Book Review: The Dollmaker by Nina Allan

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Genre: Literary Fiction, Magical Realism

Publisher: riverrun

Length: 416 pages

Format: eARC

Rating: 4 stars

Publication Date: April 4th 2019

 

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

Stitch by perfect stitch, Andrew Garvie makes exquisite dolls in the finest antique style. Like him, they are diminutive but graceful, unique, and with surprising depths. Perhaps that’s why he answers the enigmatic personal ad in his collector’s magazine.

Letter by letter, Bramber Winters reveals more of her strange, sheltered life in an institution on Bodmin Moor, and the terrible events that put her there as a child. Andrew knows what it is to be trapped, and as they knit closer together, he weaves a curious plan to rescue her.

On his journey through the old towns of England, he reads the fairy tales of Ewa Chaplin–potent, eldritch stories which, like her lifelike dolls, pluck at the edges of reality and thread their way into his mind. When Andrew and Bramber meet at last, they will have a choice–to break free and, unlike their dolls, come to life.

A love story of two very real, unusual people, The Dollmaker is also a novel rich with wonders: Andrew’s quest and Bramber’s letters unspool around the dark fables that give our familiar world an uncanny edge. It is this touch of magic that, like the blink of a doll’s eyes, tricks our own.

Book Review

   The Dollmaker is a book composed of many stories. The main narrative follows Andrew, a man fascinated by dolls. His fascination started when he was eight years old and bullied because of his height. Something about their smallness and imperfections allowed him to accept how he was perceived by other people. However, what just started as a hobbie became his life when people started to buy his own creations: his monstrous yet fascinating troll dolls. Composed of parts taken from other broken dolls, they are Andrew’s tiny Frankenstein monsters.

While reading a specialized magazine, he stumbles upon an ad written by Bramber Winters, a woman looking for information on Ewa Chaplin, a famous dollmaker. Andrew doesn’t know a lot about Chaplin but he’s immediately captivated by the ad. They soon start exchanging letters and Andrew quickly realizes than he is in love with Bramber. Once he realizes that, he knows he has to meet her. However, Andrew knows two things  about Bramber: she loves dolls and she has been living in West Edge House, a former mental hospital for twenty years.

   The Dollmaker follows Andrew’s journey as he crosses the country to meet the woman he’s obsessed with. During his travel, he decides to give Ewa Chaplin’s collection of short stories a try since they are so important to Bramber.  However, as soon as he starts reading the strange and eerie stories, he realizes the odd similarities between them and his own life.

As I mentioned, this book has a very interesting structure, some sections are narrated by Andrew, other are fragments from Bramber’s letters or stories written by Ewa Chaplin. I loved the short stories which isn’t surprising since I love Nina Allan’s short fiction. Her prose is superb and very atmospheric. The Chaplin stories all had the same eerie quality, beautiful writing and fascinating themes. Dwarves, dolls and monsters are at the center of those five stories and they were without a doubt what I loved the most in The Dollmaker.

I was also fascinated by Bramber’s letters, I loved learning about her and slowly discovering why she wanted to stay at West Edge House. Her story is very interesting  and her letters were written in a sort of stream of consciousness style that allowed me to really understand her. I wish Allan’s had included some of Andrew’s letters. It would have been a great way to see how he portrayed himself to Bramber. Since we only get Bramber’s perspective, I could only guess from her answers.

The rest of the book was narrated from Andrew’s perspective, he’s not a particularly nice but the world never gave him any reason to be. His unhealthy fascination for broken dolls and for Bramber was pretty creepy but, in a bizarre way, I could understand why he acted the way he did.

Bramber and Andrew are both very odd characters, they seem to be living outside of time. Except for a few mentions of technology, this story could be set decades ago: both characters use letters to communicate and Andrew’s journey to Bramber takes days because he stops in several cities.

It’s an emotional and delicate story written in an unconventional way. It is an immersive experience for sure but it is very slow-paced. It’s a quiet character-driven story about two people trying to forget parts of their childhood. Some parts are fantastical and the stories lean on the horror side however, I wouldn’t call this book fantasy or horror. If I had to categorize it, I’d say it’s a literary fiction book with magical realism elements. If you like your books action-packed with a lot of speculative elements, The Dollmaker isn’t the book you’re looking for. However, if you want to read a slow and quiet story about two complex characters, I would highly recommend!

 

Four stars.

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Netgalley and riverrun. All opinions are my own.

 

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April New Releases I’m intrigued about

Here’s my list of April anticipated releases! As always, this list is a just a small(ish) selection,  I haven’t mentioned all the books I’m intrigued about and I’m sure I missed a number of great ones. However, I love gushing about shiny new books and I thought it would be a great opportunity to do so.  It’s not a TBR by any means though I really want to read those!

I don’t know how but, last month, I managed to completely miss the release of a book I was highly anticipating. I saw it on Goodreads a few days ago, and my first thought was “What? This book is out??”. I’m talking about Luna: Moon Rising by Ian MacDonald, the third and final book in his Luna trilogy. Am I the only who didn’t know this was out? :O I completely missed its release!

I know it was a March release but I needed to talk about this book. Anyway here are the titles coming out this month I’m excited about!

SCIENCE FICTION

 

 

Finder —Suzanne Palmer (April 2, DAW)

Fergus Ferguson has been called a lot of names: thief, con artist, repo man. He prefers the term finder.

His latest job should be simple. Find the spacecraft Venetia’s Sword and steal it back from Arum Gilger, ex-nobleman turned power-hungry trade boss. He’ll slip in, decode the ship’s compromised AI security, and get out of town, Sword in hand.

Fergus locates both Gilger and the ship in the farthest corner of human-inhabited space, a gas-giant-harvesting colony called Cernee. But Fergus’ arrival at the colony is anything but simple. A cable car explosion launches Cernee into civil war, and Fergus must ally with Gilger’s enemies to navigate a field of space mines and a small army of hostile mercenaries. What was supposed to be a routine job evolves into negotiating a power struggle between factions. Even worse, Fergus has become increasingly–and inconveniently–invested in the lives of the locals.

It doesn’t help that a dangerous alien species thought mythical prove unsettlingly real, and their ominous triangle ships keep following Fergus around.

 

I read a few of Suzanne Palmer stories and I liked them all so I was very excited when I first heard about this book. I haven’t read any reviews yet but it’s about a con man, in space, with aliens, so, of course I’m intrigued!

 

Perihelion Summer —Greg Egan (April 16, Tor.com Publishing)

Greg Egan’s Perihelion Summer is a story of people struggling to adapt to a suddenly alien environment, and the friendships and alliances they forge as they try to find their way in a world where the old maps have lost their meaning.

Taraxippus is coming: a black hole one tenth the mass of the sun is about to enter the solar system.

Matt and his friends are taking no chances. They board a mobile aquaculture rig, the Mandjet, self-sustaining in food, power and fresh water, and decide to sit out the encounter off-shore. As Taraxippus draws nearer, new observations throw the original predictions for its trajectory into doubt, and by the time it leaves the solar system, the conditions of life across the globe will be changed forever.

 

I always want to read Tor.com novellas, I pre-order most of them but, for some reasons, I always forget about them and they pile up on my Kindle. So yeah, I also pre-ordered this one but I hope I’ll be able to read it sooner rather than later!

 

 

Atlas Alone (Planetfall #4)—Emma Newman (April 16, Ace)

Six months after she left Earth, Dee is struggling to manage her rage toward the people who ordered the nuclear strike that destroyed the world. She’s trying to find those responsible, and to understand why the ship is keeping everyone divided into small groups, but she’s not getting very far alone. 
A dedicated gamer, she throws herself into mersives to escape and is approached by a designer who asks her to play test his new game. It isn’t like any game she’s played before. Then a character she kills in the climax of the game turns out to bear a striking resemblance to a man who dies suddenly in the real world at exactly the same time. A man she discovers was one of those responsible for the death of millions on Earth. 
Disturbed, but thinking it must be a coincidence, Dee pulls back from gaming and continues the hunt for information. But when she finds out the true plans for the future colony, she realizes that to save what is left of humanity, she may have to do something that risks losing her own.

 

I finished Before Mars a few weeks ago and I really liked it! I wasn’t a huge fan of After Atlas, I found the world very interesting but it was pretty forgettable, however, I enjoyed Before Mars so much that I’m very excited for Atlas Alone. I still need read Planetfall someday though.

 

 

Waste Tide—Chen Qiufan (Translated by Ken Liu) (April 30, Tor Books)

Mimi is a ‘waste girl’, a member of the lowest caste on Silicon Isle.

Located off China’s southeastern coast, Silicon Isle is the global capital for electronic waste recycling, where thousands like Mimi toil day and night, hoping one day they too will enjoy the wealth they’ve created for their employers, the three clans who have ruled the isle for generations.

Luo Jincheng is the head of one of these clans, a role passed down from his father and grandfather before him. As the government enforces tighter restrictions, Luo in turn tightens the reins on the waste workers in his employ. Ruthlessness is his means of survival.

Scott Brandle has come to Silicon Isle representing TerraGreen Recycling, an American corporation that stands to earn ungodly sums if they can reach a deal to modernize the island’s recycling process.

Chen Kaizong, a Chinese American, travels to Silicon Isle as Scott’s interpreter. There, Kaizong is hoping to find his heritage, but finds more questions instead. The home he longs for may not exist.

As these forces collide, a dark futuristic virus is unleashed on the island, and war erupts between the rich and the poor; between Chinese tradition and American ambition; between humanity’s past and its future.

 

I’ve read a few of Chen Qiufan’s stories in Clarkesworld and I loved them all. I also love climate fiction stories so this book sounds right up my alley!

 

FANTASY

 

The DollmakerNina Allan (April 4, riverrun)

Stitch by perfect stitch, Andrew Garvie makes exquisite dolls in the finest antique style. Like him, they are diminutive but graceful, unique, and with surprising depths. Perhaps that’s why he answers the enigmatic personal ad in his collector’s magazine.

Letter by letter, Bramber Winters reveals more of her strange, sheltered life in an institution on Bodmin Moor, and the terrible events that put her there as a child. Andrew knows what it is to be trapped, and as they knit closer together, he weaves a curious plan to rescue her.

On his journey through the old towns of England, he reads the fairy tales of Ewa Chaplin–potent, eldritch stories which, like her lifelike dolls, pluck at the edges of reality and thread their way into his mind. When Andrew and Bramber meet at last, they will have a choice–to break free and, unlike their dolls, come to life.

A love story of two very real, unusual people, The Dollmaker is also a novel rich with wonders: Andrew’s quest and Bramber’s letters unspool around the dark fables that give our familiar world an uncanny edge. It is this touch of magic that, like the blink of a doll’s eyes, tricks our own.

 

Putting this book in the fantasy section is probably a bit of a stretch, it has horror and magical realism elements but it’s not really a fantasy book. I’m putting it here for simplicity reasons but it should deserve its own Weird Horrorish Literary Fiction category.

I’ve received an ARC of this book and I already read it so expect a review in a few days! I love Nina Allan’s writing, her prose is fantastic and she has a great sense of atmosphere. 

 

Ragged Alice—Gareth L. Powell (April 23, Tor.com Publishing)

In Gareth L. Powell’s Ragged Alice a detective in a small Welsh town can literally see the evil in people’s souls.

Orphaned at an early age, DCI Holly Craig grew up in the small Welsh coastal town of Pontyrhudd. As soon as she was old enough, she ran away to London and joined the police. Now, fifteen years later, she’s back in her old hometown to investigate what seems at first to be a simple hit-and-run, but which soon escalates into something far deadlier and unexpectedly personal—something that will take all of her peculiar talents to solve.

 

I am currently reading Embers of War and I’m loving it! It has all the elements I love in space opera, the world is cool, it has sentient ships, fascinating characters and it’s a whole lot of fun. Since I have a thing for Tor.com novellas and I’m really enjoying his novel, I preordered this one as well. It sounds like a very interesting mystery with fantasy and horror elements.

 

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Storm of Locusts (The Sixth World #2)Rebecca Roanhorse (April 23, Saga Press)

It’s been four weeks since the bloody showdown at Black Mesa, and Maggie Hoskie, Diné monster hunter, is trying to make the best of things. Only her latest bounty hunt has gone sideways, she’s lost her only friend, Kai Arviso, and she’s somehow found herself responsible for a girl with a strange clan power.

Then the Goodacre twins show up at Maggie’s door with the news that Kai and the youngest Goodacre, Caleb, have fallen in with a mysterious cult, led by a figure out of Navajo legend called the White Locust. The Goodacres are convinced that Kai’s a true believer, but Maggie suspects there’s more to Kai’s new faith than meets the eye. She vows to track down the White Locust, then rescue Kai and make things right between them.

Her search leads her beyond the Walls of Dinétah and straight into the horrors of the Big Water world outside. With the aid of a motley collection of allies, Maggie must battle body harvesters, newborn casino gods and, ultimately, the White Locust himself. But the cult leader is nothing like she suspected, and Kai might not need rescuing after all. When the full scope of the White Locust’s plans are revealed, Maggie’s burgeoning trust in her friends, and herself, will be pushed to the breaking point, and not everyone will survive.

 

I read and very much enjoyed Trail of Lightning at the beginning of the year so I cannot wait to read the sequel. I want more Maggie and Kai in my life and I want it now!  And also, Trail of Lightning is a Hugo nominee, I didn’t expect to see it nominated but I’m glad it is! 😀

 

What are some of your most anticipated releases of April?

March Wrap-Up & April Reading Plans

Well March was a very busy month! As usual, the back-to-college transition was a bit hard for my sleepy brain but I think I’m okay now! 

Even if the month was busy, I’m still happy with how it went. I moved, I started a new  semester, made some new friends (since 99% of my friends are doing their internships at the other side of France), joined a student organization and started searching for my own internship. Of course, I did all of that plus all the normal college work and blogging as often as I managed to! All in all, it was a pretty productive month!


Books Read in March

  • Before Mars by Emma Newman ★★★★
  • The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson ★★★★★
  • Clarkesworld  #148 edited by Neil Clarke ★★★★1/2
  • The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson ★★★1/2      (review to come)
  • Apex Magazine January 2019 edited by Jason Sizemore ★★★★
  • Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell ★★★★1/2     (review to come)

Reviews Posted

Favorite Reads

 

I enjoyed all those works for very different reasons. The Traitor Baru Cormorant was a re-read, I loved it when I first read it back in 2015 and I loved it even more the second time around. Seth Dickinson’s writing is delightful, I found myself reading and re-reading some sentences and paragraphs just because I loved how they were written. I read this book with Imiryl (go check her blog, it’s awesome!) and it was my first buddy read ever! Since I was so busy, it took me quite a long time to read but I loved every second of it. I’m might update my old review of this book but I’m afraid to read it again. I don’t know why but I hate re-reading my old reviews. It’s probably because I always spot the mistakes I made and completely missed at the time.

Anyway, I also loved the January issue of Clarkesworld, all the stories were great and I’ll discuss my favorites at length in my next Short Fiction Sunday!

As for my third fave, it’s without a doubt Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell! I loved that book, I couldn’t put it down. I know I’m very late to the party but, yeah, I agree with everyone, it’s great!

DNF

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Okay, I can hear you freak out. I’m not dropping this because it’s bad, it’s not. However, I picked this up on audio and I cannot do audiobooks for novels, I just can’t. I always fall asleep after two minutes and then, when I wake up because of the noise in my ears, I’m completely lost. If I try to go back to where I was before falling asleep, I never manage to find the exact spot and I have to listen to the same parts over an over again. If I don’t try to find where I was before, I skip sections of the story and I’m lost.. So yeah, audiobooks aren’t my thing;  I’ll give this book another shot when I’ll be able to read it with my eyes!

Currently Reading & Tentative TBR

I’m currently reading New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color edited by Nisi Shawl and I’m enjoying it a lot so far, I just have a couple of stories left so I should finish it pretty soon. I’m also reading the January/February issue of Uncanny and so far, it’s very “meh”, I read three stories and a couple of poems and I found them underwhelming… We’ll see if the rest of the stories are a bit more interesting or not.

Anyway, here are the other titles I would like to read in April!

  • String City by Graham Edwards
  • Clarkesworld #149
  • Europe at Dawn by Dave Hutchinson
  • Time Was by Ian MacDonald
  • Miranda in Milan by Katharine Duckett
  • Interzone #279
  • Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells

I think this list is pretty doable since a lot of titles are on the shorter side, but we’ll see!

 

How was your month of March? What’s your favorite read of the month? 😀

 

Book Review : Before Mars by Emma Newman (Planetfall #3)

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Genre : Science Fiction

Publisher : Ace

Length : 352 pages

Format : Ebook

Rating : 4 stars

Publication Date : April 17th 2018 

 

 

Publisher’s description

After months of travel, Anna Kubrin finally arrives on Mars for her new job as a geologist and de facto artist-in-residence. Already she feels like she is losing the connection with her husband and baby at home on Earth–and she’ll be on Mars for over a year. Throwing herself into her work, she tries her best to fit in with the team.

But in her new room on the base, Anna finds a mysterious note written in her own handwriting, warning her not to trust the colony psychologist. A note she can’t remember writing. She unpacks her wedding ring, only to find it has been replaced by a fake. 

Finding a footprint in a place the colony AI claims has never been visited by humans, Anna begins to suspect that her assignment isn’t as simple as she was led to believe. Is she caught up in an elaborate corporate conspiracy, or is she actually losing her mind? Regardless of what horrors she might discover, or what they might do to her sanity, Anna has find the truth before her own mind destroys her

Book Review

Anna Kubrin’s dream was to go to Mars. From the moment she discovered her passion for rocks and history, she knew she wanted to become a geologist. However, she didn’t expect that she would earn her golden ticket to Mars because of her paintings and not because of her qualifications as a geologist. As it happens, the husband of her boss is a fan of her art and he wants her to paint Mars with material taken from the red planet. As crazy as it might be, Anna cannot say no to this out of the blue opportunity and decides to drop everything for her dream.

However, the moment Anna arrives to Mars, she knows something isn’t right. She takes an immediate dislike to the station psychologist and the feeling isn’t eased when she finds a handwritten note in her bedroom warning her not to trust the woman. The thing is, Anna is sure she’s the one who wrote the note. It doesn’t help that some of her possessions are missing from her cargo. But how is this possible when she just arrived?

Before Mars is the third book in the Planetfall series but like the other books, it can be read as a standalone story. However, I think that if you want to really understand everything in this story, reading After Atlas first would help. I personally haven’t read the first book Planetfall and I understood everything just fine. I liked After Atlas when I read it two years ago but I didn’t find it very memorable. It had interesting ideas but I found the story pretty forgettable (except the ending but again, I mostly forgot about it until I was reminded of it during Before Mars).

Let’s just say that, even if I was intrigued by the world, I probably wouldn’t have continued with this series if Before Mars hadn’t been shortlisted for the BSFA. I decided to read this year’s shortlist because I was very curious about the different titles and I’m glad I decided to read Before Mars. It’s very different from After Atlas and it worked a lot better for me. I was immediately pulled in: I started reading this on a train and I almost missed my stop. And I read this book in three days.

I loved the tension in this book, the mystery elements were introduced early on. When Anna discovers the warning message in her bedroom written by her hand, I knew I was in for a ride. I loved the almost claustrophobic atmosphere of this book: Anna is confined with four people and she doesn’t know if she can trust any of them. She cannot even trust the station’s AI because its only interest is to protect Gorb Corp, not the actual people on the planet. She also questions why she was even sent to Mars in the first place, it surely wasn’t because of her job as a geologist but, sending her on an another planet just to paint seems like a huge waste of money.

However, Anna herself is unreliable. She’s haunted by disturbing events that happening during her childhood involving her father. She knows that her decision to go to Mars wasn’t just motivated by science and her love of rocks and art. She’s fleeing her family and her responsabilities back on Earth: a daughter she doesn’t know how to love, an overbearing husband, a sister who doesn’t want to talk to her anymore and a father she’ll never be able to face again.

I loved how this book discussed motherhood and pregnancy can affect somebody. Anna is without a doubt suffering from post natal depression and she feels horrible because of it. On Earth, each time she talks about her struggles, people found her heartless and abnormal. Her husband doesn’t try to understand her either. Her lab needs money to run and she doesn’t know where to find the funding to keep it afloat. Her only escape is her art and, when she’s presented with a chance to run away on another planet entirely, she takes it.

Anna is not a particularly likeable character, she can appear selfish and self-centered in many ways but I could always understand her. She’s struggling to adapt in this unfamiliar environment and she doesn’t know if she can trust herself. I found the balance between Anna’s own selfdoubt and the weird things happening on the station thrilling. At various points, I thought Anna was delusional just to change my mind a few paragraphs later.

If I had to complain about something though, it would be that I didn’t think this book needed an epilogue. If you read the book, please tell me if you had the same issue, personally I had a hard time suspending my disbelief during the last scene. It felt completely unbelievable and I don’t think it added anything to the story. I would have enjoyed the story better without it.

Still, I enjoyed this book a lot and I would highly recommend it.

4.5 stars.

Book Review: Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse (The Sixth World #1)

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Genre: Urban Fantasy

Publisher: Saga Press

Length: 287 pages

Format: Ebook

Rating: 4 stars

Publication Date: June 26th 2018

 

 

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters.

Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last—and best—hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel to the rez to unravel clues from ancient legends, trade favors with tricksters, and battle dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.

As Maggie discovers the truth behind the disappearances, she will have to confront her past—if she wants to survive.

Welcome to the Sixth World.

Book Review

Set in a future where rising seas levels and storms reshaped the world, changing the  dynamic of powers on Earth, Trail of Lightning is set in Dinétha, the former Navajo reservation. Before the world collapsed, the Dinée sensed that something bad was coming. They built a magic wall with the aid of their gods to seperate themselves to the rest of the world. Thanks to the wall, they weren’t touched as badly by the horrors happening outside in Mexico or the former USA. However, when you built a wall, you also trap some monsters on your side, and you cannot run away from them.

That’s why you need to hire people like Maggie Hoskie, a super badass monster-hunter. She was trained by the best: Neizgháni an immortal monster slayer. He found her when Maggie lost everything during a bloody event that led to the death of her entire family.  This event changed her and awakened her clan powers. Clan powers are abilities that appear in certain Diné and allow them to have superpowers. Your powers depend on your ancestors: Maggie is extremely fast and she’s also very good at killing things, monsters or humans.  Because of that, she often wonders if she’s any better than the monsters she’s constantly killing.

At the start of the novel, Maggie is called to help a girl who was kidnapped by a monster. The Diné are afraid of Maggie but, after Neizgháni’s disappearance, she’s the only one around who can help. During her hunt, she realizes that the monster she’s hunting is a new kind of monster and that he might be way more dangerous than she first imagined.

To understand what’s going on, Maggie is going to need an acolyte: Kai Arviso, a gorgeous medicine man that looks a lot more like an actor than a warrior. Maggie isn’t very happy to be working with a new partner but, it’s not like she has any choice in the matter, she has to work with what she has.

I really, really liked this book! The worldbuilding was fascinating, it’s my first time reading a urban fantasy story set around Navajo myths and legends and I loved that aspect. The characters were also amazing, Maggie is a very strong female character but she’s also very flawed. She’s so afraid of her own powers that she prefers to live on her own far from any people because she doesn’t want to hurt anyone.

Even if she likes to appear tough, she’s actually very self-conscious and afraid of how whe’s perceived by her community. I found myself rooting for her from the beginning because, even if she doesn’t always made the best decisions, I could always see where she was coming from.

The other character that I also liked quite a bit was Coyote: to be honest, he’s an asshole, he’s unreliable, always working for his own benefit but still, he was great. Some discussions he had with Maggie and Kai were frankly hilarious.

And Kai, oh Kai, I love Kai. He’s the best. He’s the complete opposite of Maggie in many aspects, he’s calmer, very friendly and he prefers to use words rather than weapons. He’s very supportive of Maggie but he’s also not afraid to call on her bullshit when she’s making dumb decisions. I also loved discovering his motives and his powers (even if his “huge” secret was obvious from the beginning). I loved how the romance slowly developped, I’m not always the biggest fan of romance but here it worked very well. It might have been helped by the fact that I had a huge crush on Kai myself.

My only issue with the romance was that it moved very quickly, the entire story is set in just a couple of weeks so, I personally things their feelings developped a bit too quickly for me. However, it didn’t feel like insta-love and I was too in love with the characters to complain!

I flew through this book, I read it in a day when I went on holidays. It’s a great plane-read, I was completely immersed in the story. I’m pretty sure I was smiling the entire time I read it.

My only complain with it is that the plot was fairly predictable, I loved reading this book but I saw all the twists and turns coming miles away. It wasn’t a huge problem with me since I loved the characters and the world so much but it definitely felt like the first book of a series. A lot of time was spend setting up the world and in my opinion, it was almost like the plot was put in the background for the first half of the book and, since the book is so short, it didn’t leave a lot of time for it.

However, even if it’s not the best book I ever read, I enjoyed the ride so much that I would still highly recommend it and I cannot wait for the sequel! 😀

Four stars.

Book Review: The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden (Winternight Trilogy #2)

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Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Del Rey

Length: 384 pages

Format: Ebook

Rating: 3.5 stars

Publication Date: December 5th 2017

 

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

For a young woman in medieval Russia, the choices are stark: marriage or a life in a convent. Vasya will choose a third way: magic…

The court of the Grand Prince of Moscow is plagued by power struggles and rumours of unrest. Meanwhile bandits roam the countryside, burning the villages and kidnapping its daughters. Setting out to defeat the raiders, the Prince and his trusted companion come across a young man riding a magnificent horse.

Only Sasha, a priest with a warrior’s training, recognises this ‘boy’ as his younger sister, thought to be dead or a witch by her village. But when Vasya proves herself in battle, riding with remarkable skill and inexplicable power, Sasha realises he must keep her secret as she may be the only way to save the city from threats both human and fantastical…

Book Review

Remember last year when I just finished The Bear in the Nightingale and I was like “This book is so good, I’m definitely going to read the sequel as soon as I can!”, well, here we are a year later… 😀

To my defense, the end of The Bear in The Nigtingale was very satisfying, it can be read as standalone story. I really  appreciate authors who don’t fall in the easy cliffhanger ending. However, because of that, I didn’t felt like I had to pick up the sequel right away.

The Girl in the Tower opens up exactly where the first book ended. I will try to be as vague as possible to avoid any major spoilers but if you don’t want to know anything about this book, I suggest that you stop reading now.

Vasya is fleeing Lesnaya Zemlya after the events of the first book, she knows she can never become the woman the society is expecting her to become.  She’s way too indepedent to be married off to some lords or, even worse, to be sent to a convent. She wants to travel, to feel the wind in her hair while she’s discovering the world on the back of Solovey, her magic stallion, and she knows she will never be able to do that in Lesnaya Zemlya.

During her travel, Vasya realizes that she doesn’t really know where she wants to go or what she wants to do with her new-found freedom. She knows nothing about the world and how hard it is to travel on her own in medieval Russia, especially during winter.  One day, she stumbles upon a burning village where she learns that some girls were kidnapped by bandits. She manages to save them with the aid of Solovey and in her rescue, she encounters the Grand Prince of Moscow accompagnied by her brother Alexsandr that she hasn’t seen in years.

Since she’s disguised as a boy, it would be a great dishonor for her family to show that she’s a girl so, with the aid of her brother, she introduces herself as Vasili, the younger brother of Alexsandr. The Grand Prince takes an immediate liking to her and decides to bring her back to Moscow.

In the city, Vasya realizes that maintaining her disguise will be way more complicated that she ever thought it would. If she’s discovered, it would endanger her family but also herself. It doesn’t help that, even if she wasn’t intending to do so, she’s now involved in the politics of the nation. Indeed, in Moscow, Vasya realizes that the various kidnapping might be linked with an incoming conflict and she’ll do everything in her power to prevent that.

I liked The Girl in the Tower quite a bit, it was a change of pace from the first book and it introduced even more characters and raised the stakes even higher.

The writing remains as intricate and gorgeous and it was a pleasure to read about the beauties of Moscow under the snow. However, I think I preferred the first book. The world lost a bit of its magic in the sequel for me. It’s probably because the setting of the first book was more propice to the fairytale-like quality of the writing. The Girl in the Tower was much more focused on politics and the life in a big city at the time. I usually like books centered around political maneuvering but, I didn’t feel like it was very well done in this story. I found a lot of things to be predictable and the “big” reveals were underwhelming.

Another aspect that I wasn’t found of was the romance, as much as I liked how it was hinted at in the first book, I didn’t like how it developped in the sequel. It might be because of the writing, it is beautiful but very detached and because of that, I didn’t feel any type of connection between the two love interests and I just found their interaction weird.

However, I still enjoyed this book, I read it when it was snowing heavily in France and it was the perfect for this time of the year. I still liked the magical elements and Vasya is a great character to follow. She’s headstrong, brave and clever. She also cares for her family and she tries her best to protect them while preserving the life she wants to have. I’m curious to see how the events of this book will shape the conclusion of this trilogy, I will definitely read the sequel but not right now, I will probably wait for the next snow!

3.5 stars.

Short Fiction Sunday: February Highlights

Here are my favorite stories of February, I read about forty stories last month so it was a bit hard to narrow it down to only six! All the stories mentionned are quite different from another but I loved them all. If the story is available to read for free online, I provided a link! 😀

Clarkesworld #147

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Master Zhao: The Tale of an Ordinary Time Traveler by Zhang Ran – 4/5

A unemployed man meets a peculiar delivery man. Master Zhao always seems to know what is going to happen next, he’s never late and he’s never surprised by the weather. 

This story plays with one of my favorite trope: parallel universes! I love how it was executed. Zhang Ran really played with this idea: the time traveler isn’t trying to save his world, he doesn’t want to famous, he just wants to live a normal life with his wife. He’s not even the real hero of this story. The main protagonist is the very ordinary unemployed man. 

I tend to always really enjoy the Chinese translated stories published by Clarkesworld, and this particular story was no exception! I liked the plot, the pacing and the characters. I also loved how it ended, I don’t think it could have ended any other ways.

You can read this story here.

 

Two-Year Man by Kelly Robson – 5/5

I mentionned just before that I love the translated Chinese stories in Clarkesworld, I also love their reprints!  It’s a great way to discover or rediscover stories that were published previously in other magazines and anthologies.

Set in a dystopian future, this story follows a “two-year” man, In this future, people are divided into casts and two-year men are considered the lowest of the low. They have to do all the dirty and unpleasant work, the main protagonist’s job is to incinerate failed experiments. One day, he discovers that one of such experiment is a malformed child. He cannot throw him in the fire and he decides to bring him back home.

This was less than 5000 words but it discussed some very interesting themes and societal issues. If you liked Brave New World, I would highly recommend this story. I especially liked how it discussed motherhood and how women’s bodies are seen differently during and after pregnancy. 

You can read this story here.

Interzone #271

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When I Close My Eyes – Chris Barnham – 4.5/5

An astronaut is nearly killed by the fall of a rock during a mission on Titan. He just lost her wife and when he closes his eyes, he’s haunted his memories. He knows he should have told someone about his hallucinations before leaving on the mission but he had to go. What he doesn’t know is that is only way to survive the accident is to follow the stange visions he has.

This a very sad little story, the main character is grieving the loss of his wife and he doesn’t know if what he’s seeing is actually here of if he’s imagining it. If you liked stories narrated by unreliable narrators, I would recommend this one. It shares a lot of similar themes and ideas with Spaceman of Bohemia such as how to deal with gried, madness and the possible presence of aliens. However, I think that this story is way better than Spaceman of Bohemia

The Outcast Hours edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin

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I have already reviewed this anthology and, in the review, I made a list of my nine favorite stories. However, I thought I needed to talk about some of the stories again in case you missed them so I did a selection of the selection!  If you want to know more about my other favorites, please check out my review! 🙂

Ambulance Service by Sami Shah – 5/5

Following an ambulance in a night shift in Karachi, what starts off as pretty regular story slowly shifts as we learn that the main character is an exorcist and that he deals with strange creatures haunting people.

It managed to take me by surprise quite a few times which I wasn’t expecting considering how short it is. The ending was fascinating, I really grew to love the characters and I would love to read other stories set in this mysterious version of Karachi.

Dark Matters – Cecilia Ekback – 5/5

A young girl tries her best to keep her family from falling apart when her dad keeps on dying and resurrecting, messing up their quiet family life.

In this story, Death is a character who tries and miserably fail on killing the father. Death is very frustrated because people are not supposed to resurrect and it definitely wasn’t part of the plan!

This story is delightfully quirky, the characters are all amazing, I have to especially make a special mention to the grandmother and Death who were both amazing characters. It’s on the longer side compared to most of the stories of this anthology but I wouldn’t change or take away a single word.

Gatsby – Maha Khan Philips – 5/5

A girl is invited to Great Gatsby themed New Year’s Eve party in Karachi. She just lost her bestfriend and she’s definitely not in the mood for partying. She doesn’t even know the host, she only know of  him: he’s filthy rich, from the USA and he invited about four hundred people to his party.

While she’s trying to stay far away from the festivities, she meets him. He’s nice, too nice perhaps but he has laughing lines and he’s kind, very kind, until he isn’t.

This story is one of my favorite from the collection, everything is so unexpected, it’s full of twists and turns and that ending was very unexpected. It’s very dark and creepy but memorable for sure!

This is it for my February picks! What stories sound the most intriguing to you? Have you read short stories this month? 😀

March New Releases I’m intrigued about

Here’s my list of March anticipated releases! As I mentioned in my post last month, my selection isn’t trying to be comprehensive.  I haven’t even mentioned all the books I’m intrigued about and I’m sure I missed a number of great ones. However, I love gushing about shiny new books and I thought it would be a great opportunity to do so.  It’s not a TBR by any means though I really want to read those!

SCIENCE FICTION

Ancestral Night, by Elizabeth Bear (March 5, Saga Press)

Halmey Dz and her partner Connla Kurucz are salvage operators, living just on the inside of the law…usually. Theirs is the perilous and marginal existence—with barely enough chance of striking it fantastically big—just once—to keep them coming back for more. They pilot their tiny ship into the scars left by unsuccessful White Transitions, searching for the relics of lost human and alien vessels. But when they make a shocking discovery about an alien species that has been long thought dead, it may be the thing that could tip the perilous peace mankind has found into full-out war.

I really like Bear short fiction but I’ve never read one of her longer work and this one looks right up my alley. I like stories set in space and learning about a “shocking discovery about an alien species” sounds good to me!

String City, by Graham Edwards (March 5, Solaris)

It’s a tough job being a gumshoe in an interdimensional city full of gods, living concepts and weirder things. Good thing I’m a stringwalker, able to jump between realities.

It started when I was hired to investigate an explosion at a casino. A simple heist, I thought, but it turned into a race to stop the apocalypse. So I rolled the dice, and now I’m up against the ancient Greek Titans, an interdimensional spider god and a mysterious creature known as the Fool. I’m going to need more than just luck to solve this one.

If I fail, all things—in all realities—could be destroyed.

Just another day in String City. 

I have an ARC of this book so I’ll do my best to read it in March. I love stories playing with the parallel universes trope. My favorite book of last year, Unholy Land, played with this idea masterfully and I’m always on the lookout for similar stories and ideas. It also helps that this title is published by Solaris, they are one of my favorite speculative fiction imprint and I’m almost never disappointed by their titles. I’m highly anticipated this one.

The Rosewater Insurrection, by Tade Thompson (March 12, Orbit)

All is quiet in the city of Rosewater as it expands on the back of the gargantuan alien Wormwood. Those who know the truth of the invasion keep the secret.

The government agent Aminat, the lover of the retired sensitive Kaaro, is at the forefront of the cold, silent conflict. She must capture a woman who is the key to the survival of the human race. But Aminat is stymied by the machinations of the Mayor of Rosewater and the emergence of an old enemy of Wormwood…

So this is without a doubt the book I’m looking forward to the most this month. I read and loved Rosewater back when it was first published by Apex Publications. It was a fantastic little gem and I cannot wait to learn more about this world!

Permafrost, by Alastair Reynolds (March 19, Tor.com)

2080: at a remote site on the edge of the Arctic Circle, a group of scientists, engineers and physicians gather to gamble humanity’s future on one last-ditch experiment. Their goal: to make a tiny alteration to the past, averting a global catastrophe while at the same time leaving recorded history intact. To make the experiment work, they just need one last recruit: an ageing schoolteacher whose late mother was the foremost expert on the mathematics of paradox.

2028: a young woman goes into surgery for routine brain surgery. In the days following her operation, she begins to hear another voice in her head… an unwanted presence which seems to have a will, and a purpose, all of its own – one that will disrupt her life entirely. The only choice left to her is a simple one.

Does she resist … or become a collaborator?

Alastair Reynolds is an author I’m very curious about. I’ve read one of his short stories a few years ago and I loved it (I think it was called A Murmuration). I have always been intrigued by his works but they tend to be on the longer side so I never picked them up and I am not interested by his YA series. I thought Permafrost would be a great way to try one of his longer work since it’s still shorter than most of his novels.. I have pre-ordered this one.

A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine (March 26, Tor Books)

Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident–or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.

Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion–all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret–one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life–or rescue it from annihilation.

Probably my second most anticipated releases of March, I’ve seen this one everywhere so I’m very intrigued about it. I don’t want to set my expectations too high but I can’t completely ignore the hype it has been getting recently!

The Bird King, by G. Willow Wilson (March 12, Grove/Atlantic)

Set in 1491 during the reign of the last sultanate in the Iberian peninsula, The Bird King is the story of Fatima, the only remaining Circassian concubine to the sultan, and her dearest friend Hassan, the palace mapmaker. 

Hassan has a secret–he can draw maps of places he’s never seen and bend the shape of reality. When representatives of the newly formed Spanish monarchy arrive to negotiate the sultan’s surrender, Fatima befriends one of the women, not realizing that she will see Hassan’s gift as sorcery and a threat to Christian Spanish rule. With their freedoms at stake, what will Fatima risk to save Hassan and escape the palace walls?

As Fatima and Hassan traverse Spain with the help of a clever jinn to find safety, The Bird King asks us to consider what love is and the price of freedom at a time when the West and the Muslim world were not yet separate.

I’ve seen this title for the first time on the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog a couple of days ago and I was immediately intrigued by the premise. It also helps that the cover is absolutely gorgeous. After a bit of research, I learnt that G. Willow Wilson also wrote Alif the Unseen, a book that was critically acclaimed book which won the World Fantasy Award in 2013. I have requested it on Netgalley so if I get approved, I’ll definitely read this one asap!

Miranda in Milan, by Katharine Duckett (March 26, Tor.com)

After the tempest, after the reunion, after her father drowned his books, Miranda was meant to enter a brave new world. Naples awaited her, and Ferdinand, and a throne. Instead she finds herself in Milan, in her father’s castle, surrounded by hostile servants who treat her like a ghost. Whispers cling to her like spiderwebs, whispers that carry her dead mother’s name. And though he promised to give away his power, Milan is once again contorting around Prospero’s dark arts. With only Dorothea, her sole companion and confidant to aid her, Miranda must cut through the mystery and find the truth about her father, her mother, and herself.

Since I’m French, I never had to read any Shakespeare in school, we only studied French playwrights such as Molière, Racine and Corneille. English isn’t my first language so I always thought I would never be able to read his plays. However, a few years ago, I tried to read The Tempest and, even if a lot of things went over my head, I really enjoyed the play. Since then, I have read Miranda & Caliban, Jacqueline Carey’s take on this play as well as Coral Bones by Foz Meadows, a novella following what happens after the end of The Tempest. I liked them both so I cannot wait to read Miranda in Milan! I have pre-ordered this one as well.

MELTING POT

New Suns: Original Speculative fiction by People of Color, edited by Nisi Shawl (March 12, Solaris)

New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color showcases emerging and seasoned writers of many races telling stories filled with shocking delights, powerful visions of the familiar made strange. Between this book’s covers burn tales of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and their indefinable overlappings. These are authors aware of our many possible pasts and futures, authors freed of stereotypes and clichés, ready to dazzle you with their daring genius.

The title of this anthology is pretty self-explanatory and I’ve been wanting to read this collection since I first heard about it. I have an ARC that I am currently reading so a review of it will be coming later this month. This anthology has stories from Rebecca Roanhorse, Tobias S. Buckell, Silvia Moreno Garcia and many others. The cover is absolutely gorgeous as well!

Sooner or Later Everything Falls into the Sea: Stories, by Sarah Pinsker (March 19, Small Beer Press)

The baker’s dozen stories gathered here (including a new, previously unpublished story) turn readers into travelers to the past, the future, and explorers of the weirder points of the present. The journey is the thing as Pinsker weaves music, memory, technology, history, mystery, love, loss, and even multiple selves on generation ships and cruise ships, on highways and high seas, in murder houses and treehouses. They feature runaways, fiddle-playing astronauts, and retired time travelers; they are weird, wired, hopeful, haunting, and deeply human. They are often described as beautiful but Pinsker also knows that the heart wants what the heart wants and that is not always right, or easy.

I have read a couple of Pinsker’s stories and, as far as I can remember, I enjoyed them all so I’m looking forward to this collection. I don’t know when I’ll pick it up however because I have a lot of unread anthologies and magazines but I’m definitely intrigued by it.

What do you think about my selection? It was hard to narrow down, a lot of amazing titles are coming out every month! If you feel like I missed books that you are highly anticipating, feel free to give those titles some love in the comments. 😀

February Wrap-Up & March Reading Plans

So it’s apparently already March and I still feel like the year just started! It’s probably because I was on a college break, time always flies when I’m on vacation!

Speaking of vacation, I went to Tenerife for a week with my family and I had a great time. I just love the Canary Islands, I went to Lanzarote last year and I fell in love with the landscapes.

Here are a couple of pictures of my trip! (sorry for the questionable quality, I’m not a great photographer and I took all the pictures with my phone)

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February was a good reading month for me, I read seven things and I surprisingly managed to stick to my TBR. I have not posted that many reviews this month but I’ve written a couple that will be posted later this month. For once, I tried to prepare in advance for the end of my break. Usually, I read and post a lot when I’m free and that I’m MIA for weeks because I’m drowning in my school work. I know planning posts in advance is common practice for everyone but I’m just starting to realize how useful it is (yes, I’ve been blogging for three years but hey, better late than never!).

Also the blog has reached 200 followers so thanks a lot! I never thought that many people would be interested by my bookish ramblings. You’re the best!

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Books Read in February

  • The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden ★★★ 1/2 (review to come)
  • Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse ★★★★ (review to come)
  • The Outcast Hours edited by Mahvesh Murad & Jared Shurin ★★★ 1/2
  • Winter by Ali Smith ★★★ 1/2
  • Interzone #271 ★★★ 1/2
  • The Dollmaker by Nina Allan ★★★★ (review to come in April)
  • Clarkesworld Issue #147

Reviews Posted

Favorite Reads

The Dollmaker doesn’t come out until the beginning of April so my review will be posted around this time but I really liked it. It’s a delicate fractured novel where not a lot of things happen but the quiet atmosphere and the structure really worked for me.

Tentative TBR

I am currently reading Dune by Frank Herbert and I am enjoying it but I’m listening to it and, for some reason, I cannot listen to audiobooks for more than fifteen minutes without falling asleep so I’ll probably finish this one in May…

Anyway, the other books on my tentative TBR are:

  • The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
  • Europe at Dawn by Dave Hutchinson
  • Before Mars by Emma Newman
  • New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color edited by Nisi Shawl
  • Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell
  • String City by Graham Edwards
  • Apex Magazine January 2019
  • Clarkesworld #149
  • Uncanny Magazine January-February 2019

What was your favorite reads of the month? What are you looking forward to in March? 🙂

Anthology Review: The Outcast Hours edited by Mahvesh Murad & Jared Shurin

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Genre: Dark Fantasy, Horror, Literary Fiction and everything in between

Publisher: Solaris

Length: 384 pages

Format: eARC

Rating: 3.5 stars

Publication Date: February 22nd 2018

 

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

We live our lives in the daylight. Our stories take place under the sun: bright, clear, unafraid.

This is not a book of those stories.

These are the stories of people who live at night; under neon and starlight, and never the light of day.

These are the stories of poets and police; writers and waiters; gamers and goddesses; tourists and traders; the hidden and the forbidden; the lonely and the lovers.

These are their lives. These are their stories. And this is their time:

The Outcast Hours.

Book Review

The Outcast Hours is the new anthology edited by Jared Shurin and Mahvesh Murad, a duo that previously worked on the acclaimed anthology The Djinn and Other Stories (Solaris, 2017). Though I haven’t read this particular anthology (yet, I have a copy), it was shortlisted for a couple of awards and received glowing reviews.

When I saw that The Outcast Hours was their new work and that it contained stories from authors I already know and love (Lavie Tidhar and China Miéville for example) and from ones I never heard about, I decided to give it a go!

The Outcast Hours is a collection of 25 stories all set during the night, during those dark hours where the worst as well as the best things happen. Following monsters, babysitters, exorcists, children, collectors or couriers as they go around living their life in the deep of the night, this anthology compiles a variation of stories playing around this theme.

This collection isn”t focused on a single genre, most of the stories contain speculative elements (mostly horror and dark fantasy) but quite of few of them don’t. I definitely liked this variety of stories and even if I had a slight preference for the genre stories, one of my favorite story doesn’t have any speculative twist.

I usually review every single story when I review an anthology but considering this one has 25 stories plus a couple of flash fiction pieces, it would have been too tedious to write or to read so I decided to focus on my favorites.

I made a selection of nine stories that I really, really liked and that I consider to be the best in the entire collection. However, even if a story isn’t on the selection, it doesn’t mean that I found it bad by any means. I gave the majority of the stories a 3 or a 3.5 rating. I rated two or three stories 2 stars (which for me means the story was just okay) but I didn’t go any lower. For me, this anthology didn’t have a single bad story. Even if I didn’t connect with a few of them, I could understand why all the stories were chosen.

However if I had a single thing to complain about it would be that this collection had too many stories for its length. It’s less than 400 pages which isn’t a lot for the 25 stories. Most of the stories were on the shorter side and some of them would have worked a lot better for me and they had been longer.

Most anthology are “mixed bags” and I’d say that The Outcast Hours fit the description since it has so many different stories and isn’t set around a particular genre. However, it’s a good one, I’m sure everyone would be able to find at least a few stories to their liking. At the same time, this variety makes it hard to recommend this anthology to a specific audience.

Indeed, if you just want to read horror, dark fantasy or literary fiction stories, you might be a bit frustrated by this collection. However if you want to read an eclectic collection, sample the work of 26 authors and see what can be done in short stories, I would recommend The Outcast Hours.

 

Highlights

 

This Book Will Find You by Sam Beckbessinger, Lauren Beukes and Dale Halvorsen – 5/5

A woman’s lover is dead and her only way to bring her back to life is to complete the 6 steps of a mysterious book in less than 66 minutes.

This story was a great opening to the anthology, it has a lot of elements that I like, it’s start off pretty light (well as light as a story about a dead body can go) and we slowly unravel the circumstances of the death. It’s quite morbid but the pacing and the writing are excellent. I couldn’t help but to empathize with the main character even if she wasn’t a good person at all.

It’s about love, the consequences of love and how it can slowly change you for the worst.

 

It was a Different Time by Will Hill – 4.5/5

A young man works in a hotel in LA. Contrary to what’s almost expected of him, he doesn’t aspire to become an actor or a musician, he just want to be left alone. On one of his night shift, he encounters an old man relaxing in the pool when it’s supposed to be closed. What he doesn’t see at first is that the old man has a gun.

Inspired by the #MeToo movement and how it shattered the “old Hollywood” where it was usual for young girls to be assaulted behind the scenes, this story is about how the perpetrators have to live with their acts being made public. It Was a Different Time is a fascinating little story, very much of our time. The main character was very relatable in how angry he was at the entire world. This story doesn’t have any speculative elements.

 

Ambulance Service by Sami Shah – 5/5

Following an ambulance in a night shift in Karachi, what starts off as pretty regular story slowly shifts as we learn that the main character is an exorcist and that he deals with strange creatures haunting people.

It managed to take me by surprise quite a few times which I wasn’t expecting considering how short it is. The ending was fascinating, I really grew to love the characters and I would love to read other stories set in this mysterious Karachi.

 

Bag Man by Lavie Tidhar – 4.5/5

Like a lot of Tidhar’s works, Bag Man is set in Tel Aviv. Max, a man who used to work in the military is now working for the mafia. His latest mission is to deliver a bag to his client, he doesn’t know what’s inside and doesn’t care very much to. However, he wasn’t prepared to be assaulted by a gang of angry and high teenagers during his working time. And he doesn’t like when people stole what’s his.

This is a wild ride, the main character is quite the unlikeable old dude but I have read enough of Tidhar’s stories to know most of his male characters are this way. Bag Man is about the absurdity of violence and how it transforms people. In this story, all the brutal acts are done almost with boredom or unwillingly, it seems the perpetrators are forced to  be this way not because they want to but because it’s their only answer to their problems..

It’s not my favorite of Tidhar’s work but I found it strong nonetheless in the depiction of the absurdity of violence.

 

Gatsby – Maha Khan Philips – 5/5

A girl is invited to Great Gatsby themed New Year’s Eve party in Karachi. She just lost her best friend and she’s definitely not in the mood for partying. She doesn’t even know the host, she only know of  him: he’s filthy rich, from the USA and he invited about four hundred people to his party.

While she’s trying to stay far away from the festivities, she meets him. He’s nice, too nice perhaps but he has laughing lines and he’s kind, very kind, until he isn’t.

This story is one of my favorite from the collection, everything is so unexpected, it’s full of twists and turns and that ending was very unexpected. It’s very dark and creepy but memorable for sure!

 

Tilt – Karen Onojaife –  4.5/5

A woman who has lost everything spends her night gambling in a casino. She likes it there especially in those late hours because it’s the only place where she can forget about her daughter who died in a tragic accident.

One night she meets the new courier, a mysterious woman who seems almost attracted to her pain. And this woman will leave her with a terrible choice.

I very much liked the way the speculative elements were introduced pretty late in the story, it was very well written, the atmosphere and the slow built-up were done masterfully.

 

The Place of Thorns – Marina Warner – 5/5

Set in a refugee camp in Syria which seemed to suddenly appear one night on the border and surrounded by huge thorns, this story follows a young girl and her grandmother. The grandmother had a vision about the thorns and a battle coming and she is waiting for it to come true.

I’ve read mixed reviews of this story but I loved it very much, it’s a quiet story but it really touched me and the ending was beautiful.

 

Dark Matters – Cecilia Ekback – 5/5

A young girl tries her best to keep her family from falling apart when her dad keeps on dying and resurrecting, messing up their quiet family life.

In this story, Death is a character who tries and miserably fail on killing the father. Death is very frustrated because people are not supposed to resurrect and it definitely wasn’t part of the plan!

This story is delightfully quirky, the characters are all fascinating, I have to make a special mention to the grandmother and Death who were both amazing characters. It’s on the longer side compared to most of the stories of this anthology but I wouldn’t change or remove a single word.

 

 

I received a copy of this book from Solaris in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. My thanks to Rebellion and Netgalley.