November Wrap Up!

I’m fairly behind with reviews this year so I thought I could start a monthly wrap up to write snippet reviews of the books I’ve read that month! In November I read; nine novels, two short story collections, one literary magazine, one graphic novel, one novel in verse and a novelette. Seven books were eARCs in an attempt to breathe some life in to my Netgalley ratio!

One of the most powerful books I read this month (or, ever) was this gorgeous novel in verse by Jason Reynolds. Long Way Down tells the story of Will as he travels for 67 seconds in a lift down to kill the man he thinks murdered his brother. At each floor someone who knew Shawn gets on and gives him another piece of the puzzle. It’s a beautiful, poetic ghost story and brotherly-love story about gun crime and making the right decisions. My full review is here!

I received Me Mam. Me Dad. Me. from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Malcolm Duffy uses his experience working with survivors of domestic violence to tell the story of Danny and his Mam- whose new boyfriend is beating her. Danny is fourteen and does the only thing he can think of; lies about a school trip to travel off to find his absent dad and get him to kill the man who’s hurting his mam. Told from Danny’s POV, Malcolm Duffy does a great job of capturing the confusion and pain of a young boy who just can’t understand why his mam doesn’t leave, but also that sensitive age where boys feel the need to protect the people they love no matter what. I also loved the fact that it was written entirely in a Geordie accent!

Toletis by Rafa Ruiz was another Netgalley offering! The only way to describe this one- about a young boy and his friends trying to save the trees- is ‘quaint’. It’s sweet, magical and wonderfully illustrated. Originally written in Spanish, the translation is done well and it’s an easy, poetic read.

This one was a slightly odd read from Netgalley but it was right up my street! Census is Jesse Ball’s attempt to immortalise the relationship he had with his late brother, who had Down’s syndrome. In an unnamed dystopian land a man finds out that he will soon die and takes one last trip with his son as a mysterious Census Taker. His job, to find out about the citizens in the outer rings of society, their quirks and memories, and tattoo them with the symbol of the Census. It’s a strange little book, but it tells a beautiful story of the relationship the man has with his son and his son has with the world.

I wrote a full review of Ramona Blue here but it deserves a wrap-up mention too! Julie Murphy tells the story of Ramona, who has always identified as a lesbian until her old friend comes home and she begins to question whether her sexuality is more fluid than she thought. It’s a easy to read YA story with a diverse cast of characters which also deals with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and how family ties us to home.

I also read Malinda Lo’s A Line In The Dark; a YA thriller about jealousy in friendships, f/f relationships and murder. The cover was slightly deceptive as the bulk of the story revolves around Jess’s secret infatuation with her best friend Angie and her jealousy over her relationship with Margot. A first to third POV switch partway through was a little clunky but I still really enjoyed this twisty YA thriller.

I had some concerns over this one when I received it from Netgalley. Partway through there was a transphobic joke made by one of the side characters but the publishers have assured me that this has been removed from the final version after I emailed them. I Am Thunder is Muhammad Khan’s attempt to explore how Muslim teens in the UK could become radicalised. The author is a teacher himself. It’s a very important story and a lot of it rang familiar to me as someone who has done, uncomfortably, the PREVENT training required by UK schools. Muzna’s steps towards danger are subtle, but her conviction of character ultimately saves her and others from tragedy.

I was so drawn to the cover of this book by Stephanie Oakes. The Arsonist is about three teenagers; Molly, who knows her mother is out there somewhere despite what everyone tells her; Pepper, a young immigrant from Kuwait with the world’s most useless service dog and Ava, an East German teen murdered in 1989. Molly knows somethings links the three of them and is determined to solve the mystery of Ava’s murder to figure it out. As stories go this one is a little ridiculous and a fair amount of suspension of disbelief is required but I still really, really liked it. The characters are fun and sparky, I genuinely did not guess the mystery and it’s always nice to have some historical background to a novel!

Another one that will definitely be getting its own review at some point, What We Lose almost immediately became one of my all time favourites as soon as I read it. Zinzi Clemmons is such a talented writer and the way that this novel is laid out is more like a series of interconnecting snapshots. It reminded me of The House on Mango Street– lyrical, coming of age and dealing with not quite fitting in anywhere.

My fifth Netgalley ARC of the month was Brother by David Chariandy. It powerfully deals with the themes of brotherhood, loss, regret and being the child of immigrants in Canada. Brother is a very moving portrayal of a man trying to cope with the loss of his most important person.

Ghost Stories by Whit Taylor was the first ARC I read this month and the only graphic novel. It read more like a chap book than a graphic novel; it was made up of a few cartoons each dealing with loss in some way, whether it be meeting dead heroes, losing a childhood home or watching as a friend’s life moves on without us. Whit Taylor is a great artist and she packs a lot of story and emotion in to her cartoons.

The Sea Beast Takes A Lover was my favourite ARC of November and the final one in this wrap up! These short stories by Michael Andreasen are great, quirky and unique. A lot have themes of the Sea, including the titular story about a kraken-like creature embracing a ship until it sinks. I just loved them!

This month I got really in to the idea of literary magazines and now have a bunch on my kindle to read! They seem to be the best way of getting a constant stream of good, diverse speculative fiction in to my life! I’ll do a post about them in their own right at some point but this month I read Uncanny issue 19 which I received as part of my Kickstarter pledge for their upcoming special edition celebrating disabled writers in SFF.

An Alphabet of Embers was the very last book I read this month. It’s a celebration of all things unusual in short fiction as well as an incredibly diverse collection of writers. Edited by Rose Lemberg and complete with illustrations for a lot of the stories, I finished this in almost one sitting with only the briefest of pauses to actually do my job.

Finally, special mention to the coverless novelette I read by Bogi Takács, All Talk of Common Sense. This was a great piece of flash fiction in which Bogi explores writing an autistic character in a fantasy-quasi-historical setting!

So, that’s my reading for November!


Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

I bought this one on a whim off the back of seeing it all over twitter in the run up to its release. Didn’t even look at what it was about, which I have been known to do when people I trust recommend a book. So I was especially pleased to find out that it was a novel in verse, which are a very under appreciated medium in my humble opinion!

Long Way Down tells a powerful story over the course of 67 seconds of Will’s life; from the point he steps in to an elevator determined to kill the man he thinks shot his brother to when he steps out on the ground floor. On each floor another person steps in to join him, each one from his brother’s past and there to give him another piece of an ultimately tragic puzzle.

2017 has been a bit of a year of poetry for me. After having shunned it since university five years ago I’ve been hooked on modern poetry recently! Long Way Down combines everything I love about it; gut wrenching themes, varying form and it draws you in to a narrative. That it’s also making such a heart breaking comment on gun crime makes it all the more powerful. We see Will’s turmoil over whether to follow the ‘rules’ he’s been taught by his brother, or to move forward in his own way and also see how gun crime in poor neighbourhoods can have ramifications that last generations. It’s a fantastic book that I read in one sitting and would thoroughly recommend.

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

I’m finally updating! Sorry it’s been a while, I lost all motivation to write book reviews except on Netgalley (my ratio was awful so I focussed on getting through a bunch of ARCs, will write about them here at some point soon!) so I’ve picked a few recent reads, taken some photos and now I’m scheduling some posts!

I’d seen Ramona Blue floating around twitter for quite a while and finally picked it out this month. I gather that it garnered quite a lot of controversy before it was published due to poor blurbing; from what I remember the concern was that it was a story about a lesbian finding the right guy to turn her straight. In reality it’s a YA novel partly about the fluid nature of sexuality and a teen questioning labels, partly about the ties of family and living in poverty in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Ramona lives in a trailer with her hardworking dad, pregnant sister and her babydaddy. She identifies as a lesbian openly but begins to question how fluid her sexuality may be when an old friend returns to her small town.

I’m not personally comfortable commenting on the bisexual rep in the book, particularly as I’ve seen mixed opinions in the reviews I’ve read by bi people. Chelsea points out that the word ‘bisexual’ is never once used in the book (minor spoilers alert) which soured the book for her, but I’ve read other ownvoice reviews (an example here from BisexualBooks contains heavy spoilers) that have praised the rep. I defer to people who have actual lived experience.

Otherwise, this to me was a great story about family love, poverty and learning to take selfish steps in the face of what we perceive to be our duties. Ramona gains a love of swimming, an outlet in her life which otherwise revolves around worrying about money, her sister and her soon-to-arrive niece. Ramona’s life has been heavily influenced by Hurricane Katrina, which decimated her small town years before, and it’s a powerful comment on how the effects of such events have ramifications that last far beyond media interest. The story also touches upon the ways race means different experiences for different people; there’s a scene which is just plain fun for Ramona and her group, but which her friend Freddie rightly points out could have had deadly consequences for him as a black teen.

I really enjoyed this book, it was much more than a romance, which in not generally that interested in!

Nyxia by Scott Reintgen 

Nyxia is the ninth ARC I’ve read for ARC August and another one that I’ve seen a lot of hype about. It’s a action-packed sci-fi about kids battling for a place on a life changing mission on a new world and the start of a planned series. It’s fun, the characters are great but there were a few flaws to the storytelling that I hope get ironed out over the course of the series.

The narrator of the story is Emmett; a young black kid from Detroit who hopes that the wealthy payout he will receive from Babel if he succeeds in gaining a place on the team will mean that his Moms finally beats the kidney disease that is slowly killing her. The other ten kids (Babel tells them there are eight places in the team) all come from equally deprived backgrounds making them easy to manipulate in to a fighting crew. Over the course of the novel it’s revealed that not all is what it seems, with Babel slowly becoming less and less trustworthy as a corporation. There’s not much backstory about what’s going on back on earth; I assume that it’s just a more technologically advanced version of our own society given the contextual clues but Babel has risen up as a technology giant.

I liked the use of translating technology to bring together characters from all over the world. It meant that the group have a more diverse background without defaulting to a Westernised Everyone On Earth Mysteriously Speaks English. I thought the characters were well rounded but flawed, which made for a much more interesting read.

I do think the entire concept of Nyxia (a mysterious substance that the group needs to mine on the planet Eden) feels like a narrative cop out. It seems to be able to do absolutely anything that the story needed it to do and I hope that it’s limits are explored in book two.

I’ll definitely carry on with the series because I want to see where this all goes. Nyxia is out on 12th September!

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

When Dimple Met Rishi was the first book I finished this summer and I’m still not quite over how cute it was. I’d seen hype about this book for months and fell in love with the cover as soon as I saw it but it took me a while to have the time to get round to reading it!

The story revolves around two Indian-American teens whose parents have decided that they’d be a great married couple. She’s unaware of this, he doesn’t realise that she’s unaware and unwilling to get married until he introduces himself at the computer programming summer school they’re both taking part in. It begins as an unlikely romance, but it’s written so thoughtfully that you can’t help but root for these characters.

I loved the development of both characters throughout the story. They make mistakes, they learn from them and they remain true to themselves while learning to make compromises in relationships. I particularly enjoyed the way that Dimple’s relationship with her parents matures from thinking that they’re old fashioned and only thinking of themselves to realising that they value her happiness above all else. It was a very realistic depiction of how teens relationships with caring parents changes dynamic as they approach adulthood.

The story is a fun, modern approach to Indian traditions of arranged marriages and how a delicate balance between youthful goals and family expectations can be reached.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

I dug around in my ARC backlist for my eighth book for ARC August and remembered how excited I was to read See What I Have Done. I love a bit of American true crime and this book revolves around the 1892 Lizzie Borden murders and gives a fictionalised account from various perspectives. I thought it was particularly fascinating being based on an unsolved crime and the whole book had an air of the creepy unknown.

The story is written from four perspectives; Lizzie, youngest daughter of the Bordens and eventual prime suspect; Emma, her sister who comes home from a trip to a friend’s to find her parents murdered; Bridget, the Irish maid hired by the family and Benjamin, a local criminal hired by the girl’s uncle to ‘speak’ to their father about the way he treats his daughters. It’s deliberately ambiguous to the end who committed the crime, but also… it’s not. It’s cleverly written that way.

The toxic nature of the Borden’s family dynamic comes across really well; despite being 32 years old at the time of the crime Lizzie is portrayed almost like a spoilt teenager who manipulates everyone around her to her own ends. It’s interesting seeing three different perspectives on her, including a complete stranger who witnesses the events surrounding the murders-but not the killings themselves- from inside the house. I’m not sure if Benjamin was a real person but if not he’s a clever invention based on the facts and rumours to get us inside the house.

See What I Have Done is a smart, well researched venture in to fictionalised true crime that remains a whodunnit until the end.

Deer Life by Ron Sexsmith

Deer Life is described as a ‘wicked fairytale of witchcraft, bullying, revenge’ and is probably add ‘playful’ to that too. I enjoyed reading it, but it was also a fairly flawed book.

Deryn Hedlight is already having a bad day when he accidentally shoots a witch’s dog whilst hunting and ends up being turned in to a deer. Strange things have been happening throughout the town and Deryn, dubbed Lucky the deer by his unsuspecting best friend, becomes involved in a haphazard quest to rid the town of a witch. Except none of the characters really know that’s what they’re doing.

It was a fun, quirky read with a narrator that put me in mind of the sort of Lemony Snickett omniscient ‘I’ storyteller, but just not quite as funny. I feel like as a whole the story just missed the mark and while I enjoyed it, the ending fell a bit flat for me. Perhaps the attempt to marry fairytales with adult fiction just wasn’t carried out the right way here.

I received a copy of Deer Life from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.