Review: Migrations: New Short Fiction from Africa

Hello my lovelies. I ended up taking an unofficial two month hiatus from this blog – I just ended up in a reviewing slump. Think we’ve all had one (or more) of those, yes? But now I am back, in the mood to refresh the layout and such for this blog, and looking forward to starting 2018 with renewed blogging and reading energy!

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short story day africaShort Story Day Africa presents its annual anthology. The stories explore true and alternative African culture through a competition on the theme of Migration. This is the fourth in the SSDA collection of anthologies which aim to break the one-dimensional view of African story telling and fiction writing. These are fresh urgent perspectives on one of our most profound phenomena.

Rating: 4.5/5

I’ve recently made a resolution to read much more local and continental fiction, because there is just so much incredible content out there. For some reason a lot of us have internalised the warped idea that international is somehow better, and that what is produced locally cannot measure up – which is simply untrue. There’s also perhaps the stereotype that African literature is all about war and poverty and race, interspersed with a few appearances by lions, but again – a patently false assumption. Not that those issues aren’t important, of course, but there’s so much more to be had.

A wonderful friend of mine has been involved in the production of the Short Story Day Africa anthology for the past few years, and I have just finished reading the 2017 instalment. This collection really runs the gamut of styles, genres and emotions, all interconnected by the central theme of migration. I have to admit that my particular favourites usually veer towards those in the realm of speculative fiction, and this anthology was no exception. I very much enjoyed the two stories focusing on very different versions of human journeys into some kind of afterlife: one making imaginative use of cloud technology, and the other relying on our own biological plasma as the conduit.

The very first story in the collection features a boy, a crow, and an ending that will break your heart. As a reader, we are then taken on a number of different journeys throughout the anthology, whether literal or figurative. There are stories involving those who leave for another land or another dimension, and those who return in both physical and spiritual forms. There are journeys of self-discovery and self-reckoning. Journeys into love and back out of it. Contemporary narratives alluding to today’s migratory horrors, and historical perspectives on troubling legacies. Sometimes our protagonists find that the new land of milk and honey is not always what they expect. For others, home is where, and with whom, you make it.

This well-written, diverse collection was a real treat – brimming with emotion, thought-provoking and wonderfully imaginative.

(If my review has you suitably intrigued, check out Amazon to get your hands on a copy.)

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Review: Force of Nature (Aaron Falk #2) – Jane Harper

force of natureFive women reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking along the muddy track. Only four come out the other side.

The hike through the rugged Giralang Ranges is meant to take the office colleagues out of their air-conditioned comfort zone and teach resilience and team building. At least that is what the corporate retreat website advertises.

Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a particularly keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing bushwalker. Alice Russell is the whistleblower in his latest case – in just a matter of days she was to provide the documents that will bring down the company she works for.

Falk discovers that far from the hike encouraging teamwork, the women tell a tale of suspicion, violence and disintegrating trust. But does it include murder? 

Rating: 4.5/5

From a dry, dusty Australian town in The Dry, where a simple spark could kindle a fiery blaze to a cold, damp forest hiding ominous secrets in Force of Nature, Jane Harper certainly has a talent for incorporating natural elements into her stories that are alternately sinister and evocative. I absolutely adored the author’s debut novel, and was so excited to delve into my review copy. And happily for all of us, her second effort measures up to the first.

This time, finance investigator Aaron Falk and his partner are off to a remote mountain range, where a woman has gone missing on a corporate retreat. The missing woman, unfortunately for Falk, is also one of his informants, from whom he needs important documents to solidify his latest case against the company she works for. Of course, the question is – was she harmed because someone found out about her whistleblowing, or did something else entirely happen out in the wilderness?

Even though the setting is completely different from the first book in the series, the author still succeeds in creating a moody, unsettling atmosphere – you feel as if something is about to jump out at you from behind a tree at any moment. What I particularly like about Harper’s work is that even though her work fits into the crime genre, she doesn’t focus on the horror and gore, but rather on the process of investigation and character development – which is exactly the kind of crime/mystery novel I enjoy.

The novel alternates between Falk’s perspective, and those of the women on the ill-fated hike. While the focus isn’t so much on Falk’s personal history as it was in the first novel, we still discover bits and pieces of information about him that colours in a little more of his own story arc. The pacing of the narrative also worked for me – while it isn’t action packed, Harper definitely keeps the plot moving forward. You can appreciate her style of writing while inching closer towards the conclusion.

Overall, I had to resist so hard to avoid flipping to the end and spoiling myself for the whodunnit – and I think that’s always the mark of an excellent mystery novel!

Review copy received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

My favourite literary podcasts

literary podcasts

I’ve really taken to podcasts recently – they’re perfect for the hour before I go to bed when I’m too tired to focus on reading a book but not tired enough to actually go to sleep. And of course, with reading as one of my hobbies, I’ve been drawn to this particular category of listening material. So here, in no particular order, are some of my favourites.

Sword and Laser 

Focused on sci-fi, fantasy and other speculative fiction, this podcast covers author interviews, book news and other literary features. Two of the recent episodes I’ve enjoyed include #299 NK Jemisin Says FanFic Makes Good Practice and #291 Falling Backwards Into Screenwriting Success, which is in interview with MR Carey, author of The Girl with All the Gifts.

London Review Podcasts

I know literary review sites have something of a pretentious reputation, but there are a number of discussions that caught my interest, particularly in terms of the intersection with political issues, one of my study majors. Let Them Drown is an interview with writer Naomi Klein, focusing on climate change; while Dacre’s Paper is a fabulously scathing take-down of that cesspool of filth, the Daily Mail. Meanwhile, Long-form Essays in the Digital Age is pretty much an incredibly insightful panel discussion on the title topic.

Clarkesworld Magazine

This science fiction and fantasy magazine has its own podcast, consisting of short stories written by authors who write in these genres. I recently listened to the delightful Afrofuturist 419written by Nnedi Okorafor. It’s a take on the typical Nigerian scam letter – with a twist.

It turns out the scam letter was not all a scam. There actually is a Nigerian man stuck out there on a space station, he’s been stuck there for fourteen years and after recent events, he’s probably not ok.

Lightspeed Magazine

Lightspeed is another science fiction and fantasy magazine, who also podcast short stories by authors. As a Seanan McGuire fan, I listened to Each to Each, a tale about military mermaids, women adapted and working for the USA, as well as Homecoming, detailing a football game where all is not as it seems. There are also stories by other well-known names, including Tristina Wright and Maria Dahvana Headley.

The Guardian Books podcast

I find that I recognise a lot more of the authors featured on UK podcasts, as opposed to US ones. Two that I recently enjoyed on The Guardian Books podcast were both politically-orientated: firstly, an interview with Arundhati Roy on her latest book, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness which also touched on her political activism, and the second with the same Naomi Klein mentioned earlier, on her new book No is Not Enough, written as a pushback to the Trump administration.

Annotated

A relatively new podcast from Book Riot, each episode focuses on a particular theme: from an examination of George Orwell’s 1984 and its relevance today, to the plucky staying-power of independent bookstores and the 17-year old female inventor of science fiction. I found myself really enjoying the wide range of topics, and episodes are just the right length.

Uncanny Magazine

Another science fiction and fantasy-focused magazine with regular podcasts featuring news, poetry, interviews and short stories from some fantastic authors. I recently listened to podcast 17A, which contained “How the Maine Coon Cat Learned to Love the Sea”  by Seanan McGuire, and 16A, where I enjoyed “Sun, Moon, Dust”  by Ursula Vernon and the poem “Dancing Princesses” by Roshani Chockshi.

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I’m sure I’ll discover many more to add to this collection. Are there any book podcasts in particular that you’d recommend? Let me know!

Mini Reviews #8

I didn’t mean to abandon this blog for as long as I did, but academic reading has had to take priority over my favoured fiction! But it seems to come and go in waves, so I’m looking forward to getting caught up this week on some novels I’ve been meaning to get to. I hope all is going well with you, dear readers. The end of the year seems to be fast-approaching, much to my terror.

A Change Is Gonna Come

a change is gonna comeFeaturing top Young Adult authors alongside a host of exciting new talent, this anthology of stories and poetry from BAME writers on the theme of change is a long-overdue addition to the YA scene. Contributors include Tanya Byrne, Inua Ellams, Catherine Johnson, Patrice Lawrence, Ayisha Malik, Irfan Master, Musa Okwonga and Nikesh Shukla.

Plus introducing four fresh new voices in YA fiction: Mary Bello, Aisha Bushby, Yasmin Rahman and Phoebe Roy.

Rating: 3.5/5

This is truly a much-needed addition to the growing trend of of YA anthologies. A Change is Gonna Come is collection of poetry and short-stories by UK-based black and other minority ethnic authors. The stories contained within this volume are varied and interesting, featuring protagonists from a wide range of backgrounds: from a girl with anxiety and OCD, to a blind boy who discovers wormholes and time travel. The running theme is, as the title suggests, on the idea of change – whether in the course of an individual’s life, or in the wide scheme of global politics, which is, to use 2016’s word of the year, a dumpster fire. My only issue is that I find it quite difficult, on occasion, to connect with short story collections, but this is very much a fault of mine, not the book’s.

Daisy in Chains – Sharon Bolton

daisy in chains

Famous killers have fan clubs.

Hamish Wolfe is no different. Locked up for the rest of his life for the abduction and murder of three young women, he gets countless adoring letters every day. He’s handsome, charismatic and very persuasive. His admirers are convinced he’s innocent, and that he’s the man of their dreams.

Who would join such a club?

Maggie Rose is different. Reclusive and enigmatic; a successful lawyer and bestselling true-crime writer, she only takes on cases that she can win.

Hamish wants her as his lawyer, he wants her to change his fate. She thinks she’s immune to the charms of a man like this. But maybe not this time . . .

Would you? 

Rating: 4/5

I could absolutely kick myself for spoiling the ending for myself. KICK MYSELF, I SAY. Because if I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have guessed the ‘twist’ until the author chose to reveal it. The book was an easy read – the author has a style that flows well and manages to build up the suspense while giving sufficient attention to both her characters and world-building. Chilling and intriguing.

Love – Toni Morrison

love toni morrisonNobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison’s spellbinding new novel is a Faulknerian symphony of passion and hatred, power and perversity, color and class that spans three generations of black women in a fading beach town.

In life, Bill Cosey enjoyed the affections of many women, who would do almost anything to gain his favor. In death his hold on them may be even stronger. Wife, daughter, granddaughter, employee, mistress: As Morrison’s protagonists stake their furious claim on Cosey’s memory and estate, using everything from intrigue to outright violence, she creates a work that is shrewd, funny, erotic, and heartwrenching.

Rating: 4/5

Toni Morrison has such an incredible, compelling writing style. This is my third book of hers, and I’m determined to make my way through her repertoire. She weaves mystery throughout her novels, revealing the crux only near the end, and sometimes, never at all. It would do a disservice to the women in this particular novel to say their lives revolved around the dead patriarch, Bill Cosey. While he did have a major influence on their lives, the book is more a tale of sisterhood and occasionally the lack thereof; the strength of women; their burdens and sacrifices and rivalries.

The planners believed that dark people would do fewer dark things if there were twice as many streetlamps as anywhere else. Only in fine neighbourhoods and the country were people entrusted to shadow. 

Jigs & Reels – Joanne Harris

jigs & reelsEach of the twenty-two tales in this enchanting collection is a surprise and a delight, melding the poignant and the possible with the outrageous, the magical, and, sometimes, the eerily haunting. Wolf men, dolphin women, defiant old ladies, and middle-aged manufacturers of erotic leatherwear — in Jigs & Reels the miraculous goes hand in hand with the mundane, the sour with the sweet, and the beautiful, the grotesque, the seductive, and the disturbing are never more than one step away. Whether she’s exploring the myth of beauty, the pain of infidelity, or the wonder of late-life romance, Joanne Harris once again proves herself a master of the storyteller’s trade.

Rating: 4/5

Now this was one short story collection that I adored. Joanne Harris proves that she’s not only adept at this particular medium, but also that she can take on any genre and excel at it. Jigs & Reels contains a veritable treasure trove of tales, including geriatric escapees; fairytale villains; sinister food; dystopian tales of our potential future modern society; a writer who ends up as a character in his own unfinished works; a live action roleplay game with a murderous component….and much, much more.

Stories do not die, but are simply reincarnated every generation or so into a different time or idiom. 

Review: Saga (Vols 1-4) – Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

saga review

When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe. 

From bestselling writer Brian K. Vaughan, Saga is the sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the worlds. Fantasy and science fiction are wed like never before in this sexy, subversive drama for adults. 

Rating: 4.5/5

Yes, I know I’m late to the party, okay? But I could never afford to buy the graphic novels – although I was curious from the extracts I’d seen – and then I discovered them at my new local library. And promptly devoured four volumes in two days. I have the next few on reserve.

The verdict? THESE ARE AWESOME. I love the plot, I love the art, I love the story arcs and I love character developments. I mean, I could end the review right here and now.

Star-crossed lovers is a hella fun trope, but it sets in place a wild adventure for our protagonists Marko and Alana, along with their newborn daughter, Hazel. In the first volume, they’re pursued by the armies of both their countries, as well as a series of private contractors, relatives and monsters of all kind. Amidst all the chaos of survival are small moments of peace, as the new parents revel in their grown family. There are also unlikely allies to help them out along the way.

In subsequent volumes, we learn more about the supporting cast – indeed, I’ve become really invested in their future arcs just as much as those of our main protagonists. There’s action, romance, comedy, politics and epic sci-fi shenanigans. What I’ve read so far has a perfect balance of all the necessary elements, and I’m so impatient to get my greedy hands on the next volumes.

Review: The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir – Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

the fact of a bodyBefore Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich begins a summer job at a law firm in Louisiana, working to help defend men accused of murder, she thinks her position is clear. The child of two lawyers, she is staunchly anti-death penalty. But the moment convicted murderer Ricky Langley’s face flashes on the screen as she reviews old tapes―the moment she hears him speak of his crimes―she is overcome with the feeling of wanting him to die. Shocked by her reaction, she digs deeper and deeper into the case. Despite their vastly different circumstances, something in his story is unsettlingly, uncannily familiar.

Crime, even the darkest and most unsayable acts, can happen to any one of us. As Alexandria pores over the facts of the murder, she finds herself thrust into the complicated narrative of Ricky’s childhood. And by examining the details of Ricky’s case, she is forced to face her own story, to unearth long-buried family secrets, and reckon with a past that colors her view of Ricky’s crime.

But another surprise awaits: She wasn’t the only one who saw her life in Ricky’s.

An intellectual and emotional thriller that is also a different kind of murder mystery, The Fact Of a Body is a book not only about how the story of one crime was constructed―but about how we grapple with our own personal histories. Along the way it tackles questions about the nature of forgiveness, and if a single narrative can ever really contain something as definitive as the truth. This groundbreaking, heart-stopping work, ten years in the making, shows how the law is more personal than we would like to believe―and the truth more complicated, and powerful, than we could ever imagine.

Rating: 4/5

The Fact of a Body, as many reviewers have noted, is a difficult read. This is largely due to the nature of the subject matter, and the narrative style which gives the heavy material its due. But it’s also a stellar, searching read, making you question at each step – what would I do in this situation?

But I didn’t understand then that the law doesn’t find the beginning any more than it finds the truth. It creates story. That story has a beginning. That story simplifies, and we call it truth.

There are two parallel story arcs in this book. The first is the case of a murdered child, with an in-depth look at the life of the perpetrator, as well as the investigation surrounding the crime. The author really delves into each situation, narrating as if she was there, reconstructing the scenes as best as possible from her extensive research.

The second narrative arc deals with the author’s family history and her own experience of child abuse, which she is forced to confront. She conducts her research with the knowledge that Ricky Langley is also a confessed paedophile who molested children prior to his arrest for murder. Going through his past crimes is a harrowing experience, both for the reader and the author in her quest to understand this particular man; this particular crime.

The people face being asked to make an unimaginable decision. There is no other situation in which we ask a civilian to decide if someone will live or die.

While you may have very set views on the death penalty, I think the book will still make you think long and hard about so many of the topics that are relevant here – how we fail people who seek help, the lack of rehabilitation and resources for those who need it, the nature of forgiveness and redemption.

Criminal law doesn’t care where the story began. But how you tell the story has everything to do with how you judge. Begin Ricky’s story with the murder – and it means one thing. Begin it with the crash – and it means another.

The book is a slow read, but not one to give up on. It’s a compelling, real-life mystery that gives great insight into the workings of the American legal system; into a forgotten small-town crime; into the mind of one lawyer/writer who grapples with a multitude of narratives, both personal and professional, in pursuit of the truth.

People think the robe protects you. It doesn’t protect you. Not from the stories.

Two mini romance reviews: Bring the Heat – GA Aiken & The Demon Prince – Ann Aguirre

Hi all! I’m slowly adjusting to life in Sweden – and got my membership card to the really lovely local library, which has, to its credit – an English language section, and an indoor fountain. You can follow my personal instagram if you want to see scenery pics and the like, and I also have a bookstagram for those who enjoy book quotes, library-type pictures and whatever else it is we book lovers share on there!

Now, time for some romance reads, because we haven’t had any of those for a while.

Bring the Heat (Dragon Kin #9)  – G.A. Aiken

bring the heatHE SAYS . . .
I, Aidan the Divine, am . . . well, divine. My name was given to me by the Dragon Queen herself! I’m a delight! Cheerful. Charming. And a mighty warrior who is extremely handsome, with a very large and well-hidden hoard of gold. I am also royal-born, despite the fact that most in my family are horrendous beings who don’t deserve to live. And yet, Branwen the Awful—a low-born, no less—either tells me to shut up or, worse, ignores me completely.

SHE SAYS . . .
I’ll admit, I ignore Aidan the Divine because it annoys him. A lot. But we have so much to do right now, I can’t worry about why he keeps staring at me, or why he always sits so close, or why he keeps looking at me like he’s thinking about kissing me. We have our nations to save and no time for such bloody foolishness . . . no matter how good Aidan looks or how long his spiked tail is. Because if we’re going to win this war before it destroys everything we love, we’ll have to face our enemies together, side by side and without distractions. But if we make it out alive, who knows what the future will hold . . . 

Rating: 4/5

This series is like crack to me. Both in its addictiveness, and in the sheer over-the-top antics. Listen, don’t use it as a model for your own real-life relationships – there’s a lot of hitting people over the head or tossing them off mountains and the like. But it’s the exaggerated nature of the banter and interactions, both between the main pairing and the giant clan of relatives and friends they belong to, which make it so much fun. Furthermore, even though there is a romance pairing in each book, the plot arc has been developed really well all the way through the series. Things have gotten more and more dire in each installment, despite the comedy, and I’m interested to see how many more books there will be, and how everything will end up resolved. It’s highly entertaining, with some great insults, and the cast of characters have become like familiar friends – it’s great getting to see how they have matured (or not!) in the time jumps between the books.

Free copy received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

The Demon Prince (Ars Numina #2) – Ann Aguirre

the demon princeCharming. Irreverent. Haunted.
Alastor Vega is the sole challenger in a brutal battle for succession. Against all odds, he must stop his power-mad brother, Tycho, before he destroys the Numina. Though he never wanted to rule, he must claim the throne and liberate his people, or the consequences will be calamitous. Yet only the surprising support of a beautiful Animari doctor gives him the fortitude to fight.

Focused. Analytical. Solitary.
Dr. Sheyla Halek has always been more interested in research than personal contact, but family ties—and the needs of her pride—keep her in Ash Valley, deferring her dreams. Brusque and abrasive at the best of times, she never expected to bond with anyone, let alone Golgoth royalty. Strangely, Alastor seems to need her as no one has before, and not only for her medical skills.

Their attraction is forbidden, likely doomed beyond the wildness of wartime, but these fires burn too hot and sweet to be contained…

Rating: 4/5

I’m quite surprised that this series has flown under the radar for the most part, because Aguirre is such a prolific author. I can only assume it’s because she’s self-publishing these. Anyway, if you enjoy paranormal romance, then I’d definitely recommend getting stuck into this one. I’m a sucker for forced cooperation between groups in the face of a greater threat, and that’s the backdrop for the worldbuilding in the series. The author also switches up some of the traditional m/f dynamics rather nicely, and the main pairing are both delightful in their own ways. Swoony and entertaining, with rational characters who generally communicate and act like adults instead of creating unnecessary drama – this was a good pick from me!

Sheyla had always been mildly baffled by the urge to shackle yourself to the same person for a lifetime, and while she wouldn’t go as far as to say she got the concept now, it was looking less like voluntary incarceration all the time.