MORE HAPPY THAN NOT by Adam Silvera

More Happy Than Not is the book that tried to kill me.

It was exceptional – incredible! And it just walks you right off the edge and leaves you a devastated puddle at the end. 100% worth it, though.

It’s the story of a young guy growing up in the Bronx, in poverty, all the games he and his friends play, their favorite comic shop, their quest for tail and a free beer and even a flicker of hope in their lives. I don’t even know how to talk about this book… it’s so good! It’s completely unexpected and emotionally gut wrenching and romantic and raw and remarkable for a first novel (well done Adam Silvera). It’s written with the authenticity of someone who grew up the same way… so I can’t help but suspect there are many mirrors of Adam’s own story in the text.

Anyways, nothing you think is going to happens. I think anyone who reads a lot or even watches a lot of television gets used to following certain plotlines – and this book destroyed them all. Repeatedly. Gah. I cried. And then I kind of gaped in horror as the narration drew to a close because… gah. For the brave readers, I highly recommend jumping off this cliff.

RATING: FOUR STARS

Title: More Happy Than Not
Author: Adam Silvera
Originally published: June 2, 2015
Genre: Fiction

WHEN WOMEN WERE BIRDS by Terry Tempest Williams

here on earth: when women were birds

Here on Earth: When Women Were Birds by Beth Conklin

I recently read “When Women Were Birds” and it’s superb. The book starts out with the death of her mother – who bequeaths her collected journals – only the daughter finds the journals are all blank. Every page, shockingly empty. From there she contemplates her mother’s life – her words, spoken and unspoken. It’s not a connected story, but small gathered thoughts and memories and personal reflections on the women in her life – her mother, her grandmother, teachers, women in the church – and also on women in general – the voice of women. It’s very powerful and thought provoking and hauntingly moving… apt for Mother’s Day. It has an intimacy in its honest portrayal of women, their secret lives, their silences, their many voices.  Like a cacophony of birds, it’s unified in that it’s loud and a thousand cries into the sky but not necessarily melodious. Don’t go into this book expecting a unified plotline, it’s more of a unified theme.

Tempest was raised Mormon in Utah – her mother and grandmother both lost to cancer caused by the nuclear testing in the 50’s – something the government didn’t own up to until the 80’s. It’s a unique book in which you can tell the author took pains to express some of the most difficult emotions. I admire anyone willing to dig so deep. 

Anyways, I loved it. But like bird song, I don’t treasure it. It felt universally beautiful but did not connect with me personally. 

When Women Were Birds : NPR

RATING: FOUR STARS

Title: When Women Were Birds
Author: Terry Tempest Williams
Originally published: April 10, 2012
Genres: Biography, Autobiography

CALL DOWN THE HAWK by Maggie Stiefvater

Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater – the first book in the new trilogy about Ronan Lynch, the boy who could bring his dreams to life in The Raven Boys.

My thoughts: Ronan remains super cool though I did feel the author told us how cool he was more than was necessary (we know, Maggie). His relationship with Adam, now king of the gay nerds at Harvard, was realistically strained as their lives move in different directions. Declan Lynch, the uptight oldest brother who constantly cleans up after his younger siblings, finally got a story line and it was deeply satisfying. We meet a new dreamer who is half crazed from trying to keep herself awake, fighting off a repeating nightmare. And we meet some Visionaries – time travelers, of a sort, whose shifts through the time line are as destructive as the messages they carry. Throw in a secret black market, a global assassins guild hunting down paranormals, a shit ton of references to artists (art majors will be delighted by the name dropping in this), a painting that makes you dream of the sea, a forest filled with trees that speak in Latin, and one very very chatty ethereal voice who likes to give cryptic speeches while our hero dreams and you’ve got yourself a pretty cool book.

It wasn’t as good as The Raven Boys. Could anything ever be as good as that piece of perfection? I loved all four of those boys and Blue and her entire family by the end of the first book in that series. I felt deeply connected to their stories. This is not to say that Call Down the Hawk isn’t good – cause it’s good. But I am really only invested in one of the new characters and mildly curious about the rest. Thankfully it’s got the solid foundation of the Lynch boys to carry it’s narrative and it’s more than enough to provide readers with a fun, wonky, dangerous and romantic (I am so on board with Declan’s slowly melting icy heart) adventure.

Rating: Four Stars.

Now… if you want to get into spoiler territory… we can further discuss….

 

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SERPENT & DOVE by Shelby Mahurin

“There are some things that can’t be changed with words. Some things have to be seen. They have to be felt.”

Decided to read a fun fantasy romance novel today – about a renegade witch who finds herself married to a witch hunter. The novel is told from alternating points of view – between our mismatched lovers – and overall it was a highly enjoyable tale of medieval lore, mystery, and (most of all) love.

I am a sucker for a wild girl paired with a prudish guy, what can I say? And I especially enjoy cohabitation stories where the couple is either married but not “together” or pretending to be married but not “together.” All that “oh my, wherever shall I sleep? On the floor? The couch? Should we share a bed and put pillows between us? Decisions, decisions…” it never gets old to me. There was a surprisingly detailed sex scene too (I believe the expression ‘to the hilt’ was used, as cringe worthy as ever).

Serpent & Dove has a nice dusting of French throughout, adding a little foreign flavor to our fantasy world.  There’s loads of fun characters coming in and out of the scenes, from apprentices to courtesans, witches to royals, and bakers to scorned aristocracy. And we’re also given a nice dose of feminism as well as plea for deeper understanding between all people we’ve labeled as “other” for various reasons. It was nicely done. For a debut novel, it was rich in detail and showed clear evidence of expert writing and editing, keeping the flow steady and enjoyable throughout.

I really liked it.

My only complaint was the tale was set in this historical world with corsets and daggers and metal bath tubs… but it kept throwing in modern language stylings, with our female witch in particular. I don’t mind cursing or vulgarity, those are not particular to any time period, but the turn of phrases, the expressions, the slang… it was 21st Century. And it always, always threw me out of the story setting. If she was going to write this way, the author should have just made our witch a time traveler. Everyone else is all proper and our witch is slinging punchy jokes and contemporary witticisms.

I don’t know if it will bother others as much as it bothered me… and honestly, that’s my only complaint for an otherwise enjoyable rompish fantasy-romance. Oh, and it’s set up for a sequel… with a nice twist or two at the end to leave us wanting more. There were several sets of magical creatures referred to that I would love to see explored in more detail in future books.

I’ll definitely be buying the next installment.

Rating: Four Stars

Originally published: September 3, 2019
Author: Shelby Mahurin
Title: Serpent & Dove
Genre: Fantasy Fiction

THE WRATH AND THE DAWN by Renée Ahdieh

“This dangerous girl. This captivating beauty.
This destroyer of worlds and creator of wonder.” 
― Renee Ahdieh, The Wrath and the Dawn

The Wrath & The Dawn, how could you do this to me?

How could be… unfinished… when clearly you present yourself as a stand alone novel?

I thought we went into this relationship with clear expectations.

But noooooOOOOoooo!

No, you drew me with mischief and stories of the desert and madmen and magic. You made me love your cursed king and your wicked silver tongued heroine! The mad alchemy that created this gorgeous romance! The delicious chemistry between the lovers! The expanses of the imagination! You gave me everything I wanted and more!

And then you just abandon me in a burning city with no resolution.

Ack, the cruel betrayal!

Now I have to purchase book two?

Is it a duology? Will there be even more?

Am I happy or sad about this?!

ARRRGH!

The evil… the unspeakable evil…

(P.S. congratulations on your stunning debut novel, Mrs. Ahdieh, it deserves all its accolades and more!)

RATING: FOUR STARS

Title: Wrath of Dawn
Author: Renée Ahdieh
Originally published: May 12, 2015
Genre: Fiction, Retelling

 

THE BLADE ITSELF by Joe Abercrombie

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie.

Image result for the blade itselfNever before have I enjoyed a book so much that failed to have even a semblance of a plot. Well developed characters, lush and rich world building, politics, history, even a little romance. But plot? Nope.

It’s baffling.

What does our main character Logan want? Our brute with a fine mind from the North, who turns into the Hulk when the bloodlust takes him? He… uh… well, he’s just following another guy around cause… uh… well.

Basically he’s just living life.

What does our main character Jezal want? That handsome devil, the spoiled nobility with natural athletic abilities? He wants… to be an important man in government one day. Vaguely. And maybe to win a tournament to be further admired. I guess.  He’s just avoiding difficulties, flirting a bit, fencing, looking down on people.

You know… living life.

What does our main character Glokta want? Our torturer, our cripple, our grumpy guss who lives in pain? Nothing. He doesn’t want shit. He’s just… passing the time.

Living life.

And there we have it. The three main characters. Just living life. Just existing.

Listen, living life is fine and dandy. We’re all just living life, aren’t we? But no one is gonna write a freaking book about me if that’s all I’m doing.

Image result for the blade itself incites to deeds of violenceThere are other characters – who actually have some more pressing ambitions and motivations. Politics. An ancient war or a new one. Vengeance. Things that could be a plot – if they were driving the story. I guess the Magi is driving and everyone else is just in the car at this point, no idea why they’re along for the ride, where they are going, or why it’s important. And that’s how the book ends!

So basically The Blade Itself is a very long character introduction. I know all the characters very well indeed. I just don’t know what they want. Or what the plot is. I kind of care a bit about all of them, so when a plot is introduced at some point… odds are I will care about it. But will our characters care about it? Or are they just going to be dragged around for the rest of the trilogy, only invested in the events because they’re being forced into the car? What does it mean to them?

If some big evil is brewing that might possibly wipe out their hometowns or life as they know it… I should feel that it would matter to these folks. I’m not sure it would. These three main characters are all the types who would probably have a long sit down and consider the merits of the Eye of Sauron.

It’s exasperating. Because it really is a fun book. The characters are fun, the dialogue is fun, the world is interesting. It just… doesn’t have a plot.

Whatever.

Image result for the blade itself incites to deeds of violence

Will I read the next book? Probably. But I’ll probably read something else first… and the more books I put between myself and this book, the more unlikely it is I will return to the story. So… who knows.

RATING: 4 out of 5. Even without a plot, I still liked it.

EVERY EXQUISITE THING by Matthew Quick

Every Exquisite Thing is about a teenage girl whose teacher gives her a book – and how her obsession with that book, and the ideas inside it, drastically change her life.

Like all Matthew Quick novels, it’s a story about figuring out your head space, about determining who you are and making peace with it. The man knows what it is to be human – and that’s a glorious, horrible mess of experiences and horrors and monotony and expectations and hopefully some really nice moments where you have an epiphany or two.

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BURNING (2018) – a meditation in isolation

Burning, a Korean film starring Yoo Ah-In, Jeon Jong-Seo, and Steven Yeun, is a bleak, atmospheric examination of the modern man. And by man I mean mankind, both men and women. It’s based on the short story Barn Burning from The Elephant Vanishes by author Haruki Murakami.

Yoo Ah-In, one of my all time favorite Korean actors, plays a young man who is struggling. In every way imaginable. He struggles to find work. He struggles to come to terms with his upbringing. He struggles to relate to people. He struggles to piece together sentences. You can almost hear the wheels creaking as he struggles to form his own thoughts. It’s ironic that he considers himself a writer, even though there is little evidence of this aspiration around him. Yet perhaps it is most telling that he yearns to find a way to express himself, as this seems to be the insurmountable task of life.

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