Top Ten Tuesday: Best Reads of 2017 So Far

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  Each week they provide a prompt and other lovers of listmaking join in with their own top ten list.  Click on the link for more info and to find out about future topics.

This weeks theme is:   Best Books You’ve Read in 2017 so Far


2017 has been a pretty good reading year so far. I’ve really enjoyed most of what I’ve read, which makes narrowing it down to ten books pretty tough. Which ones do I leave out? Anyway, here’s an attempt, complete with links to reviews (where completed).

Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling – As it’s 20 years since the first Harry Potter book was published I decided to begin a series re-read.

The Boy on the Bridge by M. R. Carey – A prequel to The Girl with all the Gifts, this book follows a group of soldiers and scientists on their journey to find a cure in a post-apocalyptic Great Britain.

Sins of Empire by Brian McClellan and The Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan – Okay, I know, I’m cheating a little adding two books in one but I just had to mention them both.
The Autumn Republic is the end of the Powder Mage trilogy and what an ending to a great series.
Sins of Empire is the beginning of another series set in the same world, and featuring some of the characters from Powder Mage.
I loved both these books.

The Trees by Ali Shaw – Imagine you woke up to find the whole world had become one giant, dangerous forest.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt – An eerie and atmospheric novel based on the real life double murder of Andrew Borden and his wife. His daughter Lizzie stood trial for the crime but was acquitted.

The Muse by Jessie Burton – I enjoyed the way the two narratives in this tale weaved together.

North and South by John Jakes – This is the first book in a trilogy set during the American Civil War. There are some brilliant characters and I can’t wait to get back to book two.

Golden Hill by Francis Spufford – A novel set in the early days of New York where a man arrives and causes a stir. There were some great moments throughout this book.

Cell by Stephen King – Everyone ends up in a zombie-like state after a bout of rage when they’re zapped by the Pulse, sent through mobile phones. A group of survivors go on a journey through this new and dangerous world. I read this after watching the movie, and although I liked both I think the book had the better ending.

Feed by Mira Grant – I’m ending my post this week with the book I’m currently reading. Zombies, a political campaign and a group of bloggers. What’s not to love?


What are your picks for the best books you’ve read so far this year?  Have you read anything that made my list this week?

#HarryPotter20 – It’s Time for a Series Re-Read

It’s time to return to Hogwarts!

I’ve known for while that I want to re-read the Harry Potter books and now feels like the perfect time as it’s 20 years since the first book was published.
The stories feel so familiar that I find it hard to believe I’ve only actually read the series all the way through once, as the books were published.

I remember oh-so-well those midnight book launches, going along to grab the latest installment, waiting with all those other fans, some of whom turned up dressed for the occasion as Hogwarts students or other characters from the books.
It was a real experience, and amazing to think that a book could bring so many people together. Everyone would mill around, frequently checking their watches to see how much longer until midnight. I’ve not experienced anything like it since.
I remember so well going home with my new book then shutting myself away until I’d read it from beginning to end with almost no interruptions. Those were the days!

I was quite amazed when I found my copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and noticed the year of first publication was 26th June 1997.
Exactly 20 YEARS AGO!
Talk about time going fast. It doesn’t feel half so long since I read that book.
I guess the movies probably have something to do with this; I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched the films over the years, and they must reinforce the story into your mind, because it certainly feels fresher than 20 years ago to me. It will be interesting to see how I respond to the books after so much time and reading has passed between my first read and now.

Rather than reviewing each book as I finish it I’ve decided to use my On Reading… feature to document my literary adventures with Harry Potter and Co. I feel that’s a better way to capture my thoughts with at least some coherence (or not) instead of trying to review such a well-known and much-cherished series.

I’ve written more here than I initially intended; this was going to be the start of my first On Reading… post, but as it’s ended up much longer than I planned I’ve decided to make this my introduction to my Harry Potter re-read.
The plan is simple – read a book then watch the film and possibly include some film-based thoughts in my posts as well. I have no idea how long all this will take, it will just be a leisurely and enjoyable re-reading experience.

Here’s to rediscovering the magical world of Hogwarts after so many years…

Book Review: The Boy on the Bridge by M. R. Carey

Name: The Boy on the Bridge
Author:
M. R. Carey
Number of Pages:
392 (Hardback)
Published:
2nd May 2017 by Orbit
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic, Horror, Zombie

Goodreads

Once upon a time, in a land blighted by terror, there was a very clever boy.
The people thought the boy could save them, so they opened their gates and sent him out into the world.
To where the monsters lived.     – from Goodreads

My Rating:

My Thoughts:

Welcome, or welcome back for those who read The Girl With All The Gifts (please say you did, or that you will very soon if you haven’t already, it’s great!), to a bleak, grim, decimated, post-apocalyptic Great Britain, in which a crew of soldiers and scientists take a post-apocalyptic road trip in a giant armoured lab/tank/home from home called the Rosalind Franklin, Rosie for short, in order to search for a real chance to beat the plague that has turned humanity into a hoard of mindless zombies, or hungries as they’re called in Carey’s beautifully bleak world.
This is a prequel to The Girl With all The Gifts, with events taking place around 10 years before Melanie et al ventured out into the wilds.

Rosie and her crew depart from Beacon, hailed as humanity’s main hope in the search for a treatment or cure. They venture off towards Scotland, following in the wake of an earlier (failed) expedition, retrieving samples collected previously and taking their own new caches.

Personality clashes abound, which is not good when faced with constant life or death scenarios and being closed in in such a confined space whilst travelling.
The decisions made by some of the characters at various points are almost as shocking as the prospect of being bitten by a hungry and turned into a walking fungus to linger for forever or until the body finally gives out.
Also frightening – no one actually knows whether within these once-human shells some manner of consciousness may still reside, even if it no longer has any control, because the fungus is in charge. What a horrifying thought.
So you see, the stakes are high. Everything hinges on the team working well together, communicating properly and being united.
You just know this crew is heading for trouble.

There are some big characters within the team.
The colonel is so well known he has the nickname the Fireman, although the name and the actions that inspired it are things he would willingly cast off.
Lieutenant McQueen is efficient, a solider through and through, but he doesn’t seem to like many of his team members, and holds several of them in contempt for different reasons.
Then there’s Dr Fournier, the civilian commander of the expedition. He’s so exasperating, especially towards the end. He doggedly sticks to orders despite so much evidence (death/destruction/a fearsome enemy in relentless pursuit) that he shouldn’t, and it takes a stand from one of the other characters to snap him out of this mentality.

These characters are so real and well developed. The way certain characters’ behaviour seems justified in their own mind gives insight into why they’re doing what they’re doing, even when you really wish they would stop. There were many moments I found myself thinking ‘I cannot believe he/she just did that/is not going to say anything about this/is hiding such a massive secret.’

Which brings me on to the characters at the heart of the novel, Dr. Samrina Khan and her young charge Stephen Greaves. Samrina is not Stephen’s mother; his parents were killed years previously and Rina has taken him very much under her wing, almost insisting that he accompany her on this perilous journey.
For Stephen is clever, very clever. He invented the e-blocker which makes it difficult for hungries to catch human scent, and his mind is well and truly set on finding a cure, or at least a treatment to slow down the progression of the fungus in the human body.
But poor Stephen unwittingly helps to bring disaster down upon the heads of the crew by concealing certain discoveries, and taking action which leads to all manner of unwanted consequences.
Showing his thoughts as he goes along, it all seems reasonable enough, he’s only working towards the much-needed end of finding a treatment, but so many times you’re thinking please just TELL THEM.
I can’t remember the last time I was so invested in a group of fictional characters and their actions.

Rina makes a discovery of her own early on – she’s pregnant. Not ideal given the situation and the hostile environment in which she finds herself. Also, totally against regulations and protocol, although that’s the least of it, for only if the group survive long enough to return to Beacon could anyone take her to task over it, and by then it would be one item added to a long list of charges of questionable behaviour by virtually every other member of the crew. I may have already mentioned there are personality clashes aboard Rosie.

Small deceptions or omissions mount up to create big problems. In a world where you would imagine the biggest threat came from the undead, it’s not always hungries who present the most danger. They’re present, of course, as are the feral children, neither human nor mindless hungry, but quite often it’s more human dangers lurking – junkers, rivalries within the team, political machinations going on back at Beacon, and conspiracies which may reach all the way to the Rosalind Franklin no matter how far away from base she travels.

All this makes for great reading, and the last 100 or so pages just flew by as the crew tried to find their way home. The Boy on the Bridge was one of those books I couldn’t put down but I really didn’t want it to end because bleak as it was, I didn’t want to leave that world behind. And the ending… Ah, the ending… No, I’m saying NOTHING.

So, go read this book, and if you haven’t already, definitely read The Girl With All The Gifts. Could you read this one first, and as a standalone? Yes, I think so, but why miss out on meeting Melanie and Miss Justineau, and even Dr. Caldwell? Read The Girl…, then go on a journey with The Boy…

The Goodreads Book Tag

It feels like a long time since I last did a Book Tag, so here is one I spotted over at Becky’s Blogs of a Bookaholic. It’s the Goodreads Tag. Hope you enjoy…

What was the last book you marked as read?

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt. It’s based on the real life case of a double murder. Lizzie Borden was accused and put on trial for the murders of her father and stepmother. I’d not actually heard about the case, but looked up some info once I started reading the book.
The way the author weaves fact and her own imagined elements into this makes it an intriguing tale.
It’s also fascinating in that it’s still an unsolved crime as Lizzie Borden was acquitted so the story offered up here is pretty plausible. The writing was great too.

What are you currently reading?

The Boy on the Bridge by M. R. Carey.
Did you get around to reading The Girl With All The Gifts? Well, this book is set in the same bleak world.
I loved that book, and have been looking forward to returning to Carey’s country decimated by a fungal pathogen.
I can tell it’s going to be a good story, and I can’t wait to see what befalls the 12 soldiers and scientists travelling aboard the Rosalind Franklin as they search for a way to stop the plague.

What was the last book you marked as ‘to read’?

There are a few books I’ve been looking at recently.

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence
Feed by Mira Grant
The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams
Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King
American Gods by Neil Gaiman.

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday also covers a few more of the books I hope to read very soon.

Do you use the star rating system?

Yes I do. I always find that when I start looking at a review I scan through to find the star rating, just to see what the reviewer’s overall opinion was before I start reading the review. I’ll still read the review as well, but it’s a good at-a-glance indicator so because I look for it in other reviews I do use it myself.

Are you doing the 2017 reading challenge?

Yes. I’ve set myself a low target this year, 20 books.
I keep picking up all these really long books, which I love, so there didn’t seem much point in setting a high target because I find I’m conscious of the number and the fact that I’m no where near reaching it, which can take away from the enjoyment of reading. I don’t want to feel like I need to race through a book just because I’ve set myself a reading goal.
I’m not the fastest reader in the world, and sometimes I get so drawn in to a tale that I don’t even want to reach the end.

Do you have a wishlist?

Of course! It’s endless. And it keeps changing, but two things I would definitely like are a complete boxset of the Dark Tower series by Stephen King and a matching Song of Ice and Fire set by George R. R. Martin once the series is complete.

Who are your favorite authors?

Stephen King, George R. R. Martin, Sarah Waters. Recently I’ve also really enjoyed books by Sarah Perry and M. R. Carey, so I would look out for new books by them too.

Have you joined any groups?

Not that I’ve been especially active in unfortunately.
In theory I’d quite like to be in a group, but my reading tastes vary quite a lot, and I’m terrible for getting distracted by brand new books. If these come from the library they usually have to go right to the top of by TBR as they have to go back, so I don’t think trying to read certain books at certain times would suit me at the moment.
I always regret this though when I’ve read something awesome and really wish that someone else had been reading it at the same time, to relive those OMG moments.

How many Goodreads shelves do you have?

I have the usual, then I have one for each year’s reading progress. I have a couple of TBR lists but I don’t really keep them updated or use them properly. I really should go through and delete a few things and try and get a little more organised but doing that would mean less time for reading, and the book will always win when time is short.

I Tag…

As usual, anyone who wants to do this!

 

Top Ten Tuesday: TBR Additions – Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Post-Apocalyptic Style

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  Each week they provide a prompt and other lovers of listmaking join in with their own top ten list.  Click on the link for more info and to find out about future topics.

This weeks theme is:   Books From X Genre That I’ve Recently Added to my TBR List


My TBR list is massive, infinite and ever-expanding, so some of the books here may be recent re-additions to the list, or I’ve moved them to the top of the list as I really feel in the mood to read them right now. Perhaps I’m becoming a bit of a mood reader these days?
If so, then I’m in the mood for some Fantasy, Sci-Fi and a good bit of Post-Apocalyptic themed reading.

Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King – I can’t believe this isn’t out until September. What a wait! I added it to my TBR list as soon as I first heard about it.

The White Road by Sarah Lotz – I read Day Four and enjoyed it, and have read some good reviews for this new book, so I’ll give it a try.

Feed by Mira Grant – I love a good zombie story, and this is one I’ve been meaning to read for a while but haven’t had chance to get around to yet.

Feedback by Mira Grant – Another book set in the same world as Feed, but from a different perspective.

Fever by Deon Meyer – The books this is supposedly similar to are The Stand and The Passage. I’ve read and enjoyed both of those, so onto the TBR list it goes.

The Prince of Glass by Karen Miller – I read The Falcon Throne a while ago and really enjoyed it. This is book 2 in the same series.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers – For some reason I’m in the mood for a book or two set in space, and I picked up a copy of this one recently so hopefully it’ll be at the top of my TBR pile soon.

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence – I’ve never read anything by Mark Lawrence before, but this book sounds really good.

The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams – I’m patiently waiting for the library to get this in stock. I feel like I requested it ages ago but it hasn’t arrived yet. I do know it’s on order though, so that’s a good thing.

The Boy on the Bridge by M. R. Carey – This one only just makes it onto my list this week as I’ve actually just started reading it. I couldn’t not mention it though because it’s set in the same world as The Girl With All The Gifts (which I loved), and so far it’s really good.


Have you read any of the books on my list this week?  If so, what did you think of them?  What have you added to your TBR recently?

Book Review: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

Name: See What I Have Done
Author:
Sarah Schmidt
Number of Pages:
336 (Paperback)
Published:
2nd May 2017 by Tinder Press
Genre: Historical, Mystery, Crime

Goodreads

In this riveting debut novel, See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt recasts one of the most fascinating murder cases of all time into an intimate story of a volatile household and a family devoid of love.
On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid: Someone’s killed Father. The brutal ax-murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts, leaves little evidence and many unanswered questions. While neighbors struggle to understand why anyone would want to harm the respected Bordens, those close to the family have a different tale to tell—of a father with an explosive temper; a spiteful stepmother; and two spinster sisters, with a bond even stronger than blood, desperate for their independence.
As the police search for clues, Emma comforts an increasingly distraught Lizzie whose memories of that morning flash in scattered fragments. Had she been in the barn or the pear arbor to escape the stifling heat of the house? When did she last speak to her stepmother? Were they really gone and would everything be better now? Shifting among the perspectives of the unreliable Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, the events of that fateful day are slowly revealed through a high-wire feat of storytelling.     – from Goodreads

My Rating:

My Thoughts:

See What I Have Done is based on a real life double murder. In 1892 Andrew and Abby Borden were killed in their own home in Massachusetts. Andrew’s daughter Lizzie was tried for the crime and acquitted. I know this as I became so fascinated once I’d started reading this book that I had to find out more, because somehow this piece of history had passed me by. This in no way took away anything from my reading of this dark and beautifully written tale, which vividly imagines life surrounding 92 Second Street and the inhabitants of that place during the time leading up to the fateful day, and in the days to come. At the end of the book there is a timeline of events, which I found interesting, and also excerpts from the wills of both Emma and Lizzie, which I thought was a good little insight.
So, on to the story…

The story unfolds from a variety of viewpoints including that of Lizzie herself, her older sister Emma, the maid Bridget, and Benjamin, a man with a dark past who is enlisted by Lizzie and Emma’s uncle John in some ill-meaning scheme.
I love the different viewpoints, the way they shift back and forth between the time just prior to the murders and days or years later. It really makes you think, especially at the crucial moment, ‘now where was this person? Could that person have seen something? Was it Lizzie? Was it someone else entirely?’ Certain things are undisputed, Lizzie’s father and stepmother were murdered. Everything else, well, that’s a real guessing game, and it makes for fascinating reading.

All the characters are so alive, (at least until they’re not, in some cases) and you get a real sense of them, especially the three girls, Lizzie, Emma, and Bridget, the Irish maid who reluctantly stays on with the Bordens even as she dreams of escape and home.
Lizzie herself is a wonderfully dark and childlike character by turn. The way she clinically observes her father in the opening pages, and marvels at the lack of steadiness of the crime scene photographer, musing that she herself could take a perfect set of photos of the murder scene, is pretty startling. She’s quite frightening in those moments, and it’s not impossible to imagine that she could of course have done it, but then she’s so innocent and childlike in other moments that you end up wondering whether this woman could possibly have committed these crimes. Mean and spiteful, then caring and innocent, Schmidt’s Lizzie is truly an enigma, which adds to the mystery all the more.

The tale is atmospheric and claustrophobic, with the constant tick tick of the mantelpiece clock, the ominous cracking sounds of the house, the heat that makes Bridget sweat so uncomfortably, and the way these people seem closed in and under each other’s feet despite it being apparent that they don’t always get on. Some of the exchanges between Lizzie and her father, or Lizzie and her stepmother, and the spitefulness there makes this apparent.
There’s a sense that they’re all trapped, including Emma, even though she isn’t actually present at the beginning of the novel, having found the opportunity to visit a friend and have a much-needed break from everyday life. Emma is devoted to Lizzie, having taken to protecting her after their mother died when they were young. And even there, there’s tension between the two sisters, which builds towards the conclusion of the novel, as Emma repeatedly wonders exactly what Lizzie saw on that day.

The imagery is fantastic, something innocuous suddenly becomes ugly or stomach churning – the texture or smell of meat and reheated mutton broth (urgh! No wonder everyone is being sick), the pigeons that Lizzie keeps as pets, the locked doors, the smells pervading the house and the constant presence of pears from the arbour. It isn’t only the murder scene, it’s the everyday that comes across as somehow awful too. There’s a real sense of wrongness, even before the murders are discovered.

There are shocks along the way, and you may think the story is going one way only for it to go somewhere else entirely. I can’t say more on that because it would be getting close to spoilers, which wouldn’t be fair. So, I’ll end by saying See What I Have Done was by turn unsettling and fascinating, and the writing really brings the tale to life. Definitely one to read.

 

Booking Ahead: June 2017

Booking Ahead is a feature here on Pages and Tea where I glance through my never-ending TBR list/pile and select a few potential reads for the coming month. If I’m not reading books I love talking about books I’d like to read, so this post is a perfect excuse to do just that.

Welcome to Booking Ahead.
As always I’m picking a mix of new books and books from the TBR list as I’m doing Beat the Backlist. I actually managed to reach my original target of 8 books for this challenge during May, which I was really pleased about. I’ve now decided I’ll aim for 10 backlist books this year. With that in mind I’ve only got my eye on one new book this month (but how excited am I to finally have that books in my hands), and the other choices are from the endless TBR pile.

New Books

The Boy on the Bridge by M. R. Carey – This one is making a reappearance on my list this month as I only recently collected it from the library and so it will probably be the first book I read in June, because I’ve been looking forward to getting it for a while now.

Books from the Backlist

Feed by Mira Grant – Another zombie-themed story. Apparently that’s what I’m in the reading mood for at the moment. I also have Feedback by the same author on my TBR pile, so if I have the time hopefully I’ll get around to reading that as well.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers – To conclude my picks for this month, a book set in space. I don’t read many books with a space theme, and it was between this one and The Martian by Andy Weir. I’ll eventually read both, but of now I’m going with this one.

No doubt some of these titles will be making another appearance on Booking Ahead as I doubt I’ll fit them all in this month, but they’re the books that have caught my eye at the moment.


What are you hoping to read this month? Have you read of my picks, and if so what did you think? See you again next month for another Booking Ahead.