Book Review – An Oath of Dogs by Wendy N Wagner

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Kate Standish has been on Huginn less than a week and she s already pretty sure her new company murdered her boss. But extractions corporations dominate the communities of the forest world, and few are willing to threaten their meal tickets to look too closely at corporate misbehaviour. The little town of mill workers and farmers is more worried about the threat of eco-terrorism and a series of attacks by the bizarre, sentient dogs of this planet, than a death most people would like to believe is an accident. When Standish connects a secret chemical test site to a nearly forgotten disaster in Huginn’s history, she reveals a conspiracy that threatens Standish and everyone she’s come to care about.

Review:

I received this as an e-Arc from the publisher as I’m a big fan of Angry Robot and as soon as I saw the cover for this, I just had to read it. It’s a sci-fi novel set on the planet Huginn which is earth-like but with very different native flora and fauna. Kate arrives to find her boss dead and so she slowly tries to figure out what happened as she learns more about the society which compromises mill workers and a group of religious people called Believers.

Kate’s story is also interspersed with entries from the diary of one of the Believers back when they first settled on the planet and these are very fascinating as one aspect of Sci-Fi that I love is the early settler period where they are discovering all the differences from earth and trying to figure out how to make a living on the planet.

The characters are all fantastic and I just adore Kate. She has a service dog, Hattie, who is by far one of my favourite characters because I adore dogs. I’m breaking my no-spoilers policy here to mention that Hattie does not die. I spent a lot of the book worrying about that and I would have enjoyed it much more if I’d known that going in, and I also know that some people might not want to read it unless they had that guarantee so don’t worry – the dog lives! The other characters are all very interesting too and the Believers in particular are very interesting to read about – especially as you slowly learn more of their history through the diary.

I really enjoyed this novel, it’s exactly the kind of Sci-Fi that I adore with strange alien biology, stories of settlers trying to make a living and it has an adorable dog in it. I would definitely recommend this novel to those that enjoy Sci-Fi as it’s just excellent and I can’t wait for it to be released to I can make my friends read it.

Book Review – Godblind by Anna Stephens

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Fantasy’s most anticipated debut of the year

There was a time when the Red Gods ruled the land. The Dark Lady and her horde dealt in death and blood and fire.

That time has long since passed and the neighbouring kingdoms of Mireces and Rilpor hold an uneasy truce. The only blood spilled is confined to the border where vigilantes known as Wolves protect their kin and territory at any cost.

But after the death of his wife, King Rastoth is plagued by grief, leaving the kingdom of Rilpor vulnerable.

Vulnerable to the blood-thirsty greed of the Warrior-King Liris and the Mireces army waiting in the mountains…

GODBLIND is an incredible debut from a dazzling new voice of the genre.

Review:

I received an e-ARC of this from the publishers and I was quite excited due to it being marketed as Fantasy’s most anticipated debut of the year and the title just grabbed me. It’s also exciting as it’s a Grimdark novel written by a women when up until now, most of the well-known Grimdark authors were men.

The story itself is told through a variety of POV characters spread throughout the kingdoms of Rilpor and Mireces. We have characters from both kingdoms although it’s made very clear which characters are “good” and which are not. The chapters in the book are very short, jumping around a lot between all the characters which was slightly difficult at first as it didn’t give much time to get used to a character before jumping away to yet another one, however as you get deeper this lets you progress much faster and I definitely fell into the “just one more chapter” trap multiple times. It also means that if you’re not a fan of a particular character then you don’t have to spend ages with them until you get back to a chapter of your favourite.

The characters themselves are all excellent and well-written and I adored seeing their growth throughout the novel. In particular, my two favourite characters are Rillirin and Crys as they really grow throughout the novel.

I won’t say too much about the plot because part of the enjoyment came from it slowly being revealed and constant twists that made it very hard to predict what would happen next but it was very enjoyable.

The writing is excellent and very descriptive – I was able to really picture many of the locations mentioned and the world building was excellent – I very much enjoyed learning about the various Gods in the world and their goals. The book is almost 500 pages long however it doesn’t feel long at all and I just sped through the second half of the book.

The one thing that disappointed me was that this is the first in a series which wasn’t made clear when I requested it. I feel if I’d known that, I would have given it a higher rating as I would have read it differently. However, I still really enjoyed it and will definitely be picking up the rest of her books when they come out.

I would definitely recommend this book to any fans of Grimdark Fantasy, particularly those wanting Grimdark with strong and well-written female characters. Because it’s Grimdark, there is obviously a lot of gruesome aspects involved and so I need to include trigger warnings for rape, torture and violence.

Book Review – So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ

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Goodreads Synopsis:

It is not only the fact that this is the most deeply felt presentation of the female condition in African fiction that gives distinction to this novel, but also its undoubted literary qualities, which seem to place it among the best novels that have come out of our continent. – West Africa

This novel is a perceptive testimony to the plight of articulate women who live in social milieux dominated by attitudes and values that deny them their proper place. It is a sequence of reminiscences, some wistful, some bitter, recounted by a recently widowed Senegalese school teacher. The letter, addressed to an old friend, is a record of her emotional struggle for survival after her husband’s abrupt decision to take a second wife. Although his action is sanctioned by Islam, it is a calculated betrayal of his wife’s trust and a brutal rejection of their life together.

Review:

So this is another book I picked up for my “Read Around the World” challenge, this time from Senegal! It’s a very short novel and so was a very quick read but it was very powerful and incredibly interesting and I feel I learnt a lot about Senegal through reading it.

The book takes the form of letters, and I really enjoy epistolary novels when they’re written well, which this book certainly is. Ramatoulaye’s husband, Modou, has just died and so she has entered the mourning period and discussing this with her friend in a lot of detail and including information about how she dealt with being a co-wife and being abandoned by her husband for a younger woman.

The characters in this novel are all excellent and very well-written. I really loved Ramatoulaye and found myself hooked to find out more of what was happening in her life. The book mentions several other strong female characters and given the time that this book was written, it’s excellent to see how well they are represented and you can really see how strongly the author feels about the role of women in Senegal.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novella and would definitely recommend it as I feel it’s so short and so fascinating that anybody that wants to broaden their reading should give it a go because it doesn’t take long at all to finish it and it was such a rewarding experience.

Book Review – Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton

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Goodreads Synopsis:

A tale of love, money, and family conflict – among Dragons.

A family deals with the death of their father.
A son goes to court for his inheritance.
Another son agonises over his father’s deathbed confession.
One daughter becomes involved in the abolition movement, while another sacrifices herself for her husband.


And everyone in the tale is a dragon, red in tooth and claw. Here is a world of politics and train stations, of churchmen and family retainers, of courtship and country houses… in which, on the death of an elder, family members gather to eat the body of the deceased. In which the great and the good avail themselves of the privilege of killing and eating the weaker children, which they do with ceremony and relish, growing stronger thereby. You have never read a novel like Tooth and Claw.

Review:

I picked up this book for the “Fantasy of Manners” square on Fantasy Bingo due to a number of recommendations I saw for it and I am so glad I did because I adored this book. I am already a big fan of dragons and always excited to read new books including dragons but this just takes everything to a whole new level with the fantastic worldbuilding and characters.

The novel follows the story of the children of Bon Agornin who passes away at the start of the book. The two younger daughters have to deal with being separated and worry about making good matches while one son is enraged by the behaviour of his brother-in-law regarding the inheritance and so takes him to court. This novel is very Victorian in feeling and I loved all the little glimpses we saw of the dragon society including things such as the importance of wearing the right sort of hat, or that of how the female dragon skin colour changes when she is close with a male. Each character has their own focus and I just couldn’t put the book down as all of them were so compelling to read.

The writing in this is lovely and I felt myself being carried away into their world and unable to put the book down. I’m incredibly happy I read this and I’m already looking to read more of Jo Walton’s books because of how much I adored this. Words cannot express just how much I recommend this book, and due to the heavy Victorian themes I feel it is a novel that even those that aren’t fans of Fantasy will enjoy. If you’re doing the Fantasy Bingo, you should definitely check this out for one of your squares. I’m tempted to read a couple more Fantasy of Manners book now though given how much I enjoyed this one.

The Bailey’s Prize Shortlist

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It’s finally here! Today the winner of the 2017 Bailey’s Prize will be announced and I don’t envy the judges having to make such a tough decision.

This is the first time that I’ve read the entire shortlist for a prize and I really enjoyed the experience. I decided to read an entire shortlist as part of my goal to expand my reading more and as one personal goal is to read more books written by women, the Bailey’s Prize made perfect sense.

So! What are the books shortlisted and what did I think of them all?

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The Power by Naomi Alderman was the final book I read as I was unable to get a copy from my library for quite a while. However, it seems I saved the best for last as I adored it. This is definitely my pick for the winner!

Read my review of it here.

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First Love by Gwendoline Riley was one of the first few I read due to the fact it’s a very slim novel and doesn’t take long to read. However, as brilliant as the writing is for this book, I found it rather distressing to read at some points due to how realistic the portrayal of an abusive relationship was. Of course, my discomfort is a sign of how powerful her prose is and so even though it was my least favourite, I could still recognise this as a very strong book.

Read my review of it here.

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Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien is a multi-generational story of two families from China following them through the civil war up to the present day. The history of China is shown through the characters who live through it and it is very educational for those who do not know much about Chinese history. I feel I learnt a lot from this novel and was constantly hooked wanting to find out the next section of each character’s story.

Read my review of it here.

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Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ was the first of the shortlist that I read due to receiving an ARC of it earlier in the year. At the time I read it, I adored it and found it a very powerful story and so I was not at all surprised to see that it had made the shortlist. If this won, I wouldn’t be surprised at all and until I read The Power, this was definitely my favourite to win.

Read my review of it here.

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The Dark Circle by Linda Grant is a novel that from the blurb, did not appeal to me at all. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the story and although it is very slow paced, it has delightful characters that I was more than happy to read about in great detail and I thoroughly enjoyed both their journey and the portrayal of sanitariums during the period of their decline.

Read my review of it here.

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The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan was the largest of all the shortlist and so I put it off for a while due to it’s daunting size. I found the beginning rather slow as I was not invested in any of the characters and I’m not a fan of this type of novel. However, as I read further I became more attached and although I have no interest in horse racing or breeding, I was able to enjoy the narrative and the beautiful writing. I am ultimately glad I read it, and although I can recognise why it was nominated, it just was not something I personally enjoy.

Read my review of it here.

 


 

That’s all the books! The winner will be announced tonight and I’m very excited to see who it is. I also definitely plan on repeating this next year with the 2018 shortlist, and might even attempt to read the longlist if I have enough time.

Have you read any of the novels shortlisted? What did you think? What was your favourite and what book do you think will win?

Book Review – Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

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Goodreads Synopsis:

In Canada in 1991, ten-year-old Marie and her mother invite a guest into their home: a young woman who has fled China in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square protests.

Her name is Ai-Ming. As her relationship with Marie deepens, Ai-Ming tells the story of her family in revolutionary China, from the crowded teahouses in the first days of Chairman Mao’s ascent, to the Shanghai Conservatory in the 1960s and the events leading to the Beijing demonstrations of 1989.

It is a history of revolutionary idealism, music, and silence, in which three musicians, the shy and brilliant composer Sparrow, the violin prodigy Zhuli, and the enigmatic pianist Kai struggle during China’s relentless Cultural Revolution to remain loyal to one another and to the music they have devoted their lives to. Forced to re-imagine their artistic and private selves, their fates reverberate through the years, with deep and lasting consequences for Ai-Ming – and for Marie.

Written with exquisite intimacy, wit and moral complexity, Do Not Say We Have Nothing magnificently brings to life one of the most significant political regimes of the 20th century and its traumatic legacy, which still resonates for a new generation. It is a gripping evocation of the persuasive power of revolution and its effects on personal and national identity, and an unforgettable meditation on China today.

Review:

This is another of the novels shortlisted for the Bailey’s Prize and I was quite intrigued as it is set in China telling the story of several generations covering important events in recent Chinese history such as that of the Cultural Revolution and includes events such as that of Tiananmen Square.

First and foremost, I found the book incredibly educational into a culture and history that I knew little about. By following the experiences of the characters, it helped bring the history alive in a way that non-fiction can’t really do and managed to cover a large and complex period of time in a way that was easy and compelling to read.

I was very interested in all of the characters that we follow throughout the story and was very intrigued to learn the connections between the families of Ai-Ming and Marie. Music also plays a very strong role in the novel, with many of the characters being musicians or composers and it references a lot of musical pieces. I do not know much about classical music, however this novel really made me want to expand my knowledge of it and if music didn’t distract me, I would have played the pieces mentioned while reading.

I definitely recommend this novel and have chosen to use it for China in my “Around the World” reading challenge as I feel it fits perfectly.

Book Review – The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Hellsmouth, a wilful thoroughbred filly, has the legacy of a family riding on her.

The Forges: one of the oldest and proudest families in Kentucky; descended from the first settlers to brave the Wilderness Road; as mythic as the history of the South itself – and now, first-time horse breeders.

Through an act of naked ambition, Henry Forge is attempting to blaze this new path on the family’s crop farm. His daughter, Henrietta, becomes his partner in the endeavour but has desires of her own. When Allmon Shaughnessy, an African American man fresh from prison, comes to work in the stables, the ugliness of the farm’s history rears its head. Together through sheer will, the three stubbornly try to create a new future – one that isn’t determined by Kentucky’s bloody past – while they mould Hellsmouth into a champion.

The Sport of Kings has the force of an epic. A majestic story of speed and hunger, racism and justice, this novel is an astonishment from start to finish.

Review:

So this is the final Bailey’s Prize shortlisted book I had left to review! It was actually the second last one I read but I adored The Power so much that I just had to review it first. Anyway, this was the book that I was least looking forward to reading because I have absolutely no interest in horse riding and it was described as a “Great American Novel” which I’m also not a huge fan of. Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised and ended up enjoying the book even though it’s definitely not something I would have chosen to read if not for my goal of reading the entire shortlist.

As the synopsis says, the story follows Henry Forge as he inherits his family farm and turns to horse breeding. We start off with Henry as a child and follow both him and his family through the struggles that face them in their goal of the ultimate racehorse.

This is a very slow book, focusing heavily on the characters themselves and their growth and so it took me a while to get into it due to not being that interested in them. However, once I grew fond of the characters, I found it much harder to put down as I wanted to keep reading and find out how they would manage and how Hellsmouth would do in the races.

It is quite a large novel, however don’t let that put you off as it’s a very rewarding read. I would definitely recommend this novel, as I would with most of the shortlisted books for the Bailey’s Prize. I can see this book winning, although personally it would not be the one I would choose to win. I’ve also chosen to use this for the USA for my Around the World challenge as I feel it’s a very good representation of America.

Book Review – Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran

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Goodreads Synopsis:

The world knows Madame Tussaud as a wax artist extraordinaire . . . but who was this woman who became one of the most famous sculptresses of all time? In these pages, her tumultuous and amazing story comes to life as only Michelle Moran can tell it. The year is 1788, and a revolution is about to begin.

Review:

For those that have read my “Down the TBR Hole” posts, you’ll recognise this as one of the books I chose to request from the library in order to finally get it off my TBR list (it’d been on there since 2011!). I’m super grateful that I started doing that challenge as I ended up loving this book and I probably would never have got around to reading it if not for that.

So as is very obvious, this is a historical fiction novel focusing on that of Madame Tussaud, or Marie Grosholtz as she is known for the majority of the novel. The main focus however is less on Marie and more on that of the French Revolution. Marie’s story is entwined with that of the revolution as her family straddle both sides for as long as possible and Marie’s main focus is less on the revolution and more on her wax models.

Marie is a fun character to read as I’m not actually a huge fan of her and found myself disliking a lot of the decisions she made but to me, that is a mark of good characterisation as I still wanted to read more about her. This novel is also very informative and I feel I’ve learnt a lot about the French Revolution that I didn’t know before. There are a lot of historical notes at the end and it also mentions aspects that weren’t included too so although it’s not strictly accurate, it’s still accurate enough to give me a very brief overview of the events as this is a period of history I’ve not studied that much.

Reading this novel also really made me want to go to Paris and to visit Versailles as the descriptions are just fascinating. I’ve been to Paris before and so was able to picture quite a few of the settings which I feel greatly helped my enjoyment of the novel.

I’m a big fan of Michelle Moran’s books and so would definitely recommend this to fans of historical fiction. I’m really glad I finally read it, and now I plan on getting some non-fiction about the French Revolution because of how fascinating I found it.

Book Review – The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett

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Goodreads Synopsis:

In a breathtakingly vivid and emotionally gripping debut novel, one woman must confront the emptiness in the universe—and in her own heart—when a devastating virus reduces most of humanity to dust and memories.

All Jamie Allenby ever wanted was space. Even though she wasn’t forced to emigrate from Earth, she willingly left the overpopulated, claustrophobic planet. And when a long relationship devolved into silence and suffocating sadness, she found work on a frontier world on the edges of civilization. Then the virus hit…

Now Jamie finds herself dreadfully alone, with all that’s left of the dead. Until a garbled message from Earth gives her hope that someone from her past might still be alive.

Soon Jamie finds other survivors, and their ragtag group will travel through the vast reaches of space, drawn to the promise of a new beginning on Earth. But their dream will pit them against those desperately clinging to the old ways. And Jamie’s own journey home will help her close the distance between who she has become and who she is meant to be…

Review:

I received a copy of this from Netgalley to review based just on the “ragtag group of survivors” because I love books centered around that and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. I started reading this book before going to bed, and I didn’t put it down until I’d finished it because I was enjoying it so much!

The plot follows Jamie and the group of survivors she ends up with that include a former priest, a prostitute, the captain of a ship and an autistic boy. Along their travels they meet other groups of survivors until they eventually reach their final destination.

Obviously, in a book like this, the main focus is going to be on the characterisation and the interactions between the characters. They were all fantastic and I really enjoyed the tensions between them at times. However, the character I’m going to focus on for this review is Finn. Finn is an autistic boy and I adore him. He is written very well and at no point is he ever treated as a joke, most of the characters accept him the way he is (one doesn’t, but she’s not happy with most of the survivors). I was just so happy to see a positive representation, and see how the crew were just so accepting. At one point, Jamie gets very upset because he’s wandered off without telling her but she doesn’t yell or shout at him and the captain just calmly goes “Hey, tell us next time okay?”. Another survivor that we meet briefly is also very likely to be Aromantic and Asexual based on the conversation she had with Jamie and again, she was portrayed in a positive manner, perfectly happy the way she was and the situation she was in. These positive representations just made me love the novel even more and just made me feel so happy to read.

The worldbuilding is something that we don’t see much of, because it’s focusing mostly on the characters. We get a small glimpse at the history that involves forced emigration from Earth based on social classes and we see a couple different planets. What we do see is certainly very interesting and because of the nature of the book, it’s something that isn’t as important. One thing the book doesn’t address is how they travel through space, other than a mention of needing fuel, but as it’s a very character-based novel this lack of information isn’t that important as it doesn’t relate to the plot.

I don’t want to say too much more, because part of the enjoyment was just being along for the journey and so it’s best to go in knowing as little as possible.

I would highly, highly recommend this novel as I was just so charmed by it and any book that keeps me up until 3am reading deserves to be recommended! I enjoyed this book so much I’m planning on buying a physical copy when it comes out so I can force my friends to read it.

Book Review – Inside Job by Connie Willis

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Professional debunker Rob, proprietor of the Jaundiced Eye magazine, considers himself incredibly lucky to have Kildy as his sole employee. Smart, dedicated, gorgeous, and, thanks to her last movie before she hung up on Hollywood, rich, she’s a pleasure to oblige when she says Rob has to witness this channeler Ariaura’s act–on her, not the Eye’s, nickel–despite channelers being so last year. It’s quite a show, all right, for in the midst of Ariaura’s particular ancient wise guy’s basso spiel, a gravelly baritone interrupts (both voices emanate from the channeler’s female mouth) to berate the audience as “yaps” and the act as “claptrap.”

Why is Ariaura undermining herself? Or is she? After all, she angrily accuses Rob and Kildy of scheming to destroy her. Could the baritone belong to a genuine channeled spirit?

Willis, one of sf’s most spirited writers, rounds on the New Age; pays tribute to a great, skeptical journalist; and affectionately parodies pulp fiction at its best in this irresistible entertainment.

Review:

This is a charming novella that I got in the Humble Nebula Bundle and if it’s a reflection of the quality of the rest of the books in the Bundle then I’m very excited as I absolutely adored this.

The novella follows Rob and Kildy as they work on debunking Ariaura’s channeling act. However, during her show she starts channelling a negative spirit which Rob identifies as Mencken, who was a famous skeptic. They are puzzled as to why she would choose to channel him and why she is also accusing them of destroying her. Rob does research into Mencken in order to try and catch Ariaura out in a lie.

The three main characters are excellent and I really enjoyed reading the interactions between them as they work to expose Ariaura. The setting was excellent and I was hooked from the start and read the entire book in one sitting as I really enjoyed the writing.

I would highly recommend this novella, it’s a great fun and short Fantasy read that won’t take much time but is very rewarding. I’m definitely also going to be checking out more of her work now!