favorites, poetry and prose

Electric Arches

Electric ArchesElectric Arches by Eve L. Ewing

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“I think that maybe if we can guard ourselves and each other, if we can keep from losing our minds alone in quiet rooms and can at least lose them side by side, we may live through the year.” (fr Thursday Morning, Newbury Street)

This is a stunning book of poetry and pose by sociologist Eve Ewing. It is a contemporary American powerhouse illustrating the streets of Chicago from the perspective of a black girl and woman. It’s an homage to Erykah Bakdu and Prince and Koko Taylor. As she writes in her introduction, “Every story in it is absolutely true. Some of the stories are from the past and some are from the future. In the future, every child in Chicago has food and a safe place to sleep, and mothers laugh all day and eat Popsicles.”

Ewing expertly combines gritty realism with supernatural fantasy. I feel her power as a prose and poet were most evident in the “re-tellings”, where she would share a true story of overt racism and discrimination, and then add an alternate, supernatural ending. In four boys on Ellis, for example, the author describes four (very) young boys who were being questioned by the police with no adult or advocate present. The officers yell at the author to leave; in the alternate ending, she sits in her car willing the boys were safe at home, and magically they begin to fly.

The book ends with an affirmation to youth living in prison, and is truly unforgettable.

“I believe the sun shines,
if not here, then somewhere.
Somewhere it rains,
and things will grow green and wonderful.”

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favorites, Fiction

Of Human Bondage

Of Human BondageOf Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book has been on my TBR shelf for a long time (as in years), and I’m glad I finally read it, although it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. If you had asked me halfway through the book how I would rate it, I would have given it a solid two stars, mainly because I could not stand the protagonist, Philip Carey. He seemed aimless and selfish, making one poor decision after another. Despite doing incredibly well in school, he left mere months before graduation, giving up an all but guaranteed scholarship because of adolescent stubbornness. After that, he floats from passion to passion, including a stint in Paris as an art student, until settling on medicine.

A large part of the novel involves Philip’s misguided attempts to find and understand love. He uses women, and then allows himself to be debased by women, in return. What I found so frustrating was the lows to which he was willing to sink in order to gain affection from the childish, manipulative Mildred. He knew she would never love him–he just wanted her attention any way he could get it. Similarly, he could be callous to those who loved him and yet he could not love in return.

As the book progressed, though, I realized that Philip was merely a product of his circumstances. Born with a club foot, both of his parents died at a young age, and he spent his formidable years with guardians who meant well but didn’t know how to relate to or raise Philip–they never served as mentors and never provided the unconditional love he so needed. Yes, he was aimless, but he also had a good heart, and would (and did) spend his last penny to help a friend in need (or, more often, a woman.) Although Mildred continued to have an inexplicable hold on him, Philip eventually realizes that the feelings he has for her aren’t love, and is able to keep some sort of distance despite continually rushing to her rescue.

It is a surprisingly accurate, if painful, portrait of man’s search for meaning when shackled not only by the expectations of society, but more aggressively by the torrents of one’s own, poorly understood emotions.

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reading list

What I’m Reading

stack of books on the table

In the car: The Christmas Carol, narrated by Tim Curry. Because Charles Dickens + Tim Curry = Perfection. (On a total non-Christmas note, check out Tim Curry reading Anne Rice’s Cry to Heaven. I listened to it twice in a row just so I could keep hearing his voice!)

On the metro: Of Human Bondage.  I’m not quite sure what I think of it yet. It reads well enough, but I find the protagonist, Philip, selfish and frustrating. I suppose that is the point, though, as it is a coming-of-age novel. Regardless, I like it well enough that I’m curious to see what will happen next.

At home: Never Let Me Go. I read this years ago, and decided to re-read it in light of Ishiguro’s well-deserved Nobel prize win. Although The Remains of the Day will always remain my favorite Ishiguro novel (and one of my top five, actually), Never Let Me Go is as equally heartbreaking and worth a read (or two).


The 2017 Book Lover’s Gift Guide

I just realized we have fewer than two weeks to go before Christmas. When did this happen?! It’s not that I really have a lot left to do, but I’d like more time to just enjoy it. Time stops for no woman, however, so I need to buckle down and finish wrapping presents and baking cookies. Looking for ideas for your book-addicted loves? Here are a few things I’d love to see in my stocking!

Books-gifts for Christmas with decoration

Charles Dickens gets the trophy, I think, for the best holiday book in the history of forever, and A Christmas Carol is a staple for Christmas-loving readers!

For the melancholy reader who prefers to read books by candlelight on dark and stormy nights, a collection of poems and songs by Leonard Cohen.

For the sentimental bookworm who knows there’s no place like home for the holidays, help her find happiness in her new place.

Try these card catalog-inspired note cards for the bibliophile who yearns for the long lost art of letter writing.

A reading journal for your favorite reflective scholar.

For the person who thinks best while out on a stroll.

And to instill a love of words into your little ones, you can never go wrong with some fun tongue-twisters!

Happy holidays, and happy reading.

favorites, Fiction

From Sand and Ash

From Sand and AshFrom Sand and Ash by Amy Harmon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“It was a long way to Rome for a crippled man with a broken heart.”

A must read for anyone who enjoyed “The Book Thief.” WWII novels can be heart wrenching, and this one definitely is, but it also highlights the pockets of good hidden under a cloak of evil. Eva and Angelo were raised together, although Eva is an Italian Jew and Angelo is bred for the Catholic church. Despite these differences, the two build a fast bond at a young age that blossoms into love as they grow older. Torn between Eva and the priesthood, Angelo chooses to become a priest.

When the sharp talons of WWII reach Italy, Eva turns to Angelo, and together the two face unspeakable horrors as they struggle to harbor Jews in convents and monasteries. At the same time, they are forced to reconcile their faith in God with the evil surrounding them, and Angelo finds himself torn once again between Eva and his vocation.

In a word, this book was stunning. Easily the best book I’ve read all year, and one I look forward to re-reading.

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One of Us is Lying

One of Us Is LyingOne of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

5 kids go into detention, but only 4 come out in this YA whodunnit cum coming of age cum treatise on self-acceptance. The kid who kicks the bucket has a widely read gossip app that has targeted nearly every student in the school, and the other 4 have some massive shit going on in their lives that they desperately want to keep off of the app. As the surviving students find themselves caught in a murder investigation, they’re also each forced to expose the secrets that have been haunting them.

It’s a great premise, but ultimately it didn’t deliver. For starters, the ‘whodunnit’ aspect was pretty much nonexistent. I figured out the who, what and how pretty early on, and although I hoped I was wrong, I wasn’t. I suppose it could mean I’m a master Sherlock, or perhaps I figured it out because I’m older (by a LOT) than the intended audience, but I think really it was just that transparent.

So, ok, it isn’t really a mystery, but we have all of these stories of kids who are trying to be people they aren’t in order to please parents/significant others/friends/etc, which was somewhat interesting. Although I didn’t particularly like any of the characters, I’m not that far removed from the over-sized self-consciousness of high school to not feel any sympathy, especially given the omnipotent social media presence today that I didn’t have to navigate during my own awkward adolescence. Despite their deep, dark secrets, though, they were all rather bland and transparent. I feel McManus tried to give the characters more depth by bringing in support–the sharp-tongued, loving grandmother; the spunky sisters; the street-wise, caring parole officer. Even those relationships, though, seemed off and unbelievable, and as a whole it just didn’t work for me.

It is an easy read, which I’ll admit is part of my reasons for choosing it (it’s almost the end of the year and I am a few books away from my challenge!) I think perhaps I just need to own up to the fact that I’m no longer a young adult…

(perhaps this YA obsession is a mid-life crisis. Whatevs)

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ThornhillThornhill by Pam Smy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The stories of two girls are woven together into this interesting and slightly creepy YA book. Mary Baines lives in an orphanage headed to closure in the 1980s. She is terrorized by another resident and seeks solace in her creation of clay puppets. In present day, Ella has moved into a house directly next to the now condemned orphanage. Also lonely, Ella spots a girl wandering through the decrepit building and finds herself drawn into Mary’s tale.

The best part of this book was the format—Mary’s story was told via her diary entries, and Ella’s story is entirely illustrated. I’m not typically a graphic novel fan, but was riveted and wanted more.

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