Last book reviews of the year: a Scottish haunting, early modern women writers, the Moon, and more

The Herbalist’s Secret by Annabelle Marx. 3/5
I liked this gothic story quite a lot. The house and the ghosts and Kitty’s story, a familiar but still tragic one of oppression and misogyny, are all handled well and are compelling, and the twists that come at the end are good. But Greer, the housekeeper whose voice is most heard, never really comes to life, and her husband is such a non-entity that he doesn’t really need to be in the book at all. We get a little of Greer’s own desires and interests, but they remain on the light side. Caitlin, upon whom the synopsis blurb focused the most, doesn’t really get fully-fleshed out either, and it’s a disappointment that the two women of the contemporary part of the novel don’t get a bit more fully realized.

The Morningside by Téa Obreht. 5/5
I adored this dystopian novel about family and secrets and why we protect ourselves and our loved ones and how and what it means to be a refugee and a child refugee. Told from the point of view of young Silvia, who with her secretive mother has traveled far and wide, the narrative is one of mistakes and attempts to rectify those mistakes, yearning for stability and beauty and more than just survival, how the broken world appears to a child, and how stories are created and transmitted. The language is translucent and airy, dark and thick with danger, fairy-tale like, beguiling, and plaintive, all as needs must. It’s a stunning work of writing, thought-provoking and rich.

The Garden by Clare Beams. 5/5
This is an excellent motherhood-gothic novel about people–not always women–desperate to have a child and their doctors, desperate to help them have children. Beams mixes together a group of women trying to hold onto pregnancies after multiple miscarriages, a garden that has murkily resurrective powers, and Irene, a woman who doesn’t buy into the wellness being pitched at her. Making alliances with two other women, Irene tests the garden repeatedly, giving it dead creatures of larger and larger sizes; unwilling to submit to the invasion of privacy that is psychoanalysis, she has visions of abuse in one doctor’s past and uncovers infidelity in the other doctor’s present. As the women get closer to their due dates, anxiety rises, pregnancies fail, patients die, and the lure of the garden becomes stronger and stronger, even as it becomes more and more repulsive. This is a terrifically dark book about motherhood and family and the lines between death and undeath and life that will find many happy readers.

Eigyr by Jérôme Hamon & Damien Colboc. 1/5
Early Christians and “barbaric” pagans are both searching for a baby said to be the reincarnation of Merlin, a powerful wizard. These Christians apparently believe in reincarnation only so that the authors can impose a re-telling of the Christian Massacre of the Innocents and a conversion narrative on Arthuriana, and it doesn’t hang together well. The art is fine, but the lettering is often hard to read, and the dialogue isn’t particularly good at differentiating characters, offering context, or even just sounding like normal speech. You can give this one a miss.

Winter’s Gifts by Ben Aaronovitch. 5/5
Winter’s Gifts is a wonderful, fantastic, enormously fun addition to the Rivers of London series, focusing on American FBI agent Kimberley Reynolds, who is fast learning about the magic of the world. Reynolds is sent to bitter, wintry Wisconsin, where a strange and violent storm has caused mayhem. Soon on the trail of non-humans, humans with secrets, and humans seeking magic, she finds herself amid Native genii locorum, fearsome creatures, and a cute meteorologist. It’s a delight.

Our Moon by Rebecca Boyle. 5/5
This is a lovely book that examines the Moon from scientific, folkloric, poetic, and other points of view, offering readers all sorts of eclectic information about our constant companion in the galaxy. I loved Boyle’s ability to write about multiple approaches to studying how the Moon has affected human life, and how we measure that influence. Readers will be charmed, whatever their bent.

Shakespeare’s Sisters by Ramie Targoff. 3/5
A solid examination of the lives and careers of several women writers who were contemporaneous with Shakespeare. It would have been nice if these women didn’t have to be attached to Shakespeare in any way to get attention, but this is a book for general readers, and I suppose the title has to pander a bit. Readers to new to Mary Sidney, Elizabeth Cary, Anne Clifford, and Aemilia Lanyer will find a firm foundation in this book. I will warn about casual fatphobia and the author’s tendency to wallow in the more morbid–and, in relation to her topic, bizarrely emphasized–details of death and funeral rites.

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One Reply to “Last book reviews of the year: a Scottish haunting, early modern women writers, the Moon, and more”

  1. I love the Rivers of London series so much: magic, police procedural, and London all together make it the perfect series for me.

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