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review 2017-10-13 14:39
Magic realism in the heart of darkness. A must read.
Sing, Unburied, Sing: A Novel - Jesmyn Ward

Thanks to NetGalley and to Scribner for providing me with an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

Sometimes, I’d try to write them down, but they were just bad poems, limping down the page: Training a horse. The next line. Cut with the knees.

It stays with me, a bruise in the memory that hurts when I touch it.

I would throw up everything. All of it: food and bile and stomach and intestines and esophagus, organs all, bones and muscle, until all that was left was skin. And then maybe that could turn inside out, and I wouldn’t be nothing no more. Not this…

“Because we don’t walk no straight lines. It’s all happening at once. All of it. We are all here at once. My mama and daddy and they mamas and daddies.” Mam looks to the wall, closes her eyes. “My son.”

Both of us bow together as Richie goes darker and darker, until he’s a black hole in the middle of the yard, like he done sucked all the light and darkness over them miles, over them years, into him, until he’s burning black, and then he isn’t. There…

“Let’s go,” I say. Knowing that tree is there makes the skin on my back burn, like hundreds of ants are crawling up my spine, seeking tenderness between the bones to bit. I know the boy is there, watching, waving like grass in water.

I decided to start with some quotes (and I would happily quote the whole book, but there would be no point) because I know I could not make its language justice. This is a book about a family, three generations of an African-American family in the South and it has been compared to works by Morrison and Faulkner, and that was what made me request the book as they are among my favourite authors. And then, I kept reading about it and, well, in my opinion, they are not wrong. We have incredible descriptions of life in the South for this rural family (smells, touch, sound, sight, taste, and even the sixth sense too), we have a nightmarish road trip to a prison, with some detours, we have characters that we get to know intimately in their beauty and ugliness, and we have their story and that of many others whose lives have been touched by them.

There are two main narrators, Leonie, a young woman, mother of two children, whose life seems to be on a downward spiral. Her white partner is in prison for cooking Amphetamines, she does drugs as often as she can and lives with her parents, who look after her children, and seems to live denying her true nature and her feelings. Her son, Jojo, is a teenager who has become the main support of the family, looking after his kid sister, Michaela, or Kayla, helping his grandfather and grandmother, rebellious and more grown-up and responsible than his mother and father. Oh, and he hears and understands what animals say, and later on, can also see and communicate with ghosts. His grandmother is also a healer and knows things, although she is riddled with cancer, and his baby sister also seems to have the gift. The third narrator is one of the ghosts, Richie, who before he makes his physical (ghostly?) appearance has been the subject of a story Jojo’s grandfather has been telling him, without ever quite finishing it, seemingly waiting for the right moment to tell him what really happened. When we get to that point, the story is devastating, but so are most of the stories in the novel. Fathers who physically fight with their sons because they love an African-American woman, young men killed because it was not right that a black man win a bet, men imprisoned for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and for being the wrong race… The stories pile up and even the ghosts fight with each other to try and gain a sense of self, to try to belong.

This is magic realism at its best. As I said, the descriptions of the characters, the locations, and the family relationships are compelling and detailed. But there are elements that break the boundaries of realism (yes, the ghosts, and the style of the narration, where we follow interrupted stories, stream of consciousness, and where the living and those who are not really there are given equal weight), and that might make the novel not suitable for everybody. As beautiful as the language is, it is also harsh and raw at times, and incredibly moving.

Although it is short and, for me at least, a page turner, this is not a light read and I’d recommend approaching it with caution if you are particularly sensitive to abuse, violence, drug use, or if you prefer your stories straight, with no otherworldly interferences. Otherwise, check a sample, and do yourselves a favour. Read it. I hadn’t read any of this author’s books before, but I’ll be on the lookout and I’ll try and catch up on her previous work. She is going places.  

 

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review 2017-10-13 02:55
Because I'm a completist
Gunmetal Magic - Ilona Andrews

Drat, barely a vampire cameo. Will need another book. No matter.

 

I'm not as invested in Andrea, much less in her hit-me/kiss-me relationship with Raphael, but I had fun. It's inevitable with any of Andrews' books. Fast pace, mythology tie ins, and badass characters all around are always good. And I'm closer in filling in the bits of Kate Daniel's world.

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review 2017-10-12 19:58
House of Day, House of Night by Olga Tokarczuk
House Of Day, House Of Night - Olga Tokarczuk

Finally I found a book set in Poland by a Polish author that isn’t 500+ pages long. This is apparently an award-winner, but to me it often seemed bizarre; perhaps something is lost in translation. The book is divided into many short segments, moving between a nameless narrator and embedded short stories, a few of which the book revisits in multiple sections. The thread binding it all together is the setting of Nowa Ruda, a town on the Czech border that was transferred from Germany to Poland after WWII. The German residents were forced to leave, to be replaced by Poles transferred from land that went to Russia, an upheaval that still echoes in the 1990s when the narrator and her husband buy a farm there.

The short stories are fairly good, though melancholy. They are set in the area of Nowa Ruda throughout its history, from the life of a medieval saint to a late-medieval genderqueer monk who wrote about her, from a man who turns into a werewolf after eating human flesh during the war to the narrator’s neighbor who goes searching for a man who professed love to her in a dream. Magic realism characterizes many but not all of these stories, which are generally interesting in their own right.

Unfortunately, the stories comprise only around half of the book. The rest of it occurs in the narrator’s head, which is taken up by lengthy descriptions of dreams (her own and other people’s, culled from the Internet), flights of fancy, housekeeping minutiae, and mushroom recipes. It is hard for me to fathom the narrator’s purpose, as the author tells no particular story about her: she faces no challenges and experiences no change. Only at the end does she make a startling, though unexplored, discovery about her elderly German neighbor, whose daily habits are also tediously described throughout the book. In the meanwhile she occupies herself with detailed fantasies about being a mushroom or containing a house.

This book has a definite ambiance, and I do like the way it unfolds the history of a place. If it had been a collection of short stories alone, I’d probably have given 3.5 stars. The stories suffer no lack of plot and are often evocative. But as is I wouldn’t recommend it, unless you are the sort of reader who actually enjoys dream sequences.

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review 2017-10-11 18:50
Review: "Nightfall" (The Chronicles of Arden, #2) by Shiriluna Nott & SaJa H
Nightfall - SaJa H.,Shiriluna Nott

 

~ 4.5 stars ~

 

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review 2017-10-11 10:53
"Strange Magic - Essex Witches #1" by Syd Moore -odd but fun
Strange Magic - Syd Moore

In "Strange Magic" Rosie Strange inherits the Essex Witch Museum from her estranged grandfather and finds herself pulled into skullduggery involving violent occult practitioners, a race against time to save a young boy's life and a gruesome treasure hunt.

 

This is a light, fast, often funny read that draws much of its humor and most of its originality from the fact that Rosie Strange is an Essex Girl from generations of Essex Girls.

 

Essex Girls were invented in the UK in the 1980s, a decade when much humor on television was thinly disguised misogyny and racism presented with an "only joking, luv" passive aggressive veneer. The basic premise was that Essex girls were dumb, blonde, working class and promiscuous and therefore deserved to be treated with disdain and abuse in the name of wholesome fun. This stereotype and even some of the alleged jokes survive to the present day.

 

Syd Moore gives Rosie the working class background and estuary accent of the Essex girl. She also makes her smart, independent, irreverent, stubborn, curious,  sexually confident and brave. It becomes clear that Rosie is an archetype of generations of strong women from Essex and that those women explain the disproportionately large number of witches murdered in Essex during the various purges.

 

"Strange Magic" is gentle fun, easy on the ear but with a grit beneath the surface that lifts it into something distinctive.

 

I recommend the audiobook version because accents are an important part of the characterization. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear an example.

 

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/340842100" params="color=#ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" iframe="true" /]

 

In the interview below, Syd Moore talks about the Essex Girl stereotype, its impact and how it got her started on writing this series.

 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LM-v0KhYa8Y?rel=0&w=560&h=315]

 

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