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
Goodreads

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: The Address, by Fiona Davis

BOOK REVIEW: The Address, by Fiona DavisTitle: The Address by Fiona Davis
Published by Dutton Books
Published: August 1st 2017
Genres: Historical, Fiction
Pages: 368
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Fiona Davis, author of The Dollhouse, returns with a compelling novel about the thin lines between love and loss, success and ruin, passion and madness, all hidden behind the walls of The Dakota, New York City's most famous residence.

After a failed apprenticeship, working her way up to head housekeeper of a posh London hotel is more than Sara Smythe ever thought she'd make of herself. But when a chance encounter with Theodore Camden, one of the architects of the grand New York apartment house The Dakota, leads to a job offer, her world is suddenly awash in possibility--no mean feat for a servant in 1884. The opportunity to move to America, where a person can rise above one's station. The opportunity to be the female manager of The Dakota, which promises to be the greatest apartment house in the world. And the opportunity to see more of Theo, who understands Sara like no one else . . . and is living in The Dakota with his wife and three young children.

In 1985, Bailey Camden is desperate for new opportunities. Fresh out of rehab, the former party girl and interior designer is homeless, jobless, and penniless. Two generations ago, Bailey's grandfather was the ward of famed architect Theodore Camden. But the absence of a genetic connection means Bailey won't see a dime of the Camden family's substantial estate. Instead, her -cousin- Melinda--Camden's biological great-granddaughter--will inherit almost everything. So when Melinda offers to let Bailey oversee the renovation of her lavish Dakota apartment, Bailey jumps at the chance, despite her dislike of Melinda's vision. The renovation will take away all the character and history of the apartment Theodore Camden himself lived in . . . and died in, after suffering multiple stab wounds by a madwoman named Sara Smythe, a former Dakota employee who had previously spent seven months in an insane asylum on Blackwell's Island.

One hundred years apart, Sara and Bailey are both tempted by and struggle against the golden excess of their respective ages--for Sara, the opulence of a world ruled by the Astors and Vanderbilts; for Bailey, the free-flowing drinks and cocaine in the nightclubs of New York City--and take refuge and solace in the Upper West Side's gilded fortress. But a building with a history as rich--and often tragic--as The Dakota's can't hold its secrets forever, and what Bailey discovers in its basement could turn everything she thought she knew about Theodore Camden--and the woman who killed him--on its head.

With rich historical detail, nuanced characters, and gorgeous prose, Fiona Davis once again delivers a compulsively readable novel that peels back the layers of not only a famed institution, but the lives --and lies--of the beating hearts within.

After reading her second novel, Fiona Davis has become one of my new favorite historical fiction writers. In The Address, Davis expertly weaves two women’s lives and the history of a landmark residence, The Dakota, in New York City. The lives of two women from the 1880s and the 1980s are woven together as the mystery behind The Dakota unfolds. The Address begins in 1985 when Bailey Camden, heir without genetic proof to The Dakota’s architect, is released from rehab and reenters the world, ready to make something of herself. The famed residential hotel, The Dakota, has fallen into disrepair, and Bailey, who is trying to reestablish herself as an interior designer, wants to learn more about the history behind the building. The narrative weaves in and out of Bailey Camden’s discovery of the history of The Dakota while exploring Sara Smythe’s connection with the residence.

For me, Sara Smythe’s part of the story was the most interesting. I have a soft spot for stories about women who rise from the bottom to become more than they ever dreamed of becoming. Sara, when we first meet her, is a hotel manager in England who saves the life of an architect’s daughter. Theodore Camden, the architect, offers her a position at the residential hotel he has built in New York City. The attraction between Sara and Theodore is immediate right from the start, and that relationship develops over the course of the novel. The twists and turns at the end of her story were a little unexpected and thrilled me. It’s revealed at the beginning of the novel that Sara stabbed Theodore, but the true thrill are all of those little events that lead up to that event. However, I felt like Bailey’s desire for a fresh start and her refusal to compromise herself tied the lives of both women and tied the story together, because no matter the hundred years between them and no matter the different social structures, both women faced similar struggles and strove to overcome them.

Overall, this is an enjoyable historical fiction novel. For the first third of it, I felt like the story was weighed down by the amount of research and detail in the set up, but that detail redeems itself when the story does pick up and become difficult to put down. I’ve already hand-sold this and her previous novel, The Dollhouse, to some of my customers looking for new historical fiction recommendations, so if you enjoy fiction about women who overcome their struggles and enjoy historical fiction set in New York City, The Address comes highly recommended!

Thanks to Netgalley and Dutton/Penguin for a review copy! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The Good People, by Hannah Kent

BOOK REVIEW: The Good People, by Hannah KentTitle: The Good People by Hannah Kent
Published: September 19th 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 464
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Shorlisted for theWalter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction
From the author of Burial Rites, "a literary novel with the pace and tension of a thriller [that] takes us on a frightening journey towards an unspeakable tragedy" (Paula Hawkins, bestselling author of The Girl on the Train)
Hedged in by gossip and joined by their desperation, three women in nineteenth-century Ireland are drawn together in the hope of rescuing a child from a superstitious community, determined to rid itself of the strange and unknowable. Bereft after the loss of her husband, Nora finds herself alone and caring for her young grandson Micheal--a boy whom she recalls as having been a happy and healthy infant but now, in the wake of both his mother's and grandfather's deaths, can neither speak nor walk. Mary, a servant girl from more rural parts, comes to the valley to help Nora just as the rumors are spreading: the talk of unexplained misfortunes and illnesses, and the theory that deformed Micheal is a changeling, a fairy child to blame for the bad luck the valley has endured since his arrival.
Determined to banish the evil in Micheal, Nora and Mary enlist the help of the elderly Nance, a recluse and wanderer once revered by her neighbors for her healing powers, but now condemned as a fraud and a threat by the new priest in town.
As the trio's situation grows more dire, their folkloric practices become increasingly daring--culminating, at last, in a stunning and irreversible act that will put all their lives in danger. Terrifying, thrilling, and wholly original, THE GOOD PEOPLE is a startling examination of absolute belief and superstition taken to their extremes, of the universal yearning to belong, and of love, both tender and harsh.

 Some folk are forced to the edges by their difference. … But ’tis at the edges that they find their power.

I really, really loved Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, and I read that when it was Waterstones’s pick of the month. I was swept away by the atmospheric writing and the compelling story, so when I head that Hannah Kent was releasing a new book, I requested it and moved that book to the next spot in my reading list. The Good People is a stellar sophomore novel that weaves together the stories of three women who are involved in the horrific treatment of a child whom the women believe is a fairy changeling in a tiny village in Ireland in 1825.

In the beginning of the novel, Nora’s husband Martin dies, leaving her with her daughter’s four year old son Michael who has an unnamed disability in which he cannot speak and cannot fend for himself. Nora finds it difficult to care for the child and her household as a widow with no family on which she can rely, so she hires a girl named Mary to help with the work. When she can’t handle Michael even with Mary’s help, Nora enlists the help of Nance, the local woman trained in the art of natural healing. With the arrival of the new priest in the village, Nance is beginning to be considered a witch and evil and as a result an outcast, but she attempts to cure Michael to prove her skills to herself and to the village. Each “cure” that these women try become increasingly more dangerous until the final act is horrifically devastating.

The Good People is an atmospheric novel that balances the struggles these three women face in a changing society and the risks they must take in order to survive, no matter how dubious those risks are. It is interesting how Kent uses the tropes of the three women (the crone, the mother, and the virgin) to explore the actions and reactions of these women and the actions and reactions of others to these women. Kent also explores how the ideas of poverty and the lack of education in rural areas and ignite a fiery fear toward anyone who is different or toward the unexplainable. The best part of the novel is the last third, when everything culminates in an emotionally charged trial that showcases the growing rift between the old ways of thinking (believing in fairies, believing in changelings, and a reliance on old folklore, old pagan traditions, and old wives’ tales) and the new (following the Christian tradition and following new medical practices).

The only drawback I found to The Good People is the long set up to get to the more thrilling parts of the story. I felt like a third of the novel focuses on the slow development of Nora and Mary’s experiences with Michael, and a third of the novel focuses on Nance and a fairly long account of her life. At the end, I found this knowledge of their lives enriching to the heartrending trial, but before that, I found myself getting a little bit bored and wondering when the story would ever pick up. If you are turned off by a long build up, this might not be the novel for you. But if you are interested in novels about the experiences of women in certain periods of history, the collision between the old ways and the new, and compelling trials, this is one you you’ll want to add to your reading lists as soon as possible.

An advance readers copy was provided to me for review by Little, Brown & Co. and Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

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
Goodreads

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: The Alchemists of Loom, by Elise Kova

BOOK REVIEW: The Alchemists of Loom, by Elise KovaTitle: The Alchemists of Loom by Elise Kova
Series: Loom Saga #1
Published by Keymaster Press
Published: January 10th 2017
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 395
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Her vengeance. His vision.

Ari lost everything she once loved when the Five Guilds’ resistance fell to the Dragon King. Now, she uses her unparalleled gift for clockwork machinery in tandem with notoriously unscrupulous morals to contribute to a thriving underground organ market. There isn’t a place on Loom that is secure from the engineer turned thief, and her magical talents are sold to the highest bidder as long as the job defies their Dragon oppressors.

Cvareh would do anything to see his sister usurp the Dragon King and sit on the throne. His family’s house has endured the shame of being the lowest rung in the Dragons’ society for far too long. The Alchemist Guild, down on Loom, may just hold the key to putting his kin in power, if Cvareh can get to them before the Dragon King’s assassins.

When Ari stumbles upon a wounded Cvareh, she sees an opportunity to slaughter an enemy and make a profit off his corpse. But the Dragon sees an opportunity to navigate Loom with the best person to get him where he wants to go.

He offers her the one thing Ari can’t refuse: A wish of her greatest desire, if she brings him to the Alchemists of Loom.

 Don’t let the shadows of the past smother the possibility for a bright future.

Elise Kova’s The Alchemists of Loom follows Ari after the five guilds fall to the Dragon King. She meets Cvareh, who is wounded, and she thinks she can kill him off as some kind of revenge, but she decides not to when she learns he can grant her the boon she wants if she takes him to the Alchemists of Loom.

Premise of this is amazing and right up my alley, but something about it fell short for me. Most of it has to do with the fact that we’re thrown in media res without much explanation or world building. We’re just supposed to piece it together with the help of a glossary in the back (which one might not know about if one’s reading a digital copy) or through hints made throughout the story. I don’t mind it if a world is built as sort of an unfolding, but this was like opening up a single folded sheet of paper. You open it and it’s all there like glitter and you’re supposed to keep it all together while trying not to let it spill everywhere. It took me to get about halfway through the book until I felt familiar enough with the world and the characters and the rest of the details to start enjoying the book. I kept reading only because I wanted to know what Cvareh would do.

This book falls under the steampunk fantasy variety and features an indistinct world in which everything happens. There are five guilds with distinct practices, a Dragon king (and I was a little bit disappointed to discover they weren’t actually dragons), shady characters, some light romance that felt entirely forced (oh yes the main girl and the main guy argue all the time and clash all the time so of course they’ll automatically like each other).

Ari reminded me a lot of Celaena in Maas’s Throne of Glass series before she became Aelin, and Ari in this novel is a well-known criminal with an intent to restore Loom to its former glory before the Dragons took over. Her motive is unclear though, and I don’t really find a connection or sympathy to a character who has a mission. She is unyielding to that mission, but she has no clear motive for what she does, just that things must be made right. Okay? But why? Her sidekick/lover/girlfriend/??? Florence is more interesting and believable than Ari. Cvareh is the trickster sort of character who seems to flip flop between wanting to save himself, work for the Dragons, or help Ari, and the most interesting twists of the story seem to come from his actions.

The story’s action moves at a brisk pace, and I enjoyed that about the book. I just wish I had a bit more of Ari’s backstory to connect her motive with her actions and reactions because a lot of Ari’s life and relationships read completely unclear. I am going to see what the reviews are for the second one to gauge reactions to what happens next before I pick it up, but I hope it focuses more on Cvareh’s side of things!

Overall, it’s an enjoyable fantasy if someone’s ready to take a step up from “YA” fantasy and try something new.

A review copy of this book was provided to me for review by Netgalley and the publisher. All opinions are my own.