beach read · Favorite Authors · Favorite Books · series books · Summer Read · thoughts

I am officially obsessed with the worlds created by Jeff Wheeler

It’s official y’all.  I am completely obsessed with the worlds Jeff Wheeler has created.  This entire summer has been spent immersed in Muirwood and Kingfountain, day dreaming about kingdoms and castles, banished princesses and magic.  So.  Much.  Magic!  I love it!  So far I’ve devoured 15 (!) of Wheeler’s books and started on the 16th last night.  While each series is its own world and series, they do weave very loosely into one another, which is incredible.  It’s almost like Wheeler is writing his own fan fiction after each series and building world up on world that roots back to the original.  However, if we’re being honest, it’s hard to tell which world is the original world and it feels like Wheeler somehow wrote all of these books simultaneously rather than sequentially.

While Wheeler’s website recommends reading the books in the order which they were written, I’ve just read them in haphazard order by series, which has worked out fine.  The Kingfountain Series is still my absolute favorite so far.  This series felt like Wheeler’s best work, the stories and characters were so rich and well developed.   However, Owen Kiskaddon and Ankaratte Tryweony just wrapped me up so completely and were two of my all time favorite characters this year, so this may be coloring my love for the Kingfountain Series.

One of the great things about Wheeler’s series is that they tend to be 3 books of about 300-ish pages.  They also wrap up quite neatly while leaving room for expansion and tie-ins into his other series.  While I love Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, these series are hefty and take some serious dedication to get through.  Whereas with any of the Wheeler books, you can fly through them in about a week (or weekend if we’re being honest about our obsession here) which makes them really great summer pool/beach/camping reads.

Now is probably a really great time to sing the praises of Kindle Unlimited as every one of Wheeler’s books has been included in my Kindle Unlimited subscription.  Well worth the $11/month.

Alright friends, magic world obsessions aside, it is time to get back to real life.

Happy reading and until next time, cheers!

-R

Book Review · Bust · finance · Grandparents · minimalism · thoughts

Flat Broke With Two Goats

61AhZ9U7qaL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Hey y’all.  I can’t remember how I came across Flat Broke with Two Goats, but the title sold me and I had to read this book.  I didn’t even read the back cover or book description, just jumped right in based on the title.  The power of marketing, right?

Anyway, Flat Broke is a memoir by Jennifer McGaha detailing her family’s rapid descent from being The Jones’ to living in a run down Appalachian mountain shack shared with chickens, goats, spiders, and the occasional poisonous snake.  McGaha is a writer by degree and by trade, so Flat Broke, while well written, can be a little long winded sometimes on unusual homesteading topics that add nothing to the overall story.

Rather than a tell-all gossipy type memoir, or a messy-crazy-funny memoir a la Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, McGaha was very honest without making the reader uncomfortable with too much detail or unsatisfied by not giving enough detail.  The pieces of her life story were revealed as they came up, rather than in sequential order and the recipes at the end of each chapter were a fun personal touch.  I appreciated that she tended to keep her human children “safe” from the memoir by sticking mainly with stories about herself, her husband, their financial issues and their animals.  While this wouldn’t have been possible with little children who would be involved in nearly every one of Mom’s activities, McGaha’s children were all 18 and older, leaving her room to incorporate the children as they fit into the story.

While I appreciated McGaha’s honesty in her dealings with her first husband, as well as her honesty with their financial troubles and her own role in their progression, her tra-la-la attitude and overall head-in-the-sand approach to finances and life in general were incredibly frustrating.  As someone who worked three jobs to get through college, and once took a job during a layoff that left me with $100 leftover each month, it was almost infuriating to see McGaha never hit the true reality of her situation or try to dig herself out of the hole.  Somehow, her husband took the brunt of all of their decisions as well as the lion’s share of the work for getting them out of their situation.  McGaha herself, never did anything that positively affected her family’s financial crisis, nor did she ever really face the reality of their situation.

When your car is being repoed, lights, power, and water being turned off, house being foreclosed, you have a serious problem.  The first time this happens is the time to start digging deep into your finances, double checking those account balances, credit card statements, assessing your life style and trimming the fat.  But when this happens, two, three, four, dozens of times?  I couldn’t help but wonder how much money the family had spent on late fees, reactivation fees, and credit deposits, which would have made all of their bills much higher.

Rather than trim the fat and have the hard discussions, selling excess possessions, and downsizing their home before it is too late, McGaha and her husband proceed with their current lifestyle by keeping their 5 dogs, attending hair appointments, sending their child to private school and drinking craft beer.  Anyone who’s ever been super broke knows how hard it can be to feed their family..not to mention five pets!  And when you’re broke, craft beer is for the birds…the rich birds.  From experience, poor folk drink whatever’ll get you drunk the cheapest.

While I can appreciate the devastation of having to foreclose on a home and move into a rundown shack rented from a distant family member, it was hard to shake the feeling that this entire situation was somewhat preventable or at least mitigable with some planning and a little less head-in-the clouds approach to life.  I also couldn’t shake the feeling that “this is what happens when you don’t raise women to take care of themselves”.  I know that sounds super super judgemental, but I have had quite a few girl friends whose parents taught them absolutely zero life skills.  Those girls, who had every need attended to by their parents, became young women whose only real option was to find a husband who would take care of their every need.  When those men failed to do so, as we see in McGaha’s case, the women are left damsels in distress, a victim of their partner’s poor decisions.

Financial frustration aside, I did enjoy McGaha’s adventures with homesteading and raising chickens and goats.  The stories she shared about her grandparents were heartwarming and reminded me of the old fashioned things my own grandparents did, from waking up at dawn to greet the day, to hand washing dishes and hanging clothes on a line to dry, hand sewing quilts and washing Ziplock bags and foil to be used again.  I’ve often found myself wondering at the simplicity and complication of my Grandmother’s lives compared to my own, and McGaha was able to capture that perfectly.

All in all, Flat Broke is best taken as a cautionary tale as well as some insight into The Jones’.  They may have everything, but they may also be so far in debt they can’t afford the gas and electricity to power those new cars and electronics.

Until next time,

R-

 

Bad Ass Women · Book Review · Cupa Tea · Self Help · thoughts · Wheat Beer

The craziness of Amazon book reviews…(And The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck and Big Magic)

Y’all know by now that I am a self-help book junkie.  After being waitlisted for so long I forgot they were even on my library’s waitlist, I finally got The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson and Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.  In a fun surprise, Gilbert actually mentions Manson as one of her favorite bloggers and uses one of his posts in her book.  Super cool to get some reading synchronicity like that, particularly since Overdrive auto-checked out both books to me at the same time.

Anyway, both books brought a lot of really good thinking and talking points.  Manson’s book is honestly like having a super in depth life conversation with  your super drunk frat-boy friend, except you’re not drunk and he’s making a lot of really good points.  Yes, the language is over the top, even for me, but that’s part of the book’s magic.  As you read, you totally get the feeling that Manson is speaking to you and that’s EXACTLY how he talks.  As the book progresses and gets into deeper and finer points, Manson tones the language down a bit, but still manages to throw in some random-ass sayings that only a total drunk-ass would come up with.  The last chapter did feel a bit weird and out of place, it probably should have been edited out, but overall I loved this book and think the key to enjoying it is to approach it the same way you’d approach the bar patio picnic table that is currently home to your very drunk friend…with your favorite beer, some fries, and an open mind.

Big Magic,  while totally different from The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck, had the same one-on-one convo vibe.  Although instead of having a convo with your super drunk frat boy friend, this convo is with a beloved mentor/friend who is giving you all of the advice they’ve stored up for 50 years, almost like a retirement speech.  At the end of the book, Gilbert mentions that Big Magic was inspired by her Ted Talk, which really should have been part of the intro or first chapter, as Big Magic TOTALLY reads like a bunch of Ted Talks instead of connected chapters.  So while you read Manson’s book with a beer and fries, Big Magic requires some fruity tea in a delicate cup and scones.  Or mimosas and poppy seed muffins….(or maybe I’m just hungry…anyway…moving on…).  I really appreciated Gilbert’s take on inspiration (you just gotta move in some sort of direction (any direction!) and inspiration will follow), how you don’t always need a college degree before you can become great (just start creating!), and perfection (the enemy of progress!).  When read as multiple Ted Talks bound into a single book, Big Magic is great for quick tips and tricks on motivation, inspiration and short bursts of Gilbert’s own life.

Which brings me to the Amazon reviews for these two books.  While both are highly rated, I was amused by several of the reviews that gave 2 stars.  One reviewer gave Gilbert’s book 2 stars because the author wears perfume, which is bad for the environment or animals or something (who knows, the review was rambly and random!).  It was such a bizarre review, considering that was literally one line in the entire book and Gilbert was only mentioning how when she loses inspiration, she gets herself all fancied up, which in her case includes lipstick and perfume, as a way to attract inspiration.  It’s quite good advice, as most fitness gurus will tell you that putting on your workout clothes will essentially force you out the door on days when you don’t want to work out.  It just cracked me up that someone would focus on a single point and miss so many other fantastic points in a book.  Definitely a review written by a small picture person.

For Manson’s book, many of the 2 star reviews were “due to vulgar language”.  Seriously, if you pick up a book with a title like “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” and then you get offended by the language inside the book, it is totally your own fault, as the title was a very LARGE clue to the personality of the author.

In an interesting twist, both books got a lot of reviews that said something like “this book is full of advice for younger people”.  I can see this being true for Manson’s book, my Grandma probably wouldn’t get as much out of it as my brother, but Gilbert’s book felt a lot less directed towards a specific market.  Big Magic seemed to be geared towards creatives of all ages looking for some friendly advice.  Many reviewers seemed upset that neither book offered any practical steps towards not giving a F*ck or finding their own magic, however if you read between the lines, the magic of these books comes from the fact that they don’t give you a cookie cutter recipe to follow.  Sort of like some modern day Mr. Miagi randomness that you have to figure out for yourself.

If you are looking for some practical steps, Big Magic would pair well with The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.  The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck would pair well (ironically, I know) with Brene Brown’s Rising Strong or The Gifts of Imperfection.

That’s all for today, so until next time, happy reading!

Cheers,

R!

beach read · Book Review · series books · Summer Read · thoughts

Author Review: Charlie N. Holmberg

It’s not often I review authors, but Charlie N. Holmberg intrigues me.  If you remember, the first five chapters of Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet hooked me over Christmas break, only to leave me disappointed when the novel went sour.  Another five chapters at the end of a Dark Magic ezine hooked me into The Fifth Doll.  While I enjoyed this book significantly more than Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet, The Fifth Doll still felt like it could have been tighter, stronger, and edited a bit more.  If there is one thing about Holmberg, it’s that she can write a hell of an opening to her novels.  With the second one I picked being so much better than the first, I dropped into The Paper Magician series.

It is in this series that Holmberg seems to find her stride as an author.  Gone are the random acts of violence and plots holes that leave you scratching your head and enter a very very very young adult genre book of magic, love and adventure.  (And by very, I do mean this book would probably be a crowd-pleaser for the female pre-teen types.)  The first book in the series, The Paper Magician is currently the number one best seller in Teen and Young Adult Historical Fiction on Amazon.

As with Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet and The Fifth Doll, Holmberg builds an entire world with her writing placing magic in London in the late 1800’s and setting her main character, Ceony, on the road to earning her magician-ship via an internship with a very quirky bachelor, Emery Thane.  Ceony, the stereotypical poor girl working her way through the crusts of society with her hard won education, is to learn the magic arts of paper from Emery, who despite his unusual behavior and poor taste in clothes is witty, smart, caring and devastatingly handsome.  As expected, Ceony develops the worlds biggest crush on her mentor, leaving the reader to slog through many pages of teenage angst.  Mercifully, Holmberg spares us the double angst of Twilight and Ceony goes on an adventure with her heart attached to a single male.

Ceony is an unlikely hero and her back story is a bit vague.  We know she has multiple siblings, came from the poor side of town and has a near perfect photographic memory.  However, I would have liked to know more about her beyond the fact that she was poor, incredibly smart and a good cook.   I could have also done without all of the endless meal planning, prep and descriptions of food Ceony gives.  Unlike Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet, where these things had a place, it felt odd to be reading about her culinary skills which never added anything to the actual plot line.

After reading six of Holmberg’s novels, I’ve found she has a way of slipping in random events or traits that never flesh out the character or develop the plot further, they’re just there.  Also, character development is not her strong point.  The Good Guys are overly good and pure and righteous.  The Bad Guys are overly bad and a bit stereotypical.  The characters themselves are never fully fleshed out and developed into living, breathing beings who exist outside of Holmberg’s pages.  Again, perfect for the preteen crowd, not so much for more mature readers.

While Holmberg wraps up The Paper Magician relatively quickly, the other three books , The Glass Magician, The Master Magician and The Plastic Magician all follow the same pattern.  Ceony adventures her way through magic and mystery, using her photogenic memory and quick wit to battle bad guys.  As the story unfolds, Holmberg’s writing improves, however it’s her world building that leaves the reader stunned, rather than her character development.  I particularly enjoyed the way Holmberg took paper and gave it so many different magical traits.

All in all, Holmberg’s writings can be described as immature.  They aren’t emotional inspirations nor are they mentally stimulating.  They aren’t meant to be scrutinized or picked apart or even thought about too deeply.  They are purely enjoyable tales that you can read quickly without much investment.  These are the kind of books I read after finishing traumatic books like The Kite Runner.  Holmberg is a fairly young writer and her skill in world building (and writing the first five chapters) is immense.  With time, I hope she hones her character development and tightens the plot lines, which in my opinion, will take Holmberg from immature flighty young adult novels to something much much deeper and I can’t wait.

Until next time, cheers!

-R

 

Book Review · Bust · Favorite Authors · Gonna Need a Stiff Drink For This One · thoughts

In The Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende

in the midst of winterI can still remember reading Eva Luna in high school, buried deep under the covers and reading through the night.  Amazed that a single book could create a world so enchanting and enthralling that it literally wrapped around you in the night, I threw myself into the depths of Isabel Allende’s works; The House of the Spirits, The Stories of Eva Luna, Daughter of Fortune, Portrait in Sepia, Zorro, Ines of My Soul, Island Beneath the Sea.  For years my gypsy life consisted of moving every 6 months, and lugging around a heavy box of books filled with Allende’s works.  For me, Allende is the epitome of an author- she is the Shakespeare to my soul.  It had been several years since I’d lost myself in her world, so when In The Midst of Winter was plopped right into my hands at the library, it was like coming home.

Unfortunately, In the Midst of Winter was probably one of the worst books I’ve read in a while.  All of Allende’s trademark beautiful writing was present.  The wild women, the unlikely pairings, the incredible character development.  Missing, however, was the depth and breadth of the characters relationships with each other, the passion for life and love, and a story so hauntingly beautiful it sticks to your brain like a spiderweb.

While Allende explored the oft ignored middle ages of life and love, the effortless weaving of plausibility and magic that is key in her previous novels was missing from this story.  Richard, Lucia and Evelyn are all written with passion and a deep back story but the circumstances that bring them together are incredibly lackluster and strange.

The story uniting them left me irritated in its lack of reality, lack of depth and the lack of personal relationships developing between the characters.  At no point did I feel like Richard and Lucia were a likely or even possible romantic couple.  At no point could I feel the love or compassion Lucia had for Evelyn.  And while I enjoyed reading the individual chapters narrated by each character and thoroughly interested in the political history of Brazil, I found myself skimming the chapters devoted to the mishaps of this unlikely trio.

For a career spanning over 30 years, Allende was bound to publish a flop at some point.  It’s just hard to imagine In The Midst of Winter being written by a veteran author who penned something as magical as The House of the Spirits as her first novel.

In my devotion to Allende, I immediately checked out “The Japanese Lover” from the library, hoping to ease the disappointment of In the Midst of Winter with what I hope is a novel more aligned with Allende’s previous works.

Until next time my friends.

Happy Reading!

-R

Bust · Psychology · Science · thoughts

Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People Borrow by Mahzarin R. Banaji

Blindspot ended up in my Kindle cue after I took a course in “unconscious bias” at work.  The course was incredibly interesting and through a few exercises, I discovered that I one of my unconscious biases was “Tall people have bad balance”.  Looking back, I have no idea why I think/thought tall people had bad balance, but it was something applied to every tall person encountered, regardless of whether or not I’d seen them demonstrate poor balance.

Digging deeper, I’m sure we all have biases we can’t explain and Blindspot promised to be a good excavation tool into understanding the hows and whys of those unconscious biases.  Based on the expectation that this book would provide the psychology or explanation behind bias, the true content of Blindspot ended up as a bit of a surprise.

First off, it read more like a long article than a book, with the purpose of each chapter to explain the experiments and results the authors achieved when testing subjects for various unconscious biases.

Secondly, I was very wary of what felt like finite conclusions reached by the authors that they were bias this way or that way, or that subjects maintained particular biases when the later chapters demonstrated that positive exposure prior to the experiments significantly impacted the results of the bias.

Leading into this, it was incredibly unsettling to read elsewhere that some employers were actually using experiments similar to those in Blindspot to vet potential employees for hire-ability.  For one thing, the experiments only measured a preference or an association of X against Y, without any way to account for “real life conditions” like previous experience, context, location, morals, upbringing, and personal values.

If anything, Blindspot was eye-opening in just how much previous experience can alter the bias, leading me to conclude that while we all have biases, they can change over time and experience.  It was also interesting to note that we didn’t have to actually be being attention to the experience of something (like a commercial or magazine ad) for it to imprint in our brains.  This led to an internet rabbit hole of research down the path of marketing tactics and how they are used to influence us to feel and buy.  While I wasn’t overly bowled over by Blindspot, kudos to them for providing a pathway into interesting conversation topics on social engineering.

Until next time, happy reading friends!

-R

Book Review · Gonna Need a Stiff Drink For This One · Historical Fiction · tear jerker · thoughts

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

51P7QgQ0DjL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Y’all…I did it again.  Went to bed w/ a new book at 8:30pm fully anticipating an hour, maybe hour and a half of reading and a reasonable bed time….and ended up reading until 1am.  Sigh…I’m so energetically sleepy it’s weird.  This must be how toddlers feel when their eyes are half closed but their body is happy dancing at top speed.  While delicious, this Green Tea is doing nothing for me.

So, during a book chat last week, a friend linked me to the Amazon Top 20 Chart last week, where I scrolled through the list looking for some new reading material.  I was surprised to find 7 Harry Potter books on the list along with the The Handmaid’s Tale.  It’s interesting to see so much Harry Potter on the list.  I remember seeing the first few books lined up together for the very first time on the library shelf like 15 or 20 years ago and thinking “holy shit, those things are HUGE”.  It’s such a strong memory, that to this day I can tell you the exact shelf and location of those books.  Weird memories aside, it’s amazing they’ve remained so popular and have really become such a normal part of the cultural sphere.  Ready Player One was also an unexpected find, but all of the movie hype has probably got this one ranking high in the charts in anticipation. Like The Martian, Ready Player One has only one real main character in the entire book.  I’m interested to see how that translates into a movie.

Having read 9 of the 20 books on this list, I started combing the library for the other 11.  Origins by Dan Brown had an 86 person wait list (what-the-what?!?!) but “Before We Were Yours” was available.  This book has been on the Amazon Top 20 for 25 weeks now, and after getting so caught up in the web Wingate has weaved, it’s easy to see why.

“Before We Were Yours” is a historical fiction based on the notorious Georgia Tann of the Tennesee Children’s Home Society.  From 1920-1950, Tann lied, schemed, plotted, and outright kidnapped the babies and children of America’s poor working class, often taking advantage of young single mothers as she procured children for her black-market baby adoption agency.  Most alarmingly, Tann had the support and cooperation of Memphis government officials, who not only knew but enabled her heinous crimes against families and children to continue for decades.

The book is written in a multiple person format, which did take some getting used to at first, particularly as the switch between characters could be jarring at times between chapters.  Interestingly enough, the story as told by Avery Stafford is stylistically written very differently than the story as told by Rill Foss and May Crandall .  It’s almost like reading two different books.  So far, I have preferred the voice and narration of Rill and May.  These characters feel very real and very grounded to me, like the author based them on someone she knew well.  The story swells and builds around Rill and May, until your heart clenches and you’re holding your breath with each page turn.

Avery, on the other hand, comes across with every stereotypical rich white-girl cliche the author could come up with.  She’s from a wealthy Southern family whose roots run deep into the political sphere.  She went to Colombia law school where she worked hard to distinguish herself from her own last name and is now a federal prosector.  The lawyer thing comes up frequently in Avery’s self monologues, like she’s reminding us over and over that she is smart and capable.  She grew up owning/riding horses and spending time with Grandma at the family beach house.    Her Daddy is an upstanding honorable man who just so happens to be a US Senator while her mother is the stereotypical overbearing Southern Belle of a Stepford wife whose organizational prowess, social standing and charity work are a force to be reckoned with.  While big things loom around her, Avery’s biggest concerns in life are missing her fiancee’s calls and dodging conversations about her wedding plans.

I’m about 75% done with the book and have been reading through Avery’s narration in anticipation of Rill’s and May’s chapters.  Looking forward to what the conclusion brings!

Happy reading,

Cheers!

 

Book Review · Books to Movies · children's books · Favorite Books · horchata · thoughts

Ferdinand!  Book to Movie review

ferdinand the bull book coverYou guys! So you remember how excited I was to find out Ferdinand was being made into a movie?  Well, the Little Man and I had a date to see Ferdinand last week and after a false start with a sold-out showing and calming down a pissed off child with an ice-skating adventure, we finally got to see my childhood fav up on the big screen.

Whenever a favorite book gets turned into a movie, there’s a huge chance the director will take beloved characters and plotlines and turn them on their head (HP, Twilight, I’m talking to you).  There’s also the chance the director will take the book and magically transform everything in your imagination directly onto the big screen.  Wimpy Elijah Wood as Frodo aside, Lord of the Rings was fantastic for this.  While it’s easy to see how they can turn chapter and series books into movies, it’s a bit harder to see how a director will stay true to a story from a children’s book that’s less than 20 pages, so I was very interested to see what they’d do with Ferdinand.

Let’s start this book-to-movie review with John Cena.  Despite his tough guy appeal, wrestling fame and action flicks, John Cena has always come across as the love-able meat-head, just like Ferdinand.  Celebrity crushes aside, he was absolutely, hands down, the BEST choice to voice Ferdinand.

Like the book, Ferdinand-the-movie, was based in Spain, told the tale of a gentle, flower-loving bull, involved a bee and a bull ring.  And that’s about where the similarities end.  Ferdinand-the-book is a sparse gentle tale that allows the reader to infer and imagine many things about Ferdinand, his mother, his home and his life.  So much so, that the book became controversial in its interpretations.

Ferdinand-the-movie, on the other hand, is a coming of age tale whose message of self-acceptance cannot be disputed or misinterpreted.  The movie places Ferdinand, the gentle flower loving calf, smack dab in the middle of a bull fighting farm with his father, where he is surrounded by bulls and calves determined to fight their way into the bullring.  Like the book-Ferdinand, the movie-Ferdinand is a misfit who prefers flowers to fighting, earning him the ire of the other baby bulls.

From here, the film races forward with action and adventure not found in the book, with Ferdinand eventually finding himself squaring off with El Primero, the number one matador in Spain.  Despite all of the deviations from the original tale and the addition of a weird annoying sidekick, for me, seeing Ferdinand staring into the eyes of El Primero is where Ferdinand-the-movie shows a true understanding of the character Munro Leaf created.

While I won’t be re-watching Ferdinand endlessly until the DVD just gives up like I did with Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, Ferdinand-the-movie was a fun afternoon adventure with my kid.  I’d def recommend it if your family, like ours, enjoys reading books and watching the movies based on those books.

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!