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World-building in Artemis

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

One of my husband’s favourite books is Andy Weir’s The Martian. He made me read it and I ended up enjoying it against all odds. Science fiction is very much not my jam and I really don’t like space.

Yeah, I said it.

So not only reading but requesting Weir’s newest, Artemis, was very out of character for me.

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Jasmine ‘Jazz’ Bashara lives in Artemis, the colony on the moon. She works as a porter, a low-paying job that has not-super-legal side-gig potential. But she wants to make a lot more money. Jazz is really smart but never had much time for traditional education routes. Having lived on the moon since she was a small child, she understands the colony like no one else.

When an opportunity comes up through a regular smuggling client, she has the chance to make a lot of money really quickly. But she doesn’t realize she’s suddenly in the middle of a power struggle for control of the moon and it’s resources. Jazz must rely on friends and connections to save the future of the only home she’s ever known.

It sounds a touch dramatic. And it is. But not in a way that’s distracting or annoying. Artemis is a fun space-romp. There’s a murder mystery, power struggles within a completely made up system of government, and some really fun characters.

One quibble I had was that I’m not sure how real Jazz felt to me. I like aspects of her (her brilliance, her take-no-sh*t attitude, but she didn’t feel like a real person. She’s definitely a woman written by a man – she’s sexy but doesn’t really realize it, all men are automatically attracted to her. And science was a really big part of this book which was hard for me because this kind of science always makes me feel like an idiot.

But it was funny and didn’t try to be The Martian which I really appreciated. It was light, it was fast paced and there was some intriguing world building. It almost seemed feasible that at some point, humans could live on the moon!

It was a solid read for me over the Christmas holidays and I can see it being a fun addition to any kind of holiday packing.

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9

What even is this book?

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

Jason is at home, enjoying a cozy fall evening with his wife, Daniela and son, Charlie. They are making dinner together, talking about their days, Charlie working on some homework, Jason and Daniela making their way through a bottle of wine. Jason’s college friend has recently been awarded a prestigious science award and is celebrating at a bar a few blocks away. Daniela suggests that Jason go over for a drink, show his face. Jason agrees, says he’ll be back in 45 minutes.

Except on the way home, he is kidnapped and asked if he’s happy with his life. Next thing he knows, he’s waking up in a strange place without any idea how he got there.

That’s all I’m going to tell you about Dark Matter, Blake Crouch’s thriller that makes you question everything.

You all know that normally I don’t read science fiction. At least, I don’t actively search for it. But Dark Matter is more than science fiction. It has a thrill ride element to it that meant I couldn’t put it down. It’s a well paced search for answers that left me questioning everything more than once.

Let’s look at some of my reactions, shall we?

This book was something else! It’s hard to accurately describe a book when you really can’t talk about it. If I tell you too much, it will ruin the book. Just know that it’s a great thrill ride, great for summer reading and would probably make a decent movie.

Sure, you could quibble about the fact that the only women in the book are damsels in distress and the entire thing is basically a treatise on the accomplishments of men. But I’m not going to do that because as a thriller, with a dash of sci-fi, it worked for me.

I think if you’re a fan of the Bourne books/movies, The Martian (I guess anything starring Matt Damon?) or Ready Player One, you will enjoy this one.

I know I didn’t give you a lot to go on in this post so why not read the first chapter?

12

Batch Reviews: An Actual Batch

I know when I started this little random collection of batch reviews, I made it seem like there would be more than 2 reviews per post. Today there actually will be.

We begin with Second Life by SJ Watson. Some of you may have read Watson’s first book, Before I Go To Sleep, which quickly found it’s way among the thriller heavyweights. I could not wait to get my hands on Second Life.

Julia is living a pretty ideal life in London with her son and surgeon husband. A photographer, one of her photos is now hanging in an exhibition in a major gallery. The shot, Marcus in the Mirror, has been replicated on postcards and is showing up all over the place. But then she gets a phone call that changes everything: her sister, Kate, has been murdered in an alley in Paris.

Julia struggles with Kate’s death. They were more or less estranged when Kate died and recently, Kate had been asking for the one thing Julia wasn’t willing to give up: her son. Kate is Connor’s real mum but Julia and Hugh adopted him when he was little. Turns out that Kate was spending a lot of time online and there’s a chance that the person who killed her was one of them. Intent on finding the person responsible, Julia starts her own profile and starts chatting with a man, Lukas. Kate’s roommate, Anna, becomes Julia’s confidante, as both struggle with what happened and how to move on.

Soon it’s about more than finding out what happened to Kate; Julia has fallen for Lukas.

Pacing was an issue for me in this one. It took a looooooooong time for me to feel anything. I just wanted to get on with it. But once you get there, it’s pretty good. Watson is adept at covering his tracks so that when he reveals the real story you are honestly gobsmacked. Like it’s predecessor, Second Life ends abruptly. You know everything that’s happened but that’s all you’re going to get.

If you’re willing to put in the work, Second Life has a pretty solid payoff but it’s not going to be for everyone.

The Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie. I got a text from my librarian friend saying she was pretty sure this book would be right up my alley. She was so incredibly right.

Louise, Pauline, Diane, Hortense, and Marie-Anne all became mistresses of Louis XV. It is a completely true story and The Sisters of Versailles tells it in English for the first time. Louise is the first. Married to a man she doesn’t care for she jumps at the chance to escape her country house and go to court. At first she is so good it’s almost a joke but eventually she learns how to navigate this world, embarking on her first affair. Soon she is strategically placed as the king’s mistress – the powers that be think she will do as they want and not challenge anything. She falls in love with the king and leads a pretty enchanted life.

But all is not so rosy for her sisters. After the death of their mother, they have been left to shift for themselves. Pauline and Diane were shipped off to a convent school, while Hortense and Marie-Anne were taken in by an elderly aunt with a very strict moral code. Marie-Anne manages to find a suitable match for herself and soon is living in Burgundy, bored out of her mind. For years, Pauline has been begging Louise to have her stay at court and when she finally relents, she will pay for it dearly: Pauline usurps her as the king’s mistress.

That’s a good start for anyone that thinks they may be interested. This book is littered with sister on sister crime, broken hearts, possible poisonings, court intrigue and all manner of delightful historical detail.

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The best part? The Sisters of Versailles is the first in a promised trilogy. The Rivals of Versailles should be out in April, while The Enemies of Versailles is expected in September.

Finally, let’s discuss the tiny powerhouse that is Helen Phillips’ The Beautiful Bureaucrat. Phillips manages to cram a lot of book into 177 pages. Josephine Anne Newbury has moved to the big city and is desperate for a job, any job. She manages to land a data entry type gig at The Database, a deeply suspect, incredibly impersonal place that frowns on lunch breaks, personal touchs and speaking to your colleagues. (Pretty sure I worked here from 2008-2010, guys)

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But Josephine has a job and at the end of the day she can go “home” to her husband, Joseph. “Home” is a series of temporary sublet spaces, until they can get a little bit up on their feet. They also long for a child of their own.

As Josephine spends more time at her job, she starts seeing strange coincidences and takes it upon herself to investigate. One day she sees something she can’t ignore and when her husband doesn’t return home she risks everything to track him down.

This was a clever little book. A rumination on the kind of soul destroying work we’ve all done and it’s place in our world, the desire for a child and the struggles of infertility and the strains both of these things place on relationships. Joseph and Josephine have very similar jobs and both look forward to the day when their lives are different, committed to building a new life in this big city but they start to see themselves lose bits of humanity, the longer they work there like when Josephine starts referring to her husband by his social security number.

It was a strange little book and definitely not what I normally read but I loved it. I almost want to read it again and read it more closely but it has to go home to the library.

 

13

I Read a Book About Aliens: Armada

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

When Ready Player One came out, I did not read it. A librarian friend of mine told me about it and said that my husband would probably really like it. He did – he devoured it like I’ve rarely seen him devour a book. Then he started recommending it to other people (who all also loved it) before lending out his copy and never seeing it again.

To be honest, I wasn’t planning on ever reading it. Science fiction, video games? Not my thing. I was able to participate in Duck Hunt and my brother enjoyed using me to get better at Wave Runner but mostly, I was reading.

So you’ll be surprised to find that I just finished reading Ernest Cline’s second novel, Armada. And that I kind of loved it.

I’m sure part of that has to do with the fact that the only expectation I had of this book was that it would be light hearted fun. I wasn’t looking for it to live up to any expectations of greatness as I might have if I had read Ready Player One first.

armada

Zack Lightman is a couple of months shy of graduation. He has a part time job at a video game store but no plans for the future. The only thing that he’s really good at is playing Armada, a first person video game that has him piloting a spacecraft in a war against an alien species threatening the world as we know it. Zack is one of the top 10 pilots in the entire game so when it turns out that the game is actually a sophisticated military training program and aliens really are coming to attack Earth, Zack is among the first to be recruited to fight.

I kind of feel like any story where the human race is fighting in space against aliens is going to have an element of kitsch to it. And that certainly applies here. But it didn’t bother me, it made me laugh. I don’t think this book takes itself too seriously and that made it a really fun read for me. I’m not a gamer, I don’t always get Star Wars references, or understand the science behind any of this and I still really enjoyed this book. I thought it was clever and fun and I couldn`t wait to get back to reading it whenever I had to put it down.

And now I have Ready Player One to look forward to. As soon as we buy a replacement copy…

What books did you take a chance on that you ended up loving?

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Book Club Pick: The Humans

When we last discussed our book club pick and I heard a general description, I admit my immediate reaction was “no.”

An alien sent to Earth to inhabit a math teacher’s body?? I am out. Aliens and math – two things that are not my cup of tea.

But I kept my mouth shut because sometimes I don’t know everything. Only sometimes. This was one of those times.

The Humans by Matt Haig is fantastic and I’m so glad I read it.

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The book is set up as a kind of instruction manual for other aliens that may be sent to Earth to help them understand humans and all their eccentricities. The unnamed narrator does take over the life and body of a math professor but it’s not nearly as sci-fi nerdy as I thought it would be. Right before Martin was taken up to the aliens, he had solved one of the oldest math problems in existence. It would revolutionize mathematics and the universe. Fearful that humans will find out about their existence, they send one of their own down to destroy all evidence of the solution. This includes killing the professor’s wife and son.

The problem is the alien starts to like being human. He discovers the beauty of music, that peanut butter is perfect food and that he loves dogs. He finds himself falling in love with the professor’s wife, a complicated process not least because he found human forms disgusting to look at but also because before his arrival, the professor and his wife barely spoke.

His mission is completely compromised as he falls in love, as he becomes human.

That’s what’s at the heart of this lovely book: love. The alien is kind of obsessed with what the point of humans’ lives is and eventually he discovers it’s love.

If you loved The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time or The Rosie Project you are going to love this. It has the same detached narrator, standing on the outside of society looking in and trying to make sense of facial cues and emotions and most of all this horrible habit humans have of not telling the truth or saying what they actually mean. In the Afterword, the author explains that he started writing this novel when he was in the middle of dealing with a panic disorder, when he really felt like the narrator and the world didn’t make any sense.

I’d say Haig did an amazing job of making sense of us. Read this book soon, it will make you smile.