Catherynne M. Valente – Radiance

[Insert obligatory line about copious amounts of upcoming fangirliness here]
Good, now that’s out of the way, let me talk about Cat Valente’s newest book. It is the BEST THING EVER! The cover, the planet drawings as chapter headers, the literary styles, the characters (Oh my glob, the characters!), the plot… reading this was pure bliss. I drew it out as long as I could but, in addition to being absolutely stunning, it’s also a mystery and keeping away from the book for any amount of time an impossible feat.

by Catherynne M. Valente

Published by: Tor, 2015
Hardcover: 432 pages
My rating: 10/10

First sentence: Come forward.

Radiance is a decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery set in a Hollywood—and solar system—very different from our own, from the phenomenal talent behind the New York Times bestselling The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.
Severin Unck’s father is a famous director of Gothic romances in an alternate 1986 in which talking movies are still a daring innovation due to the patent-hoarding Edison family. Rebelling against her father’s films of passion, intrigue, and spirits from beyond, Severin starts making documentaries, traveling through space and investigating the levitator cults of Neptune and the lawless saloons of Mars. For this is not our solar system, but one drawn from classic science fiction in which all the planets are inhabited and we travel through space on beautiful rockets. Severin is a realist in a fantastic universe.
But her latest film, which investigates the disappearance of a diving colony on a watery Venus populated by island-sized alien creatures, will be her last. Though her crew limps home to earth and her story is preserved by the colony’s last survivor, Severin will never return.
Aesthetically recalling A Trip to the Moon and House of Leaves, and told using techniques from reality TV, classic film, gossip magazines, and meta-fictional narrative, Radiance is a solar system-spanning story of love, exploration, family, loss, quantum physics, and silent film.


Mars has cowboys, Venus has space whales. The moon is Hollywood and Earth is so passé. Come visit Cat Valente’s very own solar system, full of old-timey sense of wonder, of planets that can be inhabited no matter what science says. It’s a child’s idea of our solar system but at the same time reminiscent of old pulp science fiction novels. And this version of the solar system is completely internally consistent. You may find breathable air on every planet, but that doesn’t mean that they are all equally welcoming to human inhabitants. What makes the world go round (this world’s spice melange, if you will) is callowmilk from the callowhales of Venus. I could go on a huge tangent about the brilliance with which Valente inserts her world-building into the story, but finding out little snippets about this planet’s culture or that planet’s flora and fauna, is part of the fun.

Radiance tells the story of a mystery. Famous movie director Percival Unck’s daughter, Severin, has lived her life in front of camera lenses. Breaking free from her father’s idea of what movies should be like, she started making her own movies, true movies. Her last trip took her to a mysterious village on Venus, whose people just disappeared one day. But Severin herself never returns from the trip and it is her disappearance (maybe even her death?) that is the big secret of Radiance.

Valente’s strongest suit, in my opinion, has always been language. The things she does with language in Radiance are like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Take a seat, lean back, and let me tell you why this novel seven years in the making is such a masterpiece.

The prologue is the mother of the tale and the governess of the audience.

Through gossip colums, movie transcripts, interviews, and radio play scripts, we see a story through many lenses. Not only does Valente use different media to tell Severin’s story, she also lets a cast of characters tell snippets of a much larger tale. Almost like a non-fiction book stuck together of individual people’s accounts. Whether it’s Severin’s lover, their adopted son Anchises, one of Severin’s many stepmothers (my glob, how I love Mary and her ingénue’s handbook!!), or a quick peek at Percival Unck’s private reels, Valente lets her characters shine through their actions as much as through the medium they use to tell their story.

I like thinking about a version of you that doesn’t look for a camera all the time.

Severin Unck may be the single most intriguing character I’ve ever read about. Her relationship to her father, to movies, to the fact that they are black and white and usually silent (unless you have enormous amounts of money to pay Edison for the rights to use sound in your film), and Severin is rebelling against all of that. She wants to make her own kind of movies, yet she doesn’t really know how to live without being constantly filmed herself. A natural in front (and behind) the camera, she is always aware of being captured on celluloid, and so we – the readers – can never be quite sure whether her emotions are real or just for the cameras. This makes Severin nothing short of stunning. The only other character somewhat like her, that I could think of at least, was Suyana from Genevieve Valentine’s Persona. But she didn’t get nearly so close to me as Severin.

The second most interesting character is Anchises, Severin and Erasmo St. John’s adopted son. They found him in the strange village on Venus and promptly took the child home with them. Anchises is the perfect noir hero, broken inside, bitter and cynical, always searching for something and not quite getting it. Which leads me to the way his story is told. It all begins your typical noir detective story..

[…] noir isn’t really a new thing at all. It’s just a fairy tale with guns. Your hardscrabble detective is nothing more than a noble knight with a cigarette and a disease where his heart should be.

But as we go through his tale, the style changes. There are chapters that read like gothic romance, there are chapters straight out of a children’s book, and all of them are beautiful. Valente shows off her talent with Anchises. We know that she can be poetic, we know she has a gift for writing for children as well as adults, but she dives in and out of so many different styles with such ease, one can’t help but feel jealous.

I am not the least bit surprised this book took so long to develop from a short story – The Radiant Car Thy Sparrows Drew – simply because of its ambition and scope. It spans years, a dozen important characters, fictional movies that sound and feel right, mysteries upon mysteries, and actual hard science facts (you kind of have to finish the book to get to that part). Any single character from Radiance has enough flesh and bone on them to be worthy of their own book, any of the many styles used could be used for its own story, but Cat Valente managed the unmanageable. She meshed it all together in a beautiful, perfect love story to movies and movie making, to pulpy space adventures, and to stories in general. If she wasn’t already my favorite author, this would be the book that would make me go out and buy her entire backlist in one go.

So really, make yourself comfortable, grab a cup of something hot to drink, bring a blanket and maybe a snack, and read this book. If this doesn’t grab a Hugo and Nebula nomination, I’ll be very surprised.

MY RATING: 10/10 – Absolutely perfect!

Also, watch the beautiful book trailer.


Second opinions:


Sarah Lotz – The Three

My readers have spoken and I have listened. When I posted my Halloween to-read list last week, I had several recommendations but The Three won in the end because creepy kids are hard to top. And since this novel is set on several continents, I thought it would be quite refreshing as well as terrifying. So despite really, really wanting to read another Shirley Jackson, I dove straight into The Three and must send a big Thank You to the commenters who recommended it.

by Sarah Lotz

Published by: Hodder & Stoughton, 2014
Ebook: 480 pages
Series: The Three #1
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: Come on, come on, come on…

They’re here … The boy. The boy watch the boy watch the dead people oh Lordy there’s so many … They’re coming for me now. We’re all going soon. All of us. Pastor Len warn them that the boy he’s not to­­–
The last words of Pamela May Donald (1961 – 2012)
Black Thursday. The day that will never be forgotten. The day that four passenger planes crash, at almost exactly the same moment, at four different points around the globe.
There are only four survivors. Three are children, who emerge from the wreckage seemingly unhurt. But they are not unchanged.
And the fourth is Pamela May Donald, who lives just long enough to record a voice message on her phone.
A message that will change the world.
The message is a warning.


Four planes crash almost at the exact same time in four different places in the world, killing numerous people. The world suspects terrorism – after all, how can this be a coincidence? But what is even stranger is that three of these four crashes were survived by one child each. Hiro in Japan, Bobby in the USA, and Jess from the UK – all are approximately the same age, all are almost unscathed (compared to what happened to the people who didn’t survive, at least). Now, that is a fantastic set-up for a horror novel, in part because it can go in so many different directions. The plane crashes could be supernatural, the children could be possessed, or aliens, or harbingers of the end of the world. Or it could all just be one evil, horrible coincidence.

Sarah Lotz chose to tell this story as a sort of oral history. The Three is told as a fictional non-fiction book, set after the events of Black Thursday, collecting newspaper articles, transcribed interviews, witness acounts, blog posts, chat histories, and more. This format lends itself really well to the story and the short chapters make it even harder to put the book down. Those 500 pages just fly by, as you watch the world turn insane.three

So… creepy kids. They really are creepy, mostly because they completely fail to deliver what horror movies have taught us to expect from creepy kids. They don’t suddenly stand behind you with a big knife, they don’t speak dead languages or with a demon’s voice – in fact, they behave almost normally most of the time. Considering the trauma that they have lived through, one could say they are handling it pretty well. What makes them so utterly scary is that there are moments where their personality shifts ever so slightly, moments when they say just one line that is a tiny bit off, when they don’t feel like children. It’s perfect if you like shivers down your spine.

But far more terrifying than three little children could ever be is the collective reaction of humanity to the events of Black Thursday. I was most shocked by the religious nuts, people claiming to want to save others, yet clearly out for their own gain, and following their delusions to scary lengths. Compared to them, the people who say aliens did it seem almost acceptable (mostly because not so many end up following them).
At first, the conspiracy blogs, the crazy preachers, the Three’s worried relations don’t have much influence in the wider world, but that changes quickly. As a pastor convinces a famous, celebrity priest that the Three are omens for the end of the world, they become convinced that there must be a fourth child, another survivor from the crash in South Africa. And, like mindless minions, people flock to South Africa and go looking for a child that may very well not exist. That is the stuff nightmares are made of.

My favorite story line is hard to pick, but I do have a soft spot for the Japanese survivor, Hiro, and his remaining family. Not only are there robots involved (which, come one, robots are just cool), but this was the story with the most humanity to it. It features troubled young people, living their lives surrounded by the insanity of suddenly having a celebrity in their midst. And their lives were hard enough to begin with, even without papparazzi and conspiracies and being afraid of assassins.

The scariest child, to me, was Jess. But this impression was probably colored by her uncle who acts as narrator through his recorded messages. Which leads me again to the way the story is told. The medium – or media, rather – turn this into a surprisingly quick read, more a thriller than a non-fiction book, but there’s still room for all the different voices to come through. After a few chapters, every character becomes recognisable through their voice alone, without even needing names or places mentioned as anchors. It’s always clear who’s telling the story at any given moment and that makes it much easier to empathise with people  – or despise them, in certain cases…

The Three is a horror thriller that turns the creepy children trope on its head and, without answering many questions, delivers the best ending I could have hoped for! I highly doubt I can wait until Halloween next year to read the sequel, Day Four. I also doubt I’ll ever be flying again without remembering that opening chapter, the most terrifying part of the entire book. Shirley Jackson and Sarah Lotz – you have seriously sweetened my Halloween this year. You know, in a spine-tingly way.

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent

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Sylvia Spruck Wrigley – Domnall and the Borrowed Child

After a shaky start, the Tor.com novella lineup has been nothing short of excellent. I haven’t read all the titles yet (working on it) but I want to tell you about this new addition which comes out  – drumroll – today! If you’ve been reading big, epic books with ambitious world-building and multi-layered characters, if you just need a break, some time to breathe with a short fun tale, pick this one up.

by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley

Published by: Tor.com, 2015
Ebook: 112 pages
Standalone novella
My rating: 6,5/10

First sentence: For centuries – more than that, millennia! – since the beginning of time itself, the fae had celebrated the Spring by finding the bluebells and creating a faerie ring.

The best and bravest faeries fell in the war against the Sluagh, and now the Council is packed with idiots and cowards. Domnall is old, aching, and as cranky as they come, but as much as he’d like to retire, he’s the best scout the Sithein court has left.
When a fae child falls deathly ill, Domnall knows he’s the only one who can get her the medicine she needs: Mother’s milk. The old scout will face cunning humans, hungry wolves, and uncooperative sheep, to say nothing of his fellow fae!


Domnall doesn’t have it easy. He’s one of the Fair Folk, but few remain that hold with the old ways. Fairies nowadays are scared and careful and hide away under their hill, not like it used to be. But whenever there’s trouble, who do they run to? Domnall, of course. No need to be sneaky and hide from the humans – he’s a fae, after all, and proud of it. They used to run about all over the place, making fairy rings, enchanting humans, drinking fresh dew…

Domnall and the Borrowed Child tells exactly the story you’d expect from the title. Domnall has to exchange the sick Sithein girl for a human child, so the fae can get human mother’s milk – a cure-all for fairy diseases. But of course, things don’t go smoothly. Domnall manages to swap babies somehow but forgets that the human baby, now under the hill among the Sithein, also requires milk or else it will scream its head off. But he can’t exactly milk the mother, so sheep will have to do. And milking sheep is no easy task. Domnall stumbles from one disaster into the next, just trying to do the best he can.

Along the way, he gets help by the young Sithein Micol and I think there were supposed to be romantic undertones in their relationship. I didn’t feel those at all, because to me, Domnall was much, much older than Micol (and he is, 100 years older at least) and so I was rather hoping for a friendship. Domnall’s character is lovable, if somewhat one-dimensional. The plot was fun and quick-moving and adorable in many ways. It also fell a little flat because it was such a straight-forward fairy story. This may very well be my own fault because I have been spoiled rotten with wonderful subversions of fairy tales, lately, so Domnall is not to blame.

I have very little to say about this book, other than that it was cute and I’d totally pick up another of Sylvia Spruck Wrigley’s stories. This wasn’t the kind of story that sticks in your mind, not the kind that makes you think deep thoughts or question the world around you. But it was highly entertaining, a romp through the fairy hills, with a Sithein who’s essential just a good guy with a grumpy exterior. Lovely.

MY RATING: 6,5/10 – Quite good


Second opinions:


Angela Slatter – Sourdough and Other Stories

I just knew I would like Angela Slatter. Everything I’ve heard and read about her just screamed “read me, read me”. Fairy tales with twists, fairy tales from new perspectives, mythology and lyrical language? An Angela Carter vibe? Hell yes! 2015 continues to be good to me when it comes to discovering new authors.

sourdoughSOURDOUGH and Other Stories
by Angela Slatter

Published by: Tartarus Press, 2010
Ebook: 238 pages
Short story collection
My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: ‘Why are you so dark, Ella?’ squeals Brunhilde, the king’s daughter.

Welcome to the beautiful magic, restless passion and exquisite horror of Angela Slatter’s impeccably imagined tales. In the cathedral-city of Lodellan and its uneasy hinterland, babies are fashioned from bread, dolls are given souls and wishes granted may be soon regretted. There are ghosts who dream, men whose wings have been clipped and trolls who long for something other.

A good short story collection has at the very least a great first story and a great last story. This one does not have the greatest first story and I was almost worried after reading “The Shadow Tree”. I thought I had bought a nice enough collection but the surprise twist at the end fell rather flat for me. After hyping myself up to reading this book, I was expecting the collection to start with more of a bang.

But I kept reading. After all, this was only one of many stories. The further I progressed in the collection, the more I fell in love, the more I was on the hunt for the connections between the stories. For they are (almost?) all connected, whether because a side character in one story is the protagonist of the next, whether we follow the next generation of characters, the babies left behind, the children spirited away by trolls, the witch’s apprentices… The collection is like a real-world collection of stories you get from asking the women in a city to tell you of their life. It’s vibrant and touching and sometimes just utterly devastating.

sourdoughAngela Slatter has created a tapestry so richly drawn that each character springs to life. There are witches and princesses, kitchen maids who come into riches, changelings and trolls. Fairy tales may be the basis for many of these stories, but Slatter doesn’t just put a small spin on them. She takes the “evil” characters and shows them for flawed, multi-layered human beings. Or in some cases not so human. She gives the fairy tale princesses agency, a reason (other than a witchy kidnapper) for Rapunzel to be in her tower. She makes her women real, simply because they are allowed to choose their own path. That freedom often leads to them making mistakes, but at least they are their mistakes. These aren’t the fairy tale princesses that need to be kissed awake or married to be happy.

I go before the same woman, by the same secret ways, under the same witch’s moon. I do not think I will walk out alive. My bones will sleep under dirt and stones somewhere within these stout walls. No one will look for me; no one will care. Some bargains, once made, should not be revisited. Indeed, some bargains should not be made at all.

All of this shines even more because of the beautiful language. Slatter’s skill is just stunning and it becomes clear, when reading certain passages, why she loves writing short stories so much as opposed to longer works (although I hear there’s a novel coming out). Short story writers don’t have the luxury of many pages to explain, to describe endlessly a banquet table or a pretty girl’s dress. They need to get to the point fast and, in the best case, they need to do so with beautiful language that evokes emotion in the readers. Angela Slatter does just that. With one sentence, she builds entire castles, she sets the tone for an entire story, she feeds us a character’s history.

Pious mothers bring newborns here and donate their babies’ breath.

One story was so sneakily atmospheric, so dense and creepy, it actually gave me nightmares. Dolls that come alive? Yeah, that’s terrifying. Even though, in the story, the dolls aren’t evil, they are still dolls with a sliver of soul in them and that idea followed me into my dreams. Well done, Angela Slatter, well done indeed!

But don’t expect a collection of horror stories now (I’m just a chicken and dolls creep me out, that’s all), there is a little bit of everything in here. Love stories that end well, and some more love stories that don’t. All stories center around women, their friendships and rivalries, their children and what they’re willing to do for them, how a chosen loving family is better than a rich one that may share your blood. And witches. Lots of witches.

The water flowing beside this small, remote castle runs as cold as a serpent’s blood.

My favorite bit about Sourdough, apart from the title story about a young baker who makes bread in wonderful animal shapes (among others), was how interconnected everything was. Names would pop up in later stories and I’d recognise them as the baby from an earlier story. An old witch could be a side character in one story, only to show up again later as a young woman and tell us her story. Rapunzel’s tower makes frequent appearances in these tales – the world of Sourdough feels like a real, lived-in place and despite all the terrible things that happen to good people, I would really like to visit there someday. Because, you know, it’s that kind of book.

MY RATING: 8,5/10 – Excellent
(with some room left for the quasi-sequel collection The Bitterwood Bible)

P.S.: Alix, you will love this!


A short anectode about Tartarus Press:

I bought an e-book copy of both Sourdough and The Bitterwood Bible via the Tartarus Press webpage. There was some trouble with the delivery of these books because they went to a wrong e-mail adress (Paypal messed up). So I wrote to the nice people at Tartarus Press, explaining my problem and asking if there was any way they’d send me the ebooks anyway, to my current e-mail adress. I realised, of course, that an ebook copy of each book had gone into the aether and it would be totally understandable if I had to purchase them again.
You already know where this is going, don’t you? Shortly after I sent my e-mail, I received an answer with both books attached and a few lovely lines wishing me fun reading them. As a result, both Angela Slatter and her publishing house have a new fan. Seriously, that was really nice!

Second opinions:


Zen Cho – Sorcerer to the Crown

Well, this was charming! The first time I read Zen Cho (The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo), my main gripe was that the story was too short, that the scenes didn’t have enough time to unfold, that danger was averted too quickly and too easily. Well, Zen Cho has now produced a novel that has none of those problems, but delivers a huge dose of charm and humor.

sorcerer to the crownSORCERER TO THE CROWN
by Zen Cho

Published by: Macmillan, 2015
Hardcover: 416 pages
Series: Sorcerer Royal #1
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: The meeting of the Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers was well under way, and the entrance hall was almost empty.

The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, one of the most respected organizations throughout all of England, has long been tasked with maintaining magic within His Majesty’s lands. But lately, the once proper institute has fallen into disgrace, naming an altogether unsuitable gentleman—a freed slave who doesn’t even have a familiar—as their Sorcerer Royal, and allowing England’s once profuse stores of magic to slowly bleed dry. At least they haven’t stooped so low as to allow women to practice what is obviously a man’s profession…
At his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers and eminently proficient magician, ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England’s magical stocks are drying up. But when his adventure brings him in contact with a most unusual comrade, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, he sets on a path which will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain—and the world at large…


Zen Cho has her language down. Open up Sorcerer to the Crown and you will feel like you fell into a Jane Austen novel. Except there’s magic, and sorcerers, and social commentary. For the first few chapters, I was reminded very much of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell but this would be a much more lighthearted version, a book that doesn’t take itself too seriously. This lightheartedness is at the same time strength and weakness of the story.

Zacharias Wythe has just become Sorcerer Royal and with that role inherited a number of problems, only some of which can be traced back to people’s prejudice about his skin color. Less and less magic is in the air for magicians to use, ambitious gentlemen wish to gain Zacharias’ position for themselves, he has to hold a speech at a young ladies’ school for (or rather for the suppression of) magic, and he caught a small case of making a bargain with the Fair Folk – which is never a good idea unless you are the fairy.

Enter Prunella Gentleman. What a charming, delightful, practical creature she is! Zacharias may be the protagonist of this book but, honestly, Prunella steals the show on every page. And Zacharias is fine with that, I’m sure. Not only does Prunella actually want to explore her magical talent, despite society (and her school) preaching that women aren’t strong enough to support magical currents, to use magic, and thus must be trained to suppress it entirely. But Prunella just gets it. She understands the society she lives in and she understands her place in it. Naturally her number one goal is to find a wealthy husband – as any Jane Austen heroine will know, this is no laughing matter, for without one, a woman would be quite dependent on her parents or the kindness of strangeres. Prunella wants security, and only then does she have time to pursue her ambitions as a magician. It’s not only her attitude that makes her so wonderful, it’s also her honesty. Reading about Prunella was the best thing!

Zen Cho also does some interesting things with world-building in her alternate England. I loved that Fairyland is a place you can visit and that fairies aren’t cute, but dangerous (if not evil as such, they do like to trick humans). The idea of a sorcerer needing familiars to grant him status and power was interesting, although I believe not done well enough. The same goes for the use of magic. We learn that hedge witches (not respected magicians, of course, but mostly servant women in rich households) use magic to help them do their chores, but what the actual Unnatural Philosophers do is a mystery – which also might be a nod to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell again. There are ghosts, but it’s not clear when somebody turns into a ghost and what exactly the point is. This world is stuffed full of ideas and I can’t help but think that picking only a few of them and focusing a bit more on these would have been a better idea.

Similar things bothered me about the plot. It starts as one thing, introduces Prunella, and instantly turns into another. But with so many side plots, it was difficult to know what the story is supposed to be about. I chose to read for Prunella. Her storyline was a true pleasure, but the rest of the plot suffered for it. Prunella is just too center stage (and that’s a good thing) for me to care much about anything else. Zacharias’ curse is mentioned several times but only becomes revealed at the end. It all meandered a bit and felt overloaded.

Speaking of the end. Predictable as certain aspects were, Zen Cho genuinely surprised me with how she got there. I had some ideas in my head of stuff that just HAD TO HAPPEN and it did happen. But what Prunella and Zacharias have to do to achieve this end was quite original. Damerell, a side character who stole my heart a little, does his part and grows into more than just comic relief. I quite adored the ending, especially considering what it means for the next novel in the series.

So despite the slightly too ambitious approach to the plot, I believe Zen Cho has created a world that is worth revisiting. And if there is more Prunella in the next book, you can definitely count me in. What an utterly, utterly charming character.

MY RATING: 7,5/10 – Very good

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Top Ten Tuesday – Halloweeny stuff

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is a Halloween freebie. Instead of going for creepy recommendations of books I’ve read, I am going to post my top ten scary books on my TBR that I’ve been wanting to read for ages but haven’t yet. I hope the guilty conscience helps me get onto these…

  1. Sarah Lotz – The Three
  2. Shirley Jackson – The Haunting of Hill House
  3. David Wong – John Dies at the End
  4. Helen Oyeyemi – White is for Witching
  5. Frances Hardinge – Cuckoo Song
  6. Mercedes M. Yardley – Pretty Little Dead Girls
  7. Lisa Goldstein – The Uncertain Places
  8. Mark Z. Danielewski – House of Leaves
  9. Robert Jackson Bennett – American Elsewhere
  10. Bram Stoker – Dracula

Some of these books I’ve started, some I’m reading right now (House of Leaves has been next to my bed for over a year but it takes a lot of concentration which I don’t have in the evenings), but all of them are must reads for me. I’ve been putting them off for far too long.

I’m already very behind on most of my challenges for the year so there’s no time to catch up on all of these, but I plan to squeeze one creepy book from this list into next week. You know, because Halloween.


Books in the Queue – The Sprint to the End of the Year Edition

Oh man, I have so many books to read this year still. Whether it’s for challenges, for Hugo award consideration, because I’ve been waiting for their publication, or simply because I need to read them because otherwise a little part of me will die – I have way too many books lined up that I still want to finish in 2015. Here’s a look at the ones that are looking at me with the biggest puppy dog eyes and that want to be read most urgently:

  • Catherynne M. Valente – Radiance
    Oh my god, why is this book not in my hands yet I’m dying here! I’ve read a sneak peek of this via NetGalley and fell in love so hard that I had a book hangover. And that was only the beginning. How broken with the rest of the book leave me, I ask you? I don’t care, give it to me now!
  • N. K. Jemisin – The Fifth Season
    It’s no secret I love Nora Jemisin’s writing and people have had nothing but praise for this latest of her books. My fingers are twitching in anticipation.
  • Sara Monette – Mélusine
    The Goblin Emperor stole my heart, so now I want to read everything by Sarah Monette/Katherine Addison.
  • Hannah Moskowitz – A History of Glitter and Blood
    It’s The Booksmugglers’ fault. The cover caught my eye but the plot sounded only meh. Then Ana and Thea RAVED about this and seconds later, I owned the book. It happens.
  • Terry Pratchett – The Shepherd’s Crown
    I’m a little torn here. On the one hand, Tiffany Aching and Granny Weatherwax are my favorite Discworld characters and I desperately want another adventure with them. On the other hand, this is the last Discworld book ever and it breaks my heart in so many different ways that I don’t want to read it just yet.
  • Nicole Kornher-Stace – Archivist Wasp
    Again, The Booksmugglers. You guys are going to ruin me! In this case, I think Liz Bourke also raved about it in her column Sleeps With Monsters.
  • Elizabeth Bear – Karen Memory
    I bought this right when it came out but it kind of got lost under a bunch of other books. I can’t quite remember why I didn’t jump into this right away, it sounds so good! And because it sounds so good, I suspect it might be a Hugo contender and I need to read it before nominating starts. Informed decisions and all that.
  • Seth Dickinson – The Traitor Baru Cormorant
    I think the internet has said enough about this to make everyone read it. My excitement about this book has been building since early this year. Now let’s see if the marketing hype has promised too much. Either way, I look forward to this very much.
  • Angela Slatter – Of Sorrow and Such
    I still have Slatter’s shor story collections to read before this (because reasons) but whatever happens, I must read this soon. Everything about it is wonderful. The cover, the blurb, the idea… yes. This is for me.

And here are a few that I need to list because I’m worried I’ll forget about them otherwise and they really didn’t do anything to deserve that (and yes, I am aware that I talk about books as if they were sentient).

  • S. M. Wheeler – Sea Change
    I’ve had this lined up for ages. It sounds just perfect for me, the blurb pushes all my buttons already. Why haven’t I read this yet? Do you know, cause I don’t.
  • Octavia Cade – The August Birds
    This sounds heartbreaking and beautiful and it’s by Octavia Cade and I know it’s going to leave me in a puddle of tears but that’s fine.
  • Molly Tanzer – Vermilion
    It didn’t get a lot of hype but with that cover and that synopsis, it was a sure thing for me. This feels like the kind of book that will end up as an underrated gem.
  • Angela Slatter – Sourdough and Other Stories
    I first heard about Angela Slatter (pronounced slay-ter, I’m told) on the Writer and the Critic podcast, and she sounds like  THE writer for me. I bought both her story collections and am eagerly waiting for her Tor.com novella.
  • Rachel Bach – Honour’s Knight and Heaven’s Queen
    I adored the first book in this sci-fi, alien, conspiracy, romantic, space adventure trilogy and don’t really know why I haven’t finished it yet. It’s about time.
  • Jeff Vandermeer – Authority and Acceptance
    See Rachel Bach. To be fair, though, Annihilation was a very weird book so my taking a break after it is understandable. I’d still like to complete the trilogy and maybe get some answers about Area X and all the strangeness that’s going on there.
  • Cecilia Dart-Thornton – The Ill-Made Mute
    A fairy tale retelling that sounds so exquisite and original that I put it on two of my challenge lists.
  • John Crowley – Little, Big
    A book I’ve been putting of for far too long. It’s Cat Valente’s favorite book – that should be incentive enough. I mean, she is my author goddess! If she likes it, I probably will, too. Page count and writing density have kept me away but this year, I’ll dive into it. Pinkie swear.
  • Jaida Jones & Danielle Bennett – Dragon Soul
    I’ve read one Jones/Bennett book per year since I discovered the lovely Havemercy and I don’t see any reason to discontinue that trend. These are wonderful fantasies of manners involving diverse romantic couples as well as court intrigue, mechanical (sentient) dragons, magicians, and the most wonderful bickering between characters.

On the plus side, there are a few books I’m really excited about but that I’m waiting to read on purpose. Brandon Sanderson’s newest Mistborn trilogy, for example. By now, I know how evil that man can be with a cliffhanger, so I’m biding my time until the trilogy is out and then I’ll dive into the universe of allomancy and feruchemy again. I’m also saving up Ancillary Mercy for my next holiday because I want to (re-)read the entire trilogy in one go.

And since there are still more books lined up for this year that I didn’t tell you about, I better shut up now and get reading.


Charlie N. Holmberg – The Master Magician

I’ve been putting this off for a while… at first I didn’t know what to write, then I wasn’t sure if I should waste a post about this at all. Should I tell you about all the ways this book is a fail? Or focus on just one or two? Should I just leave it altogether? But the completionist in me refused to stop reading after book 2, and after pushing through the entire trilogy, I feel I can do you, dear readers, a service by warning you. If you want brainless entertainment, the first book is okay. But do yourselves a favor and just stop after that.

master magicianTHE MASTER MAGICIAN
by Charlie N. Holmberg

Published by: 47North, 2015
Ebook: 226 pages
Series: The Paper Magician #3
My rating: 2/10

First sentence: Ceony, wearing her red apprentice’s apron over a ruffled blouse and plain brown skirt, stood on her tiptoes on a three-legged stool and stuck a square of white paper against the east wall of the Holloways’ living room, right where the wall met the ceiling.

Throughout her studies, Ceony Twill has harbored a secret, one she’s kept from even her mentor, Emery Thane. She’s discovered how to practice forms of magic other than her own — an ability long thought impossible.
While all seems set for Ceony to complete her apprenticeship and pass her upcoming final magician’s exam, life quickly becomes complicated. To avoid favoritism, Emery sends her to another paper magician for testing, a Folder who despises Emery and cares even less for his apprentice. To make matters worse, a murderous criminal from Ceony’s past escapes imprisonment. Now she must track the power-hungry convict across England before he can take his revenge. With her life and loved ones hanging in the balance, Ceony must face a criminal who wields the one magic that she does not, and it may prove more powerful than all her skills combined.


Oh boy. Let’s just get all the terrible problems out of the way before my head explodes. The lack of research for the historical period from the first two books continues here. Everything feels so very modern, so very American, that I kept wondering why the author wanted to set this in London and in the past. She clearly didn’t care enough to have anyone proof read the book to find all the glaring anachronisms. That is the least of this book’s problems, though.

Ceony, who was plucky and fun an in the first book, albeit a walking, talking stereotype, has now gone full-on idiot. Not only does she do forbidden and dangerous things – after TWO books of exactly this behaviour almost getting her killed and actually getting her friend killed – seriously, does this woman never learn? She may talk like a modern day woman but her ideas of gender roles are straight out of the stone ages. Women cook, men do… everything else I guess? Women, of course, are also supposed to be beautiful, but only so long as Ceony approves of their type. She shows distate on several occasions when other women act stereotypically feminine (wearing frilly dresses, giggling, being girly), but when she herself turns all 50ies wife or giggles, it’s okay. You know why? Because she is SPECIAL!

The story here is not just lame, it’s even lame in-universe. The villain from the second book – remember, the only Indian person in a cast so very, very white – has escaped and is now the villain of book number three. He is a villain because… the plot calls for something to fight, apparently. He has no agency, no personality, no motives – all he has is dark skin, an accent, and a desire to do evil for evil’s sake. I can let a lot of things slide but when an author so clearly doesn’t take the time to question what she writes, when research is deemed unnecessary, the book that comes out of this reads as if a five-year-old wrote it. And I’d hazard a guess that my imaginary five-year-old could have at least come up with a more interesting (and less offensive) villain. Hell, why not put a big monster in there for Ceony to fight?

Even if I could ignore all of that (which I couldn’t), the author decided to overhaul her entire magic system. Sure, Ceony found out in the previous book what NOBODY HAS FOUND OUT BEFORE: that magicians can break their bond to their chosen material and switch between materials as they wish. All they need to do is say some words… if this weren’t stupid enough already, suddenly Ceony can not only bond to all man-made materials – which was the whole premise of this trilogy – but to fire. I don’t know about you, but my interpretation of fire is not exactly that it’s a man-made material. Yeah, we can strike a match and “make fire” but it’s not the same as paper, plastic, or steel. This was a major moment of fail that breaks the entire internal logic (haha!) of the series.

If, at this point, I had cared about any of the characters, I would probably still have groaned and rolled my eyes at the blatantly obvious ending. Of course it ends with a marriage proposal. Because that’s the one thing Ceony needs, right? For her master magician to finally make a married woman out of her, so she can cook his meals officially, without society frowning upon it. Her discovery of new magic, her job application to the crime department, those are just background. What she really needs is other people’s approval for her need to feed her man.

So, the bad stuff is out of the way. That leaves me with – nothing. Sorry. Everything in this book is a mess. There is no plot, there are no stakes, there is nothing I cared about, and nobody I wasn’t annoyed with. Be it the forcefully inserted story about Ceony’s jealous younger sister, the pretend difficulty of her magician test (come ON, it’s all sooooo obvious, a baby could solve it!) or the hunt for the villain. There are the soppiest of soppy moments, there is the lame and unoriginal love story, there is no substance whatsoever. My God, am I glad that this is now over.

MY RATING: 2/10 – So very, very bad!


Second opinions


R.I.P. Review: Shirley Jackson – We Have Always Lived in the Castle

RIP XI had planned to finally read a Shirley Jackson book for years, but every time I thought of it I wanted to save it for October. You know, for when I need Halloween reads. Then I ended up forgetting… but not this year! I finally picked this up and loved it so much that I won’t wait for October to read the next one.

we have always lived in the castleWE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE
by Shirley Jackson

Published by: Penguin, 2006 (first published 1962)
Paperback: 224 pages
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance.

Merricat Blackwood lives on the family estate with her sister Constance and her uncle Julian. Not long ago there were seven Blackwoods—until a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl one terrible night. Acquitted of the murders, Constance has returned home, where Merricat protects her from the curiousity and hostility of the villagers. Their days pass in happy isolation until cousin Charles appears. Only Merricat can see the danger, and she must act swiftly to keep Constance from his grasp.


Wow! Just wow. Let me tell you how this went down. I curled up on the couch and decided to try the first chapter of this little book here. I stayed up very, very late (despite having to get up early for work the next day) to read as far as I possibly could. In the very first chapter, Shirley Jackson builds up so much atmosphere, such an air of mystery and paranoia, that I couldn’t have put the book down. I just didn’t have the willpower.

Mary Katherine – called Merricat by her sister – goes on one of her two weekly trips to the town, to pick up groceries. Merricat, her older sister Constance, and their uncle Julian live in a big house a bit outside the city. The story is told by Merricat, which was a stroke of genius on the author’s part and makes the book all the more intriguing to read. Very little is known about the Blackwood family, only that most of them have died, and that the remaining sisters and uncle are shunned by the town people. Merricat follows strict rituals to get through her days. In fact, she almost seems to live in her own little dream world at times. She makes up games for her trips to town, she plans how to furnish her house on the moon where she wants to live with her sister…. she’s not a very trustworthy narrator, to say the least.

In the second chapter, the bomb drops. I realise the blurb already gives this away, but I had bought this book so many years ago that I had completely forgotten that. So the Blackwood family was murdered. Poisened with arsenic in the sugar bowl. During one fateful dinner, all the family members who had used the “sugar” started dying, leaving only Constance and Merricat, as well as uncle Julian, who has only eaten a little bit of “sugar” and survived, although he is now in a wheelchair and suffers from a befuddled memory.

The question that haunted me (until I figured it out, at least) was who really killed the Blackwoods and why. Constance was suspected – as she prepared the dinner – but eventually acquitted of the charge. Could it all have been an unfortunate accident? Merricat’s narration, as I mentioned, can not always be trusted. Sometimes, she goes off on tangents and focuses more on her own little games, such as burying objects in their garden or chanting words for protecting the house, so the reader can never be sure if she leaves important clues out, if she simply doesn’t remember, or if she is knowingly deceiving us. Either way, it makes for a super thrilling read!

Apart from the mystery, I was also impressed by the characterisation. On less than 250 pages, Shirley Jackson brought these two sisters to vibrant life. Their rituals, their conversations, it all makes perfect sense. They are fully-formed human beings who have been through a tragedy and, naturally, live lives very different from the other townspeople. I also sympathised with uncle Julian, whose main purpose is to chronicle the events of that fateful night, to get his memories in order, to find all the facts and solve the mystery.

I admit that the big twist was not all that difficult to guess, but at that point, it didn’t matter. When I figured out who killed the Blackwoods, I was already too deep in the story, I cared too much about the characters – plus, a new threat to their strange yet ordered lives appears early on in the book, and Merricat has to do everything in her power to protect her sister and their home.

For such a short book, there is a surprising amount of layers to uncover. I was amazed. Without being able to put my finger on a reason, the writing felt so fluid that there never seemed to be a good spot to put the book down. Even after my most burning question was answered, I still always needed to know what happens next. I found myself actually caring about Merricat’s weird buried objects and needed them to remain intact and in their place. The sense of paranoia, even madness, totally takes over and makes reading this almost like a dream. It doesn’t have to make sense to feel real and important.

So Shirley Jackson will now be my go-to author for October or any other time I feel like a creepy book with depth and great writing. I’ll say it again: Wow!

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent


Second opinions:


#Diversiverse Review: Nnedi Okorafor – Binti

diversiverse3After a bit of a rocky start, I am now convinced that the Tor.com novella lineup is excellent and will continue to be so. Nnedi Okorafor hasn’t managed to capture me this much since Who Fears Death. Both her first contact story Lagoon and Who Fears Death’s quasi-prequel The Book of Phoenix were good books that somehow didn’t reach me emotionally. Now Binti was everything I had been missing from these two. A wonderful, wonderful story!

by Nnedi Okorafor

Published by: Tor.com, 2015
Ebook: 96 pages
Standalone Novella
My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: I powered up the transporter and said a silent prayer.

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.
Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.
If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself – but first she has to make it there, alive.


Binti is running away from home to follow her dream. She wants to study at the renowned Oomza University which happens to be on a different planet. So right from the start, I was invested in the story. Without knowing anything about Binti, I think everybody understands the feeling of wanting to escape your parents’ plans for you and follow your own way. Except if Binti really leaves, she knows she can never come back, so the stakes are pretty high.

On her way to Oomza University, Binti sticks out because of her appearance. The Himba people have such a rare supply of drinking water that they don’t waste it like other people do. For cleaning themselves, they use otjize, a paste made of red clay and oils – just look at the amazing book cover. The use and preparation of otjize is described beautifully, and I felt just as anxious as Binti when her pre-made supply threatened to run out. What little she has brought with her is her only real, tangible connection to her home – for the rest of the story, she will be on space ships or on a different planet. Having a piece of your home with you makes travelling a little easier.

When Binti meets the alien Meduse, she needs to act quickly and make smart decisions, not just to save her own life but also her future. I loved Binti’s character so, so much. Knowing what you want and going for it are two very different things and Binti is trying to keep her culture alive, even after being faced with things that change her world view, even her body.

My favorite part was probably the relationship that Binti builds with an essentially hostile alien race. She comes into it with prejudice – after all, the Meduse are known to have killed a lot of people – but her mind remains open enough for her to rethink and change her understanding of the Meduse and their motives. This doesn’t happen overnight, of course. Somebody has to make the first step, somebody has to trust the other enough to meet and talk without protection, without weapons. Binti wants to make things right and uses her mind, her kindness, and her empathy to do it. It’s not only a struggle to find common ground with the aliens, she also has to consider the cultural differences between herself and the humans in Oomza University. Binti is the only Himba to ever be accepted there, so to the people there, she may appear almost as alien as the Meduse.

binti cover art

I loved how Okorafor took a story that could have easily been a stale coming-of-age, woman-runs-away-from-home tale, and gave it a twist that puts the fate of an entire planet at risk. The language flows beautifully, the book is impossible to put down.

There is also a fair bit of world-building in these 96 pages. Binti’s people are highly skilled in mathematics, and Binti herself is the best among them (well, her and her father). This addition of maths and currents makes this an interesting science fiction world that made me want to explore it more. So maybe Nnedi Okorafor will follow in Paul Cornell’s footsteps and write us a sequel to her Tor.com novella – I’d be the first to buy it!

This is a very short novella that doesn’t waste a single word on unimportant stuff, but it packs a punch on every page. Really, everything about this was wonderful. Binti’s character, the connection she builds with the Meduse, her inner struggle about who she is and what it means when parts of her become suddenly different… Unsurprisingly, I read this in one sitting and ended up wanting more. In my opinion, this is by far the best thing Okorafor has written since Who Fears Death!

MY RATING: 8,5/10 – Excellent!

divider1Second opinions: