Book Review: Afterland by Lauren Beukes

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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: Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier

Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier

Rating:  ★★★

Before I start this I just wanted to say I’m sorry for the lack of Sci Fi and Fantasy Reviews on my SFF blog… Still kind of recovering from the reading slump I guess.  On the other hand I hope these reviews of totally-unrelated-genre books help you guys find something you might enjoy too? I know most of us read pretty diversely.

Anyway- I read Hillier’s Little Secrets earlier this year (which Maddalena @ Space & Sorcery reviewed Friday and nailed it- so check her review out too) and thought I’d check out Hillier’s Jar of Hearts, which is also highly rated.

According to the blurb, this is the story of three best friends: one who was murdered, one who went to prison, and one who’s been searching for the truth all these years . . .

We first meet Geo – short for Georgina – as she is about to testify against her old highschool boyfriend for the murder of her high school best friend.  The twist? Geo helped cover it up, and she’s about to go to prison too. When Geo is finally released, she learns that her old boyfriend, Calvin James, escaped prison not long after his trial, and the Sweet Bay Strangler is back at it again.

The story is pretty straightforward. We see two timelines- Geo in highschool, how she met Calvin and the events that lead up to her friend, Angela’s murder, and everything that happens after Geo’s arrest.  I did figure out what was going on about 30 minutes before the characters did (I listened to this on audio), but otherwise I didn’t see anything coming.

I liked the characters- Geo is super interesting because she really is an awful person, but at the same time she’s sympathetic.  This seems to be Hillier’s shtick. She’s not as sympathetic as say, Marin, from Little Secrets, but the feeling is still there.  Kai is a typical good guy, knight in shining armor type.  And Calvin James is as evil a villain as you can expect to see.

Which is why it pains me to say that the ending was over the top to the point of being silly.  I actually laughed at how dumb, cartoonish, and cliche it all was.  It could have just been the mood I was in, because most readers seemed to enjoy this.

This also has content warnings for literally everything so I wouldn’t recommend it if that’s something you try to avoid (or if, like me, your just not in the right headspace for it).  I realize some of this comes with the territroy but there was a point where it just became excessive.

I listened on audio and January LaVoy’s narration is growing on me, despite some of the weird male voices.  Anyway- it’s not bad, most of it is a solid four star read.  Jar of Hearts can be found on GoodReads if you’d like to check it out for yourself.

Book Review: The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

Rating:  ★★★★

The Escape Room is about a team of four investment bankers, who receive a mysterious email from HR, and are sent to an elevator at an empty construction site on a Friday night as a team building exercise, an escape room.

The puzzles begin and tensions rise as each coworker has their own reasons for needing to get out as soon as possible. Vincent is worried they are about to be fired, but lusts equally after a big promotion.  Sam is broke because of his wife’s excessive spending. Jules is broke because of his alimony.  Sylvie has a boyfriend who told her if she cancelled on him again, he was done.  Only a few puzzles in and things start to go horribly wrong in the elevator.

Alongside the story of the escape room, we are told the story of Sarah Hall. An old coworker, set a few years earlier.  Her desperation in joining Stanhope & Sons, all the hard work and endless hours she put into the team.

I liked both parts of the story equally- Sarah was a character you wanted to root for. The investment bankers are the sort of horrible people the vulture in me just loves to watch turn on eachother.

I think regular mystery/thriller readers will see what’s happening fairly early on, which is the only real fault I can find with the book. The author throws a few red herrings at you, but ultimately, parts of this are fairly predictable.  I listened to this on audio and two different narrators were used, each fantastic (January LaVoy and Ramon de Ocampo).  They kept me hooked into the story despite all that- it was a great way to experience the book.

The ending sort of fizzled out for me. It’s hard to say why without major spoilers, but I was looking for a little more perspective on the events that took place in the elevator from the characters.  You know what happened, I just wanted to know what they thought about it.

Otherwise this is a quick read that I very much enjoyed.  I loved the dual narration format and hope more audiobooks will explore it in the future.  The Escape Room can be found on GoodReads  if you’d like to check it out!

Have you read The Escape Room?  What did you think?

Book Haul

Even though I wasn’t reading this summer- it didn’t stop me from buying books. What can I say? I have a problem. Barnes & Noble had a great sale a couple weeks ago so I picked up a few things.

Afterland by Lauren Beukes

In a world where most of the men are dead (after an event known as Manfall) a mother and son flee across the country in search of a safer place, encountering anarchist communes and crazed cults. I’ve read a couple books by Beukes now and while they each left something to be desired – the blurb on this one is too good to ignore.

The Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George

Historical Fiction has always kind of been my first love, especially anything relating to Greeks, Romans and Vikings. So of course, when this was released a couple years ago, it caught my attention. This is a different look at one of Rome’s most famous Emperors, that one that fiddled while Rome burned.

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

I’ve already seen the movie- but this seemed perfect to keep away one of my longest reading slumps. It’s relatively short, the chapters are quick and suspenseful. Malerman has a sequel out to this now called Malorie that I’d also like to read, but I knew I couldn’t pick it up until I’d actually read this one.

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

The Turn of the Key is about a nanny who takes a job in a smart home in the Scottish Highlands. What she doesn’t know is the children are a nightmare, the parents are absent, and the “smart” home has it’s own ideas about how to operate. This was another book that seemed perfect for my current reading mood so I picked it up on a whim.

That was it for this haul- but I’m excited to share some of my other summer purchases too! I’ve already made it through two of these books and loved them. Have you read any of these books? What did you think?

On a side note- this is my first time using WordPress’s new Block Editor. It’s okay but also kind of weird? So I apologize if the formatting is wonky. Might take some getting used to.

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: Little Secrets by Jennifer Hillier

Little Secrets by Jennifer Hillier

Rating:  ★★★★

This was a pretty awesome read. I’m glad I took a chance on it. I was worried it would upset me (abducted children is the main plotline, and not something I really want to cope with). While it is a central theme, there was nothing too graphic in regards to the abducted children. Other content warnings: attempted suicide and suicidal thoughts, drug overdose, and self harm.

The plot is pretty straightforward.  Marin is out shopping one day with her son in a busy market.  She stops to take a phone call and by the time she turns around her son is gone.  The police don’t have any leads and one year later he is still missing.  Marin hires a private investigator to continue searching for him, since the police have given up.

The book wastes no time getting to the story. I was sucked in from the moment I started and finished it in less than 24 hours. I could not stop turning the pages. The prose isn’t overly flowery or descriptive.

Marin is mostly a compelling character. I will say it’s hard to relate to a millionaire and sometimes I was frustrated with how much focus there was on Marin’s stuff or keeping her status. (Of course she can’t divorce her husband, he’s so much richer than her and what would that leave her with? Three successful celebrity hair salons? Pfft.) There is another POV character- Kenzie, who is supposed to be struggling, but I honestly didn’t understand how.. and it made me wonder more than once if the author was a little out of touch with us mere mortals but I digress.

I will say I had the whodunnit pegged fairly early. I actually didn’t mind that so much because I was so curious to see how we’d arrive at that conclusion. If everything else in the book is entertaining (and it was) I don’t mind when I guess parts of the plot. I did not know how it would end.

The other thing that frustrated me was the girl on girl hate, so if that’s something that bothers you steer clear. Overall I enjoyed it and will definitely look for more from Hillier in the future.

Little Secrets releases on April 21, 2020 from Minotaur Books, and can be found on GoodReads or preordered on Amazon. Thank you to the publisher for supplying a review copy.

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?

 

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?

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?

Book Review: The Chill by Scott Carson

The Chill by Scott Carson

Rating:  ★★★

The Chill is about a small town, Galesburg, that was once drowned underwater to make a new dam. We follow the ancestors of the people from that small town, now living in the “new” town of Torrance.

When I first started reading, there were a lot of jumps in the POV. So much that I wondered who the main characters even were, and if I’d ever get to spend enough time with any of them to care. The answer is yes and no. Focus does slow down to a handful of main characters, but I still think there were too many, and while I cared about a couple of them, I didn’t care about all of them.

In addition to the POV jumps, the book is weighed down by the description about dams and dam construction. It wasn’t as much as say, the church construction in The Pillars of the Earth, and some of it was interesting, but a lot of it went over my head.  Towards the end, I was confused by a lot of the description about where the characters were and what they were doing.  For example, at one point I swear Aaron swims into a tunnel, and a chapter later I swear Gillian is climbing into the same tunnel.  I think maps of the tunnels might have helped.  (I read an ARC, so it’s possible one is included in final copies.)

It was hard to feel excited about the plot when I was never entirely sure what the stakes were. The characters keep mentioning how they are going to get back at New York City, but I was never really clear on precisely how that was going to happen (flood? tainted water supply?). The Chilewaukee reservoir (The Chill) the story centers on, is a reserve basin and not connected to anything else. Specifics are mentioned towards the end, but by then I was mostly over it.

I feel like the true climax, and the story that felt suspenseful, came much earlier than the end.  I was enjoying the book for the most part until then, and after that point everything came to a full stop for me.  Ultimately, pacing and structure were an issue for me.

That being said- I did like the supernatural part of the story and unraveling the mystery. There’s a lot of suspension of disbelief needed for it to work but those were my favorite parts. I just wished they’d been a little more frequent? It was like the author wasn’t sure if he was writing a thriller or a horror or a science fiction story. It wasn’t quite enough of any one of those things to be effective, and the result was muddied.

All in all- not a bad book, I just wished it had been a little more exciting.  The Chill can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher who provided an ARC for review.