Review: Strangers Among Us

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Who are the strangers among us? The focus of this collection of short stories is the balance between mental health and mental illness, and the intense feelings of alienation that go along with this.

19 fantasy and science fiction authors have contributed stories to this amazing collection, exploring mental health and alienation through a great mix of worlds and characters.

strangers

I don’t generally read short stories, but the premise of this collection drew me in. My biggest complaint about short stories (and this is all down to me, nothing to do with the writing or writers, if anything it shows their skill) is that they always leave me wanting more. Especially well written sci-fi or fantasy short stories like the ones that fill this collection.

I want to know more about the Dog, the one unaugmented human on his spaceship whose job it is to keep the ship safe while everyone else is unconscious during their jumps. I want to know more about the 70 year old rebel fighter. I want to know more about the society where the Culling takes place.

All the stories in this collection are excellent and I really enjoyed all the different angles that the authors approached the premise from. From schizophrenia to autism, to anxiety and depressive disorders, there is a wide range of mental health issues represented.  In most short story collections I find there are a couple of “fillers” – stories that aren’t great but are included to pad out the volume. There is no “filler” in this collection. The stories are wonderfully insightful, understanding and sympathetic. It is a great collection about a difficult topic.

4 out of 5 talking toasters.

Seriously, how are talking toasters not a thing yet?

 

With thanks to Netgalley for providing a copy for an honest review.

 

Review: Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier

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I mainly read Young Adult books and I’d heard a lot of good things about this series. Ruby Red follows Gwyneth Shepard, her family and a secret society. Gwyneth’s family has a time travel gene which travels down the line to certain people. Gwyneth’s cousin Charlotte has been trained for time travel being predicted to inherit this gene, but, Gwyneth starts have dizzy spells and inherits the gene instead. Throughout the series, Gwyneth deals with the people of the society resenting her, romantic confusion and trying to sneak information to her best friend (which of course is against the rules).

Ruby Red trilogy

Gwyneth is a character that I really like. She’s good enough at school and doesn’t mind poking fun at her teachers and classmates but still takes good care of her younger siblings. She is not a fighting girl like many of the books I read. Gwen is tougher than she may appear at first glance, but still not so tough that she would take on an armada of ghosts on her own with only some masking tape and a baseball bat.

The first time I read this series, I absolutely loved it, not predicting half of the plots twists that were in the books. But the second time I read them was when I noticed the language. The language in the books is very formal, and a wee-bit exaggerated I guess. Given that the book was originally written in German, I can understand this and I’m perfectly fine with it.

There are a few points in the books, where I take a moment and debate with myself. As the series focuses on time travel many of the things that happen leave no paradoxes, but there are a few points where a grandfather paradox should ensue. Being a sci-fi fan for most of my life, it’s difficult for me to ignore these points but, for now I’ll leave it be.

 

3 out of 5 water spewing gargoyles

 

 

Review: Nevernight

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Despite my restlessness and lack of focus, I ploughed through Nevernight yesterday.

This one came to my attention due to my passionate love for Illuminae which I adore with every fibre of my being. Jay Kristoff, joint author, has a new book coming out? Clearly I need to be all over that.

Mia is the daughter of a leader – until things go pear shaped and she witnesses his hanging at the tender age of 10, gripped fiercely by her mother who her urges her to never flinch, never fear, and never forget. At 16, Mia is apprenticed to the most deadly group of assassins in the republic. But will she survive the training in order to get her revenge?

This book is a trip. I had to read the opening a couple of times to aclimate myself with what was happening, and I c0uldn’t help but feel that Kristoff’s style was some sort of mad love child of Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman and China Mieville. It’s dark. It’s brutal. And parts are laugh out loud funny. Imagine Hogwarts, except your teachers are actually trying to kill you. I really enjoyed Kristoff’s use of language  and word play (unlike poor reader Emily on Goodreads who seems to struggle with simple sentences and like Justin Beiber memes.)

I think by far my favourite thing about the book is the main character. One of the things that has annoyed me a little (ok, more than a little) about girls in YA fiction (particularly in fantasy/sci fi) is that there still seems to be a burden of virtue placed on them, despite how completely screwed up their situation is. So my entire family is dead, my world has been destroyed and I could die any time …. but sex? Hell no. In the Raven Cycle, poor Blue isn’t even allowed to kiss a boy for fear that she will kill him. Talk about pressure. Don’t get me wrong – I love the Raven Cycle, and this technique is effective for making the story about something else. But there are other ways to do that to.

Mia is no paragon of virtue. She drinks. She smokes. She swears. She fucks.She doesn’t confuse sex and love. (And she kills, but she’s an assassin in training, so that’s kinda part of the job description). But these things don’t change the tone of the story or the way we view her as a character. She knows what she wants and has plans to get it. There are still moral questions asked of her, but these are more relevant to the world she is living in rather than anything artificially imposed on her by her audience.

This is a YA book. There are some graphic sexual encounters (certainly much more graphic than I’m used to seeing in YA) and some very adult language. Chances are that both of these things will make you more uncomfortable than the teen you may choose to hand it to, but do be aware of the content.

Also, check out the summary posted by the author on Goodreads here . It’s good fun!

Read this book!! And then join me in the corner as I wait for the next in the series ….

4 out of 5 severed arms .

Review: Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet

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Maire is a magical baker – she can imbue her cakes and confectioneries with emotions and qualities, which then are felt and experienced by those who eat them. But Maire has no memories prior to being found on the road to the town by Arrice four and a half years ago. With the help of Arrice and her husband, Maire has built a life for herself in the town, with a possible love match waiting in the wings.

This ends suddenly with marauders attacking the town and either capturing or killing a large portion of the population. Maire is sold to Allemas as a slave, and he has the power to move her from world to world, finding her jobs where he can make money from her remarkable skill.

Fyel finds Maire – he is an angel-like creature, barely substantial in her world. They have a connection which he doesn’t want to disclose, but which she can almost feel. As Fyel continues to visit, Maire’s memories begin to stir. She starts to remember her past, and her connection to both Fyel and Allemas.

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I had a lot of hope for this book, but I confess I was disappointed. There were some hints in the book towards fairy tales and other stories, which led me to believe there was more depth to the book than what there was, and because of that I found the ending lacklustre. The writing was lovely and fairy-tale like, and the world building was enjoyable. All in all its a solid, if straight forward, read.

 3 out of 5 magical crystals.