3 stars · beach read · Book Review · Bust · Secret Hideout · spoilers · Summer Read · thoughts

Unpopular Opinion: Where the Crawdads Sing is a beautifully written book with a stupid plot.

Thank goodness it’s a snow day because I stayed up late last night finishing up “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens and I need a nap.  This book is crazy popular right now and I was actually lucky enough to snag a copy from the library’s “Lucky Day” shelf last week.

So first things first, Where the Crawdads Sing has over 37,000 reviews on Amazon right now, with about 87% of those being 5 stars.  I’ve honestly never seen a book have so many reviews.  It’s just incredible.

*I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but with 37,000 reviews and a full Wikipedia synopsis of this book, I’m not sure what’s spoiler and what isn’t for this book.*

Set somewhere in the marshes of the North Carolina coast, the novel weaves together the story of the young beautiful feral marsh girl, Kya, with the suspected murder of the town’s golden boy, Chase.   As Owens takes readers through history and into the marsh, the chapters flash back and forth across the years of 1952-1969, eventually catching up to each other in 1969-1970.  The use of short chapters and flashing back and forth in time was well done.  Unlike Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate, Owens was able to maintain her momentum and storytelling with ease throughout the entire novel.

The book is full of rich descriptions of the natural world and it’s no surprise that Owens is actually a zoologist.  While I enjoyed reading about the mashes’s flora and fauna and the incredibly world Owens creates in the marsh, it eventually burned me out and I wish there had been more editing to cull down the descriptions a bit.

The entire plot of Where the Crawdads Sing is set upon Kya’s abandonment, first by her mother who leaves six year old Kya and her four older siblings in the marsh shack with an abusive drunken father.  Her mother’s departure is followed by a slow trickling of abandonment by the four older siblings who vanish down the road without a trace until seven year old Kya is left alone with a man she fears and can’t count on to provide food or stability.  After a truce of sorts in which her father teachers her to fish and boat, he too disappears, leaving Kya to fend for herself in a shack in the middle of nowhere with no food and no money.

Depending on the skills taught by an older brother and her father, Kya survives alone for almost 17 years, a feral child living in the marsh surfacing only for meager supplies and gas for her boat.  Kya’s vulnerability draws readers in, the rich natural descriptions of the coast blending with the loneliness and heartbreak of a little girl left completely alone in the world.  Flashes of racism and prejudice flicker heavily across the pages and I couldn’t help but think that everyone in Barkley Cove comes across as a coward, an asshole or both.

In the midst of Kya’s desperate bid to survive, two local boys find Chase Andrews, the town’s hero, dead in the marsh.  The town searches desperately for a cause of death and eventually lands on a suspected murder.

Without spoilers, I found Where the Crawdads Sing to be a quick and easy read.  The story drew me in but left me wanting more rooted in reality.  I couldn’t get past an entire town knowingly and willingly leaving a little girl to survive out in the marsh alone for years.  I couldn’t get past older siblings knowingly and willingly leaving a little sister alone with a drunk abusive father.  I couldn’t get past the long list of skills that a six or seven year old would need to survive alone without food, running water or electricity in a North Carolina marsh.

I couldn’t get past Kya’s prodigal art talent or her seemingly instantaneous ability to read after 14 years of illiteracy once someone finally taught her the basics.  I couldn’t get past a child not only surviving but thriving on grits, mussels and a few random vegetables for years.

I couldn’t get past the middle-of-nowhere marsh shack being fitted out with plumbing and electricity without any details of how exactly that happened.  I couldn’t get past the terrible inconsistent accents.  I also hated all of the random poems and over technical explanations tossed into the book to make Kya appear much smarter and more cultured than the town folks.

I couldn’t get past the characters suddenly and shockingly changing character in ways that just did not make sense.

For all of my wanting to accept the story, I could not get past the absurdity of the trial or the eventual revelation of who killed Chase Andrews.

Overall, most of this book just felt too implausible.  Where the Crawdads Sing started out beautifully but left me reaching too far from reality to feel grounded in the story and too far removed from characters that seemed to flip personalities seemingly instantaneously.  This one rings somewhere around 3 stars.  Beautiful written.  Stupid plot.

Until next time, happy reading!

Cheers- R

Book Review · Bust · spoilers · thoughts

Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet

 

51odUtgGCTLAfter reading The Mermaid’s Sister and Son-of-Gold by Carrie Anne Noble, I dipped into an e-magazine, Deep Magic, to catch a little bit more of Noble’s writing. The magazine is a fantastic collection of magic-fantasy-type short stories and includes interviews with fantasy writers.  The length of the stories and interviews were perfect for light travel reading or a bit of a recharge between family events this week.

The June 2016 edition (the edition that included one of Noble’s short stories) included the first five chapters of Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmberg.  Those 5 chapters were fantastic and promised a can’t-stop-reading kind of tale.

Maire, the 24 year old main character, is found bruised and battered in the road, remembering nothing but her name.  No one knows who she is or where she comes from.  Maire spends four years in Carmine, building a life as a surrogate daughter with Arrice (her rescuer) and Arrice’s husband, Franc.

Maire’s talent lies in baking.  Her thoughts, feelings and emotions can be transposed into baked goods, allowing Maire to open a successful bakeshop in which she sells goodies laced with feelings of love, luck, endurance, strength, and hope.  The action kicks off when marauders raid the village, taking Maire and several others as captives to be sold as slaves.  After a long journey, Maire is purchased by a strange man and thus begins the descent of Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet.

Holmberg never provides a solid description of Carmine, nor the “time” in which the story takes place, leaving the story particularly ungrounded.  It takes a good portion of the book to figure out that Carmine isn’t on Earth but a small village in Di, which is part of the world Rea.  Whether Di is a country, a state, or an island, I don’t know.  How magic incorporates into this world is also frustratingly unknown, Holmberg never provides the context necessary to understand Maire’s talent or her captor’s unusual ability to travel.

As far as the marauders…we don’t know who they are, why they attacked Carmine, what they look like or even what they were doing in Carmine.  We don’t know if there was a thriving slave trade prior to the attack or if the author just needed a plot device to get Maire on the road.

The time in which Maire’s story takes place isn’t exactly clear either.  We know she’s been in Carmine for four years, but we don’t know if the tale is taking place in the past, present, or future.  The confusion with the location, the timeline and the extent of magic is compounded as Maire journeys from location to location, both with magic and on foot.

Holmberg has Maire dipping in and out of traditional fairy tales like Alice and Wonderland, The Gingerbread Man, and Hansel and Gretel as a means to explain the magical baked goods in those stories, but never completes the how and  why for Maire being involved in those stories.  They do not serve the plot line in anyway, nor do they bring any clarity on who Maire is or how those stories worked their way into our fairy tales on Earth.

Another major plot failure for me is that several other characters seem to know who or what Maire is, but are unable to tell her due to some untold “laws of the universe”.  The game of “I know but can’t tell you because the Gods will get mad at me”, gets old quick and whole chunks of the story could have been cut out to avoid these “I know everything but I can’t tell you” scenes.  Actually, thinking about it now, it’s never explained why they can’t tell Maire or who told them not to or what the consequences would have been for telling her everything right away.  Again, another plot device that helped the story limp along without providing any real substance.

*Spoilers below* (highlight to read)

Maire’s captor, Allemas, is a strange man who subjects her to unusual and inexplicable violence.  His treatment of Maire is never fully explained and at least 70% of this book could be summarized as “Beats Maire and throws her into the cellar.  Retrieves Maire from cellar so she can bake epically.  Experiences weird fit and scattered confusion.  Enacts some sort of strange cruel violence against Maire and throws her in the cellar for several days where she is starving, thirsty and recovering from wounds.  Maire sits in cellar waiting.”  This pattern of inexplicable violence and captivity got old and I ended up skipping ahead a bit to get out of the damn cellar.  

Even with the conclusion of the book, the entire character of Allemas’ remains totally unexplained.  Why did he keep changing his name?  How did he manage to retain memories of Maire while she lost all memory?  How did he learn to survive in the world with no mentioned help or friends while Maire required loving attention from Arrice and Franc to manage?  How did the traditional fairy tales incorporate into Allemas’ story? Why did Allemas treat Maire the way he did knowing what he knew about her?  Where did he learn the extreme violence?  What was he hoping to get from Maire?  How did he know she could bake?  What was going on Fyel and Allemas throughout the book?  

The worst part, for me was the sudden “breaking” of Allemas.  With no reasonable explanation or cause, he went from a dominating brutal captor who chained and beat Maire without reason into a brain-dead zombie who followed her around like a beaten dog.  And Maire, who had been held hostage by this violent stranger for 70% of the book, felt sorry for him.  What.  The.  Hell.

The script above the chapter numbers seemed to be a summary of Allemas’ thoughts, but they really added nothing to the story and actually made it harder to read, as I kept trying to figure out what the hell it all meant.

*End Spoiler*

All in all, Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet started out strong and had the bones of a great story.  Unfortunately, it was really disjointed.  If you remove the random references to fairy tales, remove the random scenes of violence and remove the “I know everything but I can’t tell you” scenes, the book doesn’t have much to stand on.  There were just too many things going on at one time that never knit the full story together.  This books gets 2.5 stars from me as well as a recommendation for some sort of warm gingery wintery cider and a supply of cookies.  The descriptions of lavender cake and gingerbread did not help curb the holiday eating at all.

Until next time,

Cheers!

 

dystopian · spoilers · thoughts

When is a spoiler a SPOILER?

A few months back, I wrote a blogpost on The Handmaid’s Tale.  Without much consideration for the current tv show on Hulu, I discussed the emotions felt at the end of the book.   In my mind, the book was exempt from spoiler alerts based on its age (published in 1985) and the fact that it had been turned into a movie (1990).  The book is also a work of dystopian fiction, which by definition is a story about “an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.”  To me, dystopian novels automatically mean “No Happy Ending”.  This holds true for 1984, A Brave New World, A Clockwork Orange, Divergent, The Maze Runner, Ender’s Game and The Hunger Games.

The Hulu series briefly crossed my mind and was instantly overridden by the fact that movies and tv shows rarely stick to the book 100% and like Game of Thrones, may divert entirely due to circumstance or creative license.  To mitigate giving away any plot twists or actual spoilers that may appear in the book or movie, I decided to stick to discussing the emotions I felt when reading the book.

The Handmaid’s Tale left me feeling completely out of breath, paranoid, angry, and just emotional in general.  I’d guess these are typical responses when reading Dystopian fiction, however, The Handmaid’s Tale hit closer to home.  Unlike the majority of dystopian fiction where the lead characters are either young-to-middle aged men (1984, A Brave New World,  Fahrenheit 451) or teenage heroes (Divergent, The Maze Runner, Ender’s Game) who’d never know a different existence The Handmaid’s Tale featured a married female in her 30’s who experienced the entire world tipping upside down within a few short years.  Unlike those books about teenage super humans who save the world, this book felt so much more “real”.  It punched me in the gut and left me reeling.

Shortly after hitting “Publish”, a reader commented on the post being a Spoiler Alert, which led me to crowdsource feedback from friends on when a Spoiler Alert is actually a spoiler alert and when a notice should be included in a discussion about a book or a movie.

First on my list of questions for Spoiler Alert exemptions were the age of the book and the general public knowledge of the plot.  We’d never consider references to the soldiers jumping out of the Trojan horse as a spoiler, we all know Romeo and Juliet are fools and die, and everyone born after 1960 knows Luke is Darth Vader’s son.   So when does a book reach that point where the plot twists become common knowledge and even those who haven’t read the book know the outcome?  When does a spoiler alert stop being required?

Apparently, according to the majority of my circle, the polite, responsible answer is NEVER.

So with that, my dear readers, your humble writer apologies and promises to include Spoiler Alert! on any future posts about literature written after the 1800’s.

Cheers and happy reading!