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Difficult Women by Roxane Gay – A collection of stories as subversive and complex as its female protagonists

The women in these stories live lives of privilege and of poverty, are in marriages both loving and haunted by past crimes or emotional blackmail. A pair of sisters, grown now, have been inseparable ever since they were abducted together as children, and must negotiate the marriage of one of them. A woman married to a twin pretends not to realize when her husband and his brother impersonate each other. A stripper putting herself through college fends off the advances of an overzealous customer. A black engineer moves to Upper Michigan for a job and faces the malign curiosity of her colleagues and the difficulty of leaving her past behind. From a girls’ fight club to a wealthy subdivision in Florida where neighbors conform, compete, and spy on each other, Gay delivers a wry, beautiful, haunting vision of modern America reminiscent of Merritt Tierce, Jamie Quatro, and Miranda July.

My biggest thanks to Hachette New Zealand, for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The more and more I think about it, the more certain I am that Difficult Women is a masterful collection of short stories.

To describe it simply, Difficult Women is about just that – it is a collection of twenty-one short stories that are about the so-called ‘difficult women’. Underneath that though is a nuanced and complex portrayal of women in modernity – and the images are haunting and riveting, and will inevitably sear your memory.

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15

Nirvana by J.R. Stewart (Updated Version)

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When the real world is emptied of all that you love, how can you keep yourself from dependence on the virtual?

Animal activist and punk rock star Larissa Kenders lives in a dystopian world where the real and the virtual intermingle. After the disappearance of her soulmate, Andrew, Kenders finds solace by escaping to Nirvana, a virtual world controlled by Hexagon. In Nirvana, anyone’s deepest desires may be realized – even visits with Andrew.

Although Kenders knows that this version of Andrew is virtual, when he asks for her assistance revealing Hexagon’s dark secret, she cannot help but comply. Soon after, Kenders and her closest allies find themselves in a battle with Hexagon, the very institution they have been taught to trust. After uncovering much more than she expected, Kenders’ biggest challenge is determining what is real – and what is virtual.

Thank you to the publisher, author, and the team at Digiwriting for providing an updated version of the book. My review of the ARC version can be found here. 

In my review for the ARC version of Nirvana, I expressed disappointment. I believed Nirvana to be capable of greatness with its fascinating themes and ideas, and yet it missed its mark. The updated version of Nirvana, however, is a completely different book. It has more direction, more clarity, a sense of purpose, and a more distinct narrative voice. For this review, I will be drawing from the ARC version a lot as a basis of my evidence and judgments.

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19

Gambit by C.L. Denault

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In Earth’s battle-ridden future, humans have evolved. Those with extraordinary skills rise to power and fame. Those without live in poverty.

Sixteen-year-old Willow Kent believed she was normal. But when a genetically-advanced military officer shows up in her village and questions her identity, long-buried secrets begin to emerge. With remarkable skills and a shocking genetic code the Core and its enemies will do anything to obtain, Willow suddenly finds the freedom she craves slipping through her fingers. Greed, corruption, and genetic tampering threaten every aspect of her existence as she’s thrust, unwilling, into the sophisticated culture of the elite Core city. To ensure peace, she must leave the past behind, marry a man she’s never met, and submit to the authority of a relentless officer with a hidden agenda of his own.

Her life has become a dangerous game. How much will she sacrifice in order to win?

I received a copy from Patchwork Press – Cooperative via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

One of my favourite books of this year, Gambit is very different to the sort of book that I like to read. Although I may regard the emergent ‘romance-dystopia’ genre with cynical apprehension, Gambit is a fine example of a book that pulls ‘romance-dystopia’ off. With C.L. Denault’s excellent writing, this book is an exemplary balance between the two genres. With books of its ilk often forsaking its dystopian elements in favour of the romance, readers will be pleased to know that the romance in Gambit does not hinder the momentum of the plot and the characters’ developments; in fact, it made it better.

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18

The Girl’s Guide to the Apocalypse by Daphne Lamb

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Welcome to the Apocalypse. Your forecast includes acid rain, roving gangs and misplaced priorities, in this comedic take on the end of the world as we know it, from debut author Daphne Lamb.

As a self-entitled, self-involved, and ill equipped millennial, Verdell probably wouldn’t have ranked very high on the list of those most likely to survive the end of the world, but here she is anyway. Add in travelling with her work addicted boss, her boyfriend who she has “meh” feelings for, and a handful of others who had no businesses surviving as long as they have, and things aren’t exactly going as planned. But despite threats of cannibalism, infected water supplies, and possibly even mutants, Verdell is willing to put in as little effort as she can get away with to survive.

I received a copy from Patchwork Press – Cooperative via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve always approached the apocalypse genre as a psychological/sociological thing, but I was curious to read a book with a comedic take on the end of the world. From the excerpt, I expected a story where the main character might endure several hardships and obstacles, leading to some sort of self-depreciating yet witty journey of self-growth and learning how to survive through a series of fumbling and ironic outcomes. At the very minimum, I expected the main character to have something important and funny to say about the apocalypse. Or at the very, very minimum, I wanted this book to make me laugh. It is not hard to make me laugh. I am the sort of person that laughs at everything and anything. So, suffice it to say my expectations weren’t very high.

Unfortunately, The Girl’s Guide to the Apocalypse is not funny at all. 

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4

Descent by Katie O’Sullivan

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When a freak tornado devastates his Oklahoma farm, fifteen-year-old Shea moves to Cape Cod to live with a grandmother he’s never met. Struggling to make sense of his new surroundings, he meets a girl along the shore who changes his life forever.

Kae belongs to an undersea world hidden from drylanders, where bloody war rages between opposing clans. A fragile peace accord hinges on marriage between the royal families, but treachery and magick lurk in every shadow.

With Kae’s help, Shea discovers his true heritage and finds that his destiny lies somewhere far below the ocean’s surface.

I received a copy from Patchwork Press – Cooperative via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

With the ocean covering seventy percent of Earth, the deepest part of the ocean reaching eleven kilometres in depth and most ocean species have yet to be discovered, the ocean is the perfect place to craft an imaginative and mysterious world uniquely different to our own. And mermaids. Everyone knows about mermaids. When I was young, after watching The Little Mermaid, I wanted to be a mermaid. With the palpable absence of mermaids in fiction, Descent by Katie O’Sullivan was a pleasant discovery, and a book I certainly had to read.

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