Uncrowned Queen by Nicola Tallis. 5/5
Uncrowned Queen is an excellent biography of Margaret Beaufort, mother of King Henry VII and a savvy political figure active in the Wars of the Roses. Thoroughly researched, the book is an entertaining and detailed read, and Tallis does a great job of making all of the often complicated bloodlines and inheritances clear and relevant. Readers interested in the Tudors and their history will enjoy this account of Margaret’s careful planning and plots to install her son on the throne, as well as the detail Tallis provides on Margaret’s estates, clothes, and jewelry, all managed and and used for specific purposes to secure her life, that of her her heir, and her freedom and positions over the course of her life.
A Flood of Posies by Tiffany Meuret. 1/5
This dystopian SFF novel mixes supernatural floods, addicts, betrayals, strange new aquatic life, extreme and terrible metaphors and similes, and hackneyed conventions into a nearly unreadable narrative without any compelling characters or real plot lines.
An Alternative History of Britain: The Tudors by Timothy Venning. 1/5
What if this book had actually explored the consequences of radical differences in Tudor history? What if the author had not just repeated known histories? What if the editor had asked the author to write shorter, more direct sentences? What if the author wasn’t so enamored with the passive voice and long tangents? If this book had been an alternative version of what it is, it might have been interesting and even maybe good.
Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald. 5/5
This is a luminous book, a guide to Macdonald’s life and ways of thinking, and, along, the way, a meditation on birds and nature and change and cows and falcons and deer. I can’t wait to be able to give this book to people who love words and nature and will savor every poetic phrase and observation.
Girls of Brackenhill by Kate Moretti. 1/5
A gothic novel with all of the trappings: dead children, a spooky house, murky personal histories, sleepwalking, the lot. While the set up–missing girls and young women in a small New England town–is fine and the primary setting of the house and grounds detailed and interesting, none of the characters are very compelling or deep. The author’s reliance on the trope of mad women, jealous women, and vengeful women perpetuates stigmas against the mentally ill and the longstanding stereotype of women as unstable, unable to communicate clearly, devious, and two-faced. There are also several inconsistencies and poorly-reasoned aspects to the story that undermine its chances of being successful for careful readers.
Inheritors by Asako Serizawa. 5/5
A stunning and magnificent book about World War II in Japan and America that everyone should read. Serizawa’s writing is beautiful, brash, and wholly enthralling as she charts the emotions and reactions and relationships that touch on one Japanese family over many generations. Serizawa’s tiny details, a sense or proportion, and the ability to write unflinchingly about horror and trauma make this book outstanding.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. 5/5
A gorgeous Gothic novel full of the traditional elements of the genre, expertly handled and made interesting and new again. Moreno-Garcia gives readers a lot of hints throughout, but while they were obvious it never felt too heavy-handed. Her use of characters who can communicate in both English and Spanish, keeping non-Spanish speakers from understanding, was a good device, but could have been more powerful if she’d replaced Spanish with an indigenous language to further emphasize difference and the eugenicist beliefs of certain characters. The novel serves as a fantastic allegory for colonization and corruption.
The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna. 5/5
This is a wonderful book about the power of women and allyship and playing the long game to achieve something truly spectacular. Young women, ostracized from their communities, are trained as warriors….but when the biggest battle comes, there is a startling and liberating secret that has to come out. I loved this book, which draws from West African myth and lore, has well-developed and diverse characters, and is masterpiece of layered stories and motivations.
Seven Endless Forests by April Genevieve Tucholke. 3/5
Drawing heavily on Arthurian myth (and names) as well as Norse, Welsh, Italian, and other mythologies and folklores, this fantasy novel is narrated by Torvi, a young woman on a quest to reclaim her younger sister, an addict, from a group of “wolf-priests” who get high on yew berry poison and ravage villages and settlements, killing nearly everyone in their paths. Torvi teams up with a druid, a group of knife-wielding bards, and a band of archers to track down Uther, the leader of the wolf-priests. But each character also has a quest–pulling a legendary sword from a tree, translating a book of tales, conjuring a ghostly king. While Tucholke has some truly brilliant ideas and descriptions of original and fantastic people, places, and things, the narrator herself remains very flat and two-dimensional, as does her sister, whose arc readers will predict from miles and miles away. The dialogue doesn’t help–sometimes it’s very formal and flowery and at other times casual and more modern, even between the same characters in similar circumstances. And the references to pre-existing myths are often heavy-handed: Torvi’s mother is named Igraine, a child named Pellinore creates a round table, a knight named Lionel passes through. Tucholke’s idea of renaming places by slightly changing real-world place names is also grating: there’s an island of Creet, for example. The Kindle copy I read also had a lot of strike-throughs and replaced words, and these show that simpler words are often replaced by more elaborate ones. I’d advise the author and editor to resist this: it’s done so often that it distances the story from the reader and makes it more difficult to empathize with the characters. The epilogue seems akin to simply writing “time passes” and sets up a sequel, but the novel would be stronger with a chapter that didn’t try to summarize so many things: it reads like a report.. All in all, this is a solid draft of a novel with some excellent and imaginative ideas that just needs to add some more depth to the characters, particularly Torvi, to be a real stand-out.
Devolution by Max Brooks. 5/5
Having taken on zombies in World War Z, Max Brooks now tackles Bigfoot/Sasquatch in his new novel. Like World War Z, Devolution is structured as a journalistic account, using interviews, diaries, and other materials from the world of the novel to create a fast-paced and compelling thriller about one so-called utopia and how its residents handle the arrival of aggressive and hungry Sasquatch after Mount Rainier erupts. The characters are deftly created, and I appreciated the fact that women were the main characters and leaders of the group. Anyone who has enjoyed Brooks’s other work, likes dystopias or apocalyptic settings, or likes tales of the unknown will get a kick out of this fun and clever book.