Find it at your library!

I have what you might call a road rage problem. This girl who normally will do just about anything to avoid confrontation somehow morphs into Lady Hulk Smash when ensconced behind the wheel of my Subaru. Rude, inattentive, and unsafe drivers are everywhere! (I want to add, “And it’s getting worse all the time!” but I’m aware how old and crotchety that makes me sound, so I’ll sneak it in here in a parenthetical so I can pretend like I’m not saying it.) I keep telling myself I need to stop being so surprised when other drivers are jerks, because a large percentage of my indignation stems from my disbelief that people can actually be so awful. If I just accepted that the vast majority of people, if given the choice, will act selfishly instead of unselfishly, then maybe I could release some of this anger. On the road, I aspire to weary resignation. At least then I could stop grinding my teeth.

One of the ways I attempt to make my commute less soul-sucking is by listening to audio books in the car. The Last Days of Emily Lindsey distracted me so well, I reached a state mellow enough that I didn’t even mind pulling up to that one really long stoplight right as it turned from yellow to red. Who cares if I had to sit there an extra three minutes (not that I’ve ever timed that light or have any knowledge of how much time I lose if I have to wait through an entire cycle)? That just meant I’d be three extra minutes closer to finding out what the heck was going on with the case.

And the case is super strange! Alternating timelines can be tough to pull off, but this is one of the most effective uses I’ve seen. In the present, Steve is a cop who has struggled with nightmares and visions his entire life. Of course he has to keep them secret so he can stay on the job, but it’s tough to keep your problems quiet if you start blacking out at crime scenes. Steve and his partner are investigating a strange attack on an infamous gossip blogger named Emily Lindsey. She is found at her home, nearly catatonic and covered in someone else’s blood. She won’t respond to questioning, so Steve is on his own to try to figure out what happened to her. In the other (even weirder) timeline, a group of kids in a strange communal living situation hatch a plan to escape their rooms one night to uncover the truth about the odd place where they live. And eventually, yes, these two off-the-wall storylines come together, but not exactly how I expected, which was a fun surprise.

If you like super suspenseful, edge-of-your-seat reads, I can’t think of a better book for you. It might even cure your road rage.

Find it at your library!

Honesty time: I put off reading N.K. Jemisin because I was intimidated. Sci-fi isn't always the most accessible genre for me, and the publisher descriptions of her books sound so technical. It's hard for me to get excited about jargon-laden descriptions of spaceships or distant planets. I need some character development, some interpersonal connection...and yes, maybe some high-stakes emotional drama, to keep me invested, and the sci-fi I've read doesn't always deliver that.

It turns out, N.K. Jemisin's brand of science fiction is like regular science fiction, plus the emotional weight and stylistic skill of my favorite literary writers. Jackpot!

The Fifth Season, the first volume in Jemisin's latest trilogy, follows three different plot lines. The first is about a woman named Essun, who comes home to discover her husband has killed their son and kidnapped their daughter. She sets out across dangerous, desolate terrain to find them. The earth, already wildly unstable along its fault lines, has been torn asunder in a great rift, and ash rains down as infrastructure burns.

What's scariest about Essun's situation, other than the physical risk of being alone and unprotected in uncertain, anarchic times, is how unsurprised she seems by her husband's terrible actions; it's as if she always feared this day would come. But what reason could ever justify killing one's own child? To that I say, keep reading.

Then there is Damaya, a young girl with mysterious earth-moving powers, sold by her own parents to a government handler who asserts control over her in strange and cruel ways. And Syenite, a woman with the same kind of powers, paired up with a senior partner with whom she is required to procreate to produce more of their kind. I've said many times before how much I love books that bring together different threads of story in surprising ways, and Jemisin's book goes right to the top of that list in my mind.

The Fifth Season also goes right to the top of the list of my favorite books of 2015. It's beautifully written, it's a highly unique concept, and I could not have been more invested in these characters. I'm not a big re-reader, but it's one I would consider reading again, just to see all the little connections I missed the first time around. I'm also not a big fan of series, but I'm sure I'll be in such a frenzy by the time the second book, The Obelisk Gate, comes out (hopefully next year), I'll probably need to read it while pedaling 20 miles per hour on the exercise bike. If that isn't enough, I don't know, maybe a tranquilizer dart to the face?

Jemisin's work could stand alongside Margaret Atwood's best speculative fiction, but with a worldview and flair all its own. Highest possible recommendation.