Paradise Lodge

The job at Paradise Lodge was Miranda Longlady’s idea.

‘Teenager in seventies’ England gets a job at a seniors home and learns things about life, herself and others’ must have been a curious plot to pitch, but Nina Stibbe manages to land it with a homely, gentle feeling to the story and everyone involved. Even Matron.

Lizzie Vogel is a bit of an onion; she’s got layers. Starting off this job with ‘better shampoo’ as a personal motivation, she quickly starts to see that both seniors and the people providing for them as individuals as well. Her work at the home is more exciting and interesting than school, there’s a cute guy who’s someone else’s boyfriend, and her mother isn’t all that stable through all this; all of which causes issues in a domino kind of cascade.

That might make Paradise Lodge sound severe and dire, but even though there are deaths, it’s all on the lighter side of things. Teenage problems, without being teenage disasters. Lizzie really is an onion: she goes with many things.

Paradise Lodge, Nina Stibbe, Penguin Books 2017

The Boat People

Mahindan was flat on his back when the screaming began, one arm right-angled over his eyes.

This isn’t a particularly uplifting story. Reading is escapism, isn’t it? Unless you never have any media-intake that won’t be the case with this novel. The subject is a three-step ladder of contemporary news: racism in politics, war zones and (boat) refugees.

These three angles are showcased through the points of view of different people: a refugee, the people helping them, and those that need to make sure that no refugee brings danger into the country (Canada, in this case). It’s easy to view the latter as the villains of this piece: they start out with a negative angle and won’t be swayed. But in today’s society it would be naive to act like that negative angle hasn’t landed on fertile land, and what does that say about us?

The same can be said from the ‘good’ immigrants that lament these refugees for not doing immigration “the right way”. We all need thoughts to comfort us, so who’s to blame for acting upon them?

Of course, nothing happening in this novel will make you think: yes, let’s deny every refugee asylum, yay! but it very much shows the booby-trapped labyrinth immigration and asylum (laws) have become. With an all too human face to it, on all sides.

The Boat People, Sharon Bala, McClelland & Stewart 2018

These Witches Don’t Burn

They say there’s a fine line between love and hate.

Queer teenage witches! And it shows, in this YA, littering the story with some bad decisions and Very Emotional Moments. Because: teenagers.

Main character Hannah is a real witch, living in Salem, and trying to keep her and her family’s magic a secret from those that are ordinary humans. It gets harder when attacks start to happen, her ex-girlfriend attempts to get her back while at the same time moving on with someone else, a cute new girl arrives and her coven puts down the law on magic use. Basically ordinary teenage life, indeed.

It might be testament to Isabel Sterling’s writing that sometimes it’s all very teenager, making everyone and their decisions a bit too annoying and young for this reader. This is balanced out by Hannah’s sweet thoughts and emotions about her sexuality and crush(es), and honestly – hasn’t anyone had their Teenage Moments.

As is my usual complaint; more world building would have been welcome, but for those that are always on the look out for more queer YA: These Witches Don’t Burn is a proper one.

These Witches Don’t Burn, Isabel Sterling, Penguin Random House 2019

Fire and Blood

The maesters of the Citadel who keep the histories of Westeros have used Aegon’s conquest as their touchstone for the past three hundred years.

Are you in need of more Westeros now the TV-show is so close to ending and the book series it might be based on might never finish? Do you love dragons and politics in your fantasy? Boy, do I’ve got a recommendation for you. For those that are looking for fantasy and just grabbed the newest book your library had on offer? Hm-mweh.

George R.R. Martin has always been a bit Tolkien-light when it comes to his descriptions over show-don’t-tell. Fire & Blood is Martin gathering all those descriptions he probably ever used to spend time on one Westeros family: Targaryen (yes, I know we can discuss if they’re a Westeros family). Remember from the Bible those family trees lists that went on forever? That’s Fire & Blood, just with more descriptions added of how people look and from time to time how people (brutally) died in one of the many fights and wars.

Is that a bad thing? That depends on what you want from this book. This isn’t an epic telling; it’s closer to an encyclopedia with some prose added (and repetitive at that; there really couldn’t have been more side steps to other countries and families instead of hearing how another sibling-pair marries each other?). Do you just want more of Martin’s Westeros (I did)? This will work for you, as long as you don’t read it too much in one go – mentioned repetitions will really start to show.¬† And those dragons? Well, they’re … pretty?

Fire & Blood, George R.R. Martin, Penguin Random House 2018

Before We Were Yours

My story begins on a sweltering August night, in a place I will never set eyes upon.

Adoption isn’t an easy subject, but the historical story line of Before We Were Yours shows at the very least how it definitely shouldn’t be handled.

There are two story tellers in this novel about an “orphanage” that basically stole children from poor people and sold them to rich families. One is the girl and her siblings that go through it, the other connected to her through different generations. This element sometimes makes it a little bit Lifetime-ish, although her motivations for discovering more are at first more political than personal. ie the sob story starts later into the story.

Weaved in between these two is a romance that isn’t quite necessary, but not horribly done either. I feel like the subject is what elevates this novel from being just another one of the paperbacks your gran reads and pushes upon you because it’s “so exciting”. It’s an easy, accessible read, but the horror of the “orphanage” and the reality on which its based, is what gives the story its pull.

Before We Were Yours, Lisa Wingate, Penguin Random House LLC 2017

There There

There was an Indian head, the head of an Indian, the drawing of the head of a headdressed, long-haired Indian depicted, drawn by an unknown artist in 1939, broadcast until the late 1970s to American TVs everywhere after all the shows ran out.

Disclaimer: even more () than usual; I don’t want my ignorance about other’s people culture to show too badly.

I feel like I can share how I’m discerning a certain kind of mood, element in books written by different contemporary Native (north) American authors. It’s not just in the style they use (non-chronological without clear pointers of time, multiple character points of view), also the subject. Life as a native in North America doesn’t seem to be very good a lot of the time.

After doing a bit of research on this story, it turns out that the conscious stream of thoughts around the same things, connecting every character in passing, was on purpose. There’s a focus on oral tradition with (some) Native people and this book should feel like that. Which changes things a bit.

With that, you get not just a people’s history, but the huge amount of weariness, pain and discomfort that comes with it. Plenty of minorities stories are slowly shared and heard more often, but what about the people that were first on the North American continent? So yes, maybe there’s a recurring element, but maybe that’s because that’s just something essential that has to be shared before anything else can.

There There, Tommy Orange, Penguin Random House 2018

Amal Unbound

I watched from the window as the boys tumbled out of the brick schoolhouse across the field from us.

This story sometimes feels a bit too much like those introductions to subjects in school books, but is enticing enough to not be bothered by that.

It’s a short story as well: I checked twice if I didn’t happen to download just the first book, or even an incomplete version (I’m so sorry library, it’s me that has the mistrust, not you that deserve it). In 166 pages Amal’s story is told.

She is a young teenager that lives in a small Pakistani village and dreams of becoming a teacher. Her entire life is turned upside down when she says no to a (blackmailing) landlord, moving her from future potential teacher to indentured servant.

This story is inspired by Malala Yousafzai, and as mentioned before, sometimes it shows. Through hardship this young girl learns things and acquires a new view of the world. For that second part (unless you come from a small Pakistani village as well), you should have a look at the novella.

Amal Unbound, Aisha Saeed, Penguin Books 2018

Ink and Bone

“Hold still and stop fighting me,” his father said, and slapped him hard enough to leave a mark.

Maybe I’m just a little bit too demanding. There’s little wrong with this story, it ticks plenty of boxes and it’s a fun, light read. It just didn’t sweep me off my feet, being a tad too traditional in tropes and plots. The world-building, though. Libraries!

This is a world in which books and librarians are viewed quite differently from ours. It’s Big Brother through books, originals should only be owned by the Great Library and everyone’s got a journal which is basically your testament (to be added to the same library after your passing). In this world, it’s an honour to be part of the Great Library, so guess where the unlikely (“”) hero shows up.

He’s part of a group of aspirant librarians, but during his time in Alexandria he discovers that not everything is as rosy as it should be. Conspiracies and plots and maybe the good guys are really the bad guys and vice versa, adventure!

With a few twitches, all that could have been less fantasy-by-numbers, but of course there’s a sequel: maybe everything leading up to that will flourish in the second book. If you’re fine with fine, gritty world-building and another male protagonist, this story will do you very well.

Ink and Bone: the Great Library, Rachel Caine, Penguin Group 2015

My Year of Rest and Relaxation

Whenever I woke up, night or day, I’d shuffle through the bright marble foyer of my building and go up the block and around the corner where there was a bodega that never closed.

This novel is an one woman on the ledge balancing act. The ledge here being ‘Is she terribly annoying or horribly sad?’. If it would have been a male protagonist, I would have given up on the book, but it’s not very often that women are allowed to be all of the above.

So what’s going on? The main character decides to sleep a year away, aided by a bucket load of medicine freely provided from possibly the worst psychiatrist in recent history. She seemingly has it all (money, looks), but none of it seem to satisfy or fill her in any way. There’s an ugly relationship with a so called friend, a permanent neglect from a man, orphan-hood. Basically, there’s no positivity and very little light in this life.

So, why read it? Because women can be absolute trash/go through periods of being absolute trash as well, and it’s not shown often enough. Because it’s an almost surreal trip through someone’s mind, and when there’s someone around living through worse things than you do, it definitely lights up your situation. Because it’s just kind of weird in an enthralling way, and that doesn’t happen (to me) often enough.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Ottessa Moshfegh, Penguin Press 2018

A Place for Us

As Amar watched the hall fill with guests arriving for his sister’s wedding, he promised himself he would stay.

Finally, a story that grabbed me again. One of those that makes you ache for the characters involved, making you wish that you could reach out to them and shake some sense into them.

At first, I got a bit frustrated by the lack of chronology; a story line is never finished before a memory (from another character) intervenes. It took me until much later that this is how humans work: our bodies might follow a chronology, our minds are always connecting things to thoughts past and future dreams. You learn so much about this family because of all the things they remember, worry about and wish for. But gosh darn it, why don’t they just¬†TALK to each other?

Maybe it’s because it’s a Muslim family that uses their traditions as a wall, a shield and a safety net. Maybe it’s because they’re immigrants in the USA, some of them growing up during and after 9/11. Maybe it’s culture and surroundings and character and fears.

But gosh darn it, do you root for them. Do you wish for more pages to set things right, because surely a happy ending is in order here. Until then, you’re stuck with a lump in your throat.

A Place for Us, Fatima Farheen Mirza, Penguin Random House 2018