Science Fiction

The City in the Middle of the Night – Charlie Jane Anders *GIVEAWAY*

4 Stars

The City in the Middle of the Night is an ambitious science fiction novel from All the Birds in the Sky author Charlie Jane Anders.

37534907.jpg“If you control our sleep, then you can own our dreams… And from there, it’s easy to control our entire lives.”

Set on a planet that has fully definitive, never-changing zones of day and night, with ensuing extreme climates of endless, frigid darkness and blinding, relentless light, humankind has somehow continued apace — though the perils outside the built cities are rife with danger as much as the streets below.

But in a world where time means only what the ruling government proclaims, and the levels of light available are artificially imposed to great consequence, lost souls and disappeared bodies are shadow-bound and savage, and as common as grains of sand. And one such pariah, sacrificed to the night, but borne up by time and a mysterious bond with an enigmatic beast, will rise to take on the entire planet–before it can crumble beneath the weight of human existence.

The City in the Middle of the Night is a deft examination of power, rebellion, love, grief and finding your place in things.

Sophie is quiet, self-sacrificing and hard working. She’s dealt a hard hand of cards and she does her best to make the right plays. She is eternally hopeful, eking out the best life she can in any situation she’s in. The gentlest soul surprises everyone.

Mouth just wants to know how she fits into things, and to keep moving. She’s chasing her past in hopes of giving her future meaning, all the while she’s trying to survive as the last of her kind.

Bianca is a study in power, and all the ways that power is never what it’s expected to be.

The crocodiles are a fascinating element in the story, grotesque, gentle, communal and kind and everything humanity can never hope to be.

The City in the Middle of the Night is not an intense read, moving at a nice jog throughout. Anders has paced the novel impeccably, with no parts dragging unnecessarily. It’s not a fast-paced page-turner either. I found myself putting the book down frequently so I could mull over what had just happened, but then eagerly picking it back up again to keep going.

The City in the Middle of the Night also shows how much Anders has grown as a writer. I hated her earlier novel, All the Birds in the Sky. I found the writing to be almost condescending and couldn’t finish. But The City in the Middle of the Night strikes the right chord, and Anders’ skill as a writer has matured beautifully.

The City in the Middle of the Night is on shelves now!

Now, the giveaway!

I am giving away my ARC copy of The City in the Middle of the Night! To enter, follow this blog and leave a comment on this post by Friday, March 1 at 11:59am, making sure to include your email address in the email field so I can contact the winner. Comments must answer the following question: what book are you most looking forward to in 2019? 

This contest is only open to residents of the US or Canada.

Thank you to Tor for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. 

 

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Science Fiction

Here and Now and Then – Mike Chen

3.5 stars

Here And Now And Then is a sweet story about the lengths a father will go to to save his daughter.

To save his daughter, he’ll go anywhere—and any-when…36630924

Kin Stewart is an everyday family man: working in I.T., trying to keep the spark in his marriage, and 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.

The trouble with time-travel books is that they always ask me to suspend some kind of belief, because the story always hinges on some sort of absurd premise that is somehow less believable than fairies. In Here and Now and Then the premise is that a time-traveler’s brain can only handle one era at a time. But that just doesn’t work for me. The human brain is super malleable and has the capacity and flexibility to remember lots of things about lots of time periods and living it makes it even more possible. Because of this, I bounced off of some of what makes up the central premise of the story.

That all being said, I otherwise really enjoyed Here and Now and Then quite a lot. Kin’s struggle to reconnect with his life in the future after living for 18 years in the past and his desire to stay connected to his life in the past felt real. His desperation to stay connected to his daughter and save her from forces beyond her reckoning leaked off the page. My heart broke for him over and over.

Here and Now and Then is very character driven, and the side characters are all engaging and fleshed out, with their own lives, desires and fears.

This book is so full of little twists and is thoughtfully woven together, which makes it a bit of a challenge to review, since even characters are spoilers!

I’ll just say this, if you love stories driven by love for family and are looking for a great new read and want a bit of time traveling chaos added to the mix, Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen is your book.

Also, Mike’s a super nice guy. I met him at a discussion at WorldCon last August and he was awesome. Here and Now and Then is his debut, and I can’t wait to see what he writes next.

Thank  you to Mira Books for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest review. 

Fantasy · historical fiction · Uncategorized · YA

The Gilded Wolves – Roshani Chokshi

4.5 stars

Are you in the mood for a lush, richly imagined, fantastical heist set in historical Paris and featuring a team of talented protagonists with secrets, agendas and well-written depths? If so, have I found the book for you. The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi is an absolute delight.

39863498Paris, 1889: The world is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. In this city, no one keeps tabs on secrets better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier, Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. But when the all-powerful society, the Order of Babel, seeks him out for help, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance.

To find the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin will need help from a band of experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian who can’t yet go home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in all but blood, who might care too much.

Together, they’ll have to use their wits and knowledge to hunt the artifact through the dark and glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the world, but only if they can stay alive.

First, can we pause to drool over this gorgeous cover? Because I haven’t stopped drooling since I first laid my eyes on it. The rich green, the lovely, lush texture. /swoon

If Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows and Robert Bennet Jackson’s Foundryside were tossed in a blender and set in 1889 Paris The Gilded Wolves is what would pour out. I can’t help but compare The Gilded Wolves to Six of Crows because The Gilded Wolves fills the hole in my heart Bardugo left when Six of Crows ended. Severin and his team are not cheap copies, but rather polished contemporaries of Bardugo’s crew. That said, The Gilded Wolves is less dark, less bleak and just as fierce.

The system of technological advancement in The Gilded Wolves is called Forging and is controlled by Houses and is absolutely magical. Chokshi’s mashed up elements I’d never have thought to combine myself. Vines that bloom cocktails and champagne chandeliers. Her imagination is delightful and I loved all the wonderful things she poured onto the page. This system also serves to enable technological advancements that would have been hundreds of years out of place, but necessary to the heist plot in a clever way.

Chokshi also weaves in themes of racism, classism and sexism in interesting ways. The diversity is deftly woven into the motivations and desires of her characters.

The Gilded Wolves is on shelves now and you’ll be missing out if you don’t add it to your TBR yesterday

Thank you to Wednesday Books for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest review.  

Fantasy · Uncategorized

White Stag – Kara Barbieri

4 stars

Kara Barbieri’s debut novel White Stag is a fresh, fun take on an epic fantasy. Instead of your traditional elves, White Stag is all about goblins and her take is so interesting.

39863517.jpgAs the last child in a family of daughters, seventeen-year-old Janneke was raised to be the male heir. While her sisters were becoming wives and mothers, she was taught to hunt, track, and fight. On the day her village was burned to the ground, Janneke—as the only survivor—was taken captive by the malicious Lydian and eventually sent to work for his nephew Soren.

Janneke’s survival in the court of merciless monsters has come at the cost of her connection to the human world. And when the Goblin King’s death ignites an ancient hunt for the next king, Soren senses an opportunity for her to finally fully accept the ways of the brutal Permafrost. But every action he takes to bring her deeper into his world only shows him that a little humanity isn’t bad—especially when it comes to those you care about.

Through every battle they survive, Janneke’s loyalty to Soren deepens. After dangerous truths are revealed, Janneke must choose between holding on or letting go of her last connections to a world she no longer belongs to. She must make the right choice to save the only thing keeping both worlds from crumbling.

I really enjoyed White Stag. The book flowed together well, and kept me intrigued. When I wasn’t reading, it was knocking around in my head, and ultimately the end of the book surprised me. Some elements were predictable, but the final twist was a welcome surprise.

Janneke/Janneka is a fierce survivor, living through a century of horror. I admired her strength and drive and really felt her struggle. She fights for her future, for choice, for her own freedom.  Her relationship with Soren, her captor and companion for decades was interesting to watch unfold. It may not be the hot, passionate declarations that are so popular and pervasive in fantasy right now, but watching Janneke decide if Soren was truly trustworthy or not was wonderful.

The Permafrost is a wonderful and richly imagined setting. Barbieri’s system of power and magic is fresh and one I’m looking forward to exploring more of.

White Stag is on shelves now and is a debut not to miss.

Thank you to Wednesday Books for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest review. 

Fantasy

The Winter of the Witch – Katherine Arden

5 Stars

The conclusion to Katherine Arden’s Winternight Trilogy in The Winter of the Witch is stunning and satisfying. I couldn’t imagine a more perfect ending.

Following their adventures in The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the 36621586Tower, Vasya and Morozko return in this stunning conclusion to the bestselling Winternight Trilogy, battling enemies mortal and magical to save both Russias, the seen and the unseen.

Now Moscow has been struck by disaster. Its people are searching for answers—and for someone to blame. Vasya finds herself alone, beset on all sides. The Grand Prince is in a rage, choosing allies that will lead him on a path to war and ruin. A wicked demon returns, stronger than ever and determined to spread chaos. Caught at the center of the conflict is Vasya, who finds the fate of two worlds resting on her shoulders. Her destiny uncertain, Vasya will uncover surprising truths about herself and her history as she desperately tries to save Russia, Morozko, and the magical world she treasures. But she may not be able to save them all.

The beginning of The Winter of the Witch picks up right where The Girl in the Tower ends and keeps on running. The Winter of the Witch never slows down and as a reader, I could feel Vasya’s energy and weariness and determination seeping off the page.

Katherine Arden has absolutely given new life to these characters from classic Russian folklore. Morozko and Medved and Vasya all leap off the page with flaws and weaknesses and strength and motivation. I was sucked in and captivated from the start.

I will say though, I had to close the book for a moment when a very traumatic scene came up. There’s a pretty heartbreaking character death very early on in the book, and unlike some books, the loss is palpable and resounds throughout the whole book in a way that feels genuine. I never found myself impatient with Vasya’s grief, because I myself felt it along the way. I was so invested in this character that their death hurt.

The ending is the perfect kind of ending for a fairytale like the Winternight Trilogy. It’s exactly how the story needed to end. Arden says in the notes at the back of the book that she has had the ending planned since the beginning, and it certainly feels as though she did. It doesn’t feel rushed or desperate. The ending fits Vasya’s story perfectly.

The Winter of the Witch is on sale now.

Thank you to Del Rey for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. 

Horror · Science Fiction

Kingdom of Needle and Bone – Mira Grant Review and Buddy Read Part 2!

4 Stars

Subterranean Press has done it again. Kingdom of Needle and Bone is the newest science-horror novella from Mira Grant, pseudonym of Seanan McGuire and it is bold and political and terrifying.

We live in an age of wonders.40116794.jpg

Modern medicine has conquered or contained many of the diseases that used to carry children away before their time, reducing mortality and improving health. Vaccination and treatment are widely available, not held in reserve for the chosen few. There are still monsters left to fight, but the old ones, the simple ones, trouble us no more.

Or so we thought. For with the reduction in danger comes the erosion of memory, as pandemics fade from memory into story into fairy tale. Those old diseases can’t have been so bad, people say, or we wouldn’t be here to talk about them. They don’t matter. They’re never coming back.

How wrong we could be.

It begins with a fever. By the time the spots appear, it’s too late: Morris’s disease is loose on the world, and the bodies of the dead begin to pile high in the streets. When its terrible side consequences for the survivors become clear, something must be done, or the dying will never stop. For Dr. Isabella Gauley, whose niece was the first confirmed victim, the route forward is neither clear nor strictly ethical, but it may be the only way to save a world already in crisis. It may be the only way to atone for her part in everything that’s happened.

She will never be forgiven, not by herself, and not by anyone else. But she can, perhaps, do the right thing.

We live in an age of monsters.

My 4-star rating is actually an average because for this book I have two ratings. Five stars if you’re new to Mira Grant or haven’t read much from Seanan’s alter-ego. Three stars if you have read Mira Grant’s previous works and are familiar with her favorite tropes. Kingdom of Needle and Bone is Peak Mira Grant, absolutely on brand. This is a boon as much as it is a challenge.

I am an avid reader of Seanan’s and I have read nearly everything she’s written – so unfortunately I saw some of the twists near the end of the book coming.

But, that aside, Kingdom of Needle and Bone is a searing takedown of the Anti-Vaccination movement. Seanan also brings up interesting points in the bodily-autonomy and reproductive rights spheres. This book is unflinchingly political and will be loved and hated likely based on how the reader feels about those topics.

My heart broke for some of the characters and I put the book down shaken. Kingdom of Needle and Bone is unrelenting and unflinching and a terrifying view of a potential future.

I put Kingdom of Needle and Bone down and then desperately needed to discuss it with someone. So I reached out to my blog friends Marzie’s Reads and Janelle! Click on over to Marzie’s Reads for part one of our discussion. Then come back and read below for part two! SPOILERS ABOUND!

Thank you to Subterranean Press for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest review. 

Continue reading “Kingdom of Needle and Bone – Mira Grant Review and Buddy Read Part 2!”

Essay Collection · Nonfiction

Virtue Signaling and Other Heresies – John Scalzi

4.5 stars

In a departure from what I generally review here at Alex Can Read, I had the opportunity to review Virtue Signaling and Other Heresies, a collection of essays from John Scalzi’s Whatever blog. It is political, thoughtful, funny and searing. Scalzi impresses me with his introspection and self-awareness.

“‘Virtue signaling’ is a phrase the dim and bigoted use when they want to discount 41828591.jpgother people expressing the idea that it would be nice if we could all be essentially and fundamentally decent to each other.” — John Scalzi

For twenty years now—yes, twenty—John Scalzi has been writing on his blog Whatever, writing about, well, whatever: Politics, writing, cats, the internet and the great social and cultural events of our times. In that time he’s gone from being just another crank online to being a bestselling, award-winning crank, i.e., the very best kind of crank there is.

With Virtue Signaling and Other Heresies, Scalzi looks back on the years 2013 through 2018. In this volume, Scalzi delves through the final term of Obama and the ushering in of the Trump years, surveys the increasingly-hostile online landscape, goes to the movies, and talks on subject ranging from #MeToo to the teachers who shaped him growing up. Through it all, Scalzi’s distinct voice—funny, sarcastic, passionate, sometimes angry, and honed by two decades of daily writing served up to hundreds of thousands of readers monthly—is on full display.

Virtue Signaling: A chronicle of a turbulent, momentous moment in time, from one of the most acclaimed science fiction authors of his time.

Limited: 1000 signed numbered hardcover copies

If you’re like me, and find reflecting on the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath painful, you’ll also find that parts of Virtue Signaling are very painful to read. There are essays from before the election where Scalzi exclaims that a Donald Trump presidency Cannot and Will Not be. There are essays ranking the Republican nominees and essays making the case for Hillary Clinton. How wrong he was, and how painful it is to revisit that hope.

That being said, there are really thoughtful and provocative essays about male privilege, sexism, allyship and being a good parent and partner. Scalzi recognizes that he’s been dealt a really great hand in life and that he played his cards well. He also acknowledges that his understanding of the world and his privilege is imperfect and that he has room to improve. These essays are where the gold of this collection are mined.

It’s absolutely worth your time to read this collection of essays.

Virtue Signaling and Other Heresies is sold-out in hardback, but the ebook is available now from Subterranean Press.

Thank you to Subterranean Press for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest review. 

Fantasy · Mystery

The Mortal Word – Genevieve Cogman

3.5 stars

The Mortal Word is the fifth in Genevieve Cogman’s lovely Invisible Library series. A classic who-dunnit murder mystery with a large dose of portal fantasy and magic.

A corrupt countess31690153 (1)
A spy in danger
And an assassin at large

Peace talks are always tricky, especially when a key diplomat gets stabbed. This rudely interrupts a top-secret summit between the warring dragons and Fae. As a neutral party, Librarian-spy Irene is summoned to investigate. She must head to a version of 1890s Paris, with her assistant Kai and her detective friend Vale, where these talks are fracturing. Here, she must get to the bottom of the attack – before either the peace negotiations or the city go up in flames.

Suspicions fly thick and fast and Irene soon finds herself in the seedy depths of the Parisian underworld. She’s on the trail of a notoriously warlike Fae, the Blood Countess. However, the evidence against the Countess is circumstantial. Could the killer be a member of the Library itself?

The first time I read an Invisible Library novel I enjoyed the first book, but bounced off the second. It took me a while to come back to the series, but when book #5, The Mortal Word was given to me to review, I was able to dive into book 2 again and absolutely binged books 2-5. The first book had a serious issue with clunky world-building as info-dumps, and the rest of the books still suffer from the same issues, but to a lesser degree.

This series is supposedly about Irene, but her world’s unpleasant Sherlock Holmes stand-in Vale takes altogether too much page time and is too often the key or the focus of a story. It is so, in The Mortal Word as well. Vale and Irene are invited to help solve a high-profile murder that could derail a fragile peace-treaty negotiation between the Fae and Dragons.

Vale causes as many headaches as the murder itself does with his refusal to follow any kind of social expectation despite being literally in a different world than his own. He fails to respect any kind of authority and insults both the Dragons and the Fae, making Irene run around smoothing things over for him so nobody takes TOO MUCH insult and the peace talks don’t derail over his behavior. It’s a lot of traditional women’s emotional labor, smoothing things over for irritable men that refuse to play by the rules. I find Vale exasperating.

The ultimate resolution of the story felt a little predictable and unoriginal. Anyone familiar with Holmsian or Agatha Christie Who-dunnit mysteries that have been popular for a long while would have worked out the killer fairly early on.

All that being said, I didn’t want to put the book down. There’s something about Cogman’s writing and immersive world that makes me want to speed through the books as fast as I can because I want to know what happens next.

Irene is a fun character, and I just wish she’d stop letting Vale boss her around. I am so curious about her parents and her past! I want to know more!

I really loved getting to learn a lot more about Dragon society and relationships in The Mortal Word as well. Up to now, the Dragons had been quite secretive and even Kai remained quite tight-lipped about many aspects of their society. I live for the details about the Dragons and the Fae societies and hierarchies.

The Mortal Word is on shelves now!

Thank you to Berkley Publishing Group for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest review.

Anthology · Fantasy

How to Fracture a Fairytale – Jane Yolen

4 stars

I have long loved fractured fairy tales, retellings of classic stories from a new point of view or with a twist, and I have long loved Jane Yolen. Naturally, I jumped at the chance to review her latest short story collection How to Fracture a Fairy Tale.

40228322.jpg

 Fantasy icon Jane Yolen, adored by generations of readers of all ages, returns with this inspired collection of wholly-transformed fairy-tales, legends, and myths.

Yolen fractures the classics to reveal their crystalline secrets: a philosophical bridge who misses its troll; spinner of straw as a falsely-accused moneylender, the villainous wolf poorly adjusting to retirement. Each offering features an intimate new author note and poem, allowing readers to discover stories old, new, and beautifully refined for the complicated world in which we live.

How to Fracture a Fairy Tale is part writer’s advice manual, part poetry and part prose. For each fairytale she fractures, Yolen includes an accompanying poem and notes about how she approached fracturing that particular tale. I really loved most of them but my favorite was easily “The Bridge’s Complaint” – a take on the Three Billy Goats Gruff from the point of view of the bridge. Some of the stories are light while some are dark and cruel. There’s a wide variety of subject matter, from Jewish money lenders to bridges and girls in the WWII era.

While all of  the tales are reprints, it’s nice to have them collected in a single volume. My one complaint about the book is its organization. The stories are presented with no commentary until the end of the book where the commentary and poem to accompany each story are segregated. I would have much preferred that the commentary and poem be situated next to the short story because by the time I’ve gotten all the way through the short stories to the commentary and poetry, I have to remember what each story is about which is jarring.

Overall, How to Fracture a Fairytale is a wonderful collection of twisted fairy tales, perfect for any fan of Jane Yolen or folk lore.

How to Fracture a Fairytale is on shelves now.

Thank you to Tachyon Publications for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review. 

 

Thriller

Zero Sum Game – S. L. Huang *G I V E A W A Y*

4 stars

I picked up Zero Sum Game on the recommendation of Yoon Ha Lee, the author of Ninefox Gambit, and enjoyed the jaunt outside of my comfort zone. I don’t usually read spy/thriller novels but Lee’s recommendation was so compelling I couldn’t resist requesting an ARC.

Cas Russell is good at math. Scary good. The vector calculus blazing through her 37534869.jpghead lets her smash through armed men twice her size and dodge every bullet in a gunfight, and she’ll take any job for the right price.

As far as Cas knows, she’s the only person around with a superpower…until she discovers someone with a power even more dangerous than her own. Someone who can reach directly into people’s minds and twist their brains into Moebius strips. Someone intent on becoming the world’s puppet master.

Cas should run, like she usually does, but for once she’s involved. There’s only one problem…
She doesn’t know which of her thoughts are her own anymore.

Zero Sum Game is as much about the characters as it is about the sinister conspiracy plot to take over the world.

Our main character Cas is incredibly good at shooting things and math, but not so great at being any kind of normal person. For a contract fixer she’s absurdly naive and unprepared for what comes her way. Girl needs to learn to put up walls in new places, take down some existing walls and build some better coping mechanisms. It’s going to be a painful remodel.

Checker is my absolute fave, precious cinnamon roll. I loved that even though he’s a supporting character, he’s not sidelined completely and brings a lot to the table.

Rio was the character I struggled with the most. He’s written so mechanically, and if I didn’t know he was supposed to be a person, I’d have thought he was an AI. I really struggled with his motivation combined with his bland and flat personality. He didn’t feel fully fleshed out to me. More of a convenient escape hatch or roadblock when the plot called for it.

Arthur drove me nuts, but at least he was consistent. His motivations made sense and he’s an interesting, flawed character.

The plot does center a lot on Cas’s mathematical abilities and I’ll give S.L. Huang credit, as someone who doesn’t understand a lot of advanced mathematical concepts, I was able to follow the action in Zero Sum Game easily. The calculations Cas goes through added tension to the plot and helped move it along nicely.

Baked into the plot is a struggle about ethics and morality and the value of life. It was interesting watching the characters struggle with ethical dilemmas and try to choose between two wrong decisions.

So, the giveaway part. To enter to win a copy of Zero Sum Game of your very own, comment below with the best thing you’ve read in the last six months. The giveaway is open to the US only, sorry! Please make sure your email address is captured in your entry comment so I can contact the winner. The giveaway is open until Thursday, October 25 at noon PST.

Originally self published online, Zero Sum Game is out now from Tor.

Thank you to Tor books for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.