Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Station Eleven [review]

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Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Published by Knopf on September 9, 2014
my rating: ★★★★ (4 stars)
Goodreads avg:
4.05 (as of 2020-02-07)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads | Bookshop | Author’s Website

Jeevan was crushed by a sudden certainty that this was it, that this illness Hua was describing was going to be the divide between a before and an after, a line drawn through this life.

This was certainly… timely to read during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was actually eerie at points — although thankfully what we’re living through is much less severe. I had actually been given this in March (a week before lockdown!) and am glad I put off reading it until things had calmed down a bit.

The book itself is incredibly readable. St. John Mandel creates realistic characters in a world that feels true to life. It’s really difficult to describe what the story is ‘about’, as it runs the gamut as far as content goes and utilizes flashbacks heavily. If you dislike non-linear storytelling, this definitely won’t be for you. But it’s not your typical dystopian story, and I really appreciated the author’s creativity here. This felt like nothing I’ve read before and while at times I felt a bit like I was just waiting to see where things went, I was never bored. It was also hauntingly beautiful at times. Seeing how the characters were interconnected and following their stories was magical, even when it was tragic. Bits that seemed irrelevant eventually became important — although some bits did seem irrelevant to the end.

Overall, I really enjoyed this and am glad I finally got around to it!

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The Caves of Steel [review]

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The Caves of Steel (Robot #1) by Isaac Asimov
Published by Spectra on April 13, 2011 (originally 1954)
my rating: ★★★ (3 stars)
Goodreads avg:
4.17 (as of 2021-01-14)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads | Bookshop


I probably wouldn’t have read this if it hadn’t been chosen as a book club pick, but I don’t regret picking it up. It gave me old-timey-detective-novel vibes — but set in the future, and with robots. Sadly, although I only finished the book a couple days ago, it’s already largely left my thoughts and I can’t think of much to say about it. I probably won’t finish the series and I probably won’t prioritize reading more Asimov. The writing felt somewhat stiff to me, and the characters were all pretty one-dimensional. It’s a quick read, though, and probably worth picking up if you’re interested in the history of the C/Fe (or sci-fi) genre.

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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Upright Women Wanted [review]

Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey
Published by on February 4, 2020
my rating: ★★★★ (4 stars)
Goodreads avg:
3.71 (as of 2020-08-06)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads Bookshop | Author’s Website

What kind of good man becomes a sheriff these days? What kind of good man joins his posse?

Queer librarians on horseback! Is there anything else for me to say? The cast in this is excellent, with many wlw characters as well as a non-binary love interest. There are also hints of polyamory, which I’m always a fan of. This is a Western that felt historic at first, but revealed itself to be a futuristic dystopia in which the US has reverted to the old days of horses and wagons. I would love more books set within this world to flesh out the setting, particularly a sequel to see what Esther gets up to next. The only thing I really struggled with a bit was the characterization of Esther, who I initially thought was much younger than she actually was. Even now, I’m not quite sure how old her character is meant to be. Otherwise, I really enjoyed this and am looking forward to picking up more from Gailey!

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a torbie cat looking up happily while sitting next to a copy of The City in the Middle of the Night
Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

The City in the Middle of the Night [review]

The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders
Published by Tor Books on February 12, 2019
my rating: ★★★
Goodreads avg:
3.56 (as of 2020-06-29)
Spoiler-free review

Would you give up everything to change the world?

Humanity clings to life on January–a colonized planet divided between permanently frozen darkness on one side, and blazing endless sunshine on the other.

Two cities, built long ago in the meager temperate zone, serve as the last bastions of civilization–but life inside them is just as dangerous as the uninhabitable wastelands outside.

Sophie, a young student from the wrong side of Xiosphant city, is exiled into the dark after being part of a failed revolution. But she survives–with the help of a mysterious savior from beneath the ice.

Burdened with a dangerous, painful secret, Sophie and her ragtag group of exiles face the ultimate challenge–and they are running out of time.

Welcome to the City in the Middle of the Night

Goodreads IndieBound | Author’s Website

Part of how they make you obey is by making obedience seem peaceful, while resistance is violent. But really, either choice is about violence, one way or another.

This was such a strange book that felt almost needlessly complicated in some aspects. I could tell that Anders was extremely into her world building but I found it difficult to suspend my disbelief for some aspects of it. It reminded me a bit of Amatka: a society filled with unyielding rules. The comparisons largely end there, though.

I never felt strongly connected to any of the characters. Sophie didn’t feel solid enough as a pov character; she never really bypassed concept into full-fledged character for me and I didn’t feel like she had much agency. I struggled similarly with Mouth, who started off as a caricature and morphed into something softer that I didn’t quite understand. I just never felt fully convinced by either of them. The dialogue itself, while largely good, felt stilted in some parts. There were random scenes where I thought, “no one talks like that.”

I really struggled with the message of the story for a bit. It sort of felt like it was trying to push too many storylines together at once. If it was expanded into a series this would have made more sense, but as is it had a kind of claustrophobic feel to it. My mind was constantly dragged in several different directions and I wasn’t really sure what to expect next, but not necessarily in a good way.

I did really admire the way this tackled toxic relationships. Sophie is deeply in love with her best friend Bianca, although seemingly unable to admit it to herself. Bianca is privileged, self-centered, and blind to anything that doesn’t impact her directly. It was frustrating watching Sophie return to Bianca over and over, but it also makes sense in the context of their relationship (until their last meeting — that didn’t make sense to me).

Regardless of my criticisms, this was highly readable and I hope people will still give it a shot. I hit points where I just didn’t want to put the book down because the writing was so compelling and I really wanted to see what would happen next. It’s a good book, but I think cutting down a little would have gone a long way.

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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories [review]

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu
Published by Gallery/Saga Press on February 25, 2020
my rating: DNF
Goodreads avg:
3.94 (as of 2020-05-09)
Spoiler-free review
disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own.

Goodreads IndieBound | Author Website

From award-winning author Ken Liu comes his much anticipated second volume of short stories.

Ken Liu is one of the most lauded short story writers of our time. This collection includes a selection of his science fiction and fantasy stories from the last five years — sixteen of his best — plus a new novelette.

I made it soo far into this, but unfortunately had to put it down. I found some of the stories really compelling but found they didn’t outweigh the ones I didn’t enjoy. At around the halfway mark, this morphed into a lot of interconnected stories that I was kind of struggling with, so it seemed best not to finish.

The stories I read, and the ratings I gave them:

Ghost Days, 2 stars
Maxwell’s Demon, 3.5 stars
The Reborn, 4 stars
Thoughts and Prayers, 4 stars
Byzantine Empathy, 4.5 stars
The Gods Will Not Be Chained, 2 stars
Staying Behind, 2.5 stars
Real Artists, 3 stars
The Gods Will Not Be Slain, 2 stars
Altogether Elsewhere, Vast Herds of Reindeer, 2 stars

Average: 2.95 stars

I think there are a lot of people who will really like these! They just weren’t for me. So if this seems like something that’s up your alley, I definitely recommend giving it a shot.

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My Name is Monster [review]

My Name is Monster by Katie Hale
Published by Canongate Books, Ltd on June 6, 2019
my rating: ★★★.5
Goodreads avg:
3.69 (as of 2020-05-05)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author Website

After the Sickness has killed off her parents, and the bombs have fallen on the last safe cities, Monster emerges from the arctic vault which has kept her alive. When she washes up on the coast of Scotland, everyone she knows is dead, and she believes she is alone in an empty world.

Monster begins the long walk south, scavenging and learning the contours of this familiar land made new. Slowly, piece by piece, she begins to rebuild a life. Until, one day, she finds a girl: feral, and ready to be taught all that Monster knows. Changing her own name to Mother, Monster names the child after herself. As young Monster learns from Mother, she also discovers her own desires, realising that she wants very different things to the woman who made, but did not create, her.

I can really appreciate the appeal behind this novel, even if it didn’t do much for me personally. This is a quiet post-apocalyptic character study of two characters: Monster-turned-Mother and Monster (the second). The naming seems confusing, but it absolutely makes sense within the story and is quite easy to follow. The first half of the novel follows Monster (to-be-Mother) as she travels home following an apocalyptic war slash disease. The “Sickness” itself is more of a backstory and isn’t much focused on itself, but some of the flashbacks did remind me of the current situation we’re dealing with. Close to the halfway point, Monster comes across a young girl and decides to change her own name to Mother while referring to the girl as Monster.

I have not survived this long only to die on a shit-splattered beach in Scotland.

The concept is strange, but it works. The first half is a combination of flashbacks and present-day as Monster-to-be-Mother reflects on her life and deals with the struggles of surviving alone in a lonely, barren landscape. This is flipped in the second half as (the new) Monster bemoans the woes of her restrictive life and looks down upon Mother for her fear and dependency on their lifestyle. It was so frustrating for me to read Monster’s perspective since she’s the post-apocalyptic version of the spoiled brat. We learn in the first half of the novel the extensive trauma Mother has undergone and the pains she took to get where she is now. Monster follows this up by insisting she is braver than Mother and by continually placing herself in dangerous situations — or trying to.

People always marvel at waterfalls, and nobody pays enough attention to the chasm underneath.

I think, though, this is part of the point of the novel. Because Mother tries to forget her trauma instead of processing it and teaching Monster about the true dangers of the world, she enables this way of behavior and thinking. Monster cannot learn from Mother’s experiences if Mother does not share them. The problem is that it is just too difficult for me to read books where things could be solved by some simple communication. If Mother had just opened up, or given some kind of explanations to Monster, this all could have been averted. Regardless, it is fairly well-written and as I said, I can see the appeal.

Decisions made at night are tricksters, elusive and fickle, slippery as fish.

I do wish some things were explained further. I don’t know if certain plot points just went over my head, or what. (The second) Monster’s past was so confusing to me. I know it was difficult to spell things out more clearly since she did not have the language to communicate it, but I was… not really sure what had happened to her. I think one of the plot points of her past was weirdly far-fetched and didn’t make any sense without explanation. Every time it came up, I was so confused!

[…]maybe healing really means making something different. Maybe getting better doesn’t mean going back to how it used to be, but moving forwards instead[…]

Overall, though, I’d say this is worth reading if it sounds like it suits you. Like I said, it is a character study so there isn’t a TON of plot. It’s not your typical post-apocalyptic read, so I’d go for this if you like something a little more literary.

content warnings: apocalyptic war; graphic depictions of wounds; death of a loved one.

My current 2020 Women’s Prize Squad Longlist rankings:

  1. The Body Lies
  2. Girl, Woman, Other
  3. My Dark Vanessa
  4. Ninth House
  5. My Name is Monster
  6. Frankissstein

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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Trail of Lightning [review]

Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World #1) by Rebecca Roanhorse
Published by Saga Press on June 26, 2018
my rating: ★★★★★
Goodreads avg:
4.00 (as of 2019-11-18)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters.

Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last—and best—hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel to the rez to unravel clues from ancient legends, trade favors with tricksters, and battle dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.

As Maggie discovers the truth behind the disappearances, she will have to confront her past—if she wants to survive.

Welcome to the Sixth World.

I’m familiar with Rebecca Roanhorse because she was a panelist at the sci-fi/fantasy convention I went to last year. While there, I heard a lot of praise for Trail of Lightning and added it to my TBR (along with 100 more books). After seeing some great reviews and seeing that the Dragons and Tea Book Club had chosen it for their November read, I checked it out from the library and absolutely blew through it.

The world-building here is just fantastic. This is a near(?) future version of the US, where the oceans have risen and the world is in minor chaos. Maggie Hoskie lives in what was formerly a Navajo reservation and is now one of the only places safe from the Big Water. In this new world, the gods and monsters of old have arisen again, and Maggie has made a career out of hunting them. Along with gods and monsters, we have a great deal of magic floating around. It’s all based on Navajo legend, which is really cool. Some of the characters have “clan magic” and I loved seeing all the varieties that existed.

I had conflicted feelings about Maggie as a character, honestly. I found her quite irritating at times, but a lot of her flaws came from her struggles with PTSD and were kind of realistic in that way — and it’s great seeing her work through her trauma in order to get to a place where she can start healing. She was a fun character to follow, but I also just wanted to shake her and help her make better decisions. The romance was also quite obvious from the start, but I thought it was really well-done regardless and enjoyed seeing her and Kai interact.

The plot itself was somewhat intriguing but felt secondary to the characters. I got a little lost in it towards the end and felt some of the twists required a bit too much suspension of disbelief, but I was still absolutely glued to the pages. This is one of those books where the flaws are far outweighed by the things I loved.

I was confused when I went to shelve this as “adult” and saw that it had been shelved mostly as “young adult.” I couldn’t recall an age being mentioned, but definitely got adult vibes, although I was waffling on whether this could be considered “new adult.” I happened to come across an interview with Roanhorse where she admits she intentionally left Maggie’s age vague but that she’s “more like 20” and is definitely not a teen. So I guess just a heads up that the author would not classify her book as YA and respectfully asks that others not do so.

Anyway, I really loved this book and am excited to pick up the sequel! I have minimal experience with urban fantasy, but after this I’m thinking I may have to explore the genre a bit more.

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