Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Review: If, Then

Clearing, Oregon is a typical kind of town. Ginny and Mark are a couple trying to find time for their marriage in between raising their son and their busy careers as a surgeon and a biologist. Down the street, Samara mourns the death of her mother and wonders if she should go back to her old life or follow in her mother's footsteps. Cass rocks her baby to sleep and wonders when she will have the time or mental strength to get back to work on her PhD. One ordinary day, each of the neighbors sees a vision of life as it might be: a life where they are married to different people, where a deceased parent is still alive, where they have a second baby, or a life where a terrible catastrophe destroys their neighborhood and impacts everyone who lives there. What are these visions? Are they seeing possible futures or whimsical dreams of what could be? Will their actions prevent these events or make them reality?

If, Then is a story that can be classified as sci-fi or magical realism, but it focuses not on the how or why of these visions, but their impact on the people who have them. In fact, it is sometimes difficult to tell which version is real and which is a possible version of events. It is an inescapable part of life to wonder how our lives would be different if we had made different choices and Kate Hope Day lovingly renders the pain and the potential of these musings. But this isn't a book where the plot meanders for the sake of character development; the choices that these characters make change their lives and families in big ways. This is one of those stories where it's easy to convince yourself you will read just a few more pages, only to find that you've been reading for an entire hour.

I really enjoyed this debut novel. The author makes the reader really care for each character as we jump from one potential timeline to another, all the while wondering if Ginny, Mark, Samara, and Cass will be able to find fulfillment and happiness. I will certainly be picking up whatever Kate Hope Day writes next.

If, Then
By Kate Hope Day
Random House March 2019
272 pages
Read via Netgalley

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

My Favorite Stories from How Long 'Til Black Future Month?

Novelist N.K. Jemisin's recent publication of a short story collection made fans of sci-fi writing very excited. I started this collection from a unique perspective: although I've been meaning to read Jemisin's Inheritance and Broken Earth trilogies for a while, this was my first time reading her work.

Like most short story collections, some selections resonate more than others. I found it a bit difficult to get into this book because the first story is told in a distinctly distant manner. An unnamed narrator takes the reader through the city of Um-Helat on the Day of Good Birds and shows us all the ways their society is different from ours. But once I started reading the second story, I was pulled right into Jemisin's incredible imagination, the very different worlds she created, and the characters she brought to vivid life. I discovered that the stories I loved best had a historical flair to them as opposed to being set strictly in a future world, but you may fall in love with the tales of a girl whose intelligence means she will be taken from her family or a woman who goes missing on another planet among an alien race with big secrets.

Here are a few of my favorite stories:

Red Dirt Witch is an early story that follows Emmaline and her children in Alabama. Emmaline has a gift for dreaming prophetic dreams, so she knows that the White Lady will be coming to visit them. But she doesn't expect that the woman will demand one of her children in return for safety for the rest as change comes to the South, full of violence and struggle. This one might be perfect for readers who love Neil Gaiman's Ocean at the End of the Lane. 

L'Alchimista is the story of a grumpy chef in an Italian inn named Franca. After a delicious meal, a stranger offers her an unusual challenge: follow a recipe and make a specific dish using the strange, perhaps impossible, ingredients he has provided.

The Effluent Engine is a steampunk story set in New Orleans. Jessaline is determined to find a scientist who can take the waste from rum production and turn it into methane gas, but she didn't expect to have competition or discover that the scientist's beautiful sister can make the theory a reality and steal her heart in the process.

Cuisine des Memoires starts off unremarkably, with Yvette inviting her friend Harold to dinner. But Harold soon learns that the Maison Laveau serves very unique meals. In fact, they claim that they can recreate any meal from any place in the world throughout history. When the kitchen serves up the very meal that his ex-girlfriend made for him, Harold is determined to find out how they make this miraculous food.

Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters is the last story in the collection. The water is rising and the levee is about to break, but Tookie is still in New Orleans. He is going to need the help of a talking lizard and his elderly neighbor Miss Mary to get through the flood and survive whatever is living in the floodwaters.


Did you read this story collection? Which one was your favorite?



How Long 'Til Black Future Month?
By N.K. Jemisin
Orbit November 2018
416 pages
From the library