Thursday, February 28, 2019

Review: The House of the Spirits

The House of the Spirits The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Last month my Classic Read for my blog was Gabriel García Márquez's epic One Hundred Years of Solitude. I'm glad that I read that book before this one because it's obvious that Márquez's writing was a strong influence on Allende's. On the face of it, a multigenerational family saga with elements of magical realism and strong female characters sounds like it must be overly similar to Márquez's book. But expect that and you'd be wrong. While there are obvious similarities, Allende's sharp takes on the abuses of men in positions of power and swipes at political corruption in Chile are clever and set the book apart from Márquez's story. Allende, who is related to deposed Chilean president Salvador Allende, has written a far more overtly political book than that of Márquez.

The story of the Trueba and del Valle families, we first meet Clara del Valle as a child who is gifted with the gift or curse of clairvoyance. She keeps a journal and it is through this journal that we learn of the fifty years of her family's history, meeting her parents, Severo and Nivea, her beautiful and doomed sister Rosa, her beloved uncle Marcos, teller of stories and the one who brings her a dog, Barrabás upon his death. We also meet Esteban Trueba and his sister Férula. Esteban, who was engaged to Rosa the beautiful, gives up his mining work after Rosa's death and returns to his family's hacienda, Tres Marías where he rapes pretty much every young woman he can get his hands on, clearly on the assumption that it's his right as the boss of the estate. Eventually, when his mother is dying, he promises to marry and have children. Upon his mother's death, he goes looking to see who else the del Valle family might have available to marry. (It's important to note that the del Valles are liberals and Trueba is a conservative.) Eventually, he marries Clara and both Esteban and his sister Férula become obsessed with her, in part because she cannot be possessed by anyone. Clara and Esteban have a child, Blanca, who falls in love with a revolutionary with Marxist ideals, Pedro Tercero Garcia. (Clara and Esteban also have sons Jaime and Nicolás, with strongly different personalities.) Esteban García, illegitimate son of Esteban Trueba from one of his rape victims, Pancha García, has inherited some of his father's charming violence toward women (even children, like Blanca's daughter Alba). Eventually, the socialists come to power, but then the military seizes power in a violent coup, spelling disaster for the Trueba family. Jaime is killed and then Alba falls into the hands of García (now a colonel) where she is repeatedly brutalized and mutilated by him. The ghost of Clara, her dead grandmother, sustains Alba and helps her survive. Once freed, Alba and Esteban Trueba complete writing the story of the Trueba family and Esteban dies. Rather than pursue revenge, Alba, whose name means sunrise, seeks to forgive and move on with her life.

This book, because of an entire chapter devoted to Alba's rape and torture at the hands of her uncle Esteban (who is her mother Clara's illegitimate half-brother), is a grueling read. Frankly, there is so much violence and rape in this book that I had to put it down several times. But Allende is not using a rape trope to show us women who become stronger, etc. If anything she is showing us the brutality of both the conservative Patrón (Esteban Trueba) and the military (represented in the person of Esteban García). Father and son are both horrible individuals, though at least Trueba eventually admits to Blanca and Alba that the military government he supported overthrowing the socialists he hates is far worse than government he wanted them to overthrow, and he tries ardently to get Alba back from his brutal son.

There are so many themes one can examine in this book, from the fact that all political extremes are harmful, to the use of writing within the novel itself conveying the story, to the juxtaposition of the legitimate and illegitimate (children, governments, etc). There is also the role of social class and its relation to abuse of power to examine.

While without question House of the Spirits is a true classic of Latin American literature, giving us a taut novel of political historical fiction with magical realism, it is also a book I can only recommend with Trigger Warnings.

TW: rape, torture, murder

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Review: El Norte: The Epic and Forgotten Story of Hispanic North America

El Norte: The Epic and Forgotten Story of Hispanic North America El Norte: The Epic and Forgotten Story of Hispanic North America by Carrie Gibson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a timely and ambitious volume, Carrie Gibson has given us an alternate history of the United States from the perspective of the Spanish conquerors of the New World all the way to the present day, with the disjuncture in the American understanding of the Hispanic roots of this country. Gibson's work is impressive, examining both the early Spanish colonialism in America and the role of language and race. I'd encourage anyone who wants a better understanding of the Latino presence and influence in this country to check out this book, which is lengthy at 576 pages. Carefully researched and annotated, this is certainly a book of American history that will disabuse the reader of the idea that we presently have an invasion of Hispanic Americans. From Florida to South Carolina to New Mexico, California and Texas, you're bound to see that Hispanic America has been here for centuries, in concert with British and Dutch America.

A lengthy but rewarding non-fiction read. Get ready for next month, when I review the book everyone is talking about on PBS and NPR, David Wallace-Wells of The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming.

I received a copy of this book from Atlantic Monthly Press via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Review: The City in the Middle of the Night

The City in the Middle of the Night The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 Stars boosted because how I loved some of these characters, omigosh!

One of the most distinctive aspects of Charlie Jane Anders' longer fiction has been her strong character development and luminous world building. While I was less than enthralled with her plot in her debut novel, All the Birds in the Sky, which I felt built a contrived battle between science and magic, her characters Patricia and Laurence were memorable, as was the world they lived in. Anders' imaginative gifts meant that it was only a question of time until she pulled together a plot that fulfilled the promise of those gifts. Well, we certainly have arrived.

The City in the Middle of the Night gives us a memorable world with strong female characters, some of whom are not human. The central protagonist, Sophie, is a young woman seeking to break out of the constraints of her social class, initially by attending an elite academy that will turn out the best and brightest in the city of Xiosphant. Her bravery and infatuation with her roommate Bianca derails that plan and leaves her in what could have been dire straits had her inherent nature- kind, curious, and possibly resigned to her fate- saved her in her encounter with Rose, a Gelet. Sophie's encounter with Rose is literally life changing. In the meantime, we meet Mouth, last member (or so she believes) of a race called the Citizens. Less obviously a protagonist, her story slowly crystallizes into a search for understanding her history and that of her people. The truth of history and Mouth's search for meaning reflects a painful process of growth that parallels that of Sophie's coming of age story.

Anders' strong female characters in this novel are masterfully drawn. We see Sophie and Bianca mature into women who diverge strongly from the anchor point of their friendship. We, along with Sophie, begin to reconsider the limits of love and loyalty. Sophie's evolving understanding of where her true loyalties lie, and the moral boundaries she will not cross was a pleasure to read. While the novel is intended to be adult sci-fi, I feel there is rich writing here for young adults. Sometimes we outgrow our friends, sometimes our affections are spurned, sometimes we have to look elsewhere in life for our purpose, perhaps even in the opposite direction from where we first began our journey. Sometimes, in order to become our truest selves, we become something else entirely.

This is easily the best writing of Charlie Jane Anders I've yet read and I am excited to see where she goes from here.

I received a paper review copy of this book from Tor Books in exchange for an honest review.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Review: The Huntress

The Huntress The Huntress by Kate Quinn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"The Living Forget. The Dead Remember."

I snapped up this book for review because one of the central characters is drawn from the real life "Night Witches," the all-female regiment of ace night-bombing pilots mounted by the Soviet Union during World War II. These brave women have long fascinated me and most people have never even heard of them. Flying the Polikarpov Po-2 (U-2), an open cockpit cloth and wood biplane, which was slow and flammable, these women flew with no radio, no brakes and most harrowingly, no parachutes, on as many as eighteen bombing runs a night, often cutting their engines to effect a silent approach, waging not just a bomb campaign on the Germans but psychological warfare, as the whistling wind of their approaching planes on their repeated runs in the dark of night left the soldiers facing their bombing raids in fear and continual unease at the sound of the wind.

Nina Markov is a mysterious woman when Ian Graham meets her in 1945 and mistakenly thinks she is Polish. Ian is looking for his brother Sebastian, an escaped POW and Nina knows what happened to him on a dock on Lake Rusalka. The truth about what happened that fated night in November 1944 is hard for both to bear and it forms the raison d'être of this novel- the search for a woman known initially to the reader as The Huntress, a Nazi war criminal. Ian and Nina reunite in 1950 to follow up on a new lead about the mysterious Lorelei Vogt, a cold and cruel young woman who was reported to have invited six starving Jewish children who she found hiding on the shore of Lake Rusalka in Altausee Austria, into her home for a warm meal then leading them outside to her dock and shooting them and dumping them into the lake. For this vile act, and other crimes that come to light as the book develops, she has gained the name die Jägerin- the Huntress. Joined by a Nazi hunting lawyer, Tony Rodomovksy, Nina, Ian and Tony follow the Huntress's trail to the US, a place where a disturbing number of Nazi war criminals were living in hiding (actual fact and the US didn't much care about them). There, in Boston, they meet a young woman named Jordan, a photographer with keys to the puzzle of Lorelei Vogt.

A powerful novel about seeking justice, about never forgetting the truth of those who committed grave wrongs. I loved the complexity of the characters, one of whom is bisexual, another of whom is horrified to find she loves a murderess, feeling and admixture of loss, sorrow and revulsion. The juxtaposed fierceness of Nina and Lorelei make for fascinating reading. The women in this book are marvelously rendered and the men who work with them allow them their power, which is always refreshing.

This is an excellent novel of historical fiction, well-paced and hard to put down.

I received a Digital Review Copy of this book from William Morrow via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review, along with a paper copy of the book.

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Monday, February 25, 2019

Review: The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anissa Gray's debut novel offers a fine look at family dysfunction, loyalty, love and sisterhood. Three sisters, Althea, Viola and Lillian must navigate disaster when Althea and her husband Proctor are charged with fraudulently stealing money from a charity created to help people after a flood. Althea is crushed and seems as if she cannot believe it is all real- that her life has gone so far off the rails. Viola, a therapist in a deteriorating marriage to Eva, seems barely able to deal with the situation and all sorts of unhealthy, self-destructive emotions rear their ugly heads. Lillian, who has taken in Althea's daughters Little Vi and Kim, is feeling overwhelmed, particularly because the girls are so affected by the scandal of their parents' actions. When we meet the Butler family they are fractured and it seems that everything Althea strived for, in acting as the matriarch of her family, has been lost. The question as to what happened and why (because you're definitely going to be asking how this all happened after meeting Althea) can't be discussed without major spoilers.

This is an impressive debut in that the characters are distinctive and quite well drawn. Each of the sisters has deep emotional scars that are slowly revealed over the course of a very emotional book. Who are they as individuals? As sisters? As a family? This is a poignant portrait of family dysfunction, disconnect, and reconnection. And yet it is still a love letter to sisterhood, to family, and how love can make you resilient enough to survive disgrace and disappointment.

I received a Digital Review Copy and a paper review copy of this book from Berkley Press in exchange for an honest review. 

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Monday, February 18, 2019

Review: Daughter of Moloka'i

Daughter of Moloka'i Daughter of Moloka'i by Alan Brennert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can honestly say that Moloka'i is one of the best novels of historical fiction that I've ever read. It's hard to imagine a sequel living up to the acclaim of that book, but Alan Brennart does not disappoint.

In the last sections of Moloka'i Rachel Kalama Utagawa is finally able to reconnect with Ruth, the daughter she gave up for adoption to give her a chance for a healthy family, away from the leprosy colony at Kalaupapa. In Daughter of Moloka'i we learn of Ruth's life in the orphanage on Oahu and her early crushing disappointments. We meet the Watanabes, the family that adopts her and moves to California, far from the stigma of Ruth's origins as a child born of lepers. And yet even in California, Ruth's heritage, and that of her Issei adoptive parents and siblings, results in their being interned in Manzanar during WWII. Ruth's life in San Jose, after the war, with her husband Frank and children, Donnie and Peggy, changes course on the day in 1948 that the postman delivers a letter from R. Utagawa. Ruth's understanding of her parent's life, and even the simple origin of her Japanese name, Dai, alters her worldview.

The moving story of Ruth's life is in some aspects less difficult than Rachel's but in others harder because of Ruth's struggle to understand the losses incurred in her early life. The depth of her biological mother Rachel's and adoptive mother Etsuko's love for her make for a truly moving story that unfolds along with the depiction of the palpable racism and marginalization of this era in American history. A must read for those who loved Moloka'i.

I received a Digital Review Copy of this book along with a paper review copy from St. Martin's Press via NetGalley.

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Friday, February 15, 2019

Review: The Night Tiger

The Night Tiger The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 Stars bumped because of the #ownvoices aspect and the sheer beauty of some of the writing.

Yangsze Choo's masterful The Night Tiger offers a marvelous novel of historical fiction, set in Malaya in the 1930's. Giving us five characters who represent to some extend the five Confucian virtues, the principle focus is on Ren (literally benevolence, humanity), an orphaned child tasked with helping to set his former master's soul at rest by reuniting his severed finger with his corpse, and Ji Lin, who works by day as a seamstress's apprentice and by night as a dance hall girl in order to earn enough money to pay off her mother's mahjong debts. Ji, who's night name is Louise, a la Louise Brooks, comes across a severed finger in a vial, in the pocket of one of her dance customers and before she can return it, the man is dead. She's unable to return it to the man's family, so her half-brother, a medical intern, tries to help her identify the proper owner. Against the backdrop of this mystery and the inevitable question of whether Jin has what Ren needs, a tiger stalks the night in the region, raising fear and whispers of superstition about weretigers- tigers who can assume human form. Ren is haunted by dreams of his former employer, Dr. McFarlane, and fears that he has become a tiger, while Jin has equally odd dreams about five individuals who represent the Confucian virtues.* (It is interesting to see how the five main living characters of the story- Ji, Shin, Ren, William and Lydia fit into these roles or embody their opposition. Then there are Ren's brother and Dr. McFarlane...)

While the underlying mystery of the spirit tiger and the severed finger are the scaffolding of this novel, Ji Lin is the heart of this story for me. Choo has given us a smart, loyal, shrewd protagonist. The reader aches for Jin to have better opportunities (medical school for example) and for her to escape the bleak family dynamic her mother and abusive stepfather present. The complex and evolving relationship between Ji and her stepbrother, Shin, was well-written and I was delighted with the resolution of it in the novel because just before the end I was rather upset with the direction it was heading. The novel had some questions that were never quite answered, though I still enjoyed it. This is a novel that immerses us in a long-lost world, delving into the tension between colonialism and the mythos of a culture that cannot be repressed.

The audiobook, narrated by the author, is delightful.

*The Five Virtues are:
Ren (benevolence, humanity)
Yi (honesty, virtue)
Zhi (knowledge, wisdom) - nowadays often anglicized as Ji
Xin (faithfulness, integrity) - btw, frequently pronounced Shin but what do you think of Shin, reader?
Li (propriety, correctness)

I received a paper review copy from Flatiron Books in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: The Ruin of Kings

The Ruin of Kings The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So here's the thing... I got lost in reading this book, which tells the story of a young man, Kihrin, of mysterious origins. Cutting back and forth between Kihrin's version of his story and Talon's (a mimic) version, over the course of almost 600 pages Kihrin's true story emerges. It's a convoluted story and, some might argue, an overly convoluted book. The magic system of this world is complicated but well defined. Death is temporary (if you've been good), dragons are real (people) and mimics are pretty terrifying. Kihrin's story for him begins the moment he is auctioned as a slave, but in Talon's mind it began much earlier when he was taken in as the adoptive child of his father, Surdiyeh, and mother, Ola. In fact, both of them are wrong, and his story began long, long before that.

Giving us the story of gods (people with grand ideas) and monsters (people with monstrous ideas), of political schemers and dysfunctional family, Lyons has created unique world that I got lost in for a while. Tor has promoted this book as being for fans of GRRM, Sanderson, and Rofthuss, and while that is true based on the story, I began to feel the clichéd, stock writing phrases heavily by the end of the book. Lyons is not a new writer and so I'm less inclined to cut her, or her editor, some slack on this account. This is a fascinating story that could have used a bit more of the lyricism in the writing of R0fthuss, in my opinion. I enjoyed the book, but by the last 100-150 pages, I started to long for a conclusion, for answers, in a way that I'm not sure I would have had the writing shimmered a bit more.

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from Tor in exchanged for an honest review.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Review: The Heavens

The Heavens by Sandra Newman
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

4.5 Stars

This ambitious and thought-provoking book is a genre-bending extravaganza. While its synopsis tells us that it is a love story, between Hungarian/Turkish/Persian Kate (or Kitty, as her mother calls her) and Bengali/Jewish Ben (whose real name is Debendranath, not Benjamin, thank you very much), that doesn't even cover a fraction of this novel. First of all, since childhood, Kate has had dreams (literally dreams in her sleep) of a life in Elizabethan England, of the year 1593 when theatres closed in London due to the plague, and a life in which she is called Emilia Lanier. As Kate's dreams as Emilia progress and she goes through a series of relationships as the mistress of various men, her waking life as Kate begins to alter and unwind, with a series of changes she fears are the butterfly effect (of chaos theory and Bradburyian time travel) and which Ben doesn't think are changes at all, other than in her mental health status. As Emilia enters the sphere of a little known poet known as Will Shakespeare, the relationship between Kate and Ben fractures. (Readers of Shakespearian literature and history may recognize the name Emilia Lanier as the purported "Dark Lady" of some of Shakespeare's sonnets (127-154). So the Emilia who Kate believes her dreaming self to be was a real person.)

The disjointed interface (especially linguistic) between Elizabethan history and a modern history in NYC around the fall of the World Trade Center towers, mirrors the fragmentation of Kate's own life and mental health. Kate is an artist who dreams of saving the world and who believes her actions have wrought disastrous changes she must put right. On a personal level she believes she has dreamt away her father, then her brother Petey, and that the world stands on the brink of an apocalypse. Her world iteratively changes when she wakes from her dreams, until she isn't even sure who her real relationships have been with. Is Ben the father of her child? Martin? José? And in this fugue of jamais vu reality, she feels violated, lost, fearful as the fabric of time starts to unravel every time she wakes. Is she schizophrenic, or slipping between alternate realities or parallel universes, past and present?

While I can't say I particularly like either Ben or Kate, I did sympathize with Kate's continual disorientation. Less dream than nightmare, some of the early passages were very unsettling as she found even her own artwork different when she would awaken. Some of the secondary characters like Oksana and Sabine are so well-rendered and their various iterations, along with those of Martin, José and Ian, as Kate awakens are fascinating character progressions. (Though the lack of a character I could feel true affection for chipped off half a star.)

This is a masterful use of dreaming, time travel, alternate reality, perception, and mental illness. A fascinating but not facile novel. It is a literary novel which may not be to every readers taste, and if you come looking for a classic sci-fi novel of time travel, a simple romance or even historical romance, you're apt to be disappointed. Come for the whole shebang. Then tell me- is Kate schizophrenic or is she time-slipping? And how do you know for sure?

I received a Digital Review Copy of this book from Grove Atlantic via Edelweiss, along with a paper review copy, in exchange for an honest review.

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Monday, February 11, 2019

Review: The Psychology of Time Travel

The Psychology of Time Travel The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 Stars bumped to 4 stars because all the scientists are women and I loved that about this book.

So here's the problem with genre fiction: when you assign a genre, the reader is led to have certain expectations. The danger of those expectations is when they are not met. This is the case of a perfectly well-written novel like this one. Having been told the novel is science fiction, one has certain expectations about the science-y part. This book doesn't have time slip time travel which allows for more general fiction application as in The Time Traveller's Wife. It's a purportedly a science fiction novel in which four women scientists build a time machine. But then a murder mystery ensues and that mystery dominates the entire plot leaving some of the science-y aspects a bit sketchy. The time travel element becomes background for the challenging relationship between four collaborators after one mysteriously has a breakdown in the middle of an interview about their marvelous time machine, thereby embarrassing another and setting into motion a series of events (can we ever stop the past or present or future?). The relationship between the four scientists is interesting, and obviously I'm going to have much personal love for a book in which all the scientists are women. But as a novel of science fiction, this book just didn't work for me somehow. It works as a murder mystery in which we have four women with their own ideas about how the future of their work should be and their deeply held beliefs about research, all of which culminates in a mysterious death. Cutting back and forth between the 1960's, 70's, 80's and 2010's, and with characters going forward all the way to the 24th century living in our present/their deep past, we see a slowly evolving mis en place where we think we know who murdered whom (was it a murder?) but strive to understand the how and why. The novel is cleverly plotted but some vital element as sci-fi was just missing for me. Still a read worth your time. I will definitely pick up Mascarenhas' next novel.

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Saturday, February 9, 2019

Review: The Haunting of Tram Car 015

The Haunting of Tram Car 015 The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Set in an alternate world Cairo in 1912, The Haunting of Tram Car 015 offers a world in which djinn walk and work freely with humans. Agents Hamed Nasr and Onsi Youssef of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities have been assigned to figure out how to fix a haunted tram car. Superintendent Bashir thinks it's a ghost who attacked a woman on the tram but Hamed doesn't believe in ghosts since in the Ministry's thirty years of operation, none has ever been proven. He thinks whatever is haunting Tram Car 015 has to be a djinn. But what if he and Bashir are both very wrong? Their pursuit of solving this haunting takes them from zār-practicing Sufi spiritualists to dollmakers, and along the way we meet a gendershifting djinn who smells of jasmine, honey and cinnamon, and an a freed automaton.

An utter delight. I'd love to see a full length novel in this world, frankly. I want more Hamed, Onsi, Abla, Naadiya, Fahima and Jizzu!

I received a paper review copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Friday, February 8, 2019

Review: The Test

The Test The Test by Sylvain Neuvel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A story that could easily be an episode of Black Mirror... Highlighting the plight and vulnerability of immigrants who are dependent upon the morality of the country from which they seek shelter and citizenship, Neuvel gives us a tale of psychological horror billed as a simple citizenship test.

I received a paper review copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Review: The Curiosities

The Curiosities The Curiosities by Susan Gloss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Curiosities follows the life of Nell, a young woman with a Ph.D. in art history, who has recently suffered a miscarriage followed by a series of failed IVF attempts. Nell's husband Josh has overcome his feelings of loss by throwing himself into his work. And he's having great success as a junior faculty member in the University of Wisconsin, Madison Law School. Nell, however, is struggling, not least because she is ashamed to have hidden the significant credit card debt she has accrued for her IVF treatment from Josh. But more than that, she feels at a loss, since the entire past eighteen months of her life has revolved around trying to have a successful pregnancy. In that time, peers who graduated with her have moved on to positions at the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands, the Smithsonian Advisory Committee to the White House and two have landed tenure-track positions at good institutions. Nell feels that all she has to show for the past eighteen months are credit card bills she can't pay, IVF articles from PubMed she can't bear to read, and lost opportunities. Thus, she's surprised that when she interviews for a position as the head of Betsy Barrett Foundation's non-profit, the Mansion Hill Artist's Colony, she is hired on the spot. Working at The Colony, as the residency program is called, marks a turning point in Nell's life. As Nell finds her way out of her grief and loss, her relationships with Paige, Odin and Annie, the first three artists selected to live in the Barrett House as artists in residence, help her reconnect to her sense of purpose and worth and define who she is regardless of her status as wife or mother.

This is a quiet, lovely book about overcoming loss, filled with interesting characters, and rich descriptions of the artists. I enjoyed the open ending of the book, which provides the clear sense that, no matter what, Nell is fine just as she is.

I received a Digital Review copy of this book from William Morrow via Edelweiss, along with a paper review copy, in exchange for an honest review.

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It's an ARC Giveaway! Jessie Mihalik's "Polaris Rising"

I'm giving away my ARC copy of Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik! (Please be aware this is an ARC that has been opened and read...) Polaris Rising released today, February 5th, and you can read my review from yesterday here on the blog (should be one post back from this one.) It's an incredibly fun space opera and first in a series, with the second book, Aurora Blazing releasing in October 2019.

In order to enter, please comment below. Please be aware that "Unknown" user ID entries may result in my being unable to contact you. I know you value your privacy, but if you want to win, I have to have some way to let you know. You can email me at to tell me which entry is yours (repeating your comment and saying "hey, that's me... XXXX XXXX") if you just do not want your name or username appearing on your entry.

Extra entries can be had by subscribing to the blog by email, which you can do in the right side bar. Don't use the "Contact Marzie's Reads" form because that's for emailing me, not for subscribing! If you are already subscribed, I count your extra entry automatically.

Extra, extra entries (what?!) can include following on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, Bloglovin' and/or Feedly. If you've been around a while and are already following, I already count your follows when I set up the RNG draw! And if you're new, thanks for being here! Your participation in my blog helps me get more Advanced Review Copies and that results in my being able to offer these giveaways!

Entries for US (including APO, etc) and Canadian residents: I will pay the postage.
Entries for all other countries: I will pay up to $5.50 to ship this book. If the postage is more, you must state that you are willing to pay the difference, which could be as much as another US$20 by PayPal. Sorry but it's a fortune now to mail from the US to other parts of the world. :(

This giveaway will be open until Sunday, February 10th at 11:59 PM. The winner will be notified by email if I have it, or by social media contact. I'll mail your book on Monday the 11th by Media Mail if you reply swiftly.

© Marzie's Reads 2017-2019, All Rights Reserved.

Review: Polaris Rising

Polaris Rising Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Polaris Rising is that rare book with a strong romance element that I can actually manage to enjoy. A rollicking ride, comparisons to Ilona Andrews' Sweep series (without the magic element) are pretty much spot on. Ada von Hasenberg is the fifth of six children in House von Hasenberg, one of three powerful houses heading an interplanetary consortium. She was supposed to be a marriageable political pawn but Ada has very different plans. Having soaked up every bit of training whether political or engineering-based that she's been exposed to, she's spent the last two years on the run from a proposed political dynasty marriage to a former childhood friend who has grown into an odious man. Aided and abetted by her older sister Bianca, who wants to spare Ada the same unhappy marriage fates that she has endured, Ada has been so successful at eluding recovery efforts of her father Albrecht that he's increased the bounty for her return to irresistible levels. In fact, the only other person in the 'verse that commands such a high price on his head is the the mysterious Marcus Loch, Devil of Fornax Zero. Loch is a purported mass murderer who killed off his entire chain of command during the Fornax Rebellion. The question as to why he did is a mystery that Ada sorely wants to solve, because it's only natural that these two end up being captured for return to Earth and Papa von Hasenberg's clutches. It comes as no surprise that these two badass characters are not going down easily when Lord Richard Rockhurst of House Rockhurst tries to snatch them away from the van Hasenburg mercenary retrieval ship they're held on. Ada and Loch join forces to escape both Houses and along the way discover shocking secrets and snag an interesting vessel called the Polaris.

Mihalik has accomplished writing a romantic space opera that is engaging and while the instalove/lust aspect of Ada and Loch's relationship (and Rhys and Veronica's) grates on my unromantic soul (is this just a trauma bond, I ask myself?), I enjoyed other aspects of the Consortium world. The underpinnings of a future world in which wealth and power are consolidated in a few super-wealthy families who own entire planets and who don't bother themselves with the little people of the 'verse finds obvious allusions to the increasingly plutocratic world we live in. Ada bucks the trend, and her kindness and loyalty are rewarded with an increasing number of genuine friendships and a truly devoted sister in Bianca.

The first book in the Consortium Rebellion series, Polaris Rising, released February 5th 2019, will be followed up with Bianca van Hasenberg's story in Aurora Blazing due to release in October 2019. Strap in! You're undoubtedly in for more fun in Mihalik's universe.

I received a paper ARC from Harper Voyager in exchange for an honest review.

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Monday, February 4, 2019

Review: Moloka'i

Moloka'i Moloka'i by Alan Brennert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of the most moving novels of historical fiction that I've ever read. I played book hooky to continue to listen to the audiobook, instead of making progress on other book commitments, because I just didn't want to put it down.

The story of Rachel, a sufferer of Hansen's Disease (leprosy) who is sent at the tender age of six to live on Moloka'i, in the Kalaupapa leper colony, Brennert gives the reader a sense of the isolation of those held in the settlement on Moloka'i. Isolated from contact with others due to the poorly understood disease, Rachel is consoled by her uncle Pono her only family member who also suffers from the disease. Over the course of many decades, Rachel grows to adulthood, falls in love with a fellow patient named Kenji, marries, and gives birth to Ruth, a child surrendered for adoption because Rachel and her husband Kenji wanted her to have a chance of a normal life. They live through the period of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, WWII, and at its end Rachel loses Kenji in an violent act by a disabled veteran. She witnesses the Halawa tsunami of 1946, which devastated portions of Moloka'i, Maui and the Big Island of Hawai'i, killing 159 people. Eventually treated with sulfa drugs that attenuated the disease, she is paroled from Moloka'i in her sixties and goes in search of her family.

While the story is often heartbreaking and shows the ghastly aspects of Hansen's Disease in the era when it was little understood and virtually incurable, I found the depiction of American colonialism to be fascinating. While there are plenty of good haoles in this story, the underlying history of America in Hawai'i is not one of which to be proud. The internment of leprosy patients under disgraceful conditions is a shameful legacy in Hawai'i. You can read more about Kalaupapa here and here.

I read Moloka'i because I received the ARC of its long-awaited sequel, Daughter of Moloka'i, which I'll be reviewing later this month. I cannot recommend this first novel highly enough.

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Review: Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You

Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You by Scotto Moore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is an odd novella with a mystery that transitions into... Lovecraft? While the underlying premise was really cool I didn't feel that the execution was quite there. Still a fun read but the pacing was such that I really didn't feel engaged in the story, care about the characters or feel that any of them were memorable. This is the first Tor novella I've read since Alice Payne Arrives that didn't seem fully... crystallized. I think this story might have been better suited for a longer novella or full novel.

I received a paper review copy from in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Sealskin

Sealskin Sealskin by Su Bristow
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I've reflected on this novel for the past few days and just cannot bring myself to recommending it, nor can I say I enjoyed it enough to give it three stars. The classic folktale of a selkie is that a young selkie female has her skin stolen by a fisherman, and unable to return to the sea, goes home with him and lives with him as his wife, bearing him children, who one day find her skin and she grabs it and runs for the sea. Thus it is a story of a woman held captive, birthing children for a man who holds hostage her true nature. There is nothing pleasant in the idea of this non-consensual relationship. Lest someone say, well that's just the way the story is, doh, we can examine some selkie origin tales that make it plain that the selkie can have her revenge for the horrific treatment she and her loved ones endure. See for example the tale of Kópakonan (Seal Woman), a version in which brutality is rewarded with harsh justice. (You'll recall the Faroe Islands as that enlightened place the sea runs red in the pilot whale slaughter festival every year. Yet, even there the selkie story shows a pushback against cruelty.) In any case, I do not feel that Bristow covered any new ground. This book begins with a violent rape, just like we've been shown women have endured since antiquity. She then bears children of her rapist. She remains the captive of her rapist. Until the moment she recovers her sealskin, grabs it and runs for the sea. Sigh. Even the tone of the novel feels somehow distant or flat, in terms of the way the community, Donald, and Mairhi (the selkie) react to her situation. I had hoped for something more in this retelling.

TW: rape

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