Review by Tess Tabak
Everyone has heard about the famous Wright brothers, who gave humanity the gift of flight. But who was behind the brothers, helping them face the public and knitting them zigzag socks?
Patty Dann’s The Wright Sister explores the oft-forgotten Katharine Wright, Wilbur and Orville’s sister. This is based on a true story: Orville Wright was apparently a very particular man, and although he and his sister were very close, he immediately stopped speaking to her after she was married. The book combines Katharine’s “marriage diary” with a series of letter she writes to Orville after he stopped speaking to her. (Wilbur had already passed away by this point.)
Aside from Orv and Katharine’s very real rift, much of the rest of the book comes from Dann’s imagination. She did some light research, but didn’t let details stop her rich fictitious version of Katharine’s life. Katharine Wright is an interesting character, a strong feminist with as strong a technical knowledge of airplanes as her brothers had. In Dann’s hands, she is very outspoken and honest in the pages of her own diary, admitting her lust for her husband and newly discovered pleasure (she married for the first time in her fifties). There are some tongue in cheek nods to the true author’s actual knowledge of historical events (in 1928 she writes Orville that she hopes he’s not investing money in the stock market, for example) but for the most part it feels fairly true to the time period in which it was set.
Fans of the Kitty Norville series will find a comforting haven in Carrie Vaughn’s latest short story collection, Kitty’s Mix-Tape. Vaughn is a master at making the monstrous familiar, and even wryly funny. This is the 16th installment of the Kitty series, which began with Kitty and the Midnight Hour. What started as a fairly straightforward story about a plucky young werewolf named Kitty (get it?), has blossomed into a whole universe of characters, many of whom are revisited in this anthology. Vaughn also throws in some new settings for werewolf situations, such as a look into what a Pride and Prejudice-era werewolf might have looked like struggling to fit into society, as well as a few stories totally unrelated to the Kitty universe, like one about a half-selkie who visits Ireland in search of his roots.
Vaughn’s writing is for the most part contemplative rather than active – most of the stories in this collection end in conversation, not confrontation – but she’s a skilled writer and the real meat of each story is in the care she puts into character development, such as a simple blackjack dealer who can’t unsee what she sees when she notices a cheating gambler who’s winning without any of the usual tells, or in fact any visible tells at all. She follows the cheater and traces the deception back to its source – with the aid of magician Odysseus Grant, a supporting character from the Kitty series.
Most of the stories in the collection can be read as standalones even though the majority do stem from Kitty’s world. However, if you haven’t read the rest of the books yet, do yourself a favor and start with Kitty and the Midnight Hour. The 16-volume collection contains equal measures of page-turning action and relatively light fluff, making it a perfect pandemic binge read. One or two of the later books are kind of filler but it’s an overall satisfying series (it doesn’t go off the rails quite in the way that, for example, the Anita Blake series does). The collection provides some spoilers for the rest of the series, and why deny yourself the pleasure of starting at the beginning?
Kitty’s Mix-Tape was published October 2020. The Furious Gazelle received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
François Vigneault’s TITAN is a slim volume, a quick but impactful read. Far in the future, humans have genetically engineered a race of super-strong, super-big people called Titans. When MNGR João da Silva arrives on the planet Titan, things are already tenuous. The relationship between Titans and “Terrans,” what they call humans from Earth, is hostile – one Titan snaps that she’d “rather scrub dreg out the line with my tongue” than work directly with a Terran. The planet is a powder keg, about to explode. That’s when Phoebe, a fiery red-haired Titan, arrives, pulling João deeper into a conflict he can’t escape.
Titan’s art is simple but effective. It’s monochromatic, completely done in white, pink, grey and black. There’s minimal line work, but every line is put to good use- the wrinkles lining MNGR da Silva’s face, the cartoonish bubbles indicating tipsiness when the MNGR and Phoebe share a bottle of alcohol. The art balances well between sci-fi realism and classic, simple comic book art. Continue reading
Review by Tess Tabak
Peng Shepherd’s Book of M is a tour de force, a grim-yet-hopeful speculative fiction novel with many parallels for the current coronavirus pandemic. The characters in the book grapple with their own mysterious pandemic: a wave of people throughout the globe suddenly begin losing their shadows, and no one understands why. With the loss of a shadow inevitably comes total memory loss.
The book covers vast material in its 485 pages – the book takes place over the course of about two years – but it centers on a relatively small cast of characters. The central figures include a couple, Max and Ory, who have been living in hiding together at a resort since the start of the pandemic. There is also an amnesiac, who suffered complete retrograde amnesia shortly before the pandemic struck, and who may be key to finding a cure.
More than just losing their memory, something far stranger happens to the victims of the Forgetting. They become imbued with magical powers. If they forget something, whatever they imagine in its place becomes reality. A wife who forgets her husband may cause him to disappear, for example. Shepherd deliberately keeps the scope of the supernatural powers vague throughout the course of the book. While there is some amount of internal logic, the “rules” of the magic is not the focus here. Rather we’re intimately following the aftermath for our characters, the pain and emotional anguish of watching their loved ones forget who they are, or knowing that you’re being stripped of everything that makes you who you are. Continue reading
Review by Tess Tabak
You know how sometimes, you can tell a book is written by someone fresh out of an MFA program? The writing is promising, but the plot is not quite there yet (for a story about a young girl struggling to fit in at school, there is much over-dramatization). The descriptions are sharp, but often overblown (almost every single item named gets three adjectives or descriptors, or sometimes random bursts of alliteration – “the professor had spent the entire hour enigmatically pushing peripheral points she hadn’t studied well.” The central character is a young misunderstood girl with a flowery name (in this case, Laurelie).
I was really with The Bobcat up until the last 50 pages or so. I rolled my eyes occasionally at the MFA program trappings, but it’s a short read and the simple thread of a girl overcoming trauma by pursuing a mysterious man was compelling enough to keep me turning pages.
Unless this book is supposed to take place decades ago, a lot of the twee harkenings back to old-timey things just don’t make sense – and if it is supposed to take place decades ago, there’s really no hint besides the way the characters are acting, and the lack of cell phones or technology mentioned. For example, Laurelie is postured as morally purer than all the fancy city girls at her college who read like one dimensional ‘mean girls’ because instead of wearing designer garbs, she makes her own clothing – even though nowadays, anyone who makes their own clothing probably cares way more about their appearance than not, since it’s much more difficult to make than to just buy something cheap at Old Navy or a thrift store.
Review by E. Kirshe
Intimate, and colorfully written, Besotted by Melissa Duclos was an absorbing read. Told from the perspective of Sasha, a member of the Shanghai expatriate community, this novel is focused on her relationship with Liz, a young woman Sasha pulls to Shanghai and maneuvers into dating her.
“‘What made you want to bring me here?’
‘You signed the letter Besottedly.’ That wasn’t really it, or that wasn’t all of it, but it was all I could give her.
Liz shrugged. ‘It means drunk.’
I shook my head. ‘It means in love.’’”
Besotted is an unpretentious story that stays grounded in its relationship woes and isolated expat community. It often reads like a slice of life even among the lyrical language and sometimes sinister machinations of our narrator. Sasha’s ability to love Liz so wholly comes from her inability to look inward at herself no matter how eloquently she can talk about her own issues (to herself and not to the therapist she seems to need).
Review by E. Kirshe
The Sisters Grimm is a new fantasy novel by Menna Van Praag. The entirety is told through the point of view narration of five protagonists, the four sisters; Goldie, Liyana, Scarlet and Bea, and Leo, a sort of spiritual brother to them, who must also kill one of them.
I’ll start with a few positives so the reader can make their own decisions. The characters are diverse, that’s nice. They all come from different ethnic and class backgrounds, Liyana’s relationship with her girlfriend was cute. The otherworld (spirit world? Hell?) of Everwhere was nicely described. There’s a lot of nice language.
Now for the downsides.
Translated by Pablo Strauss
Review by E. Kirshe
The Country Will Bring Us No Peace is a strange and eerie book about grief; not overcoming it, but being overtaken by it. Grief haunts the mean and dying streets of the country town our city-born protagonists move to, a move which they hoped would bring them past their own private tragedy, the grief of which is slowly taking them down as well.
The story switches back and forth, abruptly, between the husband and wife narrators Simon and Marie. We get an internal monologue from each of them either giving new information or sometimes their thoughts on the same event. The way it’s written with them switching between being in and out of sync was just one example of how this is a uniquely told tale.
The story gets more surreal as it goes on, as well as darker. It starts with merely stark narration. Continue reading
Review by E. Kirshe
The bestselling author of The Night Circus is back with something very different yet also familiar in The Starless Sea.
Erin Morgenstern had readers fall in love with her immersive fantasy world in her debut novel. Those looking to recreate that experience may be disappointed as The Starless Sea is styled very differently, however her knack for creating a fantastical and multidimensional world is all here.
“Far beneath the surface of the earth, upon the shores of the Starless Sea, there is a labyrinthine collection of tunnels and rooms filled with stories. The entryways that lead to this sanctuary are often hidden, sometimes on forest floors, sometimes in private homes, sometimes in plain sight. But those who seek will find.”
On the one side, we have a story about a man named Zachary Ezra Rawlins, who, upon finding a book in which he is part of the story discovers a much bigger world beneath his real one. Zachary and the people he meets are all part of an old story that will change the fate of this hidden world.
The big strength of The Starless Sea and the thing that had me eager to read all 500 pages was the way Morgenstern tells stories via any sense and medium- built, sculpted, written, carved, heard, tasted, etc. It’s this writing that had readers love The Night Circus and what makes this book worth reading. Continue reading