Review: Life Honestly by The Pool

Life Honestly: Strong Opinions for Smart Women, by The Pool

Pan Macillan, 2018

My copy generously provided by the publisher via Netgalley

I hadn’t heard of The Pool website before now, although some of the authors in this book are familiar to me. Having gone over to look, it’s probably a good thing that I wasn’t aware of the site before getting the book: advertising itself as  “a platform for women who are too busy to browse” with tons of odd scheduling, with a layout that doesn’t fit onto my oversized laptop screen (?!), I think I’d have been a lot more sceptical about committing to this title if I had. I’m sure at one point my life philosophy would have fit more comfortably into The Pool’s “squeeze more essay reading into your Woke-but-still-trying-to-do-it-all middle class professional woman lifestyle”, and maybe one day it will again. But for now, I’m quite happily not doing it all, and don’t need a website to help me try to.

Anyway, this is not a review of my instinctive reactions to a website, it’s a review of my instinctive reactions to a book (which might, by definition, struggle to engage its target audience of “women too busy to read”, but I’m sure they’ve got their market research covered). Life Honestly is a collection of content that’s appeared on the website, alongside some things that haven’t, broken down by theme and covering a range of viewpoints within that theme. Although, as I note, the concerns raised are very much of a particular type of woman: aged 30-40 with a good career but living in London and therefore unable to get onto the housing market (a demographic I’m literally joining at my next birthday), there is attention paid to getting a range of viewpoints within that group: women of colour, trans women, one non-binary author and some disabled perspectives are all included. There’s also a real focus on lived experience in each essay – I can’t think of a single example which was not, in some way, connected to the author’s life experiences.

In grounding itself in the lived experiences of multiple authors, with all the contradictions and incompleteness that entails, Life Honestly is inherently going to be hit-and-miss for any given individual reader too. Honestly, I found large parts of the first half frankly quite irritating, and not just because the introduction gushes about creating space for honest conversations like those found in Cosmopolitan magazine, of all places. Sections on politics and work felt in hindsight like a necessary starting point for the book, but they’re also sections where the topics covered are quite narrow without any clear acknowledgement of what’s missing. The “love, sex and relationships” section was unrepentantly heteronormative. Similarly, “body” and “womb” sections contain no acknowledgement of the diversity of experience on these topics, particularly for trans women. I am sympathetic to the fact that feminist reproductive justice does mean autonomy over our wombs and vaginas for many women – and that the lack of attention paid to the needs of non-male, generally female-coded bodies, in healthcare is also an enormous problem – but that’s it’s not the only issue that women face, nor is it relevant for everyone.

It wasn’t until I got to the section on mental health that I started consistently appreciating the essays, and I’m very aware that this is because I reached a section which directly interested and impacted me. Even here, the slice of context being presented is narrow: it does feel at the moment that conversations around mental health are a constant call to arms over the need for conversation and assistance, without much acknowledgement that unless you can afford to pay for private healthcare, those of us in the UK are stuck with extremely poor and inconsistent infrastructure for meeting these needs. Still, it helped to reach a section that I actually enjoyed, because it set me up for greater enjoyment and less scepticism towards the rest of the book. Still, the nagging feeling that I was reading something incomplete that doesn’t really own its incompleteness never really went away.

So, by all means, if you are in its target audience, you will likely find things to enjoy in this book – although its probably one to be dipped into over a long period of time rather than read through from cover to cover in dedicated sittings. I guess my disappointment stems from the fact that Life Honestly feels shallow – less an Olympic swimming pool than a kid’s water play area. I’m not sure what the counterfactual to this looks like: I suppose it would be less reproduction of essays which worked in website format but don’t sit super well in a book, and more attention to coherent, dedicated content that would fit well in this format, which would entirely defeat the purpose of publishing a collection of essays from a website. Life Honestly also, unfortunately, joins a long and disappointing tradition of feminist viewpoints which – despite in this case including a range of identities within its authors – still centres the a particular type of White, middle-class, heteronormative female experience while relegating anything that does not fit this mould into the margins. And honestly, in 2018, I think we all need a bit more than that.

Rating: Six essay-inducing feelings about the London housing market out of ten


Reading Roundup: 3 – 9 September

So, I guess it’s only been a week since my last roundup, but it honestly feels like years. That’s basically because the move happened! After almost two months of unexpected commuter lifestyle, I’ve now moved to the London. So far it’s super nice and shaping up well in the long term, so I’m optimistic that I’ve landed on my feet in a city that can be pretty tough to find a place in. Apart from the packing, large parts of the weekend have been spent poring over Ikea bookshelf dimensions and planning out what percentage of the future room (and/or the shared living spaces) I can turn into a library over the next couple of months. Perhaps a nice cosy rug to lie on and pile books around me like a dragon-human, as well.

(Why have I committed to such an image-heavy WordPress theme when I’m so bad at pictures? Shhh.)

Books Read

The Quantum Rose by Catherine Asaro. Well, I don’t know what I expected. Being someone who doesn’t generally read romance, and didn’t like the only other Skolian Saga book I’ve tried, I definitely wasn’t the target audience for this Nebula winning sixth(?) entry in the series, which recounts the love between a simple colony princess and a man who sweeps down from the forgotten empire to “save” her from a creepy forced marriage with an abusive dude. Lots of elements of non-con and kink which it feels silly to complain about because, well, they are kind of the point, but what I do feel entitled to complain about is the fact that this all bleeds into the science fictional concepts (which include genetically engineered “perfect slave” people, eurgh) with nowhere near the depth and care that these issues require when you’re dealing with them as SF rather than unapologetic erotica. Nope nope nope nope nope. 4 out of 10.

So You Want to Be A Wizard by Diane Duane. As mentioned last week, after getting The Quantum Rose read I wanted to get to a rare nothing-in-progress state and give myself a moment to breathe and reflect. And I did! And then I started on a series I’ve long been looking forward to and had promised myself I’d start when I had fewer in-progress series (a number which has been under ten for a couple of months now, go me!). This is the first in what I think is now a ten book series, and while I don’t have a great deal to say about it, I’m definitely looking forward to carrying on. I’ve got the first nine books all loaded on my Kindle as part of Duane’s e-book sale last year, so it’s a very cost-effective series to get into as well! 7 out of 10.

Azanian Bridges by Nick Wood. After finishing the above, I returned to having nothing in progress, and decided to let the dice choose my next read: so I rolled a pair of percentage dice and chose based on the numbers on my Goodreads shelf. Azanian Bridges, a book I picked up as part of Lavie Tidhar’s World SF bundle earlier in the year, ensued. I went into this with no expectations and discovered a story set in a South Africa where apartheid continued into the 21st century, with a thriller-esque plot centred around the invention of a machine that invokes empathy between people. A neat concept, well executed. Good choice, dice. 7 out of 10.

The Doors at Dusk and Dawn by Bradley P. Beaulieu. Here’s where I begin to lose my discipline on the one-book-at-a-time thing. This is a novella in Bradley P. Beaulieu’s Shattered Sands universe, and I’ll be talking about it more at the end of the month. It’s recommended, though not essential, for fans of the series, and would be a pretty good taster for Beaulieu’s style for those wondering whether to add an unconventional but brick-y ongoing fantasy series to their roster. 7 out of 10.

Witchmark by C.L. Polk. I got really keen for another dead tree book to read alongside the Kindle stuff, and this is the one I picked out. Witchmark is a novel about an alternate world which has effectively just been through its equivalent of the second world war, and where the protagonist Miles is from a stratified society where magic is a well-kept secret belonging only to the upper classes, its use heavily controlled and scrutinised based on some frankly terrible values. Miles has escaped such a family and now tries to keep his undervalued magical healing powers a secret while simultaneously solving some mysterious happenings at the psychiatric hospital for veterans where he works. There’s a lovely M/M romance in here, as well as some brilliant worldbuilding and tense, fascinating family dynamics. I could perhaps have done with some more politics, but that’s just me. 8 out of 10.

Strange Horizons: July 2018. Yes, I’m still doing my best with the shorter fiction! And this issue of Strange Horizons really vindicated my decision to do so. 8 out of 10.

Currently Reading

On the Kindle: I’m dipping in and out of Life Honestly, a forthcoming (in fact, maybe it’s out?) collection of essays from The Pool website which I got sent in ARC form and will be reviewing here either towards the end of this week or the beginning of next. I’m also reading The City & The City by China Mieville, and really enjoying it so far: my experiences with Mieville to date have been minimal but the quality of this is undeniable, and I’m extremely taken with the conceit of parallel cities which inhabitants themselves choose to “unsee”. It’s especially interesting to read this after David Hutchinson’s Fractured Europe trilogy, which employs some similar concepts in places but was released afterwards. Fractured Europe never quite worked for me (although for some reason I read the entire trilogy to be sure of that) but The City & the City really is.

On Paper: Crown of Stars by Kate Elliott, to round off my year-long journey with this series. Honestly if [redacted] doesn’t get hit by an anachronistic bus its going to be hard for me to ever pick up a Kate Elliott novel again (you know who I mean if you’ve read any of this series). I mean, I think I’m joking with that? Maybe?

On Audio: I deliberately kept away from restarting any audiobooks during the week just for the sake of “continuity”, but I picked up The Grey King by Susan Cooper on the car ride down to London and it was the perfect children’s fantasy story for that trip, Welsh setting and complete lack of London relevance notwithstanding. Of course, it’s not actually very far from Cambridgeshire to London, even with a side trip down the M3 to visit my grandmother, so I’ve still got plenty more to go.


It’s been so hard, friends, but moving expenses have driven home why I am being so strict with myself on book buying this month. This week, the sole addition to my shelves was Crown of Stars by Kate Elliot. Because I can’t review the series without reading the end, now, can I?

I also requested and received an ARC of Do You Dream of Terra-Two by Temi Oh. I’ve been picky about my ARC requests over the last few weeks but this looks like an intriguing first-colony title, although the fact it is being marketed as literary fiction first means I might quickly discover I’m not really the target audience. You’ll all find out with me in due course, I guess!

For the record, I’m currently making puppy eyes at Monstress Volume 3 by Sana Takeda and Marjorie Liu; Terra Nullius by Claire G. Coleman; Rhodes Must Fall: The Struggle to Decolonise the Racist Heart of Empire by the Rhodes Must Fall Movement, Oxford; and Every River Runs to Salt by Rachael Jones. Among many, many others, of course.

Other News

  • So I can’t quite remember how the Twitter vectors worked to help me discover this, but I’ve started doing the Couch to 80k writing podcast by Tim Clare! I’ve written very little fiction for many years now and I’d love to give myself permission to keep slowly noodling around with the fantasy very-WIP I’ve wanted to get past the first few pages on for a long time. So far I’m pleased with how this has gone, so we’ll see if I can keep it up until the end (I don’t think there’s going to be 80k of words by then, though). If you decide to join it too, @ me and let me know how it’s going and we can compare notes!
  • I was at Nerds of a Feather on Wednesday last week, reviewing the Dreaming Stars by Tim Pratt. While you’re there, you should check out Paul Weimer’s super interesting essay on the place of Grimdark within the wider fantasy genre, and the rise of Hopepunk to counterbalance it. And then go read the rest of the website too!

Reading Roundup 27 August – 2 September

Oh hey, it’s September. I should probably be terrified by the constant march of time (and believe me, there are some scary things coming up for me this month), but from a book perspective this month practically looks like a holiday: I’ve pre-written most of my reviews, there’s very little on the ARC front right now, and I’ve given myself the most minimal TBR possible to keep up with that while actually getting to enjoy some choice!

Because last weekend was a bank holiday, I read a lot again:

Books Completed

Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine. I finished this last Sunday, and my thoughts didn’t really change much from the in-progress update I gave then. Fine writes excellent gender science, completely eviscerating the logic and evidence base for the idea gender stereotypes – and thus gender inequality – are just the result of “natural” biological differences. It’s also hella binary most of the time, though I wasn’t expecting much else. I think Testosterone Rex is still my favourite of the two, but this is a classic and it’s totally worth reading so you have evidence behind all those sceptical “you’re not worth my time” glares you give to the biological essentialists in your life. 7 out of 10.

Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens. This middle grade story has been sitting on my shelves after I rescued it from a pile of books my mother intended to donate to the charity shop. In the middle of TBR and moving frustration, I picked it up on Sunday night as I was fairly certain I could read it in one sitting. It actually took me two, but it was well worth it – a really fun, modern take on the British girl’s boarding school genre, featuring an Asian protagonist and lots of mystery solving and biscuits. I’m going to make this series one of my go-to light reads, as I think the library has me covered for the rest. 8 out of 10.

The Dreaming Stars by Tim Pratt. My review for this is coming to Nerds of a Feather on Wednesday!

The Black God’s Drums by P. Djeli Clark. I covered this in my short fiction roundup on Friday: a big YES from me!

The Deaths of Tao by Wesley Chu. Hmm. I really want to like this trilogy, and on discovering that the third book was only £2 on Kindle I guess I’m seeing it through to the end (I also already own the first book of the new trilogy from a Kindle sale!) But oh wow, how I hate Roen Tan, the main character of the Lives of Tao and joint protagonist of this one. He’s a whiny, immature chauvanist fool, and the narrative is endlessly sympathetic to how he deserves love anyway, and it’s like… yes, but I don’t need to read about it. The casual sexism, while it’s largely through the lens of Roen’s character rather than really justified in the narrative, has not aged well at all (Several of Jill’s scenes with Marco also made me cringe when I think I’m supposed to enjoy the fun flirting). I also think the take on human history, where all conflicts and events have been managed behind the scenes by two ancient warring factions of gaseous aliens, is just a bit depressing, although it’s handled as well as it can be. I’ll see how I get on with book three but I might have to give myself permission to push the abort button pretty quickly if it gets too much. 6 out of 10.

The Wonder Engine by T. Kingfisher. This is the second part of the Clocktaur War duology, which is really more one book split into two than it is a pair of novels. In the first installment, the Clockwork Boys, we followed forger Slate, disgraced paladin Caliban, creepy-in-a-fun-way assassin Brenner, and youthful misogynist Learned Edmund (it’s OK, this is a T. Kingfisher novel) as they made their way to Anuket City on a mission to find and destroy the source of the Clocktaurs, giant mechanical supersoldiers which keep coming from nowhere and wrecking shit in the nearby kingdom. Picking up Grimehug the gnole (think gnoll but badger instead of hyena) on the way, our heroes have made it to Anuket relatively unscathed despite some hairy incidents and some increasingly excruciating romantic tension. Now its time to solve mysteries, avoid fallout from Slate’s questionable past in Anuket, try and stop the clocktaurs without all dying… oh, and maybe resolve that excruciating romantic tension. Kingfisher (that’s Ursula Vernon, in case you didn’t know) is wonderful, so this book is wonderful, and I’m looking forward to more adventures in Slate and Caliban’s world – although, maybe with less excruciating romantic tension. 8 out of 10.

“Jealous in Honour” and “Quick in Quarrel” by Seanan McGuire. Prompted by the 2018 eligible series list for next year’s Hugos, I went to check in on the October Daye fiction on Seanan McGuire’s Patreon that I might have missed, and I discovered I needed to catch up on these two stories which continue the tale of Tybalt’s last days in London, as he fights to protect his family and his Court from the bigoted and devious Daoine Sidhe rulers of Londinium. Because these stories are all telling the same story in episodic format, it’s kind of hard to rate them individually, but while Jealous in Honour was very much a filler moment, Quick in Quarrel is super tense and concludes with a thrilling piece of Fae trickery. I have a feeling this is all wrapping up quite soon, and followers of the main series already have an inkling that it’s… not going to go too well. 5 out of 10 and 8 out of 10.

Accelerants by Lena Wilson. After reading A Glimmer of Silver a couple of weeks ago, I decided upon picking this one up that I’d actually be doing a long Nerds of a Feather review of the pair together. So you’ll have to wait for me to get that done before reading about how much I liked this (and oh I did, despite how sick to my stomach it made me in parts)

The Absconded Ambassador by Michael R. Underwood. Should I throw myself a party every time I finish an audiobook? Yes, probably. This was fun but it didn’t set my world on fire, and I’m not sure if I’ll be looking up the rest of the series since there aren’t any more audiobook seasons after this one. 6 out of 10.

In the Ruins by Kate Elliott. I really am in the home stretch of the Crown of Stars series now, and while in one sense this is a pretty unremarkable entry (it was originally the first half of what turned out to be an unreasonably long final volume), I did appreciate the sense of everything drawing together as the finale approaches. I’ll be speaking about the series as a whole once I get the final book read (soon!) 7 out of 10.

Books in Progress

I’M CLEARING THE DECKS. Seriously, I’m literally only reading The Quantum Rose by Catherine Asaro (not for any particularly well thought out reason, I might add), and when that’s done, I’ll be BETWEEN BOOKS. That never happens, and I’m excited!


I’m setting myself a really tight book budget for the next two months so, HOPEFULLY, like, IN THEORY, there will be less stuff here for a while and I’ll be taking some of the pressure off my existing TBR. HOPEFULLY. Let’s see how that goes.

  • Born to the Blade, edited by Michael R. Underwood. After joining Serial Box a few weeks ago over their Tremontaine offer, I got a new member code for one of their other serials, and decided to put it towards this one. I don’t know much about it except that Joe is reviewing the series and it’s got some of my favourite authors involved.
  • Uncanny Magazine: Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction Issue. Releasing early to the Space Unicorns, the only thing I don’t like about this is that for some reason the amazing cover art (why yes it’s Likhain, how did you know?) doesn’t show up on my Kindle homepage.
  • The Red Magician by Lisa Goldstein. I got my library to excavate this from whatever dusty archive it was sitting in at the County Store so I can read it for Elizabeth of Books and Pieces’ #ladyvaults reading club! I have to show you the cover to this, even though I took the photo in portrait and can’t set it as my header, because I really hit the jackpot with this edition, you guys:
Truly everything I look for in my reading.
  • The Rebirths of Tao by Wesley Chu. See, now this is what I need to stop myself doing. After seeing this was only £2 on Kindle, I automatically clicked the buy button without remembering that I wasn’t supposed to be spending any more money on books in August. Like, I’m not beating myself up too much because I know I will actually read it, but it’s not a great start.
  • The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso. Well, at least this was in September! This was one of my Books That Got Away in 2017, so when it showed up as a 99p Kindle daily deal, I wasn’t going to say no.

Other Stuff

I’m afraid I’m running out of energy so this is going to be a very self-centred roundup:

  • I was at Nerds of a Feather at the start of the week, talking about the Banner Saga trilogy, my favourite tactical turn based post-apocalyptic Viking video games…
  • … And again on Wednesday with my thoughts on Foundryside! This prompted a kind of uncomfortable but interesting Twitter exchange with the author himself which I’m not going to link because it all felt super weird (never tweet your heroes, kids), but you can look that up if you feel like it. You all might get a multi-part death-of-the-author deep dive into the history and culture of the Divine Cities trilogy out of it, if I stop feeling weird about that for long enough to write it.
  • On Thursday, I did a thread detailing my Dungeons and Dragons campaign. I’m playing a dwarf bard(2)/fighter(1) called Jade, who is a friendly low-wisdom disaster travelling with a grumpy anarchist human druid, a mysterious dwarf ranger, and a paranoid but divinely blessed halfling monk. This is session 4, but you should be able to follow the quote tweets back to the start if you’re so inclined, or get to the newest thread by clicking the date stamp in the embedded tweet below:

Next weekend is moving weekend! Hopefully I’ll be set up and ready to go though.

Short Fiction Roundup: August

I have mentioned many times that I’m not a natural short fiction reader. I think there’s a range of reasons behind this. Part of it is pure preference: as a reader, I tend to assume that I find novel and novella length stories more satisfying. However, I also suspect there are a lot of technical things going on: my system for categorising and planning my reading also doesn’t lend itself to putting short stories and magazines on my radar as effectively, and I’m terrible at reading on computer screens and making sure things like my Uncanny and Strange Horizons subscriptions actually find their way to my Kindle where that wouldn’t be a problem.

I do want to be better at reading short fiction, though, for a few reasons. First and foremost, I think my beliefs about it “not being for me” aren’t true. I’ve read wonderful things from the Hugo finalist list this year, and had a generally good time with the few collections, anthologies and magazines that I have made time for. I also think that having some short fiction in my reading diet is important for diversifying the voices I read. I haven’t really talked about it here, but I’ve got some fairly ambitious (in comparison to my 2017 reading) targets for reading authors of colour, LGBTQIA+ authors, and works in translation. As most of the 2018 award finalist lists make clear, a huge amount of the best short fiction is being written by queer writers and writers of colour, and venues like Strange Horizons and Clarkesworld are making it easier to access translated works from all over the world. I already know that focusing on diverse authors doesn’t conflict at all with reading what I love, and without the limited short fiction I have read, I wouldn’t have been able to experience excellence from authors like Alyssa Wong and Sarah Pinsker whose stories are right up my alley.

So! If there are good reasons to do a thing, and you’re not doing the thing, then it’s time to figure out what barriers you’ve put up and how to make the thing more accessible to yourself! For me, that means making a commitment to review. I’m not pretending any sort of comprehensive roundup here, but I’ll be aiming to read a couple of magazines per month: my existing subscriptions are to Uncanny and Strange Horizons, and I’ve also just subscribed to Fiyah Literary magazine. There will also be some novella coverage here when i’m not already writing about things elsewhere.

Adri’s August Shorts:

9781250163868Finding Baba Yaga by Jane Yolen

I spoke about this “verse novel”, forthcoming from the novella line, in last week’s roundup, but now I’ve had the chance to consider it a bit more I’m putting it back here. This is the story of Natasha, a young woman who runs away from her abusive father and enablist mother, and finds her way to Baba Yaga’s hut, where she meets another young woman from a different time and place. It’s a story of love and self-actualisation wrapped up in a fairytale which I admit I’m not really familiar with outside Baba Yaga’s appearances in other retellings. I can’t speak to how this will work for people who do know the mythology more intimately, but as a relative outsider everything was very clear and had that sense of timeless relevance that a good retold story does, even though I couldn’t tell you with certainty where the old meets the new in this particular version.

It took me a little while to get the hang of the verse structure itself. The book is broken down into thematic sections, and these are in turn broken down into shorter poems, which taken together tell a generally chronological story but follow their own internal rhythms. I think my struggle in parts 1-3, which cover the narrator’s home life and escape, was compounded by the fact that these are the mundane aspects of her story. Part 1, in particular, felt painfully repetitive: on reflection, I don’t think it was any more so than later parts, its just that I was very resistant to reading about real life emotional abuse, and coupled with a new structure it was all a bit tricky. However, once the speculative fairytale elements really kick in, the slog of adjustment all becomes worthwhile. The actual story being told here is very simple, but the short verse structure allows Yolen to pack a great deal of meaning into each small bite. Returning to the text for this review, I’m struck over and over again by how much richness there is that I didn’t pick up on a first read, and I’m sure that for readers that connect with it, this will be a story to pick up again and again. In fact, I’m strongly considering getting myself a dead tree copy of this when it comes out so that I can spend more time with the language.

DhMRt0qW0AAuq7CUncanny Magazine: The Dinosaur Issue! (July/August 2018): So the meat (ha ha) of Uncanny’s July/August issue all took place in a shared world full of portals and dinosaurs. Feathery dinosaurs, to be specific, although someone forgot to tell this issue’s cover artist (the otherwise irreproachable Galen Dara), so the dinosaur on the cover doesn’t have feathers. This is a shame because I personally feel I have an increasingly strong disconnect between my visual image of a dinosaur, which is the traditional Jurassic Park lizard thing, and my expectations of dinosaurs in written sources, which involves descriptions of feathers and plumage and all of that stuff which most of the Uncanny dinosaurs have.

It’s also a shame that the shared universe aspect of this issue doesn’t really come to anything, although a lack of strong coherence was probably inevitable given that I believe it only came in during the editing process. Still, there were some stories in here I really liked, notably “The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat” by Brooke Bolander, which seamlessly integrates brilliantly characterised velociraptors into a T. Kingfisher-esque fairytale world. I also really enjoyed “By Claw, By Hand, By Silent Speech” by Elsa Sjunneson-Henry & A. Merc Rustad, in which a Deaf researcher connects with one of her subjects (a dinosaur, would you believe it) using ASL; and “Everything Under Heaven” by Anya Ow. Really, though, there were no duds in this, and it was particularly nice to have a second, much more positive exposure to K.M. Szpara’s fiction in the form of “You Can Make A Dinosaur, But You Can’t Help Me”. I had a much better time with this story than I did with Szpara’s Hugo finalist story this year, and the characterisation and interweaving of dino-science (with a significant nod to Jurassic Park) with the struggles of the trans protagonist is brilliantly done. It’s important to note a story like this just wouldn’t be possible to this level of accomplishment and nuance from a cis author: the blend of talent and lived experience is a big part of what made this story succeed for me.

I admit to not (yet) finishing the non-fiction or poetry sections of the magazines, but Tobias S. Buckell’s essay “Island Futures” was a fantastic read. There’s a reason why Uncanny has won the Semiprozine Hugo three years running, and despite the anticlimax of the shared elements there’s still a brilliant level of quality on display here.

38118138The Black God’s Drums by P. Djeli Clark: This story has had some great press, and on picking it up I can immediately see why. It’s the story of a young woman in an alternate version of New Orleans, where the Haitian slave rebellion was followed by the population developing technology that harnessed the power of the different storm gods slaves had brought with them, crushing the French response and changing the balance of power and subsequent development of this part of the Americas (along with other alt-historical changes, I think). Our hero, Creeper, is the chosen of the orisha Oya, and joins forces with an airship captain (because of course this is steampunk!) to stop a plot to turn that very same weapon against the grand walls of New Orleans (because of course New Orleans has walls now, otherwise where would the airships dock?) It’s a greatly accomplished adventure, full of rich worldbuilding and a plot and characterisation that really deliver within the novella length. This one is definitely knocking on the door of my already-crowded novella shortlist for next year.

night and silence.jpgSuffer a Sea-Change by Seanan McGuire: I love me some Toby Daye shorts, and the novella at the end of the hardback copy of Night and Silence is no exception. IT’s also impossible to talk about without spoilers because it follows almost directly on from the events towards the end of that book, which are a pretty big change for Toby’s world. Some might even call them a… sea-change. Which is one of the reasons the novella is called that, although. You didn’t think Seanan McGuire just picked Shakespeare quotes out of thin air for all these Toby Daye stories, did you? Anyway, you’ll either read the book, and therefore most likely the novella – and if you’ve read the book, you should read the novella – or you won’t read the book, and you shouldn’t read the novella, because it will spoil the book and the book is really good, and if you own the novella, then you almost certainly own the book, so why wouldn’t you read the book. Come on.

spirits abroad.jpgOther things I wrote about in regular wrap-ups:

  • Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho (19 August) – see what I mean about the amazing cover?
  • A Glimmer of Silver by Juliet Kemp (12 August)

Reading Roundup 20 – 26 August

So, here we are on another (rainy) Sunday, and I’m looking at my reading statistics and going “wait, what?” Despite there being little difference in my free time between this week and last week, I’ve somehow managed to more than double the number of books I read, and slip over the “book a day” threshold with only a minimum of cheating. This is a relief because I’ve, er, managed to acquire more than a book per day too, and the weight of Mount TBR is feeling particularly ominous at the moment. I’m already planning for September’s reading and intending to give myself a free month outside of existing review commitments and some short fiction (more on that at the end of the month). There’s been too much “I’ve bought this but I can’t read it without guilt because it’s not on The List” over the last couple of weeks, and that’s no fun for anyone.

Books Completed

Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks. I finished! And, as mentioned in comments a couple of weeks ago, it wasn’t great. Fine, but not great. For some reason, I thought there was going to be a lot more interesting gender stuff than there was, and everything and everyone is just a bit unpleasant and hard to connect with. I liked the tension of the ending but without characters I actually cared about, it was a bit of a missed opportunity. Still, The Player of Games is next in the series, available from libraries and apparently much better, so I’ll give that a go before I write off the rest of the Culture. 6 out of 10.

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal. Now we’re into the good stuff. I accidentally synchronised starting to read this with the publication of Joe’s review on Nerds of a Feather, which you should read if you want a full explanation of how great this book is. It’s an amazing accomplishment to make a story with such heavy elements – the constant grinding sexism and racism, the literally apocalyptic setting – feel uplifting, but my goodness does Kowal deliver. If I have a criticism, it’s that Elma is a bit too perfect sometimes, and although it does get explicitly called out and addressed in the story, the tension between her personal anxieties and ambitions and the role she is pushed into as Lady Astronaut never quite seems consistent (though perfectly realistic, I guess, just not as narratively satisfying as it could be). Also, I wasn’t sold on Elma and Nathaniel’s sex lives apparently being a series of rocket puns, although that’s probably my scepticism of romance in general coming through. Those are really minor things in what is otherwise a really fantastic read, though – highly recommended and one of two 9 out of 10s for this week.

Battle Magic by Tamora Pierce. This is my other 9 out of 10, which might be controversial because, as far as Goodreads is concerned, this isn’t a particularly well-loved book by Pierce’s standards. It’s the third in the vague-and-ongoing Circle Reforged series, which in turn is the third series in her Emelan universe, which follows four children with unusual, linked forms of magic as they grow up and learn to deal with their powers. Battle Magic fills in an episode in the story of Briar, a street rat turned ambient plant mage, and also features his teacher Rosethorn and Evvy, his student and powerful ambient stone mage. Because its a prequel, some of the outcomes and plot elements here are already known, and there’s no great surprises, but I think this is still one of my favourite Emelan books, working with some of Pierce’s best characters and dealing with its themes (and setting up the PTSD which characters grapple with in later books) with great talent. So yeah, it might be personal bias, but I loved it, and I really do want more Emelan someday.

Circe by Madeleine Miller. It was quite a lot of effort getting this delivered from the neighbouring library system and it was nearly at risk of being returned unread! I’m really glad I made time for this story, though, especially as I read Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey earlier in the year and this fits brilliantly with that text and the humanising perspective it brings to Homer’s story. Circe works in elements from plenty of other myths too, covering the entire life of its titular witch, and while it was a quieter, slower book than I would have liked in places it still does very well in giving a fascinating but underrated character her own voice and story. I could have done with more Penelope but then, I think I could always do with more Penelope. 8 out of 10.

Night and Silence by Seanan McGuire. On Wednesday, after getting out of a late afternoon meeting in central London with The Fated Sky (the second Lady Astronaut novel) on my mind, I decided to take a walk to Forbidden Planet to pick up a copy and see what else they had in stock. Answer: NIGHT AND SILENCE, the twelfth October Daye book, which is casually sitting on the shelves despite being two weeks away from general release. I bought it, I agonised over whether I was “allowed” to read it even though I have lots outstanding from my monthly TBR (including rather a lot from my last trip to Forbidden Planet) then I told myself to stop being silly and appreciate the cheeky early Toby and I read it. And it was good! Long time readers will note that this plot recycles the kidnapping of October’s daughter from earlier in the series, but so much else has moved on in the series since then that the repetition isn’t too much of an issue, and there’s enough brilliant world-changing reveals to make up for the thinness of the villains and lack of complexity in how some of Toby’s more precarious relationships are treated (notably, the one scene with Duke Sylvester is… too nice.) If you’re still following along by book 12, I think Night and Silence will offer you more of what you’re reading for, and my enthusiasm for the series as a whole remains undimmed. 7 out of 10.

Suffer a Sea-Change by Seanan McGuire. The novella at the end of Night and Silence gets counted separately for my statistical purposes (so I can remember it when it comes to nomination time.) It’s also good, though not outstanding, and completely impossible to discuss without spoilers to the rest of the series. 6 out of 10.

Himself by Jess Kidd. As recommended by both my parents, I finally moved this supernatural literary mystery off my TBR shelf this weekend. This story about a man who returns to the small town in western Ireland where his mother was from, to find out why she gave him up for adoption, was kind of grim and full of mildly unpleasant characters and therefore not really my thing. It’s quite good fun despite those thing though, and I really liked the inclusion of the ghosts from the town’s past, which fit in brilliantly with the theme and actually got to influence the plot as well. So, if you like grim Irish mysteries, this is one for you. out of 10.

Uncanny Magazine July/August 2018. I’ll be speaking more about this in a separate post, but basically I’m renewing efforts to actually read some of this short fiction I’m subscribed to or otherwise interested in but give myself a free pass on “being bad at reading”. I’ll still be bad at it, and I’m at peace with that, but being bad will no longer be an excuse for reading literally nothing. 7 out of 10.

Books in Progress

  • On Audio: Well, it’s still the Absconded Ambassador but I’m only an hour away from finishing it now!
  • On Paper: The three books on my August TBR that I have in physical copy are The Deaths of Tao by Wesley Chu – which I’ve just started – In the Ruins by Kate Elliott, and Farthing by Jo Walton. I expect I’ll stick with Deaths of Tao and make a start on In the Ruins, but after that I want to give myself space to read what I actually want to from among my new purchases, i.e. The Fated Sky.
  • On the Kindle: I’m close to finished with Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine, which has been good but a bit dryer than I remember Testosterone Rex being. Two things remain on my September list: The Wonder Engine by T. Kingfisher and The Dreaming Stars by Tim Pratt. I’m keen on the Kingfisher but the Pratt is coming uncomfortably close to review time and I’ve already put it off once, so I suspect that’ll be part of my bank holiday Monday…


  • The Black God’s Drums by P. Djeli Clark. I actually had an ARC of this, but it expired before I got around to reading it which I took as a sign from the universe that I didn’t need it on my review commitments (Paul Weimer already did a great job here). I did, however, need it. So I bought it. I have all the best stories.
  • The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal. The natural outcome to finishing The Calculating Stars. As mentioned above, I treated myself to a Forbidden Planet visit this week, and was very good when I got there, only walking out with three things. This was the book I came in for…
  • Night and Silence by Seanan McGuire. … this is the book I needed
  • The Expert System’s Brother by Adrian Tchaikovsky. … and this is the one I bought for luck. And because it’s signed! and I’ve never owned a paper copy of a novella before and it’s so pretty and pocket-sized. Tchaikovsky’s writing has been a big find for me this year and I’m looking forward to this one.
  • Shattered Minds by Laura Lam. I’ve been trialling a “book and chocolate” box for the last couple of months, and this was the book from this month’s instalment. I’ve, alas, decided that monthly surprise books don’t really fit with my reading style (which has oh god so many books and sometimes all the guilt about not reading them now now now), but I’m still intrigued by this one, which is set in the same world as False Hearts, another book I had good intentions towards but never made time for.
  • The Phoenix Empress by K. Arsenault Rivera. A Netgalley ARC request that Tor Macmillan saw fit to grant! I’ll be reviewing it on Nerds of a Feather close to the release date. I really liked the first one (though I’m aware it had some representation issues in the way the Japanese and Mongolian cultures are adapted and portrayed) and I’m looking forward to the return of my favourite lesbian queens.

Other News

  • The Hugos got awarded! I voted for a grand total of four out of seventeen winners (not counting two categories where I didn’t cast votes) but in most cases my favourites came 2nd or 3rd, and I almost universally enjoyed the things that did win.
  • Of particular note is N.K. Jemisin’s “threepeat” for novel with The Stone Sky, and subsequent acceptance speech. This is a historic win which certain awful men will never be able to tarnish or take away from her, no matter how much they may try. And, oh, are they still trying. Fuck off, awful men.
  • Nerds of a Feather came third in fanzine, and I’m super proud of them.
  • In non-Hugo related news, Rose Lemberg drew me a hyena on their Patreon (which you should go and check out in its entirety, it is full of brilliant writing insights and snippets from Lemberg’s Birdverse). Behold my googly new friend:Striped Hyena Rose Lemberg
A beagle is sitting on a patch of grass, with a

Reading Roundup 13 – 19 August

Hi all and happy Worldcon Weekend for those who are there! I am once again extremely envious of all the genre excitement going on – so many configurations of people I admire, all hanging out in the same place – and seriously weighing up whether to wake up at 4am tomorrow to watch the Hugo ceremony with the other folk of the internet who can’t be there in person. I suspect sleep might win out in theory, but knowing my sleep abilities I might still end up wide awake at a ridiculous hour like a kid on Christmas morning who can’t hold in the excitement any more.

I actually spent a lot of my weekend on holiday with my immediate family, of whom the most photogenic members are the dogs. Those who follow me on other platforms probably recognise the face of Brodie, my parents’ staffie/lab/terrier mix. Brodie is a photogenic pocket-sized Twiglet, who is actually 3 years old despite his permanently youthful looks, and enjoys cuddles, cheesy biscuits and long walks on the beach. Also making his debut on my social media feeds (though he already has his own Instagram) is my brother and almost-sister-in-law’s dog, whose connection to genre is that he is called Hugo. He is an inexplicably small beagle, and also a relentless disaster with a soft squishable face.

So, yes, you could say I already got my Hugo fix at the weekend. Also I read some books, which is what you’re probably here for…

Books Completed

Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho. This collection demonstrates to great effect which I should really, really make more time for short fiction in my reading diet. Zen Cho – whose work I was previously familiar with through her novel Sorcerer to the Crown – is a Malaysian fantasy author who lives in the UK, and her writing is a pitch perfect blend of fantasy, folklore and explorations of cultural displacement. My favourite stories – aside from “The House of Aunts”, which was just extraordinary – were those set in the UK among Malaysian diaspora communities,  Almost all of the stories involve either dialogue or narration (or both) in Malaysian English dialect, which was interesting to me from a linguistic perspective and strengthened the sense of reading stories that speak true, rather than being filtered and packaged for a narrowly literate US/UK English audience. I learned a lot, and have a great deal of appreciation for the inclusion of author notes on each story, and no doubt much more nuance went over my head (though there was only one short story towards the end that was completely lost on me). This has cemented Zen Cho even more strongly as an author I’d love to read more from. 9 out of 10, and I almost want to bump it to a perfect 10 for having a cover by Likhain.

The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State by Elizabeth C. Economy. Speaking of learning a lot, I got this finished! I’ve wanted to pick up a book on recent Chinese politics for a while and this was a decent, well-researched overview on some of the trends of the last decade, although it didn’t tell me anything particularly new, it does cover a wide range of topics and put a lot of domestic political trends into perspective. 8 out of 10

Finding Baba Yaga by Jane Yolen. A cheeky ARC read (thanks,!) that I will be writing more about over here very soon. I started off thinking this wouldn’t work for me and then it did. Happy days!

Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett. Review forthcoming from Nerds of a Feather, but, spoiler alert, I loved it.

I also finished the Banner Saga, which you will find out more about in due course.

Books in Progres

  • On the Kindle: So, I forgot I had Consider Phlebas available in ebook format as well, and it looks like I’ve decided to switch over from the print version for now, because the copy I have has very small text and despite being a feckless millennial I have the lack of patience for eye-straining print of a woman twice my age. I’m about a quarter of the way in to this, and it’s going fine – just not been a priority compared to the other things I’ve been reading. I’ve also finally started reading the Uncanny Magazine dinosaur issue, starting with Brooke Bolander’s “The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat”, because, obviously. Next up is likely to be Battle Magic by Tamora Pierce or The Dreaming Stars by Tim Pratt.
  • On Paper: Now that Consider Phlebas has migrated to Kindle, next on deck in dead tree format is The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal, though I haven’t started it yet. Maybe I should time it so I can read The Calculating Stars and The Dreaming Stars simultaneously?
  • On Audio: As far as Goodreads is concerned I’m still reading The Absconded Ambassador, but I’m still only about five minutes in to that.


Would you believe that for a moment, I genuinely thought I wouldn’t have much to write about here? Nope, I’ve had a net gain book week. This doesn’t even count the several ill-advised preorders I put in that will be trickling through in later instalments…

  • The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. I mean, when books this well-regarded come up as 99p deals on Kindle, you don’t say no, right? Especially when you haven’t read them and don’t own them. I’m not sure when this will happen for me but at least I’m one step closer to it being a thing!
  • The Green Man’s Heir by Juliet McKenna. Another 99p Kindle deal that looks super interesting but is on the “someday” pile for now.
  • Accelerants by Lena Wilson. The twin to A Glimmer of Silver, released on the same day by the same publisher. I’m intending to review both in a couple of weeks, so the intention is to dive into this at some point next week while the first is still relatively fresh in my mind.
  • Life Honestly by The Pool. Pan MacMillan sent me an e-arc of this without my asking them to, which was very kind of them! It looks like an interesting collection of essays from a website I haven’t really engaged with before, and I hope to be reviewing it at some point in early September.
  • Finding Baba Yaga by Jane Yolen. Another e-arc, this time via, that looked too intriguing to pass up.

Other News

  • After a week off last week, I was on Nerds of a Feather reviewing Latchkey by Nicole Kornher-Stace last Tuesday. (Look out for me again this Friday, with something a bit different!)
  • Look at how interesting the Hugo base is this year! (The award not the dog)
  • And, in other Worldcon gossip – The Goblin Emperor is getting a sequel?
  • Finally, I’m moving to London next month! That means more reviewing time, yay, and fewer dogs, which is obviously awful but capitalism is what it is. I’ve never lived in London before, a fact which frequently confuses non-UK people, and while I can’t say I’m enthusiastic about the prospect, I’m still invested in my new job and very happy to not be sacrificing all my free time to The Commute, which means time for, like, other hobbies and a social life that isn’t just family and other such mystical things? I can’t wait.

Reading Roundup 6 – 12 August

Happy Sunday once again! It’s been an extremely meh week over here, and though the books have continued to flow I had a couple of disappointments on that front too:

Books Completed

Zero Sum Game by S.L. Huang. Review coming for Nerds of a Feather.

A Glimmer of Silver by Juliet Kemp. Big thumbs up! Here’s my Goodreads review:

I loved this! It’s an interesting YA sci fi novella which manages to pack a ton of plot into its length without ever feeling rushed. The issues around colonialism and adaptation are well explored, with definite parallels between main character Jennery’s desire to push xyr responsibilities to one side and refuse to adapt to a career xe never chose, and humanity’s similar decisions about coexisting on a planet encompassed by a sentient alien Ocean. The language is rather 21st century colloquial for a far-future space colony – apparently I’m a total grandma about overuse of the word “stuff” – but it’s still very readable and Jennery has a strong, clear voice. Also, while I was already expecting it, it was super exciting to see the use of neopronouns throughout!

I also felt a little more time could have been taken over the ending, particularly as there’s a fair bit of offscreen death and culturally specific taboo for the characters to process in order to come to the conclusions they do, but the conclusion itself is very satisfying. Overall this is a 9 out of 10 – well worth picking up.

Chaos Choreography by Seanan McGuire. By Book 5, I’ve firmly established that the InCryptid series doesn’t hold nearly the same sway over me as October Daye, McGuire’s other long-running urban fantasy series, and I should perhaps have stopped reading it by now, but a return to cryptid-liaison-slash-dancing-queen Verity Price after the distinctly lackluster adventures of older brother Alex was too intriguing to pass up. What I ended up with was about what I expected – fun action, some great monsters, and a whole bunch of tiny plot holes and weird asides that seem to either show up more, or just be much more obvious, in this series than in McGuire’s other writing. It was nice to see Verity on-screen with some of her family members for once, but that wasn’t enough to keep it from being a 6 out of 10. I’m probably still going to keep reading to little sister Antimony’s books, though.

Armistice by Lara Elena Donnelly. Ey, I did it! Goodreads informed me I took over two months to finish this audiobook, which is a bit ridiculous when you consider how quickly I get through paper books. As I said last week, I really appreciate these books, and in some ways Mary Robinette Kowal’s narration adds a great deal to the experience (especially with the accents and the use of language and dialect in this story), but the plot is too intricate for my terrible spoken-memory-retention skills to really get all the nuance first time around, so it takes a lot of pausing and going back and picking things up several chapters after I should. I’m excited for Volume 3, but it’s definitely going to be a paper purchase this time… 8 out of 10 for the book, about 3 out of 10 for my audiobooking skills.

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers. I’d been awaiting this in the library for a long time, and it ended up coming in on Thursday, when I happened to be a sleep-deprived, hormonal wreck attempting to work from home. A quick break with a trip to the library later, I had a book in my hands that literally made me want to cry every time I looked at the cover.

It’s therefore hard to say that this was not my favourite Wayfarers book. That’s not to suggest it’s a poor experience, with a fascinating running theme of death and rebirth that ties together the lives of many different characters, but it’s all rather Becky-Chambers-channels-Kim-Stanley-Robinson, with the disparate, tenuously related character threads and slightly odd dramatic structure never quite adding up to as much as I hoped. It’s still an 8 out of 10, but by the standards I hold these books to, that’s a bit disappointing.

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland. This is a book I’ve had intentions towards all year, and when I found a (gorgeous) copy in Forbidden Planet the other month, it was obviously going to happen. I did enjoy this alternate history with zombies, but I think it’s important to point out the criticism the book has received from Native readers, which calls out the inaccuracies and misuse of Native history in the USA, which is used to drive a story with almost no Native characters. It’s still a 7 out of 10 for me, but… sigh.

Books in Progress

  • On Audio: I think it’s probably best I stick to shorter listens for now, given the experience with Armistice. With that in mind, I’ve just started The Absconded Ambassador, the second in the Genrenauts series by Michael R. Underwood. This is one of three books I’ve got left to listen to on the Tor Season 2 audiobook collection, and it would be nice to get all three finished and add them all to my novella reading challenge targets.
  • On the Kindle: I’m actually completely between books on my Kindle right now, although as far as Goodreads is concerned I’ve started Spirits Abroad, the collection by Zen Cho. So far that has only involved reading one page of the first story, but it was a good page! I also intend to begin Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett as soon as possible, for NoaF reviewing purposes…
  • On Paper: Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels have been on my reading list forever and I’ve finally started Consider Phlebas! The start is pretty grim but I’m intrigued to see where this goes. I’m also still reading The Third Revolution by Elizabeth C. Economy, which I’m now halfway through.
  • Other: The Banner Saga is still happening! I’m now on the third game, which I’m playing through the for the first time, and it’s definitely not letting me down so far in terms of story or gameplay.


  • The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal. Oh yeah, this is happening. It has to, really. This is one of the most anticipated books of the year for me and it’s coming with a sequel in quick succession (week after next!) so I feel even more eager to get it done.
  • Temper by Nicky Drayden. This was an extremely welcome surprise, as the UK release date is not until next month, so I definitely wasn’t expecting my preorder to turn up this week (although if I’d read my dispatch e-mails I probably should have…) Drayden’s debut The Prey of Gods was a hot mess in the most complimentary sense possible, and I’m hoping for more of the same (well, ideally, more of the hotness and maybe a more focused messiness) from this.
  • Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers. Never has a library pre-order page been refreshed so often.
  • Circe by Madeline Miller. A bit of a wildcard library reservation, as I haven’t read Miller’s previous work, but as I did read the Odyssey earlier this year it seems like a good time to try this one out.

Other Things

  • I’m going to Dublin Worldcon next year!! That means I have just over a year to convince people to hang out with me while I’m there.
  • … that’s it from me this week. It’s been exhausting.