Acts of Violet by Margarita Montimore
I admit, stories about magic and magicians (not the fantasy kind, the performing kind) hold a special interest for me. That was what attracted me to this book, and on that front it definitely did not disappoint. In fact, I am surprised by the low ratings this novel has on GR. I found it riveting. Difficult to put down.
I actually ended up reading it on Thanksgiving so was forced to put it down on multiple occasions and every time found myself eager to go back. If that doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement for a book, I don’t know what might.
So yeah, I liked almost everything about it. The snappy smart writing and dialogue, the pop culture references, the strong characters. I loved the way the author dished out the suspense in proportional, tantalizing chapter-sized servings. And I loved how much random weirdness the author crammed into the novel from historical facts to magic to ley lines to other dimensions.
The protagonist, Violet, is a perfect Gen X love child, and her acts are sometimes magical sometimes dangerous sometimes volatile. Yet, like a real magician she remains off-screen for the readers, told only through perspectives of others as the tenth anniversary of her mysterious disappearance dawns.
The more you get to know her, the less you are certain of what to think of her. She’s deliciously complicated. And never easy. Certainly, she has never been easy on her only sister, to whom majority of the narrative belongs.
In fact, that might be the only aspect of the novel I didn’t love. How in the end it seems like the entire production was mainly about sisterhood. That just isn’t that interesting to me. And it smells suspiciously of women’s fiction. Now magic…that’s different. For my money, this novel should have maintained its focus on magic.
Either way, I enjoyed it tremendously right up until the final plot twist. And even afterwards, the overall impressions are good. This was definitely a smarter, more original thriller than most. Recommended.
I was ever so sad about the cancellation of BBC’s Gentleman Jack – it’s the lesbian, thinking person Downton Abbey, in case you’re not familiar. And now, having read this biography of Jack’s wife, I’m thinking maybe they did end it at just the right time. It would have been terribly depressing going forward.
Well, because it’s kind of a sad story. It’s a love story, for sure, and a passionate one at that, but ultimately, not a very happy one.
But then again, the main premise of this biography is that a woman mustn’t be defined by the actions of their spouse (however famous or infamous) alone. To that end, the author has done some admirably meticulous research and created this excellent portrait of a woman of her time. Fleshing out character traits and personality from glimpses, references, empirical evidence of the time and Ann’s own (albeit scant comparing to her wife) diaries, Batley brings Ann Walker’s life to…well, life. Exactly as intended.
Was it a good life? Well, not especially, but then again, Ann Walker did not live at a time that was particularly kind to women, especially women who dared to row against the current as it were.
Ann was very much a woman of her time in great many respects, a charitable wealthy religious woman deeply entangled within the web of her family. Not regarded as particularly strong mentally or physically, she had always been treated as such by people around her.
In fact, her life is punctuated by episodes of what now would have been described as anxiety, depression, etc. and back then was a locked-up-able offense.
And then, there was Jack. Who swept into her life comet-like, and changed it forever. All of Ann’s reluctance, all of Ann’s upbringing and ides couldn’t make her stay away.
The two of them begun a scandalous affair, disapproved by virtually all around them, and despite it all, ended up being married (after a fashion). And then, like so many married couples they proceeded to make each other desperately unhappy.
A tragic fate, really, for such an awesome historical first as a first lesbian marriage.
They were together for six years during which Jack cheated, lied, and went through Ann’s money like water.
And yet, Batley does a great valiant effort of teasing out the softer moments, the genuine signs of love and affection between the two.
The relationship didn’t last; death did them apart six years in. Ann ended up committed by her family and then quietly retired to fade away. Neither Jack nor his wife had lived long, and yet, Jack’s words have preserved them both, ensconced in diary pages as if in amber. And isn’t that awesome to contemplate?
Now Batley restores some of the imbalance of the relationship by presenting the other side, for there are always two. And does a great job of it. A very good biography and a very good read. Recommended. Thanks Netgalley.
Poster Girl by Veronica Roth
I’ve never read Roth’s work. That’s how I originally began this review, Bit then I checked and sure enough, I did. I read her amazon short Ark and found it…well, apparently forgettable.
Roth is the author I mostly associate with YA, which I don’t read and don’t understand how any adult does, but at any rate, her adult debut novel intrigued me. And then promptly blew me away.
Not every author can transition so smoothly, and sure enough, Poster Girl’s protagonist’s most crucial time (until the events of the story unfold) is when she was sixteen and seventeen, but this is an adult novel through and through and an exceptional one at that.
Once upon a time, Sonya Kantor was the eponymous poster girl for Delegation regime. Then the regime collapsed. Now, Sonya, the sole survivor of her family, is locked up in a large self-governed prison system Aperture along with other followers of the old regime, while a new regime reigns supreme.
Most people locked up at kids are being released, but Sonya is just above the age cut off, and therefore is likely to stay put, getting by in a bleak world of prosecuted has-beens, performing small repairs to stay sane and useful.
And then, she is given a chance. Find a young girl reassigned to another family by the old regime and all will eb forgiven. And so, she begins her investigation, pulling various threads until the entire fabric of all she’d ever known about the world and her family unravels.
So yeah, this book gets a wow from me. A solid, vividly rendered dystopian character-driven fiction loaded with sustained suspense and clever plot twists until the very end. Very well done.
The sort of book you can’t put down. In fact, the sort of book I stayed up late into the night to finish. It just has that certain magnetic quality. Riveting. And Sonya is a perfect protagonist for a world divided by ideology mixed with technology, a social psychology experiment of a world at every turn, under every regime.
Loved this book. Recommended.
Bury the Lede by Gaby Dunn
There’s a chance I might just not like journalist-based stories. Or maybe it was just this graphic novel failing to wow.
Though it begins auspiciously enough as a murder mystery with femme fatale and all, it quickly turns into an all too familiar story about a young ambitious journalist uncovering city-wide abuse of power and doing whatever it takes to get her story out there, including stepping on and over people around her.
Nicely drawn and oh so hip, with almost strategically strong queer and multi-racial representation, but in the end, it was…just ok.
Nine Goblins by T. Kingfisher
Nine Goblins bills itself as a low brow sort of fantasy, and if that is the case, then apparently, I found my speed in fantasy. I don’t normally care for the genre at all, but if Kingfisher continues writing it, it may be worth a read every time.
I was familiar with her work, but the more horrific side of things, Twisted Ones, etc. Meaning also I was familiar with her wonderful sense of humor, which oddly enough works surprisingly well in scary stories and not oddly at all, like a charm here.
Who knew goblins are that charming? And elves. And trolls. I mean, just lovely.
This is a novella that takes you into the world when people and goblins are at war over territory and it’s a rather amusing war, all things considered. But then nine goblins from an army of goblins get wizarded away behind the enemy lines and must, with assistance of a kindly elf, get back, and all sorts of shenanigans ensue.
And yeah, I kinda loved it. Loved the world building, and the denizens of it, loved the jokes, loved the whimsy. This was a read as fun as it was funny. Well done. Recommended.
If there is a way to like and appreciate an author’s work without outright loving it, then that’s how I am about Saunders’ writing.
Which is to say, I have to really be in the right mood for it (not sure I was this time), and I’m not going to like all of it, but it’ll always be worth a read.
There’s simply no one who writes like him. So for originally alone he gets top scores. But then he’s also so clever, such a good character writer.
This collection of off-beat delights takes on all sorts of subjects from the comically terrifying ghouls in the amusement park to the properly terrifying state of modern democracy to the casual unpleasantness of a workplace and more and it does it with such penance, such inventiveness, such vivid realism mixing with absolute surreal elements, such wryly, morbidly humorous fashion that you can’t help but admire it. Even if you don’t love it.
Genre-wise, this is nearly impossible to place – some sort of mix of science fiction, magic realism, regular realism, drama/comedy. It’s weird, quirky, unusual. Smart and challenging in a good way, this is the sort of fiction that’s unlikely appeal to the average low-fruit hanging best-seller devouring audience which, for my money, makes it shine all the brighter.
So yeah, go on, be a literary snob (the best kind of snob to be) and read Saunders. Recommended.
Gideon Falls is Lemire at his horrific best. It’s as atmospheric, loaded with suspense and excitement and thrilling as you’d ever want in a scary story. And as gorgeously rendered as comics go.
The thing with my reading of it was that the library only had the first five available for ages, so by the time I found the last volume some of the momentum of the story was, admittedly, regrettably lost. Which is to say that the conclusion, however appropriate and dramatic, underwhelmed ever so slighty.
To be honest, confused ever so slightly too, but then the volume provided Lemire’s original script so that helped figure out all the nuances.
At any rate, Lemire’s version of the upside down – the nightmarish world on the other side – is well worth checking out. In fact, his vision may be more complex than the original reading suggests. Just check out the supplemental materials in this volume for the multiverse logistics and schematics. It’s really impressive.
And that art, those gorgeous double panels, the cubes and slices and Möbius loops of Lemire’s imagined reality are just…wow.
Spooky. Freaky. Fun.
All in all, well done. Really well done. Recommended.
We Will Rise by Tim Waggoner
I kind of seem to remember liking Waggoner’s work back in the day. But tastes change. Optimally, evolve. Mine did. Which reading his work now just…not acceptable.
Mind you, it is very much an acquired taste sort of thing and will likely work for some genre fans – it just depends on what you’re looking for, what you’re reading for.
If you like your scares deeply steeped in gore, guts, and viscera…then by all means.
If you prefer strong writing, sustained psychological suspense, a well-crafted atmosphere, cleverness, good compelling characters, etc…pass this by. Wish I did.
Waggoner goes with gore, in favor of all other elements. Severe, baby exploding sort of gore. Which, if you’re not really into it, just comes across as gross and vulgar.
And if you are really into it…well, that’s kind of alarming in its own right. But hey, you got company – just look a the other reviews of this.
Anyway…the basic plot here is that the dead are coming back to life and doing terrible things to the living. That’s it. That’s how the book was probably sold. Although you’d hope Flame Tree Press would have a more sophisticated taste.
Should one be able to describe a book simply? Well, maybe a book like this.
There’s a bunch of characters, each of them introduced as a separate storyline only to have them converge at the end. Waggoner’s character writing isn’t very good. (Neither is his writing in general, though he’s been at it for so long, he can probably churn out schlock like this in his sleep.) The stiltedness and triteness of the first chapters demonstrates this especially. Almost amateurish. And very, very basic. So basic that a racist bigoted and all-around prejudiced character is named Karen.
Anyway, he goes for quantity over quality, so you end up with too many characters of low to no engaging factors. And then…guts and gore.
Overall, disgusting. And a total waste of time. Thanks Netgalley.
Lone Women by Victor LaValle
I’m a fan of Victor LaValle's work. So much so I’d request his new Netgalley ARC without doing research into it, on name recognition alone. And sure enough, he doesn’t disappoint. In fact, this might be his best one yet. Not perfect (more on that later), but really, really good.
Do I love Westerns? No, not particularly. I’m not even sure this one qualifies, although it is a novel of American West with the place as prominently featured as any character and deadlier than some.
Into this windblown and isolated Montana setting, a woman arrives. She plans to homestead, taking advantage of the opportunity offered by the government, and to that end she acquires a small remote property. All she has with her is a large heavy trunk.
A trunk that we as the readers watch her leave her parents’ farm with in the stunning first scene. The farm behind her on fire, the bodies of her parents left behind to burn. It’s positively cinematic.
But Adelaide is a woman with secrets. All will be revealed in good time, just you wait.
In Montana, she finds a patchy community of self-determined resolute wind-beaten womenfolk she proceeds to associate with, however reservedly.
But then the trunk is opened and her secret leaps into the world. Danger sighs flash as Adelaide panics. All the while the world around her with the local politics and local powers that be have their own ideas about the land and the people of it…and that’s a different but all too real sort of danger too.
Negotiating her traumatic past and her complicated present, Adelaide proceeds. With a marvelously variegated cast of friends she acquires. And as a reader you can’t help but cheer for them
That’s how emotionally engaging this book is; how well written it is, how exciting it is.
It really is such a great book; one of the few I read and had it play as vividly as a movie in my mind.
But remember that thing about it not being perfect…well (and this might be purely personal), I don’t care for speculative fiction that overpowers itself with messages. Or more like MESSAGES.
While I appreciate diversity (race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) in my reading, LaValle seems to really lay it on heavily here. Yes, the book is very Girl-Powered, with a strong feminist message. Yey. Yes, the book features characters of different races and ethnicities and queerness and all that. Yey.
But does it have to be handed quite so heavily?
I mean, almost literally the book is divided so that all the good and moral characters are people of color and LGBTQ+ umbrella and all the evil ones are white sisgendered individuals.
At least the gender thing isn’t as divisive: there’s a nice pair of female villains to counter all those virtuous ones.
But really? LaValle is too good of an author for such unsubtleness.
Then, there’s the ending – so feel-good and quaint for a story that dark, it’s almost jarring. But then again…by then you care about the characters so much, you kind of want that sort of resolution, no matter how twee or over-sentimental.
In the end and overall, this book was a pleasure to read. And a thrill too. The best of both worlds. Wildly entertaining tale of secrets, redemption, forgiveness. Just call it the Sisterhood of the Traveling Trunks or something. Recommended. Thanks Netgalley.
The Guest by Emma Cline
Emma Cline is back, proving that The Girls wasn’t a one off, one of those debuts that strike gold on the first go around. Oh no, Cline is genuinely and hugely talented.
The way she writes – it has that certain mesmeric quality. Particularly effective with this novel, which is essentially a prolonged trainwreck sequence.
You’d think a novel that hinges entirely upon a shoulders of a not-especially likeable protagonist wouldn’t be so compelling and yet…you just can’t look away.
Maybe not quite a trainwreck, but the momentum is similar. It’s also kind of like one of those scenes where a character loses their footing and they pinwheel their arms as fast as they can trying to regain it and never quite do. Gravity always wins out.
That’s what Alex is doing, pinwheeling for her life. Not much of a life, one made of scrounging, using people, stealing, lying, manipulating, kind of like a perpetual low grade grift to stay afloat. One might make an argument that at twenty-two, she just doesn’t know any different, but then again, she had seen plenty in her short years. Mostly from working as a sort of prostitute/escort in the city, through associating with all manner of characters from upper echelons of society to bottom dregs.
Fleeing one of the latter, a dreg that won’t let her go because she stole from him, Alex hitches a ride to high life with a man thirty years her senior and costs in luxury for a while until she screws that up too and gets booted out.
Determined to get back into the cushy life the man provided, she decides to stick around and win his affections back at the upcoming party. All she has to do is kill a few days.
Which turns out to be a surprisingly killer proposition for someone who’s short on funds, good graces, and ability to not f*ck up.
See, that’s sort of Alex’s specialty. Even if she means well, things just spin out when she’s around. And most of the time she’s either too drunk or too high to properly pilot herself.
So yeah, not an overwhelmingly sympathetic character and yet…
The way Cline writes her, you just can’t look away, as she leaps from frying pan into the fire, over and over, until the inevitable and stunningly rendered conclusion.
And underneath all that, there’s a simmering commentary on the wealth divide and class differential and people living in a dizzyingly stratified universe where people like Alex, essentially all service people of the world can easily and unnoticeable fall by the wayside as the elite continues to prosper in pampered unfathomable luxury.
What a terrific novel. As literary as you’d ever want, as well written as you can possibly wish for. Recommended. Thanks Netgalley.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.