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

Anna: What would you do for love?

This is How You Lose the Time War is the most imaginative book I’ve read in a long time. It reminded me why sci-fi  is such an amazing genre that I need to explore more. It also has LGBTQ+ rep!

Summary: Red and Blue are change agents who work for rival time traveling agencies–Blue for the Garden, a vast organic consciousness. Red works for the Agency, a Technotopia. While traveling to different “strands” of history and time to change history, they start to write each other letters and slowly fall in love.

The actual rules and word building in This is How You Lose the Time War is super confusing at first and very slowly revealed to the reader. I didn’t know what was going on for a while, but that’s okay. This book is more about the lyrical writing and the vivid, visceral images of time traveling and Red and Blue’s romance that literally stands the test of time. This is ultimately a “star-crossed” lovers narrative, but it’s not tropey at all. This book takes work to get through, but it’s rewarding and worth it.

I also think it’s so cool that this book was co-written! As a writer, I can’t imagine creating such a complex world and story in the first place, but also doing it so seamlessly with another writer.

Verdict: 4 stars

Review: The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He

A hardcover copy of The Ones We're Meant to Find rests on a wooden table in a coffee shop. An iced green tea and a coffee sit behind it. A laptop rests on the book's right.

Alexis:

I’ve been trying to read more sci-fi and dystopian, so I was excited when I won this book and got it in the mail!

The Ones We’re Meant to Find follows sisters Kasey and Cee. Cee is stuck on an abandoned island with nothing but a robot for company. She has amnesia, but she does remember her sister, Kasey, is out there somewhere. And she needs to find her.

Kasey is a 16-year-old STEM prodigy living in an eco-city, which is basically a city hovering in mid-air that’s an oasis from the rest of the polluted planet. She has always felt like a loner, and she can’t stop thinking about when Cee went missing.

I really liked how Kasey and Cee have opposite personalities. Cee is a caring, social butterfly, and Kasey the quiet loner; their characters are foils of each other, and it works well. 

I read He’s debut novel, The Descendant of the Crane, and I feel like both her writing style and her characterization have improved! The pacing was great, and I enjoyed seeing the plot unfurl, along with a massive plot twist.

That being said, if I’m being honest, I sometimes wasn’t sure what was going on in Kasey’s chapters. Because she’s a scientist, her chapters contain a lot of science, and I had to re-read certain paragraphs, especially since He created the future science herself. I honestly feel like I need to just re-read the entire book to get a better picture, as I sometimes had a hard time picturing what the world looked like. I almost wanted more info dumps, because scientific and futuristic technology was thrown at the reader rather than explained.

I also had a bit of a hard time connecting with Kasey, as she often felt a little too unfeeling; however, I know that was intentional, so I didn’t let it affect my overall rating. 

I was especially invested in Cee’s story and the mystery of her past. I loved the themes of humanity, sisterhood, and the environment. And not to mention, I love the cover!

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

Review: The Infinity Courts by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Iced green tea Starbucks drink sits next to a library hardcover copy of The Infinity Courts, in front of a herb garden

Alexis:

Time for a 5 ⭐ review!

I’ve been busy finishing up my thesis, and now I have to start studying for my comprehensive exam. But I managed to read The Infinity Courts during my work breaks!

The Infinity Courts follows Nami, an eighteen-year-old who is murdered on her way to her graduation party. But when she ends up in the afterlife, she finds that it’s run by an AI named Ophelia, who has crowned herself queen of Infinity. She manages to escape and find a group of rebels who are working to take down the AI known as Residents or Rezzies.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I’ve been meaning to delve more into sci-fi, and this was definitely a good segway from my usual fantasy. The POV is first person present tense, and this worked really well for the story. I liked Nami’s perspective, and I really enjoyed reading from her point-of-view. She felt very well-rounded; I knew her thoughts, emotions, fears, and hopes and dreams. 

I found the world and worldbuilding to be fascinating. The different courts were interesting, as were the Residents and the Princes of the courts. The book focuses a lot on heavy-handed themes like humanity/what it means to be human, emotions, the greater good, and the meaning of life. I thought Bowman handled these themes with care, and I liked reading about the characters’ attempting to reconcile with the world that they’re thrown into. 

As for the plot, it’s definitely your classic group of rebels trying to take down the enemy plotline, which I enjoyed! There were some interesting side quests and stories, and despite being nearly 500 pages, I never felt like the story got bogged down. And, to my shock, there was a plot twist that floored me, and that doesn’t happen often to me anymore.

I’m looking forward to the sequel! (Even if this book made me never want to use Alexa again).

Review: Stitching Snow by R.C. Lewis

Alexis:

I absolutely loved parts of this book, but other parts bored me.

The first fifty pages didn’t rope me in, but once Essie leaves the cold planet of Thanda, the story becomes much more interesting.

Essie’s character is by far the most interesting part of the story. She’s a strong but well-rounded character, and it’s rare to find a heroine who loves math, coding, puzzles, and mechanical engineering, not to mention cage fighting, in a book. Once we begin to know her character better, her motivations are clear, and her past is interesting. And I absolutely loved her misfit drones, especially Dimwit, a shining character on the page (despite being a drone!). 

I enjoyed how this was a retelling of Snow White. It was fun piecing together all of the sci-fi versions of the fairytale, but the fairytale pieces didn’t distract from the story, only added interesting twists. 

However, I wish the worldbuilding and imagery were more drawn-out. I initially liked Dane’s character, but it was like I could only glimpse him on the page. Even though he was basically in every scene, he started to feel like a background character.  Lewis did a great job describing Essie’s “stitching,” or coding, but when it came to images of the characters or the world, sometimes it fell flat.

That being said, I still enjoyed it overall! 

VERDICT: 🍎🍎🍎.5/5

TW: Kidnapping, child abuse, rape, murder/death, war

Review: Borne by Jeff VandeerMeer

Anna: New favorite book alert! Dystopian is one of my favorite genres, and I’m trying to read more sci-fi. Borne had the perfect amount of both! Verdict: 5 stars

In an apocalyptic city, a corporation called the The Company that has poisoned and polluted the world. Strange creatures roam the remaining landscape: Mutant humans, Company proxies, and most noticeably, the Company’s biotech experiment gone wrong, a giant flying bear called Mord that terrorizes the City and its survivors. 

Rachel and Wick live in a dilapidated apartment building, spending hours every day fortifying their home to stay alive. One day while she’s out scavenging, Rachel finds a sea-anemone like creature that she takes home. She names it Borne.

Sounds crazy, right? It is. Borne is adorable, but at the start of the book his nature and purpose is unknown. Wick is suspicious that Borne may be more deadly than he appears. Rachel begins to care for Borne like a mother would a child, except he grows in size and intelligence faster than any human. Rachel and Borne’s relationship is sincere, heartbreaking, and unable to define. This book had me thinking a lot about what it means to be good. There’s also an overall question of if we can control or nature or not, or if we’re predestined to be what we’re made to be.

Borne is the most creative and quirky book I’ve read in a long time! It was so original and I loved the three central characters, especially Borne. What I found most impressive is its ability to be light and laugh-out loud funny despite its dark setting.

Click below to learn more about Borne!

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Review: We are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

“What if I don’t give a shit about the world?”

“I’d say that’s pretty fucking sad.”

“Why?”

“Because the world is so beautiful.”  

We are the Ants is a difficult book to explain and to “place”. This is technically “science fiction”, and I say technically because it blends reality and fantasy. I love that it defies genres! The reader is left to wonder what is real and what is not. I’d warn potential readers not to the read the book jacket copy, because I want them to enjoy the mystery and surprise.

Trigger warnings for self harm, sexual assault, and suicide. This is a BIG part of the book so please don’t read this if that’s something too close to home.

I felt such a connection to the characters, particularly the narrator and protagonist, Henry, a teenage boy who is faced with a big decision: should he save the world or allow it to be destroyed? When we meet him, he’s overcome with grief over losing his boyfriend.  I was so invested in his story as he comes to terms with his grief and mental instability and battles many forms of bullying and harassment. Henry’s grief and mental health manifests itself in a totally original way that I thought worked so well.

This is also just “angsty” enough to be believable but not shallow or stereotypical in any way, a problem I sometimes have “drama” in YA. We are the Ants depicts horrific reality of mental health. This book doesn’t shy away from critically examining the demands our society has on teenagers. The amazing part is that Hutchinson explores all these themes through the unique lens of alien abduction and the impending apocalypse.

We are the Ants is one of the best YA novels I’ve read in awhile! I highly recommend it!

VERDICT: 5 books!

 

Review: Idlewild by Nick Sagan

Alexis: Read 4/7/19

A teenager wakes up in the middle of a pumpkin patch with amnesia. He doesn’t know who he is, where he is, or what’s going on. He only knows that he was shocked so badly that he couldn’t move, causing his amnesia, and that he knows someone named Lazarus is dead, and someone just tried to kill him, as well.

Idlewind is like a mix between The Matrix and The Maze Runner. I don’t usually go for sc-fi, but I found myself enjoying the change of pace. I truly loved the beginning of the book. I found it really original and creative, and I enjoyed Sagan’s worldbuilding. I loved learning about Halloween’s character alongside him as his memory slowly started to resurface. I liked Sagan’s conversational writing style and I found Halloween’s gothic character interesting.

I also enjoyed the structure of the book. The majority of the book is in first person from Halloween’s POV, while excerpts in the beginning of each chapter focus on characters from the past. Sections called “Pace Transmission”s intersect the chapters. At first, these make no sense, but I found them helpful as the book progresses.

It’s hard to talk about this book without giving anything away. I feel like it’s best to go into it without knowing much. My overall consensus of the book is that I loved the first ¾ of it, including the plot twists and reveals, but thought the ending fell flat. I also wasn’t a fan of how the characters progressed, and I also didn’t like the characterizations of the female characters. In that regard, Idlewild feels very early 2000’s.

However, if you’re in the mood for a creative, apocalyptic sci-fi read with a large dash of virtual reality, I definitely recommend it. Most of the book was 4 stars for me, but the ending knocked it down ½ a star.

VERDICT: 3 ½ stars

 

SPOILERS BELOW:

 

My biggest issue with the ending was the reveal of Mercutio as Lazarus’ killer. I felt like there wasn’t any buildup or real evidence or motivations for this to make sense. I also didn’t feel like I knew the secondary characters well enough, especially since Halloween himself was still figuring everyone else out. Because of this, Simone and Mercutio’s deaths didn’t affect me, and I’m not really sure I want to continue reading the series. Halloween’s reaction to the ending felt a bit melodramatic, even for his already melodramatic character.

#tbt- Kindred by Octavia Butler

Alexis:

In honor of Black History Month, I wanted to take some time to talk about an important writer.

Last year, I read Kindred by Octavia Butler, the pioneer of African-American women science fiction writers.

Kindred deals with a smorgasbord of hard topics: slavery, racism, rape, and death. Butler utilizes time travel in order to explore the ancestors of Dana, the main character, who were slaves in the American South. The result is a harrowing read that explores the horrors of slavery and the interconnection of past and present.

If you’re looking for a good read to finish out the month of February, check it out!