Fiction

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.

Advertisements

Top 5 Fiction Honorable Mentions of 2016

It was SUPER HARD to try to narrow down my top ten books that I read this year, but I think I mostly have the list ready. You won’t see it until December 31st though, because I just might read something amazing between now and then and have to change it, and I’m a little crazy that way. But here are five books that were so, so, so close to being in my top ten for this year but didn’t quite make the cut.

Image result for the underground railroad

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – I know, right?! Seriously, this book was amazing and Colson Whitehead is amazing and it deserves all the praise. BUT I had to cut it in favor of some other great fiction that I felt more strongly about. I loved that he took the Underground Railroad and made it an actual structural thing in this book, and imagined what that would look like. If you haven’t read it, you should read it ASAP and then go read more Whitehead because like I said, amazing.

Image result for fledgling octavia butler

Fledgling by Octavia Butler – This is one of those “why did I wait so long to read this” books. It’s about a young black vampire who wakes up after a violent attack and has amnesia. Octavia Butler plays with vampire lore, race, and genetics in such a fascinating way and I wish I’d been reading this with a book club or something so we could’ve had a deep nerd discussion about it.

Image result for the girl with all the gifts

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey – Definitely one of the most interesting zombie books I’ve read in a long time. Melanie is a really wonderful character, and I loved the ending. I want to see the movie still… but maybe not, because I have some mixed feelings about the race-switching that they pulled in the movie casting.

Image result for IQ joe ide

IQ by Joe Ide – Mysteries aren’t normally my thing, but I was dying to read this novel about a young black man named Isaiah Quintabe with Sherlock-like intelligence and powers of deduction, who is trying to put it to good use by helping people in his community solve the crimes that the cops ignore. The focal point of this one is actually him trying to solve a case for a rap star which wasn’t quite what I expected, but there was a lot to like in this one and I can’t wait for any future sequels Ide puts out.

Image result for the wangs vs the world

The Wangs vs The World by Jade Chang – You’ve probably heard a lot of buzz about this one, and it’s all true! It’s about a rich Chinese-American family who loses everything in the Recession and are driving from California to upstate NY with the few possessions they have left. It’s tender, heart-warming, and at times absolutely hilarious. There’s a certain ketchup incident that I’m sure will be burned into my brain forever.

All five of these should be at the top of your TBR, if you haven’t read them already. And this list was so full of amazing books, can you even IMAGINE what my final top ten is going to look like?!

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

Image result for iq joe ide

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

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

the rise of io

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.

 

The Hike by Drew Magary

I don’t even know where to start. Alright, well I kinda do – one day Ben decides to go for a walk. He’s a family man, out-of-town for a business meeting and staying in a small, sketchy motel in the woods of Pennsylvania. The lady at the desk says there isn’t a path to hike on, but there is. Ben walks for a while until all of the sudden, he sees two large men wearing the skins of rottweiler faces as masks and dragging a young girl’s body, and then he’s running, running, running until he no longer knows where he is. But it’s made very clear that he must stay on The Path – leaving the path means certain death. Staying on the path means only extremely likely death.

This book is BANANAS. So, Ben doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing, what’s real or not real. It seems unreal that there could be an enormous cricket taking up an entire room in an otherwise abandoned house, or that his crush from his college years is in a tent with life-saving supplies, or that a foul-mouthed crab would be his best and only assistant on this weird journey – but it feels real, and Ben quickly learns that his only hope of getting back home to his family is following this damn path through to the end. This story has a very video-game feel to it, with the mostly one-way adventure and successive obstacles to overcome. It also had a bit of a Wizard of Oz feel – some of the horrors that Ben faces seem to come from his own subconscious, but this definitely isn’t a dream.

I think I enjoyed this book for the absolutely bonkers ride that it is, and I read it entirely in one day, but I’m not sure if it’s a book that will be on a favorites list or anything. I still love the author’s first book, The Postmortal, and The Hike can’t even really compare to that. Still, this was a fun, bizarre read so if that’s the kind of thing you’re in the mood for, then this is the book for you.

 

Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn

 

Her hope wilts on its stem before it can bloom into promise.

Here Comes the Sun is about a family of Jamaican women. Margot has been working hard for years for the fancy hotel resort; and secretly sleeping with the foreigners there for extra money to support her family. Her mom forced her to do some unspeakable things as a child, and her main focus is to provide enough money so that her little sister Thandi can avoid the same fate. It’s largely Margot’s extra flow of cash and monstrous ambition that allows Thandi to attend a good private school, where her family just knows that she’ll succeed and one day get a glamorous job that will save them all from a lifetime of poverty. Thandi, however, has things other than school on her mind. Her whole life, she’s seen the positive impact that having lighter skin can get you so she starts sneaking off to a local woman who helps her lighten her skin. For Thandi, lighter skin means more opportunity, more popularity, more safety, and more beauty. Dolores is their mother, and she spends her days selling junk to white tourists. It’s never enough to pay the bills, but she never appreciates what Margot contributes and hangs all of her hopes for a better life on Thandi.

In a country where the tourism industry continues to wreak it’s havoc on the local populace, the people have few options. When all that you’re doing isn’t enough, what else are you willing to do to save yourself and your family? And how do you deal with the fact that those sacrifices might hurt the very people you’re trying to protect?

As you might be able to tell, this is not a happy novel. The bright cover and happy-sounding title are almost in jest, because by the end I just felt a little hopeless. But it touches on SO many important issues – race, homophobia, rape, skin politics, capitalism, prostitution, insecurities, and more. The despair feels so real, which is one of the things that makes this a great book. Nicole Dennis-Benn is a really talented writer and I can’t wait to see what else she writes. I’d feel weird saying that I “enjoyed” the book, since there was so much devastation, but it was well worth the read and definitely deserves the buzz it’s been getting.

(And if you’re participating in #DiverseAThon this week, this would be a good book to include in your reading pile.)

~Sarah

 

When You’re Behind in Reviews = Mini-Reviews!

I’ve done a decent amount of reading this month, but unfortunately me finishing a couple books in the last week or so means that I’m kind of failing on getting those reviews up in a timely fashion. And since I don’t have a ton to say on them anyways, mini-reviews will work to get caught up.

image

Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean

This was on the a list at Book Riot of romances featuring plus-size heroines. I don’t know if Callie is really “plus-size” – it sounds like she was just slightly more curvy than the thin, willowy heroines that frequently appear in historical romances. I still liked Callie, because she was a woman who was out for a little spice in her life, but I’m getting sick of the virgin lady / promiscuous wealthy man mash-up. Also, during steamy scenes when Ralston is kissing her, it says he “ate her face” and I just can not get over that. And that phrasing was used not once, but twice, in two different make-out scenes. ATE HER FACE. How is that good sexy writing?

image

In The Country We Love by Diane Guerrero

Not being a OITNB fan, and never having seen Jane the Virgin, I didn’t really know who Diane Guerrero was but I picked up her memoir just because. It focuses on how at age 14, her undocumented parents were deported and she was left alone in the United States. Immigration is one of those things that always seems to be in the news, and I really suggest you read her memoir and seek out more information before voicing your opinions on immigrants in the US. Oh, and I highly suggest the audiobook version, Diane is a great storyteller.

image

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

“How could he explain to Marjorie that what he wanted to capture with his project was the feeling of time, of having been a part of something that stretched so far back, was so impossibly large, that it was easy to forget that she, and he, and everyone else existed in it – not apart from it, but inside of it.”

Homegoing has been earning a ton of praise, and it is so well-deserved. I don’t know what I can say about it that hasn’t already been said. Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel spans continents and centuries, following the descendants of two sisters – one who was married to a British slave trader, and one who was captured as a slave and sent to the American colonies. Each chapter focuses on one of those descendants, alternating between blood lines, and each story is heartbreaking in it’s own way. I loved that the perspective changed every chapter – you never grew bored with any of the characters, and it gave such fascinating glimpses into so many points in history that are now just smushed under one general heading in American history. I can’t recommend it highly enough, go get it.

Have you read any of these?

~Sarah