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.

This series will go on forever won’t it?: Court of Wings and Ruin

Well, this was another really solid installment in Sarah J. Maas’ series A Court of Thorns and Roses. I definitely enjoyed it (wasn’t quite as surprising as Court of Mist and Fury), although I have some quibbles. I guess spoiler warning, pretty much for the rest of this post.

1. I was super into the first part with Feyre being manipulative in the Spring Court. Yes, I can work with that.

2. TOTALLY not mad that Elain wasn’t really interested in Lucien. Am mad that by the end she seemed to be coming around to this whole ~~mates~~ thing, because girl no, take some time for yourself and cultivate that friendship with Azriel.

3.  LOVE Nesta. LOVE HER. Please let me read 800 pages of her being bitter and emotionally repressed and badass and willing to cut EVERYONE for Elain. I’m so here for it. But . . .

4. WHY MUST EVERYONE PAIR UP? Like, Nesta and Cassian doesn’t make me angry in and of itself, I just hate the trend it further entrenches. But, yay, at least Nesta doesn’t start the book being open to relationships and it takes all 600 goddamn  pages for things to really get started on that front. I am glad, too, that it puts a nail in the coffin of the sad love triangle of Azriel-Mor-Cassian. So, lots to appreciate with Nesta and Cassian, but single people are not the devil, alright? (Also, add another tally to the heterosexual column, which brings me to my next point…)

5. Mor being bi/gay was a nice surprise, although I wasn’t expecting it to have about the same weight as the implied xenophobia of this series. But, I guess they really push the reproduction angle in this society? Like, as long as you push out a kid, fuck whoever else you want? IDK. Just wanna say, though: Thank GOD Mor wasn’t immediately given a girlfriend after telling Feyre. Fingers crossed the next book is less aggressively heterosexual.

6. Rhys dies? And all the high lords brought him back? OH, WHY DOES THAT SOUND SO FAMILIAR??? Like, come on, Maas. You already did that and whatever symmetry/parallelism you were going for wasn’t necessary.

7. I guess I could talk about some plot points, but eh. Lots happened and Feyre feels pretty infallible, as she collects a mirror that drives everyone else mad and makes successful bargains with old gods that terrify people. I’m sure that winning streak is going to start feeling old sooner rather than later.

8. Somehow there’s more to this series and I’m already exhausted.

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!

I Had High Hopes, tbh

Well, the last three books I’ve read have been solidly “meh”: All the Lives I Want by Alana Massey, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, and Witches of America by Alex Mar.

All the Lives I Want
I don’t know what more I wanted from this. The essays are solid(ish), the collection covers a broad range of topics, the “famous strangers” are from a wide range, but I just didn’t get anything out of it, aside from a couple eye rolls and the sense that “oh this is white.” (Particularly in the Didion essay. Is it possible to ever avoid that???) The Courtney Love is a Witch essay at least felt like something new. I will say, though, that Alana Massey never sounds like anyone but herself throughout this collection.

Everything I Never Told You
My god this book is depressing. But if you’re feeling emotionally blocked, give this one a try. I cried at least three times from the sheer misery. The writing is lovely, though! Strong, solid narrative, beautifully created characters who just so happen to be utterly miserable. It is a magnificent reflection, though, on unvoiced expectations and how those weigh on the people in our lives. How even as we think we’re being better than our parents, better than stereotypes of culture, some shit is hard to leave behind. This is basically the novel version of “This Be the Verse” by Philip Larkin.

Witches of America
Honestly I didn’t know what to expect here, other than WITCHES and how much I loved the cover. But it took a decidedly different turn when Mar takes a personal interest in witchcraft (as opposed to the professional, documenting kind of interest, I mean). And, really, some of this feels . . . exploitative? Unnecessary? And some of her descriptions are, well, cringey. Talking about a large woman’s breasts. That a gay interior designer wore a patterned (maybe it was floral) scarf all weekend. Why? Is? This? Included???? Maybe insensitive is the word I want. But, in any case, by two-thirds in I’d had enough of her self-questioning and her journey started to feel like a weird masturbatory/self-congratulating event for her.

Fingers crossed that the books waiting for me at the library are better than this…

Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood

OK so I wasn’t particularly interested in this book until I read an author interview with Mallory Ortberg, whom I love unreservedly. But GUYS. This book is bonkers and hilarious. Lockwood writes with such humor and energy, and her religious descriptions are just fantastic. (There’s an early bit about Lutherans and their love of banners and also mayonnaise salads that had me in stitches.)

Patricia Lockwood is young for a memoir, but when your father is a former Lutheran minister turned married Catholic priest, well, I guess you might have a lot to talk about. And she pulls this together beautifully, not focusing on any one person but instead crafting a narrative of family–love them or hate them–and religion and how the two can intertwine and split. Lockwood’s father is certainly a character–boisterous, large, a penchant for wearing fading boxers and nothing more–but Priestdaddy doesn’t shine the spotlight on him all the time. Thank goodness, because her mom is equally as delightful and just as unique.

The back end of the book takes a more serious tone as Lockwood considers voice and writing and the role of religion (past and present) in her life and how it affected her childhood and general upbringing. But it still has that certain bounce to it, those quick-witted lines that made me say, just one more chapter, until I was actually done. This book was a pure delight.

When you have no social life you get to read a lot.

I’m trying to read more nonfiction, or, well, not more, just some. I recently read Lesser Beasts by Mark Essig and oh my god??? It was so good???? (My Goodreads review here.) But it was very encouraging to read nonfiction (but not biography) and really enjoy it. Makes me feel like there’s hope for me yet. (Also, seriously, Lesser Beasts was really delightful and I never expected to say that about a microhistory of pigs, of all things.)

When I picked up Essig’s book, I also grabbed The Creative Spark by Augustin Fuentes. (My Goodreads review here.) This one wasn’t quite as fun, but still very interesting and Fuentes does a great job of making his text accessible to the average reader. At times it can feel like he’s beating a dead horse when talking about the timeline of our evolution, but honestly I needed that because some of those dates/milestones just refuse to stick in my head. His angle is really interesting: that it wasn’t environment that drove us to develop, but straight-up our own creativity that spurred our evolutionary jumps. I think this encompasses a lot; it’s a pretty broad thing to say Oh our own creative impulses pushed us over these hurdles when I feel like there were surely other motivating factors, but I’m not mad at this overarching umbrella that he proposes. I also think he, not directly, but definitely agrees with Essig’s note that a scholar calls agriculture the worst mistake in human history, in that he agrees that that really is the lynch pin, the turning point in our nature. A lot of changes come purely from us realizing that we could stay in one place and own shit.

The most interesting chapter by far is about religion. Fuentes’s angle is kind of chicken or the egg in regards to which came first, god or religion, but I like that. Very little about early religion is fossilized and so we’re left making a lot guesses. As such, there’s definitely room for interpretation there and the idea that we had to reach a certain milestone/point of development in order to start questioning and develop religion is immensely reasonable. Like, sure God was there the whole time but until we started seriously investigating our environment we were not in a position to even posit that. My religious thoughts/leanings aside, this makes a hell of a lot of sense.

I guess Too Much and Not the Mood by Durga Chew-Bose is also nonfiction, but it is personal essays so it feels a bit different. (Goodreads review here.) The first essay, “Heart Museum,” is just stunning in its easy beauty, the facility of the stream of consciousness, and how Chew-Bose effortlessly invites the reader on this meandering journey. There’s something about her grasp of imagery and putting into words those feelings we all struggle with. I think what really got me, which isn’t even the best bit by far, was how Chew-Bose described the difference of writing in bed from writing from bed. How you lie on your back, laptop on your chest, double chin in full force, and Chew-Bose calls it pawing at the screen like an otter. A fucking otter. It’s perfect and lord knows I can relate to that. Some of the middle essays are a bit weak (which I imagine is why they’re in the middle) and come across as soft pitches that you know will be accepted due to past hits. But when Chew-Bose is good, she makes me want to dig up a highlighter and scribble hearts in the margins. Her essay “Since Living Alone” is a brilliant look at how we change by ourselves, and resonates with changes in my own life since I’ve started living alone. There’s a sense of loneliness and being almost grateful for that, for knowing that you can have that and it’s not a bad thing. Really this was such a lovely book. I’m sending it to a friend in hopes she’ll enjoy it too.

Up next: What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi (which definitely deserves it’s own post because MY GOD.)