shouldn’t feel so happy about someone pointing out how much more stress there is in my life than I knew about, but actually, the sense of relief, the nodding along – yes! Yes, it does stress me that (insert ton of stuff here). And that it isn’t acknowledged, and that I’m ‘delusional’ or hormonal or whatever if I try to point it out. There’s a whole chapter called ‘the Game is Rigged’ which summed up so much of what I feel, but hadn’t articulated. The underlying premise that boys are taught to be human ‘beings’, and girls more often expected to be human ‘givers’ – wow.

That said, the book is not just a long rant. It points out that we’re all holding on to a lot of stress without realising it, and that’s just never going to end well.

On a practical level, the opening chapter talks us through the difference between stressors – like the jerk in the BMW on the drive home, or the late request for a report at work – and stress. Often we deal with or at least move away from the stressor but we’re not actually dealing with the stress. The authors talk about ‘completing the cycle’ – letting our primitive brain acknowledge that we’re now safe. I want to reread this part already: I’m getting ‘dance around the living room’, but think there are other subtleties to pick up on here.

The rest of the book covers a lot of familiar ground with a fresh eye. The ‘Bikini Industrial Complex’, for instance, questions why we allow ourselves to be *so* obsessed with looks (even over health). There is some interesting discussion about the falseness of the fat/unhealthy message – did you know that it’s worse for your health to be slightly underweight than quite a bit overweight? Mind blown.

The only bit I didn’t really like was the whole ‘smash the patriarchy’. Not that I disagree (especially the way it’s described here – definitely not ‘anti man’ in any way, just pointing out how, yup – the game is rigged!) but just that I felt weary even thinking about it. Is life not hard enough without me having to be so proactive on this, too?! o_O

I’m hardly scratching the surface of just how much YES there was for me in this book. I said it’s almost certainly made me a better feminist – for myself and for others. But as it points out, if I’m nodding along with this for me, it’s an excellent way to see how much more the game is rigged if you’re not just female, but of colour, or not CIS/hetero-normative, or ‘able’ in the way that’s taken for granted. I hope I’ll do better for all of these categories now, not just stand up for myself more as a woman.

All of which is fine, but am I less stressed? It did help, really. I’ve spent my life pushing back on the role society seems to want for me – and yes, in little ways that includes ‘smashing the patriarchy’ (it is not, for instance, my role in life to get out of a man’s way on a pavement. I’m not talking politeness, just standing up to that inbred sense of entitlement that no one ever seems to realise they own. I don’t automatically tidy in the office any more, either, even when it’s my default). To get a bit of a ‘yes, that’s right’ was something of a relief. The caveman brain stress stuff makes a lot of sense, too. I have a ways to go, and I do think I’ll be rereading this before too long.

Recommended for women everywhere – and any man who has the balls to accept that the playing field is not, in fact, as level as we’d all like to think.

NetGalley eARC: 304 pages / 8 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 11th-26th March 2019

My rating: 9/10

Outer Order Inner Calm – Gretchen Rubin

outer order cover

I’ve been a fan of Gretchen Rubin since The Happiness Diary, and so her take on the current mania for decluttering – something I’m in need of doing rather a lot of post-move! – was always going to intrigue me.

There’s no overt backlash against The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Marie Kondo (indeed, the book is mentioned near the end), rather this is a gentle “Some things work for some people, but what you want is what will make YOU happy.” This is unsurprising: her last book was The Four Tendencies, all about different personality types reacting to things very differently.

There is some good advice to be had in these pages, but to be honest I was a bit disappointed by the presentation. It’s not a narrative, just a collection of snippets and quotes that I felt like I’d read most of it already on her blog. And while the advice is perfectly fine, indeed very good in some instances, the brevity and style just made me feel like this was a low-effort money spinner, which was unexpected.

I’m not sure what else I wanted from the topic. It’s actually good that the subject matter isn’t drawn out just to make a bigger book. And yet… I dunno. Perhaps if anything had felt like more of a useful tip rather than a random musing on organisation?

As a collection of tips and a few motivational quotes, it’s fine. In terms of actually being inspired to go declutter – meh.

Hardback: 208 pages
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 24th-30th March 2019

My rating: 6/10