“Twice a Daughter” by Julie Ryan McGue – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Julie is adopted. She is also a twin. Because their adoption was closed, she and her sister lack both a health history and their adoption papers―which becomes an issue for Julie when, at forty-eight years old, she finds herself facing several serious health issues.

Julie’s search for her birth relatives spans years and involves a search agency, a PI, a confidential intermediary, a judge, an adoption agency, a social worker, and a genealogist. By journey’s end, what began as a simple desire for a family medical history has evolved into a complicated quest―one that unearths secrets, lies, and family members that are literally right next door.

Goodreads


The Goodreads description gives away the entire plot of this memoir, really… but of course, there are tons of juicy details and emotional entanglements within the pages.

When the story begins, Julie is actually resistant to the idea of trying to find her birth parents. She is largely afraid of rocking the boat with the parents who raised her. Her husband, Steve, pushes her into starting this journey, though – for her own health, and that of their four children.

She gets her twin sister to agree to split the costs with her, but Julie is going to be the person doing the work. Her dad is supportive from the beginning, but her mom is not.

While initially interested only in medical histories, Julie becomes more engrossed in the emotional aspects of her search – wondering why her birth parents gave her up, if they’ll want to meet, and whether or not she has half-siblings.

Even after trying to obtain her original birth certificate, she hits one road block after another. The first one is a big one: Her mom used an alias on her original birth certificate, and the father isn’t listed at all. Apparently this was easier to do back in the 1950s.

Working in her favor, as far as the records are concerned, is that she is a twin. There could only be so many sets of twins born on a given day at a given hospital, right?

Also working in her favor are a lot of sympathetic people within the courts, Catholic Charities, and other avenues Julie tries to reach out to for help. In addition, the family members she eventually locates often bristle at the intrusion at first – but then soften because they have adopted members of their current families, and can understand the issues from both sides.

The issues at play are, of course, the birth parents’ rights to privacy versus the adoptees’ rights to know their history.

Most of Julie’s search takes place around a decade ago. She and her sister do use a DNA-testing kit to see if that gets them any leads, but to no avail. I have to imagine that the increase in use of such sites (and kits) in recent years is now shaking up the implied privacy that birth parents assumed they had in earlier eras.

(Backlist bump on that topic: “Inheritance” by Dani Shapiro.)

Overall, this was a good read. Not too heavy, but it can tug at the heartstrings here and there. It might be even more emotional for you if you’ve gone through something similar.

This book comes out today from She Writes Press, and I was able to read an Advance Reader’s Copy through Books Forward.


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“Project Hail Mary” by Andy Weir – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission–and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

Goodreads


This is the third official full-length novel from Andy Weir, who is mostly known for having written “The Martian.” (Even if you didn’t read that one, you may have seen the Matt Damon movie version.)

If you’re familiar with Weir’s other works, you will find this to fit right in. It’s heavy on science (and math), and comes in just under 500 pages. It also focuses on a character who needs grit and ingenuity to survive his circumstances, and it’s full of humorous asides.

The actual plot is entirely different than that of “The Martian” or “Artemis,” obviously, but how much can I tell you without being spoiler-y?

The story goes back and forth between what Grace is doing on his spaceship, the Hail Mary, and what happened on Earth before the ship’s launch. In these flashbacks, both Grace and the audience learn what his mission is, and why he’s involved.

That second part turns out to be a bigger deal than you’d think. More on that later.

We learn that our sun is being attacked by a small organism that humans name “Astrophage.” It’s reducing the sun’s energy/light output, which puts Earth on track for catastrophe in approximately 26 years. (Even a slight reduction in the Earth’s temperature will cause crop failures in some areas, leading to collapses of food chains and extinction of various species. It’s like current discussions of climate change, except with everything getting colder.)

Grace is a junior high biology teacher. So how does he end up on a space mission? We learn first how he got involved in researching astrophage, which makes slightly more sense. As the preparations ramp up for figuring out how to deal with the astrophage problem, Grace stays with the team determining what to do next. At this point, he knows more about astrophage than anyone else, so this still makes sense. We don’t learn how he actually ends up on the ship until we’re 80% through the book, and… it’s a total gut punch.

While this mystery keeps you guessing in the flashbacks, the real joy of the book happens in the segments on the ship. Grace has traveled to another solar system that seems to also have astrophage present, to see what’s happening there and if it can help Earth in any way. He’s been asleep for most of the trip, but now has to find what he’s looking for – once he remembers what that is. This is not as lonely and boring as one might think, but I don’t want to give away what happens. Let’s just say it’s fun, sometimes heartbreaking, and ultimately pretty awesome.

I am a classic right-brained person who is not great at science-y things, therefore I took this one kind of slowly. I didn’t look up the things he was talking about, to try to understand the science behind it. I know Weir is known for doing a good job with this stuff, overall, despite fictionalizing where needed. I just kicked back and enjoyed the ride. And it’s totally one you can enjoy, if you like science fiction at all.

This is sure to be another blockbuster under Weir’s belt, and it comes out today, May the Fourth. I was able to read an advanced copy through the publisher, Random House, and Netgalley.

Also, if you’re a fan of Andy Weir, check out this interview on Goodreads.


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“I Hope You Get This Message” by Farah Naz Rishi – Review

By: Angie Haddock


When news stations start reporting that Earth has been contacted by a planet named Alma, the world is abuzz with rumors that the alien entity is giving mankind only few days to live before they hit the kill switch on civilization.

Goodreads


This is a fast, fun YA read. The author is Pakistani-American, and I read this in March for my monthly diverse SFF read.

We are introduced to three main characters, and the chapters alternate between focusing on one of the three. Cate Collins, Jesse Hewitt, and Adeem Khan are all in their late teens. Cate hails from San Francisco, and has spent her life caring for her schizophrenic mom. Adeem lives in Carson City, and is more obsessed with his amateur radio hobby than doing his school work – much to his parents’ dismay. Jesse lives in Roswell, where he and his mom are barely scraping by.

Earth translates a signal discovered in space, and learns that a race from another planet – which humans name Alma – is putting humanity on trial, and determining its fate within the next seven days.

Much of the world devolves into chaos after this news sinks in. Looting is rampant, people trying to escape cities cause major traffic jams everywhere, and cell towers stop working.

But within this chaos, many people also start trying to reach estranged family members or other loved ones. Cate’s mom tasks her with finding her father – who never even knew of Cate’s existence. Adeem sets out to find his older sister, who ran away two years ago after coming out to her family and fearing they would not accept her. As tourists flood Roswell, Jesse stays put, and sees this turn of events as a way to make some money off people who are looking for hope.

Jesse’s dad was a failed inventor, and even though he passed away years ago, many of his materials are still gathering dust in their shed. So Jesse builds a “machine” to send messages to Alma. People line up to send messages, and Jesse makes decent money. He thinks he’s lying to people, and ripping them off. But a new kid in town sees it differently, and thinks Jesse is giving people hope, which is the only thing they really need.

Inevitably, these three stories start coming together. (I don’t even consider this a spoiler – by about 20% in, you figure out that they’re all going to end up in Roswell.)

Most of the book deals with the issues these kids are facing, and the interpersonal relationships between them and their families, friends, etc. But there are interstitial bits featuring the aliens, as well. The friends I read this with debated whether this was really “sci-fi,” since it was mostly teen drama. While I agreed that the bulk of the book falls more under that Young Adult scope, I can’t say it’s not sci-fi when there are actual aliens in it. Those parts may be small, but still – aliens.

And I will also argue that most good sci-fi is meant to examine the humans, anyway, right?


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“Shatner Rules” by William Shatner with Chris Regan – Review

By: Angie Haddock


This collection of rules, illustrated with stories from Bill’s illustrious life and career, will show you how Bill became WILLIAM SHATNER, larger than life and bigger than any role he ever played. “Shatner Rules” is your guide to becoming William Shatner. Or more accurately, beautifully Shatneresque.

Goodreads


William Shatner has written several books – in both the memoir and fictional/sci-fi genres. I had found this one at a used bookstore years ago. It was written in honor of his turning 80 in 2011, and I thought the occasion of his turning 90 would be the perfect time to read it!

This one is not laid out chronologically, per se, but has some fun anecdotes. A lot of the fun comes from him name-dropping other celebrities he’s worked with on all his various projects. The overarching theme, if there is one, is that the guy – at 80, and probably to some extent now – keeps himself busy! There are few opportunities he says no to. (That is even one of the “rules!”)

As a Star Trek fan, there was one part that irked me a little. He gets into his beefs with George Takei and some of the other cast members from the Original Series, and none of that is new news at this point. He basically says that Takei – as well as Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, and Walter Koenig – were glorified extras. I think history and legions of fans might say they were a little more than that. I think it will surprise no one that Shatner has a huge ego, and holds onto his “top-billed” status even now.

On the flip side, one of his criticisms of Takei was kind of fair. He mentions that Koenig was the best man at Takei’s wedding, even though they aren’t really close, and that Takei milks his ties to the Trek world for his own publicity.

Shatner has nothing but good things to say about Sir Patrick Stewart, though, so there’s that.

Other anecdotes see him traveling, interviewing notorious criminals and celebrities alike, and recording albums with the likes of Ben Folds and Henry Rollins. He also talks a lot about his family, his horses, and his pride in being Canadian.

Overall, this book was an easy and fun read, very gossipy, and sometimes silly.


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“Firekeeper’s Daughter ” by Angeline Boulley – Review

By: Angie Haddock



As a biracial, unenrolled tribal member and the product of a scandal, eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine has never quite fit in, both in her hometown and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. Daunis dreams of studying medicine, but when her family is struck by tragedy, she puts her future on hold to care for her fragile mother.

The only bright spot is meeting Jamie, the charming new recruit on her brother Levi’s hockey team. Yet even as Daunis falls for Jamie, certain details don’t add up and she senses the dashing hockey star is hiding something. Everything comes to light when Daunis witnesses a shocking murder, thrusting her into the heart of a criminal investigation.

Goodreads


I was interested in this one as soon as I saw the gorgeous cover, but the title and the description also added to my intrigue. My first reaction was, “This book has everything!” It’s YA, and from an own voices/BIPOC perspective. It has romance, sports, crime. There are other very relevant issues at play, as well, so let’s dive in.

Our main character is Daunis Fontaine, who is half Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) and half white. She lives in the Upper Peninsula area of Michigan – which is significant, as people in her town cross the Canadian border with ease. A lot of the action actually takes place on Sugar Island, which is in the river that acts as the international border in this area.

There is quite a bit of the usual teen drama here, including hating on exes and contemplating jobs/colleges. But Daunis has some extra weight hanging around such decisions, as her mom is currently taking care of her own mom after the loss of her brother (Daunis’ grandma and uncle, respectively). She has a complicated family history, in which her white side hasn’t always been kind to (or even accepting of) her Ojibwe side. She is close to her half-brother, who is a local hockey star. Daunis herself played, until an injury cut her hockey career short. She is still close to the players, though, both past and present.

She is also close to her father’s sister, who plays a prominent role in the story. Aunt Teddie is one of Daunis’ closest ties to her Indigenous side’s histories and traditions. Her best friend Lily, and Lily’s grandma, are also great windows into this culture.

The action really picks up after Daunis witnesses a murder. She hadn’t realized that the FBI had been running an undercover investigation in her area already, and gets roped into being an informant. The investigation is concerned with drugs being made and distributed in the area. I felt like this was another layer that made this book super relevant, as the opioid epidemic has affected many communities over the past decade or so. The effects that drugs are having on her friends and former teammates is the primary reason Daunis agrees to get involved. She questions her involvement often – especially as it involves not being honest with her family at times – but keeps coming back to the idea of helping her community.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot here, but there is a lot going on. Some parts are gut-wrenching. Other parts made me cheer. (The elders in the community are kick-ass on several levels.) This book definitely had a huge emotional impact.

There are some hard truths presented at the end that are very frustrating, but realistic. Not every strand in this story gets wrapped up in a positive or convenient fashion. That’s not to say there isn’t sufficient wrap-up here, because I think the author leaves Daunis in a good place, ultimately. But you will be angry at some of the injustices left bare.

I loved this book, even when I wanted to yell at it. There is a whole community of interesting characters, which feels a lot like the reality of growing up in a tight-knit community. The females are mostly fierce, which I’m all for. While the main characters are in their late teens, there are good representations of people of all ages.

This book comes out today, March 16th, through MacMillan. I was able to read an advanced digital copy through Netgalley. Also, it is already slated to be adapted for the screen on Netflix.


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“Sing Me Forgotten ” by Jessica S. Olson – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Isda does not exist. At least not beyond the opulent walls of the opera house.

Goodreads


This one was outside my normal, but I feel like it’s good to read things that are new and different. I’d definitely put this in the realm of fantasy, but it also had a historical/classic vibe. I mean, where else have we seen a creature hiding in the shadows of an opera house? (Several blurbs about this one have already called it a gender-swapped “Phantom of the Opera.”)

Ostensibly, this takes place in a fictional town that seems to be in France. The period is probably more than a hundred years ago, as there are guns (rifles) but people ride in carriages or on horses. These things are pretty similar to our real world.

There is a definite mythology built here, though, and it involves creatures called fendoirs and gravoirs. These look like humans, but they have deformed faces. They also have powers to either steal or manipulate memories. Fendoirs are allowed to live in society, although with many restrictions. Mostly, they serve an economic purpose. Gravoirs, whose powers are greater, are killed at birth.

Our main character, Isda, is a gravoir. Since she should not have been allowed to live past birth, her reasons for needing to hide are obvious. She serves a purpose at the opera house, though – she manipulates the audience’s memories of the performances to make them all great, and erase any parts that went wrong. This inflates the reputation of the opera house, and Cyril, the man who runs it. Eventually, Cyril calls on Isda to use her powers to inflate his own political reputation, too.

Inevitably, Isda meets a boy. Emeric is roughly her age, and she is initially drawn to him because he has a fabulous singing voice. (She was raised in an opera house, after all, so she knows a lot about singing.) Rooting around in his memories, however, she realizes that he also knows more about gravoirs than she does. This leads her to start digging around to learn more about her powers. Both the digging and the experimenting/growing her own prowess lead to various sorts of trouble.

Toward the end, Isda is eventually found out. She must race and fight for her own life and Emeric’s. The ending is destructive and bittersweet.

This YA novel comes out today, March 9, 2021. I was able to read a digital advanced reader’s copy through Books Forward Friends and Netgalley.


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“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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“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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