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How Can I Help You by Laura Sims

How Can I Help You

How Can I Help You is a dual narrative that follows two unlikable characters: Margo (a nurse in hiding) and Patricia (a failed novelist turned reference librarian).

While I thought the premise sounded great—I love novels set in libraries and thought a thriller set in one was a great idea—the story didn't feel fully formed. The main characters are terrible people, and generally I wouldn't take issue with unlikable characters. However, I feel cheated as a reader when they feel partially developed or unrealistic. Margo's "desires" are written in a way that is meant to unsettle but comes off exaggerated on paper. Patricia is annoying, constantly talking about her failed novel while penning a new one, using Margo as her muse. There was nothing to her character other than "I will do anything to be become a published novelist". As a writer, I found this overblown and obnoxious. There needed to be more to her character, and Margo's. Sure, Margo's past is revealed—fairly vaguely, I might add—but none of it mattered at all to me.

I also really disliked the sprint of an ending. It was rushed and sloppy, as if Sims couldn't be done with the story fast enough.

As an occasional reader of thrillers, I realize much of my gripes are likely my tastes and not a jab at this novel in particular. While I didn't love this book, I didn't hate it either. I read it in one sitting, so it gripped me from the start. It just left me wanting something with more depth by the end.

*Thanks to Putnam and NetGalley for the ARC.*

The Lies of the Ajungo by Moses Ose Utomi

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*Thank you to Tor and NetGalley for the ARC.*

The Lies of the Ajungo is a heart-wrenching tale of survival, truth, and politics. While short, it packs a punch with its vivid imagery, tight plot, and intriguing character arcs.

If you enjoy stories set in the African desert, magical realism, or survival plot lines, I recommend giving this a read when it comes out in March 2023.

Nothing but the Rain by Naomi Salman

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*Thank you to Tor and NetGalley for the ARC.*

Nothing But the Rain is a short yet compelling read. Taking place in isolation, it is a perfect setting for suspense. Laverne is an intriguing narrator, and I felt I grew to enjoy her voice more at the tail end of the story. Many questions are left unanswered, and I found that better than any explanation Salman might have given.

If you like epistolary stories, apocalyptic/quarantine scenarios, and morally gray narrators, I recommend giving this a go when it's released in March.

Dual Memory by Sue Burke

Dual Memory

*Thank you to Tor and NetGalley for the ARC.*

Without spoilers, Dual Memory is a science fiction novel that takes place on a secluded isle sometime in the future. It is full of artificial intelligence (from personal assistant gadgets to the security systems in buildings), raiders, intrigue, and alien lifeforms.

Sue Burke does a fantastic job weaving Antonio and Par Augustus's points of view, and I found I enjoyed the Leviathan League and Bronzewing subplots, despite not generally loving wartime stories. The novel is packed with interpersonal connections, mystery, and character, and I will definitely be tracking down Burke's other novels because I enjoyed this one so much.

I'd recommend this book to fans of Her and readers who appreciate conscious machines, futuristic war scenarios, and moral ambiguity.

Maeve Fly by CJ Leede

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To start, I'd like to thank Tor Nightfire for the ARC.

This book gripped me on page one; I didn't want to put it down, and when I had to, I found myself wandering back to Maeve and her horrifying yet fascinating personality.

Leede's writing is brilliant. She really captures the essence of a late twentysomething in Anaheim, CA with the notion that they are other, superior, a lone wolf. Her descriptions were visceral and disgusting, and I mean that in the best way possible. Though the book isn't overflowing with gore, there is a fair amount of it, and it is done with finesse and tact.

While I enjoyed the story, I would have preferred the ending to be less obvious. Despite being predictable, I thoroughly enjoyed Maeve's journey into madness and debauchery from beginning to end.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who loves thrillers set in California, American Psycho, or female serial killers.

Africa Risen: A New Era of Speculative Fiction

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Africa Risen is a great collection by new-to-me writers. Each story provides a fascinating take on common science fiction or fantasy plots, and I appreciated reading tales that weren't influenced by Western culture. There were many stories I enjoyed and only a few I didn't care for. What follows is a list of all the stories within this collection, listed in order of my preference:

IRL

The Lady of the Yellow-Painted Library

The Papermakers

A Soul of Small Places

The Sugar Mill

Ghost Ship

Biscuit and Milk

Air to Shape Lungs

When the Mata Wata Met a Demon

The Blue House

Mami Wataworks

A Girl Crawls in a Dark Corner

The Soul Would Have No Rainbow

Ruler of the Rear Guard

Exiles of Witchery

Door Crashers

Rear Mirror

Hanfo Driver

A Dream of Electric Mothers

Star Watchers

Liquid Twilight

A Knight in Tunisia

The Taloned Beast

The Carving of War

Peeling Time (Deluxe Edition)

Housewarming for a Lion Goddess

The Devil is Us

Cloud Mine

March Magic

Simbi

Once Upon a Time in 1967

Deification of Ogodo

I would recommend this collection to anyone looking for a sci-fi/fantasy collection written from a new perspective. With the large collection of stories, there's sure to be something for everyone.

*Thanks to Tor for providing me with an ARC.*

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

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Truth be told, it took me a while to get sucked into Kvothe's story. But, at around page 150, I was all in!

Rothfuss is a phenomenal storyteller. His prose is delightful and easy to read, and his descriptions were lush without being flowery.

Kvothe is an intriguing character and, despite being gifted, he fucks up a lot. It helps that the story begins when he's in his early teens; his development and journey feels more honest and realistic because of his numerous faults.

The magical elements are also understated, which I appreciate. It was refreshing to see magic as a natural part of the world instead of the main focus. Though magical elements are there, and add quite a bit to the story, Kvothe's growth as a person is at the forefront of the tale.

Though a long read, I recommend The Name of the Wind to anyone looking for a great fantasy novel that focuses more on character than magic.

Leech by Hiron Ennes

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What an ambitious debut! A parasitic Institute, the gothic landscape of a dystopic future, humans with machines for body parts, and another parasite on the verge of destroying life as Verdira and Inultus know it.

I initially picked this up because I loved the comp. title, Wuthering Heights. Unfortunately, nothing about Leech, apart from living in isolation, found its way into this novel. Sure, there are gothic elements galore, and some parallels to Frankenstein, but if you're looking for a deeply flawed yet realistic romance, this isn't the book you're looking for.

I loved the prose. Ennes has a knack for imagery and setting. My main criticism is that there was too much going on. In isolation, many of the elements would have worked well, but lumping them together and stitching them into a whole at the tail end of the novel didn't really work. I also felt let down by the ending, but perhaps it was meant as a cliffhanger.

Though it wasn't perfect, I'd recommend this to fans of ambitious sci-fi with a gothic slant.

*Thank you to Tor for the advanced copy.*

The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean

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The Book Eaters is a fantastic fantasy debut and my favorite read this year. It tackles themes such as tradition, motherhood, trauma, and found family while staying grounded and whimsical. I loved the contemporary yet quirky background of the Families, and I adored Devon and Cai.

The six Families are backward, conservative, and traditional. Everything they do is for the greater good of the book eater line. However, when Devon's son is born with a proboscis tongue, she knows they'll never let him live. He is a mind eater and must be taken care of.

The novel weaves the past with the present in a way that solidifies the horrors of the Families and the traditions they uphold. I recommend this to anyone who appreciates a grounded fantasy, family dynamics, and novels that upend and question tradition.

Traces by Sophie Johannis

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Traces is a phenomenal debut. It is poignant, beautiful, and compelling. Aiden and Cole play off each other really well, and I felt their relationship was both heartwarming and the perfect amount of awkward.

Without giving too much away, Traces is a novel about Aiden, a girl who’s just learned she’s an empath. If you like YA fiction with a dash of magical realism and psychological fiction, I highly recommend it.

I’ll definitely be picking up Below, the second novel in the Traces trilogy., once I’ve worked through my current TBR.

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