Review | To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers

At the turn of the twenty-second century, scientists make a breakthrough in human spaceflight. Through a revolutionary method known as somaforming, astronauts can survive in hostile environments off Earth using synthetic biological supplementations. They can produce antifreeze in sub-zero temperatures, absorb radiation and convert it for food, and conveniently adjust to the pull of different gravitational forces. With the fragility of the body no longer a limiting factor, human beings are at last able to explore neighbouring exoplanets long suspected to harbour life.

Ariadne is one such explorer. On a mission to ecologically survey four habitable worlds fifteen light-years from Earth, she and her fellow crewmates sleep while in transit, and wake each time with different features. But as they shift through both form and time, life back on Earth has also changed. Faced with the possibility of returning to a planet that has forgotten those who have left, Ariadne begins to chronicle the wonders and dangers of her journey, in the hope that someone back home might still be listening.

Title: To Be Taught, if Fortunate

Author: Becky Chambers

Genre: Sci-Fi

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

You always know what you’re getting with a Becky Chambers book: amazing new worlds and technologies and beautifully written people and emotions. It’s the best parts of hard Sci-fi and contemporary all rolled into one. She is forever on my list of auto-buy authors.

I was the tiniest bit apprehensive when starting this novella because I’d only ever read full novels from Becky Chambers before so couldn’t be sure if she was just as good writing in a shorter format. A lot of people assume short story writing and novel writing are basically the same, but that is definitely not the case, and I worried that the loss of time to develop the characters as amazingly as she usually does would really hinder the book.

Well I shouldn’t have been worried one bit!

To Be Taught, If Fortunate has slight ‘The Martian’ vibes, in that it describes all the complicated science in a way that I think makes it accessible to a lot of the general public, even if you aren’t that into science (though if you aren’t into science at all, then why are you reading Sci-Fi…?). It has just enough detail to be accurate, but enough general description and comparisons to be easily visualisable while reading. I especially loved the description of the spiral “grass” on the second planet.

It’s written in an interesting way: the book is supposed to be a report or message sent from the ship back to Earth, and you aren’t sure until the end of the book whether the message is an S.O.S, or research notes, or what. Even with the limitations this style can bring, she still manages to bring the emotion and effects of space travel and isolation to the foreground so we really care about the crew.

It’s very sad that this book is as short as it is, I think I could read 1000 pages of Becky Chambers’ writing and never get bored. The new concepts, the colourful worlds, the three-dimensional characters, there’s nothing that she does poorly in my opinion.

The ending is one of my favourite kinds in Sci-Fi: one that makes you think and decide what you think would happen next. This book asks the big questions and I love it for that. This is for sure a book I’ll recommend to any of my friends, especially my fellow sci-fi readers.

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Review | These Rebel Waves by Sara Raasch

Adeluna is a soldier. Five years ago, she helped the magic-rich island of Grace Loray overthrow its oppressor, Argrid, a country ruled by religion. But adjusting to postwar life has not been easy. When an Argridian delegate vanishes during peace talks with Grace Loray’s new Council, Argrid demands brutal justice—but Lu suspects something more dangerous is at work.

Devereux is a pirate. As one of the outlaws called stream raiders who run rampant on Grace Loray, he pirates the island’s magic plants and sells them on the black market. But after Argrid accuses raiders of the diplomat’s abduction, Vex becomes a target. An expert navigator, he agrees to help Lu find the Argridian—but the truth they uncover could be deadlier than any war.

Benat is a heretic. The crown prince of Argrid, he harbors a secret obsession with Grace Loray’s forbidden magic. When Ben’s father, the king, gives him the shocking task of reversing Argrid’s fear of magic, Ben has to decide if one prince can change a devout country—or if he’s building his own pyre.

As conspiracies arise, Lu, Vex, and Ben will have to decide who they really are . . . and what they are willing to become for peace.

Title: These Rebel Waves

Author: Sara Raasch

Genre: Fastasy/YA

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

My initial thoughts when picking this book up were ‘River pirates? How would that work??’ and ‘Oh the plants are magic? That’s cool!’ and honestly, not much past that.

Well this book exceeded all my expectations!

Firstly, botanical-based magic IS very cool. It toes the line between medicine and magic very closely, so you could absolutely see these plants being real. One that heals, one that explodes in a smoke screen, and one that paralyses, sure we’ve seen similar things in the real world. One that allows you to hover for the length of time of one breath, one that allows you to hear across vast distances via linked pods, and one that dissolves internal organs, now here’s where this gets exciting!

The premise is based around Stream Raiders (effectively river pirates) who dig for the magic plants in riverbeds and the book is split via three different perspectives:

Lu (Adeluna): A politician who grew up as a spy and child-warrior of the resistance of Grace Loray, fighting the oppressive Argridians trying to conquer the island with their extreme religious beliefs.

Vex (Devereaux Bell): The dashing pirate of the bunch. A rogue Stream Raider not affiliated with any particular Syndicate of the Island, clearly has some big secrets he’s desperate to keep hidden. (One thing: How do you get ‘Vex’ as a nickname for Devereaux??)

Ben (Benat): The Prince of a country that thinks of magic as evil brought about by demons. He is conflicted by their potential healing uses, and the thoughts about if these should also be banned.

I personally enjoyed Benat’s chapters the least out of them all. He was nice, and he had some drama, but I didn’t believe Benat’s and Jacks’ relationship that much. They seemed far more like friends who kiss occasionally than two people in love. There wasn’t much depth of emotion. I’m also kind of annoyed that the only LGBT+ relationships mentioned are either broken up or toxic with a power imbalance…

Lu and Vex however were badass and awesome, with witty one-liners and a fantastic chemistry. I could have done with just more of them. Maybe one or two flashes to over the sea and the Prince, and then back to Lu and Vex!

The world Sara Raasch has built and the stream raiders working with the new government of Grace Loray is so interesting and I could see it happening. The problems during the book are complex and difficult to solve so it really lends a depth to the story and you get invested in how everything will work itself out.

Also, the change in perception of the island as the characters begin to understand more is really subtle and I believed in Lu’s journey of discovery and acceptance that her beliefs might not be as rock solid as she thought. It really endeared me to her that she changed her mind on some issues that she’d been so certain about before because new evidence was presented to her.

I would always love to see more Nayali in future: an LGBT+ pirate in any form is always a good thing in my books. She’s impulsive, but ACTUALLY impulsive, because she messes up plans with her impulsivity so it actually works as a flaw rather than a quirk.

The twists in this book were also very shocking, I genuinely didn’t see them coming and I love that! The ending itself was also very dramatic and exciting and left me wishing for more. Bring on the next book!

Review | Unearthed by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

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When Earth intercepts a message from a long-extinct alien race, it seems like the solution the planet has been waiting for. The Undying’s advanced technology has the potential to undo environmental damage and turn lives around, and Gaia, their former home planet, is a treasure trove waiting to be uncovered.

For Jules Addison and his fellow scholars, the discovery of an alien culture offers unprecedented opportunity for study… as long as scavengers like Amelia Radcliffe don’t loot everything first. Mia and Jules’ different reasons for smuggling themselves onto Gaia put them immediately at odds, but after escaping a dangerous confrontation with other scavvers, they form a fragile alliance.

In order to penetrate the Undying temple and reach the tech and information hidden within, the two must decode the ancient race’s secrets and survive their traps. But the more they learn about the Undying, the more their presence in the temple seems to be part of a grand design that could spell the end of the human race…

Title: Unearthed

Author: Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Genre: Sci-Fi/YA

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

First I want to thank my sister for buying this book for me for Christmas, and apologise for not reading it right away because I loved it!

It wasn’t perfect, but it was a really fun read with twists and drama and puzzles to solve (I love a good puzzle!) and I really enjoyed it.

I get the feeling this book would make a good console game or interactive theme park ride – which is very unique I think! It reminds me of a mash up of Artemis by Andy Weir and Tomb Raider.

First things first though, the little niggles that made it a 4 star rather than 5 star read for me. Better get these out of the way because they really weren’t that bad at all.

In the beginning of the book there were lots of ‘Oh crap I like her. Hormones going crazy!’ and ‘My teenage boy hormones were going wild looking at her’ moments (not direct quotes). It kind of points out the attraction a bit too much for me. I’d prefer being shown it rather than my characters telling me outright ‘I like him.’

Maybe if they’d caught their breath at the sight of each other, or stumbled over some words when they were too close all of a sudden, it might have felt a little less obvious and more organic. That said, the relationship was pretty realistic, moving from them pretty much annoyed at each other but recognising that they were attractive, to genuinely liking them and understanding their motives.

There’s also a bit early on in the book where Jules wants to prove how smart he is, so he reels off this sentence about nutrition:

“High in protein,” Jules muses, actually looking at the nutrition info printed along the label. “Not a bad idea, if a little bland. Five grams of protein per hundred, and the recommended daily intake is a little under a gram per kilo of body weight, so that’s…” He pauses, frowning in calculation.
“About ten percent of my needs,” I say, without thinking. “Less efficient for you.”
He blinks, no doubt surprised I can count, much less anything beyond that – the look on his face needles me. “Yes,” he agrees after a pause. “Ten percent. And in terms of regulation of blood sugar, and the vitamin complexes you find in them, they…” He trails off because I’m staring at him.

Like… that felt so arbitrary to me. I get it’s supposed to establish that they’re both smart while also making Jules realise that he may have underestimated Mia, but it didn’t sound like things even really smart people say when they’re trying to show off. I might give them a pass however, because they’re supposed to be sixteen in this and I remember how ‘adult’ you feel at that age while really being nowhere near.

And finally, very occasionally the descriptions of the surroundings or location is a bit confusing so I’m not sure what’s going on, but this doesn’t last very long.

And now on to the good stuff!

The puzzles were really good, and that’s coming from someone who loves puzzles and logic problems on her holidays. Even with everything in a particular room described, I still couldn’t figure out how to solve it without the characters pointing out something or another. I appreciated that they were genuinely difficult to solve so it made me even more impressed with the characters and the author.

Also, I love how both main characters like Maths! Maths was my subject at school and it’s so rare that you read about characters loving it or even liking it. Usually book characters are artsy in some way, partly because that’s easier to describe, and partly because they’re in some way a reflection of the author (and writers are more likely to be into creative subjects like writing – shocked?? Me too!)

It really endeared me to the story because I could understand their motives more and could relate to Mia and Jules.

Another thing that impressed me was definitely the twists at the end. I’m not going to give anything away, but I didn’t see them coming one bit and I love when that happens in a book.

Overall this was a great read, really interesting and complex. Completely deserving of a four star rating!

Review | Storm Crow by Kalyn Josephson

In the tropical kingdom of Rhodaire, magical, elemental Crows are part of every aspect of life…until the Illucian empire invades, destroying everything.

That terrible night has thrown Princess Anthia into a deep depression. Her sister Caliza is busy running the kingdom after their mother’s death, but all Thia can do is think of all she has lost.

But when Caliza is forced to agree to a marriage between Thia and the crown prince of Illucia, Thia is finally spurred into action. And after stumbling upon a hidden Crow egg in the rubble of a rookery, she and her sister devise a dangerous plan to hatch the egg in secret and get back what was taken from them.

Title: The Storm Crow

Author: Kalyn Josephson

Genre: Fantasy YA

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

[DISCLAIMER] I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book in a Fairyloot subscription box so please note that changes may have been made in the finished copy.

I was so happy to get this book in my December 2018 Fairyloot box. An advanced copy of anything is exciting, but a book about elemental crows big enough to ride and warring kingdoms just makes it so much better!

And this book was a pretty enjoyable read, I thought about it when I wasn’t reading it, and it was fun. But it wasn’t quite amazing.

Let’s start with the bad things first so I can finish on a high:

Cliche YA:

The writing style felt a little cliche, like a lot of YA books I used to read. I could guess the type of personality a character would have before even knowing their name, and the plot twists were more things I was waiting around for until they happened.

It starts to chill out a bit towards the middle of the book, and the main guy main character has started to act less like a walking cliche which I appreciate. Though I think maybe a little more show rather than tell about how the other countries were also oppressed would have been good.

Metaphors and similes were like water in a thunderstorm… everywhere:

This title kind of says it all. Imagine that same sentence but copied over and over. Everything was like something else! I think this may have been less obvious if more of the similes had been metaphors? Like for example, ‘The torrential downpour of my thoughts’ as opposed to ‘my thoughts were like a torrential downpour, flooding my mind’ might break up the rhythm a bit.

The similes can work well, but used a bit more sparingly I could have the chance to see how the character changes from worrying inside her head to when she’s more straight-to-the-point, the contrast would be good.

Also, “the lanterns reflected off the fog like moonlight on water” took me a while to really imagine… I think those two things didn’t mix well in my head.

Unique voices for characters:

Sometimes it was a little hard to tell which character was saying what. Not because the writing made it confusing, more because the voices weren’t that unique. This was especially the case with Thia and her best friend; they were so similar that it made me stumble on some scenes while reading their dialogue.

Suspenseful scenes a little rushed:

This title doesn’t really need much description: the fight scenes or chase scenes all kind of ended quickly and with little fanfare. A little description or internal monologue thrown in the scene, or just a bit more of the scene itself, would have helped to drag the suspense out and make the climax a little more dramatic.

But there were some really good things about the book also!

Representation of depression:

I really appreciated depression being represented pretty well, how it can come in waves and just knock you out when you thought you were doing fine. Lots of people think you can be ‘fixed’ when you have depression, but it’s more years of learning how to counterbalance the negative voices in your head and remembering that the bad parts won’t be bad forever. Mental health is usually a lifelong battle.

World:

The world of The Storm Crow was really imaginative and new. Giant crows you can ride and that have elemental powers just sounds so unique, I’ve never heard of anything like it before! I’m really looking forward to how this world gets developed in later books, and to some more details about the other lands mentioned in this book.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book. There were some niggles that I think can easily be ironed out in sequels and I’ll be keeping an eye on this author for future books down the line. Also, you always have to remember that a fair amount can change between an ARC and a finished copy, so I’d check that out before making any solid calls on this book.

I liked it, and that’s all you really have to get out of a book in the end.

Review | Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

Picking up from A Discovery of Witches’ cliffhanger ending, Shadow of Night takes Diana and Matthew on a trip through time to Elizabethan London, where they are plunged into a world of spies, magic, and a coterie of Matthew’s old friends, the School of Night. As the search for Ashmole 782 deepens and Diana seeks out a witch to tutor her in magic, the net of Matthew’s past tightens around them, and they embark on a very different—and vastly more dangerous—journey.

Title: Shadow of Night

Author: Deborah Harkness

Genre: Paranormal

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

SPOILER ALERT: Second in a series so there will be spoilers for the first book.

TW: Miscarriage, abusive relationships, violence, etc. Check out the book online before you read it if you’re worried about anything similar to these.

So… *breathes* OH. MY. GOD.

How much sexism can one book hold?!

It took at least 100 pages of this book for Diana to do… pretty much anything. Before this the book is just a barrage of sexist comments and snide remarks towards her and Matthew slowly morphing further into the brooding thoughtless man he apparently was in the past (and also the future if we’re being honest). It was kind of dull and I genuinely thought about just putting this book down.

They’re in the past trying to help with Diana’s magic while safely away from the council members who would happily kill Diana in the future. Given that this was their reason for going, they certainly don’t prioritise it. They never mentioned how long they were planning on going back for, how they were going to fit back in to Matthew’s life in the past, or if they even should have tried to!

Messing with the past is always a dangerous business in any book or tv show or film, so I don’t really see why two intelligent characters would completely forget any semblance of a plan. They thought Matthew appearing in the past with a wife and parading her around his old friends would have no effect?

And Matthew. Just… Matthew. *sigh*

If you ever meet a Matthew in your own life, please do yourself the biggest of favours and run in the opposite direction.

Here’s a summary of Matthew:

He bit Diana to prove a point that she shouldn’t have ‘allowed’ someone to talk to her in the streets. He blames her for things that aren’t her fault, physically hurts her, and abandons her for many hours a day and then returns just to blame her for moving an inch away from where he left her.

He can’t handle Diana not telling him EVERYTHING she does or who she talks to, so much so that he was scarily angry until she allowed him to effectively read her mind. (Seems very much the same as when an abusive guy berates his partner until she shows him all her texts and emails. Then he’s kind for a short period of time so that the woman is tricked into thinking everything is fine and the cycle starts again. Seriously, scary.)

This is very much a manipulative if not abusive relationship.

Oh, and if you thought Matthew was justified for killing Gillian Chamberlain in the previous book for sending photos to Diana, then you’ll want to obliterate Kit Marlowe in this book.

He purposely puts Diana in life threatening situations again and again out of spite. This makes Matthews motivations even less understandable – what threat to your wife is worth killing for? How far does someone have to go before they’re on your hit list? The grading scale is very arbitrary.

So I could go on for ages about the sexism and abusive relationship in this book, but I think you get the picture.

I’ll end this with a few things I actually really liked!

Phillipe and Gallowglass were some of my favourite characters. They were more thoughtful, more respectful, and generally better people than a lot of the others. I’m very much on the dump-Matthew-and-marry-Gallowglass team, though I know it has about as much chance of happening as Matthew actually apologising so I won’t hold out hope.

The manuscript hunt, though kind of ignored for a lot of the book, was also fun. Lots of twists and turns and finding out some pretty big bombshells about the manuscript pages. Very entertaining.

Also, I really hope Diana, now she’s learned more about her magic and has more of a backbone, actually starts to stand up for herself more in future books and FINALLY puts Matthew in his place. It’s only taken me two books to get this far… but I haven’t given up hope yet!

Bring on the next book: more Matthew bashing, rolling of the eyes, and hopefully more of Diana being awesome to come!

Review | Louis & Louise by Julie Cohen

If you could look at one life in two different ways, what would you see?

Louis and Louise are separated by a single moment in time, a strike of chance that decided their future. The day they were born is when their story began.

In one, Louis David Alder is born a male.

In the other, Louise Dawn Alder is born a female.

Louis and Louise are the same in many ways – they have the same best friends, the same parents, the same dream of being a writer and leaving their hometown in Maine as soon as they can. But because of their gender, everything looks different. Certain things will happen in their lives to shape them, hurt them, build them back up again. But what will bring them back home?

Title: Louis & Louise

Author: Julie Cohen

Genre: Contemporary

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

[DISCLAIMER] I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My opinions are my own and have not been influenced by this.

So this was the contemporary adult book I’ve been waiting to read!

I don’t often like too many sex scenes in my books, or a lot of gritty plots that I feel get crammed into any contemporary book marketed to anyone older than YA. I like reading about real life dramas and loves and conversations, and this book is exactly that.

It doesn’t shy away from some heavy topics, but it does them in a way that I thought was quite sensitive and still managed to give all characters such a sense of personality that you care for all of them.

The main thing I loved, and what really made me give this book my five star rating, was how it handled the issue of gender and how this affects your life. From the huge ways to the tiniest of things, it’s managed really really well. Julie Cohen, you have impressed me.

The writing style in a book meant to show the same life in male and female perspectives was something I wasn’t sure about before I started. How was it going to be handled? Would I get bored of reading effectively the same scene again with only the smallest of changes?

It turns out, no. The flips between Louis and Louise are really gentle, with some overlap in scenes but only when the differences really need to be highlighted. The joint chapters with both Louis and Louise where the same scene or period of time is shown through both lenses at once was especially good.

It’s so cool to see even tiny things be different in the worlds due only to the fact that this one person was a boy or a girl. Also how people treat them differently right from the beginning: from how the grandparents get different toys and they’re dressed in pink and blue to which parent they’re closer to when they’re older, and even their careers.

Even the small bits like how Louise’s mother encourages her to change from glasses to contacts because ‘her eyes are so pretty’ when Louis is not and happily wears glasses till college. It shows how even the smallest of comments can add up to change someone’s self confidence or change their view on the world and how they should be in it.

They both do well in school, but Louise’s report card mentions that she ‘chatters’ all the time and Louis is just ‘doing well in spite of distractions’. Girls are always seen as more talkative than they actually are, where some studies have shown that if the girls talk around 30% of the time in a mixed class, the boys in the class will perceive them as talking for over 50% of the time. When or where this stems from I’m not sure, but it’s interesting to see it mentioned in this book. Even throwaway comments matter in the big scheme of things.

For example, how often do you remember a relatively small comment that impacted you a lot growing up?

I personally remember quite a few that I’m sure the speakers wouldn’t even consider worth remembering minutes after they said them. But to me, they changed me in enough of a way that it stuck around.

I didn’t expect this book to have LGBT+ rep in it and I am very much not disappointed. It’s handled gently and made to be almost background information that just is. I appreciate that, since coming out stories are lovely, but eventually having media just have LGBT+ people exist and have it not be a big controversy or be questioned is the end goal. That’s what real life is striving for too: tolerance was the first step, now it’s acceptance. I also really appreciate how they show this affecting Louis differently to Louise, as public perception of sexuality still varies a bit depending on gender (though it shouldn’t).

Julie covers so much in her writing, every little thing that is the tiniest bit different if you’re a boy or a girl is brought to light, but in subtle ways. This isn’t a book that yells at you, it’s a book that slowly gets under your skin and makes you realise what privileges and disadvantages you have by being the gender that you are, but you hardly realise it’s happening. I’d love to see more of her writing, and maybe something covering the topic of non-binary gender: because male and female aren’t the only two options, and I think I’d trust Julie to take that on in a meaningful and delicate way.

Her writing is so natural and unique, reading this book was one of the easiest things ever.

Mini Reviews | Books I read in 2018

Last year was pretty intense for me; I got a new job, I got my first ever house! So I’ve missed a few reviews along the way. Well, these poor neglected books are now getting the attention they deserve!

Here are mini reviews of a bunch of books I read in 2018 that were skipped over for review. (pictures are hyperlinked to the goodreads book page)

An Ember in the ashes

Rating: 5 stars

This book was very dramatic, with really well-written action scenes and a cliffhanger ending that made me buy the second book a matter of hours after I’d finished. Sabaa is a very good writer, and the variety and depth of her characters really show that. I recommend it highly!

The Hazel Wood

Rating: 4 stars

Reading this was like living inside an old folk tale or a Grimm fairytale. Very creepy and information drip fed when you needed it. I think it could be a very polarising book, if you don’t like the style then you won’t get on with it, but I loved it a lot. I’d absolutely read a book full of the stories of the Hazel Wood!

The Wicked Deep

Rating: 4 stars

This was a very thoughtful book, and one that really threw me at the end. A very good twist, and really emotive writing. It was poetic without feeling overdone, which is a very hard thing to balance. A unique story and one I will recommend to a lot of people.

P.S. I still love you

Rating: 4 stars

If you haven’t read any of Jenny Han’s books – what are you waiting for? The first of this series was recently made into a film on Netflix and the support it’s received really tells you a lot about how good these books are. They’re sweet and light and funny, the perfect read if you need to feel happy and warm for a little while. The sequel is just as good as the first and a very quick read. Go fall in love with Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky like I did!