Chapter Five Miles greeted me when I got home from work. He was halfway up the wall of the kitchen. Spaz was underneath, leaping up not quite high enough to reach him. “Would you help me? I can’t get down without that beastly cat getting me.” “Seen Zoë around?” I held my …
What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
I have really been enjoying Moriarty’s work. This is the third book of hers I’ve read/listened to (I listened to the audiobook of this one) and while it wasn’t as hard-hitting as Big Little Lies or The Husband’s Secret, I still found it enjoyable.
I think Moriarty’s strength is in the little details that make everyone so believable. Even the children have their own personalities, which is not the case with many novels that have children in them. The people aren’t just different from each other, they’re different from themselves depending on their age. Alice at 29 is a different woman from Alice at 39.
I loved exploring Alice’s world as she figures out what has happened in the previous ten years. There’s enough mystery and tragedy and events to keep revealing them one by one and make it interesting. The best thing about the book were these little reveals and the depth and nuance of the characters. I also liked the “will she or won’t she” question of whether or not she would repair her marriage with Nick.
I do get a little tired of reading about rich, snobby, competitive mothers. Do people really host social events for the other parents of Kindergartners? That just seems totally weird. She seemed to get bent out of shape about unimportant things. Alice doesn’t have real problems. Alice’s marriage doesn’t have real problems. There was no reason for them to be splitting in the first place except that they’re too wrapped up in themselves and in their own lives. I found Alice, young Alice, a more or less likeable person, if a bit of a mess. Old Alice wasn’t quite so likeable. She’s more jaded and spoiled, unkind and not terribly emotionally mature. Or maybe other people don’t sort of grow up in their thirties like I did? Maybe you don’t need to if you are of the 5-latte-a-day and expensive personal trainer class of people.
This is a sweeter book than Big Little Lies, though it still deals with hard-hitting subjects such as grief and infertility. Now that I’ve read three of them, I’m finding a sameness in the “very rich suburban mothers of young children who have their entire social circle and identity wrapped up in their motherhood and their children’s school lives” circle. It seems a rather specific sort of person, rather foreign to me but alike to one another, and I used to be a suburban mother of young children. I just didn’t get quite so into it the way these women seem to assume everyone does.
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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
This is a very well done and enjoyable young adult fiction that happens to touch on some extremely timely and relevant aspects of modern American life. I honestly wish we had more books like this, especially ones that manage to touch on race relations in such a human and accessible way.
What I liked best about this novel were the relationships. Starr’s family tree is confusing, but the different connections she has to so many different people in her neighborhood gave her a deeper sense of community than most people in my social circle have. Sometimes she’s “Big Mav’s daughter who works in the store sometimes” and sometimes she’s “the only black girl in school” and after the incident she becomes “the witness.” Big Mav is not just a gangbanger who retired, he’s also a doting father who worries about his kids and loves his wife. Even Iesha, one of the least-sympathetic characters in this book, manages to become sympathetic due to a selfless act that doesn’t look like what it is at first glance.
Even while this book is about police violence, it’s also about normal teenage experiences like celebrating prom, navigating young love, and learning how to tell the difference between “friends” and friends. I recommend this book for people who are crass enough to say “blue lives matter” and don’t know why that’s tacky (because, honestly, what’s so controversial about “please stop murdering children?”), and for anyone who likes YA fiction.
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Creatures of Will and Temper by Molly Tanzer
I really enjoyed listening to this audiobook. It was like a period romance, except with fencing, diabolists, and lesbians. How startlingly creative to combine the Victorian love of the occult with the late romanticists!
The main characters are Doreena and Yvadne (guessing on the spelling) who are two unmarried sisters who love each other and yet are so diametrically contrary in character that they grate on one another’s nerves. Doreena is passionate and sensual while Yvadne is antisocial and confrontational. Since I’m an introvert who likes martial arts, I found Yvadne a relatable character, but she doesn’t make it easy. She’s a bit of a pill. And Doreena should be more likeable, since I’m also someone passionate about the arts and new experiences, but she’s kind of a cad and doesn’t always respect others’ feelings. They’re not easy women to like, but Tanzer spends so much time with them that by the end of the book I did want them to succeed and be happy.
Yvadne is passionate about fencing, and Doreena is passionate about art and sensual experiences. Each find their own circle of acquaintances and their own sense of belonging within them. If this were a historical fiction, it might have stopped at that, because that’s really enough of a human experience that we could all get something out of it, but this is a fantasy novel, so there’s also demons.
I really loved the way that Tanzer does demons in this book. They’re nuanced. There are as many different kinds of demons as there are different kinds of people, and while some of the demons want their followers to murder people, others just want a beneficial symbiotic relationship. Whether the diabolists are pure evil or just aesthetes depended on ones viewpoint. Kind of like drug users in that way; whether they’re all worthless junkies or just people who want to experience the richness of life more fully depends on where you are on the spectrum and whom you’ve come in contact with.
What I liked best about this book is the way it really made me feel creepy and gothic and Victorian without using ghosts or vampires. It was delightfully steampunk without using a single gear or clock or mechanical anything. It was Lovecraftian without using Cthulu or madness. It made candy seem as alluring and dangerous as opium. Listening to this book put me in a world that felt simultaneously familiar and exotic.
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Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
The skilled author of the Temeraire series has turned the story of Rumpelstiltskin into an extremely satisfying fantasy novel in Spinning Silver. It takes a setting like medieval Russia, and the premise of a father caught bragging that his daughter can spin into gold, and expands it into an amazing story.
Here’s what I loved about this story: First of all, the main heroine is Miryem, who is as Jewish as she sounds. So many books set in medieval or semi-medieval locales ignore the existence of Jewish people, as if they didn’t come into existence until 1939. Miryem is very much a product of her time and place. She understands the limitations placed upon her by her birth, that even though she’s the granddaughter of a rich and respected man, all of it could be swept away in an instant. She is of the townsfolk but yet not of the townsfolk because she’s not a gentile. She’s hard when she needs to be, and while she doesn’t much like herself for it, she doesn’t apologize and she doesn’t flinch. She spins silver into gold through her understanding of lending rates and market forces, which is a pretty awesome superpower. Only, her “reward” for doing this is to become the queen of the Tsarek King, which Miryem doesn’t much want.
One of the things Miryem does is take the neighbor’s daughter, Wanda, as a bondservant when Wanda’s father can’t repay his debt. Miryem thinks she’s being cruel, but it turns out to be a huge gift to Wanda. Miryem’s parents are exceptionally kindhearted, which is both their downfall and their saving grace. The story about Wanda and her brothers, and how they come to live with Miryem’s family is heartwarming and wonderful and there’s a scene I had to listen to more than once because it made me cry (in a good way.)
Wanda and her brothers are also a product of their time. Their father is as cruel and lazy as they are hard working and kind. They look out for one another and pretty much act the way heroes and heroines in the fairy tales usually are supposed to act; by selflessly working without complaint. This alone isn’t enough to get them to a better life, but fortunately they have some magical help.
Irina is a boyar’s daughter, whose father has decided to use the magic Tsarek (Starik? Starek? No idea how that’s spelled) silver to make his daughter so alluring that she captures the heart of the Tsar. It works, but not in the way they expect. But Irina, though her beauty had never been enough for her to aspire to grandeur, is no fool. She’s cool and collected and brave and, like Miryem, is also not afraid to make hard decisions without flinching.
So it’s the story of strong and brave young women who leverage their modest resources to save their kingdom and all the people in it, defeat the bad guys, and even win for themselves handsome husbands who love them. Highly recommend.
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The Heat Stealer by Kater Cheek
This is the third book in the Desert Mages (Susan Stillwater) series, and it might be the end of the series as I have no plans at this point for a fourth.
Susan, Zoe, Griff and Darius are living together in Zoe’s house when the air conditioner breaks and Darius announces he’s moving out. The three remaining housemates are desperate to keep their living situation intact. With money perpetually tight, they can’t afford to replace the air conditioner, and they can’t get a new roommate in Arizona if the house isn’t air conditioned. So they turn to magic. Susan casts a spell, and everything seems to be going swell when their new roommate Paloma literally makes things cooler just by being around. She has a “metaphysical disability” in that she steals heat from her surroundings.
Susan soon realizes that Paloma isn’t the godsend she appears to be. Everyone in the house start to suffer from insomnia and go a little crazy. After some nasty accidents, Susan digs further and finds out that Paloma has left a trail of horror and tragedy from every one of her living situations. Susan tries to convince her roommates that Paloma is killing them, but they don’t want to hear it; they think Susan herself is responsible.
Soon, Susan cares less about everyone staying together in the house and more about staying alive.
The first book in this series is Alternate Susan, and the second book is Mulberry Wands.
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Here are some pictures of the box I made to use for the cover of my latest novel, Alternate Susan. Typically, fantasy novels have professionally painted oil paintings, unless they’re YA, in which case they have close ups of the faces of gorgeous teen girls. But, you don’t go to the shelves with the art …
Emotimancers and the Impending Feline Overmind by Beth Pratt I was really surprised when I found out that the author of the quirky outsider comic “Barely Representational” had written a novel. It came out on kindle about a week ago. The story starts at Bradford and Chadwick, a major publishing house dedicated to publishing emotion spells. …
Self-Made Man: One Woman’s Journey Into Manhood and Back Again by Norah Vincen t This is a memoir in the vein of “audacious journalists who do crazy things and write about the experience.” Norah Vincent cross-dressed as a man for over a year, and entered into uniquely masculine venues to chronicle the experience from a …