Book Review: The Probable Future by Alice Hoffman

Book Review: The Probable Future by Alice HoffmanTitle: The Probable Future
Author: Alice Hoffman
Release Date: June 24, 2003
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Page Count: 322
Genre(s): Magical Realism
Summary from Goodreads:
The women of the Sparrow family have lived in New England for generations. Each is born in the month of March, and at the age of thirteen, each develops an unusual gift. Elinor can literally smell a lie. Her daughter, Jenny, can see people’s dreams as they’re dreaming them. Granddaughter Stella, newly a teen, has just developed the ability to see how other people will die. Ironically, it is their gifts that have kept Elinor and Jenny apart for the last twenty-five years. But as Stella struggles to cope with her disturbing clairvoyance, the unthinkable happens: One of her premonitions lands her father in jail, wrongly accused of homicide. The ordeal leads Stella to the grandmother she’s never met and to Cake House, the Sparrow ancestral home full of talismans and fraught with history. Now three generations of estranged Sparrow women must come together to turn Stella’s potential to ruin into a potential to redeem.

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Goodreads recommended that I read The Probable Future based on my interest in Sarah Addison Allen’s books, and I think that (as usual), Goodreads was right on. Hoffman’s novel is a tale of the bonds between women and the uncertainty of the future, colored with a touch of small town magic.

In elegant, exacting prose, Alice Hoffman introduces readers to the Sparrow family. Thirteen generations of Massachusetts-born women who all have some strange gift that emerges on their thirteenth birthday. The Probable Future’s specific focus is the troubled relationships between the three newest generations: Elinor, her daughter Jenny, and her granddaughter Stella. Under a set of unlikely circumstances, all three are together in their ancestral town, and something’s got to give.

I was very impressed with the way the author dealt with the mother-daughter and grandmother-granddaughter relationships in this book. Even though there’s more to the plot, these dynamics between women are at the core of this book. In The Probable Future, Hoffman really grasps the complexities of Elinor and Jenny and Stella’s dealings with one another, and she paints a very real picture of family life.

The protagonists’ relationships are a great anchor for the rest of the fairytale-like goings-on. Stella’s newly-discovered “gift” is to know how people will die, and it gets her into trouble. And while she deals with preteen angst (made worse by her grim reaping ability), her mother and grandmother are hashing out decade’s old arguments and tensions, which partly have to do with their own gifts.

Beyond that, Hoffman goes so far as to add another layer, intermixing the story of the original Sparrow, Rebecca. Rebecca was a foundling child who was eventually tried as a witch in the late 1600s, and she’s become something of a town legend. For Stella, finding more about Rebecca’s life becomes an obsession as she tries to connect with the roots her mother had cut her off from for thirteen years.

And that’s not all The Probable Future has in store for its readers. Beyond the family dramas that I’ve already mentioned, there’s also a murderer on the loose, as well as a love interest for all three Sparrow ladies. Hoffman has added layer upon layer to this story, until it’s become as nuanced and multifaceted as real life (with a bonus taste of magic, of course).

The Probable Future is a compelling story about the supernatural and the relationship between mothers and daughters. Alice Hoffman’s excellently crafted prose and intriguing imagination combine to create a wonderful, fairytale-like small town atmosphere. The end result is a charming book that captivates and inspires.

3 Stars

Unreviewed Reads Roundup: Summer 2014

unreviewedroundupUnreviewed Reads Roundup is a feature that highlights books I didn’t formally review on the blog. These posts contain mini-reviews, often feelings or observations on a particular point of a book, instead of my typical in-depth and detailed reviews. This feature is also (and perhaps primarily) the place where I share my thoughts on DNF books.


moth and spark anne leonardMoth and Spark
by Anne Leonard

Well hello Mary Sue. The female protagonist was stunning, the most beautiful lady in the land, also extremely smart, speaking three languages and knowing a lot about anything and everything. She also (and I quote) “had improved her mind through extensive reading” hahahahaha, no. No Elizabeth Bennet comparisons, if you please.

Also, Leonard’s prose was quite strange. I like pretty, descriptive prose quite a lot, but what was happening in this book was seriously too much, especially on top of The Ultimate Mary Sue. Such a shame, since the premise did look so promising.

Did Not Finish


brain on fire susannah cahalanBrain On Fire
by Susannah Cahalan

This is a very interesting nonfiction book that’s a sort of cross between investigate journalism and memoir. Cahalan’s story of her illness and how it progressed was kind of like the Discovery Health Channel show, Mystery Diagnosis. I was impressed by how detailed and personal this was, all at once. Cahalan really managed to bridge the gap between cold reporting and intimate recollection. Recommended for readers who enjoy medical mysteries, unknown diseases, and fact-based memoirs.

3 out of 5 stars


diving belles lucy woodDiving Belles
by Lucy Wood

This magical realist short stories show a lot of talent on Wood’s part. However, I would be hesitant to call them “stories” at all; most of them feel like scenes or vignettes. And that’s quite acceptable, except they don’t stand up as well on their own as a true short story would and should. I’m impressed with the author’s creativity and her prose, but she could have used more work in developing conflict and resolution and all that. I would read something else of hers, however.

2 out of 3 stars


sweet trouble susan mallerySweet Trouble
by Susan Mallery

Your girlfriend gets pregnant, and you believe the baby isn’t yours. So you dump her and tell her never ever to speak to you again, and say expressly that even if the baby is yours, you still wouldn’t want it.

Pretty clear message, right?

But then 5 years later, that same woman shows up at your door. She says that she knows you still hate her, but that the baby (now 4 years old) really wanted to meet his daddy. So here she is.

Logical reaction? Either kick her to the curb, or invite her in.

This guy’s reaction? She kept that baby from him ON PURPOSE. It’s all her fault that he never got to meet his son. She’s a disgusting whore, and he’s going to call his lawyer and sue for custody. Because it’s all HER fault she never contacted him in 5 years. She’s a malicious bitch for keeping this from him. Make her life a living hell!

WHAT?!

Um, screw you. Screw. You.

Did Not Finish


nights at the circus angela carterNights at the Circus
by Angela Carter

It’s been a while since I’ve found a book like this, so I guess it was bound to happen. I really enjoyed Carter’s feminist fairytale retellings, but this was too much for me to handle. Also, I really do not enjoy weird descriptions of feathered penises. And no, I’m not joking. See: “…there were little wings attached to the ballocks…”

Also, hilariously, when the romantic interest sees the protagonist, there is a “seismic erotic disturbance that convulsed him”. HAH. If that’s not an inventive, pretentious way to describe instalove, I don’t know what is.

Alas, I will stick with Carter’s short stories and leave it at that.

Did Not Finish

 

Book Review: White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

Book Review: White is for Witching by Helen OyeyemiTitle: White is for Witching
Author: Helen Oyeyemi
Release Date: June 1, 2010
Publisher: Riverhead
Page Count: 304
Genre(s): Magical Realism
Summary from Goodreads:
There’s something strange about the Silver family house in the closed-off town of Dover, England. Grand and cavernous with hidden passages and buried secrets, it’s been home to four generations of Silver women—Anna, Jennifer, Lily, and now Miranda, who has lived in the house with her twin brother, Eliot, ever since their father converted it to a bed-and-breakfast. The Silver women have always had a strong connection, a pull over one another that reaches across time and space, and when Lily, Miranda’s mother, passes away suddenly while on a trip abroad, Miranda begins suffering strange ailments. An eating disorder starves her. She begins hearing voices. When she brings a friend home, Dover’s hostility toward outsiders physically manifests within the four walls of the Silver house, and the lives of everyone inside are irrevocably changed. At once an unforgettable mystery and a meditation on race, nationality, and family legacies, White is for Witching is a boldly original, terrifying, and elegant novel by a prodigious talent.

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“White is for witching, a colour to be worn so that all other colours can enter you, so that you may use them.”

Helen Oyeyemi’s books are so distinctively themselves, unlike anything else out there. Really, I’m at a loss as to what I could possibly compare her work to, and that’s a rare thing for me to say. White is for Witching combines intellectual commentary with easy-to-read, lyrical prose, and the end result is a strange, one-of-a-kind novel that’s deliciously surreal and vague.

I haven’t read Shirley Jackson, but I rather imagine that this book is the 21st century answer to Jackson’s writing. From a variety of viewpoints (including that of a house), White is for Witching reveals the story of Miranda Silver, a teenager who’s dealing with a lot of issues. She was diagnosed with an eating disorder, pica, at an early age, and when her mother dies, things on that front are exacerbated. Miranda has a strange relationship with her brother, Eliot, and it seems like the ghosts of her foremothers and her house itself are attempting to influence her life. This is a book that combines real-life events with a surreal background, and the reader is left with a lot of questions.

Not going to lie, at some points in the first half, I found this book to be fairly confusing. The various first-person narrators weren’t clearly marked (on purpose, I’m sure), so I could never tell if it was the house telling the story, or if it was Miranda’s brother. I at times felt very lost in a swirling, mixed-up narrative, but I think that was rather the point. Oyeyemi’s presentation of Miranda is disorienting, and the book constantly calls readers to decide for themselves what’s happening.

Oyeyemi’s prose, as usual, is a delight to read. It has it’s own distinct style to it, no matter who is narrating or what the topic is. Beyond the strangeness of the text itself, one of my favorite parts about White is for Witching was how the author’s words and descriptions took the reader by hand, leading them deeper into the strange world Miranda inhabits.

For a reader who can deal with being dizzied and lost, White is for Witching is an enjoyable modern Gothic novel. Helen Oyeyemi is a talented author whose creativity sets apart her apart from other authors being published today. Not many authors have the skill to pull off a book like this, but Oyeyemi does, and she did.

3 Stars

Series Binge: Balancing Obligations with Preference

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If I could have my way, I would only read a series under conditions where I can read all 3 or 5 or 20 installment end to end. The benefits to this plan, in my opinion, are endless. Firstly, you don’t have memory loss issues between books, since you literally just finished the last book. Secondly, you get to be totally immersed in the characters for a month or week or however long it takes you. Thirdly, you don’t have dangling series just wasting away on your TBR, piling up and causing undue stress. Blech!

Of course, there are practical considerations to make. As a blogger, you’re probably reading a lot of newer releases, so chances are the series you want to start is only partially published. Or you have ARC reviewing commitments, and you don’t really have time to sit around and read 500 books about Marty and his band of Alien Cowboys. Or what have you.  Or the library doesn’t have the entire series, or whatever.

Now, I’m a weird blogger, and I a) don’t read many “brand new” releases and b) don’t take on ARCs. This means that most series I start are complete or almost complete, except for like…3 ongoing mystery/urban fantasy series I’m in the middle of (and caught up on) that I swear will never end. So, as far as series bingeing, I don’t have a lot of “obligations” to hold me back from indulging myself in the Merry Adventures of Marty the Alien Cowboy.

Honestly, the only reason you don’t see me reading 5 billion series all in a row and reviewing them is that…shame shame, I never wanted people to get bored with my blog. Like, “oh, new review on Respiring Thoughts…oh, it’s another book from that same series she’s been reviewing all week, how boring”.

Guys, that is so embarrassing. Like, WHO CARES WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK?! I’m letting other people’s potential opinions (not real opinions) affect how I read? The horror, the shame. The shaaaaaaaame. I’ve always been an outspoken “blog how you want to blog” person, and I was selling myself short. For years.

For a while, I did “series reviews” where I’d read the entire series but only write one review. That was fun, and I know that I like it when other bloggers do it. But wasn’t liking it for my blog. I’d really rather prefer to write a review for every single installment of a series, even if there are 75 installments.

So we’re done with all that. You might have noticed that I binged on Vicki Pettersson’s Celestial Blues trilogy (The Taken, The Lost, The Given) at the end of July. From now on I reserve the right to read however many installments from however many series I choose, even if the only thing I post in a single month is 30 reviews of Marty’s Cowboy Alien Adventures.

As an example, here are some series I plan on bingeing in the future:

binge

Any ideas as to which of these series I should read first are muchly appreciated!!!

I ALSO reserve the right to wait until an entire series is published before starting book 1. Even if I’m years out of date, even if I have to wait a decade for all books to be released. Even if it kills me.

Here, also, are some series I REALLLLLLLY want to read but am waiting on. Quite desperately.

wait

Feel free to tell me HOW GOOD all the above series are so I can be sad and put out that I’m not reading them for YEARS yet. SAD.

Basically, I’m going to read whatever I want. I’ve never had a schedule; I have no review copy commitments. If I want to read 500 books about Marty and his Extraterrestrial Cowboy Club, then by George, I’m going to!

Book Review: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

Book Review: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene WeckerTitle: The Golem and the Jinni
Author: Helene Wecker
Release Date: April 23, 2013
Publisher: Harper
Page Count: 496
Genre(s): Fantasy
Summary from Goodreads:
Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master, the husband who commissioned her, dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York in 1899.

Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop. Though he is no longer imprisoned, Ahmad is not entirely free—an unbreakable band of iron binds him to the physical world.

The Golem and the Jinni is their magical, unforgettable story; unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing natures—until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful threat will soon bring Chava and Ahmad together again, challenging their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice.

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The Golem and the Jinni is a melding of literary fiction, historical fiction, and fantasy; it rather defies being shoehorned into any one genre. Wecker’s debut novel is inventive, atmospheric, and richly nuanced. I didn’t find it to be a faultless novel, but it came close.

Set in Gilded Age New York city, the book follows the unlikely existences of a Syrian jinni and a Polish golem, both of whom are rather out of their element. Though their lives seem completely unrelated for some time, Wecker eventually weaves their stories together into a cohesive whole, so that both their past, present, and future are combined.

In virtually all areas, The Golem and the Jinni is a successful venture. Wecker’s exploration of Jewish and Arabic culture, through the vehicle of her two supernatural protagonists, is insightful and well-done. More than that, the author has truly grasped the 19th-century reality of an immigrant, as well as the varied and complex setting that is historical New York.

There was, naturally, quite a lot going on in this book, yet the pacing was always subdued and steady, as Wecker slowly unveiled the truth, piece by piece. I think that the story actually moved a bit too slowly—the golem and jinni didn’t even meet until halfway through the book! While I appreciate the attempt to create a fully realized scene before launching into the conflict, I think The Golem and the Jinni was much too unbalanced between exposition and action. A less patient reader than I probably would have given up, and rightfully so.

That being said, the story itself was rewarding. In the end, a showdown with an ancient sorcerer and a last stand by the golem-jinni duo created quite a climax, and the epilogue left things vague enough to be interpreted, but still offered enough closure for two characters who’d dealt with a lot of adversity over the course of 500 pages.

The Golem and the Jinni is historical fantasy for the patient, contemplative reader. Helene Wecker’s storytelling is ultimately rewarding, but it can sometimes feel like the payoff is too long in arriving. For myself, I’m pleased by this unique, thoughtful cross-genre novel, and would be more than willing to read another novel of the author’s, should she choose to write one.

4 Stars