BOOK REVIEW: Under the Pendulum Sun, by Jeannette Ng

BOOK REVIEW: Under the Pendulum Sun, by Jeannette NgTitle: Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng
Published by Angry Robot
Published: October 3rd 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Pages: 416
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley

Catherine Helstone's brother, Laon, has disappeared in Arcadia, legendary land of the magical fae. Desperate for news of him, she makes the perilous journey, but once there, she finds herself alone and isolated in the sinister house of Gethsemane. At last there comes news: her beloved brother is riding to be reunited with her soon - but the Queen of the Fae and her insane court are hard on his heels.

 It has been as long as it takes to tell a tale, neither long nor short.

If you found yourself wanting something more in the same vein as Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak, wait no more. Jeannette Ng’s Under the Pendulum Sun expertly weaves fantasy, the Gothic, academia, and religion in this compelling novel about missionaries to Arcadia, the land of the Fae.

The story explores a lot of the conventions and repressions of the times and of Gothic tropes (it’s got that weird castle with hidden passage ways, clever uses of light, and the madwoman down below); delves into folklore, fairy tales, and the Fae; and manages to make you think about how we view those ideas, concepts, and social constructs if you’re familiar with them. The story also manages to twist and invert all of that and make it very new, something that I think can be difficult to do well and Ng makes it look effortless.

I loved the inclusion of documents at the beginning of each chapter and spread throughout to ground the story in its own reality and explore the beliefs of Catherine and Leon. The narrative moves in such a way that you, as a reader, begin to question everything, especially once Queen Mab makes her appearance and throws everything for a loop. As we are experiencing all of this through Catherine’s eyes, once the veil is lifted, all we can do is experience the horror and awe as truths come to light.

Under the Pendulum Sun is dark, twisted, and well-executed, and it’s a debut. There was much failing and ahhhhh-ing from me while reading it. If you are already interested in Gothic literature, religion and its functions in society, the taboo, the Fae, you’ll want to read this. You won’t want to put it down once you’ve started, and you’ll be thinking about Arcadia long after you turn the final page.

Thank you to Angry Robot and Netgalley for an advance reader’s copy! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The New Voices of Fantasy, edited by Peter S. Beagle and Jacob Weisman

BOOK REVIEW: The New Voices of Fantasy, edited by Peter S. Beagle and Jacob WeismanTitle: The New Voices of Fantasy by Peter S. Beagle, Jacob Weisman
Published by Tachyon Publications
Published: August 8th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Pages: 336
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley

Ready for the next big thing?

The New Voices of Fantasy spotlights nineteen breakout writers who are reinventing fantasy right now. Usman T. Malik, Sofia Samatar, Eugene Fischer, E. Lily Yu, Ben Loory, Maria Dahvana Headley, Ursula Vernon, Max Gladstone, and other emerging talents have been hand-picked by fantasy legend Peter S. Beagle (The Last Unicorn) and genre expert Jacob Weisman (Treasury of the Fantastic). International, crosscultural, and fearless, many of these rising stars have just or are about to publish their first novels and collections. They bring you childhood stories gone wrong, magical creatures in heat, a building that’s alive and full of waiters, love, ducks, and a new take on a bloodsucking fiend.

Table of Contents:“Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong“Selkie Stories are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar“Tornado’s Siren” by Brooke Bolander“Left the Century to Sit Unmoved” by Sarah Pinsker“A Kiss with Teeth” by Max Gladstone“Jackalope Wives” by Ursula Vernon“The Cartographer Wasps and Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu“The Practical Witch’s Guide to Acquiring Real Estate” by A. C. Wise“The Tallest Doll in New York City” by Maria Dahvana Headley“The Haunting of Apollo A7LB” by Hannu Rajaniemi“Here Be Dragons” by Chris Tarry“The One They Took Before” by Kelly Sandoval“Tiger Baby” by JY Yang“The Duck” by Ben Loory“Wing” by Amal El-Mohtar“The Philosophers” by Adam Ehrlich Sachs“My Time Among the Bridge Blowers” by Eugene Fischer“The Husband Stitch” by Carmen Maria Machado“The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn” by Usman T. Malik

Edited by Peter S. Beagle and Jacob Weisman, The New Voices of Fantasy is a solid collection of short stories introducing new and familiar readers of fantasy to relatively new writers to the genre. I say relatively, because a good portion of these appear to have been originally published in 2014 and 2015, and it’s 2017 now, so that’s a few years ago now. However, I feel like I read a lot of fantasy and science fiction and follow quite a few of these writers on social media (and follow writers who have introduced some of these writers to me), so those who are either not active on social media or casual readers of the genre will find these to be “new” writers!

My favorite stories in the collection are: Brooke Bolander’s “Tornado’s Siren” that’s about a tornado who falls in love with a girl; Max Gladstone’s “A Kiss With Teeth” that’s about Vlad the Impaler living in the modern age and the struggles he faces in deciding whether or not to remain appearing like a human or to give into his vampiric tendencies; and Ursula Vernon’s “Jackalope Wives” that’s about shapeshifters that brought me to near-tears by the end with longing.

Several of the stories verge on the science/speculative fiction aspect, but genre is something so easily malleable and never a definite thing. It’s a perfect fall read as so many of the stories are terrifying, dark, and beautiful.

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

BOOK REVIEW: The Impossible Fortress, by Jason Rekulak

BOOK REVIEW: The Impossible Fortress, by Jason RekulakTitle: The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak
Published by Simon & Schuster
Published: February 7th 2017
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 285
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley

A dazzling debut novel—at once a charming romance and a moving coming-of-age story—about what happens when a fourteen-year old boy pretends to seduce a girl to steal a copy of Playboy but then discovers she is his computer-loving soulmate.

Billy Marvin’s first love was a computer. Then he met Mary Zelinsky.

Do you remember your first love?

The Impossible Fortress begins with a magazine…The year is 1987 and Playboy has just published scandalous photographs of Vanna White, from the popular TV game show Wheel of Fortune. For three teenage boys—Billy, Alf, and Clark—who are desperately uneducated in the ways of women, the magazine is somewhat of a Holy Grail: priceless beyond measure and impossible to attain. So, they hatch a plan to steal it.

The heist will be fraught with peril: a locked building, intrepid police officers, rusty fire escapes, leaps across rooftops, electronic alarm systems, and a hyperactive Shih Tzu named Arnold Schwarzenegger. Failed attempt after failed attempt leads them to a genius master plan—they’ll swipe the security code to Zelinsky’s convenience store by seducing the owner’s daughter, Mary Zelinsky. It becomes Billy’s mission to befriend her and get the information by any means necessary. But Mary isn’t your average teenage girl. She’s a computer loving, expert coder, already strides ahead of Billy in ability, with a wry sense of humor and a hidden, big heart. But what starts as a game to win Mary’s affection leaves Billy with a gut-wrenching choice: deceive the girl who may well be his first love or break a promise to his best friends.

It’s the 1980s, computer programming is starting to become a thing, and Billy and his friends are obsessed with getting their hands on a copy of Playboy featuring Vanna White. While at the store while trying to help his friends conceive a plan in which to buy said Playboy magazine, he and his friends concoct a scheme that involves the shop owner’s daughter, Mary, and feigning interest in her to get her to get them that magazine. Billy volunteers, and the two become friends once Billy discovers that Mary is interested in computer programming, too.

I really wanted to like this book more than I did because it looked like something that’s right up my alley: computer programmers, the 80s, a cute growing up story. However, it ended up taking a weird turn about three-quarters of the way through the book that just seemed uncharacteristic and unrelated to all of the build-up that had happened in the rest of the book. While the main characters are fourteen or so, each of the boys can be unbelievably cruel in one way or another. Billy’s cruelty is the most unbelievable and is the catalyst for the finale, and then the consequences are just pushed away as if none of it really mattered.

The Impossible Fortress started out cute, light, and enjoyable, but ultimately took a turn for the worse. It’s a shame because it had so much potential!

I received a copy of this book for review through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: A Moonless, Starless Sky, by Alexis Okeowo

BOOK REVIEW: A Moonless, Starless Sky, by Alexis OkeowoTitle: A Moonless, Starless Sky: Ordinary Women and Men Fighting Extremism in Africa by Alexis Okeowo
Published by Hachette Books
Published: October 3rd 2017
Genres: Cultural Studies
Pages: 256
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher

In the tradition of Behind the Beautiful Forevers and Nothing to Envy, this is a masterful, humane work of literary journalism by New Yorker staff writer Alexis Okeowo--a vivid narrative of Africans, many of them women, who are courageously resisting their continent's wave of fundamentalism.

In A Moonless, Starless Sky Okeowo weaves together four narratives that form a powerful tapestry of modern Africa: a young couple, kidnap victims of Joseph Kony's LRA; a Mauritanian waging a lonely campaign against modern-day slavery; a women's basketball team flourishing amid war-torn Somalia; and a vigilante who takes up arms against the extremist group Boko Haram. This debut book by one of America's most acclaimed young journalists illuminates the inner lives of ordinary people doing the extraordinary--lives that are too often hidden, underreported, or ignored by the rest of the world.

Alexis Okeowo’s A Moonless, Starless Sky writes about the lives of four individuals in Nigeria, Somalia, Mauritania and Uganda who are resisting against the extremisms they each face. Okeowo, a first generation Nigerian-American, manages to deftly weave hope and inspiration in her solemn, yet conversational, exploration of the bravery and courage these four individuals face in abject terror.

The four narratives are about an LRA child soldier and the girl forced to marry him, a man and his fight against slavery in modern Mauritania, a group fighting Boko Haram, and a Somalian young woman’s struggle for the right to continue playing basketball. While each of the stories were eye-opening to read, the story about the Somalian young woman finding friendship, companionship, and fulfillment in playing basketball tugged at my heart-strings the most. To us here in the US, something so commonplace as playing basketball doesn’t register as a forbidden activity for anyone, but for her, it was a forbidden activity, because she is Muslim, because she is female. Her struggle to pursue her dreams resonated with me so much.

Okeowo writes the lives of each of these individuals with clarity, empathy, and respect; she writes their stories with unflinching insight to their struggles and triumphs. This book will certainly raise awareness to events happening beyond our media’s reach and inspire people to take action. It’s an absolute must read.

Many thanks to Hachette for sending me a copy of this book to review! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: See What I Have Done, by Sarah Schmidt

BOOK REVIEW: See What I Have Done, by Sarah SchmidtTitle: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
Published by Atlantic Monthly Press
Published: August 1st 2017
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 328
Format: Hardcover
Source: Goodreads

In this riveting debut novel, See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt recasts one of the most fascinating murder cases of all time into an intimate story of a volatile household and a family devoid of love.

On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid: Someone’s killed Father. The brutal ax-murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts, leaves little evidence and many unanswered questions. While neighbors struggle to understand why anyone would want to harm the respected Bordens, those close to the family have a different tale to tell—of a father with an explosive temper; a spiteful stepmother; and two spinster sisters, with a bond even stronger than blood, desperate for their independence.

As the police search for clues, Emma comforts an increasingly distraught Lizzie whose memories of that morning flash in scattered fragments. Had she been in the barn or the pear arbor to escape the stifling heat of the house? When did she last speak to her stepmother? Were they really gone and would everything be better now? Shifting among the perspectives of the unreliable Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, the events of that fateful day are slowly revealed through a high-wire feat of storytelling.

 How many years does it take to grow into someone?

Sarah Schmidt’s See What I Have Done is a strange and sometimes engaging reimagining of the famous Lizzie Borden murders. Told from alternating perspectives over the course of a few days, we are given insight into the minds of Lizzie and those involved in one way or another with the murders of Lizzie’s father Andrew and stepmother Abby.

By the end, I enjoyed this book, but I felt the book suffered from two things: target market and a slow exposition/initial pacing. I understand that publishers want to reach a wide range of audiences with certain titles, but I felt like this one was YA as I was reading it because of the writing style. It took me about a good third or more of the book to feel really engaged with the characters and the story, and then it seemed to pick up and then I couldn’t put it down. If you aren’t much of a YA reader, this one might feel a bit simplistic in the way in which it’s told. However, in some ways, I think that starkly simple language is what makes Lizzie’s story effective, because if you’re familiar with Lizzie Borden, you already know what’s coming, and by the time it does, it’s one of those chest-grabbing moments.

See What I Have Done explores in greater depth the relationships between Lizzie and the rest of her immediate household. At thirty-something, she still lives at home, unmarried, and behaves as if she is still a teenager with temper outbursts and juvenile outlooks on the world (which is where my “this feels like YA” comes from). It’s apparent from the very beginning that something is off about Lizzie’s mental state, and this disconnect between reality and what goes on in her mind adds to the Lizzie’s relationship with her father is odd and unsettling. At times, her attention-seeking behavior appears as if she’s a love-sick girl starving for the object of her affection’s attentions, and other times it feels as if her behavior is that of a child wanting her father to pay attention to her. Lizzie’s behavior toward and eventual murder of her father and stepmother stems from her deeply rooted jealousy toward her stepmother. As it happens in fairy tales, the stepmother “replaces” the dead mother, and to the main character, the stepmother is therefore “bad/evil,” and for Lizzie, she is the displaced princess.

In a series of twists and turns, Sarah Schmidt delivers a chilling examination of what goes through the minds of those closely involved with Lizzie Borden and her forty whacks. While it takes a bit to warm up to it, See What I Have Done is a solid debut.

I won a copy of this book through Goodreads giveaways for review! All opinions are my own.