The Grace Year by Kim Liggett. 4/5
In this dystopian novel, young women are forced from their small and conservative community to an island where they must spend a year fending for themselves and trying to avoid the hunters—called poachers—who would kill them and sell their body parts as elixirs of youth back to the community. Tierney has witnessed two of her sisters depart for and return from this rite, broken and scarred. She’s been raised with live-sustaining and saving skills, and soon learns that her understanding of science, above the beliefs of the other women in magic, will save her and as many other women she can convince to believe her. The characters are well-drawn and evolve in interesting ways; the setting is original while not too alien to understand; and the writing is well-paced and vivid. In the end, Tierney’s discoveries hint at resilience and resistance among the women of the com, and with that, a hope for change.
Pricked by Scott Mooney. 2/5
This book, set in New York and its parallel fairy city, the Poisoned Apple, has some clever ideas, terrible puns, and the potential to be part of a fun series, except that it’s also a contradictory hot mess. A woman with the magical ability to change people’s emotions is tasked with finding a kidnapped non-magic man—all fine and good. But the author both claims the main character is a feminist and has her goad her male assistant by asking him sic he’ “always going to be the woman” in tough situations; later the character calls Harlem “a place tourists go to die.” Other unfortunate digs include those made at fat characters and “fly over country.” There’s also a nasty comment that the kidnapping agrees with a character because it’s caused her to lose weight. If the book went through a round of developmental editing and some sensitivity reading, it could be a winner. As is, though, it’s its own poisoned apple.
Died in the Wool by Melinda Mullet. 4/5
A nice mystery set in and around Edinburgh and the whisky business. Although one of a series, this requires no previous knowledge of the previous books in the series. The protagonist, a former reporter and photographer who has taken on a number of business and charity responsibilities, is smart and engaging as she finds herself in the middle of a dispute between a landowner and women’s shelter that escalated to murder. Several twists keep the plot moving, and the resolution is a satisfying one. I think many readers will enjoy leaning about the whisky business and, possibly, the care of sheep (I says this as someone who first learned about single malts, at about age 11, by way of Dick Francis’s novel Proof.)
The Warlow Experiment by Alix Nathan. 1/5
Some readers may find this novel of a social experiment set in the eighteenth century a fascinating intellectual story, but I just found it tedious. An eccentric and wealthy landowner interested in all things scientific offers a relative fortune to anyone who agrees to live in a cellar and without human contact for seven years. The only man who applies is desperately poor; his journey of exploitation is a difficult one, even as he is contacted by servants and provided with material luxuries. Above ground, the story of his keeper is predictably problematic but also, alas, dull.
Wake, Siren by Nina MacLaughlin. 2/5
If the folks in Ovid’s Metamorphoses were from New York and somewhat uncouth, they might sound like these retelling of their stories from MacLaughlin. Some of the reworking are fun in terms of humor and eroticism, but I didn’t really feel like these offered new insights or changed the relevance of the stories. There’s a lot of justifiable anger in the stories, but little in the way of new reckonings or new angles, Still, this collection might find a home in literature classes on adaptation or revisiting classical works.
The Ghosts of Eden Park by Karen Abbott. 1/5
This would have made a solid feature-length article, but as a book, there’ just isn’t enough meat. Abbott tries to tell a story about t he business and professional lives of the figures involved in the case of Prohibition-era liquor magnate George Remus, but never quite manages to bring everything together in a coherent tale. Her dips in and out of prosecutor Mabel Walker Willebrand’s personal life aren’t well-connected with her professional story, and Willebrand’s encounters with Remus never quite seem to be very dramatic or interesting either. There’s a lot of repeated material and a good deal of testimony from court cases that doesn’t shed any additional light on the people or issues involved, and it ends up feeling like filler. A good developmental edit might have turned this into a better book, but as is, I can’t recommend it.
Blood On The Stone by Jake Lynch. 1/5
An unfortunately dry and slow-paced murder mystery set in Oxford in 1681, as Charles II meets with Parliament. The characters might be interesting and t he plot might be okay if the pacing wasn’t so lethargic and the language was more lively, but I found this a dull read.
I Like to Watch by Emily Nussbaum. 5/5
A terrific collection of Nussbaum’s writing on television, this book is personal, witty, and thought-provoking. Critic Nussbaum explores tv writing, fans, commercialism, product placement, dealing with the legacies of predatory actors and directors, and other crucial topics in the medium. Highly recommended for tv and film consumers.
Pawsitively Poisonous by Melissa Erin Jackson. 1/5
Intended as a cozy mystery set in a cat-centric town and featuring a magic user who invents toys and makes potions for the townspeople, this novel unfortunately leaves the cozy far behind when the protagonist starts using her magic to manipulate and force people into doing things against their will and without their consent. It’s a disturbing book, in which the central figure gives herself the rights to alter people’s lives to get what she wants, both inside and outside of a murder investigation.
[Dis]Connected by Courtney Peppernell; Tyler Knott Gregson; Noah Milligan; Caitlyn Siehl; Raquel Franco; Wilder; Alicia Cook; Komal Kapoor; KY Robinson; NL Shompole. 2/5
In this collection, 12 writers contributed poems, and then each one wrote a story using a line from a different writer’s poem. The result is very uneven. None of the works particularly stand out, and the stories’ incorporations of lines from the poems—which are bolded in the stories—are forced and awkward. I’d rather have read more work from each author without the gimmicky structure of the collection.
Ghost Trippin’ by Cherie Claire. 1/5
I get it that the American South is mythologized and adored unthinkingly and also loathed and despised, often for good reasons, but to start off a book set in the South with a joke that references Deliverance and banjos (and, therefore, rape and the idea of unintelligent and violent locals) is just not a good way to get people to like your book. The other stereotypes that follow aren’t any better, nor is the continuous judging of Southern art, homes, terrain, and people. This is one in a series, and the presentation of the background material is disjointed and difficult to follow. Throughout the book, the narrator laughs at the names of people, places, and animals; drinks booze with Tylenol, a combination that could easily make her dead, not just someone able to speak to those who are; is ableist and classist; and does things that make no sense. A heavy edit could make this something good, but as it is, I can’t recommend it.
Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee. 5/5
Excellent, clever, and often funny stories mostly about Shuos Jedao, a primary character from Lee’s trilogy set in the same universe. drawing on Lee’s own experiences as an Asian-American in Texas. I loved these origin stories and escapades and gaining an even better feel for the world in which they’re set. I recommend these stories and the full Machineries of Empire series.
Buried in the Stacks by Allison Brook. 2/5
Just not for me, I think. The writing was simple and the dialogue felt unnaturally formal and expository. But for people who want an easy read at a fairly low level of vocabulary and such (maybe 6th grade level?) and who like mysteries and ghosts, this might be a fit.