The House in the Cerulean Sea

“Oh dear,” Linus Baker said, wiping the sweat from his brow.

The House in the Cerulean Sea, TJ Klune, Tor 2020

This was just the sweetness needed. It felt like a story that could be animated as part of another story. It’s an origin story, the entire plot a huge cliché (man goes through things, discovers that there are joys in life to be had), but it’s all done so nicely, without ever veering into the saccharine.

Also, there’s monsters.

I mean – children with abilities. Hidden away in an orphanage on an island at the end of the world and our protagonist has to make sure they are treated well. It’s what he does for a living (if you can call it living). This time he even has to keep an extra eye on the headmaster because he likes to colour outside the lines (gasp!).

TJ Klune makes it all fresh, funny and adorable because of their descriptions, characters and little jokes. You might see the ending coming closely after the beginning, but it’s such a nice ride.

Peter Darling

James Hook was bored

Peter Darling, Austin Chant, Less Than Three Press 2017

A novella about Peter Pen and Neverland and Hook being …slightly different from what you might remember. Even though it’s pretty short (142 pages in e-bookformat), it took me a while to get invested.

Looking back, it almost feels like the order of the story is the wrong way ’round: large parts of the second half might have been more suited for the introduction part of the story?

Still, the author delivers from the start with descriptions of Neverland, the horror of facing reality and gives an element that could easily become super smarmy a soft and genuine landing.

I’m ready for someone to turn this into a film, and I don’t say this very often about a story.

Trickster Drift

The clouds finally broke into a sullen drizzle after a muggy, overcast day.

Trickster Drift, Eden Robinson, Alfred A. Knopf 2018

I can’t remember the last time I was so consciously waiting for a book. I read Son of a Trickster a long while ago, so why library – why did it take you two years to get me a sequel that was written in the year I read the prequel? Rhetorical question, I don’t need an answer.

With the first novel it took me a while to adjust to the story and appreciate what I took from it. With that knowledge, I expected to struggle again this time, but get a satisfying pay-off. Except – no struggle in sight. The e-book is almost 600 pages and I flew through them. Maybe Robinson found her flow, maybe I did, but I didn’t want to stop reading.

Jared has escaped some of the wild, eerie, lethal shit that was braided through his life and surroundings, but not all of it. And now he’s adding sobriety and study to them. So even though it seems like there’s more love and care around him, we should probably give him a break when he doesn’t immediately (positively) react to it (I tried, boy – did I try).

As it been two years since I’ve read the previous book, I can’t say if this one got scarier or more gory, but gosh – there’s a fine line between things that should only be myths and our reality in Robinson’s world.

It’s deliciously eerie, and can the library please get the completing novel in soon?

The City We Became

I sing the city.

The City We Became, N.K. Jemisin, Orbit 2020

I keep giving N.K. Jemisin chances, to sound delightfully dramatic. Like they care. I mostly care because on paper (heh) she’s got everything I desire, but the click continued to miss. This time the click was loud. A bit delayed, but loud all the same.

In The City We Became there’s cities that come alive and people that are cities, multiple dimensions (a bit like an onion, but maybe more like a pastry), human beings (bigotry) being the scariest enemy and oh sh- is that a Cthulhu reference?

It’s like Jemisin inhaled all that I love (close to reality, eerie as hell, new ideas with familiar roots) and coughed up this creation written so well that I was worried about this not being fiction at all. I don’t want her to be the person showing us behind the matrix.

Only downside? “This first part of a trilogy”.

Educated

I’m standing on the red railway car that sits abandoned next to the barn.

Educated, Tara Westover, HarperCollins 2018

“Holy shit” might simultaneously be very fitting and entirely inappropriate for these memoirs from a woman that grows in Mormon surroundings with a family that seems to be a magnet for mental and physical disaster.

Tara’s father is sure that the End of Days is near, Iluminati are real and that the government is out to get you and brainwash you. The children are home-schooled and are expected to devote their entire lives to the family. Some of them do so easier than others, and not everyone has the mental health to do so.

Straighter put: there’s several not-diagnosed issues walking around and as everything is God’s will or a government-threat, there’s no room to change things. Even in cases of life or death.

Through a combination of circumstances and clear decisions; Tara starts to see things differently, starts to develop differently. Educated is the story of where it started, how it went and where it (for now) ended. It’s also a pamphlet for education, mental health care and a supportive society.

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter

Only idiots aren’t afraid of flying.

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, Scaachi Koul, Doubleday 2017

I didn’t know about this woman’s existence before reading this collection of articles/slices of life. Possibly it was the title that caught my attention, and I always consciously try to read more by women of colour. Another thing I appreciated was how her view of India juxtaposed with the one mentioned in The Far Field. As someone who wants to visit India one day, it was nice to hear that it’s not an unsafe for white people pile of trash after all.

But I deter; this is about Scaachi Koul, not me. A Canadian woman with Indian parents and the body, hangups and cultural differences that come with it. She discusses these in a dry tone and also explains why: women have little room – women of colour even less to have any kind of emotion that isn’t desired.

In under 200 pages she shows both her life as that of an immigrant daughter, a brown woman in Canada, just another person growing up.

Some articles are very recognisable, some might make you cringe. As far as insights go: consider me further insighted.

Never Have I Ever

The game was Roux’s idea

Never Have I Ever, Joshilyn Jackson, P.S. 2019

This was a snack novel that turned out to be one of the better snacks you can get. Like – you were aiming for something sweet, but suddenly there was flavour as well, you know? Like that.

I’ve mentioned before how I’m a sucker for Rich Community Problems and that’s what sucked me into Never Have I Ever as well. Our main character has a lovely life in a perfect community but Oh no! a disruptive presence appears. Her lovely life is based on not-so-lovely things. Mama Bear has to come out! Etc., you know how it goes.

Which made me write a post about it (there’s books I don’t write blogs about – plenty) is that there’s a surprise. And Jackson pulls it off well. Thing about surprises is that you need little to kill them, so I’ll end with this: for a fun ride with this trope, try this novel.

Beschavingen

Er was een vrouw, de dochter van Ketil Platneus, die Aud de Diepzinnige heette en koningin was geweest.

Beschavingen, Laurent Binet, Meulenhoff 2020

Ik ben een grote fan van ‘wat-als’-verhalen, en Binet’s vorige was mij ook zeer positief blij gebleven, maar in dit geval leverden beiden niet wat ik verwachtte: een boek dat je niet opzij kunt leggen.

Deze keer gaat het om kolonisatie en dan vooral van Midden- en Zuid-Amerika. Wat als Europeanen dat niet was gelukt, en de Inka’s deze kant op waren gekomen? Een flinke ‘wat-als’, en op deze manier eens de bekende geschiedenis bekijken: prima ja graag.

Het eerste dat mij stoorde was de aanwezigheid van de auteur, die heb ik er nooit graag bij. Daarna zwalkte de toon soms naar geschiedenisdocent in plaats van roman; encyclopendieën lezen nu eenmaal minder lekker weg.

Tot slot, al is dit zeer persoonlijk, vind ik het jammer dat er maar een klein tijdbestek is ingezet. Hoe had dit impact op gouden eeuwen, de VOC, Noord-Amerika en andere continenten? Wanneer ging het mis, als het mis zou gaan?

Dit voelde vooral als een opzetje dat Michael Bay of Mel Gibson gaat gebruiken voor een verfilming in weinig meer dan naam zodat er veel bloed kan vloeien. Amalfi (Italië) zal ze vast verwelkomen voor mooie plaatjes.

The Farm

The emergency room is an assault.

The Farm, Joanne Ramos, Doubleday 2019

I expected this to be sharper. Almost halfway in I commented that I was hoping that the author would deliver on what she was promising. She didn’t. This is a clear example of a novel that would have blown the mind of someone less well-read and well-informed. I know that sounds snobbish, but it’s the truth in this case: the ideas used in this novel are quite Body Sovereignty 101 and What Are The Limits of Capitalism 101. You might be curious about learning more, but for those that already did, it leaves you feeling a bit without direction.

The Farm is a very luxurious place where (implied illegal) immigrant women are surrogates for very rich families. For nine months they are pampered, kept from their usual lives and financially rewarded for several reasons. They’re also not allowed to have too many emotions, share too much personal information and contact anyone outside. They’re endlessly (physically) checked out and basically just viewed and handled as walking wombs.

Jane comes from the Philippines, is a young mother and tries to better her life for her daughter. She starts out as a nanny, but something happens which cuts off that line of work.

Sharing more would spoil some of the plot lines that are nicely knitted together, but simply miss spark. Do I need to be angry? Horrified? Was this all just a pamphlet?

I guess I’m still in the market for something that teaches me more about surrogacy and/or rich people that need to be stopped.

Aria

Mehri opened her eyes.

Aria, Nazanine Hozar, Alfred Knopf 2019

This one also stemmed from a positive review. And okay, the beautiful cover that looks like there’s fabric involved – here we judge books by covers.

Aria plays out through several decades in Iran, ending in the 1980s. For a lot of unhappy elements (the baby is left behind to be found by an unhappy family, for starters) it’s not Aria’s story that makes this novel from time to time depressing: it’s the world around her.

There’s a lot of different tribes and people living in the country, and they all want revolution in different ways. In the same way there’s struggles between religions and different ways of poverty. The things Aria is put through mirror these issues, but she’s never just a metaphor. Sometimes she’s such a brat that the society that made her is easy to forget – good God, teenagers.

This novel made me more interested about the country, its history and the author. I read its entirety from a phone screen (thanks, Libby!) and still managed to do so in under a week (over 800 pages). There’s a clear appeal here.

So now I’m back to where I started: you never know if you can trust a positive review.