Middlegame by Seanan McGuire. 5/5
This stand-alone novel from McGuire is a rare bird: a time-manipulation novel that doesn’t try to justify itself with bad or fake real-world-based science, and which is compelling rather than a chore to read (in other books that deal with multiverses and temporal repeats, it’s often a drag to have to remember things like “which life are they on? who died this go-round? It gets tedious, as do the inevitable paradoxes that are too often solved with nonsensical machinations) . In a world very much like our own but in which magic and necromancy and alchemy also exist and function, a megalomaniac decides to take control of the universe by embodying paired traits like Chaos and Order, Language and Math, and so on, and then controlling them. He creates flesh golems, breeds children, and generally wreaks havoc and kills a lot of people on the way to creating a few sets of twins who embody the things he’s seeking. But the twins have minds of their own, and use them to great effect to put their abusive creator out of business. Middlegame, like all of McGuire;s books, is an excellent blend of the mundane, everyday world, and original, fantasy elements. As she does in her October Daye books, McGuire is able to make high fantasy compatible with cell phones and cat litter and pizza. The characters might be embodiments of abstract and powerful things, but they are still completely relatable to: they brush their teeth, get embarrassed, have odd quirks, do annoying things, do endearing things. And for readers of McGuire’s other books, Middlegame contains a few small Easter Eggs for close readers.
Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham. 4/5
Midnight in Chernobyl is perhaps the best English-language account of the 1986 nuclear disaster available. Higginbotham writes directly and clearly about complex scientific topics for lay readers, making the murky manageable, and covers the story from various aspects, adding depth and humanity to the facts of the accident. I appreciated the explanations of processes, hierarchies, and the bureaucracy that condemned so many both inside and outside of the USSR to death. The Higginbotham detail provided in describing locations, the geography, and the lives of those involved is excellent. The coverage of nuclear medicine is fascinating and often neglected in stories about Chernobyl. My only objection is the use of the term “abortion epidemic,” which comes near the end of the book and is highly problematic and politicizes the book in a way that is neither appropriate nor meaningful. I would otherwise give this five stars.
To avoid like the plague:
Find Me Falling by Fiona Vigo Marshall. 1/5 (0 if I could)
I utterly loathed this book. It’s cynical and perpetuates offensive models of disability and mental illness. It’s characters and their actions are devoid of humanity. The author’s attempt at writing a Gothic work is superficial and ultimately boring.
A woman musician gives birth prematurely; after the birth she is somehow disabled and cannot read or write or play or do much of anything, but of course her disability is somehow Gothic and magic and nothing helps except for perhaps retreating from society and trying to become a human ghost, which would be fine if the author actually addressed depression and other disabilities but she doesn’t, so that is a major problem with the book.. The musician and her husband and child move to a grand house overlooking the sea, where she and her spouse cannot communicate with each other, do not seem to care at all for each other or for their child, and do not seem to understand how to be human beings in any sense of that word. The woman wanders the area. Her husband is angry at her because she can’t fix herself. She meeds an enigmatic and manipulative street-sweeper. Her husband presses her for a second child. She has an affair with the street-sweeper. There are ghosts in the house. Everyone is emotionally abusive to everyone else. Some people will love this book. I feel bad for their partners and kids.
Merlin’s Shakespeare by Carol Anne Douglas. 1/5 (0)
This is a book that seems to have been written by a very young child, one who dislikes logic, thinks they’re extra clever when they’re not, and hasn’t had enough experience writing to understand how to write well. If it was written by a child, that child’s parents or guardians should not have allowed it to be published, because it will embarrass the child to no end when that child is even a little bit older. If it was written by an adult, then it still shouldn’t have been published, because it’s a complete mess. Everything in it is poorly done: the names, the characters’ descriptions, the dialogue, the plot, the writing overall. It was painful to read.