A while back, my roommates and I decided to start a book club together. I don’t remember who or what prompted it, but the rules were simple: each person picks a book, we draw the titles out of a jar, and then after about a month or so we’ll go out to dinner and discuss it.
The four of us have somewhat similar tastes in what we like to read: fiction, YA, fantasy, fun tropes, magic. But we chose books new to all of us and each pick could vary wildly in how much others like it. Sometimes we’ll choose books from our TBR lists, other’s recommendations, or if we heard enough good things about it. It’s an interesting mix, and the books definitely felt like a grab-bag of miscellany, but that’s what makes our book club fun. Round three was pretty much back to normal for us, one good book, two passable, and one really, really bad one.
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson
This short little book is pretty self-explanatory: it’s a book that explains some of the more common themes of astrophysics (space) in a more accessible way. This is for the people who love Cosmos and other science-minded fans who don’t have the full brain capacity for PhDs. Celebrity scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson does a good job of explaining things in a casual, “I’m just like you guys” style and for the most part astrophysics makes sense as you’re reading. And rereading. And maybe googling some stuff. But it makes sense, big-picture, I guess.
I’m going to be honest here, I don’t really remember this one. Not only was it a tough subject to read and internalize, it was also the first one we read at the start of the year. We hadn’t read much non-fiction as a club yet and this one had been on my roommate’s list for a while because she loves science and stuff. However, I’m not sure how much of the content ended up sticking for any of us. As I read it, the content made sense and I could follow along to what deGrasse Tyson talked about. But if you asked me to summarize a chapter to a simple scientific process, I couldn’t do it. I also would have appreciated more graphics to illustrate what he was talking about, it got pretty abstract at certain points and lost me once it started talking about things on the hyper-micro scale. It was a good read and fun to talk about with equally un-scientific friends, but ultimately forgettable.
Would I have finished this book outside book club? I don’t think I would have picked it up to begin with, and definitely wouldn’t have finished it. Not through any fault of the book or the writing, but because of my pea-brain’s inability to comprehend what I’m reading.
New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color edited by Nisi Shawl
“There’s nothing new under the sun, but there are many new suns,” Octavia Butler. This anthology brings together BIPOC writers from across genres in a collection that’s a little all over the map—in a good way. The stories varied from scary, to adventurous, to mysterious, to abstract and really showcased a bunch of different writers and what they could do. It came highly recommended to me by one of my coworkers, and overall it did not disappoint. A few of the stories definitely read like trial runs for longer projects, some were a bit slap-dash in the world building, and there was one monster-fucking surprise I was not happy about. But I still appreciated the collection as a whole.
This was my pick, I like short story collections because it feels like a sampler plate of authors, styles, genres, and world views. Short fiction writing is also a genre unto itself, the skill to be able to tell a full story in a limited amount of words, and I love speculative fiction because writers play with the form of a “story” a lot more. Speculative fiction draws from all sorts of inspirations and it’s way past time to move away from the white canon, which this anthology does really well. A few of my favorites from the book were, “The Virtue of Unfaithful Translations,” “Come Home to Atropos,” “Harvest,” and “Kelsey and the Burdened Breath.” New Suns is a good book to read while traveling, something to pick up and put down, or if you’re looking for new authors to follow.
Would I have finished this book outside book club? Yes, like I said a coworker had been recommending it for a while and I’m glad I got around to reading it.
Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark
It’s early the early 1900s in the Deep South, and there’s a battle raging between the demonic Klu Kluxes and the fighters tasked with ending them. Maryse, Sadie, and Chef live, fight, and bootleg in Macon where demons feed off the hate of the KKK, born from the fervor as “Birth of a Nation” sweeps America. When a new Butcher arrives in town, he starts stirring up a more powerful trouble, darker than anything they’ve fought before. Maryse finds herself surrounded by demons, inside and out, and must figure out which ones to trust and which ones to defeat.
This award-winning novella was my favorite of the four this round. It’s a longer novella, but still keeps the story tight and the pacing carries along and never feels like it drags. The characters all have distinct personalities and the tone of the story feels rich in its world building. It’s perfect for fall, not exactly horror or scary but definitely unsettling (in the best way.) The feeling of facing an unknown monster and knowing there’s something bigger on the horizon carries throughout, but what keeps you on edge is the language as you picture everything in your mind. Ring Shout is action-packed and full of gorgeous language, a story about hatred and a haunting past and not letting either define you or the future.
Would I have finished this book outside book club? Absolutely. It’s short, about 200 pages or so, and reads so fast. An easy and thrilling one-day read perfect for the autumn chill.
The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Avery Grambs is your average teen and she and her sister are also struggling to get by. Sometimes living in her car and working a crappy food service job to help her sister pay rent, Avery just wants more. Which she ends up getting when out of nowhere she’s the random sole-inheritor of the largest fortune on the planet. Also included, a scheming privileged family and four dashing brothers who want their money. When the mysterious benefactor leaves a series of clues behind explaining why he did it, Avery works with the two hot and age-appropriate brothers to solve the mystery.
I hated this book. I know it’s big on Tik Tok, and I gotta ask: Why?! It’s written poorly, the characters are flat without any personality, and the mystery doesn’t hold any intrigue. The unchecked capitalism got a little grating and the tropes of rich teens grew unbearable. And I gotta say, Barnes can’t write BIPOC characters, or queer characters. At one point a girl says: “You don’t like me much” Thea noted. “That’s okay. I’m a hyper competitive, bisexual perfectionist who likes to win and looks like this. I’m no stranger to being hated.” That’s an actual quote! And don’t get me started on the Quirky Asian best friend or the lone brown member of the family. One of my roommates pointed out that this probably wasn’t meant for the higher end of YA (16-19 year olds) and sure, I guess a 13 or 14 year old would enjoy this book. But don’t young teens deserve better literature? If you want the Cinderella story, the sudden royalty, the get rich quick, there are plenty of options out there. So please stop reading this one.
Would I have finished this book outside book club? I’ll admit, when I first saw it the premise intrigued me. But ultimately it’s a y/n self-insert fan fiction and the Pick Me energy of the book was irritating and uninspired. I absolutely would have quit this book, but I was forced to finish it. I hate it, I hate it so much.