Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

 

I’ve had Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff on the very top of my TBR pile for a solid year (or more!) and after just finishing it I’m very angry with myself for letting it languish there for so long. It left me gasping. An utterly fascinating, beautiful, and dark portrait of a marriage. I know she has other novels—what should I read next? (Not my picture but isn’t it gorgeous?)

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Review: Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett

Review: Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett

If I could gush about this book for hours I absolutely would! Rabbit Cake follows Elvis and her family as they cope with the death of her mom. Hartnett’s understanding of grief is startling and honest. There’s a clever balance of dark humor and grief with these light (sometimes laugh out loud) funny moments. It’s quirky, funny, and an absolute delight! (Oh, and I saw Hartnett at a reading at Brookline Booksmith earlier this month and she’s just great. See her pic below of a rabbit cake tin!)

Twelve-year-old Elvis Babbitt has a head for the facts: she knows science proves yellow is the happiest color, she knows a healthy male giraffe weighs about 3,000 pounds, and she knows that the naked mole rat is the longest living rodent. She knows she should plan to grieve her mother, who has recently drowned while sleepwalking, for exactly eighteen months. But there are things Elvis doesn’t yet know―like how to keep her sister Lizzie from poisoning herself while sleep-eating or why her father has started wearing her mother’s silk bathrobe around the house. Elvis investigates the strange circumstances of her mother’s death and finds comfort, if not answers, in the people (and animals) of Freedom, Alabama. As hilarious a storyteller as she is heartbreakingly honest, Elvis is a truly original voice in this exploration of grief, family, and the endurance of humor after loss.”

Review: A Greater Music by Bae Suah

Review: A Greater Music by Bae Suah. Translated by Deborah Smith

My latest review on Three Percent!

A Greater Music is the first in a line of steady and much-anticipated releases by Bae Suah from key indie presses (this one published by Open Letter). Building off of the interest of 2016 Best Translated Book Award longlist nominee Nowhere to Be Found, Bae Suah is back, this time with Deborah Smith, translator of the Man Booker Prize winner The Vegetarian and founder of Tilted Axis, a UK-based press dedicated to publishing new works in translation.

In the book’s opening chapters, the narrator—who remains unnamed—falls into an icy river in the suburbs of Berlin. A Korean writer and student living in Germany, she begins to look back over the years, blurring lines between past and present as she examines her relationship with Joachim, her on-and-off, working class boyfriend, and M, her German tutor, a refined and enigmatic young woman she’s in love with. The contrast between these two partners and the tensions around language and class are fascinating, but I had a hard time just getting past how gorgeous the writing was.

The narrator describes M, setting the scene for their many discussions of music and language, “The rain water trickled down M’s pale, almost ghost-like forehead, down over her eyelids, still more sunken after her recent cold, and over her slightly-downward pointed nose. When she tilted her head upward, her lips appeared unbelievably thin and delicate, tapering elegantly even when she wasn’t smiling, flushed red as though suffused by the morning sunlight. The delicate, languidly prominent scaffolding of her cheekbones . . . If books and language were the symbol of M’s absolute world, then music was her inaccessible mind, her religion, her soul.”
The narrative is constantly shifting, pliable, and fluid, in both tense and setting. The construction seems effortless, allowing the narrator to sift through her life, her relationships, and most importantly the end of her relationship with M to find closure in it all. Her memory, one can’t forget, is imperfect—an approximation and perhaps a reinvention.

The style of the writing evokes the very music that seems to drive the story. Smith in an interview with Tobias Carroll for Vol. 1 Brooklyn stated, “When I was translating her, the thing that I was most aware of was trying not to smooth out the weirdness too much. . . . It becomes quite hypnotic when you read it in Korean, and quite lyrical in places as well. She writes a lot about music, and the other thing that her style evokes is that. It’s more about the cadence of the sentence. The core book itself, the structure, is more about variations on a theme, and coming back to certain motifs rather than a straight chronology.”

Thankfully for readers, Bae Suah is prolific and Deborah Smith seems determined to bring these great books to English language readers.

The Bear and the Nightingale

Another incredible recommendation by my fabulous Children’s lit/YA literary agent friend. This incredible fairy tale retelling by Katherine Arden is an impressive debut (and the first in a trilogy!) Lyrical and evocative, The Bear and the Nightingale is a fascinating portrayal of Medieval Russia—full of the old spirits, feudal life, Christianity, and a sprinkling of historical and literary references (the epigraph is a poem by Pushkin!) I took many Russian literature classes in college and this book brought all of that back to me.

 

Review: We Show What We Have Learned & Other Stories

Review: We Show What We Have Learned & Other Stories by Clare Beams

Another brilliant book club pick from the phenomenal small press book club at Brookline Booksmith. I was blown away by this debut short story collection by Clare Beams and published by Lookout Books. The stories, individually and as a whole, were startling, creepy, and gorgeously written. She’s been likened to a mix of Alice Munro and Shirley Jackson and I think that’s a fitting combination. The Rumpus did a great review, discussing the stories in more detail and the feminist nature of the book—you can find it here.

Review: Heartless by Marissa Meyer

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Review: Heartless by Marissa Meyer

If you’ve explored the blog before you’ll know I’m a lover of all things Alice. I’ve shouted out to Alice adaptations posted by my beautiful friend Amanda here and picked some of my favorite retellings/ nonfiction picks too! Now Heartless has exploded on the scene and I want to re-read all of them! But first let’s talk about Heartless.

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries. But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be a queen. At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets handsome and mysterious Jest. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship. Cath is determined to choose her own destiny. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.”

Heartless by Marissa Meyer (you may know her from The Lunar Chronicles) is an Alice in Wonderland prequel that tells the backstory of the infamous Queen of Hearts. Meyer delves deeply into Wonderland and brings to light characters and references that will prove to be delightful for anyone familiar with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. But you certainly don’t have to know the original to love this book! Meyer weaves an incredible story that is all her own. I especially loved the addition of baking and Catherine’s dreams as a way to make Wonderland seem even more over-the-top and whimsical. The underlying comments on Victorian society and feminism seemed apt instead of forced and although a little slow in the middle, the end was a whirlwind of action and emotion (and it was creepy in all the ways that Wonderland should also be!) This book was both perfect and devastating.

 

Review: Allegheny Front by Matthew Neill Null

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Review: Allegheny Front by Matthew Neill Null 

I have not been able to get this startling collection of short stories from Matthew Neill Null, published by the new-to-me Sarabande Press, out of my head since reading it two weeks ago. Allegheny Front is dedicated For the animals and many of the stories “pivot on fraught interactions between humans and animals” and the wilderness of rural West Virginia, where the author is from. Electric Literature posted this amazing interview with Matthew Neill Null that really enhanced my reading of the collection. You can find it here. In the interview, the author discusses how he starts his story with a specific image and you can really see these haunting images as you read each story.

“My stories are image-driven. I begin with visions that come floating up from my subconscious.  In the case of ‘Something You Can’t Live Without,’ the cave=bear’s skull imbedded in the rock, the man rubbing blood off his neck with a neck-tie, the shrieking cloud of passenger pigeons, and the twin boys holding dead foxes, one red, one gray. In ‘Mates,’ for instance, I saw the eagle nailed to the barn siding like an emblem . . .”