Book Reviews

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

All Our Wrong Todays

Thanks to Dutton and Edelweiss for the e-galley! And of course, all views in this review are 100% my own.

“Lionel Goettreider read Cat’s Cradle and had a crucial realization, what he called the “Accident” – when you invent a new technology, you also invent the accident of that technology. When you invent the car, you also invent the car accident. When you invent the plane, you also invent the plane crash. When you invent nuclear fission, you also invent the nuclear meltdown.”

“But I have a theory too: The Accident doesn’t just apply to technology, it also applies to people. Every person you meet introduces the accident of that person to you. What can go right and what can go wrong. There is no intimacy without consequence.”

You know how we look at movies like Back to the Future and kind of laugh at how back in the day, everyone thought the future 2016 was going to be crazy futuristic? Hover cars and weird clothes and food in pill form and all that? Well, it really happened! And Tom knows it really happened because that’s the 2016 he grew up in. The Goettreider Engine in 1965 gave the world free, clean energy and propelled the globe into an era of amazing technology. But even in this ridiculously amazing techno-utopia Tom is having a rough time, and then he makes it worse when he has a time travel accident and changes history, landing himself stuck in the crappy version of 2016 that we’re all used to. All he wants is to set the timeline straight and get back to the existence he knows – but at the same time, there are some aspects of his life that are definitely better in our 2016. What’s a wayward time traveler to do?

I had a blast reading All Our Wrong Todays – I flew through it in about 2 days, and it’s definitely one of those books that I had to describe in detail to my husband because I needed someone to talk to about it. It’s super interesting to see Elan Mastai’s version of this ideal world where technology has basically freed us from our daily worries – food, health care, housing, and other necessities of life are now a fact of life, available for all. In this techno-utopia we’re free to focus on the work that we truly want to do – but that doesn’t necessarily erase all of the problems in life. I loved reading about this theory of time travel and how exactly it finally works. Tom is a great narrator – at times juvenile and frustrating, but also incredibly relatable, funny, and poignant. Even when he gets in his own way, I felt myself rooting for him.

One other note – I saw some reviews on Amazon that said something about the women in Tom’s life only being there to help him achieve his goals, and I have to disagree on that. While Tom does some typical crappy guy things, the women in the book DO matter, and I think it becomes more and more apparent as the book moves on just how much those women matter to Tom. So yeah, if you see those reviews… I think one in particular didn’t actually read much of the book, and maybe just try it and see for yourself.

This book comes out on February 7th – mark your calendars so you can get your hands on it right away.

Mini-reviews because I’m way behind

Y’all I’m behind and there’s no way I’m catching up, so let’s do some mini-reviews! These are all books I read in December, so I guess this would be my normal monthly review/recap post, except I’m not going to talk about stats since I already did my 2016 wrap-up. Anyhoo, I read a lot of good things at the end of the year! So if you’re somehow still holding on to bookstore gift cards that you got for Christmas, you might want to consider using them on some of these.

I’m Judging You: A Do Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi – This, like many recent books by funny ladies, is a worthwhile humorous read in which Luvvie talks about how her friend’s need to choose better boy toys but also how we need to be better people in general – less homophobic, less racist, etc. There were some pieces that absolutely cracked me up and I highlighted and read out loud to people, but one of the bits that sticks out in my mind the most is when she talks about the teachers and kids in her (mostly white) school basically refusing to learn how to say her name (Ifeoluwa), and how her last name gives people so much trouble they barely try, but yet we can all pronounce Schwarzenegger with no trouble. I didn’t read this on audio, but I heard it’s GREAT, so maybe you should do that.

The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla – This is a collection of essays by British immigrant and POC authors about their experiences. Since I live in the US, the conversations and news about race are usually centered on American experiences – and weirdly, trying to Google to find out the race issues that other countries are struggling through doesn’t turn up much useful information. I’m so glad I got to read this, which gave me insight into some of the prejudices and microaggressions that are ingrained in British culture. This isn’t available to purchase in the US, even on Amazon, but you can get your copy from The Book Depository easy peasy.

Do You Want to Start a Scandal by Tessa Dare – I haven’t loved a Regency historical romance this much in a long, long time. Charlotte is trying to avoid being thrown in front of eligible bachelors by her match-making mama, because she just wants to go on a traveling tour with her bestie. Piers is a marquess but also secretly a spy, who certainly has no interest in marriage unless it’s necessary to keep his cover from being blown. One night Charlotte and Piers are caught alone in a room together and mistakenly taken to be secret lovers. They’re engaged, unless Charlotte can prove who the real mystery lovers are. I giggled SO MUCH reading this, and actually really liked Charlotte and Piers – the character-building was fantastic and the romance was realistically built up. I can’t wait to read more Tessa Dare (if you’ve read more of her novels PLEASE give me recs on which ones to read next.)

How to Make White People Laugh by Negin Farsad – I saw Negin speak at Book Riot Live and immediately went to buy her book. She is an Iranian-American-Muslim lady, and her book talks about her growing up and wanting to be involved in activism and advocacy, and how she does that by trying to make people laugh. She discusses being a “hyphenated” person in a white-dominated society, and her work to use comedy to combat the irrational fear that some Americans have of anyone who identifies or looks Muslim. I really want to watch her documentary The Muslims Are Coming! soon.

The Wangs vs The World by Jade Chang – This totally deserves all the praise it’s been receiving. Chinese immigrant Charles Wang was a massively successful businessman who made his fortune in make-up- that is, before the recession of 2008 hit. Now the once-wealthy Wangs are broke and on a road trip across America, and it’s a bumpy, funny, heart-warming ride. The Wangs are flawed but quirky and I had a great time with them, and was sad when the book ended.

Ghost Girl in the Corner by Daniel Jose Older – This is just a short little novella, but if you enjoyed Shadowshaper then it’s a must-read (especially since it’s only 99 cents.) I’m not going to go into any details because it’s such a quick read, but figured I’m mention it here in case you like Daniel Jose Older’s other books but didn’t know about this.

Have you read any of these?

November Recap

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Alright, November was awesome for a few reasons (trip to DC, trip to NYC for Book Riot Live, Thanksgiving, etc) but it was not awesome in terms of reading time. I was hella busy and I managed to read 4 books. And I finished the fourth one, the audiobook The Clancys of Queens, at like 9 pm on the last day of November which I was happy about but then led to a heated discussion between me and the honeyman about whether or not that “counts” as reading a book. I may or may not have threatened to stab his kneecap with the pen I was holding.

Anyways, let’s see what I read!

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The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey – Such a surprisingly lovely book about zombies! There are zombie children in this book that function like normal children except you know, they have a hunger to eat people. I thought it was great and I really enjoyed reading it. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I have some feels about the race-switching in the casting.

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Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley – I read this, my first Walter Mosley, partly because of Luke Cage and partly because I knew he was going to be at Book Riot Live! I missed him at BRL, but this was a really great read. Mystery isn’t so much my jam, but I enjoyed Easy Rawlins and the social commentary in the book enough that I’m definitely going to be picking up the second book.

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Let It Shine by Alyssa Cole – Pretty sure I already had this e-book, but I bought the print copy for Alyssa to sign at BRL (she was so sweet!) and I sat down to read it over a relaxing Thanksgiving weekend. Wonderful, short little historical romance about an interracial couple falling in love and fighting for civil rights. I think I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for Sofie and Ivan.

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The Clancys of Queens by Tara Clancy –  I saw Tara speak at a panel at BRL and she was just SO great and made everyone laugh and then cry a little bit (myself included) and so I grabbed this on audio ASAP. It’s about her growing up in wildly different environments as a child – working class and kind of broke most of the time, but also spending weekends in the rich Bridgehamptons. It’s very much a love letter to her big, crazy family and so many of them reminded me of my family (I have Italian family members) and you should definitely listen to it on audio because her voice is distinct and she’s a great storyteller.

 

STATS – BOOKS

Books read: 4

Female authors: 2 (50%)

Non-white authors: 2 (50%)

Format breakdown: 2 print, 1 e-book, 1 audiobook

STATS – COMICS

Issues read: 1 (This was the Adulthood is a Myth collection of comics by Sarah Andersen, ALSO from Book Riot Live.)

Female authors/illustrators: 1

Non-white author/illustrators: 0

Format breakdown: Print.

 

Okay then! I’m just realizing how BRL-influenced my reading was this month, holy crap. I can’t believe I didn’t read basically ANY comics this month. My stack is over-flowing, I tell ya.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

Wow you guys. This book.

It’s pretty fair to say that I actually didn’t know much of what this book was about. It’s been on my radar for ages, and the excitement of basically everyone on the internet exploded when it came out last week, so I had to go and get it for myself. I knew that it was vaguely about a black religious community, but that was about it. I sat down this weekend and devoured it.

When Nadia is a high school senior muddling through grief after losing her mother, she starts seeing Luke, a college football star working in a diner because of an unfortunate injury. Their romance doesn’t last but they have a secret, something Nadia doesn’t even share with her best friend Aubrey, and that secret will follow them through early adulthood and warp their relationships in ways they could never have anticipated. They all have their flaws, but you can’t help but feel for each one of these characters as they navigate through what life has dumped in their laps.

So, the secret is such a big thing, but I don’t want to say what it is in case anyone reading this has avoided that detail so far and doesn’t want it to be spoiled. But I very, very much loved the topic and the many ways in which it was discussed and dissected. But the other big piece of this book is the concept of mothers. It’s about how our mothers affect our lives, whether they are present or absent. It’s about the different shape that mothers or mothering can take – it can be a caring sister, or a doting daughter, or one of those old wise ladies at church praying for the community. It can be the ways in which you choose to be there for friends and family, it can be knowing the difference between right and wrong, it can be doing the hard thing even if doesn’t feel right. Mothering can be the decision not to be a mother, or the decision to actively pursue motherhood no matter what.

Brit Bennett did an absolutely wonderful job in this book. There were so many quotes that I jotted down to muse over later, that lend insight on blackness, and sadness, and womanhood. I absolutely cannot wait to see what she puts out next, but whatever it is I’m here for it. She’s going on my auto-buy list.

Have you read it yet? What did you think?

Fledgling by Octavia Butler

 

This is definitely one of those “Why did I wait so long to read this??” books. I picked up Fledgling from a used bookstore a couple years ago, but it’s just been sitting on my shelf. I added it to my TBR for this month because I wanted to read something I’ve had on my shelves for a while, and plus it was about vampires so perfect for Halloween-time, right? Well, it was not even remotely scary so maybe not a great Halloween pick, but it was still a great read.

Fledgling is about a black girl named Shori. She’s a 53-year old vampire who looks like she’s about 10 or 11, but she doesn’t know any of this about herself. At the book’s opening, she wakes up barely alive – blind and burned, with a crushed skull. She eventually heals, but with no memory of who she is or what has happened to her. She comes to realize that she is a vampire, an experimental, genetically modified one who is unique in her ability to be in the daylight, and that she is the only survivor of a brutal attack on her family. Shori has to set out to learn about herself, about what it means to be a vampire, and who is launching the attacks against her people.

I kind of very much love Octavia Butler’s version of vampire lore. I don’t want to spoil much, but I think most of it makes a lot more sense than the traditional folklore. She does some unique things with their existence, abilities, and traditions that I haven’t seen done elsewhere. I think that you’ll like this a lot if you enjoy the mythology of vampires more than the action and gore of vampire stories. But for me, that’s only one part of what made this so interesting.

Race plays a secretly big role in this book, and Butler uses it to make some commentary on the way the concept of race exists in our world, through her use of genetic modification in Shori’s creation to how insidious racial bias is. I had a great, long conversation with my husband about the race dynamics in Fledgling, especially after a pretty critical review I happened across online when I was about ⅔ through the book. And of course, Octavia uses this simple plot – who is trying to hurt Shori and how can they be stopped – as a backdrop to play with concepts of sexuality, consent, power, family, justice, and intimacy. I wish that I had read this with a book club because there’s just so much to be picked apart here. I love it when novels give me a lot to chew over.

Have you read it? Thoughts?

IQ by Joe Ide

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Thank you SO much to Mulholland Books for giving me the chance to read and review this! I promise all thoughts expressed here came from my own head.

Man, this cover though, right? I love it. I’ve been looking forward to IQ since I first heard about it a few months ago. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A resident of one of LA’s toughest neighborhoods uses his blistering intellect to solve the crimes the LAPD ignores.

East Long Beach. The LAPD is barely keeping up with the neighborhood’s high crime rate. Murders go unsolved, lost children unrecovered. But someone from the neighborhood has taken it upon himself to help solve the cases the police can’t or won’t touch.

They call him IQ. He’s a loner and a high school dropout, his unassuming nature disguising a relentless determination and a fierce intelligence. He charges his clients whatever they can afford, which might be a set of tires or a homemade casserole. To get by, he’s forced to take on clients that can pay.

This time, it’s a rap mogul whose life is in danger. As Isaiah investigates, he encounters a vengeful ex-wife, a crew of notorious cutthroats, a monstrous attack dog, and a hit man who even other hit men say is a lunatic. The deeper Isaiah digs, the more far reaching and dangerous the case becomes.

So my brain really focused on the “genius kid solves cases that the police ignore” bit and forgot the part about this being about him working on a rapper’s case, so I was a tad disappointed that the focus wasn’t more on IQ using his Sherlock-like intellect to solve cases for the city’s downtrodden, but that was my own fault. Outside of that, I really enjoyed this.

The book bounces back and forth between IQ’s teenage years when he used his intelligence in less honest ways, and the current day where he’s trying to figure out who set a crazy hitman out to kill a failing rap star. A lot of the book, especially in the flashbacks, is dedicated to explaining how IQ grew up and what motivates him to solve cases for people today. There’s a wide range of emotions here too – my heart hurt for some of the things IQ went through, but then I literally had to pause reading to laugh out loud at some other parts, like the summary of ridiculous fights between the rapper and his ex-wife.

Honestly, I kind of had a good idea early on who was going to be the bad guy and I was right, but this was still a fun read. I hope there are more to come, because I want to see more of IQ’s smartypants self and I’d love to see future books delve more into the social justice side of his cases. I have a feeling that IQ has the potential to evolve into a hero-for-hire kind of mystery series and I would be all over that.

~Sarah

You Can’t Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson

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“Society doesn’t exactly make life terribly easy for black women – and yes, life is hard for everyone – but black women have their own unique battles, a Molotov cocktail of racism and sexism.”

I requested this on Edelweiss because I love funny-lady-memoir books, and ones by WOC are especially hard to come by, so thanks so much to PRH for approving my request! And it’s a double-win, because Phoebe Robinson is going to be at Book Riot Live and now I am extra psyched to possibly meet her in person. (We’ll see how that goes, I’m shy.)

The range of topics in these essays is broad, but man I hope she writes more books because I could read her thoughts on all the things. She’s hilarious and goes off on weird rambling tangents and it’s awesome. Basically, if you like funny-lady books and are even mildly interested in commentary on race and gender, then you’ll enjoy this much. And if you don’t get why you shouldn’t be touching (or asking to touch) a black person’s hair, then you desperately need to read this and many more books. This might be a good starting point.

Fave parts!

  • Why she loves boats.
  • When she talks about her Not-So-Guilty Pleasures and is talking about the famous dudes she’d like to sleep with, and this comes up: “Sure, he’s got biceps and triceps for days. Of course, eing incredibly talented at banging on drums all day means that he is most likely to put his thing down, flip it, and reverse it. But his name is Larry. Y’all. I can’t call out “Larry” during sex. I’m not about that life.”
  • She talks about the hyper-awareness that all black people live with and how exhausting that is.
  • She writes a list of demands to the First Female President, which includes forcing the world to become comfortable with the word “vagina”.
  • She TEARS APART the white lesbian couple who sued the sperm bank they used for giving them a black baby, because having a black child made their lives hard, partly because they live in a racist neighborhood. I enjoyed her critique of those women SO HARD.
  • She talks about coded language, which is often racist but white people will cling to it and claim that their use of those words in that context wasn’t racist. (AKA, that co-worker who told me to avoid a certain suburban apartment complex because it was “ghetto”. What she meant was that there were a lot of non-white people living there. That’s it.) “Coded language allows the speaker to deny any sort of responsibility unless their back is against the wall, in which they’ll generally offer up a paltry ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’ non-apology.”
  • Her speaking about the movie Kingsman and how the ending was just stupid and ridiculous. (And I agree, it kind of ruined the whole tone of the movie.)

Go get it and go read it! And then go on YouTube and watch her Woke Bae videos, which are delightful.

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

I don’t even know what I just read.

The Library at Mount Char starts off with Carolyn walking down a stretch of road – she’s bloody, she’s holding the knife she just used to murder someone, and she’s smiling. She lies her ass off to a concerned driver, and goes about her business. Carolyn is actually pretty likable. She’s a Librarian, not really in the traditional sense, and she’s looking for her Father. He’s gone missing, and her and her adopted siblings – all taken by Father years ago and raised together in their particular specialties – are trying to find him. But Carolyn knows that with Father gone, the Library is up for grabs, and she has a plan to take claim over it and therefore all of existence.

I know, this doesn’t make a lot of sense. This book doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’s written in a way to be kind of a mindfuck, and halfway through the book I was still saying “Geez, this book is bonkers”. I really liked the bizarre aspect of it that constantly kept me guessing. I liked Carolyn a lot – she’s not a character you’ll probably fangirl over, but she has a steely core about her that appealed to me. Steve, a kind-of friend of Carolyn’s, develops a sweet bond with a lion and I love strong human-animal relationships like that. People are killed but never really stay dead and there are basically human puppets running errands and the Librarian siblings can all work some funky magic that they say isn’t magic. Basically, this was a crazy, crazy ride and kind of perfect for fall/Halloween reading if you’re into that kind of thing.

But… I’m still not sure how I feel about this book though. It was good, it was weird. But I’m not sure if it’ll be one of those books that really sticks with me after another week or so. You don’t get to know most of Carolyn’s other siblings too well, and I think the author probably could have cut a few of them and been just fine. There were at least three that are mentioned once or twice but otherwise don’t really play a part, and their “specialties” didn’t really seem to add to the plot. The ending kind of gave the illusion that there could be a sequel if the author feels like it, and I don’t know if I’d be into that. I already ended this book with a little bit of a “what was the point of all that” kind of feeling.

So yeah. It was a good, but not my favorite. If you’re going to read it, I totally suggest doing it now with the cooler weather and falling leaves and spooky mood everyone tends to get in around now.

The Rise of Io by Wesley Chu

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Thanks Angry Robot and NetGalley for this e-ARC!

You guys, Wesley Chu is some sort of sci-fi/action wizard. As I’ve said often on here before, his Tao series is fantastic – I loved all three books and the novella that came out after. I was SUPER psyched when I found out that he was starting a new follow-up series – the events take place in the same world and chronologically after the first series, but follow a new main character. You don’t have to read the Tao series to read The Rise of Io – it’s helpful, but you can definitely start here if you want.

The Rise of Io follows a young, abrasive woman named Ella Patel – she’s a talented con-artist and thief struggling to keep her head above water in one of the poorest sections of India, recently ravaged by the alien war between the Genjix and Prophus. Hoping for a reward, she jumps in to help in a fight and then she’s inhabited by Io – an unimpressive Prophus alien who now has to get Ella trained and integrated as an agent, in an area of the world with no tactical support. Ella is not happy about the alien sharing her head, and her and Io are set to clash heads while trying to complete Io’s mission.

Ella is a riot – she’s crafty, mean, and a fabulous opportunist but she’s got a kind heart. I loved how ornery she is with Io – it’s exactly how you’d expect someone to react to an alien suddenly in their head and able to read their mind. She’s not shy about voicing her resentment. Io is an interesting alien – in contrast to Tao from the earlier books, she’s not accomplished much in her millennia on Earth. Her military ventures have been failures, and her hosts mostly insignificant. Even so, her cunning is noteworthy and her frustrations with Ella have some merit to them. Ella and Io have to try to work as a team, but it’s on shaky ground.

I admit to feeling a bit of hesitation going in, because add-ons to a beloved series can always be tricky. These are new characters, but would the story feel stale? Would the plot follow the same formula? I had nothing to worry about – Wesley Chu’s ability to write fast-paced action, entertaining characters, and new plot twists is a thing to marvel at. The Rise of Io will be released on October 4th, but I’m already searching for news about the next book.