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Books #13-14

Book #13 was "Everfair" by Nisi Shawl, a steampunk fantasy novel set mostly in the Congo during the time of King Leopold's reign (late 1800s to early 1900s). In our real history, Leopold was a monster, forcing native people to work for free harvesting rubber to enrich Belgium, kidnapping famlies to keep workers in line and punishing those who rebelled by lopping off limbs. In the alternative history of "Everfair," a group of black and white missionaries, both religious and secular, carve out a piece of the Congo as a respite for former slaves and other black folk who need a peaceful refuge. The story follows the early history of Everfair, double-dealing by Leopold, spy missions, battles fought from air ballons. It also follows the personal relationships of Everfair residents, including polyamorous marriages, same-sex romances, and interracial and and cross-generational marriages. I found this book to be beautifully written but somewhat flawed. Because the narrative is spread out through such a huge set of characters and the chapters are short so you get limited amount of pages from any one viewpoint, it's hard to care deeply about any one character. Mixed-race Lisette Toutournier gets a lot of pages, and so I tended to identify with her. A lot of the summaries and reviews of this book focus on the serious racial and political messages, and there are some, but it's also full of romance and some truly steamy lesbian sex scenes. Overall, I liked it and would recommend it, but  it is a book that can take a few chapters to pull you in, and it requires some patience with a slower pace than many other fantasy novels.

Book #14 was "The Departed" by Kristy Cooper, the first in a planned trilogy also called "The Departed" series. Kristy is a personal friend and former co-worker and she self-published this novel. I wanted to like it because I appreciate the skeptical theme of "What if somebody tried to fake the Rapture?" but I also was worried about the quality because self-published novels don't have a great reputation and my personal experience with them has been mixed. I am relieved to say that I did enjoy the book. The plot and characters pulled me in immediately and made this a fun and quick read. The main character, Gwen, is a bookworm, so I could relate to that. Her friend Lana goes missing in an event that many people is a biblical event called The Rapture, but Gwen finds some evidence that it is being faked to convince more people to join the True Believer Temple. She and her friend/crush Isaiah go on an adventure to find the truth. I do have some criticisms of the writing. I think repetitive passages could have been tightened up in some places and the story expanded in others -- I particularly found the character of Gwen's friend Mindy to be a bit of a cardboard cutout, for instance. But overall, even with its flaws, the plot pulled me in and kept me reading, so that's a big plus in its favor. I'm looking forward to the second installment, "The Sainted." See a book trailer for the series here.

1. Death's End (3rd in the "Three-Body Problem" trilogy) [fiction]- Cixin Liu (translation by Ken Liu)
2. Brat Farrar [fiction]- Josephine Tey
3. Notorious Victoria: The Life of Victoria Woodhull, Uncensored [nonfiction]- Mary Gabriel
4. Nine Years Under: Coming of Age in an Inner-City Funeral Home [fiction]-  Sheri Booker
5. Heap House (1st in the Iremonger trilogy) [fiction]- Edward Carey
6. Air [fiction]- Geoff Ryman
7. The Intuitionist [fiction]- Colson Whitehead
8. The Monster of Florence: A True Story [nonfiction]- Douglas Preston, with Mario Spezi
9. Foulsham (2nd in the Iremonger trilogy) [fiction]- Edward Carey
10. The Secret Place [fiction]- Tana French (unabridged audiobook)
11. Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga [nonfiction]- Pamela Newkirk
12. Between the World and Me [nonfiction]- Ta-nehisi Coates (unabridged audiobook)

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