Saturday, October 22, 2016

Early Critique: "Faithful" by Alice Hoffman

Disclaimer: I was given a free advance e-copy of this book via NetGalley from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My opinion remains as forthright as ever.

Expected Publication: November 1st

Although I am very much a fan of Alice Hoffman's, the beginning of this book had me worried. Shelby is one of those characters you want to reach out and shake, just to get her riled up enough to do something... you know, other than self-sabotage her aspirations or even possible prospects for the future. Many of you will find yourself reminded of that person from your life who never seems to move on, and the more I read about Shelby during the start of the book, the more frustrated I became.

As it happens, Shelby does eventually progress into a dynamic character, even though I was preparing myself for the possibility she wouldn't. Faithful reminds me of the author's other works with the style of story progression, so fellow fans should also be pleased- I read Illumination Night after this one which followed a similar narrative path. Despite it's similarities, Faithful appeals to the animal lover in me with Shelby's similar passion for dog rescue.

The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'From the New York Times bestselling author of The Marriage of Opposites and The Dovekeepers comes a soul-searching story about a young woman struggling to redefine herself and the power of love, family, and fate.
'Growing up on Long Island, Shelby Richmond is an ordinary girl until one night an extraordinary tragedy changes her fate. Her best friend’s future is destroyed in an accident, while Shelby walks away with the burden of guilt.
'What happens when a life is turned inside out? When love is something so distant it may as well be a star in the sky? Faithful is the story of a survivor, filled with emotion—from dark suffering to true happiness—a moving portrait of a young woman finding her way in the modern world. A fan of Chinese food, dogs, bookstores, and men she should stay away from, Shelby has to fight her way back to her own future. In New York City she finds a circle of lost and found souls—including an angel who’s been watching over her ever since that fateful icy night.
'Here is a character you will fall in love with, so believable and real and endearing, that she captures both the ache of loneliness and the joy of finding yourself at last. For anyone who’s ever been a hurt teenager, for every mother of a daughter who has lost her way, Faithful is a roadmap.'

One character I was irked at from the start was Ben, Shelby's dealer, who does help Shelby grow somewhat, but remains problematic in my eyes due to his voyeuristic tendencies. If I found out anyone had been watching my friend in her room, without her knowledge, I wouldn't want to be friends with them- or have any sort of relationship with them, for that matter. It's one thing to notice your neighbor is watching Wheel of Fortune when you glance in the direction of their house- it's quite another to continue watching them because you feel like you're in lust with them.

Because I'm a bit of a cynic, part of me was rooting Shelby towards a more ambiguous ending. Despite the ending of this book being picture perfect (perhaps a little too perfect), I do appreciate an ending that reveals the changeable, yet fixed nature of real life- not everything turns out in the end. Our disappointments and failures are part of what make us who we are, and I felt by the end of the book some of the characters had changed a bit too much for realism's sake.

Faithful is a magical story that will make you want to believe in second, third, and fourth chances. Though I had problems with some elements of the story, it came together beautifully and in ways I hadn't quite anticipated. I was prepared for a bit more uncertainty about Shelby's future, but I was instead treated to a sort of role reversal in terms of dynamic and static characters. If you're looking for a magical realism novel that ends on a sincerely hopeful note, I would strongly advise Faithful for your next book binge.

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars for an excellent magical realism novel about new beginnings, dogs, and hope!

Age Advisory: Ages 18+ for sexual assault, violence, and rightful thievery of mistreated mutts.

Page Count: 272 pages

Thursday, October 20, 2016

"Illumination Night" by Alice Hoffman

Much about this book is unusual. Alice Hoffman is great with magical realism elements, and making each of her many books stand apart with them- in this one's case, there is someone afflicted with agoraphobia, a giant, a boy who seems incapable of growing, and a teenage girl who seems hellbound on making messes of things wherever she goes. Jody, the teen, is taking care of her grandmother, Elizabeth Rennie after she had an accident. Elizabeth's neighbors, Andre and Vonnie have a son, Simon who doesn't seem to grow any bigger, causing them to have friction in their marriage. As per usual, more characters are drawn into the plot as the story progresses, but none of them truly stuck out to me as particularly likable, except perhaps Simon.

Nonetheless, this was a hard book for me to put down. Something about it calls you back to it even after you read through some difficult scenes and kind of want to put it down. It's an addictive sort of ambivalence, but I wasn't surprised I finished it given my love of Alice Hoffman's works. Others might find themselves a bit out of their depth with the sudden turns of events, regardless of the gratuitous foreshadowing that is the author's characterizations.

The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'A group of people on Martha's Vineyard are brought together in a web of yearning, sin, eroticism, and ultimate redemption.'

Although I didn't particularly like Vonnie, I could relate to her. She faces many difficult things throughout the course of the book, but remains true to herself. Andre, her husband had me gagging for a multitude of reasons. Sometimes people who have everything get so out of touch that they're willing to ruin everything they have for just a little more. As for Simon, other than the giant (who comes in later in the book), he was my most liked character... and he acted his age.

Jody is pissed that her parents would leave her with her grandmother, who she doesn't really know all that well. She reacts in teenage fashion and rebels in ways that had me alternately rolling my eyes and gritting my teeth. Of course, as a teen, she is bound to be somewhat impulsive, but some of the turns of events in this book left me feeling sad more than anything else.

A favorite snippet:
Andre lets go of Jody, and as she follows him across the street, Jody knows that on the ride home she will sit in the back of the truck, and by then the stars will be as white and sharp as dragon's teeth.
            ~Illumination Night by Alice Hoffman, page 28 of my edition.

Illumination Night is an emotional, and sometimes temperamental magical realism novel that makes you wish you could play God a bit with the characters to tweak the eventual outcome. I think it'd be hard not to feel the ups and downs of the characters, and this I admit as someone who was not all that fond of them. For that reason, I don't feel like it's the best book for those unfamiliar with Hoffman's writing and plotting, but it does have enough of what I love about her writing to make me rate it 4 Stars. If you are suffering from a spell of book apathy, for better or for worse, this might be your cure.

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars for a magical realism fiction that stays with you emotionally.

Age Advisory: Ages 18+ for sex scenes (some with people under 18), violence, and strange happenings.

Page Count: 256 pages

Monday, October 17, 2016

MMRM: "Casting the Runes" by M.R. James- A Book Blogger's Nightmare

'Tis the season for the unearthly, the undead, and the downright macabre. Not everyone can read an entire book in time for Halloween- some of us are too busy with other books, or even other things (gasp). For those poor souls, I offer these reviews: I will be writing my thoughts on some of my favorite short stories for this spooky season, either one at a time or in pairs.

This Year's Mini Macabre Review Mondays:
#9: "The Alchemist" and "The Beast in the Cave" by H.P. Lovecraft
#10: "Canon Alberic's Scrap-book" and "The Mezzotint" by M.R. James

"Casting the Runes" by M.R. James

Available to read for free, online here.
Rating: 4 Stars (Excellent)
Content: Ages 12+ for violations in author-reviewer boundaries
Page Count: Approximately 16 pages
Year Published: 1911

I think this story does just perfectly on its own, which is why I'm chose this one for a singular review. One of the pitfalls of being a book blogger is that you sometimes come across a book you can't like- and sometimes you then write a review to purge your feelings about the offending book. Most of the time, these reviews pass unacknowledged by the author of said book, which is the way it should be. Most authors have plenty of positive reviews to fall back on. But imagine, for a moment, if you happened to review a book by an author who wasn't quite so forgiving.

That is the case with this story- a man believes an author has it out for him because he doesn't like his book. A series of weird happenings lead him to believe he's being targeted by someone, though he isn't sure who until clues are left for him in plain sight.

The Plot: Strange events lead a man to believe he will die if he doesn't outsmart his alleged killer.

'There is just one that has been taking shape vaguely in my mind. I've been told that your brother reviewed a book very severely not long before he died, and just lately I have happened to cross the path of the man who wrote that book in a way he would resent.'
            ~"Casting the Runes" by M.R. James

"Casting the Runes" is a cautionary tale about the perils of dabbling with things beyond your ken. Though it starts slow, I didn't find myself apathetic to the events of the tale, which sometimes happens when a book verges on the supernatural side of things. This is a nice short read for those of us who need a slight, scary respite from larger, more intimidating tomes.

Keep it spooky,

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