Title: Three Flames by Alan Lightman
Published by Counterpoint LLC
Published: September 3rd 2019
From the international bestselling author of Einstein’s Dreams comes a deeply compelling story about the lives of a Cambodian family—set between 1973, just before the Cambodian Genocide by the Khmer Rouge—to 2015.
The stories of one Cambodian family are intricately braided together in Alan Lightman’s haunting Three Flames, his first work of fiction in six years.
Three Flames portrays the struggles of a Cambodian farming family against the extreme patriarchal attitudes of their society and the cruel and dictatorial father, set against a rural community that is slowly being exposed to the modern world and its values. A mother must fight against memories of her father’s death at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, and her powerful desire for revenge. A daughter is married off at sixteen to a wandering husband and his domineering aunt; another daughter is sent to the city to work in the factories to settle her father’s gambling debt. A son dreams of marrying the most beautiful girl of the village and escaping the life of a farmer. And the youngest daughter bravely challenges her father so she can stay in school and strive for a better future.
A vivid story of revenge and forgiveness, of a culture smothering the dreams of freedom, and of tradition against courage, Three Flames grows directly from Lightman’s work as the founder of the Harpswell Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to advance a new generation of female leaders in Cambodia and all of Southeast Asia.
Alan Lightman’s Three Flames
follows the story of a Cambodian family throughout the years told through interwoven chapters from each family member’s point of view. I love family stories that are told throughout the decades, illuminating the secret pains and joys each member of the family harbors. Even though it’s a short book, I found myself thoroughly engaged and involved with the story, and I couldn’t put it down. It’s easy to read in a single sitting or two, and the lives of the characters and the struggles they faced will stick with you and make you think as they did for me.
Three Flames explores the costs and consequences of living in a deeply patriarchal society and the affects that has on both men and women and the roles each are expected to perform. It’s difficult sometimes to reconcile that some of this story is set in the last decade because I, as a white woman living in America, am incredibly privileged and have many more freedoms than the women have in Cambodia today. Lightman’s work and passion with his foundation to assist women in Cambodia shines in this novel, giving a voice to people that many may not have heard about or thought of without having read this. It’s a reminder to us all that oppression against women and others thought of as “lesser” still exists to such extremes (and what we might call outdated ways) today.
Lightman’s use of language and theme is precise, rich, compassionate, and fitting for a novel that delves into difficult realities. It’s well worth looking into, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I finished it.
Many thanks to Counterpoint LLC for sending me a complimentary copy to review! All opinions are my own.
Title: Meet Me in the Future: Stories by Kameron Hurley
Published by Tachyon Publications
Published: August 20th 2019
Genres: Science Fiction
“One of the best story collections of the past few years.” —Booklist, starred review“16 hard-edged pieces that gleam like gems in a mosaic.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review“Kameron Hurley is a badass.” —Annalee Newitz, author of Autonomous
When renegade author Kameron Hurley (The Light Brigade; The Stars Are Legion) takes you to the future, be prepared for the unexpected. Yes, it will be dangerous, frequently brutal, and often devastating. But it’s also savagely funny, deliriously strange, and absolutely brimming with adventure.
In these edgy, unexpected tales, a body-hopping mercenary avenges his pet elephant, and an orphan falls in love with a sentient starship. Fighters ally to power a reality-bending engine, and a swamp-dwelling introvert tries to save the world—from her plague-casting former wife.
So come meet Kameron Hurley in the future. The version she's created here is weirder—and far more hopeful—than you could ever imagine.
Any time I can get my hands on new Kameron Hurley, I’m all over it. Ever since I read The Stars are Legion,
Hurley has quickly become one of my favorite authors. Her view of the world in which we live is calculating, messy, and true, and the stories she writes hit me right in the feels and make me want to help lead the revolution.
What I’ve liked most about Hurley’s writing is that her women are allowed to be messy, morally grey, and emotional without feeling like these women are losing their “worth” or “humanity” for being any of those things. The themes of war and resistance she explores in her stories are heavy, unrelenting, and often gruesome, but there always manages to be some threads of hope winding their ways through the stories. War is central to the story in the sense that it informs the trajectory of the characters. War has either happened, is happening, or will happen, but it’s the individual themselves who really tend to make a difference in the grand scheme of war’s grandiose effects.
The stories that I enjoyed the most were “Elephants and Corpses,” “When We Fall,” and “The Corpse Archives;” but all of them were so good, and I couldn’t wait to read the next one. Her introduction is sublime in exploring what drives her to write the stories she writes as well, so don’t skip that. Sometimes I feel as if it’s very rare for a single author’s collection of stories to be so cohesive and yet so diverse, but Kameron Hurley knocks it out of the park with this one.
Whether or not you’ve read Hurley before, if you’re a sci-fi reader and want to read something that will leave you thinking about the what-ifs, definitely check this out.
Thank you to Tachyon Pub for a digital review copy! All opinions are my own.
Title: The Duke Is But a Dream by Anna Bennett
Series: Debutante Diaries #2
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks
Published: July 30th 2019
Once upon a time three young ladies vowed to record their first London seasons…and to fill in the gaps of their finishing school educations. Thus began The Debutante Diaries—and London will never be the same…
HE’S COME TO HER RESCUE
Miss Lily Hartley is the anonymous mastermind behind the ton’s latest obsession: The Debutante’s Revenge, a titillating advice column for ladies on the marriage mart. To keep her identity secret, Lily delivers her columns disguised as a chimney sweep—which is all well and good, until she unwittingly lands in the middle of an ugly tavern brawl. Fortunately, the devastatingly handsome Duke of Stonebridge sweeps in to rescue her.Unfortunately, Lily’s dressed as a boy—and holding rather incriminating evidence linking her to the scandalous column. Drat.
SHE’S LOST HER MEMORY
When Eric Nash, Duke of Stonebridge, sees a helpless lad receive a nasty blow to the head, he’s outraged. But when he discovers there’s a beautiful woman hiding beneath the chimney sweep’s cap, he’s positively stunned. Nash would happily escort her home, but she’s forgotten her name—leaving him little choice but to take her in himself until he can locate her family. But the closer he gets to finding them, the more he doesn’t want to let her go.
WILL THEY FIND LOVE?
Lily’s trying to figure out exactly who she is…in more ways than one. With so much at stake—her column, her reputation, and even her heart—she needs a plan, and she needs it fast. Before Nash finds her family. Before he learns who she is. Before they fall totally, completely, and utterly inconveniently in love.
Me? Reading and reviewing more romance? If you asked me a year ago that I’d be where I am now with regards to reading more of what’s often categorized as “romance,” I probably wouldn’t believe you. But there’s a lot of things that have happened in the last year that I have trouble believing, so here we are. I requested a few romance titles that sounded interesting to me on Netgalley, and The Duke is But a Dream
caught my eye because the protagonist, Lily, writes a regular advice column called “The Debutante Diaries” that has captivated all of London. When she gets into a scuffle dressed as a boy, Lily is hurt and has amnesia, and a duke comes to her rescue.
For the most part, I enjoyed this! It was well-paced and kept me wanting to find out what happened at the end, but ultimately it felt timeless in the sense that I couldn’t tell you in what era in the past this book was set. I read historical romance for those details, but this seemed to gloss a lot of those historical placement markers and favored a more modern approach to language and behavior. I hadn’t realized this was the second in a series either, and I might check out the first one from the library to see if the first sets up that historical placement a little more because I know series in general rely on that first book to set up everything while the rest follow on the hopes that the reader recalls the setting of the first!
It’s enjoyable enough for me to look out for the next book in the series once it’s released and to check out the first one! Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press and Netgalley for an e-ARC to review. All opinions are my own.
Title: We Are All Good People Here by Susan Rebecca White
Published by Atria Books
Published: August 6th 2019
Genres: Fiction, Historical
From the author of A Place at the Table and A Soft Place to Land, an “intense, complex, and wholly immersive” (Joshilyn Jackson, New York Times bestselling author) multigenerational novel that explores the complex relationship between two very different women and the secrets they bequeath to their daughters.
Eve Whalen, privileged child of an old-money Atlanta family, meets Daniella Gold in the fall of 1962, on their first day at Belmont College. Paired as roommates, the two become fast friends. Daniella, raised in Georgetown by a Jewish father and a Methodist mother, has always felt caught between two worlds. But at Belmont, her bond with Eve allows her to finally experience a sense of belonging. That is, until the girls’ expanding awareness of the South’s systematic injustice forces them to question everything they thought they knew about the world and their places in it.
Eve veers toward radicalism—a choice pragmatic Daniella cannot fathom. After a tragedy, Eve returns to Daniella for help in beginning anew, hoping to shed her past. But the past isn’t so easily buried, as Daniella and Eve discover when their daughters are endangered by secrets meant to stay hidden.
Spanning more than thirty years of American history, from the twilight of Kennedy’s Camelot to the beginning of Bill Clinton’s presidency, We Are All Good People Here is “a captivating…meaningful, resonant story” (Emily Giffin, author of All We Ever Wanted) about two flawed but well-meaning women clinging to a lifelong friendship that is tested by the rushing waters of history and their own good intentions.
Susan Rebecca White’s We Are All Good People Here
follows the lives of two women – Daniella and Eve – and their daughters, spanning from the 1960s to the late 1980s. Throughout these three decades, Daniella and Eve face changes in their personal lives and in the world around them, and even though they try to be good people, their actions often have consequences for which they weren’t prepared. Daniella veers toward social reform and justice while Eve becomes a sometimes-violent radical, and the paths each of them take strain their relationship throughout the rest of their lives culminating in a revelation to each of their daughters that changes how they each view one another.
White’s writing in this book is incredible. It starts off rather naive, reflecting the views and experiences of the characters, and eventually morphing into something complex and heady. White doesn’t shy away from the difficult aspects of the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s, the Vietnam riots in the 70s, and the racial tensions throughout each of the decades in which these women live. The descriptions of the era are spot on, and I could often vividly imagine the rooms in which these women walked and the clothes they wore to the tensions and struggles of each setting. The character’s voices are unique, honest, and at times flawed, and each of the women feel so real and I felt as if I got to know each of them very well.
The novel was a reflection on the past as well as a reflection of our current time of unrest and upheaval. I read it in about two sittings because I absolutely had to know how it ended, and it’s a perfect end of summer read. However, if you are affected and prefer not to read about animal violence, there is a violent scene involving a cat that was unsettling.
Thank you to Atria for sending me a complimentary copy to review! All opinions are my own!
Title: The Beast's Heart by Leife Shallcross
Published by Berkley
Published: February 12th 2019
Format: Trade Paper
A sumptuously magical, brand new take on a tale as old as time—read the Beast's side of the story at long last.
I am neither monster nor man—yet I am both.
I am the Beast.
The day I was cursed to this wretched existence was the day I was saved—although it did not feel so at the time.
My redemption sprung from contemptible roots; I am not proud of what I did the day her father happened upon my crumbling, isolated chateau. But if loneliness breeds desperation then I was desperate indeed, and I did what I felt I must. My shameful behaviour was unjustly rewarded.
My Isabeau. She opened my eyes, my mind and my heart; she taught me how to be human again.
And now I might lose her forever.
Lose yourself in this gorgeously rich and magical retelling of The Beauty and the Beast that finally lays bare the beast's heart.
It feels like it’s been forever since a I read a fairy tale retelling that was set in its traditional time period. The Beast’s Heart
is a Beauty and the Beast retelling set in 17th century France that evokes a lot of the style and magic of what I associate with the fairy tale. Shallcross manages to retell a familiar tale set in a familiar landscape and somehow make it entirely infused with a fresh magic. This retelling is told from the Beast’s perspective, and Shallcross does a fantastic job of letting us into the mind of the beast, showing us the arrogance and the assumptions that the young woman should
love him just because he saved her. She shows his growth from “the beast” to “the prince” in a sympathetic and true way, and I liked seeing the Beast’s growth from his own perspective.
While this does stay true to the original tales, as I get older, I realize and recognize some of the weird behaviors that are often swept aside for the romance. As someone in her 30s now, I do find it generally off-putting for men to continually ask someone else out even after she’s said no, find non-consensual voyeurism strange, and think that the whole “woe is me, please love me I’m alone” deal to be tired. You’ll find all of this in the book, and on one hand it is grating and off-putting. I found myself thinking “just leave her alone!” several times when the Beast kept making his advances. I thought some of the scenes where the Beast was watching Isabeau and her family through his magic mirror to add a depth to the story, but there were times he watched Isabeau for the sake of watching her (and in one scene watching her undress). The Beast also bemoans his lack of humanity and the horrors of his beast self, and the consistency with which that happens gets old after a while. But there are people out there in the world who behave this way, and the Beast does come to his senses, matures, and begin reversing a lot of those thoughts and behaviors by the book’s end.
I thought the descriptions of the chateau and its surroundings were beautiful, the dialogue is sparkling, and the pacing is just right for a story like this. It reminded me a lot of the fairy tale retellings I read ages ago by Robin McKinley, Donna Jo Napoli, and Gail Carson Levine, so it left me with good feelings by the end.