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Homeland

I read Little Brother ages ago and have zero memory of it. I read it solely because it’s a modern retelling of 1984 (maybe not a retelling, but a companion book, I’m not sure what to call it exactly) But for the book challenge, I needed a cyberpunk novel and had Homeland on my Kindle, so I went ahead and tackled it, knowing it was a sequel to a book I had long forgotten. And, even though there were references made to what happened in the first book, I was able to pick up the second one fairly easily.

The basic plot is that our main character, Marcus, is a cyber expert. Terrible things happened to him and his friends in the first book and they are wary about trusting others. However, while at Burning Man, Marcus runs into old friends who entrust him with a flash drive of information to be released if they disappear. And, of course, they do, so Marcus has to decide what to do with the information. He has a new job working for a campaign he believes in and doesn’t want to jeopardize that, but knows what he has on the drive has to be released. So, rock, hard place…what to do?

For being a YA book, this was a very mature one dealing with real-life terrors in our society. Cory Doctorow writes some really interesting plots with likeable characters. I hope to revisit Marcus and his friends for a third installment.

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The Power

For the 2018 book challenge, I had to have a book about feminism. Originally, I was going to read Alias Grace, but my online book club selected The Power for the book to read in April, so I made the switch. I had heard nothing but great things about The Power and was really excited to read it. However, I was really disappointed in the book overall.

Obviously, the “Me Too” movement is huge right now, as it should be. Women have to deal with awful things nearly every day, whether it be stabs to their self-esteem from unattainable supermodel looks to full-on sexual harassment or worse. So, when I started The Power and discovered it really is about women being given the power in the world through a genetic mutation that allows them to shoot electricity from their bodies, I was excited to see what all these women would accomplish. And the answer really is not much. Each of the main female character didn’t make the world better in any way. One was a drug runner, another a televangelist-like manipulative prophet, anohter a dictator, and finally a local politician with a secret. The only male character in the book was the kindest one in the entire story.

Through the discussion with my group, I realize I’m in the minority with these thoughts. I was just really hoping that the female characters would use their new power for good rather than destruction. To try to be better and make the world better rather than to be criminals and manipulative. One book club member pointed out that the power was so new that the women just didn’t handle it well (like a kid in a candy store) but with time, everything would probably settle into normalcy, which is a fair point. But I was just really disappointed that the author chose for women to be portrayed so negatively.

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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.

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books and reading

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.

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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.

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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.

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Before You Leap

I’m a proud owner of a Kindle and Amazon Prime, so I take advantage of the Kindle Firsts program. Each month, Amazon sends me a handful of books that I may “purchase” for free since I’m a Prime member. Before You Leap had been in my to-read list for awhile, and I discovered I needed a book about twins for the 2018 book challenge. Granted, one of the twins is dead in this book, but I counted it anyway.

The story starts out in the present, then flashes back in time to a few days earlier, so I’ll start with the earlier part first. Greg’s sister Scarlett was murdered ten years ago, but her killer has been let out of prison. A private investigator informs Greg of this fact and clues him in that the killer is now headed toward Florida, where Greg now lives with his platonic BFF Eve. Greg also has a sleepwalking condition and frequently finds himself in the rain in unexplainable circumstances. He works as a therapist in Florida and is simply trying to get on with his life. He has a girlfriend, a job, a happy life until the news of the killer reaches him.

Let me just say this now. The ending was ABSURD. Like roll your eyes, groan, how cheesy absurd. I hated it. Books like these anger me so much. Instead of just letting a mystery play out, which this did until the last few pages, there has to be some CRAZY TWIST THAT YOU DIDN’T SEE COMING!! OMG!! CAN YOU BELIEVE IT???? But it never works for me. I hate that ploy. The “oh he wasn’t really dead for the entire novel even though you tricked us into thinking he was” or the “the guy’s twin brother isn’t really a twin brother, it was him in disguise!” or some other kind of crap. Not that either of those things happen in this book, but they are examples of ridiculous plot twists that make zero sense. And this book has a whopper of one. I was generous to give this one 3 stars, honestly. The ending was just so awful.

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Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

I won this book from Goodreads (Thanks!!) and really wouldn’t have picked it up otherwise, but I’m (mostly) glad that I did. I think the cover and title are really misleading. The story really is a murder and suicide mystery more than anything else. And unless I read the blurb, I would have assumed otherwise. However, the book was worth reading, even though I had assumed the plot was nothing thrillery of the sort.

Lydia works at the Bright Ideas Bookstore (meeting my 2018 book challenge criteria of a “book involving a bookstore”) and one of her favorite patrons, Joey, hangs himself at midnight in the store. Lydia is the one to find him and discovers he has a picture of her as a child in his pocket. Let the mystery unfold.

As you learn more about Lydia, you realize she was involved in a terrible, traumatic event as a child. And as she digs through Joey’s possessions, she begins to see some clues he left for her. Lydia then has to dig through all these, following the breadcrumbs until her past and her present merge into one awful resolution.

Avoiding spoilers, I will say that I was a bit disappointed with the resolution, simply because I saw it coming, but that’s not a reason to avoid this book. Once I got past the initial shock of what kind of book I had started reading, it was well-written and clever, and I’m thankful Goodreads gave it to me.

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I’ll Give You the Sun

I feel like young adult books have made a resurgence in quality. There were always good ones, but so many of them are tackling important issues, dealing with realistic situations, and aren’t talking down to their audience. Between Dear Martin, The Hate U Give, and Everything I Never Told You, I’ve read some amazing YA books and recommend them all. And I’m going to add I’ll Give You the Sun to this list.

For the 2018 book challenge, I needed to read a book with an LBGTQ protagonist, and in I’ll Give You the Sun, the main character, Noah, is dealing with being gay, not being accepted, falling in love, and struggling with it all. He also has a twin sister, Jude, who he loves more than anyone, but their lives have diverged. There are many situations in this book that are hard to read about, mostly of loss, but watching the characters navigate through the trials is worth the read. Told in alternating perspectives (Noah when he and Jude are 13 and then Jude when she and Noah are 16) you really get the entire picture of what happened when they were 13 and how it changed them over the next three years.

This book is also one for the art lover. Both Noah and Jude are talented artists vying to get into the local art magnet (or some such) high school. As you read, more secrets are revealed as to how Noah and Jude became as divided as they are at age 16. It’s heartbreaking, but honest. I’ve been very lucky to come across some wonderful books as of late and highly recommend this one.