Short Story Sunday: “Limestone, Lye, and the Buzzing of Flies”

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First Line: “The summer we were twelve, nobody asked my best friend Tom and me to wear bike helmets, because it was 1989.”

Limestone, Lye, and the Buzzing of Flies” by Kate Heartfield, published by Strange Horizons.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Nostalgia

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The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is Top 10 Books From My Childhood (Or teen years) That I Would Love To Revisit.

Until recently, I actually used to do this fairly often. Some of these are books I’ve read dozens of times, well out of my childhood. But over the past few years that’s tailed off, so I need to get back to my rereading.

28391. Elizabeth George Speare- The Witch of Blackbird Pond

2. Katherine Paterson- Bridge to Terabithia

3. Ellen Raskin- The Westing Game

4. Natalie Babbitt- Tuck Everlasting

5. Madeleine L’Engle- A Wrinkle in Time (this was one of my mom’s favorites and it didn’t quite connect with me when I read it, I’d love to see how I feel about it now)

6. Susan Cooper- The Dark is Rising

7. Meredith Ann Pierce- The Darkangel

8. Tamora Pierce- all of the Alanna and Daine books

9. Phillip Pullman- His Dark Materials series

10. Louisa May Alcott- Little Women (actually, I’ve never finished this one! So one day my resolution is to do so)

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Review: The Girls From Corona del Mar by Rufi Thorpe

18518285Title: The Girls From Corona del Mar

Author: Rufi Thorpe

Rating: 4 stars

It always bugs me to open a library book and find it written in. Why do people think they have a right to mark something that they do not own? It’s even more curious to me when these notes serve as “warnings”, as if an unsolicited three-word review is going to be of any help to anyone decide what or what not to read.

So when I opened Rufi Thorpe’s debut novel, The Girls From Corona del Mar, only to see the endpaper scrawled with: “Depressing! Lewd language!” I was annoyed. And then I knew that I had to read it.

The Girls From Corona del Mar is, at times, depressing. And there is certainly “lewd language” (though to me, it seemed a pretty realistic level for a thirty-something woman. The narrator Mia sounded just like me and my friends). But it is so, so much more than that, a book that surprised me and touched me deeply.

Mia and Lorrie Ann are lifelong friends. When they are young, Mia deals with an alcoholic mother, a teen pregnancy and abortion, and chronic feelings of unworthiness, and she elevates Lorrie Ann to a position of reverence and perfection. But Lorrie Ann’s life is far from ideal, as bad luck and tragedy seem to follow her.

I think part of the reason my mystery reviewer was so miffed is that it vaguely sounds like this should be women’s fiction. And please understand that I am not knocking the genre at all when I say this, but you go into women’s fiction with certain expectations about how the relationships will develop and how the end will play out. To me, and why I no longer read it, it has a common element of sentimentality, of comfort and resolution.

The Girls From Corona del Mar is not that. There are no easy answers, no heartfelt resolutions at the end of the book. This is the story of how a friendship falls apart, how you never really know the people you think you are closest to, how people fill the roles you need them to and the dissonance that occurs when they no longer fit. So if what you’re looking for is the challenges of friendship rewarded with a nice, happy ending then it certainly is depressing.

But it’s also beautiful. Mia is a scholar translating epic poetry about the goddess Inanna, and the poetry of this book, the language. My god. Even the “lewd” language has its purpose. It textures the work, grounds what would otherwise be overly-pretentious poetics with a sense of reality.

Ultimately, I connected with this book because of how well I empathized with Mia. Her life experiences were nothing like mine, but I continually felt like I knew her. Like I got her. She has a chronic fear, not that she is simply undeserving of love, but also that she is unable to love, which particularly resonated with me. She often talks about her heart as a “small, dark stone,” and I would stare gobsmacked down at the page, because I have had those same thoughts, those same conversations, more times than I care to remember.

I had a best-friendship that ended badly when I was fifteen, and troubled me for many years after, and though I didn’t realize it until after I finished reading, this book brought all of those experiences back to the surface for me. It was a perfect, painful portrait of what friendship can be, especially friendship between girls, and how they can crack apart. It’s an astonishingly lovely debut, and I hope to see more from this author in the future.

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Short Story Sunday: “Sweetness”

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First Line: “It’s not my fault.”

Sweetness” by Toni Morrison, published by The New Yorker.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Spring TBR

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The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is Top Ten Books On My Spring TBR List.

This topic is a curse. I choose TBR lists and then I almost never read anything on them. (Though I managed four from my winter list, a personal best!) But we’ll give it a go, if only to see what I won’t be reading this spring.

188738231. Kazuo Ishiguro- The Buried Giant I always love reading Ishiguro, even though I’m annoyed that he seems to have denied that this is a fantasy novel, when it very clearly is.

2. Max Gladstone- Two Serpents Rise I’ve loved the readalong of Three Parts Dead and I want to continue in the world.

3. Elizabeth Wein- Rose Under Fire Code Name Verity wrecked me. I need my heart torn into even more tiny pieces, please.

4. Robin LaFevers- Dark Triumph Finally following up on a series I’ve been putting on hold for a while.

5. Holly Black- The Darkest Part of the Forest I want to read more Black after The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

6. Jim C. Hines- Codex Born This is another series I’ve been procrastinating on.

7. Maggie Stiefvater- The Raven Boys I promise (maybe) that I’m really going to read it this time.

8. Ann Leckie- Ancillary Sword I think I’m finally ready to tackle this.

9. Dan Jones- The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England So far I’ve been sticking to my goal of reading at least one nonfiction book a month, and I want to add this to the tally.

10. Mary Robinette Kowal- Of Noble Family What do you mean, it isn’t April yet? Hmm….maybe I’ll have time to reread the whole series if I plan well enough.

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Review: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

12851538Title: Code Name Verity

Author: Elizabeth Wein

Rating: 5 stars

Since I had little success with my last book for the TBR Pile Challenge, I decided this month to try the other World War II book on my list, Code Name Verity. And what a difference.

Code Name Verity is one of those buzz books. I feel like everyone’s probably heard of it. And going in I definitely had a preconception of what it was about…but I have no idea where that actually came from, because it seems to be a book that people praise without really talking about.

It’s hard to talk about too deeply without giving away what makes it so great. I could care less about spoilers, usually, but in this case I’m treading carefully because certain knowledge could actually ruin this reading experience.

Basically, Code Name Verity is, besides a pulse-pounding adventure story, a love-letter to best-friendship. It completely wrecked me, in all the best ways.

The characterization is incredible and so layered. And the plotting is meticulously crafted. There are little “Easter egg” type things through the book that as a reader make you know something weird is going on…and then it wonderfully slots into place. I think I was even more impressed as a writer than as a reader, because these are the kind of skills I want to have for my own writing and I’m kind of in awe of them.

Code Name Verity also firmly pulled me out of my YA slump, although, ironically, I don’t feel that this book is particularly YA. That’s just a matter of opinion. But in any case. This and my other five-star book so far this year have both been YA, so slump over!

Once I can fully breathe after the gut-punch that was this book, I’m off to scoop up the “companion” piece, Rose Under Fire. And for next month, I think I have to pick something completely different, and definitely take a break from historical fiction for a while.

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Short Story Sunday: “The Nalendar”

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First line: “Down at the riverfront at Kalub, the little gods congregated in clouds, flies and dragonflies and even small birds approaching would–be travelers.”

The Nalendar” by Ann Leckie, reprinted by Uncanny.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Unreliable Narrators

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The topic of today’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is Ten Books For Readers Who Like _________. I decided to fill in the blank today with unreliable narrators. I love unreliable narrators, particularly because I cannot write them. I’ve tried and I’ve tried, and whenever an author really pulls one off I get insanely jealous and yes, I love being jealous when I read. It inspires me to stretch my own skills.

To some extent you could argue that any first person narrator is an unreliable one, because it’s all about filtering things through their perspective. But there’s a difference between filtering through a POV and outright lying to the reader, and the latter are the type of books I’m going to try to recommend here.

115153281. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn- Nick and Amy Dunne

One of the main reasons I love Gone Girl is that Nick and Amy are both writers, and over the course of the book you can see them create various versions of themselves. It’s very tricky, and very deftly done.

2. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuck- The Narrator

I have to admit, I like the movie better. I’ve only read the book version of Fight Club once, and Palahniuck’s style isn’t really for me. If you don’t know the twist (and how don’t you?) I won’t give it away…but that is one damn unreliable narrator.

3. The Drowning Girl by Caitlin R. Kiernan- Imp

Mental illness adds a whole host of issues to this narrative. What is true, what is schizophrenic delusion, and what is deliberate falsehood? In the end, is there really a hard and fast line between reality and unreality?

4. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier- Mrs. de Winter

I think there are two ways to read Rebecca, one where the current Mrs. de Winter is as innocent as a spring lamb finding herself in a situation that soon goes over her head, and a much darker version where she schemes and plots to land her husband and is willing to do things for him that no otherwise rational person would do, including lie through her teeth.

5. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess- Alex

Over the course of this novel, Alex is either high or undergoing brainwashing and torture. Not exactly trustworthy.

6. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro- Stevens

This one may be the least intentional or malicious of the unreliable narrators on this list. Stevens lies to himself and it’s up to the reader to see between the lines. Ishiguro creates and incredibly subtle portrait of a man trying to hold on to a vanished way of life.

7. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell- Ava Bigtree

I think pretty much any child narrator is bound to be unreliable to some degree.

8. In the Woods by Tana French- Rob Ryan

Most of Tana French’s narrators are unreliable to a degree, but none more so than Rob, who deliberately lies to other characters and the reader throughout In the Woods, until his entire life story is a sad mess of half-truths.  

9. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein- The Narrator

I’m not even going to tell you her name, though she goes by a few of them. The way this book is crafted, and the way the narrator’s lies are revealed, is incredible.

10. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner- Quentin Compson

The Sound and the Fury is a novel all about how people perceive events differently. I suppose all of the narrators could be considered unreliable to a degree–though I would argue that Benjy, being so tied to literal events, is the most “truthful” of them all. For most unreliable I look to Quentin. I adore Quentin Compson. In real life he would annoy the shit out of me, and I’d probably push him into the Charles river myself, but in literature: damn. His voice, his breakdown, is compelling stuff, and all of it is filtered through a severely fucked-up mind, and you can’t trust a word of it.

Doing some background research for this list, I found a ton of other books I haven’t read yet. There seem to be a thousand ways to do an unreliable narrator. Who are some of your favorites?

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Review: The Cake House by Latifah Salom

 

22747716Title: The Cake House

Author: Latifah Salom

Rating: 3.5 stars

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.

The Cake House flummoxed me a bit. A lot about this debut novel is daring and striking. If I were to choose a rating based on writing alone, it would easily be a four star book, or even higher. But there were definitely things about it that gave me pause.

After a shocking moment of violence when Rosaura Douglas’s father shoots himself–or so, at least, it seems–she and her mother begin a new life with a secretive stepfather and his compelling son. Rosaura frequently sees visions of her father’s ghost, while she tries to unravel the secrets of her new family.

The Cake House is billed as a modern reimagining of Hamlet. I’m not overly familiar with Hamlet, but beyond the initial conceit (father’s ghost seeking revenge against remarried wife and new spouse, etc.), I didn’t really see the connection. So I would recommend getting that right out of your head, because I think this is a book that stands better on its own without freaking Shakespeare hanging over it (I wonder how unnerving that must be for an author).

The writing is gorgeous, and really evocative. I saw the entire book like a film in my head, down to the lighting and cinematography. While reading, I kept wanting to listen to Lana del Rey, something dark and throaty that still called to mind California sunshine bright enough to give you migraines. It definitely put me in a specific mood, and I love when a book is able to do that.

Some of the best scenes are in the beginning, as Rosaura goes a bit mad and feral in response to her father’s death, and then as she begins a charged relationship with her new stepbrother.

But as the plot wore on, missteps began to happen. Huge secrets were built up and up, and there was lots of tension, but it basically boiled down to a Ponzi scheme. There were consequences of Claude’s secret life, yes, but where was the big implosion I was looking for? It just sort of fizzled at the end, leaving me rather bored. And oddly, though I did not at all want this to be a “supernatural” novel, I wanted to see a lot more of the ghost. There was so much tension, so much of an edge, whenever he was around, that the rest of the novel kind of lacked.

There were also some very frank sexual encounters between young teenagers (like, fourteen), which I found really uncomfortable. They were designed to be uncomfortable, but I really could have done without them. Reader tolerance will vary, but I really don’t want onscreen (or offscreen, for that matter) sex when characters are that young.

Still, for a debut, The Cake House is pretty great. Salom is definitely an author to watch.

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Short Story Sunday: “They Tell Me There Will Be No Pain”

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First Line: “Colonel Rathbone attends my final debriefing.”

They Tell Me There Will Be No Pain” by Rachael Acks, published by Lightspeed.

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