Tag Archives: magical realism

The Monsters of Templeton – Lauren Groff

No particular reason for picking this one up – it was just on the shelf and I felt a little light on my library selections that week.

I enjoyed it (NY Times Review). Essentially, the story of a girl who moves back home after some disastrous life choices and tries to figure out the mystery of her paternity.

It had a few things going for it, for me. The girl was an archaeologist (although that barely factors in), the story was peppered with “photographs” of the characters (from the author’s personal collection) and I really liked some of the characters.

What I didn’t love was that while some of the characters were enjoyable, there were sudden changes in personality that I didn’t quite get – or backstory just didn’t add up. Also, and this is more due to my attention span than poor writing – but the author does one of those things, where there is this whole 2nd or 3rd story, told by another generation, sometimes in letters – that just loses me. I admit, I skimmed through entire chapters here. I probably missed something crucial or enjoyable, but I really hate having to entirely switch gears like that. So, I kind of cheated.

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Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman

Since I enjoyed American Gods so much, I put another Gaiman book on the list (and yes, I am following @neilhimself on Twitter).

I liked this one. Not loved it, but liked it. I think he has a very, very specific writing style, that if you aren’t really in the mood for it, can be annoying.

The synopsis from BN.com

Neil Gaiman, the genius behind “The Sandman” graphic novels — which Norman Mailer called “a comic strip for intellectuals” — delves into novel-length fiction with Neverwhere, a wild and mesmerizing story set in a bizarre and chilling underground London. Neverwhere begins innocently enough: It’s the story of Richard Mayhew, a plain man with a good heart. Unhappy in love and in life, Richard is thrust into a dark and evil world when he stops to help a young girl he finds bleeding in the street. Now Richard has much more than work and girlfriend dilemmas on his mind — now he’s wanted by two very evil, powerful, and nasty mercenaries who like to think that they are, in fact, rather gentlemanly.

I think I just have read a lot of dystopian, homeless, otherworld type books – so this kind of lost it’s “wow” factor for me. And speaking of otherworld, I did this weekend-long LARP-type thing a year or so ago, called … Otherworld. And it was awesome and all that jazz, but it’s funny because the more popular sci-fi/fantasy writers I read, the more and more I see references to certain characters in nerd events in my past.  In a way, it’s cool because I can “see” the characters very clearly in my mind’s eye.

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American Gods – Neil Gaiman

The entire time I was reading this book, I was thinking about what an awesome blog entry this was going to be. I was thinking that, because I was enjoying the book so much. Then I finished, and it came time to blog – and I am at a loss for something really interesting to say.

People have been bugging me to read Gaiman for awhile now, and I am not a big sci-fi/fantasy fan. I read “Good Omens” and wasn’t blown away, but this finally crept up to the top of the list. I am really glad I did.

The basic premise of the book is that the gods exist, and when people move, they take their gods with them. So, incarnations of gods and all other manner of mythological  being follow people to the countries they move. And apparently, America isn’t too hospitable to the deities of the Old Country – no matter what the old country is. And now the gods of myth and legend are dying, and being usurped by American gods of technology and media, etc. They get this guy Shadow wrapped into their drama. There is of  course more to it, but I barely have the space or energy.

The characters of legend appear from all sorts of countries and pantheons, with a specific focus on the old Norse. Which, while I am not super familiar with – I really love. The whole Viking archaeology thing and all. I also got to learn a little bit about the mythical folks from other traditions. Never even heard of some of them!

As a kid, I loved the Greek myths – I knew them all by heart. And now, I love how they all help me finish a crossword puzzle. I really wish I read this book when I was a teen and in my pagan phase. I loved it now,  but I would have gone over the moon, then. Looking forward to reading a little more Gaiman.

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Witch Child – Celia Rees

This was a good little book, but it felt … little. Essentially, the story of a young girl who had some witchly powers and was sent over to the New World by her unknown-mom benefactor to hang with the Puritans because her acutal grandma-witch was killed for being a witch. So, it seems silly to send her to America, because they were doing the same thing there. So, the girl starts a diary – our book is her diary. It ends when she, unsurpringly – gets accused of being a witch.

I liked it, but it felt very sudden. I didn’t really have time to get to know anyone, or care, or feel betrayed. It just felt very hopeless, and then – over.

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Jamestown – Matthew Sharpe

Another Strand $1 book. I was so excited to find this, because I loves Jamestown. I love “alternative retellings.” I love post-apocalyptic worlds. This book’s backcover sold me.

Set in the indeterminate but not too distant future, JAMESTOWN chronicles a group of “settlers” (more like survivors) from the ravaged island of Manhattan, departing just as the Chrysler Building mysteriously collapses, heading down what’s left of I-95 in an armor-plated vehicle that’s half-schoolbus, half-Millenium Falcon. They are going to establish an outpost in southern Virginia, look for oil, and exploit the Indians controlling the area.

The story is of course based on the actual accounts of the first ten years of the Jamestown settlement from 1607 to the death of Pocahontas in 1617. Set against a cataclysmic backdrop, the book features the historical characters�John Smith, Pocahontas, her father Powhatan, John Ratcliffe, John Martin, and John Rolf�but in an act of wild re-imagination, akin to Baz Luhrman’s re-interpretations of Shakespeare (the great playwright of the Jamesown era!), Powhaton is half-Falstaff, half-Henry V (with a psychiatrist consigliere, Sidney Feingold); John Martin gradually loses body parts in a series of violent encounters, while John Smith is a ruthless and pragmatic redhead continually undermining the aristocratic leadership; and Rolf’s and Pocahontas’s romance is conducted by text-messaging, IM-ing, and ultimately telepathy.

Despite the grim sounding circumstances and large quantity of spilled blood, it’s a romantic book, a meditation on history and interpretation, told in language that is endlessly delightful�the jokes, the rhymes, and the rimshot dialogue throw the story’s bleak underside into brilliant relief. It’s a big book�a cross between the terrific maximalist novels of Barth and Safran Foer and the minimalist magical satire of George Saunders.

The problem? It was awful, and I can’t exactly figure out why I feel that way. I don’t know if it was because it felt very self-aware, or it was too fantastical for me or what. Maybe its just that I had such high expectations for my find? In any case, it was abanandoned about a third in. If anyone else has read this (a long shot), let me know if things pick up, and I will try to soldier on.

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The Heroines: A Novel – Eileen Favorite

Posting an Amazon.com review seems to be working out for me…

On a picturesque acreage near Prairie Bluff, Ill., 13-year-old Penny Entwistle, and her mother, Anne Marie, run a retreat where literary heroines seek temporary refuge from their tragic destinies. Franny Glass, Madame Bovary, Scarlett O’Hara, Catherine Linton and others find respite from their varied crises, but must return to their books eventually and suffer the fate that awaits. Penny, in the first throes of teenage rebellion, has little patience for her mother and the heartbroken or otherwise distraught women Anne Marie refuses to counsel (lest she change the course of their stories). And Anne Marie lavishes on her heroine lodgers the attention her daughter longs for. But when a mythical Celtic knight arrives, searching for his lost heroine Deirdre, Penny gets caught up in a web of deception that lands her in the loony bin. While the staff diagnoses her fabulous story as an attempt to deal with the long-ago death of her father, her mother commits Penny as a means of protecting her from peculiar goings-on at the house, and Penny must rely on the very fictional characters her mother favors to help her.

I really loved the concept of this book. Fictional characters merging with our worlds, combined fates, etc. It just wasn’t … done well. Too much going on, not enough I care about, not enough interaction with the heroines themselves. There were so many stories introduced but not told, and too much paid to very YA-ish themes (unknown parentage, parent-daughter angst, etc.) I want more on this concept, but from a different author. Oh, and the chapter titles were just inane.

How many damn books can I read that take place (at least partially) in an insane asylum?!

It did make me want to read some of the classics that I haven’t, though. Especially Wuthering Heights and Madame Bovary

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Cry of the Peacock – Gina B. Nahai

I was a little unsure if I was going to blog about this one, but in the interest of honesty – here I am. I picked this book up in my previous failed visit to the library (they didn’t have the books I ordered available yet). This was the kind of book that I picked up, had a feeling I wasn’t going to like, but “maybe it had promise” and I only had two books and … I grabbed it.

I started it on the way home last night (I had finished the other two books). The premise is the story of an Iranian Jew living in the 20th century who comes from a long line of Persian Jews. It’s funny – now as I try to sum it up, I realize why I knew I wouldn’t like it. I tend not to like books that span multiple generations. I find that I can’t really identify with anyone or keep all the names and relations straight. This was compounded by the fact the names were (understandably) Persian. I am really bad with non-familiar names – reading anything in a fantasy genre for me is an exercise in multiple notecards. I can do multi-generational/protagonist stories if they are somehow weaved together, or only two or three generations and set up into two or three separate parts of one book. This wasn’t. There was a family tree at the beginning of the book that I kept flipping to, and I just couldn’t keep anything straight. The other two dealbreakers was that almost halfway through the story, Peacock (a girl) was FINALLY born – and I realized that the rest of the book would probably be about her, and I just had nothing invested yet. That, and the book had a bunch of “magical realism” and I was just … uninterested. Oh, and it was my subway stop.

Unless it really gets desperate around here, I probably won’t pick this up again. I can live with not knowing what happens, mainly because I am not sure what happened already.

Ironic that my longest post so far is about a book I didn’t finish?

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