Book Review: To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers

To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 3, 2019
Source: Borrowed

In her new novella, Sunday Times best-selling author Becky Chambers imagines a future in which, instead of terraforming planets to sustain human life, explorers of the solar system instead transform themselves.

Ariadne is one such explorer. As an astronaut on an extrasolar research vessel, she and her fellow crewmates sleep between worlds and wake up each time with different features. Her experience is one of fluid body and stable mind and of a unique perspective on the passage of time. Back on Earth, society changes dramatically from decade to decade, as it always does.

Ariadne may awaken to find that support for space exploration back home has waned, or that her country of birth no longer exists, or that a cult has arisen around their cosmic findings, only to dissolve once more by the next waking. But the moods of Earth have little bearing on their mission: to explore, to study, and to send their learnings home.

Carrying all the trademarks of her other beloved works, including brilliant writing, fantastic world-building and exceptional, diverse characters, Becky’s first audiobook outside of the Wayfarers series is sure to capture the imagination of listeners all over the world.

I’ve only ever seen good things about Becky Chambers’ books, so when I saw this novella pop up at my library, I figured it was as good a time as any to give her writing a try. I guess that, after finishing, I just feel kind of conflicted.

On the one hand, the writing is really good! The setting is super vivid. There’s a ton of casual diversity and it’s never a thing, it just exists. On the other hand, very little actually happens. This novella is only 153 pages and it dragged. I kept waiting for something to actually happen and it never really did.

I couldn’t put my finger on how exactly I felt about this book until my boyfriend asked me what I thought of it. I blurted out, “It felt more like an exercise in worldbuilding than a real book,” and you know what? That’s exactly it. The four characters explore some worlds — and they’re really well-written worlds, with their own plants and wildlife — but that’s it. I mean, sure, there’s a message in there about humanity and whatnot, but that wasn’t enough for me to feel like I’d read an actual book and not just a ton of description.

I’m not mad that I took the time to listen to this one, but I don’t think I’ll be picking up any more of Chambers’ books any time soon.


Have you read To Be Taught, If Fortunate? Is it on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza by Shaun David Hutchinson

The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza by Shaun David Hutchinson
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: February 6, 2018
Source: Borrowed

Sixteen-year-old Elena Mendoza is the product of a virgin birth.

This can be scientifically explained (it’s called parthenogenesis), but what can’t be explained is how Elena is able to heal Freddie, the girl she’s had a crush on for years, from a gunshot wound in a Starbucks parking lot. Or why the boy who shot Freddie, David Combs, disappeared from the same parking lot minutes later after getting sucked up into the clouds. What also can’t be explained are the talking girl on the front of a tampon box, or the reasons that David Combs shot Freddie in the first place.

As more unbelievable things occur, and Elena continues to perform miracles, the only remaining explanation is the least logical of all—that the world is actually coming to an end, and Elena is possibly the only one who can do something about it.

I have previously read three of Shaun David Hutchinson’s novels with varying results. We Are the Ants was an easy five stars for me. I could have cried while reading it. The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley? Four stars. The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried? One of my most anticipated books of 2019 and, really, kind of a disappointment.

If I’m being honest, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to read The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza. I’d seen really mixed reviews when it first came out, I remember seeing people yelling (in a bad way) about the trans rep, and then there were all of the reviews that screamed “BUT NOTHING ACTUALLY HAPPENS.” Well, I’ll tell you what. I enjoyed this. I enjoyed it a lot.

There’s some definite social commentary here. Elena makes frequent (negative) references to the current president of the United States. There are discussions about the right to choose, not necessarily with regard to abortion, but just in general. When Elena learns that she has the ability to heal people, she has a bit of a crisis about whether she should really be playing god. This is exactly what I expect when I read one of Hutchinson’s books, and I was so happy to find it here.

As for the story, I thought it was really interesting. Elena doesn’t have a father, and she doesn’t mean that in the usual “my dad is a deadbeat and left when I was little” way. As the product of a virgin conception, scientifically known as parthenogenesis, she literally has no father. This has had little bearing on her life, aside from a lot of teasing from her classmates, until she suddenly learns that she’s capable of performing miracles.

I’m not going to get into all of that for fear of spoilers, so instead, I want to talk about the subtle diversity of this book. Elena is a bisexual Cuban girl. Her main love interest is Freddie, a girl she’s had a crush on forever. Elena’s ex-boyfriend, Javi, is a fairly main character, and nobody makes any sort of deal over her having an ex-boyfriend and now pursuing a girl. Elena’s best friend, Fadil, is Muslim and in the process of figuring out his own sexuality. Since none of the characters made a big deal out of this and all of this diversity was woven very seamlessly into the story, it never felt like flashing lights and ringing alarms screaming, “HEY, GUYS, DID YOU NOTICE SHE’S BI?!?” It just existed.

And also, that thing about bad trans rep? There’s like one sentence in this entire book and it’s one character saying something like, “Hey, how is [male name]?” And another character being like, “Actually, she goes by [female name] now.” How anybody found anything to hate in that is beyond me.

So, yes, this book is basically about Elena deciding what to do once she finds out that she can heal people. I suppose I can see how some people might consider that “not much of a plot.” I really enjoyed it, though, and I hope to read At the Edge of the Universe after I take a little SDH break.


Have you read The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza? Is it on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds

Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: March 5, 2019
Source: Borrowed

Jack Ellison King. King of Almost.

He almost made valedictorian.

He almost made varsity.

He almost got the girl . . .

When Jack and Kate meet at a party, bonding until sunrise over their mutual love of Froot Loops and their favorite flicks, Jack knows he’s falling—hard. Soon she’s meeting his best friends, Jillian and Franny, and Kate wins them over as easily as she did Jack. Jack’s curse of almost is finally over.

But this love story is . . . complicated. It is an almost happily ever after. Because Kate dies. And their story should end there. Yet Kate’s death sends Jack back to the beginning, the moment they first meet, and Kate’s there again. Beautiful, radiant Kate. Healthy, happy, and charming as ever. Jack isn’t sure if he’s losing his mind. Still, if he has a chance to prevent Kate’s death, he’ll take it. Even if that means believing in time travel. However, Jack will learn that his actions are not without consequences. And when one choice turns deadly for someone else close to him, he has to figure out what he’s willing to do—and let go—to save the people he loves.

I’d been interested in reading Opposite of Always ever since I saw it on a list of 2019 debuts, and I was pretty excited when I saw that the audiobook was available through my library. After reading it, you could say I’m angry angry, because this book was some nonsense.

Look, I understand that you need to suspend some disbelief in a lot of novels. I also understand that you need to suspend a lot of disbelief when it comes to time travel novels. But this book? There is not enough disbelief in the entire world for me to suspend and have this book make any sense.

But I’ll get there.

First I want to talk about everything else.

I guess I’m going to start with what seems to be a trend in YA literature these days — romantic relationships between high school and college students. I know that it happens all the time, both in real life and in fiction, but for me, there’s no way around it. It’s creepy. Even if it’s just a one-year difference in age, there is a huge difference in maturity between someone who lives with their parents and someone who is in college, living in a dorm, away from home.

The second thing I want to talk about is the pacing. This book is 464 pages. That is insanely long for a YA contemporary. It’s also about twice as long as it needs to be since so much of the book is repetitive. And I was bored the entire way through. It’s just one irrelevant thing after another happening, and even when relevant things happen, they don’t make sense.

And now we get to my third point — the blatant medical inaccuracies in this book.So, you really expect me to believe that a doctor has the cure for sickle cell anemia just hidden away in his office and the FDA hasn’t come looking for it? You really expect me to believe that a doctor would violate HIPAA just because he feels bad for some random kid who has an emotional investment in a college student’s case? You really expect me to believe that this doctor happily takes calls from this random kid to discuss the specifics of his super secret super expensive sickle cell treatment? That’s not how medicine works, and the way that Kate describes the financial piece of her treatments? That’s not how insurance works. As the former billing manager of a medical office and someone who now literally works for a major insurance company, I think I’d know. I just read the author’s bio and saw that he’s actually a registered nurse and I am even more upset, because he should know better.

So back to what I said at the beginning about suspending disbelief.

I’m not sure what’s going on with the random time travel in YA books recently, but I, for one, am sick of it. What was the point of it in this book? Jack repeats the same three months over and over again so that he, the high school student, can try to save Kate’s life. Because, yes, the high school student is clearly going to save Kate when a bunch of trained physicians could not.

I feel like, if you want to write a book like this, with the love interest being very sick and on the verge of dying, you have to be very careful to not come across as a rip-off of hundreds of similar books that have come before you. Personally, when I see the words “because Kate dies” in a synopsis, I’m already rolling my eyes. This particular plot has been done so many times that it’s going to be hard to make it unique. Similarly, the “living the same day over and over until you get it right” thing has been done to death. There was nothing particularly new or interesting about the time loops in this book, so it really just came across like the author knew that books about sick kids, books about time travel, and YA contemporary romance are selling well, so he decided to combine them all together to make a surefire hit.

Also…When Kate’s dad lectures Jack that he needs to break up with Kate because she’s dying, I did two things. First, I rolled my eyes, because how many times has a YA dad told his daughter’s boyfriend to break up with her because he just didn’t like their relationship? But, second, it kind of came across like, “Yeah, Kate’s dying. Let’s take away this one piece of happiness she has while she’s still on this planet.” Like, honestly. Where is the logic here?

All in all, I felt that this book played out very stereotypically. Everything that happened was predictable, even the twists. The fantastical time-travel aspect kind of comes out of nowhere and isn’t particularly well-done. The book is overly long and I just couldn’t bring myself to care about the characters or what happened to them. There was a ton of odd dialogue and weird choices, like Jack’s best friend’s father being referred to as “the coupon.” (What??)

I was excited about this one, but now I’m just disappointed.


Have you read Opposite of Always? Do you know of any books that did these tropes well?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl

Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: June 5, 2018
Source: Borrowed

Once upon a time, back at Darrow-Harker School, Beatrice Hartley and her five best friends were the cool kids, the beautiful ones. Then the shocking death of Jim – their creative genius and Beatrice’s boyfriend – changed everything.

One year after graduation, Beatrice is returning to Wincroft – the seaside estate where they spent so many nights sharing secrets, crushes, plans to change the world – hoping she’ll get to the bottom of the dark questions gnawing at her about Jim’s death.

But as the night plays out in a haze of stilted jokes and unfathomable silence, Beatrice senses she’s never going to know what really happened.

Then a mysterious man knocks on the door. Blithely, he announces the impossible: time for them has become stuck, snagged on a splinter that can only be removed if the former friends make the harshest of decisions.

Now Beatrice has one last shot at answers… and at life.

And so begins the Neverworld Wake. 

Let me tell you something: I’m really sick of reading books that I’ve already read. And Neverworld Wake? I’ve read it several times. This book is a haphazard conglomeration of a lot of trends, but it especially reminded me of a few very popular YA books:

It would be fine if this book offered something new or interesting, but it doesn’t. We have the days repeating over and over again like in Before I Fall. We have the murder mystery with nobody wanting to share what they know like in One of Us Is Lying. We have the mysterious super rich children like in We Were Liars. Neverworld Wake borrows so many tropes and yet it somehow manages to do absolutely nothing.

The concept of the book is fine — Beatrice is hanging out with her old friends when a man knocks on the door and tells them that they have to decide who will live and who will die. Crazy, right? They brush it off and go on with their lives, but then they find that they’re living the same day over and over again. As the day repeats itself again and again, they try to find their way out of the Neverworld and solve the murder of Beatrice’s high school boyfriend.

The problem is that the book tries to do a lot of things and doesn’t end up doing any of them well. The writing itself is awkward, filled with ridiculous similes like “swirls of blond hair like sugar garnishes on thirty-four-dollar desserts” and metaphors like “we are all anthologies.” Like, I get what the author is trying to say, but writing like that just comes across as pretentious and unnecessary. Half the pages of this book could have probably been cut if they’d just gotten rid of all the unnecessary comparisons.

There are also continuity issues. You see, there’s a different between an unreliable narrator and forgetting what the heck you’re supposed to be writing. Neverworld Wake finds that line, crosses it, and keeps running. You can’t brush off a huge inconsistency in the plot as an unreliable narrator and just expect me to accept it. It doesn’t work like that.

I was so, so disappointed at the end of this book for multiple reasons, but one of those reasons IS A HUGE SPOILER, so click here if you want to find out what it was!So, basically, we follow these five characters for about three hundred pages as they try to piece together what happened to Beatrice’s beloved (or was he?? we may never know) boyfriend on the night that he died. They break into a police station to try to examine case files. They interrogate his family at gunpoint. They uncover a conspiracy to hide a totally unrelated murder from years before. Despite all of this detective work, at the end of the book, we find out that EVERYBODY ALREADY KNEW HOW JIM DIED BECAUSE EVERYBODY WAS SOMEHOW INVOLVED IN HIS DEATH. What a waste of my time. It’s been days since I finished this and I’m still mad.

This book was clearly not for me. I’ve heard good things about Pessl’s other books, so I might give her another try at some point. For now, though, I’m just going to move on to something that’s the polar opposite of this book.


Have you read Neverworld Wake? What’s a book that did an unreliable narrator well?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: October 20, 2015
Source: Borrowed

This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do. This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.

BRIEFING NOTE: Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.
 

In case you didn’t see my rating up there, I’m going to say it here: I did not enjoy this book. I know it’s a well-loved book and this is probably heresy or something, but this book was just not for me, and here’s why.

The characters: Did I care about even one single character? No. They were roles, not characters. We have the Strong Female Protagonist who’s ready to save the world. We have the Charming Love Interest who… doesn’t really have much more of a function than that. We have some Fun Side Characters whose only purpose is to die for shock value.

The plot: I’m sorry, what plot? There are two ships, okay. There’s a very contagious sickness on one of them. Some lovers who’ve been separated after breaking up but they’re still in love? There’s a war, I guess, but it’s not really explained in any kind of detail. I don’t even know what the plot is, really, aside from Kady and Ezra pining over each other for no reason.

The relationship: I’m a romance lover and even I can admit that the romance in this book was entirely unnecessary. If Kady and Ezra love each other so much, why did they break up at the beginning of the book? I couldn’t take them seriously.

The plot twist: I rolled my eyes. It wasn’t one of those “oh wow, that plot twist!!” kind of situations. It was one of those “really? are you actually serious? this is what I waited for??” kind of moments. The big plot twist was some nonsense.

I had really hoped to enjoy Illuminae since so many of my Goodreads friends and fellow bloggers love it, but I just couldn’t get into it. The format is fun, but that’s about all that I can say about this one. I love Jay Kristoff, but I’m not going to be continuing with this series.


Have you read Illuminae? Do you agree with me or did you love it?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book review: Paper Girls, Vol. 5 by Brian K. Vaughan

Paper Girls, Vol. 5 by Brian K. Vaughan
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: December 11, 2018
Source: Borrowed

Can anyone escape fate? That’s what Mac and her fellow newspaper delivery girls must discover as they escape the year 2000 and travel to the distant future. Plus, the truth behind the mysterious “old-timers” is finally revealed.

So, I’m officially caught up on another one of Vaughan’s series, and I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to do with myself now. Overall, I definitely prefer Saga over Paper Girls, but this was a really fun series to read. One thing I’ll say about it, in general, is that I felt that the quality of it was all over the place. It’s not a bad series by any means, but, to me at least, volumes 2 and 4 were far better than volumes 1, 3, and 5.

One thing I liked in this volume was the reveal about Wari and Jahpo. I was waiting to find out more about them and Vaughan definitely delivered! The cliffhanger that ended this volume, though… when exactly am I getting volume 6 and how am I supposed to wait?


Have you read Paper Girls? What’s your favorite graphic novel?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book review: Paper Girls, Vol. 4 by Brian K. Vaughan

Paper Girls, Vol. 4 by Brian K. Vaughan
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: April 10, 2018
Source: Borrowed

The mind-bending, time-warping adventure from BRIAN K. VAUGHAN and CLIFF CHIANG continues, as intrepid newspaper deliverer Tiffany is launched from the prehistoric past into the year 2000! In this harrowing version of our past, Y2K was even more of a cataclysm than experts feared, and the only person who can save the future is a 12-year-old girl from 1988.

Volume 4 of Paper Girls was, by far, my favorite of the series. It’s definitely the most exciting of the volumes, and despite being a little jumpy sometimes, I felt like it was really well-written.

The girls end up in 2000 amid the Y2K scare, and wow, that really took me back to elementary school! (Just saying that makes me feel old.) I remember Y2K like it was yesterday and this alternate version of history in which a bunch of crazy things actually happened was so fun to read about! (In real life, the craziest thing that happened was the computers at my school thinking it was 1900 and not 2000.)

I’m really enjoying this series so far and I’m looking forward to reading the next volume!


#ps19: a book that makes you nostalgic
#mmd19: a book in the backlist of a favorite author


Have you read Paper Girls? What’s your favorite graphic novel?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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