I was given this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. A family grows in rural Russia. Their lives are in constant struggle with the natural world which is beyond their control. They find comfort in a mixture of old ‘pagan’ beliefs and the newer beliefs of the Christian church. A young woman fights outside pressures to find a path in an ever-changing world. This world is made up of Vasilisa and her family. Vasilisa is a young girl who loves folk tales and lives one. Her empathy with the natural and spiritual world makes her the apex of the conflict between old and new beliefs. This book shares the Fairy-tale feel of Catherynne M. Valente’s Deathless and the Brothers Karamazov’s (by Dostoyevsky) questioning of spirituality, magic, and religion. I highly recommend this book.
Dark side war by Zachery Brown
So, I promised you a review of this book and here it is. First, a caveat, I read this book as part of my awards read. The good thing about this reading method is that you occasionally find books that really surprise you, surpassing your expectations. The down side is, that you are just as likely to come across books that simply weren’t written for you. Books that are written in a writing style/voice that leaves you cold or a genre that you just don’t get on with. This book falls into the latter camp. If you like what I call ‘mainstream genre” fiction you will like this book. But, I prefer books that have a more experimental structure and/or lyrical language style. So, this book is not for me.
“Aliens have conquered Earth, but they haven’t conquered humanity—yet. A young army conscript battles for survival in this action-packed futuristic thriller that will appeal to fans of Halo and Inglorious Bastards.
People used to wonder if we were alone in the universe. Well, we’re not. Not by a long shot. Aliens come in all shapes and sizes, and even the good guys are likely to haunt your nightmares. And oh, you’ll have nightmares, even after you leave the service. If you leave the service.
Devin is a reluctant conscript to an alien-run army: when the Accordance conquered Earth, they said it was to prepare against the incoming alien Conglomeration forces. But as Devin travels to the dark side of the moon for boot camp and better acquaints himself with his so-called allies, his loyalties are increasingly tested. Because the enemy of the enemy is not always a friend. Sometimes...” http://www.simonandschuster.co.uk/books/The-Darkside-War/Zachary-Brown/The-Icarus-Corps/9781481430357
“I stood at attention. My boots dug into the sad, scraggly patch of open field that was all that remained of what had once been called Central Park, and I remembered standing in the middle of a baseball field here, once. A long time ago.” Page 1.
This book had a diverse range of characters. The characters represented different ethnic groups. There were interesting girl/women characters. The characters had different levels of power/privilege. They came from different political perspectives and had very different views on how to deal with their alien conquerors.
To me, this novel felt disjointed. It felt like it was divided into 3 distinct sections; each of which opened questions that weren’t satisfactory answered. The first section, a rebellion narrative, was an interesting look at how earthlings would deal with an alien invasion, asking how many would rebel and who would acquiesce; for what reasons? It would have been interesting to explore these sections further. But, then we and Devin are whizzed into space and intro the second section of the novel which is set in a kind of boot camp; where earthlings are tested, trained and killed by their alien overlords. This could have been an interesting look at conquest and how people can fight for their overlords. It could have been an interesting look at the differing earthlings and how they survive this environment and the social conditions that they found there. To a limited extent it was. But, that was short. Since, then we were catapulted into section three and into a tradition alien shoot out; which, I found really boring.
As you see from the quote at the beginning of this review, the writing was workaday/mainstream. Which, while did work as first person narration from a teenage boy and made the work easy to scan, made the text feel boring to a reader who prefers a more lyrical/ experimental form of prose. To me the professionalism of the writing wasn’t exciting and didn’t feel like the speech of a young boy under stress. Surely, Devin’s speech would have been more fragmented, and less structured. So, if you like YA type books with fairly diverse characters, set in a dark space landscape, then this book is for you. But, this book was not for me.
Published January 28th 2015 by Hamish Hamilton
“It is quiet out here today, the only sounds that disturb the silence those of the wind, the occasional squalling cry of the birds. Down by the water an elephant seal lies on the rocks, its vast bulk mottled and sluglike; around it tracks of human activity scar the snow like rust, turning it grey and red and dirty.” Loc 34- 35
Well, at long last, I am back to my award list reading/reviewing. Clade was on the Locus Recommended Reading list. But, unfortunately, it didn’t reach the final ballot. I disagree with this omission. I really liked this novel. In fact, I predict that it will be one of my books of 2016. The work is a written evocation of a well-drawn, depressingly, beautiful world, peopled by great characters. This work, which I am going to call a work of mosaic fiction, is formed of several, interrelated, independent, and interdependent pieces. Each section of the novel follows a different character/s (either; Ellie, Adam, Summer or Noah) tracing the various strata of their shared history.
This work deals with environmental decay, and destruction. It is an attempt to understand, change and stop that destruction. It starts with a young Adam surveying the ice fields and noticing the damage that humanity is doing to this setting. In later sections of the novel, we follow; Adam, Summer, and Noah, racing to escape a storm, in an attempt to escape from the effects of global warming. In addition, this work focuses on the collapse of bee colonies throughout the globe. You could say that the destruction of the bee hives foretells the destruction of the human colony.
So, this book looks head on at the damage that we are inflicting on the environment. But, it is more than; a call to arms, a diatribe, a polemical piece of writing, or depressing mournful cry for humanity. In fact, it is all of those things and more. We see that human lives continue, despite the harshness of the times. The characters aren’t simply signifiers in a political argument. They are more than place holders, puppets in the authors argumentative polemic. They are themselves, concerned with their own messy lives. The characters do live in an Anthropocene world and have to cope with the effects of environmental damage. But, that doesn’t stop them from living. These characters still; go through the problems of childhood and adolescence, get jobs, get married, have children, quarrel, get divorced and age. In other words, these characters live full and messy lives.
Bradley shows the characters interacting with the world and its inhabitants. Amir is one of the interesting individuals that we meet along the way. Ellie meets him when she is exploring the possibility of creating an art instillation around his bees. We learn that Amir is an ‘illegal immigrant’. Through him we see the horrors, and inhumanity, of the immigration system, both; in our world, and the world presented in the book.
As you may be aware, I am disabled. Therefore, I am always interested when a book includes characters with disabilities. Noah has Autism. It is interesting to see how Noah, and his need for uniformity and stability, reacts to an ever changing world. It is great that, while Bradbury doesn’t shrink from the pain that Autism inflicts on Noah and his family, he doesn’t portray Noah as a victim of this pain. He gives Noah a narrative arc and a future, even in a world where the cards seems stacked against him.
This is a brilliant evocation of a world in decline. But, it is, also, a world which is full of life, life which is struggling to survive. It is a beautifully drawn picture of a decaying hopeless, and hopeful, world. I highly recommend this work
The publisher kindly gave me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This post is part of this books blog tour. I don’t really have a lot to say about this work. The stories were pleasant reads. They had a diverse cast of characters. Many forms of relationships and sexualties were highlighted. They were a pleasant heartwarming read. They had a strong message. But, as stories, they felt rather insubstantial.
In the preface to the work the author says that this book was written for a specific reason;
“For years, students, congregants and friends have been asking me when I was going to write a book. However, by now so many books on magick-making are available. Does the world need another how-to book on the subject? I didn’t think so. But then it occurred to me I knew of no books of fictional stories that depicted everyday people engaged with nature in a magickal way. .. stories that could enhance sabbat rituals, or help readers connect to nature spiritually. So I began to write them.” (preface)
I think that may have been the problem. These stories were slight because they weren’t stories they were parables. The characters at times felt like plot points in the narrative rather than fully fleshed out people. In addition, there was very little jeopardy involved. Since, you knew that the character would take the prescribed spiritual path, The language was workaday and good but you couldn’t call it poetic or lyrical. As you can see from the following extract;
“The blankets were too warm, her pregnant belly too heavy, and its pulling and tugging kept her awake for most of the night. And now, late morning, this spasm in her sacrum told her that her baby was on its way. As she had done a million times before, she imagined her birth canal to be smooth and wide, open and relaxed, but it didn’t seem to ease the tension in her body..”
The author made no attempt to play with form. It reminded me of one of those books that I was given as a Sunday School prize. Books where the spiritual message came before story or writing.
But, to be fair, this book was not written as a literary masterpiece. As the quote above tells us, the author intended it to be an introduction to her faith. So, let’s look at it from that perspective. It does offer a fairly useful introduction to paganism, as it operates today. Each story has an informative introduction. The stories work to illustrate the points made in the introductory text Therefore, if you want a literary work, or even a good fantasy, this is not for you. But, if you want a spiritual, life affirming introduction to paganism, then you should reach for this book. It would make a great morning meditational reading.
Two girls go missing from a rural English town. Peter Grant is sent to that town on a routine mission to check up on individuals with magic powers, living in the area. Initially, his inquiries go no where, finding no connection between these individuals and the missing girls. But he does not return to London. Instead, he decides to stay on and help the local police. He gradually gets drawn further and further into the investigation, finding that there’s more to the case than meets the eye. I won’t go any further than that. Since, this is a mystery story and, therefore, is easily spoilt.
I have mentioned, in the previous reviews, that reading along with awards encourages you to read outside of your comfort zone. Apologising for repetition, I have to say that, I would have never had read this book if it hadn’t been for the Locus Recommended long list. I don’t know why, but, I never felt any incentive to read this book. I now have to admit that i was missing out.. This book is a fun read.
In my last review, I mentioned that one of the positive things about reading the award shortlists was that they encouraged you to read outside of your comfort zone. This is definitely true in the case of the Locus Recommended Reading list. This is the second book that I would never have read if I hadn’t been reading that list. I don’t generally read Children’s fiction or YA. This is especially true if I haven’t heard of the author, or if the author hasn’t written an adult novel. I would have never read this book. I would have missed out on an extremely enjoyable read.
Zen Starling is a Railhead who travels on world crossing trains and steals to survive. He lives with his sister and disturbed mother in a deprived area of the city. One day when he is carrying out a theft at a high end Jewellers, he finds that he is being followed by a young girl and shadowy older figure. He dodges, trying to avoid them both but is eventually caught by one and rescued by another. I won’t say much more because I then get into spoiler territory and I want you to read this book.
This book has all my favourite elements. The work centres on the lives of Railheads that travel these trains often conducting low level crime to survive. It has sentient trains that cross worlds who help those for who they feel sorry and act as graffiti curators keeping the art work that they like while destroying the rest. It has androids, hive minds made out of bugs, and a shadowy government. What’s more it’s set in a really interesting urban, almost cyberpunk landscape. It deals with the discrepancy between the worlds of rich and poor. It looks at identity, asking what does it mean to be me and can we ever become someone else. It asks the questions ‘what does it mean to be human’ and who can we really trust?
This book was a really fun, well written read. It will engross you from the first to last page. The characters are, at once, likeable and nuanced. The world is wonderfully drawn. For me, it was a five star read. It’s too early to say yet but I am betting that it will be one of my favourite books of 2016.
The good thing about reading the short/long lists is that it forces you to read books that you wouldn’t normally go anywhere near. Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves is a good example of this. Neal Stephenson is one of those authors who I would normally avoid. Firstly, he is a popular author and that always puts me off a writer. Secondly, because his books are so long. But, it’s on the Locus recommended reading list and so I had to read Seveneves. I am glad that I did.
This is the plot. Earth is going on its own merry way when the moon splinters into several pieces. Gradually, they notice that the pieces are smashing into pieces and getting very near to Earth orbit. Scientists begin to fear that one day one piece will hit the earth and send earth into a destructive spiral. The planet’s leaders join forces to send an arc into space, a group of people who will live on a space station and wait out the dark rain, returning to Earth when it is once again habitable. The work traces; the preparation for take-off, the political spats that surround that take-off, their life on the station, the splits that emerge, and their final return to earth.
The station prepares. Its inhabitants are chosen. They are sent into space. They quarrel. Factions emerge. They battle on social media. Leaders are chosen and then toppled. They fight cosmic debris. The book’s well drawn, believable, characters must fight the Universe and each other to survive.
This book is a fun read. The world is immersive and believable. It is a world of social media. It is a world of bloggers. It is a world of tribes and factions. It is a world of conspiracies. It is a world in which people form tribes around strong leaders or strong ideas, creating vicious online battles pitting one tribe against the other in increasingly vicious social media wars. But, it is, also, a world of exposition. Stephenson spends a lot of time, and pages, explaining the science behind every part of the space station, the universe and the fate of earth. Despite, or perhaps because, of this, Seveneves is an immersive, enjoyable, read.
A young woman knocks on the door of an eminent “Super Villain”, demanding to become his apprentice. Reluctantly, he accepts. The collision of these two characters causes both of their worlds to explode. Nimona must learn to understand the complexity of the world and her position in that world. She must come to terms with the ambiguous character of her boss, both villain and hero. Nimona, and the reader must learn to accept the love/hate, dare I say ‘homoerotic,’ relationship between the hero and the villain, as well as the conflagration of their two roles. She must come to an understanding of the arbitrary nature of both their situations.
I can see why many people love this work. It works as a brilliant satire/subversion of the superhero, fantasy, genre. It dissects many of its tropes. Nimona is an interesting, strong, mischievous, nuanced female character who subverts the role of the young chosen protagonist. The sort of character that should be at the heart of many more books. The relationship between her Boss and his rival, with all its quiet ‘queerness’ is interesting. In addition, the blurring of their roles subverts the hero and villain stereotypes that exist in literature. The art is glorious, at times mirroring, and referencing, classic work such as The Bayeux Tapestry. But, there seems to be a barrier between me and the work. I can’t emotionally connect with Nimona. It seems to be too clean and clinical. The art is too clean and mainstream. The subversions too transparent. But, that might be due to the fact that it is a children’s book. However, I am glad that it is getting attention. I would recommend this work to anybody who loves LumberJanes or any of the BOOM studio’s output. I would also recommend it for any young teenage girl in your life.
Well toria what's your latest hair brain scheme?
What do you mean hair brained scheme?
Well you know what you are like you get an idea and it either, takes up all your time or you give up at the first hurdle.
Well, I kinda guess that's fair.
It is, but you still haven't told me what you plan to do
I plan to read some award long lists/ short lists; including the locus recommended reading list, the BSFA , the Andre Norton, the Ditmars, the international Mann booker, and a few more
Have you hit your head on something? Do I need to call 999? Whhhy?
Well, firstly, many of these are genre and I didn't read much of this last year, which is a problem given that that is the kind of book that I am supposed to be reviewing. Secondly, when I looked at the already available lists, I found that I had many of the works sitting, unread on my Kindle or on my shelve. I thought that reading the lists might be the incentive I need to clear some of that TBR.
So let’s look at the lists
NOVELS – SCIENCE FICTION
The Water Knife, Paolo Bacigalupi (Borzoi; Orbit UK)
Clade, James Bradley (Penguin Australia)
The Darkside War, Zachary Brown (Saga)
Corsair, James L. Cambias (Tor)
Tracker, C.J. Cherryh (DAW)
Nemesis Games, James S.A. Corey (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
Dark Orbit, Carolyn Ives Gilman (Tor)
Weighing Shadows, Lisa Goldstein (Night Shade)
Europe at Midnight, Dave Hutchinson (Solaris)
Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The Dark Forest, Cixin Liu (Tor)
Luna: New Moon, Ian McDonald (Tor; Gollancz)
Galapagos Regained, James Morrow (St. Martin’s)
Going Dark, Linda Nagata (Saga)
Planetfall, Emma Newman (Roc)
The Book of Phoenix, Nnedi Okorafor (DAW; Hodder & Stoughton)
Where, Kit Reed (Tor)
Poseidon’s Wake, Alastair Reynolds (Gollancz; Ace 2016)
The Thing Itself, Adam Roberts (Gollancz)
Aurora, Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
Glorious Angels, Justina Robson (Gollancz)
Regeneration, Stephanie Saulter (Quercus; Jo Fletcher 2016)
The End of All Things, John Scalzi (Tor)
Seveneves, Neal Stephenson (Morrow)
Chasing the Phoenix, Michael Swanwick (Tor)
Radiance, Catherynne M. Valente (Tor)
Persona, Genevieve Valentine (Saga)
A Borrowed Man, Gene Wolfe (Tor)
NOVELS – FANTASY
Foxglove Summer, Ben Aaronovitch (Gollancz 2014; DAW)
A God in Ruins, Kate Atkinson (Little, Brown; Doubleday UK)
Karen Memory, Elizabeth Bear (Tor)
Nightwise, R.S. Belcher (Tor)
Beneath London, James P. Blaylock (Titan)
The House of Shattered Wings, Aliette de Bodard (Roc; Gollancz)
Prodigies, Angelica Gorodischer (Small Beer)
Wylding Hall, Elizabeth Hand (PS; Open Road)
Empire Ascendant, Kameron Hurley (Angry Robot US; Angry Robot UK)
The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro (Knopf)
The Liminal War, Ayize Jama-Everett (Small Beer)
The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
Killing Pretty, Richard Kadrey (Harper Voyager US; Harper Voyager UK)
Finders Keepers, Stephen King (Scribner)
Archivist Wasp, Nicole Kornher-Stace (Big Mouth House)
Slade House, David Mitchell (Random House; Sceptre UK)
Uprooted, Naomi Novik (Del Rey)
Savages, K.J. Parker (Subterranean)
The Annihilation Score, Charles Stross (Ace)
Pacific Fire, Greg Van Eekhout (Tor)
The Philosopher Kings, Jo Walton (Tor)
YOUNG ADULT NOVELS
Half a War, Joe Abercrombie (Del Rey; Harper Voyager UK)
Half the World, Joe Abercrombie (Del Rey)
Six of Crows, Leigh Bardugo (Holt; Indigo UK)
Wonders of the Invisible World, Christopher Barzak (Knopf)
The Darkest Part of the Forest, Holly Black (Little, Brown)
Lair of Dreams, Libba Bray (Little, Brown; Atom UK)
Harrison Squared, Daryl Gregory (Tor)
The Lie Tree, Francis Hardinge (Macmillan Children’s; Amulet 2016)
Magonia, Maria Dahvana Headley (Harper)
Shadowshaper, Daniel José Older (Levine)
The Shepherd’s Crown, Terry Pratchett (Harper; Doubleday UK)
The Deep Woods, Tim Pratt (PS)
Railhead, Phillip Reeve (Oxford University Press; Switch 2016)
Carry On, Rainbow Rowell (St. Martin’s Griffin)
Bone Gap, Laura Ruby (Balzer + Bray)
Nimona, Noelle Stevenson (HarperTeen)
The Walls Around Us, Nova Ren Suma (Algonquin Young Readers)
Zeroes, Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan & Deborah Biancotti (Simon Pulse)
Hollowgirl, Sean Williams (Allen & Unwin as Fall; Balzer + Bray; Electric Monkey UK)
Sorcerer to the Crown, Zen Cho (Ace; Macmillan UK)
The Devourers, Indra Das (Penguin India; Del Rey 2016)
The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Seth Dickinson (Tor)
Flesh & Wires, Jackie Hatton (Aqueduct)
The Grace of Kings, Ken Liu (Saga)
The Weave, Nancy Jane Moore (Aqueduct)
Signal to Noise, Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Solaris)
Last Song Before Night, Ilana C. Myer (Tor)
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, Natasha Pulley (Bloomsbury US; Bloomsbury UK)
Archangel, Marguerite Reed (Arche)
Vermilion, Molly Tanzer (Word Horde)
Abomination, Gary Whitta (Inkshares)
The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor.com)
- See more at: http://www.locusmag.com/News/2016/02/2015-locus-recommended-reading-list/#sthash.64QhrZAw.dpuf
The Andre Norton
Posted on February 22, 2016
The 2016 Norma K. Hemming Award finalists have been announced. The award is given by the Australian Science Fiction Foundation for thought-provoking approaches to race, gender, sexuality, class and disability in Australian speculative fiction.
2015 Aurealis Awards Shortlists
BEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL
In The Skin of a Monster, Kathryn Barker (Allen & Unwin)
Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club, Alison Goodman (HarperCollins)
The Fire Sermon, Francesca Haig (HarperVoyager)
Day Boy,Trent Jamieson (Text Publishing)
Illuminae, Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (Allen & Unwin)
The Hush, Skye Melki-Wagner (Penguin Random House Australia)
BEST FANTASY NOVEL
In The Skin of a Monster, Kathryn Barker (Allen & Unwin)
Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club, Alison Goodman (HarperCollins)
Day Boy,Trent Jamieson (Text Publishing)
The Dagger’s Path, Glenda Larke (Hachette Australia)
Tower Of Thorns, Juliet Marillier (Pan Macmillan Australia)
Skin, Ilka Tampke (Text Publishing)
BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL
Crossed, Evelyn Blackwell (self-published)
Clade, James Bradley (Penguin)
Illuminae, Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (Allen & Unwin)
Their Fractured Light, Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner (Allen & Unwin)
Renegade, Joel Shepherd (Kindle Direct)
Twinmaker: Fall, Sean Williams (Allen & Unwin)
See all that yellow. There would be even more if I included the Locus list
This month, I read; memory serves, Lee Maracle (review to follow) The Beasts of Belmont Park (Kindly given to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review) (short review to follow) and Embed with Games. (short review) below. I have been listening to the following podcasts; the Fantasticast, Rachel and Miles X-plain the X-men, Galactic Suburbia, Coode Street, Verity podcast, and the writer and the critic. I have been watching; on YouTube; Jeans Bookish thoughts, Mercy’s bookish musings, Jen Campbell, We Live for Books, Jason Purcell , and C.A DuBois. Check the out for Brilliant content.
The beast of Belmont Park by Hud Saunders, given to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review, concerns a middle aged, married couple. The husband, an out of work actor who is currently acting as house husband and sole carer to their two children, resents his wife’s career and is bored. His wife, a successful writer, is dissatisfied with her marriage and their lack of sexual activity. This book follows them through; affairs, drug taking and self-analysis. The book was a pleasant enough read. It follows a similar path to many current and past works. There’s not much ground breaking stuff here but it makes for an easy, commute, read. Pigeonhole’s publishing model should work well for this book. (See my other reviews for more details of the way that this publishing house works https://vikzwrites.wordpress.com/2015/06/16/fable-review/). Their serialised manner of publishing would make this book take on the feel of a soap opera. It would make it a great read for that commute to work.
Embed with Games follows the writer through a journey into games; “In 2014 games critic Cara Ellison pledged to the internet she'd leave home, become itinerant, and travel around the world to live with and write about some of the most interesting game developers and their cultural outlook.” It is an interesting read. Once again, this would make a great commute read. Since, it is better read in chunks. Read in a binge, it may feel disjointed and overwhelming.
Overall, I have had a sluggish reading month. Many of the books have been uninspiring. Many books were unfinished. The only book that really blew me away was ‘memory serves’ - review to follow.
Borrowed from the Library
The first thing to say about this work is that the writing is beautiful and has a sparse lyricism. The evocations of nature are incredible, as the account of the storm on page 160 shows:
“The weather grew warmer and more humid…The heat reminded me of home, but the dampness weighed on me like a wet blanket. I felt the first of many rainstorms. Late in the afternoon puffy rain clouds started darkening. Long before the day was done the light suddenly changed as if evening had come instantly. Lightning cracked, the thunder grew louder and then the skies exploded” p.160-161
In contrast to the beauty of the writing, this book focuses on the injustice of slavery. The acts of the Slave owners, including the sexual abuse of the main character and the theft of her child, make your blood boil. The conditions endured by the slaves, and the manner in which slaves are bought and sold, will sicken the reader.
This book deals with the inhumanity of slavery but also, highlights the; strength, resistance and humanity of the slave. Hill explores the slaves’ attempts to live, and get around the harshness of slavery. Hill shows how the slaves grouped together to; mitigate the harshness of their current circumstances, keep hold of humanity and culture, and survive. This resistance comes in many forms throughout the work; through the Fishnet they used to pass messages between slaves and former family members, the main character’s struggles to keep her Islamic faith and remember her family, the other slaves’ remembrance of tradition, their protection of each other, and Aminata’s determination to return home.
In addition, the voice of the main character has an intelligent, humane powerfulness. Both of these main traits can be found in the brilliant first lines of the opening paragraph:
“I SEEM TO HAVE TROUBLE DYING. By all rights, I should not have lived this long. But I still can smell trouble riding on the wind. Just as surely as I could tell you if it is a stew of chicken bones or pigs feet bubbling in the iron pot.” p.13
This book is a mixture of gut wrenching injustice and day saving hope. It is full of depressing environments and enlightening characters. It speaks of barbarity in inspiring prose. It emphasises humanity in the face of inhumanity. You should read this book.
Please note - The author kindly gave me this book in exchange for a fair review
Tandra Grey is a ‘normal’ human being who is struggling to combine a career with her role as single parent. She enjoys her life and does not hanker for adventure. But, then she receives an invitation to a party; an invitation to meet a stranger. Reluctantly, she goes to the party. The alien stranger that she meets there will change; her life, her views on her identity, the two species she encounters, and our world. This meeting will change her life forever.
The stranger invites her to be a; human ambassador, guinea pig, and scientist on his own planet/spaceship. Tandra accepts and the alien whisks her and her child into; space, into the heart of a complex community and into a new understanding of life and identity. She is thrust into the heart of a strange community of aliens; a community that is a synthesis of two of very different alien races: one race highly sensual; while, the other is rational and scared of touch. Tandra must form relationships with both of these very Alien races. She must learn to accept, and celebrate their alienness. She must learn to see beyond her own race/species, learning to see her new friends’ uniqueness. She must learn to see them as themselves rather than a mirror of her own human identity. She must cast aside her human-centred view of the universe. If she is to save, both; the important new relationships she has made and humanity as a whole.
This is an important lesson for the Human Race as a whole. We must learn how to accept and celebrate the ‘other’; seeing them, not as a mirror of our own identity, but, as beings ensconced within their own uniqueness. This book challenges us to question the way that we treat the ‘other’; human or otherwise.
So, this book deals with important issues but like most of the best science fiction it encases these issues in a really good story. The main characters, human and alien, are interesting in, both their sameness and difference. The world is excellently drawn and very believable. This book is reminiscent of classic science fiction. The type of story that, those of a certain age, read as a child. But, this story has a modern outlook that makes this old-fashioned tale feel modern and relevant. If you are looking for a, good science fiction story, then this is a good place to land
Review of “Don’t Try this at Home”. By Angela Readman
A couple of blog posts ago, I reviewed Fables, a work published by Pigeonhole books. Since I liked that work, they emailed me asking if I would like to see more of their output. I chose to look at two works. The first, of which, Don't Try this at home will review in this post. The publishers kindly sent me a copy of the work in exchange for an honest review.
As I stated in the review of Fables, Pigeonhole Books release their work in a different manner to most other publishers. They release books in a serialized form, releasing “staves” of the work at regular intervals.
I believe that this publishing method may be a good model for short story collections like “Don’t Try This At Home”, works that have beautifully lyrical prose and/or an experimental structure/writing style. These books deserve time to percolate into the brain. If gorged in one single sitting: you will miss the nuance of the writing, each story will bleed into each other, they may seem repetitive, and you may feel bloated as if you have eaten too many rich chocolates. This method of slow release, almost rationed publishing slows the speed-reader, like me, down, making us take more time over each story.
These stories are linked by a shared writing style and language play. The writing is at the same time sparse and lyrical. The following, from the story contextual, is a good example of this:
“My mother invited the kids to my birthday party. She shook hands with other parents from behind a canvas. We cut cake to throw at billboards. I blew out a candle and wished we could have normal parties. I wanted to wear Nike or Topshop like everyone else. But when the guests left and it was just us, we were happy. Never bored, we spent winter evenings catching the moon in a bucket a hundred times.” P8.
You get a very sparsely written, matter of fact description, of a party followed by the beautiful phrase “Never bored, we spent winter evenings catching the moon in a bucket a hundred times.” P8
The first, title story, of this collection has received a lot of attention from reviewers. Therefore, I will focus on three other stories, starting with ‘Before the Song’. This story puts the reader in the head of a young girl living on a rural semi-isolated farm. The character speaks in vernacular dialect. Which, while distancing some readers from the story, actually works to put you squarely in the characters head;
“The mornin’ slipped by. Small flies floated in my eye, spottin’ the landscape. I looked towards the house and squished it between my fingers like a bug. The preacher crossed the plain on foot, waving thanks to the pick-up he’d got a ride from. Could only be the preacher – black cloth, a hole in the middle of the day. I watched him get smaller nearin’ the house, the black of his robe furred with dust. I wiped my brow and bent back to the cotton. Didn’t see him leave. Next time I looked to the house, Momma was a-hollerin’, leanin’ out the back door and wavin’ a pair of long johns up and down. Red on blue sky, red as a scratch on my leg, bloody enough to catch my eye. Suppertime. I walked up to the house, saw Pa go inside and Clift pass him. ‘Y’all wipe your feet,’ Momma called, flies a-buzzin’ in and out her mouth. The closing back door made a rainbow of dirt on the floor. Everyone sat down. “ p.16
I love the line “the closing back door made a rainbow of dirt on the floor”. It speaks not only of the house in which the character lives with its dirt floor but, also, the poetic way that the young character sees the world.
In this work, we trace her; life in her socially conservative town/family, her sexual awakening and, the consequences of that sexual awakening. The story is heartbreakingly beautiful. It had me sniffing into a hankie at times
Like the earlier story, “Conceptually” is told from the point of view of a young girl. However, unlike the protagonist of the early story who lives in a conservative family, the main character of this story lives in an eccentric family of conceptual artists. Here she describes her family
“We lived as conceptual artists. It’s what we were. If anyone wanted to know who we were, they had only to look. On special occasions, my family cut their clothes from paintings. Mum wore Botticelli. My sister wore Ophelia’s drowning dress, and Dad was the king some woman in a medieval painting swept around. I wore a smock from a haystack” p8
The story, heartbreakingly, speaks of; society’s cruel and officious reaction to this family, of the bullying from other children, and the officious meddling if the authorities. The narrator speaks of the effects that these outside agencies have on the family. The ending is once again heartrending.
The third tale, which I shall explore, is, once again, told from the perspective of a young child speaking of her parents. At the beginning of the tale, she speaks of her mother in the following manner;
“My mother was like a Custard Cream, nothing special, an ordinary sort of nice enough. She was just there, like gravity. There was no need to think about her. She was Mam- shaped, bits of her flattened under a white overall with pearly buttons.”
Isn’t that, sadly, how many of us see our mothers. But, she then goes onto state how her mom changed.
“Then, one summer, she became Elvis. She was yawning, frying chips, and worried if there’d be enough hot water for a bath when she got in, then BAM! She was Elvis, hips a-gogo, rocking onto the balls of her feet with only the counter between her and lasses screaming and promising to love her forever. Maybe she just thought, ‘Sod it. I’d make as good an Elvis as anyone.’ Who doesn’t want to be Elvis now and then? The funny thing is” ibid
This is the story of a woman who takes on a celebrity identity to, temporarily, break out of the roles that have been ascribed to her. She challenges; her role as a mother, her role as a mundane worker, her gender identity, and her sexuality. These challenges allow both; the writer, and the reader to play with these concepts. In fact, the stories I selected for review, and many others in this collection, deal with; ascribed roles and the consequences when we break, or do not conform to those identities.
The experimental nature of some of these stories heightens our exploration of both the world and character. For example, the use of dialect in ‘before song’ heightens the atmosphere of the story and enhances our understanding of both the main character and her world. I really loved this collection. It takes snapshots of life and makes us examine them in more detail
I received this work from the author, via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
Recently, diversity has become a key word, and concept, within any discussion of; writing, publishing, reviewing or reading. Concerned individuals have lamented the absence of; women, members of other cultures/countries, and members of the quiltbag communities, from our books and stories. There have been calls, and active moves, for these groups to get more attention from; publishers, editors, reviewers, and readers. But, one group remains in the shadows of these debates, continually delegated to the end of that list of oppressions/inequalities. Disabled people, people with disabilities, have been underrepresented within discussions of underrepresentation. However, this situation is gradually changing. Publishers, such as Twelfth Planet Press are beginning to produce works that incorporate disabled characters. Ables is another of those works that have actively brought disabled characters to the forefront of the story.
Like most superheroes, the protagonist of this story has super powers. But, unlike most of those heroes he also has a disability/impairment. He is blind. One of the main storylines of this work concerns his attempts to prove himself, and his friends, worthy to be included within his new school. We see him on his first day at his new school. We see his excitement at being at a school especially designed for kids with superpowers. We share his confusion at trying to navigate a new world that he cannot see. We see his disappointment when he finds out that he has been placed within a segregated unit for people with disabilities. We see his trepidation about being with other disabled individuals. But, we, also, see him forming friendships with his class. Then we follow their united struggle to justify their place within this unique environment. This ultimately leads them to fight the school authorities for the right to compete in a school contest, from which they have been excluded. They win and they begin to learn how to combine their special skills to beat, both; their disabilities, and the tasks set for them as part of the competition.
If that had been the entire story, and if the author had let the characters focus on the competition and continue growing into their special powers, then this book would have been almost perfect. However, the author diverts the characters, as well as the readers, attention into a rather over dramatic fight against a cartoon villain for the Future of the world. This turned what could have been a new take on the superhero story into; a well written, but overly busy, and somewhat clichéd tale of the chosen one. This, and the lack of really strong female characters, limits the work.
But, having said that, this, with its band of disabled characters, is still an interesting, exciting, and important work. It is an exciting adventure story that would be a very pleasant summer read. Check out the publisher’s website
Please note that the publisher sent me this book in exchange for an honest review.
This book is slightly different to those that I usually review on this site. In that, the publishers are releasing it to their subscribers in a serialised format. I think that this is an interesting idea. Since, it mirrors the way that authors like Dickens brought out their manuscripts. The publisher describe their method in the following manner;
“We publish books serially to give you space to absorb and discuss the books with The Pigeonhole community. Our belief is that reading should be thrilling, communal and an event not to be missed.
Why the word stave?
When Charles Dickens published his beloved classic A Christmas Carol, he called the individual instalments ‘staves’ – a musical term which encapsulated the idea that the whole novel was more than the sum of its parts. We are bringing back this great word as a tribute to the father of serial publishing.” https://thepigeonhole.com/about
As I said earlier, the publishers were kind enough to send me the complete work in exchange for an honest review. Therefore, I was able to see the way that these chunks (or staves) worked as a whole. This was quite interesting.
As the title suggests the stories in this work are either; fables, works based on these stories, or works influenced by their tropes. The work includes a variety of takes on the fable. There are stories that are in the form of traditional fairy tales. There are tales that, while still inspired by Fable, subvert the; structure, setting and era of the form. These stories; urbanise and modernise the world of the fable. The publisher tells us that ;
“Talking badgers and salacious pixies. Impossible promises and broken hope. Exploring the fairy-tale evolution, Fable brings new tales formed from old skin with original inventions to boot. Spanning across three continents, Fable draws together some of the most beloved, or even feared, fairy tales while bringing to light those lesser known.” https://thepigeonhole.com/books/fable
It begins with two original fairy tales by the Brothers Grim and Hans Christian Anderson, The Little Mermaid and Ashenputtel. The two stories, which follow on from the two originals, penned by Kate Forsythe, are traditional fables. They follow closely to the original form, and worlds, of the fairy tale, while playing with some of the tropes.
The next story written by Lucy Balmer Hooft, probably one of my favourites, takes us to, what seems like, an African tribe and focuses on a pregnant woman. The story is a very poignant tale of motherhood and a mother’s sadness/joy as their children grow into men.
The following stories take us further and further into the modern era. These tales look at; the modern family, childhood, adolescence capitalism, exploitation, and redemption. One story The Farmer and the Badger by J.L. Baldock, , a good example of how these works seek to modernise the fable, is from the point of view of a child who opposes the way that her father, who is actively involved in the badger culls that are taking place within her community, earns his living. The story explores the rights and wrongs of the practice, and other solutions, but, also, explores; love and loyalty, revolution and rebellion, experience and inexperience, and family love and obligation.
Another story, The Organiser by Gareth Brierley, is set in a small town quite literally ruled by their local business owners. This couple shape; the inhabitant’s lives and deaths, where they work, the colour of their house, who can speak and what they can say;
“They could decide what school you would go to, what job you could have and even what colour your house would be.” P.125
The couple take on an almost godlike significance in the community and they demand that their child receive the same godlike devotion from the town’s inhabitants. The story follows their much loved, and much despised child, and her attempts to atone for the cruelty of her parents. This story movingly, and funnily, explores the issues of; power, corruption, love and redemption.
Many people, including this writer, are calling for the diversification of the story. We call for stories; that are by and about women (and other underrepresented groups), and for stories set in a plurality of settings. This book meets that call with stories that are written by women and that represent young women who have agency. In addition, there are stories set in a variety of cultures. Although, it might have been nice to see a few more stories that show non-heterosexual relationships.
These stories call themselves fables but they are more than that. They use the familiar form of the fable to explore the issues that face us today, whether those issues be; capitalism, exploitation, family or children fighting to understand and improve their world. I really liked this book. I highly recommend that you look at the publisher’s website’ (https://thepigeonhole.com/books/fable)
This is an e-arc kindly given to me by the publisher, Via Netgalley, for an honest review
What’s this book about?
The title says it all. It is a Fangirls Guide to the Galaxy of Fandom. It takes the reader on a journey through the various locations of Fandom, exploring media franchises that include; Doctor Who, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Twilight. The book examines the fandom that surrounds these media franchises; the language they use to express their fanship and the activities that arise from their fandom. It shows the various ways in which the Fan girl may engage and connect with the various fandoms. Sam Moggs gives a detailed exploration of physical sites of community such as; Comic shops, game shops, reading groups, courses and conventions. She explores; what happens in these arenas, what they offer, and how to find them. She then explores the virtual worlds of fandom. Moggs explores the variety of ways that fans connect online, including, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and other Fan forums. She explores what these various platforms offer and the etiquette involved when using these sites. Moggs then looks at the ways that fans creatively engage with the things they love, exploring cos play and fanfic. It, also, includes interviews with Famous fan girls, such as Erin Morgenstern
What’s so good/bad about this book?
This work acknowledges and celebrates the existence of Fangirls. It offers new Fangirls a guide to these wonderful fan communities. The section on fanfic is interesting and would offer great advice for any new writer, fanfic writer or otherwise. If I have a criticism, it concerns the works limited scope. It mainly focuses on mainstream media. It ignores the small media outlets and publishers. In addition, books don’t seem to get much of a look in. Even when looking at fandoms surrounding books, like Harry Potter, I feel that she gives greater attention to the films that they spawned than the books themselves.
Should I read these works?
If you’re a new fan this would be a great introduction to the world of fandom. If you know a young new Fangirl, then this would make a great gift. If you’re an older, more established Fangirl, then this could act as a refresher course on the new developments in our community. But, it is only an introduction and offers no in depth analysis. If you want to go further into an exploration of fandom, then check out the offerings of Mad Norwegian Frog media group, or podcasts such as; Doctor who, Verity or Galactic suburbia podcast. But, on the whole, this was a useful read,