Review: Oona out of Order

Oona out of Order
By Margarita Montimore
Published February 25, 2020 by Flatiron Books

Publisher’s summary:
Just because life may be out of order, doesn’t mean it’s broken.

It’s New Year’s Eve 1982, and Oona Lockhart has her whole life before her. At the stroke of midnight she will turn nineteen, and the year ahead promises to be one of consequence. Should she go to London to study economics, or remain at home in Brooklyn to pursue her passion for music and be with her boyfriend? As the countdown to the New Year begins, Oona faints and awakens thirty-two years in the future in her fifty-one-year-old body. Greeted by a friendly stranger in a beautiful house she’s told is her own, Oona learns that with each passing year she will leap to another age at random. And so begins Oona Out of Order

Hopping through decades, pop culture fads, and much-needed stock tips, Oona is still a young woman on the inside but ever changing on the outside. Who will she be next year? Philanthropist? Club Kid? World traveler? Wife to a man she’s never met?

Oona Out of Order is a remarkably inventive novel that explores what it means to live a life fully in the moment, even if those moments are out of sequence. Surprising, magical, and heart-wrenching, Montimore has crafted an unforgettable story about the burdens of time, the endurance of love, and the power of family.

Oona Lockhart faints on her 19th birthday and wakes up 32 years later in her 51-year-old body. She’s understandably freaked out, but she’s greeted by a man who says he’s her OOnapersonal assistant and friend Kenzie. He explains that she’s a time traveler of a very unique sort: Every year on her birthday, she faints and wakes up in a different year of her life. It can be any year she’s never lived before, and she no way to control it or decide which year it will be.

And so, Oona experiences her life out of order, with no predictable pattern of how the years will go. She’s a young soul in a body of all different ages. Sometimes the year is a good one, sometimes it’s a painful one. There’s love and loss and sometimes a horrible sense of knowing something is going to happen and not being able to prevent it. She has her beloved mother and Kenzie to help her through the weirdness of her life, but there are times when she’s very much alone.

I thought this was a really interesting concept for time travel. The idea of living your life out of order provides a lot of emotional resonance. Oona is a great character. She’s strong and resilient, and she learns to embrace a life of uncertainty and enjoy the good moments, of which there are many. Although the time travel is a central element to this book, there’s no science fiction explanation here. This may be unsatisfying for some readers, but I thought that it worked really well for the plot in this case.

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley.

Review: The Stars We Steal

The Stars We Steal
By Alexa Donne
Published February 4, 2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Publisher’s Summary:
Engagement season is in the air. Eighteen-year-old Princess Leonie “Leo” Kolburg, heir to a faded European spaceship, only has one thing on her mind: which lucky bachelor can save her family from financial ruin?

But when Leo’s childhood friend and first love Elliot returns as the captain of a successful whiskey ship, everything changes. Elliot was the one that got away, the boy Leo’s family deemed to be unsuitable for marriage. Now, he’s the biggest catch of the season and he seems determined to make Leo’s life miserable. But old habits die hard, and as Leo navigates the glittering balls of the Valg Season, she finds herself falling for her first love in a game of love, lies, and past regrets.

 

I loved Alexa Donne’s first book Brightly Burning, which was a retelling of Jane Eyre set in space, and I was excited for her latest book, The Stars We Steal. This one is a loose retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion crossed with The Bachelor, set in the same world as the first book.

StarsIn the future, humanity has left Earth behind and now orbits the planet in a fleet of spaceships. Princess Leonie (Leo) Kolburg is from a former royal family, but they’ve fallen on hard times. Although they have their own ship, it’s in disrepair and they’re docked on a larger ship where her aunt is the captain. Although Leo tries to keep their expenses down, her father and sister have no concept of money. Leo is a sensible young woman who has invented a new system of water filtration, but she doesn’t have the funds to patent the invention or promote it to other ships. The lack of fortune leaves her with only one option, to marry a wealthy man. Under pressure from her father, she agrees to participate in the Valg Season, which is basically a combination of an old-fashioned debutante season and The Bachelor. While she and her sister are participating in the season, Leo arranges to rent out her family’s ship so they can make some extra money. But then the tenants show up with a guest, Elliot, who was briefly engaged to Leo three years before. Her family pushed her to break things off, and former servant Elliot has come back as a very successful young man.

I liked this book, but didn’t love it. Persuasion is one of my favorite books, so perhaps my expectations were too high. I really liked Leo. She’s a great character. She’s smart and resourceful and a lot like Anne Elliot in the original book. I didn’t enjoy Elliot as much. He’s basically a jerk for the first half of the book, and he flirts with Leo’s sister and cousin, which is not cool. He gets a bit better as the book goes on, but he didn’t grow on me.

There’s a subplot about the massive economic inequality in the spaceship system, but it isn’t very well developed. I thought this story had the potential to be very interesting, especially given the class divide between Leo, who’s from a royal family, and Elliot, who was once a servant for her family. And there’s a movement to make ships justify their existence by being useful to the community in some way (the larger ship that Leo and her family are docked on is basically a pleasure vehicle). But we never get a real sense of how the other half lives. The spaceship setting is cool, but I didn’t feel like it added that much to the story. It felt like the story could have been set anywhere.

If you’re looking for The Bachelor in space, this may be the book for you. But as a Persuasion retelling or a science-fiction novel, it’s less successful.

I received an ARC from the publisher through Amazon Vine.

Middle-Grade Review: Aggie Morton, Mystery Queen: The Body Under the Piano

Aggie Morton, Mystery Queen: The Body Under the Piano
By Marthe Jocelyn
Published February 4, 2020 by Tundra Books

Publisher’s Summary:
Aggie Morton lives in a small town on the coast of England in 1902. Adventurous and imaginative but deeply shy, Aggie hasn’t got much to do since the death of her beloved father . . . until the fateful day when she crosses paths with twelve-year-old Belgian immigrant Hector Perot and discovers a dead body on the floor of the Mermaid Dance Room! As the number of suspects grows and the murder threatens to tear the town apart, Aggie and her new friend will need every tool at their disposal — including their insatiable curiosity, deductive skills and not a little help from their friends — to solve the case before Aggie’s beloved dance instructor is charged with a crime Aggie is sure she didn’t commit.

Filled with mystery, adventure, an unforgettable heroine and several helpings of tea and sweets, The Body Under the Piano is the clever debut of a new series for middle-grade readers and Christie and Poirot fans everywhere, from a Governor General’s Award–nominated author of historical fiction for children.

Aggie Morton, Mystery Queen: The Body Under the Piano is a great start to a middle-grade mystery series. It’s based on the early life of the real-life mystery queen Agatha Christie.

Agatha (Aggie) Morton is a 12-year-old girl who chafes at the restrictions placed on a young girl in Edwardian England. At her nervous mother’s insistence, she still has a Aggienursemaid who accompanies her everywhere. She’s still grieving her father’s recent death. Her only distraction is a new friendship with a young Belgian immigrant named Hector Porot. The two inquisitive children become fast friends after Aggie discovers a body in her dance studio, and they decide to solve the murder themselves.

This is a really delightful book. Aggie and Hector are great characters. The mystery is well done and very reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s stories. (I did guess the murderer about halfway through, but I’ve read a lot of mysteries and I think readers in the targeted age group will be thrilled with the big reveal.) There’s some examination of class and privilege. Aggie’s family is struggling a bit financially since her father’s death, but she still leads a very privileged life and is shocked to learn that a family servant is living in an unheated shack. Hector is an immigrant living on charity, so he’s treated with some suspicion by the town. There’s also some discussion on social changes, as Aggie’s dance teacher, who ends up being a suspect in the murder, is a suffragette and doesn’t believe that women need to be married.

This is a really fun book for middle grade readers, and it was an entertaining read for this adult too. It’s the sort of book I wish had existed when I was a kid, just starting out on reading Agatha Christie.

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley.