The Ten Thousand Doors of January: Book Review

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

“I hope you will find the cracks in the world and wedge them wider, so the light of other suns shines through; I hope you will keep the world unruly, messy, full of strange magics; I hope you will run through every open Door and tell stories when you return.”

The Ten Thousand Doors of January has been on my TBR list since it’s release, another example of a beautiful cover captivating my attention. When I saw that the author lived in Kentucky I was even more intrigued.

This novel is fantasy, historical fiction, it follows the upbringing of January Scholar, the semi-adopted foundling by a rich, archeological hobbyist who loves to collect unique items. Her birth father travels the world for his daughter’s benefactor seeking out those unique items.

January struggles to conform to her caretaker’s standards, partially because she is brown-skinned in a white dominated Jim Crow society. She envisions a world of borders and order and boredom until one day she writes open a door and her world is forever changed.

Aside from some painfully obvious naming conventions, I really enjoyed this story. It is truly an escapist’s dream world, and a love letter to the power of words.

The main character is flawed but likable. She simultaneously faces the reality of her privilege while struggling with injustice.

Spoiler below, but only a little bit:

There is a dog and he does NOT die. Too many good books are ruined by killing off the only spark of good in them. The days of killing Ol’ Yeller are over. The dogs can live and the story still have emotional resonance.

Spoiler over.

The writing is poetic, sometimes meta, and rich in descriptive power.

I highly recommend this book to lovers of escapist novels and fantasy settings (not high fantasy).

4/5 Stars

Rebecca: Book Review

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

“We’re not meant for happiness, you and I.”

Rebecca is one of those books that appears on every “Books You Must Read Before You Die” type lists. Considered by many to be one of the greatest novels of all time I felt obligated to pick this title up at some point.

I love a good brooding British novel as much as the next white, nerdy, bookish girl but Rebecca didn’t necessarily resonate as much as something like Tess of the D’Urbervilles or Jane Eyre. the mystery was interesting enough to keep me engaged but I found myself being pulled from the story quite often to point out certain plot shortcomings or really awkward phrasing, even for the time period.

While researching the life of the author, one of my favorite pastimes when reading classic novels, I learned that the author had been accused of plagiarizing Rebecca from a “1934 book, A Sucessora (The Successor), by Brazilian writer Carolina Nabuco” (Wikipedia, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daphne_du_Maurier). I am curious about the accusation and have added the book to my TBR list to compare. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the author had borrowed significant portions of the book, I didn’t feel reading it that she had mastered the plot. It felt like a borrowed horse she could barely control.

Rebecca is a widely influential novel. It’s inspired Alfred Hitchcock, Stephen King, Ken Follett, and many others. I’m going to chalk this up to the fact that there were so few authorial voices at the time, most diverse authors were not given the same platform as people like Daphne du Maurier though they had immensely more talent. It also didn’t hurt that she had many connections to the publishing industry.

I’ve devoted a lot of this review to the negatives, but I did somewhat enjoy this book. It by no means changed my life or shifted my worldview and frankly I felt like Rebecca came out feeling like a kind of anti-hero who controlled her own destiny at a time when women still very much depended on men. I am not sure the author particularly meant to make that impression.

The book takes a few interesting turns at opportune moments when I might have been tempted to set it aside and is worth finishing for the resolution, it wasn’t what I expected which I appreciated.

Is this on my list of books you MUST read before you die?

No.

But I’d put it on a “Books You Might Want to Read if the Book You Really Want to Read Has a Long Hold List at the Public Library” list.

3/5 Stars

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls: Book Review

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray

“”Boys and men are earth and stone,” my mama used to say. “But you girls, us women, we’re water. We can wear away earth and stone, if it comes to it.””

I want to preface this review by stating that I looked for the name of the artist of this book cover and could not find them! I fell in love with this cover and I will admit it is the primary reason I picked the book up to read.

Whoever created this cover deserves some serious accolades because I’m not sure the synopsis would have pulled me in alone. Once I started reading though, I couldn’t stop. So much of this novel resonated with me and the writing is some of the most beautiful usage of the English language I’ve ever read. At one point I stopped and had to say out loud, “that was so beautiful” in reference to a scene with a main character reading from her mother’s notes in her Bible.

The book is about family and particularly about how women take care of each other and everyone else around them.

The characterization was on point, the book switches viewpoints from about four main characters, each with a distinct voice. The POV shift might not appeal to some readers and if that has a tendency to confuse you, you might not like this book. I don’t mind as long as the author can keep the voices sorted. I felt the author did so deftly in this novel.

All in all a fantastic debut and an author I will definitely be keeping an eye on in the future.

5/5 Stars

Read 2019: A Year in Books

For 2019 I set my Goodreads goal at 30 books and just barely hit it. Whew, it’s been a year. A high-risk pregnancy, car accident, new baby, and series of bad luck at work have me looking forward to 2020. I need a new start of sorts, a fresh take, and a new year is prime for that kind of perspective. I am not big on New Year’s resolutions but I will take the opportunity to turn the page and start fresh.

Here are the books I read for 2019 and some thoughts on my favorites, least favorites, and trends.

1. The Secret Token: Myth, Obsession, and the Search for the Lost Colony of Roanoke by Andrew Lawler (4/5 Stars)

2. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (3/5 Stars)

3. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (4/5 Stars)

4. The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel (2/5 Stars)

5. The Kingmaker’s Daughter by Philippa Gregory (3/5 Stars)

6. The Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and Exercises by James Scott Bell (5/5 Stars)

7. Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (4/5 Stars)

8. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (5/5 Stars) (Reread)

9. The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco (3/5 Stars)

10. Hunter by Mercedes Lackey (3/5 Stars)

11. Elite by Mercedes Lackey (3/5 Stars)

12. The Mueller Report by Robert S. Mueller III (5/5 Stars)

13. Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer (3/5 Stars)

14. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (3/5 Stars)

15. The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht (4/5 Stars)

16. Wrede on Writing: Tips, Hints, and Opinions on Writing by Patricia C. Wrede (4/5 Stars)

17. The Library Book by Susan Orlean (4/5 Stars)

18. Apex by Mercedes Lackey (3/5 Stars)

19. The Vine Witch by Luanne G. Smith (4/5 Stars)

20. You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero (2/5 Stars)

21. City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert (5/5 Stars)

22. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (4/5 Stars)

23. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (5/5 Stars)

24. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (5/5 Stars)

25. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker (3/5 Stars)

26. The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West (4/5 Stars)

27. Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake (3/5 Stars)

28. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson (5/5 Stars)

29. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (4/5 Stars)

30. Story Trumps Structure: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules by Steven James (4/5 Stars)

Top Five Favorite Reads

1. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

2. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

3. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

4. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

5. City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

Least Favorites

You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero

The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

My 2019 Reading Trends

I learned a few things about myself from my reading habits this year.

First, as I get older I find myself increasingly drawn to literary fiction.

Second, I am very disillusioned by self-help books that refuse to acknowledge systemic inequalities and assume all readers have the same privileges. I get that they are (most likely) writing to an audience of upper middle class white women in suburban regions but to not address any unfairness seems completely blind and very not 2019.

Finally, I have not read a YA novel this year that made me feel much of anything. My selection of authors might very well be the cause here. I didn’t try any really exciting authors who offer a new voice. That is something I plan to remedy in 2020. YA is one of my favorite genres and I can’t imagine not reading it. I know it’s a viable genre, I just need to find the good in the tide of mediocre.

Overall, with the year I’ve had, I’m happy with my reading accomplishments. More good reads than bad ones including falling in love with a new author, Min Jin Lee, whose entire body of work will definitely be making its home on my book shelves soon.

Here’s to only 4 star and up books in 2020!

What were your favorite (or least favorite) books you read this year?

The Dutch House: Book Review

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

“There are a few times in life when you leap up and the past that you’d been standing on falls away behind you, and the future you mean to land on is not yet in place, and for a moment you’re suspended knowing nothing and no one, not even yourself.”

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett is a tale of growing up, nostalgia, and truth. It is a story ultimately about redemption.

The story is framed around a house, an old mansion built in the Dutch architectural style previously owned by a rich couple who made their wealth in tobacco but whose family ultimately fizzled our with no surviving heirs. Mr. Conroy, Danny and Maeve’s father bought the house after their demise, filled with their possessions as a surprise for his wife, an ex-nun accustomed to their simple life on a Navy base.

She is unsettled by the acquisition of the large home and never quite makes peace with her wealth and the general misery of the world’s poor. She leaves the dutch house, and her family, to go to India after reading about Mother Theresa’s charitable work.

Her departure nearly kills Maeve, who is diagnosed with juvenile diabetes after losing her mother. The story picks up with their father’s remarriage to a young woman named Andrea.

The book is about family, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Ultimately it’s the fact that we never can quite remember things as they truly are. And that our capacity for forgiveness supersedes everything else.

The book is beautifully written, with tight prose and vivid imagery. I was nearly disappointed in the ending, believing it would fall back in the old evil stepmother trope. Lucky for us all, it does not do that and the twist at the end makes this book worth reading.

4/5 Stars

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek: Book Review

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

“To be wilded. Have a wilded heart in this black-treed land full of wilded creatures. There were notches in these hills were a stranger wouldn’t tread, would not venture-the needle-eyed coves and skinny blinds behind rocks, the strangling parts of the blackened-green hills-but Angeline and hillfolk here were wilded and not afraid. And I longed to lift bare feet onto ancient paths and be wilded once again.”

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is set in Troublesome, Kentucky, an Appalachian Community, in the 1930s. The story follows Packhorse Librarian Cussy Mary (aka Bluet), coal miner’s daughter and one of the legendary blue people of Kentucky. Cussy Mary struggles for acceptance in her conservative and superstitious hometown. Though a Troublesome native, she is viewed through the same suspicious lens as any minority of the region.

Cussy Mary’s father works long hours on night shift in the mines, returning covered in black dust and already suffering from what appears to be black lung, a result of inhaling the coal dust underground and an affliction that coal miner’s still battle today.

Cussy Mary and her father are unique to the setting for their blue skin color, caused by a congenital blood condition. This is based on the blue Fugates of Kentucky, a well known legend to the region.

Back to the story itself, I wasn’t sure I would like this book. Being from the region I am always wary of stories that try to portray the truth of life here. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek deals with some difficult subject matter, the treatment of minorities in the region, subjugation of women, socioeconomic conditions, and cultural shortcomings. The author handles all of this with a great deal of honesty but also respect to the people who remain here.

Cussy Mary, a blue, is treated as a “colored” meaning she is held to the laws of segregation and miscegenation of the time. She is cautious, afraid to touch others and often chided for assuming she is equal to the whites around her. She is humble but eager to be accepted even by those that treat her terribly. Her greatest joy is bringing literacy to her people (an astounding act of rebellion considering them her people even though over half think of her as their inferior). The book reckons with the hypocrisy of a proud, but starving and close-knit but ostracizing community.

The writing is lyrical. More poetry than prose sometimes. That may be off putting to some but if so then literary fiction isn’t really for you anyway. This book is a bittersweet tale of overcoming hardship and bearing witness to tragedy.

5/5 Stars

The Witches Are Coming: Book Review

The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West

This collection of essays by New York Times columnist and Shrill author (also a Hulu original starring SNL star Aidy Bryant), Lindy West discusses several topics ranging from abortion to Adam Sandler (is he funny?).

At its heart, The Witches Are Coming is a heartfelt plea and reassurance that the world is not going to Hell, there is good in it and we have more power than we know.

The title plays off the political rhetoric of the 45th U.S. President’s Witch hunt tirades, which seemingly invoke the persecution of women by religious tyrants through history but specifically during the Salem Witch Trials. West leans into this paranoia and assures Trump, if you want a witch hunt, by God, you’ve got one.

West reclaims witch as a term of female empowerment and wields it as deftly as Dumbledore, or Hermoine perhaps. She calls out our societal hypocrisy, systemic racism and sexism, the cultural shift holding household names accountable to a new generation, one who hopefully doesn’t have to politely ignore sexual harassment because “it’s just the way things are.”

West does all this with wit and humor unrivaled in political commentary I have yet experienced.

I am not going to recommend this book to everybody, because it’s not for everybody, though the message has National, even global, implications. With all political commentary I am sure this book will piss off at least half the people who pick it up. But West is genuine in her beliefs, honest in her own biases, and graceful in understanding, yes, generations understand the world differently but we still must have progress even if it makes certain groups uncomfortable.

Filled with laugh out loud moments, The Witches Are Coming is the perfect way to end the cataclysm that was 2019 on a slightly more hopeful note.

4/5 Stars

Pachinko: Book Review

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

“It was not Hansu that she missed, or even Isak. What she was seeing again in her dreams was her youth, her beginning, and her wishes–so this is how she became a woman.”

“Etsuko had failed in this important way—she had not taught her children to hope, to believe in the perhaps-absurd possibility that they might win. Pachinko was a foolish game, but life was not.”

“Noa had been a sensitive child who had believed that if he followed all the rules and was the best, then somehow, the hostile world would change its mind. His death may have been her fault for having allowed him to believe such cruel ideals.”

Pachinko is a big book of big, complex, sometimes conflicting ideas. This is why I think it is a more accurate view of life.

Sunja is born in Korea pre-WWII and Korean War times that split the nation into the North and South of today. she is born into a relatively poor but surviving family, the daughter of a man born with several congenital deformities, a cleft lip and club foot. But he is an honorable man who loves his daughter. His honor resonates years later with a young minister with tuberculosis who agrees to marry the pregnant and unmarried Sunja and take her to Japan.

The book follows Sunja’s life, the struggles of being Korean in Japan when prejudice was high, being an outsider with no true homeland thanks to the rapidly changing geopolitical landscape of Korea, and the timeless struggle of being a woman who must reckon with her choices and the choices of the men surrounding her.

Pachinko is a generational epic done right. The novel explores many themes as a generational story must, racism and prejudice, socioeconomic distinctions, gender roles, generational differences, guilt, redemption, love and lust. Sunja is a woman who makes mistakes, but as a woman her mistakes resonate throughout her lifetime, affecting not only herself but her loved ones.

This book is worth a read and a reread. My own generational novel is inspired by this book, her near flawless rendering of this family’s fall and rise, and fall and rise. I was not aware of the history that drives this novel, the consequences of WWII for Korea and displaced Koreans who could not return home. Historically the novel offers a lot of perspective and is a great example of the value of minority voices taking their rightful place in the global platform of such narratives.

5/5 Stars

The Vine Witch: Book Review

The Vine Witch (Vine Witch #1) by Luanne G. Smith

The Vine Witch is best served with a large glass of wine (your choice of vintage). The perfect Guilty pleasure for those cozy October nights.

The Vine Witch

Written by Luanne G. Smith

Published 2019 by 47North

Downloaded on Kindle through Amazon’s FirstReads Program

Fantasy/Paranormal Fiction

Elena is a vine witch, more than a connoisseur of good wine, she has the ability to cultivate, in every magical sense of the word, the grapes of a vineyard to grow, harvest, and ferment the best wines the Chanceaux Valley has ever seen. Unfortunately, the wine business in 19th century (albeit an alternate universe) France has many rivals and Elena finds herself the victim of a curse, living as a frog for seven years before finally reversing the curse and returning home to find her beloved vineyard on the brink of ruin AND bought out by a lawyer of all people named Jean-Paul Martel, a man who values science over magic.

Smith does an excellent job inviting us into her new world of vine witches. I got serious Neil Gaiman vibes a la Stardust. The magical world is woven into the Industrial Revolution of Europe during the 19th century during the rise of modern science and technology’s popularity.

Besides creating a dynamic new world, Smith gives us a rollicking adventure, a delightful bit of mystery with a very satisfying twist, and a bit of romance to warm these chilly fall evenings.

I am very interested to see what subsequent books in this world will be like as it appears to be the first in a series. Fans of Stardust, Harry Potter, and alternate universe historical fiction like steampunk will enjoy this debut.

My Rating

4/5 Stars

City of Girls: Book Review

A Note from the Reviewer: I sincerely apologize for how I have been writing my book reviews thus far. I have been spoiling endings without remorse and not indicating when a spoiler was ahead. From this review forward I promise to do better about omitting spoilers (or warning about them if absolutely necessary to an honest review).

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

“In my experience, this is the hardest lesson of them all.

After a certain age, we are all walking around this world in bodies made of secrets and shame and sorrow and old, unhealed injuries. Our hearts grow sore and misshapen around all this pain—yet somehow, still, we carry on.” -Vivian Morris City of Girls

City of Girls

Written by Elizabeth Gilbert

Published 2019 by Riverhead

Borrowed via OverDrive

Historical Fiction

Vivian Morris is a 1940s era 19-year-old WASP experiencing the glamour of New York City after a less than stellar attempt at college. She goes to live with her Aunt Peg, a WWI nurse turned theatrical producer with a curious history of her own. While living at The Lily, Vivian is dazzled by the gorgeous showgirls, cigarettes, booze, and sex without consequences. The glitzy vision is shattered one reckless night and Vivian must decide what kind of girl she wants to be.

City of Girls is a book about female relationships, the complexity of those dynamics, how they are shaped by jealousies and the idea of male territory. Set against a decidedly conservative backdrop, Gilbert digs deep, showing how women can prop each other up but also how we can absolutely decimate each other.

Gilbert’s grasp of language is so natural, I can’t help but feel viciously jealous. The words poured through my brain. This was such an easy novel to get lost in, which is really saying something with two kids under the age of three.

This book is a fantastic pick for fans of classic Hollywood, WWII-era historical fiction, or those who enjoy stories with unexpected endings.

My Rating

5/5 Stars