To Kill a Mocking Girl – Harper Kinkaid

to kill a mocking girl cover

“Quinn Caine may have traveled all over the world, but she still thought nothing was more enchanting than springtime in Vienna, Virginia, especially driving with the windows down on Church Street.”

Quinn is newly returned to her hometown after years of volunteering abroad. As she settles into her new life repairing old books, she doesn’t know if she’s more surprised that her hellraising cousin and best friend is now a nun, or that her sleepy town has just witnessed its second brutal murder in six months…

This book and I didn’t get off to the best starts, as I found it hugely cliched – the aggressive, in-Quinn’s-face police officer hellbent on pinning the murder on her irked me immensely.

However, things did settle down and I ended up enjoying the read. The cliches don’t end, though, with an unrequited crush, school bullies who are still full-on Mean Girls, feisty canine sidekick, several nasty characters to layer on the red herrings, and – sad to say for the cosy mystery genre – a final solution that doesn’t feel entirely ‘earned’.

Still, there’s a lot to like. The inclusion of a novitiate nun as a character was rather intriguing, albeit background fare. I found it charmingly odd to have each chapter begin with a quote from a less than ‘usual’ source, including Game of Thrones, Neil Gaiman, and other quite pop-culture sources. The characters are mostly likeable, at least where they’re meant to be, and the reasons for Quinn’s involvement in the detective work don’t feel too forced.

Overall, though, it’s a bit ‘hmm’. There seemed to be a bit of meandering in the plot, and several characters, with things not wholly feeling resolved in a number of places – although, they weren’t really the point, either. What makes most sense is thinking of this as the first in a series, and I suspect some of the threads will be picked up again. So would I give Quinn another go? Actually, yes, so it can’t have been all that bad! 😉

NetGalley eARC: 352 pages / 31 chapters
First published: 2020
Series: Bookbinder Mystery book 1
Read from 17th-24th May 2020

My rating: 6/10

Firewalkers – Adrian Tchaikovsky

firewalkers cover

“The Masserey-Van Bults were coming in all the dry way down the Ogooue Road, and, as Hotep would say, there was much rejoicing.”

In a not-so-distant future, the Earth has become a scorched hell zone. The very rich have escaped to orbiting habitats, accessed by space elevators. At the base of each, service townships (Ankara – not the Turkish capital, to save you my confusion!) have sprung up, populated by the likes of Mao. Mao is a young Firewalker – someone who will head out to the sunstruck wastes to fix the solar panels and tech that keeps the Ankara viable. It’s a deadly job, but when his other option was facing the bugs of the protein farm…

Adrian Tchaikovsky has a thing for bugs, as his previous works have shown – slight trigger warning for that, I suppose, but I loathe wriggly things and coped just fine.

In this novella, he manages to create a highly believable world, a set of intriguing characters, and switch direction at least twice. The pace is almost a little too much, but it certainly keeps the interest! I did wonder if the use of slang and dialect was going to be irritating, but very quickly I settled into it and it adds plenty of atmosphere – another way to create this world in a truncated way.

Mao pulls in a couple of skilled friends to head out to discover why the power to the township is failing. We get a sense of their lives, the new ‘world order’, and the results of a couple of hundred years of continued climate change. The timing is so coincidental: young people heading into life-threatening danger, the only way they can scrape a living, to save the privileges of the super-rich.

I won’t spoil the huge twist in direction, but it wasn’t what I was expecting! It wasn’t what the group were expecting to find in the middle of a barren desert, either…!

As I said, there’s a lot packed in to a fairly short tale. Well worth the read, and all too relevant for our times, in many ways… let’s hope we don’t head quite the same way, eh?!

NetGalley eARC: 185 pages / 10 chapters
First published: 12th May 2020
Series: none
Read from 8th-12th May 2020

My rating: 8/10

Dolor’s Legs – Frances Hardinge

dolor's legs cover

“A tale told by an old woman while she washed her clothes in a spring.”

Having just finished the wonderful Deeplight, it was lovely to pick up this short story set in the same world. It’s not linked to the events in the main book, but rather a little tale from the past involving one of the hideous sea gods, Dolor the many-legged. And oh, the explanation for the name is not what you might think!

It’s a very brief story, and to be honest I wasn’t sure it was anything other than ‘nice’ to read – until the sort-of twist at the end where suddenly it was a beast of a whole different colour! Much like the main book, it has a lot to say about human psychology, it just manages it in a few sentences after a bit of almost misdirecting background.

You don’t need to have read Deeplight (but it’s great, so why wouldn’t you?!), this would stand alone albeit without any context, but I think it’s meant more as a lovely bonus for those who have read and enjoyed the larger tale.

Wondering now if there’ll be more short stories, or a sequel – either would be great, based on this! 🙂

NetGalley eARC: short story
First published: 2020
Series: Deeplight
Read on 4th May 2020

My rating: 8/10

Deeplight – Frances Hardinge

deeplight cover

“They say you can sail a thousand miles along the island chain of the Myriad, from the frosty shores of the north, to the lush, sultry islands of the south.”

Frances Hardinge has a wonderful skill with words, and an amazing ability to create strange new worlds. The Myriad is amazing: islands recovering from the pre-Cataclysm event, the war of the gods. And what gods! Behemoth sea creatures, capricious and cruel, living in a fearful ‘undersea’. Exposure to this strange not-water leaves people ‘marked’ with strange mutations, but people risk it to recover god remains, sold for huge sums for their amazing properties.

Orphans Hark and Jelt make their way in the world scavenging, and swindling traders come to the islands. The pair are like brothers; Hark owes his life to Jelt’s care when he might have starved as a young child. Now, however, Jelt’s recklessness is in danger of causing a rift between the two – not least when his latest scheme lands Hark in deep trouble. So when Jelt ends up in even straits, Hark’s loyalty is put to the ultimate test…

As we find out about the old gods and the islands of Myriad, the story revolves around the relationship between Hark and Jelt. It questions how much we owe our friends and family. I was screaming at how badly Hark is used and made to feel at points! A subplot mirrors the theme, between a fearsome gang leader and her deaf daughter. I was impressed with the way the disability was handled in the book, too.

Absolutely recommend this. It’s full of secrets and darkness. It’s hugely inventive. And it hits all the emotions along the way.

NetGalley eARC: 432 pages / 42 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 21st April – 3rd May 2020

My rating: 9/10

The Glass Hotel – Emily St John Mandel

glass hotel cover

“Begin at the end: plummeting down the side of the ship in the storm’s wild darkness, breath gone with the shock of falling, my camera flying away through the rain-“

Vincent is the child of her father’s infidelity, leaving her with a strange relationship with her half-brother, Paul. The pair’s lives take very different turns, but again and again crossing paths. Drug addiction, stolen artwork, sham marriage, fame, ponzi schemes and the financial crash – all of these and more weave through this tale. And the Glass Hotel itself, in glorious isolation in the wilds of Canada.

I’ve been meaning to read the much-lauded Station Eleven for the longest time, and perhaps should have taken more care to read the blurb on this one before jumping at the request! Which isn’t to say that it’s not a good read – in fact, it’s brilliantly written with such a skill with words – but to be honest I found it all a bit too ‘literary fiction’ for my tastes. I prefer stronger plots rather than haunting imagery. Still, I found it a bit reminiscent of Margaret Atwood, which is no faint praise!

Vincent is the main character, mostly, although the story goes back and forth both in time and between her and other characters impacted by some of the same events. It was fascinating, seeing ripples spreading out from incidents large and small.

A large chunk of the narrative involves a thinly disguised version of Bernie Madden’s ponzi scheme and the global financial crash. I suppose I have more interest than most in such things (I worked in finance, albeit a tech side, during those events), but it’s still not quite what I was expecting. I think I would rather have spent more time understanding Vincent, or even Paul (not that I found him likeable). Or, actually, something that gave the amazing ‘Glass Hotel’ more reason for being the title.

Overall: I’m glad I read this, but not my preferred genre. If you like lit-fic more than I do, this seems like a stonkingly well-written slice of it!

NetGalley eARC: 320 pages / 16 chapters
First published: 30th April 2020
Series: none
Read from 16th-23rd April 2020

My rating: 7/10 – deserves better, but for my tastes

The Geeky Bartender Drinks – Cassandra Reeder

geeky bartender cover

“Since, well, birth, but more publicly since I started The Geeky Chef in 2008, my passion project has been making recipes for fictional or unusual foods from books, TV, movies, and games.”

I think I’ve just found my new favourite cocktail book! Inspired by geek culture, this features ‘potions’ and cocktails from a range of video games, books, and tv shows. For example, the author’s take on Shimmerwine as mentioned (just mentioned, briefly!) in Firefly. Or Giggle Juice from Fantastic Beasts. Romulan Ale, of course! Or just your generic red/blue/green potion from any number of games. Each recipe begins with a note about the inspiration, and the humour evident in these is worth the read by themselves.

I love love LOVE the presentation – the usual glasses, etc, but also flasks and potion bottles. The book opens with a set of tips and tricks to make the presentation really zing, from rimming the glass to actual ‘special effects’ (e.g. edible glitter), and the photography is excellent in capturing the sense of the magical about all of these.

Moonglow potion - purple liquid in potion flask

I hugely appreciate the approach, which is very much as simple as possible, not too many expensive bells and whistles. So, minimal required kit, and not too many outlandish ingredients – just outlandish inspiration! Sections are wonderful titled Magical Elixirs, Sci-Fi Spirits, etc, and a Comedic section that’s a bit less SFF. There’s even a set of non-alcoholic options, which are equally imaginative.

Much as I love cocktails, I’ve never felt quite so inspired. I soooo want to host my next board game night (yes, yes, I am a giant geek!) and impress everyone with some pretty concoctions. I think little inner 6-year-old me who sort of wanted to be a witch and make potions has found an outlet…!

Recommended – it’s huge amounts of fun and looks so good!

NetGalley eARC: 160 pages / 10 sections
First published: 5th May 2020
Series: related to the Geeky Chef cook books
Read in April 2020

My rating: 8/10

Healthy As F*ck – Oonagh Duncan

healthy as f cover

“Have you ever heard of gluten? … I bet you can name three people off the top of your head who would rather eat nuclear waste than gluten.”

Let’s cut to the chase: in a world with no shortage of advice on healthy living and every faddy diet under the sun, this is *the* best book on the topic I think I’ll ever read! It’s no-bull common sense, written clearly and with a great deal of humour – and, as the title may give away, a lot of swearing. As long as you don’t have an issue with the latter, then this book is genuinely the only one you really need to read on the topic.

I absolutely love the dismissal of any and all faddy diets. The industry does not work, people, or we wouldn’t be growing grossly fatter as a population! And yes, the slant is a little more towards weight loss, but I actually picked this up looking for all-round healthy living ideas – and that’s exactly what the book is aiming at.

Why do you want to lose weight, the author asks? To be skinny? Why? To be fitter, healthier? Why? What do you imagine you’ll feel like when you hit that ‘magical’ number on the scales? Oh, happy. Well, why don’t we just start there – why not look at how to be happy first, because odds on it will make the weight loss stuff easier. Nothing good comes from a place of self-loathing. And before you think otherwise, the difference is made clear between long-term ‘happy’ and short-term pleasure e.g. eating more doughnuts.

There’s a great deal of joy in the no-nonsense approach. Part one is titled “Get your head out of your ass.” It is so true that we get to choose the balance of effort we’re willing to make, for the result we want to get. In other words, six-pack toting supermodel is a nice dream, but be realistic: do you *really* want to put in that much effort – because you’d have to rejig your entire lifestyle. And on the flip side, if you’re unwilling to stop buying and scoffing family-sized packs of biscuits, there’s no point in bemoaning the layer of blubber.

Duncan pushes for the approach of setting up healthy habits that become second-nature, thus removing all the aggro and wasted mental space of ‘dieting’. It’s a good follow on from previous reads I’ve enjoyed, such as Tiny Habits. She also tells us to avoid the ‘perfectionism’ trap, and just work on slow and steady improvements.

I cannot recommend this book enough to anyone who’s remotely interesting in improving their lifestyle, including but not just losing weight. It’s such a tonic from all of the ridiculous fads – keto, or gluten free, or whatever is this month’s marketing trick – and I love the simplicity of it. The focus is psychological, and yes, eating more vegetables. But this is the first time I’ve read a book like this and gone ‘yes!’ rather than ‘hmm (I wish that kind of nonsense worked/wasn’t more harm than good in the long term)’.

NetGalley eARC: 272 pages / 10 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 20th March – 5th April 2020

My rating: 9.5/10