Book Review: The Trials of Koli by M. R. Carey

Title: The Trials of Koli (Ramparts trilogy, #2)
Author: M. R. Carey
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: September 17, 2020
Length: 445 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The journey through M. R. Carey’s “immersive, impeccably rendered world” (Kirkus) — a world in which nature has turned against us — continues in The Trials of Koli, book two of the Rampart Trilogy.

The earth wants to swallow us whole… Koli has been cast out from Mythen Rood. Behind him are his family and the safety of the known. Ahead, the embrace of the deadly forests awaits.

But Koli heard a story, once. A story about lost London, where the tech of old times was so plentiful it was just lying on the streets. And if he can safely lead Ursula, Cup and Monono to this sparkling city, maybe he can save the rest of humanity, too.

In a world where a journey of two miles is an odyssey, he’s going to walk two hundred. But the city is not what it once was…and around him, Ingland is facing something it hasn’t seen in three centuries: war.

Middle books in trilogies rarely are as great as first books or as satisfying as third books, but I’m happy to report that The Trials of Koli is a terrific 2nd book, and more than lives up to the promise of the start of the trilogy.

The first book, The Book of Koli, introduces us to a far-future world, long past the days of the Unfinished War. Main characer Koli lives in the village of Mythen Rood, population about 200, where survival is a daily struggle — especially since everything outside the walls, including the trees, wants to kill people.

In The Trials of Koli, we pick up where we left off , with Koli in exile from Mythen Rood, making his way with the healer Ursala, their prisoner Cup, Ursala’s tech — a surviving piece of long-ago technology that includes advanced medical equipment — and Monono, the artificial intelligence persona who lives inside Koli’s own piece of tech, a sort of IPod with a mind of its own.

The Trials of Koli also introduces a 2nd point of view, the young woman named Spinner whom Koli loved back in the village, but who married another boy in hopes of joining his influential family. In alternating sections, we follows Koli’s journey with Ursala and Cup through a harsh, unforgiving world, as well as Spinner’s experiences in Mythen Rood, where she gains access to forbidden knowledge and tech herself.

The Trials of Koli takes us across the dangerous terrain of Ingland, past killer trees and up against warrior bands from other villages, at the same time digging deeper into the inner workings of Koli’s home village, its people and their politics.

This book is exciting and strange. The author keeps Koli’s distinctive voice alive, full of odd word choices and attitudes, very much evocative of a different world than our own. Spinner’s voice is unique as well, a little more refined and with access to more education and knowledge than Koli has. Both characters are compelling, and I never really wanted to leave whichever character I was reading about to return to the other.

I can’t wait for the 3rd and final book, The Fall of Koli, due out in 2021. Meanwhile, now’s your chance to read books 1 & 2! Don’t miss out on this terrific saga of survival and community in a post-apocalyptic world.

Book Review: Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

Title: Upright Women Wanted
Author: Sarah Gailey
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: February 4, 2020
Length: 176 pages
Genre: Speculative fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

In Upright Women Wanted, award-winning author Sarah Gailey reinvents the pulp Western with an explicitly antifascist, near-future story of queer identity.

“That girl’s got more wrong notions than a barn owl’s got mean looks.”

Esther is a stowaway. She’s hidden herself away in the Librarian’s book wagon in an attempt to escape the marriage her father has arranged for her–a marriage to the man who was previously engaged to her best friend. Her best friend who she was in love with. Her best friend who was just executed for possession of resistance propaganda.

The future American Southwest is full of bandits, fascists, and queer librarian spies on horseback trying to do the right thing.

Are you a coward or are you a librarian?

Just from the tag line on the cover, not to mention the awesome cover art, I knew this would be a great read.

In a future society that seems like a totalitarian version of the Old West, Librarians work for the State, riding from outpost to outpost delivering Approved Materials.

Esther stows away in a Librarian’s wagon after watching her best friend hang. Beatriz was more than Esther’s friend, though — the two were lovers, although they recognized that what they were doing was wrong and needed fixing.

Esther comes to the Librarians seeking refuge and a chance to fix her life. She pleads with Bet, the Head Librarian:

“Please,” she whispered one mroe time, fear tart under her tongue because she knew this was it, this was her last worst hope and this woman who could turn her in to the reaper was looking at her with precisely zero mercy. “I know I’m not supposed to be like this. I want to be like you.”

The response is not what she expects:

“Well, Esther,” Bet said, that irrepressible laugh trying hard to shake her voice, her thumb tracing the back of Leda’s. “Well. I’ve got good new for you, and I’ve got bad news.”

The good news is that Esther will be allowed to stay and ride with the Librarians. The bad news is that she’s not going to get the “upright” life she anticipates. The librarians are queer freedom-fighters, using their sanctioned role for decidedly unsanctioned purposes, smuggling unapproved materials and people past sheriffs and posses looking for insurgents, helping rebels get to safety so they can fight back another day.

Upright Women Wanted is a terrific romp through the new Old West, with gun battles and pursuits on horseback and corpses left for the vultures… plus the moving journey of Esther, learning how to be herself and not feel shame for who and what she is.

It’s an exciting story, with memorable characters and entertaining action sequences. My only quibble is that the novella length left me wanting more. How did the world end up this way? How exactly does this State work? How are the librarians organized, and who is their mysterious leader?

I do hope there’s a follow-up, because I definitely want answers! But in all other respects, Upright Women Wanted is a sparkling read that definitely satisfies.

I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Sarah Gailey, and can’t wait for whatever they write next!

Interested in this author? Check out my reviews of:
American Hippo
Magic For Liars

Book Review: The Book of Koli by M. R. Carey

Title: The Book of Koli
Author: M. R. Carey
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: April 14, 2020
Length: 416 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Beyond the walls of the small village of Mythen Rood lies an unrecognizable world. A world where overgrown forests are filled with choker trees and deadly vines and seeds that will kill you where you stand. And if they don’t get you, one of the dangerous shunned men will.

Koli has lived in Mythen Rood his entire life. He knows the first rule of survival is that you don’t venture beyond the walls.

What he doesn’t know is – what happens when you aren’t given a choice?

The first in a gripping new trilogy, The Book of Koli charts the journey of one unforgettable young boy struggling to find his place in a chilling post-apocalyptic world. Perfect for readers of Station Eleven and Annihilation

I got a story to tell you. I’ve been meaning to make a start for a long while now, and this is me doing it, but I’m warning you it might be a bumpy road. I never done nothing like this before, so I got no map, as it were, and I can’t figure how much of what happened to me is worth telling.

Meet Koli. Koli lives in the village of Mythen Rood, a town of 200 people — which to Koli, is a “terrible big place”, located in “a place called Ingland”. Mythen Rood is surrounded by walls, because everything in the outside world can kill. Koli is the youngest child of the town’s woodsmith — and in a world where trees are deadly, this is indeed a dangerous job.

Everything that lives hates us, it sometimes seems. Or at least they come after us like they hate us. Things we want to eat fight back, hard as they can, and oftentimes win. Thing that want to eat us is thousands strong, so many of them that we only got names for the ones that live closest to us. And the trees got their own ways to hurt us, blunt or subtle according to their several natures.

The world of Mythen Rood is protected by Ramparts, people who have a special connection to old-world tech, and use the tech to fight off the dangerous elements — like wild animals, deadly drones, and killer trees — that threaten the town. According to the town’s rituals, fifteen-year-olds enter a year of seclusion called Waiting, then undergo a test to become a Rampart. If the tech wakes when they touch it, then they become a Rampart too. But in Mythen Rood, it seems that one family in particular has the gift of waking tech, so despite Koli’s dreams of becoming a Rampart, it’s a long shot.

And when Koli learns a secret that might upend the world of Mythen Rood and threaten the power of the dominant family, he faces punishment and exile, and is cast out into the harsh world to fend for himself… or die.

Koli’s story fits the pattern of the hero’s journey, and the new world in which the story takes places is absolutely fascinating. The setting is centuries into the future, when old cities have all died, tech is something people view as practically magical, human settlements are scattered and isolated, and the natural world is deadly. The idea of trees being able to move, hunt, and kill is simply terrifying. People only venture into the forest to hunt for food and catch wood for lumber when it’s cloudy, because the trees wake up and become active when the sun shines, and if you’re caught out in the forest when it’s sunny, you’re most likely not coming back.

The interweaving of technology and mythology is so well done. Because of course, to people who have no access to technology and the knowledge of how it works, such things would appear to be magic, and the people able to use them must be favored with great powers.

Koli himself is a terrific characters, smart but illiterate, aware of his own flaws and honest about them. Koli’s life changes when he comes into contact with an old Sony music player powered by AI. The Dreamsleeve is programmed with the voice of a Japanese pop star from the old days, whose voice is perky and full of Tokyo party slang and attitude. Monono becomes the central focus of Koli’s life, and his interactions with her are what propels his story out of the safety of village life and into the unknown.

I can’t say enough good things about this book! I’ve heard that some readers find Koli’s voice irritating. I didn’t experience it that way. The author has created a unique personality in Koli, and his speech patterns let us know right away how different his world is from ours.

The Book of Koli is the first book in a trilogy, with the second book, The Trials of Koli, due out later this year. I will absolutely be reading #2 the second I can get my hands on it!

Book Review: One of Us by Craig DiLouie

Known as “the plague generation” a group of teenagers begin to discover their hidden powers in this shocking post-apocalyptic coming of age story set in 1984.

“This is not a kind book, or a gentle book, or a book that pulls its punches. But it’s a powerful book, and it will change you.” – Seanan McGuire

They’ve called him a monster from the day he was born.

Abandoned by his family, Enoch Bryant now lives in a rundown orphanage with other teenagers just like him. He loves his friends, even if the teachers are terrified of them. They’re members of the rising plague generation. Each bearing their own extreme genetic mutation.

The people in the nearby town hate Enoch, but he doesn’t know why. He’s never harmed anyone. Works hard and doesn’t make trouble. He believes one day he’ll be a respected man.

But hatred dies hard. The tension between Enoch’s world and those of the “normal” townspeople is ready to burst. And when a body is found, it may be the spark that ignites a horrifying revolution

One of Us is not for the faint of heart. That said, it’s an incredibly powerful book that leaves an indelible mark, despite being really hard to take at times.

In One of Us, something has happened to human genetics. A sexually-transmitted bacterium that causes genetic mutations has spread like wildfire. By 1970, one in three births is teratogenic — the babies are born with inhuman features, some resembling animals, others mostly human but distorted, such as the boy whose face is upside down.

Prenatal testing has become mandatory, with mandatory abortion of abnormal babies. High school students’ most serious class is health education, where they learn the risks of the bacterium and where abstinence is promoted as the only way to be sure not to pass it along. And the teratogenic babies are never, ever kept by their parents — instead, they’re deposited in homes, where the children are raised in abysmal conditions, watched over, controlled, and kept separate from the “normal” population.

As the book opens, it’s 1984, and the first generation of plague children is in their teens. The question looms — what will happen when then become adults? Do they have rights? What sort of future might await them? Complicating matters further is the discovery that some of the plague children seem to have special powers — like Goof, the boy with the upside-down face, whose funny ability to finish other people’s sentences is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to his telepathic abilities.

The plague children are well aware of how the rest of the world views them — and for some, it’s time to demand more. Do they rise up and overthrow their masters? Is non-violent protest the way forward, or is the only way to tear down an unjust world to burn it down completely and rebuild it themselves?

The characters in One of Us are remarkable and unforgettable. Enoch is known to his friends as Dog (Enoch being his “slave name”, according to the group’s intellectual leader, Brain). Dog has the facial characteristics of a dog, but he has the soul of a boy who just wants friendship and freedom and a happy life. Brain is described as looking like a mix between a gorilla and a lion, and his intelligence is off the charts. Then there’s Edward, known as Wallee, who is described as looking like a bowling pin with a face, moving on a mass of roots/tentacles. The plague children’s appearances may be frightening, but inside, they’re still children, and they live life on a daily basis knowing that they’re hated, feared, and shunned.

It’s a powder keg, and yes, it does explode. The build-up makes it clear that violence is inevitable, even as we see all the places along the way where different actions or decisions might have led to different outcomes.

There’s so much to One of Us. It’s an exploration of societal injustice and divisions, and what happens when unreasoning hatred takes the lead. It illustrates the terrible outcomes of an “us vs them” mentality, where a middle ground is never an option. And it’s also just a flat-out terrifying, deeply engrossing story of genetics run amok and what such a world might look like.

As I mentioned earlier, this is not a book for the squeamish — there are some scenes with very high ick factors, so trust me and stay away if you can’t stomach such things.

That aside, I wholeheartedly recommend One of Us. It’s disturbing and awful, and also an incredibly powerful read.

Interested in this author? Check out my review of his recent novel, Our War, one of my top reads of 2019.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: One of Us
Author: Craig DiLouie
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: July 17, 2018
Length: 300 pages
Genre: Science fiction/horror
Source: Purchased

The Monday Check-In ~ 9/9/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life. 

Three more weeks in a cast! I’m ready to be done… but patience is a virtue.

Meanwhile, I entertained myself with a jigsaw puzzle — my first one in years! And naturally, it’s book-related:

But now all I have left are the white parts around the edge, and I really don’t want to deal. Can my completist nature allow me to just walk away? And hey, if you’re interested in this puzzle (which is really quite fun), you can find it here.

What did I read during the last week?

The Unkindest Tide by Seanan McGuire. The newest Toby book! I loved it, of course. My review is here.

Reticence by Gail Carriger: The 4th and final book in the Custard Protocol series! I finished the audiobook — review to follow.

Pop Culture

My Veronica Mars rewatch/binge continues! After finishing season 1, I moved right along to season 2. I’m now 6 episodes into the 2nd season, and loving it all over again.

Fresh Catch:

What do you know? No new books this week! Which is good, since the new Margaret Atwood and Stephen King books will be released this week, and those should keep me plenty busy.

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Ten Thousand Door of January by Alix E. Harrow: Just starting. What a gorgeous cover!

Now playing via audiobook:

Doing a quick audiobook re-read of Carry On, so I’ll be nice and ready for Wayward Son when it comes out later this month.

Ongoing reads:

Two ongoing book group read right now:

  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens — To tell the truth, I’m always falling behind on the group read, mainly because this book just isn’t grabbing me. It was endearing at first, but now I just basically want it to end. And I still have about a third to go.
  • Virgins by Diana Gabaldon — I’ve read this novella a couple of times before, but it’s great fun to reread it with the group. We’ll be done by the end of the month.

So many books, so little time…

boy1

The Monday Check-In ~ 9/2/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life. 

On the road to recovery! I’m adjusting to life in a cast — which is good, since I’ll be wearing it through the end of September. I’ve even bought myself a few cute cast covers, (a) to keep it clean and (b) to make wearing it a bit more fun. Here’s an example:

It feels like it’s been a slower reading week, probably because I went back to work and couldn’t spend quite as much time with my nose in a book!

What did I read during the last week?

The Warehouse by Rob Hart: Fun, not as dark as I’d expected. My review is here.

Word Puppets by Mary Robinette Kowal: A really enjoyable short story collection. My review is here.

I finished my audiobook re-read of Night and Silence, the 12th book in the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire — and adored it just as much the 2nd time around as I did the first time I read it. My original review is here.

Pop Culture

After watching the newest season of Veronica Mars, I wanted more (despite that ending…), so I’ve gone back to the beginning and am slowly working my way through season 1. The actors/characters are all so adorable and baby-faced!

Fresh Catch:

I picked up used copies of two non-fiction books this week:

Scatter, Adapt, and Remember was referenced in Wanderers by Chuck Wendig, and how could I possibly resist? It sounds fascinating! The San Francisco book is written by an author who writes a great weekly column on SF history, and I thought it was about time to give his book a try.

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Unkindest Tide by Seanan McGuire: It’s the new Toby book!!! I’m so flipping excited to be reading this.

Now playing via audiobook:

Even though I bought a hardcover copy of this book, I decided to listen to it instead, since I’ve loved the other audiobooks in the series. I just started it this weekend, but I’m loving it so far.

Ongoing reads:

Two ongoing book group read right now:

  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
  • Virgins by Diana Gabaldon

So many books, so little time…

boy1

The Monday Check-In ~ 8/26/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life. 

I’m still in my big, bulky splint — soon to be replaced by a hard cast for another month. I’m adapting, but my typing is still slow, awkward, and full of annoying typos.

**Random question: Has anyone tried a split keyboard? I’m wondering if this might be a possible improvement for me.

Please forgive me for not commenting on more of your blog posts! I’m “liking” as much as I can, but I find actually typing responses is really tiring.

And I realize that overall I’m blessed with good health and feel a bit guilty complaining about a temporary situation… I’m trying my best to grin and bear it without getting too whiny!

What did I read during the last week?

New reviews — I wrote a two-in-one review for these two incredible, powerful books:

  • Our War by Craig DiLouie
  • Wanderers by Chuck Wendig

I also read the graphic novel version of The Handmaid’s Tale, which was stunning and beautiful. There’s no substitute for reading Margaret Atwood’s original novel, but this is a worthy, well-done companion. The artwork is a visual treat — as with the TV series, the use of color is powerful and evocative. Highly recommended.

Pop Culture

Anyone else watching Four Weddings and a Funeral on Hulu? I binged seven episodes over the weekend — such fun!

Fresh Catch:

I’ve always loved this Gaiman fairy tale — I’m so excited for the illustrated edition!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Warehouse by Rob Hart: A fun look at the possible future of an Amazon-ified America. Interesting so far!

Now playing via audiobook:

How much do I love October Daye? There just aren’t enough words. Doing an audio re-read in preparation for the next new book!

Ongoing reads:

Two ongoing book group read right now:

  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
  • Virgins by Diana Gabaldon

So many books, so little time…

boy1

Terrifying two-fer: Our War and Wanderers, two all-too-believable versions of our world (and its future)

Over the past two weeks, I read two gripping, enthralling, un-put-downable books that scared the pants off me. These two books are quite different, but each presents a vision of our world that’s utterly terrifying because it’s so utterly possible.

Title: Our War
Author: Craig DiLouie
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: August 20, 2019
Length: 400 pages
Genre: Speculative fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher 

A prescient and gripping novel of a second American civil war, and the children caught in the conflict, forced to fight.

When the president of the United States is impeached, but refuses to leave office, the country erupts into civil war.

10-year-old Hannah Miller, an orphan living in besieged Indianapolis, has joined a citizen’s militia. She had nowhere else to go. And after seeing the firsthand horrors of war, she’s determined to fight with the Free Women militia.

Hannah’s older brother, Alex, is a soldier too. But he’s loyal to the other side. After being separated from Hannah, he finds a home in a group calling themselves The Liberty Tree militia.

When a UNICEF worker and a reporter discover that both sides are using child soldiers, they set out to shine a light on something they thought could never happen in the United States. But it may be too late because even the most gentle children can find that they’re capable of horrific acts.

Where to even start describing this powerful and upsetting book? It feels all too real, as an increasingly factionalized and radicalized America is plunged into a brutal civil war. Sides are drawn — and armed. It’s deadly serious, and as is sadly the norm in armed conflicts, children are the ones who are caught in the middle, starving, orphaned, witnessing death and brutality that no child should have to see,

Hannah is one of several POV characters; others include a hard-charging journalist pursuing her next great story, an inexperienced but determined UNICEF representative, the militia leader who takes in Hannah’s bother Alex, and Alex himself. Each shares their unique viewpoint on the war and its impact, and through each, we see the futility of the armed conflict and the seeming hopelessness of any attempt to find a resolution.

The political situation in Our War is, honestly, not so far different from our own current situation. It’s scarily easy to imagine these events evolving from where we stand today.

As a reporter, Aubrey had always been shocked by the right wing’s war on facts. They regularly vilified anybody in fact-based professions, from scientists to doctors. They generated and consumed propaganda and called anything else fake. For them, reality wasn’t as interesting as a good simple narrative that had them righteously and perpetually enraged.

At first, I found it confusing to keep track of which side was which, but I think that’s part of the point. After all, your view of whether someone is a patriot or a rebel may depend very much on which side of the line you yourself are standing on.

The writing here is raw and shocking and immediate, and makes for a completely gripping read. Above all, the children caught in the middle are the ultimate victims here, and seeing the war through Hannah’s eyes is truly gut-wrenching.

Title: Wanderers
Author: Chuck Wendig
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Publication date: July 9, 2019
Length: 800 pages
Genre: Speculative fiction
Source: Purchased

A decadent rock star. A deeply religious radio host. A disgraced scientist. And a teenage girl who may be the world’s last hope. In the tradition of The Stand and Station Eleven comes a gripping saga that weaves an epic tapestry of humanity into an astonishing tale of survival.

Shana wakes up one morning to discover her little sister in the grip of a strange malady. She appears to be sleepwalking. She cannot talk and cannot be woken up. And she is heading with inexorable determination to a destination that only she knows. But Shana and are sister are not alone. Soon they are joined by a flock of sleepwalkers from across America, on the same mysterious journey. And like Shana, there are other “shepherds” who follow the flock to protect their friends and family on the long dark road ahead.

For on their journey, they will discover an America convulsed with terror and violence, where this apocalyptic epidemic proves less dangerous than the fear of it. As the rest of society collapses all around them–and an ultraviolent militia threatens to exterminate them–the fate of the sleepwalkers depends on unraveling the mystery behind the epidemic. The terrifying secret will either tear the nation apart–or bring the survivors together to remake a shattered world.

This massive, 800 page book seemed like a huge reading undertaking… but once I started, I savored every word, paragraph, and chapter. Did it need to be this huge? Why, yes. Yes, it did.

Wanderers is truly epic in scope. What starts as a weird local event — a sleepwalking girl who can’t be woken or stopped — turns into something huge and eerie (and to some, horribly frightening) as Nessie is joined by more and more sleepwalkers in her journey across America. Escorted by family members and friends who look after them, the flock moves endlessly forward. Meanwhile, the CDC scrambles to find out why, and right-wing militiamen, politicians, and conservative rabblerousers see the flock as a harbinger of end-times, and use their existence as an excuse to ramp up their hateful, violent rhetoric, whipping their public into a frenzy.

Just what is causing the sleepwalking phenomenon is revealed over time, as is the connection to a money-hungry tycoon’s mysterious death. The weirdness of the sleepwalking is leavened by the beauty of the human interactions and interconnectedness as we get to know the various shepherds, their motivations and fears, and their own sense of running out of time.

Parts of this book are terrifying. Strangely (or not), I was much more disturbed by the human evil and hate-mongering than by the pandemic threat to all of humanity. Nature, science, possible extinction — these just are, without good or evil. Instead, it’s the people of Wanderers who inspire admiration for their bravery, sacrifice, and wisdom, as well as despair over the cruelty that people display toward one another.

This book takes our current crises related to climate change, increasingly drug-resistant bacteria and viruses, and hate-filled politics, and spins these into a tale that feels prophetic, cautionary, and disturbingly real. Wanderers forces the reader to ask “what if”… and then see how the scenario plays out in full, grisly, technicolor detail.

I suppose I should add, if not already clear, that this book contains violence and cruelty and should be approached cautiously (or not at all) by anyone who may find themselves triggered.

That said, I just loved so many of the characters, felt completely invested in their journeys and ordeals, and could not stop reading. At the risk of sounding incredibly corny, reading Wanderers made me feel like I’d been on a journey too. A terrific read.

I want to note that Craig DiLouie and Chuck Wendig are both new-to-me authors, although they’ve been on my radar for a while now thanks to friends’ recommendations. Having read these two books, I definitely want more! Please let me know if you have suggestions for me!

Side note: I have so much more I’d love to say about both of these books, but with my arm and hand in a cast for several more weeks, typing is a challenge — so I’m keeping this on the short side. Bottom line: Both of these books are 5-star reads for me. I can’t recommend them highly enough!

Take A Peek Book Review: Unholy Land by Lavie Tidhar

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Cover for Lavie Tidhar’s Unholy Land by artist Sarah Anne Langton

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Lior Tirosh is a semi-successful author of pulp fiction, an inadvertent time traveler, and an ongoing source of disappointment to his father.

Tirosh has returned to his homeland in East Africa. But Palestina—a Jewish state founded in the early 20th century—has grown dangerous. The government is building a vast border wall to keep out African refugees. Unrest in Ararat City is growing. And Tirosh’s childhood friend, trying to deliver a warning, has turned up dead in his hotel room. A state security officer has identified Tirosh as a suspect in a string of murders, and a rogue agent is stalking Tirosh through transdimensional rifts—possible futures that can only be prevented by avoiding the mistakes of the past.

From the bestselling author of Central Station comes an extraordinary new novel recalling China Miéville and Michael Chabon, entertaining and subversive in equal measures.

My Thoughts:

Wow, what a crazy read! I can’t say I’ve ever come across Israeli science fiction before, and I enjoyed the heck out of this one.

The initial premise is intriguing — and based on true events. Back in 1904, the Zionist Congress, led by Theodore Herzl, sent an expedition to Uganda to explore land that had been proposed as a site of a future Jewish state. In our (real) world, that didn’t work out particularly well, and the idea was shelved in favor of pursuing a homeland in the “holy land”, resulting in modern-day Israel. In the world in which we begin Unholy Land, the Africa expedition was a success, resulting in the birth of Palestina, a Jewish homeland located between Uganda and Kenya. Certain of our realities exist in this world as well — native populations displaced by the creation of the state, resulting in ongoing border crises and refugee camps, a border wall, debate over the Right of Return, and never-ending peace negotiations.

But wait! There’s more. Certain people are able to travel between alternate realities, including one like our own, one in which the entire Middle East is at peace and unified after the horror of a limited nuclear event which destroyed Jerusalem, and other, more exotic and frightening worlds. There are Kabbalistic elements involved which mingle with discussion of quantum physics, and it’s all packaged up inside a very noir-feeling detective/spy plot.

I was fascinated by the descriptions of life in Palestina — the language, the culture, the food, the geography. The author does an incredibly inventive and persuasive job of making it seem like a real and viable country, while also demonstrating that in this world or any other, certain problems and challenges and misfortunes seep through no matter what.

The entire plot is somewhat mind-boggling, and I think I’ll need to let this one percolate for a bit and then return and read it all over again. It’s a quick read, but with plenty to think about. Highly recommended.

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The details:

Title: Unholy Land
Author: Lavie Tidhar
Publisher: Tachyon Publications
Publication date: October 16, 2018
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased

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Take A Peek Book Review: The Girl in Red by Christina Henry

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

From the national bestselling author of Alice comes a postapocalyptic take on the perennial classic “Little Red Riding Hood”…about a woman who isn’t as defenseless as she seems.

It’s not safe for anyone alone in the woods. There are predators that come out at night: critters and coyotes, snakes and wolves. But the woman in the red jacket has no choice. Not since the Crisis came, decimated the population, and sent those who survived fleeing into quarantine camps that serve as breeding grounds for death, destruction, and disease. She is just a woman trying not to get killed in a world that doesn’t look anything like the one she grew up in, the one that was perfectly sane and normal and boring until three months ago.

There are worse threats in the woods than the things that stalk their prey at night. Sometimes, there are men. Men with dark desires, weak wills, and evil intents. Men in uniform with classified information, deadly secrets, and unforgiving orders. And sometimes, just sometimes, there’s something worse than all of the horrible people and vicious beasts combined.

Red doesn’t like to think of herself as a killer, but she isn’t about to let herself get eaten up just because she is a woman alone in the woods….

My Thoughts:

The Girl in Red brings together so many elements that I absolutely love in books. Pandemic? Check. Breakdown of civilization? Check. Woman having to survive on her own? Check, check, check.

Red, in her earlier years, was an avid consumer of horror and disaster films, and so she knows the rules. Be prepared. Always have your weapon and pack ready. Never split up. Don’t do the stupid things that movie characters always do, because that leads to very bad things. And if you want to survive, you’ve got to learn fast and do whatever it takes.

I loved Red. She’s smart, strong, and determined. Left alone suddenly and tragically, her only hope is to avoid what she’s sure will be certain death in a quarantine camp by making her way to her grandmother’s isolated home in the woods, which means trekking through hundreds of miles of forest and defending herself along the way, all without being discovered or captured or exposed to the deadly disease that’s ravaged the world. Also, as a biracial, bisexual, disabled woman, Red is a breath of fresh air as a main character, especially since she’s a survivor who never lets anything, including her prosthetic leg, keep her from her path.

The plot is exciting and filled with danger. I love how the author flashes between present day, as Red progresses on her journey and uncovers all sorts of disturbing secrets, and the past, as she and her family prepare their escape and have their plans fall apart as the crisis escalates.

My only quibble here is that the end comes much too soon, and there are so many plot threads left untied. What happens next? What caused all the bad things (being vague here…)? I certainly hope there’s a next book, because I’m dying to know more. (I just wish this book was clearly marked as book #1 in a series, so I’d have been prepared to feel left hanging at the end.)

The Girl in Red is a great read, and I want more! I haven’t read anything else by this author yet, but that’s clearly got to change.

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The details:

Title: The Girl in Red
Author: Christina Henry
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: June 18, 2019
Length: 308 pages
Genre: Speculative fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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