Artemis

Title: Artemis

Author: Andy Weir

Read harder Challenge: Yes; set greater than 5000 miles away from my location

Star Review: ♥♥♥♥ /5

Why:

I enjoyed this book for lots of reasons. Andy Weir’s signature humor is on display again in this book, so I found myself entertained. The author didn’t venture too far from the “spacey sciencey” feel of The Martian. In this book, though, we occupy a not-too-distant future where people are living on the moon. I enjoyed, as usual, Weir’s digressions into scientific explanation – you really get the feel that this moon colony is not that much of a stretch. The world-building is really solid. We’re following Jazz, a young lady with less-than-honorable tendencies; not to put too fine a point on it, she’s a smuggler really trying to make ends meet. Throughout the book we’re constantly reminded that something is driving Jazz, and getting to know her makes it clear that it’s not simply love of cash flow that motivates her. As she enters into a lucrative but dangerous deal with a man she has previously smuggled for, she finds she may be in over her head…

I certainly found the plot compelling. This book reads quite a bit younger than The Martian, I think because Jazz is a younger character and we spend a lot of time in her head. There’s a little dash of romance that I thought was cute, but not necessarily masterful. The characters are a little oversaturated – this may just be personal preference, though, because it is in part through this oversaturation that book is so funny.

Overall, this book was fun and interesting but suffered from a lack of villain and the young tone was not as appealing to me as the protagonist of The Martian. I would definitely recommend this book to fans of Andy Weir’s previous book, especially if they are in their 20s or also enjoy a good Young Adult novel here and there. If you like near-future science fiction, space politics, or space mystery, this should be your next read!

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Artemis

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance

Title: Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance

Author: Ruth Emmie Lang

Read harder Challenge: Yes; debut novel

Star Review: ♥♥♥♥♥ /5

Why:

This book is delightful and a must-read for many reasons.  Its tone is simple, bittersweet, and wistful – much like the character around whom this tale revolves, it doesn’t lose its sweetness despite some moments of sadness and loss.  The humor is wry and understated, just like I like it. I really enjoyed this book – finishing it in two days was not only a joy, but a compulsion.

 

We first meet Weylyn Grey as an infant, and quickly come to realize how special he is.  While he would hate to be described as “magic,” there are some very hard-to-believe things that happen around him.  As he tries to navigate his unusual life, he forms connections with an unlikely group.  Though the reader is sometimes treated to Weylyn’s point of view, the story is mostly told through the experiences of people whose lives he has touched. If I had to describe this book to someone in one sentence, I’d also feel obligated to add that this story is about wolves and a boy who grows up with wolves and the girl he falls in love with.  Wolves are pack animals, and the idea of the “lone wolf” is kind of a sad myth.  This book in a lot of ways is about the search for a pack, too.  Yeah – it’s hard to explain! There is magical realism in this book, and I loved recurring symbols that added constancy to Weylyn’s life even though it was always changing.

 

I just really loved this book so much! I’m so glad it is out so I can buy it for people for Christmas.  It’s ideal for folks that like to read with a sense of wonder but might be turned off my wizards and epic fantasy.  It’s great to gift folks that you love even when they have a hard time loving themselves.  It’s got some sweet romance, some coming-of-age and finding-yourself, and some humor.  It’s readable, devourable even, and quotable and well-crafted.

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance

The List

Title: The List

Author: Patricia Forde

Read harder Challenge: Yes; can be a book about books or a debut novel

Star Review: ♥♥♥♥ /5

Why: I hadn’t intended to finish this book today; The Stone Sky (final installment of NK Jemisin’s newest trilogy) came out Tuesday and I was itching to finish.  Alas, I left it at school.  That’s what I get for trying to read a physical book at lunch.  Anyway.  This book is great for fans of Ella Minnow Pea and The Queen of the Tearling series.  Set in a dystopian future, Letta (perhaps a reference to “Letter”) is the apprentice wordsmith for the town of Ark, seemingly the only town to survive the catastrophic disasters that befall humans and wipe out most of their population – referred to as The Melting.  As wordsmith, Letta and her master are responsible for The List, the group of necessary words that make up each citizen’s lexicon.  All other words are banned, as they are unnecessary, and words (of pundits, politicians, newspapers…) had gotten them into this sorry mess in the first place.  Letta is proud of their town and the community that has been built here under the guidance of John Noa (Noa built the Ark…), until a boy stumbles into the shop one day while the master is searching for lost words in the wild, and decides to help him.  She finds out more than she could have imagined about her little town, and the book follows her journey and the decisions she makes along the way.

This book is great for middle schoolers – there’s action, empathetic characters, and a good message.  What I liked most about this book was that the characters were complicated, with messy relationships and pasts, and their actions couldn’t be easily predicted.  What is the value of good intentions?  Are all people as they seem?  Who is responsible for the actions of a collective? Is “by any means necessary” morally reprehensible or…well…necessary?  Young people can tackle all of those questions within the confines of this text.  The world-building and power of description were both good, and I texted my librarian asking her to buy several copies for our middle school library!

The List

The Memory Tree

Another new book for you guys!  This one is hot off the presses – it came out in March.  Feel free to leave a comment if you’d read it to offer your own opinion!

Title: The Memory Tree (Amazon)

Author: Glenn Haybittle

Read harder Challenge: Could be – A book about war

Star Review: ♥♥♥ /5

Why: A good read for fans of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake series. This book has some really compelling characteristics.  It starts as a sci-fi or dystopian fiction, and I love a story that starts right in the middle of the action.  This book really challenges the reader to develop their schema as quickly as possible so they don’t miss what’s happening. I know some people don’t like this, but it really works for me.  The first two thirds of the book follow the story line of two characters who have had their memories taken away, and who seem fated to find each other.  The suspense of this part of the book was extremely well-handled and as a result I found myself continuing the story despite lingering confusion based on some incomplete world-building.

The last third of the book follows two different, but connected stories, and this part veers hard into the historical fiction genre.  While the connection between the stories themselves continues to have an element of science fiction, I really didn’t like the drastic shift, and given Glenn Haybittle’s previously published work, it really felt as though the author didn’t have the stamina to continue the fresh, edgy story and switched to something with which they were more comfortable.  That being said, the first two thirds of the story had already invested me in seeing it through until the end, so the timing on taking this risk paid off. The ending is super open-ended.

 

I would be willing to recommend The Memory Tree to someone, but only if they are admitted fans of science fiction and historical fiction in equal measure.  While I thought there were some interesting liberties taken in the dystopian fiction genre, I thought the execution fell flat and so while I finished, I didn’t feel pushed to in the exhilarating way that really exceptional fiction does.

The Memory Tree

Are We Screwed? How a New Generation is Fighting to Survive Climate Change

Title: Are We Screwed? How a New Generation is Fighting to Survive Climate Change

Author: Geoff Dembicki

Read harder Challenge: No

Star Review: ♥♥♥ /5

Why: This book provides important context and insight for the continuing fight against climate change. As a millennial, I was especially interested in the perspective of the author regarding the specific challenges millennials face when considering climate change as a long-term threat. I thought the book was a good balance of old information (why climate change is important, why climate change is real), and several premises about how millennials are specially affected and have specifically attacked the problem – the author posits that some of these solutions are millennial specific. I thought the tone was a little young – millennials are hitting their 30s now, and I don’t think the “chip on the shoulder, not allowed to sit and the big kids table” angle fit with me as a millennial, in addition to edging really near the edge of overgeneralizing about a whole bunch of people (namely, a global cohort of individuals within a certain age range – especially since most data was extremely US and Canada-centric). I become more interested in the individual stories and examples woven in became much more compelling as the book went on (I hated the first guy, a dude trying out self-sustainable farming in Canada), and found myself eager to read the second half of the book, which was solutions-oriented. At the end of the day, it contributes to the discussion and does a great job of researching and bringing together disparate voices into the context of a larger movement. I left with enough hope to feel empowered to take action.

Are We Screwed? How a New Generation is Fighting to Survive Climate Change

All the Dirty Parts

Title: All the Dirty Parts

Author: Daniel Handler

Read harder Challenge: No

Star Review: ♥♥♥♥ /5

Why: Many people will know Daniel Handler by a different name – lemony snicket.  Please, please do not go into this book thinking that this is in any way a continuation of lemony snicket’s writing.  This book is marketed as an adult book, but I would park it somewhere at the extreme end of young adult – very late teen, if you will.  Here’s why late teens and adults should take this book for a spin.

The narrator of this book, Cole, loves sex.  He also loves masturbating.  And he is not shy about talking to the reader about it.  This book is presented in small, choppy chunks of thought.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell just who is talking, and sometimes changes of subject are hard to follow.  I loved that about this book, because it adds to the frenetic atmosphere that is adolescent sexual discovery.

Cole warns us early on: “There are love stories galore, and we all know them.  This isn’t that.  The story I’m typing is all the dirty parts.” And Cole describes all the dirty parts all right, of a string of sexual relationships that feel casual and fun to Cole.  Like many kids, he experiments sexually, and the reader watches Cole struggle with his identity as a young sexual man. We meet a young lady who seems so different from Cole, and watch their relationship develop as well.  It’s all written in those short bursts, and it’s decidedly consumable.  And explicit.  Cole really wants us to understand his life and how much he enjoys having sex.

During the course of storytelling, I watched Cole hit an apogee, and I watched his orbit decay.  He’s a complicated character, who reminds me slightly of a dirty, but not mentally ill Holden Caulfield.  He wants to tell it to you straight.  He doesn’t realize how emotionally immature he is, until he does…

I consumed this short novel (144 pages) in the course of an afternoon, when I had meant to space it out over a few days.  If that’s not a recommendation to pick up, I don’t know what it!  I will be suggesting this book to some of the men I know, seeing if they can find themselves within the pages, and to some women, who might recognize Cole as well.

All the Dirty Parts

The Enchanted

the enchanted
From amazon.com

Title: The Enchanted

Author: Rene Denfield

Read harder Challenge: No

Star Review: ♥♥♥♥♥ /5

Why: This book was lovely magical realism at its finest.  I felt transported, and at the end of the book, I felt changed.  I listened to this on audiobook, his stop, and bought a print copy to share with friends.  I really feel this book.

This is the story of men on death row, and the lives that radiate from that seemingly-forsaken place.  The narrator, referred to as Arden at points in the story, watches but does not speak.  Alternately, we see what life is like for a newly-arrived boy only serving a bit of time; for York, who refuses to fight on appeal to save his own life; for a variety of prison staff in this corrupt, vividly disgusting hellhole; and for Arden, the Lady whose job it is to save York, and the Fallen Priest.  Incidentally, the Lady shares her line of work – indigent defense of death row inmates) with the author.

All characters deal with more than their fair share of problems in their lifetime, but the title refers to an altogether unique and magical setting – the prison itself is alive.  Is in enchanted, and the narrator often refers to it as “This enchanted place.”  No enchanted place could be more heartbreaking.  I don’t want to share the stories of abuse, mental illness, and depravity that are contained in these pages, because you must read them yourself to understand how deeply everyone has been let down in this story. The setting will help you to understand, as it is its own character.

This books is about death row and prison: the corruption, the politics, and mental health issues.  This book is about humanity: love, vulnerability, and the act of moving on or moving forward or moving beyond. Its ending, while perhaps not happy, is one of the few truly beautiful endings I’ve come across in a while.

I will unreservedly recommend this book to all.

The Enchanted