Category Archives: fiction

Ghost Stories: Violet Kupersmith’s The Frangipani Hotel

18167000The Frangipani Hotel: Stories

Violet Kupersmith

248 pages

Set to be released on April 1, 2014 by Spiegel & Grau

Source: Publisher

But as we watched, we realized that the thing approaching us was not a boat after all. I blinked and squinted, not wanting to believe my eyes, hoping that the rain was blurring my vision. Grandpa stopped waving and went silent, his face puzzled at first, then terrified.

Violet Kupersmith’s collection of short stories, The Frangipani Hotel, starts out with a bang. In the collection’s first story, “Boat Story”, a grandmother recalls her first day of fishing with her new husband and meets a mysterious spirit. The imagery was powerful and I found myself spellbound. I wanted to read more and I did.

The stories that followed, while attention-grabbing with simple writing and vivid descriptions, didn’t keep my interest. I found myself reading a story, feeling “meh” about it, and reading the next story only because this book is for a blog tour. After several stories, I decided not to finish the book.

The Frangipani Hotel is described as a collection of ghost stories set in Vietnam. “Boat Story” sets the tone for the book. The past affects the future whether we want it to or not. As the grandmother explains to her grandchild, Vietnam “gives you what you ask for, but never exactly what you want”. The characters in this collection learn that lesson, often the hard way.

While this collection didn’t keep my interest, many of the bloggers on this tour would disagree with me. This just might be a case of a book coming into my life at the wrong time.

Our muddy patch of the world was already shadowy and blood-soaked and spirit-friendly long before the Americans got here. There’s ancient and ugly things waiting to harm you in that darkness. Yes, of course they’re there in daylight, too—they’re just harder to spot. I’m not by any means a small man. I’m not the man you’d pick a fight with if you could help it. But I do get jittery sometimes.

What was the last book you read and didn’t love but everyone else did?

Graphic Novels Review: Fables Vol. 19 Snow White, Tommysaurus Rex, and The Lost Islands

17290285Explorer: The Lost Islands

Edited by Kazu Kibuishi

128 pages

Published in 2013 by Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams

Source: Public Library

Audience: Middle Grade

Explorer: The Lost Islands is an anthology of graphic shorts (short stories in graphic format) from new artists like Chrystin Garland and old favorites like Raina Telgemeir. Every story explores the theme of island in vastly different ways.

Like many anthologies, some stories were a hit and others a miss. Some of my favorite stories include “Radio Adrift” by Katie and Steven Shanahan about a witch-in-training and a floating radio station was cute and left me wanting more. Out of the seven stories, there were more that I didn’t care for than I did. The majority fell short. My rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

16100974Tommysaurus Rex

Doug TenNapel

142 pages

Published in 2013 by Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic

Source: Public Library

Audience: Middle Grade

I’ve read every one of Doug TenNapel’s books and enjoyed them for the most part. Tommysaurus Rex is no exception. Ely is a young boy whose best friend is his dog Tommy. When Tommy is hit and killed by a car, Ely is sent to his grandfather’s farm to cope. There he discovers a Tyrannosaurus Rex, names it Tommy after his dog, and becomes friends with it. When news stations start covering Ely and his pet, it brings much-needed revenue to the town. As with any strange and ancient creature, not everyone likes the fact that a dinosaur is roaming their town openly. Randy, the town bully, decides he’s going to do everything he can to destroy Ely and his pet.

As an adult reading a book geared toward the elementary and middle school set, I had to suspend my disbelief several times while reading Tommysaurus Rex. Like the fact that Tommy the dinosaur has been alive and buried deep in a cave all these years after dinosaurs became extinct. Randy, the bully, is a child who would have had been in an altercation with any decent parent after what he did to Ely the first time he met him. There would be no story after that. Seriously. Also the fact that no one thought it was crazy that the dinosaur was alive and walking around with everyone. Tommysaurus Rex is a good book but not the author’s best.  My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

17704953Fables Vol. 19: Snow White

Bill Willingham

168 pages

Published in 2013 by Vertigo Comics

Source: Public Library

Audience: Adult

Guys, I want a do-over with this volume. The previous volume, Cubs in Toyland, was a fantastic read, one of the best volumes in the Fables series. It was so good that I gave it a rating of 5 stars.  This volume’s rating is nowhere near 5. I don’t want to buy this. I want the authors to rewrite this. What really kills me is that Kelly heard a rumor that the series is ending next year.

Throughout the series, readers have learned a lot about Snow’s past like her relationship with her sister Red, her mother’s magical powers, and the curse that landed her with the seven dwarves (so tragic). In this volume, the prince that Snow was once promised to as a young girl returns, refusing to accept Snow’s marriage to Bigby. Tragedy ensues and I would have thrown this book across the room, but I needed to know what happens next. Nothing good happens. I’m still trying to figure out what was the purpose of this book. It adds to the story but not in any way that makes sense. I can’t go into detail because it would be nothing but spoilers. My rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

18079683Boy, Snow, Bird

Helen Oyeyemi

320 pages

Being published by Riverhead Books on March 6, 2014

Source: From a blogger friend

“Nobody ever warned me about mirrors, so for many years I was fond of them, and believed them to be trustworthy. . . ”

It’s the winter of 1953 and Boy Novak has finally ran away from her abusive father, winding up in a small town far from home. Later on, she marries Arturo Whitman, a widower, and becomes stepmother to his young daughter, Snow. But it’s the birth of Arturo and Boy’s own daughter, Bird, which changes Boy’s happy ending. Their daughter is born with brown skin and exposes Arturo and his immediate family as African Americans passing as white. Bird’s birth changes Boy’s view of Snow, as the girl turning from an innocent child to a more sinister figure. Is Snow really who everyone thinks she is? Are any of us the images we reflect to others? With Boy, Snow, Bird, Helen Oyeyemi gives new life to the tale of Snow White; expanding and exploring it through the webs of race, beauty, vanity, and above all, love.

Let’s get the first thing out of the way: Helen Oyeyemi comes up with some kick-ass names for her characters.

As someone who has never read anything by the author before, I went into this book with no expectations. I didn’t know this story had elements of the Snow White fable. A note about that: There are fairy tale retellings and modern-day versions of fairy tales, but I like to think of Oyeyemi’s story as a fairy tale expansion because she takes the Snow White story and turns it into a complex, sometimes heartbreaking, enlightening story.

“It was standard-issue stuff. I wanted a family. But it was just as Arturo said-I didn’t know how to start anything from scratch, and I didn’t want to know. Getting pushed around as a kid had made me realistic about my capabilities. I know some people learn how to take more knocks and keep going. Not me. I’m the other kind. . .See, I’m looking for a role with lines I can say convincingly, something practical. ”

Boy arrives at the small town of Flax Hill, Massachusetts with just the money stolen from her father and no idea on what her next move should be. It’s by luck that she finds her way, making friends and through them, meeting her future husband. While things are okay, Boy isn’t always able to shake the feeling of being an imposter. She’s an outsider with no skills who lives in a town surrounded by people who “make beautiful things.” She always comes from such a dysfunctional life, one that she keeps a secret for the most part.

Pretty much everyone in this story is an imposter of some sort: black passing for white, compassionate masquerading as unkind. Everyone is wearing a mask of some sort but the reflection in the mirror doesn’t lie. (Yes, there’s a mirror in this story.) And that’s one of the themes, the strands from the fable that Oyeyemi tugs on. There’s the image that we hope others see of us, the image they really see, and the image that we see of ourselves.

“Bird adored Snow; everybody adored Snow and her daintiness. Snow’s beauty is all the more precious to Olivia and Agnes because it’s a trick. When whites look at her, they don’t get whatever fleeting, ugly impressions so many of us get when we see a colored girl—we don’t see a colored girl standing there. The joke’s on us. . . From this I can only . . .begin to measure the difference between being seen as colored and being seen as Snow. What can I do for my daughter? One day soon a wall will come up between us, and I won’t be able to follow her behind it.”

That insight leads Boy to make a decision that changes her new family and probably not for the best either. It’s a decision that I didn’t see coming but later understood the logic of it.

From what I’ve read about Oyeyemi, she’s known for writing fantasy and this book is no exception. I want to say it’s magic realism but this magic is hidden. Readers will question if Bird and Snow don’t have reflections in the mirror while Boy’s reflection can make faces back in a Peter Pan-ish kind of way.

I can go on and on about this book. There’s so much that I want to discuss and could. Boy, Snow, Bird is a daring and wonderful story.  My rating: 5 out of 5 stars. Go buy it.

Graphic Novel February, Part One

It’s the middle of the month, so it’s time for posted about the graphic novels I’ve read. Graphic Novel February has been a wonderful idea. If it wasn’t for graphic novels and children’s books, I wouldn’t have any books finished this month.

21326Fables vol. 1 – Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham

Source: Public Library

Imagine that the fairy tales characters most of us grew up with were not only real but still alive and residing secretly in New York. That’s the basis of Fables but the series creator, Bill Willingham, does so much more. Snow White and Prince Charming have been divorced for centuries now and the Big Bad Wolf (now called Bigby) is the sheriff of Fabletown. Those fables who are human live in Fabletown while their non-human counterparts, like the pig brothers from The Three Little Pigs, live on The Farm.  When Rose Red, Snow White’s little sister, comes up missing, it’s up to Bigby and Snow to find out what happened.

This was a reread for me.  I got the idea to reread the series after talking to Kelly (The Written Word). I haven’t read the first volume in years and it was a delight to be reintroduced to the characters at the very beginning of the series.  My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

A17591893 Matter of Life by Jeffrey Brown

Published in 2013 by Top Shelf

Source: Public Library

I’ve seen this book on many of the GNF participants’ tbr list last month, so I decided to add it to my list too. I went into reading it with no expectations but that didn’t help.  A Matter of Life is a graphic meditation/memoir on Brown’s life growing up as the son of a minister and being a dad. As a high-schooler, Brown comes to the realization that he doesn’t believe in God. Brown experiences pressure from his family as well as members of his father’s church to go back to church to no avail. Instead, he chooses to find wonder and gratitude in other ways. The later end of the book is about Brown’s new roles as father and husband.

I thought the book was okay and fairly interesting. Other participants (Lu and Debi) have talked about the book being disjointed and I have to agree. Sadly, when I finished reading the book, I wondered about its purpose. There was nothing “lasting” about it; no scenes or reflections to really take away from it. My rating: 2-3 stars.

 17934391

Aphrodite: Goddess of Love (Olympians Vol. 6) by George O’Connor

Published in 2013 by First Second Books

Source: Public Library

George O’Connor’s The Olympians series is a must-read for anyone who loves mythology. The series covers the Olympians of Greek mythology with one book being dedicated solely to each deity. So far, readers can read the stories of Zeus, Athena, Hera, Poseidon, Hades, and the latest one, Aphrodite. I’ve read the whole series and any favorites I have are based on my own biases because all six volumes are wonderful

The book covers the goddess’s first moments of being as a presence to her birth and later her role in the Trojan War. Aphrodite is different from the other Olympians since she’s not a child of Zeus and she’s much older than the rest. Readers see Aphrodite as she influences some of the most well-known characters of Greek mythology like Pygmalion, a sculptor who fell in love with his sculpture of the goddess.  When Eris, goddess of discord, throws a golden apple into a crowd of gods claiming it’s for the most beautiful, a powerful struggle ensues between Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. It’s a struggle that will affect later generations.

I love how not only does O’Connor brings these volumes to life by using ancient sources with his writing, but he also makes these stories a little modern. Being the goddess of love, Aphrodite is the most beautiful of the goddesses (though Athena is GORGEOUS to me). O’Connor gives her brown skin which I loved and readers will too. If you haven’t read this series yet, it’s time to start. My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Thoughts: August: Osage County by Tracy Letts

OsageAugust: Osage County

Tracy Letts

138 pages

Published in 2008 by Theatre Communications Group

Source: Personal Library

Winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama

A few years ago, I had this wonderful idea to read as many Pulitzer-Prize winning plays as I could. And I did. I read Angels in America, Fences, Topdog Underdog, Wit, and many more, including August: Osage County. I loved this project and enjoyed almost every play I read.

Last month when I was going through a reading slump, I decided to reread this play once again, especially since it’s been made into a movie starring Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep. I wish I could say that I loved it as much this time around but I didn’t.

August: Osage County is the story of the dysfunctional Weston family. When the patriarch, Beverly Weston, goes missing, his daughters and their families come home to be at their mother, Violet’s side. To say Violet is manipulative and selfish isn’t going far enough. Violet loves her pills as much as Beverly loves his liquor. As she likes to tell it, nothing slips past her so the family’s secrets aren’t really secrets. At least not to her. Her husband, Beverly is a famous poet who hasn’t written anything in years. Their house is run-down and closed off to the outside world. Every window in their home is covered in shades and taped down so the inhabitants can’t tell night from day.

Of Beverly and Violet’s three daughters, Barbara and Karen left as fast as they could, while Ivy stayed closed by. To have all three daughters and their families back home spells disaster and it is. Long-held secrets are unearthed and the Weston daughters have to take a deep look inside themselves to see what they’ve become.

When I first read this book back in 2009, I loved it. The play was dark and well-written. It still is. I was shocked at the turn of events in the book as secrets were revealed and family turned against each other. I wouldn’t say Violet is a villain but she sees disaster coming and refuses to speak up. As I reread this play five years later, I wasn’t as shocked by the story’s events. They didn’t have the same impact they did years ago and I wondered about that.

With the boom of reality TV and the fact that “news” isn’t the same anymore: more gossipy, more celebrity based, what was shocking even a few years ago is no longer anything to give attention to. Could that be it?

While August: Osage County is insightful and brilliant, reminding me of Eugene O’Neill’s A Long Day’s Journey into Night, I don’t think I’m going to reread it again. I am going to see the movie version.  My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Review: The Golden Day by Ursula Dubosarsky

dubosarskyThe Golden Day

Ursula Dubosarsky

150 pages

Published in August 2013 by Candlewick Press

Source: Public Library

These things were too deep and difficult for the little girls. After all, they knew nothing of wives or armies or desert tribes. At night on the television news they heard gunfire and the sound of helicopter blades and bombs falling. Soldiers were dying in flames far away in a black-and-white land where people wore triangular hats and worked in rice fields and everyone, everyone, was always running away in terror. That was all they knew, all they could know. The little girls hung on to the brink of a hugeness that they knew was there but had no way of discovering.

It’s 1967 and the Vietnam War is raging overseas. But at home in Australia, life is changing in ways that eleven little girls have not yet grasp. The girls make up Miss Renshaw’s class at a small all-girls school. It’s a normal day when the teacher leads her class to the local park for lessons. But something happens and the girls return to school without Miss Renshaw. Their teacher mysteriously disappears, leaving the girls and their small city wondering, what happened to Miss Renshaw?

I picked up The Golden Day after it made a few best of 2013 lists. Before then, I never heard of her and none of my libraries have copies of her books, except this one. That should change.

Dubosarsky performs the hard task of giving each girl a personality of their own, but the one that soars and readers hear the most from is Cubby. Cubby has the perceptiveness of an adult; she knows almost instantly that Miss Renshaw won’t be coming back. That knowledge doesn’t stop her from wishing and hoping for her teacher’s return. Readers are also left wondering about Miss Renshaw and whether she’s still alive or dead as the adults in the story believes. That feeling of uncertainty and loose ends had me turning pages.

With her best friend and fellow classmate, Icara, the pair along with their class, grow up and go their separate ways but never forget their lost teacher. They also gain more insight into Miss Renshaw but it’s still not enough.

The Golden Day is a beautiful meditation on childhood lost after a sudden event. My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

But with Cubby, Icara was not far-flung. She was nearby-close-at-hand-a-stone’s-throw-away. They were friends without either of them knowing why. It was as though after that first day, when Icara had taken hold of Cubby’s frightened hand, she had never let it go. Cubby and Icara could sit together in the playground or on the bus or in the library not saying much for hours, just a lovely rhythmic silence, like the sound of breathing when you’re asleep.

Review: The Visionist by Rachel Urquhart

17841897The Visionist

Rachel Urquhart

352 pages

Published in January 2013 by Little, Brown and Co.

Source: Publishers

It had been but a few hours since her father had threatened them. Had he come at Mama with a shovel? Crept in and dropped a fieldstone so close to Ben as he sat on the floor that his fingers had near been crushed? Was this the night he’d swiped at them all with a broken bottle and left a gash the length of a hare’s ear on Mama’s arm? Polly often found it difficult to separate his rages one from the next.

It’s Massachusetts, 1842 and fifteen-year old Polly Kimball accidently sets fire to her family’s farm, killing her father. To escape from whatever fate awaits her, Polly and her younger brother Ben are sent by their mother to live in the Shaker community, City of Hope. It’s not long after Polly’s arrival that she finds a kindred soul in Sister Charity, a young Shaker outsider with mysterious marks covering her body. For the first time ever, Polly thinks that she might find the peace that she has always been looking for. But what the girl doesn’t know is that Simon Pryor, a fire inspector, is searching for her and other survivors of the Kimball farm fire. The Visionist is Rachel Urquhart’s superb debut about love, faith, and hope even after so much has been lost.

Guys, The Visionist came out of nowhere and just made my end-of-the-year reading so much better.

I’m not someone who normally reads historical fiction. And the novel’s beginning was kind of slow, but there was something so authentic about this story that I had to continue reading.

The novel’s title comes from the time period the book is set in. This was a time of change for Shaker communities as many Shaker girls across the Northeast were receiving mystical visions. It’s not long after Polly’s arrival to the City of Hope, that she too has visions. When Polly becomes a Visionist, Sister Charity is willing to sacrifice everything in her belief of Polly’s goodness. But not all believe in Polly’s visions or her goodness. As holy as some Shakers think they are, there are a few who have their own selfish motives.

While reading the novel, I felt as though I was transported back into the 1840s. I heard of Quakers and even of Shaker furniture, but Shakers themselves? Nope. The details that went into this novel were numerous. Readers learned of the Shakers ways which include rules about when girls should start covering their hair, to the separation of males and females, to exactly how one should eat their food. There is a rule for everything.

Though the Shaker ways seem strange to Polly, they’re a welcome change from her previous life. Growing up, fear played a bigger role in her life than love.  Even her mother won’t protect her from her alcoholic father’s rages. Now that he’s gone, memories of Polly’s father still haunts her. It’s almost as though he’s still alive.

I found The Visionist to be an engrossing read. The characters were honest and flawed, the Shaker community was interesting to read about, and the writing had passages that were just beautiful. I hope Urquhart writes a sequel to the book. I would love to learn of Polly’s fate. My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

My first read of 2014

first book of the year eventSheila over at A Book Journey asked readers which book will be their first read of the year. Read below to find out what I chose as my first read of 2014.

It’s almost a superstition to believe that the first book of the year can make or break your reading for the year. Almost. Last year, the first book I read was a children’s book. So were the next three or four books. The start of 2013 was a hectic time and I didn’t have the energy or interest to find anything long and/or engaging.

It’s a new year and things are pretty settled for now. So what should I pick? Do I chose something that’s been sitting on my shelves for ages? Maybe I should go with a library book? After a week or two of indecision, I picked up Ursula Dubosarsky’s slim book, The Golden Day, and read the first page,

dubosarsky

The year began with the hanging of one man and ended with the drowning of another. But every year people die and their ghosts roam in the public gardens, hiding behind the gray, dark statues like wild cats, their tiny footprints and secret breathing muffled by the sound of falling water in the fountains and the quiet ponds.

The Golden Day is about a classroom of girls who go on a field trip with their teacher but return without her. The teacher never returns and the girls are left wondering what happened. I’m in the middle of several books but I can’t wait to start reading this.

What is your first read of 2014 going to be?

The Goldfinch Read-along

tarttThings would have turned out better if she had lived. As it was, she died when I was a kid; and though everything that’s happened to me since then is thoroughly my own fault, still when I lost her I lost sight of any landmark that might have led me someplace happier, to some more populated or congenial life.

Theo’s right; his life probably would have been much better if his mother had lived. So much wouldn’t have happened but yet much of it wasn’t his fault.

I usually don’t read books in which a child has lost their parent and life is drastically changed. As a single mother, it’s one of my worst fears and the story is usually heartbreaking. I forgot that detail (as big as it is), when I agreed to read The Goldfinch.

This post is a few days late and I’m still only halfway through Theo’s absorbing story. For those of you who are reading the book or have finished, what is your opinion of the book? What stands out? What do you love (or hate) about it? 

The Goldfinch Read-along

tartt

The Goldfinch Read-along

December 13, 2013 – December 27, 2013

Athira and I have decided to host a read-along of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. It’s one of the many books we’re hoping to finish before the end of the year, so why not read it together? The Goldfinch seems to be one of those books that everyone has read this year. Most of the reviews have been pretty positive.

The read-along is pretty informal. There won’t be any progress posts to write. There will be some kind of discussion post at the end.

In case you’re a little scared nervous about reading such a big book (784 pages to be exact), read one of my favorite posts from Meredith (Dolce Bellezza) about The Goldfinch.

Want to join us?

DNF: The Color Master by Aimee Bender

benderThe Color Master

Aimee Bender

222 pages

Published in August  2013 by Doubleday

Source: Public Library

 

Andi, Andi, Andi. Remember when I saw The Color Master on NetGalley and had to tell you about it? Then you read it before me but didn’t love it? Yeah, me too.

Here’s the thing, Aimee Bender’s stories are often fantastical and strange and yet beautiful. Her previous novel, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, about a young girl trying to come to terms with her strange gift in a dysfunctional family, was beautiful and strange but also felt true. So the decision to read The Color Master was a no-brainer.

The Color Master ended up being an uneven collection of stories that I didn’t bother to finish. There were tales that were amazing and only Bender could have wrote. There were others that were regular and didn’t belong at all.

The book’s highlights:

“The Color Master” – This story is so simple and beautiful and just lovely. Bender takes inspiration from the fairy tale “Donkeyskin” to write a story about the color master who was able to make a dress the color of the moon. This story alone is worth the time it takes to put this book on hold at your local library, pick it up, take it home, and read. It’s that amazing. I photocopied this tale just so I can read it again and again and figure out how the author wrote it.

“The Red Ribbon” is the tale of a woman in a loveless marriage. Or rather, she doesn’t love her husband enough. The story doesn’t really fit the collection but it‘s humorous.

“Tiger Mending” – The story of two sisters, one a misfit and the other who does everything perfectly, as they travel to Malaysia to help mend tigers after they have been ripped to shreds.

“The Devouring” – You can also find this in Kate Bernheimer’s awesome short story anthology, XO Orpheus. A human woman marries an ogre who accidentally eats their children. What happens next is a reflective journey that includes a cake that refills itself and an invisibility cloak.

Since I didn’t finish this collection, I’m not going to rate it. Overall, I thought this collection was uneven and disappointing. As magical as the highlighted stories are, they can’t make up for the duds. I still plan on reading anything else Bender publishes.

My favorite line from the story, “The Devouring”:

…Loss did not pass from one person to another like a baton; it just formed a bigger and bigger pool of carriers. And, she thought, scratching the coarseness of the horse’s mane, it did not leave once lodged, did it, simply changed form and asked repeatedly for attention and care, as each year revealed a new knot to cry out and consider-smaller, sure, but never gone.

Short Story Reviews: Mrs. Henderson’s Cemetery Dance by Carrie Cuinn and Yellowcake by Margo Lanagan

lanagan yellowcakeYellowcake: Stories

Margo Lanagan

232 pages

Published in 2013 by Knopf

Source: Publisher

Yellowcake gathers ten short stories that have been previously published in various publications.  I had to pick this collection up after reading Lanagan’s previous book, The Brides of Rollrock Island. It’s a book that I’ve reread twice so far this year because I love it so much. With Lanagan, you never know what to expect with her stories and novels and that’s a good thing. The stories in Yellowcake are bold and original.

In “The Point of Roses” a group of boys gather to test their friend’s psychic abilities with widely felt results. This is the first story in the collection and it ended up being my favorite. I even asked the author via Twitter will readers see these young boys again. I want to know more about this group of friends and in a good way. Ferryman” is about a young girl whose family ferries the dead over the river Styx. “The Golden Stroud” starts off as a typical Rapunzel retelling but with a twist only Lanagan can pull off. With “Into the Clouds on High,” a mother is “called” by a higher power and tries to get her young son ready for when she can no longer ignore it. “Night of the Firstlings” is a retelling of the night when all first-borns were killed in Biblical Egypt. I found the last image of that story to be haunting.

Unfortunately, the other stories in this collection felt like mere glimpses instead of snapshots. I couldn’t hold on to the imagery or characters enough to get a “feel” for the story. I was lost and felt myself trying to picture the images or figure out the point behind a story. My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

“Mrs. Henderson’s Cemetery Dance”

Carrie Cuinn

Published in 2013

I read “Mrs. Henderson’s Cemetery Dance” after Carl (Stainless Steel Droppings) lead a small read-along for the story last week. I don’t know about you guys but my kids and I are already planning what we’re going to read and watch for the upcoming R.I.P. Challenge and Halloween in general. We’ve had some gloomy weather so that probably helped us think about fall.

“Mrs. Henderson’s Cemetery Dance” starts off with a mangy dog stealing Mr. Liu’s arm from the man’s grave. Mr. Liu has been dead for three years now but refuses to let the dog get away. The man’s pursuit of the stray through town along with the awakening of other members of the cemetery makes the living realize that the dead don’t always stay dead. What ensues is a hilarious yet thoughtful story about the inner workings of a small town and its secrets.

To tell you anything else about this gem would be to give away what makes this story so special. If you’re in the mood for a good short read or something a little spooky, you won’t go wrong with reading this story. It’s available online here. Or bookmark the piece for future R.I.P. reading. The story is one of several that makes up Cuinn’s short story collection, Women and Other Constructs. My rating of the story: 5 out of 5 stars.

Review: Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown

brown cinnamon and gunpowderCinnamon and Gunpowder

Eli Brown

318 pages

Published in 2013 by FSG

Source: Public Library

She was lurid and terrible to see, the fallen Lucifer on the water, blind to the pelicans moving like gnats across her bow.  . .

It’s 1819 and highly renowned Chef Owen Wedgewood has been kidnapped and is now a prisoner on the pirate ship, The Flying Rose. The ship’s captain, Mad Hannah Mabbot strikes a deal with the terrified chef: cook a delicious one-of-a-kind meal every Sunday for the captain and she will let him live. Disappoint Mad Hannah and Owen will die. Surrounded by pirates and chased by a genius set on revenge, will Owen survive this crazy adventure?

I don’t think I’ve ever read a pirate story before reading Cinnamon and Gunpowder. I’ve never wanted to until reading Candace’s spotlight post on this book a few months ago. This story is not what I thought a pirate’s tale would be. It’s much more. Themes like slavery, ignorance, and the opium wars going on during this time period are tackled throughout the book, but this is still a light and humorous read and there’s plenty of talk about food.

Since Owen’s a chef, this novel is packed with realistic passages about food and spices. Being on a pirate ship, it’s hard to get the supplies Owen is used to but he often manages without every week. Reading all the descriptions of Owen’s methods and meals makes me wonder how the author was able to pull this off. I know he did plenty of research but did he cook these meals in advance? Whatever way Brown did it, he did a fantastic job.

Not only did the passages about food stand out, so did the characters. Owen is used to working for the rich so he has no idea about the suffering going on around him and in other countries. A judgmental “good Christian”, all Owen first sees the crew of The Flying Rose as a bunch of heathens committing sin and a bloodthirsty captain. But after traveling with the pirates and being caught in several conflicts, Owen’s eyes start to open and he realizes how wrong he’s been.

Mad Hannah Mabbot is now one of my favorite literary characters. She’s a kick-ass pirate who is set on revenge as she searches around the globe for a thief called Red Fox. She can be ruthless at times but also gentle and forgiving of Owen’s ignorance and the plight of those around her. She can get dirty with the rest of her crew but also loves elegant food and music.

Cinnamon and Gunpowder is a swashbuckling tale for fiction lovers of all kinds. My rating: 4 ½ out of 5 stars.

High Summer Readathon and Just One Paragraph

high summer ratThe High Summer Read-a-thon officially started last night but I decided to wait until this morning to begin my stack of books. My reading isn’t going very well so hopefully this week-long read-a-thon is what I need to make a dent in ARCs and library books before August gets here. August is my birthday month and I want to spend it re-reading some of my favorite books. Below is my stack of potential reads for this week. You can click on the titles to learn more about them.

Print

Bleeder by Shelby Smoak. I picked this up last week at the library. In Bleeder, Smoak talks about his life as a hemophiliac and getting HIV as a child because of a tainted blood product that saved his life.

ottaviani feynman

Feynman by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick. This is a reread of the life of Richard P. Feynman. He’s such a fascinating person to read about.

duprau

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau. I think Carrie (Books and Movies) loved this one.

lanagan yellowcake

Yellowcake by Margo Lanagan. I love Lanagan’s previous works so I can’t wait to read (and finish) this one.

graff

A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff. I’ve heard whispers about this book as a potential Newbery winner next year, so I’m adding it to my tbr list now.

tamaki

Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki. I’ve been waiting years for this book. Literally. No library in my area had it and graphic novels are expensive. Now that a local library has it, I can finally read it. I can’t wait.

otsuka

When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka. I love The Buddha in the Attic, Otsuka’s last novel, so I can’t wait to read this. I might even add Buddha to my stack too.

babbitt

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt. I try to read this book every year in August because it’s a seasonal read and also because of the first sentence, “The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning.” I love that line. But there’s nothing wrong with reading comfort reads now.

clark

How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times by Roy Peter Clark (ARC). I think this book is coming at a perfect time when so many people are writing online.

I doubt I will get this entire stack read but it’s nice to look at.

30Days30Posts1Paragraph_badge

The lovely Bryan (Still Unfinished) told me about an informal 30-day blogging challenge that starts today. It’s called Just One Paragraph and the challenge is just to post a paragraph every day for thirty days. It doesn’t matter what you post. I’m joining the challenge in hopes of getting my blogging mojo back.

So, will you join me for either event? What are you reading this week?

Review: The Long War by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

baxter the long warThe Long War

Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

423 pages

Published in June 2013 by HarperCollins

Source: Public Library

It’s been ten years since Lobsang and Joshua Valienté’s trip through the Long Earth, the millions of parallel Earths next to our own. Since then, humanity has spread out through these new and dangerous worlds, changing the way they see themselves and each other. Not everything has changed though. In these new worlds some humans treat “trolls”, the kind and musical humanoids that have existed in the Long Earth, with contempt and cruelty. As the trolls retreat from the Long Earth, it becomes obvious that something essential is missing. It’s now up to Joshua, along with a few others, to try and bring the trolls back.

In The Long Earth, the previous book in the series, readers were introduced to the concept of stepping: the ability to transport either naturally or with the help of a metal box to parallel worlds. Much of the book was spent with readers getting used to the idea of stepping along with the various situations that this ability could cause.  The Long War continues with that strength but it lacks balance.

There are so many subplots in The Long War from the possibility of war between the old American government and new settlers over taxes and power to the missing trolls to various expeditions through the new worlds. There are still about five other subplots I can talk about. While it’s all interesting, I found it hard to get attached to any one character or subplot.

I think the problem has to do with the plot being so huge and there’s so much to explore. It would certainly take more books to explore it all but I hope the authors let us get to know and follow the characters more in the upcoming books. My rating: 3 ½ out of 5 stars.

Short Review: Saga Volume 2 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

vaughanSaga Volume 2

Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

153 pages

Published in June 2013 by Image Comics

Source: Publisher

 

In the second volume of Saga, one of my favorite literary couples is back.  Marko and Alana, two lovers from warring territories are still on the run with their infant daughter, Hazel, from assassins. During the last few pages of the first volume, readers were introduced to Marko’s parents who mysteriously appeared on their ship.  Now, readers are learning more about Marko’s childhood, how the young couple met, while meeting even more fantastical creatures in this strange galaxy.

I wasn’t planning on reading the latest volume just yet but once I read the first page, I didn’t want to stop. I’m not going to write anything more about the plot because what makes this series special is the fact that it’s not a typical “star-crossed lovers” situation. It’s better and there’s so much more to this story.  While there is some movement forward for the couple, volume 2 is more of a back story but it’s worth reading.

Fiona Staples is such a talented artist. The creatures featured in both volumes, the look of Alana and Marko . . .all of it. I think she is definitely the perfect artist to illustrate this series. I have an egalley of this book so I can’t show you what I’m talking about but it’s all so original. I have just two problems with this volume and one has to do with the cover. The cover doesn’t fit the story at all. The cover for the first volume was so eye-catching, you wanted to pick it up. This cover is pretty blah. My second problem is that I wish the volume was much longer! Now I have to wait for the next volume.

Overall, I thought this was a pretty good read but I still enjoyed the first volume more. My rating: 3 ½ out of 5 stars.

Library Loot

Library Loot is one of my favorite weekly events hosted by Marg (The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader) and Claire (The Captive Reader). It’s a meme where bloggers share what they’ve recently checked out from the library. 

Today I went to the library just to pick up my holds, nothing else. But once I got there and let the kids loose, I had to browse the new arrivals. I came home with more books than I planned!

My stack:

brown cinnamon and gunpowderCinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown. I heard about this book from Candace over at Beth Fish Reads. I pick it up as a “maybe” read: maybe I’ll get to it before the due date, maybe not. I started reading it and I haven’t been able to stop!

It’s 1819 and Owen Wedgewood a.k.a. The King of Sauces has just been kidnapped by Captain Mad Hannah Mabbot. Mabbot wants Owen to cook her own delicious meal every Sunday if he wants to live. The only rules is that he doesn’t serve her anything disappointing. If he does, he’ll be sent home in pieces. I’m loving Mad Hannah already.

baxter the long warThe Long War by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. I picked this up because I read the first book in the series, The Long Earth, and loved it. The Long War is set a decade after the first book but with the same characters. I can’t wait to start reading it.

lanagan yellowcake

Yellowcake: Stories by Margo Lanagan. I started reading this book earlier this year but my copy expired. The first book in the collection, “The Point of Roses”, was just so well-written that I had to read it twice. I have high hopes for the rest of the stories.

lambin

An Ecology of Happiness by Eric Lambin. Translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan. This title makes me think of Deb (Readerbuzz) so I had to pick it up.

loewenGaining Daylight: Life on Two Islands by Sara Loewen. Picked it up because of the cover but I do love essays.

kaufmanUngifted:Intelligence Redefined by Scott Barry Kaufman. I love reading books about creativity, intelligence, and talent so it was easy to add this book to the stack. There has been so many books published about the same subject matter, I hope this book has something to add to the conversation.

What have you picked up from the library lately?

A quick giveaway

Hey guys! I’m currently wrestling with the clutter in my apartment and like most book addicts bloggers, I have a ton of unread books just lying around. So I thought: why not give some away? I have a great summer project going on right now and there’s no way I can read everything that I receive from publishers. I’m offering four ARCs and one finished book (all with July publication dates) to one lucky reader. They are:

PicMonkey Collage.jpg

You can click on each of the titles to find out more about them over at Goodreads. To enter, just leave a comment telling me one good thing about your day. You also have to be a U.S. resident. Sorry but I’m a broke college student. I’ll pick a winner this Friday, June 28th. Good luck!

The contest is now closed!!

Thoughts: Fables Vol. 18 Cubs in Toyland

willingham fables 18Fables Vol. 18: Cubs in Toyland

Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Gene Ha

192 pages

Published in January 2013 by DC Comics

Source: Public Library

Guys, if you haven’t started reading Bill Willingham’s fantastic Fables series, you need to start now. Just when I think that the series can’t get any better, a volume is published that just blows that opinion out the water. Like most Fables readers, I have a few favorite volumes but the last two published volumes of the series, are among the best so far.

In the previous volume, Inherit the Wind, Ozama shared the prophecy of Snow and Bigby’s children.

The first child will be a king.

The second child a pauper.

The third will do an evil thing.

The fourth will die to stop her.

The fifth will be a hero bold.

The sixth will judge the rest.

The seventh lives to ages old, and is by heaven blessed.

Some of that prophecy comes true with Winter becoming the new North Wind after the demise of her grandfather.  In Cubs in Toyland, we see more of the prophecy coming to life.

The toy boat that Therese received in the previous volume speaks to her. It tells her of a wonderful adventure the two can have together. Therese sneaks away and arrives at a new land, Toyland, but it’s not what the young girl thought it would be. At home the wolf pack, lead by oldest child Darien is searching for Therese. But can they find her before too much damage is done?

What a ride. This latest volume is one of the most heartbreaking books of the series. I don’t know where to start with this one. While writing this review, just re-reading it made me cry. So I will make this short. This is a story of sacrifice, of love, of courage, of redemption even when you are not worthy of it. Fables reminds readers that fairy tales aren’t what we see in Disney movies: the hero doesn’t always win, villains aren’t all bad, and these stories were never meant for children. I also like that Willingham intertwines various tales to give us this interconnected story. I usually need to look up new-to-me fairy tales after reading a volume.

If you haven’t read this series, it’s time to start. Take out your library card or call your local bookstore and see if they have this series in stock. My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

edugyanHalf-Blood Blues

Esi Edugyan

321 pages // Published in 2011 by Picador

Audio version: 11 hours and 9 minutes

Narrated by Kyle Riley

Chip told us not to go out. Said, don’t you boys tempt the devil. But it been one brawl of a night, I tell you, all of us still reeling from the rot . . .

It’s the 1930s and The Hot-Time Swingers, a jazz band of young Americans and Germans, are at the peak of their success. When the Nazis come into power and the band’s activities are drastically restricted, most of them flee Berlin to Paris. Soon, the Nazis are in Paris too and the band’s talented young leader, Hieronymus “The Kid” Falk, is taken into custody and never seen again. Only Sid Griffiths, another band member, knows what really happened. When a mysterious letter is sent from The Kid to another band member, it’s time for Sid to confront the past and any part he may have played in Hieronymus’ disappearance. Traveling back and forth between Germany as it was in the 1930s and as it is now, the story of The Hot-Time Swingers unfolds.

I can’t believe I waited so long to read and listen to Half-Blood Blues. I watched as this book was nominated for award after award and still didn’t pick it up. I also read some positive and not-so-positive reviews on this. Some of the reviews I read talked about the dialect used in the book. I think any dialect can be hard to read so I bought the audio version to listen to. Then I checked out the book from the library to read while listening.

Sid, the book’s narrator, is a black man who’s so light that he can pass for white and often does while in Berlin. Hieronymus is also black, born in German to a white mom and black dad. He’s been an outsider since the day he was born. Along with other American, a Jew, a German or two, this mixed-race band comes together to play jazz as it wasn’t played before in a chaotic time. It’s what brings this group together but it doesn’t necessarily keep them that way.

I really enjoyed this book. Edugyan writes about a time that’s been written about over and over again but gives it a fresh point of view. I love the historical elements mixed into this tale of love, identity, and jealousy. I had no idea that blacks were treated in different ways from each other in Germany during WWII, depending on their citizenship. If you were black and from another country, you might be detained indefinitely. If you were a black person of German descent, your papers were taken and you were considered stateless, no longer a German citizen.

I felt something just give out in my chest, like my lungs was collapsing. I was breathing real fast, real shallow. Sachsenhasuen. Hell. Not one of us had to ask where that was. A jack could live in a windowless pit and still know the word Sachsenhausen.

I had no idea what Sachsenhausen was or the contradictory ways blacks were treated. Edugyan gives readers this gritty vivid look back at the past in a way that made me feel as though I was there.

Kyle Riley was the perfect narrator. He brought this book to life in the way that only a good narrator can. I started listening to the audio before I started the print version and it was Riley’s voice that kept me going. Unfortunately, Half-Blood Blues is Riley’s first (and only) audio book so far. I hope it’s not his last. My rating on both audio and book: 5 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: Going in Circles by Pamela Ribon

ribonGoing in Circles

Pamela Ribon

336 pages

Published in 2010 by Downtown Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

Source: Public Library but you can bet your sweet ass that I’m buying a copy

Two weeks ago, I was trolling around Oprah’s website (I have no idea why) when I came across Pamela Ribon’s essay, “How Roller Derby Can Save Your Life”.

I didn’t join a roller derby league in order to survive my divorce. Looking back, I don’t know how I ever thought one had nothing to do with the other.

After reading those first lines, I had to keep reading. In the essay, Ribons talks about roller derby and how the contact sport got her focusing on other things besides the problems she was going through. When she described her latest novel, Going in Circles as “Eat, Pray, Shove”, I knew I needed to read it since I’ve always wanted to grab a pair of skates and learn how to play roller derby.

In Going in Circles, Charlotte Goodman has just left her husband of several months. Hurt and still in disbelief, she tries to distance herself from the pain but it isn’t working. Everyone around Charlotte is asking her to make a decision. Is her going to stay with Matthew or divorce him? As time goes by, Charlotte still hasn’t made a decision and the people in her life are getting tired of her self-pity. When her coworker Francesca introduces Charlotte to roller derby, there’s finally an outlet for her to get out of her own head. Will she ever make the decision to stay in her marriage or finally become single again?

Going in Circles lived up to my expectations and surpassed them. Charlotte’s reaction to everything that’s going on around her is realistic and often hilarious. She’s scared, confused, and forced to wear a mouth guard because she’s been grinding her teeth so badly because of all the stress. She has to see a psychologist and is trying to be distraught enough for her health insurance to pay for therapy but not so much where she ends up institutionalized.

When Charlotte is introduced to roller derby, I started turning the pages even faster. The author explains the sport in detail but it’s never boring or drags down the story.  I love how Charlotte eventually finds herself through the sport.

This book is chick lit at its best. I found Going in Circles to be a perfect weekend read. I can’t wait to read Ribon’s previous books. My rating: 5 out of 5.

Short Children’s Book Reviews: We March by Shane W. Evans and I Have a Dream by Kadir Nelson

evans we marchWe March

Shane W. Evans

32 pages

Published in 2012 by Roaring Brook Press

Source: Public Library

In We March, author Shane W. Evans take readers to August 28, 1963, the day that Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Readers follow a family of four as they start their day to get ready to march until they hear Dr. King’s speech. Evans’ writing is simple with just a few words on each page. The book is plain enough that young readers can read it to themselves but why the march and the speech itself is important will have to be put in context by adults so kids can understand it. I found this book to be a great introduction for younger readers. My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

nelson kingI Have a Dream: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Paintings by Kadir Nelson

40 pages

Published in 2012 by Schwartz & Wade Books

Source: Public Library

Lord, I love Kadir Nelson’s paintings. He’s one of my favorite illustrators and is easily one of the most talented artists working on children’s books. His paintings are so good that you want to buy two copies of his work: one book to read and the other book to cut the pages out to hang on your walls.  Nelson takes Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and illustrates it. The result is a beautiful book that readers old and young will want to read. At the end of the book, Nelson adds the speech in its entirety. The book also comes with a CD recording of the speech as it was delivered in 1963 by Dr. King.  My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Short Review: Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses by Ron Koertge

Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses

Written by Ron Koertge

Illustrated by Andrea Dezsö

Published in 2012 by Candlewick Press

Source: Public Library

Genre: YA and up

 

I don’t see, but I know things.

Nature does that sometimes – curses and blesses,

takes away and gives. I’m blind but I see.

-          from “Thumbelina, The Mole’s Story”

I love fairy tale retellings.  Earlier this year it seems like retellings were the only things I was reading. In Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses, Ron Koertge retells some of the most popular fairy tales in free prose giving them a facelift.

The cleverness of some of Koertge’s stories reminds me of why I like retellings so much. A good retelling gives readers an old story in a fresh way. The Ever After for Cinderella’s stepsisters was sober reading while the modern-day story of Red Riding Hood in what I imagine to be a Valley-Girl voice was hilarious. This book also reminded me that not every retelling works. There were some retellings that missed the mark for me. Not every retelling needs to be clever or funny but it needs to add something or what’s the point?

I picked Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses up because it was recently listed as a Publisher Weekly Best of 2012 book. While I’m glad I read it, I don’t feel the need to buy my own copy. My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Banned Book Review: The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver

Lois Lowry

180 pages

Republished in 2008 by Houghton Mifflin Company

Source: Public Library

It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened. No. Wrong word, Jonas thought. Frightened meant that deep, sickening feeling of something terrible about to happen. . .

I had to review this book for Banned Books Week. The Giver is a book that I’ve read as a seventh-grader and loved. It’s one of those books that I push on my younger sisters, who are now seventh graders, in the way that only a crazed bookworm can. I haven’t read The Giver since middle school, so when I picked it up; I wondered if I would love it as much as I once did.

Within the first few paragraphs, readers realize that Jonas’s world is very different from our own. An airplane flies over the community Jonas lives in, frightening not only the young boy but every person around. Airplanes aren’t a part of their everyday lives. But then, things like choosing your spouse or occupation aren’t a part of that life either.

When Jonas turns twelve he, like all the other twelve year-olds, learns what their occupation will be for the rest of their lives. But Jonas is different. Instead of being chosen to be an engineer or teacher, he learns that he’s been selected to become the next Receiver of Memory. It’s a job of high honor but little power. Jonas is to receive the memories of others who lived generations ago. That way, those memories aren’t a burden to the rest of the community and no one else needs to experience anything but the most ordinary life. During his training, Jonas learns of war and love, happiness and hope. But can Jonas go back to living his life as it once was without these things?

I’m glad to say that The Giver is just as powerful to me now as it was when I was twelve. I was surprised about how much of this book came back to as I read. After Jonas receives the memory of war and sees his friends playing it as game, he freaks out. Of course his friends have no idea what war is but Jonas does, and it sinks in how there’s so much this group will never know. Lowry’s writing is simple and the story gives readers just enough details to understand Jonas and the community he lives in. I can’t wait to read the last three books in this series.

The Giver is #23 on the American Library Association’s (ALA) list of Banned and Challenged Books of 2000-2009. The book has been challenged (someone has asked it to be removed from library shelves) or banned several times since its publication. It’s always been by parents who don’t like the ambiguous ending or the community’s method of dealing with troubled people, the elderly, and infants who aren’t thriving.

If you haven’t read The Giver, I think you should. My rating: 5 out of 5.

Review: Lucretia and the Kroons by Victor Lavalle

Lucretia and the Kroons: A Novella

Victor Lavalle

99 pages

Published in July 2012 by Spiegel & Grau, an imprint of Random House

Source: Publisher

Most twelve-year-olds don’t know much about death, and that’s the way it should be. But a handful get the knowledge too soon. You can see it in their eyes, a sliver of sorrow floating in the iris, visible even at the happiest of times. Those kids have encountered that enemy, too soon and will always bear its scars. . .

Lucretia and the Kroons is a frightening story about the power of friendship and love between two young girls. Lucretia, known as Loonie, has just turned twelve and wishes she could celebrate with her best friend, Sunny. Sunny’s suffering from cancer so her treatments, along with her frail health, have kept the girls apart for months. When Loonie is finally able to see Sonny, tragedy strikes and it will take everything that Loonie is made of to bring her friend back from the grips of death.

I find it amazing what Victor Lavalle has managed to do with less than a hundred pages. During the first few pages of Lucretia and the Kroons, you would think this is just a normal story about kids. The novella is set in present-day New York City in an old apartment building.  Loonie has just finished celebrating her twelfth birthday with three girls that she really don’t care for, wishing that Sunny was there instead. When Loonie’s older brother, Louis, tells her the story of the Kroons, a family of drug addicts that lived two stories above, and used to snatch children or worse, slowly the horror rolls in and readers learn that there is so much hidden behind this façade of normalcy. But isn’t that what great horror shows us? Peel back even a few layers of the everyday world and underneath is something almost unrecognizable.

The Kroons are a frightful bunch who lives between the world of the living and a sort of urban purgatory. Loonie’s battle with them to find Sonny and bring her back is fantastical and eye-opening. I love how Loonie is a child. She only has a child’s knowledge of the world around her and readers see that there’s so much she doesn’t know. Loonie isn’t like some of the kids I’ve been reading about in other books where they’re basically adults in child form.

My only problem with this book is the ending. Lavalle should have deleted one of the last paragraphs. It’s supposed to be a bridge to his latest book, The Devil in Silver, but it feels more like an afterthought.

Even with the less-than-awesome ending, I highly recommend Lucretia and the Kroons. My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

There’s an excellent short post about how Victor Lavelle got the idea for the book on Everyday eBook. You should check it out.

This review is part of the week-long celebration called A More Diverse Universe. To read other reviews, click here.

DNF review: The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo by F.G. Haghenbeck

The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo

F.G. Haghenbeck

Translated from Spanish by Achy Obejas

368 pages

Published in September 2012 by Atria, an imprint of Simon and Schuster

Source: Publisher

            “Frida, if what you want is to show your respect, then you should make me an offering every year. I’ll gladly delight in the foods, flowers, and gifts you bring me. But I’m warning you now: you will always wish you’d died today. And I will remind you of this every day of your life.”

According to the author, Frida Kahlo owned a journal called The Hierba Santa Book. It was a small book that contained recipes for offerings on the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muetros).  After Kahlo’s death, the book was supposed to go on display at a museum but disappeared and hasn’t been found since. Creepy, right? The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo is the author’s reimagining Kahlo’s life, and how the artist came about filling the book with her recipes and thoughts.

I have to admit that I love reading about women who’ve lived incredible lives. Georgia O’Keefe, Ida B. Wells, Jane Goodall. . . it doesn’t matter. I’ve already read a few articles and Frida Kahlo’s diary, so when I heard about Atria Books giving away copies of F.G. Haghenbeck’s latest book, The Secret Life of Frida Kahlo, I had to sign up. Unfortunately, the book didn’t live up to my expectations.

One of the biggest things that work for this book is the magic realism element. Throughout the book, Kahlo has encounters with the Messenger, a helper of Death, ghosts, and Godmother Death herself. These encounters are believable. I was never tired of these encounters because they were believable, even when they seem a bit surreal.

What I did get tired of was Kahlo’s constant obsession with her husband, the muralist Diego Rivera. I know Kahlo and Rivera had a crazy marriage filled with affairs and even divorced and remarried but what I didn’t expect was the book to be mostly about Kahlo’s fixation on her husband. Once Kahlo marries Rivera, the book was about her suffering because of Rivera and his cheating ways. The book has so much angst; I could have mistaken it for YA. It became apparent to me that this wasn’t the book I was looking for when I reached page 200 and realized that the author mentioned Kahlo creating art about three times. This is a woman who’s famous for her paintings and style. Three times?

It made me wonder if the situation was reversed, would an author−any author−write a novel about Diego Rivera and mostly write about his chaotic marriage with Frida instead of his work? I doubt it.

I did like the effort that Haghenbeck puts into the book. At the back of the book, readers can find recipes inspired by Kahlo that the author created, but it wasn’t enough to keep me reading.

The story of the Kahlo’s missing book has so much potential but it wasn’t fulfilled in The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo. My rating: 3 out of 5.

Sunday Salon: A More Diverse Universe Reading Pool and Suggestions

I know that there’s a ton of blogging events that are going on in September but I wanted to remind everyone that the deadline to sign up for Aarti’s blog tour, A More Diverse Universe is coming up. September 12th , which is this Wednesday, is the last day to sign up. There’s almost 70 bloggers signed up for the event and I just want to say thank you for doing so. But maybe there are a few people who are having a hard time coming up with a fantasy book that they want to read by a person of color. That’s understandable. I don’t read much fantasy myself and I had to really search my tbr piles, virtual and not, along with several reading lists to come up with a reading pool. Aarti posted a list of suggested reads earlier last week and I thought I should do the same but also share which books I might read. If you’re thinking about joining, I hope this list helps.

Novels

Blindness by José Saramago. I’m probably the only person who would put this book in the fantasy category so I might be crossing the line just a little.  But seriously?  This book is just too good to pass up. In Blindness, over a matter of months, the citizens of an unnamed country go blind. At first, people think it’s an epidemic that will surely go away until the blind outnumber those with sight. What happens next is chaotic, maddening, and at times, beautiful. If you want to read fantasy that doesn’t include witches or dragons, I recommend Blindness.  Saramago’s writing is so good that it wasn’t surprising to find out that the Portuguese writer won the Nobel Prize in Literature soon after the publication of this book.

Note: After reading Ana’s comment below, I’ve decided to just recommend this book for the R.I.P. Challenge instead of both the tour and challenge.

Half World by Hiromi Goto. This book was first brought to my attention by the lovely M of Buried in Print. Half World is one of her favorite books and she recommended to me wholeheartedly. The book’s protagonist, Melanie, is an outsider. She’s poor, has no friends, and lives with her sickly mother. When her mother disappears, it’s up to Melanie to find her and bring her back to our world. I’ve just started reading this a few days ago. It’s a novel with very unusual characters.

Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith by Gina B. Nahai. If fantasy had a chick-lit sub-genre, this book would be on the list. I first read this book years ago and I can still remember images of it like the streets of Tehran and Roxanna, a character who sprouted wings one fateful night and flew out of her daughter’s life. If I owned a copy of this, it would sit next to Chocolat and Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate. This isn’t a book about food but it’s such a feel-good book that it reminds me of the previous two.

Short reads: Short stories and Novellas

Maybe you’re swamped with blog obligations, memes, and the like so you don’t have a lot of time to squeeze in one more novel. I’ve found a few stories that I’ve really enjoyed and you can read in less than an hour.

Lucretia and the Kroons by Victor Lavalle. I read this novella about the friendship between two young girls, one of whom is dying, a few weeks ago. No review yet.  Lucretia knows that Lily is sick but she hopes that one day her friend will get better. When Lily goes missing, it’s up to Lucretia to bring her back from the underworld. Lavalle takes less than a hundred pages and gives readers a sweet story about childhood friendships, love, and death. Note: this book is only available as an e-book and it’s priced at $ 0.99 at most ebook retailers.

“Pishaach” by Sweta Marayan. This story was featured in Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling’s The Beastly Bride, an anthology of stories about shape-shifters. When her grandmother disappears, only Shruti knows her secret: that her grandmother is a shape-shifter who went back to her own world. Shruti is an outsider among her own family and longs to be with her grandmother. But will Shruti ever get the chance to? This story was nominated for the Nebula Award in 2010. Also featured in the anthology is Hiromi Goto’s  short story, “The Hikikomori”.

Collected Stories by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Marquez is one of those writers whose stories are anthologized so much that you can’t help but run into his stories. If you only read one story from this collection, make it “The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”. It’s a story about a small village that discovers a man with enormous wings and what happens once he’s there. You could probably find this story posted online.

Graphic Novels

So maybe you don’t have time to read a full novel or you’re not a short story kind of person. There’s still hope. Here are four graphic novels you could try.

Ichiro by Ryan Izanama. You know how you read a book and then you’re basically a disciple afterwards, harassing asking people to read it, telling them how awesome it is? Ichiro is that book for me this year. Ichiro is the story of a young boy who’s obsessed with war. His father, a soldier, recently died in Iraq, and Ichiro’s clings to his father’s army things. It’s only after a move to Japan from New York that Ichiro learns about the country’s history. But it’s during a fateful encounter with several Shinto gods and a shape-shifting fox, that Ichiro realizes maybe war isn’t as simple as he thought.

Chew by John Layman and Rob Guillory. 2011 was the year that I wanted everyone to read Chew, though I knew it’s not for anyone with a weak stomach. Detective Tony Chu is a cibopathic, a person who gets psychic (and very graphic) impressions from the food he’s eating. If Tony eats one bite of a hamburger, he can tell you where each ingredient came from and even the type of life the animal lived.  When Tony finds a human finger in his dinner, he goes on the hunt for a murderer and his secret is leaked. Now Tony’s working for the government and has to deal with Russian spies, double agents, and cyborg co-workers. Did I mention that Tony lives in a time where owning and eating chickens is illegal?

Bayou series by Jeremy Love. I’m going to describe this book in the same way that I’ve always described it. Bayou is an amazing Southern Alice in Wonderland. Unlike Alice, readers are plunged into Southern folklore and characters like Brier Rabbit. It’s a dark and fantastic read.

Shaun Tan. Noticed that I didn’t put any titles in front of Tan’s name? That’s because pretty much everything by Tan is perfect for this blog tour. But if you want me to, I’ll give you the names of a few titles that I really enjoyed: Tales from Outer Suburbia, The Arrival, and Lost & Found. I’m not going to tell you what they’re about because it doesn’t matter. They’re all good. I do have to warn you though, if you buy a book by Tan, you need to buy two copies. One copy is to read and the other to tear out the pages and frame them for your walls. Seriously.

I hope this post helps you find something to read for the blog tour or even Carl’s R.I.P. Challenge. If you’re joining the blog tour or the challenge, what will you be reading?

Orange Prize Book Review: The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna

The Memory of Love

Aminatta Forna

445 pages

Published in 2010 by Grove Press, an imprint of Grove/Atlantic

Source: My personal library

And when he wakes from dreaming of her, is it not the same for him? The hollowness in his chest, the tense yearning, the loneliness he braces against every morning until he can immerse himself in work and forget. Not love. Something else, something with a power that endures. Not love, but a memory of love.

Elias Cole is dying. The former dean of a university, Cole has survived and even thrived during Sierra Leone’s civil war. Now it’s decades later and as a much older man, Cole wants someone else to know how he succeeded when others faltered. Adrian is a young British psychologist who’s in Sierra Leone as a volunteer. Kai is a talented surgeon who’s witnessed more than most people his age. What brings these three men together is the memory of the past, of what they’ve lost and what’s left to be gained.

I should warn you: The Memory of Love is one of those books that you should read with a friend because once you’re finished with it, you’re going to need to talk to someone about it.

Forna does a magnificent job of giving readers beautiful writing, a very realistic story, and also the history of Sierra Leone. Before reading this book, I knew very little about the country’s civil war. I just knew that there had been a war and like most wars, mass casualties. The author gives readers history without turning it into a lecture. There aren’t gory details but the illustration of the psychological effects from it all.

‘I was doorman here,’ he adds. ‘Before.’ He says it as others do, in a way that conveys a sense of timelessness. Before. There was before. And there is now. And in between a dreamless void.

I found myself becoming invested in not only the main characters, but the people they tried to help.  I wonder if Sierra Leone and its people could ever recover psychologically from all that it has been through, and what the future holds for it.

The Memory of Love, a haunting story of betrayal, love, and the possibility of hope, is not a book to miss. My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Shortlisted for the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction

Review: No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller

Written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, artwork by R. Gregory Christie

192 pages

Published in 2012 by Carolrhoda Lab, an imprint of Carolrhoda Books

Source: Public Library

I think there’s been a war on independent bookstores. It’s a crime because books are more than just books in the African American community. Literacy and education were once the hopes for getting away from slavery, out of the ghetto, into power. Bookstores have been cultural crossroads, information centers. The bookstore is where we meet, where we talk. In the sixties, in Harlem, at 125th Street and Seventh, it was Lewis Michaux’s bookstore.  –Poet Nikki Giovanni

No Crystal Stair is a celebration, a celebration of the written word and one man’s dedication to it. As avid readers, we know how life-changing and earth-shattering the affect that reading can have on our lives. In Harlem during the 1930s, Lewis Michaux asked a banker for a $500 loan but was turned down. According to the banker, “black people don’t read”. Determined, Michaux started his bookstore with five books and a cart. He would walk up and down the street, shouting about the books he was selling. Over three decades, those five books turned into more than 200,000 at Michaux’s National Memorial African Bookstore. The bookstore became a place for people to meet, talk, and educate themselves. Through the years, famous people were spotted browsing through the store like Zora Neale Hurston, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and others. Told through interviews, photos, and documents, No Crystal Stair is the fictional account of the life of Lewis Michaux.

When it comes to telling you how I feel about this book, I’m almost speechless. If it wasn’t for the author deciding to spent years writing Michaux’s story, I probably wouldn’t have ever heard of this man and his influential bookstore.

We are in a time where indie bookstores are closing all over the country and it’s becoming harder to find a neighborhood bookish spot to patron. It was a similar atmosphere in 1930s Harlem when Michaux got the idea of starting his bookstore. Though at the time, there was a huge population in Harlem, there wasn’t a bookstore (or any mention of one in the book). Michaux believed that for people to understand the world around them, reading was the answer. He went up against so many people who didn’t believe in the power of reading or that Michaux would make any money. And at first, they were right. For the first several years, he didn’t make any money. He washed windows and did odd jobs around the neighborhood.

Finally, business finally picked up and people came in droves to buy books. If customers couldn’t afford a book, they were free to read it in the back. To Michaux, knowledge was power and it was important for everyone to have the opportunity to read books by and about people that looked just like them.

There are details missing about Michaux’s beginnings like what year he was born in or exactly when was his bookstore started, so Nelson turned this biography into a fictional account. But she did give readers photos and newspaper clippings from that time along with transcripts from interviews with people who knew Michaux best.

I’m so grateful that Nelson, who is the great-niece of Michaux, decided to write her great-uncle’s story.  I’m also grateful to the publisher, Carolrhoda Lab, for taking a chance on this subject and publishing No Crystal Stair. If you like reading about books, or always dreamed of owning your own bookstore, this is the book for you. My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Review: The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

The Long Earth
Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
352 pages
Published in June 2012 by Harper, an imprint of Harper Collins
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Source: Publisher

Step Day. Fifteen years ago. Joshua had been just thirteen.
Later, everybody remembered where they were on Step Day. Mostly they were in the shit.

What would you do if you knew that there’s more than one Earth? That there are millions of Earths and you could just “step” from one world to another and start over? Would you? Would you leave your career behind? What about your family? That’s what authors Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter explore in their collaboration, The Long Earth.

It’s Step Day on Earth and all hell is about to break loose. The instructions to build a small box called a stepper are all over the internet and kids are racing to make their own. But what no one knows is the purpose of this small box. That is, until kids start disappearing. They’re reappearing in another world where chaos is ensuing. Joshua Valienté is one of those kids but in the midst of it all, he’s keeping calm and helping everyone get back. Fast forward fifteen years and stepping is a way of life. People are leaving Datum Earth (Earth as we know it), in droves to start over and explore what the other Earths have to offer. The possibilities are endless or are they?

I decided to read The Long Earth because I read and enjoyed Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters earlier this year. Pratchett and his Discworld series are pretty popular in the blogisphere. When I heard that The Long Earth was being published, I decided to hold out on reading more books from the series and read this instead. I have to say that I made a good decision.

There is so much going on in this book, that if I were to share it all with you, this review would be a page or two long. Seriously. But that isn’t a bad thing. I think it’s good for readers to go into this book not knowing much about the story.

There’s so much for the authors to explain about these different worlds and the pair do an excellent job with world building. Every Earth is different from the others but they all have one rule: iron and other metals won’t pass from Datum Earth to the other worlds. So people are finding themselves having to start over. Some Earths are going through an Ice Age while others are hot and balmy, and also one that’s covered entirely in water. There are weird creatures, nicknamed trolls, whose singing is so beautiful you will stop everything to hear them, and elves who kill for sport. Another similar thing found on each world is that there are no humans.

Pratchett and Baxter go to lengths to illustrate how society might change if people are able to make new lives elsewhere. In the story, the poor and those who are no longer willing to be chained to their careers, leave Datum Earth without a second glance. Their absence hurts economies and empty cities. The rich find their fortunes dwindling but are unwilling to start over again in a new world. Those who are unable to step find themselves in heartbreaking situations, as they are left behind by family and friends. I thought the changes in society were believable even though I wanted to know more about the people who weren’t exploring.

What I didn’t like about the book is that for the first 100 pages, readers are introduced to countless characters. There’s just so much going on. You get attached to one character and the next thing you know, you’re being introduced to another character. There’s this constant back and forth. I almost put the book down for good but I was curious about where the story was leading to. After the first 100 pages, not as many new characters are being introduced and the plot picks up.

Another thing I should mention is that a lot of the book consists of exploring other worlds. I found myself pretty interested in that aspect but I think some people will find the pacing slow. From the cliffhanger ending, I expect this to be the first book in a series.

It’s not a perfect read, but I definitely recommend The Long Earth. If you like quirky stories, robots, parallel worlds, or weird creatures, this is your book. My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.