It’s beyond time to update my 2017 Redolent Mermaid reading challenge. Books have been doubled, but as my GoodReads challenge tracker glaringly reminds me, I’m still behind. Scent pairing suggestions follow.
Reading challenge #22. A book to make you belly laugh, guffaw or snort and chuckle along the way.
“Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders
Getting this one right outta the way (Because after you’ve read LitB, you’ll really want to discuss it). LitB is the most peculiar, thought-provoking and likely best written novel I’ve ever read, yet I would never read it again.
I actually listened to most of the audiobook while driving 5 hrs. round trip to a memorial service for a friend’s father. What a strange trip it made. My personal reactions to Lincoln in the Bardo were more extreme than belly laughs:
At first I questioned, chuckled, pondered, brooded, startled, despaired, staggered, felt unsettled, strangely uplifted, and finally hopeful? I’m not sure there’s a descriptive term for the post-read feel other than, more connected to humankind.
It’s a simple premise, just one man’s interpretation of what occurs after death. What if dead souls lingered about the cemetery as if they were alive? How would they appear, what would they think about? What occupied and pre-occupied their existence? What if, into this world a newly bereaved gentleman came to dwell and mourn? What effect would his presence have on the Bardo dwellers? AND what if that gentleman was Abraham Lincoln? Freaking genius, also freakish nightmare!
This book held more gravity than I’m used to, but pirouetted gracefully between characters, moments, dialogue, even historical footnotes with such skill that I never felt weighed down by it. A searing and profound meditation on the human condition. I must provide a ‘recommended for’ note, one cannot go into this novel blindly. I wouldn’t bother with the print edition, the audio features 166 contributing narrators who bring such life to the words. It is a story to hear, rather than read.
Recommended for: audiobook readers, Nick Offerman fans, librarians, those looking to read harder, existential seekers, Abe Lincoln admirers who don’t wish to read masses of nonfiction AL bios (me), history and historical fiction fans.
Not recommended for: first-time audiobook readers, those queasy about death or ?s surrounding death, those easily offended by cursing-a couple characters swore like virtuosos, readers who struggle with unconventional dialogue or storytelling (characters constantly interrupt, ramble, trail off mid-sentence, etc.) People who hate footnotes (expect a lot).
Scent pairing: damp moss, dusty crypts, decay-nothing I want to smell.
Challenge #3. Magic
“The Paper Magician” by Charlie N. Holmberg
The premise is promising: enchanting paper leads to unexpected adventures.
Unfortunately, the writing never lived up to its premise. Lacking depth especially in character. Ceony, the heroine, expresses shallow emotional naivete; said to be around 21, but felt more like a 12 year-old. Holmberg, a debut author, wasn’t adept at world building and immediately suffers by comparison to J. K. Rowling’s wizarding world. Tagis Praff School of Magic, where students don’t even learn Dark Magic defense training, puts practicing magic in a mundane light.
The plot’s pacing wasn’t much better. Just when I started to consider the main characters’ burgeoning relationship endearing, a shocking (though somewhat predictable) act occurs, disrupting the flow. The said shocking event is the turning point of the story, but I believe it happens too early. No time for exposition after that, however, because readers are whisked off on a kooky adventure. Exciting at first, Ceony gets stuck in an endless scenario in which she needs to navigate her way out, causing the reader to feel stuck as well.
Low lights: Throughout the story, metaphors became increasingly clunky and nonsensical, for example, “The smell of sodden meat, fresh and spoiled, wafted like a cold song over her.” p.162 Wha? Um, okay.
Highlights: The dapper paper magician, himself, was intriguing. Ceony’s paper animal companion provided sweetness. It’s possible the series could get better, two more books follow.
Scent pairing: Dragon’s Blood from Sniff My Tarts. There were no dragons but there was an awful lot of blood for this light fantasy.
#17 A tale that takes place during war.
“All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr, audio version. Some readers don’t care for stories about Nazis, and I get that. This story is so much more though, it’s about human beings and their varying abilities for compassion.
Two young protagonists, one French, one German, frozen at a single point in time. Their lives unknowingly influenced by each other’s pasts, in a desperate, simultaneous fight for their lives. The story centers around how they got to that moment and the tension building climax as they reach out to each other.
The best thing about this novel, what elevates and makes it deserving of it’s Pulitzer Prize: the plot fits together as perfectly as one of Marie Laure’s wooden puzzle boxes. Tightly woven, flawlessly edited and expertly composed. I learned a lot about French resistance activities and the cultural worldwide significance radios played in history. The only criticism being; with such detailed storytelling, the ending felt stretched out and could have resolved sooner.
Scent pairing: salty sea air, ozone, driftwood and freshly baked bread.
#18 Female heroine triumphant.
“Shadow and Bone” by Leigh Bardugo
The first in a sort of high fantasy-adventure hybrid series known as the Grishaverse, due to the presence of magical Grisha. Similar to wizards with a single special ability to conjure power from an element surrounding them. Featuring the pseudo-Russian country of Ravka where two orphans grow up to serve in an army, fight velociraptor-esque creatures, and traverse seas of darkness, all while harboring a secret crush. The Shadow fold, as it’s known, was actually the best part of the story; it had much potential and reminded me of the setting from the film, Pitch Black.
Of course, one can’t hang for long in the Shadow fold, especially when the heroine realizes she can harness the power of the sun. The rest of the story slides downhill as the newly empowered Grisha must decide if she can live with the price of power, or escape her fate as a pawn in a darker wizard’s game.
The story suffers from a more compelling villain than its snarky heroes, making their plight less exciting than intended. I didn’t like any of the characters enough to want read the sequel.
Scent pairings: 100% Sunshine by The Bathing Garden vs. Vendetta by House of Phoebe.
#1 Re-read a beloved book or series. I got halfway through last summer, but pushed myself to reread and supplement with the audiobook, in order to finish the series this summer.
“The Half-Blood Prince” by J.K. Rowling
I’m not going to attempt a proper review with such a beloved childhood classic. But, suffice it to say, somebody was up to no good. I do agree with Finger Candy’s assessment that Harry was being a bit cavalier about nearly flaying young Draco to death. In fact, I felt he and his fellow Gryffindors were acting generally priggish throughout their 6th year. In hindsight, maybe they’re allowed some self-indulgent teen angst considering the term would soon end in upheaval, chaos and death. The penultimate book effectively resulting in an end to the safety and security of not only Hogwarts, but their childhoods.
Highlights: Dumbledore and Harry finally having a satisfying relationship. Glimpses into a young Tom Riddle’s history. Glimpses of a young Dumbledore, turned Hogwarts recruiter. (I think there’s prequel material in spades on the early life of Dumbledore). That emotional finale. And Luna.
Specific to the audio-narrator, Jim Dale’s voicing every character, but especially Peeves and singing Celestina’s cheesy love songs. Another favorite, Kreacher’s Christmas present!
Low lights: Harry’s attitude, especially as Quidditch capt., Quidditch in general, Ron’s attitude, Ginny’s attitude, Ginny and Harry, Ginny.
Scent pairing: nearly every candle/wax vendor has an HP collection. I prefer Draco and Harry from Super Tarts.
Challenge #9. A story that takes you to another place and time, real or imagined.
“The Raven Boys” by Maggie Stiefvater
One place, overlapping lines of time. As demonstrated above, I don’t get caught up in great young adult novels till everybody else seems to have read them, but I do regret not picking this up sooner.
Synopsis from the author’s website:
“An unlikely group stumbles across ancient magic in Virginia: Blue, the daughter of the town psychic…has been told for as long as she can remember that if she ever kisses her true love, he will die. Gansey, who seeks the Welsh magic he believes saved his life. Adam, who searches for a way out of the circumstances he was born into. Ronan, who seeks to recover the magic of his childhood.”
Originality in the young-adult genre can be hard to come by, but The Raven Boys feels unique even as it relies on classic archetypes, such as, a band of misfits setting out on a magical quest. Crisp pacing, well structured with quirky, lovable characters. The boys’ friendship had echoes of Stand By Me, completely endearing. Also enviable, the friendship and reliance upon each other by the psychic women of the story.
I prefer even my fantasy genre reads to be somewhat believable, and TRB is that. It’s a series I expect to continue this year.
Scent pairing: incense, old-growth forest, mint leaves.
Summer to-be-read list commences. After so much YA and mind-blowing fiction, I’m yearning for some weighty nonfiction. Any reads that you’re particularly loving? I’d love to hear in the comments.