Blurb Book Review: The Book of M by Peng Shepherd (spoilers ahead)

Image from Goodreads.com

This book was fantastic, multi-layered, and engrossing. I’m honestly not sure where to begin.

The plot: People are losing their shadows. Without warning and without prejudice, the shadow just detaches and vanishes. When someone’s shadow is lost, they can do magic.

They can re-route roads, create walls of water, put wings on antlers, or make entire areas disappear. But there’s a cost: the loss of memories. The pull of magic is almost too much to resist, so the person will eventually forget what food or water is and perish.

While the book is told from four character’s perspectives, two stood out to me.

The first was Max. She loses her shadow two years after the phenomenon begins and decides to leave her husband, Ory, and the safety of the abandoned hotel they’d been holing up in. She takes her tape recorder with her and dictates her memories. While travelling she meets up with others who are heading to New Orleans, where they’d heard there might be help for the shadowless.

The author did a fantastic job of writing the slow loss of Max’s memory. At first Max doesn’t seem to be forgetting anything, but once her memories are noticeably failing, they degrade rapidly.

The second was The Amnesiac. This is a character who, just before The Forgetting incident, was in a car accident and lost all his memories. Diagnosed with complete retrograde amnesia, he recalls how to speak, what to eat, and whatnot but has no personal memories. While he’s told he loved sailing, it was just data to him, not something where he could feel the salt spray on his face.

He works with a doctor and the very first person to lose their shadow. As The Forgetting progresses, The Amnesiac tries to continue the doctor’s work of searching for a way to re-attach shadows to people. These new shadows don’t hold the memories of the person, though. A shadow of a rock will make a person comatose. A shadow of a book will give false memories.

The Amnesiac is able to use the dictation to create a new shadow, but does that shadow belong where it’s stitched? The author had me guessing right up until the reveal, which was fantastic.

I want to read this again, just to see if I can pick up the clues of the ending sooner. Also because the author’s rich worldbuilding had me engrossed from the first page to the last. Excellent book, and I’m eager to read more by this author.

Blurb Book Review: Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel (spoilers ahead)

Cover image from the usual place: Goodreads.com

It’s been a while since I read a book. I’ve been working on a synopsis for my novel and I must say, that document was harder to write than the actual book.

Like previous books by this author, this novel tells the story in alternating points of view that are woven together. By the end, everything is tied up in neat little knots, which is something I admire.

This book is about time travel and how one person, Zoey, believes they are living in a simulation because of an anomaly that happens where three timelines overlap briefly. At first, the reader is led to believe the anomaly is caused by a maple tree, the location of the two earlier timelines. This turns out not to be the case.

The time travel aspect of the book is one where no matter what you do to alter the past, you have done already. Gaspery doesn’t follow instructions and ends up creating the very anomaly he’s investigating. If he hadn’t created it, he wouldn’t need to investigate it.

Thankfully, the book doesn’t go into any technical discussion about time travel or physics, instead it’s more of a backdrop to the exploration of how our actions have consequences and how we’re frequently unaware of what ripples we’re creating.

Good book, definitely in line with the others the author has written.

Blurb Book Review: The Seep by Chana Porter (spoilers ahead)

Image from that website: Goodreads.com

What a fantastic book. Absolutely wonderful.

The Seep is a gentle alien invasion. The entity merges with humans to make them happy and give them peace. Police officers are no longer needed and jobs aren’t mandatory. People can grow wings, hooves, and unicorn horns. In addition, the environment changes so that if you drop dirty clothes on the floor, the floor washes and dries them.

Humans’ relationship with animals change as well. Pets are willing companions and not leashed. Animals are no longer bred to be eaten.

Trina and Deeba are married. Deeba announces she’d like to be a baby again and receive the love she didn’t when she was a child. Trina is unable to accept this change, and actually seems to feel there’s too much change already. She barely enjoys everything The Seep has to offer because The Seep took her wife from her. Deeba goes through the transformation anyway and Trina plunges into depression and becomes neglectful of herself and her environment.

When Trina meets a boy who’d never experienced The Seep (these people live in the Compound), she gives him directions, then decides to find him. Make no mistake, she’s not looking for him to help him, she’s looking for him to help her.

The book is immediately engrossing and the worldbuilding rich and intricate for such a little book. I’ll be buying this one so I can read it again and again.

Blurb Book Review: The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix (spoilers ahead)

Cover image from my favourite place: Goodreads.com

A Final Girl is one who is the last one standing in a slasher film. This book is about a support group of these women, each one with her own horror story.

Then one of their group is murdered and the entire group is targeted.

The book hits the ground running with immediate anxiety and well paced action. The reader stays in the main character Lynnette’s head the entire time and while this is exhausting, it’s also engaging and engrossing. The author’s descriptions of environment and characterization are vivid and wonderful as well.

There are plenty of twists in the book, all that I felt were well done. Once the twist was revealed, I checked back in the story and saw the author did indeed leave hints for them so it was a matter of, “I should have seen that coming,” instead of, “I didn’t see that coming”. The end tied things up well and didn’t leave any loose ends that I could find.

The story is centered around the idea that these women had been commercialized after their traumatic events, then forgotten. They meet to support each other while navigating their lives after these horrific events, but aren’t friends. They barely tolerate each other, really. Even when Lynnette asks for help or warn them that their group member’s killer will come after them, they ignore and handwave away any concern. When push comes to shove though, they help each other out.

Overall, the book was interesting and provided a different subject matter for the whole ‘found family’ trope. It also showed that you don’t have to love each other, or even like each other, but you can still bond with each other.

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 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.