Series-Review: Hidden Legacy (Nevada Baylor Trilogy) by Ilona Andrews

This year really is the year for Ilona Andrews books for me. I speed-read this trilogy within 48 hours and loved every second of it, I mean, except for those godawful covers (seriously, why do the covers have to be so bad?!). I just love the way the Andrews tell their stories, I adore how they create their worlds that feel lived in and plausible (within the parameters of the story), and I might try and read all their other books before the end of the year.

As this is a series review I cannot promise to avoid spoilers, so beware if you plan on reading this.

Burn for Me

I needed something fast paced and fun and have been relying on the Andrews to deliver just this. I adore the world they have created here: some time in the last two hundred years a serum was discovered that led to people developing magic powers. As these powers are genetic, Houses with specific powers have emerged and changed human society in lots of different ways, subtly and overt. Nevada Baylor is the head of a family led PI firm and gets drawn into house politics in general and Mad Rogan’s world in specific. I adore female PIs in urban fantasy and Nevada is just a wonderful character overall. I like that she has a loving and stable family, I found her strength wonderful, especially because she isn’t prickly, she is just no non-sense. And the male love interest did not make me want to claw my eyes out. I had so much fun here.

4 out of 5 stars

White Hot

Set soon after the events of the first book, the mystery around the conspiracy deepens, when Nevada is hired to find the killers of Cornelius Harrison’s wife. Again, she butts heads with Rogan, and again she is in over her head. But she is still wonderfully strong and principled and Rogan starts developing a proper personality. I adored this so very much. I sped through it in record time and I am just so very invested in their relationship. This is a big strength of Ilona Andrews’ books: the love story at the core is always one I root for to no end and this one is my favourite so far. While I think Kate Daniels (from the other series I binge-read this year) is the better character with the overall more compelling arc, I found Curran often a bit unbearable. Rogan on the other hand really worked for me: yes, he can be difficult but he really tries to be a better person for Nevada.

4,5 out of 5 stars

Wild Fire

When I started this book, I was already on a bit of a high – and I adored this so much as well. I like how Nevada always tries to be the best person she can and how she trusts the people in her life to know what they are doing. I like how her relationship to Rogan is, if not completely without its jealousy, ultimately one of deep trust. For me, my favourite part of this book was the family dynamic at its core. I spent many a page cheering this wonderful family on and their banter made me snicker. I am very excited to read the next trilogy in this series and to know where everything goes next. I also have a theory about the cliffhanger at the end that I am hoping to be correct about. Because I would love this.

4 out of 5 stars

 

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Mini-Review: Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson

32021926Verdict: Lovely.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Memoir

Published by Penguin, 2016

Find it on Goodreads.

Mara Wilson has always felt a little young and a little out of place: as the only child on a film set full of adults, the first daughter in a house full of boys, the sole clinically depressed member of the cheerleading squad, a valley girl in New York and a neurotic in California, and one of the few former child actors who has never been in jail or rehab. Tackling everything from how she first learned about sex on the set of Melrose Place, to losing her mother at a young age, to getting her first kiss (or was it kisses?) on a celebrity canoe trip, to not being “cute” enough to make it in Hollywood, these essays tell the story of one young woman’s journey from accidental fame to relative (but happy) obscurity. But they also illuminate a universal struggle: learning to accept yourself, and figuring out who you are and where you belong. Exquisitely crafted, revelatory, and full of the crack comic timing that has made Mara Wilson a sought-after live storyteller and Twitter star, Where Am I Now? introduces a witty, perceptive, and refreshingly candid new literary voice.

I am a huge fan of celebrity memoirs; I know this is not a particularly cool thing to admit, but I enjoy them a whole lot, especially on audiobook read by the author. This memoir by Mara Wilson was no exception: it is wonderfully honest, lovely, and was just an altogether nice reading experience. I personally did not grow up watching Matilda, as such I do not have a personal connection to Mara Wilson. But I follow her on Twitter and find her online presence really lovely, which was enough for me when I was looking for a new audiobook to listen to.

In her memoir, Mara Wilson writes both about her career as a child star and about her struggles with OCD – the latter of which I appreciated a whole lot. Her honesty was really great and I think is important to change the way we think and talk about mental illness. She also writes about her grief for her mother, who died really young and whose influence can be felt throughout this book – her mother seems to have been a wonderful person and Mara’s loss can be felt greatly.

One of my favourite essays in this book was her essay on Robin Williams, written shortly after his death. Here her empathy shines really bright and it brought me to tears.

Altogether I really appreciated this book and if you are looking for a lovely audiobook, this one might just be for you.

Review: Vengeful (Villains #2) by V. E. Schwab

40139338Verdict: Glorious.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Published by Titan Books, September 25, 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

Eli Ever and Victor Vale were only medical students when their mutual discovery that near-death experiences can, under the right conditions, manifest extraordinary abilities.

They were best friends, and rivals, and then enemies. They were dead, then alive, and then—Eli killed Victor, once and for all.

Or so he thought—but Sydney Clarke felt otherwise, and used her own superpower to tip the scales. Now, a trio hides in the shadows, while another takes advantages of post-death life to take over the city of Merit.

If there can be life after death—will there be calm after vengeance, or will chaos rule?

I adored this, thankfully. I had been looking forward to this book ever since it was announced ages ago because Vicious is by far my favourite book Schwab has written. This seems like a series she has written for herself as a reader and it shows, there is just something gleefully, unapologetically Schwab here, that I for one happen to adore (and I am obviously not alone in this).

This series is set in a world where specific near-death experiences lead to people becoming super-powered. The first book follows two former friends (Eli Ever and Victor Vale) with super powers as they plot and set their powers and other people’s powers against each other. This book follows directly after the ending of the first one. Again the book is told unchronologically and leads towards an inevitably and action-packed conclusion. Unchronological storytelling is one of my very favourite things in books, so I was always going to enjoy this.

I had an incredible amount of fun reading this. I do think that sometimes the characters do not feel like real people, which in the end I did not mind because it fits the overall mood of this book. Especially the two newly introduced female characters are over the top in the best way possible. Marcella’s behaviour in particular filled me with giddy glee and I loved the way she chews the scenes – I could practically see her every move. I am often a fan of over-powered women in my speculative fiction and her and her unapologetic egotism just really tickled me.

I also have some theories and therefore really hope that there will be further installments of this series to prove me right. I find the world Schwab has created here wonderful and there is so much potential for further stories set in it. She left just enough loose ends to make me hope for more and resolved enough for this book to stand on its own.

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I read this as part of Sci-Fi Month: you can find further information and other people participating here.

Review: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

25667918Verdict: Not for me.

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction, Novella

Published by tor.com, 2015

Find it on Goodreads.

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself – but first she has to make it there, alive.

I think I will have to accept the fact that Nnedi Okorafor’s writing is not for me. This is the second book by her I tried to read after DNFing her earlier Who Fears Death. I want to like her books because I think she has fascinating thoughts on what she calls Africanfuturism and I like her social media presence a whole lot but I struggled with this book.

This short novella follows Binti, the first of her people (the Himba) to be accepted into Oomza University. Leaving her disapproving family behind, Binti starts her journey towards this university planet when her ship is attacked by a group of aliens called the Meduse who have been at war with other humans for ages.

In theory, I should have adored this. I like books about identity and Binti’s identity and her relationship with those around her are one of the foci of this book. But while I appreciated Okorafor’s ideas, ultimately I thought the exploration of these themes was pretty flat. Obviously, this might be due to the format of the story and possibly something that would be remedied if I read the rest of the series but of these pages I had, I was not the biggest fan.

Another problem I had, but one that is definitely a me-thing, was the way in which maths was used. Binti is a genius-level balancer and can solve complex mathematical problems in her head – and somehow that helps her solve her other problems? I am not sure I followed this train of thought at all (I haven’t done proper maths in years). This points to a problem I sometimes run into when reading science fiction: I want to understand the science or at least feel like it makes a reasonable amount of sense, something that I don’t demand of fantasy for example; magic does not have to be rooted in the real world.

Ultimately, this was just not a book for me. I wanted to like this so much because I have heard so many people rave about this and I do think that this is very much a case of wrong book for the wrong reader.

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I read this book both for Novellas in November and for Sci-Fi Month, both of which are run by people whose blogs I adore.

 

 

 

Review: A Guide to Being Born by Ramona Ausubel

16158505Verdict: Vicious, weird, wonderful.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Short Stories, Magical Realism

Published by Riverhead, 2013

Find it on Goodreads.

Major new literary talent Ramona Ausubel combines the otherworldly wisdom of her much-loved debut novel, No One Is Here Except All of Us, with the precision of the short-story form. A Guide to Being Born is organized around the stages of life—love, conception, gestation, birth—and the transformations that happen as people experience deeply altering life events, falling in love, becoming parents, looking toward the end of life. In each of these eleven stories Ausubel’s stunning imagination and humor are moving, entertaining, and provocative, leading readers to see the familiar world in a new way.

In “Atria” a pregnant teenager believes she will give birth to any number of strange animals rather than a human baby; in “Catch and Release” a girl discovers the ghost of a Civil War hero living in the woods behind her house; and in “Tributaries” people grow a new arm each time they fall in love. Funny, surprising, and delightfully strange—all the stories have a strong emotional core; Ausubel’s primary concern is always love, in all its manifestations.

I have lamented before how difficult I find reviews for short story collections, even the ones I love. And it is a shame because I want to do this justice: I loved this. Ramona Ausubel has written the best short story collection I have read this year and I want to convince as many people as possible to pick it up.

This collection is pretty much custom-made for me: it combines lyrical language and stark imagery with themes of family, lost and found; the stories are weird and poetic and in parts disturbing, but they are also so very beautiful and profound. The stories center families in such a wonderful way while also being incredibly unique, I am just so in awe.

My favourite stories (in a collection where there was not a single story that I did not enjoy) were the very first story, “Safe Passage” about the end of a life which I found heartbreaking and heartwarming (First sentences: “The grandmothers – dozens of them – find themselves at sea. They do not know how they got there.”), and “The Ages” about young love which I found incredibly moving (First sentences: “When the girl and the boy moved in together, they had sex in the bed and everyone could probably hear it. Houses were pretty close together and there were a lot of open windows.”). But like I said, the stories are all very strong and if you can stomach a little weirdness (well, ok, a lot of weirdness) I would absolutely recommend these stories.

Review: Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson

25079993Verdict: Heartbreaking and hilarious.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Memor

Published by Vintage, 2012

Find it on Goodreads.

This memoir is the chronicle of a life’s work to find happiness. It is a book full of stories: about a girl locked out of her home, sitting on the doorstep all night; about a religious zealot disguised as a mother who has two sets of false teeth and a revolver in the dresser drawer; about growing up in a north England industrial town in the 1960s and 1970s; and about the universe as a cosmic dustbin. It is the story of how a painful past, which Winterson thought she had written over and repainted, rose to haunt her later in life, sending her on a journey into madness and out again, in search of her biological mother. It is also a book about literature, one that shows how fiction and poetry can guide us when we are lost. Witty, acute, fierce, and celebratory, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

I do not know why I haven’t picked up a Jeanette Winterson book earlier. I loved this a whole lot and cannot wait to read more of her books. Jeanette Winterson tells the story of relationship with her mothers; both her biological mother and her adopted mother. I listened to her tell this story on audiobook and I cannot recommend this highly enough. Winterson infuses the story with her wry tone and wit and it was just a wonderful listening experience.

The family she is adopted in are conservative to no end and especially her mother (who she almost exclusively calls Mrs Winterson throughout the book) is often horrible to her. Listening to Jeanette Winterson detail the abuse she suffered would have been unbearable if she didn’t manage to always infuse her story with a sense of optimism. This sense of reflection was what struck me the strongest about this book. While Jeanette Winterson does not have everything figured out by a long shot, she is eloquent and wise and often deeply funny and this made this memoir a joy to read.

I will now definitely have to read Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, a semi-fictional account of Winterson’s life to see how she transformed her suffering into wonder.

Review: Ongoingness – The End of a Diary by Sarah Manguso

22244927Verdict: Glorious.

My rating 4,5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Creative Non-Fiction, Memoir

Published by Graywolf Press, 2016

Find it on Goodreads.

In Ongoingness, Sarah Manguso continues to define the contours of the contemporary essay. In it, she confronts a meticulous diary that she has kept for twenty-five years. “I wanted to end each day with a record of everything that had ever happened,” she explains. But this simple statement belies a terror that she might forget something, that she might miss something important. Maintaining that diary, now eight hundred thousand words, had become, until recently, a kind of spiritual practice.

Then Manguso became pregnant and had a child, and these two Copernican events generated an amnesia that put her into a different relationship with the need to document herself amid ongoing time.

Ongoingness is a spare, meditative work that stands in stark contrast to the volubility of the diary–it is a haunting account of mortality and impermanence, of how we struggle to find clarity in the chaos of time that rushes around and over and through us.

I adored this. When it arrived, I just wanted to have a peak at the first page and suddenly I was a third of the way through. There is just something hypnotizing about Sarah Manguso’s writing and I cannot wait to pick up more of her books.

This is a book about a diary, without any quotes taken from that diary at all. As such it is obviously an incomplete text – but some reason I cannot even put into words it spoke deeply to me. Sarah Manguso kept a diary, obsessively so, for years: “I wrote about myself so I wouldn’t become paralyzed by rumination – so I could stop thinking about what had happened and be done with it.” Until she stopped. She writes in short, fragmented paragraphs about a text the reader cannot access – and everything about that just worked for me so very well.

I found this book mesmerizing and deeply moving; her language is precise and no word is obsolete, which is often my favourite type of language. I cannot quite give it five stars, as it is super short and maybe could have been fleshed out more. But on the other hand, every sentence of this book hit home.