Risky Business

Risky Business

Woman is hurt by man, pregnant by him, leaves to start a new life with child someplace else, devotes her entire world to her child’s happiness and has locked her heart away, never to trust to love again. Builds a business from the ground up and 10 years later she hires a dude that was into the wrong stuff and he gets killed. His twin brother comes to town to collect his body and find answers to what happened, gets involved with woman while investigating and we’re off to the races.

This book was originally published in the ’80s and it shows. I love Nora Roberts, and this story is pretty solid except for how quickly Jonas forces himself on Liz. He’s pushing her into doors and corners and walls and kissing her within like 24 hours of meeting her, which to my year 2020 dark timeline mind felt…bad. She’s attacked by the murderer because they think she knows where all the missing money is, and Jonas immediately demands to follow her everywhere to protect her. It’s 100% a product of its time so I tried to read around that, which was difficult for a romance novel. The cringey stuff was at the beginning when they weren’t *finger quotes*in love*finger quotes* but once she’s into him it felt a little better but not a lot.

The murder mystery was really cool. I’ve always loved Roberts’ stories around the sexy times. I chose this one to read because Roberts is familiar and a regular go to for me and I needed a comfort read, plus it was already on my Kindle. In the future, though, I think I’m going to need to seek out recent Roberts to avoid the cringe in the overly forceful contact. I mean, if I’m going to read a romance I might as well enjoy the intimate scenes too, and this one just didn’t hit those notes for me. Overall I think I would recommend that you skip this one and find something she’s published maybe after 2010.

The Kingdom of Back

The Kingdom of Back

I truly enjoyed Marie Lu’s reimagining of the fairy tales in her Lunar Chronicles series, so when I saw that she was writing a Mozart story from the perspective of his sister I was intrigued. History never treats women artists as well as their male counterparts, and historians wonder if Nannerl was the more talented Mozart.

I take no pleasure in saying that this book is a failure of world building and character development. I wanted to care about what was going on, but it was all so…I’m not sure the best word to describe it…maybe monotone? Nannerl imagines the Kingdom of Back, which is a backwards version of her real world. There is a princeling who is trying to win his throne back and he offers her a chance to compose in a special notebook if she’ll help him regain his kingdom.

The Kingdom was supposed to be magical and mysterious but it was so obviously her imagination that it was hard to believe that it was a parallel universe, which I think was the intention? And where were the stakes? There’s no impending marriage for her to escape, no other duties, even her father encourages her playing (not composing though) so that she and her younger brother can earn money and patronage for the family. She wants to compose, her own desire is the only driving force and maybe this will lose me my feminist pin but that wasn’t enough to keep me reading. I must compose or die! isn’t a compelling story mover.

Really Nannerl’s drive is “I want to never be forgotten” but even that is…well we’re all going to be forgotten and that’s something that you learn as you grow and accepting it is part of the maturing process. Having already accepted this, it was next to impossible to feel for a teenager from another era altogether who imagines another realm that helps her while she is trying to become famous. The entire story just felt shallow and selfish, which I’m usually okay with but here it was just boring.

I put it down about halfway through. I’d rather go pick up Lu’s other, better works. If you like fantasy, go find something else. I’d skip this one unless you can get it at your local library, then why not. See if it’s for you. But don’t put your money out on it.

Here and Now and Then

Here and Now and Then

A pandemic is the perfect time for my stay -at-home self to catch up on all the 2019 books I didn’t have time or energy to read. Luckily I was able to get three such books out of the library before I locked the husband and I down in the house with weeks of food and (thankfully) toilet paper. Coming off the enjoyable read Recursion by Blake Crouch, I decided to start with the time travel story in the stack.

Mike Chen starts off his book with a bang. We immediately understand that Kin Stewart is a time traveler cop who deals with time traveling criminals – he’s wrestling with one and gets shot. His equipment is damaged, which means they cannot retrieve him and bring him back to the future. So he’s stuck until someone finds him, and then the problems really start.

He’s not supposed to form attachments, but he meets a woman and gets married and gets a dog and has a daughter – all against the rules of a time travel agent. He’s stuck in the past for 18 years before he’s found by a retrieval agent, who makes the arrangements for the jump home. In the future though, its only been a week, and when he returns he tries to manage his family in the past while also reacclimating to his fiancee and friends and job in the future. Spoiler alert: this mix doesn’t go well.

The book goes 100 mph until it screeches to a halt when Kin’s efforts to help his daughter have a better future creates a HUGE alarm in the time travel company. She has created a video game based on one of his journals that basically lays all the company’s secrets bare. He has to return to the past one last time to save her from being erased, helped by his future fiancee Penny and his retrieval agent Markus. This part of the book takes FOREVER and we all know how it’s going to end and it’s the most anticlimactic ending to a book I think I’ve ever read.

Honestly at one point I wanted his daughter to get wiped out of history. Chapter after chapter he’s just obsessed with knowing about her life and how it’s going and how he can help and is she okay??? Oh my god, it was very boring and a little irritating too. Just let it go, man. Start over with Penny. Live your life into the future and let the past be the past.

The book as a whole is really well written and the story is sound, but it’s not very deep. There aren’t any lessons to take away, you kind of know what’s going to happen the whole time. But if you want a quick read about time travel, you could do a lot worse than Here and Now and Then. Give it a try.

The Lager Queen of Minnesota

The Lager Queen of Minnesota

Kitchens of the Great Midwest

The Lager Queen of Minnesota is a story of two sisters and their split over underage drinking.

Helen drinks beer for the first time in her teens and discovers an almost obsessive love of all things beer: lagers, IPAs, stouts, you name it. At first she tries to get her hands on beer to drink, but then she decides that she wants to create beer. She hooks up with (and eventually marries) a local beverage heir (Blotz Brewery) and talks her elderly dad into selling his farm to help fund her venture. The trick is that she does not split this money with her sister, Edith, which causes a rift of silence that lasts until they are in their seventies.

Most of the story follows Edith’s descent into poverty with her husband, who dies and leaves her alone. They do not own their home, they rent, and so when she eventually loses her jobs in the recession, she has to move to a cheaper apartment in a more touch and go neighborhood. Events transpire that also cause her to be the guardian of her granddaughter, who somehow finds herself employed at a local brewery instead of going to college (see also: crippling poverty).

I have to be honest and say that I did not like this one as much as Kitchens of the Great Midwest. While Kitchens was able to weave one woman’s influence through many different stories, Lager Queen is laser focused on beer, Beer, BEER! almost to the point where certain story turns are unbelievable. The final resolution of the story lacked the weight of Kitchens, even though everyone coming together should have felt very emotional. The story almost begs me to wish for Helen’s ruination, and yet it also wants me to crave her reuniting with Edith? Bringing Helen back into Edith’s life at all demands a level of redemption that this book just does not allow time for. I want Helen to fall from grace, to experience want and poverty, to reap what she has sown with her greed and manipulation before she has to come crawling back to Edith because Edith has built something successful with her granddaughter and Helen could still have what she loved but because she had to finally share with Edith. There is a lesson in this book that is lost in the seemingly rushed ending.

I will say that Stradal’s portrayal of how the economy and education works for people who are struggling was very spot on. Poverty hiding in plain sight, kids working jobs to help their parents pay bills, trying to avoid shaming at school by putting up a front, and the list could go on and on. I was uncomfortable reading the second half of this book if only because it immersed me in so much of what my life has been like so far. One of the reasons I kept reading was to see how it all turned out – and low and behold like so much of being poor, getting out often takes luck and charity and sometimes even that is very shaky.

Stradal’s writing is still amazing, and Edith’s story is compelling enough to enjoy it on its own without knowing anything about Helen, so I finished the book and was happy for the group of brewing grandmas having fun making beers they thought would be cool. Pick this one up and see if you feel the same way. I wouldn’t miss one of Stradal’s books and you shouldn’t either.

Recursion

Recursion

Dark Matter

I have loved writing this blog over the past 4 years because it has helped me to understand the kind of books that I really love, and those that I would be better to pass by and leave on the shelf. Books that tell futuristic stories that are SUPER plausible are some of my favorites. Recently I read Stephen King’s The Institute which was gripping because 99% of it was plausible and it made the prospects of the psychological fantasy elements that much more terrifying.

Recursion felt to me, at first, a strange Matrix-like story. A chair is invented that can chart your memories, store them, and then reload them into your brain later so you can experience them like it was the first time. It was meant to help people with dementia or other degenerative brain conditions. The chair’s inventor, Helena, is working on this chair to help her mother specifically and is about to run out of funding when she is approached by an Elon Musk-like character Marcus Slade who offers her unlimited dollars to join him on his super-villian-esque oil rig that has been refitted as a research facility and finish her work on the chair. This begins a chain of events that seem very tangled at first but as you read become terrifyingly clear.

This story is not a memory story but a time travel story, and the idea is so bold and so well executed that I was awe-struck by Crouch’s ingenuity. Where did he get this idea? This is wild and amazing and captivating. The second half the book, a full 150 pages, I read all in one night because I could not put it down. Then I spent the next week thinking about which memories I would choose to travel back to in order to change my life. And not to leave anything undone, Crouch also weaves in fairly severe consequences for traveling in this way, making me think twice about whether it would be worth it.

If you like sci-fi that keeps your feet on the ground and messes with actual systems and forces that run our lives day to day, you cannot miss Crouch’s works. They are close enough to real that they make you wonder about what is possible, and then freak you out because it might actually happen. Go get you some.

The Shadow Glass (The Bone Witch #3)

The Bone Witch (The Bone Witch #1)

The Heart Forger (The Bone Witch #2)

Something that I truly believe about books is that they have the power to grab hold of you and not let go. When I first read The Bone Witch, I thought it was pretty good and returned it to the library. But then my mind kept coming back to it and thinking about what I had read, and then I decided I might as well find out what happened next. I got my hands on The Heart Forger and cried harder than I have cried in a long while after reading a story. These books were so sneaky! How did I come to care about this cast of characters in such a short span of time?

The Shadow Glass moves a lot slower than the other two parts of the trilogy. Tea is often out of sight, and we’re watching her friends try to guess at what she’s going to do next. They all know that she is trying to make shadowglass so she can give her brother Fox his life back and supposedly end all magic forever. Her love, Kaden, is helping her achieve this goal. It’s all pointing toward a huge confrontation with an unknown Faceless. They once thought it was a person named Druj but the major twist of the book is that it was someone they knew all along! In my opinion, it could have been anyone and the twist isn’t as meaningful as the author might have thought? I’m not sure.

I won’t spoil the events leading up to the ending, but I will say that it ends just how you think it might, but with some interesting “what ifs” sprinkled in for good measure. This book wasn’t as exciting as its sisters, but it was a satisfying conclusion to a unique trilogy. If you haven’t read this series, you should put it on your summer TBR. Its a good’un.

The Nickel Boys

The Nickel Boys

I live in Tampa Bay, Florida and I remember when The Dozier School for Boys was closed. I remember when they found the graves, and I remember when the unmarked graves were discovered and had to be explored and dealt with. Even as recently as 2019 they were still working there. My sister-in-law and her husband met each other while they were working there as a psychologist and guard respectively. At the time I was horrified at what I was hearing and seeing on the news, but it’s 2020 now and over the years I have come to understand that this was probably not an isolated occurrence. There are probably similar juvenile detention facilities scattered around the southern states that have graves and atrocities yet to be discovered.

What I really liked about The Nickle Boys, more than The Underground Railroad, was that it was more real to me. The characters were fictionalized, but the circumstances that brought them all to the Nickel School were real ways that black boys and men would get caught up in the system. The main character Elwood is on his way to take a college course in his last year of high school when he accepts a ride from a man who is heading toward the campus. The man has actually stolen the car, and so Elwood is charged with car theft as well for being in it and sent away to Nickel after his conviction. This happens despite the mountains of evidence that would have proved his innocence, but in the 1950s south that was a moot point.

The horrors that Elwood witnesses and experiences for himself you can probably imagine at this point. I don’t need to spell them all out for you. Nickel has a part of the campus for white boys and a part of the campus for black boys and in the middle is the White House where they go for extreme corporal punishment. There’s field work and house work but since it’s for kids it’s not a jail, it’s more like a dorm. Kids try to escape and are never seen again, kids break the rules or refuse to follow directions and are never seen again. Sometimes kids graduate back out into the real world, most of the time they don’t.

Honestly I’m horrified, but I’m not surprised. There was a period of time where as a white woman raised in one of the whitest states in the nation I was shocked and appalled by the things I learned about the racial inequities and history in this country. My education on these topics has been fast and complete and now it’s still horrifying, but I’m not numb to it, but I’m rarely surprised. My reaction now is “of course that happened in this nightmare country.”

It’s a short read, so if you’re curious about the history of the Dozier (Nickel) School, it’s worth it to pick up and bear witness to the story. The more people know that this happened, the lower the chance that these children will be forgotten. I linked to several articles at the beginning of the review if you are interested. It was an excellent read. Go get you some.