I’m kind of surprised that I read eight books last month. But then it also feels like I should have read twenty since the month was so long.
Ink and Bone, by Rachel Caine
This is the first book in a series called “The Great Library” (which is why I picked it up). It’s an alternative history where the Great Library of Alexandria survived and put up ‘daughter’ libraries in other cities. Now the library holds power over all knowledge. The book follows Jess as he leaves his family (of smugglers) in England to become a scholar in Alexandria—a deadly enterprise. The plot is twisty (and sometimes convoluted), and the characters are interesting—all with secrets of their own. It was a fun book, but I probably won’t read the other four books in the series. Not my thing, really.
The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, by Abbi Waxman
Another solidly good book that didn’t really do it for me. It’s a nice little romance about a woman who prefers the company of books who finds herself (unexpectedly) part of a large family after her unknown father passes away and leaves her something in his will. It is a nice book and definitely the type of book I want to be reading right now. My problem with it is that it takes place in Los Angeles and there are some major flaws in how the author describes the city, which kept taking me out of the story.
Deal with the Devil, by Kit Rocha
I was planning on reading only books about books this month (I got a pile of them). This book is the first in a series called the “Mercenary Librarians.” Of course, I was going to read it. But it had very little to do with books (sigh). However, it had three very kick-ass lady main characters and a steamy hot romance subplot. Set in a post-apocalyptic Georgia, after the U.S. has devolved into different territories after an East v. West civil war, Nina and her partners are information brokers who are trying to level the playing field for common people against the corporation that runs their territory. I’ll likely be reading the next book in the series as the world-building was a lot of fun, though there weren’t enough books.
Network Effect, by Martha Wells
Okay, okay, I had to reread it because it IS SO GOOD. (See my review from February.) Plus, the relationship between ART and Murderbot is so good. They are two man-made beings who are trying to understand how to be friends with each other, when they’re not even sure how to be friends with humans. Can’t recommend this series enough.
The Tenth Girl, by Sara Faring
A YA horror that I read a review of last September and stuck with me until I couldn’t help but buy it. The back of the cover says it has a “twist you’ll never see coming.” And damn, if that isn’t completely accurate. Ostensibly, a horror story set in remote Argentinean Patagonia in 1978 in a decrepit, labyrinthine house, we follow Mavi who goes to the house to be a teacher to ten tween girls. We also follow an unnamed person who seems like a ghost haunting the house, but who comes from the year 2020. There is just enough thrills to make it scary but not enough that I had to put the books down. (I’m a wimp.) I had no idea what the twist would be and was really surprised when it became clear. It’s a good twist.
Flaubert’s Parrot, by Julian Barnes
I had this book in my cart to take out to the Little Free Library and was looking for something not genre fiction, so I picked it up. Heavens, this is a good book. Unique, literary, subtle, and obtuse. The story, of sorts, is an odd biography of Gustave Flaubert by an obsessed fan—retired British doctor Geoffrey Braithwaite. As Geoffrey is telling a story of the life of Flaubert and how his art intersects with irony, sex, aesthetics, and death, we get to know him and his losses that give insight into why he’s obsessed with Flaubert. It’s an experimental, short read, but chockful of ideas and uncanny connections. Really enjoyed it.
Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice is my favorite book. The older I get the funnier it is. So, confession, I’ve only read Northanger Abbey once in high school. I didn’t really like it then. I loved it now. The thing I didn’t like about when I was younger was that it felt like two separate stories—and it is. But now, I really appreciated the first part that takes place in Bath for all of Austen’s wry sarcasm towards the characters. The second part is kinda boring, but its only a third of the book. And, of course, there is a happy ending so all worthwhile. It won’t be on my short list of Austen rereads, but it’s darn good.
The Unknown Ajax, by Georgette Heyer
Northanger Abbey left me in the mood for some Heyer, so another reread. This one has it all—mystery, romance, comedy, adventure, and the best secondary characters that Heyer has to offer. The in-fighting between the two valets, Crimplesham and Polyphant, is hilarious while the august Lady Aurelia totally steals the show. The plot: The large, old family Darracot has lost its heir to a boating accident. The next in line is a man that none of them have ever met because cantankerous Lord Darracot disinherited his father when he married “a weaver’s daughter.” Turns out the new heir, Hugo, is as mysterious as he is large and causes all sorts of (fun) havoc in the family while saving his youngest cousin from real trouble.
A couple of days ago I finished reading Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes. It was a book I’ve had on my shelf for awhile (that I took when a friend cleaned out his books prior to a move) and had put it on my rack for books to go out to my Little Free Library. Tired of genre books I’d been reading, it caught my eye. It is very literary and fairly short, so just the palate cleanser I needed. And it was a delight.
The story follows George Braithwaite, retired doctor, widower, and Gustave Flaubert obsessive. There is not really a plot line and each chapter has a different format, but what we get is an introspective look at the life of the famous Flaubert and insight into why Braithwaite is obsessed with him. Which, turns out, is fascinating. During the conversation, for that’s what it feels like, Braithwaite talks about irony, art imitating life and vice versa, whether or not a work of art should be viewed through the lens of the artist’s life.
It’s been years since I underlined so many passages in a book. There were some wonderfully clever insights into book lovers and about mourning. The idea of viewing art through the lens of an artist’s life is one that I think a lot about—especially when we find out that so many creatives have histories of being horrible.
But the following passage about whether or not mistakes in a work of fiction matter really intrigued me:
“’Does it matter?’ As far as I can remember Professor Ricks’s lecture, his argument was that if the factual side of literature becomes unreliable, then ploys such as irony and fantasy become much harder to use. If you don’t know what’s true, or what’s meant to be true, then the value of what isn’t true, or what’s meant to be true, then the value of what isn’t true, or isn’t meant to be true, becomes diminished. This seems to me a very sound argument; though I do wonder to how many cases of literary mistake it actually applies.”
This is an internal struggle I have. I tend to notice mistakes. Mistakes like the time not adding up correctly or ages not matching or clothing changes when there was no opportunity or people not in the room when they were a paragraph before. I try to let these mistakes go and sometimes I can, but if they build up enough then it really colors my appreciation of the story. In the quote above, George is trying to understand if it matters or not that Flaubert, in Madame Bovary, gives three different eye colors for the heroine.
I read a book recently that I wanted to like but the mistakes were so blatant that by the time I found a mistake in the crux of the story, I just couldn’t like the book, as nice as it was. The book takes place in Larchmont—a subsection of Los Angeles. The author kept referring to the area as East LA, which by no definition could it be. It’s firmly in midtown. The author also called the West Side, everything west of the 405 freeway. Again, untrue. The author then referred to Cal Arts as being in Pasadena. As a Pasadena resident, this was particularly annoying as it’s the Art Center of Design here. Cal Arts is north, in Valencia.
So when we got to the part of the book where the heroine will remeet her soon-to-be lover and the fantasy the author was relying on to make it happen seemed unrealistic, I couldn’t overlook the machinations of it.
As the quote states: “If the factual side of literature becomes unreliable, then ploys such as irony and fantasy [or the meet cute] become harder to use.”
I feel like the mistakes earlier in the book should have been caught in editing and proofreading (especially the one about Cal Arts), so that just makes it harder to overlook them. I know that this says more about me than the book, but if you can’t rely on the factual stuff being true then how can you rely on the imaginative parts being authentic?
February was an oddball month for reading for me. I had trouble liking many of the books I read and doubled down on the love for others. I feel like I didn’t read all the much either. March is seeming like that too, and now that I’m self-isolating, I feel like I need to read more than I am. Crazy times we’re living in.
Jane Austen’s Ghost, by Jennifer Kloester
Jennifer Kloester wrote a biography of Georgette Heyer and a book about Regency England that is super helpful when reading Heyer books. This is her first novel and wasn’t widely published, so I wanted to be supportive. Good news, the book was a lot of fun. A bit of romance, a bit of mystery, a love letter to reading. The premise is that Jane Austen was cursed at her death by a rejected suitor. She has remained a ghost in Winchester Cathedral for 200 years. When Cassandra’s aunt tries to reverse the curse, she is almost killed and Cassandra winds up getting a psychic connection to Jane. The best parts of this book are Cassandra and Jane exploring modern life. It’s very well imagined and truly delightful.
When You Trap a Tiger, by Tae Keller
This was a good book. Solid writing and storytelling, but it didn’t really catch me. I think I may not have connected with it because I’m not ten and the audience is firmly meant to be 8 to 11. When Korean-American Lily moves with her mom and sister to a small town in Washington to be with her ailing grandmother, she discovers that her grandmother’s tales of tigers and magic may be true. Her halmoni (grandma in Korean) always told Lily amazing folk tales from Korea. When the tiger from those tales suddenly starts stalking Lily, she knows that the tiger is after her grandmother’s life and she takes steps to keep the tiger away. Really, this is a story about losing a loved one and learning to understand the loss. Good story for kids.
Murderbot Diaries novellas, 1-4, by Martha Wells
I reread these four novellas between other books. I love Murderbot so dang much. There is no human more human than this cyborg killer. For a while, after reading A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, all I wanted to do was reread that. Now it’s Murderbot. What can I say? I love space families.
The Sound of Stars, by Alechia Dow
A YA novel set a few years after an alien invasion of the Earth. Ellie Baker is one of the last surviving humans in NYC, living in a skyrise with her fellow survivors that is completely controlled by the Illori. They have banned anything creative or inspiring, so Ellie runs a secret library. That’s how she meets M0Rr1S, an Illori who has come to love human music. When Ellie is going to be killed as a traitor, M0Rr1s rescues her, both becoming fugitives. This book should have ticked all my boxes, but it really didn’t do anything for me. I think it was because the pacing was uneven and there was a lot of “oh no we’re captured, and now we handily escape” going on. While Ellie was an interesting character, M0Rr1S was kind of boring and one-dimensional. Plus, the book ends where the second one should start. Just give me an ending already.
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Bronte
Heavens to Betsy, why have I not read this book before?!?!?! I’ve been reading Wuthering Heights since I was 12 and have loved Jane Eyre since I was 14, so why did I never get around to reading this one? It was so dang good. I probably would not have appreciated as much as a teenager (just like how my views on Wuthering Heights has significantly changed). It was a solid story (with maybe a pinch too much proselytizing) with wonderful characters. I enjoyed the fact that it was part epistolary and part diary—a unique way to tell a story some 20 years after it happened. I find it interesting that both Anne and Emily told their single novels through an unusual voice. Anyway, I will be reading this one again.
Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir
This book had a lot of buzz when it came out and it was definitely worth it. The jacket copy labels it, “lesbian necromancers in space.” But it’s a lot more than that. Mystery, adventure, bones … so many bones. Gideon is a master swordswoman and trapped on the Ninth world that values darkness and the macabre. When she has a chance, she goes with her nemesis, Tamsin, a necromancer, to compete for immortality in a decaying castle on a remote world. And it is so much more bizarre than that. I enjoyed this book a lot, though sometimes I found myself rereading paragraphs because the author is very fond of semi-colons and referring to a number of people as he/she within the same paragraph. Still the story very much worked. Gideon was delightfully foul-mouthed and belligerent. Though, I don’t feel like the main characters were in love with each other, which was a main advertising point. I felt that they had a solid friendship built on mutual respect, despite being pitted towards one another as enemies their whole lives. There was a lot of great world-building too.
Hey, Kiddo, by Jarret J. Krosoczka
I’ve been meaning to get to this graphic memoir for a while as Krosoczka wrote/illustrated one of my all-time favorite picture books, Punk Farm. This memoir explored his family relationships—having been raised by his grandparents, with a mom who struggled with a heroin addiction. It was sad, but uplifting too. He didn’t get to know his mom well, but his grandparents were solid stand-in parents and really encouraged his creativity. It’s aimed at teen readers and I think, if I were a teen struggling with absent parents, that I would find a lot to identify with here.
Not the Girl You Marry, by Andie J. Christopher
My one audio book last month. I’ve come to find that “literary” books on audio are hard for me to listen too. Romances is the best, because I can tune out for 20 seconds and still know what’s going on. Not the Girl You Marry was a perfect listen. Sweet story about two people trying to advance their careers by pretending to date wind up being really attracted to one another. Plenty of misunderstandings and a satisfying end make this a delightful read. Both Hannah and Jack have their dating issues, but they both grow so much over the course of their interactions, that they feel like real people. Some very excellent character development.
The beginning of January seems like months ago, yet at the same time the month went by fast. Crazy times we’re living in. My reading was all over the place last month—a little bit of everything. So let’s get to it.
An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good, by Helene Tursten
I picked this up when I was visiting the excellent Left Bank Books in St. Louis in December. It was a staff recommendation. This delightfully macabre little book was a perfect start to this year’s reading. Octogenarian Maud’s life is just how she likes it, so when other people interfere and create disruption, of any sort, she takes the matter in her own hands. Maud is deceptively spry and makes sure no one knows by using a walker that she doesn’t need. Her mind is sharp, but she pretends to be a confused old lady to get her way. And her way is usually deadly. The book is a series of short stories by a famous mystery writer from Sweden and I highly recommend it.
Polaris Rising, by Jessie Mahalik
In December I listened to the audio for the second book in this series, Aurora Blazing. I couldn’t resist continuing my space princess obsession by reading the first book in the series. So.Much.Fun. This book follows the story of Ada (the younger sister of Bianca from Aurora) as she accidently gets involved in a high stakes game of political intrigue between her family and another powerful family from the Consortium. She also accidentally gets involved with the most wanted criminal in the universe, and the sparks fly as they try to prevent galactic war. This book was a blast. I liked Aurora Blazing a little more, as I identified more with Bianca, but Ada has her own brand of kick-ass that’s just as great. I’m looking forward to the third book in the series which will feature both ladies’ youngest sister.
Diana, Princess of the Amazons, by Shannon Hale
Shannon Hale is a rock star among the under 9 crowd. Her books are always so fun and empowering, for kids and adults. In this one, our future Wonder Woman, Diana, is a little girl on an island full of adults. Taking the story of her own creation to heart, she builds a playmate out of clay and suddenly life is a lot more fun. But her friend has an agenda of her own and is probably up to no good. A fun, quick graphic novel, this has a good lesson about doing the right thing without it feeling like a lesson. Highly recommend.
Love Lettering, by Kate Clayborn
I listened to this on audio and it was just what I needed. Meg is a hand lettering phenomenon in Park Slope, Brooklyn, but her success in business seems to cause a decline in her personal life. Her best friend since high school—also her roommate—has begun to shut her out and suddenly announces she’s moving out. Her friend is her only real connection to the world. Enter Reid, the year before she had created his wedding program and turns out the wedding never happened—partially due to a secret message she’d hidden in it. Reid looks her up to find out why she put it in. Finding that Reid hates New York, Meg invites him to walk the city with her to discover hand-painted murals and signs. I think that’s enough to get you started, I don’t want to spoil the story. Suffice it to say that Reid has his secrets and Meg has to learn to demand what she wants. What I really liked about this book was Meg’s unique way of looking at the world—through lettering and fonts. Another thing I really liked is that Reid was on the autism spectrum, but it’s never brought up because Meg notices, but doesn’t care. For a nice comfort read, invest in this one.
Foiled, by Jane Yolen
This is a graphic novel aimed at middle-schoolers. It was alright. Aliera is a competitive fencer but doesn’t have much else going on in her life. When she’s asked out by the cute new boy, she thinks her life is going to change … and it does. She discovers that she is the chosen defender of the fantasy realm. I feel like it took too long to get into what it was really about. As this was the first of two books, it just didn’t catch me enough to read the second.
Network Effect, by Martha Wells
I couldn’t wait to get my hot little hands on this. Network Effect doesn’t come out until May, but I got an ARC. Since you probably aren’t as obsessed as I am, this is the first full-length novel of the Murderbot Diaries. The first four books were novellas and some of my favorite books of the last two years. Murderbot is such a great character and Network Effect did not disappoint. We learn more about Preservation, the world where Murderbot’s favorite people come from, and we get to meet up with ART again. (If you know, you know.) We also get to see just how shitty the corporations can be and what havoc they can cause when they fool around with alien relics. So good. So good, I might just reread it now.
Rogue Princess, by RA Myers
This is a YA novel that did not quite satisfy my space princess obsession but was pretty good. It’s a gender-bent retelling of Cinderella. Set in a part of space called the Four Quadrants, Princess Delia doesn’t want to be forced to marry a prince from one of the other quadrants. Aiden, a poor kitchen worker, wants to get enough money to get off planet. When they come together, sparks fly, but they also find that there is a secret plot against the monarchy that could destroy their world. I liked this one OK, there was world building, but not quite enough, the characters were likeable, but just not enough. The plot twists felt like deus ex machina—that they were thrown in so that the story would work, not grown organically. It was a fun read and would probably be more liked by someone who hasn’t read a ton of space princess stories.
The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood
So, this book. Really long, with such a slow build and an ending that’s devastating, yet kind of hopeful. I read a lot of Margaret Atwood in the 1990s, but not much since. It was nice to catch up with her again. The Blind Assassin is two different stories. One story is told by Iris at the end of her life who tells about her upbringing with her long-dead sister Laura up until she gets married and leaves her husband. The other story is “The Blind Assassin,” a novel about two star-crossed lovers, who meet in dingy rooms. I loved Atwood’s ability to really get into the mind of the characters—Iris is a pretty unlikeable, but I grew to love her. Then, when we get to the end, with the big reveal, my heart broke for her. It’s been a couple of weeks since I finished and I’m still haunted by the trauma. I guess that’s a pretty good way to tell that it’s a really good book.
Watch Hollow, by Gregory Funaro
I picked up this early middle grade “horror” at Vromans when it was about to be returned (as no one had bought it in a year). It was a lot of fun! It owes a lot to The House With the Clock in Its Walls, but brought a lot of new stuff to the table. Lucy’s father is a clock fixer and is paid a lot of money to go spend the summer in a remote Rhode Island mansion and fix the clock that powers the house. Lucy and her brother Oliver go with him and soon find that there are evil forces at work that want the clock to work, but for nefarious reasons. Also, there are carved wood animals that come alive a night and help Lucy figure out what’s going on. This is a good book for the seven and up crowd who like things a little bit scary. I enjoyed it.
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