The History of Bees by Maja Lunde | 1 Minute Reviews

This is undoubtedly a strange way to begin a review, but I should tell you that I really like bees. Ten years ago (yikes) I was studying Zoology at the University of Liverpool and had the joy of learning about bees across several modules – their waggle dances of communication, their societal structure and, sadly, the way their populations have been crashing due to Colony Collapse Disorder.

This time of my life coincides with one of the three timelines in The History of Bees, a wonderful novel told from three narrators spread across 250 years – William in England in 1851, Tao in future China in 2098 and finally George in the USA in 2007.

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After recovering from a bout of depression, naturalist William is determined to invent a new form of beehive, in order to catapult him and his children into fame, particularly his beloved heir Edmund.

George is a beekeeper, battling against modernisation in the farming industry whilst also trying to keep his business afloat, though his wife just wants to move to Florida and his son doesn’t seem to want to farm at all.

Far in the future after the collapse of the global bee population, Tao is a human pollinator, gently transferring pollen to fruit trees – an incredibly challenging manual job in a world falling apart due to the loss of essential biological processes. When her son suddenly becomes ill and then is taken by mysterious authorities, Tao sets out on a harrowing journey to find her child.

The History of Bees is a haunting story about families, the weight of being a parent and a child, the expectation of futures that could be built or destroyed in an instant. The parents themselves are so focused on their children becoming one way or another, not quite seeing the potential in them that manifests differently or – in William’s case – overlooking all his other children.

All three strands of narration kept me hooked, particularly the disturbing but quite imaginable future imagined in Tao’s storyline. This is a book that fans of Station 11, The Bees (well of course) and Never Let Me Go would find a lot to like – reader friendly speculative fiction, rooted in our own world, while the late 1800s timeline reminded me a lot of parts of The Essex Serpent. Of course, the storylines all tie in together at the end, which is immensely satisfying.

If like em you like complex family dramas and dystopian future storylines, you will be pleased to discover their combination here. The History of Bees is a fantastic, clever novel that touches upon our possible future of environmental collapse, seeking to warn us about possible ecological futures but also the dangers of parenting with an endgame in mind. I really do not think this should be missed.

The History of Bees is currently available in hardback, with the paperback publishing in April 2018. You can get it here.

What to read next:

Thank you kindly to Simon and Schuster for sending this copy over to me.

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy | 1 Minute Reviews

Julie Murphy‘s second book, Dumplin’, was one of my absolute favourite young adult novels of 2016, and I had high hopes for her third novel, Ramona Blue. Murphy’s writing has proven to be thoughtful, with well crafted characters and good politics threaded through. I was very pleased to once again be bowled over by her work.

Now, do not be alarmed but this is not a slight novel for the average young adult contemporary, coming in at 400 pages altogether. But there’s a reason for that, and allow me to reassure you that the size is not indicative of filler.

This is a story that needs to be told slowly. This is a story of the grinding reality of inescapable poverty, the importance of both chosen and biological family, and the fluidity of human sexuality.

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Ramona lives in Eulogy, Mississippi, a town known for its summer holiday makers, who have shaped Ramona’s life as much as its permanent residents. The novel opens with her saying goodbye to her first girlfriend, Grace, as she and her family pack up ready to return to their home as the new school year approaches. Shortly after Grace leaves, Ramona’s childhood best friend and former summer visitor Freddie and his grandmother Agnes return to Eulogy to live permanently. Freddie and Ramona re-bond over a love of swimming and the shared pain of long distance relationships. But when that bond starts to head towards romantic feelings, Ramona begins to question everything about her identity.

Meanwhile, Ramona’s sister Hattie is pregnant with her boyfriend Tyler’s baby, and Tyler seems to have moved himself into the tiny trailer she shares with her sister and father. As a tall girl, things were feeling cramped to begin with…

Ramona Blue spans 10 months of her life as she struggles to balance her school life, her possible futures and her many part time jobs. Of all the young adult novels I’ve read, this one expertly relays the realities of being inescapably poor as a teenager, and having to take responsibilities far above your station as a child.

Murphy explores the complexities of LGBTQ+ identity and fluidity between labels with great care, creating a thoughtful, honest and open-hearted novel.

Ramona Blue is currently only available in hardback until late Spring 2018, but I really think it’s worth the money. Also the cover underneath the dust sheet is such a pleasing shade of cream.

Interested? Get it here!

What to read next:

Thank you kindly to the team at Harper Collins, Balzer & Bray and the lovely Ammara at Harper Insider for sharing this copy with me.

Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell | 1 Minute Reviews

If I had one word to sum up this book, I’d probably go for “quippy”. I’ve not laughed out loud so frequently while reading a book for quite a while, probably not since Frogkisser by Garth Nix.

Kellen is a Jan’Tep, a sorcerer. Or at least he hopes to be by his sixteenth birthday. The only problem is he doesn’t appear to have any magical powers. His sister is set to be the most advanced sorcerer of their community, despite her youth, and with his father looking to be the net leader of the Jan’Tep, Kellen is feeling more than a little awkward about it.

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When Kellen wins a magical dual using his wits and no magic of his own, his place in the Jan’Tep society is questioned. But when a mysterious Argosi traveller named Ferius Parfax walks into his life, Kellen begins to consider that his home is not all what it seems.

With the mysteries of the Shadowblack curse, the murderous past of the Jan’Tep and the plight of the magicless Sha’Tep underclass, who Kellen is set to join, Spellslinger is a richly enjoyable novel. Kellen and his magical impotence makes a great story; you’re forever rooting for him to work out some way to best the others. He’s completely self deprecating, but aware of his own intelligence and strengths (up to a point, at least). He’s a very easy character to like, especially when his best friend and crush turn against him for his tricksy ways.

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Sebastien de Castell on the story behind Spellslinger, taken from his website

I’m completely in love with the mysterious wanderer Ferius Parfax and her mysterious pack of cards, some of which she uses as weapons. She’s a dry-wit, always with a cigarette in her mouth and a wisecrack on her tongue. Ferius and Kellen’s faithful squirrelcat/nekhek friend Reichis provide much of the sassy dialogue – his whole demeanor and voice in my head is so completely Rocket Raccoon.

Don’t believe me – listen to this excerpt from Kellen’s first interaction with Reichis.

I’m really looking forward to reading Kellen’s future adventures over the series, of which there appears to be five books in total. I think if you’re a fan of Pratchett, Bardugo, Schwaab, and Nix, you’re going to find a lot to like here.

Interested? Get it here in a beautiful paperback with sprayed red edges. The second outing, Shadowblack, has just been released in Hardback.

Also, if you sign up to the Sebastien de Castell Readers Club here, you get a free Spellslinger short story!

What to read next:

 

Tin Man by Sarah Winman | 1 Minute Reviews

I love slightly melancholic books. There’s something wonderful about being wrapped up in bed with a warm drink reading a book that stirs an ache in your chest… perhaps that’s just me.

Stories with LGBTQ+ characters or themes get extra points from me. I have quite the stack of sad gay novellas to work my way around to. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Tin Man fits snugly into that extra-special category.

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Now, some might argue that revealing the relationship between Ellis and Michael going beyond the boundaries of platonic love is a spoiler, but given I have a whole list specifically of LGTBQ+ Ya books, I’m going to hazard that a fair few of you are here for discovering new queer reads. This is the second book this year with an incredibly vague blurb, which lists them as “inseparable”, that actually turns out to be a sad gay book, with Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End last taking up that mantle. I’ve yet to read Days Without End, but I bought it purely because the bookseller informed me it was a “secretly gay” book. He knew what I was after.

Anyway, back to Tin Man. Yes, it’s queer. Yes, it’s very sad. It’s actually probably one of the best books from the adult fiction section that I’ve read so far this year.

The story begins with the winning of a copy of Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers by Dora Judd, a somewhat formidable woman and mother of Ellis, who the novel follows from there on. We find Ellis as an forty-six year old man, depressed and working in a car plant, wondering where the years have gone. Through nonlinear narrative, we are introduced to the two people who mattered most to him, who both appear to have moved on – his wife Annie, and his childhood best friend Michael.

Through the discovery of a box of Michael’s diaries at his father’s house, Ellis uncovers Michael’s lost years. The years after Annie arrived, the years after their marriage, the years after their trip to France.

Winman’s novel takes us through the complexities of human sexuality, the history and friendships of Vincent van Gogh and the AIDs crisis in Britain of the late 1980s, all with a literary flair and considered gentleness. I’m completely in love with this sunny-covered, melancholic novel, and I think many of you will fall head over heels as well.

Interested? Get it here in hardback or preorder the paperback, due out in March 2018.

What to read next:

Thank you kindly to Katie V. E. Brown and Tinder Press for sharing this copy with me.

Warcross by Marie Lu | 1 Minute Reviews

Marie Lu is one of those YA authors whose books I used to look at repeatedly when I worked in a bookshop. Sometimes you just know when you’re going to get on with an author, even if you know nothing about them. From my first experience with Lu’s writing, I’m feeling pretty confident about our ongoing relationship.

When my copy of Warcross (sent from the lovely folks over at Penguin Platform) arrived, I stripped off the dust jacket because you often find something super cool underneath. I did not expect this shiny rainbow cloud of gay joy.

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My first impressions of Warcross were these stunning graphics, including the front cover which looks remarkably like (a much fancier version of) a graph I accidentally created of a 3D simulation of a coral reef. In fact, the design work in Warcross has gone beyond just the book itself – go check out the website with fancy graphics linked to the book itself, and while you’re there, check out the extract too.

Let me say this, Warcross is a pretty cool book. I mean it. Emika Chen is a bounty hunter who rides a flying skateboard, has rainbow hair, and struggles to get by on the mean streets of New York. After losing out on a particularly high bounty, Emika makes a risky move while watching a Warcross international game, accidentally revealing herself to the whole world.

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This one is my favourite, for reasons that will become clear once you read the book

In doing so, Emika becomes an overnight sensation and is invited by the game’s young billionaire creator Hideo Tanaka to Japan to be a wild card entry to the Warcross Championships… and to be his spy too. All is not as it seems; can Emika hunt down the other undercover players threatening the games?

To be clear here, Warcross isn’t your typical e-sports game; it is a virtual reality capture the flag game, in which teams work together and use power ups to steal the other team’s prize. Cool, huh? I’m not being flippant, I genuinely was and still am super excited by this premise. Heck she even made the dark web a literal shady place you could walk around, not that you particularly want to.

The popularity of Warcross has spilled outside your usual gamer communities, giving it status akin to most other international sports tournaments, garnering filled stadiums and millions of viewers online. This global status also makes any threats to the game and its fans such incredible high stakes that Emika must work quickly and remain undercover during her time competing.

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Emika herself is a complex girl, fun to embody and follow. She’s stubborn, reckless, foolish and hurting from the loss of both her parents. She’s fallible, and I couldn’t help but root for her all the way through. Also yay, Chinese-American protagonist, hooray!

Lu’s experience in the games industry bleeds into this novel, and while certainly speculative fiction it never feels far removed from our current society. Her world-building around the NeuralLink system is impressive, and the romance she sets up was more than a little swoony.

Warcross is an engaging and exciting speculative fiction thriller, suitable for gamers and non-gamers alike. It’s not immediately clear if this is the beginning of a trilogy – like Lu’s previous works – or a duology, as GoodReads indicates a listing for a second book. However, if you enjoy Warcross as much as me, you’ll be hitting that Want to Read button so very quick – that ending left me very (war)cross… sorry.

Interested? Get it here – note that it is the UK Penguin hardback edition you want to buy if you want this shiny rainbow gloriousness.

What to read next:

Thank you ever so to Penguin Platform for sending this copy over to me.

Shattered Minds by Laura Lam | 1 Minute Reviews

This summer, my love affair with Laura Lam began. I first came across her essay in Nasty Women, then discovered a proof of Shattered Minds in my bookmail. Realising it was somewhat of a sequel to False Hearts, I decided to go back and read that first – I recommend you do the same too.

Picking up around a year after the events of False Hearts, Shattered Minds follows ex-Sudice employee and former neuroscientist Carina, a woman destroyed by the company she worked for. Carina is thirsty for murder, desperate to kill people, a desire born of tinkering in her brain which she can only temper with an addiction to Zeal.

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Nearing the end of her life, Carina receives a vision of a dead girl, an image planted by an old colleague determined to expose Sudice’s secrets, beginning a chase across San Francisco as Carina realises she has to bring down Sudice before they can get her first.

Carina is marketed as a female Dexter, a serial killer with a conscience who battles their most primal urges to remain as much as a good person (within their own rule systems) as they can. The parallels are certainly there, though Carina always seemed more tragic and desperate to hide or control this side of her, hence her fall into the world of Zeal.

The novel is told through multi-points of view, split between Carina, her former boss and antagonist Roz and lovely Dax, part of the underground hacker group that Carina seeks help from. I have more than a soft spot for Dax, torn between the loss of their sister and a need to do the right thing, to expose those who harm.

I loved this book just as much as False Hearts, which I was positively screaming about. Lam’s prose, pacing and characterisation are always so on point.

Shattered Minds is not necessarily a direct sequel to False Hearts, though a number of characters do spill over into this book. This reminds me of Becky Chambers’ Wayfarer series or even Becky Albertalli’s novels – connected books all set within a singular universe that have a logical order to read them in, but wouldn’t fall apart if you hadn’t read any previous books. I’m hoping that we will get to see more novels set in the Pacifica universe, but in the mean time I’m going to dive into Lam’s much lauded Micah Gray series.

Shattered Minds is a fast paced, cyber-punk novel set in future utopian San Francisco, following the murky underbelly of the city, advanced neuroscience and plug-in drugs. If you’re looking for smart, addictive speculative fiction then I strongly recommend you give Laura Lam your hard earned money.

Interested? Get it here in Hardback or preorder the paperback, out in 2018.

What to read next:

Thank you kindly to Pan Macmillan for sending through a proof for me to read.

Short and Sweet: How about a novella?

One of my favourite things in the world is finding a well-curated novella table in a bookshop. Waterstones Kensington always has a couple of great ones – translated novellas, seasonally appropriate novellas and a truly great one of Bowie’s favourites where I found one of the below. Novellas can be a wonderful way to explore ideas, and I’ve been very lucky to read some really great ones in the last year.

Here’s a few of them.

9781447283904A Whole Life is a German novella originally published in 2014 and translated into English late last year. Seethaler’s gentle story focusses on the life of Andreas Egger, a man who lives in – and for – the wildness of the mountains. Arriving in the Austrian Alps as an orphan and taken in by a farming family, Egger grows, falls in love and is enlisted for the war. With the same gentle melancholy spiced with humour as John Williams’ Stoner, A Whole Life is a beautiful short meditation on one man’s life. It’s really very enjoyable and the cover is so absolutely divine. Thank you to Picador for sharing this copy with me to review.

 

9780486437132Passing by Nella Larsen is a beautiful novella about the dangers of being black in the 1920s. This is the one I discovered thanks to Bowie, albeit sadly posthumously. Light skinned Irene’s life turns upside down when she meets an old school friend Clare Kendry, who admits that she has been “passing for white”, to the extent that her racist husband believes her to be a white person. The prose absolutely simmers with tension as Irene is drawn into Clare’s lie, and Clare digs her claws into Irene’s life.  At only 94 pages it makes a great single sitting read. But don’t be fooled by its diminutive length; this is an incredibly important, powerful novel about passing privilege, and the violent threat racism in America, even in your own home or marriage; it sadly remains as relevant today as it was almost 100 years ago.

9780141188348Sticking with tense thrillers, I must also recommend the lesser known work of Muriel Spark, The Driver’s Seat. Spark’s story is of Lise, the woman in bright colours, who is looking for someone, a man, on her trip to the South. Peppered in the prose are nods to the future, where the people she passes will eventually testify seeing her before she died. A crime in reverse, with a really quite terrifying protagonist. Thrilling, tense, often times peculiar as Lise finds her way around an unnamed city looking for a man, but for what? And who is the man?

Muriel Spark is author of one of my other favourite novellas, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Thoroughly recommend both of these very different books.

 

9781447269991Meanwhile, if you’re looking for something charming and light, The Salmon Who Dared to Leap Higher is easily the most whimsical book I’ve read recently. This beautiful little fable by Korean poet Anh Do-Hyeon is literally the story of a salmon migrating upriver, but it is also more than that. He speaks to the river, he falls in love, he questions life’s purpose. There is something a little Tove Jansson about it, but that may be just because I’ve been filling my mind with philosophical Moomin tales.

I recommend it, wholeheartedly.

 

What novellas have you been reading this year? Tell me in the comments, as I’m always on the hunt for new ones!