Shelf Control #302: Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: Here and Now and Then
Author: Mike Chen
Published: 2019
Length: 336 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

To save his daughter, he’ll go anywhere—and any-when…

Kin Stewart is an everyday family man: working in IT, trying to keep the spark in his marriage, struggling to connect with his teenage daughter, Miranda. But his current life is a far cry from his previous career…as a time-traveling secret agent from 2142.

Stranded in suburban San Francisco since the 1990s after a botched mission, Kin has kept his past hidden from everyone around him, despite the increasing blackouts and memory loss affecting his time-traveler’s brain. Until one afternoon, his “rescue” team arrives—eighteen years too late.

Their mission: return Kin to 2142, where he’s only been gone weeks, not years, and where another family is waiting for him. A family he can’t remember.

Torn between two lives, Kin is desperate for a way to stay connected to both. But when his best efforts threaten to destroy the agency and even history itself, his daughter’s very existence is at risk. It’ll take one final trip across time to save Miranda—even if it means breaking all the rules of time travel in the process.

A uniquely emotional genre-bending debut, Here and Now and Then captures the perfect balance of heart, playfulness, and imagination, offering an intimate glimpse into the crevices of a father’s heart and its capacity to stretch across both space and time to protect the people that mean the most.

How and when I got it:

This is yet another book that’s sitting in my Kindle library — I must have added it a couple of years ago.

Why I want to read it:

I actually have three books by this author on my Kindle!! So, apparently I really like the sound of his stories… but just haven’t gotten around to reading them yet.

In terms of Here and Now and Then… well, guess how I feel about time travel fiction?

I love the plot idea of a time traveler getting stuck in the wrong time — and the fact that this happens in 1990s San Francisco is a big plus for me! I’m intrigued by the main character’s dilemma, having to balance the needs of two different families in two different time periods. Reading the synopsis after some time has passed since I first came across this book, I’m hooked all over again! Clearly, this needs to be a priority book for me in 2022.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
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Book Review: Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Title: Elder Race
Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky
Publisher: Tordotcom
Publication date: November 16, 2021
Length: 201 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased

Rating: 5 out of 5.

In Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Elder Race, a junior anthropologist on a distant planet must help the locals he has sworn to study to save a planet from an unbeatable foe.

Lynesse is the lowly Fourth Daughter of the queen, and always getting in the way.

But a demon is terrorizing the land, and now she’s an adult (albeit barely) and although she still gets in the way, she understands that the only way to save her people is to invoke the pact between her family and the Elder sorcerer who has inhabited the local tower for as long as her people have lived here (though none in living memory has approached it).

But Elder Nyr isn’t a sorcerer, and he is forbidden to help, for his knowledge of science tells him the threat cannot possibly be a demon… 

This stunning, inventive, beautifully crafted novella is a living, breathing embodiment of Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

In Elder Race, Lynesse Fourth Daughter, daughter of the queen of Lannesite, takes the forbidden trail up the mountain to the Tower of Nyrgoth Elder, the revered sorcerer who has not been seen for generations. Lynesse is not taken seriously by her mother or older sisters, all of whom prefer to focus on trade and diplomacy rather than indulge Lynesse’s flights of fancy. But Lynesse has heard refugees from outlying lands plea for help after their towns and forests were overrun by a demon, and she’s determined to take action, even if her mother won’t.

That’s the opening set-up of Elder Race. It feels like the start of an epic quest, and hurray for girl power too!

Stop reading here if you want to avoid spoilers completely, because there’s a doozy coming…

Ready?

The next chapter is told from the perspective of Nyrgoth Elder… and it turns everything upside down. It turns out that his name is really Nyr Illim Tevitch, and he’s not a sorcerer. Nyr is an anthropologist with Earth’s Explorer Corps, and he’s there in his remote outpost to study and observe the local populations.

Thousands of years earlier, Earth sent out generation ships to colonize planets throughout the universe. And some thousands of years after that, groups of scientists followed to check on how the colonies turned out. Nyr was a part of one of these expeditions, and after his fellow scientists were recalled to Earth, he was left behind, the sole member of the expedition remaining to continue their studies.

The problem is, he hasn’t heard back from Earth in centuries. Nyr stays alive through advanced science, including long periods of sleeping in suspended animation. He last awoke a century earlier, and broke one of the cardinal rules of anthropologists by getting involved with the local people. His mission is to study and report; by mingling with the people, he’s potentially contaminating the study.

When Lynesse and her companion Esha show up at his tower, there begins a remarkable story of cultural differences and miscommunications. The early colonies on the planet were rudimentary, starting life over without technology. Their culture is agrarian and feudal and deeply superstitious. Anything unexplainable is attributed to magic and demons and sorcerers. And so even when Nyr tries to explain himself, the language gap between the cultures makes it literally impossible for him to translate the term scientist — every word he tries to use comes out as some form of magician or sorcerer or wizard.

“It’s not magic,” he insisted, against all reason. “I am just made this way. I am just of a people who understand how the world works.”

“Nyrgoth Elder,” Esha said slowly. “Is that not what magic is? Every wise man, every scholar I have met who pretended to the title of magician, that was their study. They sought to learn how the world worked, so that they could control and master it. That is magic.”

As their quest proceeds, Nyr goes against every principle of his training, as he realizes that he can actually serve a different purpose:

I am only now, at the wrong end of three centuries after loss of contact, beginning to realise just how broken my own superior culture actually was. They set us here to make exhaustive anthropological notes on the fall of every sparrow. But not to catch a single one of them. To know, but very emphatically not to care.

I can’t even begin to explain how gorgeously crafted this slim book is. Particularly mind-blowing is a chapter in which Nyr tells Lynesse and Esha the story of how his people came to the planet millennia ago. On the same page, in parallel columns, we read Nyr’s science-based story and right next to it, the same story as it’s heard by Lynesse in the context of her own culture and language. It’s a remarkable writing achievement, and just so fascinating to read.

Also fascinating is Elder Race‘s treatment of depression and mental health, which for Nyr is managed through the use of advanced technology that allows him to separate from his feelings — but not permanently. He can shut off feeling his feelings, but is still aware that they’re there, and can only go so long before he has to let down the wall and experience the emotions that have been walled away. The descriptions of dealing with depression are powerful, as is the way he explains knowing the depression is waiting for him, even in moments when he’s not living it.

I absolutely loved the depiction of a tech-free culture’s interpretation of advanced scientific materials and equipment, and the way the books chapters, alternating between Lynesse and Nyr’s perspectives, bring the cultural divide to life.

Elder Race is beautifully written and expertly constructed. The balancing act between science fiction and fantasy is just superb. This book should not be missed!

Shelf Control #301: Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: Too Like the Lightning (Terra Ignota, #1)
Author: Ada Palmer
Published: 2016
Length: 433 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Mycroft Canner is a convict. For his crimes he is required, as is the custom of the 25th century, to wander the world being as useful as he can to all he meets. Carlyle Foster is a sensayer–a spiritual counselor in a world that has outlawed the public practice of religion, but which also knows that the inner lives of humans cannot be wished away.

The world into which Mycroft and Carlyle have been born is as strange to our 21st-century eyes as ours would be to a native of the 1500s. It is a hard-won utopia built on technologically-generated abundance, and also on complex and mandatory systems of labeling all public writing and speech. What seem to us normal gender distinctions are now distinctly taboo in most social situations. And most of the world’s population is affiliated with globe-girdling clans of the like-minded, whose endless economic and cultural competition is carefully managed by central planners of inestimable subtlety. To us it seems like a mad combination of heaven and hell. To them, it seems like normal life.

And in this world, Mycroft and Carlyle have stumbled on the wild card that may destablize the system: the boy Bridger, who can effortlessly make his wishes come true. Who can, it would seem, bring inanimate objects to life…

How and when I got it:

I picked up the Kindle edition about three years ago.

Why I want to read it:

I’ve been keeping my eye on this series ever since I first stumbled across it. Now complete, with four books in total, I have fewer excuses for not starting!

The series overview, from the publisher’s website:

Just this week, I shared my series reading goals for 2022, and I didn’t think to include this one — but I do still intend to get to these books. I’m intriguing by the sound of the world and the political structures, and want to know more about the conspiracy and the special child.

What do you think? Would you read this book (and/or the series)?

Please share your thoughts!


__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
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Have fun!

Book Review: The Unfamiliar Garden (The Comet Cycle, #2) by Benjamin Percy

Title: The Unfamiliar Garden
Series: The Comet Cycle
Author: Benjamin Percy
Publisher: Mariner Books
Publication date: January 4, 2022
Length: 224 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The night the sky fell, Jack and Nora Abernathy’s daughter vanished in the woods. And Mia’s disappearance broke her parents’ already fragile marriage. Unable to solve her own daughter’s case, Nora lost herself in her work as a homicide detective. Jack became a shell of a man; his promising career as a biologist crumbling alongside the meteor strikes that altered weather patterns and caused a massive drought.

It isn’t until five years later that the rains finally return to nourish Seattle. In this period of sudden growth, Jack uncovers evidence of a new parasitic fungus, while Nora investigates several brutal, ritualistic murders. Soon they will be drawn together by a horrifying connection between their discoveries—partnering to fight a deadly contagion as well as the government forces that know the truth about the fate of their daughter.

Award-winning author Benjamin Percy delivers both a gripping science fiction thriller and a dazzling examination of a planet—and a marriage—that have broken. 

The Comet Cycle, a three-part look at the effects of a devastating meteor fall, began with the 2021 release of The Ninth Metal (reviewed here). The premise of this trilogy is chilling: A comet passes by earth, close enough that people around the globe gather to celebrate and enjoy the beautiful sight. But… a year later, Earth’s orbit takes the planet through the comet’s debris field, and it’s here that things go terribly wrong.

Earth is inundated with meteors and meteorites, and beyond the immediate destruction of the massive impacts, the biology and chemical makeup of the planet is forever changed.

In The Ninth Metal, we see the effect of the introduction of a strange, never-before-seen metal into the world of humans. Known as omnimetal, this element has strange properties that change the world in terms of huge leaps forward in technology as well as changing the economy, power balances, and in some cases, humans themselves.

In the 2nd book, The Unfamiliar Garden, the action moves from the Minnesota setting of the 1st book to the Seattle and Northwest rainforest area. The main characters are Jack, a professor of biology specializing in mycology, and Nora, Jack’s ex-wife, a neuro-atypical detective with the Seattle PD. Five years earlier, as the meteorites were striking Earth, their 8-year-old daughter Mia disappeared while out in the forest with Jack. No trace was ever found.

Now, after a long drought, rains have returned to the area, and with the rain comes a huge growth spurt for fungi and other plant matter. Also, and maybe not coincidentally, Nora’s department faces a rash of gruesome murders and seemingly ordinary people having sudden psychotic breaks.

As their work overlaps, Jack and Nora have to join forces to try to understand what’s causing this outbreak of violence, and along the way, may finally get answers to the mystery of their daughter’s disappearance.

The Unfamiliar Garden is a fast-paced, tautly-written thriller with sinister government agents, alien organisms, and a wave of bizarre illness and madness. Through Jack and Nora, we see the way the baffling clues start to form patterns, while also getting a sense of the horror of finding oneself in the midst of what’s actually happening.

Without giving too much away, let me just say… fungi = ewwwwww. I’ve now read several books in which fungi in some way or another basically spell the end of human life as we know it, and honestly, it’s terrifying!!

There are some scenes that are pretty gross, so this book may not be for you if you have a weak stomach and a low tolerance for an ick factor.

I found it fascinating, and I loved the relatively short length, which meant that the storytelling stays lean and propulsive throughout. I also love how each book in this trilogy focuses on a different geographic area and a different aspect of the comet’s aftermath.

Book #3, The Sky Vault, will be released in June 2022. I can’t wait!

Book Review: Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell

Title: Winter’s Orbit
Author: Everina Maxwell
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: February 2, 2021
Length: 432 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Ancillary Justice meets Red, White & Royal Blue in Everina Maxwell’s exciting debut.

While the Iskat Empire has long dominated the system through treaties and political alliances, several planets, including Thea, have begun to chafe under Iskat’s rule. When tragedy befalls Imperial Prince Taam, his Thean widower, Jainan, is rushed into an arranged marriage with Taam’s cousin, the disreputable Kiem, in a bid to keep the rising hostilities between the two worlds under control.

But when it comes to light that Prince Taam’s death may not have been an accident, and that Jainan himself may be a suspect, the unlikely pair must overcome their misgivings and learn to trust one another as they navigate the perils of the Iskat court, try to solve a murder, and prevent an interplanetary war… all while dealing with their growing feelings for each other.

Ugh, ignore the bit in the synopsis about Ancillary Justice meeting Red, White & Royal Blue. I assume that’s just meant to make sure anyone who glances at this book knows that (1) it’s in space! and (b) there’s a royal match between two male characters. But there’s so much more to this book, and it’s worth looking beyond marketing blurbs to learn more.

Winter’s Orbit takes place in the Iskat Empire, seven planets bound together by treaties and ruled by the Emperor from the system’s dominant planet Iskat. The Empire, though, is but a small system in the known universe, which is ruled by the Resolution and accessed by the Iskat Empire through one single space/time link. (Bear with me.)

Every twenty years, the Empire re-ups with the Resolution through a formal ceremony. Without the official reestablishment of the treaty, the Iskat Empire would be on its own, unprotected, and subject to invasion by the powerful armies of the huge conglomerates that control other galaxies. In other words, the Resolution treaty is vital to the Empire’s survival.

A key piece of the treaty renewal is passing muster by the Resolution’s Auditor, an inspector who comes to verify that the planets of the Empire are maintaining their treaties with Iskat appropriately and without conflict. And here’s where the person-focused aspects of the plot come into play.

Treaties within the Empire are cemented by political marriages. In the case of the small planet Thea, it’s through the marriage of Thean representative Jainan to Prince Taam of Iskat’s royal family. When Taam is killed in an accident only months before the treaty renewal, it’s imperative that a new political marriage is arranged. Enter Prince Kiem, the ne’er-do-well, dissolute, party boy of the royal family. He’s not at all interested in a political marriage, particularly to the grieving partner of his dead cousin, but duty calls — and it’s an order directly from the Emperor, so really, there’s no choice.

Where Winter’s Orbit is at its best is in the depiction of Kiem and Jainan’s relationship, from its awkward beginning through all sorts of turmoil and misunderstanding, until finally they break through their miscommunications and cross-purposes and start to truly talk to one another.

Kiem and Jainan are both complex characters, and they alternate POV chapters, so we get to know their inner workings, their doubts and fears, well before either of them start to grasp what the other is experiencing. It works very well — even though we readers may cringe at how badly they’re bungling their attempts to connect, it helps that we’re let into their thoughts and feelings and understand WHY they’re having such a hard time.

If you strip away the sci-fi trappings, in many ways this book can be compared to any novel about arranged marriages. Whether it’s the Tudor reign or books about imperial Japan or any other powerful dynastic settings, there’s something compelling and awful about people’s lives being used for political advantage, but it’s certainly been a reality for generations. I think this is why Winter’s Orbit works so well. It’s not an alien concept to think that Kiem and Jainan’s feelings about a forced marriage would not count — the partnership is for alliance and control and political purposes. Feelings are secondary, if even that.

Given that context, I loved the developing emotional connection between Kiem and Jainan. They’re each wonderful, and I really appreciated the sweetness of their growing bonds and their consideration of one another. The book also explores issues of abuse and trauma, and handles it very well, sensitively showing how it affects the pair’s attempts at connection and intimacy.

The more external plot, about conspiracies and political maneuvering, assassination attempts, rogue military officers, and more, is fast-paced and has plenty of action. There’s never a dull moment.

However… I do wish the world-building in this book had been better explained. You can see by my clumsy attempts at plot summary above that the greater world of Winter’s Orbit is complicated, and we’re thrown into the action from the start, having to piece together the significance of the Empire’s structure, the Resolution, the Auditor, the remnants, and more. To be honest, I’m not sure how much I got it all. I had to make a conscious decision not to worry about the details and just focus on the people aspects, but still, there are pieces that did (and still do) confuse me, and I feel like a little more exposition early on would have helped a great deal.

Beyond that issue, though, I greatly enjoyed Winter’s Orbit. The characters and their relationship are terrific, there’s a low-key explanation of how gender identity works in this world that I found very interesting, and the plot does maintain strong tension in the key dramatic moments.

This is a strong debut by a talented author, and I look forward to reading whatever she writes next.

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Buy now at Book Depository – Bookshop.orgBarnes & Noble

Novella review: One Day All This Will Be Yours by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Apparently, it’s Novella November! Who knew? Not me!

In any case, Novella November is a thing, and that means my timing is spot on, as I’ve been enjoying a few novellas this week.

Here’s a quick look at the first one I finished:

 

Title: One Day All This Will Be Yours
Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky
Publisher: Solaris
Publication date: March 2, 2021
Length: 144 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The bold new work from award-winning author Adrian Tchaikovsky  – a smart, funny tale of time-travel and paradox

Welcome to the end of time. It’s a perfect day.

Nobody remembers how the Causality War started. Really, there’s no-one to remember, and nothing for them to remember if there were; that’s sort of the point. We were time warriors, and we broke time.

I was the one who ended it. Ended the fighting, tidied up the damage as much as I could.

Then I came here, to the end of it all, and gave myself a mission: to never let it happen again.

A totally trippy take on time travel and the end of the world. Our unnamed narrator is the sole survivor of the Causality War, in which too many competing factions realized that the ultimate weapon isn’t a nuke — it’s a time machine.

And then they used them, because that’s what you always do with the ultimate weapons that you swear you’ll never, ever use. You get your retaliation in first. Sooner or later, you preemptively deploy your deterrent just in case the other side aren’t deterred by it.

Don’t trust your adversaries? Go back in time and wipe out the pieces of their history that made them a threat in the first place. And once one set of people with a time machine realize its potential and actually use it, so does everyone else. It’s all very circular and paradoxical and made my head spin round quite a bit, but this book is oh-so-much fun to read.

I don’t want to give away any of the delightful little surprises, but trust me — you’ll want to experience the main character’s pillaging of the past for entertainment and farming supplies, his ruthless yet “nothing personal” approach to dealing with unwanted visitors, and his training of trusty sidekick Miffly.

The story is mind-bending and funny and plausible in the weirdest of ways, and the writing absolutely cracked me up.

My main complaint? The hardcover version of this book was a limited release, now sold out, and copies are available on EBay and elsewhere for $80 and up. And yes, I could buy the Kindle edition, but I really, really would love to have a physical copy on my shelves. Ah well. A reader can dream, right?

Meanwhile… this is the first book I’ve read by Adrian Tchaikovsky. I have no idea if it’s at all typical of his works, but I’d love to explore further. If you’ve read any books by this author that you’d particularly recommend, please let me know!

Shelf Control #290: A Song For A New Day by Sarah Pinsker

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: A Song For a New Day
Author: Sarah Pinsker
Published: 2019
Length: 384 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

In this captivating science fiction novel from an award-winning author, public gatherings are illegal making concerts impossible, except for those willing to break the law for the love of music, and for one chance at human connection.

In the Before, when the government didn’t prohibit large public gatherings, Luce Cannon was on top of the world. One of her songs had just taken off and she was on her way to becoming a star. Now, in the After, terror attacks and deadly viruses have led the government to ban concerts, and Luce’s connection to the world—her music, her purpose—is closed off forever. She does what she has to do: she performs in illegal concerts to a small but passionate community, always evading the law.

Rosemary Laws barely remembers the Before times. She spends her days in Hoodspace, helping customers order all of their goods online for drone delivery—no physical contact with humans needed. By lucky chance, she finds a new job and a new calling: discover amazing musicians and bring their concerts to everyone via virtual reality. The only catch is that she’ll have to do something she’s never done before and go out in public. Find the illegal concerts and bring musicians into the limelight they deserve. But when she sees how the world could actually be, that won’t be enough.

How and when I got it:

I bought the Kindle edition over a year ago.

Why I want to read it:

I first heard about this book when it won the 2019 Nebula Award for best novel, and must have grabbed a copy when there was a price break at some point after that. At the time of its release and award spree, I thought it sounded like a fascinating dystopian read, but not necessarily something that felt connected to real life.

Whoo boy. Fast forward to our ongoing pandemic, and this book feels practically prescient! Not leaving the house, not being out in public, bans on gatherings, no concerts? Check, check, check, and check!

Granted, the circumstances in the book are different… but not all that different, if deadly viruses are part of what triggers this sort of shutdown.

I’m still curious about this book and would like to read it, but I’ve also pretty consistently shied away from books that feel too closely connected to pandemics, so my reader instincts on this one are very mixed. On the one hand, I do think it sounds great! But on the other hand, now might not be the best time.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
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Have fun!

Book Review: Any Sign of Life by Rae Carson

Title: Any Sign of Life
Author: Rae Carson
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Publication date: October 12, 2021
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Young adult – Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

When a teenage girl thinks she may be the only person left alive in her town—maybe in the whole world—she must rely on hope, trust, and her own resilience.

Paige Miller is determined to take her basketball team to the state championship, maybe even beyond. But as March Madness heats up, Paige falls deathly ill. Days later, she wakes up attached to an IV and learns that the whole world has perished. Everyone she loves, and all of her dreams for the future—they’re gone.

But Paige is a warrior, so she pushes through her fear and her grief. And as she gets through each day—scrounging for food, for shelter, for safety—Paige encounters a few more young survivors. Together, they might stand a chance. But as they struggle to endure their new reality, they learn that the apocalypse did not happen by accident. And that there are worse things than being alone.

Any Sign of Life opens to a scenario that hits a little too close to home in 2021, when we still can’t say that the coronavirus pandemic is behind us. In this YA sci-fi novel, our current pandemic is a memory from the past for the characters. As the book begins, we meet main character Paige Miller as she awakens from a coma to confront a world wholly different from the one she thought she knew.

Paige wakes up to discover an IV in her arm and her family’s dead bodies in her house. As she ventures out away from the horror, she encounters nothing but more horror. Every home in her neighborhood contains dead people — she appears to be the only one left alive. After liberating a neighbor’s dog from their locked house, Paige and Emmaline set out to scrounge for supplies and figure out if anyone else has survived.

What seems from the beginning to be a story about a horrific virus that’s wiped out nearly all of humanity takes a turn as Paige starts to realize that this virus couldn’t have been naturally occuring. As far as she can tell, it killed people worldwide in only a week, and that just doesn’t make sense. When Paige meets Trey, another teen survivor, they start to put the pieces together, and realize that humankind didn’t just die out — it was exterminated.

Figuring out how this happened, and desperately fighting for a slim chance at survival, Paige and Trey’s journey leads them to a handful of other survivors and a small chance at making a difference in what seems to be a losing battle to hang onto a world that might still be fit for human life.

Any Sign of Life is both a story of the end of the world as we know it and a tale of a fight for survival. There are exciting action sequences as well as plenty of strategizing about how to survive — and whether there’s a reason to survive. The author gives the characters individuality and personality, as well as giving them each a backstory and inner depth.

Paige, as the POV character, is strong-willed and capable, but also carries the pain of her lost family with her always. Trey is also a great character, and all of the characters we meet are mourning someone they loved.

While the action sequence toward the end of the book is a little confusing, it’s still gripping to read, and I couldn’t help holding my breath while rooting for the good guys to succeed. The book ends on a positive note, but the future still looks grim — and I couldn’t help wondering whether a sequel will be coming along at some point. The ending works, but there’s plenty of room for more of the story to be told.

Any Sign of Life is an engaging read, once I got past the fact that what I thought would be a story about surviving a worldwide plague ended up being about a different sort of threat completely. Not giving too much away, the revelations about the cause of the virus and what the future might hold didn’t wow me, because I feel like I’ve read plenty of stories along these lines already,

Still, I liked the characters and the particular episodes involved in their survival, and have no problem recommending this book to anyone who enjoys post-apocalyptic YA fiction.

**********

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Buy now at Amazon – Book Depository – Bookshop.org

Book Review: Feral Creatures by Kira Jane Buxton

Title: Feral Creatures
Author: Kira Jane Buxton
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: August 24, 2021
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Speculative fiction/ horror
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

In this stunning follow-up to Hollow Kingdom, the animal kingdom’s “favorite apocalyptic hero”is back with a renewed sense of hope for humanity, ready to take on a world ravaged by a viral pandemic (Helen Macdonald).

Once upon an apocalypse, there lived an obscenely handsome American crow named S.T. . . .

When the world last checked-in with its favorite Cheeto addict, the planet had been overrun by flesh-hungry beasts, and nature had started re-claiming her territory from humankind. S.T., the intrepid crow, alongside his bloodhound-bestie Dennis, had set about saving pets that had become trapped in their homes after humanity went the way of the dodo. 

That is, dear reader, until S.T. stumbled upon something so rare—and so precious—that he vowed to do everything in his power to safeguard what could, quite literally, be humanity’s last hope for survival. But in a wild world plagued by prejudiced animals, feather-raising environments, new threats so terrifying they make zombies look like baby bunnies, and a horrendous dearth of cheesy snacks, what’s a crow to do?

Why, wing it on another big-hearted, death-defying adventure, that’s what! Joined by a fabulous new cast of animal characters, S.T. faces many new challenges plus his biggest one yet: parenthood. .

A quick take on this book:

I feel like I should write a proper review, but I’m not sure I have a lot to say. I absolutely loved Hollow Kingdom, which introduced us to ST and his post-apocalyptic world of rotting humans, domestic animals waiting to be freed, and tigers wandering the streets of Seattle.

In this follow up, ST is once again our narrator, with chapters narrated by whales, spiders, and cats thrown into the mix. The story picks up with ST now in Alaska, having found the last remaining MoFo (human) — a small baby girl with no one to raise her but ST and his friends. ST is determined to protect Dee no matter what, hiding her away from the world and keeping her safe — but by isolating her, is he depriving her of the ability to discover her own true nature?

Through the raucous escapades of ST and allies, the action moves from Alaskan wilderness to the Bering Sea and back to Seattle, with deeply funny and illuminating encounters with orcas and owls and polar bears along the way. But all is not well in the wild kingdom. Trees are dying, and the MoFos seem to have evolved from shambling zombies into Changed Ones — animal/human hybrids who are freakin’ scary and weird AF.

ST’s narration is fabulous as always, a mix of vulgarity, impressive vocabulary, insightful introspection, and crazy digressions. The writing in Feral Creatures veers between emotional impact and laugh-inducing craziness from moment to moment.

In a once-beautiful winery that was now a den of doom, with fur fizzed up and an arched spine, stood a domestic shorthair cat. A fire starter. The Bruce Lee of felines. A tabby that had sired an entire generation of Seattleite cats — generation FU — and was probably singlehandedly responsible for the eradication of at least one entire songbird species. There was Genghis, with greasy punk rock fur and an arthritic gait purchased at heavy discount from the Ministry of Silly Walks. There wasn’t a bison brave enough to tell him that the earth’s twirling had caught up with him.

I enjoyed a lot about this book… and yet at times, I just couldn’t wait to be done. Maybe because this is a sequel, there’s less room for surprise and delight based on the premise, and the story’s action starts to feel drawn-out and repetitive at times. Even while loving the writing, I did have to continually pull myself back from the brink of boredom when chapters went on too long, and even found myself considering DNFing at times.

I’m glad I stuck with it, though. Even when I grew tired of parts of the story, something amazing (like the arrival of a heard of musk oxen) would pull me back in.

I was experiencing acute déjà poo — the feeling that I’d heard this crap before.

Definitely read Hollow Kingdom first — but if you loved that book, then you’ll want to read Feral Creatures too. My impatience with the book may have more to do with my own reading mood than with the book itself, so take a look and see what you think!

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Shelf Control #282: The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: The Book of Strange New Things
Author: Michel Faber
Published: 2014
Length: 528 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

It begins with Peter, a devoted man of faith, as he is called to the mission of a lifetime, one that takes him galaxies away from his wife, Bea. Peter becomes immersed in the mysteries of an astonishing new environment, overseen by an enigmatic corporation known only as USIC. His work introduces him to a seemingly friendly native population struggling with a dangerous illness and hungry for Peter’s teachings—his Bible is their “book of strange new things.” But Peter is rattled when Bea’s letters from home become increasingly desperate: typhoons and earthquakes are devastating whole countries, and governments are crumbling. Bea’s faith, once the guiding light of their lives, begins to falter.

Suddenly, a separation measured by an otherworldly distance, and defined both by one newly discovered world and another in a state of collapse, is threatened by an ever-widening gulf that is much less quantifiable. While Peter is reconciling the needs of his congregation with the desires of his strange employer, Bea is struggling for survival. Their trials lay bare a profound meditation on faith, love tested beyond endurance, and our responsibility to those closest to us.

Marked by the same bravura storytelling and precise language that made The Crimson Petal and the White such an international success, The Book of Strange New Things is extraordinary, mesmerizing, and replete with emotional complexity and genuine pathos. 

How and when I got it:

I bought the paperback edition in 2015.

Why I want to read it:

I picked up this book after a friend strongly (and repeatedly!) recommended it. I’m always up for good science fiction, and stories about space travel, humanity exploring other planets, first contact with other beings, etc really appeal to me.

That said, this book does strike me as being more “literary” than I’d typically be drawn to, and it’s also over 500 pages, which is a negative for me these days. Maybe because I always feel so behind with my reading, it really takes a lot to make me want to start a book that’s this long.

But, as I said, my friend was pretty insistent at the time that I absolutely needed to read this book. I also have a copy of of The Crimson Petal and the White by the same author, which I’ve also heard raves about.

What do you think? Would you read this book? Have you read anything by this author?

Please share your thoughts!


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  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
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Have fun!

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