Review | Sourdough by Robin Sloan

Title: Sourdough (2017)
Author: Robin Sloan
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Read: 15th – 17th January 2018
Genre: contemporary; magical realism
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

“Lois Clary is a software engineer at General Dexterity, a San Francisco robotics company with world-changing ambitions. She codes all day and collapses at night, her human contact limited to the two brothers who run the neighbourhood hole-in-the-wall from which she orders dinner every evening. Then, disaster! Visa issues. The brothers close up shop, and fast. But they have one last delivery for Lois: their culture, the sourdough starter used to bake their bread. She must keep it alive, they tell her – feed it daily, play it music, and learn to bake with it.

Lois is no baker, but she could use a roommate, even if it is a needy colony of microorganisms. Soon, not only is she eating her own homemade bread, she’s providing loaves daily to the General Dexterity cafeteria. The company chef urges her to take her product to the farmer’s market, and a whole new world opens up. When Lois comes before the jury that decides who sells what at Bay Area markets, she encounters a close-knit club with no appetite for new members. But then, an alternative emerges: a secret market that aims to fuse food and technology. But who are these people, exactly?” (Synopsis from the publisher)

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Review | The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin

Title: The Wicked Cometh (2018)
Author: Laura Carlin
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Release Date: 1st February 2018
Read: 1st – 6th January 2018
Genre: historical fiction
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

‘This newspaper has taken note that the past month has been remarkable for the prevalence of cases where men, women and children are declared missing. Scarcely a week passes without the occurrence of an incident of this type’ – The Morning Herald, Tuesday 13 September 1831

Down the murky alleyways of London, acts of unspeakable wickedness are taking place and the city’s vulnerable poor are disappearing from the streets. Out of these shadows comes Hester White, a bright young woman who is desperate to escape the slums by any means possible. When Hester is thrust into the world of the aristocratic Brock family, she leaps at the chance to improve her station in life under the tutelage of the fiercely intelligent and mysterious Rebekah Brock. But whispers from her past slowly begin to poison her new life and both she and Rebekah are lured into the most sinister of investigations, dragging them into the blackest heart of a city where something more depraved than either of them could ever imagine is lurking… (Synopsis from publisher)


“My advice is don’t rely on a man to be on time and don’t trust all what the newspapers write in their dailies.”

The Wicked Cometh marks a departure for me – it’s the first time in quite a while that I’ve chosen to read a book that has no hint of fantasy or magic, and is purely historical fiction, albeit with a generous helping of the Gothic. The Wicked Cometh is the kind of historical fiction I enjoy – it doesn’t sugarcoat or glorify the Victorian age, instead it presents a London that is more about the blood and excrement in the back alleys of the busy thoroughfares than the refined drawing rooms of the elite in society. It proclaims to be “a novel of darkest London” and this book goes to some very dark places indeed, with the book opening with its protagonist, a parson’s daughter, now down-and-out, Hester White, asleep in an outside shed with only the ragged clothes she’s wearing as protection against the cold wind of the night that whistles through the slums in which she lives, a slum from which many people are going missing, with no explanation, or concern raised. What emerges from this less than auspicious start, via the fortuitous happenstance of a carriage accident putting Hester in the path of the aristocratic Brocks, is a story about how far it is possible to rise and fall and what nature of crimes both the upper and under classes commit in everyday life. It concerns the question of the period – can the lower classes be educated and, therefore, have a better “value” in the eyes of the government and society at large? These macrocosmic concerns are, naturally, dealt with through the journey of the novel’s protagonist Hester, as she meets some unsavoury characters along the way, in the slums and drawing rooms alike.

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Review | This Is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay

thisisgoingtohurtTitle: This Is Going to Hurt (2017)
Author: Adam Kay
Read: 5th – 12th November 2017
Genre: memoir; non-fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

“Welcome to 97-hour weeks. Welcome to life and death decisions. Welcome to a constant tsunami of bodily fluids. Welcome to earning less than the hospital parking meter. Wave goodbye to your friends and relationships . . .

Welcome to the life of a junior doctor.

Scribbled in secret after endless days, sleepless nights and missed weekends, comedian and former junior doctor Adam Kay’s This Is Going to Hurt provides a no-holds-barred account of his time on the NHS front line. Hilarious, horrifying and heartbreaking by turns, these diaries are everything you wanted to know – and more than a few things you didn’t – about life on and off the hospital ward. And yes, it may leave a scar.” (Synopsis from publisher)

Book awards aren’t everything, but there is a reason that this book smoothly scooped the Books Are My Bag Non-Fiction Book of the Year, Books Are My Bag Readers’ Choice Award, Blackwell’s Debut Book of the Year, and iBooks’ Book of the Year awards – it’s immensely readable. At times tragic, at times side-splittingly hilarious, Adam Kay’s diaries from his time training and working as a doctor (one and the same) are glib and matter-of-fact and you definitely don’t need to be a doctor to find them compelling and addictive, but I’m sure if you are, this book would resonate on every single sleep-deprived level.

“Whatever we lack in free time, we more than make up for in stories about patients. Today in the mess over lunch we’re trading stories about nonsense “symptoms” that people have presented with. Between us in the last few weeks we’ve seen patients with itchy teeth, sudden improvement in hearing and arm pain during urination.”

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Review | The Killers, Wonderful Wonderful Tour at Liverpool Echo Arena

Once upon a time, I was very confused as to why Rosianna would buy tickets to see The Killers on multiple successive nights; it’s safe to say that, after going to one of their Wonderful Wonderful tour gigs, I’m no longer confused at all. Five years to the day after their last visit to the city, the band graced Liverpool once again with their incredible presence and they were amazing, to the point that, as I was leaving the venue, I dearly wished I could come back the next night and do it all again. If I had a Time Turner to hand, I would have used it. Trying to convey how good they were will probably fall short of the reality, and I’m not exactly a music connoisseur, but for my own (and posterity’s) sake, I’ve decided to do a “review” of the gig. Because I can’t not.

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Review | My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

Title: My Salinger Year (2017)
Author: Joanna Rakoff
Read: 23rd – 27th September 2017
Genre: non-fiction; memoir
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

“At twenty-three, after leaving graduate school to pursue her dreams of becoming a poet, Joanna Rakoff moves to New York City and takes a job as assistant to the storied literary agent for J. D. Salinger. She spends her days in the plush, wood-panelled agency, where Dictaphones and typewriters still reign and old-time agents doze at their desks after martini lunches, and at night she goes home to the tiny, threadbare Brooklyn apartment she shares with her socialist boyfriend. Precariously balanced between glamour and poverty, surrounded by titanic personalities and struggling to trust her own artistic sense, Joanna is given the task of answering Salinger’s voluminous fan mail. But as she reads the candid, heart-wrenching letters from his readers around the world, she finds herself unable to type out the agency’s decades-old form response. Instead, drawn inexorably into the emotional world of Salinger’s devotees, she abandons the template and begins writing back… Poignant, keenly observed and irresistibly funny, My Salinger Year is a memoir about literary New York in the late 1990s, a pre-digital world on the cusp of vanishing, where a young woman finds herself swept into one of the last great stories and entangled with one of the last great figures of the century. Above all, it is the coming-of-age story of a talented writer and a testament to the universal power of books to shape our lives.” (Synopsis from publisher)

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Review | The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

Title: The Princess Diarist (2016)
Author: Carrie Fisher
Read: 24th July – 3rd August
Genre: non-fiction; memoir
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

“When Carrie Fisher recently discovered the journals she kept during the filming of the first Star Wars movie, she was astonished to see what they had preserved—plaintive love poems, unbridled musings with youthful naiveté, and a vulnerability that she barely recognized. Today, her fame as an author, actress, and pop-culture icon is indisputable, but in 1977, Carrie Fisher was just a teenager with an all-consuming crush on her costar, Harrison Ford. With these excerpts from her handwritten notebooks, The Princess Diarist is Fisher’s intimate and revealing recollection of what happened on one of the most famous film sets of all time—and what developed behind the scenes. Fisher also ponders the joys and insanity of celebrity, and the absurdity of a life spawned by Hollywood royalty, only to be surpassed by her own outer-space royalty. Laugh-out-loud hilarious and endlessly quotable, The Princess Diarist brims with the candor and introspection of a diary while offering shrewd insight into the type of stardom that few will ever experience.” (Synopsis from publisher)

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Review | Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander

Title: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2001)
Author: “Newt Scamander”/J.K. Rowling
Read: 10th September 2017
Genre: fantasy; children’s
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

“As featured in the first year set texts reading list in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an extensive introduction to the magical beasts that exist in the magical, non-Muggle world. Some of the animals featured in the A-Z you will have already met in the existing Harry Potter books: for example Hippogriff, Flobberworm, Kappa – others you certainly won’t: read on to find out exactly what a Chizpurfle is, or why one should always beware of the sinister Lethifold . . . As Albus Dumbledore says in his introduction, this set text book by Newt Scamander has given the perfect grounding to many a Hogwarts student. It will be helpful to all Muggles out there too . . . On reading the book you will also find that Harry, Ron and (in one instance) Hermione – couldn’t resist graffitiing the book, and adding their own hand-written opinions.” (Synopsis from publisher)

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Review | A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

Title: A Natural History of Dragons (2013) (The Memoirs of Lady Trent, Book One)
Author: Marie Brennan
Read: 23rd – 26th August 2017
Genre: fantasy; historical fiction; adventure
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day. Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever. (Synopsis from publisher)

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Review | The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

Title: The Art of Asking: How I learned to stop worrying and let people help (2014)
Author: Amanda Palmer
Read: 20th – 23rd July 2017
Genre: non-fiction; memoir
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

“Rock star, crowdfunding pioneer, and TED speaker Amanda Palmer knows all about asking. Performing as a living statue in a wedding dress, she wordlessly asked thousands of passersby for their dollars. When she became a singer, songwriter, and musician, she was not afraid to ask her audience to support her as she surfed the crowd (and slept on their couches while touring). And when she left her record label to strike out on her own, she asked her fans to support her in making an album, leading to the world’s most successful music Kickstarter. Even while Amanda is both celebrated and attacked for her fearlessness in asking for help, she finds that there are important things she cannot ask for-as a musician, as a friend, and as a wife. She learns that she isn’t alone in this, that so many people are afraid to ask for help, and it paralyzes their lives and relationships. In this groundbreaking book, she explores these barriers in her own life and in the lives of those around her, and discovers the emotional, philosophical, and practical aspects of THE ART OF ASKING. Part manifesto, part revelation, this is the story of an artist struggling with the new rules of exchange in the twenty-first century, both on and off the Internet. THE ART OF ASKING will inspire readers to rethink their own ideas about asking, giving, art, and love.” (Synopsis taken from the publisher’s website.)

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Review | The End We Start From by Megan Hunter

Title: The End We Start From (2017)
Author: Megan Hunter
Publisher: Picador (UK)/Grove Atlantic (US)
Read: 28th June 2017
Genre: dystopia/post-apocalyptic
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Megan Hunter’s The End We Start From presents a drowned version of a post-apocalyptic London where its inhabitants are forced on a mass exodus from the capital as living conditions become more treacherous and flood waters rise. As a post-apocalyptic novel, it’s more concerned about one mother’s love for her new born child, and raising him during this exodus, rather than the actual dystopian world they find themselves in – unfortunately, as a childless twentysomething, I can’t say this novel particularly spoke to me in quite the same way as it seems to have done so for many other readers.

“As London is submerged below flood waters, a woman gives birth to her first child, Z. Days later, she and her baby are forced to leave their home in search of safety. They head north through a newly dangerous country seeking refuge from place to place, shelter to shelter, to a desolate island and back again. The story traces fear and wonder, as the baby’s small fists grasp at the first colors he sees, as he grows and stretches, thriving and content against all the odds. Written with poise and poeticism, The End We Start From is an indelible and elemental first book—a lyrical vision of the strangeness and beauty of new motherhood, and a portentous tale of endurance in the face of ungovernable change.” (Synopsis from the publisher)

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