Title: Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything
Author: Raquel Vasquez Gilliland
Page Count: 432
Publishing Date/Publisher: August 20, 2020 by Simon Pulse
Review: I went into this book without reading the synopsis, so to say that I was blindsided by the science fiction angle would be an understatement. This book has very strong undertones of magical realism for the first half of the book and them BAM!…it hits you with aliens. Admittedly, the concept was clever…aliens abducting illegal aliens. It takes a strong stance on immigration issues, and is a clear reprimand for how immigrants are treated by the United States government.
Although I found this to be an enjoyable read, I feel that the author tackled too many issues with her story line. I can appreciate a good genre crossover – combining magical realism and science fiction was creative – however, the plot became very convoluted for the last half of the book. I think I would have enjoyed the story more if the author had tightened up the plot a bit. In addition to the magical realism elements, extraterrestrials, and social commentary, there is also a romance that plays out between the main character, Sia, and the hot new guy at her school. Through the lens of this relationship the author explores trauma, first love, racism, family dynamics, and abuse. Combined with all the other elements of this story, it’s just a lot. Perhaps if these additional elements had been more subtle, it would have worked, but I felt that taking on so much detracted from the flow of the story.
It is very unclear to me whether this book is meant to be part of a series or a standalone. The author leaves the readers with a cliffhanger, but I cannot find any references to a sequel.
Author: Frank Herbert
Page Count: 694
Series: Dune Chronicles, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: October 25, 2016 by Penguin Group (first published in June 1965)
Review: Well if Lonesome Dove is my Western genre comparison to A Game of Thrones, Dune is my science fiction comparison. It’s a long epic about shifting allegiances, dynamic power plays, violence, and unexpected deaths. Admittedly this book moved up my TBR list because of the upcoming film adaptation starring my boy Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho. I haven’t watched any other film adaptations, so I look forward to seeing how this story plays out on the big screen.
Aside from that, this book confirmed a suspicion about myself that I have theorized about but not really tested…hardcore science fiction and/or space operas are not really my jam. My lukewarm feelings about both The Left Hand of Darkness and this book have confirmed it. Of course this isn’t to say that I will never again delve into this literary realm…it’s just that it seems I prefer my science fiction to have a little more fantasy woven into it.
I was not a huge fan of Herbert’s writing style, but I do have to give him credit for his world building skills. The Appendices at the end of the book were helpful because there are many characters, planets, and legends to keep track of. I recommend glancing through it periodically as you read the book for clarity and context.
Title: The Left Hand of Darkness
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Performer: George Guidall
Length: 9 hr, 39 min
Series: Hainish Cycle, Book 4
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2018 by Recorded Books
Review: There are a few prolific science fiction writers that I have had on my TBR list for some time, and Ursula K. Le Guin is one of them. I decided to tackle The Left Hand of Darkness because of it’s many awards and stellar reviews. Unfortunately, despite it’s many accolades, I did not personally enjoy it. I do, however, understand why it has received the praise bestowed upon it. It is a rather revolutionary work, both for the time it was written and the current time, and it is deeply philosophical….too philosophical for me. Although I do like a book that expands my thinking, I found it to be boring. Gethen as a setting sounds like my personal hell – cold and icy. The ambisexual nature of the native people was interesting, but there was not any particular character that I especially liked. The pacing of the book is hard to describe because to me it felt slow in some parts and rushed in others. All things considered, it is unlikely that I will read anymore books by Le Guin, but nevertheless I can say that I truly appreciate what she has done for the science fiction genre.
Title: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
Author: Suzanne Collins
Page Count: 439
Series: The Hunger Games, Book 0
Publishing Date/Publisher: May 19, 2020
Review: It has taken me awhile to write this review, mostly because I have had a hard time coming to terms with how I feel about this book. To say that I was a fan of The Hunger Games series would be a huge understatement…I was obsessed. I thought about it night and day as I blazed through the series. Nearly every other aspect of my life was put on hold, and when the first movie was released in theaters, I immediately bought a ticket and showed up in full Capitol inspired regalia. I talked to anyone who would listen about it, and religiously followed several fan blogs. All that said, I was positively tickled when I saw that Suzanne Collins would be writing a prequel. I was a little apprehensive when I read the initial synopsis, but I do love a good villain origin story, so I figured it couldn’t be bad.
I was wrong. So, so wrong. In fact, when I finally finished, my first thought was: WTF did I just read? I am completely confused about what the author was attempting to do with this story. Origin stories, when done right, can lend so much perspective to the actions of a villain. This did not happen at all with The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Instead of adding more depth to the character of Coriolanus Snow, it made him seem shallow and his nature was constantly portrayed in contradiction of itself. Everything he loves, he also seems to hate, and this is very confusing as a reader because his motives are even murkier than his character. The romance was disturbing and felt very “off” to me. This particular aspect of the story resulted in an ending that was bizarre to say the least. I was left with an overall feeling of disquiet when I finished, and I am not sure if this was or was not the authors intent.
The only thing I enjoyed about this reading experience was looking for the little Easter eggs and THG tie-ins woven throughout the storyline. There were enough of them that I decided to give this book a two star rating instead of a one.
Title: Cut Off
Author: Adrianne Finlay
Page Count: 384
Publishing Date/Publisher: August 11, 2020 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Review: I was obsessed with the Lost series back when it was airing, so when this book was described as “Warcross meets Lost…” I knew I simply must read it. Unfortunately for me, it was just…meh. There were a couple scenes that creeped me out in the beginning, but overall it was not particularly exciting. The one thing it did have in common with Lost was that the final reveal was truly disappointing. I knew there was going to be a science fiction element to the story, but it was a bit more sci-fi-y than I was expecting. I also wanted to see more character complexity and development. The characters felt very formulaic to me: the brainiac, the deceiver, the loner, and the closed off beauty. Nobody really surprised me or made me question what I knew about them. I wasn’t really feeling the romantic angle either. In a story like this, I feel the romance should add more depth to the plot or characters, but it didn’t really serve to do so as much as I wanted. It was not a terrible read, but also not one I enjoyed enough to give a higher rating.
Title: Chosen Ones
Author: Veronica Roth
Page Count: 304
Series: The Chosen Ones, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: April 7, 2020
Review: This was a very original concept…what really happens to a hero after they have defeated evil? I think that Roth gives a really realistic depiction of how ordinary people would cope with extraordinary pressures and trauma. I have always thought that being famous would be incredibly stressful – always dealing with scrutiny, invasion of privacy, and false narratives. Each of the five heroes in this story deal with it differently, some withdrawing into anger or addiction, while others seemingly embrace it. When evil rears it’s ugly head again, the heroes must take a critical look at the past, and what they think they know about themselves and each other.
It’s difficult for me to put my finger on why I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I thought I would. Roth does a decent job of fleshing out the characters, but I think her set up took just a little too long. I struggled to remain actively engaged and I could put this book down for days at a time without feeling compelled to pick it back up. Now that the characters and story have been established, I imagine I would enjoy a sequel far more, though this is difficult for me to say with any certainty. Considering this is accurate to how I felt when reading her Divergent series, I remain hopeful that the series will prove to be worth reading even though the way she ended it makes me uncertain. It ended with a bang, but then tapered off into different directions. If it wasn’t being advertised as the first in a series, I would have assumed it was a standalone.
Although this is Roth’s first “adult” fiction book, I still think it will mostly appeal to a younger demographic.
Author: Marissa Meyer
Performer: Rebecca Soler and Dan Bittner
Length: 17 hr, 5 min, 45 sec
Series: Renegades, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2017 by MacMillan Young Listeners
Review: I am a big fan of Marissa Meyer and Rebecca Soler, so I knew I simply must listen to this book in audiobook format. Soler’s performance was stellar as always, but this particular book didn’t really showcase the breadth of her talent like other books written by Marissa Meyer have. There was not a lot of character voice variance, though this was partially because the second POV was narrated by a second performer.
As for the story itself, I have to start by saying that I really enjoy Meyer’s ability to write emotional origin stories for villains. This book sort of falls in that category, though I would not compare it to Heartless or Fairest. This book is written in two POVs, and this worked really well for this particular story, because it really highlights the blur between the hero and villain narrative. Both characters are fundamentally good people with radically different experiences and ideas. This puts them at odds, and while society worships one, they demonize the other. This creates some intriguing conflicts, and leads to a lot of character development.
Despite it’s many merits, I would not say this is Meyer’s strongest book. I love the X-Men stories, and though their influence is clearly apparent in this book, I found the story dragged a bit long and at some points frustrated me. I found it very odd that the Renegades embraced Nova so completely and she so easily infiltrated their ranks. I also found some of Nova’s ideology to be a bit contradictory, and her backstory did not fully convince me that it made sense for her to so whole-heartedly despise the Renegades. The conclusion sort of surprised me, though I had already predicted some of the plot twists. It was more of the manner in which they were revealed that surprised me rather than the actual reveals themselves. Based on the ending, I am strongly considering reading the next book, however, I am in no rush and will be attacking other books in my “to read” pile first.
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout
Page Count: 335
Series: Lux, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: May 8, 2012 by Entangled Teen
Review: I can’t say I didn’t know what I was getting into with this. It was a light paranormal read that didn’t make me think too much. It follows a very standard formula. New girl who doesn’t know she is beautiful moves into small town and meets mysterious and attractive boy. There is instant attraction and they immediately start a love/hate relationship. The boy, who also happens to be an alien, runs hot and cold, but eventually succumbs to his feelings for human girl. Throw in some bad guys, a happy-go-lucky sister, a jealous ex and you’ve got a pretty predictable plot for this book. Admittedly, this is sometimes the type of book I want to read, especially after I have read books with heavier content, but it was nothing new or original. I will likely not be moving on with the series.
Title: The Grace Year
Author: Kim Liggett
Page Count: 416
Publishing Date/Publisher: October 8, 2019 by Wednesday Books
Review: This book has been likened to the Handmaid’s Tale, and I would say that is fairly accurate. Liggett took a page from Atwood’s handbook and created a world ruled by men who will do everything in their power to subjugate women. It was bloody, it was brutal, and it was ripe with misogyny. In this society, young women are blamed for their sexuality and are sent to a special camp to “burn off their magic.” Rather than band together, the girls are torn apart by jealousy and girl on girl cruelty.
My biggest issue with this book is the lack of world building. The reader is simply dropped into an insular society of undetermined size that is using a story from the Bible to justify the dehumanization of women. The society is very primitive, and it is unclear to me how this dystopian society came into existence. I generally like some context for dystopian novels, so I had great difficulty buying the setting.
I think this book has the potential to garner some popularity because there are still many readers who love dystopian fiction, but I do not think it does anything new to revolutionize the genre.
Title: The UnTied Kingdom
Author: Kate Johnson
Performer: Julia Barrie
Length: 15 hr, 4 min
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2013 by Recorded Books
Review: Well I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would, but it was still an enjoyable read. The narrator was easy to listen to, and the story for the most part had a lot of action. This book was surprisingly light on romance for a romance novel. It was clear from the beginning who the fated pair would be, but the romance really doesn’t blossom until well into the last half of the book.
I am always a little leary of “time travel” books because I find the concept to be so confusing and overdone. I would consider this to be more of a “parallel universe” book with very little explanation as to how the hole between worlds works. The parallel universe Eve lands in is more of an alternate history where the trajectory of significant historical events has been changed, resulting in Britain essentially becoming a third world country that has been torn apart by civil wars. I would have liked to know more about how the rest of this reimagined world works, but you only get snippets here and there throughout the story. In a lot of ways this makes the story very insular and I was left with many questions. It is always interesting to think about how changing the past might affect the future, and it is fascinating to consider how even one decision could change the whole course of history. I suppose Johnson could write a thousand novels based on this topic and I would still have questions, so I must be content with the brief glimpse I am given in this one.