Take A Peek Book Review: The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

The Rules of Blackheath

Evelyn Hardcastle will be murdered at 11:00 p.m.
There are eight days, and eight witnesses for you to inhabit.
We will only let you escape once you tell us the name of the killer.
Understood? Then let’s begin…

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Evelyn Hardcastle will die. Every day until Aiden Bishop can identify her killer and break the cycle. But every time the day begins again, Aiden wakes up in the body of a different guest. And some of his hosts are more helpful than others…

The most inventive debut of the year twists together a mystery of such unexpected creativity it will leave readers guessing until the very last page.

My Thoughts:

Man, this book. I DNF’d at 40%, then read so many rave reviews that I convinced myself to soldier on. What if I’m missing out? What if there’s a huge payoff? What if it gets tremendously better in the 2nd half?

Nope, should have trusted my gut on this one. I’ve seen it described as “Agatha Christie meets Quantum Leap” — and sure, why not. There’s definitely an Agatha Christie vibe to the set-up. The Hardcastles have invited an assortment of guests to their country estate for a party. Someone will be murdered at this party, and it’s up to our main character to solve the murder. But there’s a twist! The main character doesn’t know who he is or have any memory before waking up on the morning that the book begins. And it turns out that there’s a reason for this — the main character is doomed to inhabit each of eight different people (“hosts”), all of whom have some connection to the Hardcastle family, on a repeating loop. He has basically eight chances to solve the murder as the day repeats itself over and over again, or his memory will be wiped and he’ll start all over again.

There are quite a lot of clever bits in the story, and it would take an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of the timelines and all the interlocking pieces of this puzzle. Still, it’s too complicated for its own good, and the fact that the main character doesn’t know himself means that we as readers don’t get to know him either. It all feels like an elaborate charade, and I always felt like a distant observer, rather than getting absorbed by the story or the cast of characters.

On a language note, there was a writing tic that bugged the heck out of me: the constant use of phrasing such as “he is stood…” or “it is sat” (as in, the book is sat on the table, or the girl is stood outside the door). What is that? Is that a UK English vs US English thing? I haven’t come across this before, and the repitition of this phrasing throughout the book made me batty.

Long story short: Yes, I finished the book. Yes, there’s an explanation for the time loop and the set-up, kind of, although the mechanics aren’t explained and the reasoning behind the situation seems pretty flimsy to me. Having never become invested in the characters, I just couldn’t care very much. 500+ pages is a loooong book for something that didn’t grab me. I’m still not sure what all the fuss is about.

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The details:

Title: The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
Author: Stuart Turton
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication date: September 18, 2018
Length: 512 pages
Genre: Murder mystery
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Series wrap-up: The Immortals by Tamora Pierce

Once again, I need to thank my amazing daughter for her never-flagging enthusiasm for Tamora Pierce and the world of Tortall. After seeing her obsession with these books, starting in her tweens and continuing into adulthood, past college and grad school, I just knew my involvement was inevitable. I re-read (and loved) the Alanna series over the summer (see my thoughts, here), and thanks to a reading-order list supplied by my helpful daughter, I decided to continue onward.

So, following the list, my next stop on the Tortall adventure was The Immortals, another quartet, set roughly a decade after the end of the Alanna books. The Immortals introduces new characters, settings, and challenges, but retains the familiar Tortall at its center and keeps some familiar faces in the mix — although it’s decidedly odd to see our previous teen hero, Alanna, through the eyes of a younger girl, so that Alanna is viewed as an accomplished, brave, grown-up. (Which she is, but it’s a big jump from hearing the story through her teen voice.)

The story of The Immortals:

In book #1, Wild Magic, we meet Daine (full name Veralidaine Sarrasri — isn’t that gorgeous?). Daine is a young girl of about 13, orphaned after raiders killed her mother, who signs on as an assistant to the horse trainer who supplies horses to the Queen’s Riders, an elite fighting force serving the kingdom of Tortall. Daine has an unusual skill with animals of all sorts. When she meets the mage Numair, she learns that it’s not just a skill — it’s magic. Wild magic, to be specific, a rare and unusual gift that allows her to connect with animals and speak with them mind to mind. Later on, as she learns to use and expand her magic, she’s even able to inhabit animals and shape-shift at will, giving her powers that enable her to triumph in the most dangerous of situations.

Daine becomes a key player in the kingdom, working with the King’s forces and range of allies to combat enemies who wish to overthrow him. In book #2, Wolf-Speaker, a fiefdom within Tortall has taken disturbing steps to shield themselves from the rest of the kingdom, using the mining of unusual gems to establish a magical connection with the Emperor Ozorne of Carthak. And in book #3, Emperor Mage, Daine travels to Carthak with a Tortallian delegation to negotiate peace between the nations, only to find herself enmeshed in the Emperor’s sinister schemes.

Finally, in book #4, The Realms of the Gods, there’s the ultimate showdown between Tortall and Ozorne, although Daine and Numair spend much of it literally in another world, having been brought into the realms of the gods for their own protection. Much of the 4th book is spent on Daine and Numair’s quest to find a way back to their own world, in order to fight alongside their friends and defeat Ozorne once and for all.

 

I really and truly enjoyed this series, although (and I hate to say it), the fourth book was somewhat weak in comparison to the earlier three. I love Daine as a character: She’s fierce, talented, and strong. We see her development from a young girl who’s been wounded by life, full of guilt and self-doubt, into a young adult with the confidence to use and control her gift, but who never abuses her own power. She’s devoted to the animal world and respects all creatures, coming to understand that even animals that humans find repellant have a purpose and a right to their lives. Daine is a loyal friend, who loves unconditionally and pursues what she feels is right, even at risk to her own life.

My problem with the 4th book is right there in the title. By removing Daine and Numair to the realms of the gods, too much of the book is spent with them outside of the central arena of the story so far. They’re isolated, encountering new beings and places on their quest to return home. This takes them out of Tortall for way too much of the story, so that they’re only there for the final showdown. Yes, while in the realms of the gods, Daine learns important facts about her parentage and her own powers, but it’s not a great way to wrap up the series.

 

 

 

I can’t talk about these books without mentioning the amazing animals and gods Daine befriends. There’s Skysong, also known as Kitten, an orphaned baby dragon whom Daine rescues and raises; the badger god, who becomes Daine’s patron and mentor; Tkaa, the basilisk, a strong ally; Cloud, Daine’s pony, and so many more. Because Daine can converse with animals, we get to know all of these as people with their own minds and attitudes, and it’s quite fun and fascinating to see how the author chooses to portray them.

 

 

I listened to the audiobooks — such a treat! The Immortals was recorded by Full Cast Audio, who specialize in full-cast recordings of children’s books. Tamora Pierce herself serves as narrator for the series, and each character gets his or her own voice actor. This was a bit of an adjustment for me at first, as I’m not used to listening to audiobooks with more than a single narrator. Once I got into it, though, it was really a great experience. I particularly loved the voices for Daine and Numair, but also really enjoyed the voices used for their animal and immortal friends.

The Immortals was a terrific listen and a great adventure, and I will absolutely be continuing with my Tortallian quest! Next up (after a pause to catch up on some other audiobooks) — the Protector of the Small series!

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Book details:

Wild Magic – published 1992
Wolf-Speaker – published 1993
Emperor Mage – published 1994
The Realms of the Gods – published 1996

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Book Review: The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

 

A groomsman and his last-minute guest are about to discover if a fake date can go the distance in a fun and flirty debut novel.

Agreeing to go to a wedding with a guy she gets stuck with in an elevator is something Alexa Monroe wouldn’t normally do. But there’s something about Drew Nichols that’s too hard to resist.

On the eve of his ex’s wedding festivities, Drew is minus a plus one. Until a power outage strands him with the perfect candidate for a fake girlfriend…

After Alexa and Drew have more fun than they ever thought possible, Drew has to fly back to Los Angeles and his job as a pediatric surgeon, and Alexa heads home to Berkeley, where she’s the mayor’s chief of staff. Too bad they can’t stop thinking about the other…

They’re just two high-powered professionals on a collision course toward the long distance dating disaster of the century–or closing the gap between what they think they need and what they truly want…

Sometimes, a reader just NEEDS light, fluffy, no-fuss entertainment. That was me this week, and The Wedding Date definitely fit the bill.

It’s a cute story, starting with an almost too tropey meet-cute: being stuck in an elevator with the perfect guy/perfect girl, instant attraction, and plenty of cheese and crackers. Drew and Alexa hit it off right away, joking, being a bit flirty, and just passing the time with an attractive stranger. But there is a spark, so Drew asks Lexie to be his wedding date for the weekend, and she throws caution to the wind and accepts.

By the end of weekend, they’ve gone from fake dating to seriously real hot sex. They just seem to connect, and they can’t resist the physical chemistry. And despite the distance — one lives in LA, the other in Berkeley — they’re soon spending weekends together, sending racy texts, and fantasizing to distraction about being together.

I liked the characters, and the fact that this is an interracial couple where they acknowledge their differences and also embrace them. Mostly, though, the book is about two hot people who have hot sex and really, really are into each other. It’s a nice touch to have the perspective shift between the characters, so we get to hear both sides of the story as they think about each other’s actions and how they feel. Drew and Lexie are both a lot of fun to spend time with, and seem really down to earth and overall like good people.

Which may be why the complications in their relationship drove me a little batty. And yes, there have to be complications, or there wouldn’t be much of a story, right? Still, for two intelligent, highly-educated professionals, their relationship communication totally sucks. They spend a lot of time in their own heads, wondering what the other meant by a simple phrase or question, doubting themselves, not being straight with one another, and never actually saying what they mean. If they just had a simple, honest conversation, so much drama and stress (and tears — SO many tears) could have been avoided.

The writing for the most part is light and flowy, but every once in a while there’s a real clunker. Take this scene:

“Has everyone at this table dated Drew?” Shit, she probably shouldn’t have said that out loud. But at least now she’d get an answer.

“Not me!” Lucy said. But Heather, Emma, and Robin all rose their hands. Huh.

I’m sorry, what? They ROSE their hands? No.

In any case, I liked the characters themselves, and found the descriptions of their junk food habits kind of endearing. They’re cute together, and I was glued to the page despite feeling like the characters were making dumb decisions and acting irrationally simply for the sake of having dramatic tension. It’s not a spoiler to say that there’s a happy ending. Just take a look at the cover and tell me you don’t expect it to end happily!

I had fun reading The Wedding Date. After some fairly heavy books and a heap of work-related stress, this cheery romance hit the spot. I’ll definitely check out this author’s upcoming new release as well!

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The details:

Title: The Wedding Date
Author: Jasmine Guillory
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: January 30, 2018
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction/romance
Source: Library

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Shelf Control #135: Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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Title: Truly Madly Guilty
Author: Liane Moriarty
Published: 2016
Length: 415 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Six responsible adults. Three cute kids. One small dog. It’s just a normal weekend. What could possibly go wrong?

Sam and Clementine have a wonderful, albeit, busy life: they have two little girls, Sam has just started a new dream job, and Clementine, a cellist, is busy preparing for the audition of a lifetime. If there’s anything they can count on, it’s each other.

Clementine and Erika are each other’s oldest friends. A single look between them can convey an entire conversation. But theirs is a complicated relationship, so when Erika mentions a last minute invitation to a barbecue with her neighbors, Tiffany and Vid, Clementine and Sam don’t hesitate. Having Tiffany and Vid’s larger than life personalities there will be a welcome respite.

Two months later, it won’t stop raining, and Clementine and Sam can’t stop asking themselves the question: What if we hadn’t gone?

In Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty takes on the foundations of our lives: marriage, sex, parenthood, and friendship. She shows how guilt can expose the fault lines in the most seemingly strong relationships, how what we don’t say can be more powerful than what we do, and how sometimes it is the most innocent of moments that can do the greatest harm.

How and when I got it:

I bought a copy right when the book was released.

Why I want to read it:

I’ve read two books by this author already (Big Little Lies and The Husband’s Secret), and thought both were terrific. And now that she has a new book coming out in November (Nine Perfect Strangers), I should probably make the effort to catch up on her backlist books that are sitting on my shelf.

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 books on my TBR list for fall 2018

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Books On My Fall 2018 TBR. So much to choose from! It’s hard to narrow my list down to just 10… but here are ten books, mostly new and upcoming releases, that I’m really looking forward to reading during the next few months. (Click on any of the book cover images to see larger versions.)

 

  • Elevation by Stephen King: Never a bad time for new Stephen King!
  • Time’s Convert by Deborah Harkness: A new story in the world of the All Souls books.
  • Lethal White by Robert Galbraith (J. K. Rowling): This series is so good!
  • Someone Like Me by M. R. Carey: Definitely up for a new book by the author of The Girl With All The Gifts.
  • Pride by Ibi Zoboi: Sounds like an amazing, fresh retelling of Pride and Prejudice.
  • Someday by David Levithan: I loved Every Day; can’t wait for more of the story.
  • Dry by Neal Shusterman: Having just discovered Scythe a few months ago, I’m dying to try more by this author.
  • And Their Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness: Sounds like an upside-down version of Moby Dick, told from the whales’ perspective. Maybe? The synopses I’ve read aren’t crystal clear, and I only just realized now that this is an illustrated book. Maybe a graphic novel? I actually have no idea, but I’m intrigued anyway.
  • Pulp by Robin Talley: This author’s books are always powerful, and the premise sounds fascinating.
  • The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner: Folklore/fairy tale — sounds amazing, and I love the cover!

What books are you most excited to read this fall? Please share your TTT link!

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The Monday Check-In ~ 9/17/2018

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read during the last week?

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal: Definitely a favorite for 2018! Read my love-fest of a review, here.

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo: My book group read for September. My review is here.

Vox by Christina Dalcher: A look at a US society in which women’s voice have literally been silenced. My review is here.

In audiobooks:

Emperor Mage by Tamora Pierce: Book #3 in The Immortals series. Excellent addition to the world of Tortall!

Pop culture goodness:

Has anyone else watched Forever on Amazon yet? It’s weird and funny and totally surprising. Maya Rudolph is just as good as you’d expect. I’ve watched half of the available episodes, and recommend checking it out! (It’s pretty low commitment for a binge-watch, just eight half-hour episodes).

Fresh Catch:

I added even more Kindle books to my never-ending TBR list, thanks to various price drops that popped up this week. Here’s a peek at my newest acquisitions:

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory: After some heavier reads, a little light-and-fluffy romance might really hit the spot.

Now playing via audiobook:

The Realms of the Gods (The Immortals, #4) by Tamora Pierce: Finishing up the Immortals quartet!

Ongoing reads:

Book group reads:

  • Classic read: My book group’s current classic read is Middlemarch by George Eliot.  We’re reading and discussing two chapters per week. Slow but steady!
  • The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon. Continuing our group read of the Lord John works, it’s lovely to revisit The Scottish Prisoner, which stars Lord John Grey and everyone’s favorite Scottish laird, Jamie Fraser. Want to join in? Ask me how!

So many books, so little time…

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Book Review: Vox by Christina Dalcher


Set in an America where half the population has been silenced, VOX is the harrowing, unforgettable story of what one woman will do to protect herself and her daughter.

On the day the government decrees that women are no longer allowed more than 100 words daily, Dr. Jean McClellan is in denial—this can’t happen here. Not in America. Not to her.

This is just the beginning.

Soon women can no longer hold jobs. Girls are no longer taught to read or write. Females no longer have a voice. Before, the average person spoke sixteen thousand words a day, but now women only have one hundred to make themselves heard.

But this is not the end.

For herself, her daughter, and every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice.

Vox is a look at a United States where the government has been taken over — not by force, but by the power of the voting booth. A magnetic leader of the Christian right has rallied his followers to vote for his puppet candidate, and suddenly, the US government is in the hands of people who very much want to restore the country to a time when women stayed home, cared for their families, and were seen but not heard.

AP science classes in high school are replaced by AP Religious Studies, focusing on Christian philosophy. Boys and girls are educated separately, with girls’ studies focusing on home economics and basic math — just enough to be able to run a household, not enough to actually encourage higher thinking or learning.

Most insidious of all, all females in the population are fitted with metal counters on their wrists, tracking their allotment of 100 words per day. Woe betide the woman who talks in her sleep! Every utterance counts. And if you exceed your daily allotment, you receive a nasty little reminder by way of electric shock.

We view this warped world through the eyes of Dr. Jean McClellan, an esteemed neurolinguist who, like all professional women, is denied her work, her money, and her independence. She’s reliant on her husband for everything, and even her jerky teen-aged son has more autonomy than she does, spouting off his anti-woman rhetoric that he’s so quickly absorbed through the poisoned atmosphere of school.

It’s a compelling and intriguing set-up, and the writing keeps the plot move along at a fast pace. While the book focuses on the awfulness of this society and the punishments meted out to those who dare bend or break the rules, it’s quite chilling. The story becomes less compelling in the final third, as the tone shifts more to scientific thriller and away from the greater societal upheavals at play.

I found the premise mostly implausible. I’ve read several of these types of books by now, and the key to making me believe in them is in providing enough information to make the world of the book feel real and possible. Vox fails to truly establish how we got from our current society to the society of the book in just one year. How exactly did the people in charge come up with the counters and get them installed on all women? How did they manage to enforce the new society so quickly and with so little opposition? There isn’t enough backstory here to make me believe in it, and that ended up being an obstacle for me in terms of getting fully engaged in the story.

Vox is a gripping read, and it tries very hard to be topical and timely, a warning for our age and a call to action. Look, it seems to say — stand up now and be heard, or face a future where you may have no voice at all. Yes, being heard and taking a stand are worthy messages to put out there, but the lack of foundation in Vox makes the actual threat feel too shadowy and unbelievable.

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The details:

Title: Vox
Author: Christina Dalcher
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: August 21, 2018
Length: 326 pages
Genre: Dystopian fiction
Source: Library

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Take A Peek Book Review: Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Yejide and Akin have been married since they met and fell in love at university. Though many expected Akin to take several wives, he and Yejide have always agreed: polygamy is not for them. But four years into their marriage–after consulting fertility doctors and healers, trying strange teas and unlikely cures–Yejide is still not pregnant. She assumes she still has time–until her family arrives on her doorstep with a young woman they introduce as Akin’s second wife. Furious, shocked, and livid with jealousy, Yejide knows the only way to save her marriage is to get pregnant, which, finally, she does, but at a cost far greater than she could have dared to imagine. An electrifying novel of enormous emotional power, Stay With Me asks how much we can sacrifice for the sake of family.

My Thoughts:

Stay With Me is a powerful look at the tragedies that befall a young Nigerian woman for whom the pressure to provide children becomes the dominating force in her life. Yejide’s mother was one of her father’s many wives, and polygamy is still prevalent in her culture. Although she and her husband married for love and agreed to have a monogamous relationship, the absolute focus on reproduction and providing an heir eventually causes her husband to accept a second wife, which begins a downward spiral for Yejide.

The books is so much more than simply Yejide’s struggle to have children. It’s about marriage and family, the cost of lies, and the role of women in a society that places men’s needs first. Stay With Me provides a glimpse into a culture that’s probably unknown to most Western readers, and weaves folklore into the narrative in clever and meaningful ways. The violence and upheavals of Nigeria’s political climate provide a backdrop to the story of family and loyalty. Stay With Me is a quick read, but provides a lot of food for thought.

Yet another great book club pick! I can’t wait to discuss it with my group.

Read more about Stay With Me:

New York Times review
NPR
The Guardian review
Chicago Tribune review

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The details:

Title: Stay With Me
Author: Ayobami Adebayo
Publisher: Knopf Publishing Goup
Publication date: August 22, 2017
Length: 260 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Library

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Drop everything and read this book!!! (A review): The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

 

A meteor decimates the U.S. government and paves the way for a climate cataclysm that will eventually render the earth inhospitable to humanity. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated timeline in the earth’s efforts to colonize space, as well as an unprecedented opportunity for a much larger share of humanity to take part.

One of these new entrants in the space race is Elma York, whose experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too—aside from some pesky barriers like thousands of years of history and a host of expectations about the proper place of the fairer sex. And yet, Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions may not stand a chance.

Once again, I find myself in the position of wanting my entire review to simply say:

This book is amazing.

Read it.

Not enough? Okay, I’ll elaborate.

What do you get when you throw 90s asteroid films Deep Impact and Armageddon into a blender with Hidden Figures, The Right Stuff, and Interstellar? Probably something good, but maybe not as thrilling and inspiring as Mary Robinette Kowal’s first of two Lady Astronaut books, The Calculating Stars.

(Yes, this review is going to be one big gushy love fest. Buckle up.)

The Calculating Stars starts with disaster. The year is 1952. Newlyweds Elma and Nathaniel York are enjoying a romantic getaway in an isolated cabin in the Pocono mountains, when there’s a flash that lights up the sky. Atomic bomb? Nope.  Elma and Nathaniel are both scientists, and they can rule out a bomb pretty quickly. But the flash is followed by an earthquake that brings the cabin down around them, and they figure out what it must be: a meteorite strike, someplace near enough for them to feel the aftershocks, and they brace for the airblast that they know must follow.

It’s an unimaginable catastrophe. The meteorite has struck Earth just off the eastern seaboard. Washington DC has been obliterated, as have most of the coastal areas of the United States. But this is only the beginning of the disaster. Elma has advanced degrees in both physics and mathematics, and is able to calculate before anyone else that this isn’t just a rough period that society will eventually overcome. The cataclysm and its impact on the world environment will, inevitably, over a period of years, lead to extinction. The Earth will become uninhabitable within their lifetimes.

There’s only one solution: Space. The world’s scientific communities must come together to accelerate research into space travel, with the aim of establishing colonies on the moon and on Mars.

Nathaniel becomes lead engineer for the international space agency, and Elma works in mission control as a computer, one of the brilliant mathematicians who calculate trajectories and all the complicated equations that enable rockets to leave earth and enter orbit. But Elma, a WASP pilot during World War II, has even bigger ambitions. She wants to fly… and she’s determined to become an astronaut.

Those little girls thought I could do anything. They thought that women could go to the moon. And because of that, they thought that they could go to the moon, too. They were why I needed to continue, because when I was their age, I needed someone like me. A woman like me.

This story is just so damned amazing. The author clearly draws heavily from history, and provides a guide to historical events and references and a bibliography. Her depiction of the space race, moved up a decade to the 1950s, feels real and exciting. By placing events in the 1950s, she also captures the social inequities and injustices of the time. The story takes place pre-Civil Rights, pre-feminism and  women’s liberation. Women may be able to apply for the astronaut training program, but they’d better be damned sure to put on lipstick first. Their press conferences feature inane questions about what they might cook in space, and the women are forced into skimpy swimsuits for their underwater tests – not the flightsuits the male candidates wore.

The (male) speaker, at a briefing for the first batch of female trainees:

“Good morning. I wish all conference rooms looked this lovely when I walked in.”

Women of color don’t even make it through the door, excluded from the application process entirely, even those with advanced degrees and unbeatable hours as pilots. You might think that in the desperation to save a species, these types of discrimination might fall by the wayside for the greater good of preserving humanity… but people in control tend to want to stay in control. It’s just as infuriating to read about in The Calculating Stars as in any non-fiction account of the era – and because we come to know these women and understand just how amazingly smart and talented they are, it’s all the more frustrating and painful.

Elma is a magnificent lead character, brave and brilliant, but by no means perfect. She has hidden weaknesses to overcome, and battles her own inner demons every step of the way. Elma’s husband Nathaniel is almost too good to be true – a scientist who’s incredibly gifted and dedicated, and yet also a man who adores his wife and supports her in her quest to become an astronaut. Their bedroom banter is adorable in its sexy dorkiness:

He shifted so he could reach between us. His fingers found the bright bundle of delight between my legs and… sparked my ignition sequence. Everything else could wait.

“Oh… oh God. We are Go for launch.”

I think you get the picture. If you’ve stuck with me this far, you can probably tell just how very much I loved this book. My inclination is to move straight on with book #2, The Fated Sky… but I think I want to savor this moment for a bit before continuing (and reaching the end of the story).

The Calculating Stars is a brilliant read, combining a story of people we come to care tremendously about with a world-ending disaster and the human spirit of ingenuity that’s so key to the early days of space exploration. This book is by turns heart-breaking and inspiring, and I loved every moment.

READ THIS BOOK!

 

Note: In 2012, the author published a short story called The Lady Astronaut of Mars. You could consider The Calculating Stars as a prequel of sorts, as it’s set in the same world and features certain of the same characters. I was charmed and moved by the story when I first read it, and read it again after finishing The Calculating Stars — and was even more moved than I was originally. If you’re interested in the flavor of this world, you can find the story here… but I recommend starting with the novels for the full, rich experience.

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The details:

Title: The Calculating Stars (Lady Astronaut, #1)
Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: July 3, 2018
Length: 431 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased

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Shelf Control #134: News of the World by Paulette Jiles

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Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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Title: News of the World
Author: Paulette Jiles
Published: 2016
Length: 209 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

In the aftermath of the Civil War, an aging itinerant news reader agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa back to her people in this exquisitely rendered, morally complex, multilayered novel of historical fiction from the author of Enemy Women that explores the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor, and trust.

In the wake of the Civil War, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence.

In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows.

Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act “civilized.” Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forming a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land.

Arriving in San Antonio, the reunion is neither happy nor welcome. The captain must hand Johanna over to an aunt and uncle she does not remember—strangers who regard her as an unwanted burden. A respectable man, Captain Kidd is faced with a terrible choice: abandon the girl to her fate or become—in the eyes of the law—a kidnapper himself.

How and when I got it:

I bought a copy last year at the used book store.

Why I want to read it:

I love the plot description. It sounds like a great set-up with unique characters and conflicts. Plus, not a terribly long book, which lately is a real plus for me!

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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