BOOK REVIEW: See What I Have Done, by Sarah Schmidt

BOOK REVIEW: See What I Have Done, by Sarah SchmidtTitle: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
Published by Atlantic Monthly Press
Published: August 1st 2017
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 328
Format: Hardcover
Source: Goodreads

In this riveting debut novel, See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt recasts one of the most fascinating murder cases of all time into an intimate story of a volatile household and a family devoid of love.

On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid: Someone’s killed Father. The brutal ax-murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts, leaves little evidence and many unanswered questions. While neighbors struggle to understand why anyone would want to harm the respected Bordens, those close to the family have a different tale to tell—of a father with an explosive temper; a spiteful stepmother; and two spinster sisters, with a bond even stronger than blood, desperate for their independence.

As the police search for clues, Emma comforts an increasingly distraught Lizzie whose memories of that morning flash in scattered fragments. Had she been in the barn or the pear arbor to escape the stifling heat of the house? When did she last speak to her stepmother? Were they really gone and would everything be better now? Shifting among the perspectives of the unreliable Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, the events of that fateful day are slowly revealed through a high-wire feat of storytelling.

 How many years does it take to grow into someone?

Sarah Schmidt’s See What I Have Done is a strange and sometimes engaging reimagining of the famous Lizzie Borden murders. Told from alternating perspectives over the course of a few days, we are given insight into the minds of Lizzie and those involved in one way or another with the murders of Lizzie’s father Andrew and stepmother Abby.

By the end, I enjoyed this book, but I felt the book suffered from two things: target market and a slow exposition/initial pacing. I understand that publishers want to reach a wide range of audiences with certain titles, but I felt like this one was YA as I was reading it because of the writing style. It took me about a good third or more of the book to feel really engaged with the characters and the story, and then it seemed to pick up and then I couldn’t put it down. If you aren’t much of a YA reader, this one might feel a bit simplistic in the way in which it’s told. However, in some ways, I think that starkly simple language is what makes Lizzie’s story effective, because if you’re familiar with Lizzie Borden, you already know what’s coming, and by the time it does, it’s one of those chest-grabbing moments.

See What I Have Done explores in greater depth the relationships between Lizzie and the rest of her immediate household. At thirty-something, she still lives at home, unmarried, and behaves as if she is still a teenager with temper outbursts and juvenile outlooks on the world (which is where my “this feels like YA” comes from). It’s apparent from the very beginning that something is off about Lizzie’s mental state, and this disconnect between reality and what goes on in her mind adds to the Lizzie’s relationship with her father is odd and unsettling. At times, her attention-seeking behavior appears as if she’s a love-sick girl starving for the object of her affection’s attentions, and other times it feels as if her behavior is that of a child wanting her father to pay attention to her. Lizzie’s behavior toward and eventual murder of her father and stepmother stems from her deeply rooted jealousy toward her stepmother. As it happens in fairy tales, the stepmother “replaces” the dead mother, and to the main character, the stepmother is therefore “bad/evil,” and for Lizzie, she is the displaced princess.

In a series of twists and turns, Sarah Schmidt delivers a chilling examination of what goes through the minds of those closely involved with Lizzie Borden and her forty whacks. While it takes a bit to warm up to it, See What I Have Done is a solid debut.

I won a copy of this book through Goodreads giveaways for review! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Artemis, by Andy Weir

BOOK REVIEW: Artemis, by Andy WeirTitle: Artemis by Andy Weir
Published by Crown Publishing
Published: November 14th 2017
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 384
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley

Jazz Bashara is a criminal.

Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you're not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you've got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.

Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she's stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.

I’m really torn on this review, because a lot of Artemis fell flat to me to the point where I wasn’t enjoying reading it sometimes. I flew through The Martian. I loved Mark Watney as a character. He was funny, flawed, and real. I felt connected with his perilous stranding on Mars, I rooted for his success, and I felt whatever emotions Watney felt during his highs and lows and in-betweens. The Martian, for me, is a solid, traditional science fiction story. Artemis felt, at times, like an experiment with how many boxes can I check off, how many science-y things can I put my characters through, and how many near-death experiences can I put Jazz through…

Jazz Bashara is a twenty-six year old Arabic woman who is incredibly talented at science-ing her way through life and smuggling stuff. I liked that she was Arabic, and I liked some of the references to her heritage, but some of her heritage seemed superficial and not relative to her character at all. I kept thinking she was in her teens by the way she spoke about herself and everyone else around her. Some of her most cringe-worthy lines sounded like she was a girl trying to impress a lot of boys with her cool-girl attitude with the “Oh, I made a double-entendre, get your mind out of the gutter” sort of humor.

Jazz’s type of humor and attitude toward life would be more believable for me if she had a foil, a character who contrasts with her to highlight her nuances, maybe a best friend who is incredibly feminine, but there isn’t one. For all the touting of diversity and what-not, Jazz is really the only female character in the book (aside from someone at the end, but this other character really only acts as a plot device). The other main characters in the book are the stereotypical geek who doesn’t know how to talk to women, the tough-love grunt, and the boyfriend-stealing charming gay guy.

The conspiracy behind the heist isn’t entirely believable to me, so the action and the science needed to resolve the arising problems ultimately fell flat. And, minor spoilers, but. Am I really supposed to believe that whoever designed Artemis didn’t have backup plans in case the entire colony got flooded with some awful unbreathable stuff? That’s just bad science. Any good developer/engineer/architect would probably consider this possibility, and I find it difficult to believe that this scenario didn’t pop up in the theoretical models during planning.

What we were promised in Artemis: a high-octane heist, bad-ass female main character, diverse cast of characters, humor, science, moon stuff. What we got: a sorta cool heist, one stereotypical female main character, a cast of stereotypically diverse characters, humor, science, moon stuff.

Overall, Artemis is a pretty fun, fast read. Aside from those issues I wrote about above, Weir’s writing style makes it difficult to put the book down once the action really gets going. I really enjoyed the concept of colonies on the moon and the details Weir interjects into the concepts and science of moon colonies. This will be one that a lot of people will be divided about in its reception, but it’s a decent follow-up to his first.

Thank you to Netgalley and Crown Publishing for an ARC; all opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Sleeping Giants, by Sylvain Neuvel

BOOK REVIEW: Sleeping Giants, by Sylvain NeuvelTitle: Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
Series: Themis Files #1
Published by Del Rey
Published: April 26th 2016
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 304
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased

A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.

Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved—its origins, architects, and purpose unknown. Its carbon dating defies belief; military reports are redacted; theories are floated, then rejected.

But some can never stop searching for answers.

Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the provenance of the relic. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery—and figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result prove to be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?

An inventive debut in the tradition of World War Z and The Martian, told in interviews, journal entries, transcripts, and news articles, Sleeping Giants is a thriller fueled by a quest for truth—and a fight for control of earthshaking power.

 If you fall in love with someone, there’s a good chance the person won’t love you back. Hatred, though, is usually mutual. If you despise someone, it’s pretty much a given they’re also not your biggest fan.

Sylvain Neuvel’s Sleeping Giants is the story of a girl named Rose who falls into a pit in the middle of the earth in South Dakota, and when she wakes up, she discovers a piece that’s part of a very large robot. Told through a series of interviews, we see from different perspectives the discovery of more of those robot parts and the dawning realization that there is no possible way that humans built this thing. The question remains – who did? Where did this robot’s creators originate? Why was Earth chosen as a destination point for this machine? Are there more?

I enjoyed the style of this book. It reads quickly, and I was constantly turning the pages to see what happened next. The biggest frustration, and it seems relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, in reading stories through the eyes of interviews, articles, and detached narratives are that we’re forced to piece together what happens behind the scenes and who these characters are in relation to the story at hand. When the interviews jump ahead in time by months or years or whatever, I was left wanting to know more about the in-between times, which isn’t a bad thing in the end, because the jumps kept the story moving forward and I don’t think anyone wants a 700+ book of interviews detailing every exact thing. I just enjoyed Neuvel’s world-building so much that I wanted that extra stuff. I’ve got the sequel ready to go, so I’m hoping for more greatness!

It’s billed as something for fans of The Martian, but I think it’s more in line with Pacific Rim and any other machina science fiction. For a debut novel, I was impressed with Neuvel’s scope in his world-building, detail, and character development. It’s a solid novel that feels like it’s been written by someone who has been doing this sort of writing for a long time. I really enjoyed it, and I think it’s a thrilling read for people who love science fiction and for people who love a good thriller.

BOOK REVIEW: Bannerless, by Carrie Vaughn

BOOK REVIEW: Bannerless, by Carrie VaughnTitle: Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn
Series: Bannerless Saga #1
Published by Mariner Books
Published: July 11th 2017
Genres: Science Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 352
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley

A mysterious murder in a dystopian future leads a novice investigator to question what she’s learned about the foundation of her population-controlled society.

Decades after economic and environmental collapse destroys much of civilization in the United States, the Coast Road region isn’t just surviving but thriving by some accounts, building something new on the ruins of what came before. A culture of population control has developed in which people, organized into households, must earn the children they bear by proving they can take care of them and are awarded symbolic banners to demonstrate this privilege. In the meantime, birth control is mandatory.  Enid of Haven is an Investigator, called on to mediate disputes and examine transgressions against the community. She’s young for the job and hasn't yet handled a serious case. Now, though, a suspicious death requires her attention. The victim was an outcast, but might someone have taken dislike a step further and murdered him?  In a world defined by the disasters that happened a century before, the past is always present. But this investigation may reveal the cracks in Enid’s world and make her question what she really stands for.

What happens when you mix a post-apocalyptic dystopian with a bit of detective fiction? You’ll get Carrie Vaughn’s Bannerless. I really enjoy traditional, structural genre stories mixed with a fantastic setting, and this one didn’t disappoint. Bannerless takes place about a hundred years after a series of events destroy society. It’s a little like taking a peek into our future if we aren’t careful about our relationships with other countries and if we aren’t careful with our planet. Instead of being another post-apocalyptic dystopian novel, Vaughn uses this vision of the future as a twist in her traditional mystery and that twist adds a dimension to the story that I found really enjoyable.

In this futuristic world, the population has dwindled, birth control is mandatory, and people live in tight-knit communities in which everyone knows everyone else’s business. People group together in family units called houses, and they work together to provide enough materials for themselves and for their families, and once their quotas are met or consistently exceeded, these families can apply to get a banner which allows that household to have a baby.

Enid of Haven is an Investigator, a role that combines the roles of police, detective, and judge. Crime doesn’t really exist in this future world, and most of it ends up being bannerless pregnancies or unauthorized food and material production to try to game the system. She is called up with her partner to investigate a suspicious death of a bannerless person in a neighboring community, and she is forced to confront someone with her past as she and her partner Tomas figure out the mystery. I also really enjoyed Enid’s self-discovery as she investigates the suspicious death. She goes from being a little insecure of herself as an individual to growing more and more confident in herself, and to me, that’s entirely relatable. Told in alternating chapters of Enid’s past and present, Bannerless explores a future in which our very society is regulated on the local level and how our actions, even with good intentions, can be devastating for entire families.

If you enjoy traditional mysteries, dystopian futures as imagined in books like Station Eleven, and speculative fiction, you’ll probably enjoy this one! It’s short, yet well-crafted and well-paced. And I’ve just read she’s working on another post-apocalyptic murder mystery, so I’m hoping that the next one will continue following Enid’s investigations!

This book was provided to me for review by Netgalley and Mariner Books. All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Stars are Legion, by Kameron Hurley

BOOK REVIEW: Stars are Legion, by Kameron HurleyTitle: The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley
Published by Saga Press
Published: February 7th 2017
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 380
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased

Set within a system of decaying world-ships travelling through deep space, this breakout novel of epic science fiction follows a pair of sisters who must wrest control of their war-torn legion of worlds—and may have to destroy everything they know in order to survive.

On the outer rim of the universe, a galactic war has been waged for centuries upon hundreds of world-ships. But these worlds will continue to die through decay and constant war unless a desperate plan succeeds.

Anat, leader of the Katazyrna world-ship and the most fearsome raiding force on the Outer Rim, wants peace. To do so she offers the hand of her daughter, Jayd, to her rival. Jayd has dreamed about leading her mother’s armies to victory her whole life—but she has a unique ability, and that makes her leverage, not a leader. As Anat convinces her to spend the rest of her life wed to her family’s greatest enemy, it is up to Jayd’s sister Zan—with no stomach for war—to lead the cast off warriors she has banded together to victory and rescue Jayd. But the war does not go at all as planned…

In the tradition of The Fall of Hyperion and Dune, The Stars are Legion is an epic and thrilling tale about familial love, revenge, and war as imagined by one of the genre’s most imaginative new writers.

 When you understand what the world is, you have two choices: Become a part of that world and perpetuate that system forever and ever, unto the next generation. Or fight it, and break it, and build something new. The former is safer, and easier. The latter is scarier, because who is to say what you build will be any better?

I read this book in March, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it or recommending it since. Kameron Hurley’s The Stars are Legion is on its way to becoming (if it’s not already there) one of those must-read science fiction books if you’re into even the barest sliver of science fiction. Science fiction often explores that question of “what if” and reflects on current aspects of life that are problematic in some way. Today, women’s bodies are policed. They are often told they cannot choose for themselves when and how to reproduce, and if a woman is control of her sexuality, she is seen as a threat. I sell this as a “politically charged womb-punk space opera that will thrill you and make you rage, oh, and there are no male characters in this at all.” Most of the time, I get a look like “… what?” My roommate even thinks that me liking this book so much is weird, but this book, at least for me, speaks of certain aspects of an experience that is difficult to convey to someone who doesn’t have a body part that has been consistently policed by men in positions of power.

Aside from this being an amazing space opera, The Stars are Legion has a cast of brutally unlikable characters, blood and gore up the wazoo, and feels like it could have come right out of that wave of sff that was written in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The characters are unlikable and cruel and you can’t trust anyone, but you’ll be rooting for them in the end. The Stars are Legion is a an angry, visceral yell into the void of space, and the world within the covers is just an expanse waiting for you to live in it for a while, get pumped up, and want to go kick some ass in the real world.

I mean, don’t you want to read about asexual ships that give birth to whatever the ship needs, cannibalistic women who eat their deformed young, and womb/uterus/placenta references (with all of the associated fluids) all over the place? Yes, you do. I don’t want to reveal too much about the plot or the characters because half of the enjoyment of this is getting to discover that for yourself. Just read it. ASAP. The hardcover is out now, the ebook is h*ckin cheap, and the paperback is out in November.