Women of Wonder

Title: Women of Wonder

Author: Various

Summary: In Women of Wonder, Pamela Sargent has assembled a collection of amazing stories which show that some of the most exciting and innovative writing in science fiction is being produced by women.

That Only a Mother (1948) story by Judith Merril
Contagion (1950) novelette by Katherine MacLean
The Wind People (1959) story by Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Ship Who Sang (1961) novelette by Anne McCaffrey
When I Was Miss Dow (1966) story by Sonya Dorman
The Food Farm (1967) story by Kit Reed
Baby, You Were Great (1967) story by Kate Wilhelm
Sex &/or Mr. Morrison (1967) story by Carol Emshwiller
Vaster Than Empires & More Slow (1971) novelette by Ursula K. Le Guin
False Dawn (1972) story by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
Nobody’s Home (1972) story by Joanna Russ
Of Mist, & Grass, & Sand (1973) novelette by Vonda N. McIntyre

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I found out about this book when i was gifted the Penguin Science Fiction Postcards collection. A quick google later and I discovered there were several books in this series–all science fiction short stories by women. I am into every single aspect of that with a passion, and it wasn’t long later that I had sourced the entire series of books secondhand online and had them in my possession. So now, I’m working my way through them!

I’ll be honest… I skipped the introduction. It might have been brilliant and I could have loved it, but i wanted at these stories. If it had been written by Le Guin I’d have been all over that; I could read her non-fiction analysis essays all. Damn. Day. But whatever, i went straight for the heart of this book: the short stories.

Each chapter had a little introduction to the author and a short synopsis of the story. This was nice, giving some context and setting the scene for each story. It also helps now, when I’m skipping backwards and forwards through the book to write about the stories, to jog my memory about which is which. (I’m crap with names and titles!)

Let’s start with my favourites. Plural, because there were a few strong ones here.

The Ship Who Sang was one of the first to really stand out for me. I got the novel in my December 2016 Prudence of the Crow vintage book subscription box, but of course, have not yet read it. So it was wonderful to read this short story version, however it has only left me wanting to dive into the full novel, to fully meet these characters and get utterly emotionally invested.

Baby You Were Great was that perfect balance of fascinating new-tech sci-fi and creepy fucked up sci-fi. The idea that everything you see and even feel can be recorded for other people to experience, and how that can be exploited and manipulated. Lots to digest and unpack here, and that’s how I love my science fiction!

Of course, Le Guin. Vaster Than Empires & More Slow was truly a mini-novel, it packed in so much. I could barely keep track of the characters (again, i’m bad with names, okay?), but there were only a few that really mattered here. Exploring the concept of empathy, how it can shape relationships, and how knowing how others are feeling can actually be very isolating.

In a much more subtle, understated way, I also really loved Nobody’s Home. In a world where instantaneous travel exists, this story speculates how that might affect love and family and friendships, in such an open and lovely way. It also touches on genetic engineering and the value placed on intelligence–higher and higher.

There were a few stories I was really drawn into, but ultimately let down by, too.

The one I have the strongest feelings about is False Dawn. Set in a polluted dystopia this story was at first really interesting, following a mutant woman with archery skills who was being hunted by pirates. I was all in on this narrative… until it took a terrible turn, leaving our main character defenseless, mutilated, raped, and suddenly falling in love with the random bloke who rescues her. Erm… no, thank you.

Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand was another story that was very compelling, but that didn’t quite do enough for me. Supposedly set in a post-technological word, there was nothing that struck me as obviously post-tech–it could just have easily been pre-tech, or non-existent-tech, or irrelevant-tech. I didn’t connect enough with the main character. She seemed interesting, but was a little too aloof and mysterious… so much so that I didn’t care enough about her.

There were also several decent three-star stories in here. Contagion, The Wind People, and Sex and/or Mr Morrison all sparked my interest and fascination in one way or another.

Overall I really enjoyed this book, and reading stories written by and specifically about women. I will always need more feminist science fiction in my life, and I can’t wait to read more in this series.

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Little Fires Everywhere

Title: Little Fires Everywhere

Author: Celeste Ng

Summary: In the placid, progressive suburb of Shaker Height everything this meticulously planned, from the colours of the houses, to the successful lives of its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson.

Mia Warren, an enigmatic artist and single mother, arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon, Mia and Peral become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children and drawn to the alluring mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a disregard for the rules that threaten to upend this carefully ordered community.

When the Richardsons’ friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle errupts that dramatically divides the town and puts Mia and Mrs Richardson on opposing sides. Mrs Richardson becomes determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession with come at unexpected and devastating costs to her own family–and Mia’s.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: I read and loved Ng’s first novel, Everything I Never Told You, so I was really excited to get hold of her second book and set about reading it.

Compared to the previous book, with its incredible first-line hook, this was a slow burn. The first chapter, starting at the end of the story, sets out a lot of questions about how the book will get us there, but didn’t immediately strike me with a ‘must keep reading’ feeling.

Getting to know the characters, their situations, and their motivations was also a slow process. With eight characters at the forefront of the narrative (plus a few more important ones introduced along the way), this was important ground work, and the set up was worth it for the pay off. But it was still challenging to get past that and really get into the story.

It wasn’t until chapter seven, when we properly meet the elusive Izzy, that things really picked up for me. Ahead of this we’d met the other members of the Richardson family, all of whom were well-do-to, average, and utterly boring. Of course there was also the Warren mother/daughter duo who, while not exactly driving the plot along, were more interesting and mysterious. It was Izzy, though, with her fire, independence, caring, and no-shits-to-give attitude who really intrigued me.

The title, most obviously and as revealed in the opening chapter, refers to how the fire at the Richardson’s home was set, but more accurately it is about the smaller plots of the book. The simmering, unspoken feud between Mrs Richardson and Mia; the family dynamics of the Richardsons; the teenage drama, hormones, and life-changing mistakes of all the children; the legal proceedings and claims to an abandoned baby; and–most fascinating to me–Mia’s history. These were the real little fires, everywhere around Shaker Heights.

I loved the overall ending–how all those little fires burnt and spread and changed everything forever. But most of all I loved how open a lot of things were. We know the ideas people head, where they planned to go and what they hoped would happen, but we can’t follow them there. I like to imagine the best for Mia and Pearl and Izzy… I like to imagine the others will get by, but never in quite the same way.

The last few days I’ve had a severe headache and lethargy, and all I could really bring myself to do was read, so I actually ended up reading over half of this book in pretty much one sitting. I’m not sure if this has affected my opinions on the book or not, but I do think I might have struggled to read more than a chapter a day otherwise. As it was, I  couldn’t manage much else, so I let myself get lost in this book while I wasn’t well.

While I didn’t enjoy this book as much as Everything I Never Told You, I did enjoy it. Ng knows what she’s doing and crafts a well thought out, intriguing, and genuine set of characters and events. I’ll look forward to her next novel.

The Liar’s Key

Title: The Liar’s Key

Author: Mark Lawrence

Summary: The Red Queen has set her players on the board…

Winter is keeping Prince Jalan Kendeth far from the luxuries of his southern palace. And although the North may be home to his companion, the warrior Snorri ver Snagason, he is just as eager to leave.

For the Viking is ready to challenge all of Hel to bring his wife and children back into the living world. He has Loki’s key – now all he needs is to find the door.

As all wait for the ice to unlock its jaws, the Dead King plots to claim what was so nearly his – the key into the world – so that the dead can rise and rule.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: I read and loved Prince of Fools last year, and I was determined to read this series quicker than I managed to read The Broken Empire series. Which is why The Liar’s Key was the first book i picked up this year. Lawrence’s writing is always clever and an effortless mix of humour and heart. This book was no different.

Our main character, Jalan, was just as much a delightful prick as he was in the first book. Self-declared squeamish coward, but with so much self-deceit he almost has no idea who he really is. He continues to do brave and noble things, while convincing himself he’s selfishly just trying to make his own life easier. I kind of adore him. Snorri is… still very much Snorri. Self-assured, headstrong, and… the regular kind of strong. Dragging his friends across Europe on a dangerous quest to open the door to Hel and find his dead family. Tuttugu i didn’t remember clearly from the first book, but i adored in this book. A kind, soft heart following his countryman and friend into dangerous situations because it’s the right thing to do.

We also get a couple of new characters. Kara, a witch who joins their journey and helps them along the way, but who clearly has something to hide. I loved having a main female character join the group, and i loved her immunity to Jal’s “charms” and advances. Her secrets and unclear motivations were intriguing, but also made me wary of her. Hennan, a young boy they pick up almost randomly and pointlessly along the way… for a long time he was a bit part, barely speaking and adding nothing to the plot. But he grew on me by the end.

Now, this book took me the entirety of January to read. That’s not usual. Most other of Lawrence’s books i’ve finished in 2-3 weeks. But this one… this one took a while to really get going for me. The first half… nothing really happens. Nothing of larger consequence, anyway. It’s a meander. A travel blog. They get into some hairy situations, meet a few folk along the way… but there is nothing significant driving the plot. Only Snorri’s desire to use the key to open the door to Hel and find his family… which isn’t shared by our main character… or any other character. This led to there not being much drive for me to pick up the book to keep reading. I still read regularly, but I didn’t read much each time–only one chapter or less.

I really enjoyed Jal’s dream-jaunts into his family’s past. Seeing his grandmother, the Red Queen, as a young girl so ruthless and ready for action. His great aunt and uncle by their sister’s side, the three of them an almost unstoppable force, even at such a young age. Those snippets gave Jal and the reader so much more information about the war being fought, the motivations, and actions, and just how long the game has been in play.

It wasn’t until about halfway through that things really seemed to pick up some. When their journey brought them to Red March, and Jal saw his home town as the end of his travels. Of course, as the reader, it was obviously anything but. But seeing him trying to slip back into his old life, while finding nothing quite the same as it was and not deriving the same pleasures from it… that was brilliant to watch unfold. The story culminates in Florence, and the last 200 pages were where this book really shone for me–I couldn’t read those last 10 chapters quick enough!

As much as a lot of this book seemed too slow and meandering, it ended on such a high, with a great final showdown of wits and smarts and conversation. It has me very keen to read the last in The Red Queen’s War series. I hope Jal continues to acknowledge his own skills, courage, and caring. I hope he and Snorri get into some wonderfully dangerous adventures. I hope he kills Edris Dean with his own goddamn sword. I hope he just generally saves the fucking day, honestly.

2018 End of Year Book Survey

Today, January 1st, is six years since I created this blog of mine. It never ceases to amaze me that I’ve kept it going consistently over all that time. Every book I’ve read, reviewed here for my own posterity and, hopefully, others’ enjoyment. I always mark the occasion with this end of year survey, and my previous years have been 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017… that list will become unmanageable in a few more years.

As I’m sure most people are aware, this survey was created and is hosted by The Perpetual Page-Turner, and as usual, I’ve stuck to only the relevant questions for me, my reading life, and my blogging style.

Please do leave me a comment if you’ve read any of these books, to recommend any blogs or bookish folks to follow, and to link me up to your own survey! Hello 2019—let’s do this!

2018 Reading Stats

Number of books read: 21
Number of re-reads: 0
Genre read most: Science fiction (surprising exactly no-one), closely followed by horror and (surprising at least myself) contemporary.

Best in Books

Best book you read in 2018?
I have to choose Places in the Darkness, because it’s one of my favourite authors writing my very favourite genre. How was I not going to absolutely freaking love this book?

Book you were excited about and thought you were going to love more but didn’t?
Oh, without a shadow of a doubt The City of Mirrors. After five-star loving the first two books in the series, and even after having heard not-great things about the third, I still went in with high hopes. Safe to say those hopes were obliterated.

Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read?
Has to be Milk and Honey. As someone who wants to love poetry, but often finds it difficult, I was so, so happy to find I absolutely adored this book with a fiery passion.

Book you “pushed” the most people to read (and they did)?
I definitely prodded a couple of people into reading The Boy on the Bridge, which is good, because that book is brilliant.

Best series you started in 2018? Best sequel of 2018? Best series ender of 2018?
Started… probably The Prince of Fools, the first in The Red Queen’s War series, because I always forget just how much I unabashedly love Mark Lawrence’s effortlessly hilarious and casually genius writing.
Sequel… I’ll have to say The Word for World is Forrest, even if it did take me several bloody years to get around to it—it was worth the wait!
And I think the only series I finished was with The City of Mirrors, so it unfortunately wins by default.

Favourite new author you discovered in 2018?
I think i’ll have to say Celeste Ng, because I was just blown away by Everything I Never Told You and I can’t wait to get cracking on Little Fires Everywhere.

Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?
The Princess Diarist was way out of my comfort zone, because I don’t think I’ve ever read a straight up memoir before… only more diary/anecdotal/story type memoirs. But it was great, especially buddy-reading it with a friend.

Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?
A few strong contenders for this one, but I’m going to choose The Knife of Never Letting Go. Almost every chapter ended with an enticing hook into the next and the chapters were short enough that it was so easy to just… keep going.

Book you read in 2018 that you would be most likely to re-read next year?
Definitely The Outward Urge, and simply because I’m contemplating my second Wyndham-themed tattoo!

Favourite cover of a book you read in 2018?
Oh, so many great covers this year! However, the one that stands out, with my love of simplicity, artwork, and negative space, is Milk and Honey.

Most memorable character of 2018?
I’m going to cheat a little and say the trio of characters—Antonia, Katherine, and Kitty—from Three, because technically they all began as the same person…

Most beautifully written book read in 2018?
Face. Not only is the storytelling and concept beautiful, but so is the art work.

Most thought-provoking/life-changing book of 2018?
Hmm, I always struggle with this question. Let’s go with Banthology, because not only are the stories well-told and fantastically written, they reflect and represent genuine struggles and political issues.

Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2018 to finally read?
Don’t know, really, but I guess The Knife of Never Letting Go has been on my shelf for a while.

Favourite passage/quote from a book you read in 2018?
Having read through my favourite quotes on my tumblr, there were several wonderful and meaningful ones I could choose… but instead I’m going with the one that makes me laugh the most.

Malcolm was bored by the conversation and excused himself to search for something to steal. Finding nothing, he moved to the kitchen to replenish his vodka. He located the bottle in the freezer; just beside this was a hefty, flesh-coloured, frost-coated dildo. He stared at it a moment, then poured himself a vodka and returned to the dining room. Soon Mme Reynard excused herself to use the bathroom; in a controlled voice, Malcolm told Frances, “Go look in the freezer.”

Patrick deWitt – French Exit

Shortest and longest book you read in 2018?
Shortest: Banthology at 70 pages
Longest: The City of Mirrors at 761 pages

Book that shocked you the most?
Maybe Horrorstor, because I didn’t expect it to be so funny, but also so genuinely creepy—and still really good!

OTP of the year (you will go down with this ship!)?
Romantic relationships were really not at all the focus of any of the books I read this year and I am super chuffed with that!

Favourite non-romantic relationship of the year?
Okay, this one will have to be a tie between unlikely travel and adventure companions Jalan and Snorri in Prince of Fools, and the magnificent mother/son duo Frances and Malcolm in French Exit.

Favourite book you read in 2018 from an author you’ve read previously?
Quite a flipping few! As I chose it as my favourite book of the year, I suppose I should go with Places in the Darkness by Christopher Brookmyre.

Best book you read in 2018 that you read based SOLELY on a recommendation from somebody else?
I’d seen The Vegetarian all over instragram, and after being vegetarian for over 15 years (before becoming vegan) the peer pressure broke me and I picked it up. Worth it, though!

Best 2018 debut you read?
Undoubtedly Everything I Never Told You. I didn’t know what to expect from the book, and it was freaking fantastic.

Best world building/most vivid setting you read this year?
Despite other issues I had with the book, the world and setting in Station Eleven was fascinating and unique and I would read more stories in this world in an instance.

Book that put a smile on your face/was the most FUN to read?
Oh, has it be Instruction Manual for Swallowing. A collection of wonderful and bizarre short stories that were just a joy to spend some time in.

Book that made you cry or nearly cry in 2018?
I just counted and at least seven books made me cry. So, there’s that. Most memorable was probably The Twelve, as it managed to get me invested in a group of people in a historic timeline that I knew would all die.

Hidden gem of the year?
Three—no where near enough people will have read it. It’s really a wonderful book, in concept and writing.

Book that crushed your soul?
Ha. The City of Mirrors, because I had bloody loooooved the first two books in the series, and then that was a flaming pile of shite in comparison.

Most unique book you read in 2018?
For sure it’s Horrorstor. I’ve never read anything like that before, and it is surprisingly very well executed. The details of the actual book and how IKEA-catalogue like it is are incredible.

Book that made you the most mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?
The Princess Diarist, because it turns out Harrison Ford is a massive wanker.

Blogging Life

New favourite book blog/bookstagram/youtube channel you discovered in 2018?
I’ll be honest, I’ve been pretty bad at the social aspect of blogging this year (not that I was great at it in years previous)… so I really don’t have one. Link me some I should check out in the comments, please?

Favourite post you wrote in 2018?
Stories: Short & Sweet, because I love short stories, but I know a lot of people don’t. I wanted to share why I love them, how they’re different to novels, and what makes them so unique and fantastic.

Favourite bookish related photo you took in 2018?
First place goes to this one of The Word for World is Forest:

But an honourable mention has to go to this one of Face (with thanks to my partner for taking the photo and lining it up so flipping perfectly!):

Best bookish event that you participated in?
Sort of my own event/blog series, but I’ve loved visiting and documenting the bookshops of cities I visit. So far I’ve done Brighton and Edinburgh, and I have a Cardiff one to write and post. It brings an extra level of enjoyment from and reason to visit bookshops (other than buying more books!).

Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2018?
Oh dear, as simple and flustering as it is… when Christopher Brookmyre liked and retweeted my review of Places in the Darkness.

Most challenging thing about blogging or your reading life this year?
The social aspect. I find it very difficult to find the time to read and comment on as many other blogs and photos as I would like, especially when I’m already scraping together the time to read, review, and write posts myself. I don’t know how other bloggers manage it.

Most popular post this year on your blog (whether it be by comments or views)?
By views: Edinburgh Bookshops, by comments: On Giving Up.

Post you wished got a little more love?
Fifty Shades of Blackout Poetry, because it was so much fun, and I would love to know what other people made of it, and to see other people’s blackout poetry creations!

Best bookish discovery (book related sites, book stores, etc.)?
Is it a discovery if it’s something I’ve discovered I enjoy doing? Let’s say yes. Because this year was the first time I really bothered posting about my blog on instragram. I’ve been a bookstagrammer for a few years now (amongst my other photos—mine’s an eclectic account!), but hadn’t really bothered to promote my blog there. For whatever reason, that changed this year. And I really love taking photos of the books I’ve read to post there and share my thoughts on them.

Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?
Only my goodreads reading goal. Which seems to go down each year, but for me, so long as I read 20 books or more, I’ll be satisfied.

Looking Ahead

One book you didn’t get go in 2018 but will be your number ome priority in 2019?
The second book in the Red Queen’s War trilogy—The Liar’s Key. I meant to get to it this year, but it’s going to be my first book of 2019 and I can’t wait!

Book you are most anticipating for 2019?
Anything written and released by Patrick deWitt, Becky Chambers, Christopher Brookmyre, Rupi Kaur…

One thing you hope to accomplish or do in your reading/blogging life in 2019?
Setting up some sort of posting schedule. I’m ruminating on it currently, but I’d like to have one to help keep me organised and motivated. I also want to include posting my own short stories in that schedule… eep.

The Knife of Never Letting Go

Title: The Knife of Never Letting Go

Author: Patrick Ness

Summary: Todd Hewitt is the last boy in Prentisstown.

But Prentisstown isn’t like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in a constant overwhelming, never-ending Noise. There is no privacy. There are no secrets.

Or are there?

Just one month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd unexpectedly stumbles upon a spot of complete silence. Which is impossible.

Prentisstown has been lying to him. And now he’s going to have to run…

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: This book has been languishing on my shelf for a few years now. It found its way onto a shortlist for my chirstmas/new year dystopian read, and honestly I thought I was going to be able to rule it out, because a couple of reviews had mentioned their annoyance with the “hillbilly” narrative voice. I read the first few pages to see how much it would irritate me, except instead of being irritated, I was highly amused and instantly in love.

The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say. About anything.
“Need a poo, Todd.”
“Shut up, Manchee.”
“Poo. Poo, Todd.”

If that alone doesn’t make you want to read this book, I don’t think I can help convince you otherwise.

The concept is fascinating, and how the writing deals with the idea of people hearing each other’s thoughts is really well done–people talking, but also answering unasked, but thought, questions and making reference to the not-so-private ideas of others. The entire time I was reading I was also considering what that would be like–the things people would hear and see in my own Noise, and how one might try to hide, confuse, or distract certain lines of thought. Some really interesting things to read and consider.

I loved the characters. Todd is naive, but he’s also very much a product of his environment, and it was wonderful to watch him discover everything he knew was twisted and false in some way, and see how he responded to the truth as it was revealed to him. Ben and Cillian my heart opened to and embraced immediately–their love for Todd and everything they had done for him was so clear. They might not be in the book much, but they are certainly my favourites. Hildy and Tam are also wonderful, and again, though we see them quite briefly, I secretly hold out hope they will return in the next books. And Viola, of course. I warmed to her gradually, as Todd did. But she’s smart and quick and determined, and damn if she’s not awesome.

Setting a quick pace, the story starts moving immediately. It’s that brilliant kind of book that doesn’t give all it’s secrets away at once, only hinting and nudging at missing information and things to come. I had to keep reading–I had to know more, had to see what would happen. Unfortunately this momentum met a lull somewhere in the middle of the book, with there being lots of walking and sneaking and looking, but not much doing. Todd and Viola quickly get into the habit of running away, away from people and places… and plot. This began to drag, and I found myself waiting for the story to pick up again, rather than enjoying what I was reading at the time.

Thankfully the plot does pick up again, and in spectacular fashion in the final few chapters. So much so I was swept up in it all once again. Last night I only intended to read one chapter before going to sleep… instead I was up until gone midnight finishing the book days ahead of schedule. Oops?

The ending is… well, without spoilers I can’t really say how unexpectedly perfect and shocking and tense it was. With everything left teetering, I’ll need to get the next book in the series sharpish. I can’t wait to find out what happens next.

Banthology: Stories From Unwanted Nations

Title: Banthology: Stories From Unwanted Nations

Author: Various

Summary: In January 2017, President Trump signed an executive order banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen – from entering the United States, effectively slamming the door on refugees seeking safety and tearing families apart. Mass protests followed, and although the order has since been blocked, amended and challenged by judges, it still stands as one of the most discriminatory laws to be passed in the US in modern times.

Banthology brings together specially commissioned stories from the original seven ‘banned nations’. Covering a range of approaches – from satire, to allegory, to literary realism – it explores the emotional and personal impact of all restrictions on movement, and offers a platform to voices the White House would rather remained silent.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: Comma Press are probably my favourite publisher. They focus on short stories and delve into genres not commonly published, such as weird, translated, and activist subjects. They also cover science fiction, crime, and horror. Plus they have a few great book series including Refugee Tales and Reading the City. They’re a little niche, but it’s such a me niche, and the quality of the writing they publish is superb. Not to mention their gorgeous cover designs.

So yeah, i love Comma Press and own a small pile of books they’ve published. Surprisingly this is only the third i’ve read. (So many books, so little time!). Unsurprisingly, i loved it.

This book was created in response to the travel ban put in place in America, with authors from the countries included in the ban writing to “explore themes of exile, travel, and restrictions on movement.” I thought this was a brilliant idea, and with only seven stories (one from each country included in the ban), the book isn’t an intimidating read.

All the stories are wonderful. Not all are happy–in fact it could be argued that none of them are happy–but they are all so wonderfully told. I’m thinking about which ones i enjoyed the most, but i genuinely can’t pick a favourite. The few that stood out the most for me were Jujube, The Beginner’s Guide to Smuggling, and Storyteller. These were all about people looking to move and settle in other countries, but each story was unique in its approach to the character, the history, and the outcome. The other two stories that stood out for their much more unusual and less straightforward approach were Return Ticket (about a cosmic anomaly village called Schrödinger) and The Slow Man (about a conflict between the Egyptians and the Babylonians that changes the course of history).

Though these were stories, authors, and subjects outside of my usual reading matter, I really loved this book. It is a short, but worthwhile read and I would encourage anyone to pick it up and give it a go. Finishing it led me to the Comma Press website once again, and in an unsurprising turn of events i have added several more of their books to my “to buy” list. Oops?

Write or Wrong?

A brand new pristine book—it needs to be kept that way, right? No breaking the spine, no dog-earring corners, no staining the pages, and certainly no writing in it!

But… why?

I mean, I get it. I used to feel exactly the same way. Books are precious and should be preserved. We take pride in our books, how they look, and how much we love them.

Thing is, it’s not the books themselves that are important—it’s the words they contain.

I have always been one to read and reread certain lines and passages in books that—for a variety of reasons—stood out to me. Maybe they struck a chord with me, maybe they amused me just so, maybe they were just perfectly constructed, or maybe they were a wonderful bit of character development. Whatever the reason I loved it, I would stop and read it several times over to absorb a little of the magic and just truly appreciate the writing.

This habit has since evolved.

When I started blogging, I also started properly recording the quotes that caught my fancy. I started pausing in my reading to type them up and post them on my tumblr. I love being able to scroll through the quotes I’ve shared and re-read them at my leisure, or search for specific quotes and from particular books.

This did cause problems, though; I didn’t always like having to stop reading in order to type up and share the quotes. I tried various methods to get around this. I’d wait until the end of a chapter to go back and find them… except I’d get caught up in the story and forget. I’d take a photo of the quote to sort out later… except then I’d take dozens of photos of my cat and the quote would get lost amongst the adorableness. I’d dog-ear pages (don’t shoot me!) to go back to… except by that time I’d’ve finished the book and couldn’t remember or find the specific quote on the page.

No. The best method that worked—and continues to work—is writing in my god damn books. Underlining a line or two, or marking the margin of a particular passage. It’s so much easier to flick back to them, they are clearly denoted, and the act of marking them also marks a memory in my mind to go back and type them up.

I did start with pencil, but it only took a single occasion of not having one handy for me to progress to pen. Really, I like the idea of re-reading a book and seeing all the parts that struck me previously—will they still resonate with me? And the idea of sharing the book with someone else—wondering what they will think of the parts I’ve highlighted.

I’m sure as I continue to deface my books I’ll evolve into leaving more little notes and thoughts and doodles. I look forward to that natural progression.

Because for me, a pristine book is an admired object, but a worn, annotated book is a story the reader has truly engaged with, taken from, and left something of themselves behind in.

That’s what reading is for me. Not a perfect ornament on a shelf, but fully absorbing the words and concepts contained within.

Feel free to leave a comment expressing your shock and despair at my graffiti practises, or share with me your own way of annotating books!

Milk and Honey

Title: Milk and Honey

Author: Rupi Kaur

Summary: this is the journey of
surviving through poetry
this is the blood sweat tears
of twenty-one years
this is my heart
this is my hands
this is
the hurting
the loving
the breaking
the healing

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I’ve had this book on my self for a while. I’d read a few of the short poems within it, and one in particular that I adore… but still I’ve hesitated to pick it up and fully dive in. I’ve been afraid, as poetry and I have a tumultuous relationship.

I want to love poetry, but i’m not sure it wants me to. A lot of the time, I just don’t get it. But this… this is poetry I get and poetry I love.

The poems are mostly short, two or four lines, but sum up so eloquently the emotions and importance of things that might so easily go overlooked. Love, lust, a kiss, self-love (both kinds), anger, heartbreak, pain, healing… it’s all here and more.

And it is more. Kaur has put words to specific feelings and fears that I hadn’t been able to pinpoint or articulate before. Not every poem resonated with me, but those that did hit hard. I’ve re-read several dozens of times now, and a couple even left me in tears.

These poems show a woman who is in touch with herself, her experiences, and her words. I envy that intensely, but am so glad I get to share Kaur’s words. I’m glad to have her put voice to some of my own emotions and feel calm in the knowledge that I’m not alone in them.

Kaur’s illustrations, as simple and effective as her words, add so much to the poems as well. Line drawings of women, hands, objects, nature… They are a striking accompaniment to the poems, providing emphasis, insight, and a reason to pause—to breathe—between pieces.

I will certainly be picking up Kaur’s second book at the earliest opportunity. I’ve never experienced poetry speaking to me so clearly and meaningfully before, and I look forward to experiencing that again. And again, and again, and…

i am water
soft enough
to offer life
tough enough
to drown it away

you have sadness
living in places
sadness shouldn’t live

i do not want to have you
to fill the empty parts of me
i want to be full on my own
i want to be so complete
i could light a whole city
and then
i want to have you
cause the two of us combined
could set it on fire

you
are your own
soul mate

Places in the Darkness

Title: Places in the Darkness

Author: Christopher Brookmyre

Summary: This is as close to a city without crime as mankind has ever seen.

There has never been a homicide on Ciudad de Cielo. It’s the “City in the Sky,” where hundreds of scientists and engineers live and work in Earth’s orbit, building the colony ship that will one day take humanity to the stars.

So when the mutilated body of a common criminal is found, the eyes of the world are watching. Nearly every government and corporation on Earth has a stake in catching humanity’s first space-bound killer.

One deadly crime threatens our future among the stars.

Rating: ★★★★★ 4.5/5

Review: One of my favourite authors, who usually writes crime/crime comedy, writing my favourite genre, science fiction? Of course I was all over this. I think this is the first time I’ve read a Brookmyre book before my partner (who discovered his books years ago and all but bullied me into reading them)! Now I can’t wait for him to read it too, so we can talk about it!

This book is, in many ways, quintessentially Brookmyre… but in space. I knew i was going to love it very, very early on. Spaceship, zero gravity, time zones, awesome characters, queer representation, suspense, drop of gore, bit of mystery and intrigue, hints at bigger things… and all in the first two chapters. I was invested.

The two main characters are Nikki and Alice. And if there’s one thing Brookmyre never fails on, it’s characters. I want him to do a masterclass on character creation, because he’s incredible at it. Nikki is self-assured and well-connected, helping to keep the seedy underbelly of this spaceship running smoothly and safely. Alice is the new straight-laced head honcho on the ship, looking to stamp out that underbelly. Working sort-of together on a murder case, things don’t go smoothly for either of them. I loved them both, yet they both frustrated me as well. I wanted them to team up from the get-go, but of course that wouldn’t have been as interesting for the plot.

And the plot. It is both a simple idea, and a many-layered beast. I loved it. There are a few things going on that don’t seem connected, but are all obviously important. A murderer, a gang war, some light civil unrest, string pulling, bribery, memory loss… I had no idea how it was all going to tie into the bigger picture, but Brookmyre makes it so simple by the end. And although I knew the general “twists” in the story (the clues are all there, if you’re playing attention), it was the details–the hows and whys–that I was looking forward to in the climax.

Of course, it’s science fiction, so this new and exciting aspect of Brookmyre’s writing was what truly shone for me. This new space-society, the reasons people would want to live there and the reasons they would leave Earth. The three simultaneous timezones meaning it’s morning, day, and night at the same time, for different people. The technological advancements, including lenses and wrist discs, allowing facial recognition, communication, and news feeds to be displayed and interacted with wherever you’re looking. Even down to the small things, such as weapon safety on a spaceship leaving darts and glorified glue guns as the deadliest force available. And most notably–as any decent sci-fi must–it explores ethics, sociology, philosophy, and more. And damn it if that shit doesn’t fascinate me.

There’s just… a lot to love about this book, okay? If you love crime and science fiction, this one is for you. It’s a crime drama, set in a not-to-distance science fiction future, and I’ve not read that very interesting combo before. (Though maybe Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? counts…) It is a genre crossover I will be looking for more of, though. I really, really want Brookmyre to write more of them, and if Nikki and Alice make an appearance, I wouldn’t be too upset.