American War – Omar El Akkad

The story…

Set in the near future, America as we know it has been irrevocably changed by war, natural disasters and a devastating man-made virus. Old tensions between the north and the south, reignited over the issue of fossil fuels, lead to a war that spans decades. Sarat Chesnut is just six years old when the Second American War breaks out, but she and her family are changed forever by the horrors that it unleashes. As she grows up, Sarat is drawn deeper and deeper into the shadowy world of the militant resistance and splinter groups that are determined to do whatever is required to achieve their goals.

My thoughts…

Omar El Akkad describes an America that has been torn apart by civil war. In the south, refugee camps become permanent homes for those displaced by bombs, violence and the changing, inhospitable landscape. Efforts on both sides to reduce tension generally end in failure. Young people grow up and are recruited into increasingly radical militant groups, determined to defend their home against all the odds.

Sarat is one of those young people. Faced with poverty, displacement and loss from an early age, she is drawn into playing an important role in the resistance. As readers, we’re powerless to do anything but watch as she is shaped by the world around her into an instrument of war. As she becomes more and more immersed in this world, the consequences have a huge impact on her personally.

Sarat isn’t a character that is particularly likeable or sympathetic, and there were many occasions when I disagreed with her actions, but her motivations were clear to see. Her family is torn apart, and all she’s left with is a desire for revenge and a powerful sense of cultural identity created by a group of Southern states desperate to break away from their perceived oppressors in the North.

There are some very clear parallels drawn with examples of war and violence that we see in the world around us today. The American war is portrayed as an endless cycle of self-perpetuating violence, driven by a group of people wanting to be separate from their parent state, the misuse of authority and a vicious cycle of retribution and hatred.

In conclusion…

This is the type of science fiction I like best. It imagines a future which is entirely possible, especially given the tensions in the current political climate. This makes the scenes that play out in American War even more terrifying. It raises both questions and stark warnings that remained with me long after I finished the book and that still sometimes flash into my head when I read the news. Overall, I thought it was really well written and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.


August wrap up

Books read: 5
This month I read fewer books than usual, but those that I did read were longer and quite intense (4 3 2 1 was just under 900 pages while The Ministry of Utmost Happiness tackled some really complex social and political issues and was definitely not a quick book to read). I really enjoyed The Word is Murder – which was a really unique take on the classic detective novel.

  • The Good Daughter, Karin Slaughter
  • The Word is Murder, Anthony Horowitz
  • The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy
  • The Readymade Thief, Augustus Rose
  • 4 3 2 1, Paul Auster

Books acquired: 7
I was much more reserved this month than I was last month – acquiring just 7 books compared to last month’s 24. I’m really looking forward to reading City of Circles and American War, both of which have been on my wishlist for a while.

  • A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles
  • This Savage Song, V. E. Schwab
  • Nevernight, Jay Kristoff
  • City of Circles, Jess Richards
  • American War, Omar El Akkad
  • The Golden House, Salman Rushdie
  • The Last Tudor, Philippa Gregory

Blog posts published: 7
By far my most popular post this month was one about writing book reviews and how to get started, given that so many of us find reviewing to be one of the most challenging things about book blogging. I’m going to try and do more of these in the future as it seems they’re helpful to you, so please shout if there’s anything you’d like me to focus on!

TBR for September:
I’ve been terrible at sticking to TBR lists lately. This month I want to get to some of the Netgalley ARCs that I haven’t been able to get to yet. However, I got married yesterday (this post is scheduled in advance!) and am off on honeymoon today, so I may not be able to fit much reading in amongst sightseeing on the Amalfi Coast! I also might be less responsive than usual, so please bear with me!

  • The Last Tudor, Philippa Gregory
  • Behold the Dreamers, Imbolob Mbue
  • Three Days and a Life, Pierre Lemaitre
  • Red Sister, Mark Lawrence
  • City of Circles, Jess Richards

Challenge progress:

Goodreads Challenge: My Goodreads reading goal is to read 50 books this year, which I’ve now surpassed.  This was a conservative goal which I was always confident I’d achieve, but this challenge was mainly about tracking how many books I’m reading, as I’ve never kept count before. Everything from here on out is a bonus. (54/50)

Beat the Backlist Challenge: The Beat the Backlist challenge is all about knocking off titles that have been on your TBR for a while. Books need to have been published prior to 2017, and I’m only including books that I actually bought before 2017 and that have been sitting around waiting for me to read them – so no new purchases or library reads. This month, none of my reads qualified, so my total is still five books towards a goal of twelve. (5/12)

How was your August? What was your favourite read? What do you have planned for September?

Top 5: Books about books

books about books

As a book lover, books that revolve around the subject of books hold a special kind of fascination for me, so this week I’ve pulled together a list of some of my favourite books about books. These are all totally different, but although each one is unique, they all share one things – books in some form are a central part of the story. They’re all great reads and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend any and all of them! I’ve also linked back to my reviews of these books on this blog where I can.

  1. Magpie Murders, Anthony Horowitz

Summary: When editor Susan Ryeland is given the tattered manuscript of Alan Conway’s latest novel, she has little idea it will change her life. She’s worked with the revered crime writer for years, and his detective, Atticus Pund, is renowned for solving crimes in the sleepy English villages of the 1950s. As Susan knows only too well, vintage crime sells handsomely. It’s just a shame that it means dealing with an author like Alan Conway….

But Conway’s latest tale of murder at Pye Hall is not quite what it seems. Yes, there are dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects, but hidden in the pages of the manuscript there lies another story: a tale written between the very words on the page, telling of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition and murder.

Read my review here.

  1. The Invisible Library, Genevieve Cogman

Summary: Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. And along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she’s posted to an alternative London. Their mission – to retrieve a dangerous book. But when they arrive, it’s already been stolen. London’s underground factions seem prepared to fight to the very death to find her book.

Adding to the jeopardy, this world is chaos-infested – the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic. Irene’s new assistant is also hiding secrets of his own. Soon, she’s up to her eyebrows in a heady mix of danger, clues and secret societies. Yet failure is not an option – the nature of reality itself is at stake.

  1. The Book of Lost Things, John Connolly

Summary: ‘Once upon a time, there was a boy who lost his mother . . .’ As twelve-year-old David takes refuge from his grief in the myths and fairytales so beloved of his dead mother, he finds the real world and the fantasy world begin to blend. That is when bad things start to happen. That is when the Crooked Man comes. And David is violently propelled into a land populated by heroes, wolves and monsters, his quest to find the legendary Book of Lost Things.

Read my review here.

  1. Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan

Summary: Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a San Francisco Web-design drone – and serendipity, coupled with sheer curiosity, has landed him a new job working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after just a few days, Clay begins to realize that this store is even more curious than the name suggests. There are only a few customers, but they come in repeatedly and never seem to actually buy anything, instead they simply borrow impossibly obscure volumes from strange corners of the store, all according to some elaborate, long-standing arrangement with the gnomic Mr. Penumbra.

The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes, and soon he’s embarked on a complex analysis of the customers’ behaviour and roped his friends into helping to figure out just what’s going on. But once they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, it turns out the secrets extend far outside the walls of the bookstore…

Read my review here.

  1. The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Summary: Hidden in the heart of the old city of Barcelona is the ‘cemetery of lost books’, a labyrinthine library of obscure and forgotten titles that have long gone out of print. To this library, a man brings his 10-year-old son Daniel one cold morning in 1945. Daniel is allowed to choose one book from the shelves and pulls out ‘La Sombra del Viento’ by Julian Carax. But as he grows up, several people seem inordinately interested in his find.

Then, one night, as he is wandering the old streets once more, Daniel is approached by a figure who reminds him of a character from La Sombra del Viento, a character who turns out to be the devil. This man is tracking down every last copy of Carax’s work in order to burn them. What begins as a case of literary curiosity turns into a race to find out the truth behind the life and death of Julian Carax and to save those he left behind. A page-turning exploration of obsession in literature and love, and the places that obsession can lead.


The Word is Murder – Anthony Horowitz

The Word is MurderThe story…

Renowned fiction author Anthony Horowitz is approached by an old acquaintance, a jaded and disagreeable investigator, with an idea of a new, true crime novel. A particularly perplexing murder has just been committed, and Hawthorne is convinced the story could be a big hit, providing they can solve the case.

My thoughts…

This book has one of the most unique concepts of all the books I’ve ever read. Even now I’m still slightly baffled by it. Leaving aside the story for the moment, the idea of having Horowitz write himself as a character in his own novel is very odd. There are so many personal details in the book that must be autobiographical – for example, detailed descriptions about his own past as a scriptwriter for TV programme Foyles War. In addition to this, the fictional murder storyline is entwined into these real life details. At least, I assume that this storyline is fictional – even now I’m not quite sure.

Horowitz’s relationship with Hawthorne, the detective, and the issues that he comes up against while writing a true crime novel – such as the tendency to cut irrelevant details and airbrush Hawthorne’s character into one that would be more relatable for his readers – also form a key part of the narrative. It’s a perspective that takes some getting used to, and means that the book we get isn’t a crime novel, it’s a book about someone writing that crime novel.

The main plot of the novel focuses around the murder of Diana Cowper, which is made all the more unusual by the fact that she had visited a funeral parlour that very same day to plan for her own death. There’s a rich and varied cast of characters and suspects, each of whom is hiding something. There’s also a traumatic accident in Diana Cowper’s past, a self-obsessed Hollywood actor son and a disgruntled housekeeper – in short, everything that makes a good crime novel.

As Horowitz is writing this book after the events took place, he is an omnipresent narrator, and occasionally drops in little hints and reflections on events as the story progresses. This also makes him inherently unreliable, as he makes executive decisions on what details he should leave out or make more palatable to his audience. As readers, we’re playing catch up, attempting to read between the lines and decipher the truth about what happened before the big reveal at the end.

In conclusion…

Just as in his previous novel, Magpie Murders, the book is filled with hidden clues and elaborate red herrings. Overall, despite the unusual style, which I must admit that I did find a little distracting, I did enjoy this book. I failed at identifying the murderer and his motives, which I always think is a sign of a good detective novel.

Writing book reviews: how to get started

As book bloggers, writing book reviews is a core part of what we do. However, I’ve heard from lots of people who say that review writing is the most challenging or least fun part of blogging.

I’ve written posts in the past that set out some of the reasons that I personally find writing reviews difficult. There are a lot of times where I’ve gone to write a review but put it off – sometimes I can’t seem to get the thoughts in my head down on the page in a way that makes sense or think of the right phrasing, or sometimes just I draw a blank and can’t think of anything interesting to say.

Assuming that at least some other people out there also suffer from the same issues – I thought I’d share some of my experiences, processes and tips for writing book reviews.

I know that everyone writes their reviews differently and I’m by no means an expert! If you’ve been blogging for a while and already have your own style for review writing, this post might not be so useful for you!

However, if you are at all interested in hearing my thoughts and top tips for writing book reviews, please read on!

  1. Have some questions to fall back on:

Having a list of questions to consider when starting a review is so useful for teasing out content for a post, and I’ve found it can also really help with structuring a review and keeping my thoughts in order as well. There are a few questions that I always ask if I’m struggling to get started on a review, which I’ve included below in case they’re helpful!

  • Were the characters believable and did they develop over the course of the book?
  • Were there any plot points that I really enjoyed, or really didn’t enjoy?
  • Was the setting fully developed? Was too much or too little time spent on description rather than action?
  • Did the language flow and feel natural? Was there anything that jarred or didn’t work?
  • Were there any pacing issues? Did it feel like any parts of the book dragged or were interesting parts skipped over too quickly?
  1. Write about what you’re interested in:

Ultimately, when people are reading a book review they want to know what you thought of it – including why you liked it, why you didn’t and whether you’d recommend it. If you found a particular aspect of the book really unique, talk about it. If you hated it, tell people why. I’d always recommend trying to be balanced though and picking out arguments from both sides where you can.

  1. Mix it up a bit:

Don’t think that you have to stick to the same formula all the time. If you’re struggling to write a review, adapt your structure or approach. I read a lot of blogs who break up their reviews up with pictures, quotes, headings, gifs or page dividers, which not only makes reviews interesting to read but also helps to add a bit of visual interest to something that otherwise could be quite word heavy.

  1. Don’t always start at the beginning:

Focus on what interested you and work backwards from there. I always find the beginning of a review the hardest to write, so a lot of the time I start in the middle by writing down my thoughts on a specific plot point, character or niggling issue, and then I go back to the introduction when I’ve had some time to think through my arguments logically.

  1. Take a break:

If you’re struggling for inspiration, don’t stress about it. Take a break and come back to it another time. If it feels like pulling teeth to write a review, the chances are that it’s going to read like that too.

How do you write book reviews? Do you have a process for writing them? 

Are posts like this helpful and is there anything else you’d like me to focus on more specifically in another post? 



The White Road – Sarah Lotz

The White RoadThe story:

Simon Newman maintains a website for thrill seekers, posting videos of extreme or ghoulish situations online. When a caving expedition goes horribly wrong, Simon’s video of his near death experience goes viral. Chasing something big to follow up on this success, Simon finds himself attempting to scale Everest. But the more time passes, the more Simon is haunted by past events. As his present collides with the past, Simon begins to lose his grip on reality in while attempting to stay grounded in some of the most dangerous and inhospitable places on earth.

My thoughts:

Throughout the book, Simon struggles to deal with what happened in the caves and the morality of using the internet to gain fame and success at the expense of others. He has to deal with feelings of grief and guilt, but his reluctance to do so means that his feelings manifest into a self-destructive, wild obsession. He’s not a particularly likable character, but to me this made him feel more real.

Although this is primarily a psychological thriller, there’s a supernatural element that runs through the book. Simon is convinced that there is a sinister figure lurking just out of view, intent on causing him harm. He is haunted by the ghosts of his past and the things that he has done, which take on a physical manifestation that drive him slowly mad. As readers, we’re presented with the facts from his perspective, and we’re left to make up our own minds as to whether these things are really happening or if they are only happening in Simon’s head. Whatever we choose to believe, there is a pervading air of menace and madness that runs through the entire book.

This, combined with the extreme settings that the Simon finds himself in over the course of the novel – from being trapped underground in tunnels that are slowly filling with water, surrounded by the dead and the cold, dark rocks and to scaling the world’s most deadly peak, oppressed by the cold, the altitude and the barren snow swept landscapes – make for an atmospheric and unsettling read. The situation is threatening and claustrophobic – both in reality and in Simon’s head.

In conclusion…

I’ve read other books by Lotz in the past and I’ve found them similarly hard to categorise. I wouldn’t necessarily describe this as horror, or as a straight up thriller, but it definitely has many of the elements of both. The White Road is a very different read from everything else I’ve read this year, and although it was creepy and sometimes unsettling, I was hooked and couldn’t put it down.

Discussion post: Books that I’ll (probably) never read

Books I'll never read
This post is a tough one for me to write, as the fact that I own a large number of books that I’ll probably never get around to reading is never something I would usually admit to.

Looking at the stats…

It’s time to face facts. There are currently 184 physical unread books currently on my bookshelf, along with 109 unread books on my kindle and 11 in my audiobook library. That’s a total of 304 unread books (and yes, counting up all of these was slightly horrifying and took forever!).

Despite the fact that I already own almost enough books to open my own private library, only a paltry 5 of the 50 books that I’ve read so far in 2017 are books that I owned prior to the beginning of 2017. This means that the vast majority of the books that I’m reading are either new releases, review copies or books that have been otherwise bought or borrowed by me in the last six months.

What does this all mean??

These statistics really doesn’t bode well for the piles of books that have accompanied me from house to house for years but haven’t yet got around to reading – some of which I don’t even remember buying!

Looking at it mathematically I’m on track to read about 90 books this year – as long I carry on at the rate I’ve been reading for the first seven months. At this rate, finishing all the books I currently own without adding any in new books at all would take me almost 3 and a half years.

If I carry on my current rate of reading on average 10 books from my backlist every year (which is far more likely, given my obvious weakness for new releases, Amazon ebook sales and second hand bookshops) working through the books I currently own will take about 30 years.

What am I going to do about it? 

All of this makes the chances of me ever finishing the books I already own increasingly unlikely! But even though I know this is the truth, I just can’t bring myself to get rid of my unread books. Every time I do a clear out and read the back covers of long neglected books, I’m reminded of why I thought I’d enjoy it and I remain convinced that soon there will be a day when that particular book will be perfect for my mood.

However, in an attempt to try and tackle some of the backlog of books that have steadily been piling up, for the next six months of this year – and beyond that as well – I’m going to make a real effort to attempt to read at least one book a month that I’ve owned since before Christmas 2016.

I’ll also make an effort to donate some books to charity, including those that I know that I can’t see myself reading anytime in the near future – such as biographies or titles that I’ve had for a while but I now know from experience that I’m not a huge fan of the author.

Does anyone else have this problem? Are there any books in particular on your bookshelf that you think you’ll never get around to reading?