Friday, October 29, 2021

The Mirror Season, by Anna-Marie McLemore

The Mirror Season is a stunning, devastating book. Big huge trigger warning for graphic sexual assault. But it's such an incredibly healing, affirming, cathartic, book.  I can't possibly recommend or not recommend it to anyone, since I don't have that trauma in my life to deal with. But I can say that she deals with it gently and ruthlessly, like a nurse picking broken glass out of a wound.

The writing is gorgeous. If you've read McLemore before you know her prose is vibrant and lyrical. In this book I think she is a little more spare, more precise. Every word exactly the right one in the right place. In her previous books I've enjoyed the colour and depth magic realism brings to her stories, but the connections, the metaphors didn't always land for me. In this one, metaphor and magic realism and allusions to The Snow Queen interweave so brilliantly to illuminate her themes and characters that when I wasn't sobbing about what was happening on the page I was crying with how beautifully it was all coming together. 

Probably the best book I've read all year. I love Ciela and Lock with all the pieces of my broken heart.

Also, I need to find a pastelerĂ­a so I can try pan dulce in all its delicious-sounding variations! And I looked up a recipe for cazuela, and that's what we're having for dinner tonight (except I don't have any of the right spices or chilies, so it will be a pale imitation).

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

These Violent Delights, by Chloe Gong

What an ambitious book! Let's retell Romeo and Juliet, set in 1920s Shanghai, during the rise of the Communist Party. Let's make Juliette the heir to the Cai criminal empire, and Roma the Montagov heir, representing Chinese and Russian gangs fighting for control of the city. Add in the European political and mercantile factions, choosing sides, and the Communist Party threatening all power structures, local or foreign, legitimate or gang. Oh, and let's also add in a disgusting monster spreading a terrible madness everywhere it goes. 

The setting of These Violent Delights is awesome, and the way Gong works it into her plot is brilliant. Some of the Romeo and Juliet work-ins felt contrived to me, but she does cool things with the story, twisting it in interesting ways. Roma and Juliette are compelling characters—not immediately likeable. Juliette is a hard, violent person, and Gong doesn't glorify the violence. I appreciated that even when she's being particularly kick-ass against people whose asses definitely need kicking, we don't avoid the uncomfortable questions about Juliette's methods. There are some great side characters that kept me invested even when I wasn't so sure about our mains!

The monster is creepy, gory and terrifying, and makes a great metaphor for the forces tearing Shanghai apart. The mystery of where it comes from and how to stop it drives most of the plot, which I thought wandered somewhat in the middle. I didn't think it needed to be quite that convoluted. But the character relationships kept me reading, and the climax is tense and satisfying. 

There will be a sequel, which I'm not sure I'll read, because that monster is haunting my nightmares!

Friday, October 15, 2021

The Ones We're Meant to Find, by Joan He

It's your last day to nominate books for the Cybils

I'm going to try doing mini-reviews for the next little while, as I have a lot of books to read and won't possibly be able to keep up with reviewing them all, but I want to get down my feelings before I forget them.

The Ones We're Meant to Find is an impossible book to review, actually. It has so many mind-blowing plot twists that I can't tell you anything about what happens. It had me scratching my head and rereading passages and flipping back to check previous chapters several times to figure out what was going on, because you make certain assumptions and then it turns out they're all completely wrong. Except maybe the most important ones. 

It's also hard to review because I'm still not sure how I feel about it. It's compelling and frustrating in almost equal doses (but more compelling!). It's dense, as in, it packs a ton of world- and character- and plot-building into not very much space, so it feels fast-paced even though it doles out its mysteries agonizingly slowly! I loved the characters—they were brilliantly done and I cared desperately for all of them. The writing was beautiful. The world was fascinating and a very pointed critique of our own—but there were some elements that were hand-waved a bit too unbelievably for me. The plot was crazy clever and intriguing, but by the end I felt a little manipulated. Too much whiplash, too much milking the surprise reveals without giving time to digest the really interesting philosophy being explored. But on the other hand, manipulation is one of the themes, so having that experience as a reader is actually a plus for the book!

Do I recommend it? Highly! I really want everyone to read it so we can all have long interesting discussions about all He's really cool ideas! Do I love it? Almost! I think for me the twistiness of the plot ended up distancing me from the characters, so that the final dilemmas felt more mechanical than heart-wrenching to me. But I admire the book so much for how it weaves the personal and the political and forces the reader to ask really hard questions about our own humanity. Definitely worth reading.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Cybils nominations are open!

It's that time of year again! The Children's and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards are looking for your favourite books to be nominated. Anyone can nominate! Make sure all the books you love are included in the judging. There are a bunch of different categories, and you can nominate one book per category. New this year, you can also recommend books for someone else to nominate.

You have until October 15 to make your choices.

And then check the nominations pages to find way too many books to add to your TBR!