Title: Improvement by Joan Silber
Published by Counterpoint LLC
Published: November 14th 2017
One of our most gifted writers of fiction returns with a bold and piercing novel about a young single mother living in Harlem, her eccentric aunt, and the decisions they make that have unexpected implications for the world around them.
Reyna knows her relationship with Boyd isn't perfect, yet she sees him through a three-month stint at Riker's Island, their bond growing tighter. Kiki, now settled in the East Village after a youth that took her to Turkey and other far off places--and loves--around the world, admires her niece's spirit but worries that motherhood to four-year old Oliver might complicate a difficult situation. Little does she know that Boyd is pulling Reyna into a smuggling scheme, across state lines, violating his probation. When Reyna takes a step back, her small act of resistance sets into motion a tapestry of events that affect the lives of loved ones and strangers around them.
A novel that examines conviction, connection, repayment, and the possibility of generosity in the face of loss, Improvement is as intricately woven together as Kiki's beloved Turkish rugs, as colorful as the tattoos decorating Reyna's body, with narrative twists and turns as surprising and unexpected as the lives all around us. The Boston Globe said -No other writer can make a few small decisions ripple across the globe, and across time, with more subtlety and power, - and Improvement is Silber's most shining achievement.
The cover of Joan Silber’s Improvement
features a carpet that is woven into the connective stories. The novel is written in sparse, well-crafted prose, and connects the stories of six characters through strong, thin threads. I loved the butterfly effect explored in these pages, and Silber seems to know just what to reveal and just what to led the reader consider for themselves in the connected narratives.
I love how the novel itself is structured with an overarching narrative that is split into smaller sections in first- and third-person narration. The stories read almost like standalone stories, and I appreciated that format because each section felt immediate and personal. These stories, including the overarching story, show the masterwork of a literary butterfly effect. Each of the decisions the characters make affect their own lives and the lives of those around them, and we as readers are invited to consider those decisions in tandem with the decisions and the effects those choices have on our own lives.
Joan Silber’s Improvement explores the connective power of love and the changes — no matter how large or small — love brings into our lives. Love improves us if we only let it in.
Thank you to Counterpoint Press for sending me a free copy in exchange for a review!
Title: The Force Awakens by Alan Dean Foster
Series: Star Wars
Published by Del Rey
Published: January 5th 2016
Genres: Science Fiction
Set years after Return of the Jedi, this stunning action-packed adventure rockets us back into the world of Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, C-3PO, R2-D2, and Luke Skywalker, while introducing a host of exciting new characters, including Rey, Finn, BB-8 and Kylo Ren. Darth Vader may have been redeemed and the Emperor vanquished, but peace can be fleeting, and evil does not easily relent. Yet the simple belief in good can still empower ordinary individuals to rise and meet the greatest challenges. So return to that galaxy far, far away, and prepare yourself for what happens when the Force awakens...
Star Wars books are my favorite reads when I want to read something fun and exciting in a universe I’m familiar with, and while I spent a lot of my teenage years reading the Extended Universe, I’ve been interested in a lot of the new stuff that’s come out since Disney got involved with Star Wars and began this new trilogy. I read Star Wars books to add more to my movie-watching experience, and more often than not, the Extended Universe, the new canon, and the movie novels add more depth to the stories unfolding on screen.
However, the novelization of The Force Awakens reads almost exactly like the film, the only differences being the a small handful of additional scenes and the lack of humor and vivacity in other scenes. It’s definitely worth reading to find out a little more backstory on Poe Dameron and how he got to Jakku, as well as a little bit more emotional background for Kylo Ren (but if I’m honest, Kylo Ren is my least favorite character, and I don’t really care one way or another what happens to him). Other than that, it’s an easy read, very much like the film, and I was able to read it in an afternoon!
Title: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
Series: Wayward Children #1
Published by Tor.com
Published: April 5th 2016
For us, the places we went were home. We didn’t care if they were good or evil or neutral or what. We cared about the fact that for the first time we didn’t have to pretend to be something we weren’t. We just got to be. That made all the difference in the world.
Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations No Visitors No Quests
Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere... else.
But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.
Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced... they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.
But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.
No matter the cost.
Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway is a fairy tale homage. McGuire weaves in a lot of fairy tale and childhood fantasy references that make this a joy to read to try to connect all of those threads. Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is a place where parents send their troubled, “uncontrollable” children. The children who have been sent there are those who have said that they’ve visited other worlds, other places, through actual doors or through other means that are probably immediately identifiable to those who read a lot (a wardrobe, a rabbit hole, etc).
This story really resonated with me because of the quote above. For me, so much of growing up and becoming myself meant learning how to shed the masks I wore, and sometimes still wear. When you find that place in life where you feel like you can be completely yourself without shame or fear is like nothing else. Sometimes it’s as simple as aging, sometimes it’s the people you meet and become friends/family with, and sometimes it’s the actual place in which you live that helps shape everything. And then, when you’re taken away or removed from that place, even if you only visited for a moment, all you can really think about is getting back to that place. Longing and nostalgia can be as powerful a drug as any others, and sometimes the only salve is finding people who have shared experiences and feel the same way as you. Realizing you’re not alone is such a healing thing.
If you like reworked fairy tales or stories about belonging and loss, you really need to read this. I can’t wait to read the others in this series.
Title: The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente, Annie Wu
Published by Saga Press
Published: June 6th 2017
Genres: Science Fiction
The lives of six female superheroes and the girlfriends of superheroes. A ferocious riff on women in superhero comics.
A series of linked stories from the points of view of the wives and girlfriends of superheroes, female heroes, and anyone who’s ever been “refrigerated”: comic book women who are killed, raped, brainwashed, driven mad, disabled, or had their powers taken so that a male superhero’s storyline will progress.
Catherynne M. Valente’s The Refrigerator Monologues
is series of six loosely connected stories about female superheroes or the girlfriends of superheroes that are loosely based off of well-known characters in the Marvel and DC universes. The book is dedicated to Gail Simone, a female comic book writer fired from Batgirl
who eventually created the “Women in Refrigerators
” website in 1999. The website chronicles a lot of ways in which female characters are “fridged,” either “depowered, raped, or cut up and stuck in the refrigerator.”
Each of the stories are set in Deadtown, the place comic book characters go after they die, and the characters in these six stories form “The Hell Hath Club,” which sets the frame story to connect each of these character’s individual stories. I loved that Deadtown provided that frame because it tied everything together so well. Each of the characters voices felt fresh yet identifiable with known characters in the Marvel and DC universes. I think my favorite stories out of the collection are “Paige Embry,” based off of Spider-Man‘s Gwen Stacy and “Daisy,” based off of Deadpool‘s Karen Page.
The stories contribute to the conversation about the treatment of women in comic books and in the media in general, and if you love comic books and superheroes and the women featured in these stories, you definitely need to read this book.
Title: The Italian Party by Christina Lynch
Published by St. Martin's Press
Published: March 20th 2018
Genres: Historical, Fiction
A delicious and sharply funny page-turner about "innocent" Americans abroad in 1950s Siena, Italy. Newly married, Scottie and Michael are seduced by Tuscany's famous beauty. But the secrets they are keeping from each other force them beneath the splendid surface to a more complex view of ltaly, America and each other.
When Scottie's Italian teacher--a teenager with secrets of his own--disappears, her search for him leads her to discover other, darker truths about herself, her husband and her country. Michael's dedication to saving the world from communism crumbles as he begins to see that he is a pawn in a much different game. Driven apart by lies, Michael and Scottie must find their way through a maze of history, memory, hate and love to a new kind of complicated truth.
Half glamorous fun, half an examination of America's role in the world, and filled with sun-dappled pasta lunches, prosecco, charming spies and horse racing, The Italian Party is a smart pleasure.
As soon as I began reading The Italian Party
, I was swept away to post-WWII Italy and enveloped in a domestic spy thriller that captivated me from the first page to the final sentence. Scottie and Michael are newlyweds moving to Siena, Italy, to start their new lives as husband and wife. Michael’s been sent to Italy to sell the Italians some American tractors to propel Italy to more “modern” industrialization, or so Scottie thinks. Scottie appears to be the perfect person to fulfill Michael’s want and need for a wife, or so Michael thinks. Each of them have secrets upon secrets of their own, and the book deftly explores and unravels these secrets as the story progresses.
Michael has been sent to Italy with orders from the CIA to stop the Communist candidate from winning an election. His Ford office in Siena is merely a cover for his actual work. Without spoiling too much of the novel itself, Lynch explores one facet of the post-WWII/Cold War fears of the rise of communism and the fears from America about that rise. Little struggles throughout the book, including the “favored” American dessert of a can of peaches topped with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry over delicious Italian gelato, showcased the “rightness” and “righteousness” of American idealism over anything else.
The Italian Party is probably going to end up on my favorites of the year list. I loved the secrets weaving themselves through Scottie and Michael’s marriage and life outside their marriage. I love the development of the characters from beginning to end, and I love how both of them choose to support each other after all of these secrets between them come to the surface. The 1950s were mostly a different time and place compared to now, but Lynch shows that even then, people struggled with and faced the same difficulties in a relationship that people do today. So much of this novel reflects the current time, and it’s eye-opening to see history begin to repeat itself.
Christina Lynch weaves in domestic life with a spy thriller incredibly well, and the pacing of the book was excellent. I loved how the chapters themselves were divided into small sections, and somehow that made it even easier to zip right through and enjoy this book. Lynch’s sparkling prose makes you feel as if you are a fly on the wall in Scottie and Michael’s life in Italy, and it’s the perfect spring escape.
Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press for sending me a free copy to review; all opinions are my own!