I am overdue for quite a few book reviews, so this post is going to be a big wrap of quite a few of them. Let's just get right to it, shall we?
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
The Great Believers is split into two storylines with alternating chapters between them. The first follows Yale, an art museum curator and gay man living in Chicago during the height of the AIDS crisis. AIDS is rippling through his community killing off his friends and loved ones, including his good friend Nico. At the same time, he's trying to secure a large art deal that could be career making from Nico's aunt for the museum. The second storyline follows Nico's sister Fiona in the present day as she tries to find her estranged daughter in Paris while reflecting on how the AIDS crisis deeply affected her life.
I found both storylines compelling and enjoyed reading about both Yale and Fiona. Yale was a truly likable character and I was rooting for him so much. I just wanted things to work out for him, but his storyline fills you with a sense of dread as AIDS hits closer and closer to home. Fiona felt a little uneven - I felt like her character as seen by people like Yale was precocious and quite different than who she seemed to be in the present day, but I still found it believable enough.
I have heard this book compared to A Little Life and The Heart's Invisible Furies. For me, it was closer to The Heart's Invisible Furies, which I rated four stars. (ALL is one of my all time faves and basically nothing can compare.) This book started off a bit slow, but I was immediately drawn to Yale. I found Yale's story moving and I definitely shed some tears while reading this. If you liked ALL or THIF, I think it's worth giving this one a read. I gave it four stars.
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
I love Naomi Novik, y'all. I loved Uprooted and somehow I loved Spinning Silver even more. Her fairy-tale-ish fantasy books are just so readable and enjoyable and fun. Spinning Silver is a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin, kind of. But, it has three strong women for the main characters. Our main main character is Miryem. She's a moneylender's daughter, but her dad isn't very good at collecting his dues. She gets fed up and takes it upon herself to help the family business, and it turns out that she is quite good at it. She gets a reputation for being able to turn silver into gold, so much so that the "evil" Stayrk king takes notice and whisks Miryem off to do the same for him. Other characters include Irina, the daughter of a duke with some Staryk blood who ends up married to an evil tsar controlled by a fire demon, and Wanda, a poor girl from town who's alcoholic father sells her off to be Miryem's assistant. The storylines eventually converge and the whole book is magical.
This book has many tropes, like Uprooted, but they somehow work for me. As usual, Novik does a great job with building an atmosphere including a fairy tale town, evil woods, and a frozen kingdom. Something about Novik's writing is just so fun for me to read. This book is a true escape and I loved it the whole time. If you like fantasy, and especially if you were a fan of Uprooted, I'd highly recommend this book. It got five stars from me.
This is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
I know, I know, I'm late to the party on this one. It's been out for awhile and it took me a long time to pick it up but I'm really glad I did. It's about a family with five sons, except the youngest son, Claude, wants to be a girl from the time he is very young. It's about how the family deals with the challenges of raising a transgender child and the trials and tribulations they go through.
I don't have too much to say about this one, except that it is poignant and insightful and felt very honest and real. It will tug at your heartstrings and maybe even help you understand a different perspective. It also got the seal of approval from Brenda, my mom, and we don't have super overlapping favorite books, so that's a good sign that it should have wide appeal. If you like heartwarming family stories that teach you something, definitely pick this one up. I gave it four stars.
Heartbreaker by Claudia Dey
This book is weird. The plot is kind of weird, it's set in a cult (apparently a theme in my recent reading life) that is weird, and the writing is a little weird. The book is divided into three sections. The first is narrated by Pony Fontaine, daughter of Billie Jean Fontaine and "The Heavy". The family lives in "the territory" somewhere very far north and totally detached from the rest of society except for occasional supply shipments paid for by the blood of the territory's teens. Yeah. Billie Jean was an outsider who showed up alone and nearly dead to the territory 17 years ago. When she suddenly takes off and disappears, the residents of the territory look for her. Pony reflects on life up to this point.
The second part of the book is narrated by the family dog, who could apparently communicate with Billie Jean. See what I mean by weird? I actually started liking the writing more in this section. I found the writing in Pony's section to be unnecessarily confusing. Somehow it was more clear when narrated by a dog. The third section is narrated by a boy in the territory, Supernatural. Well, I guess he is a bit older than a boy. He's somewhere between the ages of 17 and 19, I think. I can't remember exactly.
The book eventually reveals why Billie Jean left. It's a slow build up. I quite liked how everything came together in the end, but again, the whole thing was a weird experience. In a kind of good way? I rated this at three stars in the end. I actually really liked how it all came together. But it was still weird. If you like cults or writing that is a little out of the ordinary, and stories that aren't entirely straightforward out of the gate, I'd recommend giving this a go. It's certainly unique.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
My first Ishiguro and boy, dude can write! His prose is beautiful and lyrical yet straightforward and approachable and entirely readable, somehow. He doesn't say anything extra but he says so much at the same time.
This book is set in a school, so it's a good read for this time of year. It's narrated by Hailsham graduate Kathy, who now works as a "carer". Caring for what, we don't really know for awhile. Hailsham seems like an idyllic English boarding school where the students are taught to focus on art and creativity. However, something is off. You never hear about their parents or where the students are from. They don't seem to go home for Christmas. There is a big mystery about what is really going on at the school that is overarching and slowly and masterfully revealed. This book is lovely and eerie and moving at the same time.
However... I saw the movie a long time ago, so I knew the big thing from the get-go, which kind of made it a bit less enjoyable for me. The book didn't have a huge emotional impact, because I already knew too much. I think if you haven't seen the movie, or even if you have, this is worth a read, but especially if you haven't because it has the potential for some big emotional moments. Because I had already seen the movie, I also found myself a little bored at times - kind of waiting for the story to get to the point, even though if I hadn't known everything already it would have been revealed quickly enough.
This book is certainly lovely and well written, and I understand why Ishiguro is considered a master of his craft. It almost has a little bit of a Secret History vibe purely because of the setting, which I appreciated. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes a bit of a mystery, wants to maybe cry, and likes books that are set in a school setting.