Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: Dread Nation

Dread Nation (Dread Nation, #1)Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t wander over to the YA section that often, but when I do, I always keep my eye out for something interesting. Simply reading the jacket copy that mentions an alternate Civil War history with zombies & race exploitation screams “Pick me up!” Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation takes something like Guns of the South & turns it completely on it’s head. Jane is a biracial girl who’s sent to a school that specifically trains non-white Americans to protect white citizens against the overwhelming zombie menace. While helping a friend try to find his sister, she stumbles upon a plot to create settlements in the West that will recreate antebellum laws & norms & is shipped off unwillingly as a recruit for the new border wall. A harsh reality becomes grimmer as she attempts to survive & take advantage of the various alliances buried beneath the new “City On A Hill”.

The above premise takes a while to explain & there is a fair amount of world-building. Ireland takes her time showing some of the different fascets of this new America, but things really get moving once Jane gets shipped off to the West. Everything that’s been introduced takes on new stakes & new meaning, so readers would benefit being patient through the first section. Ireland also clearly has many ideas & hopefully more books on the way to explore them, but I was so ready to keep going! Once the action started, I was transfixed & didn’t realize just how quickly the end came. Definitely a recommendation simply because its story ambitions pay off.

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Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark

I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State KillerI’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 instead of 4. Like many other readers, I picked this book up looking forward to seeing the passion project that McNamara had been working on at the time of her death & to support those who were determined to see her work in print. This book is an amazing testament to the friends & loved ones who wanted to do right by McNamara & preserve her legacy as a writer. With that said, this is also a manuscript that is still very much in draft stage & is not easy to read on its own. The placeholder text & McNamara’s thorough research give clues as to what could have been a phenomenal work of true crime reporting. The fact that interest in the case has helped lead to a suspect finally being taken into custody after these many years is also cathartic & I’m sure helps being closure to many. But without this context, the book is not a good standalone read. Instead, it is a poignant monument not just to a compelling writer who is gone, but also to cases that are forgotten & our own vested interest in some sort of justice.

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Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: Sorry To Disrupt the Peace

Sorry to Disrupt the PeaceSorry to Disrupt the Peace by Patty Yumi Cottrell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A gift from a friend who saw the recommendation as “Kafka crossed with David Foster Wallace” & thought of me. I have to commend her instincts; this novel definitely kept me reading & left me pondering the human mysteries it brought up. Helen Moran has received a phone call that her adopted brother has committed suicide & she decides to travel home to mourn him as well as uncover what happened to him. Told from her point-of-view, Helen’s interior monologue eerily conveys a character teetering on an edge, although readers may deduce that this is not an uncommon state for her.

First, Helen’s voice & skewed perspective is compelling & while she purposefully sets out to “solve” her brother’s suicide, she often seems to contribute to the mystery of her family’s difficult relationships as well. She’s not unlike Jesse in Suicide Blonde, where the world & its workings have completely confounded her & she’s determined to figure out her own way through the chaos. But where Jesse is chasing her fragmented dreams from her past, Helen appears to have never been comfortable in this world & creates entire structures for herself out of her own self-justification & whatever is at hand.

There are some great moments of pitch-black humor & her increasing desperation at proving her good intentions despite her erratic behavior humanized her for me. Ultimately, Cottrell seems to be shooting for a Pynchon-esque ending, where nothing is really answered & I can appreciate that. I just don’t know if all the narrative strings are wrapped up as satisfactorily as they could be. I wanted to know more about this character & how she could even get through a day with these experiences weighing on her, but had to settle for where the book ended.

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Off the Shelf: Brown Girl in the Ring

Brown Girl in the RingBrown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 instead of 4. Ti-Jeanne has a baby she doesn’t always want, visions that she can’t control, & a life in a destroyed city that didn’t welcome her. Her grandmother Gros-Jeanne tries to lead her into accepting her reality & making it better. But it isn’t until Ti-Jeanne’s spurned lover knocks at her door with a plea to escape Toronto that she has to decide whether or not to face her hard circumstances & rise above them or escape with him.

This book was on a recent NPR list that focused on Afro-Futurism & mentioned this book so I thought I’d pick it up. I was drawn in by the tension between the traditions that define Ti-Jeanne’s life & how the city of Toronto doesn’t seem to nurture them. (I feel like some of this push-and-pull is what was missing from The Galaxy Game.) The book is also written with just enough dialect to keep me captivated, instead of blocked out. Fans of Sacred Games, you’ll appreciate the language work here. There were times that the everyday moments of Ti-Jeanne’s life dragged, but it is possible that this was a result of reading the book in an electronic format. I’ve found that it can be a lot easier to skim/skip parts that don’t interest me when I’m not holding a physical book. Ultimately, the beautiful parts of this book are in the atmosphere & the paranormal insights that Ti-Jeanne has when her faith & her adopted land come together in her mind. Everything else in the plot seems to dull in comparison.

Also, content warning: there is a graphic clinical description of a heart transplant. If you are squeamish, like me, you’d do best to skip that section. There are other body horror elements, but not as terrible as the described surgery.

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Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: The Snow Queen

The Snow Queen (The Snow Queen Cycle, #1)The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Snow Queen Arianrhod is determined to hold onto her reign of Tiamat & creates a clone of herself in order to ensure her power. Unfortunately, fate & politics that span galaxies intervene to create a foe just as formidable as Arianrhod herself.

I hate reduce a novel down for descriptive purposes, but this is eco-feminist Dune, even down to the preservation of religion for political purposes & genetic control. Despite those similarities, I was interested in seeing how Vinge recast Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytale into a sci-fi political thriller. I was pleased at how she kept the structure of the story & balanced the characters. She also ends the book with plenty of ambiguity as to what happens in the rest of the series. I do regret that some of the dialog is flat on the page & part of me does really wish Satoshi Kon could have made this into an anime, because the sprawling world that Vinge sometimes has to put on the back burner for her plot is equally intriguing. Still, a solid read & I’m keeping my eye out for the rest of the series.

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