The ABC Murders – ***
Picked up on a whim after a recommendation! As I’m also v behind in reviews and somewhat struggling to remember specifics of all the books I’ve read, it’s a perfect opportunity to put into practice my rating scale.
Hercule Poirot mysteries are a mainstay in a very specific type of comfort reading, and honestly Christie is a genius for being able to write so many varying tropes in a way that feels connected but fresh. I definitely thought we were going to be in a Murder on the Orient Express-esque situation given the large number of ancillary characters, but that wasn’t the case at all.
The benefit of comparing Poirot to his closest analogue (Holmes) is that you see what a more inclusive detective is able to do to the overall tenor of a book. In a Holmes story, there’s only really one star, the titular detective. And his leaps of logic are such that mere mortals aren’t ever going to be able to catch up (except, of course, the fantastic Ms. Adler). Poirot makes you feel like you, too, could be able to solve a mystery if you just keep your mind open and follow avenues that others might disregard.
The Alice Network – ***
I’ve heard great things about Quinn as an author and her books in general, but I think maybe they just aren’t really for me. Part of it is some of my own quirks around the choices that Charlie makes, which frustrate me regardless of why characters do it. But more of it has to do with the overall lethargy of the pacing and action, which brings to mind many other instances of dual chronology storylines.
There’s a lot of tension that Quinn builds simply by virtue of the fact that we don’t have all of Eve’s story but know that she survived. I always feel like it’s a weak trick–very Dan Brown esque–to constantly cut to black when we’re in the middle of a stressful situation. I had a better example of what I meant, wherein it’s not quite action stress but sort of “stakes” + “emotion” etc.
I did think it was a funny trick to have Eve’s main exploits take place during WWI but have the current day exposition occur post WWII. Purposeful or not, the bittersweet knowledge that all she (and others) did failed to prevent another war always looms over any WWI-era story. It’s a period I find in some ways much more interesting–smaller drama versus the cartoon-level villains of WWII.
The length is a double edged sword as well–after meandering around France for hundreds of pages, the ending does feel a bit out of nowhere (and somewhat pat).
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants – ***
I really did enjoy this book, but if I’m being fair then it’s a four star book that lost me, personally, because of the structure.
Kimmerer does a fantastic job with crafting an interlocking set of smaller stories/recollections/teachings, with each chapter centered around a theme. From plants to creation myths to traditional crafts to language, it might sound cliche but there’s no topic that Kimmerer isn’t able to tie to the grand ecosystem that unites us all.
At the end of the day, though, I think the book could have benefitted from a different format or tighter editing. If this book was a series of short stories, then there are repetitions that make you do a double take–“I feel like I had a chapter about the connection between language and our relationship with nature before.” That being said, there’s definitely a movement through time as we go through the book–Kimmerer’s children grow and leave home–so I think it’s meant to stand as a whole. But as a whole, there’s an uneven distribution of message momentum building, such that points don’t land with as much gravitas as they deserve.
Which is not to say this book isn’t hopeful and infuriating by turns. I’m glad that in remembering it I recall the beauty Kimmerer points out, because most of the stories recounted in these pages just fuel the rage fire that simmers in all of us. Despite being relatively well-educated in the bloody history of my country, I still found plenty to make me cry in frustration. Perhaps no chapter is better in that sense than the one on The efforts of the Onondaga Nation to receive legal responsibility for the care of Onondaga Lake.
People We Meet On Vacation – ****
Having just read another book with a similar “two stories, one in the past one in the future” framing, I can definitely say that Henry does an excellent job.
She also does an excellent job describing kissing, to be very specific with a note that I remember thinking even while reading her debut Cartoon Cover Romance(tm), the similarly travel-aspiring Beach Read. I read a lot of books that are very into the physicality of it all. Sometimes I’m fascinated with how an author can come up with a new way to describe the same old stuff, and those are the books that make me continue on through seas of 3-star-forgettable romance novels. And with Henry, her description of kissing (especially those trope-y First Kisses) are magnetic and jump off the page.
Otherwise, we’ve got the lesser-seen #1 trope: [best] friends-to-lovahs. The more often seen, of course, is enemies to lovers, because that doesn’t require you to scene set and describe history in a way that is seamless and not clunky. Henry does a great job of making us believe that Alex and Poppy are friends, close ones, who have weathered a number of ups and downs related to how they’ve prioritized their friendships and their interpersonal relationships with others around them.
Falling for a Rake – ***
I know I usually want books to be longer, but in this case I think this book REALLY should have been longer. It definitely felt like we were dropped in media res partially because Pendle needed both of our main characters to keep their Dark Secrets hidden until the right moment in the story, partially because it made for a thrilling introduction to their lives.
More context and more time between revelation and plot movement would help in making this feel like a proper, fleshed out interaction between two characters. While I really (REALLY) appreciate a “rake” who acknowledges the reality of said rake-ish-ness (as in…by blows, and disease, and the realities of prostitution) the “we were one sort of person and then we grow together to become better versions of that person” requires time to feel like change is happening.
I also feel like for once Lady Emily’s Dark Secret was quite a bit more…wtf…than Lord Markshall. That also very rarely happens that I can remember in this era of literature, where only the men have the freedom to do dastardly deeds. [She SHOT someone. SHOT. Like WITH A GUN.]
Side note LOVED LOVED LOVED the call out to Lady Dain 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀