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: Afterland by Lauren Beukes

afterland-by-lauren-beukes

Rating:  ★★★1/2

Afterland is about the Manpocalypse. How could I not pick up a book about the Manpocalypse? (And yes, they really call it that in the book.)  Anyway, we follow a mother, Cole, and her son, Miles, across the country as they attempt to flee back to their homeland.  They are being chased by Cole’s crazy sister Billy, who wants to sell Miles’s boy-specific-body-fluids on the black market, and the goverment, sort of.  I say sort of because the goverment, disappointingly, doesn’t come much in to play in the present timeline.

Now before I start this review, I want to say that I mostly enjoyed this book.  The writing was hard-hitting and edgy.  The characters were flawed and sympathetic.  The story moves along at a good clip most of the time.  However Beukes’s books always seem to leave me unsatisfied. I feel like they are blurbed and advertised in a way that promises something the books never deliver on.

 In this case, it was the world building.  I wanted to know what the world looked like with most of the men gone. I wanted to know what happened to all those male-dominated fields. Did commercial air travel come to a dead halt?  What about construction?  Was there some sort of emergency training program to get women involved in those fields?  What happened to some of the immune men? Am I to believe they are all under government protection? They didn’t go off on their own and start a cult where they were worshipped by women?  Or worse, abducted and held prisoner? I don’t know. I just wanted to see more. I wanted a tour of what the world looked like post-Manpocalypse and we’re given a frustratingly narrow view.

There is a point, about midway, where Cole and Miles encounter a religious cult.  The plot seems to slow quite a bit here and begins a lot of preaching about God and His plans which grew tiresome for me very quickly.

Otherwise I enjoyed this for the most part. I think if you go into it knowing you won’t be getting to see all those things I was hoping for, you could enjoy it.  The writing was the best part for me and in places reminiscent of The Mere Wife, but unfortunately falls just short of the mark of being a great book.

Afterland can be found on GoodReads and Amazon if you’d like to check it out.

Book Review: Eden by Tim Lebbon

Eden by Tim Lebbon

Rating:  ★★★

Eden is a science fiction eco-thriller in which a group of extreme sports enthusiasts and supposed environmentalists race through one of the last places on Earth that has been reserved for nature. Eden is known as a Virgin Zone, a place where all the humans have been relocated, and whose borders are agressively protected by paramilitary groups (Zeds? Zions? I don’t really care).  These places have been given back to nature in an effort to preserve them from human pollution/poaching/ deforestation/etc..

I had been looking forward to this since I first heard about it.  It sounded like it might be one of those SciFi-Horror crossover books I’m so fond of (a la Crichton) and best of all it was set in a jungle- which is one of my favorite settings for a book (especially one that contains elements of horror).

Which is why I am so very displeased to tell you that this is probably one of the most mediocre, vanilla, unexciting books I have ever fucking read.

I didn’t even know it was possible to write a Science-Fiction-Eco-Thriller-Horror-Genre-Bender that was this fucking boring.

First of all- the character motivations don’t make any sense.  Supposedly all these characters care deeply for the environment.  They believe in the purpose of the Virgin Zones.  They think what humans have done to the planet is horrible.

So what the hell are they doing violating the laws of these zones? Contaminating these pure zones with their presence?  For bragging rights?  I don’t buy it.  And judging by the number of times the author made his characters repeat some justification of their actions, I don’t think he really bought it either.

But that’s not really my problem with this book.  I can get down with a good popcorn thriller where the idiot victim is running up the stairs instead of outside.  It’s basically my favorite kind of book (and movie for that matter).

What is not forgivable, is that the big bad guys are a lynx, a coyote, and a wolf.

First of all.  I thought Eden was supposed to be what was left of the Amazon Rainforest.  None of those animals are native to that area (I have yet to even mention the grizzly that shows up- I’m not spoiling this. I’m doing you a favor.).  I am willing to accept that perhaps I am mistaken about where Eden is set.  I still think that these are ridiculously boring choices for what is supposed to be a horror book.

It was borderline insulting. As if the author put no thought or effort into the book at all. Like these were the first animals he thought of so he went with it and never bothered to edit them into something more exciting (hell I would have accepted the bear- but it gets no action).

Jurassic World More Teeth

Why yes, Dr. Wu.  Yes I did.

What about a crocodile?  A huge nest of giant poisonous spiders?  An anaconda?  A leopard?!  A terrible alien predator thing with too many teeth?

Forgive my rambling.  The characters weren’t too terrible for what they are.  I can’t say I cared too much for any of them but it’s not the kind of book you read for it’s deep character building.

There wasn’t much suspense built in. The author reveals his hand too early, doesn’t take the time to build up the suspense properly.  There are subplots that don’t make much sense…. ugh.  The reason for the animal attacks is never given any explanation or thought (and frankly, that subplot was a lot scarier than what actually happened).

I know this is a very rant-tastic review so I’d like to close this by saying Eden isn’t really as bad as all that… but it’s also not worth reading. I’d check out Devolution by Max Brooks if you’re looking for something in this vein.  Or a re-read of Jurassic Park.  Or pretty much anything else. #SorryNotSorry

Top Ten Tuesday: My Most Anticipated Releases for the Second Half of 2020

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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.

I missed this topic a few weeks back, but there are SO MANY amazing books to be released this year.  I keep finding new ones to gawk at and feeling overwhelmed at the amount of reading I have to do to catch up.

The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett

The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett (Sept 15, 2020)- This is the prequel I never knew I needed.  It’s a Kingsbridge novel set during the Viking Age.  A KINGSBRIDGE NOVEL SET IN THE VIKING AGE!!!  A favorite series by a beloved author during my favorite time period.  It’s like Follett wrote it just for me.

War Lord by Bernard Cornwell

War Lord by Bernard Cornwell (Nov 24, 2020) – I’m sorry to start this list with two pieces mostly unrelated to my blog content- but when I found out about this title just a couple weeks after Follett’s, it felt like Christmas was coming early. I’ll probably sob my whole way through this book because I know it’s the last but I have never loved any fictional character as much as I love Uhtred.  I cannot wait to get my hands on it.

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse (Oct 13, 2020) – I’ve been eager for this too, since I first heard about it in spring.  Although her Sixth World series (that starts with Trail of Lightning) wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, I loved her short story, Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience and I’m hoping to see more of what drew me in about that story here.

The Trials of Koli by MR Carey

The Trials of Koli by M.R. Carey (Sept. 15, 2020) – The Book of Koli has undoubtedly been my favorite read so far this year, so I can’t leave it’s sequel off the list.

The Tower of Fools by Andrzej Sapkowski

The Tower of Fools by Andrzej Sapkowski (Oct 27, 2020) – I can’t tell if this is set in the same world as The Witcher, but regardless I’m thrilled to see this.  It’s been around for quite some time, but it’s never been translated before. I’ve seen some reviews that said this is Sapkowski’s best, so even though there’s no Geralt, I’ll be there with bells on.

The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher

The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher (Oct 6, 2020) – We all know how much I love horror, and while I still haven’t had a chance to try Kingfisher, I’m super excited for this.  The blurb reminded me of House of Leaves and also like the Horror version of Ten Thousand Doors of January.  No idea how that would work exactly but I’m there for it.

Night of the Mannequins by Stephen Graham Jones

Night of the Mannequins by Stephen Graham Jones (Sep 1, 2020) – After the most excellent Mapping the Interior, and the even more excellent The Only Good Indians (RTC), consider me an official fan of Stephen Graham Jones.  This is what I think of when I hear the term literary horror and it’s brilliant.

Beowulf A New Translation by Maria Dahvana Headley

Beowulf: A New Translation by Maria Dahvana Headley (Aug 25, 2020) – According to the author’s twitter, the first word of this book is “Bro” and Grendel’s mother “is a warrior woman, not an ugly troll woman”.  I was thrilled with her modern contemporary retelling- The Mere Wife, and I am so excited for this modern feminist translation of Beowulf.

Confessions on the 745 by Lisa Unger

Confessions on the 7:45 by Lisa Unger (Oct 6, 2020) – I’m in love with the premise of this – two strangers confess their problems to each other on a train. A few days later, one of those problems mysteriously disappears…

The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal

The Relentless Moon (The Lady Astronaut #3) by Mary Robinette Kowal (Jul 14, 2020) – Okay, so this one is cheating, since it’s already been released, but I haven’t read it yet. It is on hold at my library though!  If you haven’t read this series yet, I highly recommend checking it out (starting with the short story The Lady Astronaut of Mars).

I’ve been out of the loop – so I’m curious, which new releases are you most looking forward to?

 

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.

Top Ten Tuesday: Pandemic Fiction

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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.

For some I know this topic will hit too close to home right now, and I don’t blame you.  Feel free to skip this and go on to the next link.  But if you’re like me, with a black, and often inappropriate sense of humor, you might be craving every pandemic book you can get your hands on right now.  Some of these I’ve read, some of them I haven’t, but I hope everyone finds something interesting.

And if speculative plagues are less your thing, here are a few historical and nonfiction plague books:

 

I realize this list is far from comprehensive – have I missed any of your favorites?  Are you reading pandemic fiction now or avoiding it?

 

Can’t Wait Wednesday: Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee

Can’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: Phoenix Extravagant  Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee

Author:  Yoon Ha Lee

Publisher: Rebellion / Solaris

Genre: Fantasy

Length: 416 Pages

Release Date: June 9, 2020

Blurb: For generations the empire has spread across the world, nigh-unstoppable in their advance. Its power depends on its automata, magically animated and programmed with sigils and patterns painted in mystical pigments.

A symbol-painter – themselves a colonial subject – is frustrated in their work when their supply of Phoenix Extravagant dries up, and sets out to find the source. What they’ll discover is darker than anything they could have imagined…

Why I’m Excited for it:  Despite the difficult learning curve in Ninefox Gambit, I absolutely fell in love with the unique and complex world building and the flawed and yet weirdly lovable characters.  Though I am also eager to return to The Machineries of the Empire, I’m also excited to see what Lee does with a new world and new characters.

It also sounds like another fantastic blend of science fiction and fantasy with magic powered robot (dragons?).  Either way- I absolutely can’t wait for this!

Which new releases are you looking forward to?

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.

Top Ten Tuesday: One Word Titles

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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 One Word Titles.  Titles are rarely what attract me to a book, but they are sometimes intriguing.  So I’m going to attempt to pull the most interesting one word titles out of my TBR.

Hammered by Elizabeth Bear

Hammered by Elizabeth Bear – I think this is one of the few I added because of the title.  I think Hammered might have something to do with robotics, but at the same time it sounds to me like the MC might spend a lot of time at the bar…

Choke by Chuck Palahniuk

Choke by Chuck Palahniuk – Every time I start talking about Fight Club, someone jumps in and recommends Choke.  I added it more because of the overwhelming number of recommendations I was given, but I still think the title is intriguing.  Who is choking precisely?  Are they choking someone else or choking on something?  Or is this just the sound people make when they try to say the author’s last name?

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman – I love this title because of the whimsy it implies.  It reminds me of Alice in Wonderland- I just imagine all sorts of odd things happening in Neverwhere.

Feed by M.T. Anderson, Feed by Mira Grant, The Feed by Nick Clark Windo, and Feeder by Patrick Weekes – When I was looking through my options for this week’s TTT, the word Feed stood out to me.  I found it in five different titles, one of which I didn’t include here because it was two whole words (and not a fake word like ‘the’ obviously.)

Amazonia by James Rollins

Amazonia by James Rollins – I’ve actually mentioned this book before- but it sounds very Crichtonesque.  Soldier goes into jungle missing an arm, comes back with both.  WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE?  So of course I added it.  But what first attracted me was the title- because I love all things set in a jungle.

It by Stephen King

It by Stephen King – One word. Two letters.  King has a lot of one word titles to choose from- but none are so terrifyingly vague as It.  That thing that takes all the forms of your worst nightmares.  It’s lurking in the sewer and in the caves.  You cannot escape It.  It is coming for you.  And most horrifying of all… It’s length.

Satantango Laszlo Krasznahorkai

Satantango by Laszlo Krasznahorkai – I discovered this a couple years ago when I was attempting to read more translated works.  It sounds like a small town drama, which are the best kind.  Also- how could you not be intrigued by a title like Satantango?

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson – I think one word titles are difficult to make interesting- but it’s hard not to be grabbed by this word.  I like this title because the word is interesting, invented while sounding real, and manages to give you some clue as to what the book is about.  I’d guess some sort of puzzle solving, but here it’s more code breaking.

Synners by Pat Cadigan

Synners by Pat Cadigan – Synners wound up on my TBR because I was searching for a top 50 best SFF books of all time, assembled from as many sources as I could find.  This book kept popping up as one of the most underrated SF novels out there.  The title I like because phonetically it sounds like “sinners” while visually it reminds me of “synergy”.  I’m guessing the two meet somewhere in the middle.

Uncharted by Kevin Anderson and Sarah Hoyt

Uncharted by Kevin J. Anderson and Sarah A. Hoyt – This title caught my eye because it shares a name with one of my favorite video game franchises of all times: Uncharted.  That game is more about the explorations of Sir Francis Drake then Lewis and Clarke, but I’m fond enough of the game that I couldn’t let go of the title and decided to go for it.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t somewhat put off by the scantily clad woman on the cover.

What do you think of these books?  Have you read any of them?  Which one word titles speak most strongly to you?