Blurb Book Review: Nophek Gloss by Essa Hansen (spoilers ahead)

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This novel has a high learning curve. There are words for things that don’t exist in our universe and while the definition of most of them can be gleaned from the context, some were harder to understand. Thankfully, the author put a glossary at the back.

The worldbuilding is fantastic. Describing ships that can pass through things, universes contained within bubbles surrounded by rinds, and wonderfully diverse species. The author uses descriptive language throughout that’s both immersive and a bit overwhelming.

The story is relatively simple: Caiden’s world is in ruin. His family cares for livestock, which have all died. The people are rounded up and placed on another planet, one with nophek beasts that attack and kill all the people. Caiden runs and hides in what turns out to be a ship. There, he’s found by a crew that helps him get off the planet and to the Cartographers, which help him see who he really is.

During this, Caiden learns he’s a slave. He decides to kill the slavers as revenge for what happened to his family – his people, really – but he’s only fourteen and nowhere near in control of his emotions. Caiden sets out on a difficult path, learning that he’s more than just a slave, and is put in an acceleration chamber where he ages six years and receives augmented body parts and knowledge.

The story is concise enough, albeit a bit coincidental in parts. The narrative voice is rich and interesting, but a bit overdone in parts. I wouldn’t trim anything down though, this book is meant to be dense and rich.

There’s a sequel, but I’m not sure if I’m interested yet. I liked where this novel ended and see little reason to continue reading anything except for the delight of immersing myself in the world. The story of the next book will likely focus on the relationship Caiden had with Leta, who also survived the norphek planet (I did warn you about spoilers). My problem here is that I’m not invested in their relationship and don’t really care how they’ll play off each other. The author was a bit heavy-handed with mentioning Leta throughout as some kind of touchstone for Caiden and after a short while I was trying not to skim the parts that mention Leta.

Also, I was a bit confused about Leta and Caiden. He’s fourteen and she’s ten, but the author wrote the relationship with romantic underpinnings. He calls her his sister, once he learns the word ‘sister’ and the meaning, but she feels more like a pre-lover, or puppy love, or something. Even then, I didn’t feel a connection to their relationship at all, so I’m not really interested in reading a whole novel of their betrayal to each other, as it’s set up at the end of this book.

If you’re looking for interesting worlds, species, and ships, this is a good read.

Blurb Book Review: Sign Here by Claudia Lux (spoilers ahead)

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Peyote Trip makes deals for Hell and has discovered a loophole: if you can make five deals with your own genetic line, you get a second chance at life on Earth. The problem is, you slowly start to forget your life while you’re in Hell.

The novel has three storylines: Peyote’s attempt to get the fifth deal to make a Complete Set, Calamity Ganon’s past and how she’s trying to fight against God’s army, and Mickey Harrison; a teenager who has a brand new very best friend Ruth.

The novel has a lot of potential. It’s darkly funny in spots, the depiction of Hell – with pens that don’t work, constant car alarms going off randomly, and only serving J├Ągermeister in bars – is amusing and different, and the coming-of-age storyline of Mickey is relatable. But the novel didn’t feel very cohesive.

The story jumped around between the three plotlines in thankfully short chapters and everything tied up neatly in the end, but it felt clumsily executed. Calamity’s character in particular felt disjointed and, quite frankly, unnecessary. If her character was cut right out there would have been more room to explore Peyote’s character and how he’s related to Mickey, rather than rush-explain it at the end.

The narrative voice was interesting though. I did enjoy the flow and descriptive phrases. That’s pretty much what kept me reading. That, and solving the mystery in Mickey’s family of which brother killed a girl seventeen years prior.

Overall, this was an entertaining read, light and funny in places, touching in others. I’d read something else by the author simply for the narrative voice.

Blurb Book Review: The Fields by Erin Young (spoilers ahead)

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Corn, politics, and cannibalism: this book has them all.

Bodies are found in a sleepy county, bodies with bites taken out of them. Riley Fisher, newly promoted to head of investigations, granddaughter of the previous Sheriff, is tasked with solving the murders. The first body is her childhood friend, Chloe.

Riley wades through her own personal Hell of remembering why she left Black Hawk County while navigating other officers’ resentment for being passed over for promotion as she gathers evidence to solve her old friend’s murder. Along the way, she stumbles on a political coverup right smack dab in the middle of election campaigns.

I never guessed the ending of the book. I thought I had it, I thought I knew where it was going when niacin deficiency was mentioned, but the novel took a turn I didn’t anticipate. Once I finished the novel I could see all the clues, which just made the revelation that much better. The author was skillful in withholding tiny tidbits until the very end without making the story feel full of holes or contrived.

This is the first book in a planned series focusing on Riley. I’d read the next one, mostly to see if the author can pull off another murder mystery with the same flair.

Blurb Book Review: Cold People by Tom Rob Smith (spoilers ahead)

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This book gripped me and didn’t let go until the end.

Aliens arrive and send a single message: humanity has thirty days to reach Antarctica. Millions of humans make the trip and reach the shores of the inhospitable continent. Those left behind turn to embers.

Now stranded on a sheet of ice, the millions of humans eke out an existence. They form three small towns on a peninsula and the greatest scientific minds go live at McMurdo Station – a place set up in the 1940s.

One of the scientific pursuits is the creation of Cold People, or people who can withstand the tremendous cold. The intention is that these Cold People will help the ordinary-born to live. While Cold People’s existence is presented as helpers or a workforce that can adapt to cold conditions easily, they are, in fact, locked up until humans deem them worthy of integration.

That integration doesn’t go as planned. Cold People aren’t entirely human, their genes are edited to help them with the cold, and their attitude to their captors is rather chilly. They want a life without fragile humans to care for or consider. They want to live fully as themselves: creatures born to exist in the harsh conditions.

The novel speaks of love, mostly one-sided love. A gay man who falls in love with someone but chooses not to act on it, and a mother who loves her ice-adapted child but that love isn’t returned.

The aliens are barely mentioned, except that they herd humans to Antarctica, move some of humanity’s shrines to the icy continent, and don’t allow bombs to detonate during the exodus. Did these aliens love humans as well? Not likely, as they were shunted to Antarctica without explanation or a timeline of when they could return to warmer climates. But some affection for them is evident or they wouldn’t have bothered to herd them or bring them their most prized structures and set them on the ice.

Overall, this was a good read. I was left with a huge question: why did the aliens come and move humans to the most inhospitable place on Earth? What was the purpose of this and is there a timeline? But I see that the novel isn’t about the aliens, it’s about humanity’s love for each other and our incredible ability to persevere.

Blurb Book Review: Several People Are Typing by Calvin Kasulke (spoilers ahead)

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Gerald is looking at a spreadsheet when he gets sucked into Slack. It takes a while for him to convince his workplace friend to believe him, then go check on him. Even after Pradeep finds him, the rest of the office doesn’t really believe he’s in there. Instead they think this is just some elaborate overuse of the company’s new work from home policy.

While that’s happening, another coworker complains of constant howling. She goes missing and it’s like she was never there. Only one other person interacts with her so the question becomes, did she really exist?

Okay, this book is delightfully weird. The entire thing is written out as Slack conversations, including emoticons. The plot is simple and the execution interesting. This is a delightfully refreshing read.

Blurb Book Review: Mickey7 by Edward Ashton (spoilers ahead)

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Mikey Barnes is immortal. Well, sort of. He’s an Expendable, someone who is expected to perform the most dangerous jobs associated with colonizing a planet. When he dies, his body is put into the corpse hole where it’s broken down to its base components. Then another body is grown, complete with his consciousness.

This is Mickey’s seventh life.

During a mission he falls down a crevasse and into a possible lair of creepers – caterpillar-like entities that live underground – and is deemed unsalvageable. Except he’s rescued and when he gets back to his bunk he discovers Mickey8, the newest instantiation of himself.

The subject matter is what drove me to this novel. What an interesting idea, to have an Expendable on board to eat the local cuisine, breathe the air first, and even clean out radiation-thick areas of the ship. The author explained all of this well enough for me to simply handwave away a lot; like anti-matter engines and humans regularly going on one-way trips to colonize other planets.

I would consider this Sci-Fi Lite, if that’s a thing. There’s just enough science to explain things and the main focus is the lead character attempting to figure out how to live with a copy of himself, all while dealing with creepers, a hostile environment, and a ship crew that mostly see him as an abomination.

This is a fast read, with large font, easy sentences, and a tight plot. Some of the backstory dragged a bit, but was important enough to the overall plot line to keep it interesting. I found this novel to be a good example of how much science to include to keep the reader in the know, when and where to give backstory, and how to keep a lean plot.

Overall, I enjoyed this as a bit of science fiction fluff.

Blurb Book Review: I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells (spoilers ahead)

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This novel is classified as YA because the protagonist is a teenager. While I don’t read a lot of YA, this one was quite good.

John Wayne Cleaver has a specific set of rules to stop himself from becoming a serial killer. It doesn’t help that his mom and aunt run a mortuary out of their home. John likes to help with the embalming process and get up close and personal with dead bodies. They feel normal to him, demanding nothing of him, and he can be himself around them.

A person is killed behind a laundromat and this body has something different about it – it seems to be part of a calculated kill. John believes this is the work of a serial killer. John knows all the signs because he’s studied them thoroughly.

He investigates, even though it breaks one of his rules to do so. What he finds shocks him and thrusts him into a new world, one where the danger is outside himself instead of lurking within.

The novel ends in a way that I felt was a bit too easy, but then I saw it’s YA and yeah, that makes sense. There are four other books in the series. I may check them out. I liked the narrative style and the internal dialogue of this one, so I might like the others.

Blurb Book Review: And There He Kept Her by Joshua Moehling (spoilers ahead)

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This debut novel is tightly written, so much so that I’ll keep my eye out for more books by the author.

Two teenagers go missing in the small town of Sandy Lake, one of them is Sheriff Ben Packard’s cousin’s daughter. Packard is new to town, having moved from the big city to start anew after the death of his boyfriend, and has history in Sandy Lake. Long ago, his brother Nick went missing while his family was there during summer vacation.

Emmett Burr caught the teens breaking into his house and took action. His own life is dreadful; a failed marriage, chronic pain, and bad health. He had dreams of having a girl who would do his bidding like Jeannie from I Dream of Jeannie and took steps to make that happen.

The story alternates points of view, giving the reader the opportunity to be fully immersed in both characters. This helped keep the tension nice and tight, which never wavered. There were no sagging spots in the plot, no extraneous details, no red herrings.

I especially enjoyed the descriptions of each character as they were introduced. Each one was vivid and interesting. If a fair amount of time had passed, the author made sure to remind the reader of who the character was and/or the relationship of that character to the current ones on the page.

The disappearance of Nick was never answered, which bothered me a bit. There’s a hint as to who was involved and a nugget of mystery surrounding the evidence, likely to be foreshadowing for the next book in the series.

Other than that tiny nitpick, I enjoyed this novel immensely. Highly recommend to people who like small town mysteries with interesting characters.

Blurb Book Review: Stories From the Tenants Downstairs by Sidik Fofana (spoilers ahead)

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Banneker Terrace is a building in Harlem. Everyone seems to know everyone else, or at least know of everyone else. The area is undergoing gentrification, adding stress to the tenants’ already stressful lives.

The eight stories are intertwined beautifully and examine the realities of being pushed out of your home while you struggle to make ends meet and get on with life. While I’ve never personally been to Harlem, I felt like the novel transported me there. I do have some experience in poverty and I must say the author represented it well. Money is a main concern and dreams of making it big fuel the day.

The narrative style was a bit jarring at first but I was engrossed quickly. I adored how each story’s style spoke to the main character as well. I could hear the people talking and feel their personalities come off the page.

This is a though-provoking novel of hardship and human connection. The author did a wonderful job in making this book feel like a private peek into neighbour’s lives. Highly recommend.

Blurb Book Review: Semiosis by Sue Burke (spoilers ahead)

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A group of people travel to another planet to live in harmony and peace. They encounter sentience in ways they hadn’t predicted.

The first generation of people live a hard life of eking out an existence on this new planet. One of the members of the second generation finds a settlement left by another species; a village of glass blocks and rainbow bamboo. The first generation people believe the bamboo – who provided delicious fruit – is trying to trap the humans there and argues against living in the settlement. A small battle ensues and many of the humans go to the village to begin a new life that includes less hardship and more time for pursuit of pleasure.

The bamboo is sentient and knows these new humans will provide gifts in terms of fertilizer (poop) and water. This information was garnered from moths that bit the humans and brought the little chunks back to the bamboo to analyze. The bamboo helps the humans by providing enzymes and nutrients that aren’t available otherwise. It also helps them with medical concerns and in return, the humans cultivate seeds of the bamboo and plant them where indicated.

The worldbuilding in the book is fascinating. I was engrossed throughout as the novel switched perspectives from humans to this bamboo. Both wanted to live a comfortable life and both assisted each other, sometimes reluctantly. The animals and plants were fantastic and richly described so that I was immersed in this new planet every step of the way.

The novel is told over seven generations. Each chapter is like a peek into a new generation or character and references events that happened off the page but are still relevant, like the computers failing and deaths from accidents. These references were a bit frustrating – I’d have liked to read about them – but I understood they’d make the book tediously long.

The conflict is gentle, for the most part. It’s the struggle of humans living with each other and dealing with differing opinions on important matters. One huge difference of opinion is tracking down the ones that originally made the settlement – the Glassmakers – and how to interact with them.

I almost didn’t want the book to end. I really enjoyed reading about the new creatures and how the humans dealt with petty squabbles amongst themselves, all on a colourful backdrop of a rainbow bamboo and glass village. I’d actually like to see this book made into a TV series.