Shelf Control #106: Madapple

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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Title: Madapple
Author: Christine Meldrum
Published: 2008
Length: 410 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

THE SECRETS OF the past meet the shocks of the present.

Aslaug is an unusual young woman. Her mother has brought her up in near isolation, teaching her about plants and nature and language – but not about life. Especially not how she came to have her own life, and who her father might be.

When Aslaug’s mother dies unexpectedly, everything changes. For Aslaug is a suspect in her mother’s death. And the more her story unravels, the more questions unfold. About the nature of Aslaug’s birth. About what she should do next.

About whether divine miracles have truly happened. And whether, when all other explanations are impossible, they might still happen this very day.

Addictive, thought-provoking, and shocking, Madapple is a page-turning exploration of human nature and divine intervention – and of the darkest corners of the human soul.

How and when I got it:

I barely remember, but I believe I bought a copy online after reading a review, back after the book was first released.

Why I want to read it:

The reviews for this YA novel made it sound sinister and unusual, and while I don’t remember now exactly what caught my eye, there was definitely something there that attracted me as soon as I heard about it. I’m really going to try to bump this one up higher on my book stack this year!

__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books I barely remember

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. Each week, there’s a new top 10 theme — check out the host blog for a list of upcoming topics.

This week’s topic is Books I Really Liked but Can’t Remember Anything/Much About

We all have those, right? Please say it isn’t just me! When you read as much as we crazy bookfiends do, it’s a given that the details may start to slide after a while. Here are ten books that I’ve read and (mostly) loved… but I really couldn’t tell you all that much about them at this point.

First, a batch that I know I loved, even if the memories have gotten a little fuzzy:

1. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith: I remember the main character and the setting, but not many details about her life.

2. Away by Amy Bloom: I know I thought the writing was beautiful. Historical fiction, a woman traveling across America… couldn’t tell you a whole lot more than that.

3. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Bloom: Three sisters, a father who always quotes Shakespeare. Don’t remember much about the individuals characters.

4. The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway: Ah, I loved this book! It’s all timey-wimey. I know I”ll want to read it again at some point, because I’d love to have clearer recall of exactly what happened.

5. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen: I just listened to the audiobook about two years ago — my first encounter with Mansfield Park! I’ve already managed to mix up all the characters in my head, though.

6. Alanna (and the other books in the Song of the Lionness quartet) by Tamora Pierce: My daughter is a huge Tamora Pierce fan and keeps urging me to read more of her books… but before I do, I feel like I need to go back to these four (which I read over 10 years ago) and refamiliarize myself with the story. I know the main character grows up to become the first female knight in the land of Tortall… but that’s about it!

7. All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin: I read the first two books in the Birthright trilogy, and I suppose at some point I should finish — but it’s been too long since I read books 1 & 2. I know the main character is the descendant of a powerful crime family, chocolate is illegal (gasp!), and she ends up in Mexico at some point. And there’s a love story. And it’s set in New York. That’s about it — I’ll need to start again if I ever want to finish.

8. Dark Tower series, books 1 – 3, by Stephen King: I got through the first three books in the series before deciding to take a break. Bad decision — there’s no way I’ll remember enough of the details that already happened to be able to jump back in.

And two more recent reads that seem to have slipped right out of my brain the second I read them:

9. The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli: I liked it just fine when I read it, but apparently (for me) it was unmemorable and/or indistinguable from a dozen other YA novels. I couldn’t tell you a thing about the plot or the characters without cheating and looking at a synopsis first.

10. The Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich: Can you believe that I just read this about a month ago? I know that I found it to be a letdown, and maybe that’s why it’s left zero impression on me. Something about a problem with pregnancies… ??? I’d have to go back to my notes to know more than that.

I guess my big takeaway here is that the downside of gobbling up 100+ books per year is that there’s only so much the brain (my brain) can retain! The books that I’ve loved will always be a part of me… but the question is, how much of the detail will I actually be able to recall after years go by?

Does this happen to you? Do you have books that you know you’ve loved, but can’t remember a whole lot about?

Please share your thoughts and share your links!

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!

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The Monday Check-In ~ 1/22/2018

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read last week?

Read and reviewed:

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld: I loved this 21st century retelling of Pride and Prejudice! My review is here.

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas: Hmmm. See my review here if you want to know what I thought!

Read but not reviewed:

Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire: I was a bit let down by this book, which just doesn’t live up to the magic and wonder of the previous two in the series. The writing is still lovely, but the plot didn’t quite work for me.

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott: Finished! My book group’s classic read of Ivanhoe came to an end this past week, and I’m so glad to have read it. Another great choice of a book I probably never would have read on my own.

Fresh Catch:

Two new books this week:

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Still Me by Jojo Moyes: I’m excited to be reading this follow up to After You… if only I could remember what happened in the previous book.

Now playing via audiobook:

Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart: Another terrific adventure featuring the Kopp Sisters! I have another day or two of listening to go.

Ongoing reads:

Book group reads:

  • Since we finished Ivanhoe this past week, we’re in between classic reads at the moment. Our next will start in February.
  • Lord John and the Succubus by Diana Gabaldon: Our group read of this novella continues — contact me if you’d like to join in.

So many books, so little time…

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Book Review: Red Clocks


In this ferociously imaginative novel, abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers alongside age-old questions surrounding motherhood, identity, and freedom.

Ro, a single high-school teacher, is trying to have a baby on her own, while also writing a biography of Eivør, a little-known 19th-century female polar explorer. Susan is a frustrated mother of two, trapped in a crumbling marriage. Mattie is the adopted daughter of doting parents and one of Ro’s best students, who finds herself pregnant with nowhere to turn. And Gin is the gifted, forest-dwelling homeopath, or “mender,” who brings all their fates together when she’s arrested and put on trial in a frenzied modern-day witch hunt.

This book is getting a ton of buzz, with non-stop comparisons to The Handmaid’s Tale, among others. But I’ll tell you up front, I just don’t see it, and feel like the hype is pretty undeserved too.

Also, just to get this out of the way, the synopsis is misleading as well — the book is not about “five very different women” “in a small Oregon fishing town” — it’s about four women, and there are notes from one character’s unfinished biography of a female explorer. But Eivor is certainly not a woman in the small Oregon town. Nitpicky, I know, but accuracy matters.

Okay, so what’s it all about? Through chapters alternating between the four main characters and the notes on Eivor, we get a view of life in an America much like our own, but with a scary difference. Since the Personhood Amendment became the law of the land, abortions are illegal, and by law, life starts at conception, conveying the rights of full humans on embryos. Women who miscarry are forced to pay for funerals for their dead babies. Getting an abortion will result in murder charges. Canada has enacted an agreement to close the border to women seeking abortions; this is known as the “Pink Wall”.

And yet, in all other ways, it’s just a small town with the usual assortment of odd characters overly involved in one another’s lives.

Ro is desperate to become pregnant, but as the clock seems to be running out on her fertility chances, she’s also aware of the law about to take effect (Every Child Needs Two) that bans adoption by single parents. Ro’s student Mattie is bright and ambitious, but finds herself trapped by an unwanted pregnancy. Susan feels trapped in her marriage and family life, and seems not quite stable in a self-destructive way. Gin is a healer with a talent for herbal medicine and the courage to provide care for women with nowhere to turn. All, in different ways, feel trapped by their own circumstances and the laws that take away their choices.

Oddly, Red Clocks is much less compelling than it should be. Yes, the twist about the Personhood Amendment and the return to a world of back-alley abortions is frightening, clearly intended as a cautionary tale for those who take rights for granted and who assume someone will do something about the slow creep of rising conservatism. But in execution, the events of the novel feel narrow in scope — the small town, rather than feeling representative, is just its own odd little locale.

The writing in Red Clocks suffers from literary affectation that’s distracting and even laughable in places. The main characters are referred to only by their generic descriptions in their own chapters — so in Ro’s chapters, she’s referred to only as “the biographer”. Susan is “the wife”, Mattie is “the daughter”, and Gin is “the mender”. Yet they get names when they feature in chapters about the other characters… so what’s the point of not using their names? Are they supposed to be iconic in some way? Perhaps it’s the author’s way of showing the roles that women are assigned, but it doesn’t feel necessary or effective; rather, it feels like someone trying too hard to be different.

And oh, the writing itself drove me a bit batty. Are we supposed to be seeing how these women think? Is that why everything is so disjointed? And yet, the chapters all sound kind of alike, without distinct voices. Here are a few samples — judge for yourself if this is the kind of thing you can stomach:

Labiaplasty surgeons earn up to $250,000 per month.

A little animal — possum? porcupine? tries to cross the cliff road.

Sooty, burnt, charred to rubber.

Shivering, trying to cross.

Already so dead.

(opening lines of a “The Wife” chapter)

A witch who says no to her lover and no to the law must be suffocated in a cell of the hive. She who says no to her lover and no to the law shall bleed salt from the face. Two eyes of salt in the face of a witch who says no to her lover and no to the law shall be seen by policeman who come to the cabin.

(“The Mender”)

There is an egg bracing to burst out of its sac into the wet fallopian warmth.

(“The Biographer”)

Babies once were abstractions. They were Maybe I do, but now now. The biographer used to sneer at talk of biological deadlines, believing the topic of baby craziness to be crap for lifestyle magazines. Women who worried about ticking clocks were the same women who traded salmon-loaf recipes and asked their husbands to clean the gutters. She was not and never would be one of them.

Then, suddenly, she was one of them. Not the gutters, but the clock.

(“The Biographer”)

After Clementine leaves, the mender misses her, wants back the soft white thighs. She likes her ladies big-sirenic, mermaids of land, pressing and twisting in fleshful bodies.

(“The Mender”)

Red Clocks isn’t boring, and the plot does include dramatic and moving moments — but few and far between. Otherwise, it’s all very introspective, and the political and social impact gets drowned under the droning of the inner monologues. The book held my interest, but wasn’t the buzz-worthy read I’d expected.

And a final note: I keep seeing people describe Red Clocks as “dystopian”, but I find that not quite accurate either. While it’s disturbing to see the impact of the Personhood Amendment, the world of Red Clocks is no where near the societal upheaval and tyranny of a dystopian society. It’s our world as it could be, which is scary enough without the “dystopian” label attached to it.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Red Clocks
Author: Leni Zumas
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: January 16, 2018
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Book Review: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld


This version of the Bennet family and Mr. Darcy is one that you have and haven’t met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray.

Youngest sisters Kitty and Lydia are too busy with their CrossFit workouts and Paleo diets to get jobs. Mary, the middle sister, is earning her third online master’s degree and barely leaves her room, except for those mysterious Tuesday-night outings she won’t discuss. And Mrs. Bennet has one thing on her mind: how to marry off her daughters, especially as Jane’s fortieth birthday fast approaches.

Enter Chip Bingley, a handsome new-in-town doctor who recently appeared on the juggernaut reality TV dating show Eligible. At a Fourth of July barbecue, Chip takes an immediate interest in Jane, but Chip’s friend, neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy, reveals himself to Liz to be much less charming. . . . And yet, first impressions can be deceiving.

This is the most fun I’ve had with a book all year! (Okay, it’s only January 20th, but that sounds impressive, doesn’t it?)

Eligible is a Jane Austen retelling, part of The Austen Project, in which modern-day authors are matched up with Austen novels, retelling Austen’s classic tales in a modern setting. Eligible is the 4th of the Austen Project books to be published, and I’d have to say it’s the most enjoyable so far.

The author opens this Pride and Prejudice reinterpretation with a quote by Mark Twain about Cincinnati being 20 years behind every one else… and thank goodness she does, because this mindset certainly help Eligible make sense. The problem I have with most modern-day interpretations of Austen stories is the unrelenting emphasis on marrying well, which definitely isn’t a notion that fits with a 21st century outlook.

In Eligible, Mrs. Bennet is a Cincinnatian who wants nothing more than for her five daughters to be married off to wealthy, successful men, so she can go brag about it at the country club. Mrs. Bennet is just as insufferable here as she is in Austen’s original. Liz and Jane have found lives and careers in New York, but when they return home due to their father’s health crisis, they’re sucked right back into the Bennets’ world, full of gossip and obnoxious younger sisters and oblivious parents.

The story is quite fun. Darcy is a snobbish neurosurgeon who forms terrible impressions of Cincinnati and the Bennets. And he does have good reason, as Kitty and Lydia are crass and embarrassing every time they open their mouths. Jane is lovely, of course, and Chip is smitten… but complicating matters is the fact that Jane had decided to pursue single motherhood right before returning to Cincinnati, and a pregnancy could definitely throw a wrench in the romance.

The modern-day touches are sprinkled throughout the story. The use of a reality TV show as a catalyst is quite brilliant, especially as Chip’s ongoing connection to the show comes back into play later in the book. Lydia’s story take an unexpected turn as well, and fortunately, she ends up being more sensible and much happier in Eligible than she does in the original.

MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD!

I don’t want to get too far into the details, because the fun is in encountering all the little ways in which the author takes the original P&P story elements and turns them on their head and makes them fit in a contemporary novel. Still, I’ll mention just a few things that I thought were great twist, such as Jasper Wick (Eligible‘s version of Wickham), a married man with whom Liz has an affair for far too long (prior to the events of the story), and who ends up being just the sort of ass we’d expect. Fortunately, Lydia does NOT get involved with Wick/Wickham in this story… but the way the author makes Lydia’s elopement work out is fitting, and I only just now got the play on names that the author pulls off with Lydia’s love interest.

The one thing I had a really hard time with in Eligible is that about mid-way through, as Liz and Darcy keep running into each other, being rude to one another, and clearly expressing their dislike… Liz asks Darcy if he wants to have hate sex, and he agrees, and they end up in bed together! A lot! Okay, fine, I don’t have any problem with consenting adults doing whatever they like, but somehow it’s shocking to think about Lizzie Bennet and Darcy getting physical! I felt like I was going to have an attack of the vapors. Quick, fetch the smelling salts! It actually all works in the context of the plot, but somehow putting those characters in that situation was quite outrageous for my poor, proper sensibilities.

Okay, end of spoilers.

The writing in Eligible is fun and light-hearted, and the short chapters keep the plot moving right along, even though the book itself, by pure page-count, is on the long side. Despite knowing overall how the story must work out, given the premise, getting there was really a blast.

I haven’t entirely loved the Austen Project books that I’ve read so far, because I do find the notion of Austen’s plots really hard to force into modern retellings. In the case of Eligible, though, it’s a great fit, and so well done. If you’re an Austen fan, Eligible is worth checking out, and I suppose even someone not familiar with Pride and Prejudice (gasp!) would enjoy the story as well.

For more on Austen Project books, check out my reviews of:
Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid
Sense and Sensibility by Joanne Trollope
Emma by Alexander McCall Smith

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The details:

Title: Eligible
Author: Curtis Sittenfeld
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: April 19, 2016
Length: 512 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased

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Shelf Control #105: A Head Full of Ghosts

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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Title: A Head Full of Ghosts
Author: Paul Tremblay
Published: 2015
Length: 286 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

The lives of the Barretts, a normal suburban New England family, are torn apart when fourteen-year-old Marjorie begins to display signs of acute schizophrenia.

To her parents’ despair, the doctors are unable to stop Marjorie’s descent into madness. As their stable home devolves into a house of horrors, they reluctantly turn to a local Catholic priest for help. Father Wanderly suggests an exorcism; he believes the vulnerable teenager is the victim of demonic possession. He also contacts a production company that is eager to document the Barretts’ plight. With John, Marjorie’s father, out of work for more than a year and the medical bills looming, the family agrees to be filmed, and soon find themselves the unwitting stars of The Possession, a hit reality television show. When events in the Barrett household explode in tragedy, the show and the shocking incidents it captures become the stuff of urban legend.

Fifteen years later, a bestselling writer interviews Marjorie’s younger sister, Merry. As she recalls those long ago events that took place when she was just eight years old, long-buried secrets and painful memories that clash with what was broadcast on television begin to surface–and a mind-bending tale of psychological horror is unleashed, raising vexing questions about memory and reality, science and religion, and the very nature of evil.

How and when I got it:

I bought the Kindle version last year when I happened to notice a price drop.

Why I want to read it:

Who doesn’t love a good possession story? A friend has been urging me to read this — or really, anything by this author. The synopsis sounds right up my alley — horror with elements of madness, and an exorcism too! I don’t know why I haven’t read A Head Full of Ghosts already, but I intend to fix that ASAP.

__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Reading resolutions for 2018

As of this week, the Top Ten Tuesday meme moves to a new host blog. Started originally by The Broke and the Bookish, Top Ten Tuesday will now be hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. Same great concept, just a new host! Top Ten Tuesday focuses on a different top 10 theme each week — check out the host blog for a list of upcoming topics.

This week’s topic is Bookish Resolutions/Goals 

For me, my #1 resolution is to STOP MAKING RESOLUTIONS.

Ha.

But I kind of mean it. I don’t want to create yet another list of resolutions for myself that will fall by the wayside within a week or two. So instead, I’ll just write about the overall ideas I have about how I want to read in 2018.

My goal, this year and every year, is to read whatever I want, whenever I want! No commitments. No deadlines. No pressures.

 

I don’t participate in reading challenges or read-a-thons. I’ve tried in the past, but I find that tailoring my reading to meet pre-selected categories, genres, or themes makes me feel completely stifled. Where’s the fun in reading if I feel like I HAVE TO read something, rather than just wanting to?

 

Still, I do have some rather loose goals that I’m aiming toward this year. I do want to get to some of the series that I’ve had my eye on for a while. I hope to at least start my “priority series” — and then, if they grab me, make a good-sized dent in the rest.

 

I’ve managed to cut way back on the number of ARCs I request — but for those that I have, I feel a commitment to reading them and reviewing them on or about their release dates. It’s only polite!

 

I intend to do some more sorting and culling of the books on my shelves. I need to face the fact that I have certain books that I’m just never, ever in the mood to read… so why keep them? A few more donation binges are in order!

 

Speaking of books on my shelves… my bookshelves need a major overhaul. When I first set them up, they were roughly organized by genre, but over the years, my method of shelving has devolved into “hmmm, this book seems to fit this tiny space”. Not at all helpful when it comes to actually finding something later on. So, at some point, I need to pull everything off the shelves (gasp!) and start fresh, and hopefully come up with an organizational system that isn’t just about where things fit.

 

I plan to read a few more classics through the Serial Reader app, which I really love. It’s so much fun to make daily progress, especially when it’s a book that seems overwhelming on its own. Check out Serial Reader, if you haven’t already. Let me know what goodies you find! I’m thinking, for me, it’ll be a Dickens kind of year.

 

Well, that’s only seven, but that’s enough! Really, my mindset when it comes to reading in 2018 is…

 

 

What are your reading goals for 2018? If you wrote a TTT post this week, please share your link!

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!

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The Monday Check-In ~ 1/15/2018

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read last week?

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman: The illustrated version is such a treat! See below for a link to my post about this book and Saga.

Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman: I finished the audiobook! My review is here.

Binti by Nnedi Okarafor: Another audiobook — I decided to re-read via audio, and although I’m glad I revisited the story, I can’t say that I was terribly impressed by the audiobook itself. This is one book thats’ definitely better on the page.

In graphic novels:

I caught up on Saga! Such an amazing series.

I wrote up some thoughts on Neverwhere and Saga, here.

Fresh Catch:

Three new books this week:

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

I’m FINALLY reading Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld, which has been sitting on my nightstand for over a year now.

Now playing via audiobook:

Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart: I’m really excited to be starting the 3rd Kopp Sisters book!

Ongoing reads:

Book group reads:

  • Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott: Finally, it’s the last week of my book group’s classic read!
  • Lord John and the Succubus by Diana Gabaldon: Our group read of this novella continues — contact me if you’d like to join in.

So many books, so little time…

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Saga and Neverwhere: Cool-looking stuff that I read this week

Instead of writing lengthy reviews (as I have a tendency to do), I thought I’d share quick looks at two of my reading obsessions from this past week.

SAGA by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples:

I love Lying Cat. And that’s the truth.

What can I say about the glories of the Saga series? In a nutshell, this comic series tells the story of two star-crossed lovers, Alana and Marko. Their worlds have been at war for generations, and when they desert their respective armies and begin life on the run together, they’re hunted and despised by both sides. The world of Saga is utterly wonderful, with bizarre beings such as Lying Cat, a race of robots with TV screens for heads, an adorable little seal-like creature who’s dangerous AF, and so much more. The artwork is astounding, with a mind-blowing array of gorgeous, strange, and often disgusting creatures and people and planets. The storyline is intense and always surprising, with plenty of danger and violence, but also some truly funny dialogue and situations.

Take note that Saga is definitely NSFW — between gory violence and explicit illustrations of sex acts and genitalia, this isn’t something you want your coworkers reading over your shoulders. (Unless they’re very cool coworkers, but you might be at risk of violating some company policies… )

Saga is available as standard comic editions, but I prefer to wait and read the trade-paperback editions. The 8th paperback volume just came out this month, which is what prompted my Saga binge this week — I re-read #5, then continued straight through 6, 7, and 8. There are also deluxe hardcover editions available, and if I’m ever feeling super rich, I will absolutely treat myself to those as well.

Saga is amazing, people! Don’t miss out.

NEVERWHERE by Neil Gaiman, with illustrations by Chris Riddell

Neverwhere is a classic Neil Gaiman fantasy, originally written as a teleplay for BBC in 1996 before being turned by Gaiman into a novel… which he then continued to tinker with over the years, until now, more than 20 years since its inception, Neverwhere has been published in the author’s “preferred” version of the text, with gorgeous, haunting black-and-white illustrations by the talented Chris Riddell throughout the book.

Neverwhere is the story of Richard Mayhew, an every-man who stumbles out of his normal life and into the dark, hidden, magical world of London Below. Swept away from everything and everyone he thought he knew, Richard finds himself embarking on a quest with the Lady Door, a bodyguard named Hunter, and the mysterious yet dashing Marquis de Carabas. As they avoid the deadly assassins Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar, Richard and his comrades journey through sewers and non-existent underground platforms, meet angels and beasts, and visit the Floating Market. Finally, when Richard has a chance to return to his former life, he has to decide whether he really wants “normal” after all.

I originally read Neverwhere years ago, and gave it only 3-stars at the time. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure that I even finished it, since the last half of so of the book seemed completely new to me. The illustrations here really add to the story, bringing the strange characters to life and adding interest and intrigue to practically every page.

At its heart, Neverwhere is a portal story, where a character steps from our world into something new and different, facing dangers but also encountering wonders beyond imagination. Perhaps my appreciation for this type of tale has grown over the years, but I did enjoy the story a lot more this time around — and the illustrations definitely helped me get into the strange world of Neverwhere in a new and marvelous way.

For more on the artist’s process of illustrating Neverwhere, see this article. And below, enjoy a few snippets of pages from the book. (Click to view larger versions).

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Audiobook Review: Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots


The instant New York Times bestselling memoir of a young Jewish woman’s escape from a religious sect, in the tradition of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel and Carolyn Jessop’s Escape, featuring a new epilogue by the author.

The Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism is as mysterious as it is intriguing to outsiders. In this arresting memoir, Deborah Feldman reveals what life is like trapped within a religious tradition that values silence and suffering over individual freedoms.

Deborah grew up under a code of relentlessly enforced customs governing everything from what she could wear and to whom she could speak to what she was allowed to read. It was stolen moments spent with the empowered literary characters of Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott that helped her to imagine an alternative way of life. Trapped as a teenager in a sexually and emotionally dysfunctional marriage to a man she barely knew, the tension between Deborah’s desires and her responsibilities as a good Satmar girl grew more explosive until she gave birth at nineteen and realized that, for the sake of herself and her son, she had to escape.

Unorthodox is a fascinating look into a world that’s largely unknown and hidden. The insular Satmar Hasidic community in which Deborah was raised has no tolerance for outside influence or interference, and at the same time, leaves no room for individuality or privacy.

All aspects of life are strictly governed, from what to wear to how to speak to what to eat to when to have sex with your husband. As a child, Deborah’s world revolved around family — the grandparents who raised her, the strict aunt who dictated every step of Deborah’s upbringing and education. Even so, Deborah was different, which can be unforgiveable among the Satmar — her father was either “crazy” or “retarded”, depending on who you asked, and her mother left the Satmar world when she left her unhappy marriage, leaving young Deborah behind.

As Deborah grows, she follows the rules carefully, always fearful of the contant watchful eyes and incessant gossip in their close-knit community, yet also yearning to expand her horizons. She sneaks forbidden books from a library from a different neighborhood, hiding Harry Potter and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn under her mattress, and takes the subway into Manhattan to be dazzled by the glimpse of another kind of life.

Still, Deborah does what is expected of her, married at age 17 to a groom she barely knows, enjoying the trappings of being a bride even while the horrible reality of her situation is driven home. The chapter on Deborah’s introduction to marriage is horrifying. Prior to the wedding, Deborah takes the mandatory “bride classes” that all Satmar girls take, learning essential requirements about going to the mikveh (ritual bath), about being unclean for two weeks due to her period (and the ridiculous steps women have to take before being considered clean enough to resume marital relations), how to run a good Jewish home, and then finally, in the last lesson, what sex is and what’s expected of her.

The sex talk Deborah gets is less than informative:

A man and a woman’s bodies were created like two interlocking puzzle pieces, she says. I hear her describe a hallway with walls, leading to a little door, which open to a womb, the mekor, she calls it, “the source.” I can’t imagine where an entire system like that could be positioned. She tries to tell me about the passageway that leads to “the source,” how this passageway is entered, demonstrating with her forefinger inserted into the ring of the thumb and forefinger of her other hand, and making ridiculous thrusting motions. I’m guessing that that motion is referring to the part where they click into place. Still, I can’t see where that spot, that entryway, can exist on my own body. As far as I know, the place where the pee comes out isn’t that stretchy. I finally stop her.

“Um, I don’t have that,” I say, giggling nervously.

The girls of the community are kept so utterly ignorant of their own bodies that she has no comprehension of having a vagina! Things go from bad to worse, as the couple is unable to consummate their marriage for a full year, as clumsy fumbling leads to frustration, which leads to deep anxiety and tension on Deborah’s part, making her physically unable to relax enough to permit her husband to complete the act. It’s horrible to hear the suffering that this young girl endures, with emotional damage heaped on top of physical suffering.

Finally, after becoming a mother at age 19, Deborah begins to secretly seek an outlet for her unfulfilled yearning for independence and knowledge, enrolling in classes, learning to drive, and venturing outside of her community and its heavy expectations. The more she encounters of the outside world, the more strongly she’s convinced that her future lies elsewhere. Ultimately, she finds a way to start a new life for herself and her young son, and finds the freedom she’s longed for all her life.

The narrative is intimate and informative, as Deborah walks us through the phases of a girl’s life, from early education through puberty and into young adulthood, when the entire focus becomes making a good match. We see the structures in place to enforce obedience and strict adherence to the religious rules that govern all aspects of life. The imbalance between the sexes is laughable — a woman’s life has as its purpose creating a home for her husband and raising children. There’s no room for individuality, and people with other interests are either shunned or, like Deborah and her mother before her, must leave entirely in order to have a life that feels true.

The audiobook, narrated by Rachel Botchan, captures the dialogue and the patterns of conversations quite well, as well as conveying the Yiddish terms that are peppered throughout the book. The narration flows nicely, and gives the listener a real sense of Deborah’s inner life, moods, and emotional struggles.

Quibbles:

While I found the story overall quite powerful, there are a few aspects that stuck out and were problems for me.

  • While talking about how unhappy she is in her marriage, Deborah states that she’d never be able to leave without leaving her son behind, because the rabbinical courts would never allow a Satmar woman to leave and take a child with her. Yet in the end, Deborah and her husband decide to divorce, and Deborah leaves with their son. How? Why was she allowed to take the child? What was the legal process? Was there some sort of agreement put into place? There’s no explanation offered, and considering that she pointed this out as a reason for her feeling trapped in her marriage, I needed to get some of information about why this worked out for her.
  • The author has a tendency to ascribe emotions to people based on her interactions with them, and this often rings false. When she goes to the mikveh for the first time in preparation for her wedding, she decides that the attendant “thinks she is better than I am” based on the tone of her voice, and later, when she feels embarrassed during the highly personal inspection that’s entailed, she says:

The attendant’s face is stern, but there is a faint whiff of triumph about her movements… She’s baiting me.

It all comes across as a big case of projection, as far as I can tell. Yes, the ritual is invasive and scary for a young woman who’s never been naked in front of others before and who has no knowledge of her own body, but the author presents the attendant’s feelings as facts, rather than showing that it’s her interpretation of what she sees. And this comes across in several places in the book — Deborah makes assumptions about other’s feelings and motivations, but we have no reason to think that she’s actually right.

  • I would have liked more explanation about Deborah and her husband Eli’s financial situation, as she describes them struggling to afford the basics, and yet they spend an enormous amount of time (and, I assume, money) visiting doctors and therapists and other specialists regarding their sexual difficulties, and later, for prenatal treatment once the pregnancy becomes high-risk. I assume the families support the couple, but it would have been good to have a better understanding of where the money they spent came from.

 

Wrapping it all up:

Unorthodox is a powerful story that provides a startling look into a world that must seem utterly alien to anyone with a secular upbringing. While there are areas that could use more factual grounding and additional information, overall this book provides quite a lot of detail into what constitutes childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood in the Satmar community. It’s easy to understand how an intelligent girl who questions everything and thirsts for knowledge would feel stifled, and perhaps the most remarkable thing is that the author survived in this world for as long as she did.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots
Author: Deborah Feldman
Narrator: Rachel Botchan
Publisher: Simon Schuster
Publication date: October 2, 2012
Length (print): 272 pages
Length (audiobook): 10 hours, 31 minutes
Genre: Memoir
Source: Purchased

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