My Real Children by Jo Walton

My Real Children

It’s 2015, and Patricia Cowan is very old. “Confused today,” read the notes clipped to the end of her bed. She forgets things she should know—what year it is, major events in the lives of her children. But she remembers things that don’t seem possible. She remembers marrying Mark and having four children. And she remembers not marrying Mark and raising three children with Bee instead. She remembers the bomb that killed President Kennedy in 1963, and she remembers Kennedy in 1964, declining to run again after the nuclear exchange that took out Miami and Kiev.

Her childhood, her years at Oxford during the Second World War—those were solid things. But after that, did she marry Mark or not? Did her friends all call her Trish, or Pat? Had she been a housewife who escaped a terrible marriage after her children were grown, or a successful travel writer with homes in Britain and Italy? And the moon outside her window: does it host a benign research station, or a command post bristling with nuclear missiles?

Two lives, two worlds, two versions of modern history. Each with their loves and losses, their sorrows and triumphs. My Real Children is the tale of both of Patricia Cowan’s lives…and of how every life means the entire world.

My Real ChildrenMy Real Children by Jo Walton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“Now.” “Never.” When her fiance Mark gives her an ultimatum about their wedding date, Patty’s life splits into two completely different paths. One where she marries him and becomes an isolated housewife with four children, and one where she ends their relationship and becomes a writer of travel guides.

I put this on my to-read list because I found it in a list of sci-fi books somewhere. I’ve noticed a lot of comments that it’s not a ‘proper’ sci-fi book (whatever that is) but I disagree. Maybe it’s the focus on women’s issues and lives that make people feel like it’s not really sci-fi? It certainly is a focus rarely seen in this genre. But there are moon bases and Mars missions going on in the background (including a marriage on the moon!) and of course the divergent / alternate histories – it’s as sci-fi as The Man in the High Castle anyway.

But more importantly than the question of is this really sci-fi or not, there is also a story good enough to make me just glad that I came across it, whatever it is. Both of Patty’s stories are by turns happy, fun and heartbreaking that had me hooked. I stayed up way past my bedtime reading this and I resented having to put it down.

My only issue is that the later years are just skimmed over, almost like too long was spent on Patty’s early life and there just wasn’t enough space in the book left for Patty when she was older. I felt like a lot got missed out in Patty’s lives and also the happenings in each of the worlds. The tech and politics in the two different timelines diverged a lot and I found it hard to keep track of what was happening in each because they were only mentioned in passing. The differences between them suddenly became a very important part of the story at the end of the book and I’d not paid enough attention to really understand the decision Patty had to make.

Aside from that, I found it very moving, with characters that I could care about. My emotions went up and down right along with Patty and both her families.

It’s a ‘can’t put it down’ novel that I very much enjoyed. I highly recommend it for your next holiday read! Just pay attention to what’s going on in the background a bit more than I did.

My Real Children
Jo Walton
Sci-Fi
May 20th 2014
Paperback
323

Scary Mary (Scary Mary #1) by S.A. Hunter

scary mary cover

Mary just wants to be left alone, but the cheerleaders, jocks, guidance counsellors, and ghosts won’t stop harassing her. When a new boy starts school, he surprises Mary by befriending her. That’s a rare thing for the school freak, but her unusual abilities put a rift in their budding friendship when Mary has to tell Cy that his home is haunted and not by Casper, the friendly ghost. Mary has to get rid of the ghost, thwart the school bully, do her homework, and not get detention. Mary’s sure she can do all of that except for the last part.

Scary Mary (Scary Mary, #1)Scary Mary by S.A. Hunter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mary is an outcast at her school, teased and bullied by the other kids because she is different. When a new kid, Cyrus, joins Mary’s school and shows an interest in her Mary is wary at first but soon starts to warm up to him.

But Mary really is different; she can hear ghosts, and when a ghost in Cyrus’ house starts causing mayhem Mary is the only one that can get rid of it.

This was a fun story to read. It’s fast-paced and full of ghost hunting action. I liked Mary and her sarcy voice, sometimes she came across as very immature but then she is a teenager so I can understand that. I admired the way she went after the ghost though. If it was me I would have just left Cyrus to it after he blamed her for damage she didn’t cause.

Clunky writing slowed the story down occasionally. Some bits read as though the author was making notes about what they wanted to happen, but then never actually got round to writing it.

“She remembered that she didn’t have his number or his address and got both from him. He got her info as well. After a few seconds of just staring dumbly at the scrap of paper with his address and number scrawled on it, Mary said to her shoes, “Well, I’ll see you this weekend.”

Other bits were just awkward and there were points when I couldn’t understand the things people were doing – why was Mary blamed for all the altercations with the other students? why did Mary stay for the seance? Why did Cyrus blame her for the damage?

The writings not brilliant but I enjoyed the story. It’s quick, fun and action packed but I don’t think I’d go out of my way to read the rest of the series.

Scary Mary
Scary Mary
S.A. Hunter
Young Adult Fantasy
August 16th 2006
Kindle
144

Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton

Good Morning Midight Cover

Augustine, a brilliant, aging astronomer, is consumed by the stars. For years he has lived in remote outposts, studying the sky for evidence of how the universe began. At his latest posting, in a research center in the Arctic, news of a catastrophic event arrives. The scientists are forced to evacuate, but Augustine stubbornly refuses to abandon his work. Shortly after the others have gone, Augustine discovers a mysterious child, Iris, and realizes that the airwaves have gone silent. They are alone.

At the same time, Mission Specialist Sullivan is aboard the Aether on its return flight from Jupiter. The astronauts are the first human beings to delve this deep into space, and Sully has made peace with the sacrifices required of her: a daughter left behind, a marriage ended. So far the journey has been a success. But when Mission Control falls inexplicably silent, Sully and her crewmates are forced to wonder if they will ever get home.

As Augustine and Sully each face an uncertain future against forbidding yet beautiful landscapes, their stories gradually intertwine in a profound and unexpected conclusion. In crystalline prose, Good Morning, Midnight poses the most important questions: What endures at the end of the world? How do we make sense of our lives? Lily Brooks-Dalton’s captivating debut is a meditation on the power of love and the bravery of the human heart.

My Review of Good Morning, Midnight

Good Morning, MidnightGood Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Good Morning, Midnight is a very quiet, contemplative end of the world novel.

It’s about two of the last survivors on Earth, Augustine and Sully. Augustine is a scientist living in a remote centre in the Arctic and Sully is an astronaut on a long journey back to Earth from Jupiter. As they face the prospect of being the last people on Earth, alone and isolated, they look back over their lives, thinking about the mistakes they’ve made and things they wish they had done differently. And we find out that Augustine and Sully are two people who have a lot of regret in their lives, a lot of times they’ve chosen their careers and ambitions over a chance to connect with people.

What this book isn’t about is the end of the world. Whatever happens that the world just goes quiet isn’t really important in this story and is never explained. I went in expecting that from the blurb and other reviews I’ve read so I wasn’t too disappointed but it does leave me wondering what happened, what could go so wrong that the world just goes dead like that.

I loved the setting – Augustine is a scientist in the artic and Sully is travelling through space returning home after a journey to study Jupiter. They’re both living in isolated, very open places with only a relatively thin shell protecting them from environments that could easily kill them. And I just love the way science runs through the story as a backdrop, from Sully’s experiments ‘listening‘ to Jupiter to Augustine’s love for amateur radio, and a lot of ways in between.

Beautiful writing complements the style of the book. I read slower just to enjoy the prose which led to me spending more time taking in the story.

If you’re looking for a pure sci-fi book there might not be enough science here to satisfy. If you don’t mind a slower more thoughtful story about regrets, forgiveness and moving forwards then give this one a go.

Good Morning, Midnight
Lily Brooks-Dalton
Sci-Fi
August 9th 2016
Paperback
288

The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami

The Nakano Thrift Shop Cover

Among the jumble of paperweights, plates, typewriters and general bric-a-brac in Mr Nakano’s thrift store, there are treasures to be found. Each piece carries its own story of love and loss – or so it seems to Hitomi, when she takes a job there working behind the till.

Nor are her fellow employees any less curious or weatherworn than the items they sell. There’s the store’s owner, Mr Nakano, an enigmatic ladies’ man with several ex-wives; Sakiko, his sensuous, unreadable lover; his sister, Masayo, an artist whose free-spirited creations mask hidden sorrows. And finally there’s Hitomi’s fellow employee, Takeo, whose abrupt and taciturn manner Hitomi finds, to her consternation, increasingly disarming.

A beguiling story of love found amid odds and ends, The Nakano Thrift Shop is a heart-warming and utterly charming novel from one of Japan’s most celebrated contemporary novelists.

My Review of The Nakano Thrift Shop

The Nakano Thrift ShopThe Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Nakano Thrift Shop is about Hitomi, a young woman working in a thrift store, and the interesting people that she encounters.

Some reviewers have commented that this book has no plot. I think there is, it’s slow paced but things do happen and every chapter has a story. We get a glimpse into the lives of the thrift store employees and I loved the slow pace because it allows the characters to shine. The people in the story change and grow and I think that’s what this book is really about. Hitomi starts to see people differently, her own outlook on life seems to change. When we meet her she is unmotivated, drifting through life and taking other people at face value. As she observes the life around her she starts to see that everyone has layers and hidden depths and her confidence in herself starts to grow.

I did feel that although the people around her are described in detail and really come to life, Hitomi herself doesn’t have much of a personality. She’s the lens we see everyone else through and so her actions often seemed odd; random and unexplained. If anything she just seems a bit judgemental, and a bit mean.

It is a very subtle and slow book but it has well developed characters and it’s interesting and quirky enough to hold my attention. I found a lot of it maybe a little too subtle for me but I enjoyed reading it.

The Nakano Thrift Shop
Hiromi Kawakami, Allison Markin Powell (Translator)
Fiction
June 1st 2017
Paperback
256

Keepers (The Mentalist Series #3) by Kenechi Udogu

Keepers Cover

The dust appears to have settled after the brief descent of the Progressive Empaths on Sandes. But, if there is any truth to Anthony’s story, Gemma and her friends know they might soon have to face the mysterious Keepers. Myth or real threat, one thing is certain; running is no longer an option, for any of them. Can Gemma protect the ones she loves without forming an unlikely alliance?

My Review of Keepers

Keepers (The Mentalist Series, #3)Keepers by Kenechi Udogu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A fun story with likeable characters and lots of action but I ended up getting lost with the plot and that made me lose interest towards the end.

Gemma and Russ just think about things too much. The different groups and their different powers are complicated, and remembering what’s happened, who’s who, and what everyone is doing is hard enough on its own. Add in Gemma and Russ speculating and thinking about everything everyone says and it’s very hard to keep track of what’s happened and what they thought might have happened / could happen.

All it really needs is a good editor. There is a decent story here and the characters are interesting and likeable. I really like the way the ‘bad’ people aren’t actually bad – they want something other than violence and evil for the sake of it. They just want different things to the main characters.

The Mentalist is a fun and original series that has masses of potential. I’m very interested to see what the author does next.

Keepers
The Mentalist
Kenechi Udogu
Young Adult Fantasy
December 19th 2016
Kindle

The Dark Forest (Remembrance of Earth’s Past #2) by Liu Cixin (Goodreads Author), Joel Martinsen (Translator)

The Dark Forest Cover

In The Dark Forest, Earth is reeling from the revelation of a coming alien invasion — four centuries in the future. The aliens’ human collaborators have been defeated but the presence of the sophons, the subatomic particles that allow Trisolaris instant access to all human information, means that Earth’s defense plans are exposed to the enemy. Only the human mind remains a secret.

This is the motivation for the Wallfacer Project, a daring plan that grants four men enormous resources to design secret strategies hidden through deceit and misdirection from Earth and Trisolaris alike. Three of the Wallfacers are influential statesmen and scientists but the fourth is a total unknown. Luo Ji, an unambitious Chinese astronomer and sociologist, is baffled by his new status. All he knows is that he’s the one Wallfacer that Trisolaris wants dead.

My Review of The Dark Forest

The Dark Forest (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #2)The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So this is just as original and inventive as The Three Body Problem, but it has a lot of issues and doesn’t live up to its brilliance.

The Dark Forest focuses on Luo Ji, an astronomer and sociologist, who is chosen to be one of the Wallfacers. His task is to come up with a way to stop the invasion of the Trisolarian fleet and to implement it whilst keeping it a secret from everyone else on earth.

But the first half the story goes off on a complete tangent about how Luo Ji made up an imaginary woman, had a relationship with her, and fell madly in love with her. The first thing he does with his new found power and influence is send someone off with instructions to find her. And fond her he does, and she is brought to work for Luo Ji under the false pretence that her skills are needed for the Wallfacer project. Luo Ji wastes no time in creeping on her and they fall in love almost instantly. I wish I was joking about this, but this is honestly the main plot of the first half of the book.

The second half is better but doesn’t quite ever make up for the weird and creepy first half. It doesn’t help that women in this book are sidelined (some don’t even get names) and described by how attractive they are. And the author’s idea of attractive is to be beautiful, innocent and naive. Basically an adult child. Ick.

The science sci-fi in this book is still interesting and unique. If it had stuck to that and left out the odd relationship rubbish I would have liked it a lot more. But I did also find the writing to be a lot more stilted and awkward, than The Three Body Problem. It has a different translator so I think maybe that’s made a big difference.

Read this for the science and the originality, but be prepared to have to do mental skips over the weird relationship drama.

The Dark Forest
Remembrance of Earth's Past
Liu Cixin
Sci-Fi
May 2008
Paperback
512

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

June 1st 2009

In a vast, mysterious house on the cliffs near Dover, the Silver family is reeling from the hole punched into its heart. Lily is gone and her twins, Miranda and Eliot, and her husband, the gentle Luc, mourn her absence with unspoken intensity. All is not well with the house, either, which creaks and grumbles and malignly confuses visitors in its mazy rooms, forcing winter apples in the garden when the branches should be bare. Generations of women inhabit its walls. And Miranda, with her new appetite for chalk and her keen sense for spirits, is more attuned to them than she is to her brother and father. She is leaving them slowly –

Slipping away from them –

And when one dark night she vanishes entirely, the survivors are left to tell her story.

“Miri I conjure you ”

This is a spine-tingling tale that has Gothic roots but an utterly modern sensibility. Told by a quartet of crystalline voices, it is electrifying in its expression of myth and memory, loss and magic, fear and love.

My Review of White is for Witching

White is for WitchingWhite is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I didn’t get the creepy vibe I was really after from this. All the elements were there but it felt like the author was using the haunted theme to try to say something else. It never came together in a coherent haunting and there was a disappointing lack of witches.

There were a lot of different themes that seemed to be running under the surface but nothing stood out enough to say anything. The thing with the refugees never went anywhere, I’m not sure why it was included. Whatever the author was trying to say was not obvious for me to understand what it was.

There are a few different narrators (one of them the house!), all of them unreliable. You never know what’s real and what’s not, what’s made up and what’s just imagined.

Miri was the main narrator but I didn’t find her very interesting. Intended to be fragile she came across as a pretentious. She had a lot of issues that weren’t really dealt with. Her twin brother was trying to distance himself from her and her father didn’t seem interested in trying to understand her problems, convincing himself he can solve her eating problems by discovering what food she would want to each. Miri starts to slowly fade away, becoming paler, thinner, and more and more distant. The book starts when she has disappeared completely.

I really enjoyed the part of the book that was told from Ore’s point of view. I liked her voice and she had an interesting story.

It’s a slow paced book but the writing is beautiful. I may not have understood it but I know it’s not really a haunted house story, it’s more about love and loss. I enjoyed the slow pace, I think it worked well with the writing style. It kind of lulled me into feeling like I was in a daydream.

I didn’t get the point of the book and that just left me feeling frustrated. I do like the way Helen Oyeyemi writes though, she has a poetic style that’s captivating to read.

White is for Witching
Helen Oyeyemi
Fiction
June 1st 2009
Paperback
244

Salt Fish Girl by Larissa Lai

Salt Fish Girl by Larissa Lai cover

Salt Fish Girl is the mesmerizing tale of an ageless female character who shifts shape and form through time and place. Told in the beguiling voice of a narrator who is fish, snake, girl, and woman – all of whom must struggle against adversity for survival – the novel is set alternately in nineteenth-century China and in a futuristic Pacific Northwest.

At turns whimsical and wry, “Salt Fish Girl” intertwines the story of Nu Wa, the shape-shifter, and that of Miranda, a troubled young girl living in the walled city of Serendipity circa 2044. Miranda is haunted by traces of her mother’s glamorous cabaret career, the strange smell of durian fruit that lingers about her, and odd tokens reminiscent of Nu Wa. Could Miranda be infected by the Dreaming Disease that makes the past leak into the present?

Framed by a playful sense of magical realism, “Salt Fish Girl” reveals a futuristic Pacific Northwest where corporations govern cities, factory workers are cybernetically engineered, middle-class labour is a video game, and those who haven’t sold out to commerce and other ills must fight the evil powers intent on controlling everything. Rich with ancient Chinese mythology and cultural lore, this remarkable novel is about gender, love, honour, intrigue, and fighting against oppression.

My Review of Salt Fish Girl

Salt Fish GirlSalt Fish Girl by Larissa Lai
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a bit of an odd book but the writing style is beautiful and gripping and I loved the way the author uses the sense of smell to bring the story to life.

I’m having a difficult time trying to explain the plot because it all gets a bit odd, but the style and themes of the book I found similar to Margaret Atwood and her MaddAddam series, and the themes also remind me of Octavia E Butler’s stories. Salt Fish Girl covers creation, genetic engineering, poverty, and a world run by big businesses – but all with a feminist slant.

I have to admit, for a lot of the book I wasn’t sure what was happening. There is a main story running through it but it also jumps about in time telling the story of a woman who seems to be almost a god and the creator or mother of all humans. Both stories are interesting but I didn’t feel there was a proper ending to either of them; it’s left as though the author just suddenly felt like stopping writing.

Even though I was a bit confused by it all I still enjoyed it. It’s original and beautifully written with characters that I actually cared about. It’s certainly interesting and has a lot of points to make; it makes a good book club book because it has a lot of thought starters.

If you’re looking for a dystopian, cyberpunk style book and you don’t mind things getting a bit weird then I’d recommend giving this a go.

Salt Fish Girl
Larissa Lai
Sci-Fi
August 4th 2002
Paperback
269

The Amber Citadel (Jewelfire #1) by Freda Warrington

The Amber Citadel Cover

Two hundred and fifty years ago, humans defeated the shape-changing Bhahdradomen in the War of the Silver Plains. Although they are exiled – or even thought to be extinct – the shape-changers’ hatred and jealousy of the humans live on. Now, in the failings of a human king, they find a way to assuage that hatred. Meanwhile, the third race, the mysterious Aelyr, keep apart from human realms although they also consider the Bhahdradomen enemies.

Tanthe and Ysomir are sisters, living in the village of Riverwynde, 2,000 miles from the capital city Parione. Ysomir is in love with Lynden, son of the village leader. Tanthe is bored with rural life and longs for the wonders of Parione. But the growing madness of King Garnelys and the Bhahdradomen’s wiles soon lead to terrible events, the abduction of Ysomir, and the beginning of a long journey for Tanthe, Lynden, and his brother Rufryd, as they set out for the Amber Citadel of Parione.

My Review of The Amber Citadel

The Amber Citadel (The Jewelfire Trilogy #1)The Amber Citadel by Freda Warrington
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have to say The Amber Citadel is not as good as the other books I’ve read by Freda Warrington. The writing is still fantastic and her descriptions are just as lush as ever but it’s all a bit overwhelming with a lot of back story and history to remember and lots of different characters. I found the plot a bit messy and hard to keep track of and the characters not very likeable. But it is very inventive and she manages to stay away from a lot of the standard fantasy clichés.

The characters bicker a lot. Tan doesn’t speak, she shouts and gets angry at everything anyone says to her and I found her very childish and hard to like. Rufryd was the same and I really could have done without their relationship drama.

The ending was dark and full of surprises, it did not go the way I expected at all! The story had all started to come together and the characters were growing up a bit. I think there is a lot of potential for the next book to really take off. Hopefully there will be less of the bickering!

I didn’t get on with the characters but I’m hooked by the ending and I want to see where the story goes. I will definitely be reading the next book, I just hope there will be less relationship angst and more story.

The Amber Citadel
Jewelfire
Freda Warrington
Fantasy
1999
Paperback
599

Masked by Moonlight (By Moonlight #1) by Nancy Gideon

Masked by Moonlight Cover

IN THIS STUNNING FIRST BOOK FROM NANCY GIDEON’S SIZZLING NEW SERIES, A TENACIOUS COP AND HER SHAPE-SHIFTING ENEMY SACRIFICE EVERYTHING FOR FORBIDDEN DESIRE. ALL SHE WANTS IS REVENGE.

New Orleans homicide detective Charlotte Caissie is dedicated to bringing down the crime boss responsible for her father’s murder. Using Jimmy Legere’s mysterious and irresistible right-hand man is a dangerous gamble, and not only due to his reputation as more monster than man. Because her feelings for Max Savoie are complicated.

THEN HE RISKS HIS LIFE TO SAVE HERS. Rescued from the swamps as a child, Max exists silently in Legere’s shadow, heeding only his voice—until Charlotte Caissie awakens his emotions and tests his loyalties. Stepping outside his cautious rules threatens more than just his heart. He could expose his darkest secret.

NOW THEY’RE BOTH IN OVER THEIR HEADS. Testing boundaries they weren’t meant to cross means facing the truth about who and what they are—and what they need from each other. If Max is the murderer she seeks, Charlotte could be his next victim. She can’t afford to trust any man. Good thing Max isn’t one.

My Review of Masked by Moonlight

Masked by Moonlight (Moonlight, #1)Masked by Moonlight by Nancy Gideon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Way more of a romance than an urban fantasy.

Charlotte is a detective in New Orleans. A rubbish one but that’s ok because the murder mystery doesn’t amount to much anyway. Max is the bodyguard of the underworld crime king and he has been in love with Charlotte for years. Cue much angst and drama.

The setting of New Orleans is massively underused. I understand that New Orleans is an unusual city with a distinctive style and atmosphere but this could have been set anywhere. The story outside of Charlotte and Max’s relationship starts with potential but gets lost in all the romance drama.

There isn’t one scene that Charlotte and Max don’t end up together in, talking and flirting. Normally with Urban Fantasy, I get annoyed because the love interests spend so little time together so you’d think I should have liked this. But, I don’t know why, it just got too much, even for me. I think it was done at the expense of building Charlotte’s world and so it all feels very limited.

Max is a sweetheart and my heart breaks for him the way he’s head over heels and just wants to be with Charlotte. For a character that’s supposed to be a hardened killer, he seems like just a big softie. He carries the whole book and I read it really just for him.

Charlotte is independent and fun to read but also she’s kinda mean and closed off. She has her reasons but Max is such a sympathetic character and it’s easy to forget he’s a killer so it makes it hard to like Charlotte when she is so cruel to him.

The writing is average, there are some dodgy bits here and there but it’s not offputting and it’s a fun and easy read. There are 10 books in the series though so hopefully it will improve as it goes on!

I intend to read the next one, all the setup has been done so I’m hoping for a bit of a more in-depth story. If not I’ll be quite happy with just reading another book with a lot of Max in it!

Masked by Moonlight is a fun, quick Urban Fantasy romance read with a likeable and very sweet love interest!

Terrible cover though.

Masked by Moonlight
By Moonlight
Nancy Gideon
Urban Fantasy
May 25th 2010
Kindle
375