Thursday, December 31, 2020

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

 

From the publisher: In the aftermath of the Civil War, an aging itinerant news reader agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa back to her people in this exquisitely rendered, morally complex, multilayered novel of historical fiction that explores the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor, and trust.

News of the World is a soft, slow-moving, meditative look at a certain time and place (Texas in the 1870s). I don’t know anything about this time in history, but it seemed well researched to me – at least, everything was believable.

This book is a western. There are attacks and shootouts. But action is not the main point; the relationship between the two characters is. I also really enjoyed the information about people who travelled around entertaining people with news stories from other places, and the nostalgia for newspapers and printing presses.

The native people are not treated as bad guys or as good guys. Nor are the white people. There are very bad men in the book, and good people as well. There are also people in the grey area between bad and good. The natives and most of the settlers are on the periphery of the story. The focus is on the aging Captain Kidd and his growing love for his charge, the kidnapped child Johanna.

News of the World has just come out as a movie starring Tom Hanks and I’m eager to see it now that I’ve read the book. I found the book overall quietly moving, and the characters of the Captain and Johanna very real. I recommend it to fans of contemplative historical fiction.

(On a side note, I am a big fan of the TV series The Mandalorian on Disney+, a western set in space. It is also about a lonely man and the child who comes in to this care. If you are also a fan and especially like that aspect of The Mandalorian, you may enjoy News of the World.)

The Galesburg Public Library owns News of the World in print, as an ebook, and as an electronic audiobook.  

Monday, December 21, 2020

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins


From the publisher:

Named an Indie Next Pick and #1 LibraryReads Pick for January 2021
One of the "Best New Books Coming Out in 2021" ––PopSugar
One of the "Most Anticipated Thrillers of 2021" ––She Reads
One of the "Best and Most Anticipated Thrillers of the Year" ––Mystery and Suspense Magazine
One of the "Most Anticipated Books of 2021" ––CrimeReads


A delicious twist on a Gothic classic, Rachel Hawkins's The Wife Upstairs pairs Southern charm with atmospheric domestic suspense, perfect for fans of B.A. Paris and Megan Miranda.

Meet Jane. Newly arrived to Birmingham, Alabama, Jane is a broke dog-walker in Thornfield Estates––a gated community full of McMansions, shiny SUVs, and bored housewives. The kind of place where no one will notice if Jane lifts the discarded tchotchkes and jewelry off the side tables of her well-heeled clients. Where no one will think to ask if Jane is her real name.

But her luck changes when she meets Eddie Rochester. Recently widowed, Eddie is Thornfield Estates’ most mysterious resident. His wife, Bea, drowned in a boating accident with her best friend, their bodies lost to the deep. Jane can’t help but see an opportunity in Eddie––not only is he rich, brooding, and handsome, he could also offer her the kind of protection she’s always yearned for.

Yet as Jane and Eddie fall for each other, Jane is increasingly haunted by the legend of Bea, an ambitious beauty with a rags-to-riches origin story, who launched a wildly successful southern lifestyle brand. How can she, plain Jane, ever measure up? And can she win Eddie’s heart before her past––or his––catches up to her?

Disclaimer: I've never read Jane Eyre. Before this book, I vaguely knew there was a secret wife upstairs, but that was about it. I did skim the Wikipedia entry for the plot, but this review will be based on the book itself, without comparisons to the original classic.

As described by the publisher, it follows Jane (if that really is her name) as she moves up the social ladder from dog-walker to girlfriend to fiancee of Thornfield Estates' most eligible widower. Struggling to fit in with bored Birmingham housewives, Jane also struggles with the constant reminders of the superlative woman who came before her, as well as running from her own past.

I really enjoyed this novel. Thrillers and suspense aren't my usual cup of tea, but I was entranced by this one.  I was guessing at who the murder was up until about 75% of the way through. I would have liked to have seen more character development and backstory for Eddie and Bea, as they are narrators later on. There are time jumps as well as POV changes, but I didn't have any issues in following them. Overall though, I think this is a great thriller and recommend it.

The Wife Upstairs will be available from Galesburg Public Library after its January 5, 2021 release date. Thank you very much to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for the ARC.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys


 From the publisher:
 

After attacking Devil’s Reef in 1928, the U.S. government rounded up the people of Innsmouth and took them to the desert, far from their ocean, their Deep One ancestors, and their sleeping god Cthulhu. Only Aphra and Caleb Marsh survived the camps, and they emerged without a past or a future.

The government that stole Aphra's life now needs her help. FBI agent Ron Spector believes that Communist spies have stolen dangerous magical secrets from Miskatonic University, secrets that could turn the Cold War hot in an instant, and hasten the end of the human race.

Aphra must return to the ruins of her home, gather scraps of her stolen history, and assemble a new family to face the darkness of human nature.

 

I've been a fan of H.P. Lovecraft's mythos for a long time but hadn't actually read any of his stories in years. Last year I was reading the nice collector's edition my husband had gotten me and I simply had to stop due to the racism. Lovecraft's world-building is still fantastic, and more and more BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) and queer authors like Victor LaValle and Ruthanna Emrys are coming to play in his sandbox. And they're providing enthralling takes on his works. 

As described by the publisher, Winter Tide picks up after the events in The Shadow Over Innsmouth. Aphra and Caleb Marsh travel back to Massachusetts with Aphra's employer and student of magic Charlie, Agent Spector, and Neko Koto. The Koto family arrived at the internment camps after all the Innsmouth residents save the Marshes had died, and they took the children in. Aphra has been living with them since, while Caleb is more concerned with reclaiming their family's books and heritage.

It took me a couple tries to get into this book, due to the combination of a slow start to the novel, jumps in the timeline, the constant distraction of new books at work, and a global pandemic in an election year. However, the story definitely picks up after the first quarter or so, and I was captivated by the end. It's not the fastest paced book, but it beautifully builds on the mythos and weaves threads and channels of blood and water, found family and birthrights, and discovering your own place in the world. I've already added the sequel and novella prequel to my To Be Read list.

Winter Tide is available from Galesburg Public Library as both an e-book and e-audiobook.    

Friday, December 4, 2020

The Vanishing at Loxby Manor by Abigail Wilson

 Do you love a good gothic mystery with a touch of romance? You may enjoy books by Abigail Wilson. Her newest, The Vanishing at Loxby Manor, is due out in January 2021. It features Charity Halliwell, a young woman whose family has left England for America during the Regency era. She has gone to stay with long-time family friends – a family that includes Piers, the man she loved and lost.

Charity has secrets. Piers has secrets. His brother, sister, mother, and father have secrets. Everyone in this book has secrets. My primary criticism of this book is that it reads a bit like an exercise in writing a gothic mystery, with loaded phrases and descriptions, and people saying and doing cryptic things instead of fessing up so that the truth can be known. At times I could almost hear the “dun dun dun” noise in the background. For example:

“A door slammed somewhere in the distance, and Loxby’s old walls seemed to groan in response. Muffled footsteps resonated through the twisting corridors of the ground floor, and then an unexpected silence took hold.” (p. 22 of the advance reader copy)

Some of the plot twists are a little contrived. Some of the characters are a little flat. But still this book is a lot of fun and a nice diversion in troubled times. The book has no sex or language and minimal violence. It is not particularly religious.

I read an advance reader copy of The Vanishing at Loxby Manor from Netgalley. The Galesburg Public Library will own The Vanishing at Loxby Manor in multiple formats when it is published.


Monday, November 30, 2020

Beauty Among Ruins by J'nell Ciesielski


From the publisher: 

American socialite Lily Durham is known for enjoying one moment to the next, with little regard for the consequences of her actions. But just as she is banished overseas to England as a “cure” for her frivolous ways, the Great War breaks out and wreaks havoc. She joins her cousin in nursing the wounded at a convalescent home deep in the wilds of Scotland at a crumbling castle where its laird is less than welcoming.

Alec MacGregor has given his entire life to preserving his home of Kinclavoch Castle, but mounting debts force him to sell off his family history bit by bit. Labeled a coward for not joining his countrymen in the trenches due to an old injury, he opens his home to the Tommies to make recompense while he keeps to the shadows. But his preference for the shadows is shattered when a new American nurse comes streaming into the castle on a burst of light.

Lily and Alec are thrown together when a series of mysterious events threatens to ruin the future of Kinclavoch. Can they put aside their differences to find the culprit before it’s too late, or will their greatest distraction be falling in love?

 

Let me preface this by saying that romance isn't one of my usual genres, so this won't be from an experienced fan's viewpoint. Despite this, I've somehow found myself on the romance email lists, and of course I'll look at the blurb of every book that comes my way. I've had a little more success enjoying historical or paranormal romances, so between the cover and the description, I figured I'd give this one a try.

I very much enjoyed Downton Abbey and that definitely influenced me picking this one up. There's very much the same flavor here, given the same time period and similar setting. As described by the publisher, the book follows Lily and Alec as they deal with the War, financial hardships, and their growing feelings for each other. The 'mysterious events' provide a narrative framework for moving the story along, but I would have been just as happy without them, or if they were toned down a little. The characters are well developed, with definite growth in both Lily and Alec, the dialog is believable, and the author was kind enough to include a Gaelic and Scots glossary. Reading the publisher's description again, Lily's backstory could have stood with a bit more developing; the book opens with her sneaking up from a servants' party, but other than that there is little written on what was bad enough to send her away. 


I really enjoyed this book, and I'm very glad I took a chance on it. I definitely recommend it for romance fans, and those who enjoyed Downton Abbey. Beauty Among Ruins will be available at the Galesburg Public Library after its January 12, 2021 release date. Thank you to NetGalley and Thomas Nelson Fiction for the ARC. I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

 If you are a fan of Andy Weir's novel The Martian, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that he has a new novel coming out, and it's great. The bad news is it's not coming out until May. I was fortunate to read an advance reader copy from Netgalley. I will reread it or listen to the audio when it is published.

A man wakes up. He doesn’t know who he is. He doesn’t know where he is. A cool female voice is asking him “what’s two plus two?”

This book is so funny. Not like laugh out loud all the time, although I did laugh out loud at times, but the main character's humor resonates with me. Also he never swears, for reasons, which amused me to no end. (“‘Holy moly!’ I say. ‘Holy moly’? Is that my go-to expression of surprise? I mean, it’s okay I guess. I would have expected something a little less 1950s. What kind of weirdo am I?” (p. 20 of the ARC)) (I wonder if this is a reaction to complaints about all the swearing in The Martian.)

There’s a lot of joking about how hard it is to be an American scientist because you grew up with imperial units but need metrics for science. I totally want to hang with this guy. There's a great bromance (for lack of a better word). I don't want to spoil the book too much but it's a very touching relationship and reflection on friendship.  There is also a strong female character. 

I recently read another book about someone who wakes up on a spaceship alone and doesn't know who they are - Across the Void by S.K. Vaughn. Project Hail Mary is so much better. And there is a very good, scientific reason why the main character wakes up not knowing his name or immediate past in Project Hail Mary.

Did you enjoy the movie Arrival? Well, Project Hail Mary isn't really like Arrival, but it is too. Very science-y. Full of wonder. You know all those movies, books, and TV shows where all the aliens want to do is kill us? This book...isn't like those either. 

If you are a Star Trek fan, think - the best of Star Trek. Cooperation and problem solving. I was honestly crying tears of joy at the very end (or perhaps I should say my face was leaking - you'll get that after you read the book). Extra points for believable pop culture references.

I'm glad Weir has switched back to a male main character. My biggest issue with his second book, Artemis, was that I just didn't buy the internal voice of the female main character. There were a couple of places in Project Hail Mary that seemed a little silly and out of place, but only a couple. On the whole I fell into this book and didn’t want to leave. 

Project Hail Mary is a definite recommend from me. Can't wait to read it again. Can’t wait for the movie. (Two words: jazz hands. You’ll get that after you read the book too.) The Galesburg Public Library will own it in every format in which it is available in May 2021. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown


From the publisher:
 

For Malik, the Solstasia festival is a chance to escape his war-stricken home and start a new life with his sisters in the prosperous desert city of Ziran. But when a vengeful spirit abducts Malik’s younger sister, Nadia, as payment into the city, Malik strikes a fatal deal—kill Karina, Crown Princess of Ziran, for Nadia’s freedom.

But Karina has deadly aspirations of her own. Her mother, the Sultana, has been assassinated; her court threatens mutiny; and Solstasia looms like a knife over her neck. Grief-stricken, Karina decides to resurrect her mother through ancient magic . . . requiring the beating heart of a king. And she knows just how to obtain one: by offering her hand in marriage to the victor of the Solstasia competition.

When Malik rigs his way into the contest, they are set on a course to destroy each other. But as attraction flares between them and ancient evils stir, will they be able to see their tasks to the death?

The first in an fantasy duology inspired by West African folklore in which a grieving crown princess and a desperate refugee find themselves on a collision course to murder each other despite their growing attraction.

 

Yes, it's another A Blank of Blank and Blank YA fantasy title. But look at the rest of that cover! I really look forward to the day when West Africa will be a fantasy setting as common as 'medieval Europe', but since we're unfortunately not there yet, yes, this will be inevitably be compared to Children of Blood and Bone (see previous comment re: titles). In my opinion, it's the much better novel of the two. I added this to my Want to Read list when it came across my radar back in May, and I'm very glad I got a chance to get read it.

As indicated above, the story is told through alternating points of view, Malik's and Karina's. Both characters, as well as the supporting cast are well written, although I did find some of the council members tended to blur together. The world building is fantastic, and no prior knowledge of West African customs or folklore is necessary. I found it notable, especially in these Interesting Times, that the author chose to write Malik as someone who deals with anxiety and panic attacks. I don't think I've seen this before in a fantasy novel, and it's well written. The ending is perfectly set up for the sequel and I can't wait to return to this world again. 


A Song of Wraiths and Ruin is available at Galesburg Public Library through inter-library loan.