Lambs of God by Marele Day

Rating: 3.5 of 5

Synopsis: “Three eccentric, secluded nuns live on a remote island, forgotten by time and the Church – until a priest unwittingly happens upon them. He is as surprised to see the nuns as they are to see a flesh-and-blood man, and what follows is the strange, moving, and often hilarious story of their struggle – a struggle of wills, and of faith.” (source)

My thoughts: Lambs of God gifts its readers with lush imagery, memorable characters, and a pervading undercurrent of myth and magic.

It wasn’t a story I was expecting to like, not only because of its religious setting, but because once I started, it took about 50 pages before I was fully settled into its world.

Slow-paced, full of vivid descriptions, slightly contrived…yet Iphigenia, Margarita, Carla, and even Father Ignatius (who I found hypocritical and didn’t like much at all) were too strange to ignore, too different to dismiss outright. I’m glad I kept reading.

Recommended if you want a story about three nuns, a priest and a dilapidated monastery, tempered with magical realism.

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(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

The Antelope Wife by Louise Erdrich

Rating: 4 of 5

A multi-generational story that blends Native beliefs (myths, legends, folklore) with the everyday reality of issues like domestic abuse, alcoholism, and suicide, to name only a few. The whole dynamic of clashing cultures, especially the internal struggles of urban Natives, fascinated me; it’s something I hadn’t yet been exposed to in my reading.

Some bloods they go together like water–the French Ojibwas: You mix those up and it is all one person. Like me. Others are a little less predictable. You make a person from a German and an Indian, for instance, and you’re creating a two-souled warrior always fighting with themself.

I loved the frame of the sewing twins which identified the four parts of the story (fate and destiny; beginnings and endings). I loved how the story unfolded, moving back and forth through time, almost a mystery to solve, until the end when we step back from the individual strands and finally see how the two families are interwoven as one living, fluid tapestry. And I appreciated that – amidst all the sadness, loss, betrayal, and tragedy – hope, forgiveness, second chances permeated the story’s lifeblood.

The Antelope Wife was my first experience with Erdrich’s stories and I look forward to reading more of her works.

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(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

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A few of the passages I bookmarked:

From what I understand, the rays killed the tumor and also zapped his funny bone. He kept his taste, touch, sense of smell, and so on, but he lost an Indian’s seventh sense. He lost his sense of humor. Now he is the only Indian alive without one.

Windigo. Bad spirit of hunger and not just normal hunger but out-of-control hunger. Hunger of impossible devouring.

When the ogitchida came home from the land of the frog people he was strange, but that is often how warriors are when they return. 1945. End of the war. So many spirits out, wandering.

Girl & Flame by Melissa Reddish

Rating: 3.5 of 5

Synopsis: “Told in a series of innovative flash vignettes, Melissa Reddish’s Girl & Flame is an inventive and thoughtful meditation on the intersection of grief, longing, and the natural world.” (source)

My thoughts: Not at all what I expected, and in this case, that’s a good thing. I was surprised to simultaneously laugh out loud and cringe at the harsh reality of certain passages. Yet it was a book where I’m almost positive I should’ve re-read a textbook on how to read literature before diving into the pages of Girl & Flame in order to fully appreciate (and understand) its story. Having said that, I’m fairly certain I won’t read another book like this anytime soon, which is possibly the biggest compliment I can give a story nowadays.

Favorite passage: “He walks over and tries to touch my face but cannot–his hands are merely a suggestion, a Manager’s oversight. Why are you being so difficult? There are tears at the corner of my eyes but they haven’t been approved yet. The important thing to remember, he says, is that we are all in charge of our own destinies. We get what we deserve in the end. Well, I say, which is it? They all smile and nod. Then he and my father and my brother swirl into the soup I have not touched since their arrival. I pour it back into the pot for some other widow to drown in.”

Author’s website | on Conium Press | Add on LibraryThing | Add on Goodreads

(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

Received ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar

Rating: 3.5 of 5

Things are only impossible if you stop to think about them.

Synopsis: “While her friends are spending their summers having pool parties and sleepovers, twelve-year-old Carolina — Carol — is spending hers in the middle of the New Mexico desert, helping her parents move the grandfather she’s never met into a home for people with dementia. At first, Carol avoids prickly Grandpa Serge. But as the summer wears on and the heat bears down, Carol finds herself drawn to him, fascinated by the crazy stories he tells her about a healing tree, a green-glass lake, and the bees that will bring back the rain and end a hundred years of drought. As the thin line between magic and reality starts to blur, Carol must decide for herself what is possible — and what it means to be true to her roots.” (source)

My thoughts: Twelve-year-old Carol meets her Grandpa for the first time, rediscovers her roots, and learns about the cycle of life. The stories Grandpa Serge told were my favorite part of the book, and I loved how real and believable the magic of those stories was. (The Giving Tree came to mind more than once.) For any tween experiencing the slow loss of a grandparent to dementia, or another similar illness, Hour of the Bees may help them process their own feelings and fears. Maybe Carol’s story will show them that sometimes endings are only the beginning.

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(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

Received ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman

Rating: 4.5 of 5

Every seven-year-old deserves a superhero. That’s just how it is.

A touching story about the power of second chances and the special relationship between grandparents and their grandchildren.

Elsa is an obstinate, precocious almost-eight-year-old whose only friend is her seventy-seven-year-old Granny. I loved them both immediately!

Every human being deserves to have (at least) one person who sees them for exactly who they are and accepts them for everything they are. These two are exactly that for each other. So beautiful!

Granny goes to battle for Elsa every time Elsa needs her to. They have their own secret language and their own world of fairy tales. Granny is Elsa’s best friend, so when Granny dies, Elsa is broken. But just before she dies, Granny gives Elsa an envelope with a key and asks her to deliver it to The Monster in their building. The adventure to deliver the envelope leads Elsa on the greatest treasure hunt of her life, and one that will not only mend her broken heart but maybe help fix a few other broken people as well.

Elsa carries a red felt-tip pen at all times, so she can right the grammar wrongs of the world as she encounters them. She reads only “quality literature” some of which includes Spider-Man comics and the Harry Potter series. She refers to her unborn sibling as Halfie because 1) her mum and stepdad don’t want to know the sex before birth and 2) she/he will be her step-sibling. She fact-checks almost everything using Wikipedia. She gets bullied at school, both physically and emotionally, but she has her Granny and that’s enough for her.

I loved Granny’s fairy tales. I loved how Granny was completely mad but in a good way. I loved the way Granny refused to let anyone mistreat Elsa. I loved that Granny was a female surgeon during an era when that was unheard of. I loved that she went all over the world to help children. I laughed at her antics over and over again, and I cried at her posthumous atonement.

Every character in this book is their own person and it was easy to remember them and tell them apart. Mother-daughter relationships, jealousy, regret, bullying, aging, sexism, war…

Highly recommended if you enjoy reading from a “very grown-up for her age,” almost-eight-year-old’s perspective including the way she blurs reality with fantasy.

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(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

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The words that resonated most with me:

In response to the teachers at Elsa’s school saying she has concentration issues. “So the teachers are wrong. Elsa has no problems concentrating. She just concentrates on the right things.” (p. 47)

In response to why she gets bullied. “People who have never been hunted always seem to think there’s a reason for it. ‘They wouldn’t do it without a cause, would they? You must have done something to provoke them.’ As if that’s how oppression works.” (p. 80)

“All fairy stories take their life from the fact of being different. ‘Only different people change the world,’ Granny used to say. ‘No one normal has ever changed a crapping thing.'” (p. 89)

“Elsa remembers how Granny said that ‘the best stories are never completely realistic and never entirely made-up.’ That was what Granny meant when she called certain things ‘reality-challenged.’ To Granny, there was nothing that was entirely one thing or another. Stories were completely for real and at the same time not.” (p.171)

“It’s snowing again, and Elsa decides that even if people she likes have been shits on earlier occasions, she has to learn to carry on liking them. You’d quickly run out of people if you had to disqualify all those who at some point have been shits.” (p. 315)

“She goes silent. Ashamed of herself as mothers are when they realize they have passed that point in life when they want more from their daughters than their daughters want from them.” (p. 352)

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My biggest complaint, [spoiler]and the thing that stressed me out whilst reading, was that they kept feeding all those sweets to the wurse (a dog). I sure hope the author doesn’t actually feed his pets chocolate and ice cream and sponge cake mix![/spoiler]

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

Rating: 4.5 of 5

All the Birds in the Sky was the first 2016 release I absolutely did not want to put down until I was finished. It was so weird, in that brilliant way I always hope to find in a new-to-me author’s work. The seamless blending of magic and science, the absolutely believable relationship between Patricia and Laurence, the ethical dilemmas of their gifts and those effects on the world… How does one review a book that itself refuses to be crammed into one neat little “normal” box? Loved it!

Highly recommended if you’re looking for something different, something simultaneously imaginary and realistic.

One of my favorite quotes from the book, spoken by my absolute LEAST favorite character, Patricia’s sister:

You never learned the secret,” said Roberta. “How to be a crazy motherf***ker and get away with it. Everybody else does it. What, you didn’t think they were all sane, did you? Not a one of them. They’re all crazier than you and me put together. They just know how to fake it. You could too, but you’ve chosen to torture all of us instead. That’s the definition of evil right there: not faking it like everybody else. Because all of us crazy f***kers can’t stand it when someone else lets their crazy show. It’s like bugs under the skin. We have to destroy you. It’s nothing personal.

My only nitpick was that, once again, during childhood and young adulthood both characters had absolutely NO adults (including and especially their parents) who believed them, supported them, got them. I guess “us against the world” is a great way to bond two people, but it’s a pet peeve of mine with a lot of the fiction I read.

Book’s website | Read excerpts on Tor.com | Add on LibraryThing | Add on Goodreads

(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

The Memory Garden by Mary Rickert

Rating: 4 of 5

9781402297120What frightens Nan is the way the past sneaks up on the present, consuming all in its path.”

Give me a story featuring a young adult, who doesn’t quite know the person she is yet or what she wants to do with her life, living with an old woman, who has secrets to tell and wisdom to bestow, set in a small town in which the two rank highest on the gossip hounds’ list, and I’m happy as a petunia in early July. The Memory Garden by Mary Rickert was that, times 100.

I loved how every chapter started with a plant description; how Nan could tell who was lying by the way their words tasted; how the garden was almost as predominant a character as Bay, Nan, Mavis and Ruthie; how Nan used the shoes people threw at her house as planters; how I could taste every dish during the Flower Feast; how magic felt completely real and incredibly possible.

But my favorite thing about this book was the way it explored friendships: the loyalty and devotion; that it’s never too late to forgive, let go and move on.

Read an excerpt on the publisher’s website. Listen to a podcast with Mary Rickert discussing The Memory Garden.

(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)