Review: Not So Much, Said The Cat by Michael Swanwick

Not So Much, Said The Cat by Michael Swanwick
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Michael Swanwick takes us on a whirlwind journey across the globe and across time and space, where magic and science exist in possibilities that are not of this world. These tales are intimate in their telling, galactic in their scope, and delightfully sesquipedalian in their verbiage.

Join the caravan through Swanwick’s worlds and into the playground of his mind. Discover a calculus problem that rocks the ages and robots who both nurture and kill. Meet a magical horse who protects the innocent, a confused but semi-repentant troll, a savvy teenager who takes on the Devil, and time travelers from the Mesozoic who party till the end of time…

I requested this book via NetGalley to review because the title and description sounded intriguing. When I started the book, however, the intrigue fell away a little.

Not So Much, Said The Cat starts with an introduction from the author, talking about his writing journey and how this collection of short fiction came to be. Unfortunately, the introduction read very self-aggrandizing and I’m still not sure if it was intended that way or just came across that way by accident.

But I put that aside and jumped into the world of the first story, and enjoyed it very much! I’ve seen other reviewers all say the same – the first story is a great start to this collection and definitely makes you want to read more.

However, the book is only 288 pages, which should be a very quick read, but it actually took me over 2 months to get through it. Which is a downside for me, but for anthology lovers maybe that would be a positive? Each story was a different genre to the last, jumping around between fantasy, sci-fi, fable-type fiction and more, to the point that I could only read one story at a time and needed several days (sometimes a week or more) between them to get my brain ready for the next genre switch.

I’m not sure why the author (or publisher) planned the stories in this way. There were several of each genre in the book and I think it would have been a more enjoyable read to have more fluid genre transitions, from fantasy through to sci-fi crossovers, then pure sci-fi through to the fable-style stories, etc. The way they were all intermixed felt very “bitty”, and frustrated me a few times that I couldn’t just relax and read several at once.

For example, “The Dala Horse” was such a swift change in genre and setting that it pulled me out of the story too much at first – I found myself thinking “wait, where am I? What setting/world is this?” instead of just enjoying the story. And “3am In The Mesozoic Bar” was a flop for me because it took too long for the story to show you what was going on. I think it (and many others) would have read differently if I’d known upfront which genre I should be expecting.

You could definitely tell the same author wrote each story, even with the different settings and protagonists the language and writing style was much the same. But that alone wasn’t enough to tie the collection together for me to read more than one at a time.

The stories themselves are mostly good – a couple are very good, then they become “ok” the further into the collection you go, with one or two not grabbing me at all. But you have to expect a mixed bag with a short fiction collection that crosses so many different worlds, genres and characters.

The ones I enjoyed (such as “The Man In Grey”, and “The Woman Who Shook The World Tree”) had strong plots, characters, and I mostly enjoyed the author’s writing style – very accurately described in the book blurb as sesquipedalian.

“An Empty House With Many Doors” was a surprising treat later in the collection. The worldbuilding was interesting and it was great to have an emotional rollercoaster through such a short story.

Overall I think the collection is an OK read, very middle of the road. I don’t think I’d recommend it to anyone personally, but if you enjoy mixed-genre anthologies you might feel differently about it than I did.

Rating: 3/5

I received this ebook via NetGalley. The opinions are my own and I received no compensation for my honest review.
I am an Amazon Associate: they pay me a small commission if you use my link.

Review: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

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I’ve been looking forward to reading Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard. All of the book bloggers, and booktubers, have been talking about it so highly, and as I picked it up to read I began to worry it wouldn’t live up to my expectations. I needn’t have worried.

I really enjoyed this book! The world building is great, the characters are interesting, and the story moves with a great balance of fast and slow pacing. Not everything is perfect – the science behind some things made the logical part of my brain shudder, but it’s a fantasy book and nothing was so outlandish to shock me out of the story.

The main character, Mare, is part of the lower level of society – the red bloods. They are normal humans without any powers. The higher society – the overlords, really – are silver bloods (literally) and the elite classes of the world. They each have different powers, such as being able to manipulate fire, water, or turn invisible.

Mare’s world is turned upside down when she finds out she, a normal red blood girl, has a power of her own. The book delves into what this means for society and how it would shake up the current class dynamics. It made me think “what would I do in that situation?” a lot, and the plot develops in a very real-world way.

I liked Mare as a character, though she did frustrate me at times. But I kept reminding myself that she is only 17, and the book shows us that she hasn’t had much of an education. The other main characters include Maven and Cal, two of the silver elite class who are half-brothers. They stand alone well as different characters (not just one brother repeated twice) and I enjoyed the interactions between them and with Mare.

There were a couple of frustrations that seem to pop up in a few books lately. Such as someone being charged with something they didn’t do, and when everyone turns against them they don’t just say a simple one line to clear their name (I won’t say what sentence they could be here, because of spoilers). They just stay quiet and internally wonder “if only I could do something”. In this book their silence moves the story along to the next big scene, but it felt more like we were being forced to the next big scene when one sentence could have so easily changed things. It felt as though the character was suddenly being very slow in their thinking, which didn’t mesh with the way the character had been developed so far.

There were a couple of inconsistencies…or at least they read as inconsistencies but one of them could possibly be developed/answered in further world building in other books. The first inconsistency was that Mare talks about being quick on her feet and able to move around people well without bumping into them, but she slips on a stone floor (and says something about not having good feet for that), and later struggles to dance because her feet aren’t suited to it. The other inconsistency, which I think might be expanded upon later, was that powers are an ability to manipulate external things, not to come from within – which makes sense but got me wondering about the people who could heal themselves (but not others), the ones who can turn invisible, or the person who turned themselves to stone – those all read as internal manipulation, which goes against what the author had already taught us about powers. I hope these get answered or expanded upon in later books as I’d love to see more of that development! 🙂

Minor frustrations aside, I thought the characters were well rounded and the story was very interesting. I liked that there wasn’t such a clear line between good and evil in each person – the good characters weren’t always good, for example. It made the world feel very believable because of that, as people aren’t just one clear cut thing in real life.

There are a few plot twists and turns. The “big one” I figured out very early on in the book, but even knowing what was coming I really enjoyed this book! I loved the world building and definitely want to read more – I’ll be picking up the next book as soon as I can.

Rating: 4/5

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I purchased this book with my own money, and received no compensation for my honest review.
I am a Book Depository and Amazon affiliate, and I receive a small commission if you use my link.

Book Review: The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

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The Light Between Oceans
by M. L. Stedman
Published: April 2013
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Back of the book blurb:
After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.

Tom, who keeps meticulous records and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel insists the baby is a “gift from God,” and against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.

My review:
I was intrigued by this book as soon as I read the blurb. It sounded as though it would tackle some hard choices and also the fallout that those choices can cause. I wasn’t disappointed.

The author has a wonderful writing style (for the most part) – I felt drawn into the story straight away, but the large chunks of “this is how a lighthouse works” did jar a little and I skipped a few. The period and location of the story were new to me, but it didn’t feel like an unknown. Stedman wrote descriptions beautifully and kept the pacing just right to move the reader along.

The story itself felt as though it is something that could have happened, even though I know this is a book of fiction. We meet Tom Sherbourne, who was happy spending his post-war years alone on a lighthouse until he meets Isabel – a vibrant and energetic girl who Tom falls in love with very quickly. Their story soon becomes one of sadness, and then deceit. But I loved that the story was told “as is” without trying to make the reader feel one way or another. You’re left to your own devices to decide how you feel about each decision, action or inaction. And it really makes you think “what would I do if…” a lot of times through the book.

I was anticipating a very sad ending filled with a lot of death – thankfully that didn’t happen – and I have to admit I ended up hating Isabel. But that hate also held sadness and some compassion (though not a lot, I must admit) because of what had driven her to the decisions she made. The book made me question if someone’s actions can or should be forgiven because of what drove them to that point, and to also think about the loved ones surrounding them who have to deal with the fallout by association.

This is a book which will keep you thinking long after you’ve finished. At first I wasn’t sure if I liked, or agreed, with the way things progressed and then ended. But it stayed in my mind for a few days, with me thinking of other endings or how I thought people would react in different situations. Which to me is a great book – something that makes you think about not only the book itself, but about the world you live in and the way people interact.

Rating: 4/5

Amazon | Book Depository

I purchased this book with my own money, and received no compensation for my honest review.
I am a Book Depository and Amazon affiliate, and I receive a small commission if you use my link.