Blurb Book Review: I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid (spoilers ahead)

Yep, this image was taken from Goodreads.com

I picked up this book because I enjoyed Foe by the same author. This one was equally creepy.

The narrative style has a dreamlike quality; disjointed, eerie, odd, strange, and weird. I could still mostly follow the story though. It’s told with chapters devoted to people talking about what happened, an apparent murder or suicide, and a woman navel-gazing.

The novel starts out with a woman talking about how she’s thinking of ending things. The reader is led to believe she’s thinking of ending her relationship with Jake, the man who’s taking her to see his parents. They drive in the snowy dark, he shows her around his family farm, then introduces her to his parents, where they have dinner.

Everything about meeting the parents is slightly off, from conversation that doesn’t quite match up to seeing photos of her as a child in his house. They leave, get a lemonade, and go to a school even though it’s closed. There, she’s confronted with the reality that she is him and he’s taking his own life.

The ending ties it up nicely, but still leaves the reader with a sense of, ‘what the hell did I just read?’.

The disassociation of Jake is interesting. He’s imagining a girlfriend’s point of view of his life and himself, but left me wondering if she was always a part of him, if he either has multiple personalities or was raised a girl and is now a man.

Weird, eerie book, definitely worth a read.

Blurb Book Review: The Unfamiliar Garden by Benjamin Percy (spoilers ahead)

Yes I did get the image from Goodreads.com

This is the sequel to The Ninth Metal. I found it to be much more engrossing than the first.

To recap, a meteor struck Earth and left behind a ninth noble metal, one that has kinetic energy properties.

This novel follows the path of a couple: Nora, a detective and her husband Jack, a biologist who studies mushrooms. Their daughter Mia goes missing on the night of the meteor and this apparent abduction tears the couple apart. Nora dives into her work and Jack becomes a shell and almost ruins his career.

Five years after the meteor and the loss of their daughter, it rains heavily and mushrooms start popping up everywhere. People become infected with the fungus (grossly, but still interestingly) and begin killing each other in what looks like a ritualized fashion. Nora investigates the murders while Jack investigates the mushrooms.

The first book is referenced most of the way through this one. There’s nothing to tie them together except the meteor. None of the characters from the first book appear in this one. They’re both in the same universe, both involve the metal, but both have different story lines. But they both lead to the same thing: the creation of a door.

The first book had this door made of metal, created by the metal-eaters. This one was a door created by mycelium. This mycelium door is actually a kind of coffin for the daughter, Mia, who is miraculously still alive. She infects her parents by giving them some fungus to eat and they become a kind of hive mind.

This novel was much more interesting to read. The characters were easier for me to relate to and the story a bit easier for me to follow than the first novel. I’m looking forward to the third installment.

Of note: this is the fist book to mention COVID outright. Masks and sanitizer are mentioned, so is Seattle’s reaction to the virus. I was pleased to read this bit of actual history in a novel, and pleased that one character still wore a mask afterwards.

Blurb Book Review: The Truth About Luck by Iain Reid (spoilers ahead)

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I sure did get the image from Goodreads.com

It’s been a while in between books. I’ve been writing a short story every week and a 250 word story every day. There were a few books started since the last one reviewed, but I didn’t finish any of them.

I bought this book because I loved the author’s writing style in fiction. This one is a memoir, centering around his five day road trip with his grandmother. He gave her this trip as a gift, but neglected to plan anything. They end up having a staycation, visiting local attractions and eating some nice meals.

Iain feels anxiety throughout the book, although it eases toward the end. He’s constantly concerned that he didn’t plan anything exciting, didn’t stock his cupboards with interesting food, didn’t arrange an actual road trip even though he told her that’s what the gift was. I could identify with this heavily. His wondering if she’s comfortable, if he’s done enough, if he’s failed somehow, all of this was remarkably relatable.

The grandmother’s attitude is easygoing. She seems happy with everything he suggests, not once showing disappointment or judgment about anything. She starts talking about her life, reliving some of her memories, and the book focuses on those that involve her nursing career in WWII.

Overall I thought the book was all right, but not outstanding. I liked how his anxiety eased as she relived her memories, but I did grow a bit weary of his anxiety and self doubt.

Blurb Book Review: Dead Space by Kali Wallace (spoilers ahead)

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Image pulled from that wonderful place, Goodreads.com

This is a locked room mystery, in space.

Hester Marley is the main character, who was a survivor of a ship explosion. She received medical care and prosthetics, as well as indentured servitude to pay for those prosthetics. Her job and life shifted from being an AI programmer to an investigator for a company that doesn’t care about solving crimes, just sweeping stuff under the rug.

Another survivor of the explosion, and a friend of hers, David Pressenko, is found dead on a mining asteroid with less than a dozen inhabitants. Shortly before his death, he sent Marley a cryptic message. She goes to investigate his death and gets caught up in a terrorist plot.

I love mysteries even though I sometimes have trouble following all the clues. I like that the clues are subtle and I like when all the loose ends are tied up, but I do find it frustrating when there are too many diversions. This book had too many diversions. It was hard for me to keep track of what was an important clue and what was just information.

I felt like the first quarter of the book was backstory. Every time something new happened, the reader was treated to Marley remembering something about her past. This information was relevant, absolutely, but I found it annoyingly long in places and was happy when the plot finally started moving forward. The pacing was slow at first and ramped up significantly toward the end.

Everything does get tied up neatly, with a surprise or two thrown in for good measure. The book is written as though a sequel could take place but also could stand alone.

This book was listed as LGBTQ+ because the main character was a lesbian, her partner in the investigation is a gay man, and her former/part-time lover is non-binary. There’s no romance in the book – thankfully, as it wouldn’t fit well – but it’s mentioned here and there.

The non-binary character was written so smoothly that it took me a couple of pages to realize the pronouns were they/them. I loved this, I absolutely adored how seamless it was to read a non-binary character this way, as just another character and not someone who needs to be pointed out to the reader or put in a spotlight.

Overall, the book was good enough to hold my attention and make me want to keep reading, even with the frustrating way the backstory was integrated.

Blurb Book Review: One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence (spoilers ahead)

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Oh look – an image from Goodreads.com!

I didn’t know this book was the first of a series, but I’ll be reading the other two as soon as possible now.

Nick is in his teens when he’s diagnosed with leukemia. He begins his chemo while still maintaining his weekly D&D games with his friends. Just after the chemo starts, a girl named Mia joins the group. Nick is visited by a man, who turns out to be himself from the future, asking him to complete a mission so he can save Future Mia.

Well told, nice integration of D&D playing and real life adventure. The author does a wonderful job of intertwining the two while still keeping it believable. This book is a fantastic mix of nostalgia and hope for the future.

Even the time travel made sense and was explained in a way that was satisfying and simple. There’s also a couple of good gut punches and twisty bits, enough to keep the ending a nice surprise.

It’s a short book, a little under 200 pages, and well worth the read.

Blurb Book Review: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers (spoilers ahead)

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Book cover from my favourite place, Goodreads.com

I tried to make this book go slower so I could stay in the world longer.

Three strangers are stranded on a planet with nothing more than a waystation to keep them occupied. Each one has an errand to run or a place to be and has stopped here for a brief layover. A catastrophic event happens above them and causes all the communication satellites to collide with each other. Now, each traveller must wait here, unable to communicate with their ships.

Ouloo runs the waystation with her child Tupo. Together, they try to keep the travellers comfortable.

The plot is gentle: each traveller gets to know the other as they wait for the debris to be cleared enough to ensure safe travel. I loved this. Sometimes there’s no need to have urgency in the plot, or complicated twists and turns. Instead, sometimes it’s nice to just get to know a bunch of characters, watch their interactions, and bid them adieu when the time comes. There are some conflicts of course, but nothing that caused destruction or alienation of the character. There was just enough tension in between each character that anything added might have felt like too much.

None of the characters are human. I loved this, too. The author did a fantastic job in demonstrating how different each species could be. One read colours as communication, another was more like a lobster, and another similar to a reptile. The hosts felt like dogs or four-legged furry creatures.

I had a clear image of each character throughout, even though I felt a bit more description could’ve been added. The author managed to convey different voices easily and so naturally that the read was smooth, simple, and remarkably creative. There were many new terms to learn, but the context defined the terms well enough that I was able to handwave the unknown away without being frustrated.

I loved this book so much that I’d like to write my own version of it. Something similar, where several alien species are at a layover point and have to get along. No murders, no meanness, just newly blossoming friendships. After all, the best writing is writing that inspires me to write.

While getting the cover image from Goodreads I noted that this book is the fourth in the Wayfarer Series. I haven’t read the other books, but if they’re anything like this one, they’ll be awesome.

Blurb Book Review: Foe by Iain Reid (spoilers ahead)

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Where oh where did I get this image? Goodreads.com!

This is the creepiest, most sinister book I’ve read in a while.

I’ve read a lot of suspense and horror in my day, but nothing gripped me and held me like this book did.

A visitor arrives on Junior and Hen’s farm and tells them that Junior is longlisted to go to the Installation. That this won’t happen immediately, but to be prepared when it does. A couple of years pass and the visitor, Terrance, appears again, saying the trip to the Installation is imminent. Terrance says he must live with them, to get to know Junior so he may create a copy of Junior for Hen to live with while he’s away.

This book sets the stage immediately. It’s obvious that something is wrong because Junior’s dialogue has no quotation marks and Junior never asks what the Installation is, how he ‘won’ a place there, or whether it’s a choice that he go.

Brilliant storytelling. Fantastic, tight dialogue. Every word has a purpose, every word pulls the story along, every bit is relevant. There is no extraneous information, there’s no draggy parts to the novel, there creepiness and suspense never drops.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone who likes books that stick with you after the last page. I definitely want to re-read this, now that I know how it ends.

GIGANTIC SPOILER SECTION:
I mean, I warned you in the title. But here we go, here’s my explanation of what happened in the novel.

Terrance arrives in a black car with green headlights. The green signals Junior to ‘wake up’. Junior isn’t human, he’s an AI living with Hen on a farm while the real Junior is off at the Installation. Terrance talks to the couple as a perfunctory measure, just enough to explain the visit, then leaves.

Junior asks some questions, mostly in his head, but doesn’t challenge anything. He simply accepts what Terrance says and makes an effort to live his life. Hen is aloof and standoffish at first, which Junior waves away as stress from the idea that he’ll be going to the Installation soon.

Hen lives with this version of Junior because she must, not because she was given a choice. Or at least, not a choice that she made willingly. This Junior is here, therefore, she must exist with him but she doesn’t have to like it. She keeps distant from him but does as he requests.

An example of this is the piano. She used to play a lot, but doesn’t much anymore. Junior suggests that she play because in his mind she loves to play. But later she tells him that she actually doesn’t like playing which is why she doesn’t do it much anymore. Junior excuses her minor outburst as her being out-of-sorts and of course she’ll want to play the piano later.

Terrance returns after a couple of years and says that because Junior is leaving soon, he’ll stay with them both and observe them. His reasoning is that if he observes Junior, he can give Hen a replica of Junior for when he goes to the Installation.

But the more Terrance is around, the more he talks to Hen. The reader isn’t given insight into what the conversations are about, but Junior becomes more and more antsy about them.

Then Junior arrives. The Junior that we know gets upset and says he’s the original. But this new Junior has quotation marks around his dialogue and refers to the other Junior as ‘it’. The first Junior leaves and the second Junior stays

The second Junior is immediately irritated with how Hen behaves. She doesn’t seem as attentive to him, not like her usual self. One day he goes into the kitchen and finds a note with his name on it. The note is blank.

Terrance arrives in the car with the green lights. Hen’s dialogue doesn’t have quotation marks and she’s much more attentive to Junior. I think Hen has been replaced by an AI and this Junior doesn’t notice.

They’re both living in a simulation. The entire farm property is a well-designed, immersive, VR simulation. But the people with dialogue are real. The bugs that appear in the story are a physical manifestation of bugs in the programming.

Blurb Book Review: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu (spoilers ahead)

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Did I get the image from Goodreads.com? Of course!

This is a story of living in boxes, or self-contained units. The story loops around and around between memory in the narrator’s head and memory he re-lives by visiting with his time machine.


Charles repairs time machines for a living. This doesn’t really satisfy him, but it’s work. He and his dad invented a time machine but that model failed. His dad has gone missing and Charles doesn’t quite know how to look for him, until he encounters himself and starts a time loop.

In this loop, Charles revisits memories of his dad and the building of the time machine. By watching these memories like an observer peeking through a window, Charles comes to understand his dad as a person, not just a parental figure. He watches his dad’s device fail when it’s demonstrated to a bigwig. What Charles knows, but his dad didn’t in that moment, was that another device was created and worked. Now people can travel back and forth in time as a form of recreation.

Charles’ dad spent all his free time in his garage building a machine that would allow him to spend more time doing what he wanted. His dad was insulted at the idea that each moment only comes once and can only be experienced once, so he designs a device that allows the person to revisit events, like how memory works. Ironically, his son spends a decade of his time in between times. He’s jammed the shifter in Present-Infinite where he just hovers and doesn’t move forward or backward.

This could be an allegory to how people hover in time by scrolling through websites, visiting social media, watching television or movies, or playing mindless games on their phones. When doing this, people aren’t engaging with their lives, they’re allowing their lives to slip past them, they’re hovering in between tasks, in between events, in between duties, just like Charles in his personal time travel box.

Charles’ mom is also stuck in a time loop, this one bought and paid for by Charles. In it, she makes dinner over and over and over again to feel helpful and useful, as her husband is missing. She designed the loop and visits the loop often, but also indicates that she’d like to be free of it.

Charles finds his dad in the past, which could be an example of dementia. He was unable to rescue himself and needed someone else to come get him.

Overall, the book was confusing, but good. At times it rambled on and felt repetitive, but that’s how memories are. I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys time loop stories, albeit this one is told in a more relaxed plot structure.

Blurb Book Review: The Future is Yours by Dan Frey (spoilers ahead)

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Where did the image come from? Goodreads.com!

I’ve got a system now. I put a book on hold at the library and when I pick it up I don’t read the blurb. Instead, I open the book and start reading. I try to figure out what the book is about based on the cover and note how long it took before I could figure out the premise.

This one I got right away. The text is the green of old computer text, the last two words are broken, and there’s a clock in the upper left corner. I figured it was time travel, involved computers, and was broken. I was pretty much right.

This is an epistolary novel – one written in a series of documents. In particular: emails, texts, social media posts, articles, and congressional hearing notes. Normally this format wouldn’t appeal to me but time travel is my jam so I read on. Also, I was drawn in immediately. The premise was given in the opening document’s first few lines: “IT WORKS! Seriously, you did it.” and goes on to say this is an email sent from future Ben to past Ben. So there we have it: time travel and future. But the reader knows it’s broken because of the text.

Ben and his friend Adhvan develop a quantum computer that can see one year into the future. They call the company The Future and plan to sell units to the population. The novel doesn’t go into too much detail about what can go wrong, but it does touch on a few things like the future of sports at risk because people can see the end result of the game in advance, the military wants the technology because of course they do, and being able to see your own future.

Ben and Adhvan test their technology out by finding a local news story and trying to prevent the death of someone. This fails. The future, it appears, is set. But as the novel progresses the future becomes unstable. Discrepancies start popping up, between what the prototype computer revealed at different times. The reader finds out why at the end and when it’s revealed some other things fall into place.

The author made time travel remarkably easy for me to follow. Much of the time I’m along for the ride but I can barely comprehend the plot, consequences, or technology. In this novel, I could understand all of that. The plot itself is simple, thankfully, and resolves well.

The author also dealt with exposition exceptionally well. Normally there’d be infodumps or exposition as dialogue as characters explain time travel to each other so the reader can understand it. But here, because the format is documents, the exposition was kept at a minimum and infodumps were inferred. All the emails read like emails and all the texts read like texts between friends. The congressional hearing documents read as I’d expect a transcript to read. The author also managed to keep the character’s voices distinct by demonstrating how they formatted emails, worded texts, and used all caps in addition to their choice of words and sentence structure.

I’d recommend this book to anyone. This is a good entry-level time travel book, a good primer before getting into some seriously confusing novels.

Blurb Book Review: The Long Walk by Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman) (spoilers ahead)

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Cover image lifted from Goodreads.com as is the norm now

I read this book when it was released in The Bachman Books back in 1985 and it stuck with me until now. I remembered the grueling walk and that the main character is the winner, but the meat of the book was lost over the years. Because I enjoyed it so much then I decided I should read it again now.

The story is about one hundred boys teenaged boys that go on The Long Walk. This is a walk at four miles per hour, continuously. There is no stopping for any reason, none at all. Any stopping is met with a warning. Three warnings and the boy is shot on the spot. Attempt to leave the road and you’re shot. Anyone watching cannot interfere or give aid. Any warning can be walked off in one hour. The winner is the last boy walking.

Each walker applies for the honour of participating and must pass a physical and a written exam, including an essay on why you want to join. The prize for winning is anything you want for the rest of your life.

This book takes place over five days of continuous walking. Each walker that dies is mentioned, the author doesn’t skip any, although some are merely a passing reference to the sound of gunshots and a body falling. Others are given a more gruesome end.

This was originally written in 1979 and it shows. I didn’t notice the terminology or flinch at certain words the first time around, but there was no reason to. I was old enough to understand the references and felt like it fit in with society as I knew it then. Now, however, I could see where a lot of it was definitely a product of its time.

The main character, Ray Garraty, is struggling with perhaps feeling some sexual interest in other men. This isn’t outright stated anywhere, the author mentions that Ray has a girlfriend and enjoyed making out with her quite a lot. But Ray also experimented a bit with another boy, saying it was the boy’s suggestion to strip down and touch each other, and also doesn’t quite shy away from another male character offering a hand job. I didn’t see this the first time around, but now I wonder if the bisexuality was intentional and perhaps a reason why Ray signed up. Several characters mention that they signed up to die, as a slow version of suicide, because they knew what was expected, they knew walkers were shot. Although knowing this and experiencing it are two very different things. One or two of the characters say they thought the gun would have a paper flag that said ‘bang’ on it, rather than a real bullet.

I also think Ray inadvertently killed the second-to-last walker. As Ray went up to him and put his hand on the boy’s shoulder, the boy turned and said, “Oh, Garraty!” and fell down. Since both walkers were near-dead, I wonder if Ray accidentally gave this other boy a heart attack by surprising him like this.

While I was engrossed every step of the way I also noticed the writing was a bit clunky or clumsy. I think if this was written today an editor might be a bit more harsh about things like fragments of ideas, dialogue that wasn’t quite smooth, and what might be some shifting pov problems.

This book was just as creepy as the first time I read it, just as disturbing, and just as engrossing. The author has a talent for describing mounting psychological horror and mental breakdowns especially in the earlier works like this one. The goriness is also described easily, as easily as one would describe a meal, and something I’ve come to expect from the author. One thing stands out though, and it’s something that stood out when I first read the book: the author describes bodily functions like urinating, defecating, and even ejaculation. Most other authors skip this as the reader innately understands that bodies do these things, but this author includes the information. For this book, it was relevant to the plot and added a facet to the characters.

It’s never explained why this contest is held every year or what kind of world would have such a brutal contest. That banged around in my brain quite a lot but I was satisfied with the book without the answer.

Would I recommend this book? Maybe, as long as the reader is prepared to read something from a different time, with different references, and possibly offensive language and word choices. The story itself is hauntingly good.