Riot Baby came out in January 2020 to much acclaim and nominations to many of the most respected science fiction awards (Nebula Award Nominee 2020, Goodreads Science Fiction Choice Award Nominee 2020, Hugo Award Nominee 2021, Locus Award Nominee 2021). But this book is so timely I had to triple check its release date as I was listening to the audiobook–its prescience for the summer of 2020 is as apt as the future sight of the protagonist, Ella.
Ella is only about 5 when her brother Kev is born during the Rodney King riots in 1992 Los Angeles, but she can already see flashes of the future. Ella and Kev grow up protecting each other, developing their skills, and trying to escape the effects of racism, but by adulthood Kev is incarcerated and Ella has to leave to find her full power. But how will she handle having that much power in the face of a system that’s hurting her brother and their community so much? At once hopeful and devastating, Riot Baby is strongly recommended, especially the wonderfully done audiobook version narrated by the author himself. This book is for readers who want to further explore the effect racism and the prison industrial complex has on families and individuals, including one who happens to have superpowers.
They call him Ruslan, the last human. Rescued from Seraboth by the Myssari, he does not remember his real name. Humanity all but destroyed itself due to violence. The once far-reaching human empire of many worlds eventually succumbed to the Aura Malignance, a contagious infection caused by a biological weapon that was developed by humans, which killed only humans and could not be stopped.
Ruslan has been kept alive by the Myssari for many years as a highly valued and well respected, last human specimen. The Myssari are more honest, kind, friendly, trustworthy and less violent than humans. Ruslan respects those qualities and appreciates their care. Still, he does not control his own destiny. The Myssari wish to preserve the record of human civilization and restore the species while he thinks it is a waste of time and resources. Ruslan believes that humans deserved their fate. He views humans as opportunistic exploiters of just about anything. The Myssari offer to search for any other living humans and to try to find the planet Earth. Together, they travel to several different worlds in search of humans and encounter many obstacles, competing species and a variety of unusual outcomes.
Any reader who lasts through Chapter 8 may wonder why the story is so long and drawn out and may be tempted to quit there. But it gets more interesting fairly quickly. The characters are well developed and this is a good story that has a surprise ending. Relic could be adapted as a very interesting movie.
Have you ever looked at an old house, an ancient tree, or a piece of antique jewelry, and wished it could share what it has seen through the years? As a young child, Xanthe found that when sometimes she touched an old piece, she would become aware of its history.
Xanthe and her severely arthritic mother, Flora, had recently purchased an old antique shop. One day while adding stock, Xanthe came across a silver chatelaine (a set of short chains attached to a woman’s belt, used for carrying keys or other items) that spoke to her very powerfully. It not only had a story attached but the vengeful spirit of Margaret Merton. Margaret would stop at nothing, even murder, to get Xanthe to do her bidding.
In 1605, a servant girl named Alice was accused of being a thief and had been hanged. Using the silver chatelaine, Margaret sends Xanthe back in time so she can rescue Alice. While in the past, Xanthe also meets a grave young architect, Samuel Appleby, to whom she is strongly attracted, who helps her in her mission. By saving Alice from the hangman’s noose, Xanthe knew she was already risking the future but what choice did she have? Margaret’s spirit was in control and Xanthe would be trapped in the past if she didn’t prevent Alice from dying. Xanthe needs to return to her own time, knowing Flora might die without her help.
Xanthe is a quirky outspoken young woman whose vintage clothing, Doc Martens, compassion for others, witty sense of humor make her quite a character. The kind of person you’d want to travel back in time with on this adventure. Flora, her mother is a loving, smart woman who does not let her ailments and arthritic pain stop her from working and becoming a part of their new situation in Marlborough. Samuel is a renaissance man, who surprisingly overcomes his caution to befriend Xanthe who’s fighting for justice in an unjust time.
Really, how hard is it to knock out a book? It’s just a few hundred pages sitting there on your desk. But, hey, you’re a busy cat and you’ve got things to do!
Words on a page ought not to be daunting but sometimes it’s impossible to escape the guilt. That story keeps haunting you, a ghost lingering in the back of your mind. If it’s good, it’s a welcome tug that will finally pull you back into graceful orbit over a magical world. And if the tale is terrible, well, then it’s like being back in high school with that burnt out teacher. You know the one, he or she took joy in watching you squirm when they asked a master’s thesis level question you had no chance of answering.
You know what sometimes can be worse? Having to write a review about a book, particularly one that may be underwhelming. This is especially true if you have settled into reading a particular sub-genre that you are a little bored with from jump. I mean, urban fantasy is a good ten years past it’s heyday in my mind. So it’s really on me because I wanted comfort. I selected the book using a loose familiarity with the author and a summary on the back of the paperback which teased a slightly new twist to well-worn genre tropes.
“Verity Price is a tough young woman with a secret life protecting ‘cryptids’ (magical beings) from harm who has to take on the hot young zealot out to get them, only to end up teaming up with him to rescue a dragon from an evil cult. Sexy times and ballroom dancing ensue.”
Barring snappy banter here and there, that’s really it. Plus sequels.
Don’t get me wrong, McGuire is normally a great read (I like her other series, featuring the character October Daye) and moments really do shine in the book. There surely are people who must love the series because she keeps writing sequels. So far, seven novels have been published and another one is scheduled for release in early 2019.
I don’t want to discourage anyone from reading it because, hey, maybe it’s just not for me. But what I’d like to focus on for the rest of this article (and other upcoming ones) is what to do when you find yourself in a corner such as I ended up. Where does that next book come from?
Usually you ask someone, right? If it’s someone who knows you and they have the right frame of mind, they can match something to you in no time. At the very least you will find out what they are reading. That gives you something to talk about the next time you see them if nothing else.
Maybe you are reading a magazine that gives reviews. Maybe you are watching TV and they interview an author about their latest work. Or maybe you go into store with books and just browse until something strikes your fancy.
These are the things that most people do but — commonly — there is one thing they do not do or do very rarely. What is that one thing? Ask your local librarian for a suggestion.
If you are unable to make it to a library branch, you can always use our online Ask a Librarian form. Short answers will be sent within 24 hours. Longer answers will be returned as soon as possible.
Or during the months of December 2018, January 2019, and February 2019, you can sign up for suggestions from a librarian as part of our Books & Brews 502. All you need to do is attend one of the scheduled events.
For more info on LFPL’s Adult Winter Reading Program, click here.
Sometimes, if you’re discussing books that you read, games that you play, shows that you watch, music you listen to – basically any media you consume – you need some specialized ideas and terms to help you describe and discuss it. “It was great” or “It was bad” or “I thought it was OK” are all very well and good, but it’s so much more satisfying if you can also talk about WHY you liked/disliked something. If you want to win arguments and impress your friends, remember your ABCs – Always Backup Criticism.
Have examples, of course, of things you like or don’t and why. But, sometimes, you need some special vocabulary and ideas in order to help you with your critique. That means it’s time to add another idea to your toolbox: high vs. low concept. This is all about how much concept a work of art contains, not how good the concept is. Think of it as a matter of the amount the concept itself contributes to the total content of the work.
Jane Austen’s novels are generally low concept. The idea of the novels – that people in various economic circumstances need to get paired up (or not paired up, or not paired up the way they thought) – is nowhere near as important to the books as the interactions between the characters, which is why people read them. Here’s an example pie chart, based on a very precise and academic guesstimate:
There’s also works that split it pretty much right down the middle, generating interest in equal parts from the idea that drives them, as well as the execution of the plot and characters:
On the far end of the scale, there’s also works that are high concept – that get their interest mostly from the ideas that drive them. I can think of no better example than 18 Days (an adaptation of the Mahabharata), which breaks down about like this:
The library has the concept art book, if you want a look at the idea, but, sadly, they didn’t get full funding for the series as it was originally conceived. Instead, you can watch it in a few different languages on the Graphic India YouTube channel. Still pretty awesome, though.
Whatever the level of concept in your media, now you have a new way to talk about the things you love: is it high concept, low concept, or a balance of the two?
Ready Player One is a fun and thoroughly enjoyable romp across the world both real and virtual in the year 2044. For those of us that grew up during the 1980’s, it is also a very nostalgic romp full of references to things such as Rubik’s Cubes, Pac Man games and 80’s movies. In addition, if you are a fan of the Canadian rock band Rush as I am, you are in for a treat!!!
Ready Player One is set in the not so distant future. It’s the year 2044 and the world isn’t a good place. Reality is so bad for most people that they experience their lives mostly through their avatars in an online virtual world called OASIS. A unique opportunity arises when James Halliday — the 1980’s obsessed computer guru that created OASIS — dies and lets the world know that he has left a series of puzzles that lead to an Easter Egg in OASIS. Whoever solves the puzzles and finds the Easter Egg first wins the ultimate prize…Halliday’s massive fortune and control of his corporation.
In Halliday’s video will that was released upon his death, he left a clue:
“Three hidden keys open three secret gates
Wherein the errant will be tested for worthy traits
And those with the skill to survive these straits
Will reach The End where the prize awaits.”
Halliday also left a clue in a book he wrote that contained a puzzle to help people know where to begin hunting for the first clue.
“The Copper Key awaits explorers
In a tomb filled with horrors
But you have much to learn
If you hope to earn
A place among the high scorers.”
Our hero — Wade Watts, AKA Parzival — is a student and like countless others, has been obsessed for years with trying to solve the puzzle that Halliday left. The ‘gunters’ (shortened version of egg hunters) teach themselves about 1980’s movies, pop culture and video games to better equip themselves for solving the puzzles. It has been years since Halliday’s death and still no one has solved the first part of the puzzle. Parzival suddenly makes a connection and figures out the location of where to begin the quest. As he solves the first puzzle and gets the first key, he appears on the Scoreboard which attracts the attention of the whole world. He embarks upon a deadly, epic quest to solve the puzzles along with many others who are close at his heels.
The story begins with Mary Jekyll, who has just buried her mother and is orphaned and broke and desperate for a way to make money. She’s also very interested in the secrets of her father’s shadowy past…one clue leads her to believe that if she could locate her father’s former friend, Edward Hyde, there is a reward for his capture and this could solve some of her urgent money troubles.
But her hunt leads her to Hyde’s daughter, Diana, a wild, untamed and hilarious young girl suddenly shoved into Mary’s care. With the help of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Mary becomes involved in a spectacular adventure and mystery and befriends more remarkable women, all of whom have been created through frightening experiments.
The women uncover a secret society of wicked scientists and they band together to fight the forces of evil and take back their identities.
It’s such a fun read, I highly recommend reading it as I did with the windows open and rain falling outside, crisp fall air and a large ginger cat at your feet. Or another colored cat, doesn’t have to be a ginger. Or a dog. Whatever your preference. But it’s the perfect book to curl up with during the autumn season.
As an avid science fiction reader, I grabbed this one up when I realized it was in my favorite genre and about my favorite place in the world – the library! After reading the book, not much of it actually takes place in a library, but the main character is a librarian so I guess that makes it still a worthwhile read!
The novel centers on the intriguing life of Irene who is a librarian for the Invisible Library. The Library exists in its own dimension and librarians can travel to other dimensions to collect books/items that may be of interest to the Library. Irene is introduced to us by way of her first mission with her new assistant Kai. She has been asked to retrieve a version of the Grimm Brothers fairy tales in an alternate reality. Each world that Irene travels to has a different combination of magic and technology available and this can be a challenge to the librarians.
Right away Irene and Kai run into trouble with the Fae, a group of vampires and a rogue librarian. The novel continues this way with multiple battles to be fought while Irene is starting to find that Kai holds a deeper secret about his past. Irene does finally acquire the book, but with plenty of plot twists and adventures along the way.
This book is your basic steampunk fantasy romp, but well-written and keeps your attention throughout. I would have liked to learn a little more about the Library because what real life librarian wouldn’t want to work in a hidden library in a different dimension? In my mind I imagined it somewhat like the Tardis with hidden rooms and giant reading rooms for all types of different genres, but I guess the author leaves it up to the reader to decide what the Library looks like in their own minds.
This series does have a second book out called The Masked City which is available now and the third book is due out in January, but I’m currently tearing through the advanced reader copy right now. Don’t worry I won’t post any spoilers!
V.E. Schwab ’s A Darker Shade of Magic had been on my to-read shelf for quite some time, but my current graphic novel obsession has prevented me from picking it up. Just this past weekend, I decided I was ready for some adult science fiction again, so I picked up the first in her trilogy of three books. I was instantly hooked after the first couple chapters and finished it in a couple of nights.
A Darker Shade of Magic takes place in London, but it’s not the London that you or I are familiar with. Think if your world had three parallel levels that were stacked on top of each other and were only accessible by a few select people in the world. This is the London of A Darker Shade of Magic. We immediately meet Kell, who is our main character, and find out that he is one of very few called the Antari. He was born with magic in his blood, and this allows him to access the other Londons. He refers to them by color: his London is the Red London which is full of magic, the Grey London is a place like our own world where magic is scarce, and the White London is a world that has been ravaged by war. Kell is often called on by his king to deliver messages from world to world, but he may have a side job or two as well while visiting the other Londons.
Schwab takes her time in developing a plot, but this doesn’t cause the novel to drag at all. In the meantime, she is creating a beautiful world (or worlds in this case) and making sure that all of her characters are intriguing as well. The reader truly can visualize the world that Kell lives in and the worlds that he travels too before the action even gets started.
Almost halfway through the book, we begin to get into our plot which introduces our other main character, Lila. Lila is a pickpocket in Grey London, but quickly finds herself thrown into a parallel world battle for a stone that may allow an Antari to access a London that no longer is accessible. We also meet Holland at this point who is another Antari, but he is employed by the monarchy of White London. Kell and Lila embark on a journey that will take them through many worlds and many close calls as they try and keep the stone out of the hold of the evil king and queen of White London.
This book is a wild roller coaster ride and I’m looking forward to where the next two books lead. The next book, A Gathering of Shadows is already available and the last book will be out next February. If you like your science fiction with only small amounts of fantasy mixed in, I highly recommend this as your next book!
Summer is the season of family vacations and this means often long road trips accompanied by restless travelers of all ages. Regardless of your reading preference or road trip companions, the absolute best way to pass the time on a long road trip is by listening to an audiobook. Sharing an engaging story with your vacation companions can stave off the repetition of, “are we there yet?” and turn even the most reluctant reader into backseat book critic.
Below you’ll find a few of my favorites from a variety of genres and talented narrators. In most cases I have a personal preference for authors as narrators, but some very talented voice actors are noted below. Most genres listed feature children’s (C), teen (T), and adult (A) titles. Although the adult titles may not be appropriate for children/teens, adults should not restrict themselves to only adult titles. A well-executed audiobook, although geared toward a younger audience, can easily be enjoyed by all ages. No matter the variety of personal tastes filling your vehicle there is an audiobook (or two, or three) that will meet your needs.