Book with A Number in the Title

I’m sure many of you have taken one of the DNA tests out there through something like Ancestry.com or 23 and Me, right? You’ve at least heard of them. You can find out your familial regions, your predisposed tendencies for certain illnesses, and police are using them to solve crimes. What if you could also use it to improve your love life? Even more, what if you could use it to obliterate the dating and second guessing altogether? What if you could use DNA testing to find The One?

Imagine the possibilities! Think of the stresses and heartbreak of the dating scene, the crappy pick-up lines, the creepy dudes, the shadows of exes lurking in the background. Ugh! I’m over it. Take one simple test and your DNA will match you through legit science with the one person in the entire world who is just right for you. That’s it. No more dating, just start your life together and be happy forever!

There are downsides, of course. Who cares if you’re engaged already or have been married and had kids with someone else? The DNA match is who you are meant to be with. What if your match is living across the world or has age/race/religion differences? Would you take the test anyway, even if it meant that your current happy relationship with someone might be upended? You could always choose not to take the test, or just ignore the results if you aren’t matched with your current partner. Some people take the test but never get matched for one reason or another. Do you wait the rest of your life for the hope of a match? Ignore the science and choose your mate with the random waves of the universe the way humans have done for thousands of years?With the niggling doubt in the back of your mind that someone else might be out there waiting for you…?

Would you do it?

In The One, we follow the stories of several characters who have taken this DNA matching test that has become a worldwide sensation. It’s made divorce rates skyrocket, but is more promising for an almost zero divorce rate with future generations. Plus, it’s no scam – there is actual (fictionalized) science explained in the book about how the DNA is extrapolated into finding the other person in the world who best suits you. Online dating sites are going by the wayside and why wouldn’t they? You can pay only 9.99 (pounds sterling) and find The One. We meet a young engaged couple who decide to take the DNA test just to see what happens (never a good idea); a divorcee whose husband has left her for his own DNA match (that has to hurt); a young Scottish woman who has a match in Australia whom she’s never met (red flags); and a serial killer who is looking for true love (but finding victims on the remaining dating sites left open). Oh, and a female billionaire who’s notoriety keeps her out of any normal dating pools (how do you hide that secret?).

It’s an interesting concept and the story is a mix of British chick lit, sci fi, and thriller all rolled into one. Some of the plot points are easy to see coming but the story is compelling and keeps the reader interested throughout. There are also some compelling twists and turns that come with such a genre mash-up. Let’s just say that the serial killer may not be the creepiest person in the book! There are definitely the warm and fuzzy feelings, as well. It’s a good mix of sweet and sinister.

I’ve included a link here to some book club questions and other tidbits about author John Marrs and a link to the Kirkus Review if you still need to be convinced to read it!

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Novella with Protagonist of Color

Sorry, y’all! I’ve been trying and trying to read another book that has great reviews but I just can’t get into it. I decided to take a break from it and discovered this gem of a novella! Books come to you when the time is right, and the time was right for me to meet Binti.

Let’s talk about Binti, the accidental heroine of our story. (Aren’t they all accidental heroines in some form or fashion? I digress…) One of 10 kids, Binti is a 16-year-old Himba girl who leaves home in the dead of night to fulfill her dream of attending the renowned Oomza University. She boards a transporter that will take her to an interplanetary ship on its way to University.

Family is everything to the Himba and they are known for being reclusive, not mixing with other races or communities. Desert dwellers, the Himba love their land and go so far as to use it to cleanse and purify their bodies, continually marking themselves with the red clay of their region. Binti quickly feels conspicuous for the first time in her life, never having been away from her home city before. Her hair is thick and wild and plaited, dressed in the sweet oil and clay mixture from her land; she jingles from the steel rings she wears around her ankles (protection from snake bites); her clothing is different and suited for hot desert terrain. She experiences disdain and lots of side-eye from the others she while on her journey to her transport.

What would push Binti to leave home in such a devious manner? Her planetary exams score was so high in mathematics that she was admitted to Oomza University with a full scholarship no less. Even though she would be the first of her people to venture out and attend the University, her family is up in arms and don’t consider that to be an option. Knowing that pleading and reason are useless, Binti steals away in the dead of night to make her way through space to search out a new future for herself. Binti heartbreakingly knows her family will be furious and probably never accept her again, but she boldly follows the path she feels is best for her. You get a real sense of Binti weighing options that are not ideal and trying to make the best decision that will be true and honest and just, which bodes well for future events in the story

As Binti journeys with a space ship full of professors and other students to the University, she makes friends and learns to make her way in such a different culture. As she’s sitting in the lunch hall with her squad, admiring her crush, she is suddenly covered in a spray of blood. Her companion has just been killed by a member of the Meduse race who have surprisingly transported onto the ship. Everyone is killed but Binti (for reasons I won’t disclose here), and she is terrorized for several days as she hides in her room. Turns out, the Meduse race have a huge grudge to pick with Oomza University – an event that really has nothing to do with Binti and the other passengers. They are unfortunate collateral damage in a plan of revenge and possible war.

Binti and the Meduse finally find a way to communicate and Binti has to decide if she can rise above the need for revenge for a greater good or if the loss of her new tribe of people is too heart-wrenching to overcome. Either decision will come at great personal cost to Binti.

I really liked this book. I listened to the audio and the narrator has a lovely accent and inflection that drops you right into Binti’s point of view. The math and science emphasis is huge. Binti’s hair, for example, is braided according to a mathematical code that was designed by her father and identifies her place in the lineage of her family. Binti is a brilliant mathematician and comes from a long line of people who study the secrets of the universe, although the Himba study the universe from an internal rather than external perspective. It also has a feel of Star Trek about it with the disparate groups of people trying to come to terms with each other and live companionably, if not exactly friendly.

The book is short (the audio is only two and a half hours), so it can easily be finished in an afternoon, and is the first in a series. The shortness of the story by no means impacts the depth and is winner of both Hugo and Nebula awards for best novella. The author, Nnedi Okorafor, is American with Nigerian roots. No moss grows under her feet, and she has an impressive list of works before and after Binti. She has a Ted Talk here about sci-fi stories and the imagining of a future Africa, and also has a new comic series coming out about Black Panther’s Shuri. Another novel, Who Fears Death, has been optioned as an HBO series. It’s been in my TBR pile for awhile and may have to now move to the top!

Sci-Fi and Fantasy for Women – Part 2

I’m referencing the Book Riot article I mentioned in the previous post, and taking a look at some of my favorites from the last half of the list.

Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear – Really a Steampunk Western, this is the story of (can you guess?) Karen Memory, a prostitute in late 19th-century Seattle Underground – an alternate universe version, of course.  Gold miners come through on their way to Alaska, but airships float in the skies overhead.  Karen and her fellow prostitutes come up against a madman with a scientific mind control machine and a Jack the Ripper wannabe who is leaving dead prostitutes on the doorstep of the brothel where Karen and her comrades ply their trade.  I would have liked more of the steampunk element, but overall it was a good book.  Not sure it would make my top 100 by women, but it was a fun read nonetheless.

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley – Can you tell I have a thing for King Arthur stories?  This is another favorite of mine, ranking right up there with the Mary Stewart series I discussed in the previous post.  This take on the legend is from the point of view of the women in the story, which made it unique at the time.  Much like real history, women don’t always get the credit due to them for their influence on the course of human events.  Legends are often the same, and Bradley is a master at the take on this story.  Not to be missed, especially if you are an Arthurian enthusiast.

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho – Reading it now, so I’ll have to let you know, but I really like it so far.  I know the book has received great buzz since it came out, but I didn’t research too much for this post since I don’t want to accidentally read any plot spoilers.  Huge pet peeve for me!  You’ll have to research this on your own until I finish…

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle – Just a classic!  Our heroine, Meg, and her brother and mother find an unearthly stranger in their kitchen one night.  From there, the story unfolds in a way that is beyond description if I want to avoid spoilers.  (If you don’t know how I feel about spoilers, see the blurb of Sorcerer to the Crown!)  I read this many moons ago and hope to find time soon to read it again, plus the other four books in the series.

As I stated in Part 1 of this post, many of the other books out of the 100 are either on my TBR list or I’ve read other books by the authors, but not the ones listed.  It’s a still a selection of some great choices, but I would have to read all of them to say whether or not I would include them on a similar list of my own.

What’s missing or worth consideration, at least?  Here’s a few books I would throw out there that I found highly enjoyable…and are written by women.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison – Not what you think the story will be at all, and has some gender-bending plot points similar to Ancillary Justice.

The Witching Hour by Anne Rice – If we’re going there with the vampires and what not in Dead Until Dark, then let’s really go there with Anne Rice and her glorious Mayfair witches.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater – Each November, water horses emerge from the ocean and it’s up to the bravest (or most foolish) riders to try to get these bloodthirsty mounts to the finish line.  A young woman, Puck, is forced by circumstance to enter, risking her life for her family in a way similar to Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games.

Sci-Fi and Fantasy by Women – Part 1

Sci-Fi and Fantasy are two of my favorite genres to read, especially fantasy.  If it’s not your thing, I get it, but I implore you to not overlook this post or this genre.  Remember, a reading list is about trying new things and you can find all sorts of comments on society in the pages of these books.  Moreover, there’s often the classic hero’s story a la Joseph Campbell; some read like historical fiction; some have Dynasty-level family drama (looking at you, Game of Thrones); some are dreamily romantic; some are downright funny.  Browse the book stores or look at Good Reads and give something in this genre a try.  I came across this great list on Book Riot of what the author of the article considers to be 100 of the “must-read” books in the genre…by women.

(Me getting on my soapbox)  I’ll get my little gripe out of the way first.  I really have mixed feelings about the codicil “by women” or any other similar categorization.  I get that people want to emphasize diversity and make sure all groups are represented and I’m all for that!  Truly!  However, I can’t help but feel that the tags also take away from the authors and their works by making them seem like they don’t stand on the same ground as works by men (or whomever) and have to be judged separately. Can’t we all just get along and say “must-read” without putting them into any other category than genre? (Me getting off my soapbox)

Anywho, it’s a great list.  I think I’ve said that.  Most of them I’ve heard of, many of them are on a TBR list that never seems to end, and some I’ve had the great pleasure of reading and highly recommend.  Here’s my favorites for the first half of the list…

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie – What a great book!  I had the pleasure of having a Skype visit with Ann Leckie for a book club where this was our selection.  She was wonderful!  To overly simplify a complicated plot, the story revolves around an android who is part of a space ship – these androids act as the eyes and ears of the space ship and keep the captain informed of what’s happening in multiple places at once.  Boots on the ground, if you will.  Very Big Brother-ish or like the Borg in Star Trek: The Next Generation.  (Yes, I’m THAT kind of nerd!) Treachery happens, as it often does, with the main ship being destroyed and only one android, Breq, is left to figure out what happened to the ship and captain and seek revenge.  The truly remarkable part of this book is that Breq could be male or female – the story (and the author) don’t confirm anything. It’s not a sexual plot line, it’s just that, to Breq, male and female have no relevance (just like me on my soapbox).  The Radsch empire (Breq’s home) makes no distinction between male and female in their language, so you really never know if any given character is male of female.  It really makes no difference to the plot either, but it kind of blows your mind as you’re reading it – just when you think you have it figured out, you don’t!  I haven’t read the sequels yet, but they’re on my list, and I’m for sure going to read this one again.

The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart – I loved this series! An oldie, but goodie, Stewart takes on the King Arthur saga and brings a realness and depth to the characters that makes you believe they could have existed.  This first book focuses on Merlin and his early life, mixing in historical details of Britain in the fifth century – details that make the book seem like historical fiction.  Don’t miss it or, if you’ve read it, read it again!

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris – aka the television series True Blood, this book introduces us to Sookie Stackhouse and her quirky, deadly entourage.  I haven’t read all of the books in the series, but I really did enjoy the early ones and mean to get back to them one day.  I did watch the television series through to the end and, from what I gather, the book series and the TV series diverge at some point, giving me a chance to see potentially different outcomes for favorite characters – kind of like a choose your own adventure!  This series has the swooning romance and the gruesome gore, so you definitely get bang for your buck. (Fang for your buck?)  Harris has another series I enjoyed even more about Harper Connelly, who can sense the final location of a dead person and see the last few seconds of their lives, and uses this knowledge to help bring closure to murders.  The first in that series is Grave Sight.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling – I mean, come on.  It’s Harry Potter.  Get on the knight bus and read it, if you haven’t already.  I’m still checking the mail everyday for my letter from Hogwarts.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – I fell in love with this series, right up to the very end.  It’s dark and gritty and also full of humanity.  Collins has said that the fascination our culture has with reality shows like Survivor greatly influenced the formation of this story and it doesn’t disappoint. Can we debate the ending, though?  You know what I’m talking about!  With social commentary hidden in a futuristic world, do not pass this one by and don’t think you know the book just because you’ve seen the movies.

Post to be continued…