The Invisible Library

Irene passed the mop across the stone floor in smooth, careful strokes, idly admiring the gleam of wet flagstones in the lantern-light.

The Invisible Library, Genevieve Cogman, Penguin Random House 2016

Sometimes I wish authors would pass their ideas to better authors or just admit that they wanted to write a TV or film script.

Because The Invisible Library has a nice ideas (book guardians that hop dimensions to collect special books, seemingly all during steampunkish/victorian times), but the landing doesn’t stick. It’s a collection of descriptions with cardboard characters.

I’d watch the series if someone else did the writing, all I’m saying.

She Who Became the Sun

Zhongli village lay flattened under the sun like a defeated dog that has given up on finding shade.

She Who Became the Sun, Shelley Parker-Chan, Tor 2021

Mulan but not exactly (there is cross-dressing to survive, but it goes much further and Zhu doesn’t need any man/romance, thank you very much). She takes her brother’s fate and decides to do whatever necessary to get to what he’s promised: greatness.

The language used is a bit purple and blown up from time to time, adding the feeling that we’re really deep into ancient texts instead of one just a year old. It means that you might have to invest a little, but if you want a whole different (Asian) myth, it’ll be worth it.

A Girl is a Body of Water

Until that night, Kirabo had not cared about her.

A Girl is a Body of Water, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, Tin House 2020

What stuck with me most is how well Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi communicated the surprise and shrugs Ugandans had/felt about European ideas like time and religion. Might sound silly and/or narrow-minded but yes: not everyone cuts days into twelve hours and decides that one way of going at it is the right way. It’s all been decided before somewhere, and doesn’t mean that elsewheres should go along.

A Girl is a Body of Water plays out in a different time – Uganda in the nineteen-seventies and -eighties – and in a different world. The plot is familiar: absent parent decides to bring first child into second family. But Kirabo has plenty of other things on her mind; Sio, the mother who refused her, familial issues between her grandmother and the village witch and adjusting to private school and the city after growing up in a rural village.

Makumbi makes it all feel a bit like a fairy tale; even when dire reality sets in (war, death), it seems like something our princess has to get through to get to her happy ending. This absence and style takes some getting used to, but after you’re all in: we want the Stories of Kirabo; and we get them.

Dollface

20 x 25 min.

Very American, but short and charming enough to ignore that most of the time. Jules is the dollface who realises when her relationship ends (without her agreement) that she’s been neglecting all of her female friends. Her way back to them is a large part of the show. The rest of it is about life as a twenty-something, finding your way, feminism, sexuality, goals — a friendlier and less brazen Sex and the City.

What was cute in the first season – Jules has a fairy godmother in the shape of a snarky cat lady (literally a woman with a cat head), sees visions of all the ways in which she is a bad female friend – sometimes goes on for too long in the second season. In the second season her friends get a bit more room for development, and it definitely shows that Jules ..doesn’t have much of that.

Maybe the third season, which I’m sure will happen because Americans can just never leave a (good) thing alone.

Light Perpetual

The light is grey and sullen, a smoulder, a flare choking on the soot of its own burning, and leaking only a little of its power into the visible spectrum.

Light Perpetual, Francis Spufford, Faber 2021

Sounds pretty dystopian, doesn’t it?

What if four children – who died in a WW2 bombardment – didn’t? The children aren’t extraordinary, they’re simply ‘allowed to’ play out their lives. What follows are slices of life of post-war England.

The characters make the novel, especially when the writing lacks a bit. It’s a history novel as history should be looked at: through the eyes of regular humans.

The Jasmine Throne

In the court of the imperial mahal, the pyre was being built.

The Jasmine Throne, Natasha Suri, Hachette Book Group 2021

Honestly a little bit surprised by how much I didn’t care for this book. It has fantasy with a non-western background, gay women, and attempts some world-building. Why so demanding, brain?

Because all of it feels like it’s been generated instead of created. I didn’t care for any of the characters or what they went through. Childhood abuse? Oh. Your brother trying to sacrifice you? Okay. Fighting for independence? Uhuh. Fighting a disease that turns you into a tree? Are there images?

None of it touched me because there’s this weird imbalance of continuously adding new characters while trying to flesh out previous ones. And the plot: it felt like I was reading a game concept, not a novel. Like someone wanted the epic world-building of a Tolkien, a Martin, but forgot to put the silly, appealing and terrible in.

And of course; it’s a set up for sequels. I might catch up if it’s ever turned into a TV-show.

The Inheritance Games

When I was a kid, my mom constantly invented games.

The Inheritance Games, Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Little Brown and Company 2020

Two things YA novels could easily do without: the first person POV and the endless need to add (implied) heterosexual romantic relationships to it.

The Inheritance Games is the first book of a trilogy (possibly, who knows how long Barnes will make this last?) which uses the Knives Out story and gives it to a teen. Avery inherits a lot of money from an unknown billionaire, but why?? And why are there so many male grandchildren??

Anyway, except for some plot holes due to sloppy writing, and the aforementioned unnecessary heterosexual activities, it’s all quite entertaining. When I know how many books she’ll get out of this idea, I’ll read the last one for the clue so I can satisfy the smidge of curiosity that obvious cliffhanger left me with.

Crying in H Mart

Ever since my mom died, I cry in H Mart.

Crying in H Mart, Michelle Zauner, Borza 2021

Another memoir, and I didn’t even consciously make that decision. This title buzzed around online accompanied by sentiments like “so good. Cried so hard.” and who wouldn’t view that as a recommendation?

In Crying in H Mart, Michelle’s mother dies. Her mother being Korean, Michelle being Korean-American and their time together having been.. all over the emotional wheel add layers to that ordinary story.

Not to sound glib, of course. We all die. But Chongmi does so at a too young age and suffering terribly. How can you give yourself room to say goodbye when you’re just taking care(/attempting to) full time?

Yes, there’s crying. Zauner doesn’t have things dawn on her; they crash on her. Hope, delusion and fight: none work. As the reader you take every hit to prove you’re wrong: there is no escaping that first sentence.

But this book is more than a memorial. It’s the memoir of an American family with Korean roots, a love for Korean food (those descriptions, get me those meals!), and a very honest look at what family does to and for you.

All that, and more than 50% shorter than the previous memoir read.

The Education of an Idealist

“What right has this woman to be so educated?”

The Education of an Idealist, Samantha Power, Harper Collins 2019

Pfew, this is a big one. I put this one on my list because I was curious about looking behind the curtains of the White House and the NATO, but those parts were the ones that made me lose (some) interest.

The idealist in question is Samantha Power and this book is her work memoir. Her resume includes foreign (war) correspondent), several functions within Obama’s team, author and US representative at NATO. Yeah, she went places.

All her experiences and insights into different systems are sad, frustrating and terrifying and they’re so many of them. Hundreds of pages on how American political actions work, sometimes even repeated (maybe to show how slow and grinding the system is?).

It’s all interesting, and I wouldn’t have had a deadline I might have spend more time on it, but for one week it’s just too much. A sharper edit, a tighter story telling or just more darlings killed might have left me feeling less relief when I finally reached the acknowledgments.

It’s Not Like It’s a Secret

“Sana, chotto… hanashi ga arun-ya-kedo.”

It’s Not Like It’s a Secret, Misa Sugiura, Harper Collins 2017

It warms y heart to see YA that 1. doesn’t involve inappropriate relationships; 2. doesn’t have damaging ideas about body, romance and society; and 3. has queer protagonists. And it seems to happen more often!

Sana isn’t sure about her sexuality yet, and her life gives her plenty of reason to be distracted: a state-swapping move, her father possibly having an affair and her Japanese mother rejecting everything that would make both of their lives easier.

Her problems are not necessarily teen-related: it’s to Misa Sugiura’s merit that she doesn’t make them bigger or smaller because of the protagonist’s age. And yes, there are oh-my-god-teenagers moments, but the author sells those well as well. Honestly, this is a YA novel that deserves the blurbs and attention.