Thursday, March 30, 2023

Beautiful Shining People by Michael Grothaus

Hi, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things Tour for Michael Grothaus's Beautiful Shining People

After creating a quantum code that tech companies are vying for, John has accepted an offer from Sony. Which is why he finds himself in Japan in an apartment paid for by the company. But until things are finalized, he has a lot of time on his hands. 

Jet lagged and lonely, he wanders into a cafe offering ear cleaning, relaxing him to the point that he gets his first good sleep since arriving. 

Returning to the cafe the following day, he befriends the waitress, Neotnia, eventually winning over the owner and the odd little dog that resides there as well. But as John's friendship with Neotnia blossoms into the potential of something more, AI attacks around the globe begin to hit, taking down major cities in moments. As they watch the happenings, unsure where the next target will be, John learns something about Neotnia that changes everything he believed possible. 

Ok, so this is a hard one to sum up easily. It's also a bit difficult for me to say if you like x you'll like this book because the most obvious comp my brain is fixated on GIVES TOO MUCH AWAY!

This is a very character-driven tale. In fact, it's not until about halfway through the book that the first attack happens and that John begins to learn more about Neotnia. Fortunately, Grothaus has built a small but strong cast of characters you want to follow to the end. 

John is just seventeen, living in our world a few decades from now. He's awkward and doesn't make friends easily. He's also in a country that's foreign to him where he doesn't speak the language. So meeting Neotnia is not only a welcome distraction on that first evening (she admits they were supposed to be closed when he arrived) but the fact that she speaks English is more than he can even hope for. 

The owner of the cafe, and as it turns out one of Neotnia's only real friends, is a former sumo with his own sort of tragic past and reason for disliking people in general. 

They make a motley crew to be sure, but this little found family comes together easily and eventually what seems like a fated purpose becomes clear. 

I've always been drawn to cross-genre stories that are hard to categorize. Because I have broad interests! And this one hits a lot of those for me. First, as I mentioned above, wonderfully drawn and complex characters. Second, the near future setting that closely resembles our own until the smaller details start to reveal themselves (also, the waiters at the burger place make me thing of the Big Hero 6 series!)

The underlying and ominous politics of this world are another draw for me. For John's entire life, there's been a war brewing and though it's not hit the midwestern town he hails from, it's affected him directly in a way that is revealed as he tells Neotnia about himself. 

Of course all of this makes mostly for great world building in the background of the tale. At least until the big reveals start to happen. 

This is, I think, the perfect kind of book. One that has elements that appeal to a very wide range of readers! At heart, it's quite book clubby with LOTS to talk about. It's a bit sci fi, it's a bit coming of age...It's just flat out fabulous!

Beautiful Shining People is out now in the UK and is available for preorder in the US.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Lone Women by Victor LaValle

Adelaide Henry is just one of the women staking a claim in Montana. She's used to hard labor—her family was one of the Black farming families in Lucerne Valley. But Adelaide couldn't stay there. 

Unfortunately for Adelaide, all of the usual hardships of being a lone woman are hers to bear. And being a Black woman doesn't help. But Adelaide has another challenge many have never faced: a curse that's been her family's responsibility all her life. And now it's Adelaide's responsibility. 

Victor LaValle is one of my absolute must-read authors. In fact, whenever he has a project of pretty much any time, I add it to my must read/must watch list. It's been the case ever since The Ballad of Black Tom. And I have a bit of a habit of taking his books on vacation too. 

Which is exactly what I did with Lone Women

I snagged an early copy and brought this to, of all places, Great Wolf Lodge. It was a two night trip and, if you've ever been, we splurged for the room with the kids' alcove complete with bunk beds and a TV. I honestly think that was my kid's favorite part of the whole trip: climbing up and down the bunk bed ladder and having complete (almost complete) control over a TV he could watch IN BED. (Don't we all kind of like that part of hotels?)

The lodge theme seemed like a perfect setting for me to dive into this one and I was not going to miss my opportunity!

Sidebar: I had the chance to meet LaValle less than a month after I read the book. When I told him I took it to a "lodge-themed family resort" he knew exactly what I was talking about—because he and his family went to one for a week! 

Anyway, back to the book. 

Frist, I had absolutely no knowledge whatsoever about homesteading in Montana. I didn't know who was eligible, I didn't know women doing it on their own was common, and I had no idea what it entailed. 

Through Adelaide's eyes, we see what it's like to be one of the lone women. We see what she and the women around her have to endure. 

And then, of course, we also get the extras that come with a LaValle read: that eerie supernatural element that makes homesteading even more horrific than the reality of it already was! 

I loved this latest from LaValle! He's expertly blended fascinating history with a story that is about so much more than survival!

Order a copy from Bookshop.org!

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

The Space Between Us by Doug Johnstone

Happy Tuesday! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things tour for Doug Johstone's latest, The Space Between Us

Now, Johnstone is known for his Skelfs series, but this one is a little bit different.

Lennox, Heather, and Ava have nothing in common: a teenager living in a kids home, a divorcee who lost her child to cancer and now suffers the same illness, and a pregnant woman desperate to leave a bad marriage, respectively. But they're linked due to very strange circumstances. All three suffered what could have been fatal strokes—and indeed were for a number of people—but all three miraculously recovered by morning.

In the moments leading up to the stroke, all three saw a light in the sky. And when an odd cephalopod washes up on shore, all three realize it's connected. But when Lennox touches the creature, it speaks to him, and the three find themselves coming together to help this creature. 

Of course there's much more to the story. The three are wanted by the police after Ava's terrible (and terribly connected) husband reports her as being kidnapped. Then in saving the creature more unfortunate circumstances occur. 

Luckily for them, a somewhat jaded reporter was assigned the story of the strokes and wants to help. His feeding them info is one more thing that allows them to stay ahead of the police and other agencies seeking the creature. 

This is a seriously cool book! The perfect kind of read that truly does suck you in from the start, digging into your brain in a way that won't let you stop until you get to the end and find out what will happen!

And it's truly enjoyable as well with fabulous characters and pacing akin to a thriller, even though it's something a little adjacent to that genre. Not quite crime thriller, not quite science fiction, but a comfortable balance of both. 

The Space Between Us is wonderful! And even more wonderful, Johnstone puts his PhD in nuclear physics to use. While I can't swear everything in this book is scientifically accurate, I can promise you that it feels that way, making it even easier to become fully invested!

This one is out now from the fabulous folks at Orenda!

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz

Happy Wednesday, readers! Today I'm at stop on the Random Things tour for Julia Bartz's The Writing Retreat!

Alex can't believe it when she's accepted as a late addition to the highly exclusive writing retreat being offered by her idol, Roza Vallo. 

Four writers were chosen but when one dropped out, a friend of Alex's sent in one of her stories as a submission. And Alex was accepted! But Alex's ex best friend Wren was accepted as well. And the retreat means a month at Roza's isolated home, the Blackbriar Estate (a home with a very colored history). A month with Roza's almost exclusive attention. But also a month in close quarters with Wren. 

From the start things are very intense. Roza expects the writers to produce an entire book by the end of the retreat—with required daily word counts, critique circles, and one on one meetings with Roza herself. That aside, they do get cocktail and dinner hours with food provided by a private chef. And all in a luxe setting. 

But when a heavy snowstorm hits and one of the girls goes missing, the writers realize their dream retreat is not quite what they'd expected it would be. 

This book was seriously fun! I should add that I probably found it extra fun as someone who works in publishing!

So a chance for four young authors (they're all supposed to be under 30) to spend a month with an acclaimed author they all revere...That's too much for any hopeful to pass on! And yet, someone does pass. Which is why Alex has the opportunity in the first place. 

Unfortunately, she's going to be doing it with a once very close friend who shut her out for very specific reasons. And as the story unfold and those reasons become clear, Alex's discomfort is understandable. 

Except there's much more to it than that! 

There's a cool element concerning the house itself and the story of the previous owners, a wealthy man whose wife was rumored to have made contact with a demon. Both the husband and wife died under mysterious circumstances, and they're the inspiration for Alex's book she'll be writing at the retreat itself. 

All of this sets a nice tone. The addition of a snowstorm cutting the house off completely is one that I particularly enjoy (I like to call them snowed-in thrillers). 

Like I said, I thought this was great fun! Which was awesome because I'd been looking forward to this book as soon as it was announced (Julia Bartz's sister is author Andrea Bartz whose work I also quite enjoy). 

The Writing Retreat is perfect for fans of Ruth Ware. amongst others. And I think writers in the trenches will find much to enjoy as well! Definitely one I recommend to anyone who loves a dark thriller!