Review: Ascension

Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi

177512745/5 stars 

“Pain is just the world wanting us to pay attention to it because we’re so damned beautiful it can’t stand being ignored.”

Alana Quick is stuck; she repairs spaceship engines for a living and doesn’t make enough to pay for the advanced medication she needs for her chronic pain. Her and her aunt Lai both suffer from a disease, Mel’s, that puts their bodies under enormous stress and pain when they don’t take medication. Alana dreams of being able to afford treatments for her and Lai someday, and the only thing she needs is a steady job. The opportunity finally arises when Alana gets a visit from a spaceship captain in search of her sister. Alana makes the gut decision to stow away on the ship in hopes that, once they are far enough away, the crew will be forced to keep her on board for the remainder of their current mission. This is Alana’s only chance at making a better life for her and her aunt, maybe the crew of this ship can understand that and take her onboard as an engineer.

WOW. This book has a mix of everything I’ve ever wanted. It has a space ship, a crew of multi-alien-cultures, a main character of color with a disability, and many queer characters whose plot lines don’t revolve around being queer. If this sounds like something you’d love, like it does for me, read on!

Sidenote: This book is VERY comparable to A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. I loved both books and would recommend them to basically anyone who likes science fiction.

Ascension is full of diversity. One of my favorite parts about science fiction is getting to read about new, unique alien cultures and species, and Jacqueline Koyanagi really incorporated that into this book. Really, all of the characters ware anthropomorphic (mostly,,,), but all of them are from different cultures and go through life with unique things in mind. The author really does an amazing job portraying that they all have their own sets of values and beliefs about how the world works. Often, it’s hard to give each character their own personhood, especially when there are many individuals in a regular length novel, but Jacqueline does it very well.

This is the first adult book I’ve read that really puts chronic illness and pain in the spotlight. It’s a very easy thing to get wrong, by trivializing it or romanticizing it, but when it’s done right, it is done RIGHT. Alana is an independent woman with a strong work ethic and heart full of determination. In addition, she also suffers from a chronic illness. This disease, Mel’s, acts up unexpectedly. Alana has some good days and some not so good days, just like a real person with chronic pain. When Alana has flare-ups, she takes her medication as prescribed and works through it. Seeing her push through the horrible pain and tremors is heartbreaking because real people suffering with real invisible illnesses experience this all the time. I think it’s very important to normalize books that have main characters with disabilities because actual people like that are EVERYWHERE.

I also want to mention the representation of people of color in Ascension. Many books introduce characters by giving a physical description—hair color, skin tone, and clothing style. Ascension does this by mentioning that Alana pulls her “locs” back out of her face and the dark complexion of her skin. The thing that this book does that most others don’t is that it doesn’t let the reader forget that Alana is a person of color. Her locs, the texture of her hair, and the color of her skin are all mentioned multiple times. Jacqueline did not write Alana and just add on the fact that she’s a person of color, she wrote Alana AS a person of color. This is so important for representation.

Everything about this book was an A+ for me– The characters, the storylines, the writing, and the takeaways. It’s everything you could ever want from a sci fi book. This book made me happy in so many ways but there are two I want to highlight: Ascension does an amazing job portraying what it’s like to live with a chronic illness and it successfully uses minorities (sexuality and race wise) as more than just plot devices. Thank you, Jacqueline Koyanagi, for this brilliant book.

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February 2017 Wrap-Up!

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January was a really big poetry month for me and February ended up being my graphic novel month. I think I poetry’d myself out…I can’t seem to find any more poetry books that grab my attention! Nevertheless, I found another genre that I love. This month, I read a lot of series that lead me to buying the 2nd and 3rd issues because I liked them all so much. A big theme for February was science fiction and women in science fiction. Cheers to new indie authors that graced my reading list this month! Here’s the 8-book breakdown:

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher (memoir) 5/5 stars- I meant to pick up this book for the longest time and then, as you probably know, Carrie Fisher died, so it got bumped to the top of my To Be Read. I am SO glad I finally read this. It was super informative and real, which is something I love to read about, especially when it has to do with mental health. Carrie Fisher had a lot on her plate– substance abuse, a mood disorder, and growing up in the spotlight. It was very interesting to hear what she had to say about these issues.

Where the words end and my body begins by Amber Dawn (poetry/LGBT) 2.5/5 stars- I didn’t like this poetry collection very much. I thought I would, because of the LGBTQ themes, but it just didn’t do it for me. I skipped a lot of lines and even full poems at some points. It’s possible that I just didn’t have a deep enough understanding of the topics at hand, but I did NOT get it.

Saga Vol. 2 by Brian K. Vaughan (sci fi/graphic novel) 5/5 stars- This is the second issue in the Saga comic series that I grew to love in January! I’m trying to pace myself with these because they’re just that good. If you appreciate female narrated sci fi with kick-ass characters and a little bit of romance, Saga is the series for you. It’s no wonder that this series is so popular, because it’s absolutely amazing.

Asterios Polyp by David Mazzuchelli (graphic novel) 5/5 stars- I read this book during my 2nd year of college in 2014 and loved it. I had a feeling, though, that I didn’t quite understand it. So, I re-read it. That was a great choice because I definitely got more out of it this time around. In addition, it was a lot of references to The Odyssey which is fantastic (for me, at least).

Love is Love  by Marc Adreyko (graphic novel/LGBT) 2/5 stars- Wow. I really did not like this book. I had such high hopes for it, since the sales benefit the Orlando shooting victims. I mean, what an amazing cause to donate to. This book is catered for cisgender, heterosexual people FOR SURE. Most of the comics were about straight people trying to explain queerness to their kids or accepting LGBT people themselves. Less than half of the stories had a queer main character and only one comic featured a bisexual person. And, get this, bisexuality was explained as being straight, then gay, then straight again. Buy this book for the cause, please, not for the content

Husks: The First Book by Randall P. Fitzgerald (sci fi) 4/5 stars- YAY for the bimonthly bookbox I receive in the mail! It’s called Paper Street Books and you get a graphic novel, a sci fi book, and bookish goodies in each box. Most of the books are by indie authors, too. It’s AMAZING. So, this book was in a past box of theirs and I finally got around to starting it. The main character is totally a kick-ass female protagonist, something I live for. Ultimately, this was a great book by an indie author and I’m so glad it found its way to me.

Dept. H, Volume One by Matt Kindt (graphic novel/mystery) 4/5 stars- This was another book that I received from Paper Street Books. It was from the most recent box of theirs. As soon as I opened it, I knew I had to read this book. I ended up finishing it in a few hours! It is the perfect mystery…but under water!

Astrid: Cult of the Volcanic Moon by Kim W. Andersson (graphic novel/sci fi)- This was the third book from Paper Street Books that I read this month. It was from the same book box as Husks: The First Book. The theme was all about women in science fiction so, as you can probably guess, this graphic novel features a strong, independent female protagonist. What’s not to love? This is easily one of my favorite graphic novels I’ve ever read.

There you have it! I didn’t realize that 5 of the 8 books were graphic novels until just now and I’m pretty impressed with myself. I just started reading graphic novels a few months ago and I’m really happy with the style preference I’ve developed over that period of time. As of right now, March has been more of a fiction month for me. Maybe I comic’d myself out in February! If anyone is interested in the book box I mentioned, here is the website link: x. Thanks for tuning in and I’ll be sure to have another formal review up in a few days.

Review- Nexus

rn_rebrand_nexus_03-tiny-233x400Nexus by Ramez Naam

4/5 stars

Nexus is a drug that connects peoples’ minds together in low doses, and can allow people to alter the way their brains work in high doses. On the more extreme end, a few scientists have permanently put Nexus into their brain and used it to become almost super-human. These scientists are working to make Nexus a safer and practical drug, until they get caught illegally altering and administering the drug and are forced to give the blueprints up to the government. What happens when this potentially dangerous drug gets into the wrong hands? What happens if people all around the world are creating their own versions of Nexus, each with different purposes in mind? How far can one alter their brain until they become non-human altogether?

The concept of this book reminded me a lot of Philip K. Dick’s Ubik, which I loved, so I was really excited to start this book. Let me tell you, I was not disappointed. In my opinion, it’s very easy to write a book about the dangers of mind-altering drugs and fill it with fluffy, filler plot devices. Ramez did a great job of not doing this. The plot, characters, and dialogue were very constructive and really made me think of the pros and cons of developing mind tools.

I thought the most interesting parts of Nexus were the instances that you got to see how the drug affected the brains of the narrators. I can’t imagine what it feels like to have connected minds and experience other people’s memories, and I found reading about that fascinating. Also, the concept of treating your mind like a computer and uploading programs coded specifically to manage anxiety and stress is one of the coolest things I’ve ever read about. If that were possible today, would there be need for anxiety medications? Could there be a programs designed to help with other conditions or mental illnesses?

The negative thing I have to say about Nexus is that is dragged out a lot. I thought it should have ended 75 pages sooner, because I became bored in the last few chapters. I felt like there was a lot of extra plot and dialogue that wasn’t needed. I ended up skimming the last hundred pages or so. I hate doing this, but I was quickly losing interest and I really wanted to finish the book!

All around, great characters, great themes, great conversation starter. Like I said, this is a topic that can either be done really poorly or really well, and Nexus was definitely the latter. I love a good thought-provoking sci-fi novel, so I’m really pleased with this book.

January 2017 Wrap-Up!

January Wrap-Up!

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January was a great reading month for me. I read 13 books! Most of them were poetry books, so they were quick reads, but they definitely still count. For some reason, after reading Milk and Honey last month, I cannot stop reading poetry. If anyone has poetry recommendations, please send them my way. Anyway, here’s the breakdown:

Diary of an Oxygen Thief by Anonymous (fiction). I did a full review on this book! I thought it was a great, fast read that brought a lot of the struggles of addicts/alcoholics to light. I am really happy to see a book that breaks down the stigma around addiction on the best seller list! Here is my full review: x. 4/5 stars

The Princess Saves Herself in this One by Amanda Lovelace (poetry). This was a book full of strong, feminist poems. I commend Amanda for writing about her struggles with eating disorders. Personal demons, such as that, are difficult to write about but make for very moving poetry. 4/5 stars

Sapiens by Yuval Harari (science nonfiction). I’m a biological anthropology major and this book was right up my alley. Harari writes about how Homo Sapiens outlived the other Homo species and the cultural revolution that occurred within our own species. I’d recommend this book to anyone looking to learn more about the cultural parts of human evolution. 4/5 stars

Eighteen Years by Madisen Kuhn (poetry). I wasn’t a big fan of this collection of poetry. I am guessing that I didn’t enjoy this book much because a lot of the poems were about bad breakups, which is not very relatable to me. I’m sure that if the topics of writing had resonated with me more, I would have given it a better rating. 3/5 stars.

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (YA fiction). This book has the highest of praise in the young adult community, so I was very excited to get my hands on it. I was not disappointed. I could not put this book down! It had the perfect amount of romance to make it cute and all-around happy. I’m looking forward to reading Nicola’s other book, Everything Everything! 5/5 stars

Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan (science fiction graphic novel). I can’t believe I only read one graphic novel this month! I am such a graphic novel enthusiast, but I guess this month was full of poetry books. Still, I am SO glad I picked up a copy of this because it was amazing. I just purchased Volume 2, and I’m so ready to start it. This book is for all science fiction lovers. 5/5 stars

The Chaos of Longing by K. Y., Robinson (poetry). This collection had a few poems that absolutely hit home for me, like the author was writing from inside my head. The book is split into 4 parts, but I only related to about 2 sections. Still, the half that did resonate with me were breathtaking. 4/5 stars

Bitter Sweet Love by Michael Faudet (poetry). Generally, I’m not a big fan of poetry written by men. I have no idea why, but I enjoy poems a lot more when they’re written by women. Perhaps it’s because I relate more to the struggles of women in today’s society. Still, this was a great collection. The thing is, I don’t remember it very much because I liked Michael’s other book (that will be later on this list) way more. Still, I gave it 4 stars so…I must have thought it was well worth the read! 4/5 stars

I Wrote This For For You by pleasefindthis aka Iain S. Thomas (poetry). This collection of poetry was very unique because it included photographs, taken by Jon Ellis, specifically for this book. Looking at the pictures and piecing together how they related to the words was very fun and interesting. 4/5 stars

Wild Seed by Octavia E. Butler (science fiction). I LOVE Octavia Butler. She writes the coolest, creepiest science fiction out there. Plus, she was one of the first female, African American sci-fi authors. This book was a little horrific, due to the topics it touched upon, but not gory or gross in any sense. If you haven’t read any of Octavia’s books and you’re a sci-fi fan, please pick this one or Dawn up! Here is my full review: x. 5/5 stars

Dirty Pretty Things by Michael Faudet (poetry). This was a fantastic collection of poetry that has stuck with me since I finished it 2 weeks ago. I’m going to warn you that a lot of the poems are erotic, in case that makes or breaks a book for you. This was one of the two poetry books that I absolutely loved this month. 5/5 stars

Nexus by Ramez Naam (science fiction). January was a good sci-fi month for me. This was an excellent book about the dangers of developing powerful drugs that could be used for the wrong purposes. It was very fast-paced and almost like a thriller with all of its ups and downs. My only complaint is that it was a bit too long, I felt like the ending was very dragged out and I got bored in the last 40 pages or so. 4/5 stars

Pansy by Andrea Gibson (LGBT poetry). This was an amazing collection of poetry written by a queer author about queer topics. I don’t think there was a single poem that I didn’t like. This book inspired me to find more LGBT poetry books that I’ll be reading in February, so be on the look out! This was the second out of the two 5 star poetry books that I read in January. 5/5 stars

So, that’s it! Thirteen books in January 2017! What a great way to start the new year. February has started kind of slow for me, but I’m hoping to speed up my reading pace. I’m trying to decide which books from this list are deserving of full reviews. If there’s a certain title you’d like to know more about, please shoot me an email! Cheers to a book-filled 2017!

Review- Wild Seed

Wild Seed by Octavia E. Butler

51zwsfc2vpl4.5/5 stars

Doro is a special spirit, not quite a man, but still living from body to body. He spends his many lives, spanning over centuries, working to create his own population of “gifted” people. Some of these people can hear people’s thoughts; others can move objects with their minds. Although Doro breeds many types of individuals, he has yet to find someone who is capable of living as long as him. That is, until he meets Anyanwu. Anyanwu is a healer. She is unlike any person Doro has ever bred or met. He longs to tame her and mold her into one of his people, but she is a wild seed who acts on her own will. Doro coaxes Anyanwu into his tribe, but he can never predict how long until she tries to leave, and he is forced to kill her.

I love Octavia E. Butler. In 2015, I gave a 5 star review to her Xenogenesis series, which still remains one of my favorite science fiction series. I have a lot of respect for her, as the first influential female, African American science fiction author. I go through her works slowly, to savor them, and always end up loving every one I read. She’s written so many classics and I definitely recommend checking some of her stuff out if you’re looking for a good science fiction read.

Wild Seed is truly something I’ve never read before. Like Dawn, this book has themes that center around human breeding. It’s a bit horrific to read if you think about it too much, but so captivating that it gets you lost in the pages. It brushes upon the topic of human breeding lightly enough for it to be bearable, but makes you think about the issues around it. For example, it makes you ponder the consequences of having one leader, with special powers, who is worshipped by a community as having a god-like status. I’ve never read anything else that has made me think about topics such as this.

If you’ve followed my other reviews, you probably know that I LOVE books with strong, female protagonists. Anyanwu is one of the bravest, strong-willed, open-minded, toughest characters I’ve ever read. I loved getting into her head and seeing her thought process while she figured out how to solve problems and escape Doro. Many times, she had to choose between the lesser of two evils, and I hope I would have the same rationality as her if I were put in a similar dilemma.

Doro, on the other hand, was one of the most manipulative, ill-intentioned characters I’ve ever read. I was angered and saddened by so many of his decisions and motives, but I kept reading for Anyanwu. I was rooting for her the whole time. Wild Seed had me cheering for one of the best characters I’ve ever come across, which is a trait I love in good books.

As always with Octavia E. Butler’s books, I would recommend this to all sci-fi lovers. I preferred her Xenogenesis books a bit more, because I’m a sucker for books set on other planets, but Wild Seed is also a classic to me, now.

Review: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

51zzix78yrl5/5 stars

Rosemary must escape her human life on Mars, for reasons she keeps to herself, and discovers that working on a traveling spaceship is the perfect opportunity to get away. She finds herself aboard The Wayfarer, a multi-species ship with a human captain. The Wayfarer’s crew is trained in tunneling wormholes through the fabric of space and welcomes Rosemary with open arms. They embark on a journey to a small planet in need of a wormhole and, thus, the adventures begin.

I didn’t realize I needed this book until I was 25 pages into it. I’m so glad The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet found its way to me.

To begin with, this is the best science fiction book I’ve read all year (and I read A LOT of science fiction). If you’re a fan of Star Wars or Star Trek, I’m positive that you’ll fall in love with this book just as I did. Becky Chambers truly does the genre justice; she lays out a universe in which humans travel through space alongside other species from neighboring planets. What more could you want?

To answer my own question, what I want to see in science fiction books is not only different species getting along, but different species setting up a dialogue for ideas that reflect on humanity today. Becky Chambers did just that. Rosemary and The Wayfarer‘s crew don’t just interact, as that’s the bare minimum for science fiction, they have deep conversations that create an environment for readers to reflect on themselves and their own society. To me, this is true science fiction.

I read an interview with Becky Chambers that included a discussion about her identity and how it affects the way she writes. She talked about being gay and wanting to write a world in which she, as a queer person, would be welcome. This is possibly my favorite thing that an author has ever said. The way Becky Chambers included queer individuals and relationships in The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet was not just to check the minority box off of her list, like many writers do, it was to include them in fiction because they are normal in real life. If you can’t tell, this book means a lot to me.

I am so blown away with this book and I want to share it with the world. I want to thank Becky Chambers for such an amazing science fiction read that reminded me why I love this genre so much. Please, read this book and put its sequel on your wishlist for next year.

Review- High Couch of Silistra by Janet Morris

High Couch of Silistra by Janet Morris

imgresRating: 4/5 stars

-I would like to give a big thank you to Perseid Press for the paperback copy of this book!-

The men and women living on Silistra are governed by a hierarchy of sexual desire and fertility. Infertility is a widespread issue that allows the most sexually appealing women the greatest power. Estri is among the most powerful in the land—she holds the position of the high couch of Silistra. Estri’s mother died during childbirth and she has yet to know much about her father. She is sent on a quest to find her father and discover the secrets that his kind may hold.

In my opinion, this should be a classic science fiction book, especially for those who love female protagonists. Estri is a strong woman who leads with her body and her wit. She was really fun to join on this adventure across strange lands. I thought she was by far the most interesting character in the book, so I naturally paid a lot of attention to her and was left wanting more. I love strong-minded (and, in this case, bodied) women who don’t take any bs from men to whom they don’t owe anything. Go Estri!

I also thought it was cool to hear about the customs of these different societies that Morris so brilliantly created. Estri visits a few places that each have their own customs. I’m not sure how Morris made them so unique, but she found a way to make them all intriguing.

When I got to some of the first sexual scenes, I was a bit confused. I was thinking that Estri was submitting to men as a way of giving up. I soon realized that I was thinking in the mind of someone from our world, not Silistra’s. In actuality, Estri was pleasing these men as an act of power and domination. Switching into this mindset was very freeing.

I was searching for a good science fiction read, and I definitely found it. High Couch of Silistra is full of new cultures and creatures to study. I can’t stop thinking about how I really want to meet a hulion, a big cat with wings and a mane. I definitely want to read more of The Silistra quartet and follow Estri on more adventures. If you’re a science fiction lover (especially with a passion for female protagonists), you’ll love this book.