May 8, 2019

April Reading Recap

Last month's reading consisted of the remaining books from my winter anticipated reads and the first book from my spring batch:

THE HEAVENS by Sandra Newman: Ben falls in love with Kate in New York City in a 2000 that doesn't quite match our own. The intense happiness of their early relationship is only marred by the strange things Kate says about her dreams. In these dreams, Kate is a nobleman's mistress in Elizabethan England, leaving London for the countryside to avoid the plague. The dream world is as real as life, and Kate senses there's something important she must do there. Each time she wakes in 2000, the world she encounters seems less familiar, and Ben grows increasingly worried about Kate's mental state.

I loved this book. Every aspect of the mind-bending alternate timelines fascinated and delighted me. I was deeply invested in the main characters and their relationship, and distressed by the painful times they go through. I grew attached to the whole memorable cast of characters around them in 2000, and the historical figures in Kate's 1593 life sent me down some excellent research rabbitholes. This novel is full of both hope and despair, all shot through with humor and weirdness. It's not going to charm every reader, but it was just what I wanted.

THE OTHER AMERICANS by Laila Lalami: Nora returns to her hometown in the Mojave after her father is killed in a hit-and-run. As she and her family grieve for Driss, Nora tries to uncover the truth of his death -- and his life. The narration shifts between numerous characters, including a childhood friend of Nora's who reenters her life, the detective investigating the accident, and a man who was present at the scene but fears speaking to the police because he's undocumented. Driss himself also tells his story of immigrating from Morocco and striving to maintain a small business as a Muslim in America.

The mystery of the hit-and-run propels the plot, but while the crime is solved, this is more a novel about life's complications than about precisely what happened. Lalami develops all the characters and their relationships beautifully. I enjoyed how each narrator reveals aspects of their lives and histories that those around them aren't aware of, so the layers of the story build up nicely. Some characters get more page time than others, which is fine, but I do wish some threads had been spun out further or better tied up at the end. This is a novel that might have benefitted from being longer, and I would have happily read more of Lalami's strong writing.

THE BOOK OF FLORA by Meg Elison completes the post-apocalyptic Road to Nowhere trilogy that opens with excellent THE BOOK OF THE UNNAMED MIDWIFE. In this world diminished by disease, women remain far rarer than men in the generations that follow, and the scattered populations deal with this in various and frequently cruel ways. One thread of this novel picks up right after THE BOOK OF ETTA's exciting end. Another takes place much later in the life of Flora, as she reflects on all the grief and joy she's experienced and faces a terrifying new threat.

I was glad to return to the characters from the second book and learn their fates, as well as more about Flora's often painful past. Like the earlier installments, this one explores many ideas about gender, identity, and choice, and the characters encounter additional ways of life that emerge in the unbalanced world. At times, the ideas dominate the narrative to the point that it took me out of the story. This book didn't hang together for me as well as the other two, but it does provide a fairly satisfying conclusion to the series.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Emily Temple of Literary Hub presents some very relatable material in On Making Mary Berry's Fast Cakes And Not Writing: "The frosting semi-vanquished and the traybake in the oven, I decided . . . not to go back to writing. I know, I know, but the kitchen was already a mess, so I figured that rather than clean up only to destroy everything again, I'd go straight on to the Chocolate Cream Fingers. These were supposed to take 20 minutes to make, and they did! I felt vindicated and great at baking. Then I realized that I had only made the dough."