Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Review: The Once and Future Witches

The Once and Future Witches The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The end of the nineteenth century and there is no such thing as witches.

It's an alternate history, one where witches are real, except they have been persecuted and killed and they are no more.

Or... are they no more?

Three sisters, the Eastwood Sisters, once close, in a family, well, here is the description of their father: "Our daddy never taught us shit, except what a fox teaches chickens - how to run, how to tremble, how to outlive the bastard - "

Three sisters, once close, now on separate paths. One works in a factory. Another has just fled the family farm and is now joining the suffragettes. A third works in a library. Their paths are about to cross again.

I loved this: I loved the alternate history of witches, and how witches and power and magic could not be totally destroyed. I loved how the three sisters, with others, sought to rediscover their legacy and the world's legacy. I loved the world-building, and the mythology.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Review: Catherine House

Catherine House Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Read this book.

So, there's this special unique college/university called Catherine House: get admitted, and all expenses are paid, and all graduates go on to wonderful lives. The catch? You have to stay there for three years, with no (or very little) contact with your family. While at Catherine, you also don't talk about your past --family, friends, high school. All are your past, so not to be talked about. And other aspects of life are controlled: what you wear. What you eat. What you listen to.

Ines is starting her first year. She has secrets: she's running from things in her past, and what better place to hide than Catherine House? But as the years go by, she discovers that Catherine House has it's own secrets. One area of study is "plasm," something that is mystical and physical and maybe dangerous.

What this book does very, very well: it captures the college experience. Here, intensified because the students are always on campus with no weekends away, no time off. Who sleeps with who, who falls for who, who takes school oh so seriously and who doesn't.

It also does a good job of keeping secrets. We get hints of Ines's past, and find out that everyone at Catherine House has something in their past. Something that makes the three years at Catherine House oh so tempting. But frustratingly we never get the whole picture. Which can be good -- it's up to us to put the pieces together. To figure things out. To make our own conclusions.

We also don't learn what makes Catherine House function. In many ways, it's a run down place, but hey, it's free, so why complain? What does it matter? Yet I couldn't turn off the part of my brain that wondered about money and endowments and how long Catherine House could go on. And it also seems like there are some sinister things maybe never fully explained: like I never was sure why all the graduates had such guaranteed successful lives. It felt like it should be more than "elite school."

The ending was terrifying, both because of what was happening and what could happen. Ines has to make some choices, and what those choices are is uncertain. I'm not quite convinced about Ines's own feelings about Catherine House and herself and her future.

I'm still not sure what happens at the end and how to interpret it.

This book will stay with me, yes. And it's got atmosphere. And the relationships are true and honest in their depiction, the good and the bad.

But -- I have questions. And I want to talk about it. So I'd also call this a good book discussion group book.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Review: Mexican Gothic

Mexican Gothic Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So good and so scary.

So scary that I flew through the last pages, and then had to reread them, first to know what happened, then to understand what happened.

So. Noemi is a young woman from a wealthy family, floating from interest to interest and boy to boy. She's a bit trapped by the family, in that she wants more than marriage but her father has limited her education because it's not the done thing for girls of her class during that time period (it's the 1950s, Mexico City.)

Her cousin Catalina, newly married, sends a weird letter saying her new husband Virgil Doyle may be poisoning her and Noemi's father decides that Noemi should travel to the countryside to discover what's happening. So Noemi leaves the big city for this tiny village and WOWZA. (And it's because patriarchy and the 1950s and family pride that her father doesn't call the police or some such.)

You have: a decaying manor house, a once rich family still leaving like the lords of the manor, who are arrogant about outsiders. And, racist. Noemi needs to figure out what is going on and what to do about Catalina, and also try to figure out who in the family and the nearby village she can trust.

While there is a little of "is Catalina just crazy, or is something going on," and yes, this is a "something is going on" book and it's a doozy. And I won't spoil it, except it plays not just into usual haunted house tropes, and mysterious origins of family wealth stories, but also is about the Doyles' racism. And it's the type of book where you truly don't know where it is going and who will get out, if anyone.

Also good: the writing on a sentence level. Here, a description of a room: "his office was decorated in a modern style which seemed to echo the newness of the occupant's money."

More good: Noemi's wardrobe. Noemi's clothes are described in beautiful detail, and I loved it. I loved them on a superficial level, picturing it, and so able to play this movie in my head. But I also loved how in her own way, Noemi was like Cher from Clueless: yes, she seemed like just another rich and spoiled girl, but there was more to her, and her clothes are both message and armor.

Last point: the Doyle family patriarch, Howard Doyle, I totally pictured as Prince Philip. Which may or may not be deliberate by the author.

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Review: The Haunting of Brynn Wilder

The Haunting of Brynn Wilder The Haunting of Brynn Wilder by Wendy Webb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a delicious ghost story! (or is it?)

Brynn has had a heck of a year: mom got very sick, and died. She broke up with her partner of two decades. She's unsure about her job. And her dog died.

So she's taking the summer to just relax, and what better place than a cute village on the shores of Lake Superior? She's staying in a hotel that used to be a boarding house, and the other people there are like her: staying for the summer, a little bit older, friendly.

If only the hotel wasn't haunted. Banging in the walls, a voice outside the door, rattling doors.

Another cool thing? A book with no real "bad guy." Just mysteries.

And! A great love story.

The ending was sweet and sad and there were enough clues that made me think yes, that makes sense.
One cool thing about this? It's the type of book were everyone is "ghosts? yeah, we believe you."

Monday, October 04, 2021

Review: You Let Me In

You Let Me In You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ok. This is a weird one, and scary, and disturbing, and very open ended -- how reliable is the narrator?

Does the reader choose to read this as the narrator is telling the truth, and so you need to believe in evil fairies and a world of dark magic?

Here's the story: Cassandra Tipp, famous author, disappears, leaving a manuscript for her niece and nephew. It tells her life story, the truth behind not just her writing career, but also the tragedies:

Her murdered husband.

The trial.

The murder/suicide of her father and brother.

So either dark fairies have haunted her and her family; or, (as one of her doctor's suspects) something terrible happened to Cassie as a child and the "fairies" are the way her mind dealt with the unthinkable.

I know what I think! But this works either way, with clues and evidence that support both readings.

Friday, October 01, 2021

Review: Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts by Kate Racculia
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My first post-Newbery read! I wanted something fun and this was perfect.

"Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts" -- does she? Or is it wishful thinking, talking to her best friend Abigail who went missing when both where teenagers.

Tuesday is now in her mid-thirties with a job she's good at, a good friend, Dex, and a life she likes. Sure, she's known as the woman who dresses all in black. And she is fine with being close to just a handful of people. And she doesn't talk much about herself, especially not about Abigail and the year she disappeared.

Everything gets upended when a rich, eccentric man dies at the event. And his last bit of eccentricity? A treasure hunt across Boston, for those clever enough and daring enough to join.

Tuesday finds herself pulled into the hunt --

And what a fun adventure! Perfectly made for adults like Tuesday and Dex, whose adult lives aren't quite as fulfilling as they wanted but hey, it pays the bills. And for Archie, a rich playboy with many secrets. And Dorry, whose mother just died last year. And for the assorted others who join the treasure hunt.

There's a bit of romance, some mystery, a hint of the supernatural, and a murder or two.

This is also delightful in terms of sentences -- I am a sucker for great sentences. Like "the quickest route out of childhood was a dead parent."