Book Review: The Book Charmer

42202000Title: The Book Charmer
Author: Karen Hawkins
Genre: Literary, Magical Realism
Publisher: Gallery Book (Simon & Schuster)
Publication Date: July 30, 2019
Pages: 368
Format Read: book & ebook
Standalone or series: Book 1 of Dove Pond series
Where I got the book: BookishFirst (book) & NetGalley (ebook)
Date finished reading: July 23, 2019

Goodreads Description: New York Times bestselling author Karen Hawkins crafts an unforgettable story about a sleepy Southern town, two fiercely independent women, and a truly magical friendship.

Sarah Dove is no ordinary bookworm. To her, books have always been more than just objects: they live, they breathe, and sometimes they even speak. When Sarah grows up to become the librarian in her quaint Southern town of Dove Pond, her gift helps place every book in the hands of the perfect reader. Recently, however, the books have been whispering about something out of the ordinary: the arrival of a displaced city girl named Grace Wheeler.

If the books are right, Grace could be the savior that Dove Pond desperately needs. The problem is, Grace wants little to do with the town or its quirky residents—Sarah chief among them. It takes a bit of urging, and the help of an especially wise book, but Grace ultimately embraces the challenge to rescue her charmed new community. In her quest, she discovers the tantalizing promise of new love, the deep strength that comes from having a true friend, and the power of finding just the right book.

“A mesmerizing fusion of the mystical and the everyday” (Susan Andersen, New York Times bestselling author), The Book Charmer is a heartwarming story about the magic of books that feels more than a little magical itself. Prepare to fall under its spell.

My Review: I was fortunate enough to receive two ARC copies of this book. I received an ebook from NetGalley so am using this as my first review for the NetGalley #Reviewathon. I received a physical copy from BookishFirst, which I look forward to passing along to someone in my book club, which meets soon.

This is a sweet story filled with likable characters. The town of Dove Pond reminds me a bit of Stars Hollow in Gilmore Girls, where everyone knows everything about everyone, but unfortunately does not have a Taylor to keep the city running – until Grace moves to Dove Pond.

Grace moves to Dove Pond to afford to take care of her foster mom, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, and her niece, whose mother passed away from a drug overdose. It is only natural that Grace is struggling with these new responsibilities. Throughout the story, the reader can see the everyday difficulties of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. On a personal note, as someone who watched a family member struggle with this disease, I found those moments in the book very realistic. With all these responsibilities and a stressful city clerks job, Grace is convinced by other members of the town to help organize the town’s Apple Festival, which will also hopefully save the town from financial ruin.

There is a bit of magical realism in this story that adds a some fun and intrigue to the plot. Mama G seems to be able to read people’s thoughts. The Dove family is known to have certain powers. Ava Dove has an amazing green thumb and with the plants she grows, she creates teas that help people, depending on their needs. Sarah Dove’s power is that books talk to her. The books let her know when they will be useful to someone. Sarah has a special connection with a book about Dove Pond that insists that Grace will place an important role in Dove Pond. While the book does not tell Sarah exactly know what that role is, she befriends Grace and encourages her but can she convince Grace to stay in Dove Pond?

I enjoyed this enchanting read. It was a bit repetitious at times, but the plot still managed to flow, and I enjoyed the character interaction immensely. I feel this story possessed a lot of great lessons in hope, love, compassion and the importance/power of relationships.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ 

Reading Zadie Smith – January 2019

One of my reading goals for 2019 is to become more familiar with works by different authors by featuring a different author every month (see A Focus on Authors Reading Challenge). January was spent reading as much as I could by Zadie Smith, whom I had never read before. The following are the books I manage to complete:

white-teeth-by-zadie-smith

Title: White Teeth
Author: Zadie Smith
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: January 25, 2001
Pages: 542
Format Read: Book & Audiobook
Standalone or series: Standalone
Where I got the book: Free library
Date finished reading:  January 18, 2019


Goodreads Description: 
At the center of this invigorating novel are two unlikely friends, Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal. Hapless veterans of World War II, Archie and Samad and their families become agents of England’s irrevocable transformation. A second marriage to Clara Bowden, a beautiful, albeit tooth-challenged, Jamaican half his age, quite literally gives Archie a second lease on life, and produces Irie, a knowing child whose personality doesn’t quite match her name (Jamaican for “no problem”). Samad’s late-in-life arranged marriage (he had to wait for his bride to be born), produces twin sons whose separate paths confound Iqbal’s every effort to direct them, and a renewed, if selective, submission to his Islamic faith. Set against London’s racial and cultural tapestry, venturing across the former empire and into the past as it barrels toward the future, White Teeth revels in the ecstatic hodgepodge of modern life, flirting with disaster, confounding expectations, and embracing the comedy of daily existence.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ 

28390369Title: Swing Time
Author: Zadie Smith
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
Publication Date: November 15, 2016
Pages: 453
Format Read: Audiobook
Standalone or series: Standalone
Where I got the book: Library Libby App
Date finished reading:  January 21, 2019

Goodreads Description: Two brown girls dream of being dancers–but only one, Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, about black bodies and black music, about what constitutes a tribe, or makes a person truly free. It’s a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten, either.

Dazzlingly energetic and deeply human, Swing Time is a story about friendship and music and stubborn roots, about how we are shaped by these things and how we can survive them. Moving from northwest London to West Africa, it is an exuberant dance to the music of time.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

imageTitle: Feel Free
Author: Zadie Smith
Genre: Nonfiction essay collection
Publisher: Penguin Press
Publication Date: February 6, 2018
Pages: 448
Format Read: Audiobook
Standalone or series: Standalone
Where I got the book: Library Libby App
Date finished reading: January 27, 2019

Goodreads Description: Since she burst spectacularly into view with her debut novel almost two decades ago, Zadie Smith has established herself not just as one of the world’s preeminent fiction writers, but also a brilliant and singular essayist. She contributes regularly to The New Yorker and the New York Review of Books on a range of subjects, and each piece of hers is a literary event in its own right.

Arranged into five sections—In the World, In the Audience, In the Gallery, On the Bookshelf, and Feel Free—this new collection poses questions we immediately recognize. What is The Social Network, and Facebook itself, really about? “It’s a cruel portrait of us: 500 million sentient people entrapped in the recent careless thoughts of a Harvard sophomore.” Why do we love libraries? “Well-run libraries are filled with people because what a good library offers cannot be easily found elsewhere: an indoor public space in which you do not have to buy anything in order to stay.” What will we tell our granddaughters about our collective failure to address global warming? “So I might say to her, look: the thing you have to appreciate is that we’d just been through a century of relativism and deconstruction, in which we were informed that most of our fondest-held principles were either uncertain or simple wishful thinking, and in many areas of our lives we had already been asked to accept that nothing is essential and everything changes and this had taken the fight out of us somewhat.”

Gathering in one place for the first time previously unpublished work, as well as already classic essays, such as, Joy, and, Find Your BeachFeel Free offers a survey of important recent events in culture and politics, as well as Smith’s own life. Equally at home in the world of good books and bad politics, Brooklyn-born rappers and the work of Swiss novelists, she is by turns wry, heartfelt, indignant, and incisive and never any less than perfect company. This is literary journalism at its zenith.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ½

3679


Title: 
On Beauty
Author: Zadie Smith
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: August 29, 2006
Pages: 445
Format Read: Book
Standalone or series: Standalone
Where I got the book: Books
Date finished reading: January 31, 2019


Goodreads Description:
 
Howard Belsey, a Rembrandt scholar who doesn’t like Rembrandt, is an Englishman abroad and a long-suffering professor at Wellington, a liberal New England arts college. He has been married for thirty years to Kiki, an American woman who no longer resembles the sexy activist she once was. Their three children passionately pursue their own paths: Levi quests after authentic blackness, Zora believes that intellectuals can redeem everybody, and Jerome struggles to be a believer in a family of strict atheists. Faced with the oppressive enthusiasms of his children, Howard feels that the first two acts of his life are over and he has no clear plans for the finale. Or the encore.

Then Jerome, Howard’s older son, falls for Victoria, the stunning daughter of the right-wing icon Monty Kipps, and the two families find themselves thrown together in a beautiful corner of America, enacting a cultural and personal war against the background of real wars that they barely register. An infidelity, a death, and a legacy set in motion a chain of events that sees all parties forced to examine the unarticulated assumptions which underpin their lives. How do you choose the work on which to spend your life? Why do you love the people you love? Do you really believe what you claim to? And what is the beautiful thing, and how far will you go to get it?

Set on both sides of the Atlantic, Zadie Smith’s third novel is a brilliant analysis of family life, the institution of marriage, intersections of the personal and political, and an honest look at people’s deceptions. It is also, as you might expect, very funny indeed.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

My Thoughts on Zadie Smith’s Literature: I am really glad that I chose Zadie Smith to kick off 2019. I started my Zadie Smith readings with her debut novel, White Teeth. I was a bit disappointed by it. It fell a bit flat for me, and maybe the fact that it was her first novel is why it just did not grab me. While I thought the odd friendship between Archie Jones and Samal Iqbad was charming, I found myself not really invested in the characters very much.

I enjoyed Swing Time much more than White Teeth. I felt invested in the main character from the very beginning. Maybe I enjoyed this more because the story was told in a first person narrative and the main character is never named, so there is quite an element of mystery about her. Her connection (could maybe at times be more like an obsession) with her childhood best friend, Tracey, drives this story along with the art of dance. Maybe I just related more to this story with my own love of dance. I too wanted to dance like Fred Astaire.

Feel Free was the first essay collection I ever read, and I loved it! I could have done without the Justin Bieber section and other pop culture references, because I just didn’t care, but I enjoyed the overall theme. It was like a study of how society and culture (like music, food, art, literature, entertainment, etc) has evolved or hasn’t. Zadie Smith started by discussing a public library that was closing. Are libraries still relevant or have they evolved enough to be just as relevant now but in a different way? She discussed how Facebook has affected society. “Here, I’m becoming nostalgic. I fear I’m dreaming of a web that caters to a kind of person who no longer exists. A private person, a person who is a mystery, to the world and, which is more important, to herself.” She discussed how art on our walls has changed from being paintings (or other forms of art) that we find interesting and appreciate, to becoming the “wallpaper of our lives” – speaking of photo art of our experiences. This is what Zadie Smith says about literature: “That readers are tired of once upon a time there lived and can now only read work that speaks directly of reality.” I for one still like the “once upon a time” theme, but definitely can see how literature has progressed away from that. Is it progression though? This book had me pondering a lot of things, and I believe it will stick with me for a while.

On Beauty was my final Zadie Smith read of the month, and I enjoyed this one as well. I am so grateful that one of my Litsy pen pals sent me a copy of this. After reading and not altogether enjoying White Teeth, I was nervous about reading another family saga story told in a third person narrative. However, this one spoke to me. I think it was much more organized, as it focused almost completely on just the Belsey family. I also felt that the complexity of each of the characters and their struggles (inner and outer) was much clearer.

I think an overwhelming theme in all of the Zadie Smith books I read this month is the differences in culture, race, religion and social standing. She tackles all of these in clever ways that make it easy to read and yet powerful at the same time.

Please let me know your thoughts on Zadie Smith’s fiction and/or nonfiction in the comment section below. Next month I’ll be reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Book Review: My Year of Rest & Relaxation

81q-2m7vwilTitle: My Year of Rest and Relaxation
Author: Ottessa Moshfegh
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Publication Date: July 10, 2018
Pages: 304
Format Read: Audiobook
Standalone or series: Standalone
Where I got the book: Library Libby App
Date finished reading:  January 26, 2019

Goodreads Description: A shocking, hilarious and strangely tender novel about a young woman’s experiment in narcotic hibernation, aided and abetted by one of the worst psychiatrists in the annals of literature. Our narrator has many of the advantages of life, on the surface. Young, thin, pretty, a recent Columbia graduate, she lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for, like everything else, by her inheritance. But there is a vacuum at the heart of things, and it isn’t just the loss of her parents in college, or the way her Wall Street boyfriend treats her, or her sadomasochistic relationship with her alleged best friend. It’s the year 2000 in a city aglitter with wealth and possibility; what could be so terribly wrong?

This story of a year spent under the influence of a truly mad combination of drugs, designed to heal us from our alienation from this world, shows us how reasonable, even necessary, that alienation sometimes is. Blackly funny, both merciless and compassionate – dangling its legs over the ledge of 9/11 – this novel is a showcase for the gifts of one of America’s major young writers working at the height of her powers.

My Review: I don’t know where to begin with this book. If I could bring myself not finish a book that I started, this would be the one. Please someone explain to me what the actual point of this story is. It was upsetting and irritating right from the beginning. I’m glad it was fiction, because I really don’t want to believe that anyone could be so self-centered and just a downright nasty human being. I never for one minute sympathized with the main character (aka the narrator).

Maybe I would have felt bad for the way her ex-boyfriend, Trevor, treated her, but she is the one that kept calling (on the verge of harassing) him and convincing him to come over after their relationship was over. I was horrified with how the narrator treated her friend, Reva. She shows no signs of sympathy when Reva’s mom dies, and then later actually uses the phrase, “Good luck with the abortion.” Who says this??? I was just horrified. Is this really what good literature is now?

I was immediately turned off not just by the narrator’s attitude but by the fact that after getting herself fired from a job, she decides to spend a year in a medically induced hibernation. I guess I had assumed by the title that someone maybe be taking a year off of working to rest and relax – must be nice to have the financial privilege to do so – but nothing about this hibernation plan of hers seemed at all restful or relaxing.

I found this actually insulting to all those individuals who are dealing with mental health issues. I, myself, and some friends of mine have had frequent visits to psychiatrists’ offices, and those visits, in my experience and my friends’ have been constructive and a process of healing. I didn’t have a doctor not remember me or my story from visit to visit or do nothing but try to drug me. I realize that this might happen, but I think this book will give those struggling with mental health issues a negative perspective on psychiatrists, and they will not pursue the help that they may need.

Last, I understood that with the mention of the twin towers periodically throughout the story, that this was leading up to 9/11. 9/11 did occur at the end of the book, and I was horrified by that scene and the narrator’s continued lack of feeling.

This was an appalling and senseless book.

My Rating: ♦ ♦