Hello, friends! It’s been forever, but I’m currently on a break from grad school before my last two classes (!!) and guess what? It turns out that without a huge time/energy burden, I actually sometimes read books! Wild.
Also, a brief housekeeping note: I’m planning to take a look at my archives and do some cleanup there. It’s been 15 years since I started By Singing Light (ahaha, wow) and a lot has changed personally & in the world since then. I may also refresh the site design a bit since I haven’t touched it for probably 10ish years. In any case, things may look different around in the next couple of months.
So, on to the books!
The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson (adult science fiction, 2020) has a relatively simple premise: there are many worlds and each of them has a slightly different version of the same people. Some of those people can walk between worlds, thanks to a technological innovation developed by a visionary scientist. But Johnson doesn’t stop there. The inequalities that riddle the world are part of what make this process possible, as the people who walk between worlds are the ones whose counterparts have died, usually young and violently. The system chews people up and spits them out, and the main character of the book exists uneasily betwixt and between the literal and metaphorical worlds.
The Space Between Worlds is Johnson’s first published novel, and it’s a very solid debut. While I have some slight quibbles (the imagery is sometimes a little on the nose, and the ending seemed rushed), the meat of the story is complex and thoughtful. It’s possible to draw some analogies to current day people and concerns, but the world of the story feels fully realized on its own. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what comes next.
The Fire Never Goes Out by Noelle Stevenson (adult/teen memoir, 2020) popped up on my radar because I’ve been a fan of Stevenson’s work since Nimona was a webcomic. It was interesting, and sometimes sad, to see how Stevenson experienced that moment in her own life. The Fire Never Goes Out is a thoughtful exploration of identity, sexuality, and the pressures of fame at a young age. I’m glad to have read it.
The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell (juvenile fantasy, 2017) is one that I read because it’s still relatively popular at my library and I wanted to be able to do some readers advisory for it. Cowell wrote and illustrated this one and the illustrations are really striking: jagged and dark, with an underlying eeriness. As an adult reader it wasn’t my favorite, but I can see the appeal. It’s also a relatively quick read, making it a good title to hand to reluctant readers or kids who aren’t quite ready for the denser fantasy books.
Peaces (adult surreal fantasy, 2021) is Helen Oyeyemi’s latest book and it’s quite a wild ride (heheh). Full of Oyeyemi’s typical absolutely bonkers situations, this one follows Otto Shin, embarking on a magical train journey for a not-honeymoon honeymoon with his spouse, Xavier. Also, there’s a hereditary mongoose, and secrets, and the distinct possibility that Otto is constantly lying to everyone around him–including the reader.
Do you ever read a book and just marvel at the brain that produced it? How, Helen Oyeyemi? What is it like inside your mind?? (Frances Hardinge is also in this category for me.) Personally, Peaces doesn’t rank amongst my favorite Oyeyemi titles (White is For Witching and Mr. Fox) but even a not-quite-favorite Oyeyemi is still very good indeed.
For whatever reason, I sometimes love Aliette de Bodard’s work and sometimes bounce off of it really hard. Fortunately, Fireheart Tiger (adult fantasy, 2021) was in the love category for me, although it’s slight enough that I was left wanting more. The story unfolds in a really interesting way, weaving backwards and forward across the timeline. The shifting loyalties and relationships mean that the reader is trying to understand the full extent of what’s happening just as Thanh herself does. I also really loved the descriptions of the magic, wild and beautiful and dangerous all at once.
Micah: The Good Girl by Ashley Woodfolk (YA realistic fiction, 2020) is one that I’m sure I put on hold on a whim after having read one of Woodfolk’s earlier books. I’m glad I did, as Woodfolk weaves together grief, friendship, and first love in a very thoughtful and effective story. Micah is nearing the one year anniversary of her brother’s death, and the way Woodfolk portrays her grief felt very understandable and real. It reminded me a bit of The Valley and the Flood by Rebecca Mahoney, which I read last month, although that story has a mythic fantasy element to it. However, both deal with the aftermath of losing someone close to you, and what it means to come to terms with that.
I didn’t realize that this is actually the second in a series, but I suspect they stand alone relatively well and now I’m interested in going back to read the others.