fiction

The Best Book I Read This Month: The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish

I read only one book this month: The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish. It’s a very long book—almost 600 pages—but it really was a very good one. I’m glad I stuck with it. (It’s not cumbersome. I’ve just had a rough July and have not had much focus. In any other month, I would have devoured this book in a matter of days.)

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Like Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book (which I highly recommend), Kadish’s novel tells parallel stories, one historical and one modern. The historical story follows Ester Velasquez, a young Portuguese woman who serves a rabbi living in 17th century London. The rabbi is a charity case, blinded in the Inquisition and sent to London to “educate” the Jewish population there. Ester and her brother are orphans he’s taken into his care. The modern story follows two historians—a British historian facing retirement and an American graduate student—as they uncover the details of Ester’s life. Helen, the Brit, is closed off and abrasive. Aaron, the American, is lost but riding on his charm. (Confession: I did not find him very charming.)

Of the two story lines, I found Ester’s far more intriguing and enjoyable. I disliked being pulled out of her story for the next segment of Helen and Aaron’s story. Ester is a fuller, far more layered character than her modern counterparts, who came off as self-pitying more than anything else. Ester, by contrast, brimmed with ambition and emotion and obstinacy. Whereas Helen and Aaron seemed defined by their selfishness, Ester—while also being selfish in some ways—also showed a gift for selflessness in her devotion to the rabbi and her commitment to her friend, Mary.

But please don’t let my dislike of Helen and Aaron dissuade you from reading this book. It’s worth it to get to know Ester.

The Best Books I Read This Month: The Sixth World Series by Rebecca Roanhorse

The best books I read this month (yes, books—plural) were two books by Native American author Rebecca Roanhorse. The books—Trail of Lightning and Storm of Locusts—are the first two of Roanhorse’s four-book Sixth World series.

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The series is set in the future, after climate change and other disasters have destroyed life as we know it in North America. The disasters have left the Navajo Reservation (Dinetah) isolated and independent—and awakened Navajo gods and monsters. It is Maggie Hoskin’s job to deal with them.

In the first book, Maggie reluctantly teams up with a medicine man’s grandson to track the source of a zombie outbreak. In the second, she and her small guerrilla group set off to rescue the grandson when he is taken off the reservation by a doomsday cult. The world-building in both books is excellent. Trauma is a continuous theme across both books, and I expect it will be throughout the series. In Trail of Lightning, there is a clear sense of how desperate life is on the reservation. In Storm of Locusts, the world widens a bit and we start to get a sense of how broken civilization is outside Dinetah.

Throughout, the world is steeped in Navajo lore—and that’s what I liked the most about these books. This isn’t fantasy with fairies and dragons and elves and other elements reminiscent of medieval Europe. This is fantasy with Navajo gods and demi-gods, a world in which trauma awakens people’s clan powers. (Maggie’s powers are killing and speed; the grandson’s are healing and persuasion.) And even with the presence of gods and demi-gods, there is no deus ex machina. Maggie and her fellow human beings are on their own, more pawns and playthings of the deities than protectees.

There is no title or release date for Book 3 in the series yet, but I’m already eager to read it. Roanhorse can’t write it fast enough!

The Best Book I Read This Month: Sadie by Courtney Summers

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The best book I read this month was a young adult thriller called Sadie, written by Courtney Summers. It was not a happy read, but holy cow, it was a powerful one.

Sadie tells the story of Sadie Hunter, who disappears from her small town in the aftermath of her younger sister’s murder. It’s told in two POVs: Sadie and the reporter who’s tracing her.

I found Sadie’s voice more engaging and her part of the storytelling more engrossing than Wade the Reporter’s but neither side of the storytelling was happy. The story got darker with each chapter, and just when I thought the story might be turning toward the light, it got darker still. Did I mention this is not a happy read?

It’s one of the more riveting books I’ve read recently and it packs quite a punch, one that hits right in the gut.

The Best Book I Read This Month: Even Dogs in the Wild by Ian Rankin

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The best book I read this month is the 20th installment in Ian Rankin’s John Rebus series: Even Dogs in the Wild. It’s my favorite in the series (so far).

I’d never read any Rebus books before last summer. The series was recommended to me when I mentioned that I was traveling to Edinburgh and that when I traveled, I liked to read books set in the place I was visiting. The Rebus recommendation was spot on.

Rebus is a Detective Inspector who lives and works in Edinburgh. He first appeared in Knots and Crosses way back in 1987. In the early books in the series, Rebus was not all that likable and felt pretty flat as a character. What I enjoyed most about reading those books was being in the city where the stories were set and seeing many of the story locations in person. For example, one of the Rebus books I read while in Edinburgh began with a murder in Mary King’s Close. I read those pages a couple days before my own scheduled guided tour of the close. Similarly, Rebus regularly walked up the Canongate and the Cowgate and through the Grassmarket—all places I walked while I was there. Reading about places I was seeing in person made my visit more meaningful and the stories more alive.

By Book 20, published in 2015, Rebus is retired. That, of course, doesn’t stop him from being involved in the latest case du jour. What set Even Dogs in the Wild apart, though, was the character growth. For the first time, Rebus seems to have grown. He felt like a real person, not a stock character. The same for his frenemy, Big Ger Cafferty, an aging mob boss. Both men show signs of change and vulnerability that they hadn’t shown before. It made for a refreshing and engaging read—enough so that I’m very much looking forward to reading the last two books (so far) in the series.

(All that said, you can read and understand Even Dogs in the Wild without having read the previous 19 books in the series.)