Review: Under the Whispering Door

Title: Under the Whispering Door (September 21, 2021)
Author: T.J. Klune
Pages: 384


Having read The House in the Cerulean Sea (which I loved) and now Under the Whispering Door, I’ve noticed a certain Pixar-esque sensibility to T.J. Klune’s writing – there’s a dynamic premise, a gentle touch, a colorful cast of characters, and a thoughtful message. The tone borders right on the edge of being too syrupy sweet, but Klune injects enough turmoil and heft into the proceedings to never cross over into cloyingness.

I did have some difficulty getting behind Wallace’s redemption arc here, as his introduction paints him in such a vile light that it made it hard to believe his personality could undergo such a 180 in such a short time. As such, I did not find this book to be as effective or affecting as The House in the Cerulean Sea, but it is still well worth your time. I really enjoy Klune’s writing and I look forward to reading whatever he pens next.

★★★½

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: A Dead Djinn in Cairo

a-dead-djinn-in-cairoTitle: A Dead Djinn in Cairo (2016)
Author: 
P. Djèlí Clark
Pages: 
45
Series: Fatma el-Sha’arawi #1 (Series Tracker)


P. Djèlí Clark’s short story tells a tale of an alternate Cairo filled with steampunk flourishes, supernatural oddities, and a deadly plot that could destroy the world. Clark packs a complete story into this vivid setting and it works splendidly. A considerable amount of time is spent on exposition, but it’s all fascinating and I imagine it makes this story a great primer for both his 2019 novella and his 2021 novel, which are set in the same world. I’ll surely be checking those out after this excellent start.

★★★★ out of 5

Review: The House in the Cerulean Sea

HouseintheCeruleanSeaTitle: The House in the Cerulean Sea (2020)
Author: T.J. Klune
Pages: 393


This was a very satisfying read and it served as a balm in troubled times for me. Linus, a mild mannered case worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth is given a classified assignment to investigate an orphanage on a remote island where six seemingly dangerous children reside along with their mysterious caretaker. Shenanigans ensue…

It was not hard to predict how the story would play out and the moral is not subtle, but the book is filled with so much heart that none of that matters. I was just happy to be along for the ride. 

TJ Klune has written something truly wonderful here – a positively delightful book that warms the heart and soul. Each page brims with life and joy and it gives me hope for a better world. I’m not sure what else you can ask for from a book.

★★★★½ out of 5
SPECULATIVE SHELF STARRED BOOK

Review: Riot Baby

riot-baby-final-coverTitle: Riot Baby (2020)
Author: Tochi Onyebuchi
Pages: 176


This novella is visceral, staggering, and powerful. We follow Ella and Kev, siblings with extraordinary gifts, who are wearied by structural racism and the damage that this inflicts upon their family. 

Onyebuchi’s storytelling is really immersive and makes us feel the righteous anger and pain of each societal injustice as Ella and Kev are pushed beyond their breaking points. In the same way that Ella uses her godlike gift to pop in and out of space and time, the narrative jumps around and we’re shown windows into pivotal moments in the lives of our protagonists. And while the story presents an ever-worsening dystopian future, Onyebuchi leaves us with a glimmer of hope for a better future to come. Although tough to read at times, I found Riot Baby to be a satisfying read that packs quite a bit of fire into its limited page count.

★★★½ out of 5

 

Review: Semiosis

Semiosis.jpgTitle: Semiosis (2018)
Author: Sue Burke
Pages: 338

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Upon arriving on Pax, a faraway Earth-like planet, human colonists seek to build a peaceful society despite territorial native plants and harsh conditions. The story is told over 100+ years and across several generations of settlers.

I immediately drew parallels between Semiosis and aspects of other recent works of science fiction — the multi-generational narrative of Children of Time, the planet colonizing and community building of Planetfall, and the alien communication angle of Arrival to name a few. As the story moves forward, though, this book forges its own path and becomes wholly original.

Author Sue Burke brings flora to life (both literally and figuratively) in such a skillful way that I was shocked to find that she is not a botanist-turned-novelist. Infusing plants with sentiency and agency adds an eerie quality to this book that was difficult to shake.

Structurally, the beginning sections were much more interesting to me as the time jumps moved us quickly from generation to generation, but things felt stagnant in the final few sections as the focus shifts to one pivotal event instead of years and years of progress. I see the value in altering the plot progression and story beats to keep things fresh, but things slowed down and got stuck focusing on some minutiae that was less appealing to me.

Nevertheless, Semiosis is solid debut novel that nicely executes a high-concept format. It’s disquieting, clever, and a change of pace from what I’m used to reading. I would be intrigued to see what sort of future Sue Burke could cultivate for future generations of the Pax commonwealth should a sequel bear fruit.

★★★¾ out of 5