Book Review: This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

This Is How You Lose the Time War

This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Anytime science fiction and literary fiction become one, I lose all sense of time and spin in, captivated. That’s exactly what happened when I read this stunningly beautiful novella. It feels so old and so new at once. It is a war story and a love story. It is about the parallels and tension between nature and machine. It is a philosophical treatise. It is funny, fresh, and packed with lyrical language. But most of all it feels like longing and honors a gentle way of seeing the reality, time, and the role we play within it. It’s a story that honors reckless hope.

As soon as I finished, I handed it off to someone I knew would love it. He gave it back the next day, already finished, and said, “I’m going to buy my own copy and eat it.” That pretty much sums up the impact of this book for the right reader. A new favorite for me.



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Book Review: Parable of the Sower

Parable of the Sower (Earthseed, #1)

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Parable of the Sower does anarchy and terror very well. The power of Butler’s story comes from the future envisioned here, one that could certainly sprout from the seeds planted by today’s social ills. Her main character’s spare, emotionless narration is a function of the debilitating fear and trauma she has known all her life. I did quibble a bit with her “hyperempathy syndrome” (strictly limited to respond to physical pain), in that it didn’t seem to impact the plot at all and was therefore superfluous. But I really appreciated how this book made me question what would be necessary to survive in a world where our abilities to protect ourselves, provide for ourselves, and feel confident in the future were decimated. Butler presents us with a character who does what she must, at all times, to redefine faith in an era when God has forsaken humanity, in order to teach others how to survive.

**Another note: This cover does nothing at all to suggest the true essence of this story. It’s about an androgynous, badass young woman who is wearing jeans that she took off a corpse as she leads a group through an apocalyptic landscape. Who designed this?! Also, there are several basic errors in editing in this edition–inexcusable, and an insult to Butler’s genius that they did not do a thorough job in making sure the prose was fully represented as intended.



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Book Review: Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi

Emergency Contact

Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


A snackable YA read that serves up quirky characters and romantic chemistry with a side of complicated parental relationships. I appreciate the way that Choi represented the flow of modern relationships from digital to physical and back again. Wish we could have seen Penny confront her own insecurities and evasiveness a little but more without the romantic interest as the vehicle for it, but hey, it’s true to the genre. The thing I respect most about this book is the encouragement to be honest with another person about the big things that define yourself, to share, admit, disclose, and acknowledge rather than hiding it away.



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Book Review: S. (Ship of Theseus) by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

Ship of Theseus

Ship of Theseus by J.J. Abrams

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


S. or Ship of Theseus is an intensely satisfying reading experience for those who enjoy metafiction and experimental literature. It is a time-consuming but deliciously tactile journey that lends the same surge of intrigue as unfolding a handwritten note that falls out of somewhere unexpected. You don’t know what it contains, or who wrote it, but as you read, you see the traces of the writer–an employer, a friend, a lover, a parent, whomever–writing from a specific place in time, to a specific recipient. And you feel that forbidden drive to read… because of the fact that those words that weren’t meant for you. Combine that feeling with an actual entire literary novel-within-a-novel that is, in itself, spooky, stirring, and Hemingway-esque. And, as garnish, you feel the unique pull of an academic obsession that multiplies as commonality and connection reaches two people who find that their obsession is shared.

This is not a normal book. It is an amalgamation of multi-colored annotations, footnotes, letters, postcards, newspapers, cards, and drawings that exist because of the book. It takes patience. All of it is an absolutely staggering invention. Hats off to Doug Dorst (writer) and J.J. Abrams (concept/story) on this unique tribute to the love of literature.



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Book Review: Art Matters by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell

Art Matters

Art Matters by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Charming little volume of Gaiman’s oft-quoted advice on the creative life, all here in a book short enough that you can read it and get back to making art all in the same hour.



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Book Review: Nnedi Okorafor

Lagoon

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Lagoon is a fun, big-thinking read, set in Lagos, Nigeria. The novel attempts to answer the classic science fiction question “What happens when aliens inevitably land on earth?” Nnedi Okafor presents something completely unique in response, that wraps a heavy sense of place around so many different interesting elements: shifting narrative voices, non-human narrators, alien interaction with earth-bound deities, and fundamental questions about what core takeaways an alien race would gain from a small cross-section of humanity in a high stakes situation. The idea of ancient cultural religious figures being represented quite literally in the same story where a technology-based alien organism infiltrates human society was a new and rewarding element. The concept and suspense of the story keep it afloat, though character development is unfortunately a bit on the shallow side. This is clearly a concept-driven narrative rather than a character-driven one. The book really comes alive in third act, and the ending is a good payoff. But… I still have questions.



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Book Review: Saga (Volumes 1-5) by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Saga, Vol. 5

Saga, Vol. 5 by Brian K. Vaughan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


(Review is for Volumes 1-5)

Saga has been lauded by, it seems, every comics guru under the sun. When a friend lent me the first five volumes, I couldn’t wait to dive in. On many fronts, it definitely delivers. The storyline is based in the intense emotions of family ties rather than mindless ka-booms!, and the art is heart-stoppingly great. There’s humor, and a pulling of fantasy tropes so all-comprehensive that it’s actually admirable. Every character has some kind of bizarre and cool supernatural physique. The style is also notably gritty, not shying away (like at all) from scenes of violence or sex. That piece of it started to put me off a bit by the end of this volume–I don’t mind sex scenes, but they start to become pervasive, even for inconsequential characters/beings and even when totally irrelevant to the plot… it started to feel a little invasive and distracting for me, especially when it seemed completely unlikely to occur in the characters’ actual situations. That being said, there is a whole thematic thread carrying through the narrative that repeatedly asserts the message “sex sells, even more than war does.” In that way, it’s very meta. An aspect of the comic that I really enjoyed that kind of surprised me in its effectiveness was the lettering work! The switching of styles to imply the flip from present action to the narrator Hazel’s “voiceover” was perfectly achieved, to the point where the transitions are almost magically seamless.

Above all, it must be stated that Lying Cat is above and beyond the very best aspect of Saga and nobody will ever change my mind on that.



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Book Review: Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

Freshwater

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I’ve never read anything like Freshwater, and I’m so grateful that I did. This semi-autobiographical novel presents a rotation of narrators who all share the same body: the Nigerian college student Ada and the multiplicity of ogbanje children who shift in and out of her consciousness. The way that the author’s spiritual beliefs help frame the characters’ experience is fascinating… a metaphysical look at an identity as multiple, that a Western understanding might otherwise call fragmented, is presented in a way where we understand the motivation, the cruelties, the protection, and the pain of all the spirits within the “marble room” of the mind in an entirely new way. It was a difficult book to read purely because of the unceasing emotional pain of the narrative. But the writing is boldly inventive and captures a unique human experience of self-finding through the dark. A sensational debut.



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Book Review: North Writers by John Henricksson, editor

North Writers I: A Strong Woods Collection

North Writers I: A Strong Woods Collection by John Henricksson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


A lovely collection of short essay/memoir writings from a highly specific part of the American (and Canadian) landscape. A variety of voices and experiences are present here. Some of the pieces feel dated for the modern reader while others remain poignant and fresh. If you have love for the north woods, you’ll find something to enjoy at some point in this book. I would recommend reading it in small bites at a time. The volume is split between nature-focused writings and more human encounters–my preference was for the former.



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Book Review: The Shadow of Sirius by W.S. Merwin

The Shadow of Sirius

The Shadow of Sirius by W.S. Merwin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I don’t know what I could add to the observation of the committee who awarded this set of Merwin’s poems the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry: “A collection of luminous, often tender poems that focus on the profound power of memory.” Not only are many of the individual poems so special*, but the overall permeating sense of the book creates a unique color of emotion when read all together. Another of his reviewers identifies it, again, so much better than I can: “his personal anonymity, his strict individuated manner, his defense of the earth, and his heartache at time’s passing.” It is all that and more.

W.S. Merwin truly was a master poet, and there are so many places here to stop and say “oh”! in this collection, one of the finest and latest in his long, prolific career. If you love poetry, especially if you’ve been away from it for a while, I highly recommend The Shadow of Sirius.

*There were so many standout poems in the collection, but if I had to pick one: “Just This.”



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