Tuesday, 31 December 2013

2013 Wrap Up

Wow, 2013 has been an intense year for me, and a great year in terms of both reading and writing! So, here is my 2013 in review...

Books Read

I read 72 books in 2013 and reviewed 51. I thought it might be fun to look at some stats, so here are some interesting break downs of what I read in 2013:

38 books by female authors (including anthology editors)
34 books by male authors (including anthology editors)
1 unknown (K.J. Parker)

32 British authors and anthology editors
22 US authors and anthology editors
5 non-British or US authors and anthology editors (wow, I need to try to read more next year!)

29 review copies
6 audiobooks
12 book club reads

62 SFF or with SFF elements
5 contemporary
5 historical (non fantasy)
2 crime/mystery

25 YA or children’s

My Favourite Books of 2013

Yesterday I listed my favourite books of 2013. You can find the post here, and since then I've finished another book that I would have included on the list: Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce.


Goodreads Challenge - I managed to complete this with half a day to go! I set my challenge as 70 books, and I actually read 72 books this year, but two of them were not listed on the site.

British Books Challenge - I completed this with 18 books read and reviewed.

Paranormal Challenge - I completed this with 26 books read and reviewed.

Witches and Witchcraft Challenge - I completed this with 8 read and 3 reviewed. I'd have liked to read and review more for this one, and was surprised how few books about witches I actually had. Plenty with magic, but not many with witches.

Richard and Judy Challenge - I completed this with 5 read and 3 reviewed. This was a fun challenge, forcing me out of my reading comfort zone, and it was great to try new things that I otherwise might not have picked up.

Genre Variety Challenge - I completed this with 16 read and reviewed. My genres ranged from fantasy and science fiction to contemporary, crime and even a zombie western!

TBR Challenge - I completed this with 11 read and 9 reviewed. I definitely want to get more of my TBR pile finished in 2014!

Success in all challenges! :-D

My Writing – Short Stories

I finally felt ready to start sending out short stories, and have had some successes! Next year I’ll have stories appearing in three anthologies – The Sword and Laser Anthology, Women Writing the Weird 2, and Missing Monarchs. I’m so pleased with this, and can’t wait to get writing and sending off some more!

My Writing – Novel

I’ve planned, plotted and begun writing a novel. It’s still in early stages yet, but I’m feeling pleased with the progress and hopeful about finishing it next year!


I’ve started an internship at Angry Robot, a science fiction and fantasy publisher in Nottingham. I’ve been learning and experiencing so much so far, and I’m really enjoying it. :-)


I attended three conventions this year – Edge Lit in Derby, Eastercon in Bradford, and World Fantasy Con in Brighton – as well as one book fair in Leicester. I enjoyed all of them, but I think Edge Lit was my personal favourite.


I took part in 5 readathons this year – three Bout of Books, the Wicked Valentine Readathon and the WWReadathon. I love readathons, but haven’t had as much time to join in with them this year. I’m hoping I can be involved in more in 2014!

So that was my 2013. Did you have a good year? :-)

Monday, 30 December 2013

My Favourite Books of 2013

2013’s coming to an end, so it’s time for the inevitable favourites of the year post! I’m not limiting this to books that were released this year, as this is a personal faves list. So this includes everything that I’ve read in 2013, no matter how old. Here were my favourites:

Favourite Books Read This Year

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

A beautifully written story about a magical duel played out in a Victorian circus. A gorgeous book.

The Folding Knife by K.J. Parker

This is a clever story with a lot of layers. Low fantasy with no magic, revolving around banking and politics in a Romanesque setting.

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Science fiction with an intriguing society and a very unique feeling created through its approach to gender, and through the main character’s position as an ancillary unit of a larger shipmind who is now severed from the ship.

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

A time travelling serial killer loose in Chicago. I love time travel stories, and this one is excellently written, the time travel logic works well, and the characters are brilliant.

The Other Half of the Sky edited by Athena Andreadis

An anthology of science fiction stories about women, but also exploring non-western cultures and characters, and exploring tropes and ideas from new perspectives. Intelligent, fantastic stories.

Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie

A story of revenge with a lot of depth. Gritty fantasy in which a mercenary seeks revenge on the seven men who tried to kill her and murdered her brother. A great main character and some wonderful side characters.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

The story of a girl who visits fairyland. One of the best examples of the girl-taken-by-fairies stories that I’ve read. Wonderful writing and brilliant characters.

Any Other Name and All Is Fair by Emma Newman

I read Between Two Thorns in 2012, and followed with the last two books in the Split Worlds series this year. A fantasy series set in modern day Britain with sorcerers, magic, evil fae, feuds and investigations, and people just trying to drink their tea in peace.

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

Told from a zombie’s point of view, this is a love story with a difference. The wonderful writing and black humour took me by surprise. A great book!

Holes by Louis Sachar

The story of a young boy who is wrongfully accused of stealing and sent to a juvenile correction camp, but this is so much more than that. With strong themes dealing with race, fate and family, and the way in which echoes of past actions can be felt in the future, this story amazed me with its complex weaving together of seemingly separate storylines.

Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding

Airship pirates in a fantasy setting! This is a fun, exciting adventure story with some memorable characters.

Pantomime by Laura Lam

It’s hard to talk about this one without giving away what others might perceive as a spoiler, so I will just say that the main character in this one is wonderful, the world is rich and interesting, and I’m hooked on this series now!

The Eternity Cure by Julie Kagawa

I enjoyed The Immortal Rules, and its sequel is even better! The story of a vampire girl in an apocalyptic world – it’s part vampire novel, part zombie novel, with echoes of Fallout, great characters and a can’t-put-it-down story.

Bitten by Kelley Armstrong

I have to admit that I didn’t expect to like this one so much. Werewolves in modern America, a story about rivalry, feuds, murder, and romance. A very quick and exciting read, with characters I really cared about.

Geek Girl and Model Misfit by Holly Smale

These stories charmed me so much. A geeky girl called Harriet is suddenly thrown into the fashion world when she is spotted at the Clothes Show on a school trip. I adore Harriet and she is probably my favourite narrator ever. The author writes her voice so perfectly, and her observations about the world are brilliant. Incredibly funny, warm and intelligent books.

Gretel and the Dark by Eliza Granville

I finished this one in December and haven’t even had a chance to review it yet, but I had to add it to the list. An extremely dark and disturbing story in which fairytales are expertly woven with real events in 19th century Vienna and at a Nazi concentration camp in the final stages of the war. Impressive writing and a story that will stay with me for a very long time.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Showcase Sunday #39 - The Christmas Edition!

Inspired by Celine from Nyx Book Reviews, I've decided to combine several weekly wrap-up memes into one post. Showcase Sunday is hosted by Vicky at Books, Biscuits and Tea. Stacking the Shelves is hosted at Tynga's Reviews, and Sunday Post is hosted at Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer. Letterbox Love is a special British book-haul meme hosted by Lindsey at Narratively Speaking.

This Week:

I had a great Christmas! I spent it with my husband at our flat in Nottingham and we had a lovely day. Then we went to see friends, and now we're visiting my parents for the New Year. :-)

Recent Posts:

Exciting News! Angry Robot Internship!

Book Review - Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Book Review - The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

Four Quick Movie Reviews - Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters, Gravity, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

My Christmas Goodies:

This is a very dramatic list, mainly thanks to my internship at Angry Robot. I've brought back so many books from the office, and we wrapped them all up and put them under the tree!

The Woken Gods by Gwenda Bond
Strangeness and Charm by Mike Shevdon
The Road to Bedlam by Mike Shevdon
The View From the Tower by Charles Lambert
The Almost Girl by Amalie Howard
The Prince of Lies by Anne Lyle
Shadowplay by Laura Lam
The Age Atomic by Adam Christopher
Empire State by Adam Christopher
Embedded by Dan Abnett
Three by Jay Posey
Nexus by Ramez Naam
Crux by Ramez Naam
Moxyland by Lauren Beukes
Seven Wonders by Adam Christopher
(Phew! Thanks so much Angry Robot! :-) )

I also received two fantastic looking books and some goodies from my Secret Santa. Thanks Secret Santa, I can't wait to read these! :-)

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

My husband gave me some great movies, including Miracle on 34th Street - he was amazed this year when he found out that I'd never seen it, so he bought me it for Christmas! He also gave me three Harvest Moon games for the Wii because I was just a little bit obsessed with the last one we had. I don't know what it is about them, just love them!

Did you get any books/movies/games for Christmas? Hope you're enjoying the holidays! :-D

Saturday, 28 December 2013

The Luminaries - Book Review

The Luminaries
by Eleanor Catton

Winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize and Canada's Governor General's Literary Award, a breathtaking feat of storytelling where everything is connected, but nothing is as it seems....

It is 1866, and young Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On the stormy night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men who have men in secret to discuss a series of unexplained events: A wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely ornate as the night sky. (Synopsis from Goodreads)

This is an intimidating book. Weighty in terms of themes, the prestigious prizes it has won, and the clever structuring and style that reflects the planets and the phases of the moon, it is also literally an extremely large book. It’s also a book that seems to have divided opinions considerably, so I was very interested to see what I would make of it.

The story begins with the arrival of Walter Moody in Hokitika, New Zealand, in 1866. He walks in on a meeting of twelve men at the Crown Hotel, and is soon pulled into their discussion of a series of events, and of the sinister man who seems to be behind it all somehow: Francis Carver.

This section of the novel immediately drew me in; mysterious events, a group of such different characters all driven together by fate, a historical setting and a fascinating look into a New Zealand Gold Rush town – all great elements! The events themselves are related in a slightly odd way; each person describes what they experienced to Moody. This isn’t related in direct speech from the person telling their tale, but described in third person as a summary of the events they have just told to Moody. Within these stories, other characters might tell their own story, sometimes also related in third person rather than direct speech. This can become quite confusing, particularly if listening to the audiobook, as it is harder to flick back to find out whose point of view we are seeing events from, and because events are often told in the narrator’s voice rather than a recognisable character’s voice. This isn’t a fault with the audiobook, but is a result of the slightly odd way that the story is related in the beginning section. There are also moments where the reader appears to have been given more information than Moody has been told – for example, would a man describing to another man something that happened to him really break off mid story to deeply analyse another person’s character?

After the meeting of the men at the Crown Hotel, the story continues and slowly little things begin to be revealed as the chain of events is unravelled. It becomes clear that every detail mentioned in the story is significant, that everything ties in to the greater story that’s being told. This is extremely well planned and executed, and I really enjoyed seeing all the different threads pulling together. This doesn’t happen all at once, at the end of the book, but steadily and surely throughout the story. It’s carefully and brilliantly done.

The sheer amount of characters in this book is a little confusing to begin with. I had a hard time keeping track of who was who, something that is a bigger problem in the audiobook because you can’t flip to the front for the cast of characters. Thankfully, the narrator is very skilled at giving each character a distinct voice, so though I couldn’t always remember at first what a specific person’s background and profession was, I always knew exactly who was speaking. The large cast of characters becomes a strength later on in the story once the reader has wrapped their head around who is who, much like in something like Game of Thrones, where the interactions and connections between different people, the little co-incidences, and being able to see a situation from all sides, really brings the whole thing to life. Unfortunately, some characters were more rounded out than others, and some who were explored deeply at the beginning were almost forgotten later. In the end, perhaps there simply were too many people for one book to deal with.

The main characters are each connected to a celestial body, astrology being an important theme running through the novel. This was clever, but I do wish the author had let the reader assess each character for themselves through the characters’ actions, rather than suddenly breaking the story each time a new person was introduced in order to describe their disposition, hopes and dreams and character traits in extensive detail.

The structure of the novel was another aspect that reflected the movements of the heavens, in this case the phases of the moon. The early chapters start off very long, becoming shorter and shorter in proportion to the waning of the moon until the final chapters are mere slivers of the beginning sections. This structure is alluded to on the front cover of the book. I really liked this and thought it was a clever touch, but there were some points where the story perhaps suffered a bit from the need to stick to this structure. Most notably this was in the middle, where the story began to drag a bit, for me, and at the very end, where the chapters were so short the introductory sentences at the beginning of each one had to sum up all the events, telling us rather than showing us what happened.

However, what I did love about this approach was the strong fatalistic feeling that this connection with the heavens gave to the story. There are also many references to the paranormal – ghosts, séances, astrology, visions, weird connections between people. Even the name ‘Crown Hotel’ has associations with Dracula. I loved these aspects, and I particularly liked how many of the stranger happenings were explained logically, but not in a way that entirely convinced, or that wrapped up everything. For example, the strange connection between two characters was still a little mysterious, and I don’t think Moody’s vision at the beginning was ever really explained. This leaves the reader with the feeling that there are still mysteries in the world, and forces that move us beyond our control.

The Luminaries is an interesting book, different in many ways from things I’ve read before. I appreciated the clever structure reflecting the themes and ideas in the story, as well as the possible supernatural elements and the feeling of fate guiding the characters’ interactions. I do think the book was too long and that the story would have benefited from some cuts, especially in the middle section, and in some places the book was perhaps a little too clever for its own good. But overall this is a fascinating and impressive read in which everything is connected and all events pull together into a satisfying ending. The narrator reads the audiobook extremely well and I really enjoyed listening to it!

I received a review copy of this audiobook in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Four Quick Movie Reviews – Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters, Gravity, Catching Fire, and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Winter is movie-going season for me. I don’t tend to go to the cinema any other time of year. Perhaps it’s because sitting in a cinema seems more appealing in the cold weather, or perhaps it’s because films I want to see tend to come out around Christmas. And there seem to have been even more than usual that I wanted to see this year! So... on to some quick flash reviews...

Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters

Ok, so technically this wasn’t a winter film. I saw it on 6th September, my husband’s and my wedding anniversary. He surprised me with a trip to see this, which is especially sweet because this really isn’t the kind of film John tends to like.

I really enjoyed this. I think they did a good job of translating the book into a film, though perhaps some of Annabeth’s reasoning for mistrusting Tyson wasn’t brought across clearly enough. She just seemed like she was being mean for the sake of it. The action scenes were done well and the monsters and special effects looked really good. I loved how they interpreted Charybdis. I thought some moments were genuinely sweet, and John practically imploded from the cheese factor of some parts (did I mention I love cheese?). All in all, this was a much, much better film than the first one, and I would recommend it to fans of Percy Jackson as well as those who haven’t read the books. Though (of course!) the book is still miles better.


Oh my gosh, I enjoyed this one SO MUCH. I was really impressed with the acting, the effects, the music, the direction... everything. I think this is a very good example of a film that plays to the strengths of the medium. I can’t imagine this story told in any other way than as a movie – I was amazed how much I was drawn into it, feeling the main character’s rising panic, yet at the same time a sense of complete awe at her surroundings.

The acting was brilliant in this. Sandra Bullock should definitely be nominated for awards for her performance, which was subtle and powerful. George Clooney’s character was the sort of character that tends to irritate me in other things, but he was perfect here. I thought the themes and overall storyline of the film were compelling and portrayed well, though there was one certain ‘womb’ scene that was almost laughably unsubtle. A wonderful film, and definitely worth seeing!

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

This is the sequel to The Hunger Games, which I loved. Confession time: I still haven’t actually read Catching Fire yet, so I can’t compare the movie to the book. I really enjoyed the film, and there were parts of it that definitely felt better than the first. Jennifer Lawrence is as amazing as ever, and I thought the new characters were all interesting too, though some were a bit underused.

There were some elements of the plot that I wasn’t so sure about. The twist at the end, while interesting, seemed both a little unrealistic and also cheapened some of the tension and drama from earlier in the movie. I can certainly understand why Katniss was so annoyed. I loved the effects and the action in the movie, and I enjoyed getting to know the world and characters better. Unfortunately, it did have a very disappointing and exasperating end. I know, I know, this is the ending of the book, but that doesn’t mean it had to be the ending of the film too. They could at least have signposted that we were coming to the end. As it was, it hit very suddenly and felt like they’d cut off the last ten minutes of the film.

However, overall this was an extremely fun and enjoyable film, and I can’t wait for the next one!

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

After a bit of a baffling start, this film continued the story from the previous one nicely, setting up a good pace and feeling much less episodic than the last one. I enjoyed this film more than the first. I thought it had a better sense of story and adventure, and much less random moments. The atmosphere felt more even too, as if this film knew better what it wanted to be.

Unfortunately, what it wanted to be was Lord of the Rings 2.0, which I personally think is a bit of a shame. It didn’t feel anything like The Hobbit (the book), not capturing that same sense of magic and delight, the almost fairytale or folklorish feel, instead becoming a larger story with Weighty Significance. In other words, the attempt to make The Hobbit epic is what spoiled it for me. They constantly referenced The Lord of the Rings in every joke and wink to the audience, until I wanted to throw popcorn at the screen in disgust. They drew out a story that should be much shorter, and the padding really doesn’t make it better. The extra scenes are unnecessary – they don’t add anything to the story of The Hobbit, and so are only meaningful in relation to The Lord of the Rings. Why not just let The Hobbit tell its own story? There are also action scenes that are drawn out far too long, which spoils the tension of those scenes. A later sequence involving Smaug chasing the dwarves, and smashing every support pillar in the entire mountain in the process, is a good example.

And the attempt to make this an epic tale with gravitas and significance beyond its own simple story has also led to other issues that made me grind my teeth a bit. If The Hobbit is The Lord of the Rings 2.0 then Thorin is certainly portrayed whenever possible as another Aragorn. He is the Rightful Heir to the throne, a reluctant leader who must rise to the calling of his Noble Blood, who is Destined to blah blah blah. This film isn’t the story of Bilbo; it’s the story of Thorin Oakenshield, and that, for me, is the biggest shame of all.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Ancillary Justice - Book Review

Ancillary Justice
by Ann Leckie

On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest.
Breq is both more than she seems and less than she was. Years ago, she was the Justice of Toren--a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of corpse soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy.
An act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with only one fragile human body. And only one purpose--to revenge herself on Anaander Mianaai, many-bodied, near-immortal Lord of the Radch.

From debut author Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice is a stunning space opera that asks what it means to be human in a universe guided by artificial intelligence.
          (Synopsis from Goodreads)


This is a book that was quickly gaining a lot of hype and some incredibly good reviews, and so it moved right up my ‘to read’ list even before both online book clubs I’m a member of decided to choose it as their November pick. There was a lot to live up to – practically every review I read mentioned that this was bound to be nominated for all kinds of awards. Was it as good as everyone was saying? Yes!

Ancillary Justice just clicked with me. I loved the universe that the author created, the planets, the stations and ships, the characters, the plot – everything interested me. This is one of those books that I found impossible to read along with the book club; I couldn’t help reading on and finishing it ahead of time.

Everyone has been talking about the gender politics in the book, so let’s touch on that first. I thought this was handled really well, and not only provided a fascinating cultural backdrop for the story, but also challenged the reader, inviting us to examine our own relationship with gender. The people of the Radch just aren’t interested in whether a person is male or female, and so the story, told from the POV of a person who has grown up in the culture of the Radch, refers to everyone as ‘she’. How much does it really matter, how much does it affect the story, if we know a character’s gender or not? In this case, it doesn’t matter at all, and yet I would still find myself at certain points trying to assign gender to characters. It was also interesting to see how a culture like this might interact and think about the world.

This approach to gender added a fascinating and unique element to the book, without being as vital to the plot as the gender politics in something like The Left Hand of Darkness turn out to be. I liked this – sometimes it’s nice to explore something like this without it also being integral to the plot.

Speaking of The Left Hand of Darkness, I think there were some clear nods to it in this book – the frozen world at the beginning, the two characters thrown together learning to understand and accept each other... and in some ways the relationship between the two main characters mirrors that of Ai and Estraven, but interestingly in terms of class and citizenship rather than gender. The style of writing also reminded me a lot of Ursula le Guin. It is strong, controlled, perhaps a little distant at points, with an almost mythical feel to it that I adore. Again, this kind of writing just clicks with me, and I’m so pleased to have found another author to add to my favourites shelf.

The Radch, then, don’t discriminate based on gender, but they do find other ways to keep certain members of society down. The class politics are incredibly important in this story, as they are behind the split and changing ethos of the Radch empire. At the centre of this is Anaander Mianaai, the ruler of the Radch and the person that the main character, Breq, is determined to assassinate. I thought the class politics, like the approach to gender, were conveyed so well, and there was a definite Roman feeling going on with the client-patron structure of Radch society – anything to do with Romans is always a bonus for me!

However, my absolute favourite thing about the book was how the author managed to show Breq as both human and not-quite-human at the same time. It is so hard to write an A.I. that truly feels like an A.I. and yet is also sympathetic and relatable to. Ann Leckie pulls this off perfectly. Breq often feels cold, slightly alien, distant... and yet she is driven, opinionated, and perhaps almost a little romantic about certain things. She is a wonderful character who I really enjoyed reading about. And then there is the fact that Breq both is and is not One Esk, and they are but are not Justice of Toren, the ship and the hive mind in control of all its ancillaries. Again, this is hard to pull off, that sense of individuals within a group mind, but it comes across so well here. Finally, the point of view stretched across several bodies is a brilliant touch in the early chapters. It’s a kind of first person voice of god, not like anything I’ve read before and intriguing without being confusing.

The plot itself is compelling and exciting, with just the right amount of world building, and flashback chapters that not only add so much to our understanding of the characters, but that turn out to be very important to what is happening later in the book. The pacing was very good, perhaps just drawing things together a little too quickly at the end, however. I liked the resolution of this particular story and look forward to seeing where the characters will go next.

A fantastic story with wonderfully written characters and several unique elements that make this a truly memorable read. I have to agree with other reviewers – this will surely turn up on award nomination lists next year!

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Exciting News! - Angry Robot Internship

Okay, so I have some news. :-)

I'm going to do an internship at Angry Robot, a Nottingham based publisher of science fiction and fantasy, young adult (Strange Chemistry) and crime (Exhibit A)! I'm so excited! I love so many of their books, and am looking forward to seeing how things run there. I'll mainly be helping Caroline with the publicity side of things, so you may see my name pop up on posts or emails from them. :-)

Woo! I'm starting this coming week... time to go polish up on my robot moves ready for our metallic overlords.

Showcase Sunday #38

Inspired by Celine from Nyx Book Reviews, I've decided to combine several weekly wrap-up memes into one post. Showcase Sunday is hosted by Vicky at Books, Biscuits and Tea. Stacking the Shelves is hosted at Tynga's Reviews, and Sunday Post is hosted at Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer. Letterbox Love is a special British book-haul meme hosted by Lindsey at Narratively Speaking.

Last Week:

Last week I was hit with the norovirus, so the blog has been a bit quiet this last week. It was horrible (genuinely the most ill I've ever felt!), but thankfully I'm feeling a lot better now. I think I pretty much slept my way through the end of NaNo so I haven't been able to add up my word count for the month, but overall I'm pleased with the month's progress and looking forward to continuing writing in December! :-)

And... I have some exciting news! :-D But I'm going to leave that for a separate post coming straight after this one...

New Goodies:

The Thief's Gamble, by Juliet E. McKenna

A movie from the library:

And the books for my Secret Santa arrived! No pics of these yet though... I don't want to give anything away too soon ;-)