I’m back! Usually I don’t make a big deal about it if I drop off for a week, but this time I am because I am back in multiple senses! Back with good books and back mentally. Last week was a rough one, as I was dealing with health stuff and just too tired to read, let alone write down my thoughts. My brief slump was also related to coming off a couple of really frustrating books the week before, so it was just a perfect storm of “becca isn’t going to read right now.” But, I finally recovered physically with the help of strong antihistamines, and book-wise, ever-reliable Agatha Christie helped me recover from my reading block. I don’t know what it is about a good murder, but it always gets me back in the reading groove when I’m having trouble.
I want to start off with the toughest review: Some of It Was Real by Nan Fischer. Honestly, I could write a long, in-depth review of this book because there’s a lot to say, but I don’t want to give it that much space. Usually, when a book disturbs me this much, I’ll simply omit it from my public reviews. However, in this case, I do feel a responsibility to say something because both the story and the book, as a thing that is coming out into the world, are concerning, and I don’t want anyone to mistake this for something harmless.
Some of It Was Real is baffling and alarming. The author has clearly done her research and understands the murky world of psychics and mediums who promise grieving people a chance at connecting with lost loved ones. The problem is she seems fine with it — or at least with presenting a rosy version of it in fiction. Instead of seriously engaging with the ethical dangers or even attempting to balance healthy skepticism with an open mind, the author fully commits to the idea that her (anti)heroine is the genuine article and doing something good in the world — even when the protagonist herself admits that she fakes psychic connections as often as she makes “real” ones. The result is a bizarrely “feel-good” story about a young woman overcoming (but not seeking actual therapy for!) her traumatic past to embrace her calling as a psychic-medium, enthralling even her biggest skeptic along the way. This approach not only saps any compelling tension from the plot but is also disturbingly close to full endorsement of the “grief vampires” that are existing, manipulating, and thriving in our society. I believe we should leave room for wonder and admit there are things — maybe even supernatural things — that science can’t explain, but we still need to be responsible about how we explore those questions, especially when the story is not fantasy but firmly rooted in our real world and how it operates. But this book is not interested in engaging with complexity or even uncertainty, which is a shame because the setup is fantastic and could have been something great. However, the casual whitewashing holds it back as a literary work and also reveals a lack of awareness about what it’s contributing to the real-world narrative. At best, Some of it was Real is a cheap spiritualist fairy tale. At worst, it’s an irresponsible handling of a delicate subject, with concerning implications related to fraud, manipulation, and mental health issues. My thanks to NetGalley and Berkley for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
If you want a book that offers real catharsis, however, with, yes, even a touch of spiritualism, you really can’t do better than Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery. The final novel in the Anne of Green Gables series, it follows Anne’s youngest daughter through the difficult years of World War I. With a perfect mixture of humor and pathos, Rilla of Ingleside is both an affecting coming-of-age story and a heartfelt memorial to the tragedy of war and the people at home and on the front lines who keep the faith through it all.
And now that we’re past the difficult section of the post, let’s turn to the lighter reviews!
First up is Murder on the Orient Express (Poirot #9) by Agatha Christie. I remember watching the 1974 adaptation as a kid, and some of those images really stuck with me. But the wonderful thing about Christie is that knowing the solution is only part of the fun, so I still enjoyed watching Poirot put those little grey cells to work puzzling out the mystery. With a now-classic setup and one of my favorite kinds of endings, this is a classic for a reason.
Jade City (The Green Bone Saga #1) by Fonda Lee: Compelling and wonderfully crafted, a delicate web pulled tight until the characters are trapped by their inevitable fates. I usually wouldn’t pick up a gangster novel, but I’m glad I gave this a chance. The plotting and world-building are excellent, and Lee does a great job making you care about characters you don’t like… or know will only break your heart.
Storm Echo (Psy-Changeling Trinity #6) by Nalini Singh: This book is such a paradox of elements that usually make me cringe — shifters, insta-love, fated mates, people saying exactly what they think even though no one does that in real life! — and things that I FREAKING LOVE, like love-that-cannot-be, self-sacrificing leads who think they’re monsters but are soft for love, dramatic reunions, and just so much melodrama. Early on, I decided to turn off my brain and just enjoy the ride and the sweet, sweet angst, and I had a fabulous time. I couldn’t take a steady diet of this, but I will be returning to Singh’s other books for an occasional dose when needed. My thanks to NetGalley and Berkley for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
So, with the notable exception of Some of It Was Real, it was a really good, really fun reading week, and I hope the trend continues. Life is definitely a lot right now, speaking both personally and in the sense of world events, and a little escapism is always welcome. I hope you’re all taking care of yourselves and each other, and I wish you all the good books to help you through whatever life sends your way. Until next time!