Little List of Reviews #3

Little List of Reviews #3Title: Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn
Published by Tor Books
Published: January 17th 2017
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 288
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

 Carrie Vaughn’s Martians Abroad reads like a science fictional school story in which two Martian-human kids are sent to Earth to a prestigious school and things go amok. It’s a well-written, yet straightforwardly simple story following Polly’s mishaps as she attempts to integrate into Earth’s way of things at this boarding school. A set of orchestrated, predictable events prove Polly’s worth to herself, her mother, and the other students as she risks her life to save a handful of the other students. While I was expecting more depth as it was marketed as an “adult” science fiction novel, I think this is a great introduction to science fiction for the younger YA set and a great bridge from children’s fiction to “older” science fiction. The story reads easily, doesn’t feature sex or explicit language, and the violence is on par with most violence found in books marketed to the middle grade and young adult crowd.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tor Books for a review copy!

Little List of Reviews #3Title: Invaders: 22 Tales from the Outer Limits of Literature by Jacob Weisman
Published by Tachyon Publications
Published: July 12th 2016
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 384
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Invaders is a collection of stories written by “literary” writers exploring the concept of invasion in science fictional settings. While some of the stories didn’t grab my attention (and that can probably be attributed to timing and my state of mind more than anything else), it’s a solid effort to show that writers bleed through genre lines more often that we realize. I did, however, really enjoy the following stories: “Portal” – J. Robert Lennon, “The Inner City” – Karen Heuler, “Topics in Advanced Rocketry” – Chris Tarry, “A Precursor of the Cinema” – Steven Millhauser, “Monstros” – Junot Díaz, and “Near-Flesh” – Katherine Dunn. These explore the weirdness of human psyche and will linger in my mind for a long time.

Thanks to Netgalley and Tachyon Pub for a review copy!

Little List of Reviews #3Title: The White Cottage Mystery by Margery Allingham
Published by Bloomsbury Paperbacks
Published: January 24th 2017
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 176
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

 The White Cottage Mystery, initially published in 1927, is a straightforward, classic mystery following the murder of a man who lives in a white cottage. The characterizations are simple, the story is simple, but the writing compels one to keep reading to figure out what happened. It’s shorter than I expected, and I finished it in a sitting and a half. While I was reading it, I was hoping for more depth in characterization, but it’s a solid, traditional mystery with all of those conventional twists, turns, and red herrings. Margery Allingham is part of those writers from the Golden Age of mystery writers and is one to whom Agatha Christie admired. If you’re a fan of Christie’s mysteries, you may be interested in this one!

Thanks to Netgalley and Bloomsbury for a review copy!

BOOK REVIEW: A Perilous Undertaking, by Deanna Raybourn

BOOK REVIEW: A Perilous Undertaking, by Deanna RaybournTitle: A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn
Series: Veronica Speedwell #2
Published by Berkley Books
Published: January 10th 2017
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 352
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads
In the second installment of the Veronica Speedwell mysteries, Veronica continues to be a woman out of her time. The mystery in this one is not as prominent as it was in the first, but I found this to be excellent in learning more about who Veronica (a lepidopterist) and Stoker (a natural historian) are. We find out more about Stoker’s past and meet some of his family, and I found that it really rounded out Stoker as a character.

With her ties to a major family, Veronica is swept up into a job preventing the hanging of someone some believe to be innocent. Along the way, Veronica and Stoker become closer friends with so much romantic tension hanging between them. While I’m not really one for romances in a traditional sense, I’m really liking this slow burn, and I’m hoping that later in the series something happens because I have a feeling it will be so satisfying to read.

The other characters in the novel are well-developed and engaging, and I felt each of them added so much to the depth of the story. I loved all of the incidents Veronica and Stoker find themselves in, and I especially loved the peeks into that upper-class art scene and those sex houses/clubs of Victorian England.

If you enjoy vivacious and smart women, broody and Byronic men, visual glimpses into life in Victorian England, and a lot of humor and tension, these mysteries should be on your reading lists!

Thank you to Netgalley and Berkley Books for a review copy! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman

BOOK REVIEW: Norse Mythology, by Neil GaimanTitle: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
Published by W. W. Norton & Company
Published: February 7th 2017
Genres: Fiction, Mythology
Pages: 304
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

In their huge bedroom that night, Tyr said to Thor, “I hope you know what you are doing.”

“Of course I do,” said Thor. But he didn’t. He was just doing whatever he felt like doing. That was what Thor did best.

In the introduction to Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman writes that he went straight to the sources for his retellings of these myths, the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda. He interjects his own style of writing into retelling the old myths and brings new life into the stories. Norse Mythology is a great introduction as well as being an invigorating new look into tales for those who are already familiar with them. The stories are also perfect for reading aloud, and you don’t have to read them in order to really get full enjoyment out of them. I’m certainly going to be borrowing the audio book from the library so I can listen to Gaiman read them to me.

I was, however, expecting some kind of Gaiman-esque twist or one of his signature dives into the weird, so if that’s something you’re expecting out of this, be aware that it’s exactly what it says on the tin. It’s Norse mythology told to us by one of our greatest storytellers. The stories themselves are dark and gruesome and at times very funny, and I couldn’t think of a more popular writer to make these tales accessible to everyone.

Reading this was a perfect start to a new year. It feels both old and new at the same time, a talent Gaiman possesses and shows in many of his works. It’s ethereal, dangerous, and so much fun. It was sometimes difficult not to imagine Thor and Loki’s dialogue in their Marvel counterparts and that made me giggle out loud sometimes.

My favorite part was probably the introduction. While reading it, I could thoroughly understand that Neil Gaiman loves Norse mythology (it’s seen in many of his other works like Sandman and American Gods). As he writes in his introduction:

… the Norse gods came with their own doomsday: Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods, the end of it all. The gods were going to battle the frost giants, and they were all going to die.

Had Ragnarok happened yet? Was it still to happen? I did not know then. I am not certain now.

It was the fact that the world and the story ends, and the way that it ends and is reborn, that made the gods and the frost giants and the rest of them tragic heroes, tragic villains. Ragnarok made the Norse world linger for me, seem strangely present and current, while other, better-documented systems of belief felt as if they were part of the past, old things.

Norse mythology, and stories of Vikings and the like, always felt atmospheric to me. Of chilly and foggy springs and autumns, endless and gorgeous summer days, snowy winters; of gatherings of people in long halls with endless feasts and drinking; of stories and songs told and sung around fires, the passing on of knowledge through the rhythm of words. Neil Gaiman brings that to life in Norse Mythology, and I’m hoping he’ll do more like this or even write an extended tale of Norse inspiration like his fairy tale Stardust.

Thank you to Netgalley and W.W. Norton for a review copy! All quotes are from an uncorrected proof, and all opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Spaceman, by Mike Massimino

THE EARTH IS A SPACESHIP, AND WE’RE ALL SPACE TRAVELERS. – Mike Massimino

BOOK REVIEW: Spaceman, by Mike MassiminoTitle: Spaceman: An Astronaut's Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe by Mike Massimino
Published by Crown Archetype
Published: October 4th 2016
Genres: Memoir
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
Source: Blogging for Books
Goodreads

I have to admit, I’m totally out of the loop with the more recent NASA astronauts, and this memoir of Mike Massimino’s makes me want to read everything about the space program that’s happened since the beginning of the 2000s. Like Massimino, I was really interested in space and space travel as a kid, fascinated by Aldrin and Armstrong and engrossed with science fiction. Massimino recalls when he looks back on the earth from the Hubble Space Telescope, he says, “The Earth is a spaceship, and we’re all space travelers.” That little bit of wonder he showed then brought back the similar kind of wonder to me as I had when I was younger.

In Spaceman, Massimino really emphasizes the fact that he couldn’t have done anything he’s done without the help of his family, his friends, and his team. Anything great is accomplished with the help of others, and that’s something where I feel like a lot of us, including myself, tend to lose focus when we’re so concerned about getting to the destination that we tend to forget who is there with us along the way. It’s also another reminder that no matter how many times you get told no, get rejected, denied, anything, if it’s something you want to do, keep going for it. Find out what you need to do to succeed, get back up on your feet, and try again. Sometimes we’re told no because it’s not the right time, but that doesn’t always mean it will never be the right time.

Massimino’s writing is clear, engaging, and appeals to a wide range of audiences. Difficult subjects are presented clearly and thoroughly without the technical jargon often found in academic pieces. When he has to use technical jargon, Massimino makes an effort to explain what it means, which is helpful for someone like me who has no background in engineering. Spaceman‘s conversational tone felt like I just spent an afternoon or two getting to know Massimino one-on-one. He approaches the difficult task of describing the aftermath of the Space Shuttle Colombia with candor and respect, and I hadn’t known that Massimino’s and his crew’s launch was switched with that particular launch, and it made everything feel so much more real an close to the heart.

Massimino brings a lot of heart and humanity to the recollections of his journey to becoming and astronaut, being an astronaut, and discovering what it actually means to be an astronaut. Being a leader doesn’t always mean keeping everything in perfect order all the time. Sometimes it means trying your best to keep your team’s spirits up even in the most difficult times while performing the most herculean tasks.

Thank you to Blogging for Books and Crown Publishing for sending me a copy to read and review. All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Carve the Mark, by Veronica Roth

BOOK REVIEW: Carve the Mark, by Veronica RothTitle: Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth
Series: Carve the Mark #1
Published by Katherine Tegen Books
Published: January 17th 2017
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 480
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Work
Goodreads

So, I should preface this with a few key points. I work for a bookstore and received an ARC of this book through my job. All opinions are my own. This review is not an attack on the author, the publisher, or anyone else. I am also white, and I am aware this affects my position to call something out as racist. I find that it’s helpful to raise awareness of problematic representation in the media we consume.

In regards to advance copies being sent out to reviewers, I’ve noticed in a lot of Goodreads reviews that the bloggers state either at the beginning or the end of their review that HarperTeen (HT from here on out) sponsored these reviews. Further research led me to discovering that HT paid this set of bloggers to review Carve the Mark. This behavior from a publisher is unsettling. Generally speaking, if one is going to be paid for reviewing something, one will not review the thing unfavorably (and if one reviews unfavorably, that reviewer runs the risk of tarnishing the relationship with said publisher). This behavior by the publisher is akin to self-published authors paying readers to post positive reviews of the work in order to boost sales. That’s what I feel like HT is doing. Perhaps HT was aware of the problematic material in the book and decided to garner a set of positive reviews to boost sales before the book’s official release. I feel as if that money could have been better used to assist Roth in adjusting some of the problematic ideas presented in the book.

I stopped reading at page 66. I was simultaneously bored and unsettled by the book and set it aside. This being said, I do not know how the book ends or develops, and I honestly don’t care. Here are the main things I found problematic within those first 66 pages:

  1. The Thuve and the Shotet. The Thuve are presented as a lighter skinned race who are passive. Akos, one of the main characters, views the Shotet as a brutal and fierce race of people (the Shotet killed Akos’s grandmother). The first time the readers are introduced to the Shotet, the Shotet arrive to Akos’s family farm and brutally murder his father.
  2. The Shotet language is described as harsh and gutteral by Akos compared to his own softer sounding language (who discovers he has the ability to speak other languages without prior conscious knowledge of them). This view of languages is similar to the comparisons of the “music” of Romance (white) languages (French, Italian, Spanish) to the “harsh, guttural” (black) languages of the African continent.
  3. While the Shotet are described has having varying tones of skin, Cyra’s mother is described as having hair curly enough for fingers to be trapped in the curls while Cyra’s is not as curly as that. Um. Okay.
  4. Cyra’s brother Ryz forcibly trades one of his memories for one of Cyra’s. Cyra obviously struggles against it and can’t fight it, and you know what? That’s rape. Forcing someone to take something mentally (and inevitably physically) is an act of rape. Cyra was raped by her own brother. As a result of that rape, Cyra’s power manifests itself as pain. Literally. Pain. By page 66, Cyra cannot touch other people without feeling pain, and other people cannot touch her without feeling pain.
  5. Later, Cyra’s mother asks the doctor “You’re saying this gift is my daughter’s fault? That she wants to be this way?” And the doctor (male) says, “Cyra, the gift comes from you. If you change, the gift will, too.” So a man is telling a woman that her rape and her pain from that rape is her own fault and that she can change it at will. Yep. That’s a blatant reinforcement of rape culture.
  6. The religion of the Shotet draws heavily from Islamic ideology. Some of the religious leaders are called clerics, and some of the practices reinforce the negative views the West has on Muslim culture. We need to move past these harmful stereotypes.
  7. While I enjoyed the Divergent trilogy well enough for what it is (even if it’s a blatant knockoff of The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, it is also somewhat original in its ending), Carve the Mark is a lazy reimagining of the Star Wars and X-Men universes. It tries to be unique and diverse, but the glaring insensitivity within the first sixty pages result in its failing.

I was excited for this because there aren’t too many science fiction novels lately for the YA audience. However, the problems in the novel fail its readers by relying on outdated, racist tropes that should be a thing of the past in 2017. Science fiction is about creating new worlds, exploring new ideas, and finding some kernel of society to examine. Carve the Mark does none of this. Instead of drawing on redundant, harmful tropes, science fiction should offer the author and the readers the ability to create something new, to flip tropes and reinvent them. It seems as if the editors failed to notice or didn’t care, knowing that they’d have a cash-grab with the popular name attached; or it seems as if Roth is privileged enough to be unaware of the damage she has caused with these themes. Maybe it’s a combination of both.

After the roller coaster of the last several years with the Black Lives Matter movement, the systematic oppression of Muslims, and the discussions I have had and read, I’m finding myself more and more sensitive to the plights of those who are oppressed. I want to give those people a voice rather than reinforce harmful views. Instead of purchasing or reading this, I recommend finding, like many others have suggested, an own voices/diverse work. My personal recommendation is N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season.