In the Age of Peculiarities, women give birth to rabbits, well-dressed ghouls roam the streets of London, individuals start sprouting leaves, and terrible luck to those who break contracts — though these oddities mostly impact the very poorest, so who cares? It’s 1899 and Thomas Thresher — the younger, largely ignored, son of the Thresher banking family — turns to the occult to find out why the bank seems so very involved in the pervasive disasters. He seeks to save the bank and return it to its original charter — to serve those with nowhere else to go.
Portals to astral realms, a magical society, and Aleister Crowley himself are at the center of this wild-ride style adventure. Plenty of surprises, wry asides, and a strong sense of duty — but what I really love is that the ability to see and manipulate the patterns within mathematics is the powerful magic that is able to do what the best stylings of the Crowley gang cannot.
A real page-turner — well-written, humorous, exciting, and with a wide array of interesting, non-stereotypical, characters.
Good for fans of Alix E. Harrow and Susannah Clark.
Thank you to Tachyon Publications and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on September 7th, 2021.
I loved this deeply meditative book about how much we can really know one another. This is written as a novelized memoir of the fictional character introduced in a previous work — I am Lucy Barton. It felt so incredibly real to me that it’s hard to remember that she is a work of fiction. Here, Lucy reflects on her first husband — William — with whom she is still friendly and the prior and current relationship between them. The “action” takes place a year after Lucy’s second husband has died and William’s third wife has left him.
I resonated with so many of the feelings and experiences described in this book. Strout has a beautiful and apt writing style that captures the essence of what is important in any human interaction — even within oneself. I was often brought to tears — not because anything particularly sad was happening — but because she captured it so perfectly.
A great line: “Grief is such a – oh, it is such a solitary thing; this is the terror of it, I think. It is like sliding down the outside of a really long glass building while nobody sees you.”
I also loved the last line but I won’t list it here — you need to read the rest of them first!
Thank you to Random House and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on October 19th, 2021.
A new mystery series for me! Post WWI, Scotland Yard’s Captain Sam Wyndham finds himself in Calcutta, heading up a new post in the police force. A senior British official has been found dead in an unsavory part of town, and he is immediately plunged into the nexus of politics, policing, and racial tensions that are near the breaking point.
In this first person narrative, Sam is a remarkably self aware Englishman who is constantly noting the inequities that constitute the British Empire in India. He works to tease apart the agendas, morals, and corruption of those around him with the aid of the bitter Digby — ten years in the Imperial Police Force and passed over for promotion — and the Indian sergeant Surindher Bannerjee known as “Surrender-not” by the English speaking officers who can’t manage his name.
Lots of interesting history, wry humor, and individual philosophy. I was particularly interested in the depiction of the different cultures within India — most specifically the Bengali personality within Calcutta. Very engaging.
Writing: 4/5 Plot: 3.5/5 Characters: 4.5/5 Another feel good story from Susan Mallery full of family, friends, love, and people who always know the right things to say. I seriously think you could get more relationship help from reading one of her books than seeing a therapist. While the plot is obvious, getting to the end is fun and full of grown-up behavior. Her characters are honest, straightforward, and could give tutorials on how to express heartfelt and complicated feelings. Yes, there are hunky men and happy endings — and there is nothing wrong with that — but the people actually have depth and I end up feeling more centered after reading. Go figure.
This book takes place in Wishing Tree, Washington — every bit as cute as it sounds. Reggie is going back home after a year of self-imposed exile following a bad break-up. In tow is Belle, her “less than brave” Great Dane. Big sister Dena has rationally dealt with her ticking biological clock by going the turkey baster route. Mom and dad have decided to renew their vows and have the wedding they skipped the first time — needing Reggie’s help because Dena is extremely busy learning that morning sickness does not limit itself to mornings!
Full of great banter, easy camaraderie, and plenty of Christmas cheer (and crafts for those who — unlike me — like that sort of thing). Enjoy!
Thank you to Harlequin and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on September 28th, 2021.
The Bombay Prince is the third title in the Perveen Mistry series. 1920s India — Perveen is Bombay’s first female solicitor. With prestigious legal training from Oxford, as a woman she is not eligible for a degree. This particular story takes place during the 1921-22 Indian visit of Edward VIII, the Prince of Wales. With Gandhi’s call for a hartal (boycott) and others anxious to show loyalty to the crown, a great deal of violence and turmoil ensures. And in the middle of this, the body of a young female student is found on the missionary college grounds.
While the pacing is a little slow for me, the writing is good and the characters and historical situation are well described and embroidered with detail. I learned a lot from the descriptions of different religious groups, practices, and attitudes towards independence, toward the British, and toward women. Individual characters representing foreign journalists, businessmen, servants, and others were all well-done and enlightening. I’ll plan to go back and read the first two.
Thank you to Soho Press and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on June 1st, 2021.
36-year old Alexa Thomas is hit with a double whammy when she learns that Chang Jing Tao — her Taiwanese biological father — is dead after 22 years of estrangement and that it is up to her whether or not his extended Taiwanese family will lose their homes. A personal trainer in New York City who loves her clients, Alexa was raised by her white American mother and adoptive father. Efforts to learn more about her Taiwanese family came to a screeching halt the summer she was 14 and had a lot to do with the titular Tiger Mom — Jing Tao’s second wife.
A fun book with good writing and likable characters. Butler is a great storyteller, and I confess I read this in a single sitting on one insomniac night! Taiwanese culture is explored — mostly through mouth watering food descriptions but with some customs and the tiniest bit of history added in. While hitting plenty of hot topic buttons (being bi-racial, not fitting in, family break up, and … wait for it … the exploration of one’s sexuality at an “elderly” age), they weren’t the agenda laden center of the book. Instead they were simply influencing factors of Alexa’s life. We all have individual personalities and contexts in our lives, and I like to see “hot topic” forces relegated to the background of one person’s individual story.
Thank you to Berkley Publishing Group and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on July 6th, 2021.
The acclaimed author of The Boys in the Boat (which I loved) tackles Japanese Americans in WWII — both those interned in camps following FDRs Executive Order 9066 and those who served in the military’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team — the single Japanese American unit, which also happened the most highly decorated.
While dealing with — let’s face it — some deeply depressing and disturbing topics — Brown makes it clear from the start that this is the story of Victors, not Victims. And that is how the story reads. This is the story of how a diverse group of people (not everyone in a single ethnic group is the same, even as they are treated as the same!) faced adversity and made the best of it. Through extensive research and first person interviews, Brown follows three primary characters who each ended up in the 442nd: Kats Miho from Hawaii, Rudy Tokiwa from Salinas (within California’s Exclusion Zone) and Fred Shiosaki from Hillyard, WA (outside Washington’s Exclusion Zone). An additional thread follows Gordon Hirabayashi as he makes his way through the courts protesting the unconstitutionality of interning American citizens based on their ethnicity. The character set expands to include their families, friends, and comrades-at-arms while the story extends from Pearl Harbor to incarceration to military draft to battle to returns home to legislation (finally) apologizing to the community and paying (some) restitution to survivors.
It is a massive undertaking but Brown’s style makes it appear effortless (like Fred Astaire’s dancing). He gets to the essence of every thought and action. Through personal interviews and letters, we gain access to the actual (not fictionalized) thoughts, discussions, and noticed details of those involved. Often these brought tears to my eyes. Reading first-person accounts is so very different than what I or a novelist imagines in any situation. Facts and figures, as well as historical context, are inserted at just the right moments.
I found the book fascinating from start to finish. While I was aware of the broad strokes of the treatment of Japanese Americans during the war, I was not aware of the many, many, tiny strokes that comprised it. I give this book a strong five star rating and highly recommend but if I were to point out a couple of negatives (which it appears I’m about to do) it would be that he does sometimes descend into hyperbole — for example when describing a situation, such as the conditions initial Japanese immigrants found in the late 1800s, from his own perspective rather an individual’s recollection and report. He also inserts anecdotes — all but one negative — about the treatment of Japanese Americans by neighbors without including any positive anecdotes (there must be some) or giving any kind of statistics on how broad those negative behaviors actually were.
Thank you to Penguin Group Viking and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on May 11th, 2021.
Tagging along on Trevor Noah’s South African childhood is quite a ride. This series of vignettes are told in Noah’s signature comic style while simultaneously offering real insight about life during and after apartheid in South Africa.
The “illegal” offspring of a black woman and a white man, Trevor is always the outcast — never fitting into any of the official segregated groups (black, white, colored, and Indian). This is the best (to me) kind of memoir — we get the stories as they felt to him as a child, laced with adult commentary on what he later came to realize about the context. I appreciate learning about a place and time through the actual experiences of a single individual living it. While historical and cultural trends are interesting at the macro level, I never feel close to understanding something until I see it through the eyes of people living it.
The adult commentary (with just the right amount of background facts (e.g. the number of official languages in South Africa, the complexities of apartheid, and specific tribal practices) gave me a radically different perspective on apartheid, different systems of oppression, and how context shapes the people who grow up within its confines. The comedy helped me read through experiences that would be too hard to read without. However, it is his insight that makes this book worth reading — insight into how we judge others. Insights such as what makes us think someone is like us or different, what assumptions we make about what people mean when they say or do something, and what really constitutes equal opportunity.
I liked some of the stories better than others, but while discussing at a book group, found that others had almost the exact opposite reaction. That in itself is just as interesting — showing how even a group of people with similar backgrounds processes information in completely different ways.
A hardware malfunction causes a cascade of crashing comm satellites over the Five-Hop One-Stop space station causing the quarantine of all beings present. In a story long on socio-cultural world building and short on plot, individuals from four different species are forced to spend time together while each desperately needs to get back to the life that was abruptly brought to a halt. A quarantine story for our time…
Chambers excels at building intricate and engaging cultures which makes the relatively absent plot easy to overlook. She manages to include all of the current “hot topics” camouflaged in non-humanoid skins. Roveg is the insectoid Quelin who takes in information through smells and has a completely non-emotive space; Pei the Aeluon cargo captain who loves a human against the interspecies mating taboo of her kind; Speaker is the perpetually space-suited Akarak as the only planet that could support her methane-breathing life was rendered useless in a previous war; and Ouloo and not-yet-gendered offspring Tupo are the furry Laru who host the station. Throughout their enforced stay, the four learn about each other’s cultures, opinions, and preferences in a pretty interesting set of expositions on modes of communication, mating rituals, taboos, etc.
It’s nice to read a speculative fiction story that isn’t fully dystopian. We’re not embedded in Ewoks here — there are plenty of problems and even a history of downright atrocities — but the characters are able move forward in a more positive way after their experience in a model that suggests how this might be done for any of us. A harmless and relatively uplifting book.
While this is #4 in the series, the books just share a common universe. Not necessary to read the prior novels though I confess I found the earlier books a little more interesting.