Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Double Mini-Reviews: My Name is Iris by Brando Skyhorse & I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself by Marisa Crane

My Name is Iris by Brando Skyhorse
Avid Reader Press
Publication: August 1st, 2023
Hardcover. 272 pages.

About My Name is Iris:
"Iris Prince is starting over. After years of drifting apart, she and her husband are going through a surprisingly drama-free divorce. She's moved to a new house in a new neighborhood, and has plans for gardening, coffee clubs, and spending more time with her nine-year-old daughter Melanie. It feels like her life is finally exactly what she wants it to be.

Then, one beautiful morning, she looks outside her kitchen window—and sees that a wall has appeared in her front yard overnight. Where did it come from? What does it mean? And why does it seem to keep growing?

Meanwhile, a Silicon Valley startup has launched a high-tech wrist wearable called "the Band." Pitched as a convenient, eco-friendly tool to help track local utilities and replace driver's licenses and IDs, the Band is available only to those who can prove parental citizenship. Suddenly, Iris, a proud second-generation Mexican-American, is now of "unverifiable origin," unable to prove who she is, or where she, and her undocumented loved ones, belong. Amid a climate of fear and hate-fueled violence, Iris must confront how far she'll go to protect what matters to her most."

My Name is Iris follows Iris Prince, a newly divorced mom who is proud to be starting afresh in her life in a new house and new neighborhood. The government is about to put a stop all of that with the introduction of new wristbands meant to serve as identification for citizens–which turns out to prove a problem for Iris, who is a second-generation Mexican-American and whose parents are currently undocumented, which leaves her considered as someone of "unverifiable origins." 

What I liked: I thought this was a fascinating premise. There are a lot of stories that play with this idea of new high-tech IDs and similar concepts, and I appreciated that Skyhorse put the spotlight on Iris who has a unique situation as a child of undocumented parents and who has many obstacles in her way that others do not. This is where Skyhorse excelled in execution, as I really felt myself feeling Iris' struggle and sharing her pains and frustrations. I also liked the fact that the author included some magical realism elements that actually felt as though they were incorporated really well and added to the general atmosphere of the story. 

What I didn't like: A lot of the dialogue and actions in this book felt very flat. Despite people speaking with emotion, it didn't come across in the writing, and I found the narrative voice exceedingly dry in a way that didn't work for me this time. Similarly, I struggled to feel fully invested in this story at all, and I felt like the execution of the general premise with the Bands wasn't executed as thoroughly as it could have been. This also felt like one of those stories where I was just being told and hit over the head about certain topics rather than experiencing them through the story (very similar to what I felt while reading R.F. Kuang's Babel), and this left me feeling as though the author didn't trust the reader to understand what they were trying to do. This won't bother everyone, but it does tend to affect my reading experience. This almost reads more as something that would work well as a short story or even a short novella, as there wasn't quite enough substance regarding the plot itself to make this 274 page novel work for me. 

Overall, I've given My Name is Iris 2.5 stars. 

I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself by Marisa Crane
Publication Date: January 17th, 2023
Hardcover. 352 pages.

About I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself:
"In a United States not so unlike our own, the Department of Balance has adopted a radical new form of law enforcement: rather than incarceration, wrongdoers are given a second (and sometimes, third, fourth, and fifth) shadow as a reminder of their crime—and a warning to those they encounter. Within the Department, corruption and prejudice run rampant, giving rise to an underclass of so-called Shadesters who are disenfranchised, publicly shamed, and deprived of civil rights protections. 

Kris is a Shadester and a new mother to a baby born with a second shadow of her own. Grieving the loss of her wife and thoroughly unprepared for the reality of raising a child alone, Kris teeters on the edge of collapse, fumbling in a daze of alcohol, shame, and self-loathing. Yet as the kid grows, Kris finds her footing, raising a child whose irrepressible spark cannot be dampened by the harsh realities of the world."

I Keep My Exoskeletons follows Kris as she navigates a world in which people are given shadows for their crimes in place of prison or other consequences by the Department of Balance. These shadows follow a person and make it clear to those without shadows that those with them, known as shadesters, have done "wrong" and are now often treated much more poorly than those without. Kris has recently lost her wife to childbirth and is now left to raise their baby alone in this difficult world. 

What I liked: I really liked the first person narrative style of Kris essentially speaking to her late wife. This added a really personal and introspective touch to this story that I think really helped me feel like I was getting into the head of Kris, as well as understand Kris and Beau's relationship. The character-driven aspect of this story won't be for everyone, but I appreciated its ability to keep my attention and allow me to really sink into this person's life and attempt to understand their experiences in a world where the Department of Balance and "shadows" exist. This book tackles a lot of different topics and themes, some humorous and heartwarming, others dark and full of grief, and I thought the author tackled these–especially grief– excellently. I could really feel that sadness that plagued Kris in that deep way that grief does and that I find it hard for books to capture sometimes. 

What I didn't like: As mentioned, I didn't mind that this was so character-focused and the general style of the narration, but I did lament a little bit the fact that we didn't get to explore this concept as deeply as it could have been. I also felt as though the stream of consciousness style fo talking to her late wife lent this to be almost on the verge of rambling at times, and far too much time was spent on topics that I felt didn't need nearly as much time spent on them as we did. For instance, I understand that Kris and Beau's sexual journey with BDSM was important to their relationship and how it evolved, but there were times where I started wondering if I was actually just reading a story about a couple's journey with BDSM and had to remind myself that wasn't actually the main plot of the book (maybe my memory is exaggerating slightly, but it really did feel like this was covered a lot throughout the book). 

Overall, I've given I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself three stars. 

1 comment:

  1. I haven't heard of either of these, sorry they didn't really work for you. My Name is Iris sounds like something I would have picked up, but probably not now:-)