Book Review: Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones

Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones

Rating:  ★★★★

This is my first experience with Stephen Graham Jones, and I’m really sort of sorry for it. I wish I had started reading his work sooner.   Mapping the Interior is a story about a boy who is being haunted by the ghost of his father.  It’s a quick story, and the plot really is that straightforward.  It can be read in just a couple hours.

The prose is easy to read but also had a really strong sense of voice, which I loved.  It held a rhythm and cadence that felt unique to Jones.  This is a horror story, and it’s a slow burn, at least as far as a novella can be slow.  At first, the ghost just seems like a benevolent spirit, watching over his sons, but after a dangerous encounter with the neighbor’s dogs, we know that’s not quite what’s happening. (Content Warnings: violence against animals.)

The ending snuck up on me, and I wasn’t at all prepared for it.  It’s disturbing, not necessarily scary.  There are a couple flashes of horror between the beginning and the end, but it wasn’t anything that felt so horrific I couldn’t hand it off to a friend to read.  But then the ending came and I had to put the book down, and stop, and digest, and think about it, and think about it some more.  My initial reaction was that I didn’t like the ending at all.  It was a little ambiguous.  It makes you think twice about our heroic protagonist.  It seems to renege on the initial conclusions we’ve drawn.

If you’re wondering why I was raving about Jones all last week, it’s because this book stuck with me long after I had set it down.  It may be with me for awhile yet.  I’ve been putting off this review because I’m still not 100% sure how I felt about it.

If I had one critique, it’s that Mapping the Interior often felt literary: metaphorical and symbolic and allegorical.  But I was never quite able to grasp the meaning or the message behind it all.

Mapping the Interior can be found on GoodReads or ordered on Amazon and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good horror story now and then.

Book Review: The Menace from Farside by Ian McDonald

The Menace From Farside by Ian McDonald

Rating:  ★★★

This is probably the most disappointing book in the Luna universe.  I’m not sorry I read it, because I do adore the world McDonald has created on the moon, but if you came here looking for more Cortas and McKenzies, you’re going to be disappointed.

Instead, The Menace from Farside introduces a new familial set up, ring marriages, and we follow the misadventure of a few young adults on a mission to capture a selfie with the first footprint left on the moon by Neil Armstrong, which they mutually agreed would be a perfect wedding gift for the newest couple to enter the ring marriage.

The main character in this story is Cariad Corcoran.  She’s envious of her new sister-by-marriage from Farside, Sidibe, who is tall and beautiful and brave.  While she was described as not immediately loathsome by some of the buddies I read this with, I also did not find her to be a likable character either.  She’s petty and tends to make bad choices.

The entire book is similar to one of the opening scenes in New Moon, the moon run with Lucasinho.  It also vaguely reminded me of scenes in Wolf Moon where Luna and Lucasinho are forced to cross the moon’s surface, without any of the tension that made those scenes so great.  I simply hadn’t been given the time to care about these characters the way I cared about Luna and Lucas.

I will say I loved the writing here.  The Luna books are written with a very distinct style and feel, cutting and cold and beautiful all at once, and that style continues in The Menace from Farside.  There were some passages beautiful enough that made me stop and re-read.

So, although it’s not my favorite entry, it’s decently priced and can be read in the span of a day.  If you decide to skip it, you aren’t missing anything.  The Menace from Farside released on November 12, 2019 and can be found on GoodReads or Amazon.

 

Book Review: A Pilgrimage of Swords by Anthony Ryan

A Pilgrimage of Swords by Anthony Ryan

Rating:  ★★★1/2

This is my first experience with Anthony Ryan. I don’t expect it to be the last. This novella isn’t bad, but it’s one of those times where honestly, I just wanted more. I wanted to know more about the world, more about Pilgrim and his intrepid band of… Pilgrims..

In A Pilgrimage of Swords, we follow a man called Pilgrim and his cursed sword on a trip across the wastelands to make a prayer to the Mad God.  It’s a very difficult and dangerous journey, and few are ever known to have come back from it alive.

The reader understands that Pilgrim has a dark past, but as we travel we also come to understand that Pilgrim isn’t a bad guy, he’s trying to do right by the people he believes are innocent.  His character is a lot of fun.  He has a few lines that made me laugh out loud.

However, I just felt like there wasn’t enough “room” in this short book (128 pages) to get the details I really wanted. I felt like we were skipping from locale to locale without really knowing why or developing the characters enough to really care about them.

As the book goes on, we do get snippets of information here and there about why each of the pilgrims has embarked on this journey, and by the end of it I did care about a few of them.  Still, it was a little frustrating when I could see there was easily enough story here to explore a full length novel about the characters and this world, and felt like this novella was a tease.

The ending was really fantastic though, and the action scenes were exciting and well written.  If Ryan decided to write a full length novel about Pilgrim, I’d definitely pick it up, and the ending seems to leave that possibility open.

I do think it’s worth picking up as it can be read in just a couple hours. Thank you to Subterranean Press and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC for review.

A Pilgrimage of Swords releases on September 30, 2019 and can be found on GoodReads or preordered on Amazon.

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: A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Williams

I am still slogging my way through The Queens of Innis Lear.  I’d DNF it but right now it feels like a battle I need to win.  Hoping to get it done this weekend.  So in the meantime, I haven’t been very motivated to read much else.

I did quickly squeeze in A Taste of Honey for a buddy read though.  This was part of Tor.com’s free novella offerings for Pride Month. Did you know they give away a free book every month?  You can visit that page here, and download a copy of The Murders of Molly Southborne by Tade Thompson for free until June 29th.

A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

Rating:  ★★★

Blurb (from GoodReads): Aqib bgm Sadiqi, fourth-cousin to the royal family and son of the Master of Beasts, has more mortal and pressing concerns. His heart has been captured for the first time by a handsome Daluçan soldier named Lucrio. In defiance of Saintly Canon, gossiping servants, and the furious disapproval of his father and brother, Aqib finds himself swept up in a whirlwind romance. But neither Aqib nor Lucrio know whether their love can survive all the hardships the world has to throw at them.

This is told in three parts.  Part one I enjoyed a lot.  It’s lets the reader see how Aqib and Lucrio first meet and was a great set up for the romance.  It was pretty hard not to ship these two right from the start.  Part two I struggled with.  It’s told in alternating timelines that jump all over the place.  There’s a reason for it, but it doesn’t make it any easier to digest.  Part three is about the same length as part one and gives us the conclusion.

A lot of the time during part two I was frustrated.  I read a quote from another reviewer once (that I can’t find now, so this quote isn’t exact so I can’t credit correctly) that said something along the lines of: “There are two great sins an author can commit when writing a book: failing to meet expectations, or failing to set them.  Of those two, failing to set them is far worse.”  (Seriously, not exact- Google gives me nothing.)  I had been struggling with this in some stories for years, and never had words for it until I read that.

I feel like A Taste of Honey very much fails to set any expectations for the reader.  Throughout the entirety of part two I was just wondering why I was being told this story. I didn’t feel glued to the page or compelled to keep reading.  I can’t explain why without spoilers- but I will say that the plot of this story is not: Aqib and Lucrio must overcome  the prejudices against gay men in their society and amongst Aqib’s family in order to be together and get a HEA.  Is that a pretty straightforward and rather generic romance plot?  Yeah. It is.  But it comes with the suspense built in.  And readers would have read this story based on that alone, because these characters were fantastic, the world building was unique, and their relationship was beautiful.

Instead we’re given something else entirely that feels more like the saga of a man who’s life has big dramatic events, but in which he has no agency to change things.  Therefore there is no suspense.

The world building is super unique and I loved the parts with the animals.  Although magic isn’t really my thing, there do seem to be some vague rules about the system and that too, felt unique.  If you’re the kind of reader who enjoys piecing together the information about the world for themselves, this may be a great choice for you.

I’m not going to spoil anything, so I’m not going to set any expectations for you either, but if you can slog it through the middle to get to the end it does make up for some of the slow going middle parts.  A few of the other buddies that read this enjoyed it much more than I did so if you like, we can all just blame that other book I’m reading for putting me in a bad mood.

A Taste of Honey can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.

Have you read this book?  What did you think of it?

 

Book Review: Time Was by Ian McDonald

I’m in the process of job hunting right now, and life has been super hectic, so forgive me for not being present.  I’ve done almost no reading this week.  I’m still trying to keep up with all of your blogs though so forgive me if I miss a post or two!

Time Was Ian McDonald

Rating:  ★★★

From GoodReads: A love story stitched across time and war, shaped by the power of books, and ultimately destroyed by it.

In the heart of World War II, Tom and Ben became lovers…[Then] Tom and Ben vanished into nothingness, presumed dead. Their bodies were never found.

Now the two are lost in time, hunting each other across decades, leaving clues in books of poetry and trying to make their disparate timelines overlap.

Time Was is a quick little novella.  I feel that the blurb is really misleading though, and the actual blurb on GoodReads contains a spoiler, so I’ve left it out here.  While this is in part Tom and Ben’s story, it’s actually more about a bookseller, Emmett, who stumbles onto their secret and becomes obsessed with finding them.

Much less exciting right?  The buddies I was reading this with all agreed- we wanted more about Tom and Ben!  The romance was lovely, but it was maybe 25% of the whole book.

The writing was sharp, concise, and atmospheric, as is typical of McDonald.  He’s very good at forcing you to read between the lines, so at times I became a little lost.  Especially the opening, which talks about digging around in a dumpster in LeBoutins for books, because I was still under the impression we were in WWII… and some of the POV/setting shifts weren’t incredibly obvious to me in those first couple chapters.

Both the buddies I read with guessed the ending (I did not) and were disappointed with that.  There’s also the time travel aspect, which was not explained at all, highly unscientific, and left a lot of us confused.

In the end, the writing was great, and romance was wonderful, but we were all left wanting more.  We had questions we wanted answered, and were sometimes bored with the main narrative.  If you’re interested in reading McDonald, while this won’t take too much of your time, I’d still recommend starting with New Moon.  I appreciate McDonald’s versatility, but this didn’t feel like a great representation of his ability.

Time Was can be purchased on Amazon here.

Can’t Wait Wednesday: The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht

The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer GiesbrechtCan’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

Title: The Monster of Elendhaven

By: Jennifer Giesbrecht

Release Date: September 24, 2019

Published by: Tor

Length: 160 pages

 

Description: The Monster of Elendhaven is a dark fantasy, a twisted tale of revenge set in an original world as oily and real as Jack the Ripper’s London. After a thing with no name washes up on the docks, empty, alone, and unable to die, he becomes obsessed with a frail young man who can twist minds with magic. Together, they launch a plan so dark and cruel that readers will find themselves cheering for blood, and for these avengers to consummate their horrible passion for each other. But the pair are being hunted by officials from the south, intent on saving the world from the horrors mages can unleash.

Why I’m excited for it:  Villains.  They are some of my favorite characters in fiction.  Whether you love to hate them or hate to love them, a good villain will always have you feeling some type of way.  Any time a book is written from a villain’s POV, I’m there for it.  Top it off with two villains and a queer romance?  Sold.

The setting, being equated to Jack the Ripper’s London, immediately caught my eye.  It evokes that feeling of being a dark, gritty, mysterious and maybe magical place.  Maybe a lawless city where secrets are traded in back alleys and certain doors only open to those who know where to knock.

The genre.  It’s currently shelved on GoodReads as Fantasy first, Horror second.  I’m hoping it’s as dark as it promises to be.  The tagline on the cover, from none other than Joe Hill states A Monster of Elendhaven is “A black tide of perversity, violence, and lush writing.”  I’m trusting him not to let me down!

A Monster of Elendhaven can be preordered from Amazon here.

Book Review: Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Rating:  ★★★★

Release Date: May 28th, 2019

Publisher: Solaris

Length: 105 pages

I absolutely loved this novella from the moment I picked it up to the moment I put it down. It starts out very light. The protagonist is a funny guy. He’s lost on an alien artifact humans have been calling “the Crypts.”

The story is told in two timelines, present and past. The past timeline outlines how he came to be lost in the Crypts and tells us a little about the state of the world before he left earth. In the present, he’s wandering the Crypts encountering all manner of alien life.

The writing was very good. I enjoyed the stream of consciousness style here, and that isn’t always my thing. Tchaikovsky employed it very well. This was a context in which it made sense, and it was easy to follow. Another note about the writing, the present timeline is written in present tense. I know for some readers that can be an issue, but I enjoyed it and thought it brought an added level of excitement to the story.

The pace, initially, is ambling. There are a few exciting things happening, but what drew me in was the humor. Gary Rendell is just a guy you want to hang out with. There are some definite elements of horror, but they were balanced well with the humor. As we near the end the tone becomes darker and darker. Nothing is what it seems.

I have a feeling some of the science in this science fiction has no foundation in reality (disclaimer, I know nothing about physics), but there were several fun little nods to biology. Rendell comments on the way the various aliens are formed and how and why they might have developed that way and I thought it was a nice way to flesh out the MC. There were also a few nods to human psychology, and those passages were some of my favorites.

Overall I thought it was inventive and creative. I’d recommend it to readers who enjoy elements of horror with their science fiction or fans of Tchaikovsky’s other work.

Thank you to NetGalley and Solaris for providing me with an eARC to review.

Walking to Aldebaran can be found on GoodReads and preordered on Amazon.

Book Review: The Test by Sylvain Neuvel

The Test by Sylvain Neuvel

Rating:  ★★★★

Sylvain Neuvel is one of those authors I’ve had on my TBR for way too long.  His work sounds interesting.  I only ever see glowing reviews from my bookish friends.  But I’ve had a hard time simply committing.  I think it’s because Themis Files is a trilogy?  I did the same thing with Ann Leckie and Jeff VanderMeer.  I waited for them to release a standalone before I went back and read their trilogies, so I guess this is a common issue for me.

When I saw the description for The Test, which I’ve very purposefully left out here, I knew this was something I needed to read.  Here’s all the blurb I’m including because to spoil anything about The Test is wrong: Idir is from Iran and he takes the British citizenship test.

I realize that doesn’t sound exciting, but what attracted me to it was the possibility for discussion of immigration and all the things that are wrong with modern immigration laws.  While the book is set in England, I felt it was a theme that I could relate easily to the U.S. (you know, minus discussions of The Wall, sigh).

I’m happy to say it didn’t disappoint and started very much how I expected.  Idir is asked a lot of questions that the average British citizen doesn’t know.

Question 4: King Richard III of the House of York was killed in the Battle of Bosworth Field in what year?…I have a feeling only the people taking this test know the answer to that question. What could anyone possibly do with that information?

But Neuvel takes it one step further, and discusses the racism, the prejudice Idir experiences as a Muslim and Iranian.  How people can look at the color of a person’s skin and just assume they know everything about them.

We have been asked why we hate freedom, told to go back to the desert many times—I tell them I hear Dasht-e Kavir is breathtaking but I have never been. It is true—but not once has anyone asked me about famous battles of the fifteenth century. Maybe I should bring it up.

Idir’s resilience is admirable, and his character is immediately endeared to the reader because despite the fact that he takes it all in stride, even has a sense of humor about it, the truth is he shouldn’t have to put up with it at all.

From the very first chapter, you care what happens to him.  This is a short book, only 112 pages, and can be read in about two hours.  You want to see him succeed. So it’s saying a lot that you wanted to see him win after only one chapter.

Anyway, the book was very well written and the premise sucks you in right away with several unexpected turns, and I had a hard time putting the book down.  If it had not been a work day, I’d have read it all in one sitting.  Every chapter brought in some new element that had me on the edge of my seat.  The stakes are high, and the consequences far reaching.

I only deducted a star because of the ending.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s the ending that fit.  It’s the ending it should have, objectively speaking.  Subjectively, it isn’t the ending I wanted.  Everything else about this is a 5 star read and I’d encourage everyone to take a couple hours out of their day and read it.

There is a lesson to be learned here. We are all more alike than we think.

 

There is some potential trigger content here, so if you’d like to know what it is, please mention it in the comments below.  I wanted to avoid spoilers but I don’t want anyone to be caused unnecessary hurt by picking up the book either.

The Test can be found on GoodReads here, or purchased on Amazon here.

 

The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander

Rating:  ★★★★

“Death decayed into history decayed into poolside anecdote.”

I received this for free as part of Tor.com’s free ebook of the month club. I wasn’t terribly excited about it when I saw it. But free is free and it was quick so I took a chance, and I’m so glad I did!

First- content warnings, because this isn’t an easy book to stomach: animal abuse and torture, graphic depictions of radiation poisoning.

I started this and admittedly had no idea what was going on. I thought it was pretty weird the story was being told by an elephant (humans have their parts, but it starts with the elephant). I didn’t really understand elephant culture other at first- there was a learning curve. What I eventually worked out was that elephants are a matriarchal society and stories, kept “orally”, are sacred. By 50% or so I adjusted to the elephant POV and that was where the story took off for me. To be honest- I also didn’t know much about the Radium Girls. I had heard of them, but I have no idea why or what they did. I think that was half the point.

I’ve read a few friend reviews and I think the beauty in this story is that it seems everyone took something different from it. For me, I felt it was about the power of story in our lives, how truth can be manipulated, twisted, and bent, how truth can be buried. How the treatment of one story can mean the “characters” fade into obscurity or sky rocket into fame. How that story will affect future generations.

“No matter what you did, forty or fifty or a hundred years passed and everything became a narrative to be toyed with, masters of media alchemy splitting the truth’s nucleus into a ricocheting cascade reaction of diverging alternate realities.”

I found this particular message very powerful and so, so relevant, but there were also snippets of other messages I found really moving. The power of corporate America. Business and commerce rule all. Anyone will turn a blind eye to anything so long as there is food on the table. I think it would make for a fantastic read with friends or clubs because discussion really could be endless here.

Aside from that the voice and the writing here were superb. We have three pretty distinct voices, Regan, a Radium Girl, a poor southern farm girl with little education, Furmother, the most clever of all elephant mothers, and Kat, the scientist who wants to “help” and sees value in truth. I highlighted so many things in this tiny book. The tone and setting were dark and grim, yet she managed to maintain a note of dry (and admittedly dark) humor through out.

I only deducted a star because as I mentioned above- the book was really hard to read. I don’t really have triggers, but I certainly find some things more difficult to read than others, animal abuse and slow death are two of those things for me.

All in all- the book can be read in a day and I highly recommend taking the time. It’s well worth it. Thanks to Tor.com for putting it on my shelf.

“…Her execution will amount to nothing more than a pitiful sentence in a history book swollen tick-tight with so many injustices the poisoning of a factory full of girls and the mean public death of a small god don’t even register as particularly noteworthy.”