Sunday, June 26, 2022

The Sentence


The Sentence
 by Louise Erdrich (2021) 386 pages

This was my first time reading Louise Erdrich, and it was riveting! It took me about 20 pages to start loving Tookie, a Native American who gets out of prison for a very weird crime and then begins working in a small independent bookstore in Minneapolis. So much happens in the year that encompasses the majority of the story, most notably the arrival of a ghost to the bookstore, but also the changes in Tookie's family. I loved learning about the various Native American characters and how they incorporated older traditions into their lives. We also see the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic and the shocking murder of George Floyd from these characters' viewpoints. I think there is much more in this deep story, but I'll have to read it again to pull out those details. I highly recommend this book.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

A Mirror Mended

 A Mirror Mended by Alix E. Harrow, 144 pages.

In this sequel to A Spindle Splintered (which I loved) Zinnia Gray has been saving sleeping beauties for five years, and it's honestly getting old. So when a distressed woman reached out to her from a mirror, pleading for help, she reaches out to her and is pulled into another story. But for all the Sleeping Beauty was getting old, it doesn't make getting kidnapped by the Evil Queen fun. This Evil Queen has found out what happens to her at the end of Snow White, and is desperately trying to find an escape, which she thinks Zinnia can help her with. Zinnia, for her part, has to decide if she's going to help the woman who snatched her, who is, after all, just as trapped in her story as the princesses she usually saves.

This was a very good novella, although it didn't impress me quite as much as the first one. It feels a little less focused, and the adventure elements that dominate this one weren't the elements that made an impression in the first one. However, this one reminded me even more strongly of Seanan McGuire's Indexing series, so I'm definitely doubling down on this as a recommendation for fans of that series.


The Heartbreak Bakery

 The Heartbreak Bakery by A.R. Capetta, 352 pages.

Syd works at the Proud Muffin, a bakery and queer meeting space in Austen. Baking brownies at work to get all of the emotions out after a bad break-up feels like a good idea, until everyone who eats the brownies has their own break-ups. Now Syd and genderfluid bike delivery person Harvey need to make and deliver specially crafted magical baked goods to fix the couples' problems before they shut down the separation of the owners shuts down the bakery.

This book was super fun and extremely joyful. Also, several of the recipes provided at the end of every chapter sound delicious and I'm definitely planning on trying a few. I love the idea of magical baking, especially magical baking that's centered on putting your emotions into what your making, because I feel like it's only half a step off from reality. Also, I love the colorful community that Capetta builds in this book, and I don't think it's a stretch to say that I enjoyed the large supporting cast almost as much as I enjoyed the protagonists. This is definitely a book I would recommend.


Folklorn

 Folklorn by Angela Mi Young Hur, 416 pages.

Elsa Park has gone all the way to Antarctica to get as far as possible from her family and their stories (and also to pursue her doctoral physics research). Her mother used to tell her that all of the women in their family were reincarnations of the girls from her Korean folk tales, but her mother has been in a coma for decades, so now it's just her brother and father she's avoiding. But once her mother dies she is once again haunted in Sweden by her childhood imaginary friend, who drives her to look for her long lost sister and get to the heart of the stories her mother left her.

I thought all of that sounded very exciting, but that isn't a word I'd use to describe this book. I think it's probably very good, but it wasn't quite what I had expected, and I think I would have enjoyed it more if I was forty. It's complex, but also sort of slow and ambiguous. I didn't really enjoy reading it very much, but I'm sure some others would.


Monday, June 20, 2022

The Throwback List

The Throwback List by Lily Anderson (2021) 391 pages

Jo handles social media for her Silicon Valley employer until she's laid off when the company is acquired by another company. The 26-year-old reluctantly returns home to Sandy Point, a tiny town in Oregon, where she'd hoped to never have to return when she left for college. In Sandy Point, her old best friend, Autumn, has long ago cooled to her because Jo didn't work at maintaining the friendship. Jo's parents' next door neighbor Bianca (another high school classmate of Jo's) is newly married, managing her family's tattoo parlor, and looking out for her aging grandmother. Bianca has never been happy with Jo, but has been best friends with Autumn for a while now, ever since they found each other at the same college.

Jo finds an old list in her childhood bedroom that she and Autumn had composed back in high school, which contains a range of activities that Jo wanted to achieve before going away to college. The list was mostly unfulfilled. Jo makes it her mission to work on the list now while she applies for jobs. The first item she completes upon her return to Sandy Point is to TP the tree at Bianca's house, much to over-worked Bianca's dismay.

As the characters awkwardly reconnect, I found myself starting to root for all the main characters, maybe even more so for Bianca than Jo. It was a fun read.

Fun Home

 

Fun Home, a Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel (2006) 232 pages

The "Fun Home" in Alison Bechdel's memoir is what her family calls the funeral home that her father, Bruce, runs, in addition to teaching high school English. His children spend a lot of time in the funeral home, unpacking new caskets, cleaning, and setting up for services. Sometimes they're even called into the part of the morgue where their father prepares bodies for funerals.

We learn early on that Alison's father dies at age 44, soon after it becomes clear that he was gay, which was soon after Alison came out to her parents as gay. Bechdel adeptly runs and reruns through times in her life, and in her parents' lives prior to their marriage, as she examines her family, and in particular, her father. Bruce was a perfectionist who painstakingly restored an old mansion he and his wife purchased. Alison, who hated flowers and the color pink, had no say in the pink floral wallpaper that was placed in her bedroom. Sometimes when she reruns through the past, her father is shown to be more involved with his children; most times he was more distant or disapproving.

English literature references are plentiful in this memoir, especially regarding James Joyce's Ulysses, but the fact that I hadn't read all the works referenced did not keep me from appreciating this book. The drawings are well done and the story is riveting. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Elder Race

 Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky, 201 pages.

Lynette Fourth Daughter is a princess who isn't respected by her family, or pretty much anyone. But when a demon starts terrorizing neighboring kingdoms and she's the only one who believes the refugees she decides she has to take matters into her own hands and invoke the pact her family made generations ago with a wizard, the last of the elder race. Nyr is an anthropologist second class, and he is NOT supposed to interact with the local population. But he's been abandoned for centuries, and does it really count as interference if the problem didn't arise from within the population he's studying?

This book is so cool. It is told in alternating chapters, one half being firmly in traditional swords and sorcery fantasy and the other being the type of sci-fi that involves colony ships and computers that interface psychically. It manages to pull this off while both characters are on the exact same trip. I'm astounded at how well done this is, and the little novella honestly reads like a much longer book. I think I'm going to have to look into other works by the author, because I'm thoroughly impressed, and very curious what he can do with a full length book.


Portrait of Thief

 Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li, 384 pages.

Will Chen is a senior at Harvard, a Chinese American, an art history major, and (after witnessing a break-in at the museum he works at and a subsequent job offer) a thief of stolen art. When he's offered a job by a Chinese billionaire to steal a series of statues that were looted from the old summer Palace in Beijing from five western museums he quickly gathers a team to plan some heists. The members of the team have skills that are almost relevant to pulling heists (software engineer is almost like hacker, and street racing is close enough to get away driving) and they quickly find themselves in over their heads. 

I was really excited when I first read about this book, because art heists for repatriation sounds super fun. And the book is super fun, although it might be a little generous to call the art theft in this book heists. What I wasn't expecting, but quite enjoyed, was how much of many of our thieves motivation comes from the existential terror of being in your early twenties and having no idea what to do with your life, a problem made even more complex by the variety of ways that all of our characters interact with their own Chinese identities. This book is very fun, and definitely worth the read, but I wouldn't read it if you're wanting a heist story, and I would try not to take the details of the action too seriously.


One Last Stop

 One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston, 418 pages.

August is a cynic who moved to New York hoping to finish college and finally figure out what she wants to do with her life. After a cute girl saves her from coffee-based embarrassment on the subway she finds herself falling hard. The only problem is, there's a real possibility the girl is a ghost. Luckily, Jane ISN'T a ghost, just displaced in time and magically trapped on the subway. But if August wants any sort of relationship not on the train she and her very eclectic new roommates are going to have to find a way to free her. 

This book is extremely sweet. Normally I'm not a big enjoyer of time-based nonsense, but the plot here was really well done and surprisingly chill. All of the characters are also really cool, and I love them both individually and the relationships between them. Also a highlight of this book, the intense sense of community in their little corner of New York. I'm definitely recommending this one. 


Tuesday, June 14, 2022

All Creatures Great and Small

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriott, 442 pages

I'm possibly the last person on earth to discover this charming memoir, but I'm still going to crow about it. Told in episodes centering on the odd characters (both human and animal) in rural Yorkshire, Herriott's book covers his first couple of years as a country vet, treating everything from spoiled dogs to neglected cattle. Throughout it all, there's a wry sense of humor, enhanced in the audiobook by wonderful narrator Christopher Timothy. I absolutely loved this, and I'll definitely be reading Herriott's other two memoirs.