“The City We Became” by N.K. Jemisin – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Every city has a soul. Some are as ancient as myths, and others are as new and destructive as children. New York City? She’s got five.

Goodreads


This was my diverse sci-fi group read selection for the month of February. The book came out last year, and was immediately on my TBR, so I’m glad I finally got around to it!

We jump right into the action, with no explanations. There is a fairly long intro section, and we don’t reconnect with the characters in this section until quite some time later. This really threw me at first, so I went into the rest of this book with a “just go with the flow” attitude.

The action all takes place in New York City, in the current time. So, that helps. Of course, this version of NYC is being attacked by an avatar/being from another plane of existence who wants to take the space over for herself. But, each borough of New York claims its own avatar to fight back.

We spend a decent amount of time being introduced to each avatar, and learning why they are emblematic of the borough they represent. Each one has some encounter that tips them off to the problem going on, and lets them know that they have perceptions and powers in relation to this (that not everyone else has). Then comes the realization that there are others like them, and that they need to find each other and work together.

The avatars are a pretty diverse crowd – Black, Indigenous, South Asian, multiracial – and some are also within the LBGTQ spectrum. Only the avatar of Staten Island is Caucasian, of Irish decent. The female avatars are all feisty and forceful, as well, while one of the male ones doesn’t have any memory of who he is.

As they come together, there are some personality clashes. But the biggest clashes here are with the enemy – who often appears as a white woman, but changes form slightly depending on who she’s appearing to – and the people she has under her influence.

One major clash that really struck a nerve with me was between the staff of the Bronx Art Center (where our Bronx avatar works) and a group of Neo-Nazis who call themselves the “Alt-Artistes.” The group makes art that they deem edgy and provocative, which can be exploitative of women and minorities. Their entire purpose seems to be getting these pieces rejected so they can claim they’re being censored, and flaying the censoring parties on the internet. Under the influence of the enemy, they take this battle into the real world and actually attack the Bronx Art Center, in addition to their online hi-jinks.

Even though this was written over a year ago, this really felt similar to the recent crackdown of the alt-right on Twitter, and discussions around whether or not that constitutes “censorship.” (Like real life, I think it’s sad that it had to tumble over into real world damages before anyone really drew some lines.)

There are many themes in this one that seem equally as current. The tone of the book is often fast, sometimes fun, and sometimes full of anger. The language is one of the most fun aspects to me, but might not suit people who don’t like liberal use of cussing.

I did feel that the ending was a little fast. Overall, though, this was an interesting and often fun read, full of very vibrant characters.


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“One Life” by Megan Rapinoe with Emma Brockes – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Megan Rapinoe, Olympic gold medalist and two-time Women’s World Cup champion, has become a galvanizing force for social change; here, she urges all of us to take up the mantle, with actions big and small, to continue the fight for justice and equality.

Goodreads


I’m a soccer fan, and this is the second biography I’ve covered of a US Women’s National team player. Not surprisingly, I loved this book!

Of course, there is talk of soccer. But, I felt like it wasn’t too heavy. I definitely think people who don’t follow soccer, or know soccer terms, could still follow those bits.

Rapinoe tackles a lot of things that aren’t soccer, though – and this is where the book shines. (In current internet lingo – she spills ALL the tea.) She talks about living as an out gay icon in the public eye, and about how that affected her family in a rural/conservative hometown. She talks about her brother’s ongoing issues with drug use and incarceration.

Her political activism started through her connection with the LBGTQ community, as one would expect. But she didn’t stop there.

While kicking so much ass for the U.S. Women’s National Team (winning two World Cups and one Olympic tournament), Rapinoe also became involved with the team’s fight for equal pay and treatment with the men’s team. She does not shy away from the details on this one, and they are compelling. A lot has been written about the pay disparity, but there are other issues these women are fighting for, too. (Examples include not having to play on turf and not having to share rooms while traveling.)

Eventually, she also adds “racial activist” to her long list. She faced some blowback from that, from both her coach and the inevitable social media trolls. But she also acknowledges that she can get away with more, as a petite white woman, than some others – for example, she is still playing her sport, while Colin Kaepernick is not.

Of course this book will appeal to soccer fans, but I think it would also be a great read for anyone interested in social justice issues.

I’ll end with a few of my favorite passages:

“I was appealing to our country as a whole, but I also wanted to make a point about the right of each of us to fully live our own lives. There’s a fallacy in America that acting for the common good means sacrificing the individual. Well, as a person of robust ego, I am here to tell you that life doesn’t work like that. The interests of the individual aren’t at odds with the collective. You can win for the team and still celebrate your own performance.

I believe this especially with regard to women, whose individual needs have long been overlooked in favor of – oh, the irony – the collective good of men. When I yelled, “I deserve this!” I was speaking for women who are told to be selfless, invisible, meek; to accept less money, less respect, fewer opportunities, less investment. Who are told to be grateful, uncomplaining. Who are discouraged from owning their victories or even seeking them out in the first place. You can share, and help, and be part of your community, and you can also stand tall and enjoy your success. No caveat, no apology. Arms out wide, claim your space.”

“Real change lies within all of us. It is in the choices we make every day. It’s in how we talk, who we hire, and what we permit others to say in our presence. It’s in reading more, thinking more, considering a different perspective. At its simplest, it’s in whether we’re willing to spend even five minutes a day thinking about how we can make the world better.”


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February is National Library Lover’s Month

By: Angie Haddock


February has a lot going on: Black History Month, Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras, the Super Bowl. Among the many causes to stop and reflect, February is also a time to celebrate a place dear to most readers: the library!

A local library in Nashville.

For many of us, the library has been a great place to find new books, or learn new things. I know that my library system has been closed to the public since March of last year, though. They offer curbside service only, which still allows me to get books and movies – but no browsing.

I asked two of my librarian friends what these past months have been like for them and their libraries.


Missy works for the Memphis Public Library, as a Librarian Assistant specializing in tween programming.

Q: Is your library currently open, closed, or something in between?:

A: We are open with limited capacity, shortened hours, rotating schedule, no in person programming or meetings.

One of Missy’s take-home crafts!

Q: How has your specific job been affected by the changes your library has had to institute this past year?:

A: I implemented a successful take home craft program across the library system with grant money that may continue post-COVID.

Q: What (job-related) thing are you most looking forward to when things return to being fully open?:

A: I am most looking forward to hopefully hosting my big Harry Potter Halloween bash that got cancelled. Other programs are special too, but I really want this one to happen this year.

Q: What’s something you’ve read this past year that you’d recommend?:

A: “Know My Name” by Chanel Miller and “They Called Us Enemy” by George Takei. My recommendations aren’t entirely reflective of what I usually read, but I’d also like to shout out anything under the “Rick Riordan presents” banner.


Theresa works as an Adult Programming Clerk for a countywide library system in Ohio.

Q: Is your library currently open, closed, or something in between?:

A: Currently open–depending on whether or not our county has a stay-at-home order in place. No meetings or in person programming. When the buildings are closed to the public, we still have staff answering the phones, providing reference assistance, offering curbside or drive through pick ups, and we recently added individual laptop reservations–because so much of what the library provides now is computer and internet access, so someone could reserve a block of time to use a laptop in an enclosed meeting room for school work, job searches, meetings, etc.

Q: How has your specific job been affected by the changes your library has had to institute this past year?:

A: Because my department plans programming and author events for the entire county library system, it’s been a big shift from in-person programs to virtual. Last year there were several months of different teams trying to figure out the best platforms for different kinds of programming. Looking ahead, we’re planning to have a full schedule of programming for our spring season–but everything will be virtual for now. But it’s raised questions about how to provide equity and access for people who don’t have internet at home to participate. So many people use the library primarily as their sole source of computer and internet access. I think most libraries have worked on boosting their wi-fi signal so that when buildings are closed, people can at least access the internet from the parking lots any time of day.

Q: What (job-related) thing are you most looking forward to when things return to being fully open?:

A: I think it will be great to be able to host in-person programming again–there are some limitations to virtual that you’re never going to be able to overcome without being in the same room. But I also think virtual programming is here to stay in some form–although it limits some people, it opens opportunities up for others. There was one instance with someone who has a hearing disability and was not going to do a workshop any longer, but then realized that the virtual version of the workshop actually made the program more accessible because it was easier to hear the group conversation through speakers or earbuds. Everything we can’t do right now is frustrating, but I really think that what we’ve learned from adapting to COVID is going to bring more options to life in a post-COVID world.

Q: What’s something you’ve read this past year that you’d recommend?:

Read more N.K. Jemisin

A: NK Jemisin’s “How Long ‘Til Black Future Month” is a vivid collection of short stories that really shows her range–hard sci-fi, fantasy, magical realism, historical, and a couple stories I can only describe as “culinary fantasy” (yeah, it’s gonna make you hungry).

And I’m in the middle of “The Overstory by Richard Powers right now. I feel like I was a little late to this one–everyone was talking about it 2 years ago, but no one could really describe it beyond saying something like, “It’s a novel about trees. I can’t explain it but it’s amazing.” It’s gut-punchingly emotional, and at the same time, makes me want to do everything I can in my little corner to save the world.


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“The Future Is Yours” by Dan Frey – Review

By: Angie Haddock


If you had the chance to look one year into the future, would you?

For Ben Boyce and Adhi Chaudry, the answer is unequivocally yes. And they’re betting everything that you’ll say yes, too. Welcome to The Future: a computer that connects to the internet one year from now, so you can see who you’ll be dating, where you’ll be working, even whether or not you’ll be alive in the year to come. By forming a startup to deliver this revolutionary technology to the world, Ben and Adhi have made their wildest, most impossible dream a reality. Once Silicon Valley outsiders, they’re now its hottest commodity.

Goodreads


This is sci-fi at its simplest.

There is literally no world building, as the story takes place in 2021. It’s told entirely in texts, emails, blogs, etc., making it super easy to tear through quickly.

Two Stanford grads create a computing system that can connect with itself in the future, thereby letting them “see” what will happen before it happens. The enthusiastic Ben wants to market the technology to the public, and become the next Steve Jobs. Yes, he intends to make billions… but not by using it to play the stock market, because he wants fame and glory, too.

Then the inevitable troublesome issues start coming up: can the future be altered? Does just knowing the future make it inevitable, or changeable? Does knowing, in fact, cause these future events to happen? And ultimately: is it possible to send more than just data back?

Our two main characters, Ben and Adhi, have differing views on these issues, and on the morality of using their technology. As their views diverge further and further, so does their friendship and the world around them.

Since this story takes place in our current world and time, it is also peppered with plenty of pop culture references – especially, but not only, sci-fi ones. We see the dilemmas presented be compared to those faced by previous fictional characters such as Kirk & Spock, The Doctor, and Rick Deckard.

If you knew those characters by name, you would probably enjoy this book!

This book comes out today, February 9, 2021. I was able to read an ARC through Del Rey Books and Netgalley.

Backlist bump: if you like time travel, another quick read I’d recommend is “This Is How You Lose the Time War.” It’s more abstract than this one, but fairly short and very engaging.


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“Binti” by Nnedi Okorafor – Review

By: Angie Haddock


In her Hugo- and Nebula-winning novella, Nnedi Okorafor introduced us to Binti, a young Himba girl with the chance of a lifetime: to attend the prestigious Oomza University. Despite her family’s concerns, Binti’s talent for mathematics and her aptitude with astrolabes make her a prime candidate to undertake this interstellar journey.

Goodreads


The above description is for the first story of Binti, which was a novella. Several more stories followed, and I actually read the anthology of all of them.

The first novella starts in the middle of some action – specifically, the action of Binti leaving home to go to a university on a faraway planet. She belongs to the Himba tribe (a real people, by the way), and most of them never leave their home turf. So she is going against the will of her family.

We are immediately introduced to the interesting dichotomy present in all of the Binti stories: the juxtaposition of a technologically advanced future world where humans interact with beings from other worlds, with that of a traditional tribe who mostly stay to themselves.

Because the stories are individually short, I loved that the action started right away. Even though we’re in a fictional/future world, Okorafor doesn’t have time for elaborate world building to take place up front – you just learn as you go through the story.

The trip to university does not go smoothly, and we meet the main adversary of the first story: the Meduse. These are large jellyfish-like creatures who are connected through a hive mind. They attack the ship taking Binti to the university, but of course, our heroine survives. She even learns to communicate with the creatures, and learns why they attacked: the university has something of theirs that they want back, and they plan on using the ship to sneak into their territory.

Binti offers to be a liaison of sorts, to negotiate with the university and get the item back for The Meduse. Binti is known in her tribe as a “master harmonizer,” but up to now she has mostly used this skill in the context of math and technology. This interaction sets her on a new path, where she will harmonize between different beings and cultures.

This theme continues throughout the series. In later events, Binti tries to bring peace between her tribe and another tribe on Earth who live in the desert, between the Meduse and their enemy the Khoush, and more.

Another ongoing theme is Binti struggling to find peace between what her family and tribe expect of her, and what she feels she is being called to do. A life in space, interacting with other species, was not exactly on her family’s radar for her. And when she brings a Meduse home to Earth, it causes problems with the neighboring Khoush, for which Binti is blamed.

Overall, these stories were fun and engaging. I felt like the second and third novella were really one continuous story, and the division between them seemed arbitrary. There were a few minor issues like that – things that bugged me, but didn’t necessarily ruin what was good about Binti’s story.

I read this story with friends, as part of my deep dive into diverse sci-fi. See more here.


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“Prepped” by Bethany Mangle – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Always be ready for the worst day of your life.

This is the mantra that Becca Aldaine has grown up with. Her family is part of a community of doomsday preppers, a neighborhood that prioritizes survivalist training over class trips or senior prom. They’re even arranging Becca’s marriage with Roy Kang, the only eligible boy in their community. Roy is a nice guy, but he’s so enthusiastic about prepping that Becca doesn’t have the heart to tell him she’s planning to leave as soon as she can earn a full ride to a college far, far away.

Goodreads


This was described as a YA romance, so I went into it thinking it would be a little on the fluffy side. I was intrigued by the setting – it takes place within a community of doomsday preppers – but thought that was going to be kind of a quirky hook to make it different than other YA novels.

I was not prepared for how poignant, tense, and frustrating this novel was going to be! The kids in this community literally exist to keep the species going, and calling the parents “detached” would be an understatement. In many ways, those aspects reminded me of Tara Westover’s “Educated.” The parents are often using the kids for free labor, putting them in harm’s way, and acting like any harm (physical or emotional) that they inflict is good for the kids.

Thankfully, this story is fictional. But, like any good piece of fiction, the emotions it brings up are very real.

The heroine here is Becca Adlaine, whose parents run the aforementioned prepper community. She is a high school senior, and has every intention of leaving as soon as she can… but, she also has a younger sister. A lot of the story focuses on this relationship, and Becca worrying about whether she can leave her sister behind or try to save her.

Becca’s relationships with her parents are also fraught with difficulties. She both hates them for the way they are, and still kind of loves them because… well, because they’re her parents? I have known people like this, who are still fiercely dedicated to abusive parents because they feel the pull of family ties. So, while I struggle with understanding this dynamic myself, I do acknowledge that it is real for some people.

There are also logistical issues with running away – like how to get away, how to make money to live on, etc.

The Adlaines picked out Becca’s future husband for her already – a boy in her grade named Roy Kang. His family is newer to the community, and they are Korean American, so this will diversify the gene pool. Becca is less than enthused, for obvious reasons. It also irks her that Roy seems to go along with all the training drills and such with no complaints. While she may not like Roy romantically, she is comfortable with him – he’s one of the only people who understands her upbringing, and they have a long history of shared experiences.

Photograph by James Mangle

All that changes when Roy reveals that he doesn’t believe in this prepper stuff, either. He just goes along to get along with his parents. Now, with two of them, there’s a better chance that they can make a plan that will work.

Let me interject here that Bethany Mangle is a Korean American herself, and specifically wanted to write the love interest in the book to be Korean American. However, his ethnicity is not Roy’s defining trait by any means.

Becca (and Roy) have a few other allies: one is another student in their grade, Sydney, who is not a part of the prepper community. Another is one of Becca’s teachers, Mrs. Garcia. While these two characters do not know all of what Becca is going through, she confides bits and parts to them as needed, and they both protect her secrets and help when they can.

Hopefully, I’ve given you a lot about the emotional punch of this story without giving away too many of the plot details. I didn’t want this review to be so full of spoilers that you don’t go pick up this book!

The book is being released on February 23rd, 2021. I was given the opportunity to read an advanced copy through the Books Forward program and NetGalley.


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Swap books easily with Bookpo.st

By: Angie Haddock

January is a time for making resolutions, and often those involve cleaning and organizing our spaces. If you’re a reader, your resolutions may have also involved setting a reading goal for 2021. Book swapping may just be a fun way to help you with both of those goals!

Late in 2020, I was introduced to a site called Bookpo.st. The man who started the site, Julian Baker, had the idea many years ago. Staying at home during quarantine finally gave him the time to sit down and work on the idea of a book-swap website. Being at home more meant that some people were also reading more, so it was the perfect time to bring the idea to life.

The site launched in June, and already has a few hundred members. Most of the active members are English-speaking right now – in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia. Members list books they want to swap, and can peruse books posted by other members. You can look based on your tastes, or just look at books in your country (for cheaper shipping!).

The site is free to use, and the shipping costs of sending someone a book is the only cost you would incur from making a swap.

Baker says of the site:

“We connect people who share a taste for particular books, authors and genres. We want people to be able to take a gamble when picking a book, because they trust and understand the other person’s taste. We want to link people and expand their reading worlds.

I know of two friendships now that have started because of us, actual meet for coffee type friendships, not just online. So gratifying!”

I did one swap before the holidays, and the cost of sending a (pretty thick) book via US media mail was $3.30. So, if you do find a book you want, it could be a pretty cheap way to get your hands on it!

Right now the site is available on desktop or mobile, but an app is in the works. You can also see the newest books added via the site’s instagram account.

Angie’s next mission: Welcome to the future

By: Angie Haddock

Welcome to 2021! (And it couldn’t come too soon, right?)

For the last half year, I had set myself a challenge of reading a biography a month. I did a little more than that, as I actually reviewed eight of them for this blog.

But, I did like the idea of working through one theme at a time – even if I still do read other books at the same time. So, I have set myself a new goal for January – June of this year: Diverse Sci-Fi.

Science Fiction was one of my first loves, and I read quite a bit when I was a teen. In recent years, I’ve heard a lot about various authors writing within the Afrofuturism sphere – admittedly, I heard about a lot of them through listening to the Levar Burton Reads podcast.

(Momentary break to recognize what a legend he is, in both reading and sci-fi.)

So my list of authors to read from this subgenre has grown. Time to tackle that list!

I have not decided which books I’ll be reading every month yet, but I do know that I’ll be starting with “Binti,” by Nnedi Okorafor. I’m also reading this one along with some friends, which may provide me with some good conversations and thoughts beyond my own. Also, I will probably tag these entries as “diverse sff” because, having not picked the titles, I am not ruling out some fantasy titles.

Have you read any great Sci-Fi or Fantasy titles lately? Any favorite authors within those genres? Are any of them minorities, or authors from other countries? Let us know in the comments!

“Going Green” by Nick Spalding – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Meet Ellie Cooke. When it comes to all things environmental she’s, well, a bit ‘green’. But when the PR firm Ellie works for is taken over by keen environmentalist Nolan Reece, it’s clear that if she wants to save her job, she’s going to have to get serious about being green—or face being recycled.

Goodreads


I’m not much of a rom-com reader, but I was initially interested in this one because of the other topic addressed in it. I spent some time this year learning more about sustainability, and thought it was really cool that the idea was starting to leak into the fiction sphere. (I mean, one can only read so many scary, science-filled non-fiction pieces about the climate crisis, right?)

The formula here is pretty straightforward – each chapter presents the main character, Ellie, with a problem. She then tackles it, and things go awry and devolve into craziness. The level of craziness varies from one scenario to another, and some of them were kind of cringe-worthy (to me).

So, let me interject that I am the kind of person who feels embarrassment for characters when they do embarrassing things. I watched that scene in “Bridesmaids” through my fingers, because my hands had involuntarily flown up to cover my face. Not that many of the scenes here are quite that cringey, but… if you’re the kind of person who is not affected by that sort of thing, you’ll be totally fine here.

I actually liked the “not supposed to be funny” thread that ran throughout the book, despite it being fairly predictable: our heroine learns a lot, grows, and becomes a better person. One of the things I liked about this growth story is that it was not totally linear – it zigs and zags into other areas of her life a bit at times. After learning a lot about climate change, Ellie becomes kind of critical of other people who aren’t doing all the things she’s learned to do. One of the last lessons she learns is that it isn’t her job to be so judgemental. (Oof, I felt that one.)

Her final lesson is one she learns outside the “rom” part of this rom-com – or maybe in spite of it? She was fairly independent in the beginning anyway, but she was basically skating along to get by. She learns to be independent and in charge by the end, which is as happy an ending as I needed.

This book was released earlier in December, and I read an advanced copy from NetGalley.


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“F. Scott Fitzgerald” by Ruth Prigozy – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Scott Fitzgerald’s life reads like one of his own stories: a young man of great promise marries into wealth, but beneath the golden surface lie alcoholism, debt, insecurity, and in Fitzgerald’s particular case, the mental instability of his beautiful, unconventional wife, Zelda. Fitzgerald scholar Ruth Prigozy provides fresh insight into the life of the novelist who, in both his work and life, captured the rise and fall of the Jazz Age.

Goodreads


I am one of those crazy kids who actually did like a few of the “classics” I had to read in school, and one of my faves was “The Great Gatsby.” So, when I came upon this slim, picture-filled bio of the author, F. Scott Fitzgerald, at a library book sale – buying it was a no-brainer for me. (I was supporting the library!)

I feel like most avid readers have a few ideas about Fitzgerald – many of his books were at least semi-biographical, and he and his wife were famous symbols of the roaring twenties. This book dashes through all the eras of Fitzgerald’s life, though, without much romanticizing.

One of the things I found interesting was that his mother was a distant relative of Francis Scott Key (writer of “The Star Spangled Banner”), and that is actually who he is named after.

While most of us know Fitzgerald from his novels, he mostly paid his bills (or didn’t, often) by writing short stories. Many of these were published in magazines first, most notably in “The Saturday Evening Post.” Some were later compiled into anthologies, as well.

Fitzgerald drank a lot, and his wife Zelda spent her later years in a mental institution. These two issues soaked up most of his money, and he spent a lot of time worrying about money. To his credit, though, he always pushed himself to write more to make money. He also borrowed from family, but his drunkeness never led to a period when he wasn’t writing – and often profusely.

There are some interesting tidbits in this book about his friendships (and rivalries) with other writers (including Ernest Hemingway), editors, and even Hollywood personalities of the time. The Fitzgeralds were always trying to be fashionable, and several of Scott’s stories made it to the silver screen during his lifetime. While he did try his hand and screenwriting on several different occassions, he did not have much luck hanging around Hollywood himself.

F. Scott Fitzgerald did die in Hollywood, though, at the home of his girlfriend. He was only 44 years old at the time.

This was a quick read, and I loved all the pictures of the Fitzgeralds’ travels.


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