Book of the Month: The Girls

My third Book of the Month selection, for July, is my second favorite of all those I have received so far and the one that made me decide to renew my subscription when the promotion period ended.

The Girls by Emma ClineTHE GIRLS_final jacket (1).jpg

The story of Evie Boyd’s summer with a Manson-Family-style cult, told in retrospect by a middle-aged Evie nigh on invisible, is anything but what you’d expect. Rather than a sordid tale of blood and guts, “gore porn” finding titillation in the macabre, it provides an immediate look at what it means to be female in America. Through the eyes of Evie at two points in her life, the reader experiences the draw of charisma and the weight of expectation on women finding their way in the world.  Evie’s journey is anything but linear, ranging from teenage suburban bedrooms littered with mascara and magazines to remote sheds full of mouse shit and moldy clothes. A folk singer’s palace to the shadows of a beach house borrowed in the off-season. The men are tertiary. This story is, as promised, about the girls.

The Girls is not a morality tale, more of a beautifully rendered impressionist painting posing dozens of unanswered questions. The prose and themes reminded me of one of my favorite novels: White Oleander by Janet Fitch. I passed it on to a female friend as soon as I finished reading.

The Girls is a worthy read for anyone who has ever been mystified by womanhood. Which is to say, everyone.

 

Book of the Month: The Veins of the Ocean

With my second Book of the Month pick (along with Heat and Light, which I have yet to finish) I decided to try something I probably wouldn’t pick up on my own.

The Veins of the Ocean by Patricia Engeldownload-1

Reina Castillo’s brother is serving a life sentence in prison for a terrible crime: the murder of a child. She visits him with unwavering devotion, blaming herself, until the day he ends his life. Set adrift, she moves down to the Florida Keys to start a new life where no one knows who she is and where she came from. Working in the Keys she meets Nesto Cadena, an immigrant from Cuba determined to bring his children to America. As a deep friendship grows between them Reina is called to discover what lies beneath the waves around her home and the guilt eating at her heart.

It took me a while to get into this novel, but I am glad I took the time. It seems superficial to start: the sordid story of a family with a seedy background, but the narrative quickly dives deep. The language is beautiful, the plot steeped in the rich cultures of Cuba and Colombia. The pace is meditative, as Reina confronts the factors that led her to the place and woman she finds herself. Opportunities for self-reflection arise as organically as waves bubbling over the shore: encounters with people from her past, both chance and deliberate, recurring questions about whether it is better to save your own hide or reach out to a suffering creature. Questions of family and faith. The resolution of Reina’s story is both complete and satisfying to the soul.

In the end, I was glad I took a chance on this beautifully written novel. It left me looking forward to the next month’s BOTM selections!

2015 in Review: To All the Books I Might’ve Read

2016 (2)

An annual tradition started by The Perpetual Page-Turner.

2015 reading stats (4)

Number Of Books You Read: Eighteen-ish, not counting unfinished.
Number of Re-Reads: 3
Genre You Read The Most From: YA (Contemporary, Fantasy, and Sci-Fi)

Best in Books

1. Best Book You Read In 2015?

Re-read: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

New to me: The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

Released in 2015: The Anatomy of Curiosity by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff.

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

Every Day by David Levithan. I liked it, but it wasn’t the revelation I expected from the way others talk about it. It was my least favorite work by David Levithan. I really enjoy that he is is very experimental and high-concept with a lot of his writing, though.Screenshot_2014-04-23-13-54-05-1

 3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read?

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. I don’t usually read romance, and I was expecting a featherweight YA, but this had a lot of heart and genuine family relationships. Very sweet, but not dopey or ridiculous. I’ll be reading the sequel.

 4. Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did)?

Tie between Unwind by Neil Shusterman, and Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson. I gave both to students, and the student who read Unwind went on to read Unwholly.

 5. Best series you started in 2015? Best Sequel of 2015?

Best Series Started: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenni Han

Best Sequel: The Anatomy of Curiosity by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff

 6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2015?

Jenni Han, Leigh Bardugo

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, translated by Cathy Hirano

 8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

 9. Book You Read In 2015 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

The Last Unicorn or The Scorpio Races

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2015?51H8x07Fd7L._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It’s just a lovely object that gives a feeling of tidiness and serenity. It’s small and square, with charcoal gray end-papers and an abstract, green watercolor cover. The title is all in lower-case, orange-red, in a traditional serif typeface. Just lovely, and reinforces the drive for both simplicity and beauty in the book.

11. Most memorable character of 2015?

Tik Tok, the gender-fluid medicine man. Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

 12. Most beautifully written book read in 2015?

Tie: The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle and The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater.

13. Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2015?

Unwind by Neal Shusterman. The ideas were absolutely killer, even if the writing itself is not mind-blowing. He really thought about his premise from all angles.

 14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2015 to finally read? 

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo. I loved it so much, and the sample had just been sitting neglected in my Nook for two years!

 15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2015?b629d9bad0f4440d14262b871bbf6240

“…but to the unicorn’s eyes Molly was becoming a softer country, full of pools and caves, where old flowers came burning out of the ground. Under the dirt and indifference, she appeared only thirty-seven or thirty-eight years old – no older than Schmendrick, surely, despite the magician’s birthdayless face. Her rough hair bloomed, her skin quickened, and her voice was nearly as gentle to all things as it was when she spoke to the unicorn. The eyes would never be joyous, any more than they could ever turn green or blue, but they too had wakened in the earth. She walked eagerly into King Haggard’s realm on bare, blistered feet, and she sang often.
And far away on the other side of the unicorn, Schmendrick the Magician stalked in silence. His black cloak was sprouting holes, coming undone, and so was he. The rain that renewed Molly did not fall on him, and he seemed ever more parched and deserted, like the land itself. The unicorn could not heal him. A touch of her horn could have brought him back from death, but over despair she had no power, nor over magic that had come and gone.”
Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2015?

Shortest: Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins

Longest: Under the Dome by Stephen King

 17. Book That Shocked You The Most7514925

(Because of a plot twist, character death, left you hanging with your mouth wide open, etc.)

Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson. Toward the end, the hits start coming and she doesn’t let up until the reader is gutted.

18. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!)

(OTP = one true pairing if you aren’t familiar)

Puck Connolly and Sean Kendrick forever, duh. Peter Pan didn’t deserve Tiger Lily.

19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year

Petra and Geraldine, Ladylike by Maggie Stiefvater, Anatomy of Curiosity

20. Favorite Book You Read in 2015 From An Author You’ve Read Previously26308619

Anatomy of Curiosity

21. Best Book You Read In 2015That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure:

Every Day by David Levithan

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2015?

Pine Sap, Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

23. Best 2015 debut you read?

N/A

24. Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

25. Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?2015-06-08-1433728699-2614985-rudecakes_600-thumb

Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2015?

Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

27. Hidden Gem Of The Year?

Variations on Drowning by Brenna Yovanoff, Anatomy of Curiosity

28. Book That Crushed Your Soul?

Tiger Lily, in several ways.

29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2015?

The Anatomy of Curiosity

30. Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Looking Ahead

1. New favorite book blog you discovered in 2015?

I was a very bad book blogger this year, what with getting my teaching credential and all. I don’t think I read any new book blogs. D:

2. Favorite review that you wrote in 2015?

Easy, I only wrote one: Random Review – To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

3. Best discussion/non-review post you had on your blog?

Again, there was only one: Character Study – Dumbledore’s Cruel Intentions

4. Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)?

Nada. So sad.

5. Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2015?

Completing this survey, and keeping Ink alive.

6. Most challenging thing about blogging or your reading life this year?

A total lack of time. Finishing my credential and starting my first year of classroom teaching left me exhausted, with almost no time to indulge in reading for pleasure. I didn’t quite make my New Year’s Resolution of reading 25 books this year. Weak.

7. Most Popular Post This Year On Your Blog (whether it be by comments or views)?

The eternal champ: Character Study – Ginny Weasley vs. Cho Chang

8. Post You Wished Got A Little More Love?

Character Study: Dumbledore’s Cruel Intentions

9. Best bookish discovery (book related sites, book stores, etc.)?

I gave Audible a try, and was pleasantly surprised. Easy to use, and more enjoyable than I anticipated.

10.  Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?

Nah. I missed my reading goal by seven books. :/

1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2015 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2016?

Joyland by Stephen King

2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2016 (non-debut)?PNOK Final Cover 101515.indd

Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff

3. 2016 Debut You Are Most Anticipating?

Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia

 4. Series Ending/A Sequel You Are Most Anticipating in 2016?

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

5. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging Life In 2016?

Write in my blog more than twice? Read at least five classics and twenty-five books total. I have Plato’s Republic and Don Quixote on deck.

 

Random Review: The Museum of Intangible Things

I could not have guessed how much I would enjoy this book:

The Museum of Intangible Things by Wendy WunderMuseum of Intangible Things

Hannah and Zoe are lifelong best friends struggling to find a way out of their rural New Jersey town, part of that invisible population of poor white kids. There will be no affirmative action or diversity scholarships, so Zoe works on her fashion designs as she keeps Hannah company eavesdropping on private-school classes and shilling hot dogs for tuition. Crashing a rich-kid party starts a chain of events that leads to Zoe and Hannah leaving town on a spontaneous road trip, Thelma and Louise-style. The two make their way across the country committing crimes and practicing intangible qualities, running from their parents and the law as they barrel toward an explosive finale that promises to give them everything they need or destroy them altogether.

Wow. What a book. A few months ago I “tested a test” for prospective teachers, and was rewarded with $150 in vouchers for books from Penguin. This was the last book I bought, an impulse purchase for fun that was almost deleted from my cart at the last moment. Fate must have been whispering in my ear, because this was a book for me. Two smart, complicated heroines with very real problems and different personalities who still see the value in each other.  What drew me in initially were the fantastic title and the premise of a road trip. I love road trips in life and fiction, and the one in the novel does not disappoint. We experience the novel from Hannah’s point of view, and what at first appears to be a wild, unexpected journey is eventually revealed to be planned to the point of inevitable.

Each chapter, rather than being numbered, is headed with an intangible quality like loyalty, insouciance, or audacity. These both reference the titular museum, created by Zoe for her autistic younger brother to help him learn to relate to others emotionally, and the theme of events in that chapter. In the first couple of chapters I thought I had a grip on the kind of character Zoe was, and that idea was blown to bits by novel’s end. The whole narrative arc is a good metaphor for adolescence itself: many older teens feel they have a grip on the world, maybe even know “everything,” but once they actually leave the nest they realize nothing is what they thought it was and they have more power over their lives than they ever imagined.

The Museum of Intangible Things explores a lot of heavy topics, and it offers one of the most interesting perspectives on mental illness I’ve ever read. Maybe the most interesting. It is through the loving lens of Hannah that the reader is gradually exposed to Zoe’s full truth, and Hannah’s internal struggle mirrored my own as I tangled with what is real in such a situation.

Whether the ending of this book is tragic, satisfying, realistic, or a bit of magical realism is entirely dependent on who you are as a reader. My only complaint is that there is an epilogue à la Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, wrapping things up that would have been better left open to speculation. It stole some of the novel’s impact, and seemed more like the author’s bid to make a few final thesis statements on life than something that served the story. That said, I cannot wait to get my hands on Wunder’s other book, The Probability of Miracles. 

Chair Rating:  

A spectacular, unstoppable force. I couldn't sleep until I had finished reading it.

A spectacular, unstoppable force. I couldn’t sleep until I had finished.

 

In case I didn’t get my point across: READ THIS BOOK! If you’ve already read it, tell me what you thought in the comments. 

Random Review: The Wild Girl

Though Bitter Greens had three heroines suffering, The Wild Girl is three times more brutal to read.

The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth download

Most people (of European descent) know of the folktale collection compiled by the Brothers Grimm, but few know about the women who told them the tales. One of these storytellers was Dortchen Wild. Second youngest of the Wild family, neighbors to the Grimms, Dortchen was an empathetic girl will a skill for herbalism and a long-running crush on Wilhelm Grimm. Against the backdrop of the Napoléonic Wars their collaboration and eventual romance unfolds, the darkness all around matched only by the darkness in Dortchen’s own home.

One of the things I loved about Bitter Greens, apart from the fairy-tale and deeply-researched historical fiction aspects, was how complex the writing was. Three stories intertwined like the strands that form a braid, echoing each other and moving the narrative forward. The writing in The Wild Girl is no less rich but, because the scope of the novel is so much smaller, at times it feels as though there is not enough story to justify the novel’s nearly five-hundred pages. The A-plot is ostensibly the romance between Wilhelm and Dortchen, but it is often swamped by the brutal realities of Dortchen’s day-to-day life. Where the arcs of Bitter Greens‘ three heroines called back to each other, in The Wild Girl it is the stories told by Dortchen that call back to her own life. Many fairy-tale themes crop up in the two-decade-long tale of her romance with Wilhelm: sisters going to a ball while one stays home to do chores, magic rhymes, and the transformative power of a really awesome dress.

Some of the themes of The Wild Girl struck so close to home that I have to admit they tempered my enjoyment of the story.  Dortchen’s experience as a civilian during a war that seems like it will never end, with her country first being invaded and then used to supply soldiers for the conquerors to invade other countries, hit a little too close to home for this American. While many would argue that America is the Napoléonic France of our situation, from a civilian standpoint my country was violently attacked when I was in high school and we’ve been at war with multiple countries ever since. I am married to a Marine who began his service right after 9/11, I have taught preschool and cared for infants on military bases, half of my friends enlisted straight after high school, and I have been groped in airports in the name of “safety” more times than I can bear to think about. My youngest brother currently has plans to enlist. In 2008 we were promised an end to this war and it hasn’t materialized yet, so I related to the climate of worry though my struggle has not yet grown so dire as Dortchen’s.

The other major plot of the novel is Dortchen’s relationship with her extremely strict father. As the war worsens and he becomes more stressed and worried, he devolves into outright abuse of his daughters. I will only say that the descriptions of this abuse are realistic to the point of triggering, if you have a past in any way similar. In her author’s note Forsyth mentions the plotting of these passages giving her nightmares. I do appreciate her commitment to leaning in when writing about the uglier aspects of life. I have always loved fairy tales because they are just as dark as life can be. Sometimes darker.

There is much to love about The Wild Girl, even if my personal experience prevented me from embracing it as fully as I did Bitter Greens. Germany (specifically Hesse-Kassel, here) is a beautiful, sweet country done justice by Forsyth’s realistic tale of romance between a dreamy writer and an apothecary’s daughter.  It may be a bit long-winded, but it’s an easy trap to fall into for lovers of history and literature alike (and an author sticking to a historical timeline.) People who enjoy Austen or Little Women will like the early passages with Dortchen and her siblings, fairy-tale lovers will be rewarded throughout.

Chair Rating:

overgrown_chair

A little overgrown and hard to settle into, but no less beautiful.

Random Review: The Swan Gondola

Moulin Rouge, if the Duke had proved a more compelling option. swan gondola

The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert

Orphaned ventriloquist Ferret Skerritt is set to make a few bucks and have a fine summer plying his trade at the 1898 World’s Fair. As entertainers pour into the midway on opening day, Ferret spots a woman whose underthings he once helped secure backstage at his regular theater gig and his plans for romance are set.  Ferret’s pursuit of Cecily unfolds amid the illusory grandeur and outlandish spectacle of The World’s Fair, as he relates the memory of that bygone summer to a pair of elderly twin sisters upon whose home he has crash landed. Big personalities, elaborate descriptions, mystery, magic, and illusion fill every page of The Swan Gondola.

I was beyond excited to read this novel, not only did I receive it as a free ARC from the publisher (my first), it is packed with things I adore. Going to a World’s Fair is on my bucket list, and I am a sucker for fairs and carnivals in general. Historical fiction, the American West, and unreliable narrators are a few of my favorite literary things. The Swan Gondola really delivers on all of these fronts. However, it falls short at perhaps the most crucial point for a story like this: the romance.

The story is driven by the Christian-and-Satine-esque courtship of Ferret and Cecily. He is young, naive, and romantic (though he thinks himself quite the worldly playboy, a fact both amusing and heartbreaking as he uncovers his own nature.) She is one of those scandalous theater women who throws social mores like underwear conventions to the wind and does what she wants whenever she wants. By underwear conventions I mean that most women of the time wore corsets and other garments as a matter of course, not that large groups of people were gathering to discuss underpinnings. His pursuit of her is dogged, and she allows him to lavish her with attention. A wealthy man, Billy Wakefield, who can provide her with opportunities on the stage strategically insinuates himself into their lives and the reader is witness to the slow destruction of the guileless Ferret.

Writing about this, I still think it all sounds pretty great. A lot of it was, but the problem was really Cecily. She’s almost unlikable, and Ferret’s interest in her never seems to progress beyond pure lust. Magic and illusion are major themes of the novel, and love often dances around the line between the two, so perhaps this was intentional. Ferret’s mistaking the illusion that is lust for the magic of love. However, he is so terribly lovable as an almost artless paramour that it’s hard to invest in any love story where you wish the object of his affections would fall off a cliff. Even if she did, you’d still feel awful because he would.

It might seem like I’m giving away the whole novel but really this takes us to about halfway through the high page count, and the back half is just brutal. Still a good read, but it’s going to beat up your feelings.

Where The Swan Gondola really sings are the secondary characters, like the Native American medicine man of fluid gender August Sweetbriar or Cecily’s elderly half-blind witch of a bodyguard, and descriptions of the setting. The Fair, Billy Wakefield’s home and amusements, and the underworld Ferret occupies are each spectacular in their own way and make for some very fun reading. The scaffolding of the novel is beautifully crafted, all of the subplots and scenery. It’s a shame that the main plot lets the rest of it down. Ferret and Cecily’s romance seems over before it began, the titular gondola barely plays a role, and the reader is put through a house of horrors playing on their feelings about a barely-developed romance that spanned less than half the page-count. Ferret’s heartsickness carries it, but just barely.

What does it all mean? Should you read this book? If any of this sounded at all interesting to you, then I’d say yes. It’s really a very good story, and will give you a lot to mull over. It’s a book club book if there ever was one, because it can be interpreted so many ways. Just don’t go in expecting a romance for the ages unless you want your heart pulped and/or to feel ragey.

Chair Rating:

Carousel-horse

Random Review: Bitter Greens

A Rapunzel far more Grimm than Tangled.

Bitter Greens by Kate ForsythBitter-Greens

Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens is the braided tale of three women’s lives, wound around the structure of the Rapunzel fairy tale. Three different women locked in three different versions of a tower, finding themselves there because of others’ actions. Imprisonment, violation, escape, and salvation play out again and again against a backdrop of Renaissance Italy and Rococo-era France.

This novel offers three (or more, depending on your interpretation) strong female characters at its core. Their stories are masterfully intertwined with Forsyth’s intimate knowledge of the culture, history, and languages of France and Italy. Each of the characters suffers every horror unique to the lives of women at the time and in general, without the whole affair turning into some kind of penny-dreadful. The narrative winds between all three women in a way that is never confusing, in fact it seems to make perfect sense. Famous historical figures appear, but Forsyth never overdoes it. The Sun King is a character is Charlotte’s tale, not an encyclopedia entry. The same goes for the painter Titian and La Bella Strega.  The author has woven a magnificent tapestry with the delicate handling of too many plot threads to count. It’s astonishing to behold.

All of the elements of the core fairy tale are here: a witch with rampion in the garden, a prince blinded by thorns, hair tumbling from a high tower window that it might be scaled…but the pieces have been joined in ways that seems perfectly natural. Only slightly removed from reality.

If you like France or Italy, sumptuous food or the idea of life at court, music or art or fairy tales…even black magic…this book is for you!

Chair Rating:

chair

Regal, powerful, and unabashedly feminine.