Gallant

by V. E. Schwab
First sentence: “The master of the house stands at the garden wall.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: February 2, 2022
Review copy pilfered from the ARCs at work.
Content: There’s a lot of narration, and not a lot of external action. It’s mostly an internal book, which may turn off younger readers. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

This book is many things. It’s about an orphan — Olivia — being summoned to her family’s home (a family she never knew she had). It’s about standing up for yourself, and finding a place in life. It’s about found family, and belonging. The plot is simple: Olivia is in an orphanage, and gets called home to Gallant — where there are secrets she has to uncover.

What it really is, at its heart, is a Gothic Novel. I din’t realize this while I read reading it; I just felt a vague sense of being unsettled while reading. It’s not gory, it’s not “spooky”. There are monsters, but they are shadows in the night, and you don’t really understand them. No, it wasn’t until I was helping my youngest with an assignment on Gothic novels, that I realized that Schwab has capitalized on a main element of the genre: an uncertainty on the part of her main character. She keeps Olivia in the dark to help build tension (and it works) and to give the climax that much more punch (and it works).

It’s a very, very good story told by a very, very good storyteller. I loved it.

State of the TBR Pile: January 2022

It occurred to me that I had forgotten to pt this up yesterday (I did on Instagram and Facebook; you’d think I’d forgotten I had a blog!)

Anyway, my “for fun” pile looks like this:

The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez
The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera
Aurora’s End by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
The Hollow Heart by Marie Rutkoski

Yes, they are all holdovers from last month. I may get to them. I am still reading, though I will be quiet over here for a while because I’m reading these:

I’m a second-round judge for the Cybils Graphic Novels category. There are a lot of good books here, and I’m enjoying reading them. You’ll just have to wait until after February 14th to hear what I think of them.

What are you looking forward to reading this month?

Artificial Condition

by Martha Wells
First sentence: “SecUnits don’t care about the news.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: All Systems Red
Content: There is some violence, and a small handful of swear words, including a couple of well-placed f-bombs. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

Picking right off where All Systems Red left off, Murderbot is determined to figure out what happened in its past that made it kill 57 people. Was it because it hacked its governor module? Was it because it was following orders? It figures it needs to go back to the scene of the crime, that there will be answers there. So it hitches a ride on a research transport ship, that happens to have a super-intelligent, curious bot on it, which Murderbot nicknames ART (for a-hole research transport because the bot just won’t shut up). Between the two of them, they manage to get Murderbot a job as a security consultant for some humans with what Murderbot calls a “death wish”, and start to figure things out.

I adore this series. I adore Murderbot as a narrator; it is sardonic and blunt and so very funny. They are tight thrillers, with some good twists and turns. I adore that they’re less than 100 pages; there are no extra words in here, just some tight, fantastic storytelling.

I can’t wait to read the next one.

My Best of 2021

If 2020 was a year when I thought I lost my reading groove, 2021 was pretty much a repeat. I started the year with two virtual book groups, and ended the year with none, both having run their course. I am now, for the first time in a long time, book group-less. I don’t quite know how to feel about this.

I set a goal to read more books by BIPOC authors, and I did (in large part thanks to a class I took in the fall). But, I still felt like I was struggling reading. My total books are up from 2020, but only by one. I had two surgeries and started working full time (buying gift items for the store, so I am no longer talking books with people when they come in, and I have lost the urgency to know about books that are coming out) and just felt like I didn’t have the brainpower to read.

By the numbers:

Adult fiction: 24
Young Adult Fiction: 34
Middle-Grade Fiction: 19
Non-Fiction: 23
Graphic Novels: 19
Grand total: 119

Number of those that were audiobook: 16
Number that was speculative Fiction (not including graphic novels): 29
Number by BIPOC authors: 54 (45% of my total reading; almost half!)
Number I reread: 2
Number I abandoned: 2

But, I did still read. I did still find a number of books that I loved. The following are all the books that I completely fell in love with:

That’s a good list, and I’m proud of it. While it’s not been the best year ever, it’s not been a bad year. Which is a good thing.

Monthly Round-Up: December 2021

It was a good reading month. Ending a class will do that, I guess.

My favorite:

It really was that good. But then again, it’s TJ Klune.

As for the rest:

Adult fiction:

A Spindle Splintered (audiobook)
The Matzah Ball
Small Things Like These
The Near Witch
All Systems Red

Graphic Novels:

Bingo Love Volume 1: Jackpot Edition
Graceling
Friends Forever

Non-fiction:

On Animals (audiobook)
The Storyteller (audiobook)

YA:

Cinderella is Dead
The Heartbreak Bakery

Middle Grade:

Starfish

What was your favorite this month?

All Systems Red

by Martha Wells
First sentence: “I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channel carried on the company satellites.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is a small handful of swear words, including two f-bombs. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

In this future, everything is run by a nameless company. Everything costs, and is for hire, including Murderbot, a security robot (AI with human bits?). Except Murderbot (which is what it calls itself) has gone rogue: it has hacked the module that is supposed to make it obey commands. It’s good at faking it, and so the people on its current job — protecting those who are surveying an unknown planet — dosn’t know. That is until they realize that something has happened to the other sureying crew on the planet. Then it becomes a matter of life and death, and Murderbot is the key.

This is one I’ve heard about and have had on my TBR list for a long time. I probalby owuldn’t have picked it up, except I wanted a short book to finish out the year, and this fit the bill. (That, and Wells just won the Hugo award wo I was reminded about it.) Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed this. It was short, tight intesne, and lots of fun. I have a coworker who says she’s never identified more with a character than Murderbot, and I get it. It was a compelling narrator, and I found myself thoroughly enjoying being its presence (which would probaby mortify it).

An yeah, I’m probably going to keep reading about Murderbot’s adventures.

Audio book: The Storyteller

by Dave Grohl
Read by the author
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: It’s very sweary. Very. Sweary. It’s in the Music section of the bookstore.

I listened to this in part because it has been getting lots and lots of good buzz, making end-of-year best-of books. I remember Nirvana (yeah, he’s the guy from Nirvana) getting big when I was in college, and listening to them a lot; I was into anything I could throw my body around on a dance floor too, and Nirvana fit the bill. But I wasn’t into them enough to know who the band members were. And yeah, I know about the Foo Fighters but I didn’t realize that their frontman was the same guy. But there’s also the pull of a celebrity memoir as read by the celebrity. I seriously love those.

This one completely lives up to the hype. Grohl is engaging as a, well, storyteller, giving the book a feeling of him sitting next to you, telling you the remarkable stories of his life. He has often been in the right places at the right times, and willing to take the chances he needs to take in rder to make the most of things. That’s not to say he doesn’t work for it as well: he is completely self-taught, practicing and practicing until he get thing “right” (the story of him playing Blackbird at the Ocsars demonstartes his work ethic really well).

But more than just being an enegaging storyteller, he’s telling really cool stories.It’s roughly chronologial, though it also bounces around, if he’s got a story to underline whatever point he’s trying to make at the time. Therewere many times when I went and watched videos on YouTube, just to see the story he was telling (like how the Come as You Are video was filmed washed out and hazy partially becase Cobain was tripped out on heroin, and how Grohl still can’t watch it to this day becuase it reminds him too much of the dark times and loss; or on a more upbeat note, the hilarious Fresh Pots). Grohl mostly keeps the book upbeat, but he does talk about Nirvana’s metoric rise to fame and how that affected everyone in the band, and the loss of Cobain, as well as Grohl’s best friend Jimmy. But, he recognizes he’s had a good life, and just wants to hare the good tiems and music with you.

In other words: I really quite loved this one.

The Near Witch

by V. E. Schwab
First sentence: “It starts with a crack, a sputter, and a spark.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is talk of violence, but it’d be appropriate for teenagers if they were interested. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

There has never been a stranger in the town of near. At least not in Lexi’s memory. And so, when one shows up, the town — especially the council — takes notice. And, when children start disappearing the night after the stranger arrives, the town is out for blood. Lexi doesn’t believe that the stranger has anything to do with the disappearances so she decides to set off on her own – against the wishes of her uncle and the town council – to solve the problem and get the children back.

Perhaps the thing I like best about Schwab is that she never writes the same book twice. Every single one of her books is vastly different. This is a bit of a coming-of-age story, about a girl learning to stand up for herself, and about a girl trying to find her own voice in a man’s world. It’s lyrical and delighful, and very very much a captivating story. Schwab is an excellent storyteller, and this, her first book, is a solid, captivating story.

I’m glad I finally got around to reading it.

Small Things Like These

by Claire Keegan
First sentence: “In October there were yellow trees.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are two f-bombs. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

Bill Furlong is a simple man. He’s the father of five daughters, and he delivers coal in his small Irish town. He doesn’t think terribly deep thoughts, but he is aware of his roots. His mother got pregnant when she was 16, and it was only the kindness of her employer, Mrs. Wilson, that allowed her to keep Bill and raise him. So, when Bill finds a girl at the convent locked in the coal shed, unable to feed her baby — the nuns had separated the two — Bill takes pity on her, even though he knows his wife, Elieen, won’t like it.

This is a slim novella, a slice of Irish life in the mid-1980s, and one that makes you think.It’s deeply Christian without being preachy: Furlong doesn’t seek to draw attention to himself, and he’s very kind and caring not just to his family but to the community as a whole.

It’s not life-shattering, but it is deeply moving. A good addition to our Christmas books, I think.

The Matzah Ball

by Jean Meltzer
First sentence: “She just needed one more.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some mild swearing. It’s in the romance setion of the bookstore.

Rachel is the daughter of a well-regarded rabbi, but she has a secret: she is a famous author (under a pseudonym, of course) of Christmas romance books. Jacob is trying to find his way back to Judaism after his mother’s death and is throwing the biggest party of the Season (on the eighth night of Hanukkah, no less). They knew each other, one summer at Jewish day camp, and had a brief fling (they were 12), but never kept in touch. But when they are thrown into each other’s orbit — Rachel’s publisher is demanding Hanukkah romance, and Jacob invites her parents to the Matzah Ball (yes, that is what the party is called). Sparks fly, of course.

On the one hand: I picked up this book because the title made me laugh. It hit all the right “Hallmark movie” moments; no one reads romances expecting them to be anything but predictable. There was even the added bonus of a disabled main character; she has chronic fatigue, which defies much of her life.

But. I didn’t buy that Rachel and Jacob had been holing on to 1) first love at age 12 and 2) a grudge because they had a misunderstanding at age 12. That’s silly and pushed the edge of suspension of disbelief. Also, there’s a throw-away line that’s anti-Palestinian, which I have to confess I didn’t realize was there until I read reviews after I finished. People were also concerned that the author used language around coming out as LGBT when describing Rachel’s “shameful” obsession with Christmas. I have to admit that I found her obsession with keeping it secret weird, but then again: I’m not Jewish.

IN the end, it was fun and cute, but nothing earth-shattering.