Tag Archives: American Fiction

Swamplandia!, Karen Russell

Swamplandia!, Karen RusselSwamplandia! by Karen Russell

First Published: 2011

Pages: 316 (Paperback)
Form: Novel
Rating: 4/54/54/54/54/5

In the Florida Everglades, gator-park Swamplandia! is in trouble. Its star performer, the great beauty and champion alligator-wrestler Hilola Bigtree, has succumbed to cancer, and Ava, her resourceful but terrified 13-year-old daughter, is left in charge with her two siblings. But Ava’s sister has embarked on a romantic relationship with a ghost, her brother has defected to a rival theme park, and her father is AWOL. And then a mysterious figure called the Bird Man guides Ava into a perilous part of the swamp called the Underworld, promising he can save both her sister and the park…

Swamplandia! is an excellent book. It’s not necessarily the book you expect from the blurb but it is beautifully written, darkly humorous, and packs a hell of an emotional punch.

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Lagoon, Nnedi Okorafor

Lagoon, Nnedi OkoraforLagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

First Published: 2014
Pages: 301
Form: Novel

Rating: 1.5/51.5/51.5/51.5/51.5/5

 A star fall from the sky. A woman rises from the sea. The world will never be the same.

Three strangers, each isolated by his or her own problems: Adaora, the marine biologist. Anthony, the world-famous rapper. Agu, the troubled soldier. Wandering the beach outside Lagos, Nigeria’s capital city, they’re more alone than they’ve ever been before. But when a meteorite hits the ocean and a tidal wave overcomes them, these three people will find themselves bound together in ways they’ve never imagined. Together with Ayodele, a visitor from beyond the stars, they must race through Lagos and against time itself in order to save the city, the world…and themselves.

‘There was no time to flee. No time to turn. No time to shriek. And no pain. It was like being thrown into the stars.’

Normally, when I dislike a book as much as I disliked this one I get a sort of perverse pleasure out of going over all its flaws but not this time. This time I just feel bad. I desperately wanted to enjoy this book, there was so much in there that I liked and admired. The author is a woman of colour in a genre (sci-fi) that is still disproportionately weighted towards white men, and an author I’ve read widespread praise for too. It’s sci-fi set not in Britain or the US, but Nigeria (how often does that happen?). Almost the entire cast is black, the primary leads are both women (a scientist and an alien), and it touches on a hell of a lot of social issues; some that are topical specifically in Nigeria but many that are applicable everywhere (evangelical christianity, LGBT rights, prostitution, domestic violence, military rape culture, internet fraud…). But, in the end, and despite my attempts to like this book, I thought the best thing about it was its gorgeous cover.

I tried, I really fucking tried. And I still don’t want to completely dismiss the book because it’s at least interesting and experimental and different. But I still could not make myself like it. The characters fell flat, the narration felt dull, it was a lot of ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’, the sic-fi elements were completely unbelievable, and nobody seemed to react to aliens in any way I would expect an actual human to. Continue reading

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Victory of Eagles, Naomi Novik

Victory of Eagles, Naomi NovikVictory of Eagles by Naomi Novik

First Published: 2009

Pages: 345 (Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: Temeraire #5

Rating: 4/54/54/54/54/5

As is the nature of longer series, the blurb contains spoilers for previous books. So everything goes below the cut this time.

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The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch

The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott LynchThe Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

First Published: 2006

Pages: 537 (Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: Gentleman Bastard #1

Rating:4/54/54/54/54/5

The Thorn of Camorr is said to be an unbeatable swordsman, a master thief, a friend to the poor, a ghost that walks through walls.

Slightly built and barely competent with a sword, Lock Lamora is, much to his annoyance, the fabled Thorn. And while Locke does indeed steal from the rich (who else would be worth stealing from?), the poor never see a penny. All of Locke’s gains are strictly for himself and his tight-knit band of thieves: The Gentlemen bastards.

The capricious, colourful underworld of the ancient city of Camorr is the only home they’ve ever known. But now a clandestine war is threatening to tear it apart. Caught up in a murderous game, Locke and his friends are suddenly struggling just to stay alive.

The Lies of Locke Lamora is one of those fantasy books that, if you’re into fantasy, it’s impossible to avoid people telling you how brilliant it is. And, as is almost invariably the case, it doesn’t quite live up to the hype. It’s a fast-paced, fun read with lots of great characters, a wonderfully creepy atmosphere, some interesting world building, and some surprising twists and turns, so it’s definitely not bad. I certainly won’t be giving people who recommend it as ‘the best fantasy in recent years’ the side eye in the same way I do Joe Abercrombie fans (that trilogy should have been one book, tops!). In fact, they may well be right. It’s a good novel, very good in places but, for me, those places fell mostly in the later half of the book and it didn’t quite come together enough for me to love it.

The book is set in the fantasy canal-city of Camorr and opens with Locke Lamore (the self styled conman the ‘Thorn of Camorr’) and his band of merry men starting a scheme to con a local nobleman out of all his money. These are not the most moral or idealistic or protagonists. But they have a strong bond that lots of readers loved and I found almost instantly tiresome. There’s a lot of banter and teasing, boasting, and laughter in the first half that, for me, felt like watching a group of incredibly self-aggrandising men that I don’t know making in-jokes about how great they are to each other. And my pervading thought was mostly ‘yes, you’re ‘Gentlemen Bastards’, well done, I got that, you’re the best, but where are the women?’ ‘Why are there no women?’.

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Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay, Suzanne CollinsMockingjay by Suzanne Collins

First Published: 2010

Pages: 455 (Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: The Hunger Games #3

Rating:2/52/52/32/32/3

“If we burn you burn with us”

Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But she’s still not safe. A revolution is unfolding, and everyone, it seems, has a hand in the carefully laid plans – everyone except Katniss.

And yet she must play the most vital part in the final battle. Katniss must become their Mockingjay – the symbol of rebellion – no matter what the personal cost.

Catching up on some reviews that, for various reasons, I never got round to writing in 2013.

What happened? The first two books in this series were both four stars (flawed as hell but very enjoyable)! But MockingjayMockingjay I can barely summon up enough enthusiasm to give two stars. And it’s not because I hated the ending – bits of the ending I actually loved – but because everything leading up to the ending was interminably boring.

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Throne of Jade, Naomi Novik

Throne of Jade, Naomi NovikThrone of Jade by Naomi Novik

First Published: 2006

Pages: 391 (Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: Temeraire #2

Rating:3/53/53/53/53/5

Soar on the wings of adventure

Captain Will Laurence, formerly of His Majesty’s Navy, has had only a few months to adjust to his new life as the captain of a fighting dragon, but now he can’t imagine a life outside the British Aerial Corps – nor a life without Temeraire.

Now the Chinese have demanded Temeraire’s immediate return, and the British government cannot afford to refuse them, even if it costs them the most powerful weapon in their arsenal. Laurence and Temeraire must journey to China, knowing that once they arrive in the exotic east, they could be separated forever.

The second book in the Temeraire series continues in much the same vein as the first; a solid read, but nothing mind-blowing. After the reveal at the end of Temeraire (His Majesty’s Dragon for you non-UK folk), the Chinese have taken offence and demanded their dragon back, prompting Laurence and Temeraire to travel to the Far East. Much like the first book, the pacing is still a little slow and the characterisation a little too simplistic to my taste – the main focus seems to be the world-building and showing how different cultures interact with dragons – but it’s a fun read.

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Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire, Suzanne CollinsCatching Fire by Suzanne Collins

First Published: 2009

Pages: 472 (Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: The Hunger Games #2

Rating: 4/54/54/54/54/5

KATNISS EVERDEEN SURVIVED THE HUNGER GAMES.

NOW THE CAPITOL WANTS REVENGE.

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark are still alive. Katniss should be relieved, but now there are whispers of a rebellion against the Capitol – a rebellion that Katniss and Peeta may have helped create.

As the nation watches Katniss and Peeta, the stakes are higher than ever. One false move and the consequences will be unimaginable.

Catching up on some reviews that, for various reasons, I never got round to writing in 2013.

Going to be a  brief review because I appear to have lost my notes on this book.

Catching Fire has the unenviable job of being the middle book of a trilogy, more about introducing the main themes and getting characters to where they need to be for book three than in telling its own story. It’s also the follow up book to a story that didn’t need a sequel in the first place. The Hunger Games worked fine as a standalone book and the very set up   – a yearly televised event – makes it difficult to imagine a sequel  that isn’t in some ways just a rewrite of the first book. But, despite both those things, I again really enjoyed Catching Fire as a fun holiday read. In fact it’s by far my favourite of the three books.

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