“Tough luck for elected officials. The beast you see got 50 eyes”

infomocracy

 

This book was suggested to me because I was looking for something in the vein of William Gibson and it definitely fit the bill. Malka Older’s debut novel is a smart, fast-paced science fiction novel with tons of political intrigue and lots of action. Also there’s two more in the series that I can’t wait to get my hands on and read.

The story takes place in the not too distant future. Nation states no longer exist and have been replaced by microdemocracies which can be as small as a few city blocks. The corporate Heritage party has held the supermajority (the party holding the largest number of microdemocracies) for the last two election cycles and things are getting hectic as the next election approaches. The story focuses mainly on three characters: Ken an earnest employee for the Policy1st party who is looking to advance his career, Domaine an operative working against microdemocracies who alternates between cool and unbearably smug and Mishima, a highly skilled operative for Information (the internet,but even more pervasive) who I absolutely loved. Mishima is a smart badass woman who was so much fun to read. I automatically perked up for the Mishima chapters.

Older drops you right into the story and you have to figure it out as you go along. The plot moves quickly and there are a lot of moving parts but they all come together towards a deeply satisfactory ending. This could have been a stand alone book so I’m really excited to see where the next two are headed plot-wise.

Especially if my girl Mishima is there.

“You’ll feel light in your body”

children of blood and bone

I bought this book shortly after it came out because it sounded interesting and I want to support new authors. I also liked fantasy based on West African rather than European mythology for a change of pace. Overall I thought the story was solid and I’ll definitely be picking up the next one when it comes out. I found some of the main characters to be frustrating but this may just be a side effect of not reading a ton of YA lit. I’m hoping they’ve experienced some much needed growth in the next installment.

The story takes place in Orisha which was once filled with magic. Those who could wield it were called Maji, who were powerful and respected across the land. Then a tyrannical king declared magic illegal, destroyed it and killed all Maji who’s powers had manifested. This included the mother of our main character Zelie. Since then, the surviving Maji have lived as a hated underclass. Very quickly in the story, events unfold that send Zelie on a journey that could potentially restore magic to Orisha and power to the Maji. Along with her on this journey is her brother Tzain and Amari, the rebellious daughter of the king.

The magic and mythology of Orisha were fascinating the the pacing was tense as Zelie hurries to her destination with the king’s zealous son Inan hot on her heels. The book’s use of fantasy to depict the ugliness of structural racism was well done and pulled no punches. I often found Zel infuriating and had to remind myself that she was just a teenager and teenagers are infuriating by nature. She goes through quite a bit of growth as the novel progresses. Amari as well changes and improves as she learns to trust in her own strength. Tzain didn’t seem to have much to do other than keep his sister out of trouble and I’m hoping he gets a bit of his own story moving forward. I’ll be eagerly awaiting the sequel, Children of Virtue and Vengeance which comes out this December.

It ain’t Gone Girl, but it’ll do

WIFE BETWEEN US

 

WARNING. The review is a bit spoilery.

 

On its face, The Wife Between Us is the story of a woman obsessed with stopping the wedding of her former husband and his new, much younger bride. The perspective change happens when we learn her true motivation for doing so and learn the story of her journey from blissful new bride potential homewrecker. The explanation for what is supposed to be the central twist is a little bit silly and detracts from the book but over all it was a fast read with a satisfactory ending.

What keeps this book from being a completely average suspense novel is[ its more realistic depiction of an abusive relationship. It’s by no means perfect but it does a better job than many similar books in this genre. In the end the abuser is not just a villain, he’s a sad, broken human being. The plotline involving the husband’s sister seemed unnecessary and pointless. To me it added nothing.

This book was fine but not great. I definitely see the potential for greatness in the writing. I may pick up Greer Hendricks’ next book just to see if she plays to the strengths she seems to have or if it’s just more of the same in her next book.

“I’m on the hunt. I’m after you”

small sacrifices

 

I first read this book in the mid 90s a few years after it came out. I was a twenty year old true crime junkie and I was completely sucked in by the story of Diane Downs and the people who had the misfortune of being close to her, especially her children. Obviously twenty plus years has done a lot to change me, but much has also changed about the way we write about true crime. Still, book is compelling and Diane Downs is equal parts repellent and fascinating

Late one May night in rural Oregon, Diane rushed into an ER stating that a shaggy haired stranger had shot her and her three children in a botched car theft. Diane was left with a superficial arm wound but her youngest child, Cheryl was dead on arrival and her other children, Danny and Christie would live with handicaps for the rest of their lives. Though it seemed unthinkable, police soon suspected that Diane herself had shot her children to win back the married man she was in love with who didn’t want kids. The ensuing trial pitted the law against a cunning manipulator who had no real love for anyone but herself.

My main issue with this book is that Ann Rule seems almost star struck by Diane Downs. I don’t think she admires her but she certainly enjoys her proximity to such a notorious killer. There’s a salaciousness to her writing in parts that I sometimes found off putting. Though her eye for detail and her ability to set the scene where the crime takes place is what made her the queen of true crime. Despite it’s shortcomings, you won’t find a better, more in-depth book on the Diane Downs case.

“Writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear”

thinking of ending things

 

This is a difficult novel to review without spoiling it but I’ll give it the old college try. An unnamed narrator is driving with her boyfriend Jake to visit his parents in their isolated home in the country. If the title wasn’t enough of a clue, the narrator tells us in the first line of the book that she’s thinking of ending things. As their journey continues, the narrator becomes continually more unsettled Jake and his parents behavior until Jake seems to abandon her at a deserted high school while a snowstorm rages outside. The narrator’s journey through the empty school leads to a surprising conclusion that made me want to immediately flip back to the first page to reanalyze everything I’d just read.

This book immediately puts you on the back foot with the opening line. You are stuck in this car on an isolated road with this couple knowing that one of them wants to end the relationship. The unease builds until they arrive at Jake’s parents’ home at which point it became deeply uncomfortable just to read. By the time the narrator is abandoned at the high school, you know something is very wrong with this entire situation but you might not be sure just what it is. I say might because many other people who read this book apparently figured out the situation from the beginning. I remained ignorant until the climax of the book but I don’t believe the narrative would suffer if you figure it out in advance. This book is an examination of isolation and loneliness that stayed with me long after I’d finished.

Doo doo, doo doo doo doo!

baby teeth

Did anyone else sing the title of this book to the tune of Baby Shark? No? Just me then.

Despite my knowledge of kid-friendly ear worms, I do not actually have any kids. This book essentially validated that decision as it told the story of Hannah. She is seven years old and non-verbal but otherwise very intelligent. She’s the absolute apple of her father’s eye and she loves her father even more. However, her mother Suzette, who spends all day at home with Hannah homeschooling her sees something more sinister. It doesn’t take the reader long to figure out that Suzette’s suspicions are correct. Hannah is a budding psychopath who would love nothing more than to have Daddy all to herself and Mommy out of the way permanently.

There is a constant low level of tension running through this book as we alternate between Suzette’s and Hannah’s points of view. Suzette suffers from Crohn’s disease and truly wants to be a good mother to Hannah despite hear fear and resentment. Hannah is extremely smart but not unrealistically so. The father is clueless with regards to his dysfunctional home life but not as willfully blind as some dads in these “bad seed” stories (Raymond from We Need to Talk About Kevin, I’m looking at you!). I saw one Goodreads reviewer complain that nothing happens in this story and while I think that’s externally true the back and forth between Suzette and Hannah is subtle and extremely stressful for those who like a good psychological drama.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes a smartly written, psychological suspense novel that is reasonably grounded in reality. Though maybe keep it on the shelf if you’re pregnant or thinking about becoming so.

“And I may have lost my mind but I believe that I rule my world”

a study in scarlet women

 

While I wanted to enjoy this book much more than I did, it grabbed me enough for me to keep the sequel on my TBR pile. My main issues with it seemed to be that it lacked focus as all the main characters were introduced and found their way to each other which happens sometimes when a book is the first in a series. I think now that all the principles are working together, the sequels will be much more focused moving forward.

If the title didn’t clue you in, this is a gender swapped Sherlock Holmes story. The protagonist is Charlotte Holmes; a woman too smart and independent for Victorian London who finds herself suddenly outcast from society and left to her own devices. With the help of Mrs Watson, a wealthy widow and former actress, Charlotte uses the persona of Sherlock Holmes to provide herself with a healthy income and use her natural intelligence. She also manages to solve 3 murders for which her father and sister have come under suspicion.

Like many iterations of Sherlock Holmes, Charlotte isn’t the best when it comes to human interactions, but she is more sympathetic than many. She definitely cares about her friends and family, she’s just painfully pragmatic. Additionally, Mrs. Watson seems to add more the the mix than many of her prior male versions whose main job seems merely to be flabbergasted by Sherlock. As I said, this book does have some pacing issues as everyone finds there way into a cohesive unit but I have hope for the next book in the series.

“Animals were hiding behind the rock, except the little fish”

the raw shark texts

 

Well this review is going to be a tough one. I’m not totally sure how to describe this book or what genre to even put it in. The basic story goes like this: Eric Sanderson has acute memory loss spurred on by the sudden death of his lover Clio while they were vacationing in the Greek Islands. He literally has no memories before the start of the book in which he wakes up on the floor of a strange house. He begins receiving letters from his old self which spur him to go on a journey to discover the truth of his situation and to defeat a “conceptual shark” that seems to be relentlessly stalking him.

This all sounds about as clear as mud, doesn’t it? The story is a little bit like House of Leaves, The Matrix and Jaws with a love story thrown in for good measure. The concepts brought up in the book are interesting as hell and the mood of the book is deeply surreal. The more Eric searches for his lost memories, the weirder this book gets.

That’s really all I have. I hate writing a review this short but the words to describe this book escape me. Maybe the shark at them.

“But she turned her floodlight eyes on me and demanded a confession”

the alice network

 

Do you like books with smart, bad-ass ladies both fictional and historical? Do you like intelligent novelizations of real historical events? If so, The Alice Network is definitely a book you should add to your TBR pile. The book follows two timelines. In 1915 a young Eve Gardiner is recruited to work as a spy in Nazi-occupied France for the titular Alice Network. Eve’s experiences in France leave both emotional and physical scars. In 1947, Charlie St. Clair a pregnant and unwed American socialite abandons her mother in post-war Europe to look for her missing and presumed dead cousin Rose. Eve and Charlie’s paths collide and they set off across France with their own agendas.

This book took me a bit to really get into it. Both Charlie and Ever are deeply flawed characters though not without good reason. However I found myself getting sucked in pretty quickly to the parallel stories involving two women, both of whom are used to being underestimated, getting into situations in which they learn more than they’d ever wanted to about both themselves and the horrors of war. It’s by no means a pretty story. There is torture, suicide, a prison camp and the massacre of civilians but it never feels gratuitous and is pulled directly from historical records in some cases. It’s not an easy book and I knew at a certain point it was going to break my heart. But it was an immensely satisfying read that has me excited for Kate Quinn’s next novel.

“When you hear of my homegoing…don’t worry about me.”

homegoing

 

I love a sweeping family saga. I love a novelized depiction of history and seeing how one generation shapes the next. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is probably one of my favorites. It tells the story of two half sisters Ghana in the 18th Century. Effia is married to a wealthy white slave trader and Esi and captured and imprisoned in the same castle in which her sister lives (unbeknownst to both of them) and sold across the Atlantic into slavery. Effia’s family lives with the effects of colonization and internal warfare and Esi family survives slavery, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement. Homegoing feels much longer than it is, not because it is dull or tedious but because the subject matter is vast and sweeping.

What makes Homegoing different from many Eurocentric family sagas is that many of the descendants know little to nothing of the generation before them. This is not the often lamented “generation gap” but the nature of American chattel slavery which cruelly separated parents from children before the latter could even form concrete memories. Still we feel the weight of those that came before on their children and grandchildren. Even those that do know their parents don’t understand them.

It is impossible to write an authentic narrative of slavery and warfare and not include trauma. It is a necessary part of the story. But in later chapters we see that is is possible to heal and even grow stronger. Homegoing is long overdue addition to the American family saga.