This is a story that begins with a barbecue,” said Clementine.
I think I don’t have to summarise this story if I’d tell you that this author is the one behind Big Little Lies as well and that she definitely carved out a spot for herself in the ‘What’s Really Happening Behind the Doors of Seemingly Happy Families’-niche. A niche I very much enjoy, so no negative comments there.
The negative comments here are solely plot related. When my thoughts turn to “this is filler, just give me the twist/clue”, the story is going on just a tad too long. If all that build-up leads to not that much, you need a stronger conclusion. Maybe that’s just the burden of reading so much that surprise is hard to find.
Because there’s nothing otherwise wrong with this story: it doesn’t pretend to provide something more than it offers. It’s entertaining, it fits the bill, it’s escapism.
And it might make you want to visit Sydney.
Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty, Flatiron Books 2016
In the moonlit room overlooking the city of faith, a priest knelt before Ephyra and begged for his life.
Am I going to say it? I’m going to say it. This is another ‘I thought this would be a stand-alone fantasy YA’ failure on my part. Of COURSE it’s part of a series, rookie mistake!
The nice thing is that you don’t really notice until it’s too late. The question of ‘how is this going to be cleanly rolled up in so little pages left’ doesn’t show up until 3/4 into the book, and even then Katy Rose Pool doesn’t use neon-light warnings to guide you to the open ending. The ending isn’t even that open, which to me – avid hater of open endings – is a relief.
Except for the ages of the protagonists, it’s not very YA either (little romance, little teen-specific issues) and the fantasy part delivers. Scary cult, people with gifts, threatening apocalypse, royals et cetera. The world-building makes you wonder if this is supposed to be our past or our distance future: just look at the map used.
With five protagonists it sometimes feels a bit like some get more time in the spotlight than others; it also makes it easy to quickly get a preference. Maybe in the next book(s) the attention will shifts and you might feel more for other characters.
All in all, a nothing-wrong-with fantasy. If I’d see the sequel in the library, I wouldn’t ignore it.
There Will Come a Darkness, Katy Rose Pool, MacMillan 2019
The waiters were singing “Happy Birthday” in Chinese.
One main disappointment about this story: not enough descriptions of food. In some ways, this one felt like an international version of De zoetzure smaak van dromen; also the (immigrant) family in and around a Chinese restaurant. Except this one has a lot more infighting and drama. And as I said before – less descriptions of food.
So, what does happen in this novel? No-one seems to be very happy with their place in society. All are connected to a Chinese restaurant, but some (feel like it’s) in the wrong way, and some want to cut all ties. There’s the son of the owner, employees that have been there for decades, and those at the fringes of their lives. A fire doesn’t make things easier, even though it was slightly expected to.
It’s not the most accessible of novels; there are very few people to like and sometimes side plot lines take a bit too much space. On the other hand: it’s mostly the male characters that are the annoying ones, and all of it shows humanity. With a title and subject like this, it could have easily become a collection of stereotypes about Asian Americans: instead you’re shown that family and finances issues work the same in every (sub)culture.
Number One Chinese Restaurant, Lilian Li, Macmillan Publishing 2018
Once upon a time a girl named September had a secret.
It was the first title I recognised in the endless collection that is Overdrive. It’s also the sequel to The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making, because who needs short titles anyway (it’s not like Valente can’t do it, see Radiance).
Again, she offers a world brimming with colours, weirdness and smart little thoughts you wonder how you didn’t come up with them yourself. It’s fairy tales as they once were, yet with a Pratchettesque humor: don’t take the story teller, nor the experiences at face value.
Things went bad (again), and September is up to fixing it (again). She’s around after all. This time it’s in Fairyland (Below), making things a bit darker, including September. Small pieces of (ugly) reality meander through the adventures/quests/September’s wanderings.
Because even if you can survive the Forgotful Sea, you’re still someone’s child.
The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, Catherynne M. Valente, Macmillan 2012
It begins in a parking lot.
Humans can be so very ugly in thoughts, behavior and actions. This story plays out in the sixties – seventies of the previous century, but show that the ideas and life styles mentioned sadly aren’t outdated. The corrupt cop that abuses his power, the people that look away because “someone else will help”, the racism, the sexism.
A woman is murdered a few meters away from her home, in front of her apartment block and a lot of its inhabitants. Some see it from begin to end, some are distracted by what’s going on inside their own homes. And all of them quickly go from shock to denial to passing responsibility to the other.
Every chapter is for one of the inhabitants remotely involved. Some know the woman well, others are more worried about the violence on their door step. It’s the cop, the murderer, the neighbor, and all have motives and blame-the-other/blame-the-world arguments to keep the self denial (or delusion) strongly in place.
It’s not a happy story, and your faith in humanity won’t be restored by the end. It is a clear cut showcase of the human character when threatened.
Acts of Violence, Ryan David Jahn, MacMillan 2009
‘I hate Jane Austen!
Cutesy. This could be called fan fiction for everything Jane Austen wrote, but it doesn’t (after a while) feel like a cheap rip off. Main character is Jenny, a cousin of Jane. We follow her through her diary entries.
Just like in Austen’s stories, life in a certain society and commentary upon it, is what’s the meat of the novel. Parties and marriages (for love or for money), fantasies about adventures and a lot of men. Jenny wants to marry Captain Williams, but her older brother and sister-in-law (the very clear bad guy of this story) waylay her plans.
Jane Austen Stole My Boyfriend is colourful and shiny and feels like Jane Austen for (pre-)teens. A step up to start on one of the in the book mentioned stories by Austen.
Jane Austen Stole My Boyfriend – A Secret Diary, Cora Harrison, Macmillan 2011