Reading Challenge: Vorkosigan Saga Project

Last year in 2016, I joined the lovely Ju and Steph in reading all the of Twelve Planets, a project they called A Journey Through Twelve Planets. It was manageable as it was one book a month and it worked nicely, and each book, of course, was well written and enjoyable.

For 2017 I have already committed to reading two books a month to expand my knowledge of women of speculative fiction. One of these books is ‘Shards of Honor’ by Lois McMaster Bujold. I’ve always heard how brilliant The Vorkosigan Saga is. I’ve many friends who re and re-read them, and who go to all lengths to get their hands on the new ARC when another book comes out.

So I’m finally going to read them all. One a month, or a few novellas/short stories a month, as detailed below – all the way through to mid-2018. I’m very happy to be joined by Tsana Reads and Reviews and together we’ll do a summery post after each one. Tsana comes from having read them all before so we’ll offer both sides of view, and as the months go on, be able to discuss more and more of the worldbuilding and characters.

February
Shards of Honor

March
Barrayar

April
The Warrior’s Apprentice

May
“The Mountains of Mourning”
“Labyrinth”
“The Borders of Infinity”

June
The Vor Game

July
Cetaganda

August
Ethan of Athos

September
Brothers in Arms

October
Mirror Dance

November
Memory

December
Komarr

January
A Civil Campaign
“Winterfair Gifts”

February
Falling Free

March
Diplomatic Immunity

April
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance

May
CryoBurn

June
Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen

Review: Nasty Women edited by 404 Ink

nastywomenPublished by: 404 Ink
ISBN 13: 9780995623828
Published: March 2017
Pages: 256
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Publisher Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Recommended

Nasty Women was a project on Kickstarter that ran through January 2017 after commissioning over 20 stories from women on both sides of the Atlantic in the last few weeks of 2016. They’re aiming for a release date to fall on the 8th March, International Women’s Day, 2017 and are well on their way to meeting that goal.

The contributors are:
Alice Tarbuck, Becca Inglis, Belle Owen, Chitra Ramaswamy, Christina Neuwirth, Claire Heuchan, Elise Hines, Jen McGregor, Joelle Owusu, Jona Kottler, Kaite Welsh, Katie Muriel, Kristy Diaz, Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! (in conversation with Sasha de Buyl-Pisco), Laura Lam, Laura Waddell, Mel Reeve, Nadine Aisha Jassat, Ren Aldridge of Petrol Girls, Rowan C. Clarke, Sim Bajwa, and Zeba Talkhani.

From them we have a collection of essays from these women who share their experiences over a variety of topics. Taken from the blurb; ‘From working class experience to racial divides in Trump’s America, being a child of immigrants, to sexual assault, Brexit, pregnancy, contraception, identity, family, finding a voice online, role models and more, Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!, Zeba Talkhani, Chitra Ramaswamy are just a few of the incredible women who share their experience here.’

I pledged for this project instantly because I adore the writing of Laura Lam and skipped straight to her essay to start off with. It’s a devastating story about the women in her family – how her mother grew up under the frightening rule of her mother, and the mother before her. It looks at what was considered the norm of that time, the stigma associated with mental health, and how it continues through the generations if not acted on with determination. It also speaks of a book Lam is writing with her mother that sounds like it’ll be a hard but worthwhile read – I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

Onto the other essays. Not all are included in this review edition – reading those will have to wait until International Woman’s Day – but each and every one so far are as poignant and captivating as Lam’s was. The first piece by Katie Muriel is endlessly quotable in regards to the current political rumblings in America – ‘Sometimes, however, peace has to take a holiday. Sometimes, there are battles to be fought.‘ It speaks of how politics can divide a family, and how awful some people can decide they have the right to be, even to their own family members.

The next essay discusses what it’s like to be a Black woman from Glasgow, and what this results in – white people feeling they can tough her hair as if she’s from a petting zoo, or people asking increasingly incredulous questions about where she’s really from, treading delicately as if they could be misunderstood as being racist. Except it is racist. Full stop.

Jen McGregor’s essay really resonated with me, as a person who’s constantly being told by doctors that I can’t make a decision about my own body when it comes to procreation. We need more stories like McGregor’s – we need more discussion about how we can barely decide things for ourselves and even then with medical guidance, tiny decisions can have such massive ramifications. McGregor’s health issues are severe and yet it still takes until she’s 31 until she gets the surgery she knew she wanted from a much younger age. I’ve recently turned 30, and I’m currently on a waitlist for the same surgery and even without the added bonus of osteopenia I can’t wait to finally gain the the control and serenity over my body I’ve always wanted. I too have been told that even when I’m in my 30s, surgeons may refuse the referral until I have a husband who can confirm he too doesn’t want children. Which makes me so mad I can’t even formulate an apt sentence. It’s ridiculous.

I won’t go through all of the essays as I’ve given more than enough away. I highly recommend this book as it’s easy reading – or at least easy for such hard topics. There’s trigger warnings, and the essays are written in such a warm way as if we are allies (and I hope we all are!) and they’re sharing a story between friends. United we stand, and all that. This is an important book, and I’m so glad it exists. So many of us reading will finally think ‘oh, I’m not the only one.’

Review: The House of Lies by Renee McBryde

houseofreneePublished by: Hachette Australia
ISBN: 9780733637216
ISBN 13: 9780733637216
Published: February 2017
Pages: 303
Format reviewed: Paperback from publisher
Site: Publisher Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five

Renee is brought up in one of the rougher parts of Sydney by her young mother and nanna – her father is in jail for murder, and although she has a stand-in grandfather for most of her life, things aren’t exactly stable. Her mother prefers to go out drinking and dancing through Renee’s formative years, and when her nanna dies suddenly of cancer in her early years of high school Renee is at even more of a loss than usual.

As she gets older, Renee struggles with a lot of things – school is of huge concern even though she’s smart, because children can be so cruel and Renee just wants to fit in. Aside from the family troubles, Renee struggles with her weight and mental health and can only bully and threaten and plead with those around her for what she wants – but never getting what she needs. Although her mother sometimes has good advice (in how she doesn’t care what job Renee gets as long as she’s happy), Renee wants to hear her mother proud of her grades and encouraging her to be a lawyer instead.

This is a hard read because it certainly gets a whole lot heavier before we get hints of the goodness. Renee feels pushed out of her family when her mum falls pregnant to the latest man in her life. She meets up again with her father. She goes through abusive relationships and suffers through events that she continues to blame herself for many years after – even though she is the victim.

Luckily, there is hope and the book ends with Renee in a healthier space, seeing a mental health specialist, and then an epilogue of where she is now. We live in the same state – Renee now lives in Alice Springs and works in community services (more specifically in child protection) – something she could truly excel at as in some of the rougher areas of the Territory, the kids don’t listen to adults who don’t truly understand what they’ve been through.

This is a hard, heavy and depressing book to read, but it also has such weight and value in its pages. There is no shame in lives like Renee’s, and only healthy thinking and supportive discussion can hopefully help people walk away from the violence and seek help earlier. This is recommended reading (with trigger warnings for many things – rape, abuse, violence…) and though it’s a hard slog, it’s a story that needs to be told and McBryde does so in an engaging and devastating way.

Review: My Name is Victoria by Lucy Worsley

victorialwPublished by: Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN: 1408882019
ISBN 13: 9781408882016
Published: March 2017
Pages: 368
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Related Reviews: Eliza Rose by Lucy Worsley

Although I love Lucy Worsley from her BBC documentaries, I knew I’d love this book as soon as I knew of its existence as her first fiction book was one of my favourites in 2016. In that book we learnt of Henry VIII and his many wives. In this, we learn of Queen Victoria, from when she’s about 11 years old and through her depressing teenage years in the leadup to her coronation.

A quick look on wikipedia confirms that the book gets the majority of the history right (and it’s sad I had to use wiki, but my schooling unfortunately didn’t cover England which is why I’m so glad for historical fiction today!) Without a father from a very young age, Princess Victoria was cared for mainly by a German governess, Lehzen. She was controlled by her mother, the Duchess, and Sir John Conroy – the comptroller (as he served with Victoria’s father in the army). Sir John brings his own daughter in to befriend (and spy) on poor Victoria, as they are the same age, and his daughter’s name being Victoire – though called Miss V to show her place in the world. Differing from history however, in this book we see the two young girls strike up a real friendship. Miss V is pulled left and right by both worlds – hoping to please her father and believing they must do what’s right for the princess (even if she isn’t aware of it), and then also truly understanding her friend’s mind, and wondering whether her father really is in the right.

The next part of the book jumps ahead several years, and we see Miss V firmly entrenched in Victoria’s world – now there’s no hesitation on where her loyalty lies – and it’s the true loyalty of a friend, where she’s content to dress plainly, and speak with only Victoria’s feelings at the forefront of her mind. Their friendship is lovely to witness, and it’s one sturdy constant in Victoria’s shaky world of a mother and comptroller she can’t trust, and the heartache of being in your teens, growing steadily closer to holding the crown someday, and having your affections toyed with by young men.

The plot (though governed by history) putters along well and the pacing suits the interest – for example, how I said before of how it jumps ahead a few years. Worsley’s writing style makes the history come alive as we get to understand it from a human perspective rather than dates and facts, and it makes us care about those involved.

The typeface and small illustrations through the book do it service, and along with Eliza Rose (and hopefully others Worsley will bring out in future), these will someday make a lovely set on a young reader’s bookcase.

With an author’s note it’s easy to understand the minor changes throughout the book. As is with any subject, anything can be taught if the holder of the knowledge is passionate about it – the reader or listener can’t help but be caught up in the lesson.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I can’t wait to get my hands on anything else Worlsey writes.

Review: Home by Nnedi Okorafor

bintihomeSeries: Binti #2
Published by: Macmillan-Tor/Forge
ISBN: 0765393107
ISBN 13: 9780765393104
Published: January 2017
Pages: 160
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five

The second in the series, this novella-length piece continues Binti’s story. In the first, we meet Binti who is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University – an amazing place of study that has a human population of 5%. To say that leaving her family and her people behind is hard is an understatement, it simply isn’t done and there’s little chance of going back thanks to the shame she’s now brought her family for leaving, and utterly ruining her marriage prospects. This is soon the least of her worries though, as the journey to the uni takes a turn for the worst no one could have expected…

We now see Binti a year on from the first in the series, and she’s learnt utterly amazing things during her time at the university. She finds maths soothing (such a foreign concept to me) though this is quickly turned on its head as it does something she’s not expecting. From this, she decides she needs to return home to complete her pilgrimage and she’ll take her friend, Okwu home with her, as an ambassador for their people thanks to the recent peace treaty – none of Okwu’s people have been on Earth since the war (more than one hundred years ago) and from what we see in the first 15 pages… perhaps Okwu’s nature isn’t exactly the type to take on a first trip home…

As we saw in the first book, Okorafor’s words are beyond amazing. In such a short novella we get such a masterpiece of worldbuilding and character study – reversing what we saw in the first of a coming-of-age novel to now the what does it mean to go home, what does home mean, and what does it mean to be family – especially when cultures are involved where family means so much. Both are powerful pieces, and Binti herself is a joy to behold.