Summer is flying by quickly. As we tell July, bye, bye bye, let me take a second to share the books I read over the last month.
Books will be rated on a 1 – 5 star scale with 1 being bad and 5 being excellent. If you enjoy what you see and don’t want to wait until the next book post, please follow us on Goodreads. We’ll stay consistently updated there before compiling our month’s reading and thoughts here.
The comics Chaos has read will also be included at the end of the post. Normally those will just be listed and not officially reviewed. If you ever want to hear about a comic in particular though or want his thoughts, don’t be afraid to ask. He enjoys discussing everything he’s read.
A.I. 2041 by Kai-Fu Lee and Chen Qiufan – 3/5 Stars
A.I. 2041 explores what a.i. may look like in twenty years time (the year 2041). The book shares its predictions by pairing short pieces of fiction that exhibit advanced a.i. with essays explaining the technology in the stories and Kai-Fu Lee’s predictions. In total there are ten short stories, examining a.i.’s impact in areas such as jobs, education, health care, war, and driving.
Lee and Qiufan team together to write an interesting book that is worth the read. I appreciated their attempt to make the predictions and science more appealing by embedding them into short pieces of fiction first. This allowed the book to have fun pieces of science fiction, while also providing context and examples of the technology before getting into the nitty gritty.
As a larger fan of fiction, I found the short stories most appealing. While their quality did vary, overall, they did a good job of maintaining my interest. Stories such as “The Golden Elephant” and “My Haunting Idol” were among my favorites due to their ability to make me feel for the characters and relate to some of their feelings. Other stories such as “Quantum Genocide” and “The Holy Driver” were more memorable for the wrong reasons: plots that felt more force or absurd as they tried to cover the technology.
There are some pieces of dialogue and phrasing that come off as unnatural or oddly written, but that can most likely be blamed on translation issues.
The nonfiction portions of the book were a bit harder for me to get through. While they were very informative and covered a lot of good information, they also felt long and tedious at times.
A.I. 2041 may be worth checking out if you’re interested in how a.i. Is advancing or if you want some modern tells of science fiction based on the near future.
‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King – 4.5/5 Stars
Originally published in 1975, ‘Salem’s Lot sees author Ben Mears returning to his small hometown. He soon discovers that he is just in time for the town’s infestation of vampires. Mears must team up with others from ‘Salem’s Lot to combat the forces of darkness in the hope that it is not too late to stop the growing evil.
‘Salem’s Lot is some of Stephen King’s finest horror. He perfectly creates the essence of a small town, only to rip it to shreds with the darkness he pours over it. Jerusalem’s Lot and those who inhabit it are rich and full of life… until some find themselves with a little less life.
King expertly builds tension and dread as the novel progresses and even once the forces of evil are out of the shadows, his story continues to hold nothing back for the reader or his characters. I found myself excited to see what would come next, but also worried about what I would find. There were times when I found particular scenes hard to get through due to King’s boldness in showing the horrid.
This novel is well paced and the language is masterfully crafted. If readers are a fan of horror and have not picked up ‘Salem’s Lot yet, they should get on it soon. This is a novel that does vampires right.
The only reason that I hesitate to give this novel a 5/5 stars is that it does show some of its datedness. King even admits to some of the poor aging in the forward to this novel that I read. While these aspects are not enough to ruin the experience, some of the treatment toward women and minorities can rub the reader the wrong way.
Light from Different Stars by Ryka Akoi – 5/5 Stars
Shisuka Satomi is a gifted musician who has trained six previous students all of whom have reached incredible levels of fame. Shisuka also sent all six students’ souls to hell. Now, she only needs to give hell one more soul in order to save her own. Enter, Katrina Nguyen. Katrina is a young, transgener runaway, only looking for a place where she belongs and a chance to play her music. Shisuka believes she has found her final soul, but Katrina may be more than Shisuka bargained for. She’ll also have to factor in her new crush, Lan Tran, a donut shop owner who may be more out of this world than Shisuka could have ever expected.
This is a strange and fantastical novel in all the right ways. Deals with demons, magical music, a.i., spaceships, and more infuse this book with a lot to get excited about. The plot allows room for all these intriguing elements while never standing in the way of what really makes the novel shine.
Akoi brings to life several characters who are rich and full. Even beyond her three main characters, Akoi introduces readers to a supporting cast who feel they deserve all the focus themselves. This novel is full of stellar characters who each fill the book with so much heart and complexity.
The novel also perfectly balances all of its humor, drama, suspense, pain, and heart. This one hits a wide range of emotions, but they are layered wonderfully, never feeling forced or out of place. Like all the wonderful pieces of music and violins that Aoki writes about, this story is crafted and executed masterfully.
Do yourself a favor and check out LIght from Uncommon Stars. This is an excellent story of finding identity, voice, passion, and purpose.
The Duplicate Bride by Ginny Baird – 3/5 Stars
When Jackie can’t make it to her own week of pre-wedding festivities, she calls upon her sister Hope for help. All Hope needs to do is pretend to be Jackie for a day, or two, or more. Sure, they are total opposites outside their looks, but how hard can this be? Soon, Hope will find herself more and more tangled in deception as she attempts to help her sister. Too bad Hope is finding herself falling for the groom-to-be. Speaking of the groom, Brent knows something is off with his fiance, but how can he complain when he has never found her more enjoyable to be around her. This may have started as a marriage of convenience for him, but he thinks he might actually be falling in love.
This is a rom-com through and through. The premise is over-the-top and the character’s reactions are unrealistic, but what does it matter when love is in the air? If you’re not into cheesy romances, this will do nothing to change your mind. However, for those who love the idea of finding true love in the craziest of situations, this book is bound to hit the right note.
Go Ask Alice by Anonymous – 3/5 Stars
Go Ask Alice presents the diary of a troubled teenage girl. Readers join her she changes from an average kid to someone dealing with the darksides of drugs, sex, and other dark vices. Though originally presented as a possible piece of nonfiction, Go Ask Alice is a work of fiction that highlights the dangers out there for teens who are not careful.
Reading this in 2022, as opposed to the 1970s when this book originally debuted, had me examining it for what read as realistic and what came off as undeniable fictional. I believe the author captured the voice and mindset of a child well. I work with teens and the narrator’s whininess and optimism mixed with constantly shifting feelings came off as very teen-like. I also appreciated the unnamed narrator’s focus on what teens would prioritize and her childlike view of how the world functions.
Beyond the voice though, it was hard to take a lot of the novel too seriously. Sure, I felt for the protagonist on her journey, but a lot of her circumstances were absurd in a hyperbolic way. Being slipped drugs once immediately led her to trying a different drug every night within the week. Her story only gets worse from there. This is clearly an alarmist tale trying to scare teens into staying on the straight and narrow.
Overall, I found the absurdity and extremeness to the tale entertaining. This is a quick read, so the story never overstayed its welcome.
I wouldn’t recommend Go Ask Alice as a source of fact or true understanding of addiction, but I would say it’s a fascinating look back at the scare tactics of a previous generation.
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro – 4/5 Stars
Klara is an artificial friend. She closely observes the world and hopes to one day be united with the right child. When Klara is finally adopted, her experiences are far from what she expected. Humans are complex and strange. Can Klara better the lives of her humans and what will she discover about herself along the way?
Ishiguro does a great job of crafting a character that is easy to relate to and care about while also depicting her as clearly not human. Klara and the Sun introduces a number of memorable characters, but Klara, herself, stands out as especially worth taking note of. I loved how she is a mix of robotic programming and innocence and faith. Klara is a flawed character, but her flaws are born from her desire to do right.
While many of the topics of the novel are not new, Ishiguro still forces readers to consider a number of situations and morals. The ideas of what are life and love are well explored while leaving the final decisions up to the readers.
Klara and the Sun is an interesting journey, and while I can’t say I was enamored with the ending, that wasn’t enough to tarnish the entire experience.
The novel does a wonderful job of introducing readers to a memorable protagonist and portraying the world through her eyes. Her voice is captured well in the narration. Klara and the Sun is a fun twist on the sci-fi robot/a.i. story.
A Thousand Beginnings and Endings by Ellen Oh – 4/5 Stars
A Thousand Beginnings and Endings is a collection of fifteen short stories retelling Asian legends and myths. While they are all edited by Ellen Oh, each story is written by a separate author who chose their own Asian tale to retell. Some stick closely to the source material while others take their stories in completely new directions while maintaining the themes of the original. This collection includes stories set in the past, present, and future. Some are completely fantastical, while others are a lot more grounded.
I applaud A Thousand Beginning and Endings for being such a strong collection of stories. Many of the stories grabbed me right away, but even the ones that initially had me questioning my interest always had me by the end. Many of these tales, or at least aspects of them, are timeless, so it was hard not to become fully engaged.
While the authors obviously had the constraint of needing to retell an Asian story, they also clearly had a lot of freedom with how they executed the task. The stories’ tones, writing styles, themes, and plots varied greatly. This kept the book fresh and a joy to continue reading.
I also really appreciated that each story was followed by the author getting a chance to share their story’s inspirations and their intentions with their retelling. These brief moments with the authors provided a lot of insight and value. It was fascinating to learn some of the original stories and to see what creative minds could do with them.
Like with any short story collection, the quality of stories varied, but each story felt worth the time I invested in it.
If you’re looking for a strong collection of short stories, A Thousand Beginning and Endings is a good choice and will likely give you a peek into a culture or legend you are less familiar with.
– I Think I Turned My Childhood Friend into a Girl vol. 1 by Azusa Banjo