Binti

binti smallTitle: Binti

Author: Nnedi Okorafor

Summary: 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, itselfbut first she has to make it there, alive.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I read and enjoyed Okorafor’s Lagoongosh, five years ago now! I had mixed feelings on that book, mostly thanks to my own expectations. I’m a little sad it took me so long to pick up another of her books, because I loved Binti!

Binti is a short book at only 90 pages, but those 90 pages pack a lot of world building, character exploration, and story. It felt significantly longer than it is and most definitely in a good way!

Binti is the main character, ostracised from her home for sneaking away to go to university, she is an outsider in every way. I liked her immediately. There are quite a few other characters mentioned in passing, but only a couple we spend any significant time with. Okwu is the other important character, and even though at first there is strong animosity between them and Binti, I liked Okwu immediately.

Considering most of the story is spent on a spaceship, and a significant portion with Binti confined to one room of that ship, we get such a sense of several different worlds. Binti’s home world, Oomza University, as well space travel and how it works (living, breathing spaceships? I want to know more!). We also hear about multiple cultures and species, how war has spread between them, and how even through all their differences the motivations and emotionsthe good and the badare so very recognisable and relatable.

It’s just a great story told beautifully and succinctly. I can’t wait to read the sequel and to see more about Binti and Okwu, their time at university, and the worlds only glimpsed so far.

Disturbing the Beast

distrubing the beast smallTitle: Disturbing the Beast

Author: Various

Summary: The best of women’s weird fiction

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I love short stories. I love weird fiction. I love women-led narratives. Of course I supported this book on kickstarter. It took me a while to get around to reading it, but that’s because I have a lot of unread books, and also because I haven’t been reading much these past couple of years.

I should have loved this book. And I did love some of the stories. Dolly, about a woman who was cloned to re-live the life of the girl she was cloned from, and Burning Girl, about a literal girl on fire, were stand-out stories for me. They both explored the characters’ lives, freedoms, and autonomy (or lack thereof). Their sense of self and of hiding part of themselves for the benefit of others.

The concepts of these two stories in particular spoke to me, but they also stood apart from the rest for another reason. The women in these stories and their plots weren’t defined by or dependent on the men in them.

Almost (almost) every other story in the book included women whose lives and choices were dependant on and affected by men. A woman who consumes men, a woman whose lineage descended from an act of sexual violence, women literally knitting themselves husbands, a woman whose touch becomes electric following the death of one man and returns to normal after she saves the life of another man.

These stories weren’t bad, but I am quite tired of women’s stories, women’s lives, and women’s purpose being defined by the men in them.

One of the stories that I loved and couldn’t stop reading was Wrapped, about a female Egyptologist who discovers the tomb of a lost female pharaoh. The way the story of the pharaoh and the Egyptologist run parallel, like history repeating itself, was well crafted and left me with strong emotions. The men in the story were used to illustrate the inherent sexism and control women have experienced for centuries, rather than any driving force or meaning to the main character as an individual–they helped or hindered her, they did not define her.

While I would certainly look out for stories and books by several of the authors in the future, overall the collection as a whole feels just slightly amateurish. That’s not a criticism, though. Simply an observation. An observation I think would benefit the reader and the stories if you know in advance.

Dinosaur Therapy

dinosaur therapyTitle: Dinosaur Therapy

Author: James Stewart, K Roméy (illustrator)

Summary: A comic about dinosaurs navigating the complexities of life, together.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: This book was gifted to me by a friend, and I have been flicking through and reading bits of it slowly for months. I didn’t want to consume it all in one sitting, as I quite easily could have. I wanted to take my time and fully appreciate every comic.

I love dinosaurs. Never did let go of that childhood joy they gave me. So of course i love the illustrations. They’re simple, but show so much with tiny details. The colours, the tilt of a mouth, the narrowing of eyes. My favourite has to be the rainbow dinosaur.

And the comics themselves… they each say so much with such few words. Every comic is relatable to a more or lesser extent. Some made me laugh with how a concept was summed up, some had me hissing out loud with just how accurate they were and how hard they hit.

It’s definitely a book to pick up and flick through, to stumble upon a comic that resonates and gives you a smile or a moment of reflection. I have absolutely followed the instagram account, and highly recommend you do to: @dinosandcomics

Here are just a few of my favourites from the book…

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Wild Embers

wild embersTitle: Wild Embers

Author: Nikita Gill

Summary: You cannot burn away
What has always been aflame

Wild Embers explores the fire that lies within every soul, weaving words around ideas of feeling at home in your own skin, allowing yourself to heal and learning to embrace your uniqueness with love from the universe.

Featuring rewritten fairytale heroines, goddess wisdom and poetry that burns with revolution, this collection is an explosion of femininity, empowerment and personal growth.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: It is a well-established fact that i have a tumultuous relationship with poetry. Some collections have struck a chord with my so deeply I’ve wept, others have left me completely baffled and unmoved. This book? This book did both, and a little more.

I read the book over several months, because my ability to finish a book has been severely hampered the last couple of years. That may have played a part in why my opinion is so divided, but if so it is a minor factor.

The first half of the book, I devoured. I was underlining and annotating almost every other poem. There was so much that resonated for me—so much that spoke to me, meant something to me, gave words to my own feelings. Several poems reminded me of songs and sentiments expressed elsewhere, and felt warm and familiar for it. I wrote the lyrics beside them, joined them in my mind and let them share space in my heart. And i love that feeling.

The second half of the book was more hit and miss for me. There were still some strong poems. Still moments where i was moved to underline and mark and make notes. There were some that were not bad, but that simply didn’t speak to me personally. And then there were some that… fell far, far short.

Unfortunately the poems that missed the mark for me missed hard. They didn’t leave me feeling nothing—they left me feeling angry and alienated. While i loved the re-written fairy tales, recasting the damsels in distress as heroes who fight for themselves, i baulked with distaste at equating womanhood to being in possession of a womb and being able to create life. I am much more than my reproductive system, and my worth and meaning will not be reduced to that alone.

There were far more poems i loved than poems i didn’t in this book. If there had just been a selection that didn’t quite hit my own emotions, I’d have given this book four stars. However, the handful of poems that I actually found disagreeable and crass weigh heavier than the pages they are printed on, and I cannot overlook them.

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within

Title: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within

Author: Becky Chambers

Summary: When a freak technological failure halts traffic to and from the planet Gora, three strangers are thrown together unexpectedly, with seemingly nothing to do but wait.

Pei is a cargo runner at a personal crossroads, torn between her duty to her people, and her duty to herself.

Roveg is an exiled artist, with a deeply urgent, and longed for, family appointment to keep.

Speaker has never been far from her twin but now must endure the unendurable: separation.

Under the care of Ouloo, an enterprising alien, and Tupo, her occasionally helpful child, the trio are compelled to confront where they’ve been, where they might go, and what they might be to one another.

Together they will discover that even in the vastness of space, they’re not alone.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I was automatically approved for a review copy of this book by NetGalley, and despite the utter hassle getting an epub onto my nook has become these days, for the fourth (and final) book in the Wayfarers series I would have endured worse. With the previous book being a slight disappointment for me compared to the first two, I approached this one with a little more caution. I needn’t have. It is absolutely bloody fantastic.

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within feels like it brings together elements from all three of the previous books. The adventures of space similar to Angry Planet, the limited number of main characters akin to Common Orbit, and the feeling of isolation from a Spaceborn Few. It takes those elements and makes something wholly new and wonderful.

All five of the main characters are loveable, another common trait for this series of books. Roveg was my standout favourite, though. For someone with a literal hard shell, he was so soft at heart. Similarly, Ouloo, the host of where this group are stranded for several long days, only wants everyone to be happy and does everything she can to make that happen. Pei and Speaker were fascinating, both individually, but especially together; their tentative relationship and the juxtaposition of both their species’ histories. Tupo is the glue holding all the other characters together, simultaneously a moody teenager and a ball of curious energy, xe was definitely my second favourite character.

With an unforeseen hiatus from their travels and stuck for several days on a pit-stop planet with nowhere to go, every single character goes on a journey regardless. They learn from each other, about each other, and give each other advice. There is a blast of action at the start of the book, and some tense action at the end. The middle is a quiet and meaningful meander from one to the other. The characters gradually give up more of themselves and their stories as they get to know one another, and on the whole it was just so peaceful.

Of course, there is the amazing world building that Chambers writes so well. Details and information dotted and sprinkled throughout, always adding depth and interest to the characters; the various species, cultures, and social norms; as well as to the story as a whole. The book touches on important topics as commonplace as dietary requirements, accessibility, and language, to equally important but more philosophical topics such as the concept of home, the merits of war, and the erasure of an entire species.

This book is just… so… lovely. It left me with a feeling of such warmth. A group of such diverse folk in a difficult situation, all making the best of it, being nice and considerate to each other. What does it say about the real world (or perhaps my perceptions of it), that a book about people simply being kind to each other affected me so much?

They say that sometimes a book finds you exactly when you need it. I think for me this was one of those books at one of those times. I didn’t want this book to end. I felt safe while I was reading it, and dragged it out far longer than I needed to. But I just absolutely adored this book. I’m sad to see this series end, but look forward to revisiting it again in the future.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Title: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Author: Douglas Adams

Summary: One Thursday lunchtime the Earth gets unexpectedly destroyed to make way for a new hyperspace bypass. For Arthur Dent, who has only just had his house demolished that morning, this seems already to be more than he can cope with. Sadly, however, the weekend has only just began, and the Galaxy is a very strange and startling place.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: After failing spectacularly at reading during 2020, i have set my sights incredibly low for 2021. I have a goal of six books, and the low-pressure of ensuring those books are whatever i want. Graphic novels, short story magazines, and novellas? Yes please.

Which brings me to my first book of 2021: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I’ve seen the film, so I knew the basic plot. Science fiction is pretty much my favourite genre (if you’re making me choose!). I know it’s light-hearted and silly. And, obviously, it’s short. I started reading it on the first of January with the only aim to finish it by the end of the month. Yay me–I managed it!

Overall, I really enjoyed it. It has plenty of chuckle and snort out loud moments (nothing quite as strong as a laugh). The dialogue was perfection–so simple, with characters repeating themselves and stating the obvious and just… being real, i suppose. It was (pardon the pun) down to earth, relatable, and made for easy reading.

The characters are fun, and while the book as a whole is quite cheerful, it does touch on a couple more serious things. Namely Zaphod’s discovery that he has messed with his own brain and memories, and Marvin the robot’s depression. My favourite character by far is our main lead, Arthur Dent. He’s just… so… frank? Restrained? Unassertive? British? He somehow both doesn’t at all keep up with the new world around him, and also keeps up so well he gets ahead of it a time or two. And, of course, there’s my favourite line:

Arthur blinked at the screens and felt he was missing something important. Suddenly he realised what it was.
“Is there any tea on this spaceship?” he asked.

For a book set in space, it is very British, and I can’t deny I love that about it.

My main issue with the book is how hard it’s trying. To be silly, to include random facts, and to elbow in little stories. I enjoy silly random facts and stories as much as anyone who picks up this book knowing what they’re getting into. But. But i like them to be relevant to the story, not just a random aside. This links in strongly with my dislike of footnotes; I just think if it’s important enough to mention–put it in the main body of the bloody story. This book bypasses that issue by putting random snippets not at all important in the main body of the story. It did feel like being forced to read footnotes and i kind of hated it.

Of course, only having one female character and all the action happening at the very start and very end of the book didn’t help either.

But still, overall it was a good read. As light-hearted and fun as i’d expected, if not quite as outstanding overall as i’d hoped. I’ll probably give the next book in the series a go, mostly because i have no idea what happens in the sequels, and that could be even more fun.

2020 End of Year Review

Title: 2020

Summary: A bit of a mess.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ 1/5

Review: January 1st is the anniversary of when I started this blog. January 1st 2021 marks Marvel at Words’ eighth birthday. It has been tradition on the blog to mark the occasion and start the year with an end of year survey, going over the books I’ve read and bookish accomplishments over the last 12 months. Thing is, 2020 was a bit of a mess, all told—I’m sure everyone reading this can relate—and I just… didn’t read books.

I can’t really articulate why I didn’t read books. I was just not in the mindset for it. I didn’t even manage to finish a book before things really started kicking off with the virus and lockdown, let alone in the midst of it all. I just found it impossible to fully let the real world go and immerse myself into the fictional world on the page. I started several books, but didn’t get very far with them at all before abandoning them.

My one saving grace was Northern Lights and its audiobook. The one, single book I read in 2020. But even that took me an immense amount of time to get through, compared with how long it has taken me to read books in the past. I listened to one or two chapters a week, mostly while also occupied with pages in a sweary colouring book. Although I did finish it, in many ways it still felt like a chore.

I didn’t buy very many books at all in 2020 either, which means there will be no 2020 book buying analysis coming. I bought a staggeringly grand total of five books in 2020. Even with that low number, as I only read one book, my to-read pile has continued—albeit slowly—to grow.

While there is not much bookish-related activity to look back on in 2020, I thought it would be good to set some bookish intentions for 2021. I refuse to continue to not read books. Books are things that have brought me so much joy in the past, and I am determined to reclaim that. While I cannot force the reading mojo upon myself, I will do what I can to encourage it, rather than giving up on it altogether. And so my intentions are simple and few:

Read six books – I set myself what I thought was the low-low goal of 12 books in 2020. One a month, I though. Easy peasy, I thought. Six books in 2021 feels like a mountain compared to the one book I did manage in 2020. But it’s a mountain I am motivated to climb. I am putting no pressure on myself as to what kind of books or the speed at which I should be reading them. I want the focus to be on enjoying the act of reading, rather than the number or variety of books.

Write six stories – This is a complementary goal to the reading. If I’m not feeling in the right mood to read, perhaps I can feel motivated to write. So, six stories. As short and silly and pointless as they want to be. Because as much as I want to read words, I want to be making them as well. And I want to share them here. As with the reading, I’m putting no pressure on myself. These stories can be about anything, as as short or as long as the muse makes them.

That’s it. Those are my intentions. Minimal, low-pressure, and hopefully high-fun. Because that’s my intention for 2021… to find the joy in things again.

Northern Lights

Title: Northern Lights

Author: Philip Pullman

Summary: Lyra Belacqua lives half-wild and carefree among the scholars of Jordan College, with her daemon familiar always by her side. But the arrival of her fearsome uncle, Lord Asriel, draws her to the heart of a terrible struggle – a struggle born of Gobblers and stolen children, witch clans and armoured bears.

As she hurtles towards danger in the cold far North, Lyra never suspects the shocking truth: she alone is destined to win, or to lose, the biggest battle imaginable.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: The first book I’ve finished in 2020! Yes, it’s July. This year has been and continues to be A Struggle. Reader’s block is absolutely a thing. After starting and not finishing several books, I decided to give an audiobook a try. It came with its own problems, but I finished the thing, so it’s a win.

I had seen the recent BBC adaptation of this book, so knew the plot. I was actually counting on that to help me with actually finishing the book. And in fact, in some ways, it helped me enjoy the book more. Knowing what was coming, namely the tragic end for one of the characters, made moments earlier in the book and leading up to it hit much heavier than they would have. I was actually crying at a couple of points, understanding the meanings behind things and how certain aspects played out.

The book was actually quite dark, which I enjoyed. There were a few moments where I winced, thinking of younger readers experiencing the clear violence and trauma. But I do think it’s important that the book doesn’t shy away from it, either. It’s exploring the importance and anguish of the fantasy concept of having a daemon, and allows the reader to understand and connect with that deeply.

For me the characters were mostly very clear cut good or bad. Which is fine, though I prefer the morally grey. I loved Lyra, our lead character. She has such passion and intelligence and determination. I loved Roger, her best friend and side kick, and how they would obviously do anything for each other. I loved Iorek Byrnison, the armoured bear, with his wisdom and kindness and strength. I hated Lord Asriel and the size of his ego–he might have been intelligent, but he was cruel. I hated Mrs Coulter and her false affection and manipulation. I didn’t hate, but found myself disliking Lee Scoresby and his brash American-ness. Though I am hoping some characters will become more complex and interesting over the course of the sequels.

What I enjoyed most were the main themes of the story. Daemons and the connections humans share with them. Dust and where it comes from and how it affects people. Parallel universes and trying to reach them. These and the characters I loved will be what draws me back to listen to the sequels. I’m quite excited about them, now I have no idea about where the story goes.

Audiobooks: Awesome or Awful?

Audiobooks: Awesome or Awful?I tried an audiobook once, years ago. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the voices the narrator put on for the characters. I didn’t like the emphasis he used in sentences. It was all just wrong. I quickly gave up and never bothered again. Five minutes of one audiobook and I decided I didn’t like any of them.

But then.

This year I haven’t yet been able to finish a book. I’ve started several, but just… can’t… finish them. Turns out 2020 is messing with my mind too much and I haven’t been motivated or focused enough to actually want to read much.

So, I thought about audiobooks again. I thought about the fact I’d dismissed them outright, years ago, after trying and not getting on with one. I thought about the fact the one audiobook I tried was a book I was already very familiar with. I thought, what’s the harm in trying again?

I ended up choosing a book I had tried to read many, many years ago, but hadn’t read more than a chapter. I chose a book I recently watched and enjoyed the television adaptation of. I chose a book I didn’t really have any investment in or strong feelings on.

I’m just over halfway through and I’m actually enjoying it!

While I listen I usually cook, or wash pots, or do some colouring in. It’s actually really therapeutic. I will definitely be finishing this series via audiobook, and am looking forward to finding more audiobooks that work for me in the future!

Now the thing that annoys me about audiobooks is that amazon has the market cornered via audible, with so many books recorded exclusively for them. I am not an amazon fan, and avoid the company as much as possible. Wordery is my favoured alternative, along with local independent book shops.

If anyone has any audiobook recommendations—books you think work well or even better as audiobooks—please let me know.

And more than that, if anyone knows of any decent alternative to audible, I am desperate to hear about them! I’d love for my library to go digital, but alas, currently I am still left putting compact discs on hold.