I wouldn't want to live in a world without vellichor. Robert Gray: An Intoxicating Sense of Vellichor
John Koenig, curator of The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows
http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz35675503, a compendium of invented
words, defines vellichor
this way: "n. the strange wistfulness of used bookstores, which are
somehow infused with the passage of time--filled with thousands of old
books you'll never have time to read, each of which is itself locked in
its own era, bound and dated and papered over like an old room the
author abandoned years ago, a hidden annex littered with thoughts left
just as they were on the day they were captured." (Here's another
exploration http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz35675505 of the word)
I've got four books to review this time, so lets get right to it.
Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman is the sequel to the bestselling dystopian fantasy, Scythe, which I read last year and loved. The prose was sublime and the plot of Scythe was so full of twists and turns I found myself gasping out loud at some of the events that took place. Now in Thunderhead, there are twice as many pages of Shusterman's lush prose to enjoy, along with a plot that moves at breakneck speed to reach yet another gasp-worthy conclusion/cliffhanger. Here's the blurb:Rowan and Citra take opposite stances on the morality of the Scythedom, putting them at odds, in the chilling sequel to the Printz Honor Book Scythe from New York Times bestseller Neal Shusterman, author of the Unwind dystology.
The Thunderhead cannot interfere in the affairs of the Scythedom. All it can do is observe—it does not like what it sees.
A year has passed since Rowan had gone off grid. Since then, he has become an urban legend, a vigilante snuffing out corrupt scythes in a trial by fire. His story is told in whispers across the continent.
As Scythe Anastasia, Citra gleans with compassion and openly challenges the ideals of the “new order.” But when her life is threatened and her methods questioned, it becomes clear that not everyone is open to the change.
Will the Thunderhead intervene?
Or will it simply watch as this perfect world begins to unravel?
Because the author has 500 pages to flesh out his characters, we get a more robust view of Citra and Rowan and their master scythes. We also get journal entries from the computer AI who runs the world, the Thunderhead (formerly the Cloud in our era) who becomes increasingly aware that humans are deceptive and unscrupulous beings, and that it cannot have control over their lives if there are groups that are out of its jurisdiction, such as Scythes and Unsavories. I was totally engrossed in this novel from the first page on, and I can honestly say that there are several surprises for the characters that I didn't see coming. But to write about any of them would be a massive spoiler, which I would rather not do to my fellow readers, so I think I will just give the book a well deserved A, and recommend that anyone who has read Scythe pick up Thunderhead immediately to see what happens next!
The Tiger's Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera was a book recommended to me because I have enjoyed reading the folklore and myths of Asia for a long time (I studied them while looking into Asian history in college). This particular tale is set up in what I can only assume is the far future or distant past of a land that has a feudal society set up that is similar to ancient Japan or China. Shefali and Shizuka are born on the same day, and have twin pine needles stuck to their foreheads. Though each is born into different circumstances (some would say different classes) with Shefali being a child of the steppes, a culture of nomadic horse tribes, vs Shizuka being the niece of the Emperor and heir to the throne of the land, they are bonded in heart and mind nearly from the moment that they meet. Here's the blurb:Even gods can be slain
The Hokkaran empire has conquered every land within their bold reach—but failed to notice a lurking darkness festering within the people. Now, their border walls begin to crumble, and villages fall to demons swarming out of the forests.
Away on the silver steppes, the remaining tribes of nomadic Qorin retreat and protect their own, having bartered a treaty with the empire, exchanging inheritance through the dynasties. It is up to two young warriors, raised together across borders since their prophesied birth, to save the world from the encroaching demons.
This is the story of an infamous Qorin warrior, Barsalayaa Shefali, a spoiled divine warrior empress, O Shizuka, and a power that can reach through time and space to save a land from a truly insidious evil. Publisher's Weekly: Rivera’s wonderfully intricate Asian-inspired epic fantasy debut introduces two young women bound by fate: Shizuka, whose uncle is the Emperor Yoshimoto, and Barsalyya Shefali Alshar, whose mother is Kharsa Burqila, the ruler of the Qorin. Omens are present at the birth of both children: a pair of pine needles visible between their eyes. Though they come from very different backgrounds— Shefali is a horsewoman of the Qorin steppes and Shizuka the pampered heir of the Hokkaran Empire—their mothers determine that the omen means the pair will be lifelong friends. This initial association propels the two young women into grand adventures that become the stuff of legend as they discover the extent of their superhuman powers. Rivera’s immense imagination and finely detailed world-building have produced a series introduction of mammoth scope.
Though I found the prose difficult to decipher at first (somewhat like reading Shakespeare, you just have to wrap your head around the language until it starts to make sense), once I delved deeper into the novel, the epistolary style began to grow on me and become more intimate, as if I were reading the diaries of two young lovers. It's inevitable that they defy authority to be together to fight the evil blackness that consumes many of their people, but it never becomes too cliched or comic-book superhero-like. Even though the things they do seem to be impossible, the way that Rivera writes the characters normalizes even the most dazzling displays of magic. Another A, with a recommendation for those who appreciate Asian legends modernized with LBGTQ characters.
The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney is February's pick for my Tuesday Night Library book group. It has gotten rave reviews from all the right places, and it has been blurbed by the likes of SNL comedian Amy Poehler and self help guru Elizabeth Gilbert. Hence, I assumed it would be a book full of wit and ribald humor, with unforgettable characters and a slick plot. Unfortunately, like many books with a crap ton of hype and famous blurbers, it was a huge disappointment in the real world, where the rest of us lowly bookworms live and work. Hereis the blurb:
Every family has its problems. But even among the most troubled, the Plumb family stands out as spectacularly dysfunctional. Years of simmering tensions finally reach a breaking point on an unseasonably cold afternoon in New York City as Melody, Beatrice, and Jack Plumb gather to confront their charismatic and reckless older brother, Leo, freshly released from rehab. Months earlier, an inebriated Leo got behind the wheel of a car with a nineteen-year-old waitress as his passenger. The ensuing accident has endangered the Plumbs' joint trust fund, “The Nest,” which they are months away from finally receiving. Meant by their deceased father to be a modest mid-life supplement, the Plumb siblings have watched The Nest’s value soar along with the stock market and have been counting on the money to solve a number of self-inflicted problems.
Melody, a wife and mother in an upscale suburb, has an unwieldy mortgage and looming college tuition for her twin teenage daughters. Jack, an antiques dealer, has secretly borrowed against the beach cottage he shares with his husband, Walker, to keep his store open. And Bea, a once-promising short-story writer, just can’t seem to finish her overdue novel. Can Leo rescue his siblings and, by extension, the people they love? Or will everyone need to reimagine the futures they’ve envisioned? Brought together as never before, Leo, Melody, Jack, and Beatrice must grapple with old resentments, present-day truths, and the significant emotional and financial toll of the accident, as well as finally acknowledge the choices they have made in their own lives.
This is a story about the power of family, the possibilities of friendship, the ways we depend upon one another and the ways we let one another down. In this tender, entertaining, and deftly written debut, Sweeney brings a remarkable cast of characters to life to illuminate what money does to relationships, what happens to our ambitions over the course of time, and the fraught yet unbreakable ties we share with those we love.
I didn't find this novel to be tender, entertaining, witty or remarkable. The Plumb siblings are all in dire need of therapy, probably due to the fact that their mother is a narcissistic nutball who had no idea how to parent her children. Now she's taken millions out of the Nest to pay off a waitress who lost a foot when she was giving Leo, the eldest sibling, a hand job in his car, because he lied to the waitress (who is Latina, what a surprise, not) and told her he could help her music career. Leo is a complete asshole who uses people, lies, cheats and steals all throughout the novel, and yet he somehow gets a pass from everyone because he's handsome and has a veneer of charm (hiding the heart of a monster who really cares nothing for anyone but himself). He actually has two million dollars secreted away in offshore accounts, so he could pay back the Nest and save his siblings from their bad choices, but he chooses instead to lie to them that he's got a project he's working on that will redeem him, but inevitably doesn't when his horrible behavior and bad deals finally catch up with him. Of course, instead of telling everyone what has happened, he flees the country, leaving behind a pregnant ex-girlfriend and angry siblings who are somehow surprised that he's still an asshole. Brother Jack, who has been called "Leo Lite" is similar enough to his sibling that when his partner finds out that he's lied and taken out loans on a cottage they both own, there is the inevitable break up, but Jack somehow ends up seeing this as "freeing," instead of owning up to his bad behavior. Melody, who is a control freak of a mother and creepily surveils her twin daughters, becomes an even worse mother when one of the twins turns out to be gay. When she asks her gay brother Jack for advice he says "You don't want advice, you just don't want her to be gay." Bea is the most pathetic of the characters, a writer who used Leo's wild life to write a book that was popular, but now can't seem to write anything else that isn't based on her brother, because she's a childish, wimpy, whiny idiot. She does manage to write something in the end, but she of course has a boyfriend by that time, so she can continue to play the spineless innocent. Blech. The prose was flat and the plot dull, constructed without any surprises. I have to give this novel a C, and I'd only recommend it to those who like novels about reprehensible people living in New York.
Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase by Louise Walters was recommended to me by a friend who noticed that I like books about people who work in libraries or bookstores. It has a historical mystery involved, which I usually enjoy in a novel, and it has a female protagonist. So I was all set to fall in love with the book when I started reading it, but grew slightly dismayed over the course of the first two chapters by how slowly the plot was moving. Here's the blurb: Roberta, a lonely thirty-four-year-old bibliophile, works at The Old and New Bookshop in England. When she finds a letter inside her centenarian grandmother’s battered old suitcase that hints at a dark secret, her understanding of her family’s history is completely upturned. Running alongside Roberta’s narrative is that of her grandmother, Dorothy, as a forty-year-old childless woman desperate for motherhood during the early years of World War II. After a chance encounter with a Polish war pilot, Dorothy believes she’s finally found happiness, but must instead make an unthinkable decision whose consequences forever change the framework of her family. Kirkus Reviews: Letters and postcards once used as bookmarks flutter out of used books, forgotten signs of liaisons. Roberta treasures books so much that she pines away in her beloved job at Old and New Bookshop, watching Philip, her boss and the man she can't yet admit to herself that she loves, take the beautiful Jenna as his lover. But secrets begin to spill out of the books—secrets that will change her understanding of the past and hopes for the future. One fateful day, Roberta's father, John, brings in an old suitcase labeled "Mrs. D. Sinclair," filled with her grandmother Dorothea Pietrykowski's old books. Between the pages, Roberta discovers a letter dated Feb. 8, 1941, signed by her grandfather Jan Pietrykowski, warning Dorothea that what she is about to do will dishonor her, imperil her very soul, and wrong some unnamed mother and child. If only Roberta could ask her grandmother or her father about the letter, but at 109, Dorothea has entered hospice care, and John's health is failing, as well. Meanwhile, Jenna confesses to a bewildered Roberta that she's pregnant with a child fathered by her ex-boyfriend. Walters' debut novel nimbly weaves together Roberta's and Dorothea's stories—the reader almost expects to pull a shadowy missive from its spine. Roberta's life is a mess; she stifles her feelings for Philip, twisting her desires into a sad affair with a married man. But Dorothea's story is the stuff of films: disowned, disappointed in marriage, crushed by multiple miscarriages—Dorothea rises above it all to manage her own farmhouse, to take into her home two young women, part of the Women's Land Army, and to find new love with Jan, the dashing Polish Squadron Leader. A breathtaking, beautifully crafted tale of loves that survive secrets.The parallel stories of Roberta and Dorothy unravel over the course of eighty years as they both make their own ways through secrets, lies, sacrifices, and love. Utterly absorbing, Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase is a spellbinding tale of two worlds, one shattered by secrets and the other by the truth.
Fortunately, the plot begins to pick up speed by the third chapter, and soon the engrossing wartime story of Dorothy and her handsome Polish pilot is flying across the pages. I didn't find Roberta's story as compelling as Dorothy's, mainly because there wasn't as much at stake for Roberta as there was for Dorothy during WWII. The prose of this novel is smooth and clear, and the characters are well drawn.It's easy to get caught up in each protagonist's problems, from Roberta's timid yearnings for her boss to Dorothy's miscarriages and stillbirths that leave her longing for a living child to hold in her arms. I'd give this decent book a B, and recommend it to anyone who liked The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.