Artemis – Review

“It’s hard to run with a hundred kilograms of gear on — even in lunar gravity. But you’d be amazed how fast you can hustle when your life is on the line.”

Andy Weir is back with his unique and addicting blend of factual science fiction and smart ass humor. This time we’re not fighting for out life on Mars, but living in a city built on the Moon. Welcome to Artemis.

Meet Jasmine Bashara. Porter, smuggler, dreamer. All Jazz wants is to afford a living environment larger than her current coffin with a private bathroom. That isn’t asking too much is it?

When one of her ridiculously wealthy clients proposes a job full of insane risk, Jazz knows she should say no. But who says no to the chance of a lifetime? The chance to pay off crippling debt and start a new life? Probably the same people who came up with the saying: careful what you wish for.

This particular job will demand that Jazz use all her technical skills and intellect in order to pull it off. That much she can handle. Finding herself in the middle of a power play for absolute control of Artemis was a little more than she bargained for. Jazz has to use every single trick she can think of to stay alive and figure out a way to save not just herself, but the entire lunar city.

“Always keep your bargains. He worked within the law and I didn’t, but the principle was the same. People will trust a reliable criminal more readily than a shady businessman.”

I loved Jazz. Loved her! She is smart and feisty, but is also incredibly suspicious of everyone around her. I thought Weir did an excellent job peeling back the layers to her distrust through her emails with life long pen-pal Kelvin. We get to see a different side than the one she shows the world. And as someone who is generally distrustful of the world around me, I related to her quite a bit.

As we unfold the mystery that is Jazz, we get to know the characters in her life. I really liked each of them, and found them all believable. But out of all of them, Martin Svoboda was probably my favorite.

“By the end of it I had a plan. And like all good plans, it required a crazy Ukranian guy.”

That crazy Ukranian is a delight to read! I loved every scene he was in. His nerdy exuberance and utter loyalty to Jazz constantly made me smile.

“Tell them about the plan!” Svoboda said. “I have all the visual aids ready!”

What’s not to love about a friend who not just supports your illegal and potentially immoral hijinks without question, but then prepares visual aids when it really matters?! He’s just so adorable.

Given how much science is actually in this book, I am impressed with how much went into the characters and world building. It’s very well balanced, and I never felt like the science went over my head or took away from the scene playing out on the page. That isn’t to say I could pass a science exam after reading it, but the level of detail is enough to make the entire thing feel real. And that’s something I really enjoy in my science fiction.

Weir has a way of injecting humor into all of his scenes, including the intense ones. This gives his books a distinct feel. Fun but interesting. It helps that he includes fun facts, a little addition that makes me laugh. Probably because I am very fond of fun facts.

“Fun fact: Oxidizing requires oxygen. Flint and steel won’t work in vacuum. All right. No need to panic.”

In all, I adored this book. Jazz felt like someone I would know and be friends with. She isn’t a girly girl. In fact, isn’t even overly feminine, which, as a woman who isn’t overly feminine, I appreciated. And no, I don’t think that’s because she was written by a man either. I found her to be exactly like many of my female friends and relished reading a female character that didn’t make me roll my eyes. Svoboda as the goofy sidekick made it even better. This pairing definitely melted my feminist heart.

I’ve officially decided that space capers full of sarcastic geniuses is the best thing ever. I need more of this exact combo! I was a fan of The Martian, and Artemis is exactly what I hoped it would be. Ever more the fan, I look forward to anything and everything Andy Weir wants to write!

The City of Brass – Review

“There’s no magic, no djinn, no spirits waiting to eat us up.”

Nahri doesn’t believe in magic. Even if proof exists in her ability to heal, both herself and others. It doesn’t matter. It’s just a part of her. Not a magical being there to grant wishes of her every whim. She’s just a con artist, hustling her way to something resembling a decent life in Cairo.

When one of her cons accidentally conjures Dara, a powerful djinn warrior, Nahri finds herself running from enemies she never knew existed, to a city she’s never heard of, to seek sanctuary from people she never believed in.

But once she reaches Daevabad, her life doesn’t become any safer. Court politics and centuries old tensions surround her at every turn. Nahri once dreamed of being a powerful healer. Of having wealth and luxury and fame. They do say, be careful what you wish for.

“The abilities that had once kept a roof over her head had become a curse, this connection with long-dead relatives she’d never known a plague on her life.”

The City Of Brass is one beautiful fantasy novel! Chakraborty brings the landscape of the Middle East to life with lush descriptions. You can smell the cedar chips burning in the rooms, and luxuriate in the sandalwood perfuming the air. Breathe in the jasmine and frankincense of the gardens, drink in the rose petals in the Grand Bazaar, while sipping sweet Hibiscus tea. Every texture, sound, scent and flavor is described simply yet effectively and it makes you yearn to surround yourself in the magic of scenery that Chakraborty weaves.

Along with the perspective of Nahri, we get Alizayd, a young idealistic Prince struggling to find his own way in the city. He wants to revolutionize what he sees as his father’s corrupt regime, but doing so isn’t as easy as he initially thinks. Choices he makes have devastating consequences.

Mystery surrounds Dara, but not just around him. The more Nahri learns, the more it seems like everyone has hidden agendas and secrets in the city of brass. Nahri wants to be left alone, but quickly learns that this isn’t an option. Whether she likes it or not, she is at the center of a war she doesn’t understand and can’t hope to control. Her friendship with both Dara and the young Prince only makes it more confusing and difficult for her.

“To keep walking a path between loyalty to your family and loyalty to what you know is right. One of these days, you’re going to have to make a choice.”

Both Ali and Nahri discover that not everything is what they thought, and that there are things happening around them that they can’t possibly begin to understand. They will have to re-examine everything they think they know and face choices more difficult than anything they’ve ever faced before.

The way Chakraborty presents the characters, it isn’t easy to pin a definitive good or bad on anyone. It is a complex society with a muddied history, and all sides make questionable choices both in the past and the present. Which makes the prospect of the next two books in the trilogy even  more exciting because I honestly have no idea which direction this story can go.

“She felt for him–truly. It was frustrating when someone upended your well-laid plans.”

I love when characters and plots reside firmly in the mucky grey area of moral ambiguity. Writing from the perspective of good versus evil is just too easy. I prefer a more complicated point of view, and starting with a con artist as one of the main characters places us dead center in murky.

Prince Ali is also fantastic writing and character development. He is righteous, but Chakraborty makes sure that he sees that even his beliefs aren’t black and white. That he must face hard truths in order to really stand behind his beliefs, and that his beliefs might end with just as much blood shed as he wants to stop. The similarities to current racial and religious conflicts are woven into his story line. Which gives the entire book a richer and more in depth texture.

Everything in this book is vivid and filled with beautiful writing. But the plot is well paced, with just enough world building and adventure to make you feel that you are well ensconced in the landscape with Nahri and Ali. And the mystery. Just when you think things are going to be resolved, new mysteries and intrigues are presented. The last few chapters of the book end in a maddening combination of satisfaction and immediately needing more. Have I mentioned that 2019 is WAY TOO LONG TO WAIT FOR THE NEXT BOOK?????

I absolutely loved the setting, and feel like I haven’t read enough fantasy in this area or with this particular mythology. I devoured this world, and fell in love with every single thing in this book. The City of Brass immediately became my new book obsession!

Anyone who loves good fantasy, with solid world building, breathtaking pacing, questionable characters and a whopping heap of adventure will fall in love with this book. Absolutely stunning book!

The Power – Review

“The shape of power is always the same.”

The Power is such an amazing book! Anyone who enjoys reading about the complexity and reality of power, both perceived and enforced, implied and physical, will enjoy this novel. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and The Power shows us the harsh truth in those four words.

We open with a series of letters between two people. There is a work of fiction being presented for one to read of the others. When the letters stop, we don’t get dates, we simply get a countdown in years. We’re counting down to something, but we don’t yet know what.

We get the novel told in four alternating points of view. Each character, Allie, Roxy, Tunde, and Margot present us with a perspective on the world we find ourselves flung into. A world where suddenly, out of nowhere, women discover they have a physical power residing within them. In a new organ called a skein, attached to their collarbone, women can now create electricity and shoot it out through their hands. Young women can trigger this power in older women.

I really liked the symbolism of having the youth wake up the older women. There’s something powerful in the idea that youth leads the way for change, but also that they won’t leave the older women behind. That is one of the more positive symbols in the novel.

But with any good, there is also bad, and the fact that the more powerful will turn on the less powerful is a reality that couldn’t be ignored. In this case it extends to less powerful women as well, and I liked that Jos, Margot’s daughter was the representation of this dark side to this new world.

These alternating perspectives help us unfold this world in such a detailed way. Rather than being told one point of view, we see the scope of this power on a world perspective. Which is so necessary for the totality of this story. One voice wouldn’t have fully captured the huge perspective that this type of power shift would have.

“It is only that every day one grows a little, every day something is different, so that in the heaping up of days suddenly a thing that was impossible has become possible.”

The writing is smart and edgy with just enough realism to make the horror slowly set in. You feel the shift in power happen slowly, but also all at once. As you read through each narrators experience of the world around them, combined with bright and sunshiny news reporters, the book reads like a surreal nightmare. Anyone who adores the eery and terrifying worlds that Margaret Atwood creates will quickly fall in love with The Power.

“When historians talk of this moment they talk about “tensions” and “global instability”. They posit the “resurgence of old structures” and the “inflexibility of existing belief patterns”. Power has her ways. She acts on people, and people act on her.”

Because I want to discuss some of the incredibly fascinating points, the rest of this review will contain some spoilers. So if you haven’t read this book, please STOP READING!!!

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The sheer brilliance of this novel happens at the end. This is where you really get the final sucker punch, and this twist is absolutely stunning in its brilliance. Where we finally see that this narration has been a fiction wrapped in fiction. An alternate history where the acts of the past are being pieced together by an author, hoping to read into the clues that history has left behind.

This mix of alternate history combined with dystopia creates an intoxicating blend of fiction that is breathtaking and impossible to put down. What’s genius about this, is how with a single twist, Aldermann was able to take our ideas about women and turn them upside down. It isn’t simply the entire novel we now see. It is a history where one gender has possibly taken control of the narrative and conditioned the other into certain behaviors and traits.

We often hear how women would be better leaders because violence isn’t in us the way it is men. And maybe that’s true. But maybe it isn’t. However, the allure of power is something that I think has been documented fairly extensively over time. I think that regardless of culture, regardless of how systematically oppressed women have been, if they woke up to having an actual power literally in their fingertips, enough of them would seize it and this change to society would happen.

I love good villains. Not for the evil they inflict, but because we do all carry the capacity for great acts of good and horrific acts of bad. It is a matter of how far we are pushed. Exploring ideas like this really makes you stop and face the reality that perhaps good people would do terrible things if pushed far enough. That perhaps good people would relish the power to suddenly control their own lives in a way they never could before. That perhaps might does make for right, and it is only the lesser that pleads for peace. Not everyone would succumb to that darkness, but how many would?

Throughout this whole novel, though, we don’t necessarily see villains. We see different characters coming to terms with this gigantic change. We see them witness great acts of kindness but we also see them behaving horrifically. And knowing the oppression that some of these women in some of these countries have faced, it is both understandable and horrifying.

Tunde is one of the most interesting characters, partly because he is the only male voice. I think it’s very real that even until the end, he held onto the belief that it wasn’t yet that bad. That his assumed and unspoken power of just being a man, an idea that he had grown up with and become used to, slowly slipped away. Again, we are empathetic to his plight but it’s also difficult to feel completely sorry for him as well.

The final piece that I found brilliant is Mother Eve and the voice she heard. Throughout the book I was reading this as a current unfolding of events, not aware of the twist that came at the end. So I was trying to figure out if this was actually going to be a significant piece of her character, or if she was just crazy. Knowing that the end has this as a fiction novel 5,000 years in the future, where what we thought is today turns out to be the past suddenly made her voice make sense.

It is obvious that women rewrote history. The idea that men could be police officers, soldiers or aggressive was ridiculous to the women of the future. There was a feminine slant of religion. So I think using this fiction as understanding the source of this history and this religion was smart. We often use realistic fiction to understand history and read the signs left. To do the same in this context made so much sense to me.

Overall this book was stunning in execution. The exploration of all things power is chilling and eye opening. I loved the idea of turning gender norms on their head, on really facing the idea that power doesn’t care what gender embodies it, only that it is embraced. This is a book I can see gracing college campuses and being examined for it’s ideas for a long time. I am so glad I jumped into this buddy read on Instagram!

Perfectly Undone – Review

“Dad always told me, “People should never forget where they come from,” as if it’s possible to erase it from memory. Maybe if I could forget my past, I’d finally get a hold on my future.”

Dr. Dylan Michels has it all. A fantastic job doing what she loves, the chance to further her career and her research to help save women, and an amazing boyfriend who is there for her no matter how hard she works. So, when he proposes, why does she go running into the rain?

We know up front that Dylan is obsessed with her grant research, and her career, because of her sister’s death. We don’t know how exactly she died, only that Dylan somehow feels responsible for it. And her entire family relationship is centered around this loss. She is distant from her mother, who also holds on to Abby as much as Dylan, but they can’t grieve together. Her father and brother share their grief, but only on the anniversary date, so while on the surface they seem close, it also feels more frail than it appears.

And then there’s Cooper. Her boyfriend of 9 years. The man who loves and her accepts her and is always rooting for her. Even when her life hasn’t settled into the one he hoped for. He has the family she wants, and couldn’t think of life without him. Which is partly why she drove me a little crazy.

Here’s the thing about Dylan: I didn’t particularly like her. Don’t get me wrong, I understood her, where her character was coming from, the determination to right a perceived wrong. But she drove me crazy. She was so unaware of herself and her actions. I found it maddening that she expected everyone to be so understanding of her actions, even when she did nothing to explain them, but then refused to give other people the same courtesy. I found her to be a little self-absorbed and very immature, the her hypocrisy made me want to throw the book more than once.

If turmoil and bad choices aren’t your thing, you’re probably going to be in for a disappointment. These characters are a symphony of poor communication. Of assuming that the choices you make in order to protect other people, or because you think you know what they’re thinking, are always the right choices. This dance of missed opportunities is done throughout the book in multiple relationships, and really drives home the important of being open and honest with the ones you love. There is a certain Shakespearean elegance, (or perhaps it’s more Greek tragedy), to the relationships and how they develop (or fall apart) in this novel.

In this regard, it struck me over and over, how unfair and immature Dylan was being. She listens to people complain about people behaving a certain way in their lives, and even has those same issues with others, but completely fails to recognize it in her own self. And, when it comes to one rough spot, albeit a very bad rough spot, she simply shuts down and freezes everyone out. It’s difficult to go into the specifics without giving away spoilers. But, I can say, for a character who is told how perceptive she is to the needs of her patients, it’s amazing how little she lacks that same ability in her personal life. Or rather, she has it, she just simply doesn’t want to face it.

“I realize I may have pushed things too far. Maybe I didn’t want to hear his side, because it would bring me to this moment: facing the ugly truth. I’ve always known I was keeping Cooper at a distance, but I hoped he didn’t notice.”

Maybe that’s the point. Maybe that’s how we are in real life. We all probably have the most difficultly seeing how we truly behave with others. And it’s hard to face the ugly truths about ourselves. When things aren’t personal, we are able to relax and follow what we know to be right and true. But when our hearts get in the way, our heads seem to short-circuit.

Of course, unlike Shakespeare, or the Greeks, this story doesn’t end in tragedy, or, at least not the tragedy you expect. This story is more about forgiveness, and all that word encompasses. Forgiving others, but especially forgiving our selves. And I did like how the author led the conclusion of that forgiveness down several different paths for the characters. Sometimes forgiveness means letting go. And sometimes it doesn’t.

Not liking the main character aside, I did enjoy this book. I find that books that make me really think and identify with what makes me uncomfortable are often some of the most satisfying books. I also find that people aren’t always likable, so why do we always expect that of the characters within our books? Even if I don’t want to be BFF’s with the characters in the pages, it made me think and feel and examine my reactions deeper than just the surface. And that’s worth reading.

This complexity makes it, I think, the absolute perfect book for the November book club pick. There is substance and depth to each of the characters. Not to mention, quite a few issues to keep conversation interesting; such as guilt, lies, secrets to just name a few.

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Thank you to BookSparks for sending me a copy to read and review as part of FRC2017!