Monsters and humans and how you define one or the other

This Savage Song and Our Dark Duet is a middle grade duology, known as Monsters of Verity. My daughter and I affectionately refer to them as the August Needs a Hug books.

This is a universe where monsters are created when people commit horrific acts. August is one of those monsters, created from a school shooting. Kate is human, the daughter of a mobster who keeps people safe from the monsters by controlling them much like he controlled (controls? it’s not quite clear how in the past it is) his crime empire. Kate is on her way to becoming a different, very human kind of monster, while August just wants to be human.

These books are a very sweet story about two people who become friends and grow up under what can only be called very trying circumstances. Recommended if you’re at all into YA or that particular branch of science fiction.

Love, charm, and optimism

Becky Chambers writes charming science fiction novels that are primarily about all of the forms that love and family take, and Record of a Spaceborn Few is no exception.

Humans have long since left Earth and been integrated into Galactic society, but there are people who still live on the ships they first set out on, constantly improving and working on and changing those ships so people can continue to live comfortably on them. (And in a great touch: those ships are built from dismantled skyscrapers and other buildings and city structures from Earth – the Golden Gate Bridge or the Chrysler Building could be part of any ship.)

The plot comes from the fact that humans are relatively poor and technologically backwards and the Fleet is essentially that small town every teenager wants to leave for the big, exciting city. But there is also at least one person looking to come back, looking for a place to belong.

“All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” – Tolstoy

(Not that the book is on par with Tolstoy, but the quote is relevant here.) Record of a Spaceborn Few is the story of the town and the people in it, full of warmth and love in many different forms. Definitely recommended.

Joie de vivre

I had not heard of the Mitford sisters until I read The Sisters, a joint biography of the six girls, brought up just in time to become adults around/during WWII. I found that book fascinating, not knowing anything about any of them.

Hons and Rebels is the memoir of one of those sisters, Jessica Mitford. She was one of the younger three, and the only one who became a communist. The girls were raised in the 1930s, when Hitler was on the rise, and there was a debate in the house about fascism vs communism, with at least one sister going heavily for each side.

What I liked most about Hons and Rebels is the sense of life and vitality that comes through it. Jessica is not one to do anything halfway. She cares, she is passionate, and she truly sucked the marrow from life (to quote Dead Poets Society for a second). It was the joie de vivre that made me love this book, and her.

How to make mistakes

Sweetbitter

Sweetbitter is about a girl who moves to New York City to become a high-end waitress. This is a behind-the-scenes book about what it’s like to work in that world, and if you’ve read anything by Anthony Bourdain, you’ll already know the milieu this takes place in.

But it’s fiction, and it’s about a girl growing up. She’s finished college, and this is her path in life. It’s about her figuring out, if not her place in the world, the place she doesn’t want to be. There are stupid decisions about men, stupid decisions about friends, and stupid decisions about ingesting certain illicit substances. But many – most? – of us have made similar dumb decisions. The guy who is a bad idea but so hot. The friend who seems so sophisticated, but is emotionally stuck in a weird place. And you’ve never had too much to drink? I don’t think so.

I personally enjoyed this story because it was sensual without being over-the-top. It’s important to be good at your job. Tess’ job is knowing about food and wine – which makes for maybe some overeating whilst reading.

I like cooking. I like eating. I like savoring things, and I sometimes forget that in my overly busy, trying to be efficient world. Sweetbitter reminded me that savoring is a Good Thing.

Recommended.