The Long Way to A Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

The Long Way to A Small Angry Planet is set in our galaxy but far in the future, when other planets have been colonized and various other sentient species have invited humans to join the Galactic Commons.

The story follows the crew of a ship called the Wayfarer, who make their way in the galaxy by creating hyperspace tunnels that allow other ships to travel from one planet to another. Perpetually struggling to make ends meet, the crew accept a high-risk, high reward job to connect a planet inhabited by a belligerent race of aliens who have only recently ceased sending messengers and ambassadors from other planets home in bits and begun communicating and trading with the Galactic Commons instead.

The Long Way to A Small Angry Planet is a slice-of-life space-opera, and it’s hard to describe the plot because not much actually happens yet is far from slow or boring. The Wayfarer’s crew is made up a multi-species cast, and the human, alien and A.I. characters are all vividly realised, and their relationships allow the story to explore the romances, taboos, prejudices and politics that would invariably exist between so many different species. The writing is also deliciously atmospheric, and right from the offset I felt like I was on board the Wayfarer, and could hear every clunk in the ship, the hum of the engine and imagine staring out of the viewport into endless space.

I don’t read much science-fiction but I’m so glad I took a chance on this, and I look forward to reading the rest in the series. Have a lovely week! X

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I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

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I Am Malala is one of those books that I’ve been meaning to read forever and I ended up borrowing a copy from the local library. In many ways, Malala comes across as a very ordinary teenager who bickers with her little brothers and worries about her exams, and I really enjoyed her vivid descriptions of her life in Pakistan, playing with the little girl next door, listening to her father and his friends chat about politics, visiting relatives in the mountain village where her parents came from, the sense of family and community, and her dawning awareness of living in a patriarchal society.

Malala recalls being vaguely aware of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in neighbouring Afghanistan but – as I’m sure many people reading can relate – that was something happening somewhere else, until their influence slowly started spreading. Malala describes how a militant group of fundamentalists seized upon the chaos and destruction created by a devastating earthquake to extend their influence and occupy North West Pakistan where she lived, bringing terror, torture, murder and civil war to her home.

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The day that Malala was shot by a Taliban terrorist was just another day up until that event, and she recalls the confusion and disorientation of waking up in an unfamiliar place with no memory of what happened and feeling desperately worried about her family. Malala clearly expresses her humility and gratitude at being alive, reunited with her family and their new life in the U.K. with all the freedom and safety it provides, but it is also tinged with homesickness for Pakistan and all her friends there.

Malala comes across as a young woman shaped by her circumstances, she recognizes how fortunate she was that her parents supported and encouraged her education, and how her family were ordinary people caught up in the conflict between the Pakistani government and terrorists, yet instead of being cowed and frightened into submission, Malala developed a sense of purpose and her determination and courageousness shine throughout this biography. I Am Malala is every bit as powerful and thought-provoking as I expected, and ultimately Malala chooses to define herself not as the girl who was shot by the Taliban but as an advocate for education. Have a lovely week! X

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

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Convenience Store Woman is narrated by Keiko Furukara and right from the start it’s clear that she’s a little bit odd and doesn’t fit in, but Keiko is frequently as baffled by other people as they are by her. At times Keiko is hard to relate to as she questions her humanity and there are moments when her lack of empathy and violent impulses add a sinister edge to the story.

As a university student Keiko takes a part-time job in a convenience store, where she finds a reassuring sense of routine, predictability and purpose, and she finally starts to feel like an ordinary, productive member of society. Eighteen years later, at the age of 36, Keiko is single, childless and still working part-time at the convenience store, and feeling pressure to conform as she realises that concerned family members and peers view her with a combination of curiosity and pity because they can’t imagine how she could be content when she’s deviated from the path of career, marriage and children that everyone else followed.

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Then, into Keiko’s orderly and predictable workplace, comes a new employee, Shiraha, a mid-30s slacker with a victim mentality who looks down on both the work and the other workers, but who is on the hunt for a marriage partner to support him. Shiraha is an interesting foil for Keiko, and he becomes the catalyst that pushes Keiko to choose between pretending to be normal and conforming to social expectations, or accepting herself for who she is and doing what makes her happy.

Convenience Store Woman is a short book and easy to read, but also a thought-provoking and powerful exploration of self-acceptance, conformity and societal pressure. Have a lovely week! X

The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman

I haven’t had much time to read or blog over the last few months as real life events (including caring for a family member and adjusting to a new role at work) have taken up most of my time and attention, but I’ve missed reading and I’ve always found something incredibly comforting about slipping into a story whenever real life feels overwhelming.

One of the best books I read last year was The Invisible Library (reviewed here), and the sequel picks up just a few months after the events in the first book as the resourceful and self-deprecating librarian, Irene, is caught up once again in the eternal battle between chaos and order when her assistant Kai is kidnapped. In The Masked City Irene races to rescue Kai and prevent a war between the fae and dragons that could destroy countless innocent worlds caught between them.

I really love the locations in these stories, and while the first book was set in a Victorian London with werewolves and other supernatural elements, the sequel mostly takes place in renaissance Venice. I also really appreciated the reversal of the damsel saving the prince for a change, but I missed the interplay between the characters who were separated for most of the story, and the villains just weren’t quite as dynamic or threatening as Alberich.

Although I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as the first book, these stories are so easy to read with a perfect blend of humour, action and suspense that I’m eager to see how the series develops. Have a lovely week! X

The Jewel Garden by Monty & Sarah Don

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March is an unpredictable and changeable month in our part of the world, today we’ve had snow, sunshine and hail stones, and it’ll be a while yet until we can risk sowing any seeds in the garden, but a good friend and fellow urban gardener gave me a copy of this to read to tide me over.

Perhaps because I’ve only relatively recently fallen in love with gardening, I didn’t really know much about Monty (or Montagu as he prefers) Don, and found this to be a fascinating insight into his life. The Jewel Garden¬†initially follows a fairly typical rags-to-riches trajectory as Monty and Sarah describe being newly married and desperately poor when they decide to start a jewellery making business together in 1981; coinciding with the glamour and extravagance of the 1980s, their jewellery became an international success. Yet by 1989, their good fortune seemed to have run out as the business was struggling, they were on the verge of bankruptcy, Sarah had a slipped disc and Monty was sinking into a depression.

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Monty writes openly and honestly about this period in their life, the apathy and lethargy, fatigue and restlessness, and the overwhelming sense of hopelessness he felt. Although Monty recognises the role that anti-depressants and a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy played in his recovery, he also extols the virtues of gardening which combines fresh air and natural light with gentle exercise, a sense of purpose and productivity.

The second half of the book focuses on the design and cultivation of the gardens at their current home, Longmeadow, including the stunning Jewel Garden, which was a reminder of their past but also symbolized rebirth and change. Their writing beautifully captures all the excitement of creating a border or garden from scratch, and all the creativity and experimentation that goes on behind the scenes. My only real criticism is that the gardens are vividly described but I’d have liked to see more photos, and at times it read like a list of every flower and plant in their garden.

I found The Jewel Garden to be an inspiring, moving and thoroughly entertaining read that left me itching to get back out into my own little garden. Have a lovely week! X

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

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The first book in The Gentleman Bastards series follows Locke Lamora an orphan who grows into a criminal mastermind addicted to the thrill of pulling elaborate cons on the nobility. However, the delicate accord that exists between the nobles, law enforcement and criminal factions in the city of Camorr is torn apart when the mysterious Grey King arrives, and Locke and his crew find themselves caught in the middle of the murderous, political machinations of much powerful players.

The Lies of Locke Lamora is as much a story about found families as it is a fantasy heist, with each member of the Gentleman Bastards bringing unique skills to their operations, and the friendship between Locke and Jean (the brains and brawn of the crew respectively) is the emotional keystone of the story.

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I often talk about books being easy or quick to read because many of us lead busy lives and it can be hard to find the time to read, and I tend to have a 100 page rule that if I’m not invested in a story by that point then I give up and move on to something else, but it took me about 200 pages to really get into The Lies of Locke Lamora. There are definite pacing issues, with a lot of verbose descriptions of Camorr and setting up all the rival political and criminal factions before the action begins, yet the endearing characters, witty dialogue, clever foreshadowing and the combination of heart-pounding, nail-biting suspense and thrilling, unexpected twists more than made up for the slow start, and as soon as I finished this I bought the next two books in the series. Have a lovely week! X

The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

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The Well of Ascension is set about a year after the events of The Final Empire (reviewed here); the young nobleman Elend is King, replacing the tyrannical Lord Ruler, and the city of Luthadel is besieged by three different armies, all intent on seizing power for themselves, one of which is lead by Elend’s own father.

The surviving leaders of the rebellion are all floundering without Kelsier to guide and unite them. Vin is still testing her newfound abilities and trying to figure out her relationship with Elend. Meanwhile, Elend is struggling with the responsibilities of being King and trying to maintain his integrity and ideals.

While The Final Empire had a tight narrative perspective focusing on Kelsier and Vin (and Elend at the very end), The Well of Ascension follows several different characters’ perspectives and sometimes seemed too diffuse. I also found this slower paced and lacking the momentum of the first book, though it was redeemed by the last 150 pages, which had me riveted and ended on a cliffhanger that made sense of the Lord Ruler’s dying words and left me desperate to know what happens next.

It’s always hard to review the middle book in a trilogy as it has to bridge the first and final parts, and it’s often difficult to judge how well it foreshadows or sets up things for the conclusion until you’ve finished the series – so I may change my mind in the future – but unfortunately The Well of Ascension didn’t manage to live up to my expectations.

Have a lovely week! X