The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters

The Paying GuestsIt’s no secret that I love me some Sarah Waters, so when my dear friend Amy picked this book for our book club I was super excited. I looked at the high page count, figured it would take me about two weeks to read it on breaks at work, and started it at the appropriate time.

And then I finished it in one week, on breaks at work, and I was like, oh no, what am I going to do for a WHOLE WEEK while I wait for book club? Thank goodness there are other books in the world!

So yes, it seems like a long book, but it’s a super quick read, at least once it gets going. We start by meeting our protagonist, a Miss Wray, who lives with her mother in England in 1922. The war having taken the rest of their family in one way or another, the Wrays are a bit down on their luck and so have decided to let out most of their upstairs floor to lodgers, or, if we’re being polite, “paying guests.” What a strange way of being polite.

Anyway, said guests, the Barbers are a young married couple who don’t terribly much like each other but what are you gonna do in England in 1922 except stay unhappily married? Well, if you’re a lady in a Sarah Waters book (spoiler? Probably not…) you are going to have a love affair with your lady landlord. A very sexy love affair. Which I read on breaks at work. I rather recommend against that…

Miss Wray and Mrs. Barber spend most of the book sneaking off and having assignations and generally having fun, but then, because again, Sarah Waters, things go terribly horribly wrong and the tone of the book becomes completely different and I kind of actually liked this part of the book better because it had more semblance of plot and excitement but really the whole thing is super great.

I love the way Waters plays with her characters, making them seem sort of one-note at first but then delving slowly into the backstories that have brought them to this place in the novel. I also love how well she sets her scenes; I felt throughout the novel like I knew exactly how the house was set up and where everyone was at a given time so I knew just how worried to be about the things that were happening in one room or another. And, of course, I enjoyed the sneaky history lessons I got here with respect to post-war sentiment, being a lesbian at that time, the English legal system, and especially class structures and conflicts.

There is a lot going on in this book, is what I’m saying, and it’s lovely and wonderful and you should probably go read this immediately. But not at work. It’s weird at work.

Recommendation: For fans of Sarah Waters, lesbian love affairs, and gorgeous writing.

Rating: 9/10

Ask the Passengers, by A.S. King

Ask the PassengersA long time ago, I read King’s book Please Ignore Vera Dietz largely because I once shared a name with the protagonist but then it turned out to be super awesome and included a flow chart so even more awesome. Then King’s next book came out and I was like, I should totally read that, and then this one came out and I was like, I should totally read that, and then her next book came out… point is, I’ve put off reading her books long enough, so I am embarking on a quest to catch up. But not too quickly, or what will I have left to read?

I’m glad I waited this long to read Ask the Passengers, because as it turns out it is the book that I had thought or hoped that Speak would be, and it would have sucked to read Speak second. Both books deal with a girl with a secret (not the same secret), but where Anderson’s narrative is removed from the main character and we don’t really know what’s going on in her head, King’s gets right up in Astrid’s brain and gives us all the good thinky thoughts.

So Astrid is a New York City girl living in Podunkville, PA after her parents moved the family for reasons. Her small town is nice and all, but everyone is all up in everyone else’s business because that’s the traditional small town sport. Astrid’s more or less made her peace with this, but it does put a kink in her burgeoning relationship with another girl. Astrid’s girlfriend wants Astrid to come out as a flag-flying lesbian so they can date in the open, but Astrid isn’t even sure if she likes girls, plural, or just this one particular girl, or even this one particular girl, so could everybody maybe just give her a minute to decide?

I really loved this book, which pretty well encapsulated my teen angst over… every single thing that ever happened to me. I like that Astrid is smart enough to recognize all of the gossip and curiosity as the shenanigans that it is, but that, realistically, that knowledge is not as super helpful as it really should be. On the plus side, Astrid has old dead philosophers like Zeno and Socrates to turn to (the latter in an oddly literal way), as well as the titular passengers who fly over her town and who get their own brief narrative interludes as Astrid sends her love to them and they hear or otherwise receive it. It’s no talking pagoda but I’m still intrigued.

I absolutely love the way King writes her teenagers and even their parents, absent as they may so far be, and her way with words still keeps me somehow both glued to the pages and flipping through them as fast as I can to find out how things are going to play out. I am really excited to keep poring over her backlist, though come come October you’ll probably find me gushing about her upcoming book, Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, which, with a name like that, I could not possibly turn down.

Recommendation: For anyone who has ever been an over-thoughtful teen and fans of John Green who want a little more magic in their lives.

Rating: 9/10