Cibola Burn (The Expanse #4)

cibola burnCibola Burn (The Expanse #4) by James S.A. Corey (Website, Twitter, Expanse Twitter)

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: spaaaaaaaaaaaaaace! And Ilus/New Terra

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 581 pp

Published by: Orbit (2014)

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In this 4th entry in The Expanse series, humans are moving beyond their solar system and beginning to colonize far-flung planets on the other side of the Ring. Of course, they’re doing so before having fully studied them and analysed the data. What could go wrong?

Everything, of course! A group of Belter settlers lands on a planet they call Ilus and set up camp, ready to mine the planet’s rich deposits of lithium; the UN gets a contract to mine the same lithium on the same planet, which they’ve dubbed New Terra, and proclaim the Belters as squatters. Terrorism, murder, and mayhem ensue. This is all before the weird debilitating disease strikes. And the planet itself attacks the humans. And also, the orbits of the ships are all degrading and it’s only a matter of time before they all come plummeting out of the sky, including the Roci

Naturally, Holden and crew are the only ones who can fix things. 

I think sometimes Holden comes off as sort of Gary Stu in this one, even though he isn’t written as a perfect man free of weaknesses. He has plenty of those. But is it really a weakness to be the only one who can save humanity from itself? Again? I mean, it isn’t his fault everyone else is too wrapped up in their petty quibbles and research and murder to see what’s actually important. I’m still not entirely sure Holden is really a Mary Sue despite the above, and his human frailties do keep it from going too far over the edge. But it might be nice to see someone else come charging to the rescue sometime. 

Speaking of that. I do love how every book in the series so far has different POV characters. Yes, one is always Holden, but that’s fine and only makes sense given that he really is the main character. I like how we are meeting characters in this book as POV figures who were minor characters in previous books. I dig that kind of plot continuity. I would REALLY, though, love it if Naomi, Alex, and Amos were all POV characters in at least one of the books. I like them all but I have a soft spot for Amos. He reminds me a bit of the man they call Jayne.

It was interesting to see Basia Merton as a POV character. He was the man who was friends with Prax and whose son died on Ganymede back in book 2. Basia’s been through some things and his pain makes him do some stupid, cruel things that he normally wouldn’t. His character development was certainly thorough. He was a nicely complex person and I enjoyed seeing his progression. 

Overall, another great instalment in The Expanse series! It’s been a long time since I enjoyed reading a full, long series quite as much as this one!

Getting Stoned with Savages

getting stoned with savagesGetting Stoned with Savages by J. Maarten Troost 

Genre: memoir/ travel writing

Setting: Vanuatu and Fiji

I read it as a(n): audiobook

Narrator: Simon Vance

Source: public library 

Length: 07:25:00

Published by: Blackstone 

Her Grace’s rating: 2 out of 5 stars

This memoir/ travel writing narrative is the follow-up to Troost’s debut, The Sex Lives of Cannibals. I didn’t read that one, though I know several people who did and enjoyed it. I love travel writing in general. This one focused on Troost’s experiences in Vanuatu and Fiji, where he and his wife lived when she got a job of some kind there. I don’t think I paid attention to it as well as I should have. 

There were some undeniably funny parts. Troost has a dry wit that I generally appreciate. I found that I didn’t really care much about him or his adventures here, though, and I’m not really sure why. It wasn’t the best travel narrative I’ve ever read, but it didn’t suck or anything. It just didn’t light my fire like I had hoped. 

I saw several reviews saying that it is very racist. I didn’t think it was; it was discussing the racism in other groups that he noticed while traveling, but he himself didn’t strike me as a racist at all. I think a lot of people objected to the title of the book. But helloooo, it’s supposed to be a play on words and pique readers’ interest. You can’t judge another time period (irrelevant in this book) or another culture (super relevant in this book) by our own. 

Something that I did find to be a major turn-off was Troost’s description of his first night in Fiji. He was wandering around looking for just a basic bar or pub to sit in and have a drink and relax after a long day of travel. I get that. Instead, he encountered some male prostitutes who kept trying to take him into the jungle. At least, according to his recollection. He remembered thinking that he was nervous and that getting sodomized wasn’t something high on his list of things to do. OH, IS THAT SO? And getting raped and/or sodomized is something that IS high on the list of every woman who’s had to endure it? Or even the worry that you could get raped? I don’t think I know ANY woman who hasn’t been worried or scared about being assaulted in some form or another. Soooo… now you know how it feels, my dude? I’m sorry he had that scary experience but there was a tone deafness to that whole section that put me off. It seemed never to occur to him that such experiences are commonplace among women. Fucking derp. 

After listening to this, the main takeaway I have is that neither Vanuatu or Fiji are places I want to go. Like, ever. Nor do I understand why anyone would want to visit, let alone LIVE there. Which is too bad because they are probably both cool places to visit. But between the earthquakes, mudslides, volcanoes, and foot-long centipedes, I’m inclined to call the entire region a hard pass. Maybe I’ll stumble across a different narrative that will change my mind, but for now, I think I’ll keep my vacations outside the Ring of Fire, unless I’m going to Australia or New Zealand. I don’t think this was the best book to read for boosting tourism to the South Pacific.

Armchair Traveler

book collageThroughout this blog, I have tried to help bring diversity to my own (and hopefully others’) reading practices, to show new ways reading diversely can enrich your life, and teach how readers can do their part to try to influence publishing to stimulate diversity in the industry. Studies show that reading literary fiction helps to hone empathy and compassion by seeing the world from the point of view of people unlike ourselves. However, there is another side to this in addition to honing empathy. Many books set in different countries or even different communities within our own country offer a unique perspective of the world and can give readers the sense of having traveled to a new place from the comfort of our own chair. Enter: book tourism, or armchair traveling.

One of my favorite forms of armchair traveling is through food writing or food tourism. My very favorite food tourism writer is the late, greatly-missed Anthony Bourdain. He summed it up wonderfully in his book Medium Raw when he said, “Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them – wherever you go” (Bourdain 56). Food writing encompasses the best of both worlds, showing readers a new part of the world geographically as well as introducing them to new foods and the cultures that cook them. In addition to the canon of Bourdain’s writing, which is elegant, witty, and achingly poignant, the works of Bill Buford, Fuchsia Dunlop, and Fergus Henderson are also well worth a read. One of the best I have read is Climbing the Mango Tree by Madhur Jaffrey, which introduces readers to the influences of spice, dining al fresco under the mango trees, and learning to cook surrounded by your family matriarchs while growing up in the Indian Himalayan foothills. Who wouldn’t want to grow up climbing mango trees?

Fiction that prominently features food in some way also inspires wanderlust. A vivid scene over a meal or in a kitchen evokes the sights and aromas that truly bring a setting to life. The kitchen is the heart of the home for a reason, and it is over a meal where we can learn the most about people and cultures. Breaking bread is a traditional way to meet new friends and to make peace with enemies. When reading a book like Chocolat by Joanne Harris, you can taste the chocolate as well as feel the cool air of the small French village, smell the bakery up the road, see the cobblestones of the ancient streets. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel gives readers a taste – pun intended – of life in turn of the century Mexico along with characters who can imbue their food with their emotions. One of my favorite novels of recent years is Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King, a historical fiction set in ancient Rome about Marcus Gavius Apicius, the author of the oldest cookbook in the world. This not only makes readers want to travel to Rome and see all the places referred to in the novel, but many passages from Apicius’s cookbook are included in the text as well. Ancient Roman cooking at its finest!

Below are some books, fiction and nonfiction alike, which have inspired wanderlust and food cravings in one way or another. What books would you recommend to instill wanderlust?

Julia Child (My Life in France)

Michael W. Twitty (The Cooking Gene: A Journey through the African American Culinary History in the Old South)

Laura Esquivel (Like Water for Chocolate)

William Bostwick (The Brewer’s Tale: A History of the World According to Beer)

Frances Mayes (Under the Tuscan Sun)

Bill Buford (Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany)

Fuchsia Dunlop (Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China)

Fergus Henderson (The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating)

Marcus Samuelsson (Yes, Chef)

References:

Bourdain, Anthony. Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook. London, Bloomsbury Publishing Group, 2010.

Stillman, Jessica. “New Study: Reading Fiction Really Will Make You Nicer and More Empathetic.” The Inc. Life, 2019.

The London Monster

The London MonsterThe London Monster by Donna Scott (Website, Twitter, IG)

Genre: historical mystery

Setting: Late Georgian London

I read it as a(n): ARC

Source: Helen Hollick at Discovering Diamonds

Length: 322 pp

Published by: Atlantic Publishing

Her Grace’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars

In Late Georgian London, a man dubbed as “The London Monster” was attacking women, assaulting first their ears and sensibilities with terribly vulgar come-ons and, when those inevitably failed to win the lady’s affection, he stabbed at her with a dagger. Most of the women only had their dresses torn, though a few were cut on their hips and fortunately, none of them died. It is unlikely that the correct man was ever arrested, though one man did serve time in Newgate as the Monster. Author Donna Scott takes this historical figure out for a ride in her new novel, The London Monster.

Sophie Carlisle, daughter of a minor noble, wants nothing more than to become a journalist. Unfortunately, not only is that a profession forbidden to women, she is also betrothed to Cuthbert “Bertie” Needham, her childhood friend. To attempt to get her articles written and published, Sophie goes around London dressed as a boy, researching and following leads. In the course of her journalistic adventures, Sophie meets and befriends Maeve, an Irish prostitute. Tom Hayes, meanwhile, is the son of a filthy rich merchant with aspirations to a seat in the House of Commons. Tom is haunted by his mother’s murder, which happened before his own eyes when he was ten. To atone for his past helplessness, Tom now is a pugilist and vigilante, determined to catch the Monster before he can hurt any more women. Their paths intersect in so many ways, some entirely unexpected. 

First of all, I loved this book. I actually read it in one sitting, which hasn’t happened with a book in a long time for me. I found the writing to be highly descriptive and engaging, the characters complex, and tone perfectly balanced to reflect a variety of tensions. Sophie is a charming and irrepressible figure. Tom appears to be one of those mythical creatures – a man who is handsome, intelligent, AND genuinely kind all rolled into one. Maeve is salty and pragmatic yet still retains a deep sense of hope despite life having taught her not to bother. Each one of these characters are flawed in some way, but it serves to highlight the strengths of their personalities rather than their weaknesses. 

Speaking of weaknesses. Bertie. Bertie, Bertie, Bertie. He had great potential as a man but he’s just so gross and frankly kind of pathetic. I don’t think readers are really supposed to like him, and certainly I did not. If he had even a little more self-awareness and consideration for others, he might have been a totally sympathetic character. As it was, he came off as more of a self-centered whiner who tried to make Sophie love him even while thinking about how marrying her would solve his family’s debt crisis. Not sure you can truly love a person if you want them for their money, no matter how hard he tries. And perhaps he really did love her, but it always seemed tinged with a variety of desperation. Super not attractive. 

As with any book, I’m not sure if the author wrote about certain themes intentionally or if I am imposing my own interpretation upon the story. However, I picked up some strong themes of consent and safety throughout this book. There was obviously no consent at all in the Monster’s attacks on his victims; they all roundly rejected him and he forced violence upon them anyway. Maeve occupies a liminal space of consent – she is a prostitute so her consent is implied through her vocation, but she hates it and is ashamed, so her consent is grudging at best. To me, I think that equates to NOT giving consent. Sophie wants to help catch the Monster in part because of a frightening experience she had at a party several years earlier when a gentleman she flirted with tried to rape her. At one point, she also tells Tom that she wants the Monster to be caught and imprisoned because she wants him and all men to know that they can’t make women feel they can’t be kind or polite without risking assault. Oh hi, modern women’s continuing issue! Women today STILL can’t be friendly to so many men without them thinking we are flirting and they are entitled to get some. 

Linked to that is a strong sense of shame. Sophie feels ashamed of the incident at the party, despite the fact that it was in no way her fault. No matter what a woman says or does, whether she’s flirting or not, at some point a man makes the decision to assault or rape a woman. It is entirely on him. Yet even today, where there is not nearly the stigma surrounding rape that there once was, many women still are too scared or ashamed to report their assaults. Those who do are often not believed, contributing further reasons for women not to bother. If it’s still like that now, I can only imagine how much worse it would have been in the 1780s. And, as explained in the Author’s Note, while there were more than 50 reported cases of women being attacked by the Monster, the true figure is actually unknown – some women almost certainly never reported their attacks, and others falsely reported an attack. Also like today’s society, some people will say anything to get a little attention, to get their 15 minutes of fame. Shame is carried out further in Maeve’s character. She is a prostitute and she does what she does to survive and to provide money to her young daughter, in the care of another family. But she doesn’t want to be a prostitute and, despite some very frank language about sex from her and other sex workers in the book, Maeve is deeply ashamed of what she does and dreams of a day when she might save enough money to pay off her debts to her madame and leave to do other work instead. 

I also felt there was a strong theme of Otherness and acceptance. Sophie at one point thought about how she would never have tolerated a prostitute near her and would never have thought she would even speak with one. Then she met Maeve and got to know her. The two became true friends, despite the huge gap in their social class, and Sophie found she would go to great lengths to help her friend. See what happens when we get to know people? They turn out to be people with their own feelings and hopes and fears, just like the rest of us! Getting to know people is one of the greatest killers of prejudice and bigotry there is, and the friendship between Sophie and Maeve provided a great example of that. I wish it happened more in real life.

Overall, I devoured this book and can’t wait to read more by Donna Scott. Highly recommended!

Abaddon’s Gate (The Expanse #3)

abaddons gateAbaddon’s Gate (The Expanse #3) by James S.A. Corey (Website, Twitter, Expanse Twitter)

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: spaaaaaaaaaaaace!

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 539 pp

Published by: Orbit

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In this third Expanse instalment, Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are freelance contractors now, parted way somewhat acrimoniously with Fred Johnson and the Outer Planetary Alliance. When one of their clients, a rather shady bunch, suddenly back out of their contract with Holden, the crew discover that they are being sued by the Martian government to get the Roci, formerly a Martian Marines battle ship, back. Coming to their rescue is Monica Stuart, a journalist from the UN Public Broadcasting, who contracts Holden on an exclusive if he takes her and her team out to a mysterious ring. The ring was constructed by the protomoluecule creature that launched itself off Venus at the end of the previous book, and it is weird. It appears to be a simple ring construct, and yet ships that go through it do not come out on the other side as expected. It’s like it’s a…stargate… 

A flotilla of ships from Earth, Mars, and the OPA is on the way to the ring to investigate, each government hoping to gain the upper hand. When a person from Holden’s past sabotages his reputation, he is forced to flee with his crew and ship through the ring. What they discover on the other side is not at all what they expected. 

The thing about book series, for me, is that if they are longer than a trilogy, I tend to lose interest. Usually around book three or four. However, that isn’t close to being the case with this series. Yes, it follows the same core of characters. Yes, it has an overarching plot revolving around a weird protomolecule. But each novel has a large and diverse cast of secondary characters and a new basic plot, each different from the previous book. It isn’t a cliffhanger from one book to the next where you have to keep reading about the exact same goddamn characters over and over. Corey’s style works wonders for me.

Holden is evolving as a character in a good way. He can still be a sanctimonious bastard, but he is self-aware enough now to know it. He is making a concerted effort to be a better person, not only for himself, but for his crew, and especially his lover, Naomi. We know a bit more about Holden’s past than the other main characters, possibly because he is the captain. But we get tidbits of information about Naomi, Amos, and Alex as well. I hope we get to learn more about their past lives as the novels progress. What drove them to be on the Canterbury way back in book one? Why did they end up on a bottom-of-the-barrel ship when they all clearly have crazy skills and can do what they want in much better positions? These things, I want to know. 

The secondary cast this go round is Carlos Baca, called Bull, a security officer for the OPA. He is assigned as the security chief to the Behemoth when it heads out to the ring. He’s kind of bitter about his position since he should really have been the captain, and Fred Johnson knows it. But he’s not, because politics! Instead, some jackoff called Ashton is captain, and he seems like a skinny Trump, all ego and narcissism and demands of loyalty. We hate Ashton. But we love Bull.

Joining the Behemoth is Sam, the engineer from Tycho Station and Naomi’s best friend; Clarissa Mao, in disguise as someone called Melba Koh, who is on a private mission of vengeance against Holden for his perceived harm to her family’s good standing; and Pastor Anna, a Russian, well, pastor who is on the Behemoth because she believes God called her there to help in some way. And of course a colorful variety of various others ranging from Martian Marines to news reporters to a neurotic socialite. Each one is there for their own reasons, and each one ends up playing parts they hadn’t anticipated. 

Also, Joe Miller is a recurring presence, despite having ridden Eros on its collision course with Venus at the end of book one. So there’s that. 

The biblical and religious allusions are inescapable. I mean, it’s built right into the title. Abaddon is the Hebrew word for “place of destruction,” or hell, or the realm of the dead. Pastor Anna has a lot of things to say about the place of religion in human society, about forgiveness, and about the ways in which humans must fit in with the greater universe. It was not a “beat you over the head” sort of religious discussion. It was interesting and in the background. I’m sure others who are more inclined could find a lot more to say about it. I can, too, but find that I can’t be bothered with religion today. Suffice to say, the title is a perfect highlighting of the plot in this one. 

Themes of loyalty and bravery are front and center as well, which I’m coming to expect from this series. There are so many ways in which these characters, and those in the previous books, have displayed these concepts. I think one of the most important discussion on bravery in this instalment is when Holden figures out how scared he really is by anything to do with the protomolecule. And yet, he does whatever has to be done, despite his fear. I guess Ned Stark was right – when you’re scared, that’s the only time you can truly be brave. 

I have to take a forced break in the series to read a couple books I promised to a friend for a review, and that’s cool, but I can’t wait to get back into this series!

Elatsoe

elatsoeElatsoe by Darcie Little Badger (Website, Twitter, IG)

Genre: MG fantasy

Setting: slightly different America/ Texas

I read it as a(n): audiobook, then switched to a physical book

Narrator: Kinsale Hueston

Source: public library 

Length: 09:01:00 / 360 pp

Published by: Dreamscape Media (22 Sept 2020)

Her Grace’s rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Elatsoe “Ellie” is a Lipan Apache who is able to raise the ghosts of dead animals. She comes from a long line of family members with this talent, back to her great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother, who her family calls Six Great, also Ellie’s namesake. Ellie’s constant companion is the ghost of her dog, Kirby. When Kirby freaks out, Ellie soon learns that her cousin Trevor was killed in a car accident, but it was a cover-up to his murder. When Trevor’s ghost visits Ellie and asks her to help take care of his wife and baby son, Ellie and her best friend Jay try to figure out what really happened to Trevor, and how a white man called Abe Allerton from Willowbee, TX is involved. Dark, ancient secrets then threaten to consume Ellie and all her family as she digs deeper to uncover the truth about Trevor’s death.

There was a lot to like about this book. For one thing, I think it’s good that Ellie identifies as asexual and not one person in her circle gives a toss or makes a big deal out of it. It is just pure acceptance and it is part of who she is, no questions asked and no one trying to tell her she’ll change her mind once she’s older. 

There was also a lot of tradition and stories from Ellie’s Apache heritage. I know absolutely nothing about this, so I’m just going to assume that it is at least partially true, considering that Darcie Little Badger is Apache herself. The elders, the way they are so highly respected, and the various stories are all awesome.

Related to Ellie’s knowledge of her Native culture is her experience with racism. That is not a pro – for those sitting in the back, racism is bad! – but the discussions that came with her experiences are important and necessary. I liked that Jay was shown as a generally real, clueless white dude who has never had to experience racism of any kind. He means well and doesn’t have a mean or racist bone in his body, but he is utterly unaware of why he would have to convince a store clerk to sell him anything because “we haven’t done anything wrong.” Ellie’s response to him is somewhat amused eye rolling, which in real life doesn’t help much of anything, but in the story, it gets the discussion onto the page for readers to ponder over. 

Also, how can a story involving the ghosts of fossilized animals not be cool on at least some levels? Ellie brings back the ghost of a trilobite, for fuck sake! And there’s a wooly mammoth ghost! That is rad!

There was a lot, though, that I definitely did not like, and I mostly feel that it outweighed the good things that I did like. For one thing, this book was marketed as a YA. However, it read as way, way younger than that. Middle grade would have been far more accurate. I often had to remind myself that Ellie and Jay were both 17 and nearly through with high school. For example, when the ball at Allerton’s mansion was in swing and vampires were killing, Jay’s older sister wanted to keep Ellie from seeing. She responded that she and Jay were at least at a PG-13. Um, yes. Considering that you are actually 17, it would make sense that a PG-13 scene would be something ok for them to see. I mean, what? 

Also, Ellie and Jay are described as being best friends from birth, having met when their mothers were in the same birthing class. And yet they don’t know some very basic things about each other. Out of the blue, Jay tells Ellie he is a descendant of Oberon and that was a huge surprise to her. You wouldn’t know your best friend is descended from the most famous fairy king ever? Really? And Jay didn’t know “Ellie” is short for Elatsoe. Things like that are little facts about a person you learn when you are first becoming friends, not when you have grown up with someone. At one point, Ellie asked Jay if he had other sisters. The way it was written made it unclear if she was joking in that moment or if she was being serious. Given the lack of knowledge they have about each other, I think the confusion is understandable. Which leads me to the next reason I didn’t like this.

LAME DIALOGUE! OMG so lame. Ellie and Jay would literally be in media res and trying to fend off bad guys – and they engage in witty banter? Which isn’t actually witty? No. Just no. It might have worked if this was something like The Princess Bride or Indiana Jones but here? It just came across as immature. Also, one character made actual use of the phrase “meddling kids.” Like from Scooby-Doo. The dumb witty banter would have been fine in that children’s cartoon as well. But here, it kind of just smacked of the author needing to work on aging up her dialogue a lot more. 

And finally, the audio book. I had started this as an audio book. The narrator was so awful that, if I hadn’t been reading this for book club, I would not have bothered to continue. Since it WAS for my book club, I got a hard copy from the library and read that instead. It was better and far more interesting to eyeball read it. I would not listen to another book read by the same narrator. She made what was already a mediocre book for me almost unbearably boring. 

So ultimately, this was a solid meh for me. I didn’t hate it, I think it had some good things in it, but I definitely did not love it. 

All that said, I did find Little Badger’s short storyNkásht íí online. I thought it was pretty good.

Caliban’s War (The Expanse #2)

caliban's war

Caliban’s War (The Expanse #2) by James S.A. Corey (Website, Twitter)

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: spaaaaaaaaaaaace!

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 595 pp

Published by: Orbit (26 June 2012)

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 

Ganymede, Jupiter’s largest moon, is the agricultural breadbasket for the Belt and the Outer Planets. Which is weird since it’s a ball of frozen ice for the most part, with almost no atmosphere. But thanks to giant mirror arrays, people have been able to make shit grow on it so that the people who do not live on Earth, Luna, or Mars can have something to eat. That all becomes a problem when Roberta “Bobbie” Draper, a Martian Marine stationed on Ganymede, watches helplessly as her entire platoon is annihilated by a monster that rose out of nowhere. In the process of all this, the mirror arrays get damaged as well. So now there’s no food being grown on Ganymede and it’s entirely possible the Outer Planets and Belt are basically fucked. 

Bobbie gets sent to Earth to give her view on the incident and earns the attention of Chrisjen Avasarala, the Earth government assistant undersecretary to something or other. She’s in charge of all the things. She’s also a rude and crude old granny, so right away she’s one of my favorite characters. She convinces Bobbie to come work for her, which is good because it turns out crude granny needs some armed protection, especially when they fall in with Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante. Holden et al have torpedoed their job with Fred Johnson of the OPA and are now working for Prax Meng, the head botanist on Ganymede. Prax’s 4 year old daughter, Mei, was kidnapped just before the shit hit the fan on Ganymede and he hires Holden to help him find her.

And naturally everyone’s paths cross, uncross, and become a Gordian knot of military and political intrigue, all while trying to fight against the protomolecule monster that evolved out of the alien virus from the previous book. Good times. 

I have really been enjoying these books. I know this is only the second one in the series, but it’s an action-packed, complex story. I love the crew of the Roci from priggish, self-righteous Holden to mechanic with a shady past Amos. Avasarala is an awesome character in this story as well. She looks like a sweet old granny until she starts talking. Then she becomes wonderfully imaginative in her use of invective and she isn’t shy about dressing down anyone who isn’t doing what she wants them to do. She runs political rings around every single person ever, whether they’re from Earth or the furthest reaches of the Outer Planets. 

I like, too, that we got a hint of Amos’s history, and a small teaser of Alex’s. I am hoping those both get fleshed out more in the future books. I didn’t expect to like a character like Amos. He is huge and violent and probably a murderer. But in this book, he reminds me a lot more of Jayne Cobb than anyone who is actually a bad guy. Now he is one of my favorites from the Roci. I think it is excellent writing when I can genuinely like a character who is so morally ambiguous, because really he isn’t. He just seems like a bad guy or former bad guy but is really someone who will protect you to his last breath. 

The action in this series is visceral and exciting. It is pretty gory but it isn’t gratuitously so. I think the action sequences truly serve a purpose here rather than being tossed in for the hell of it. I really appreciate that and feel it makes the story much more effective. I am not at all opposed to violent scenes in books, but they need to serve a purpose other than just yay violence! So in that regard, too, nicely done, authors!

I have been on a mission lately to minimize, save money, cull things, and so forth. Buying more books is not a thing I am doing right now. In fact, I am culling quite a few of my books, which is not a thing I tend to do. So naturally I went out and bought my own copies of the first three in this series. I am pretty sure I’ll be buying myself the whole series; I have the first three and the next two are on order. This series has undermined my determination to have an orderly home library and to stay inside my budget. Neat!

Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse #1)

leviathan wakesLeviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (Website, Twitter)

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: spaaaaaaaaaaaaaaace!

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: public library 

Length: 572 pp

Published by: Orbit (2 June 2011)

Her Grace’s rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

In the future, humans have colonized the solar system but we’re not cool enough yet to have warp drive or be able to get out of the solar system. Instead, we have a complex system with the inner planets of Earth, Mars, and Earth’s moon Luna, living in relative safety and security. Then there are the Belters, the people who have lived and worked in the asteroid belt for generations. Belters are taller, lighter, tough folks used to living in microgravity. Economy is based on selling air to space stations and colonized asteroids, foodstuffs to the Belt, water mined from Saturn’s rings and other asteroids. Mars and Earth have a tense political and military relationship. Most of the inner worlds ignore the Belt. And now there’s a young woman missing in the Belt who may or may not be the center of a terrible secret that has the power to kill billions.

Detective Miller is assigned to search for Julie Mao. Jim Holden is the executive officer of an ice miner. Their paths cross in some truly weird ways as they track Julie and this awful new evidence of extraterrestrial life all over the Belt and back. The ship Holden is from gets blown away to prevent them from telling the truth. Miller gets canned to prevent him from finding Julie. Everyone really likes to shoot first and ask questions later. 

This novel is, in a nutshell, a fucking awesome space opera. I have been on a big sci-fi binge lately anyway, but I am not sure how I missed this series before. I saw that there is a show based on the books and I had the thought to watch it. But books are always better so I figured I’d try it. If I was bored with the books, I planned just to watch the show. Instead, I blew through this doorstopper in just a couple days. Now I’m on the second book and almost finished with it. 

Anyway. The characters are maybe a tad stereotypical. A depressed, down on his luck detective. An unruly XO who sympathies with rebels. A girl from a rich family who gives it all up for her political views. Lots of stereotypes. But at the same time, they were well developed and very different. I enjoyed getting to know them and see how they intersected with one another’s stories. I loved the idea of basically two kinds of humans in conflict with each other in the solar system rather than humans vs aliens. 

I also loved the culture of the Belt. They have their own patois and even though I’m usually really good at figuring things out on context, even I had a hard time understanding what some of the true Belters were saying. I thought it added a layer of complexity and grit to the story overall. I loved that the Belters all really did live in the asteroid belt, that they develop differently because they don’t live in a gravity well like on Earth. The stations were vividly described to the point where I could see the crowds of people on Ceres Station, hear the hiss of air circulators, feel the way the gravity changed in relation to how close you were to the center of the spin. It was just a really fun read. I doubt the show can live up to it, though I still plan to watch it once I read all the books first. 

Dark Matter

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch (Website, Twitter)

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: several different variations of Chicago

I read it as a(n): hardback

Source: my own collection / BOTM Club

Length: 342 pp

Published by: Crown (26 July 2016)

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Jason Dessen is a physics professor at a small college in Chicago. Years ago, he’d had a promising future as one of the brightest young scientists in the world. He gave it up, though, in favor of living a quiet life and making a family with his wife. Then, he gets abducted and ends up in an alternate Chicago, looking at an alternate life. Now he has to figure out how to get back to his actual life in his own reality – or decide if he even wants to. 

This was a fast-paced, fun read full of “what ifs” and hypotheticals. It makes you think about the choices you make in your life and ponder the consequences of having chosen one way over another. What happens if you, as Jean-Luc Picard once did, start pulling at the threads that make up the tapestry of your life? 

akata warrios

Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor (Website, Twitter, Insta)

Genre: fantasy

Setting: Nigeria

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 477 pp

Published by: speak (3 Oct 2017)

Her Grace’s rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Sunny Nwazue is a Leopard Person, AKA Nigerian witch. In the aftermath of defeating the evil masquerade Ekwensu, Sunny is spending her time studying with her mentor and learning how to read her magic Nsibidi book. She soon learns of an existential threat to humanity, centered in the town of Osisi, which exists both in reality and in the invisible spirit world. Sunny goes on a quest to save mankind, aided by her friends, Orlu, Chichi, and Sasha, and her spirit face, Anyanwu.

Okorafor’s characters are ALL delightful and well developed. I fucking love Sunny and her friends, and am fascinated by the intersection of history, myth, and folklore that these books portray. The adventures and challenges Sunny faces are crazy fun to read and show kids overcoming obstacles, learning to be independent, becoming supportive friends, and strong leaders. Love it! Rumor has it that there’s a third book in the works for this series; I really hope that is true and that it will come out sooner rather than later. 

Eleanor Oliphant

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Genre: contemporary literature

Setting: London

I read it as a(n): hardback

Source: my own collection / BOTM Club

Length: 327 pp

Published by: Pamela Dorman Books (9 May 2017)

Her Grace’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Eleanor Oliphant is a woman struggling with other humans. She appears to be on the spectrum, is highly structured, dislikes being touched, and generally prefers her own company. Sometimes I wonder if I, too, am on the spectrum. I identified with Eleanor in some very uncomfortable ways. Anyway, a wrench is thrown into her routine when she meets Raymond, an IT guy at her work who insists on befriending her. They share a further connection when they both assist an elderly man who faints on the sidewalk. That connection impacts them both in ways no one could have predicted. I don’t mean romance. That’s boring and predictable in most books. This isn’t that.

I loved this book. One of my top reads of 2021 so far. Eleanor has a terribly sad history, which readers piece together slowly with tidbits of information parsed out over the course of the book. Raymond is a proper good guy you can’t help but like. The novel is about the various ways we can destroy ourselves but then usually we get by with a little help from our friends. 

Girls in the Garden

Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell (Twitter, Insta)

Genre: mystery, I guess

Setting: London

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 313 pp

Published by: Atria (2 July 2015)

Her Grace’s rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

 

This was a solid meh for me. I enjoyed it well enough to finish it, the writing was fast paced and held my attention. But it maybe wasn’t a mystery? Especially since the answer is literally in the title? I figured this out like in chapter two; I think it would not come as a surprise to anyone who has been or lived with teenage girls at any point. Teen girls can be real assholes. 

That said, I didn’t hate this book at all. Just wasn’t surprised. I do plan to read other books by this author. Maybe if there are ones that aren’t centered on teenage girls, those will not be as easy to solve. Plus, if they’re all set in Britain, I’m down for that. I’ll read just about anything set in Britain.

Love After Love

Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud (Twitter)

Genre: contemporary literature

Setting: Trinidad and NYC

I read it as a(n): hardback

Source: public library 

Length: 327 pp

Published by: One World (4 Aug 2020)

Her Grace’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Betty Ramdin is a young widow raising her son, Solo, on her own. Like, solo. In need of a little extra income or help, she takes on a boarder, Mr. Chetan. The three of them become their own unique little family until one day, Solo overhears his mother telling Mr. Chetan her darkest secret. Solo, like the little shit he is*, takes off to NYC to live with his paternal uncle as an undocumented immigrant. Mr. Chetan becomes the glue that tenuously holds the family together, until his own secret comes to light.

I read this for my book club, which is good because on my own, there is no fucking way I would have even looked at a book titled Love After Love. It sounds like a romance. I do not do romances. I’m glad I read it because it is on my top books of 2021 now. All the characters were richly developed, even if they were little shits. It was also interesting – and sad, sometimes – to see a glimpse of life in the Caribbean. Would definitely read more by this author!

*Solo isn’t a shit because he is undocumented. I am in favor of granting amnesty and Social Security numbers to everyone who wants to be here who doesn’t otherwise break the law. Solo is a shit because he is a spoiled, myopic asshole who could use a good ass-kicking.

Interdependency

The Collapsing Empire, The Consuming Fire, The Last Emperox (The Interdependency) by John Scalzi (Website, Twitter)

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: spaaaaaaaaaaace! And various habitats, space stations, and occasional planets

I read it as a(n): audiobook

Narrator: Wil Wheaton

Source: my own collection 

Length: 9:24:00, 8:19:00, and 8:07:00, respectively

Published by: Audible Studios

Her Grace’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars, both for each book and for the series as a whole

In Scalzi’s Interdependency trilogy, humans have managed to colonize a lot of the galaxy. They do not do this, however, through the use of any sort of FTL or warp drive. The laws of physics prevent that. They do, however, have something called the Flow, which sounds a little like wormholes through which a ship can travel and arrive at a location in a matter of days, weeks, or months, depending on distance. Ships can only enter or exit at Flow shoals, and the Flow streams only go one direction. So if a Flow stream goes from Hub, the Capital of the Interdependency, to End, the one planet that supports human life and which is at the farthest reach of the Flow streams, then they need to use a different stream from End to get back to Hub. 

Oh, and the streams are beginning to collapse.

This is a problem because, as the title implies, every human habitat is interdependent upon each other for survival. The places where humans settled are all, with the exception of End, not compatible with human life. They’re either on tidally locked moons and planets, too hot or too cold to survive, or on space habitats in orbit somewhere. The Interdependency is organized around Guild Houses, each of which have a monopoly on a certain aspect of manufacturing things needed to sustain life. Once the Flow streams collapse, everyone will be well and truly fucked. 

Enter an inexperienced Emperox, Cardenia Wu Patrick (Imperial name Greyland II), a young woman who was never supposed to be Emperox and only became so when her half brother the Imperial heir died in an “accident.” The various noble Houses think this will be a good thing because they expect to be able to manipulate her. The main houses of Wu (the hereditary Imperial house as well), Lagos, and Nohamapetan, are the political powerhouses and are out for blood and profit. Also, I listened to these, so I may be WAY off on how the names are spelled. Just saying.

The Houses of Lagos and Nohamapetan are particular enemies. On one run between Hub and End, Kiva, the Lagos representative to the Guilds, learns that her House’s entire crop on End had been sabotaged and she naturally suspects the Nohamapetans. Having just spent 9 months in the Flow traveling to End, Kiva is righteously pissed because now she will have spent the best part of 2 years on a trip that is profitless. Kiva soon learns, however, that there is something wrong with the Flow and she ferries a young noble and Flow physicist, Marce Claremont, back to End to meet with the Emperox and come up with a plan to save the billions of people dependent on the Flow for survival. She also comes up with a way to make money on an otherwise failed venture, as one does. 

There’s a lot of politics in this story, but Scalzi makes it fun! Kiva is definitely my favorite character. She’s so thoroughly outspoken and rude and it’s just delightful. She’s also crazy skilled at strategy and politics and is the best person the Emperox could possibly have in her corner. Cardenia is sweet – on the outside. Then she manages to deflate the machinations of everyone conspiring against her, which is especially fun when she hamstrings the Nohamapetans. Really, the characters in this series are the best thing about it. Yes, the overarching story is bomb, and is very Scalzi-ish. But, as Renay Williams wrote, the central characters are all women, and they’re all truly awesome in their own ways. 

Also, the trilogy covers a lot of ground that lovers of sci-fi space operas will appreciate seeing, happily updated with a lot of modern thought, because actual colonialism is gross. There’s far-flung human colonization, empire, the ways in which all these things are connected and, like, interdependent on each other. It is really a good commentary on a lot of our actual current events and politics. I have screamed for years that sci-fi is the ideal medium in which to discuss and analyse current events; Scalzi’s trilogy is further proof. 

As I mentioned above, I listened to The Interdependency trilogy on audiobook. Wil Wheaton did a phenomenal job narrating. I honestly think it is one of his best performances. His timing and tone were spot on and turned elements of the book that were already amusing into laugh out loud hilarity. I loved listening to these books so much that when the third one ended, I wanted to start the series all over again. I didn’t, only because I have so very many audiobooks to listen to that I haven’t even touched yet. But I did go and buy the trilogy in paperback, even though I swore I wouldn’t buy any more books until I get through more of my TBR and cull ones I know I’m not going to read ever again. 

I can’t wait to read these again, and I can’t wait to see what Scalzi publishes in the future. If you haven’t read, or even better, listened to, this series yet, you are really missing out!