Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

A dark blue cover with white text, and a flourished font for the title Caraval. There is a multipointed star behind the title and it is surrounded by red artistic flourishes around the title and author name.ARC Review:

Title: Caraval (Caraval #1)

Authors: Stephanie Garber

Publisher and Year: Flatiron Books, 2017

Genre: fantasy, young adult, romance

Blurb from Goodreads:

Whatever you’ve heard about Caraval, it doesn’t compare to the reality. It’s more than just a game or a performance. It’s the closest you’ll ever find to magic in this world . . .

Welcome, welcome to Caraval―Stephanie Garber’s sweeping tale of two sisters who escape their ruthless father when they enter the dangerous intrigue of a legendary game.

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I thoroughly enjoyed Caraval, it was a face-paced read that was enjoyable in the way that you don’t notice how much you’ve read until you should have gone to sleep an hour ago.  I loved the set up of the story and the game of Caraval with the mystery of its game master Legend.  The magic and the worldbuilding were deeply interesting and honestly I wish I could have seen more of this – especially inside the game world itself. For five days of game there was a surprising lack of detail and richness to the experience within it.

The characterisation was all pretty solid although I thought the father’s character was a little two dimensional as a villain. I loved the two sisters, although I was disappointed that they didn’t share more page-time together and I thought that there was a bit more telling about them rather than showing – Tella was almost absent from the book although critical to the story itself which I thought was actually a bit of a shame – I couldn’t relish in her triumph because I barely knew her. Scarlett was contradictory but in a good way and I thought I had a good chance to get to know her, but I thought that she was a bit too easily led and naive for someone who was supposed to be aware of being manipulated, based on her background. I did really love Julian’s character, and he was one of the stand out characters for me, he was complicated and interesting, was a great foil for Scarlett without being lost in her and without doing anything that made my teeth hurt.

I enjoyed the resolution to the story quite a lot, I thought it was quite fitting and I thought that the fact that there was a rhyme and reason to how Scarlett and Tella ended up at the game at all was well plotted. I was bewildered by the random arrival of the fiance – that whole sub-storyline was a bit clunky for me and I don’t think it played out as well as it could have. I didn’t much care for the cliffhanger, but I am glad to know that there’s more story, it was definitely compelling and enjoyable enough that I’m overtly looking forward to the sequel. This is an interesting YA novel, it’s not a coming of age, but it is a stepping out into the world in a way for the first time, and Scarlett comes to know herself and what she wants for her life a bit more, out from under the thumb of her father and the certainty of her betrothal. I love that the relationship between the sisters is so important and underpins the whole story even if they didn’t share the pages as much as I’d have liked, and overall I’d have loved to see more of Tella. Congratulations to Garber on an excellent debut novel.

Review: Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

A book cover with a dark background and darkened images, a dark skinned boy is embraced by a white skinned girl, there are feathered birds at the bottom of the image.ARC Review:

Title: Miranda and Caliban

Authors: Jacqueline Carey

Publisher and Year: Tor Books, 2017

Genre: fantasy, retellings, romance, literary fiction

Blurb from Goodreads:

Miranda is a lonely child. For as long as she can remember, she and her father have lived in isolation in the abandoned Moorish palace. There are chickens and goats, and a terrible wailing spirit trapped in a pine tree, but the elusive wild boy who spies on her from the crumbling walls and leaves gifts on their doorstep is the isle’s only other human inhabitant.

There are other memories, too: vague, dream-like memories of another time and another place. There are questions that Miranda dare not ask her stern and controlling father, who guards his secrets with zealous care: Who am I? Where did I come from? The wild boy Caliban is a lonely child, too; an orphan left to fend for himself at an early age, all language lost to him. When Caliban is summoned and bound into captivity by Miranda’s father as part of a grand experiment, he rages against his confinement; and yet he hungers for kindness and love.

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

This book is a melding of Carey’s lush prose and the theatrics of Shakespeare. I can’t comment on this story as a retelling specifically, as I’m not familiar with The Tempest. However, I really enjoyed Miranda and Caliban, it was a very satisfying story to read. I read this over a couple of days and found the characters, the setting and the mystery compelling. I loved the romance that was woven throughout this story, Miranda’s toward life, and Caliban. Caliban, towards Miranda – to a fault. I was often perplexed by Prospero and I never really connected with him, but perhaps that was also part of the design, as his personality was to hold himself apart and aloof.

The story and its mystery were quite linear, there were no true surprises – one thing did really lead to another. I did not find this to be a bad thing, the story comes across as something to sink into first and foremost, not something to challenge or trick you. I loved the way Miranda and Caliban interacted with one another, both teaching and learning from the other. I loved the beauty of Caliban through Miranda’s eyes because at no point did it seem twee, it fit perfectly with Miranda’s character and her naivety.

I really appreciated the ending to this book. While I thought there was tragedy in the experience of lost love, I also thought Miranda’s pragmatic acceptance of her situation and role in the manipulations of her father was very satisfying and realistic. There is no great hero to sweep in and rescue anyone, it is a tale of what happened, to interesting characters, no rose coloured glasses but not gratuitously dramatic either.

This book stands alone and is a satisfying story to read for some gentle escapism, it is fantastical but not overly so and may be suitable for those who don’t ordinarily like fantasy in their stories.  This is not a particularly in depth review but I don’t think it’s required as what I am left with is the lingering satisfaction for a book I quite simply enjoyed.

Review: The Turn by Kim Harrison

Book cover with a grey forest background with a long haired brunette woman in a flowing red dress holding a rotting piece of fruit in her cupped hands that spills black down the front of the dress. ARC Review:

Title: The Turn (The Hollows #0.1)

Authors: Kim Harrison

Publisher and Year: Gallery Books, 2017

Genre: urban fantasy

Blurb from Goodreads:

Kim Harrison returns to her beloved Hollows series with The Turn, the official prequel to the series that will introduce fans and readers to a whole new side of Rachel Morgan’s world as they’ve never seen it before!

Can science save us when all else fails?

Trisk and her hated rival, Kalamack, have the same goal: save their species from extinction.

Death comes in the guise of hope when a genetically modified tomato created to feed the world combines with the government’s new tactical virus, giving it an unexpected host and a mode of transport. Plague takes the world, giving the paranormal species an uncomfortable choice to stay hidden and allow humanity to die, or to show themselves in a bid to save them.

Under accusations of scientific misconduct, Trisk and Kal flee across a plague torn United States to convince leaders of the major paranormal species to save their supposedly weaker kin, but not everyone thinks humanity should be saved.

Kal surreptitiously works against her as Trisk fights the prejudices of two societies to prove that not only does humanity have something to offer, but that long-accepted beliefs against women, dark magic, and humanity itself can turn to understanding; that when people are at their worst that the best show their true strength, and that love can hold the world together as a new balance is found.

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve long been a fan of Kim Harrison’s Hollows series and so the opportunity to read the prequel about how the whole Tomato plague got started, and how the Inderlanders came out into the open was fantastic! I had always wondered how events had happened, and this prequel answered many of my questions. I think a bunch of those questions remain unanswered but the book is a complete story in its own right and there’s no cliffhanger.

I really empathised with Trisk’s character and the frustration of sexism and classism depicted in the story’s 60s timeline. It pings immediately believable as an alternative history timeline, and yet I can also see how things evolved to Rachel’s time and how much and how little changed.

I was especially interested in the story of the pixies and that their struggle against extinction was so fraught! It’s such a change from Rachel’s time! I appreciated all the ways in which the historical story came alive for me and made sense in my understanding of how the series itself unfolds for Rachel, Ivy, Trent and Al.

Al remains one of my favourite characters in that hate to love kind of way, I definitely want to read more of his story. Kal is… wow, at once an interesting protagonist, who isn’t ‘all bad’ but he’s so caught up in himself, his position and privilege that what sympathy I had for him was always fleeting. His ruthlessness was horrifying to me and the only thing that bothers me about the outcome of things was that he actually still ends up coming out of it relatively unscathed, while Trisk loses most everything.

Prequels can often be disappointing, but The Turn manages to be a fully fledged story in its own right, there’s plenty of story to tell and while it ties strongly into the beginning and history behind the series of The Hollows taking place, you can read it as a stand alone fantasy novel just fine I think. That said, I do think those who’ve also read some of the series will love it more.

Review: Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira

Pale blue book cover with flowery font text for the title and author name, there is a silhouette of female figure in a white dress blurred in the background and pink curlicue flowers surround the text and the blurry figure. ARC Review:

Title: Bookishly Ever After

Authors: Isabel Bandeira

Publisher and Year: Spencer Hill Contemporary, 2016

Genre: young adult, romance, contemporary

Blurb from Goodreads:

In a perfect world, sixteen-year-old Phoebe Martins’ life would be a book. Preferably a YA novel with magic and a hot paranormal love interest. Unfortunately, her life probably wouldn’t even qualify for a quiet contemporary.

But when Phoebe finds out that Dev, the hottest guy in the clarinet section, might actually have a crush on her, she turns to her favorite books for advice. Phoebe overhauls her personality to become as awesome as her favorite heroines and win Dev’s heart. But if her plan fails, can she go back to her happy world of fictional boys after falling for the real thing?

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

As someone who really enjoys reading books, and enjoys in particular the relationships, romances and friendships in books this book was right in my wheelhouse! It’s a cute YA about a girl who likes reading and knitting having a crush, being crushed on and figuring out real life romance for the first time. I really like that Phoebe was both curious about and a bit bewildered by the contrast between real life romance and the romances in the books she was reading. I loved that she saw herself in the heroine protagonist’s role time and again, and that she aspired to romance as awesome as those she was reading about.

I really loved the naive fantasy at play here – nothing bad happened to Phoebe! I found the way the story unfolded to be really believable for me because she’s a teen girl with her first real life romance experience. She was clumsy, so was the boy she liked. I liked all the supporting characters actually, her friends were varied and interesting, I liked the happy queer romance that her friend was enjoying, I liked that Dev was Indian and heavily involved with his cultural background, including travelling back to India during the story. There were just nice touches that made it a bit more real for me.

That said, I have minor complaints about the story becoming clunky in the second half, the way the romance unfolded was believable  but it was an effort to keep reading in some places because while I hate insta-romance in most cases, things here also seemed to just take forever – but not in a slow burn awesome kind of way, there were slow places that were a little boring and the let down the pacing a little. This is a minor criticism, and as a debut novel it’s a great beginning.

If you like sweet romance that’s non-explicit involving books, knitting, archery and camping, I highly recommend this book, it was great fun, the characters were endearing and I enjoyed reading it a lot. This book stands alone really well. However, I understand that there is also second book in the series forthcoming, I’ll definitely be looking forward to that when it comes out.

105th Down Under Feminist Carnival – March!

Square logo with turquoise border,, same colour text Down Under Feminist Carnival spans the top and bottom, in the centre is the symbol for 'woman' with the southern cross inside the loop. It’s been a while, but I’m once again hosting the Down Under Feminist Carnival next month. No theme or rhyme or reason at the moment, there’s plenty to keep us going at present after all.

Please send me links for any Australian or New Zealand content that you’d like to see featured in the carnival, I’m all ears. You can comment here, or email me transcendancing [at] gmail [dot] com.

The carnival is a collaborative community project. If you’ve ever thought about being a DUFC host, now’s the time to contact Chally who coordinates the carnival. If you’re interested, here’s the DUFC contact form and here is a list of future carnivals that have already been planned (pick any month that isn’t on that list). You’ll get submissions to help you out and Chally will provide any support you might need, first time hosts and those from New Zealand would be especially welcome.

Check out the Down Under Feminists Carnival homepage for more information.

 

On Problem Daughters: Interviewing the Editors

Inspiration image for Problem Daughters anthology, a silhouette of a woman against a starchart background in browns, oranges, and topaz coloursProblem Daughters will amplify the voices of women who are sometimes excluded from mainstream feminism. It will be an anthology of beautiful, thoughtful, unconventional speculative fiction and poetry around the theme of intersectional feminism, focusing on the lives and experiences of marginalized women, such as those who are of color, QUILTBAG, disabled, sex workers, and all intersections of these. Edited by Nicolette Barischoff, Rivqa Rafael and Djibril al-Ayad, the anthology will be published by Futurefire.net Publishing and is currently being crowdfunded.

What initially prompted this anthology?

Nicci: It started from a Twitter chat about defining feminism; how do we define a work as feminist, and what presuppositions is that definition based on, etc. We talked a lot about the absurdity of using the Bechdel-Wallace test as sort of litmus test of whether individual works are “feminist enough.” That got us talking about the exclusionary nature of certain models of feminism, and how that exclusionism informs literature that calls itself feminist. How do dominant models of Western middle-class feminism influence our ideas of what is, and more importantly what isn’t a feminist story? At that time, I was still feeling hot-headed over the way that dozens of avowed feminists in Hollywood reacted to the idea of decriminalizing sex work for the safety of sex workers (in a shockingly ignorant, tone-deaf letter to Amnesty International) and so, on a personal level, I guess I just felt ready to put a challenge out there. Do you think you already know what a feminist looks like? Can you call it Feminism if you elect to ignore all the women in this great, big world who don’t share your values? Anyway, I think Rivqa and Djibril must have been feeling something similar, and probably have their own catalysts.

Djibril: Yes, on the one hand it was easy enough agreeing on what an inclusive definition should look like, because we were all on the same page, but formulating that in writing was another story. We knew what we meant, and when speaking to and for ourselves we could say vague things like “and everyone else.” Once we had started to iron out a better definition, highlighting the inadequacy of exclusive feminisms and the importance of boosting the voices of marginalized women and recognizing the intersections of misogyny and other bigotries, we started to feel like we had a text we could do something with. At some point we realized we had the germ of a call for submissions for an anthology or themed issue… and we thought, why don’t we actually run with that?

Rivqa: As we refined our message and purpose, what started as a throwaway comment felt more and more important… and here we are.  

Has that motivation shifted or changed given global events over the past year?

Rivqa: When we first started talking about this idea, a year and a half ago, it already felt crucially important. Not that others aren’t doing similar work, but that we need more, so much more, to balance out the voices that have dominated our genre for so long. But the US election this year really galvanised me. Although it meant we had to delay our crowdfunding campaign, it deepened my sense of purpose. In my journal that day, one thing I wrote was “activist purpose in everything I do”, and to me Problem Daughters is an embodiment of that. We want to make an entertaining and beautiful book, but if it changes even one person’s life for the better in a miniscule way, I’ll feel my aims have been achieved.

Djibril: I second all of that, but I’d also add that the anthology has grown, in our minds. As we said just now, we started off thinking about it as a themed issue of the online magazine, but then given the variety and the mix and the genres/media we wanted to see in it, that just wasn’t big enough. We also wanted to pay better than the ’zine does, because that’s especially important when focussing on under-represented voices (otherwise you’re effectively asking already marginalized people in particular to work for free, which is unfair bordering on exploitative). We know that the authors who write the stories and poems are going to put wonderful work into this anthology; we want to make sure that we also do everything we can to contribute to that.

Nicci: As a minor addition to this, I think we liked the symbolism of launching with the new year. However anyone personally feels about 2016, I think we can agree that it was not a great year for women. But we can’t change 2016, so we wanted to, in whatever small way we could, set the tone for the new year. Not in opposition to anything (not even our newly-minted US tyrant), but for women. We are fighting back, but I’d like to think we’re fighting for understanding, rather than against those who don’t yet understand.

What has been the biggest challenge in putting together this anthology?

Nicci: Fundraising has presented quite a number of challenges, but I would say our greatest challenge lies ahead of us, with the stories themselves. I suspect and hope editing this anthology is going to be a bit like being in a roomful of brilliant, expressive people who all have something important to say. Our impossible task will be to pick just a few voices out of the crowd and hope they can adequately represent those who were not chosen. But that’s always the challenge of trying to put together a diverse, vibrant, truly intersectional anthology. It should feel kind of impossible. If it doesn’t, we’re doing it wrong.

Rivqa: I think refining our message was a bit of a challenge. We went through a few different ideas and while all (or at least most) were interesting, some of them were overly restrictive. I hope we’ve struck a balance of being broad enough that thinking of what to write isn’t an onerous challenge, but specific enough to be welcoming to the type of authors we’re hoping to attract.

Djibril: We’re also taking seriously the challenge of getting the word out to as many and as varied writers as possible, including authors in genre and those from other literary traditions; including established short story writers and poets and essayists and campaigners, but also those who have lived experience that they’re not used to making fiction out of; including both those who will see our Call For Submissions in writers’ groups and resources, and those who would miss it if all we did was put it up in the dozen most popular venues and listings. We want this CFS to be seen by “own voices” authors, by people whose writing is infused with the beauty and the scars of a million lived marginalizations, among them of course those who write different intersections than those they identify as their own. This will require serious outreach, and also help from many different communities and networks, and we’re reaching out to these all the time. We haven’t done enough yet.

What does intersectional mean to you all, especially in relation to producing an anthology like this?

Nicci: For an anthology like Problem Daughters, I think it’s about recognizing that there are many, many feminist movements, each with their own set of vastly different concerns. That the term “women’s issues” does not refer to a fixed set of priorities put forth by an oligarchy of great female minds. Because it is not actually possible to separate the experience of one’s gender from the experience of one’s class or race or level of ability or orientation, we’ve got to accept that not every woman is going to have the same priorities as those dictated by culturally dominant feminist movements. But her concerns are part of a lived reality, and excluding her voice from the feminist conversation does not make that reality go away. For us, I think it means deliberately choosing stories from those underrepresented feminisms.

Rivqa: Yes, all of this. I’d add that to me, intersectionality might sound like a mathematical concept, but it’s far more complex than that. We’re not merely the sum of our advantages and disadvantages, and people with the same broad intersections might have wildly different experiences for any number of reasons. Life is complicated and messy and nuanced! So we’re hoping to be representative, not exhaustive.

What other books or anthologies would you recommend for people trying to increase the diversity in what they are reading?

Djibril: If I may start by cheekily mentioning the previous Futurefire.net anthologies, Outlaw Bodies, We See a Different Frontier, Accessing the Future and Fae Visions of the Mediterranean, which all cover diverse topics (body politics, colonialism, disability and polyglot culture respectively) as well as feature a range of authors and materials. Other recent anthologies that have caught my eye include Kaleidoscope (edited by Alisa Krasnostein & Julia Rios); African Monsters (Margrét Helgadóttir & Jo Thomas) and Asian Monsters (Helgadóttir) from Fox Spirit Books; both Long Hidden (Rose Fox & Daniel José Older) and Hidden Youth (Mikki Kendall & Chesya Burke) from Crossed Genres; the Apex Book of World SF series (edited first by Lavie Tidhar, now by Mahvesh Murad); Beyond Binary (Brit Mandelo); Octavia’s Brood (Nisi Shawl); Mothership (Bill Campbell & Edward Hall). There’s a lot out there, if you’re really looking for it. (If only it didn’t need to be collected like this, but were actually the majority of all SF published!)

Rivqa: In recent years, I think there are more publishers that have made a commitment to diversity in interesting ways, and seeking these out is an easy way to diversify one’s reading. Here in Australia, Twelfth Planet Press does consistently impressive work (disclosure: I’ve been published by them twice and will be working with them in the future, but I had nothing to do with their choice of focus). All the presses Djibril’s already mentioned are likewise impressive; Aqueduct in the US is another. Then there are the magazines: Glittership, Capricious, Uncanny, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed’s “Destroy” issues, and, of course, The Future Fire. There’s a lot out there, and a lot of free content as well.

Can you tell me about three things you’ve read and enjoyed in the past year, (anthologies/shorts/novels/series/other media)?

Rivqa: I absolutely loved Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor. Although my culture is very different from that of the titular protagonist’s, the tension between tradition and broader knowledge — and home and the wider  universe — is one I could relate to all too well. Plus, structurally, it’s one of the best novellas I’ve ever read. The pacing and writing are just perfect.

Djibril: I really enjoyed reading L.S. Johnson’s collection of previously published short stories, Vacui Magia. As I wrote in my review at the time, this is a masterfully dark collection that explores gender alongside all sorts of other marginalizations, and grief, power, exploitation, violence, revenge, the divine. This leaps to my mind over dozens of stories and novels I’ve read since, so it really did have staying power.

Nicci: I finally got around to reading Kij Johnson’s novel The Fox Woman, which has one of the most delicate, sad, joyful, historically sensitive portraits of a marriage I have ever read in speculative fiction. I’m also currently enthralled by Sofia Samatar’s The Winged Histories, a story with four very different female protagonists.

What books or other media are you excited about for the coming year?

Rivqa: Makes sense to say Binti: Home, right? There are a lot of books I’m looking forward to. Plus, I’m taking a break from Aurealis Award judging, so when I’m not reading slush, I can actually read more novels. I’m aiming to read more marginalised authors, including but not exclusively Own Voices writers, but I haven’t set specific targets because doing so stresses me out a little. I’ll see how it goes,anyway.

Nicci: Is it too much of a dodge to say I am really looking forward to being buried under a mountain of stories by authors we’ve not yet heard from? Because the thing carrying me through this (as Rivqa pointed out) year and a half marathon journey is the knowledge that soon I won’t have time for anything but the slush pile, and if our outreach is at all successful, I can’t tell you what that would look like.

Djibril: Because you included media, I’m going to say that I’m really impatient to see Hidden Figures (maybe not scifi, but it is about space travel!) which isn’t out here in the UK until late February. I may also take the opportunity this year to catch up on a couple of more diverse TV shows that I’ve not got into yet, like Dark Matter, 3% and The Expanse. I guess there’s the second season of Cleverman coming up soon, too.


Close up image of an eye with a vertical slit pupil, furred around the outside. Djibril al-Ayad,

Djibril is a historian and futurist, co-edited the anthologies Outlaw Bodies, We See a Different Frontier, Accessing the Future, TFF-X, Fae Visions of the Mediterranean and has edited The Future Fire magazine since 2005.

A smiling blue-haired woman in a colourful top looks downwards away from the camera, the background is an outdoor setting maybe a playgroundNicolette Barischoff

Nicolette was born with spastic cerebral palsy, which has only made her more awesome. Her fiction has appeared in Long Hidden, Accessing the Future, The Journal of Unlikely Academia, Podcastle, and Angels of the Meanwhile. She regularly writes about disability, feminism, sex- and body-positivity, and how all these fit together. She’s been on the front page of CBS New York, where they called her activism public pornography and suggested her face was a Public Order Crime.

A woman with glasses faces the camera, it is a close up and she is smiling. There are bookshelves filled with books in the background. Rivqa Rafael

Rivqa is a queer Jewish writer and editor based in Sydney. She started writing speculative fiction well before earning degrees in science and writing, although they have probably helped. Her previous gig as subeditor and reviews editor for Cosmos magazine likewise fueled her imagination. Her short stories have appeared in Hear Me Roar (Ticonderoga Publications), The Never Never Land (CSFG Publishing), and Defying Doomsday (Twelfth Planet Press). In 2016, she won the Ditmar Award for Best New Talent. She can be found at rivqa.net and on Twitter as @enoughsnark.

Favourite Books of 2016 (finally)!

I’m sorry it is two thirds the way through January and I am only just now getting to post my favourite books of 2016, but it’s been pretty busy lately, especially on the blog front so better late than never?  On my ‘Best of 2016′ Goodreads shelf, you can see that I 20 books that I rated as favourites for the year.

I am excited that this was a significant percentage of what I read overall, because it means I’ve got a good thing going on with picking books for myself that I’m really going to like. Because I keep liking them! Such a great problem to have, how to winnow down the list to a manageable blog post length for favourites? I will try and get this down to a list of 10. Ish.

I’ll do my best…  I should note that these are in no particular order, it is way too hard to rank things!

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Every Heart a Doorway - coverWhat a glorious book, I am still gushing about it a year later and I can’t wait for the next novella in this universe. It’s short and sweet, the story is self contained but the universe itself fairly bursts from the pages. I loved this and wanted it for all of my past selves of 14, 18, 21, 25 and 30 years of age. It left me feeling okay about myself and my differences and the searching for myself and growing and changing.

I loved it so much. I loved it so much that I hunted for a physical copy for most of the year before caving and ordering it in specially, and it then took two months to arrive. It was worth it. My precious hard copy now sits in a place of pride on my bookshelves!

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet - cover

So many people have raved about these books – and it was that excitement and overwhelming love that really persuaded me to read the first one. And I couldn’t put it down, and I almost went back to the beginning straight away once I finished them both to read them AGAIN. They were SO GOOD.

A Closed and Common Orbit - coverSpace opera that is optimistic, about friendship and found family, autonomy and personhood, getting along with the foibles of space  living and future technology possibilities and limitations. Galactic civilisation and politics, fast moving  and character driven with nicely framing plots, an array of alien cultures and an appreciation for celebrating that diversity within the pages. I want to read so many more books in this universe, I am so in love.

The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor

Book of Phoenix - cover

This book was so powerful and that sense of power has stayed with me months after I read this book. I adore Okorafor’s writing style, it draws me in and I’m lost to the story, the characters and the emotional impact of what she’s writing about. In particular with this book, is emotional impact of it. There is such an incredible sense of anger, white hot and righteous, it is a driving anger that delivers the story without and leaves you gasping (for breath, for more – both).

The story is political and that is so relevant at this point, on a global scale where politically everything is so charged, so difficult and bewildering. I felt like I had the chance to become more in touch with my anger, less afraid of it in reading this book, which was definitely the most unexpected outcome, but deeply welcome. I loved this book and recommend it highly – I think it also stands alone as I haven’t read Who Fears Death which is the universe in which this story is set, and I didn’t notice any lack.

He, She and It by Marge Piercy

He, She and It - cover

Many friends have talked about how excellent Piercy’s writing is, and I wasn’t at all disappointed (except that it had taken me so long). This book is a classic and a master work (mistress work?) because it gives you everything. It’s climate change fiction, cyberpunk, science fiction, and has a literary and even historical bent to it. The characters are so fully realised and are complex with intricate relationships.

The book is as much about the relationships as it is personhood and I also appreciated the near-future it painted showing the life following the recovery after the breakdown of 21st century society, with the inherent threat of corporations and the importance of balance between individualisation and community and collective mindedness. This is a cautionary tale, but also one of relationships and the future imagined is so very plausible. I can’t recommend it highly enough. This book is what convinced me that I could still read and enjoy literary science fiction, it just takes the right story.

Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire

A dark background showing an iron gate or fence with a police tape line in front of a dark headed white skinned figure looking moody.I haven’t reviewed this on my blog yet – ostensibly I am going to do the series as one post but I haven’t yet done that. I read this after reading Every Heart a Doorway by the same author, and realised that there was a whole urban fantasy series with an awesome female protagonist that I hadn’t yet read. And, that it was by an author who I’d fallen deeply in love with their writing and was intent on reading everything I could by them!

Toby is an awesome female protagonist, she is both fae and human and works as a kind of magically aware detective. There’s fae politics, human discovery, the overlapping of the human and magical worlds and it is magnificent. This series presses all of  my buttons for stories I love in a huge way, I devoured the books available in the series in a matter of days – there were less days than books. An unread addition to the series awaits me and I’m very tempted to reread the books before devouring this next one… we’ll see.

Ms Marvel (Volume 1) by G. Willow Wilson

A Muslim teenage girl centres the entire cover image, she's wearing a black shirt with a yellow lightning bolt of Ms Marvel and a scarf. Another one I haven’t reviewed here, but I loved this. I am new to reading graphic novels and this was definitely amongst my favourites I picked up in 2016 and was definitely part of what convinced me that I could absolutely get into and read graphic novels.

I loved Kamala and her story in how she becomes Ms Marvel, she’s both recognisable as being an ‘ordinary’ girl, but the story where she gains her super powers is so believable. She wrestles with how to use her powers, how to make it work with school and her other commitments. I appreciate that she gets advice on how to do this from an unexpected place, it was one of my favourite moments in the book actually.

I definitely want to read more of Kamala’s Ms Marvel story, it’s everything I could have hoped for in a graphic novel with a Muslim female protagonist. So excellent!

Lumberjanes (Volume 1) by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Shannon Watters, and Brooke A. Allen

Background of a cabin/lodge in a lighthearted comic style with five girls hanging out together on the cover, all are different heights and sizes and appearances.I am fairly certain that my reaction to reading this graphic novel (my first in my exploring this story medium) which was to run around for the rest of the year exclaiming ‘Friendship to the max’ at the top of my voice is entirely reasonable. It also tells you how adorable and wonderful this graphic novel is, it’s pitched perfectly at a young adult audience and it’s filled with heartwarming adventures and explorations of friendship, responsibility (including saving the world) and growing up.

I just adore this series and I plan to own them when I can afford to buy the volumes. I read three or four of the volumes last year and loved each one just as much as the first one. Friendship to the max. There is nothing not to love about this from the story to the art and everything in between. I want to be these girls, I want to be a Lumberjane and have adventures. I am smitten!

Den of Wolves by Juliet Marillier

Den of Wolves - coverThis was a fitting conclusion to a trilogy that I loved from beginning to end. Every moment comes through note perfect for me in this series, and in this book as a conclusion. We see Blackthorn confronted by the changes in herself, and I appreciated that there was such a strong focus on how both Grim and Blackthorn have been changed since they escaped the prison together.

The story within the book stands alone, though this time I liked that it was Grim more in focus trying to solve the mystery rather than him supporting Blackthorn to solve things. The overhanging and unresolved major story arc is beautifully resolved, revenge gives way to justice and it is so satisfying.

Marillier is an incredible storyteller, her characters, worldbuilding and narratives are deeply compelling and satisfying. She is on my list of authors whom I just want to read everything, and one I consider a solid recommendation for fantasy as well. Epic fantasy can get so tired and tiresome, it’s hard to find something unique in the genre. I have found that Marillier manages to do this time and again.

Marked in Flesh by Anne Bishop

A stormy sky with lightning is the background with a red-haired woman with short hair and haunted eyes standing in the foreground looking worried.I’ve not reviewed this series on my blog before, but it’s highly likely I will do so as a post about the entire series at some stage. I love Anne Bishop’s fantasy, it’s dark and beautiful, sumptuous and emotionally engaging. The characters in this series are at once strange but always intriguing. I love that honour, friendship and found family are key components of the story and that emphasis is especially strong in this book. I love that humans are the minority in this story universe, that they exist at the sufferance of the Others, supernatural beings of all descriptions that tolerate the humans grudgingly for their small contributions to convenience and technology, although considered often more a threat than a benefit.

The metaphor is apt for the current state of the world where globally there is so little being collectively done to curb climate change and live more thoughtfully and less at odds with the Earth. It’s a tidy lesson in a dark fantasy novel, somewhat unexpected but definitely adds gravitas to the weight of the story – again, a cautionary tale. This book is all about what happens when caution has not been exercised and agreements and promises have been broken. I don’t want to spoil the series, but it’s all kinds of excellent.


That’s it, I’m drawing a line, I could just keep talking about the others I didn’t blog about here, but go look at my Goodreads shelf instead. I’ve kept this to 10 and I’m feeling pretty impressed that I managed that! This is just half of the books I thought were my favourites of last year, but hopefully they’re some of your favourites too. Or, if you think I should have given more love to one of the others on my shelf, let me know! I’ve loved all the favourite and best of posts from 2016 I’ve read so far, I’ve definitely added things to my to-read list and I hope this post does the same for you!