Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Obelisk Gate

The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth #2) by N.K. Jemisin (2016)

Since this is the second book in a series, there need to be spoilers for the first book, The Fifth Season.

For one thing, Damaya and Syenite are names that Essun used during different periods in her life, so the three stories are really all one story. I didn't talk much about the plot of that book, but it begins with a huge rift in the Earth that is bringing on a Fifth Season. At the very end, Essun is reunited with Alabaster, who is slowly turning to stone, and he asks her if she's able to call the obelisks to herself yet, and if she's ever heard of a moon. The Obelisk Gate picks up during this same conversation, and Alabaster explains that she needs to find out if she can control the obelisks, and it's very important and related to the moon.

The book moves back and forth between Essun's story and that of her 8-year-old daughter Nassun, who disappeared along with her father at the beginning of The Fifth Season. Nassun has pretty powerful powers of her own and her relationship with her father is strained at best. He's taking her to a place he's heard of where they may be able to "cure" her, but that's not what this place turns out to be all about. Nassun meets her mother's old Guardian, Schaffa, though she does not know that he knew her mother. Schaffa has changed since those days and he and Nassun work together to train her and she continues to discover new ways her powers work.

There were some very cool things in this story, such as a whole community that lives inside a geode. I kind of hope this is made into a movie someday so I can see it because it sounds spectacular. Plus everything involving the obelisks was kind of cool, though I admit I'm still a little unsure about the role they play - we see ways in which they are used, but I'm wondering how they will relate to the larger picture. I also liked everything about the stone eaters - I have a hard time not picturing them like the weeping angels from Doctor Who, but I find them so delightfully creepy.

In a way, I think this books suffers a little from being the second book in that I didn't feel like the plot was furthered as much as I would like, but there was a lot going on and many new elements introduced, so I ended up liking it as much as the first. Last weekend I decided to grab The Stone Sky from the library when I went into work on Monday, but I ended up being out sick and someone else got our copy before I returned. I requested a copy from another library and was afraid I wouldn't get it before this long weekend. But I got it just in time, which is great because I need to start on it immediately! I'm really, really looking forward to seeing where this story goes in the final book!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Kiss Quotient

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (2018), narrated by Carly Robins

Stella Lang is an econometrician, developing algorithms to predict customer purchases, and makes a ton of money doing it. She works seven days a week because she has no social life. Her parents want her to settle down and get married and have some kids, but she doesn't even like kissing. She has Asperger's and many parts of dating are distasteful to her, and her past experiences have been terrible. She decides she needs help from a professional, and hires escort Michael Phan.

Michael works as a tailor in his family business so he can be near his mother who has cancer. He dreams of being a fashion designer, but first he needs to get out from the debt he's accrued because of his mother's illness. So he started escorting to make extra money to put towards these expenses.

Predictably, Stella and Michael develop a relationship that goes beyond one of escort and client. But of course neither wants to admit that they've developed real feelings for the other, and they both have secrets they're keeping from the other. Michael doesn't usually see a client more than once, to guard against the possibility of an attachment, but Stella manages to talk him into having a fake relationship with her so she can practice that. While they both start having feelings, neither thinks the other will reciprocate. Michael sees Stella as socio-economically far above him, and Stella thinks Michael is so attractive and sexy he could have any woman he wants, so why would he want someone so awkward?

So, there's a trope in romance that I hate, when the heroine dislikes or is uninterested in sex until she meets the hero and his magical penis and she's suddenly having multiple orgasms. It's not because she has gained experience or worked through her issues or learned more about her own body, it's tied explicitly to the guy who, quite frankly, isn't doing anything super special. It irks me to no end. In this case, I know the reason things went so well with Michael is because he's so patient with her sensory issues. He doesn't know for quite a while that she's on the spectrum, but he's just a considerate lover. It's his job, after all. It makes sense in the context. It still annoyed me.

Otherwise, I found this story delightful. I especially like Michael's Vietnamese family and how they embraced Stella even though she committed a major faux pas the first time she ate with them. (They were microwaving food in plastic containers and she refused to eat it and said they shouldn't either because it's poison.) They saw past her inadequate social skills and got to know her as a person, and when they realized that having so many people in the house and the tv on and someone playing the piano was sensory overload, they toned things down a bit.

I found Stella's quirks pretty charming. She owned the exact number of outfits she needed to get through the week and they were all variations on the same thing, she owned only one kind of underwear, she had an unwavering bedtime routine, and was just super practical about everything. She was practical and logical and I am a big fan of those things. I also loved Michael - he was so thoughtful and kind and would do anything in the world for his mother. He and Stella were both interesting people and I really enjoyed getting to know them and was rooting for their relationship to work (and yes, of course I knew it would work out in the end!)

I listened to the audio version and it's exactly what I needed as a counterpoint to The Fifth Season, which was excellent, but so dark. The narrator had a bright, upbeat tone that was perfect for the book. I should also mention that the author is on the autism spectrum herself, which I wondered about as I was reading. There were a couple of moments where I wondered if things were realistic, but I'm guessing they were. I know authors usually do research but when it comes down to how the characters actually think and the things going on inside their heads, I believe it more if I know the author has a shared experience with that character.

The Kiss Quotient has been getting a lot of buzz, and I can see why. If you like cute, quirky contemporary romances, give it a try!

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth #1) by N.K. Jemisin (2015)

As far as I can tell, this book takes place in our world but far, far in the future. There is one big land mass called the Stillness, ironically, because it is unstable, shifting and moving and filled with geological cataclysms. Every now and then one is catastrophic enough to cause a Fifth Season, during which the sun will be blocked out for months or years, and civilization dies leaving only enough people to begin again when the Season is over. The people live in a constant state of disaster preparedness.

There are people in this world called orogenes or, disparagingly, roggas. They can sense and control movement within the earth, stopping or causing earthquakes, and moving the earth's plates. There are three stories about orogenes in this book. One is about Essun, a woman who's toddler son has just been murdered by her husband. One is about Damaya, whose parents have just reported her and she is removed by a Guardian who watch over people like her, keeping her under control while teaching her how to effectively use her powers. The third story is about Syenite, paired with a man named Alabaster to hopefully breed and create another person with the same powers. Although orogenes are powerful, that power can be controlled by Guardians and orogenes are basically treated as slaves.

It took me quite a while to get into this book. I was initially rather disoriented and confused, but also intrigued. The world-building was pretty amazing even if I didn't quite understand it. After finishing I went back and read the prologue again and it made much more sense this time - I sort of wish I had done so earlier in the book. There are still things I'm a little unclear about, like the role of the obelisks that hover in the air, but I expect some of this will become more clear in the next book, The Obelisk Gate.

It's very dark, and an unpleasant world to be in, but nonetheless compelling. Getting to know the characters and their motivations is a big part of what I like about this book, particularly since they're all in such desperate situations. It's also kind of a tough book to say much about without spoiling it.

I'm very grateful to a coworker who told me I should be sure to have the second book on hand because I would want it when it finished. Initially I wasn't sure I'd move on to the second book, or maybe not right away (this is an unpleasant world and I thought I might want to read something light and funny between books) but I'm glad I heeded my coworker's advice. I went home on Friday with close to 100 pages left, thinking I might finish it over the weekend and instead finished that evening.

I've already moved on to The Obelisk Gate and should have a post about that one before too long!

This was on my 2018 TBR Pile Challenge and is probably the final one that I'll read. The remaining title is NOS4A2 by Joe Hill, but my interest has waned in favor of some of his other work. But since I read both of my alternate titles, I can consider the challenge completed.