Book Review – Familiar Things by Hwang Sok-yong

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Seoul. On the outskirts of South Korea’s glittering metropolis is a place few people know about: a vast landfill site called Flower Island. Home to those driven from the city by poverty, is it here that 14-year-old Bugeye and his mother arrive, following his father’s internment in a government ‘re-education camp’.

Living in a shack and supporting himself by weeding recyclables out of the refuse, at first Bugeye’s life on Flower Island is hard. But then one night he notices mysterious lights around the landfill. And when the ancient spirits that still inhabit the island’s landscape reveal themselves to him, Bugeye’s luck begins to change – but can it last?

Vibrant and enchanting, Familiar Things depicts a society on the edge of dizzying economic and social change, and is a haunting reminder to us all to be careful of what we throw away.

Review:

So, I recently got back from a short trip to Seoul and so naturally it was the perfect opportunity to read a book from South Korea for my “Read Around the World” challenge. I picked this book simply because it was also set in Seoul and was short enough I’d be able to read it while on my trip without taking away too much time from exploring.

Although the book is set on a trash island near Seoul, there is very little focus on Seoul itself and indeed could be set almost anywhere. You only know it’s Seoul due to the references to Korean culture which gives the story a certain charm.

The plot of the story is very simple, Bugeye and his mother have moved to Flower Island where she works as a trash picker and the story follows Bugeye as he adapts to his new living situation. However, the simplicity is what makes this story so magical – we’re reading about some people who were down on their luck and how they cope with their new life. There is some magic in the book with spirits that Bugeye meets and this, along with the new friends he meets, helps him grow.

This story was not what I was expecting, but it was delightful all the same. It’s a simple yet charming story that is beautifully written (and beautifully translated) and was an absolute joy to read.

If you’re looking for a short read to diversify your reading then this is definitely a book I’d recommend. If you’re looking for exciting fast-paced novels it’s probably not for you, but I’d suggest giving it a chance anyway, the slow relaxed pace is very enjoyable.

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Book Review – Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summers ed. by Sarena Ulibarri

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Solarpunk is a type of optimistic science fiction that imagines a future founded on renewable energies. The seventeen stories in this volume are not dull utopias—they grapple with real issues such as the future and ethics of our food sources, the connection or disconnection between technology and nature, and the interpersonal conflicts that arise no matter how peaceful the world is. In these pages you’ll find a guerilla art installation in Milan, a murder mystery set in a weather manipulation facility, and a world where you are judged by the glow of your solar nanite implants. From an opal mine in Australia to the seed vault at Svalbard, from a wheat farm in Kansas to a crocodile ranch in Malaysia, these are stories of adaptation, ingenuity, and optimism for the future of our world and others. For readers who are tired of dystopias and apocalypses, these visions of a brighter future will be a breath of fresh air.

Review:

I was very lucky to be offered an ARC of this straight from the editor due to the fact I previously reviewed Sunvault, another solarpunk collection of short stories. I leapt at the chance and read it straight away as I adore solarpunk and am always happy to read more of it.

Again, as this is a short story collection it’s hard to review because all the stories were so different. It was delightful to see all the different locations and interpretations used in the story. As seen in the blurb, the stories are set all across the globe, and some even venture into space. One particular story, The Spider and the Stars focuses on introducing insects to space and I really enjoyed that one despite hating spiders. Then again, I could just list the names of all the short stories as I enjoyed them all.

I particularly enjoyed the introduction which actually goes and lists other solarpunk books and short story collections for further reading which is so helpful as often when I mention that I enjoy solarpunk, I’ll get asked for recommendations. There isn’t a table of contents at the start which doesn’t bother me on my Kindle as I can easily skip through the stories, but in a physical edition that would disappoint me as I definitely see myself wanting to re-read certain stories again.

Overall though, this was a fantastic collection and it’s always brilliant to see more solarpunk collections out there. If you enjoy solarpunk or are interested in exploring it as a genre then this is an excellent place to start! I highly recommend this and hope more collections will be published in the future!

Book Review – Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Welcome to Mexico City… An Oasis In A Sea Of Vampires…

Domingo, a lonely garbage-collecting street kid, is busy eking out a living when a jaded vampire on the run swoops into his life.

Atl, the descendant of Aztec blood drinkers, must feast on the young to survive and Domingo looks especially tasty. Smart, beautiful, and dangerous, Atl needs to escape to South America, far from the rival narco-vampire clan pursuing her. Domingo is smitten.

Her plan doesn’t include developing any real attachment to Domingo. Hell, the only living creature she loves is her trusty Doberman. Little by little, Atl finds herself warming up to the scrappy young man and his effervescent charm.

And then there’s Ana, a cop who suddenly finds herself following a trail of corpses and winds up smack in the middle of vampire gang rivalries.

Vampires, humans, cops, and gangsters collide in the dark streets of Mexico City. Do Atl and Domingo even stand a chance of making it out alive?

Review:

When I was younger, I went through a Vampire phase and absolutely adored Buffy. I got my hands on any Vampire books I could find (I grew up in a small village before Twilight so there were not many). When Twilight came out, it led to an increase in Vampire novels but most of them all focused heavily on Romance which I’m not really a fan of.

This book though, this book is exactly what I wanted and I adored it. The main plot of the story focuses on Atl who is trying to escape a gang that killed her family and are now after her. It just so happens that Atl and the gang are both Vampires and so as the main focus of the plot is on Atl’s escape, there’s not much time for romance.

The worldbuilding in this book was absolutely fantastic. The vampires in this aren’t all one monolithic creature type, but instead, there are different varieties. Atl is a tlahuihpochtli, which is a Vampire indigenous to Mexico. The other Vampires we see in the novel are the Narcos and a Revenant which are Vampires that have arrived from Europe. I really enjoyed the fact that the author drew on different mythologies and had all these distinct versions of Vampires together in the same novel. The history of the world was also particularly interesting and I would love to read another book set in this world focusing on the discovery of Vampires and watching how the world changed into the world we see in this book.

The characters in this book were all fantastic and I don’t want to speak about them too much as part of the charm was slowly getting to know them more but suffice to say, they’re all very well written and very realistic – they all have their flaws, some more than others, and they all have their own motivations for their actions.

This was a very quick read as I got so engrossed I just didn’t want to put it down and if you’re a fan of Vampires then this book is ideal for you! The fact it’s set in Mexico City was also nice and refreshing (also makes it perfect for my Read Around the World challenge). I would highly recommend this novel and I’m definitely planning on reading more of the authors novels after this!

Book Review – Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Catherine Helstone’s brother, Laon, has disappeared in Arcadia, legendary land of the magical fae. Desperate for news of him, she makes the perilous journey, but once there, she finds herself alone and isolated in the sinister house of Gethsemane. At last there comes news: her beloved brother is riding to be reunited with her soon – but the Queen of the Fae and her insane court are hard on his heels.

Review:

I got this book as an ARC from Angry Robot last year and despite it looking amazing I just somehow never actually got around to reading it for ages. I’m quite glad I waited now as it means I can use it for the 2018 Fantasy Bingo challenge.

So, this book is set in the land of the fae, called Arcadia, and our main characters are a missionary and his sister. It’s set during the Victorian Era and Cathy, the main character, has set off to discover what has happened to her brother. While in Arcadia, she’s also trying to discover what happened to the previous missionary who disappeared.

Now, I adored this book almost from the very beginning due to one particularly excellent quote describing the location of Arcadia ‘It was said to be underground, but not. It overlaid our own, but not. It was another place, but not.” This is one of the best descriptions I’ve read for describing the magical “Otherworld” found in so many Celtic texts. I know the author is a medievalist, and all that knowledge has really helped bring the worldbuilding to life. In particular, the fact that the only way to find Arcadia is by getting lost is an aspect I really like – it reminds me a lot of the medieval Irish voyage tales where they get blown off course and then discover magical islands.

Our main character, Cathy, is brilliant and I fell in love with her. Due to the time period, as a woman, she naturally struggled with her place in society and so jumped at the chance to visit Arcadia. While in Arcadia, she stays at Gethsemane along with three intriguing characters – Mr Benjamin is a convert from the previous missionary, Ariel Davenport is a Changeling from London who serves as Cathy’s guide and finally, there is the mysterious Salamander. The majority of the book is set in Gethsemane surrounding the actions and conversations of these characters and I just loved it. We get snippets of Ariel’s life before she discovered she was a changeling, we get Mr Benjamin wanting to discuss Theology and how he fits into it as a fae and we get tiny snippets of Salamander. I was not so much a fan of Laon, but that’s mostly just because I loved Cathy so much. She adores Laon and I just kept thinking to myself “But Cathy, you’re so much better than him!”

The writing is brilliant and one aspect I adored was that the beginning of each chapter contains historical quotations, often adapted to be referring to the fae. I love it when novels do this as it’s another great glimpse into the worldbuilding that goes on, plus it was extra fun seeing which quotations were from authors I recognised from my own studies.

To conclude, this is a fantastic novel focusing on the Fae that has had an incredible amount of research put into it. If you’re looking for a Fae novel for the Fantasy Bingo then this is definitely a great pick. If you want a book set in the Victorian period but with fae? This is for you! Finally, if you strong worldbuilding and interesting characters, this is for you! Basically, I really love this book and would highly recommend it!

Book Review – The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

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Goodreads Synopsis:

THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS. AGAIN.

Three terrible things happen in a single day.

Essun, masquerading as an ordinary schoolteacher in a quiet small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Mighty Sanze, the empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years, collapses as its greatest city is destroyed by a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heartland of the world’s sole continent, a great red rift has been been torn which spews ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

But this is the Stillness, a land long familiar with struggle, and where orogenes — those who wield the power of the earth as a weapon — are feared far more than the long cold night. Essun has remembered herself, and she will have her daughter back.

She does not care if the world falls apart around her. Essun will break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

Review:

Firstly, I can’t believe how long it took me to finally get around to reading this series! It’s been on my TBR list for ages and I decided back in April last year that it was going to be my Bingo pick for the “Dying Earth” square and I just kept getting distracted. I’m so glad I finally read it though as it’s incredible.

The worldbuilding is fantastic, we get small snippets of information at the end of each chapter that I always love as they give us small glimpses of the world and its history. The first book is told through three POVs and rotates between them. There is Essun, the mother who is desperate to save her daughter, Syenite the Orogene who is to learn from a new mentor and Damaya a student studying at the Fulcrum which is where Orogenes are trained. Through each of their POVs you are able to get a glimpse at the world that the novel is set in. The three POVs also take place at different moments in history with Essun’s story being in the present day while the other two give you background information as to how the world ended up in this state.

The magic system, that of orogenes, is something that I really enjoy. I love interesting magic systems and although we don’t really find out too much about how it actually works it’s still fascinating and the parts that involve the use of orogeny are of particular interest to me.

Characterwise, the fact that Essun is a mother is something I really enjoyed. It’s rare to have a mother as the main character in a Fantasy novel and so that was a nice refreshing change. All of the characters are really well developed and their relationships with each other are brilliant. Several of the characters are also queer and have romances throughout the trilogy (I’m saying trilogy here as I can’t remember when some of them start, but there’s definitely at least one in the first book)

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and indeed I absolutely devoured the next two to complete the trilogy as I just couldn’t put it down. I would highly recommend this to any Fantasy fan, and to those doing Bingo it’s a perfect choice for the “Dying Earth” square. It’s also a great pick for anybody trying to read books by Black Authors for Black History Month and just an amazing book in general.

Book Review – Juniper Leaves by Jaz Joyner

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Kinky-haired blerd Juniper Bray used to believe in magic, until she lost her best friend: her grandmother. Now this 15-year-old shy girl is going on her dad’s research trip to a farm hundreds of miles away to stay with a family she barely knows and the opposite of a best friend, her new arch nemesis, Bree McKinney. Little does she know the next few months Juniper will discover magical powers she never knew she had, stumble into her first crush and well, quite frankly, save the world.

Juniper Leaves is a fantastical coming-of-age tale of a girl who learns to let go, live a little, and best of all, believe in herself — all by her sixteenth birthday.

Review:

So, I saw this recommended a few weeks ago on Twitter and just loved the name. I then saw the cover and adored it and since I was looking for a new Kindle Unlimited book it seemed perfect!

Juniper is an adorable “blerd” (black nerd) who is dealing with the recent loss of her grandmother. Her and her cousin, Breen, discover that they have magic powers and need to protect the Earth from enemies from a different plane of reality. The plot itself isn’t that complicated, it’s a rather standard “chosen one gets powers and saves the world” but well, something doesn’t have to be complicated to be good. I enjoyed the worldbuilding and the magic system, although not super fleshed out, was fun. It’s nice to have a light, fun story every now and then and this was definitely that.

What I was not such a big fan of though were the characters. That’s a lie, they’re actually all great but at the start, Juniper and Bree do not get on for what seems really ridiculous reasons. Juniper thinks Bree is awful and is incredibly rude to her and it just…doesn’t make sense. Thankfully once we get past this to where they start bonding, it’s much better. I think the fact that it’s in the first person didn’t help this part because we see Juniper’s thoughts and instead of helping us understand her reasoning, it just made me more annoyed at how she was treating Bree just because they’re not very similar.

As is obvious by the fact that Juniper is described as a “blerd”, the main character in this is Black. Not only that, but most of the other characters are her family and so are all also black. There’s also a f/f relationship that occurs later on in the book and so if you’re looking for something nice and diverse, this is definitely something to add to your TBR!

If you’re looking to read more books by black authors for Black History Month then I’d definitely recommend this as a nice light read. It’s good for those that enjoy Fantasy set in our world and I saw it recommended for those who enjoy “magical girl” stories.

Book Review – Waiting for the Machines to Fall Asleep ed. by Peter Öberg

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Goodreads Synopsis:

26 short stories from the new wave of Swedish speculative fiction writers.

Forget about cheap furniture, meatballs and crime fiction. Sweden has so much more to offer. Waiting for the Machines to Fall Asleep contains twenty-six stories from the new generation of Swedish writers of science fiction and the fantastic. Stories ranging from space horror and post-apocalyptic nightmares to tender dramas. Stories with steampunk horses, android uprisings and cheeky goblins. Stories that are action-packed, wise, silly, beautiful, surreal and horrifying.

Review:

So, for those that don’t follow me on Twitter, I recently got back from a holiday to Denmark with a short day-trip to Sweden and so naturally it seemed like the perfect time to try and find some Danish and Swedish SFF to read. Thanks to the fantastic SF in Translation website, I was able to find this gem and it was only 99p on Kindle so I just had to get it. Plus it means I can now cross off Sweden on my Read Around the World challenge! Hurrah!

Given that there are 26 stories in this anthology, it’s to be expected that some would be much better than others but I was pleasantly surprised by the consistently strong quality of all the stories. Indeed, although I liked some more than others they were all fantastic. The range of stories included was also fantastic from one focusing on AI (which lends its name to the title of the collection) to another focusing on interpreting wisdom from an ancient music player (Jump to the Left, Jump to the Right). They were all fantastic and as with any collection, it’s hard to talk about them all without writing thousands of words.

If you have an e-reader and like SFF then I strongly recommend this collection. It’s incredibly cheap (I mean seriously you’re paying less than 4p per story) and is definitely worth it.

Book Review – Fungi ed. by Orrin Grey and Silvia Moreno-Garcia

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Goodreads Synopsis:

A collection of fungal wonders…and terrors. In this new anthology, writers reach into the rich territory first explored by William Hope Hodgson a century ago: the land of the fungi. Stories range from noir to dark fantasy, from steampunk to body horror. Join authors such as Jeff VanderMeer, Laird Barron, Nick Mamatas, W.H. Pugmire, Lavie Tidhar, Ann K.Schwader, Jesse Bullington, Molly Tanzer and Simon Strantzas through a dizzying journey of fungal tales. Feast upon Fungi. 

Review:

I really enjoy Jeff Vandermeer’s weird fiction, especially that involving mushrooms, and so when I discovered an entire anthology based on Fungi I was incredibly intrigued. It’s a brilliant idea for a short story collection as there are so many interesting ways you can explore fungal fiction.

This collection started out very strong and there are some fantastic stories in it with ideas such as a fungi submarine and a house haunted by fungi although I was a bit let down at the very end which was a poem rather than a short story and I felt that it wasn’t the best way to end such a great collection. Perhaps if it had been midway it would have been a bit better, as it meant that my last memory of the anthology was somewhat meh despite the fact that for most of the collection I’d been loving it.

Despite the slightly weak ending, I was a big fan of most of these stories and am likely going to re-read some of them to write individual short-story reviews to highlight my favourites which I think I’m going to do in advance of future reviews of short story collections.

For those that are fans of weird fiction or want to read lots of bizarre fungal fiction then this is the anthology for you!

Book Review – River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

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Goodreads Synopsis:

In the early 20th Century, the United States government concocted a plan to import hippopotamuses into the marshlands of Louisiana to be bred and slaughtered as an alternative meat source. This is true.

Other true things about hippos: they are savage, they are fast, and their jaws can snap a man in two.

This was a terrible plan.

Contained within this volume is an 1890s America that might have been: a bayou overrun by feral hippos and mercenary hippo wranglers from around the globe. It is the story of Winslow Houndstooth and his crew. It is the story of their fortunes. It is the story of his revenge.

Review:

This book has been on my TBR for a while because well, who doesn’t want to read about mercenary hippo wranglers? However, I bumped it straight to the top when I saw somebody online complaining about it being “too diverse”. Now, that’s a ridiculous statement but it did let me know that the book was full of diverse characters which instantly made me way more interested in it.

The characters are brilliantly diverse which I absolutely adored as it was so refreshing. The main character, Winslow Houndstooth, is a queer non-white Englishman (his exact identity isn’t revealed but it is shown that he’s definitely not straight or white) and the rest of his crew are fantastic and equally diverse in many ways (including a black non-binary demolitions expert, a pregnant killer and a fantastic fat con-woman with a token white man to make them more respectable). It’s really hard picking a favourite character because they’re all so great although I definitely have a huge soft spot for Archie because it’s always nice seeing a fat woman represented positively.

The plot of the story revolves around a scheme to get rid of all the feral hippos from an area called The Harriet. Houndstooth has assembled a crew in order to do this and so the story follows them in their attempts to pull it off as Houndstooth method is likely not what the Government had in mind when they hired him.

I absolutely adored and devoured this book and went and got the second one straight away which I then stayed up all night reading as it’s just as brilliant as this one (I’d review it too but that would give away spoilers).

In short, this is a brilliant book with an extremely loveable cast of diverse characters and a fantastic adventure. I highly, highly recommend both it and the sequel as I can definitely see these being in my top books of 2018. They’re novellas too so both not too long and not too expensive either.

Book Review – The Pride of Chanur by C.J. Cherryh

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Goodreads Synopsis:

No one at Meetpoint Station had ever seen a creature like the Outsider. Naked-hided, blunt toothed and blunt-fingered, Tully was the sole surviving member of his company — a communicative, spacefaring species hitherto unknown — and he was a prisoner of his discoverer/ captors the sadistic, treacherous kif, until his escape onto the hani ship The Pride of Chanur.

Little did he know when he threw himself upon the mercy of The Pride and her crew that he put the entire hani species in jeopardy and imperiled the peace of the Compact itself. For the information this fugitive held could be the ruin or glory of any of the species at Meetpoint Station.

Review:

C.J. Cherryh had been recommended a lot recently on /r/Fantasy and so I decided to give some of her books a shot this year. I ended up picking the Chanur series simply because somebody said it was essentially “space cats” which really isn’t that far off.

Firstly, this story is your classic “first contact with aliens” except for the fact that the alien encountered, Tully, is the human which is a nice twist because all of the existing species in the novel are all very different from humans and so we’re seeing it from their point of view.

The worldbuilding in this is absolutely brilliant and so I’m definitely going to read more of her books in future as I absolutely adore it. So much detail has gone into everything and I particularly love the attention paid to linguistics in this book (I love languages) as it even mentions how the “hani language” spoken is that of the family that had first contact with the rest of the species of aliens (who together are known as “The Compact”). At one point in a later book, to ensure they aren’t understood, some of the characters speak a different Hani language and I appreciated this so much as so often aliens in books just have one single language and unless they’re hive-minds then that just isn’t very realistic.

The hani are the main species that we see as they’re the main characters and as mentioned, they’re pretty much space cats. They are essentially humanoid lions and their culture is very similar to that of lions where it’s the women who go off and are traders and explorers while the men stay at home.

The plot of the story revolves around protecting this stray human that has wandered onto their ship and ends up dealing with a lot of political intrigue. The plot isn’t the fastest or most exciting so if you’re looking for a fun space adventure, this isn’t it but it is a richly rewarding book so I still strongly recommend it.

As I’ve not read any of her other books, I can’t say whether this is the best series to begin with but if you enjoy strong worldbuilding and lots of politics then I strongly recommend it. I’m now onto the fourth book and should complete the entire series soon!

Also as a final note, the covers for these books are absolutely fantastic.  The cover for the second book is probably going to end up as one of my favourite covers of the year because it’s just that brilliant.