What-the-Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy by Gregory Maguire

Rating: 2.5 of 5

“As a terrible storm rages, ten-year-old Dinah and her brother and sister listen to their cousin Gage’s tale of a newly-hatched, orphaned, skibberee, or tooth fairy, called What-the-Dickens, who hopes to find a home among the skibbereen tribe, if only he can stay out of trouble.” (source: LOC summary)

How did I end up here, again? Another fantastic premise; another letdown. At this point, I only have myself to blame.

The possibility of wishing strengthens the imagination to consider, at times, that things could improve. Could be different. They could. They might.

Maguire’s stories pose, quite possibly, the greatest conundrum in my (reading) life. I first read Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister at university in 2007. It was good, not great, but it kept my interest. Then a couple years later, I read Wicked. My response was muddled: the premise was fantastic; the characters interesting; however, I just felt meh about the story overall.

At that point I asked myself: Do I keep reading Maguire or are his books just not for me?

Fast forward a few years, I now own a few used copies of his books, bought here and there, just in case. I’m not in a mad rush to read them, though.

Fast forward a few more years to 2016, I read Mirror Mirror. Sigh.

So there I am, last night, browsing my fantasy/ fairy tale/ folklore shelf, looking for something to read (to help support the delusion goal of reducing the number of owned-to-reads quicker than I’m reading to-reads not owned), when I spot What-the-Dickens. Hmm, I think, could THIS be the one?

screenshot spongebob 5 hours later

Underwhelmed, yet again.

I think I might be wishing I’ll find “the one” – the book by Maguire that will WOW! me and finally show me: 1) why I keep reading Maguire’s books; and, 2) what all the fuss is about. I mean, other readers love his stories whereas, when I read them, I’m like contemplating whether or not laundry, or dusting, or scheduling my annual pap smear, might be more worthwhile.

My biggest dilemma at this point is that I own Son of a Witch, A Lion Among Men and Lost. Do I read them anyway despite the odds not being in my favor? I’ve read four of Maguire’s books so far and all but one has felt like walking uphill, in snow, against strong winds. Or, do I throw in the towel and forfeit the cash paid for books I never read?

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(Review posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

Disclaimer: I don’t normally post about books that I don’t like. Please know, I wrote the above with zero disrespect to the author or the readers who love his work. I, in no way, intend to come across like a heckler or a Debbie Downer. This is 100% my personal (subjective) experience thus far.

Eleanor by Jason Gurley

Rating: 4.5 of 5

Now available in paperback.

Eleanor is the story of one woman’s choice and its ripple effects across the lives of her descendants. Young Eleanor’s mission, looking back through her life to find the ONE spontaneous decision that changed the lives of everyone in her family, will resonate with anyone who ever wished for a do-over.

Have you ever been driving your daily route and, for whatever reason, missed your usual turnoff or exit? Have you ever found out later that there was a traffic jam or accident at the missed point in your routine? A situation that, had you not detoured, you would’ve been smack dab in the middle of? Has that ever given you pause to wonder at the enormity of a single, split-second decision?

Eleanor reaffirms the ways in which one life affects another, in both good and bad ways. I read its final page and felt wholly satisfied. There is a prevailing sense of redemption and, if you’re still breathing, there are yet choices you can make to change the direction of your journey.

Our lives are determined by the choices we make on a daily basis; some of us minute to minute, others only after systematic analysis and preparation. But how often do we take the time to stop and reflect on the totality of those individual choices? The repercussions of a seemingly benign choice, like to drive in a thunderstorm, are equal parts terrifying and awe-inspiring. Toss in variables like other people’s choices intersecting with our own… whew, I could spend hours mulling this over.

Steeped in gritty reality – depression, alcoholism, and suicide – Eleanor propels itself into “MIND BLOWN!” territory with its use of time, dream worlds, and the afterlife. Gurley’s version of these concepts is reminiscent of books like What Dreams May Come or Einstein’s Dreams, while still being its own unique, heartfelt, mystical story. Highly recommended!

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Received from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Things We Lost in the Fire: Stories by Mariana Enríquez

Rating: 3 of 5

Coming soon! February 21, 2017 Available to pre-order now.

A collection of short stories set in Argentina, filled with macabre imagery and abhorrent behavior, none of which will leave you feeling all that happy. “Horror” stories in the sense that an examined look beneath the surface at a reality the majority choose to overlook or blatantly ignore — poverty, child abuse, domestic violence, mental illness, police corruption — will horrify readers.

There are a few supernatural stories, but, even in those, there’s a residual impression that while ghosts may exist, there’s likely a more dangerous monster, in the guise of a human, lurking, waiting for you to pass by as you walk down the street to your house, in your “safe” neighborhood.

Argentine author Mariana Enríquez is an excellent storyteller who, based on this collection, doesn’t like to write stories with many, if any, answers; her comfort zone exists in ambiguity it seems, endings-wise anyway. However, the social commentary in several stories – like the women’s reactions to domestic abuse and societal definitions of beauty in the titular story, “Things We Lost in the Fire” – is nothing if not straightforward.

My personal favorites are “Adela’s House” (three kids and a house that tells its own stories) and “End of Term” (an outcast who self-harms may be under the influence of something else) — both of which I rated four stars.

I gave one star to “The Neighbor’s Courtyard” because of Elly (that’s my biggest trigger in dark fiction), but it’s superbly written — we question the protagonist’s sanity right until the end — and worth the read if you’re not as sensitive as I am.

Recommended to those looking for literary fiction in which the journey through dark, disturbing territories is very much the point. Not for anyone who doesn’t appreciate ambiguous endings. Not for readers sensitive to triggers like graphic violence involving children and animals.

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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.

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison

Rating: 3.5 of 5

“Listen to me: everything you think you know, every relationship you’ve ever taken for granted, every plan or possibility you’ve ever hatched, every conceit or endeavor you’ve ever concocted, can be stripped from you in an instant. Sooner or later, it will happen. So prepare yourself. Be ready not to be ready. Be ready to be brought to your knees and beaten to dust. Because no stable foundation, no act of will, no force of cautious habit will save you from this fact: nothing is indestructible.” (source: book jacket)

Ben has lost everything; his wife, his family, his home, his job. Somewhere below rock bottom, in an attempt to rejoin the world and reconnect with the living, he decides to become a caregiver. His first client, Trevor, is a nineteen-year-old in the advanced stages of Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

While caring for Trevor, Ben realizes how little Trevor is actually living. Compared to what Ben has lost, he can’t reconcile this kid staying hidden in his house constantly planning but never actually doing. Breaking a few fundamentals of caregiving, Ben pushes Trevor to embrace the life he has and to take a few risks. And, in the process, Ben recognizes how much damage his own inability to let go and move on has caused.

The only reason I read The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving is I watched its film adaptation, THE FUNDAMENTALS OF CARING (2016), on Netflix 1/10/2017. Unfortunately for the book, I absolutely LOVED the movie. The book was equal parts funny and tragic; the movie just took the book strength’s to a whole other level. Paul Rudd as Ben and Craig Roberts as Trevor made the film’s story more fulfilling than the book. And the ending of the movie — my eyes filled with tears and I laughed out loud at the same time — perfect!

I recommend the book to anyone dealing with grief or experiencing major life changes that leave them feeling lost and paralyzed by the thought of letting go and moving on.

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(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

Changing Woman and Her Sisters by Katrin Hyman Tchana

Rating: 5 of 5

From the same mother-daughter team who brought us The Serpent Slayer: And Other Stories of Strong Women. You won’t find the oft regurgitated Greek goddesses.

Instead, Changing Woman and Her Sisters: Stories of Goddesses From Around the World, tales retold by Katrin Hyman Tchana and illustrated by her mom, Caldecott Medal Winner Trina Schart Hyman, celebrates lesser-known goddesses from cultures all over the world, including the Navajo people, the Inuit people, the Mayans, ancient China, Japan, Sumer (modern-day Iraq), India and more!

Each tale begins with the goddesses name, place of origin, and brief historical context. Many of the tales read like Creation myths and often explain how that goddess came to be. Trina Schart Hyman’s illustrations are atypical; instead of her customary linework, she felt inspired to use collage for the first time. She used materials from around her house – like garden seeds, fleece from her sheep, and cropped photographs of kids she knew – combined with acrylics, ink and glue. The result is illustrations with layers, depth, and new treasures to discover each time they’re viewed.

The bibliography will be a source of solid leads for anyone wanting to do additional reading on any of the goddesses. Plus, the Author’s and Artist’s note lend helpful context to both the retold tales and their illustrations. I sincerely appreciate Katrin Hyman Tchana sharing with us her inspiration and motivation: to write a book in which her African American sons could see people who looked like them.

Highly recommended to any reader looking for a collection of lesser-known female goddesses/ deities with the majority being from non-European countries.

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(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire

Rating: 4 of 5

Completely wrecked after her older sister’s suicide, Jenna makes a life-shattering decision and, ever since, has been slowly working her way to – wherever, whenever – her sister may be.

Synopsis: “When her sister Patty died, Jenna blamed herself. When Jenna died, she blamed herself for that, too. Unfortunately Jenna died too soon. Living or dead, every soul is promised a certain amount of time, and when Jenna passed she found a heavy debt of time in her record. Unwilling to simply steal that time from the living, Jenna earns every day she leeches with volunteer work at a suicide prevention hotline.

But something has come for the ghosts of New York, something beyond reason, beyond death, beyond hope; something that can bind ghosts to mirrors and make them do its bidding. Only Jenna stands in its way.” (source)

My thoughts: Beneath its “urban fantasy” exterior Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day digs deep into real-world issues to tackle the solemn themes of suicide, grief, and survivor’s guilt.

The story sets itself apart through its exploration of time, death, hope, and what it means to be alive. The reason for why mirrors are covered after a death in the family, what and who ghosts really are, how and why they “haunt” the living… offer an inventive, fresh look at the concept of ghosts. I loved the witches as potential allies or enemies of ghosts. But my favorite is how Seanan McGuire played with time — its meaning, its effects, its boundaries… what an imaginative perspective!

Highly recommended for an experience both entertaining and cathartic.

Read an excerpt on Tor.com | Add on LibraryThing | Add on Goodreads

(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

———————————————
A few passages I bookmarked:

Scent is very much a part of memory, and memory is a form of time travel. It takes us back, whether or not we want to go.” (Jenna)

Ghosts are the nails in the coffin of eternity, and they keep the lid from flying off.” (Brenda)

These days, everyone wants to eat, but no one wants to take the time and care needed to coax the land into giving up its glories. People don’t change. We’re always selfish, and we’re always hungry. We’ve just gotten better at looking at greed and saying ‘Oh, that’s self-interest, that’s all right.’ We’ve forgotten the way the word ‘enough’ feels on the tongue.” (Brenda)

Reprinted the poem “Widow” by Martha Keller from which this book’s title was inspired.

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire

Rating: 4 of 5

Completely wrecked after her older sister’s suicide, Jenna makes a life-shattering decision and, ever since, has been slowly working her way to – wherever, whenever – her sister may be.

Synopsis: “When her sister Patty died, Jenna blamed herself. When Jenna died, she blamed herself for that, too. Unfortunately Jenna died too soon. Living or dead, every soul is promised a certain amount of time, and when Jenna passed she found a heavy debt of time in her record. Unwilling to simply steal that time from the living, Jenna earns every day she leeches with volunteer work at a suicide prevention hotline.

But something has come for the ghosts of New York, something beyond reason, beyond death, beyond hope; something that can bind ghosts to mirrors and make them do its bidding. Only Jenna stands in its way.” (source)

My thoughts: Beneath its “urban fantasy” exterior Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day digs deep into real-world issues to tackle the solemn themes of suicide, grief, and survivor’s guilt.

The story sets itself apart through its exploration of time, death, hope, and what it means to be alive. The reason for why mirrors are covered after a death in the family, what and who ghosts really are, how and why they “haunt” the living… offer an inventive, fresh look at the concept of ghosts. I loved the witches as potential allies or enemies of ghosts. But my favorite is how Seanan McGuire played with time — its meaning, its effects, its boundaries… what an imaginative perspective!

Highly recommended for an experience both entertaining and cathartic.

Read an excerpt on Tor.com | Add on LibraryThing | Add on Goodreads

(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

———————————————
A few passages I bookmarked:

Scent is very much a part of memory, and memory is a form of time travel. It takes us back, whether or not we want to go.” (Jenna)

Ghosts are the nails in the coffin of eternity, and they keep the lid from flying off.” (Brenda)

These days, everyone wants to eat, but no one wants to take the time and care needed to coax the land into giving up its glories. People don’t change. We’re always selfish, and we’re always hungry. We’ve just gotten better at looking at greed and saying ‘Oh, that’s self-interest, that’s all right.’ We’ve forgotten the way the word ‘enough’ feels on the tongue.” (Brenda)

Reprinted the poem “Widow” by Martha Keller from which this book’s title was inspired.

The Fox Woman by Kij Johnson

Rating: 3.5 of 5

A fox falls in love with a human and does everything in her power to win him for herself, no matter what. The biggest problem, other than her being a fox and him human, is that he’s already married to a woman he loves. She ignores her grandfather’s warnings and the numerous times she’s chased off or outright attacked by the humans. She’s in love and doesn’t care the cost.

But Yoshifuji, the object of her love, is equally fixated on the foxes. And his wife, Shikujo, who believes that foxes are evil tricksters dangerous to humans, watches as the obsession consumes her husband. All three are caught in a web of dishonesty, guilt and forbidden desires, and all three must find their own way out.

One of the best endings I’ve read in recent memory.

Recommended if you enjoy historically accurate retellings based on Japanese fairy tales told in diary form.

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(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

———————————————
A few passages I bookmarked:

I didn’t wish I were still a mere fox, but I wished being a woman were less of a burden.” (Kitsune)

But perhaps there is something more correct even than elegance. My father owns a set of sake cups, a treasure that has been in his family for a thousand years (or so he says). They are hand-formed of rough pottery randomly splashed with black and green and silver. There is nothing delicate, nothing elegant, about them…As a child, I liked them better than the facile perfection of porcelain. ‘They are honest,’ my father said then. ‘They do not break when you drink wine.’ Perhaps honesty could be stronger, more beautiful than elegance and correctness.” (Shikujo)

…and so instead I take my tiny steps toward honesty and whisper the great truth here in my pillow book, and perhaps someday into my husband’s ear (whether Yoshifuji or another). Perhaps there is a Pure Land where we go when we die. But perhaps there is not. And either way, it is wise to live well, here and now. I will not run. I will be alive. The fox woman, my husband and I. Of us all, she understood this best.” (Shikujo)

If he sees the ball rolled across the snow, I will be so happy, but it does not matter; I will still build a world of the best of all these things.” (Kitsune)

(SPOILER)[spoiler]My favorite part was when Yoshifuji goes to live with Kitsune in the fox world. I loved how time was different in their world within a world. How the fox magic manifested all around them – in the house, ladies-in-waiting, clothes, etc. Like a magical bubble in the backyard. “I think I wouldn’t have seen my fox wife’s illusion if I hadn’t wanted it so much. That was a world where no one aged. My fox wife was eternally beautiful.”[/spoiler](END SPOILER)

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.)

————————————–
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.