All of these books released on March 2nd. I’d planned to review them all by then, but life. (Yes, I realize I keep saying this, but it keeps being true!)
The Bright & The Pale by Jessica Rubinkowski
The High-Rise Diver by Julia von Lucadou & Translated by Sharmila Cohen
The Salt in Our Blood by Ava Morgyn
Forget Me Not by Alexandra Oliva
Machinehood by S.B. Divya
The Bright and the Pale by Jessica Rubinkowski
Series: The Bright & the Pale Duology #1
Published by Quill Tree Books on March 2, 2021
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley
Seventeen-year-old Valeria is one of the only survivors of the freeze, a dark magical hold Knnot Mountain unleashed over her village. Everyone, including her family, is trapped in an unbreakable sheet of ice. Ever since, she’s been on the run from the Czar, who is determined to imprison any who managed to escape. Valeria finds refuge with the Thieves Guild, doing odd jobs with her best friend Alik, the only piece of home she has left.
That is, until he is brutally murdered.
A year later, she discovers Alik is alive and being held against his will. To buy his freedom, she must lead a group of cutthroats and thieves on a perilous expedition to the very mountain that claimed her family. Only something sinister slumbers in the heart of Knnot.
And it has waited years for release.
This is going to be a weird review, because I feel like I don’t have a ton to say, but not in a bad way? I liked this story! I was entertained by this story! The characters were enjoyable, the world was quite atmospheric, and I wasn’t bored. That said, I wasn’t like, totally blown away either? But I don’t even have a reason why, and that is irritating to me, as a person trying to explain things about this book.
I certainly felt for Valeria, she lost her whole family, and now she has what amounts to a bunch of people trying to manipulate her for their own gain, and she hasn’t a clue who she should trust. That’s rude of them, frankly. Like she hasn’t been through enough, you know? So yeah, I was definitely rooting for her. I also really wanted her best friend Alik to be a person she could trust, I liked that she had someone that she felt like she knew.
I think perhaps the world building could have been a bit more fleshed out, but otherwise, it was a solidly entertaining, if somewhat typical, fantasy. Also, I am kind of digging the duology trend! I love that I can be invested in seeing the conclusion of a story through without having to worry about it happening 28 books in the future!
Bottom Line: An entertaining fantasy, one I will likely pick up the sequel to, especially to see how Valeria fares.
Big Sister is watching you.
Riva is a “high-rise diver,” a top athlete with millions of fans, and a perfectly functioning human on all levels. Suddenly she rebels, breaking her contract and refusing to train. Cameras are everywhere in her world, but she doesn’t know her every move is being watched by Hitomi, the psychologist tasked with reining Riva back in. Unquestionably loyal to the system, Hitomi’s own life is at stake: should she fail to deliver, she will be banned to the “peripheries,” the filthy outskirts of society.
For readers of The Handmaid’s Tale, The Circle, and Brave New World, this chilling dystopia constructs a world uncomfortably close to our own, in which performance is everything.
Diving off of a high rise sounds terrifying. Could I even watch such a thing, knowing what would happen if the diver missed? Look, I had to watch the diving event during our swim meets between my fingers because I was so afraid of one of them hitting the board. So yeah, I am not watching, and I am zero percent blaming Riva for not wanting to do it anymore (though, to be fair, that isn’t really why Riva is over it, but shhh).
Hitomi, on the other hand, is tasked with getting Riva back on the platform (I am going to assume it’s a platform, a springboard is just asking for fatalities, yeah?) which includes some super invasive “watching” of Riva. Like girl has video feeds going 24/7 like some kind of deranged “Real World” season, but Riva didn’t exactly sign up to join the cast. The bottom line in this world is, if you’re not providing some Very Important Function™ for the higher ups, then you can go die in the outskirts; they find you useless. Also, what kind of world thinks diving off buildings is super important? And then, forcing someone to dive off buildings… and maybe forcing someone to force someone, and so on? Hint: A messed up one.
While I loved the story, and found the world both fascinating and creepily plausible, my one complaint with the book was that I didn’t feel particularly connected to the characters. Of course, we’re seeing Riva’s life through a literal lens, as we’re only seeing Riva as Hitomi is seeing her. I felt for Riva, but I didn’t necessarily feel connected to her. I felt a bit more for Hitomi, since we can sense her desperation, frankly.
And that’s the crux: this world reeks of desperation. If you’ve “made it”, you’re desperate to stay that way. If you haven’t, you’re desperate to make it. Hence the concept of doing anything to be part of the upper echelon (i.e., diving off of high rise buildings). The society is invasive and bleak as hell and it was beyond fascinating to read about.
Bottom Line: I am always drawn to a world darker than our own, a world that we can foresee happening based on our trajectory. This book definitely fits that bill.
Ten years ago, Cat's volatile mother, Mary, left her at her grandmother's house with nothing but a deck of tarot cards. Now seventeen, Cat is determined to make her life as different from Mary's as possible.
When Cat's grandmother dies, she's forced to move to New Orleans with her mother. There, she discovers a picture of Mary holding a baby that's not her, leading her to unravel a dark family history and challenge her belief that Mary's mental health issues are the root of all their problems. But as Cat explores the reasons for her mother's breakdown, she fears she is experiencing her own.
Ever since she arrived in New Orleans, she's been haunted by strangely familiar visitors--in dreams and on the streets of the French Quarter--who know more than they should. Unsure if she can rebuild her relationship with her mother, Cat is realizing she must confront her past, her future, and herself in the fight to try.
What we have here is a situation where I have a bit of The Mixed Feelings™. At the start of the book, I wholly felt for Cat. She’s found her grandmother, who basically raised her, dead. As if that isn’t bad enough, she now has to live with her mostly absent mom, which certainly can’t be easy. So yeah, I was definitely sympathetic. But then some things rubbed me the wrong way, so we’re just going to have to break it all down.
What I Liked:
- Like I said, I was very drawn to Cat and her story initially. Like, she seems so lonely, even before Moony (her name for her grandma) dies. Not a lot of friends who’ll even know or care that she’s gone, and now she’s got to go to a new city with a mother who’s practically a stranger. It is a lot, and I couldn’t help but feel for her!
- New Orleans! I love that city so much. And I think the author did a good job of getting the vibe of the city. I loved the setting, especially since there was a tarot card story, and a bit of ghost lore and such.
- I adored Daniel and his family. Frankly, I could use a book about those guys!
- I was definitely invested in the stories of both Cat and her mom. Frankly, I may have been more invested in Mary’s story than Cat’s, but they were pretty intertwined anyway of course. It was an emotional story, and I really wanted them both to heal.
What I Didn’t:
- The way Cat talked about her mom’s bipolar disorder was… messy, at best. This is really my biggest issue (by far) with the book. Look, I get that Cat is a kid and likely has all kinds of misconceptions about both her mother and living with bipolar disorder. But she never truly gets to a point where she learns more about said misconceptions, hence my feelings. Like- had this been used as a learning experience, I’d have been completely on board. But that doesn’t really happen. I suppose to some extent Cat does learn some aspects of it- that you don’t “catch
bipolar from a troubling life event, and is a bit more understanding, but not enough for me tbh. Cat treats her mom pretty horribly, and keeps nosing into her early life to find “reasons” that Mary is dealing with bipolar. That… isn’t how that works. She also sees Mary as some kind of irrevocably broken human being just because she happens to have a mental illness. Cat then unleashes a ton of Mary’s past trauma on Mary. I get wanting to know what is up with things you may uncover about a parent’s past, but Cat doesn’t handle it particularly sensitively.
Bottom Line: A good story that pulled at my heartstrings, and while I think the author had the right intentions, I believe that the representation of Mary’s bipolar disorder/past trauma could have been handled a bit better.
She was born for all the wrong reasons. But her search for the truth reveals answers she wishes she could forget in this suspenseful and deeply moving novel from the author of The Last One.
What if your past wasn’t what you thought?
As a child, Linda Russell was left to raise herself in a 20-acre walled-off property in rural Washington. The woods were her home, and for twelve years she lived oblivious to a stark and terrible truth: Her mother had birthed her only to replace another daughter who died in a tragic accident years before.
And then one day Linda witnesses something she wasn’t meant to see. Terrified and alone, she climbs the wall and abandons her home, but her escape becomes a different kind of trap when she is thrust into the modern world—a world for which she is not only entirely unprepared, but which is unprepared to accept her.
And you couldn’t see a future for yourself?
Years later, Linda is living in Seattle and immersed in technology intended to connect, but she has never felt more alone. Social media continually brings her past back to haunt her, and she is hounded by the society she is now forced to inhabit. But when Linda meets a fascinating new neighbor who introduces her to the potential and escapism of virtual reality, she begins to allow herself to hope for more.
What would it take to reclaim your life?
Then an unexplained fire at her infamous childhood home prompts Linda to return to the property for the first time since she was a girl, unleashing a chain of events that will not only endanger her life but challenge her understanding of family, memory, and the world itself.
Whew, where to begin with Forget Me Not? I’ll start with Linda herself. Linda is our main character, and when we begin her story, it’s not completely clear what has been happening with her. We just know that something is… not right. Linda lives a very isolated life, and aside from some seemingly obligatory contact with her father, is pretty much alone in the world. I felt for her, because it didn’t seem that she wanted to be so alone, and as the story unraveled, it’s clear that Linda asked for exactly none of this.
It’s a fascinating story, albeit a bit slow paced at times, about how Linda got to this point in her life. How she ended up living alone, but quite comfortably, in her apartment. Why she’s been so sheltered from the world, what her father’s role is, how Linda came to be are all discovered throughout the book. I’ll keep the details to a minimum, because finding the answers alongside Linda is the fun part.
But at its core, Forget Me Not is Linda’s journey into personhood. Into finding her own life, her own way. She must reclaim the agency that was taken from her for so many years. Helping her along the way will be new neighbor and friend Anvi, whose character I really grew to love. Anvi helps Linda see that there can be more for her, that people will like Linda for Linda, not because of some bizarre set of expectations thrust upon her before birth.
Bottom Line: I could not help but root for Linda, who deserves so much more than the world gave her. I enjoyed taking this journey with her.
From the Hugo Award nominee S.B. Divya, Zero Dark Thirty meets The Social Network in this science fiction thriller about artificial intelligence, sentience, and labor rights in a near future dominated by the gig economy.
Welga Ramirez, executive bodyguard and ex-special forces, is about to retire early when her client is killed in front of her. It’s 2095 and people don’t usually die from violence. Humanity is entirely dependent on pills that not only help them stay alive, but allow them to compete with artificial intelligence in an increasingly competitive gig economy. Daily doses protect against designer diseases, flow enhances focus, zips and buffs enhance physical strength and speed, and juvers speed the healing process.
All that changes when Welga’s client is killed by The Machinehood, a new and mysterious terrorist group that has simultaneously attacked several major pill funders. The Machinehood operatives seem to be part human, part machine, something the world has never seen. They issue an ultimatum: stop all pill production in one week.
Global panic ensues as pill production slows and many become ill. Thousands destroy their bots in fear of a strong AI takeover. But the US government believes the Machinehood is a cover for an old enemy. One that Welga is uniquely qualified to fight.
Welga, determined to take down the Machinehood, is pulled back into intelligence work by the government that betrayed her. But who are the Machinehood and what do they really want?
A thrilling and thought-provoking novel that asks: if we won’t see machines as human, will we instead see humans as machines?
Ah yay, another eerily plausible future scenario that we’d all hate and also accept! Gosh I love these! Machinehood takes the current exploitations in our economic and social systems and launches them into overdrive to create a gig economy that leaves nearly everyone susceptible to sudden poverty, and a social media tie-in that invades their privacy 100% of the time, but without it, they can’t survive in the aforementioned messed up gig economy. Oh yeah, and they all have to take pills to stay afloat. Now, said drugs are supposed to be “safe”, but no one actually knows that, nor do they care. As long as the workers keep working, right? (You see how plausible this is? I mean, it happens now, in various forms, of course.)
Now, in the midst of all that, a group is pissed that machines don’t have the same rights as humans. And they threaten to basically destroy the entire infrastructure of the world, unless their demands are met. Welga, who has been working as security for Important Rich People™ finds herself in the middle of the fight, even though she’s not particularly qualified for said fight. But it seems no one knows what to do, and Welga feels that she owes this to her people, so fight she will.
Welga is a great character, and I absolutely enjoyed her. The story focuses on both Welga, and her family. Her aging father is living alone, and both Welga and her brother feel a huge responsibility to him. Welga’s partner doesn’t want her to be in harm’s way, but is understanding when she needs to. But my other favorite character was Welga’s sister-in-law Nithya, who helps Welga from India. Nithya is incredibly smart, and what begins as a quest to figure out why Welga is sick (hint, it’s definitely those weird pills) develops into the two women being a sort of team in saving the world. While Welga’s role is hands-on, Nithya works hard behind the scenes.
The juxtaposition between the two women shows how many societal flaws have carried over from our own times. There is still racism present, and there are certainly still severe inequalities between women and men. You kind of start to see why the Machinehood is not always a huge fan of society the way it is, frankly, though you probably won’t agree with its methods.
It’s a strong story that kept me engaged, though it did become a bit dense at times which was my only real complaint. Otherwise, I was definitely invested in the story, and especially in Welga and Nithya’s personal stories.
Bottom Line: Another hauntingly plausible society that shows that if left unchecked, we’ll continue to bring our current problems into the future.