Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Holdout by Jeffrey Kluger

 From the publisher: When evil forces are going unchecked on Earth, a principled astronaut makes a spilt-second decision to try to seek justice in the only place she knows how—the International Space Station.

The science in Holdout is good; Jeffrey Kluger is also the co-author, with astronaut Jim Lovell, of Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13, which was the basis of the Apollo 13 movie released in 1995, and nine other books. The author worked fictional versions of real space incidents into the plot. I really enjoyed the descriptions of life and work in space, and the relationship between the Russian and American astronauts. Although it’s a minor plot point, I also liked the main character’s concern for the mice that were in space with her.

I did not feel there was a lot of tension in this book. Although there were dangerous situations, I was never on the edge of my seat. Also, the plot device of a non-indigenous adult rescuing an orphaned indigenous child is a bit overdone. The scenes set in the ravaged Amazon rainforest were heart rending, especially knowing how true to life they are.

Holdout could make a good book discussion book. It contains themes about standing up for what’s right, greed and hypocrisy, how indigenous peoples are treated, the environment and the Amazon rainforest, and international cooperation.

Holdout is a pretty good book. It wants to be The Martian, but it’s not quite. Still, if you enjoyed The Martian you may enjoy Holdout. I read an advance reader copy of Holdout; it is scheduled to be published in August. The Galesburg Public Library will own it in print and as an ebook.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko


From the publisher: "Fans of Sabaa Tahir and Tomi Adeyemi won't want to miss this instant New York Times bestselling fantasy from breakout YA sensation Jordan Ifueko!

Nothing is more important than loyalty. But what if you've sworn to protect the one you were born to destroy?

Tarisai has always longed for the warmth of a family. She was raised in isolation by a mysterious, often absent mother known only as The Lady. The Lady sends her to the capital of the global empire of Aritsar to compete with other children to be chosen as one of the Crown Prince's Council of 11. If she’s picked, she'll be joined with the other Council members through the Ray, a bond deeper than blood. That closeness is irresistible to Tarisai, who has always wanted to belong somewhere. But The Lady has other ideas, including a magical wish that Tarisai is compelled to obey: Kill the Crown Prince once she gains his trust. Tarisai won't stand by and become someone’s pawn--but is she strong enough to choose a different path for herself? With extraordinary world-building and breathtaking prose, Raybearer is the story of loyalty, fate, and the lengths we're willing to go for the ones we love."

Raybearer is the story of Tarisai, a girl raised in an invisible home with no one but private tutors and a mysterious mother known as the Lady, who she sees only once or twice a year. One day, the Lady tells Tarisai that she being sent to the capital of the empire to meet Crown Prince Ekundayo, where she'll have a chance to join his Council of Eleven, the children who will make up his future ruling council and whose magical bond protects the prince from all outside harm. However, the Lady also gives Tarisai one last thing: a magically-compelled order (thanks to a wish from a genie-like being called an Ehru): once Tarisai has grown close to the future emperor, gained his love and trust, she must murder him.

Thus begins the setup for a really cool adventure set in an African-inspired fantasy setting. While fans of YA fantasy will find some familiar ground here (a brave but conflicted heroine must use her powers and her wits to overcome an evil destiny set upon her), there's a lot of uniqueness to find here as well. The diverse cast includes some strong secondary characters such as Prince Dayo and of Tarisai's friends named Sanjeet and Kirah. The world Jordan Ifueko creates is richly detailed and full of a unique but easily understandable mythology. 

My favorite thing about Raybearer though is that in addition to exciting adventures and cool magical powers, the story contains thought-provoking situations and interesting conflicts for Tarisai. Her responsibilities in the imperial court lead to her having to address some issues of politics and social justice that, while relevant to the modern world, also don't feel like the author is lecturing readers.

Overall, Raybearer is a fun, exciting read that should appeal to all fans of Young Adult fantasy, as well as readers who want to see a smart, brave black girl struggle to carve out her own destiny in the world.

Raybearer is available at Galesburg Public Library in the Young Adult section, as well as in Playaway audiobook format.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

While Justice Sleeps by Stacey Abrams

From the publisher: From celebrated national leader and bestselling author Stacey Abrams, While Justice Sleeps is a gripping, complexly plotted thriller set within the halls of the U.S. Supreme Court. Drawing on her astute inside knowledge of the court and political landscape, Stacey Abrams shows herself to be not only a force for good in politics and voter fairness but also a major new talent in suspense fiction.

While Justice Sleeps is an intricately plotted thriller. Sharp and fast paced, it covers a lot of ground. The author clearly knows her way around DC, the federal government, and the Supreme Court. Main character Avery Keene is biracial and has a drug addict mother, allowing Abrams to touch on issues of race and family, addiction and loss. Avery is smart and capable, and she is surrounded by a small cast of interesting side characters.

I did not feel character development was a great strength of this novel. The bad guys especially, while diverse, are pretty standard in their bad guyness. The plot was a little too convoluted for my liking, but that may be partly because I’m just not in the mood to figure things out after a year of Covid-19 pandemic. I can imagine some readers will love all the twists, turns, and puzzles. (I also don’t play chess, and the author leans pretty hard on chess analogies.)

There’s a lot to like here for thriller fans. Recommended for readers of the Da Vinci Code and similar novels, and also for watchers of TV shows like Law & Order. While Justice Sleeps has “movie script” written all over it.

I read an advance reader copy of While Justice Sleeps from Netgalley. The book is scheduled to be released in May 2021, and the Galesburg Public Library will own it in print and as an ebook.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells

From the publisher:  The New York Times bestselling security droid with a heart (though it wouldn't admit it!) is back in Fugitive Telemetry! Having captured the hearts of readers across the globe, Murderbot has also established Martha Wells as one of the great SF writers of today. 

No, I didn't kill the dead human. If I had, I wouldn't dump the body in the station mall.

When Murderbot discovers a dead body on Preservation Station, it knows it is going to have to assist station security to determine who the body is (was), how they were killed (that should be relatively straightforward, at least), and why (because apparently that matters to a lot of people—who knew?) Yes, the unthinkable is about to happen: Murderbot must voluntarily speak to humans! Again!

Murderbot is a rogue cyborg Security Unit doing adventures in space. I love Murderbot and eagerly look forward to each new adventure. I started Fugitive Telemetry, then I put it down and re-read the first four Diaries before continuing. I didn't love Fugitive Telemetry quite as much as I did Rogue Protocol and Exit Strategy, but it's a solid 4.5 stars for me. Not enough interaction with SecUnit's "human friends" for my liking, but I especially enjoyed the scenes with Ratthi and Gurathin. Good character development for our beloved SecUnit, and a new (and uncomfortable) situation as well. And I did not guess who the bad guy was. 

I don't buy many books, but this whole series is on my eReader. Can't recommend it enough for rollicking fun in space. (Start with All Systems Red.) The snark really hits me in the feels right now (during the covid-19 pandemic). (Hmm, is there a reason why my two go to series for entertainment at the moment are The Murderbot Diaries and The Mandalorian?)

I read an advance reader copy of Fugitive Telemetry from Netgalley. It is scheduled to be published on April 27. The Galesburg Public Library owns the entire Murderbot series as books and ebooks. 

Monday, March 8, 2021

No Guns Life 1 by Tasuku Karasuma

 From the publisher:Ex-soldier Juzo Inui has one question—who turned him into a cyborg and erased his memories?

Cover art for No Guns Life 1 by Tasuku Karasuma
After the war, cyborg soldiers known as the Extended were discharged. Juzo Inui is one of them, a man whose body was transformed, his head replaced with a giant gun. With no memory of his previous life—or who replaced his head and why—Inui now scratches out a living in the dark streets of the city as a Resolver, taking on cases involving the Extended.

When a fellow Extended showed up in Inui’s office—on the run from the Security Bureau with a kidnapped child in tow and asking for help—Inui almost throws the guy out. But Inui’s loyalty to a brother Extended makes him take the job. Keeping the child safe won’t be easy, since everyone wants him, from the mob to the megacorporation Berühren, which sends out a special agent who knows exactly how to deal with the Extended… 

Want a story about a faceless loner warrior who helps a child with mysterious powers, but you're already caught up on The Mandalorian? Then No Guns Life might be just the manga for you!

Juzo Inui is a cyborg soldier who was modified so much that even his head was replaced with a gun (how does he see, you ask? It's a mystery!). Now that the war is over, he makes a living helping out others like himself, living on the fringe of society. Then one day a fellow Extended shows up with an unconscious child in tow and security agents on his tail, asking Juzo for help. Against his better judgment Juzo takes the case and goes on the run with the child, pursued by agents of the Berühren corporation who say he's their property. When the boy wakes up, Juzo understands immediately why Berühren wants him back so badly...

No Guns Life mixes a sort of noir detective story into a dystopian cyberpunk world, but in a signature manga style. The result is a dark, gritty, and action-filled mystery that's also sometimes humorous. For example, after a confrontation in a sewer, Juzo quips "This is why I hate humidity -- and kids." Some of the enemies Juzo encounters just in the first issue are a secret agent dressed as a nun, and a cyborg girl whose body can transform into a giant mechanical spider. Between the heavily stylized cybernetics and the black and white art style, the action can sometimes be a bit hard to follow. But I found the characters and setting compelling enough to make up for it.

This review is for the first issue, but Galesburg Public Library has issues 1 through 4 available in our graphic novel collection.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower by Tamsyn Muir

From the publisher: When the witch built the forty-flight tower, she made very sure to do the whole thing properly. Each flight contains a dreadful monster, ranging from a diamond-scaled dragon to a pack of slavering goblins. Should a prince battle his way to the top, he will be rewarded with a golden sword—and the lovely Princess Floralinda. But no prince has managed to conquer the first flight yet, let alone get to the fortieth. In fact, the supply of fresh princes seems to have quite dried up.

Those looking for a quick, easy fantasy read could do worse than Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower. Author Tamsyn Muir made a name for herself with her debut novel Gideon the Ninth, a space opera-fantasy mashup that struck an appealing balance of brutal and outré, with a slick feminist feel. Her storytelling takes quite a different shape in Floralinda, but her fierce female vibes and tilt toward surprising, occasional brutality remain. Instead of high fantasy or science fiction, Muir pivots the world of fairy tales with her latest, a riff on the familiar "princess locked in a tower" trope, but here with a heroine who is self-sufficient, even sometimes bordering on manipulative, who takes charge of her own destiny. There's also a witch, of course, and a fairy named Cobweb, which is obviously the best name for such a critter and how exactly has that not been done before?

Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower is a short book, and so to say too much would spoil the small pleasures therein. It's brevity is also its greatest weakness, as the book definitely feels more like a short story than a short novel. 150 pages is plenty of room to construct a novel, if done right, and it's not as if Muir fails to do so here — it's just to say that this was clearly never her intent. Instead, the story is a slight two-hander between Floralinda and Cobweb, built on their banter and developing relationship to each other, and that bit works well enough. But for fantasy readers, or those who like a little more texture to their settings, very little is done to flesh out the world, as Muir keeps things relegated to the the eponymous forty flights of the tower. Likewise, the creature work is fairly superficial, as familiar iterations of fantasy mainstays pop up without much consequence (or very loose, new creations, mostly in the form of mashing up two different animals or beasts). 

For all that, Floralinda is diverting enough and at least doesn't overstay its welcome. Muir possesses both a wicked and weirdo sense of humor, each getting its due at various points here. It's not a book that much reinvents or deepens the fairy tale template, but it's a harmless read that will amuse and surprise with enough regularity to keep your attention for its short page count.

Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower is available for checkout from the Galesburg Public Library in hardcover.

Monday, February 22, 2021

The Last High by Daniel Kalla

 From the publisher: A Vancouver doctor and a detective face the deadly consequences of the opioid crisis as they track down the supplier of fentanyl that landed a group of teens in the ER with critical overdoses. The Last High explores the perfect storm of greed, addiction, and crime behind the malignant spread of fentanyl, a deadly drug that is killing people faster than any known epidemic. 

While The Last High is not particularly original, it is easy to read and highly enjoyable. A "bag of chips" kind of novel. A doctor who is also a guilt-ridden sober addict, a Canadian detective of Chinese descent who still feels like an outsider, and a whole bunch of people dead from an extremely potent street drug. Wisecracking bromance-y detectives. A paternal mentor. A race to discover what's happening and who is responsible, and to save lives.

The author is an emergency room physician and it shows. Everything about the hospital scenes feels realistic. Maybe not so much how the doctor gets to tag along after the detective as he interviews suspects, but their relationship is sweet. The book does contain violence, and a lot of drug use and death. The author wants to both entertain and educate, and he achieved that with this reader. 

It seemed like it was setting up a sequel but I don't see one on the horizon. This is an author I would read again. 

The Galesburg Public Library owns The Last High in our Libby Overdrive collection, and the print book will be available soon.