The Reminders, by Val Emmich: Ten-year-old Joan has a condition called “highly superior autobiographical memory,” which sounds made up but is apparently a real and very rare thing. She remembers everything that has ever happened to her – what time it was, what day of the week, what the people she interacted with were wearing. Gavin is a middle-aged TV actor, grief-stricken from the loss of his partner. When he comes to stay with Joan’s family, he and Joan strike up a friendship. Joan trades her memories of Gavin’s partner for Gavin’s help in writing a song for a songwriting contest she wants to enter. The plot sounds rather strange laid out like that, but this was a very interesting book with well-written characters that explores memories and remembering. VGR
Eliza and Her Monsters, by Francesca Zappia: This was even better than Zappia’s debut novel, Made You Up. Eliza is a weird loner at her high school, but online she’s the anonymous creator of an incredibly popular webcomic called Monstrous Sea. When fellow weird loner Wallace transfers to her school, they discover a shared interest in Monstrous Sea, but Eliza lets him think that she’s just another fan like him when he sees some of her artwork. When Eliza is accidentally outed as the creator, everything falls apart – her relationship with Wallace, her online world, and her real life. VGR
Come Sundown, by Nora Roberts: I like the fact that you always know exactly what you’ll get with a Nora Roberts novel. It’s comforting to reach for an easy read that you know will have some tension, but in the end families and friends will love and support each other and there will be at least one HEA (Happily Ever After). This one was a little rougher in that a young woman is abducted at the beginning of the novel and held for more than two decades, the victim of rape and violence and twisted religious indoctrination. We get her story mixed in with the present day lives of the rest of her family – mainly focused on her sister’s grown children.
Burning Bright, by Melissa McShane (Audiobook): A Regency era fantasy where a small number people are born with magical abilities. Elinor Pembroke is an extraordinary scorcher – she can start and extinguish fires – and rather than marry a man of her father’s choosing, she offers her services to the Royal Navy to help fight pirates in the Caribbean. This was a fun listen and Elinor is an enjoyable character.
Grace and the Fever, by Zan Romanoff: Grace has just graduated from high school, and she’s been hiding her hard-core boy-band fandom from her friends for years. She ends up having a chance encounter with one of the band members and gets swept up in their world of media frenzy and secrets. I think I would have enjoyed this a lot more if I hadn’t found Grace incredibly irritating.
Tuesday Nights in 1980, by Molly Prentiss (Audiobook): My enjoyment of this book was marred by the fact that I disliked all of the main characters. Prentiss’s choppy staccato style worked well in audio format, and overall the story was fairly interesting. It follows three people in New York City – James, a synesthetic art critic (and Prentiss’s treatment of synesthesia seemed to turn it into a weird sort of magical realism); Raul, an Argentinian painter; and Lucy, a girl from small-town Idaho desperate for a life in the big city. All of them were pretty unlikeable, unfortunately.
Flame in the Mist, by Renée Ahdieh: If the main character of this novel, Mariko, hadn’t been really annoying (what is that, three in a row now? Maybe I’m the problem), I would have enjoyed this book. It’s set in a fantasy version of feudal Japan, and Mariko ends up the sole survivor when her traveling party is attacked en route to her marriage to the emperor’s illegitimate son. She dresses up as a boy to infiltrate the gang she thinks is responsible for the attack. My main problem with her is that the book kept telling me how smart and crafty she was, but she certainly wasn’t showing those qualities most of the time. Still, I will probably check out the sequel when it comes out – the book held my interest even when I was feeling irritated.
The Arrangement, by Sarah Dunn: The premise of this sounds just awful: a couple decide to have an open marriage for a set period of time to liven up their lives and relationship, and then it will end and everything will go back to normal. However, Dunn does a great job with this story and it was very interesting. As you can imagine, things are a little more complicated once Lucy and Owen actually find other partners. Lucy chooses a little too well, and Owen chooses extremely poorly.
Theft by Finding, by David Sedaris (Audiobook): I really enjoyed listening to Sedaris read snippets from his diaries (years 1977-2002). It gave greater context to his earlier books and he is quite observant and humorous. I don’t think this would be a good intro to his work if you haven’t read all or most of it already, but if you’re already a fan you will enjoy this.
The Scribe of Siena, by Melodie Winawer: I really wanted to like this novel. It is very well researched, but it comes off as an Outlander rip-off and ends up being kind of boring. Beatrice is a neurosurgeon who ends up traveling back in time to 14th century Siena, Italy, just before the Plague breaks out. Siena itself is well presented and filled with interesting historical detail. The problem is the characters. They don’t seem right for their time, especially Beatrice’s artist love interest.
When We Meet Again, by Kristin Harmel: Another book with a pretty great story and unfulfilling characters. I really am starting to think it’s me this month! This story’s present focuses on Emily, a freelance journalist who has a very dysfunctional emotional life. Its past centers around Emily’s grandmother, who had a romance with a German WWII P.O.W. who was working the sugarcane fields of Florida when they met. The stories come together eventually and a lot of secrets are revealed. I just wish I had cared about the characters a little more, and some of the plot lines are just preposterous. However, I knew nothing about German P.O.W.s in the U.S. during the war, so that part was really interesting.
The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, by Jennifer Ryan: Finally, a great story and great characters! Yay! This book takes place in a small English village during WWII and every chapter shifts between different women in the town, either through their letters or diary entries. The thread connecting them all is their choir, which has lost all its male voices to the war. This book has heart, humor, romance, and wonderful village intrigue, and I loved every page of it! VGR
The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland: This book was so much fun to read. It’s a long, wild romp with magic, sci-fi, time travel, mystery, and adventure. Dr Melisande Stokes, an expert in linguistics and languages, has an accidental meeting with military intelligence agent Tristan Lyons, and ends up working with him to help restore magic to the world, which was lost when photography was invented. VGR