Landscape With Invisible Hand: A Review

“We all have to find some way to live with the world as it is now.”

When the vuvv first landed they told humanity that they could cure all illnesses. No one would have to work anymore. New technology would change lives.

It should have been perfect.

But no one thought about what no one working would mean for the economy. No one considered that all of this wondrous technology would be behind a pay wall. The early adopters–the ones who could buy into vuvv tech and tap into things the vuvv might want to buy–they’re doing fine. The rest of the world, the people like Adam’s family, not so much.

His mother used to be a bank teller but vuvv tech handles that now. His father, a former car salesman, can’t sell cars to people who can barely afford food thanks to rampant inflation. Adam processes everything that’s happening through his art–gritty and meditative landscapes painting the world he sees not the shiny, retro world the vuvv think of when they look at Earth and certainly not the bright, opportunity-filled one inhabited by the rich living in their elevated houses above the planet.

When Adam and Chloe start dating, they think they can capitalize on their love by broadcasting their dates to vuvv subscribers. Their pastiches of 1950s hangouts with slang and affectations to match are just what the vuvv ordered. But it turns out dating someone and loving someone authentically while aliens watch isn’t easy. As Adam’s relationship falls apart he realizes that sometimes the only way to win the game is to stop playing all together in Landscape with Invisible Hand (2017) by M. T. Anderson.

Landscape with Invisible Hand is a strange, caustic, and sparse. Adam’s near-future world changes when aliens arrive but his struggles are depressingly timely as his family is left reeling in the wake of unemployment and skyrocketing costs.

The skies around his suburban home are filled with vuvv tech and floating buildings while malls and stores are abandoned and looted in the changing economy. Thanks to the polluted water supply Adam suffers dangerous complications of Merrick’s Disease while trying to save up for a visit to a vuvv doctor who could treat him almost immediately.

Instead of chapters this short novel (160 pages, hardcover) is framed in vignettes based on the art that Adam is creating–painted landscapes of his dilapidated house, portraits of Chloe when they first meet and fall in lust, drawings of the stuffed animals his younger sister wants to sell and ultimately throws out in her desperation to help and also to grow up. Adam’s first person narration is incisive and introspective. Anderson uses minimal details to vividly descibe the vuvv and Adam’s bleak and absurd world.

Landscape with Invisible Hand is a provocative and engrossing novel. Adam’s journey and his ultimate realization are surprising and completely satisfying. There are no neat answers or tidy resolutions here but that makes the story all the more authentic and shocking. An excellent choice for readers who aren’t sure about sci-fi yet as well as devoted fans of the genre. Read this one with a friend because so you discuss all the plot points and twists. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee, The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness, A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan, The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher at BookExpo 2017 for review consideration*

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Places No One Knows: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“I start, because if I don’t, then everything just stays the same.”

“I thought he made me a different person altogether, but maybe I was always holding those pieces inside me, waiting for a chance to use them.”

Waverly Camdenmar doesn’t sleep. She runs instead going as fast and as far as her legs will allow until she can’t think and the only option is collapse. Then the sun comes up, she pastes on her best face, and pretends everything is normal. It’s easy to hide behind her academic achievements and the popularity her best friend Maribeth so covets.

Marshall Holt is too apathetic to pretend anything is normal in his life or even remotely okay. Neither has been true about his family or his life for quite some time. He doesn’t care because he’s busy trying to lose himself in the oblivion of drinking too much, smoking too much, and making too many bad decisions. It’s been working great so far except for the whole maybe not graduating thing.

Waverly and Marshall are used to watching each other from afar–a little wary and a little hungry–but never anything more. Not until Waverly’s attempt at deep relaxation dreams her into Marshall’s bedroom and everything changes.

Now when the sun comes up Waverly’s carefully ordered world is stifling instead of safe. After years of trying not to feel anything, Marshall is feeling far too much. Waverly and Marshall thought they knew exactly who they were and who they could be. Now neither of them is sure what that means in Places No One Knows (2016) by Brenna Yovanoff.

Yovanoff’s latest standalone novel is a razor sharp blend of contemporary and magic realism alternating between Waverly and Marshall’s first person narration. This character driven novel focuses on the way their two personalities clash and intersect throughout their strange encounters.

Waverly is analytical and pragmatic. She knows that she is the smartest person in the room and she doesn’t care if that makes her threatening. Her sometime friends describe Waverly as a sociopath or a robot and she feels like she should care about that but it also seems to require too much effort.

Marshall, by contrast, is hyper-sensitive and philosophical and impractical. He doesn’t want to care about the way his family is falling apart or the way everything else in his life is crumbling. But he does care. A lot. And it’s wrecking him.

 

At its core Places No One Knows is a story about how two people engage with each other and also the greater world. Yovanoff’s writing is flawless with deliberate structure and scathing commentary both as a whole and on a sentence-by-sentence level. This story subverts gender roles and societal norms all in the guise of a slightly unconventional love story.

Places No One Knows is an excellent novel filled with fascinating characters. Although Waverly and Marshall’s relationship is a centerpiece of the story both characters also have their own stories to tell and their own journeys to make, which sometimes mirror each other and sometimes diverge, as they struggle to make the active choice to save themselves.

Possible Pairings: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, But Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Break Me Like a Promise by Tiffany Schmidt, All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater, American Street by Ibi Zoboi

Lucky in Love: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Maddie doesn’t believe in luck. She believes in working hard and being realistic. She’d love to dream big like her Stanford-bound best friend but dreams like that have no place in Maddie’s reality.

When her eighteenth birthday turns into a total bust, Maddie decides to indulge in a little self-pity and a lot of whimsy when she buys a lottery ticket. Much to her dismay, the ticket wins big.

Before her win Maddie’s family is struggling with debt and barely managing with her overworked mother and unemployed father constantly fighting about money while Maddie’s older brother has taken time off from college to pay some of the loans he has already accrued. Maddie’s lottery money and her natural caregiver tendencies should solve all of their problems but, as Maddie learns, money can’t fix everything–especially people who may not want to be fixed.

Maddie also learns the hard way that money has the potential to change everyone she’s ever met as acquaintances and even strangers start asking for loans, friends question her behavior, and rumors start flying about her in the tabloids. Maddie’s one refuge is the zoo where her coworker Seth Nguyen seems to have no idea that Maddie is now a multi-millionaire.

Seth is charming, funny, and perfect the way he is now–when he doesn’t know Maddie’s secret. As they grow closer Maddie knows she has to tell Seth the truth. Soon. The only problem is that being honest with him might also mean losing Seth before he and Maddie have a chance to get closer in Lucky in Love (2017) by Kasie West.

West’s latest standalone contemporary novel is narrated by Maddie as she navigates her sudden change of circumstance along with all of the other uncharted moments that come with being a senior in high school. Her love of animals and work at the local zoo add a fun dimension to Maddie’s character and the plot.

Thanks to the lottery, Maddie learns to put herself first and also accept things she can’t control or change. In the midst of the lottery chaos Maddie also develops a sweet relationship with Seth–her Vietnamese-American coworker at the zoo. He gives her some much-needed perspective with his focus on film making and going with the flow even in the face of disheartening micro-aggressions and more overt discrimination. He remains easygoing and fun even when it feels like Maddie’s life is in chaos. Seth is a sweet and mellow counterpoint to hyper-focused overachiever Maddie.

Lucky in Love strikes the perfect balance between reality and wish fulfillment with a charming story sure to leave readers smiling. Lucky in Love is a winning ticket for any readers looking for a frothy and ultimately cheerful story about growing up and chasing your dreams–with or without a lottery win to back you up. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman, Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

The Thousandth Floor: A Review

The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGeeThe year: 2118. The city: Manhattan. The place: The Tower–the world’s first thousand floor skyscraper. Other buildings have since overtaken the Tower but it still stands as an icon in Manhattan where it acts as a city unto itself.

Everyone thinks Leda Cole has everything. But after a stint in rehab, she’s learning that it’s all too easy to give into her addictions when things stop going her way.

Eris Dodd-Radson has the perfect family, wealth, and beauty. Until a family secret ruins all of that.

Rylin Myer’s life is far from glamorous all the way down on the thirty-second floor of the Tower. As the only person who can take care of her younger sister, Rylin is determined to do whatever it takes to survive at any cost.

Watt Bakradi has an illegal computer and hacking skills that could get him in a lot of trouble. When Watt is hired to spy on a girl on the upper floors, he can’t imagine the ways it will complicate his life.

Up on the thousandth floor, Avery Fuller has the best of the best right down to her genetically engineered looks. But this girl who can have everything is haunted by the one thing that remains stubbornly out of her reach.

The Tower is a world unto itself with everything residents could want–especially the residents of the upper floors. But when you’re all the way at the top, it’s a long fall back to the bottom in The Thousandth Floor (2016) by Katharine McGee.

The Thousandth Floor is McGee’s first novel and the start of a new series.

If you have ever wondered what a book might look like with elements of the Gossip Girl series and pieces from the game Tiny Tower, look no further. Filled with twists and turns this novel is exactly what you’d expect from its pitch complete with truly fascinating (and often horrifying) world building.

McGee rotates between the close, third-person points of view of several characters to create narratives with unexpected points of intersection. The Thousandth Floor is a fun bit of mystery with sensationalism and voyeuristic thrills thrown in as readers are thrown into the world of the Tower. Recommended for readers looking for a juicy diversion that doesn’t shy away from drama. A great stepping stone for readers looking to try their hand at speculative fiction as well.

Possible Pairings: Landscape with Invisible Hand by M. T. Anderson, The Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver, The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar, Falling into Place by Amy Zhang

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Currently reading The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee. The year is 2118 and most of Manhattan has been redesigned to accommodate The Tower–the first thousand floor skyscraper in the world. The Tower is a world unto itself with everything residents could want–especially the residents of the upper floors. But when you're all the way at the top, it's a long fall back to the bottom. The Thousandth Floor is exactly what you'd expect with a premise that blends Gossip Girl and Tiny Tower. A fun diversion you should watch for this August. #booknerdigans #bookstagram #bookishfeatures #goodreads #bookstagramfeatures #instabook #instareads #igreads #booknerd #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram

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The Gilded Cage: A Review

The Gilded Cage by Lucinda GrayOrphaned at a young age, Katherine Randolph and her brother suddenly find out about a grandfather they never met and an inheritance they can hardly imagine. Moving from their Virginia home to Walthingham Hall in England catapults them both to the highest echelons of society.

Katherine is unprepared for the wealth and luxuries suddenly at her disposal. She is uncertain how she will fit into this new world that seems to accept her brother so much more easily.

When her brother drowns unexpectedly, Katherine refuses to believe that it was an accident. Everyone at Walthingham is keen to see Katherine observe proper mourning customs and move on. But how can she when she suspects foul play in her brother’s death? With no one to trust and far too many likely suspects, Katherine will have to sift through Walthingham’s many secrets and sinister lies if she hopes to unearth the truth before it’s too late in The Gilded Cage (2016) by Lucinda Gray.

Katherine is an interesting heroine and narrator. Throughout the novel her American, working class sensibilities come up against the strict standards of British high society showcasing the contrasts between both. Although set slightly before its start in the 1870s, this book’s depiction of 1820s England hearkens back to the gilded age of the US as well.

While Katherine is persistent and headstrong, it is unfortunately often the male characters in this story that discover vital clues to unraveling the mysteries surrounding Walthingham.

The Gilded Cage is a solid gothic mystery. While the story is atmospheric and spooky (complete with a truly chilling asylum), details beyond that about the time period are sparse in this thin novel. Readers familiar with mystery tropes will also likely realize what’s happening at Walthingham long before Katherine. Short chapters and a few genuinely jaw dropping moments make The Gilded Cage a fast-paced story ideal for readers seeking a quick diversion.

Possible Pairings: The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron, These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly, The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman, A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee, A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

These Shallow Graves: A Review

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer DonnellyNew York. 1890. Jo Montfort wants her education and her life to mean something. She doesn’t want to finish out her time at school only to get married. Jo dreams of following in the footsteps of Nellie Bly to become a famous reporter who can write articles to help make the world better.

Jo’s dreams, and her more prosaic future, become uncertain in the wake of her father’s accidental death while cleaning his revolver. The only problem: Jo knows her father would never have been reckless enough to clean a loaded gun.

With the help of an ambitious young reporter, Jo sets out to find the truth. In her search for the truth, Jo will dig up old secrets and shocking truths in These Shallows Graves (2015) by Jennifer Donnelly.

These Shallow Graves is a standalone historical fiction novel.

Donnelly’s novel is well-researched and thorough bringing the world of 1890s New York to life around Jo’s story with thoughtful details and historically accurate settings.

The characters pale in comparison to these rich settings. Although Jo grows throughout These Shallow Graves, she remains painfully naive and idealistic to a fault. Her sensibilities are also decidedly (frustratingly) modern despite her upbringing in New York’s Gilded Age. Jo remains a fun, very feminist, heroine in this story about a girl making her own way but it’s impossible to wonder how likely such a story would be in the time period of the novel.

Jo never quite operates comfortably within her time period and the story suffers a loss of credibility as a result. As a mystery (and a romance) These Shallow Graves works well but not, perhaps, as well as it could while certain motivations and events bear the scrutiny of a close reading better than others.

These Shallow Graves is another fine historical mystery from Donnelly with the requisite doses of romance and suspense. Readers looking for an immersive read and a strong heroine will find much to recommend here.

Possible Pairings: Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George, The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman, Eighty Days by Matthew Goodman, The Gilded Cage by Lucinda Gray, A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra Harvey, A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee,  Nobody’s Secret by Michaela MacColl, These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

*A copy of this book was acquired from the publisher at BEA 2015 for review consideration*

The Rest of Us Just Live Here: A Review

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick NessMikey isn’t the chosen one. He’s not going to fall in love with a vampire. (It’s hard enough just trying to tell Henna how he feels now that she’s finally broken up with her boyfriend.) He isn’t going to change his name to Finn or Satchel or Kerouac. He isn’t going to fight zombies. (Not when he’s busy trying to keep his own OCD tendencies under control.) He isn’t going to rid the town of ghosts. (Not when the almost-loss of his sister is still so fresh.)

Sometimes it’s hard being the chosen one. Just ask any of the Indie kids at school. But, as Mikey knows all too well, sometimes it’s also hard just being a regular guy trying to make it through senior year and make sense of his life–hopefully before the high school gets blown up. Again.

When it feels like every week there’s a new impending doom, sometimes the most extraordinary thing to do is live your regular not-chosen-one life. Even if your best friend is worshiped by cats in The Rest of Us Just Live Here (2015) by Patrick Ness.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here is Ness’ clever send-off of almost every recent supernatural/paranormal trend to have hit YA literature. Remember when everyone was falling in love with vampires? What about the soul eating ghosts? Or way back when the big thing everyone was dealing with was Gods? They all make an appearance in Mikey’s town where high schools get blown up more often than kids named Finn end up at the center of a battle for humanity.

But none of that is really Mikey’s problem because he isn’t an indie kid and, as such, it’s also not a concern of The Rest of Us Just Live Here. Chapter headings explain the “big” story as indie kids Satchel and Finn (not the dead one, the other one) try to save the world from something . . . weird. Meanwhile this book focuses on Mikey’s life in the background of this supernatural drama as he looks toward the end of high school and all of the uncertainty it holds for himself, his best friend Jared, Henna–the girl he thinks he loves, and Mikey’s sister Mel.

The thing to remember here, is that despite the backdrop of supernatural on every level, The Rest of Us Just Live Here is basically a contemporary story. And a familiar one at that with Mikey’s uncertainty about nearly everything except his rock solid bond with his best friends.

While the premise of characters doing the best they can on the periphery of a bigger drama seems original, in Ness’ hands it feels decidedly trite. Something in the execution of The Rest of Us Just Live Here–with its obvious nods to classic YA like Twilight and TV shows like Buffymakes this otherwise enjoyable novel feel unoriginal and slight. While not necessarily a bad thing for every reader, it can make it hard to connect with (or even care) about these characters.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here is an ideal choice for readers who like their stories a bit zany and their adventures madcap. Recommended for readers suffering from paranormal romance/dystopian adventure fatigue.

Possible Pairings: Landscape with Invisible Hand by M. T. Anderson, Geek Fantasy Novel by E. Archer, Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, Tumble & Fall by Alexandra Coutts, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer, Denton Little’s Deathdate by Lance Rubin, All We Have is Now by Lisa Schroeder, We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach