It is Wednesday, my dudes. And as I do every Tuesday, last night I went to the library for my volunteer job and managed to stagger home with a stack of ten books in the process. And seven out of those ten were written by women! So that’s a score to me. I actually found a lot more that were on my to-read list, but these were the ones I ultimately chose to take home, so I guess I just instinctively cling to female authors. Sue me.
Anyway, this is the format I’m going to do hauls in from now on: first the title and author, then the first line of the book, then the blurb from the book’s back or inside dust cover, and then my thoughts after reading the first chapter of the book. This’ll be especially important with library hauls, since I don’t know if I’m going to buy the books or not!
Anyway, enough talking, on to the books!
I. Alice — Christina Henry
If she moved her head all the way up against the wall and tilted it to the left she could just see the edge of the moon through the bars…
In a warren of crumbling buildings and desperate people called the Old City, there stands a hospital with cinderblock walls which echo the screams of the poor souls inside.
In the hospital, there is a woman. Her hair, once blond, hangs in tangles down her back. She doesn’t remember why she’s in such a terrible place. Just a tea party long ago, and long ears, and blood…
Then, one night, a fire at the hospital gives the woman a chance to escape, tumbling out of the hole that imprisoned her, leaving her free to uncover the truth about what happened to her all those years ago.
Only something else has escaped with her. Something dark. Something powerful. And to find the truth, she will have to track this beast to the very heart of the Old City, where the rabbit waits for his Alice.
The writing is awesome. It dragged me in immediately. So did the premise. I love retellings, and gritty, bloody Alice in Wonderland retellings involving insane asylums are one of my biggest guilty pleasures. That being said, it isn’t made clear what time period this is set in. At times it feels older, at times it feels newer, at times it feels like it’s set in the future, other times I feel like it’s in another world entirely. Of course, I only read the first chapter, but I feel like that’s something that should be established before the story really gets going. I definitely want to buy this one, though, and its sequel, which was also at the library but didn’t end up in my basket.
II. The Wasp Factory — Iain Banks
I had been making the rounds of the Sacrifice Poles the day we heard my brother had escaped…
Meet Frank Cauldhame. Just sixteen, and unconventional to say the least.
Two years after I killed Blyth I murdered my young brother Paul, for quite different and more fundamental reasons than I’d disposed of Blyth, and then a year after that I did for my young cousin Esmerelda, more or less on a whim.
That’s my score to date. Three. I haven’t killed anybody for years, and don’t intend to ever again.
It was just a stage I was going through.
I was promised something truly disturbing with this one, with people comparing it to American Psycho in terms of grotesqueness. Immediately I’m going to advise a content warning for animal death, since Frank is sticking rat heads on sticks within the first page, and talking about his brother setting fire to dogs. Thus far, that’s the only sign of weirdness, though, so I do hope it gets weirder. Not sure if I’m going to buy this one or just read the library copy.
III. Being Dead — Jim Crace
For old times’ sake, the doctors of zoology had driven out of town that Tuesday afternoon to make a final visit to the singing salt dunes at Baritone Bay…
Lying in the sand dunes of Baritone Bay are the bodies of a middle-aged couple. Celice and Joseph, in their mid-50s and married for more than 30 years, are returning to the seacoast where they met as students. Instead, they are battered to death by a thief with a chunk of granite. Their corpses lie undiscovered and rotting for a week, prey to sand crabs, flies, and gulls. From that moment forward, Being Dead becomes less about murder and more about death.
Alternating chapters move back in time from the murder in hourly and two-hourly increments. As the narrative moves backward, we see Celice and Joseph make the small decisions about their day that will lead them inexorably towards their own deaths.
This reads very oddly to me, and it’s fascinating, but it almost feels like Lemony Snicket narrating this stuff, like someone telling me a sad story instead of reading a book. Which is both good and bad for me personally. It really depends on my mood, whether I want to be told and not shown, or vice versa. I probably won’t be buying this one, just reading the library’s copy, especially since it’s so short.
IV. Maresi (The Red Abbey Chronicles) – Maria Turtschaninoff
My name is Maresi Enresdaughter and I write this in the nineteenth year of the reign of our thirty-second Mother…
Only women and girls are allowed in the Red Abbey, a haven from abuse and oppression. Thirteen-year-old novice Maresi arrived at the Abbey four years ago, during the hunger winter, and now lives a happy life under the protection of the Mother. Maresi spends her days reading in the Knowledge House, caring for the younger novices, and contentedly waiting for the moment when she will be called to serve one of the Houses of the Abbey.
This idyllic existence is threatened by the arrival of Jai, a girl whose dark past has followed her into the Abbey’s sacred spaces. In order to protect her new sister and her own way of life, Maresi must emerge from the safety of her books and her childish world and become one who acts.
It’s really hard to discern much from this short first chapter, but it tells me what I need to know. One, that this book is full of female characters and almost certainly passes the Bechdel test, and two, that it’s written in first person like a diary, reminding me a lot of those royal diary books I read when I was in elementary school. I really love the style, but I feel like I want to read the library copy of the first one (I’m told it’s to be a trilogy) to make sure the story isn’t taken over by men at any point.
V. Asking For It — Louise O’Neill
My mother’s face appears in the mirror beside my own, bright red lips on powdered skin…
It’s the beginning of the summer in a small town in Ireland. Emma O’Donovan is eighteen years old, beautiful, happy, confident. One night, there’s a party. Everyone is there. All eyes are on Emma.
The next morning, she wakes on the front porch of her house. She can’t remember what happened, she doesn’t know how she got there. She doesn’t know why she’s in pain. But everyone else does.
Photographs taken at the party show, in explicit detail, what happened to Emma that night. But sometimes people don’t want to believe what is right in front of them, especially when the truth concerns the town’s heroes…
Firstly, I really love reading contemporary YA books that are set outside the US, and I don’t think I’ve ever read one set in Ireland before. So reading this with Irish accents in my head is going to be a great experience. That being said, I know how heavy this book is going to be, and it’s weird, but I feel like I need to buy this one just so I can respect it. It doesn’t feel like a book I’ll just be able to toss in the return bin when I’m done.
VI. The Black Opera — Mary Gentle
The water rose up in a wall like the end of the world…
Conrad Scalese is a writer of librettos for operas in a world where music has immense power. In the Church, the sung mass can bring about actual miracles like healing the sick. Opera is musicodrama, the highest form of music combined with human emotion, and the results of the passion it engenders can be nothing short of magical.
Again, not much of the first chapter (or prologue, rather) indicates anything substantial about the story, including the time period it’s set im, but the story absolutely enchants me. The prose is beautiful, and the imagery is absolutely fantastic. It really sets the scene vividly. This is a big, meaty paperback, and because of that I do think I’m going to want to buy it, if not only because it’s so lovely.
VII. A Thin Bright Line — Lucy Jane Bledsoe
The grand steps leading down into Morningside Park were a one-block walk from Lucybelle’s office at the Geological Society of America, where she was an assistant editor…
At the height of the Cold War, Lucybelle Bledsoe is offered a job seemingly too good to pass up. However, there are risks. Her scientific knowledge and editorial skills are unparalleled, but her personal life might not withstand government scrutiny.
Leaving behind the wreckage of a relationship, Lucybelle finds solace in working for the visionary scientist who is extracting the first-ever polar ice cores. The lucidity of ice is calming and beautiful. But the joyful pangs of a new love clash with the impossible compromises of queer life. If exposed, she could lose everything she holds dear.
I have a fondness for books that don’t have a lot of setup and get right to the meat, and this definitely does that. In just a few pages I understood the premise of the story and the current situation of the protagonist, and that’s not something I see too often, sadly, in a world of flowery exposition. That being said, this book MAY be too sciency for me, depending on how prevalent their geological project is in the story. We shall see. Unsure of whether I want to buy this one or not; the library copy is in really good shape, so maybe not. Maybe just in paperback.
VIII. The Library at Mount Char — Scott Hawkins
Carolyn, blood-drenched and barefoot, walked alone down the two-lane stretch of blacktop that the Americans called Highway 78…
Carolyn’s not so different from the other people around her. She likes guacamole and cigarettes and steak. She knows how to use a phone. Clothes are a bit tricky, but everyone says nice things about her outfit with the Christmas sweater over the gold bicycle shorts.
After all, she was a normal American herself once.
That was a long time ago, of course. Before her parents died. Before she and the others were taken in by the man they called Father. In the years since then, Carolyn hasn’t had a chance to get out much. Instead, she and her adopted siblings have been raised according to Father’s ancient customs. They’ve studied the books in his Library and learned some of the secrets of his power. And sometimes, they’ve wondered if their cruel tutor might secretly be God.
Now, Father is missing—perhaps even dead—and the Library that holds his secrets stands unguarded. And with it, control over all of creation. As Carolyn gathers the tools she needs for the battle to come, fierce competitors for this prize align against her, all of them with powers that far exceed her own.
But Carolyn has accounted for this, and Carolyn has a plan.
The only trouble is that in the war to make a new God, she’s forgotten to protect the things that make her human.
This really, really reeled me in, to the point where I didn’t want to stop reading it when chapter one was through. Like the previous book I read, this also didn’t have a whole lot of exposition, instead addressing the worldbuilding when it became relevant rather than dumping everything on us at once. I definitely for sure need to buy this one, because I know I’m going to love it.
IX. Mistress of the Art of Death — Ariana Franklin
Here they come…
In medieval Cambridge, England, four children have been murdered. The crimes are immediately blamed on the town’s Jewish community, taken as evidence that Jews sacrifice Christian children in blasphemous ceremonies.
Hoping scientific investigation will exonerate the Jews, Henry calls on his cousin, the King of Sicily, whose subjects include the best medical experts in Europe, and asks for his finest “master of the art of death,” an early version of the medical examiner. The Italian doctor chosen for the task is a young prodigy from the University of Salerno. But her name is Adelia: the king has been sent a “mistress” of the art of death.
Adelia and her companions, Simon, a Jew, and Mansur, a Moor, travel to England to unravel the mystery of the Cambridge murders, which turn out to be the work of a serial killer, most likely one who has been on Crusade with the king.
In a backward and superstitious country like England, Adelia must conceal her true identity as a doctor in order to avoid accusations of witchcraft.
Okay, first of all, when I first picked this up I swear to god I thought it was written by Aretha Franklin and I was real confused for way longer than I should have been. Secondly, I love the sound of this story, which is sad because the writing is dreadfully dull to me. I read the first two chapters rather than just one in an attempt to warm myself to it, but it reads like nonfiction, dry and, quite frankly, a little boring. I also thought, for some reason, it was set in Victorian or maybe Edwardian times, and I’m not the biggest fan of medieval hsitorical fiction. So I still may give this a chance, but I probably won’t be buying it.
X. Viper Wine — Hermione Eyre
When she had been dead almost two days I caused her face and hands to be moulded by an excellent Master, and cast in metal…
At Whitehall Palace in 1632, the ladies at the court of Charles I are beginning to look suspiciously alike. Plump cheeks, dilated pupils, and a heightened sense of pleasure are the first signs that they have been drinking a potent new beauty tonic, Viper Wine, distilled and discreetly dispensed by the physician Lancelot Choice.
Famed beauty Venetia Stanley is so extravagantly dazzling she has provoked adoration and emulation from the masses. But now she is married and her “mid-climacteric” approaches, all that adoration has curdled to scrutiny, and she fears her powers are waning. Her devoted husband, Sir Kenelm Digby – alchemist, explorer, philosopher, courtier, and time-traveller – believes he has the means to cure wounds from a distance, but he so loves his wife that he will not make her a beauty tonic, convinced she has no need of it.
From the whispering court at Whitehall, to the charlatan physicians of Eastcheap, here is a marriage in crisis, and a country on the brink of civil war. The novel takes us backstage at a glittering Inigo Jones court masque, inside a dour Puritan community, and into the Countess of Arundel’s snail closet.
Based on real events, Viper Wine is 1632 rendered in Pop Art prose; a place to find alchemy, David Bowie, recipes for seventeenth-century beauty potions, a Borgesian unfinished library and a submarine that sails beneath the Thames.
This book, from its premise to its cover to its writing style, reminds me strongly of Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette movie. The true history stylized and mixed with pop culture is one of my favorite sub-genres of historical fiction in all its forms, if it could even be called a sub-genre. I love the cover, I love the writing, and I do want to buy this one for sure. I’m really excited to read this!!!
And that’s all for this time, folks. I’ve added some new things to my to-read list and taken a couple of them off. But I do think I definitely found some winners to buy in the very near future. Have a good weekend, y’all.