These were presents for my mom and stepmom for Mother's Day. I thought I would embroider some flowers to mail, since I couldn't take them any.
The Cloud Road, by Martha Wells
Since I’m so in love with Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries, I thought I should read some of her other work, and she has a lot to choose from. The Cloud Road is the first in the Raksura series and it was very good. Her world building is impeccable. And what a world! There are hundreds of sentient species living in all types of environments but all of it is based on the Earth’s nature. The story follows Moon, a shapeshifter, who goes from a fairly typical bipedal person to a flying dragon-like creature. Moon meets another person of his species and goes with him to his home, which is failing due to a distinctly villainous enemy. All in all, I really like this book. I don’t know that I’m interested in reading more of the series as it was a bit too High Fantasy for me. However, I want to recommend this series to a bunch of people who I know will love it.
Premeditated Myrtle, by Elizabeth C. Bunce
A middle grade novel about a girl in the 1890s who wants to be a detective. Myrtle is wonderfully smart and is aided and encouraged by her governess—a well-educated mixed-race woman. When Myrtle’s neighbor is found dead in her mansion, Myrtle believes that her death wasn’t of natural causes since the woman grew prized lilies worth a fortune. This is a great mystery for kids—not too gruesome and not to scary. (So it’s good for a wimp like me.) I liked the story because Myrtle wasn’t the “kid who sees stuff adults don’t see and adults don’t believe her” character. She has a lot of adults that believe her and, while encouraging her not to investigate, they take action on the information she finds. This will be a fun series to follow.
Red, White & Royal Blue, by Casey McQuiston
One of last years most beloved romances, this one came highly recommended and all the praise was true. Alex is the young, ambitious, and handsome son of the President of the U.S. who is often compared to Prince Henry of the UK, which riles him up. After a major snafu, when Alex drunkenly knocks Henry into a wedding cake, the PR machines go to work to show that the two are actually friends. They actually do become friends and a whole lot more, but as each represents their country their road to love is filled with massive roadblocks. Making the most of the trope “Enemies to Lovers,” this is a heart-splitting story of two people who try to put duty before love and don’t quite succeed. The happy ending is so worth it.
The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion, by Margaret Killjoy
The town of Freedom, Iowa is an anarchist socialists dream. In a somewhat post-apocalyptic near future, Danielle goes to Freedom to find clues as to why her best friend killed himself. She finds a town that supports itself, where everyone has a voice. Seems too perfect to be true. And it is. The year before the townspeople summoned a demon in the form of a deer with three antlers to kill the bully that had taken over. Now it’s after the summoners and the town is splitting into two sides: one that wants to worship the demon and one that wants to send it back to hell. Excellent world building here with a lot of interesting ideas about politics and personal responsibility played out in a tiny town atmosphere.
Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons
I’ve thought about reading this one for a long time. I loved the 90s movie with Kate Beckinsale. I’ve been coming across a lot of “pleasure” reads lists and this one has come up more than once. It is adorable. Flora, a recently orphaned socialite, decides to take up residence with her extended family at Cold Comfort Farm because she believes she’ll have the most to do there. Her business, as she sees it, is to “fix” people—find out what they need to be happy and then encourage them to do it. This includes sending her uncle Amos on the road as a traveling doomsday preacher and having her film director friend visit to see her handsome, movie-mad cousin. The one thing that detracts from the story (written in the early 1930s) is that it is supposed to take place twenties years later, so when the author throws in these hints about the future, it’s really jarring and took me out of the story. However, it was a sweet read, of which I need more of those these days.
Lady of Perdition, by Barbara Hambly
This is the latest in the Benjamin January mystery series. Ben heads out to the Texas frontier with his two white friends to rescue one of his free, mixed-race students that was taken to Texas to be sold as a slave. After a daring rescue, with help from a friend, Valentina, they are about to get out of Texas when Valentina begs Ben for his help. Her husband has been murdered and she is being framed for it, so Ben and his friend/white “owner” go to her ranch to investigate. It’s always fun to see Ben go to different places. Texas in 1840 is a wild place with Comanche attacks, trigger happy white men acting like they own it all, Hispanic and black cowboys—both slave and free. It’s no place for a free black man, nor a young widowed Mexican woman. As usual, Hambly does an amazing job of creating time and place and of realizing the idealistic Ben who can’t leave anybody to suffer.
Light from Other Stars, by Erika Swyler
Switching between 1986 and a future where four astronauts are on a five-year mission to another solar system to start a colony, Light from Other Stars follows Nedda—in 1986 an aspiring astronaut living near Cape Canaveral and in the future as one of the colonists. Her father is a brilliant physicist researching time (basically) and has built a machine that would allow time to slow in pockets. On the day the Space Shuttle explodes during take-off, the machine is activated with harrowing consequences that affect Nedda years later on her space mission. This is a hard one to write about without giving too much away. The story, while very scientific, is about relationships between parents and children, found family, grief, and similar personal connections. The story meanders in places and the science can be a bit much, but overall a wonderful story.
[Edit: I forgot one!]
Sorcery & Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot, by Caroline Stevermer and Patricia Wrede
For years this book kept popping up on lists as a beloved favorite. Now I know why. It has everything I love in a book—magic, mystery, letters, romance, independent women, and snark. It’s an epistolary between two best friends, Cecilia and Kate, who are also cousins. Kate is spending the “season” in London while Cecelia is left her father’s country estate. Known troublemakers, each discovers part of magical plot by nefarious sorcerers and, from afar, they work together to thwart it—while also falling in love. I had so much fun reading this book. I need to make it part of my permanent collection so I can reread it often.
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?
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