Review: Dark Matter

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Genres: Thriller, Science Fiction
Maturity Level: 5
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆

Jason Dessen is walking home through the chilly Chicago streets one night, looking forward to a quiet evening in front of the fireplace with his wife, Daniela, and their son, Charlie—when his reality shatters.

It starts with a man in a mask kidnapping him at gunpoint, for reasons Jason can’t begin to fathom—what would anyone want with an ordinary physics professor?—and grows even more terrifying from there, as Jason’s abductor injects him with some unknown drug and watches while he loses consciousness.

When Jason awakes, he’s in a lab, strapped to a gurney—and a man he’s never seen before is cheerily telling him “welcome back!”

Jason soon learns that in this world he’s woken up to, his house is not his house. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born.

And someone is hunting him.

I am beginning to discover that maybe thrillers aren’t for me. This one is great. It’s smart, there’s no gratuitous violence for the sake of it, it moves fast. But I was just, meh.

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Review: Provenance

Provenance by Ann Leckie

Series: Imperial Radch (companion)
Genre: Science Fiction
Maturity Level: 4
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆

A power-driven young woman has just one chance to secure the status she craves and regain priceless lost artifacts prized by her people. She must free their thief from a prison planet from which no one has ever returned.

Ingray and her charge will return to her home world to find their planet in political turmoil, at the heart of an escalating interstellar conflict. Together, they must make a new plan to salvage Ingray’s future, her family, and her world, before they are lost to her for good.

Provenance was a mixed bag for me. The things I liked I really liked, but the things I didn’t I REALLY didn’t.

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Review: Convenience Store Woman

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori
Genre: Fiction, Novella
Maturity Level: 4
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆

Keiko Furukura had always been considered a strange child, and her parents always worried how she would get on in the real world, so when she takes on a job in a convenience store while at university, they are delighted for her. For her part, in the convenience store she finds a predictable world mandated by the store manual, which dictates how the workers should act and what they should say, and she copies her coworkers’ style of dress and speech patterns so she can play the part of a normal person. However, eighteen years later, at age 36, she is still in the same job, has never had a boyfriend, and has only few friends. She feels comfortable in her life but is aware that she is not living up to society’s expectations and causing her family to worry about her. When a similarly alienated but cynical and bitter young man comes to work in the store, he will upset Keiko’s contented stasis—but will it be for the better?

I feel as though I should start this review by saying that I know very little about contemporary Japanese culture, and next to nothing about Japanese literature. There is a very good chance that I did not fully understand this book, so I don’t feel I am qualified to write a real “review” or to make a recommendation. I’m just going to reflect on my personal reading experience. Okay then.

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Review: With the Fire on High

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

Genre: Young Adult
Maturity Level: 5-
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆⋆

With her daughter to care for and her abuela to help support, high school senior Emoni Santiago has to make the tough decisions, and do what must be done. The one place she can let her responsibilities go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness. Still, she knows she doesn’t have enough time for her school’s new culinary arts class, doesn’t have the money for the class’s trip to Spain — and shouldn’t still be dreaming of someday working in a real kitchen. But even with all the rules she has for her life — and all the rules everyone expects her to play by — once Emoni starts cooking, her only real choice is to let her talent break free.

With the Fire on High is one of my favorite YA novels I’ve ever read. It was touching and thoughtful, and it was about real life. Acevedo doesn’t sugar coat the realities of being a young black woman or being a teen mom, but the tone of the book is still hopeful.

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Review: In the Labyrinth of Drakes

In the Labyrinth of Drakes by Marie Brennan

Series: The Memoirs of Lady Trent
Genre: Fantasy
Maturity Level: 2
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆

Even those who take no interest in the field of dragon naturalism have heard of Lady Trent’s expedition to the inhospitable deserts of Akhia. Her discoveries there are the stuff of romantic legend, catapulting her from scholarly obscurity to worldwide fame. The details of her personal life during that time are hardly less private, having provided fodder for gossips in several countries.

As is so often the case in the career of this illustrious woman, the public story is far from complete. In this, the fourth volume of her memoirs, Lady Trent relates how she acquired her position with the Royal Scirling Army; how foreign saboteurs imperiled both her work and her well-being; and how her determined pursuit of knowledge took her into the deepest reaches of the Labyrinth of Drakes, where the chance action of a dragon set the stage for her greatest achievement yet.

This is the best Lady Trent memoir yet! It’s not often that a series gets better and better as it goes, but in this series each book has been better than the last. Brennan finally finds her stride in this one, having put together exactly the book I wanted to read.

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Always and Forever, Lara Jean

Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han

Series: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Genre: Young Adult
Maturity Level: 4
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆

Lara Jean is having the best senior year.

And there’s still so much to look forward to: a class trip to New York City, prom with her boyfriend Peter, Beach Week after graduation, and her dad’s wedding to Ms. Rothschild. Then she’ll be off to college with Peter, at a school close enough for her to come home and bake chocolate chip cookies on the weekends.

Life couldn’t be more perfect!

At least, that’s what Lara Jean thinks . . . until she gets some unexpected news.

Now the girl who dreads change must rethink all her plans—but when your heart and your head are saying two different things, which one should you listen to?

When I started this book, within about twenty pages I was sure I knew exactly how it was going to end. I was still plenty enjoying reading it, even as the inevitable played out right before my eyes. And then… it didn’t. Always and Forever, Lara Jean ended completely differently than I was expecting. It was just so sweet, and heartwarming, and gave me all the feels. Guys, I cried.

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Review: P.S. I Still Love You

P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han

Series: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Genre: Young Adult
Maturity Level: 4
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆

Lara Jean didn’t expect to really fall for Peter. She and Peter were just pretending. Except suddenly they weren’t. Now Lara Jean is more confused than ever. When another boy from her past returns to her life, Lara Jean’s feelings for him return too. Can a girl be in love with two boys at once?

No second-book-slump here! P.S. I Still Love You had all of the things that made To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before so great, and then some! Including, inexplicably, ANOTHER love square. How can Lara Jean be in love with two boys at once twice in one year? She doesn’t even know, poor baby.

The slut-shaming issue gets taken to the next level in this book when Lara Jean and Peter’s hot-tub make-out gets put on Instagram as a “sex-tape”. There are just so many amazing things about this. Honestly, if I taught High School English I would push to get this as required reading for sophomores, though the hand full of f-bombs would probably get it nixed. There’s just so much about Me-Too, toxic masculinity, bullying and cyber-bullying, and it’s all so relevant to our kids. This series needs to be read by ALL American teens and their parents. Period.

It was nice to see Lara Jean’s relationships with her sisters back to a healthy place, and this book explored more about her dad, which I loved. So many parents are absent in YA, and certainly her dad isn’t around much. But he’s there, and he loves Lara Jean and it really shows. Lara Jean also has a great friendship with an elderly lady named Stormy. My first job was at a retirement home too, so this sub-plot really resonated with me. Stormy is a riot, and I loved reading about all the ridiculous things she did.

Peter came into his own in this book too. He had some quality character development, especially near the end of the book. You really start to get a feel for what it is about him that Lara Jean admires, which makes it even more frustrating that he allows his ex-girlfriend to manipulate him.

Honestly, it’s been a breath of fresh air to read about such an imperfect teen relationship. Both Lara Jean and Peter are insecure about themselves, each other, and their feelings. They don’t know what they’re doing, and that’s okay. That’s what high school relationships are supposed to be like. The bizarre fake-dating from book one aside, their relationship is incredibly realistic. I love that Lara Jean acknowledges that this is her first love, maybe not her forever love. When you’re a teenager love feels like forever, but often it isn’t, and I think it’s important to present teenagers with a romance that reflects that.

All those slices of life that I loved so much about To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before were still there. Bake sales, doing homework at Starbucks, what Dad made for dinner. The details are what makes this series feel so real.

This series is just so enchanting. I’ve read two books in three days, and I am loving every second of it. I highly recommend this series!