Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Library at Mount Char

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins (2015)

The old neighborhood isn't what it used to be. On a day that Carolyn only remembers as "adoption day" she was taken to live with a man known as Father. She and the other children used to have regular parents, but they're all dead. The entire neighborhood is now inhabited by these "dead ones" who go about their daily lives, repeating automatic motions and saying the same phrases over and over. Father and his children (who became known as librarians) lived for years at the Library, but now he's missing and the librarians can't come within a certain radius of the house. Carolyn is resorting to going in the surrounding areas and fraternizing with Americans for help. If this all sounds confusing and strange, it is.

Each of Father's children is devoted to one particular catalog, or subject area. Carolyn's is languages, so she knows every language that has ever existed. Michael's is animals, so he spends most of his time out in the wilderness acting as the animals do. Jennifer's catalog is healing, and David's is war and murder. In all there were twelve children, one for each catalog, and each was forbidden to read from another's catalog. Their relationships with one another were weird and volatile and it wasn't unusual for one to murder another. Did I mention the resurrections? Jennifer, the healer, could bring anyone back to life, so even murder didn't necessarily ruin a relationship.

There's a lot to this story and it's hard to know even what to talk about. The story sounded great when I heard about it, especially with the library theme, but I think it was the gorgeous cover that ultimately drew me in. I first read about it in the horror section of a review journal and there's not enough horror out there so I was very happy to hear about a horror novel from a new author. I'm using a loose definition of horror here; it might be more fantasy, and it's definitely weird and strange but wasn't terribly scary. At least not until late in the book. I read a blurb that said it was like if Neil Gaiman and Joe Hill wrote a book together, and I think that was a very apt description.

The whole idea is very unusual. The characters live in a strange world that exists within ours. Our world is what it is, but all this is happening too, (mostly) unbeknownst to regular people like us.  So much happens here! The story gets bigger and bigger as it goes on, which sort of reminded me of 14 by Peter Clines, though the story itself is pretty different.

The characters were really screwed up and some were kind of scary, but I also felt really awful for them. David was very happy and fun-loving as a kid until he was made into a murderer. Because the librarians aren't really in tune with American culture, he spends much of the book dressed in an Israeli flak jacket and a pink tutu, but it doesn't make him less cruel or terrifying.  Michael can barely speak because he's most comfortable communicating with animals. He's very sensitive and has the closest relationship to Carolyn. Margaret spent a ton of time in the forgotten lands, which is where dead people go, I think. She was murdered again and again and stank of rot from being dead so much. She and David were romantically involved (though "romantic" doesn't seem like the right word) and they were really into rough sex. As in, they would need to be resurrected afterward. Jennifer, the healer, was high all the time. I loved Carolyn - she was smart, strong, and calculating. I really underestimated her at first, as did everyone else in the book, I think. She was the one who most understood American culture, but even so she was clearly not part of our world. Another great character was Steve, a regular guy who Carolyn ended up bringing into their situation and I really liked seeing his perspective on this whole crazy business.

This novel is just really frigging weird, and I mean that in the best way possible. I was fascinated by this world, and never knew what would happen next. This is the author's debut novel (his past books are all computer manuals) and he is working on more. According to his website, the next novels are called Dog Blog and That Isn't a Giraffe, and I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for them. If you like horror or dark fantasy, you should definitely consider trying The Library at Mount Char.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Top Ten Things I'm Thankful for This Year

Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish. This week is a Thanksgiving themed freebie. I'm listing 10 things I'm thankful for this year, but they are not necessarily book-related. This is a rare personal post so, um, enjoy it?

This year I'm thankful for:

1. Finally going to Russia. I've been wanting to go for about 20 years and it was amazing. I already want to go back.

2. Getting a dog, maybe. The jury is still out on whether I'm feeling thankful for the dog or regretting my poor life choice, but it's such a huge big deal that it would be weird not to mention on any list of things about my life this year. I haven't posted about the dog because she is incredibly difficult and we weren't sure that we'd be able to keep her. But right now she's away at an intense board and train program and we actually miss her a little. Presumably she'll come back better-behaved and we will all live happily ever after. The end.

Dog with elk antler
3. My job. I've now been there for over 4 years, which for me is nothing short of miraculous, and I still like it. I'm at the exact level of management that I prefer and things are going pretty well.

4. Stitch Fix. It has changed my life. I hate shopping for clothes, and I am so grateful I can pay someone to chose them for me and I don't need to go anywhere or talk to anyone.

5. Plated. I don't really like cooking but I really dislike is the planning. Every weekend when sitting down to plan meals for the week I would ask myself "What have I been eating for the last 20 years?" and just couldn't come up with ideas that were both tasty and easy. The food we've gotten so far has been quite tasty and pretty easy to prepare. (In summary, I heart subscription boxes.) I'm sure we won't do this forever, but I kind of love it for right now.

6. The wisdom and strength to get rid of my to-read list. I am actually considering bringing it back, but if so I will be more responsible with it. It's enough to know that I can do away with it if needed. (I sound like an addict, right? I can stop at any time!)

7. Having a gym really close by. That's the only way I'd ever join one, and I'm very happy to have one that is nearby, cheap, and super friendly. Even if I don't always go consistently.

8. That my community read committee picked Americanah, one of the best books I've read in the past few years. We wanted to pick something on race and I'm so glad it's not some lukewarm written-by-a-white-lady Oprah book (as much as I liked The Invention of Wings.) I'm happy that we picked a modern-day book that tackles race and immigration and is a very well-written story. The decision was a little contentious, but in the end wonderfulness prevailed and I am very excited about our choice!

9. The few people who I actually hang out with and the really great people I work with, plus all the great librarians I have befriended. I have a ton of acquaintances, but few close friends, and I don't go out a whole lot. I am tired and lazy and introverted and just want to read all the time, but somehow I've managed to fill my life with a ton of really awesome people. I suppose I am even grateful for my husband because who else would put up with my desire to just be left alone to read, and do so much of the cooking and, like, all of the dog-walking.

10. Books! They are so good! I even like the ones that are terrible because they are still fun to talk about and make fun of. Sometimes I think there are too many books and that stresses me out, but too many books is a pretty great problem to have.

What are you thankful for this year?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Delicious Foods

Delicious Foods by James Hannaham (2015), narrated by the author

The story opens with a teenaged boy named Eddie escaping a farm where he has lived for six years. He's driving a car but has no hands, his stumps bleeding through the makeshift coverings. Eddie has been living and working alongside his mother Darlene at a company called Delicious Foods, where they have basically been held captive since they were hired. Eddie drives to his aunt's house in Minnesota where he becomes the Handyman Without Hands. The story pauses and goes back to the beginning, telling us the whole story about Eddie and Darlene and how they came to be where there are.

Darlene is a crack addict, falling prey to drugs because she was so distraught after her husband's death. Then she fell prey to Delicious out of desperation brought about by being a crack addict. Crack, also called Scotty, is its own character here, narrating some of the chapters. They're told in a rough street voice that is both friendly and funny, narrating Darlene's life as though she is a close friend.

Darlene is college educated, and as I mentioned earlier, only turned to drugs after her husband was killed. She is racked with guilt because he died after going out for Tylenol that she requested though, of course, his death is not her fault. But I find it interesting that the author chose to make her an educated woman who was an upstanding citizen until something tragic turned her into an addict. Is this supposed to make it more ok to become a drug abuser than someone who simply makes a few poor choices? Are we supposed to be more sympathetic to her because of it?

An obvious theme here is modern-day slavery. Delicious Foods is clearly a sketchy business, and they treat their workers horribly. Basically a van goes out and finds really vulnerable people on the street, convinces them to sign a contract for this great job opportunity, and then whisks them away to a farm far enough from civilization that it's hard to leave. The workers are paid very little, and are charged for room and board and every little infraction of the rules possible. There's no way to earn enough to get out of debt with the company, and corporal punishment is common. Also common? Crack. They like their employees to be weak and muddled. I don't know how many of the employees are black (though Eddie and Darlene are) and I'm not certain that the owners are white, but I think they are, so the racial implications are obvious. I am also horrified to think that this could exist in modern America, but I fear it is all too true. (According to the New York Times review, it's based on a real case.)

When I first listened to a sample of the audio, I was hesitant. It's obvious that Hannaham is not a professional narrator. But as I got going, I really came to appreciate how he reads his story. His talent especially shines through as he switches between the third person narration of Eddie's story, and the chapters narrated by crack. Those are in a sort of street dialect that not just anyone can pull off. He really gets the tone just right, which I suppose is one advantage of reading one's own work.

Delicious Foods isn't really the kind of story that you enjoy exactly, because it's really just one bad thing after another happening to these people. It is, however, very well told and you will want to keep reading. The writing style is maybe not for everyone. There's lots of swearing, and lots of the n-word in the dialogue. As I've mentioned some parts are pretty funny, but the overall story is not one that is enjoyable to be immersed in because it's so upsetting. But you will become immersed and not soon forget Eddie or Darlene.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Throwback Thursday: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

In which I chat about books I read long ago that have stuck with me, though my recollections might be vague.

As I've mentioned before, I've been reading Stephen King since I was a teenager (in Maine - I think it's required there.) Many years ago when I had a driving commute I began listening to audiobooks and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon was one of the first. In the story, a young girl gets lost in the woods with only her radio as a companion. She listens to baseball and thinks about her favorite player, Tom Gordon, while hoping for rescue. Meanwhile she feels like there may be something in the woods with her, something more dangerous than what is found in nature.

This isn't a horror novel, not really. Though Trisha is afraid there's something after her, it could so easily just be her own imagination. I don't even really remember that part of the story. What has stuck with me is Anne Heche's voice as narrator reading about this little girl in the woods being bitten by insects, clutching her radio and listening to baseball games. The story had such a lonely feel and somewhat desperate as Trisha suffered minor irritations like bug bites while knowing there was a real possibility she could die if she stayed lost for too long.

It has been close to 15 years since I listened to this audiobook, but I can still remember listening raptly while clutching my steering wheel and making my way through rush-hour traffic on the highway. It didn't matter how many cars were around me, I felt like I was alone in the scary woods, lost and waiting for rescue. Like much of Stephen King's work, this is very character-driven, creepy, and atmospheric story. If you like King, this is a must-read.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Home-Maker

The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (1924)

Evangeline Knapp runs a tight ship in her household. She is devoted to keeping house, throws herself into it, and prioritizes it over all house. But she doesn't really enjoy her domestic duties or spending time with her kids; it's more that she likes managing the work. Her husband Lester works at a department store in town, but he isn't interested in his work. Often, he is thinking of poetry when he's supposed to be thinking of numbers. When tragedy strikes, the two find themselves switching roles, and the results are surprising. Or maybe not.

This isn't a particularly complicated or nuanced story, but I really loved reading it. I first heard about it from a post on Shelf Love, and was drawn to the surprisingly modern take on marriage. I was surprised at how modern. At one point Lester Knapp has this epiphany: "Why, the fanatic feminists were right, after all. Under its greasy camouflage of chivalry, society is really based on a contempt for women's work in the home." Sadly, that idea is just as fresh today as I imagine it was then. Many of the issues in this novel regarding domestic life are still being debated. I don't know if that's a statement about how forward this author is, or how backwards we are today, but I suspect it's a bit of both.

When Lester Knapp is greviously injured - in a possible suicide attempt after being fired - Eva goes to his store to ask for a job to support the family now that her husband cannot work. She doesn't know that just before his accident he was fired and his boss doesn't let on, but he knows that Mrs. Knapp is more interested in the work than her husband ever was. She positively thrives and wants to learn everything she can about her new job, at which she quickly excels. Meanwhile, as soon as Lester is healed from his injuries he takes on many of the domestic duties she despised and finds great satisfaction in them. He has a way with the children, who he has taken the time to finally get to know, and even begins darning socks and cooking. Mysteriously, several family members have suddenly recovered from chronic conditions like eczema and stomach ailments that plagued them for years, and the youngest child leaves behind his serious behavioral issues.

Written in a straight-forward simple style, it retains one of my favorite features of books from that era: dialogue tags. I don't know why current literature is so determined to obfuscate who is speaking, but it drives me bananas. Here, they even include adverbs. One of my favorites was "'He would!' ejaculated Jerome, pregnantly." So quaint! (I swear they weren't all so ridiculous sounding.)

Other charming historical details included how free with information Dr. Merritt was in discussing Lester's condition with everyone in the neighborhood. How ripe with possibilities were stories pre-HIPPA! Similarly, Eva found out as much about her customers as she could (which would make her seem positively stalker-ish today) and would contact them to let them know if the store got something new they would like. What great service!

I really found everything about The Home-Maker delightful, and I'm so glad I happened to stumble across a blog post about it. It's not well-known, and in fact I ended up purchasing a copy because there's only one in my whole library system and I can imagine what sort of condition it's probably in. Sometimes old books make me want to read absolutely nothing except old books.

This was on my list for the TBR Pile Challenge, which I've been grossly neglecting. It's only the eighth one I've read, so obviously I won't be finishing all twelve by the end of the year. In fact, I've rather lost interest in a few of them, but I feel strangely complacent about my failure. Let's see if I end up squeezing in one more from my list before the end of December!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Top Ten Quotes From Books I've Read Recently

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish. Today's topic is Top Ten Quotes I Love From Books I've Read In the Past Year Or So. I don't generally keep track of quotes, but occasionally I think of it and will include one in my Goodreads review space or on the blog. I went through the last year or so's worth and, surprisingly, there were enough that it was hard to narrow it down to just ten. For each one I've listed the author and title, with a link to my review.

1. "Everything in the world either is or isn't pandas." - Jenny Lawson, Furiously Happy

2. "The world seems to me such a poor and barren place, I can't imagine what a soul would find to live on here." - Sam Savage, It Will End With Us

3. "Fucking love, he thinks. What a bother. It's completely gotten in the way of his plan to drink himself to death, to drive his business to ruin. The most annoying thing about it is that once a person gives a shit about one thing, he finds he has to give a shit about everything." - Gabrielle Zevin, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

4. "Conclusion is simply the place where you tired of thinking." - Dan Chaon, Stay Awake

5. "The last stage of a bath, when the water is cooling and there is nothing to look forward to, can be pretty disillusioning. I expect alcohol works much the same way." - Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle

6. "I think we should stop asking people in their 20s what they want to do and start asking them what they don't want to do. Instead of asking students to declare their major we should ask students to list what they will do anything to avoid. It just makes a lot more sense." - Amy Poehler, Yes Please

7. "Being rotten was like being poor, but in your heart. Nothing to be done. You get what you get and you don't get upset." - Rebecca Scherm, Unbecoming

8. "All these years there had been a Tupperware container of bad language sitting off to the side in her head, and now she'd opened it and all those crisp, crunchy words were lovely and fresh, ready to be used." - Liane Moriarty, The Husband's Secret

9. "None of the older Symphony members knew much about science, which was frankly maddening given how much time these people had to look things up on the Internet before the world ended." - Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven

10. "They had only ever discussed books but what, in this life, is more personal than books?" - Gabrielle Zevin, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

As you can see, two of these are from the same book, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. Some books are just very quotable!

Do you have any favorite recent book quotes?

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Status of All Things

The Status of All Things by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke (2015)

Social media-obsessed Kate wants her Hawaii wedding to be perfect. But at the rehearsal dinner her fiance Max calls it off, leaving her devastated. When her Facebook statuses start coming true, Kate uses this power to go back in time and try to save her relationship. She knows that Max had fallen for her coworker Courtney, so Kate uses this information to try and sabotage their budding relationship before it starts. Instead, it seems like everything she does just pushes them closer together.

Be warned, there are spoilers ahead because otherwise it's too difficult to describe some of the most important shortcomings of this book. Up front, I'll just tell you that I don't recommend it. Read on to find out why.

This book had such promise from what I gleaned about this from this post. I thought it was going to be all about how we present ourselves online, and how we get so caught up in creating our social media selves that we miss the opportunity to actually live our lives. In reality, it's about someone who is granted a power to control events, except that her power is pretty limited because certain things are just meant to be. She keeps making the same stupid decisions over and over and not learning. Then all at once she figures it out. The end.

Ok, it also is a bit about how she wants her life to be perfect because she keeps comparing herself to her old college roommate who, based on her Facebook posts, has a perfect life. Which is a great theme, but feels secondary. She even has a moment where she notes that during some of the happiest times of her life she didn't post to social media, but she doesn't reflect on this long enough to learn anything from it.

This novel was disappointing in many ways, but I could forgive the two-dimensional characters and awkward dialogue if the story arc flowed a bit more gracefully. However, Kate's path was not simply meandering, she was going in circles like a dog chasing its tail. Several times it was basically spelled out to her that if she and Max aren't meant to be together maybe she should stop trying to force the situation. Each time she was like "Hmm, maybe I'll try this other thing to win Max back." There is a point at which the source of her wishes says "Some things just aren't meant to be fixed" after which Kate decides that she should use her one remaining wish to go farther back in time. I mean, how stupid are you, Kate? No wonder Max dumped you.

I can suspend disbelief enough for sudden granting of wishes, but I can't stand such bone-headed characters and contrived situations. Everything about this book felt stilted and poorly cobbled together. The characters weren't developed, and one of the lessons of the story seems to be that heterosexual men and women can't be just friends with each other. I expected it to be fairly light and fluffy, but this wasn't even very much fun and was annoying at times. There are plenty of light stories about friendship and romance that are far more satisfying.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Throwback Thursday: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Welcome to my new blog feature in which I'll chat a bit about books I read long ago. There are so many memorable books I read before I started documenting them all here, and this will give me an opportunity to finally tell you about them. Maybe I'll even unearth old posts about books I wrote about in the early days of my blog that I want to remind you about.

This week I want to talk about The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, which I first read way back when I began reading YA books in library school. It's ridiculous that I've never written about it here because I own a copy of it and have read it four times. Four! So far.

The protagonist is Charlie, a high school boy who is recovering from a very rough time and trying to get himself off the sidelines and back into living his life. His English teacher keeps urging him to "participate" and he makes concentrated efforts to do so. He develops friendships with Patrick and Samantha (who he has a huge crush on) and they listen to the Smiths and go to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. As Charlie becomes more involved with his friends he is eventually forced to confront the difficult feelings he has been hiding from.

Structured as a series of letters to an anonymous friend, Charlie's voice is what makes this novel special. He is naive and awkward and earnest, and his best qualities are also his faults. For instance, he starts dating a perfectly nice girl but totally screws it up because he likes Sam more and can't help but be honest about that. Reading this book I felt like I really got to know Charlie, and when he talks about driving around with Sam and Patrick listening to music, and how in these moments he feels infinite, it is easy to completely understand what he means.

This is one of the first teen books I read that tackled serious issues without being an "issues" book, and it has really stuck with me. I read it in my 20s after a period in which I went to see Rocky Horror a lot myself, and used to hang out with people in the show, so that part of it was very familiar and relatable. I think anyone who remembers being a teenager and trying to fit in would find something in this book that resonates.

I've heard that the movie was really good, but I have been unable to watch it for fear that it will break the spell. Plus I saw the trailer and that is not how Patrick looked in my head and I cannot get past it. However, there is really no need to see the movie as the book will always be wonderful and I can just read my copy again.

What is the first YA book that really resonated with you? Are there books that you read over and over?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Top Ten Book to Movie Adaptations I Haven't Watched

Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. Today's topic is supposed to be book to movie adaptations that I'm looking forward to, or still need to watch, but I am extremely hesitant about adaptations and there aren't 10 that I necessarily want to watch. So I'm just listing some adaptations for books that I've read but that I haven't watched and I'm going to leave it at that. Perhaps I'll watch them someday, perhaps I won't.

1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky: I saw the trailer, and that's not how the characters looked in my head. Plus, this book is too special to be sullied. (More on this later in the week.)

2. The Martian by Andy Weir: Maybe I will see it. I really loved the book, but it's not sacred or anything and the movie looks pretty good even though they changed some things.

3. Divergent by Veronica Roth: I really enjoyed this whole series, but heard from a reliable source who I trust that the movie wasn't good so I'm going to take her word for it.

4. If I Stay by Gayle Forman: The trailer looked really good, but the same source as above told me it wasn't.

5. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith: I only realized recently that there's a movie. I would probably watch it.

6. Wild by Cheryl Strayed: I do kind of want to see this, especially since Cheryl Strayed seems so pleased with it.

7. Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters: I've heard the movie is funny. The book is not funny and I really love it, so I don't think I can watch the movie.

8. The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham: There's an older version with Greta Garbo, but I think I might be interested in the more recent adaptation that stars Naomi Watts and Edward Norton.

9. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn: I listened to this on audio and pictured the character as Charlize Theron. Then they made a movie version starring Charlize Theron. I haven't heard much about it, but I'm interested in seeing it. (The audio was read by Rebecca Lowman, who I always picture as a dark-haired version of Charlize Theron even though I know full well that's not what she looks like.)

10. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: This is another that I don't want to spoil by seeing it because I loved the book so much. I didn't hear much about the movie, so I'm guessing it wasn't great.

Special mention to that movie I wish I hadn't seen, The Time Traveler's Wife. Thanks for ruining a fantastic book, Hollywood. This is why I don't usually watch adaptations.

In fact, I hardly ever watch movies, and when I do I usually just watch the same ones over and over again. Pride and Prejudice, Finding Nemo, Sleepless in Seattle, In the Mood for Love...I don't need additional movies, as I can be happy just watching these ones. But recently I did see adaptations of Horns and Before I Go To Sleep, and I really liked both of them. So maybe I'll get around to watching a few of these on my list as well!

Are there adaptations that you are looking forward to? Some that you will never see?

Monday, November 9, 2015


Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013)

I first read Americanah in 2013 and wrote about it here. This year I suggested it for my library's Community Read and read it again since it had been a couple of years and I wanted a refresher before we come together as a committee to vote. As much as I loved this book I wasn't especially keen to read it again when so many other books I haven't read yet are calling to me, but once I started I became pretty engrossed, even reading over 200 pages on the day I finished it.

Last time I focused on how Ifemelu viewed race in America. Her acerbic observations were witty and completely spot-on, and I was struck by how obvious it all seemed though I've never heard anyone come out and say those things before. When she went back to Nigeria after so much time away, she had conflicted feelings about the way of life in her homeland. These pieces of the immigrant experience were what made the strongest impressions on me the first time I read it.

Overall Americanah is a love story, and this time I was more focused on the relationship between Ifemelu and Obinze. Their relationship felt real from the very beginning, Ifemelu uncertain about whether he liked her, their small quarrels. When he pressed a copy of Huckleberry Finn on her in an effort to get her to read "proper books," she declared it "unreadable nonsense" and reminded him that she always won at Scrabble. Although they become very close, they allowed themselves to be torn apart. Through a large portion of the book, Ifemelu is in Trenton, NJ having her hair braided, thinking about their past as she prepares to meet him again for the first time in many years. He is married and has a child, so this is not a simple reunion in which they can pick up where they left off. Ifemelu doesn't even know if he will forgive her for how she ended their relationship. It's complicated and messy and I wanted nothing more than for the two of them to find their way back to each other.

Some cultural moments stood out to me as well. In America, a white woman came into the hair salon where Ifemelu sat and asked for braids in her hair, like Bo Derek's in the movie 10. As her stylist got to work, she began talking about her upcoming trip to Africa and how she was preparing by reading books. She criticized Things Fall Apart as "quaint" and says "I've just read this great book, A Bend in the River. It made me truly understand how modern Africa works." She rounded it out by saying "It's just so honest, the most honest book I've read about Africa." This from someone who had not yet been there. The scene made me cringe, and was totally believable. This character was not the only American in the novel to completely overcompensate in a misguided effort to express love for Africa.

When Ifemelu returned to Nigeria she bonded with others who had also lived abroad, and although they had chosen to return home they shared criticisms of their country. Ifemelu worked in an office with two women, one returned from abroad like her, and one who had never left Nigeria. This poor woman felt totally left out when Ifemelu and Doris started making fun of how Nigerians say "I'm pressed" when they need to go to the bathroom. By this point in the book I felt bad for Ifemelu, because it was clear that neither America nor Nigeria seemed like home to her anymore.

When I first wrote about Americanah, I said I thought it would be great for a book group and that still holds true. Obviously I can go on and on about it; I've written two posts so far and there's still more I want to say. Adichie is an incredibly talented storyteller who is observant about the world around her and transports her readers with her vivid descriptions and realistically imperfect characters. If anything I've said about Americanah sounds appealing and you haven't yet read it, I urge you to do so. It's well worth your time.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A smattering of graphic novels

I started writing this here and there as I finished each graphic novel or collection so I could get my thoughts down while they were still fresh. And then I accidentally deleted it, so my thought might be not-so-fresh. At any rate, here are some recent graphic novels I read!

Lumberjanes, Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and Brooke A. Allen (2015)

This isn't the summer camp from your childhood, unless yours also had yetis, but our five young female protagonists are smart and brave and adventurous and won't let a few terrifying creatures get the better of them. It was fun and outdoorsy, and just the right kind of feminist book for kids and teens. I loved how diverse and realistic the characters were, both in appearance and personality. There's not enough substance to make me look for later volumes, but it was entertaining.

Saga, Volume 1 and 2 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (2012)

A baby is born, her parents from two different enemy worlds, and their union is considered so offensive that contract killers have been sent after them. I picked this up because it was so highly recommended everywhere, but was skeptical because it doesn't look like my kind of thing. I was very surprised by how much I liked it! The action and adventure was tempered by just the right amount of romance, and I really like the style of the art.

Rat Queens, Volume One: Sass & Sorcery by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch (2014)
As payback for starting a brawl, the four women known as the Rat Queens are sent to clear some goblins out of a cave and soon find that someone wants them dead.  Sort of like a more grown-up and violent Lumberjanes, these ladies are also very diverse and full of personality. Unlike the Lumberjanes, they're volatile and kicking ass all over the place.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan (2007)

In this wordless novel, a man leaves his family for a new land and tries to get settled before sending for them. The place he goes is like nothing we've seen, reinforcing the feelings of loneliness and confusion that he experiences. The illustrations are detailed and expressive, drawn in a subdued neutral palette. Beautiful, bleak but also hopeful. I was surprised to find this in my library's children's collection, but I think it's just one of those stories that transcends age. I'd highly recommend that anyone at least try this.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Black Rabbit Hall

Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase (2016)

In the late 60s a family spends their summers at Pencraw Hall, which they call Black Rabbit Hall. Amber and her twin brother Toby, and their younger siblings, Kitty and Barney, spend idyllic days here at their country estate until tragedy suddenly strikes the family and everything changes. Decades later, Lorna and Jon visit Pencraw as a potential wedding site. Jon is turned off by the dank, crumbling place but Lorna feels inexplicably drawn to it and convinced she visited the house as a child. The story switches back and forth between Amber and Lorna until they end up coming together at the end.

As usual in this kind of story, I was much more interested in the back story than the present one. It's always the source of whatever is happening in the present and I think I just like historical fiction more than contemporary. Lorna's story was an intriguing one, visiting this ramshackle estate in hopes of having her wedding there, though I never quite bought the way she was being so strongly drawn to it. This has worked more for me in other books (I'm thinking especially of Susanna Kearsley's novels) but somehow I just wasn't sold on the mystical powers of this house drawing Lorna to it. It's realistic fiction and I think there'd have to be more than that to get me to suspend my disbelief. There are also a couple of spots where characters have visions or premonitions, but this wasn't really explored and just felt sort of tacked on.

This gothic English countryside drama was filled with elements I like. Brooding characters, family secrets, and an overall melancholy feel. Still, it was kind of predictable and reminded me too much of many other books. I also found the back and forth between past and present a bit jarring each time and had to remind myself who everyone was. It was clear that the house was supposed to be a character, yet that didn't really come through for me. (As a somewhat irrelevant aside, the word "judder" was used irritatingly often.) When it all ended and the secrets were revealed it almost felt like a little too much was going on, yet one of my major questions was left unanswered.

It's always easier to expound on what you didn't like, isn't it? I don't want to give the impression that I didn't like this novel, only that I didn't like it a lot. There was never a thought of putting it down because I really wanted to learn all the secrets, plus I enjoyed the writing, the feel of the story, and of course the rambling old house in Cornwall. Although it wasn't terribly original, if you haven't read a lot of books along these lines you may like it a lot more than I did.

Black Rabbit Hall is expected to be published in February 2016. I received my copy from the Penguin Debut Authors program. I was not compensated for this review.