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.

Blurb Book Review: Upgrade by Blake Crouch (spoilers ahead)

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I’m just blasting through books! I have a stack of five more that I want to get read before they’re due back at the library.

I’ve read two other books by this author and I must admit, this one was easier to follow even though it was science-heavy. But easy to follow doesn’t necessarily mean good.

The novel is about upgrading human DNA to improve both physical and mental aspects. The narrator’s mother was a geneticist who tried to improve crops but ended up killing around 200 million people. Genetic engineering became outlawed and the narrator, Logan, is arrested for his part in the massacre. He serves time and gets hired by a government agency intent on locating anyone participating in gene editing.

When Logan is the victim in a bombing, his genes become altered via a virus. He becomes a kind of superhuman. The government captures him and observes him to track the extent of his changes. While the changes are setting in, a mysterious figure breaks him out. This mysterious person turns out to be his sister – also upgraded – who wants to follow in their mother’s footsteps and upgrade all of humanity. He believes he must stop her at any cost.

I had no connection with the main character. I didn’t care about him at all, which made it hard to care about the story. I also found the author’s style to be a bit distracting. This novel was definitely easier to follow but I had a sense of general misogynic threads. As an example, Logan was seeing a psychologist named Aimee. Not “Dr. –“, but Aimee. Also, Logan’s wife, for no reason at all, gets into a bathtub with Logan while he’s in pain from the upgrade. Why would she do that except to have the reader imagine her naked? A regular bathtub barely fits two people, which made this whole scene just a bit distasteful.

The author also used nouns as verbs. The character ‘glassed’ the area (looked through binoculars), and ‘badged’ in (used a security badge to electronically open a door), and ‘broomed’ the area (swept it). While I can accept these, they did pull me out of the story a bit.

Overall, it was entertaining enough to finish. I was curious about how Logan would save the world, but I admit I rolled my eyes at the solution. While it was good, it was also a bit hokey.

Blurb Book Review: City of Orange by David Yoon (spoilers ahead)

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This book left me thinking about loneliness, being alone, and survival.

Adam wakes up in some sand surrounded by cement, with a head injury and no idea who he is, where he is, or what’s happened to civilization. He finds a strange key in his shoe and a bottle of pain relievers in his pocket.

Assuming the world has ended somehow and that he’d been attacked by someone, he begins to figure out how to survive until he can remember things. He finds a few tools in the flotsam of the dried up river and a faucet with running water. After a short time he also finds someone’s shelter under a bridge. Inside the shelter is a camping stove, matches, and some canned food.

Anything that brings memory back is pushed away. Can labels are removed and he pulls himself out of memory as quickly as possible. He knows that whatever is lurking in his head is bad and he’s just not ready to face it yet.

While surviving, he encounters a young boy, Clay, who becomes a sort of friend while Adam tries to navigate this new world.

What got me was how Adam was alone and nobody seemed to be looking for him. He had no phone and no thoughts of one, except that they were things people had Before. Before what? The reader isn’t told until near the end.

Everything is explained, slowly, in little bits, in a way that satisfied my curiosity.

This novel made me think of our online world and how if we simply stop posting something, we just disappear. If we have no contacts in real life, our disappearance is barely noted. Some may wonder where we are or what happened, but our attention is quickly taken away by some other tidbit of information swirling around us.

It also made me think of how alone we are even when surrounded by people. Sometimes an event will shatter our world and even though we’re reeling, others are carrying on with the mundanity of life.

Excellent book, highly recommend it.

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

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It’s been a while since I finished a book. I’ve been busy planning for my first ever vacation and that’s taken up most of my brain power. I did finish this one, though.

When maps are made, the cartographer will often add a town that doesn’t exist as a way of copyrighting the map. These tows, in real life, are called Paper Towns and sometimes a town will sprout up in that location. In this novel, extra rooms or towns are called ‘phantom settlements’ and they can only be accessed by viewing the map as you go to the location.

I thought that was a really cool concept. Rooms that don’t exist unless you have the map? Fantastic! But the book’s focus was heavily romantic rather than magical realism. So heavily romantic that I think the book should be shelved under romance, not mystery.

The constant hand-wringing of the main character, Nell, got really annoying really fast. Sure, she had a relationship with another character, Felix, and when they were both fired from New York Public Library their relationship ended….but could there be more? Could they be together again? Could they ever love again? If you like romance, you’d appreciate this far more than I did. I just wanted to get on with the story about magic rooms.

In addition to my irk about romance, the author overused several phrases to the point where I was rolling my eyes by the end. You don’t need to tell me the ‘lion statues flanked the stone steps’ more than once. I can remember where the lion statues were once I’ve been told. I don’t need to hear about how Nell was so tiny that she drowned in her oversize cardigan more than once. Please use a different method of describing her, thank you. But for romance, this fits I guess.

The plot was a bit weak. Nell finds a bunch of maps in a dusty storage area of NYPL and brings them to her father, who heads the department. He pitches a fit over them. She fights him on them. Felix backs her up. Her dad has them both fired and shunned in the industry.

That seemed over the top. I mean, wouldn’t the father find a better way of dealing with these maps – one of which holds the secret to a missing town – than making a big stink about it? His insistence that it’s worthless only makes Nell investigate the map.

We find out later that Nell’s mom was in that magic town when all the maps to it burned. She died as a result. And since you can’t go to the town without the map, it was lost forever. The group of friends mapping the place out all go their separate ways and live their lives.

But then Nell investigates and discovers not all the maps were lost. One of them was in that bunch she found at NYPL.

I felt like the book took a long time to get where it was going. A lot of stuff could have been edited out as it was just repetitious. The climax was interesting but not particularly shocking.

Again, if you like romance, this might be an interesting mystery/romance for you. For me, I just wanted more action and focus on magic rooms and towns.

Blurb Book Review: Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica (spoilers ahead)

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This novel was a remarkably difficult read. Not for the narrative style, but for the content. Still, I was glued to it from the first page right until the end.

Some people are bred to be consumed. In the novel, this is literal. A virus made animal meat inedible so all animals were exterminated. The population still wanted meat, so the government created and monitored a process for sterile cannibalism.

In reality, the working class is bred for consumption of corporations. Celebrities are bred or curated for consumption by the masses. The only perceived value some people have is what they can offer in terms of content.

Beyond cannibalism, the novel explores how humans can sanitize the most horrific acts by using clinical language. The characters weren’t consuming people, they were consuming ‘special meat’. The group of humans entering the processing facility weren’t human, they were ‘head’ or ‘meat’.

What was truly disturbing was how fast this society adapted to this concept. The main character, Marcos, remembers animals as a child. As a young adult he worked in a meat processing facility where he learned how to handle the head and the ins and outs of the industry. Now, as a middle-aged man, he ran a processing plant for special meat.

This novel is a masterpiece in examining human attitudes and beliefs, of our societal norms, and of how easily people can be manipulated. It’s also, hands down, the most disturbing book I’ve ever read. I recommend this book to anyone who can stomach the contents.

Blurb Book Review: The Shimmering State by Meredith Westgate (spoilers ahead)

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This story takes place in a world where memories can be extracted and put into pill form, called Memoroxin. These pills can be consumed by people and they’ll experience those memories as if they were their own. This process becomes part of a new medical therapy for Alzheimer’s patients, where they can experience their own memories in hopes of repairing the mind or at least staving off the disease for a while.

The pills are also used recreationally by others.

At no point in the narrative did I read that consent was given by the memory’s owner to be shared. The implication could be that people voluntarily sold their Memoroxin pills for money, but other than that, each consumption of the pill, when it was someone else’s memory, was without consent.

On to the characters.

Lucien moves to Los Angeles to be with his grandmother while she undergoes this treatment for Alzheimer’s. His mother died of cancer very recently and he’s still raw with the loss of her.

Sophie moved to Los Angeles to advance in ballet. She got the lead in a production, La Sylphide.

Dr. Sloane runs a rehab clinic for people who have become addicted to Memoroxin, as well as heads up the research for Alzheimer’s patients.

Lucien sees his grandmother’s pills and yearns to feel closer to his mother. He steals a few of the pills and consumes them, learning about a secret his grandmother had as well as how much love his grandmother had for him and his mother. When his grandmother dies he takes the remainder of the pills all at once.

The novel opens with Lucien entering a rehab facility and agonizing over a secret baby. From this intro, I thought the novel would be about revealing the secret and the consequences of that action. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. The secret is revealed to the reader, but the information goes nowhere. Lucien doesn’t use it for anything other than to feel closer to his grandmother.

Sophie works as a waitress while not training for her performance. There, she sees others spaced out on Mem. She also spies a particularly distasteful man, Ray, who is a mover and shaker in Hollywood. He regularly uses Mem and encourages young actors to do the same. Sophie doesn’t like him, she merely tolerates him.

Her personality is somewhat irksome to me, but I’ll admit she’s a well written character. She’s anxious and is the kind of person that goes along to get along. At one point, Ray corners her into accepting a drink with him.

She knows he takes Mem. She knows he forces it on others. Yet she accepts a drink with him rather than have him mad at her. After all, he can make one single phone call and she’ll never work as a waitress again. This bothered me so much. There are plenty of restaurants in Hollywood and what, he could ruin her chances at earning minimum wage plus tips? This storyline felt weak.

Anyway, she accepts the drink and, surprise surprise, it’s laced with Mem. The memories she ingests are violent cravings for injuring people. These violent tendencies linger after the Mem wears off, enough that she seeks out more Mem and cannabis to numb herself. She spirals out of control and ends up in the rehab facility run by Dr. Sloane.

Dr. Sloane is barely more than a secondary character, but it’s worth noting that while she and her partner developed these pills, she ingested some of her partner’s memories. She saw herself, unflatteringly, through her partner’s eyes. At her rehab facility she treats a man named David, who turns out to be her daughter’s boyfriend.

During treatment, the patient is given a pill bottle full of their own memories. They take them in a controlled setting to help heal traumas and even erase disturbing memories.

Dr. Sloane’s daughter, Remy, takes David’s pills as a way of remembering him. Dr. Sloane finds out by accident, just before Remy is hit by a car. Brain damage results and Remy is taken to the rehab center as the facility deals with memory loss and brain injury. Dr. Sloane takes it upon herself to remove all of Remy’s memories of David under the guise of protecting her daughter.

Then Dr. Sloane takes her daughter’s pills, the ones with the memories of David. The author writes that Dr. Sloane feels like she understands her daughter more as a result, and even knows that this action is a violation.

I almost threw the book at the wall.

So the doctor, who took the pills without her partner knowing, also takes her daughter’s memories away and consumes them for herself and is somehow supposed to be sympathetic to the reader? No.

The other two characters, Lucien and Sophie, fall in love at the facility. When they leave, their memories of the facility are erased. They find each other anyway afterwards and start to fall in love again.

I could have been satisfied there. If this book is considered a love story, well the circle is complete, the couple is together.

But the author ties up one more thread.

Sophie goes to the restaurant/bar where Ray is hanging out. She’d selected one of her post-therapy pills that was thick with her disgust for this man, her and her coworkers’ contempt for him, and her overall loathing for him. She crushes the pills and slips them into his drink.

So, she was violated by being drugged with horrible memories and her reaction is to violate him with distasteful memories. The author gives the impression that Sophie is proud of herself, that Ray will feel these awful feelings and they will impact him in the same way the violent memories impacted her.

But they won’t. Why? Because of the person Ray was. He’s the kind of person who doesn’t care what a bunch of waitresses think of him. Their opinions are beneath him. I’m sure he’d feel awful for a moment or two, then shrug it off as ‘a bunch of bitches’ or some such thing.

That ending left a foul taste in my mouth. Revenge is never a good answer. While in this novel you can make a person feel what you feel by ingesting their memories, you can’t forever change their outlook on life based on that dose. How a person reacts to feelings, emotions, and memories is just as important as feeling something someone else feels.

Anyway, the narrative style was rich with imagery while also feeling like the author was telling me the story. An odd combination that frustrated me throughout. The concept was interesting though. Extracting memories and consuming them is fascinating.

I really didn’t like lack of consent throughout though.

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

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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)

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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.