3.04.2021

February Book Reviews

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

“Books and ideas are like blood; they need to circulate, and they keep us alive.”

It is not often that I pick up a World War II historical fiction novel, but the early buzz around this book, and the fact that it’s centered on a library made me pull the trigger on requesting. I’m glad I did, but there were elements I felt lacking and I wanted more from the story.

The narrative is set up in a dual timeline, one obviously during the war when the main character Odile is a young librarian at the American library in Paris, and the other in the 1980s when Odile is a widow living in Montana. The author creates that sense of urgency to learn how she ended up so far from home, but I felt as if the journey to that understanding was packed with unnecessary character building and seemed to sag in the middle. Once I learned how fate brought her to the United States, the book is almost over and that’s when I wanted to know MORE. There is a lot to unpack about friendship in both timelines, and was what made the book so compelling. Things JUST GOT INTERESTING with the young Lily in the 80s and potentially her friend Margaret from the war years when the book abruptly comes to an end.

I definitely recommend this novel for fans of historical fiction, and it was fascinating to read the prologue about the characters from the book that were actual historical figures. I honestly wouldn’t mind a small sequel perhaps, so that I could find out what became of Lily, Margaret and Odile!

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

“The truth is, there is no better place to live than in the shadow of a beautiful, furious mountain.”

Wow wow wow. I listened to In the Dream House on audio, and I felt in a little over my head at first. Machado reads with a singular cadence that took a few passages to get used to, but then her voice became utterly hypnotic. And her cerebral prose is dense at the outset, but settles into the very unsettling and menacing account of the abusive relationship with her ex-girlfriend.

The entire time I listened, I kept thinking about how hard this must have been for her, on so many levels, to examine. Her grief, vulnerability, and trauma is so sharp in this memoir with the visceral writing and (actually successful!) use of the second person.

Lots of TW regarding mental abuse, to be sure, but I highly recommend this indelible book.

The Lost Queen by Signe Pike

I first put The Lost Queen on my TBR when I saw it blurbed as ‘The Mists of Avalon for a new generation.’ SOLD! Mists was one of my favorite reads as a young adult, and I was looking for something magical, epic and immersive that wasn’t high fantasy.

There’s absolutely a similarity between the books: both follow the life of a strong female lead, are filled with ancient Celtic magic and the complex politics of tribal kings, religion and power. I have seen Outlander and Game of Thrones mentioned as similar reads, but I think The Lost Queen isn’t as romance focused as the former, and much more character driven than the latter. Pillars of the Earth would be a good comparison with similar themes and story elements.

The plot might have lingered a little too much on the men in the story than I would have liked, as their power struggles dragged for me. I wanted more about Languoreth’s mother, and her mentor Ariane. But on the whole I thoroughly enjoyed this reading experience and look forward to picking up the next in the trilogy soon. I was also in complete awe of the detail and research that Pike put into the novel - absolutely fascinating stuff. As someone of Scots/Irish heritage who dreams of visiting that part of the world one day, this made my wanderlust grow exponentially.

The Fixed Stars by Molly Wizenberg

“The constellations we see are temporary creations, our effort to draw order and meaning from a mostly unknowable universe, to tell ourselves stories, to guide our way home across oceans.”

I read Molly Wizenberg’s ‘A Homemade Life’ many years ago, so I only have vague recollections of her love of family, food, and falling in love with her husband. So going into The Fixed Stars, the account of her evolving sexuality and dissolution of her marriage, was disorienting. Then again, I think that was sort of the point - those stars aren’t really fixed and can shift into a different pattern, depending on your perspective.

While lyrical, especially when espousing on the cosmos metaphor, this read like a friend sitting down over a bottle of wine and telling her equally ordinary and extraordinary tale of marriage woe. I felt so genuinely happy for her in having the courage to make a life of her choosing. I appreciated her honesty about her privilege, and that she doesn’t have all the answers. None of us do in this world and we should accept the story that people tell about themselves, not one we write for them.

Real Men Knit by Kwana Jackson

I read this feel-good comfort read along with my Instagram book club and wasn't really wowed by the story. Things started out promising, as it reminded me a little bit of Insecure, one of my favorite tv shows. Kerry is trying to get her life started and works for a nonprofit serving children in the community - there's even an eye rolling 'woke' white coworker. Alas, there were a LOT of side characters and no one got a real deep dive, even the main romantic interests. It was cute, but a little to cliché for my liking.

In the Quick by Kate Hope Day

I want to preface this review by saying that I found In the Quick to be a unique and absorbing character driven novel. It should get a lot of traction with people looking for something other than what the blurb describes... The way the book is marketed might unfortunately result in some unnecessarily negative reviews.

The description claims a fiery love affair within the first sentence, which I think is terribly misleading. This novel felt like a quiet, introspective story where June’s relationships help showcase her coming of age, but do not take center stage. The romantic relationship, which is a stretch to call it as such, is barely a tenth of the book.

Readers picking this up thinking they are getting action packed sci-fi, might also cast it in an unfair light. To be sure, there are a number of well-timed scenes throughout that are very tense and rife with action.

But the beauty and the drama in this story is getting inside the mind a brilliant and flawed character. It reminded me of less fleshed out version of The Unseen World by Liz Moore, which I also recommend.


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