This will probably be my last round-up of 2019; I’ll also post a best-of list separately with my 5-star titles of the year. This year I read and reviewed about 200 books for Net Galley and about 60 from the public library. I’m guessing I also read and took notes on about 50 or so scholarly books, plus a lot of articles and primary source documents. I acquired about 30 academic books and got rid of a lot of scholarly books and fiction. A friend of mine has a rule that for every new book she buys, she has to donate/sell/get rid of one already in her house. I can’t quite do that yet, but I am replacing a lot of my trade paperbacks with Kindle editions.
The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold. 3/5
In a world where magic has disappeared, formerly supernatural beings struggle to survive and seek out potential places where magic might return, and everything that was once run by magic has stopped. It’s a grim and gritty place to be, and protagonist Fetch Philips must dig into its seediest niches to track down a vampire he’s been asked to find. The setting is unique and while the characters aren’t the best-fleshed out I’ve ever read, they are interesting enough for this noir-style thriller. A good read for the overlap between dystopia fans and readers who love the urban paranormal.
The Golden Flea by Michael Rips. 2/5
A quick read and and quirky book about the author’s many interactions with the dealers and sellers at the Chelsea Flea Market. Wandering and broad in scope, this book might appeal to readers who enjoy slice-of-life material, reading about New York and New Yorkers, and human nature. I found it a bit dull–there’s quite a bit of repetition in the figures the author writes about and their habits, good, bad, or otherwise–and I, unlike the author, got tired of reading about the same jerks berating potential customers and being cliquish and elitist. I don’t share the author’s infatuation with the rude and prickly stereotype he celebrates in the book, and so this one is just not for me.
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones. 5/5
A little ways into this, I began to think, “I’ve read an awful lot of zombie animal books lately.” I needn’t have worried that this one would be the same as the others: it’s very different, and very good. Four young men, full of hubris and disdain, massacre a herd of elk they find grazing in the men’s Native elders’ hunting grounds. One of the elk is young and pregnant, and though she may be dead, she does not forget or forgive. Ten years later, with one of the men already dead, the other three begin to meet their fates at the hands, feet–hooves–of the young elk, who takes on bodies and identities and does what she feels necessary for retribution. Along the way, the author offers insight into modern Native American culture, the ways in which indigenous Americans have been robbed and segregated, and hurt by white governments, and what it means–maybe–to be Indian. I recommend this highly as a thriller, a ghost story, a meditation. It’s gruesome and gory and marvelous.
The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson. 3/5
This is a fine account of Churchill’s actions (and his family’s doings) during WWII, as well as side-chapters on the lives of his daughter Mary and one of his aides in particular. It is, as are most of Larson’s books, well-written and interesting. Is another book on Churchill and the war necessary, though? While readable, this new entry into an already deep field doesn’t offer anything particularly new to say to readers, nor does it provide exceptional insight or interviews or anything else that makes it extraordinary. I suppose it would make a nice gift for someone just getting interested in the war or Churchill’s career during it.
Turtle under Ice by Juleah del Rosario. 3/5
Two high-school/college-age sisters negotiate their grief for their mother and their stepmother’s miscarriage, in free verse. I’m sure some readers will feel sympathy for the narrators, but they remained too generic for me to invest in them or their emotions very much, and the ending is horribly trite. I do think the verse form is a good one for the story being told. The production values are low: the font for the narrators’ names and page numbers is dated and unneeded, as are the faux-stains on the corners of the pages.
Overground Railroad by Candacy Taylor. 5/5
This is an outstanding and fascinating history of the Green Book–a guide for black Americans during Jim Crow that listed safe businesses to shop at, safe places to stay, safe garages to fill up their cars, and other places and people who could help them as they travelled the country. Author Candacy Taylor has not just examined the book, its creation, and publication, but also conducted interviews with people who used it, taking her work beyond the abstract or academic and demonstrating how crucial the Green Book–and other guides like it–were in specific dangerous situations experienced by blacks traveling in the US.
The Hollows by Jess Montgomery. 3/5
A nice Southern Gothic mystery, complete with plenty of family secrets, traumatic histories, and abuse. I enjoyed this quite a bit, and found that the details–the cost of groceries, the descriptions of buildings–really added to the flavor of the story. Although this is the second in a series, readers are fully filled-in on previous events, relationships, and important information.