Books I read this week: end of July, beginning of August

Here’s what I’ve been reading over the last couple weeks.

A Pretty Mouth  by Molly Tanzer is a book I would recommend really selectively. When I reviewed Tanzer’s more recent book, Vermillion, I said that it was a book that people who enjoyed that genre of books would really enjoy, but that it was worth a try for those who had never really ventured into the pulp genre before. I would not say that about this one. It’s a great read, but heavy on the eldritch horror, very dark and twisty and strange. It’s a series of short stories following the members of the Calipash family through generations- a family known for their “sinister schemes, lewd larks, and eldritch experiments”. So if you know and enjoy that style and genre, this is a good one. If not, move on.

I do not enjoy verbal fencing with mercurial gentlemen, that is for sharp-tongued spinsters with too many cats and well-thumbed copies of Emma.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley had so much potential. All of the pieces were there for it to be transcendent, and it didn’t quite make it for me. About halfway through it kicked into high gear and I loved it, but there were emotions and endings that didn’t feel quite earned. But, it really was quite good, if not transcendent, which is a high bar anyway.  It’s the story of Thaniel (an affectation that was a bridge too twee for me) who works as a telegraph operator and is saved from an explosion at Scotland Yard by a mysterious watch that was left in his house. He tracks down the creator of the watch, who may also be the creator of the bomb that exploded Scotland Yard, and the story goes from there. Mori, a Japanese expatriate is a really interesting character, and I wish more had been made of him earlier in the story. The characters are interesting, and there’s a clever element at the crux of the story, so I recommend it with a “stick with it” caveat.

I think if you go about claiming at strangers that you make clockwork flying things they start to feel doubtful about any sort of elongated tenancy.

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss IS transcendent.  It tells the intersecting stories of two families from three perspectives, all of which turns on the pivot of a book called The History of Love. Leo, an old man, just wants to be seen, and wishes to know his lost son. Alma, a teenager named after “every girl in The History of Love”, grieves for her dead father and wants her mother to be happy again, and her little brother Bird thinks that he might be one of the holy men left on the Earth to save mankind. The voices are distinct and alive, their struggles and hopes heartbreaking. I totally cried toward the end, it’s just SO good.

Except for when I was very little and thought that being an “engineer” meant he drove a train. Then I imagined him in the seat of an engine car the color of coal, a string of shiny passenger cars trailing behind. One day my father laughed and corrected me. Everything snapped into focus. It’s one of those unforgettable moments that happen as a child, when you discover that all along the world has been betraying you.

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead is so lovely. It’s the story of Joan, who used to be a ballerina but left ballet when she got pregnant. It’s the story of Arslan, her ex-boyfriend, who defected from Russia. It’s the story of Jacob, the boy who always loved her. It’s the story of Elaine, who is still a ballerina. It’s the story of Harry, Joan’s son, who is a ballet prodigy obsessed with Arslan, and the story of Chloe, his best friend, who loves ballet more than anything. As these stories interweave in and out of the dance studio and back and forth in time, the book raises questions about talent, art, the goals we make and the dreams we leave and what we sacrifice. It’s incredibly good.

The motions. She has been trained to believe that the motions are enough. Each motion is to be perfected, repeated endlessly and without variation, strung into a sentence with other motions like words in a sentence, numbers in a code.

He had kissed her once, just before they left for college. It had been the kind of kiss that asks for something enormous.

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