The Secrets of Bone and Blood by Rebecca Alexander

A second book where I didn’t read the first previously; it suffered for it.

There are three major characters who went through a big conflict last book, and now its time to beat themselves up about their efforts and miscalculations along the way.

Edward Kelley gets flashback chapters to renaissance Venice, where he’s a fish out of water, taken by the locals, in the crosshairs of the inquisition, and manipulated by the duchess. It’s well written and interested me in renaissance Venetian politics, wondering what created the deep forces that Edward only perceives the edges of.

Felix begins the story in modern New Orleans, where he’s worried about the consequences of blood sorcery (probably used at the highlight of the previous book). It’s a tense investigation of various blood drinking societies… but it never really feels tense or dangerous. It’s interesting, held at a studied distance.

Jack gets the main chapters, along with her “sister” Sadie. It begins with an almost homey inheritance of an English cottage, with the associated work to tame the overgrown garden and clear out the house where the previous owner died. It’s not that simple… but the threat lays quiet throughout the first half.

As a second book, on the heels of the first, it’d probably work better for pacing. As a stand alone, there are well drawn characters spread out and non-interactive, investigating different topics that we assume are linked. Eventually, they gather, and the conflict becomes a lot more direct.

I’ll have to read The Secrets of Life and Death at some point; without it, the book doesn’t inspire a demand to read on into a sequel.

Dirty Wings by Sarah McCarry

This is almost YA-fiction, though the turn to drugs and dissolution seems much stronger than in the other YA I’ve encountered.

It’s a tale of Maia and Cass, girls at the end of high school. Maia is a great pianist, through some combination of very hard work and innate gift. Cass is trouble–but worldly, experienced, wise trouble that’s mind blowing to Maia’s stunted upbringing.

The story is told in two halves: now and then. The now chapters are mostly a road trip down the west coast on limited resources. The then chapters begin with Maia and Cass crossing paths and falling into each other’s orbits. There’s less than a year between the now and then… but a world of change. It’s not static either–in then chapters we see Maia’s engagement with the world beyond her piano bench and isolation, steadily growing more worldly, more open to experience. In the now chapters, we see her live out those changes, embrace Cass, rough living, and the quest for new experiences.

The path that’s been planned for her by her parents and her piano teacher at the start is so very different from the path she’s on at the end. Like her parents and piano teacher, I’m a bit horrified at where she winds up–but I empathize with her desire to chart her own path, feed her own desires.

The characters around the fringes are interesting. Her mom was pretty horrible throughout, but her Dad so blossomed on setting foot in New York that I wished he’d been more a part of the story prior. (More in an “I wish he’d been more involved, for Maia”, not an “I wish the author had inserted him more” sense.) Her Piano teacher, Oscar, is more complex from the start–and his own life’s deviation, revealed late in the now, explains the experiences that taught him the wisdom he displays throughout.

Jason… I only ever really saw through Cass’s eyes. The chance that delivers him… it was a cruel final blow to my hopes that they’d find a way to blend the worlds. I thought–hoped–that together in New York… it was a compelling dream.

In the end, she did a great job of getting me tangled up in two strong characters. I’d wish them well, but that’s not the trajectory they’re on as the book closes.