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Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day – Review

Author: Seanan McGuire
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Tor.com Publishing
Date: 10 January 2017
Source: ARC (NetGalley)
Buy the BookGoodreads

When her sister Patty died, Jenna blamed herself. When Jenna died, she blamed herself for that, too. Unfortunately Jenna died too soon. Living or dead, every soul is promised a certain amount of time, and when Jenna passed she found a heavy debt of time in her record. Unwilling to simply steal that time from the living, Jenna earns every day she leeches with volunteer work at a suicide prevention hotline.

But something has come for the ghosts of New York, something beyond reason, beyond death, beyond hope; something that can bind ghosts to mirrors and make them do its bidding. Only Jenna stands in its way.

I’m always up for reading more from Seanan McGuire and I was especially excited to pick up another Tor.com novella from her since her latest, Every Heart a Doorway, made my list of favourite reads of 2016.

I enjoyed Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day, though I didn’t quite fall in love with it. The prose is as gorgeous as McGuire usually produces, the world-building is really interesting and the characters feel like real people, but this story didn’t have much of an emotional impact on me.

I know it’s a bit unfair for me to say I’m disappointed in something because I ‘just’ liked it instead of adoring it, but at this point I know I’m going to like McGuire’s work. I’m always hoping for something that’ll make me hide in the bathroom at work to have a wee cry (FEED), inspire me to get a tattoo (Wicked Girls), or end up on my Hugo Awards nomination ballot (Every Heart A Doorway, the InCryptids series).

Oh look, actual thoughts on the book instead of my Seanan feels:

I hesitate to call this book an Urban Fantasy, though that’s probably what it should be shelved under. The story and characters all clearly have deep countryside roots, with the city not being portrayed as much of a character, or all that welcoming of an entity. New York is the place runaways flock to and the place Jenna chose for her flight but it was never quite home. Instead, the pull of Jenna’s small, rural town is ever-present, it’s where her bones are buried and it can never stop being home.

The world-building was fascinating but I found it somewhat confusing, particularly the language around ghosts abilities to give and take time from the living. In the beginning, I kept having to double back to make sure I understood whether Jenna was ageing or getting younger. It took me a while to get into the world and its rules, which wouldn’t be as much of an issue in a novel but in this much shorter work it meant that I was confused for a much larger portion of the story.

Still, I was intrigued by so many things in this story: witches in the corn, covered mirrors, whispering rats, ghost traps. I also especially enjoyed Jenna’s posse of elderly cats, as well as her musings on death, the living and why ghosts who linger behind. I would definitely read more in that world, now that I understand the way the main premise works a bit better.

4 stars

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Catching up with Hugo-eligible works

It’s Hugo Awards nomination time again!

The nomination period for the 2016-2017 Hugo Awards is now open. If you’re a member of last year’s Midamericon in Kansas City, this year’s Worldcon 75 in Helsinki or next year’s Worldcon 76 in San Jose, you can nominate your favourite Sci-Fi & Fantasy works of 2016 for a Hugo Awards in a whole host of categories.

Every year I try to read works as they are being published but I end up falling behind because there are just So. Many. Great. Books.
As a side effect, come Hugo nomination time, I’m left with a very small field of works I’ve actually read or watched and I have to leave blank spots in my nomination ballot which I just don’t like doing.

Shockingly it happened again in 2016 & there’s some catch up to do…

Here’s what I read and watched in 2016 that’s eligible:
  • Novels: Ghost Talkers, False Hearts, Obelisk Gate, The Family Plot
  • Novella: Every Heart A Doorway, Forest of Memory
  • Novelette: Superior
  • Short stories: None. Absolute FAIL.
  • Graphic novels: Descender Vol 2, Saga Vol 6
  • Films: Arrival
  • TV: Game of Thrones, Doctor Who

I’d be happy to put most of these on my ballot (Every Heart A Doorway and Superior will definitely be on there, as both made my Favourite Reads of 2016 list). But I would still love to have a wider selection to pick from, so I decided to get some reading & some watching done…

Making it into a bit of a project to make it more fun:

For the next three months, I’ll try and read, watch and consume some works that came out in 2016 – stuff I heard was good, or stuff I wanted to get to but didn’t – and then hopefully by the end of three months I’ll have a wider pool of eligible works to nominate from.

I decided to keep all of this fairly casual and not put too much pressure on myself. Instead of targeting things I should *absolutely* get to, I just amassed a giant list of STUFF that fits the bill, with help from Renay’s excellent Hugo Eligibility Spreadsheet of Doom. My own personal Hugo List of Doom is 4 pages long so far, with a full page dedicated to short stories!

That might seem daunting, but since I already know I won’t get through everything, I don’t feel pressured to try and get to everything. I’ve printed out a copy of The Hugo List of Doom, and I’ve started marking works off with a highlighter once I’ve checked them out. To me, that smattering of colour throughout The Hugo List of Doom proves that I gave the project a good try, and it’s satisfaction enough on its own.

If you have any recommendations for Hugo-eligible things I should try to get to before the end of the nomination period in March, let me know in the comments!

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Martians Abroad – Review & Giveaway

Martians AbroadAuthor: Carrie Vaughn
Genre: YA science-fiction
Publisher: Tor Books
Date: 17 January 2017
Source: NetGalley
Buy the BookGoodreads

Polly Newton has one single-minded dream, to be a starship pilot and travel the galaxy. Her mother, the Director of the Mars Colony, derails Polly’s plans when she sends Polly and her genius twin brother, Charles, to Galileo Academy on Earth–the one planet Polly has no desire to visit. Ever.

Homesick and cut off from her own plans for her future, Polly cannot seem to fit into the constraints of life on Earth, unlike Charles, who deftly maneuvers around people and sees through their behavior to their true motives. Strange, unexplained, dangerous coincidences centered on their high-profile classmates begin piling up. Charles may be right–there’s more going on than would appear, and the stakes are high. With the help of Charles, Polly is determined to find the truth, no matter the cost.

One of my goals for 2017 was to read more science-fiction, so I was very excited to get my hands on this book! The near-future, Mars colonisation aspect of the story did not disappoint, and I really enjoyed our protagonist, Polly. Also, I’m always here for any story set in a boarding school! although I did have some issues with the pacing, I enjoyed the book overall.

Check out my review video if you want to hear more of my thoughts on Martians Abroad! You can also enter the giveaway below for a chance to win your own copy: the giveaway is open internationally until midnight on 3 February 2017 and the winner will be selected at random by Rafflecopter.


The review:

The giveaway:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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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