There's a beautiful structure to Homegoing, part double-helix, part skipping-stone: each chapter is a single story about a descendant of one of two haThere's a beautiful structure to Homegoing, part double-helix, part skipping-stone: each chapter is a single story about a descendant of one of two half-sisters. The structure itself is so elegant and so accessible, as long as you like books with many characters and many time periods. (And I do! I saw the family tree at the front of the book and cheered. I love books unapologetic about their scope.) I enjoyed Gyasi's smooth prose and patient strokes of characterization, and the content--both the depictions and the thematic work being woven in and out of What Is Happening--was always engaging and interesting. It'd be a good book club book, a good choice for an all-campus or all-city read. It's relevant, and it feels timeless. It's a solid read, period, and worthy of the wide audience I hope it reaches.
I can't be the only person who feels existential terror at contemplating all the generations who came before me, all the people who had to survive in order for me to get here. (I wish I could use that terror as the excuse for why, for my tenth-grade genealogy project consisted mostly of lies--I just made up most of the names, places, and dates--but in truth, that was just laziness and fifteen-year-old surliness.) Gyasi tames this terror in her book: here, ancestors and their lives are tidy links in a chain, even if the connections are incomprehensible and broken to the characters themselves. This both serves the book well--seriously, it's so elegant--but also undermines that terror, in a way, that I felt a little dissatisfied with. I know that it's the job of most mainstream literature to tame life's incomprehensibility, and one of the joys of this book is, in fact, all the connections it makes, all the echoes it brings to the surface, but these connections were often too on-the-nose for me. I would have preferred more subtlety, less answers, more mysteries in the narrative itself. That's a personal preference, though, and I still really liked this book....more
In summary: the universe is made of math, controlled belief systems, and death. A lot of death. These three things are very intricately connected.
AndIn summary: the universe is made of math, controlled belief systems, and death. A lot of death. These three things are very intricately connected.
And by "universe" I may mean "empire."
Ninefox Gambit was challenging, in a satisfying if often frustrating way. I've enjoyed some of Yoon Ha Lee's short SFF in the past, and I knew that even if Lee went over my head with military tactics and warfare and math, he still wrote excellent characters and the kind of vivid, lovely prose that's hard to find in SFF.
And I wasn't disappointed, not by either the prose or the characters, and neither was I disappointed with the whole going-over-my-head thing. That expected incomprehensibility turned out to be one of the most interesting aspects of the book. Phoebe Salzman-Cohen's review at Strange Horizons blew open my mind almost as much as the book itself. If you want to conquer a book by understanding every piece of the world it conveys, to be on equal footing with the characters inside it, you may not be an ideal reader for Ninefox Gambit. But there's still a lot that's rewarding, worth pushing through the initial frustration: there's amazingness in the unfolding politics and twisty characters and the shifting scope of the book and the games it plays. There were ways that conventionality of pieces of the plot irritated me, but the execution of said plotting was so rich in inventive detail that I couldn't stay irritated for long. ...more
A rather astonishing, disquieting dance between subtlety and bluntness, crudeness and tenderness. The FSoG comparison by the publisher is specious atA rather astonishing, disquieting dance between subtlety and bluntness, crudeness and tenderness. The FSoG comparison by the publisher is specious at best; this book does work with the idea of submission to authority, but certainly not along the same line as FSoG. The submissiveness here is both sexualized and not, and The Blue Room is definitely more interesting about submission than FSoG (though I wanted it to be picked apart more explicitly than it was--lots to do with God, with the mother, with Johanne's idea of her destined future), but those two books aren't doing the same thing at all. The romantic relationship in both serve different functions, and the most important relationship here is the power dynamic between the mother and daughter....more
It was not a dream as she said, it was a fairy tale and in their predicament, fairy tales were crucial.
A charming outsider gently disrupts life in a
It was not a dream as she said, it was a fairy tale and in their predicament, fairy tales were crucial.
A charming outsider gently disrupts life in a small Irish village, complete with the inevitable furtive affair with a dissatisfied young wife. But this interloper is more than just the mystic healer he claims to be, more than the warrior poet he appears to be: he's a fugitive war criminal, and the consequences of his deception are brutal and bleak--but a drop in the bucket compared to what atrocities he has committed.
My primary concern going into this book was that it might be exploitative. Why tell a story about the Siege of Sarajevo by centering on Fidelma, the Irishwoman who unwittingly falls in love with the man who orchestrated it? Would all the war crimes simply serve as backdrop for the angst of a bored and pretty first-world lady?
Hahaha nah O'Brien is a smarter author than that.
This is a text very smart about narratives of violence, narratives of war, and narratives of trauma. I don't think a chapter goes by without some very self-conscious story-telling, by an entire cast of what probably amounts to hundreds, in which tellers either explain themselves or don't, but they do so by choosing words and sharing their traumas and staking a claim both in the narrative as well as in the nebulous point between past and future. One does so with purple crayon. Characters own the suffering that has forged them, that has dropped them into a a text where they find themselves explaining themselves to a displaced Irishwoman who has with found herself in a bigger narrative of pain and genocide than she has the skills and emotional ability to handle. Fidelma often fades into the background even in the chapters she openly narrates, and there's no narrative coddling of her. She can't figure out her own role, has no mark to measure up her complicity, is unable to find in anyone else's story a guideline to what kind of grief she's entitled to but she suffers anyway. She's no martyr: she's lost and confused. I found that compelling and unusual, and I was impressed O'Brien did this without belittling or trivializing all the other types of trauma she draws upon to tell this story.
I thought a lot a couple other books while reading this. First, Elizabeth E. Wein's Rose Under Fire, which also deals with war crimes, testimony, and stories. (I also think Rose Under Fire is an example of the aforementioned exploitativeness, centering on a reader stand-in of a plucky young American Mary Sue, but it was still a worthy story in other ways.) There's value in being able to speak about what has happened to you, but also there's value in--as Eliza Hamilton by way of Lin-Manuel Miranda might put it--taking yourself out of the narrative. That's the power of authorship, and when you find yourself tripped up in incorrect narrative readings of a situation, when you surround yourself with stories of other displaced people who can't return home (and yet don't know how to square your own story against those), you can, like Fidelma, find that the context you're in cannot be processed easily and you won't let it be.
Elizabeth Strout's My Name Is Lucy Barton also came to mind while reading this. While different in tone and scope, it also looked at narratives of trauma, and an individual's suffering in context of more epochal suffering, and the possibility of reconciliation with oneself if not with one's abusers.
And I thought The Little Red Chairs was operating in similar murky and thematic territory to Sofi Oksanen's phenomenal Purge, especially in the attention paid to women's bodies as the locus of personal and impersonal violence.
So, while I thought the use of Fidelma was deftly and sensitively done, there was a sense of mismatch brought on by the title. That's a fiery and poignant reference there, the kind of thing that makes me want to sit down and cry for a little while, but I didn't get fiery, poignancy from the text itself. I get the significance of children--and the death of children--in relation to what O'Brien explores, but I can see that there's a gap between the text and title that might really dismay readers. (And at the same time, I also think there's more for me to think about that, particularly in the idea of memorials and grief rituals. So IDK.) At any rate, this book is less about Sarajevo and more about all those inconceivable global forces that destroy little, ordinary lives. I can see how that might be at turn-off for readers wanting something more concentrated.
Anyway. I found this book rich, diffusive, disquieting, and I'm glad I didn't discount it because of the centering of Fidelma....more
While a more straightfaced book than the rollicking The Good Lord Bird, Song Yet Sung is no less nimble and a piece of a similar project: in both bookWhile a more straightfaced book than the rollicking The Good Lord Bird, Song Yet Sung is no less nimble and a piece of a similar project: in both books, McBride consciously wades in among the links of American Mythology and tugs those chains hard. He may destabilize those myths, but he doesn't break them. And he's not trying to. The movements he makes with the stories he tells, it's all to get a better idea of the shape and strength of these myths. Here, he focuses in on the collectivity of the dream of freedom.
This is so well-paced. I just kept reading, my attention never getting distracted because there was always something interesting to follow. Characters were brilliantly clear, intensely motivated. Even when Liz, the Dreamer, was motivated to go nowhere…that was some intense motivation and stubbornness. There wasn't often a lot of subtlety, and there was definitely some melodrama and sentimentality. The writing verged from beautiful to overwrought, and almost never understated. But whenever I found some reading time, I was really excited about getting back to this book, because it was so engrossing and so competent. Its use of place, and travel through place, and character-revelations through character-interactions, were all the sorts of things I enjoyed in The Good Lord Bird, but its construction--the multiple viewpoints of protagonists and antagonists & their games of cat and mouse, the writing style, the rather delicate and protected heroine at the center, the depictions of resistance and complicity--made me think readers who liked All the Light We Cannot See might also like this book, despite the different time periods and settings. (Also, this book is better, even if it does share similar flaws.)
Finally: how is this not a movie yet, omg. ...more
This was one of SYNC's free offerings this year, paired with Kekla Magoon's How It Went Down. I ended up turning to an ebook copy midway through listeThis was one of SYNC's free offerings this year, paired with Kekla Magoon's How It Went Down. I ended up turning to an ebook copy midway through listening; I can read faster than I can listen, and I was too engrossed to slow down. It was both an entertaining read and an intellectually textured one, though the book ends with choked-up grief over passing, and that feeling overwhelmed everything for me. I'd recommend it to readers who want to expand on Boy, Snow, Bird or to follow up on A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in America, books that look critically at what is lost by passing....more
This review is purposely vague, in order to avoid spoilers for the first book in this sequence (also, don't read the summary of this book if don't wanThis review is purposely vague, in order to avoid spoilers for the first book in this sequence (also, don't read the summary of this book if don't want spoilers!), BUT I think it's possible--if not exactly recommended--to read this book first, before Europe in Autumn: events in the books coincide, eventually, and the books take on the same problems from different angles.
ANYWAY. This series is appealing for how it so gamely incorporates both low-tech and high-tech espionage, and for its deep understanding of power and powerlessness in political actors. There's a submersive quality in the world-building that reminded me a lot of the Southern Reach trilogy: questions are only answered in their own time, and the details that build up end up being more than just the sum of their parts.
Borders are paramount in this world that Hutchinson has built, and reading this in the final days before the UK's EU referendum, I paid close attention to the dazzling kaleidoscopic array of geopolitical speculation that Hutchinson plays with. (Also, he plays with Eurovision, jsyk.) In a very good way, this series reflects a vital component of the kind of science fiction I find most compelling: it's very much a product of its time. It couldn't have been written at any other time but NOW, and in doing so, it forces questions about consequences of the choices we make: the borders we choose to cross, the borders we defend (and who we're defending against), the borders we build, the borders we tear down. Hutchinson doesn't answer these questions and isn't explicitly/overtly/didacticly partisan in his approach. (Though, yes, I smiled wryly at the characters' surprise that the Americans didn't react to a paradigm-breaking development in geopolitical relations with a preemptive nuclear strike. Thanks for the optimism, Hutchinson!)...more
Had she gone too far? Or did she need to go further still? "Well, then," Bella said, and began to sing "Do Re Mi" v
There was still an uneasy silence.
Had she gone too far? Or did she need to go further still? "Well, then," Bella said, and began to sing "Do Re Mi" very softly.
Super fluffy, though with just enough character development and emotional depth to be satisfying. Bella knew from the start, and eventually called Hugh out on, how awful his "please be my unsuitable fake girlfriend for a weekend" plan was. I love the fake dating trope, but only when authors can salvage something real and trustworthy from the ridiculousness--and I will read ALL the fake dating / fake engagement books Kate Hardy ever wants to write, because she makes it work. While this isn't my favorite book by Hardy, I loved the artsy, vivacious, bold, knows-her-worth Bella so much that she merited bumping this book from three stars to four. ...more
When I wake the next morning, my dream is so close, I can smell the overripe fruit at the edge of it. It's a recurring dream about a bowl of fruit th
When I wake the next morning, my dream is so close, I can smell the overripe fruit at the edge of it. It's a recurring dream about a bowl of fruit that's on the verge of rotting. When the bowl appears, I realise I ignored it for weeks and now it's too late. There's no story in this dream, just a thick dark sense that I've wasted things, and this sense lingers in my stomach when I wake, like a kick wrapped in spinach.
Vivian, whose parents thought she was a changeling, now spends her her days as an adult traveling through Dublin in search of where she belongs: "My legs are too excited to sit down and the day hasn't yet been emptied of light, so I decide to visit my thin places--places in which non-humans might live, potential gateways to the world I came from. My parents used force to try and shunt me back to this Otherworld; I will use willing."
Lally's prose and character work are top-notch: so many amazing turns of phrase, so much subtle sadness and disconnect and fear in how Vivian interacts with this world. I'm sure the word "quirky" has been used to describe Vivian or this book's tone, but I didn't find it some cute, fetishized whimsy; the book's darkness was stark because Vivian's understanding of it seemed so ambiguous, and I spent so much of the book anxious for her and heartbroken by her lonesome attempts at understanding the world. The maps she makes bring her no closer to knowing where she is or how to get where she needs to go. I loved the ending, loved the understated swell of Vivian's character arc....more
It's a tale as old as time: someone is wagered and won in a game of chance. It's a romance trope I love, though I can see why some readers might shy aIt's a tale as old as time: someone is wagered and won in a game of chance. It's a romance trope I love, though I can see why some readers might shy away from it, given the implied lack of agency. Thoughtful writing and thoughtful twists make it work for me, and there's so much emotional chewiness at work in this trope that I'm not surprised it's such a favorite: there's rescue fantasy, there's competence porn (skillful at cards/dice/whatever, or skillful at elegantly cheating at the same), there's a tangling and untangling of complicated desires, there's obligatory intimacy, and there are exciting hijinks going on around the protagonists. It's a hold-your-breath, don't-know-what-to-hope-for but I-can't-wait-to-see-fate-unfurl-here kind of trope. Maybe best of all, it highlights the internal workings at love and romance: that there is so much at risk in falling in love, and that love entails giving and taking irreplaceable pieces of one another.
Rose Lerner's elegant "All or Nothing" centers around understanding and owning complicated desires. The characters felt like real people, with appealing messiness and well-developed strengths and weaknesses, and it was so rewarding to watch Simon and Maggie fall into a partnership, then intimacy, and then love. I liked how attentive Lerner was to what it feels like to live outside the relentlessly straight context of what Romancelandia Regency usually looks like (but is certainly not limited to!), and the interesting ways disconnections and connections can be made. Also? I thought this was ridiculously hot, the kind of hot where the sex scenes (and any scenes with sexiness, really) hinged acutely on the characters and their personalities and desires. There was no trace of genericness anywhere. My only complaint about the novella was that the writing style was a little too florid and metaphor-heavy for me at times, but I'd still probably be tempted to rate this novella five stars on its own.
Jeanne Lin's well-paced "The Liar's Dice" was my draw to this anthology. I love her Tang Dynasty romances, and I think she's excellent at shorter-length romances. I'm the world's pickiest person when it comes to first-person single-POV romances, but Lin's craftsmanship is superb: those moments with subtle hints at Gao's tension and inner turmoil, and Wei-wei's obliviousness or misreading of them, were so beautifully executed that it was actually a fun experience to await Wei-wei coming to understand him and her feelings for him--and his feelings for her. I still haven't read second Lotus Palace book (this novella is set after it), but that didn't hinder my enjoyment of this book. Wei-wei--Bai Huang's scholarly little sister who does what she can to keep her family protected--was a delightful heroine, even though I am generally of the belief that, if you find a dead body/witnesses a murder, you should leave the investigation to the professionals, even if you are worried about whether your once feckless brother has drifted from the straight-and-narrow again. I know that means we wouldn't have gotten a story out of this, BUT STILL. Don't investigate murders if you're not a professional!!
I skipped Isabel Cooper's novella, "Raising the Stakes," having bounced off her writing before and knowing my own tastes. The setting was intriguing, but "elven warrior" and "fairy powers" are hugely unappealing elements to me.
Molly O'Keefe's exquisitely angsty "Redeemed" was so difficult but so gorgeous. Tackling the difficult aspect first: both protagonists are struggling with addiction/addiction recovery, she's being held captive by a villain, both are haunted by the Civil War, nearly everything about everyone's life is harsh, and I found this sooo bleak (though it has a happy ending, and a particularly awesome one, at that!). Darker than I usually want from my romances, in other words. But I'm so glad I read it, because it was so vividly gorgeous. Like, I want gif sets of so many of these scenes! They were rendered so eloquently and with such evocative emotion, that in a couple years, my spaghetti-strainer of a memory will probably have convinced me that it'd had been some TV show or movie when I'm remembering the scene where she's in the bird cage, and he sees her shame at him seeing her like this, and then he waits at the top of the staircase until she meets his gaze, and then he bows to her, the only thing he can do to recognize in her the dignity others want to deny her, and ALL I WANTED WAS THEM TO KISS ALREADY OKAY?
Ending the anthology is master plotter Joanna Bourne's sparkling "Gideon and the Den of Thieves." I've only read the first book in this series, quite a few years ago, but I think this would be an excellent place to start, given that it seems to be set earlier than all the full-length novels. Anyway, Bourne excels at writing smart, strategic characters and putting them in stories full of stratagems and complicated moves, and what I liked best was that Aimee remained competent from start to finish. Shameless scene-stealer Hawker drives a lot of this story, but I found the romance between Aimee and Gideon satisfying and believable. I had a couple things I didn't really like (the colonialist shit--like, I'm sorry, but I have zero faith in a romance novel hero's affected honor and attempts to reassure that his fortunes-made-in-the-East was all due to legitimate business; the highlighting of the heroine's unbelievably-kept-virginity, which I didn't like in The Spymaster's Lady, either, though in this book, there was some nuance and doubt), but overall, it made me realize I need to read more Bourne, and soon.
This is an excellent, very evenly high-quality anthology, and immensely satisfying in how the novellas played with the "gambled away" trope.
FTC Disclosure: I received an advance review copy of this book....more
Unfurls slowly but steadily. Hutchinson's elegant style in constructing this book, in constructing this world, made this a rewarding and thoughtful reUnfurls slowly but steadily. Hutchinson's elegant style in constructing this book, in constructing this world, made this a rewarding and thoughtful read that holds up its own among both spy thrillers and science fiction novels. It's obscure when it needs to be, and witty but not over-indulgently so. This is science fiction among multiple axes of science, and I was particularly pleased it was, very prominently, political science fiction....more
Charlie is the most cinnamon roll-y cinnamon roll to ever cinnamon roll, seriously. I was just about dying from adorableness. His "You don't deserve mCharlie is the most cinnamon roll-y cinnamon roll to ever cinnamon roll, seriously. I was just about dying from adorableness. His "You don't deserve me" speech at the blackest moment of the book was heartrending because I could understand both his and Emma's positions, and I may have teared up at a few points during the book anyway, but I also laughed out loud multiple times.
Why does Amy Vastine only have so few books out? And how fast am I going to blow through them all??...more