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review 2020-02-07 06:30
Once Upon a River
Once Upon a River - Diane Setterfield

It’s finally happened. I have read a Diane Setterfield book in which I liked the prose AND the plot AND the characters. The third time really is the charm, apparently. Persistence pays off! Sort of!


The story meanders like the titular river, seeming to flow slowly on the surface with hidden currents beneath. I enjoyed the fairy tale theme, but at the same time I found myself wishing that Setterfield had set out to subvert it instead of lean so hard into it. A whole lot of fairy tales and legends hinge on the suffering of women, and Once Upon a River is no exception. In fact, it plays most of the greatest hits, including but not limited to: rape, physical abuse, emotional abuse, abandonment, etc. Rita Sunday’s character journey had the most subversion potential, which is why the way she’s treated made me full-body cringe.



She starts out an educated, independent woman who is adamantly against getting married and having kids because her own mother died in childbirth, and as a nurse herself she’s seen what horrors are involved in procreation. I’m fine with that! I’m in the “Kids Aren’t For Me” club myself. I knew what to expect given the time period the book is set in, but every time another character told her she should have kids, I ground more enamel off my molars. I had such high hopes for the character at the start. She had such a great intro! Then she sits down with the mysterious girl in her lap and instantly regrets never getting married and having kids. The girl has a similar effect on everyone who touches her, but still. Rita’s personal struggle for the whole book is falling in love and realizing she wants a family but being too afraid of going through childbirth before ultimately deciding it’s worth the risk (after holding someone else’s baby “Not like a nurse. [. . .] Like a mother.” OH HOW MY EYES ROLLED).


(spoiler show)


So anyway, yay for Setterfield with her beautiful prose finally writing a book with a story that interested me. Though I have to admit, after Bellman & Black that bar was really low.

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text 2020-01-30 06:28
Reading progress update: I've read 34 out of 421 pages.
Once Upon a River - Diane Setterfield

Me reading The Thirteenth Tale: I really love the gorgeous prose, but I couldn’t give a toss about these characters or the story.


Me reading Bellman & Black: I still love the gorgeous prose, but ye gods, this is boring.


Me at the library: Oh, look! Another Setterfield book. I sure do love her gorgeous prose. Third time’s the charm???

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review 2019-09-15 10:00
The Book of Speculation
The Book of Speculation - Erika Swyler

Yay for the library catalog turning up a title I’d never heard of while I was searching for The Night Circus. The Book of Speculation utilizes a variation on what I call the Kate Morton Formula (yes, I know she didn’t pioneer it, but whatever). A present-day individual comes into possession of a piece of the past and commences unraveling a family mystery, the past story and present story alternating in the book. In this case, the mystery is why all the women in Simon Watson’s family have a tendency to drown themselves. Oh, and the women are all circus performers. Swimmers and divers who can hold their breath for unbelievable lengths of time. Mermaids. Drowning mermaids. Honestly, if the book description had just been “Drowning mermaids” I still would have been sold.


The present chapters are told in first person present tense (ugh, why?), and the past in third person past tense. I’m never going to love present tense, but it wasn’t too obnoxious. Aside from that, I enjoyed it. The characters are memorable and the supernatural elements add a lovely flavor. I’m pretty pleased overall with this random library find.


(Read for Halloween Bingo Creepy Carnivals square)


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review 2018-08-31 04:33
Boy's Life
Boy's Life - Robert R. McCammon

I meant to space this read out over the course of a week. I had the time, and I thought this book was the kind I’d like to savor. I did all right the first day, not so good the second day, and then my plan went out the window and I devoured the rest of the book yesterday. The onset of the book hangover was immediate. I went to bed last night without picking a new book to read. Do you know how often that happens? It doesn’t. It doesn’t happen. Half a day later, I’m still struggling to articulate what this book did to me.


Let’s talk about foreshadowing and how diabolically good Robert McCammon is at it. You can absolutely tell when he’s dumping foreshadowing on you, but you can’t always tell if the payoff is going to be some heartwarming home-made muffin of literary delight or some gut-wrenching tragedy or gore-splashed horror. Have you ever seen that old Bambi meets Godzilla short? It’s a bit like that, only it’s even odds whether the giant foot comes down or not and there’s more blood and guts when it does. (This inept metaphor is also applicable to what this book did to my feelings, my feelings being Bambi and the book being Godzilla. I’m sorry, guys. This book sucked out my soul and I’m reduced expressing my trampled feelings with references to a 50-yr-old low quality animated short. It was either that or a nothing-but-gifs review.)


In me are the memories of a boy’s life, spent in that realm of enchantments.

I remember.

These are the things I want to tell you.


Oh, reader, let him tell you. This book is hard on nerves, feelings, and family pets (holy cow, what has this book got against pets?!), but you want this to be you. Trust me.




I read this for the Halloween Bingo 2018 Southern Gothic square.


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