Tag Archives: Female Authors

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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Elizabeth is Missing, Emma Healey

Elizabeth is Missing, Emma HealeyElizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

First Published: 2014

Pages: 282
Form: Novel

Rating:5/55/55/55/55/5

Maud is forgetful. She makes a cup of tea and doesn’t remember to drink it. She goes to the shops and forgets why she went. Sometimes her home is unrecognizable – or her daughter Helen is a total stranger.

But there’s one thing Maud is sure of: her friend Elizabeth is missing. The note in her pocket tells her so. And no matter who tells her to stop going on about it, to leave it alone, to shut up, Maud will get to the bottom of it.

Because somewhere in Maud’s damaged mind lies the answer to an unsolved seventy-year-old mystery. One that everyone has forgotten about.

Everyone, except Maud . . .

Elizabeth is Missing is part mystery, part historical fiction and part family drama. But really what it’s about is Maud; an elderly woman slowly losing her memory to dementia. And the real strength of the book is not in the mysteries (which aren’t that hard to solve) but in the way Maud narrates the story. First person present tense – which I normally loathe –  works absolutely beautifully here for a woman not giving an account of something that has happened, but permanently stuck living in the moment (either in the present or in her 1940s childhood). The repetition, the contradictions,confusion, and denials of something she has already said all make her very sadly realistic as she progresses from ‘forgetful’ to in need of permanent care.

But, throughout the dementia; the blanks in her memory, the confusion over words, the occasional inability to recognise her own daughter, Maud maintains a strong and distinct personality of her own and is never ‘just’ a forgetful old lady. She’s not the sharpest tool in the box (even before the dementia) but she is likeable, funny, strong-willed, and tenacious. So once she’s decided that her friend, Elizabeth, is missing she does not let go of it as her carers and her daughter all tell her to, but determines to find her for herself. And, as she slowly loses grip on the present, trying to find Elizabeth brings back memories of her older sister, Sukey, who disappeared in 1946.

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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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Animalium, Katie Scott & Jenny Broom

Animalium, Jenny Broom & Katie ScottAnimalium by Katie Scott (Illustrator) and Jenny Broom 

First Published: 2014

Pages: 112 (hardback)
Subjects: Non-Fiction, Children’s Non-Fiction, Natural History, Zoology, Reference
Series: Welcome to the Museum

Rating:3.5/53.5/53.5/53.5/53.5/5

Welcome to Animalium.

This museum is open all hours.

It houses an astonishing collection of more than 160 animals for visitors of all ages.

Learn how animals have evolved, see inside the dissection laboratory and discover the great variety of habitats on Earth.

Enter here to explore the animal kingdom in all its glory.

A christmas present from my best friend on my Museum Studies course (where I did my specialist module on curating Natural History collections), this oversized coffee-table book purporting to be a ‘museum…between two covers’ is utterly gorgeous to look at. It is beautifully illustrated and beautifully laid out and my friend is very lucky I didn’t spot it first otherwise I would have almost certainly brought it for myself. It was only on researching it a bit more to write the review that I saw that it is aimed at the 8-12 age group, the wonderful illustrations and simple straightforward but unpatronising prose that accompanies them are, however, an appropriate introduction or overview of animal taxonomy for someone of any age. But the target market does go a long way to explaining a few of the things I was disappointed in – mainly wanting more explanation for the interesting facts dropped about certain animals.

Tree of Life (bigpicturepress.net)

Tree of Life (bigpicturepress.net)

Laid out in ‘galleries’ rather than chapters, the museum metaphor is rather heavily laboured. It mimics the tradition Natural History Museum layout though by dividing the contents by taxonomic classification (mammals, birds, fish, et.) rather than continents or countries – which is how I remember most of my childhood wildlife reference books were laid out. What comes out of this, is a book that is more scientific in focus, explicitly about how and why certain creatures are grouped together by similar traits rather than just a more general ‘isn’t wildlife cool’ message. It also means that creatures like Porifera (sea sponges) are given as much attention and explanation as Birds of Prey. While it’s not a complete encyclopedia of  animal life (with only 160+ featured animals it was never going to be) it provides a good overview of the larger animal groupings, alongside some interesting chosen examples from each major family on the tree of life. Continue reading

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The Vanishing Act, Mette Jakobsen

The Vanishing Act, Mette JakobsenThe Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen

First Published: 2011

Pages: 217
Form: Novel

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

This is a story about a snow-covered island you won’t find on any map.

It’s the story of a girl, Minou. A year ago, her mother walked out into the rain and never came back.

It’s about a magician and a priest and a dog called No Name. It’s about a father’s endless hunt for the truth.

It’s about a dead boy who listens, and Minou’s search for her mother’s voice.

It’s a story of how even the most isolated places have their own secrets.

It’s a story you will never forget.

I’m still not entirely sure what I think of this book. It’s one of those books that sometimes gets quite patronisingly described as ‘charming’; a short, well-written and introspective ‘coming of age’ novel touching on several big themes, but ultimately has no plot to speak of and the characters remain simplistic.

The narrator, Minou, is twelve (possibly a bit older – acts a lot younger). One year ago her  mother disappeared – the titular ‘vanishing act’ – from the small island they live on. A year later the dead body of a young man washes up on shore and Minou starts to recall her childhood, her mothers disappearance, and the events leading up to it. And that’s really about it – Minou thinks and occasionally writes, but nothing actually happens save in the flashbacks and at the end of the book everyone remains in pretty much the same position they were in the beginning.

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The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton

The Luminaries, Eleanor CattonThe Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

First Published: 2013

Pages: 832
Form: Novel

Rating: 5/55/55/55/55/5

It is 1866, and Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand Goldfields. On the night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men, who have met in secret to discuss a series of unsolved crimes. A wealthy man has vanished, a whore has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely patterned as the night sky.

The Luminaries is one of those books I’ve been picking up and then putting down in bookshops ever since I spotted the hardback. Intrigued by the blurb, daunted by the size, and more than a little wary of that ‘Winner of the Man Booker Prize’ label (I was less than wowwed with the last one of those I read), I always ended up putting it back on the shelf while I waited for the recommendation of someone I actually knew. Well that never came (presumably my friends have not read it for similar reasons!) but, finally, I got sick of always being drawn to the same book so I bit the bullet and bought it. And I’m very glad I did, because it turned out to be utterly brilliant.

It’s a bit slow to start with, with a lot of pages given to the presumed main character, Walter Moody, as he lands in Hokitika, New Zealand, for the first time to seek his fortune and accidentally stumbles across a secret gathering of twelve men in the parlour of his cheap lodgings. The tension and unease in these early pages are palpable, but it was only when the rest of the gathering start to tell their own stories, revealing a complex, tightly plotted web of interconnected events and interactions, that I really got sucked in.

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The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith

The Cuckoo's Calling, Robert GalbraithThe Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith
(J.K. Rowling)

First Published: 2013

Pages: 550(Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: Cormoran Strike #1

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

When a troubled model falls to her death from a snow-covered Mayfair balcony, it is assumed that she has committed suicide. However, her brother has his doubts and calls in private detective Cormoran Strike to investigate.

Strike is a war veteran – wounded both physically and psychologically – and his private life is in disarray. The case gives him a financial lifeline but it comes at a personal cost: the more he delves into the young model’s world, the darker things become – and the closer he gets to terrible danger.

Before I start, I’m going to admit that I only chose to read this book because the author is J.K. Rowling. I’m partial to a detective story now and then but, without a specific recomendation for Galbraith from someone I trust, I would probably not have picked this novel up on my own from among  the sea of bland identi-covers and samey-blurbs in my bookshop’s crime section.  But Rowling proved (to me at least) that she could write for adults with The Casual Vacancy and she’s proved she could write mysteries and sprinkle clues around ever since The Philosopher’s Stone, so I was interested to see what her crime debut would be like.

 

And it’s pretty good. A fairly standard crime novel, perhaps: a PI with a funny name, a dark history, and a disastrous personal life investigates a death everyone believes to be a suicide, proves it was murder and shows up the police. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking or exceptional about the story, but it is a solid, enjoyable read, and that’s pretty much all I ask of my detective novels. Continue reading

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