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Science fiction (double feature)

I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump for several months, but it’s starting to pick up again. Mostly I seem to be into Adventures in space! books at the moment (to be fair when am I not into Adventures in space! books?), possibly a result of the Star Wars renaissance. It’s a good time to be a science fiction fan.

Recent recommended reads:

cover of Ancillary JusticeThe Ancillary trilogy by Ann Leckie, beginning with Ancillary Justice – an approximation of the British Empire in space! AI ships with human bodies who love singing! Lots of tea! It can take a few chapters to get into but rewards persistence. Leckie is definitely one of my favourite new sci fi authors.

Cover of Behind the ThroneBehind the Throne by K. G. Wagers – Often described as: What if Princess Leia and Han Solo were the same person? Foul-mouthed gunrunner Hailimi Bristol is forced to return to her home planet to take up the crown after most of the royal family are assassinated. Chaos ensues. I doubt I’d be able to cope with Hailimi in person (so much shouting, calm down) but I enjoyed the first book. Possibly not enough to check out the second, After the Crown, but I know others enjoyed it.

Cover of The Long Way to a Small Angry PlanetThe Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers – Similar to Firefly in that it’s an ensemble cast in space who all love each other even when they hate each other, episodic plot, and occasional encounters with nasty aliens (lots of nice ones too). There’s a sequel, A Closed and Common Orbit, which explores what happens when the ship’s AI gets a body and learns to be an engineer. I think I liked that one even more and it’s a standalone so feel free to pick it up without having read the first. Readers who prefer a fast paced plot should steer clear but if you’re into character-driven feel-good science fiction, this is the author for you.

Other science fiction I’m looking forward to reading:

  • Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee. First of a trilogy. To win an impossible war Captain Kel Cheris is given the “help” of a dead, insane but tactically brilliant traitor general.
  • The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu. Aliens prepare to invade. Humans are divided in their response to the threat. What happens next will surprise you!
  • Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty. Murder mystery in spaaaaaace!

Cover of Ninefox GambitCover of The Three-Body ProblemCover of Six Wakes


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Lately my reading has seemed depressingly apropos, given the recent news from Baltimore, Ferguson and Charleston. To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960, and Harper Lee’s second novel, Go Set a Watchman, is being published next month, yet for some not a lot has changed during that time.

How it Went Down, Kekla Magoon

The facts are these: Tariq Johnson, African American, was shot dead by white Jack Franklin, who then fled the scene. Everything else is in dispute. Told through the thoughts of eyewitnesses, family members, and a senatorial candidate cashing in on the publicity, How it Went Down details the struggles of a community trying to come to terms with and understand how, exactly, it went down.

This Side of Home, Renee Watson

As their historically ‘bad’ neighbourhood becomes trendy and increasingly filled with white families, twins Maya and Nikki find themselves growing apart. Maya is filled with indignation at the white businesses pushing poorer African American families out of their homes through increasing rents, whereas Nikki is happy that she can get good coffee from down the street. As they finish their last year of high school, Maya deals with her best friend moving across town, the possibility that she will go to college on her own, and a potential relationship with the white boy across the street.

Lies We Tell Ourselves, Robin Talley

Despite being set in 1959, the issues raised in Lies We Tell Ourselves are clearly not limited to that era. Set in a newly integrated school in Virginia, students are forced to work together regardless of race. When Sarah (African American) and Linda (white, integration opponent’s daughter) are assigned each other as partners on a school project, they both discover that some truths are not universal.

Cover of The Game of Love and DeathThe Game of Love and Death, Martha Brockenbrough

Love and Death select their players for their latest round of the Game. Love’s player, Henry: white, musical, orphaned but taken in by a friend’s wealthy family. Death’s player, Flora: African American, musical, orphaned and raised by her poor grandmother, and desperate to be a pilot. Set in Seattle during the Great Depression. If you like reading about unhappy people who play jazz, then this book is for you.

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Some recent reads

I came back from holiday at the end of May, yet it’s the end of June and I still haven’t posted. Partly this is due to not having read much while travelling (I think I only completed 4 in 4 weeks!) and partly because leaving springtime Europe to come back to midwinter is kind of depressing and I haven’t felt like doing much of anything. Except reading, luckily. I’ve got a bit to catch up on.

Books read just before/while overseas:

Under a Painted Sky, Stacey Lee

Girls dress as boys and head west during the California gold rush! Some slight suspension of belief required but so enjoyable it didn’t bother me. Loved the characters, and it’s more thoughtful than my flippant description makes it out to be.

Chime and also Well Wished, Franny Billingsley

I love-love-loved both Chime and Well Wished — beautifully written, with prickly main characters who pretend not to care about people because they’ve been hurt but actually care a lot.

Persona, Genevieve Valentine

Didn’t grab me as much as Girls at the Kingfisher Club. Felt like it ended just as things were starting to happen, so I’ll be happy if there’s a sequel. Still a very interesting futuristic world with environmental issues explored.

The Golem and the Djinni, Helene Wecker

I feel like I’m admitting to a disease, but I don’t like big fat books. In almost all cases I feel that the book would be improved by some ruthless editing. I don’t know that I enjoyed the Golem and the Djinni exactly, but I did keep reading to the end.

Other books read which I’ll hopefully review later:

  • The Game of Love and Death, Martha Brockenbrough
  • This Side of Home, Renee Watson
  • Reporting Under Fire, Kerrie Logan Hollihan
  • SuperMutant Magic Academy, Jillian Tamaki
  • Roller Girl, Victoria Jamieson
  • The Last Anniversary, Liane Moriarty
  • The Secrets We Keep, Trisha Leaver
  • Three Wished, Liane Moriarty
  • The Walls Around Us, Nova Ren Suma
  • Murder Most Unladylike, Robin Stevens
  • The Lie Tree, Frances Hardinge — SUPER AWESOME, must review later
  • Bone Gap, Laura Ruby — SAME AS ABOVE
  • How It Went Down, Kekla Magoon
  • Fig, Sarah Elizabeth Schantz
  • Lulu Anew, Etienne Davodeau
  • All Our Pretty Songs, Sarah McCarry
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson
  • The Double Life of Cassiel Roadnight, Jenny Valentine

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Recent reads

Probably Nothing: A Diary of Not Your Average Nine Months, Matilda Tristram

Graphic novel that follows Matilda’s life before and after she is diagnosed with cancer while pregnant. I’ve decided biographical comics might be my favourite at the moment — I’m an inherently nosy person, so getting a look at someone else’s life is always interesting, even when it deals with something awful like cancer and chemotherapy. Matilda seems like a funny and snarky person, which helps.

Gaudy Night, Dorothy Sayers

Finally got around to reading this! I think I still like Strong Poison better, but I suspect that may change the next time I read it. An interesting snapshot of Oxford in the past, and the politics of a women’s college.

Wigram, Bee Dawson

A history of the development of civil and military aviation in Wigram/Canterbury. More interesting than it sounds! I was in the local museum recently and noticed a lady’s flying suit from the 1930s on display, and through researching the original owner became interested in the other local pilots who gained their licences at Wigram in the early days of flying.

Women Heroes of World War I and Women Heroes of World War II, Kathryn Atwood

Both books are completely fascinating, quick to read and full of amazing ladies. One of my favourite stories is of a couple of ladies (Lady Helena Gleichen and Nina Hollings) who decided that they’d learn radiography in order to help the war effort. After training and obtaining equipment, they offered their services to the British, who refused (‘women aren’t radiographers’). They offered their services to France, who accepted and then attempted to steal their equipment. Finally, they went to Italy, where they were incredibly helpful in locating internal wounds and assessing the impact of gas on soldiers. Apparently the lungs shrink to 2 inches in diameter! Ouch.

Code Name Pauline, Pearl Witherington Cornioley

This is another in the Women in Action series (same as the above two books), and is equally fascinating. If you like Code Name Verity or are at all interested in SOE and the French Resistance, you should read this.

We Landed by Moonlight, Hugh Verity

Can you sense a theme? Hugh Verity describes the pilots and flights of the ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary) in World War II. A bit dry, but the stories are so exciting it’s easy to read anyway.

Black Dove, White Raven, Elizabeth Wein

A bit slower in pace than Code Name Verity or The Sunbird, but gets exciting. Loved the relationship between Em and Teo — in fact all the characters, even the smaller ones, are very well observed. Despite the best efforts of the cover, nothing about this book is black and white. (Except maybe mustard gas. Mustard gas is just evil.) I’ll write a more detailed review when I get back from holiday, because this deserves more than my frazzled brain can come up with pre-flights.

D.A., Connie Willis

Very short novella. Can’t say much without spoiling the plot, but if you like Connie Willis (which I do) then you’ll enjoy this.

There won’t be any posts for about a month while I’m overseas, unless I manage to write some up and schedule them before I go. I’m currently reading Under the Painted Sky by Stacey Lee and Persona by Genevieve Valentine, both of which I’m really enjoying and want to write about, so I might have to enthuse about those tomorrow. We’ll see.

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Recent reads

Woah I’ve built up a backlog of recent reads, I’ll just make some quick comments about each for now. How is this year going by so fast?!

In Real Life, Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang
Gorgeous comic — I love both Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang’s work, so no surprises here. Lovely story of family and friendship that also raises the issues of unfair labour conditions in China.

The Unadulterated Cat, Terry Pratchett
I was feeling sad about the lack of Pratchett in the world, and I hadn’t read this one. A light collection of anecdotes that cat owners will recognise.

The Strange Library, Haruki Murakami
Not my cup of tea, but it’s super short so I finished it anyway.

Their Finest Hour and a Half, Lissa Evans
I didn’t enjoy it as much as Crooked Heart (which I loved), but it was still enjoyable and had some lovely characters and also fed my current WWII obsession.

The War That Saved My Life, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
See above re: WWII obsession. This came in with the new books at the library and it looked interesting. I enjoyed reading it, but I felt like some of the vocabulary wasn’t quite right for the period. BUT I loved its sensitive portrayal of a main character with PTSD. Her simultaneous rage at but also hopeful love for her mother felt incredibly real and sad. Also a great depiction of a character with depression! Stars all round.

Bombs on Aunt Dainty and A Small Person Very Far Away, Judith Kerr
I read When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit several years ago without realising that there were sequels, and I finally borrowed these from the library. Just as good as the first, but more depressing. Anna (well, Judith really) takes on more responsibility as she grows up and has to deal with a difficult, unhappy mother who hates her job and hates having to organise everything for the family, and a father who doesn’t speak English so cannot support them with his writing. This is all during the blitz and the fear that Germany would invade Britain and their long flight across Europe would be for nothing. How did anyone stay sane?! And then in the third part of the trilogy Anna is a lot happier (recently married, taking on an interesting new career) but has to deal with her mother’s attempted suicide while being in a country she feels resentful and uncomfortable in (Germany). It’s all fascinating but sad, and now I’m thinking I’ll have to go back and reread When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit.

A Childhood in Scotland, Christian Miller
Saw Elizabeth Wein’s review on goodreads and ordered it from the library. Interesting, funny in places, and deeply evocative of a particular place and time. Illustrates the paradox of growing up quite wealthy but also incredibly neglected. I wish I could get hold of her other books.

Harvest, Robert Westall
I confess I knew nothing of the Mau Mau before I read this book. While it’s a thoughtful illustration of a woman coming to terms with trauma and getting ready to rebuild her life, I would have been interested in seeing more of life in Kenya.

The Murdstone Trilogy, Mal Peet
Read on Elizabeth Wein’s recommendation. It’s very funny in parts, and I liked the premise, but some of it didn’t quite sit right with me. The names of the Tibetan monks, for example. And Philip is just yet another middle-aged male writer character (yes, I get that this is partly the point). But the library scenes are pure gold.

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Recent reads

The Darkest Part of the Forest, Holly Black

Holly Black seems to be getting better and better! I think this is my favourite of hers so far, although part of that might be that it’s my kind of story — more so than The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, through no fault of its own. I’m a sucker for magic and banter, what can I say. And a book which actually addresses neglectful parenting! Amazing. Sure, it might make it easy for the plot, but it sucks for the characters, and Black shows that.

The Summer Prince, Alaya Dawn Johnson

This should be getting a whole blog post to itself. Maybe when I recover from the plague? Fantastic, well-grounded setting in a future Brazil. This book made me think about race and sex and art. I didn’t always like the main characters, but I found the concept fascinating enough that it didn’t bother me. Also now that I’ve finished it I notice how fantastic the cover art is — everything connects to themes within the book, from the green algae to the lights/tree to the pyramids… it’s great! Nice to see such thoughtful design. I should add that the Book Smugglers covered some problematic elements of the Brazil setting which is worth reading.

Waiting for Unicorns, Beth Hautala

So-so. I was hoping there’d be more about Sura and Inuit ways of living, but it was mostly about grief and narwhals, which is fine but didn’t particularly stand out for me. Doesn’t help that I’m sick at the moment so my concentration isn’t fantastic. Anyway, it’s a perfectly adequate middle-grade read, not sure why it’s shelved as YA.

My Heart and Other Black Holes, Jasmine Warga

Couldn’t remember why I’d put this on hold but I really enjoyed it! If enjoyed is the right word? I totally snotted it up at the end.

Hilda and the Black Hound, Luke Pearson

I’m always a fan of Hilda and this is no exception. Also hello cameo appearance from Soppy! I see you sitting on your couch, you cuties.

Moonpenny Island, Tricia Springstubb

This was a lovely and thoughtful book about friendship, fractured parents, and growing up in an isolated place. I was going to write a whole blog post about this, but I’ve come down with some kind of horrible virus since I finished reading it and my brain is dribbling out my nose.

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Recent reads

Wake, Anna Hope

Thoughtful, melancholy exploration of post-World War I Britain. This is very much a book about being broken — being mended, being ignored, and being forced into becoming something new. The title is very apt, evoking grief but also describing the characters’ process of awakening. Wake is a quiet book but the characters very much aren’t, from spiky Evelyn to grief-stricken Ada to tired, dreaming Evelyn. I connected with these women even as I winced at their choices.

The Hundred Million Francs (or the Horse Without a Head), Paul Berna

Wow, I can tell when this was written! “Darky”? Really?!

Racism aside, it’s a pretty good Emil and the Detectives type story. I would probably get more out of it if I’d read it as a child, but it was interesting reading a children’s story that mentioned after-effects of the war in passing rather than being the main event of the book.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things, Patrick Rothfuss

This book irritated me for a lot of reasons, but if you like affected language and beautiful broken girls obsessed with pleasing a man then you might enjoy it.

Sorry, that was a terrible review. I guess Rothfuss’ portrayal of women tends to rub me the wrong way. I’m fine with reading a novella with one character where nothing really happens, but I do have to find that character compelling.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer

I’ve been meaning to read this one for aaages, and as I seem to be in the mood for wartime stories at the moment (during and/or after) and this one has the bonus of not being too heartwrenchingly sad, I finally picked it up. I’d like to be friends with all of the characters, including Zenobia the parrot.

Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum, Paul Roberts

This is a fascinating book! I totally recommend this to anyone with an interest in history. Roberts divides the book into sections on dining, bathrooms, kitchens etc, with photos and examples of real places in Pompeii and Herculaneum. I found some of the smaller objects really interesting, especially the only surviving example of a Roman cot, carbonised in the eruption. And the toilet graffiti is always funny. Well worth it just for the pictures!

The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp, Eva Rice

I was a few chapters in before I realised that this is a semi-sequel to The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets. Set in the 60’s, it follows the adolescence of Tara Jupp and her large family, with walk-in roles played by some of the characters in the previous book. It’s interesting looking at a strong friendship from the outside — whereas Lost Art features the great friendship between Penelope and Charlotte, Misinterpretation focusses on Tara, the outsider in the relationship between Tara’s sister and best friend (and later between the sister and her husband).

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