This is a series of reviews of my favorite books published between 2010 and 2019. These are shorter reviews of good reads published in 2018.
The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander (2018)
I thought this was a lovely short book with a strong message of empowerment. The narrative weaves together the perspectives from prehistory, alternate history, and a possible future of both women and female elephants, showing how both have been considered disposable but how they gain power from making their own choices about their fates and telling their own stories.
Semiosis by Sue Burke (2018)
Semiosis combines a political story about the struggle to create a utopian society–this time a space colony on another planet–and a first contact story with a truly alien alien–a sentient rainbow-colored bamboo. The story covers several human generations with different points of view so the reader can experience how both the society and its relationship to the alien evolve, and it ends with a suspenseful encounter with a third alien species that introduces ethical questions about genocide and assimilation. I always enjoy when an author does something different within the science fiction genre, and Semiosis certainly qualifies.
Scribe by Alyson Hagy (2018)
In this short book, an unnamed narrator makes her living in a lawless land by writing letters that serve as confessions for the people who request them. A man named Hendricks comes to her with a request for an unusual letter. The writing in Scribe is lovely, recalling the cadence of a folktale told aloud. I felt unmoored while reading it, not sure at times what was happening or why. I couldn’t tell whether it was set in the future or the past or an alternate America, although it was clearly the Appalachian Mountains in Virginia. The story had the sense of a legend, with a touch of magical realism.
Elevation by Stephen King (2018)
This is a lovely little book. It is also not a typical Stephen King story. Scott is mysteriously losing weight, but not mass; rather, it’s as if gravity is gradually weakening its hold on him. His new “lightness” causes him to look at the world with a different perspective, and he particularly regards his new neighbors, a lesbian couple struggling to make a success of their restaurant, with new empathy. This is a one-sitting read, more gentle and dare I say hopeful than a lot of King’s work, and I enjoyed it.
The Outsider by Stephen King (2018)
The story begins with a horrific child murder, and all the evidence points to an unexpected suspect: a high school teacher, Little League coach, and family man. But after his very public arrest, other contradicting evidence comes to light: it appears that the suspect was in two places at once. This was solid King: a suspenseful plot, a chilling monster, and a band of characters you want to root for, and also perhaps a couple of hundred pages too long.
An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim (2018)
In the 1980s, a flu pandemic is sweeping the world, and also time travel has been invented. Some people opt to travel into the future “to rebuild the world,” and Polly is one of these, motivated because it will enable her boyfriend, Frank, to get treatment for the flu. They agree to meet in the future, but she is rerouted to a later year and a radically changed world. The future is a bleak dystopia where Polly is essentially an indentured servant living in horrific conditions in Galveston and helping to create luxury goods for resorts for rich tourists. It’s basically a capitalism-run-amok nightmare. As she navigates through this hellscape, Polly holds onto her hope that she will be reunited with Frank. The book has a bittersweet ending that felt very true to me. This was an engaging read and an interesting twist on time travel that I sometimes found unrelentingly depressing.
Tangerine by Christine Mangan (2018)
Set in Morocco in the 1950s, Tangerine alternates between two unreliable narrators, one woman who may be losing her mind and another who is obsessed with her. This noir-ish thriller hearkens back to the writing of Patricia Highsmith and Dorothy B. Hughes. While it does exhibit some signs of being a first novel, this was a refreshing change from the twisty, unbelievable thrillers that are the trend right now.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh (2018)
This was like a fictional recounting of a fantasy I have that I know can never be realized: to go to sleep for a long period and then wake up as a blank slate, to start over again from scratch. The unnamed narrator of this book is intensely unlikeable, but yet she is so relatable, at least for someone like me, who knows from depression. And I think the book is very honest, which can make for hard reading. This is not a book for everyone, but I think if it does connect with you, it will connect with you hard.
The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell (2018)
I read a lot of ghost stories, so many that it’s rare I come across something truly new and disturbing. And then I read something like The Silent Companions, which is creepy and atmospheric and builds the suspense to unbearable levels, finally delivering a satisfying but unexpected twist at the end. The companions of the title are fundamentally unsettling; I could picture them as if in a movie in my mind, but a movie that would freak me right the eff out. If you love ghost stories, as I do, then don’t miss this one.
The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch (2018)
When I first picked up this book, I thought it was a police-procedural thriller, but I didn’t realize it was also a multiverse-hopping time-travel book. It is really satisfying on all counts, with a compelling protagonist, Shannon Moss, who investigates crimes for the NCIS related to the Navy’s top-secret missions to Deep Space and Deep Time. A doomsday is approaching, called the Terminus, a truly horrifying event that gets closer in each possible future that is explored, and Moss’s current investigation is closing in on who caused the Terminus and how. This is a mind-warping read, often confusing as Moss travels between alternate futures and tugs on all the threads, but those who stick with it will be rewarded. It’s a well-done mystery, an exciting thriller, quite often bordering on horror (a warning to the squeamish!), with solid speculative fiction as the foundation.
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