So, yeah. One of the books I read this month is sort of accidentally a pandemic book, though…well, not really. But let’s just say it hit a bit closer to home than I anticipated when I first set out to read it.
At any rate, here we are, in pandemic limbo. I’m fully vaccinated, as are most of my colleagues, my mom and sister and brother-in-law, and about half of my kids’ friends’s parents. On the other hand, my husband is not, nor any of my kids (pretty much no kids are vaccinated yet, and mine will be a while, because they’re not old enough to be in the 12-to-16 group yet. So many activities are theoretically “safe” for me, but not for my immediate family.
So here we still sit. Cases are on the rise in the U.S. again, though not (yet) in California. Vaccination should prevent the incipient wave from being as serious as previous waves. But I’m so very disappointed in my nation – we should have adopted the “Covid Zero” strategy a year ago, but no. “Personal freedom” and “the economy” always win out. Ugh.
Ah, well. I already discussed one of this month’s books in my last post, because I finished it early in the month. So I think I have just two books to talk about this time around. Let’s get started.
The first book I read this month was Sisters By Choice by Susan Mallery. I’ve noted previously that I’m a Mallery fan, but mostly of her “chick lit” and less of her straight romances. This fell solidly into the first category, and I really enjoyed it. It was another of her stories in which many of the characters you are meant to like have very unlikeable traits, and I like that she does that – it makes her people feel “real”. In this case, also, there is at least one fully unlikeable character, and one that I know a version of from my own life. So, yeah, this book may also have hit a bit close to home.
The book centers around three women, all related, which is one of Mallery’s standard patterns. In this case, there are two cousins and the daughter of a third cousin – so, two women in their mid-late 30s, and one in her early 20s. The book begins when one of the cousins (Sophie) returns to her childhood home, Blackberry Island, Washington, after her business burns down in Los Angeles. She takes the insurance money and starts again, and her part of the story revolves around her being a fairly successful businesswoman who has hit a ceiling due to being a control freak who doesn’t trust anyone enough to delegate to them. She makes mistakes that we can all see coming due to this, and it’s very frustrating. And very human. She also consistently underestimates the people she hires and the man she’s dating. And yet…we like her. We want her to learn what she’s doing wrong, and fix it.
The second cousin is Kristine, a (mostly) stay-at-home mom of three who married really young. She has a small baking/catering business, and dreams of opening a cafe where she can sell her baked goods…and the opportunity arises during the story. In Kristine’s case, her husband is the problem. He’s…well, I think he’s simply awful and I wished, right up to the end of the story, that she’d kick him to the curb. He’s one of those men who doesn’t want his wife to succeed…to be “better” than him. He’s afraid if she doesn’t need him for financial support, then she’ll leave him.
I hate that guy, and I WANT her to leave him. But, hey, that’s just me, and their story is compelling. I won’t tell you whether I approved of how it ended…
Finally, there’s Heather, who is the college-aged daughter of the third cousin (Amber). Amber also had her single kid quite young, by accident, and has never gotten her own life together. She consistently blames everyone else for her problems, has no income, and expects her daughter to support her (based apparently on the “fact” that having said daughter at 18 is why her life is a mess). Heather wants to go to college and leave Blackberry Island, but she feels trapped – what will her mother do if she leaves? How will she manage?
This codependency is something I’ve seen in real life. I have an aunt who is SO MUCH like Amber. She blames everyone for her problems, and expects her family to float her through life, despite the fact that she does nothing for them in return. Amber was an incredibly difficult character for me…hit really close to home in some ways. I just wanted everyone to STOP TAKING CARE OF HER. Adults need to learn to adult.
So, that’s the basic outline. Three women, all with issues they need to address, and all with goals and dreams they’re working toward, and their relationships with one another and the people in their lives. I liked it. Many Amazon reviewers who love Susan Mallery didn’t, precisely because the characters aren’t all fully lovable.
The other book I finished in March was If Tomorrow Comes, by Nancy Kress. This is the second book in her Tomorrow’s Kin trilogy, which started out as a novella I really enjoyed.
I’m finding that I enjoy the trilogy less. The idea was compelling – compelling enough for the expansion into a single novel, even. But the ongoing story, thus far, is…less so. In the original story, an alien spaceship arrives on Earth, but the people in it aren’t aliens, exactly. They’re humans, separated from Earth humans by an alien race tens of thousands of years ago. Their world is different from ours, enough that they look a bit different, but they are still the same species. Their world (called “World”, because of course that’s what people call their world in their language) is much more peaceful than ours, due mostly to it being a monoculture. It’s a lot like a Star Trek world – an idea about a culture, imposed on an entire planet.
At any rate, the Worlders have come to Earth looking for help, as they have recently lost a colony ship to an interstellar virus (“spore cloud”) which they don’t have a treatment or vaccine for. And which kills 100% of everyone infected by it within hours to days, by destroying their lungs.
Yeah. It’s a respiratory infection that causes lungs to look like “whiteout” or “ground glass” on X-rays. Too soon, Nancy.
But she wrote this before COVID, by a long shot. After SARS (now SARS-Cov-I), but before COVID-19.
Anyway, the spore cloud is bearing down on Earth, and its trajectory will then take it to World (convenient for the story that all three human-inhabited worlds are in the line of movement of this cloud in space). Can humans help to make a vaccine?
There’s a lot more in here – Earth humans are immune, mostly, probably because the spore cloud has been here before, and selected for a specific human mutation that is now present in 90% of everyone on the planet (basic evolution – the first time around, everyone who DIDN’T carry that mutation died, so most of us do, now), but the Worlders left before that, so most of them aren’t immune.
At any rate, the original story was basically that, with a race to cure the disease before it got to Earth and then World. But the trilogy is a lot more involved…and not a huge amount more interesting, if you ask me. Turns out, the Worlders have LESS advanced technology than humans, and the ships were constructed using plans left by whoever kidnapped them from Earth in the first place. They don’t understand how the ships work, and they don’t really have much of a technological society on their own World, something Earth humans discover when they build their own ship and head to World. So they haven’t managed to create a vaccine yet (Earth humans did, but finished it AFTER the Worlders left Earth), and they’re looking at the loss of the majority of their population in a few weeks, when this novel begins.
So, yeah. Another race to find a cure. Just with even less technology. World is a matriarchal human society, which Kress seems to think would be less violent and more socialist…and more authoritarian, too. Maybe, but it still feels more like a thought experiment than a real culture. Kress is far more interested in the Earth humans and their culture and interactions than she is in the Worlders…even though the entire novel is spent on World.
So, yeah…it was fine. I will read the third novel. Maybe it’ll recover from the sophomore slump. But you could also just stop with the first one.
(Also, just a quibble – Kress’ biology is usually pretty spot-on, but she messes up what a “virophage” is here, and it irritated me. They’re real – but they don’t work the way she describes.)
Right now, I’m reading What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton, which is a collection of blog posts she wrote about rereading books she really enjoys (and a few she doesn’t). I’m picking up a few new ideas for “classics” of the science fiction genre I haven’t yet read, and also comparing her thoughts on books I have read with my own. Fun, and I’ll have a few things to say about it next month.
I’m also reading Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang. This is a collection of short stories by an author who is new to me in print, but who wrote one of my all-time favorite movies. The film Arrival is an adaptation of Story of Your Life, which is a longish short story contained in this collection, and I’ve been meaning to read it forever. So far, the other stories in the collection have been pretty good (I’ve read two of them at this point).
So that’s it, for now. I’ll check in with you the first weekend in May to see how things are.