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: Sea of Tranquility, by Emily St. John Mandel

BOOK REVIEW: Sea of Tranquility, by Emily St. John MandelTitle: Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
Published by Knopf Publishing Group
Published: April 5th 2022
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 272
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher, Edelweiss
Goodreads

The award-winning, best-selling author of Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel returns with a novel of art, time, love, and plague that takes the reader from Vancouver Island in 1912 to a dark colony on the moon three hundred years later, unfurling a story of humanity across centuries and space.

Edwin St. Andrew is eighteen years old when he crosses the Atlantic by steamship, exiled from polite society following an ill-conceived diatribe at a dinner party. He enters the forest, spellbound by the beauty of the Canadian wilderness, and suddenly hears the notes of a violin echoing in an airship terminal--an experience that shocks him to his core.

Two centuries later a famous writer named Olive Llewellyn is on a book tour. She's traveling all over Earth, but her home is the second moon colony, a place of white stone, spired towers, and artificial beauty. Within the text of Olive's bestselling pandemic novel lies a strange passage: a man plays his violin for change in the echoing corridor of an airship terminal as the trees of a forest rise around him.

When Gaspery-Jacques Roberts, a detective in the Night City, is hired to investigate an anomaly in the North American wilderness, he uncovers a series of lives upended: The exiled son of an earl driven to madness, a writer trapped far from home as a pandemic ravages Earth, and a childhood friend from the Night City who, like Gaspery himself, has glimpsed the chance to do something extraordinary that will disrupt the timeline of the universe.
A virtuoso performance that is as human and tender as it is intellectually playful, Sea of Tranquility is a novel of time travel and metaphysics that precisely captures the reality of our current moment.

Sea of Tranquility continues and adds to the story and world Mandel explores in Station Eleven. While this book can certainly stand on its own, there is a richness added to it if you have already read Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel. Each of the stories are connected, as if Mandel is creating a kind of multiverse, and each of the stories explore characters making the best of things in the worst of times. 

Sea of Tranquility is a matryoshka of interconnected stories, each connected by a singular event occurring at different points in time. The first story takes place in 1912, in which Edwin, the exiled son of an English family, ends up on the Island of Caiette on which he has a strange experience in a forest with visions of a station of some kind and a violin. The second story occurs in 2020, in which Mirelle wants to discover the mystery behind a glitch in a video that is set in a forest and set to violin music. The third story occurs in the future, in which Olive has published a book in which there are scenes echoing the experiences of Edwin and Mirabelle with the forest and the violin. When she meets a man named after the main character in her book, Olive’s life is turned upside down, and Gaspery-Jacques Roberts discovers more about his purpose and the nature of reality. 

One thing I have truly enjoyed about Mandel’s writing is that it’s quiet, it builds up to something more almost without you realizing it’s happening, and the end results, to me anyway, are satisfying and emotionally resonant. I reread Station Eleven this year, and it’s strange to revisit a pandemic novel during an actual pandemic, but there’s a lot of hope in it, hope that there is something greater in humanity to overcome the strangeness of life. Sea of Tranquility is about finding out what it means to belong, how technology affects us throughout the years, and is wistful, wishful, adding onto that hope that even though in the future we’ll face pandemics, strife, and fear, it’s connected. We’re all connected.

Many thanks to Knopf Publishing Group and Edelweiss for the eARC! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The School for Good Mothers, by Jessamine Chan

BOOK REVIEW: The School for Good Mothers, by Jessamine ChanTitle: The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan
Published by Simon & Schuster
Published: January 4th 2022
Genres: Fiction, Dystopia
Pages: 336
Format: ARC
Source: Edelweiss, Publisher
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

In this taut and explosive debut novel, one lapse in judgement lands a young mother in a government reform program where custody of her child hangs in the balance.

Frida Liu is struggling. She doesn’t have a career worthy of her Chinese immigrant parents’ sacrifices. She can’t persuade her husband, Gust, to give up his wellness-obsessed younger mistress. Only with Harriet, their cherubic daughter, does Frida finally attain the perfection expected of her. Harriet may be all she has, but she is just enough.

Until Frida has a very bad day.

The state has its eyes on mothers like Frida. The ones who check their phones, letting their children get injured on the playground; who let their children walk home alone. Because of one moment of poor judgment, a host of government officials will now determine if Frida is a candidate for a Big Brother-like institution that measures the success or failure of a mother’s devotion.

Faced with the possibility of losing Harriet, Frida must prove that a bad mother can be redeemed. That she can learn to be good.

A searing page-turner that is also a transgressive novel of ideas about the perils of “perfect” upper-middle class parenting; the violence enacted upon women by both the state and, at times, one another; the systems that separate families; and the boundlessness of love, The School for Good Mothers introduces, in Frida, an everywoman for the ages. Using dark wit to explore the pains and joys of the deepest ties that bind us, Chan has written a modern literary classic.

Chan’s The School for Good Mothers is a reflection on the government’s hold on social services, children, and women’s bodies/lives. In a similar vein of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the events in this book teeter on our society’s imminent future, serving as both a criticism and a warning. 

Frida’s marriage has crumbled at the birth of her daughter, her ex-husband leaving her for another woman, and she is struggling coming to terms with her new life as a mother and an ex-wife. She leaves her daughter home alone for a couple of hours, to go to work, to escape the tedious and difficult reality, and she finds herself entangled with Child Protective Services as a result of her misjudgment. 

She knew it was wrong to leave her child behind, knew it was not the best choice, and she hopes for some sympathy in her break in good judgment when the agency reviews her case. Frida is told that there is a new program being offered for reform for these “bad mothers,” and she is sent off to a reform school just outside the city with other mothers who have also made bad judgments for their children (ranging from relatively mild to extreme).

These schooled mothers are now under constant observation and evaluation with childlike animatronic dolls that record the mothers’ every move. Privileges are taken away if the mothers don’t adhere to strict rules and performances. The surveillance has an undercurrent of violence that is difficult to ignore, especially in contrast to the school for fathers that is seemingly much more relaxed.

The concept of a “perfect mother” can be incredibly damaging to anyone trying to live up to societal expectations, and especially to those with depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues that can interfere with day to day life, activities, and care. Lapses in judgment can happen to any of us, but how is a year’s worth of strict instruction and surveillance a better course of action than compassion and resources for parents navigating the raising of children? How are we to consider motherhood today, especially considering the shift of raising children from being a family/community task to being the task of a nuclear, “traditional” family with the figurehead being the mother? How are we to consider the “ideal motherhood” that’s rooted in heteronormative Western whiteness in contrast to the way in which other cultures view motherhood, parenthood, and the raising of a family?

Written in a clinical, stark style that fully showcases the horror simmering underneath the surface of the perception of perfect motherhood, The School for Good Mothers is a chilling, disturbing read that begs a second consideration of what it means to be a mother, what’s expected of mothers, and how we perceive motherhood in our society.

Review copy from Simon & Schuster via Edelweiss, thank you!

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: A Spindle Splintered, by Alix E. Harrow

BOOK REVIEW: A Spindle Splintered, by Alix E. HarrowTitle: A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow
Series: Fractured Fables #1
Published by Tordotcom
Published: October 5th 2021
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 128
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher, Work
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

USA Today bestselling author Alix E. Harrow's A Spindle Splintered brings her patented charm to a new version of a classic story.

It's Zinnia Gray's twenty-first birthday, which is extra-special because it's the last birthday she'll ever have. When she was young, an industrial accident left Zinnia with a rare condition. Not much is known about her illness, just that no one has lived past twenty-one.

Her best friend Charm is intent on making Zinnia's last birthday special with a full sleeping beauty experience, complete with a tower and a spinning wheel. But when Zinnia pricks her finger, something strange and unexpected happens, and she finds herself falling through worlds, with another sleeping beauty, just as desperate to escape her fate.

Alix E. Harrow’s A Spindle Splintered has been touted as fairy tales meets Into the Spider-Verse, and I can’t agree more with the comps. For all its historical and narrative weirdness, Sleeping Beauty is one of my favorite fairy tales. I love the Disney animated version, I fell in love with Robin McKinley’s Spindle’s End, and I got my hands on as many retellings of Sleeping Beauty in any length and form.

The first of a novella duology, A Spindle Splintered follows Zinnia Gray, a young woman born with a fatal condition due to an industrial accident, who finds comfort in the stories of Sleeping Beauty. She, too, thinks of herself as cursed, and falling asleep, only to wake to true love, is just the sort of comfort she needs at a time where her own world is figuratively and literally breaking down

Charm, Zinnia’s best friend, throws a Sleeping Beauty-themed party on her twenty-first birthday, and Zinnia touches a spindle that sends her to a medieval fairy tale world in which she meets Briar Rose, the traditional titular character in a Sleeping Beauty story with which we’re all familiar. From there, the story takes off on its multiverse bent, exploring and shattering tropes and genre expectations that turns the entire concept of a multiverse fairy tale world into a page-turning read. I loved the nods to the fairy tale retelling writers I grew up with, and all of the nods to fairy tale tropes in general.

If you enjoy fairy tales and their retellings, A Spindle Splintered needs to be on your TBRs.