The Weaver by Emmi Itäranta

26198181Eliana is a model citizen of the island, a weaver in the prestigious House of Webs. She also harbors a dangerous secret—she can dream, an ability forbidden by the island’s elusive council of elders. No one talks about the dreamers, the undesirables ostracized from society.

But the web of protection Eliana has woven around herself begins to unravel when a young girl is found lying unconscious in a pool of blood on the stones outside the house. Robbed of speech by her attackers, the only clue to her identity is one word tattooed in invisible ink across her palm: Eliana. Why does this mysterious girl bear her name? What links her to the weaver—and how can she hold Eliana’s fate in her hand?

Review:

I picked up The Weaver thinking it was perfect for Women in Translation Month… but it looks like the author rewrote her own book in English, so I don’t think it counts.

Things starts off great – an interesting world doled out in manageable chunks!  An easy-to-like character that’s caught up in Happenings!  A mystery with a sure to be gruesome villain!

But as much as I like the beginning the book stalls.  It’s not the plot, exactly, or the character development, but the lack of love given to the world they’re inhabiting.  The what is lovingly explained, but Eliana’s lack of interest in the why means we don’t get many answers.  Who are the people who came to this island, and what drove them to make such segregated groups?  Why does the council have such power, and where did that power come from?  Ships travel between the island and other places, so what holds the inhabitants here?  And so on.  The ground level world building is solid enough, but there’s little added to that foundation.

I like that there’s a main female/female relationship and the fact that it’s f/f doesn’t raise any eyebrows. A side character is gender queer/fluid/trans, perhaps, but it’s barely examined so I don’t want label them.

While the set up and idea are interesting when more depth is required we find ourselves stuck in an ill-woven web.

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The Education of a Coroner: Lessons in Investigating Death by John Bateson

32920307Marin County, California is a study in contradictions. Its natural beauty attracts thousands of visitors every year, yet the county also is home to San Quentin Prison, one of the oldest and largest penitentiaries in the country. Marin ranks in the top one percent of counties nationwide in terms of affluence and overall health, yet it is far above the norm in drug overdoses and alcoholism, and comprises a large percentage of suicides from the Golden Gate Bridge.

Ken Holmes worked in the Marin County Coroner’s Office for thirty-six years, starting as a death investigator and ending as the three-term, elected coroner. As he grew into the job—which is different from what is depicted on television—Holmes learned a variety of skills, from finding hidden clues at death scenes, interviewing witnesses effectively, managing bystanders and reporters, preparing testimony for court to notifying families of a death with sensitivity and compassion.

Complete with poignant anecdotes, The Education of a Coroner provides a firsthand and fascinating glimpse into the daily life of a public servant whose work is dark and mysterious yet necessary for society to function.

Review:

As a lover of medical and medically-adjacent nonfiction I happily dug into Education of a Coroner.  CSI without all the fake glamour? I’m there!

The jacket copy makes it sound like the book is from Holmes’ point of view but we’re actually following the author, a professional acquaintance.  Bateson goes through Holmes’ records and conducts a series of interviews that form the backbone of the book.  I found myself wishing he had done more synthesis of the material and gotten into Holmes’ head instead of quoting him verbatum.  There’s a big difference between “Holmes thought” and “When I asked Holmes about it he said, ‘Well, I thought…'”

Luckily this distance only occurs in the sections dealing with Holmes’ career.  A large portion book is chock-a-block with fascinating cases from his 36 years on the job – suicides that may not have been suicides, genius (and not so genius) murder methods, clues that make or break an investigation.

As a medical interpreter I found the chapter on death notifications the most interesting.  If Holmes tried to couch the news in niceties it wouldn’t be conveyed at all.

He also learned to avoid saying something like “she succumbed” or “she didn’t survive” or “it was fatal”.  he had to say the word dead or killed.  If he didn’t, if he said something like, “Unfortunately, she didn’t make it,” the next questions were “How bad was it?” “Where is she?” “Can I go talk to her?” because the person didn’t hear. It was way too much information coming from a total stranger without any context or preamble.

All in all Education of a Coroner is a fun read for those who want to know what the job involves in real life.  While I found the beginning and end slow the amazing cases in the middle make up for it.

Thanks to Scribner and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

One Week in Greece by Demi Alex (International Affairs #3)

35426062Bethany Michaels is headed to the sun-bleached island of Mykonos on business, not pleasure. But an unexpected face from the past will introduce her to a brand-new desire . . .

Proving her business acumen to her demanding father is Bethany’s only goal as she boards a ferry for Mykonos—and the beautiful resort she’s determined to acquire for her family’s hotel chain. Gorgeous Greek hunk Paul Lallas stands in her way—alongside his lover, Justin Bentley, who broke Bethany’s heart into a million pieces years ago. When the two men make their very personal interest in her clear, mergers and acquisitions are suddenly the last thing on Bethany’s mind. Could the chance to live out every one of her forbidden fantasies lead to a future more blissful than she ever imagined?

Review:

While some underlying principles are good to see the story is an overall meh.

The good:

  • Pansexual rep via one of the main characters – love to see it.
  • The woman is not the hinge of the triad.  Bethany dated Justin years ago, and now he’s in a committed relationship with Paul.  The dynamics of adding her back in are handled well.
  • The complexities of being serious in a three person relationship are touched on realistically.  Do we want to get married?  What would that look like?  Do we want to have kids, and how would we handle that?  Where do we want to live, and how will we each be able to continue our careers?  In this sense the happily ever after feels solid and earned.

The not-so-good:

  • The book truly takes place over a week, making those realistic life convos feel rushed.  “I just meet you seven days ago and now I’m tying myself to you forever” (in the case of Bethany and Paul) is a bit much.
  • The story arc in general isn’t satisfying.
  • The writing is clunky throughout.  The two guys sound the same, to the point that I had to remind myself which is which, and the sex is merely okay.  Ish.

Good rep, glad to see the foundational ideas are there, but the execution could use some work.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Synopsis:

12611253Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle—and people in general—has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence—creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.

Review:

Epistolary novels are my weakness and this one is exceptionally good. The range of mediums, as well as writers and recipients, gives us a deep look into people’s heads. And what interesting heads! Semple does a great job giving each character a distinct voice and making the whole thing funny to boot.

Starting feels a little bit like wading into the weeds but things come together quickly. Even after the narrative settled down Semple kept me on my toes by bringing up something I didn’t know and letting it hang. It gnawed quietly on a corner of my brain for 10, 20, or 50 pages before a subtle explanation was dropped. More than once I found myself smiling and nodding in recognition, “ohhh, that thing!” Now and then there was a reference I did get, letting me feel smart for a second.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette lives and breathes the axiom “show, don’t tell”. I don’t want to spoil you, so let’s just say that a powerpoint presentation is given in front of a large crowd. The speaker’s clicker breaks two slides in, though, and he has to resort to explaining everything. It’s perfect because it allows the transcript to be a full record while also showing the character’s poise under pressure. Add in a live blogger’s comments and it’s masterful.

The only fault I can find in the entire novel is a slightly slow part near the end, but it’s so minor it’s barely worth mentioning. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a fun, engaging read just about anyone can enjoy.

Untamed by Elizabeth Lowell (Medieval #1)

Synopsis:

10252717Returning home triumphant from the Crusades, Dominic le Sabre is determined to claim the bride promised to him by the king, but the high-born Celtic beauty is equally determined to resist him.

Review:

Many parts of this book made me cringe, but it was more for tropes I hate than anything else. In fact, the solid writing and (slightly plodding) story kept me from abandoning the book all together.

The good:

  • learning medieval tidbits about castles and falconry
  • how thoughtfully (and sexily) the hero seduced the heroine
  • Meg’s inner strength and belief in her convictions. She doesn’t let a stupid alpha male keep her from what she has to do.

The not-so-good:

  • heroine being held captive (sorta) for a good chunk of the book
  • all this talk of “I must have sons!” without any regard to whether Meg would, you know, actually want sons. Or kids in general.
  • Dominic never ever trusts Meg, even after she proves herself several times
  • the spy was mad easy to spot
  • the battle scenes seemed short for how important they are. But maybe that’s my urban fantasy roots showing

While this book wasn’t for me I would recommend it to someone whose taste in tropes run opposite to mine.

Moonstruck by Lauren Dane (Diablo Lake #1)

25771199Katie Grady left Diablo Lake to get over a humiliating breakup; but her family needs her help, so she’s back, in a sublet right across the hall from the guy she’s lusted after for years. Jace Dooley is hotter than ever, and their friendship picks up along with massive doses of grown-up chemistry.

The very scent of Katie sharpens Jace’s canines, makes the wolf within him stir. There’s nothing more alluring to a Pack Alpha than a sexy female who is so very in charge. She won’t be coddled, but if he plays his hand just right she might be convinced to become his.

Katie presents a challenge to Jace’s wolf nature, whose chief instinct is to protect. Especially now that she’s coming into the magic that is her birthright – and suddenly Jace isn’t the only one who’s interested in Katie, or the raw power she’s just learning to use.

Review:

I like some of Dane’s other work so I had high hopes for Moonstruck but it’s not quite my thing.

The good:

  • Dane is a solid writer and the story basics are well in hand.
  • The town dynamics are interesting with two werewolf packs and witches in the middle, acting as a moderating force.

The not-so-good:

  • The heroine says weird stuff simply for the sake of being weird. It’s… weird, and not in a good way.
  • In the same vein, the relationship between Katie and her best friend feels forced and their conversation is cringe inducing. I nearly DNFed in the first chapter, it bothered me so much.
  • You could take the paranormal aspects out and you’d end up with the same story – a small town “the one that got away” romance with feuding families and ailing relatives. I like it when the magical stuff is more central to the story.

So let’s give this one a big ol’ ENH.

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Synopsis:

10112885Everybody has a Cordova story. Cult horror director Stanislas Cordova hasn’t been seen in public since 1977. To his fans he is an engima. To journalist Scott McGrath he is the enemy. To Ashley he was a father.

On a damp October night the body of young, beautiful Ashley Cordova is found in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Her suicide appears to be the latest tragedy to hit a severely cursed dynasty.

For McGrath, another death connected to the legendary director seems more than a coincidence. Driven by revenge, curiosity and a need for the truth, he finds himself pulled into a hypnotic, disorientating world, where almost everyone seems afraid.

The last time McGrath got close to exposing Cordova, he lost his marriage and his career. This time he could lose his grip on reality.

ONCE WE FACE OUR DEEPEST FEARS, WHAT LIES ON THE OTHER SIDE?

Review:

The last thing I want to do is spoil anyone so please excuse any vagueness or odd hand waving. Hopefully those who have read the book will know what I’m getting at.

Like any good mystery we start off with a bunch of intriguing questions – was Ashley’s death really a suicide? Who is this reclusive Cordova guy, anyway? And what kind of guy would make such twisted films?

The (non-spoilery) good stuff:

  • The backstory. Pessl obviously put a ton of work into Cordova’s filmography and it shows. I was worried that with a dozen or so film titles being thrown around I would get confused but there was always ample context.
  • How the arc of the book as a whole mirrors… something else. While some might be annoyed with the end I thought it was fitting, especially how it related to… that something else. ~shakes a fist at the spoiler-free sky~
  • Cordova’s philosophy. I can’t say I agree with it, but it’s intriguing and made me think about how I’m living my own life. Not to mention that I need to read a certain poem now.
  • Most of the characters are on the “unlikeable” side of the scale but they didn’t make me want to throw the book across the room. All have their own motivations (however twisted) and it works.

The (zero spoiler) not-so-good stuff:

  • In the first half of the book question after question is raised but precious few are answered, and around the 50% mark I started to lose interest. Why should I keep reading if it just digs me deeper into a hole? Near the end things picked up and gave me some stuff to think about but it was a struggle to get there.
  • The extras available through the “decoder” app. A couple were neat (a filmography, primary documents) but some were maddening. An interview with a murderer was especially bad, because…
  • …the interview is poorly written. The questions sound like they’re being read in order, no matter what the subject says. The murderer in particular leaves all these juicy tidbits hanging in the air, begging for follow up, but the interviewer just goes to the next question on her list. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by Terry Gross but it was beyond annoying.
  • The voice acting in the app left much to be desired. It sounded like reading, not acting out a part.

Overall it was an interesting read that left me thinking but sadly it didn’t live up to the hype.

Women in Translation Month 2017: Suggestions and Reading List

As you may know this is the Women in Translation Month, started by Meytal Radzinski at Biblibio. Only a quarter or so of books translated into English arwit1e by women so this is a time to draw attention to the awesomeness that’s out there and celebrate it.  And because it’s a look at marginalized voices transgender and nonbinary authors are included in the mix, huzzah!

This is the fourth #WiTMonth and it’s been growing up nicely.  As Radzinski put in a recent post,

This is how I think it should be. Not every reader necessarily devoting all their time to reading women in translation all of August, but enough different readers and reviewers and bloggers and translators and publishers talking about the subject. People learning about the publishing imbalance in translation between men and women. People seeking out new and diverse literature by women writers from around the world. And people doing it not out of any sense of obligation or guilt, but because there are so many good books that this just becomes a month that focuses their reading. This becomes a month with a greater density of recommendations, with more posts, with more attention. Women in translation must exist yearlong, but in August we get to give them that extra platform that they might not always have.

This.  All the this.

In that spirit I won’t be devoting my entire August to women in translation but I do have some interesting titles lined up and ready to go.  Looking for a place to start?  Here are some of my recent favorites:

25330335Seeing Red by Lina Meruane, translated by Megan McDowell

This book clawed into my brain. The prose is relentless, the story is haunting, and the fact that it’s an autobiographical novel makes the main character’s anguish all the more real.

26894137The First Wife by Paulina Chiziane, translated by David Brookshaw

Mozambique’s first published female novelist drops us into her country and tells the story of Rami, a first wife that just found out that her husband actually has five.  The prose has a delightful rhythm to it and I cheered for and commiserated with Rami every step of the way.

A Simple Story: The Last Malambo by Leila Guerriero, translated by Frances Riddle30347690

The rarest of the rare – non-fiction in translation.  The Malambo quickly became my favorite dance that I never knew about as Guerriero follows the dancers that put everything into their craft… for the honor of never being able to dance it again.  Powerful and sure to be one of my favorite reads of 2017.

And now for a reading list!  I picked up The Weaver by Emmi Itäranta thinking it was a translation, but it looks like she rewrote it in English so I’m not sure it counts.  That’s okay, though, as there’s so much to pick from!  Right now I’m looking at:

  • The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz, translated by Elisabeth Jaquette
  • Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi, translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman
  • Translation as Transhumance by Mireille Gansel, translated by Ros Schwartz (to be published November 2017) – perhaps the most fitting book ever 😉

I’d love to hear your recommendations, especially if you know of any non-fiction by women in translation!

The Red by Tiffany Reisz

30755704Mona Lisa St. James made a deathbed promise that she would do anything to save her mother’s art gallery. Unfortunately, not only is The Red painted red, but it’s in the red. She soon realizes she has no choice but to sell it.

Just as she realizes she has no choice but to sell it, a mysterious man comes in after closing time and makes her an offer: He will save The Red if she agrees to submit to him for the period of one year.

The man is handsome, English, and terribly tempting…but surely her mother didn’t mean for Mona to sell herself to a stranger. Then again, she did promise to do anything to save The Red…

Review:

Reisz has been in mainstream mode lately (The Night Mark, Her Halloween Treat) so I’m thrilled to see she’s come back to hot, kinky erotica.  Huzzah!

The good:

  • This is porn with a plot.  Mona agrees to have sex with a mysterious man over the course of a year in order to save her art gallery.  Each encounter is based on a painting and could easily become episodic but the thread of the story carries through wonderfully.
  • Ooo boy, the sex is hot.  The kink is thick and there’s guaranteed to be something that challenges you… which is just way I like it.
  • There’s a twist at the end that I didn’t see that brings everything full circle.  Well done.

The not-so-good:

  • The ending is a bit rushed, and while it didn’t bother me too much it could have used a little more development.
  • The characters are rounded but lack some depth.

All in all I’m sooo happy to see Reisz stretch her kinky wings again.  On Twitter she teased an upcoming title, calling it a “sexy sex cult”… so it looks like I have more to look forward to!

Thanks to 8th Circle Press and NetGalley for providing a review copy.