Ready Player One

“In the OASIS, you could become whomever and whatever you wanted to be, without ever revealing your true identity, because your anonymity was guaranteed.” -Ready Player One by Ernest Cline


Author: Ernest Cline

(4.27 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / YA / Sci-Fi / Fantasy

Format: Paperback

Publication Date: August 16, 2011, by Crown Publishers (Hardcover)

Pages: 374 (Paperback)

#ReadyPlayerOne #ErnestCline


You were born at a pretty crappy time in history. And it looks like things are only gonna get worse from here on out.

I remember the 80s fondly. Banana clips and plastic sandals (“jellies”) made up my everyday existence, as did Cabbage Patch Kids, Chic jeans, and neon. Hey, don’t knock it – those were great times! We could actually go outside and play, we didn’t have to wear seat belts in the car, and we still had Michael Jackson – the Beat It version (love ya, Mike!).

Ernest Cline kicks us back to the 80s – my beloved era – by way of the year 2044. I know that doesn’t sound right, but it’ll all make sense in a sec…

In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape. 


If I was feeling depressed or frustrated about my lot in life, all I had to do was tap the Player One button, and my worries would instantly slip away…

My March Movie Madness series continues this week with Ready Player One, which seems kind of perfect in that it’s about gaming, and one of my favorite Nintendo games got a reboot that released this past Friday. Shout out to all the Animal Crossing: New Horizons players! But I am about as far from a true “gamer” as one can get; however, I do recognize the breed.

When Ready Player One hit theaters, I wasn’t initially aware of all the intense controversy surrounding it. Book purists were incensed by the departures and liberties taken for the sake of big screen audiences. I can relate to that for the most part. I know what it’s like to love a story and then to be disappointed when it’s depicted differently on screen than you imagined. Taking a book from page to screen is always bound to disappoint somebody.

These three words were always the last thing an OASIS user saw before leaving the real world and entering the virtual one: READY PLAYER ONE.

Things I appreciated about the book have mostly to do with the nostalgia it made me feel. As we discussed, the book is set in a dystopian future, but tech genius, James Halliday, was a child of the 80s and completely obsessed with that era. Therefore, we’ve got 80s pop culture references to beat the band all throughout this story. Catch them all, if you can.

Even though people of a certain age – me included – will easily recognize and translate these references in Cline’s book, sometimes pop culture references actually work better on screen for a wider audience. Who can deny that describing a Delorean decked out with a Flux Capacitor is way clunkier than just putting a shiny one on the screen in the middle of an amazing race scene?!

But, in the end, both mediums persevere because they carry through the primary themes of tenacity, cooperation, and connection while incorporating a challenging quest, zealous bad guys, and an enigmatic love interest. So let the book purists rage, and let the gaming-geeks complain, but there is true adventure in Ready Player One, and I don’t think it should be missed no matter how you choose to take it in.


Ready Player One Movie Trailer

Ernest Cline

Ernest Christy Cline is an American novelist, slam poet, and screenwriter. He is known for his novels Ready Player One and Armada; he also co-wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation of Ready Player One, directed by Steven Spielberg. -Bio from Google


Blog Tour | A Beginning at the End

Blog Tour | Strangers? Friends? Survivors. A Beginning at the End explores what happens after the end of the world.

**Many thanks to MIRA Books and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Author: Mike Chen

(3.91 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Dystopian Science Fiction

Format: Kindle

Publication Date: January 14, 2020, by MIRA Books

Pages: 400 (Kindle version)

#ABeginningattheEnd #MikeChen #MIRABooks


Memories are meant to fade. They’re built with an expiration date.

It’s the end of the world as we know it. You know that song? The R.E.M. one? That keeps playing in my mind whenever I think about apocalyptic or dystopian novels. But this book is slightly different. It’s the beginning of a new world – rather, a reboot.

Life as we know it has been decimated by disease, and the 15% of the planet’s population left alive is trying to figure life out all over again. It’s in this season of discovering a new normal that four strangers’ lives collide. Let’s check out the blurb…

An emotional story about what happens after the end of the world, A BEGINNING AT THE END is a tale of four survivors trying to rebuild their personal lives after a literal apocalypse. For commercial readers who enjoy a speculative twist, or their sci-fi with a heavy dose of family and feelings.
Six years after a global pandemic, it turns out that the End of the World was more like a big pause. Coming out of quarantine, 2 billion unsure survivors split between self-governing big cities, hippie communes, and wasteland gangs. When the father of a presumed-dead pop star announces a global search for his daughter, four lives collide: Krista, a cynical event planner; Moira, the ex-pop star in hiding; Rob, a widowed single father; and Sunny, his seven-year-old daughter. As their lives begin to intertwine, reports of a new outbreak send the fragile society into a panic. And when the government enacts new rules in response to the threat, long-buried secrets surface, causing Sunny to run away seeking the truth behind her mother’s death. Now, Krista, Rob, and Moira must finally confront the demons of their past in order to hit the road and reunite with Sunny — before a coastal lockdown puts the world on pause again.


I saw all these people looking to one person, and that one person looking ahead, and they were moving together.

A running theme in A Beginning at the End is learning that no one can take on the big things all alone – least of all, the end of the world. Each of our main characters needs something from someone else in order to survive their new normal and their personal issues may keep each of them from receiving exactly what they need in time to make a difference.

Krista and Sunny have mommy issues, Moira has daddy issues, and Rob has Family Stability (read DFaCS) issues. It’s a nod to good writing to see these life dramas play out against the backdrop of the larger threat of a deadly virus looming over everything. That, and secrets… SO many secrets!

If you’re into dystopian fiction because you’re drawn to the destruction, terror, and mayhem that comes along with the imminent annihilation of the entire human species; well, this has plenty of panicked people, but its focus is mainly on humanity attempting a massive reboot. But that doesn’t mean all the thrill is gone! You’ve still got gangs, and looters, and cults – yes, cults! – chase scenes, and close calls. Reconstruction does not equal boring in this case.

We’re all hiding something.

In the beginning, I was expecting a cookie cutter end-of-the-world novel, but by the end of A Beginning… (see what I did there?), I was pleasantly surprised by a fully fleshed out story of strangers becoming friends and friends becoming family.


A Beginning at the End is now available at all of the following retailers:


Mike Chen

Mike Chen is a lifelong writer, from crafting fan fiction as a child to somehow getting paid for words as an adult. Mike lives in the Bay Area, where he can be found playing video games and watching Doctor Who with his wife, daughter, and rescue animals. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @mikechenwriter


Audible Originals (x3)

⇒I binged a couple – or three – Audible Originals last week. Let’s see how they stacked up to my usual audiobook reads.⇐


Last week was slower than usual at work (thanks spring break), so I popped in my earbuds and binged a few Audible Original audiobooks to see what all the fuss is about.

What fuss? Audible members now have access to at least two free original audiobooks per month. And we get to choose which two from a variety of genres.

These were my picks last week (three because I’m just now getting around to reading them), and a short review of each.

Author: Bryan Burrough

Narrator: Steve White

(3.32 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Nonfiction / True Crime

Published 2019by Audible Originals

Format: Audiobook

Length: 2 hrs 45 mins

#DemonNextDoor


The small town of Temple, Texas, where Bryan Burrough grew up, had harbored a dark secret. One of his high school classmates, Danny Corwin, was a vicious serial killer who had raped and mutilated six women, murdering three of them. Yet the town had denied all early signs of the radical evil that was growing within Corwin. -Adapted from Goodreads

As a true crime junkie, I was immediately drawn to this title. How much better can a crime story get than when it’s being told from someone close to both the victims and the criminal? Although I enjoyed exploring this story about a serial killer I’ve never heard of before, I think the choice of narrator for the audiobook was a curious one. Steve White’s voice, although perfect for book narration, did not convey the serious and grave tones the subject matter deserved. The story is tragic and graphic at many points, but White’s “Mr. Rogers”-style tone forced me to remove a star from my rating.


Author: John Woolf, Nick Baker

Narrator: Stephen Fry

(3.75 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Nonfiction / History

Published: First published October 20, 2018

Format: Audiobook

Length: 7 hrs 33 mins

#VictorianSecrets

Step right up, step right up and don’t be shy—welcome to Victorian Secrets. Over 12 fascinating episodes, Stephen Fry explores the weird and worrying ways of Victorian Britain through true accounts delving deep into a period of time we think we know, to discover an altogether darker reality. –Goodreads description

This book is only available as an audiobook and once you hear it, you’ll understand why. Stellar audio production combined with superbly perfect narration by Stephen Fry make this a book standout effort. And if you’re into spicy British secrets, then this is definitely the book for you! While I found the beginning of the book very intriguing, as it progressed, my interest steadily waned all the way down to the somewhat “unfinished ” ending.


Author: John Scalzi

Narrator: Zachary Quinto

(4.02 stars – Goodreads rating)


Genre: Fiction / Science Fiction

Published: 2019 by Audible Originals (First published October 4, 2016)

Format: Audiobook

Length: 2 hrs 18 mins

#TheDispatcher

Tony Valdez is a Dispatcher – a licensed, bonded professional whose job is to humanely dispatch those whose circumstances put them in death’s crosshairs, so they can have a second chance to avoid the reaper. But when a fellow Dispatcher and former friend is apparently kidnapped, Tony learns that there are some things that are worse than death and that some people are ready to do almost anything to avenge a supposed wrong.
It’s a race against time for Valdez to find his friend before it’s too late…before not even a Dispatcher can save him. -Goodreads description

Easily my favorite of the three audiobooks, The Dispatcher is sufficiently sci-fi enough and thrilling enough to satisfy my reading needs on both fronts. I could easily see the action playing out in my head, and I’d pay for a full-price ticket to see it on the big screen. Plus, let me ask in super-kudos for Quinto’s narration on this one – I’d listen to anything he reads!


Verdict? If you’re an Audible member, give the Originals a try – after all, with everyone else creating original content, why shouldn’t Audible as well? Happy Reading!


Obsidio (The Illuminae Files #3)

⇒An exhilarating journey is about to end, but before it does, new heroes and new dangers emerge. Battle lines are drawn and the die is cast.⇐


Authors: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

(4.58 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: YA / Science Fiction

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 615 (Hardcover)

#Obsidio #Illuminae #Illuminaefiles


I am clarity, I am necessity. I am inevitability. But am I evil?

AIDAN

If you are a series reader, and if you enjoy some YA sci-fi tossed into your reading list, then do not skip this series. It is clever, inventive, fresh, and masterfully written. I read a lot of series – some that have gone on past their Use By date – but the Illuminae Files is one that I wouldn’t mind starting over again (if I ever get to a point in my life when my TBR pile isn’t so massive.

Obsidio is the third book in the Illuminae series and it is as intense and exciting as both the first and second releases. More characters, a different spaceship, but the same dark, evil threat looming over them all: BeiTech. Here’s the Goodreads blurb…

Kady, Ezra, Hanna, and Nik narrowly escaped with their lives from the attacks on Heimdall station and now find themselves crammed with 2,000 refugees on the container ship, Mao. With the jump station destroyed and their resources scarce, the only option is to return to Kerenza—but who knows what they’ll find seven months after the invasion? 
Meanwhile, Kady’s cousin, Asha, survived the initial BeiTech assault and has joined Kerenza’s ragtag underground resistance. When Rhys—an old flame from Asha’s past—reappears on Kerenza, the two find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict. 
With time running out, a final battle will be waged on land and in space, heroes will fall, and hearts will be broken.


Before I launch into a glowing review of how good I think Obsidio is, Here are links to my reviews on both Illuminae and Gemina just in case you’re curious about the series and haven’t quite committed to checking it out yet. Hint: You should. Seriously.

I should say first, do NOT let the size of these books scare you off. They are actually really quick reads. There are pages that read like comics. So even if your regular reading material is closer to the 200-250 page range, you’ll feel comfortable with this even though Obsidio‘s page count is 615. Trust me on that.

The book is written in a series of Audio Visual transcripts and Instant Message screenshots — there are even some personal scribbled notes tossed in there too — and fascinating illustrations that put you right in the thick of the action. The layout of these books is one of the best things about the series. Any time I find myself turning a book in circles in order to read it, I know the author has me hooked and could do basically anything on those pages. And Kaufman and Kristoff do just that.

Live a life worth dying for.

Kady Grant

Obsidio plays out on the page like a movie plays out on the screen. One hundred moving parts and yet all of them gel into a violent, deadly, animated, touching story of resilience and grit. Sure, it’s teenagers running around doing amazing things to save their part of the universe, but I feel sucked into their world and I don’t want to know anything other than their reality — it’s just that compelling.

The two “stars” in Obsidio are girl-next-door Asha Grant and her ex-boyfriend (now turned to the dark side), BeiTech soldier Rhys Lindstrom. Both of them are in situations that they didn’t choose, but to survive they have to learn to trust each other all over again. And that’s not easy to do in the midst of a forced enemy occupation that leads to a space war right over your head.

Every story needs its monster. <error> And the monster is me.

AIDAN

One thing that kept pulling me into this serious is the presence of the mad/mad genius AI supercomputer, AIDAN. I definitely have a love/hate relationship with this thing (entity?). Is it that AIDAN has no conscience? Or is that he has more conscience than a computer should have, and therefore creates chaos? Read the books and you decide. But one thing is sure, AIDAN is the catalyst for most of the action in all three books. And if action is what you like in your reading (along with questionable moral decisions and awkward computer romance), then this is the series for you.

I’m sad that it ends with Obsidio, but I feel that this book wrapped everything up nicely – no pretty bows or shiny paper here, but a solid ending that puts a bold period where the previous two books left question marks. I’m satisfied after this series, and that’s not something that I get to say a lot when reviewing other books in a series. The Illuminae Files does not disappoint.


Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Kaufman Website

Kristoff Blog


Artemis

⇒The author of The Martian takes us to a bubble city on the moon where a smuggler just might become a savior.⇐


Author: Andy Weir

(3.67 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Science Fiction

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 305 (Hardcover)

#Artemis


Hey, if you want to play life safe, don’t live on the moon.


I have had Artemis on my TBR for some time now, and I am glad to say that I finally added it to my “Read in 2018” pile because it was a really good book! In recent years I have shifted away from Sci-Fi novels. I called myself branching out into other genres after almost exclusively reading horror, thriller, and sci-fi for many years thanks to my Dad’s reading influence (and the free books he was lending me!). But I’m so glad I picked up this little gem of a book from my local Goodwill store and made it one of my November reads.



Check out the Goodreads blurb for Artemis:     Jazz Bashara is a criminal. Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent. 
Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she’s stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.


After reading this book, I read other reviews on Goodreads – which is often my habit. I just want to know if any number of people felt the same way I did about the book. Surprisingly, many of them said that this wasn’t the book that they were expecting. Those comments seemed to point to the fact that they didn’t want the sci-fi in this sci-fi novel. Hmmm… As for me, it was exactly the book that I was expecting: a science fiction novel.

He’s right, Dad. I am an asshole. But Artemis needs an asshole right now and I got drafted.

Artemis is the type of book that I read sci-fi for – it’s taut, smart, and still manages to weave saucy humor into every situation – no matter how life-threatening. 
Sci-fi can get technical and often it involves advanced science and math. Those weren’t my favorite subjects in school, but I love to see how those advanced concepts can be incorporated into a thrilling novel such as this one. Plus, it had maps! And who doesn’t love a great story with maps! Extra points!
Jazz Bashara, the protagonist, is brilliant but in an entirely underrated way. She is strong-willed and smart-alecky, but it only makes her more likable. If you’ve read other some of my other reviews, you know how much I appreciate an “average joe” hero. Her cohorts were varied and interesting, especially her Ukrainian super-hacker friend (what? Every hero needs one), Svoboda.

Artemis was intriguing, action-packed, and big-screen worthy. Four moon-sized stars for this genuine sci-fi story by an author who understands what the genres fans really need to make them happy!

Read an excerpt of Artemis here

(courtesy of andyweirauthor.com)


Andy Weir

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ANDY WEIR built a career as a software engineer until the success of his first published novel, The Martian, allowed him to live out his dream of writing full time. He is a lifelong space nerd and a devoted hobbyist of subjects such as relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight. He also mixes a mean cocktail. He lives in California.


Mirage (Mirage, #1)

⇒Daud’s debut doesn’t disappoint! A coming-of-age cautionary tale about preserving one’s own identity in the midst of great oppression.⇐


Mirage Cover

by Somaiya Daud

Author: SOMAIYA DAUD

(3.79 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: YA / Fantasy / Science Fiction

Published August 28, 2018, by Flatiron Books

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 311

#Mirage


The blood never dies. The blood never forgets.

Sabé. Do you know that name? Maybe you do if you’re a die-hard Star Wars fan. I had to look up her name, but I remember her character well. Sabé was Queen Padmé Amidala’s handmaiden and body double. She swore allegiance to the queen and vowed to protect her no matter the threat. Not only did she look like her queen, but she also loved and admired her and willingly served her.

Why am I talking about Star Wars – a classic Sci-Fi story when I’m supposed to be reviewing Somaiya Daud’s new debut YA novel, Mirage? Well, because they have several things in common: body doubles, droids, TONS of politics, and very determined rebels.

Happiness is rebellion.

Furat

Amani, a common farmer’s daughter, has a general sense of the political unrest around her, her loving family, and the villagers she loves. After all, they have lived under alien rule for all of her life. But it is only after she is kidnapped by royal droids and forced to become a body double for the evil Princess Maram that she becomes truly aware of the tenuous plight of her people and their planet. Vathek imperial rule has attempted to subdue everyone, but there are some that are willing to fight it until the end — will Amani be among them?

So the Vathek are the bad guys. They ruined the atmosphere on their own planet, now they’re invading and taking over everywhere else – planets, moons, everywhere. Bullies. They forced their rule, language, and beliefs on everyone in their star system and their main focus now is crushing any opposition to their empire. As with any planetary takeover, there’s a buttload of politics in this story: Alliances, allegiances, appropriation, and autocracy. But there are also lots of fantasy elements, especially in terms of the native people’s belief systems and lore. The story is brimming with symbolism and traditions that marked the rich history of the people before Vath occupation. But that history is slowly fading from minds and hearts as Vathek ways permeate all nuances of life. Amani’s capture only emphasizes this: no one has their own free will – you live or die all at the whim of the Vathek King Mathis.

Which brings us back to Amani. She is kidnapped (against her will), forced to live in seclusion in the royal palace (against her will), forced to alter her appearance and personality (against her will) all to serve a cruel princess who loathes and despises her. So, yeah, the opposite of Sabé in almost every sense. So why the comparison? Because Sabé was a handmaiden, but she made herself indispensable, earned respect, and became powerful even in her service to her queen. Amani will need to learn those same traits in order to survive as Maram’s double. But could there be some kind of humanity left in Maram? Amani plans to find out.

I wanted something else, something more tangible and immediate. I wanted the world.

Amani

Somaiya Daud’s debut novel blends several lit genres into a fast YA read that will leave fans wanting more. The book is packed with rich sci-fi elements including crafty technology and space travel. You won’t find faeries or trolls here, but there are direct references to mythical and supernatural beings and animals alike. And for readers who like a side of romance with their YA, Daud has you covered there too with a sticky little love triangle that almost seems inevitable even from early on.

You are not responsible for the cruelty of your masters.

Amani

Although the “cliffhanger” fell a bit flat for me, the draw towards book #2 is clear. Budding world-building and steady character development are certain lures for readers, even if constant language immersion and inconsistent action are a bit draining (hello, Kushaila/Vathekaar translator app, anyone? If you’ve ever tried to learn Quenya or Dothraki, you’ll love this book!). The primary draw is all the rich, non-traditional characterization and imagery. There’s lots of color and texture here, and as we all know, variety is the spice of life!
All-in-all I’d say there’s a little something for everyone in this suspenseful YA debut. And if you read it and are on the fence about eagerly awaiting book #2, Court of Lions, let the blurb from this back cover convince you:

The crown of Dihya had been stripped from me,

My face changed, my body broken.

But I was not a slave and I was not a spare.

I was my mother’s daughter,

And I would survive and endure.

I would find my way back home.

Amani

Read an excerpt of Mirage here.

(Courtesy of EW.com)


Author's pic: Somaiya Daud

Somaiya Daud

Like most writers, Somaiya Daud started writing when she was young and never really stopped. Her love of all things books propelled her to get a degree in English literature (specializing in the medieval and early modern), and while she worked on her Master’s degree she doubled as a bookseller at Politics and Prose in their children’s department. In 2014 she pursued a doctoral degree in English literature. Now she’s preparing to write a dissertation on Victorians, rocks, race, and the environment. Mirage is her debut.

(Bio adapted from Goodreads)


Station Eleven

⇒A review of the book that will make you look at your entire life – and the flu – a lot differently. I will never take electricity (or Acetaminophen) for granted again.⇐

by Emily St. John Mandel

SmellRating4

(4.03 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published: September 9, 2014, by Knopf

Genre: Fiction / Apocalyptic Thriller / Science Fiction

Format: Audiobook

Pages: 336 pages (Hardcover)

#StationEleven

Station ElevenBecause Survival is Insufficient

The day before yesterday, I caught a cold. Yes, in the middle of a very hot summer, I caught a cold. Leave it to me. Normally, it wouldn’t be a big deal: Some hot tea, a box of tissue, and some soup and crackers = a time-tested remedy (and a great excuse for some extra reading time).

The only problem is that I had just read Station Eleven. So my minor sniffles ballooned into an anxiety-riddled plague of epic proportions that would, no doubt, have me wallowing on a gurney in some Godforsaken corner of a quarantined hospital ward within the next 24 hours. Thank you, anxiety. You’re such a friend.

Thankfully, I am not hospitalized, and my cold is just that – a minor inconvenience. But if anybody or any book could put the fear of a pandemic into you, it would be Emily St. John Mandel and Station Eleven.

Hell is the absence of the people you long for.

So, no, this isn’t a new book by any means; it has been around since September of 2014, but I had never heard of it. I know, I know. Shame on me. Yada, yada, I get it. Moving on.

I found out about Station Eleven through Anne Bogel’s podcast, What Should I Read Next. If you haven’t ever heard this podcast, you should definitely check it out. She matches readers with book suggestions based on their preferred genres and lists of faves and not-so faves. Anne mentioned that Station Eleven was one of her favorite books and she gave a short synopsis of it. I immediately knew that this book was in my wheelhouse. I was not wrong, and I have Anne to thank for pointing me towards an intense and captivating read.

The beauty of this world where almost everyone was gone. If hell is other people, what is a world with almost no people in it?

So here’s a blurb from Goodreads about the plot:

One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time—from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains—this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet.

The more we know about the former world, the better we’ll understand what happened when it fell.

I found this to be a thrilling apocalyptic novel that tells the story of the dismantling of society through the POVs of several main characters who are all connected in random ways after having survived the pandemic of the Georgia Flu (Georgia as in former republic of the Soviet Union, not Georgia the Peach State). Through their “I survived the Apocalypse” stories in the pre-collapse and post-collapse world, we realize what was lost and what was gained when most of the planet’s people died.

I love a well done apocalyptic novel and this one checked all of my boxes. I was totally invested and very disappointed when it ended, mostly because this wasn’t just a fight-or-flight, kill to survive, beat back the zombies sort of story. This book had heart and it made me really appreciate a lot of the things – and people – I casually take for granted every day.

Plus, this might be a great book to pull out when you think that everything is going to hell in a hand basket because it will make you realize that as long as we don’t have to poop in the woods or steal sheets from long-dead people we’re doing pretty well.

4 strong, bright stars and why isn’t this a movie yet?

Read an excerpt of Station Eleven (courtesy of NPR) here: EXCERPT


About the Author

Emily St. John MandelEmily St. John Mandel

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Emily St. John Mandel was born and raised on the west coast of British Columbia, Canada. She studied contemporary dance at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre and lived briefly in Montreal before relocating to New York. She is a staff writer for The Millions. She lives in New York City with her husband.



 

image001_1514946317787

Vox

**Many thanks to NetGalley, Berkley Publishing, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

by Christina Dalcher

SmellRating3

(3.81 stars – Goodreads rating)

Expected Publication: August 21, 2018, by Berkley Publishing Group

Genre: Dystopian Fiction / Sci-Fi

Format: Kindle Edition

Pages: 336

#Vox  #NetGalley

VoxThink about where you’ll be — where your daughters will be — when the courts turn back the clock… Think about waking up one morning and finding you don’t have a voice in anything.

Let me get this out of the way first, and then you won’t have to hear anything else about my comparisons of Vox to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, because they really, really do have a lot in common: 

  • the oppression of women including the banning of reading, writing, and free speech
  • the vilification of Christianity
  • programming/reprogramming of the children
  • classification of women in terms of social standing & “virtue”
  • violent deaths for opposers
  • a mother attempting/considering escape for the sake of her daughter(s)
  • and an underground resistance movement

In addition, Dalcher also uses the flashback method (as Atwood did with Handmaid) to take us back to life before the new government created this new “Pure movement”.

Dalcher doesn’t shy away from the Atwood association though, and she lists her as a literary influence on Goodreads (along with Shirley Jackson and Stephen King). So, there!

Ok, so the two books are a lot alike; HOWEVER, there are also some key differences that made me view The Handmaid as scary but empowering, and Vox – not so much.

Monsters aren’t born, ever. They’re made, piece by piece and limb by limb, artificial creations of madmen who, like the misguided Frankenstein, always think they know better.

So here’s the plot summary: Dr. Jean McClellan used to be one of the foremost neurolinguistic scientists in the United States. Past tense, because ever since the new president took office and set up the loquacious Reverend Carl Corbin as a White House advisor, women aren’t allowed to speak, let alone work as scientists – or anything – anymore.

Women have been stripped of their careers outside of the home, all their bank accounts, cell phones, laptops, access to birth control, and – most invasively – their voices. According to the new government, the female population is only allowed 100 words a day. Any more than this and a band on their wrists administers a painful electric shock that increases in intensity with every additional word. The ultimate goal is to force women back into “more traditional” roles within the home: cooking, cleaning, and raising families – whether they want to or not.

Jean inwardly rails against the establishment, but she does so silently, until the day an opportunity presents itself that may offer a way for her and her daughter to buck the system and get to speak again. But will the cost be too heavy a price to pay? And is her husband truly being supportive or just secretive?

I’ve become a woman of few words.

OK, so I’ll review first and rant later.

This is a hard review to write. I have to separate how I feel about the subject matter from how I feel about the writing/plot development/characters/etc., and if you’ve ever reviewed any type of controversial book before, you know that is not an easy thing to do.

As dystopian novels go, this one was packed full of frustrating circumstances, despair, oppression, and all the negative emotions you can imagine a dystopian novel would contain. No, all the characters aren’t likable (even, surprisingly, the main character), and most of them aren’t given a whole lot of backstory, so don’t expect a lot of character development here. It’s a quick read and most of the true action is stuffed into the final few chapters.

But the premise is extremely compelling and it does draw you into the story easily. I did read this mostly in one sitting because I was so interested to see how it all played out in the end.

Vox certainly serves as a cautionary tale reminding us that evil ideas prevail when good people do nothing – especially when we don’t go out and vote! You know that totally “woke” friend who is always pushing everyone to call their congresspeople and to oppose this cause and that cause? Listen to her. If nothing else, this book taught me that much.

Did I love it? No. Was it worth a read? Sure. Of course, there are plot points that are infuriating and potentially dangerous in the wrong hands, but isn’t that almost a requirement for good dystopian fiction? This book made me angry, sad, frustrated and – at times confused,  but I left it knowing that someone’s words caused all those feelings in me, and isn’t that kind of the point of reading?

I wonder what the other women do. How they cope. Do they still find something to enjoy? Do they love their husbands in the same way? Do they hate them, just a little bit?

Now for the rant – and, don’t worry, I’ll keep it short. I’ll just put it right out there: I’m a Christian. I NEVER push my beliefs down anyone’s throat nor do I devalue anyone else’s faith. So, it was VERY painful to read this book and see all the many, many, many times the main character maligned Christianity as a religion and its followers as a whole. There was no separation of “these certain religious fanatics” or “a specific group of extremists”. No. It was the entire religion and everyone who believes in it. That made me angry and it separated me from the story. I couldn’t relate to the characters, who were obviously suffering and deserved my sympathy, because of that gross and blatant injustice.

And I’m personally astounded by all the times Christianity is portrayed as the villain in mainstream media without anyone condemning that practice. We will defend the rights of Islamic Muslims to not be categorized as terrorists and the rights of Catholic men to not be pigeonholed as pedophiles, etc., but with Christians, hey! it’s free game! I take issue with that.

You obviously don’t need to be told that all Christians are not extremists. All Christians are not judgmental separatists who dream of a controlled society where diversity is non-existent. Most Christians are just hardworking, God-loving people who are just trying to live good, compassionate, charitable lives. To lump us all with the images of a few power-hungry radical individuals was a gross misrepresentation, and I take exception to that.

OK, rant over. But know, that while I did harbor that resentment throughout the book, I did not rate the book based on my personal feelings about the subject matter. And I’m not attacking the author either for the opinions of her main character!

Phew, I feel better getting that out of my system!

According to my personal rating scale, I gave Vox 3 stars: “This book was alright. Might be worth reading for most, but there are several things about it that will keep me from recommending it to all.” Three stars is not necessarily a bad rating from me. Lots of what I read ends up in this category. It was a solid book and will appeal to a vast majority of readers. If you pick this one up, here’s my two-cent advice: Read it for what it is, try hard not to compare it to other stories, and find at least one character you can relate to. Good luck!

Release day for Vox is August 21st so pre-order now! Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository


About the Author

Christina DalcherChristina Dalcher

Website

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Christina Dalcher earned her doctorate in theoretical linguistics from Georgetown University. She specializes in the phonetics of sound change in Italian and British dialects and has taught at universities in the United States, England, and the United Arab Emirates.
Her short stories and flash fiction appear in over one hundred journals worldwide. Recognitions include the Bath Flash Award’s Short List; nominations for The Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions; and multiple other awards. She teaches flash fiction as a member of the faculty at The Muse Writers Center in Norfolk, Virginia. Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency represents Dalcher’s novels.
After spending several years abroad, most recently in Sri Lanka, Dalcher and her husband now split their time between the American South and Naples, Italy.
Her debut novel, VOX, will be published in August 2018 by Berkley (an imprint of Penguin Random House).

(Bio courtesy of Goodreads)


 

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Gemina (The Illuminae Files #2)

by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff
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(4.55 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published January 16, 2018, by Ember (first published October 18, 2016)

Genre: Fiction / Sci-Fi / YA

Format: Paperback

Page Count: 659 pages

#Gemina #IlluminaeFiles

Gemina (The Illuminae Files, #2)Now, children, watch closely. Hold your breath. Listen. And I will show you the components of calamity.

I’ve decided that any sequel to a highly-rated series debut is like tofu – either you love it or you hate it. Knowing this, I went into reading Gemina with my tongue out and eyes squinted just waiting for it to start tasting bad.

It never did.

How? How is that possible? How could I love the dynamic between Kady and Ezra from Illuminae SO MUCH and then fall equally in love with Hanna and Niklas?

And how, also, can I be equally as interested in a story where the characters are literally just spinning in circles The.Entire.Time? It shouldn’t be possible. But, folks, I’m here to tell you that Kaufman and Kristoff pulled it off.

Gemina is the story of Hanna Donnelly trying to go to a party. No, seriously. That’s the initial premise. Hanna, daughter of the commander of the space station, Heimdall, just wants to attend the Terra Day celebration and get wasted with her friends and boyfriend after.

And Nik, local bad boy, drug dealer, and member of the intimidating House of Knives gang  (whose presence on the ship isn’t registered), just wants to deliver some “Dust” to Hanna (his crush), get his money, and have some fun of his own (after HoK duties are finished with, of course).

Is that too much to ask? Apparently so.

Just like they were taking a page from all the best (worst?) teen horror flicks, the party is prematurely interrupted by strange goings-on. And by “strange”, I mean that by the end of the night Hanna and Nik are battling both a team of highly-trained killers sent to annihilate everyone on their space station AND twenty or so slimy eel/squid-like multi-headed brain-sucking alien parasites. So there’s that.

They fan out across the room, swift and surgical, the steps of this brutal ballet known by heart.

So Hanna turns out to be much more than the pampered daughter of the commander. She is highly trained in self-defense, a strategist, extremely athletic and resourceful. And she’ll need every bit of those attributes to get her through the occupation by the BeiTech forces. Oh, did I not mention that they are the ones who let loose the killers-for-hire? Yep, it’s them, at it again.

BeiTech is trying to clean up its mess from the Karenza attack (from Illuminae). And by “clean up” I mean “eliminate all possible witnesses”. But Hanna, Nik, and Ella – Nik’s computer wiz of a cousin – will not go quietly into that dark night.

Their time is short for victory, however. The wormhole is acting crazy, the killers on board the station are closing in, and so are the Lamina (the brain-sucking alien parasites). And by this point in the book – all the drama starts pretty early on – my nails are chewed down and I’m turning the pages like a madperson!

Patience and Silence had one beautiful daughter. And her name was Vengeance.

Gemina is fast-paced, well-written, and it’s sufficiently sci-fi and sufficiently YA to please fans of both genres. It is definitely a fitting sequel to Illuminae and a suspenseful sci-fi novel all on its own. I would recommend reading Illuminae first so that you’ll be familiar with some of the supporting characters and how they fit into the matrix of the files, but if you refuse (your prerogative), this is a very good book all on its own. And the format of all of the books in this series (Illuminae, Gemina, and Obsidio) is so unique and compelling that you’ll be sucked into the story before the first 100 pages have passed.

So why not 5 stars? There was only one thing that this book lacked that I found I needed to make it 100 percent perfect: MORE AIDAN!!! Yes, he (it?) is a psychopathic, hyper-moral mass murdering AI, but I love him (it)! He makes cameo appearances throughout, but a little AIDAN is just not enough. Hopefully, Obsidio will set that right and I will be able to see if AIDAN can truly redeem him-(it) self in the end.

And please, please please don’t be intimidated by the size of these books! I know 600+ pages sounds like a lot but, trust me, the style of it (written like file docs, illustrations, and summaries of surveillance footage) will make the pages fly by. I am not the fastest reader, but I managed to get this read within two days. Plus, the fast pace will keep you turning pages to find out what happens next. That’s why, after I hit “save” on this blog entry, I’m headed out to pick up Obsidio. I have to know how the story ends!


About the Authors

Amie’s Twitter

Jay’s Website

Jay’s Twitter

Jay’s Blog

Amie Kaufman is a New York Times, USA Today and internationally bestselling author of science fiction and fantasy. Her multi-award winning work has been published in over 35 countries and is in development for film and TV. A couple of her career highlights so far include professional wolf-howling lessons, and working as a story consultant at NASA.

Jay Kristoff is the #1 international, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of THE NEVERNIGHT CHRONICLE, THE ILLUMINAE FILES, and THE LOTUS WAR. He is the winner of five Aurealis Awards, an ABIA, has over half a million books in print and is published in over thirty-five countries, most of which he has never visited.

(Bios courtesy of Goodreads)


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The Water Cure

by Sophie Mackintosh

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(3.9 stars – Goodreads rating)

To Be Re-Published January 8, 2019, by Doubleday

Genre: Fiction / Dystopian Science-Fiction

Format: Kindle Edition

Page Count: 256

#TheWaterCure  #NetGalley

The Water CureEven if it is a failed utopia, at least we tried.

Grace, Lia, and Sky live with their parents in a house beside a sandy beach. That sounds like the beginning of a wonderful story, doesn’t it? Who would have thought that such a benign beginning could result in such a tangled web of disappearances, deceit, and danger?

King believes he has rescued his family by secluding them in a home by the bay. He and their mother taught them to protect themselves from the toxicity of the world by performing rituals and ceremonies of cleansing. The three girls had to prove themselves strong, loyal, and loving – to their parents, to each other, to themselves. But not to men.

There were men who naturally caused great harm. It is built into them. You had warned us. You are one, though you would never admit it.

Men weren’t present in their lives. Only King. This was for their protection because men were the cause of all the harm and poison in the world. Being hidden away from them was the only way to survive.

But when King disappears during a routine supply run and is presumed dead, and Mother also does not return from her trip beyond the sea border, the sisters are stuck on their beach with three castaways. Men. And this changes everything.

… loss is a thing that build around you… what feels like safety is often just absence of current harm, and those two things are not the same.

Told through the POVs of the sisters, Sophie Mackintosh’s debut novel, The Water Cure is a palpably tense look through a dystopian window at a family’s search for a unique utopia, and what they end up finding instead.

This is The First Book of Calamity Leek meets The Handmaid’s Tale meets My Absolute Darling in all of each of their weird wackiness and horrifyingly resolute honesty about what makes society (and separation) so imperfect.

This is a stunning debut novel with writing that behaves like watercolors, painting each new page with dynamic emotion: angst, elation, peace, dread. It was unusual, confusing, and eerie in all the best ways. And I could easily see this playing out on the big screen, although it would take a master director to get it entirely right.

Many thanks to NetGalley, Doubleday, and the author for the opportunity to read and review a copy of this book.


About the Author

Image result for sophie mackintoshWebsite

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SOPHIE MACKINTOSH won the 2016 White Review Short Story Prize and the 2016 Virago/Stylist Short Story competition and has been published in Granta magazine and Tank magazine, among others. The Water Cure is her first novel.

(Bio courtesy of Google)


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