Book Review: The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin

Book Review: The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin (4 stars)

I had no idea when I started The Last Romantics that I’d end up loving it so much. It’s the story of the unbreakable and transcendent bonds between four very different siblings, and how even their disparate paths in life can never truly keep them apart. It’s a story about what’s really important when the world is shattering around you, and how we grow together and apart from the people who mean the most in our lives.

The story starts in the future, in 2079, when a renowned poet named Fiona Skinner is giving a talk about her work in the midst of a world destabilized by climate change. Her talk turns to her three siblings, her source of love and inspiration throughout her life, and spans a century in its telling. The four Skinner siblings’ reliance on each other is cemented during a period in their childhood known as the Pause, when their mother enters a deep depression and they commit to taking care of one another until she recovers. As they grow older, their bonds are tested by the very different directions they find themselves moving in, but their childhood personalities continue to define them; Renee, the eldest, has always been the smart, responsible one with her life together; Caroline is more emotionally connected with those around her; Fiona, the youngest, buries herself in poetry and words; and Joe, their brother, has always been somewhat of a golden boy, although the cracks in this persona reveal themselves more and more over time.

I don’t usually tend to read books that could be considered family sagas, but I was really drawn to this one because of its emphasis on the bonds between siblings. I wasn’t aware prior to starting this book that there was any type of science fictional element; I have to say that although the science fiction is light, this was a huge plus for me as a lover of SFF. Having climate change woven into the story, and the hints throughout of a future that is far less stable than the world the Skinner siblings initially grew up in, felt very real and gave the story’s emotional bonds even more depth as we feel the fragility of the world. The Last Romantics is beautifully structured, with the story unfolding in bits and pieces throughout the Skinners’ lives, even as we’re given hints of the future world and the story’s telling. The writing throughout is also gorgeously done, with each of the four siblings given equal weight and their stories equal importance, even as Fiona remains our primary narrator. I have to say that I really loved this book; I felt very connected to the story and invested in all of the siblings’ lives throughout. I’ve already been recommending it to people and will be continuing to do so, as I think it’s a book that, with its emphasis on family, can find resonance with just about anyone.

I received an ARC of The Last Romantics from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

January Reading Wrap-Up

That’s a wrap on the first month of 2019, and I’m really happy with how I’ve kicked off my reading year. I set a lot of goals for 2019, and this time, in a shocking twist, I actually attempted to work towards accomplishing some of them. I know, right? Crazy. Specifically, I picked up 2 short story collections and 3 nonfiction reads this month as well as 2 books from my top 10 2019 TBR stack. I also read 1 2019 release, which I loved, and started a fun new YA fantasy series.

January stats:

Total books read: 10

#readmyowndamnbooks: 6

Audiobooks: 2

ebooks:2

The Mother of All QuestionsEloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her SuperpowerIn an Absent Dream (Wayward Children, #4)Bad Blood by John CarreyrouRabbit Cake by Annie HartnettGirl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring BlakeHow Long 'til Black Future Month?A Portable Shelter by Kirsty LoganA Shadow Bright and Burning (Kingdom on Fire, #1)A Poison Dark and Drowning (Kingdom on Fire, #2)

How Long Til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin (5 stars) – Short version: this book is fantastic and you should read it. Long version: This is the 9th book I’ve read from N.K. Jemisin, and somehow she manages to blow me away every time. Each story in this collection is unique and fully realized, and Jemisin’s talent for world-building is on full display. I’m really in awe of her talent and range, and every time I finish one of her books I can’t wait for the next to be released. Some of my favorites from this collection were “Red Dirt Witch,” “Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters,” “Valedictorian,” and “The Narcomancer,” but there really aren’t any weak links in this book. If you’ve never read Jemisin, this is a great introduction to her work, and if you have, you’ll love that some of the stories connect to her novels.

The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit (5 stars) – This is my second time reading Rebecca Solnit; after I read her other essay collection on feminism, Men Explain Things to Me, I knew that I wanted to read everything she had written. This collection explores different aspects of feminism and the issues that women face and care about in methodically researched, beautifully phrased sentences that elucidate new aspects of very old issues. I would highly, highly recommend it.

In An Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire (4.25 stars) – I really loved the fourth installment of McGuire’s Wayward Children series. Check out my full review here.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou (4 stars) – I’d seen this nonfiction book recommended over and over, and it absolutely lives up to the hype. Even though it’s nonfiction, it’s incredibly suspenseful; it’s also very detailed and told in such a compelling way. It follows the saga of Theranos, a Silicon Valley startup company founded by Elizabeth Holmes, whose purported mission was to develop the ability to run hundreds of tests on a single drop of blood and make blood testing freely available in the home. Instead, the company was built on a foundation of lies that only got worse with time. Definitely recommend; I listened to the audiobook, which was very well done.

Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper (4 stars) – In this book, one of three anger-focused feminist nonfiction books I’ve been meaning to read for the past few months, Brittney Cooper succinctly and eloquently describes various aspects of black feminism and the power of women’s anger in a way that’s both intellectual and accessible. I’d highly recommend the audiobook, which is read by the author.

A Portable Shelter by Kirsty Logan (4 stars) – this is a short story collection framed by the story of two women promising to only tell their unborn child the truth rather than stories, but who then both secretly begin telling the child stories when the other can’t hear them. The stories in this book are mainly magical realism, and Logan’s writing is just as lovely as it was in The Gracekeepers. I really enjoyed it, but wasn’t completely blown away.

Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake (4 stars) – This book is a great example about how powerful and topical YA literature can be. It follows a girl whose twin brother has been accused of rape by his girlfriend, who is also her good friend, while she also deals with a devastating breakup with the girlfriend she still loves. When she discovers that her brother is actually guilty, which at first seemed unthinkable, she’s forced to confront the pervasive impact of rape culture in her community while simultaneously working through her own trauma. I thought this book dealt with very difficult topics extremely well, and I’d highly recommend it if you’re looking for an impactful contemporary YA read.

A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess (3.5 stars) – this is the first book of a Victorian-era YA fantasy featuring a chosen one main character who isn’t actually the chosen one, a drama-filled love square, and a ton of action. I really enjoyed it, so much so that I immediately had to start book 2.

A Poison Dark and Drowning by Jessica Cluess (3.25 stars) – The sequel to Shadow, I still enjoyed this book a lot, but I did feel that certain characters started to develop a lot of inconsistencies. I do plan to continue on to book 3, but I think I’m going to wait a bit.

Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett (3 stars) – I didn’t think this was a bad book, but I feel like I’ve read other adult literary fiction books with precocious child narrators that were done better. It’s a quick read, and I did enjoy Elvis and Lizzie as characters, but I wasn’t blown away.

 

Have you read any of these? How did your reading month go?