Book Review – The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

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Goodreads Synopsis:

In 2019, humanity finds proof of extraterrestrial life when a listening post picks up exquisite singing from the planet Rakhat. While the U.N. debates possible contact missions, the Society of Jesus quietly organizes an 8-person expedition of its own. What the Jesuits find is a world so beyond comprehension that it will lead them to question what it means to be human.

Review:

So this is another book I read as part of #RRSciFiMonth over on Twitter and I’m super glad I’m taking part in it as I’ve read some fantastic books. This was recommended to me quite a while ago by a friend and although I bought it straight away, it just kinda sat on my TBR shelf until I decided that I needed to read some Sci-Fi by women as my reading list is pretty male-dominated.

This book is absolutely stunning and is incredibly well written. I didn’t want to finish it because I was enjoying the journey so much.

The story of this is split into two sections – one is focusing on the recent return of Father Sandoz from Rakhat where he is the sole survivor, while the other focuses on the discovery and journey to Rakhat. As the Jesuits on Earth slowly discover what happened to Father Sandoz, we too slowly discover what happened through the flashbacks to those times. The two tales are woven together brilliantly although of course I was always looking forward to returning to the sections on Rakhat.

I was a bit cautious of the fact that most of the characters are Jesuits as I didn’t want it to be too focused on religion, however although it plays a major role for some of the characters, there are also non-religious crew aboard along with my favourite character, Sofia, who is Jewish. They work really well together and I thoroughly enjoyed the interactions between them all.

Worldbuilding is one of the things I love most about books and books set on alien planets are always full of rich opportunities to exercise this and this book it fantastically. All the different aspects such as culture, evolution, language have been looked at in great detail. Father Sandoz is a linguist and so we get a deeper than usual look at the languages and how they influence thought on Rakhat.

I definitely feel that this is going to be one of my top picks of what I’ve read at the end of Sci Fi Month and I definitely encourage everybody to read it. It’s a truly stunning novel and as soon as the month finishes, I’m giving my copy away to a friend so they can enjoy it too!

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Book Review – Accessing the Future: A Disability-Themed Anthology of Speculative Fiction

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Goodreads Synopsis:

The fifteen authors and nine artists in this volume bring us beautiful, speculative stories of disability and mental illness in the future. Teeming with space pirates, battle robots, interstellar travel and genetically engineered creatures, every story and image is a quality, crafted work of science fiction in its own right, as thrilling and fascinating as it is worthy and important. These are stories about people with disabilities in all of their complexity and diversity, that scream with passion and intensity. These are stories that refuse to go gently.

Review:

So this is the third book I’ve read so far for Sci-Fi month over on Twitter but I’ve decided to review it first just because it’s so fantastic. I bought this a while ago on Amazon when I had some money left on a gift card then forgot about it for a while until this month. I’ve been trying to focus on reducing my physical TBR pile for Sci-Fi month (especially as then I can take a photo at the end of them all in a nice stack) but I just had to make an exception for this as it sounded fantastic.

Before we even get to the stories, there is a fantastic introduction which discusses the fact that not only does this attempt to represent a diverse range of disabilities, but it wants to ensure the people portrayed are equally as diverse, acknowledging that a lot of disability awareness focuses on straight white people. I was very impressed with that and glad to know they were making a conscious effort to be as inclusive as possible.

The range of disabilities represented is very interesting ranging from physical to mental, including even discussing how many disabilities are due to culture and so one story is focused on imagining what a future would be like where grief is considered a disability. I won’t say too much about the stories themselves but there is a fantastic range and I really enjoyed them all. It’s hard to pick a favourite since all the characters are brilliant and well portrayed.

Along with short stories, there are also several pieces of artwork. Each piece of artwork is followed by a description of the image for those who are unable to see it, which I was particularly pleased to see in a collection focused on disabilities. Unfortunately, there is not an audiobook version yet but I hope there will be one eventually to make it even more accessible. Even though my sight is fine, there were details mentioned in the descriptions that I hadn’t noticed which helped enrich my enjoyment of the art. My favourite piece of artwork though is definitely the cover, which was one of the reasons I bought the book in the first place.

I highly, highly recommend this collection. It’s incredibly diverse and full of great sci-fi. I’ve already got several friends to buy it just because I’ve been gushing about it so much and if it was possible to gift Kindle books in the UK, I’d definitely have bought it for several more.

Short Story Review – Waiting on a Bright Moon by JY Yang

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Xin is an ansible, using her song magic to connect the originworld of the Imperial Authority and its far-flung colonies— a role that is forced upon magically-gifted women “of a certain closeness”. When a dead body comes through her portal at a time of growing rebellion, Xin is drawn deep into a station-wide conspiracy along with Ouyang Suqing, one of the station’s mysterious, high-ranking starmages

Review:

Before I start reviewing this, I first need to say that this is a short story from tor.com which means that you can read it for free right here.

It’s SciFi month over on Twitter and what better way to get involved that reading some fantastic short fiction. I had some time to spare and so chose this randomly because the cover and the name really appealed to me.

This short story focuses on Xin who is an ansible that can create portals between herself and her partner Ren. However, as mentioned in the blurb, when a dead body comes through there is an investigation and Xin finds herself being drawn into the politics of the station. As it’s a short story, I obviously cannot say too much in regards to plot without spoiling it, but I thoroughly enjoyed the story here.

As it’s a short story, we don’t have much space for worldbuilding but the author has managed to do this incredibly well. Their language use is brilliant and they paint a wonderful picture of the world that Xin lives in and the issues facing their colony. One particular use of language that I adore is that the song that Xin sings to create portals with Ren is in Chinese. You don’t need to be able to read Chinese to appreciate the novel, but from the comments on the story it seems that if you, it’s even more enjoyable. I’ve actually just started learning Chinese and so I’ve made it a goal to eventually be able to re-read this and understand the songs. It also really helps reinforce the fact that the characters in this story are clearly not white, although that should have been obvious just through the names.

Xin is our main character and I absolutely adore her. I would happily read many more stories focused on her, such as stories focusing on her time training to be an ansible or focusing on what happens next after this short story. I don’t know if the author has plans to write any more in this world, but I really hope they do because I would love to see more of Xin. One of the other main characters in this is Officer Ouyang Suqing who is a Starmage. She’s brilliant and the relationship between her and Xin is a treat to watch develop. Through them, we learn more about the powers of starmages and ansibles and about the growing rebellion. Xin and Suqing are also both not straight and one of my favourite scenes is where Xin is watching Suqing attempt to flirt with a man to distract him. It was hilarious

I absolutely adored this short story and I would highly encourage everybody to read it because it’s just an absolute delight. Indeed, as soon as I finished reading this I went and bought both of the authors novellas on Amazon as I adored their writing so much. I can’t wait to see what they write next, as they’re now added to my “Must-read” list.

Book Review – The Man in the Tree by Sage Walker

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Humanity s last hope of survival lies in space but will a random death doom the venture?

Our planet is dying and the world s remaining nations have pooled their resources to build a seed ship that will carry colonists on a multi-generational journey to a distant planet.

Everything is set for a bright adventure and then someone is found hanging dead just weeks before the launch. Fear and paranoia spread as the death begins to look more and more like a murder. The authorities want the case settled quickly and quietly so as not to cause panic and to prevent a murderer from sabotaging the entire mission.

With The Man in the Tree, Locus Award-winning author Sage Walker has given us a thrilling hard science fiction mystery that explores the intersection of law, justice, and human nature.

Review:

I received this as an ARC as I’m a big fan of generation ship stories and just had to read it. When I saw that this was one right before it launched, I was incredibly interested as most stories in this theme are either building it or way after the launch when a lot of information has been forgotten.

This book starts not long before the ship is due to depart, however a man has just been found dead and one hour of security camera footage is missing around the time that he died. What follows is a fantastic murder mystery in a sci-fi setting.

As it’s a murder mystery, I’m going to avoid discussing the plot at all because well half the fun of the novel was trying to figure out what was happening along with the main character, Helt, and so I don’t want to give away any spoilers either intentionally or unintentionally.

The worldbuilding of this novel is fantastic, as Helt moves around the ship interviewing potential suspects and those that knew the deceased, we learn more about the ship itself and what caused it to be built. Most of this is just mentioned as background information but it really helps flesh out the novel. The ship itself, Kybele, is also described brilliantly and I loved reading about how it was built and all the planning that has gone into it.

Helt is a great character, he’s been tasked with investigating the case and he’s on a strict deadline as the ship will be departing soon and so they want to find the murderer in time to send him off the ship on the final shuttle.

I would highly recommend this novel, it was a thrilling adventure and I highly enjoyed the mystery which kept me engrossed right up until the end. It’s great for both sci-fi fans and for those that are fans of murder mysteries.

Book Review – The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli

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Goodreads Review:

In the beginning, there was the Namsara: the child of sky and spirit, who carried love and laughter wherever he went. But where there is light, there must be dark—and so there was also the Iskari. The child of blood and moonlight. The destroyer. The death bringer. 

These are the legends that Asha, daughter of the king of Firgaard, has grown up hearing in hushed whispers, drawn to the forbidden figures of the past. But it isn’t until she becomes the fiercest, most feared dragon slayer in the land that she takes on the role of the next Iskari—a lonely destiny that leaves her feeling more like a weapon than a girl.

Asha conquers each dragon and brings its head to the king, but no kill can free her from the shackles that await at home: her betrothal to the cruel commandant, a man who holds the truth about her nature in his palm. When she’s offered the chance to gain her freedom in exchange for the life of the most powerful dragon in Firgaard, she finds that there may be more truth to the ancient stories than she ever could have expected. With the help of a secret friend—a slave boy from her betrothed’s household—Asha must shed the layers of her Iskari bondage and open her heart to love, light, and a truth that has been kept from her.

Review:

First I’d like to give a huge thanks to HarperCollinns for giving me an ARC of this book. I adore dragons and so any book about them will automatically jump to the top of my TBR list. I’m always hesitant of course because I’ve read some very bad books featuring dragons and so I always worry about how well they’ll be represented. Thankfully, this book represented them excellent and I loved the portrayal of the dragons in them.

In this world, Asha is an extremely skilled dragon hunter as dragons are evil and need to be destroyed. However, is that really the case? Are they really a threat or is something more sinister going on? As the novel progresses, we learn more about the dragons who used to be on friendly terms with humans until recently. Asha slowly goes on a journey as she learns more about herself and her history while discovering the truth about Dragons.

As already mentioned, the portrayal of dragons in this book is fantastic. One particular piece of worldbuilding I loved was the fact that telling the ancient stories was forbidden as it drew dragons and I just really enjoy the concept of dragons being big fans of storytelling. It conjures up an image of a cosy hearth with a large dragon reading to a bunch of tiny baby dragons and if I was able to draw, I could definitely see myself doing a lot of fan art for this novel.

The characters are excellent and I love the interactions between them. In particular, I really enjoyed the portrayal of Asha’s father and their relationship and seeing how it developed throughout the novel.

I read this book in one sitting as I just could not put it down and upon finishing it, my main thought was “Oh no, because I got this as an ARC I have to wait even longer than most people until the second one!”. My review for this is a bit late as I didn’t want to publish it too early (and so ended up being too late) but I’ve got it out now! I highly highly recommend this book and I can see it earning a place amongst my favourite books of the year if I end up making a list.

Book Review – HWJN by Ibraheem Abbas

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Goodreads Synopsis:

HWJN is the #1 selling Arabic book in Saudi, it is a mix between fantasy, SciFi and romance. While most people get excited about legends of spirits and genies (Jinn) and pass it on as they listen to it with awe and horror (after adding their own spices to it); here comes Hawjan. The young Jinni who is in his early nineties to redefine our understanding of the Jinn world that resembles ours in so many ways, still it is a parallel dimension to ours. He shares his tale so that we can live it through a “human” perspective regardless of the differences between our two worlds.
As human populations expand Hawjan found himself surrounded by humans who had built a housing complex in the area surrounding his village forcing him, his mother and grandfather to live in one of these villas that is now haunted by humans. Hawjan’s efforts to avoid interacting with the human family had failed, finding himself madly in love with Sawsan the human, Sawsan was a medical student, gentle and brilliant, barely a quarter of his age. Hawjan was unable to let her know about his feelings until he learned how to communicate with Sawsan through the Ouija board. He found out about her brain cancer that she had hidden from everyone including her family. As Sawsan’s suffering increased and her health deteriorated her father was easy prey for a sorcerer who tricked him into believing that Sawsan’s illness was a result of the devils who had haunted their new home, and so a deadly battle between Hawjan and the devils and sorcerer who had tried extort money from Sawsan’s father. With the help of Eyad (Sawsan’s colleague) who had agreed to Hawjan possessing him so that they would both risk their lives to save Sawsan and her father.

Review:

So, I found out about this book when writing my post about Muslim Sci-Fi to check out and I recently got a comment from the co-author, Yasser Bahjatt, saying he would be honoured to read my reviews of his books and so I just had to get it along with Yaqteenya which I’ll be reading and reviewing soon. I chose to read this one first because I really enjoy stories with Jinn in them and because it’s also a perfect fit for Saudi Arabia for my Read Around the World challenge.

To start off, as this book was originally written in Arabic I am naturally reading a translation. The English translation is very well done and was a pleasure to read. I noticed a lot of reviews on GR in Arabic that complained about the language used however because I am not reading the Arabic version, this was never an issue to me so if those lower reviews put you off, run a few through Google Translate first as the majority of the issues were purely with the language.

I’m a big fan of Jinn in stories and so I was thrilled that this book was written from the perspective of a Jinn named Hawjan. Hawjan’s family home has recently become “haunted” by humans moving in to the area and so although his mother and grandfather move to the roof to escape them, Hawjan lingers in the room that used to be his which now belongs to Sawsan, a young medical student. Hawjan begins to grow close to Sawsan and when one of her friends brings an Ouija Board, he is excited to have the chance to communicate with her. The novel follows the story of their growing friendship and the challenges Hawjan faces in order to protect her from the much more dangerous Jinn.

The worldbuilding in this was excellent. I am unaware how much of it was based on myths and how much was the authors own imagination but the world that was described was brilliant and I loved the differences between the Jinn world and our own. One aspect in particular I liked was the fact that it mentioned that Jinn could be all sorts of different religions. Hawjan himself is a Muslim Jinn and descended from a Jinn that met the Prophet. This plays an important role in the story and it was very interesting to see supernatural characters be represented as also religious in a very natural fashion.

If you are looking to try reading some Fantasy/Sci-Fi in translation then this is an excellent place to start. It’s brilliant for #muslimshelfspace and if you’re looking to expand your horizons and read books from other countries then it’s a great pick. Even then, if you’re simply looking for a nice enjoyable story then I highly recommend this. I could barely put it down and managed to finish it very quickly as I enjoyed it so much.

Book Review – This Savage Song by V.E Schwab

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Kate Harker and August Flynn’s families rule opposite ends of Verity, a grisly metropolis where violent acts summon real monsters: bloodsucking Malchai; clawing Corsai; and soul-stealing Sunai. The truce that keeps the families at peace is crumbling, and August is sent to spy on Kate. But when Harker’s men try to kill her and pin it on the Flynns, August and Kate find themselves running from both sides, in a city where monsters are real…

Review:

A lot of people I follow are huge fans of V.E. Schwab and so she’s been on my to-read list for ages. I finally picked up this book during a sale on Amazon as I mistakenly thought it was a stand-alone novel and thought it would be a great introduction. Alas, I was wrong about it not being part of a series but it certainly was a great choice for a good introduction as I ended up loving it.

I’m a sucker for worldbuilding and this dystopian city split in half and stalked by monsters was something that fascinated me. The idea of actions actually having consequences and creating monsters is a fantastic idea and V.E. Schwab develops it really well in this novel. Indeed, I was rather disappointed actually that we didn’t get to spend more time learning about the world as it was brilliant although hopefully there will be more of that in the next book!

The characters though, the characters are where it really shines. You have your classic guy and girl from opposing sides meet and sparks fly, but in this case it seems purely a platonic friendship which I really enjoyed reading about. I’m really hoping that their relationship remains platonic in the next book as the lack of an awkward romantic subplot is what appealed to me most about the book. The rest of the characters are all excellent too and again I’m hoping we get to see more of them in the second book.

I’m not going to say much about the plot because I went into this book completely blind knowing nothing about the plot and adored it, and so I would like people reading this review to be able to have that same experience.

I definitely recommend this book, although I doubt I really need to do that given how many people I know who adore V.E. Schwab. Fun fact – she almost lived with my boyfriend quite a few years ago but they ended up choosing somebody else instead as their flatmate!

Book Review – Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation is the first anthology to broadly collect solarpunk short fiction, artwork, and poetry. A new genre for the 21st Century, solarpunk is a revolution against despair. Focusing on solutions to environmental disasters, solarpunk envisions a future of green, sustainable energy used by societies that value inclusiveness, cooperation, and personal freedom. 

Edited by Phoebe Wagner and Brontë Christopher Wieland, Sunvault focuses on the stories of those inhabiting the crucial moments when great change can be made by people with the right tools; stories of people living during tipping points, and the spaces before and after them; and stories of those who fight to effect change and seek solutions to ecological disruption.

Review:

I’m a huge fan of Solarpunk, I really enjoy the aesthetics of it and so when I saw this anthology I knew I just had to get it. I consider myself very lucky to have received a copy of the ARC and it’s a book that took me a while to get through as I wanted to savour each story.Firstly,

Firstly, this is not just a collection of short stories. Poems and art also feature in this collection and so for that reason I would recommend a physical edition if possible. My Kindle is rather old and in black and white and so I was not able to fully appreciate the artwork although hopefully it’ll look better on newer Kindles. I’m also not a fan of reading poetry on Kindles as I feel the layout of the page is very important and I just prefer having it in physical form.

As this is a collection, I don’t want to discuss any of the pieces in too much detail as I feel that as with any collection, everybody will have different likes and dislikes and so if I focus on what I enjoyed, it might put some people off due to having different tastes. I will say that the stories covered a wide range of scenarios and I adored seeing all the futures that the authors had imagined. One in particular, involved living in shuttles in different layers of the atmosphere, was a setting I particularly enjoyed.

Indeed, I feel that the only complaint I can have about this book is that it has left me with a huge hunger for more Solarpunk stories which I know is going to be difficult to fill. If you know any, I would be more than happy to receive recommendations from you!

Anyway, this is a collection that I highly, highly recommend to anybody who enjoys Sci-Fi or is interested in Solarpunk. If you don’t know what Solarpunk is, then I highly recommend reading up on it because it’s by far one of my favourite genres and leads to some incredibly beautiful artwork.

August Wrap-Up 2017

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It’s wrap-up time again already! Again, this one is a bit late because I’ve been very busy with work and my spare time has been spent applying for new jobs as my contract ends this month. However, that does mean I’m about to have a lot of free time again so I can focus a lot more on this blog and on catching up on all my review copies!

For those that don’t know, I live in Edinburgh and in August the city literally doubles in size and we have a whole bunch of festivals taking place.  That means I have a lot of fun seeing lots of strange and fun shows (one was literally just a guy playing Mario Maker and it was brilliant) but not so much time for reading or posting. Still, despite all that I managed to read a total of 10 books so I’m rather pleased about that.

So, here are the books!

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I’m quite pleased with the books I read last month as I feel I managed to stay quite diverse even with just 10 books and I managed to get several books off my to-read list. I’ve reviewed a couple of these books already, and I plan on reviewing quite a few of the rest soon so those should be up throughout this month.

For those who regularly read my blog, you’ll notice I’ve stopped doing the “Down the TBR hole” tag as I felt that I’d got rid of quite a lot and I was getting too obsessed with getting it to a low number that I wasn’t adding new books to it. So, I’m taking a break from it and increasing my TBR again with all the wonderful books I see other bloggers reviewing and discussing.

So, I hope everybody else had a great August and got more reading done than me! My goal this month is to catch up on all the review copies I have so I shall mostly be focusing on that which means lots of Sci-Fi and Fantasy reviews coming up!

Book Review – Iraq +100 ed. by Hassan Blasim

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Iraq + 100 poses a question to ten Iraqi writers: what might your country look like in the year 2103 – a century after the disastrous American- and British-led invasion, and 87 years down the line from its current, nightmarish battle for survival? How might the effects of that one intervention reach across a century of repercussions, and shape the lives of ordinary Iraqi citizens, or influence its economy, culture, or politics? Might Iraq have finally escaped the cycle of invasion and violence triggered by 2003 and, if so, what would a new, free Iraq look like? 

Covering a range of approaches – from science fiction, to allegory, to magic realism – these stories use the blank canvas of the future to explore the nation’s hopes and fears in equal measure. Along the way a new aesthetic for the ‘Iraqi fantastical’ begins to emerge: thus we meet time-travelling angels, technophobic dictators, talking statues, macabre museum-worlds, even hovering tiger-droids, and all the time buoyed by a dark, inventive humour that, in itself, offers hope.

Review:

First I’d like to thank Macmillan-Tor for the ARC of this book. It had been on my to-read list for a while as it looked perfect for my Read Around the World challenge and so when I saw it was being re-released I jumped at the chance to get an ARC.

This is a collection of short stories all set 100 years in the future and all written by Iraqi authors and translated by a variety of translators. It’s incredibly fascinating to see all the different ideas they have about what Iraq will be like in the future as they are all so different and varied – and I found it amusing that quite a few all ended up with the same ideas for the US.

Because it’s a collection of short stories, it’s naturally hard to discuss too much without spoiling them but I will say that I really enjoyed all the stories in this collection. Some were definitely stronger than others, but they were all excellent and it was very refreshing to read about Iraq from the perspectives of those who live there themselves rather than from a Western perspective.

This book is a perfect choice for those wanting to read more Muslim authors and I’m very pleased to use it as my pick for Iraq on my Around the World challenge. There is also a fantastic introduction to the collection which discusses the literary scene in Iraq which was very interesting.