Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Born a Crime

One of the Read Harder prompts I was most dreading was celebrity memoir. Just because I like someone's acting or singing, does not mean I want to read their life story. However, I bought Born a Crime last year without realising who Trevor Noah was and I was interested in learning about life in post-Apartheid South Africa.

One of the most sinister things about apartheid was that it taught colored people that it was black people who were holding them back.

It's a great introduction to Apartheid, a terrible chapter in South Africa's history, but told through the lens of a cheeky boy. When Trevor was born inter-racial sex was a crime. His mother was a no nonsense woman who flouted the rules and lived in the white part of town. There she met a white Swiss man and she asked one day for him to give her a child. I loved the stories of his parents, it wasn't quite what I was expecting from the title. He was born out of a woman's desire to give a child everything she did not have for herself.

She did so much to give Trevor the best possible advantages in life when odds were stacked against him. She was fiercely religious and would hit Trevor but everything was done with love. When his mum meets his stepfather, things go downhill and it was hard to read about the domestic violence.

She would hold my hand or carry me, but if the police showed up she would have to drop me and pretend I wasn’t hers, like I was a bag of weed.

Trevor talks about the genius of how Apartheid turned the majority black population against each other but also the utter lunacy of some of the policies. Chinese people were categorised as black but because South Africa wanted a good trading relationship with Japan, the Japanese were classified as white. Your classification could change too, you could become white if you were pale skinned and acted white but you could also be "downgraded" from white to coloured or coloured to black.

His childhood was one of never quite belonging. He was brought up by a black family yet if he ever ventured out in Soweto he would be called white. They were so separated that many had never really seen a white man and Trevor's paler skin was a novelty. He was educated and spoke many languages, which helped him make friends. If you speak the same language you are familiar and less scary. Yet he didn't feel accepted by coloured communities, he felt black.

Growing up the way I did, I learned how easy it is for white people to get comfortable with a system that awards them all the perks. I knew my cousins were getting beaten for things that I’d done, but I wasn’t interested in changing my grandmother’s perspective, because that would mean I’d get beaten, too. Why would I do that? So that I’d feel better?

I lost a bit of interest reading about his life of petty crime. He started making money selling pirated music, went on to DJing and then started providing loans, albeit much safer than most loan sharks. I tuned back in for the edge of the seat account of what happened to his mother.

It's well written with a good balance of history, humour and personal hardship. I laughed at Trevor's fear of flies going up his bum when he went to the outhouse and the dawning horror of what he does to resolve this.

Forget the gold standard—the hood operated on the cheese standard. Cheese on anything was money.

Thankfully it isn't at all about his time as a comedian or how he got there. I usually have little interest in reading the childhood portions of memoirs but this was the opposite. It was all childhood and a fascinating look at race from the perspective of a country that's not the US or UK.

Read Harder: A celebrity memoir
POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: A book recommended by someone else taking the POPSUGAR Reading Challenge

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Book Source: Purchased

Tuesday, 13 March 2018


13-year-old Sal has been planning their escape for a year. Sexually abused by her mother's boyfriend, she needs to stop the same happening to her younger sister Peppa. After taking care of Robert, Sal and Peppa go on the run, living in the Galloway Forest, armed with stolen goods and a whole lot of survival tips from YouTube.

Whilst I love survival stories and reading about rural Scotland (which takes me back to my childhood), Sal just wasn't for me. I can see that it was trying to mimic how a child would explain stuff, you know how they just have run on sentences and use "and" a lot? Then this happened and then I said this to her and then I did this. It might be realistic, but I found it irritating to read in large portions.

A lot of survival is planning, stopping, thinking and planning and trying to see what can go wrong and thinking about what will happen if things change.

The fact that Sal recites what she has learned from the internet makes it feel like there are a lot of info dumps. I like reading about living off the land, but she just reeled off lots of tasks rather than setting the scene. The girls like to describe things by their brand names and oh god, I hate the idea of Belvita biscuits...they are just biscuits, that some marketing department has convinced people it's OK to eat for breakfast. Just eat some blimmin' digestives! They are mentioned so much in this book I wondered if there was a product placement deal going on.

I am far too practical but I kept thinking they're going to run out of money if they carry on like they were. I don't actually think Sal was that good at survival, despite all the information she had absorbed. Lucky for her, the Galloway Forest is hardly an isolated wilderness, and she can get the bus into town. Sal is smart in some ways but not others. She's managed to research the law on murder in Scotland, yet fails to realise a child is not going to prison for life for killing her abuser.

Early on Sal reveals that she killed Robert, and throughout the book her mind goes back to what happened before. I was more engaged with these parts even though they are troubling. You discover about her mother's alcoholism and how she planned the whole thing. There were people in their lives who cared about them and I was happy with the ending.

I couldn't tell her anything about the flat or Maw or Robert so I used to say I felt fine and I was happy and sometimes I made up things I was worried about because she seemed to want me to feel worried about something. I once told her I was worried about climate change and I am a bit.

It's a short book and otherwise I think it would have gone in the DNF pile, but I was already half way when the mysterious old women appears out the forest and magically provides just what they need. I didn't see the relevance of the old woman's tales of living in East Germany. Is Sal supposed to relate her troubled life with living under Soviet rule? Is it just an adventure story to distract them from reality?

I dunno, maybe it's one of those books if I was a kid from Glasgow with an unstable background, I would love this story of escaping your life and living somewhere where no one can touch you. Perhaps I am just completely the wrong audience.

Monday, 12 March 2018

The Stone Sky

The Stone Sky is the final book in the Broken Earth trilogy and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous books.

Yet because you are essential, you cannot be permitted to have a choice in the matter. You must be tools - and tools cannot be people.

Honestly, I've never read a trilogy where each book has been just as strong the the others and all blindingly fabulous. How I'm meant to review the final book in the Broken Earth trilogy, I don't know, but I'd urge everyone to read it. If you shy away from epic fantasy because you think it's all like Game of Thrones, fear not, please just give Jemisin's books a try.

With Castrima destroyed, the surviving members of the comm must move and find somewhere new to settle. Do they blame Essun for their predicament? How much of herself did she sacrifice envoking the Obelisk Gate? Nassun is also on the move, her youthful innocence gone now that she sees the true evil of the world. Will mother and daughter meet again before the world ends for the final time?

An apocalypse is a relative thing, isn't it? When the earth shatters, it is a disaster to the life that depends on it - but nothing much to Father Earth. When a man dies, it should be devastating to a girl who once called him Father, but this becomes as nothing when she has been called monster so many times that she embraces the label. When a slave rebels, it is nothing much to the people who read about it later. Just thin words on thinner paper worn finer by the friction of history.

The narrative structure completely makes sense by the end of this book. The second person narrative wasn't just a stylistic choice, I just loved getting to that moment. The story of the stone eaters is also played out and how the world got to the state it's in. There is even a bucketful of sympathy for the Wardens, as much victims of circumstance as anyone else. It's so emotional, sad and uplifting at the same time.

It is more explicit about slavery than the other books, although it was always there to see reading between the lines; the forced obedience of the orogenes, breeding programmes and how the Stills didn't consider orogenes human. If the world had enslaved you, and people like you, would you seek revenge rather than save it? It is hard not to think of the terrible things that have been done by humans, to other humans and the earth alike.

The undercurrent of climate change has run throughout the books, it's hard to ignore with all the natural disasters kicking off seasons, however I think the message was strongest here. Father Earth may not be a sentient being in our world but we should respect him and know our limits. The Earth is not just one massive resource to be mined until its gone.

There's nothing we did to provoke their fear, other than exist. There's nothing we can do to earn their approval, except stop existing - so we can either die like they want, or laugh at their cowardice and go on with our lives.

Sometimes it's bittersweet getting to the end of a beloved series, but this time I'm excited because I know there's more of Jemisin's work out there already, just waiting for me to discover it. I also think these books are contenders for re-reading, the world is so complex and I'm sure there's more to absorb.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: An allegory
Science Fiction vs Fantasy Bingo: It's the End of the World As We Know It

Sunday, 11 March 2018

The Travelling Cat Chronicles

Read the World: Japan

I'm not sure why I picked up The Travelling Cat Chronicles, it's not my usual thing and I'm not even a cat person, but I have been wanting to read more translated work, so there is that. I found it a charming and moving tale about saying goodbye, partly narrated by a cat.

We cats get all limp and squishy when we have catnip; for humans, wine seems to do the trick.

Nana is a stray, sleeping on the streets (or on top of Satoru's silver van) when he is involved in a road accident. Kind Satoru takes him in and tends him back to health. When given the choice, Nana decided not to go back to his old life, despite his fierce independence. Fast forward an undisclosed number of years, and Satoru is seeking a new home for his beloved cat. He's not able to take him where he is going.

When an animal’s life is over, it rests where it falls, and it often seems to me that humans are such worriers, to think of preparing a place for people to sleep when they are dead. If you have to consider what’s going to happen after you die, life becomes doubly troublesome.

Nana's voice is typical cat, he's a bit sarcastic and doesn't suffer fools gladly. He doesn't seem impressed by the people Satoru's considering for his new home. Part road trip, the story goes from one old friend to another, each time coming to the conclusion that it's not quite right for Nana. It's almost as if neither human or cat want to part.

The non-cat-narration tells the stories of how Sartoru got to know each person, their childhood history. This tales also shed light on the person Sartoru is today, and unfailingly kind and lovely individual, loved by all who knew him. It's not hard to guess what is happening but it's all about the interactions, and the smart arse cat.

My story will be over soon. But it’s not something to be sad about. As we count up the memories from one journey, we head off on another. Remembering those who went ahead. Remembering those who will follow after. And someday, we will meet all those people again, out beyond the horizon.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

River of Teeth

When I heard that River of Teeth was a western with hippos, I knew I had to read it. It's set in an alternate history where hippos were introduced to America as an alternate meat source. Apparently, this was an actual thing that the US government considered, and sensibly rejected.

It’s not a caper; it’s an operation.

However Sarah Gailey reimagines the Louisana swamps as home to these unpredictable beasts, and the people who wrangle them. The hippos replace both cows and horses in this "western" which isn't set in the west but it certainly has many hallmarks of the genre.

Winslow Houndstooth is rounding up a team to take on a job, to clear out the feral hippos from the area and send them on their way down the Mississippi. Houndstooth also has a spot of revenge to take care of too and it all fits nicely together. The feral hippos lurk in the shadow of a floating casino, waiting for cheats and other unlucky fellas to be thrown overboard. As one can imagine, the owner of the casino isn't exactly a nice chap.

It's fun, how could it not be? I did find it a bit unsubstantial though, like it didn't quite suit being a novella. There are quite a few characters and as soon as I felt I'd just got to know them all it was all over a bit too quickly. There's a sequel so I wonder if reading them back-to-back would help solve this.

The idea was this: import hippos and raise them in Louisiana’s bayous. The hippos would eat the ruinously invasive water hyacinth; the American people would eat the hippos; everyone would go home happy. Well, except the hippos. They’d go home eaten.

The cast is diverse; there's a point where they need someone to collect some explosives but it's revealed no one is suitable because they are expecting a white man. I think that's the first point race is mentioned, which challenges how you imagine the characters. There is also a non-binary character, described using the singular they, whose appearance is never described.

Read Harder: A western

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Book Source: Purchased

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

From Rabbit Holes to Rifts: On portal fantasy, and why it matters (to me)

A guest post by Lisa @ Over The Effing Rainbow.

This will sound familiar enough to avid readers that it may even seem ordinary, but my earliest and fondest memories of childhood are of going into my local library and just wandering around, from one row of bookshelves to another, usually browsing for something interesting but often, also, just going there for the simple pleasure of being somewhere quiet, and comfortable. For a kid like me, it was better than the world outside, sometimes. And that quiet little world of its (and my) own often led me, by way of the books I picked up, to other worlds that were better than mine. Wilder, more magical, more fantastic. And it started with one book in particular that you might have heard of.

'We're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad.'
'How do you know I'm mad?' said Alice.
'You must be,' said the Cat, 'or you wouldn't have come here.'

Ever since the first time I fell down that rabbit hole with Alice, I’ve been a sucker for portal fantasy. My tastes may have broadened as I grew up, but secretly I’ve always looked at old wardrobes and wondered about the worlds that might lie beyond their doors. I’ve always watched my feet when walking along woodland paths, though never quite for the reasons most people do. Wonderland was never weird to me. It was always just wonderful. Dangerous to Alice, for sure, but a refuge for me. (The tea party helped. Don’t look at me like that; it did.)

My fondness for Alice and her bevy of strange and unusual acquaintances became a fierce sort of kinship with Lyra Belacqua, the heroine of His Dark Materials, who told wild stories of her own and didn’t wait around for a rabbit hole to come along underfoot; she sought out her own adventures, fearless and foolish and fighting to be free. No passive acceptance of whatever fate life handed out, for her. It was inspiring, and I fell thoroughly in love with all of it.

Then along came adulthood, and if I’d thought the real world was harsh and hard to bear as a child … well. You know how that one goes, I’m sure. My favourite source of fascination became more of a comfort than ever, even as it became more of a reflection on the world I didn’t like to hang out in. What became fantastical wasn’t so much magical creatures or wicked queens and the epic quests they were part of; it was the realm of possibility where this world was concerned. I stopped wanting to escape from the real world, and started wanting it to be a better place.

Enter Foz Meadows, and the Manifold Worlds duology. These books are openly and unapologetically diverse in their representation; they are political as hell, and they showcase a deeply, richly wonderful world, flaws and all, that’s worth fighting for - even when those who stand up to fight have already done so … and lost. I’d never come across a story that takes place after the epic quest has been undertaken, and to read one about the people who continue to fight after they’ve been beaten was both eye-opening, heartbreaking and yet soul-soothing, in the end. The world - any world - can be a hard place, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth fighting for, or being a part of.

That said, it’s always easier to bear up under the pressures of growing up and finding your place in the world when you don’t have to do it alone. Society will always be hard on people who don’t obviously ‘fit in’, but when you know that you aren’t the only one who doesn’t, it can change everything, whether you decide to try to belong or not. Which brings me to the Wayward Children series by Seanan McGuire, because ye gods and little fishes, if any recent works of fantasy speak more clearly and candidly of the hardships faced by young people in a world that doesn’t care about them (regardless of which world that might be, and Seanan has come up with a dizzying array of them, I’m sure) than these novellas, I’ve yet to find them. The setting of the very first book is a boarding school for the wayward children of the series title, the ones who have been to other lands and come back, who weren’t able to stay or weren’t permitted to, and don’t know how to fit back into the world they live in now.

And what kid can’t relate to that idea, in some way, shape or form? I was hit hard in the feels when I first read Every Heart A Doorway, let me tell you. We might be “weird”, we might be “difficult”, we might wish we could live somewhere completely different, but we aren’t the only ones.

Stories that show us better worlds than these, and ways to keep improving them? Stories that centre our misfit qualities and say “there’s nothing wrong with you” instead of belittling or even demonising us? Stories that tell us we aren’t the only ones who struggle to find our feet, that we can do so much more together? Of course I love them. Anyone who doesn’t is not to be trusted.

(Especially not if they offer you Turkish Delight.)

This is the first in a series of posts exploring the themes from the Science Fiction versus Fantasy Bingo challenge. A huge thanks to Lisa for this heartfelt post and do swing by her blog or follow @EffingRainbow on Twitter. If you'd like to write about one of the other squares, get in touch!

Monday, 5 March 2018

Comics Catch-Up

Every now and then I remember I have a vast store of digital comics from various Humble Bundles. As Book Riot's Read Harder challenge has several comic prompts this year, I thought it best to start looking a bit more closely of what I have unread.

I noticed I had a bundle from Oni Press which would cover the comic from a publisher other than Marvel, DC or Image. I picked out Lost at Sea, a standalone graphic novel from the creator of Scott Pilgrim, Brian Lee O'Malley. Raleigh believes she has no soul, she's adrift in her life, losing touch with her old friends, and seeing cats everywhere. It perfectly captures that time of teenagerhood where things are no longer the same but you don't know where you're going. Maybe she's got no soul or maybe she's depressed.

I think it would have greater appeal to teen readers who can identify a bit more. Some bits were really beuatiful but it's one of those comics that doesn't have a discernable plot and it ended quite suddenly. I did like the kitty catching scene, where Raleigh becomes convinced her soul is in one of the cats.

Read Harder: A comic that isn’t published by Marvel, DC, or Image

Monstress: The Blood is the second volume of these beautiful comics by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda. Read my review of Awakening for an introduction. Maika joins a pirate crew to beg passage to the Island of Bones, with the hopes of learning more about her mother. Obviously, lot's of people still want Maika dead or captured and there's new beasts in the deep. This was more of a straightforward story and wasn't quite as strong as the first but I'm still looking forward to the third instalment later this year.

Read Harder: A comic written or illustrated by a person of color

The latest trade of Saga (volume 8) starts off in Abortion Town, and it does feel like the most political instalment so far, showing how there are different reasons a woman may seek help. In Alana's case her unborn child is dead and she's starting to see visions. It's a sad part to this family's saga, although I'm not sure it did much to further the ongoing plot.

POPSUGAR Challenge: 27. A book set on a different planet

Sunday, 4 March 2018

February Book Haul

Another month of me thinking I barely got any new books when this post clearly proves otherwise! Let's take a look at the damage...

Physical Books Bought

The Wayward Children books are now auto buys and I pre-ordered the latest which is super pretty. I've also been waiting for a few books to be out in paperback before I buy them. I so often buy hardbacks and then don't read them for years, it seems a bit wasteful unless they are nice editions.

Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
On the Noodle Road by Jen Lin-Liu
The Truth and Lies of Ella Black by Emily Barr (Wildest Dreams)
Dead of Winter by Gerri Brightwell (Ninja Book Box)

I am planning on cutting down on subscription boxes, I only narrowly avoided getting three in February only because Illumicrate has been delayed. I think Illumicrate is the one I'm most likely to continue with, I have generally loved the book selections and there is variety in the extras. Plus the quarterly model works best for me. I do still get PawPost for Scully but she easily gets through all the treats each month!

Review Books

I loved Winter Damage so I was pretty happy to get a copy of Natasha Carthew's new book in the post. I'm also looking forward to dipping into the British Library's new classic science fiction anthologies. I got a wish granted for Children of Blood and Bone on NetGalley but I might just wait for my pre-order to turn up. I think I wished for it sometime last year...

Moonrise by various (British Library)
Lost Mars by various (British Library)
All Rivers Run Free by Natasha Carthew (Quercus)
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (Macmillan)

Ebooks Bought

A few wishlist books popped up in the half term sale and The Ninth Rain was a freebie. I also think something weird was going on when I bought Hero at the Fall because I'm convinced Amazon told me it was book two, and I wondered how on earth I'd managed to buy books one and three in a trilogy. Turns out it was wrong, or I'm losing my marbles. Anyway, I've just started the trilogy and so far I am loving it so I'm sure it was worth purchasing...

Hero at the Fall by Alwyn Hamilton
The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson
The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli
Sourdough by Robin Sloan

Thursday, 1 March 2018

The Month That Was... February 2018

+ International Giveaway!

I was about to moan about the weather but the snow's only really hit where I am today, and that's no longer February! I've been without my laptop for half the month (or it feels that way) as it decided to just not turn on. It's been sent out for repairs so I'll wait and see what the outcome is. It is very annoying but at least I have access to other computers.

I am so behind on writing reviews but I still do have a few gooduns available to win this month (including a pre-order of Circe if you so desire. Keep on reading for the giveaway and remember it's open internationally.


I am doing terribly at my own challenge but I feel I will naturally tick things off SFvsFBingo as I slow down on my other challenge reading. I do have a fantastic guest post on portals coming up and if you'd like to write about any of the other squares, let me know!

Kings, Queens and Long Lost Relatives: The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
It's the End of the World As We Know It: The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

7. A book set in a country that fascinates you: The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa
A6. An allegory: The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
A10. A book recommended by someone else taking the POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Read Harder
A western: River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey
A comic written or illustrated by a person of color: Monstress: The Blood by Marjorie Liu + Sana Takeda
A celebrity memoir: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
A comic that isn’t published by Marvel, DC, or Image: Lost at Sea by Brian Lee O'Malley

Beat the Backlist: 11/30
Goodreads: 19/100


Tuesday, 27 February 2018

The City of Brass

Often the mightiest things have the humblest beginnings.

Nahri's story starts in 18th century Egypt but takes her across the Middle East to a magical city with gleaming brass walls. I absolutely loved the setting, and I was pleased to see a map which helped to confirm what region belonged to what tribe, although borders have changed so much in 200 years. Her journey takes her to what is now Turkey and Iran and the djinn come from all over this sub-continent.

Nahri has never known her parents and she makes do with her work as a healer in Cairo, supplementing her income with some theiving. She's always had the uncanny ability to detect what is wrong with her patients and her own bumps and scratches heal with astonishing speed. Until one day, she accidentally summons a great warrior djinn, who sees Nahri for what she is; a shafit, half human half djinn.

A fate worse than death: That's what everyone said about enslavement. Eternal servitude, forced to grant the most savage and intimate desires of an endless slew of human masters. Of the slaves that were found and freed, very few survived with their sanity intact.

It took me a while to absorb all the different tribes, their politics and history, not to mention prejudices, but once I had made the effort with the world-building I was sucked right into the story. It was very late on when some of my outstanding questions about this world were answered, especially around religion. Yes, the djinn adopted a human faith (presumably Islam) yet the Daeva's kept their old religion, and "fire-worshipers" is a derogatory term for them.

It weaves together the stories of the genie in the lamp, explaining how some djinn became slaves to human masters. It also reflects the rifts that can form through deviations in belief, something that has caused huge problems in the real Middle East. I don't really know much about King Soloman but I suspect Suleiman is based on him. Suleiman punished the djinn when he thought they were becoming too powerful, too reckless with human life.

Something told her the squabbles between the various djinn tribes would make the war between the Turks and Franks look positively friendly.

The Daeva feel their blood makes them superior and the shafit shouldn't have equal rights. Then there's the ifrits, evil spirits who are capable of enslaving the djinn... Honestly there is so much stuff, and it's so intricately connected. I'm so glad this is not a standalone because this had laid the groundwork for such an interesting world.