A Window Opens, by Elisabeth Egan

23569783A Window Opens
Elisabeth Egan
Goodreads

Like her fictional forebears Kate Reddy and Bridget Jones, Alice plays many roles (which she never refers to as “wearing many hats” and wishes you wouldn’t, either). She is a mostly-happily married mother of three, an attentive daughter, an ambivalent dog-owner, a part-time editor, a loyal neighbor and a Zen commuter. She is not: a cook, a craftswoman, a decorator, an active PTA member, a natural caretaker or the breadwinner. But when her husband makes a radical career change, Alice is ready to lean in—and she knows exactly how lucky she is to land a job at Scroll, a hip young start-up which promises to be the future of reading, with its chain of chic literary lounges and dedication to beloved classics. The Holy Grail of working mothers―an intellectually satisfying job and a happy personal life―seems suddenly within reach.

Despite the disapproval of her best friend, who owns the local bookstore, Alice is proud of her new “balancing act” (which is more like a three-ring circus) until her dad gets sick, her marriage flounders, her babysitter gets fed up, her kids start to grow up and her work takes an unexpected turn. Readers will cheer as Alice realizes the question is not whether it’s possible to have it all, but what does she―Alice Pearse―really want?

Review

(Note: this is an old review from my Goodreads!)

You can have it all!

I really dislike that idea. It presupposes that the All in question is the same for every woman: a happy partner (husband), kids (2-3), pets (usually a dog), friends (a few girlfriends you meet every week for wine), a house, and some hobbies.

Here’s the thing: All does not mean the same thing to every woman (or man), and making the idea of Having It All the zeitgeist was just another way to manipulate the image of what being a “real woman” is.

I think Elisabeth Egan agrees with me. Maybe.

The problem (for me) with focusing this book on Alice’s journey toward the idea of Having It All is that she already did, as far as I could see. She has a loving husband, she has three amazing kids and a pet, she has a best friend and a book club (with wine), she works three days a week at a job that seems to be intellectually fulfilling, and she has her hobbies.

It’s when she has to step up to be the breadwinner that she begins to see that Having It All is a lie, but I’m not sure Alice even knew what she had or wanted anyway. She was enticed by the idea, much like many of us may be, and it took her a long time of sticking through a demanding job and slowly losing her grip on her home life to realize that life was not what she wanted.

This was a quick read, a glimpse into the life of a woman who has to uproot what she knows and has to make big changes to make things work for her family. That is the story I enjoyed. Too bad it had to be couched in the idea of Having It All.

Other things I enjoyed:
– Alice has friends and acquaintances, none of which act like bitchy high school drama queens. There is no slut shaming. Most women Alice knows and likes are supportive of her – and if they’re not, they have a valid reason.
– The story line with her father was great.
– Alice and her husband are growing apart, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still love each other. I loved that there was no hint of temptation. Not every problem in a marriage has to be one of sex.

Didn’t enjoy:
– It’s a little thing, but Alice turning down the idea of one job because it didn’t sound appealing really bugged me. As someone who spent years looking for any job but still couldn’t get hired, it was like a slap in the face. I can’t be choosy about what jobs I apply for. Most people can’t. That pulled me out of the story incredibly quickly.
– The various use of emails and some chat-layout conversations peppered throughout made sense in context, but I didn’t really like it. They felt like a bit of a crutch in the storytelling.

Overall, A Window Opens wasn’t so bad. It just pushed a few of my buttons very hard.

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The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell

18949650The Bone Clocks
David Mitchell
Goodreads

One drowsy summer’s day in 1984, teenage runaway Holly Sykes encounters a strange woman who offers a small kindness in exchange for ‘asylum’. Decades will pass before Holly understands exactly what sort of asylum the woman was seeking…

The Bone Clocks follows the twists and turns of Holly’s life from a scarred adolescence in Gravesend to old age on Ireland’s Atlantic coast as Europe’s oil supply dries up – a life not so far out of the ordinary, yet punctuated by flashes of precognition, visits from people who emerge from thin air and brief lapses in the laws of reality. For Holly Sykes – daughter, sister, mother, guardian – is also an unwitting player in a murderous feud played out in the shadows and margins of our world, and may prove to be its decisive weapon.

Metaphysical thriller, meditation on mortality and chronicle of our self-devouring times, this kaleidoscopic novel crackles with the invention and wit that have made David Mitchell one of the most celebrated writers of his generation. Here is fiction at its spellbinding and memorable best.

Review

(Note: This is an older review pulled from my Goodreads.)

I finished this in a blurry haze (some of that blur came from tears, I’ll admit) and like every other David Mitchell book I’ve read, I’m completely unable to write a review.

The Bone Clocks doesn’t quite reach the dizzying heights Cloud Atlas did for me — will any book? — but there’s some damn good character work here. The fantastical aspect is intriguing and unique, as far as I can tell. Though it took a while for the fantasy to be more than just bits and pieces in the first few sections, when we finally reach the actual meaty plot of the novel, we’ve traversed decades and touched different aspects of Holly Sykes’ life through her eyes and the eyes of others who knew her.

Each character section is incredibly compelling, with the sort of full immersion that Mitchell is a master of – Holly sounds completely different from Hugo and Crispin, etc. Crispin Hershey was probably my favorite of the character studies, considering just how much development he goes through. By the time his section ended, I was…angry, I’d say? So much going, and to have it just stop was frustrating.

That’s the mark of how easily it was to get into the heads of these characters – unfortunately, in the case of Hugo Lamb. Ugh. Uuuuggghhhh.

I won’t lie and say I wasn’t super excited to see some familiar names from other Mitchell novels. It makes it feel like there’s some larger, interconnected universe at play, and I like thinking that all the characters I’ve loved from his other novels are still wandering around, having lives and interacting just slightly with other characters.

Anyway. I suppose that was something of a review. A mess, I’d say, but after reading hundreds of pages of David Mitchell, anything I write anywhere would seem a mess.

Here’s to another few years waiting for a Mitchell novel!

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The Widow, by Fiona Barton

25734248The Widow
Fiona Barton
Goodreads

When the police started asking questions, Jean Taylor turned into a different woman. One who enabled her and her husband to carry on, when more bad things began to happen…

But that woman’s husband died last week. And Jean doesn’t have to be her anymore.

There’s a lot Jean hasn’t said over the years about the crime her husband was suspected of committing. She was too busy being the perfect wife, standing by her man while living with the accusing glares and the anonymous harassment.

Now there’s no reason to stay quiet. There are people who want to hear her story. They want to know what it was like living with that man. She can tell them that there were secrets. There always are in a marriage.

The truth—that’s all anyone wants. But the one lesson Jean has learned in the last few years is that she can make people believe anything… 

Review

THE BLURB LIES. I expected something interesting, something worthy of the woman in the blurb who doesn’t want to stay quiet anymore and can “make people believe anything” but it never happened. Jean is a quiet, downtrodden wife married to a controlling man, and can’t do jack shit for herself, EVEN AFTER HE’S DEAD.

You lie, blurb!

I’m angrier at the ruse than I am at the actual novel itself. While I didn’t get the page turner I expected, it wasn’t entirely bad. It just wasn’t that fantastic, either. Jean was a doormat, the reporter was cliche, the detective was a boring cliche, nothing was really exciting. The worst part was the reporter and detective sharing their thoughts on Jean being in control of herself and somehow some sort of emotional manipulator when none of that came through in the text at ALL.

I could barely get my interest up when the mystery of the missing child is sorted through at the end, and if the author was expecting anything out of me in that last bit with Jean other than a mighty eye roll, then I’m sorry. Nothing about that finale was earned by the rest of the book.

Slasher Girls & Monster Boys

19364719Slasher Girls & Monster Boys
April Genevieve Tucholke (Editor)
Goodreads

For fans of Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Lois Duncan, and Daphne Du Maurier comes a powerhouse anthology featuring some of the best writers of YA thrillers and horror

A host of the smartest young adult authors come together in this collection of scary stories and psychological thrillers curated by Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’s April Genevieve Tucholke.

Each story draws from a classic tale or two—sometimes of the horror genre, sometimes not—to inspire something new and fresh and terrifying. There are no superficial scares here; these are stories that will make you think even as they keep you on the edge of your seat. From bloody horror to supernatural creatures to unsettling, all-too-possible realism, this collection has something for any reader looking for a thrill.

Review

(Note: This is an old review I pulled from my Goodreads!)

4 stars evened out between the really great stories and the just okay stories. Slasher Girls & Monster Boys is a fantastic anthology, featuring some current popular YA writers coming together to write a bunch of horror stories. And it’s fantastic. I had high hopes for this, and though there’s always one or two short stories in an anthology that can bring the book down, I thought each story here did well. Some weren’t as good as others, but only one was a true clunker for me.

Fun side note: each story is based on some form of pop culture – films, stories, poems, etc. Some I realized right away, and others I didn’t know until I checked the footnotes. It became a sort of game for me to see if I could spot the reference.

The Birds of Azalea Street by Nova Ren Suma – 5/5
Teenage girls know more than we’re given credit for.

Nova Ren Suma writes some fantastic teenage girls, and Birds features a great snapshot of them. Three teens (among others) have dealt with the long stares and thinly veiled longing from their older male neighbor, but of course the parents believe he’s completely harmless – he’s a wonderful baker, after all. The girls deal with his mostly harmless leering until the night they see him bring a young girl home…and the weirdness begins.

The reveal is easy to see pretty early on, but it didn’t detract from the impact of the ending one bit. Nova Ren Suma knows how to pack a punch in such a short time frame, and it’s obviously a very strong start to the book.

Spot the reference: Didn’t catch this one as I read.

In the Forest Dark and Deep, by Carrie Ryan – 5/5
I’m giving this one a full five stars for how deeply fucking unsettling it was. Donnie Darko meets Alice in Wonderland in this one, and Donnie Darko has given me a life-long fear of man-sized rabbits. (Fuck you, Frank.) The moment I read the description of the March Hare I had to turn on the lights in my bedroom to finish the story.

Spot the reference: Pretty obvious right from the start.

Emmeline, by Cat Winters – 3/5
One of the shorter stories, Emmeline is a story that would sound really fantastic around a campfire late at night. It has some good atmosphere, but it felt a little too obvious as the story went on. The reveal didn’t have as much weight as it should have, but I’m still not sure if it was meant to be a twist/reveal as such, or only the obvious conclusion to the story being told.

Spot the reference: Apparently three different ones, none of which I got.

Verse Chorus Verse, by Leigh Bardugo – 2/5
I was a little surprised that the story I found one of the weakest was by Leigh Bardugo. I enjoy her Grisha series, but there was little I liked about this one. It focuses too much on the life of a pop starlet and the supernatural isn’t clear at all. Ultimately the ending left me dissatisfied.

Spot the reference: Not one I got, and a surprising one.

Hide-and-Seek, by Megan Shepherd – 3/5
Annie has to win a game against death, and death never loses. Taking place over the span of 24 hours, Hide-and-Seek is a story that is an adrenaline rush, moving from moment to moment with very little time to breathe. I was captivated for the first few scenes, but it quickly became difficult to stick with my suspension of disbelief as thing after thing after thing kept happening. I’m not quite sure I liked the ending, but the story accomplishes what it wants very well.

Spot the reference: Did I mention I was pretty bad at this? Also, very surprising.

The Dark, the Scary Parts and All, by Danielle Paige – 3/5
I spent the majority of this story wondering where it was going, then when I got to the end, I laughed. I don’t think laughter was intended by Danielle Paige. [SPOILERS, highlight for easier reading] When it’s revealed that Damien is actually Hades’ (or the Devil’s?) son and he just wants to claim Marnie, it reads two ways for me. First, it’s a basic creepy ending, all oh no, whatever will she do, she can’t escape him!. Second, every step of the way, Damien reminded me of SO MANY YA LOVE INTERESTS that all I could think of was this story as a scathing indictment on the mysterious, super gorgeous and deep love interest trope. Yeah, Damien is deep and has a mysterious past – he’s the fucking devil. DON’T FALL FOR THE DEVIL, GIRLS. [/SPOILERS]

Spot the reference: Well, one is actually mentioned in the story, so sure, I got it.

The Flicker, the Fingers, the Beat, the Sigh, by April Genevieve Tucholke – 3/5
I rated this pretty highly because I really love how April Genevieve Tucholke evokes a mood right from the start — that feeling of being on the cusp of high school and college, when your life is finally changing and every plan you’ve been making is coming together. Except something brings it all crashing down.

The actual plot of the story is really good, but…it comes crashing down with the ending. Very dissatisfying.

Also, the narrator is a dick.

Spot the reference: Finally got another one!

Fat Girl with a Knife, by Jonathan Maberry – 4/5
So, I was very dubious about this one thanks to the title and how it starts, but damn if Jonathan Maberry didn’t make me fall in love with Dahlia. While the length constraints don’t leave much of her to be fleshed out, what Maberry does include makes for a very clear picture of who Dahlia is in this snapshot of a moment in her lifetime.

Oh, and some other stuff happens that’s pretty rad. This one has the least creep factor of all the stories, but I really enjoyed it.

Spot the reference: Hell yes.

Sleepless, by Jay Kristoff – 2/5
I was very unsure about this story for a majority of it, since a huge part of it takes place in IM format, which drove me nuts. Pretty sure nobody really uses txt spk when having online conversations these days. Anyway, it was a very real, very grounded, and very…unimpactful story, especially compared to the others. I didn’t even really enjoy the resolution the way I think we’re intended to.

Spot the reference: One of them, and I thought the ending was a reference to something obvious, but apparently wasn’t.

M, by Stefan Bachmann – 1/5
I was flying through the book and then I got to M, which brought my momentum to a grinding halt. The initial set up of a blind girl being “witness” to a crime was interesting, but I didn’t quite like most of the story, and I didn’t like where it went. I really wanted something to happen with the creepy children, but that wasn’t meant to be.

Spot the reference: Nope.

The Girl Without a Face, by Marie Lu – 2/5
Eeehhhh? This had promise, but then the reveals started to happen and I lost interest very quickly.

Spot the reference: Nope.

A Girl Who Dreamed of Snow, by McCormick Templeman – 2/5
Not a great stretch of stories here. I was a bit confused as to where the story started out, and found the characters felt more like cardboard cutouts than anything. Mysterious girl, sympathetic guy, his menacing brother, etc. I enjoyed the ending a bit.

Spot the reference: No, but I googled the film and I’m totally interested in watching it.

Stitches, by A.G. Howard – 4/5
Ohhh hell yes. This was so strange and it starts off with an in your face bang. I enjoyed the atmosphere, the reasoning behind what was happening, the sheer creepiness and horror of the reveal. This was the only story in the entire book that made me gasp “oh SHIT!” out loud. Fucking body horror, I love it and love to hate it.

Spot the reference: Oh yes, it’s very obvious.

On the I-5, by Kendare Blake – 2/5
A very disappointing finish to the book, which surprises me as I really loved Kendare Blake’s previous novels. The real intentions of the character are shrouded too much to make her all that interesting, and it isn’t until the reveal that my interest perked up. I liked the idea behind the story, but the part I liked was only a couple pages at the very end.

Spot the reference: Nope!

Ironskin, by Tina Connolly

9860837Ironskin
Tina Connolly
Goodreads

Jane Eliot wears an iron mask. 

It’s the only way to contain the fey curse that scars her cheek. The Great War is five years gone, but its scattered victims remain—the ironskin. 

When a carefully worded listing appears for a governess to assist with a “delicate situation”—a child born during the Great War—Jane is certain the child is fey-cursed, and that she can help. 

Teaching the unruly Dorie to suppress her curse is hard enough; she certainly didn’t expect to fall for the girl’s father, the enigmatic artist Edward Rochart. But her blossoming crush is stifled by her own scars, and by his parade of women. Ugly women, who enter his closed studio…and come out as beautiful as the fey. 

Jane knows Rochart cannot love her, just as she knows that she must wear iron for the rest of her life. But what if neither of these things is true? Step by step Jane unlocks the secrets of her new life—and discovers just how far she will go to become whole again.

Review

(Note: this is an old review from 2013. Mining for content in my Goodreads shelves, yay!)

I have to confess I’ve never read Jane Eyre. Really. It’s on my list of classics to eventually read, though! As a result, I went into Ironskin completely unaware of what was a retelling and what was original story (well, obviously the fey stuff is original), which led to a pretty interesting reading experience.

The first two thirds of the novel unfold much like you’d expect it to. The story revolves around our main character, Jane, who is scarred with a fey curse on her cheek. Or the entire left half of her face, it’s hard to tell at times. This scar is actually a bit of fey magic bomb shrapnel that sticks to the victim and lets out waves of some sort of emotion – in Jane’s case, anger and rage.

This is where Ironskin thrives: in the world building and fey touches. There aren’t huge dumps of exposition to describe Jane’s world, but we experience the world through her instead. The fey aspects are so ingrained in her world and her life, that we get bits and pieces of the fey history, the fey-human war, and Jane’s curse. Speaking of which, I really liked that bit of Jane’s characterization. She wears an iron mask to protect others from being hit by the rage of her curse, but doesn’t that mean all that rage has nowhere to go but within? Jane has spent years fighting against the anger she feels, and seeing it play out in her interactions and emotions is great.

The romance between Jane and Rochart, her employer, was very lukewarm to me. I just couldn’t see what she saw in him, and it prompted me to accept it simply because that’s how it’s supposed to happen in Jane Eyre.

Then we get to the last third of the novel.

We’ve just spent the first part of the novel living through Jane, through her attempts to work with Rochart’s daughter, through the lukewarm romance. The fey aspects of it are around in their daily lives, but never overt. A little mystery begins to unwind as Jane spends more time on the Rochart estate. This is all expected, right?

Then the fey stuff takes over quickly and completely. I can’t even describe it without spoiling for the last sixty or so pages, but damn.

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The last bit of Ironskin really threw me off. In any other novel the fey aspects of the plot would have delighted me (even if some parts made my skin crawl), but it seemed to come out of nowhere. Yes, seeds of it were planted early on in the novel, but the jump from placid country setting to FULL BLOWN FEY BATSHITTERY was insane.

And kinda fun. But mostly insane.

Two stars for the romance, four stars for the crazy.

Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor

25667918Binti
Nnedi Okorafor
Goodreads

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself – but first she has to make it there, alive.

Review

This is one of those stories that had all the pieces in place for me to love it wholeheartedly, but it just wasn’t long enough.

It’s a classic fish out of water sci-fi story, featuring a smart girl from an isolated culture who gets into a university for geniuses. She leaves without the approval of her family, and on the way to the school, their space ship gets hijacked by an alien race long known for their violence. It has all the markers for being a fantastic tale, but I think the short novella format does it a disservice.

There simply isn’t enough time for the story to quite as in depth as it needed to make all the elements work together.

I usually love sci-fi tales that simply dive into the universe, giving us a feel for the world created by trusting the audience is smart enough to get it. Unfortunately I was mostly confused, and not in a good way here. What was the ancient doodad she had? What was the weird math she studies? Why were they at war with the aliens? Why didn’t I realize that there weren’t just humans going to this school until the last fifth of the novella? (That last part might be my own fault, I don’t know.)

Ultimately I wanted so much more out of this than it provided.  It needed more time for world building, and it could be a fantastic universe if expanded. I’ll pick up the second novella to check it out and see if it grows the way I hope it will, since there’s so much potential here. Fingers crossed.

America, Vol. 1: The Life and Times of America Chavez, by Gabby Rivera

34380219America, Vol. 1: The Life and Times of America Chavez
Gabby Rivera
Goodreads

At last! Everyone’s favorite no-nonsense powerhouse, America Chavez, gets her own series! Critically acclaimed young-adult novelist Gabby Rivera and all-star artist Joe Quinones unite to shine a solo spotlight on America’s high-octane and hard-hitting adventures! She was a Young Avenger. She leads the Ultimates. And now she officially claims her place as the preeminent butt-kicker of the entire Marvel Universe! But what’s a super-powered teenager to do when she’s looking for a little personal fulfi llment? She goes to college! America just has to stop an interdimensional monster or two first and shut down a pesky alien cult that’s begun worshipping her exploits before work can begin. Then she can get on with her first assignment: a field trip to the front lines of World War II – with Captain America as her wingman! COLLECTING: AMERICA 1-6

Review

I was really looking forward to this since I really liked America in Young Avengers, but…it tries too hard. It tries SO hard, in so many different ways, that it ends up being nonsensical and falling flat on its face.

There are one or two really good moments — usually when America is reflecting on her past or her parents — but they’re overshadowed and beat into submission by the fact that America is kind of an asshole and every other character in the book is some kind of shallow tumblr stereotype. Representation matters, but it doesn’t help in this case.

So disappointing, but at least it provided one of my favorite comic covers of the last few years:

america

And and this beautiful variant cover by Jen Bartel:

tumblr_otbg9gko1r1qerie7o1_1280