Monday, March 27, 2023

March reads


This month I read three very different books and enjoyed each of them! I didn't have much time to read in February (and technically I finished Spare early in the month), but in March Matt and I got COVID for the first time and I found myself with lots of time to read. I finished two of these books in the week I was sick.

This month brought fantasy, romance, and good ol' literary fiction (which I don't usually like very much). Let's dive in!

The Cradle of Ice by James Rollins

Book two in the Moonfall series, this installment follows Nyx and her companions along their separate-but-intertwined journeys. The series takes place in a fantastical world similar to our earth, except for a major difference: their world doesn't turn. While the main plot of this series centers on the heroes restarting the earth's rotation, it only really gets introduced toward the end of the first book. There are also your usual fantasy subplots to deal with: usurping advisors, secret cabals, ancient magic, and prophecies to interpret.

I found book one (The Starless Crown) busy but slow, maybe even boring at times. So much happens but also...nothing? But I finished the book eager for the second, and the sequel didn't disappoint. 

I was excited to pick up where we'd left off with every plotline, and when the narrative swings from Nyx's group to Kanthe's, or from our core protagonists to the various villains and secondary players, I never lost interest. That says something, because I tend to hate books that switch chapter-by-chapter (sorry, Jodi Picoult fans). Rollins kept me hooked. In fact, even as new characters were introduced to our already long, long list, I found myself just as captivated by their stories.

What I enjoy most about this series is that while there are many plots to juggle, they all actually matter, they're all interesting, and none of them are even apparently unrelated to the plot. In short, you never feel like you're missing something important when the narrative shifts, because it's all important. There's no mystery here, no "how will this impact our heroes?" confusion. The connections are seamless.

Being fantasy, and quite long, this book took me awhile to read. Even when I was desperate to see what happened next, sometimes I had to put it down and take a breather. There's tons of action and a lot of heartbreak in this one, making it a tougher read.

I'm looking forward to book three!

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

Now for something completely different. I wanted a light, easy read after the heaviness of The Cradle of Ice, and this was perfect! Stella Lane is a successful, beautiful autistic woman who sets about learning to date by enlisting the help of a professional. Literally.

I really wondered how the author would pull this off, because there are some sensitive topics in this book, not the least of which is how do you write about a sex worker in this way without your protagonist exploiting said sex worker?

Hoang wrote in her author's note that she wanted to do a bit of a spin on Pretty Woman, and, despite being a fan of the movie, I'll admit it hasn't aged particularly well. That said, I think she did a great job. Both Michael and Stella feel like real people, the inevitable misunderstanding-breakup-reunion doesn't feel forced (in fact, because Stella's autism is a key factor throughout the book, the miscommunication trope actually makes sense for once!), and the sex scenes are

Stella especially felt like a real person to me. I didn't expect to cry reading a romance novel, but there were moments were I felt her struggle so deeply: Hoang does an excellent job of showing how Stella's mind and body don't always align and expertly illustrates how sensory overstimulation can lead to panic and exhaustion.

I was surprised how fully these characters were brought to life, and I'll definitely be reading more by Hoang in the future.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Stella Lane is autistic, and when I started Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, I thought Eleanor was, too. But her eccentricities spring from a different fount entirely.

At first, I wasn't sure I'd stick with this one. I hated Eleanor and I tend not to read books with protagonists I hate. All I could think was, This woman is atrocious. She's rude, self-unaware, and pretentious.

But Honeyman deftly reveals bits of Eleanor's history, and you begin to see that there's a reason for her lack of empathy and her judgmental attitude. What's more, you start to see that her thoughts may just be things she tells herself, and may not reflect who she really is at all.

The reveal of Eleanor's mysterious past is doled out bit by bit, just enough to keep you guessing without feeling like an annoying gambit. By the time all is revealed, you don't feel blindsided – in fact, there's a sense of relief that it's finally come out. Eleanor feels it too.

I appreciated two things about this book. One, it forced me to do some self-reflection, because at first I found myself siding with her "mean" coworkers. Listen, early-Eleanor is kind of awful. But then I had to stop and remember that empathy goes both ways, and it really doesn't cost anything to be kind to people you find annoying. You don't  know what makes someone the way they are, and generally people are deserving of grace.

The second thing was: Eleanor changes through the book, but at the end she's still her eccentric self. She doesn't blossom into the prom queen a la She's All That. Instead, the work she does on herself (and her friendship with Raymond) allows the cold exterior to chip away, while still maintaining the oddball she is at heart. I appreciate the realism of that ending.

The best friendships save us from our worst selves, bring out the best in us, and encourage us to be who we really are.


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