Reviews in a Minute: Jumping Into January

Here we are, with our first books of 2024! Some very good ones to start the new year, yay!

The Parliament by Aimee Pokwatka
Into the Sunken City by Dinesh Thiru
Exordia by Seth Dickinson
The Tusks of Extinction by Ray Nayler
Three Eight One by Aliya Whiteley
The Atlas of Us by Kristin Dwyer

Reviews in a Minute: Jumping Into January The Parliament by Aimee Pokwatka
Published by Tordotcom on January 16, 2024
Pages: 320
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

The Birds meets The Princess Bride in this tale of friendship, responsibility, and the primal force of nature.

“Murder owls are extreme,” Jude said. “What’s more extreme than murder owls?”

Madeleine Purdy is stuck in her home town library.

When tens of thousands of owls descend on the building, rending and tearing at anyone foolish enough to step outside, Mad is tasked with keeping her students safe, and distracted, while they seek a solution to their dilemma.

Perhaps they’ll find the inspiration they seek in her favorite childhood book, The Silent Queen ….

With food and fresh water in low supply, the denizens of the library will have to find a way out, and soon, but the owls don’t seem to be in a hurry to leave…
The Parliament is a story of grief and missed opportunities, but also of courage and hope.

And of extremely sharp beaks.

It is me, here with nothing but love for a book with a whole bird on the cover. You know why? Everyone in the book hates these assholes just as much as I do! And not even just after they attack- no, main character Mad hates them before they even get extra awful. I have found my people, hidden in the pages of this bird book. Anti-bird book, if you will. So yeah, this book has birds, I loved it. This book has a story-within-a-story, which I usually do not like, but I loved it. How do I even begin to tell you why? I’ll try.

  • adored Mad. From the start, she won me over. I mean, sure, partly because she “never liked birds”, obviously. But beyond that, I just clicked with her whole character. She’s been through some stuff, and she’s done a crap job of healing, and she shuts people out because she’s scared, and it’s a whole relatable thing. So Mad finding herself teaching a bunch of teens? Yeah, not exactly what she’d expected she’d be doing, but she also never expected she’d be trapped in Bird Hell™ either, so.
  • Speaking of, Bird Hell™! I mean- don’t misunderstand, I did not like Bird Hell™, but I was certainly entertained by it. You know that is the apocalypse I’ll find myself front and center in, right? Well, it isn’t cute. And Mad isn’t really equipped to handle it, and frankly, neither is anyone else who happened to have the bad fortune to be in the library that day.
  • I actually liked the story! Mad started reading this story to the group, and it was actually really entertaining and it fit really well- I loved how all the kids in the group sort of had a different perspective on it too, the author did an amazing job using this story to really give us insight into the characters, and I thought that was genius.
  • It’s exciting! I mean. Duh. I was very much on the edge of my seat wondering what was going to happen next, how they were going to get out of there, who would make it, etc. It’s high stakes, compelling stuff!
  • At the same time, I never wanted it to end! I loved getting to know Mad, and the other townspeople we get to know. I mean, I was glad that it had an appropriate ending and everything, don’t get me wrong, but man did I enjoy being in this world. No worries, this one will be on my re-read list for sure!

Bottom Line: I am actively begging you to read this bird book, so I think you have to?

Reviews in a Minute: Jumping Into January Into the Sunken City by Dinesh Thiru
Published by HarperTeen on January 23, 2024
Pages: 368
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

"Steal-your-breath adventure." —Marissa Meyer, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Lunar Chronicles

Perfect for fans of Fable and House of Salt and Sorrows, this spectacular YA fantasy adventure debut is like nothing else, featuring a unique twist on Treasure Island, a magnetic second chance romance, and a thrilling heist where the reward is great—but the risks are even greater.

In the slowly sinking city of Coconino, Arizona, the days are long, the money is tight, and the rain never stops.

For Jin Haldar, this life is nothing new—ever since her father died in a diving accident, she’s barely made ends meet for her and her younger sister, Thara.

Enter Bhili: a drifter who offers Jin and Thara the score of a lifetime—a massive stash of gold hidden in the sunken ruins of Las Vegas.

Jin knows it’s too dangerous. She stopped diving after her father’s accident. But when her sister decides to go, Jin’s left with only one choice: to go with her.

A ragtag crew is assembled—including Jin’s annoyingly hot ex-boyfriend. From there, a high-stakes heist ensues that’s beyond even Jin’s wildest fears.

Crumbling ruins, sea beasts, corsairs, and a mysterious figure named João Silva all lie in wait. To survive, Jin will have to do what she promised herself she’d never do again: dive.

I quite liked Into the Sunken City,  and the concept of a world taken over by water is very interesting. I think the author did it in a way that felt authentic, too- cities were taken over, bit by bit, as climate change led to horrific flooding. Of course, folks are clinging onto tiny scraps of land, which is where we Jin and her sister Thara. They’re living in an inn, barely scraping by, since their father was lost in a diving accident. Jin never wants to dive again, but it’s also not exactly easy to make a living in the world as it is.

When an opportunity presents itself, Jin has to make a choice: one last dive that could potentially secure a future for her and Thara? Or stay in the relative safety, yet abject poverty, of their current situation? I mean, based on the whole premise of the book, it’s clear which she chooses, but it leads to a lot of awfulness along the way. I felt like a few of the twists were a bit predictable, and a couple were maybe done just to illustrate how bad the bad guys were? But as a whole, it was a good story. I enjoyed the characters, especially Jin trying to come to terms with having to go back into the water. I also liked the exploration of the relationships with those they encountered along the way.

It is definitely an exciting and intense story, as it’s clear that diving has a lot of risks, especially in old full-blown cities, with outdated equipment and who-knows-what lurking. And, as exciting as it is, there is still plenty of time devoted to the stories and relationships and struggles of the characters. And, I couldn’t help but wonder: how would I fare in such a world? I mean, I can swim, and well, but… is that enough? No, I’m going to say I’d either be killed by pirates, or would have been overconfident in my swimming abilities and gone the way of Jin’s dad. But honestly, probably the pirate thing.

Bottom Line: A solid debut, with characters I cared about, in a very exciting and terrifying world.

Reviews in a Minute: Jumping Into January Exordia by Seth Dickinson
Published by Tordotcom on January 23, 2024
Pages: 544
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

“Anna, I came to Earth tracking a very old story, a story that goes back to the dawn of time. it’s very unlikely that you’ll die right now. It wouldn’t be narratively complete.”

Anna Sinjari―refugee, survivor of genocide, disaffected office worker―has a close encounter that reveals universe-threatening stakes. Enter Ssrin, a many-headed serpent alien who is on the run from her own past. Ssrin and Anna are inexorably, dangerously drawn to each other, and their contact reveals universe-threatening stakes.

While humanity reels from disaster, Anna must join a small team of civilians, soldiers, and scientists to investigate a mysterious broadcast and unknowable horror. If they can manage to face their own demons, they just might save the world.

There is so much to like about Exordia. So much. And you will have a lot of time to find things to like, because it is a long one. I won’t sit here and tell you “oh it felt shorter than it was!” because it didn’t. The thing is, there is a lot shoved into one book, and it feels that way, and it isn’t necessarily a bad thing! Let us discuss all this, and you can make your own determinations, yeah? Great.

What I Enjoyed:

I will admit, this story really grew on me. I was interested from the start, because the first chapters do a great job of capturing the reader’s attention. We meet Anna, who is presently being accosted by an alien. Obviously, that’s intriguing stuff. Also, Anna has a very compelling backstory: survivor of Kurdish genocide, having to make her own way in America, appropriately gruff yet witty. She certainly drew my interest, and I’ll be honest, I was a bit leery to veer from her point of view.

However, the other characters were (mostly) equally compelling in their own right. Without giving too much away, I adored the complex questions about humanity and what is worth saving that the author posited. Each character has a very different moral compass (and you will likely find yourself agreeing with certain folks more than others, depending on your moral compass), and as always, finds themselves to be the hero of their own story. Who is right? That’s for you to decide, I suppose,  but all sides do a phenomenal job of arguing their points to the reader.

The stakes are, as you can imagine, impossibly high. The alien beings don’t particularly give a damn what any of our Earthly humans want. They see themselves as “superior” beings, which of course brings more thought provoking questions to the surface. There is a lot of action, a lot of difficult and morally ambiguous choices, and a lot of science/math that went a bit over my head, but not in a way that made the book unreadable. There are also a lot of humorous and heartfelt moments that really allow the reader to connect with the characters and world, which of course makes knowing what happens all the more desirable.

What I Struggled With:

Honestly the only downside here? It took me a loooong time to finish this one. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because I did enjoy it. But some of the chapters were over forty minutes long, and that… is maybe fine for some people, but it makes my brain kind of angry? Add to it, it is very science-y. More science/math than the average lay reader will understand, that’s for sure. So you have to be invested in the story, is my point, because if you get lost, I cannot imagine it is easy to find your way again. So to recap: because of the above good stuff, it is worth it to read this, and I don’t regret finishing it, not at all. But do be prepared going in.

Bottom Line: It’s a lot, but it’s worth it, especially if sci-fi (and especially aliens) are your jam.

Reviews in a Minute: Jumping Into January The Tusks of Extinction by Ray Nayler
Published by Tordotcom on January 16, 2024
Pages: 192
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

When you bring back a long-extinct species, there’s more to success than the DNA.

Moscow has resurrected the mammoth, but someone must teach them how to be mammoths, or they are doomed to die out, again.

The late Dr. Damira Khismatullina, the world’s foremost expert in elephant behavior, is called in to help. While she was murdered a year ago, her digitized consciousness is uploaded into the brain of a mammoth.

Can she help the magnificent creatures fend off poachers long enough for their species to take hold?

And will she ever discover the real reason they were brought back?

A tense eco-thriller from a new master of the genre.

At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Tusks of Extinction offers some really great commentary on elephant poaching. It’s terrible, no question. And I certainly have to applaud the author for not only bringing this topic to attention, but managing to craft a whole world around it. Of course, the people who are out there poaching elephants are likely not reading thoughtfully written sci-fi novellas, but again, kudos to the author here.

I suppose I cannot say that I enjoyed this commentary- I certainly would never have been on the side of the poachers, and knowing that this sort of thing happens all the time makes it hard to read about. But I appreciated it nonetheless. Where I had a bit of a problem was that it was kind of hard for me to fully wrap my head around the POV of a mammoth? I mean- obviously Damira was a human once, but it still felt a little.. weird, for lack of a more eloquent term.

This novella is certainly thought provoking, yet calling it a “thriller” might be pushing it. It is certainly quieter than your typical thriller, though perhaps the horror lies in the fact that humans can be so cold and callous, I can certainly accept that as something that will keep a reader up at night. Of course, since it is of a shorter length, we don’t really connect deeply to the characters, though there is enough connection to make their choices feel important to the reader.

Bottom Line: Great commentary and certainly thought provoking, if a little underwhelming at times.

Reviews in a Minute: Jumping Into January Three Eight One by Aliya Whiteley
Published by Solaris on January 16, 2024
Pages: 400
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

An astonishing literary crossover novel about the pressures of growing up and the nature of authorship.

In January 2314, Rowena Savalas – a curator of the vast archive of the twenty-first century’s primitive internet – stumbles upon a story posted in the summer of 2024. She’s quickly drawn into the mystery of the Is it autobiography, fantasy or fraud? What’s the significance of the recurring number 381?

In the story, the protagonist Fairly walks the Horned Road – a quest undertaken by youngsters in her village when they come of age. She is followed by the 'Breathing Man', a looming presence, dogging her heels every step of the way. Everything she was taught about her world is overturned.

Following Fairly’s quest, Rowena comes to question her own choices, and a predictable life of curation becomes one of exploration, adventure and love. As both women’s stories draw to a close, she realises it doesn’t matter whether the story is true or as with the quest itself, it’s the journey that matters.

Do I fully understand this book? Honestly, I do not. Yet somehow, I still kind of liked it? Unusual, that, since I usually just get angry at the thing, but here I was still sort of compelled to proceed on this journey, despite a lot of “wait, what is going on?” comments. I enjoyed Fairly’s story, and her journey, even though I had no idea what the point of it was. I also really liked the parts where Rowena, from a time hundreds of years removed from our own, is researching and reflecting on this story. In fact, I do wish there was more of that, the parts from the future really intrigued me. (And as several other reviewers have mentioned, navigating the “footnotes from the future” on an eARC format is nearly impossible- I do think it will be more enjoyable in a finished format!)

As I mentioned, Fairly was on a journey. Somewhere. For some reason. Our archivist knows as little as we do, which is a fun perspective. There is a lot of commentary on humanity, and our current time period, which I appreciated. Parts of the story were almost like a puzzle, making me want to figure out what I was missing, and that was enjoyable. Less enjoyable, perhaps, was the shift in points of view- I don’t like the switching to begin with, let alone mid-chapter (and in some cases, even mid-sentence) but that is a more personal preference. I think I’d have also liked to have gotten to know Fairly a bit more on a personal level, but maybe that is part of the point- that her journey could be any of ours? Regardless, I doubt I will forget this book any time soon, for it is one of a kind.

Bottom Line: I have to give this one props for being very unique and exploring storytelling in an outside-the-box fashion, while not alienating me from the story. That’s pretty impressive, honestly.

Reviews in a Minute: Jumping Into January The Atlas of Us by Kristin Dwyer
Published by Harper Teen on January 9, 2024
Pages: 336
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

Atlas James has lost her way.

In a last-ditch effort to pull her life together, she’s working on a community service program rehabbing trails in the Western Sierras. The only plus is that the days are so exhausting that Atlas might just be tired enough to forget that this was one of her dad’s favorite places in the world. Before cancer stole him from her life, that is.

Using real names is forbidden on the trail. So Atlas becomes Maps, and with her team—Books, Sugar, Junior, and King—she heads into the wilderness. As she sheds the lies she’s built up as walls to protect herself, she realizes that four strangers might know her better than anyone has before. And with the end of the trail racing to meet them, Maps is left counting down the days until she returns to her old life—without her new family, and without King, who’s become more than just a friend.

Gah, this book! After reading the author’s debut (and wholly falling in love), I was quite excited to see what she had in store for us next. Readers, it is just as spectacular as Some Mistakes Were Made. Which frankly shocked me, because I loved that one a whole lot. Atlas and her story tugged at my heartstrings from the first page, she just felt so real. And in need of some good in her life, frankly. So when she ends up as part of a group of strangers rehabbing (and living on) the trails that her dad so loved, it’s clear that this story is going to illicit some big emotions.

loved the whole journey Atlas (or Maps, as she’s known to her fellow trailmates) undertook. I equally loved the friends she made along the way. This was a group of people who had very little in common- didn’t even know each other’s names for goodness sake- but they all were so well developed, it was impossible not to root for them all. In addition, things can get pretty harrowing out in the middle of the woods. So while a lot of the story revolves around Atlas picking up the pieces of her broken heart and mind, there is that element of survival, too.

Bottom Line: I loved literally every last thing about this book. Kristin Dwyer has become an Auto-Buy Author™ for me, no question.

Have you read any of these books? Plan to? Let us chat about them!  

Posted January 10, 2024 by Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight in In a Minute, Review / 11 Comments


11 responses to “Reviews in a Minute: Jumping Into January

  1. Ooh you read The Tusks of Extinction. I didn’t realize it was a novella. I’ve been thinking of getting it after seeing some bloggers talk about it recently.

    The Parlaiment. Wow. You know how I love The Birds, so this is probably a natural for me.

    Exordia… hmm.

    The atlas of Us sounds great!

  2. I’m regretting not requesting The Parliament! And I actually love birds, although I get these are vicious killers, lol. I’m working on my review of Tusks today, and I liked it more than you, but yes, very tough subject matter to read about. And oops, I completely forgot I had a copy of Three Eight One I need to read😬

  3. The Birds meet The Princess Bride. I am surprised to see you gushing about a book described this way, but I can understand your enthusiasm (and that intro had me rolling). BUT, I was most excited to see your very positive review for Dwyer’s new book. I loved her last one, and Atlas sounds like it was give me the same kind of heart explosions.

  4. I’m glad you were able to brave Three Eight One, though it sounds like it left you with some questions. Which is fine! but the book didn’t hold my attention strongly enough for me to finish it, which is worse than lack of answers for me. Also, it had sort of a quaint atmosphere for a story set in our present (???) and in the future.

    “I have found my people, hidden in the pages of this bird book. Anti-bird book, if you will.”

    “Where I had a bit of a problem was that it was kind of hard for me to fully wrap my head around the POV of a mammoth? I mean- obviously Damira was a human once, but it still felt a little.. weird, for lack of a more eloquent term.”
    This sounds intriguing! I read a book called Eva, where a girl who’s been in a terrible accident has her brain implanted into a chimpanzee’s body (, and I really enjoyed it…so who knows – this one might work for me as well…

  5. An interesting mix of books. The Parliament sounds like it shouldn’t work with a book within a book yet I’m intrigued and the fact you enjoyed it so much says maybe I should give it a read. The Tusks of Extinction sounded bizarre, the whole summary was intriguing even though it’s not necessarily the sort of book I would usually read but as it’s a novella I want to check it out.

  6. The first two books look really interesting. I’ll definitely have to add them to my never-ending TBR, lol. I’m glad you enjoyed them.

    PS. I love your blog design. It’s really cute! 😀

  7. You loved a bird book enough to ring the bell??! Now I *know* the end times are upon us. 😉 Will definitely b reading it now….whenever I can get back into reading again.

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