It was her idea to tie up the nun.Infinite Country, Patricia Engel, Simon & Schuster 2021
Less than 160 pages and I still walk around with it a couple days after finishing it. I don’t know if I consciously gravitate towards migrant stories and the generations after, but once again it doesn’t disappoint.
What Infinite Country adds is the clear question of “What’s so great about the USA anyway?”. It’s not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for anyone involved, and the place the family comes from (Colombia) isn’t viewed as a crap shoot essential to escape from.
Combine this with a family literally ripped apart based on their place of birth and there’s something fresh and uncanny about this short story.
Ivy Lin was a thief but you would never knew it to look at her.White Ivy, Susie Yang, Simon & Schuster 2020
White Ivy is all over the place. As the summary and blurbs say it’s coming of age, a (second generation) migrant story, but Ivy manages to elevate (and worsen) all of it.
Because Ivy doesn’t fit into any mold. Maybe she doesn’t even have one. It’s maddening how she sabotages and destroys, but looking at her experiences and upbringing… maybe not that strange. Because how do you handle being left in a country only to meet your parents again after several years? Being the only Asian-Canadian in white surroundings? Having a violent tiger-mother and (mentally-)absent father? Lesser people would have gotten some trauma from that.
Again, sometimes you’re talking to Ivy to just unclench for once, give herself something, let go of all she’s carrying. Please, to give the reader some air to breathe as well.
I won’t share if she does, but it’s been a while since I’ve so rooted for and so disliked one and the same fictional character.
A bank robbery.Anxious People, Fredrick Backman, Simon & Schuster 2020
“This story is about a lot of things, but mostly about idiots.” – don’t say Fredrick Backman didn’t warn you.
A bank robbery turns into a hostage situation but everyone involved is completely incapable of being a decent, well-functioning part of society. The bank robber takes over an apartment viewing, but everyone is more annoyed by this situation than terrified. And the bank robber is nervous and apologetic.
With flash-backs and flash..sides? we learn slightly more about this collection of fools and what made them this way. Backman does this in a quirky way, but manages very well to balance it before it gets annoying. This turns it into a comedy without having claimed to be a comedy, but there’s plenty of saddening details to add layers and depth to “Haha, weirdos!”.
It had me crying at the end. They might be idiots, but weren’t they made that way by situation and society? Saying more would ruin the few (small) surprises; read this for a solid laugh.
I locked my phone and carried on looking at the ceiling before unlocking it and sending a follow-up “xx.”Queenie, Candice Carty-Williams, Scout Press 2019
Just as with Luster I sometimes felt like this book wasn’t for me, that I shouldn’t read it. Should a white person even accept the ever-so-honest soul-baring of a black woman, even though – as a reviewer put it – it’s “reminiscent of Bridget Jones”?
Of course, I still stuck my nose in it. And it stayed there. Because even though sometimes it was very uncomfortable at times – Queenie has some less than healthy coping mechanisms for what life throws at her – you root so hard for this woman. Not because she’s written in a fun, recognisable way but because of what she’s experienced and is still experiencing and still trying.
What I also appreciate – and I’m sure that if both author and protagonist would have been male, this would have gotten a lot of attention as Great Coming of Age novel – is that there’s no easy way out. Neither mince words, the happily ever after is the slightly-alright-half-way-there. To manage that, and still be funny and have a realistic outlook on life: good stuff.
The first time I wished for death – like, really wished its bony hand would tap me on the shoulder and say “this way”- two bags from Stanley’s Fruit and Vegetables sat shotgun in my car.Group: How One Therapist and a Circle of Strangers Saved My Life, Christie Tate, Avid Reader Press 2020
I guess that mental health is a theme of mine now. With The Midnight Library, Crazy Ex Girlfriend and this one, you could call it a mental-health-trilogy. This one is the only non-fictional one of the three, although Rachel Bloom has admitted to her own issues with mental health inspiring CEG.
In Group, Christie has a collection of them. Issues with relationships, families, romance and food all lead to that first sentence. Therapy isn’t new to her either, but without effect, so why even try the worse option of group therapy?
As someone with little therapy-experience, some of the things her therapist put her through are wild. Some of her reactions to it are even wilder. Is this how (group) therapy works in the USA? There’s a strong truth-is-stranger-than-fiction vibe, but it also shows that when it comes to mental health that desperate measures are the only measures sometimes.
It’s sad and frustrating how stuck Christie is, and impressive how she turned her story into something appealing and entertaining. This isn’t a pamphlet for group therapy or a complaint about society’s ideas about adulthood, relationships and therapy. It’s the story of a group, and it’s a good one.
They must think I don’t have long left, because today they allow the vicar in.
Bitter Orange, Claire Fuller, Fig Tree 2018
I first saw Freya at my high school.
The Swap, Robyn Harding, Simon & Schuster 2020
New template, new way of posting? I read the second book to have something different from the first (because my previously planned book was also in a historic setting), turns out I got another portion of unreliable narrator and obsessive behaviour. Oh, well.
All protagonists are female, how often does the combination of unreliable narrator and obsession happens with male characters? Frances is close to forty, while Low and Jamie are a teen and a thirty-something. The set time period is different as well, but both books end in murder (or do they?).
The Bitter Orange covers up the thriller/mayhem part better, masquerading for a long time as a story of a woman as exciting as a dry black bean in technicolour surroundings. She has to evaluate gardens of a neglected mansion and finds people who have to do something similar, but don’t really do it. They make her think that she could be technicolour, instead.
The Swap on the other hand starts out with a clear manipulator; an ex-social media influencer for Pete’s sake. She twists everyone around her pinky finger, but some you don’t want around your pinky or other body parts…
Both stories have appealingly-written surroundings, dramatic characters and don’t attempt to make you root for them. It’s train wrecks waiting to happen, with an extra point to The Bitter Orange for a more subtle lead-up to the twist.
Neither are stories that will end up on your Best Of-list (probably), but they’re good for what they attempt to be.
It’s not often that you don’t know what you would have wanted when a story doesn’t go the way you want to. Usually I’m sure how things could have been better: this time I just knew that this wasn’t what I wanted.
I like ‘what-if’ a lot, and that’s a large part of In Five Years‘ starting point. Dannie has a premonition/hallucination/dream about herself in five years in an absolutely different situation from which she’s in right now. And she likes this situation, so she doesn’t want that other one.
Rebecca Serle doesn’t feel like using filler and jumps almost four years to get to that dream/premonition/hallucination, but in the meantime the protagonist doesn’t evolve or become a person. Dannie feels like she came from a character generator, and her boyfriend doesn’t fare much better.
Besides the key element, there’s little development that excites as well. The first twist can be seen coming from afar, and the second turns this magic realist pondering about in what ways we can influence our futures into something.. the Hallmark channel would love for their tearjerker category.
After that, all strength is gone and it’s a good thing there never was much investment in the main character(s).
In Five Years, Rebecca Serle, Simon & Schuster 2020
The monster has been here.
More Charlaine Harris (True Blood and the like) than Eden Robinson, but you can’t always win,and at least I was entertained. Maybe I should have known better when discovering that there had been criticisms about this novel, but I very much enjoy the stories of indigenous people, so I was willing to risk it. On the other side, how could I have known if the author was doing something right or wrong with the very little I know about (North-American) indigenous people?
Anyway, hindsight is 20-20 and it wasn’t her representation of the Navajo – wrongfully or otherwise – that bothered me about this novel. It’s the characters, specifically the main character.
I understand that you’re a pretty tortured soul when you’ve gone through what Maggie has gone through and is still going through, but when it only leads to moping and lamenting – all the goodwill evaporates quickly. There are other characters that are more exciting, I would have loved to learn more about the world this plays out in, but instead I get ponderings-while-looking-in-the-mirror. If there would have been more sex and blood, I would have called this a Laurell K. Hamilton.
Coming down largely on the side of ‘meh’, you can skip this one for your dystopian, sci-fi and or not-just-white story needs.
Trail of Lightning, Rebecca Roanhorse, Simon & Schuster 2018
When it was first suggested to me that I write about this year, my first instinct was to say no.
I kind of feel like I have to approve of this book solely because of the achievements of the person that wrote it. And Shonda Rhimes achieved a lot, and well done to her and I hope she keeps on carrying on.
And maybe I should have been less surprised about the tone of the story with such a title. I mean, this is the second time this year I’ve been cuckolded by a book title. This isn’t completely a memoir, but it comes close it. Combine that with the subject (saying yes to more things, daring to live (a little)), and honestly – I could have seen this coming.
Of course, it’s interesting to learn about how much work Rhimes puts into everything, how determined she is and how she recognises what has to be done to get where she wants to go.
It’s kind of a chicken-or-the-egg thing: is she ‘American Dream rah-rah’ because of what she accomplished or did she accomplish what she did because she’s ‘American Dream rah-rah’?
In the end, have I decided to be infected by her yes-saying? Maybe. Temporarily. Mostly I’m still stuck on all the ways in which she describes herself, her thoughts and her actions.
Year of Yes, Shonda Rhimes, Simon & Schuster 2015
Night fell as death rode into the Great Library of Summershall.
I’m sure Margaret Rogerson hadn’t planned on setting such a dramatic scene with just the first sentence. It’d have been Death or DEATH otherwise, of course. Anyway, let’s not go off on a tangent.
I wanted some easy, accessible fantasy and Sorcery of Thorns didn’t disappoint. It even looks to be a stand-alone! And even though it’s YA pretty by the book (unlikely hero who’s Different, a dark and mysterious love interest, a funny sidekick), it doesn’t become a bother. The story doesn’t take itself too seriously, the tempo is high and there’s plenty of twists and turns to keep you entertained.
Elisabeth Scrivener (I know) was left as a baby at one of the Great Libraries and grew up in one. Books are magical creatures, but those that manage those powers are kind of feared and frowned upon. So of course, she ends up with a sorcerer after an accident, and magic becomes a large part of her life.
The clear love of books gets Sorcery of Thorns an extra star: if it wouldn’t have been so dangerous, I would have loved to have a look around in its libraries.
Sorcery of Thorns, Margaret Rogerson, Margaret K. McElderry Books 2019