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.

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.

Blurb Book Review: The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins (spoilers ahead)

26892110
Image from my favourite source: Goodreads.com

I put this book on hold at the library because I read a review that said it was weird and that there was nothing quite like it out there. I’m looking for comparable titles for my own book, so I thought this might fit. It doesn’t, not quite, but it was an amazing read. So amazing that I’d like to buy a copy just to have on hand.

The story starts out normal enough. A person named Carolyn is walking down the road, covered in blood and barefoot. She had just murdered someone but wasn’t ruffled at all. Very quickly, the reader learns that she’s something called a librarian but didn’t start out as one, and that she had vague memories of being American.

Information is doled out in little packets. We learn that her cul-de-sac was hit by something when she was young, the neighbourhood children survived, and became librarians with specialties known as ‘catalogues’. Her catalogue was languages; past, present, imaginary, and real.

The author weaves in dimensional realities in a way that felt natural and, well, right. Not once did I feel lost, not once did I have to go back and reread something to confirm information. I was instantly engrossed in the story of Carolyn and her quest to search for Father, the entity that trains the children on their catalogues. He’s missing, and Carolyn and her siblings cannot access the library to search for him.

Carolyn does more than search for Father. She sets up a series of events so she may murder Father and take over his reign. I was absolutely thrilled that she wasn’t thwarted at all, that she did succeed, that her brothers and sisters were eradicated in this process. It’s a bit of a pet peeve of mine, to read how the protagonist is constantly having to alter the plan and change tactics because of a worthy adversary. Some stories suit this well, but this one had enough going for it that constant threats to her plan would’ve been tiresome. I know that I just gave away the ending, but really, the book is worth reading page by page simply for the experience of existing in this universe.

The author also ensured the reader never forgot the fantastical nature of the world. Carolyn and her siblings never quite dressed according to social norms, their conversational skills were lacking but adequate, and their explanations of events showed how different their world was compared to our world. Really excellent anchoring from the author.

The narrative flow was so excellent, so engrossing for me, that I searched to see if the author has written anything else. Why yes, yes there are other works. Except they’re technical manuals for Linux and whatnot.

Like I said above, the story was revealed in perfect sized bits, and arranged in a manner that made the novel easy to read and follow. I very much want to take each scene apart and reconstruct the book in linear form, but only so I can understand it better and apply it to my own work. The author’s voice makes me want to be a better writer, to make other people read my stuff and feel as electrified and energized as I do from reading this book.

I seriously considered writing fan fiction of this, simply to keep myself engrossed in the world for a little bit longer. I may still do so, but when I have enough energy to focus on more than one thing at a time.

If you’re looking for something different but still realistic enough to keep you grounded, for something so well written that guessing the next step is nigh impossible, read this book. I will be recommending it to everyone whose queries even vaguely apply.

Blurb Book Review: The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue (spoilers ahead)

53343065. sy475
Image, as usual, from Goodreads.com

I put this book on hold without reading a synopsis because I’d read the author’s work before and enjoyed the narrative flow. While not disappointed, I was surprised by the subject matter. This tale takes place during the 1918 Spanish Flu. So I read a book involving a pandemic while living in a pandemic. Again.

On the surface, this book is about a woman, Nurse Julie Power, who cares for pregnant women in a makeshift ward in an overflowing hospital in Dublin, Ireland. But it’s also a love story, one that unfolds in teeny tiny bits.

Julie doesn’t fall for a handsome doctor or anything, but instead she falls unknowingly in love with a helper girl named Bridie. Julie isn’t aware of how she feels, exactly, but is aware that at thirty she should be married and popping out children of her own. This is the way. Or was the way, back in the day.

The author does, rather brilliantly, give the reader an unflinching gaze at birthing babies at a time where the process left women scarred or dead. Those that survived would keep on having babies because birth control was rather frowned upon back then.

Also, the author paints a vivid picture for the setting. I could feel the drafty little room, smell the stink of the air, and feel the pang of hunger alongside the characters.

No men were featured. There were a couple that had bit appearances, but barely any speaking lines. What a delight! I’m so accustomed to books chock full of men that, for a while, I was overjoyed when a woman had more page time than a man. Books are better now, yes, absolutely, and I love the trend. After all, we aren’t all white men so why should we read stories about white men? That’s enough politics for one post. Let’s move on.

Not once did I feel like I was taken out of the story. The author managed to keep me firmly anchored in Dublin, in the chill of the room, in the dark of the streets at night. This is part of the reason I blew through this book in a couple of days. The main reason is because of the author’s writing style. As I said above, I love it.

My only complaint is that there aren’t any quotation marks around the dialogue. This makes it hard to read for me, as I’m not always sure someone is speaking or just thinking. But the more I fell into the world the more I was able to gloss over it as a minor pebble in an otherwise smooth road.

I would absolutely recommend this book as an immersive read into a topic that causes many to flinch. Especially now, amid our own overflowing hospitals. Stay safe everyone.

Blurb Book Review: The Silence by Don DeLillo (spoilers ahead)

53879204. sy475
Image, as usual, from Goodreads.com

This book is little, like only 116 pages of big text and wide margins. The words are unjustified (rag right) which looks somewhat amateurish. I don’t know why the author would’ve chosen this, except as a stylistic choice to make the book resemble a manuscript typed on an electric typewriter from the 80’s. Oh, and it’s written in Hemingway style, which forced me to focus on every word. I read the entire thing in one sitting. When I was done, I didn’t quite know what to think.

The characters didn’t seem to be engaging with each other, only existing as separate entities in the same space. The dialogue was jarring and unnatural, the setting barely filled in, and the apocalypse is only vaguely there.

The story felt empty, like there was so much to work with and the author decided to give the reader the barest of bones. There’s an idea of an apocalypse in that a plane (with two of the characters in it) lands suddenly, and a TV (with three other characters watching) goes dark. There’s talk of what happened – no internet, phone, lights, or data – but scantly. I felt like this book was the prologue to a much larger story.

After reading I hopped over to Goodreads to see what others had to say about it, as I felt like I missed something. Boy, did I ever miss stuff.

One review rivaled the book’s length in words. I skimmed through it and realized this person had a much better understanding of the work. Perhaps if I was a literary major, or had any education past high school, I’d’ve found the same references and deeper meanings to the sentences/phrases as the reviewer. As it was, I didn’t. Instead I realized that this book is aimed toward someone who could recognize all the nuances, indulge in them, and contemplate their importance to the world at large. So, not me.

Blurb Book Review: Road out of Winter by Alison Stine (spoilers ahead)

49374466
Image from Goodreads.com

Wow, it’s been a while since I read anything. I participated in NaNoWriMo and finished (yay me!), but my brain felt like it was melting so I took some time off from reading and writing and indulged in the plethora of movies I had queued up and ready to go.

Just as I started to feel like my brain was ready to absorb the written word again, the library informed me of some books on hold. I picked them up just before my city went into another lockdown phase, so, good timing all around. Normally I’d go through the categories I set up for myself and write up a blurb for each one. Not this time. Oh nay nay. I’m just too overwhelmed with life stuff to adhere to such strict guidelines. Instead, I’m simply going to babble like I know what I’m talking about. You know, trade in ‘perfect’ for ‘done’. More of a blurb review than an itty bitty one.


Side note: how the hell am I going to run an author’s website if I can’t even review books on a regular basis? That’s a topic for another day. For now, let’s jump in…

This book is labelled ‘science fiction’, which is probably the reason I wanted to read it. But there wasn’t much scifi to be found. If I squint really hard I can see the apocalyptic future as the reason for the genre, but that’s it.

The premise is that winter never left. There’s no indication of Those In Authority discussing the problem or attempting to find a solution. I would’ve thought the reader would be informed of why winter never left, what did humans do? Or was it an external force? We never find out, which turns out to be okay. The story isn’t about how it got cold, but how Wilodyne (Wil) manages in this new environment.

Wil lives in the Appalachian mountains and grows cannabis in a farmhouse. Her mom latched onto a grower who taught Wil everything, and it turns out Wil is exceptional at the task. She has no idea what caused the cold and seems out of the loop in regards to information. In the day and age of cellphones this had to be explained away. The author did so by saying there wasn’t much service on the farmland so Wil remained unaware of how bad things were getting. Her mom and stepdad leave for California before the book begins, Wil elected to stay behind and tend the cannabis crop.

The cold is like a second, but main, character of the book. It’s ever-present and a constant, gentle reminder throughout the novel. I could feel the cold leeching through the pages and settling into my bones as I read the words. My fingers ached as if I’d been outside shovelling or scraping my car. Excellent work by the author, keeping the theme of cold consistent and never allowing the reader to glance away from it.

The story is about how Wil decides, rather abruptly, to leave the farm and seek out her mom and stepdad in California. She hitches her tiny mobile home to the back of a truck and sets off. By this point she’s already got one tagalong, Grayson, who helps her out a bit. They pick up a couple more people and encounter a few camps, all while the reader learns that Wil might be gay and believes that men frequently pose a threat of some kind.

Overall I enjoyed the book, but it ends open and that bugged me a bit. Wil is headed for California and ends up in a greenhouse – one that’s functioning – somewhere not too far from where she started. It appears to be a nice oasis, finally: a warm and functioning greenhouse, but we don’t get to meet the people running it because the damn book ends. I suppose it can be inferred that Wil flourishes here, as she’s a grower, and will make a suitable home in the snow.

Well, that’s it. Not a bad book, not a great one either. The cold feeling will stay with me for a while, but that might be because of the snow outside my window.