Book Review: The Sudden Appearance of Hope, Claire North (2016)

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

Hope Arden is one character you won’t soon forget.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for suicide, rape, and general violence.)

And at Edinburgh Waverley, I bought a notebook from the stationery shop, and a bag of pens, and as the engine blared its victory over inertia and the train began to crawl south, back to England, back to the warm, back to Derby and my sister who waited, I began to write.
I wrote of the past.

Of the things that had brought me here.

Of being forgotten, and being remembered.

Of diamonds in Dubai, fires in Istanbul. Of walks through Tokyo, the mountains of Korea, the islands of the southern seas. Of America and the greyhound bus, of Filipa and Parker, Gauguin and Byron14.

I wrote, to make my memory true.

The past, living.

Now.

Here, in these words.

I wrote to make myself real.

— 4.5 stars —

When she was sixteen years old, Hope Arden began to disappear – from peoples’ memories.

It started small: teachers would forget to pester Hope for her homework; friends stopped saving her a seat in the cafeteria. One day, she came home only to find her mother clearing out her room, bagging up her belongings to donate to a charity shop; for a second, she forgot that Hope still lived with them.

Eventually people ceased to remember Hope altogether: a minute or two after turning away, she’d slip from their minds like a shadow. Details of their seconds-old interaction with her would linger, but the girl at the center of the memory was nowhere to be found. Hope’s parents held out the longest, but one day even they forget their oldest daughter. You could say that Hope ran away from home that day, but is it still home if you’re a perpetual stranger?

Being unmemorable is more challenging than you might think. Reliable health care, housing, gainful employment, continuing education – all of it was beyond Hope’s reach. And so she did the only thing she could with this new ability-slash-curse: become the best damn thief she could. Like her anonymity, Hope’s career as a criminal started small: shoplifting led to pick pocketing led to elaborate jewel heists that required months of planning. If she wasn’t always a consummate professional, at least she could fall back on her forgettable-ness. The few times she was arrested, all Hope had to do was wait for someone to leave her in a room, alone…and forget all about her.

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Book Review: The Fireman, Joe Hill (2016)

Monday, May 16th, 2016

Joe Hill strikes again!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for racist/sexist language, violence, and sexual assault.)

It was them making the light. They were all of them tattooed with loops and whorls of Dragonscale, which glowed like fluorescent paint under a black light, hallucinatory hues of cherry wine and blowtorch blue. When they opened their mouths to sing, Harper glimpsed light painting the insides of their throats, as if each of them were a kettle filled with embers. […]

Harper felt she had never seen anything so frightening or beautiful.

“You know what the kids say.”
“I have no idea what the kids say. What do they say?”
“She came back from the eighties to save mankind. Martha Quinn is our only hope.”

The hens are clucking. Harper thought it would be a toss-up, which term for women she hated more: bitch or hen. A hen was something you kept in a cage, and her sole worth was in her eggs. A bitch, at least, had teeth.

The year is 2018-ish (if Martha Quinn’s approximate age is a reliable guidepost), and the world is on fire. A fungus called Draco incendia trychophyton – Dragonscale in lay terms, ‘scale for short – is making the rounds, leaving ashes and chaos in its wake. Once it finds a host, the spore spreads and propagates, infiltrating its victim’s blood, tissue, and organs – including the brain, with which it forms an intimate bond. The first sign of infection is the strangely beautiful markings it leaves on its host’s skin – dark tattoos that shimmer with flecks of gold.

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Book Review: Sleeping Giants (Themis Files #1), Sylvain Neuvel (2016)

Monday, April 25th, 2016

Already jonesing for the sequel!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Possible trigger warning for medical rape.)

My deepest wish is for this discovery to redefine alterity for all of us.
—Alterity?
The concept of “otherness”. What I am is very much a function of what I am not. If the “other” is the Muslim world, then I am the Judeo-Christian world. If the other is from thousands of light-years away, I am simply human. Redefine alterity and you can erase boundaries.

Definitely a girl! I couldn’t stop grinning when they brought the chest in. Her breasts aren’t that large, given her size, but they’re still bigger than my car. Perky … She must have been the envy of all the giant girl[s] back in her day.

—You’ve seen her a thousand times. She’s blindfolded holding a scale in one hand and a sword in the other.
—Is that who we call Lady Justice?
—More or less.

On her eleventh birthday, little Rose Franklin takes her new bike out for a spin in Deadwood, South Dakota…and ends up falling into what appears to be a massive crater. Only the walls are decorated in mysterious hieroglyphics, and at the bottom sits a giant metal hand.

Seventeen years later, Dr. Rose Franklin – now a physicist – finds herself at the University of Chicago, in charge of studying the very hand that cradled her so many years ago. It turns out that the hand is just one piece of a much larger puzzle (a message? a statue? a spaceship? a robot? all of the above?), and someone – or something – scattered the other dozen-odd pieces around the globe. Primed to react to argon-37, some of the pieces have begun “activating” now that humans have discovered how to “tap the power of the atom,” as it were, causing metal body parts to ascend to the earth’s surface from their hiding places some 900 feet underground. A phenomenon U.S. Army pilots Kara Resnick and Ryan Mitchell stumble onto quite unwittingly when their plane loses power over a pistachio field in Harran, Turkey – and crash lands right next to a forearm.

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Book Review: Join, Steve Toutonghi (2016)

Monday, April 18th, 2016

Quirky and thought-provoking, with a darkly humorous streak.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ebook for review though Edelweiss. Trigger warning for offensive language.)

That kind of intimacy among drives is mocked by solos. Before most solo resentment hardened into religious resistance, there was a famous sketch comedy show, Howard, Howard, Howard, Howard, Howard, Howard, and Howard, that parodied the closeness. The seven Howards would stand in a circle, five men and two women, picking one another’s noses.

“In the beginning,” Rope Three says, “when Join was first introduced, and for a long time after, I assumed we’d all join. That we’d all become one single individual. Can you imagine that? No more other.”

Set in a distant (?) future that’s both inconceivable and all-too-familiar, Join takes the “soul mate” concept to the next level through its innovative “join” technology. Individuals – the vast majority of whom have already had their brains hacked into and connected to the biowave network via implants called “caddys” – can choose to join with one another, creating a single consciousness that lives on even after the death of a member (“drive”). Joins often start out as pairs – i.e., married couples – who later join with younger “honeymooner” couples. As the various drives work and save for additional licensing fees, the join can continue to accumulate more drives, whether they choose to merge with existing joins or court more desirable “solos.”

However, twenty is the upper limit for joins; after this, the competing perspectives can cause disorders in the join, such as the rare but terrifying meme virus. Likewise, the join must be consensual throughout the procedure and recovery/integration period; if one of or more the drives changes her mind, it could cause a “flip” – a progressive and fatal disorder.

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Book Review: Dreamology, Lucy Keating (2016)

Friday, April 15th, 2016

Would make a most excellent ’80s teen movie!

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

I MADE HIM up. At least that’s what I always told myself. The combination of all my childhood adorations, combined into one perfect guy. The trouble is, I was wrong. Because right now Max is sitting directly across the quad from me, reading our psych textbook and pausing every few minutes to type something on his phone. He’s wearing a heather-gray T-shirt and I want to go over and sit on his lap.

In this moment, watching Max, I picture my heart as one of Jane’s beloved fish. How many ways could it possibly be murdered before Max is through with me? I picture it now, swimming with a bunch of other little heart muscles down a stream, before they are all caught up in a net, jumping and wiggling around.

Alice and Max have been dreaming of each other since they were children. They’ve traveled the (dream) world together. They’ve had food fights at the Met; played games of Jenga with life-sized foam bricks; boogie boarded down Nan’s grand staircase; and dined on chocolate Legos (all the better to build castles with!). For the past eleven years, they’ve been the one constant, comforting, dependable thing in each others’ lives. Ever since Alice’s mom abandoned the family to study primates in Uganda (and then Madagascar), and Max’s older sister Lila died in a drunk driving accident. Ever since the nightmares began, and their parents enrolled them in the brain mapping study at the Center for Dream Discovery.

Dreams and reality collide when Alice’s father moves the family back to Boston and into her recently deceased Nan’s two-hundred-year-old townhouse. For there, standing in the doorway of her Psych 201 class at Bennett Academy, is Alice’s dream boy. There are just three teeny tiny little problems, though: 1) Max refuses to acknowledge their connection; 2) and already has an IRL girlfriend named Celeste; and 3) as their waking and sleeping lives intersect, Alice and Max begin to have trouble distinguishing reality from fantasy.

Alice is convinced that the answers are hidden in the files of the seemingly-sketchy Dr. Petermann, and the research he conducted on them all those years ago. With the help of Max; her NYC BFF Sophie; and her new Boston bud, Oliver, can Lucy set things right – without sacrificing the boy of her dreams?

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Book Review: Version Control, Dexter Palmer (2016)

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

Intelligent and provocative; as much about humans & our institutions as the space-time continuum.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ebook for review through Edelweiss. There’s a clearly marked, mild spoil warning near the end of this review.)

The compelling story of a couple living in the wake of a personal tragedy. She is a star employee of an online dating company, while he is a physicist, performing experiments that, if ever successful, may have unintended consequences, altering the nature of their lives—and perhaps of reality itself.

Rebecca Wright has gotten her life back, finding her way out of grief and depression following a personal tragedy years ago. She spends her days working in customer support for the Internet dating site where she first met her husband. However, she has a persistent, strange sense that everything around her is somewhat off-kilter: she constantly feels as if she has walked into a room and forgotten what she intended to do there; on TV, the President seems to be the wrong person in the wrong place; and each night she has disquieting dreams that may or may not be related to her husband Philip’s pet project. Philip’s decade-long dedication to the causality violation device (which he would greatly prefer you do not call a “time machine”) has effectively stalled his career and made him a laughingstock in the physics community. But he may be closer to success than either of them knows or imagines . . .

(Synopsis via Goodreads.)

Version Control is a difficult book to review, if only because it’s so damn smart: complex, richly layered, and filled with nuance. The time travel sure complicates matters – if a character travels back in time and picks at a thread that undoes his very existence, how does he go back in time to begin with?; paradoxes, yo! – but the real backbone of this story is Palmer’s insight into humans and our relationships with one another.

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Book Review: The Girl from Everywhere, Heidi Heilig (2016)

Monday, February 15th, 2016

[Insert Fangirling Gif Here]

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review through Edelweiss.)

Nix’s life began in Honolulu in 1868. Since then she has traveled to mythic Scandinavia, a land from the tales of One Thousand and One Nights, modern-day New York City, and many more places both real and imagined. As long as he has a map, Nix’s father can sail his ship, The Temptation, to any place, any time. But now he’s uncovered the one map he’s always sought—1868 Honolulu, before Nix’s mother died in childbirth. Nix’s life—her entire existence—is at stake. No one knows what will happen if her father changes the past. It could erase Nix’s future, her dreams, her adventures . . . her connection with the charming Persian thief, Kash, who’s been part of their crew for two years. If Nix helps her father reunite with the love of his life, it will cost her her own.

(Synopsis via Goodreads.)

Heidi Heilig’s debut novel (dear gods, can this really be her first novel? it’s so damn shiny!) The Girl from Everywhere is the sort of book that makes me wish I was a more eloquent writer – if only so I could craft a review that does it justice. As it is, I’m fighting the urge to post a whole slew of my favorite Firefly gifs and call it a day.

Instead of the usual review, allow me to bullet point this bad girl. (The bullet points keep me on point and spoiler-free.) Here are twelve reasons why you should read The Girl from Everywhere, like, yesterday.

1. The seamless blend of reality and fantasy.

The Girl from Everywhere is nothing if not an epic mashup of genres – and some of my favorites, to boot. Time travel screams SF to me, and yet Slate’s ability to Navigate is also wonderfully fantastical. We have historical fiction and even some travel writing in the Hawaiian backdrop, and along with more mundane settings, like contemporary New York City, The Temptation also visits places that only exist in myth.

Though Slate is the one able to break through the Margins of a map, to reach a different time and place, it’s Nix’s knowledge of history and mythology that truly steers the ship. Many of The Temptation’s voyages are in pursuit of the 1868 Honolulu map – or rather, in search of items that might make their quest more fruitful and convenient: a never-ending pitcher of wine from Greece, a bottomless bag from 1600s Wales, an army of terra cotta warriors from the Qin dynasty.

So very much to savor and explore after the story’s over and the wait for the sequel is driving you bonkers!

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Book Review: The Unfinished World: And Other Stories, Amber Sparks (2016)

Friday, February 12th, 2016

The Unfinished World: Sorrowful to the End

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Trigger warning for rape.)

It just goes to show, people said later. It just goes to show how fairy tales always stop too soon in the telling. Others said it was never a fairy tale at all. Anyone could see that. They were all too lovely, too obviously doomed. But the wisest said, that’s exactly what a fairy tale is. The happily-ever-after is just a false front. It hides the hungry darkness inside.

Sometimes he wonders if it would really be so bad, letting people flood into history like a tidal wave and sweep away the worst of it. Sure, the paradoxes would destroy us, but so what? Did a world that let happen the Holocaust and Hiroshima and the Trail of Tears and Stalin and Genghis Khan and Pol Pot deserve to be spared?

Every death is a love story. It’s the goodbye part, but the love is still there, wide as the world.

When I requested a copy of The Unfinished World: And Other Stories on Edelweiss, I thought I was getting the debut effort of io9 editor Charlie Jane Anders. I managed to confuse All the Birds in the Sky and The Unfinished World, probably on account of the covers are vaguely similar and both books come out the same week. But no matter: The Unfinished World was on my wishlist too, and even though it wasn’t quite what I was expecting – it’s a little more surreal than SF, time travel notwithstanding – it’s an enchanting collection of stories just the same.

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Book Review: Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1), Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff (2015)

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

Can’t Stop the Signal

five out of five stars

CitB: stay on task, grasshopper. we let the Alexander burn us out of the sky, your red hot love will be subsumed by a bigger, hotter flame

ByteMe: how do you even function in society?

CitB: it’s a struggle

Before this moment, I have never wished to be something other than what I am.

Normally I try not to let myself get swept up in all the excitement over the Next Big Book; I’ve been burned one (or fifteen) times too many. But Illuminae? Deserves all the hype and then some. It’s a twisty-turny, roller coaster ride with a little something for everyone: action, adventure, romance, suspense, science fiction, horror. Zombies, spaceships, and an insane artificial intelligence. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The story starts with a bang – literally. The year is 2075, and the planet Kerenza is under attack. An illegal mining colony located far from the core, Kerenza is the site of a power struggle between two mega-corps: Wallace Ulyanov Consortium (WUC), which operates Kerenza, and its competitor, BeiTech Industries. Rather than report Kerenza’s illicit activities to the United Terran Authority (UTA) and bury the WUC in fines, BeiTech chooses a more lucrative and diabolical route: kill everyone on Kerenza and steal the planet for itself. Since it’s an illegal settlement, chances are that the WUC will write off the loss rather than report it to the UTA. That’s BeiTech’s gamble, anyway, and it’s a safe one. Only they didn’t wager on there being any survivors.

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Book Review: The Gods of HP Lovecraft, edited by Aaron J. French (2015)

Friday, January 15th, 2016

A Solid Collection of Stories Rooted in the Lovecraft Mythos

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program. Trigger warning for rape and animal abuse.)

Confession time: I’m not a fan of H.P. Lovecraft. I’m not not a fan, I just know very little about his work. Most of my limited knowledge comes from the recent World Fantasy Awards controversy (which, I must admit, doesn’t exactly make me want to run out and buy copy of The Complete Works of H.P. Lovecraft), and that one episode of Supernatural (which, as it just so happened, TNT reran this morning. Serendipity!)

I am, however, I huge Seanan McGuire fangirl, and it’s her contribution that sold me on this anthology. (Her short stories in particular are phenomenal, and “Down, Deep Down, Below the Waves” is no exception.) I’m glad, too, because The Gods of HP Lovecraft is a pretty solid collection of science fiction stories. As you can see, I rated everything a 4 or 5, which is pretty impressive; usually anthologies are more of a mixed bag for me. The individual summaries are relatively vague and un-spoilery, but please skip them if you’d rather read this book with fresh eyes.

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Book Review: Wolf By Wolf (Wolf By Wolf #1), Ryan Graudin (2015)

Monday, October 19th, 2015

“The wolves of war are gathering…”

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

Once upon a different time, there was a girl who lived in a kingdom of death. Wolves howled up her arm. A whole pack of them – made of tattoo ink and pain, memory and loss. It was the only thing about her that ever stayed the same.

Her story begins on a train.

Babushka – the one who gave her purpose.

Mama – the one who gave her life.

Miriam – the one who gave her freedom.

Aaron-Klaus – the one who gave her a mission.

Vlad – the one who gave her pain.

These were the names she whispered in the dark.

These were the pieces she brought back into place.

These were the wolves she rode to war.

An exhilarating and imaginative fusion of alternate history, science fiction, and historical fiction, Ryan Graudin’s Wolf By Wolf mines the many what ifs? surrounding World War II: What if the United States had held fast to an isolationist foreign policy? What if the Hitler had successfully executed Operation Sea Lion? What if the combined forces of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan had won the war, painting most of Europe and parts of Asia and Africa red? What if Nazi scientists successfully found a way of “curing” Untermensch, making them at least appear more perfectly Aryan on the surface? What if these experiments surpassed even Dr. Mengele’s wildest dreams, creating mutants who are able to change their skin at will, the way you or I would change our clothes?

While the first three scenarios were arguably possible at one point or another in history – and Nazi scientists did indeed try to tinker with eye color – that last what if is what catapults Wolf By Wolf into the realm of science fiction/fantasy. And is it glourious. (Misspelling intentional.)

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Mini-Reviews: Glitches and The Queen’s Army, Marissa Meyer (2011/2012)

Friday, October 16th, 2015

four out of five stars

Recently orphaned in a hover accident, we’re introduced to eleven-year-old Cinder as she travels from France to New Beijing. She is accompanied by her adoptive father Garan, a kindly but preoccupied scientist. The surgery that saved her life also left her with two synthetic limbs, and a netscreen where her memories should be. Cinder is a cyborg, in a world that doesn’t think too highly of them. (In a word, cyborgs are considered property.) Shortly after her arrival, Garan falls ill with Letumosis, leaving Cinder in the “care” of her cruel and bitter stepmother Adri, who already has two young daughters to care for.

Glitches is a nice way to kill time while you wait not-so-patiently for the next book in the series to come out. While enjoyable, it doesn’t really tell us anything that we don’t already know or can’t otherwise infer from Cinder. For example, I had hoped that we’d get a glimpse of Adri before she turned evil – that smiling, happy woman Cinder marvels over in the family’s early photographs – but not so much. The story gives a little context for Adri’s unhappiness – Garan is frequently absent, frittering time away on useless projects as the family slips further and further into debt – but at the end of the day, she’s still a nasty bigot. Ditto: Pearl, who’s already inherited her mother’s general awfulness.

Though it’s a prequel to Cinder – Book #1 in Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles series – Glitches is probably best read after Cinder.

(This review is also available on Library Thing and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

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Book Review: The Unquiet, Mikaela Everett (2015)

Monday, October 12th, 2015

Child Assassins & Parallel Earths? Sign Me Up!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for violence, including child abuse, domestic violence, and sexual assault.)

How do you climb back into the sky when you have already fallen from it?

“Let me be weak and know my flaws. Let me love and be afraid. Let me be foolish and sad, so that I can say I was strong. I was beautiful. I was a fighter. I was fearless.”

Mikaela Everett’s debut novel is out of this world – literally. The universe of The Unquiet is home to two Earths, Earth I and Earth II: the original and its alternate. (“Duplicates” is the PC term.) Each planet looks the same – mirror images of one another – and yet, on an individual basis, they offer two ways for a single story to play out (to paraphrase Lirael). John Smith might be a happily married accountant with a dog, two children, and a suburban bungalow on Earth I, while his alternate, having chosen a different path in life, is a struggling musician with a trail of broken hearts in his wake.

Your alternate is very much like you, but also not; twins raised separately, worlds apart. The ultimate cosmic experiment in nature versus nurture.

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Book Review: The Scorpion Rules (Prisoners of Peace), Erin Bow (2015)

Monday, September 21st, 2015

The Twilight of Your Love

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review though NetGalley. Trigger warning for torture. This review contains clearly marked spoilers.)

I’m not a cruel man, Talis is recorded as saying. Only rarely is the next bit quoted: I mean, technically I’m not a man at all.

I was born to a crown. This was my crown – a cage for the head.

It’s a strange word, “twilight.” It makes me think of endings, of things done or left undone, of things over, of evening. But there are two twilights in every day, and one of them does not foretell darkness, but dawn. In this twilight, something new was opening up before me.

Dear Potential Readers: Do not judge this book by its cover. (Possibly Unpopular Opinion Time: I kind of hate it.) Take the publisher’s synopsis with a spoonful of salt. Forget everything you think and know and feel about love triangles, Strong Female Leads, and the Three Laws of Robotics. Unpack your expectations and leave them at the door. The Scorpion Rules is an inventive, unique spin on the YA scifi/dystopia genre that subverts and upends existing tropes and conventions. IT IS DAZZLING.

Set four hundred+ years in the future, the world of The Scorpion Rules is one both painfully familiar and foreign to our own. Climate change caused the polar ice caps to melt, leading to massive flooding, which in turn caused wide scale displacement, poverty, and food shortages. As borders shifted and disappeared altogether, wars raged over rapidly diminishing resources, water chief among them. Humans were quickly destroying each other – and the planet. The United Nations tasked Talis, one of their top Artificial Intelligences, with finding a solution. They didn’t expect him to take over the world.

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Book Review: Falling in Love with Hominids, Nalo Hopkinson (2015)

Friday, August 14th, 2015

Falling in love with hominids – despite our many failings.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for sexual assault. The individual story summaries contain general plot details and/or vague spoilers. If you’re rather approach the collection with unsullied eyes, skip these.)

Millie liked sleeping with the air on her skin, even though it was dangerous out of doors. It felt more dangerous indoors, what with everyone growing up.
(“The Easthound”)

“Who knows what a sea cucumber thinks of the conditions of its particular stretch of ocean floor?”
(“Message in a Bottle”)

Confession time: This is my very first time reading Nalo Hopkinson, despite the fact that I’ve collected several of her novels over the years. (So many books, so little time!) Given how much I enjoyed Falling in Love with Hominids, I aim to rectify this ASAP.

Falling in Love with Hominids is Hopkinson’s second collection of short fiction, published some fourteen years after Skin Folk. She’s also edited/contributed to four others: Whispers from the Cotton Tree Root: Caribbean Fabulist Fiction (2000); Mojo: Conjure Stories (2003); So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy (2004); and Tesseracts Nine: New Canadian Speculative Fiction (2005). Born in Jamaica and raised in a middle/creative class literary environment, Hopkinson moved to Toronto at the age of sixteen and currently lives in Riverside, California. Her work often draws on Caribbean history and language, and exhibits wonderful diversity: gender, race, sexuality, nationality, you name it.

These hallmarks are on full display in Falling in Love with Hominids, which features eighteen new and previously published tales. An eclectic mix of fantasy, science fiction, magical realism, fairy tale retellings, and the outright absurd, the stories found here are both highly entertaining and marvelously profound. The protagonists grapple with a variety of issues, from the mundane to the otherworldly: navigating the perilous landscape of adolescence; the politics of black hair; sexual abuse and assault; racism, misogyny, and homophobia; grief and loss; what it means to be human (and whether this status can even be relegated to humans); and the possibilities of alien visitation and botanic sentience.

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Book Review: Waiting for the Machines to Fall Asleep, Peter Öberg, ed. (2015)

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

A Mostly-Solid Batch of Swedish Speculative Fiction with a Few Standouts

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review from the publisher. Trigger warning for rape and violence.)

Short story collections are always a little tricky to rate, especially when there are a number of different contributors. In Waiting for the Machines to Fall Asleep, there are exactly twenty-six. The unifying factor? All are Swedish authors, and the anthology has a speculative fiction/scifi/fantastical bent. Keeping with the title, most of the contributions are science fiction, or at least science fiction-y, with robots and AI figuring into many of the plots. As promised, steampunk horses (in an old timey Western setting, no less!) and sassy goblins also make an appearance.

The result is a mostly-solid mix of speculative fiction, though the odd fantasy/fantastical stories felt a bit out of place and disrupted the overall feel of the collection. As usually happens with anthologies, I enjoyed some stories more than others; there are a few that I absolutely fell in love with, and will no doubt revisit again in the future (“The Rats” in particular) and, on the opposite end of the spectrum, I DNF’ed two of the tales (“Melody of the Yellow Bard,” which is way too wordy and could benefit from a more ruthless round of editing; and “The Philosopher’s Stone,” which seems like a perfectly fine story but just wasn’t for me).

Many of the pieces fall somewhere in the middle, with quite a few 3- and 4-star ratings, and a smattering of 2-stars.

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Book Review: The Library at Mount Char, Scott Hawkins (2015)

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

How do I love thee? Let me catalog the ways.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program. Trigger warning for rape and other forms of violence.)

I’m going to break with my usual review format and skip the plot summary altogether. The synopsis provided by the publisher does a lovely job summarizing the story – and without dropping any spoilers, which is more than I can trust myself to do. (I’M SO WEAK, YOU GUYS.) Instead, here are twelve things I love and adore and cherish about The Library at Mount Char, which is everything I wanted and more. One for each catalog, natch.

1. Carolyn, who is best described as the love child of Beatrix Kiddo and Amy Elliott Dunne.

To say that Carolyn is a BAMF is an understatement. She kicks major ass, sure – but she’s also a wonderfully intelligent, complex, conflicted character. There’s so much more to her than meets the naked eye; more than even she herself seems to realize at times. Every time Hawkins pulls back a layer – through flashbacks and spell-induced memories – I’m surprised at what lies beneath. She’s the kind of anti-hero that I so badly want to root for, long after she’s lost herself and fucking up epically. Carolyn does all the wrong things for all the right reasons.

Also, you’ve got to a love a thirty-something-year-old woman who can rock a pair of legwarmers.

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Book Review: More Happy Than Not, Adam Silvera (2015)

Monday, June 15th, 2015

The Kingda Ka of Emotional Roller Coasters

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for violence, suicide/suicide attempts, and racist/sexist/homophobic language.)

My scar is pressed against his forearm, and if I had as much hope in life back then as I do now, it would’ve never existed in the first place.

Every mistake I’ve made, every wrong I’ve repeated, every unhealed heartache: I feel it all and more as the weight of my old world crushes me. If you looked inside me, I bet you’d find two different hearts beating for two different people, like the sun and moon up at the same time, a terrible eclipse I’m the only witness to.

Aaron Soto’s having a fucking terrible year. (There is a glorious amount of swearing in More Happy Than Not, and I think it only appropriate that I pay it homage.)

Along with his older brother Eric and mother Elsie, Aaron lives in a one-bedroom apartment in the Leonardo Housing project in the Bronx. Though she’s employed full-time as a social worker at Washington Hospital and also has a second job at a supermarket, handling meat four nights a week, Elsie can barely afford to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.

Part of the family’s financial troubles are due to the drop from two incomes to one upon the death of Aaron’s father Mark, who killed himself four months ago; Elsie came home to find her abusive husband dead in the bathtub, his wrists sliced open and his blood coloring the bath water a horror movie shade of red. Though he didn’t get much sympathy from his so-called “friends” – Brendan, Baby Freddy, Skinny-Dave, and Me-Crazy – Aaron spent many nights crying on his girlfriend Genevieve’s lap. Despite Gen’s unwavering support, just two months later Aaron made his own attempt: a smiley face carved on his wrist, using his dead father’s straight razor.

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Book Review: Alien Child, Pamela Sargent (1988/2015)

Friday, May 29th, 2015

A Solid SciFi Story for the Tween Set

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for rape.)

The emptiness of the world outside told her that the last story of her people had ended badly.

For as long as she can remember, Nita has lived in the east wing of the Kwalung-Ibarra Institute with her furred, cat-like guardian, Llipel. Their only company is the robotic gardeners that maintain the grounds; the artificial intelligence that controls the Institute; and, later, a cat retrieved from the cold room for Nita. Llipel’s companion and fellow space traveler Llare occupies the west wing, but the two only communicate through the mind, and then only when necessary: this being their time of separation, Llipel and Llare are compelled to pursue solitude – from members of their own species, if nothing else.

As far as Nita knows, she’s the last remaining human on earth. That is, until she attempts to call Llare on the intercom and is stunned to find a furless face staring back at her. On the cusp of womanhood – no longer a child, but not yet an adult – Nita makes a shocking discovery: there’s a human boy named Sven just a stone’s throw away. And, for some reason that neither of them understand, both their guardians have kept the presence of the other a secret from their charges.

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Book Review: The Blondes: A Novel, Emily Schultz (2015)

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

“Wow!” is right!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for violence, forced pregnancy, and allusions to rape. This review contains minor spoilers, which are clearly marked.)

If you survive, the world you grow up in will be one that has experienced intense panic and distrust, violence and hysteria – though that’s a loaded word. I don’t think I would have used it before this past year. But now? All of us living with a disease that affects only girls and women? Hysteria is so bang on.

Authorities are now able to track the progression of symptoms, which are indeed similar to rabies. The public is advised to be wary – and here the prompter went into a list of symptoms – of women with raised voices, acting violently…

Lumbering, limping, exhibiting imbalance…

Flailing or throwing any object…

Grimacing, displaying a downturned expression…

“We’re not allowed to have downturned expressions?” the girl beside me muttered. “I mean,” she said a bit louder but still to me, “what if we’re just worried? In a bad mood? PMS?”

Several heads turned to look at her. It must have made her nervous because she ran her hand back through her hair. She was pale as an elephant’s tusk. […]

As I finished my sandwich, it occurred to me that the news captions on TV had all been directed at men. There was nothing about the symptoms women should look for in themselves.

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