Showing posts with label magical realism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label magical realism. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

December Minis: A Library, A Bazaar, and Earthquakes

Yup, it's that time again.  More mini-reviews!  I am enjoying this format for the time being, and I hope you all are too.

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
Crown, 2015
borrowed from the library

While this book doesn't seem to be super widely-known, several bloggers that I love and respect were singing its praises, so I had to check it out.  That said, I was a little nervous, because many reviews mentioned "magical realism" and "fantasy", two genres with which I haven't had much luck.  But, I gave it a go.

Quick synopsis: Carolyn and a dozen other children were "adopted" long ago by the mysterious Father.  Each child was taught one category of Father's knowledge over the years.  Now, it's 20 years later, and Father has disappeared.  Carolyn & co now have to fight to see who has the power (and the knowledge) to take Father's place.

You guys, THIS BOOK IS AMAZING.  Yup, it's full of fantasy and magical realism and things you would never believe in real life, but Hawkins wrote it so well that it DOES NOT MATTER.  It is horrifying and hilarious and mysterious at the same time.  The story unravels in such a way that there is always another piece of information you need, that you can't put down the book for, and as such you will indeed never put down the freaking book.  Full disclosure: I did not love the ending (it was less explosive than the rest of the novel, and as such felt unfitting), but I still recommend it.  Highly.  (As long as you can take some gore.  A lot of gore, actually.)

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King
Scribner, 2015
borrowed from the library

It's been a while since I ran out and read the latest King release, but I knew that a new collection of his short stories was a good excuse to do it.  My love of SK began with his short stories.  Where his novels, while often excellent, can enter the territory of being overly verbose, his short stories are more concise, hitting readers hard and fast right between the eyes.

This collection is no exception.  While not every story worked for me ("The Bone Church" was one--more of a poem, and an odd one at that), I was wow'ed by the majority of them.  I know many people hear Stephen King and immediately think horror, but that is not the overarching theme here.  (Though some are certainly horrific..."Mile 81" comes to mind immediately. Avoid if you're queasy, or if you dislike children in distress.)  Instead, I'd say there is a general sense of unease in each of these stories.  Questions of morality, of good conscience, of what it means to be just.  You are left feeling disturbed, rather than scared.  And if the stories aren't enough, the book is made even more amazing by the notes King has left before the start of each one, giving you the background on what inspired it and how he wrote it.  Is there anything better than a Stephen King introduction?  And now you get 21 of them.  Winner winner, chicken dinner.  A great read for die-hard King fans and newbie SK followers alike.

Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld
Random House, 2013
borrowed from the library
The latest pick for my MOMS Club book club.  Discussion is this Sunday, and I think it's fair to say there'll be a lot to discuss!  Basic premise: Kate and Vi are twins who were born with psychic abilities.  As they get older, Kate distances herself from these "senses", while Vi embraces and hones them over time.  Now in their 30's and living in St. Louis, Vi predicts very publicly that a disastrous earthquake will soon hit the city, throwing Vi, and Kate, into the spotlight.  Kate is forced to reconsider her own abilities, as well as her roles as sister, daughter, wife, and mother.

I am a Sittenfeld fan (Prep and American Wife are truly excellent reads, if you haven't gotten to them already).  That said, the novel started out very slowly for me, and I felt like the narrative was wordy and jumpy for no discernible reason.  Plus, I found Kate to be positively grating.  She's weak, whiny, impulsive, dispassionate, and seems to be just going through the motions in what boils down to a very comfortable life.  (It could also be that I hate the picture she portrays of stay-at-home moms.  She makes us look ridiculous.)

However, Kate finally does something so outrageously stupid that it makes the last quarter of the novel completely un-put-down-able.  I ATE IT UP.  So I'm not sure if I should love this book because I was so entirely enraptured by it for the second half, or if I should dislike it because the protagonist is godawful and it's her ridiculous godawful mistakes that make the second half of the book worth reading.  I don't know.  I guess I need to discuss that at book club.  :)

What did you read so far this month?

Friday, July 31, 2015

The Shore by Sara Taylor


Title: The Shore
Author: Sara Taylor
Publisher: Hogarth
Publication Date: May 26, 2015
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads

Welcome to The Shore: a collection of small islands sticking out from the coast of Virginia into the Atlantic Ocean. Where clumps of evergreens meet wild ponies, oyster-shell roads, tumble-down houses, unwanted pregnancies, murder, storm-making and dark magic in the marshes. . . 

Situated off the coast of Virginia's Chesapeake Bay, the group of islands known as the Shore has been home to generations of fierce and resilient women. Sanctuary to some but nightmare to others, it's a place they've inhabited, fled, and returned to for hundreds of years. From a half-Shawnee Indian's bold choice to flee an abusive home only to find herself with a man who will one day try to kill her to a brave young girl's determination to protect her younger sister as methamphetamine ravages their family, to a lesson in summoning storm clouds to help end a drought, these women struggle against domestic violence, savage wilderness, and the corrosive effects of poverty and addiction to secure a sense of well-being for themselves and for those they love.

Together their stories form a deeply affecting legacy of two barrier island families, illuminating 150 years of their many freedoms and constraints, heartbreaks, and pleasures.


My Review:

I fell victim to total book blogger peer pressure here, people!  Err-body was reading The Shore a few weeks ago.  It was all over my blog reader and the Instagram and the Twitters.  So when I saw a copy just hanging out on my library's New Releases shelf, I had to go for it.  Unlike that time when your mom asked if you would jump off a bridge if all your friends did it to, this was actually a GREAT time to do what all my friends were doing.  Because this is a fantastic novel.

The Shore is wonderfully, unapologetically, vigorously unique.  I saw it categorized as a "short story" collection by some Goodreads reviewers, but I don't think that's entirely accurate.  While most of the chapters are narrated by different characters, and in many cases the time period is completely different between them, the overlapping details between all of these stories are essential to your overall impression of the book.  Do yourself a favor and DO NOT read this on an e-reader, because I had to flip back to the (sizable) family tree at the front of the book every 5 pages or so.  It would have driven me crazy to have to do that on a Kindle.

Even though many of the narrators in this novel are (genetically) related, they've often never met each other.  In that way, each chapter does have an exclusivity to it that leaves readers with that "short story" feel.  However, Taylor has woven all of their narratives together in a way that leaves you with a strong ribbon of similar themes: melancholy. Persistence.  Isolation.  Brutality.  And many, many powerful female characters.  This is what gives the book a tight cohesiveness that I find astounding for a piece of literature with so many different stories to tell.

On top of that, a few of the chapters threw in some genre twists that I was not expecting at all, particularly in magical realism and dystopia.  But it worked.  They caught me off guard at first, but in the end, I was appreciative of how they changed the direction of the novel and managed to carry the previously-established themes even deeper into the story.

I'm not sure if this review gives you anything concrete about The Shore to hold on to, but that is the nature of this book.  Don't let the cover and title fool you--this is much more than a walk on the beach.  If you're ready for something completely different, immersive, and impressively well-crafted, The Shore is an excellent pick!

What was the last book you read because "all the cool kids were doing it"??  :)

Monday, December 30, 2013

Book Review: Brazil by John Updike


Title: Brazil
Author: John Updike
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: January 25, 1994
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads

They meet by chance on Copacabana Beach: Tristao Raposo, a poor black teen from the Rio slums, surviving day to day on street smarts and the hustle, and Isabel Leme, an upper-class white girl, treated like a pampered slave by her absent though very powerful father. Convinced that fate brought them together, betrayed by families who threaten to tear them apart, Tristao and Isabel flee to the farthest reaches of Brazil's wild west -- unaware of the astonishing destiny that awaits them . . .

My Review:

I've never read any Updike before, and honestly I always thought I'd start with the well-known Rabbit series.  However, in an effort to squeak out just ONE more country for Shannon's Around The World in 12 Books Challenge, I picked up Brazil in an effort to break into South America before year's end.

Even though I knew almost nothing about this book before I borrowed it from the library, I'm glad that I chose this for my Brazil-based novel for the challenge.  Isabel and Tristao's story is interesting, but as the title implies, Brazil itself plays an extremely important role as the setting for this novel.  I actually learned quite a bit about the country's history and political climate, as well as the culture of three of its very different regions.  Updike does a great job bringing Brazil to life.  This is one of those novels that has a setting so rich in detail, it almost feels like it plays a protagonist's role right alongside the main characters.

As for Isabel and Tristao--first of all, I've never seen/read Tristan and Isolde, the opera on which this book is based.  Part of me wonders how my experience may have been different if I had that background beforehand.  But either way, I was drawn into their story pretty quickly.  Tristao and Isabel have a romance that is not quite of this world...it seems to almost exist separately from their lives with their families, friends, and even their children.  They place their love for each other above all other things, even in the most trying of times (and often to their detriment).  By the end of the novel, their love takes on a fantastical quality, which I was a little leery of (I am not usually a "magical realism" fan), but Updike weaves those elements of the plot into the story so well, that they don't seem unbelievable or out of place.

Overall, this is a fairly quick read, but one that is worth a little more of your time as you soak in the story and its various meanings.  Fair warning: this book is graphic, both in sexual and violent elements, so if that's not your thing, you may want to pick another novel to pass the time.  But despite that, it's definitely given me an appreciation for Updike's writing, so hopefully I'll finally get to that Rabbit series sometime soon...

Have you read any of Updike's novels?  Thumbs up or thumbs down?  Any you would recommend more than others?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Audiobook Review: The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht



Title: The Tiger's Wife
Author: Tea Obreht
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: March 8, 2011
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

In a Balkan country mending from years of conflict, Natalia, a young doctor, arrives on a mission of mercy at an orphanage by the sea. By the time she and her lifelong friend Zóra begin to inoculate the children there, she feels age-old superstitions and secrets gathering everywhere around her. Secrets her outwardly cheerful hosts have chosen not to tell her. Secrets involving the strange family digging for something in the surrounding vineyards. Secrets hidden in the landscape itself.

But Natalia is also confronting a private, hurtful mystery of her own: the inexplicable circumstances surrounding her beloved grandfather’s recent death. After telling her grandmother that he was on his way to meet Natalia, he instead set off for a ramshackle settlement none of their family had ever heard of and died there alone. A famed physician, her grandfather must have known that he was too ill to travel. Why he left home becomes a riddle Natalia is compelled to unravel.


Grief struck and searching for clues to her grandfather’s final state of mind, she turns to the stories he told her when she was a child. On their weekly trips to the zoo he would read to her from a worn copy of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, which he carried with him everywhere; later, he told her stories of his own encounters over many years with “the deathless man,” a vagabond who claimed to be immortal and appeared never to age. But the most extraordinary story of all is the one her grandfather never told her, the one Natalia must discover for herself. One winter during the Second World War, his childhood village was snowbound, cut off even from the encroaching German invaders but haunted by another, fierce presence: a tiger who comes ever closer under cover of darkness. “These stories,” Natalia comes to understand, “run like secret rivers through all the other stories” of her grandfather’s life. And it is ultimately within these rich, luminous narratives that she will find the answer she is looking for.

My Review:

Where to begin with this audiobook?  It's beautiful, and metaphorical, and confusing, and illusory, all at once.  Leaves me in quite a pickle when trying to write a concise review, eh?

I should start by telling you that when I picked up this audiobook, I only read the first two paragraphs of the above description.  (As we know, I often don't read them at all...so this was quite the big step for me.)  As such, I was thrown off guard when the novel took a bit of a fantastical turn--specifically, when Natalia's grandfather started telling her the story of the "deathless man".  The beginning of the book is steeped in the gritty reality of the Balkan War and its aftermath, so this change in atmosphere was unexpected.  

However, I found myself intrigued and kept on with the book.  It helped that the narrators have such wonderful voices.  Susan Duerden, the voice of Natalia, has a soft and lyrical way of speaking that gives real life to the magical realism of the story.  And Robin Sachs (the voice of Natalia's grandfather) has a gruff manner that is extremely fitting for his role.  Probably one of the best narrator choices for an audiobook that I've heard, ever.

The ending rather confused me, and I think a big part of this was because I was listening to, rather than reading, the novel.  The ending takes an unexpected turn as Natalia reaches conclusions about her grandfather's death, and with all the fairy-tale-like aspects that are included, it made it very hard for me to keep track of what was going on.  It was only after the book ended, when I Googled some analyses of it, that I had a better understanding of what had occurred.  One of those analyses (over at Biblio Quill) stated that this is a book best read a second time, once you understand the themes involved--and I think that is spot on.  I didn't have a full understanding of the meaning of "the tiger's wife" and "the deathless man" until after the story had reached its end, and I had time to process/research it.  If I had had a print copy of the novel, I may have been able to go back and reference things more easily, thus making the reading experience more satisfying as a whole.

Overall, I was impressed by the storytelling abilities of Tea Obreht (and this was her debut novel--even more noteworthy!).  She weaves together a captivating tale that will draw you in quickly. I would just suggest that you have a heads-up about the "magical" aspects of the story before you begin, so that you have a smoother reading experience than I did.  I would also suggest reading this one, rather than listening to it (especially if you listen to your audiobooks as you commute, like I do).  The narrators are truly fantastic, but the structure of the story just did not lend itself to the disjointed way that I listen to audiobooks.  You really need to concentrate on this one to do it justice.

Other reviews of The Tiger's Wife:
Bibliophile's Corner
Caroline Bookbinder
Melissa' Eclectic Bookshelf

What are your favorite picks in the "magical realism" genre?
 
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