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#Diverseathon 2017 TBR

It’s Diverseathon time* again!

Diverseathon is a week-long readalong taking place from January 22nd to January 29th, and it’s organised by Christina Marie, Joce of SquibblesReads, Monica of She Might Be Monica, and Whitney of WhittyNovels. There are no real rules, the stated goal is to read more diverse books but that’s left fairly open to interpretation. I’m choosing to read Own Voices books, ie. books about people with marginalised identities that were written by people who share those marginalised identities.

I believe that second part is crucial because in addition to being severely under-represented in books, marginalised identities are severely under-represented in the publishing industry and book-reviewing community. As an ally with many factors of privilege, I want to support and signal boost the voices of marginalised people telling their own stories.

And now onto the books!

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all the slaves but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood – where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned and, though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.

In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor – engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven – but the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. Even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

This is the group read that participants are encouraged to pick up, which is how I first heard about it. I originally assumed it would be a non-fiction work about the Underground Railroad, and I was alreay pretty excited about that concept, but it turns out it’s a novel that features an actual clandestine railroad! I must confess, I do really like stories set on trains or that have trains in them. I got the audiobook of this one, it seemed only fitting that I should listen to it on my commute, since that is made of trains.

On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis

January 29, 2035. That’s the day the comet is scheduled to hit—the big one. Denise and her mother and sister, Iris, have been assigned to a temporary shelter near their hometown of Amsterdam to wait out the blast, but Iris is nowhere to be found, and at the rate Denise’s drug-addicted mother is going, they’ll never reach the shelter in time.

Then a last-minute encounter leads them to something better than a temporary shelter: a generation ship that’s scheduled to leave Earth behind and colonize new worlds after the comet hits. But each passenger must have a practical skill to contribute. Denise is autistic and fears that she’ll never be allowed to stay. Can she obtain a spot before the ship takes flight? What about her mother and sister? When the future of the human race is at stake, whose lives matter most?

The premise of an Earth that knows it is about to be devastated by an asteroid and the subsequent conflict about who and what to save and prioritise isn’t new in SFF; there’s a long tradition of using robots, aliens and artificial intelligences as metaphors to discuss those themes, it’s great to see works that explore those same ideas through actual marginalised people interacting with a science-fictional world. This novel came out in 2016 and it’s one of a giant pile that I want to get read before the nomination period for this year’s Hugo awards closes.

Dreadnought by Alice Daniels

Danny Tozer has a problem: she just inherited the powers of the world’s greatest superhero. Until Dreadnought fell out of the sky and died right in front of her, she was trying to keep people from finding out she’s transgender. But then her second-hand superpowers transformed her body into what she’s always thought it should be. Now there’s no hiding that she’s a girl.

It should be the happiest time of her life, but between her father’s dangerous obsession with curing her girlhood, her best friend suddenly acting like he’s entitled to date her, and the classmate who is secretly a masked vigilante, Danny’s first weeks living in a body that fits her are more difficult and complicated than she could have imagined.

I’ve just received an ARC of this upcoming YA novel via NetGalley and I couldn’t be more excited that it came in time for me to read it for Diverseathon! The premise of this novel is just fascinating, with a conflict that seems immediately real and poignant for all that entirely foreign to me, as cisgender woman. What a perfect illustration of why we need not only diverse books, but specifically diverse books written by marginalised people about their first-hand, lived experiences.

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaSalle

People move to New York looking for magic and nothing will convince them it isn’t there.

Charles Thomas Tester hustles to put food on the table, keep the roof over his father’s head, from Harlem to Flushing Meadows to Red Hook. He knows what magic a suit can cast, the invisibility a guitar case can provide, and the curse written on his skin that attracts the eye of wealthy white folks and their cops. But when he delivers an occult tome to a reclusive sorceress in the heart of Queens, Tom opens a door to a deeper realm of magic, and earns the attention of things best left sleeping.

A storm that might swallow the world is building in Brooklyn. Will Black Tom live to see it break?

I’m not sure I’ll have time to get to this novella during the readathon, but I still wanted to include it, as it was published in 2016 and is therefore eligible for Hugo award nomination. I’ve not read anything from this author before, but this novella is part of Tor.com Publishing’s widely acclaimed novella imprint, and by this point I trust the team of Tor.com to pick stupendous work. I’ll happily pick up anything they publish and give it a whirl these days.

Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet, Book 1 by Ta-Nehisi Coates

A new era begins for the Black Panther! MacArthur Genius and National Book Award winner Ta-Nehisi Coates takes the helm, confronting T’Challa with a dramatic upheaval in Wakanda that will make leading the African nation tougher than ever before.

When a superhuman terrorist group that calls itself The People sparks a violent uprising, the land famed for its incredible technology and proud warrior traditions will be thrown into turmoil. If Wakanda is to survive, it must adapt–but can its monarch, one in a long line of Black Panthers, survive the necessary change? Heavy lies the head that wears the cowl!

I’ve never read any Black Panther comics but I definitely enjoyed T’Challa in The Avengers: Civil War (it was NOT a Cap movie, fight me), so I’d like to check this one out. Most of it should be on Marvel Unlimited by now, so it should be easy to get a hold of, and it also doesn’t hurt that I’ve heard nothing but praise for Ta-Nehisi Coates’ writing! This volume came out in 2016, so it is eligible for Hugo award nomination – another excellent reason to get to this one sooner rather than later.

*The challenge actually started yesterday and I’m posting this TBR late because I am a muppet and misremembered the start date. I’m a week-starts-on-Monday kind of girl and things starting on Sunday confuse me.

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A Closed and Common Orbit – Review

A Closed and Common OrbitAuthor: Becky Chambers
Genre: Science-fiction
Publisher: Hodderscape
Date: 20 October 2016
Source: Purchased new
Buy the BookGoodreads

Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in an new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who’s determined to help her learn & grow.

Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.

Chambers’ first book in the Wayfarer universe made my Top 5 books of 2015; The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet was an engaging, diverse space-opera with nifty, distinct alien races and some truly fascinating worldbuilding, but I still had a few qualms with it. As much as I loved the story, I found the structure and pacing choppy and somewhat distracting: it almost felt like a 90s TV show, focusing on a new alien every chapter.

This minor cloud has a major silver lining, in that having crammed so much worldbuilding into the first book gave Chambers a solid basis upon which to build this companion novel. Without giving away the big plot twist at the end of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, I can say A Closed and Common Orbit is a much more intimate book. Here, we focus on two main characters and a small supporting cast rather than an ensemble, which I thought was a lot more effective.

Half of the narrative is set just after the events of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, as we witness Sidra struggling to adjust to life in a body kit, while the other half focuses on Pepper’s childhood, more than a decade prior, when she was called Jane 23. In the establishing chapters of both storylines, I found myself wishing things would happen a bit faster, but I did enjoy both stories, and the way they came together at the end was very satisfying.

This structure also allows Chambers to do some really interesting and effective storytelling. Early on, a full-grown Pepper ordered ‘the left side of the menu’ from her local takeaway. I definitely chuckled, because who doesn’t love a too-large portion of proper greasy takeaway when the mood is right for it? Yet as we read on and witness Jane’s struggle to feed herself, Pepper’s enthusiasm for every food ever takes on deeper meaning. This is a woman who almost starved to death as a child, an experience which affects her to this day.

There’s just more time in this book to devote to Sidra & Pepper as characters and to tell the stories of their lives and their growth in depth and in detail. The overall stakes are smaller, in a sense. We’re not looking at the end of the world, or even a tricky mission with a big pay-off that turns sour. But we are looking at things that do mean the world for some of these characters – finding your identity, your own place in the world, your purpose, your family.

I teared up a good few times and I absolutely adored the ending. Such a perfect, beautiful note to leave our characters on.

4.5 stars

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The Family Plot – Review & Giveaway

the-family-plot-1Author: Cherie Priest
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Tor Books
Date: 20 September 2016
Source: Publisher
Buy the BookGoodreads

The Family Plot is a haunted house story for the ages-atmospheric, scary, and strange, with a modern gothic sensibility to keep it fresh and interesting-from Cherie Priest, a modern master of supernatural fiction.

Oh hai, if it isn’t the latest release from one of my favourite writers! I didn’t know quite what to expect from The Family Plot since I’m honestly not that well-versed in ghost stories, but I really enjoyed it. The characters are great, the stakes are believable, the ghosts are pretty darn creepy and the mystery behind their need for revenge is very gripping. Also, THAT ENDING!

Check out my review video if you want to hear more of my thoughts on The Family Plot, and enter the giveaway below for a chance to win your own copy. The giveaway is open internationally until midnight on October 24th and the winner will be selected at random by Rafflecopter.


The review:

The giveaway:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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10 Audiobooks in my Library

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This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is All About Audio, a freebie on anything audio-related, so of course I wanted to talk about audiobooks!

I’ve gone over my favourites before (shamelessly embedding the video in question right here for you to check out!) so I thought today I’d go for something a bit different and tell you about some of the audiobooks currently sitting in my Audible library:
an Audible book haul of sorts!

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The MuseThe Muse by Jessie Burton [Goodreads]

London,1967. Having struggled to find her place in the city since she arrived from Trinidad five years ago, Odelle Bastien now works as a typist under the tutelage of the glamorous & enigmatic Marjorie Quick. The plot thickens when a lost masterpiece with a secret history is delivered to the gallery.

Rural Spain, 1936. Artist and revolutionary Isaac Robles & his half-sister Teresa insinuate themselves into the life of Olive Schloss, the daughter of a renowned art dealer, with explosive and devastating consequences…

I enjoyed Burton’s debut The Miniaturist – particularly the detailed & immersive portrayal of historical Amsterdam – so I’m eager to see what she makes of 70s London & the Spanish Civil War. I’ve also heard really good things from a librarian friend of mine – always a good sign!


Packing for MarsPacking for Mars by Mary Roach [Goodreads]

Space is a world devoid of the things we need to live and thrive: air, gravity, hot showers, fresh produce, privacy, beer. Space exploration is in some ways an exploration of what it means to be human. How much can a person give up? How much weirdness can they take? What happens to you when you can’t walk for a year? have sex? smell flowers? What happens if you vomit in your helmet during a space walk? Is it possible for the human body to survive a bailout at 17,000 miles per hour?

To answer these questions, space agencies set up all manner of quizzical and startlingly bizarre space simulations. From the space shuttle training toilet to a crash test of NASA’s new space capsule, Roach takes us on a surreally entertaining trip into the science of life in space and space on Earth.

A new Mary Roach book! About SCIENCE! And SPACE!! I’m so excited to read this after getting on the Mary Roach train with Stiff.


Zer0esZer0es by Chuck Wendig [Goodreads]

Five hackers are detained by the U.S. government at a secret complex known as the Lodge. Forced to work as an elite cyber-espionage team in the service of Uncle Sam to avoid federal prison, these misfits dub themselves ‘the Zeroes’.

Once the Zeroes begin to work, they uncover secrets that would make even the most dedicated conspiracy theorist’s head spin. And soon they’re not just trying to serve their time, they’re also trying to perform the ultimate hack: burrowing deep into the U.S. government from the inside, and hoping they’ll get out alive. Packed with electric wit and breakneck plot twists, Zer0es is an unforgettable thrill ride through the seedy underbelly of ‘progress’.

I’ve not actually read anything by Chuck Wendig before & I’ve been meaning to remedy that – then I saw this in an Audible sale & I just had to pick it up.


Six of CrowsSix of Crows by Leigh Bardugo [Goodreads]

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price – and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge, a sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager, a runaway with a privileged past, a spy known as the Wraith, a Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums, a thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Kaz’s crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction – if they don’t kill each other first.

Here’s another book I picked up in an Audible sale, and it’s 100% booktube’s fault.


UpdraftUpdraft by Fran Wilde [Goodreads]

Kirit can’t wait to pass her wingtest, so she can start flying in service to her home tower, and exploring the skies beyond. When Kirit inadvertently breaks Tower Law, the city’s secretive governing body, the Singers, demand that she become one of them instead. To try and save her family from greater censure, Kirit must give up her dreams to throw herself into the dangerous training at the Spire, the tallest, most forbidding tower, deep at the heart of the City.

As she grows in knowledge and power, she starts to uncover the depths of Spire secrets. Kirit begins to doubt her world and its unassailable Laws, setting in motion a chain of events that will lead to a haunting choice, and may well change the city forever-if it isn’t destroyed outright.

I originally got this because it was being nominated for so many SFF awards, but then Andrea Philips mentioned it has a bit of a Dragonriders of Pern vibe & I got very VERY EXCITED. It’s now moved to the top of my TBR list!


AmericanahAmericanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie [Goodreads]

As teenagers in a Lagos secondary school, Ifemelu & Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are leaving the country if they can. Ifemelu departs for America to study. She suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships and friendships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London.

Years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a writer of an eye-opening blog about race in America. But when Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, and she and Obinze reignite their shared passion – for their homeland and for each other – they will face the toughest decisions of their lives.

I’ve had this in my Audible library for a little while & I was hoping to get to it during #Diverseathon, but it was a bit too long to cram into that week.


The Path of AngerThe Path of Anger by Antoine Rouaud [Goodreads]

Dun-Cadal has been drinking his life away for years. Betrayed by his friends – who turned their back on their ideals in favour of a new republic – and grief stricken at the loss of his apprentice, who saved his life on the battlefield and whom he trained as a knight in exchange, he’s done with politics, with adventure, and with people.

But people aren’t finished with him – not yet. Viola is a young historian looking for the last Emperor’s sword, and her search not only brings her to Dun-Cadal, it’s also going to embroil them both in a series of assassinations. Because Dun-Cadal’s turncoat friends are being murdered, one by one… by someone who kills in the unmistakable style of an Imperial assassin…

I picked this up some time ago to read for my series on translated fiction, but after a couple of disappointing translated reads, I took a short break from that project which turned into a much longer break – woops. I do really want to get back to it soon.


North and SouthNorth and South by Elizabeth Gaskell [Goodreads]

North and South depicts a young woman discovering herself in a nuanced portrayal of what divides people and what brings them together.

Elizabeth Gaskell’s compassionate, richly dramatic novel features one of the most original and fully-rounded female characters in Victorian fiction, Margaret Hale. It shows how, forced to move from the country to an industrial town, she develops a passionate sense of social justice, and a turbulent relationship with mill-owner John Thornton.

You can blame Richard Armitage’s face for this purchase, which may or may not have been made while I was swooning at his Mr Thornton watching the BBC mini-series. When I first heard about this classic romance set in Victoria Britain, with bonus industrial relations subplot & actual working class people, I couldn’t believe I’d gone so long without knowing about it! Now I’m just saving it for a dreary day when I’m in need of a pick-me-up.


City of StairsCity of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett [Goodreads]

Years ago, the city of Bulikov wielded the powers of the Gods to conquer the world. But after its divine protectors were mysteriously killed, the city was conquered, its proud history erased & censored. Progress left Bulikov behind, just another colonial outpost of the world’s new geopolitical power.

Into this musty, backward city steps Shara Thivani. Officially, she is just another lowly diplomat sent by Bulikov’s oppressors. Unofficially, Shara is one of her country’s most accomplished spymasters, dispatched to investigate the brutal murder of a seemingly harmless historian. Soon Shara begins to suspect that the beings who once protected Bulikov may not be as dead as they seem…

This was an impulse buy I got on sale around the time the book came out (if I recall corectly, it was after hearing a particularly good recommendation on Shipping & Handling). I think the sequel is already out too, so I can go straight onto book two if I enjoy it.


Calculating GodCalculating God by Robert Sawyer [Goodreads]

An alien shuttle craft lands outside the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. A six-legged, two-armed alien emerges and says, in perfect English, “Take me to a paleontologist.”

In the distant past, Earth, the alien’s home planet, and the home planet of another alien species, all experienced the same five cataclysmic events at the same time (one example: the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs). Both alien races believe this proves the existence of God: i.e., he’s obviously been playing with the evolution of life on each of these planets.

I’m not gonna lie, this one just sounded hilarious! I’ve read & enjoyed Robert Sawyer before, and came across this one in a sale. The blurb made me laugh & somehow the book found its way into my library. This is why I’m not allowed to click on that gorgeous little ‘Get 3 extra credits’ button any more.


Let me know in the comments what books you’ve acquired recently & if you’ve read anything from this list. If you do your own list, please link back to The Broke and the Bookish, who created and hosts Top Ten Tuesday.

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The Obelisk Gate – Review

26228034Author: N.K. Jemisin
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Orbit
Date: August 2016
Source: ARC (publisher)
Buy the BookGoodreads

The season of endings grows darker as civilization fades into the long cold night. Alabaster Tenring – madman, world-crusher, savior – has returned with a mission: to train his successor, Essun, and thus seal the fate of the Stillness forever. It continues with a lost daughter found by the enemy, with the obelisks and an ancient mystery converging on answers at last.

The Stillness is the wall which stands against the flow of tradition, the spark of hope long buried under the thickening ashfall. And it will not be broken.

This is quite a tricky book for me to rate and review because while it’s clearly very well written, I didn’t find it as enjoyable a read as The Fifth Season. I’m glad that I did read it because I’m still interested in the story and characters, but I found it a difficult read – very much worth the extra time and attention but still, not an easy reading experience.

In my review of The Fifth Season, I mentioned that Essun’s point of view was my least favourite since it’s narrated in second person. Once again, the writing of the second person narration is impressively well-handled, as is the reveal that one of the characters is in fact the narrator. This was such a smooth transition that I couldn’t remember if it had been introduced in The Fifth Season, or if it was new information. And yet, I still found the second person point of view difficult to read. It still felt weird and occasionally jarring to me.

The second point of view character introduced in this book is Essun’s daughter, Nassun, who is mentioned throughout the previous book, but who we haven’t yet properly met on the page. I enjoyed Nassun’s point of view a lot, and it was great to see her transform into a character in her own right, when she had been little more than a source of motivation for her mother in The Fitfh Season. It’s fascinating to get Nassun’s take on things, which is so different from her mother’s. Seeing this child’s interpretation of Essun’s careful teaching really underlines the sacrifices Orogenes face in this world for the sake of absolute self-control, which is so crucial to their survival.

It was somewhat distressing to see Nassun align with her father in the full knowledge that he had killed her little brother Uche for being an Orogene. in further very troubling company, Nassun then begins to associate with a character who makes a surprise from The Fifth Season, with a bit a new personality (woot, amnesia & mind-control!). I particularly enjoyed seeing Nassun’s opinion of the people around her and of her distant mother evolve throughout the book. As Nassun grows older and learns more about Orogeny, her father and the Fulcrum, she adjusts her view of the important players in her life in a way that gave me hope for her in the future.

Much like its predecessor, the Obelisk Gate is incredibly brutal and includes scenes of body horror which some people might find a bit too much. I was okay with them, but it did make it a bit more difficult to take genuine enjoyment out of the book when I kept thinking ‘Great writing, very effective, EWWWW’. There was a lot of me cringing at the places Jemisin was willing to go and trying hard not to visualise. There’s a revelation right at the end of the book that makes a lot of sense and that I probably should have seen coming. I won’t say what it is, but I will say it’s making me weary about the amount of graphic description of body horror there will be in the next book. There are some things I don’t really want to read about happening to a main character I care about, especially not when the narration kept calling her ‘you’…

I’m not surprised that this wasn’t an easy read, nor I am saying it’s necessarily a bad thing. Not every book can or should be an easy or straightforward read, and this feels to me like it was written to be layered, subtle and wonderfully challenging. In The Obelisk Gate, Jemisin creates a fascinating and demanding story, whose depth and complexities are well worth taking the trouble to fully engage with.

4 stars