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review 2018-04-26 22:30
FIGURES UNSEEN by Steve Rasnic Tem...
Figures Unseen: Selected Stories - Steve Rasnic Tem,Matt Godfrey

I just finished it and I'm going to need a little bit of time to collect my thoughts on all these stories. That said, this collection vaulted right past many others directly onto my  ALL TIME FAVORITES list. 

 

More tomorrow when I post my review, but seriously? If you're a fan of horror and/or dark fiction, and you're not reading the work of Steve Rasnic Tem? 

 

You are missing out on some of the best stories in the genre. Period. 

 

 

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review 2018-04-26 19:59
Planetfall
Planetfall - Emma Newman

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

Science fiction that is more of the social kind than hard, as in, while it was easy to imagine how the colony ran, the story focuses on the main character and her relationships with other people, rather than on a lot of technology. In a way, I liked this aspect, but on the other hand, with Ren being pretty much a recluse, her interactions weren’t always so developed; in the end, I’m not exactly sure what to think of it.

The storuy revolves around Ren, and in a certain measure Mack and Sung-Soo. More than 20 years ago, Ren and Mack embarked on an expedition throughout the stars to find another planet, guided by Lee Suh-Mi, who determined that planet’s location after waking up from a coma. After landfall, they found a strange structure they quickly nicknamed God’s city, into which Suh-Mi walked in, never to come out. Since that time, every year sees a ritual, almost religious ceremony take place, which will last until the day Suh comes out again. Only it quickly becomes apparent that this is all based on lies crafted by Mack and upheld by Ren, for fear that without it, the community’s union and focus will collapse, and the colony will be destroyed.

I spent most of my reading torn when it came to Ren as a character and narrator. It’s obvious that while she’s competent in her job, she’s also broken in quite a few ways (her reclusiveness, the reason why she never lets anyone into her home, the mental disorder she’s been developing due to all the stress and lies piling up), and this made her touching; you can tell from the early chapters on that she’d endured trauma and has been coping and suffering all by herself, ashamed of her choices, then refusing to look at them, then not even realising anymore that she had a problem (one that is all the more important that all the things she hoards are materials that can’t get recycled to fuel the colony). Yet at the same time, it was difficult to relate to her and to really care about her, probably she keeps people at a distance. Also, due to the latter, the other characters never really came into focus: Nick remains ‘the guy who’s in because he had money’, Carmen is ‘that annoying religion-obsessed woman’, and so on.

The foundations of the colony, too, were of a kind that made me cringe. Let’s be honest, I’m not a religious person, and basing such a whole expedition on ‘finding God’ (with the potential consequence that, if the religious aspect is destroyed, everything else is, too) seemed, I don’t know, flimsy. Deeply, I believe that what a society needs is ethics, and not religion: the latter can too quickly devolve. Which makes Mack’s lies and fears sort of understandable, if not justified, considering all everything goes to the dogs when the lies are revealed (because they will be, that’s half the plot, after all). In the end, I found myself not caring whether the colony collapsed or not.

Still, I enjoyed the world-building: the author didn’t need to explain a lot for me to picture this world, with its self-sufficient, half-living houses, built at the foot of that bizarre organic city that will kill whoever gets too deep inside. And while I kind of guessed quickly what the big secret was (it got dragged for a little too long as well), trying to imagine what happened to the people in the other pods was also enjoyable. The writing style itself was pleasant, and I never struggled with it. Besides, it looks like there’s much diversity in that colony, but it’s never presented in a heavy-handed way (‘oh, look, people of colour!’). Ren as I perceive her is likely black or close to, the founder/pathfinder is Korean, several other are probably of Indian or Pakistani origin, it’s not ye olde average colony full of white men only, and it’s also not emphasised: these people all come from different backgrounds and areas of the world, and it’s normal, and it’s normal that it’s normal because why would you ever expect anything else? In other words, the book doesn’t feel the need to justify anything about it, which is great.

The ending is somewhat controversial. I think I liked it, in general; it feels like giving up, and it leaves quite a few things unexplained when it comes to God’s city, but it was strangely fitting (with Ren having to first strip herself of everything that was dragging her down, in order to understand what they had refused or been unable to see in the beginning). However, I also think that some parts of the plot were not sufficiently explained, or dealt with too quickly, especially the part about Sung-Soo; had this been better strung into the narrative, its impact would have been different.

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review 2018-04-26 19:27
"The Trick To Time" by Kit De Waal -Highly Recommended
The Trick To Time - Kit de Waal

I chose"The Trick To Time" by Kit De Waal as one of the six books I wanted to read from the sixteen books on the 2018 Women's Fiction Prize Longlist and I'm delighted that I did as it is one of the best books I've read so far this year. I recommend the audiobook version of "The Trick To Time" as Fiona Shaw's narration is perfect. Hearing the voices of the two Irish Aunts nicknames Pestilence and Famine, I was transported back to listening to my grandmother and her sister who spoke in exactly the same way.

 

I went into the book without reading the publisher's summary and I'm glad I did as it reads like the summary of a different book entirely, suggesting either magical realism or a historical romance.

 

For me, the strength of "The Trick To Time" is that exists purely to tell the story of how the main character, Mona, came to be Mona. The story is told in two parallel timelines: Mona as she reaches her sixtieth birthday, living alone in a seaside town in England, making dolls and providing some mysterious service to some of the women who visit her shop and Mona as a little girl, growing up in Ireland and then moving, in her late teens, to Birmingham to make a new life for herself.

 

The thing that most engaged me about the book was understanding how the little girl playing on the beach, and the young woman going nervously to her first dance in Birmingham, became the calm, strong but sad woman who makes wooden dolls. The parallel timeline structure of the book kept this at the centre of my attention and kept surprising me, not through the use of tricks or crazy plot twists but by how real and honest the changes in Mona seemed. I'm the same age as Mona and when I look back, I also wonder how the boy I was became the man I am. I was there and I yet I understand Mona's journey better than my own.

 

I was delighted to see that the sixty-year-old Mona isn't presented either as an old-woman far along the crone road or a woman still pretending to be twenty. Mona knows herself, she knows what's happened to her, she recognises the compromises and limitations in how she lives now and she has still a strong desire to find a way to live her life.

 

There is a real sense of time passing and perceptions changing while the people themselves remain who they have always truly been as if time simply wears away the bits of themselves that they'd only dressed up in in their youth.

 

This is a deeply empathic book about the nature of grief, the enduring impact of loss and the effect of time on emotions, memory and our own sense of identity.

 

I won't put spoilers in this review so I won't talk about the central trauma of Mona's life, except to say that it made me angry and it made me cry and it filled me with deep admiration for the service that Mona provided to others in later life.

 

Mona's is a working-class Irish woman, living as an immigrant in Birmingham at the time of the IRA bombing that unleashed so much pain and hate.  Her ambition is simple: to make a family with the man she loves. By today's standards, they have nothing but they have enough to live independently and dream of a life filled with children who are loved and cared for. I recognise those kinds of circumstances and that simple ambition but I rarely see it in books that are nominated for literary prizes. I also recognise the situation of being an immigrant and just trying to make your way. I like the matter-of-fact way this was dealt with: no polemics, no dog-whistle posturing, just an honest personal narrative.

 

The writing is beautiful without being flowery. From the beginning, I understood that there was more going on than I yet knew about and that understanding filled me with pleasant anticipation of a real story worth waiting for. It was a story that caught me by surprise time and again, up to the final chapter, but each surprise made more sense of Mona's life and actions rather than feeling like a magic trick.

 

Although this is Mona's story, the other people in it are more than cyphers. They are people with histories and emotions and opinions of their own and they rarely take the path that convention or cliché would channel them to.

 

For example, Mona's father is a complex and compassionate man. When his still-young wife is dying and Mona, his daughter, is playing on the beach to avoid her mother's illness, he finds her and persuades her to spend time with her mother. He says:
 
"One day, you will want these hours back, my girl. You will wonder how you lost them and you will want to get them back. There's a trick to time. You can make it expand or you can make it contract. Make it shorter or make it longer." 

The gentle, sad truth of this sets the tone for the whole novel.

 

I'll be reading Kit de Waal's back-catalogue and anything else she publishes. I think she's an extraordinary talent.

 

4480If you'd like to know more about her and how she wrote "The Trick To Time", take a look at this Interview with Kit de Waal in "The Guardian" covering:

"The novelist on her Irish heritage, the passing of time and why she’s glad she didn’t start young"

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review 2018-04-26 18:45
MANCHESTER VICE by Jack Strange
Manchester Vice (Noirvellas) - Jack Strange

 

MANCHESTER VICE is a tale about an ordinary man who makes some poor choices. What makes this a unique and fun story is the giddy abandon with which he goes about making these choices, and the fun I had watching his life deteriorate. I'm a terrible person!

 

But hey, so is Bradley Sharpe, ("just call me Brad"), but he didn't start out that way. He's on the brink of 60, (OLD to Brad), and tired of his boring life. His job as a crime journalist helps support his family, but it's the same old day to day doldrums. He meets with prisoners as a way of making himself feel useful. When he meets with terminally ill Jim, little does he know how much his life is about to change. How will his life change? What are those aforementioned poor choices? You'll have to read this to find out!

 

I'm not sure what I was expecting from this book, (perhaps Miami Vice, except set in Manchester?), but what I got was surprising and amusing. First off, it's not that kind of vice. Second, Brad's decline was rapid, willy-nilly, even. He seemed to be blind to his own ineptness, even when he thought was learning from his mistakes. It's easy for the reader to see where he went wrong, but Brad was clueless most of the time. It was fun to see him rolling with the punches, moving from one thing to another, while the whole time still believing that HE'S the good guy.

 

Entertaining and fast paced, with both outright and dry humor, Jack Strange delivers the goods in this "noirvella" and I had a bloody good time going along for the ride!

 

Highly recommended!

 

You can get your copy here: MANCHESTER VICE

 

*I received this copy free in exchange for my honest review. This is it.*

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review 2018-04-26 16:38
Cute Book
The Ugly Stepsister Strikes Back - Sariah Wilson

This is a very cute high school romance that used all the common themes from the genre… and then turned them on their heads.

 

The pretty, popular blonde is nice and smart and a good friend.

 

The popular guy doesn’t turn out to be horrible.

 

The high school stereotypes are there, but people have more layers than clichéd personality traits.

 

The high school experience in America is so completely different to here in Australia that it’s like learning a foreign culture, but I think the author painted her setting really well.

 

I really, really liked pretty much everything about this story. The dramas weren’t over the top, and the inevitable trust issues and betrayal worked realistically.

 

One thing that bugged me at the start was how much the protagonist – Matilda – complained about how stupid and embarrassing her name was. There’re going to be a lot of young readers offended by that; ‘Matilda’ might not be a popular name in America, but it regularly makes it onto top names lists in other countries. It is enormously popular in Australia. I have a young cousin in Europe with the name.

 

But that’s about it for complaints. This book has a lot of very familiar YA themes, and yet it felt fresh and new. I loved it.

Source: nataliaheaney.wordpress.com/2013/01/31/the-ugly-stepsister-strikes-back-by-sariah-wilson
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