Book Review: The Trials of Koli (Rampart Trilogy #2) by M.R. Carey

The Trials of Koli by MR Carey

Rating:  ★★★★★

The Trials of Koli picks up where The Book of Koli left off.  Koli and Ursala and Cup are heading to London and chasing the signal of The Sword of Albion.  Meanwhile, we are also treated to Spinner’s POV, and following her journey in the present timeline.  

This book seemed to have more action in it than the first one, but even without the action I was hanging on every word.  If you liked the characters the first time around, they’ll hook their claws in you in book two and not let you go.  Ursala and Monono seem to take a step back. They are still there and active in the story, but the reader is given more insight into Spinner and Cup and it’s impossible not to care about them.

Carey builds upon the world he’s made here- giving us glimpses of how other villages live, of other tech that exists, of belief systems, ruins of the old world and defenses used, etc.  Where I felt unsure about how dangerous the world really was in book one and wanted to see more of it- the danger is full blown here. I was left wondering how anyone at all is left alive. (In other words- were I a character in this book, I doubt very much I’d have lived past page one…)

The writing style is still very much the same (stream of consciousness-Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn style).  Personally I love it and think it helps bring the characters to life but I know for some that was a sticking point.

Anyway- I don’t want to spoil anything, I just came to say that while The Book of Koli is outstanding, somehow The Trials of Koli is even better.  I can’t wait to get my hands on book three!

The Trials of Koli released on September 15, 2020 and can be found on GoodReads or ordered on Amazon.  Thank you to Orbit Books and NetGalley for the review copy!

Book Review: The Book of Koli by M.R. Carey

The Book of Koli by MR Carey

Rating:  ★★★★★

The Book of Koli is a book I have been very excited for since I first heard about it earlier this year.  I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, given this is my first time reading Carey, but I am thrilled to report he did not disappoint.

The world presented here is one of the more unique worlds I think I’ve encountered. It’s set in a future earth in which trees and plants have become deadly to humans.  On sunny days the trees are active (physically active!), so the village must wait for the rainy, grey days to venture out and do their hunting.  Most of the world’s human population has died out, so people live in villages few and far between.

These villages are run by people with the “magical” ability to wake up tech.  No one knows how the tech chooses who it will work for or why.  These leaders are known as Ramparts.  Koli, our MC, dreams of becoming Koli Rampart, wielding his own tech and joining the ranks of leaders and lawmakers.  The overall result is a strange mix of antiquated societal structure combined with some far future dystopian technology.

The voice of Koli is very strong.  It almost reminded me of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.  The grammar is often incorrect, the sentences run on in stream of consciousness style.  While it might bother some readers, I found it somewhat endearing, and easy to connect with Koli as a character.  I also enjoyed the other characters, Ursala-From-Elsewhere and Monono Aware (A-wa-ray).   Ursala especially, with her intelligence and compassion, but also the prickly and unapproachable exterior.

The plot moves along at a breakneck pace.  I found the book almost impossible to put down and read it in just a couple of days.  That’s the fastest I’ve read a book all year.  The plot twists and turns and propels Koli from one peril to the next.  From about the midway point on- Koli’s situation never feels safe.  He cannot take a break to rest, his future is uncertain, and he is surrounded by danger, either from nearby people, animals, or plants.

I also loved the very natural way in which this story is told.  It feels like you might be sitting down with an old friend to hear where they’ve been and what they’ve been up to the past ten years.  Details are woven in about the past through Monono, explaining pieces of what happened to the world and what it was like before it ended.

I do wish we had been able to learn a little more about the natural environment.  I’m curious about the killer trees and the way some animals have evolved over time.  The plot appears to be leading away from village life to an adventure on the road, so I’m hopeful we’ll see more of this in book two.  (And thank goodness we only have to wait until September for it!).

I highly recommend The Book of Koli.  It is brilliantly written, with fully realized characters and detailed world-building.  It releases on April 14, 2020 and can be found on GoodReads, or preordered on Amazon.  Thank you to Orbit Books, who supplied an electronic review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Companions by Katie M. Flynn

The Companions by Katie M. Flynn

Rating:  ★★★1/2

In a future heavily shaped by numerous deadly flu pandemics (wow did I choose the wrong time to read it!), a company called Metis has begun uploading the consciousnesses of the dead, and then downloading them into robots called ‘Companions’.  These companions are most typically used as caregivers to the elderly or the young, but they can also be leased from Metis by the family of the dead.

It’s a theme that’s been covered before.  In this iteration, we follow the story of several characters whose paths all intersect in interesting ways.  Primarily this is the story of Lilac, who suffered a traumatic death and went on to become a caregiver.  Lilac has never really obeyed her security protocols.  Something makes her different.  She was one of the earliest companions, and it’s not long before she’s breaking free and trying to find people she once knew as a human.

In the blurb, The Companions is compared to Station Eleven.  And it isn’t completely wrong, though I think ultimately, Station Eleven was much better done.  This is a largely character driven novel, with a very thin semblance of a plot holding it together.  I don’t mean this in a bad way- I actually did enjoy the meandering pace and drifting nature of the plot.

The writing was okay.  Not particularly memorable but that means it isn’t particularly bad either.  I ultimately deducted a star for the ending, which felt rushed and strung together in a bunch of random scenes to tie it all up and put a bow on it.  I really didn’t understand what the author was getting at with what Nat was doing, or even the relationship between Nat and Gabe in the end, and really had no clue what Rachel’s real purpose was with her chapter.

I read an advanced copy, downloaded electronically several months before release, so I’d have to check to see if it was re-written at all to make it more cohesive.  If it was- this could easily have been a 4 star read.

Thank you to the publisher for the electronic review copy.  The Companions released on March 3, 2020 and can be found on GoodReads or ordered on Amazon.

Book Review: Surrender by Ray Loriga

Surrender by Ray Loriga

Rating:  ★★★

Surrender is a dystopian novel reminiscent of many a book that came before: 1984 by George Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.  I don’t know when I’m going to learn my lesson.  I really didn’t like any of those books.  They are depressing and dark, and ultimately rather hopeless.

I’d like to tell you this is different…

I’d like to tell you that.

And I can’t.

We have our two unnamed (how original) protagonists.  The wife and the husband.  Their sons, whom they are very proud of, are away at war.  They adopted a boy they go on to name Julio, who appeared out of nowhere one day and lives in their basement since the protagonists don’t want the zoning agent to find out.  Eventually, the war creeps too close to home, and the zoning agent forces them to evacuate.

*cue doomsday music*

Anyway.  This new city seems pretty great at first.  It’s made of this cool new substance extracted from urine.  You get to shower next to your neighbor in the morning because the walls are transparent.  Intimate time with your significant other is spent that way too.  Left or right, up or down, you can see everyone doing everything all the time because somehow the tyrannical government found a way to shut off the night.  Surrender takes privacy loss to a whole new level.

This book is on the shorter side, but it didn’t take me any less time to read it.  It was very slow and I had to push myself to read more pages knowing I just wanted to be done with it.  It picked up for a little while at the end, then there was mass confuddledom and then it ended.

The moral of this story is: Life’s a bitch and then you die.

Shrugs.

I sort of wish I hadn’t wasted time on it.  It wasn’t badly written, but the tone of the book doesn’t seem to fit the occasional swear word that’s thrown in for seemingly no reason.  (Coming from someone who has no filter on her own mouth, that’s a problem.)  You’ll want to shake the MC at some point. Then you’ll want to shake his wife.  And others.

There are some interesting notes here considering perspectives- things aren’t always what they seem, and yes, we wear blinders, and yes, government is full of propaganda meant to bend those perceptions.  I liked those parts.  The characters felt real enough, I just wished we hadn’t been so distanced from them given their lack of names and the wife’s weird personality shift in part three.

Anyway- I’d recommend this to people who liked those three books I named at the beginning.  For my part I can say I actually did enjoy this more than those, just not enough to love this book.

Surrender released on February 25, 2020 and can be found on GoodReads or ordered on Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher who provided an ARC for review.

Month in Review: February 2020

Hello friends!  This wasn’t a great month for me blog wise- I had trouble not only getting my posts written on Sundays for the week, but keeping up with all of you.  Work has been relatively hectic and by the time I get home and get the kiddo ready for bed, I’m exhausted.  I’m aiming for a better March.  Reading wise- I did pretty okay considering it’s a short month and I wasn’t even reading on my lunch breaks.

Novels/Novellas Read: 10

Short Stories: 0

Pages Read: 3,076

Average Rating: 3.2

Female Authors: 5

Favorite Reads:

The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez

Little Secrets by Jennifer Hillier (RTC)

Other Reads Completed:

The Chill by Scott Carson

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix

Grit by Angela Duckworth

The Resisters by Gish Jen

The Bear by Andrew Krivak

The Wolf of Oren-yaro by K.S. Villoso

Surrender by Ray Loriga

I haven’t decided whether or not I’ll review the backlist titles.  Grit was technically a DNF.  I read about 200 pages for work and just couldn’t stomach part three I was so tired of it by then.  My review for Surrender should be up later this week.

ARCs Received:

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix – I haven’t even read the blurb because the title seems pretty self explanatory.  Now that I’ve read Horrorstor and understand the author’s style, I’m very much looking forward to it!

Devolution by Max Brooks – A mockumentary style telling of a Sasquatch attack.  Which ya’ll already know I’m super excited for.

The Book of Koli by M.R. Carey – I’m also thrilled to have received this! It has a very strong man vs. nature vibe which I’ve been enjoying a lot lately.

I also received Little Secrets, pictured above, but ended up reading it sooner than expected.  It’s about a woman whose son was abducted, her marriage in the aftermath, and the mystery surrounding her son long after the trail has gone cold.

PopSugar Challenge 2020 Prompts Completed: 

A book with a made up language: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

A book featuring one of the seven deadly sins (greed, envy): Little Secrets by Jennifer Hillier

A fiction or non-fiction book about a world leader: The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez (I’m not really sure I interpreted this prompt correctly, but I don’t foresee myself reading a fiction or non-fiction book about an actual world leader any time soon.)

A book by or about a journalist: Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix

A book with a main character in their 20s: The Chill by Scott Carson

Other Posts for February:

Favorite SciFi Sub-genres

Book Review: The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu

Coming Up:

I’m hopeful this month will be better for me in terms of enjoying what I’m reading.  There weren’t many titles I walked away from in February feeling excited about.  I recently started A Time of Dread and it’s exactly what I’d been hoping for when I started reading Abercrombie a few months ago. Dark and bloody.

How was your February?

Favorite SciFi Sub-genres

Part of what I love about science fiction is that it covers so many different topics.  Sometimes when I mention to others that I love science fiction, I feel like I occasionally get a funny look or two.  And then I wonder how many awesome books the person sitting across from me has either read without really realizing it was science fiction, or missed out on because they turned their nose up at something with the label.

So I thought I’d share some of my favorite sub-genres with you today, along with a few suggestions to check out if you’re looking to try some of them.

Apocalyptic / Post-Apocalyptic

I love stories about the end of the world.  Granted- my favorites are those that usually explore the darker side of human nature, books like Wanderers and King’s The Stand, but I also like hopeful stories that explore the survival of humanity as earth is becoming uninhabitable (e.g. The Calculating Stars).

What intrigues me about them is the way the human need (instinct?) to survive effects each character.  Will they do whatever it takes?  Will they commit unspeakable acts in the interest of protecting themselves and their families? Or will they come together and unite for a common cause?

First Contact / Alien Invasion

I love all fiction with aliens for a few different reasons.  The easy answer is the almost limitless opportunity it gives an author to exercise the limits of their imagination.  What kinds of tech do they have?  What kind of rituals do they practice?  What sort of hierarchy does their society follow?

But the more complex answer is that alien civilization can act as a sort of mirror, reflecting back all the ugly and beautiful truths about our own civilization.  It gives the reader a chance to question why things are the way they are, how they came to be that way, and how we could set ourselves on a path to change (hopefully for the better).

Dystopian / Utopian

This is an easy one and probably the most accessible to those who aren’t necessarily fans of SciFi and Fantasy.  I like dystopian because I think it’s interesting to consider how the in-book society evolved into what it became.  Qualityland, for example, is very obviously derived from Amazon’s dominion over the retail space.  On the other hand, utopian books examine what it might mean to try and please everyone, or put them all on an even playing field.

Science Fiction Thrillers

And of course- probably my most favorite genre of all- the science fiction thriller.  Not because they have any higher purpose, but because they are damn entertaining.

There are a couple other genres of SciFi I’m hoping to explore this year.  Topics that interest me or genres in which I’ve only read one or two books, but have enjoyed, despite not having had the time yet to dive deeper.

Biopunk

Biopunk is described as “derived from cyberpunk [that] focuses on the implications of biotechnology rather than information technology” (Wikipedia).  I read, and once very much enjoyed, Borne, but I’d love to see what else exists in the genre and how it is deployed.  The big one I have slated for this is Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, but I’ve talked about that particular book quite a bit recently and wanted to spotlight something different.

Cyberpunk

Cyberpunk is described as a “combination of low-life and high tech” (Wikipedia, Sterling Bruce, Burning Chrome by William Gibson preface).  Infomocracy probably fails on the first count.  I don’t think either of the two main characters are necessarily “low life”, but the book has a very urban, gritty, feel that I think qualifies it.  Last year I listened to SerialBox’s Ninth Step Station that I’d say qualifies as cyberpunk also.  Another book most people are probably familiar with is Ready Player One.  I loved them all and I definitely want to read more.

What are your favorite science fiction sub-genres?

Book Review: The Resisters by Gish Jen

The Resisters by Gish Jen

Rating:  ★★★

The Resisters takes place in a world where most jobs have been eliminated due to automation, the world is flooded thanks to climate change, and America is run by a deranged AI people refer to as Aunt Nettie. We follow the lives of one Surplus family, through the eyes of the husband and father, Grant. (Surplus are those people that were deemed unretrainable when Automation took over, and therefore don’t work anymore, but are expected to consume via their Living Points, alotted to them via Aunt Nettie.) The daughter of this family, Gwen, has a golden arm. She can throw hard, fast, and with almost perfect accuracy. Eventually this leads the family to start up an illegal Surplus baseball league.

I was frustrated with this book on multiple levels. I suppose I’ll get my big complaint out of the way and tell you there are no chapters, only four parts, and we all know how much I love that…

But most importantly, I could not shake the feeling that this story was told from the wrong person’s POV. Grant is largely an observer in all these events that feel like they happen to his wife and daughter. And sure he’s a valid character, but I just don’t think he was the right character. The plot revolves around Gwen. We are told her story via GreetingGrams (basically letters) that are sent back and forth to her parents in one part and it frustrated me because I wanted to care about Gwen more than I did and couldn’t because of this distance created between her and the reader.

The worldbuilding is vast and detailed, and the author manages to comment on many relevant issues: racism, sexism, politics, climate change, privacy…. but again, Grant is largely unaffected by many of them, given his removal from much of the action. It just didn’t feel like effective commentary to me.  It’s Gwen that experiences what it’s like to be one of two female players on a high performance baseball team, Gwen that attends a university where she is the only person of color thanks to a process called “PermaDerming” (bleaching your skin, basically).

As far as plot and pacing go- this is a character driven book, and most of the action is saved for part four. Most of the characters are likable (except for one whose personality was all over the place).  Most of the book is slow and there were several times I wanted to DNF.  I did become more invested around the halfway mark, as Gwen’s story picks up, but a lot of it was just too slow for my taste.

Finally, the ending was really a disaster for me.  I think in America we expect stories about baseball to be uplifting, and while some of the games had the powerful feeling, the ending is ruined by some very dark events that take place and don’t really seem to fit the tone of the rest of the book.

Overall I had very mixed feelings.  If you are interested in the dystopian aspect, I recommend reading it with a buddy so you can pick it apart and bounce ideas off each other.  If you are interested in the baseball (I was not) then go ahead and give it a try.  You might enjoy this more.

The Resisters can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher for sending a review copy.

Top Ten Tuesday: Most Anticipated Upcoming Releases for 2020

TTT-NEW

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

If It Bleeds by Stephen King

If It Bleeds by Stephen King (expected May 5, 2020) – This is the next novel in the Holly Gibney series.  I haven’t even really read the blurb- but like all new Stephen King books, I’m super excited for it.

9781984805997_GirlandStars_FCO_mech.indd

The Girl and the Stars by Mark Lawrence (expected April 21, 2020) – Ugh – This year is going to be my year to catch up on all things Mark Lawrence.  I might even reread Prince of Thorns.  I’m super excited for this one, even if I likely won’t get to it right away.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins (expect May 19, 2020) – This prequel feels like it is finally my chance to join in with everyone’s love for The Hunger Games.  I never read the books because I loved the movie so much.  I’m sure this book will get a movie too, but I plan to read the book first this time.

A Conjuring of Assassins by Cate Glass

A Conjuring of Assassins by Cate Glass (expected February 4, 2020) – This is the sequel to last year’s An Illusion of Thieves.  I loved that one and I’m confident I’ll love this one too.

Eden by Tim Lebbon

Eden by Tim Lebbon (expected April 7, 2020) – I’d tell you what this is about but I stopped reading after it said eco-thriller.  It made me think of another favorite author, Michael Crichton.

The Kingdom of Liars by Nick Martell

The Kingdom of Liars by Nick Martell (expected May 5, 2020) – This book is set in a world where magic is paid for in memories.  I’m both curious and hesitant about this one.  I can see it being really fantastic, but I can also see the premise setting the book up for trouble. Are there armies of people who remember nothing?  How does that work?  Is magic used sparingly?  I’m remaining cautiously optimistic.

The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin (expected March 24, 2020) – This novel is based on a short story that was included in Jemisin’s How Long Til Black Future Month? which released last year.  While I wasn’t sure I quite liked that particular story, I loved the concept and I’m hopeful that with a full length novel she can answer some of the questions I had about it.

 

These last three I’ve all mentioned in previous posts, which I’ve linked to below in case you missed them or would like to check them out again.

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by K.S. Villoso (expected February 18, 2020)

The Book of Koli by M.R. Carey (expected April 14, 2020)

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones (expected May 19, 2020)

What are your most anticipated releases for the first half of the year?  Leave me a link below so I can check them out!

Top Ten Tuesday: My Winter TBR

TTT-NEW

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

This week’s topic is my Winter TBR, which is pretty self explanatory.  As of right now the plan is to be buried by ARCs in January, but I also have a few buddy reads scheduled.  Send all the positive luck, wishes, thoughts and karma my way.  I’m going to need it!

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes – I read Beukes’s Shining Girls earlier this year and didn’t love it.  But a few of my regular buddy reading friends offered this one up and I couldn’t say no.  I’ve just started the first few pages, but I’m loving it so far!

Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee The Machineries of Empire

Raven Stratagem (Machineries of the Empire #2) by Yoon Ha Lee – I can count what I’m currently reading in my TBR right?  I have to.  Because the number of books I haven’t started yet is terrifying.  Anyway- enjoying it, but some of the magic from Ninefox Gambit isn’t quite there.

Empire Ascendant Worldbreaker Saga 2 by Kameron Hurley

Empire Ascendant (The Worldbreaker Saga #2) by Kameron Hurley – Also planned buddy reads!  I’m super excited for these even if The Mirror Empire was a slow start for me.  At the end of book one, we were given a glimpse of a character than I’m really, really hoping we can get to know a little better.

A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen

A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen – I’m hoping to get to this after Zoo City and before January.  (Fingers crossed my friends!)  I’m looking forward to it!  Some trusted readers weren’t too excited about Chen’s last book, but I’m hoping his sophomore effort will be a little more polished.

The God Game by Danny Tobey

The God Game by Danny Tobey – Like a darker version of Ready Player One, minus the 80s trivia, I’m super excited for this one too!  (Though if I’m being honest, I’m dreading the length…)

The Better Liar by Tanen Jones

The Better Liar by Tanen Jones – I’m going to need this to break up the SFF heavy beginning of January.  I’m hoping for super twisty turny thriller I can read in a day because I can’t put it down.

Followers by Megan Angelo

Followers by Megan Angelo – This is going to be my PopSugar prompt: Book with a Pink Cover.  Because it’s really just about the only pink cover I’ve got on my TBR.  I’m super excited for it regardless.

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel – I am thrilled about this one!  In addition to being excited about reading Mandel’s backlist, I’m excited to read her new one too.  She’s got a meandering sort of style, but her characters are so full of life I can’t complain.

The Lost Future of Pepperharrow by Natasha Pulley

The Lost Future of Pepperharrow by Natasha Pulley – First – I’m in love with this cover.  Second.  I’m so happy to get back to Thaniel and Mori and their pet mechanical octopus, Katsu.  Early reviews report good things and I can’t wait to see where Pulley goes with it.

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by KS Villoso

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by K.S. Villoso – Looking at this cover reminds me of this:

Maybe It's Maybelline Lagertha

Please, please, please.  Let it live up to that.  I feel like I’ve been waiting too long to find a fictional female book character as bad ass as Lagertha.

This covers, like most of it.  Right?!  Be strong blogger buddies.  I know I’m not the only one with an overwhelming January ahead.

What have you got on your TBR this winter?

Book Review: QualityLand by Marc-Uwe Kling

Qualityland by Marc-Uwe Kling

Rating:  ★★★★

If you took the humor of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and mashed it up with Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, I think QualityLand is what you would get.

From the moment I started reading I found this almost impossible to put down. I am always a little nervous when reading a translation, because some books I don’t think translate as well no matter how talented the translator. I needn’t have worried with this one. The translator (Jamie Searle Romanelli) did an excellent job. At times I was even surprised that the book was originally written in German, since the setting felt very much like the US.

It takes us a little while to get to the heart of the plot, and I didn’t always feel like all the viewpoints we were given were necessary, but all the view points were so entertaining that I didn’t mind so much. The plot is this, TheShop – The World’s Most Popular Online Retailer – has sent a product to Peter Jobless. Peter Jobless (his surname comes from his father’s occupation at the time of his conception) believes the product was sent in error. He is now on a mission to return it. But TheShop, won’t let him. After all, TheShop does not make mistakes. It’s in his profile. Of course he wants the item.

It sounds ludicrous, but it’s entertaining, and clever to boot. There are so many topics the author managed to comment on, everything from privacy, to evolving technology, to consumerism and politics. And he managed to do it without sounding preachy. That didn’t make the result any less terrifying though.

The characters were a lot of fun. Peter is an average Joe kind of guy with a soft spot for defective machinery. Kiki, a character we meet later in the book, absolutely stole the show once she entered. I adored her. She’s a pull no punches, tell it like it is, kind of girl, with many shades of gray.

The chapters are short and the pace moves pretty quickly. It does a fantastic job of world building without lengthy info dumps. Humor is a subjective thing, so I would recommend checking out Amazon’s Look Inside or Sample feature before purchasing. If you aren’t laughing at the first chapter (maybe even the first page) this might not be the book for you.

Otherwise, a relevant and entertaining satire that I highly recommend!

QualityLand releases in the US on January 7, 2020 and can be found on GoodReads or preordered on Amazon.