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Sorrowland

Title: Sorrowland

Author: Rivers Solomon

Genre: Black science fiction

Thank you Netgalley for this book!

Holy smokes this book. I have already read An Unkindness of Ghosts and The Deep, so I am familiar with Rivers Solomon’s genre-bending style. I discovered them in last year’s PopSugar challenge for the “author who is trans or non-binary” prompt, so I’m using Solomon’s preferred pronouns of they/their. I am so thankful I stumbled upon their work because all their books have been outstanding. And seriously, thank you to Netgalley for letting me have this one. I was so excited to read it.

From Goodreads: Vern – seven months pregnant and desperate to escape the strict religious compound where she was raised – flees for the shelter of the woods. There, she gives birth to twins, and plans to raise them far from the influence of the outside world.

But even in the forest, Vern is a hunted woman. Forced to fight back against the community that refuses to let her go, she unleashes incredible brutality far beyond what a person should be capable of, her body wracked by inexplicable and uncanny changes.

To understand her metamorphosis and to protect her small family, Vern has to face the past, and more troublingly, the future – outside the woods. Finding the truth will mean uncovering the secrets of the compound she fled but also the violent history in America that produced it.

So, this book isn’t at all what I thought it would be. I should have known not to expect “traditional” when it comes to a book written by Solomon. I was thinking it would be a story about a woman escaping a cult and struggling with the outside world. It is that, of course, but so SO much more. Vern begins to notice that her body is stronger than it should be. She doesn’t tire as quickly and can heal herself. By the time she realizes this, she knows she has to figure out why.

Vern’s journey takes her to people who are kind and helpful, and she finds a home, of sorts. Her children are protected, while Vern can search for answers. And those answers, whew, they are pretty crazy. And so terrible. I had no idea where this book was going once Vern left the woods, but the story just becomes richer and richer as the story unfolds. What a fantastic, important adventure.

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The Deep

Title: The Deep

Authors: Rivers Solomon, Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, Jonathan Snipes

Genre: Black science-fiction

PopSugar Reading Challenge Prompt: A book set mostly or entirely outdoors.

The concept of this book is just so cool. Rivers Solomon heard the song “The Deep” by the band clipping. and was so moved that they wrote this novella in response. You can find the lyrics and a clip (pun intended) of the song here. I wanted to listen to the song before I read the book so I could be in the same frame of mind that Solomon was. And the song was really familiar. I’m a big Hamilton fan, so I knew Diggs had a rap group, but I’ve never listened to any of the songs. When I read the Afterword, I realized that clipping. wrote the song for an episode of This American Life. That’s when the light bulb went off. I heard that episode. It’s an excellent one about Afrofuturism. Here’s a link.

From Goodreads: Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners—who live idyllic lives in the deep. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly, is forgotten by everyone, save one—the historian. This demanding role has been bestowed on Yetu.

Yetu remembers for everyone, and the memories, painful and wonderful, traumatic and terrible and miraculous, are destroying her. And so, she flees to the surface, escaping the memories, the expectations, and the responsibilities—and discovers a world her people left behind long ago.

Yetu will learn more than she ever expected to about her own past—and about the future of her people. If they are all to survive, they’ll need to reclaim the memories, reclaim their identity—and own who they really are.

I’m not a fantasy/sci-fi person at all. It’s my least favorite genre. Well, romance is way worse. But I read An Unkindness of Ghosts last year, and I have Solomon’s newest, Sorrowland, from Netgalley to read, so I wanted to read The Deep as well. The concept is kind of like The Giver where one person holds the past memories of the community, but that’s where the similarities end. Yetu is trying to find who she is deep down and ends up making connections where she least expects it. This book was great. I love that it’s inspired by a song, because music and lyrics can truly be powerful. This book was impactful and will stick with me for awhile.

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Recursion

Title: Recursion

Author: Blake Crouch

Genre: technothriller, science fiction

PopSugar Reading Challenge prompt: a book about forgetting

Blake Crouch is one of my favorite authors. I make a point to read all his work. Abandon, Dark Matter, Wayward Pines, the Andrew Thomas series, Perfect Little Town, Snowbound, Summer Frost, and Famous have all been great, fun reads. There’s usually some sort of mystery and some science fiction. This book is heavier on the science fiction than others, but still just as fun.

From Goodreads: Memory makes reality. That’s what NYC cop Barry Sutton is learning, as he investigates the devastating phenomenon the media has dubbed False Memory Syndrome—a mysterious affliction that drives its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived.

That’s what neuroscientist Helena Smith believes. It’s why she’s dedicated her life to creating a technology that will let us preserve our most precious memories. If she succeeds, anyone will be able to re-experience a first kiss, the birth of a child, the final moment with a dying parent.

As Barry searches for the truth, he comes face to face with an opponent more terrifying than any disease—a force that attacks not just our minds, but the very fabric of the past. And as its effects begin to unmake the world as we know it, only he and Helena, working together, will stand a chance at defeating it. But how can they make a stand when reality itself is shifting and crumbling all around them?

At once a relentless page-turner and an intricate science-fiction puzzle-box about time, identity, and memory, Recursion is a thriller as only Blake Crouch could imagine it—and his most ambitious, mind-boggling, irresistible work to date.

I really did have to pay attention when reading this because the timelines not only jump around between Barry and Helena, but also between years and events. This book isn’t so complicated that I was lost or confused, but I’m a fast skim reader, which didn’t work on this book. No complaints about that here, though, because this book was great. I was engaged from the beginning, kept guessing, and wholly satisfied by the end. I’m going to keep Crouch’s books on the top of my “to read” list.

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Booth

Title: Booth

Author: Jason Pellegrini

Genre: Time travel fiction, science fiction, historical fiction

PopSugar Reading Challenge prompt: a book about a fresh start or do-over

At some the author Jason Pellegrini entered my twitter feed. He’s a Stephen King junkie like I am, so I’m pretty sure I followed him for that reason. When he offered up a pdf of one of his books in exchange for an honest review, I gladly took him up on it. And since I’m King fan, he felt Booth was the one I’d like the most. And this novel is very reminiscent of 11/22/63. In this King novel, a character goes back in time to prevent the assassination of JFK. In this book, not only does a character go back in time to prevent a death, the story is also one of redemption, like A Christmas Carol.

From Goodreads: At dawn, on the day of his execution, Joseph Bateman finds himself reflecting on his life, one filled with poor decisions and evil people. Even his lifelong best friend played a pivotal role in earning Joseph his seat on death row. A phenomenon occurs as the electricity meant to kill Joseph is sent through him, and his essence is ripped from the body he has known his entire life and thrown into a new one. Only the body he now inhabits isn’t new at all; it is the body of a person who lived over a hundred years before Joseph’s birth. Now living in an unfamiliar era of history and trapped inside a foreign body, Joseph learns he has been sent back for a reason: to earn redemption for his damned soul and to find a sense of peace he has never known. All he needs to do to get there is to prevent one of history’s most infamous murders.

The execution doesn’t even happen until over halfway through the book. The first half is just getting to know Joseph and see how he got to this point in his life. I found the first half much more interesting. There’s a good chance that’s because I enjoy realistic fiction over science fiction. That said, the book was great overall. Once the execution happens, the plot quickly moves forward, and Joseph’s fate is, you assume, on the path to redemption. I found Joseph’s story captivating and definitely recommend this book.

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An Unkindness of Ghosts

I love Octavia Butler. Her books are just brilliant sci-fi. Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents are her best. The second is prophetic. She speaks of a president who wants to make America great again. Seriously. Kindred tells the story of a black woman who mysteriously time travels back to the days of slavery. And the Xenogenesis series is her most sci-fi book in which humans meet aliens. All this said, when I see a book blurb that compares the novel to one by Butler, I’m in.

At some point, this book came on my radar for the above mentioned comparison. While doing my research for the PopSugar Reading Challenge, I discovered that Rivers Solomon is non-binary, which was one of the categories I needed to fill. I was curious of their non-binary status would impact their writing. And I was right. This book isn’t just a great sci-fi book, it also places non-binary characters into a world where their status is simply the norm.

The story follows Aster who lives on a ship in space. The ship has been traveling from decimated Earth for over 300 years. The lower parts of the ship are for the Black people who do the manual labor. The white people are essentially aristocrats who live on the upper decks of the ship. Aster is the Surgeon’s assistant, so she commands a tiny bit of respect, but she’s also outspoken and angers Guards a lot. She doesn’t fit in well anywhere. She’s methodical, logical, unemotional, and just says things point-blank. She’s endearing, though, and you cheer for her from the beginning.

As Aster uncovers more secrets about the ship and her dead mother, the story unfolds, and the story takes you down a path of revolution. Aster knows the system has to change, how unfair her life and the lives of her friends is, and she knows she must overthrow the regime. Aster is a fantastic character, and I loved this powerful novel.

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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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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.

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Kindred

If you aren’t reading Octavia Butler, you are absolutely missing out. I have read two of hers already: Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents and loved the little two book series. I simply could not believe how Butler managed to capture exactly what is happening today in her books published 20 years ago. Kindred is a stand alone book involving time-travel.

Sci-fi isn’t my genre of choice. I’m just too logical of a person to really let myself get into sci-fi, however, this book, time travel aspect aside, was so realistic. Dana a black woman, lives in 1976 with her white husband, Kevin. Somehow one day, Dana is transported back to the time of slavery. She sees a young boy drowning in a pond and manages to resuscitate him using her modern knowledge of CPR. He tells her his name is Rufus and then she is transported back home to Kevin. She was gone only a few seconds in his time, but it was a few hours to her.

The next time she disappears, Rufus is a bit older. Dana comes to realize that Rufus is her ancestor. His father owns a plantation and slaves and one of her long ago relatives was a product of a rape of a slave by Rufus. Every time Dana goes back, it is because Rufus is in trouble and needs her to save him from harm. And she has to do this, even though she hates him, to protect her own future life. Once Kevin was touching her when she was transported back, so he ended up in the past as well. Unfortunately, she returned without and he was stuck there for awhile.

This was a fantastic book. I quickly forgot how much sci-fi was involved because the slavery story line was so incredibly realistic. I highly recommend her books. I’m currently on the last book in the Lilith’s Brood series, so be looking for a review soon!

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Saturn Run

When I walked into my local Barnes & Noble (sorry, indie bookstores. I would visit you if there were one within a 25 mile radius of my house) to find my “first book you see in a bookstore” challenge book. I blocked my peripheral vision so I didn’t end up with a cookbook or an origami book or a how to draw cars book. My only rule was that the first book I saw couldn’t be the book in the middle of a series, and it couldn’t be a book that I had already read. And there on the bottom shelf was Saturn Run. A science fiction book. I hate science fiction. Hate. Ugh.

And rather than spending $20 on a book I did not want to read, I put it on hold at the library. There were a few people ahead of me, so after several weeks, I got the email that this book was ready for download. And because there were people behind me on the reserve list, I got the book for 2 weeks only. It was happening. I had to read it. So, I set myself a 10% daily goal so I would have a little wiggle room. And I was so sucked into the book that I finished my daily goals with no problem. This was an excellent book.

The author, John Sandford, writes thrilllers, namely the Prey series. I had never heard of this guy until I picked up Saturn Run. But he apparently writes pretty decent books. On his twitter page, Stephen King is quoted saying “If you haven’t read Sandford, you’re missing one of the great summer-read novelists of all time.” This sounds like a back handed compliment to me, but if Sandford has it on his homepage, I guess he appreciated it. I believe he has 22 Prey books out.

So, for an author who normally writes thrillers, to delve into science fiction, there must be a little carryover of the original genre. And thankfully for this sci-fi disliking reader, there was. Imagine this book to be a fair combo of both. The story lagged in the middle for me, but once they got to Saturn (I don’t think it’s a spoiler, given the title) the plot picked up the pace. The characters were pretty thin, but with good female roles, so I can’t complain. Finding the “alien race” is one of my least favorite plots in any genre of book, but this book was really not about that as much as the science of getting to and from Saturn (assuming they do…. 😉 ).

I was pleasantly surprised by this one and will be checking out the Prey series at some point. It might take me a few years to read them all, but I am willing to bet they make great audio reads.