Review: Reproduction by Ian Williams

Reproduction by Ian Williams

Published: May 5, 2020 by Europa Editions

Buy this book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

Rating:

Synopsis: A hilarious, surprising and poignant love story about the way families are invented, told with the savvy of a Zadie Smith and with an inventiveness all Ian Williams’ own, Reproduction bangs lives together in a polyglot suburb of Toronto.

Felicia and Edgar meet as their mothers are dying. Felicia, a teen from an island nation, and Edgar, the lazy heir of a wealthy German family, come together only because their mothers share a hospital room. When Felicia’s mother dies and Edgar’s “Mutter” does not, Felicia drops out of high school and takes a job as Mutter’s caregiver. While Felicia and Edgar don’t quite understand each other, and Felicia recognizes that Edgar is selfish, arrogant, and often unkind, they form a bond built on grief (and proximity) that results in the birth of a son Felicia calls Armistice. Or Army, for short.

Some years later, Felicia and Army (now 14) are living in the basement of a home owned by Oliver, a divorced man of Portuguese descent who has two kids—the teenaged Heather and the odd little Hendrix. Along with Felicia and Army, they form an unconventional family, except that Army wants to sleep with Heather, and Oliver wants to kill Army. Then Army’s fascination with his absent father—and his absent father’s money—begins to grow as odd gifts from Edgar begin to show up. And Felicia feels Edgar’s unwelcome shadow looming over them. A brutal assault, a mortal disease, a death, and a birth reshuffle this group of people again to form another version of the family.

Reproduction is a profoundly insightful exploration of the bizarre ways people become bonded that insists that family isn’t a matter of blood.

Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley and Europa Editions!***

There is only one word that I can come up with for this book. It was bizarre. From what I understand the author is a poet. This makes a lot of sense to me as much of this narrative reads more like prose. And I got the sense that the author was doing a lot of exploring of the bounds of fiction. I appreciate that too but it didn’t work for me.

Parts of this read like a poem, others like diary entries, others like bullet points. And then occasionally the author would throw in what can only be described as rap lyrics. It made it very difficult for me to connect with the story in any way because the story kept changing. I also hated that the author insisted on typing out everyone’s accents. That made this so hard to follow in addition to everything else. Whenever anyone spoke I would not be able to determine what was happening without reading it twice. It was incredibly bizarre and I still don’t know quite what to make of it.

Outside of the writing style, I wasn’t invested in the plot or characters either. The plot was fine (nothing special), but the characters were awful. Felicia alternately comes across as a naive little girl or a crazy person. One second she’s finally realizing that she was deceived and taken advantage of and the next second she’s trying to stab people. And Edgar was just horrible. Selfish, persistent liar, abusive son, abusive lover, borderline rapist, takes advantage of young and naive women. He was a real gem. I haven’t hated a character as much as him in quite a long time.

Some people will undoubtedly love this book and the way it explores how we write fiction. But, it didn’t work for me.

Review: The Law of Lines by Hye-Young Pyun

The Law of Lines by Hye-Young Pyun

Published: April 7, 2020 by Arcade

Buy this book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

Rating:

Synopsis: From the Prize-Winning Author of The Hole, a Slow-Burning Thriller about Unseen Forces that Shape Us and Debts We Accumulate, in Life, in Death.

Winner of several of Korea’s top literary awards, The Law of Lines follows the parallel stories of two young women whose lives are upended by sudden loss. When Se-oh, a recluse still living with her father, returns from an errand to find their house in flames, wrecked by a gas explosion, she is forced back into the world she had tried to escape. The detective investigating the incident tells her that her father caused the explosion to kill himself because of overwhelming debt she knew nothing about, but Se-oh suspects foul play by an aggressive debt collector and sets out on her own investigation, seeking vengeance.

Ki-jeong, a beleaguered high school teacher, receives a phone call that the body of her younger half-sister has just been found. Her sister was a college student she had grown distant from. Though her death, by drowning, is considered a suicide by the police, that doesn’t satisfy Ki-jeong, and she goes to her sister’s university to find out what happened. Her sister’s cell phone reveals a thicket of lies and links to a company that lures students into a virtual pyramid scheme, preying on them and their relationships. One of the contacts in the call log is Se-oh.

Like Hye-young Pyun’s Shirley Jackson Award–winning novel The Hole, an immersive thriller that explores the edges of criminality, the unseen forces in our most intimate lives, and grief and debt. 

Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley and Arcade!***

This book took a little while for me to buy in. The synopsis says this is a slow burn and that is entirely accurate. This is the kind of story that is all about the characters. If the author cannot make you care about their characters then the story is lost. I cared.

This is a story about grief. Both Se-oh and Ki-jeong have been struck with grief. For Soe-oh it is the death of her father. Her grief is enhanced by events from her past that may have contributed to her father’s death in ways she never anticipated. For Ki-jeong it is the death of her estranged sister. She isn’t willing to accept that her sister died and she ultimately knew nothing about her, or her life. This sets the two of them on a quest.

But this book is also about more than that. It’s about poverty and the cycle of poverty that is seen all around the world. Along with the devastation and desperation that comes with it. It affected everyone in this story but all of the characters were too far into their own cycles of grief and poverty to see it, let alone offer any compassion or empathy to anyone else.

I enjoyed this story very much. It was highly literary and an excellent character piece. I do think it is being marketing poorly as a mystery or a thriller. It is neither of those things. It’s a story about two women and the unpredictable ways that their lives intersect while searching for their respective answers.

Take My Money! Sunday

It’s been a busy few days. Started a new position at the day job, so was trying to train while working from home (not easy). Plus the husband had to work, so I had the child at home by myself while trying to train at my new job. See definition of “Impossible” to describe this task! But I did have a few books come across my radar that make me want time to move faster, so I bring them to you.

Gaijin by Sarah Z. Sleeper

Expected publication: August 1, 2020

Goodreads

Synopsis: The Japanese word gaijin means “unwelcome foreigner.” It’s not profanity, but is sometimes a slur directed at non-Japanese people in Japan. My novel is called Gaijin…

Lucy is a budding journalist at Northwestern University and she’s obsessed with an exotic new student, Owen Ota, who becomes her lover and her sensei. When he disappears without explanation, she’s devastated and sets out to find him. On her three-month quest across Japan she finds only snippets of the elegant culture Owen had described. Instead she faces anti-U.S. protests, menacing street thugs and sexist treatment, and she winds up at the base of Mt. Fuji, in the terrifying Suicide Forest. Will she ever find Owen? Will she be driven back to the U.S.? Gaijin is a coming-of-age story about a woman who solves a heartbreaking mystery that alters the trajectory of her life.

Why I’m Excited: This books sounds absolutely haunting. It is a story of not fitting in and trying to find the silver lining. And sometimes, even along a hard journey, there is beauty to be found. This synopsis roped me in and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

Brides of Rome by Debra May MacLeod

Expected Publication: October 27, 2020

Goodreads

Synopsis: It is a world of power and privilege, secrets and sacred duty. It is the world of ancient Rome. And it is the esteemed Vestal Virgins-priestesses of Vesta, goddess of the home and hearth-who protect the Eternal Flame that protects the Eternal City.

Dedicated to a thirty-year vow of chaste service, Priestess Pomponia finds herself swept up in the intrigue, violence, wars, and bedroom politics of Rome’s elite-Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, Octavian and his maneuvering wife, Livia-all the while guarding the secret affection she has in her heart.

But when a charge of incestum-a broken vow of chastity-is made against the Vestal order, the ultimate punishment looms: death by being buried alive in the “Evil Field.”

In Brides of Rome, Book One in the Vesta Shadows series, Debra May Macleod skillfully recreates the world of ancient Rome with all its brutality and brilliance, all its rich history and even richer legend. A true page-turner that is as smart as it is compelling, this must-read novel brings the Vestal order to life like never before.

Why I’m Excited: I have a fascination with the worlds of ancient Rome and Greece. Their priestesses and temples were among the first pagan religions, and traces of that are carried into paganism today. So stories like this always draw me to them. And this story sounds excited too.

Take My Money! Sunday

Hella by David Gerrold

Expected Publication: June 16, 2020

Goodreads

Synopsis: A master of science fiction introduces a world where everything is large and the problems of survival even larger in this exciting new novel.

Hella is a planet where everything is oversized—especially the ambitions of the colonists.

The trees are mile-high, the dinosaur herds are huge, and the weather is extreme—so extreme, the colonists have to migrate twice a year to escape the blistering heat of summer and the atmosphere-freezing cold of winter.

Kyle is a neuro-atypical young man, emotionally challenged, but with an implant that gives him real-time access to the colony’s computer network, making him a very misunderstood savant. When an overburdened starship arrives, he becomes the link between the established colonists and the refugees from a ravaged Earth.

The Hella colony is barely self-sufficient. Can it stand the strain of a thousand new arrivals, bringing with them the same kinds of problems they thought they were fleeing?

Despite the dangers to himself and his family, Kyle is in the middle of everything—in possession of the most dangerous secret of all. Will he be caught in a growing political conspiracy? Will his reawakened emotions overwhelm his rationality? Or will he be able to use his unique ability to prevent disaster?

Why I’m Excited: This sounds like a great idea for a sci-fi. A planet full of giant things and a neuro-atypical young man trying to survive in it. Sign me up!

The Apocalypse Strain by Jason Parent

Expected Publication: June 25, 2020

Goodreads

Synopsis: A multi-national research team, led by a medical genomics expert suffering from MS, study an ancient pandoravirus at a remote Siberian research facility. Called “Molli” by the research team, the organic substance reveals some unique but troublesome characteristics, qualities that, in the wrong hands, could lead to human extinction. The researchers soon learn that even in the right hands, Molli is a force too dangerous to escape their compound. But the virus has a mind of its own, and it wants out. 

Why I’m Excited: I am a bit obsessed with the idea of plagues running amok and killing off the entire world. I play Plague Inc obsessively, I read books about it, I read historical stuff about past plagues. I am obsessed. And this sounds so good.

The Charmed Wife by Olga Grushin

Expected Publication: January 12, 2021

Goodreads

Synopsis: Cinderella married the man of her dreams—the perfect ending she deserved after diligently following all the fairy-tale rules. Yet now, two children and thirteen and a half years later, things have gone badly wrong and her life is far from perfect. One night, fed up, she sneaks out of the palace to get help from the Witch who, for a price, offers love potions to disgruntled housewives. But as the old hag flings the last ingredients into the cauldron, Cinderella doesn’t ask for a love spell to win back her Prince Charming.

Instead, she wants him dead.

Endlessly surprising, wildly inventive, and decidedly modern, The Charmed Wife weaves together time and place, fantasy and reality, to conjure a world unlike any other. Nothing in it is quite what it seems, and the twists and turns of its magical, dark, swiftly shifting paths take us deep into the heart of what makes us unique, of romance and marriage, and of the very nature of storytelling.

Why I’m Excited: I know what you’re thinking, it’s another fairytale retelling. Sort of. But not really. It’s a “what happens after happily ever after.” And I know that it doesn’t come out for…well forever, but I am too excited not to talk about it. I have scored an ARC for this one, and I cannot wait!

Review: After She Wrote Him by Sulari Gentill

After She Wrote Him by Sulari Gentill

Published: April 7, 2020 by Poisoned Pen Press

Buy this book at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

Rating:

Synopsis: If you get lost in a book, be sure you can find your way back . . .

Madeleine d’Leon doesn’t know where Edward came from. He is simply a character in her next book. But as she writes, he becomes all she can think about. His charm, his dark hair, his pen scratching out his latest literary novel . . .

Edward McGinnity can’t get Madeleine out of his mind–softly smiling, infectiously enthusiastic, and perfectly damaged. She will be the ideal heroine for his next book.

But who is the author and who is the creation? And as the lines start to blur, who is affected when a killer finally takes flesh?

After She Wrote Him is a wildly inventive twist on the murder mystery that takes readers on a journey filled with passion, obsession, and the emptiness left behind when the real world starts to fall away. 

Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley and Poisoned Pen Press!***

The synopsis of this book appealed to me right away. As someone who fashions themselves an amateur writer, I was drawn into the idea of an author writing a character who is also writing about her as a character. Or is it the other way around? That premise did not disappoint. I can honestly say I have never read a novel so ingeniously written. I could not tell which one was the character and which was the author. And ultimately it didn’t really matter, the two were so intertwined that their fates depended on each other. Maddie would tell a bit of her story and then sit down to write Ned’s story, and his story picks up from there until he sits down to write about Maddie. It was perfectly executed.

Some elements of the plot were very predictable. I knew right away who the killer was in Ned’s story and I knew right away who the bad guy was in Maddie’s story. But even this was intentional I think. It’s supposed to be obvious, to the author, what the answers are. The author knows who the killer is. The author knows who the bad guy is. In that way, the reader was supposed to know these things too. Maddie and Ned didn’t know, because that’s real life. It’s always easy to point out the killer in a book. It’s not so easy when that person is someone close to you. That was one of the themes of the book that was executed perfectly.

The only thing I wished had been done differently was the ending. We spent a lot of time getting to know Maddie and Ned but their respective stories didn’t really get moving until we had about fifty pages to go. The ending seemed rushed and a bit unfinished. Neither of them got a resolution because their respective author was unavailable to finish the story. That ending might appeal to some readers but it detracted from the overall story a bit for me.

Review: Apeirogon by Colum McCann

50185600._SX318_SY475_ (1)Apeirogon by Colum McCann

Published: February 25, 2020 by Random House

Buy this book at: Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Synopsis: Colum McCann’s most ambitious work to date, Apeirogon–named for a shape with a countably infinite number of sides–is a tour de force concerning friendship, love, loss, and belonging.

Bassam Aramin is Palestinian. Rami Elhanan is Israeli. They inhabit a world of conflict that colors every aspect of their daily lives, from the roads they are allowed to drive on, to the schools their daughters, Abir and Smadar, each attend, to the checkpoints, both physical and emotional, they must negotiate.

Their worlds shift irreparably after ten-year-old Abir is killed by a rubber bullet and thirteen-year-old Smadar becomes the victim of suicide bombers. When Bassam and Rami learn of each other’s stories, they recognize the loss that connects them and they attempt to use their grief as a weapon for peace.

McCann crafts Apeirogon out of a universe of fictional and nonfictional material. He crosses centuries and continents, stitching together time, art, history, nature, and politics in a tale both heartbreaking and hopeful. Musical, cinematic, muscular, delicate, and soaring, Apeirogon is a novel for our time.

Rating: 2 star

Review: I really wanted to love this book because I was so entranced by the first half of it. In the end though, this book made my brain hurt. It was physically exhausting to read. This is due solely to the style that it was written in. It seems like stream of consciousness more than anything else and when it was done I felt like I needed a very long nap.

The author has written this book as 1001 micro-chapters. Most of them are no longer than a paragraph. The author is referencing The Arabian Nights clearly because he frequently talks about this throughout the book. The idea is that you get little snippets of many different stories and through reading the whole stories of Bassam and Rami are slowly revealed. I liked this as it is a physical manifestation of the title. An apeirogon is a polygon with countably infinite sides (I googled that). Thus we have a book with numbered infinite chapters. I like that play on language and could picture in my head when we following on side of the story and then branched off into another, like creating a shape.

This book is also beautifully written. The prose is almost like a poem. Early on I was a bit confused at the sudden, jarring shift in narrative every few paragraphs but I learned to let it wash over me like a wave. And as we progressed further into the book the stories of the two men became more apparent. The stories were heartbreaking. I cried for Bassam and Rami. I agonized with them over their feelings about “the enemy” and their slow transformation into not seeing one another as “other” but as “friend and fellow father”. I loved it and was immersed in the beauty.

Unfortunately this book was just so long. While I was immersed in the story, I had to make a conscious effort to pull out the bits of the story about Bassam and Rami amongst the other detritus. In between relevant bits of narrative we talked about bird migration, history, ecology, biology, architecture, religion, politics, war, fiction, geography, Biblical studies, scripture, ancient weaving techniques, symbology in women’s clothing over time….honestly I could go on with this list for several weeks without running out of things to list. This audiobook was 15 hours, 20 minutes long. It was physically and mentally exhausting to continue to follow the actual bits of plot and after awhile it just became white noise. I was too exhausted to continue paying any attention at all.

I am saddened that I didn’t like this book more because it’s a wonderful story that is written in a creative, beautiful way.