Climate fiction, poetry, and more–from 2022

Apparently I missed posting a number of NetGalley reviews written in 2021 for books being published in 2022. Apologies!

The Gravity of Existence by Christina Sng. 5/5
An absolutely brilliant collection of tiny poems, each on a world or person or place in its own. Reading this is like turning a kaleidoscope of re-fashionings of old lore and tales over and over, every new sight a dazzler. Sng’s writing is carefully curated, every word doing work, and is a delight to read and take apart to see the cleverness beneath. A must for anyone who likes poetry, dark stories, and smart, smart writing.

Real Sugar is Hard to Find by Sim Kern. 5/5
A collection of climate fiction by Kern, who is establishing themselves as a leader in this genre in work for both adults and younger readers. This is an excellent collection of stories bound to make readers think more deeply about climate change, the politics of global warming, and other issues, while still managing to have engrossing plots and characters.

American Midnight by Adam Hochschild. 5/5
This is an excellent, well-researched and documented survey of the ways Woodrow Wilson and his appointees used political power to silence, kill, and injure American citizens and residents who opposed American intervention in the First World War. Wilson and his allies used brutal tactics to suppress First Amendment rights across the country, engaging in strike-breaking, infiltrating unions, wire-tapping civilian lines, and more. I think everyone needs to read this, especially as efforts to suppress free speech continue.

Last Car to Annwn Station by Michael Merriam. 1/5
A pedestrian fantasy novel with a queer romance. The plot is predictable, the characters are utterly dull and flat, and there’s a significant amount of bias: one example is that the only character described as “dark” as opposed to very, very white is one who is also described as grotesque and horrifying to look at. The characters could easily have been good, but nothing makes them come to life. The dialogue is boring and prosaic, there’s a lot of telling rather than showing, and there’s little chemistry between even the lovers. The characters seem to think that violence is the best way to do anything involving conflict, and there is a lot of violence indeed. And the plot is a tired one: everyday woman finds out she’s part fae, that her fae mother is super-powerful, that she has a fae sister, and becomes a champion of her newfound people. Give this one a miss.

The White Hare by Jane Johnson. 4/5
This is a lovely, if a bit conventional, Gothic romance/mystery that uses Cornish myth and lore beautifully. I loved the exploration of the white hare and the White Lady, purported to be an ancient deity in the area. The characters were complex and interesting, and grew over the course of the novel. All of the bits of archaeology, plant-lore, and magic came neatly together. This should be a hit with readers of all kinds–romance readers, history buffs, Gothic fans, you name it. Readers who like Kate Morton’s books or those by Diane Setterfield will love it.

Seeds for the Swarm by Sim Kern. 3/5
I really liked Kern’s earlier novel “Depart! Depart!” but this YA novel–the first in a projected trilogy–was a little too pedantic for my liking. Younger readers might not recognize all of the education being dispensed to them as they follow the story of a young woman from “the Dust”–the barren, impoverished lands of the south of the US–as she travels to an elite university in “the Lush,” where she finds that her professors have nefarious plans for saving the planet by killing most of its inhabitants. With a few rather cardboard characters, the book moves from teaching the reader about water conservation to nanotechnology to bioengineering to fungi recycling. All of the teaching is done through conversations or discoveries between the characters, and since they’re at college, it might not seem too much, but after a while it begins to grate. Things that happen at the beginning of the novel inevitably return later–a wall-climbing class readies the protagonist for a later climb up a building-and after a while it becomes easy to predict what will happen next. This is a novel designed to instruct, and it does so, but at the cost of it having more fully-fleshed out characters and a less predictable, more original, series of connections overall.

Little Eve by Catriona Ward. 3/5
A full-out Gothic take of bleak landscapes, abusive guardians, weird religions, horrible rites, and a nice twist at the end. Sometimes the different narrative voices weren’t individual enough, and there was some messy writing here and there, but overall a solid tale.

A Sliver of Darkness by C. J. Tudor. 1/5
Lots of weak women, women victims, women villains, women in the margins and left there; lots of brave male protagonists, male saviors, the occasional male villain: not my cup of tea. I found all of this rather odd given that the author is a woman. In addition, far too many of the stories here were retreads of earlier ideas and themes, although at least the homage to Doctor Who was in fact called that in the diegesis. I can’t recommend this: it just doesn’t have enough originality to it.

Out of Patients by Sandra Cavallo Miller. 1/5
A bitter hypocrite of a doctor wants to quit her job (yet argues that more people should become doctors….) in this awkwardly written novel, which is still in the needs-developmental-editing phase. The writing shifts oddly from active to passive voice and from a kind of memoir-like, off-the-hip factual tone and the kind of bland writing that generally sets up mystery novels. There’s a lot of telling rather than showing, and the characters are stereotypes whose language is also inconsistent. Not a fun read.

The Scent of Burnt Flowers by Blitz Bazawule. 2/5
Melvin kills a White man, and sets into motion a frantic chase around the world for safety and security, a chase that ends badly for almost everyone involved. I knew a bit about Ghana’s political struggles after independence, and this novel uses a period of unrest and uprising as its backdrop–although it also plays a part in its denouement as well. It’s a difficult read, and the poorly-mixed magical realism doesn’t make it any better, instead serving as a panacea for character missteps and deaths.

The Bandit Queens by Parini Shroff. 2/5
The Bandit Queens is a really, really dark comedy–sort of–about serious topics: domestic abuse, forced marriages, crushing poverty, religious discrimination and strife, and murder. Set in a small town in modern India, a group of women rely on, blackmail, extort, threaten, help, support, lie for, lie to, try to kill, and try to save each other. Protagonist Geeta keeps reminding the others that they should be like bonobos, apes whose females band together, but ultimately the moral of the story is to trust no one, or perhaps it’s that three can keep a secret if two of them are dead.

The Bloodless Boy by Robert J. Lloyd. 2/5
I wanted to like this–the premise was interesting. But the writing and plotting are messy, with the writing changing in tone frequently in unnecessary and sometimes confusing ways, and the narrative being a bot long, often dull, and sometimes convoluted. The romance element read like it had been added in after the rest of the book was finished–it appeared here and there but never really got anywhere, and then popped up at the end as if it had been there all along. It was a slog to get through.

Dead and Gondola by Ann Claire. 3/5
This cute cozy set in a bookshop in a small town makes me long for winter. I haven’t read the first book in this series, but the author did a great job of making it not necessary to have done so–people, places, and things are all given enough backstory that I didn’t feel like I was missing a lot. The characters are a little thin in terms of personality (does Meg *have* a personality?) and some of the plotting was a bit disjointed, but in the end you get a sense of the town and its inhabitants and a decent mystery, even if you’ve already correctly guessed the killer much, much earlier. Good for a cold day with cocoa, a cat, or both.

Flight Risk by Cherie Priest. 4/5
A fun follow-up to Grave reservations in which psychic Leda, her best friend Nikki, and cop Grady become entangled in two connected cases. Leda’s signature psychic psongstress act has developed and is much fun to witness, as are her relationships with Nikki and Grady. This was a quick read, perfect for a weekend. While the first book in this series was a little uneven, this one is much better.

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