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where our team of writers love to talk all things books, sharing reviews, features, lists, interviews and more.

Getting lost in a book is escapism at it's finest and it's what everyone who contributes here thrives on.

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Friday, 16 February 2018

The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night | Jen Campbell | Review


Spirits in jam jars, mini-apocalypses, animal hearts and side shows.
A girl runs a coffin hotel on a remote island.
A boy is worried his sister has two souls.
A couple are rewriting the history of the world.
And mermaids are on display at the local aquarium.

The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night is an enchanting and often dark mixture of fairy tales in the modern world. There are hearts purchased online, children who grow vines in their hair, and a mysterious new planet. There is also a young boy just trying to understand his family, a soldier who walks into a stranger's kitchen, and a couple who spend the night discussing how the world began. In other words, when reading The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night you never know exactly what to expect.

Each story in this collection contains its own little world, and while some of these worlds are stranger than others, each one feels as though it could exist within our own somehow. There is a sense of fairy tale influence in all of the stories but they each vary in how much or how little they depend upon this, and each story does feel very much as though the world within it exists on its own, drawing you into something different and new for a few pages before spitting you out again. The only complaint this draws is that some of the stories are very short, and the best ones leave a longing for them to be just a bit longer, so that more time might be spent getting to know these unique and fascinating worlds

As with any short story collection, readers will connect with some stories more than others. Personally, my favourites were 'Aunt Libby's Coffin Hotel' about a girl and her aunt who run a hotel on an island, where guests can rent a coffin to sleep in for a night, and 'Little Deaths' about a world in which ghosts are caught, bought, and sold in jars. I would have loved for both of these to have been a little longer so that I could have learnt more about those worlds and the people in them. There were, of course, some stories that I didn't like so much, but while I didn't quite connect with 'Jacob' or 'Plum Pie. Zombie Green. Yellow Bee. Purple Monster' I am certain that there will be plenty of other readers who will find those to be their favourite stories in the collection.

If you're a particular lover of dark, whimsical, fairy tale inspired short stories, then you definitely won't regret picking up The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night and with such a variety of different story telling techniques and subjects displayed, there is bound to be something here for any short story lover.
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Thursday, 15 February 2018

Passenger and Wayfarer | Alexandra Bracken | Review

I literally just, say, 20 minutes ago finished the second book and I still slightly have tears in my eyes, so let's get on with the show!


Passenger

I took a little while to get into this book, I wasn’t really sure what it was about apart from the fact that lots of booktuber’s raved about it, so when it started I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. Then Etta was introduced and her violin performance drew me in, and the magic started. It initially reminded me of A Darker Shade of Magic, just with Nicholas and Etta instead of Kell and Lilah. But obviously the more the story evolved the more I saw it wasn’t that.

When I told people it was about time travel they assumed a science fiction type book, however, this feels more realistic and fantasy at the same time. Obviously, time travel is fantasy but the way the story is told you legitimately feel like it could be happening now in real life, it’s described so effortlessly and not totally absurd that you wouldn’t believe it.

I really enjoyed the story, however, I felt the pacing was off. The beginning was too slow and it, therefore, took a while to get into the story. The middle was perfect, everything ran nicely and gave you enough time to take in all the details and understand what was going on. Then the end was a mess, I was 40 or so pages from the end and nothing 'end like' had even happened, I didn’t understand how they were going to end it with that few number of pages. But, then everything happened and it just felt rushed and nothing like the rest of the book. Seriously a disappointment.

Wayfarer

Pretty much the exact same thing happened with Wayfarer, I'm not sure if it's just Alexandra's writing as I've read The Darkest Minds, the first in her other series, before but I'm not sure if I remember if the pacing was an issue with that. I planned to post this review back at the beginning of January but I just could not get into this book. It took me so long to get through the first 100 pages and finally get stuck in with the plot that over a month had flown by. I wouldn't blame you if you'd picked up these books before and not bothered reading further than the first few chapters. Even with the cliffhanger left at the end of Passenger the first 100 pages of Wayfarer was a chore.

Once past that, I got stuck in and got through the rest in a couple of days. Again the ending had way too much of a lead up to then be over in a few pages. But I will say there's a lot more minor action going on in Wayfarer than Passenger as it's more about the war of the families and less about Nick and Etta's relationship.

Speaking of Nick and Etta's relationship, yes I did cry near the end when the big reveal happens (I won't go into it any more than that as spoilers) I shed maybe a few more tears than I care to admit. Bracken's character writing is definitely much better than her environment and action writing. You really connect with the characters, not just Nick and Etta but some, if not most, of the minor characters as well. It's definitely the lack of descriptions that let down the story. These characters are travelling through time, to different areas of the world and history and it's sometimes hard to even imagine where they are, especially without any prior knowledge of the time and place. There were moments where I lost track of the story because of the lack of descriptions, I thought they were on a boat but then a character climbed out of the window into a tree as they were suddenly back in the house.

While this all may sound like a lot of negatives, I definitely enjoyed both the stories and do recommend them. I just feel they could both lose a 100 pages each to be that little bit better. I rated them both 3.5 stars (rounding up to 4 stars on Goodreads) so ya know, they're not top of the TBR pile but they're worth being in it. Plus, their gorgeous covers are worth a slot on your bookshelves even if you don't read them for ages!
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Tuesday, 13 February 2018

The Call | Peadar O'Guilin | Review



Some books are just so deliciously dark that you are immediately in their power. They keep you close while they shock you, upset you and make you fall completely and utterly in love with them. The Call is one such book.

This is set in a world where every teenager will be taken to another land without warning, where they will have to face a terrible hunt. And with only one in ten of them making it, their chances of survival are slim. Nessa has been training since she was a child, determined to prove the people that don't think she will survive wrong. As more and more of her friends are taken, The Call seems even more dangerous.

The Call is a brutal and fast paced novel that will keep you on the edge of your seats. I was so on Team Nessa that it hurt and I was basically biting my nails as she struggled to survive in dark and dangerous times.

It isn't a book that holds back so if you want a light adventure story, this probably isn't the book for you. It revels in the uneasy and the nasty, while managing to maintain the delicate balance between imaginative and being gory for the sake of it. If you are a fan of grimdark or YA dystopian, this is definitely a book that you should check out.

Just make sure that you leave a light on afterwards....
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Friday, 9 February 2018

A History of Magic | Bloomsbury, J.K. Rowling and the British Library | Review



Harry Potter: A History of Magic is the official book of the exhibition, a once-in-a-lifetime collaboration between Bloomsbury, J.K. Rowling and the brilliant curators of the British Library. It promises to take readers on a fascinating journey through the subjects studied at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry – from Alchemy and Potions classes through to Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures.
I can say with assurance that it does just that; it really is a fascinating journey.



What I loved about this book (created by Bloomsbury, J.K. Rowling and the British Library for the 20th anniversary in 2017) is that it combines everything Harry Potter and the world we all know and love, with the very real world we actually live in.



Chapters are dedicated to various subjects - Defence Against the Dark Arts, Divination, Charms etc - and they tell of real artifacts from the British museum that have been used for similar reasons. In the Divination chapter, for example, there are real charts of tea leaves and how to read them, as created and read by real people, not just Professor Trelawney.



There is information about mandrakes, dragon's blood, centaurs, broomsticks and cauldrons. The images are a mixture of photographs from the artifacts in the museum, illustrations from both Jim Kay and Olivia Lomenech Gill and their illustrated copies of Philosopher's Stone, Chamber of Secrets, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. There's also manuscripts from Rowling's drafts of the stories, and images she sketched out herself.



I learnt a lot when I read this book, about the incredible pieces in the museum, and how people actually used things like star charts and the study of plants in their actual lives. It's a fantastic combination of fiction and reality.

Have you had a look at A History of Magic? What did you think? 

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Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Features | Why I Decided To Make A Bookish Spreadsheet

Heading into the new year I was happy with my reading goals. I’d selected four sequels I wanted to cross of my TBR, I’d chosen five books (four of which I already owned) for my 2018 ‘vow to read list’, I'd decided to tackle this year's Popsugar challenge, I’d committed to reading every selection from our new BB book club and I’d set a Goodreads goal of 50 books (more to keep track of my reads than actually set a target).

A couple of weeks into the new year I added an unexpected additional reading goal to my list. Since the early days of owning a Kindle I’ve had a simple two-folder filing system for organising my digital books; ‘read’ and ‘unread’. Now, I won’t go into the specific numbers but what I noticed when downloading my latest purchase was that I had somehow gathered an embarrassing amount of books in the ‘unread’ folder. And so, I decided it was time to do something about it.

Unsure whether to set a target number, clear out some of the free classics and unfinished eARCs or simply keep all other books on hold, in the end I decided the best way to make the list more manageable was to make myself a Kindle spreadsheet. So, I set to typing up the titles, authors, genres and page counts of the 'unread' folder's contents to figure out exactly what books I had and what I was going to do about them all.

Photo by STIL on Unsplash

With all of the information in one place, I began by greying out the books I’d started reading but hadn't finished as I wasn’t enjoying them at the time. Then I used a bold colour to pick out the titles that I was most looking forward to reading and promised myself that somehow I’d make time for them in 2018. At first I wasn’t sure if I wanted to share list of these titles here on BB, I guess mainly because I don’t want to feel like I’ve failed when December rolls around and I’ve only crossed off two, so I’ve decided to keep my little Kindle spreadsheet to myself for now. What I will share is that there are twenty books, totalling almost 5000 pages, that I want to see moved from the 'unread' folder to the ‘read’ one by the end of the year. Perhaps I’ll share more about them with you in twelve months time!

Of course, it’s also clear that I should be on some sort of strict Kindle book buying ban (and a Netgalley ban too), but I’m not going to promise that because I know I'll fail. I first got my Kindle soon after I rediscovered my love of reading and it’s clear to see from some of the books on the list that I wanted to catch up on everything I’d missed out on! Since then I’ve discovered more about the kind of books I enjoy and what I want to make time to read in the future - there are so many books in the world and unfortunately I can’t read them all, no matter how hard I try! What I am going to pledge is that I’ll be more selective about the Kindle reads I purchase from now on, only buying books I plan to read in the near future and keeping my TBR under control.

How do you keep track of your TBR lists, and have you ever created a bookish spreadsheet? I’d love to hear your tips!

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Monday, 5 February 2018

Features | On February's TBR

solar bones february tbr book blog

I'm not usually one to set monthly TBRs as I’ve been known to fail miserably in the past, but with my library reservations lined up and a few reading challenges underway, today I thought I'd break tradition and share my February reading list with you.

A Tyranny Of Petticoats, edited by Jessica Spotswood (2016)

First up is of course our February book club title, which this month was chosen by Anjali. A Tyranny Of Petticoats contains fifteen short stories penned by fifteen different YA authors, including three whose work I've read before; Marie Lu, Beth Revis and Marissa Meyer. The book takes the reader on a historical journey from 1710 to 1968 and promises tales of 'badass girls'.

I've really been loving short story collections lately (this will be the fourth one I've read this year) so I'm really looking forward to it! If you would like to join in and readalong with us you can find out more about Anjali's reasons for choosing the book and how you can send us your feedback in this recent post.

The Strange Library, Haruki Murakami (2005)

This book has been sat on my Goodreads TBR list since 2015 and comes recommended by Ria as a good introduction to Murakami (I'm also planning to read IQ84 this year as part of my 'vow to read list'). I recently discovered that my local library has this one in stock so I've reserved a copy and am looking forward to finding out more about the mysterious and unusual story. It's also the title I've selected for the 2018 Popsugar Challenge prompt 'a book that involves a bookstore or library'.

Station Eleven, Emily St John Mandel (2014)

Speaking of things that have been on my Goodreads TBR since 2015, I've owned a Kindle copy of Station Eleven for over two years now so there's really no excuse! This coupled with the fact that it's one of those books I've heard nothing but amazing things about landed the book on my 2018 'vow to read' list. Looking at the synopsis it sounds set to be a really unique take on the dystopian genre and I can't wait to finally read it.

Tales From The Dead Of Night, edited by Cecily Gayford (2014)

Whilst browsing the shelves at Waterstones in search of book club inspiration, I stumbled across this book when I was drawn in by the beautiful cover design. Containing thirteen spooky ghost stories from a selection of authors including Ruth Rendell and Rudyard Kipling this book sounds like Halloween come early to me. As we all know at this point (broken record over here...), short story collections are a big favourite for me right now and I'm hoping this selection won't disappoint.

Solar Bones, Mike McCormack (2016)

This was the only book from my January library haul that I didn't quite manage to squeeze in last month. Whilst I don't know anything about the plot, I'm very intrigued by the fact that the book doesn't have chapters or punctuation and takes place over just one hour. In my library haul I mentioned that I'm expecting this book to take me out of my reading comfort zone so I'm really keen to find out more.

+ 1 Mystery Read...

As it's my turn to pick the BB book club title next month, I'm also planning on reading the book I've selected beforehand in order to allow me to tailor the feedback form to the book. Of course, I'm keeping quiet about the book's identity until the announcement post in a few weeks time, but I can reveal that it's a short novel, making it the first BB book club pick that isn't a short story collection. I'm excited about the title I've chosen and I hope you will be too!
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