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!