BOOK REVIEW: Starlings by Jo Walton

starlings-jo-waltonProlific novelist of speculative fiction,  Jo Walton, will soon debut her first collection of short stories, Starlings. In the book’s introduction, Walton explains how writing short stories is new turf for her—a struggle even—and that writing novels comes much easier. That was unexpected, since I often think of this form as an apprenticeship of sorts for writers. After Walton’s confession, I wondered if I’d be disappointed. That trepidation disappeared with a “Poof!” after polishing off the first story.

Her clever, modern fairy tales, with hues of Angela Carter, charmed the curl of my mouth into a conspiratorial smile. I fell under the spell of a man made of moonlight in “Three Twilight Tales”and the enchanted mirror who sees a whirl of trees through the seasons in “On the Wall”. I took my time and paid attention to the startling, tiny details that lurk in the shadows of plot and characterization.

Other stories showcase problems seemingly particular to Sci-Fi or dystopian settings that got me thinking about messy implications of the future. “Sleeper” delves into how the manipulation of AI simulations of historical figures could influence future generations—a perfect premise for an episode of Black Mirror. I also loved “Turnover,” in which occupiers of a spacecraft yearn to preserve their arts and culture after they’ll settle on their destination planet.

Flash fiction with sly punchlines pepper the book–most made me chuckle while others fell a bitflat. And, her Sci-Fi poems didn’t engage me as much as her stories, but that’s due to my usual struggle to connect with poetry.

I would recommend this collections to lovers of short stories instead of fans of Walton’s novels. With such varied settings and modes, it’s a book best savored story by story instead of in one or two sittings.

Now, which Walton novel should I read first? Any recommendations?

Thank you to Tachyon Publications and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for an honest book review.

Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Book Review: IN THE MIDST OF WINTER by ISABEL ALLENDE

In the Midst of Winter
by Isabel Allende
Simon & Schuster Canada

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The place is Brooklyn, New York during a snowstorm that envelops the city—shutting in everyone.

Richard Bowmaster, a 60-year-old university professor and widow crippled with anxiety, lives in shrouded loneliness in an old brownstone. In his basement apartment lives, Lucia Maraz, a visiting Chilean lecturer who works for Richard. Her openness and sensuality stirs a desire in him. A desire that he doesn’t show or act upon.

Come to shake up their lives is player number three, Evelyn Ortega. She’s a 20-something, fretful undocumented Guatemalan. She crashes into Richard’s car when he ventures into the storm for an emergency vet visit. The car isn’t hers—it belongs to her wealthy, powerful employer and she is scared out of her mind. So, Richard takes her in. He quickly realizes he needs the help of Lucia to understand Evelyn.

Together the three wait out the storm and learn about each other’s past. In true Allende fashion unravels harrowing stories of broken families and societal struggles. And somewhere along the way a twist weaves itself into play… and Allende had me firmly in her grip ‘til the very end.

Rich with vivid language and tangible yearning, this book hit the spot. While it wasn’t my favourite Allende novel, it’s well worth the read. Preferably on a cold, winter day while wrapped in a warm blanket and sipping tea.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for providing me with an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for an honest book review.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

BOOK REVIEW: The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson

I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic tales with a believable take on a world that’s taken a spin for the worst. The debut novel The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson accomplished just that, on top of a creating a growing tension that keeps the reader turning the pages.

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You’re dropped in a cold, bleak setting with a handful of characters, 20-something Lynn and her family. The sparse exposition lets you focus on the action—trudging in snow and hunting for game along with our feisty heroine. At times, Lynn seems naïve for a grown woman. Then again, she’s been living isolated in the Yukon for years with her party of five and a pervy neighbor living a few miles down the way. Playing Survivor without electricity, most modern-day comforts or news from the rest of the world is her way of life.

That is, until a secretive, stealthy stranger named Jax shows up. Not much older than Lynn, he’s the strong, silent type: hard to read, hard to trust, full of secrets. Everything changes after his arrival—he threatens their order and possibly their lives. You’ll develop a sense of what’s to come because the author drops hints and snippets of truth along the way, but you’ll probably be surprised where to story leads you.

The Wolves of Winter is a fast read and tons of fun. I recommend you grab a copy when the novel is released in January 2018.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for providing me with an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for an honest book review.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

BOOK REVIEW: Top 5 reasons to read Artemis by Andy Weir

Artemis-Book-Cover-Andy-WeirAndy Weir’s debut novel, The Martian, was an out-of-this-world hit. Fans loved the plot, the tension, and the humour—but can the author deliver yet another outer space story that’s as fun and successful as the first?

He sure can! I’ve had the joy of reading an advanced copy of his sophomore book Artemis. It hits bookstores on November 14, 2017, and I’ve listed the Top 5 reasons fans of Weir will love it.

 

5.  The setting is a not-so-distant-future Moon city, Artemis. Regardless of the challenges due to lack of air, abrasive moon dust and lethal radiation, Artemis is home to a couple thousand inhabitants and has a thriving tourism industry. This remote place—made up of large, connected domes—feels real, so you can easily imagine where all the action takes place.

4.  Every sci-fi book needs a geeky sidekick to help solve pressing, techie problems. Svaboda fits the bill with his quirky personality. His latest invention alone is sure to make you chuckle.

3.  When compared to Earth, there’s only 1/6 of gravity on the moon. This difference adds an element of fun in various scenes—from travelling in heavy gear to fighting off the bad guys. It also gives new meaning the phrases “kids bouncing off the walls”.

2.  The hero of the story, Jazz Bashara, is as likable as Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon in The Martian film adaptation). She’s a sassy badass full of pluck and clever ideas (some good, some bad). I welcome strong female characters in any sci-fi adventure. And hey, Ransom star Nazneen Contractor would be a dead ringer for Jazz in the Artemis movie. Casting directors take note.

1.  The plot has all the classic elements of a heist, yet has a new twist. Who doesn’t like a fast-paced sci-fi caper about misfits with a risky, urgent plan? A plan that feels like mission impossible? Zooming through this book with a smirk on your face—guaranteed.

Thank you to Crown Publishing for providing me with an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for an honest book review.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

BOOK REVIEW: The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

Rules_of_MagicLast week, Alice Hoffman delighted fans with the release of a prequel to one of her most beloved novels: Practical Magic. That’s right. Over twenty years after readers delved into the world of two unruly witch sisters, the author’s new book, The Rules of Magic, gives us a glimpse into the lives of the Owen family members who came before.

Most of the story revolves around the coming of age of Franny, Jet, and Vincent Owen during the 1960s. These two teenage witches and their wizard brother navigate rough waters as they discover their magical powers and develop intimate relationships. It’s a difficult time for them as the family curse dictates their fates. Their loves. Their lives.

While the book was fun, I found the pace of the story slow, or somewhat passive. Also, it read like a Young Adult book at times. Perhaps that’s because I young when I read and loved Practical Magic… perhaps I have  grown up and now gravitate to Hoffman’s other fantastic books, like The Museum of Extraordinary Things.

Still, I think most fans of the first book in the series will be delighted with this prequel.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for providing me with an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for an honest book review.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

THE HISTORY OF BEES: A collapse of epic proportions

The History of BessThe History of Bees shares the stories of three different families, living in three different eras, whose lives are shaped by both the breeding and survival of bees. While Maja Lunde’s gripping novel is aptly titled, it could have been called Collapse.

In a 19th-century scientist’s story, the dream to make a name for oneself and leaving a legacy always seems to be on the brink of collapse. In the second story, an apiarist struggles during the onset of the terrifying Colony Collapse Disorder in 2007. Collapse takes on a darker meaning in the third story—set 80 years in a the future in a dystopian world without bees. In all narratives, the potential collapse of bonds between parent and children, husbands and wives, compels the reader to turn each page to find out what fate awaits them.

While some big twists are predictable early on, other little turns will astonish the reader. A thought-provoking read filled with tension, relatable characters, and an urgent message to protect our bees now and for generations to come.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

*** Thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for sending me a galley of this novel in exchange for an honest review.***

My essay about being a 40-year-old intern

I’ve been on a hiatus from writing book reviews for several months, but I’m still reading and dissecting works. See, I’ve been focusing on reading essays and long reads. I switched gears by spending my free time writing, editing, and reworking essays—you know the drill. So, my book reviewing has been pushed to the side for now. For a while. Not forever.

GandMWhile I’ve had short works published in local literary magazines, I’ve never had anything published on a national scale—until now. I hope you’ll read my essay in today’s installment of Facts & Arguments in The Globe and Mail.

Shout out to the editor, Jane Gadd, for this opportunity and to Jori Bolton for the lovely illustration.