May 9, 2018

March/April Reading Recap

Once again, my reading of books has gotten ahead of my writing about books. I finally stopped to catch up on the past two months of recommendations:

SEVEN SURRENDERS by Ada Palmer is the second half of the story begun in TOO LIKE THE LIGHTNING, a book that astounded me with its ambition and ingenious execution. I'm happy to report the second volume delighted me as much as the first, so I'm issuing an enthusiastic recommendation to anyone who loves intricate worldbuilding, complicated plots with many characters, and stories that explore big ideas. You'll need to read both books to reach a satisfying conclusion, and that ending still leaves the characters on the precipice of more story, which will continue into two further books, one published, one not expected until 2019.

Plotwise, these books are about politics more than anything else, and in SEVEN SURRENDERS, the world of 2454 is rocked by major revelations about world leaders that the reader gradually learned of in TLTL. Throughout this installment, Palmer introduces and peels back more layers of the fascinating characters we're following. We get new tantalizing details of twenty-fifth century life, as well as additional information about what happened between our age and Palmer's future. I was captivated by all of it.

Gender plays a significant and complex role in the worldbuilding and narration of this series. In hearing people discuss the books at this year's FOGcon, I discovered how polarizing the response has been to what Palmer is attempting. While I'm enjoying how the story wrestles with gender, I appreciate why not all readers have that reaction. Palmer wrote a series of posts for Queership that are worth reading if you're interested in the author's intent, whether you've tried the books or want more context before you do.

EVERYTHING HERE IS BEAUTIFUL by Mira T. Lee: Miranda has always felt protective of her younger sister Lucia, and when Lucia gets married soon after their mother dies, it takes time for Miranda to decide whether she approves of her new brother-in-law. One day he calls her, alarmed, and Miranda realizes Lucia's mental illness has resurfaced and she hasn't told her husband anything about this part of her past. Dealing with Lucia's illness dominates the sisters' story for many years to come, affecting their connection to each other and every important relationship in both their lives.

The writing in this novel is fantastic, and Lee develops the characters through nuanced and unexpected details. I felt great affection for the sisters and the families they join and form, and the often heartbreaking events were deeply affecting. The story unfolds in a way that feels organic and lifelike, more driven by characters than plot, but it remains compelling throughout. This is a powerful look at family, mental illness, and cultures coming together.

HOW TO BE SAFE by Tom McAllister: On the day of a mass shooting at the high school where she teaches, Anna is at home, suspended following an angry outburst in the classroom. A news channel uncovers this and suggests she might be a co-conspirator with the student shooter, and Anna is taken into police custody. Though she's soon cleared by authorities, suspicion lingers as the town struggles to move forward in the aftermath. Anna's life wasn't great before this event, and she finds it increasingly difficult to keep a grip on the reality of a world where these things keep happening.

The prologue of the novel, from the point of view of the shooter, was published as a story in Sundog Lit back in 2014. While the rest of the novel is told through Anna's perspective, the story provides a good sense of the book's tone and style. McAllister gets deep into characters' heads, carefully dissects human and societal foibles, and wields a very dark sense of humor. The book is full of sentences and passages that are depressingly insightful. There's not a ton of plot after the first rush of events, and I wasn't sure what to make of Anna's more surreal ramblings, but there's plenty in this novel to like in the most uncomfortable way.