Tag Archives: Year of Reading Women

Book Review: Shoggoths in Bloom, Elizabeth Bear

Elizabeth Bear’s Shoggoths in Bloom is a fascinating collection of science fiction and fantasy short stories, from the opening and Nebula nominated sci-fi story, TIDELINE, which was deep and beautifully moving, even though it’s about a crippled war-machine, to the novellette-length title-story, SHOGGOTHS IN BLOOM (obviously from the Cthulhu mythos), including magic realism/urban fantasy stories like ORM THE BEAUTIFUL and THE HORRID GLORY OF ITS WINGS, or the detective/noir of stories like IN THE HOUSE OF ARYAMAN, A LONELY SIGNAL BURNS and CONFESSOR. I could just name all of the stories in this collection as being fantastic – it is seriously that good.

All those links above take you to those stories that are freely available, click some, you’ll thank me afterward.

I’m not going to waste to much time talking about these stories and how I felt reading them, or how I interpreted them, because I want to keep them for myself, honestly.

Click through on some of those short stories, and then either click this link: Shoggoths in Bloom for the Book Depository (free shipping, world-wide. Cheap prices. Well, cheap for Australia or Continental Europe), or head into an independant book-store (my personal recommendation.)
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Book Review: Moxyland, by Lauren Beukes

“Don’t let anyone tell you that Apartheid has nothing to do with South Africa now. Those roots run deep and tangled and we’ll be tripping over them for many generations to come.”


Moxyland, by Lauren Beukes, is a brilliantly written dystopian science fiction novel, set a mere fifteen minutes into the future, as the saying goes.

Split between four entwining narratives, Moxyland follows the lives of four South Africans: Kendra, an art-school dropout and ‘sponsor baby’ who’s been injected with nanobots and branded, as part of a viral marketing scheme by a gen-mod company; Lerato, a tech-company worker infected with AIDS at birth, who is looking for a way out of her mid-level corporate job; Tendeka, a revolutionary, fighting against the corporate-elite and the police in a bid to reveal the true toxicity of the world; and Toby, a narcissistic blogger who streams his life in his ‘Diary of a Cunt’. Their worlds’ collide, again and again, throughout the novel, as the dystopian world they live in, a world where the South African Police Corps administer electric shocks through the populace’s SIM cards and issue 24-hour disconnects from the internet, and thus almost everything in Moxyland, from buses and the underground to apartment buildings and hospitals. Alongside their genetically modified Aitos (police dogs), the police are a less-than benevolent presence, and menace the people.

It is brilliant, and terrifyingly predictive, summoning a future where terrorism, fear and a false sense of security have forced the people to accept these impositions into their daily lives. The spirit of the Great Firewall of China, of the draconian police measures inflicted on citizens in the Western world, and peoples’ fears of genetic modification and of the terrifying disconnect are combined and born into the world in Moxyland, and stand as a warning as to where our world is heading.

A great read.

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Double Review: Wolf Hall & Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel

First things first: I was much amused that my copy of Wolf Hall had a sticker on the front reading “From the author of Bring Up the Bodies!” The first book in the series, recommended to readers of the second.

“Some of these things are true and some of them lies. But they are all good stories.”

Wolf Hall is the story of Thomas Cromwell, great-great-great uncle to the more-famous Oliver Cromwell. Thomas rose from obscurity and the peasantry to become, firstly, the Cardinal Wolsey’s problem solver, and, after the Cardinal’s downfall, King Henry VIII’s Chief Minister, Lord of the Privy Seals, Chancellor of the Exchequer and too many other titles to go into.

Wolf Hall documents the downfall of the Cardinal, and the rise of Cromwell. of Henry VIII, and I love the fact that these novels present him in a sympathetic (ish) light – for so long we’ve looked down on Henricus Tudor as being some kind of monster (as he turned out to be), rather than as a complicated, three-dimensional human.

It is a brilliant character study, exquisitely formed and researched, and it finally gives this man, of whom so little good is written, a place in the sun, which he gained, despite his birth to an abusive blacksmith. I cried, which is something I’ve not done too often while reading. Mantel shows her power as an author throughout this novel.

“The trouble with England, he thinks, is that it’s so poor in gesture. We shall have to develop a hand signal for ‘Back off, our prince is fucking this man’s daughter.’ He is surprised that the Italians have not done it. Though perhaps they have, and he just never caught on.”

I liked Wolf Hall so much that I raced out and wrapped my paws around its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies.

Now that Queen Katherine is deposed, and her marriage to Henry VIII annulled, Henry has married Anne Boleyn. Bring Up the Bodies tells of her downfall, at the hands of Thomas Cromwell, in a I created you, I can destroy you fashion, after Anne fails to give Henry a male heir. Again the writing is brilliant, deeply researched and superbly written, even though history has told us how things end for the scheming Queen.

“He needs guilty men. So he has found men who are guilty. Though perhaps not guilty as charged.”

Absolutely brilliant, are these novels, and I highly recommend them, they are fantastic.

They have certainly set the bar for historical fiction very, very high.


Last things last: I’m pissed that this series isn’t finished – now I have to wait for the third book in the series, The Mirror and the Light. This is why I haven’t read any of the Game of Thrones novels – I have no patience, when it comes to waiting for books.



“You can have a silence full of words. A lute retains, in its bowl, the notes it has played. The viol, in its strings, holds a concord. A shriveled petal can hold its scent, a prayer can rattle with curses; an empty house, when the owners have gone out, can still be loud with ghosts.”

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Book Review: Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes

Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes, is the magic-realism/slipstream/weird fiction novel that you wish you wrote. 

Set in an alternate version of Johannesburg, Zoo City is the story of Zinzi December, a disgraced former journalist (and drug addict), now turning her skill with words to the writing of 419 internet scams, conning wealthy (and non-Internet-savvy) Westerners out of their retirement funds. Zinzi is afflicted by the same curse as others who commit crimes (whether moral or legal) – she is ‘animalled’.

“Traffic in Joburg is like the democratic process. Every time you think it’s going to get moving and take you somewhere, you hit another jam.”

Being ‘animalled’ is a punishment across the world, and the novel talks about prisoners in Australia, about the animalled being executed in China, and of their being ostracised, an analogy for the discrimination that minorities all around the world suffer today.

Being animalled is not solely a punishment, as each animalled person also acquires a psychic power of some description. Zinzi’s is the ability to discover lost things. Although, if you go too far from your animal partner you suffer debilitating panic attacks, headaches, nausea and other symptoms symbolic of drug withdrawal.

“In the forest, they did things to drive us mad. Muti. Drugs. Rape. Killing Games…God is not in the forest. Maybe He is too busy looking after sports teams or worrying about teenagers having sex before marriage. I think they take up a lot of His time.”

So she is enlisted, to try and find the missing member of a brother-sister Afro-pop group for a once-seedy, now-clean producer – before the story leaks that she is missing.

A brilliant twist hangs at the end, too.

It’s a great novel, this one, well worth picking up.

Zoo City is the second Lauren Beukes novel I’ve read as part of my Year of Reading Women (the other being The Shining Girls,which was also brilliant), and I’ve fallen in love with her prose and the brilliant worlds that she creates. She is now one of my favourite authors. Aaaand I can’t wait for the movie!

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Book Review: LAGOON, Nnedi Okarafor

I’ve always wondered something. Ha, always! That’s not true. But anyway, I digress. I’ve always (ahem) wondered why, whenever they show up to invade planet Earth, aliens always seem to choose one of the world’s superpowers as their landing site. There’s got to be a range of better choices to touch down upon (or to hover menacingly above.) Why choose the world’s foremost military powers, in the places most likely to be able to organise an immediate response, or at least an immediate planning session?

Nnedi Okarafor’s Lagoon makes more sense than that, and gives extraterrestrial intelligences, capable of travelling across the vast distances of space, their due. Initially told from the perspective of a swordfish(!), the novel is, quite frankly, brilliant. There is a sonic boom, and the waters start to rise in the lagoon from which Lagos, Nigeria takes its name (it’s Portuguese for ‘lagoon’) The waves rise up and snatch away three ordinary Nigerians, Adaora, the marine biologist who’s husband Chris has been ‘born-again’ as a Christian (in one of those Nigerian evangelical numbers that “suffer not the witch to live” and stone adulterers), Anthony, a famous rapper, and Agu, the soldier tormented by the corruption and violence of his superiors in the military.

There was no time to flee. No to time to turn. No time to shriek. And there was no pain. It was like being thrown into the stars.

The novel is seething, coming-to-life between its pages, as it captures the feeling of its host city, from the face-to-face apartment blocks (the buildings are so small it feels like you and your neighbours are always face-to-face) to the gated suburbs and the rich evangelical ministers that roll past extreme poverty in polished Mercedes-Benz. The sense of confusion and fear carries the novel, as the spider-god (cousin to Anasi in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods) weaves together the strands of the story to best amuse itself.

After the attempted kidnapping of the aliens’ ambassador (once again, one alien is a curiosity, two are an invasion), things begin to get worse, as the aliens have interacted with the sea-life in strange new ways…

I thought this was a fantastic novel, combining mythology, superpowers and an alien invasion with the chaotic swirling of a city that feels real through the page. I flew through this book, and it combines the best elements of anthropological science fiction with a realistic city and its equally believable inhabitants. Scatterings of pidgin dance through the novel, giving a further sense of the character of the city, and although this may alarm some, it is easy to pick up (even easier if you use the glossary) in the same way that English words you have heard before are easy to pick up. It’s all about context.

If you’re a fan of science fiction writers like Ursula K LeGuin, or of Gaiman’s American Gods then I highly recommend Lagoon. You’ll love it.


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Book Review: The Ear, The Eye and The Arm, Nancy Farmer

The Ear, the Eye and the Arm is one of those books that has stuck in my imagination since I first read it in my childhood, and is probably one of the books that fired my love of speculative fiction, my love of both science fiction and magic realism.

“That was the best kind of story: when the teller was as much under its spell as the listener.”

Set two hundred years in the future from when it was published (in 2194), in Zimbabwe, The Ear, the Eye and the Arm is a noir detective story, a science fiction story and a magic realism story, all bundled together for a teenage audience.

A General’s three children are kidnapped, and his shadow is too heavy for him to help them. His wife hires a team of detectives with special powers, inherited from a nuclear accident in their village, to search for the children.

The children themselves are very resourceful (they are the protagonists in a YA novel, after all) and escape from their kidnappers, only to stumble from one misadventure into another.

“Knowledge is a house that must be built from the ground up. We know how to make the roof. The information is useless if we don’t understand the foundations on which it is to be placed.”

African gods, mutants with superpowers, heavily armed gangs and manipulative members of the “English tribe” all populate the pages of this fantastic novel.

And, as a bonus, the novel was written for African children, whom the author noticed loved to buy (and read to death) second-hand science fiction novels. The afterward is touching and is well worth reading.

Loved it!

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Book Review: BITTER GREENS, Kate Forsyth

I saw Kate Forsyth speak at last year’s Genrecon, and I was captivated by the panel’s opinions on modern-day retellings of fairy tales and of the ways the tales are told have changed since the violent and sexually-charged tellings that were first set down.

Bitter Greens is a retelling of the story of Rapunzel, entwined with the stories of Charlotte-Rose de la Force, the French noblewoman who, while forced into exile in a convent, first set down the version of Rapunzel we now know, Petrosinella, and with the story of Selena Leonelli, one of Titian’s muses, as a witch who is terrified of aging.

I loved this novel, combining as it did a strong understanding of history, both of the court of the Sun King (Louis XIV) and of Venice (I’m actually in the middle of a history of Venice, Venice: Pure City, by Peter Ackroyd, quite accidentally, which made Bitter Greens even more enthralling.)

It’s a story (or three) of love, and rejection, and power, and a thousand other things – the characters are brilliantly entangled, like Petrosinella’s hair, and the magic is different (to me, at least) and utterly believable, and the prose is delightful. 

A fantastic novel, and by an Australian, too.

Pick it up.

“You should put a lock on that tongue of yours. It’s long enough and sharp enough to slit your own throat,’ our guardian warned me, the night before I left home to go to the royal court at Versailles…

I just laughed. ‘Don’t you know a woman’s tongue is her sword? You wouldn’t want me to let my only weapon rust, would you?” 

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the eye, the ear and the arm

Oh, yeah. My copy of Nancy Farmer’s The Eye, the Ear and the Arm has just arrived.

I loved this book as a kid, a near-future science fiction novel, set in Africa.

A General’s children are abducted, and the police can do nothing to find the perpetrators.

So a special team of private detectives is called in – the aforementioned Eye, Ear and Arm – mutants who use their special talents to find and rescue the children.

Dystopian, pulpy-noir.

Very, very excited.

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Book Review: The Woman in Black, Susan Hill

The Woman in Black, written by Susan Hill, is a pretty-near pitch-perfect impersonation of a Gothic Horror novel – a young lawyer, Arthur Kipps, is only too happy to head out into the countryside and escape the London pea-soupers.

He is called out to attend, on his firm’s behalf, the funeral of a Mrs Alice Drablow, a reclusive old woman who died in her isolated home, the Eel Marsh House. He decides to stay overnight at the home, in order to better get her papers in order, but that is when the hauntings begin to truly manifest…

“No, no, you have none of you any idea. This is all nonsense, fantasy, it is not like this. Nothing so blood-curdling and becreepered and crude – not so…so laughable. The truth is quite other, and altogether more terrible.” 

The Woman is Black is told as the reminiscence of the harrowing events of Kipps’ youth, after he storms out of the traditional Christmas Eve ghost stories, and decides to set down to paper his story, to be read only after his death.

Spoilers Below!!

Continue reading

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Book Review: A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle


I never read this book as a child.

I’m only forty pages in – I think I’m not going to bother.

A Wrinkle in Time – everyone raves about it, but, in all honesty. no child speaks like that, and no child has, at least since I’ve been alive, and probably even in the 60’s when L’Engle wrote this novel.

“Thinking I’m a moron gives people something to feel smug about,” Charles Wallace said. “Why should I disillusion them?” 

I’d like to try, but I think I’ll give it to my eldest daughter instead.

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Book Review: The Mount, Carol Emshwiller


The Mount, by Carol Emshwiller, is freaking amazing.

Charley is a Seattle – he’s big and strong, and has beautiful posture. He’s so much better than a skinny little Tennessee. His bloodline is pure. And he’s been chosen, as the mount for The-Future-Leader-of-Us-All. He learns all the commands he needs to, so he doesn’t get lashed, he doesn’t need to wear a bit or a bridle. His handlers call him ‘Smiley’, because he smiles so much. He likes strawberries, and chocolates – and his handlers are ever so nice.

Charley is a human being. And for the last however many years since the Hoot invasion, they’ve been using us as their steeds. They have atrophied legs, you see. And they’re always so kind. But you have to be cruel to be kind, sometimes.

Emshwiller has written the perfect post-invasion story with The Mount, and it very deftly exploits the dynamics between slave and master, between rebels and government, and between learning the truth, or choosing the master’s fictions.

I read this book in less than a day, I honestly could not put it down. It’s a little bit Young Adulty, which I was worried would turn me off the novel – but it absolutely didn’t, I loved it.

To any of those fools who say “Women can’t write science fiction” (and yes, I absolutely think that you’re wrong, and a damned fool) I want to just shove a copy of The Mount into your hands and walk away. It is absolutely brilliant – by inverting the dynamic between predator and prey (a man on a horse is a predator, utilising a prey-beast to catch more prey) she very fully explores this world she has created.

And even better: no-one wins.


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Book Review: The Shining Girls, Lauren Beukes

I just destroyed this novel. I picked it up last night and tore through it. It’s a great read – it follows a murder, and a girl who should have been murdered. He left her for dead, he eviscerated her and cut her throat – if it weren’t for her dog Tokyo, things would have gone according to plan.

And the plan is circular. The plan is death.

Harper hunts through time for his ‘shining girls’, with the help of a house for which a first, random murder gives him the key in the pocket of a stolen jacket. The house lures him nearer, calling out to him. An upstairs room in particular, decorated with the trophies of murders he has yet to commit. He needs to cut the shine out of them.

“It’s not my fault. It’s yours. You shouldn’t shine. You shouldn’t make me do this.”

I really enjoyed The Shining Girls, it is gripping and intense, the sort of book that you just can’t stop reading, that you can’t put down.

Brilliant. I can’t wait to read another of Lauren Beukes’ novels, I am waiting by the postbox to receive my copy of Zoo City!

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Book Review: Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, James Tiptree, Jr.

Now, I’ve done a bit of research, and apparently when you review a collection of short stories you have to review each individual story – I’m not going to do that.

And it’s not only because I’m lazy – I actually don’t want to ruin any of these beautiful stories for you. You should buy this book, I’m not joking.

James Tiptree, Jr. was probably one of the best science fiction authors to have ever written. Why am I tagging a bloke called James Tiptree, Jr. in my year of reading women? Because James Tiptree, Jr. was actually Alice Sheldon, an intelligence agent for both the USAF and the CIA, who wrote as Tiptree to protect her professional career.

“It has been suggested that Tiptree is female, a theory that I find absurd, for there is to me something ineluctably masculine about Tiptree’s writing.”  – Robert Silverberg


Continue reading

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Book Review: BURIAL RITES, Hannah Kent

I’m not complaining, but when did historical Icelandic fiction (or should that be Icelandic historical fiction) become a thing? Why Iceland? Is it because it’s on the edge of the world, and is European, but only just?

“I can turn to that day as though it were a page in a book. It’s written so deeply upon my mind I can almost taste the ink.” 

Anyway, Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent. The novel is based on actual events, the Illugastadir murders and the execution of Agnes Magnusdottir for the crime. Agnes was the last person executed in Iceland, on January 12, 1830. The novel is an attempt to try and see the world through the eyes of Agnes, from her imprisonment until her execution. The prose is beautiful, and the story is moving, tragic, and, if Hannah Kent is to be believed, entirely unjust. Did Agnus murder Natan Ketilsson? We can never know, and Kent offers us an answer. 

“It was not hard to believe a beautiful woman capable of murder, Margret thought. As it says in the sagas, Opt er flago i fogru skinni. A witch often has fair skin.” 

A murderess, who insists she is innocent. A terrified family, who are forced to take her in. A trainee priest, who she asks to absolve her sins. Winter is coming, when Agnes will be executed. Can she be saved? Will her sins be forgiven?

I loved this book, thoroughly enjoyed it. I think my mum recommended it to me, which means it took me forever to get around to, even though she has great taste in books.

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Book Review: AMONG OTHERS, Jo Walton

“This isn’t a nice story, and this isn’t an easy story. But it is a story about fairies, so feel free to think of it as a fairy story. It’s not like you’d believe it anyway.” 

Oh. My. Grosh.

This is a brilliant little bit of fiction – I loved this book. The voice, the plot, the faeries. Absolutely fantastic, and very high on my list of books-to-recommend-to-everyone.

As the novel opens we see Mori and her twin sister performing magic, and the magic in this book is very cleverly thought out, and even more cleverly applied. The trick to the magic is, in essence, that you can never tell whether it has been done. Did you use magic to change the bus schedule, as well as all the lives of all those people who catch that bus, or did it arrive two minutes early organically? Was that factory going to close down anyway, or did throwing a flower into a pond make it close?

Mori and her sister have to perform magic, after the fairies ask them to. They must perform magic, to stop their mother from taking over the world, from ever having ruled the world. Mori is crippled in the attempt, and her sister is killed, her mother goes insane (or was she always insane?) and Mori is forced to leave Wales, and to go to boarding school at her long-absent father’s insistence. She is forced to live, among others.

Sprinkled through with arguments and praise for famous science fiction and fantasy authors (Mori is a huge fan), I loved absolutely everything about this book. It’s Harry Potter, backwards.

“I did not buy a book called Lord Foul’s Bane by Stephen Donaldson, which has the temerity to compare itself, on the front cover, to ‘Tolkien at his best.’ The back cover attributes the quote to the Washington Post, a newspaper whose quotations will always damn a book for me from now on. How dare they? And how dare the publishers? It isn’t a comparison anyone could make, except to say ‘Compared to Tolkien at his best, this is dross.’ I mean you could say that even about really brilliant books like A Wizard of Earthsea. I expect Lord Foul’s Bane (horrible title, sounds like a Conan book) is more like Tolkien at his worst, which would be the beginning of The Simarillion.

The thing about Tolkien, about The Lord of the Rings, is that it’s perfect.” 

Five stars.

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Book Review: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is a fantastic book. I was sure I wouldn’t like it. A Georgian social comedy, in the style of Jane Austen, according to the cover. Fantastic, I thought. I hate that style. I hate Austen.

I loved it.

Brimming with footnotes, some of which flow well past the chapters that they originated in, full of wit and the history of English magic.

The book flows, even at over 1000 pages, there was a moment in the novel where I just stopped, put the book down and could only say ‘fucking hell.’ That almost never happens.

Susanna Clarke has nailed the comedy of manners in this book, and as both Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell flit (or stomp) through polite society, interacting with some of the more famous personages of the age, from George III to Lord Byron, Lord Wellington and Sir Henry Walpole.

Five stars.


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Book Review: Margaret Atwood, MADDADDAM

Hey! Another book down, in my Year of Reading Women – that’s ten so far, and MaddAddam is the fourth Margaret Atwood book in my list (again, so far.) She’s brilliant, and so is this novel, which was a relief, given how little I liked the second book in the MaddAddam series, The Year of the Flood.

“Heart like shale. What you need is a good fracking.”

The story picks up where we left off at the end of The Year of the Flood – Jimmy-the-Snowman, the prophet of Crake, has stumbled across some more living humans. Who, as I mentioned in my review of The Year of the Flood, turn out to all be people that are closely connected to one another. Because that’s believable.

Anyway, I’m not going back there.

MaddAddam is, as expected, full of Atwood’s beautiful prose, and exceptional insights into human nature. The trilogy (Oryx & Crake, The Year of the Floodand MaddAddam) is well worth picking up. But of course I’d say that. I love Margaret Atwood. Now, off to the bookstore!

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Book Review: The Dolphins of Pern, Anne McCaffery

Ah, the Pern series.

Tricking fantasy fans into reading a huge bundle of science fiction novels before the big reveal that even though the series is all about dragons and their riders it’s actually a sci-fi series. The Dolphins of Pern is the 13th book in the series, and is one of those books that you just pick up and read in a day.

“Knowledge is sometimes two-edged.”

The Dolphins of Pern is, as the title suggests, all about the dolphins of Pern. Neglected by humans since the first threadfall, the dolphins of Pern are the uplifted descendants of Earth’s dolphins. They’re also much more charismatic than the dragons of the series, and Readis, the main character of The Dolphins of Pern, is, unlike most of the other main characters in the series, actually relateable. Perhaps this is because he isn’t an arrogant, aristocratic dragon-rider.

Calling this book “my favourite in the series” isn’t saying much. My wife, on the other hand, is a huge Pern fan, so maybe I’m the one who’s wrong. The only Pern story that is, in my opinion, better than this one is The Runner of Pernwhich offers a look at the peasant classes of Pern, a class that is largely ignored throughout the novels.

Not a fan.

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Book Review: THE YEAR OF THE FLOOD, by Margaret Atwood

So, I’ve just gone out and bought a copy of Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood, as part of my Year of Reading Women – I loved Oryx and Crake so much that I kinda needed to buy this book as soon as possible. Which I did. And then I read it in around twelve hours. So this review is coming out pretty fresh, I’ve only just put the book down.

“…the reason you can’t really imagine yourself being dead was that as soon as you say, “I’ll be dead,” you’ve said the word I, and so you’re still alive inside the sentence. And that’s how people got the idea of the immortality of the soul—it was a consequence of grammar.”

To start, I’m kind of disappointed with The Year of the Flood. Following on from Oryx and Crake, I thought the novel would keep the story moving along. It doesn’t. It’s a prequel/simultaneous story, about a religious cult called “God’s Gardeners”, and their descent from being tolerated by the giant Corporations that run the world, to being declared terrorists. A lot of this story takes place alongside the timeline of Oryx and Crake, and I thought it was kind of cheap (and unrealistic) the way that the lives of the children of God’s Gardeners dovetailed with the two main characters of Oryx and Crake.

Continue reading

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Book Review: All That I am, by Anna Funder

“When Hitler came to power I was in the bath.”

Anna Funder’s All That I am is one of those books that I put off reading and put off reading, in spite of (or possibly because of) my mother’s strong recommendation (just kidding, Mum, don’t kill me.) But, once I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down.

All That I am dives into the memories of Ruth, an emigree who fled from NAZI Germany, first to Britain before moving to Sydney. She and her husband, Hans, are members of Germany’s radical Left, and with Hitler’s rise to power are forced to flee hedonistic Berlin for London. The book moves between Ruth in her old age to Ruth in her youth, as well as stopping with Ernst Toller, a once-famous Pacifist politician now writing his memoirs, and trying to excise his grief and to exorcise the ghost of Ruth’s cousin Dora in the process.

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