mini-review · stuff I read

Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative by Jane Alison

41735103Summary from Goodreads:
Novelist and writing teacher Jane Alison illuminates the many shapes other than the usual wavelike “narrative arc” that can move fiction forward. The stories she loves most follow other organic patterns found in nature―spirals, meanders, and explosions, among others. Alison’s manifesto for new modes of narrative will appeal to serious readers and writers alike.

As Jane Alison writes in the introduction to her insightful and appealing book about the craft of writing: “For centuries there’s been one path through fiction we’re most likely to travel―one we’re actually told to follow―and that’s the dramatic arc: a situation arises, grows tense, reaches a peak, subsides. . . . But: something that swells and tautens until climax, then collapses? Bit masculo-sexual, no? So many other patterns run through nature, tracing other deep motions in life. Why not draw on them, too?”

W. G. Sebald’s The Emigrants was the first novel to show Alison how forward momentum can be created by way of pattern, rather than the traditional arc―or, in nature, wave. Other writers of nonlinear prose considered in her “museum of specimens” include Nicholson Baker, Anne Carson, Marguerite Duras, Jamaica Kincaid, Clarice Lispector, Gabriel García Márquez, Susan Minot, David Mitchell, Caryl Phillips, and Mary Robison.

Meander, Spiral, Explode is a singular and brilliant elucidation of literary strategies that also brings high spirits and wit to its original conclusions. It is a liberating manifesto that says, Let’s leave the outdated modes behind and, in thinking of new modes, bring feeling back to experimentation. It will appeal to serious readers and writers alike.

Meander, Spiral, Explode is a thoughtful, unique literature studies book about different types of narrative patterns (waves, cells, fractals, meanders, spirals, explosions, etc) rather than the standard arc or linear plot. This was a really fun way to challenge how we look at these non-linear plots although a number of the examples she cites were pieces I had not read. Alison also had an emphasis on shorter works (short stories, novellas, short novels) with the longest book cited (Cloud Atlas) being used only once as an example of tsunami.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

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mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Ultimate Pi Day Party by Jackie Lau (Baldwin Village #1)

43699955._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
If there’s one thing that might get my dad, a retired math teacher, to visit Toronto and have a real conversation with me for the first time in seventeen years, it’s a big nerdy Pi Day party. And hopefully this party—and seeing the tech company I built from nothing—will finally be enough to impress him and make him forgive me for everything I did when I was a teenager.

But it’s got to be a really great party.

That’s where Sarah Winters comes in. She owns Happy As Pie, a sweet and savory pie shop, and wants to get into catering. She makes an amazing lamb-rosemary pie, cherry pie, lemon-lime tart…you get the idea. She’ll provide the food and help me plan the party, nothing more. No matter how much time we spend together, I’m not going to fall in love with her.

At least, that’s what I tell myself…

The Ultimate Pi Day Party is a contemporary indie romance that I picked up on Pi Day (of course). This is a delightfully fun (and hungry-making) contemporary between an app developer CEO and a pie shop owner/caterer in Toronto. All props to Jackie Lau for having a hero who has zero qualms about being a good caregiver when his love interest has menstrual cramps from hell. Also, so much yummy-sounding pie.

(But it’s written in alternating 1st person present tense POV and gah, why? It drives me so crazy. Lucky for this book its cuteness overcame the structure.)

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this book on my Nook.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Signs of Attraction by Laura Brown

28117939Summary from Goodreads:
Do you know what hearing loss sounds like? I do.
All my life I’ve tried to be like you. I’ve failed.
So I keep it hidden.
But on the day my world crashed down around me, Reed was there.
He showed me just how loud and vibrant silence can be, even when I struggled to understand.
He’s unlike anyone I’ve ever known. His soulful eyes and strong hands pulled me in before I knew what was happening.
And as I saw those hands sign, felt them sparking on me, I knew: imperfect could be perfect.
Reed makes me feel things I’ve never felt. It’s exciting…and terrifying.
Because he sees me like no one else has, and I’m afraid of what he’ll find if he looks too closely.
The only thing that scares me more than being with him? Letting him go.

I read Laura Brown’s Friend (With Benefits) Zone and liked it so I decided to seek out the first book in the series (series? I can’t find an official name but Reed and Carli make a very brief appearance at Dev’s mom’s school in F(WB)Z). I’m really torn about Signs of Attraction. On the one hand, this is an excellent #ownvoices romance between a Deaf man and a Hard of Hearing woman who each have a lot of emotional baggage they have to deal with to get to a happy ending. Reed has some guilt about his father’s death and Carli has been raised in an abusive household. On the other, there are a few plot tropes (mostly) unrelated to the above representation – an evil old girlfriend with a very complicated level of shittiness (some of which has to do with the Deaf/HoH community), perhaps not the best ways of describing race, and at least one instance where I was surprised the police were not called – that I did not like. Also, it’s written in alternating first-person POV, which grated on me. I keep trying with that narrative style and I very rarely feel like it has been done well; a close-third POV would be clearer. But overall it was a good romance with good on-page representation, in my opinion.

A brief CW for discussion of suicide and depiction of physical and verbal abuse on the page.

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this book on my Nook.

Read My Own Damn Books · Readathon · stuff I read

Meaty by Samantha Irby

35952943Summary from Goodreads:
The widely beloved, uproarious, first essay collection and the basis for the upcoming FX Studios series from smart, edgy, hilarious, and unabashedly raunchy Samantha Irby.

Samantha Irby exploded onto the printed page with this debut collection of essays about trying to laugh her way through failed relationships, taco feasts, bouts with Crohn’s disease, and more. Every essay is crafted with the same scathing wit and poignant candor thousands of loyal readers have come to expect from visiting her notoriously hilarious blog.

Read for 24in48 Readathon!

I do love me a Samantha Irby essay collection (see: We Are Never Meeting in Real Life). She is so funny and dry. After the success of WANMiRL Vintage reissued her first collection, Meaty (originally pubbed by Curbside Splendor). This collection is so well-balanced, with laugh-out-loud lines about hanging out with moms, a spec she wrote for a TV show, and crusty garbage that guys pull out to get in your pants, but then she’ll hit you with a gorgeous piece like “My Mother, My Daughter” about taking care of her mom when she was really sick. Definitely pick this up before you check out Sam’s upcoming writing for TV!

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this book when it came out last year.

Read My Own Damn Books · stuff I read

No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters by Ursula K. Le Guin

33503495Summary from Goodreads:
From acclaimed author Ursula K. Le Guin, and with an introduction by Karen Joy Fowler, a collection of thoughts—always adroit, often acerbic—on aging, belief, the state of literature, and the state of the nation.

Ursula K. Le Guin has taken readers to imaginary worlds for decades. Now she’s in the last great frontier of life, old age, and exploring new literary territory: the blog, a forum where her voice—sharp, witty, as compassionate as it is critical—shines. No Time to Spare collects the best of Ursula’s blog, presenting perfectly crystallized dispatches on what matters to her now, her concerns with this world, and her wonder at it.

On the absurdity of denying your age, she says, If I’m ninety and believe I’m forty-five, I’m headed for a very bad time trying to get out of the bathtub. On cultural perceptions of fantasy: The direction of escape is toward freedom. So what is ‘escapism’ an accusation of? On her new cat: He still won’t sit on a lap…I don’t know if he ever will. He just doesn’t accept the lap hypothesis. On breakfast: Eating an egg from the shell takes not only practice, but resolution, even courage, possibly willingness to commit crime. And on all that is unknown, all that we discover as we muddle through life: How rich we are in knowledge, and in all that lies around us yet to learn. Billionaires, all of us.

I didn’t read Le Guin’s blog when she was actually writing it, so it was with a bit of chagrin that I picked up this volume of posts collected from her site. This is a really good selection of posts ranging from the life of a writer, aging, a little lit theory, and a number of posts about her cat, Pard (as befits the writer of Catwings).

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book a while back.

stuff I read

The Cutting Season by Attica Locke

13623785Summary from Goodreads:
The American South in the twenty-first century. A plantation owned for generations by a rich family. So much history. And a dead body.

Just after dawn, Caren walks the grounds of Belle Vie, the historic plantation house in Louisiana that she has managed for four years. Today she sees nothing unusual, apart from some ground that has been dug up by the fence bordering the sugar cane fields. Assuming an animal has been out after dark, she asks the gardener to tidy it up. Not long afterwards, he calls her to say it’s something else. Something terrible. A dead body. At a distance, she missed her. The girl, the dirt and the blood. Now she has police on site, an investigation in progress, and a member of staff no one can track down. And Caren keeps uncovering things she will wish she didn’t know. As she’s drawn into the dead girl’s story, she makes shattering discoveries about the future of Belle Vie, the secrets of its past, and sees, more clearly than ever, that Belle Vie, its beauty, is not to be trusted.

A magnificent, sweeping story of the south, The Cutting Season brings history face-to-face with modern America, where Obama is president, but some things will never change. Attica Locke once again provides an unblinking commentary on politics, race, the law, family and love, all within a thriller every bit as gripping and tragic as her first novel, Black Water Rising.

The Cutting Season is a very slow burn mystery, with so much backstory and character history and racial history and politics and economics packed into it. While Locke ties up the central plot of the story and the murderer is caught, many more questions are less-satisfactorily solved. Particularly that of the Louisiana plantation itself and it’s role in the 21st century as an event hall that offers a highly dramatized play about the history of the area to the tourists.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book at a library sale.

mini-review · Read My Own Damn Books · stuff I read

The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books #1) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, translated by Lucia Graves

1232Summary from Goodreads:
The international literary sensation, about a boy’s quest through the secrets and shadows of postwar Barcelona for a mysterious author whose book has proved as dangerous to own as it is impossible to forget.

Barcelona, 1945 – just after the war, a great world city lies in shadow, nursing its wounds, and a boy named Daniel awakes on his eleventh birthday to find that he can no longer remember his mother’s face. To console his only child, Daniel’s widowed father, an antiquarian book dealer, initiates him into the secret of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a library tended by Barcelona’s guild of rare-book dealers as a repository for books forgotten by the world, waiting for someone who will care about them again. Daniel’s father coaxes him to choose a volume from the spiraling labyrinth of shelves, one that, it is said, will have a special meaning for him. And Daniel so loves the novel he selects, The Shadow of the Wind by one Julian Carax, that he sets out to find the rest of Carax’s work. To his shock, he discovers that someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book this author has written. In fact, he may have the last one in existence. Before Daniel knows it his seemingly innocent quest has opened a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets, an epic story of murder, magic, madness and doomed love. And before long he realizes that if he doesn’t find out the truth about Julian Carax, he and those closest to him will suffer horribly.

As with all astounding novels, The Shadow of the Wind sends the mind groping for comparisons—The Crimson Petal and the White? The novels of Arturo Pérez-Reverte? Of Victor Hugo? Love in the Time of Cholera?—but in the end, as with all astounding novels, no comparison can suffice. As one leading Spanish reviewer wrote, “The originality of Ruiz Zafón’s voice is bombproof and displays a diabolical talent. The Shadow of the Wind announces a phenomenon in Spanish literature.” An uncannily absorbing historical mystery, a heart-piercing romance, and a moving homage to the mystical power of books, The Shadow of the Wind is a triumph of the storyteller’s art.

I’ve been trying to finish The Shadow of the Wind for years. It was one of the first books to end up on my “Read My Own Damn Books” list. For some reason, I just couldn’t get any steam going to actually make headway in the book beyond the first few chapters.

Thanks to a combination of paper and audio book, I finally finished! Once I go into the meat of the study I really liked the labyrinthine plotting – even if it did slow the reading down. The recreation of the Spain and Barcelona of the Spanish Civil War and Franco was very atmospheric. The ending was both climactic (action!) and anti-climactic (because I’d guessed all the reveals since those bits were all very Victorian-Gothic-ish). And now I can read the rest of the books in the series.

Or at least try to – I may have three more entries in my list.

Dear FTC: I read my own trade paper copy and borrowed the audiobook via the library’s Overdrive site.

mini-review · Read My Own Damn Books · stuff I read

Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Murder of Lord Darnley by Alison Weir

835832Summary from Goodreads:
On the night of 10 February 1567 an explosion devastated the Edinburgh residence of Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, second husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. The noise was heard as far away as Holyrood Palace, where Queen Mary was attending a wedding masque. Those arriving at the scene of devastation found, in the garden, the naked corpses of Darnley and his valet. Neither had died in the explosion, but both bodies bore marks of strangulation.

It was clear that they had been murdered and the house destroyed in an attempt to obliterate the evidence. Darnley was not a popular king-consort, but he was regarded by many as having a valid claim to the English throne. For this reason Elizabeth I had opposed his family’s longstanding wish to marry him to Mary Stuart, who herself claimed to be the rightful queen of England.

Alison Weir’s investigation of Darnley’s murder is set against one of the most dramatic periods in British history. Her conclusions shed a brilliant new light on the actions and motives of the conspirators and, in particular, the extent of Mary’s own involvement.

Having finished Jenny Wormald’s analysis of Mary’s personal rule, I jumped right into Alison Weir’s exhaustive analysis of the murder of Lord Darnley, one of the only Weir biographies I hadn’t yet read. And it’s pretty safe to conclude that Weir has turned over all the stones currently available to turn over and we can conclude that:

  1. Mary did not collude in the murder of her worthless husband, though if the pox had carried him off she would have been perfectly happy about it because he was a complete douche.
  2. She made some really terrible choices, starting with marrying Darnley in the first place, that just laid her open for others to take advantage of her misfortune such that she never regained her footing.

Although one would think that Darnley’s murderers could have come up with a more subtle plan than “blow up the house and if that fails smother him.” The guy was known to party a little too hard – couldn’t he have fallen out a window of Edinburgh Castle or drowned in the Loch or Firth or something?

Dear FTC: I’ve owned my copy of this book for a number of years.