Take Back the Skies (Tellus #1) by Lucy Saxon

Take back the skies cover

Catherine Hunter is the daughter of a senior government official on the island of Anglya. She’s one of the privileged – she has luxurious clothes, plenty to eat, and is protected from the Collections which have ravaged families throughout the land. But Catherine longs to escape the confines of her life, before her dad can marry her off to a government brat and trap her forever.

So Catherine becomes Cat, pretends to be a kid escaping the Collections, and stows away on the skyship Stormdancer. As they leave Anglya behind and brave the storms that fill the skies around the islands of Tellus, Cat’s world becomes more turbulent than she could ever have imagined, and dangerous secrets unravel her old life once and for all.

My Review of Take Back the Skies

Take Back the Skies (Take Back the Skies, #1)Take Back the Skies by Lucy Saxon
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I know the author was only 16 when she wrote this but the plot is so, so simplistic and full of holes. Cat does daft, unbelievable things but everything always works out for the best and someone always turns up or appears from nowhere to help her. Everyone who works for the government must be incredibly stupid. First, they want to wipe out all the common people; Where would they get their food? Who would do all the work? It’s not something you even need to think about to know it does not make sense. Then Cat puts herself on TV, tells everyone that she is responsible for blowing up the government, even names her ship; and there is no response at all. She goes running around the city with all the freed children and no one bothers them. She returns to her father’s house and no one notices her. The ship is allowed to sit there in the spaceport and no one turns up to arrest them. It’s allowed to fly away with them all on board!

Just as unbelievable was the way Cat arrives on the ship and is instantly accepted so much that they all follow her without question when she almost straight away says that she wants to blow up the government building. Very conveniently they have a load of explosives just sitting around with an explosives expert on the crew.

And then I hated everything about the ending. After everything she’s been through she goes right back to where she was at the start of the book and it’s just so sad.

It’s not badly written and I can see there is a lot of potential. There are some good ideas and I liked the way the sky is full of storms and I loved the ship Stormdancer. I wish more time was spent adventuring on the ship and less hiding (and living!) in the government offices running about to get evidence with the spy cameras.

It starts with potential but massive plot holes and a stupidly simplistic story meant that I couldn’t connect with this one. I’m interested to see what the author can do when she gets a bit of life experience behind her though!

Take Back the Skies
Tellus
Lucy Saxon
Young Adult Sci-Fi
June 5th 2014
Paperback
378

The Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod

The Night Sessions Cover

The first Enlightenment separated church from state – now the second Enlightenment has separated religion from politics. In this enlightened age there’s no persecution. But the millions who still believe and worship are a marginal and mistrusted minority – and now someone is killing them.

My Review of The Night Sessions

The Night SessionsThe Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A detective story set in Scotland in the near future where religion has been marginalised and robots have started to become self-aware. A priest is murdered and Detective Inspector Adam Ferguson has to solve the crime before the killer strikes again.

I enjoyed this a lot, it has a lot of my favourite things in – a near future setting, self-aware robots and a murder mystery. I loved the setting of a near future Edinburgh. There was a lot of thought put into the tech and the politics and how everything worked and it built a very realistic, familiar but futuristic world.

The mystery and the big reveal weren’t all that amazing but it’s quite dark and it had enough surprises and twists to keep it interesting. All the fun was really in the investigation and all the future tech they were using.

Very readable, The Night Sessions is gritty and dark and it had me hooked. I couldn’t put it down!

The Night Sessions
Ken MacLeod
Sci-Fi
August 7th 2008
324

Jem and the Holograms Vol. 1: Showtime (Jem and the Holograms #1)

Jem Cover

Meet Jerrica Benton—a girl with a secret. She and her sisters team up with to become… JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS! But what does it mean to be JEM today? Fashion, art, action, and style collide in Jem and the Holograms: Showtime! Collects issues #1-6.

My Review of Jem and the Holograms Vol.1: Showtime


Jem and the Holograms Vol. 1: Showtime
by Kelly Thompson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved Jem and the Holograms back in the 80’s. My sister and I had a few of the dolls and Jem’s backstage dressing room – one of my favourite toys!

Its good to see that even though it’s all been brought up to date (massive use of social media and very modern attitudes to life) this is still recognisably Jem. The friendships are front and centre – even more than the original. There is conflict with The Misfits and between Jerrica and Rio but it’s the relations between the women in the two bands that get the most focus.

The art and the colours are absolutely stunning. It’s such a visual treat that I kept flipping back and forwards just to admire it. The fab clothes and hairstyles are still very present, modern but with a very visible 80’s influence. At the risk of sounding shallow, and as much as I love the friendships and the stories, the outfit changes are probably my favourite thing about Jem.

The story in the first volume is about a battle of the bands. How Jerrica becomes Jem is covered very quickly in the first issue. I think that’s my only gripe with this, there’s not much backstory or any information about the characters lives outside of the band. It would be nice to know a bit more about them, so far that’s been sidelined in favour of the more exciting battle of the bands.

If there wasn’t a decent plot behind it all though even the outfits would get boring after a while so I guess it’s still the fun story that kept me interested enough to order the next volume.

Jem is a bright and fun mix of fashion and music and it’s packed full of wonderful female characters. I’m looking forward to reading the next one!

Jem and the Holograms Vol. 1: Showtime
Jem and the Holograms
Kelly Thompson, Ross Campbell, Sophie Campbell
Graphic Novel
March 1st 2015
Paperback
152

The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia

the alchemy of stone cover

Mattie, an intelligent automaton skilled in the use of alchemy, finds herself caught in the middle of a conflict between gargoyles, the Mechanics, and the Alchemists. With the old order quickly giving way to the new, Mattie discovers powerful and dangerous secrets — secrets that can completely alter the balance of power in the city of Ayona.

However, this doesn’t sit well with Loharri, the Mechanic who created Mattie and still has the key to her heart — literally!

A steampunk novel of romance, political intrigue, and alchemy, The Alchemy of Stone represents a new and intriguing direction by the author of the critically-acclaimed The Secret History of Moscow.

My Review of The Alchemy of Stone

The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“She could never quite bring herself to hate him – she teetered on the brink often, never crossing over. She had learned resentment and annoyance while being with him, and cold gloating joy; but there was also contentment and sympathy, and pity and gratitude.”

“This city watches you always,” he murmured. He pulled Mattie closer, his arms wrapping about her waist and his face buried in her skirts. Mattie thought then that it was rather sad that he sought comfort by embracing a machine-the construct that was not built to give it. But she tried, and the trying threatened to rend her heart in half.

The Alchemy of Stone is a beautifully written and haunting tale about a wind-up woman who just wants to be in control of her own life.

Mattie is an automaton created by a mechanic called Loharri. He just wanted a companion to care for him and ease his loneliness but instead, he found that he had created an intelligent, self-aware and independent woman. When Mattie becomes an alchemist Loharri reluctantly allows her to leave to live her own life but he refuses to relinquish control of the key to Mattie’s heart – a literal key the automaton needs to wind herself to life.

In the world around Mattie and Loharri, the Mechanics and the Alchemists are at loggerheads with each other as they compete for control of the city. The mechanics are bringing progress, steam-powered machines and analytical computers, upsetting the balance of power between them and the alchemists and pressing the poor and the farmers into working the mines. Stone gargoyles watch over the city as the tensions escalate into bombings and rebellion.

Through all this Mattie is just trying to keep safe her little part of the world and most importantly get her key from Loharri so she can be free from being dependant on him.

“What do you want?”

“My key” Mattie answered. “All I ever wanted was my key and he has it. You can’t steal it, it is bound to him. But he can give it to you, and he won’t give it to me.”

Iolanda touched Mattie’s hand. “You poor thing,” she whispered. “I had no idea.”

“Do you understand then?”

Iolanda nodded. “Show me a woman who wouldn’t.”

The author has created a beautifully imagined gothic tinged steampunk world. The alchemist’s potions and the mechanic’s creations bring a wonderful mix of old vs new and all the tensions that come along with it. The gargoyles sit watching all the events and their commentary provides an extra layer of understanding for the readers.

I would have liked a bit more depth in the gargoyles and in exploring Mattie’s relationships with the friends that she attempts to make. I feel like these were skimmed over a bit, the story of the gargoyles especially. But what it does explore is the issue of Mattie’s independence – what it means to be a woman in control of her own life and this I think is done very well.

It’s an engaging and deeply moving read and I loved the steampunk world with the gargoyles and the mechanic’s creations and the alchemist’s potions. I already want to re-read it just to experience the beautiful writing again!

The Alchemy of Stone
Ekaterina Sedia
Steampunk
November 10th 2009
Paperback
344

Consider Her Ways and Others by John Wyndham

Consider Her Ways and Others Cover

The six stories in Consider Her Ways and Others, the second collecton of John Wyndham’s short tales, continue his exploration of the science fiction staple – what if?

In the title story we are introduced to a world where all the men have been killed by a virus and women continue to survive in a strict caste system – bottom of the heap are the mothers.

In others we meet the man who accidentally summons a devil and then has to find a way of getting rid of him without losing his immortal soul, as well as the woman who, thanks to an experiment in time, discovers why her lover abandoned her.

‘Wyndham writes strongly and has a gift for bizarre plots’ – Guardian

‘One of the few authors whose compulsive readability is a compliment to the intelligence’ – Spectator 

My Review of Consider Her Ways and Others

Consider Her Ways and OthersConsider Her Ways and Others by John Wyndham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not his best work, Consider Her Ways contains six stories that are all variations on a theme. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing but by the third story, it all starts to feel repetitive.

The first, and also the longest, story starts out ok with a woman walking up in an all-female society and in a body that she does not think is hers. I found it interesting at first but it descended into a long debate on the oppression of women and whether love is real or just something to invented to distract women from rebelling and becoming independent. An interesting idea that I think has some merit but it’s also perpetuating the idea that love and romance are women’s things that men just tolerate for an easy life. And I actually got a bit angry with it when a female historian had this to say:

“I will admit that we have lost some minor conveniences – you will have noticed, I expect, that we are less inventive mechanically, and tend to copy the patterns that we have inherited….Perhaps men could show us how to travel twice as fast, or how to fly to the moon, or how to kill more people more quickly; but it does not seem to us that such kinds of knowledge would be good payment for re-enslaving ourselves.”

Oh, Where Now, is Peggy Macrafferty? missed the mark it was aiming for. I think it was going for a modern feel but that isn’t John Wyndham’s strong point. My least favourite in the book and easily skippable.

Two of the stories I did enjoy were Odd and The Long Spoon. Both are quite short and fast-paced, both a bit offbeat, The Long Spoon especially made me laugh.

Overall I’d say there are some good ideas but he’s not at his best. Probably only for completists.

Consider Her Ways and Others
John Wyndham
Sci-Fi
1956
Paperback
190

Blood Binds the Pack (Hob #2) by Alex Wells

Blood Binds the Pack Cover

Join the fight for the people and power of Tanegawa’s world in this thrilling sequel to Hunger Makes the Wolf

War is coming to Hob Ravani’s world. The company that holds it in monopoly, TransRift Inc, has at last found what they’re looking for–the source of the power that enables their Weathermen to rip holes in space and time, allowing the interstellar travel all of human society now takes for granted. And they will mine every last grain of it from Tanegawa’s World no matter the cost.

Since Hob Ravani used her witchy powers to pull a massive train job and destroy TransRift Inc’s control on this part of the planet, the Ghost Wolves aren’t just outlaws, they’re the resistance. Mag’s miner collective grows restless as TransRift pushes them ever harder to strip the world of its strange, blue mineral. Now Shige Rollins has returned with a new charge–Mr Yellow, the most advanced model of Weatherman, infused with the recovered mineral samples and made into something stranger, stronger, and deadlier than before. And Mr Yellow is very, very hungry.

Blood Binds the Pack (Hob #2)Blood Binds the Pack by Alex Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been excited about reading this since I read the first book, Hunger Makes the Wolf, so it’s safe to say I had very high expectations for it!

Well, I wasn’t disappointed and I think I enjoyed this even more than the first book. It has so many good things about it I almost don’t know where to start my review!

Hob has to be my favourite thing about the book. Her badass attitude and her witchy fire powers make her fun to read. Her ability to admit her own faults (especially her lack of education and emotional intelligence) and know where she is out of her depth and her confidence in leading and speaking out when she knows she is right makes her one of the most compelling female characters I’ve read.

I also love the genuine friendship between Hob and Mags. It’s refreshing to see a female friendship like this in a book and it’s nice that the author has just let it be and not added any strain or mistrust into it. It’s also nice that it’s not all one-sided as seems to be the case in a lot of books, where one character exists just to help and support the other. Mags and Hobs have a mutual respect / support relationship where they help and look out for each other.

Mags brings a serious side to the book, leading the workers fight against a company that thinks it owns them and is risking their lives to mine for the amirite. It balances out Hobs fun and all-out action and makes a story that has real depth and meaning to it.

The writing style is plain and simple and it really suits the style of the wild-west influenced setting. It’s easy to read and easy to visualise and insanely readable, I was excited to get home each evening so I could sit down and start reading.

I think after the awesome buildup the ending let it down a little bit. I felt like a lot happened off page that I wanted to see. I wanted to know more about the world and the amirite and what’s at the centre and it was a bit lacking in answers to that. But like I said I had very high expectations and this is the only fault I can find with the whole thing.

At the risk of sounding like I’m gushing, I properly loved this book! I’m hoping there will be another book in the series to pick up some of the loose ends, and because I’m simply not ready to be done with this world and these characters yet.

Blood Binds the Pack will take you on a high-octane ride across the sands of Tanegawa’s World with Hob’s misfit band of mercenaries. It’s a lot of fun to read and stands out as something a bit different. Recommended to anyone that likes sci-fi based future fun and action.

Blood Binds the Pack
Hob
Alex Wells
Sci-Fi
February 6th 2018
Kindle

Hunger Makes the Wolf (Hob #1) by Alex Wells

Hunger Makes the Wolf cover

The strange planet known as Tanegawa’s World is owned by TransRifts Inc, the company with the absolute monopoly on interstellar travel. Hob landed there ten years ago, a penniless orphan left behind by a rift ship. She was taken in by Nick Ravani and quickly became a member of his mercenary biker troop, the Ghost Wolves.

Ten years later, she discovers the body of Nick’s brother out in the dunes. Worse, his daughter is missing, taken by shady beings called the Weathermen. But there are greater mysteries to be discovered – both about Hob and the strange planet she calls home.

Hunger Makes the Wolf (Hob #1)Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hunger Makes the Wolf surprised me with how good it was. I think I was expecting a fun, quick space adventure read, but this story is so much more than that.

There is magic (space witches!), a rebellion of mistreated workers against the company that controls the planet, a woman learning to be a leader, and I think there are hints of a possible romance?

The main character, Hob Ravani, is a member of a gang of mercenaries who roam around their desert planet on motorcycles. They do odd jobs for money while trying to stay clear of TransRift, the company that controls the planet and the lives of the miners and the farmers. Hob has magic, a “witchyness” that means she can create fire, but she hasn’t learnt much about it beyond basic tricks like lighting cigarettes. Witchyness is feared on Tanegawa’s World so she has to keep it hidden.

There’s a lot going on, but it’s managed well. It starts out fast-paced, we’re dropped into the middle of the action at the start and things are slowly revealed as the story progresses. Around the middle, the pacing slows down where the rebellion is growing and Hob is learning how to be a leader, but it picks up again as it moves towards the action-packed ending.

There’s plenty of character development, especially for Hob and her foster sister Mags. Hob isn’t perfect, she makes mistakes and gets things wrong but still keeps trying to do the right thing and protect her family at the same time.

I loved the witchy elements, the Bone Collector, a sort of wise and mysterious mage, was one of my favourite characters in it.

The main story thread does have a conclusion, but there are things left open and it reads like there’s going to be a sequel. I’m certainly hoping there will be, there’s a lot more to learn about this world!

I received a free copy from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Hunger Makes the Wolf
Hob
Alex Wells
Sci-Fi
March 7th 2017
Kindle
326

Winterglass by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Winterglass cover

The city-state Sirapirat once knew only warmth and monsoon. When the Winter Queen conquered it, she remade the land in her image, turning Sirapirat into a country of snow and unending frost. But an empire is not her only goal. In secret, she seeks the fragments of a mirror whose power will grant her deepest desire.

At her right hand is General Lussadh, who bears a mirror shard in her heart, as loyal to winter as she is plagued by her past as a traitor to her country. Tasked with locating other glass-bearers, she finds one in Nuawa, an insurgent who’s forged herself into a weapon that will strike down the queen.

To earn her place in the queen’s army, Nuawa must enter a deadly tournament where the losers’ souls are given in service to winter. To free Sirapirat, she is prepared to make sacrifices: those she loves, herself, and the complicated bond slowly forming between her and Lussadh.

If the splinter of glass in Nuawa’s heart doesn’t destroy her first.

WinterglassWinterglass by Benjanun Sriduangkaew
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I loved the atmosphere and the slow pace. I couldn’t quite picture the world, there weren’t enough details about it but the imagery and descriptive prose created an atmosphere, a feeling, so strong it almost didn’t matter to me. I’m left with lasting impressions of an icy, powerful queen and a beautiful, cold world here you have to be ruthless to survive.

Winterglass meshes sci-fi and fantasy – I’d say it’s sci-fi at the core but it’s based on a retelling of Snow White and the fantasy feel is very strong. It’s so well combined that it wasn’t until afterwards that I found myself wondering what genre it is. It’s definitely original and inventive and brings something new to both genres.

The writing falls just short of (or goes a bit too far over) the beautiful, descriptive style the author seems to be aiming for. Edging just too far into complicated, it made it difficult for me to follow the story. It ends up in ‘why use one word when you can use ten’ territory and drops in so many unusual ‘big’ words that I found myself having to use the Kindle dictionary on nearly every page. I don’t mind looking up words every so often but this was too excessive for me and interrupted my enjoyment of the story.

Near the end, I was struggling to concentrate enough to follow what was happening. I found myself reading other books as a break from the amount of brain power I had to use on this. I’m still not sure what the author was trying to do with the ending and I can’t tell if the story is done or not. It’s open-ended so a sequel is possible but it’s also possible that the author intended the story to be done.

Nuanced, intricate stories where you have to work out for yourself the characters motivations might be your thing, if so I think Winterglass could easily be a four-star book for you. I appreciated the depth but I found it hard to follow and I couldn’t grasp the reasons behind Nuawa’s actions at the end. I also felt the use of so many fancy words came across as the author trying too hard to impress. For these reasons, I’m only giving three stars.

I received a free copy from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Winterglass
Benjanun Sriduangkaew
Sci-Fi
December 2017
Kindle

Home (Binti #2) by Nnedi Okorafor

Home Cover

It’s been a year since Binti and Okwu enrolled at Oomza University. A year since Binti was declared a hero for uniting two warring planets. A year since she abandoned her family in the dawn of a new day.

And now she must return home to her people, with her friend Okwu by her side, to face her family and face her elders.

But Okwu will be the first of his race to set foot on Earth in over a hundred years and the first ever to come in peace.

After generations of conflict can human and Meduse ever learn to truly live in harmony?

My review of Home

Home (Binti, #2)Home by Nnedi Okorafor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A big change of pace from the first book.

Binti was all about Binti stepping out into the world on her own and is a fast-paced alien contact sci-fi story. Home is about Binti’s return to her homeworld and her family, and her struggle to reconcile all the different parts of herself and find acceptance in her rigidly structured patriarchal culture. It’s a slower paced than the first book and it’s much more about Binti and the way she is changing from contact with the different cultures, the alien Meduse and the desert people – her own estranged family.

Sci-fi elements are still blended with this story but it’s much more in the background than in the first book. That’s not altogether a bad thing, Nnedi Okorafor’s world building is so good that the sci-fi becomes the norm and the story is allowed to grow and become more thoughtful.

I was pleased to see there are answers to some of my big questions from the first book but then it goes and ends very abruptly in what feels like the middle of the story. Just as I was really getting involved, it cut me off! I wish it was longer as it does feel like it doesn’t go anywhere on its own.

Home is an engaging sequel to Binti and I’m very eagerly awaiting the final book to finish the story.

Home
Binti
Nnedi Okorafor
Sci-Fi
January 31st 2017
Kindle

Parable of the Talents (Earthseed #2) by Octavia E. Butler

Parable of the Talents Cover

Octavia Butler tackles the creation of a new religion, the making of a god, and the ultimate fate of humanity in her Earthseed series, which began with Parable of the Sower, and now continues with Parable of the Talents.

The saga began with the near-future dystopian tale of Sower, in which young Lauren Olamina began to realize her destiny as a leader of people dispossessed and destroyed by the crumbling of society. The basic principles of Lauren’s faith, Earthseed, were contained in a collection of deceptively simple proverbs that Lauren used to recruit followers. She teaches that “God is change” and that humanity’s ultimate destiny is among the stars.

In Parable of the Talents, the seeds of change that Lauren planted begin to bear fruit, but in unpredictable and brutal ways. Her small community is destroyed, her child is kidnapped, and she is imprisoned by sadistic zealots. She must find a way to escape and begin again, without family or friends. Her single-mindedness in teaching Earthseed may be her only chance to survive, but paradoxically, may cause the ultimate estrangement of her beloved daughter.

My Review of Parable of the Talents

Parable of the Talents (Earthseed, #2)Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Brilliant and disturbing, this is a far too realistic look at what the future could be.

In the first book, Parable of the Sower, the American economy had broken down, the climate was heating up and oil was running out. People were competing for the basic necessaties of survival and the police were corrupt and unreliable. Anarchy ruled and everyone lived in danger of gangs taking everything they have.

Despite all this chaos Lauren Olamina managed to create a community, a band of people working together to protect themselves and build a safe and suistanable life.

Parable of the Talents with things getting better. Lauren’s community, Acorn, is starting to grow and expand. But Andrew Jarret, a fundamental Christian, is running for president. He blames the countries problems on the lack of true Christian religion and encourages his followers to persecute and murder those of other faiths.

Lauren’s community is built around a religion she has started called Earthseed and it soon comes under attack from Jarret’s followers.

I didn’t like the strong religious tone running through the book. Lauren is trying to start up a new religion to stop people fighting and tearing each other down and to convince them to start up communities and work together to create a world where everyone supports each other. The way she starts out trying to create communities does seem sensible, but she seems to become more and more of just a preacher throughout the book and by the end it starts to feel like she is setting up a cult.

To be fair the book does a good job of not presenting Lauren as perfect, it shows her faults as much as it shows the good things she is doing. She manipulates people, and is well aware of doing it. Nothing is more improtant to her than spreading the word of Earthseed.

What I did like is the way it shows that when people treat each other as equals, work together and educate each other then they can not only survive but they can build something better.

A lot of it was very hard to read, I had to keep putting it down and switch to a different book for a while. The men that attack Lauren’s community belive that women should be silent and don’t allow them to speak. They treat the women like they are worthless, work them to the bone and sexually assault them at night. They are hypocrites that think they need to reeducate anyone that is not a “good christian”.

In the context of the current climate it is even more scary. Jarrett is very similar to Trump, with his habit of blaming all the countries complex problems on anyone that doesn’t meet the mould of white christian male. Jarrett’s slogan is “make America great again”. Women are treated as chattels and expected to be pure and not tempt the men.

Parable of the Talents is a frightening look at what the future could be. It does not make for pleasant reading but it is compelling and I wish that more people would read it. It’s a warning but hopefully not a prediction.

Parable of the Talents
Earthseed
Octavia E. Butler
Sci-Fi
1998
Kindle
424