Monday, June 29, 2015

Book review: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Title: Ancillary Justice
Author: Ann Leckie
Release date: 2013
Publisher: Orbit
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: #1 in a trilogy
Source: Borrowed from a friend

Description: On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest.
Once, she was the Justice of Toren - a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy. 
Now, an act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with one fragile human body, unanswered questions, and a burning desire for vengeance. 

My thoughts: If you read science fiction and haven't heard of this book yet, I'm not sure where you've been. I only dip an occasional toe into the SF side of SFF but I've been hearing about this book since it came out and started winning awards all over the place. My friend has a copy so I jumped at the chance to read it.

The book follows the starship 'Justice of Torren', an artificial intelligence. The story goes between the past where Justice of Torren was based on a planet, with hundreds of bodies (ancillaries) she controlled simultaneously, each functioning alone and able to function together as one, and the present, where she has been cut down to just one body and is using the name 'Breq'. The past sections paint the events leading up to the betrayal that led to the loss of all her other bodies and eventually the betrayal itself. The present follows Breq as she reaches (she hopes) the end of a twenty year quest for something that will give her vengeance on her betrayers.

The story is in first person from Justice of Torren/Breq's point of view which I think works very well. There were times when it was hard to get my head around how she could be controlling all the bodies at once, performing so many different tasks, having multiple conversations, but generally it was fine. One interesting side-effect of her narrating the story is that because the people who built her have no concept of gender, she refers to everyone as 'she'. Occasionally there are characters who she knows are on their planet male or female but she never actually reveals it in the narration - it's just "I used the correct gender pronoun for the language". I found this interesting but I've heard some people got annoyed with it.

I found the story really interesting, with plenty of 'oh crap now they're really in trouble' moments. It was very interesting to have the story told by an AI (artificial intelligence) and focussed around them and the nature of their ability to choose things, have feelings, express things while still being neutral, a computer built to obey. I'm definitely going to read the rest of the series to find out what happens next.

Overall I'm giving this 8/10.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Independent Bookseller Week: 3 of my favourites

If you hadn't heard, it's Independent Bookseller Week here in the UK - a time to highlight independent stores, with events around the country. I thought I'd share three of my favourite independent shops. Written list below the video :)

First, I love Transreal Fiction, in Edinburgh. They have an amazing selection of science fiction and fantasy books, and everything in between, as well as comics, stuffed toys, etc. They're always happy to order in something if they don't have it and it's a great place to find American editions of books, especially if it's not currently published in the UK.

Next, Looking Glass Books, also in Edinburgh. This one is part cafe, part bookshop and regularly hosts author events. Very cute shop and a lovely place to hang out and write.

Third, Seven Stories in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. Seven Stories really deserves a post of it's own - it's the National Centre for Children's Books and apart from hosting various wonderful exhibits (I loved the Jacqueline Wilson one) they have a large children's bookshop on the ground floor, with everything from picture books to young adult stories.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Stacking the Shelves

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews to talk about the books you've received recently. 

I've got four books to talk about today, and only one of them I actually bought, the rest I'm borrowing from my boyfriend and Dad. I love being able to share books with people! :)

I've recently started doing Youtube videos again, after watching some 'book tube' videos & seeing how happy and enthusiastic everyone is, so here is my latest 'book haul' video that I made for there. It covers some books I've talked about here in a previous StS post, and misses out my most recent purchase. My written thoughts are below the video if you prefer that :)

First book I borrowed from Dad is 'The Girl On The Train' by Paula Hawkins. I've seen a lot of fuss about this one and it's a strong bestseller so I'm interested to check it out.

Next, also borrowed from Dad, is 'All The Light We Cannot See' by Anthony Doerr. It's about a young blind girl living in Paris who then evacuates to the coast with her father when the German army moves on Paris during the Second World War. I'm looking forward to reading this one soon.

Then there's 'Ancillary Justice' by Ann Leckie. This is a science fiction story that has won a whole load of awards. I've read the first couple of chapters and I'm hoping to finish it this week and post a review.

Finally I bought 'A Darker Shade Of Magic' by V. E. Schwab the other day. I've seen reviews on loads of blogs this spring and my friend was kind enough to tell me Amazon had it on sale, so I've got that waiting on my Kindle app for when I have time. Too many print books to read just now but I'll hopefully get to it later in the summer.

Which books did you get this week?


Book Review: Beyond Innocence by Kit Rocha

Title: Beyond Innocence
Author: Kit Rocha
Release date: May 2015
Genre: Dystopian/Erotic
Source: Review copy from the authors
Series: Beyond Series #5

Description: For years, Jared has existed on the fringes of both Eden society and Dallas O'Kane's Sector Four gang. He travels between these worlds, protected by his money and power - money he earned selling his body, and power that comes from knowing secrets. He's untouchable - until he starts a new life gathering intelligence for the O'Kanes.

Lili Fleming walked out of Sector Five with a gun, the bloodstained clothes on her back, and an icy determination to survive. She finds herself in a world where people live hard and love harder, and nothing's more terrifying than how much the O'Kanes wake her up, make her feel—especially Jared.

Emotion is a risk he can't afford, and a complication she doesn't need. But neither can resist the lust simmering between them, and the sparks that could either melt the ice around both their hearts…or get them killed. Because the only thing more dangerous than loving an O'Kane is loving a spy.

My thoughts: I love this series and I'm glad to say that this one lived up to its predecessors. However, I have very mixed feelings about this book. I really enjoyed it, some things make it one of my favourites from the series, but there are other things that I think could have been done slightly differently or explored slightly more which I think would have made it even better. In some places it felt rushed.

Let's start at the beginning - I was eager to read about Lili, who has been a political match/trophy wife to a pretty horrible guy before escaping to Sector Four. She'd shown she was pretty determined and I hoped that with her links to the Sector politics she would be a very interesting character to read about. She was but not quite as much as I'd hoped - it's definitely Sectors vs. Eden politics in this book.

Kit Rocha matches Lili up with Jared, who has been floating around the edge of the O'Kanes since the start of the series. While we know a bit about him at this point, I was curious to know more. I couldn't quite imagine how they were going to get to know each other, especially when I read the first couple of chapters, where Lili is running out of her brain-numbing drugs and gradually being forced to start feeling things again. She first sees Jared at one of the O'Kane parties and they talk - he's dressed smartly, like men she's used to seeing, which is something familiar in a place that is so different from everything she's known. It was a good first meeting but then I was disappointed with how quickly things escalated from there. It felt a lot like insta-love, which I really hate in books. I just don't believe that these two could become that interested in each other and that close so quickly. I especially don't believe it with how numb Lili had been and how timid and frail she's made out to be in the first few chapters of the books.

Apart from the insta-love it was a pretty good story. I do have to talk about the other bit that frustrated me though. Lili is trying to convince Jared that she can help him in his ventures in to Eden. She's got a background of being arm candy at important political events and being the perfect show wife. Who else do we know who knows how to play political games with rich people? Particularly rich Eden people? So I thought "Yay, we're going to see more of Noelle proving her worth! And getting more page time apart from as a sex partner!" But no. A little later in the book, there was a similar situation. I thought, "So now she's going to go to Noelle for advice and make a great new friend!" Again, no. I'm disappointed that given how much this book works around Eden politics, we don't see Noelle giving any input. I also thought that given their somewhat similar backgrounds and how shy Noelle was at first that there would be on-page evidence of a friendship forming between the two women.

All that aside, I do think that this series is getting better and better. I hope the political games continue in the next instalment of the Beyond series. I'm going to give this 7/10.

Author website with buy links


PS, if you've read this one, I'd love to talk about it! Leave me a comment or talk to me on Twitter :)

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Book review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Title: Fangirl
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: Macmillan
Release date: Jan 2014
Genre: Contemporary
Source: Bought at Waterstones

Description: Cath and Wren are identical twins and until recently they did absolutely everything together. Now they're off to university and Wren's decided she doesn't want to be one half of a pair any more - she wants to dance, meet boys, go to parties and let loose. It's not so easy for Cath. She would rather bury herself in the fanfiction she writes where there's romance far more intense than anything she's experienced in real life. 
Now Cath has to decide whether she's ready to open her heart to new people and new experiences, and she's realising that there's more to learn about love than she ever thought possible. 

My thoughts: I love this book! I read it first a year ago and could have sworn I'd reviewed it then, but apparently not. Having just re-read it cover to cover I get the chance to talk about it now instead!

The book starts with shy nervous Cath moving in to her college dorm and resenting the fact that her sister is moving away from her, to a dorm across the campus with a girl she's already made friends with.  Meanwhile Cath has the grumpy Reagan, a girl a couple of years older than her as a roommate. The story follows Cath as she adjusts to university life. I really wish I had this book in my first year of university, because it would have helped me so much seeing a character experience the problems I was. Because my first year sucked - I massively struggled to make friends, and I stayed in my flat a lot of the time when I wasn't in classes or studying at the library. Gradually, Reagan drags Cath out of her shell a bit to face things like the dining hall.

There are a couple of other big things happening in this book for Cath. She's writing a long fanfiction, essentially her version of the last 'Simon Snow' novel (about a boy at a school for magicians) which is releasing at the end of the class year. Cath is determined to finish her version of it before the real one is published, and she has thousands of readers wanting to know what happens next in her story. She's taking a creative writing course and working on assignments with Nick, who loves to write as much as she does, and they are each helping each other to improve. But Nick never walks her home from the library at midnight. Levi, Reagan's (maybe) boyfriend comes to do that, or Cath runs back by herself. So she likes Nick, but....

Then her sister is getting drunk at parties, worrying Cath. And her Dad seems to be struggling having the house to himself without his daughters around. And their mum, who left when they were younger, wants to get back in touch with them. Why now, thinks Cath? But her twin wants to see their mum, and Cath just can't understand why.

All these threads are woven together really well. So although the story is following Cath through her year, it's never boring. The decline and then mending of her relationship with her sister was really well told. Her adjustments to life at university were something I could really relate to and it shows that even if you struggle at first, which lots of people do, you'll figure it out, you'll adjust, and then university really can be a great place. Cath changes over the book, in some ways quite a lot, but it is all believable change because you can see the various tipping points in the story that impact her. And if you needed any more reasons to love it, the end of each chapter has an 'excerpt' either from the 'real' Simon Snow stories, or from one of Cath's fanfics about the characters, which are all fun to read and give a snapshot into the world Cath loves so much.

 This is a wonderfully told story with characters who are all believable. If you've ever been a fanfiction writer, a fangirl or boy for a series, a struggling uni student, I highly recommend this book. And if you weren't any of those things, read it anyway, because it's great. There's a gradual romance, family drama, drama with Cath's classes... so many great things.

I really love this book, and I'm absolutely giving it 10/10.