Can I interest you in some angry women?

Can I interest you in an angry woman? One who wants power and has been kept on the sidelines her whole life? One who gains the ability to turn people into ash, and still can’t get the men in power to take her seriously?

How about a different angry woman – this one is quiet and uses her super-power to look like other people. You don’t really know what she looks like until the end of the book, and it’s not the point anyway. But she is out for herself, and slipping between the cracks to hide after she’s taken what’s hers and that’s another kind of power.

Or maybe an angry teenager, one who is growing up slower than normal because her power to bring things back from the dead also makes her cold and her body function slower than it should. I don’t think she wants to be normal, per se, but her life is definitely not even close. She might like at least one normal teenage experience in her life.

How about two angry men, one who can control pain and the other who can heal, who are so alike it’s ridiculous, each determined to end the other?

I read Vengeful right after the Dr Christine Blasey Ford hearings. It was perfect for my mood, and it might be VE Schwab’s best book yet. It was definitely better than Vicious, her earlier book in this series, which was nothing to sneeze at.

Recommended.

Sometimes entertainment is good

If you are looking for entertaining brain candy, The Royal Runaway is your book. Princess Thea gets caught up in an international investigation when her fiancĂ© just doesn’t show up at the altar during their wedding. Well, he doesn’t show up at all – they don’t make it to the church. Everyone thinks he’s a cad, she nurses a broken heart, and four months later she’s getting on with things. Until someone starts investigating exactly what happened to her former fiancĂ©.

It’s got old-school James Bond style investigative fun and intrigue and it’s all told from Princess Thea’s point of view so there’s none of that icky misogyny.

Recommended for when you need something to escape from the real world.

Some beloved books are not for me, and that’s fine

You have probably read The Book Thief and loved it. It’s #14 on the NPR Great American Read list, after all. When I picked it up, someone saw me holding it and said “oh, are you re-reading that?” And I said, “I’ve never read it.”

You know what? I’ve still not read it. I got a fair bit of the way in, too. But here’s the thing: right now, I don’t need a book about Nazis doing horrible things. I don’t need to read about how society goes down that slippery slope towards hate and violence and intolerance. It’s bad. I know that, and I see enough of it happening in the world right now. And The Book Thief was not a compelling enough story to make me forget that.

Plus, the Death character in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels has, apparently, ruined me for all other characterizations of Death.

The Book Thief was not for Kates.

I got so hungry reading this book

The main point of Sourdough is: don’t obsess over technology, which is alienating and takes you out of the real world. Instead, obsess over food, which brings people together.

There’s probably something intelligent to say about the intersection of the two – after all, one of the subplots is about how the main character is using a robotic arm to help her make bread, and another character is using genetic sequencing to create the perfect super-food. The technology + food equation seems to work better when the technology is supporting the food, not when it’s an end in and of itself. But also, the food will be just fine without it.

Or maybe you could enjoy a sweet story about a young woman finding her way in the world and not worry about technology and food and underlying meaning. That would work too.

Writing a book to show that you’re better than people who read books? What?

I don’t quite understand a fiction book whose point is that people who read fiction books are messed up because they read fiction books. Are you full of self-loathing? Do you think your fiction book is somehow better than other fiction books? “No, no,” you say, “my fiction book is different because it exposes those other fiction books as unreal and changing people’s expectations of the world from something reasonable to something over the top.” Um, ok. Whatever.

Clearly, I didn’t get into Madame Bovary – which is about a woman whose reading screws with her expectations of what her life will really be like. Your milage may vary – it is a classic after all.

Prose that reads like poetry

Autumn is one of the more unusual books I have read lately. It’s the first of a planned quartet of books, one for each season. It’s British and Brexit and divide amongst people is one of the things it’s interested in. It’s also interested in time, and the cycles in which things repeat, but really, most strongly, I think this book is a 260 page long poem. It’s got plot, and it’s written in prose, but the imagery is SO STRONG and the words are so lyrical that it feels like poetry.

Set aside some time and find a quiet place and maybe a cup of tea and enjoy this book.

Knowledge is power

Educated was not an easy read. It’s the memoir of a woman who was raised in a strict Mormon household, the kind that is convinced the government is after them. Her mother was a midwife at first, and then a healer later. Suffice it to say, there was no going to see doctors. There was no school. She didn’t even have a birth certificate until she was 9. The home environment was not healthy, to say the least.

But she ends up at BYU as a 16 or 17 year old (it wasn’t exactly clear from her writing), where she starts learning both about the world and how to learn. She ends up at Cambridge and then Harvard and estranged from her family and parents.

Educated was a powerful read – you feel her emotions, the highs and the lows. The desire to run away, the need to fit in, and all the therapy in between.

Highly recommended.

Fairy tales are fun

Uprooted was a lovely fairy-tale-esque story about a wizard and his apprentice fighting to defeat a Wood that’s trying to take over a kingdom. It can be summed up so simply, but there is so much action and delight in constructing the world – which isn’t an easy task – but it’s over 400 pages long. I read it in a single day.

Uprooted was a delight and if you like fantasy or fairy tales, I would recommend it.

Wide but not deep

I didn’t realize when I picked this up that How Do We Look is a companion book to the Civilisations show on PBS. As a companion to a television series – or rather two episodes of a television series about art and creativity help civilization happen – it’s broader and less deep than I had expected. I should note that I haven’t watched the television show.

However, sometimes broad but not deep allows you to see similarities and to see contrasting patterns; like Christianity allows for images of God in a way Islam doesn’t, but Islam then beautifies language into art. Both allow you to focus on the religion and the stories it tells.

How do we look means how have we been taught to regard the world – for example how has the art we’ve seen taught us about the male gaze? Or how have religious icons taught us to view stories?

It was a lovely afternoon read, full of gorgeous pictures.

Lamenting what might have been

There There is the most literary fiction I’ve read in a good long time. It’s a book about Native Americans living in Oakland. Not a tribe, not even particularly related to each other or known to each other. Just a group of Native Americans, mostly in Oakland, all going to a powwow at the Coliseum for their various reasons. It’s not an especially happy book, but it is powerful and Native Americans in cities is not something you read about often.

As an aside the title is a reference to Gertrude Stein’s “There’s no there there,” quote about Oakland and how it had changed from her childhood – all the landmarks had disappeared and the city had changed completely. It’s a lament for what might have been, which is a metaphor, to my mind, about the lives of Native Americans in today’s United States.

Recommended if you want to read a local Bay Area author or if you’re a literary fiction fan.