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Book Review: The High House by Jessie Greengrass

January 18, 2022 Leave a comment
Image of a digital book cover. A heron stands in water. A topographical map is superimposed over him in yellow.

Summary:
Perched on a sloping hill, set away from a small town by the sea, the High House has a tide pool and a mill, a vegetable garden, and, most importantly, a barn full of supplies. Caro, Pauly, Sally, and Grandy are safe, so far, from the rising water that threatens to destroy the town and that has, perhaps, already destroyed everything else. But for how long?

Review:
I haven’t really been in the mood for dystopian literature since March of 2020, preferring a bit more escapism in my reading. But the cover of this book featuring that gorgeous egret really drew me in when I was browsing NetGalley. And I thought that maybe a book about a dystopia brought on just by climate change would be different enough to still work for me. Plus I had my fingers crossed it would involve birds after featuring one so strongly on the cover. What I found was a book about trials different enough from our own that it gave me distance and yet with meaningful moments that took my breath away with their relevance. It was like eating a very delicious chocolate cake and then sometimes getting mouthfuls that are even more delicious because they have surprising ooey gooey pockets of liquid chocolate.

“All I can think is that what’s different now is that no one can claim this is progress.”

 (loc 1308)

The High House is a coastal summer home inherited by an environmental academic named Francesca. In spite of being coastal, it is, as the name implies, on high ground. She can see what’s coming, even though others won’t listen to her. So, while she keeps trying to bring about change to prevent it, she also secretly sets up the high house for her stepdaughter Caro and her son Pauly (who is 14 years younger than Caro). She also hires on the local elderly groundskeeper who is very wise in the old ways, Grandy, and by extension his university-aged granddaughter, Sally. I thought the book was going to be mostly set in the now of these folks living together after the flooding. But really it was largely these characters looking backward at the years just before the event, and through the event. How they came to be the way they are now. Sally, Caro, and Pauly all take turns narrating.

It’s difficult to explain how beautiful this book is without spoiling it. It’s no like the ending is a surprise or a twist but rather it takes reading the book in its entirely to get what the book is saying. And what it is saying is just simply gorgeous. In a sad way. I suppose what I can say is that this book depicts complex grief without ever really saying that’s what it’s doing. And it’s exquisite.

And the birds. Pauly loves birds, and it’s his knowledge and genuine love of them that lets everyone else know a bit of what they’re talking about when they talk about the birds. The heron on the cover is a bit of a flaw in cover design, because the birds that are actually important to the story are a pair of egrets. is They have a very important role that, again, was devastatingly exquisite. (We don’t see any harm come to the birds, and it’s a bit up in the air if any does).

This was a gorgeous book that I found comforting the way a sad movie can sometimes be. I stayed up far too late to finish it, because I just simply couldn’t look away. If you love nature and question what can remain for humans after large changes, pick this one up and let yourself get swept away.

5 out of 5 stars

Length: 272 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: NetGalley

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Book Review: The Maid by Nita Prose

January 11, 2022 2 comments
A red digital book cover. There is a white frame with a keyhole showing a woman's foot and maid skirt departing.

Summary:
Twenty-five-year old Molly Gray struggles with social skills and misinterprets the intentions of others. Her gran used to interpret the world for her, codifying it into simple rules that Molly could live by. But since Gran died a few months ago, Molly has had to navigate life’s complexities all by herself. No matter—she throws herself with gusto into her work as a hotel maid. Her love of cleaning and proper etiquette, make her an ideal fit for the job. She delights in donning her crisp uniform each morning, stocking her cart with miniature soaps and bottles, and returning guest rooms at the Regency Grand Hotel to a state of perfection.

But Molly’s orderly life is turned on its head the day she enters the suite of the infamous and wealthy Charles Black, only to find it in a state of disarray and Mr. Black himself very dead in his bed. Before she knows what’s happening, Molly’s unusual demeanor has the police targeting her as their lead suspect. She quickly finds herself caught in a web of deception, one she has no idea how to untangle. Fortunately for Molly, friends she never knew she had unite with her in a search for clues to what really happened to Mr. Black—but will they be able to find the real killer before it’s too late?

Review:
This book has a nice overall message. That we need to band together in kindness with those who are different. But the story itself left me feeling lukewarm.

Molly’s difference is never named although neurodivergence and Autism are certainly hinted at. To me, her voice and behavior simply didn’t read as authentic. Neurodivergence is of course a wide spectrum so it might read authentic to others. But it felt to me like someone guessing at neurodivergence. It just rang false.

The mystery itself wasn’t all that mysterious. I must admit I didn’t guess the killer but that was only because the narrator withheld information from the reader until the last chapter. Not my favorite method in a mystery book. I always feel duped and end up disliking the main character for withholding. So while I was motivated to find out who did it and to see Molly free, I was annoyed at the end. I can generally forgive this in a mystery, though, if my experience with the mystery itself was pleasurable up to that point.

The problem for me in this book wasn’t the set-up or the mystery. It was that every character in the book rubbed me the wrong way – including the ones I was supposed to like. Literally everyone. Even Molly’s “sweet old gran.” I just didn’t like anyone. Even if I mentally wanted everything to work out from a sense of common decency, I couldn’t root for anyone because I didn’t like anyone. The dialogue (everyone’s) especially rubbed me the wrong way. I’m not sure why; it just did.

So, I liked the idea of this. It was different. It just wasn’t for me. Maybe it will be for you.

3 out of 5 stars

Length: 280 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: NetGalley

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Bout of Books 33 Wrap-Up

January 10, 2022 2 comments
A grid of five book covers: Wildwood, New Order, A Mind of Your Own, The Maid, and Harley Quinn are featured on a gradient blue background. The heading is Bout of Books 33 Wrap-Up in orange.

The Bout of Books readathon is organized by Amanda Shofner and Kelly Rubidoux Apple. It’s a weeklong readathon that begins 12:01am Monday, January 3rd and runs through Sunday, January 9th in YOUR time zone. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are reading sprints, Twitter chats, and exclusive Instagram challenges, but they’re all completely optional. For all Bout of Books 33 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. – From the Bout of Books team.

I had two goals for my first ever Bout of Books.

The first goal was to finish as many of the 7 books I was currently reading as possible. (I must confess. I discovered after making my sign-up post that I was actually currently reading 8 books, but I decided to ignore the eighth for the duration of the week).

Of the 7 books in my original list, I finished 5! That means, even including the eighth book I’d forgotten about, I’m back down to reading a more manageable 3 books simultaneously.

The books I finished:

The books I did not finish:

  • The Good House by Ann Leary audiobook (AmazonBookshop.org) 55% finished
  • Marine Biology: A Very Short Introduction by Philip V. Mladenov ebook (AmazonBookshop.org) 20% finished

My second goal was to participate as much as possible with the Instagram prompts over on my Bookstagram. I completed 6 of the 7 prompts.

This was my most popular post of the 6:

I really enjoyed this readathon and am looking forward to another! It definitely got me out of my unfocused reading slump.

Book Review: The Arctic Curry Club by Dani Redd

January 4, 2022 3 comments
Digital cover of The Arctic Curry Club. Features a brown skinned woman holding a dish in front of a table of three people (three white, one brown skinned) in the snow. A house and a polar bear are in the background.

Summary:
Soon after upending her life to accompany her boyfriend Ryan to the Arctic, Maya realises it’s not all Northern Lights and husky sleigh rides. Instead, she’s facing sub-zero temperatures, 24-hour darkness, crippling anxiety – and a distant boyfriend as a result.

In her loneliest moment, Maya opens her late mother’s recipe book and cooks Indian food for the first time. Through this, her confidence unexpectedly grows – she makes friends, secures a job as a chef, and life in the Arctic no longer freezes her with fear.

But there’s a cost: the aromatic cuisine rekindles memories of her enigmatic mother and her childhood in Bangalore. Can Maya face the past and forge a future for herself in this new town? After all, there’s now high demand for a Curry Club in the Arctic, and just one person with the know-how to run it…

Review:
Fun destinations, delicious descriptions of homemade Indian cuisine, and a plot that you think is going to mainly be about a boyfriend but then isn’t. This book was a real treat!

Maya starts the book out as one of those women who has lost her own identity and just kind of follows her boyfriend around in his life. Not great! But it soon becomes apparent that she’s struggling like this due to mental illness (anxiety) and childhood trauma. When challenges begin to arise, Maya surprises by rising to them, and in delightful ways. I was pleasantly surprised by the trajectory of the book. I started it out thinking I was going to be reading a romance and by the end I felt like I read a story about self-actualization. It kind of reminded me of Talia Hibbert only without the steamy scenes. Plus, Maya is biracial. She’s half Indian and half white British.

The handling of mental illness in this book is really adept. There is a perfect combination of sympathy but also the realization that, even with a mental illness, you have to self-advocate and push yourself. I especially appreciated that getting set up with a therapist on Zoom (due to being in the Arctic) was featured. But do take the trigger warning that some traumatic events are briefly described that feature some of the darker sides of mental illness. They are a necessary part of the story, but they are there.

The settings of the Arctic and India were both wonderfully written. I truly felt like I was in both places – the good and the bad! I loved the juxtaposition of the two as well. The descriptions of the food were divine, leaving me hungry. Finally, I found myself rooting for Maya as she found footing in her career.

Overall, this was a fun reading trip to two interesting locations, featuring lots of delicious sounding food, artful and realistic depictions of mental illness, and a gal who’s about herself, rather than changing for a guy.

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 400 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: NetGalley

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