In September, I basically only read SFF and nonfiction, with the exception of my favorite read of the month, which I would classify as magical realism. I didn’t feel like I did a great job with reading from my physical bookshelf, and my reading in general felt slower and less productive than normal. I was out of town for two of the weekends in September (I was in Montreal for Labor Day weekend, and Toronto last weekend) and although both weekends were very fun, they didn’t leave a lot of reading time. On the other hand, I enjoyed every book I read this month!
Total books read: 8
And here are my reviews, from most enjoyed to least:
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender (4.5 stars) – Due to its cheerful cover, I’d always thought this book was going to be a light, summery read–which was why I wanted to finish it during the summer. I knew that the premise was a reverse-Like Water for Chocolate situation (If you haven’t read either of these, in Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel the main character is able to imbue the food she cooks with her emotions, whereas in Lemon Cake the protagonist gains the ability to taste the emotions of others, such as the people who have picked, packaged, or prepared the dish, in the food she eats) but I didn’t realize that the book as a whole focused closely on an unhappy and dysfunctional family. It’s a book about growing up and slowly finding out who you are, and a lot of the time it’s deeply sad. That being said, it’s a novel that builds, and by the last third of the book I was completely in love and fascinated. Bender explores the implications of tasting emotions every time you taste food and the impact it would have on a person, as well as how it would help her gain insight into the issues of her family members. The novel starts with our protagonist as a child and follows her into young adulthood, and we grow with her as family secrets are exposed and also as she comes to better understand the people she sees every day. I absolutely loved the ending and the direction the book took, and I was left thoughtful and entranced. I’m very glad that I started reading Aimee Bender this year, and I’d highly recommend this book to fans of magical realism.
Magic Triumphs by Ilona Andrews (4 stars) – It’s really difficult to rate or review the tenth and final book in my favorite fantasy series, but I’m trying. I really can’t say anything at all about the plot, except that it builds on a lot of things that have been happening throughout the series, and that almost every character we know and love showed up at some point. I thought that it set things up really nicely for both the Iron Covenant trilogy (which focuses on Hugh, who’s sort of a villain throughout most of this series; the first book came out earlier this summer and I really enjoyed it) and a possible spin-off series focusing on Julie, Kate’s adopted daughter. Basically, if you enjoy fantasy with strong female characters, found families, and a lot of action and humor, you should really be reading this series, and know that Andrews does not disappoint with the finale. I can’t say that I loved every single thing about how the plot of this book went, but overall it’s been a wonderful ride, and this is a series I’ll continue to revisit in the future. I’m glad that Andrews isn’t ending things with this world or these characters for good, even if she won’t be putting out anymore Kate-centric books.
Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers (4 stars) – This is the third book in the excellent Wayfarers series and was one of my most anticipated books of 2018. This book focuses on the Exodus fleet of spaceships, which originally was how humans fled a dying Earth and discovered a greater universe of other peoples, and now exists as a home for humans not interested in living on Mars or other planets among alien species. We follow five characters as they mediate on the values of tradition versus exploration and innovation, and what the purpose is of a fleet of ships that technically completed its mission decades ago.
I love Becky Chambers’ writing style, and her universe is a place I want to continue to read about in many books to come. That said, the pacing in this book felt too slow to me, and I wanted to hear more from members of non-human species since their cultures and perspectives are some of the most interesting things in Chambers’ books. I really enjoyed reading this one, but for me it wasn’t as good as The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, which is one of my all-time favorite science fiction reads.
An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris (4 stars) – It’s been awhile since I’ve read a Charlaine Harris book, but for years and years, I devoured every book of hers that I could get my hands on, starting with the Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire Mysteries series. She’s still #1 on my most-read authors feature on Goodreads (although Ilona Andrews has recently caught up, and they’re currently tied for first place with 28 books each). When I heard that she had a new book coming out, though, and that she would be signing copies at BookCon, I was so excited to be able to dive back into her writing. And An Easy Death definitely did not disappoint; the premise is a lot different than Harris’s other books, but it has her signature cozy mystery-esque writing style alongside plenty of action and lovable characters.
An Easy Death is hard to classify, genre-wise; it’s sort of an alternate history Western with fantasy elements. It’s set in a version of a fractured United States that splintered apart after the assassination of FDR and a series of disasters, and at the time the book is set, pieces of the U.S. are now owned by Canada, Mexico, and England, and the exiled tsar of Russia has settled on the West Coast with his army of grigoris, or wizards. Our main character Lizbeth Rose lives in the southwestern country of Texoma and works as a gunnie, sort of a gunslinger/bodyguard hired out to protect people. She gets drawn into a search for a missing grigori when she’s hired by two wizards as a guide and protector, and although she’s not a fan of magic or the Russian wizards that brought it with them to her country, she’s determined to see her mission through.
There are really no dull moments in An Easy Death; it’s action-packed and does have a high body count. Lizbeth Rose is a badass, street-smart heroine who’s easy to root for, and she faces down a series of bandits, wizards, and rival gunslingers head-on. The worldbuilding is gradual and fascinating; the concept of the Romanovs surviving an assassination attempt and fleeing Russia for California is a particularly interesting one, as well as the idea that Rasputin had actual magical powers that he taught to a host of other magic-wielders. The book sets up a sequel well, as there’s still a lot left to explore at the end of the book, and I really can’t wait to return to this world. I think that this book would work really well for fans of Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse (which I also loved) as well as urban fantasy fans looking for something different. Highly recommend!
*I received an ARC of An Easy Death at an autographing session at BookCon.
Yes We (Still) Can by Dan Pfeiffer (4 stars) – I listened to the audiobook of Yes We (Still) Can, which is half a memoir about working for President Obama during his campaign and presidency and half an advice guide for Democrats on how to move forward and beat Trump. Dan Pfeiffer was President Obama’s Communications Director (prior to that the Deputy Communications Director and traveling Press Secretary on the campaign) and he has some great stories of what it was like to work in the Obama White House. This book made me miss President Obama even more than usual, and I’ll definitely be checking out Pfeiffer’s podcast Pod Save America next.
I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya (4 stars) – this was an extremely short, extremely personal memoir about Shraya’s experience as a transgender woman, both before and after her transition, and her experiences with how men have treated her throughout her life. It’s very short–you could call it a long essay, or a very short book–and very powerful.
Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward (3.5 stars) – I listened to the audiobook of this one because, as a liberal who faced a rude awakening after the 2016 election, I almost felt like I had to. I want to understand as much as I can about why Trump was elected and what’s been going on since then, and how we can turn things around and repair what he’s been doing to our country. I thought Woodward’s book was a very interesting read and a necessary piece of the puzzle; he clearly had a bunch of very high-level sources in the administration speak to him about this book, and it paints a disturbing picture of a disorganized White House with an incompetent bully at the helm. If you’re interested in politics, or if you’d like to read a book that’s sort of like a written version of an episode of the West Wing or Veep, then you should definitely pick this one up.
Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn (3 stars) – I didn’t really dislike anything about this post-apocalyptic mystery, but I wasn’t in love with anything about it, either. Bannerless follows Enid, a young investigator living in what’s now called the Coast Road communities, a collection of towns along what was once the West Coast of the U.S. The book is set a few generations after what’s known as the Fall, when the countries and societies of our current world were destroyed by a combination of epidemics, natural disasters, and prolonged financial crisis, and people in this part of the world have re-organized themselves into a society strictly based on division of labor, conservation of resources, and population control. Only households and communities that have proven themselves able to sustain an extra mouth are given a banner, which is an indication that they are allowed to conceive a child; it’s based on the idea that overpopulation, waste, and greed were the main factors leading to the Fall.
Enid’s job as an investigator is to expose and punish those who violate the communities’ laws, and the book begins when she is called in to investigate a possible murder in a seemingly thriving town. Since murder has become a rarity in this world of interdependency and communal living, the prospect is daunting, and we follow Enid through her uncomfortable investigation in a community that doesn’t seem to want her there, interspersed with flashbacks to a younger Enid meeting her first love and discovering her independence as an older teen.
For me, this book was interesting; I love a good post-apocalyptic story, and I’m always interested in hearing about an author’s interpretation of how society is likely to collapse and what they imagine humanity’s response to be. Post-apocalyptic SF is often fairly dark, and Bannerless definitely isn’t; as readers you can see flaws in how society is organized, but for the most part the people of the Coast Road are healthy and happy, and there is no exploitative ruling class. It was nice to see something different in that regard, but I kept wanting more from the book. More reveals, more depth, more exploration of the implications of strict reproductive control. And I just never got them. The writing is good and solid, but didn’t blow me away. I enjoyed the read, for the most part, but wouldn’t necessarily recommend this one.
And here are the books I purchased during the month of September: