Monday, June 11, 2018

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti book coverBinti is the first of the isolated Himba people ever to be accepted into Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

The world she seeks to enter has been at war with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares, and Binti's stellar travel will being her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University itself, but first she has to make it there alive.

Winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards, Binti is full of imagination and fantastic worldbuilding that leaves you wanting more. Luckily it is the first in a trilogy that was completed this year.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Grimspace by Ann Aguirre

Grimspace book coverSirantha Jax is part of a vanishingly small subset of people-- those who are genetically able to navigate "grimspace," the interdimensional subspace where ships can jump between distant parts of the galaxy. Unfortunately, the last ship she piloted was in a horrific, fatal crash. Many important people died, including her boyfriend/co-pilot, and she was ruled responsible. After months spent languishing, guilt-ridden in a cell, she is rescued by a tall, handsome stranger who wants her to navigate his ship and its motley crew on their secretive, rebellious mission. Jax decides that things can hardly get any worse, so off they go. They adventure across various planets, interact with alien races, get brainwashed, end a blood feud, accidentally adopt a baby frog-creature, uncover a government conspiracy, and generally have a wild ride across the galaxy.

While fans of old-school sci-fi (Asimov, Heinlein) may roll their eyes at this one, Grimspace is a funny, action-packed romp that would have a lot of appeal to fans of the Wayfarers series, shows like Firefly or Torchwood, or even the urban fantasy genre. Jax is snarky and hilarious, and the crew makes for a great ensemble cast. It's weird and unpredictable in all the best ways, and is well worth the read if you like your sci-fi a little wild.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Hardcore Twenty-Four by Janet Evanovich

Hardcore Twenty-Four book cover In this (twenty-fourth, obviously) installment of the Stephanie Plum series, Stephanie, a bounty hunter, is at it again, with her friend Lula tagging along for the ride. Together, they make quite a humorous pair as they attempt to capture runaway bail-skippers. This time, they stumble upon a few zombies along the way. Well, there aren’t any real zombies, right? In fact, the “zombie” sightings are part of an ongoing police investigation led by Morelli, a detective and Stephanie’s love interest. During the course of events, Stephanie's fugitive hunt crosses paths with Morelli's zombie investigation. With a little help from a few friends and family, including the always delightful Grandma Mazur, the story progresses at a brisk pace, and the laugh out loud moments make Hardcore Twenty-Four an enjoyable and easy read.

For the uninitiated, starting with the first book in the series, One for the Money, may be a better introduction to Stephanie’s life, but it's not a requirement to appreciate this story.

Monday, April 23, 2018

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park

A Single Shard book cover Tree-ear, an orphan, is fascinated by the potters in his village. One day, he is watching the potter Min working at his craft. After Min walks away from his work, Tree-ear goes and picks up a box that Min made. Min's return startles Tree-ear, causing him to drop the box. In order to pay for the damage, Tree-ear agrees to work off the debt. Initially, he agreed to work nine days, but he continues to work for Min for months, without pay, in order to learn how to be a potter.

One day, Min and Tree-ear learn that a royal emissary is coming to the village to commission work. This is a much sought-after opportunity. On the day of the emissary’s visit, the best potters set up stalls showcasing their work. Min, a man very meticulous about his product, has the fewest items to show the emissary, but Min’s work, along with a few other potters, intrigues the visitor enough to warrant a second review on his return visit in the coming weeks.

Who will get the royal commission? What will become of Tree-ear after his work with Min is done? Winner of the Newbery Medal, this is a wonderful historical fiction story that takes place in medieval Korea, offering a fascinating peek into another culture.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters

Underground Airlines book coverImagine a world where Lincoln was assassinated too early, and a frantic Congress signed a grand compromise to end the Civil War: slavery could never be constitutionally outlawed, but individual states could outlaw it, and an emancipated state could never revert back to a slave state. Then fast forward to the modern day. Only four slave states remain: Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and the united Carolina. The rest of the country frowns on the so-called "Hard Four," but not enough to actually break the status quo.

Victor was once a slave, before he fled north. But he was caught. Rather than being returned to the farm that haunts his nightmares, he was blackmailed into working for the government, tracking and capturing other runaway slaves so that they could be punished or returned. But his latest case isn't like the others. Things just don't add up. And on top of it all, he keeps getting sidetracked by unexpected personal matters. Will Victor catch the mysterious runaway Jackdaw? Or will this be the case that finally breaks him?

This is equal parts a twisty thriller and a startling alternate history. Victor is a flawed but believable protagonist, and his offhand references to familiar-yet-different historical events will keep you reading even through the harrowing moments in his narrative. This is a must-read for fans of alternate histories or realistic sci-fi, like 11/22/63 or Station Eleven.

Monday, April 2, 2018

The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn

The Woman in the Window book coverFor the past ten months, Dr. Anna Fox has been trapped inside her New York City home, completely isolated from the outside world. Her crippling agoraphobia leaves her unable to even step out onto her front stoop without fear and anxiety overwhelming her mind. So she spends her days drinking, watching old movies, and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move in. From Anna's view across the street, they seem like a perfect family. Until Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn't have.

Woman in the Window is a twisty page-turner that leaves you constantly guessing about what's real. With frequent golden-age Hollywood references, this is a perfect book for fans of classic films like Rear Window and Gaslight.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Monkeewrench by P. J. Tracy

Monkeewrench book cover Monkeewrench, led by the abrasive and paranoid Grace McBride, is a software company operated by an eclectic group of best friends with a suspiciously secretive past. Their newest program is a still-in-development training program for detectives and forensic specialists. It shows you a fictional crime scene, and you click around to investigate it. It's that simple. Until someone starts committing actual crimes based on their fake crime scenes. The game hasn't been released yet, so the police are looking at Monkeewrench as the only suspects. To clear their names, they'll have to work with the detectives to catch this criminal, before it's too late. Even if it means revealing the dark secrets of their past.

This is a fantastic mystery/thriller. The plot is good, but its writing style is what really shines. The descriptions are vivid, the dialogue is hilarious, and its tense moments are legitimately thrilling. Every character is put together with great care and personality, and their friendships are heartwarming. Because of this, it holds up well to re-reading, even if you know the ending. It takes place in Minnesota, which is a nice change of pace if you're tired of stories set in New York and California. The authors are a mother-daughter writing duo, and the Monkeewrench series currently has eight books in it.