What I read: week 2

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray is the kind of contemporary story I don’t necessarily gravitate towards instinctively. But I’m glad I read this one. It’s a look at the echoes and cycles of family history and wounds. And that sounds bleak, but ultimately I liked the way the characters are trying to change in very different ways. [read for the first time 7/7/19]

The Konigsburg Summer proceeds with About the B’Nai Bagels. This one is mostly light and funny, admittedly with some not great stuff about Playboy/Playgirl and weight. But the ending!!! I’ve noticed that Kongisburg’s books tend to hit a point where everything just comes together and this one is A Lot emotionally. I just reread it and teared up a little bit. Konigsburg portrays the world and inner life of preteens in a way that’s so immediately recognizable and wry and lovely. [read for the first time 7/9/19]

I liked quite a bit of Sal & Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez, one of the recent books from the Rick Riordan imprint. It’s funny, and sad, and Hernandez does some interesting things with the idea of family. It also features a spunky girl reporter, a trope which will always be catnip for me.  I remain unconvinced about a couple aspects of the ending, though! If you’ve read this one, please tell me all your thoughts. [read for the first time 7/9/19]

[redacted] by [redacted] Careless talk costs lives. [reread, 7/10/19]

I’ve loved Franny Billingsley’s Chime whole-heartedly ever since I first read it (and continue to be very sad about the cover art situation–I know exactly how I’d design a cover if only I were a graphic artist!). Recently my friend Ally told me that there’s an audiobook version available and I am here to highly recommend it. The narration is perfect, the accents are great without being overdone, and it added a whole new level to a story I already love. This is one of my heart-books, for sure. Briony Larkin, treading new brain paths. [audiobook, reread, 7/10/19]

I’ve read a few of K.J. Charles’ books before and liked them — I’m always a sucker for a British mystery which should come as no surprise to any of you. And her books are generally atmospheric and character-driven (even if I do have significant reservations about women writing m/m romance). I’d heard good things about Any Old Diamonds and decided to check it out. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work for me–the beginning did, but there’s a twist partway through that changed the whole landscape of the book and I never quite felt like it was adequately dealt with. [read for the first time 7/11/19]

I’ve been in a scifi mood lately, and Suzanne Palmer’s Finder looked like a neat take on interplanetary scifi. I found the beginning a bit slow, but that changed as the story picked up. It’s one that starts off with a simple character and premise and then shades in the world and conflict around them. I appreciated a lot of the storytelling choices that Palmer made and am curious to see what happens in subsequent books. [read for the first time 7/13/19]

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What I read: week 1

I don’t know that I’m back, exactly, but I miss talking about books in longer form than Twitter really allows. So, for now I’m going to aim for a once-a-week rundown of what I’ve been reading recently, and we’ll go from there. 

Goblin Mirror by C.J. Cherryh is not exactly my favorite Cherryh, but it does demonstrate her ability to deliver a claustrophobic atmosphere that’s really, really effective. I did like some of the twists and turns in the storyline, but I still haven’t read any Cherryh that tops the Foreigner series for me. (Speaking of which, maybe I just need to reread all of them!) [read for the first time, 6/30]

Tiffany Jackson has been quietly delivering some knock-out gut-punch books for the past few years–I am still upset about Monday’s Not Coming. But Let Me Hear a Rhyme, while intricately plotted and full of secrets is a little less reliant on a surprise twist. It’s a love letter to 1990s Brooklyn and rap, but it’s also about finding hope and connection in the midst of grief. Great book, and I can’t wait to see what Jackson writes next. [read for the first time, 7/1]

My book club decided to read some E.L. Konigsburg together and it’s been super great. First: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler which is a practically perfect gem of a middle grade book and one which holds up really quite well. I had read it several times in the past, but not in the last few years and I loved revisiting it. Claudia in particular is just a (relatable) delight. [reread, 7/5] Then, I gulped down Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, which I think I had only read once in 5th grade. It’s an extremely slim book, but it’s full of accurately fifth grade observations about the world. Elizabeth is such a pill, and I loved her for it. Not quite the heights of Mixed-Up Files, but still pretty delightful. [reread, 7/6]

At this point in time, quite a few people know about the Soviet airwomen known as the Night Witches. But did you know they were only one of three regiments formed by famed pilot Marina Raskova? Elizabeth Wein’s A Thousand Sisters lays out the history of the Raskova regiments and their joys/challenges/fates. It’s a thick book, but a relatively quick read–however, be warned that it’s a bit like the Last Jedi, with loss after loss after loss. The bravery and camaraderie of these (mostly) long-gone women shines off the page, and I downright cried after one death in particular. I wasn’t quite sure what the intended age of the audience was at times, but overall I’d recommend it for mature middle school readers through adults. [read for the first time, 7/6]

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Recent Reading: Thomas, Shannon, Shaw, Hoose

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

Does my Nice White Lady opinion about this book matter at all? Probably not. But sometimes you read something so good that even though it isn’t meant for you, it is worth talking about. And for whatever it’s worth, I loved Bri’s story.

It’s about the pressure of family history and making your own choices, about ambition and achieving your dreams. There were moments when as an adult I was concerned about the choices Bri was making, but I also understood why she was making them and they felt very realistic for a teenager under pressure. Personally, I found the conclusion very satisfying, and I appreciated where Thomas chose to end the story.

Although I’m not someone who tends to listen to rap, I really admired how well Bri’s skill is shown. Having that first person narrative during her rap battles showed her talent and quick wits, and kept it engaging.

Some authors have one great book in them–and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that–but I think On the Come Up proves that Angie Thomas is here to stay.

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

I wanted to like this one a lot! But it didn’t quite fulfill my expectations, despite being full of things that I should have, in theory, loved. Dragons! Historical fantasy! Spies! Ladies being friends and/or falling in love. Somehow the characters never quite felt fully inhabited and, in a common failing for epic fantasy, it felt weirdly conservative in its undertones even when it seemed to be about remaking the world. I don’t know! I read the whole doorstopper book, so I wouldn’t say it’s bad, but I would also say it never quite reached its full potential. On the other hand, lots of other people loved this one, so it’s entirely possible that this was a me issue.

Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw

This is a great example of a book that I liked and just don’t have much to say about. It’s a supernatural mystery featuring Greta Helsing, doctor to mythical creatures (vampires, gremlins, etc). Meanwhile something bad is happening in London–a murderous cult who worship a mysterious object underground. It’s perfectly fine and competent and I liked the inclusion of some classic vampires who were, the book argues, very misunderstood by Bram Stoker, etc. I will probably read the next one. 

Attucks! by Phillip Hoose

While I kind of wish that this book had not been written by a white guy, I did really appreciate the look at sports and Indianapolis history. Obviously, I have a connection to the location, and I thought Hoose did a good job of laying out the history of the city and state’s racial tensions, as well as the resilience and community of the Black residents during the 1920-1950s.

The text was based heavily on interviews with the surviving players and I felt that overall their voices and memories were showcased. I’ve driven by Crispus Attucks High School many times and been vaguely aware of its history, but now the history of both the high school and area have been really brought to life–in a bittersweet way, since so much of it has now been lost. I’d recommend this for basketball fans, but also for almost anyone from Indianapolis who wants to learn a little more about our history.

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A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

Lsel Station has been trying to stave off the advances of the Teixcalaanli Empire for a long time. But with the request for a new Ambassador and the appointment of Mahit Dzmare–young, inexperienced, with an imago fifteen years out of date–the balance of power is shifting. When Mahit arrives in the capital of the Empire, she discovers a world she is fascinated and repulsed by, people she wants to and cannot trust. The previous Ambassador is dead, and his imago, which should help guide her, is malfunctioning. All she knows is that she is in over her head.

Given that A Memory Called Empire has been getting a ton of buzz from SF critics I trust, that I love potlical space opera, that amazing cover, and that it has some very obvious Ann Leckie influences (she contributed a front cover blurb, this is not a secret), I expected to love it from page one. But actually, it took me some time to ease in.

I mean, I liked Mahit immediately, and the culture of Teixcalaan is fascinating and beautiful. But I liked it more intellectually than emotionally, I kept thinking. This is all very mannered and interesting and tense, and I should like it. There’s poetry, and food, and complicated relationships to ambiguous and powerful people (Nineteen Adze) and the flashes of Yskandr are delightful and ridiculous. The world is rich and jarring and clearly the story thinks about empire and its effects far more than a lot of stories about empires do.

And yet, I really didn’t feel it in my spine or in my heart the way I did with Leckie or even Cherryh’s Foreigner books (another obvious influence! Mahit and Bren Cameron are definitely cousins of some sort). Or so I thought.

And then.

Things happened.

And all of a sudden, I felt this wave of emotion: anguish and horror and sorrow. All images and details that Martine had carefully woven into the story over the last few hundred pages, the rituals and customs and relationships and the weight of power and history and revolution and revolution’s limits. They crystallized into feeling and it all hurt. Even more so because it was Mahit’s emotion, but also Yskandr’s. And Nineteen Adze’s. And Three Seagrass’s.

So ultimately I’m not quite sure what to say about this book! I saw echoes of so many favorite authors–not only Leckie and Cherryh, but also Katherine Addison and Lois McMaster Bujold. Like all of them, A Memory Called Empire is telling a story about politics and diplomacy and what it means when two cultures are intertwined. Like Maia in Goblin Emperor or Bren, Mahit’s struggle centers around who to trust, and whether she truly can trust anyone. In some ways her actions come across as almost passive, and yet she is actually making active choices all the time. Sometimes it’s choosing to look like an uncivilized barbarian, sometimes it’s choosing to share information. Sometimes it’s [EXTREME SPOILER BUT YOU KNOW WHICH SCENE I MEAN, ARE ALL LSEL AMBASSADORS ADRENALINE SEEKERS, I MEAN COME ON, MAHIT].

But it’s telling a different kind of story as well. It deals much more closely with the simultaneous weight and danger of empire. (It’s also a lot more queer.) How can you love something that is also actively trying to destroy you? How can you form relationships when you’re not sure the other people even see you as a person? I think it’s a book that will reward rereading. And it looks like there’s a sequel coming next year, so rereading will definitely be in order before then.

Other reviews and reading:
Martin Cahill for Tor.com
Arkady Martine answers questions at NPR
James David Nicoll
Alana Joli Abbott at Den of Geek

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Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks

The hook of Comics Will Break Your Heart is pretty obvious. Miriam, the granddaughter of one of the co-creators of the famous TomorrowMen has grown up in the shadow of her grandfather’s legacy, the knowledge that things could have been different. As it is, her small Nova Scotia town sometimes feels like a trap she will never be able to escape. Then Weldon Warrick, the grandson of the other creator of the TomorrowMen shows up for the summer, and old family hurts come to the surface. Will Weldon and Miriam be able to find another way, or are they doomed to repeat their families’ past?

Anyone who knows basically anything about the tumultuous relationships between comics co-creators, from Bob Kane and Bill Finger to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby will see the pretty obvious reference here! The title is even a quote attributed to Jack Kirby himself! And Hicks, a seasoned graphic novel writer and artist, weaves in a lot of fun superhero comics moments, like the perennial debate about capes. However, the novel itself is much less about comics than I expected, so it should be relatively accessible even if you are not a fan yourself.

Instead, the story she tells develops in a different direction. Rather than packing it full of comics lore, Hicks chooses to focus on the weight of family history. Miriam and Weldon are confronted by their grandfathers’ collaboration and later falling-out, and the fall-out from that, which left Miriam’s family with a small settlement and Weldon’s father in control of a vast fortune and empire. One which is about to grow even more with the release of the long-anticipated TomorrowMen movie. When it comes down to it, Hicks seems to say, it’s all about choice. Will they keep enacting the same pain that has plagued the previous generations? Or will they find their own way? That’s a theme that resonated with me quite a bit, and I appreciated the way the family history aspect was handled.

In addition, Hicks really uses the small town Nova Scotia backdrop. Miriam is also one of three close friends, but the only one who has a real plan and chance at getting out of their town. It’s a bittersweet look at the way class and social mobility can affect friendship. What does it mean when one person gets to move on? Can you still be friends knowing your paths will diverge?

I went into Comics Will Break Your Heart expecting one kind of story and found one very different. And yet, I appreciated a lot about the story that I found. Miriam’s sweet, slightly eccentric family, Weldon’s relationship to his mother, the way almost all the characters are treated generously. I was only so-so on the romance thread, but I enjoyed the rest thoroughly enough to still recommend it if you have an interest in comics, or slightly melancholy coming-of-age stories.

Other reviews:
Alethea Kontis at NPR
Literary Treats

 

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April 2019 reading

Tender by Sofia Samatar [review]
A Conspiracy of Truths by Alexandra Rowland [review]
The Silver Mask by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
A Life of My Own by Claire Tomalin [review]
Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks [review coming tomorrow]
The Hidden Witch by Molly Knox Ostertag
Aquicorn Cove by Katie O’Neill
A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine [review coming Friday]
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke: listened to the audiobook again
On the Come Up by Angie Thomas [review coming Monday]
The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon [review coming Monday]
Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw [review coming Monday]
Attucks! by Phillip Hoose [review coming Monday]
Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff

Totals:

  • Books read: 14
  • rereads: 1 (Jonathan Strange)

Favorites:

  • Tender
  • A Conspiracy of Truths
  • A Memory Called Empire
  • On the Come Up
  • Attucks!
  • Maresi

Other posts:

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May and June 2019 releases I’m excited for

May

There’s Something about Sweetie by Sandhya Menon

Jade War by Fonda Lee

Let Me Hear a Rhyme by Tiffany Jackson

Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang

Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly

Symptoms of a Heartbreak by Sona Charaipotra

The Dark Fantastic by Dr. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas

June

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

Tell Me How You Really Feel by Aminah Mae Safi

Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay

Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone

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