Stephanie Burgis, Good Neighbors
Ever since Mia and her father were run out of town by an angry mob wielding torches and pitchforks, she’s tried to appear normal and respectable, hiding her true identity as a metal mage. Too bad her new home is right next door to a necromancer’s castle. Leander has no interest in hiding his own unnatural gifts, and he soon seeks Mia out to form a defensive alliance against the hostile townsfolk. But as Mia and Leander grow closer, the town’s increasing anger toward those with magical powers forces them to take a stand. This is an enjoyable but insubstantial wisp of a book with a heavy-handed message about how society treats those who are perceived as different. The story is a bit sketchy and underdeveloped, and several loose threads are left dangling. I like the author but wouldn’t recommend this particular work — try Masks and Shadows or Congress of Secrets instead.
Margery Sharp, Cluny Brown
Cluny Brown is a young woman who, according to her plumber uncle, doesn’t know her place, so he decides to find one for her as a parlormaid in an English country house. Cluny isn’t a great success as a parlormaid, but she does make several new friends, both upstairs and down. Eventually she decides where (and with whom) she’ll make her true place in the world. This is a quiet slice-of-life novel set just before the outbreak of World War II. It satirizes the English class system but does so in a gentle and affectionate, not mocking, way. The plot centers around romantic complications that all come right in the end, although I did feel sorry for Cluny’s rejected suitor! I also watched the movie starring Charles Boyer and Jennifer Jones, which I didn’t like quite as much as the book (it changed too many things, and I think Boyer was miscast). But I would recommend the book if you like this type of novel!
Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Velvet Was the Night
This novel, billed as “neo noir,” is set in 1971 against the backdrop of the Mexican Dirty War. Elvis belongs to a gang with shadowy ties to the repressive government; he’s tasked with brutalizing student activists and other left-wing demonstrators. Meanwhile, Maite is dissatisfied with her life and escapes through the pages of romantic magazines. When Maite’s neighbor Leonora, a young woman with possible communist ties, disappears, Elvis and Maite cross paths as they both try to track her down. I’m not a big noir reader, as I generally prefer optimism in my fiction, but I found this novel fascinating. I know shamefully little about Mexican history, so I was happy to learn more about an unfamiliar place and time. I also really enjoyed the story and was able to guess some of the twists and turns. The ending isn’t exactly happy (this is noir, after all!), but it is satisfying and arguably hopeful. Overall, this book impressed me, and I’m eager to try more of Moreno-Garcia’s work.