Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Non-spoiler review: Brutal speculative fiction that unravels a mystery in a medically advanced future while following the lives and recollections of three boarding school students.

The rest of this review is full of spoilers.

So, the story is told by Kathy and is full of her recollections of being a Hailsham student along with Ruth and Tommy (whose lives we also follow). Kathy is a caretaker for donors. Caretakers themselves always become donors after they are caretakers for awhile. You spend the first however many pages hearing about Kathy driving from one recovery center to another, looking after her donors, and remembering what it was like being a Hailsham student, thinking to yourself, “What are they donating? They’re not donating what I think they’re donating, are they? And, they all went to the same school so… is this a book about raising people specifically so that they can be organ donors? What did I get myself into?” And, that is eventually what is revealed. It was a lot horrifying how relaxed and accepting and blasé everyone in the book was about this. It was mind-blowing, in fact. I realized, at some point, that this might be because the caretakers and donors seem to have almost no interaction with other people and they are raised knowing exactly what is going to happen. This is their trajectory, their lives. They have no reason to expect otherwise. This isn’t a love story about people from two different groups coming together to disrupt an unfair society. This is the story of two people from one group destined to die for the benefit of others who just want a little more time with each other.

Aside from the teachers at the school, one of whom are very adamant that the students aren’t be told enough about what will happen to them, there are no (from my recollection) named characters who aren’t themselves donors. Maybe the caretaker of the house that they lived in between school and becoming caretakers had a name. If he did, I don’t remember, though. The teachers at Hailsham spend a lot of time teaching the students humanities subjects and getting them to engage in art and creation because they have a broader outside goal of proving the humanity of the children to the outside world. (A world that has already decided that raising this children to be organ donors is worth the cost of their lives for the benefit of society.)

A large part of the book is Kathy and Tommy trying to get in touch with someone from their old school because they’ve heard that if you are in love, and can really prove you are in love, that you can get a deferral on donations to live a little of your lives together. It is so touching how pure and naive that is. The school has been closed, though, so there is some difficulty in finding their old headmaster.

There are some heartbreaking detours. Kathy, Tommy, and a couple of others, help Ruth find a woman who looks like her (and who may have been the source for her). This woman works in an office and that is Ruth’s dream job. There are other donors who were at other schools who hear that kids from Hailsham are special and I want to hear what it was like. So, horrifyingly, we’re only being told the best parts of this world. Some of the children raised to be donors get to live some of their lives as people. While we never are told stories from other schools, the implication is that many other places they’re treated like animals.

This was well-written. The prose was great. And, that made it even more horrifying to think about the subject matter. So, I would recommend it, but go into it knowing that is DARK and the ending will not make you feel better about humanity.

Quick Review: Chain and Gold by Cassandra Clare

In this new series in the Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunters universe follows the children of Tessa, Will, Cecily, Gabriel, Sophie, Gideon, Charlotte and Henry as well Elias Carstairs who was introduced in the finals chapters of the Infernal Devices trilogy. The new group of you Shadowhunters are James and Lucie Herondale, Cordelia and Alaister Carstairs, Matthew Fairchild, Anna, Christopher and Thomas Lightwood and Grace Blackthorn. London hasn’t had any demon attacks in over a year so when the attacks come again they are not prepared. Especially since they are a demon they haven’t seen before. Now if you read any of the other Shadowhunter books, this will be familiar. It has a lot of characters with complicated plots and full of romance and drama. For fans this is was a fun read and everything you want in a Cassandra Clare. She continues to fill her stories with a wide array of characters. For a novel that takes place at the turn of the 20th century it is filled with diversity from race and LGBTQ. Something that she has had some push back from fans who have argued you wouldn’t have so many LBGTQ and Brown people in Edwardian England. Which is ridiculous because the British Empire was in full force and LGBTQ people have always existed. However you feel about Miss Clare, she has never shied away from diversity in her novels. So yeah, it was a fun read but I think it’s for fans only.

Quick Review: House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas

I will be honest and say that I’m not sure how I feel about this novel. On the one hand it was entertaining but on the other it was incredibly long. The major mystery was solved and the villain was dispatched and yet there was still another 100 pages left in the book. Bryce is a half human half fae who likes to party. Her best friend, Dannika who is a Wolf Shifter is often her partner in crime when they go out. Tragedy strikes when Dannika and her pack are brutally murdered and it sends Bryce into a deep depression. She doesn’t start to come out of it until she is given the opportunity to help with the investigation. She is paired with Hunt a fallen angel slave who has no choice but do help in hope of winning his freedom back. It’s a pretty decent murder mystery as they follow the clues to what happen to Dannika and how it ties in to another crime as well. Bryce and Hunt are both fun characters and have a love of fun dialogue between the two of them. For fans of Sarah J Maas books, I think will enjoy this one too. It has a lot of the same hallmarks, witting dialogue filled with imaginative characters and magic. The one issue I have is the length of the novel. As I alluded to in the beginning, it had a really nice ending that wrapped up the mystery and dealt with the bad guy but there was still a 100 pages left to read. I understand that events in the last pages were crucial to character development but it could have been added to the next book or at least edited it down. This book didn’t need to have so much in it. It would have been okay to spread things out a little more instead of having it all in one. Let’s hope the next book is little bit more economical with it’s story.

Quick Review: Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland

Take a bow Justina Ireland. This series is just so good. Zombies, Queer heroine, old western story. It really has it all. At the end of Dread Nation, Jane and Katherine had to escape Summerland after it was overrun by Shamblers Of course, nothing is simple for them and they suffer one tragedy after another. I got a tell you, it was interesting reading this right before Coronavirus became a global pandemic because while I don’t think people are coming back as Zombies but it’s interesting to see how the world even fictional adapted to epidemic. Let’s just say, I am not sure we are doing all that great but I digress. Jane and Katherine through the journey have to deal with some major PTSD other issues. They have seen and done some many terrible things to survive and that will do damage to the strongest person. What I love about this story is how they handle it and the importance of having a strong friendship to get your through it. Katherine saves Jane by just being supportive of her. Being there for her when she needs and taking a step back when she doesn’t. Proof that we can’t always do it alone. A lesson that Gideon could have learned. He was so sure of his own greatness that he was willing to let the world burn to get what he thought he deserved. Yeah, privilege rich white man destroys the world. I know I am not doing it justice with this review but this series is amazing and for all of you quarantined at home, I highly recommend it.

DNF: Girl Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

I started this audio book in January because it was a popular self-help title, it was available from the library, and it was January. New Year, New You, BLAH BLAH BLAH. I thought, I’ll listen to it right quick, knock out a quick review, start the year off right.

Nope. That did not happen. It is the last day of an extra long February! I’ve had to check this out from the library three times! NOTHING ABOUT THIS HAS BEEN QUICK! (Also, the past two months have felt like an eternity? Like, 2020 has already been its own decade?)

First, I want to say that I’m behind the premise of this. Self care and taking care of yourself are much bigger projects than a good skincare routine: You have to pay your bills and exercise and feed yourself appropriately and sleep. (How do those two sentences go together? Well, I’m about to tell you.) But, whatever road you take to doing those other big and important things is a good road. Skincare, meditation, and weirdly astrology all helped me sort out* depression and a massive generalized anxiety disorder (Thanks, Grad School!) So, Hollis had me at the title. No matter where I am in the world or how bad my day has been I know that at the very least, I can run through the steps of my skincare routine and at least that will be okay. Like, not to brag, but I don’t wear foundation anymore. Like, maybe I color correct, toss a little concealer on under my eyes. I WANTED SO MUCH TO BE ON THIS BOOK’S SIDE.

I couldn’t do it. Hollis’s voice (not her actual voice, as I was listening to the audio book, but her tone and presentation) is off-putting. I can’t tell you how many times I said out loud, “No, I agree with you. I just don’t like you.” Maybe it was that I kept wanting her to put the stuff she was discussing into a bigger frame and talk about the larger cultural processes that might have you feeling like the world is out to get you and that never happened? I don’t know. This book just wasn’t for me.

Normally, even if things aren’t great, I like to stick it out and finish it. Take one for the team, if you will, so I can review the whole thing. But, it has been two months and I haven’t been reading other things because when I sit down to read (or pick up my phone to listen) I feel like I can’t listen to anything else because I have to finish this. But, I haven’t wanted to finish this, so instead of listening to this, or something else, I’ve gone down some real weird YouTube rabbit holes (and some real political podcast rabbit holes). So, I’m done. Over and out. I took How to Date Men When You Hate Men by Blythe Roberson to the caucus last week (as an ebook. I wasn’t trying to start a fight…about books. I am always happy to start a fight about politics.) and I’m already way more into that that I was into the Hollis.

So, if you want someone to tell you to wash your face, I guess you could try this book I couldn’t finish? Or, you could just hit me up on Insta, Twitter, or in the comments. I’ll very happily talk skincare with you whenever.

*More or less. Sorting out’s an ongoing, play-the-whole-90-minutes-plus-stoppage-time process.

Review: The King of Crows by Libba Bray

The Diviner’s series is such a well crafted story from beginning to end. Libba Bray has said in interviews that she wanted to write a ghost story and it kinda is. Our heroes have to literally fight the ghosts of our nation’s past and the ghosts of their own lives too. While I don’t think it was intended it is also a cautionary tale as well. It takes place in 1927 but so many of the issues that 1920’s America was facing we are still facing now. You all know the quote, History repeats itself? Well, Evie, Sam, Theta, Henry, Ling, Memphis, Isiah and Jericho are faced with racism, sexism, white supremacy, fascism and rapidly improvements in technology. I’ve mentioned this in past reviews of this series that so many of the scenes could take place today and not look out of place. We really haven’t learned from our mistakes or really ever really truly faced the truth of our past. The King of Crow was created by the greed, sorrow and misdeeds of our past. He feeds of the fear and ignorance and uses that to bargain with people for their souls and this has made him powerful. After the events of last book, our heroes have to go on the run. They are being blamed for the death of Sarah Snow, a popular radio star and they are easy targets because they are a group of young people who are black, Jewish, mixed race, gay, disabled and have powers that people do not understand. Once again playing on fear and ignorance they public quickly turns on them. Now the first half of the book have shades of the never-ending-camping trip from Harry Potter. The group has been split up and all of over the country. While it was necessary in some ways for characters to have a chance to grow and the piece together what was going on, it did drag down the narrative. Once they were all united the narrative really took off and become more compelling. They meet up with a new diviner named Sarah Beth. Sarah Beth is totally creepy but she knows how to defeat the King of Crows so our group of diviners seek her out. A lot of things happen and yes it is tragic but in the end they were able to defeat the ghosts of their pasts to defeat the ghosts of our past as well. I don’t want to say too much more because I don’t want to spoil it for you. I highly recommend this series and so relevant to today that you should read it and then discuss our past. We are a great nation but we have also done some terrible things and they will forever haunt us until we actually deal with it otherwise history will continue to repeat itself.

Review: The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson

Over three books, Stevie has been trying to figure out what happened to Alice Ellingham after she was kidnapped in 1936. The truth is truly tragic. I wont’ say what happened to her because I don’t want to spoil it but the whole affair is sad. At the end of the last book, Stevie had solve the mystery who was responsible of the kidnapping but was too afraid to tell anyone. She was too afraid that her evidence was too circumstantial but if she solved it and it’s over than what does she do next. Things have already gotten out of control. Two students have died and Stevie’s mentor has also died. David has run away and after another accident is forcing the school to close down immediately. The students don’t want to leave. There is too much left unsolved so they stay despite the massive blizzard. As Stevie unravels the mysteries we get a glimpse of what really happened and how things went off the rails from the beginning. So many people could have been spared if greed hadn’t taken over everyone. True today as it is back then. Over the series, Stevie has really grown. She has learned to deal with her anxiety. She works through her insecurities because she knows that she has more to discover and learn. A reminder to all of us not to give up despite the obstacles. I did enjoy this series. It was funny and heartwarming and a good mystery. Now if only she would finish her Shades of London series.

Quick Review: One of Us is Next by Karen M. McManus

While One of Us is Lying was a steamroller with the mystery happening in the first book. One of Us is Next is more of a slow burn. It eases us into the mystery.. It takes place 18 months after the events of the first book. The “Bayview Four” have all graduated and all have stated college except for Addy, who decided to take a year off and works at a local restaurant. She works with fellow student, Phoebe who also lives across from her and her sister. Maeve, Bronwyn sister is still friends with Addy and hangs out often at the restaurant that Addy works. Usually with her friend and ex boyfriend.Knox. They find themselves once again at the mercy of a mysterious gossip but instead of Simon’s app, it’s a Truth or Dare game via text message. Clearly the student body and really the administration learned nothing from the last time because everyone immediately gets sucked into the game and the gossip and the school teachers are kinda useless. There is mention of a new “no tolerance” policy that was put into place after Simon’s death but obviously not working.. There were some pretty unsubtle bullying happening in plain sight of the whole school and at no time did any teacher or administrated got involved. I would say there are not very good at their jobs. On a whole it was a good companion to the first book and the resolution is pretty devastating. It wasn’t as good as the first one but still a solid read. Mystery readers will want to find out what happened next at Bayview high.

Quick Review: One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus

Tell me if you heard this one. A jock, A beauty queen, a brain, an outsider and a criminal all get detention. Yeah, it’s basically the breakfast club except for one of them dies and the other four are the main suspects. The victim in question is Simon. He runs a gossip app that spills all of his fellow students secrets. It just so happens that his next post all involve his detention mates so f course they are all the prime suspects when it’s discovered his death wasn’t accidental. Bronwyn, Cooper, Addy and Nate and nothing in common before this but now they must band together if they are going to figure out what happens but when everyone has secrets, it’s hard to know who to trust. This was a fine mystery to read. The characters are all well fleshed out and vulnerable. They are not innocent but they are also not guilty and court of public opinion can be brutal. It’s an interesting study in social media, bullying and the pressures we put on kids to be perfect. With everyone having cell phones, it only takes a second for a picture to go viral and everyone knows your secrets. Not to mention a really good commentary on toxic masculinity and entitlement culture that goes with it. I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to spoil anything but there are a lot of twists and turns and while I suspected the outcome it didn’t make it any less tragic or upsetting. Well worth the read.

Quick Review: Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

Mehr is the illegitimate daughter to the Governor. Her mother is part of the indigenous clan of her home but the Emperor has outlawed their spiirtual practices and this makes Mehr an outsider in her own home but she still practices her mother’s rituals. This of course gets her in trouble, when performs a ritual and garners the attention of the Maha, the power behind the Emperor and is tricked into marrying Amur. The Maha is a very powerful man, seen as a God among his followers and the Empire. His prayers makes the Empire strong and he does this thanks to Mehr and Amur’s people and their rituals. Mehr is a strong and brave woman. She knows this is a fucked up situation but she has limited choices. Choices is a big word in this novel. The ability of choice is sacred so the fact that Mehr’s choice was essentially taken from her is a big deal. Despite this she never stops making choices to figure out ways to save her and Amur from their servitude. She never resigns herself to her situation and gives in. She fights until the end and it’s powerful to see her fully embrace her powers. The other theme of this novel is colonialism. Mehr’s homeland was invaded by the Empire and the Emperor did all that he could to demonize her people’s culture despite the fact the success of the Empire is due to her people’s culture and rituals. It really makes you think how colonist for years have benefited from the resources of the places they colonized while erasing the cultures that they have benefited so much by. Mehr was able to take back the rituals and use them against the Maha and take back that power but so many other cultures are not that lucky.