Thursday, 31 July 2014

50 Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books Every Socialist Should Read

I saw this post on Tumblr, where someone had reposted a list of fifty Sci-Fi and Fantasy novels which every Socialist should read. The list is compiled by China Miéville, himself a Fantasy author and Socialist. Personally, I am most definitely a Socialist, sometimes even bordering on Communist. Yes, I even love reading Ayn Rand! So I am shamelessly copying this post, credit is not due to me. The original post is from the website Fantastic Metropolis and the Tumblr post is from The Weekly Ansible.

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Reposted from Fantastic Metropolis, author China Mieville lays out a list of 50 science fiction and fantasy works he feels every socialist ought to read.
Metropolis is THE sci-fi film every thoughtful socialist should watch, though its ultimate conclusion can be described as fascist.
When I became a socialist I was also studying Sociology and Philosophy academically. I experienced something that seems to be a trend among many (though assuredly not all) folks who delve into these worlds: a sudden loss of interest in fiction.
Over time I only read non-fiction work and discovered something missing. Reading fiction again had a major impact on me, stimulating parts of my brain that had laid mostly dormant (or only experienced anything through film and TV shows). I feel invigorated from diving back in and also feel better equipped to deal with issues as a socialist (and as a sociologist and a philosopher).
I recommend Mieville’s recommendations because he is himself a fantastic science fiction author. There is a fantastic interview with him at the website of the International Socialist Review. He is the author of such fantastic works as The City & the CityKraken and his new book that I’m holding in my hand in eager anticipation, Embassytown. Enjoy!
This is not a list of the “best” fantasy or SF. There are huge numbers of superb works not on the list. Those below are chosen not just because of their quality—which though mostly good, is variable—but because the politics they embed (deliberately or not) are of particular interest to socialists. Of course, other works—by the same or other writers—could have been chosen: disagreement and alternative suggestions are welcomed. I change my own mind hour to hour on this anyway.

Iain M. Banks—Use of Weapons (1990)

Socialist SF discussing a post-scarcity society. The Culture are “goodies” in narrative and political terms, but here issues of cross-cultural guilt and manipulation complicate the story from being a simplistic utopia.

Edward Bellamy—Looking Backward, 2000–1887 (1888)

A hugely influential, rather bureaucratic egalitarian/naïve communist utopia. Deals very well with the confusion of the “modern” (19th Century) protagonist in a world he hasn’t helped create (see Bogdanov).

Alexander Bogdanov—The Red Star: A Utopia (1908; trans. 1984)

This Bolshevik SF sends a revolutionary to socialist Mars. The book’s been criticized (with some justification) for being proto-Stalinist, but overall it’s been maligned. Deals well with the problem faced by someone trying to adjust to a new society s/he hasn’t helped create (see Bellamy).

Emma Bull & Steven Brust—Freedom & Necessity (1997)

Bull is a left-liberal and Brust is a Trotskyist fantasy writer.F&Nis set in the 19th Century of the Chartists and class turmoil. It’s been described as “the first Marxist steampunk” or “a fantasy for Young Hegelians.”

Mikhail Bulgakov—The Master and Margarita (1938; trans. 1967)

Astonishing fantasy set in ’30s Moscow, featuring the Devil, Pontius Pilate, The Wandering Jew, and a satire and critique of Stalinist Russia so cutting it is unbelievable that it got past the censors. Utterly brilliant.

Katherine Burdekin (aka “Murray Constantine”)—Swastika Night (1937)

An excellent example of the “Hitler Wins” sub-genre of SF. It’s unusual in that it was published by the Left Book Club and it was written while Hitler was in power, so the fear of Nazi future was immediate.

Octavia Butler—Survivor (1978)

Black American writer, now discovered by the mainstream after years of acclaim in the SF field.Kindredis her most overtly political novel, the Patternmaster series the most popular. Survivor brilliantly blends genre SF with issues of colonialism and racism.

Julio Cortázar—“House Taken Over” (1963?)

A terrifying short story undermining the notion of the house as sanctity and refuge. A subtle destruction of the bourgeois oppositions between public/private and inside/outside.

Philip K. Dick—A Scanner Darkly (1977)

Could have picked almost any of his books. Like all of them, this deals with identity, power, and betrayal, here tied in more directly to social structures than in some other works (though see Counter-Clock World and The Man in the High Castle). Incredibly moving.

Thomas Disch—The Priest (1994)

Utterly savage work of anti-clericalism. A work of dark fantasy GBH against the Catholic Church (dedicated, among others, to the Pope…)

Gordon Eklund—All Times Possible(1974)

Study of alternative worlds, including an examination of hypothetical Left-wing movements in alternative USAs.

Max Ernst—Une Semaine de Bonté (1934)

The definitive Surrealist collage novel. A succession of images the reader is involved in decoding. A Whodunwhat, with characters from polite commercial catalogues engaged in a story of little deaths and high adventure.

Claude Farrère—Useless Hands (1920; trans. 1926)

Bleak Social Darwinism, and a prototype of “farewell to the working class” arguments. The “useless hands”—workers—revolt is seen as pathetic before inexorable technology. A cold, reactionary, interesting book.

Anatole France—The White Stone (1905; trans. 1910)

In part, a rebuttal to the racist “yellow peril” fever of the time—a book about “white peril” and the rise of socialism. Also interesting isThe Revolt of the Angels, which examines now well-worn socialist theme of Lucifer being in the right, rebelling against the despotic God.

Jane Gaskell—Strange Evil(1957)

Written when Gaskell was 14, with the flaws that entails. Still, however, extraordinary. A savage fairytale, with fraught sexuality, meditations on Tom Paine and Marx, revolutionary upheaval depicted sympathetically, but without sentimentality; plus the most disturbing baddy in fiction.

Mary Gentle—Rats and Gargoyles (1990)

Set in a city that undermines the “feudalism lite” of most genre fantasy. An untypical female protagonist has adventures in a cityscape complete with class struggle, corruption, and racial oppression.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman—“The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892)

Towering work by this radical thinker. Terrifying short story showing how savage gender oppression can inhere in “caring” relationships just as easily as in more obviously abusive ones. See also her feminist/socialistic utopias “Moving the Mountain” (1911) andHerland(1914).

Lisa Goldstein—The Dream Years (1985)

A time-slip oscillating between Paris in the 1920s, during the Surrealist movement, and in 1968, during the Uprising. Uses a popular fantastic mode to examine the relation between Surrealism as the fantastic mode par excellence and revolutionary movements (if nebulously conceived).

Stefan Grabiński—The Dark Domain (1918–22; trans. and collected 1993)

Brilliant horror by this Polish writer. Unusually locates the uncanny and threatening within the very symbols of a modernizing industrialism in Poland: trains, electricity, etc. This awareness of the instability of the everyday marks him out from traditional, “nostalgic” ghost story writers.

George Griffith—The Angel of Revolution (1893)

Rather dated, but unusual in that its heroes are revolutionary terrorists. Very different from the devious anarchist villains of (e.g.) Chesterton.

Imil Habibi—The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist (1974; trans. 1982)

The full title is much longer. Habiby was a member of the Palestinian Community Party, a veteran of the anti-British struggle of the 40s, and a member of the Knesset for several years. This amiable, surreal book is about the life of a Palestinian in Israel (with surreal bits, and aliens).

M. John Harrison—Viriconium Nights (1984)

A stunning writer, who expresses the alienation of the modern everyday with terrible force. Fantasy that mercilessly uncovers the alienated nature of the longing for fantastic escape, and show how that fantasy will always remain out of reach. Punishes his readers and characters for their involvement with fantasy. See alsoThe Course of the Heart.

Ursula K. Le Guin—The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (1974)

The most overtly political of this anarchist writer’s excellent works. An examination of the relations between a rich, exploitive capitalist world and a poor, nearly barren (though high-tech) communist one.

Jack London—Iron Heel (1907)

London’s masterpiece: scholars from a 27th Century socialist world find documents depicting a fascist oligarchy in the US and the revolt of the proletariat. Elsewhere, London’s undoubted socialism is undermined by the most appalling racism.

Ken MacLeod—The Star Fraction (1996)

British Trotskyist (of strongly libertarian bent), all of whose (very good) works examine Left politics without sloganeering. The Stone Canal, for example, features arguments about distortions of Marxism. However, The Star Fraction is chosen here as it features Virtual Reality heroes of the left, by name—a roll call of genuine revolutionaries recast in digital form.

Gregory Maguire—Wicked (1995)

Brilliant revisionist fantasy about how the winners write history. The loser whose side is here taken is the Wicked Witch of the West, a fighter for emancipatory politics in the despotic empire of Oz.

J. Leslie Mitchell (Lewis Grassic Gibbon)—Gay Hunter(1934, reissued 1989)

By the Marxist writer of the classic work of vernacular Scots literatureA Scots Quair, andSpartacus, the novel that proves that propaganda can be art. This is great science fiction. Bit dewy-eyed about hunter-gatherers perhaps, but superb nonetheless. As an added bonus, it also has a title that sounds amusing today. Check out his short fiction, which includes a lot of SF/Fantasy work.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Harry Potter Moment of the Week -

Harry Potter Moment of the Week is hosted by Leah over at Uncorked Thoughts. I'm planning on having a Harry Potter movie-night tonight because rent is due tomorrow and I need something before then to cheer me up. I have work all day but I will be stopping by the other posts when I get back! This week we're choosing:

Most inspirational moment/passage!

Sure, why not give me something difficult to chose! There are so many inspirational moments in the Harry Potter-saga. I've decided to go for this moment because it's my all-time favourite moment. Although Prisoner of Azkaban is still my favourite film, I loved Order of the Phoenix. In this scene Dumbledore's Army is conjuring their Patronusus (Patronusi?) and it's just such a happy moment and everyone is excelling (except Neville) and using their Happy Memories and it just always fills me with happiness every time I watch it!


So much pride, so much happiness!

What's your favourite inspirational HP moment?

Book Blast: 'Fractured Dream' by K.M. Randall

I'm so excited to be part of the Book Blast for this book! I've got a review copy as well and I will be posting the review for that soon!
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'Fractured Dream' by KM Randall
Published by: Booktrope
Published On: June 21, 2014
Genre: Fantasy
9781620153659
Blurb:
Have you ever wondered where fairytales go once they're created?

It's been eight years since Story Sparks last had a dream. Now they're back, tormenting her as nightmares she can't remember upon waking. The black waters of Lake Sandeen, where her Uncle Peter disappeared decades before, may hold the secret to Story's hidden memories, or a truth she'd rather not know. On a bright summer afternoon, Story and her two best friends, Elliott and Adam, take a hike to the lake, where they dive into the cool water and never reemerge. What they find is beyond anything they've ever imagined could be possible, a world where dangers lurk in the form of Big Bad Wolves, living Nightmares and meddlesome witches and gods.

Now Story must remember who she really is and somehow stop two worlds from ultimate annihilation, all while trying not to be too
distracted by the inexplicable pull she feels toward a certain dark-eyed traveler who seems to have secrets of his own. The fates of the worlds are counting on her.

KM RandallAbout the Author

As a girl, K.M. always wished she’d suddenly come into magical powers or cross over into a Faerie circle. Although that has yet to happen, she instead lives vicariously through the characters she creates in writing fantasy and delving into the paranormal. When K.M. is not busy writing her next novel, she is the editor-in-chief of a blog covering the media industry, as well as an editor with Booktrope Publishing. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University and a bachelor’s degree in English-Lit from Nazareth College of Rochester. K.M. lives in Upstate New York’s Finger Lakes region with her husband and her extremely energetic little boy. Fractured Dream is her first novel.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Tuesday Intros & Teaser Tuesdays - 'The Oversight' by Charlie Fletcher

The Oversight (Oversight Trilogy, #1)Woe is me, I'm working all day. At least working lots means I get money with which I can buy books. It's not like I need money for anything else, right? Thankfully I'll be going back to France with my mother for a week mid-August, but there'll be a lake then, rather than mountains. But Tuesdays are not days for nostalgia but for teaser-sharing! So here we go. Tuesday Intros are hosted by Diane over at Bibliophile by the Sea and Teaser Tuesdays are hosted by MizB over at Should Be Reading. This week I'm sharing The Oversight by Charlie Fletcher, which I haven't started yet but will as soon as I come home tomorrow.
Only five still guard the borders between the worlds. Only five hold back what waits on the other side. 
Once the Oversight, the secret society that policed the lines between the mundane and the magic, counted hundreds of brave souls among its members. Now their numbers can be counted on a single hand. 
When a vagabond brings a screaming girl to the Oversight's London headquarters, it seems their hopes for a new recruit will be fulfilled - but the girl is a trap. 
As the borders between this world and the next begin to break down, murders erupt across the city, the Oversight are torn viciously apart, and their enemies close in for the final blow. 
This gothic fantasy from Charlie Fletcher (the Stoneheart trilogy) spins a tale of witch-hunters, supra-naturalists, mirror-walkers and magicians. Meet the Oversight, and remember: when they fall, so do we all.
Intro:
'The natural and supranatural inhabit the same world, intersecting but largely unseen to one another, like lodgers who share a house but keep different hours, only occasionally passing on the narrow stairs. They do not speak the same language, their customs are different and their views of the world and the laws and behaviours that govern it are wildly and mutually opposed.It is only when they bump shoulders that they take note of each other, but when they do so, arcane and infelicitous things till happen. Because of this, it is necessary that the tight spaces where such friction may occur are governed by rules, and that those rules are policed.' p.1
I like the slight world building that is going on here. Fletcher makes it quite clear it is set in our world, but that there is something there that we don't know about. I'm intrigued.


Teaser:
'Inside the double doors the footman crossed a small anteroom to another door. This door was ironbound with a lattice of metalwork, and in its centre was a wide ledge and two letterboxes, marked IN and OUT. A tray was positioned under the OUT slit, standing ready to catch whatever paper was pushed through it.' p.86
Perhaps I didn't choose the most exciting teaser, but I thought it was a great piece of descriptive writing, so I decided to share it anyway. I know really want to know where this door open to!

I think I've teased myself now! I can't wait to get back home from work and start reading this one! I so desperately want to be part of a secret magic police society in London, I can't even tell you!

Review: 'Moth' by Daniel Arenson

Moth (The Moth Saga #1)I have read a range of Daniel Arenson's books (such as Blood of Requiem and Wand of the Witch) and I have loved all of them. Which is why I was incredibly excited to read the first book of the The Moth Saga. And all of my hopes were answered, this is another good one.

They say the world used to turn. They say that night would follow day in an endless dance. They say that dawn rose, dusk fell, and we worshiped both sun and stars.  
That was a long time ago. 
The dance has died. The world has fallen still. We float through the heavens, one half always in light, one half always in shadow. Like the moth of our forests, one wing white and the other black, we are torn. 
My people are the fortunate. We live in daylight, blessed in the warmth of the sun. Yet across the line, the others lurk in eternal night, afraid... and alone in the dark. 
I was born in the light. I was sent into darkness. This is my story
Something you sadly don't see a lot is a book that actually tells a story from both sides. Every book has its conflict and every conflict has a "good" side and a "bad" side. However, it depends on who you ask who the bad guys and who the good guys are and authors tend to lose track of this while immersing themselves in their protagonists. Not Arenson. He chooses characters from both sides of his world and tells us their story. This means that as a reader you have quite a lot to lose, no matter which character you root for. They, both of them teens, find themselves at war and having to face some seriously hard times. More about those hard times later. I enjoyed both sides of the story almost equally, which means that as the book progressed I got more and more engrossed in how the two sides would meet. It also means I'm terribly excited for the next book, although this book's ending would have been a terrific ending for a stand-alone.

Similarly to his other books, Arenson is brilliant at world-building. Just the concept alone was mind-blowing. If the world did stop spinning and we had a side of darkness and a side of light, this sounds like a possibility. Both sides of Arenson's world have very specific cultures but then even within those there are distinctions which is another example of how realistic fantasy is as a genre. Arenson's book beautifully brings modern struggles forward and does so through his variety of characters. There are opposing religions, kings facing uprisings and children who just want their fathers back. It all makes for an incredibly engrossing read that strikes very close to the heart.

Arenson's writing is incredibly readable and I mean that in the best possible way. His writing flows, whether it's exposition, description or dialogue. Talking about description, Arenson has some of the best. Whether he's describing a world of darkness with a culture that has traces of Japan, or whether he's describing a very English life on the sun side, the descriptions are vivid enough to come to life right in front of you. This brings me to the end of the novel which is a lot darker than the beginning. Whether I would recommend this book to children depends on how resistant they are against violence. However, none of it is gratuitous, which makes all the difference. His characters are never vile for the sake of it, but because they are part of the story. As such, it is still shocking but not in an abhorrent way.

Another think to check out is Daniel's website, and in particular the page for Moth. This book is an interactive one, to a certain extent. Not only can you find maps and art work there but also music. I loved listening to the music while reading the book, so take some time to explore. Also, if you join Daniel's Mailing list you get to chose one of his books as your welcome present, the options for which includes Moth!

I give this novel...

4 Universes.

I loved this novel and didn't want to put this down. Arenson excels at world-building and his characters are truly a joy to read. He not only manages to spread the awesome equally across the gender but also across the border and even if it was only for that, this book is a real must read for fantasy fans.

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies Trailer

Guys, there is a trailer for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies and it is absolutely amazing! And it is so for multiple reasons. This is the Deathly Hallows Part  for the Tolkien fans in the sense that this is probably the last film set in Middle-Earth that we will get. As such, this trailer strikes the perfect balance between nostalgia and sadness. This is just going to be a quick rambling post, so don't expect to much of it. Take a look below before I explain:



By using the song Edge of Night, sung by Peregrin Took in The Return of the King film, Jackson quite consciously throws us back to that movie and how it ended. This post may become spoilerific from here on, so be warned!

As we all know, Rotk ended happily in the sense that evil was defeated and good ruled. As such it was the perfect happy ending to the terror in which Middle-Earth found itself at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring. Now, in The Hobbit we have quite the opposite. The world was good, Bilbo had nothing to worry about and Sauron was defeated. By comparing these two trilogies against each other so clearly, Jackson reminds us that the ending of The Battle of the Five Armies can only be bad because we have to get to a Middle-Earth in which Sauron is back and almost none of the characters who form our current companionship survive.

As such, the glimpses of the different armies fighting each other, of Thorin and Bard fighting, of Gandalf and Galadriel opposing the Necormancer, are all there to remind us that after this film a time is coming in which these different groups will be more divided than ever. There is a reason a Fellowship is needed, because after this everything breaks apart. We see a similar thing happening with the Original and the Prequel Trilogy in Star Wars. The Original trilogy had the benefit of a happy ending, away from Empire and the Rule oft he Sith. The prequel Trilogy on the other hand had to end up with the Empire.

Now, this all sounds very doom and gloom-ish but that is because Jackson has perfectly understood the use of the Fantasy genre. Fantasy reflects modern and human thoughts and feelings by raising them up to a fantastical level. The Battle of Five Armies shows how the current political and economical situation pits people against each other. I guess the only positive thing we can take away from this is that although we might have to face a time of darkness, there will be a Fellowship afterwards and a happy ending.

Review: 'The Seventh Miss Hatfield' by Anna Caltabiano

The Seventh Miss HatfieldThis book seemed to be everywhere I looked, constantly beckoning me with its intriguing storyline and beautiful cover. So eventually I gave in to the call and requested it on Netgalley. And I had a blast with this book. The synopsis below comes with a bit of a pre-scriptum, rather than a post-scriptum, since upon reading the novel I feel it's quite different from the synopsis, in a good way.
Rebecca, a 15-year-old American, isn't entirely happy with her life, comfortable though it is. Still, even she knows that she shouldn't talk to strangers. So when her mysterious neighbour Miss Hatfield asked her in for a chat and a drink, Rebecca wasn't entirely sure why she said yes. It was a decision that was to change everything.
For Miss Hatfield is immortal. And now, thanks to a drop of water from the Fountain of Youth, Rebecca is as well. But this gift might be more of a curse, and it comes with a price. Rebecca is beginning to lose her personality, to take on the aspects of her neighbour. She is becoming the next Miss Hatfield.
But before the process goes too far, Rebecca must travel back in time to turn-of-the-century New York and steal a painting, a picture which might provide a clue to the whereabouts of the source of immortality. A clue which must remain hidden from the world. In order to retrieve the painting, Rebecca must infiltrate a wealthy household, learn more about the head of the family, and find an opportunity to escape. Before her journey is through, she will also have - rather reluctantly - fallen in love. But how can she stay with the boy she cares for, when she must return to her own time before her time-travelling has a fatal effect on her body? And would she rather stay and die in love, or leave and live alone?
Rebecca, the seventh of that name that is, is a really interesting main character. Starting out relatively young, she matures throughout the novel.Unlike a lot of modern heroines she isn't rash or sarcastic, but very kind and funny. Caltbiano manages to strike a balance between allowing Rebecca her emotions while also maintaining her rationality. Despite the love and affection she feels for the people in her time, Rebecca knows she shouldn't be there and it creates some of the most interesting parts of the novel. Part of this is also the really good descriptions of grief that you find at places in the novel. Time-travel involves losing everyone you love and it isn't picked up enough by authors of the genre. Caltabiano describes it beautifully.

There were some amazing moments in this book in which Caltabiano addressed some really interesting issues such as class and religion. Although these moments could have been heavy on rhetoric and morality, Caltabiano makes them part of the plot and part of the characters. Rebecca's uneasiness about servants is natural when one remembers that she comes from a different time. But rather than demand change, Rebecca goes out of her way to respect not only the time she lives in but the people she lives with and it was great to see a character who is so aware and conscientious. Similarly, Caltabiano also managed to have a very religious character in her book without making her a nutjob, which I greatly thank her for. I even loved the romance. Although generally I tend to dislike the whole unrequited love/star-crossed lovers trope because, in my opinion, it often lacks originality. I think Caltabiano found a very good middle ground, both showing how grand their love is while also allowing Rebecca to be focused on her task. Henley is a great character who, just like Rebecca, is kind and caring. It is so refreshing to have a love interest who doesn't brood for a living.

The only thing I didn't like about this novel plot-wise was that the fact she was immortal and could travel in time hardly played a role for a large part of the novel. Although I've frequently stated that time-travel creates plotholes the size of Texas, I still would've liked to see more of it, especially since Caltabiano does a relatively good job at making time-travel sound reasonable. It would've been great to hear more about where she went and what she did and I would've loved to know more about the previous Miss Hatfields. But as it was the story flowed very easily, moving from one event to the next without throwing any major obstacles in the reader's way. Caltabiano's writing style is pleasant and uncomplicated. Although at times I wished there was a bit more depth to some passages, I got sucked into this novel and it is a great summer read.

I give this novel...

4 Universes.

The Seventh Miss Hatfield is a truly enjoyable read with some great twists and turns which I didn't see coming. The main characters and supporting cast are really interesting and a pleasure to read. I'd recommend this to people who enjoy time-travel and romance and I think there's even something for historical fiction fans in there.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Weekly Overview

I've come back home and that has led to a bit of a slump in my reading, unfortunately. But then I have been watching Buffy quite intensely as well! Here's my week:

Monday:


Tuesday:


Wednesday:


Thursday:


Friday:


Saturday:

So, three reviews isn't too bad. I've already got one lined up for next week, now reading some others which should be ready by next week as well! How was your week?

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Review: 'The Age of Ice' by J.M. Sidorova

There was something about the whole premise of the novel that really drew me in. Russia also has tons of history to offer that, I think, doesn't get explored enough. Just in the 20th century, there was so much change and upheaval there which not only makes for interesting stories but also still fuels modern day politics. But to remain with the literary, I am very glad to have picked up this novel.
The Empress Anna Ioannovna has issued her latest eccentric order: construct a palace out of ice blocks. Inside its walls her slaves build a wedding chamber, a canopy bed on a dais, heavy drapes cascading to the floor—all made of ice. Sealed inside are a disgraced nobleman and a deformed female jester. On the empress’s command—for her entertainment—these two are to be married, the relationship consummated inside this frozen prison. In the morning, guards enter to find them half-dead. Nine months later, two boys are born.
Surrounded by servants and animals, Prince Alexander Velitzyn and his twin brother, Andrei, have an idyllic childhood on the family’s large country estate. But as they approach manhood, stark differences coalesce. Andrei is daring and ambitious; Alexander is tentative and adrift. One frigid winter night on the road between St. Petersburg and Moscow, as he flees his army post, Alexander comes to a horrifying revelation: his body is immune to cold.
J. M. Sidorova’s boldly original and genrebending novel takes readers from the grisly fields of the Napoleonic Wars to the blazing heat of Afghanistan, from the outer reaches of Siberia to the cacophonous streets of nineteenth-century Paris. The adventures of its protagonist, Prince Alexander Velitzyn—on a lifelong quest for the truth behind his strange physiology—will span three continents and two centuries and bring him into contact with an incredible range of real historical figures, from Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, to the licentious Russian empress Elizaveta and Arctic explorer Joseph Billings.
The Age of Ice is one of the most enchanting and inventive debut novels of the year.
Inventive is definitely the word I would use for this novel. The concept of the main character coming from Ice and being constantly drawn to it is absolutely fascinating. On the one hand I wish Sidorova had explored Alexander's whole background more and the very fact of his existence, but on the other hand I like the mystery that remains around him throughout the whole novel. Authors sometimes try to rationalize the magic in their narratives and thereby completely destroy the magic itself. As a reader, it is fun to be able to come up with your own theories and it is what makes the reading experience different for each reader.

Historical fiction needs to be gotten right. There needs to be an even balance between history and fiction and I personally prefer it if the line between the two is blurry. It is better when each character both seems real enough to be actual historic fact but also seems fantastical enough to be mere fiction. It means that as a reader you get to really explore a novel. Sidorova does this amazingly well. The whole novel feels like one big magical journey through Russian, European and Asian history and although there are a lot of things that are clearly fictional (men impervious to cold) there were a lot of instances where I found myself surprised by the fact that these people existed or certain events occurred. In my review of a different historical novel I praised it for spotlighting an aspect of history one doesn't get taught a lot. Sidorova gives herself the time to slowly move from one time period to the next at her own pace, allowing her character to maybe not experience a certain war or a certain accident. It means that whether your familiar with Afghanistan's extended history or not, you will still be able to gain new and different insights from the novel. Sidorova did a lot of interesting research, which really adds to the novel.

I enjoyed Sidorova's writing style. At times she mixes in Russian or dialect words, but they never halt the reading process. Although I do have to add that there was a lull in the middle of the book, I generally didn't want to put it down. The beginning of the novel is very exciting, introducing czarist Russia and the main character and the Arctic Exploration is a very good extension of this. However, the half-way mark of the novel seems to be a moment in the novel where Sidorova wants to say something meaningful about Alexander and unfortunately that makes the narrative falter. Thankfully, she picks up the thread of the narrative again and the second half of the novel adds a whole new layer to the novel.

I give this novel...

3 Universes.

I was doubting between a 3 and 4 Universe rating. The Age of Ice is an amazing read that is highly enjoyable. The middle of the book stretches a little bit, but Sidorova really picks it up again. The novel offers a great insight into Russian history and therefore gives a whole new insight into European history as well. I would definitely recommend this to fans of historical fiction.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Friday, Friday!

Book Blogger HopIt's so incredibly hot I don't think I can physically cope. Not only is it ruining my hair, I also become slower than a sloth! Which is why I'm staying inside to read and blog! Onto the memes! Book Blogger Hop is hosted by Billy over at Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer! This week's question was submitted by Elizabeth over at Silver's Reviews:

Do you like to read books with a team such as Christmas, Halloween etc. ?

I actually don't really know. I don't tend to pick books especially for themes. I read whatever takes my fancy around the holidays and if that involves the "right" thee than by all means. But for me it also depends on whether I feel that the book was written especially for the holiday, if you know what I mean. If a book was clearly written to come out around Christmas, then sometimes that turns me off the book.

Does the Bible count as a Christmas read? Not that I really tend to read the Bible in-depth over Christmas, but oh well.
GFC

Follow Friday is hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee and this week's question is:

What is your favourite TV series that you can watch over and over again on Netflix?

Aaah TV series, my favourite thing next to books and movies, otherwise known as my holy trinity. There are so many TV shows I love watching that for the sake of the post-length I'm not going to count my comedy series, like Whose Line is it Anyway, A Bit of Fry & Laurie, etc.

Shows I love are Sherlock, Doctor Who, The Clone Wars and Pretty Little Liars! Then there's Supernatural, I had a really good run with Spartacus as well (so sad it's over), I'm still working through Buffy but absolutely loving it, Charmed, Friends, ugh, waay too many!
 
 

A show I'm planning on starting this weekend is Firefly, even though I know there isn't enough of it I also know I will fall in love with it!

Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted by Gilion over at Rose City Reader and Freda at Freda's Voice respectively. This week I'm using Splintered by A.G. Howard, which saw Tracy over at Cornerfolds review and I knew then I wanted it, no, needed it! So I'm going to start this one

BB:
'I’ve been collecting bugs since I was ten; it’s the only way I can stop their whispers. Sticking a pin through the gut of an insect shuts it up pretty quick.' p.1
Ooh, I wasn't expecting the potential gruesomeness of this book but I'm sort of loving it. There's a lot of interesting things about this beginning and I'm really intrigued!

F56:
'“You can stay this size if you want to. I’ll carry you in my pocket.” p.56
Knowing that this series is set in Wonderland, I have a feeling I know what this sentence is about. I love the fact that I can already sense the snark that will be in this book!

So, that was it for me today! I'll be stopping by as many blogs as I can over the weekend!

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Review: 'Confessions of an Angry Girl' by Louise Rozett

Confessions of an Angry Girl (Confessions, #1)Something about the synopsis of this book really made me want to read it. Whether that was because I was completely engrossed or because I wanted to know how cliche it exactly was, I knew I wanted to read it. And I'm quite glad I did because it was quite an enjoyable read.
Rose Zarelli, self-proclaimed word geek and angry girl, has some CONFESSIONS to make... 
#1: I’m livid all the time. Why? My dad died. My mom barely talks. My brother abandoned us. I think I’m allowed to be irate, don’t you? 
#2: I make people furious regularly. Want an example? I kissed gorgeous Jamie Forta, boyfriend of the coolest cheerleader in the school. Now she’s out for blood. Mine. 
#3: But most of all high school might as well be Mars. My best friend has been replaced by an alien…and now it’s a case of survival of the coolest.
Like a lot of other reviewers, I was quite surprised to realize that the main character was only fourteen. As a sage and wise twenty-year old, I found it a bit hard to relate to Rose and her worries at times because they seemed so cliched. However, Rozett deals with the big questions of early puberty, sex, alcohol and popularity, relatively well. I do think that as such, sex is a very touchy topic when dealing with a main character that is so clearly underage. Although the novel never crosses any lines, it still makes some scenes a little bit awkward. I think there needs to be a debate about how young we want to make YA characters. I personally wouldn't consider a fourteen-year old a Young Adult, but still a child. As such, this novel shouldn't be marketed as a romance but much more as a coming-of-age novel.

As far as those aspects of the plot go, Confessions of an Angry Girl is relatively stereotypical. Rose has a lot of problems and she finds out that there are no immediate answers for the question what life is about. At times I found myself being relatively annoyed at her naivety and her insistence that she was right. Although I kept telling myself this character was supposed to be fourteen, I still think Rozett could have given Rose the capability of self-reflection. I also have to question the morals of Jamie, the male love interest of unspecified age. In my mind he's significantly older than her, which makes everything a bit sketchy and I'm not quite sure how fond I was of him as a character overall, although he was of course charming whenever he was around her. Of course there is another potential love interest who I actually, for once, think was better than the main love interest.

Despite the above points, Rose is a fun character. She's eloquent, funny at times and very honest about her doubts and feelings to the reader. This means that even when you think she's being a stubborn teenager, you still feel for her. The same courtesy isn't extended to all of the other characters, but I guess everyone needs a nemesis. Rozett's writing style flows easily and she allows time to pass without having to describe every single day. I actually think this is really refreshing. The plot isn't crammed into a day, but rather there are weeks allowed to pass in which not much happens. This is how life really is. However, high-school is not that dramatic, or at least it doesn't have to be. Something that annoys me about these kinds of books is that characters are very passive and never actively move away from the drama. Despite the fact that some parts of the book were a bit eye-roll inducing, I did really enjoy reading it.

Rozett does manage to describe high-school and its intricate hierarchy really well. The way a friendship or a break-up can affect more people than the two originally involved is quite astounding and hard to believe at times and although I managed to keep out of most of that drama in high-school, I recognized a lot of the things Rozett described in her book. Bullying is never a good thing and I think by making it relatively central to the novel, the reader can actually take something positive away from it. It's just such a shame that so much of the drama revolved around "love". Let's not forget all of these people are still in high-school. I also thought the family dynamics were written well. The sudden death of a parent leaves a hole in a family and when the older sibling then departs for college, naturally that means a lot of changes. I really liked how Rozett described all of these.

I give this novel...

3 Universes.

Although I enjoyed reading this book and flew through it, it is not one of the most memorable I ever read. Partially this is due to the fact that the protagonist is simple relatively far removed from me in age and therefore not as easy to identify with. It seems like you get a quick glance into someone's life and then move on. I'd recommend this to people who are close to the protagonist's age and are looking for a read about the first year in high-school.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Review: 'The Bunker' #1 by Joshua Hale Fialkov, Joe Infurnari

The Bunker: Volume 1I requested The Bunker on a hunch. Something about it attracted me and I thought, why not try something different. Although I'm happy to have indeed tried something new, I'm not quite sure whether I want to try it again.
On their way to bury a time capsule, five friends - Grady, Heidi, Natasha, Daniel, and Billy - uncover a metal bunker buried deep in the woods. Inside, they discover letters addressed to each of them ... from their future selves! Told they will destroy the world in the very near future, the friends find themselves, over the next few days, growing further and further apart. Though they've been warned against making the wrong choices, how do they know what the right ones are? Can the future really be changed, or will an even darker fate engulf the world?
Before launching into a review of the plot, I want to discuss Infurnari's illustrations. His style is both very rough, with figures that are never drawn fully, with edges and shades rather than colours, and yet quite expressive. By looking unfinished, it supports some of the ideas brought up by the story. He makes use of different frames so no page looks like the other and this gives the whole comic a very dynamic look that allows it to flow. On the other hand, the chaoticness of the illustrations very much reflects similar problems in the narrative where no idea seems to have been fully outlined. The only problem I had was the letters. The handwritten style of writing was incredibly hard to read at times. I thought perhaps this was due to the digital copy I had but after looking around I've seen numerous people having similar issues. Infurnari's style needed some getting used to and it's not exactly my cup of tea, although some frames were stunning in their use of colour. At times it is too explosive, too much all over the map. This leads me to the very confusing move between present and future. Sometimes it is said that we're currently reading a flash-forward, but sometimes you don't notice until half-way down the page. This wasn't helped by the fact that it was initially hard to separate the male characters from each other.

The plot in itself sounds very promising. It seems to combine elements from the (post-)apocalyptic and horror genre while also showing us the growing pains of the five twenty-something year olds. I found myself comparing it to the 2012 film The Cabin in the Woods which very cleverly played with tropes of both genres and subverted most of them. Sadly, Fialkov doesn't get close to packing the same punch, largely because his characters behave more like teenagers than people who have just realised they have the fate of the world in their hands. The cursing and shouting is overdone, as if they had to prove how cool the characters are. Simultaneously, there are holes the size of Texas in his plot, such as where the time machine came from and how it worked. If the traveling from the future to the present is such a big part of your story, surely you would've worked it out more? I don't know whether this will be explored more in the other installments, but it seems a rather crucial think to clarify, especially if it's one of your story's major selling points.

The characters are very much the standard horror group of friends, i.e. there's the brain, the jock, the virgin, the slut (I disagree with this term) and the fool. However, none of the characters are either worked out in such a way that they neither completely inhabit these character stereotypes nor rebel against them. In 140 pages, there was only one character whose backstory was really worked out and although I imagine the other installments tell us more about the other characters as well, it left the reader sort of hanging without any character to really empathize with. I do think there is a lot of potential in this story and I'd love to find out what happens next. Despite all of my troubles with it, I didn't want to stop reading because there is so much potential to it. It's because of this I would read the next installment.

Overall I give this book...

2 Universes.

There was simply too much confusion in the story for me to be able to give it a higher rating. I did enjoy reading the story and I want to know what happens, but that is partially due to the fact that I hope Fialkov fills all the holes and creates a narrative that can be followed without losing track constantly. Infurnari's art needed some getting used to and although it was at times very impressive, it also felt a big chaotic. I would recommend this to people who are fans of post-apocalyptic stories and aren't adverse to puzzling. I wish I could've given it a better rating.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Release Day Blitz for 'Hearken (Daughters of the Sea #4) by Kristen Day

Hearken ( Daughters Of the Sea #4 ) 
Now Available
7/22/14

Haven't read the first 3 in the series?! Get caught up while they are on sale!

★SALE!! Only $.99 cents each!★ 
Daughters of the Sea Series! 


When the evil you fear is born from within, who will save us…from ourselves?

Sometimes our souls hear what our minds and hearts refuse to accept. It will whisper its continuous cadence until we're strong enough to glimpse the truth. But when the soul's whispers morph into screams, we're forced to gaze into the mirrors of time and see ourselves for who we really are.

 Grappling with her newfound leadership position, Stasia begins to experience a recurring nightmare of murder, as well as curious reveries about a violet-eyed girl who can control the moon. When tragedy grips the Tydes and several important relics are stolen from the Sons of Daimon, Stasia’s Council leaves for the forgotten island of Atlantis. Unfortunately Atlantis harbors its own secrets, and they are all calling to Stasia. As her nightmares become worse and she begins to lose control of her mind, those around her must find a way to reach her…and fast.

 Olivia Campbell is used to getting what she wants, when she wants it. But destiny never asked Olivia what she wanted. Being Chosen to be a Paladin at birth had not been something she wanted, and she definitely hadn’t wanted her charge to be Anastasia. Unfortunately their irritatingly persistent Atlantean guide, Sebastian, seems to know all about her and the secrets she’s been hiding. As she fights to protect Stasia from an unknown force, Olivia’s own courage and loyalty will be tested in ways she never imagined. Will she be able to tell Stasia the truth before it’s too late for them both.    

Purchase your copy of Hearken today!

Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/BN-KristenDay


About Kristen Day
 
  I am a southern belle at heart with a crazy streak that desperately tries to escape at every opportunity. I love all things nostalgic, rustic, and quirky. I've been told I see the world through rose-colored glasses, but I prefer to think of them as kaleidoscope glasses - swirling and morphing reality into something I can digest (who hasn't pretended those pasty lima beans were really kiwi strawberry jelly beans?).  When I'm not writing I'm making jewelry, painting, drinking sweet tea, watching the discovery channel, or going on random adventures in the mountains of North Carolina with my amazing husband.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Stacking the Shelves & It's Monday! What Are You Reading? - Dutch Edition

Yup, still not home, extending the holiday for as long as possible. Although I will be by the end of the day, but while I'm writing up this post I'm securely settled in one of the nicest hotels I know. They recently did a renovation and the bathroom is seriously to die for! Anyways, let's get to the memes! Stacking the Shelves is hosted over at Tynga's Reviews. It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila over at Book Journey!

2aaaStacking The Shelves [103]

I'm still getting books from my last Netgalley spree, but I can't complain because I've wanted to read all of these really badly! So that's a yaay for me. Quite potentially there's books waiting for me at home and if that is so I'll do another post.


MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood, The Seventh Miss Hatfield by Anna Caltabiano, Brief Space Between Color and Shade by Cristavao Taxza, Rose of Sarajevo by Ayse Kulin and The Original Folk and Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm by Grimm Brothers.

It's been another pretty good review week for me. This holiday is doing wonders for my reading habits! At this rate I'm almost going a book a day, except for the fact that naturally some books are too long to read in a day.

Last Week I read:

  • You Got To Be Kidding Me: The Cultural Arsonist's Literal Reading of the Bible by Joe Wenke (review)
  • The Red Mark by J.M. Wilson, L.M. Thompson (review)
  • The Dervish by Frances Kazan (review)
  • The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (review)
  • Tales of the Macabre by Edgar Allan Poe, Benjamin Lacombe (review)
  • The Bunker #1 by Joshua Hale Fialkov, Joe Infurnari (review coming)
  • Confessions of an Angry Girl by Louise Rozett (review coming)
This Week I'm Reading, amongst others:

The Age of IceThe Age of Ice by J.M. Sidorova
An epic debut novel about a lovelorn eighteenth-century Russian noble, cursed with longevity and an immunity to cold, whose quest for the truth behind his condition spans two thrilling centuries and a stunning array of historical events.
St. Petersburg, Russia, 1740. The Empress Anna Ioanovna has issued her latest eccentric order: construct a palace out of ice blocks. Inside its walls her slaves build a wedding chamber, a canopy bed on a dais, heavy drapes cascading to the floor—all made of ice. Sealed inside are two jesters, one a disgraced nobleman, the other a humpback, a performer by birthright. On the Empress’s command—for her entertainment—these two are to be married, the relationship consummated inside this frozen prison. In the morning guards enter to find them half-dead. Nine months later, two boys are born.
Surrounded by servants and animals, Prince Alexander Velitsyn and his twin brother Andrei have an idyllic childhood on the family’s large country estate. But as they approach manhood stark differences coalesce. Andrei is daring and ambitious; Alexander is tentative and adrift. One frigid winter night on the road between St. Petersburg and Moscow, as he flees his army post, Alexander comes to a horrifying revelation: his body is immune from cold.
The Awakening of Miss Prim: A Noveland

The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera

In this #1 international bestseller, a young woman leaves everything behind to work as a librarian in a remote French village, where she finds her outlook on life and love challenged in every way.
When Miss Prim, an independent, accomplished young woman, reads an ad in the newspaper seeking a feminine spirit to work as a librarian in the lush countryside of France, she finds herself compelled to apply. Little does she know what kind of world she is about to step into. 
Miss Prim dutifully accepts the job and begins organizing her employer's vast library. A knowledgeable, mysterious gentleman with very specific opinions about life, he challenges Miss Prim's seemingly unshakeable disposition. And as she becomes familiar with the other townspeople, she begins to realize that the surprising lifestyle of the town awakens amazement, perplexity, and even disdain in her. For in this tiny corner of the world, a flourishing colony of exiles have settled into a simple, rural existence, living around great literature, intellectual discussions, family, and sweet indulgences. Their peculiar and unconventional ways slowly test Miss Prim's most intimate ideas and fears as well as her most profound convictions. She quickly comes to realize that her advanced degrees did little to prepare her for the lessons she's being taught the least of which is a lesson in love.
So, that's it for me today! What was in your Mailbox this week? And what did you read?