I’m glad this isn’t a trilogy: Our Dark Duet

Our Dark Duet, the follow up to Victoria Schwab’s This Savage Song, is, well, fine? Decent? Not particularly inspiring, except inspiring me to rage about the weird perspective-in-verse. Which I hated. I just. Please spare me. My internal monologue during this book was just I don’t care on repeat.

The plot was fine: people are still terrible and commit acts of violence and monsters still rise up from said acts. Kate and August can’t hide from what they are, but they also can’t become monsters while doing so. Blah blah blah, character growth, minor relationship development, oops someone dies. I really can’t remember if I was this blase about Savage Song, but I don’t think I was. Did turning twenty-seven break my spirit or something?

But, well, I know that Schwab writes for a younger audience under Victoria Schwab and an older audience with V.E. Schwab, and wow I can tell. And clearly have my preference.

 

this is spookier than a werewolf bar mitzvah: White Is for Witching

Helen Oyeyemi’s books are so hard to review. They depend so much on atmosphere, on the slow build up of tension. And, in the case of White Is for Witching, a nightmare house that kind of eats people. (I hardly call that a spoiler since the sales copy gives it away.) I’ve seen the word haunting used a lot in regards to this book and I can’t disagree.

The prose is lyrical, intentional, and a bit strange in places. This is a beautifully crafted book, with the narration sometimes changing midsentence (which I think is accomplished in quite a clever way), and sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s speaking until a paragraph or so in. I have yet to digest the racial tension into cogent thoughts, though, or the importance of Miranda and Eliot being twins (although that felt less imperative to the plot than twins did in Icarus Girl). And I’m reminded of Turn of the Screw, but perhaps in atmosphere only and that edge of What is real? But something about the ghosts from that speaks to the idea of ghosts in the Silver house, and how it seems that Miranda herself has been consumed by the ghosts of Lily and Jennifer and Anna, and above all, the house.

I finished this just before I went to sleep and let me tell you, I don’t recommend that. I woke up several times in the night in quiet terror of the shifting half-light from my window.

It’s like the end of an era: Goldenhand, The Old Kingdom series

As someone who LOVED Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series as a youth (seriously, Sabriel was my hero), I’m a bit surprised that I don’t really have that many thoughts about Goldenhand. Maybe it’s because I’m older and this read a bit young, but I just wasn’t as into it. The last thirty pages or so felt, well, rushed, for a book of this length and then it ends a bit abruptly. Also, Lirael isn’t really my favorite, although by the end of this I definitely liked her more! The romance between Lirael and Nicholas was kind of cute and they’re both pretty awkward turtles. They were just never a pairing I had a lot of feelings about. And I guess I’m glad we got a bit of Sabriel and Touchstone, even if they really weren’t the focus.

One thing I really did enjoy, though, was the format of short chapters of alternative perspectives. You don’t get that a lot with newer YA fantasy (or at least, not that I’ve been reading!). It kept the pace moving and the timeline linear, and kind of eased me into liking Lirael more.
Overall, this felt like a good conclusion to the series, for me. Not sure if Nix plans on writing more!

I was really expecting to cry during this one.

When Paul Kalanitihi’s When Breath Becomes Air came out last year, it got a lot of attention. A young neurosurgeon (with a background in literature and apparently a strong poetic writing style) diagnosed with advanced cancer writing his memoir? It promised to be a new voice, a new look at death and life from the perspective of a man who’s been walking that line his whole career and considering what constitutes a life his whole life.

And I guess that’s not wrong, it was also just proclaimed to have beautiful prose and to be a tearjerker. But I didn’t quite get that. To me, this was just solidly fine. I know I went in with pretty high expectations after hearing everyone gush about the prose,  but, well, it felt more clinical/scientific than truly narrative or personal.

This was still a moving story, death and families left behind always are, but from all the reviews I really expected a bit more tears. The only section, though, that tugged a bit harder on my heart was his wife’s epilogue.

 

I’ll take “Pretentious and Privileged” for 600, Alex

Well, this was another misstep. A memoir in the form of a graphic novel, Imagine Wanting Only This by Kristen Radtke leaves a lot to be desired. The illustrations were fine, but as with At Home in the World, I wonder if the author is aware of how pretentious and privileged she comes across. This is not the deep look at grief and ruins that I’d hoped for; it’s very surface level with a deeply rooted sense of entitlement, as she flees to Italy to avoid her adult life. As she flees to Iceland to put off moving to Kentucky (gasp) of all places. As she interviews former residents of nowadays ghost towns and doesn’t know how to feel when she comes away without anything good, something she can sink her teeth into and give permanence. These are things only us white people can get away with. Radtke nudges up against some interesting thoughts on ruins and their purpose and implied meaning in our society, in our history, but honestly that isn’t enough to save this for me.

 

Knock on wood, but I think I’m out of this rut.

The trick to getting a lot of reading done is this: work from home and have no dependents or social life. Such is how I read all 400 pages of Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly in less than twenty-four hours. I read in the morning. I read on my lunch break. I pretty much sat on my couch all evening and then my bed all night reading. And, at 12:01 AM, I finished.

Let me be honest: if I weren’t coming off a streak of uninteresting books, I likely would have spaced this out more. Taken a few more days with it. Under different circumstances, this isn’t a book that would grab me by my throat and straight-up compel me to keep reading in a mad frenzy. But due to the sheer novelty of finally enjoying a book again, I didn’t want it to stop. So, well, I didn’t.

This is a really solid book, though. Strong writing, even pacing, and interesting premise of spies and fascism and cabarets and two men in love who quite simply are terrible at communicating with each other until it’s too damn late. All things I don’t hate. Astride is delightful and knows his worth and what he can do with his face and his body (and my god HIS HAIR) and his mind, and sure he may be a smuggler in love with a government spy but he’s damn well still going to do what he pleases. And Cryil, quiet Cyril, who’s had some tough breaks and is finally settling in with his new lot in life and his not-spoken-of love of Astride until things get shaken up again and he’s desperately trying to stay afloat and save his skin and Astride’s, all on his own, of course. These two idiots. I’m into them.

The ending of this book aches, but it felt right. Kind of a spoiler, here, but obviously they couldn’t have a happy ending. They’re both too used to hiding things and working around the other without revealing their plans and secrets. But, I think this is the first time in recent memory that I’m not mad at a standalone book turning into a series. Because I want these two fools to find each other in their mad world. I want them to carve out some space of quiet happiness for themselves, like they had for a while in Astride’s flat. Only this time, they’ll only tell each other small lies.

I do want to touch briefly on the women characters, of which there are some! Just mostly in side roles, although starting with Part Two Cordelia gets a lot more to do, thankfully. She’s smart, ambitious, and willing to blow shit up when necessary. And while she operates without all the information (“for her own safety” according to Cyril and Astride, OFC), she doesn’t relinquish her agency and when people around her start getting hurt, she doesn’t back down. I hope we see her in the next book!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go be sad about this for some time.

 

I’m in a rut.

It’s possible that I’m in a terrible cycle. I’ve read so many mediocre books that I need something amazing to shake me up, but all the books I try are still just so-so. Which makes me wonder that I might like that more if I were experiencing them at any point of than now.

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit is fine. Solid, even. I might have given it four stars if I read it four books ago, but I didn’t. It wasn’t a revelation, although Savit does have a good grasp on the inner workings of seven year olds. I think he does justice to the confusion of that age, when adults are mostly taken at face value, and the affable acceptance and flexibility and adaptability of the very young. World War II in the very near background was treated with a light touch–light on the horror and Anna’s understanding of what’s going on in the world comes in waves. I didn’t hate this, but I just didn’t love it.

I also didn’t hate At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider but I definitely love myself enough to stop reading it. It wasn’t even the mediocre kind of enjoyable and I’m trying to be better about not slogging my way through texts that are just dull. Or maybe dull isn’t the right word for this, but it fits right now. At Home was just very white woman, very privileged, and boring. She sobs about leaving a small New Zealand town, for Pete’s sake. Come the fuck on. There’s just so little substance–no deep dives into where they’re going, the history, what they’re seeing or eating, just surface notes and relief that they found Italian food in Beijing. Even as Tsh and her family are traveling the world, going to these amazing places and hopefully experiencing amazing things, her experience feels so very myopic. There is very little looking around for the reader and I don’t have time for this.

Amberlough is my next book and I have really high hopes and expectations. Crossing my fingers that the next post here isn’t as unhappy!