A Wild Winter Swan by Gregory Maguire – I don’t think I would call this book, or the swan in it particularly “wild.” Actually considering the fact that the swan is significantly human, I might call it fairly tame. He can talk and reason!
May 4: My Ten Most Recent Reads (maybe share a one-sentence review to go with?)
Didn’t do anything too fancy this week. These are the last ten books I read:
Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson- This one was kind of silly but it was basically just a lot of fun. It opens at the funeral of Mila Flores’ best friend, Riley. Understandably, Mila is having a tough time, especially because she thinks there’s something suspicious about Riley’s “suicide.” For one thing Riley didn’t seem even remotely suicidal. For another, her death came straight on the heels of the double suicide of Fairmont Academy mean girls June Phelan-Park and Dayton Nesseth. Mila and Riley practiced Wicca, and when Mila comes across a spell for reanimating the dead for seven days, she’s all in. So what if she’s never done magic even remotely in this category before? She figures she’ll resurrect Riley, ask whodunnit, and get a chance to say a proper goodbye. But when her spell resurrects June Phelan-Park and Dayton Nesseth along with Riley, she’s in for a shock. None of the three remember anything about their deaths. They have to lie low in an abandoned house for seven days while Mila does some detective work to figure out who could have wanted all three of them dead, and why. I guess Riley, June and Dayton are technically “zombies” in this, but they’re pretty tame zombies. They look alive-ish as long as Mila is within 100 steps, and they spend their days hiding out eating pizza, not brains. They’re not killers, they’re just trying to find one.
2. The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka- This slim novel (only about 150 pages) tells the story of a group of women who come from Japan to San Francisco as “picture brides” in the early 20th century. We follow that women over the next 30 years or so, from their first meeting with their new husbands, to their jobs, through birth and child rearing, up to WWII Japanese internment. It’s told with first person plural narration. The experiences of the different women vary, but they speak as one. It’s a choice that I’m honestly not sure how I feel about. On one hand it gives a strong feeling of community, but on the other hand, it feels like it erases individual voices.
3. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro- I was a bit nervous reading this one because Ishiguro is one of my favorite authors, and this book seemed similar-ish to Never Let Me Go (one of my favorite of his books) in that they both take place in dystopian near futures, with technology that we may someday have. Klara is a solar powered Artificial Friend (AF) with outstanding observational qualities. She watches from her store, waiting be chosen by a customer. She has been programmed to give kindness, and recognize it in others. She’s eventually bought by Josie, and goes to live with Josie and her mother. The family has been through dark times, and Josie has an illness. So Klara tries to help however she can, based on the understanding she has. At times this is both more and less than a normal “human” understanding. Yes, it gets into some questions about artificial life. Klara is said to be unusually observant for an AF. Does that mean she’s surpassed her programing in some way? And if that’s the case what is she? AF, AI, human, or some combination of the above? I would say that I didn’t like it quite as much as Never Let Me Go (which I gave 5 stars). This I gave 4.5 (rounded up to 5)
4. Royal Blood by Rhys Bowen– Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness mysteries as a series of cozy mysteries that follow Lady Georgiana Rannoch, 34th in line for the British throne, but penniless due to the great depression. Unfortunately, the queen has a tendency to ask favors a lot. The most recent is to represent the royal family at a wedding in Transylvania. They think she’s be a good choice since she went to school with the bride. But no sooner does Georgie arrive that a wedding, then a guest is poisoned. Being no stranger to murder, and hoping to avoid an international incident, Georgie helps out with the investigation. I think if you’re interested in the series, start with the first one. The same cast of characters pop up throughout the series, and it’s good to get to know who they are. But if you’ve read other books in the series already, this one is fun too. Jump in!
5. The Mother in Law by Sally Hepworth- Lucy had always had a complicated relationship with her mother-in-law, Diana. But she loves her husband Ollie, and their children. When Diana is found dead, an apparent suicide, the whole family is surprised. But Diana had recently lost her husband and was facing a battle with cancer… But as the days pass, unanswered questions pile up. Why did the autopsy find no cancer? Why were there traces of poison and evidence of suffocation in Diana’s body? Why did Diana recently disinherit her children and their spouses? The answers to these questions lie somewhere in Lucy’s long history with her in-laws. We follow that history, and the present investigation into Diana’s death. Hepworth alternates narration between Diana and Lucy, and shows us that there truly are at least two sides to every story.
6. Who Will Run the Frog Hospital by Lorrie Moore– I thought this was beautiful, but I can see someone else not liking it at all. It’s about the close friendship between Bernie and Sils, two teenage girls working at Storyland, an amusement park in upstate NY. They spend their breaks smoking and gossiping, and live with the impulsivity of the young. But when Sils gets into a difficult position and actually needs help, Bernie does something that changes everything for both of them. The story is narrated by a middle aged Bernie, looking back on friendship with several decades distance. She realizes that even though she and Sils weren’t BFFs for life, the friendship gave them both something they needed. You might even say it made them who they are. I thought that was a beautiful concept. There are a lot of friends I’ve fallen out of touch with as our lives took us in different directions. But it’s nice to think that those relationships weren’t a waste of time at all. They gave me something valuable (and hopefully I did the same to them) and then we both moved on with life.
7. Bunny by Mona Awad- I remember this one was described as Heathers meets The Craft, which was a “yes please” from me. Another review said there was a bit of The Secret History (which I also liked) in the mix. But after I read it. my response to this one was a resounding “WTF?!?!” I think the latter describes it better. It’s the kind of book you can’t really say a lot about without spoilers, but the basic premise involves Samantha Heather Mackey, student in a prestigious creative writing MFA program at Warren University. She’s utterly repelled by her cohort: a group of rich girls who are super-cutsie and all call each other “Bunny” for some reason. But when the Bunnies invite her to their famous “Smut Salon,” she’s accepted into the group. Things get a lot crazier from there…
8. Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson- Amy Whey is a typical suburban mom, who loves her life. When a new neighbor arrives and joins Amy’s friend’s book club, she’s welcomed. The mysterious and sultry Angelica Roux keeps the wine flowing, and starts a game of spilling secrets. Everyone thinks it’s just silly fun, but Amy has something to hide. Something that could destroy her family and the happy life she’s built. As soon as they’re alone, Roux tells Amy that she’s going to pay, one way or another. In order to protect herself and her family, Amy joins Roux in a dark twisted game of hidden pasts and long buried secrets. Amy is sure that she isn’t the only one who is hiding something terrible. And Roux’s secrets might be her only chance to win. I enjoyed this book right until the end, but then I really didn’t like the twist.
9. Home Before Dark by Riley Sager– Twenty five years ago Maggie Holt and her parents moved into Baneberry Hall, a Victorian estate in Vermont. They lived there for three weeks, before leaving in the middle of the night, fleeing for their lives. Later, Maggie’s father, Ewan, wrote about the family’s experience in a nonfiction book called House of Horrors (which sounds a lot like The Amityville Horror) Though she was too young to remember her time in Baneberry Hall, Maggie is sure that her father’s book is really fiction disguised as fact. When Maggie inherits Baneberry Hall after her father’s death, she decides to do what she does: restore old homes and sell them for a higher price. But staying in Baneberry Hall is an experience that Maggie isn’t prepared for. We read chapters from House of Horrors alongside chapters that Maggie narrates. The real tension is that as she learns that parts of her father’s books were truer than others, Maggie’s own perception of reality and fiction, past and present, also begin to blur.
10. Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia– In Mexico in the 1920’s Casiopea cleans her grandfather’s floors and dreams of a better life for herself. One day, she finds a mysterious wooden box in her Grandfather’s room. When she opens it, she accidentally frees that Mayan god of death, who asks for her help in regaining the throne his brother stole from him. Well, “asks” might not be the best word. Casiopia may die if she refuses…Of course she might also die if she accepts and they fail! But if they’re successful, all of her dreams may come true. I enjoyed this as a fantasy, but I wondered as I was reading if I was being ethno/theocentric. After all, this is based on a religion that people believe in for a long time. It felt uncomfortable to call it “fantasy” for that reason. But the author said in her acknowledgments that it’s intended to be read as a fantasy. She included some other sources for readers who want to know more about the Mayan religious mythology.