LITTLE LIST OF REVIEWS #10: Recent Netgalley Reads

Today’s Little List of Reviews features three reads from Netgalley that I’ve had on my Kindle for a long time and have needed to review for a while. Thank you to Netgalley

LITTLE LIST OF REVIEWS #10: Recent Netgalley ReadsTitle: The Girl in White Gloves by Kerri Maher
Published by Berkley
Published: February 25th 2020
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 384
Format: ARC
Source: Netgalley
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

A life in snapshots…
Grace knows what people see. She’s the Cinderella story. An icon of glamor and elegance frozen in dazzling Technicolor. The picture of perfection. The girl in white gloves.
A woman in living color…
But behind the lens, beyond the panoramic views of glistening Mediterranean azure, she knows the truth. The sacrifices it takes for an unappreciated girl from Philadelphia to defy her family and become the reigning queen of the screen. The heartbreaking reasons she trades Hollywood for a crown. The loneliness of being a princess in a fairy tale kingdom that is all too real. Hardest of all for her adoring fans and loyal subjects to comprehend, is the harsh reality that to be the most envied woman in the world does not mean she is the happiest. Starved for affection and purpose, facing a labyrinth of romantic and social expectations with more twists and turns than Monaco’s infamous winding roads, Grace must find her own way to fulfillment. But what she risks--her art, her family, her marriage—she may never get back.

The first half of this was so good, nuanced and detailed with a lot of sparking humor. I love fiction about Hollywood and the behind the scenes glimpses it gives, but this book fell apart halfway through for me. The characterization of Grace Kelly did a complete turnaround and felt unrecognizable from the character introduced to us in the beginning. Tonally, the book felt like a completely separate title halfway through, and it left me a little disappointed.

LITTLE LIST OF REVIEWS #10: Recent Netgalley ReadsTitle: Peter Watts Is An Angry Sentient Tumor: Revenge Fantasies and Essays by Peter Watts
Published by Tachyon Publications
Published: November 12 2019
Genres: Non-Fiction
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
Source: Netgalley
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

“A brilliant bastard.” —Cory Doctorow“Comfort, of course, is the last thing that Watts wants to give.” —New York Review of Science Fiction
Which of the following is true?
-Peter Watts is banned from the U.S.-Watts almost died from flesh-eating bacteria.-A schizophrenic man living in Watts's backyard almost set his house on fire. -Watts was raised by Baptists who really sucked at giving presents.-Peter Watts said to read this book. Or else.
“Watts, undoubtedly, is a genius.” ―Medium
In more than fifty unpredictable essays and revenge fantasies, Peter Watts — Hugo Award-winning author, former marine biologist, and angry sentient tumor — is the savage dystopian optimist whom you can’t look away from. Even when you probably should.

I didn’t really know anything about Peter Watts before reading this collection of his writing/blog posts, and the resulting collection in an acerbic, entertaining look into a myriad of subjects. It was a lot to take in all at once, so I picked at this over the course of several months. I loved his perspective on a lot of things, so if you like essays about literally anything, definitely take a look at this.

LITTLE LIST OF REVIEWS #10: Recent Netgalley ReadsTitle: Show Them a Good Time by Nicole Flattery
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing
Published: January 28th 2020
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 256
Format: ARC
Source: Netgalley
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

A blisteringly original and wickedly funny collection of stories about the strange worlds that women inhabit and the parts that they must play.
A sense of otherworldly menace is at work in the fiction of Nicole Flattery, but the threats are all too familiar. SHOW THEM A GOOD TIME tells the stories of women slotted away into restrictive roles: the celebrity's girlfriend, the widower's second wife, the lecherous professor's student, the corporate employee. And yet, the genius of Flattery's characters is to blithely demolish the boundaries of these limited and limiting social types with immense complexity and caustic intelligence. Nicole Flattery's women are too ferociously mordant, too painfully funny to remain in their places.
In this fiercely original and blazingly brilliant debut, Flattery likewise deconstructs the conventions of genre to serve up strange realities: In Not the End Yet, Flattery probes the hilarious and wrenching ambivalence of Internet dating as the apocalypse nears; in Sweet Talk, the mysterious disappearance of a number of local women sets the scene for a young girl to confront the dangerous uncertainties of her own sexuality; in this collection's center piece, Abortion, A Love Story, two college students in a dystopian campus reconfigure the perilous stories of their bodies in a fraught academic culture to offer a subversive, alarming, and wickedly funny play that takes over their own offstage lives. And yet, however surreal or richly imagined the setting, Flattery always shows us these strange worlds from startlingly unexpected angles, through an unforgettable cast of brutally honest, darkly hilarious women and girls.
Like the stories of Mary Gaitskill, Miranda July, Lorrie Moore, Joy Williams, and Ottessa Moshfegh, SHOW THEM A GOOD TIME is the work of a profoundly resonant and revelatory literary voice – at once spiky, humane, achingly hilarious-- that is sure to echo through the literary culture for decades to come.

I like reading collections of short stories to break up longer books or when my attention span is fried, so I was happy to read a collection of a new-to-me author. This collection played with the subversion of gender roles and explored the contrasts of women in society. My favorite story of the collection is ‘Show Them a Good Time,’ but the rest began feeling samey and repetitive after a while. This is probably best read one story at a time rather than a few here and there.

BOOK REVIEW: Sin Eaters, by Megan Campisi

BOOK REVIEW: Sin Eaters, by Megan CampisiTitle: Sin Eater by Megan Campisi
Published by Atria Books
Published: April 7th 2020
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 304
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

The Handmaid’s Tale meets Alice in Wonderland in this gripping and imaginative historical novel about a shunned orphan girl in 16th century England who is ensnared in a deadly royal plot and must turn her subjugation into her power.

The Sin Eater walks among us, unseen, unheard Sins of our flesh become sins of Hers Following Her to the grave, unseen, unheard The Sin Eater Walks Among Us.

For the crime of stealing bread, fourteen-year-old May receives a life sentence: she must become a Sin Eater—a shunned woman, brutally marked, whose fate is to hear the final confessions of the dying, eat ritual foods symbolizing their sins as a funeral rite, and thereby shoulder their transgressions to grant their souls access to heaven.

Orphaned and friendless, apprenticed to an older Sin Eater who cannot speak to her, May must make her way in a dangerous and cruel world she barely understands. When a deer heart appears on the coffin of a royal governess who did not confess to the dreadful sin it represents, the older Sin Eater refuses to eat it. She is taken to prison, tortured, and killed. To avenge her death, May must find out who placed the deer heart on the coffin and why.

“A keenly researched feminist arc of unexpected abundance, reckoning, intellect, and ferocious survival” (Maria Dahvana Headley, author of The Mere Wife) Sin Eater is “a dark, rich story replete with humor, unforgettable characters, and arcane mysteries. It casts a spell on your heart and mind until the final page” (Jennie Melamed, author of Gather the Daughters).

The Unseen is now seen. The Unheard is now heard. The sins of your flesh become the sins of mine to be borne to my grave in silence. Speak.

Megan Campisi’s Sin Eater defies genre. It is historical fiction, but not completely; it’s fantasy/fabulist¹, but not completely. This indefinite quality adds to its appeal. Sin-eaters did exist, but sin-eaters still remain more in folkloric history in which not much is widely known about them and their practices. Campisi brings an alternate speculative look at Elizabethan England that is rich and detailed, and I wanted more from the world she created. The comp titles listed with this are wide and varied, and for the most part I don’t know if they particularly fit, aside from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in the sense that this is a character study of a young woman in a society that prefers she stay in her place and not question anything. If anything, my comp would be The Handmaid’s Tale meets Parasite in an alternate Tudor England as this is very much about class, violent deception, and the fear that rules institutionalized religion.

May Owens, the fourteen year old girl sentenced to become a Sin Eater after stealing food, is the perfect set of eyes through which to experience this world, because like her, we are unfamiliar with a lot of the customs outside of our immediate recognition. May’s isolation and loneliness are present on the page, along with her discomfort and estrangement at her own acceptance of her life’s chosen path. When she delves into the mystery surrounding her mentor’s death, May discovers that the court for which she is performing the sin eating is rife with manipulative and deceptive people, and nobody can be trusted but herself, and even then she’s not entirely sure she can trust herself.

This is an excellent intrigue of a novel, grim and gruesome with a lot of heart, and it’s a contender to be one of my favorite reads of the year.

Thank you to Atria Books for a review copy! All opinions are my own.

¹ I’ve begun using “fabulist” for something that isn’t quite “real” and not quite “fantasy” in terms of genre, as “magical realism” is a style specific to Latin American literature.

BOOK REVIEW: To Have and To Hoax, by Martha Waters

BOOK REVIEW: To Have and To Hoax, by Martha WatersTitle: To Have and to Hoax by Martha Waters
Published by Atria Books
Published: April 7th 2020
Genres: Romance
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

In this fresh and hilarious historical rom-com, an estranged husband and wife in Regency England feign accidents and illness in an attempt to gain attention—and maybe just win each other back in the process.

Five years ago, Lady Violet Grey and Lord James Audley met, fell in love, and got married. Four years ago, they had a fight to end all fights, and have barely spoken since.

Their once-passionate love match has been reduced to one of cold, detached politeness. But when Violet receives a letter that James has been thrown from his horse and rendered unconscious at their country estate, she races to be by his side—only to discover him alive and well at a tavern, and completely unaware of her concern. She’s outraged. He’s confused. And the distance between them has never been more apparent.

Wanting to teach her estranged husband a lesson, Violet decides to feign an illness of her own. James quickly sees through it, but he decides to play along in an ever-escalating game of manipulation, featuring actors masquerading as doctors, threats of Swiss sanitariums, faux mistresses—and a lot of flirtation between a husband and wife who might not hate each other as much as they thought. Will the two be able to overcome four years of hurt or will they continue to deny the spark between them?

With charm, wit, and heart in spades, To Have and To Hoax is a fresh and eminently entertaining romantic comedy—perfect for fans of Jasmine Guillory and Julia Quinn.

I have very much been in the mood for reading romances because they’re light and fun and take you away from the world for a bit, and To Have and To Hoax is a fun regency romance in which a husband and wife suffer from misaligned communication and miscommunication, and now resort to playing games with each other to try to win each other’s attention and affection. And of course none of it goes as planned.

The main characters are immature, stubborn, and insufferable, but it is a delight to read because the situations in which they found themselves resulted in witty dialogue and believable chemistry. For me, I thought that the games they played went on a little too long which made the middle of the book drag a bit, and I thought the chapters could be too long and possibly better broken into shorter ones, especially when the point of view changed. The core of the argument that drove Audley and Violet apart was not revealed until well into the book, leaving you guessing as to what could possibly drive two people apart for four years other than sheer stubbornness and an inability to talk about it. Otherwise the pacing was good and kept me interested to find out what shenanigans the characters got up to next.

Ultimately, I think my favorite parts of the entire book involved Violet’s friends and how each of them were involved in Violet’s schemes, and I hope Waters writes more about them, because I think their stories would be just as entertaining to read!

If you are in the mood for a more modern twist on regency romance, definitely check this one out.

Thank you to Atria for sending me an advance reader’s copy; all opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Bonds of Brass, by Emily Skrutskie

BOOK REVIEW: Bonds of Brass, by Emily SkrutskieTitle: Bonds of Brass by Emily Skrutskie
Series: The Bloodright Trilogy #1
Published by Del Rey Books
Published: April 7th 2020
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 304
Format: ARC
Source: Netgalley, Publisher
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

A young pilot risks everything to save his best friend--the man he trusts most and might even love--only to learn that he's secretly the heir to a brutal galactic empire.

Ettian Nassun's life was shattered when the merciless Umber Empire invaded. He's spent seven years putting himself back together under its rule, joining an Umber military academy and becoming the best pilot in his class. Even better, he's met Gal Veres--his exasperating and infuriatingly enticing roommate who's made the Academy feel like a new home.

But when dozens of classmates spring an assassination plot on Gal, a devastating secret comes to light: Gal is the heir to the Umber Empire. Ettian barely manages to save his best friend and flee the compromised Academy unscathed, rattled both that Gal stands to inherit the empire that broke him and that there are still people willing to fight back against Umber rule. As they piece together a way to deliver Gal safely to his throne, Ettian finds himself torn in half by an impossible choice. Does he save the man who's won his heart and trust that Gal's goodness could transform the empire? Or does he throw his lot in with the brewing rebellion and fight to take back what's rightfully theirs?

One of the things I love about Emily Skrutskie’s work (and I have only read two of hers, and now obviously need to fix this) is that she makes you immediately care about the characters and throws you right into the action without feeling as if you’re missing any information. Bonds of Brass plays with familiar sci-fi and romance tropes (big galactic empire heirs, omg they were roommates) while breathing new life into them all while taking you on a wild space chase through the galaxy. It also throws a handful of references to those of us who like a particular Star Wars ship, and it felt like Skrutskie said, if Star Wars won’t do it, I will. And she did.

The book opens with Ettian defending Gal, his roommate, from an attack from schoolmates; and after this, Ettian begins to struggle reconciling the truth about Gal’s identity, his feelings for his roommate, and the status of the galaxy at large. Gal’s the heir to the Umber Empire, the very same empire that shattered Ettian’s home, the capital city of the former Archon Empire. During their escape, Ettian and Gal meet Wen, a scrappy scavenger, who reveals that an Archon resistance exists, and she might be the only way for either of them to get home, wherever that home might be.

Without revealing any spoilers, the last third of this book is incredibly action-packed and a complete free fall of revelations that shift everything you as the reader knew about Ettian and Gal and the empires to which they belonged, and the final reveal occurs at the end of the book that will leave you desperate for the sequel. I can’t wait to see how each character continues to come to terms with the annihilation and violence the empires have wrought and to see how the relationships among all of the characters develop. Overall, this is a fun sci-fi title that makes you feel things.

When I first heard about this book, I was certain it was marketed as YA, but it’s published by an adult imprint. This first installment does read a little bit like YA, so it’s definitely a crossover, but I’m hoping with the rest of the trilogy, Skrutskie takes it as far as she’s able to really explore the depths this galaxy has to offer.

Thank you to Del Rey for the giveaway and the advance copy to read!

BOOK REVIEW: The Contact Paradox, by Keith Cooper

BOOK REVIEW: The Contact Paradox, by Keith CooperTitle: The Contact Paradox: Challenging our Assumptions in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence by Keith Cooper
Published by Bloomsbury SIGMA
Published: January 21st 2020
Genres: Science
Pages: 336
Format: ARC
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Inside the difficult questions about humanity's search for extraterrestrial intelligence.
What will happen if humanity makes contact with another civilization on a different planet? In The Contact Paradox, space journalist Keith Cooper tackles some of the myths and assumptions that underlie SETI--the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.
In 1974 a message was beamed towards the stars by the giant Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico, a brief blast of radio waves designed to alert extraterrestrial civilizations to our existence. Of course, we don't know if such civilizations really exist. But for the past six decades a small cadre of researchers have been on a quest to find out, as part of SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.
The silence from the stars is prompting some researchers, inspired by the Arecibo transmission, to transmit more messages into space, in an effort to provoke a response from any civilizations out there that might otherwise be staying quiet. However, the act of transmitting raises troubling questions about the process of contact. We look for qualities such as altruism and intelligence in extraterrestrial life, but what do these mean to humankind? Can we learn something about our own history when we explore what happens when two civilizations come into contact? Finally, do the answers tell us that it is safe to transmit, even though we know nothing about extraterrestrial life, or as Stephen Hawking argued, are we placing humanity in jeopardy by doing so?
In The Contact Paradox, author Keith Cooper looks at how far SETI has come since its modest beginnings, and where it is going, by speaking to the leading names in the field and beyond. SETI forces us to confront our nature in a way that we seldom have before--where did we come from, where are we going, and who are we in the cosmic context of things? This book considers the assumptions that we make in our search for extraterrestrial life, and explores how those assumptions can teach us about ourselves.

I am not a science-minded person and a lot of upper-level math boggles my mind, but I do love reading about science, especially space and astrophysics and what lies beyond our atmosphere. When I had the opportunity to read The Contact Paradox by Keith Cooper, I jumped on it, because I love the idea of examining what it means to achieve contact with extraterrestrials.

I really loved how Cooper presented his argument, circled back around to clarify and reiterate, and also used pop culture and science fiction references to illustrate some of the ideas about which he wrote. It’s not an easy book to read, but it is accessible and is not full of unexplained jargon so that a casual science reader like myself could pick it up, understand the concepts about which he wrote, and enjoy it. I think writing about a very specialized, specific field in a way that makes it accessible to people on the other side of the field is a difficult task, and I thoroughly enjoyed this from beginning to end.

Two quotes (taken from an unfinished copy, so they may be different in the final versions) really stuck to me that I ended up writing them down in my notebook illustrate the concept of the Contact Paradox:

… maybe the civilisations that last are the ones that keep their heads down and out of trouble. On the other hand […], maybe what other civilisations are looking for as evidence that we are stepping up and becoming a good galactic civilisation is a willingness to reach out, and maybe there are implications if we choose not to. This is the dichotomy at the heart of the Contact Paradox. It is a maze of assumptions, cherished beliefs and few facts.

SETI [the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence] is not just a search for aliens. It’s also a search for ourselves. We project our hopes and fears, our history and our expectations about the future of humanity onto what we think extraterrestrial civilisations might be like. The stars are a mirror and, when we gaze up at them, if we look closely enough, we see our reflection staring back. Study that reflection and we may learn something about ourselves.

The concept of extraterrestrial life is big in science fiction, and when I taught science fiction, I always liked to include bits like this (not so eloquently put, but I wanted to get my students thinking about what extraterrestrial life in fiction meant). Often times, in fiction, when characters go out exploring within the narrative laid out for them, they’re not always just searching for something else or the other. A lot of the times they’re also searching for themselves and their meaning within the greater context of their world, and the struggle in searching for themselves is that to themselves they must find definition. Who am I? Who are we? Who do I want to be? These and similar questions are also faced in the context of what it means to actually seek out or receive communication and visits from other planets and whether or not that’s possible in our lifetimes or any near-future lifetimes. And if it isn’t possible, then what? Then who are we?

Thank you to Bloomsbury for a gifted digital ARC! All opinions are my own.