Fiction · Science Fiction

The Left Hand of Darkness

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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

Format: eAudiobook

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.

Reader: Bekah

Rating: 

All_Star_Gold
All_Star_Gold
All_Star_Gold

Fantasy · Fiction

By Sea & Sky: An Esowon Story

Title: By Sea & Sky: An Esowon Story

Author: Antoine Bandele

Performer: John Rogers

Length: 9 hr, 56 min

Series: The Sky Pirate Chronicles, Book 1

Publishing Date/Publisher: 2020 by Audible Audio

Format: eAudiobook

Review: This really may be a matter of personal preference, but this book had far too much action and not enough plot/character development for my tastes. In my mind, it was kind of the equivalent of one of those action packed movies that has so many explosions you eventually become unaffected by them. The battle sequences were so long, that rather than finding them thrilling, I just wanted to move on with the story. I was thoroughly unsatisfied with the backstories for Karim and Zala, and therefore had difficulty connecting with them as characters. The past is referenced often, but not in much detail, so the picture of how we got to this place of conflict is unclear. In short, I liked the concept of this book far more than the execution.

I listened to this book in audiobook format and I thought the performer did a good job even though I wasn’t really feeling the storyline.

Reader: Bekah

Rating: 

All_Star_Gold
All_Star_Gold
Contemporary · Fiction · Romance · Young Adult

Felix Ever After

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Title: Felix Ever After

Author: Kacen Callender

Page Count: 368

Series: N/A

Publishing Date/Publisher: May 5, 2020 by Balzer + Bray

Format: Hardcover

Review: First off, can we take a minute to appreciate that cover…gorgeous! I would have picked this book up for the cover alone if it wasn’t already in my TBR pile as a Mock Printz Committee selection. In the novel, Felix is an artist with a penchant for painting self-portraits. I like to think that this would have been one of those portraits.

But anywhoo, this book was a nice coming-of-age story filled to the brim with tropes. Misunderstood teenager? check. Angsty art school students? check. Mysterious online admirer? check. Confusing feelings about an attractive best friend? check.

Tropes aren’t necessarily a strike against a novel. When done well I enjoy them, however, I can’t say that about all the tropes in this book. I thought the romance angle in particular was weak. There was a weird quasi-love triangle that I didn’t feel did justice to either of the love interests. I could have cared less if Felix ended up either or neither of them.

So in summary, do not read this book for the romance, but rather for the character arc of a trans teen achieving self-acceptance and figuring out that it is ok to not have it all figured out.

Reader: Bekah

Rating: 

All_Star_Gold
All_Star_Gold
All_Star_Gold

Contemporary · Fiction

American Dirt

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Title: American Dirt

Author: Jeanine Cummins

Performer: Yareli Arizmendi

Length: 16 hr, 43 min

Series: N/A

Publishing Date/Publisher: 2020 by MacMillan Audio

Format: eAudiobook

Review: This was a book club pick that interested me mainly because of the controversy surrounding it.  When a bestselling book gets a lot of criticism, it makes me curious, even if it falls into a genre I do not typically read.

I went into reading this book with an open mind, because I like to form my own opinions.  I personally found the content of the book to be very stressful, so at this point in my life it was not my favorite read.  It did, however, make me more conscious of the seemingly insurmountable challenges that migrants face as they make their trek to the United States.

After reading the book for myself, and browsing through the reviews of critics, I personally find most of the controversy to be unwarranted.  I won’t address every aspect of her work that has been criticized, but it seems that the primary criticism stems from Cummins being elevated as a White author over authors of color who have written about similar topics. I understand the argument, but the truth is, it is a very well-written book.  Regardless of her own experiences, it felt like a very well-researched work of fiction and after discussing it with both my book club and a Latina friend who read it with her book club, it seems that Cummins portrayal of hardship, corruption, and abuse is true to the experiences of many migrants.  Perhaps she tried to pack too much drama into one story, but I do believe that the journey to the border can be very dangerous, especially for young women.  I’m not saying that #ownvoices works should not also be elevated, but as one person in my book club pointed out, the popularity of this book could have been used as a platform to recommend readers to books on similar topics written by people of color.  As with any novel, it is not perfect and some criticisms are likely valid (particularly about the use of Spanish language throughout the story), but I think it is great that a book that inspires empathy and raises awareness about the challenges faced by illegal immigrants is reaching such a wide audience.  To say that someone cannot write characters or settings of another ethnicity or culture would essentially be saying that most works of fiction should never have been written.  I think it is great that the new publishing trend is embracing #ownvoice stories and authors, but it is absurd to say that someone cannot write fictional works about something they have not personally experienced or to hate on them for doing so.  I hope this does not discourage Cummins from writing more in the future.

Reader: Bekah

Rating: 

All_Star_GoldAll_Star_GoldAll_Star_Goldhalf star

Contemporary · Fiction · Young Adult

Not So Pure and Simple

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Title: Not So Pure and Simple

Author: Lamar Giles

Page Count: 400

Series: N/A

Publishing Date/Publisher: January 21, 2020

Format: Hardcover

Review: I was thoroughly impressed by this book.  The great thing about participating in the Mock Printz Committee at my work is that sometimes I am given books that I enjoy immensely, but would probably not have read otherwise.  This is one such book.  It surprised me with it’s humor, depth, and important message.  Oftentimes books that cover topics such as toxic masculinity and sexual agency come off as being too heavy-handed with character tropes and long inner monologues where the characters have “epiphanies”.  The resulting effect is that it feels like it is trying too hard to make a statement.  Giles masterfully avoided these pitfalls by giving us characters that are both lovable and realistic.  He shows that even well-intentioned young men are susceptible to toxic ways of thinking and sometimes their words and actions have unintended negative effects on those around them.  As a woman, I found I related to many of the female characters and their struggle to be “nice” even when they were not interested in the male pursuing them.  As I have grown older, I find that sometimes it is necessary to be blunt, even if it comes off as rude, but as a younger woman, this felt like a tricky minefield to navigate.  Reading this book made me realize how many behaviors are impressed upon us at an early age and really made me re-evaluate how I have simply accepted certain actions as “normal” when they really shouldn’t be.

I would consider this an important read for all teens and think it would be a great book for discussion.

Reader: Bekah

Rating: 

All_Star_GoldAll_Star_GoldAll_Star_GoldAll_Star_Goldhalf star

Contemporary · Fiction · Romance

Real Men Knit

Real Men Knit

Title: Real Men Knit

Author: Kwana Jackson

Page Count: 320

Series: N/A

Publishing Date/Publisher: May 19, 2020 by Berkley

Format: eBook

Review: After reading some more “serious” books, I was in the mood for something light and fun.  When I read the premise for this book, I was hooked.  Hot men knitting?  Yep. Sign me up.  The book certainly followed through on it’s promise, starring four uniquely hot adopted brothers.  Although this book focused more specifically on the youngest brother, Jesse, I find it hard to believe that Ms. Jackson will not be turning this into a series.  There are, after all, three other strapping young men to find attachments for.

I could be off base, but I couldn’t help but think that the author was imagining none other than Jesse Williams when she penned the character description for Jesse Strong….

Jesse Williams - Advancement Project - Advancement Project

Aside from the locs, he pretty much matches his physical description exactly.  I’m not complaining though, and I don’t think other readers will be either.

Naturally I had to investigate whether the hashtag #RealMenKnit exists and was pleasantly surprised to find out that it does.  Feel free to look it up for some eye candy.  Thank you, Ms. Jackson, for the share.

Reader: Bekah

Rating: 

All_Star_GoldAll_Star_GoldAll_Star_Gold

 

Fantasy · Fiction · Romance · Young Adult

Queen of Air and Darkness

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Title: Queen of Air and Darkness

Author: Cassandra Clare

Performer: James Marsters

Length: 30 hr, 40 min, 56 sec

 Series: The Dark Artifices, Book 3

Publishing Date/Publisher: 2018 by Simon & Schuster Audio

Format: eAudiobook

Review: SO. MUCH. ANGST.  I generally enjoy Clare’s books for the most part.  They have intricate storylines and complex characters.  There are usually clearly defined conflicts and the endings are almost always satisfying.  This book checked all those boxes, but it was just so darn long and drawn out.  Every. single. relationship. was FILLED with angst.  Relationship building can do a lot to drive a story, however, there is a point where it starts to become tedious.  Clare loves writing forbidden love stories, as well as love triangles, and this series has that in spades.  I listened to this in audiobook format, and sometimes I would find myself tuning out during the more lengthy interactions between will-they-or-won’t-they couples/thruples.  There are a lot of characters to follow in this trilogy (including returning characters from past series), and I quickly realized that I needed to read detailed recaps of the previous two installments to get back up to speed on what was going on before the start of this book.  I did enjoy the story, but I think the book could have been significantly shorter without losing anything critical to the plot.

This is the first book of Clare’s that I consumed in audiobook format.  James Marsters has a voice that is well-suited to storytelling, though his volume fluctuates quite a bit and I had to constantly adjust the sound in my vehicle.  This was only a minor annoyance, however, and I found his performance to be appropriately dramatic for the content of the book.

Reader: Bekah

Rating: 

All_Star_GoldAll_Star_GoldAll_Star_Goldhalf star

Contemporary · Fiction · Young Adult

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

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Title: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Author: Sherman Alexie

Page Count: 230

Series: N/A

Publishing Date/Publisher: September 12, 2007 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Format: eBook

Review: I was looking through available eBooks in our library catalog, and decided it was finally time to read this book.  I recommend it a lot to teens because the format, cartooning, and writing style has made it beloved by many young readers.

I have to admit I was very impressed that Alexie could make such serious content humorous.  Arnold/Junior does not have an easy life, yet he approaches each new situation with courage, wit, and resilience.  There were times when I was both cringing and laughing simultaneously – an odd feeling indeed.

Arnold/Junior makes a very difficult decision to leave the “rez” to attend a “white” school in a neighboring town.  At first he is shunned by both the Indians he left behind, and the kids at his new school who view him as an outsider, but gradually he starts to gain acceptance from his new peers.  In a lot of ways this book was very illuminating regarding life on a “rez,” and reveals some of the challenges that many Native American tribes face today.  Arnold/Junior is very realistic about his situation, discussing in particular the difficulties of poverty and alcoholism in his family, but I never once got the impression that he felt unloved or unsupported by his family members (which is rare in a book that features alcoholic parents).  Arnold/Junior knew he wanted a different situation for himself, thus branching outside the rez, but he never forgot where he came from and he still held out hope until the very end for reconciliation with his tribe.  I would imagine this book has been very inspiring for people in similar situations – those who are afraid to break the mold and step into the unknown.  Arnold/Junior shows that it’s not easy, but it is possible, and sometimes the results can be positive in ways you do not expect.

Reader: Bekah

Rating: 

All_Star_GoldAll_Star_GoldAll_Star_Goldhalf star

Contemporary · Fiction · Young Adult

SLAY

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Title: SLAY

Author: Brittney Morris

Page Count: 323

Series: N/A

Publishing Date/Publisher: September 24, 2019 by Simon Pulse

Format: Hardcover

Review: I liked the concept of this book, but unfortunately the execution just didn’t work for me.  I know little to nothing about VR and video games, so I did a little Googling to get a better idea of what creating a VR game would entail.  Although it is fully plausible that two young women could create a VR game, it seems to me that building and maintaining a game of the caliber described in this book would take a team of elite developers years and $100,000s, if not millions, of dollars.  Even if I were to remove these factors, it seems unlikely that a teen would be able to almost single-handedly maintain this game (including regular updates) while still maintaining a high GPA, a tutoring job, and a social life (including a long-term boyfriend).  What made it even more implausible was that this game, which supposedly took up a huge portion of her free time, was a secret from everyone in her life.  This confused me largely because these people would have to be super unobservant to not have even have an inkling of what she is working on.  I was also confused that she would not even mention her vast coding knowledge on her college applications.  Women of color are unfortunately still a huge minority in the gaming industry, and it seems a shame that Kiera doesn’t even seem interested in pursing it as a career path.  Colleges would be chomping at the bit to get a student as talented as Kiera into their programs.  She would probably be offered scholarships, internships, and possibly even have jobs lined up well before she graduated.

As for the premise of the game, it sounded fun and awesome, but was still a bit problematic for me.  The idea of “safe spaces” for minority groups is not inherently bad, but it is certainly a slippery slope to create a game that completely excludes people of other races.  Although Kiera personally designed the game to be inclusive of all people who identify as Black, it sadly still leaves the door open for discrimination.  The passcode system lets people ultimately decide who is Black enough to play.  This is addressed to an extent when Cicada makes her “confession” to Kiera about her mixed heritage, but it was not addressed to my satisfaction.  Much of the conflict in the book surrounds the fact that this game is specifically excluding Whites, but it is never mentioned that other minority groups, who may very well be experiencing similar discrimination in mainstream games, are excluded as well.

I was also not a big fan of Kiera’s relationship with her boyfriend, Malcolm.  He is very radicalized, manipulative, and aggressive.  Kiera repeatedly states that she is with him because she feels like he is the only one who she can truly be herself with, yet she is constantly lying to him and editing her behaviors because she is afraid of how he will react.  For someone who claims that SLAY is such an integral part of who she is, it seems contradictory to completely hide that part of herself from the man she claims to want to share her future with.  I have other issues with Malcolm’s character, but I don’t want to say too much more for fear of giving away spoilers.

Despite my heavy criticism, there are certainly things to applaud about this book.  It has a strong, female heroine who kicks butt at coding, it celebrates Black cultures around the world, it brings light to the issue of discrimination and non-inclusivity of people of color in mainstream video games, and the cover art is stunning.

Reader: Bekah

Rating: 

All_Star_GoldAll_Star_Goldhalf star

Fiction · Historical · Young Adult

The Downstairs Girl

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Title: The Downstairs Girl

Author: Stacey Lee

Performer: Emily Woo Zeller

Length: 10 hr, 27 min, 24 sec

Series: N/A

Publishing Date/Publisher: 2019 by Tantor Audio

Format: eAudiobook

Review: A truly delightful listen starring a spunky heroine.  I really enjoy historical fiction novels that highlight groups that are not widely covered in American history books.  Chinese Americans are one such group.  Lee addresses the fact that Chinese Americans were often invisible to society because they did not easily fit into the construct of “black” or “white.”  Though considered “colored” by most, it was not always clear which laws of segregation and discrimination applied to their ethnic group.  This is evident throughout the story, as Jo tries to navigate the tricky and often murky waters of the political and social climate of the South.

This book did get a little slow somewhere in the middle, but the beginning and end were fantastic.  Lee’s character development is superb and she tied up the story in ways that I didn’t really expect.  I liked that a romance was not a central focus of this story, because this was really a coming-of-age story about a young woman finding her voice in a world that tried hard to silence her.  Despite adversity, she challenged social norms and was not satisfied to let others dictate her destiny.

Emily Woo Zeller did a great job as the narrator of this book.  I enjoyed this performance far more than her performance in The Bird and the Blade.

Reader: Bekah

Rating: 

All_Star_GoldAll_Star_GoldAll_Star_GoldAll_Star_Gold