Red Rising and Golden Son (Books 1 and 2 of the Red Rising trilogy) by Pierce Brown
I didn’t have high hopes for Red Rising when I started, but I’d heard so many good things about it that I wanted to give it a fair shot. Both Ender’s Game and The Hunger Games are referenced in blurbs on the cover, and the similarities are striking. Striking to the point of near-plagiarism. There’s a tiny nod to Ender (“So this kid is what? A predestined Alexander? A Caesar? A Genghis? A Wiggin?”) but none to Katniss, which is telling. The main character Darrow is plucked from his underground District 12 and madeover into someone resembling a member of a higher caste system, then spends the majority of the novel playing war games with children and ultimately trying to take down the Capitol hierarchy that oppresses his people. Darrow isn’t driven by his own sense of morality, though, but rather the pointless death of his literally martyred wife. The other female characters don’t fare much better, save for maybe Mustang, who gets the tiniest bit of lip service paid to her as widowerDarrow’s love interest.
Golden Son mirrors Ender’s Game a bit more closely, without any of Ender’s moral complexity or philosophy. It’s all battle strategy and tactics, with even less of the character development that began to break through in the first installment. The language is full of anguish and high stakes, but the plot signposts are so glaringly positioned that nothing ever takes you by surprise or feels like it has any real consequences. Minor characters die heroically and Darrow begins to question the loyalty of the people he once trusted, pushing out the ones he really loves. Yawn. Eye roll. Not interested in reading #3 in which Darrow no doubt saves the world and either gets the girl as his prize, or achieves the final stage of buddhist enlightenment when she dies.
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
If you’re looking for feminist management or leadership techniques, don’t bother. All the advice that Sheryl offers in this book (some of it genuinely useful stuff) has already been extracted and listicled in a million places all over the internet. Instead, read this book for an interesting business memoir of a high-powered female executive. Sheryl has an easy, casual writing style and I enjoyed reading her anecdotes about interacting with famous technies and executives, and how she encountered that subtle, soul-shattering kind of misogyny that every woman who’s ever worn a blazer has had to endure.
The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman
If you know me at all, it should come as no surprise that the plastic binder clip in my chest where my heart should be hated – hated – this book. The driving plot element centers around a decision the protagonists make (well, that one of them makes) that is ostensibly morally ambiguous. If there’s anything my plastic binder clip does for me, it’s keep me ship-shape about the rules, so for me, the decision was less morally ambiguous and more sociopathically selfish and cruel. As a result, all of the attempted nuance got pressed out and I began sincerely wishing that certain characters would just fling themselves onto the rocks (where the waves are crashing, natch) and put us all out of our misery. I added back a star because it takes place in Australia, and I really don’t read enough Aussie literature, much to my dismay.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Rainbow Rowell knows exactly how to melt my binder clip of a heart into a puddle of goo. This is sweet and generous YA about two teenagers in love. The side characters in this novel get a little more attention than in Fangirl, and Eleanor & Park is considerably better for it. Eleanor’s shitty home life and Park’s warm-hearted family are both compassionately written and detailed, and the love story between them fits comfortably in the world. Reading this will make you remember specifics about being in high school that you thought you had (tried to have) forgotten and there is so much about being that age that Rowell gets exactly right. It’s emotional time travel, and it’s really great.
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
On page 6 of this novel, we get the following bit of perfection:
‘You weren’t ready at all!’ cried Mrs Barber, as a grinning Mr Wismuth moved forward to shake Frances’s hand. ‘Miss Wray, they weren’t, honestly!’
‘We were ready and waiting, while you were still sorting through your hats!’
‘At any rate,’ said Frances, ‘you are here now.’
Perhaps her tone was rather a cool one. The three young people looked faintly chastened, and with a glance at his injured knuckles Mr Barber returned to the back of the van.
I love how economically and precisely Waters is able to portray these four people in such a short amount of time. We’re only on page 6 and I already have such a clear sense of who these characters are. This is the kind of masterful “showing not telling” that I admire and love. That the book takes place in the early 20s in a London house that’s become too unwieldy for its original inhabitants (which Waters explains with the briefest mention of the room where their live-in servants used to reside) is icing on the cake. This is an era, when the great estate houses of England were becoming unsustainable and the culture was shifting dramatically, that I find really fascinating. The war, the fading etiquette, the music, the clothes… it’s all great. I have no idea what The Paying Guests is about, but I’m already here for it.
On the horizon
Marrow by Elizabeth Lesser
This is an ARC that I’m finally getting around to. It’s a memoir (I think) about a woman’s relationship with her sister and her sister’s cancer. The cover shows two young girls and it’s called Marrow, so of course I’m preparing to bawl my eyes out, binder clip be damned.