Book Review: Normal People

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Connell and Marianne both grow up in the same town in rural Ireland. The similarities end there; they are from very different worlds. But they both get places to study at university in Dublin, and a connection that has grown between them despite the social tangle of school lasts long into the following years.

Sally Rooney’s second novel is a deeply political novel, just as it’s also a novel about love. It’s about how difficult it is to speak to what you feel and how difficult it is to change. It’s wry and seductive; perceptive and bold. It will make you cry and you will know yourself through it

Review:
I wanted to like this book so much, but I just didn’t. I like what the author was trying to do, but it did not work for me at all. I get that she was exploring what “normal” is, how our lives are influenced by those around us, how we influence them, learning about who we are and want to be as we grow up, etc, but I found that I simply didn’t care enough about the characters, their popularity, or their sex lives to enjoy the book.
This book follows two characters, Marianne and Connell, from their high school years in a small town in Ireland to through their university years in Dublin. They have an on-again-off-again relationship that is strange in and of itself. They both have self esteem issues and worry about fitting in and are trying to figure out where they are comfortable in the world. However, their challenges, especially Marianne’s and her families, are not very nuanced and most of the characters are two dimensional. I found the leaps we had to take with the characters as readers to be too much. Suddenly, the socially shunned ugly girl is popular and beautiful, the jock is an outcast, etc.
I get that this is a time of life that is confusing and full of changes and that the author is exploring this, but this book just didn’t do it for me.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a review copy of this book.
Share this:

Book Review: Polaris Rising

Polaris Rising (Consortium Rebellion #1) by Jessie Mihalik

A space princess on the run and a notorious outlaw soldier become unlikely allies in this imaginative, sexy space opera adventure—the first in an exciting science fiction trilogy.

In the far distant future, the universe is officially ruled by the Royal Consortium, but the High Councillors, the heads of the three High Houses, wield the true power. As the fifth of six children, Ada von Hasenberg has no authority; her only value to her High House is as a pawn in a political marriage. When her father arranges for her to wed a noble from House Rockhurst, a man she neither wants nor loves, Ada seizes control of her own destiny. The spirited princess flees before the betrothal ceremony and disappears among the stars.
Ada eluded her father’s forces for two years, but now her luck has run out. To ensure she cannot escape again, the fiery princess is thrown into a prison cell with Marcus Loch. Known as the Devil of Fornax Zero, Loch is rumored to have killed his entire chain of command during the Fornax Rebellion, and the Consortium wants his head.

When the ship returning them to Earth is attacked by a battle cruiser from rival House Rockhurst, Ada realizes that if her jilted fiancé captures her, she’ll become a political prisoner and a liability to her House. Her only hope is to strike a deal with the dangerous fugitive: a fortune if he helps her escape.

But when you make a deal with an irresistibly attractive Devil, you may lose more than you bargained for . . .

Review:
I’ve never read a space opera before so I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. Polaris Rising was full of adventure, interesting characters, romance, and great world building.
Ada is strong, both mentally and physically, and can certainly fend for herself. She was raised in a cutthroat political family, but is now on the run, avoiding an arranged marriage. She meets Loch, a famous fugitive, and the sparks fly.
I found this a fun read, though there were times it felt slightly repetitive. There was a lot of detail given to the world building, which was occasionally distracting. This is certainly an adventure novel, full of gun fights, kidnappings, daring escapes, and space travel. It’s easy to get into and get lost in.
The characters were good, even if they felt a little stereotypical — this book was more about the relationships and the adventure than the character development.
Overall, this was an enjoyable read and a good escape from reality.
Thank you to Edelweiss+ and Harper Voyager for the review copy of this book.
Share this:

Book Review: The Bird King

The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson

New from the award-winning author of Alif the Unseen and writer of the Ms. Marvel series, G. Willow Wilson

Set in 1491 during the reign of the last sultanate in the Iberian peninsula, The Bird King is the story of Fatima, the only remaining Circassian concubine to the sultan, and her dearest friend Hassan, the palace mapmaker.

Hassan has a secret–he can draw maps of places he’s never seen and bend the shape of reality. When representatives of the newly formed Spanish monarchy arrive to negotiate the sultan’s surrender, Fatima befriends one of the women, not realizing that she will see Hassan’s gift as sorcery and a threat to Christian Spanish rule. With their freedoms at stake, what will Fatima risk to save Hassan and escape the palace walls?

As Fatima and Hassan traverse Spain with the help of a clever jinn to find safety, The Bird King asks us to consider what love is and the price of freedom at a time when the West and the Muslim world were not yet separate.

Review:
I absolutely loved this book. The synopsis and the wonderful cover drew me in and once I started reading, I could hardly put this book down.
The writing itself is beautiful and, at times, poetic. Wilson knows how to use words and phrases to paint a vivid picture without getting too flowery or long winded. I found myself stopping at times just to re-read her writing. The world is gorgeous and is seamless between the real world and the fantasy world. The terror of the Spanish Inquisition was captured in a horrific way.
The story was fantastic, filled with adventure, friendship, history, magic, life-and-death situations, and characters that I cared about. Fatima and Hassan were both interesting and grew as the book went on. Even if I didn’t agree with them, I felt for them because I could understand where they were coming from and how difficult things were for them.
And the Bird King. I loved how it played in the story and how it was resolved at the end.
Thank you to Netgalley and Grove Press for a review copy of this book.
Share this:

Book Review: Chronicles of a Radical Hag (With Recipes)

Chronicles of a Radical Hag (with Recipes) by Lorna Landvik

A bittersweet, seriously funny novel of a life, a small town, and a key to our troubled times traced through a newspaper columnist’s half-century of taking in, and taking on, the world

The curmudgeon who wrote the column “Ramblin’s by Walt” in the Granite Creek Gazette dismissed his successor as “puking on paper.” But when Haze Evans first appeared in the small-town newspaper, she earned fans by writing a story about her bachelor uncle who brought a Queen of the Rodeo to Thanksgiving dinner. Now, fifty years later, when the beloved columnist suffers a massive stroke and falls into a coma, publisher Susan McGrath fills the void (temporarily, she hopes) with Haze’s past columns, along with the occasional reprinted responses from readers. Most letters were favorable, although Haze did have her trolls; one Joseph Snell in particular dubbed her “liberal” ideas the “chronicles of a radical hag.” Never censoring herself, Haze chose to mollify her critics with homey recipes—recognizing, in her constantly practical approach to the world and her community, that buttery Almond Crescents will certainly “melt away any misdirected anger.”

Framed by news stories of half a century and annotated with the town’s chorus of voices, Haze’s story unfolds, as do those of others touched by the Granite Creek Gazette, including Susan, struggling with her troubled marriage, and her teenage son Sam, who—much to his surprise—enjoys his summer job reading the paper archives and discovers secrets that have been locked in the files for decades, along with sad and surprising truths about Haze’s past.

With her customary warmth and wit, Lorna Landvik summons a lifetime at once lost and recovered, a complicated past that speaks with knowing eloquence to a confused present. Her topical but timeless Chronicles of a Radical Hag reminds us—sometimes with a subtle touch, sometimes with gobsmacking humor—of the power of words and of silence, as well as the wonder of finding in each other what we never even knew we were missing.

Review:
I was absolutely drawn into this book by it’s fantastic title, and it did not disappoint. I tore through this uniquely written book and enjoyed getting to know the characters of this small town — and reading the yummy recipes!!
The book uses Hazel’s newspaper columns from over 50 years to structure the story of Hazel, the people in her life, and the people who’s lives were touched by her columns. It seems like this might be confusing, but it isn’t because it’s handled really well.
I love Hazel and her no nonsense point of view. She is not shy on giving her opinion and has the courage to say things that might be unpopular — with the understanding that at least she will be engaging people in important discussions.
This book gives strong opinions on a lot of hot social and political topics — everything from feminism, to gay rights, to war, and beyond. I imagine that the author was hoping to be like Hazel, to put her thoughts out there and inspire some discussion. I did find that near the end, it felt like a lot of issues were being thrown at the reader in a bit of a rush.
One of my favourite characters was Sam, the struggling teenager who learns to find his way, largely through reading through Hazel’s columns. He’s absolutely adorable and it was nice to see the growth in this teen and how he learned to inspire others.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for granting me a review copy of this book.
Share this: