I’ve just returned from our family vacation – where me, my husband and daughter caught Covid (there’s not many great times to catch Covid, but catching it while staying with your extended family in a vacation rental is definitely a supremely shitty time to catch Covid). My brain still feels a bit foggy, but as I return I’m excited to read all the posts about CBR Bingo. I am going to post my reviews from vacation reads (all completed after July 15) and claim their bingo squares in this post – I’m hoping that’s allowed (if not, I’ll make this into 4 different posts if I’ve misunderstood the rules!).
Stories of Your Life and Others, Ted Chiang (Bingo – series)
This books of short stories (thus the series square on my bingo card) was recommended on a Modern Mrs. Darcy podcast for its balance between science fiction and thoughtful, almost religious contemplation of life’s mysteries. I wasn’t entirely in love with all 8 of these stories – many of which I would place somewhere on a spectrum from sort of to outright misogynistic. Story of Your Life is the short story that ultimately became the movie Arrival (a fairly faithful adaptation – reading the story inspired a re-watch of the movie). I would probably say that story was my favorite of the collection. I also found Division by Zero to be really moving. Each story is set in a world that is very close to our natural world, with one or two changes (ie, one story is set in a world where Angels regularly visit Earth and create massive natural disasters; one story is set in a world where technology is available to render all humans equally attractive). These slight changes form the basis of intrigue for the story, and I thought the ideas were interesting thought experiments – and yet, for some reason, this book did not truly grab me. 3.5/5 stars
Dead Silence, S.A. Barnes (Bingo – stars due to the space travel theme)
I really wanted to enjoy this book – a horror novel set in space. The premise is sort of familiar for an outerspace horror novel – a group of space travelers happen upon a ship that has been missing for 20 years (in this case, the ship is a luxury space cruise ship, the first of its kind, billed as sort of a Titanic in space). Twenty years ago, the ship was filled with insanely rich passengers and their staff, but it disappeared mysteriously. A space crew, lead by Claire Kovalik (a tough as nails leader with a mysterious past and possible ESP), happens upon the ship out in deep space and the crew decides to see what they can salvage from the wreckage – sure this will be bring a little fame and glory, and certainly some money. The story bounces between what happened when Claire’s crew encountered the ship, and the present, in which Claire has been found and rescued and attempts to tell what happened to her presumed-dead crew. As we learn more about what happened on that creepy ship, we also learn more about Claire’s past and her relationship to the corporation that sponsors her current space travel (and has disturbing connections to the wrecked space cruise). There’s ghosts, corporate malfeasance, and love stories. It’s not bad for a vacation read, but it was slightly more predictable and slightly less fun than I wanted it to be. 2.5/5 stars.
Last Night at the Telegraph Club, Malinda Lo (Bingo – Elephant, for the elephant in the room – no one wanted to discuss Lily’s sexuality)
I finally read the book club book! (I’m hoping to be more on top of things for the September Book Club). I haven’t gone back to the discussion to add my thoughts on the book (yet?) but pulling from those questions, I would say that I really enjoyed both the historical fiction elements, as well as the queer love story (I have read a few others, Sarah Waters’ novels stand out among them) and I appreciated the way that the author drew in elements of racism and xenophobia in this community. Lily feels a great deal of love for her family – she’s bound by tradition, sure, but she also wants to see them happy and thriving, as they do for her. She just also wants to be true to herself, and it’s heartbreaking that she and Kath cannot experience that thrill of their first love without so many complications. Lily vacillates between feeling oppressed by a close-knit community and feeling isolated and othered amongst her new community. There was a lot of tension for the reader – knowing how stories are built and where plot momentum would lead, I knew that it was almost inevitable that Lily would be outed at some point. I loved that she stayed true to herself, and I hope that both Lily and Kath find love for themselves (even if not with each other – because first loves are so rarely the last(ing) loves). 4/5 stars.
We Were Liars, E. Lockhart (Bingo – Gaslight due to the liars theme here, and other elements which might be a bit spoilery)
This was an impulse buy because it was $2 at my favorite local bookstore and I needed another paperback to bring on vacation to limit the number of library books I’d haul out of town. The cover looked vaguely interesting and the title implied a mystery. It’s actually a YA mystery, but perfect for a vacation because it’s about a group of four teenagers, three of whom are cousins, who have spent nearly every summer of their lives together on a private island owned by their maternal grandparents. The cousins are the eldest children of three sisters, and their fourth is the nephew of one of the mother’s boyfriends. The year the teens are 15 is a dramatic summer, and the first act of the book describes what our narrator, Cady, remembers. Her memory is compromised because of a traumatic accident that occurs at the end of “Year 15”. The second act of the book has Cady return to the island and her cousins in Year 17 (she skipped year 16 at her parents urging). She tries desperately to piece together what happened, and to reunite with her beloved cousins and a friend (with whom she began a pretty steamy romance for a 15 year old two summers ago). What actually happens becomes clear in the final act – but you’ll probably recognize what’s going on well before that point. As I said, it was a great summer read, pretension of a family who can afford an entire private island to themselves for an ENTIRE 8 WEEKS when most of us are lucky to spend a measly week in less than private digs if we want a vacation aside …. 3.5/5 stars.