DNF Reviews: Tarnished are the Stars & The Good Luck Girls – Why does YA Hate Me? (I’m Open to Suggestions)

Here’s a fun stat for you: I DNFed 5 books in the past month and a half, and four of them were YA SFF. And I’m pretty sure they’re at least 60% responsible for the reading slump I’m currently in.

Conclusion?

1) Recent YA SFF is just missing a lot of the stuff I crave. Also, I should be more selective about the books that I request, and for god’s sake, read some reviews beforehand.

or

2) I’ve been (VERY UNFAIRLY) cursed by the bookish gods and now I must travel to the heart of the Northern Canadian woods to capture a Wendigo and make an offering–

Yeah, clearly 2 is the way to go.

 

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(Stopping point: ~45%)

You say “steampunk” and “divided loyalties” and “cat and mouse” and “queer”; I say,  “Please–I offer you my first born.”

Well, I hope the bookish gods accept cancellations because Tarnished are the Stars is definitely not worth my first born. Or any of my born for that matter.

I always say that I can forgive poor worldbuildng if I’m able to connect with the characters. But there’s a limit to that. And my limit is this book. I found the writing to be so sparse of detail to the point where it felt like a slice-of-life contemporary than a sci-fi–heavy with dialogue and a vague sense of setting, which isn’t at all helped by how short each POV chapter is.

And a slice-of-life-esque worldbuilding is fine if the story itself is slice-of-life. This book? Nothing close to that. It’s a steampunk space opera with intrigue and a organics-versus-technology plotline, and therefore I want to see something more than Scene A – generic store, Scene B – generic mansion, and Scene C – generic field.

 

 


Now, this next book has the exact OPPOSITE problem. So at least my DNF reads were…varied? Yay?

The Good Luck Girls

(Stopping point: ~38%)

ME: So, it’s kind of weird how there are no characters in The Good Luck Girls…but at least the setting is neat!

*vague whisperings in brain cavity*

ME: Uh, what do you mean I’m looking at the characters?

Ah yes. The good old problem of “interesting worldbuilding, flat/invisible characters.” This is a more familiar territory for me.

Let’s get to the positive first: the worldbuilding and the general premise of the story is super fascinating. There are two groups of people who live in Arketta, dustbloods and fairbloods, and they’re more or less alike in appearance minus one little detail: dustbloods don’t cast shadows. And while fairbloods are offered privileges and opportunities, dustbloods are forced to live in indentured servitude–as prostitutes, for example, which is what the Good Luck Girls are.

The writing itself is really solid and descriptive, and all the little details about the setting are a nice touch. Also, copious descriptions of food equal a very happy Kathy.

All of this was negated by the characters. Holy friggin’ coconuts, the characters. You have this cool western setting–rich and dusty and unforgiving–and it’s somehow populated with characters with less personality and depth than the back of a cereal box. They were just…blank. And eerily so. I couldn’t find myself caring about any of them, or their predicament, and well, that was that.

 

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So. What books should I pack for my Wendigo-hunting trip? And what’s your go-to remedy for bookish curses?

(I’ve been a BIT sleep-deprived this week–I don’t know if you can tell??)

Top Ten Tuesday – Settings I Want to See More of in Fiction

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Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now being hosted by The Artsy Reader.

I’ve been telling myself that I’ll try out a TTT topic for over a year now, but I never actually took the plunge. But I saw posts for this week’s topic pop up in my inbox (at like 9 PM) and I just couldn’t resist. Because this is a topic I think about a lot.

So here’s a last minute list of settings that I’d like to see more of in fiction!

 


Underwater – Sea and Ocean

The incredible thing about these large bodies water is that they’re horror, fantasy, sci-fi all rolled into one. They inspire awe and fear and deep, deep curiosity, and really, they kind of do a lot the worldbuilding for you. Which is why it’s crazy that we don’t see more of them in stories. Especially underwater societies.

I do feel like we see them more in video games than we do in books: Bioshock, Sunless Sea: Zubmariner, Subnautica, and Soma, to name a few.

But these are several book examples (some not yet released), with two of them do featuring underwater societies.

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🐠 Low by Rick Remender (writer) & Greg Tocchini (artist): a jaw-droppingly gorgeous graphic novel with incredible worldbuilding and a protagonist who oozes optimism.

🐠 The Deep by Rivers Solomon (with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, Jonathan Snipes): Releasing this fall, and I’m unreasonably excited for it. It tackles slavery from an angle that I’ve never seen before.

🐠  The Light at the Bottom of the World by London Shah: A story about a submerged London starring a protagonist who’s a submersible racer.

 


Inside of a Whale

SUPER specific, I know. It’s also kind of related to “Underwater” but not really because there’s no written law that says whales can only exist in the ocean. There could be sky whales! Space whales! And dream whales are definitely a thing. They’d be like these massive islands you encounter during your romps through the dream world, with each one housing….well, something. Maybe the inside of each one would be a different level of the dream court. Maybe they’re all home to different dreamscapes (like a cetacean Inception). And maybe there’s this one super illusive whale that all dreamers have heard of but never seen, and the legend goes that it’ll lead you to the place you most desire. So kind of like Moby Dick, but trippier.

But why whales, you ask? No special reason other than that I just really, really, really love them and they’ve always been the subject of fascination for me, both scientifically and narratively. They’re immensely complex creatures and I find their existence constantly astounding and humbling. And it’s so very easy to imagine a myriad of worlds just sitting inside their stomachs.

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Sky Islands

Because I want to see more airships in stories and because ground islands are so yesterday. And it’d be cool to see all the different creative methods of transportation that take you from island to island (other than airships). Plus, there’s the added thrill of knowing that one small misstep out on the garden or balcony can lead to a deadly fall.

Some of my favourite examples include Bioshock Infinite and An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors (and a fairly recent YA series that I can’t remember the name of).

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Ice and Snow

I adore stories set in ice and snow and I can’t quite figure out why. Maybe because I dislike summer and latching onto cold things is something my brain does in retaliation. Or maybe because all the icy bits make the warm and cozy bits stand out more.

Whatever the reason, I want more of them. Books I can easily point to and say, “Hey, that’s one for my Winter TBR!” (pretending for a moment that curated seasonal TBRs is a thing I actually do). And movies/shows and games that I can consume during the summer to stave off the heat.

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Forest Cities

I’ve dreamed of living in a forest city since reading/watching The Lord of the Rings, and that dream sort of became a (virtual) reality when I played Lord of the Rings Online and got to actually frolic through Lothlórien. And I talk a lot about packing everything up and going to live with the bears in some remote cabin in the woods, but like…I don’t think the postal service does book deliveries (or any deliveries) to the interior forests of British Columbia. Also, wildfires are a thing. So I guess I’ll just continue to live out my wood elf dream via fiction.

 

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God Realms

I feel like most stories nowadays that feature gods take place in the mortal world, and it’s either a mortal protagonist getting caught up in godly affairs or a god/demi-god protagonist getting caught up in mortal affairs. We don’t often see modern stories about gods set exclusively in the world of gods. And when we do get it, more often than not it’s set in the Underworld.

So I’d like to see more variety. More breadth. I want to see mind-bending, cloying opulence rubbing elbows with decaying violence. I want to see how each territory interacts with another. What are the diplomatic relations like? What are the rules of  each kingdom? (goddom?)

The biggest examples I can think of is the God of War franchise and maybe the Sandman series (I know the Endless aren’t technically gods but their powers are god-adjacent).

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And for stories that are set in underworlds, Lost Gods by Brom is phenomenally rich and beautiful and The Border Keeper by Kerstin Hall offers a quiet but vivid world of gods and demons.

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Very Specific and/or Non-Murdery Schools

I’m talking beyond assassin and wizard schools. Schools for automaton mechanics. Aspiring griffin trainers. Time traveling spies. Schools specifically made for demi-gods, because for some reason their powers manifest in unstable ways and they need to learn how to control that shit. Or schools for killer nuns, as we see in the Book of the Ancestor series.

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But I’d really love it if the school featured mostly non-murdery activities. Like a traveling culinary school that roams the entire realm or galaxy, and its students learn about sustainable foods and methods on how to catch and cook some of the more challenging critters that exist in the world/universe.

 


Steampunked Asian Countries

So back in 2015, the universe gifted the world a masterpiece of an indie game called 80 Days. It’s basically a retelling of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days (mashed up with his other famous works)except more steampunk and fantastical. And I’ve always loved steampunk as a subgenre, but I never realized how much I need Asian steampunk in my life until then. Steam-powered caravans pulling merchandise through the Silk Road. Asian aesthetics translated through the eyes of gears and cogs. And I want more of it. Badly.

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Big Space Stations or Ships

Because they’re large enough to be their own little ecosystem of human and alien society, which is always interesting and fun, and because these stories usually feature found families and characters who would cross the depths of deep space and back for each other. The Mass Effect series and Becky Chambers’ books being notable examples.

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Literally anywhere in the world that’s not the U.S.

Close your eyes and stick a pin anywhere in the world map, and if it’s not the U.S. then I want a story about it (unless we’re talking about Native American stories). Even if it’s out in the middle of the Pacific. Nothing against the U.S! It’s just that the market is so saturated with them and I just want to explore more countries that I’m not familiar with. Or countries that I am familiar with but have not been given enough spotlight in media. And let’s face it, there’s a LOT of them out there.

 

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If you have recommendations for any of these categories–books, games, movies, anime–please, please, please do send them my way!

DNF Review: Here and Now and Then – Your Name Is What Now?

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Title: Here and Now and Then
Author: Mike Chen
Publisher: MIRA
Release Date: January 29th, 2019
Genre(s): Sci-Fi
Subjects and Themes: Time Travel, Families
Page Count: 336 (hardback)

Rating: DNF @ 37%

Add to goodreads

 

 

Kin Stewart is an everyday family man: working in IT, trying to keep the spark in his marriage, struggling to connect with his teenage daughter, Miranda. But his current life is a far cry from his previous career…as a time-traveling secret agent from 2142.

Stranded in suburban San Francisco since the 1990s after a botched mission, Kin has kept his past hidden from everyone around him, despite the increasing blackouts and memory loss affecting his time-traveler’s brain. Until one afternoon, his “rescue” team arrives—eighteen years too late.

Their mission: return Kin to 2142, where he’s only been gone weeks, not years, and where another family is waiting for him. A family he can’t remember.

Torn between two lives, Kin is desperate for a way to stay connected to both. But when his best efforts threaten to destroy the agency and even history itself, his daughter’s very existence is at risk. It’ll take one final trip across time to save Miranda—even if it means breaking all the rules of time travel in the process

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So this wasn’t exactly the feel-good time travel drama that I’d had in mind.

And I’m starting to think that I’m setting too-high standards for these time travel stories because I haven’t been impressed with the majority of the ones I read in the past year.

Long story short, while I liked how readable and snappy the writing is, I felt the story lacked in-depth exploration into not only the future world and the time travel agency, but also the characters and their relationships.

There are too many details that I found silly and/or scientifically wobbly, like the invention of a metabolizer that increases human life span by a whopping 200 years that will come about in 100 years from now, which seems far too soon; the concept that our brains can’t handle memories of two time periods and no real explanation as to why; the fact that our protagonist’s full name is Quinoa due to a food-name fad that happens sometime in the future; the notion that this big important agency doesn’t have set protocols for when an agent gets stuck in a timeline; and the idea that the U.S. in the future is doing secret collaborative time travel projects with Australia of all countries (nothing against Aussies! It’s just not very plausible). It’s all just so…arbitrary and quirky for the sake of being quirky–like something out of a children’s cartoon.

Okay, so this is one of those goofy light-scifi stories. Not what I expected, but fair enough. At least the characters are interesting, right?

Well, I thought the characters’ actions were baffling and nonsensical so I guess technically that could be construed as “interesting.”

For example, there’s a scene near the beginning where Kin is worried that the agency will terminate his 1996 family and he has a lightbulb moment where he decides he’s going to run away alone, which makes absolutely no sense considering how the agency already knows where they live and can take them as hostages to lure him back.

Moreover, there’s little chemistry between Kin and his wife and daughter, and this takes the emotional impact out of some of the later events.

And speaking of later events…

SPOILERS:

Kin ends up returning to his original timeline but then finds out that his wife dies just a few months after his departure. So he decides to retroactively send an email to his daughter (dated one day after his wife’s death) which begins with this line:

“First off, I am so incredibly sorry about what has happened to Mom and that you are suffering alone.”

That is a letter you might send to a coworker or an acquaintance when they’re in a rough spot (in fact, an acquaintance did send me a similar e-mail after I was in the hospital for suicidal reasons and that had ten times the emotion of Kin’s version). And even then the “first off” makes it sound flippant–like you have more important topics to get to. It’s definitely not the letter a grieving man would (or should) write to his grieving daughter that he unwittingly abandoned.

It’s a detail that just really bothered me and it underscores the feeling that these characters don’t behave as normal humans would.

I think I’m in the minority of opinions, though. So if you crave soap opera-y family dramas with light sci-fi elements then you might want to give this one a try. It wasn’t to be for me, unfortunately.

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Review copy provided by the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

Top 5 Wednesday – Books at the Top of My TBR

“Top 5 Wednesday” is a weekly meme currently hosted on Goodreads by Sam of Thoughts on Tomes in which you list your top 5 for the week’s chosen topic.

This week’s topic is: Top of Your TBR.

And…that’s it. No fancy rewording for this one; it’s what it says on the tin. (Though I did limit the list to books that are already published) See, mom, I can simplify things!

 

Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak

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What’s an alternative phrase for “performance anxiety” to describe how you’re anxious about the performance of the other party because it’s been 10 long years of waiting–and you know it’s going to be good because they know exactly how to push your buttons, but what if it isn’t good?–so you keep putting it off and making half-hearted excuses like “Sorry, can’t today. I’m washing my hair” and “The stars aren’t aligned tonight. Not a good time”?

…Asking for a friend.

Right. Come February it’s gonna be you and me, Bridge of Clay. Show me what you got.

 

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

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I’ve been announcing to myself every year since 2011 that I’m going to read this for sure. Why break a seven-year tradition?

So, ahem. *taps mic* This year. For sure.

 

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

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I’ve been hearing so many incredible things about The Winter of the Witch from several bloggers whose opinions I wholly trust, so I figure now is the best time to continue with the series. It hasn’t been all that wintry here thanks to El Niño but at least I can live vicariously through Arden’s vivid descriptions.

 

Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

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I mean, firstly, it’s a Sanderson book (and I hear it’s great which is utterly unsurprising). Secondly, I have a feeling this might be a good sampler on what the third era Mistborn books might be like. Thirdly, it’s an overdue ARC and I really need to start chopping away at those.

 

Tower of Living and Dying (Empires of Dust 2) by Anna Smith Spark

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Another one that I absolutely wanted to get to in 2018 but couldn’t.

A few tidbits on these books (because I never actually talked about them on this blog):

Despite my local bookstore’s propensity to stick this series in the YA display (because women can’t possibly write grimdark fantasy for adults, amirite?) it’s very much an adult grimdark and probably best I’ve read in the past couple of years, for several notable reasons.

One, it’s sexy, which I never thought I’d say about a grimdark story. Yet it doesn’t weaponize sex to fuel the grimdark aspect (a common complaint I have with these books)–so there’s no rape or attempted rape to be found here.

Two, several of its main characters happen to be queer which is definitely something I don’t see in this subgenre (the traditionally published ones, anyway).

Three, Spark’s prose is the kind that I want to roll around in for days–a gorgeous interplay of poetry, sensuality, and bloody violence.

And if you’re now wondering, “Hell, why is it taking you so long to get to it, then?” don’t worry, I’m right there with you.

 

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What are some books that are at the top of your TBR right now?

Top 5 WedTuesday – Disappointing Books of 2018 That I Still Appreciate

“Kathy. I think it’s time for an intervention.”

“Uh, I have no idea what you’re talking about. As usual.”

“‘Top 5 WedTuesday‘? Published one day before the next Top 5 Wednesday?”

“Oh, get off my back. You make it sound like I do this every other week. This is literally the first–”

“And speaking of skirting deadlines, you still haven’t put up this month’s Discworld announcement post yet. Or your Best Books of 2018. Or your Best Indie Games of 2018. Or the reviews for books you read two months ago.”

“Listen, I’m running on a sleep schedule of my own devising right now. You know the Aussie Open started last week and you know their night matches go past 3 AM. What am I supposed to do, not watch them because I have blog-running responsibilities now?”

“Here’s a novel idea: you could do your blogging and watch the Open at the same time. I know, crazy!”

“Yeaaah, about that…”

*Looks over to the TV screen which shows tennis. Then at the the desktop screen which shows more tennis. Then at the tablet screen which shows, you guessed it, tennis.*

“…”

“Maybe a rich oil prince will get me another screen for my birthday. :)”

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So while the other half of my brain is having a breakdown, I’d like to clarify that yes, this was supposed to go live last week, but due to reasons that uh, may or may not have to do with tennis-induced sleep deprivation, it’s going live now! Because this is a topic that I actually really wanted to tackle.

The original prompt was “Disappointing Books of 2018” but I put a bit of a spin on it. These are books that didn’t quite live up to the expectations I set for them, but ones that I still appreciate for x, y, z reasons.

(And I’m hoping to get all (er, most) of those overdue posts up before the end of this month. Knock on wood!)

 

Temper by Nicky Drayden

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I loved Nicky Drayden’s debut Prey of Gods–a rollicking scifi-fantasy mashup featuring angry gods, drugs, and dik-diks (which belong alongside narwhals and quokkas in the “I can’t believe this isn’t a made-up animal” category). I could never really get a good foothold on Temper, unfortunately; I couldn’t connect with the main character and the rampant worldbuilding that I fell in love with in PoG I felt overwhelmed by this time around.

What I appreciate: I freaking adore Nicky’s imagination and her willingness to take the genre to batshit crazy places. Temper is even more weird and unconventional than Prey of Gods (which is saying a lot) and even though I couldn’t get into it, I still love the fact that it exists.

 

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

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This is one of those overdue reviews that I still have to finish. The TL;DR version is that I wanted to love this book so, so hard but it ended up being rather…underwhelming. The worldbuilding felt underdeveloped and Lei is one of those very reactive, blank slate protagonists that I’m not the biggest fan of. And the emperor, while a terrible person, kind of just starts and ends at “He’s a terrible person.”

What I appreciate: The heart and foundation behind this book is everything–an unapologetically Asian setting (the food descriptions are to die for), and love and friendship between two girls prevailing in the face of brutality.

 

Grey Sister (Book of the Ancestor 2) by Mark Lawrence

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An unpopular opinion: I thought Grey Sister was a step down from Red Sister, mostly due to character reasons. I felt that Nona’s development had stagnated and secondary characters that I adored in the first book took a backseat in this one.  [Full review]

What I appreciate: I love Mark’s writing style and his ability to move from poignancy to snappy action with fluid ease. Also, this is one of the most female-centric adult fantasy I’ve read in recent years–women loving women, women befriending women, women betraying women. Books like this are the reason I created a Goodreads shelf called “Boom goes the Bechdel test.”

 

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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I think this is one of those stories I would have enjoyed more as a TV show. I mean, I watched a quite a few scifi anime that deal with similar themes of alien evolution and ended up liking them all, but apparently if you stick it in book-form my brain just laughs and says “Nope.” (Maybe it’s flashbacks to all the evolution textbooks/articles I had to read in undergrad–by far not my favourite biology topic). It didn’t help that I wasn’t much invested in the human half of the story.

What I appreciate: This is probably the best example (textbook, if you will) of evolutionary scifi that I’ve ever read and my scientist heart will root for the success of any SFF book that explores biology to this degree. It’s also pretty dang cool that the author shares a name with one of my favourite composers.

 

Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton

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Okay, overall I wouldn’t really call this one “disappointing,” but considering the sheer amount of potential it showed in the first half, the second half proved to be a bit of a letdown in terms of character development and pacing (and now I’d give it a slightly lower score than what I originally gave). [Full review]

What I appreciate: Polyamory. In YA. Plus creepy forests and pagan rituals. Enough said.

August 2018 Wrap Up – It’s Not You, Scifi, It’s Me…But It’s Also Kind of You

So mental-health wise, life has been a veritable mess from July to August. After a trip to the emergency room, days of yelling and apologizing, and talking to from doctors, things are now marginally better. I’ve been throwing myself into art which has been helping quite a bit. And while it feels like I’m creeping along a tightrope and one breeze at the wrong time can push me over again, I’m hoping things will continue to move in a positive direction. Also, to the beautiful, wonderful people who messaged me with words of encouragement and support, I can barely express how thankful I am. ❤

Well, enough of that–onto the books! I read (or tried to read) 12 books this month which is a little surprising, all things considered. Of those 12, four were scifi and I didn’t much like any them, so I’m going to try to take a small break from the genre.

⚔️= Fantasy; 🚀= Scifi; 👻= Paranormal; 🔍= Mystery; 🌺= Contemporary; 🗝️= Historical; 🌈= LGBTQIAP+

The Brilliant

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The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T Anderson and Eugene Yelchin ⚔️:
I didn’t really know what to expect from this book going in, but holy hell, I had such a great time with it. It’s labelled YA but it’s got the same wit and dark humour found in Pratchett’s writing. So Discworld lovers, this one’s for you. Review to come.

The Dust Feast (Hollow Folk 3) by Gregory Ashe 👻🔍🌈:
I’m saving the big, sappy words for the review so for now I’ll just just say that the Hollow Folk books killed me, resurrected me, and then ascended me to the heavens. Read this paranormal/mystery/thriller series and you too can experience being Jesus. Novella Review to come.

 

The Great

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I Can’t Date Jesus – Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put my Faith in Beyoncé by Michael Arceneaux 🌈:

I Can’t Date Jesus is an amazing collection of personal essays where Michael Arceneaux–a journalist whose articles have been published in pretty much every media outlet–talks about his struggles with intimacy, the complicated relationship he has with religion and family, and his general experience of being a gay black man in America. It’s hilarious, raw, opinionated, and wonderfully intimate–almost like you’re having a discussion with an old friend. And Arceneaux’s dating woes make me feel infinitely better about mine because at least I can say that no one’s ever brought bedbugs and/or fleas into my bed.

A must-read for everyone, LGBTQIAP+ or not.

The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins by the McElroys and Carey Pietsch ⚔️: (8/10)
The graphic novel adaptation of The Adventure Zone podcast. Unsurprisingly, I loved it. Review here.

Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman 🌺🌈:
A YA contemporary with beautiful, honest portrayal of grief and sisterhood. Review to come.

 

THE (Kind of) GOOD

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The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Bèrubè👻🌈: (7/10)
A paranormal YA that’s been called Black Swan meets Paranormal Activity. I wasn’t too impressed with the paranormal plot, but the main character and her mental health struggles were done very well. Review here.

When Elephants Fly by Nancy Richardson Fischer🌺:
A YA contemporary that explores schizophrenia, which I don’t come across too often, and the ethics of keeping animals in zoos versus circuses. Again, while I loved the mental health aspect, the plot left me wanting more. Review to come.

Romeo and/or Juliet by Ryan North🗝️⚔️:
A fun choose-your-own adventure novel that lets you navigate the story of Romeo and Juliet as either Romeo or Juliet. It’s got robots! And weightlifting! And kissing! And lots and lots of ways to die! I was never a huge fan of the original story (two teens insta-falling in love wasn’t really my thing), so I didn’t enjoy this as much as North’s other choose-your-own adventure book, To Be Or Not To Be, which tackles Hamlet. It’s still a lot of fun, though.

 

THE OKAY

In the Present TenseIn the Present Tense by Carrie Pack 🚀🌈: (6.5/10)
A near-future time travel story with a ton of diversity–mental health rep, PoCs, LGBTQIAP+. I loved the time travel stuff but the actions of the characters were baffling to say the least. Review here.

The Bad and DNF

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Temper by Nicky Drayden 🚀⚔️: DNF 40%

I loved Nicky’s debut, The Prey of Gods, and while I appreciate the strangeness and the sheer imagination of Temper, it wasn’t really something I could enjoy so soon after my brain short-circuiting on me. There’s a lot to the worldbuilding and I just couldn’t keep up. I’ll give it another shot sometime this month.

Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio 🚀: DNF 20%

As I wrote on Goodreads, if a bunch of Ivy League classics majors got very high one night and decided they would write an epic space opera, Empire of Silence is probably what you’d get. But like, less fun.

I’ve seen this book compared with Name of the Wind, mostly because of the flowery prose. But to me, while the narration in NoTW sounds like the voice of someone who’s in love with language, music, and just art in general, the narrator for Empire of Silence feels more like someone who’s in love with the sound of their own voice–verbosity without the empathy. Plus the story drags. A lot. I’m guessing it picks up at some point but I didn’t want to have to slog through 450 more pages to find out.

Past Imperfect by Carrie Pack 🚀🌈: (3.5/10)

The sequel to In the Present Tense. In my review I called it a “bad soap opera envisioned by aliens” and that more or less sums it up. Review here.

 

Posts-Made-title

TOP 5 WEDNESDAY

Topics I’d Like to See Explored More in Fantasy
Book List for a Class on Developmental Psychology

REVIEWS

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers
And the Ocean was Our Sky by Patrick Ness
In the Present Tense by Carrie Pack
The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Bèrubè
Past Imperfect by Carrie Pack
The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins

TAGS

The Weather in Books Tag

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And that’s it from me! How did your month go?

Top 5 Wednesday – Book List for a Class On Developmental Psychology

“Top 5 Wednesday” is a weekly meme currently hosted on Goodreads by Sam of Thoughts on Tomes, where you list your top 5 for the week’s chosen topic. This week’s topic is: Book list for a class on (Genre/Trope/etc). After a panicky, “Oh god, it’s 12 AM and I haven’t chosen a topic yet,” I ended up taking the “class” part literally and choosing developmental psychology.

So, you can find examples of developmental psychology in pretty much all books. But I tried to pick (fiction) books that focus on children and how the actions of adults affect their developmental process–for better or worse, but in the case of this list, for the worse. 

Does that make senses? I don’t know. It’s late, I’m tired, and I’m writing the post at the very last minute, so I may find this is all gibberish when I re-read it in the morning. Oh, the joys of not doing proper planning!

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1. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

Fifth Season

Jemisin’s brilliant award-winning fantasy series explores prejudice and subjugation and the ways that they mold children into ugly, jagged shapes. We see how the hatred and fear of orogenes have driven Essun, our main character, to cynicism and ruthless pragmatism, which she then later passes onto her own daughter. There are no good parents in the world–we get parents who are trying their best with a script that was written for them, and parents who are just plain terrible. Either way, it’s the children who bear the brunt of their hatreds and various other demons.

 

2. Warchild by Karin Lowachee

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Grief and memories of abuse are the main things that our main character Jos Musey carries with him as he grows up from a traumatized young orphan to a slightly-better-but-still-traumatized teenage soldier. The adults around him range from brutal and exploitative to cold and distant, so it’s no wonder he develops massive issues with trust and emotional vulnerability, both of which Lowachee depicts with incredible care and deftness. Warchild offers one of the best examinations PTSD I’ve ever read in sci-fi/fantasy.

 

3. Animorphs Series by Christina Applegate

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Don’t let the perky synopses (and the god-awful covers) fool you. Animorphs isn’t an epic scifi adventure about a group of shapeshifting kids who band together to fight aliens. Well…I mean, it is, but it’s also about war and its many psychological horrors–you get scenes of kids getting tortured and murdered in gruesome ways, kids being forced to kill, and kids suffering from PTSD among other things. It’s incredible how well these books tackle the long-term developmental effects such trials have on these characters. (And I still can’t believe it managed to get published as a children’s series.)

 

4. A List of Cages by Robin Roe

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A List of Cages is a beautiful story that explores child abuse and the way that abusers manipulate their victims into believing they deserve this treatment. Roe’s portrayal of Julian and his struggles is at once heartbreaking and skin-crawling.

 

5. The Farseer Books by Robin Hobb

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Am I ever going to pass up an opportunity to talk about this series? Nope!

Hobb is not only a master of character development, she’s a master of long-term character development. With her Farseer books, we see how abandonment and rejection can permanently hinder a child’s emotional growth. With pretty much everything that FitzChivalry does as an adult, you can trace the origins right back to his tumultuous childhood. (Fun fact: I wrote an extra credit paper for a 4th year psychology class analyzing the development process of this very character. My grade didn’t need to be bumped up so it was completely unnecessary, but I had a blast writing it.)

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Note to self: Make the next T5W just a tad less gloomy.

 

June 2018 Wrap-Up

So today is supposed to be a Diversity Spotlight Thursday post day (say that five times), but it’s been a stupefyingly busy week, what with Canada Day weekend and work stuff, which led to me completely losing track of time.

Confession time: I write the majority of my posts the day before they’re to be published, sometimes just hours before (*cough* like this one). So if I just happen to forget that tomorrow is a Wednesday and not a Monday or a Tuesday, then my entire weekly “schedule” is going to be out of wack–which is exactly what happened. This past week I was living in my own universe where I had my own days of the week and 5 PM was a perfectly fine bedtime, so things have been just a tad discombobulating.

So don’t do what I do, kids. Plan your week. It’ll save you heaps of future agony.

Right, enough of my mess of a brain. Onto today’s post! June was a slumpy month but I did somehow manage to knock off 9 books:

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June-1
Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe by Preston Norton: (9.0/10)
A speculative-contemporary YA that came out of nowhere and blew me away. Heartwarming and hilarious, it’s a story about overcoming grief and finding your footing in a confusing, often-times hostile, world. I called it a “love letter to life and humanity” in my review and I can’t reiterate that enough. Review here.

The Book of M by Peng Shepherd: (8.5/10)
A post-apocalyptic fantasy story that sketches out a world where people are losing their shadows, and with the loss of their shadows, they also lose their memories. It’s poignant, magical, and the worldbuilding is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a post-apocalypse story. I’ll never look at my shadow the same way ever again. Review here.

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse: (7.0/10)
A fun urban fantasy also set in a post-apocalyptic world, but with worldbuilding that revolves around Native American lore. I loved the main character but had issues with the villain and the plotting. Review here.

June-2
Annex by Rich Larson:
This book was not at all what I was expecting, but it turned out to be pretty enjoyable in the end. Think Independence Day but featuring children and trans rep. Review to come.

➽  A Light Amongst Shadows by Kelly York and Rowan Altwood: (7.5/10)
A historical paranormal story set in an all-boy’s school where the teachers harbour secrets and spirits of dead students walk the halls at night. It’s wonderfully atmospheric and creepy and the romance between the two main characters was rather quite sweet.

➽  Curved Horizon by Taylor Brooke: (8.0/10)
Sequel to Brooke’s Fortitude Smashed, Curved Horizon is a F/F scifi that’s got some of best portrayals of mental illness I’ve read in a romance novel. It’s angsty, it’s sweet, and while the scifi aspect gets pushed back in favour of character interactions, I can’t complain because the latter is done so well.

June-3

➽  Daughter of Mystery by Heather Rose Jones: (8.0/10)
A F/F historical fantasy story filled with court intrigue, mysteries, and complex worldbuilding. It’s like a Jane Austen story but more queer and fantastical–highly enjoyable stuff.

➽  Death of a Clone by Alex Thomson: (6.5/10)
An Agatha Christie-esque whodunit set in space featuring clones. It’s nothing mindblowing and is somewhat lacking in the worldbuilding and character department, but it’s not a half-bad mystery and I quite liked the narrative voice. Review here.


➽  The Wonderling by Mira Bartok: (5.0/10)
A middle-grade book about a young humanoid fox who escapes an orphanage to discover the world beyond. The illustrations are lovely but I found the main character very passive and two-dimensional. Also, there are scenes of young animals getting beaten by the headmistress of the orphanage, which was distressing even to me, so I’m not sure how appropriate it is for children.
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TOP 5 WEDNESDAY

Books You Want to Read Before the End of the Year
LGBTQ+ Books (Sans Cis M/M Relationships)
Summer Reads

DIVERSITY SPOTLIGHT THURSDAY

Royalty 👑
Pirates ☠️
Historical Fiction

INTERVIEWS

Interview with K.D. Edwards, Author of The Last Sun, Plus an Infomercial

TAGS/AWARDS

The Mystery Blogger Award

ANNOUNCEMENTS

Discworld Readathon 🐢🧙‍♀️✨

A reminder that Nicole and I are starting our Discworld Readathon THIS MONTH with The Colour of Magic! For those who are joining in, reviews are to be posted on July 23rd. For those who wish to join in, leave a comment below and we’ll add you to our list! (And by “we” I mean Nicole, because as I’ve heartily explained above, I shouldn’t be trusted with keeping track of anything more taxing than which socks I’ll be wearing the next morning.)

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Happy reading! And feel free to tell me how your month went!

Review: The Rig – Black Mirror But With Less Rampant Cynicism

The Rig

Title: The Rig
Author: Roger Levy
Publisher: Titan Books
Release Date: May 8th, 2018
Genre(s): Science Fiction
Page Count: 617 pages
Goodreads

Rating: 6.5/10

 

 

 

 

The Rig is one of those books that I know a lot people will love for its sheer originality and exploration of complex themes, but just didn’t really work for me. It’s also one of those books that make me think, “Am I an idiot and/or need a degree in philosophy to enjoy this, or is the author just not presenting their themes very effectively”?

The first 100 pages is rampant with imagination (the first chapter alone deserves an award for being so damn memorable). Picture a future where humanity has ruined Earth to the point of no return. They decide set out to a whole new solar system, filled with hope and determined to do thing right this time. But these new planets aren’t the safe haven they’d dreamed of; each comes with its own share of problems–lethal diseases and infections on top of social conflict. So as technology evolves (at least in some respects), human lifespan becomes halved. And while health care is in constant development, it’s not enough to save everyone. So how do the doctors decide who gets first priority?

Enter AfterLife–a kind of a social networking site that allows its subscribers a second chance at life. When you find yourself on the brink of death, and the morticians/doctors find out that you have an implant in your brain called a “neurid”, your body gets frozen and your “data” uploaded onto AfterLife. At this point, the people in the System get to access the sordid details of your entire life and vote whether or not you deserve a “resurrection.” These people get a chance to play God, in a society that’s largely devoid of any faith, and this idea fits beautifully with the theme of religion that runs throughout the entire story. If you loved those futuristic episodes of Black Mirror that deal with social media, you’ll probably enjoy what this book initially offers.

And in this early part of the book, Levy juggles 3 vastly different plotlines with compelling ease–coming-of-age, murder mystery, and a man working in an underwater structure called a “rig”. The ideas are complex, the scope large, and the characters fascinating. I don’t often come across aneurotypical characters in SFF, so it was nice to see an autistic protagonist portrayed with humanity.

My problem with the story is that as you move away from this “honeymoon” phase–filled with new and exciting wonders–it begins to resemble a dry documentary. We get the rundown of gang wars, psychopathic characters doing psychopathic things, and the mystery of the rigs, which should have been engrossing, but I just felt rather disconnected from it all. A deeper exploration of the characters’ relationships would have helped; considering Alef and Pellenhorc’s friendship is at the heart of this story,we never really get beyond what was established in those first chapters. Then there’s the matter of the Rig itself being a metaphor for God, which I appreciated but wasn’t wholly impressed with.

“Appreciate” more or less sums up my feelings on this book. I appreciate what it tries to do and I appreciate that it exists. And I hesitantly recommend it to those who enjoy their sci-fi with a side of social and philosophical commentary.

~
Copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Diversity Spotlight Thursday: Pirates Ahoy!| 3 Days, 3 Quotes [Day 2]

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Diversity Spotlight Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by Aimal from Bookshelves & Paperbacks. Each week you come up with three book for three different categories: a diverse book you’ve read and enjoyed; a diverse book that’s already been released and is in your TBR; and a diverse book that hasn’t been released yet.

And this week’s topic is pirates! ☠️

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Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

The sequel to Scott Lynch’s incredibly addictive, high-octane fantasy heist debut, Red Seas Under Red Skies follows the misadventures of our beloved conmen Lock Lamora and Jean Tannen, as they end up butting heads with pirates. The captain of the pirates in question is a middle-aged black woman who also happens to be a mother, which is one of the most badass things ever. While it’s got more structural issues than the first, the entertainment value is still through the roof and I find myself rereading it time and time again.

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The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie

I’ve been meaning to read this for a while now, because a plot that revolves around a monster-raising girl getting kidnapped by a pirate queen sounds fun, if a little romance novel-esque. I’ve heard great and not-so-great things about it, so I’m looking forward to finding out what the fuss is for myself.

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Compass Rose by Anna Burke

In the year 2513, the only thing higher than the seas is what’s at stake for those who sail them.
Rose was born facing due north, with an inherent perception of cardinal points flowing through her veins. Her uncanny sense of direction earns her a coveted place among the Archipelago Fleet elite, but it also attracts the attention of Admiral Comita, who sends her on a secret mission deep into pirate territory. Accompanied by a ragtag crew of mercenaries and under the command of Miranda, a captain as bloodthirsty as she is alluring, Rose discovers the hard way that even the best sense of direction won’t be enough to keep her alive if she can’t learn to navigate something far more dangerous than the turbulent seas. Aboard the mercenary ship, Man o’ War, Rose learns quickly that trusting the wrong person can get you killed―and Miranda’s crew have no intention of making things easy for her―especially Miranda’s trusted first mate, Orca, who is as stubborn as she is brutal.

Yet another book where the protagonist falls for a ruthless captain! I first saw it featured on one of Anna’s posts, and the combination of the words “2513” and “seas” and “mercenary” made me positively light-headed with excitement. Because if there’s one thing I love more than maritime mercenaries and pirates, it’s futuristic maritime mercenaries and pirates.

Releases July 10th

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For the second part of the post, we have Day 2 of 3 Days, 3 Quotes, for which I was tagged by Alyssa from Serendipitous Reads.

The Rules

1. Thank the person who nominated you
2. Post a quote for 3 consecutive days (1 quote for each day)
3. Nominate three new bloggers each day

“Uh, Kathy, it says right there in the rules that you have to post the quotes consecutively. You haven’t posted one in fi–”

Now onto today’s quote! (From a book that also features pirates!)

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I can’t not do a quotes tag without including one from my favourite author of all time. And this one is rather timely considering how much of an unabashed dumpster fire the world is right now. One of the central themes of Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings books is how the small actions of ordinary people can snowball into extraordinary, world-shaking events. And this quote is a loud call for such action. It’s disconcertingly easy to resign to weariness and think, “I can’t change anything,” but these books remind me that every step made, however small or shaky, is a step forward. And those steps add up to a lot.

(And I most definitely did not pick pirates as this week’s Diversity Thursday theme just so I could use this quote. Not at all.)

Today I tag:
– Justine from Milkz Bookshelf
– Alexia from The Bookworm Daydreamer
– Bibi from Bibi’s Book Blog