The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper, by Hallie Rubenhold
This is one of the standout books of 2019. Rubenhold does history, particularly women’s history, a huge service here by becoming biographer for the five victims of Jack the Ripper. She sets each woman’s story in the events of their time and brings humanity to their lives and especially their deaths. This is not a book about the Ripper, it’s a book about the very human circumstances that brought each woman to be exposed to the murderer’s inhumanity. I cannot recommend this book enough. (See earlier review.)
The Glass Woman, by Caroline Lea
I listened to the audio book of this novel. Set in the 1600s in Iceland—a harsh, rural environment—it follows the story of Rosa who marries, a man she knows little about, in order to stave off the death of her mother and the starvation of her village. But her new husband has secrets that could mean her death. I liked this one all right. The blurb promised a Jane Eyre or Rebecca. It started out that way then changed into something very different. Dark and brooding, definitely, but I got the feeling that the book didn’t know what kind of book it was. I probably wouldn’t have read it as a book, but the audio version was very well done.
Dear Reader, by Mary O’Connell
I seem to be reading books about wandering New York City with some frequency. This story follows Flannery from her Connecticut private school throughout Manhattan as she tries to find her favorite teacher. A teacher who’s copy of Wuthering Heights has become a real-time diary allowing Flannery to follow her tracks as she revisits places important to her in the city. Flannery meets Heath Smith, who might actually be a come-to-life Heathcliff. Both sad, thoughtful, and a delight, Dear Reader was a good read. It was as imaginative as it was fun. Probably not a book I’ll pick up again, but one that I’ll think about from time to time.
Venetia, by Georgette Heyer
This was a second read for this Heyer. In the fan forums, this is usually one of the favorites. It hadn’t been mine the first time I read it as I found the idea of the debauched, yet reformed nobleman gross. I mean the first time we meet Dameral is when he attempts to rape Venetia because he thinks she’s a servant. Gross. However, what I did like about it is Venetia’s agency. Unlike most Heyer heroines, who tend to be passive in romantic matters, Venetia has true agency and makes decisions based on her own happiness without regards to society. I liked it better on second reading. It has some of the best love-to-hate secondary characters in any Heyer.
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, by Alice Munro
I hadn’t read any of Munro’s short stories and thought it was time. (I hadn’t read any Grace Paley either and found that her lack of structure made it unbearable for me to read.) I really enjoyed these stories. How Munro really dives into the deeps of what people think, what makes them take or not take action, is mind altering. I don’t often read short stories—those these were practically novellas—but I’m sure I’ll read more of her in the future.
Merton of the Movies, by Harry Leon Wilson
The copy I have was a centennial reprint of one of the biggest books of 1919. It started out as a series in the Saturday Evening Post and apparently was made into movies and plays. Merton is a young clerk in a small town in Illinois with huge dreams of being a serious movie actor. Merton has zero sense of humor and no sense of sarcasm. When he shows up in Hollywood ambitious to act along with his favorite stars, he’s put out to find that Hollywood is all sets and stunt actors. He still vows to bring something “real and true” to elevate the commonness of the films being made. Even going so far as to nearly starve as he crashes at nights on the movie lot when he turns homeless. But a young, flippant actress takes a shine to him and gets him a starring role in a comedy—but tells him it’s a serious film, so everyone but him is in on the joke. I enjoyed this a lot—although some of the scenes dragged, the author having a little too much fun with descriptions. It is definitely not a love letter to Hollywood despite the author being an obvious fan.
(Full disclosure: I got this book as a review copy. LARB are reprinting some fascinating-looking books from the same era. Check them out: https://larbbooks.org/books/classics/)
Love, Death, and Rare Books, by Robert Hellenga
I read an ARC of this one, the book comes out in March. It was pretty good. Book porn for sure. Gabe Johnson, is a third generation rare book dealer. He spends his life in love with a woman who does whatever she wants, regardless of how it hurts other people. When Gabe’s father dies and he loses the lease to his bookstore, he relocates to a small town on Lake Michigan to open a smaller store. I liked it overall—I mean they talk about books constantly. My main issue was that even though the book spans decades, the two main characters don’t grow or change at all. I found that off-putting once I finished, realizing that it was just OK, but I’ll always read a novel about books.
Aurora Blazing, by Jessie Mihalik
The space opera, political intrigue, action-packed, kick-ass princess book I didn’t know I needed. I listened to this one, the second in a series. It wasn’t a bad place to start as I never once felt I didn’t know what was going on. When Bianca’s brother, Ferdinand—the heir to one of the three most powerful families in the universe—is kidnapped, she is in a unique place to find him. Only her father wants her to leave it to the family’s security. Running away and soon being captured by her love/nemesis Ian—head of security—Bianca gets the information they need to find her brother. Together Ian and Bianca travel galaxies and commit daring rescues to return her brother home. I’ll reiterate here, I didn’t know how much I needed this until I read it. So much fun!
Get a Life, Chloe Brown, by Talia Hibbard
So this probably shouldn’t count as I read the book last month, but this time I listened to it. Still great.
Sheets, by Brenna Thummler
This was a Christmas present from a friend. I’d seen it before but hadn’t really looked into it. It was a fun quick read. Not really much to say about it. A girl whose mother recently died and whose father has checked out, runs her family’s laundromat while facing the threat of a shady spa owner. A ghost comes to the laundry and at first really messes up, but then he helps the girl save the store. Artwork was nice, story was OK. Fine read.
Thornhill, by Pam Smy
I’ve had a copy of this for ages, but hadn’t gotten around to it. Boy. Wow. Part diary, part graphic novel, this is a dark story about a girl, thirty years ago, who was severely bullied while living in group home. The graphic novel part of the story follows a girl who recently moved into a house next to the derelict building that used to be the group home and begins to see a girl on the property and lights on in the attic. Creepy and devastating, this is a hard story well-told.
Hollow Dolls, by MarcyKate Connelly
This is a middle-grade novel set in Connelly’s Shadow Weaver world and follows the story of a secondary character from the original two books. In this world, kids born when a special comet passes are blessed with talents. Simone is a mind-reader, who was controlled by the evil Lady for a time unknown. She has no memory of her early life or even for how long she’s been alive—kept young through other talents. The person with the talent of “body walking” or being able to control other people, seems to be looking for her, so she and her friend set off to escape the body walker and to try to discover information about her family. I really enjoyed the Shadow Weaver duology. This one was a nice addition, but I didn’t care as much for Simone as I wanted to.