BOOK REVIEW: Until We Meet, by Camille Di Maio

BOOK REVIEW: Until We Meet, by Camille Di MaioTitle: Until We Meet by Camille Di Maio
Published by Forever
Published: March 1st 2022
Genres: Historical, Fiction
Pages: 384
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

A poignant and page-turning story of three women whose lives are forever changed by war.…

New York City, 1943
Can one small act change the course of a life?
Margaret’s job at the Navy Yard brings her freedoms she never dared imagine, but she wants to do something more personal to help the war effort. Knitting socks for soldiers is a way to occupy her quiet nights and provide comfort to the boys abroad. But when a note she tucks inside one of her socks sparks a relationship with a long-distance pen pal, she finds herself drawn to a man she’s never even met.

Can a woman hold on to her independence if she gives away her heart?
Gladys has been waiting her whole life for the kinds of opportunities available to her now that so many men are fighting overseas. She’s not going to waste a single one. And she’s not going to let her two best friends waste them either. Then she meets someone who values her opinions as much as she likes giving them, and suddenly she is questioning everything she once held dear.

Can an unwed mother survive on her own?
Dottie is in a dire situation—she’s pregnant, her fiancé is off fighting the war, and if her parents find out about the baby, they’ll send her away and make her give up her child. Knitting helps take her mind off her uncertain future—until the worst happens and she must lean on her friends like never before.

With their worlds changing in unimaginable ways, Margaret, Gladys, and Dottie will learn that the unbreakable bond of friendship between them is what matters most of all.

Until We Meet is one of my favorite styles of historical women’s fiction/romance incorporating interesting and realistic characters, strong friendships, and a romance developed through letter-writing. Three best friends who live and work and aid the war efforts through working in the naval yard, working on the USS Missouri, and knitting socks for soldiers overseas try to make sense and stability through the difficulties the war has brought to themselves and their families.

One of the things I absolutely loved about the structure of the book is the easy flow between Margaret and the man to whom she is writing. The multiple perspectives bring into focus both the immediacy and the distance war puts between home and the self. And while the book is a well-paced and easy read, it doesn’t shy away from the truths of war and the truths in what happens to the individual during war. The characters and setting are incredibly well-crafted, and I felt all of what the characters felt along with them. The friendships among Margaret, Dottie, and Gladys felt so real with their ups and downs, the efforts they put to help each other through their own personal and professional challenges, and it felt like a true representation of what good, supportive friendship between women is supposed to be. I also loved the developing romance between Margaret and Tom, whose true identity is revealed later, and that they seemed to recognize each other at first sight upon his return. Aside from a connection built through the written word, I absolutely love that at first sight, I knew trope.

Overall, this is a solid historical fiction/romance with a great cast of characters that will have you feeling everything from joy to dispair to hope, and it’s perfect for your summer reading bag!!

Many thanks to BooksForward and Forever for sending a complimentary copy my way! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Tender is the Flesh, by Agustina Bazterrica (trans. Sarah Moses)

BOOK REVIEW: Tender is the Flesh, by Agustina Bazterrica (trans. Sarah Moses)Title: Tender Is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica, Sarah Moses
Published by Scribner
Published: August 4th 2020
Genres: Fiction, Horror
Pages: 211
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Library
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

Working at the local processing plant, Marcos is in the business of slaughtering humans —though no one calls them that anymore. His wife has left him, his father is sinking into dementia, and Marcos tries not to think too hard about how he makes a living. After all, it happened so quickly. First, it was reported that an infectious virus has made all animal meat poisonous to humans. Then governments initiated the “Transition.” Now, eating human meat—“special meat”—is legal. Marcos tries to stick to numbers, consignments, processing.

Then one day he’s given a gift: a live specimen of the finest quality. Though he’s aware that any form of personal contact is forbidden on pain of death, little by little he starts to treat her like a human being. And soon, he becomes tortured by what has been lost—and what might still be saved.

I finished this book almost two months ago, and I still think about it at least once a week. I read a lot, so it’s rare that a book will stick with me for so long because my brain just jumps to the next thing because yay distractibility, but Tender is the Flesh is going to stick with me for a while.

Essentially, animal flesh becomes inedible, and the government enters the “Transition” in which “special meat” is processed for consumption. “Special meat” is human meat, and Bazterrica holds nothing back in the description of that transition. Marcos, the main character, is a processor at one of these processing plants, and the first third of the novel is him methodically trying to distance himself from what he is participating in.

When he’s given a live female specimen, though… that’s when everything turns upside down. While he begins to treat this female specimen with a sort of kindness and gentleness, the violence of everything else, including of Marcos’ own doing, amplifies, and the novel turns more gruesome and brutal as it devolves into how brutal people (especially men) can be to one another when it comes to power and control.

This was a book I could not put down because I needed to know what happened next, how this would all resolve, and the last page of this novel is one of the most chilling conclusions I have ever read.

BOOK REVIEW: Nooks & Crannies, by Jessica Lawson

BOOK REVIEW: Nooks & Crannies, by Jessica LawsonTitle: Nooks & Crannies by Jessica Lawson
Published: May 10th 2016
Genres: Middle Grade, Mystery
Pages: 352
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets Clue when six children navigate a mansion full of secrets—and maybe money—in this “delightful gem” (School Library Journal, starred review) with heart.
Sweet, shy Tabitha Crum, the neglected only child of two parents straight out of a Roald Dahl book, doesn’t have a friend in the world—except for her pet mouse, Pemberley, whom she loves dearly. But on the day she receives one of six invitations to the country estate of wealthy Countess Camilla DeMoss, her life changes forever.

Upon the children’s arrival at the sprawling, possibly haunted mansion, it turns out the countess has a very big secret—one that will change their lives forever.

Then the children beginning disappearing, one by one. So Tabitha takes a cue from her favorite detective novels and, with Pemberley by her side, attempts to solve the case and rescue the other children…who just might be her first real friends.

This was purely a cover buy, because every time I’d walk by it, I’d tell myself I needed it. But then it sat on my shelf for years until this year when I added it to my 20 books in 2020 list (that I’m not going to finish, but that’s okay!!). I’m glad I read it when I did because it’s the perfect mystery escape, and I think it will appeal to a lot of different readers of all ages. Within the first few chapters, I found myself thinking This is a little dark for a kids’ book but then seeing the comparisons to Roald Dahl and Lemony Snicket made perfect sense. This is something that would appeal to those readers and definitely belongs on the shelf next to Robin Stevens’ Wells and Wong mystery series!

Tabitha is such a wonderful character, sure of herself while also searching for her place in the world, smart without being too smart, and very funny on top of it all. After being told by her parents they’re dumping her off at an orphanage because they can’t keep her any longer (!!!) but days before she’s set to be dropped off, Tabitha receives a mysterious invitation to the Countess of Windermere’s mansion. She along with five other children are chosen to help get to the bottom of a lineage mystery as well as an inheritance mystery.

Mysteries can be easily spoiled, so I won’t write much about the details, but I will say that I was delighted by all of the twists and turns and red herrings. This is such a well-crafted traditional mystery story, and it made me want to dive back into reading some Agatha Christie again because the pacing of the story and the characters and reveals within reminded me so much of what I’ve read of Christie.

I just really loved this one for all sorts of reasons. If you enjoy well-paced adventure stories, well-plotted mysteries, and great multifaceted characters (no matter your age), this one should be on your list to read next. Nooks & Crannies was the sort of book that reminded me of how much I loved reading when I was younger, and I feel like there are so few middle grade books I’ve read in the past few years that make me feel that way. I also loved that it’s a standalone title! In this current pandemic with all of the stress of it on top of regular life stress, it’s so nice to be able to read a story from beginning to end in one book!! (But this is also a post for another time, because while I love series, my brain is definitely leaning toward standalones.)

BOOK REVIEW: The Phlebotomist, by Chris Panatier

BOOK REVIEW: The Phlebotomist, by Chris PanatierTitle: The Phlebotomist by Chris Panatier
Published by Angry Robot
Published: September 8th 2020
Genres: Fiction, Thriller, Science Fiction
Pages: 344
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

In a near future where citizens are subject to the mandatory blood draw, government phlebotomist Willa Wallace witnesses an event that makes her question her whole world.To recover from a cataclysmic war, the Harvest was created to pass blood to those affected by radiation.

But this charitable act has led to a society segregated entirely by blood type. Patriot thanks and rewards your generous gift based on the compatibility of your donation, meaning that whoever can give to the most, gets the most back. While working as a reaper for the draw, Willa chances upon an idea to resurrect an obsolete collection technique that could rebalance the city.
But in her quest to put this in motion, she instead uncovers a secret that threatens her entire foundations…

Chris Panatier’s The Phlebotomist is a wild dystopian ride that took a turn I was not expecting but by which I was completely thrilled. It starts out as a Bladerunner-esque dystopia in which people must sell their blood to Patriot, the government, in order to survive and to help those in the Grey Zone, an area suffering from the aftermath of bombardment. This differs from the usual dystopian fare in that the main character is a grandmother, and I truly love seeing older characters in the spotlight. Yes, the younger ones can be fun, but having the experience of life while also learning that you don’t know as much about the role you play in society is such a refreshing thing for me to see.

If you’re bothered by blood and medical terminology, definitely be aware that this has a lot of it. It’s so well done that even I was feeling a bit squeamish at some of the scenes, but I think that added to the grim reality of selling blood every month to the government for survival. I loved the medical definitions related to blood at the beginning of each chapter that kind of clued into where the story was going. Around a hundred pages in is where the twist happens, and it’s better if you don’t know what it is, because that’s when the puzzle of this future world starts piecing itself together and making its reveal. I went into this only knowing it was about a phlebotomist in a dystopian setting, and that twist got me excited to finish reading this to see how everything ended. All of the characters brought so much life to the story, and the unusual cast was another reason I was hooked, even though I knew no one could possibly be safe.

While this isn’t your typical gritty dystopia, I recognized a lot of throwbacks to dystopian favorites while also being fresh and innovative. There are a lot of WTF moments that pulsed throughout because it’s full of secrets, political intrigue, and class exploration that feels so relevant toward today, especially with COVID, society collapse, and its criticism of governments exacting control over their citizens. Because it blends together elements of so many different genres — thrillers, science fiction, mysteries, and dystopias — I think it’ll appeal to a wide variety of readers. It’s definitely a fun, fast read, and I hope someday there’s another book set in this universe! It reads as a standalone with enough of an open to add more.

Many thanks to Angry Robot for sending me a complimentary review copy! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Branwell, by Douglas A. Martin

BOOK REVIEW: Branwell, by Douglas A. MartinTitle: Branwell: A Novel of the Brontë Brother by Douglas A. Martin, Darcey Steinke
Published by Soft Skull
Published: July 7th 2020
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 256
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

For readers of Michael Cunningham's The Hours and Madeline Miller's Song of Achilles, this genre-bending exploration of the tragic figure of Branwell Brontë and the dismal, dazzling landscape that inspired his sisters to greatness is now available in a new edition with an introduction by Darcey Steinke.
Branwell Brontë―brother of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne―has a childhood marked by tragedy and the weight of expectations. After the early deaths of his mother and a beloved older sister, he is kept away from school and tutored at home by his father, a curate, who rests all his ambitions for his children on his only son. Branwell grows up isolated in his family’s parsonage on the moors, learning Latin and Greek, being trained in painting, and collaborating on endless stories and poems with his sisters.
Yet while his sisters go on to write Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Agnes Grey, Branwell wanders from job to job, growing increasingly dependent on alcohol and opium and failing to become a great poet or artist.
With rich, suggestive sentences “perfectly fitted to this famously imaginative, headstrong family” (Publishers Weekly), Branwell is a portrait of childhood dreams, thwarted desire, the confinements of gender―and an homage to the landscape and milieu that inspired some of the most revolutionary works of English literature.

Douglas A. Martin’s Branwell is a queer interpretation of Branwell Bronte’s life, and an interpretation that I found both thought-provoking and stylistic. Martin imagines a Branwell struggling to live up to the expectations he felt as the ‘man of the house’ and ultimately failing on several levels. I think to get the full scope of the novel, the reader must be familiar with the Bronte history and lore, especially knowing that Charlotte destroyed so much of their family’s personal writings and letters after their deaths. It raises the question of what Charlotte was hiding or protecting, and Martin’s novel explores an answer to the question of Branwell. Based on my own research, this novel takes liberties with the life of Branwell, though I feel these liberties were tied in with Martin’s own experiences through revelations in the introduction to this book. I ultimately found the sexual content of this novel disturbing, and the barn scene at the end soured my reading experience because the implied bestiality ended up being all I could think about as it seemed out of place in the context and scope of things.

I do find it interesting to me to have received this almost alongside another title about Branwell’s life and I am looking forward to reading that one as well, and Martin’s seems to be in stark contrast thematically and stylistically to the other book about the affair of “unspeakable acts” Branwell had in his lifetime, as the affair has been referred to as a screen for homosexual activity. If you are interested in queer interpretations of literary figures and stylistic writing, based in fact or toying with it, this may pique your interest, but do be aware of the heavy subject matter.

Many thanks to Soft Skull Press for sending me a complimentary copy to review! All opinions are my own.