Review: Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse #1) – James S.A. Corey

8855321Verdict: I have mixed feelings.

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Published by Orbit, 2011

Genre: Science Fiction

Find it on Goodreads.

James S.A. Corey delivers compelling SF that ranks with the best in the field. In Leviathan Wakes, ice miner Jim Holden is making a haul from the rings of Saturn when he and his crew encounter an abandoned ship, the Scopuli. Uncovering a terrifying secret, Jim bears the weight of impending catastrophe. At the same time, a detective has been hired by well-heeled parents to find a missing girl, and the investigator’s search leads him right to the Scopuli.

This was so far outside my comfort zone that I am not all that sure how to review the book. I did enjoy it (for the most part) and I am planning on continuing with the series but I had some issues with parts of it.

This is relatively hard science fiction compared to some other books in the genre I have read and I have to admit that some of the rather drawn-out descriptions of life in the Belt and of galactic war did make my eyes glaze over. I am not very good at visualising fighting scenes; and man, are there quite a few of those. I did, however, love the world building a whole lot. I loved the differences (subtle and not so subtle) between people born on planets and those born in space), I loved the way the societies evolving made so much sense, I love how central conflicts were based on different life-expiriences.

I thought the book had some pacing issues; the beginning being slow did not bother me, I liked how the authors put their pieces into place and took the time needed to expand the world organically; I loved the middle (I had so many theories!); but thought the last 150 or so pages dragged (I did like my theories better!).

I also had issues with the main characters: they felt tropey and represented tropes that annoy me (hard-boiled detective past his prime with an alocohol problem. Naive but righteous captain with womanizing tendencies of the “let’s put women on a pedestal”-variety). I want to hit them on their heads repeatedly. I also learned way more about their testicles than I would want to. I do want to see where they characters might go next which is a good sign.

I am trying to read a wide variety of Science Fiction novels and novellas this year because I am so very sure there will be books that I will absolutely adore; it is a genre I have not read enough of and I think that needs to be remedied. It also means I will read some books that might not work for me completely. This is one of those books. I buddy-read this with my boyfriend and even though I hopelessly overtook him (and cannot talk about my spoilery thoughts just yet), I did love reading this together. That feeling of spending time with my boyfriend really did help the book and is one of the reasons I am excited to keep reading the series, at least another book.

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Review: Starlings by Jo Walton

35909363Verdict: Uneven; partly wonderful, partly flat.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Date read: January 27th, 2018

Published by Tachyon, February 23rd, 2018

Genre: Short Fiction.

Find it on goodreads.

An intimate first flight of short fiction from award-winning novelist Jo Walton (Among Others, The King’s Peace).

A strange Eritrean coin travels from lovers to thieves, gathering stories before meeting its match. Google becomes sentient and proceeds toward an existential crisis. An idealistic dancer on a generation ship makes an impassioned plea for creativity and survival. Three Irish siblings embark on an unlikely quest, stealing enchanted items via bad poetry, trickery, and an assist from the Queen of Cats.

With these captivating initial glimpses into her storytelling psyche, Jo Walton shines through subtle myths and wholly reinvented realities. Through eclectic stories, subtle vignettes, inspired poetry, and more, Walton soars with humans, machines, and magic—rising from the everyday into the universe itself.

I have wanted to read Jo Walton’s novels for a while now and I can definitely say that after this collection of short stories that I am more excited than ever. As is sadly often the case with short story collections there were a few stories that did not work for me and a few poems that didn’t either, however, the stories I liked, I adored.

Jo Walton has a way of choosing pitch perfect voices for her stories and they all sounded completely different depending on the genre she chose. She tells stories in a vast array of genres: re-tellings, science fiction, straight up fantasy. Some stories are more of a cheeky joke (she admits so freely) while others are highly political (I happen to like that in my genre fiction). I absolutely adored the fairy tale that starts this collection (“Three Twilight Tales”): it feels like a fairy tale while being completely original and I never saw the ending coming. I found “The Panda Coin” to be the strongest of the collection: here we follow one coin through different hands. Jo Walton manages to create a believable science fiction setting in just these glimpses. “Escape to Other Worlds With Science Fiction” would have been a brilliant start to a novel and I wanted more from this than I got.

The stories that seemed to be more for her own amusement were the ones that did not quite work for me: Especially “Remember the Allosaur” and “Joyful and Triumphant: St. Zenobius and the Aliens” just felt like extended inside jokes to me.

I am glad to have read this because I am now more eager than ever to get to Jo Walton’s novels (where hopefully she won’t need to tell me after each chapter how she thought it up).

I received an arc of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Tachyon Publications in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Mean – Myriam Gurba

34381333Verdict: Incredible.

My rating: 4,5 out of 5 stars. (It’s my blog, I can change my rating rules if I want to)

Published by Coffee House Press, 2017

Find it on Goodreads.

Myriam Gurba’s debut is the bold and hilarious tale of her coming of age as a queer, mixed-race Chicana. Blending radical formal fluidity and caustic humor, Mean turns what might be tragic into piercing, revealing comedy. This is a confident, funny, brassy book that takes the cost of sexual assault, racism, misogyny, and homophobia deadly seriously.
We act mean to defend ourselves from boredom and from those who would cut off our breasts. We act mean to defend our clubs and institutions. We act mean because we like to laugh. Being mean to boys is fun and a second-wave feminist duty. Being mean to men who deserve it is a holy mission. Sisterhood is powerful, but being mean is more exhilarating.

Being mean isn’t for everybody.

Being mean is best practiced by those who understand it as an art form.

These virtuosos live closer to the divine than the rest of humanity. They’re queers.

This was absolutely stunning. The only reason this was not quite a five star read for me was because it took me about 60 pages to find my rhythm with this book (and the book is not particularly long). But once I did, it was beyond incredible. Myriam Gurba has a way of structuring her thoughts, of coming at her point from different angles that I found particularly brilliant. And I might still change my rating. This memoir will for sure stay with me and I can already see it featuring on my best of the year list (which is still a long way off).

Myriam Gurba’s tone is abrasive and funny, like my favourite essayists she is unapologetically honest and herself and, yes, sometimes mean. She puts herself at the centre of her art and I adore that (nothing new here). Her art is clever and intellectual without losing an emotional heart, the whole book being intricately structured (not unlike a dance) while still packing a punch you would not believe. The last half builds like crescendo and when I realized what she was leading up to, I was knocked aside – her way of reaching her points from different angles really took me unawares here. The reaction I had cannot be overstated.

I cannot recommend this highly enough: if you like memoirs, if you like voices that are unique, if you like to be viscerally moved, if you like good books. This is brilliant. Myriam Gurba is brilliant.

Thoughts: On genre distinctions

As probably everybody knows now, I am trying to read more science fiction this year. I have started to collect books I want to read this year. While doing some research on what I want to read I stumbled on one particular road block: genre distinctions. Which got me thinking.

There are some books that are obviously science fiction (like the Expanse series by James S. A. Corey, or the Imperial Ladch trilogy by Ann Leckie) but quite often I am not sure what genre a book really fits in. Which I love by t25970139he way. I adore books that straddle the line between different genres and mix different tropes inherent to them. But it makes deciding what counts towards this goal a bit tricky. For example, I have been reading the Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer and hope to finish it this month. Does this count as science fiction 34368756or is it more of a dystopian novel? The same question works for the first book of his that I read: Borne. What makes a novel dystopian as opposed to science fiction? I mean, obviously there is a certain degree of pessimism involved. Dystopia takes trends from today and thinks them to their (inevitable?) extreme. But doesn’t science fiction often do something similar? One can argue that science fiction focusses science and creates a world based on this. But then again, does it have to be science as in inventions or can it not also focus social sciences and their possible differentiations? Arguably, this is what Becky Chambers does; sure her books feature scientific inventions but the focus is more on the different social structures of the different groups and their interactions.

Science fiction is not the only genre where I struggle with genre distinctions; another is magical realism. Sure there are typical examples that can be used to extrapolate what magical realism has to be like (Gabriel Garcia Marquez comes to mind) but newer magical realism does not always fit neatly into these ideas. When does magical realism become urban fantasy? And when does urban fantasy become paranormal? And when does paranormal become paranormal romance?

Genre fiction is not the only time I wonder: when does general fiction become literary fiction? Also, who decides how a book is marketed? I am sure there are lots of studies done on whose work is classified as literary and whose isn’t. (Please do link me some articles if you know of any)

It doesn’t always matter to me but I do like to put my books into nice little shelves on goodreads and I do like knowing what genres I read the most of.

What are your thoughts? How do you differentiate between similar genres? Does it even matter to you?

Review: I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death – Maggie O’Farrell

34666764Verdict: Maybe I was too excited. But still good.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Published by Tinder Press, August 2017

Find it on goodreads.

I AM, I AM, I AM is a memoir with a difference – the unputdownable story of an extraordinary woman’s life in near-death experiences. Intelligent, insightful, inspirational, it is a book to be read at a sitting, a story you finish newly conscious of life’s fragility, determined to make every heartbeat count.

A childhood illness she was not expected to survive. A teenage yearning to escape that nearly ended in disaster. A terrifying encounter on a remote path. A mismanaged labour in an understaffed hospital. Shocking, electric, unforgettable, this is the extraordinary memoir from Costa Novel-Award winner and Sunday Times bestselling author Maggie O’Farrell.
It is a book to make you question yourself. What would you do if your life was in danger, and what would you stand to lose?

I might have been too excited about this. I have been looking forward to this memoir ever since I first saw this stunning cover. I finally caved in and bought myself a copy and started it the moment it arrived. And I enjoyed this. But it wasn’t quite the revelation I was maybe expecting.

I love the framing of this memoir: Maggie O’Farrell tells her story as a series of essays, each concentrating on a near death experience. I do like memoirs that play with format and I enjoyed the unchronological way this book is structured a whole lot. Especially the four essays bookending this memoir were absolutely incredible. The first essay sets the tone and shows the danger of being a woman on her own, while the last two essays change the way I understood this work and this woman. I love that in books.

The structure, while one of the biggest advantages of this, also works against the reading flow in parts. While I was fine with the last essays changing a lot of what came before, in parts the essays don’t feel quite complete without the recontextualization the ending offers.

This is very readable, easy to dip in and out. It just is not the best memoir I have read this year (and I thought it would be a contender). I do read an awful lot of memoirs though, so your milage might vary.

Also, one final comment: I love, love, love the cover. The whole book is just ridiculously stunning.

First sentence: “On the path ahead, stepping out fom behind a boulder, a man appears.”

Review: The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale

34846987Verdict: Uneven, very description heavy, not quite my cup of tea.

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

Published by Random House/ Ebury Publishing, February 8th, 2018

Find it on goodreads.

Do you remember when you believed in magic?

The Emporium opens with the first frost of winter. It is the same every year. Across the city, when children wake to see ferns of white stretched across their windows, or walk to school to hear ice crackling underfoot, the whispers begin: the Emporium is open!

It is 1917, and London has spent years in the shadow of the First World War. In the heart of Mayfair, though, there is a place of hope. A place where children’s dreams can come true, where the impossible becomes possible – that place is Papa Jack’s Toy Emporium.

For years Papa Jack has created and sold his famous magical toys: hobby horses, patchwork dogs and bears that seem alive, toy boxes bigger on the inside than out, ‘instant trees’ that sprout from boxes, tin soldiers that can fight battles on their own. Now his sons, Kaspar and Emil, are just old enough to join the family trade. Into this family comes a young Cathy Wray – homeless and vulnerable. The Emporium takes her in, makes her one of its own. But Cathy is about to discover that while all toy shops are places of wonder, only one is truly magical…

I struggled with this. It took me about two months to read and I never felt compelled to pick it up. This is not a bad book by any means and I am still struggling to pinpoint what did not work for me. So stick with me as I am trying to figure out my thoughts.

I adored the first chapter and was absolutely convinced I would love the book to pieces. It brilliantly introduces Cathy, knocked-up and desperate, who flees her parents’ home to find work in Papa Jack’s Emporium. Her sense of desperation is wonderfully juxtaposed with the wonder of her new work place and here the immersive and inventive descriptions worked really well. When the Empirium closes for spring and summer, she decides to stay and hide as she has nowhere else to go. This is a trope I struggle with in books: lying and hiding makes me anxious.

What developes next is a love triangle between Cathy and Papa Jack’s two sons: Kasper and Emil. I have no patience for love triangles; especially not for those between brothers. While it makes sense in the way the two have always been in direct competition (mostly for their father’s approval), it’s just not something I enjoy in books.

In general, I thought the characters were the definite weak point of this book. While Cathy is nicely developed (espcially in the first half of the story) and I couldn’t not root for her and her courage, I found the brothers caricature-like and Papa Jack a non-entity. Perhaps this book would have worked better for me had it been written in a first person perspective. This way I would have been able to spend more time with Cathy and less time with the waring brothers. I also found Emil and Nina to be very abrasive characters whose motivations did not always quite work for me.

I also figured something out just now: the book was overly descriptive. It feels like the majority of words were used to describe the Emporium in incredible detail; there must be hundreds of inventions described. And while I enjoyed this at the beginning, when the reader followed Cathy’s awe, it did not quite work for me later in the book when darker themes started to emerged. Then I felt the whimsy of the description detracted from the story.

I received an arc of this courtesy of NetGalley and Random House/Ebury Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

Have you read The Toymakers? What were your thoughts? Has it happened to you recently that you loved the first chapter of a book but not much else?

Novella Mini-Review: The Murders Of Molly Southbourne – Tade Thompson

34417038Verdict: Creepy, compulsively readable, unputdownable

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Date read: January 24th, 2018

Published by tor, 2017

Find it on goodreads.

Every time she bleeds a murderer is born. Experience the horror of Tade Thompson’s The Murders of Molly Southbourne.

The rule is simple: don’t bleed.

For as long as Molly Southbourne can remember, she’s been watching herself die. Whenever she bleeds, another molly is born, identical to her in every way and intent on her destruction.

Molly knows every way to kill herself, but she also knows that as long as she survives she’ll be hunted. No matter how well she follows the rules, eventually the mollys will find her. Can Molly find a way to stop the tide of blood, or will she meet her end at the hand of a girl who looks just like her?

I read this in two sittings. That might not sound impressive due to its shortness, but I hardly ever read books, however short, this quickly. But I could not put this down, I needed to keep reading, and I needed to see where Tade Thompson would take this story next. He takes an already brilliant premise and then manages to make the execution an allegory for growing up female in a way that I found surprising. He does not shy away from the most disturbing parts of his premise (like: what happens to the mollys born when Molly is very young?) and the phrase “a slow-growing molly” gave me actual chills.

I don’t read horror often (or at all) but this had me craving more which is quite possibly the highest praise I can think of. While not without its flaws (the novella format does limit the length), I cannot WAIT for the next book in this series to drop. I need to know more about this world and mostly about Molly’s mother, who I found highly interesting and not quite fleshed out enough.

This was a very good start for my forray into the world of novellas.

First sentence: “I wake into a universe defined by pain.”

 

PS: I did have nightmares because of this, make of that what you will.