I don’t normally write catch-up reviews, for two reasons. First, I read these books in the middle of July so I don’t remember them so well, and I wasn’t exactly taking notes. And second, I’m not a big fan of the mini-review. You know I like to go on and on about a book. But these were some really interesting books, and I feel like just because I happened to be in Hawaii at the time, I just abandoned them, left them all sad and alone…
So, on that dramatic note, here are some catch-up reviews for books you just might be interested in.
The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
In a nutshell: it’s YA, and while it feels young at times, it’s also a really well-written book about a group of teens in Alaska facing some pretty serious shit. Poverty, abusive parents, absent parents, pregnancy. But there’s a nice mix of positive characters too; this is not one of those books where every adult or every male is horrible. In fact, it’s nicely balanced all the way around. I found it really moving but NOT an ugly crier (I hate a book that’s just emotionally manipulative). Some of the characters know each other, some don’t, which gets a bit confusing but I liked that too. You have to pay attention but it works. What you also get with this book is an interesting view of Alaska in the 70’s, including some of the history of statehood, and you will see the diversity and unique environment that is Alaska (one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited although cold and wet). I’d recommend this to teens but also to adults who work with teens or who just like well-written YA that isn’t fantasy.
The Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton
I felt mixed about this one at first. It’s about Nagasaki before and after the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb. But it does have a somewhat melodramatic feel to it. It’s from the perspective of a mother who lost her daughter and grandson to the bomb, and who is full of hate for the man who may have caused her daughter’s death (although she also blames herself). A man shows up on her doorstep years later, claiming to be her grandson, and there’s no way of knowing because he’s so scarred and he was a very young boy at the time. While I didn’t love the set-up, this book won me over slowly. At first grandma seems like a real bitch, and she’s awfully hard to relate to – all you can see is that she did her very best to prevent her daughter from falling in love, and you think she deserved all the misery she got. But as her story unfolds, yes, it’s melodramatic, I became more sympathetic. By the end I was very curious about how a white woman named Copleton came to write a book about Nagasaki. All I know is that she spent three years teaching English there and now lives in Scotland. I haven’t heard anyone say this book doesn’t feel authentic, so who am I to say? This book was longlisted for the Baileys Prize.
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
This book deserves a lot more than you’re getting here; it’s very complex and I didn’t always entirely understand it. BUT it won this year’s Hugo Award for best novel, and good for N.K. Jemisin! This was a fascinating novel even when I was confused. It’s about a future post-apocalyptic world where some people have the ability to move the earth (e.g. create earthquakes) with their minds. Unfortunately, everyone else is so terrified that those people are basically killed or enslaved if discovered. The story follows three characters with this ability, a young girl, a young woman, and an older woman. The girl is sent off to a school with a Guardian to learn to control her power. The young woman can control her power and is sent to perform certain tasks. The older woman has just been discovered, and sadly, her husband murdered their young son, who also had this ability. Jemisin’s writing is gorgeous and you’ll never get bored. This is one of those books where as soon as I finished it, I went right back to page one and re-read the beginning. I think you might need to read this a couple of times. So maybe not the best vacation read – although it was the perfect read as we toured Hawaii, because seeing an island that is literally being sculpted as we speak is exactly what this book is about. If you have any interest in geology at all you’ll love this one (and if not, read it anyway). The sequel is out now, called The Obelisk Gate.
The Cold Between by Elizabeth Bonesteel
This is book one of a new series, and I ended up a little mixed on it. I really liked the two main characters although I did have some issues with dialogue at times and felt the story fell a bit flat towards the end. Some reviewers have found it a bit too romancey, but I can’t say I did. (Some have compared it to Shards of Honor by Bujold, but I didn’t love that book, nor did I find it romantic, so I won’t compare them.) You have to be okay with a story that begins with two characters meeting in a bar on ship leave, having a night of crazy-good sex, plan never to see each other again, and then get thrown back into each other’s lives by a too-coincidental storyline involving the murder of the woman’s ex-boyfriend. If you can handle that plotline, I thought the rest of the book worked. At least until you start dealing with wormholes and intergalactic conspiracies and then quite frankly, Bonesteel lost me a bit. Honestly, I enjoyed this book more when it stayed on the planet and it was about Elena and Trey and Trey’s family than when they went through a crazy wormhole and discovered lots of scientific shit I didn’t understand (but please know that may just be me). So maybe as a space opera it needs some work. The next book comes out this winter.