The Fifth Season

I’ve been following N. K. Jemisin on Twitter for awhile and put this series on my “to-read” list because a friend recommended it to me. Back when I was selecting all the books to read for the 2018 book challenge, I needed a book written by someone of a different ethnicity, and I had originally selected the next book in the Young Elites series. I got about 20% through and just hated it. I was so disappointed with the first that I really shouldn’t have bothered, but I wanted to give it another shot. I loved the Legend series, but this one just isn’t nearly as good. So, I dropped it and gave The Fifth Season a shot.

I’m not a huge sci-fi/fantasy fan. I usually need to have some reality mixed in with my fantasy. And this book had very little of the reality aspect, so that was a bit of a turn-off for me, but for absolutely no reason other than personal preference. But Jemisin is a fantastic author. She has created a world that is honest and heartbreaking and fascinating. The book follows the storyline of three women, one is a child, the other two are adults, in a world where orogenes exist. Orogenes can move earth plates, channel energy, and prevent (or cause) earthquakes. Set several hundred years in the future, we see what Earth has turned into.

And without giving any spoilers, I saw one little plot twist coming, but I didn’t see the second. Jemisin let me think I was so clever to figure one out, but then dropped the hammer on me with the second. Jemisin has won the prestigious Hugo Award for this book, and it is absolutely deserved. The writing is tight, the characters are wholly developed, and the plot is pieced together masterfully.  Announced last Aug, this trilogy will be getting a series on TNT, as well. I will absolutely be finishing the series and will eagerly anticipate the television series!

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Midnight Assassin

I’m a big fan of true crime stories. I have seen more episodes of Forensic Files than I can tell you,  I subscribe to several podcasts on the subject, and I’ve read a number of books. At some point, I bought Midnight Assassin for my Kindle and when I needed a book with a time of day in the title, I selected this one to fulfill that category.

Midnight Assassin follows the brutal murders of several people, mostly women, in Austin, Texas, in the late 1800s.  The initial targets were black women, and even though slavery was over, clearly equality wasn’t happening. The white families who “paid” these women for their housekeeping services weren’t all that troubled when several of them were murdered in their own servant quarters. The murders became so frequent that servants were begging to sleep in the kitchens of the white homes for protection rather than their own quarters.  But then two white women were murdered on the same night and things changed. People started caring and trying to solve these crimes was put on the forefront.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. The story of the crimes was put into historical context, and it was clear the author had done his homework. I would definitely recommend this book to any true crime junkie.

The Circle

I first read Dave Eggers over a decade ago when someone recommended his memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, to me. I hated it. I just hated it. It is stream-of-consciousness style writing and I couldn’t get into his head. (It won tons of awards, so it’s worth checking out, and I should give it another go at some point). That said, I effing love McSweeneys, which he founded, and I really, really wanted to like his work. So, a couple of years ago, I gave him another try. This time, I picked a book that I had on the shelf, probably to fit into some book challenge category. I read his non-fiction work, Zeitoun, which is about a Hurricane Katrina survivor, named Zeitoun, who tries to help rescue people with his canoe in the aftermath, but he’s arrested for terrorist activities (he’s innocent, of course) and is put into a make-shift jail. I couldn’t put this book down. Not just because of the story, but also how beautifully it was written. Eggers truly is a talent. So, I was optimistic for The Circle.

One of the book challenge categories is to read a book for a movie you’ve already seen. This is one is hard for me. Aside from books like The Bourne Identity, assorted Tom Clancy books, James Bond, etc I’ve already read the book. I couldn’t think of a single movie I had seen where I hadn’t also read the book. So, I dug into my personal bookshelf. I found The Circle, knew I wanted to read it, visited my local video store (yes, we have one) and watched the movie first, which was a new experience for me. Of course, the book is still better. The ending of the movie is VASTLY different than the book. I loved the book’s ending more. It felt more authentic for the tone of the book.

So, The Circle is like Facebook in this hypothetical world. It is a company, but also a social scene for those who work there. Employees are expected to partake in online and real world events just about every evening and all weekend, along with completing their job tasks. Mae is new and very skeptical of the entire program. However, the company wears her down. The agrees to become “transparent” meaning she wears a camera all day, allowing herself bathroom freedoms only, and after 10pm the camera is optional. Everything she sees, her viewers see. Slowly, The Circle takes over. Politicians become transparent. Cameras are everywhere. Criminals are tracked. But what happens to those who don’t join The Circle, when not joining isn’t an option? Eggers has written 1984 for the new world with this book. I was blown away and terrified.

Red Moon

I’m not a fan of werewolf stories. Really. Not. A. Fan. But Stephen King recommended this one, so I gave it a whirl. And I’m happy to proclaim that this is a werewolf story, but just barely. For the 2018 book challenge, I had to read a book with my favorite color in the title, and given there are probably no books with “aquamarine” in the title, I just picked a book with any color in the title. Yes, I cheated.

Imagine our world, but one with lycans who live side-by-side with humans. These lycans are medicated (tested monthly to ensure they are taking their meds), there is a full moon sabbath where no one is allowed out for work, school, errands, etc, and, of course, there are those who vehemently speak out against any and all lycans, no matter how harmless they are.  This book was much more political than anything. Just replace lycans with any subgroup in our population, and the story is the same. There are militia groups who vow to destroy lycans, there are lycan terrorists who kill humans, there are political parties divided, all lycan colleges, on and on. The story follows a handful of characters, some lycan, some human and how their world is torn apart after a few events.

I really enjoyed this book more than I expected. I didn’t know it was about werewolves when I started and was so disappointed when the word lycan crossed my page. But it really is more about political maneuvering, acceptance, and survival than anything else. Really interesting book.

The Hail Mary

I discovered Todd Travis a few years ago through the free book service, Bookbub. It’s an email service that alerts you do book deals, either free or deeply discounted. His first book in this series, Creatures of Appetite, was free, and once I read it I was hooked and considered myself a fan. I found his fan page on Facebook and joined, hoping to be in the know for his book releases. And it worked! As soon as his books came out, he would post to let us know, and I immediately bought them. My reviews of his previous works are here Creatures of Appetite and Trophies . The fourth book in the series is available for preorder, and I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy in exchange for a review. So here I am!

To summarize without spoilers, the Thorne/Kane series follows FBI agents Jacob Thorne and Emma Kane, unlikely partners who are trying to solve a variety of crimes. Each book focuses on a new event. The newest book leaves Kane on her own, of sorts, to solve a three-year-old cold case with only days to get the job done.

What I like most about these books is that I never see the ending coming, but they are all plausible. None of that out of the blue and doesn’t make a lick of sense business that I find so often in mystery books. Travis writes a tight book, snappy language, and clever twists that don’t make me roll my eyes and groan in frustration at the end. I highly recommend his works. If you can catch one for free on Amazon, great, but each book is definitely worth the asking price.

Lincoln in the Bardo

So, this book wasn’t for me. I’m just going to say that right up front. However, it deserves all the awards it is getting. The author, George Saunders, has written a really interesting book that I think many people will enjoy. But it was just too “out there” for me, in a non-traditional sense.

The story mostly takes place in a graveyard with ghosts telling the story. And I use the term story very loosely. Young Willie Lincoln has just passed away and is being interred soon. The ghosts observe President Lincoln coming to visit his son’s body. They describe what they see, discuss their own lives, squabble with each other, and are a variety of characters.

Interspersed between the graveyard descriptions, Saunders tells us about Lincoln and his son. I believe (I could be wrong) these are all non-fiction passages with cited sources after each statement. This was much more interesting to me. Considering I’m not usually a fan of non-fiction, I preferred hearing the details surrounding Willie’s death and how his family dealt with it.

I had no idea what to expect with this book. And I won’t say I was disappointed or that I even disliked the book. I think Saunders has tapped into a new style of writing and is simply a genius about it, but it just didn’t work for me. But I still recommend the book because it is so uniquely written.

Xenogenesis series

When Amazon has sales on Octavia Butler works, I usually buy them. Since they are older works, I can usually get them at a good deal. And she has convinced me that she is a writer worth owning her entire bibliography, so I don’t even bother to read the plots for the books I buy. I just buy them because she is the author. So, when I had to read a book set on a different planet, a Goodreads list lead me to the first in this series, Dawn.

In Dawn, we meet Lilith, who has survived a nuclear holocaust on Earth and finds herself in a foreign land. She is alone, confused, and finds herself awoken by some unknown being or force. Turns out she has been rescued by aliens who claim they want to help her. Spoiler alert, they are friendly. This is the premise of the entire series- humans and aliens interacting. Lilith comes to terms with her new environment and tries to find other human companions.

In the next book, Adulthood Rites, we meet one of Lilith’s children. She has several children all through the help of the aliens. Akin is kidnapped by humans who fear the aliens and given to a mother and father who can’t have children of their own. Lilith is in the book, but briefly.

In the final book, we meet another of Lilith’s children, Jodahs, who is part alien, part human, and he is struggling with his place in the world. Through the series, we learn much about this alien race. They are kind and helpful. They are able to cure human ailments, even genetic ones. They help humans mate (yea, it’s weird), and they genuinely want mankind to survive, although not entirely on their own. They are producing “constructs” who are part alien and part human, which is a struggle.

The series is really interesting, but you definitely have to let reality go. Butler has created an excellent world and Lilith is a great female character. I didn’t give these five stars only because it was a little too sci-fi for me, and I got bogged down with all the alien reproduction stuff. But that’s not to say these aren’t great books. I’m still convinced to buy everything Butler has written, even if the books are more sci-fi than not.