Solomon's use of small details, and of smaller stories within the bigger one, is so effective. There's a richness to Kenya's world and her coming-of-aSolomon's use of small details, and of smaller stories within the bigger one, is so effective. There's a richness to Kenya's world and her coming-of-age that made this book so wonderful to read. I also liked the way stories and books featured in Kenya's life, and how she tried to inscribe narratives of best-friendship, of family, of love and of sacrifice, and how that didn't necessarily provide her with the tools to author her own life. While reading, I was reminded often of Alice Munro's work, and I thought Solomon did a fantastic job of something Munro also does exceptionally: tell a story of childhood without letting the specter of adulthood cast too much of a shadow, but still without letting the reader forget that childhood is not something separate from adulthood. That this is growing up, and it can feel like being buffeted by storms from all sides, and this moment matters, not just as context or a starting point or a moral of a story, but because this is where you are.
My challenge with this book was primarily structural. It didn't feel like a novel to me. Maybe this harkens back to the Munro comparison, but it felt like short stories / novellas about a character. This can be a natural fit for coming-of-age stories, but this book was trying to be a novel, and that didn't work for me. There wasn't a strong enough narrative line, and the ending in particular suffered. It felt like a thrown-together ending point, and as someone who loves, loves, loves endings of books, I was left feeling a little disappointed, even though I did really like most of the book....more
Quite sweeping and expansive, even with the rather episodic bent to its plotting. The primary protagonist Jupiter is well-written and complicated andQuite sweeping and expansive, even with the rather episodic bent to its plotting. The primary protagonist Jupiter is well-written and complicated and an engaging character to follow. The plot did kind of get TOO MUCH for me, all the character connections and conspiracies and omg-how-are-you-alive-still and the trail of dead bodies EVERYWHERE, and made me wish I could have more pages of the interior complexity of all the other characters instead of so much of the murdertimes and mutinies.
I loved the elegantly blunt writing style, revelations sitting unadorned and unassuming in the middle of other sentences, and the thematic treatment of memory and of freedom....more
Fantastic use of first-person. Arden has a witty voice, and she has nuanced relationships and is capable of reactive, nuanced perspectives on other chFantastic use of first-person. Arden has a witty voice, and she has nuanced relationships and is capable of reactive, nuanced perspectives on other characters; I really didn't feel like I was missing out by not having Gabriel's persepctive--and I'm a hard-sell on first-person (and on having only one POV in a romance novel). I wasn't sold on the mid-apocalypse setting, both as a matter of personal taste (I guess I'd have preferred a straight-up stereotypical snowbound-together-in-a-remote-cabin romance instead; I don't like apocalyptic or possibly-apocalyptic stress in my romance novels, it turns out), and how uneven the treatment of that background was. The uncertainty in the character's lives and the wider context--as realistic as it would be under these circumstances--translated to a less than vivid, less than stable footing for the book itself, as well as a less than even tone/approach for the book overall. Like, the opening scene is ACTION and PERIL and BADDIES and that's not reflective of the more emotional, more sedate scenes that comprise the rest of the book--at least up until the climactic scene, where there's ACTION and PERIL and BADDIES. And I didn't like the climactic scene at all (or the opening, for that matter), a tangle of awful and complicated stuff that I didn't really want in a romance novel and that didn't feel developed nearly enough to make me think it was handled well.
So I loved the voice (like, seriously, some of the best first-person I've read, especially in romance), I liked the relationship, I was meh about the story and its lack of cohesion, and I learned more about my reading preferences. I'll stick to no-apocalypse or at least very-post-apocalypse in my romances from now on, probs....more
My favorite Susanna Kearsley book. I'm a sucker for a historical road trip romance, what can I say?
I can say more, though. Namely, that this is very mMy favorite Susanna Kearsley book. I'm a sucker for a historical road trip romance, what can I say?
I can say more, though. Namely, that this is very much a Susanna Kearsley book: if you generally think her pacing is too slow, or if there's too much romance (or not enough), or if the more tepid contemporary sides of her stories don't make the more exciting historical sides worth it, or if you've heard enough about the Jacobites already, then this book might not be for you. Also, there are no paranormal elements in this book, which may or may not be a selling point.
The concept of this book (modern day: an amateur codebreaker translates an 18th century diary written in a difficult cipher; historical: the full story of the diarist and her headlong fall into a great adventure) gave Kearsley a lot of room to play around with the nature of storytelling and of narratives, of authorship and control over one's own life and one's fate, of trusting other people's word/narrative, and I think this is what made it a five-star book for me--in addition to just how much I loved Mary, the diarist, and just how wonderful Mary's ending was. There was so much thematic stuff, and the writing in the very ending made me think that Kearsley levelled up as an author with this book.
And if you need "Does the dog die??" spoilers: (view spoiler)[Frisque is alive and happy and with Mary at the end of the story. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I loved the mix of wit and seriousness. I loved all the internalizations and all the thinking the protagonists do in this one--it's definitely not menI loved the mix of wit and seriousness. I loved all the internalizations and all the thinking the protagonists do in this one--it's definitely not mental lusting but a fairly thorough account of how the characters change how they see themselves, how they relate to others. I loved how aggressive they are with their kindnesses (and it was kind of ridiculous at times, just how much they engaged in that).
I read this after Julie Anne Long's article about fallen women at Heroes and Heartbreakers, so I was surprised to find that Emma wasn't a fallen woman in the sense I'm familiar with (the SEX OUTSIDE OF MARRIAGE OMG sense). I thought her own redemption, as well as John's, was very deftly and movingly portrayed....more
Blood-in-your-mouth awful and broken-glass-inside-of-you riveting. It's scorched earth policy all the way through, all shadow selves (or mirrors?) andBlood-in-your-mouth awful and broken-glass-inside-of-you riveting. It's scorched earth policy all the way through, all shadow selves (or mirrors?) and continuing to take a bite because you want to know if it's rotten all the way through or not.
Not all the stylistic choices worked for me, but the book clawed at me the whole time I was reading it....more
Atrocious cover but a compelling little story. Jeannie Lin writes well in such a short format and manages to tap into some deep emotional veins and inAtrocious cover but a compelling little story. Jeannie Lin writes well in such a short format and manages to tap into some deep emotional veins and interesting character dynamics, but I kind of feel the external plot in this one just kind of fizzled out....more
A pleasant, sweet romance. I wished for more depth of character and sometimes less exposition-y treatment of changes in feelings, but for the most parA pleasant, sweet romance. I wished for more depth of character and sometimes less exposition-y treatment of changes in feelings, but for the most part, this was a nice read, with a fade-to-black romance and a few interesting nuances.
Shweta and Nikhil have known each other since childhood. They weren't friends, but they weren't utter enemies, either, even though he teased her quite a bit. Their most lasting impact on each other was the scar left on rebellious Nikhil's forehead from when hot-tempered "good girl" (and truly, I liked how these two traits were combined) Shweta threw a blackboard eraser at him. After an accumulation of offenses, he was expelled from school before graduation, and though he's since become a successful owner of an events planning company (and that's pretty cool; being an events planner is a pretty popular occupation in Romancelandia, but I think this was the first time I've seen a male protagonist doing it), he hasn't completely shaken off his own internalized shame and unrest about being an illegitimate child and having a complicated family situation.
And, yeah, it is quite the complicated situation. Nikhil's family is something I haven't seen in a romance before: he was raised by his father, his father's wife, and his biological mother (his father's mistress), all in one household. He's always been closest to his father's wife, Veena, who was his primary caretaker throughout childhood. But now that his family has moved to another city, where his father and his biological mother are passing as a married couple and Veena portrays herself as a family cousin, Nikhil is upset at how Veena has been pushed out of her marriage. His family secrets are actually more complicated than he knows (and more complicated than he shares with other people), and he has to learn to overcome his shame before he can trust that Shweta--herself having only slowly begun to stand up to the upright, somewhat controlling, conservative single father who raised her, and who is now struggling to believe that mingles-with-celebrities Nikhil can truly love someone as ordinary as she is--loves him and isn't ashamed of his family.
What I loved best about this book was how Shweta and Nikhil's shared background gave nuance to their present, developing relationship. They each have such respect for the people they've each grown up to be, primarily because they know each other's backgrounds and because they know how far they've each come since childhood. This made me trust that their relationship could be successful, because they had that trust, respect, and understanding. One of my favorite background details was that Shweta, when she was a blunt and practical little girl, was the first person to make Nikhil realize how unusual his family situation was:
"I resented you for a long time, you know," he said quietly after handing her the glass. "That's why I used to give you a hard time. You were the first person who made me realise there was something wrong with my family."
"Me?" Shweta's voice was incredulous. "What did I do?"
"You asked me who my real mother was," he said. "I told you that both of them were my moms, but you said, 'Whose tummy did you live in before you were born?' Until then I think I'd believed implicitly in the 'babies are a gift from God' story. So it was a revelation in more ways than one."
"I don't even remember," Shweta said remorsefully. "But I can quite imagine myself saying that. I went around once telling the whole class that Santa Claus didn't exist--some of the kids actually started crying."
"Now, that I don't remember," he said, and the smile was back in his voice. "Maybe I got off lightly, then."
"I thought it was very unfair," she said after a brief pause.
Nikhil raised his eyebrows. "What was? No Santa Claus?"
"You having two moms when I didn't have even one," she said.
The romantic arc is a straightforward and conventional one, and I did long for some more emotional complexity to both Shweta and Nikhil, but in such a short book, Narayanan did manage to find ways to make Shweta, Nikhil, and their love unique....more
What I found most interesting about my experience reading The Best of All Possible Worlds was that it was entirely possible to read it as a romance. NWhat I found most interesting about my experience reading The Best of All Possible Worlds was that it was entirely possible to read it as a romance. Not just as romantic science fiction or science fiction with romantic elements, but as a genre romance, period dot full stop: the romantic arc extended throughout the book and the romance directly tied into the character development and the plot. And given the episodic nature of the book, the romance shared equal billing with the worldbuilding as the book's points of focus.
I did enjoy TBOAPW, not just because it was science fiction AND romance, but because the worldbuilding was often SO COOL. Anthropological science fiction is so much fun to read, so much fun to think about, and TBOAPW spends a lot of time investigating all sorts of creative cultural mixes. The existence of psionic, telepathic, empathic powers, and how this affected things ranging from relationships to theater, was all very interesting. The idea of a planet built by and devoted to refugees of the universe's greatest disasters (guided by the mysterious Caretakers) is SO COOL, and I love how Lord ran with developing all these ideas and concepts. However, this was also a place where I felt like I wanted something different from what the book wanted to do, though: it has a very episodic plot (at this place, we did this and this happened; we traveled to the next place, where that happened and this happened--and yes, I know, Candide is probably on one of the book's influences, up there with Pride and Prejudice and probably The Left Hand of Darkness and Star Trek), which meant there was a lot of coverage in a diverse range of cultural and scientific and societal stuff, which was all fun to read, but the events of the story often just felt so disconnected from one another. It was good that the romance arc was interwoven from the very beginning: the tension and gradual trust involved in the slowly budding relationship between the protagonists really helped hold the book together for me.
The tone was another one of my stumbling blocks to loving TBOAPW more than I did. The majority of the book is first-person and chatty, and that's a stylistic technique and tone especially neat to see employed in a science fiction novel. Because the book's plot was so episodic, this first-person journal-ish kind of account worked. But, man, did it sometimes feel limited, especially when I wanted to know more about the Sadiri, or when I was annoyed by the jarring nature of how progressive the book seemed to want to be (for example, fantastic representation of all sorts of women of all ages--pretty essential when the Societal/Cutural Need To Procure Women To Breed With is a major part of the plot motivation for the characters--as well as normalized representations of polyamory) but how in practice, the ways the book fell sort of actual progressiveness annoyed me (there's a character, Lian, who is registered as "gender-neutral," but Delarua makes what was probably supposed to be a chatty [but I found obnoxious] comment about hugging them and knowing what they actually "are" but isn't going to tell the readers, and then there's the weird narrative assumption that because they're gender-neutral, Lian is also asexual/aromantic; and omg I'm going to sound like a total fucking bore here, but there was not enough interrogation of the assumed gender binary and gender roles and heteronormativity and that kind of stuff when, as stated above, the Need For Women To Breed With is the important, motivating force in the narrative). The book takes pains to show how women weren't just need for their reproductive abilities but also as part of cultural/societal reparation, but there was just such an uninterrogated oldfashionedness and conventionality to i, all the same. I mean, this fits in with it being a romance novel, upholding the courtship narrative and heterosexual pairbonding for the good of the community and all (and I'm not criticizing it FOR that, because…well, I have a GoodReads library that demonstrates that I mostly read romances involving heterosexual pairbondings ANYWAY; I'm criticizing how little examination the narrative devoted to this, when it seems like this kind of planet, with so much diversity in just about EVERYTHING, would have plenty to interrogate about it).
I just vastly prefer my science fiction to be less conventional about gender, because I want all my imagined futures to be less conventional about gender. Anyway, this was an enjoyable, unique book, but I did kind of end it wanting to reread the more thematically-coherent Ammonite....more
Further adventures in confusion at how in the world Kate Hardy's books are categorized. And at least this is a Harlequin Presents Extra and not a straFurther adventures in confusion at how in the world Kate Hardy's books are categorized. And at least this is a Harlequin Presents Extra and not a straight-up Harlequin Presents! But until the characters slept with each other (which was fairly late in the book), I thought this could have been from the Harlequin Romance line, it was that sweet & light and veered far from dramatically emotional tension. Also, the title is super ridiculous for this book; the British title of Breakfast at Giovanni's at least matches the story's upbeat, flirtier tone.
My main problem with this book was that far too much of the relationship arc relied on not being honest with how they felt, that the sudden reversal/fix of this at the end didn't strike me as trustworthy/believable. I mean, granted, a beautiful rendition of "This Nearly Was Mine" is probably the closest thing to magic that exists in the real world, seriously, so mad props for that, but I didn't buy that suddenly these two would be communicating 100% with each other.
The family stuff, especially Gio's, was also just Not-For-Me. The fantasy of being accepted and immediately loved by a giant, close-knit, always-in-each-other's-business loving family doesn't appeal to me, and I'm skeptical of its rosy portrayal in romance novels, and I worry for the person marrying into that. I found the treatment of Fran's family strange, too. Okay, so she suffered low self-esteem comparing herself to them and she's not close to them, but in the final pages, we find out that they all love her so much and they're Stepford-ly wholesome and now she knows they've all loved her all along and all it took was her boyfriend forcing her to take him to visit them? Ummmmmm. Nah. No, thanks.
I did enjoy the characters and their banter, and I think Hardy does such a good job with grounding the seduction-y and sexy scenes very specifically in who the characters are....more
Vigorous prose, a prickly and foreboding atmosphere, and a unique, deliberate protagonist. It's a dark book full of ugly, unpleasant, terrible things,Vigorous prose, a prickly and foreboding atmosphere, and a unique, deliberate protagonist. It's a dark book full of ugly, unpleasant, terrible things, but the rural nature descriptions were so beautifully vivid and so starkly alive, I found it an intense combination. The ending still has me considering....more
Very beautifully written and beautifully structured. Aside from the writing itself, I loved the science-y stuff the most, and those were the parts ofVery beautifully written and beautifully structured. Aside from the writing itself, I loved the science-y stuff the most, and those were the parts of the book that made me feel, that made the book and its story unique, that made me think there was something interesting happening thematically. I wasn't as compelled by the plot or the emotional beats it was hitting (a lot of it felt too sentimental for me, but it's not actually that sentimental of a book--I guess I just could hear the creaking of the emotional-manipulation levers too much for my liking, without anything genuinely surprising occurring in the text or subtext), but I still quite liked the book as a whole and read it quickly, easily. I'm going to have to read Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea now, aren't I?...more
There was some lovely, sensuous writing, and I was fascinated by the themes and comparisons and ideas that I could see the story reaching for (honestyThere was some lovely, sensuous writing, and I was fascinated by the themes and comparisons and ideas that I could see the story reaching for (honesty in love, orderliness and justice in a society still recovering from the war, the responsibility we have to each other--and ourselves, especially ourselves when we are told to ignore our own true selves--aside from our "buy-in" to the conceit of orderliness). I really liked Frances, especially her reconciling her failures of bravery, as well as how she tried to reconcile the ideas of herself that she had with whether or not she lived up to them, and the ways she didn't fit into those ideas of herself that she had and that other people had for her. I loved, loved, loved the ending. But the plotting was frustrating and so much of the book felt like it didn't come together, even with all the pieces laid out--I didn't always follow the emotional turns of Frances or Lilian, and a lot of that thematic stuff that I wanted to love, it felt too stitched in to the love story or the crime story separately instead of organically being built from them both. ...more
I read this because of Niall Harrison's Strange Horizons review, especially for the comparison to Helen Oyeyemi's Mr. Fox re: meta-narrative experimenI read this because of Niall Harrison's Strange Horizons review, especially for the comparison to Helen Oyeyemi's Mr. Fox re: meta-narrative experimentationesqueness. And I wasn't disappointed, because there's a lot to think about in Elysium's treatment of love and grief and death and memory, about stories, and the narrative was gorgeous: splintered and poky, raw and open to layering hurts upon hurts but still retaining a hopeful heart.
It soared. Sometimes it crashed. And it lived.
For readers unsure about wanting to be spoiled beforehand (and this is a book that doesn't reveal its entire hand until later in its pages): I enjoyed this book even though I was spoiled for its basic concept (I did read the first two sections of that SH review before reading the book but didn't read the third). I liked having that background knowledge and handful of spoilers to help me through the instability of the early parts of the book, and it didn't ruin the book. There were enjoyable revelations all throughout the text just from reading attentively....more
Fera Jones is a champion boxer known for her knockout punches. When she starts fighting and beating men, the attention of the world falls on her in soFera Jones is a champion boxer known for her knockout punches. When she starts fighting and beating men, the attention of the world falls on her in some uncomfortable ways. Why she fights seems like a simple matter--because she can, because she's good at it, and because the money helps her and her ill father--but over the course of the story, what becomes most important is that how she looks into the past--her past--helps her discover what kind of future she wants to fight for.
For such a short story, there's some lucid, remarkable world-building. A lot of the gender politics--which comprise the most obvious and most boring aspects of the story--came across as laughably old-fashioned (this story was first published in 2000). Like, the "feminist studies" department at Smith College that runs illegal genetic experiments, and the FemLeague political party that's the third largest party in the country and whose head is a denim overalls-wearing man-hating stereotype. I LOLed quite a bit over stuff like that, unfortunately. Given that more people today are more familiar with the complexity and fluidity of gender, and how this is becoming a greater and greater focus of feminist movements (I say this optimistically, I know), the gender politics in this story were a throwback to second-wave feminism fears and stereotypes instead of a glimpse into the future. The economic and class aspects, however, were the most interesting to me and, I thought, the most pertinent to today's real world. Namely: there's a perpetual underclass, some literally living underground, and matters aren't helped by the legalized drug Pulse.
Pulse is a "gene drug [that] altered the structure of the pleasure centers of the brain, temporarily allowing consciousness some measure of control over dreams. With just the right amount a pulsar, as the users called themselves, could create a complex fantasy, build a whole world and live in it for what seemed like days, weeks." Pulsars tend to check out of real life, unable to hold down real jobs, preferring their dream worlds to their daily lives. Additionally, "it turned out that after four or five uses, the brain collapsed in on itself without regular ingestion of the drug. It was an addiction from which death was the only withdrawal." While wealthy Pulsars can afford private health insurance coverage and can keep acquiring the drug as necessary, the poor aren't as lucky and tend to suffer and die when they're broke and unable to source more drugs, and all Pulsars die sooner rather than later, due to long-term effects on their brains. Fera's father is one of these Pulsars, and through the course of the story is undergoing experimental treatments to try to cure him. Fera's relationship with him and the motivation he provides her--and the insight he can provide into the life of her long-lost mother--was the most compelling part of the story to me.
My favorite passage was when Fera asks her boyfriend Pell--who is one of the impoverished Backgrounders and who becomes her trainer during the story--if he loves her:
"We don't use that word underground."
"What do you say then?"
"I look for you, I see you, I won't turn away."
"That's a lotta words to say the same thing."
"It's not the same thing. Not at all. 'I love you' means 'I need you.' The way I say it means that you can count on me. The way I say it is strong."
The story ends with a glimpse of resisting ownership, asserting independence without ignoring interdependence, and I thought this conversation about love was the starting kernel of that theme....more