Book Review: The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu

Rating:  ★★★★

My only experience with Ken Liu thus far has been in his translation of Cixin Liu’s The Three Body Problem and Death’s End.  But I know he has a few beloved books already published out there, so I jumped at the chance to read this.

I generally try to read the introduction whenever one is included, and I definitely recommend reading the intro to The Hidden Girl and Other Stories.  Liu talks a little about his writing process and how he went about selecting stories for this book.  He says that stories are co-told by an author’s words and a reader’s interpretation; that writing a story is like building a house in which the reader moves in, arranges the furniture and decor to suit their tastes, and settles down.

He also goes on to say that it would be impossible for him to construct a home in which everyone was comfortable, so he selected the stories that he himself felt most comfortable in, and asks that the reader “find a story..to make [their] home.”  I adored the metaphor and knew with that short but sweet introduction I was in for a treat.

That being said, I really am terrible at reviewing collections.  So terrible in fact, that I’ve put this off for two months because I read it in December.  It took me a week because these were stories that often required some processing afterward, so I know it’s worthy of a fantastic review and I’ve no idea how to convey that to you.

So bare with me friends, I’m doing my best.

The first two stories “Ghost Days” and “Maxwell’s Demon” absolutely blew me out of the water.  They were both eye opening, haunting.  They were stories I think it would benefit everyone to read at least once.  While “Ghost Days” is about the importance of history and immigrant experience in America, “Maxwell’s Demon” is about the experience of a woman of Japanese descent in America during WWII.

For me, the stories that follow didn’t quite live up to the enormous standard by those first two stories.  What they do instead, is follow, as Liu himself put it, a “meta-narrative”.  Trailing different and yet similar themes (AI, digital immortality, virtual reality, shared experiences, parent-child relationships, etc.) weaving together an inventive tapestry of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

I will say this book ventures to some dark places.  Sometimes I’d read a story and have to put the book down for a bit because it was that dark.  Many stories don’t have a happy ending.

I do think the book finished strong, despite being a little bogged down in the middle.  Other highlights include the miniseries starting with “The Gods Will Not Be Chained” and “The Hidden Girl”.

In the end, I liked The Hidden Girl and Other Stories enough that I will certainly be checking out Liu’s other work.  This collection is well worth picking up for fans and newcomers alike.

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories releases on February 25, 2020 and can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher for sending an ARC for review.

Month in Review: January 2020

Hello friends!  I hope we’ve all had an excellent start to the new year!  For myself, I wish I’d gotten a little more read, but I did better than last year so that’s something.  And with my review of The Vanished Birds yesterday, I managed to get through all of the many ARCs I had committed to for January so I’m happy I’ve kept on track with those at least.

Novels/Novellas Read: 7

Short Stories: 3

Pages Read: 2,900

Average Rating: 3.8

Female Authors: 6

Favorite Reads:

Most of what I read this month was at least a 4 star read, but looking back, these two stood out as my favorites:

The God Game by Danny Tobey

Followers by Megan Angelo

Other Reads Completed:

Empire Ascendant (Worldbreaker Saga #2) by Kameron Hurley

The Broken Heavens (Worldbreaker Saga #3) by Kameron Hurley

A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen

Wonderland by Zoje Stage (RTC!)

Zenith Man by Jennifer Haigh

The Lion’s Den by Anthony Marra

A Good Marriage by Stephen King

The Girlfriend’s Guide to Gods by Maria Dahvana Headley (available free here!)

ARCs Received:

This is not including the ARC of Wonderland (pictured above), which I snuck in in January because I didn’t want to wait.

The Chill by Scott Carson – Has been getting some mixed reviews, but the blurb feels like it’s speaking so directly to me I couldn’t turn it down.

Pretty Things by Janelle Brown – A con artist who learned the trade from her mother, works a young heiress in the scam of a lifetime “where their intertwined lives give way to a winter of aspiration and desire, duplicity and revenge.”  Yes. Please.

Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon – Last year I strayed away from historical fiction, but it’s one of my favorite genres, and I want to get back to it this year.  It’s the story of a “socialite spy…who killed a Nazi with her bare hands and went on to become one of the most decorated women in WWII.”

Machina by Fran Wilde (and others) – Sent to me by Serial Box!  I loved Ninth Step Station, and was really honored when Serial Box reached out to me about Machina. I’ve already started listening to the first episode and it’s as great as I expected.

I did not receive any eGalleys in my effort to cut back on the number of ARCs I’m committing to.  (Which is not going well.)

PopSugar Prompts Completed: 5/50

A book published in 2020: A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen

A book that passes the Bechdel Test: Empire Ascendant (Worldbreaker #2) by Kameron Hurley

A book with the same title as a movie or TV show but is unrelated to it: Wonderland by Zoje Stage

A book about or involving social media: Followers by Megan Angelo

A book with a robot, cyborg, or AI character: The God Game by Danny Tobey

Other Posts from January:

Reading Challenge: 20 in ’20

Discussion: Books on a Budget

Book Haul

How was your January?  Anything special you’re looking forward to in February?

 

 

Book Haul!

Hello friends! I haven’t been too consistent since I returned from a small hiatus over Christmas and New Years.  I’m hoping to get that fixed next week.  There were lots of household chores that needed catching up on too.

I’ve been on a no book buying ban for quite some time- but I still love the book store because it’s much easier to browse my local Barnes & Noble than it ever has been my local library, which groups all the fiction from every genre together.  (Why?!)  So between having a longing to browse and a gift card and a big B&N sale, I picked up a few things.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood – This was in my 20 in ’20 list, and the price was right and I’m in love with the cover.

Oryx and Crake is at once an unforgettable love story and a compelling vision of the future. Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved.

In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey–with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake–through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city, until powerful corporations took mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride. Margaret Atwood projects us into a near future that is both all too familiar and beyond our imagining.”

Full Throttle by Joe Hill

Full Throttle by Joe Hill – And it’s signed!  Which seems silly but I love Joe Hill.  This isn’t on any list or challenge that I had planned, but it’s Joe Hill and I’ve been meaning to read it since it released last October.

“In this masterful collection of short fiction, Joe Hill dissects timeless human struggles in thirteen relentless tales of supernatural suspense, including “In The Tall Grass,” one of two stories co-written with Stephen King, basis for the terrifying feature film from Netflix.”

The Marsh King's Daughter by Karen Dionne

The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne – Spotted on the clearance racks.  What pulled me in was the description of the scenery, which is marshy, swampy, jungle-ish.  Every once in awhile I get a craving to read something in this sort of setting.  I am a little worried about there being scenes of child abuse (which I don’t like) but I decided to take a chance on it because it’s told from her perspective as an adult, so I’m hoping flashbacks are few and far between.

The mesmerizing tale of a woman who must risk everything to hunt down the dangerous man who shaped her past and threatens to steal her future: her father.

Helena Pelletier has a loving husband, two beautiful daughters, and a business that fills her days. But she also has a secret: she is the product of an abduction. Her mother was kidnapped as a teenager by her father and kept in a remote cabin in the marshlands of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Helena, born two years after the abduction, loved her home in nature, and despite her father’s sometimes brutal behavior, she loved him, too…until she learned precisely how savage he could be.

More than twenty years later, she has buried her past so soundly that even her husband doesn’t know the truth. But now her father has killed two guards, escaped from prison, and disappeared into the marsh. The police begin a manhunt, but Helena knows they don’t stand a chance. Knows that only one person has the skills to find the survivalist the world calls the Marsh King–because only one person was ever trained by him: his daughter.”

After the Crash by Michel Bussi

After the Crash by Michel Bussi – This is a bit outside my typical comfort zone, since it sounds like more of a mystery than a thriller necessarily, but I picked it up because I’m always curious to see how struggles between the working class and upper crust elite play out.

On the night of 22 December 1980, a plane crashes on the Franco-Swiss border and is engulfed in flames. 168 out of 169 passengers are killed instantly. The miraculous sole survivor is a three-month-old baby girl. Two families, one rich, the other poor, step forward to claim her, sparking an investigation that will last for almost two decades. Is she Lyse-Rose or Emilie?

Eighteen years later, having failed to discover the truth, private detective Credule Grand-Duc plans to take his own life, but not before placing an account of his investigation in the girl’s hands. But, as he sits at his desk about to pull the trigger, he uncovers a secret that changes everything – then is killed before he can breathe a word of it to anyone…”

Killing Gravity by Corey J White

Killing Gravity (The Voidwitch Saga #1) by Corey J. White – Picked this up for Kindle.  It was on a deal for $1.99 not too long ago (it still might be).  No idea what a voidwitch is, but I definitely want to know!

“Mariam Xi can kill you with her mind. She escaped the MEPHISTO lab where she was raised as a psychic supersoldier, which left her with terrifying capabilities, a fierce sense of independence, a deficit of trust and an experimental pet named Seven. She’s spent her life on the run, but the boogeymen from her past are catching up with her. An encounter with a bounty hunter has left her hanging helpless in a dying spaceship, dependent on the mercy of strangers.

Penned in on all sides, Mariam chases rumors to find the one who sold her out. To discover the truth and defeat her pursuers, she’ll have to stare into the abyss and find the secrets of her past, her future, and her terrifying potential.”

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children #1) by Seanan McGuire – I grabbed this for FREE this morning.  I know I’m like the only person who hasn’t read it yet, but just in case any of you wanted to check it out.  Nicole @ Book Wyrm Knits recommended it to me, and you can check out her spoiler free review of the most recent book here.

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost.”

And that’s all the ones from January anyway.  Have you read any of these?  What did you think?

 

Sunday Short Fiction Review: The Best Science Fiction of the Year Vol. 4 Edited by Neil Clarke

A couple quick reviews for some short fiction I read this week.  All of these were found in the following anthology.

The Best Science Fiction of the Year Volume 4 Edited by Neil Clarke

“When We Were Starless” by Simone Heller: 3.5 stars.  Really unique take on the post apocalyptic landscape. While the setting sounded just how I always picture that kind of setting (crumpled glass, fallen steel, random detritus), descriptions of the non-human characters and tech were frustratingly vague.  I would have loved to have just a little more time to explore.

“Intervention” by Kelly Robson: 3 stars.  Loved Jules’s character- but not much else.  Jules leaves her comfy job on the moon to manage a creche.  We pick up toward the end of her creche career to see what fate has in store for her.  This was okay.  I thought it was a little boring. The prevailing attitude towards children throughout the solar system I found somewhat unbelievable (in that literally every occupied planet finds children deplorable).  It vaguely reminded me of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World in that regard.

“All the Time We’ve Left to Spend” by Alyssa Wong: 5 Star read.  Honestly- I was almost as blown away by this short story as I was by The Lady Astronaut of Mars.  Wong made me care about the character, but also let the mystery unfold naturally which kept me engaged. I found myself wondering what else she has written. Cool world building and cultural elements too.

“Domestic Violence” by Madeline Ashby: 5 Stars.  This is exactly the kind of story I love- cool tech, women who can fend for themselves and others. Not at all what I expected from the title.  I will say I had guessed the ending- but I really didn’t care.  The journey was still a blast.

“Ten Landscapes of Nili Fossae” by Ian McDonald: 3 stars. I apologize, I couldn’t find a link to this story.  This is about the theoretical first painting on Mars.  To be honest I really didn’t get it.  I am someone who is super straight forward and logical and likes reason.  So abstract art and general ambiguity are not really my things.  Therefore this story was also not my thing.  It felt like an homage to art and artists everywhere.  Which is great, they deserve it, it just wasn’t my kind of story.

That’s it for this week!  I will definitely be checking out other work by Alyssa Wong and Madeline Ashby (although I’ve heard lukewarm things about Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach).  I’m slowly working my way through these and plan to have a few to post every week.

Have you read any good short fiction lately?

Book Review: Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Rating:  ★★★★

Friday Black is a debut collection of short fiction from Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah.  Some of the stories are what I’d classify as literary fiction, but many of them are also speculative.  His writing is flawless, and the stories pull no punches.  It’s dark, bold, and incredibly relevant.  Adjei-Brenyah’s stories largely explore race and systemic racism, consumerism, and the violence entrenched in our culture.

Having worked a few Black Friday’s myself, when I saw the book I knew I had to read it.  This is satire at its finest, but it’s sad because all of the stories hold so much truth.  This book is quick, and could probably be read in a day, but I found myself putting it down between stories to think on them.

“Emmanuel started learning the basics of his Blackness before he knew how to do long division: smiling when angry, whispering when he wanted to yell.”

“The Finkelstein 5” is the title of the first story.  It’s explosive, and was an excellent opener.  It hooks you in from the start.  The MC, Emmanuel, talks about how one of the first things his father taught him was to dial down his blackness by adjusting his clothes, his mannerisms, his language.  Meanwhile, a white man is on trial for the brutal murder of five black children, and the world waits to see whether he is found guilty or innocent.  What’s so terrifying about this story, is how many times we’ve already seen it in the news.  I won’t spoil it any further, but it’s a story I think everyone should read. 5/5 stars

“Things My Mother Said” is super short but absolutely beautiful.  He manages to get his point across in a page and a half.  Read it, then call your mother and tell her you love her. Another 5 star read.

“Back then, everyone was a liar.”

“The Era” was interesting.  In a dystopian world, people no longer have feelings.  Those with feelings have to take drugs to stop having feelings in order not to “cloud their truth” with emotion.  You can call your teacher a fat slob and he’ll shrug it off.  Telling the truth is highly encouraged.  Overall, I enjoyed it. 4/5 stars

“Lark Steet” was my least favorite story in the book.  It’s about abortion.  I’m not sure what the author was arguing for/against here.  I felt icky after I read it and I had to put the book down for a day or two after that.  2/5 stars

“Nothing is more boring than a happy ending.”

“The Hospital Where” was a good one.  It employed magical realism instead of straight up fantasy.  It was weird and wonderful all at once.  At times it felt like being stuck in a surrealist painting.  I interpreted it as an allegory for the impact of writing and the writing process, but it also felt like a love letter to writing. 4/5 stars

“Zimmer Land” is about a theme park where people can act out their most violent fantasies and pretend they are heroes.  I was reminded a lot of Rebecca Roanhorse’s “Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience.”  I thought Adjei-Brenyah’s story started stronger but I think Roanhorse’s finished stronger (to be fair, that would have been a difficult ending to beat).  4/5 stars

I’ve seen somebody step on someone else to get the jeans on a Black Friday…How did you decide to step on a human being to get a pair of jeans?”*

“Friday Black” the story for which the book is named, made me laugh.  Not because it’s funny- really it’s not.  It made me laugh because I find the whole Black Friday business pretty disgusting, and I’d rather laugh than cry.  I’ve been on the front lines of that battle.  At 1:00 AM.  Because some retail genius somewhere thought Christmas shopping at 1:00 AM seemed totally reasonable. 5/5 stars

“The Lion & the Spider” incorporates a tale of Anansi the spider alongside the tale of a boy who’s father has gone missing.  It took me right up until the end to see what either had to do with the other, but I absolutely loved the ending, so I won’t spoil it.  This was one of the more hopeful stories in the book. 5/5 stars

“He brings the comb to his head.  Yes.  Each strand of hair will shine, slick and erect.  The mane of a battle-ready soldier.  Oh, he will look good for the annihilation.”

“Light Spitter” is a story about a school shooting that also employs magical realism.  I’m a little undecided on where I stand with this one.  I was less moved by this story than others, but I enjoyed the themes and metaphors here more than some of the other stories.  3/5 stars

“How to Sell a Jacket as Told by Ice King” is another retail themed story. I believe it is a continuation of Friday Black.  I did enjoy it- but I think it’s more because I liked the Ice King’s character than anything else.  Themes in this story pertain to consumerism, but it fell a little short of the first piece. 4/5 stars

“In retail, if you don’t wanna be a Lucy, you gotta find ways to make the bleak a little better.”

“In Retail” is another retail story, following the same character.  I adored this one too.  It talks about how sometimes, there can be good days in retail.  In retail, most customers won’t appreciate you, but sometimes you get one who is truly grateful.  It was probably the most relatable story of the bunch for me.  It also included a funny tidbit about a Spanish teacher that made me laugh out loud.  4/5 stars

“Through the Flash” returns to the science fiction side of things.  People live the same day over and over again.  They can do different things each day, but no matter what happens, when they wake up, it’s the same day.  I fell in love with Ama’s character, and I thought it was a good way to close out the book. 4/5 stars

Overall, it’s a dark collection that’s been balanced with dark humor.  I very much enjoyed it and I’ll definitely be checking out Adjei-Brenyah’s future work.  I’d love to see what he could do with a full length novel.  Friday Black can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.

*Quote from the author, borrowed from a NY Times article about the book written by Alexandra Alter (link here).  Check it out- it was awesome!

Content warnings:  I’m just going to go with a blanket statement here and say that if you need them, this probably isn’t the book for you.

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on my Spring 2019 TBR

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 topic is pretty straight forward.  I’m pulling most of these from a list of buddy reads I’ve already agreed to join.  I swore this year I wasn’t going to do this to myself… but my March reading is already behind and April is pretty much booked solid.  You see the trouble is I commit to buddy reads and then I find all this other great stuff to read along the way.  So while three or four buddy reads is totally reasonable in a month- I’ll probably end up reading twice that and cramming eight or nine reads into a month.  #INeedToPlanBetter.

Luna Moon Rising Ian McDonald

Moon Rising, Luna #3 by Ian McDonald – I am SO EXCITED for this book.  It releases today!!  Plus I learned that CBS has picked up the TV rights on it.  I’m not sure they can do it justice (probably not like HBO could anyway) but I’ll give it a try if it ever manifests.  I’m so in love with this world and all it’s drama.

Beowulf Seamus Heaney

Beowulf, Seamus Heaney translation – So this is super embarrassing to admit, lover of vikings that I am, but I’ve never read this.  And I need more classics on my roster this year because last year I read none.

The Mere Wife Maria Dahvana Headley

The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley – If you aren’t familiar with this one, it’s a modern, suburban house wife, retelling of Beowulf.  To me there’s something contemporarily vicious about modern housewives and keeping up with the Joneses, so as odd as it sounds I think the setting will fit a Beowulf retelling perfectly.

Servant of the Underworld Aliette de Bodard

Servant of the Underworld by Aliette de Bodard – I actually have no idea who Aliette de Bodard is, I just know her name keeps coming up everywhere.  Tenochtitlan, Aztecs, high priests and priestesses… No idea what it’s about, but I’m sold.

Time Was Ian McDonald

Time Was by Ian McDonald – I’m pretty convinced at this point that Ian McDonald is one of the more underrated science fiction authors out there right now.  Again- no idea what this one is about, but for some authors, it really doesn’t matter.  I’m hoping for a sweeping science fictional LGBT+ love story.  And that cover is gorgeous.

avld_amo

Alien Virus Love Disaster by Abbey Mei Otis – This book, along with Time Was (above) is nominated for the Phillip K. Dick award.  I fell in love with this book based on the title alone (you know, because 400 years in the future, I am totally a walking Alien Virus Love Disaster).  It’s a collection of short stories and looks like it will be pretty quick.

Wicked Saints Emily Duncan

Wicked Saints by Emily Duncan – Somehow I was lucky enough to be approved for an ARC on this one (St. Martin’s Press has always been kind to me).  To be honest, early reviews have me a little nervous, but with a title like: Wicked Saints and a series called: Something Dark and Holy… what’s not to love?! (Please be good.)

City of Stairs Robert Jackson Bennett

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett – The number of books this man has on my TBR list is seriously out of control.  Everything he puts out I feel like I need to read and I’ve yet to actually read any of them.  Worse still- the omnibus for The Divine Cities was on sale for $2.99 a couple months back (a steal) so I own all three and still haven’t read them.  Spring 2019, it is time.

TheStand_SK

The Stand by Stephen King – I have to work really hard not to read Stephen King all the time.  Even on his worst days, he still offers me more than a lot of what I feel like I’ve been reading lately.  And I still have SO MANY of his books on my TBR.  Lately I’ve been wanting to read the stand, because I feel like it will be epic on the scale of Under the Dome.  (At least that’s what I’m hoping for.  Please don’t let me down.)

Witchmark C.L. Polk

Witchmark by C.L. Polk – I realize this is a bizarre follow up to The Stand, but reading The Wolf in the Whale last month, I was reminded that romance really is a favorite genre of mine, when it’s done well.  So I suppose it’s not a coincidence that both Time Was and Witchmark landed on my Spring TBR.  It’s nominated for the Lambda award and seems to have great reviews so I’m very excited for it.

That’s it!  I probably will end up reading ten totally different things, but I’m hopeful I’ll at least make it through the six buddy reads I have planned.  What about you?  What’s on your Spring TBR?