Giant Days: Volume One

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In rediscovering my love for the library, I’ve been trying to attend library programming that I think I’ll enjoy. To that end, a friend and I headed to a ‘book tasting’ at a local branch to discover new titles we might find intriguing.

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We both picked up the first volume of Giant Days, as it was slim and seemed like a fun choice.

It centers around three young women, Susan, Esther, and Daisy, who have just started at university and become friends in the process.

Daisy was homeschooled, and is quite naïve to the ways of the world. Esther is pale and lovely, and perhaps too interesting for her own good. Susan is the narrator, and in her own words is the common sense silo of the group – though she is perhaps more jaded than she lets on.

I found this to be a fast and enjoyable read. At times laugh-out-loud funny, it is the exact kind of mood lightening story that I needed at the time. This was predominantly a story of friendship. The girls tackle issues that come and go in uni: getting sick, making bets, finding love, avoiding old flames, drugs, and navigating the confusing tangle of academics and feelings.

The reader follows the girls as they learn what it is to live in the wider world. Actions have consequences, and while they’re generally funny in this book, Susan’s choices especially come back to eat at her a little more seriously.

The side characters McGraw, Ed, and Nadia were great as well. Just enough about them was said to make them interesting, and I’m looking forward to seeing them in future volumes.

The art was colorful and perfectly captured vivid facial and body expressions. The panels were laid out in a simple narrative fashion that suited the story.

The antics and depiction of the main characters will keep you entertained throughout this volume, and have you looking forward to the next one.

A solid choice for a fun read.

Have you read Giant Days? What was the last fun read you picked up? Let me know in the comments below!

Siege and Storm

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So immediately after I finished devouring Shadow and Bone, I practically ran to the library to pick up Siege and Storm. I was wary of this second book, but it exceeded all of my expectations.

This review contains spoilers from the first book.

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I devoured this book, eager to read more of Ravka, of Alina, and of the Darkling. I somehow loved this book even more than the first one.

After Alina and Mal’s escape at the end of Shadow and Bone, I was expecting this book to be one of those intermediate ‘on the run’ books, where the main characters are chased from place to place. Thankfully, this was not that book. It was so much better than that.

The Darkling surfaces with a new and horrifying power that ratchets up the fear and tension present throughout this entire novel. Though I was hoping he died in the Fold, he’s an extremely hateable villain and I admit that his personality and motives make him very compelling. His presence throughout this book was creepy and introduced a kind of doubt in Alina that makes her story even better.

I love Alina’s narrative. As someone who generally dislikes first person stories, Alina’s voice is a breath of fresh air. She reacts to things in ways that seem realistic to me. Her emotions aren’t contrived – and though they may not make sense to other characters, the reader really gets a great sense of who she is. After the events of the first book, she’s less trusting of others. Her love for Mal never wavers, but her relationships with Genya and the Darkling have affected her expectations and perceptions of him. Her character evolves in a way that is totally plausible.

All actions in this series clearly have consequences, and that was fantastic. The little insets of things the Darkling said in the first book were a nice touch that really illustrated that.

Sturmhond was introduced in this book – a Ravkan privateer with an interesting past and a loyal crew. His character turned out to be a favourite of mine. Without giving too much away, his big reveal was crazy but worked really well. I loved his inventive spirit, and his laisse-faire attitude. His patriotism was admirable, especially once you learn more of him.

I generally dislike when multiple potential love interests are introduced, but not here! The possibility for romance is not overt, but it’s suggested. Instead of a love triangle (or quadrangle), Alina is simply given choices.

In this book, readers see the rise of the cult of Sankta Alina, guided by the Apparat, who has gone into hiding. Pilgrims are everywhere, searching for the hope the Sun Summoner can bring them. The politics of Ravka are explored from up close, preparations for war taking center stage.

We get to see more of David, Baghra, and Genya, though their fates aren’t always pleasant or expected.

Without spoiling the whole novel, I thought this was a fantastic continuation of Shadow and Bone, and I’ve already started to read the final book in the trilogy. The world-building is deepened, characters become more complex, and relationships are wonderful and awful – as they can be in real life.

I really can’t overemphasize how much I’m enjoying this series.

What are your thoughts on Siege and Storm, or the Grisha Trilogy? Let me know in the comments below!

Shadow and Bone

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I’ll admit that I’m late to the party on this one, seeing that it was published five years ago and already has a sizeable fan base. As I was searching the library for a new read, the spine caught my eye. It and the cover are gorgeous, and I’m glad it stood out.

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Objectively, this book was standard YA fantasy fare. There’s a simple magic system with rather straightforward world-building. There’s a heroine in love with her best friend, but intrigued by a mysterious stranger.

Well, standard fantasy fare or not, I loved this book.

Some of it was Ravka, the setting that immediately called to mind the stark beauty and culture of Imperial Russia. Some of it was Alina’s voice, and her growth as a character. Maybe it was even the premise of someone discovering within themselves an incredible power that they hadn’t suspected was there, as overdone as that seems to be.

I enjoyed the side characters and their development as well. The Darkling, Baghra, and Genya had interesting storylines that I hope to see more of in the rest of the series.

I didn’t think I would like Alina’s feelings for Mal, but the way they were handled were realistic. I think I liked this book so much because I found people’s emotions and motivations so believable. The characters could have walked right off the page.

From the moment I picked up this book I was absolutely hooked. I was so immersed in the story that I couldn’t put it down. While I usually dislike first person narration, I didn’t find it to be irritating at all. Instead, Bardugo’s writing had me glued to every page.

Alina’s voice was clear and compelling. I was emotionally invested in her journey, in her self-discoveries, and in the friendships and relationships she forged throughout the book.

If you’re looking for a rather incredible take on a straight-up YA fantasy, this is the one for you! I’ve already begun reading the second book as we speak.

Have you read Shadow and Bone? Did you think it was too over-hyped? Did you love it like I did, or not like it at all? Let me know in the comments below!

Bad Memoir, Good Memoir

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I’m generally a fiction reader, but it so happened that I’ve started the year reading quite a bit of non-fiction, specifically memoirs. One I really enjoyed, and the other I really didn’t.

While reading, I couldn’t help but wonder what makes a good memoir. Do you have to like or empathize with the subject of the narrative? I don’t believe that’s necessary in every case. However, unlike a biography, there is no separation between the author and the story. They’re writing about their own lives, so if you have a personal problem with someone, best to stay away from their memoir!

Some people have very interesting lives, but aren’t good storytellers. If someone’s memoir is badly written its probably not worth the trouble – you might as well just read their Wikipedia page instead.

So, on to the mini reviews.

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Let me sum up The Hungry Years to save you the trouble of reading it. A man gains weight. The man has a problem with overeating, alcohol, and cocaine. It takes this man an entire book to come to the conclusion that his problems stem from a psychological place.

This was a rather tiring read, the author’s own loathing of his fat self brought up constantly. It is vaguely linear, with many inserts disturbing the timeline enough to be irritating. Are you telling me a story or regurgitating past interview and facts from other sources?

Honestly this book felt a lot like a self-pitying and self-loathing life story that I didn’t sign up to read. I was hoping for a deeper insight into overeating, but I certainly didn’t get it.

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On the other hand, A Three Dog Life was an immensely enjoyable read. It’s a small book that spans five years, the aftermath of an accident that changed lives. A man undergoes permanent brain trauma, and his wife learns how to live with it.

This is a sad, funny, and insightful read about coping with loss. It’s a book about learning to be happy with circumstances out of your control. Most of all, it’s a beautifully narrated story. The author’s voice is consistent and interesting – you just want to keep reading.

The narrative is linear, at times providing flashbacks to juxtapose the past with the present. Context is always given, and you’re never lost wondering what’s going on.

I would definitely recommend this memoir to anyone even remotely interested in the subject. It’s an unassuming little book that turned out to be absolutely wonderful.

Do you read memoirs? What are some of the best and the worst you’ve come across? What do you think makes a good memoir? Let me know in the comments below!

Son of a Trickster

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Last year, I read only one magical realism novel and I lamented the fact that I hadn’t found more. This year, I’m starting with one in the hopes that it will bring more my way! Wishful thinking, maybe, but it certainly can’t hurt.

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First, much thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for giving me the chance to read this fantastic book pre-publication!

Son of a Trickster will be published on February 7th, and it certainly fits the bleak tone of the month. Jared, the main character, is a teen with a damn hard life. With a grandmother who thinks he’s a trickster in disguise and a mom bouncing around with a drug-dealing boyfriend, things are certainly not rainbows and roses.

Here’s the thing though: it works. It works so incredibly well. This is the most realistic magical realism novel I’ve ever read. The characters seem like they could have walked out of any small town, and the stoner community and mindset were super accurate. People sometimes have hard lives. That’s just the way it is. It was a great change to read about such a realistic teen who is also such a good person.

I think it’s also worth noting that Jared is Native American, as are most of the characters in the book. So is the author herself – which makes this an #ownvoices read that I was happy to pick up. I rarely get to read YA with Native protagonists, which is really a shame.

Characters were complex and believable. Everyone is dealing with their own issues and they often complicate each other’s lives without even trying. Jared’s mom has a mantra that is often repeated throughout – and rings both true and false.

“The world is hard. You have to be harder.”

I’ll say right out that this isn’t the book for you if you take a critical view of underage swearing, drinking, drug use or sex. Maybe you should reconsider what you know of teenagers if you think their lives don’t include those things though.

I was interested to see how the magic would function as I expected it to stem from Indigenous beliefs, and I was pretty mesmerised by what was included. (Those otters, though. For real.) I’m really eager for more! The small hints of the fantastic are included from the very start, but they never overwhelm the narrative. The clear existence of a mystical world just sitting alongside our own was pretty shocking, but in the best possible way.

(Also – Jared’s reaction to weird shit (read: magic) was always spot on. A+ to that.)

Though there was a focus on the ‘realism’ aspect of this book, it was still steeped in magic, even when the characters were blitzed out of their minds. Despite their utter strangeness, the magical aspects of the book were totally believable. They were perhaps more believable because the reader is left to focus on the aspects themselves rather than the ‘why’ behind them.

The strange short interludes in italics were an interesting addition to the book, and a welcome one.

I was ultimately satisfied with the ending of the book when I took some time to mull it over. I learned that this is the first in a series, which means that the elements of magic that were briefly touched on may get more screen time in the next book.

I can’t wait to read more from Eden Robinson, and considering this book, I know that she won’t disappoint!

Can you recommend any great magical realism? Have you read any of Eden Robinson’s other books? Let me know in the comments below!

Archangel

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With a lot on my plate lately, it was sort of inevitable that I would fall into my comfort zone and re-read an old favourite rather than tackle the list of new to-reads that I have right now. Sometimes, you just need a bit of a mental break – and nothing but revisiting a world discovered ages ago will do.

However, since I’ve never written a review for this book, I thought it was about time.

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I discovered Archangel at a jumble sale at which you could fill bags and boxes with books for a pittance, and it was ages later that I read it. But in the tumble of abandoned classics, neglected YA, and trashy magazines, it stood out – and firmly cemented itself as a favourite.

Let me preface this by saying that I’m not a religious person. I have no overt complaints or problems with the institution of religion, but it hasn’t particularly called to me as an adult, nor have I sought it out.

Archangel then, may seem like a strange favourite.

It’s set on a world called Samaria, in which angels have holds in each region, mingle and mate with humans, and intercede with God on their behalf on issues of weather, health, and faith. It follows two main characters: Gabriel, who is slated to become the next Archangel (leader of the angel host), and Rachel, the woman who is chosen by God to become his wife, and thus, the next Angelica.

Gabriel is a stubborn man, determined that his term as Archangel will bring many changes for the better. Rachel is perhaps even more stubborn, though also more prideful, and much of her story is of trying to find her place and come to terms with the new life that she is expected to lead. They’re often frustrating characters to read about, but I was so emotionally invested in their story that I would plough through even when discontent.

This book is a simple read. It’s filled with faith, and it’s also filled with singing. Music is a central theme in the story simply because its how the characters communicate with God. The descriptions of music made me wish that I was more gifted with melodies, and it was easy to hear the lovely songs in my head as I was reading.

Though the story is that of two people brought together to wed, it isn’t precisely a love story. Rather, it’s a tale of pride, stubbornness, evil, and curiosity. The cast of characters is diverse, with various personalities coming together to form a very believable tapestry – even considering that some are angels.

Because I have read several other books in the series, I know that the stories of some are mentioned in passing in the narrative, which was a fun little surprise. For that same reason, I’m also aware that this book is not, in fact, a theological novel. While it deals with faith, with God, and with angels, its actually a science fiction novel, which makes it that much more brilliant. While you won’t get the full effect (or any of it, really) if you don’t read the other novels, the truths and stories revealed in the later books made me love this book even more.

This first novel in the series of Samaria books sets in place the world that is built upon in the later novels without going into so much detail that it becomes tedious.

In short, if you’re looking for a quick read that includes angels, a campaign for human rights, and a super awkward duo getting married, this is the one for you.

Invisible Planets: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese SF in Translation

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In late September I posted my fall TBR list, and I’m back today with a review of my fourth read from the list! When I added Invisible Planets to my list, I didn’t dare dream that I would get an advance review copy. To my delight that’s exactly what happened thanks to the kind folks at NetGalley and Tor. I haven’t posted in a while as I’ve been reading it slowly to enjoy it – plus I’ve been getting more hours at my fantastic new dream job… so I’m extra sleepy when I get home and writing has passed me by a bit.

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As soon as I learned of Invisible Planets, I knew that I wanted to check it out. I’ve been more into science fiction lately, but reading diverse authors is also very important to me. Add in the fact that Ken Liu was the translator and I was absolutely sold on this book.

It certainly didn’t disappoint!

The book begins with a preface by Ken Liu giving a little bit of background on the stories included in the anthology. He also speaks about how “any broad literary classification tied to a culture (…) encompasses all the complexities and contradictions in that culture.” He goes on to say some very interesting things that me think and appreciate the stories that followed even more. His note about translation at the end proves that the reader is in the right hands. (Don’t skip this introduction!)

Before each author’s stories is a short biography in which Ken Liu tells the reader about their accomplishments, styles, and the broader contexts of their work. A very necessary addition to the text, especially if you’re going to seek out more of the authors’ work.

First up were Chen Qiufan’s stories – the first wasn’t to my tastes, but the subject matter was interesting. The other two I did enjoy. The mix of realism with slightly sci-fi elements was compelling and Chen’s writing was concise, not a word wasted. He also authored one of the essays at the end of the anthology, which definitely illuminated some of the story themes seen here.

Next up was Xia Jia, who turned out to be my absolute favourite of this anthology! Her beautiful prose and imagery were both fantastical and absolutely believable. These were the kinds of beautiful stories I enjoy reading aloud based purely on their lovely construction. In saying that, they were also the kind of soft science fiction that I’ve craving lately, though she describes her own work as ‘porridge SF’.  A tale of a boy who lives with ghosts, the story of a mechanical dragon-horse, and a story of innovation turned to an entirely new purpose round out her section. She also authored one of the essays in the book about what it is exactly that makes Chinese science fiction Chinese. I would buy this book for her stories alone.

Then came Ma Boyong, whose addition to this anthology was an eerie tale that was a nod to Orwell’s 1984, but also a commentary on a censorship regime that was published here in its original form rather than the altered one it was given to get past a real censorship regime. Now there’s an interesting twist, no? This tale straddled the line between bleak and inspiring, and I would have loved to see it as a novella to find out what happens to the main character.

Hao Jingfang is the author of the story for which the anthology is named, and it is certainly well deserved. She tells a tale of scores of planets that left me aching for more. Her small glimpses into these other worlds revealed an incredible gift of imagination and of storytelling that is again revealed in her next story. Her second story is a dystopian gem about a Beijing that folds up only to unfold again to reveal a city of vastly different demographics.

Tang Fei’s story of an unusual call girl was enrapturing. The surreal nature of the story was compelling, and this is another tale that I would love to see expanded as a novella or even a full novel.

Cheng Jingbo was next, with a fairy-tale like story that took some thinking to comprehend. The imagery was intensely unique, as was the concept itself.

Liu Cixin was last, though he is recognized as the leading voice in Chinese science fiction. His first story was an adaptation of a chapter from his novel ‘The Three-Body Problem’. It was ‘hard’ science fiction, of the kind that brings in undoubtable scientific elements. Not to my taste, but those who enjoy the works of the science fiction ‘greats’ will like this. The last story in the anthology was one that again showcased the wonders of science, but also the wonders and failings of mankind. Liu also authored an essay that explores the history of science fiction in China.

All together, I found this anthology absolutely fantastic. I would recommend it to anyone looking for not only science fiction, but also new authors to look out for. This is going on my favourites shelf and I’ll be following most of the authors within in the hopes that more of their work will be translated and made available in English. And of course, Ken Liu’s incredible skills as a translator mustn’t be overlooked. Every writer within clearly had a style of their own that was not lost to a change in language.

Thanks again to NetGalley and Tor who gave me the opportunity to explore these incredible new worlds!