This prequel to Code Name Verity gives us a look at a younger Julie, on the verge of becoming the remarkable woman we know and love. The Pearl Thief iThis prequel to Code Name Verity gives us a look at a younger Julie, on the verge of becoming the remarkable woman we know and love. The Pearl Thief is a good and captivating adventure/mystery romp, with a gorgeous setting (Scotland!) and an unusual cast of characters. Well worth reading. My full review is at Bookshelf Fantasies....more
If you've seen any of my reviews at all over the last couple ofKate is back! Kate is back! Kate is back!
Yes, I'm excited. And yes, I loved this book!
If you've seen any of my reviews at all over the last couple of years, then you may know that I developed a full-on obsession for Dana Stabenow's amazing Kate Shugak series. Kate is tough, devoted, smart, and resilient, and lives in one of the most beautiful places in the world. In the Kate Shugak series, the author serves up mystery after mystery -- but really, what pulls me back for book after book is Kate herself, the "Park rats" who make up the tiny community in Niniltna, the troopers and cops and aunties and pilots who form the backbone of Kate's world, and the richly entangled storytelling that builds up over the course of the series.
We're now 21 books in (plus the Liam Campbell series of 4 books, which somewhat intersect with the Kate books and add yet another facet to her world). The series is still going strong. I gobbled up the previous 20 books (and the 4 Liams) in something like 18 months, and then was bereft over having to wait for Kate's return, especially as #20 ended with a super cruel cliffhanger.
Well, now my girl is back! The mystery in #21 is standard Kate fare (mining, ore rights, missing persons); the real treat is in seeing Kate recovering from a traumatic event and reconnecting with all the various people who love her. All the old favorites are here -- Bobby, Dinah, Katya, the aunties, and more -- and Kate's love interest Jim is as devoted (and hot) as ever. There are call-backs to earlier episodes, and some hair-raising action scenes, but mostly Less Than a Treason is a delight simply because we see Kate reclaiming her place in her own life and community.
Ah. I love these books, and I love the characters. This one made me so, so very happy, and I adored the ending too. I can only sit here now and hope and pray that Kate Shugak will live on in many, many, many more books. Do you hear me, Dana Stabenow??? I want more Kate, now and forever, amen.
Reading note 01 - The Kate books are full of super fun pop culture, literary, and musical references, and this one is no exception. Watch out for a selection in my Thursday Quotables post this week.
Reading note 02 - In case it's not perfectly obvious, the books in this series do not -- in my humble opinion -- work as stand-alones. There's simply too much world-building, full of rich and varied characters with unique and often complicatedly interconnected backstories, to be able to jump in with book #21! So take my advice, start at the beginning, and enjoy!
Reaidng note 03 -- I'll never get tired of Dana Stabenow's gorgeous descriptions of Alaskan wildlife and scenery, even though she makes me mad that I'm not there right at this very moment!...more
Interesting. One of the blurbs for this book mentions polyamory, and I'm not sure I'd have described the relationships in this book using quite that tInteresting. One of the blurbs for this book mentions polyamory, and I'm not sure I'd have described the relationships in this book using quite that term... but for lack of anything better, sure, why not? If anything, I'd say it's about how relationships don't have to follow the one-on-one traditional format, and how different people may need different things at different times in their lives.
Chris and Kathryn, at the outset, seem to have a perfect relationship, utterly secure and utterly devoted. And if they seem a little light on passion, well, it's been nine years, and they have such a deep soul-to-soul connection that the sex part seems not such a big deal. There's a loneliness in their lives, though -- their best friends and next door neighbors have moved away, and Chris and Kathryn as a unit of two and only two seem a bit insular and cut off from the rest of the world.
They also share every single thought and feeling they have, including their random crushes on other people. This time, though, Kathryn encourages Chris to actually do something about it. Maybe she's hoping that he will just work it out of his system, but instead, his connection with Emily deepens from a crush to love, and Kathryn has to figure out a response. (And we know this story will go down some unexpected paths when, for example, Emily invites Kathryn to come to dinner along with Chris and Emily on their first date).
The three navigate their unusual relationship, with plenty of ups and downs. For Kathryn, it's an introduction into a life that includes more people, more challenges, more ways of interacting with the world. For Chris, it's a constant tug-of-war between wanting a safe, stay-at-home life with the woman (or women) he loves, versus needing to be "on" in order to keep up with Emily's boundless energy and even Kathryn's newer need for interaction with others.
We alternate between Chris and Kathryn's points of view over the course of the year when their lives and relationship changes for good. While it's hard for me to relate to Kathryn's attitudes at time, as she both encourages and resents Chris's growing involvement with Emily, I did ultimately come to understand why their new lives made sense for these two people. (I was also surprisingly charmed by the love and friendship that develops between Emily and Kathryn.)
The writing in Next Year, For Sure is fresh, insightful, and often funny, and I zipped through this book in about a day and a half. It might be flashier to say that this is a book about polyamory, but what I really think is at the heart of it all is a story of lonely people finding connection and belonging. I didn't always understand the characters' actions and feelings, but I enjoyed reading about them and considering their motivations, experiences, and outcomes.
Next Year, For Sure is certainly an unusual book with an unusual view of relationships, but I quite enjoyed reading it.
The Mother's Promise is the story of an unusual yet tightly connected mother and daughter, and the two women who enter their inner circle.
Alice is a 4The Mother's Promise is the story of an unusual yet tightly connected mother and daughter, and the two women who enter their inner circle.
Alice is a 40-year-old single mother who receives the dreaded news that she has ovarian cancer and requires immediate surgery. Zoe is her 15-year-old daughter, a smart girl who's practically crippled by her overwhelming social anxiety disorder. There's no one else in their lives -- no close friends, no relatives apart from Alice's alcoholic brother. Zoe's father has never been in the picture, and Zoe knows nothing about him.
Kate is the oncology nurse looking after Alice. Kate is married to a wonderful man and has two too-good-to-be-true teen-aged stepchildren, but her happy marriage is now on the verge of crumbling under the stress of infertility treatments and multiple miscarriages.
(Do we see where this is going yet? In this case, unpredictability may be overrated. More on this later...)
The fourth character in this circle is Sonja, the social worker assigned to Alice's case, who steps in to make sure that Alice gets the support she needs as well as to make sure that Zoe has a roof over her head and someone to care for her when Alice's condition worsens. Sonja, of course, has her own set of hidden problems and pains.
The novel shows these four women coming together, all with their own inner turmoil and emotional trauma, and finding healing and support through each others' helping hands. The story unfolds via chapters told from all four points of view, so we get insights into what it feels like to be in their shoes.
In Zoe's case, this is particularly affecting. Zoe's situation is pure, utter agony. She's so debilitated by her social anxiety that she can never speak in class, feels ashamed every time she walks down the school hallway, and agonizes over other kids' opinions to such an extent that , for example, she never allows herself to eat in public for fear that she'll do something embarrassing and everyone will stare or laugh at her. Being in Zoe's mind is exhausting and sad, but also fascinating. Here's a girl with so much to offer, and she just can't do the things that will help her fit in, no matter how hard she tries. Her mother really and truly is all she has, and it's terrifying for both of them to realize that her entire life is dependent on Alice being there.
For Alice, the diagnosis comes completely out of the blue (as is so often the case with ovarian cancer). In a particularly moving scene, Alice hears the doctor and nurse pouring information out at her about the tests and the results and the treatment, and yet can't even recognize the word "cancer" as applied to herself until about the 3rd or 4th time it's said in her presence. Alice is committed to being positive, but her positivity crosses into denial over the seriousness of her condition and her poor prognosis.
Kate and Sonja's storylines, while part of the novel, get less time than Alice and Zoe's, but they each still emerge as individuals with their own lives, worries, and needs.
So what did I think of The Mother's Promise? Hold on, let me wipe that last tear and then I'll let you know...
Obviously, this is a heart-wrenching, gut-punching book. That should be clear from the start. It's about a single mother with ovarian cancer -- let's not kid ourselves about this having a happy ending.
As I mentioned from the start, the resolution of the story is easy to see coming from very early on -- but that in no way diminishes the impact. The importance thing in The Mother's Promise is the journey, not the destination. Zoe in particular is the one to watch -- there's no instant cure for her social anxiety disorder, but she makes small steps toward breaking out of her old ways, and even manages to push past a truly awful moment of humiliation that any teen, even without anxiety issues, would have an extremely hard time getting over. It's lovely to see Zoe's determination to try, and enlightening to be inside her head and to learn what it feels like to be such a wounded, vulnerable soul.
Kate is lovely. I don't want to give too much away, but here's a woman who loses all of the dreams of the kind of future she wants, and yet finds a way to be open and caring and nurturing. It's a beautiful story arc, and I wish we got to spend more time with her. Maybe a sequel??
I have mixed feelings about Alice. Obviously, she's worthy of sympathy and compassion, and her ordeal is horrible. I just wish the storytelling around Alice was a bit more consistent. The chapters told from her perspective are quite moving, of course, yet we cut away to other people's perspectives at times when I wanted to know how Alice was feeling, phyically and emotionally, such as during her initial hospitalization and recovery from surgery.
As for Sonja -- her story weaves in some themes that are important and worthy of attention, but at the same time, she feels extraneous to the story. Again, I don't want to give too much away here, so I'll be vague. It's not that Sonja's sections aren't interesting. I just felt that you could remove her pieces from the novel, and the core of the story would not lose anything. Perhaps this is just trying to fit one too many story threads into one novel. It's a good thread, but unnecessary.
I started The Mother's Promise knowing I'd probably dissolve at some point while reading it, and that's a pretty accurate picture of what happened. Mothers and daughters? Cancer? Helplessly watching a parent suffer? Children with no one to care for them? Oh, this book knew exactly how to push my buttons! Waterworks galore.
But still -- The Mother's Promise is a beautiful book despite all the heartache. The relationships are complex and feel real, with fragile people strengthened by their unbreakable emotional bonds. Some tearjerker books feel too deliberate, as if the author sat down and said, "Hmm. How can I make my readers cry?". Not The Mother's Promise. Yes, there will be tears, but they're genuine and feel earned.
Definitely read The Mother's Promise. It's powerful and well-written, and will make you look at your loved ones with new, appreciate eyes. And, definitely worth mentioning, the book does an admirable job of showing the power of women caregivers, nurses, and nurterers -- people who change lives on a daily basis. Kudos to the author for such a sensitive and fine portrayal of roles that are often overlooked.