“Real Sugar is Hard to Find” Review

The cover is taken up by hills and fields with drones flying over head and a dark brown sky. There is a person standing in the front center of the cover holding a container with a cake inside and wearing a respirator mask. They're wearing brown clothing and red boots. The title is across the top and the authors name is near the bottom right corner. Written by Sim Kern
Published by Android Press, August 2022
206 Pages
Completed March 25, 2024

A collection of short stories by Sim Kern, REAL SUGAR IS HARD TO FIND explores intersections of climate change, reproductive justice, queer identities, and family trauma. Whether fantasy, science fiction, or terrifyingly close-to-home, the worlds of these stories are inhabited by flawed characters whose lives are profoundly impacted by climate change and environmental degradation.

Arranged in a progression from dystopian to utopian worlds, the stories chart a path from climate despair towards resilience and revolutionary optimism. Even in the bleakest of futures, however, Kern offers reasons to hope, connect, and keep fighting for a better world.

This was a great collection of stories! I enjoyed all of them though there were a couple I did want to know more about what was going to happen next. That said most of them did feel complete and even the ones that didn’t ended in a way that made sense for what was being told. As the description says even with the darker stories there was always a sense of possibility and hope. I’d read anything by Sim Kern at this point.

“Mata Oti: Eyes of Death” Review

The cover is mostly blue and shows the upper corner of a persons face so just their eye and cheek are visible. The eye is bright yellow while the rest of the faces is tinted blue. There is a strand of DNA displayed diagonally across the cover as well.Written by Lani Wendt Young
Published by National Library, National University of Samoa, August 2021
295 pages
Completed December 25, 2023

From reclusive librarian to warrior guardian… Iva must safeguard her two nieces as Samoa battles a mutant variant of the deadly virus that’s raging across the world. It transforms people into savage creatures beyond all hope. She’s afraid, but determined to get the children through hordes of the infected to an emergency evacuation plane. It’s a race against time though as the variant rampages through her own veins. Can she fight off the Change for long enough so they all survive?

This was very good book – I really liked the characters and how things played out. The situation starts out very similar to the COVID pandemic with everyone trying to stay safe. The island of Samoa manages to keep the virus out for a while but things go from bad to worse pretty quickly once the virus hits. It also ends up being an engineered virus that got out of a lab accidentally which makes things much worse for everyone. There’s a lot of things going on beyond it just being a virus and the ending makes that very clear as well.

“A People’s Future of the United States” Review

The title of the book is written across the black cover - one word on each line in various colors. The names of the editors are at the bottom of the cover.Full Title “A People’s Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers”
Edited by Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams
Published by Random House Publishing Group, February 2019
432 pages
Completed December 24, 2023

In these tumultuous times, in our deeply divided country, many people are angry, frightened, and hurting. Knowing that imagining a brighter tomorrow has always been an act of resistance, editors Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams invited an extraordinarily talented group of writers to share stories that explore new forms of freedom, love, and justice. They asked for narratives that would challenge oppressive American myths, release us from the chokehold of our history, and give us new futures to believe in.

They also asked that the stories be badass.

The result is this spectacular collection of twenty-five tales that blend the dark and the light, the dystopian and the utopian. These tales are vivid with struggle and hardship—whether it’s the othered and the terrorized, or dragonriders and covert commandos—but these characters don’t flee, they fight.

Thrilling, inspiring, and a sheer joy to read, A People’s Future of the United States is a gift for anyone who believes in our power to dream a just world.

This was a really dark and interesting anthology. All of the stories take a potential dystopian scenario and run with it. All of them involve marginalized and oppressed people becoming more so due to things that are already problems in this country. The book was published in 2019 so a lot of ideas come from the actions of then President Trump – only catastrophic for a lot of people. It’s interesting reading it now in 2023 knowing that things did in fact get worse because of the COVID Pandemic. And while we don’t have President Trump anymore, we’re will dealing with COVID and various other issues that that have developed. The stories all show how the various characters are fighting to survive against what has happened. All of the characters still have hope for a better future despite everything that has occurred.

“Hell Followed with Us” Review

The cover has a blue background with black clouds. At the bottom of the page are the ruins of several buildings in red brick. In the middle of the cover there is the figure of a person with six wings with a red eye on each wing. The person has their head turned to the left with a scar on their cheek and bandages on their hands with blood dripping from their hands and chest. There is a chain around the figure in a circle and the title is written on a ribbon at the persons legs. Written by Andrew Joseph White
Published by Peachtree Teen, June 2022
416 pages
Completed June 30, 2023

Sixteen-year-old trans boy Benji is on the run from the cult that raised him—the fundamentalist sect that unleashed Armageddon and decimated the world’s population. Desperately, he searches for a place where the cult can’t get their hands on him, or more importantly, on the bioweapon they infected him with.

But when cornered by monsters born from the destruction, Benji is rescued by a group of teens from the local Acheson LGBTQ+ Center, affectionately known as the ALC. The ALC’s leader, Nick, is gorgeous, autistic, and a deadly shot, and he knows Benji’s darkest secret: the cult’s bioweapon is mutating him into a monster deadly enough to wipe humanity from the earth once and for all.

Still, Nick offers Benji shelter among his ragtag group of queer teens, as long as Benji can control the monster and use its power to defend the ALC. Eager to belong, Benji accepts Nick’s terms…until he discovers the ALC’s mysterious leader has a hidden agenda, and more than a few secrets of his own.

This was a really good book! There’s a lot of gore and body horror but I don’t think it was as graphic as it could have been. If it was a movie or a tv show I’d probably have trouble watching because of the gore but in text it didn’t seem so bad. If you read the introduction of the book the author explains where a lot of it came from and how he felt as a teen struggling with his identity. Which is the whole book too. All of the characters were great and I liked how everything worked out. Even Nick’s “secrets” worked out well in the end. Benji was a great character to get to know. I did wonder if some things could have been explained a little better but at the same time I wasn’t sure how much the characters knew or could explain because they’re all teenagers dealing with the world they’ve been left in. I’m not sure how fully they understood everything to start with. Even Benji’s awareness of everything and understanding of what was happening seemed suspect.

“The Marrow Thieves” Review

Book Cover with a blue background. There is an Indigenous young man on the cover with only half of his face visible. He has black hair and a white strip of paint on his cheek. The cover also has various round stickers of the awards the book has won: GG Books Winner, The Kircus Prize Winner, A Globe and Mail Best Book, The White Pine Award. Written by Cherie Dimaline
Published by Dancing Cat Books, May 2017
240 pages
Completed June 24, 2023

In a futuristic world ravaged by global warming, people have lost the ability to dream, and the dreamlessness has led to widespread madness. The only people still able to dream are North America’s Indigenous people, and it is their marrow that holds the cure for the rest of the world. But getting the marrow, and dreams, means death for the unwilling donors. Driven to flight, a fifteen-year-old and his companions struggle for survival, attempt to reunite with loved ones and take refuge from the “recruiters” who seek them out

It’s always interesting reading apocalyptic stories with Indigenous characters from the Americas, because no matter what you can’t deny that they’ve been through an apocalyptic event already. And this story book makes no apologies for expressing that point repeatedly as the characters discuss everything that’s going on. I really enjoyed reading this book and I the characters are great. There’s a lot oral storytelling in the book as the characters make their way north. The elders of the group explaining the history to the younger ones and then also the various characters in the group telling their own stories of how they got to where they are. While the overall story is rather dark and bleak (how can it not be given the setting?) the ending is somewhat hopeful.

“Seeds for the Swarm” Review

Book cover for Seeds for the Swarm. a person with shaggy light brown hair and white skin is on the cover sideways looking up in. In the background are various colors and green flying bugs at the top of the cover. Written by Sim Kern
Published by Stelliform Press, March 2023
Number of Pages: 440
Completed: March 26, 2023

Book Description:

Rylla McCracken dreams of escaping her family’s trailer in the Dust States to go to college, but on the eve of her eighteenth birthday, her mother demands she drop out of school to work for Lockburn chemical refinery instead. When Rylla learns Lockburn is planning to dam the Guadalupe River-the last flowing water in Texas-she defies her mother to protest in the state capital. The protest ends in disaster, but her ensuing viral infamy gains Rylla an acceptance to the mysterious Wingates University.

First I want to say I really enjoyed this book. However I wish I had known going in that it was actually part one in a series and the ending doesn’t actually resolve any of the various plot points that come up in the story. It’s not a hard cliffhanger where someone is about to die horribly, but it is a story that needs resolution that won’t happen until the next book. This is more about me though – when I read a series I like it best when each book mostly stands on its own with a resolved plot at the end. Anything else is just frustrating – especially when I don’t know when the next part is coming. I may have gone ahead and read the book anyway knowing this but I would have liked to know what I was getting into.

However all that said – the book is worth reading, especially if you don’t mind unresolved endings, because the characters are great. Sure they’re teenagers and the main character Rylla, makes some ridiculous choices but she is a teenager, and going through a lot of changes. It should be noted I was always a rule follower so don’t have any awareness of what is actually reasonable when it comes to teenage shenanigans. It’s also a book where kids or teenagers have to save the world which I’ve gotten a bit tired of but it felt realistic given our current world. The book may be set in the future with even worse damage from climate change but it’s a future we could very easily end up in. The emphasis on how rich white people will always able to survive comfortably while everyone else suffers is exactly how it is now.

And yes, it’s likely I’ll read the next book as soon as it comes out…

Books Finished so far in 2023

Below are the books I’ve read so far in 2023, not necessarily in order within the month of completion.

Books Finished in January

Nophek Gloss The Graven , by Essa Hansen
I liked the characters though the plot was a bit confusing and sometimes frustrating, but I still enjoyed it. I will need to check out the next book.
Black Sun – Between Earth and Sky , by Rebecca Roanhorse
This was a really interesting book. I enjoyed the different points of view characters their stories as things progressed. I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series.
Everyone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too by Jonny Sun as Jomny Sun
A surprise graphic novel! It was a fun read.
Africa Risen: A New Era of Speculative Fiction, edited by Sheree Renée Thomas, Zelda Knight, Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki
Love After the End: An Anthology of Two-Spiritand Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction, edited by Joshua Whitehead
This applies to the above two because I’m saying the same about both. I really enjoyed the stories in both anthologies. They each have a lot of interesting characters and stories about the characters. As with any anthology I read I look forward to looking up the various authors and seeing what else they have written.

Books Finished in February

Not a Nation of Immigrants: Settler Colonialism, White Supremacy, and a History of Erasure and Exclusion by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
This was an interesting read – some history I already new about and some I did not. There was a lot of stuff I would say is important for us to know.
The Vanished Birdsz by Simon Jimenez
The way this story unfolded took some getting used to but I really ended up enjoying it. There’s a lot going on and a single paragraph can span several years which makes things even more interesting. The characters make it all wroth it.

Books Finished in March so far

Some Kids Left Behind: A Survivor’s Fight for Health Care in the Wake of 9/11 by Lila Nordstrom
I really enjoyed reading this and I feel like I learned a lot about the aftermath of 9/11 from the point of view of people like Lila – people who lived near the towers. There’s a lot I had never heard about or realized. Also a lot comparisons to be made about what is going on now with COVID