Categories
Literary Fiction Thrillers

Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer (Snarky Book Review)

If you’ve followed me for any amount of time you probably have heard me say that by principle, I don’t read books that have a legitimate Goodreads rating of under 3.7 ish.  Rare exceptions are made like when I happen to have time to finally read a Jeff VanderMeer and one is available, and unfortunately I picked his worst rated book by far (3.27).

Guys..don’t be me. Let’s do a quick look at the book first then I’ll share some thoughts


Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Hummingbird Salamander
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Jeff VanderMeer
  • Publisher & Release: MCD, 2021
  • Length: 368 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐ I mean no not really but if you are a fan of the author maybe give it a try

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

From the author of Annihilation, a brilliant speculative thriller of dark conspiracy, endangered species, and the possible end of all things.

Security consultant “Jane Smith” receives an envelope with a key to a storage unit that holds a taxidermied hummingbird and clues leading her to a taxidermied salamander. Silvina, the dead woman who left the note, is a reputed ecoterrorist and the daughter of an Argentine industrialist. By taking the hummingbird from the storage unit, Jane sets in motion a series of events that quickly spin beyond her control.

Soon, Jane and her family are in danger, with few allies to help her make sense of the true scope of the peril. Is the only way to safety to follow in Silvina’s footsteps? Is it too late to stop? As she desperately seeks answers about why Silvina contacted her, time is running out—for her and possibly for the world

This book tried to be a lot of things. It tried to be dystopian and didn’t succeed.  It tried to be an eco-thriller and missed the mark. It didn’t fall anywhere into science fiction despite a lot of bird and salamander facts that ground the plot action to a halt every time he did a facts chapter.

If anything it’s a bit of a mystery and thriller at times and alternate future.  I felt like he skimmed over pandemics and chaos and the world devolving but nothing got enough attention or traction to stick with me.

The main character was absolutely terrible too. Not only because she was aloof and anonymous and her arc didn’t make a ton of sense, but she had the nerve to call herself a good wife and mother despite the fact that she cheated on her husband multiple times, almost did it again, and left them both to the wolves when she could have used her skills in security to hide and try to protect them.  Mom of the year award, right?

I didn’t even mind all the cryptic language – in fact I liked that. The anonymity and ever progressing loss of identity made sense.  It was the random springing from point A to point F that was terrible, and that the narrator really had no motivation to do anything she did (really, you’re just going to sacrifice your family and life and everything for a random mysterious letter?

When the ending came around, even with the mystery kind of solved and the motivations unveiled, even if the main character had known from the start that was what was happening and why…. Would she have done it? I really don’t know.

Basically the premise sounded really good and, yeah, you know, save the trees don’t trash the Earth and wear a mask, etc etc etc

Onwards and upwards


thanks for checking out my book review of Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer.  This copy was obtained through Libby and as always, all opinions are my own  

Categories
Fiction Literary Fiction Science Fiction

Vaguely ‘The October Country’ (or: books with meaning cont.)

I feel like I’m screwing everything up this October and the blog is no exception. A hastily assembled month of guest content, genre diverse reading, and nostalgia related articles has led to my worst two weeks of views ever when I was thinking (and hoping) it would be well received.  I know the loss of Instagram traffic is hurting and change is always hard, but…. sigh, tell me again why I even bother?

Last Saturday I started some rambling thoughts on ways that a book itself potentially enhances it’s own reading experience, such as when it’s borrowed from a friend and some bookish conversation is enabled as a result. Or, in this case, when it was owned by and now a link to a deceased relative.

I’ve always gotten nostalgic reading Bradbury, especially the few remaining books I have from my uncle’s collection. The October Country is a short story anthology of some of Bradbury’s oldest stories, a macabre and fantasy-horror filled assortment of human observation and meditation on loss (among other things).  Not sci-fi. One thing I read about Bradbury recently that irked me was someone hating on the book because it wasn’t sci-fi? Like why? Authors evolve over time and sometimes write outside their classically known genre, although I do blame that on early publishers for marketing some of it as sci-fi when it’s not.

Anyway, I’ve got an old Ballantine sci-fi classics edition (see, to me this is setting the book up for undue scrutiny) of The October Country that’s falling apart at the binding.  I’m almost afraid to read it any more but also felt like thumbing through a few stories was suitable for my mood this October, as I tend to do anyway each autumn.  I don’t actually know what my mood is but it’s manifesting as smelling the book and imagining that I can still detect pipe smoke.  It’s having a minor melt down because I dropped and broke one of the last plates I had from his set, I’m supposed to be taking care of them right? It’s feeling one more page detach even though I’m barely cracking the spine and just feeling like I’m destroying everything.  

Anyway, to make this bookish, another way to connect to the physical reading experience is to know who else has owned and loved a book. As evidenced by a beaten to hell paperback that probably belongs in a dust sleeve for preservation but I don’t really think that’s what anyone would have wanted, so I continue to read a few stories every year.

I’ve only read the first few this time around and found myself enjoying and connecting with, not for the first time, the prose contained in “The Next In Line”.  With the frantic wife and the speed of her thoughts.  The evaporating warmth that keeps things (Bradbury uses the clay analogy) from moulding anew.

I’m not scared of skulls and bones…If a child was raised and didn’t know he had a skeleton in him, he wouldn’t think anything of bones, would he? … In order for a thing to be horrible it has to suffer a change you can recognize


If anyone is still following for GrimDarkTober content, I’ve got a guest review coming from Brandy at The Review Booth tomorrow, a review for Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde coming probably Monday, then a slew of guest content including a surprise interview 💀

Categories
Contemporary Fiction Literary Fiction

Other Birds by Sarah Addison Allen (Book Review)

Thank you so much to St. Martin’s Press for the gorgeous finished copy of Other Birds by Sarah Addison Allen!

From my favorite non-SFF genre, this is a wonderful magical realism book about stories, secrets, acceptance, and the ghosts we hold onto. It’s packed full of great characters and themes that I love.

This comes with my apologies as I should have read and reviewed it already but had a terrible incident of dog vs. marshmallow from the press box (she is ok now!) and needed a little time.

So let’s look at the book, which I am highly recommending for new adult readers and all fans of magical realism!


Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Other Birds
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Sarah Addison Allen
  • Publisher & Release: St. Martin’s Press, 08/30/22
  • Length: 290 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐✨

Here’s the synopsis:

From the acclaimed author of Garden Spells comes an enchanting tale of lost souls, lonely strangers, secrets that shape us, and how the right flock can guide you home.

Down a narrow alley in the small coastal town of Mallow Island, South Carolina, lies a stunning cobblestone building comprised of five apartments. It’s called The Dellawisp and it is named after the tiny turquoise birds who, alongside its human tenants, inhabit an air of magical secrecy.

When Zoey Hennessey comes to claim her deceased mother’s apartment at The Dellawisp, she meets her quirky, enigmatic neighbors including a girl on the run, a grieving chef whose comfort food does not comfort him, two estranged middle-aged sisters, and three ghosts. Each with their own story. Each with their own longings. Each whose ending isn’t yet written.

When one of her new neighbors dies under odd circumstances the night Zoey arrives, she is thrust into the mystery of The Dellawisp, which involves missing pages from a legendary writer whose work might be hidden there. She soon discovers that many unfinished stories permeate the place, and the people around her are in as much need of healing from wrongs of the past as she is. To find their way they have to learn how to trust each other, confront their deepest fears, and let go of what haunts them.

Delightful and atmospheric, Other Birds is filled with magical realism and moments of pure love that won’t let you go. Sarah Addison Allen shows us that between the real and the imaginary, there are stories that take flight in the most extraordinary ways.


So the synopsis is absolutely dead on as far as what the book is about, and I have nothing else to add to the summary. Other Birds is full of both literal and figurative ghosts with a touch of magic throughout.  It’s not quite a GrimDarkTober read but I love it for autumn.

Zoey has moved to Mallow Island before college starts and meets the inhabitants of her mother’s old residence.  There’s a reclusive author, small little birds with big personalities, and three ghosts hanging around.  There’s a lot more too but it’s worth discovering on your own.

I loved the characters.  Each had a lot of childhood trauma in different forms and as they grew up, hoarded love where they could find it.  Everyone was broken in some way and I don’t always love books like this but I did like how Zoey brought everyone at The Dellawisp together and eventually they all found a lot of individual closure.

The theme of letting go to old loves and making room for new ones was touching and I have to give the book 1/2 of a bonus star for making me tear up.  (If anyone remembers my infamous bonus system: real tears is +1 star,  watery eyes is +1/2 star, real laughter is +1 star, chuckles is 1/2 star. Basically make me feel something and I give bonus stars).  What really got me was the point about how on whatever level of abuse occurs, whether it’s horrendous neglect, physical, or just not having a place in your own family for whatever reason –  sometimes it’s better to leave and find your own people. 

The other high point was that the book maintained a level of mystery and and ongoing discovery that kept me interested.  Who was prowling around at night? What was really going on with these characters – including the ghosts? It kept itself interesting and the reveals came at a steady pace.  Some I never saw coming, some I did, and it was a good mix.

The setting and atmosphere was piled on thick too, but this is one of the most character driven books that I’ve truly enjoyed recently. At the end of the day I had a few issues with how the various points of view were thrown together in each chapter, but I love the third person present tense.  It’s an intimate approach and such a generally wholesome book for the new adult like age 18+ readers that I’m just going with 5 stars.  

Anyway, here are a few quotes that packed a lot of punch for me:

Stories aren’t fiction. Stories are fabric. They’re the white sheets we drop over our ghosts so we can see them


It made him even more scared of rejection, because who would ever believe in a loneliness so overwhelming that you called upon a ghost to alleviate it?


Overall I highly recommend this one for fans of women’s fiction, magical realism, and new adult readers!

As a bonus: here are the press kit photos I took! Thank you again to the publisher for the book and box and all the support along the way ❤️

Categories
Fiction Historical Fiction Literary Fiction Romance

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (Book Thoughts)

In an effort to broaden my reading horizons and shore up some of my literary gaps, I started reading a few classics every year.

For my summer session of classic torture, I was surprised to find that The Scarlet Letter was not really that challenging to read. It is fairly short and the language isn’t terribly insufferable either (My last classic was Notre Dame de Paris ((The Hunchback of Notre Dame)) and … Whew, no thanks).

So let’s talk about my reaction to the book, if I think it has relevance today, and I’ll treat you to my teen-speak synopsis of the book.

Originally published in 1850, here’s the Signet Classics synopsis:

This tragic novel of sin and redemption is Hawthorne’s masterpiece of American fiction.

An ardent young woman, her cowardly lover, and her aging vengeful husband—these are the central characters in this stark drama of the conflict between passion and convention in the harsh world of seventeenth-century Boston. Tremendously moving and rich in psychological insight, this dramatic depiction of the struggle between mind and heart illuminates Hawthorne’s concern with our Puritan past and its influence on American life.

Broadly – I enjoyed the read.  It’s not hard to know what’s happening, and minus a bit of minute descriptive language mostly in the first novella about the Custom House, it was pretty readable.

His author intro is everything: Oh you’re offended by my sketch? I think it’s fine, it’s not like I burned the place down!! I bet Hawthorne had a big personality.

Relevance: I think it has relevance as a cautionary tale today in a world where teen moms get “famous” on TV and you can’t even scroll Bookstagram without seeing books with x rated content advertised. I would definitely put this in a home school curriculum to talk about Puritanism, early settlements, guilt, adultery, having children out of wedlock, stigmas and identity, I mean there’s a lot of discussion content here that I imagine parents would rather handle.

Here’s my teen speak synopsis:

Part 1: So Mr. Hawthorne was in the hot seat for blasting his employer after being fired, and said HaHaHaHA I’m gonna publish this anyway because it’s not offensive so enjoy! Sticks and stones!

Part 2: The Scarlet Letter. Ok so this lady living in Puritan Salem/Boston finds this brown eyed pastor waxing poetic, and even though she’s married, they get their shenanigans on. What the heck did she think would happen when she had a baby? This wasn’t 2020 where Jerry Springer lets your baby daddy and your husband fight it out on live TV, your @$$ is going to be hung by the neck!

That didn’t happen because Hawthorne had to write a book longer than 5 pages, so the two men have to kill each other with psychological warfare instead. A good lesson about carrying around a guilty conscience.

Long story short – actions have consequenes

A few random thoughts:

  • I thought it was funny that even the beggars were shunning charity from Hester. These days everyone grabs all the free stuff regardless of who is handing it out
  • A character mentioned transmuting alchemy to gold, which is something I usually see in fantasy books or nonfiction moreso than historical fiction
  • The book takes place 50 years before the Salem Witch Trials and Hawthorne brought in some real historical figures as characters.  Bellingham was the real governor, as was Hibbins who mentioned witchcraft throughout the book and was hanged in real life shortly after it took place. I didn’t know how many women were hung before the actual frenzy took place

Overall thoughts: I didn’t feel bad for Hester at all. She wasn’t forced into marriage and knew the laws of the time. Dimmesdale probably took advantage of his authority position and that isn’t an excuse for either of them since she clearly knows how to say NO to men in power based off the rest of the book.  I know 2020 is whack but choices, actions, they all have consequences and I’ll never support adultery.  That’s why I think this is a good cautionary tale to lay against idiocracy like “Teen Mom”

This is a quicker, easier to pick apart classic and I definitely think it held up over the years.

Soooo what classic should I read in the fall?

Categories
audiobooks Dystopian Literary Fiction Science Fiction

The End of the World Running Club by Adrian J. Walker (Book & Audio Thoughts)

I haven’t read a dystopian in a while and found one that I don’t see talked about a whole lot.  The End of the World Running Club hits all the right points for a dystopian but fell short over all for me and I’m blaming it on 1) the audio and 2) the ending.

When I read these types of books, the primary questions in my mind are “Ok, how far will these characters go to survive, and what keeps them going? What flavor does the ending leave for both humanity and our remaining characters?”

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The End of the World Running Club
  • Series: ” ” #1
  • Author: Adrian J. Walker
  • Publisher & Release: Sourcebooks Landmark, September 3017
  • Length: 464 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐✨ more for those who want to sample the genre

Here’s the synopsis from Am*zon:

Asteroids are striking Earth, the end of the world is near, and Edgar Hill is on the wrong side of the country.

Over five hundred miles of devastated wastelands stretch between him and his family, and every second counts. His only option is to run―or risk losing everything he loves. He’ll have to be ingenious and push himself to the very limit if he wants to see them again. Can he reach them in the race against time, or will the end of the world defeat him?

A dystopian page-turner about the endurance of the human body and spirit―perfect for lovers of apocalyptic science fiction, running books, and anyone who knows that true strength comes from love.

As I said it hits all the points of a good dystopian. There’s a cataclysmic event, despair, survival, hope and hopelessness, the exploration of human nature, an incredible journey, etc. Everything the book should have.  There are helpful friends and harmful scum along the way, complete with all the obstacles you’d expect in a cross country run through a landscape devastated by asteroids.  It also takes place in the UK which is not something that I see so frequently in these types of novels.

That said, I had mixed feelings about where the book ended, and I think a lot of my overall negative feelings are influenced by the fact that the audiobook narrator’s voice got so annoying that I had to close it down and buy the ebook.

I really liked the beginning because Ed, the narrator, started at the end of the story with the description of three graves that he was thinking of digging up to prove his sanity.  Or had he already lost it? He talked about beliefs and it set the book up for the potential to be a mirage.  The whole beginning was absolutely wonderful as the asteroids occurred and then the family was trapped in the cellar. I felt like it went slowly downhill once Ed & Co started the journey.

At the end, again focusing on the graves, Edgar made a big point of bringing into question whether or not the events he told actually happened, versus what he believed. So… I don’t really know what to believe happened at the end and I wasn’t in the mood for that much literary ambiguity in a now open ending. I do think these books need open endings but not necessarily a riddle.

Anyway, I got truly annoyed with the book about the time that Jenny Rae came in. Whether or not my annoyance should give the author more points, I’m not sure. I tend to be super picky with dystopian and this one had a lot of really good elements, and some overdone ones. Like a large, borderline schizophrenic woman that wreaks havoc and is the last person in the world that should be in charge of anything, but would definitely come out on top in the apocalypse.  This is an archetypal dystopian character and I kind of just feel like somebody would have shot her before she came to any kind of power. That whole section was hard, (but heck yeah go Mr Angelbeck!)

Ed’s character arc from inviting the end of the world to running across a continent for his family was lovely.  He’s a morally gray character – as is everyone in a dystopian – and I liked who he became. Harvey, Bryce and Grimes were good characters too but we didn’t get too much of a good look at them. The book took an appropriately deep dive into humanity in general as well as what keeps us going in the dark. Running not so much although there were a few long distance insights and I am in awe that the untrained people ran so far.

I would recommend this one to people wanting to try a dystopian, but probably not hardcore fans of the genre. My favorite one to recommend (after The Road) is A Boy and his Dog at the End of the World. As far as this one, I would read a book version and stay away from the audio. I just did not like the narrator’s voice because he always sounded so happy, regardless of what was going on, and there was an awful lot of loud yelling. The guy also could absolutely not do female voices and eventually I shut it off and bought the ebook, which was a better experience.

Categories
Fiction Literary Fiction

Struggling Through the Classics: Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis

Well – my dad is going to scoff at this one but I was so flabbergasted at Zorba the Greek for having retained popularity that I actually did some extensive research on what the heck I was supposed to be getting out of the book.

The main ideas that I originally took away were 1) Crete is pretty 2)the author really didn’t like women at all 3) the narrator learns how to live a little 4) EXISTENTIALISM, yay, and 5) I did pick up on the Apollo vs Dionysus ideology because that’s not an entirely uncommon theme in Greek writing.

So – my gut reaction though is that I just did not care for this at all.  They were such dicks to the widows and I can’t figure out how a 65 year old survived for so long with absolutely zero impulse control 😂

That said – ok, let’s break it down and I’ll share what I really didn’t understand, what I learned, and what my ultimate takeaways were

Bookish Quick Facts: 

  • Title: Zorba the Greek
  • Translator: Peter Bien
  • Published: 2014 translation through Simon & Schuster, originally 1946
  • Length: 368 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: I am coming in neutral but honestly. *throws hands up* I’m a terrible Greek apparently

Here’s the synopsis via Am*zon:

A stunning new translation of the classic book—and basis for the beloved Oscar-winning film—brings the clarity and beauty of Kazantzakis’s language and story alive.

First published in 1946, Zorba the Greek, is, on one hand, the story of a Greek working man named Zorba, a passionate lover of life, the unnamed narrator who he accompanies to Crete to work in a lignite mine, and the men and women of the town where they settle. On the other hand it is the story of God and man, The Devil and the Saints; the struggle of men to find their souls and purpose in life and it is about love, courage and faith.

Zorba has been acclaimed as one of the truly memorable creations of literature—a character created on a huge scale in the tradition of Falstaff and Sancho Panza. His years have not dimmed the gusto and amazement with which he responds to all life offers him, whether he is working in the mine, confronting mad monks in a mountain monastery, embellishing the tales of his life or making love to avoid sin. Zorba’s life is rich with all the joys and sorrows that living brings and his example awakens in the narrator an understanding of the true meaning of humanity. This is one of the greatest life-affirming novels of our time.

Part of the modern literary canon, Zorba the Greek, has achieved widespread international acclaim and recognition. This new edition translated, directly from Kazantzakis’s Greek original, is a more faithful rendition of his original language, ideas, and story, and presents Zorba as the author meant him to be

I think the most informative part was Peter Bien’s forward.  I’ve never thought about what Greece was doing during the world wars, but apparently Kazantzakis was living on a beach starving and then his wife showed up? Ok.  I don’t know, I can’t imagine this setting except that he was envisioning a better time with plentiful food and lively company

The book confused me from the get go which was a bad start.   I couldn’t figure out that the friend at the start was Stavrandakis, not Zorba, and eventually I Googled and was like “ooohhh”.  It’s hard because the author never named the friend at first, or the narrator ever.

Zorba was the YES GO LIVE AND DO THINGS person, while the narrator was intellectual, stuck on books, and trying to write one.  I never understood his Buddhist fascination but I think he was trying to write a book or dissertation on it, and was mentally freed afterwards.  Zorba was a more visceral person and brought the narrator out of that intellectual/mental prison he was in.

The book took on the theme of extremes, and the end was to try to find a happy medium between living EVERY moment and self limiting.

The scenery and descriptions were my favorite part – I was too young in Greece to really remember it but the descriptions put me right back on a beach in Crete.  The setting and also atmosphere of hospitality just felt so real it made me truly want to go back.

Zorba loved food, women, music, dance, except he was like the ultimate example of objectifying women, and they killed that poor widow for what, rejecting a man? Holy cow, mixed feelings.  The aging process was so different between Zorba and “Bouboulina” that I picked graceful aging out as a theme.

I had to research what else because my intuitions stopped there.  The Buddhism part – the narrator was removing himself from material things but trying to find a deeper meaning … and Zorba was all about material things.  Again, finding balance

Freedom was another big theme that I missed.  Zorba just wanted to be free to live the way he wanted – finding new experiences and seeing where the wind, his nose, and his d!ck led him – I saw that part but didn’t connect it to the larger ideology.  The narrator wanted to find his freedom and Zorba was definitely instrumental in bringing that out

Nietzsche – I am not even going here.  I’m not a philosopher and have little to zero knowledge in this area so I’ll rephrase what I said above – EXISTENTIALISM, yay

…… That’s the summary of the academics that I remember.  There is a lot of joy throughout the book and my main takeaway was to find the beauty and awe in small things.  Don’t rush things, enjoy, and be open to new people and experiences. I definitely remember the Greek hospitality too which shows up constantly.

All in all – I would read it if you want to read the classics, but be ready for all the philosophical elements and (even for me who is bothered by like absolutely nothing) infuriating treatment of women.  The movie is quite good though

Categories
Fantasy Literary Fiction

A Wild Winter Swan by Gregory Maguire

As a huge fan of the entire THE WICKED YEARS franchise and everything in it, I finally started reading some of Maguire’s other books.  A Wild Winter Swan wins the award for most gorgeous naked cover ever, and I grabbed it a while back when I spotted a signed edition!

0426220958a

This is a complicated fairytale retelling of “The Wild Swans” where the reader must choose how to interpret the magic in the story.  Is it a vaguely traumatized young girl making fantastical sense of her life events or something that actually happened?

Read to see what you think!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: A Wild Winter Swan
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Gregory Maguire
  • Publisher & Release: William Morrow, October 2020
  • Length: 230 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 for fans of retellings, magical realism, immigrant stories

Here’s the synopsis via GoodReads: 

The New York Times bestselling author of Wicked turns his unconventional genius to Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Wild Swans,” transforming this classic tale into an Italian-American girl’s poignant coming-of-age story, set amid the magic of Christmas in 1960s New York.

Following her brother’s death and her mother’s emotional breakdown, Laura now lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, in a lonely townhouse she shares with her old-world, strict, often querulous grandparents. But the arrangement may be temporary. The quiet, awkward teenager has been getting into trouble at home and has been expelled from her high school for throwing a record album at a popular girl who bullied her. When Christmas is over and the new year begins, Laura may find herself at boarding school in Montreal.

Nearly unmoored from reality through her panic and submerged grief, Laura is startled when a handsome swan boy with only one wing lands on her roof. Hiding him from her ever-bickering grandparents, Laura tries to build the swan boy a wing so he can fly home. But the task is too difficult to accomplish herself. Little does Laura know that her struggle to find help for her new friend parallels that of her grandparents, who are desperate for a distant relative’s financial aid to save the family store.

As he explores themes of class, isolation, family, and the dangerous yearning to be saved by a power greater than ourselves, Gregory Maguire conjures a haunting, beautiful tale of magical realism that illuminates one young woman’s heartbreak and hope as she begins the inevitable journey to adulthood.

I find myself surprised, but not shocked by the low overall rating for this one on Goodreads (3.3ish).

Laura is a teen who feels very alone and nonexistent. She is struggling to self narrate her own life. I personally interpreted the book as that she doesn’t know how to express herself and therefore narrated a fantasy to make her life more interesting and desirable. This is how she makes sense of the world and stays sane, or, she has a nervous breakdown and this is how she tells the story.

There was a bit of confusion for me as far as whether or not the story of Hans the Swan Boy actually occurred, or if I am correct on my above assumptions….  and I very well could be wrong but I think … Well – does it matter? This is why I love magical realism

I see what McGuire was going for and after chewing it over for a few days, I think I liked his execution even if I’m not fully believing the outcome of Laura getting through and making changes without any professional counseling.

ANYWAY- The part I really liked was the setting.  It felt like I was walking around Midtown with Laura and seeing the Christmas displays. I could feel the cold snow and hurried pedestrians. I liked the family time and how she had to mentally get to a certain point in her own story to relate to what her grandparents were going through and see them struggling as well

I liked the characters too, the grandparents were funny at times!  There are so many great sarcastic exchanges where I wanted to hi-5 or hug Nonna and Nonno for getting “the teenager thing” down so perfectly.  It was also interesting to see their immigration story and struggles.

Nonna gave this one speech about women and power and blind anger and pride and it was just wonderful. The messages of hope, faith and christmas miracles are always good too. The cook was funny too, and the cat 😂

This is a good book for the winter / Christmas holiday season but it’s s good read anytime. If you listen to the audio there is an author interview excerpt where he talks a bit about Wicked and answers some fan questions. Would recommend!

Categories
Fiction Historical Fiction Literary Fiction

Notre-Dame de Paris (or The Hunchback of Notre Dame) by Victor Hugo

Here is the summary via Amazon:

The complete and unabridged translation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

The setting of this extraordinary historical novel is medieval Paris: a city of vividly intermingled beauty and ugliness, surging with violent life under the two towers of its greatest structure and supreme symbol, the cathedral of Notre Dame.

Against this background, Victor Hugo unfolds the haunting drama of Quasimodo, the hunchback; Esmeralda, the gypsy dancer; and Claude Frollo, the priest tortured by the specter of his own damnation. Shaped by a profound sense of tragic irony, it is a work that gives full play to the author’s brilliant imagination and his remarkable powers of description.

Translated by Walter J. Cobb

**originally published in France, 1831.  Approx 500 pages but differs between versions*

I tend to find classic novels a huge struggle to read. This is especially true when the author takes an entire section (literally) of the book just to describe the view from the cathedral rooftop.  I knew from reading a number of modern reviews that Notre-Dame de Paris is a tiresome read at times, but even I wasn’t ready for the ratio of story involving the characters – very small – vs. the rest of the book. The rest includes architecture, history, society, more architecture, more social commentary, more history etc.

That said, I readily admit to using a teaching guide so I could at least follow and try to absorb what Hugo was trying to tell his readers.  I think that really enriched the read. I know next to nothing about French history so it was kind of interesting to see the parallels and explanations that he was giving the 1830s Paris readers, of the medieval 1400s Paris in which the book takes place.  Truly this is a piece of historical fiction

There is also a running commentary on architecture, orphans, classism, unrequited love and all the forms it can take, plus internal vs external beauty.  I liked the parts that actually focused on the characters.

The characters are really funny actually, I liked Gringoire the most. I think he liked the goat more than he liked La Esmerelda. Then she was terrified of everyone else who loved her, except for Phoebus, who was (pardon my French haha) basically chasing hookers.  She was obsessed with the idea of him. Frollo and his failures made for an interesting villain,he basically sunk into madness once his ideals were thrown haywire and his life caught up with him.

One other thing that seemed funny was that in this original version, La Esmeralda had absolutely NO personality at all, she was just entirely a tool for the story. The men were actually interesting though, and so was the general arc of the story

Oh, gosh, I forgot the one that truly had me cracking up – the frequent use of the word Ejaculated in conversation 😂 oh I do hope that wasn’t the translator having a gag at Hugo for some reason. It does make me wish I could read in other languages – how much of an original work truly gets lost in translation?

This one was a true struggle but I’d recommend reading it if you enjoy classics! I would imagine though that Hugo was rolling in his grave over the Disney version, what a travesty haha I was expecting something much different but am glad that I read the full, unabridged translation.

Categories
Fantasy Literary Fiction Paranormal

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights (all the things I learned) by Salman Rushdie

The only thing I knew about Rushdie going into this read was that 1) his eyebrows are terrifying and 2) about 30 years ago he really, really pissed off the Ayatollah enough to receive a death warrant. I knew that he was known for magical realism and I thought a book about Djinn would be a fun place to start – plus Ursula LeGuin plugged the book, and it pays tons of homage to Scheherezade and the 1001 nights (see title).

I expected a stuffy old idealist, which meant that while reading I was shocked by the humor and strangeness mixed in with the idealism and colorful characters, sex and profanity, giggles and terrible acts and general ridiculousness found on the same page as much more serious themes and topics.

I watched a talk and Q&A that Rushdie did, mostly about his new book at the time called Quichotte, and he is HILARIOUS.  Brilliant clearly but also giggling about not wanting certain presidents in his fucking book, and he actually joked that thirty years later, only one of the two men (Rushdie vs. the Ayatollah) are alive, so things must have worked out.  I was laughing truly, he is a delight to listen to.

So what did I learn? Don’t assume an author is a stuffy old dude until you read something they write and hear their thoughts on their work.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Two Years Eight Months and Twenty Eight Nights
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Salman Rushdie
  • Publisher & Release: Random House, September 2015
  • Length: 304 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐ ⚡ I don’t think I would tell people to read this book of his first

Here’s the synopsis:

In the near future, after a storm strikes New York City, the strangenesses begin. A down-to-earth gardener finds that his feet no longer touch the ground. A graphic novelist awakens in his bedroom to a mysterious entity that resembles his own sub–Stan Lee creation. Abandoned at the mayor’s office, a baby identifies corruption with her mere presence, marking the guilty with blemishes and boils. A seductive gold digger is soon tapped to combat forces beyond imagining.

Unbeknownst to them, they are all descended from the whimsical, capricious, wanton creatures known as the jinn, who live in a world separated from ours by a veil. Centuries ago, Dunia, a princess of the jinn, fell in love with a mortal man of reason. Together they produced an astonishing number of children, unaware of their fantastical powers, who spread across generations in the human world.

Once the line between worlds is breached on a grand scale, Dunia’s children and others will play a role in an epic war between light and dark spanning a thousand and one nights—or two years, eight months, and twenty-eight nights. It is a time of enormous upheaval, in which beliefs are challenged, words act like poison, silence is a disease, and a noise may contain a hidden curse.

Inspired by the traditional “wonder tales” of the East, Salman Rushdie’s novel is a masterpiece about the age-old conflicts that remain in today’s world. Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights is satirical and bawdy, full of cunning and folly, rivalries and betrayals, kismet and karma, rapture and redemption.

I think the last line of the synopsis says everything.  The main issue for me is that the book was set another 1000 years in the future, so the first and last parts of it read like a historical textbook on the Djinn and an old war.  Not that this is a bad thing, but it caused me to switch over to the audio as that kind of literature gets into my brain easier when someone else is telling the story.

After a history of the Djinn, we meet Dunia, and then generations later we meet the descendants of her children. Many of these are described in the synopsis.  This was the highlight for me as things got quite strange.  For example – how does someone floating higher and higher off the ground take a crap once things start getting too splashy? Is a gardener capable of being a hero? Will the power destroy or drive mad or save it’s recipients when their Djinn blood is awakened?

“Bawdy and satirical” is an understatement an overall I liked those parts.  I didn’t love how he made religion the scapegoat of the dark Djinn, he pretty much dismissed a ton of people as sheep and clowns, but there were also some interesting ideas about God so who knows where he is really coming from.

The 1001 night war was a good idea, and I liked that he kept circling back to the storytellers.  Other themes obviously included repressed idealism, common heroes, how good and bad can originate much from the same place, and … right at the end there is a great piece on how history chooses it’s heroes and writes them accordingly

He also echoed a sentiment I have been feeling recently where people are so focused on immediate results (including in stories) that longer books and journeys aren’t appreciated so much anymore

One quick note on the narration – I love Indian accents, and Robert G. Slade did an awesome job.  The cackling comic book Djinn roughly quoted as saying “come get me mothafuckaaa” was one of the many, many things I thought he did well.  A large portion of the book also took place in America, and I think he has a great range of accents and voices to offer.  It was a no-frills audio and I think it was the right move for me to switch over

Overall: I think everyone should read at least one Rushdie book at some point, but the historical text parts of this one were a lot less interesting than the present tense chapters.  I would not recommend starting with this book.  I am personally going to try Quichotte next, but Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verses (the one the sparked the Fatwa) I believe are his two most popular.

Categories
Fiction General Fiction Literary Fiction

The Latecomer (ARC Review) by Jean Hanff Korelitz

Thank you so much to Celadon Books for the free early copy of The Latecomer! All opinions are my own

One thing that I definitely don’t read enough of is literary fiction and family drama, and I love that this author uses a bit of satire on certain hot topics in her books!

If you like generational stories, complicated family dynamics, coming of age, art, reconciliation (coming to Jesus moments?) and a few good jabs at both liberals and conservatives, this is definitely a good book for you!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Latecomer
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Jean Hanff Korelitz
  • Publisher & Release: Celadon Books, 5/31/22
  • Length: 448 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes if you like smart family dramas

Here’s the synopsis from Amazon:

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Plot, Jean Hanff Korelitz’s The Latecomer is a layered and immersive literary novel about three siblings, desperate to escape one another, and the upending of their family by the late arrival of a fourth.

The Latecomer follows the story of the wealthy, New York City-based Oppenheimer family, from the first meeting of parents Salo and Johanna, under tragic circumstances, to their triplets born during the early days of IVF. As children, the three siblings – Harrison, Lewyn, and Sally – feel no strong familial bond and cannot wait to go their separate ways, even as their father becomes more distanced and their mother more desperate. When the triplets leave for college, Johanna, faced with being truly alone, makes the decision to have a fourth child. What role will the “latecomer” play in this fractured family?

A complex novel that builds slowly and deliberately, The Latecomer touches on the topics of grief and guilt, generational trauma, privilege and race, traditions and religion, and family dynamics. It is a profound and witty family story from an accomplished author, known for the depth of her character studies, expertly woven storylines, and plot twists.

Ha yes so what else is there to say? The summary is excellent.  The father’s guilt and prior trauma set the stage for a wife who never lived her own life, and a set of triplets that absolutely abhor the entire situation.

I never quite understood the childhood strife between the siblings and eventually chocked it up to a plot device, although they certainly weren’t getting any good examples from the parents.

Each sibling has their own chapters, and later on, the unheard of fourth sibling kind of brings everyone together as the synopsis says.

I appreciate this author the most for her satires.  In The Plot, it was against trolls in publishing and the book world, and here she takes on liberal and conservative education.  Oh was I laughing at poor Harrison (the smartest sibling probably) trying to navigate the utterly terrible high school that the triplets went to.  No grades, feeling consortiums, no context to the victimization the kids are learning! A liberal nightmare.  Don’t worry, she gets the conservatives back too in spectacular fashion but that’s a spoiler 😂

It’s always nice to see Ithaca, Rochester, WNY in general in these books too.  A gorges pun will make me smile any day.

There is plenty of drama, deep characterization, growing up, and reconciliation too.  Everyone has to find their own way before they find each other and it was nice to see those stories.  There are lots of good coming of age elements as well as reconciling later on as adults.

The end – with Harrison and his new friend –  just had me cracking up.  She ended that on a fantastic note. 

The only thing I didn’t like in the ARC, and it may or may not be cleaned up in the final, was the narrative points of view.  Sometimes the triplets were talking and it was like second person “our” when speaking of the past, or an “I” in present tense, but the POV never seemed consistent even within one chapter.  That’s where I docked the star.

My advice: set aside a chunk of time for this one and enjoy it.  It’s complicated and a great read to take one’s time with. 

Drama  ✔ characters✔ satire ✔ complicated dynamics ✔ making a few strong social comments ✔

If anyone reads this please do let me know, I would love to chat about it!