Mary Robinette Kowal has done it again and written another thrilling, thought-provoking Lady Astronaut novel. While the two previous installments, The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky have focused on the original Lady Astronaut herself, Elma York, The Relentless Moon takes place on Earth and on the Moon during the events of The Fated Sky and revolves around Nicole Wargin, another of the first female astronauts.
I’ve loved these books ever since I first came across them, so I was so happy to be able to read The Relentless Moon early. I devoured it in just a few sittings – these novels really have kindled a flame for smart science-fiction in me. Many thanks to Tor and Netgalley for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
RELEASE DATE: 14/07/20
STAR RATING: 4.5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: The Earth is coming to the boiling point as the climate disaster of the Meteor strike becomes more and more clear, but the political situation is already overheated. Riots and sabotage plague the space program. The IAC’s goal of getting as many people as possible off Earth before it becomes uninhabitable is being threatened.
Elma York is on her way to Mars, but the Moon colony is still being established. Her friend and fellow Lady Astronaut Nicole Wargin is thrilled to be one of those pioneer settlers, using her considerable flight and political skills to keep the program on track. But she is less happy that her husband, the Governor of Kansas, is considering a run for President. (from Tor Books)
OPINIONS: The Lady Astronaut novels are some of the smartest novels I know. They don’t focus on heavy action like many other science fiction novels, but on the wits of their characters, and damn, are those ladies clever. Elma York has been charming the world for a while, and Nicole Wargin, so far taking a back seat to the original Lady Astronaut, proves in The Relentless Moon that she doesn’t have to hide in her more famous colleague’s shadow.
The Relentless Moon deals with sensitive topics such as eating disorders, racism and grief in nuanced ways, without seeming preachy or letting characters get away with preconceived notions. As I am not an own voices reviewer for any of the above I can only say that I think it is nuanced and confronts the character’s views and naiveté.
These novels are heavily character driven, which I love. There are no one-dimensional people here, everyone has their personality and motives, aims and backstory. Not everything has space to be explored on the page, but it is clear that it is there, and that so much thought has been put into it. And I’m not talking about main characters here, I mean minor characters that only show up in one or two scenes. The level of craft Mary Robinette Kowal exhibits is immense. I can’t wait to read more – the plot is twisty and compelling, and just as good!
If you haven’t given this series a shot yet – whether you usually like science fiction or not – do try it! Add The Relentless Moon on Goodreads here, and order a copy from your retailer of choice, such as Book Depository here.
In 2054, a time past the ubiquity of the internet, Bots are everywhere. They look like humans, but they are still Bots and are considered as not much more than unfeeling slaves. Told entirely from the perspective of Jared, one of those Bots, Set My Heart To Five explores what happens when a Bot develops feelings, and what it means to be human. Using a unique writing style – a Bot trying to imitate a sort of human flow-of-consciousness – interspersed by screen-written moments, Jared and his world come to life and become more human than the supposed humans around him.
Set My Heart To Five is a heart-breaking, tear-jerking, funny story that I suspect will captivate its readership quickly. Jared is charming and infuriating, and – surprisingly identifiable with!
Many thanks to Midas PR and Amber Choudhary for including me on this Blog Tour, and to them and Fourth Estate for the advance review copy of the novel.
RELEASE DATE: 28/05/20
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, SIMON STEPHENSON:
SET MY HEART TO FIVE’s premise includes humanity locking themselves out of the internet. What inspired you to imagine life without what is a lifeline for most people?
I do completely agree that the internet – and technology in general – can be a wonderful force for good, and at their best they bring us together.
There is an incredible poem by Lavinia Greenlaw called ‘A World Where News Travelled Slowly’ which – even though it was written in the 1990’s – is about the challenges of communicating meaningfully when technology means we can now say just about anything to anyone at any time. So, with that sort of notion in mind, I wanted to set my story in a world where communication was a little more difficult than today. This of course also made it easier to write about loneliness and disconnection.
As an aspiring editor, I am always curious about the author/editor relationship. What can you tell us about working with the team at Fourth Estate?
Well, obviously 4th Estate are home to so many incredible authors it’s a dream come true for them to publish Set My Heart To Five. My editor at 4th Estate is Helen Garnons-Williams, and she has edited many brilliant books, including Jon McGregor, so I knew I was in the best of hands. The first time we spoke I was – ironically enough, because Jared lives in one – staying in a friend’s rented pool house in an area called Echo Park, and I remember listening to her talk about the book and just being so utterly thrilled that she not only got exactly what I was trying to do, but had some smart ways to improve it.
In terms of the process, working as a screenwriter naturally involves endless redrafting and collaboration, so I’m maybe more accustomed to that than some. That said, nothing every really leaves my desktop until I am fairly happy with it, so I think the manuscript 4th first read was maybe 85-90% what ended up in the finished book. Of course that 10% can make all the difference (and hopefully it did!).
What do you love most about being an author?
There’s always a huge thrill in simply hearing people have even read my work, let alone enjoyed it. When my last book was published I did a few book festivals and getting to meet other writers, hear them speak and then talk shop was a real thrill. Hopefully it won’t be too long before we can do such things again.
How does your creative process differ between writing prose and screenwriting?
I think the real difference is simply in strategy – a screenplay is a middle-distance run, whereas a novel is a marathon. So, with a screenplay – depending on context – often I will try and rattle out a first draft as quickly as I can, whereas with a novel you of course have to pace yourself a little more.
What are some books you are excited to read in the upcoming weeks or that you have loved recently?
Next up for me is Sophie Heawood’s The Hungover Games. She’s a brilliant – and hilarious – writer, and I can’t wait to get stuck in.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Simon Stephenson is a Scottish writer based in Los Angeles. He previously worked as an NHS doctor, most recently in paediatrics in London.
His first book, LET NOT THE WAVES OF THE SEA (John Murrays, 2011), was a memoir about the loss of his brother in the Indian ocean tsunami. It was serialised as ‘Book of the Week’ on BBC Radio 4 and won ‘Best First Book’ at the Scottish Book Awards.
Simon moved to the US followed the success of his spec screenplay, FRISCO, a semi-autobiographical story about a depressed doctor who desperately needed a change. The script was at the top of the Blacklist – an industry-voted list of Hollywood’s favourite unproduced scripts – and opened the door to a screenwriting career in the US. In 2015, Simon was photographed alongside Phoebe Waller-Bridge as one of Screen International’s ‘Stars of Tomorrow’. His friends never tire of telling him that Screen International were at least half right.
As a screenwriter, Simon nonetheless continues to be much in demand on both sides of the Atlantic. He spent two years writing at Pixar in San Francisco, and originated and wrote Amazon’s forthcoming feature film LOUIS WAIN (starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy). Julia Roberts attached to his screenplay TRAIN MAN, and the film rights to SET MY HEART TO FIVE were pre-emptively acquired by Working Title Films, Focus Features, and Nira Park’s Complete Fiction Pictures. Edgar Wright is set to direct the film from Simon’s screenplay.
One of Simon’s most memorable moments from his time in Hollywood was taking a meeting with an actor he admired most, and then having said actor kindly insist on driving Simon home in his distinctive vintage Porsche while telling him about his mind-blowing stories about his canonical body of work. As a token of thanks, Simon then gave that car to the villain in Set My Heart To Five!
It would be completely amiss by not starting this post with Bright Raven Skies by Kristina Pérez, our inaugural book tour over at Phoenix Fire Book Tours (check out phoenixfiretours.wordpress.com)! Out on the 25th of August, this conclusion to the Bright Raven Skies series promises to be just as thrilling, romantic and atmospheric as the previous installments. I’m currently reading it in preparation for the tour, and loving every bit. Tristan and Eseult have gone missing and Iveriu is on the brink of war with Armorica… Branwen is in the middle of it all and trying to fix world and I can’t wait to find out how the story ends. Get your signed copy of Bright Raven Skies from Forbidden Planet.
Going by genre, the other YA fantasy on here is Ghost Wood Song by Erica Waters. This LGBTQ+ debut promises to be delightfully creepy, with protagonist Shady Grove being able to call forth ghosts with her fiddle, murder and family secrets. It seems horribly underhyped, but I have managed to get my grabby hands on an e-ARC so look out for my review soon. It also has a stellar 4.35 rating on Goodreads right now! Ghost Wood Song is out on the 20th of August, and you can pre-order it from Waterstones.
AND AUGUST IS HARROW MONTH! Finally, after ages of waiting, Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir will be released on August 4th! I was lucky enough to be able to read Gideon the Ninth early last summer, and LOVED it (it was probably my favourite book of 2019 – see my review) and I’ve been eagerly awaiting having my heart ripped out and stomped all over by Harrow ever since. All I can say is, you need this in your life! Get a copy from Portal Bookshop here.
And to end this list, Tehlor Kay Mejia’s newest offering, Paola Santiago and the River of Tears will be coming out from the Rick Riordan Presents imprint on the 4th as well. Based on Mexican folklore and mythology, one of my favourite YA authors is bringing her talents to middle grade for the first time – a winning combination in my book! Twelve-year old Paola loves space, logic and science, but has to deal with spirits and suchlike defying explanation and upending her world… Pre-order it from Waterstones.
Hello friends! If this were a normal summer, us UK book nerds would be queuing for things at YALC this weekend, so I thought it would be fun to do a round-up post of some supernatural YA to read this summer! I’ve read and enjoyed all of these, so I hope you will find something to pick up too.
DISCLAIMER: I received e-ARCs of all of these books via Netgalley in exchange for my honest reviews.
The Silvered Serpents by Roshani Chokshi doesn’t actually come out until September 22nd, but it’s worth the wait. The sequel to The Gilded Wolves takes the crew to Russia to try and save Laila… As the bookish community knows, a group heist novel is one of the best trends to come out of YA fantasy, and Roshani Chokshi does them better than most: diverse, full of history and mythology, with complex characters! Her protagonists are from marginalised backgrounds, autistic and queer, and exceedingly well-written, and I highly recommend this series (although the book ends on an evil cliffhanger, so be warned). Get a copy from Waterstones here!
Filipino-American debut author Janella Angeles’ Where Dreams Descend is the tale of Kallia, a showgirl wanting to prove herself in the male-dominated world of stage magic. Joining a competition in the city of Glorian against all odds, she and her mentor, Demarco, soon are up against much more than either of them bargained for. Reminiscent of cult favourites such as The Night Circus and Caraval, Where Dreams Descend takes the reader into a world of illusion and glamour, both of the magical and the mundane kind. While this won’t be my new favourite book – it is too trope-heavy and reminiscent of mid-2010s YA for my personal taste and not gritty and philosophical enough, I see this being a summer hit and something much of YA fantasy fandom will love. Get your copy from Waterstones once it comes out on the 25th of August.
Lobizona by Romina Garber is YA fantasy’s answer to illegal immigration meets Argentinian werewolves, out on the 4th of August. Telling the story of Manuela Azul, a young girl hidden away in Miami with her mother due to their undocumented state and her strange eyes, Lobizona deals with what it is like to be different in a world not set up for people who don’t fit society’s narrow mold, be that our human world or a more supernatural one. In a world where women are witches and men are werewolves, Manu is a unique hybrid, discovering her powers after running away from ICE and joining a sort of ‘magic school’. It is an interesting concept, and I loved the way it was set up, but the execution was predictable at times and failed to keep me immersed in the story. Manu herself was a bit of a Mary Sue character, and I was more invested in the side characters, who were more complex. But definitely a summer read to recommend! Order a copy off Book Depository here.
While the three preceding books are all very clearly fantasy, this last book, Here Lie the Secrets by Emma Young, is more of a paranormal mystery. When Mia was thirteen, her best friend Holly died. But to Mia, Holly isn’t truly gone, though she’s never admitted that to anyone else. Years later, Mia is spending the summer in New York, when she meets Rav, a parapsychology student and ends up involved in the investigation of a haunted house. While Here Lie the Secrets is about ghosts and mysteries, it ends up being much more about self-discovery, dealing with trauma and growing up. It is a wonderful example of YA truly written for a teenage audience. Mia undergoes such a journey of growth over the course of the book that will resonate with many young people reading Here Lie the Secrets, and struggling with the changes coming with finishing school and starting a new part of life. The book as a whole is charming and compelling, and I do recommend getting yourself a copy from Waterstones (it’s out now).
RELEASE DATE: 23/06/20
STAR RATING: 3.5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Rebellious Frannie Tasker knows little about the war between England and its thirteen colonies in 1776, until a shipwreck off her home in Grand Bahama Island presents an unthinkable opportunity. The body of a young woman floating in the sea gives Frannie the chance to escape her brutal stepfather–and she takes it.
Assuming the identity of the drowned Emmeline Coates, Frannie is rescued by a British merchant ship and sails with the crew to New York. For the next three years, Frannie lives a lie as Miss Coates, swept up in a courtship by a dashing British lieutenant. But after witnessing the darker side of the war, she realizes that her position gives her power. Soon she finds herself eavesdropping on British officers, risking everything to pass information on to George Washington’s Culper spy ring as agent 355. Frannie believes in the fight for American liberty–but what will it cost her? Inspired by the true “355” and rich in historical detail and intrigue, this is the story of an unlikely New York society girl turned an even unlikelier spy.
OPINIONS: Frannie, a rebellious young lady gets mistaken for a dead rich girl, Emmeline Coates, and runs with it to escape her past – only to get caught up in the American revolution and become a spy. Rebel Spy was an entertaining read, and exactly what was promised by the blurb. Nevertheless, I felt like it was lacking – perhaps it was that it is a familiar plotline, one that I have likely read before, reminiscent of so many period novels. Rebel Spy does not stand out particularly.
The elements that had pulled me to the book, the historical aspects, the challenges faced navigating the two lives of Emmeline Coates and agent 355, and a character-driven narrative lacked in detail for my taste. The book could have gone into more depth about the nitty-gritty of Frannie’s life, rather than plotting a pleasant course down the river of smooth sailing. That is not to say that there are no obstacles in the story – there are plenty – but they are of the predictable kind, not the ones requiring personal growth.
I think Rebel Spy is a great read if you are looking for a summer holiday read while waiting anxiously for the next season of Outlander and enjoy casual YA with a dash of romance and secrecy. Add Rebel Spy on Goodreads here, or order a copy from Amazon here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: VERONICA ROSSI is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the UNDER THE NEVER SKY series. She was born in Rio de Janeiro, grew up in California, and graduated from UCLA. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two sons, one of whom just surpassed her in height. Find her online at veronicarossi.com or on Twitter at @rossibooks.
She can also be found here:
Happy book birthday to The Damned by Renée Ahdieh! After being lucky enough to get to review an ARC of the first book in the series, The Beautiful, last year, I got to read this one early again. However, it felt a bit like the parts that I was on the fence about in The Beautiful were much stronger in this second book, which made it drag on a little for my taste.
Many thanks to Kate Keehan, Hodder & Stoughton and NetGalley for the eARC in exchange for this honest review!
RELEASE DATE: 07/07/20
STAR RATING: 3.5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Following the events of The Beautiful, Sébastien Saint Germain is now cursed and forever changed. The treaty between the Fallen and the Brotherhood has been broken, and war between the immortals seems imminent. The price of loving Celine was costly. But Celine has also paid a high price for loving Bastien.
Still recovering from injuries sustained during a night she can’t quite remember, her dreams are troubled. And she doesn’t know she has inadvertently set into motion a chain of events that could lead to her demise and unveil a truth about herself she’s not quite ready to learn.
Forces hiding in the shadows have been patiently waiting for this moment for centuries. And just as Bastien and Celine begin to uncover the danger around them, they learn their love could tear them apart. (from Goodreads)
OPINIONS: While this sequel isn’t set immediately after the end of the first book, it does very strongly knit onto the end of it. If it has been a while since you read The Beautiful, I recommend you reread it before starting The Damned, as I ended up rather confused at the start, having forgotten some of the details of the fast-paced ending. While much of The Beautiful was slow-to medium paced over the course of the story, which I really enjoyed, The Damned kept up the pace of the last part of it, and was consistently fast paced. This will work very well for many readers, but was not ideal for me personally. I preferred getting immersed in the world of the vampires of New Orleans, their society and customs, and getting to know the characters.
To me, it felt like The Damned was trying to do too much in too short a time frame. It solved a number of overarching mysteries, introduced many new ones, but did not leave much space for character and relationship growth through its focus on action and plot. Especially given that this is Renée Ahdieh’s first longer series, I believe that saving some of what happened in The Damned for the next volume would have helped with these issues.
Ultimately, I felt disconnected from the characters due to the pacing. I wanted to know what happened, but I didn’t truly care, not like I did during The Beautiful. I hope that will change again in the next book, as for me that is one of the most crucial elements of a novel. But as I said, this is all due to my personal tastes, and I do believe that many people will love and enjoy The Damned just as much as they did The Beautiful.