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Month: June 2020

Review: The Actuality by Paul Braddon

Review: The Actuality by Paul Braddon

‘Evie is a near-perfect bioengineered human. In a broken-down future England where her kind has been outlawed, her ‘husband’ Matthew keeps her safe but hidden. When her existence is revealed, she must take her chances on the dark and hostile streets where more than one predator is on the hunt.’

The Actuality follows Evie, who is a technological creation who has been created in the image of her owner’s (‘husband’s’) wife, and, not being of biological matter, is eternally in her early twenties, while those around her continue to age. For the duration of her life, she has been kept in her husband’s home and not permitted to experience the outside world, primarily because, as it turns out, her existence is no longer legal. The creation of beings with artificial intelligence has been outlawed, following violent uprisings, and Evie is one of the few remaining that haven’t been destroyed or kept in captivity as a supposed ‘warning’ about the past. Evie herself is oblivious to much beyond the fact that she is fully aware she is not human in the biological sense, and initially seems content and determined to fulfil her role as a wife, until the outside world enters their home and leaves her no with no choice but to flee to survive.

Throughout the novel, there is a lot of debate over whether Evie can be considered human or not, with there being no real middle ground as regards the opinions of biological human beings, most of whom insist that Evie and her kind cannot possibly be human insofar as having rights, thoughts and feelings of their own. Even Evie’s husband is heard to justify his having purchased Evie and kept her essentially as a prisoner for decades by claiming that she’s only a machine. That his interaction with Evie includes having sex with her only makes the situation she is in all the more uncomfortable, and is one among many things that Daniels, one of the few in the narrative who seems to believe Evie should be treated as any other human, objects to. In her home life, she is treated like an object and a servant, while being expected to be so flawlessly human as to perfectly imitate the person whose image she was created in. That her husband is so willing to use something he believes is his possession and without feeling says far too much about the manner in which he would have treated his wife and how women are all too often viewed in today’s society. Is Evie a replacement for another woman he would have commanded and possessed and used? In this, would his ‘real’ wife have been considered any more human than Evie?

On more than one occasion, Evie is forced to defend herself if she is to survive, these incidents often brushed over in a clinical manner, or painted in so vague a way as to only make it apparent that she has behaved as she has because she must. The narrative itself is written from her point of view, and, initially, any violence on her part is not accompanied by any real sense of anger or rage, creating a distance between Evie and the act, and subsequently Evie and the reader, allowing us to believe that she has acted as she should. Without going into too much specific detail and sharing spoilers, it is this that makes it easy to be lulled into a false sense of security. Being inside Evie’s head and hearing all of the arguments against her kind means that siding with her and wanting to believe that she is  ‘different’ and as human as it feels she ‘deserves’ to be is a natural reaction. However, as the story unfolds, it becomes far less simple than a matter of Evie’s humanity, especially when her actions cannot be attributed entirely to her being at risk. Is it wrong to expect anything that we create in our own image, yet expect to be controlled and subservient, to not display the darker features of human nature? Why should we be surprised that anything or anyone we treat poorly would want to fight back over the injustice of it all? Does her understanding that who she is is under threat not prove that she is human?

There’s a lot I’d like to talk about from the last third of the novel, but I don’t want to ruin it for anyone! The Actuality is brilliantly written and well-paced read that quickly grabs hold of you and won’t let go. Not only is it a fantastic look at what makes us human, but it’s a dark glimpse at what we stand to become and the dangers that exist in our society, particularly if you are a woman. It’s out in February, 2021! Thank you, Sandstone Press, for sending me an ARC!

Blog Tour: The Switch Up – LA Exchange by Katy Cannon

Blog Tour: The Switch Up – LA Exchange by Katy Cannon

Today is my stop on the blog tour for The Switch Up: LA Exchange, which is the sequel to The Switch Up by Katy Cannon! You can read my review of this fun and brilliant read for young adult and middle grade alike here! This morning, I have a post from Katy titled Summer 2020: A Guide for Introverts!

As an introvert, I have to admit that, on paper, that sounds pretty great.

But over the last few months of lockdown, even us introverts have learned there’s a limit to how much we actually want to stay home alone.

Last summer, I wrote a guide to surviving summer as an introvert. It was based around the idea that summertime is fun time – it’s parties and outings and holidays with the family and days with friends. Except this year it kind of isn’t.

So I figure we need a new summer guide for introverts, to help us navigate this new, weird summer we have ahead of us.

Here are my top 5 tips for summer 2020:

Accept that things are weird.

As the lockdown eases and the world starts opening up again over the next few months, it’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of security that things are getting back to normal. But they’re not, and it’s important to remember that – not just for our own physical health and safety (let’s not forget about social distancing now when we still desperately need it) but for our mental wellbeing too.

If we think that things are normal, we start telling ourselves that we should feel normal, too. But we’re actually still living through a hugely stressful time – one where our plans and expectations about the year have been tossed out of the window. Exams have been cancelled, schools closed, proms abandoned, birthdays celebrated without parties, holidays skipped and friends and family missed. Many of us have lost loved ones suddenly, and without a chance to say goodbye. And we’re all still living with a huge sense of uncertainty about what happens next. Will schools be open in September? Who knows. Can we go on holiday later in the year? Maybe. Will there be a vaccine? We hope so.

I don’t mention all this to stress you out, but because we’re all already stressed out. This stuff is stressful! Our bodies and minds are in a permanent state of uncertainty, and that takes its toll. So accept that things are weird, and be gentle on yourself. Do what you need to do to keep yourself balanced and well, and don’t feel bad about any of the stuff you need to say no to in order to get there.

Avoid Zoom Fatigue

One of the things you might need to say no to is your twentieth Zoom request of the week. While it’s important to stay in touch with friends and family on video calls, social media and so on, it’s just as important to take a break from it sometimes.

The rule is this: if you feel better and more energised after spending time talking to people, then that’s great! (Yes, I know that introverts usually recharge our energy by not talking to people, but even we like a bit of social interaction with the right people.) But if you feel drained and down after an online chat, then it’s not adding anything to your day.

Of course the problem is that you might not know how you’re going to feel about that virtual meet up or online pub quiz until after its happened. But you know yourself better than anyone, and now we’re all more used to this kind of interaction, we can better predict how we’re going to feel. So take a look at your virtual social calendar – and don’t forget to include any actual garden meet ups or socially distanced walks with friends – and triage it.

What are the things you really don’t want to miss? Your best friend’s virtual birthday party, for instance, or a walk with a friend you haven’t seen in months? What are the ‘nice to do’ items – a weekly quiz on Facebook or a cup of tea in the garden with your aunt who lives round the corner? And what are the ‘can miss’ items? Maybe the weekly zoom call for your drama group where everyone talks over each other anyway, or yet another video call with that friend who is so bored she insists on calling everyone daily?

Make sure you have energy for the most important items by keeping space around them in your calendar for recharging. Fit in all the nice to do items you can manage around that space. And if that looks like a full week, save the can miss items for a quieter week.

It’s okay to flake out on the virtual socialising that you don’t have energy for. It’s maybe harder now we can’t claim other plans, but honestly? You can just say ‘I can’t tonight, but maybe next week?’ That’s okay. (It’s also okay to just say no, if you never want to do it!)

Protect your energy. You need it more than people on the other end of a video call.

Keep a fun list

It’s easy to find ourselves scrolling through our Instagram feed for hours, or at the whim of someone else’s schedule, especially since our actual schedules are kind of empty right now. The best way I’ve found to combat this is to make a fun list.

It’s exactly what it sounds like – a list of fun things to do. It’s a present from your past self to your future self.

So sit down one afternoon and write a list of things future you might enjoy doing. The only catch is that it has to be specific to be useful. When you’re slumped on the sofa feeling like you should do something but not sure what, you need explicit instructions from your past self.

So instead of ‘read a book,’ put ‘read the next book in the series I’m enjoying’ or the title of a book from your TBR. Instead of ‘bake’ put ‘bake chocolate chip cookies.’ You get the idea. And make sure that you have that next book available, and the ingredients on hand. That way, when you’re looking for something else to do, it’s easy to pick something and get started.

Journal

Taking time to reflect on your thoughts and feelings, as well as events going on around you, is always time well spent. It helps you process your emotions, and deal with them in a healthier way than bottling them all up. At times like this, when the world is a worrying place, just writing down how that makes you feel can really help your mood.

Including a gratitude list is also a great idea. Each day, jot down three things that you’re grateful for. It can be anything – from the rain stopping, to eating your favourite dinner, to your loved ones being in your life. Focussing on the good things in our lives helps us remember that the world isn’t all bad.

Recharge

Even now things are starting up again, Britain is still a quieter place than it has been in decades. Our calendars are empty of actual social events, and the number of places we can go is severely limited. As introverts, this gives us a little breathing room. Use it. Recharge your batteries, enjoy your space, make the most of the quiet.

One day, hopefully soon, the world will be back to normal again, maybe even better than before. And if we recharge now, we can celebrate with our loved ones without feeling overwhelmed when the time comes.

Thank you very much, Katy! I know there’s some advice here that I definitely need to take, particularly when it comes to over-saturating zoom/media/messages and realising it’s okay to take a step back and not be available all the time because it’s assumed we’re all available in lockdown.

The Switch Up: LA Exchange is out on June 25th and is the perfect summer read! Check out the other stops on the blog tour by visiting the blogs of the lovely people on the schedule below! Thank you Little Tiger and Stripes Books for the chance to take part in the tour!

Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix. E. Harrow

Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix. E. Harrow

‘In the early 1900s, a young woman embarks on a fantastical journey of self-discovery after finding a mysterious book in this captivating and lyrical debut.

In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artefacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.

Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.’

This book was amazing. I had heard so many good things about it, so my expectations were high going in, and I’m pleased to say that I was in no way disappointed. I admit that I found the beginning a little bit slow, but as the clues as various pieces of the narrative that become much more significant later on begin to filter in, the pace soon picks up. This said, I was pretty much hooked from the start, as I’m a huge fan of anything that involves ancient artefacts, and had an awful feeling about why January was the lone child – and treated as she is – in such a place. The Ten Thousand Doors of January is such a magical and immersive book that it’s one you won’t want to end and will quite happily live in for the duration of your reading.

The story is of January Scaller, the ward of Mr Locke, who she knows to be involved in some variety of artefact procurement, for the father she rarely sees is an employee of his and often on trips to secure one object or another to be added to the already vast collection. January finds herself discontent with a life of loneliness and an odd brand of ‘parental’ affection from Mr Locke, who grows more dissatisfied with her as she ages and learns more and more to ask questions and speak out in ways society doesn’t appreciate from a girl – and especially not a girl quite so different as she is. She first discovers a Door (an opening between one world and another) in her early years, only for it to be deliberately destroyed and what she’s experienced dismissed as something fanciful that she must leave behind, the threat of what will happen to her made plain enough that she outwardly gives up on the idea of Doors, yet maintains her belief in and need for them until she is almost grown.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January is written as a story within a story (within a story?), and shifts between January’s threads of the narrative to a book that she has been gifted: the most important book that she will ever read. I don’t want to spoil it, as what’s discovered in and with the book is some of the most beautiful content. I love books that experiment with narrative structure and how to reveal significant information in not necessary a linear fashion, and this is exploited particularly well in The Ten Thousand Doors of January. There are other moments where direct address to the reader is used, particularly to ruminate on the nature of letters and words, and academic footnotes are added to book within a book in a charming manner, and it’s all these little features that work together to remind you that, yes, you are reading a book, but the book itself is another world that contains other worlds… The whole thing is essentially a love letter to words and language and the power they have. It’s just a stunning read, and though there’s so much I want to talk about, I’m trying really hard to avoid specific spoilers, as I don’t want to ruin anyone else’s experience of the book!

The paperback was released in the middle of May and also contains an interview with the author, Alix. E. Harrow, and ten questions for discussions at a reading group (if you have a group and you’re looking for a read with a vast wealth of features to discuss, this is certainly your book). I don’t often buy into the general experience of book ‘hangovers’, but it’s been days since I finished this and I still have lines from it running through my head. This is a text that I simultaneously wish were an option to study with students at A-Level and would never want to subject to such a variety of cold scrutiny; I both want to share The Ten Thousand Doors of January with as many as possible and to keep it to myself.

Thank you, Orbit Books, for sending me a copy for review!

Review: The Switch Up: LA Exchange by Katy Cannon

Review: The Switch Up: LA Exchange by Katy Cannon

‘WILLA

Film director

LA insider

Impulsive

Looks like Alice

ALICE

Eco warrior

LA tourist

Cautious

Looks like Willa

Alice can’t wait to visit Willa in LA – home of Hollywood, where dreams come true. Their plan is to explore the city and see the sights, but then Willa gets the opportunity to work on the film project of her dreams and she can’t say no! The only problem is she is absolutely 100% supposed to be taking part in a beach clean-up. Which, now she thinks of it, sounds pretty perfect for Alice… Can the girls really swap lives again? Cue plotting, outfit swapping and award-winning performances. But everyone knows that real life is nothing like the movies…’

Following on from the summer that had them switching lives, Alice and Willa have remained friends, as promised, and now Alice is headed to visit Willa. However, just before Alice arrives, Willa gets caught-up in her director dreams and inadvertently disrupts some exams at her new school with a flash mob, leading her to be assigned to work four hours a day at a beach clean-up so that she can learn to think about others. This in itself might have been okay, what with working at the Shore Thing seeming to be just what Alice would enjoy, but Willa has also managed to get herself a place working on a student film project that could finally get her noticed more than her fledgling Youtube channel is managing to achieve. Alice’s journey to LA has found her wishing she could be the person she feels she became when she was pretending to be Willa last summer, especially now that she is struggling to fit in at a new school and is growing increasingly lonely, and so it only takes a little bit of suggestion from Willa for her to suggest that they should switch places again: Alice will work at the beach, while Willa works on the film.

I felt quite conflicted about Willa for a lot of this book, I kept reminding myself that she is young and still very much at the age where the slightest of things not going your way can feel like a disaster and that everyone and the whole world is against you. There is an awful lot of pressure on young people to achieve while they are young, with the media in particular suggesting that success only happens in youth, and it being this field that Willa wants to work in – and having seen how it treats her parents – it is not surprising that she is so desperately focused on what she wants to achieve in film, often to the detriment of other things. Her treatment of Alice is what bothered me the most, as she is very, very late to realise that she is essentially using her and hasn’t demonstrated that she cares for her in the best way that she could. Yes, Alice is having fun and gets to have an adventure of her own, but Willa really does push her luck this time, and I was glad to see that Alice speaks up when she decides enough is enough.

Both the girls learn a lot about themselves in this instalment, though it seems that what Alice learns about what she wants from her life and what she needs to do is more consciously done (being that she already knows what she feels she wants to change), whereas Willa is more blinkered and needs others to point out how her behaviour is being perceived for her to fully realise how she has been treating people and why she isn’t immediately adored, appreciated and making the progress she wants. Alice’s experience almost feels more deserved, as she is the one pushing herself outside of her usual comfort zone and isn’t exactly having the holiday that she believed she would (though the beach clean-up is pretty perfect for her). The girls’ journeys are opposites in many respects: Alice’s to push herself beyond her worries, and Willa’s to stop taking that leap and think about those around her before she forges ahead.

Through text messages, we also get to hear from some of the characters from the first book, Hal and Luca, who are still chatting to who they met (as the other) previously. I loved these little insights and I hope that we get to see more of them in a future book (I assume the next will focus on the wedding of Alice’s dad and Mabel?) somehow. I really enjoyed Alice’s interaction with Luca and co and hope they get to see each other in person again. It would be nice to see how Alice settles into school and the new house.

The Switch Up: LA Exchange is the perfect summer read, full of fun schemes and adventures, while not abandoning deeper messages about friendship, family and dreams. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this series for far and look forward to more! Thank you, Little Tiger/Stripes Books for sending me a copy!

Review: The Devil’s Own by Liana LeFey

Review: The Devil’s Own by Liana LeFey

‘Lord Devlin Wayward, gambler and dedicated rake, returns home for the first time in years, and lands himself and his identical twin, Daniel, the good reverend, in deep trouble. Devlin ends up with a broken leg and unable to travel to London, yet he must return. He’s got an important deal that will make or break his fortune. He persuades the reluctant reverend to take his place in London while he temporarily minds his brother’s flock.

Miss Mary Tomblin is taken with the devastatingly handsome reverend. He represents everything she desires in a husband, after narrowly evading a ruthless rake last Season. Mary knows she’ll make him an excellent wife, but the vicar rebuffs every advance – until he suddenly accepts her help with pastoral duties while his broken leg heals. Mary seizes the chance to show the good reverend what an excellent helpmeet she will be.

The devil takes on the role of village vicar and discovers it’s nowhere near as easy as he imagined—especially when he falls in love with an angel who mistakes him for a saint.’

This is only the second romance novel I’ve read, and I was intrigued by how exactly Devlin and Daniel were going to take over each other’s lives, and with what degree of success they might achieve this. The reader only sees Devlin’s side of the matter, as suggested by the blurb, though I was pleased to see it suggested that there is/is going to be a novel that looks at what happened to Daniel while in London. I think there are some perhaps some edits to be completed, as there are some odd jumps/things out of sequence in the early stages of the story.

What I enjoyed most in the book was the time that Devlin and Mary spent together visiting the parishioners, learning more about the community, each other and challenging each other’s views – though some of this is done in a manner designed deliberately to provoke and is not a genuine effort to learn more about the other, which Devlin inevitably regrets each time. Though it seems that it is ultimately Devlin’s nature that is changed by what he experiences, to my mind it is Mary who undergoes the more drastic alteration and gets to exercise and embrace her intelligence and compassion when not having previously been given much opportunity to do so. Her actions, much like Devlin’s, begin with the intent to benefit herself, but she goes on to take a genuine interest in people beyond her usual social sphere and seems to genuinely want to assist and befriend them for more than her desire to become the vicar’s wife. Her scenes with the people they visit are among the most heart-warming and I would have happily read more of them. It’s predominantly after these scenes that Devlin and Mary demonstrate that they are actually a good match for each other outside their deceptions, and I would have liked to read more of this too.

As I mentioned previously, this is only the second romance novel I’ve read, and perhaps my assumptions about them have largely been wrong, but I think I was expecting more actual romance in the plot? Devlin is certainly attracted to Mary and he seems to form a genuine attachment to her, though I was never quite sure if what Mary feels for him is love. I did like her character development, though there are moments when she appears unable to see consequences to her actions (having previously had a bad experience last season, which doesn’t quite make her behaviour towards Devlin make complete sense). They don’t get to spend very much time together in different environments, though this would be expected of the time period, and though there is one scene of physical intimacy, it is rather late in the story and it feels as if this is where the romance starts and essentially ends. As I’m not too familiar with the genre, I’m not completely sure what the particular hallmarks of it are, but I’m sure that there needs to be a measure of suspending disbelief, which I was happy to for the duration of the story. It is a good, escapist, tale, and the characters are easy to want positive things for.

To my mind, the lead up to the ending takes away from the enjoyment of the rest of the novel. There is an awful lot of – justified – ill-feeling in the last quarter of its pages and while I didn’t want everything sorted out nice and neatly, with no acknowledgement of what had happened before, the story concludes in a rather abrupt way, with the epilogue only making the briefest of suggestions as to how things might have unfolded since. I’m hoping that we might see more of these story threads in the aforementioned future instalment. This said, I did like the book (I read it cover to cover without putting it down) and would love to see more of these characters!

Thank you, Entangled Publishing, for the digital ARC!

I received an e-ARC from Netgalley and the publisher.