Latest Reviews

Book Review: Walk Into Silence – Susan McBride
Book Review: The Fate of the Tearling – Erika Johansen
Book Review:  The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness – Maddie Dawson
Book Review:  Fractured / The Murder Game by Catherine McKenzie
Book Review:  Emotional Agility – Susan David

January 2017: This Month in Review

You may have noticed I haven’t been posting on my blog that often, but that doesn’t mean I’m not writing about books! In fact, I’m writing more than ever as such outlets as Paste Magazine, Bustle, Tor.com, and Book Riot. If you want to check out what I’m writing, you can at the links below. I also share all my writing on my Facebook page, Swapna Krishna.

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Books & Comics

Space & Science

 

Top 15 Books (& Graphic Novels) of 2016

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Many things about 2016 have been tough, but deciding what to put on this list was surprisingly easy. Last year was full of great books and comics, but in the end, these 15 jumped out at me as my favorites of the year.

Sleeping Giants – Sylvain Neuvel (Del Rey)

2016 was my year of diving headfirst into science fiction and fantasy, and I enjoyed every second of it. Sleeping Giants was an exceptional pleasure because it’s so accessible and easy to read. It’s the story of a young girl who falls through a hole in the Earth and lands on a giant metal hand of alien origin. Twenty years later. that girl is a scientist in charge of a team devoted to studying these alien artifacts. Where did they come from? Why are the pieces scattered around the Earth? It’s just an incredible novel.

 

into the blackInto the Black: The Extraordinary Untold Story of the First Flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia and the Astronauts Who Flew Her – Rowland White – Rowland White (Touchstone)

There were so many great space-related books in 2016, but Into the Black really captured my heart. It’s the story of the development of, and ultimately the first flight of, the space shuttle. The program was beset by cost overruns and delays, and was never able to deliver on its promises. White makes this narrative very engaging; this will go into the history books as one of the definitive accounts of the development of the space shuttle.

 

incarnationsIncarnations: The History of India in Fifty Lives – Sunil Khilnani (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Indian history is so rich, layered, and complex that it’s hard to capture in just one book. It’s incredible, then, that Khilnani was able to do so much justice to the subcontinent’s diversity and long history in just one book. His framing is unique, yet ingenious: He tells the story of the country, as it is today, through 50 people, going back through history. Some—the Buddha, Indira Gandhi—you’ve heard of. But there are many, many more people you haven’t. Each is fascinating and not only helps fill in the history of India, but helps further define what it means to be Indian.

My Last Continentmy last continent – Midge Raymond (Scribner)

My Last Continent isn’t just one of my favorite books of 2016. It’s earned a special place on my shelf in my heart forever. This unassuming novel, about the catastrophic accident of a cruise liner in Antarctica, may seem simple, but it’s anything but. It jumps forward and back through time. The main character, Deb, has been coming to study penguins in Antarctica for years, and she feels a sense of belonging with the continent. It’s that sense, that unexplainable longing for a place that really spoke to me with this book. I’ve visited Antarctica once, and though I’ll likely never step foot on the continent again, it still calls to me. The science and incredible atmosphere round out this tense novel, making it a stellar read from beginning to end.

hidden-figuresHidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race – Margot Lee Shetterly (William Morrow)

When it comes to history, it’s all about how you tell the story. That is what will make or break your book. It can be the most interesting subject on Earth, but if it’s written in a dry manner, your book will be boring. Hidden Figures doesn’t suffer from that problem in the least: Shetterly brings her main characters to life through a narrative style. They leap off the page, these forgotten figures who did so much for Blacks and for women. Read the book, then go see the movie—or see the movie, and then pick up the book. Either way, make sure you don’t miss this excellent read.

something-newSomething New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride – Lucy Knisley (First Second)

I’ve enjoyed all of Lucy Knisley’s graphic memoirs, so I was pretty much first in line with my hand outstretched when I heard this was coming out. It didn’t disappoint in the least; Knisley takes readers through her wedding preparations, with splashy colors on every single page. It’s a delight to read, as readers sympathize with Knisley’s struggles. The book delves into some deeper issues as well, such as the author’s ambivalence about participating in wedding culture, and her fear that marrying a man might erase her bisexuality. All in all, a beautiful, heartwarming read that is sure to bring you joy.

victoria-the-queenVictoria, The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire – Julia Baird (Random House)

If you loved the series The Crown and haven’t picked up Julia Baird’s excellent biography of Queen Victoria, what are you waiting for? It might seem intimidating—at almost 800 pages—but trust me, this book is worth every second you spend with it. Believe it or not, I read this biography in one sitting. That’s how great it is. I knew very little about Queen Victoria when I started this book, despite being something of an Anglophile. Baird brings the queen to life; both strengths and flaws are on display, making Victoria feel real and human. Whether you read it piece by piece or all at once, it’s worth every second you spend with it.

marriage materialMarriage Material – Sathnam Sanghera (Europa Editions)

This was perhaps the most surprising book of 2016 for me. I didn’t know what to expect from Sanghera’s novel about a South Asian family living in the UK. After the unexpected death of his father, Arjun receives a gift he never wanted—his family’s convenience store is his to run. This novel is somber at times, yet hilariously poignant in its descriptions of what it is to be Indian in a sea of white faces. I absolutely loved every second I spent reading this novel, more often than not laughing out loud at the absurdity and beauty of it all.

 

The Association of Small Bombs – Karan Mahajan (Viking Books)

This quiet novel about the long-term effects of violence is haunting and gorgeous. We hear about the large terrorist attacks around the world, but what about the less newsworthy ones? The ones that happen every day, every week, the “small” bombs? Mahajan focuses on one such “small” bomb, based on a true story—a bomb that went off in a Delhi market in 1996. The author not only focuses on the families of the lost, but on those left behind—what does it do to the psyche of a person to survive something like that. It’s a small novel—not even 300 pages—but so incredibly powerful.

 

mooncopMooncop by Tom Gauld (Drawn & Quarterly)

Our lunar colony is slowly being abandoned; one person after another is leaving, heading back home. Each day, the place is quieter than it was the day before. Tom Gauld’s graphic novel focuses on the lone policeman of this lunar colony. Each day, he goes about his tasks, and each day it seems more and more absurd, given how few people are left. It’s touching, thoughtful, and truly funny—a rare combination.

 

sun-moon-earhtSun, Moon, Earth: The History of Solar Eclipses from Omens of Doom to Einstein and Exoplanets – Tyler Nordgren (Basic Books)

There is something poetic about space, about looking at the stars, which makes it such a shame that so many historical science books are just so dry. Nordgren’s history of solar eclipses, however, is anything but. He’s a beautiful writer, and he brings a certain poetry to his intriguing tome, from detailing the significance of solar eclipses in ancient times to interviewing eclipse chasers about their neverending quest for total darkness. It’s a fun read, especially in light of the fact that 2017 will see the first total solar eclipse in the United States in almost 40 years.

lucky-pennyLucky Penny – Ananth Hirsh and Yuko Ota (Oni Press)

I’ve been evangelizing about Lucky Penny since I first read it because I want everyone to know the joy that is this incredible graphic novel. It focuses on the main character of Penny, who’s down on her luck, losing her job and her apartment in the same day. It’s an awesome, hilarious romantic comedy with a heroine who unapologetically nerds out and loves romance novels. I love the cartoon-y art—think Scott Pilgrim—and warm fuzzies I get every time I pick it up. If you’ve never read a graphic novel, trust me: you’ll love this book.

 

daily-showThe Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History as Told by Jon Stewart, the Correspondents, Staff and Guests – Chris Smith and Jon Stewart (Grand Central Publishing)

I am, frankly, shocked that this excellent oral history didn’t receive more press than it did. As a longtime fan of Jon Stewart’s version of The Daily Show, and someone who misses it fiercely in these troubled political times, this book felt almost healing to me. But more than that, if you’re wondering where Trump came from, and how things have gotten this bad, this show provides a somewhat disturbing roadmap that shows pretty much exactly how we ended up here. Well written and expertly assembled, it portrays a Jon Stewart who cared deeply about the show and the people working for him. He wasn’t always perfect, but he came from a genuine place, rather than one of cynicism. The honesty in this book, as well as people’s willingness to reflect on their mistakes in the public sphere, is refreshing and well worth the time it takes to read it.

rolling-blackoutsRolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq – Sarah Glidden (Drawn & Quarterly)

Graphic journalism (journalism told in comic form) is becoming more and more prevalent, which I love. Comics are an incredible medium to tell complex and layered narratives, and nowhere is that more evident than through Rolling Blackouts. Sarah Glidden accompanied some friends on a reporting trip through three countries and reported on what she learned along the way. But more than that, it’s a meditation on what it means to be a journalist and what the goal of journalism is. It’s incredibly drawn (and the production value on the physical book is great—thick pages that soak up the bright colors), and a wonderfully informative journey through different cultures.

charlie-chan-hock-chyeThe Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye – Sonny Liew (Pantheon)

In this masterful work, Sonny Liew created a fictional cartoonist named Charlie Chan Hock Chye, and through him, tells the reader a story of the development of Singapore from 1954 on. It’s an incredible feat, to create a fictional persona and make them so incredibly convincing, yet as you’re reading this, you’ll have to remind yourself over and over again that the person you’re reading about is not, in fact, real. A unique story, in a singular form, and it’s well worth reading.

Book Review: Walk Into Silence – Susan McBride

walk-into-silence.jpgTitle: Walk Into Silence
Author: Susan McBride
ISBN: 9781503937628
Pages: 368
Release Date: December 1, 2016
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Genre: Crime Fiction
Source: Publicist

Summary

Detective Jo Larsen doesn’t think much of it when Patrick Dielman walks into her office and asks her to find his missing wife. After all, in a small town, people aren’t abducted. But as Jo starts digging into the case, she finds puzzles in Jenny Dielman’s past. Did the woman flee to escape a controlling husband, or is there something sinister in her past that has caught up with her?

Review

Winter is the time I like to curl up with mysteries, so when I first heard about Walk Into Silence I was intrigued. I’ve read a few of McBride’s other books before (though not her crime fiction), so I was eager to delve in and see what this book was all about. And I was surprised—not just by the twists and turns of the story, but how immersed I became in it. It’s really difficult these days for me to become utterly hooked on a crime novel just because I’ve read so many. But McBride’s story had me turning the pages quickly because of her wonderful characterization.

One aspect of Walk Into Silence that I loved was the number of major female characters. They are all imperfect, and not all of them are very likeable, and I loved that. You see so many different types of women in this book; there isn’t just one female character that has to be everything for every woman reading the book. McBride’s characters are well-developed, and even when you don’t agree with their decisions, you are emotionally invested in them.

If you’re looking for a satisfying crime novel to delve into this winter, look no further than Walk Into Silence. It’s well-written and engaging, and will keep you hooked. I’m not sure if it’s part of a series, but I was happy reading it as a standalone novel (though I hope there are more to come!).

Other books by Susan McBride

Little Black Dress
The Cougar Club

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Book Review: The Fate of the Tearling – Erika Johansen

Title: The Fate of the Tearling
Author: Erika Johansen
ISBN: 9780062290427
Pages: 496
Release Date: November 29, 2016
Publisher: Harper
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Publisher

The summary may contain spoilers for the previous novels in the Queen of the Tearling series. However, the review is of the entire series and contains no spoilers for the books.

Summary

It’s finally happened: the dreaded Red Queen has sent her armies to invade the Tearling. Queen Kelsea knows that her people don’t have a chance of defending themselves militarily; that’s why she gave herself up to the Red Queen’s forces, sacrificing herself to save her people. But things don’t go quite as Kelsea expects; she doesn’t expect her rival to be so human, so tormented, and the things she discovers disturb her. Will Kelsea be able to save the Tearling, once and for all, or will she succumb to the power of the Red Queen?

Review

I have a lot of feelings about the Tearling series. That’s not the most professional or objective way to begin a review, for sure, but it’s difficult for me to separate how I feel about the series from what I think about it; they’re intertwined. For example, in my head, I know that this series has serious flaws. It has plot holes, character issues, and storytelling problems, just to start. And yet, I don’t really care. I won’t hesitate to wholeheartedly recommend this series to everyone. My reaction to it is emotional, rather than what’s in my head, and I’m okay with that.

The main reason I love this series so much is because of Kelsea herself. Specifically, she is angry, and for good reason. She’s been deceived and lied to her entire life. She’s expected to save her people without knowing her history, with incomplete information, which is virtually impossible. Indeed, the bulk of this novel focuses on how our pasts influence our present. The evils we face today often have their roots in the actions of those who came before us.

The Fate of the Tearling focuses more on The Red Queen of Mortmesne than I expected, to its credit. It fleshed out the villain that has loomed over the entire trilogy. She becomes more than just an evil and malicious presence. Johansen never lets the reader forget that she has done horrible things in her quest for power, and is irredeemable as a queen, but a person? Who was she before she was the Mort queen, before her thirst for power because insatiable? It’s a very interesting character exploration.

I reread the first two novels in the Tearling trilogy before diving into The Fate of the Tearling, and it was a good decision. This book ties back so much to what came before, especially in The Invasion of the Tearling, and it’s worth refreshing your memory before delving into this novel. I’m not going to say a lot about how Johansen wraps up the series, except to say that while I’m not sure I loved her decisions, I do appreciate how daring, creative, and brave it was. Indeed, that’s a great summation of the entire trilogy—it’s not perfect, but in the end, it was great.

Other books by Erika Johansen

The Queen of the Tearling
The Invasion of the Tearling

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Book Review: The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness – Maddie Dawson

Title: The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness Author: Maddie Dawson ISBN: 9781503939103 Pages: 372 Release Date: October 25, 2016 Publisher: Lake Union Publishing Genre: Contemporary Fiction Source: Publisher Summary After the death of her mother, Nina Popkin feels alone in the world. On a whim, she decides to go in search of her birth mother, […]

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Book Review: Fractured / The Murder Game by Catherine McKenzie

Title: Fractured / The Murder Game Author: Catherine McKenzie / Julie Apple ISBN: 9781503937826 / 9781537316604 Pages: 362 / 340 Release Date: October 4, 2016 / November 1, 2016 Publisher: Lake Union / Self-Published Genre: Psychological Thriller / Mystery Source: Publisher / Author Summary Julie Apple Prentice and her family have decided to make a […]

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Book Review: Emotional Agility – Susan David

Title: Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life Author: Susan David ISBN: 9781592409495 Pages: 288 Release Date: September 6, 2016 Publisher: Avery Genre: Nonfiction, Self-Help Source: Publisher Summary Sometimes, not confronting your emotions and taking into account how they affect your behavior can make it difficult to react to change […]

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Book Review: A Deadly Thaw – Sarah Ward

Title: A Deadly Thaw Author: Sarah Ward ISBN: 9781250069184 Pages: 384 Release Date: September 27, 2016 Publisher: Minotaur Books Genre: Crime Fiction Source: Publisher Summary When the body of a recently murdered man is discovered, it appears to be a routine homicide investigation for Detective Constable Connie Childs and her team. But it turns out […]

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