Tag Archives: Books

Safe Haven: A Review of Everfair

Book cover for Everfair by Nisi Shawl. Image on cover is of a pair of hands holding a globe that's illuminated by gold light and surrounded by flying birds. Title: Everfair

Author: Nisi Shawl

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication Date: 2016

Genres: Fantasy, Alternate History, Steampunk

Length: 384 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 3 stars

Blurb:

From noted short story writer Nisi Shawl comes a brilliant alternate-history novel set in the Belgian Congo.

What if the African natives developed steam power ahead of their colonial oppressors? What might have come of Belgium’s disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier?

Fabian Socialists from Great Britain join forces with African-American missionaries to purchase land from the Belgian Congo’s “owner,” King Leopold II. This land, named Everfair, is set aside as a safe haven, an imaginary Utopia for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated.

Shawl’s speculative masterpiece manages to turn one of the worst human rights disasters on record into a marvelous and exciting exploration of the possibilities inherent in a turn of history. Everfair is told from a multiplicity of voices: Africans, Europeans, East Asians, and African Americans in complex relationships with one another, in a compelling range of voices that have historically been silenced. Everfair is not only a beautiful book but an educational and inspiring one that will give the reader new insight into an often ignored period of history.

Review:

Content warning: Racism and sexism. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

Strap in for a wild ride.This book has a bit of everything!

Ms. Shawl did a very good job of explaining the political and historical landscape of the setting. I didn’t know a lot about how Belgium colonization of the Congo went so horribly wrong in our world, so I was grateful for all of the details the author provided about why Belgium made that decision and how they expected to make it work before she imaged how things could have turned out much differently for the Congo if they’d already had steam technology when this conflict boiled over.

The cast of characters was massive. Rather than telling this tale from the perspective of one or even a few different people, there were dozens of narrators and other protagonists to sort out as I read. Given the fact that each chapter was written in a form that was pretty similar to a short story and that previous characters often weren’t revisited until many years after their previous entry, I had lots of trouble keeping up with everyone and the plot at the same time. This felt like something that really should have been separated out into several novels or many more novellas. There was so much going on in the plot that nobody got all of the attention they deserved.

There was a list of characters, their relationships to each other, and approximately when and where they lived included before the story began. I was glad to have this information and would highly recommend taking a look at it before beginning the first chapter. As I mentioned earlier in this review, the cast of characters is humongous. Having a basic idea of everyone’s identity and when they lived is crucial in order to understanding the plot, and this list did help with that even though I still believe the plot would have been better served if it were divided into a series and no more than three or four narrators were included in each instalment.

Anyone who loves alternate history speculative fiction should check this book out.

What I Read in 2019

Black book with floral design at the topIn January of 2013, I began blogging once a year about everything I’d read that previous year.  This tradition began when my dad asked me how many books I’ve read in my entire lifetime.

I couldn’t begin to give him an answer to that question, but it did make me decide to start keeping track from that moment forward. The previous posts in this series are as follows: 20182017, 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2013.

There are links included to the books that I also wrote reviews for here.

I had some trouble finishing books this year. There were so many more titles that I started but then gave up on. I think I was pickier about what I read over the last twelve months, and the lure of social media also made reading a little less appealing than it normally is for me.

If any of you have advice on how to get out of this sort of slump, I’d sure like to hear it!

Biographies, Autobiographies, and Memoirs

“Living like Livvy: A Mother’s Story about the Girl Who Refused to be Defined by Rett Syndrome” by Andre Govier
“Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free” by Linda Kay Klein
“Little Dancer Aged Fourteen” by Camille Laurens
“Diary of Family G” by Ami McKay
“Shut Away: When Down Syndrome was a Life Sentence” by Catherine McKercher
“Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited” by Elyse Schein

 

Mystery

“The Paying Guests” by Sarah Waters

Poetry

“Charlotte: A Novel” by David Foenkinos

“The World According to Fred Rogers: Important Things to Remember” by Fred Rogers

Science Fiction and Fantasy

The Testaments” by Margaret Atwood

Let’s Play White” by Chesya Burke

“The Lost Ones” by Anita Frank (review pending)

“The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson

The Farm: A Novel” by Joanne Ramos

The Spellbound Spindle” by Joy V. Spicer

Sociology and Psychology

“Why We Elect Narcissists and Sociopaths (and How We Can Stop)” by Bill Eddy

“Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them” by Tina Gilbertson

“Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and how It Can Help You Find – And Keep – Love“ by Amir Levine

“Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People – And Break Free” by Stephanie Moulton Sarkis

An Imperfect Crime: A Review of The Ghosts Inside

Dollar Tales from The Morbid Museum: The Ghosts Inside book cover. There is a fuzzy photo of an amphibious, bidedal creature on this cover. Title: Dollar Tales from The Morbid Museum: The Ghosts Inside

Author: James Pack

Publisher: VaudVil

Publication Date: 2019

Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Contemporary

Length: 40 pages

Source: I received a free copy from James

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Blurb:

These Dollar Tales feature one or two short stories from the forthcoming collection of fiction by James Pack titled Morbid Museum. This Dollar Tale is called The Ghosts Inside and features the original and extended versions of the story. Go inside the mind of a man who believes he is saving children by ending their lives. Will he kill again or will someone stop him from taking young lives?

Review:

Content warning: child abuse and the murders of children. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

This e-book contains two versions of the same tale. I found the first draft too short for my preferences, so I’ll be reviewing the extended version.

Not every serial killer is an evil genius.

One of the things I liked the most about this story was the fact that the antagonist behaved like an ordinary person. (Well, other than the murders he committed, of course). He wasn’t the strongest, smartest, fastest, or most cunning person around. If not for his awful hobby, he would have struck me as a perfectly average man. That was refreshing.

I found it tricky to keep up with the multiple narrators. It would have worked really nicely in a novella or novel, but the roughly twenty-five pages that the extended version had to work with simply wasn’t enough space for everyone to show the audience who they were and what they were about. Focusing so intently on the killer in the first version was a smarter decision. As much as I enjoyed many of the other changes the author made to the storyline once it was expanded, I do wish this part of it had carried through.

There were so many hints about the killer’s personality that I was able to gently tease out of the things he said and did. It was interesting to figure out what made him tick. While he wasn’t someone I’d ever want to meet on a dark street or anywhere else, I did like the way the author tried to explain why someone would commit such unforgivable crimes. This only became more true as I realized what the killer’s biggest weakness was and why it appeared to be something that he himself wasn’t necessarily aware of. I’ll leave it up to other readers to put these pieces together for themselves, but they did make for a satisfying experience.

Dollar Tales from The Morbid Museum: The Ghosts Inside was much darker than what I typically read. I think it would be best suited for people who enjoy crime fiction or dark science fiction.

Choosing to Survive: A Review of Powdered Souls

Title: Powdered Souls, A Short Story: They Decided to Survive (Snow Sub Series Book 1)

Author: Dixon Reuel

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: 2019

Genres: Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic, Romance

Length: 22 pages

Source: I received a free copy from Dixon

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb: People together in close quarters – fraternization naturally follows.

A military VR trainer, wanting to keep her relationship with a fellow scientist hidden, must pass a security inspection in her lab by the vicious Atlas Crusade that has swept to power.

When the leader of the security team demands an unusual VR request in her lab, Prof. Meliss must decide between keeping her lover safe, or secretly undertaking a consciousness swap that could end the Crusade’s five-year long relentless rule. A rule that has co-opted all scientific research to aid their global expansion, rendering Prof. Meliss and Prof. Lauren expendable, as legions of other researches wait to step into their lab if either woman dishonors the great Crusade.

Science and the military aren’t always a good match for each other.

Virtual reality is one of those topics that always makes my ears perk up when I see it mentioned in a science fiction blurb. There are so many different ways to approach this idea that an author can do just about anything with it, and Ms. Reuel came up with a pretty creative take on why the military would be interested in developing a virtual world for their soldiers to explore. Their reason for paying for this research is something best discovered by readers for themselves.

The world building would have benefited from more development. I was confused by how the military seemed to simultaneously know everything that was happening in their research bases and yet also not know simple things about them like what sort of equipment they used or how their experiments were going. It’s totally possibly for a regime to act this way, but it would have been nice to know what the limits of their knowledge was.

Prof. Meliss, the main character, wasn’t given much opportunity to reveal her personality either. I’d struggle to tell you much about her as an individual or explain why she’d gotten into a relationship with her assistant, Dr. Lauren, knowing how dangerous that would be for both of them. A lot of this character development could be coming in future volumes, but it would have been helpful to have a better understanding of who she was and why they were willing to take such huge risks. I always like finding queer couples in science fiction, so I was disappointed with how their arc played out so far.

One of the few things I did learn about Prof. Meliss was that she could think quickly in a crisis. That’s the perfect skill to have when an army has descended onto your base and is breaking down the front door. The most interesting scenes in my opinion were the ones in the beginning that described how she reacted to this invasion.

Since this was both a short story and the first instalment in a series, I was definitely not expecting the character development or world building to be perfectly ironed out. But I would have liked to see at least a few sentences spent explaining how this militaristic society works, why relationships between scientists and their assistants were punished so harshly, and what the military was and wasn’t capable of. Getting thrown into a new world is amusing, but I needed more answers about what was happening before the final scene wrapped up.

With that being said, I saw a lot of promise in this tale. There were hints about how climate change had affected the lives of ordinary people in this futuristic world that I’m incredibly curious to learn more about.

Calling All Bookish Folks to the Trick-or-Treat Book Blog Hop

Trick-or-Treat Book Blog Hop Banner

This event is so cool I decided to dedicate a full post to it today.

On October 31, blogger Patricia Lynne is going to be hosting a Trick-or-Treat blog hop for anyone who is looking for free, new e-books to read.

Authors, you have until October 31 to hop on over to her site and share a link to your free book or books.

Bloggers, readers, and reviewers, the full list of free e-books will be available on that site on October 31. Be sure to go check it out then if you need something new to read. The hashtag they’re using on Twitter is #trickortreatreads, so keep an eye out for that, too.

I’ve already added the link for my books. If I find any titles there that fit the theme of my blog, you may see reviews of them here in the future. A big part of the reason why I wrote this post is so that I can link back to it over the coming months to explain how I gained access to so many free books at once if this pans out as well as I hope it does.

Happy reading, everyone!

Life After The Handmaid’s Tale: A Review of The Testaments

Title: The Testaments (The Handmaid’s Tale #2) Author: Margaret Atwood Publisher: Nan A. Talese Publication Date: 2019 Genres: Speculative Fiction, Dystopia Length: 432 pages Source: I bought it. Rating: 4.5 Stars Blurb: More than fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on… Read More

Autumn Worlds I’d Like to Visit

I’ve written about the winter, spring, and summer worlds I’d like to visit, so today I’ll wrap up this series by talking about the autumn worlds I’d spend some time exploring if I could. Some of these settings weren’t necessarily the safest places to visit, but I’m going to use my authority as the author of this… Read More

Spring Worlds I’d Like to Visit

Happy spring to everyone in the northern hemisphere! I’m beyond relieved to see it finally arrive as far as the calendar goes. Here’s hoping Ontario will soon see lots of warm weather and the first little green shoots popping out of the soil as well. In the last couple of years, I’ve written about the… Read More

Top Ten Tuesday: Standalone Books That Need a Sequel

Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl Last year, I wrote a (non-Top-Ten-Tuesday) post about books that need prequels. Today, I’ll be talking about some standalone books that need sequels. This list is shorter than usual because of how many authors and publishers are eager to publish sequels to stories that do well. There simply aren’t… Read More