This is what remains of my August books, and I have some good news for you! While the beginning of August was a little… iffy, these second half books are fire. So do yourself a favor and check them out!
Vampires of El Norte by Isabel Cañas
Thornhedge by T. Kingfisher
The Blue, Beautiful World by Karen Lord
More Perfect by Temi Oh
A Second Chance for Yesterday by R.A. Sinn
The Great Transition by Nick Fuller Googins
Rent To Be by Sonia Hartl
Vampires and vaqueros face off on the Texas-Mexico border in this supernatural western from the author of The Hacienda.
As the daughter of a rancher in 1840s Mexico, Nena knows a thing or two about monsters—her home has long been threatened by tensions with Anglo settlers from the north. But something more sinister lurks near the ranch at night, something that drains men of their blood and leaves them for dead.
Something that once attacked Nena nine years ago.
Believing Nena dead, Néstor has been on the run from his grief ever since, moving from ranch to ranch working as a vaquero. But no amount of drink can dispel the night terrors of sharp teeth; no woman can erase his childhood sweetheart from his mind.
When the United States attacks Mexico in 1846, the two are brought abruptly together on the road to war: Nena as a curandera, a healer striving to prove her worth to her father so that he does not marry her off to a stranger, and Néstor as a member of the auxiliary cavalry of ranchers and vaqueros. But the shock of their reunion—and Nena’s rage at Néstor for seemingly abandoning her long ago—is quickly overshadowed by the appearance of a nightmare made flesh.
And unless Nena and Néstor work through their past and face the future together, neither will survive to see the dawn.
Wow did I fall in love with this story! I am currently kicking myself for allowing The Hacienda to sit on my shelf all year when I could have read it and been properly thrilled for Vampires, instead of just being regular-excited. But regular-excited I was, and now I am here to help you become properly thrilled for it! Legit, I could not put this book down. Full stop. Let’s talk about why this was such a hit for me!
- The characters. I think the characters were the biggest draw for me, though I really loved every aspect. Nena and Néstor were both just really relatable characters. They were both flawed, even more so by their shared experience of Nena’s quasi-death. Néstor has seen a lot more of the world around him, while Nena has been pretty much stuck at home base. They both have a lot to overcome, too, both in terms of their relationship with each other and those with others (see below). But they also have to figure out what they want, now that they are in each other’s spheres again. I think some readers may become frustrated with the characters, especially Nena, when she makes some poor choices, but the fact is, when you consider her struggles in the context of her time period and expectations foisted on her, it becomes quite clear why she makes some of her choices. I loved that she wasn’t just inherently able to try to change her life, she was scared and cautious and worried about her family’s responses to her choices, which is really quite normal and valid. I loved that the author displayed just how hard it is to make changes or follow your gut/heart/dreams/whatever, because it is hard, and just imagine how hard it was back then for a young woman in a literal war zone trying to keep everyone happy.
- The atmosphere. I thought it was completely on point. You know that something is… off, both in terms of the monster, and in terms of the political landscape. I thought the two ideas complimented each other really well, too, as you have both the supernatural sort of monster, but also, the very human monsters. Which is worse? Or are they equally terrifying?
- The history. I knew some of what went on in this part of the southern US/Mexico around this time period, but it was fabulous to read about it in depth like this. Obviously, there is a ton that was going on in the US in the mid-1800s, so it was great to see a book specifically focused on the Texas-Mexico-US situation. It was definitely fascinating, and more than a little upsetting, but I was so grateful to have gained this knowledge!
- The relationships. While obviously Néstor and Nena’s relationship is at the forefront of the story, there are a lot of others that are important to this story. Nena has a pretty complicated relationship with her family, most of whom see her as property or leverage and not a whole person in her own right. Néstor has some strong friendships, but he also is now back in contact with the family he left many years ago, which creates another layer for him to figure out. I loved that while there was romance, there was also a very strong focus on families and friendships.
Now, I must say, I have seen some reviews that say it is lacking a bit in the “horror” aspect, and maybe that’s true, I just didn’t care? If you are going into this one solely for the scares, then maybe it isn’t quite for you, but if you love great characters with amazing chemistry, great historical atmosphere, and some horror elements thrown in, this will definitely be up your alley!
Bottom Line: I picked this for my BOTM after reading and loving it because I simply needed it on my shelves.
From USA Today bestselling author T. Kingfisher, Thornhedge is the tale of a kind-hearted, toad-shaped heroine, a gentle knight, and a mission gone completely sideways.
*A very special hardcover edition, featuring foil stamp on the casing and custom endpapers illustrated by the author.*
There's a princess trapped in a tower. This isn't her story.
Meet Toadling. On the day of her birth, she was stolen from her family by the fairies, but she grew up safe and loved in the warm waters of faerieland. Once an adult though, the fae ask a favor of return to the human world and offer a blessing of protection to a newborn child. Simple, right?
But nothing with fairies is ever simple.
Centuries later, a knight approaches a towering wall of brambles, where the thorns are as thick as your arm and as sharp as swords. He's heard there's a curse here that needs breaking, but it's a curse Toadling will do anything to uphold…
"The way Thornhedge turns all the fairy tales inside out is a sharp-edged delight."―Katherine Addison, author of The Goblin Emperor
This was a delightful and endearing little story! I fell so in love with Toadling from the start. It’s a novella length story, and I think it works really well for this story. Fairytales are not always my go-to, but I had a feeling that T. Kingfisher would deliver some good twists and a different spin, and I was right! This one is a spin on Sleeping Beauty, but Toadling is not here for princes trying to wake her up. In fact, she’s built a whole fortress just to prevent that sort of thing.
It’ll all become clear during the course of the story, but it was very enjoyable reading about Toadling, and how the world has changed, quite literally, around her, as she insists on keeping her promises (and curses). She’s been without her beloved found family, a bunch of faery toads, and she misses them, but she must keep the princess in the tower. She’s been turning away princes for ages, but when she meets Halim, he manages to claw his way into her heart. He shares his stories, and how he ended up at Toadling’s tower, and she finally lets her guard down a bit and tells him why she is here, and that is really the bread and butter of this story, these two people sharing what has taken them away from their loved ones, and how they are finally building a bond with someone new.
Bottom Line: This story was so heartwarming, but still had enough twists and darker bits to make it a truly entertaining fairytale.
As first contact transforms the Earth, a group of gifted visionaries race to create a new future in this wondrous science fiction novel from the award-winning author of The Best of All Possible Worlds.
The world is changing, and humanity must change with it. Rising seas and soaring temperatures have radically transformed the face of the Earth. Meanwhile, Earth is being observed from afar by other civilizations ... and now they are ready to make contact.
Vying to prepare humanity for first contact are a group of dreamers and changemakers, including Peter Hendrix, the genius inventor behind the most advanced VR tech; Charyssa, a beloved celebrity icon with a passion for humanitarian work; and Kanoa, a member of a council of young people from around the globe drafted to reimagine the relationship between humankind and alien societies.
And they may have an unexpected secret weapon: Owen, a pop megastar whose ability to connect with his adoring fans is more than charisma. He has a hidden talent that may be the key to uniting Earth as it looks towards the stars.
But Owen's abilities are so unique that no-one can control him, and so seductive that he cannot help but use them. Can he transcend his human limitations and find the freedom he has always dreamed of? Or is he doomed to become the dictator of his nightmares?
I was very excited about this one, for a long time. Here’s a thing I did not realize though: it is not a direct sequel, but apparently connected to a series? I think just about all my issues with this book would have been resolved had I known that. And look- I read it under the impression that it was a standalone, and I wasn’t like, losing my mind confused or anything, so you absolutely can read it as a standalone! But I think I’d have gotten more out of the story had I known the backstory, and I feel like it is sort of doing the book and author a disservice by not being super clear about that.
What I Enjoyed:
- Aliens, y’all! I mean come on, aliens! And their maybe-nefarious plans for Earth! And their infighting! I am always here for seeing how authors imagine other species to be, and this was interesting because we are dealing with more than one!
- I liked the characters. There may be a lot of them (see below), but I did really enjoy them. You’ve got people from all over the universe basically, and it was interesting to see that people are awfully similar, no matter what world you come from.
- It was definitely insightful and thought provoking. Oh, can you imagine how we, as a species, would act if we found out there were aliens? There’s a line from the book, “‘Hysteria on one end of the scale . . . indifference on the other. Well, good luck with this global government thing we’re trying, when we can’t even agree on if we’re being invaded or not.’” Which… right?! Half the world would refuse to believe it, half of them would start hoarding toilet paper again. So yeah, I loved that aspect of the story, how much both the people from Earth and those from other places had to grapple with these questions.
What I Struggled With:
- I felt kind of lost for a fair portion of the story. I’d say the first thirty percent seemed to go one way, and then BAM, whole new group of folks out of left field. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the new guys, I was just pretty jarred by the story seeming to suddenly sway to a whole new set of characters. Also, I won’t pretend to have realized that aliens were a thing for… well, probably too long, but that is likely on me.
- There are a lot of characters to keep track of. Heads up too that there is a very helpful cast of characters included. In the advanced copy, it was at the end, but I wish I’d known it was there because I probably would have been able to keep track of characters better. And like I said before, some were introduced after I’d just started to get the hang of who was who in the first batch, so.
Bottom Line: I wish I had known that this was part of a pre-existing world, because I think I’d have had a greater understanding of the world and characters. As it stands, it was quite enjoyable, aside from the bits of confusion.
A reimagining of the Greek myth of Eurydice and Orpheus, for fans of Becky Chambers and William Gibson by Alex Award–winning author Temi Oh.
Using the myth of Eurydice as a structure, this riveting science fiction novel is set in a near-future London where it has become popular for folks to have a small implant that allows one access to a more robust social media experience directly as an augmented reality. However, the British government has taken oversight of this access to an extreme, slowly tilting towards a dystopian overreach, all in the name of safety.
After falling wholly in love with Temi Oh’s first novel, Do You Dream of Terra-Two?, I was so excited to see that she had a new novel coming out! This one is definitely thought-provoking, and asks some really intriguing questions. I enjoyed quite a bit about this one, but also had a couple minor problems, so let’s break that down! (Oh, and a disclaimer, the synopsis sells this as “Using the myth of Eurydice as a structure” and friends, that means nothing to me, so I can’t comment on it.)
What I Enjoyed:
- The concept is so thought-provoking, and absolutely relevant. As we get closer and closer to having some junk implanted in our skulls, this sort of topic just seems to get more and more plausible, if not downright probable. Look, I don’t want you in my head. I don’t care what you ate for lunch, or whether your back hurts, or really anything about any of you enough to be in my actual brain. And you are lovely humans, and I am an extrovert and still I want your brains and my brain to be separate entities. Let’s just say, I understand why there are large groups of people who find this unappealing.
- The characters are really well developed. We are given the chance to start the story in their younger years, so we understand what was motivating to them in the years prior to when the story takes place, understand their familial struggles, and how the ended up where they are in the present. That was really helpful in explaining their motivations going forward, and I definitely did come to care about them as characters.
- The story itself went some pretty cool places. Obviously, there is a lot of commentary one can explore when discussing things like brain implants. There’s the very basic morality of it of course, but beyond that there are the rebels and the twists and turns and the billionaires involved, and the political component, and so yeah, there is a lot that can happen! I don’t really want to tell you too much, because all of those things are the fun parts, the action parts.
- Writing was great. Just like her last book, I loved the writing in this one too. It just flowed well, and I like it, and I am looking forward to whatever the author does next.
What I Struggled With:
- It just didn’t have to be 600 pages IMO. It didn’t feel super long, which is a plus, but I often thought that some of the story could have been pared down a bit? It isn’t overwhelming, so don’t let the page count scare you off, but it is worth noting. I think if just a bit of extraneous stuff had been cut out (especially the dream stuff, I always have trouble getting invested in dream bits), it would have flowed better. And if I am being totally honest, I was a little underwhelmed with the ending? Maybe it was intentional to end it this way but View Spoiler »it felt like a lot happened and obviously we spent 600 pages in this story, but at the end, not much had really changed. It felt a bit anticlimactic « Hide Spoiler.
- Holy instalove, Batman. I just didn’t quite buy it, honestly. I get that it was especially in Moremi’s personality to fall hard and fast, but I just didn’t feel the chemistry. I think I would have believed it more that way, but it just didn’t work for me. And since a lot of the book is built around the relationship between Moremi and Orpheus, it was kind of hard to overlook.
Bottom Line: Amazing concept and great characters, just a little long-winded at times.
Created by historian and futurist sibling authors, A Second Chance for Yesterday is a time-twisting story of family, redemption and queer love, for fans of The Time Traveler’s Wife .
Nev Bourne is a hotshot programmer for the latest and greatest tech invention out SavePoint, the brain implant that rewinds the seconds of all our most embarrassing moments. She’s been working non-stop on the next rollout, even blowing off her boyfriend, her best friend and her family to make SavePoint 2.0. But when she hits go on the test-run, she wakes up the next day only to discover it's yesterday. She's falling backwards in time, one day at a time.
As things spiral out of control, a long-lost friend from college reappears in her life claiming they know how to save her. Airin is charming and mysterious, and somehow knows Nev intimately well. Desperate and intrigued, Nev takes a leap of faith. A friendship born of fear slowly becomes a bond of deepest trust, and possibly love. With time running out, and the whole world of SavePoint users at stake, Nev must learn what it will take to set things right, and what it will cost.
The world-building in this book is so incredible and thought provoking! It’s 2045, and humans have figured out how to rewind a few seconds to undo cringey situations. Sounds cool and also incredibly messy, right? Well, something is happening to Nev, who is working on the 2.0 version. She finds herself moving backwards a day every day, so when she wakes up in what is supposed to be the next day, it’s actually the day before. She figures this has to be some kind of glitch happening since she is working on the program, and she needs to get to the bottom of it.
That is literally all I will tell you about the plot, because the whole fun of the story is figuring out what the heck is happening, and what fun it is! It is written in such a great way, because it isn’t too scientific for the casual fan to read, but it is complex enough to be really intriguing and perplexing- in the good way. And I absolutely fell in love with Nev, she becomes so much more self-aware and likable as the story goes on, too. She has to do a lot of introspection during the course of the story, and it makes her all the better for it.
Nev is, when we meet her, living a pretty isolated existence. Her life revolves around work, she’s on the outs with her family (her only close family member, her beloved grandmother, has just passed), and she’s in a non-relationship with some crappy guy. As she starts to travel in reverse, however, she sees the opportunity to perhaps change some of that. She is reacquainted with Airin, who she knew a bit from their college days, but never stayed in contact with. But since Airin is moving forward and Nev is moving backwards, they are always at different stages of their understandings of the situation, so it makes things even more complicated.
Now, my only qualm (legit, the only thing keeping me from giving this the full five) is that ending. I needed more! I have read a few reviews that say it might be a series? If it is, I will come back here and provide that last half a star without hesitation. I have done a lot of investigating (too much, frankly) and can find nothing labeling it as a series, so. I beg of you, someone out there, tell me it will be a series! Hell, lie to me at this point, I need more!
Bottom Line: I loved this book, and I really hope that the story continues, because if not, I shall be left with sadness at never knowing Things™.
For fans of Station Eleven and The Ministry for the Future, this richly imaginative, immersive, and electrifyingly relevant climate utopia novel follows a family navigating a crisis both personal and political, illuminating humanity’s capacity for change.
What happens after we save the world?
In the near future, humanity hasn’t avoided the worst of climate change—wildfires, rising oceans, mass migration, and skyrocketing inequality have become the daily reality. But just when it seems that it can’t get any worse, remarkably, a movement of workers, migrants, and refugees inspires the world to band together, save the planet, and rebuild a society for all. This is The Great Transition.
Teenager Emi Vargas was born post-Transition, into a utopia compared to the world known by previous generations. Her parents both suffered and sacrificed, playing pivotal roles in The Great Transition, but now their marriage is deteriorating. And when Emi’s mother goes missing amidst a shocking new political upheaval, Emi’s illusion of comfort and safety is shattered.
Alternating between Emi’s suspenseful search for her mother in the present and The Great Transition when her mother and father battled climate devastation and fell in love, this astonishing debut is a remarkable story of struggle, change, and hope.
Fine, I’ll admit it: the first thing about this book that caught my eye was the cover. So sue me. But I am so glad it did, because it was great, and a very “me” book! The world has tried to bounce back after climate change brought it to the brink. It’s interesting, starting the story after the dramatic bits, the catastrophic bits, went down, and now the world is in the middle of trying to rebuild, to make changes. We meet a family, teenage Emi and her parents Larch and Kristina who are living in a new city in Nuuk Greenland. They seem a lot like a current era family at first look, Emi is having some typical teen struggles with friends and extracurriculars, and Larch and Kristina are seeing quite a bit of degradation in their marriage. When Emi has to interview them (and others) for her school project for the Great Transition, she (and we, the reader) are gifted with their stories of how they contributed to the world getting to where it is today.
In the midst of hearing about Emi’s project, and seeing how the world has changed, Kristina leaves to volunteer in New York City, which is basically a mess, and she goes AWOL. Meanwhile, the celebration for the Great Transition has been disrupted by an attack by a revolutionary group. Larch becomes quite worried about Kristina, so they head to old America to find her, and hopefully rescue her. But nothing is what it seems at first look, and Larch and Kristina have grown more apart than he even realized.
The story alternates between past and present, and we get to see the world as it was when it collapsed, how it was during the collapse, and then the process to rebuild. And of course, we get to see the current society, as well as the problems that are underlying in it, that perhaps the citizens were unaware of, much as we throw ourselves into denial about our current state of affairs. It also focuses a lot on family, and how changes in the family happen. The characters have to do a lot of introspection, and figuring out what they want, and what they want their role in this world to be.
It is certainly a quieter book, for the most part, but is certainly character and growth driven. It is also so thought provoking, because in this book, a lot of people stand up and do their part to help rebuild the world. I simply do not know that people would actually do that in our world, and it certainly makes one think. One thing that was a bit troubling for me was the lack of quotation marks around discussion, it sometimes took me a bit to realize that someone was speaking. I don’t know if this is just in the unfinished copy or whether it is just like that, but anyway, that is just a nitpicky thing for me. Oh, and bonus points that the WNBA is a big part of this story! I loved that, because I freaking love seeing women’s sports celebrated (in this case, even more so than men’s!)
Bottom Line: Thought provoking and lovely, The Great Transition focuses on family and rebuilding, and who you want to be in the world you find yourself in.
Isla Jane is living the millennial nightmare. She’s got a shiny new MBA and no way to pay for it, thanks to her dead-end entry-level job, and nowhere to live, thanks to her miserable salary. Going home to her parents is not possible, but for once Isla’s brother may be her saving grace. He’s out of town on business for a month, meaning the guest room in his condo is blissfully empty.
Or so Isla thinks, until she runs into Cade Greenley, her brother’s best friend—who’s crashing there while his own condo is undergoing renovations. When a desperate plan to sleep under her desk miraculously turns into a house-sitting job for one of the big bosses at her office, Isla is certain her luck has turned—with no one, Cade included, the wiser. It’s a perfect solution—until Cade catches her sunbathing at a mansion that is definitely not hers, and she admits she’s house-sitting because she can’t afford rent.
The pair strike a deal—Cade will keep Isla’s secret from her overbearing parents if she agrees to pose as his girlfriend at a few upcoming corporate events. The fun and friendly vibe of his office is a surprise compared to hers, but the biggest shock is that each “date” with Cade feels less and less fake. Suddenly she’s looking forward to every minute they spend together while the chemistry between them sizzles. As Isla’s house-sitting scheme begins to unravel, she'll have to face the fact that her biggest lie of all is the one she's telling that she's not falling in love with Cade.
Sonia Hartl can go ahead and take all my money at this point. I love her books, and this one was a huge win for me as well. We meet Isla, who has just been kicked out of her apartment (and her friendships) for failing to pay rent for a few months. She’s down about that of course, and she has nowhere to go, because her parents aren’t exactly the most supportive folks out there. They’re those “bootstraps” type, which infuriates me, but that’s a conversation for a different day. The point is, Isla’s in need of some housing, and luckily, her brother just left for a month in London, so she lets herself into his apartment.
Only whoopsie, his best friend Cade happens to be using the apartment while his own place is being renovated! Isla is trying to avoid anyone finding out about her dire straights, so she pretends she is just storing some stuff there and… sleeps under her desk at work. This is sad, but also leads to her ending up with a housesitting gig that is frankly more lucrative than her job at this point, and it allows her not only a place to stay, but the ability to pay her bills for once.
But she and Cade keep crossing paths, and this eventually leads to Isla helping him out by becoming his fake date to work parties. Look, it’s clear from their first encounter on page that these two have off the charts chemistry. But it’s also clear that Isla is in a bad way and is pretty down on herself, and Cade is just playing the part of “responsible adult” because he thinks that is what he is supposed to do. So they both have a lot to figure out before they can ever be on the same page with their very clear feelings.
I loved how freaking hilarious this book was throughout. I found myself laughing and smiling a lot, even when the subject matter was a little heavier. It’s also incredibly relatable, if you have ever taken out a bunch of ill-advised student loans, which I have a feeling a fair amount of us have. I love that the author opens the door for a lot of discussion about A) how predatory it all was, and B) how literally everyone in our lives who were supposed to be guiding us swore that college was the best and/or only path forward. And for some people, like Cade, it worked out. But for some, like Isla (and yours truly, if we’re being honest) it did nothing for their futures and just threw them into lifelong debt.
I also loved how, while this is obviously a romance, it focused a lot on family relationships. Isla’s relationship with her family was… complicated. Like obviously they loved her and cared for her, but they also had a lot of very bad takes when it came to finances and what qualified as success, and it could be pretty gross. Isla had to come to terms with all of that, all while navigating her relationship with Cade, and her brother, and finding housing, and housesitting at some of the most ridiculous places ever (major points for how wonderfully bizarre some of these houses were). Cade, too, had a lot of stuff to figure out. He was trying to find his place in his company, which was awesome, but not what Cade expected to find in the corporate world. He also had a pretty rocky relationship with his mom, and also, he was worried about what Isla’s brother would think if he acted on his feelings. So there is a lot happening, but it felt incredibly true to real life, which is what made it so awesome.
Bottom Line: Rent To Be is hilarious and charming and full of heart, and basically just a huge win.