Tuesday, 31 March 2020

On My Radar: April

As we know, authors with books out during lockdown really need our help, even if that's just shouting about their existence. The availability of titles here might change, but this is what I've previously rounded up for the month of April.

If your local bookshop has been affected by the shutdown of Gardners (a major book distributor who also runs Hive) you can still pre-order physical books from Waterstones, Foyles, Blackwell's and Wordery. And of course there are ebooks and audiobooks to keep you going.

As always, inclusion here isn't an endorsement and dates stated are generally for the UK print edition unless otherwise noted.


Pretending by Holly Bourne (h)
Monstrous Heart by Claire McKenna (h)
Department of Mind-Blowing Theories by Tom Gauld (h)
Most Likely by Sarah Watson (p)


The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix (p)
Godshot by Chelsea Bieker (h)(US)
American Harvest by Marie Mutsuki Mockett (h)(US)
Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth (h)


How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang (h)
Barn 8 by Deb Olin Unferth (p)


The Switch by Beth O'Leary (h)
If These Wings Could Fly by Kyrie McCauley (h)
Notes from an Apocalypse by Mark O'Connell (h)
Red Hood by Elana K. Arnold (h)


The Deck of Omens by Christine Lynn Herman (p)
Kept Animals by Kate Milliken (h)(US)


Incendiary by Zoraida Cordova (h)(US)
Take Me Apart by Sara Sligar (h)(US)


Goldilocks by Laura Lam (h)
Fake Law by The Secret Barrister (h)
Would Like to Meet by Rachel Winters (p)*
The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel (h)
The Wailing Woman by Maria Lewis (p)*
Q by Christina Dalcher (h)

(e) early ebook release
(p) paperback
(h) hardback
(US) US only
* ebook already available

Monday, 30 March 2020

The City We Became

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

When a city is born, its avatar must struggle to keep control, to protect itself from dangers lurking beneath the surface of the city and its people. In New York, not just one city is born, but the five boroughs each manifest, Manhattan, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens and Staten Island.

This is the lesson: Great cities are like any other living things, being born and maturing and wearying and dying in their turn.

I was so excited to when I heard N.K. Jemisin was taking the idea from The City Born Great and unfurling it into a full length novel. I love the idea of cities becoming alive, in this case represented by human avatars. They all hold the stereotypes of their borough, although I had to assume a fair bit with not knowing all that much about New York beyond its global reputation. Like with Aislyn, I felt a bit sorry for her that she was left to fend for herself, why do they all hate Staten Island so much?

Aislyn does represent an element of America that is led astray by the far right, people who may not have had a great start to life who just want to belong, and then they cling to the first people that show them that kind of belonging. It would have been easy for Jemisin to paint her as evil, but I thought she did an excellent job of making her three dimensional.

Meanwhile, the other boroughs represent a swathe of culture and ethnicity that exists in the city. Manny is new in town, like many Manhattanites they come from elsewhere but still end up belonging. He identifies as black but the others see in him a mix of ethnicities. He is both a decent person, yet has something ruthless about him. He represents fresh starts, something people hope for when moving to a new city.

Bronca (The Bronx) is Lenape and runs an art centre, she is given the history of cities reborn and the thing that challenges them. She also has to deal with alt-right manbuns trying to get racist art into her gallery, who would give the Woman in White a foothold into her safe space. There's a lot about creating safe spaces in this, they are different things for different people, but they have power to keep the evil out.

Queens is an Asian mathematician, quite sweet and naive in nature, but she manages to use her human knowledge to wield the power of her borough. And last but not least is Brooklyn, a former MC and now politician, who can hear the music of the streets.

it does not belong here and the FDR is an artery, vital with the movement of nutrients and strength and attitude and adrenaline, the cars are white blood cells and the thing is an irritant, an infection, an invader to whom the city gives no consideration and no quarter

I honestly don't know much about Lovecraft other than: Tentacles, check. Massive racist, check. So I'm sure there were references I missed,but it does take a chance at throwing that racism back at him, with the big bad exploiting the far right to do its bidding. I don't want to get into spoilers so I'll just say I loved the whole concept of what was going on.

Just as I dived into the pages, the real world around me changed, and I must admit I struggled a bit with the elements of real world strife. Alternate dimensions and weird squigglies, sure, but this also comes with the social commentary that we have come to expect. So I read a little a day, but needing a break from the injustice and prejudice that people in New York face daily. If it was bad before, what's it like now?

So I will recommend this book, but I'm not sure I can recommend you read it right now if you want to fill your life with comfort. Maybe just buy it for a day when you want something gritty. Oh and make sure you Google Lens the cover (front and back) if you have an Android device.

The City We Became is published by Orbit and is available now in hardback and ebook editions. Thanks to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Hive | Wordery | Blackwell’s

Wednesday, 18 March 2020


Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

Naomi is an expert in growing plants in the soil of an alien planet. She just isn't there yet. She has spent her career building up to this moment, only for it to be snatched from her grasp by politicians who don't want women in space. But her former boss has a plan. The future of humanity is in their hands.

Dr Naomi Lovelace has been many things over the years. Scientist. Criminal. Villain. Hero. Famous. Infamous.

This such an unapologetically science-based mission in space, and you can just tell Laura's been researching everything about space thoroughly (there's an event that's similar to something in a book I read last year, and it is so much more sensible and thought through than that other book). If you like books about space travel grounded in reality, add Goldilocks to your shelves.

The future in which it is set is one inspired by the slow erosion of women's rights by right wing politicians in the US, combined with escalating climate change. The planet's only hope is to find a new home, and the Atalantis is built to take the first crew to settle Cavendish. The ship was designed by women, with an all-female crew, until the president pushed women out of jobs, including the space programme. Knowing the replacement team would be a failure, Dr Valerie Black takes matters into her own hands, and they steal the ship.

It hadn't happened in a moment, but a series of moments, as slow and insidious as the melting of the ice caps. Women had been ushered out of the workplace, so subtly that few noticed until it was too late.

The book follows Naomi Lovelace, Dr Black's prodigy, who is the botanist on board, responsible for producing the crew's food, unappetising blocks made from algae, as well as establishing agriculture on Cavendish. Growing up Valerie?kept posing the trolley problem to her (that one about if you are in an out of control vehicle and you have to choose between hitting and killing one group over another), and this becomes relevant to the whole story.

As well as Dr Black, the crew is made up of Lebedeva a Russian engineer, Hart the medical doctor and Hixon, the pilot. There are hard choices to be made, as they evade any retaliation from Earth and make their way to a faraway planet that has only been visited by probes. And what about the people they left behind?

The astronaut mantra snaked its sneaky way through her head: expect the best but prepare for the worst.

I was drawn in by the science and sucked into the stories of the crew and the dilemmas they face. The characters are fully formed, and flawed, just as you'd expect. There's sadness and joy, and a whole lot of tension.

If you're wondering, the title is Goldilocks because Cavendish is in the sweet spot of not too hot and not too cold.

Goldilocks is published by Headline and will be available in hardback and ebook editions from 30th April 2020. It's also the first book to be included in Goldsboro's Sci-Fi and Fantasy Fellowship membership, so head over there if you want a signed special edition. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

An unexpected seedling that should never have been able to take root and could still float away like a blown dandelion. Make a wish.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 31. A book with "gold," "silver," or "bronze" in the title

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Please also consider pre-ordering through your local independent bookshop.

Monday, 9 March 2020

Chilling Effect

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

Captain Eva Innocente sometimes despairs at the jobs she must take to stay out of anything shady. With her family's background, she doesn't want to be drawn into the criminal underbelly of space. So that's why she's transporting 100 psychic kittens in her hold, and they're not the most cooperative cargo. When her sister is taken hostage by The Fridge, Eva must face the world she left behind.

Chilling Effect was loads of fun, the psychic cats turned out to be adorable rather than evil, and the found family of the crew is heart-warming. Eva's crew is made up of Min the pilot, whose mind is connected to the ship's, Leroy an ex soldier suffering from PTSD, Pink the straight-speaking medic, and Vakar the engineer who emotes using smells and Eva might just a have a bit of a crush on.

Eva has a smell translator installed so she can better understand Vakar. With all the alien cultures going on, the Quennians were probably the best established due to their relationship. Eva spends time trying to really understand the smells he gives off, but forever being confounded by the liquorice coming off him. She's also allergic to him, as she found out when they first met, which is only one of the reasons she shouldn't get involved.

The Fridge is a criminal organisation that keeps its hands clean by using coercion, kidnapping and blackmail to get everyone else to do their dirty work. The jobs don't make much sense to Eva, but she does them anyway to keep her little sister from a life of slavery. When the jobs start getting more and more dangerous, it gets harder to lie to her crew about what she's doing.

Oh yeah, she's also being chased by the galaxy's greatest sexual harasser, a fish-faced emperor who wants Eva for his harem and won't take no for an answer. He is powerful and rich, and his ego is bruised, so his pursuit of her is endless.

Each different job did feel more like a story than part of an ongoing plot, with a lot of new aliens and customs to pick up, and I didn't always keep up. Maybe something was missing to really gel it together, as by the end there seemed to be a bit more cohesion. I did love the crew dynamics so I would definitely consider reading the next book.

Valerie Valdes is a Cuban-American and her main character takes some of that background into space, with her language peppered with Spanish, also providing some creative cursing.

Chilling Effect is published by Orbit and is available now in paperback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 8. A book with an upside-down image on the cover

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Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Deathless Divide

Deathless Divide is the sequel to Dread Nation and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous book.

After escaping Summerland, Jane and Katherine are reluctant to place trust in another settlement. With a hungry horde on their heels, the survivors begrudgingly ask for refuge in Nicodemus. There they find old acquaintances and yet more complacency. Is it going to be Summerland all over again?

Jane loved pointing bladed weapons at people. It was part of her charm.

I loved Dread Nation and was excited to find out what happens next to Jane and Katherine. I love the friendship between the two girls, so seemingly unsuitable for one another. In this sequel, Jane must grapple with guilt and grief, and Katherine fears she has lost her friend forever. Jane gets a reputation as a ruthless bounty hunter and I loved the little snippets of exaggerated tales that appeared in the press.

Their journey takes them to California, with the promise of a land free from the worst of the outbreak. The Deathless Divide being the continental divide of mountain ranges, inhospitable to dead and alive alike. San Francisco is run by Chinese settlers and the golden wall keeps out what few zombies roam the countryside. They take care of their dead properly and the mountains provide some protection. It's as safe as is possible, for now.

That the dead have managed to find their way into a place of such promise is an American tragedy. Nothing remains untouched in this world for long, and it is hard not to fall into despair at the futility of our condition.

I did worry for a bit that it was serving an anti-vax message, but it just about redeemed itself. I can convince myself that untested 19th century vaccines were probably going to be dangerous. The idea that a vaccine is needed is not completely dismissed. What the vaccine plot line reveals is the danger of arrogance.

As always, the story tackles themes of prejudice and the ingrained racism of the white settlers. I thought it took a while to get going but once part two kicked in I was hooked all over again.

How can we make the world a better place if we are always at odds with one another for every single kind of reason under the sun?

ATY: 10. A book that is between 400-600 pages

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Book Source: Purchased

Sunday, 1 March 2020

The Month That Was... February 2020

February has been such a wet month, most of it has been spent indoors, lamenting the dreariness. This has meant I've read a big pile of books, and bought even more! I read 15 books (and one short story) totalling 4306 pages. Half of these were on audio.

I've got pretty behind in review writing again, with only a handful making it onto the blog so far. I blame Two Point Hospital for being such a distracting game.


Also read:

The Burning Land by George Alagiah ★★★
Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire ★★★★
Artificial Condition by Martha Wells ★★★★
This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar + Max Gladstone ★★★★
As Good as New by Charlie Jane Anders ★★★
Palestine +100 edited by Basma Ghalayini ★★★★
Heartstopper Volume 3 by Alice Oseman ★★★★
Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey ★★★
Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland ★★★★
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler ★★★
Goldilocks by Laura Lam ★★★★
Glass Town Isabel Greenberg ★★★★
Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant ★★★
The Secret Barrister by Anonymous ★★★★

Blogged about:

On My Radar: March

Challenge progress:

Goodreads: 29/100
Around the Year: 11/52
Popsugar: 13/50
Book Riot: 4/24