juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
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Title: Stygian
Author: Santino Hassell
Published: Dreamspinner Press, 2015
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 205
Total Page Count: 216,715
Text Number: 658
Read Because: author recommended by WoolfsWhistle, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Jeremy hopes that a retreat with his band will finally bring them together, but the spooky mansion they stay at seems more likely to tear them apart. This opens with a Poppy Z. Brite quote, and reminds me distinctly of Brite's early books—not the quoted text so much, but it has a vibe somewhere between Lost Souls and Drawing Blood: supernatural horror elements hanging over queer characters in the grunge scene and their tense relationships. This is less robust than Brite's novels, but also shorter. The speculative aspects lean towards predictable, which undermines the effect of the final reveals. But characters are realistically troubled, even unlikable; their relationships aren't as complex or as dark as they could be—too much is tied up in miscommunication/reveals when I'd've preferred to watch the relationships grow organically—but they are compelling. I wish this had pushed itself further, but it makes for an engaging pleasure read, and I'll pick up more by the author.


Title: The Will of the Empress (Circle Reforged Book 1)
Author: Tamora Pierce
Published: Scholastic, 2010 (2005)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 550
Total Page Count: 217,265
Text Number: 659
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: The Winding Circle siblings are reunited after their travels by Sandry's pilgrimage to her family's estate. I loved the first quartet in this series despite its simplistic plots, but found the second quartet unforgivably repetitive and thought that removing the sibling dynamic was self-defeating. I almost didn't start this quartet on account, and that would have been a mistake. Reuniting the characters and reestablishing their bond brings back everything perfect about this series, but nicely matured by intervening events and the age of the characters and audience. It's not as complex than it could be, and secondary antagonist characterization is particularly repetitive, but it's a broader, more significant narrative while still maintaining the aspects that make it a perfect comfort read; what a lovely surprise!


Title: Three Souls
Author: Janie Chang
Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller
Published: HarperAudio, 2014 (2013)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 440
Total Page Count: 217,705
Text Number: 660
Read Because: reading PoC, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: After her death, a woman and her three souls revisit her life from adolescence through marriage in order to determine what keeps her tied to the world. She's an ambitious young woman from a wealthy Chinese family and comes of age at the cusp of the Chinese Communist Revolution—so her story engages everything from the role of women in the 1920s and 30s to the era's shifting political and social landscape, occasionally with a heavy hand but more frequently with grace. The retrospective PoV allows the protagonist to analyze her memories and notice things she missed at the time—effective as foreshadowing, and even better as a tool to develop the supporting cast. The end of the book is less subtle; its compressed timeline makes it feel like an extended epilogue. The speculative element that allows all this to occur is distinctly secondary—it's effective, but uninterrogated. That means this book isn't to my usual tastes as a speculative fiction reader, but to my surprise I enjoyed it, given a quibble or two. It's a local story within a broad setting, and Chang's ability to wrangle that, to make the history accessible while grounding the narrative in intimacies and details, makes for a compelling and delicate novel.

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