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 · 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!

 

Book Review · Bust · Summer Read

Review of Little Wolves by Thomas Maltman

I just finished reading the 2013 novel, Little Wolves, by Thomas Maltman.  After reading, I scoped out the reviews on Amazon and was completely surprised by 2 things:

  1. the very low number of reviews on Amazon for a book that is 3 years old (only 132 at the time of writing this post)
  2. all of the 4-5 star reviews

For me, this book ranks a solid 2 stars.  It is full of inconsistencies that disjoint and disrupt the flow of the story, starting with the title itself. Little Wolves surprisingly has nothing to do with Wolves.

While it started out heavy with action (a murder-suicide), the momentum of the book quickly transitioned into a muddled collection of memories, flashbacks, references to Beowulf, random tall tales Clara remembered from her father, references to darker character histories that were never fully explained, random references to Werewolves and Wolf People, a broad parade of one-and-done characters who add nothing to the plot, all while limping along with the actual story.  It was like a high school student’s book bag exploded and the contents of every book combined in random quantities to create Little Wolves.

Writing this review, it has become apparent that the WHO and the WHAT of this book wasn’t obviously clear. Who was the main character? Clara? Seth? Grizz? Was the book about a murder-suicide and what drove a young man to commit such a heinous crime? Was it about Clara’s search for her family history? Was it a thriller about a very messed up small town that held violent secrets that everyone knew about but kept hidden?

The extent of the secrets the characters hold is never fully fleshed out and none of the character’s stories ever fleshed out into a whole tale, not to mention the endless characters parading through this book.  I couldn’t figure out why Clara’s father was obsessed with werewolf stories and keeping any information about her mother completely secret, why her husband was obsessed with seeing the Devil and what it brought to the story, why Seth did what he did, why Lee was consistently described as mentally slow but never demonstrated this trait at any point in the book, why Clara couldn’t ever find the lone mountain the city of “Lone Mountain” was named after.  Little Wolves would have been a much stronger tale with fewer characters whose back stories, relationships and purpose were more clearly defined.

To give you an idea of just how muddled this book was, I kept expecting Clair to turn into a werewolf.  Spoiler alert…she didn’t.  Bummer.  Overall, this book was a bust for me and I couldn’t strongly recommend it to anyone.

The weekend wasn’t a total HopsnLit bust, however.  After trying one for the first time this weekend, I can definitely recommend a Bellini.  Unlike Little Wolves which was dark, deep and violent and left me in a funky mood, Bellini’s are crisp, refreshing and light, and left me in a very cheerful disposition.

Until next time, happy reading.

Cheers!