Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten (Six) Worlds I’d Never Want To Live In

I got such a great turnout on last week’s Top Ten Tuesday list.  It’s so encouraging to know there are others out there looking for the same thing.  I really hope we see some books that touch on at least one of those list items (and some of them kind of skirt around them so I know that the industry is looking in the right direction!).  With that said, I decided not to go literal “world” as in science fiction for this week (although I may touch on one or two books), but instead think about the world as it was for the character inhabiting it.

1. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

There is no way I’d be able to survive in this world.  I’m not physically fit – not at all, in fact, the idea of having to strategically plan and participate in some of what Ender does makes me cry inside.  But, then again, I don’t know that I’d be able to handle not being chosen either.  It’s just a rough situation all around.

2. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

Or.. really any story set in WW2-era.  My grandfather escaped from Poland during WW2 and I’ve heard his story.  I don’t know that I would have survived.  I know people always say things like that, but… like my first choice in books and explanation, I’m really that much of a wimp.  And that makes me appreciate strength like the characters show in these books even more.

3.  Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

This is probably a big surprise to some of you out there, given the way I praise this book.  But, frankly, I couldn’t live in Avonlea – not because I wouldn’t love it but because I would love it too much.  But, in the words of Anne, “That’s the worst of growing up, and I’m beginning to realize it. The things you wanted so much when you were a child don’t seem half so wonderful to you when you get them.” – I’m afraid the same thing would happen if I were ever to live in Anne’s world.

4.  Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Yes, this is somewhat along the same lines as Anne…but still very different in other ways.  I would not be middle-class in Austen’s England.  I would be one of those maids working downstairs and, frankly, there is no way I could handle being that close to bodily functions without being able to take a really hot shower every day (more than once.)  Have you READ Longbourn by Jo Baker?

5. An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine

Alameddine’s protagonist is a woman living in Beirut.  I loved reading and identifying with her in ways, but other parts of her life were completely foreign to me.  I don’t know if you have seen it, but there has been a food commercial lately on Hulu talking about the crisis in Syria.  I long to have the courage to go and help, but all I can do is open my wallet because I’m too scared to do so.  In the same way, I lack the courage of Aaliyah (if you haven’t read this book, you need to asap).

6. Children of Paradise by Fred D’Aguiar

I’ve seen enough cult horror stories on the news, read about it in books, and heard about it from word of mouth to be deathly afraid of living in a world where I could be brainwashed to the point of taking my own life.  Children of Paradise explores that idea in a chilling way and I had trouble sleeping for a few nights as a result.

Many of the others I thought of were along the same themes.  What about you?  Chime in!

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Things On My Reading Wishlist

It’s been a busy January so far.  My niece, Maebel (Maebee) was born a week ago on Monday and things went from chaotic to full on uproar as we re-arranged our schedule to include another tiny body.  But it’s good uproar and we’re enjoying the addition.  And now, finally, I am finding time to do some reading and reviewing again.  But first, today’s Top Ten Tuesday is on themes or things I would love to see in books I read.  So, without further ado, here we go.

1. More asexual characters

This is a big one for me.  I came out as asexual last year around this time and it’s been an interesting journey discovering things about myself that aren’t “broken” as I had always thought they were.  Since so much of my life has been spent reading, I am really wishing I could see more characters like me – characters who were not necessarily hurt or “damaged” and that’s why they steer away from romance, but rather characters who don’t feel a sexual urge or who, like me, really just enjoy intellectual, stimulating conversation and that’s enough.  Too personal? Maybe – but then again, if I don’t speak up, how can I expect authors to get the hint?

2. Family Bonds – a la Frozen

One of the things I loved most about Frozen was the exploration of other sorts of “True love.”  As noted in #1, not all love has to be romantic – there are other bonds that are formed: family, friends, bosom buddies, godparents/children, and more.  Where are the stories that lift up those types of love and make them desirable?  I think if we had more of those then maybe we’d see less of the romantic loves crashing and burning since romantic love is bolstered by true love in other relationships.

3.  Folklore from all over the world.

I love folklore so much that I want to spend the next several years of my life studying it in graduate school.  I adore it. I love the morals and myths, legends and fables.  I love folklore stemming from all races and religions.  I would love to see more emerging in some of these fairy-tale retellings.  Lay off the European folklore and let’s get some Far East tales worked up.

4.  Magical Realism – there isn’t enough.

Yes, I love Daniel Wallace and Neil Gaiman – but where are the other people cashing in on this genre?  Do you know of more magical realism writers? Because I would LOVE to read more.

5. Historical Fiction from the Middle East

I know they have a history. It sounds silly, but what was the last historical fiction book you read that involved middle eastern history?  I want to know more about countries that I’ve only heard horror stories about on the news.  I’ve been fascinated by Lebanon and Syria lately.  I’m done with English monarchs and want to know more about those countries political histories.

6. Survival Tales

Are we over these?  Because I recently read Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson and it was beyond fantastic.  Nothing thrills me more than reading a good, solid survival tale filled with adventure, danger, and glory.

7. Interactive Books

Night Film by Marisha Pessl and “S” by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst come to mind here.  Books that take us away from just what’s on the written page and really immerse us through things that we can understand.  Maps, news clippings, web sites – these books have proven it’s not “cheesy.”  I want more

8. Books about Composers

I’m talking all sorts of classical composers, not just the big ones.  Where are the historical fiction novels on Gottschalk and Joplin?  They had to have interesting lives… so why aren’t we looking into some of these famous figures.

9. Westerns

I’m not talking about my dad’s generation of Westerns, I’m talking about novels set in the here and now – books about life in Wyoming, Montana, the Dakotas, Utah, even Colorado (outside of the cities).  I spent a good chunk of my life in Wyoming and I don’t know that I’ve read a single book that captured what life is like there

10. Romance that doesn’t involve any of the following:

Love triangles, love at first sight, instant attraction love, love that involves cheating on someone else/hurting someone else, love that realizes that making love on a rocky ground isn’t exactly “making love” – especially if it’s your first time, love that recognizes that not every thing that people do with each other ends in mind-blowingly awesome sex.

What would you like to see more of?  Chime in!

Book Review: Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

Holy unanticipated occurrences! A cynic meets an unlikely superhero in a genre-breaking new novel by master storyteller Kate DiCamillo. It begins, as the best superhero stories do, with a tragic accident that has unexpected consequences. The squirrel never saw the vacuum cleaner coming, but self-described cynic Flora Belle Buckman, who has read every issue of the comic book Terrible Things Can Happen to You!, is the just the right person to step in and save him. What neither can predict is that Ulysses (the squirrel) has been born anew, with powers of strength, flight, and misspelled poetry — and that Flora will be changed too, as she discovers the possibility of hope and the promise of a capacious heart. From #1 New York Times best-selling author Kate DiCamillo comes a laugh-out-loud story filled with eccentric, endearing characters and featuring an exciting new format — a novel interspersed with comic-style graphic sequences and full-page illustrations, all rendered in black-and-white by up-and-coming artist K. G. Campbell.

I also recommend:

My Review:

One of the things I love most about reading middle grade books is how a really complex message is written to convey something very deep and meaningful.  Kate DiCamillo is one of the authors that does this extremely well – which is one of the reasons for her popularity, I am sure.  Still, when I saw what Flora and Ulysses was about, I was a bit hesitant.  I mean.. a squirrel? as a main character? Really?  But it worked.  Let me tell you why.

I teach piano for a living.  Many of my students are in the 4-6 year age range and one of the things that I’ve learned over the years of teaching is that in order to get a message across well, I need to bring a third party into the lesson.  Thankfully, the method books I use understand this as well and so with a little help from Faber and Faber, I bring in characters that live on the pages of the method book – in particular, a little firefly named Tap.  Lessons pass by so smoothly because Tap not only is there to offer encouragement to the student, but he’s there to sympathize.  When a student struggles, I can show him that Tap is there and he also is learning right along side that student.  When a student does well, Tap celebrates with them.

So, with that thought and lesson in mind, I approached Ulysses the Squirrel with a different mindset and what I took away from DiCamillo’s tale is a story that deals well with the separation of parents through the medium of a fantastical creature who is able to listen, sympathize, and love unconditionally.  Also, he can write poetry.

That’s gold in a middle grade book, folks.  Sure, there’s humor and silliness and moments where the story might drag a little bit, but ultimately, the message comes across loud and clear.  Establishing a relationship with a parent or sibling or anyone close to you doesn’t just go away when things don’t work out between that person and another in your life – yes, that’s a great message, but ultimately the message that it’s important to know that the feelings that happen when the split happens are not to be lightly dismissed and to look and find where the strengths are in those relationships to pull you through.  That’s what Flora and Ulysses spoke to me about and I’m glad that I am not too old to be taught something by a book that may come off as simple, but in reality, is something quite else.

Check out these reviews!

  • “The book is all about hope and love and a heart that can change.” – Of Books and Reading
  • “I’m surprised by just how many people over at Goodreads did not seem to enjoy this book at all.  Instead of just having quirky characters and constant grief rising up in Flora’s life, she is a heroine who meets every challenge head-on.” – Fausti’s Book Quest
  • “I thought FLORA & ULYSSES was wonderfully written and that the story was playful and exciting. ” – In Bed with Books

Book Review: The Queen’s Choice by Cayla Kluver

Magic was seeping out of me, black and agonizing. I could see it drifting away. The magic that would let me pass the Road to reach home again.When sixteen-year-old Anya learns that her aunt, Queen of the Faerie Kingdom of Chrior, will soon die, her grief is equaled only by her despair for the future of the kingdom. Her young cousin, Illumina, is unfit to rule, and Anya is determined not to take up the queen’s mantle herself.Convinced that the only solution is to find Prince Zabriel, who long ago disappeared into the human realm of Warckum, and persuade him to take up his rightful crown, Anya journeys into the Warckum Territory to bring him home. But her journey is doomed to be more harrowing than she ever could have imagined….

I also recommend:

My Review:

One of the things that Cayla Kluver does extremely well is write a fun fantasy story that appeals to teenagers and adults alike.  I feel in love with Cayla’s strong female characters, interesting quest story lines, and fun world building first in her book Legacy, and I was sad when the trilogy ended.  Imagine the sheer joy I felt when I saw that she was starting yet another series and, once again, I began to read and fell in love with The Queen’s Choice.

Something I love about fantasy is the timelessness of it all.  It doesn’t have to be set in a certain historical era or follow specific rules.  Instead, the author is free to explore ideas and places and times that may not always mesh together in real life but just works in a fantasy novel.  That is what happens in The Queen’s Choice.  Kluver tackles fae and humans in a politically charged, interesting story that involves a horrifying moment that seems insurmountable for her heroine – but is it?  I was hooked so quickly that I did not put this book down until I had finished reading it…and then I gave thanks for six hour flights with nothing else to do so I could afford to do that.

Something else I really appreciate about Kluver’s writing, and it’s very, very clear in The Queen’s Choice, is her willingness to let romance take a back burner.  There are sparks and moments between characters, but romance is not what drives the story.  In this story, it’s duty and honor and family that the story centers around and Kluver does a fantastic job of making that so much more interesting than romance would have been in the same type of setting.

It should come as no surprise that this one gets a five star rating from me.  I’m unashamedly a fan of Kluver’s writing and I think The Queen’s Choice is a good, solid, fun addition to her list of books.  I cannot wait for its release so that I can add it to my shelves permanently.

Check out these reviews!

  • The Queen’s Choice is fantasy done right, albeit with a LOT of detail. Readers who really appreciate world building will definitely want to check this one out. Patient readers will probably end up finding this one worthwhile, even if world building isn’t your favorite aspect of novels.” – A Reader of Fictions
  • “Even without romance, The Queen’s Choice is actually decent and I’m delighted (for a little while) by this change.” – KittiKat
  • “Overall, The Queen’s Choice was an exciting story that dragged slightly because of the length. However, the ending was a big twist and will definitely leave you excited for the next book.” – Young at Heart

Book Review: The Poisoned Island by Lloyd Shepherd

Author of The English Monster takes us on another voyage of discovery from Kew Gardens to the island of Otaheite by way of a murder investigation.LONDON 1812: For forty years Britain has dreamed of the Pacific island of Tahiti, a dark paradise of bloody cults and beautiful natives. Now, decades after the first voyage of Captain Cook, a new ship returns to London, crammed with botanical specimens and, it seems, the mysteries of Tahiti. When, days after the Solander’s arrival, some of its crew are found dead and their sea-chests ransacked – their throats slashed, faces frozen into terrible smiles – John Harriott, magistrate of the Thames river police, puts constable Charles Horton in charge of the investigation. But what connects the crewmen’s dying dreams with the ambitions of the ship’s principal backer, Sir Joseph Banks of the Royal Society? And how can Britain’s new science possibly explain the strangeness of Tahiti’s floral riches now growing at Kew? Horton must employ his singular methods to uncover a chain of conspiracy stretching all the way back to the foot of the great dead volcano Tahiti Nui, beneath the hungry eyes of ancient gods.’I loved it! Very stylish, very ingenious and very well-written’ Joanne Harris’Shepherd adroitly blurs fact and fiction with a hint of the fantastic, creating his own superior blend of historical crime fiction’ Financial Times ‘Georgian London is vividly brought to life … A gutsy, involving yarn’ Guardian

I also recommend:

My Review:

I had really high hopes for The Poisoned Island by Lloyd Shepherd.  Some of my most favorite reads involve adventures, ships on the high seas, island mysteries and folklore, and a touch of the supernatural, so you would think that The Poisoned Island would have been a home run.  And it came close – but ultimately fell short of the mark as I noticed my attention starting to wander more and more as I progressed through the story until I ultimately just didn’t care.  I’m really, really upset that this one didn’t work for me.

The story started out strong with some pretty mysterious murders happening and the disappearance of something from the trunks or belongings of the men murdered.  Add into that a story about a prince and his friend on an island and you have some pretty interesting beginnings.  Where the interesting stopped and the confusing part began is when the switching around started to happen before much of anything was going on in any of the stories.  I was curious, but not overly so, and therefore it was rough to continue to convince myself to pick up the book and start reading again.  I just didn’t care enough and when you have to start forcing yourself to read something … well, it’s just not a good thing.

It’s my understanding (although I didn’t do a whole lot of research on this) that there were fictional characters and characters based on real historical figures here.  I might have been more interested had I read Shepherd’s previous book, but it’s too late now and I don’t feel much of an urge to seek it out.  I would imagine that a reader with a lot of interest in the actual historical figures might find something more interesting in this story, but for a reader like me with little to no knowledge of the events, the ship, or the figures, it just didn’t have enough of a hold on my attention for it to merit a stellar review.

Still, for those interested in sailing adventures and mysteries, I would recommend giving The Poisoned Island a shot.  Just because it didn’t work for me doesn’t mean it won’t work for others, and I think there is enough merit in the story for you to give it a try.

Check out these reviews!

  • “THE POISONED ISLAND is a thoughtful, lyrical historical thriller that keeps the reader guessing until the very last page is turned.” – Fresh Fiction for Today’s Reader
  • “If you like your historical murder mysteries with atmosphere, well developed characters and an unusual plotline slowly unfolding like the leaves of some mysterious tropical island plant, then I would recommend you add this to your bookshelf.” – Caroles Book Corner
  • “This isn’t my favourite period of history, far from it, but if there’s any author that makes me want to know more about it, it’s Lloyd Shepherd. More, please!” –For Winter Nights

 

Book Review: For Today I Am a Boy by Kim Fu

Finding one’s place in the world can be hard, but sometimes even more elusive, is finding where you fit in your family. Peter Huang and his sisters elegant Adele, shrewd Helen, and Bonnie the bon vivant grow up in a house of many secrets, then escape the confines of small-town Ontario and spread from Montreal to California to Berlin. Peter’s own journey is obstructed by playground bullies, masochistic lovers, Christian ex-gays, and the ever-present shadow of his Chinese father. At birth, Peter had been given the Chinese name juan chaun, powerful king. The exalted only son in the middle of three daughters, Peter was the one who would finally embody his immigrant father’s ideal of power and masculinity. But Peter has different dreams: he is certain he is a girl. Drawing comparisons from Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex to the work of Amy Tan. Sensitive, witty, and stunningly assured, Kim Fu’s debut novel lays bare the costs of forsaking one’s own path in deference to one laid out by others.

I also recommend:

My Review:

2014 is the year I’ve decided to take chances on things I read – to broaden my worldview and learn more about all of the different types of people who share the earth with me, even more than I’ve done in the past year.  In order to do that, I have to also broaden my reading circle and For Today I Am a Boy is one of the books that I chose to read to do just that.  Kim Fu’s story follows a young boy who grows up with three sisters and struggles with his gender identity.  Add into that the setting of Canada and the Chinese culture that is strong in his home due to having parents who were both born in China and it’s an interesting mix.

There were things that Kim Fu did extremely well in For Today I Am a Boy.  One of those things was giving Peter a voice – not just any voice, a voice that made me immediately sympathize with him.  He struggled so much not only to understand his own gender-identity, but also to live up to the expectations of being the only boy in a family that values men so much.  He grew up surrounded by sisters and in love with movies (my favorite, Sabrina with Audrey Hepburn) that played up the femininity of being a woman. Yet, Peter struggled to not only hide what he was feeling, but to find a place in the very male-dominated groups that he ended up in.

There is real heartbreak and sorrow in For Today I Am a Boy.  There is a scene where Peter is involved in some very horrific activities involving a young girl and those activities are looked upon with pride by his father because it proves Peter’s “manhood.”  Yet, not all is lost and the relationship of Peter and his father, while complicated, is not as bad as it could have been.

What I struggled with in For Today I Am a Boy ultimately boils down to the books length.  Because of the limited number of pages (not even 300), Fu is unable to really explore some themes that crop up.  The resolution of the story, as a result, seems like it was gypped – especially when the reader considers the build up to that resolution.  I needed to see more healing, more exploring, and more movement toward the very last paragraph of the book which was shocking in its simplistic ending.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t disapprove of the ending, just the build up leading to it.  I needed more because I had been so involved in the first half of the book that I felt like I’d been cheated out of the growth of Peter in the second half of the book.

Still, I think For Today I Am a Boy is an important step in the release of books that can help not only wreck stereotypes, but educate people on what is going on behind the scenes and what those who are struggling with being different are dealing with.  I really felt a connection to Peter and I found myself firmly in his camp throughout the story.

Check out these reviews!

  • “I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wishes to diversify their reading. For Today I Am a Boy is a fresh portrayal of a transgender boy growing up in a small-town Chinese Canadian family and later facing the world on his own in a major city.” – Books Speak Volumes
  • “At first I was wishing that this book went a little deeper, but after giving it some thought I changed my mind. For Today I Am a Boy dips just far enough below the surface to give the reader a glimpse into a lifestyle that is often left undiscussed.” – The Book Wheel
  • “Sensitive, witty and stunningly assured, Kim Fu’s debut novel is a coming-of-age tale like no other, one that lays bare the costs of forsaking one’s own path in deference to a road mapped out by others.” –49th Shelf

Book Review: Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan

rom Nancy Horan, New York Times bestselling author of Loving Frank, comes her much-anticipated second novel, which tells the improbable love story of Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson and his tempestuous American wife, Fanny.   At the age of thirty-five, Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne has left her philandering husband in San Francisco to set sail for Belgium—with her three children and nanny in tow—to study art. It is a chance for this adventurous woman to start over, to make a better life for all of them, and to pursue her own desires.  Not long after her arrival, however, tragedy strikes, and Fanny and her children repair to a quiet artists’ colony in France where she can recuperate. Emerging from a deep sorrow, she meets a lively Scot, Robert Louis Stevenson, ten years her junior, who falls instantly in love with the earthy, independent, and opinionated “belle Americaine.”             Fanny does not immediately take to the slender young lawyer who longs to devote his life to writing—and who would eventually pen such classics as Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In time, though, she succumbs to Stevenson’s charms, and the two begin a fierce love affair—marked by intense joy and harrowing darkness—that spans the decades and the globe. The shared life of these two strong-willed individuals unfolds into an adventure as impassioned and unpredictable as any of Stevenson’s own unforgettable tales.

I also recommend:

My Review:

Books that center around historical figures that are outside of the non-fiction/biography realm can be a bit hit or miss for me.  Did the author take too much license? Is the story too dry because they didn’t decide to take a little license with it?  It’s a fine line to walk so when it’s done well that book is definitely a keeper.  Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan is one of those books.  That said, I had a feeling I would be pleased with the book, in fact, due to my experience with her previous book, Loving Frank, I was already leaning toward loving Under the Wide and Starry Sky before I even picked it up.  Add into that the subject matter – I mean, I appreciate Frank Lloyd Wright, but Under the Wide and Starry Sky is about my bud, Robert Louis Stevenson, whose Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll fascinated me as a teenager and continue to draw me as an adult.

What I did not know about Stevenson was the information connected to his family life.  Between his sickness and the drama surrounding his wife, Fanny, the guy had quite a life.  Add into that wide travels and an experience in the South Pacific, including stops to places that are now near and dear to my own heart, and the timing of this read was perfect.

I’ve had Under the Wide and Starry Sky for a while, but I usually try to wait until release is a month or so away before picking it up.  It was a struggle to wait, let me tell you, and that struggle really paid off because I absolutely devoured this book.  I fell in love with Fanny, loved her in spite of all of her flaws, sympathized with her, and struggled with her throughout the period of the book.  The book jacket describes Fanny and Robert’s relationship is turbulent, and that’s putting it lightly.  But … with turbulence also comes so much interesting storytelling – in fact, some of the best storytelling, and it’s easy to see why Fanny and Robert’s story appealed to Horan and I am glad that she is the author that stepped up to the bat and took it on.

I’m so pleased that so many of the books I chose as 2013 turned into 2014 have been turning out to be winners.  Under the Wide and Starry Sky is another one on that list and I recommend it to anyone who is a fan of historical fiction or learning about prominent figures in the history.

Check out these reviews!

  • “An exhilarating epic about a free-spirited couple who traveled the world yet found home only in one another.” – Reading the Past
  • “Overall, I was thrilled with this novel.  On one hand, I could not put the novel down because I wanted to know what would happen next.  On the other, I felt I should not because I did not want the story to end.” – Amy’s Scrap Bag
  • “Call me a romantic, but I ended this book with a smile on my lips for having read it, for having had the pleasure to travel back in time through Horan’ work into the lives of two people who made me feel there is a thing such as soul-mates after all.” – One Reader – A Thousand Lives

Book Review: Night Film by Marisha Pessl

On a damp October night, the body of young, beautiful Ashley Cordova is found in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. By all appearances her death is a suicide–but investigative journalist Scott McGrath suspects otherwise. Though much has been written about the dark and unsettling films of Ashley’s father, Stanislas Cordova, very little is known about the man himself. As McGrath pieces together the mystery of Ashley’s death, he is drawn deeper and deeper into the dark underbelly of New York City and the twisted world of Stanislas Cordova, and he begins to wonder–is he the next victim? In this novel, the dazzlingly inventive writer Marisha Pessl offers a breathtaking mystery that will hold you in suspense until the last page is turned.

I also recommend:

My Review:

I’m not usually into mytery/thriller/suspense novels.  Granted, I have a few authors I follow pretty religiously (Ahem, Tana French, I’m so ready for your next), but mostly 10 years of reading James Patterson and Stuart Woods books pretty much put me off from the genre for the last few years.  When the buzz about Night Film started to emerge I took one look at the cover and dismissed the novel.  It didn’t appeal to me at all.  But then, something strange happened.

Have you ever looked at something and thought, nope, not interested, but then it lingers in the back of your mind and you start to think about wanting it and then that thinking turns into looking at it online…but then just before you decide to take the leap you worry that maybe you have built it up to be something it’s not and you dread the inevitable disappointment?  No? Yes? Beuller? Well, welcome to what my mind is like.  So I didn’t take the plunge, I didn’t make the purchase, but I did put the book on my wishlist.

No one got me it for Christmas.

So how did I finally manage to get to it?  Let me tell you a bit of a story (please, indulge me because a real review is coming up and this is necessary for me to review it).  I didn’t go to the library, I didn’t manage to win a gift card or stumble across it on paperback swap.  Nope. I went home for two weeks over Christmas/New Years (my folks home where I lived while going to school.  I haven’t been back since moving to Hawaii last May) and spent a total of 11 of my 14 days home there, looking at my beloved book shelves filled with books, and not noticing a thing until day 12.  On day 12 I noticed something odd.  A book in a strange place, right in the middle of a series. What was it?  Why it was an advance paperback copy of Night Film.  Weird, right?  It was the ONLY book that missed my change of address and so there it sat while I sat in Hawaii wondering whether I should finally take the plunge.

So I read the book during a 40 hour trip back to the islands. I devoured every word, sometimes more than once or even twice.  I pored over all of the “extras” inside.  And the entire time I was immersed in this book I kept thinking of the circumstances that led to it being in my hands.  You see, this book is about something dark and deep, but also it’s about being caught up in something that’s bigger than yourself.  And that’s what happened here.  Someone knew I wanted this book before I even knew it myself.  And so there it sat, waiting for me.  It’s so strange that I didn’t see it right away (my mother confirmed it arrived during the summer so it wasn’t a recent placement), because I am usually very in tune with my system and what’s on my shelves.

I loved Night Film, folks.  I mean… I loved it so much that I’m going to sit right here and type that it will be in my top five books of 2014, and the year has barely begun.  The amount of detail put into this story is unreal.  From the articles to the entire persona built up by Pessl – the atmosphere is set right away and not once does the pace slacken or let loose its grip on the reader.  I actually had to put down the book and just absorb some parts because so much happened in certain scenes that I needed to take time to process and remember what had come before.

So yes, Night Film is hands-down a favorite.  And now I know that I need to buy that hardcover edition – not just for myself but for the readers around me as well.  Marisha Pessl has a new fan right here and now I will add another author to that shelf that is anxiously awaiting my other favorite authors next releases.

Check out these reviews!

  • “This is an up all night book. I stayed up until 1 AM, in spite of an exam the next morning. And if that isn’t a testament to how good Night Film is, then I don’t really know what else to say—especially coming from me, as I rarely forgo sleep in favor of reading. ” – Respiring Thoughts
  • Night Film presents itself as a mystery, but it flirts with the occult and the horror in a way that reminded me of uncertain gothic novels. I was seduced and intrigued from the first scene, and I ended up entranced by it, pacing my reading to make it last. ” – The Infinite Curio
  • “[Pessl] just seemed to be having so much fun with it that even a wimpy reader like me (one who can’t watch even the campiest horror film) was swept up and enthralled with every dark turn of the author’s imagination.” – Reading the End

Book Review: The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness

George Duncan is an American living and working in London. He is divorced, the owner of a small print shop, and lonelier than he realizes. One night he is woken by an extraordinary sound coming from his garden. Impossibly, a great white crane has tumbled to earth, shot through its wing by a giant arrow. Unexpectedly moved, George pulls out the arrow and frees the crane, and from the moment he watches it fly off, his life is transformed. Before he knows it, he meets and falls in love with the enigmatic Kumiko, an artist who changes the lives of everyone around her, including Amanda, George’s angry—and very funny—daughter, her adorable French son and George himself.Wise, romantic, sublime and laugh-out-loud funny, The Crane Wife is hugely entertaining, but it also resonates on a deep, dreamlike, mythic level. Above all, it is a celebration of the disruptive and redemptive power of love.

I also recommend:

My Review:

I love fairy tales, folk tales, mythological tales – if it’s old, passed down through generations, generally speaking has a moral, and is something that inspires me to dream, I love it.  I love it so much, in fact, that it’s what I’m going to graduate school to study and research.  Although my interest is mostly centered on the oral traditions of Native Americans, I still am very interested in the stories being told around the world.  So I was very excited to see that one of my favorite young adult authors, Patrick Ness, had a book, The Crane Wife, coming out that was geared toward the adult crowd – and it was based on a Japanese folktale, no less!

When I learned that The Crane Wife was based on a Japanese folktale by the same name I did a bit of research.  I love re-tellings almost as much as I love chocolate (which is quite a bit) so I prefer to know the original before venturing into the re-telling.  The gist of the original story is that a man finds an injured crane on his doorstep, takes her in and nurses her back to health at which point she becomes a beautiful woman with whom he falls in love with an marries.  The woman is able to make beautiful silks and the man sells them and they are doing well … until his greed takes over.  He has sworn to never watch her silk-making process and one day, his greed overcoming him, he breaks that promise.  As you can imagine, things do not end well.

So Patrick Ness tackles this story with a bit of a modern twist.  The story is told from its effect on two different people – a divorced man and his daughter, both of whom are experiencing difficulties in their every day lives.  Unfortunately, Ness tries a little too hard with an artsy style of writing, I’m assuming to attempt to try to capture some of the beauty of the original folktale, and the result is a bit confusing.  There are journeys into dreams and moments when I wasn’t sure if what I was reading was happening or was some kind of allegory to something else.  The result was a story that seemed muddled and, as a result, lost some of its appeal.  There was so much potential beauty here, but instead of doing a true to life modern retelling, Ness attempted to do a modern mythical telling and it didn’t work well for me, at all.

I’m very disappointed that I didn’t love The Crane Wife.  It was one that I was very much looking forward to in 2014 and I was excited to see it was a January release so that I could dive into it.  Unfortunately, Ness just didn’t manage to pull this one off, but I still love him and his writing.  Hopefully the next adult release of his will work a little better.

Check out these reviews!

  • “[The] moments of beauty and truth are buried under the repetitiveness strain of its themes – forgiveness, power of storytelling, greed – and the odd bluntness in which they are presented. ” – The Book Smugglers
  • “It’s a very sad story peppered with tragic elements that would haunt you for days.  It may not be a story for everyone but I suggest that you should still try it if only for the reasons that you’re an art lover and that you want to experience Ness’ gaudy writing style.” – Thoughts and Pens
  • “Suffice it to say that the book mixes fantasy and reality in a bittersweet way.” – The Fourth Muskateer

Book Review: Forgiving the Angel: Four Stories for Franz Kafka by Jay Cantor

Forgiving the Angel by Jay Cantor
Published by Random House LLC on 01.14.2014
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Literary, Short Stories (single author)
Pages: 224
Format: eARC
Source: Random House

From one of our most thought-provoking and admired writers, a brilliant, beautiful, and sometimes heartbreaking group of stories based on a circle of real people who are held together by  love of their friend Franz Kafka. The sequence opens with Max Brod, Kafka’s friend and literary executor, telling us about Kafka and Dora Diamant, their love growing stronger even as Kafka is dying of tuberculosis. Kafka talks with Brod about forgiving the Angel of Death, but Brod wonders if Franz is really talking about Brod’s forgiving Kafka for the predicament he’s put him in, having instructed Max to prove his love for Franz by burning the work Brod most admires: Franz’s unpublished stories. Next there is a brief interlude—perhaps a lost Kafka story, or is it a story about a lost Kafka story which is perhaps itself masquerading as one of the things that in anger Brod neither burned nor published? The story that follows tells of Dora’s marriage to the militant German Communist Lusk Lask and his attempt to break the hold of the angelic Kafka on his wife’s imagination by giving her a daughter. We watch this family in its move to the Soviet Union to escape Hitler, and as Dora and her daughter flee the Soviet Union to escape Stalin, leaving Lusk behind in the Gulag.  Later, when Lusk tries to connect with his daughter again, the Angel Kafka seems once again to stand in his way, a force in his daughter’s life that seemingly destroys as it sustains. In the last story we meet Milena Jasenska, another of Kafka’s lovers, and Eva, the woman who, after surviving Stalin’s camps, meets Milena in a Nazi concentration camp and is reborn in this hell through her love for her, though perhaps trapped there in memory because of that love as well. By the end, these moving love stories with Kafka as their presiding ghost have told the calamitous story of Europe in the Century of the Camps. Imbued with a gravitas and dark irony that recall Kafka’s own work, these stories nonetheless also bear the singular imaginary stamp and the keen psychological and emotional insight that have marked all of Jay Cantor’s fiction.From the Hardcover edition.

I also recommend:

My Review:

My first exposure to Kafka’s writing was in a class on the uncanny in Spring 2012.  One of the stories assigned to us was The Metamorphosis and, as you can imagine (or perhaps have experienced), I was understandably both confused and perturbed at the same time.  As I read that story, and the others assigned in that class, I couldn’t help but wonder about the author.  What would it be like to live in his head, to experience the ideas and then follow through into writing them down.  But, like all busy college students, I had neither the time nor the inclination to scout out more information and so that story faded away into a memory that, every now and then, emerges when I see Kafka’s name.  Jay Cantor took that idea further and, in Forgiving the Angel, he explores Kafka not from inside of Kafka’s head, but rather through the relationships formed around him.

I will admit that much of this book felt over my head.  I was reminded of reading Kafka’s story (I think that was the point) a number of times, especially as I dove into the first story of the book.  I experienced an odd feeling of deja vu as well, which I also think is tied to my memories connected to my first reading of Kafka.  But soon those feelings and memories were pushed aside and I began to explore the story of Kafka’s friend, Max Brod.

It’s really a psychological thing, writing stories like The Metamorphosis and I think that Jay Cantor understands that well.  I felt the manipulation happening while reading about Max and his experiences with his friend.  There is a brilliant moment when Cantor writes of a cat and mouse and explains the reasons why a cat plays with the mouse and then lets it live (although my cats definitely wear their mice out).  The idea is simple: you torment something to ensure that you are remembered, even if that memory is one of the bullying.  This book, ultimately, speaks to that deep need that we all have.  Afterlife, no afterlife, it doesn’t really matter when you think about it, because while we are here, on this earth, we want to be remembered.  We don’t want to fade into memories that will then fade into memories of their own children.  And, so, therein lies the root of the first story in Cantor’s book.

I’d like to talk about each story in this collection, but I really do think the first story sets the tone quite well.  I found Cantor’s writing to be beautiful and feel as if he captured the tone of Kafka extremely well.  There were times I felt, as I stated earlier, as if I was a bit over my head, but I would imagine that a Kafka enthusiast would be more than happy with what is going on in Forgiving the Angel.  If nothing else, Cantor has awoken a desire in me to learn more about Kafka the author and this time I don’t have bothersome schoolwork to get in the way of that pursuit.

Have you read Forgiving the Angel?  Comment below with a link to your review!