All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

All the birds in the sky

All the Birds in the Sky Blurb

Childhood friends Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead didn’t expect to see each other again, after parting ways under mysterious circumstances during middle school. After all, the development of magical powers and the invention of a two-second time machine could hardly fail to alarm one’s peers and families.

But now they’re both adults, living in the hipster mecca San Francisco, and the planet is falling apart around them. Laurence is an engineering genius who’s working with a group that aims to avert catastrophic breakdown through technological intervention. Patricia is a graduate of Eltisley Maze, the hidden academy for the world’s magically gifted, and works with a small band of other magicians to secretly repair the world’s ever growing ailments. Little do they realise that something bigger than either of them, something begun years ago in their youth, is determined to bring them together—to either save the world or plunge it into a new dark age.

A deeply magical, darkly funny examination of life, love, and the Apocalypse.

My Review of All the Birds in the Sky

All the Birds in the SkyAll the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What an unusual book! All the Birds in the Sky mixes magic, sci-fi, climate change, other universes and the end of the world.

There’s a bit of Jonas Jonasson style farce in, especially at the start (2-second time machine!). When it jumps to Patricia and Laurence as grown ups the setting reminds me of the world in Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood, with added hipster style.

It feels to me like a lot of thought has gone into the near future setting and the technology they have. It felt realistic and vibrant and I loved the mix of magic and science.

There’s a strong sense of humour running through it and I really liked the writing style, but some parts were a little confusing. Nothing is explained at the start, I felt a little like I was thrown into the middle of a story. Most of it slowly started to make sense, but some bits felt unfinished. I’m not sure really what the point of Mr Rose was.

I liked Patricia and Laurence, they seem warm, mostly kind, and very human. They are both outcasts but see the world differently, and they have some very funny observations on life. I liked the diversity of the other characters and they all had distinct personalities.

Five-star rating from me because all the good bits far outweigh the few flaws in it. It’s odd and unusual and truly is a wonderful gem of a book. Normally I like finishing books so I can start the next one and I rush through them, but with this one, I wish it were twice as long.

All the Birds in the Sky
Charlie Jane Anders
Sci-Fi
January 26th 2016
432

An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes #1) by Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes Blurb

Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realise that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

My review of An Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes, #1)An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An Ember in the Ashes is a very dark story that doesn’t shy away from the dark side of human nature. It’s a very harsh world and there’s a lot of death, killing and torture.

I found it easy to get into despite the writing being very dry, the world around the characters isn’t described much. At one point Laia goes to a moon festival at night and it’s all lit up with lanterns. This should have been vibrant and full of life but it felt flat. I couldn’t picture it in my mind.

The speech and behaviour are very modern, which sounds odd in the historical setting.

I do like the way the two different viewpoints of Laia and Elias were written though and I like how it takes a while for them to start being aware of each other. Laia I really enjoyed reading. She starts off quite timid and scared and we get to see how she grows and gets braver.

There’s not much romance, which I liked. There’s a bit too much worrying about who fancies who (and seriously, these people have bigger things to be worrying about), but no proper romance, and definitely no insta-love!

I found it strange how the characters have gone through some very traumatic things but still act like normal teenagers (even though Elias is supposed to 20). Their life experiences don’t seem to have had much emotional impact on them.

The trials Elias goes through are physically and emotionally difficult. They’re aimed at choosing a new Emperor and removing the old one and people die in the process, but somehow it feels like they’re not that big a deal, they’re no more important than a big exam or a job interview. Elias is more worried about if his friend fancies him or not, and does he fancy her back.

The whole thing seems unrealistic, but I would say suspend disbelief if you can because the story is good. It’s full of twists and turns and I didn’t want to stop reading and go to work or to bed. I know I like a book when my other half has to forcibly remove it from my hands.

An Ember in the Ashes
An Ember in the Ashes
Sabaa Tahir
Young Adult Fantasy

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Half of a Yellow Sun

Half of a Yellow Sun Blurb

With effortless grace, celebrated author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie illuminates a seminal moment in modern African history: Biafra’s impassioned struggle to establish an independent republic in southeastern Nigeria during the late 1960s. We experience this tumultuous decade alongside five unforgettable characters: Ugwu, a thirteen-year-old houseboy who works for Odenigbo, a university professor full of revolutionary zeal; Olanna, the professor’s beautiful young mistress who has abandoned her life in Lagos for a dusty town and her lover’s charm; and Richard, a shy young Englishman infatuated with Olanna’s willful twin sister Kainene. Half of a Yellow Sun is a tremendously evocative novel of the promise, hope, and disappointment of the Biafran war.

My review of Half of a Yellow Sun

Half of a Yellow SunHalf of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Half a Yellow Sun tells the story of Biafra, a State that existed for three years in the sixties during a civil war in Nigeria.

Three different narrators show us the human side of war and the effects it has on ordinary people.

It took me a long time to warm up to the characters and to start to care what happened to them. They do things that aren’t nice, or kind a lot of the time. We see their weaknesses and their selfish behaviour is made very obvious. Basically, they are very human and very realistic, and it was hard for me to remember that they are made up characters and not actually real people.

In the Q&A in the back of the copy I have the author says that she does not like omniscient narrators, that she does not want to bore us with their every thought. What we get then is almost fragments out of the lives of the narrators, and they do things that they don’t seem to fully understand themselves. It reminds me of the way Doris Lessing writes, just with more of an actual story in there too.

This is not the sort of book I normally read, but I’m glad I gave it a go. I was worried it might be a bit dry, but it’s really not. The subject matter means it’s not an easy read, but it is very readable, very interesting, and always stays sensitive.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a gifted storyteller and I’ll be looking out for more of her work.

View all my reviews

Half of a Yellow Sun
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Fiction
January 1st 2007
448

The Magician’s Workshop, Volume One by Christopher Hansen

The Magician's Workshop

The Magician’s Workshop blurb

Everyone in the islands of O’Ceea has a magical ability: whatever they imagine can be brought into existence. Whoever becomes a master over these powers is granted the title of magician and is given fame, power, riches, and glory. This volume of books follows the journey of a group of kids as they strive to rise to the top and become members of the Magician’s Workshop.

Layauna desperately wants to create beautiful things with her magical powers, but all she can seem to do is make horrible, savage monsters. For years she has tried to hide her creations, but when her power is at last discovered by a great magician, she realizes that what she’s tried to hide might actually be of tremendous value.

Kai just wants to use his powers to have fun and play with his friends. Unfortunately, nearly everyone on his island sees him as a bad influence, so he’s forced to meet them in secret. When one of the creatures they create gets out of control and starts flinging fireballs at their town, Kai is tempted to believe that he is as nefarious as people say. However, his prospects change when two mysterious visitors arrive, praising his ability and making extraordinary promises about his future.

Follow the adventures of Kai, Layauna, and a boatload of other characters as they struggle to grow up well in this fantastical world.

My review of The Magician’s Workshop

The Magician's Workshop, Volume OneThe Magician’s Workshop, Volume One by Christopher Hansen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Magician’s Workshop has one of the most unusual magic systems I’ve seen. It’s all based on the idea that everyone can create projections – illusions that work on the senses. So you can make people see, hear, feel and taste things.

There’s also the idea that everyone has a colour inside them. A test at age 16 will show if someone has a colour inside them or if they are void.

I’m not entirely sure what the colours are or what they are used for though. There are no big info dumps here, which is great because I hate those, but also it doesn’t really explain things.

The culture and the world took me a while to get to grips with, the magic system was slowly revealed so I was starting to understand that, but there are so many different ideas and story lines going on that it took me the entire book to start feeling like I had a grip on the world.

I think there are about 5 different viewpoints, and it doesn’t spend very long with any of them so the stories didn’t go anywhere. Not much happened, I think the whole of this book was just setting the scene. Hopefully, the story will get going in the next book.

The characters are supposed to be around 16, which for the world it’s set in appears to be when they start to be considered adults. It didn’t fit with the way they acted though, I was fully convinced I was reading about 11 year-olds until the text mentioned their age.

I liked the writing style, and I liked the ideas and the characters, but I would have been happier with fewer viewpoints and more story.

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

The Magician's Workshop, Volume One
The Magician's Workshop
Christopher Hansen
Young Adult Fantasy
November 8th 2016
247

The Martian Playlist

The Martian

I read the Martian recently, and one thing that stood out in it was the music.

Mark Watney is stranded on Mars, trying to survive, and the only music he has to listen to is the 70’s disco collection one of his teammates left behind.

This is a playlist I put together on Spotify inspired by the music mentioned in the book, and every time I listen to it I can picture Mark on Mars, boogying in the red, dust-covered landscape, eating his potatoes.

The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian

The Martian Blurb

A mission to Mars.

A freak accident.

One man’s struggle to survive.

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars’ surface, completely alone, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive. And even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, Mark won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.

But Mark’s not ready to quit. Armed with nothing but his ingenuity and his engineering skills—and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength–he embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive, using his botany expertise to grow food and even hatching a mad plan to contact NASA back on Earth.

As he overcomes one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next, Mark begins to let himself believe he might make it off the planet alive.

But Mars has plenty of surprises in store for him yet.

My Review of The Martian

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a proper sci-fi book, it reminds me of the best of 50’s sci-fi. I loved all the maths and the science and watching Mark Watney work out how to stay alive.

Watney’s voice was funny (very funny!) and compelling. I felt like I was there with him on Mars, and his science explanations were accessible enough that I could follow what he was doing and why.

I loved the insight into all the NASA equipment, and what they would take with them on a trip to Mars. I almost feel now like I know what it would be like to be an astronaut.

I wasn’t keen on the parts set on Earth. I liked the characters, but for me these parts were overdone and tried too hard to play with my emotions. There was a bit too much of how the whole world pulls together to save one man. Whatever. I get why we had to see what they were doing on Earth to try to save him, and I did like the plans they came up with, but I don’t need to be shown so obviously where I should find something moving.

But the rest of it I loved, even the 70’s disco soundtrack!

The Martian
Andy Weir
Sci-Fi
August 18th 2015
435

Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler

Fledgling

Fledgling Blurb

Fledgling, Octavia Butler’s new novel after a seven year break, is the story of an apparently young, amnesiac girl whose alarmingly inhuman needs and abilities lead her to a startling conclusion: She is in fact a genetically modified, 53-year-old vampire. Forced to discover what she can about her stolen former life, she must at the same time learn who wanted – and still wants – to destroy her and those she cares for and how she can save herself. Fledgling is a captivating novel that tests the limits of “otherness” and questions what it means to be truly human.

My Review of Fledgling

FledglingFledgling by Octavia E. Butler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Shori looks like a normal human child but is actually a 53-year-old Ina, a vampire. The story is told through her eyes after she loses her memory and cannot remember who or what she is.

Shori is found and cared for by a human, but as they slowly realise what she is Shori starts trying to find her Ina family. This gives us as the reader a unique insight into the vampire community, Shori is one of them, but has to relearn everything about them, and we learn with her.

The Ina create strong families and communities. As an Ina Shori needs her human symbionts, she needs their closeness and their support.
I’m not 100% sure how I feel about the communal / shared partner way of living (I don’t like people, and sharing my life with one person is about as much as I can stand) but I like the different approach to vampire stories. It shows vampires as being capable of kindness and love for humans.

Shori has an intelligent, cold, analytical style which I enjoyed reading, and the whole story is quite serious, with no daftness in it.It makes a nice change from the normal over the top emotional vampire silliness!

I loved it at first, and the story built up a lot of momentum but then it kinda petered out towards the conclusion where it became quite slow.

It became what I felt was a discussion of race, prejudice, and moral values, which I found very interesting and thought-provoking, and the slower pace helped to digest it all.

This is one of the best vampire stories I’ve read and I’m excited about reading more of Octavia Butler’s books!

Fledgling
Octavia E. Butler
Fantasy
January 2nd 2007
320

Folding Beijing by Hao Jingfang, Ken Liu (translator)

Folding Beijing Cover

A good story that starts off well and has some very interesting ideas.

The city of Beijing has solved it’s over population problem by splitting the city into three different spaces that can move and fold up underground. Each space unfolds into the open at a different time, and of course, the rich people in First Space get longer out in the open.

Third Space was vibrant and full of life, I enjoyed the parts that were set there. When the character actually reaches First Space though I thought the story became dull and flat, only picking up again at the end.

You can read online at Uncanny Magazine for free

Folding Beijing
Hao Jingfang
Sci-Fi
January 2015
40

Defy the Stars (Defy the Stars #1) by Claudia Gray

Defy the Stars Blurb

Noemi Vidal is a teen soldier from the planet Genesis, once a colony of Earth that’s now at war for its independence. The humans of Genesis have fought Earth’s robotic “mech” armies for decades with no end in sight.

After a surprise attack, Noemi finds herself stranded in space on an abandoned ship where she meets Abel, the most sophisticated mech prototype ever made. One who should be her enemy. But Abel’s programming forces him to obey Noemi as his commander, which means he has to help her save Genesis–even though her plan to win the war will kill him.

Together they embark on a daring voyage through the galaxy. Before long, Noemi begins to realize Abel may be more than a machine, and, for his part, Abel’s devotion to Noemi is no longer just a matter of programming.

My review of Defy the Stars

Defy the Stars (Defy the Stars #1)Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I love sci-fi and anything to do with robots, so I was excited about reading this book. The cover is stunning, and the promise of an android main character and spaceships had me sold.

Unfortunately, the details of the sci-fi are glossed over and dumbed down. It seems to be used for something to make this book stand out from the mass of dystopian YA books that have been released recently. There are some interesting ideas and technology in it, but I’m not convinced the author’s put a lot of thought into how it all works. It’s just somewhere different to set the same story I’ve seen over and again since The Hunger Games.

Saying that though, I did enjoy the sci-fi setting. There are enough spaceships, star gates, and mechs (androids and robots) running about to keep me happy.

I liked the characters. Abel is lovely! He’s sweet and thoughtful and seems more human than a lot of YA male love interests. The way he tries to protect Noemi makes my heart melt. He almost seems too human to be an android though.

Noemi is a bit too perfect to be believable. She’s intelligent, kind, compassionate, brave, athletic and willing to die for her friends. If she has any flaws they’re not shown in this book! She’s that YA troupe made popular in The Hunger Games of an independent, almost unfriendly young woman that doesn’t think much of herself, but everyone else adores her.

The writing is very dry, I found it hard to get into at first. Once I’d got through the first 30% though I found I had become engrossed in the story. I lost track of time reading it, which is always a good sign!

The story is interesting and fun, if very fast moving, and a bit too far fetched even for sci-fi. There are a few very convenient coincidences, and a lot of dramatic “just in the nick of time” escapes.

So I’m a bit on the fence about it all, but I am rooting for Noemi and Abel, and I’d like to see what happens next with them.

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

Defy the Stars
Defy the Stars
Claudia Gray
Young Adult Sci-Fi

Books with Dragons in them

Books with Dragons in

St George’s Day today! Which is my tenuous excuse for sharing some of my favourite books with dragons in them.

Please share your favourites in the comments, I feel like I don’t have enough dragons in my reading list.

The Copper Promise by Jen Williams

Sebastion and Wydrin are mercenary sell-swords who free a dragon-god whilst investigating a ruined citadel.

At first they try to ignore the problem they have created, but the dragon starts destroying towns and villages and leaving a path of destruction across the continent.

A refreshing and fun story, full of magic, adventure, fights and taverns. I’ve only started reading Jen Williams recently, but she’s jumped straight to the top of my favourite fantasy authors list.

The Hobbit

One of the most famous dragon stories thanks to the films that came out a few years ago. I much prefer the book though, shorter and better paced and without all the boring bits they added to be able to make three films out of it.

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

Neither good nor evil the dragons in Earthsea are wise and long lived. Scornful of humans, they will only talk to Dragonlords, humans that understand the language of dragons.

Written in the 1960’s, the Earthsea series is one of the most influential and best-loved fantasies to be published. If you have never read it do yourself a favour and get a copy.

The Dragon Keeper (Rain Wild Chronicles, #1) by Robin Hobb

The Dragon Keeper follows a pack of dragons born so weak and deformed that they can’t fly or hunt for themselves. Tired of having to care for them the people of the Rain Wilds want to move them up river to a place where they can live away from humans.

Thymara is hired to be a Dragon Keeper, she has to care for and feed her dragon on the journey to her new home.

So if you like dragons this series is packed full of them, and Robin Hobb is a wonderful writer 🙂

Note – this series follows the Liveship Trader series, but I don’t think you need to have read that first (I hadn’t), and this series has far more dragon page time in it.

Guards! Guards! (Discworld #8) by Terry Pratchett

A secret brotherhood who want to gain control of Ankh-Morpork release a dragon into the city. Enter The Watch, the ragtag and incompetent town guards who have to restore order to the chaos.

This is one of Terry Pratchett’s best Discworld stories it has many of my favourite characters and is massively funny. If you want to laugh out loud, this is the one for you.