Been There, Seen This Scene, Still Love It

I originally purchased this book at a bookstore in St. Thomas. I like purchasing books by local authors when I am in a foreign country. It was written by Tiphanie Yanique, an author who was originally from The Virgin Islands.
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I started this book late last year, and admit, it took me a while to get into it. At about 1/3 of the way through, I was hooked, and off we went on a beautiful, torturing, mythical journey. It is the story of two sisters from St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands- Eona and Anette. The first bit of the book talks about their parents, where they came from and when the girls were born. The rest of the book is about the sisters’ loves, children, and lots and lots about the island itself. Having been there, I loved reading about the familiar areas where we had traveled and imagining them in this book. St. Thomas (and the surrounding islands of St. John, St. Croix and Anegada) were strong characters in this story.

This is historical fiction, and includes the events of World War II, the Korean War, the Civil Right’s Movement and the purchase of the island by the US from the Dutch. Other events include a hurricane (Mary) and a protest by the islanders to keep the beaches public. The timelines at times didn’t line up for me. Anette has a child when her husband goes to fight in WWII (and she is still youngish), but then mentions she is in her 30s when it seems as if she should be much older (given the age of her children). The author does admit to taking some liberties with the timeline. I also love that the author explains that much of this story is based of her own mother and grandmother’s lives, and that they went to Anegada, where her grandmother’s family was from, but had never been. This tied up the book nicely.

I liken this book to a mix between Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude for the mysticism that is included in the story.

And just for fun, here is a picture of me reading Land of Love and Drowning with one of my cats, John Snow. #johnsnowisalive

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And finally, if you’ve ever wanted to travel to St. Thomas, may I recommend the Allure of the Seas Cruise Ship, operated by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines? We used this ship to get their last September and it is indescribable, as the second largest cruise ship in the world (shorter only by 1 foot from its sister ship, Harmony of the Seas).

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The H.G. Wells Prophecy

I’m not a fan of H.G. Wells, mostly because his stuff scares the crap out of me. War of the Worlds is a movie I can’t NOT watch, but gives me nightmares every time I watch it. I dare not read it.

So I thought I’d try this one- seemed a little tamer.
Still terrifying.

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He travels to the year 802701 and meets some beautiful waif-like creatures called Eloi who seem fairly blissfully unaware of most dangers. Their days are spent mostly in repose. One, Weena, nearly drowns and the time traveler is the only one who rushes to save her. So begins a platonic, non-romantic relationship. In arriving in this year, his time machine is lost, so he must find it to get home. In doing so, he comes upon the Morlocks, whom are quite the opposite of the Eloi. The Time Traveler is his retelling of this trip to his friends and colleagues, most are are disbelieving in his tale.

Knowing that this book was written by Wells in 1895 just blows my mind. He touches on topics of class, race, global warming, and environmentalism- in a time when these topics didn’t exist or were taboo or ignored. Quite prophetic. Here are a few examples:

“There is no intelligence where there is no change and no need of change.”

“He, I know- for the question had been discussed among us long before the Time Machine was made- thought but cheerlessly of the Advancement of Mankind, and aw in the growing pile of civilization only a foolish heaping that must inevitably fall back upon and destroy its makers in the end.”

PS, for some context, this review is being written the day before Election Day, 2016- Trump vs. Clinton.

Not Your Typical Atwood

How excited was I to received this Advanced Reader’s Copy from Bookstr?!

Margaret Atwood is up there with Joyce Carol Oates as one of my favorite writers of all times. It really just fluctuates between whomever I’ve read most recently, though I do have to say, Ms. Atwood’s stories tend to stick in my head much longer than JCO’s do.

That being said, this is a bit of a departure from her most recent books. Most know Atwood as a writer of dystopic novels, though that wasn’t always the case. This is definitely NOT a dystopic novel, as it is part of Crown Publishing’s Hogarth Shakespeare project. Hag-Seed is a retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, another one of his plays I had zero familiarity with prior to this novel.

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First, let me say, that the feel of this book in my hands is splendid. For a paperback of under 300 pages, it feels hefty- due mostly to the thickness of the paper it is published on. I absolutely love this- when I’m reading it, there is no denying it is THERE, in my hot little hands.

Now, I typically read Atwood’s novels quickly- in a matter of days- but this one took a few weeks. Mostly because I felt lost most of the time. Perhaps it is because of my unfamiliarity with The Tempest, but once the play was being performed at the prison, I couldn’t follow what was happening very well. I tried to read this novel as just that, a story, regardless of the fact it was a modern spin on an old tale, and I just wasn’t getting it. There were definite moments where the book held me- in the beginning when Felix is cast out of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival, when he is meeting with Estelle, his contact at the prison, and any time Anne-Marie had a presence. But the purpose of putting on The Tempest as a cover for his revenge just didn’t add up to me, as it seemed too far fetched and disjointed. And then, just like that, the whole purpose of this novel, the revenge, was over and never really mentioned again.

The other thing that I didn’t quite get was his relationship with his daughter Miranda. Sure, he had named her after the character in The Tempest, but when he kept seeing her, despite her death years earlier, and was having conversations with her, I questioned how that helped in the story. Because he is clearly delusional? So delusional as to see and talk to his dead daughter? And to be so delusional as to create this revenge play in a prison? Perhaps.

As a stand alone novel, it was a solid meh. I suppose if you were a big fan of The Tempest, this would make more since and be sensational. Luckily Atwood provided a five page synopsis of the original play at the end, which helped some. I also suppose you could call this story quite meta, as it is the retelling of The Tempest, where the main character is living his own Tempest while producing The Tempest in prison. Yes. Clever and meta, it is.

Of the Hogarth Shakespeare’s books, this is the third I’ve read after Vinegar Girl and The Gap of Time. So far, The Gap of Time has been my favorite, but I can’t wait to check out more of them as they are released.

Behold This Beautiful Book

For a brand new author, this is a beautiful story. I loved how Mbue used her own Cameroonian roots to develop the main characters in this novel.
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It is the story of Jende and Neni, immigrants from Cameroon, coming to America for their own American dream. Jende comes to the US a few years before sending for Neni and his son. Neni falls in love with NYC, the flashing lights, ethnic people and access to everything. She jumps right into college to become a pharmacist. Meanwhile, Jende gets a great job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a big-wig at Lehman Brothers. 2007/2008 happen, and we all know what happens to Lehman Brothers. The fall out of the financial collapse is the background of this story.

We also get to know Clark’s wife and 2 sons. The collapse of Lehman Brothers exposes cracks in both the Edwards’ relationship, as well as Jende and Neni’s. Navigating the US as immigrants in a country that is fighting to stay financially afloat is extremely difficult, and Mbue documents this beautifully.

It is the differences in marriages from one country and culture to another. It is the determination of men and in how they recover from ruin. It is the determination of wives and how they fight to keep what they believe is theirs. It is the difference in humans; how some believe they are handed a lot in life while others scramble to pave their own way.

A beautiful, exquisite story from beginning to end.

Joyce Carol Oates Lite

This is Joyce Carol Oates as her lightest…Lauren Kelly is just one of her pseudonyms that she wrote under for a brief spell. For those that find JCO difficult to read, this is a lot easier…less stream of consciousness, more precise story telling.
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However, keeping with her typical dark style, the The Blood Mask itself is very JCO. Diabolical, a little confusing and twisty, slightly morbid, though not overtly grotesque. It is the story of Annabelle (who becomes Marta), a teenager sent to live with her rich, art-influenced (influencing) aunt after her parents become incapable of caring for her. What first seems like a dream come true (moving from a broken home to a mansion) quickly becomes a nightmare of manipulation, unrequited love and a struggle to prove loyalty.

A pretty quick read, yet not amazingly profound in any way. Great for those who’d like to dabble in a little JCO to peak behind those dark brocade curtains of her mind.

A Beautiful Tragedy

…and isn’t that what Shakespeare was great at? Writing beautiful tragedies?
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The Gap of Time is one of the Hogarth Shakespeare Project books. It is a retelling of The Winter’s Tale– a Shakespeare I have not yet read. Luckily a synopsis is included in the beginning of the book, which is helpful. This is also my first Jeanette Winterson, who herself, makes an appearance in this novel.
In this version, Leo and Xeno are boyhood friends whose lives continue to mix into adulthood. Relationships are made, created and destroyed. Jealousy and controlling behaviors rule. Children are born and lost- or are they?
While this version is meant for the modern era, it still feels timeless. The overtone of the book is sadness- you are sad for the characters- even the ones whose actions don’t deserve sympathy. There are tidbits, hints and nuggets of other Shakespeare’s works in here (Perdita calls herself Miranda, fittingly, at one point) and these are fun to spot.

This is adults behaving badly and how that impacts the lives of their children. It is how the loss of a child can ruin the lives of everyone around her. About how jealousy can explode so far out of it’s container that the shrapnel goes way beyond the immediate parties entwined in it. This was a very quick read.

The character names in the book are versions of the names from the play, which is also fun- the current versions are just that- more modern versions of these names. In the play, the city of Sicilia is the backdrop-in this novel, Sicilia is the company owned by Leo (Leontes from the play). It was nice to see this homage while still keeping the story relevant.

The only negative was the last chapter. It went from telling Shep’s story and rolled into the author making the connection between this and The Winter’s Tale. It was a weird transition and maybe should have just been in it’s own chapter. Otherwise it was beautiful (the cover is also very lovely to look at!).

Thank you Blogging for Books for providing this novel in exchange for my review.

There’s Enough Whine in the World as it is….

I could not finish this one- A House for Happy Mothers by Amulya Malladi.

A House for Happy Mothers

I think the base idea is great…the use of an Indian woman as a womb for those who cannot give birth themselves…but this is just..annoying.

It’s the story of Priya and her husband, who cannot have kids…who clearly can’t even decide if they even want them or not, who then jump the ocean to use an Indian surrogate. The other half of the story is seen through the eyes of this surrogate, Asha- a woman who already has 2 children of her own.

I found all the characters particularly annoying and whiny. The women were worse than the men, who just whined about finances and not getting enough time with their wives…pouting and leaving for weeks on end when they don’t get their way. The women whined about their inability to get pregnant, their annoying mothers, not seeing their kids, getting impregnated for money, what to do with said money…and on and on.

I think a non-fiction book on the subject of surrogates in India would be more interesting…what straights lead these women to decide to give up 9 months of their lives to house someone else’s child?

Thank you NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for the free copy in exchange for my review.