February: Love and Treats

Just because this blog is winding down does not mean I have not binge read appropriately seasonal books for it. Well, partially. If I was as seasonal as I’d like to think, this month would also feature presidents and Black History Month topics (it still could, one never knows). But for now, the plan is Valentine’s Day. Because I’ve been a white girl with protestant heritage since I blew onto this planet and with that privilege I have enjoyed many a Hallmark holiday. And I plan to, pun intended, spread the love!

Also for some reason I have been eating those boxed chocolates for three weeks already, pretty much since they hit the stores in January and I was buying 37 cent chocolate Santas. Those were good Santas.

Valentine’s Day is about treats and couples. This week is two magical realism titles about treats. Because a magical realism backlist that fits into a holiday theme is a double win for me.

The Cake Therapist, Judith Fertig

Claire O’Neil, or Neely, returns to her hometown after her marriage flounders back in NYC to start a bakery of her own.  The narrative alternates with that of two poor sisters down on their luck sixty years before, and the mystery of how they get lost from one another after losing what little they had in the world.  Added to this is Neely’s marriage drama and her sixth sense, centered mainly in her sense of taste.  She is a bakery owner, but her extra abilities make her a healer and a savior too.

This was darker than I expected.  It has been sitting on my magical realism list forever and I thought it would be like other books I have read centered around creative hobby businesses.  I love me a book about creative hobby businesses and some psychic abilities rolled in there so you can be like low key helpful without all the responsibility of being in a healing profession.  Total wish fulfillment.  But this narrative is deepened with the intersecting historical fiction tale with the two little girls on the edge of disaster, and then one outright has a crisis.  It’s very different from the wedding business and the single woman in her thirties trying to get out of her marriage and try to make sense out of her childhood.  I don’t know if the contrast in the tone between stories would turn off some readers.  One reading for diversion might not like the dark aspects.  A reader who likes darker things might not even want to read a book about a bakery.   I mean, I liked it.  I’m glad I got it out of my nightstand in a fit of feeling like I never make serious progress with my book piles.  And there’s more depth than expected.  I can respect that in a book, even if it’s not what I was picking it up to read. A mystery that doesn’t turn out to be cozy at all.

Chocolat, Joanne Harris

Vienne Rocher moves into a devout Catholic, sleepy town in France and opens a chocolate shop.  An independent woman raised as a transient herself, she shakes up this town of traditional values, bringing change and healing to them and healing her own childhood wounds in the process.

This was feel good book for sure, but like with The Cake Therapist, there was more darkness than I expected and more magic.  I mean both books were recommended as Magical Realism even though they don’t feel like the South American magical realism that I’ve read.  Psychic abilities are more mainstream and subtle than like all the weird and fantastical stuff that goes on with Marquez and Allende. Anyway, this was compelling and multi-layered and I love books where magical treats bring people together.  I love books about attachment and healing, and outgroups coming together.  I kind of wanted it to end differently, but it was probably meant to end the way that it did.  An outcome I’d prefer for myself does not mean that it is in keeping with the character or the best outcome for everyone, and I think to be widely read and enjoy being widely read is appreciating outcomes that you would not personally want.  

Next week, the veritable day of love itself! Will feature at least one book about a couple. I still have to finish it and I’m woefully behind because I am working on books to blog about on the author website I am building. So many questions I don’t know the answers to, but that’s always part of the adventure!


Social Distancing Reads

Unprecedented times.  That’s what we are living in.  Hunkered down in our homes if we can afford the luxury of isolation/distancing, keeping our children close, we need solitary and distracting activities in order to not kill each other while this wave of illness has a chance to play out and die on its own. Hopefully not overwhelming our resources and really making it feel like the end of the world in the process.

I have always thought of reading as the ultimate boredom survival tool.  Even as my own brain has chosen different ways to read while I keep my hands busy, I can travel to places in books at any time, no matter where I am.  So even though I am reading through some of my YA to help with my writing goals I have decided on a special edition post of the reads I recommend to anyone trying to survive something immobilizing for indeterminate periods of time.

the red tent.jpg

The Red Tent, Anita Diamant

I read this years ago, like college age, at the behest of my mother, who always at the time knew the hottest books going.  I think this skill was partly due to her following Oprah’s book club.  It tells the story of Dinah, a minor character in the book of Genesis, and the world of women in the Biblical time in history.  We women have always been survivors and do best sticking together no matter what, even in our world of men, and this book reminds us of that.  This book stays with me and is always one of the first titles that falls from my mouth when people want book recommendations.

the luminaries.jpg

The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton

This one is less of a sweeping success than The Red Tent.  It is less universally appealing, and I will start with that.  This is set in 1866 New Zealand, and a single man arrives seeking his fortune and instead gets wrapped up in a mystery involving a treasure, an attempted suicide, and a missing man.  Now, I am not going to pretend that I caught everything in this 848 page doorstop, but I found myself taken along for the ride in these interwoven tales of people living on the edge of the known world.  Allegedly this is a funny satire but I don’t think I have enough context to have found it funny. I reviewed it years back from being a snow read that had always intrigued me but I had been intimidated to try.  I would recommend you at least try to get into it, see where it takes you.  You have time, right?

garden spells.jpg

Sarah Addison Allen

I am just popping this author up there to recommend something lighter to read but still completely magical.  I have read almost everything she has done, and I have reviewed her on here not too long ago.  These stories are magical realist tales of people’s lives and fates.  Finding love.  Living in every day worlds of magical happenings.  I ate her books like candy.  I didn’t have to work for it, and after recommending a book where you generally do gotta work for it, at least a little, I felt I needed to have something listed here that is more instant gratification but you still could respect yourself.  Although self respect is overrated, especially when it comes to survival reading.

all souls.jpg

All Souls Trilogy, Deborah Harkness

So if you really think you’re going to need to occupy lots of time, and you like magic, paranormal creatures, and historical fiction, and you want to work for it, this one is worth a whirl.  It tops out just under 1700 pages.  It’s a transporting time eater.  And now that all three are out, you can read them back to back instead of forgetting plot points before the next one comes out, like I did.  So complex.  So many interesting times in history discussed and shown.  So worth it to spend time in this world instead of ours.

I am hopeful these crazy times will pass soon.  I am hopeful that together we will flatten the curve and contain this as much as possible.  I live in New York, so there is a lot going on up here with the virus, and I work in healthcare so I am sitting in on daily meetings and might end up having to help out in other departments. But until then there are always books.  There will always be books.

Stay safe.


Read Down 2020: Two DNFs off the pile!

I hope my readers aren’t totally tired of my opening this blog with rhapsodizing about the weather, but you gotta give me this one with that early March spring switchover with all of a sudden the light and the warmth I’ve been sorely missing.  Daylight savings is easier in my life now that I don’t have a small child and I love driving home when its light.   I can’t wait til the flowers start poking up and I get more green grass than brown.

And the geese are afoot.  Loud and all over the lake in front of my house, standing on the ice floes near the open water and crapping on the snow left in my yard.  That’s right, Geese, you crap on that snow.  Thx.

I have thrown myself headlong into some consuming projects, so the idea to space this out every other week ended up being a good one.  I have been replacing compulsive reading with writing projects AND I’m getting chickens (ermhagherd, there might have to be a barely book related chicken post because I haven’t gotten a  new pet in years and I’m trying something completely new AND I’m going to have a bin of cheep cheeps in my basement and I can love them!)  Still a bit cold here for them and I am getting them when I am taking time from work to spend time with them so they get to know their Mom a little.  And that’s not happening until the end of the month.

So my DNFs.  Read on to hear my excuses.  There is something so satisfying about finishing a book that has been hanging in the nether region of unfinished stories.

the girl with glass feet.jpg

The Girl with Glass Feet, Ali Shaw

A secluded archipelago features a bog that turns people to glass and mysterious insects, a bison with wings, and families with sad and dark histories.  A man finds love in a girl who is slowly turning to glass and finds out more about his father’s mysterious death, and learns to live life in the moment instead of perpetually behind his camera lens.

I started this one as a paper book that I bought when I was collecting magical realism reads that I am now making my way through, but I got partway in and stalled out. Some of it was that it was a paper book and that is the least convenient for me to read and some of it was that I was having trouble in the beginning getting the characters and the plotlines straight, and it was hard to know where everything was going.  The language is gorgeous and poetic and the setting, St. Hauda’s land, is a setting within itself, and I was intrigued by how it would turn out with a woman slowly turning to glass. Not to be defeated, I got it on audio to absorb it better and it really helped. The poetry of the language came through in listening to the story and I better unraveled who was who. I liked how the antagonist was not immediately apparent, at least to me. I didn’t expect where it ended up, as a story about a man finally deciding to live in the moment as the result of a romance, but maybe that was because it was easy to get caught up in the mystery of the setting and all the intertwined stories.  It was a good one and what I believe to be a strong example of magical realism. It renewed my interest in my magical realism reads that are sitting in paper form as well on my nightstand.


Possession, A.S. Byatt

Two academic scholars are unraveling an old mystery of  a love affair between two fictional Victorian poets.

That is an extremely reductionist synopsis.  Holy crap.  This book is an onion.  There is commentary on Victorian life and the academic context of the time, there are politics between the more modern day academics, there is the relationship between the academics discovering the old story together and their modern lives, there are the poems by the fictional poets, there are letters to change perspectives on the story as it unfolds.  For me, this went through periods where it dragged along, and then periods where it was absolutely brilliant.  The brilliant percentage is definitely higher than the slow parts.

I wouldn’t have been able to do this without audio because of the poetry.  Some people on Goodreads stated they skipped the poems and others said that you really miss some of the points if you do that, and I would have been tempted to with big long poems stretching over the pages.  Poems and stories.  They really were integral, despite my not wanting to read them.  I tried this sucker like twice because it was on my original reading list that makes me feel well read that was released by The Independent a bunch of years ago.  (Now that I have done a lot of that list it’s really a list of books to read if you want to understand Great Britain.)   I bought it when I was still swapping used books using Bookins, before kindle books became a thing.  It sat there that long.

And I did get into it.  I did care about how it played out and the characters and shared the fascination of the discoveries of the times.  I felt the restrictions on how women could live their lives (and again refreshed my gratitude for my own freedoms).  I feel like someday I might need to read it again, as there is no way I caught everything in the story.  All the intricacies and intersecting moments between present and the past.  As I said, it is more brilliant than boring, but as far as something I could just sit and read, this was not it.  It’s a good read for a knitting project that doesn’t require every scrap of your attention.

Briefly, about my writing, I have gotten serious about querying.  I sent out 6 and have three rejections in my hot little hands, but, two of them gave me good feedback (and I paid an agent for a critique) and they are telling me to rework my opening so I am on opening rework number 3.  I may have it this time.  I also bought a course on getting an agent and got access to a paid writer’s group with some inside access which has something going on in that group DAILY.  Which is good, busy, but keeps me going with querying.  Also I’m getting an agent list, and strategies on the best way to go about querying.  It’s for real, people.  I’m done sending to editors for a bunch of reasons.

The chickens and the half marathon I’m training for will be a nice distraction.  And I’m going to cave and get through the cringey experience of getting head shots.

Comments/Likes/Shares!  I’m getting into some YA reads because of my pitching and querying my YA book, so get psyched.


Book Riot: A Book Published Posthumously

Likely it will be a riotous September with the month’s posts focusing on the Read Harder Challenge.  I’m gearing up for October being my usual round of seasonal scary reads because I love a scary reads binge to ease me into the fall.   I’ll try not to wax poetic about my guilty love of fall.  I’ll just read the right books to celebrate hoodies, crisp air and spookiness.

There was never any question that this is the year to read the book I chose for this category.  My best friend had just gotten through it, although he openly admitted that he feels some of the story got past him (so I knew some of it would slide by me, too).  I have read many of the other considered to be classic examples of Magical Realism, with a few detours to eat up most everything by Sarah Addison Allen, and then when I googled book ideas for this category it popped right up to greet me, even with the same cover as the used edition I snagged via Amazon not that long ago:

the master and margarita.jpg

The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov

It’s telling in itself that I don’t even know where to begin when talking about this novel.  I could start with the fact that I would probably be a ton cooler if I understood it.  If I wasn’t combing the internet for whatever extra information I could get to make it hold together in my mind any better than it did.  It’s not even my first go at a Russian novel, with having read Crime and Punishment and Anna Karenina years ago.  And yet there was always a feeling that I was missing the context that would really drive this one home for me.

What I gathered, mixed with information teased out of the internet, was that Satan and some compatriots, the cat that is featured on every cover of this novel (and even my post!) named Behemoth being one of them, to wreak random havoc on Soviet Russia in a satirical fashion.  I really tried to read other sources before writing this, but it felt so random to me, the reason for their shenanies being that the whole point was to make fun of Soviet Russia circa 1930.  I didn’t understand why they would just roll into Russia and mess with everyone and then decide they are done and take off.  I spent time in my lovely writing course on the importance of character motives and I didn’t see one for these guys other than being foils and hosting a ball leading to a random adulterous woman getting her greatest wish.  Anyone is free to comment to set me straight.

I may have felt I was missing something because of the paucity of knowledge I have around Soviet Russia circa 1930.  I know that the people were mainly poor and struggling.  I grew up during the last vestiges of the Cold War and I remember hearing in school about how Communism played out in the Soviet Union, as well as having done a presentation on Stalin for sixth grade and how he allowed record numbers of his people to die (freeze/starve if memory serves).  But I had to pick through other sources to understand what exactly was being made fun of.  I didn’t mind this, really, but it’s difficult to spend time reading a novel and wishing when it was done that you had done it through the context of a college course where you didn’t have four other courses to complete.

Also, as I have found with many classics, there is a lot of rule breaking going on as far as all the advice out there on how to write a novel people want to read.  The main characters don’t come into the book until the first third is over.  There is none of this introducing them and their arc within the first page or two.  There is action, with Satan arguing about the existence of Jesus with a man who does not believe as was what the government preferred at the time, and then a predicted and freaky mishap ending in death, and then a chapter telling the story leading up to the crucifixion.  But you don’t meet Master for awhile and then even later, his lover Margarita.  And as I said before, either I am really dense or there aren’t really clear motivations of the supernatural team of the devil and his cronies, and then the Russians find ways after to explain it away and minimize it, which the writer takes pains to detail out.  And you never really know why Margarita is so dissatisfied with her clearly enviable life to the point where she throws it all away to carry out the dreams of her lover.  Like, I understood why Anna Karenina made the choices she did, because Dostoyevsky made her sucky marriage clear, but Margarita has money and a loving husband and takes the first chance she gets to become a witch and fly around and then host a ball with like, no clothes on, meeting some of the darkest souls in Christendom.  I know she does this to be reunited with her lover but she enjoys it, too.

It was entertaining and I know I’ll need another go at it at some point to gather all of it.  Even reading the summaries shortly after the chapter (which was somewhat interrupted by the fact I was reading it on a camping grip with limited WiFi access) I was like okay, that part was not as clear or I missed something.   n

I also realize this was a lot to say about a book I had to work at for the incomplete knowledge I gleaned.  And it gets its own post being as mysterious and intriguing as it was leading up to reading it and then the baffling entertainment that it afforded.  It was messed up and that’s why people love it.  But I think there is more of a point to the messed up that I sifted out.  And I don’t feel ashamed of that.

Riot list reads continue as we coast into the last quarter of the year.  My last fall was busy and this one is shaping up to be, too, with not having time to set aside to do my pending novel edits.  As I have noted ad nauseum before, however, it is a long, long winter.


Comments/Likes/Shares, especially if anyone cares to enlighten me further on this one.






All the fun with a little less cringe

I am a little disappointed in myself for how long it actually took me to read the book I am posting about today.

My only excuse is that it was always expensive on Kindle and I have a hard time taking books seriously when they have recipes in them.  I don’t know, I always expect that it will make the book maudlin. The high recommendation combined with the recipes made me think, oh yea, this one will rot my teeth for sure.

Even though it is Latin American Magical Realism, which I should have known by now is always tempered with tragedy, loss and longing.  And this one was no different:

A Classic of Genre Fiction:

like water for chocolate.jpg

Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel

This one is always near the top of the list for classic Magical Realism.  I would describe it as 100 Years of Solitude Lite.  All the taste and half the fat. All the same themes, time and place, and family imbroglios without the constant cringe worthy incest, which definitely raises it in my estimation.

A young woman refused permission to marry her one true love in the world, and instead he marries her sister in order to be closer to her, and then all the mess that that creates, along with an overbearing and abusive mother with her own closet full of skeletons.  Throw in some babies that she is denied, political upheaval that flirts occasionally with the plot line, some family ghosts and supernaturally charged sexual desire (that is NOT toward relatives!) along with the recipes and you have it.  The only element it doesn’t share with 100 Years of Cringes is the Biblical length lifespan of the characters.  People live around as long as they are supposed to.  Oh yeah and there isn’t treasure hidden in the yard.

And the food part with the recipes does not make it maudlin.  The protagonist’s feelings are communicated through her usually perfect cooking:  her devastation, her elation, her bitterness.  And she is full of it.  Esquivel jerks her protagonist around enough to make plenty of recipes that don’t come out just perfect.  And the ending is not satisfying to boot.  Just so you all are aware.

I have two other magical realism books on the list dealing with food, The Cake Therapist and Chocolat, and I will be interested to see if food is the same vehicle for communicating feelings as it is for this one. Also, I really need to get to Borges and his Ficciones, which predates Marquez, Allende, and Esquivel.

If you love the Magical Realism genre, specifically the South American brand, you can’t miss this.    I see some reviews up of people who just don’t have a taste for the random and intense plotting.  Maybe the ones who not only expected this to be maudlin but wanted it to be.  I didn’t want that.

So, even though it has been awhile since I have been on my magical realism bent, it’s still here and it continues to be a goal.  They are still on my TBR, whether it is Northern European magical realism or the original examples of the genre.  My instructor says the novel I am drafting is magical realism.

I intentionally am posting this on a Saturday because I hope people are enjoying Easter Sunday with their families.



My Other November Feast: Sarah Addison Allen Books

I am writing this post the week before Thanksgiving, so I can’t tell you if books were my only binge this month.  I am planning on spending it with friends, a woman who has lived her dream of having her own farmhouse and renovated the kitchen mostly on her own, and hosting us will be a celebration of a dream achieved.  So much thankfulness.

And the fact that I binged at all after a miniscule break is possibly a sign of addiction.  I did like two weeks of only writing related stuff and then I read two novels in the course of a week without a single page of it being on audio. Not a second was listened to.

But of course they were Sarah Addison Allen.   One of my binge worthy loves.

Sarah came into my awareness via my hunt for magical realism and I have already posted about my previous novels I have read by her, but I saw her on a library shelf on my Wednesday walk break and I missed her.  It was like seeing that an ex is single over FB when you just got over something fierce yourself.  I wanted her Southern world back of family, relationships between women, and magic.  Always, there is magic.

garden spells.jpg

Garden Spells

This was her first novel, published in 2008 and I wished I found her back then when I was filling my newly found free time with books.  This one had more overt magic in it than the other two I had read, and I always like a dash more magic.

Two sisters united by an absentee mother come back together when one of them is in trouble, and they both work through their prejudices about one another to be the family they both need. Yes, excellent.

I was as usual sucked into her world and her cast of fun, wholesome characters, and the world of the South, which I don’t have the personality to live in myself.  I could tell, though, that it was her first novel because she did not keep most of her secrets until the end.   It was clear why the characters took awhile to connect and bond based on their own personal traumas all the way through.  It was less skilled, and I still loved it, and I am still going to read First Frost, the sequel that just came out, and I hate saying a single negative word about her because she writes magic to which I can only aspire.  And I am assuming this novel got her into publishing…which is hard enough in and of itself.   And it’s the highest rated on Goodreads of all her books, even though they all hover around a rating of 4.

lost lake.jpg

Lost Lake

This was actually the first one that started the recent binge, but I reviewed Garden Spells first because it was her debut novel.

A widower goes to find an estranged relative in her struggling vacation resort and finds herself again in this one.

Spoiler alert:  everyone gets found.  But if you don’t like that, don’t read this book and see how they all do so.  Sarah is about everyone finding a home in her novels with their best possible relationships.  I liked that there is a significant piece in this one about friendships between women in this one.  There is in the following book I review of hers as well, which did not play as much into Garden Spells which was more about family and love and with more magical realism.  Not as much magic in this one, but the setting of a resort around a lake has it’s own magic and it was enough for me.

This one has a novella prequel.  Maybe I will read it but I didn’t like Kate’s late husband because I am not supposed to like him and I don’t know if I want to hear more of him.


peach keeper.jpg

The Peach Keeper

I read this over the summer but waited until I read other books to post.  I had it on audio and I can never keep an unread book of hers on my audio list for long.

This one is heavy on overcoming the family reputations to build friendships.  It is about women who are fighting to get advantages over each other and it letting them blind them to their relationships with each other being the real gift in their lives.  It has been happening since the beginning of time that a man comes along and rends relationships between women, and in this particular story, the characters end up regretting that they allowed that to happen.  And I liked that.  And I liked that women are finding and rescuing each other.  She also ups the effect of setting like this one, as in Lost Lake, with a town that is known for being foggy.

A glance over of the Goodreads reviews indicates that a lot of people liked her other works better and felt they were more magical.  Some had some attitude about it being chick lit, but if you want Alice Hoffman knock off chick lit this is where you need to be and you need to own that this is what you want.  Own your needs.  But this was not as well loved as others in her retinue.

Thinking about Christmas reads in the next few weeks before I get into the year end roundups…really…year end roundups?  And my one reading challenge instead of three this year.


Magical Realism Part V: In the Cold

Even though this will be posted on the other side of spring, I read today’s book in the winter that was not a winter and then all of a sudden became intensely a winter.  March started out like a lamb and became a lion, so hopefully kitty goes back to being a lamb by the end of this month. I can’t wait to do yoga on my patio like a hipster.  I want to see lambs this week.  Lambs! I want tulips to come up at a time that does not give me intense anxiety that the planet is melting.

winters tale

Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin is long enough to have its own cold and magical realist post.  It is my second book over 500 pages of the year, the snow read, topping out at 768 pages paperback and 27 hours of listening at normal speed, but I listen to books at 1.25 and so it was closer to 23 hours for me.  And I wanted to read it for awhile but I am going to be honest, it kept getting pushed down the list because it did not have awesome reviews on Goodreads.  I used to have a friend that did not want to come to the movies to see something that was not highly rated, and I used to think that was absurd, but here I am, doing it with books ten years later.  My excuse is that books are more of a time commitment, 23 hours over 2.

Reading the reviews to gel my own thoughts for this post, I felt validated in my dislike for it. Sometimes I read something that I don’t like and wonder if there is someone out there who is way smarter who thinks that it makes the most sense in all the world.  If there is such a person I have not read his review on Goodreads (well in full disclosure a five star rating of the book by someone who has miraculously read it more than once was discovered but then I saw more interesting disdainful entertainment. I focused on that so I could continue to cradle my delicate ego).  Someone put it on their dumpster-adjacent shelf.  Someone else shelved it as meh.  Someone else posted a picture of a taxidermy small rodent that looks like a horror movie creature come to life to eat your brains because they feel that reading this book is an accomplishment warranting such a statement.  I mean, sometimes when I have a patient that has a serious breakthrough (and I do get to see them) I could use an animal like that.

All right though, I do intend to be “productive” (a therapist word) with this post and talk about why it felt like chewing concrete.  I love turn of the century NYC.  I read all kinds of books about the grime and the prejudice and the immigration and the hard life of those times.  So I was attracted by that.  I have a book on the history of the city itself that warrants my attention.  Helprin is long winded but it is beautiful to listen to if you get into it (one reviewer called it narrative fearlessness). I loved the initial story of Peter Lake and Beverly Penn, and I don’t think this is too much of a spoiler, but after Beverly dies this thing falls apart into nonsensical further plot threads whose later interweaving is wholly unsatisfactory. I thought the whole thing would have it some Beverly Penn, but the consumptive rich woman who was straddling two worlds before she died pretty much stayed on the other side of the veil after she died. I really thought she was going to come back more than she did.

And, it was shelved as Magical Realism, and it was, with the author messing with time, and epic snow and winters, and a horse that is the size of a barn who practically flies.  And it was cold magical realism in the north, where people are more private and don’t have sprawling, messy inter-generational families. It was all very proper to have magical realism in the winters in NYC.  With the added element of time, where it was not like characters would not stay dead, the did not die in the first place, hanging out over a century in the underbelly of the city like it would always be the turn of the century.  It dabbed magic into the usual world.

But ultimately, it did not have a lot of plot and it did not come together at the end, which I was really rooting for.  I read David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks, and he can get really dense and you don’t know where he is going, but at the end he pulls it together in a really gratifying way that makes you glad that you followed his lead when you were not sure that it was going to lead anywhere.  (I felt The Bone Clocks was more gratifying than Cloud Atlas but I would give Cloud Atlas another go.) Barbara Kingsolver is another who can wind out threads and then weave them, although she does not make you wander as far out into an unknown and seemingly pointless land before pulling you back in.  She keeps you tighter the entire time, which is why I love her, even if she writes about the environmental preservation themes that make me intensely anxious.  So, the fact I go back to her even when I know she will say something that freaks me out is high praise.

I potentially considered abandoning it, but I didn’t want it on my dead soldier shelf that haunted me until I picked it up again. I read other books in the meantime, my Sarah Addison Allen for one, that was enough of a break for me to be ready to wrestle another long winded chapter with events whose purport evaded me.  Writing advice I have seen over and over emphasizes that you can have the most exquisite turn of phrase, but you need plot, too, to cull the masses.  We should all be writing for ourselves, I agree, but if one really wants to write a big hit with the populace it has to be more than beautiful language and unwinding backstories. It just has to.

Do I regret reading this novel? I don’t.  Syfy ruined my faith in books turned into miniseries with The Magicians, so I won’t be looking into the movie anytime soon, but I was intensely curious about this epic that involves many of my reader’s kryptonite.  What is a better magical realism turn of the century NYC book?  The Golem and The Jinni, which I know I have mentioned before but has never gotten its own post.  Talk about winding together the magical plot threads with some twists to knot you up in the end.  Damn.

A thousand words and 23 hours later, I would love comments, shares and likes on this post. I wanted to add The Master and Margarita to this post but I feel that that one will have to be waded through at another time.  The devil comes to Russia.  We don’t need to talk about that with a huge horse, a dead woman and an orphaned immortal amnesiac mechanic with occasional psychotic symptoms.





Magical Realism World Tour, IV

So, the books I talk about today are what I thought Magical Realism was, before I really got into the genre.  What I thought was Magical Realism is really a white and privileged sort of magic. I was intrigued, not creeped out, I was involved in what would happen to the characters, but I was not devastated and forced to address my privilege and the power I unfairly wield in the world.  No assumptions were challenged.


Sarah Addison Allen was praised by Modern Mrs. Darcy as a binge read author.  Sometimes her books float up on Kindle deals and I picked up two, because MMD is enough of a reader to be able to recommend all sorts of books to people who give information on their tastes.  Girl knows her stuff.

If you read my blog with any regularity, you know that I often tackle works that push my assumptions, were written at different eras with different contexts, that were not written just to suck in audiences. I lost track of my susceptibility to a binger.

Please do not confuse my saying that it does not challenge my assumptions that it is not good or worthwhile because it absolutely is.

the girl who chased the moon.jpg

The Girl Who Chased the Moon

Her books take place in the South with women finding themselves.  And some men. The magic starts right off when a seventeen year old girl comes to live with her grandfather who she barely knows in a Southern mansion falling into disrepair. So Goth. And the wallpaper changes in her mother’s old room where she sleeps, and this is just accepted and unexplained. People have magical secrets, and not magical secrets, and she tosses in some twists and some forbidden love. Yeah yeah yeah. I had to know. I wanted both of the women’s love stories to win. Sucked this one down in like, a day.

the sugar queen.jpg

The Sugar Queen

Then I also had The Sugar Queen, and there was some magical realism in there too, mostly around one character until closer to the end when some crap goes sour and the delicious twist becomes evident.  A woman trying to live down her childhood while eating a stash of junk food in her closet is interrupted in her life by a local woman who shows up to hide from an abusive boyfriend in the girl’s closet and turns her life around.  Another character goes through a time where she needs to find herself after life experiences that have distracted her from this goal.  Whatever. Girl power with some magic mixed in.  My library has two of her books in ebook format ripe for the borrowing.

I want to delve into Alice Hoffman and see how white Magical Realism in her work is. It varies by color and oppression and belief in/dependence on the natural world.  And, I suspect, temperatures. I am reading to see if it is different in colder climates, and it looks to me like it might be.

Short and sweet today, might go read more Sarah but I should see what Alice has to say.

Shares/likes/comments thx 🙂


Magical Realism, Part III

The books today dance in and out of the classification of Magic Realism.  They are not bright and mostly beautiful stories in lush and exotic climes with burning (if misdirected at times) sexual desires that must be gratified.  No.  The element of Magical Realism from which I am drawing in this post is the piece of the definition that involves oppression, and trauma: as the wikipedia definition puts it, implicit criticism of the elite.

These books are more heartbreaking than magical, in my opinion, because the oppressed that are talked about are African American people in the American South.

It seems that every list I have found of these texts always has


Beloved, by Toni Morrison

even though people don’t even always agree that it even counts in this genre.  It does fit my definition of “people who won’t stay dead,” however.

This book is about trauma: the trauma of slavery, oppression, growing up with tenuous connections to others, losing a child.  Yes, this book  accepts what seems unreal and questions what is more commonly considered real, but it is more a trauma narrative to me.  Trauma can blur the lines between real and imagined, adding another element of unpredictability to a world that already feels unpredictable.  The characters don’t know who they are and cling to their children as the only things that they have in this world.  They are desperately trying to gather a sense of self after the identity of slave no longer applies. Slavery was not an appropriate identity, but then when slaves are freed, what do they have to move forward in a place and time that hates them and considers them not even full people?

Consequently, I had to use SparkNotes on this one, to be sure that I was gaining all relevant facts through the beautiful, yet intentionally disjointed, narrative that is shared from a number of perspectives.  It is not an easy read on a number of levels, and yes, it has a ghost in it, but it is about getting on after the level of oppression has been reduced.  It is about what is real and what is not and what is heartbreaking.

Maybe this post is a little soap boxy today, but I can’t avoid it.  These books are the oppression and critique of the powerful part of the genre.

their eyes were watching God.jpg

Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston

This book broke my heart and for more subtle reasons than Beloved. There are those who stretch this into the Magical Realism genre due to some of the nature metaphors (especially with the hurricane and its serious consequences as a turning point), and it is about a black woman in the American South in the 30’s just trying to find love and be happy.  This is the first book that could be considered in the genre where there is no ghost or supernatural being, just ties to nature and its volatility.  And the heavy oppression.

Some of the articles I have skimmed about this one are critical of Janie for taking her identity from the men that she is with and not developing her own, but that is far from a cultural norm of that time. The woman who raised Janie tells her as an impressionable young woman, due to past family trauma in her own life that it is more important to be safe and secure than it is to be loved.  Anyone who knows about Maslow’s hierarchy knows that people need safety and security before there is love or self actualization.  In an unpredictable, oppressed and scary existence, it makes perfect sense that in the beginning that she would be following a strong personality, like her second husband Jody, for security because that is what she was told love is.  I felt that a critique of her that she follows men all the time is a very white-centric and privilege blind one.  I rooted for Janie. I wanted so badly for her to be happy.  When Tea Cake started with his craving for but aversion to water I had to shut the book off for a minute to brace myself for what was coming. I didn’t think it was okay for Tea Cake to hit her, but I certainly was not yelling to the book that she should pack up and leave.  And when her second husband died, she did not rush out to find another guy, even though with her beauty and means she had her pick. The men she knew had been drooling over her for years. She was a little burned out on it before Tea Cake came along and won her heart fair and square.  She trades love for the security that she was told to look for instead.

The audio for this book is an amazing performance piece. The heavy use of vernacular is of course criticized as well but through the language comes those beautiful and poignant things that you always knew to be true and universal, even if you have not thought about it that way before.  I think that if one is planning on teaching this book in high school, the audio should be used to draw students in and help them not get tripped up on getting through the language.  I read this book because it is a modern classic, but I absolutely fell in love with it, despite the deep sadness and oppression. I am sure as a high school kid that it would not have been the same to me as it is now. I should probably re-read the Maya Angelou that I read in tenth grade, to see how it feels differently now.

I am looking for North American magical realism that is more magical and less sad.  Sometimes I have a hard time reading about whites in the South because of how their opulence and privilege was at the expense of so many, but maybe I can find something that feels magical and not because there is, as Roxane Gay puts it, a magical n-.  I was thinking about Sarah Addison Allen for this, or maybe some Alice Hoffman.  Magical Realism also takes place in cold places, and further into Asia, and I have to read about that too.

Hope everyone is enjoying the intensification of spring. It can’t help itself now.  Even if it wants to keep snowing we are tilting toward the warmth of the sun and the expanding hours of daylight.


Magical Realism World Tour, Part II

Have we actually made it to the last weekend in February? I don’t know what my issue is this year but I feel more ‘over winter’ and craving spring than other years. It may be because I have played in it more with my son, and have been more cold and wet out there in the snow, rather than years he has really been too small to be out or before him, when I skiied and snow shoed, but really more on my own terms.  But I want to be able to go sit or walk at the playground and absorb the sun rather than hurrying through blustery parking lots or seeing if I can fill my gas tank before frostbite kicks in (always feels like a close competition).

Maybe that is why I am writing about Magical Realism in warm climes today, to usher in the warmer weather, complete with my tropical stock photo. I have some cold climate Magical Realism lined up.  It isn’t all warm weather.

Interestingly, the two books I am talking about this morning are not in the same region of the world, and the one that takes place in Indonesia is actually much more similar to One Hundred Years of Solitude than the other book I review, which takes place in South America and would allegedly be more in the tradition of Marquez’ seminal work.  I wanted to lump these posts by geographical region, but I am finding that at least Indonesia’s folklore has significant similarities to what is expressed in South America.

beauty is a wound.jpg

Beauty is a Wound, Eka Kurniawan

I was intrigued by this book so it jumped the line considerably on my reading list last year, with the justification that I needed an Indonesian author to make my challenge. I think what really drove me to read it was also an interview given by Kurniawan in Electric Literature.  And really, that cover. The Sympathizer will just have to continue to await my attention, even though that is probably more Indo-China, if you will please excuse any of my white-tastic ignorance.

If I had read no other magical realism than this and Marquez, I would rename this admittedly amorphous genre as ‘people who don’t stay dead and the ghosts of vengeance and people who are concerned that their children will be born with animal features due to incest.’ Of course, all the MR I have read thus far has a ghost in it, but not all of them are for vengeance.  This book glitters with intense relationships (whether they make my skin crawl due to incest or not), beautiful women, dramatic deaths, political upheaval and wars, and a “looping family saga” (Electric Lit, can’t steal it), much like in 100 Years, although there is no changing of things into worms this time, thankfully.  When the main character, Dewi Ayu,  first emerges from her grave in the beginning she seems coarse, but then, as with any good story, one builds sympathy for her as her own story is told and she overcomes dreadful adversity to gain power and control over her world.

In the Electric Lit interview, the author mentions how magical realism is endemic to Indonesian folklore and he accepts the magical realism classification to keep Indonesian history alive.  It was a cool book, I was pulled in, although a little burned out on magical realism when I finished it last June. I can’t help how turned off I am by incestual relationships, no matter how beautiful someone finds their simple cousin. I did gift the audiobook to a favorite who I have gotten into audiobooks, as she does a ton of traveling.  She liked it as well.

I was so burnt on drawn out family sagas that I finally picked up this one in January, having come back to the forefront of my mind due to my posting about my visit to The Strand last February:

the house of the spirits.jpg

The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende

This book came out on e-book like ten minutes after I relented and picked up a paper copy.  Of course, a paper copy whose price tag I won’t peel off because it says The Strand on it.  I have hoarded two other Allende books:  The Island Under the Sea and Eva Luna.  This one is more commonly lumped in with Marquez, and although there are the themes of political upheaval and a family saga, and the magical part being more common psychic abilities from the matriarch, it does not feel as much like Marquez as Kurniawan did.  The magical part is not as fantastic and we almost make it through the book without incest, although this incest is not consensual, and I am not giving away spoilers here, but it is an assault more than it is a mutually desired consensual relationship.  The incest in the other books I mention in this post is much closer to consensual, if not always completely so. And it is much more pervasive. I actually got hopeful that I would make it out without my flesh crawling.  Nope.

This book was gentler until the very last scenes, which are rough and in my opinion a different tone than the rest.  There are gentler parts and the parts that deal with the main male protagonist are more intense due to his violent temper, but it surpasses even those fits in the last part.  I found myself wondering why that element near the end was even in there to the detail that it was.  It did not feel as in keeping with the whole story that came before it.  And for some reason I kept forgetting that Barrabas was a dog and not a parrot.  Not sure how I would get that confused, but here we are.

Next week I am posting on magical realism as it pertains to post civil war African Americans in the South.  It has a decidedly different tone than these family sagas and are rooted in their trauma as slaves and ex slaves and heavily oppressed. As Coates would say, they talk about black people trying not to lose their body. They also more stretch the definition of magical realism. I have more of these books listed out to be conquered, but we will see where it goes after that.  I have to read some more for my writing and I will try to keep the blog interesting while I do this.

Shares/likes/comments!  This blog has been traveling more on the internets over the last few weeks, and that makes me a happy woman.