A People’s History of Heaven by Mathangi Subramanian. 5/5
This is a gorgeous and wonderful novel about the women and girls of a Bangalore slum. Told in the first person plural, the book dips in and out of macro and micro issues in the community, its history, and its future. Subramanian’s writing is fresh and lively and I adored the nuanced ways in which she handles gender, sexuality, and disability. The novel takes on sexism and education, the ways in which women can subvert the masculine paradigm that seemingly rules the community, and engages with the role of white aid workers and others who seek to help the poor but are clueless of how their subjects and targets feel about them and how they live.
Fearing the Black Body by Sabrina Strings. 5/5
This is an outstanding examination about fatphobia body size, especially in regard to black women. The author uses primary sources from the history of the United States to draw attention to the ways in which fat women, and fat black women in particular, were and are thought of by white society. Engaging with class, the medical establishment, religion, and education, Strings deftly identifies patterns of thought in Europe and America that gave rise to anti-fat stigma and the fear of the fat black woman. I recommend this highly for all women.
The Forgotten Village by Lorna Cook. 4/5
This is a sweet romance and really good historical mystery. I liked that it was set in a real town requisitioned by the Ministry of Defense during WWII and that the research done by present-day characters was accurately portrayed. The characters were charming and real, and I enjoyed the honesty about how relationships work and the communication necessary for them to do so. For readers who like romance but not extra-explicit sex, I think this will be perfect, and readers who like Kate Morton’s books and others of that kind will enjoy it immensely.
Rotherweird by Andrew Caldecott. 4/5
I really enjoyed this clever and knowing Gothic-and-supernatural tale. Travel to the small English town of Rotherweird, where no one is allowed to know the town’s history or ask about the origins of its inhabitants. There you’ll find scheming villains, society snobs, a nocturnal acrobat, a man with a mysterious past, and a newly-arrived teacher for the local school, who, with a little help from his predecessor, sets into motion a fun and quirky ride into another dimension, a vast catalogue of secrets, and a little romance.
Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes. 4/5
This is a really good book with something for almost everyone. Evvie Drake has suffered from years of her husband’s emotional abuse when she decides to leave him. But on the way to her car, she receives news that he’s been in an auto accident, and he dies. Over the course of the next year, she rents out part of her house to a former baseball player who’s lost his ability to pitch; deals with her in-laws, her aging father, and her absent, insensitive mother; learns to communicate better with everyone; blows up and repairs friendships; falls in love; and finds happiness (and therapy). Pitched (pun intended) as a romance, this book is really a lot of genres, and I found it a particularly good abuse-recovery narrative. The baseball parts are fun, as is the small-town setting is great, and the characters develop in excellent ways. My only quibbles are: I wish the author had given Keith Olberman’s mother her name instead of describing her as an offshoot of the male celebrity; and that she’d chosen another team name than “Braves” for one of the teams mentioned. We’re trying to get rid of team names that are culturally insensitive, not creating more. Overall a good read.
Radicalized by Cory Doctorow. 3/5
Four novellas providing context for how and why people might deal with futures in which corporate control of everyday life, financial collapse, or other disasters befall the world. I most enjoyed the first of these, in which a smart woman and her allies struggle with corporate control of their lives. The characters were great and well-crafted, and the story was real and thoughtful. In the second, which I found somewhat overlong and tedious, Superman–under a different name here, I assume to avoid copyright violations–wants to get involved with actually making individuals’ lives better, but doesn’t know how to do so in the complicated racial and social landscape. In another, insurance companies determine who lives and who dies, until there’s a revolt. And in the final novella, which is probably the least original and interesting, a man uses his wealth to try to protect himself from a societal collapse, only to die from disease alone. Readers of dystopian fiction will enjoy this, as well as those interested in the ongoing struggle between corporations and individuals, the victims of majority/government brutality, and how and why the future of the world looks the way it does.
Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. 2/5
A young woman accidentally gets a shard of bone in her hand, bringing back to quasi-life one of the gods of the underworld. Bound to each other until he can remove the shard, the pair goes off to find three of his missing body parts–his ear, his eye, and a finger bone. Along the way the god becomes more human and the woman more entranced with his physical beauty. There’s some beautiful descriptive writing, but overall the story reifies the power of men–living and dead and otherwise–over women in Latin American cultures. The formulaic horse-trading of the adventure was predicable.
Watchers of the Dead by Simon Beaufort. 2/5
This is the kind of mystery novel wherein the protagonists do a lot of research, much of it not adding up, then are trapped/kidnapped/accosted by the perpetrator, who monologues about why they’re doing what they’re doing and then leaves the protagonists to die in an ineffectual and often silly way. The protagonists escape, of course. In this case the plot is accompanied by several red herrings, none of which seem terribly urgent, and the subplot dealing with one protagonist’s love life, which is mostly just an annoyance and doesn’t ever feel very important. The majority of the characters are pretty flat; the exceptions being one of the investigators, Hulda Friedricks, who is unfortunately still described in sexist terms–at one point being likened to a harpy–and a giddy great-aunt, who, it is implied, is loose with her morals and the bottle, another sexist stereotype.
The Inside City by Anita Mir. 2/5
Where A People’s History of Heaven offered a fun and fascinating window into an Indian slum and is a great success, The Inside City’s attempt to do something similar is not successful. This novel, set mostly before Partition, follows a Muslim child who has been prophesied to do great things and his family, Unfortunately, the mother is devout to the point of lacking all common sense, the father is largely absent, and the sisters are non-entities. The child himself is a not very interesting, and his activities generally end in disappointment. The book had ideas with promise–the setting, the discovery of history and learning its role, along with superstition, in shaping the world, the book’s long scope. But it’s tedious and fails to live up to any of the initial ideas the author sets out.
The Immortal City by Amy Kuivalainen. 1/5
This could have been a good urban(ish) paranormal thriller. But it isn’t. It’s full of problems. The plot: a scholar of Atlantis is drawn into a conspiracy to raise old and bad gods when she’s called to consult on a murder case in Venice. She inserts herself into the case and then meets a nearly-immortal Atlantean man into whose meditation she has astrally projected. He turns out to have been instrumental in wrecking her career as an academic, but they fall in love anyway. There are police folks involved, but their roles are to flatter the scholar and to serve as a comparison point for her. The author’s treatment of academia is unbelievable, as is the police reaction to the scholar, and let’s not even get into the scholar’s idiotic behavior. Also, everyone is “hot”–the cop, the scholar, the immortal, his friends…. and the gender politics of the book are a mess, with the scholar constantly being useless/needing to be rescued/bait and the other female characters being either foils for the protagonist’s perfection or more beautiful immortals. There’s rape and torture of women, a woman’s self-sacrifice for men, and more. The initial idea–that a scholar who had found a forgotten alphabet was called on to help decipher more of that same alphabet, which was being used in ritual killings–is fine. The rest is a disappointment.
False Bingo by Jac Jemc. 1/5
This collection of short stories frequently touches on the true and depressing aspects of life without hope for anything better. Intended to be realist, it is, but in ways that depressed, anxious, stressed, or lonely readers could easily become suicidal by reading it. I’m not looking for happy endings or happy stories, necessarily, but these bludgeon you.
The Resurrectionists by Michael Patrick Hicks. 1/5
Over-written and remarkably misogynist and racist, despite what I’d hoped early on would be a black hero figure, this novella describes the work of white doctors who are intent on bringing forth Lovecraftian horrors into post-Revolutionary War New York. The gore and body horror is described in minute and tedious detail, and the inclusion of stereotypes like the sexy exotic black sex worker with the good soul makes this a definite miss.