Kelly Barnhill (Newberry Award winning author of The Girl Who Drank the Moon) wrote us some creepy lullabies. They operate at the tip of the top of your ears, whispering like a voice from another time, a smirk in the voice of a dreadful lady from the past, the future, from right now but far away. Like a kitten resting near a roaring engine, you bask in the warmth of the rage at the center.
For fans of The Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, pirate stuff, alternative U.S. history, elemental magic, queer airship captains, Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, and Haitian history as it connects to African mythology. Written in Creole dialect, The Black God’s Drums is immersive, fast-paced adventure in an alternate Civil War Era New Orleans.
I read this book so hard - talking out loud to myself, lots of audible gasping, gushing to confused friends, the whole shebang.
A chapter in I was being challenged, educated and transported. Generations of people have lived and died on the Matilda, a ship sent from a dying planet (referred to as "The Great Lifehouse") into the stars in hopes of finding a new home for the human race. The building of the ship's layout and operation is intricate but clear - both in technical and social terms. Strict hierarchy is greased with religious fanaticism and physically defined by the alphabetized levels of the ship. Resources are divided ruthlessly, attributing all abuses and hypocrisies - there are a lot - to The Heavens' will. The story follows Aster, a healer and field worker born into the lower deck slums of the ship with a voracious mind, and the people close to her. Soloman touches on everything in this book, but most succinct are her musings on gender with situations both intensely familiar and completely unknown to me. Like any book worth its paper, An Unkindness of Ghosts posed questions that my mind is still chewing on.
In all its gruesome beauty The Power is, like many books, a vision of the lessons we hope, hope, hope we will never have to learn in earnest. Perspective switches from one well-crafted, dynamic character to the next as the world realigns itself and as they try to realign the world after a new evolutionary trait arises in women. Alderman's fourth novel, written while being mentored by Margaret Atwood, is defined by a grandeur and precision that exists alongside a distinct lack of ego - the absence of that ego allowing questions and theories that have never been pondered to unfurl and take root.
Disclaimer: Be prepared for a few hours of slack-jawed, mind-blown uselessness after finishing this book.
90 pages is all Nnedi Okorafor needs to establish this series - to create Binti, to reveal the connection of her life to the Earth as she ascends away from it. We see the power of her mind, the mind of a harmonizer that is tested in every way on her journey to Oomza Uni, a planet and school that has never been attended by one of her people. She thinks, remembers, learns, acts, survives, and through all of it Okorafor is sculpting around her the universe that her epic tale will unfold in. In the following two books, Binti will traverse the stars and her home, Earth, every being she comes to know is intricate and effective. She copes with the changes to her person and mind as they accumulate, drawing on both her natural ability and strategies learned from teachers, friends, and relations both known and distant to her. While the heroine of this story is to be gushed about, Okorafor’s weaving of plot is at once visceral and intuitive. Her effortless (seeming) world building envelopes completely - I avoid any details here because every new facet surprises, deepening that desire to turn the page.
Ewing's poetry is addictive and sharp, perched gracefully in the doorway to abrasive. She writes about Chicago as if she was in the dirt when the first settlers came. As if her observations come from the distant past, situated in a corner of the city where you can see past now, far into the hazy future. pg 18 and pg 72
This book is the book right now, everyone is abuzz and buzzing and there’s buzz. That’s not why you should read it. Orange raises the voices and stories of people long unheard, doing so with unflinching dedication to those stories and people. This is important, and has a lot to do with how fascinating and earthshaking this title is, but not why you will love the book. This book is and will be loved because of the clarity - the lessons and notions that are represented to the reader through smoke and tears and human error, but is solid and real hard like crystal - formed naturally, uncovered with love and care, and shown to those who have trained their eyes to see.
I had too much to say about this book to just do a paragraph, so I have a few bullet points to avoid rambling.
- Wonderful prose, even in the darkest moments of the book.
- El Akkad's research and understanding supports every brushstroke of the story: the Bouazizi Empire and how the war came to be, the disappearance of the coasts, the roll of recruiters in a war torn republic and the misinformation that physical and ideological separation fosters.
- Intimate portrayal of the radicalization of an American into a terrorist, as well as how it's done on a wide scale. Homes and families destroyed by war leads to young anger, which is channeled back into the same war - we see it, but have we really felt it? This book brings home that faraway cycle in a way that sinks into your bones.
- He lays out a family and a character that is beautiful and pure and representative and - most importantly - American. Showing how regardless of race or language or geography the right set of conditions will turn a child into a soldier, killing and dying in the name of a cause they don't understand.
- Firsthand accounts and histories of the war bookend the chapters, providing a small portion of governmental perspective.
Bonus: favorite prologue of the year.
One of the Boys is the perfect execution of a novel about the notion of being a man, drugs, mental illness, familial love and loyalty, as well as what abuse does to a young mind. Magariel's debut novel, clocking in at 165 pages, has not a single unnecessary syllable. His deliberate writing has no mercy, so you have no choice but to stare directly into both the insidious nature of addiction and the purity that is a son's love.
Come for the gender discussion, stay for the tense prose and dissection of post WWII masculinity. Koelb doesn't ask or answer questions, instead opting to peel back certain corners of the wallpaper, illustrating that however you came to it, proving oneself to be a man is an endeavor that has left many people emptied out.
When the English Fall ("English" in this context referring to anyone who isn't Amish) is David Williams’ first novel, written as the diary of an Amish man called Jacob. What seems like a bad storm triggers a complete shutdown of all known technology. The informational disconnect of the Amish reflects the disillusionment that some of us feel: do I know what's really going on? What is coming? Is it even for me to know? Tapping into these anxieties may be easy, as they float so near the surface, but Williams navigates them via Jacob with grace and contemplation.
I sort of broke the rules with this one and watched the movie before reading the book. Not sure what I expected, but I could never have guessed what I was missing. In dreamy (nightmarey?) prose Heim dazes you into the space between reality and certainty using characters so intent to know truth that they weave their own versions of it. I could go on and on about the narrators and how they mirror all the ways we lie to ourselves, but instead I'll just tell you to read it and try to have someone around to hug you when you finish it.
After this book, I couldn't drive through a peaceful suburb without conspiring to myself about the entanglements and scandals there. Sarah is a perfectly apathetic anti hero representative of what happens when the transition from youth to adulthood takes too much out of a person, leaving a shell filled with static boredom and surrounded by ambient fear. She's so smart though, and funny. Her situation makes you feel for her, but she pulls no punches about the fact that she got herself there. All of his characters are like that, people that on paper should be boring if not outright annoying but end up being so honest, so real that you fall into them. You understand and grow to like them. And most importantly you absolutely have to know what's going to happen to them.
As you read you can tell that Lev spent a lot of time sitting back thinking, "Okay, but what would that actually BE like?" The effort put into making magic feel real and plausible is what makes this trilogy special.
#1 - The Magicians
In this book we're introduced to Quentin Coldwater, the young man at the center of the trilogy, and the world he lives in. Very similar to ours, but with a secret magic world moving and working beneath the surface. He learns that there is a school where magic is taught, a revelation for him after a life of reading about the Chatwins, a family that discovered a magical land a la the Narnia books. Be sure to have the second book at hand, the ending of The Magicians
#2 - The Magician King
In this installment, things get a little grittier. Quentin in sent off to Brakebills South, that reads like magical basic training/torturous boot camp. Meanwhile, Grossman switches perspectives to a female counterpart that we met in the first book, who has since descended into a frantic and deeply flawed search for the magical world. If the first book's purpose was to dip the reader's toe into the magical world, this book's is to sink you to the depths - and it does so quickly and without mercy.
#3 - The Magician's Land
In the final and third book of the series Quentin has done his coming of age. Having been a king and a professor, he gives magical crime a try and as can be expected he runs into a lot more trouble than he signed on for. When I started this book, I was a bit worried Grossman was stretching the narrative, but it didn't take long for everything to come together in a great show of adventure and humanity.
When there are no good guys in a story, are the bad guys really bad? The voices in The Lie weave a complicated web of manipulation and general assholery that sucks you in until you look up to find yourself suspended in the eye of a hurricane of callous deceit. Kultgen presents these characters under an unforgiving bare light bulb of truth. The vulgar playboy, the dinky best friend of said playboy, and the socially ambitious debutante all expose themselves with each turn of the story. The amazing feat in this book is that in the midst of all these acidic personalities the author somehow manages to focus a piercing light on one thing: humanity, in all its treacherous glory.
From the first words in this novel I felt Dinah, the woman whose life is chronicled in this book, speaking to me. Even when I wasn't physically reading it, that voice stayed with me. Dinah spoke with a voice so loud that it traveled thousands of years, but her words were so loving that by the time the sound reached my ears it was an ethereal whisper. One could describe it as a work of romance enriched and purified with a clever biblical veil but to me it's much more. Just on the subject of menstruation, my apathy and latent disgust with it was replaced with...charm? It's hard to explain, but that's what stuck with me most from this book: the biological connection I have with almost all the women who have ever lived. Diamant represented Dinah to me in such a way that reading about her life infused my life with a little grace; it brought to my attention that womanhood is a long, storied tradition to be proud of.
I realize the book is much more than this, that it speaks to many other subjects than just my plumbing's ancient mysticism but the prose is rich and clear and Dinah's life is an epic for any person in search of a good story.
John Dies at the End is the only book I've read that is considered horror - and it is terrifying. Wong takes the shadow in your peripheral vision, that primal fear of something so close but still unseen, and builds a universe around it. His ability to keep up his casual sarcasm and realist language on this incredible quest is impressive and makes all the fantastic events and places very real and very scary.
This book is the story of Henry, a wildly likable young Irishman in the early 1900's trying to survive poverty in Dublin. Shaped by one tragedy after another, he grows a thick skin and a razor sharp wit. Doyle has away of subtly nudging you to fall for his characters and Henry is, in my opinion, his most shining example of that. The story would be hard to believe but as he's thrown from one turbulent, dangerous situation to the next Henry's voice is consistently genuine and hilarious.
This collection was the first book of Roddy Doyle's I read. It took about a day to finish and by the end of that day I had a deep interest in Doyle - a few novels later he was my favorite author. The collection's theme is based in race and immigration in Ireland at the time of its release - 2007 - but for me it was less about the subject matter and more appealing due it's honesty. I could feel that some time recently this man sat to write these stories as a way to express his journey in understanding his people and community. An effort I greatly respect and one that is difficult to approach with as much compassion as Doyle does in all of his writings. The two standouts are probably the title story, a revisiting of the main character in one of his most successful novels The Commitments and The Pram, a playful and eerie peek into the life of a Polish nanny in Dublin.