alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 55: Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Goodreads summary: “1987. There’s only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that’s her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life—someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart.

At Finn’s funeral, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days later, she receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn’s apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet. As the two begin to spend time together, June realizes she’s not the only one who misses Finn, and if she can bring herself to trust this unexpected friend, he just might be the one she needs the most.”

I am so grossly behind on reviews that it hurts. Ah, post-Cannonball lethargy! Anyway, this was a very good story: bittersweet with poignant glimpses into close family relationships strained by death, jealousy, prejudice, and alienation. June, the protagonist, feels lost in the world following the death of her uncle. She’s born very much from the Loner Girl mold, an introvert who sees herself as irredeemably weird but who nonetheless manages to get along with people around her (and even attract attention from boys) when she puts the effort in. The relationship between her and her older sister — two girls feeling a chasm between them, trying to bridge it but not trying too hard for fear of getting hurt — was heartbreaking and felt all too real. This and other fragmented relationships in the novel were just a few of several reasons why this book felt very painful to read at times.

I was alive but not really cognizant of the emergence of HIV/AIDS (the epidemic central to the foundation of the novel,) but I have long been curious about both the pathology of the virus and about the curious intersection of paranoia and bigotry that made AIDS such a controversial, willfully misunderstood disease. Reading Tell the Wolves I’m Home didn’t, therefore, stir up any painful memories for me, but it did offer a really powerful and unflinching look at how those living with AIDS, and even those who died of the disease, like Finn, were demonized rather than comforted and loved.

Anyway, I read this over a month ago, so I have forgotten a lot of the details I might otherwise mention in a review, but I can say for certain that I really liked the book and would definitely recommend it.

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Malin’s #CBR5 Review #112: Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

Hazel and Jack are best friends and live just down the street from one another. Until recently, they didn’t go to the same school, but after Hazel’s dad moved away, she had to change schools and now she’s in the classroom across the hall from Jack. Hazel doesn’t really fit in at school. None of the other kids were adopted from India and look completely different from their mum and dad. She only really feels like she completely belongs when she’s with Jack, and when he’s off playing with the other boys, she feels desperately alone.

Of course, there are worse things than your dad leaving your mum and you to manage by yourselves or your friend occasionally playing with others. Your mum could still be there, listless and uncaring, empty-seeming and no longer noticing much of anything, like Jack’s mum. Maybe that’s why he changes completely one day – becoming mean and distant the day after he had an accident in the school yard, when something seemed to pierce him in the eye? Suddenly he just wants to play with the boys, and ignores Hazel completely. Then he disappears. His parents say he’s off taking care of his elderly aunt Bernice, but Hazel’s known Jack her entire life – he doesn’t have an aunt Bernice. One of the other boys mentions having seen Jack going into the woods, with a tall, icily beautiful, fur-clad woman, like the White Witch of Narnia. But witches aren’t real, are they? Hazel knows that she needs to rescue her best friend, even if it means going off into terrible danger.

More on my blog.

Malin’s #CBR5 Review #65: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Our unnamed narrator returns to the old farm near his childhood home after a funeral in Sussex. He remembers his childhood friend Lettie Hempstock, who lived in the old farmhouse, at the end of the lane near his house, and while looking out over the pond in the back (which Lettie claimed was an ocean), he slowly remembers the strange and horrifying events of his childhood, after one of his parents’ lodgers stole their car and killed himself, not far from the house. There are dark and inexplicable consequences, and the three generations of Hempstock women help our narrator try to set things to rights.

This is Neil Gaiman’s first book for adults since Anansi Boys in 2005. As that book is probably my least favourite of all his works, with the notable exception of Marvel 1602 and Eternals (which were so boring I don’t even have the words), I was hoping that the excellent writing in his books for children and young adults would carry through to this story as well. I had very high expectations, because for all that I think his shorter fiction (comic book issues, short stories) is what he does best, it was just so unexpected and exciting to discover, early this year, that he had a new book out. Of course, this dark fable is a sliver of a book compared to, for instance American Gods. It’s much more like Coraline, both in size and tone.

Read the rest on my blog.

Popcultureboy’s #CBR5 Review #44: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

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A debut novel that lives up to its hype. A beautiful novel detailing the trials and tribulations of being 11 years old while the world is trying to end, if you haven’t read this book, then you absolutely must. Reasons why are detailed fully here.

Valyruh’s CBR#5 Review #37: The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon

As a fan of Chabon’s most popular books, Kavalier & Clay and The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, I felt a certain obligation to check out his first novel when I came across it at the library. The same wit and freshness of language that makes Chabon’s writing so compelling kept me going through The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, but I have to say that the novel itself left me shaking my head in disappointment, until I learned that this was actually Chabon’s MFA thesis in creative writing, and I found I was somewhat able to forgive him for the sophomoric story and its rather stereotyped characters.

Art Bechstein has just graduated college, and is starting a final summer in Pittsburgh before he must face the real world. His mother died six months before his bar mitzvah at age 13, where he learned his father was a top level gangster in a DC-based mob family. By the beginning of the story, Art and his father have a tenuous relationship of occasional meals out at fancy restaurant when his father comes to town to do “business.” Usually, those meals end with Art reduced to tears by his father’s undisguised disappointment in his son’s aimlessness. Soon Art meets, in rapid succession, a girl named Phlox who tries on and discards identities and is enamored of Art, a boy named Arthur Lecomte who is handsome, debonair, dissipated, lives in other people’s homes as a house sitter, and homosexual, and Arthur’s large heterosexual friend Cleveland, a product of wealthy parents who has grown his hair long, spouts poetry, acquired a beer gut and a motorcycle, and is a low-level “collector” in Bechstein, Sr.’s operations.

Art spends the summer like the little ball in a pinball machine, bouncing between his newly-acquired friends, and getting his eyes opened not only to sexual experiences with both Phlox and Arthur, but also to the sordid world underlying his father’s illicit and therefore  somehow glamorous career. Eventually, Art’s affair with Phlox is revealed as more a refuge from the confusing and scary bouts of lust with Arthur than as love with Phlox. Cleveland exercises a different kind of hold on Art, the kind of larger-than-life, try everything, risk everything, fuck everything attitude that Art wishes he could safely dip into, but knows he can’t. Things come to a head when Cleveland demands to meet Art’s dad, who quickly concludes that his son is consorting with the very “low-life” types he had hoped to protect his son from, and decides to take action as the mobster that he is.  Tragedy ensues, and Art ends up fleeing the cops, his father, and the country.

At the novel’s close, a somewhat benumbed Art is sitting somewhere in Europe nostalgically contemplating  his lost summer and the friends he has left behind but feels he carries within himself.  I, on the other hand, was left contemplating what so many ecstatic reviewers have called a brilliant “coming-of-age” tale but which struck me as more a collection of aimless and sad indulgences by a group of very clever, very bored, and very damaged young people. If Art learned anything from his “coming-of-age” experimentation, it wasn’t obvious from his concluding musings at the book’s end.

Malin’s #CBR5 Review #45: Maskeblomstfamilien (the Figwort Family) by Lars Saabye Christensen

I had a good childhood. My father died when I was twelve. My mother went to bed early. I was an only child.” 

These are the opening lines of Maskeblomstfamilien, a title which can be translated as The Figwort Family, but which can be interpreted in several ways, and holds more than one meaning. The plants and flowers of the Figwort Family usually have large leaves that cover up and blanket the ground. The flowers are often without scent, but if they do smell, it’s more of an unpleasant stench than a refreshing smell. Foxglove, and other flowers in the Digitalis family, which is a subgroup of the Figwort family, are all poisonous.

In Norwegian, the title can also be broken into three – maske means mask, blomstmeans flower and familien means the family. Every significant person in this novel are not entirely as they appear at first, they all wear masks. The Greek tragedy ofOedipus also plays a central part in the last third of the novel, which is in itself structured as a classical tragedy in three acts. The flower is Adrian, the protagonist, who, considering the environment in which he is raised, unsurprisingly grows up to be a deeply twisted individual. The Wang family, his family, are not supportive or nurturing, and they all have dark secrets.

Interested in the rest of the review? Go to my blog.