“And how many times have I prayed the angels would speed me away”

deathless divide

 

Deathless Divide is the much anticipated follow up to Justina Ireland’s 2018 YA novel Dread Nation.  In this alternate history of Civil War era America, the dead rise up during the Battle of Gettysburg and the North and South are forced into a hasty truce.  Our main characters, Jane McKeene and Katherine Devereaux are sent to combat schools to learn to be attendants which is sort of a combination of a lady’s maid and a bodyguard. The events of Deathless Divide pick up right where the previous book left off so, spoilers ahoy!
We find Katherine and Jane fleeing Summerland with a small band of escapees and an undead hoard hot on their heels. They are headed to the town of Nicodemus which is said to be safer and more tolerant than Summerland, though both women are rightfully skeptical.  Naturally, nothing goes as it should and the group suffers some serious setbacks, both emotional and physical. Difficult choices are made leading to a conclusion that is satisfying but could also lead to a series, if Ms. Ireland is so inclined.
I’m very picky about alternate histories as most of them tend to be ideations of the South winning the Civil War or the Nazis winning World War II.  What is clear in the Dread Nation duology is that although there are no clear winners between the Union and the Confederacy, it is black and brown folks that come out on the bottom.  This is sadly the most common theme in American history, real or imagined.

“Live fast. Die young. Bad girls do it well”

gideon the ninth

 

I’m at a loss as to how to describe this book. It’s part science fiction, part fantasy, part locked-room mystery and that really only scratches the surface. Gideon the Ninth has gotten a LOT of hype in the book community and it absolutely lives up to it in my opinion.  I’ve already preordered the sequel, Harrow the Ninth (number 2 of a trilogy) from my book store.
Gideon is an extremely reluctant servant of the Ninth House. At the beginning of the book we find her attempting to leave the planet with her broadsword and her supply of dirty magazines.  Her plan is quickly foiled by her nemesis; Harrow, Reverend Daughter and Necromancer of the Ninth House. Harrow makes a deal with Gideon; travel to the imperial planet of the First House and act as Harrow’s bodyguard in a competition and she can have her freedom. Gideon agrees and the two head off.  In the midst of this competition between each house’s best and brightest, people start dying in very nasty ways. Since there’s no way on or off the planet, it’s a safe assumption that one of the guests is responsible.
I had a lot of fun reading this book. It’s very high concept but never gets lost up its own ass as many high concept books are wont to do. Obviously Gideon and Harrow are the main characters but the other competitors are fully realized.  You genuinely regret seeing them get bumped off (some more than others).  Finally, despite its irreverence it never veers into “zaniness” which I have no patience for. Tamsyn Muir is a really exciting new voice in the sci fi/fantasy genre and I can’t wait to see where she goes next.

“We need no introduction, for mass annihilation”

leviathan wakes

 

This series of books already has a well loved television adaptation that, I believe is still in production. I gave it a try when the series premiered and I had trouble getting into it.  Still, people raved about the source material and it doesn’t take much to sell me on a SciFi series especially when you throw in the words “space opera” so I picked up the first two on sale.  The first installment absolutely lives up to the hype.  It’s an engaging combination of lovable characters, intergalactic political maneuvering and nail-biting space battles with some sinister alien life thrown in for good measure.

The story shifts perspective between Jim Holden, XO of the water hauler “Canterbury” and Detective Joe Miller, a semi washed up detective on the now inhabited asteroid of Ceres.  Both are fairly ordinary men who find themselves thrust into a situation that pits the major factions of the galaxy against one another and threatens to destroy the human race.  The factions in question being superpowers Earth and Mars and the underdog Belters (those that inhabit the asteroids in the belt between Mars and Jupiter).  Holden, like all good space protagonists has a strong moral code and a scrappy, resourceful crew that become like a found family as the book progresses.  Miller has spent the bulk of his career dealing in shades of gray and is an obvious contrast to Holden.
It’s hard to know where the series will go next. Honestly the first one could have been a standalone book though it certainly leaves plenty of openings for future novels.  I’d like to see some different perspectives moving forward.  Specifically the character of Naomi Agata, one of Holden’s crew members. Of course who knows what new voices will show up in book two. Hopefully I’ll be able to tell you soon.

“Should we wake and find it gone. Remember this our favorite town”

night circus

 

This is another selection for which I’m extremely late to the party since it’s been getting good press since its 2011 publication.  I finally got The Night Circus from the library when the buzz for Erin Morgenstern’s most recent book “The Starless Sea” reached a fever pitch.  I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect because none of the book podcasts I listen to knew quite how to describe it.  It’s not quite fantasy, not quite magical realism and not quite romance.  It seems to borrow from all the best parts of these genres.
Le Cirque de Reves (The Circus of Dreams) appears in town without warning and it’s tents are silent and still until it opens at dusk.  What you see once you enter is a feast for the senses and the imagination.  Everything inside will feel elevated from your average circus. Though none but a select few know it, two young lovers, Marco and Celia, supply the magic that keeps the show alive.  They have been locked in a competition set up by their wards when they were just small children and have fallen in love in spite of this. Before the book’s end, everyone who gets close to Le Cirque de Reve will be pulled in to their orbit and affected for good or ill.

What was so engrossing for me about this book was not just the beauty and wonder of the Le Cirque de Reves but the pervasive feeling that everyone who came in contact with it was a part of something magical.  Which, technically they were but that feeling was transferred to me as a reader as well.  The descriptions are so rich that you are transported and begin to feel like another circus-goer. There is an argument to be made that some of the character development suffers as a result of all this book’s lush surroundings. However, as a reader, the feeling of being a part of something special and magical when you open a book is one of the best feelings you can get. 

 

“The shiniest cloaks and the most coveted daggers”

ninth house

 

I have a couple of Leigh Bardugo books sitting in my massive TBR pile already but the ingredients of this new book were basically catnip to me (ivy league campus, secret societies, magic, murder mystery) so I put it on hold at the library and waited rather than read what I already had.  Based on the way it’s listed on Goodreads it’s the first in a series and I’ve already tagged it’s untitled sequel as “want to read.”  In the world of Ninth House, secret societies e.g. Skull and Bones are not only real but use magic to exert control over the world in varying ways. There are eight of these societies on the campus of Yale along with Lethe, the titular “Ninth House” whose job it is to watch over the other 8 and make sure they never kill any innocent civilians or let their magic get loose in the world.

The story centers on Galaxy “Alex” Stern, who is the last person you’d expect to find as a Yale freshman.  Raised by a hippie mother, Alex’s world involved heavy drug use, shady people and much worse.  After a catastrophic event brings her to the attention of Lethe house, she is recruited into their ranks.  An off-campus murder the night of a ritual is written off as unrelated to the societies but Alex can’t shake the feeling that there is more to it.  Despite being told by her superiors and her police contact to leave it alone she dives into the investigation and finds herself involved in the misdeeds of privileged college kids, hundred year old ghosts and a conspiracy that might shake the foundations of Lethe House.
I enjoyed the hell out of this book. Alex Stern is an often infuriating character but her flaws are more than earned.  She does things that she absolutely should not do but you understand why.  I want to wrap myself up in the world of the Yale and its secret societies even if I don’t trust most of the members any further than I could throw them.  Ninth House is a great beginning to what I hope is an exciting series.

“You be the captain, I’ll be no one”

song of achilles

The story and characters contained in Song of Achilles will be familiar to anyone who knows their Greek history. It is the story of Iliad. It’s conceit is that it is told from the perspective of Patroclus, the companion of Achilles. Different treatments of the legend vary on what type of “companion” he was but in Madeline Miller’s, Patroclus and Achilles are unambiguously lovers. Exiled from his own land as a boy, Patroclus is sent to live in the house of Achilles’ father. Over the years, the boys grow from best friends to something more as they mature. The story follows them from their childhood until long after both their deaths.
Madeline Miller’s writing is simply beautiful. A tale as well worn as this one could easily be stale but Song of Achilles never is. While the majority of the book takes place during the Trojan War, it is a love story as legendary is the heroes contained in its pages. Though Patroclus is (by the standards of the ancient Greeks) an average man and Achilles is a literal demigod destined for glory, their relationship is on equal footing and one of mutual adoration. Patroclus is never jealous or bitter of Achilles fame or ability; he is content to be the moon to his sun.
The fates of Achilles and Patroclus can hardly be a spoiler but I’ll leave it out of this review. Even knowing how the story ended I couldn’t put the book down until the final page and I was not disappointed. There are some content warnings for rape, cruelty to animals and the violence that goes along with a drawn out war. This is a fantastic book that I am way overdue in reading.

A Million Ways to Die in the North

terror

 

I pulled this book from my mountainous TBR pile shortly after the first season of the television adaption dropped onto Hulu. The second season, which is airing now, is entirely self contained and doesn’t appear to have anything to do with this book or season one. When I opened the my Kindle and saw that it clocked in at well over 900 pages I thought maybe I’d bitten off more than I could chew. I love a good door stopper of a book but almost a thousand pages of man (and it is entirely men) vs supernatural beast seemed like a bit much. However this may be one of my favorite novels of the year and is definitely one of my top ten horror novels.

Dan Simmons gives us a fictionalized account of the Lost Franklin Voyage of 1845. In May of that year the HMS Terror and the HMS Erebus set sail to find the fabled Northwest passage. They were the most well outfitted and equipped ships of their time and they were never seen again. The wreckage of the Erebus and a few of the remains of the men have been found but the rest is lost to this day. When Simmons’ account begins, both ships have been stuck in the frozen waters of the Arctic Circle for many months with no sign of a thaw in sight. In addition to the dangers of frostbite, malnutrition, scurvy and all the other dangers associated with being stranded near the North Pole, the men are being stalked by a giant creature that resembles a giant polar bear but is much more cruel and cunning. As their situation deteriorates the crew’s hopes for survival becomes more and more hopeless.

The misery of the sailors is palpable and constant. There is no getting warm, there is just getting less cold. The men are constantly wet and filthy, the rations grow increasingly worse as they are unable to hunt or fish successfully. It’s a situation that would be hopeless without an evil demon bear stalking you. Though the captain of The Terror, Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier is the protagonist, many chapters are told from other characters perspectives. The arrogant Sir John Franklin, the curious and deeply principled Dr. Henry Goodsir and the cunning and cruel Cornelius Hickey. But the ice itself is a major character in this book. It shifts, cracks, forms ridges and squeezes the Erebus and Terror possibly to the breaking point.

I really loved this book you guys. Even knowing the history going in I wanted to see where it would go and how exactly each character’s story would end. It might be a good one to pick up if you find yourself snowed in with nothing to do or if you just want to read an amazing novel about history, survival, the hubris of man and masculinity.

“Cause I might open my eyes and find someone standing there”

lock every door

After getting unceremoniously laid off from her job and coming home to find her boyfriend cheating on her, Jules Larsen is forced to couch surf with her good friend until she can get back on her feet again. When she is offered the opportunity to apartment sit at The Bartholomew, one of the most exclusive and notorious buildings in Manhattan for $1000 per week, it seems too good to be true. If you’ve consumed even the smallest amount of fiction in your life, you know offers like that turn out. Despite the warnings of her best friend and the strangely restrictive rules for the job (absolutely no visitors and no spending a night away from the building), Jules takes the job with little hesitation. She begins to get uneasy very quickly as not just the eerie atmosphere but the sudden departure of one of the other house sitters makes Jules suspicious. Nothing in the Bartholomew is what it seems.

This is the third book by Riley Sager that deals with horror movie tropes. Final Girls and The Last Time I Lied dealt with (obviously) final girls and sleepaway camp respectively. Lock Every Door examines the trope of the building with the notorious past (e.g. the apartment building from Rosemary’s Baby). There is a lot of bad decision making on the part of our protagonist as you may have guessed from the plot summary, but you kind of get why she makes those choices. I enjoy the heck out of these books but I often wonder if Sager’s obvious attempts at misdirection are intentional. The person who seems wonderful and reliable and gorgeous is clearly evil; the protagonist clearly thinks all roads lead to one conclusion so it’s obviously not that. I choose to believe they’re intentional since he is taking on horror movie tropes.

This one is definitely a good beach read, or perhaps a cozy sweater and coffee read since the beach weather will be leaving us soon. I can speak from experience when I tell you that reading it alone in the house at night is not the best idea.

 

Propelled through all this madness by your beauty and my sadness

rosewater

 

The main narrative of Rosewater takes place in the year 2066 in Nigeria. The titular town has sprung up around a mysterious alien biodome. From the outside it does not appear to do much other than open once per year and grant mysterious powers of healing that are strong enough to reanimate the recently dead. The story is centered around Kaaro, who is a sensitive. He can not only read the thoughts of others but he can project thoughts into their heads. As a day job Kaaro works for a major bank, helping to stop other sensitives from getting protected financial information. But is “real” job is as a government agent. The chapters bounce back in time from Kaaro’s younger days to the present as other sensitives like him are mysteriously dying.

Kaaro is not a good guy and you’re not meant to like him. He’s not evil but he’s a deeply selfish person who doesn’t much like to dwell on the consequences his actions have on other people. He is an interesting person and the intrigue gets started pretty quickly in this book. I did sometimes have trouble keeping the thread of this story but that might have been due to my own personal distractions rather than any flaw with the book itself. I definitely enjoyed it enough ad that the other two books in the trilogy to my TBR pile. The fact that the second focuses on his much more interesting girlfriend, Aminat didn’t hurt either.

Tade Thompson has written a promising start to what I’m hoping will be a really amazing sci fi trilogy that really isn’t like anything else I’ve read in the genre. Even if I’d put it in the “liked but didn’t love” category I’d still recommend it to any sci fi fan.

I know who you are and it’s not that impressive

know who you are

 

Aimee Sinclair is an up and coming starlet who is just wrapping up shooting on her latest movie. She arrives home to find her husband gone and his wallet and cell on the coffee table. She initially doesn’t think much of this since they had a bad fight the night before. Unfortunately, as more evidence mounts that something more sinister is happening, it’s clear the police think Aimee is responsible. In alternating chapters, we learn the story of a young girl who wanders off from her home and gets in a car with a seemingly nice woman only to learn firsthand the meaning of “stranger danger.”

I read Alice Feeney’s previous book “Sometimes I Lie” and liked it well enough. This one really didn’t work for me though. I had a few ideas about where the plot was going and they all proved to be wrong. Often when this happens I’m in awe at the writer’s ability to misdirect the reader and draw in all the little plot details to create an insane but satisfying conclusion. This was…not one of those times. The ending was just insane and felt contrived purely for shock value. I wondered why we’d learned so many details about some of the characters that seemed as if they would be important later but ultimately weren’t.

I see a lot of 4 and 5 star reviews on goodreads.com for this book so maybe this book will be your cup of tea. It’s a slim volume and reads quickly. I read it in two days which is pretty amazing given my hectic schedule. It might be worth your time even if you don’t care for it in the end.