Book Review: The Lie Tree, A Spellbinding Read

You know those books that you can’t stop reading? You get so immersed in them that you read them for hours at a time, like you were watching a movie, and when you’re done, you feel…a little empty. Not only do I enjoy those kinds of books, but I take copious notes as to exactly how they achieve it. It’s one thing to feel it, it’s another to understand why.  The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge was one such book for me, but honestly, I’m still not sure if I fully understand why it moved me so much. Let me tell you about it, and see what you think.

What Is The Lie Tree About?

Here’s the description from the back cover:

Faith Sunderly leads a double life. To most people, she is modest and well mannered–a proper young lady who knows her place. But inside, Faith is burning with questions and curiosity. She keeps sharp watch of her surroundings and, therefore, knows secrets no one suspects her of knowing–like the real reason her family fled Kent to the close-knit island of Vane. And that her father’s death was no accident.

In pursuit of revenge and justice for the father she idolizes, Faith hunts through his possessions, where she discovers a strange tree. A tree that bears fruit only when she whispers a lie to it. The fruit, in turn, delivers a hidden truth. The tree might hold the key to her father’s murder. Or, it might lure the murderer directly to Faith herself, for lies–like fires, wild and crackling–quickly take on a life of their own.

Faith, in her pursuit of an outlet for her cleverness and answers to the questions posed by her father’s murder, nurtures the tree and ingests the fruit, but the things she discovers aren’t the things she thought she would.

What Makes It Great?

So picture a brambly English moor, like the one in Wuthering Heights, and a turbulent coast that hides lots of caves, like the kind in Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince, Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper (another great book I need to review here), or Willowkeep by Julie Daines. It’s moody and creepily magic. So a mystical setting is one thing that sets this books apart, but it’s not all.

And the prose is strong, as in this paragraph:

She was very aware of herself, of her own lungs filling and emptying. She could feel where the china saucer dented her fingers, and the shapes of her teeth against her dry tongue. Something warm was spilling from her eyes down her cheeks. Suddenly she was hotly, unbearably alive.

The whole book is like that, a great example to me as a writer of “showing” and not “telling.” But it’s more than the setting and the prose.

Its underlying theme of seeking respect, particularly women seeking respect from men who aren’t willing to give it, is one that was artfully woven into the plot and is relevant today. It’s Faith unwittingly seeking an answer, through the process of trying to solve her father’s murder, to the question of whether one should seek to demand respect from those who withhold it, or not worry about what anyone else thinks, even if that limits your circumstances. I think that’s a question all of us have sought the answer to at one time or another. So, it’s the setting and the prose and the theme.

But that’s still not sufficient. What makes The Lie Tree extraordinary is something that I’m not sure can be adequately articulated by anyone, and that is how it makes one feel. The reader wants Faith to get the notice she desires from her father before he dies, to have people recognize her intellect and help her nurture it, and to solve the mystery surrounding her father’s death. She’s a good, well-drawn robust character.

So, Who Would Like The Lie Tree, And Why?

There’s no romance, so if you like romance in your books, don’t read this. If you like mysteries like Shatter, you’ll like this. If you liked any book in the Harry Potter series, you’ll like The Lie Tree. It’s also a little like Colorless by Rita Stradling. It’s just a really good book!

 

Book Review: Anubis Gates

If you like complicated time-travel fantasy books, then I have a book recommendation for you: The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers. Its premise is that time travel is possible if one knows where certain “gaps” in the flow of time are. It was a difficult read for me, but those that enjoy adult sci-fi of the time travel variety might enjoy this.

What Is Anubis Gates About?

From GoodReads:

Brendan Doyle, a specialist in the work of the early-nineteenth century poet William Ashbless, reluctantly accepts an invitation from a millionaire to act as a guide to time-travelling tourists. But while attending a lecture given by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1810, he becomes marooned in Regency London, where dark and dangerous forces know about the gates in time. Caught up in the intrigue between rival bands of beggars, pursued by Egyptian sorcerers, befriended by Coleridge, Doyle somehow survives, and learns more about the mysterious Ashbless than he could ever have imagined possible.

Why Would a Reader Like or Dislike This Book?

While I think this premise had great potential, I didn’t think this book fulfilled it in the way I would like to have seen. Once Doyle gets stuck back in 1800’s England, the plot becomes really convoluted. He goes from one life-threatening situation to another, and then even from one body to another, with little or no time spent by the author on emotional development or plot building.

Most really good books, even adult sci-fi ones, are those that have main characters that grow, that start out as something, go through a bunch of challenges, and end up as wiser, more mature versions of themselves. Doyle starts out as a likable character, and does indeed go through a bunch of challenges, but ends up living out Ashbless’s life, which the reader doesn’t care about, by virtue of the fact that the story’s supposed to be about Doyle.

So, if you like hard sci-fi, time travel books, books containing werewolves, you might like this book. If you don’t, don’t read it.

Book Review: Memory of Fire, a Rich Read

I found myself jumping back and forth between four books this past week: Memory of Fire by Callie Bates (speculative), Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (YA sci-fi/apocalyptic), Torment by Lauren Kate (paranormal?) , and Glimmer by Phoebe Kitanidis (sci-fi/paranormal?).  Let me tell you about Memory.

What Memory of Fire is About And Who Would Like It

Memory is the sequel to The Waking Land, which I reviewed here. Like that book, it is a rousing story of magic versus evil, told in vivid first-person. It is rich in storylines, thick in ambience, and strong in style. It’s the story of Jahan Korakides, who is called to broker peace with the nation of Paladis after he helps his girlfriend, Elanna Valtai, win peace over the despotic ruler of the smaller kingdoms of Eren and Caeris. Elanna and Jahan are both sorcerers, though Elanna’s magic is a much more powerful, land-based power.

As Jahan seeks that peace with the monarchs of Paladis, the story also becomes very much one of him striving to overcome the damage and trauma done to him when he was young by a woman hired by his father to grow his magical powers, and find his brothers, who were also hurt by her. The monarchs of Paladis want to eliminate sorcery altogether, and don’t know that Jahan is a sorcerer and tied so closely to Elanna. The citizens of Paladis want Jahan to lead a rebellion that would have sorcerers holding just as much political power, if not more, than non-sorcerers. He just wants to heal, find his brothers, and get to safety, but quickly finds his way blocked and a different course laid out for him.

If I were to depict it in a video, as I’m wont to do, it would be this one:

 

..only perhaps sped up a little bit and with multi-colored threads as opposed to only white ones. The finished product is intricately-woven, moves at breakneck speed, and satisfies not only those readers looking for fantasy, but also those looking for high political intrigue, romance, and deft world-building.

Nutrition Facts, Anyone?

There are a few swear words and one or two allusions to sex. There are many references to the importance of family ties, no matter how difficult they can be to maintain. There is mention of a gay relationship, handled in a very gentle way. A good amount of violence.

Anything Wrong?

If I gave Memory of Fire anything less than a full 10 stars on my 10-star scale, I’d have to dock all books with the trope of a power-hungry antagonist (or two), and there are too many of those to count. I’ve read so many books lately where the antagonist is a flat character only motivated purely by a lust for power. What does it say about me that I want a little more dimension in the antagonists I read about?

 

Disclosure: I received a free ARC of Memory of Fire from NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review of the book.

Book Review: Fallen is a Mesmerizing Read

A couple of weeks ago, I was watching my husband flick through Amazon Video options when he came across a movie called Fallen.  Its premise—that a teenage girl has to go to reform school because she was blamed for (and is sure she accidentally caused) the death of a young boy,  and she finds herself drawn to a fellow student at that school, unaware that he is an angel who has loved her for thousands of years—sounded intriguing to me. Since my hubby deemed it too “chick flick” to watch, I looked it up and found that it was based on a book of the same name. So, of course, I bought the book. It was indeed a “chick” book, centered as it was upon the relationship between Luce, the girl, and Daniel, the boy, and for that reason, as well as reasons of its own, it was a very enjoyable read.

What Fallen Is About

As mentioned, it’s about Luce (pronounced like “loose”) meeting Daniel and trying to figure out why he steadfastly avoids her and is even occasionally mean to her, though she keeps finding herself in weirdly dangerous circumstances from which he has to save her. It’s about the friends she makes while there, the terror she lives with every day because of her fear that whatever she saw kill that other young boy will come back, and the fact that memories of Daniel–many memories–keep surfacing in Luce’s head.

Why Fallen Is Enjoyable…Maybe Even Addictive

After reading the book, I had to get the movie, which was only available for purchase through Amazon Video (it’s not on Netflix or Redbox). I was struck, while watching it, with how much it resembled the first Twilight movie. They shared similar themes: a teenage girl inexplicably but powerfully drawn to a very handsome teenage boy, but he does everything he can to avoid her, even though he’s drawn even more powerfully to her. The Fallen movie and the first Twilight movie also shared a similar “indie” feel, drawn from rainy surroundings, non-mainstream music, and creative-and-definitely-not-high-budget special effects. There’s also a definite love triangle going on.

The books are thus easily comparable, and in that vein, there’s much less internal dialogue in Fallen than there was in Twilight. Luce is an intriguing main character who has a refreshingly good relationship with her parents, though they don’t feature prominently in this book. She’s kind, cute, and smart.

And while Fallen doesn’t end with a cliffhanger per se, it does end with at least as many open questions as answered ones. I immediately ordered the sequel to it, and the sequel to that, and expect that I’ll get the last two books in the pentalogy after that.

Who Might Like Fallen

Obviously, anyone who liked Twilight will like this book. If you like star-crossed love stories, you will love this story. If you like books with a bit of a gothic feel, you’ll like this.

Book Review: Genesis is an Extremely Intense Read

I think I set a record even for myself recently: I read a 500-page book in two days. On Monday of this week, we drove from Salt Lake City, Utah to Flagstaff, Arizona, a 7.5-hour drive, and on Tuesday, we drove from Flagstaff to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, another two. I read almost the entire time. It’s not every book that could’ve commanded that much of my attention. What’s the book, you ask? Genesis by Brendan Reichs. I picked it up at Costco, having read its prequel Nemesis. I liked the first book, except for the massive cliffhanger at its end. It was so massive that I almost didn’t buy it, but I did, so I guess I fell for that. I’m glad I did, though. Genesis was one of the most taut, intense, dark books I’ve ever read.

What Genesis Is About

It’s dark because of the premise, which is that, in the face of a cataclysmic event that has killed all life on Earth, 64-members of a small-town high school’s sophomore class have been preserved as digital versions of themselves inside a super computer. Every detail of their lives within the little valley of Fire Lake, Idaho has been preserved, but they’ve been told that the super computer doesn’t have the capacity to preserve all of them digitally forever. Thus, they need to fight things out until they get down to the right amount of kids. There are no rules, because if one of them dies or gets killed, they just “reset,” kind of like in a video game. There are no parents, no other people, and a limited supply of food and other resources. Some students hide, most fight, and those that fight discover that each kill they make imbues them with more strength. So, picture Hunger Games combined with…The Andy Griffith Show? Min, one of the two main characters, doesn’t want to kill anyone, and she hates Noah, the other main character, because she’d started to fall in love with him at the end of the first book, and then he shot her in the back. She tries to hide at first, but is drawn out by some of her classmates because she’s a “beta.” Noah’s determined to figure out the program they’re inside of, and feels like it’s finally given him a purpose, a chance to lead that he’d never had in real life.

If I had known how violent this book would’ve been before I bought it, I wouldn’t have bought it. It’s very violent. As it was, I shouldn’t have read it all the way through. But I did, and I didn’t get nightmares, which I’m prone to.

So the thing that drives the plot forward at breakneck speed is the discoveries Min makes about why they need to limit their numbers, and the continual formation and dissolution of various alliances the kids make to protect themselves against those students who become bloodthirsty tyrants, all against the backdrop of “hey, why is Greg Kozowitz, who I used to sit with at lunch, shooting Floyd Hornberry?” or “why is skinny Jacob Allred, the school chess club champion, hoarding all the barbed wire?” It’s kind of crazy, and at some points, all-out insane, especially toward the end, when discoveries–really big ones–pile up on every page. It’s so insane that I very much wish that Reichs would’ve provided a map of Fire Lake, and a roster of the kids,  similar to the one provided of the enemies in GeminaIn fact, I think that Reichs could’ve easily made this into a YA graphic novel like the ground-breaking Gemina and its prequel Illuminae by providing those things, as well as things like code from the binders they discover, Tack’s map, maybe a short summary or timeline of what happened in Nemesis, etc.

So it’s dark, and has a plot that moves at break-neck speed, but more than that, it also has a certain intensity that comes from its characters and style. Reich has a gift for showing things so vividly they’re almost blinding, in a way that simultaneously develops characters. Noah and Min, for example, are very different characters, so they notice vastly different things, and describe them very differently. It’s wonderful to read a book that doesn’t sacrifice beauty for the sake of action.

And, best of all, it didn’t end with a cliffhanger. It ended with a very big question, but resolved this story’s question—that of whether the kids could maintain their humanity so that they’d be worth saving—very nicely.

Who Would Like Genesis?

If you liked any of these books, or like anything post-apocalyptic, I can almost guarantee you’ll love this one:

  • Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
  • The Host by Stephenie Meyer
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  • Maze Runner by James Dashner
  • Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey
  • Obernewtyn Chronicles by Isobelle Carmody
  • Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Nutrition facts label? A fair amount of swearing. No sex or nudity. Lots of violence, as mentioned.

 

If all books came with nutrition facts labels showing the essential “ingredients,” what would you like to see listed?

Book Review: Nothing Human, a Fascinating Read

As I wrap up this week, which has been full of:

  • volunteer hours at my kids’ schools,
  • preparations for Easter and Spring Break,
  • writers’ club meetings,
  • church meetings,
  • family get-togethers, interspersed with
  • gaming (I’m loving Horizon Zero Dawn, by the way),
  • geocaching, and
  • reading, of course…

I can’t help but be thankful for a good life. Some things feel scary, and I have thoughts that I’d really like to get into a blog post to see if I can get some real, constructive conversations going about issues that concern all of us. In the meantime, though, I’ve got a review of Nothing Human by Nancy Kress. Nancy is an American female science fiction writer, which is partially why I bought and read this book, but I was also intrigued by the premise of Nothing Human, which is:

What Nothing Human Is About

…that, in a setting where Earth has been ravaged by global warming, aliens contact and genetically modify a group of 14-year-old kids, inviting them to visit their spacecraft. After several months of living among the aliens and studying genetics, the students discover that the aliens have been manipulating them and rebel. Upon their return to Earth, the girls in the group discover that they are pregnant and can only wonder what form their unborn children will take. Generations later, the offspring of these children seek to use their alien knowledge to change their genetic code, to allow them to live and prosper in an environment that is quickly becoming uninhabitable from the dual scourges of global warming and biowarfare. But after all the generations of change, will the genetically-modified creatures resemble their ancestors, or will nothing human remain?

It’s a fascinating apocalyptic premise borne out by an interesting storytelling structure. It’s very intriguing to consider how we as a species could evolve to survive a slow apocalypse, especially if “guided” by an alien “human” species. It was a very thought-provoking read.

But…

I wouldn’t give Nothing Human a full 10 stars for a few reasons:

  • It didn’t play out as tautly as After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall, a book also by Nancy with a similar premise. That book is more YA and more intense.
  • Nothing Human is told in three parts and from various perspectives. I think the story would’ve been told better just from Lillie’s perspective, as she was the one character that all the parts and perspectives had in common.
  • The ebook copy that I got from Amazon was, for some reason, not a finished copy. There were a lot of typos, to the point that it was detracting.

I’d still give it at least 8 out of 10 stars, though. Sometimes, I like books that really make me think, but that also have interesting and relatable characters in thoroughly unrelatable circumstances.

 

Partial nutrition facts label:

Swear words: 55

 

What are you reading this week?

 

 

Book Review: The Time Key, a Charming Read

It’s been more than a week since I posted my last review, which puts me behind schedule! For those of you who eagerly await each new post of mine, and are disappointed by this lag, bless you and I apologize. For those of you who don’t mind a little wait as long as the reviews are good and helpful, bless you too. You guys are all awesome. I’ve been looking for a job (as an editor, of course), beta reading a friend’s manuscript, reading four books, and writing my own, among other things. I could tell you all about Keto Clarity by Jimmy Moore, a book that describes the ketogenic diet that I’ll probably be starting in a couple of weeks, but I don’t know if you’d be interested. If you are, let me know. I did finish The Time Key by Melanie Bateman, and thought you’d like to know about it.

What The Time Key is About

It’s about a time machine that looks like a pocket watch, shadows that move on their own, a man who misses his dead wife and daughter so desperately that he wants to kill himself, and a mugging. Stanley, that man, finds that he holds the Time Key because he saved someone from being mugged, a coincidental diversion from his own suicide attempt. He also finds himself the guardian of a five-inch tall “vaelie,” or fairy-like girl. Stanley’s story, told by an unnamed narrator other than himself, takes him from those dramatic circumstances backwards and forwards in time as he seeks to exorcise his own inner demons and save others whom he meets from demonic shadows as well.

What’s Great About The Time Key

The voice. Oh my goodness, the voice. It’s told, as I mentioned, by a narrator who sounds like someone standing backstage relating what’s happening on stage (Stanley’s life) to someone who can’t see. Take this paragraph, for example:

It is possible that the beginnings of stories are best when they reflect the happy events of life, simple moments that Stanley Becker missed. Or they might observe critical events that can alter and change the path of life. Throughout my travels, I have seen many things and met many people, but none of their stories have impacted me as much as Stanley’s. I often find myself returning to this particular night, where I see Stanley’s hunched figure motionless in the cold December night of 1897.

It’s that voice, the slight distance of it from Stanley’s heart, that balances out the dramatic events of his life after he gets the Time Key. If it were told in first-person, from his point of view, as he goes from abject depression to elation and back and forth all over time, I wouldn’t have been able to read to the end. I would’ve been too stressed.

Stanley himself is a good, sweet character too. He’s real and broken, but a very good person at heart who tries to protect as many people as he can.

What Could Have Been Better

The connection between Stanley, the Time Key, and his desire to be rid of the grief he feels for his wife and daughter was very opportune, and really drove the first half of the book. Who wouldn’t want to wind back the hands of time to be with lost loved ones, if one could? Stanley gets that opportunity, and he takes advantage of it, but (spoiler alert) he can’t stay in the past with them forever and he can’t bring them to his present, so he eventually has to let them go. Once he does, the emotional core of the story is gone. From then on, it’s just Stanley trying to evade the shadows who will kill him for the Time Key and a treasure they think it contains, and trying to rescue the man who gave him the Time Key, who he only met twice and didn’t know. The second half of the book seems almost to be a different story, a good one, but a different one, nonetheless.

Who Would Like This Book

If you like books with magic, you’ll like this book. If you like time travel books, you’ll like this one, although I can’t think of any time travel books that I know of that are similar to this. If you’re looking for romance, you won’t find it in The Time Key. There is a little bit of violence. No swearing, no sex. Some valor. A good amount of happiness.

 

Book Review: Plastic Magician, an Imaginative Read

If you follow my blog at all, you’ll know that I’m a fan of Charlie Holmberg. I loved her books The Fifth Doll and Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet. So, when given the opportunity by Netgalley to review a free ARC of her most recent book, The Plastic Magician, to be released on May 15th, I jumped at it. While this book, the fourth in her Paper Magician series, was an imaginative, fun read, it wasn’t quite the caliber of the other books I’ve read of hers. But I still recommend it, if you’re looking for something light and easy.

What Plastic Magician Is About

Alvie Brechenmacher is an apprentice in the field of plastic magic; she can bespell the substance to do any number of things, as long as she studies hard under her mentor, the world-renowned magician Marion Praff.  Alvie’s enthusiasm reinvigorates her mentor’s work, and together they create a device that could forever change Polymaking (the magic of materials). But Magician Praff has a bitter rival who learns of their plans and conspires to steal their invention and take the credit for it himself.

Alvie is a wonderful main character, a young woman who is smart, clueless in the ways of romance, attractive, mechanically inclined, eager, clumsy, and excited. As part of her apprenticeship, she’s required to do volunteer work at a local hospital, where she meets and befriends a young girl who has recently had her arm amputated. She happens to meet the girl’s brother, Bennet Cooper, and a cute romance develops between them.

Who Would Like This Book

Even though Alvie’s in her early twenties, I think the people that would most like this book would be young girls between the ages of 8 and 20. The plot, because it involves minimal conflict and a lot of magic, is more middle-grade than young adult. And, if you read and liked The Paper Magician, The Glass Magician, or The Master Magician, you’d probably like this book too, although I’m told that Alvie is quite different than the main character of those books, Ceony.

 

Book Review: Restore Me, an Embroiling Read

I just finished reading my fourth book this week: Restore Me by Tahereh Mafi. As it happens, it’s also the fourth book in Tahereh’s Shatter Me series. It was an embroiling read, as intense as the three books before it, but less for the action than for the emotion. And, of course, it too, has a cliffhanger ending. Guys. I can’t handle all these books with cliffhanger endings! So frustrating! It was good on so many levels, but you might want to wait until more books in this series come out before you pick this one up, because you’ll get to the end and be like:

via GIPHY

What Restore Me Is About

To tell you that, I have to tell you a little bit about what the previous three books are about, so this section will have some spoilers. The main character, Juliette Ferrars, has a lethal touch. This is in a far-future America where everyone’s all but killed everyone else off, and what’s left of humanity on this continent has organized itself into 50 independently-governed sectors. A group called The Reestablishment endeavors to control all of them, and wants to do so by wiping out all languages but one, all religions, everything that divides humankind up. Juliette has been kept in an asylum’s solitary confinement cell for almost a year because of her touch, until she’s given a cellmate who’s immune to it. He eventually reveals that he’s working for The Reestablishment, and then introduces her to Warner, the son of the Supreme Commander, who has come to free her so that she can use her touch to punish traitors to The Reestablishment.

Juliette doesn’t want to use her touch to hurt anyone, especially not traitors to The Reestablishment, so Adam, her cellmate, helps her escape. They get away, and Adam introduces her to a rag-tag group of people forming a rebellion against The Reestablishment, a crazy feat to even attempt given its size and power. But eventually Juliette reveals her ability and finds out that others in the group have powers as well. Over the course of a couple of books—Unravel Me and Ignite Me—they gather reinforcements, against all odds, and kill the Supreme Commander. Warner, the son, tracks Juliette obsessively, she thinks, because he wants to turn her over to his father, but really, because he is in love with her. He also happens to be immune to her touch, although no one knows that. So, by the end of book 3, the Supreme Commander is dead, Juliette learns how to turn her power on and off at will, and she realizes that she might love Warner too, broken young man that he is (like her).

Restore Me, then, is about Juliette’s first days as the new 17-year-old Supreme Commander of Sector 45, with Warner by her side. Adam, who was an initial love interest, is no longer in the picture. She was able to rally a whole sector of people and some allies to defeat the forces that the previous Supreme Commander brought to bear, but now that she’s in charge, she realizes how little she knows about everything. She’s quickly overwhelmed, especially when an announcement is made that the teenage children of the Supreme Commanders of all the other sectors are all coming to meet her. She finds unexpected allies and enemies in some of them, discovers secrets about her past that she didn’t even know existed but that upturn everything she thinks she knows about herself, and doesn’t discover enough about Warner to merit how deeply she falls in love with him. But she’s desperate for people, for touch, for help.

Who Might Like Restore Me and Why

Restore Me is definitely dystopian, in a way that reminds me of the Obernewtyn Chronicles, a series written by Australian Isobelle Carmody also based on the premise that many hundreds or thousands of years in the future, mankind almost makes itself extinct, to the point that cars and skyscrapers and Netflix and the internet are mere relics of the past, and the bad things we did to the environment before that happened caused mutations to develop in people that gave them certain abilities.

It goes without saying that if you’ve read any of the previous books in this series, you’ll like this one, if you’re okay with cliffhanger endings. If you’re a fan of the Twilight saga, you’d probably also like this book because Juliette, like Belle, is wrapped up in her inadequacies but drawn by some otherworldly chemistry to someone she shouldn’t be drawn to. There is a sex scene, and some swearing.

And, for you science fiction fans, there is very little world-building, so much so that it can be a little frustrating. To a certain extent, the descriptions of the characters’ environment has been taken care of in the previous books, but since they’ve destroyed a lot of it, and are rebuilding, more world-building would’ve definitely been helpful.

And, while I detest the baiting of cliffhanger endings, I anxiously await the release of the next book in the Shatter Me series.

Have you read anything by Tahereh Mafi? What did you think?

Book Review: Steal Across the Sky, A Philosophical Read

Nancy Kress is really good at writing hard-core science fiction, and for that alone I applaud her. To do that in such a male-dominated field is brilliant; to do it repeatedly is amazing. I thought her book  After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall  was brilliant. Steal Across the Sky, also by her, was less than she’s capable of, though. Where this book excels in world-building and uniqueness, it falls short in the area of characters with whom one can really relate and who have deep emotional progression.

What Steal Across the Sky is About

The book is about two people who volunteer visit seven planets and “witness” for a mysterious group of aliens that all-of-a-sudden arrived, built a base on the moon, and put an ad on the internet. These aliens claimed to have wronged humanity ten thousand years before, and need some volunteers to visit a bunch of planets seeded with human stock. Italian-English grad student Lucca and waitress Cam are among the twenty-one volunteers chosen, and they visit two planets. Cam encounters a monolithic, brutal and appallingly bloodthirsty culture where a game determines everybody’s destiny. On Lucca’s planet, evidence mounts that the people can perceive and converse with the recently dead, something Lucca rejects. Once all the witnesses return to Earth, a compelling picture emerges: on half of the planets visited, the inhabitants can indeed see and chat with the recently dead. The Atoners explain that those inhabitants carry a gene that allows them to do so. On the other planets, and Earth, the Atoners deleted the gene. (They don’t explain why.) On gene-less Earth, chaos ensues as Kress explores the consequences of that premise.

And, as you might imagine from that description, what ensues–actually what happens throughout almost all of the book–is essentially a philosophical discussion about what that means for humanity.

Why I Didn’t Connect With the Book

While the premise is fascinating (as I tend to find with many science fiction books), and the execution of that premise in line with the expectations of its genre, the emotional quotient is just not there. It would have been neat, I think, to see that chaos play out and then resolve in Lucca’s and Cam’s relationship, for instance. I think that would’ve made for a more intense, relatable book.

Also, because it’s adult sci-fi, the pacing was slower than that of YA. I can’t dock it for that because that wasn’t a fault of the book per se, just a matter of my taste.

Who Will Like Steal Across the Sky

If you’re a serious fan of science fiction, I would dare say that this book should be on your required reading list. If you liked books like A Case of Conscience, which explores the nexxus of science and religion from an other-worldly angle as well, you’ll like Steal Across the Sky. I, for one, am going to continue pursuing my goal of reading all of her books, even though this one wasn’t my favorite.