Indigenous tales

Marvel Voices: Indigenous Voices # 1
by Jeffrey Veregge

Three stories based on Marvel. In each very short story a well-known Marvel character shows up. In summary not a great offering. The last one stood out. It was difficult to get a good grip on this, as the stories were very short.

“Hugo, Nebula, and Locus-award winning Black/Ohkay Owingeh writer Rebecca Roanhorse and Tongva artist Weshoyot Alvitre tell an Echo tale like none you’ve heard before.“

Anatomically off and I’m not a fan of the colouring. The artwork is not a winner. The story was ok, but didn‘t do much for me either. ★★☆☆☆

“Geoscientist and Lipan Apache writer Darcie Little Badger joins acclaimed Whitefish Lake First Nation artist Kyle Charles for a Dani Moonstar story that’s out of this world!“

The artwork is better. I also preferred the story of a mutant teenager in trouble a lot more. This is X-Men, coming to the rescue… I liked Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger, so it was nice to see that she delivers in a different medium. ★★★½☆

“And Bram Stoker-winning horror writer Stephen Graham Jones of the Blackfeet Nation teams up with Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation artist David Cutler to revisit one of the darkest spots of X-Men history!“

I didn‘t particularly like The Only Good Indians, so I had low expectations, when I read the author’s name. However, I immediately liked the artwork.

I liked this one. Good story, albeit with a reference that I‘m not getting. I recognize the Marvel character, but I am missing the backstory. Still, this one was good all around and the best of this collection. ★★★★☆

This read is part of my attempt to clear my TBR pile of owned books and my #ReadBIPOC2021 challenge (entry for June).

Farming for parts

Farmhand, Vol. 1
by Rob Guillory,  Taylor Wells (Illustrator) 

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Zeke Jenkins had a falling out with his dad a few years ago. Now he‘s taking the family back to the farm and his old hometown to make up and find a new/old place to live.

Which is a bit odd, because his father is growing body parts on that farm…

Can you hear the zombies shuffling along in the background? This has to turn into something really weird, right? Well, not just yet… The body parts are grown for a good purpose: to heal people and replace those lost body parts…

Issue/Chapter #1 was mostly introductions and a little set-up and Issue #2 started with a little backstory on Zeke‘s youth. Things started to become interesting and moved in unexpected directions. No zombies in sight…. but other strange things made an appearance. Mutations, anyone? And not just plants… However, towards the end of Issue #5 this was seriously lacking in narrative tension and my mind kept wandering off. Nice ominous ending though, that might tempt me into picking up the next book.

I liked the artwork.

This read is part of my attempt to clear my TBR pile of owned books and my #ReadBIPOC2021 challenge (entry for June).

Dystopia, gender and some genius

Sorry for the long break since the last post! Busy at work, tired and lazy in the evenings. TV ruled my week, mostly with watching all available episodes of Genius on Disney+.

Both Einstein and Picasso were ok. Einstein had some historical inaccuracies. Banderas as Picasso was surprising. I enjoyed the two available episodes of Aretha. The third one should be available now and I‘m pretty sure I‘ll watch it tonight.

I am reading, but very little—I seem to be in a bit of a slump after reading a lot during my recent holiday. I am making slow progress with my current choices, although I don‘t really feel engaged. For now I am giving you a blast from the past, prompted by the blog post of someone else

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife (The Road to Nowhere #1) — audiobook, listened to it in 2017
by Meg Elison (Goodreads Author),  Angela Dawe (Narrator) 

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Philip K. Dick Award (2015)James Tiptree Jr. Award Nominee for Longlist (2014)

In the days when the world had not yet fallen, the screaming of sirens was constant. The structures that still held were the ones designed to cope with emergency and disaster, but none of them could work indefinitely. Desperation moved block by block, and people fought and fled.

Beginning of first chapter

Excellent. Loved the stroy, although it depressed the hell out of me at times. The audiobook was extremely well done as well. 

The main character waking up in a hospital and figuring out that the world has ended is a pretty tired idea by now. Nonetheless, the book started on full throttle and was great from the get-go. And horrific. By chapter three I had goosebumps allover and was close to crying. The story has an episodic feel to it, as it follows the midwife on her trip across the country, chronicling her encounters with various other survivors. Very graphic, with a realistic feel to it. 

From chapter eight onwards there are other POVs strewn in, which I found a little jarring at first. But they give a good overview of the fates of some of the people she meets on her way and of the world in general.

This was one of the best books I read (listend) to in 2017.

The narrator did a smashing job. The various characters have very distinct voices and she brings a lot of emotions into it. I would definitely get other books narrated by her.

The Book of Etta (The Road to Nowhere, #2) — read in 2018
by Meg Elison

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Make me. I was made. I made me.

What a great book. Deliverance meets Priscilla, Queen of the Desert meets Mad Max meets the end of the world. This deserves every price and award it was nominated for (Philip K. Dick Award Nominee (2018)). I was unsure if I even wanted to read this, after liking Unnamed Midwife so much. But this is probably even better.

The different towns with their varied societies—how fascinating. Awesome world building. There are so many plot bunnies for so many books here. So imaginative.

And horrible. At some points of the story I did not want to continue reading, because I dreaded what was coming next. The plot is like a train crash.

Loved the genderqueerness. Nonjudgmental exploration of what is or can be. The interactions between Flora and Eddy were great. But apparently we never learn. We just find new and different ways of screwing it up.

Not sure what to make of the seemingly supernatural character towards the end. A little too surreal. The only part of the novel that I did not like and that probably has the potential to ruin the book for some people. Besides that, I thought this book was bloody brilliant. Loved it.

“I give birth to guns. I bleed bullets. I was born to destroy men. Like you.”

The Book of Flora (The Road to Nowhere, #3) — read in 2019
by Meg Elison

Rating: 2 out of 5.

„Let’s see what I can grow into, see how long it takes me to reach the light.“

The first three chapters were not an easy read. First Flora‘s pretty horrible childhood and then Ommun and Alma—I am not a fan of her. This book was fighting an uphill battle to make me like it from the start.

Reading this back to back with Book of Etta would probably have work well. I struggled to place everybody, as it was a while since I had read Etta and the author made no effort to explain things.

After picking this up and putting it down for 3 weeks and not even making it halfway, I declared defeat. I did not like any of the characters. I didn‘t care what happened next. I didn‘t like the plot. I can‘t put my finger on why it didn‘t. Maybe it was me. Perhaps I expected too much. I don‘t know, was the plot too aimless? The characters all remained very one-dimensional as well. How can the two books be so great and this one…. not.

Six degrees of Separation with Australian wildlife

Welcome to #6degrees. On the first Saturday of every month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. Readers and bloggers are invited to join in by creating their own ‘chain’ leading from the selected book. I am using this meme to work on my backlog, aka reviews that I haven‘t yet posted to my blog here. How the meme works and how you can join is explained here. The initial blog post about this month‘s choice is here.

This month we yet again begin with a book I haven‘t read and have never heard, of The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld. This won the 2021 Stella Prize, something I have never heard of either. Very educational for me today!

The Bass Rock is about family and love, and the ways that both can undo a person – as both storm and haven. It’s about the legacy of male violence and the ways in which these traumas ripple and reverberate across time and place.

https://thestellaprize.com.au/prize/2021-prize/the-bass-rock/

Doesn‘t sound bad, but isn‘t really my cup of tea.

About the prize:

Stella began in 2012 with the Stella Prize, a major literary award celebrating Australian women’s writing. The aim was to counter the gender bias rife in the Australian literary landscape at the time and promote cultural change through the recognition of women’s perspectives.

https://thestellaprize.com.au/about/

On the longlist of that prize are some books that sound more interesting. Song of the Crocodile by Nardi Simpson sounds a bit more down my alley, as it seems to have some magical realism in it.

Exploring the experiences of a First Nations community living on the outskirts of a rural town, Song of the Crocodile focuses on four generations of one family as a vessel to explore the insidious and generational impacts of racism, colonialism and violence. 

https://thestellaprize.com.au/prize/2021-prize/song-of-the-crocodile/

Revenge, Murder in Three Parts by S.L. Lim sounds like an unusual story of revenge:

A family favour their son over their daughter. Shan attends university before making his fortune in Australia while Yannie must find menial employment and care for her ageing parents. After her mother’s death, Yannie travels to Sydney to become enmeshed in her psychopathic brother’s new life, which she seeks to undermine from within.

https://thestellaprize.com.au/prize/2021-prize/revenge/

Fairly odd sounding and intriguing is The Animals in That Country by Laura Jean McKay:

As disturbing news arrives of a pandemic sweeping the country, Jean realises this is no ordinary flu: its chief symptom is that its victims begin to understand the language of animals — first mammals, then birds and insects, too. As the flu progresses, the unstoppable voices become overwhelming, and many people begin to lose their minds, including Jean’s infected son, Lee. When he takes off with Kimberly, heading south, Jean feels the pull to follow her kin.

https://thestellaprize.com.au/prize/2021-prize/the-animals-in-that-country/

The other three books that stood out for me where Metal Fish, Falling Snow by Cath Moore

…a warm, funny and highly original portrait of a young girl’s search for identity and her struggle to deal with grief. Through families lost and found, this own-voices story celebrates the resilience of the human heart and our need to know who we truly are.

https://thestellaprize.com.au/prize/2021-prize/metal-fish-falling-snow/

Stone Sky Gold Mountain by Mirandi Riwoe

Evoking the rich, unfolding tapestry of Australian life in the late nineteenth century, Stone Sky Gold Mountain is a heartbreaking and universal story about the exiled and displaced, about those who encounter discrimination yet yearn for acceptance.

https://thestellaprize.com.au/prize/2021-prize/stone-sky-gold-mountain/

…and finally Smart Ovens for Lonely People by Elizabeth Tan

…a story collection that is astonishingly clever and witty, while also full of piercing insights into contemporary society. As she plays with structure and voice, Tan also explores popular culture and modern technology to great effect, and her futuristic scenarios are well thought out and all too plausible. Food scarcity, environmental destruction, capitalist bureaucracy and misogyny are just some of the ideas explored in the collection – in tales that feature mermaids, devious cats, and mangled ‘90s ballads.

https://thestellaprize.com.au/prize/2021-prize/smart-ovens-for-lonely-people/

Strangely enough, these books are not only connected through nominations for the Stella Prize, they also all have either animals in their titles or on their covers. There you go. Tempted to read any of them?

First Line Friday — Space, Egypt and New York…

First Line Friday is a meme created by Hoarding Books. Feel free to head over there, have a look around, grab your nearest book and post its first line in the comments there and in your blog.


I have three buddy reads planned for June.

The Left Hand of Darkness
by Ursula K. Le Guin

I’LL MAKE MY REPORT AS IF I TOLD A STORY, FOR I WAS taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination.

First line

I started this four days ago and have managed the first three chapters, which brought me to page 53. It’s not doing much for me so far. I spent yesterday reading fanfiction rather than continuing this.

The writing is good, but the style is not engaging me. It‘s probably also not quite what I was expecting. I read the blurb and thought „genderless society, lots of commentary and exploration about their personal interactions and divergence compared to our society“, but so far I only met guys talking politics. And the main character, who I thought was an ambassador, comes across as someone mostly not really interested in what is going on. Odd.

Ok, maybe I should have expected something slow and not obvious, considering that this was first published in 1969. So far this reminds me of Foreigner, which was also a book of only middling success for me. I will read something else and then return to this later this month.

Next up, I guess, is this:

One Last Stop (Kindle Edition)
by Casey McQuiston

SEEKING YOUNG SINGLE ROOMMATE FOR 3BR APARTMENT UPSTAIRS, 6TH FLOOR. $700/MO. MUST BE QUEER & TRANS FRIENDLY. MUST NOT BE AFRAID OF FIRE OR DOGS. NO LIBRAS, WE ALREADY HAVE ONE. CALL NIKO.

Header above chapter 1

I just read the first two pages and this sounds like a much better read for my long weekend, sitting on my balcony with a cold glass of white wine… it also fits well into this LGBTQ+ and Pride Month.

Last but not least I will read:

A Master of Djinn (Dead Djinn, #1)
by P. Djèlí Clark

Fatma blinked at the tirade. Of all the djinn these two had to go and wake up, it had to be a bigot.

From the teaser posted at the beginning

Oh, this will be fun! I just had a peek at the first page and then had to forcibly remove myself from the book a page or two later, to finish this post. Promising! And not looking good for Ursula Le Guin…

Too strange, world and writing need work

Of a Strange World Made (Colony of Edge #1)
by Anthony W. Eichenlaub

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Off to a rocky start with not very smooth writing. Set on a colony world, we meet Ash, busy getting drunk in a bar/cantina of some sort, talking to friends about a wager. She is some sort of lab technician/scientist, working on the terraforming effort for their planet. Sorry for being vague, the story is vague…

The colony has strict laws concerning birth control and she is pulled into helping a woman giving birth to an unsanctioned baby. The baby appears strange. That is how far I got, before I put the novella down for the first time—about a third into the story. The idea is not a bad one, but the writing is not convincing. Scenes are not properly thought out, it‘s very sketchy.

For example: what is strange about the baby, why does it look wrong? Right after the birth, she has to leave mother and child to keep them safe. She does not come back to check on them, after the situation prompting her to leave has passed. Wouldn‘t it be normal to return as soon as possible to ensure the safety and health of mother and child? And if she can‘t return for some reason, why not? 

When she does return the next day, the baby lies apart from the mother, alive and breathing in an atmosphere, that requires adults to wear rebreathers. She doesn’t question that and doesn’t check on the child, just briefly talks to the mother. Again, no indication is given, why the baby is a „wretched thing“. She asks the mother, if she is ok and leaves again. BTW, her mother is a midwife. Even without that, I would check on the baby. Wouldn‘t you?

I read on a little further. The mother tells the story of how the baby came to be, in a style that doesn‘t mesh with the first third of the story. And then there are details that are factually wrong.

“Predators were born into action, Ash realized. Old movies of wildlife showed the creatures up and moving almost as soon as they were born.“

Wolves are born deaf and blind. It‘s the other way around actually. The hunted are up and running right away, to avoid getting eaten.

On top of all that Ash sounds like a teenager. I assume she is supposed to be a grown woman, but I can‘t tell, as it‘s not mentioned. I gave up in the middle and heavily skimmed through the rest. The ending was not bad and offers a promising opening for the sequel. Which I will not read.

I received this free e-copy from the publisher/author via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review, thank you!

If at first you don‘t succeed, try again…

The Murders of Molly Southbourne (Molly Southbourne, #1)
by Tade Thompson

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Weird. Disturbing. Creepy. Off-putting. Slightly disgusting in parts. It‘s like a train wreck—pretty horrible, but I couldn‘t look away. This novella made me feel uncomfortable. I am still trying to put my fingers on the reason why. The blood? The constant murders? The horribleness of the mollys? Strangely enough, I am tempted to read the sequel. 

If you read the blurb, you already know that every time Molly bleeds, a „molly“ is created. And the mollys are always off somehow, eventually intent on killing her. So she kills them first. Around that concept the story of her life to a certain point is told. How she grew up and learned about the mollys, how her parents taught her to deal with them, her road to understanding about herself and the mollys and why some of them seem to be different than others…

I didn‘t like Molly. She was too dispassionate for my taste. But I guess with her history that was to be expected. It‘s tragic and whatever passion and positive emotions she experienced lead to revelations that would be spoilers. I really liked her parents, though. Especially her mother.

The writing is very good. I was totally immersed in the story, the characters and Molly‘s world. I am looking forward now to another offering lingering on my TBR shelf: Rosewater(same author, different world, not related to Molly, won the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the Nommo Award and was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award).

This read is part of my attempt to clear my TBR pile of owned books and my #ReadBIPOC2021 challenge (entry for June).

Perilous public transport

The Haunting of Tram Car 015
by P. Djèlí Clark

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The third novelette set in Clark‘s alternate Cairo of 1912, full of Djinn, ghuls and mechanized angels. I was looking forward to meeting Fatma from A Dead Djinn in Cairo again. Instead we are introduced to Agent Hamed of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, his new sidekick, rookie Onsi and a haunted tram car…

My favourite scene was the moment when they arrive at the top of Ramses Station and get a view of airships, various dirigibles and those tram lines criss-crossing the sky above Cairo. Great visual. The scenery in general is a great mix of the old Cairo and Clark‘s imagined steampunk city anyway.

The investigative story is a good one, too. Although it slacks off somewhat in the middle. Still good, but the beginning and build-up were stronger storytelling than the climax of it all.

Good characterizations, also for the supporting characters. There is some gender ambiguity there as well and a sentient automata, so plenty of material to expand upon in the upcoming book. I wonder if we will meet some of them again in A Master of Djinn?

Clockwork Cairo

The Angel of Khan el-Khalili (Dead Djinn, #0.6)
by P. Djèlí Clark

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Taking place in Khan el-Khalili, the big bazaar in the heart of Cairo. Our main character is looking for an angel and a miracle… Forgiveness and retribution are the theme in this one. 

The story is narrated in second-person, which I find really hard to like as a reader. 

Straight forward story, not much in terms of plot, more of a small character study. It was ok.

If you want to find the Angel of Khan el-Khalili, you have to make your way to the market at night. 

https://www.tor.com/2021/04/28/the-angel-of-khan-el-khalili-p-djeli-clark/

Magical Egypt

A Dead Djinn in Cairo (Dead Djinn, #0.5)
by P. Djèlí Clark

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Egypt, Cairo, Djinn, ghuls, sorcerers, magic, airships, gas light, aerial trams… steampunk plus electricity. An investigator looks into the suspicious death of a djinn and follows traces through a magical Cairo.

“Fatma was born into the world al-Jahiz left behind: a world transformed by magic and the supernatural. […] Egypt now sat as one of the great powers, and Cairo was its beating heart.“

https://www.tor.com/2016/05/18/a-dead-djinn-in-cairo/

The setting of this story made me home-sick for Cairo! Or whatever you call it for a city I lived in for six years… 

This was fun! Plot driven, not much character development — not an easy task anyway for such a short novelette — although I did like Fatma. Good action scenes and sleuthing, interesting setting. Potential for a lot more. Onwards to the next two stories/novelettes, in preparation for reading Clark’s first full-length novel next month.