Dark Matter

This book by Blake Crouch is a combination of literary fiction and science fiction. It is about Jason Dessen, a physics professor at a small university. The novel opens with him and his family enjoying a family dinner. Jason and his wife, Daniella, reflect on how neither one of them had the professional success that they wanted. But they both agree that they are happy and satisfied with their lives.

On that night, Jason is kidnapped by a stranger and wakes up in an unfamiliar place. He doesn’t recognize anyone, but they all call him by name and respect him. He tries to navigate his disorientation and figure out how to get back to his wife and family.

This book is classified as a science fiction because it deals with quantum mechanics. But it also has elements of a typical thriller and is clear in its themes. This novel is about family and what is more important in life- success in work or with raising a loving family. Crouch is unambiguous in his opinion on which of these are paramount for a happy life.

I really liked this novel. It was an easy read that wasn’t too bogged down with the science. It also didn’t feel too pedantic in its themes and how Crouch addressed them. I would read other books he has published, like his Wayward Pines series.

3/5

A Conjuring of Light

I’m glad that I didn’t read the second book until I also had this one in my hand. The cliffhanger at the end of the second one was intense. The final book in this trilogy follows the same characters as the previous two. Kell must deal with the consequences of his actions from the beginning of the series and Lila finally comes into her own.
This novel also mostly stays in Red London. It is focused on the Antari from every world and the power they have. I liked most of the plot and resolution, but there were discrepancies that made this novel feel under-edited and rushed.
When Lila and Kell first meet in A Darker Shade of Magic, one of the first things he notices is that her eyes are different- one is fake. Then in this one, for no apparent reason, Kell doesn’t know about her fake eye until it is a plot point. I think the reason that Lila had a fake eye was cheap and predictable. It was treated as a huge plot twist, but I thought it was obvious. Maybe Schwab wanted Kell to “find out” with us to lend credibility to her poorly crafted plot twist.
Overall, I found this novel to be predictable and way too long. This series started out promising with the idea of quantum physics and magic, but it quickly became just another fantasy series in this conclusion to the trilogy.
3/5

A Gathering of Shadows

This novel is the sequel to A Darker Shade of Magic. It picks up a few months after the end of the first book. This novel is about the consequences of the events of the first novel and adds in more- The Element Games. This is a competition between three Red London nations and displays the strengths and differences in one world instead of between different Londons.

Schwab continues to follow Lila Bard, the thief from Gray London, and Kell, Red London’s Antari. We also learn more about Rhy, the prince and Kell’s brother, and Holland, White London’s Antari. We are also introduced to Alucard Emery, the captain of the ship that Lila joins and her new mentor. Emery and Rhy quickly became two of my favorite characters in the series. They are both a little dramatic and I love it. I also liked that we were able to see the consequences of Kell and Rhy’s connection from Rhy’s perspective.

I loved this book. The concept of The Element Games felt a little contrived, but I loved the deeper look into Red London instead of just skimming from world to world. I also felt like Lila finally started to come into her own. She grows so much as a character while she figures out how to use her magic. I love that she rarely uses it for straightforward good. She is selfish, chaotic, and complicated. And it’s wonderful.

This novel made me laugh out loud and the cliffhanger at the end is amazing. This book was stronger than the first, in my opinion, and I want to read more of Schwab’s writing.

4/5

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal

Like I’ve said before, I have little to no knowledge of Marvel outside of MCU. So I’ve heard of Ms. Marvel, and I’d heard the hype about this newer series, starting a Muslim American teenager living in Jersey City. While MCU hasn’t had much diversity (where is our Black Widow movie??) the comics have been doing alright from what I can tell.

This graphic novel collects the first five issues of Ms. Marvel. It follows Kamala Khan as she goes through high school, gets powers, hangs out with her friends, and saves lives. She struggles with the meaning behind her newly-acquired powers and what she is obligated to do with them.

Even though my family is not Muslim, there are so many similarities between Kamala’s parents and mine. These similarities, plus the occasional Arabic, were like little gems for me. I’ve spent the majority of my life without seeing people who look like me in the media. Well, unless they played Terrorist #3. I can’t even begin to express how I fell when I see a superhero who looks like me.

Overall, I enjoyed this graphic novel a lot. Most of it was introductory in nature, so I can’t wait to read more of the series to see where they go.

4/5

The Handmaid’s Tale

When I read this book for my 2016 Reading Challenge, I’d just heard about the TV series for Hulu. I’m reviewing this book through a recommendation. If there’s anything else that you want me to read and review, please don’t hesitate to ask! When I say that this book changed the way I think, I do so without a hint of irony. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is literary without being pretentious and, since January 20, 2107, closer to reality in the United States than we ever expected.

For those unfamiliar with the novel, it follows the story of Offred, a woman who is a Handmaid. Handmaids are women whose function is to sexually satisfy and bear children for the elite of a new religious oligarchy. But these men who are the head of the new system also have wives. Offred is assigned to The Commander and his wife, Serena Joy, because she is infertile. In actuality, The Commander is infertile, but men are not allowed to be infertile under the laws of Gilead, the new nation and government.

I’ve read the majority of classic dystopian novels. This one stands out to me for three reasons: the female protagonist, its subsequent focus on female issues, and that it is from the perspective of someone who remembers ‘before’. I like 1984 and Brave New World, but they have no concern for women beyond the typical archetypal roles of whore and/or mother. The Handmaid’s Tale is from the perspective of a woman who remembers the freedom she had before the current extreme patriarchal society that took over.

I can’t really express how much this novel affected me in just a few short paragraphs. I have trouble articulating it at all, actually. I read literature to gain perspectives that aren’t my own. But we are just a few small steps away from a United States that could resemble the one that Offred lives in. I love this novel because it’s a mixture f many of my favorite genres: dystopian, feminist, and sci-fi/fantasy. Every word of this novel resounded with me and I already can’t wait to read it again.

5/5

Norse Mythology

This fast-paced and readable version of Norse myths by Neil Gaiman came out just in time to promote American Gods. Gaiman retold each myth simply, but with his usual flair and style. He structures them almost like short stories, that when combined, tell a complete story.

If one has any knowledge of Norse mythology, or has seen a Marvel movie recently, the characters in the stories are familiar: Odin, Thor, and Loki. These are Gaiman’s interpretation of these characters’ lives. He starts at the creation of the world and tells through Ragnarok, or the ‘final destiny of the Gods’.

I enjoyed Gaiman’s telling of these myths. In his introduction he invites the reader to imagine the myths as your own, as he and countless others have done. The individual stories go quickly and are easy to follow. But if you have trouble remembering characters, there is a handy glossary in the back. I enjoyed it a lot, but there was nothing particularly memorable about it. Unless you are a fan of Norse mythology or Neil Gaiman, this probably isn’t the book for you.

4/5

A Darker Shade of Magic

This is another book that I judged by its cover. I love the minimalistic/screenprint vibe and the design of the title as well. After picking it up, I went to the subjects on the Library of Congress page and saw “Magic–Fiction” and “Quantum Theory–Fiction”, and that was all I needed to check it out.

V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic is the first in her Darker Shades trilogy. This series is set where four different universes are layered one on top of another, joining at London, England. Kell, who is one of the most powerful sorcerers in the world, can travel from universe to universe, but only laterally. He is from “Red” London, which is where magic thrives. He can either go one way into “Gray”, which is our London, or if he goes the other way from Red, he can go to “White” and then “Black”. (So Black, White, Red, Gray). Black London is shut off because magic overran them and they had to cut it off to stop it from ruining the rest of the worlds. Delilah Bard, a thief from Gray London, joins Kell on his quest to return an artifact to Black London and save all of the worlds.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. Schwab writes engaging prose and the story is fairly fast-paced. I would have loved a dictionary and/or maps for reference, but that’s because I’m used to it, not because it’s necessary. I love the blend of science and fantasy, and I can’t wait to see where she goes with the rest of the trilogy.

4/5