Book Review: Into the Crooked Place by Alexandra Christo

INTO_THE_CROOKED_PLACE6

Rating:  ★★★1/2

I was very excited about Into the Crooked Place because the blurb was giving me strong Six of Crows vibes.  I guess they call this gangster fantasy these days?  While parts of it does feel like SoC, overall the book missed the mark a little for me.

The world building was pretty good.  Christo imbued the setting with seemingly sufficient grit.  There’s history.  There’s buskers peddling magic.  The magic itself I struggled with a lot.  It often felt like there weren’t any strict rules, some of it felt “hand wavey” if you will, which I occasionally struggled with.  Wesley “summons” charms from his skin?  There wasn’t a lot of explanation about where the charms come from or how they get their specific powers.

Another thing I struggled with, is it’s explained initially there is no new magic, so anything the buskers sell is somehow recycled or a trick.  But where was it recycled from?  Is there that much illicit magic laying around that 50-100 buskers in several different cities can afford to sell many of these charms and potions every night?  I felt like I was just supposed to take all this at face value.

The characters were all great and yet I often felt like I wasn’t connecting.  There was funny banter and wit and sass galore, a f/f relationship/romance that I actually did enjoy.  But often a chapter would devolve into the character’s inner monologue about their significant/desired other and that often took me out of the story a bit.  I think the story would have been sufficient with just Karam’s and Saxony’s romance, because that one felt relatively effortless, while Wesley and Tavia’s romance/flirtations, often felt shoehorned in.

The plot was okay.  It was high action, but a lot of the action could have been skipped without any detriment to the story.  There were several fist fights that felt like we were seeing them just to show how tough Wesley or Karam were.  There were a lot of training scenes.  It’s just not my favorite way to read action in a book.  I cared about the fights against the bad guys, not so much the fights and the training amongst themselves.

The other thing I want to note- I finished this on Saturday, less than a week ago.  And I am struggling to remember lots of the details.  It wasn’t an unenjoyable experience, but it simply wasn’t that memorable.

Into the Crooked Place released on October 8, 2019 and can be found on GoodReads or Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher for sending a copy in exchange for a review.

Book Review: Salvation Day by Kali Wallace

Salvation Day by Kali Wallace

Rating:  ★★★★

Salvation Day starts with a bang, with a small group of outlaws abducting a passenger transport vehicle that is delivering students to their internships on the moon.  Their goal is to use the students as hostages to buy them time to hack their way past the security net of a derelict ship called House of Wisdom, steal the ship, and sail off into the galaxy to find a new home where the Council’s rule does not reach.

The problem?  House of Wisdom is derelict because an unknown virus killed every last crew member 10 years ago.

Our two MCs are Zahra and Jas.  Zahra is a member of the outlaw group.  Jas is one of the hostages, and the only surviving member of the House of Wisdom incident.  I liked the contrast between the two characters and how the author tied them together.  They are on two opposing sides and yet have shared many of the same struggles and pains for many similar reasons.  I won’t spoil Zahra’s back story, but she has ties to House of Wisdom too, and while she is there to help her people, she has personal reasons for being there also.

The setting is very well done.  It reminded me a lot of The Last Astronaut, and the movie Sphere.  It’s not surprising at all, but it’s such an important element to stories like this.  It sets the tone for the whole book.  Imagine dark spaces, dead gardens, freezing cold, low-level red emergency lights.  Wallace doesn’t waste pages and paragraphs writing about it (the book is only about 300 pages long) but gives the reader just enough to take the image and run.

Despite the initial fast pace, I did feel like the pacing continuously winds down as we near the end of the book.  There came a point where I understood almost exactly how the book would end, and some of the tension was lost.  Compounding the problem, what you see is sort of what you get. There were some opportunities to layer in outside threats over the internal threat of the virus, and I never really had the sense of impending doom coming down on the MCs from all sides like I wanted.

That being said, I think Wallace’s characterization was very well done.  These aren’t the sort of characters I’ll look back on with fondness- I don’t feel any personal sort of connection to them.  Regardless of how innocent or guilty they were, I cared about them.  Their arcs were wonderful and each went through sufficient development, changing as the story progressed.  I do think it was the characters more than the action that drove me forward, which isn’t exactly what I’d expect from a sci-fi thriller.

I also sincerely appreciated how in that final chapter, Wallace managed to make the story so very relevant to today’s political climate.  Some of those final paragraphs really got me thinking about how, for all our progress, no matter how much things change, some things really just stay the same.  That level of thoughtfulness wasn’t what I expected in this type of book, and I loved it.

I did have one issue with the ending, and I’m going to choose my words very carefully here so as not to put others off.  It’s not vague and it’s not a non-ending, but I was really annoyed when the author posed a question in the last 20 pages that she then proceeded not to answer.

It wasn’t as if this particular question was overly complex.  It doesn’t seem a large enough question to be setting up a sequel.  I wouldn’t call this ending bad- it just felt lazy.  An epilogue could have fixed it, and in fairness to the book, the copy I read was an ARC (won in a giveaway, thank you Berkley!) so maybe the epilogue was added to the final version.  You know how most fairy tales close with a “And they all lived happily ever after”?  I don’t need all my books to end happily ever after, I just need them to end.  Wallace gave us enough food for thought to keep me thinking about the book after it ended without needing to leave me wondering about post-book events.

Overall, this is a quick little read that I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys the genre.

 

Book Review: Atmosphæra Incognita by Neal Stephenson

atmosphaera incognita by neal stephenson

Rating:  ★★★★

Blurb (from GoodReads): Atmosphæra Incognita is a beautifully detailed, high-tech rendering of a tale as old as the Biblical Tower of Babel. It is an account, scrupulously imagined, of the years-long construction of a twenty-kilometer-high tower that will bring the human enterprise, in all its complexity, to the threshold of outer space. It is a story of persistence, of visionary imaginings, of the ceaseless technological innovation needed to bring these imaginings to life.

This is my first experience with Neal Stephenson. At a mere 104 pages, it was much less intimidating than some of his other very lengthy novels. The premise is very simple: eccentric billionaire wants to build tower twenty miles high. It moves at a meandering pace, going over everything from the tower proposal to purchasing the real estate to the actual engineering of the tower and the various obstacles they must face.

But the science behind building something so completely impossible was fascinating, and I didn’t mind the slower pace here. It’s obvious that Stephenson does his research and is very thorough about it. It’s incredibly imaginative and immersive. Little ideas kept popping up here and there like helipads and base jumping and they each put a smile on my face.

The characters were great. I adored Carl, which is truly impressive give that we never really meet him, and I liked Emma a lot too. Within the first few pages it occurred to me that she was someone I could have easily been friends with in real life, which I know sounds strange, but it isn’t a thought that occurs to me about fictional characters often.

It all culminates in one explosive ending which I won’t spoil. I very much enjoyed this and would recommend it to anyone looking for a quick break from their usual fare. Thank you to NetGalley and Subterranean Press for the ARC to review.

Atmosphæra Incognita releases on July 31, 2019 and can be found on GoodReads or preordered on Amazon.

Book Review: The Need by Helen Phillips

I didn’t mean to go on hiatus- but I actually haven’t done a whole lot of reading this week, and I sort of feel like a fraud.  I am bummed I missed this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, but I’m looking forward to checking out everyone else’s posts, and will probably do a similar post anyway.

Yesterday I received an ARC of The Need in the mail.  I read it all in two different sittings.  While I don’t know that it really had that ‘can’t put it down’ quality we all love, it was a really quick book with super short chapters that made it easy to keep reading.

The Need by Helen Phillips

Rating:  ★★★1/2

Blurb (from GoodReads): When Molly, home alone with her two young children, hears footsteps in the living room, she tries to convince herself it’s the sleep deprivation. She’s been hearing things these days. Startling at loud noises. Imagining the worst-case scenario. It’s what mothers do, she knows.

But then the footsteps come again, and she catches a glimpse of movement.

Suddenly Molly finds herself face-to-face with an intruder who knows far too much about her and her family. As she attempts to protect those she loves most, Molly must also acknowledge her own frailty. Molly slips down an existential rabbit hole where she must confront the dualities of motherhood: the ecstasy and the dread; the languor and the ferocity; the banality and the transcendence as the book hurtles toward a mind-bending conclusion.

I was intrigued by the genre here, and before reading I couldn’t decide if it would be more horror, more science fiction or thriller.  It’s not quite science-fiction, more speculative, and more thriller than horror.  It reminds me a lot of Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter.

Genre aside- the core of this book is about motherhood, and Phillips nails that part.  In some ways, while reading this, I was relieved to know I wasn’t alone and I wasn’t crazy.  My daughter is six, so a lot of the things Molly is going through I don’t have to cope with as often, but everything she endures is hauntingly, eerily familiar.  I felt like I could have written this book.  Kids will make you crazy, but your love for them will always trump all.

This book starts much stronger than it finishes.  I think, unfortunately the reveal for The Need comes far too early, and the end of the book stretches on a little too long.  I would have liked if there had been more suspense/mystery built into the plot, or if the MC had spent more time investigating what was going on instead of simply accepting what was happening to her.

Phillips does an excellent job of bringing the characters to life on the page.  Especially the kids who come out with some off the wall, nonsensical stuff (like ‘Can I lick your eye?’) that only four year olds can invent.  My one complaint with Molly would be that I really wasn’t sure the decisions she made felt reasonable or logical.  People all react differently to different things, of course, but there were some decisions she made that were mildly rage-inducing and made me want to shout at the page.  It was disappointing considering Phillips gets literally everything else right.

I did enjoy the writing.  The Need is definitely more literary than commercial, and while I wouldn’t describe it as lyrical, Phillips does some things with repetition and structure that feel hard hitting, if that makes any sense.

The ending is ambiguous.  Normally this is something I avoid, I don’t like ambiguous endings ever, but for some reason it works here.  I’m attributing it to the fast build-up of suspense and the slow unraveling of everything else, as well as the allegorical nature of the book.  It’s an ambiguous ending that I somehow understood perfectly, because the allegory makes a lot of sense to me.  

All in all- not a bad little book.  If you’re interested in this because Molly is a paleobotanist I’d skip it, that’s a very small part of the book.  Otherwise it’s a super quick read (258 pages) with fast, punchy chapters, that would make for a great lazy day beach read.

The Need releases in the US on July 9, 2019 from Simon & Schuster.  Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an ARC for review.  It can be found on GoodReads or pre-ordered on Amazon.

UPDATED:  **SPOILERS AHEAD**

This is my most viewed review on my blog, and I think readers are looking for a clarification to the ending.  So here’s my interpretation:

The book is a metaphor for motherhood.  How being a mother can almost split you into two people.  You love your kids.  You’d do anything for them, to help them, give them every opportunity.  Your kids are your life.

And then there are days when you really just think: “What the hell was I thinking becoming a mother?  I could be backpacking in Europe right now!  Drinking margaritas in Mexico!  Getting a full eight hours of sleep… EVERY NIGHT.  Doing pretty much anything aside from constantly cleaning the house, picking up toys, making food and snacks, cleaning up vomit, potty training….”

I am a mother, and I know, those first few years are hard.  So hard, they make you feel like you are losing your mind.  I don’t feel like I will ever get a full eight hours of sleep ever again.

So I took the ending to be the reconciling of those two Mollys, into one Molly.  (The Molly we start with does on occasion say she considered stepping back and letting the other Molly take over, that she was a better mother, etc.)  The time warp closed, the two Mollys became one, she accepted her motherhood-dom… I don’t know.  It doesn’t work if you are looking for a literal answer.

I’m sorry I don’t have a better answer for you.  I am one of the biggest haters of ambiguous endings, and this one is far from satisfactory (like many of you, I think I’d have preferred something less ambiguous).  But for some reason in this single instance, the metaphorical ending worked for me (and it’s probably because, let’s face it, no literal ending could have buttoned up this book nicely).