Reviews: two winners and a draw

Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn. 5/5
An elegant kaleidoscope of episodes from different points of view that tell the story of a Romanian woman and her family, their power in society and lack thereof, her fears and anxieties, and her eventual escape to the West. Minimalist, magical realist, and a masterpiece of storytelling.

The Lady in the Cellar by Sinclair McKay. 5/5
This is a terrific account of a fascinating murder case. In 1879, the desiccated body of a woman was found in the coal cellar of a middle-class London boarding house. The landlady was oddly oblivious to the goings-on in her home; the landlord may or may not have been sleeping with the maid; and the maid was definitely sleeping with his brother and likely murdered a boarder for her money and valuables. But the maid was acquitted and wrote a scandalous and bizarre pamphlet about the murders, adding in that the landlord and his brothers had also killed a child and fed it to a dog, among other depravities. A libel suit ensued. The landlord went mad. His wife remained oblivious. The maid moved in with the brother. The entire complicated story is beautifully laid out and told by McKay, who provides just the right amount of detail about society and surroundings to make the reader feel present in the mayhem. True crime readers, people interested in the Victorian age, and those fascinated by changing society, class, and gender roles will enjoy this.

Texas Hold’em by George R. R. Martin. 3/5
An okay entry in the Wild Cards series for YA readers. A high school band competition brings together a band of jokers, some hidden aces, and a mix of admirers and bigots in San Antonio Texas.The students and their escorts, adult aces, deal with protesters, conspiracies, runaways, great music, romance, traps, crude humor, and other goings-on. Some of the multiple stories dragged and were less than essential to the primary plot (the story in which a pianist runs away with a charismatic ace and is hunted down by other aces dragged badly and didn’t tie in well with the rest of the book), but overall, fans of the series will probably enjoy parts of it.

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