Lifel1k3 is the Real Deal, Not a Cheap Piece of Fugazi

6105kSuTLdLI had never heard of Jay Kristoff before this year, which most book bloggers would take as a sign that I’ve had my head buried under a rock. Along with Amie Kaufman, he wrote the Illuminae Files, a wildly popular series, which may be turned into a movie sometime in the near future.

After reading Kristoff’s Lifel1k3, I’ve succumbed to a full-on case of FOMO and will be reading every last thing he has ever written. It’s just that good. No, it’s better than you might imagine. In fact, if an aspiring author wanted me to suggest something for her to read which hit every note perfectly, which was paced exceptionally well, which asked big questions, and which was thrilling to read from start to finish, I’d hand her a copy of Lifel1k3 without thinking twice.

Frankly, I was surprised that I liked the book so much. Nothing about it is usual for me. I don’t read a lot of post-apocalyptic sci-fi and the idea of synthetic lifeforms only interests me in so far as they might be programmed to make coffee or do the particularly disgusting parts of housekeeping like cleaning out the cat box.

Why did I buy a copy? Well, I was in my favorite book store, the scent of fresh paper and ink was heady, and I liked the cover. It looks like a honeycomb and made my mouth water.

What is it about? I’ve heard it described as a mash-up between Romeo and Juliet and The Terminator. That’s fairly accurate, except it doesn’t capture its humor and philosophical earnestness.

The main character is a seventeen year-old girl who is trying to scrape out a living on a junk heap situated in the middle of a radioactive wasteland. All she wants to do is make enough money to buy her grandfather some medicine to ease his suffering and avoid local gangs and religious zealots. Unfortunately, she attracts all the wrong kind of attention when the robot gladiator she built ends up as a smoking pile of spare parts and it looks like she destroyed its opponent with the power of her mind.

A host of fascinating characters accompany Eve on her adventures. There’s Cricket, her cautious robotic sidekick; and Kaiser, a loyal robotic dog. True to their artificial nature, they don’t evolve throughout the course of the novel. Their constancy is a helpful touchstone and is what we end up loving about them.

Lemon Fresh is Eve’s best friend and the fizziest character imaginable. Even when things are at their worst, she hitches up her sassy pants, throws down some eye-popping taunts, and reaffirms her love for her best friend.

“I don’t care who’s after you. Where you’re from or where you’re going. It’s you, me, Crick and Kaiser. No matter what. Rule Number One in the Scrap, remember? Stronger together, together forever.”

Finally, there’s Ezekiel, the impossibly perfect Lifel1k3 who will protect Eve at all costs, but whom she doesn’t trust. If one could imagine the perfect lover, he would be remarkably similar to Ezekiel: dimples, chiseled abs and a penchant for saying the right thing at the right time:

“Deviation’ or whatever you want to call it? That’s just another expression of it. You call it freakish. I call it incredible.” (Translation: you’re perfect because of your faults, not despite them.)

Every romantic on the planet will swoon when he or she reads this line:

“It’s simple to love someone on the days that are easy. But you find out what your love is made of on the days that are hard.”

This rag-tag bunch takes off on a doomed flight, travels through the belly of a sea beast, scrambles through the warrens of a crime-ridden city and races across the desert to rescue Eve’s grandfather and find sanctuary.

There’s scarcely a moment to breathe between one crazy, heart-pounding experience and the next. The pacing makes it nearly impossible to put this book down. If I were to suggest one critique of the book, it would be this: There weren’t enough quiet moments for the reader to look around, absorb everything and get her bearings. I only offer that in a half-hearted fashion, though.

Lifel1k3 poses some deep questions: How real is too real? Is truth really more important than belief? Does one’s past matter as much as one’s present? Is subjugation of any class of beings ever acceptable? If you don’t truly know yourself, can you truly love? Why do villains like chewing tobacco so much?

It’s Time to Celebrate WITmonth!

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August is Women In Translation Month, which is when we celebrate the literary efforts of women around the world whose works have been translated into English. You might be wondering why this is important.

According to the Three Percent Translation Database, books by women make up 28.7% of the 4,849 books published during the decade 2008-2018 (including projected titles). You’ll find breakdowns by language, country, and publisher on the Three Percent blog.

If women only made up 30% of authors, or if their works were simply “not as good” as those penned by their male counterparts, that would be one thing. Unfortunately, this really is more of an indicator of  societal forces continuing to amplify male voices and male stories at the expense of women’s.

I appreciate the sentiment expressed by Natalie Kon-yu here:

Anyone who argues that good work will always be published and valued is not paying attention to the way in which our literary culture dismisses, maligns, or limits the work of anyone deemed to be other to the white male writer.

~Natalie Kon-yu, cited on the English Pen

If you’re curious about the origins of WiT Month,  you can read a brief history on Tranlationista.

Would you like to participate? M. Lynx Qualey wrote a terrific participation guide on Book Riot. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Please tweet about your reads with the hashtags #WomenInTranslation and #WITMonth. Follow @Read_WIT.
  2. Ask libraries and book groups to include books by women in translation.
  3. Review works by women in translation to give them a marketing bump.

I’m really digging the list of 31 books to read now on Words Without Borders. I’ve read–and LOVED–The Elegance of a Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery and translated by Alison Anderson. You can read my review here.

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I’ve added The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz and translated by Elisabeth Jaquette to my TBR list. It sounds like a particularly disturbing dystopian novel:

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This English PEN Translates Award-winning novel The Queue is set in an unnamed city where a centralized authority known as the Gate has taken power in the aftermath of a failed popular uprising. Citizens are required to obtain permission from the Gate for even the most basic of their daily affairs, yet the building never opens, and the queue in front of it grows longer and longer.

I swear I’ve had nightmares of something like that happening…if you’ve ever been to the DMV, I’m sure you can relate!

For something completely different, I’m going to throw in a graphic novel by Kanata Konami called Chi’s Sweet Home. The book was originally written in Japanese and it was translated by Ed Chavez.

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Do I really need to explain what attracts me to that book? LOOK AT THAT CUTE FACE.

But if you must know what it’s about, here’s the Goodreads summary:

Chi is a michievous newborn kitten who, while on a leisurely stroll with her family, finds herself lost. Seperated from the warmth and protection of her mother, feels distraught. Overcome with loneliness she breaks into tears in a large urban park meadow., when she is suddenly rescued by a young boy named Yohei and his mother. The kitty is then quickly and quietly whisked away into the warm and inviting Yamada family apartment…where pets are strictly not permitted.

A-roooooooo!

werewolf-2320611_960_720If that picture came up on Tindr, I’d swipe left. Ironically, when that sort of picture comes up on my Kindle, I often click “download.” Case in point: I’m currently reading The Blackbirds: The Children of Corvus by L.E. Harrison. I received an ARC of the book from Netgalley.

Let’s talk about werewolves. What makes them so fascinating? Conversely, what aspects of werewolf tales repulse us? Good Things:

  • Werewolves represent the struggle many of us face between our animalistic urges and the the repressive forces we exert on ourselves to behave in socially acceptable ways.
  • They have super strength, speed, scenting abilities, hearing and stealth.
  • They live in highly organized packs. Order is appealing. So is the idea of a group always having one’s back.
  • They live close to nature. Many of us who live in big cities, surrounded by machines and asphalt, electric lights, and pressure to always be on the go, long for a pace of life that is slower and in tune with the seasons, where we can savor the beauty around us.
  • Loyalty to one’s mate and to one’s pack is commonly portrayed in these stories.
  • Lots of these stories involve big strong men and lithe, beautiful woman wandering around in the nude because they just went through the change. Sexy beasts!

Troubling Aspects:

  • Because of the close connection to nature, many authors describe them as Native Americans. I’m uncomfortable with this. Depending on the ethnicity of the author, this can be construed as cultural appropriation.
  • The alpha-omega aspect of pack hierarchy is distasteful to me at times, particularly in the way females are expected to submit.
  • Male-female role assignment often adheres to old-fashioned, repressive notions. Men hunt and protect the pack; females cook, breed and care for their whelps.

The Blackbirds is a little different than many of the other urban fantasy werewolf tales I’ve read. I’ll have lots of things to say about how it measures up to and defies expectations.What do look forward to when reading a book about werewolves? Do you have any qualms about them?