Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed || Star Wars Book Review

Alphabet Squadron, by Alexander Freed and narrated by Saskia Maarleveld, was the first book I picked up in my foray into the new Star Wars canon books. I know a lot of fans have their own “best place” to start, whether that be in chronological order or publication order. I decided to go with the time period of the Star Wars universe I was most interested in instead and went with books set post-original trilogy.

So, I think I’ll start with the biggest successes in this book, which would have to be the production. This had the most seamless audio storytelling with both voice acting and sound effects I’ve ever experienced (coming from someone who’s listened to 400+ at this point). It reminded me of the Booktrack option that I tried out last year and did not like. That one aimed to add background noise and music to immerse listeners, but it really fell down when you sped up the narration. This production though, managed to do that exact thing so well. I was able to listen at my normal comfortable speed, and all the music choices still made sense, the blaster sound effects and the like all added to the story without being warped by the change. Extremely well done, Random House Audio! 💫

Besides the production, this story of a ragtag group of pilots on a mission to stop nefarious forces was really captivating and you got a full picture of what was happening right after the “fall” of the Empire.

But on the flip side, I felt that everything was so fast-paced that sometimes it was hard to grasp how momentous some of the events were. Several times during my listen I had to start a section over, like “wait, you’re injured now?” I think the quick-shifting POVs were mostly to blame for this. Which brings me to my main criticism: I think this story would’ve been better served with fewer POVs. At the beginning, we’re dumped in with a lot of exposition mixed with a flyby introduction of everyone involved, that it became a slog to get into. Once the story got going about a third of the way in, I was able to enjoy it more and the characters and action sequences were finally able to shine to their full potential.

All in all I give it ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫 nerfherders

A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie || Book Review

“𝕎𝕙𝕖𝕟 𝕠𝕟𝕖 𝕞𝕒𝕟 𝕜𝕟𝕠𝕨𝕚𝕟𝕘𝕝𝕪 𝕜𝕚𝕝𝕝𝕤 𝕒𝕟𝕠𝕥𝕙𝕖𝕣, 𝕥𝕙𝕖𝕪 𝕔𝕒𝕝𝕝 𝕚𝕥 𝕞𝕦𝕣𝕕𝕖𝕣! 𝕎𝕙𝕖𝕟 𝕤𝕠𝕔𝕚𝕖𝕥𝕪 𝕔𝕒𝕦𝕤𝕖𝕤 𝕥𝕙𝕖 𝕕𝕖𝕒𝕥𝕙𝕤 𝕠𝕗 𝕥𝕙𝕠𝕦𝕤𝕒𝕟𝕕𝕤, 𝕥𝕙𝕖𝕪 𝕤𝕙𝕣𝕦𝕘 𝕒𝕟𝕕 𝕔𝕒𝕝𝕝 𝕚𝕥 𝕒 𝕗𝕒𝕔𝕥 𝕠𝕗 𝕝𝕚𝕗𝕖”

Lord grimdark, ladies and gentlemen. It’s been a while since I posted a fantasy review, and boy did I decide to come back with a good one.

A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie is the latest book in his First Law series, the beginning of The Age of Madness trilogy. Let me start off by saying, even if I make this book sound as amazing as it is, you have to at least start with the original trilogy, if not all the standalone novels too (which I did skip). But I’ll try to keep this mostly spoiler free.

This book picks up 30 years after the Last Argument of Kings, and we’re seeing the next generation pick up the mantle as they deal with problems both old (war, money, power) and new (industry, class revolt). While society had “progressed” with its technology, evil is still evil, the poor will still suffer, and power still corrupts.

But not once in my reading did the suffering and bloodshed seem gratuitous. That’s Abercrombie’s skill. Sure, you might disagree about the conclusion’s he’s made about the nature of humanity, but at least he’s consistent. If you have hope, it will be crushed. If a character doesn’t look out for themselves, they’ll be worse for wear.

“𝙵𝚞𝚗𝚗𝚢 𝚑𝚘𝚠, 𝚠𝚑𝚎𝚗𝚎𝚟𝚎𝚛 𝚖𝚎𝚗 𝚝𝚊𝚕𝚔𝚎𝚍 𝚊𝚋𝚘𝚞𝚝 𝚏𝚛𝚎𝚎𝚍𝚘𝚖, 𝚝𝚑𝚎𝚢 𝚗𝚎𝚟𝚎𝚛 𝚛𝚎𝚊𝚕𝚕𝚢 𝚖𝚎𝚊𝚗𝚝 𝚏𝚘𝚛 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝚠𝚘𝚖𝚎𝚗.”

Which brings me to the characters — you need a bright light to get you through a story that can at times get bleak. I feel hook line and sinker for these characters, both ones connected to the ones we are familiar with in the original books and those new. Without spoilers, I’ll just say the apples didn’t fall very far from the familial trees with these new kids. And it’s honestly refreshing to say my two favorite characters were the women, Savine and Rikke. It’s not every fantasy book where you can have female characters each with their own personalities and struggles and motivations that are completely separate from how they relate to the men in their lives. I Stan Savine so much, and can’t wait for more from her in the future books.

And it’s with these great characters (Orso and Clover included, to not neglect the fellas) that I’m able to push through this grim tale, because it’s the humor they bring to the table to that makes this fantasy (without much magic) such an enjoyable read.

January in Japan | Readathon Wrap-Up

Those of you following along in my stories last weekend will have seen I spur of the moment decided to join in on the #januaryinjapan 10-in-4 readathon hosted on Bookstagram. So I figured I’d go over how my reading/listening went!

First up, I listened to Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (translated by Ginny Talley Takemori), which follows a woman who has worked this part-time job her entire adult life. The book absolutely skewers the societal norms that won’t let Keiko just live her life without trying to “cure her” with marriage or a career. I definitely hope for more of this author’s quirky work gets translated (one coming this year I believe)

Next I picked up my first ever manga with My Brother’s Husband by Gengoroh Tagame (translated by Anne Ishii). This is a slice of life story that follows a single dad who gets a surprise visitor after his estranged twin brother dies: his husband. You see Yaichi confront engrained homophobia but also see his daughter Kana welcome Mike with open arms. My only “complaint” is that the story didn’t seem to have much of an arc from chapter to chapter or even in this first volume. I found out later it was a serialized story, so that probably attributes to the kind of flat storytelling. Not a fault of the book, just not what I’m used to. Still highly recommend, and I have the next volume on hold.

Next up, I listened to If Cats Disappeared from the World by Genki Kawamura (translated by Eric Sellend). It follows a man who makes a deal with the devil to extend his life by one day in exchange for removing one thing from the world. This one had similar quirks as CSW, like the devil being a doppelgänger of our narrator in a Hawaiian shirt and a talking cat, but in the end was a bit too saccharine for my tastes. But its fable-like qualities are bound to be a hit for a non-cynic unlike myself.

And finally, I finished the weekend with short-story collection The Lonesome Bodybuilder by Yukiko Motoya (translated by Asa Yoneda). Like most collections, there were hits and misses here. But a few of these stories were just the right mix of speculative and cultural critique that were phenomenal!

Overall, I really enjoyed my weekend of packed with Japanese fiction in translation. It has just solidified my goal to prioritize more non-western writing through the year (and not isolated to readathons) Last year I only read a handful of works in translation (and those were from Swedish and Spanish), so there’s much more out there just waiting for me to seek it out and enjoy!

An Unkindness of Magicians by Kay Howard | Mini book review

I judged a book by its cover, and unfortunately got exactly what was coming to me, if not what I was expecting.

An Unkindness of Magicians follows a competition among the underground magicians of New York City. This time around the competition that determines which house rules the Unseen World has come years early, and it comes at a time when magic starts going wrong. The power is fading. And we follow multiple magicians as they compete, some trying to maintain control and others who want to see the status quo crumble.

This sounds like an EPIC story right? A mix of the deadly consequences in the Triwizard Tournament of Harry Potter, the intrigue of the game in The Night Circus, and the magical atmosphere of the Element Games in A Gathering of Shadows. But boy did it not deliver.

This story suffered in terms of pacing, in terms of writing style and in terms of development. There’s nothing wrong with dropping readers in the middle of a story and expecting them to learn the stakes and about the world as you go along. But there is something wrong when a reader walks away from what was supposed to be the resolution of the main conflict and thinking “That’s it? That SENTENCE is what we get on this battle?”

There was a lot of potential here. The bits of the world that the author actually developed were fascinating and original. I really loved the dark nature of some of the characters and the secret of what was happening to the magic. But that doesn’t make up for the fact that the plot was completely surface level. It felt like a story pitch to an editor rather than a final product. I so wish this story was put in the hands of a better writer.

So goodbye, beautiful book. You will soon be rehomed to the nearest Little Free Library.

What was the last book that you were disappointed by?

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler | Mini book review

I would say what characterizes my read of Kindred the most is the looming threat. This historical fiction (with fantasy elements) starts with its main character Dana having lost her arm. You don’t know how, other than the fact it happened “the last time she went home.” But quickly, once the main story gets underway, that looming threat of disfigurement is replaced with the bigger threat: life as a Black woman in the Antebellum South. That looming threat provides a great tension that really pushes you through the rest of the story.

Octavia Butler manages to explore a lot of themes through the fear of these threats, both big and small. She looks at mixed-race relationship dynamics, and how they both view this old world in different ways based on their lived experiences (both in race and gender). She looks at Dana’s guilt: for being able to escape, for feeling compassion for her slave-owning ancestor, for not being able to help everyone. These were all really interesting things to explore through the lens of a modern (to 1976) Black woman.

The one aspect I haven’t settled my feelings on yet is the style and whether it completely worked for me. The straightforward writing style made for a quick moving plot. Every time something terrible would happen, there was no lingering over its existence — the story simply moved on (because in the Antebellum South, you had to). You feel the trauma of the story through its ramifications on the plot. I think that part works. But at times that same matter-of-factness felt like a distancing from the characters and an unsubtle play on the themes.

I’ve read that, while this was among her first novels, her style holds throughout the rest of her work. So it’ll be interesting to see how she adapts it to work in the context of telling longer and more imaginative stories in her later sci-fi series.

Overall, I enjoyed my reading of Kindred (as much as you can enjoy such a dark story) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ and I’m glad I finally started on Octavia Butler’s work. I think my next will likely be Parable of the Sower before moving on to Lilith’s Brood. Have you read any other Octavia E. Butler books? I’d love to know your favorites!

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn | Mini book review

I first put the Sharp Objects audiobook on hold on Sept. 3. But because adaptations are the bane of my existence, I didn’t get it until this year. /endrant

If you’ve lived under a rock and somehow missed the synopsis, this book follows a reporter Camille who goes back to her hometown to investigate the case of a murdered girl and a newly missing girl. Family drama and small town antics ensue.

So, to start with the positive, this book was compulsively readable. I’ve read the rest of Gillian Flynn’s bibliography, so I knew I got along well with her style, but this was her first book, so you never know. It’s no surprise at all that someone read this book and thought “This has to be a TV show.”

But, saying that, there were times in here where the made-for-TV dramatic scenes came with a side of “well that’s crazy and intense, but why is it happening? How did we get here?” Looking back at the all the twisty dark scenes after finishing the book, I realize several of them seem to serve no purpose other than to elicit a “WTF?” response. They didn’t serve the plot or even character development. We already knew our characters were deeply flawed.

Overall, I think I’ve seen a season (*cough* or 13) too many of crime procedurals to be shocked by anything in here. On top of that the annoying AF bad journalist tropes had me eye rolling so much they almost got stuck. I’d still recommend reading it for a “fun” thriller, if only to compare it to the TV show.

⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden | Mini review

WTF did I just read? 3.5 Stars ⭐️, rounding up.

The first description that comes to mind with this book is fever dream, but given the hallucinogenic drugs in here I’ll change that to acid trip. This is one hell of an acid trip of a book.

The Prey of Gods is a sci-fi/fantasy story set in a future South Africa. You follow a bunch of different characters from a young girl coming into new abilities, a delightfully ruthless demi goddess trying to reclaim power, and several characters who experience a new hallucinogen sweeping the country.

To start with what I love is how much humor and different tricks to the tropes that Nicky Drayden accomplished. Her characters and her mix of storylines were some of the most original I’ve ever read.

That being said, it sometimes reads like 6 separate short stories that the author just set in the same place and time. When she starts to combine them, things get a bit messy. Several times in the second half I found myself thinking “wait, what? What’s happening? Did I miss something??” I think this could’ve easily been longer or split into separate books to try to sort everything out.

All that being said, I loved all the disparate parts of this mix of science fiction and fantasy. I just wish the execution was a bit more polished. And I’m eager to see what the author does next.

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas | Book Review

2018 has been the year of feminist dystopians, and I’ve finally read the last one that was on my physical TBR for the year (that I had been meaning to get to since February!)

Red Clocks follows three women and one teen girl in the near future after a “personhood amendment” is passed in the US, barring everything from abortion, artificial insemination and single-parent adoption. We follow The Biographer, The Mender, The Wife and The Daughter as they all deal with life under this change and slowly the connections they all have to each other is revealed.

I’ll say at the top that this book won’t be for everyone. The style especially takes a while to get used to and even then it’s still strange in its combination of lyrical language and stark/choppy structure. But for me, that style brought such a power to book that, once I got the swing of things, I was completely hooked.

You could feel the desperation, you could feel the contempt and the anger. In the end these “placeholders” (naming the point of view chapters after the women’s role in society) were fully realized people. I could relate to the wife who’s life I’ve never lived; I could relate to the mender even though I’ve never been called a witch.

And unlike some of the other books in this same vein I’ve read this year, it’s a dystopian that is explained in a way that you could easily see happening. Some say modern comparisons to the Handmaid’s Tale are exaggerations — but this book? This is a couple of short steps away from reality.

I’ve only begun to scratch the surface with my feminist dystopian reads of the year (Future Home of the Living God; The Power; Vox; The Handmaid’s Tale; The Book of Joan; The End We Start From; Red Clocks), and I already have more on my list for next year. But what are your recommendations?

Severance by Ling Ma | Book Review

When was the last time you read a book and it just stuck with you for days afterward?

I finished Severance Wednesday night and despite my attempts to get into my next book, I keep going back to Severance.

This was a surprise. When I picked it as my Book of the Month, I only knew the briefest of synopses and wasn’t expecting much out of it. And now, three days later and I hadn’t posted my review because I was still ruminating. . 
Severance is a strange little book that manages to be several books at once successfully. It’s an anti capitalist satire. It’s a Chinese-American immigrant story. And it’s an apocalyptic zombie story.

You follow Candace Chen in a split timeline, in the past as she rides out the civilization-ending pandemic in her corporate office building in NYC and in the present as she travels with a small band of fellow survivors.

Author Ling Ma’s examination of capitalistic culture is biting, but what really hooked me was how she explored modern “stuck in a rut” lives and the pitfalls in nostalgia. She’s not the first to make the zombie/office worker comparison but her iteration was so bleak and discomforting (especially for someone like me who experiences deja vu almost daily and finds “comfort” in predictability). And I found Candace to be one of the most relatable unlikable characters I’ve read in a long time.

I’ll spare you all many more details than that because I highly recommend going in mostly blind like I did. I’ll definitely be picking up more from Ling Ma in the future and will move this to the “to be reread” stack.