Tag Archives: adult

Recent Reading: Gran, Moskowitz, Abbott

The Infinite Blacktop by Sara Gran (Atria, 2018)

Book three in a series about Claire DeWitt, private investigator. I have not read the first two and didn’t mind that at all; this functions pretty much as a standalone novel. Claire is a tough character who is fueled by (sometimes barely believable) determination and a desire to find out the truth. It’s a weird foray into the mystery genre and  on paper it’s not a type that would necessarily appeal to me. But for some reason, despite the weird semi-mysticism, violence, and Las Vegas setting, I enjoyed this book quite a lot and intend to read the first two to catch up. I don’t know either! Something about the extremely surreal writing and characters was exactly what I wanted when I read it. We’ll see if the experience can be repeated. 

Salt by Hannah Moskowitz (Chronicle, 2018)

Four orphaned siblings left with a tenuous legacy of a ship and some monster hunting skills try to find the beast that killed their parents. Moskowitz just drops us straight into the world, which is a really fascinating approach. There’s not much in the way of backstory or world-building, but since this book is voicey as can be* it doesn’t really matter. The characters are compelling enough that I wanted to read on and cared deeply about what happened to them. Indi and his siblings operate in a weird sideways version of reality, more full of strange creatures and pirates than school and driving tests. But his desire to find his place, to find a home connects to that yearning that I think a lot of teens have–there’s something right around the corner if they can only just find it. It’s a slim book, but I’ve thought about it a lot since finishing it.

* a technical reviewing term, right?

Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott (Little, Brown, 2018)

An adult thriller about a woman who is suddenly confronted with her former best friend from high school. It’s been on my TBR for ages and I was in a mystery/thriller mood, so I gave it a try. I felt like it was weird about PMDD, which is a major part of the story but which was treated in a way that felt like it was there for shock value rather than feminist critique? I don’t know, I might be unfair here, but the story seemed in the end to reinforce stereotypes about the destructive power of female friendship rather than resisting them.

 

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Recent Reading: Yoon Ha Lee, Theodora Goss, and Sara Farizan

Oh boy, it’s been a weird, tough couple of weeks over here. Some sort of late-winter funk hit me pretty hard and I’m just now finding the motivation to write about books again, even though I’ve been reading the whole time. All three of these could easily be their own post but at this point I’m going to wrap them up and move on.

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

The latest release from the Rick Riordan Presents imprint (an endeavor that I have 10,000 thoughts about and am endlessly fascinated by) and it’s by Yoon Ha Lee, whose adult fiction I’ve loved for years, and it’s a middle grade scifi? Obviously I was going to read this!

Initially, I found the story slightly baffling in places–there were several moments where I expected some emotional fallout or repercussions from a plot point that just…didn’t happen. But once I adjusted to that, the second half of the book was really lovely and the end made me choke up a little. There’s a glorious sense of wonder and eeriness that a lot of scifi I like conveys, and that’s present here too. This is science fantasy in a lot of ways, and yet I found the ship scenes and the fox magic equally compelling.

(It’s also all about siblings and friendship, those two eternal middle grade themes that are my favorites!)

I’m not sure if there’s a sequel planned for this one, but I could easily see it working–or letting it be a standalone with a beautiful ending full of love and loss and possibility.

European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss

THIS IS SUCH A LONG BOOK.

Look, I liked the story a lot, and I’ll even say I liked the experience of reading this book, but IT’S SO LONG. And I both love long books and sometimes feel like they could have been edited down a lot. In this case I finished reading and still really think that the length wasn’t entirely earned. Especially in the middle section, there were a lot of “this happened and then this happened” details which moved the characters around the map to the places they needed to be but made the whole effect kind of plodding. I get that this is 1) very consciously hearkening back to the Victorian doorstoppers of yore and 2) very consciously a travelogue where details of traveling make a lot of sense. But still! I would have been fine with a few things not being spelled out and some pages being cut.

That said, I do really like the actual story. The concept of the Athena Club–the daughters and creations of the protagonists of Victorian SFF–is one that could be a bit hokey but is quite powerful in Goss’s hands. She allows the main characters to be brought together by affection, but mostly by circumstances. They have very different attitudes towards their fathers, towards the world, and towards themselves. And so the relationships between them are all complex, with disagreements and sometimes a feeling of almost being trapped together. At the same time, they’re learning how to be protagonists of their own story, rather than passive creations. And I enjoy the asides a lot!

So, despite the length, I’m still planning to read the third (and, I believe, final) volume of the Athena Club when it comes out!

Here to Stay by Sara Farizan

I didn’t really have a lot of expectations from this book (sometimes I know exactly when and why I decided to read a book and other times I have no idea) but I ended up liking it quite a bit. It’s a book about race and prejudice, but equally about family and friendship and what it means to be part of a team. Without being a “redeem the racist bully” storyline at all, there are some surprises from a couple of characters and we get to see Bijan’s growth in his relationships as well.

Also, I just liked Bijan a lot. Since it’s a book that’s so focused on big, heavy topics, there’s always a chance that it could feel trite or forced. But Bijan has a nice snark to his narration that keeps the story feeling realistic overall.

I did personally find one aspect of the storyline to be wrapped up a little too simply. But aside from that, Here to Stay does a great job of tackling some really important topics in a way felt thoughtful and genuine, while also being a kind and funny look at one boy’s story.

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Overlooked favorite books

 

Since reading and reviewing A Spark of White Fire, I’ve really been thinking about books that are a bit overlooked but that I really enjoyed.  Of course “overlooked” can be hard to quantify. What if my corner of the internet vocally adores a book, but the public at large never picks it up? So I made a list and then checked it against the number of Goodreads ratings–even though this isn’t a truly scientific approach, it gives a broad sense of the size of a book’s audience. Here are ten books published in the past two years that I loved and think more people should pick up (links go to my reviews where applicable).

 

Company Town by Madeline Ashby: A futuristic scifi thriller that also manages to be extremely progressive. And despite the gritty backdrop, the main character is competent and engaging. 

Peas & Carrots by Tanita S. Davis: Oh, I loved this realistic YA about two foster sisters who struggle to get along. Davis has a great ear for voice and Dess and Hope leapt off the page for me. 

Iris and the Tiger by Leanne Hall: A marvelous surreal fantasy for the middle grade crowd. I don’t know how many people will get this reference, but if you loved The Children of Green Knowe, it has a bit of the same sense of wonder and danger and beauty all combined. 

For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig: The first in a trilogy, this YA fantasy takes the rebellion/revolution theme that’s so common in YA and really engages with what that would mean. The narrative style is unique and really cool, and I appreciated the representation of mental illness a lot.

Mirror in the Sky by Aditi Khorana: I will just quote my original review: ” Essentially, this book takes an SF premise, the discovery of Terra Nova, and uses it to tell a quiet, thoughtful story of family, friendship, and identity.” I loved the way Khorana uses SF as a backdrop for a story that digs into some deep themes. 

Valley Girls by Sarah Nicole Lemon: I read this book, thought to myself, “I bet a bunch of reviewers on Goodreads called Rilla unlikeable” and I was right. So if you’re a fan of books about unlikeable girls who are good at things, fraught friendships or sibling bonds, and learning to write your own story about yourself, check it out. 

A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna: I’ve been talking this one up on different platforms a lot so I won’t go on and on here, but basically it’s a fantastically twisty political scifi/fantasy genre-bending YA with gods and curses and a really awesome, competent main character. 

The Mountain of Kept Memory by Rachel Neumeier: I’m a fan of Rachel Neumeier’s books anyway, but this one was sharp and clear with a fascinating political and social dynamic. It’s another twisty political fantasy that asks big questions about family relationships and the limits of agency. I also loved Oressa a lot–she’s a resourceful and strategic character. 

The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera: This is a sweeping story, narrated by an older version of one of the main characters. It’s the kind of book that looks seriously at fate and love and how much of our lives we choose for ourselves. It’s historical fantasy but not quite as I usually think of it. I have the sequel out right now and I can’t wait!

The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar: I’ve been shouting my love for this book from the rooftops since I read it in 2017, but it literally has everything I love. Amazingly beautiful prose, a really thoughtful and deep look at history and politics and religion all cast through the lens of women’s voices and experiences. It is rich and dense and layered and I cannot stop thinking about it. 

Persona by Genevieve Valentine: I love all of Genevieve Valentine’s novels a lot, but Persona stands out because it takes an interesting near future premise and uses it to say interesting things about public facing personas, the intricacies of identity, and what it means to be perceived as powerless. The follow-up book, Icon, is also great. 

Cobalt Squadron by Elizabeth Wein: I love Elizabeth Wein’s books, as probably any long-time reader of the blog knows. And here she wrote a middle grade Star Wars book giving us Rose’s backstory before The Last Jedi! It’s beautiful and heartbreaking and has a fantastic Leia moment in the middle. 

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November 2018 books

The Death of Mrs Westaway Ruth Ware 11.29

This was on the NPR Book Concierge and it sounded like the kind of mystery I’d like. It was! I’m always a sucker for the “assuming someone’s identity” trope, and Ware plays nicely with that here. I also liked Harriet a lot. It feels very old-fashioned on several levels, I think intentionally, and I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about that aspect.

Pride Ibi Zoboi 11.29  (review tomorrow)

Girl at the Grave Teri Bailey Black 11.25 [review]

Darius the Great is Not Okay Adib Khorram 11.17  [review]

The Language of Power Rosemary Kirstein 11.16  [review]

Mariam Sharma Hits the Road Sheba Karim 11.14  [review]

Making Friends Kristen Gudsnuk 11. 9  

The Witch Boy Molly Knox Ostertag 11.8 

The Proposal Jasmine Guillory 11.9  [review]

Titanic: Voices from the Disaster Deborah Hopkinson 11.7  [review]

 

Total books read: 10

Total rereads: 0

Favorites:

  • Darius the Great is Not Okay
  • Pride
  • Witch Boy

Weekly reading roundups:

I kind of stopped doing the weekly roundups towards the end of this month, but I could be persuaded to try them again if anyone is interested!

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The Language of Power by Rosemary Kirstein

Reunited with her friend Bel, the steerswoman Rowan is once more on the trail of the wizard Slado. But when her enquiries lead her to the place Slado learned magic, she encounters another figure from her past and finally learns some of the answers to her questions–although the consequences are not what she expects.

The Language of Power by Rosemary Kirstein is the fourth and last published book in the Steerswoman series. I’ve read the first three previously, and wanted to get to the end of the current series to see if Rowan finally figures out what is happening.

Overall, this wasn’t a full resolution to the questions and conflicts of the series. But since I know that Kirstein is hoping to eventually release at least a fifth book, I was at least prepared for this to be the case. And there is enough of an answer that it doesn’t feel like wasted effort to read.

One of the things I’ve liked about these books is that Rowan is depicted as a competent character, overall assured of her purpose and place in the world. She knows what her values are and attempts to live by them to the best of her ability. Most of the tension comes from either her search for Slado or those moment when she’s not able to live by those values.

All of that adds up to a book and series which straddle genre lines–part fantasy, part science fiction, part mystery–and which is not quite plot-driven and not quite character-driven. This may sound like a criticism, but I mean it as an explanation; this is a story which embraces ambiguity and which keeps the reader guessing about its ultimate goals and intentions. It certainly won’t be for everyone, but I suspect the readers who have found it and love it do so with a quietly fervent passion.

That being said, I do feel that the plot was slightly annoying here because it relies on a twist that has been used several other times in the series. And while it could be that this is purposeful and significant, it felt more to me like lazy storytelling.

However, in terms of the broader picture, I do feel that enough of the lingering questions have been answered that I’m okay leaving the series here for now. Hopefully Kirstein will be able to release more books in the series, but if that doesn’t happen, the story still feel relatively complete.

(There’s quite a bit more I could say but it would be full of spoilers, so I’ll leave it for now.)

All in all, while this isn’t a series I would push on everyone, I do hope that it finds more readers. It’s a fascinating look at a world that’s driven by ideas and knowledge, an interesting older female character who’s competent & assured and never punished for that, and some interesting twists and turns along the way. If that sounds like it might be your thing, do give these a try and let me know what you think!

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Other books in the series:

The Steerswoman

The Outskirter’s Secret

The Lost Steersman

 

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October 2018 books

A Scholar of Magics Caroline Stevermer 10.31

Fake Blood Whitney Gardner 10.28

Border Kapka Kassapova 10.27 [review]

Exit Strategy Martha Wells 10.26

Jade City Fonda Lee 10.23 [review]

Summer Bird Blue Akemi Dawn Bowman 10.21 [review]

Capsized! Patricia Sutton 10.18 [review]

Monstrous Regiment of Women Laurie Russell King 10.17

Drum Roll Please Lisa Jenn Bigelow 10.14

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice Laurie Russell King 10.13

The Wild Dead Carrie Vaughn

Midnight Robber Nalo Hopkinson 10.12

Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea Lynn Rae Perkins 10.12

Spinning Silver Naomi Novik 10.9

She Loves You (Yeah Yeah Yeah) Ann Hood 10.9

The Lost Scroll: The Book of Kings Sarah Prineas 10.4

 

Total books read: 16

Total rereads: 1

Favorites:

  • Spinning Silver
  • Midnight Robber
  • Drum Roll Please
  • Border
  • Exit Strategy

Weekly reading roundups:

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Jade City by Fonda Lee

Jade City by Fonda Lee (Orbit, November 2017)

Jade rules the city of Janloon, conferring supernatural powers on those who have the ability to harness it. In the aftermath of war, two clans born out of resistance to foreign powers fight for dominance. Jade City centers on the Kaul siblings, the inheritors of No Peak clan, and their fight for survival and jade.

Jenny convinced me to read this one by gushing about how awesome the worldbuilding is (and it is! More on that in a sec). It was also nominated for a Nebula Award, which often gets me excited about a book.

And that really paid off this time! Jade City is a fantastic book, with a really deep, richly imagined world and great characters. Even though it’s quite a long book it felt like an easy read, and I can’t wait for the sequels.

It’s clear that Fonda Lee really thought about the world she’s creating here, in every detail. For me one of the markers of great worldbuilding is whether the idioms of the world feel natural and organic. A lot of times writers attempt to build their world by throwing in some sayings but they just feel a bit clunky. Here they made sense, and the narrative style is such that the deeper meanings could be explained without breaking the story too much. Also, Lee mentions them and then keeps weaving them in throughout the rest of the story, playing with emotional inflections and implications.

That’s one small example, but it shows how deep the worldbuilding goes. The best word for it that I can come up with is “immersive” because we’re also expected to keep up as readers. Yes, the narrative explains a lot of the history and background of Janloon and the country of Kekon, but there is also a lot left for us to infer and imagine. From the politics to the religion, clan dynamics to the history of the guerilla fighters the generation before, there’s a lot happening and it all works.

It’s not just worldbuilding, though. The characters at the heart of the books are four siblings, one adopted, whose very different attitudes towards the clan, jade, and the city drive the dynamics of the story. They are united in caring about each other, but they approach the world in drastically different ways, and Lee shows us a lot of the complexities of the situation through their interactions.

(Of the four siblings, my favorite is really Shae.)

Although there’s a lot of violence in this book, it doesn’t feel exploitative or like it’s there for shock value. This is a world where gangs rule and even the characters we’re sympathetic towards make choices that are tough to grapple with. But Lee manages to show this without writing something that feels grimdark or too awful. Instead, what’s here is a violent, visceral portrait of a time of change and transition, when the old ways and the new are still trying to exist in uneasy coherence.

All in all, this is one of my favorite adult fantasy books from this year, and I can’t wait to see where future installments lead. (Except that I’m worried about all the characters.)  It’s a pretty singular story, so I’m not sure that I have any great readalikes. Maybe Erin Bow’s Scorpion Rules, for a similar mix of brutality and hope? If you have read Jade City and have ideas, please let me know!

Here’s a great post from Fonda Lee about her inspiration in creating the world of Jade City.

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Previously, on By Singing Light

Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina (2016)
Greenglass House by Kate Milford (2014)
Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn (2013)

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