Top Ten Tuesday: Winter Reads

TTT-NEW

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

This week’s theme is holiday reads, and while I’m sure I could dig you up some Speculative Fiction that happens during holidays (NOS4A2 anyone?) I personally don’t have that many that I know of on my list.  With a two hour delay this morning, and the first real snow of the season falling over New England, I went for books with a winter setting instead.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman – This is a favorite from my childhood, and is probably overdue for a re-read.  But I swear the landscape and setting are so well written, you feel the cold when reading.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden – This is a Russian fairytale retelling, set in a remote Russian village far in the north, often described as atmospheric by the group I read it with

Early Riser Jasper Fforde

Early Riser by Jasper Fforde – This is a kooky tale about humans who hibernate and a weird urban myth call the Gronk.  There were a few parts that made me chuckle, if you Fforde’s humor is your thing.

The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky

The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky – This was one of my favorite books of the year – and it definitely fits the winter them, being set in Canada, as far north as the Arctic Circle.

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie – While this book is less about the wintry setting than others, most of it definitely takes place in the freezing cold! Enough to set my teeth a chattering.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin – When I was doing my research for this post, this book popped up repeatedly.  And since the planet’s name is actually Winter, it would be silly to leave it out.

Cyber Storm by Matthew Mather

Cyber Storm by Matthew Mather – A techno-thriller in which a freak blizzard buries New York in snow and cuts them off from the rest of the world. Described as a techno-thriller, I am curious to find out how the blizzard plays into it.

Good Morning Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton

Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton – A researcher and astronomer in the Arctic is seemingly abandoned when his radio communication falls silent.  Meanwhile a team of astronauts still in space wonder if they will ever get home after their communications fall silent.  This one seems to have mixed reviews on GoodReads- what do you all think?

Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice

Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice – An #ownvoices book set in the Yukon on an Anishinaabe reservation.  When the grid crashes, panic sets in as supplies run low, and survivors begin trickling in from nearby communities.

The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson

The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson – This book is set in the Canadian Yukon after the fall of mankind due to nuclear war and disease.  Other readers have described the setting as “almost a character itself” which is something I love!

I’ll tell you what I was looking for and couldn’t find- post-apocalyptic, Earth is in eternal winter, book about the survivors.  You know, like The Road, with more people.  Does anyone have anything like that?  Which books made your Top Ten Tuesday?

 

 

Book Review: The Last Days of New Paris by China Mieville

This was one of my June buddy reads with the Sci-fi Fantasy Book Club on GoodReads.  (If you enjoy buddy reads, it’s a great community, and there’s almost always someone that is happy to join in with you!)  Instead of including quotes with this review I’ve included some images of surrealist art featured in the book (and I’m giving credit to Nicky Martin’s Graphic Annotations from which I found them).

The Last Days of New Paris by China Mieville

Rating:  ★★★

I think China Mieville is an author whose ideas I’m in love with, and then struggle to connect with.  I also think I’ve picked the wrong books to start with (the first one being Kraken).  The Last Days of New Paris is an alternate history of Paris after France falls to Nazi occupation.  A secret group of resistance fighters called the Main a Plume (I think) has brought to life various things from surrealist paintings (called manifs) to help them fight the Nazis.  We follow MC Thibaut, a member of the main a plume, as he wanders the ruins of New Paris searching for a way out.

I am an amateur of velocipedes by Leonora Carrington

“I am an Amateur of Velocipedes” by Leonora Carrington (1941)

My issue with a lot of this book, is that honestly, I just didn’t understand the narrative.  I understood the overall story arc, what happens to each character, how things came to be, etc. but if I was trying to put together a timeline and location of events for someone else to follow, I wouldn’t make it very far.  I constantly felt like I was missing some key piece of information- asking myself “where are we now?” and “why are we here?” and “who are you again?”.  It’s very frustrating.

The Elephant Celebes by Max Ernst

“The Elephant Celebes” by Max Ernst (1921)

I think I’ve said this before, I don’t mind working a little harder to understand a book, but the pay off needs to be worth it.  I didn’t feel like it was worth it here.  The characters, while they had some cool abilities, just weren’t anything special.  You ever meet someone who speaks, maybe not in monotone, but without a lot of inflection?  Rarely shows enthusiasm or feeling about anything in particular?  Never smiles or laughs? Thibaut felt that way for me (and granted, there probably wasn’t a whole lot to laugh about in Nazi occupied France).  Sam was better, but she’s more of a side character.

Psychological Space by Victor Brauner Wolf Tables

“Psychological Space” by Victor Brauner (1939)

The “magic” system (if it can be called that) is very cool and totally unique and I loved some of the imagery we are given, but magic systems alone have never been enough to sell me and there wasn’t a whole lot explained about this one.  There was a little bit of humor in the book too, which I appreciated.

My favorite part of the book was the afterword, in which Mieville tells a very bizarre story about how he came to write this very bizarre story.  I couldn’t decide if that story was truth or fiction, or if the person he talks about is some kind of dimension hopping hero or someone who suffered dementia, but it was still a cool addition to the book.  I wish Mieville had included it as a foreword, because I think understanding the context in which this was written goes a long way toward understanding the story overall (so if you decide to try this, read that first).

Exquisite Corpse by Andre Breton

an untitled exquisite corpse by André Breton, Man Ray, Max Morise, Yves Tanguy (1927)

Overall- a story worth reading if you are a fan of Mieville, but I don’t think I’d recommend it as a starting point.  I think I’ll give one more book of his a try (I already own The City & The City after all) but if it turns out to be another three star read I think I’m going to have to part ways with Mieville.

The Last Days of New Paris can be found on GoodReads or ordered on Amazon.

Can’t Wait Wednesday: The Deep by Rivers Solomon

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This is the first time I’ve done one of these posts.  Usually if there’s a new release I’m going to get excited about, I’m the last to know, but I’m currently working my way through all 800 pages of The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon, so I figured I’d give Can’t Wait Wednesday a try.

The Deep by Rivers Solomon

Release Date: November 5, 2019

Published by: Saga Press

Length: 176 Pages

Description: Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners—who live idyllic lives in the deep. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly, is forgotten by everyone, save one—the historian. This demanding role has been bestowed on Yetu.

Yetu remembers for everyone, and the memories, painful and wonderful, traumatic and terrible and miraculous, are destroying her. And so, she flees to the surface, escaping the memories, the expectations, and the responsibilities—and discovers a world her people left behind long ago.

Yetu will learn more than she ever expected to about her own past—and about the future of her people. If they are all to survive, they’ll need to reclaim the memories, reclaim their identity—and own who they really are.

Why I’m excited for it: The wonderful members of the Sci Fi Fantasy Book Club on GoodReads did a buddy read for Solomon’s other work, An Unkindness of Ghosts, and though I didn’t partake in that particular buddy read, the feedback overall seemed very positive.

I would like to check that one out at some point, but when I saw the description for The Deep I was enthralled by the premise.  It seems like at least some of it will be set underwater, which is one of my favorite settings for books.  The deeper you go, the less the world knows about life under the sea, so it’s always appealed to me as one of those settings where anything could happen.

It seems like it’s going to have merpeople of a sort.  I read Mira Grant’s (Seanan McGuire) Into the Drowning Deep last year and while it read like a B-movie horror flick, that’s sort of my jam, and I enjoyed the ride.  I’m fascinated by reports of the Fiji mermaid, especially those documentaries similar to Josh Gate’s expedition on Destination Truth.

But most of all it’s own voices, and it will explore the world and it’s history from a perspective we don’t get to see enough.  I’ve already planned the buddy read for release day, and I honestly can’t wait.

The Deep can be found on GoodReads here, or preordered on Amazon here.

 

The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander

Rating:  ★★★★

“Death decayed into history decayed into poolside anecdote.”

I received this for free as part of Tor.com’s free ebook of the month club. I wasn’t terribly excited about it when I saw it. But free is free and it was quick so I took a chance, and I’m so glad I did!

First- content warnings, because this isn’t an easy book to stomach: animal abuse and torture, graphic depictions of radiation poisoning.

I started this and admittedly had no idea what was going on. I thought it was pretty weird the story was being told by an elephant (humans have their parts, but it starts with the elephant). I didn’t really understand elephant culture other at first- there was a learning curve. What I eventually worked out was that elephants are a matriarchal society and stories, kept “orally”, are sacred. By 50% or so I adjusted to the elephant POV and that was where the story took off for me. To be honest- I also didn’t know much about the Radium Girls. I had heard of them, but I have no idea why or what they did. I think that was half the point.

I’ve read a few friend reviews and I think the beauty in this story is that it seems everyone took something different from it. For me, I felt it was about the power of story in our lives, how truth can be manipulated, twisted, and bent, how truth can be buried. How the treatment of one story can mean the “characters” fade into obscurity or sky rocket into fame. How that story will affect future generations.

“No matter what you did, forty or fifty or a hundred years passed and everything became a narrative to be toyed with, masters of media alchemy splitting the truth’s nucleus into a ricocheting cascade reaction of diverging alternate realities.”

I found this particular message very powerful and so, so relevant, but there were also snippets of other messages I found really moving. The power of corporate America. Business and commerce rule all. Anyone will turn a blind eye to anything so long as there is food on the table. I think it would make for a fantastic read with friends or clubs because discussion really could be endless here.

Aside from that the voice and the writing here were superb. We have three pretty distinct voices, Regan, a Radium Girl, a poor southern farm girl with little education, Furmother, the most clever of all elephant mothers, and Kat, the scientist who wants to “help” and sees value in truth. I highlighted so many things in this tiny book. The tone and setting were dark and grim, yet she managed to maintain a note of dry (and admittedly dark) humor through out.

I only deducted a star because as I mentioned above- the book was really hard to read. I don’t really have triggers, but I certainly find some things more difficult to read than others, animal abuse and slow death are two of those things for me.

All in all- the book can be read in a day and I highly recommend taking the time. It’s well worth it. Thanks to Tor.com for putting it on my shelf.

“…Her execution will amount to nothing more than a pitiful sentence in a history book swollen tick-tight with so many injustices the poisoning of a factory full of girls and the mean public death of a small god don’t even register as particularly noteworthy.”

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

TCS_MRK Rating: ★★★★★

I promise- this is the last time I’ll steal a blurb from goodreads.. maybe: “A meteor decimates the U.S. government and paves the way for a climate cataclysm that will eventually render the earth inhospitable to humanity. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated timeline in the earth’s efforts to colonize space, as well as an unprecedented opportunity for a much larger share of humanity to take part.

One of these new entrants in the space race is Elma York, whose experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too—aside from some pesky barriers like thousands of years of history and a host of expectations about the proper place of the fairer sex. And yet, Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions may not stand a chance.”

This was a group read with the Sci-Fi and Fantasy Book Club! I read it earlier than planned because it’s due back today but oh my gosh I want to sit here and gush for twenty paragraphs.

The first thing I want to say is that there are other short stories set in this alternate space flight history, and I believe they are all available online for free. I started with: The Lady Astronaut of Mars, and it was absolutely beautiful and a reminder that fiction doesn’t need to be long to be compelling. I do wonder if my reading of that boosted my enjoyment of this or if I would appreciate The Lady Astronaut more if I had started here. (If anyone has any insight- please leave a comment below!)

The research that went into this is amazing, and must have taken months, maybe even years. The result is a novel that fully immersed you in its world and its timeline. The history behind the book was treated with equal levels of importance as the science. The moods, the mindsets, the setting, all of it felt so incredibly authentic, and brought the world to life in a way that I don’t know if even a movie could do. The science is equally impressive and complicated, and while I appreciate it, I’m also not going to pretend I understood it. That is not to say the book was a difficult read- it wasn’t. I’m just not good at physics.

I enjoyed the plot. I wouldn’t call it action heavy- but it never feels boring or bloated. This was a very empowering novel. Elma’s struggle didn’t feel like a private struggle (although of course, it is at times) it felt like a struggle for all women. It made me grateful for the women that came before me, and got us to this point, and also angry that for all their hard work, these are struggles we still have.

I loved the characters. Absolutely loved them. Almost all of them. They all face their own private struggles and have their own flaws. I felt like I was picked up and inserted into this alternate timeline as some sort of mute observer. The relationships between them felt incredibly real- especially that of the relationship between Nathaniel and Elma, but also between Nicole and Elma, Elma and Parker, Eugene and Myrtle, the list goes on.

Ugh- there is so much more I want to say here, but I’m trying to avoid spoilers. I think this book is so important- and I sincerely hope it gets the recognition it deserves in the wider world.