Review: The Changeling – Victor LaValle

38472648Verdict: It’s complicated.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Published by Canongate, July 5th, 2018

Genre: Fairy-tale Horror.

Find it on Goodreads.

When Apollo Kagwa was just a child, his father disappeared, leaving him with recurring nightmares and a box labelled ‘Improbabilia’. Now a successful book dealer, Kagwa has a family of his own after meeting and falling in love with Emma, a librarian. The two marry and have a baby: so far so happy-ever-after. However, as the pair settle into their new lives as parents, exhaustion and anxiety start to take their toll. Emma’s behaviour becomes increasingly erratic, until one day she commits an unthinkable act, setting Apollo on a wild and fantastical quest through a suddenly otherworldly New York, in search of a wife and child he no longer recognises.

An epic novel for our anxiety-ridden times, The Changeling is a tale of parenthood, love – in its most raw and brutal form – and ultimately, humanity.

I think this book went over my head. I cannot be quite sure but I do think so. I had the overwhelming feeling of just missing something here – and I cannot quite put my finger on what that was. Bear that in mind while I try to figure out my thoughts while writing.

In this book we follow Apollo and his wife both before they meet and after they have had their son. For about a third of the book, there is some menace lurking but mostly the story is whimsical and quite lovely, until suddenly it shifts gears in the most traumatic way possible and Apollo’s life spin out of control.

This book is genre defying in a way I usually absolutely adore – it is fairy-talesque in its whimsy and its frequent re-telling of familiar stories, it is horrifying beyond measure in a way that makes It seem quaint, it is a social commentary cleverly disguised as a page turner, it is a book about family and love and trust and the lengths we can go. And writing this down makes me want to change my rating but ultimately there were long stretches here where the book lost me. I found Apollo a difficult character to root for in the single-mindedness of his approach. He reacts more than he acts (and I like how this mirrors the way Germanic fairy-tales are structured) and flip-flops in his understanding of what is going on in a way that made being so close to him frustrating.

The tonal shift I spoke about earlier first works brilliantly – the silent horror of the earlier scenes are full of foreboding and impressively rendered (I shudder to think of the first scene of Emma receiving a message that then disappears – so simple and so effective) and build the perfect crescendo to that scene (if you read the book you know which one I mean). After that the book seems to lose a bit of steam, important scenes are told in flashbacks, some strands of the story never go anywhere, and the reader is expected to go along for the ride – which sometimes worked better than other times.

I think ultimately my enjoyment or maybe sometimes lack thereof comes down to genre preference. The whole book felt so unfair. And I do not deal well with unfair. It makes me feel anxious and stressed and doesn’t compel me to pick a book up. But nevertheless, this is in parts a brilliant book, with many many clever things I will be mulling over for some time to come.

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Canongate in exchange for an honest review.

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The Mid Year Freak Out Book Tag 2018

I was tinkering with a “best books of the year so far”-post when I realized that I have not read enough stand out books to actually do that. So when people started doing this tag, I decided to answer these questions instead.

Question 1 – The best book you’ve read so far in 2018

Hands down, no question, Not That Bad edited by Roxane Gay. Just perfection, important, needed, wonderfully written, brilliantly edited.

Runner-ups are Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi and Heart Berries by Terese Mailhot. Both are stunningly written and affirming in their head-on tackle of differences. Continue reading “The Mid Year Freak Out Book Tag 2018”

Review: Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

35099035Verdict: Not quite for me.

My rating: 3 put of 5 stars

Genre: Speculative Fiction

Published by HarperCollins UK, 16th January, 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

FIVE WOMEN. ONE QUESTION: What is a woman for?

In this ferociously imaginative novel, abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers.

Ro, a single high-school teacher, is trying to have a baby on her own, while also writing a biography of Eivør, a little-known 19th-century female polar explorer. Susan is a frustrated mother of two, trapped in a crumbling marriage. Mattie is the adopted daughter of doting parents and one of Ro’s best students, who finds herself pregnant with nowhere to turn. And Gin is the gifted, forest-dwelling homeopath, or “mender,” who brings all their fates together when she’s arrested and put on trial in a frenzied modern-day witch hunt.

RED CLOCKS is at once a riveting drama whose mysteries unfold with magnetic energy, and a shattering novel of ideas. With the verve of Naomi Alderman’s THE POWER and the prescient brilliance of THE HANDMAID’S TALE, Leni Zumas’ incredible new novel is fierce, fearless and frighteningly plausible.

My thoughts on this are all jumbled up; I thought I would adore this and it is not a bad book by any means but it took me three months to finish this. I could just not get on board and I am not quite sure where my problems lie.

I love the plausibility of the world Leni Zumas has created here, it feels organic in a way that is scary and frustrating. Set in the not so distant future, reproductive rights have been severely limited: abortion is illegal in all and every circumstances (and in fact considered murder), in-vitro fertilization is unavailable, and soon adoption will only be possible for straight, married couples. Told from five different perspectives, Zumas shows the far-reaching consequences these changes to the law might have. Her world is plausible and aggrevating and often feels contemporary rather than speculative.

My main problem were the characters that often felt underdeveloped and not particularly fleshed-out. As they are often refered to by a descriptor (“the mother”, “the daughter” etc.) this was probably on purpose: these things that are happening do not happen to these women because of who they are but rather because of the way the social structure is set up. Intellectually, I get, emotionally, I did not care for their stories at all. There was a large chunk in the middle that did not work for me because of that distance. I do think that the storylines converged nicely in the end and that the character development if slight did work.

I enjoyed Leni Zumas’ particular prose a whole lot and thought it added a nice layer of urgency and intimacy to an otherwise distant book. Her sentences are choppy but have a nice rhythm to them.

I received an arc of this book courtesy of NetGalley and HarperCollins UK in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

38206879Verdict: Fast-paced, fun, but slightly lacklustre.

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Thriller

Published by Random House, Ebury Publishing, July 12th, 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

Have you ever played two truths and a lie?

Emma has. Her first summer away from home, she learned how to play the game. And she learned how to lie.

Then three of her new friends went into the woods and never returned . . .

Now, years later, Emma has been asked to go back to the newly re-opened Camp Nightingale. She thinks she’s laying old ghosts to rest but really she’s returning to the scene of a crime.

Because Emma’s innocence might be the biggest lie of all…

I had a lot of fun reading this, and fun was really what I needed. I read around 250 pages in one sitting (something I rarely do); I also went to bed way too late because I just needed to know how this one ends. But, this book really does not hold up to scrutiny and there were a couple of things that did not work for me.

When Emma was 13-years old and spending her summer at a camp for rich kids, her three roommates disappear. Now, 15 years later, Emma is a painter who has been painting and then painting over her friends for years, when she is invited back to the newly re-opened camp. Hoping for closure she accepts the invitation, but things might not be as idyllic as they seem.

I highly enjoyed the dual timelines (this is something I often adore) and thought Riley Sager brilliantly used this to develop his story. I did however grow increasingly annoyed at the way Emma withholds information from the reader. This is difficult to achieve in first person narration and here it did not work for me. Another thing that annoyed me about the narrative voice is the way in which people, especially women, are described. Emma is 28 and talks about herself and other women in the story as both old and spent, which, you know, grated. Especially when contrasted with the way the only significant male figure in the story is described: because obviously he just got hotter. While I understand why Emma might project her self-loathing onto her looks, I don’t buy that she would think this way about other women. Speaking of self-loathing – I also thought Emma’s guilt was maybe a bit over the top because, I mean, she was 13 when everything happened. The way people kept holding her behaviour as a kid over her head did feel a bit unneccessary.

In general I thought some of the characterization worked a lot better in the past than in the present. I thought Emma’s relationship to Vivian (one of the girls who disappeared in the past) was done excedingly well. I had a very similar friendship as a teenager: my best friend was both the best and the worst person possible for me. When she wanted, spending time with her felt radiant, she was funny and brilliant and unbelievably charismatic (I used to half-joke that I have never met a boy who didn’t fall in love with her – something that wasn’t as funny when she set her eyes on somebody I quite fancied – this happened more than once), we had so much fun. But, and here she is similar to Vivian, she could also be cold and uncaring. Riley Sager captured this part of (some) teenage friendships so unbelievably well that in contrast the weird mirroring with the girls in the present really did not work for me at all.

The book was well-written in a way that I just flew through. I could picture the camp perfectly and got a great sense of place and mood. I also enjoyed the mystery side to the story, for the most part. I did think that a couple of developments were a bit too convenient but overall, I did enjoyed my time with the book.

I received an arc of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Ebury Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

Most anticipated releases 2018 – mid-year edition

There are way too many brilliant books coming out this year. I keep buying books faster than I can read them and then I keep looking at other books that I want to read. But, just look how brilliant these books all sound! Below is a (probably) incomplete list of books I am excited about, in no particular order.

Foundryside by Robert Bennett Jackson (Published by Crown Publishing, August 21st)

Foundryside RD4 clean flat

I adored Robert Bennett Jackson’s The Divine Cities trilogy so very much when I read it last year and I cannot wait what he comes up with next. (This might be the one I am most excited about)

Find it on Goodreads.

 

Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon (Published by Scribner, October 16th)

29430746This just sounds absolutely brilliant. I do love memoirs that blend the personal and the political, so this sounds right up my alley. That is has been blurbed by Roxane Gay obviously did not hurt my excitement.

Find it on Goodreads.

 

All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir by Nicole Chung (Published by Catapult, Oktober 2nd)

30297153It is no mystery how much I enjoy memoirs written by women and this one focussing on adoption and identity sounds absolutely like my type of book.

Find it on Goodreads.

 

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden (Published by G. P. Putnam’s Group, September 25th)

Small Spaces coverI would read Katherine Arden’s shopping list if she decided to publish it. As The Winter  of the Witch has been delayed until early 2019, this will be my yearly fix of her wonderful writing. I don’t usually read Middle Grade but again, it’s Katherine Arden.

Find it on Goodreads.

Rosewater by Tade Thompson (Published by Orbit, September 18th)

38362809I adored Tade Thompson’s The Murders of Molly Southbourne and cannot wait for this one. I am lucky to have an E-ARC and trying very much to not read this already.

Find it on Goodreads.

 

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss (Published by Granta, September 20th)

38922230I have an ARC for this and I am very excited to get to this. Sarah Moss seems like an author I would adore and I really need to get to her books.

Find it on Goodreads.

 

 

Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World #1) by Rebecca Roanhorse (Published by Saga Press, June 26th)

36373298This just sounds brilliant and kickass and like something that I could love.

Find it on Goodreads.

 

 

Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri (Published by Orbit, November 13th)

39714124I don’t know what it is about this book but i just sounds absolutely wonderful. I really have not been reading enough fantasy. Also, yay for adult fantasy written by women.

Find it on Goodreads.

 

Which books are you excited about for the rest of the year? Do tell me!

 

Review: The Book of M – Peng Shepherd

39899065Verdict: Fairly wonderful.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Speculative Fiction

Published by HarperCollins, June 28th, 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

In the middle of a market in India, a man’s shadow disappears. As rolling twenty-four-hour news coverage tries to explain the event, more cases are discovered. The phenomenon spreads like a plague as people learn the true cost of their lost part: their memories.

Two years later, Ory and his wife Max have escaped ‘the Forgetting’ by hiding in an abandoned hotel deep in the woods in Virgina. They have settled into their new reality, until Max, too, loses her shadow.

Knowing the more she forgets, the more dangerous she will become to the person most precious to her, Max runs away. But Ory refuses to give up what little time they have left before she loses her memory completely, and desperately follows her trail.

On their separate journeys, each searches for answers: for Ory, about love, about survival, about hope; and for Max, about a mysterious new force growing in the south that may hold the cure. But neither could have guessed at what you gain when you lose your shadow: the power of magic.

A breathtakingly imaginative, timeless story that explores fundamental questions about memory and love—the price of forgetting, the power of connection, and what it means to be human when your world is turned upside down.

I love books that are not easily classifiable – and this is just that. It is speculative fiction but also incorporates a feeling of magical realism, it is a romance (and it is really not), it is just absolutely lovely. I adore the premise above all else: at some point in the not so distant future people start losing their shadows and with them, slowly but inexorably, their memories. First the small things but then bigger and bigger things until they forget to breath. With the loss of memories come weird powers: if a person without a shadow remembers something wrong, that thing becomes just so. Peng Shepherd uses this to create achingly beautiful scenes that edge on unsettling.

The book is told from four perspectives:

  • Orlando Zhang (Ory), whose wife has just lost her shadow and left him behind, is single-minded in his pursuit of his wife,
  • Max, his wife, is losing her memories and keeps recording herself speaking to her husband to make sure she does not remember him wrong,
  • Mahnaz Ahmadi, an Iranian archer, is stuck in Boston, far away from her family and most importantly her younger sister.
  • The Amnesiac has lost his memory in an accident and as such has a unique understanding of memory loss and its effects on sense of self.

My favourite parts by far were those concerned with Max – her journey into forgetting is mesmerizing and her resilience is wonderful. Spending time in her head made what was happening on a grander scale much more personal and affecting. I also loved spending time with Ahmadi – I love sibling relationships anyways and hers just made me weepy. The Amnesiac’s story at points had a feeling of fairy tale, which obviously I adored. My problem lay with Ory (and his perspective encompasses the bulk of this book) – he did not feel like a fully formed person to me. For most of the book he is single-minded in his pursuit of Max, never pausing, never considering her as a person in her own right, to be honest. I have some spoilery thoughts that might explain this but even so, I never really got along with his point of view – even though some of the most stunning scenes were from his perspective.

Overall, I adore the way Peng Shepherd structured her book – I am often a huge fan of multiple perspectives and here they are handled expertly and with a brilliant sense of timing. I thought her language flowed beautifully and her imagination is just breathtaking, many scenes unfolding cinematically in the best possible way. Her use of imagery and colour really added to this already wonderfully layered story.

I received an arc of this book courtesy of NetGalley and HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review.

Mini-DNF reviews #3: Riot Days (Maria Alyokhina) and Up Up, Down Down (Cheston Knapp)

Welcome back to my little shame corner of ARCs I will not finish. I am still working my way through my NetGalley ARCs – I am this close to being in the single digits! I have implemented a rule for myself that if I have been reading a book for over half a year, I should just be honest to myself and consider it a DNF.

Riot Days by Maria Alyokhina (published by Penguin UK)

34759979A Pussy Rioter’s riveting, hallucinatory account of her years in Russia’s criminal system and of finding power in the most powerless of situations

In February 2012, after smuggling an electric guitar into Moscow’s iconic central cathedral, Maria Alyokhina and other members of the radical collective Pussy Riot performed a provocative “Punk Prayer,” taking on the Orthodox church and its support for Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian regime.

For this, they were charged with “organized hooliganism” and were tried while confined in a cage and guarded by Rottweilers. That trial and Alyokhina’s subsequent imprisonment became an international cause. For Alyokhina, her two-year sentence launched a bitter struggle against the Russian prison system and an iron-willed refusal to be deprived of her humanity. Teeming with protests and police, witnesses and cellmates, informers and interrogators, Riot Days gives voice to Alyokhina’s insistence on the right to say no, whether to a prison guard or to the president. Ultimately, this insistence delivers unprecedented victories for prisoners’ rights.

Evocative, wry, laser-sharp, and laconically funny, Alyokhina’s account is studded with song lyrics, legal transcripts, and excerpts from her jail diary–dispatches from a young woman who has faced tyranny and returned with the proof that against all odds even one person can force its retreat.

Thoughts: I should have loved this one. I love memoirs, especially political and feminist ones written by women, I find Pussy Riot endlessly fascinating, I love books about how art can change the world, but with this I struggled. I found the fragmented style difficult to access (which again, weird, because I love that style normally) and put the book down around 20% in and every time I tried to read further, I got stuck.

Up Up, Down Down: Essays by Cheston Knapp (published by Scribner)

35297400Daring and wise, hilarious and tender, Cheston Knapp’s exhilarating collection of seven linked essays, Up Up, Down Down, tackles the Big Questions through seemingly unlikely avenues. In his dexterous hands, an examination of a local professional wrestling promotion becomes a meditation on pain and his relationship with his father. A profile of UFO enthusiasts ends up probing his history in the church and, more broadly, the nature and limits of faith itself. Attending an adult skateboarding camp launches him into a virtuosic analysis of nostalgia. And the shocking murder of a neighbor expands into an interrogation of our culture’s prevailing ideas about community and the way we tell the stories of our lives. Even more remarkable, perhaps, is the way he manages to find humanity in a damp basement full of frat boys.

Taken together, the essays in Up Up, Down Down amount to a chronicle of Knapp’s coming-of-age, a young man’s journey into adulthood, late-onset as it might appear. He presents us with formative experiences from his childhood to marriage that echo throughout the collection, and ultimately tilts at what may be the Biggest Q of them all: what are the hazards of becoming who you are?

Thoughts: Again, I should have loved this. I love essays that form a memoir of growing up, so very much. But this one left be slightly bemused. I read around 40% of the book and kept wondering why these essays in particular were chosen for this book. I never got a feeling for the author and at some point decided to just give up. There are so many essay collections I could be reading instead, so I did.