Dancing Jax by Robin Jarvis

The Blurb On The Back:

Some books should be banned or destroyed.  This is the story of one of them …

In a coastal town, a strange, out-of-print children’s book is found, full of colourful stories of castles, knights and unicorns.  But the book is no fairytale.  Written by Austerly Fellows, a mysterious turn-of-the-century occultist, it is no mere entertainment.  In fact, those who start it find that they just can’t put it down, no matter how much they may want to. 

You can order Dancing Jax by Robin Jarvis from Amazon USAAmazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

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The End Of Aspiration by Duncan Exley

The Blurb On The Back:

Why is it getting harder to secure a job that matches our qualifications, buy a home of our own and achieve financial stability?

Underprivileged people have always faced barriers, but people from middle-income families are increasingly more likely to slide down the social scale than climb up.

Duncan Exley draws on expert research and real-life experiences – including from an actor, a politician, a billionaire entrepreneur and a surgeon – to issue a wake-up call to break through segregated opportunity.  He offers a manifesto to reboot our prospects and benefit all.

You can order The End Of Aspiration by Duncan Exley from Amazon USAAmazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

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Fallen by Benedict Jacka

The Blurb On The Back:

Everything is on the line for probability mage Alex Verus …

Once Alex was a diviner trying to live under the radar.  Now he’s a member of the Light Council who’s found success, friends … and love.  But it’s come with a price – the Council is investigating him, and if they found out the truth, he’ll lose it all.

Meanwhile, Alex’s old master, Richard Drakh, is waging a war against the Light mages.  To protect those he cared for, Alex will have to become something different.  Something darker … 

You can order FALLEN by Benedict Jacka from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

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Asia’s Reckoning: China, Japan, The US And The Struggle For Global Power by Richard McGregor

The Blurb On The Back:

The dramatic story of the relationship between the world’s three largest economies, by one of the foremost experts on East Asia. 

For more than half a century, American power in the Pacific has successfully kept the peace.  But it has also cemented the toxic rivalry between China and Japan, consumed with endless history wars and entrenched political dynasties.  Now, the combination of these forces with Donald Trump’s unpredictable impulses and disdain for America’s old alliances threatens to upend the region.  If the United States helped lay the post-war foundations for modern Asia, Asia’s Reckoning will reveal how that structure is now crumbling.

With unrivalled access to US and Asian archives, as well as many of the major players in all three countries, Richard McGregor shows how the confrontational course on which China and Japan have increasingly set themselves is no simple spat between neighbours.  And the fallout would be a political and economic tsunami for all of us.  

You can order Asia’s Reckoning: China, Japan, The US And The Struggle For Global Power by Richard McGregor from Amazon USAAmazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

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The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The Blurb On The Back:

”I used to think to make people feel afraid was a curse, an awful thing … But I’d love for them to fear me … I want them to look at me and weep.”

On the even of their divining, the day Lil and her twin sister Kizzy are to discover their fate, they’re captured and enslaved by the cruel Boyar Vallarta.

Far away from their beloved Traveller community, and forced to work in the harsh castle kitchens, Lil finds some comfort in the storm-eyed Mira, a fellow slave who she’s drawn to in ways she doesn’t understand.  But too soon she also learns about the Dragon, a mysterious and terrifying man of myth, who takes girls as gifts.

They may not have had their divining day, but the girls will still discover their fate …  

You can order The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave from Amazon USAAmazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

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Moneyland by Oliver Bullough

The Blurb On The Back:

These are the men who stole the world.

Investigative journalist Oliver Bullough reveals the obscene dark side of globalised finance, a shadow realm of oligarchs and gangsters, unimaginable power and zero accountability.  It’s a place you are unlikely to visit, but you can see its effects everywhere.  Just look around.

How did we get here?  In the 1950s, a small group of bankers in London had a clever idea: ‘offshore’, an imaginary zone where money could flow free.  Their breakthrough created a vast reservoir of secret wealth, one that bends the laws of every nation on Earth in order to protect its masters.

Thanks to offshore, for the first time thieves could dream big.  They could take everything – which is exactly what they will do, unless we stop them.  

You can order Moneyland by Oliver Bullough from Amazon USAAmazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

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The Widows Of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

The Blurb On The Back:

Inspired in part by the woman who made history as India’s first female attorney, The Widows Of Malabar Hill is a richly wrought story of multicultural 1920s Bombay as well as the debut of a sharp and promising new sleuth.

Perveen Mistry, the daughter of a respected Zoroastrian family, has just joined her father’s law firm, becoming one of the first female lawyers in India.  Armed with a legal education from Oxford, Perveen also has a tragic personal history that makes women’s legal rights especially important to her.

Mistry Law has been appointed to execute the will of Mr Omar Farid, a wealthy Muslim mill owner who has left three widows behind.  But as Perveen examines the paperwork, she notices something strange: all three of the wives have signed over their full inheritance to a charity.  What will they live on?  Perveen is suspicious, especially since one of the widows has signed her form with an X – meaning she probably couldn’t even read the document.  The Farid widows live in full purdah – in strict seclusion, never leaving the women’s quarters or speaking to any men.  Are they being taken advantage of by an unscrupulous guardian?  Perveen tries to investigate, and realises her instincts were correct when tensions escalate to murder.  Now it is her responsibility to figure out what really happened on Malabar Hill, and to ensure that no innocent women or children are in further danger. 

You can order The Widows Of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey from Amazon USAAmazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

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Why Cities Look The Way They Do by Richard J Williams

The Blurb On The Back:

We tend to think cities look the way they do because of the conscious work of architects, planners and builders.  But what if the look of cities had less to do with design, and more to do with social, cultural, financial and political processes, and the way ordinary citizens interact with them?  What if the city is a process as much as a design?  Richard J Williams takes the moment construction is finished as a beginning, tracing the myriad processes that produce the look of the contemporary global city.

This book is the story of dramatic but unforeseen urban sights: how financial capital spawns empty towering skyscrapers and hollowed-out ghettoes; how the zoning of once-illicit sexual practices in marginal areas of the city results in the reinvention of culturally vibrant gay villages; how abandoned factories have been repurposed as creative hubs in a precarious postindustrial economy.  It is also the story of how popular urban cliches and the fictional portrayal of cities powerfully shape the way we read and see the bricks, concrete and glass that surround us.

Thought-provoking and original, Why Cities Look The Way They Do will appeal to anyone who wants to understand the contemporary city, shedding new light on humanity’s greatest collective invention.

You can order Why Cities Look The Way They Do by Richard J Williams from Amazon USAAmazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

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2019 In Books And Onwards To 2020

So, my annual round up has rolled around again.  People say things seem to come around quicker as you get older but I gotta say that 2019 has drrraaaaaaaggggged at times.  Also got to say that personally, I am not feeling optimistic for 2020 but, hey, maybe it will surprise me.

I set myself a target of 130 books to read in 2019 and I met that target dead on, although it was a bit touch and go towards the end thanks to Real Life getting in the way.

I wanted 20% of those 130 books to be by Writers of Colour and, disappointingly, I failed for the second year running and read 21 (which is 16%).  This is an improvement on where I was in 2018, when I only managed 12% but still not where I wanted to be in terms of supporting diverse voices.  I can’t even say that it’s down to not looking to pick up books by WOC because I definitely have a lot on my To Be Read Pile both in terms of selecting ARCs and buying them in stores.

Anyway, I think that the solution is to make sure I’m consciously scheduling WOC when I’m working out what I want to read next.  Usually I just pick up the next book that meets my then current fancy but I’m trying to be more ordered this year so I am running a mini stack of books that I pre-select to read in the next month.  This should also mean that I manage my To Be Read Pile more efficiently (when you see what’s on it behind the cut you’ll understand why I want to get a grip on it).

Gender-wise, I wanted a 50/50 split between men and women in 2019 and I broadly hit it.  Of the 130 books I read, 63 were authored/co-authored/edited/co-edited by women, which is 48%.  This is slightly down on 2018 (where I managed 48%) and I think that some of that is because I made a conscious effort to read more non-fiction in 2019 and a lot of that tended to be from men.

I didn’t set a non-fiction target for 2019 other than wanting to read more of it.  In the end 47 of the 130 were non-fiction works (so that’s 36%).  This is an improvement on the 26% I managed in 2018, so I’m pleased with that.

In terms of aspirations for 2020, I’m looking to achieve the following:

  • a total reading target of 130.  I’ve picked this because my commute has changed compared to last year, so it should be achievable while also leaving me some writing time for my personal, non-review projects.
  • a 50/50 gender split.
  • 20% of the books read to be by or co-written by writers of colour.
  • 40% of the books read to be non-fiction.

As with 2019, I’m not going to be scheduling posts here because I don’t want to put pressure on myself in terms of getting reviews done.  This is and remains very much a personal book review blog rather than a ‘side hustle’ and I don’t want it to start feeling like work because I’ve managed to keep my book review blog going since 2006 by making clear it’s my hobby.  Similarly, I’m not going to be switching my focus to any specific genre or market (although long term observers will know that I tend towards crime fiction, thrillers and fantasy).

It’s been 3 years since I moved my blog here to WordPress from Livejournal and my hit count has grown year on year, which is pretty miraculous given I don’t do a lot to promote it and I don’t do any of the interviews, competitions or other content that harder working people in the book review community do.  Although I do suspect that some of that hit count was from a DOS attack on WordPress over the summer …

My most popular review of 2019 in terms of hits was actually an old one from 2017 – Need To Know by Karen Cleveland.  My most popular review from 2019 was The Dark Days Deceit by Alison Goodman (it’s the conclusion to a well done YA historical fantasy if you’re interested).

I’ve set out my favourite books of 2019 below (in no particular order):

NON-FICTION:

The Secret Barrister: Stories Of The Law And How It Is Broken is a passionate, clearly written and damning book that is essential reading for anyone who cares about the United Kingdom they set out how the English criminal legal system should work and why it is going so drastically wrong.

Heimat: A German Family Album by Nora Krug is a beautifully illustrated graphic memoir (which mixes Krugg’s drawings with photographs), in which she examines who she is as a German-American and comes to terms with her attitude to Germany’s recent history by seeking to learn more about the lives of her grandparents under Nazi rule and the role they played in the regime.

Chernobyl: History Of A Tragedy by Serhii Plokhy is a horrifying, moving and meticulously researched book (winner of the Baillie Gifford Prize in 2018 for non-fiction), that depicts the events surrounding the explosion of the No 4 reactor at Chernobyl on 26 April 1986 and the cover up and clear up that followed while going onto explain how it contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

ADULT FICTION:

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John Le Carré.  There’s a reason why this book is viewed as a classic in the spy thriller genre. It’s the third in John Le Carré’s GEORGE SMILEY SERIES (a follow-up to CALL FOR THE DEAD) and although Smiley is very much in a minor (albeit critical) supporting role that doesn’t matter because this ice-cold, ruthless, brutal spy thriller novel is an exquisitely plotted affair about treachery and counter-espionage and how lives become disposable to those in power when it suits their interests.

YOUNG ADULT BOOKS:

Teen Pioneers – Young People Who Have Changed The World by Ben Hubbard is an inspirational YA non-fiction book, consisting of mini biographies for 21 people who were all teenagers when they acted to try and change the world. Some you may have heard of, e.g. Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai and the Hong Kong activist, Joshua Wong, and others you will hear more of in the future. It’s the perfect book to wave at any grown-up who dares to complain about young people lacking motivation and seeking to take all the time and it honestly gave me some hope for the future.

CHILDREN’S BOOKS (9 – 12):

The Dog Who Saved The World by Ross Welford is an utterly delightful SF book that takes a dog-mad protagonist to a grim future.  The world building is great, Welford makes some excellent points about privilege and refugees and features an interesting morally ambivalent side character who will make you think.  Welford is one of my favourite children’s authors and this book is worth your time (even if you don’t have children!).

Death In The Spotlight by Robin Stevens is the 7th in this on-going murder mystery series and another well-plotted mystery filled with some devilish twists and great character development for Daisy and Hazel.  I especially liked a key revelation about Daisy and her sexuality (which Stevens does well to contextualise in the time) but Hazel also gains a lot of confidence and self-awareness and I welcomes seeing Alexander and George again.  Again, this is one of those series that is worth your time even if you don’t have kids in the target age group – there has not been a duff book in it and they’re genuinely good mysteries that are perfect if you already like the Golden Age detective authors like Christie or Sayers.

The Land Of Roar by Jenny McLachlan is a middle grade fantasy novel that’s gorgeously illustrated by Ben Mantle and the first of a duology (the sequel to which is due out in 2020).  It’s a stunningly good read – moving, funny and with a lot to say about facing your fears, embracing the power of imagination and the destructive need to be cool with the ‘in crowd’.  It tips its hat at the Narnia and Peter Pan tradition, while updating it for a more tech savvy and less gender stereotyped readership.

My To Be Read Pile now stands at a hideously horrifying 733.  At the beginning of 2019 it was 570.

My name is Caroline Hooton, and I have a book acquisition problem.  Someone please help me.  Please.

I don’t do resolutions, but one of my ‘things’ for 2020 is that I’m going to try not to take every book offered to me for review and to steer clear of bookshops so that I’m not indulging in my book buying habit (which did spiral out of control towards the end of 2019) – some women buy handbags and shoes when they’re stressed; I go on book buying binges.

The full list is behind the cut for anyone interested and, as always, if there’s anything on there that you particularly recommend then please do let me know and I will move it up my list.

Finally, I wanted to say thank you to everyone who’s checked out this blog over 2019 or liked or left a comment and my very best wishes to all of you for 2020.

THE 2020 TO BE READ PILE OF DOOM! (COMPLETE WITH DATES OF ACQUISITION SO YOU CAN BEHOLD THE FULL HORROR)

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