• Book Reviews,  Writing

    Gingerbread: a book review


    A gingerbread addict once told Harriet that eating her gingerbread is like eating revenge. … ‘That heart, ground to ash and shot through with darts of heat, salt, spice, and sulfurous syrup, as if honey was measured out, set ablaze, and trickled through the dough along with the liquefied spoon. You are phenomenal. You’ve ruined my life forever. Thank you’. – Helen Oyeyemi, Gingerbread


    Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi hails from the genre of magical realism, one of my favorite genres. If you are unfamiliar, there is just enough real-life mixed with just enough magic or fantasy to make you forget the real world for a bit. And all without being ridiculous.

    Alice Hoffman is the author who introduced me to this brand of storytelling and in my opinion, she is the master.

    These stories follow a rhythm – introduction of a few quirky or odd characters followed by exploring the world they live in, how they don’t quite belong, and then finally finding a way to live their lives, hopefully better than before.

    Meet Gingerbread:

    Harriet is a single mother of a teenaged daughter, Perdita – who is no ordinary teen. She is different in all ways including her living dolls and completely grey hair caused by a severe allergic reaction to her mother’s gingerbread.

    The gingerbread that Harriet makes comes from an old family recipe passed down to her by her mother, Margot, and farther back from her own ancestors. The origin of the gingerbread comes from crops of blighted rye grown in the questionably existent land of Druhástrana where Harriet and her best friend, Gretel Kercheval are from.

    To waste nothing, the great-great-great-grandmother concocted a recipe using many of the traditional ingredients we know to be in modern day gingerbread. The trick though was to use just enough rye. Too little and you were wasteful; too much and consuming it made you extremely ill.

    Perdita has many questions about her family of origin, her mother and especially her mother’s friend Gretel who has been an integral part of Harriet’s life but has never been seen by Perdita.

    In typical teenage fashion, Perdita says she’s going on an overnight school trip and sets off to learn of her mother’s past and Druhástrana.

    The writing is excellent in the first part of the book. And then there is a dramatic shift as Perdita falls down the rabbit hole of her mother’s past. The change falls somewhere in between a stream of consciousness and a calculated fairy tale.

    Let them come, let them come from the farms and try to pinch us again, Rosolio raged as she sewed. … From now on we’re all carrying gingerbread shivs, OK? – Helen Oyeyemi, Gingerbread

    Gingerbread shivs was my absolute favorite and one phrase I won’t soon forget.

    This change in style may bother some readers but I found the utilitarian writing style fitting for the time and the place. Once Perdita returns to her mother, the writer returns to the style that began the book.

    I found this brilliant. But I can see how some readers would find it distracting.

    In true magical realism form, the characters find a way to bridge their worlds and the ending was just what I had hoped for.

    Oyeyemi is an excellent writer and I know this won’t be the last of her books that I read.

    Who would enjoy this book? Anyone who appreciates unique writing styles and dark fairy tales. If you liked The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman, The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, or The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, I think you will also enjoy Gingerbread.

  • Book Reviews

    Tell the Wolves I’m Home: a book review


    Tell the Wolves I’m Home is the debut novel by Carol Rifka Brunt.

    June is a smart and resourceful 14-year-old with a talented but distant older sister, and parents who are both CPA’s and provide little supervision during tax season.

    Mix the family dynamics with the death of June’s beloved uncle, Finn, and you’ve got a recipe for what could go wrong?

    Set in 1987, Finn was a famous artist who died of AIDS before very much was known about the virus. This took me back to my own childhood as the book detailed the news reports, wild theories, and sadly the nastiness directed at the gay community.

    Finn had a “friend”, Toby, that the family won’t speak of and believe that he killed their brother and uncle. But in a chain of events facilitated by typical ‘80’s parenting – kids of the ‘80’s know what I mean – June meets this friend of Finn’s and they develop a bond over their mutual love for Finn.

    That’s where the book went south for me. While there were sweet moments of remembrance for Finn, the liberties taken by Toby – an adult – with a 14-year-old girl were too much for me. Nothing truly inappropriate but secretly sending letters, giving gifts, meeting her in the city, and other adventures without her parents’ knowledge made the story lose credibility for me.

    All of that was a distraction for me. The author missed her chance to highlight the AIDS epidemic, the treatment of individuals with HIV/AIDS, and the grief process of a family. All in favor of the secret relationship and exploits of a 14-year-old girl.

    What did I enjoy? The descriptions of Finn’s art, the painting he left behind for his nieces, and the push and pull of the sisterly relationship were well done. The writing was also excellent and the characters were decently developed.

    Who would I recommend this book to? If you were a child of the ’80s and can forgive some of the WTF’s of the plot, you may enjoy this book. This is classified as a young adult book but the issues addressed will appeal to both young adults and adults alike.

    If you liked The Astonishing Color of After or The Book of Essie, you will probably enjoy Tell the Wolves I’m Home.

  • Book Reviews

    Book Review: The Nix


    …if a new beginning is really new, it will feel like a crisis. Any real change should make you feel, at first, afraid. If you’re not afraid of it, then it’s not real change. 

    Nathan Hill, The Nix


    I listened to the Nix while reading Infinite Jest. Seeking to balance that madness, I picked an audiobook from my wishlist which ended up on my list primarily because of the cover art.

    I am a sucker for good book cover art and looking back over my books read last year, the ones that I picked based on the cover never disappointed. There’s got to be something psychological there, but I’ll leave that to a marketing genius to explore.

    The Nix spans decades and follows Samuel Andreson – Anderson through years of questions, changes, friendships, failures, love interests, and the curse of the Nix. The book begins in his adulthood and finds him as a gaming addict/college professor caught up in national political headlines when his missing mother makes the news after throwing rocks at a presidential candidate.

    Samuel, a promising author that never delivered on his book deal, is put in the impossible position of paying back the advance money. That is until he offers up a story of interest – his mother, Faye. The publisher accepts his proposal and Samuel sets out to find his mother, ask her why she left him as a child, and get close enough to write a tell-all about Faye the political protestor turned assailant. 

    Nathan Hill uses historic events as a backdrop – i.e. Occupy Wallstreet and political protests in the 60’s – which helped me keep my timeline and characters straight. This is a huge positive for this book because of the length (640 pages). Even listening to the audiobook, I never got lost.

    What I enjoyed the most about this book were the well-developed rabbit trails that made each character come to life. I often find myself wanting more from the author on what seems to be an interesting character with a story.

    Nathan Hill leaves no character stone unturned. And while this leads to a long book, I enjoyed the backstories of almost every character. There are a few I could have done without but overall, the backstories added a rich layer in the plot of the book.

    Hill’s writing style is meticulous, witty, emotional, and pulls no punches. There is a healthy dose of social and political commentary which adds color when told through the perspectives of the characters.

    Who would I recommend this book to? Anyone who enjoys a long book with well-developed characters. If you are a fan of John Irving, Michael Chabon, or David Foster Wallace you should enjoy this book.

    And speaking of David Foster Wallace, an un-review of Infinite Jest is coming soon. 

  • ARC's,  Book Reviews

    Little Darlings – blog tour & review

    Author: Melanie Golding

    Publisher: Crooked Lane

    Publish Date: April 30, 2019


    “Mother knows best” takes on a sinister new meaning in this unsettling thriller perfect for fans of Neil Gaiman and Grimms’ Fairy Tales.Everyone says Lauren Tranter is exhausted, that she needs rest. And they’re right; with newborn twins, Morgan and Riley, she’s never been more tired in her life. But she knows what she saw: that night, in her hospital room, a woman tried to take her babies and replace them with her own…creatures. Yet when the police arrived, they saw no one. Everyone, from her doctor to her husband, thinks she’s imagining things.

    A month passes. And one bright summer morning, the babies disappear from Lauren’s side in a park. But when they’re found, something is different about them. The infants look like Morgan and Riley―to everyone else. But to Lauren, something is off. As everyone around her celebrates their return, Lauren begins to scream, These are not my babies.

    Determined to bring her true infant sons home, Lauren will risk the unthinkable. But if she’s wrong about what she saw…she’ll be making the biggest mistake of her life.

    Compulsive, creepy, and inspired by some of our darkest fairy tales, Little Darlings will have you checking―and rechecking―your own little ones. Just to be sure. Just to be safe.

    My Review:
    What a page-turner! I read this book in two evenings. It’s a thriller, mystery, and dark fairytale, with a dash of the paranormal, all rolled into one book.
    In this debut novel, Melanie Golding perfectly captures the fog of postpartum and maternal instinct. She took me back 15 years, to my early days with my newborn daughter. This made the main character, Lauren,  immediately relatable.
    New mothers are often on the receiving end of well-meant, unsolicited advice and Lauren was no exception.
    After a terrifying night in the hospital where a filthy woman tries to exchange Lauren’s twins with her own creature-like twins, Lauren is told she is imagining things and the incident is dismissed as exhaustion. Video footage confirms that nothing happened and soon enough Lauren and her irritating husband Patrick are heading home with their newborn twins.
    Lauren’s fears and terror continue yet she cannot convince those around her that something isn’t right. As a mother, I could put myself in that situation and that’s what made this a page-turner.
    I had to know what happened next.
    What I liked:
    The writing was well done, Lauren’s character was well developed and easy to empathize with.
    I love a good changeling story. And changeling twins? Even better.
    I also appreciated the presentation of a postpartum mother, suffering from terrible worry and fear, without turning her into an unreliable narrator. I never felt the need to question Lauren’s fears.
    What I didn’t like:
    UGH the husband, Patrick. I’m sure that is a universal feeling from anyone who has read this book. Sometimes his clueless demeanor bordered on cruel, making him feel a bit overdeveloped. But I do believe that helped strengthen Lauren’s character and story.
    Harper, the detective – I wish her back story had been expanded more. She was right on the cusp of being an interesting and well-developed character.
    If you enjoy a good thriller without extreme violence and terror – this happens to be me – and if you enjoy dark fairy tales and books like The Hazel Wood and Once Upon a River, Little Darlings should be added to your TBR list today!
    Want to win a copy? Head over to my Instagram to enter! I have three copies to give away, courtesy of Crooked Lane Books.

    Thank you to Netgalley and Crooked Lane Books for a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
  • Book Reviews

    Maid: a book review

    No two persons ever read the same book. – Edmund Wilson


    Have you ever read the reviews of a recent book you read/listened to and wondered if those readers read the same book or even read the entire book?

    Maid falls into this category for me. So many of the reviews missed the entire point of the book. As a matter of fact, they underscored just how deep our views of poverty and the working poor run.

    •    •    •    •

    Stephanie Land is a young single mother who found herself pregnant and in an abusive relationship with the child’s father. The book opens with her watching her daughter, Mia, take her first steps – in a homeless shelter.

    After 90 days, the maximum amount of time allowed to live in the shelter, Stephanie and Mia are moved into transitional housing which doubled as a halfway house. In a very uncomfortable scene, Stephanie’s mother and husband – visiting from Europe – help her move her belongings. The comments, the questions, and finally the expectation for Stephanie to pay for her own meal when she had $10 to her name, illustrated just how little of a support system she had.

    Stephanie found a job working as a maid, earning minimum wage minus gas money to travel from house to house. Between multiple government assistance plans, minimal child support, her jobs, and her side jobs, she barely scraped by every month. She was one emergency expense away from losing what little she had.

    More than once she was told “you’re welcome” by people in the grocery store line watching her use food stamps to pay for her groceries.

    Cue the reviewer comments criticizing her for never saying “thank you” and acting entitled.

    Have we really devolved that much? Where we expect a single parent to turn around in the checkout line and thank us after using government assistance to pay for groceries. How sad and ignorant.

    In the book Land did express her gratitude multiple times for the assistance they received, despite how often she was shamed and stigmatized. She wholeheartedly acknowledged that they would not have survived without the programs.

    •    •    •    •

    This memoir chronicles her struggles and tackles head-on, the stigmas of living in poverty and receiving government assistance. Her writing is excellent and if readers are willing to set aside their own opinions, it is very easy to slip into her shoes. My one critique would be the timeline – at times it was difficult to follow.

    I am glad for the help that Stephanie received. This book would not exist without it and the stigmas would continue. We need more books like Maid.

    And of course this book wasn’t all sadness and struggle – there were interesting and amusing parts as well. She pulled back the curtain and gave the reader a look into the world of house cleaning from a maid’s perspective. I know that I am going to be a better host for our cleaning service. Stephanie wrote about feeling invisible to her clients, despite the dirty work she did, and I never want someone feeling like that when they are in my own home.

    I also don’t want to end up in one of their memoirs. 

    Who would I recommend this book to? If you enjoyed Educated, Heavy, or Where the Crawdads Sing, you will enjoy Stephanie’s writing, strength, and resilience.

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