Blurb Book Review: The Humans by Matt Haig (spoilers ahead)

21265230
Image from the usual place, Goodreads.com

I read a previous book by this author and was delighted to find out this one was xenofiction.

An alien race finds out that a human, Andrew Martin, has solved the Riemann Hypothesis and that just would not do. They sent someone out to ensure this information didn’t spread through humanity, and that someone is the narrator of the story.

The alien takes the form of Andrew and attempts to adjust to being human while trying to delete all evidence of the solved hypothesis. This alien was to murder anyone with whom Andrew shared the knowledge.

At first disgusted by humans, AlienAndrew grows to enjoy the company of the son, Gulliver, and the wife, Isobel and chooses to keep them alive rather than kill them. This, obviously, causes problems.

The author manages to highlight a lot of the dichotomies of being human and does so in a manner that never let me forget that the main character is an alien. There’s a lightness in the narration of heavy concepts, which I found delightful.

The book is remarkably moving, well written, and a curious glance into what it means to be human. Definitely would recommend to anyone.

DNF: Machinehood by S.B. Divya

54304067

DNF. Stopped at page 9.The reasons why bugged me so badly I had to type this out.

A direct quote from page nine, italics are the author’s: “Jack Travis had been a mentor, almost a father, and he’d never talked down to his squad in spite of getting ripped by other men for leading a bunch of girls.”

Okay, stop. Just stop. This book takes place in 2095. Gender neutral pronouns are used. Diversity is shown by the author telling the reader about the character’s ancestry. More on that in a moment. All that, and men are still being ripped for leading ‘girls’? Not, say, ‘women’? Or maybe, ‘people’? FFS why in hell’s bells would a man be teased for leading a squad of not-men? WHY? If the author can include diversity and gender neutrality, the author can omit ancient ideas about how girls aren’t as good as boys in the military. For that matter, while I’m ranting, the author’s choice of the word ‘girls’ is a tad degrading. As in, ‘throw like a girl’ is an insult to men because it indicates the man is weak. ‘Women’ at least indicates adults, ‘girls’ just sounds like prepubescent people.

Now for the rant about diversity. Do I love diversity in novels? Yes, yes I do. The world is made up of a glorious mix of people and that mix should be shown in all media. I understand that describing characters can be difficult without having that character look in a mirror and describe themselves, but I really do dislike it when the author takes an easy way out. In one segment from page 2 & 3, the main character Welga’s lineage is discussed. Literally. Welga asks a vendor how they know she isn’t Indian. The vendor explains that because they’re human, they can see past Welga’s brown skin and dark hair to notice nose and cheek shape. Just before this exchange is the quote, “The mix of Russian and Mexican in her parentage usually made it hard for people to guess her origins.” Oh thanks author, for sounding somewhat patronizing and condescending at the same time while very obviously pointing out the non-whiteness of the character. Ugh! There are better ways of describing characters, ways that don’t feel so amateurish.

/end rant. YMMV.

Blurb Book Review: Skyward Inn by Aliya Whiteley (spoilers ahead)

52592203. sy475
Oh yeah, cover is from Goodreads.com

This book was recommended through Goodreads and involved aliens, so it was right up my alley. Besides, how could I say no to a cover like that? So bright and colourful 🙂

The book felt like it was going nowhere for longer than I’d prefer. The story was told in snippets and it was a bit difficult for me to keep up to what was going on. It all made sense eventually, but I could see why some may not finish the book. I enjoyed it overall though, and would read it again, especially now that I know how it all fits together.

Let’s start with the characters. Two of the three main characters run a bar/inn called Skyward Inn. Jem is human. Isley is Qita. They’re both veterans of the war between their planets. Skyward Inn is inside the walls of the Western Protectorate, which is a walled-off area that doesn’t participate in technology or politics. The Protectorate is where Devon, England is now.

The third character is Fosse, Jem’s son. Jem gave him up practically at birth to join the military. Fosse lives with his uncle Dom, who is Jem’s brother. The parent/child relationship is nonexistent. I didn’t feel like Jem had any connection at all with this person she brought into the world. I had the impression she might have liked to get to know her son better, but made little or no effort to do so. This boggled me, but I can forgive it because the author had a different story to tell.

At Skyward, people enjoy drinking Jarrowbrew. This is a concoction of Qita and helps relive memories with exquisite clarity. The story opens with Jem drinking some to relate a story of her impressions of Isley’s homeworld. As the story progresses, I had the feeling that Jem wanted more than just friendship with Isley, but the mechanics weren’t possible. Qita species isn’t really described much, except to say they’re blue-skinned and humanoid.

The war was somewhat peaceful. Qita surrendered easily and without fight. Humans thought they won, but they didn’t, not really. Qita welcomes new arrivals because they absorb them and become one big mass of organic matter. But this isn’t revealed until near the end of the book.

The hint is that three new arrivals to the Protectorate do a magic trick where they can merge hands. They lay their hands upon each other and become one. Separation is possible in the beginning stages. Humans think this is a disease. They quarantine the affected area, but there’s no stopping it. Qita don’t fight it at all. This is part of their evolution process. They merge with other species and themselves, then are separated from the whole to live again.

Memories are shared by all during this merging. Time is also a non-issue during the process. Jem begins to merge with Isley so she can experience her son Fosse’s future memories as he hikes with a Qita guide to learn about their planet. Ultimately, Jem chooses not to join the merging. There’s no expectation that anyone must join, it’s always presented as a choice. Fosse, however, struck by being the last human around after the hike with a guide, does choose to join the merging. From what I understood, all of Earth was merged as well because Qita and Earth are connected by a Kissing Gate in space. So the surrender of Qita was actually the first stage of what humans would call an invasion. By the end, humanity is mostly (or all) wiped out.

The novel left me with questions, but in a good way. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good twist (although I spoiled it here, but the title warned of that). The details were revealed in a way that felt linear and satisfying, but it was hard to get into.

Blurb Book Review: The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (spoilers ahead)

48693877. sx318
Yes, I did get this image from Goodreads.com

I loved this book so much that when I was done I wanted to write the entire thing myself. I wanted to marinate in this universe, explore every option, and exhaust every possibility of every life the main character could have lived. There’s even a smattering of envy that the author wrote this instead of me. Why did I like it? Well, let me tell you a little about it first.

Nora Seed is not enjoying life. The book chronicles several disappointments in her life, culminating in the decision to take an overdose. Rather than outright dying, she ends up in a library filled with green books. The librarian resembles a librarian from her childhood, Mrs. Elm, and shows her The Book of Regrets. This book is heavy, as regrets tend to be, and filled with every regret Nora has had from birth to the overdose.

Mrs. Elm tells Nora that she can peek into another life, another Nora, one where the original Nora didn’t have a particular regret. Nora’s first decision is to eliminate the regret of leaving her partner Dan, and opening a pub with him instead. The librarian hands her a book, she starts reading, and pops into the Nora that lived in the timeline where these events occurred.

This concept fascinated me. I’ve spent a fair amount of daydream time considering how much I’d love to travel back in time and redo an event or unmake a decision, or even make a decision rather than sit idly by. The author’s take was that Current Nora would inhabit Other Nora’s body on the same day as it is for Current Nora. So, no going back in the past. Also, Current Nora didn’t have any of the knowledge that Other Nora had. She had no history in this timeline, so a lot was unfamiliar, including her own body, to some degree. But she did retain knowledge of her original life, so she viewed each new life through the lens of her old life.

The longer she stayed in one place, the more memories would come to her. If she felt any disappointment or desire to return to the library, off she went and met up with Mrs. Elm again. If she decided that this was the life she wanted, she would get to stay.

As long as she was in between life and death, she was in the Midnight Library and could access other timelines. As soon as something happened to her original self – like she died or woke up – the library would vanish and she’d go back to her original body or be dead.

Nora explored many options, everything from Olympic swimmer to famous keyboardist/songwriter in a band to a life working with dogs. The more lives she explored, the more she understood that she had no right to take the life away from Other Nora, and that what she thought was a good life was also fraught with negativity. The whole story reminded me of the phrase: if we all put our problems in a pile, we’d each take our own rather than someone else’s if given the choice. Nora got a nice glimpse into many lives, but ultimately knew the best one was her original one, if the overdose doesn’t kill her first.

The book hooked me immediately. I loved the author’s voice, how the choice of words seemed to bring a lot of information while saying relatively little. Each chapter is small, nicely bite-sized, so I never felt bogged down or like I was slogging through, as I sometimes do with long chapters.

I borrowed this book from the library, but I think I’ll go out and purchase it so I can read it again and again. Maybe even write fanfiction about it so I can live in the world a little longer.

Blurb Book Review: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin (no spoilers, just ranting)

118028. sy475
Image from the usual source: Goodreads.com

I chose this book because I kept reading that the author’s work is wonderful and groundbreaking. It was written in 1969 so I told myself to read it with that in mind. I don’t normally like books written too long ago as they feature male protagonists in male worlds and I’ve had quite enough of that, thank you very much.

After I was done I found out this is the fourth book in the Hainish Cycle. I really wish I’d taken note of that before I started reading. Perhaps reading the Hainish Cycle books in order might have helped me understand this one better. Now, let’s get on the ranting.

I’ve been reading since before I started school, and with this book I had to stop and sound out far too many words. It was like learning a new language and then reading what is considered a classic in that language. Because of this, I had a remarkably difficult time comprehending what I read. I ended up reading the book out loud to myself, to force myself to read and listen to every word. The author’s sentence structure added to the problem. I found the order of words confusing and difficult to follow. Like it’d been translated and done poorly. I have no idea if this is normal for the author or just the style used for this book, but my brain hurt when I was done.

Keeping in mind this book was written in ’69, I hated the constant use of ‘he’ as a gender neutral pronoun. I know the author addressed this later on, after the book was published, but my brain had a really hard time thinking of these people as androgynous. Instead, I was constantly thinking that this was yet another book with all male characters. Every other sentence had me bending my mind to remind myself these are not technically men. That was unbelievably frustrating and drew my attention away from the plot, story, and characters.

The first third of the book felt like an infodump, although it wasn’t. The author described what the character was doing, but I had no sense of what the character had done. I felt like it was all setup until about halfway through, although flipping back through the pages I realized this wasn’t true. This might have been easier to understand if I’d read the previous three books in the series.

The idea of an androgynous species is interesting, but I didn’t get a feel for their culture at all. They still had a leader, still had a hierarchy. I did enjoy the lack of shame around sex, though, that was a fantastic diversion from reality. The setting of a world where it’s always winter was interesting, and the idea that the protagonist’s mission was to get the planet to join an intergalactic civilization was cool. But even then, I had a hard time with the concept. Excellent idea that first contact would be peaceful and inclusionary, but the idea doesn’t sit well with me. I’m far too used to stories about wanting resources from planets and causing wars and whatnot. But again, I tried to remember that this was written long ago.

I was disappointed. The book didn’t hold up to the hype for me, not at all. I might try the author’s work again, a different series or something, but first I need something more current.

Blurb Book Review: We Could Be Heroes by Mike Chen (spoilers ahead)

We Could Be Heroes
If you guessed this image came from Goodreads.com, you’d be right.

How did I read another book inside of a week? This honestly boggled me a bit until I realized the book is a fast and easy read. This isn’t a bad thing, but surprising nonetheless.

So, here we have another superhero book. This one features two people with abilities, neither of them don’t remember anything before waking up in an apartment. They each have a couple of clues, a signed lease for one year’s paid stay at the apartment, and a note. The note indicates they have abilities.

One character, Jamie, uses his mind wiping ability to rob banks. He can rifle through anyone’s memory and remove specific bits. He robs banks because he wants to get away to a warm island somewhere and discovers banks are insured. He figures this crime isn’t hurting anyone and it helps him amass some cash. He’s defined as the villain upon introduction.

The other character, Zoe, can hover/fly, run super fast, has super strength, and can see thermal imagery. She uses her speed to deliver food and occasionally fight crime, if it suits her to do so. She’s labelled as a hero when we’re introduced.

They meet in a memory loss support group where Jamie immediately dives into Zoe’s mind and finds out she’s the one that was chasing him after his last robbery. They become tentative friends, yes, even after he sort of violated her by peeking through her mind, and try to help each other out in figuring out their pasts.

Of course this leads to them discovering a nefarious organization that’s gifting people with abilities. Of course they try to break in and get more information. Of course they’re caught. Of course they try again. Of course they work together to become heroes/saviors.

This plot makes the story easy to read, and the formatting kept my interest. The chapters alternate between each character’s POV, keeping the perspective fresh and interesting. The book did feel messy though, maybe from about two thirds on, as if the author didn’t really know how to explain events. This is reflected in the characters outright saying they had no plan and couldn’t explain something. This isn’t bad, but it felt a bit flippant.

Overall, it’s a light read. If you like superhero stories, this one makes a nice snack for your mind.

Blurb Book Review: Seven Lies by Elizabeth Kay (spoilers ahead)

48829512
Image from the usual Goodreads.com

I decided to step outside science fiction for a bit and read a gentle mystery. This isn’t a whodunnit kind of mystery, but instead one where the narrator reveals things slowly until the reader has a full picture of the events that took place. There’s probably a name/genre for this type of book. If so, feel free to let me know.

This is a story of the friendship between Jane and Marnie. They were inseparable for over two decades, until things went bad. Jane is the narrator, slowly explaining how things fell apart. She uses seven lies as touchstones. These are lies that she told Marnie, stating that she never ever lied outside of these seven. Not very realistic, but I understood because memory is faulty and sometimes little things get lost in the shuffle. It’s evident that Jane is jealous of Marnie’s husband, Charles though. I thought that jealousy was the ultimate reason for the falling out, but I was wrong.

The story meanders, winds around long curves and wanders through tangents. But at the same time, the author only gives enough information to satisfy. I never felt like I wanted to hurry things along or that the information was irrelevant. Instead I felt like Jane was telling me a story and didn’t want to get to the awful part just yet.

Jane is an unreliable narrator though. She tells the entire story from her point of view, enough so that I felt sympathetic toward her up until the last fifth of the book. Somewhere around there I started to realize that she’s a bit obsessed with Marnie. At first I thought the story was being told as if the reader is the listener, that Jane is explaining things to me. But no, it’s revealed quite late in the book that she’s talking to someone very specific.

The tension picks up very nicely in the last fifth of the book. So much so that I was glued to the pages and ignored other responsibilities just to find out what was going to happen. The end was satisfying. Excellent work by the author for keeping the characters believable throughout, including the epilogue.

This is an excellent story of friendship and how obsession has the potential to destroy even the strongest relationships. I’d recommend this book to anyone who likes descriptive prose, slow reveals, and a bit of horror near the end.

Shameless Self Promotion

56389822. sy475
Image from Goodreads.com? Hell yes.

I’m in a writing group and we’ve made an anthology. This is the fourth for the group, although I’ve only participated in this one. My story, SPAWN BOX, can be found on page 165. Tiny review: it’s about a box that spawns in a pawn shop, and the contents send the shop owner on an adventure. Yes, using a map.

The theme of the anthology is maps, so all stories feature one somehow. I won’t review the stories because I don’t feel like that would be fair. I know these people and I can get a bit brutal if I don’t like the story. Having said that, mine’s the best, in my opinion. That’s my bias showing, I’ll tuck it back in. If you’re interested, you can purchase the book here.

Another story I wrote (I did warn you, this post is self promotion) can be found here. This was written for a competition and had to feature specific elements. I didn’t win, but the stories that did are good. My story is called UNCLOCKING THE ILLUSION and features the same pawn shop as the one in the above anthology, although written in a slightly different narrative voice.

This concludes my promotion of me. Back to book reviews in the next post.

Blurb Book Review: Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots (spoilers ahead)

49867430
Picture from the one and only: Goodreads.com

I received this book from the library terribly fast. I really thought I’d be waiting longer for it to be available. I read the first page to see if I should start this book or another, and ended up reading it at every available moment I had. I loved this book. Absolutely adored it. Let me tell you why as succinctly as I can.

The narrative voice was consistent and delightful. My eyes wanted to eat every word so my brain could have something to munch on. I wanted this book to go on forever, yet also wanted to get to the end of the story. Not because I was eager to finish, but because I desperately wanted to know how the author was going to wrap up the storyline.

The author’s choice of descriptors were vivid, delightful, and innovative. I don’t think there’s any repetition (or if there is, very little) in adjectives, which kept the book fresh from page one right to the end.

The pacing was excellent. Not once did I feel like the book dragged on or skipped anything important. The author had an excellent sense of how much information to give to keep the story moving, but also how little to give to keep my attention hooked.

I loved the main character – Anna – mostly because she felt realistic to me. She was someone I could imagine in real life, ‘warts and all’ as my mom would’ve said. Anna has her faults, she’s vulnerable, but she’s also got a core of toughness that impressed me.

Now I’ll tell you about the story.

Anna is a “hench”. This is someone who works with the villains when asked. Yes, like henchmen but without the gender specification. Anna works for a temp agency that hires out henches. Even Meat – the muscle of the operation, so to speak. She gets a job and is injured by a superhero named Supercollider. The temp agency promptly dismisses her, leaving her out of work and deeply wounded.

While healing, Anna starts checking into the cost of superheroes. How many lifeyears are lost to the supes’ carelessness? How much property damage? That kind of thing. This hooked me immediately. I’ve consumed enough superhero media to ask these questions myself. The supe always saves the day, but at what cost? Anna posts her Injury Report online and gathers a bit of following.

Anna needs a job, and applies everywhere. When on her way to an interview, she’s intercepted by a villain named Leviathan. He wants to hire her for her ability to amass data and parse it in whatever manner is most useful.

This is the story of a budding villain. Anna isn’t necessarily evil, but she does want superheroes to be held accountable for their careless destruction. Her tactics are somewhat evil though, in the sense that she knows how to manipulate people.

All of this is set in a world where people are tested for abilities, then, if they are found to be in great enough quantity, the person is groomed to be a superhero. This world is immersive. I was enveloped in it from the first few pages and only left when I closed the book. Excellent work by the author.

Some other notables: the book felt technically perfect. Every scene had a purpose. Every event had a conclusion. No extra words were used and none were spared. I felt like this is a fine example of constructing a story, one I’d like to remember as I write my own.

I was pleased to read how well the author worked genderfluidity into the narrative. This was done exactly as I’ve experienced it in real life: there are people who prefer they/them, there are trans people, there are people who are not straight. There was no shaming, no shoehorning. The author made this feel remarkably commonplace, and I absolutely loved it. Remarkably refreshing compared to many other books I’ve read.

This book could easily be converted to a ten episode series. More accurately, I want this to be a ten episode series, as long as it’s done well and with the author’s consent and participation.

I heavily recommend this book to anyone who enjoys superheroes, a tongue-in-cheek style of narration, and multifaceted, interesting characters caught in a plot that’s resolved neatly and efficiently.

Blurb Book Review: The Mother Code by Carole Stivers (spoilers ahead)

50121213
Image from my favourite website for book covers: Goodreads.com

Once again I’ve managed to put a book on hold at the library that’s about an apocalypse. Yep. Another one. This one created by humans. I read the first page just to get a feel for it and to decide whether I wanted to read another book featuring a pandemic. I ended up reading the whole book.

This is a story about kindness, love, mothering, and connection with a backdrop of human destruction and elimination.

This book’s pandemic was in the form of a nanobot that could rewrite DNA. Things went wrong, because of course they did, and the solution was to create robotic mothers.

These mothers were to gestate and support a child. Originally, 50 of these Mothers were created, but only 22 survived. The children were connected to the Mothers by a chip implanted in their foreheads/brains. This chip allowed the Mothers to talk to their children.

The scientists in charge of creating these Mothers decided to fashion their personalities after actual women, the same women who would provide the eggs for insemination. This way, the personalities of the Mothers would match those of the child. I know from experience that a child can sometimes barely resemble a parent, but for the convenience of the book, I accepted the premise fairly easily.

The children search for each other. Well, the Mothers do the searching. They find each other in small groups, some remained alone until the Mothers are called to one location. The remaining/surviving scientists figured out how to call all the Mothers to one location to provide the children with shelter, food, and water. This was mostly successful. While there, the Mothers experienced a shutdown where the mental connection to the child was temporarily severed. Also, the Mothers’ programming indicated a threat, so they refused to allow the children to leave the area. One of the children, and the scientists, work together to reprogram the Mothers to re-establish a connection and dismiss the non-existent threat.

So that’s the basic storyline, and it was effective enough to keep me reading. I enjoyed the author’s narrative voice and didn’t find any inaccurate information to make me want to hurl the book at the wall. I felt like the story had been edited well, but I might have liked a bit more filling out.

When the children meet each other, there’s barely any page time about their interactions with each other. One child in particular turns out to be a bit of a conspiracy theorist, not believing that there isn’t a threat. It might have been nice to have that interaction explored a bit further, or even at all, really.

The story jumps time around, but only by about a decade. The author does an excellent job in tying the times together, bringing one up to speed after learning about the other. This style helped me to understand the timeline of the creation of the Mothers, their implementation, the development of a child from 6-10 years old, all with the pandemic in the background killing people and rushing the production of the Mothers.

While the book features some difficult language in terms of biology, DNA, and whatnot, I didn’t feel too lost while reading. I didn’t much understand some of it, but my understanding was basic enough to not get frustrated with the rest of the story.

The cast is diverse, with a spotlight on the Hopi. I very much enjoyed the gentle touch of adding First Nations people and weaving the beliefs through the book. This was done subtly enough that I didn’t feel slammed over the head with it but masterfully enough that I felt the author gave honour to their traditions. Having said that, I’m not really qualified to decide that on behalf of the Hopi.

If you’re looking for a science fiction book that’s not too heavy in science, rooted in love, and a cautionary tale of human’s interference with itself, this may be the book for you.