BOOK REVIEW: Slipping, by Lauren Beukes

BOOK REVIEW: Slipping, by Lauren BeukesTitle: Slipping: Stories, Essays, & Other Writing by Lauren Beukes
Published by Tachyon Publications
Published: November 29th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 288
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

In her edgy, satiric debut collection, award-winning South African journalist and author Lauren Beukes (The Shining Girls, Moxyland) never holds back. Nothing is simple and everything is perilous when humans are involved: corruption, greed, and even love (of a sort).
A permanent corporate branding gives a young woman enhanced physical abilities and a nearly-constant highRecruits lifted out of poverty find a far worse fate collecting biohazardous plants on an inhospitable worldThe only adult survivor of the apocalypse decides he will be the savior of teenagers; the teenagers are not amused.
From Johannesburg to outer space, these previously uncollected tales are a compelling, dark, and slippery ride.

 You might think of a city as a map, all knotted up in the bondage of grid lines by town planners. But really, it’s a language—alive, untidy, ungrammatical. The meaning of things rearranges, so the scramble of the docks turns hipster cool while the faded glamor of the inner city gives way to tenement blocks rotting from the inside. It develops its own accent, its own slang. And sometimes it drops a sentence. Sometimes the sentence finds you. And won’t shut up. – from “Ghost Girl”

I’ve had Beukes’s The Shining Girls on my shelf forever. It was on a lot of lists the year it was released, and I found a paperback of that book in a used bookstore, I bought it… and haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. Story of my life. Anyhow, when given the opportunity to read Beukes’s short works, I jumped at the chance. I love short story collections because I feel that short story collections allow the reader to see the wide range of an author’s talent.

Beukes’s writing is acerbic, sharp, and intuitive, and I was drawn in immediately to many of her stories. Slipping is a collection of stories written over about ten years for various other publications, and I would have really liked to have some background information before or after the stories to know when and why each of these stories were written.

My favorite stories were “Princess,” “Exhibitionist,” “Ghost Girl,” and “Dial Tone.” Each of these stories made me whisper what after I finished reading them. Beukes’s writing is at the same time subtle and straightforward. She does not shy away from difficult or terrifying imagery, and she makes you think about why she uses that imagery to explore some weird aspect of human life. Many of her stories cross the genre line between fiction and science fiction, and while a lot of it seems weird at times, it’s also so eerily recognizable. Beukes’s writing asks us why we consider “commonplace” and “everyday” as commonplace and ordinary, because isn’t life weird?

Thank you to Netgalley and Tachyon Publications for a review copy!

BOOK REVIEW: Children of the New World, by Alexander Weinstein

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BOOK REVIEW: Children of the New World, by Alexander WeinsteinTitle: Children of the New World: Stories by Alexander Weinstein
Published by Picador
Published: September 13th 2016
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 229
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

AN EXTRAORDINARILY RESONANT AND PROPHETIC COLLECTION OF SPECULATIVE SHORT FICTION FOR OUR TECH-SAVVY ERA BY DEBUT AUTHOR ALEXANDER WEINSTEINChildren of the New World introduces readers to a near-future world of social media implants, memory manufacturers, dangerously immersive virtual reality games, and alarmingly intuitive robots. Many of these characters live in a utopian future of instant connection and technological gratification that belies an unbridgeable human distance, while others inhabit a post-collapse landscape made primitive by disaster, which they must work to rebuild as we once did millennia ago.
In “The Cartographers,” the main character works for a company that creates and sells virtual memories, while struggling to maintain a real-world relationship sabotaged by an addiction to his own creations. In “Saying Goodbye to Yang,” the robotic brother of an adopted Chinese child malfunctions, and only in his absence does the family realize how real a son he has become.
Children of the New World grapples with our unease in this modern world and how our ever-growing dependence on new technologies has changed the shape of our society. Alexander Weinstein is a visionary new voice in speculative fiction for all of us who are fascinated by and terrified of what we might find on the horizon.

 “If it’s any consolation,” says tech support, “they won’t feel a thing; they’re just data.”

Alexander Weinstein’s Children of the New World is a fantastic collection of speculative fiction stories. Each of the stories is incredibly engaging and explores different aspects of our future and technology’s integration with our future. Each of the stories also explores the human relationship with technology and the positive or negative effects technology has on our hearts and our society. I rarely read short story collections in which I enjoy every story, and in this case, I enjoyed every single one and am left thinking about each one long after I’ve read it. I’m looking forward to reading more of Weinstein’s work.

My favorite stories are “The Cartographers,” “Children of the New World,” and “Rocket Night,” because they’re immediate and more than once made me think what the fuck, this is going to happen in our immediate future.

The stories are both a nostalgic trip (because it feels like we’ve done this before and will do it again, and there’s a pervading sense of longing) and a warning (because this is our future if we’re not careful, and our future doesn’t look so welcoming).

If you enjoyed Anthony Marra’s The Tsar of Love and Techno, I think you’ll enjoy reading these.

Thank you to Netgalley and Picador for a review copy!

BOOK REVIEW: The Dollhouse, by Fiona Davis

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BOOK REVIEW: The Dollhouse, by Fiona DavisTitle: The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis
Published by Dutton
Published: August 23rd 2016
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 304
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads


"The Dollhouse. . . . That's what we boys like to call it. . . . The Barbizon Hotel for Women, packed to the rafters with pretty little dolls. Just like you."
 Fiona Davis's stunning debut novel pulls readers into the lush world of New York City's glamorous Barbizon Hotel for Women, where a generation of aspiring models, secretaries, and editors lived side-by-side while attempting to claw their way to fairy-tale success in the 1950s, and where a present-day journalist becomes consumed with uncovering a dark secret buried deep within the Barbizon's glitzy past.   When she arrives at the famed Barbizon Hotel in 1952, secretarial school enrollment in hand, Darby McLaughlin is everything her modeling agency hall mates aren't: plain, self-conscious, homesick, and utterly convinced she doesn't belong—a notion the models do nothing to disabuse. Yet when Darby befriends Esme, a Barbizon maid, she's introduced to an entirely new side of New York City: seedy downtown jazz clubs where the music is as addictive as the heroin that's used there, the startling sounds of bebop, and even the possibility of romance.   Over half a century later, the Barbizon's gone condo and most of its long-ago guests are forgotten. But rumors of Darby's involvement in a deadly skirmish with a hotel maid back in 1952 haunt the halls of the building as surely as the melancholy music that floats from the elderly woman's rent-controlled apartment. It's a combination too intoxicating for journalist Rose Lewin, Darby's upstairs neighbor, to resist—not to mention the perfect distraction from her own imploding personal life. Yet as Rose's obsession deepens, the ethics of her investigation become increasingly murky, and neither woman will remain unchanged when the shocking truth is finally revealed.

Fiona Davis’s The Dollhouse explores two women who live in the famous Barbizon hotel in alternating viewpoints from the 1950s to modern day New York City. When Darby McLaughlin arrives at the Barbizon in 1952, she is nothing like the other girls who live on her floor. The other girls model and are gorgeous and compared to them, Darby is plain and soft-spoken. When she meets Esme, a maid at the hotel, Darby becomes involved in a world she’s only heard about and eventually is involved in a deadly accident. Years later when the hotel has been converted into condos, Rose Lewin, after hearing about the accident involving Darby and Esme, sets out to uncover the history and the secrets between the two women to write an article and she ends up discovering so much more.

I really enjoyed this novel. It’s a breezy read that kept me entertained and left me wanting to know how Darby’s story and Rose’s story intermingled with one another. Davis’s writing explores women who are left to the side in society because they “aren’t enough” to the men in their lives, and each of the women discover who they are through the course of the novel and become stronger for it.

One of my favorite parts of the novel is the contrast between what was expected of women in the 1950s versus what is expected of women in the 2010s. I particularly liked the attention to detail in clothing and attire that women were supposed to wear in the 1950s, like the clothing, the gloves and the hats; and I liked the contrast in the restrictions women had in that time, especially at the Barbizon, to today’s current social climate regarding the freedom of women. I thought it realistically portrayed each woman’s struggle in finding the right job, her purpose in life, and even the right partner, and I loved the similarities in those struggles each woman faced contrasting with the differences in society.

This is an excellent read if you enjoy historical fiction about women in their discovery of self, no matter what time in which they live. I’m looking forward to reading more by Fiona Davis!

Thank you to Netgalley and Dutton Books for the review copy!

BOOK REVIEW: Everyone Brave is Forgiven, by Chris Cleave

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BOOK REVIEW: Everyone Brave is Forgiven, by Chris CleaveTitle: Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
Published by Simon & Schuster
Published: May 3rd 2016
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 418
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

From the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Little Bee, a spellbinding novel about three unforgettable individuals thrown together by war, love, and their search for belonging in the ever-changing landscape of WWII London.
It’s 1939 and Mary, a young socialite, is determined to shock her blueblood political family by volunteering for the war effort. She is assigned as a teacher to children who were evacuated from London and have been rejected by the countryside because they are infirm, mentally disabled, or—like Mary’s favorite student, Zachary—have colored skin.
Tom, an education administrator, is distraught when his best friend, Alastair, enlists. Alastair, an art restorer, has always seemed far removed from the violent life to which he has now condemned himself. But Tom finds distraction in Mary, first as her employer and then as their relationship quickly develops in the emotionally charged times. When Mary meets Alastair, the three are drawn into a tragic love triangle and—while war escalates and bombs begin falling around them—further into a new world unlike any they’ve ever known.
A sweeping epic with the kind of unforgettable characters, cultural insights, and indelible scenes that made Little Bee so incredible, Chris Cleave’s latest novel explores the disenfranchised, the bereaved, the elite, the embattled. Everyone Brave Is Forgiven is a heartbreakingly beautiful story of love, loss, and incredible courage.

War was declared at 11:15, and Mary North signed up at noon.

Chris Cleave’s Everyone Brave is Forgiven is a wonderful, heartbreaking novel about the people who find themselves at the beginning of and in the midst of a brutal world war. This novel brings the reader to the front and center of the lives of Londoners at the beginning of WWII, and the reader is able to experience how the war affected people both on the home front and at the war front.

Mary North, a young London socialite, is determined to make a difference in her life and in the lives of others, and she volunteers her services to the war effort. She is assigned to be a teacher to children who have been evacuated from London. There she meets Tom, her employer and future lover, and learns about Alastair, Tom’s friend who has enlisted and about whom Tom is distraught.

There’s bravery on the war front, with men and women facing dangers not seen before, but there is also bravery on the home front, fighting class and racial prejudices. It’s a deft combination of all sorts of bravery and how it affects each of the characters while each are dealing with feelings of longing, belonging, loyalty, and love.

If you’ve read Doerr’s All the Light You Cannot See and Hannah’s The Nightingale and want more to read in a similar vein, this one comes highly recommended.

Thank you to Netgalley for a review copy!

BOOK REVIEW: The Trees, by Ali Shaw

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BOOK REVIEW: The Trees, by Ali ShawTitle: The Trees by Ali Shaw
Published by Bloomsbury USA
Published: August 2nd 2016
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 496
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

The Trees. They arrived in the night: wrenching through the ground, thundering up into the air, and turning Adrien's suburban street into a shadowy forest. Shocked by the sight but determined to get some answers, he ventures out, passing destroyed buildings, felled power lines, and broken bodies still wrapped in tattered bed linens hanging from branches.
It is soon apparent that no help is coming and that these trees, which seem the work of centuries rather than hours, span far beyond the town. As far, perhaps, as the coast, where across the sea in Ireland, Adrien's wife is away on a business trip and there is no way of knowing whether she is alive or dead.
When Adrien meets Hannah, a woman who, unlike him, believes that the coming of the trees may signal renewal rather than destruction and Seb, her technology-obsessed son, they persuade him to join them. Together, they pack up what remains of the lives they once had and set out on a quest to find Hannah's forester brother and Adrien's wife--and to discover just how deep the forest goes.
Their journey through the trees will take them into unimaginable territory: to a place of terrible beauty and violence, of deadly enemies and unexpected allies, to the dark heart of nature and the darkness--and also the power--inside themselves.

The world ends not with a bang but with a whisper.

Ali Shaw’s The Trees begins when overnight trees shoot up from the ground, destroying life as everyone knew it. I feel like I’ve been reading a lot of post-apocalyptic books lately, but this is the most natural. No one knows where the trees come from. Are they from Mother Nature? Alien? This isn’t a novel about where a destructive force comes from; it’s a novel about how certain people react and survive in the aftermath of something so unexplainable. And the people who survive are not your typical “heroes.”

This is a novel about nature’s cruelty, but also a novel about nature’s grace. The real survivors are the apt ones as they’re the ones fit to adapt. Our “hero” of the story is someone who’s introverted, unsure of himself and his place in the world, and overthinks everything. And who/what he becomes in the end was incredibly magical to me. It’s a reminder that everyone has a place and a purpose, and it doesn’t have to be overt, extroverted, and loud.

It’s a long book, but it’s well-paced and never seems to drag. I almost wish there was more. It’s a blend of post-apocalyptic horror, fairy tales, and magical realism. It’s brutal in a natural way, and if you’re disturbed by descriptions of violence toward people and animals, this book isn’t for you. But if you’re intrigued by a different sort of post-apocalypse in which nature takes back the Earth from its parasitic human population, read this. It’ll give you chills.

Thanks to Netgalley for a review copy!