Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

I’ve literally just finished this incredible book (at the time of writing, I have a backlog of posts scheduled right now) and I’m not sure how to express how truly astounding it was as a debut.

Freshwater draws heavily on the author’s own experiences and deals with the subject of living with a fractured self. It’s left ambiguous and the book refers to Nigerian concepts of ogbanje children, but my assumption is that the central character, Ada, is living with a form of dissociative identity disorder as a result of childhood trauma- but that’s my interpretation as someone coming from a very British background and I would happily be corrected. The story is narrated by several ‘selves’ within Ada, and occasionally Ada herself, who talk about the destructive behaviours they carry out over the course of Ada’s journey to adulthood as the people they find and lose along the way. 

Freshwater is a beautifully written book and I’d agree with the praise I’ve read so far that it’s shocking that this is the author’s debut. It’s lyrical and poetic and angry, but most of all a powerful testament to how people can survive.

It’s not an easy book to read, and I’d attach several trigger warnings (sexual abuse, self harm, suicide attempts, body dysmorphia, references to bimisia), but it’s a powerful story about identity, love and self destruction.


Latin@ Rising edited by Matthew David Goodwin 

I got this anthology some time ago on the recommendation of Naz at Read Diverse Books and have been dipping in and out of it for the past few months. Reading The New Voices of Fantasy really put me in the mood for more speculative short stories so I read the final half of it yesterday! 

Matthew David Goodwin has put together a collection of science fiction and fantasy short stories and poems from Latin American writers based in the United States. It’s got great scope as a collection, from more subtle fantasy to magical realism to high science fiction concepts and the stories sort of ebb and flow between different speculative themes. But running through all of them is the idea of what it means to be Latinx in America as both an immigrant or several generations down the line.

It’s a very well thought out collection, beginning and ending with stories about heritage and tradition. The introduction to each story (or author if they have more than one piece of writing) is comprehensive and interesting- I ended up buying quite a few books from th authors included thanks to the descriptions in the anthology- and it’s clearly a labour of love.

So if you’re in to speculative fiction, short stories or Latinx writing and culture then I’d thoroughly recommend this book! 

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

I’ve been a big fan of Matt Haig ever since I read, and fell in love with, The Humans a few years ago. So I was really excited to get a copy of his newest book to read. How to Stop Time is a story about a group of people termed ‘albas’ (short for The Albatross Society) who age at a much slower rate that normal humans and can live to be 900. Tom Hazard is one such person; born in Shakespeare’s time to a woman later killed on suspicion of being a witch he is now a history teacher in London trying to find his daughter who lives with the same condition as he does.

There’s a fair amount of flitting back and forth between time periods- not confusingly so- while we learn more about Tom’s incredibly long life up until this point. It’s not a conclusive backstory- that would be impossible- but we learn enough to understand where he is in life and why he does the things he does. 

Most of all this is a story about someone discovering what’s really important, how to live a life rather than just existing. Like all of Matt Haig’s books it’s uplifting and life affirming and by the end you feel all warm and squishy inside.

The New Voices of Fantasy edited by Peter S Beagle

I’m generally not a great lover of fantasy. I find it difficult to get through a long high fantasy novel or series and as a genre it doesn’t have the same pull for me as others do. That being said I do absolutely adore short stories so this collection caught my eye as a sort of gateway drug in to longer fantasy stories. It’s actually the second ARC I’ve finished for ARC August and the first I’m reviewing and I raced through it!

The thing I loved most about this collection is the range of cultural inspiration behind the stories. It wasn’t just your bog-standard Tudors-with-dragons English affair; there were stories drawing inspiration from myths originating everywhere from Ireland to Pakistan. Some of them were stories I recognised (I’m fairly sure that I’ve read the Dictionary of British Folklore referenced in Selkie Stories are for Losers and I’ve certainly been told the tale of the woman with a ribbon around her neck) and for me had a sort of nostalgic feel because they were the kinds of fantasy short stories I read as a child.

There’s no collective theme to these stories other than they’re all beautifully crafted and chosen to represent the best of the genre. And they may have convinced this fantasy-avoider to try out more of the genre!

Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee

I’d seen this one mentioned a lot on twitter in the run up to it’s release and I’ve been dying to read it. I actually finished it in a little over a day and read it on my phone pretty much every chance I got.

Tash Hearts Tolstoy is about seventeen year old Tash, a romantic asexual and Tolstoy lover, whose web series based on Anna Karenina goes viral thanks to a blogger shout out. There’s a good mix of lightheartedness and serious topics and great rep for asexual teens. 

I really loved Tash as a narrator. She’s not perfect, a fact made very clear to her by her best friends later in the book, but she tries and her relationship with her friends is portrayed wonderfully. They have their negative moments- Jack and Paul’s struggle to deal with their father’s cancer returning and Tash’s one track mindedness brings about some conflict- but they deal with it as friends should. Tash’s family is also very believable; sisters trying to live up to the pressures they perceive and parents trying their best to do the right thing. It’s nice to see a healthy parental dynamic in a YA novel. They allow their daughters to make mistakes and it’s clear that they never stop loving them. 

Suffice to say I loved this book. It was easy to read, well written and with good characters that seemed fresh and unique. There was good discussion of what it means to be asexual and the amisia that can be faced. But it’s also a genuinely uplifting book about friendship and love and figuring out what’s important in life.

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

I make no secret of my love of sci-fi. I’m no Trekkie but I do love it as a genre of books because it’s so versatile and, when well done, completely compelling and believable. So when I spotted All Our Wrong Todays in the ‘we recommend’ section of my local bookshop it immediately drew my attention. Part time travel novel, part alternate reality story, part love story, it seemed like a quirky take and it did not disappoint.

The basic premise is this; in an alternate 1965 a man invents a machine that harnesses the rotation of the earth for almost unlimited energy. In an alternate 2016 Tom Barren exists in a world where technology has solved all of humanity’s problems. Until he, heartbroken at losing the love of his life, absconds on the maiden voyage of his father’s time machine and accidentally ruins his own present and finds himself in our version of 2016.

I’m never a massive fan of love stories, so that element was probably my least favourite part. But that didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the story as a whole. There’s a quaintness to Tom’s relationship to people in the recognisable 2016 that I loved, particularly because I found him to be insufferably whingy about his life and father in the alternate 2016 (I was pleased to see some character development there).

There were parts of the story that seemed inherently familiar to me, weirdly, and I think it’s because the scenes in the past reminded me of the front cover of Science of the Discworld which, in turn, is based on a painting that I have forgotten the name of and I assume in part inspired those scenes. I wish my memory was better for these kinds of things. But my point is there’s some clear underpinnings of scientific history and science fiction knowledge to this story. A homage, if you will.

Overall I thought All Our Wrong Todays was a clever take on the time travel genre. It was easy to read without relying too much on sci-fi jargon, yet there was a decent amount of world-building that’s a requirement for a story that’s pinned so heavily on alternate timelines. The narrator grows over the course of the story and becomes, ultimately, very likeable and the story didn’t go the way I thought it would in the end!

ARC August

So, my motivation to actually post reviews recently has been pretty shocking. I’ve just finished my 76th book of 2017 and I’ve barely written a handful. Now that it’s the summer holidays I’m hoping to get a bit of motivation back and I’m going to use #ARCAugust to help me!

I don’t want to set myself too high a goal, but if I could get my Netgalley feedback ratio to over 50% and post a review at least once every two days over August then I’ll be happy!

Who else is taking part on ARC August? Check out the sign up post here.