The Book of Essie

The Book of Essie34503571._sx318_* by Meghan MacLean Weir (website, Twitter)

Her Grace’s rating:  2.5 out of 5 stars

Genre: YA/ contemporary fiction

I read it as a: hardback

Source: my own collection

Length: 336 pp

Published by: Knopf (12 June 2018)

Seventeen year old Esther Anne Hicks, known as Essie, is the youngest child of a famous TV preacher, similar to the Duggars. Essie has grown up with cameras always on, hair and makeup having to be done Just So all the time, most of the family’s conversations scripted and rehearsed. Everyone who watches their show of course thinks the Hicks family is perfect and a model of Christian whatever. The issue, though, is that Essie is pregnant. Her mother has a meeting with the show’s manager, excluding Essie from the discussion, about what to do – do they sneak her out of the country for an abortion? Does Essie’s mother fake a pregnancy to be able to claim it as hers? Essie convinces her mother to marry Roarke Richards, a boy at her school. Roarke’s parents are deep in the hole and are about to lose everything they have. An ‘arrangement’ with the Hicks wherein Roarke marries Essie will ensure that the Hicks will pay off all their debts and allow them to be comfortable for life. Against all odds, they talk Roarke into this plan. But he and Essie each have secrets that they fear to share with anyone. 

*Spoilers below cut!*Read More »

Dear Committee Members

19288259Dear Committee Members: A Novel* by Julie Schumacher (website, Facebook)

Her Grace’s rating:  5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Epistolary; literary fiction

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Robertson Dean

Source: public library

Length: 03:55:00

Published by: Random House Audio (8/19/14)

In this fictional collection of letters of recommendation and various other correspondences from beleaguered professor of creative writing Jason Fitger, readers are given a hilarious and rather accurate insight into traditional academia. Fitger’s acerbic wit is a delight, and is frankly necessary at times to show the ludicrousness of various aspects to academic life. The story follows, loosely, the efforts of one of Fitger’s graduate students to find and be awarded with grants, scholarships, fellowships, random jobs, and other means by which he can support himself while finishing a novel he had begun prior to his graduate work, as seen from the point of view of Fitger and his correspondence. It is by turns riotously funny, deeply introspective, and sometimes wistful or regretful. 

As I listened to this, it made me simultaneously an iota relieved not to have to deal with these kinds of academic Gordian knots, and also sad that I didn’t complete a PhD and get to partake in the adventure. Maybe I am not too old yet to do so. In any case, this book made me literally howl with laughter. I’m sure my fellow commuters who might have seen me must have thought I was insane, finally having come to the end of my rope because of rush hour traffic. I’m just glad I didn’t crash my car in the process. 

To anyone who loves academia or who is considering a career in higher academics, you absolutely must read this book, or listen to the audio version, which is narrated by a man with a voice like Kelsey Grammar/Frasier Crane. Robertson Dean is a perfect choice of narrator for this; he gives an excellent performance and brings to life the depths of Fitger’s disdain for a multitude of people and actions. 

Favorite lines (potential spoilers!):

  • Belatedly, it occurs to me that some members of your HR committee, a few skeptical souls, may be clutching a double strand of worry beads and wondering aloud about the practicality or usefulness of a degree in English rather than, let’s say, computers. Be reassured: the literature student has learned to enquire, to question, to interpret, to critique, to compare, to research, to argue, to sift, to analyze, to shape, to express. His intellect can be put to broad use. The computer major, by contrast, is a technician, a plumber clutching a single, albeit shiny, box of tools. 
  • Literature has served me faithfully, no pun intended, as an ersatz religion and I would wager that the pursuit of the ineffable via aesthetics in various forms has saved as many foundering souls as a belief in God. 
  • Such are the communication skills of the up and coming generation. They post drunken photos of themselves at parties, they share statuses, they emit tweets, and send all sorts of intimate pronouncements into the void, but they are incapable of returning a simple phone call.

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The Long Mirage

30753726The Long Mirage (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)* by David R. George III (Facebook, Twitter)

Her Grace’s rating:  3 out of 5 stars

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 386 pp

Published by: Pocket Books (pub date)

***Spoilers for this book and previous ones below***

In The Long Mirage, Quark has hired a private investigator to track down Morn, who has been missing for 2 years, since just after the original station Deep Space 9 blew up. Quark would have everyone believe that he misses having his best customer around, and Morn is certainly the 24th century equivalent to Cheers‘s Norm, wordplay on names and everything, but the truth is that Quark just missed his friend and is concerned about him. When the investigator he hired takes off with his latinum, Quark scrambles to track down the investigator as well as Morn. He’s joined by Captain Ro Laren, who is doing some soul searching, deciding whether it is time for her to move on or stay at DS9. 

At the same time, Nog is trying to figure out what is wrong with Vic Fontaine’s holo program, which was saved from the wreckage of DS9 but has been unusable for the most part since. Nog is worried about Vic because the last time he was able to enter the program, he witnessed Vic being kidnapped. Knowing that Vic is self aware and that the program continues running even without anyone else in it, Nog worries that Vic will come to a bad end in the 1960s Las Vegas program. He also has to work against time because he fears not only will the program erode beyond repair, but also there are some who want to fix it by reinitializing the entire program, a move that would reset it back to original specs and wipe out all of Vic’s memories, effectively killing him. Nog’s friend and fellow officer, John Candlewood, helps him sort out the mystery of Vic Fontaine. 

Then there’s Kira Nerys who comes back from the wormhole after being lost and presumed dead for the last two years. She’s been living a whole other life in Bajor’s distant past, but now she’s back with information that could rock Bajor to its core.

I don’t usually care much for the books written by David R George III, and this one was essentially the same. But it was the next Trek book in the stack so I tried to approach it with more of an eye for overarching themes than plot points. That helped, though DRG3 is just not my favorite Trek authors. I don’t know why, it’s just something about his writing I don’t like. In any case, this novel was full of themes of friendship and love, in all their variations. Ro and Quark reflect on their relationship over the past decade and come to a decision a long time in the making. Nog and Candlewood also reflect friendship in the best way – Candlewood simply doesn’t think that Vic is sentient and sees no problem with resetting the program, but he knows Vic is important to Nog, so he does anything he can to help his friend. Quark hands over piles of latinum, something he never thought he would do, to find Morn and make sure his friend is safe. No theme of love would be complete without a triangle of some kind, and we get that as well with the Altek-Ro-Kira saga. No one end up super happy with that one, which is at least believable and realistic.

There is also lots of self reflection and self evaluation throughout. Characters seem unusually able and willing to view their own actions and come to a realization, whether it paints them in a good or bad light, with somewhat unbelievable frequency and ease. I like that some of them do this, but basically every point-of-view character does a lot of navel gazing and figures out things about their own actions which have been less than ideal. I think it was a little too much, though I applaud anyone taking the time to evaluate themselves and make changes to their behavior as needed. I think the debate on Vic’s sentience was rather unnecessary, as well. The sentience of “inanimate” objects, for lack of a better term, has been gone over and over and over with Data, Moriarty, and the Doctor. We get it; they’re sentient. Having that element didn’t add anything and kind of dragged it out more than necessary.

I enjoyed the debate / crisis of faith on Bajor, which resulted from the discovery years before of a new set of holy texts and a hidden temple. These things caused some Bajorans to have a crisis of faith, others to shrug it off, and others still to believe the newly discovered beliefs rather than traditional beliefs. In this, the book mirrored a lot of actual history, recalling elements of the Reformation as well as conflicts between major religious groups. It highlights a lot of politics and religion today, and I thought some of the best sections of the book were included in these discussions.

Overall, I enjoyed this DRG3 novel more than previous ones. Whether I would have anyway or if it’s because of my revised approach to reading it, I don’t know, but I’d say it was a decent addition to the DS9 novels. 

Favorite lines (potential spoilers!):

  • “Debates are loud, and sometimes shrill, with a great deal of talking and very little listening. People demonize each other for differing beliefs. It is both turbulent and disquieting. … I am sad because of what all of this turmoil reveals – namely that there are many believers whose faith is so weak that they fear the falsework because they perceive it as a threat to the foundations of their lives. There is no room in their worldview for growth. They cannot abide change, whether for better or worse.” (135-138)
  • “In my experience,” Altek said, “people are never so threatened as when facts disagree with their deepest held beliefs – religious or otherwise.” (211)
  • “Wanting to cling to my convictions in the face of evidence to the contrary is the product of ego, or arrogance, or possibly just fear.” (215)

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Beautiful

45367879._sx318_Beautiful* by Juliet Marillier(website, Facebook)

Her Grace’s rating:  3.5 out of 5 stars

Genre: fantasy

I read it as an: audiobook, which is the only way it’s available currently

Narrator: Gemma Dawson

Source: my own collection

Length: 07:18:00

Published by: Audible Originals (5/30/19)

In this audio-only story, Marillier takes the fairy tale ‘East of the Sun, West of the Moon’ and delves into the story of the troll princess who is shunned by the handsome prince who turns into a bear. Hulde is a princess, hidden away from the world by her mother, who becomes more abusive as the years pass. Hulde is given human servants to tend to her needs, and for one month every three years, Hulde has a friend, Rune, who comes to visit her. Her mother doesn’t allow mirrors in the Glass Mountain, where they live. Hulde has no real idea she is that different from the humans, and she has been raised to believe that she will marry a beautiful prince on her 16th birthday. When she learns that the prince in question had been cursed by her own mother, Hulde helps his fairy tale come true and then goes on a quest of her own to learn about the outside world, her own people, and how to be brave. 

I really liked that Marillier focused on a character who is generally overlooked in the fairy tale. Hulde would never have been the protagonist in a traditional tale, so giving her the spotlight is a good twist for the continuation of ‘East of the Sun, West of the Moon’. I do think people will get more out of this story if they already have an understanding of ‘East of the Sun, West of the Moon’ but certainly it isn’t necessary. Knowing the fairy tale just gives it more depth. 

I think it’s a great message that Hulde is shooting for bravery rather than beauty. Despite the title of the book (which I think may be more tongue in cheek than anything?), the focus is not on the way heroine are traditionally beautiful and married to the handsomest prince ever. Hulde learns how to be brave and to appreciate her strength during the course of her quest, including the fact that trust in others is a part of being brave. She also learns that a beautiful person does not always mean they are a good person or are somehow more worthy of love and attention than others. 

The emphasis on storytelling woven throughout this story is delightful. It’s almost meta in the references to storytelling and the bards or memorykeepers who deal with stories. Marillier does this a bit in her other works as well, but it just struck me more strongly in this one. A story about a girl who loves stories and uses them to guide her quest in the presence of a troll-bard who tells her stories to help her keep going. Love it!

 This story felt a little younger than Marillier’s usual work, but it was still a thoroughly enjoyable tale. Perhaps it’s because it is only available as an audiobook/ Audible Original that it wasn’t quite as nuanced as her usual style. In any case, it was pleasing to this long-time fan, and would make a great intro to her for younger listeners. While not a children’s story, I would have no hesitation at all letting my young daughter listen to this. 

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Traitor’s Codex

42730289Traitor’s Codex (A Crispin Guest Mystery Book 11)* by Jeri Westerson (website, Facebook)

Her Grace’s rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Genre: historical fiction – medieval, 14th century London

I read it as a: hardback

Source: my own collection

Length: 198 pp

Published by: Severn House (June 1, 2019)

**Spoilers below**

In 1394 London, Crispin Guest, self-styled Tracker of London, and his apprentice Jack Tucker are making ends meet with small jobs here and there. But their world gets turned upside down when a mysterious man drops a package in Crispin’s lap and disappears. Inside is a book written in a language Crispin has never seen. Making use of his varied contacts throughout the city, he learns that the book is written in Coptic and contains a secret gospel, the Gospel of Judas, which claims that Judas was the most beloved apostle and that salvation can come from within a person, not through Christ’s sacrifice. Knowledge of this gospel would overturn the Church’s authority and lead to a dangerous heresy, something even skeptical Crispin isn’t willing to allow. When people who have helped him start getting murdered, Crispin finds himself in the middle of a race to get the book to a safe place. In the meanwhile, someone in London is impersonating Crispin and wreaking havoc on his reputation… 

Throughout this novel, themes of loyalty, oaths taken, and reevaluating what we thought we knew take the lead. Crispin and Jack both are forced to closely analyze the things they had always taken for, well, gospel truth, and both come away from their adventure changed in some fundamental ways. I think it was a good, if hard, lesson for Crispin to learn that Jews are people who have a great deal to contribute to his society and he realises he was not very good to them, or not as good as he could have been, only after two of his Jewish friends are killed. 

The subplot with Crispin’s copycat were amusing, and the way he handled it was very inventive. I liked how it came full circle in the end and Crispin used the man the way he did. It made that subplot more meaningful, rather than just a nuisance to Crispin that had no other purpose. 

The concept of loyalty also comes into play a lot throughout this novel. It was good to see Crispin evaluating his past role in the rebellion to place John of Gaunt on the throne and to understand the impact it had on others in ways he had never considered. Assessing one’s own thoughts and actions is an indication of a well-rounded adult and Crispin has really learned a lot about himself throughout the novels, and in this one especially. 

I am looking forward to the next book in the series with both excitement and bittersweetness, knowing it will be one of the last. But also – Excalibur! YES! I am also really, really curious to see how Crispin’s tale will end. I know *I* have my own ideas and hopes for how it will end and what will become of Crispin, Jack, and the rest. But it will be interesting to see if any of those align with Westerson’s plan for our favorite intrepid, disgraced knight. 

Favorite parts (potential spoilers!):

  • The bookseller’s excitement over his books, especially the Launcelot book that was written in London but which he got in the Holy Land. Book nerds from the Middle Ages geeking out about their books is absolutely something I want more of in everything I read! 
  • When Julian of Norwich comes to visit. I loved the nod to her writing when Julian refers to Mother Jesus, and later her most famous quote: All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.. As a medievalist who focuses on the writings of holy women, including Julian, I dig it when someone makes us if them in their own work. Also, the author’s note explains why Julian was in London and not in her cell, which is where she actually would have been, and does so in a way that is believable within the scope of the novel. Nicely done, my lady Westerson!

 

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A Brightness Long Ago

41458663._sy475_A Brightness Long Ago* by Guy Gavriel Kay

I read it as an: ARC

Source: a friend who lent me her ARC

Length: 423 pp

Publisher: Berkley

Year: 2019

In Kay’s newest historical fantasy set in a quasi-Renaissance version of Italy, themes of memory and fate are woven throughout the tale in the memories of Guidanio Cerra. Cerra recalls his life, starting with the day he helped the highborn Lady Adria di Ripoli get away after assassinating a tyrant. From there, his life brings him into contact with Folco Cino and Teobaldo Monticola, both mercenary leaders and bitter rivals. They all revolve around one another’s lives, orbiting around the shared sphere of power, dominance, and subtle machinations of politics and war, through the lens of distant memory. Most of the events are viewed from Cerra’s point of view as his life touches Cino’s, Monticola’s, and Adria’s, along with some more minor characters such as the healer Jelena or a young cleric.

The pseudo-Renaissance Italian land of Batiara is richly described with a deep history of its own. The land and settings are life-like and made me feel as though I’d fallen through the pages into the scene directly; I could see and smell and feel everything he described as though I was really there. Every character, no matter how minor they first seem, is fully developed and identifiable. I love the way Kay takes these minor characters and later shows their connection to the main events, or has them come back in unexpected ways. He provides an interesting discussion on the concept of fate and choice, and how even seemingly small choices can have a dramatic impact on the course of one’s life. Everything is connected and has a purpose in his writing, and Kay is a master at teasing out every bit of detail from a scene. 

I’ve always found Kay’s writing style to be really interesting. In the hands of a different author, it might not work for me, but Kay can transport me into his carefully crafted world, full of a multitude of characters, without confusing me or disrupting the narrative flow. He uses language alternately to soothe and to jar the reader into a deeper reflection of the overarching themes in his works. His ability to do so with singular skill is rare, and an utter delight to read.

This works as a standalone novel, though it would be excellent to read along with Kay’s Sarantium Mosaic since they are connected. Very highly recommended.

Favorite line(s):

  • We are always the person we were, and we grow into someone very different, if we live long enough. Both things are true.
  • The sailors say the rain misses the cloud even as it falls through light or dark into the sea. I miss her like that as I fall through my life, through time, the chaos of our time.
  • Shelter can be hard to find. A place can become our home for reasons we do not understand. We build the memories that turn into what we are, then what we were, as we look back. We live in the light that comes to us.

The Harp of Kings

43316755._sy475_The Harp of Kings (Warrior Bards)* by Juliet Marillier

I read it as an: ARC

Source: Netgalley 

Length: 464 pp

Publisher: Ace

Year: 2019

Liobhan has dreamed of joining the elite group of warriors from Swan Island since she was a little girl. She and her brother Brocc, both talented musicians, have gained places in the newest group of Swan Island trainees and she is determined to earn a permanent position there. Another trainee, Dau, seems by turns as determined as Liobhan to win a spot as he does to make sure she does not. When their trainers Innan and Archu decide that these three trainees will accompany them on an actual mission to the kingdom of Briefne to retrieve the magical Harp of Kings, required to coronate the new king Rodan, Liobhan learns the true meaning of what it will mean to become a Swan Island warrior. 

I am always thrilled to get a new Juliet Marillier book and I enjoyed this one immensely. I did think the writing wasn’t as tight as many of her previous books, in particular Daughter of the Forest or the Blackthorn and Grim series. However, this was still a great story with interesting new characters and quite a few easter eggs for her long-time readers. 

Each chapter is told from the first person point of view of one of the trainees. I’ve read other books that do this as well and they often become garbled or indistinguishable from one another. That was not the case here; each character was so well developed that readers can identify who is speaking even without the benefit of dialogue. Liobhan is the saltier of the two siblings and has a thread of impatience and recklessness running through each of her chapters. Brocc is a gentle soul who prefers music to fighting, even though he is adept at it, and his chapters seem almost dreamy at times. Dau has a lot of anger and bitterness in him, and it is clear he has a history he wants to keep hidden or tamped down. Seeing events through each of their eyes makes for an interesting read since each chapter switches from one to another. It gives a nice mix for readers and lets us get to know the characters closely as well as see their growth as people.

The secondary characters were often intriguing. I thought the best one was Mistress Juniper, though Aislinn came in a close second. I kind of want to be a mix of Mistress Juniper and the Aunts from Practical Magic when I grow up. I felt that a few details were left unanswered, such as who Juniper really was, whether Aislinn will get to leave or not, and why exactly Rodan was so monstrous and whether he’ll chill out since events panned out the way they did. I also wanted to know more about the Crow Folk. Speculation from the various characters was all well and good, but I wanted a more definitive answer than I got. In any case, it had an ending that was exciting enough and makes it easier to overlook the few minor quibbles I had with the plot. I am hopeful we will learn more about these things in subsequent books, at least about the Fair Folk and the Crow Folk. 

Overall, a very enjoyable read, perfect for a weekend indulgence or fantasy break.

Ghost Wall

43660486Ghost Wall: A Novel* by Sarah Moss

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Christine Hewett

Source: my own collection

Length: 03:48:00

Publisher: Macmillan Audio

Year: 2019

Ghost Wall is the story of Silvie and the two weeks in which her father, an amateur ancient historian, drags her and her mother into the woods of north England to live as ancient Britons. They join a group of anthropology students who are also there to reenact living the lives of simpler times and try to understand how the “bog bodies” came to be so. The group forages for food, hunts and fishes, all using Bronze Age tools. When they erect a “ghost wall”, the spiritual barrier made of stakes topped with ancestral skulls intended to ward off enemies, the group taps into a deep-seated, primal connection to their distant ancestors as well as a desire to deeply understand their motivations. What follows is a deeply unsettling narrative of abuse and sacrifice. 

This slim novel (or rather, in my case, short audiobook) highlights how taut prose can tell just as good a story as any giant epic doorstopper of a novel any day. This was an excellent read. Told from the point of view of Sylvie, the young woman whose father, Bill, is the amateur historian, we learn fragments of life about ancient Britons based on what she has learned in turn from her father. More importantly, we learn that her father is an abusive bag of dicks and has convinced her that people only hit the things they care about. Sylvie has a quick wit and salty attitude, which we only see in her internal dialogue; she never really says what she’s thinking for fear of what her father will do to her if she does. However, once they join up with the students and professor of the anthropology group, she begins to envision a different life for herself which includes going to university, having her own money, making her own decisions, living away from home and even away from England. She is afraid, however, to voice her interests since she has learned they will probably be thwarted. 

The anthropology students are an interesting group, ranging from barely engaged in the reenactment to ready to go back in time and embrace prehistoric life. Jim Slade, The Prof, as their instructor is called, leads the group overall, though Sylvie’s dad is the unacknowledged ruler since everyone tip toes around him. The students – Dan, Pete, and Molly – are by turns helpful and dismissive, indifferent and supportive. Molly in particular shines here and is a great example of a strong woman and role model. 

Sylvie’s father uses his love of history as a justification to abuse his family as well as to try to go back to some ephemeral time of British purity. Anyone who actually knows history knows there is no such thing for really any culture, let alone British culture. He names his daughter after a goddess – Sulevia – claiming she is a British goddess when in reality she is Roman in origin. You can’t “take back” a country when it was never pure or yours to begin with. There is a lot to unpack here with regard to cultural or racial purity, cultural and historical ignorance, and the ways in which humans have used history and a connection to past events, imperfectly understood, to justify and rationalize current cruelty and brutality. I could go on a long political rant about this, but suffice to say GOP/Trump.

I think this book makes a terrific argument for why we need to study and understand history. Yes, there is the old wheeze about people who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. More than that, though, is the message that those who imperfectly understand history (not that there is really a perfect way to understand it) can twist it to do awful things on both large and small scales. Bill uses history to justify abusing his wife and daughter; politicians use it as a way to whip up their base with the idea of “making __ country great again”, the implication being that it wasn’t just fine the way it was before, with all the people from all different places living there. Racism. 

It also touches on the vital issue of domestic abuse, shame, and fear associated with it. Sylvie is ashamed and afraid because her dad beats her with his belt. Her mother is useless in protecting her, and while I tend not to understand that mentality – I think I’d kill anyone who hurt my daughter – I am also not a long-time victim of abuse. I don’t know how it must wear you down and make you think it is normal. That is important to try to understand. It is something I have to work on because I felt anger and disgust at Sylvie’s mom for not protecting her, and it isn’t probably fair of me. 

In short, I loved this book. It was deceptively nuanced and complex. Highly recommended.

 

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The Pearl That Broke Its Shell

40135122The Pearl That Broke Its Shell: A Novel* by Nadia Hashimi

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Gin Hammond

Source: my own collection

Length: 16:10:00

Publisher: Blackstone Audio

Year: 2014

The Pearl The Broke Its Shell is a dual timeline narrative told mostly from the perspective of Rahima, a young woman living near Kabul in 2007. She and her sisters are the children of an opium-addicted father and, with no brothers to help the family, their prospects for improving their life or marriage prospects are grim. Their rebellious aunt, Shaima, suggests that Rahima follow an old custom called the bacha posh, which not only sounds like Klingon the way the narrator pronounced it, but it the tradition of allowing a girl to dress and act as a boy when there are no other boys in a family. She can go to school, run errands for her mother, and chaperone her other sisters. In this way, Rahima becomes Rahim and becomes a boy until she reaches marriageable age and her father marries her and her two other eldest sisters off. By marriageable, I mean she was 13.

The tradition of bacha posh was not unique to Rahima’s family. She had a many-times-great grandmother, Shekiba, who had lived as a man near the turn of the century as well. The secondary timeline follows her story from her small village and farmstead, through the cholera epidemic that wiped out her entire family, and how she lived as a man in order to survive.

This was such a thought provoking novel. Though fiction, it deals with issues which happened in real life and which are still highly relevant today – child marriage, honor killing, domestic abuse, drug addiction, and many other issues. Any one of these things is enough to break a person, but underneath all this is woven the strength of women. Rahima and Shekiba, as well as the other women throughout the book, all suffer hardships, sacrifices, abuses, and losses that are unimaginable. Some, like Rahima’s sister Parwin, are overcome. But others, like Rahima and Shekiba themselves, keep fighting even when they think they’ve come to the end of their strength and can’t go any further or endure anything else life could possibly throw at them. In the end, Shekiba’s story becomes a source of strength for Rahima, and Rahima becomes the pearl that breaks her shell.

I loved the use of bird imagery as well throughout the book. Parwin was fond of drawing birds, there were birds singing and fluttering about in many pivotal scenes. Birds have some significant parts in Islamic culture, from the “Miracle of the Birds” when Abyssinian forces were supposedly annihilated by birds dropping pebbles from the sky to prevent them from entering Mecca and destroying the Ka’bah, to stories found in The Thousand and One Arabian Nights to works by Sufi poets and Islamic mystics. Including the bird imagery elevates the narratives of the women and equates them to many of the mystics or saints from other cultures in some ways, those who were made holy through their suffering, like medieval saints. I am not sure if that is intentional or not, but the image is there all the same.

This mystic thread continues in the book’s title, which is derived from the ecstatic poem “There Is Some Kiss We Want” by Rumi, the 13th century Sufi poet. It is a lovely poem:

There is some kiss we want

with our whole lives,

the touch of spirit on the body.

 

Seawater begs the pearl

to break its shell.

 

And the lily, how passionately

it needs some wild darling.

 

At night, I open the window

and ask the moon to come

and press its face against mine.

Breathe into me.

 

Close the language-door

and open the love-window.

 

The moon won’t use the door,

only the window.

Rainbirds

33026565Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan

I read it as a: hardback

Source: my own collection/BOTM credit

Length: 322 pp

Publisher: Soho

Year: 2018

 

***Spoilers for this book are very much present in this review.***

Ren Ishida comes from Tokyo to a small, unnamed town in Japan after receiving the news that his sister, Keiko, has been murdered. Intending to go and finalize her affairs, Ren finds himself accepting a job as a teacher at her old school and living in her old apartment. He essentially takes on his sister’s old life in many ways, hoping to figure out what happened to her while bringing himself closure as well. In the process, he uncovers many surprising truths about his sister as well as his entire family.

Ehhhhh. I get that this was supposed to be written with a minimalist style, but I don’t think it was actually minimalist. I think it needed to be fleshed the fuck out. This story could have occurred anywhere – there was just no sense of place at all, nothing memorable about the town or surroundings to make it special. The characters were mostly flat and Ren, the main character, was stultifying. He has no real personality. The dialogue was mostly painful and lame throughout as well. Do people really talk like that in Japan? For example:

“So, you’re a teacher,” she said.

I nodded. “I teach English at a cram school”

“That makes sense. I was wondering what kind of work you did. You leave the apartment around noon, and return pretty late. I thought you were in retail, like me.”

“That would have made sense, too.”

“Hey, Izumi.” The young man who greeted me earlier approached us. “Sorry to cut in, but your shift is over.”

“Already?” She checked her watch. Her wrist was slim and bony. “You’re right. Thanks for letting me know.” (219)

So stilted. This sounds very similar to some dialogue my daughter wrote in one of her stories. My daughter is eight. It just goes on and on like this throughout the entire book. Nobody seemed genuine at all because of the way their dialogue was written. Maybe I just didn’t care for the style at all, but let’s move past that.

I also didn’t like – at all – how the killer’s identity was discovered but no one cared to give that information to the police, either because it wouldn’t bring back Keiko or because it would ruin the lives of the killer’s family. Um, SO? How would something someone else did have any impact on another person? *I* didn’t kill that person, my relative did it, let me help you throw their ass in the clink! Fuck reputation. Of course it doesn’t bring the murdered person back, but that’s not the point. The point is that you don’t let murderers get away with it. What the fuck? So that was deeply unsatisfying. The end, I felt, just petered out and everything went back to normal and everyone moved on and it was like nothing much happened, just a minor six-month detour in life that we can now forget about and move past. I honestly kept reading this book to see who it was because I wanted them to go to jail, but that didn’t happen and it left a bad taste. I feel like I wasted a whole weekend on this book when I could have been reading the new Guy Gavriel Kay book instead.

I want my BOTM credit back.