Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy easily slipped into my favourite books of the year. I was so eager to get my grabby little hands on it, but then so hesitant to start it because my expectations were quite high. I shouldn’t have worried.
Franny Stone has always been the kind of woman who is able to love but unable to stay.
The book follows Franny Stone as she follows the Arctic terns on their maybe final migration from Greenland all the way to Antarctica. Earth has lost most of its wildlife by then, the overshadowing feeling is one of deep loss and desperation. In a way, it is a depressingly realistic distopian setting. But as the story is centered mostly on Franny’s character, it is more of a literary distopia.
Bit by bit, we get to know more about Franny and her past. Her path is a long and winding one, she is full of regrets and yet only able to move forward instead of fixing what she has. Most of all, she is driven by a deep desire to keep moving.
With about 250 pages, this book is on the shorter side. But the writing is so heartbreakingly beautiful that you don’t want to leave.
Or, what if the French Revolution wasn’t just fueled by monetary inequality (I’m over-simplifying it), but also by the inequality of use of magical power?
A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians by H.G. Parry, publishing day 23 June 2020.
In this alternate history set in the late 18th century, spanning the abolitionist movement and French Revolution, magic is hereditary, but only aristocrats are allowed to use it; unless it’s necromancy or stems from vampirism. Dark magic is forbidden and the Knights Templar police the use of magic rigorously.
At more than 500 pages, this novel is on the thicker side. What makes it hard to read are endless pages of dialogues or debates with no action. There was hardly any female character other than the family members of the protagonists, well-known figures of that time like Robespierre, Pitt, Wilberfur. Furthermore I felt that although the story starts with the kidnapping of a young African girl by slave traders, her story wasn’t very well represented – at least not until I DNF’d at about 50%.
The reading experience reminded me of Clarke’s Strange & Norrell [DNF’d], and history lectures at uni [finished that degree]. In other words, I found it interesting, but boring.
2/5 Harpies – purely for research into the historical facts well-done
The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox, publishing day 22 July 2021.
Joe Lazarus is on a stake-out. It’s raining. He’s hunkered down in a ditch, his expensive coat splattered with mud. Can it get any worse? Sure! He’s only minutes away from stumbling over his own corpse. Supernatural detective story where the dead DI has to find his own murderer? Sign me up!
Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as that. The detective story is intertwined with a story-line about politics in purgatory, and both are overshadowed by a dark entity that waits for your dead soul, which is in purgatory already, to cross a certain line of interference just to drag you off into the deepest pits of hell.
The detective part of the story and the interactions between Lazarus and his ‘dead soul’s guide to the afterlife’ Daisy-May kept me turning the pages until I reached about 50% -although it was pretty bog-standard and obvious to me who-dunnit. Obviously the mystery behind Lazarus’s death is just part of a bigger picture. But, because the underworld/afterlife part of the world-building wasn’t fully realised, it bogged down the whole story and left me with many questions that weren’t answered.
…you might expect a long story. The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman, publishing day 25 May 2021.
Buehlman’s fantasy story about a thief in training is reminiscent of Sword and Sorcery stories. Kinch, our main character, is in debt with the thief guild that trained him. In order to continue his training to rise in rank, he has to pay off his debts. To do so the guild sets him off on a ‘quest’ to a certain northern city that was raided by giants. Needless to say, perils await Kinch on the way.
The strong start to the story loses momentum due to Kinch’s meanderings and explanations, which not only slow down the pacing, but make the whole narration feel like short stories being glued together with witty banter. I kept skipping pages because nothing relevant happened.
Novellas and short stories are a great way to read something new and refreshing in between the chunksters. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have depth. Here are a few I’ve recently finished.
Hard Reboot by Django Wexler, publishing day 25 May 2021. Kas is on a fact-finding mission to old Earth. She’s drawn to the battle-bot fights for scholarly interest, which then leads to her being drawn in much deeper – literally and figuratively. A sci-fi novella about friendship, diplomacy, love, and well-choreographed robot-fights. It’s amazing to see how well Wexler manages this story in only 150 pages! Also, great cover! 4/5 Harpies
The Quest for the Holy Hummus by James Allison is the first book in The Chickpea Chronicles, publishing day 12 March 2021. When vegan dragon George goes to Peopleville to get his beloved hummus from Julian Pinkerton Smith’s organic food store, things go foreseeably wrong. It’s a short witty introduction (think Pratchett, Atkinson, Monty Python) to the two characters and the world the following six stories are set in. 3/5 Harpies
The Past is Red by Catherynne M Valente, publishing day 20 July 2021. Tetley loves the world. Tetley tells the truth. Both these things get her in so much trouble. This is the story of a very optimistic girl that embraced its dystopian home, Garbagetown, and eventually ended up learning one secret too many and becoming a jaded outlaw. Still, she doesn’t give up hope. A very optimistic, yet also slightly disturbing novella that makes you think. My one point of criticism, it was sometimes hard to follow the timeline. 4/5 Harpies
Happy Anniversary to our Buddyread round! The first buddyread book, King’s If It Bleeds, arrived in May 2020. Deciding to have a curated book sent to us each month was one of the best ideas born from the first Covid lockdown.
Our May Buddyread, the anniversary book if you want to call it thus, is Zen Cho’s Black Water Sister. It’s a Malaysian-set contemporary fantasy. Publishing day 11 May, 2021.
Here’s a quote that should sum the book up quite nicely:
A stressed zillennial lesbian fights gods, ghosts, gangsters & grandmas in 21st century Penang.
Well, Nophek Gloss. Written by Essa Hansen, this book has been on my TBR since before its release. If you have absolutely no idea what the title means, don’t be afraid, it’s intentional and you find out soon enough.
Prepare for an action-filled ride through space and emotions, though. This book starts strong, and has difficulty letting you take a pause during the 400 pages.
Somehow, it also takes every step on the hero’s journey without becoming boring. I don’t know if this was intended as a standalone novel at first and then evolved into a series, but it feels like it. But you can certainly read it as a standalone novel. I note this only because it is my only point of criticism: the book feels a tad too filled, there is so much in it. So many topics are discussed, and there are so many steps in the journey of the main character, and this at barely 400 pages. So you might feel a bit overwhelmed.
4/5 duckies, and big recommendation, and I will for sure pick up the next one.
P. Djèlí Clark has come up with an alternate history, urban fantasy, steampunk Cairo that is a place I want to read more of.
After reading the two short stories, A Dead Djinn in Cairo and The Haunting of Tram Car 015 several weeks back, I was truly happy to have been approved for an ARC of Clark’s full sized novel A Master of Djinn set in this steampunk Cairo, publishing day 11 May 2021.
Together with Agent Fatma, who had to fight a rogue clockwork angel in A Dead Djinn in Cairo, we are trying to solve the mystery behind the death of the members of a secret brotherhood. The possible culprit is no other than al-Jahiz, the very person who brought the djinn back into the human world about fifty years ago and then vanished.
Fatma, her lover Siti and her new, and definitely unwanted, rookie partner Hadia are trying to find out who the black man with the golden mask truly is. An endeavor that lets them not only team up with some of the characters we’ve already met in the prequel short stories, but also with new-to-the-reader djinn, gods, and other members of the Cairene underworld.
The mystery itself I had figured out long before the agents and police. But, and that’s what sets a good mystery apart from a mediocre one, at least for me, I stayed for the characters and their banter, for the carefully thought through world that Clark painted, for the clockwork angels, and djinn.
There is a third prequel short story The Angel of Khan el-Khalili, set between Dead Djinn and Tram Car, which I fully intend to read as soon as I have finished writing this review.
Well, so far I’ve been reading outside just once, wrapped up very warm. And the temperatures still aren’t what I’d expect May to be like, but warmer weather has been forecast.
Warmer and longer days might get me to read some more. I’ve spent way too much time in front of the telly lately. And don’t ask, nothing new, nothing exciting; I have kids, who, even as teenagers, like re-runs.
For May I have planned to finish what I had started months ago. Wait! I think I said that before. I must make it happen. It’s just so much easier to pick up a new book than a book I had previously started.
Now, you must think me either very fickle, or think I’m reading only boring books. I’d like to believe it’s neither. In most cases the books I have started are so interesting that I want to prolong my time with them as much as possible, hence I pick up a romance in between chapters. These days – and I am totally blaming the current situation – one romance usually leads me to picking up the next interesting looking book, and the next. And whoops, a week or two have gone by without me reading more than a few chapters in the book I had been dying to read. It’s weird and it’s annoying.
So, I solemnly swear that I’m up to being good this month -well, okay, maybe the first ten days of the month? I am going to ignore all the tempting new books and old books and shiny covers and enticing narrators and concentrate on the *mumbles figure* books I have yet to finish. Wish me luck! I feel stressed already.
Among that mumbled figure of books is P. Djèlí Clark’s A Master of Djinn, which will be published on 11th May. It’s the first full-sized novel set in Clark’s alternate history/urban fantasy/steampunk Cairo, where agent Fatma has to find out why an imposter of al-Jahiz, the most important man in history, is using unfathomable magic to kill the members of a secret order and is trying to rile the masses against the social oppression of the modern age.
I might even read it outside, once the sun comes out.
Even and Odd by Sarah Beth Durst, a middle-grade fantasy adventure, publishing date 15 June 2021. The two sisters, Even and Odd, share their magic. Even loves magic, practices every chance she gets, Odd seems to have come to dislike magic and is wondering where she fits in. They encounter a young unicorn named Jeremy, who thinks he messes up everything. Together the three of them want to find out why the gate between the magical world and the non-magical world doesn’t work anymore. Which will, inevitably, lead them to confront their current problems and overcome them. Solid middle-grade story with humour which will keep young readers entertained.
Skelton’s Guide to Suitcase Murders by David Stafford, publishing day 22 April 2021. This is the second book in the Arthur Skelton series set in UK in the late 1920s. Barrister Arthur Skelton has an instinct when it comes to people being wrongfully accused of a crime. In this case, he tries to safe the neck of a doctor who it seems has murdered his wife and disposed of the body in a suitcase. All the evidence points to the husband, of course. Skelton thinks otherwise and sets out to proof his theory. The novel can be read as a standalone, I’m curious though and will certainly read the first book soon.
Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo, publishing day 30 March 2021. The second book in the King of Scars duology; or the seventh book in the Grishaverse. We’re back in Ravka and Fjerda, and we even get to go back to Ketterdam for a short stint. It was a fitting end to Nicolai’s storyline. I liked this duology, and the Crows, more than the original Grisha trilogy. Bardugo is really good at more mature characters; and I’m counting the Crows here too, because, to me, they all feel older than their apparent late teens. There is a hint at a possible future adventure involving the Grisha and the Crows. Yes, please!
The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab, published 2 August 2011. This book had been on my TBR for an eternity. I’m glad I’ve finally read it. I struggled with the pacing, it’s rather slow. The story of a quiet village blaming a newly arrived stranger for their ill luck is bumbling along. The heroine of the story is probably the only character in the book that is actually fleshed out in parts. The other characters fall a bit flat. It’s an okay read, but if it had been by first Schwab, I’d have stopped reading her books.
Master of Poisons by Andrea Hairston, publishing day 8 September 2020. Unfortunately, this wasn’t for me. The poetic style and the epic story just couldn’t draw me in. It’s probably me, not the book. I struggle with those two descriptors: epic & poetic.