Sunday, July 22, 2018

123. "Who in this Room" by Kathrine Malmo

Malmo, Katherine. Who in This Room: The Realities of Cancer, Fish, and Demolition. Corvallis, OR: Calyx Books, 2011. Print.

134 pages

Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

Who in the Room contains stories originally published in literary journals. These stories are seamlessly weaved together into a memoir of cancer and coping with its realities, as suggested by the subtitle. At age 32, Kate is diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer  and undergoes treatment. She develops a set of coping skills that takes her through her treatment. 

This book is a short, quick read but don't let that fool you. What it lacks in length, it makes up for in depth. Each chapter is a story within a story. The first story is the literal story of Kate's treatment process. The second story is usually a description of a coping method that also acts as a beautiful symbol or allegory for a different part of the many facets of being diagnosed with breast cancer. 

To me, reading Who in This Room felt like looking at a well cut diamond. There are lots of different surfaces and angles, all reflecting the light in unique and beautiful ways. I laughed, I cried, I was pissed off. I felt like a lived a lifetime in just 134 pages. 

Malmo experiments with point of view in this memoir, and while I don't think she quite pulled it off, I really admire writers who make a strong effort to try something new and add to their craft. 

Would I read it again?
Yes, yes and yes! This is going on my re-read shelf because it is one of the books where you get something different out of it each time you read it. 

Recommend for: Readers who have survived breast cancer or have a loved one going through the process. Readers who appreciate a memoir that will grab you by the feelings and hold on through the end.

Not recommended for: Reader who may be triggered by medical descriptions or readers who want something with a linear narrative. 

Word bank (new-to-me vocabulary)

Kathrine Malmo's website:

Connect with me!
Instagram: @jdartagnanlove
Twitter: @jdartagnanlove

Sunday, July 8, 2018

122. "If I Stay" by Gayle Forman

Forman, Gayle. If I Stay. New York: Speak, 2014. Print.
(Originally published in 2009)

Mia, a teenage cellist, is in a deadly car accident with her parents. She ends up in a coma and finds herself outside of her body, watching everything that goes on around her. She learns that it is up to her whether she stays alive or chooses to let go. 

I can't say much more than that without giving away some serious spoilers. Gayle Forman does an amazing job with pacing in this novel. The story is told in two timelines. The first timeline is Mia's current experience of being in the coma and existing outside her body watching everything doctor's do to keep her alive, and seeing all the loved ones who visit her. This is interwoven with well-timed flashbacks that allow the reader to learn about Mia's life, family, and dreams for her future. The timing between present reality and the flashbacks is perfect. There is just enough time spent in both to maintain tension but also create character depth and move the story forward. Well done, Gayle!

I do think that this book, especially the first third of the book, will be very triggering for anyone who has been in a severe car accident and/or lost loved ones in a severe car accident. There is a scene where Mia is walking around the crash site and describes some of the gore in such detail it made me queasy. I myself have lost loved ones in vehicle accidents and it was quite triggering and upsetting. I had to put the book down and take a break. Once I got past that first third of the book, I didn't feel triggered.

At the end of the novel, I felt like there was an opportunity missed. Forman had an opportunity to make a profound statement of some kind about life, death, love, or loss and she didn't take the leap. She mentioned embracing possibilities briefly, but it was a let down not to have some kind of final message or "moral of the story" to sit with and chew on. 

Would I read it again?
Maybe...probably not. Overall, I enjoyed this book and I will probably try to watch the film. I don't know that I enjoyed it enough to read any of Gayle Forman's other novels, though. 

Recommended for: Readers who enjoy an emotional drama that is well-paced with simple language.

Not recommended for: Readers who have been in severe vehicle accidents or who have lost loved ones in vehicle accidents.

Word Bank (New-to-me vocabulary)

Gayle Forman's Website:
The Film: If I Stay.

Monday, July 2, 2018

121. "Daughter of Smoke and Bone" by Laini Taylor

Taylor, Laini. Daughter of Smoke and Bone. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2011. Print.

418 pages.

Reviewed by Jess d'Artagnan Love

Karou lives in Prague and where she leads a double life: in one life she is a young art student, and in the other, she works with her chimera family collecting teeth from around the world. The teeth are used by the mysterious Brimstone, essentially her father figure, and Karou is tasked with trying to figure out what really happens in Brimstone's shop. A monkey wrench is thrown in her plans when she meets Akiva, a Seraphim, and her portals to Brimstone's world are destroyed, leaving her stranded in the human realm. 

As I read the book, I found it a bit challenging to keep up with what the chimera look like. Chimera are half human and half animal and each chimera character is a different combination of the two. What I found most helpful, was leaving a post-it flag bookmark on pages of chimera descriptions that I could flip back to for reference. 

That being said, Laini Taylor is a true wordsmith and masterfully describes characters and settings. The way she painted Prague and the Poison Kitchen made me want to hop on a plane and head there to purchase some property--it is the exact kind of place I would love to be to sit and write. 

While Prague was expertly crafted, I definitely related to Karou's sense of spiritual "homelessness." She lives with a sense of not really having a "true" home where things just feel right and whole. I experienced this quite a bit throughout my life and have come to accept that "home" for me is in multiple places across the globe in the same way it is multiple realms for Karou. 

My biggest problem with Daughter of Smoke and Bone was the exceptionally long flashback toward the end of the book. The plot is a typical nonlinear plot that moves from past to present fairly seamlessly until the last third of the novel. In the last third of the novel there is a 75 page flashback. This was exhausting because through that entire 75 pages, I was still trying to maintain the tension created by the present-tense story line. While I understand why Taylor may have chosen to organize the flashback this way (which I will refrain from discussing due to spoilers), I also know there are better ways to handle this. This was my biggest issue with the novel and what kept me from giving 4 stars instead of 3. 

Aside from that, I really loved Taylor's prose. She used some wonderfully cozy animal metaphors and I particularly liked the metaphors she used with butterflies and cats. It created a little bit of hygge in the story that was warming and sweet. 

Would I read this book again? Yes. I am also planning on reading the next book in the series. 

Recommended for: Fans of YA urban fantasy. 

Not recommend for: Readers who don't enjoy fantasy.

3 darts/stars out of 5

Word Bank (new-to-me vocabulary)

Laini Taylor's website:

My Youtube review:

Sunday, June 10, 2018

120. "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. New York: Penguin Books, 2002 (originally 1813).

Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

480 pages.

I am not a self-proclaimed fan of the romance genre, but I admit to really enjoying this classic romance. Jane Austen set the bar high for future romance writers. She builds tension so wonderfully that it even turned me, a nearly verifiable aromantic, into a big gurgling ball of mush. I guess she managed to get me to drop my prejudice regarding romance novels (womp, womp).

I feel like most people know the synopsis of a love story: love interests meet, a romance is kindled, something interferes with the romance to make it seem like "omigosh they will never be together now!" and then said obstacle is resolved and they can prance into the sunset smooching in the back of a carriage or something similar (ok, maybe she hasn't persuaded me to drop all of my prejudice about the genre). There are several love interests in this story which makes it extra tense: Bingley and Jane parallel Darcy and Elizabeth.There is much ado about money, and family status that cause trouble in this courtships and allows the story to follow that standard romance genre plot formula.

What I enjoyed the most reading this book was Austen's prose. She is witty and eloquent. For example, Jane Austen invented the humble brag. Well, maybe she didn't invent it but she was able to describe a humble brag with astute finesse: "'Nothing is more deceitful,' said Darcy, 'than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast'" (Austen, Loc 949). Only Austen could so eloquently and wittily describe what we commoners describe as the humble brag.

Since I read the book on my Kindle, I could easily look up language that was new to me and my vocabulary builder on the Kindle filled with new words I've never heard like: arrear, equipage, postilions, curricle, whist, and panegyric. 

While not life changing in any way, I fully understand why this book is so beloved and classified as a "classic." The story is timeless, entertaining, and thought provoking. I *may* give the romance genre another go having read this--no promises though. 

Recommended for: Pretty much anyone with a good reading proficiency. It's a classic that should be read at least once.

Not Recommend for: Readers who struggle with comprehension. If I had tried to read this in high school, I wouldn't have understood most of it as I wasn't as skilled a reader. Try it and see how it goes. If you're not there yet, just keep reading other things and challenging yourself. You'll get there eventually!

4.5 darts out of 5

Saturday, June 2, 2018

119. "The Necklace" by Cheryl Jarvis

Jarvis, Cheryl. The Necklace: Thirteen Women and the Experience that Transformed their Lives. New York: Ballantine Books, 2009.

222 pages.

Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

I've joined a book club and this was the May 2018 pick. 

The Necklace tells the story of thirteen (mostly) white, upper middle class, middle aged women who buy a $30,000 necklace together. They each get the wear the necklace during their birthday month and have different experiences with it from sky diving, the lending it to a co-worker, to using it for a fundraiser. The group met once a month to hand off the necklace to the next wearer and discuss group business. Often these meetings turned hostile and produced in-fighting. 

That about sums it up. Each chapter of the book is dedicated to one of the thirteen women, none of whom, with *maybe* the exception of Mrs. VanGundy, would I really want to spend time with. I didn't really like these women, and I didn't really like this book. 

I suspect many of my issues with the women stem from the way they were characterized by Jarvis. She glosses over so many problematic issues. Why did certain members leave the group? Why are the women all described as just super fantastic, pretty, slim, gorgeous, and simply THE BEST when there was so much in-fighting in the group and clear political differences? Jarvis could have done SO MUCH MORE to humanize the women to be complex, interesting people instead of making them all sound like middle aged prom queens. 

The book did get me thinking more about the concepts of consumerism and ownership. Again though, Jarvis could have gone into so much more depth with these ideas but these too are merely mentioned and not explored in any thoughtful way.

Ultimately, I thought it was an interesting idea but the writing and composition was shoddily executed. It would have worked just as well as a magazine article than a full book. 

1.5 darts out of 5.

Recommend for: mehhhhhhhh......

Not Recommend for: Readers with a good sense of plot, expository, and characterization. Really, I just don't recommend this in general.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Cedar Valley Co Op Book Club

Saturday, May 12, 2018

118. "The Power" by Naomi Alderman

(Image Source)

Alderman, Naomi. The Power. New York: Little Brown and Company, 2017.

341 pages.

Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

The Power is a response to Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale wherein Alderman tries to answer the question: what would happen if women controlled men's bodies? Presented as a novelized work of historical nonfiction, the story starts when young girls develop the power to electrify things with their hands. This was a result of poisoned water during WWII that caused a genetic mutation passed on through generations. With this power, women are no longer controlled by men. 

The characters in the novel are interesting and believable. Alderman does a nice job of making each character's experience with the power unique and individualized. The story is nicely timed; it doesn't drag but it also doesn't move so fast your head spins. There is a nice gradual build up to the climax. Much of what Alderman speculates about what might happen in this scenario are pretty close to what I think might happen. 

There is one ugly, glaring problem with this novel that I can't move past to award a full five stars. Alderman fails to discuss race or ethnicity in any way, shape, or form. This is a big, big problem for this kind of world-changing shift in gender roles. You can't address changes in gender and power without also acknowledging the intricacies of gender, power, and race. I just will not let that slide. The only thought I had thought could potentially defend her position is that, if this is a response to The Handmaid's Tale, The Handmaid's Tale also fails to address issues of race and ethnicity. So they are at least parallel, but I just don't feel like that is a good excuse. I really don't. 

Overall, it was an interesting read and a good response to Atwood's work, but falls flat in using any third wave feminist thought. 

Recommended for: Readers who enjoy dystopian fiction, readers who enjoyed The Handmaid's Tale.

Not Recommended for: Readers sensitive to sexual violence or looking for a study on gender that includes intersectional identity. 

4 darts out of 5

Click here to read my review of The Handmaid's Tale.