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: The Edge of Nowhere by C. H. Armstrong

EdgeofNowhereThe Edge of Nowhere by C. H. Armstrong
Amazon

The year is 1992 and Victoria Hastings Harrison Greene—reviled matriarch of a sprawling family—is dying.

After surviving the Oklahoma Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, Victoria refuses to leave this earth before revealing the secrets she’s carried for decades.

Once the child of a loving family during peaceful times, a shocking death shattered her life. Victoria came face to face with the harshness of the world. As the warm days of childhood receded to distant memory, Victoria learns to survive.

No matter what it takes.

To keep her family alive in an Oklahoma blighted by dust storms and poverty, Victoria makes choices—harsh ones, desperate ones. Ones that eventually made her into the woman her grandchildren fear and whisper about. Ones that kept them all alive. Hers is a tale of tragedy, love, murder, and above all, the conviction to never stop fighting.

I received an e-copy of this book via NetGalley. My views and opinions of the book are my own, and I received no compensation for my honest review.

A friend on twitter recommended this book to NetGalley users, and the description sounded interesting so I requested it. It was labelled as “women’s fiction” but really I think it’s historical fiction foremost. I wish I’d realised that before requesting it, as I’m not a big fan of historical fiction. The description made it sound as though the story was set in 1992, but in reality it’s all set in the past – from 1913 to 1939.

The Edge of Nowhere is a narration of the protagonist, Victoria’s, life. What I mean by narration is that the whole book read very much as telling instead of showing – which is a big no-no in the writing world – and I felt more like I was reading a padded out list of events. There wasn’t any “showing” to help me become immersed in the story, and each character and situation felt flat because of it.

The story starts with the protagonist saying this is a letter to her family so they can understand what she went through, and it ends in much the same way. But at 358 pages I think it could have been better executed as a brief letter at the start saying something like “the following is a book about my life, for my grandchildren” and then show us her life instead of just telling us a series of events. (It’s pretty unbelievable that she wrote a 358 page letter lol!)

On top of the “telling instead of showing” issue, the dialogue wasn’t very good, in my opinion. Every character sounded the same as the rest (you could make a drinking game for whenever anyone said “I don’t have much but I can share”). And confusingly, at the start of the book Victoria (and her family) seemed to speak with a mostly “proper” accent, but as the book went on the author changed the way Victoria and everyone around her spoke, giving them more of a drawl including missing letters from words. This change seems to be trying to drive home that Victoria wasn’t from an affluent family, but it was inconsistent with how the story started.

Which also caused some confusion for me because at the start of the story I thought she was living in a Victorian affluent setting, due to the names and how everyone was speaking and interacting, but also the way certain characters finances were talked about. Will, in particular, was made to sound like a very wealthy gentleman at first, but within a couple of chapters they were talking about how much of a hard working farmer he is and about what little money they made from even great farming years.

The writing style as a whole made it a struggle to get through the book, which is a shame because the idea for the story is a good one and the topics covered are important things that should be discussed – not just from history but in modern day too. Topics such as starvation, misogyny, sex work (the book briefly touches on this), survival, infant death, and grief.

Victoria goes through a vast list of trials and suffering. I felt angry at everything she had to endure, but at the same time I didn’t actually care about Victoria at all. Her character – even though her demeanor changed through the book – fell flat for me. I like to see character development that actually develops the character in a way that shows us the changes, and doesn’t just write the character telling us how they changed.

I wouldn’t recommend The Edge of Nowhere to anyone but, as I hadn’t ever heard of the Oklahoma Dust Bowl before, I have learned something from reading this book. And even though the “telling” and dialogue were a struggle to get through, I do feel as though I’ve learned a little about what it was like for some families during that time.

Due to learning something new, my rating isn’t as low as it would have been.

Rating: 2.5/5

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.

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

LightBetweenOceans

The Light Between Oceans
by M. L. Stedman
Published: April 2013
Amazon
Book Depository

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.

Book Review: Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews

Magic Strikes
by Ilona Andrews
Genre: Dark fantasy
Published: March 2009
Amazon
Book Depository

Back of the book blurb:
When magic strikes and Atlanta goes to pieces, it’s a job for Kate Daniels…

Drafted into working for the Order of Merciful Aid, mercenary Kate Daniels has more paranormal problems than she knows what to do with these days. And in Atlanta, where magic comes and goes like the tide, that’s saying a lot.

But when Kate’s werewolf friend Derek is discovered nearly dead, she finds herself with a personal stake and a while new level of problem. As her investigations lead her to the Midnight Games – the invitation-only, no-holds-barred, ultimate preternatural fighting tournament – she uncovers a dark plot that may forever alter the face of Atlanta’s shapeshifting community…

My review:
I only discovered Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series about a year ago but they hooked me fast. This is book three in the series and is just as strong as the first two.

The world that Kate Daniels lives in has enough “normal” every day markers for you to be able to picture what is being talked about (streets in Atlanta, etc). But the alterations that have come about due to the magic and tech waves are a fantastic change and they draw you even deeper into the story with each revelation. If you haven’t read any of this series, then definitely start with book one, Magic Bites, so that you can fully emerge yourself in this fantastically interesting world that Ilona Andrews has created.

This book focuses on the relationship between Kate Daniels and the shapeshifters, even though that is seemingly a secondary storyline to the goings on in the Midnight Games. I love the way that the story didn’t get overrun with fight scenes, even in a book all about fights. The descriptions and narrative held strong and I literally couldn’t put the book down until I finished it!

The fight scenes were so well detailed that you knew exactly where and what everyone was doing and the overall plot moved with perfect pace – nothing dragged and nothing felt too rushed either. Her relationship with Curran also comes into play in this book and his character is one of my absolute favourites! The two of them together in any situation is just such an interesting read – sometimes fun, sometimes serious, but always enjoyable to learn more about. Just as the world itself, and their roles in it, is so fascinating to delve into.

I enjoy the way there are light hearted moments to mix in with the serious elements, and each character is so very individual that you feel personal attachments to each of them in a different way. Kate Daniels is a very likable character and her actions, and motivations, are not only interesting to read but they draw you deeper into the story with her.

Overall, this book was a fantastic read; an excellent addition to an already strong series and I cannot wait to read the next one 🙂

Rating: 5/5

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.

Book Review: Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr

Wicked Lovely
by Melissa Marr
Genre: Young adult fiction
ISBN (UK): 978-0-00-726307-3
ISBN (US): 978-0061214677
Harper Collins
Published: April 2009
Amazon | Book Depository

Back of the book blurb:
The seductive worldwide bestseller.

Rule 3: Never stare at invisible faeries. Aislinn has always seen faeries. Powerful and dangerous, they walk hidden in the mortal world.

Rule 2: Never speak to invisible faeries. One of them, a beautiful faery boy names Keenan, is trying to talk to her, asking questions Aislinn is afraid to answer.

Rule 1: Don’t ever attract their attention. Now it’s too late. Keenan is the Summer King and is determined that Aislinn will become the Summer Queen at any cost. Without her, summer itself will perish…

My review:
I was really looking forward to reading this book for a long time so my expectations were high, and I’m happy to say they were met. I first saw mention of Wicked Lovely on Supernatural Snark in a list of books she was going to be reading, but even though it grabbed me right away I only got a copy at the start of this year (due to putting it on a Christmas gift list in case my husband was stuck for gift ideas). So it was the first book I read in 2011.

Before I started reading the book itself, I read the “about the author” page at the front and immediately liked the sound of Melissa Marr. She seems to have had a really exciting and varied life, which made me want to read the book even more. I felt ready for a story of new and exciting things, an adventure of sorts like the way she had described her life.

The flow of the story is very well written. We start with a snippet into the faery world but without much context to know what to do with that bit of knowledge yet, further drawing you into the book. Then getting to know the main character, Aislinn, and the world she lives in. I felt very much drawn into her world, feeling her ups and downs and wanting to know more about her and everything surrounding her.

Even though this is a young adult book, it kept me gripped and the pace of the story was just right – I read it in one day because I just couldn’t put it down. The characters felt very real and the amount of detail, even though vast, didn’t weigh you down or feel as though it was being dragged out. It gave so much detail but in a way that made it feel just right with the flow of the story.

There are really five characters that drew focus in the story, Aislinn, Seth, Keenan, Donia and the Winter Queen. Each felt very much an individual character and came to life on the page – there wasn’t a time where I felt one character had been rehashed to form another one. I loved the character interaction and felt very strong emotions tied to certain scenarios in the book.

My one qualm is towards the end of the book. Not the plot, that stays consistent and good. But the pace, flow and style of writing seem to suddenly change in the final 8th of the book. It almost felt as if the author had suddenly changed at times but then the next line would show that it was definitely still the same author. So I’m thinking perhaps this book was originally a lot longer than 328 pages and had to be edited down…or maybe even that she got to that point, realised the length and then sped up to cram the final parts into the story. It didn’t ruin it, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and storyline! But it did feel a bit out of place the way the flow suddenly changed and became “this happened, then this, then this, then this and this and this!” all in a very short space of time.

So, I’m afraid, a bit of a rating reduction for that point purely because it was such a noticeable change. But overall I absolutely loved this book and can’t wait to read the next one – which I shall be going to buy tomorrow 🙂

Rating: 4.5/5

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.