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The Glass Kitchen

The Glass Kitchen - Linda Francis Lee Portia Cuthcart has spent years suppressing her cooking magic and trying to be the perfect politicians wife. Even after her husband’s betrayal and an acrimonious divorce, Portia is afraid to let magic have too much control over her life. However, her sisters are facing difficulties of their own and want Portia’s help reviving their grandmother’s restaurant. Portia has an even harder time saying no to her attractive neighbor and his children, all of whom are still coming to terms with losing their wife/mother. Portia wants to take a chance on magic again but she’s not certain that even a cooking a good meal can solve all of her problems.

I picked up The Glass Kitchen immediately after finishing the beautiful but heartbreaking The End of Your Life Book Club and it was exactly the heartwarming read I was hoping for. I loved the idea of cooking magic, with Portia drawing on the power of food to make people feel certain emotions to give people exactly what they need. I also loved the way Portia often compared things or people to food. Since we all have experience with food, I thought it was a good way to create descriptions people could relate to. It also added to the cozy feel of the book.

Portia’s personality in general was one of my favorite parts of the book. She’s compassionate and caring, but quirky and stubborn too. I was less fond of the love interest, her stubborn, possessive, over-protective neighbor. Even though Portia was able to stand up to his powerful personality, even though he had to learn to compromise and admit he was wrong, I finished the book still not sure how I felt about him. I wasn’t completely convinced their relationship wasn’t mostly based on sexual attraction and I wanted more than that for Portia. On the other hand, I loved everything about her relationship with the neighbor’s daughters. Portia’s interaction with them helped differentiate this story from all the other fluffy, you-know-they’ll-end-up-together books out there. This still wasn’t my favorite ever book of that variety, but was a very sweet story and one I’d particularly recommend to foodies looking for a happy, cozy read.

This review first published on Doing Dewey.

The Sea Garden

The Sea Garden - Deborah Lawrenson Since this story is not just a dual narrative but a triple narrative, for the full explanation you’ll want to visit goodreads. The first storyline follows a British garden designer hoping a commission on a beautiful island will be her chance to break into the international scene. However, once she realizes that her clients are eccentric and possibly malicious, she’s not sure the job is worth the risk. The second story is that of a young blind woman living in Nazi-occupied France with a difficult decision to make. And the third story is that of a British intelligence agent during WWII who falls for a French agent who disappears, suggesting he might have had hidden allegiances. The way these three stories connect is a surprise.

The first scene in this book immediately highlighted the author’s amazing talent for bringing a location vividly to life. I think what made her descriptions work so well for me is the level of detail she includes. It’s not too much, not too little, matching what I think I’d notice if I were actually there. The first story was not as enjoyable as I expected based on that first scene. It was a bit trippy, with hints of the supernatural or a conspiracy or both. I found it a little too confusing and finished this section unsure what had just happened. By the end, I considered this first section worthwhile for its impact on the story as a whole, but I didn’t love reading it.

The second and third stories were both fantastic. I continued to enjoy the author’s evocative writing but also started to love the plot. Both of these sections featured somewhat untraditional, very brave female protagonists. I thought they were both incredible and a ton of fun to read about. The layering of the three stories, each one adding more information and getting closer to the heart of the matter, gave this story a lot of depth. It was a very unique way to tell a multi-narrative story, sequential instead of alternating, and I think it worked beautifully. The overall effect was to give the ending a lot of emotional impact. I admire the author’s choice to tell a story in a unorthodox way and would love to read more of her work.

This review first published on Doing Dewey.

Reading Style: A Life in Sentences

Reading Style: A Life in Sentences - Jenny Davidson Author Jenny Davidson is both an English and Comparative Literature professor and an inveterate reader. She reads everything from classics to old but forgotten books, from high-brow literature to popular novels. Reading Style is a mix of all of these things. Although it refers to some literary theory, the author explains early on that what informed her decisions to talk about specific books was not a desire to”[make] an argument about style” but to share passages that “speak to [her] strongly.”

Lately I’ve been loving books about books and books about people who loves books. In many ways, Reading Style did not disappoint. Author Jenny Davidson is fun and passionate and clearly very much in love with the written word. Sharing her passion for particular sentences and writing styles was generally enjoyable. There were a few sections where she focused on authors who weren’t to my taste and I was surprised how much this could make a section drag. Perhaps this shouldn’t have surprised me though, given how liberally she quoted and how much my enjoyment of the book depended on entering into her enthusiasm. When I wasn’t loving the authors she was sharing, I often enjoyed the thought-provoking points she raised about the merits of style and substance in literature.

Even though I’m someone who enjoys thinking about the roles literature plays in our lives, the author sometimes waxed a bit too philosophical for me. In the age old criticism of literary criticism, it’s fair to say that I sometimes felt the author was investing too much meaning in the text she shared. I also sometimes found her writing very dense and hard to follow. Unfortunately, two of the last chapters were focused on authors I didn’t enjoy. They were also some of the trickier chapters to get through. As a result, I finished the book feeling very ready to be done with it. However, parts of the book were truly fantastic and if you’re someone who loves beautiful writing, I’d recommend giving this a shot.

This review first published on Doing Dewey.

It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens

It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens - Danah Boyd Being a blogger means I use social media quite a bit, something which often highlights for me how technologically behind I’d be if I didn’t blog. This has made me curious about how more technologically savvy people use social media, so I was excited to see how teens who grew up with social media use these sites. In It’s Complicated, the author takes a look at teen use of the latest social media sites over the past decade, from MySpace to Facebook to Twitter. The author systematically questions the stereotypes about social media-using teens. These include the assumption that all teens are good at and potentially addicted to technology to the idea that technology has fundamentally changed the way teens interact. She supports her conclusion with facts and figures, as well as hundreds of interviews with teens and parents.

Despite leaning a little academic, this book did a great job balancing all the components I look for in good nonfiction. The interviews with teens and parents provided interesting anecdotes, but the conclusions the author made were all clearly supported by rigorous research. Many of the issues the author addressed (the possibilities of unexpected audiences, the permanency and publicity of social media communication, and the ever-changing Facebook privacy settings, for example), are relevant to adults as well as teens. While reading, I loved comparing how I use technology to how teens use technology to how people think teens use technology. I was frequently surprised by both the ways in which teen use of social media is similar to and different from my own. The whole book was surprisingly insightful and thought-provoking.

Another impressive thing Boyd did (something I think is a challenge in nonfiction) was to write a book appropriate for many audiences. The teen interviews and Boyd’s empathy for the teens make this a book every parent with a teenager should read. The teen perspectives she presented were generally reasonable once the author showed where they were coming from. I think parents would benefit from that perspective. The book was also academically rigorous, well documented with many sources for learning more. I think even someone with prior knowledge of this field of study would likely learn something from this book. However, the academic bits which were included in-text, instead of in the notes and bibliography, were so clearly explained that this is also perfect for a general audience. I would highly recommend this to parents of teens; to anyone interested in social media; and to anyone who uses social media.

This review first published on Doing Dewey.

Assassination Vacation

Assassination Vacation - Sarah Vowell For a unique and morbid vacation experience, Sarah Vowell decided to travel the country by visiting locations where politicians have been assassinated. In this book, she shares interesting anecdotes, both from history and her own experiences, as well as a ton of fun facts. I really liked this approach to the story because, as I mentioned in my review of The Map Thief, I like when authors of nonfiction insert themselves into their work. It’s one way of adding immediacy to a story which is mostly about the past. I also enjoyed the historical information which the author presented in a fashion suitable for a cocktail party. This was often enjoyable but something about her light tone sometimes rubbed me the wrong way.

In addition to something intangible, there were several specific components of her causal writing style which bothered me. The biggest problem was the organization. The author was constantly going on tangents from the main story. The book did not clearly move forward through time in either her historical anecdotes or her stories about her travels. This made it hard for me to make connections between different facts and anecdotes, which makes it far less likely I’ll remember any of them later. Although the book had four different sections, the first one on Abraham Lincoln took up almost half the book and the rest of the sections often jumped back into his story. I think it’s possible the author should have stuck with that one story instead of tagging on several others.

I also disliked the author’s choice to include her own political opinions. Even though I often agreed with her, I don’t give any particular weight to her opinions and felt like they added to the incoherence of the book. Her jokes didn’t always work for me and in one case, involving the use of the word “retarded”, I found her very offensive. I can see why some people might like her writing style. She has endless enthusiasm and tells what could be dry stories in fascinating ways. However, her casual attitude, her choice to swamp the story with her own opinions, and her disorganization made this only an ok read for me.

This review first published on Doing Dewey.

Elizabeth Is Missing

Elizabeth Is Missing - Emma Healey Since I would never describe Elizabeth Is Missing as a light book, I’m surprised to say that it was a very quick read. The mystery of what happened to Maud’s friend Elizabeth brings back memories of her sister’s disappearance years ago. Both mysteries proceed in parallel. Both fired up my curiosity and made this book hard to put down. The two stories connected naturally, with present day events inspiring Maud to remember the past. This made it easy for me to transition between stories and made the book a pleasure to read. I’ve never been sure if I’d like dealing with an unreliable narrator, but I think it was perfect for this book. It added another layer to the mystery (is Elizabeth even missing?) and made me empathize with Maud, even with the trouble and confusion she sometimes causes her caretakers.

Despite having the high tension of a mystery, Maud’s perspective also made the book philosophical and thought-provoking. Although I’ve never been in Maud’s position, from my limited perspective it seems as though the author did a great job identifying the many ways memory loss would make daily life more difficult. On occasion, the situations Maud gets herself into and the misunderstandings she has with others are bleakly humorous. They’re also always sad though, especially since they often lead to Maud feeling embarrassed or confused. I hope I’ve always been considerate of older people, but this book served as a stark reminder that an older person struggling to do something that seems mundane may be dealing with much tougher problems than we realize. I would recommend this to anyone who loves psychological thrillers or mysteries without too much danger. For someone with aging relatives, this story might be too heart-breakingly sad, but could also provide a perspective that would be valuable for understanding a loved one.

This review first published at Doing Dewey.

Small Town Witch

Small Town Witch - Kristen S. Walker Very few books sway my opinion after my first impression as much as this book did. There were two large-ish typos in the first few chapters, which always makes me grumpy, and the writing seemed pretty standard. It’s clearly geared towards a YA or middle grade audience, so it was well done but didn’t blow me away with beautiful prose. However, the biggest strengths of this book were the world-building and the plot, which it’s hard to get a feel for in the first few pages. I’m also happy to report that after those first two typos, the rest of the book was impeccably edited and was one of the best formatted ebooks I’ve had the pleasure to read.

As I got into the book, I completely revised my opinion. The dialogue was well above average authenticity and the author avoided info dumps by sharing information in completely natural conversations. I love when authors pull that off! The world-building got better and better as we went. Another thing I love is when an author casually shares the awesome magic or technology which is part of daily life in their imagined world. Kristen Walker pulled that off spectacularly too. She also wrote some fantastic, climactic encounters mixed with highschool drama in a balance that suited me perfectly. The main character, Rosa, is another strong point of this book. She’s always very straightforward with her friends. This avoids drama caused by silly misunderstandings, which is one of my least favorite plot devices. I also thought Rosa’s sexuality was handled perfectly, illustrating some of the issues an LGBT teen might face while not making it a big deal.

Discovering gems like this is the reason I love to pick up the occasional self-published book. If you love good world-building, if you hate characters who create their own problems, or if you’re looking for a great LGBT read, this is the book for you.

This review first published on Doing Dewey.

The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra

The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra - Helen Rappaport Even during the lifetime of the four beautiful Romanov sisters, their mysterious personal lives lead to much speculation and idolization. This book uses many diaries, letters, and other first person accounts to bring the sisters to life. The book starts when their mother journeys to Russia, a lonely bride in a strange land. It then follows the rest of the sisters’ lives, through the beginning of the first world war and their eventual murder by Bolshevik soldiers.

I was surprised that knowing the end of this story didn’t bother me. On the contrary, the constant reminder that the sisters’ sadly sheltered lives ended in such a tragic fashion gave this book a poignancy which I think was its’ best feature. The many first-person accounts did a great job bringing the sisters’ individual personalities to life. It was hard to not feel desperately sad for the whole family as you got to know them and saw times where their deaths might have been avoided had things gone a little differently. The most interesting parts of the story, for me, were those which highlighted the times in which the sisters lived. Both connections to large events (the outbreak of WWI, the reign of George VI of The King’s Speech) and to smaller events (Russia’s first women doctors and first motion pictures), made for a fascinating backdrop.

The details of the lives of the sisters themselves were less interesting. They led very sheltered lives, so often large chunks of the book passed with no significant changes in their lives. The constrained lives they lived in prison were boring, but no more so than their early lives sheltered by their mother. The only briefly exciting part of their story was when they served with great dedication as nurses after the outbreak of WWI. I’ve read several positive reviews of this book (including this one from Julz Reads), but it just wasn’t my favorite. Honestly, I spent much of the story waiting to reach the end, which is never a good way to feel about a book! However, I think it’s fair to say that this book has really pleased many fans with greater prior interest in the Romanovs, so don’t let my negative review dissuade you too much on this one.

This review first published on Doing Dewey.

The Map Thief: The Gripping Story of an Esteemed Rare-Map Dealer Who Made Millions Stealing Priceless Maps

The Map Thief: The Gripping Story of an Esteemed Rare-Map Dealer Who Made Millions Stealing Priceless Maps - Michael Blanding To most people who knew him, E. Forbes Smiley III appeared to be a respectable, well-to-do map dealer. However, there were some who suspected otherwise, noting his sometimes bounced checks and less than friendly business practices. Nothing could be proven until he dropped a razor blade while visiting a rare book collection, raising the librarians suspicions. The Map Thief tells Smiley’s story, from his childhood through his arrest, as well as the history of map-making and map collecting. The author shares bits of an exclusive post-arrest interview with Smiley and is able to share other personal stories from interviews with friends. He also addresses clues that Smiley might not have been entirely forthcoming about how many maps he stole.

This book is an exemplary piece of narrative nonfiction and gave me precisely the reading experience I look for from that genre. I loved the detailed descriptions of people and places which brought the story to life. I loved them even more when the author’s notes clearly showed he’d done the interviews and other research necessary to know these details. I liked that the beginning included a cast of characters, but liked even more that the author wrote so clearly, I never needed to use the cast list. I was immediately won over by the author’s decision to start the book with his journey to learn about Smiley. I actually really like narrative nonfiction where the author inserts their research adventures into the book. They give part of the story a first-person perspective, which I find very immersive.

In addition to the detailed depiction of Smiley’s story, The Map Thief includes a lot of fascinating anecdotes and fun facts about the history of maps. Prior to reading this book, I might not have realized what a rich topic this was. Since the boundaries shown on maps reflect exploration, philosophical beliefs about unexplored regions, political realities, and political aspirations, the history of maps is intimately connected with the history of human expansion. The author did a fantastic job connecting the maps he discusses to larger world events. The story flowed impressively smoothly between history and Smiley’s stories. The story also raised many ethical issues which I think will be of interest to most readers. As a reader, especially having just read about the history of maps, it was easy for me to appreciate how horrible Smiley’s breach of trust was when he removed maps from the books where they belonged. The ease with which he does so highlights the balance necessary between providing public access to our cultural treasures and adequately protecting them.

This book was a perfect blend of facts and human interest which I’d highly recommend to any fan of narrative nonfiction.

This review first published on Doing Dewey.

Silver Bay

Silver Bay - Jojo Moyes Although Liza and her daughter Hannah will always be haunted by their past, they’re happy with their life in Silver Bay. Liza loves the hotel where she lives with her sister, the freedom of the sea, the acceptance of her community, and her lack of romantic entanglements. All of these things are threatened by the arrival of the handsome Mike Dormer. Mike arrives expecting to make a quick visit to start the process of building a resort and move on. Instead he finds himself deeply involved with the inhabitants of Silver Bay, leading him to question his commitment to his business-focused life.

Getting into this book took me a little while. This was partly because of the four different perspectives in the first four chapters and partly because some of these chapters began with info dumps about the history of Silver Bay. I was happy I persevered because a few more chapters made it clear that the different perspectives and details of Silver Bay made this a very rich story. I loved seeing different characters from several other characters’ perspectives. It made each character feel more real and well-rounded to see both how they thought and how others thought of them. I also enjoyed the backdrop Silver Bay created. Perhaps because I’m someone who loves nonfiction, some of my favorite fiction is that which depicts a way of life I’m unfamiliar with. Learning about living in a small, Australian community which made its money from whale-watching while I learned about the characters was a fascinating and enjoyable experience. This did involve a small amount of sad animal stories, but things resolved happily enough that it didn’t impact my overall enjoyment of the book.

As with a previous book I read by Jojo Moyes, The Girl You Left Behind, right and wrong are far from obvious. Getting so many different perspectives helped with that. I was recently bothered by the way When the Cypress Whispers tries to demonize the main character’s generally nice fiance, clearly setting us up for her to leave him for someone else. While the situation in this book is similar, with me rooting for a romance with someone other than the fiancee, the author doesn’t make it easy. We clearly see both the good and the bad of both the character and the fiancee, making us share the main character’s indecision. As with Moyes’ previous book, Silver Bay also does a great job making you empathize with every character and reveals the characters’ secrets slowly without ever manipulating the story in a weird way to avoid an earlier reveal. I wasn’t completely won over by the ending, which was revealed in such a way that one of the character’s hard work finding a solution felt like a fortuitous last-minute rescue, but overall this book gave me the intriguing, emotional ride I expected from a book by Jojo Moyes.

This review first published on Doing Dewey.

Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest

Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest - Jen Doll Always the bridesmaid and never the bride, Jen Doll has been to a lot of weddings. As a bit of a party girl willing to do anything for a story, her wedding-going antics have given her many wild stories to tell. She uses these stories to thoughtfully ponder what weddings mean to us and what she wants out of life, while relating many humorous anecdotes.

This was more of a memoir than I expected, with short stories in loosely chronological order. Although each story connected to a wedding in some way, the wedding wasn’t always the main focus. Sometimes they were more about other big events in Jen’s life. Like most collections of short stories, some of the stories worked for me and some of them didn’t. I thought the author always did an admirable job not sounding bitter. She was occasionally cynical or resigned though and these were some of the bits I found funniest. I particularly enjoyed a story about one of the first weddings she remembers. Her eight-year-old self had some pretty funny ideas about weddings!

I didn’t always enjoy her experiences as an adult. To an extent, I like that she included the sordid details of even her worst wedding decisions. Some of them were decisions I could empathize with and sharing our mistakes can make us more relatable. However, the author is clearly more of a party girl than I am. She might also have a bit of a drinking problem. Even at the end of the book, although she knows she should drink less at weddings, she’s still choosing to drink too much and do stupid, thoughtless things. In many of these cases, I empathized far more with people who had to put up with her at their weddings than I did with her! On the other hand, as someone who’s never had a one night stand, I found living through her experiences vicariously to be an interesting experiences. I also particularly enjoyed her more philosophical musings about the purpose of weddings and the baggage participants bring with them. I wasn’t wowed enough by this memoir to recommend it to everyone, but if you particularly like weddings or attend them often, you’ll probably find a lot to empathize with here.

This review first published on Doing Dewey.

The Orphans of Race Point: A Novel

The Orphans of Race Point: A Novel - Patry Francis From the moment Gus Silva’s mother dies, Hallie Costa feels strangely connected to him. Although he refuses to speak for months after, it’s Hallie who finally helps him start to return to normalcy. When a terrible tragedy befalls them at their senior prom, Hallie is willing to stay by Gus’s side. And when years later Gus is accused of murder, Hallie wants more than anything to believe he didn’t do it. However, it will take Milla, the daughter of a woman Gus was counseling, to help Gus escape the shadow of his past.

There was only one thing I didn’t like about this book so I’m going to get it out of the way now. I was not a fan of how Gus impacted Hallie’s life. She’s one of my favorite characters ever and I think she would have had a better life without him. That, however, brings me to one of my favorite parts of this book: Hallie. From a precocious to a intelligent, successful adult, she was someone I would love to be friends with or to be myself. The author did a great job bringing all of her characters to life. Hallie, Gus, and Milla (especially Milla!), all had very distinct voices. I thought having Mila’s letters be written in terrible internet shorthand was a bit over the top, but other than that she seemed like an authentic, sarcastic, smart, and somewhat broken teenager. The setting was also fantastic, with interesting elements of Portuguese culture and of the culture of a small town in New England.

The plot took me on a complete emotional rollercoaster. Every time I was about to feel hopelessly depressed by what might have been, the characters displayed an amazing resilience which helped me keep going too. This book really deserves all of those blurbs I usually assume are hyperbolic. It’s gripping and poignant and a story of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. It’s beautiful and moving and a fascinating look at generally believable relationships. Basically, it was all amazing. I couldn’t put it down and would highly recommend it.

This review first published on Doing Dewey.

The Shadow Year

The Shadow Year - Hannah Richell In 1980, five friends about to graduate from college decide to get away together one last time. However, when it comes time to return from the idyllic college they visit, none of them are ready to go. They eventually come up with a plan to try roughing it off the grid at the cottage for the next year. Initially, the cottage feels like paradise, but as the weather gets worse, their situation deteriorates and personal tensions build. Thirty years later, when Lila mysteriously inherits the same cottage, she finds peace at the cottage during a difficult time in her marriage. However, she slowly begins to realize that something terrible happened to the previous inhabitants.

Reading The Shadow Year was a bit like watching a car crash in slow motion. I saw most of the big reveals coming and most of them were sad or horrifying, but somehow I still couldn’t stop turning pages as I waited to see how they would play out. Part of the reason this book was so engaging was because of the author’s superb descriptions. She described the cottage in rich detail and seeing the place from the perspective of both parallel stories added even more depth. I love dual narratives in general, but I think it’s particularly fun when people or places appear in both story lines like that so you can see how they change.

The characters were a high point of The Shadow Year. I didn’t have any trouble telling the two narrators apart and I thought every character in the story had a distinct personality. I also liked the contrasts between the two story lines, with one character’s life spiraling out of control and the other character pulling herself back together. As someone who doesn’t typically go for stories which end badly, I think having a happier storyline to balance out the more depressing one was crucial to my enjoyment of this story. I would definitely recommend this to fans of women’s fiction or of psychological thrillers, as well as anyone who likes a good dual narrative.

This review first published on Doing Dewey.

The Serpent of Venice

The Serpent of Venice - Christopher Moore The Serpent of Venice draws on a number of classics, including The Merchant of Venice, Othello, and The Cask of Amontillado, and then adds a large helping of irreverent humor. The fool Pocket has made enemies of the merchant Antonio, senator Brabantio, and soldier Iago by opposing a war which would make them rich. In order to get Pocket out of the way, these three men invite him to a party with an assassination attempt in mind. However, Pocket is not as easy to kill as they might think and he’ll be back with revenge in mind.

This is one of those three star ratings which is really me wanting to give two stars to some parts of the story and four stars to other parts. The idea for the plot was definitely a four start bit and my favorite part of the book. The author does a great job merging the plots from the classics he references. He preserves some lines and scenes to give exciting flashes of recognition but also creates something very unique. After I got used to the author’s writing style, I also was very absorbed in the plot and felt like something exciting was always happening. The two star part of the plot was the introduction of the titular character, a mythical beast who showed up to rescue the good guys every time things were looking hopeless. I would have preferred to see the characters find solutions to more of their problems themselves.

The humor was another part of the story which was hit or miss for me. The humor involves some strong language, which I expected, but was also very focused on sex. In some cases this felt very forced and I thought it detracted from the story. Initially the swearing also pulled me out of the story, because, even knowing about it going in, it just wasn’t what I expected from a story set in historical Venice. However, as I got further into the story, I became more accustomed to the author’s writing style and sense of humor. This made the swearing much less distracting. The good part of the humor is that some if it was really funny. My favorite parts where were characters broke the fourth wall and interacted with the narrating chorus. At the end of the day,I had a lot of fun reading this and would definitely try another book by the author, especially now that I’ve gotten used to the writing style. I would recommend this to fans of creative retellings, especially those with a high tolerance for swearing and sexual innuendo.

This review first published on Doing Dewey.

The Falconer

The Falconer - Elizabeth May I was having fun with this book from the very first page, in part because I was excited about doing an informal read-along with Anya from On Starships and Dragonwings, but also because the world building was so well done. The author did a great job describing what was currently happening in a way that hinted at the big picture. The constant action and intriguing hints of more world building to come kept me quickly turning pages through the whole book. Especially cool elements of the world building included the Scottish mythology, the awesome steampunk inventions, and the somewhat unusual choice to have the fairies be the bad guys.

The characters were another part of this book I enjoyed. Aileana is a somewhat complex character, trying to balance her social obligations and her desire for revenge. She loves inventing weapons and gets a thrill from hunting fairies which makes her question her own morality. The secondary characters were also interesting and well developed. I particularly liked seeing the friendships Aileana had, since I feel friendship is an overlooked relationship in many books. At the same time, romance is often overdone for my taste. That meant that I was very happy to see hints of a love triangle fizzle out and to see the romance in general take a back seat to the adventure. There were a few instances where I thought the heroine was being stupid about boys and the ending was such a cliff-hanger I felt like the author just stopped writing, but other than those two small gripes, I loved everything about this book. Perfect for fans of Gail Carriger and for anyone looking for a fun adventure with a great setting and not too much romance.

This review first published on Doing Dewey.

All That Is Solid Melts Into Air

All That Is Solid Melts Into Air - Darragh McKeon Signs of the impending collapse of the Soviet Union are everywhere, but fear of the regime is equally widespread. Piano playing prodigy Yevgeni faces violence daily as he travels the city. His aunt and mother struggle to make ends meet while staying under the radar. Everyone knows something has gone terribly wrong, from farm boy Artyom who notices that the cows’ ears are bleeding to Grigory, a doctor who sees how peoples’ lives are valued less than keeping up appearances. All of these characters will struggle to not only survive, but to make a difference.

I like to think that as I’ve been writing reviews, I’ve gotten better at describing the writing techniques which I like and dislike. Nevertheless, I still sometimes stumble across a gem like this, where the writing is simply perfect for reasons which surpass my understanding. Part of it is that the author uses somber adjectives and short, sharp descriptions, like a flash lighting up bits of the scene he’s describing. Part of it is that he’s clearly done his research. Reading about every character, from the farm boy to the doctor, I felt immersed in the captivating details of their daily life. Part of it is the minimalism of his writing and part of it is the insightfulness of his comments on human nature. And part of it was his ability to surprise me with new metaphors and descriptions that never would occur to me, but which were always apropos. But for all of those things I can define, I still feel like there’s something intangible which made the writing so perfect.

Something I disliked about the book, but which I don’t think will be a negative for everyone, is how dark and depressing it was. There’s some violence, including violence towards animals and children, which added to the plot. There was also some violence I didn’t think was necessary. Perhaps it was historically accurate, but even so, I would have been happier without it. I also wasn’t entirely happy with the ending because when I finished I felt uncertain what the point of the story was. We didn’t get to observe much character growth. None of the characters are able to significantly alter the state of the country. There’s some build up to large confrontation which never occurs. However, I think enjoyment and education I found while reading are point enough, so I would still recommend this very highly.

This review first published on Doing Dewey.