Halloween is almost here, m’dears! I recently had the chance to do some traveling and get caught up on four horror/Gothic/spooky adjacent books from my TBR (To Be Read) list/mountain, and I want to share the bounty with you. We’ve got YA, we’ve got adult, we’ve got vampires, tree creatures, parasites, and more! So grab a cup of your favorite hot beverage and a blanket and settle in for some spooky reads. Vampires of El Norte by Isabel Cañas From the publisher: Vampires and vaqueros face off on the Texas-Mexico border in this supernatural western from the author of The Hacienda. I loved The Hacienda. I reviewed it for this blog back in 2021. And once again, Isabel is teaching me Mexican history via horror novels. This time the setting is 1840s Mexico near the Texas border. While The Hacienda was full of Gothic elements, VoEN is much more character Read more »
From the publisher: A delightful novel about alien invasions, conspiracies, and the incredibly silly things people are willing to believe—some of which may actually be true. Part alien-abduction adventure, part road trip saga, part romantic comedy, The Road to Roswell is packed full of Men in Black, Elvis impersonators, tourist traps, rattlesnakes, chemtrails, and Close Encounters of the Third, Fourth, and Fifth kind.
The Road to Roswell is a screwball science fiction romantic comedy. A woman travels to Roswell to be her best friend’s Maid of Honor and is kidnapped by a tumbleweed alien while she is wearing a neon green, glow-in-the-dark bridesmaid outfit. The tumbleweed takes her on the run, then kidnaps a con man, a true believer of alien conspiracies, a professional gambler, and the driver of a large mobile home.
There’s nothing particularly original here, but the story is a lot of fun (if a little long). The author works in a lot of pop culture references that add to the story, and I enjoyed the southwestern setting. This book would probably be especially fun to listen to on a long road trip.
This is science fiction that doesn’t take itself – or humanity – very seriously. There is a lot of sly, subtle humor, and even the unlikable characters are likable. The many references to western movie tropes were especially fun, and there are a lot of nods to “kidnapped by an alien” tropes as well. There are some plot twists – not very well hidden plot twists – and commentary on the gullibility of humans who Want to Believe in whatever conspiracy theory they’ve latched on to. I found the ending a bit flat.
The Road to Roswell reminded me of the author’s book Crosstalk but also Men in Black, Little Miss Sunshine, the funny episodes of the X-Files, and Project Hail Mary.
The Galesburg Public Library owns The Road to Roswell and other books by author Connie Willis in multiple formats.
From the publisher: Inheriting your uncle’s supervillain business is more complicated than you might think. Particularly when you discover who’s running the place.
Charlie, the narrator of Starter Villain, is something of an affable idiot. Divorced and living in the childhood home he doesn’t even own due to complications with his siblings after his father’s death, he was laid off from his job as a journalist and is now working as a substitute teacher. He wants to buy a beloved local pub, but he has no money and no collateral. The best thing he has going for him is his relationship with his cats.
Then Charlie’s estranged Uncle Jake dies, and his lawyer shows up asking Charlie to attend his uncle’s memorial. Charlie is hesitant, and finds the request a little weird, but he agrees. And so his life as a starter villain begins. Yes, his uncle owned a large chain of parking structures, but he had other, bigger, more nefarious interests as well (mwa ha ha).
I enjoyed the Chicago area setting, and our narrator is an affable naïf who is fun to spend time with. Scalzi is clearly a cat lover and that certainly resonated with me. In the super villain business, it’s not dogs who spy for villains on other villains. (Yes, the cats are intelligent spies who can type on a computer using a special keyboard. Including Charlie’s cats.) I learned a new word – quisling! (“A traitor who collaborates with an enemy force occupying their country” according to the OED.) The narrative is pro-union, and against cats murdering birds. Intelligent talking dolphins also come into play, and I couldn’t stop myself from singing “So Long and Thanks for All the Fish” every time they made an appearance.
Charlie does better handling the various super villains that he meets than one might expect, and as he doesn’t take things seriously it was hard for me as the reader to take things seriously either. I perhaps did not enjoy Starter Villain as much as I enjoyed The Kaiju Preservation Society; the whole thing came off as a little less original, and the “starter villain” idea began to wear a little thin. Still, Starter Villain was a fun read with some genuine laughs for me.
I read an advance reader copy of Starter Villain from Netgalley. It is scheduled to be released on September 19 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library.
From the publisher: 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. This astonishing debut is a remarkable story of struggle, change, and hope.
Parts of The Great Transition are some of the best climate fiction I have read. In this book, climate change happened. Fires, floods. Massive numbers of climate refugees. Massive extinctions. All the terrible things that we know are coming came. Then a movement took back the planet from the climate deniers and criminals and humanity reached net zero emissions.
This is a remarkable debut novel. The writing is assured. The author clearly did his research on climate change. The planet reached the brink but was pulled back, but only at incredible cost in lives and species. There is one section where the author describes the effort to save the last stand of giant sequoias that moved me to tears. What are we doing to the only planet that we have?
No mistaking, this book has an agenda. The author wants us to look in the mirror and confront what’s coming, make some changes so the worst is changed to not quite the worst. Hold accountable the people who are responsible for the climate damage. But the book also has at its center a family. Mom and dad were heroes in the effort to save the planet. Both lost their parents and families to climate change. Their daughter Emi suffers from anxiety and an eating disorder. Her mom despairs that Emi doesn’t appreciate how good she has it.
The author is a teacher and I feel like the book really shows that he knows young people today. Emi feels very believable. Her mother is still fighting the climate fight; her father has moved on and wants to appreciate the good things. This conflict causes a lot of family drama. The author uses a homework device to tell parts of the backstory; Emi is writing a report on the Great Transition. I didn’t find this wholly effective. Parts 1-3 are the best part of the book. I was wholly immersed. I did not find Parts 4-6 as effective. The family drama gets to be a bit much and the plot turns a little too Hollywood. Also, I thought the book had ended two times before it finally did. It might have been more effective to leave some things unsaid.
Still, I found this book easy to read and very thought provoking, both hopeful and terrified for our common future on planet Earth. I highly recommend it for fans of climate fiction and dystopia.
I read an advance reader copy of The Great Transition. It is scheduled to be published on August 15, and the Galesburg Public Library will own the book in print, as an ebook, and in audio.
From the publisher: Stranded on a dead planet with her mortal enemy, a spy must survive and uncover a conspiracy in the first book of an epic space opera trilogy.
The Blighted Stars is an enemies to lovers story, although it takes a bit of patience to get there. It’s the future. Earth and many other habitable planets have been “shrouded” by a lichen that consumes everything in its path, turning green worlds into grey ones. Humans have developed technology that allows them to die and be reprinted (like on a 3D printer – yeah, I found this concept hard to wrap my head around).
Powerful families rule humanity. Family members have guards, called Exemplars, who are printed with extra pathways that give them strength and skills. Humanity needs a rare substance called relkatite to enable the current way of life. A rebel group believes that the search for relkatite is tied into the ruination of the habitable planets.
Tarquin Mercator, the son of one powerful leader, goes on a mission to claim a planet for humanity, but upon arrival he and the other crew members find the planet is already shrouded. Guarding Tarquin is an Exemplar who appears to be a woman named Aera Lockhart but who is in fact Naira Sharp, his father’s former Exemplar. A member of the rebellion, she was caught, tried, and “put on ice” so she can’t be reprinted – but who has been printed in the body of another for reasons unknown even to her. Although she served Tarquin’s father for many years, she now has reason to hate the whole family.
It’s actually hard to summarize the plot of this book. There is a lot going on, and it goes on for too long before the real action begins about halfway through the book. I found the first couple hundred pages very slow moving. The 3D printing thing is weird. Depending on when you were backed up, you may or may not remember what happened lately if you die. So if, for example, you fall in love with your enemy and are killed before you are backed up, you won’t remember that. Also, if you are killed violently, your neural map “cracks” and you lose your mind and cannot be reprinted. Stuff about the reprinting doesn’t make sense to me (like how a violent death can cause you to crack, and how you can be reprinted in someone else’s body).
I found the plot confusing but also intriguing. There’s a lot of vocabulary that helps with the world building but that needs figuring out. Naira Sharp is a very confident woman. Tarquin Mercator is a bit of a naïf, kept in the dark by his family, an academic who blindly has faith in things he shouldn’t have faith in, but he’s attractive and a nice guy. Their relationship is definitely the highlight of the story, and I’ll probably continue the series just to see what happens there.
I read an advance reader copy of The Blighted Stars. It will be published in late May and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library in print and as an ebook.
From the publisher: Summer has come to Niflheim. The lichens are growing, the six-winged bat-things are chirping, and much to his own surprise, Mickey Barnes is still alive—that last part thanks almost entirely to the fact that Commander Marshall believes that the colony’s creeper neighbors are holding an antimatter bomb, and that Mickey is the only one who’s keeping them from using it. Mickey’s just another colonist now. Instead of cleaning out the reactor core, he spends his time these days cleaning out the rabbit hutches. It’s not a bad life. It’s not going to last.
Antimatter Blues is a sequel, and although you probably can read this book without reading the first, I wouldn’t recommend it. You’ll get a lot more out of Antimatter Blues if you’ve read Mickey7. In the first book, one man (Mickey) is an expendable. This means his consciousness is downloaded so that when he is killed doing something dangerous, a clone can be produced and his consciousness uploaded. This is not a popular job, and by the end of book 1 Mickey has managed to retire from being an expendable. But space is a harsh place. Various people trying to inhabit various planets in both books have learned that the hard way. In Antimatter Blues, new perils and an unsympathetic commander complicate and endanger Mickey’s life.
There is a sentient, intelligent species already living on the planet that Mickey and friends are trying to colonize, and we learn a lot more about them in Antimatter Blues. I personally love meeting intelligent alien species who don’t immediately want to vaporize humans. This book was a lot of fun, and while some things were predictable, it kept me guessing. At one point I surprised myself by putting the book down for a breather when things got a little tense. There’s some humor and some romance, Mickey is a likable narrator, and the dialog is realistic and the banter snappy. Maybe it’s not treading new ground, but I like going over old ground sometimes. (That’s why I enjoy watching all the Star Trek series!)
Is there going to be another book in the series? It seems like there is plenty of room for growth with this cast of characters and their struggle to survive on a hostile planet, but Antimatter Blues also wrapped up very neatly. If there is another book in the series, I will eagerly read it.
I read an advance reader copy from Netgalley.
If you are looking for something to read while waiting for the next book in the Murderbot Diaries, you might enjoy Mickey7 and Antimatter Blues. The Galesburg Public Library owns Mickey7 in print, digital, and audio and will own Antimatter Blues in the same formats when it is published in March.
From the publisher: When an experimental shuttlecraft fails, Captain Christopher Pike suspects a mechanical malfunction—only to discover the very principles on which Starfleet bases its technology have simply stopped functioning. He and his crewmates are forced to abandon ship in a dangerous maneuver that scatters their party across the strangest new world they’ve ever encountered.
Strange New Worlds: The High Country is a pretty darn good Star Trek novel. I’m a huge fan of Star Trek TV series and movies, but I don’t read a lot of the books. I’d say I’ve found more of them to be disappointing than satisfactory.
This is the first book in the Strange New World series and I enjoyed it. Author John Jackson Miller does a good job of presenting the new crew of the old Enterprise. The characters we see most are Captain Pike, Lieutenant Spock, Lieutenant Commander Chin-Riley, and Ensign Uhura. The best parts of the novel are when two or more of them are interacting. My one complaint about the book is that there is an overly long stretch when they are separated, and we spend way too much time watching Captain Pike build towers and ride horses and cowboy it up while trying to get along with the local people (who we don’t know and will probably never see again). Yawn.
The book opens with the four mentioned above in an experimental shuttle. It’s quite a stretch to have Pike AND Number One AND Spock all leave the Enterprise at the same time, but the author does the best job he can explaining that away. I love Uhura on the new show; the actor is terrific, and the author of this book does a good job capturing how Uhura is portrayed. She has a wonderful storyline with a new species that involves some creative communicating. It really spotlights what Uhura brings to the table.
The plot is complicated and has a lot of throwbacks to previous Star Trek incidents. Many of the plot devices are familiar ones; I would have liked a bit more originality in terms of how the species running the planet behaves behind the scenes. But overall, I felt the novel did a good job portraying the characters we know from the series. There’s a good chance I will read a second Strange New Worlds novel.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds: The High Country is available now in print and as an ebook from the Galesburg Public Library.
From the publisher: A group of pioneering astropreneurs must overcome never-before-attempted engineering challenges to rescue colleagues stranded at a distant asteroid—kicking off a new space race in which Earth’s climate crisis could well hang in the balance.
Things I liked:
The plot. This book has a terrific story. Climate Change is ravaging the Earth and its economy. Some far-thinking individuals are able to start mining an asteroid for materials and to begin a new way of achieving wealth that helps the planet.
The characters. As is currently true in space explorations, individuals from many countries are involved in the building of a space station near the moon, and I liked the three main characters, who survived a disaster and hope to rescue two colleagues who didn’t make it back from the asteroid.
The setting. The transition of a shell to a bustling space station is a vision I’d like to see happen. Also humans figuring out a way to save the planet before it is too late.
The thing I disliked:
The science. OMG the science. I watch a lot of Star Trek and am used to technobabble, but this story had so much hard science that I did not follow. I’m guessing that it is true or mostly true or theoretically true, so if you are an actual scientist you may love the science. I am not a scientist and was lost in the long descriptive passages about stuff I did not understand. Still, one can skim the science.
This book is the second book in a series, which I did not realize when I chose to read it. The first book is called Delta-V. Reading Delta-V first no doubt would have explained some things, but I don’t think reading it first is required. If you like Andy Weir and don’t mind even more science than is found in his books, you may enjoy Critical Mass.
I read an advance reader copy of Critical Mass from Netgalley.
The book is scheduled to be published on January 24, and the Galesburg Public Library will own it and the first book in print and as a digital ebook and audiobook.
From the publisher: From idyllic small towns to claustrophobic urban landscapes, Mallory Viridian is constantly embroiled in murder cases that only she has the insight to solve. But outside of a classic mystery novel, being surrounded by death doesn’t make you a charming amateur detective, it makes you a suspect and a social pariah. So when Mallory gets the opportunity to take refuge on a sentient space station, she thinks she has the solution. Surely the murders will stop if her only company is alien beings. At first her new existence is peacefully quiet…and markedly devoid of homicide. But when the station agrees to allow additional human guests, Mallory knows the break from her peculiar reality is over….
From the publisher: Humankind discovers intelligent life in an octopus species with its own language and culture, and sets off a high-stakes global competition to dominate the future.