Sunday, August 02, 2020

What I'm Reading Now

T.J. Klune, The House in the Cerulean Sea

This is a very sweet (almost twee) story about an alternative universe, where magical creatures are common, and in which they are placed in "orphanages" at birth. Linus Baker works for DICOMY (Department in Charge of Magical Youth) inspecting these orphanages and evaluating the welfare of the children placed in them.

DICOMY is a near-evil bureaucracy, and Baker is living a rigid and miserable life in an attempt to fit into the society they have created. When he goes out to inspect the orphanage on Marsyas Island, he finds the life than has been denied to him, and also Arthur Parnassas, with whom he soon falls helplessly in love.

It's adorable and filled with adorable scenes. Everyone lives happily ever after, and there's a great cat. Not a great book, but a lot of fun. 

(You might remember Klune from a werewolf book I reviewed some time ago. This one is a lot sweeter than that one.)

Sarah Gailey, Upright Women Wanted

This is a very slim novella -- very nearly a short story -- set in a world that I found more interesting than the story itself. In a future earth (I think?), civilization has collapsed, and a draconian theocracy is ruling life. Librarians travel from settlement to settlement, nominally bringing "approved" literature to everyone, but in fact acting as a resistance, while also helping the condemned escape.

The "plot," which is slim and episodic, concerns a young woman on the run from her hometown rulers, who condemned her (female) lover to death. She runs away to join the librarians, thinking they are "upright" and that she can hide her wicked ways among them. When she finds they are not just LBT and queer, she is taken aback, but soon fits in and helps some fugitives escape.

This is readable and has really nice world-building. The story is a little scant. More like the introduction to a story than the story itself.

Emma Donoghue, The Pull of the Stars

Donoghue wrote the semi-famous novel The Room, and also Akin, which I reviewed some time ago. Both of those are compelling reads, with nice writing, and some lovely descriptive bits. This one, set in Dublin during the flu epidemic of 1918, is equally compelling.

The main character, Julia, a nurse who works as a midwife, has been relegated to a temporary ward for pregnant women who have contracted the flu. The flu causes miscarriages and other complications in pregnancy, and Julia and her volunteer(ed) young aide, Bridie, deal with many of them.

The novel takes place over the course of a few days, and Julia and Bridie grow close over these days. Bridie is a product of the cruel orphanage system created to deal with the children of unwed mothers in Ireland at the time, and Julia -- orphaned herself at a young age -- is dealing with the trauma inflected on her brother by WWI. This might seem like too much angst for such a slim book, but Donoghue makes it work, mainly because Julia's voice is so compelling. Also, the minor characters -- specifically the women on the ward -- are also well done. 

In the end, though, this feels a bit underdeveloped. As with Gailey's book, the world ends up seeming more interesting than the story she tells with it.

NB: Don't read this if trauma related to pregnancy and violence toward children are triggers to you. 

Lawrence Wright, The End of October 

Another book about a pandemic. I can't get enough of them! A flu virus with a mortality rate of 45% arises in the Mideast and sweeps through the world, causing world civilizations to crash -- and meanwhile, the leaders of those civilizations attack one another with both conventional and cyber-weapons, making the crash much, much worse.

This was written before Covid-19 had kicked off completely, but it seems to have been inspired by that virus. A thinly disguised Trump is the president, and the mess that Trump has made of the country and our government inform the novel as a whole, as does the current political situation in Russia.

The writing here is pretty terrible -- think Tom Clancy. Wright knows a lot about politics and about pandemics and about epidemiology and about submarines and about climate change, and he shows us ALL his research. Once you accept that this is his design, it's not a bad book.

Only for people deeply fascinated with pandemics, though.


Jenny F. Scientist said...

I've just bought Babylon Steel and will probably buy the rest of the series; you might enjoy it!

delagar said...

That does look like fun!

Jenny F. Scientist said...

Update: I read both books in that series and they were delightful. I'm totally going to go buy some more now.