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.

Blurb Book Review: Haven by Emma Donoghue (spoilers ahead)

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Set in the seventh century, this is a novel about a priest who receives a dream from God telling him to set up a monastery in a remote location so he may leave the sinful world behind. Artt takes two monks with him, young Trian and older Cormac. They set off and find a craggy island untouched by humans. There, Artt determines they are to serve God.

The story is told from all three character’s pov in alternating passages and is engrossing enough to keep me reading. The hardship these three men faced was incredible, eking out a bare existence with little food and no readily available shelter. Artt, in his religious wisdom, decides things like altars are more important than building a shelter. The work of building and hunting goes to Trian and Cormac where Artt simply directs them and copies religious texts.

Their fellowship crumbles, mostly due to Artt’s leadership, and the book ends in a way that satisfies.

A quick and easy read, this novel was surprisingly interesting. Honestly, I don’t think I would have read a book about three monks in the seventh century had it been written by someone else.

Blurb Book Review: Wanderers by Chuck Wendig (spoilers ahead)

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Clocking in at 780 pages, this novel is weighty. So weighty I almost passed on it. Thankfully, the narrative style made this an easy read.

Nessie doesn’t exactly wake up one day. Instead, she sleepwalks out the door and down the road. Soon, she’s joined by others in a similar state. Nothing can wake them. Nothing can pierce their skin. If you try to hold one back, that person expands like a balloon and pops in a most gruesome manner.

In the midst of this is a pandemic. A fungal infection has entered humanity and is killing them, first slowly, then a cascade reaction takes out most of humanity pretty fast. This was a bit eerie to read as the novel was published a year before COVID became a household name.

The novel is told in alternating points of view and reveals who created these wanderers and why.

Overall, the novel kept my attention. The author was excellent at reminding the reader of the characters’ motives, attitudes, and physical descriptions. At first I found this bothersome but as the pages turned I was grateful for the small reminders because otherwise I’d have too much information to hold in my head all at once.

One nitpicky bit: there was a love storyline between two people, Benji and Sadie, which felt clumsily written, like someone was writing about a fantasy love story rather than a depiction of how two people behave.

Otherwise, this novel was decent. I enjoyed it enough to read the sequel. The characters were diverse and interesting enough to hold my attention, and the plots of the wanderers and the pandemic were well enough written (if a bit gory and gross in parts) that I never lost the thread.

Would I read more by the author, other than the sequel? Maybe, if they aren’t quite so large, or if I have nothing else pressing to read.

Blurb Book Review: Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt (spoilers ahead)

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I put this book on hold because I thought it was written from a non-human point of view. I was partially correct.

Marcellus is an octopus in an aquarium. He was captured when young and has spent his life in a glass tank.
Tova is an elderly woman who cleans the aquarium to keep busy. Her son died under mysterious circumstances thirty years ago.
Cameron is a man in search of his father. His mom gave him up when he was nine and never told him who his father was.

The three of them develop a kind of friendship. First is Marcellus and Tova, who communicate enough to understand each other. Marcellus keeps leaving his tank in search of tasty alternatives to his daily meals (and finds those alternatives in the other tanks). Tova catches him and keeps his secret. She talks to him as she cleans, tells him bits of her life, enough that he understands that her son is at the bottom of the ocean.

Cameron rides into town on a hot lead about his dad. While in Sowell Bay he takes a job at the aquarium to make enough money to survive while there. He’s a bit of a petulant man, I’d think of him as a man-baby, who is pissed off at the world for not giving him what he feels is his due. With a drug-addicted mother and absent father, he was raised by his aunt.

Gradually, Cameron opens up to Tova’s tutelage on how to properly clean the aquarium and learns Marcellus isn’t as stupid as he’d thought.

Marcellus draws a line of connection between Cameron and Tova, and works hard to let her know.

Overall, this book was entertaining. I felt like the author re-iterated information unnecessarily, but that just made it for an easy read. I didn’t have to think or try to work anything out, I could just enjoy the scenes as they unfolded. I didn’t particularly like Cameron’s character, but did see some growth toward the end.

If you like soft novels about family and friendship, this might be a good book for you.