Persuasion by Jane Austen
I love this story now just as much as I did the first time I read it & it remains my favourite Austen. I was struck by how fresh & modern the story – especially some of the dialogue – remains. Of course the issues addressed are timeless (money, love, resentment, hope, regret, loyalty, mortification, jealousy, vanity) but it’s also about more ordinary people, with motives are way more relatable than some of Austen’s other characters.
No need to try & ignore things which would befuddle us now (Edward Ferrars’ loyalty to a years-old engagement), or things which would rightfully make us dislike a character now (Emma’s manipulative streak; Darcy’s objections to the inferiority of Elizabeth’s birth).
I wish there was a bit less reported action and dialogue – as it is some passages made me want to scream “SHOW DON’T TELL” at the book – but it’s a fairly minor complaint compared to how much I love this story!
Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell
“A witch, a hippy and a vicar walk into a magic shop” sounds like the setup to something quite silly, but there’s a kindness and a humanity to Cornell’s writing – to the way he portrays the characters, their motivations, the town life – that says these people and their stories are important. The conflicts that drive this story aren’t all end of the world stuff, but everything that happens is serious and important to the specific characters it affects and is treated as such.
I was quite impressed with how much Cornell packed in a novella, especially with several POV characters, who all feel pretty well developed. There’s a twist at the end of the novella that just punched me in the feels, one of those twists that makes complete sense once you read it, but couldn’t have guessed before. It makes me want to re-read the book now that I know what’s in store.
In short, I loved this to bits. It was so very, very British and very warm. I can’t wait for the sequel, which is a Christmas story. As a fan of big, traditional British Christmases, I am there with bells on.
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
Binti was a very engaging protagonist, a smart, capable young woman making a difficult choice and venturing into the unknown. I also really enjoyed the themes of language and translation in this story since those are things I’m interested in and passionate about in general.
The story was very tense and brutal in a way I definitely found effective, but somehow the story didn’t grab me in the same way as it did many SFF bloggers and booktubers I know (and Hugo voters!)
I enjoyed the story, but it didn’t adore it; I was left wanting more, perhaps because of the length of the piece (I’m new to reading novellas, and I’m partial to a big, fat doorstopper). I would definitely read a sequel (it looks like there’s going to be one!), especially something about Binti’s experiences at Oomza Uni.
Pride & Prejudice & Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith
This was kind of fun but also a bit eye-rolly – not because it was fanfic but because it really wasn’t that good as far as fanfic goes. Most of the book is lifted whole cloth from the original novel, which makes it a decent read but also makes the failings of the added bits really obvious. The zombie killing was fine, but the whole warrior code aspect was quite ham-fisted. Seeing Lizzy kill the living for no good reason in a zombie apocalypse ruined her for me, and the resolution of Wickham’s arc (which was ableist AF) ruined Darcy for me. By the end, I couldn’t root for either & I didn’t really care that they were getting hitched any more.
I read/write a lot of fanfic, especially AUs that do the same kind of thing this book attempted to do and bottom line is: you can’t just add zombies in & ignore the fact that the structure of polite society would shift drastically. I’d expect better world-building (and more of it!) from any Zombies AU on Ao3.
Needed a beta reader & a talking to from Tumblr.
The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
Baru Cormorant remembers the day the Empire of Masks came to her island; she remembers how they rewrote her culture, criminalised her customs, and murdered of one of her fathers. But she is smart and she is patient. She goes to the Masquerade’s school, studies their version of truth and nurtures her rage in silence. Baru has a plan: she will claw her way into power and take the Empire of Masks down from the inside.
Sprawling political intrigue in a low-fantasy setting with a healthy sprinkling of dastardly plots, secret rebellions and all-out-war? Yep, that sounds like exactly my cup of tea. I did love large parts of this book, I thought it was well-written, and I was very, very invested emotionally. The sense of danger, urgency and secrecy was palpable throughout, even in the middle section which is all about accounting and finances.
I had more of a problem with the ending: there’s a twist in there that relies on the narration withholding crucial information from the reader. I wasn’t convinced by Baru as an unreliable narrator, just felt like I was getting the rug pulled out from under my feet with no warning.
Also, as many people have mentioned, there are some gruesome deaths of queer characters, but it’s a pretty gruesome book all the way through.
Geek Girl by Holly Smale
The title, cover and blurb for this all gave me super-high warning signs that I’d probably hate it. I only picked up a copy because there was one going for free at an event I attended. The first two chapters were extremely irritating and I might not have continued it past page 15, except I wanted to read at least 10-15% (given how much the outside of the book annoyed me, I thought I should give the inside a fair shot to change my mind).
I read about 80 pages before I abandoned it. The narrative wasn’t as annoying past chapter two, but it had way too much second-hand embarrassment for my liking, not to mention the hugely stereotypical cardboard characterisation. The main storyline was also extremely predictable, I could see what would happen a mile off.
Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones
Rupert Venables, junior Magid in charge of Earth, is having a bad time of it at the minute: His mentor has just died, finding a replacement seems like an impossible task, even with the shortlist Stan left him. To top it all off, he’s got to deal with a succession crisis in the Koryfonic Empire, possibly the worst world in the multiverse.
I bought this one after seeing Rachel’s video on it, mainly because she mentioned that it features an SFF convention. I expected the con setting to be a bit of fun & it didn’t disappoint: I almost cried with laughter reading this on the underground. It works because it’s gentle ribbing from someone who clearly knows this community and its quirks, who clearly has a great fondness for it. It made me want to be back at an SFF con already. <3 (It did include one too many references to con attendees being really fat; that was the only thing that felt kind of off.) Rupert is a bit of a prickly git early on in the book, but I didn't mind it that much: at first I was just excited to get to the convention, and by the time we got there it was so obvious that Rupert had no clue what was going on and was in way over his head, I couldn't be too annoyed with him any more. As with all the Diana Wynne Jones I've read, the magic is weird and organic but makes this instinctive kind of sense. There are a lot of strands of story coming together, crashing into each other, and I was impressed with how skillfully all of it was handled.
First Class Murder by Robin Stevens
The next installment in the Murder Most Unladylike series, this one follows Hazel & Daisy onto the Orient Express!! I’m not a huge Agatha Christie fan, or a huge fan of mysteries in general, so maybe I missed some references to Murder on the Orient Express, but I really loved this nonetheless.
Hazel & Daisy continue to be great protagonists, growing from one book to the next and dealing with their previous experiences. They’re learning to manage their fears and their feelings as they are once more confronted with death, violence and danger. Hazel is also forced to reassess her own moral compass when she had to lie to her father in order to continue her investigation.
And Hazel’s Dad, he was just wonderful! From the quiet dignity with which he bears the era’s casual racism to his obvious care for his daughter and his respect for her intellect and character. It was great to see on the page, and he is now up there with Keith Mars as one of my favourite fictional Dads.
Envy of Angels, Sin du Jour #1 by Matt Wallace
The plot was fast-paced and fun, with high stakes and an engaging central conflict. The characters were nicely defined pretty quickly and it was funny – more chuckle-funny than laugh-out-loud-funny as far as I was concerned but it was on point overall. There were also slightly more violent, gory or gross scenes which I quite liked: tense but not overdrawn to the point of being uncomfortable.
I didn’t love the ending: There’s a twist which I felt didn’t quite hit the mark – the idea for it was cool, makes room for interesting things to come, but I felt the presentation of it was a bit dissonant. I’ve also not really read novella-length works outside of fanfic before, so I’m not really used to the form yet and I was a bit thrown by how lean the story was.
Overall, I liked it but I felt there wasn’t really enough to say I liked it a lot or I loved it. This being said, this book is the first in a series with at least three more novellas coming and I will be continuing on with the series.
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
When Nimona, shape-shifter extraordinaire, gets herself hired as famed villain Lord Ballister Blackheart’s sidekick, she can’t wait to wreak some havoc. But Blackheart’s plans are that simple: it’s not all about mischief, they have to prove to the Kingdom that the villain label was forced on him by the ominous Institution. They have to show everyone that the Institution’s poster boy, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin, isn’t and was never all that much of a hero.
Oh my goodness, this totally punched me in the feels!! It looks so cute & starts with such a silly, whimsical premise that I didn’t really expect to get so serious & heartbreaking.
A story about who or what makes someone a good guy, a villain or a monster, but also a story about old betrayals, ongoing machinations, and friendship & loyalty being tested. We’ve got morally ambiguous characters all-around, presented to us with a welcome lump of tenderness & empathy, but with no punches pulled.
If the print book is eligible, it’ll be going on my Hugo nomination ballot in a heartbeat.
Blood of Elves, The Witcher #3 by Andrzej Sapkowski
I struggled a lot with this book: I wanted to like it, since I’ve heard really good things about the game series but I had to force myself to finish reading.
I don’t always mind non-linear narrative, but here it really detracted from the story, made it feel broken-up and confused, and I honestly could not see why the book was organised that way. Despite the multiple points of view (a storytelling device I *love*), I didn’t get a strong sense of the characters or the conflicts, and I didn’t really get why I should care what happens to any of them.
Very early into Triss Merigold’s POV, we learn that she got another character drunk so she could have sex with him. She did this despite knowing he was in a relationship with a mutual friend and then keeps pining about how he wants nothing to do with her now. I could not care less that Triss’ feeling are hurt because the guy she date-raped won’t go out with her. No, no, no.
This is apparently the second book in the series, with the first being a collection of short stories. I had no idea, and read this assuming it came first. Maybe the stories would have helped make more sense of the sprawling worldbuilding but since it probably couldn’t have given this book the actual plot arc it lacks, I won’t be reading more in this series.
Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
15-year-old Meche is awkward and uncool, but she has two good friends and an impressive pile of vinyls. Things get messy when she, Sebastian & Daniela discover they can use the music to cast spells.
Meche returns to Mexico City as an adult, after living and working in Europe for years. She came for the funeral of her estranged father, but she finds herself dealing not only with her overbearing family but also with seeing Sebastian again.
I loved almost every single thing about this book. The two timelines feel very distinctive, and Moreno-Garcia captured the weird cognitive dissonance of coming ‘home’ as an expat beautifully. The 1985 portions of the story felt really poignant to me, and I liked the balance of magic and high-school drama.
Just a smidgen short of five stars because adult Meche was a bit difficult to relate to, at times. Her decision-making had me shaking my head throughout, but the rash choices make sense from teenage Meche: yes, she’s sometimes hurtful to her friends, but she’s 15 and she’s got stuff to deal with. On the other hand, there were definitely times when I thought adult Meche needed to get a grip and act her age.
READ IT. READ IT NOW.