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Spells for Forgetting by Adrienne Young

Spells for Forgetting by Adrienne Young

Spells for ForgettingSpells for Forgetting by Adrienne Young
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Spells for Forgetting by Adrienne Young is an atmospheric tale of an island and the core families that have a lifelong bond with the land. It’s a tale of magic, romance, mystery, legacy, and murder set on a small island in the state of Washington.

The descriptions of Saiorse island were detailed and haunting, full of mystery and the potential for drama. I could feel the slow pace and secretive nature of life on the island.

I loved the way the chapters went from the present moment to the past, giving us a nice reveal of certain information. Reading chapters from different characters’ perspectives worked well in weaving the most important people into the story. The framework of the story was solid, but I felt it needed more character development, more show less tell, more magic, and more at stake.

The island is a character in itself, but I don’t know its motivations. Does it have a symbiotic or parasitic relationship with the people? I have so many questions about this aspect of the story, but they’d be spoilers. It felt like a major part of the novel was missing and I didn’t know how to feel about the main themes or the characters without knowing more about the island itself.

I didn’t fully know many of the characters’ motivations and found it difficult to feel for them because their actions didn’t always make sense. One example, the person on the island who was the main antagonist wasn’t creepy, intimidating, or conniving enough in action. We’re told they are, but not really shown it. I needed that character to be more dynamic for a core piece of the plot to come together. I couldn’t really picture what any of the characters looked like completely, nor did they have very complex personalities. I didn’t feel emotionally connected to them. The main romance felt lacking in emotion to me. It was stated strong emotions were felt by the characters, but I need to feel it when reading. This is an early copy of the novel, so if these things are further developed, I could see myself absolutely loving this book.

I was expecting a lot more magic and much sooner. I didn’t truly become interested in the story until 30% into the book. The storyline I was most drawn into let me down in the end with a conclusion that felt abrupt and unsatisfying.

Overall, I did enjoy this book because the prose is lovely and the plot has so much potential. I would definitely pick up a sequel if there were to be one. The setting and the magic of the island were my favorite aspects. If the characters were more developed, the story’s momentum picked up sooner, more magic was included, and we were shown instead of told a number of the details, I think I’d be swept away by this dark, romantic tale.

I would recommend this book. I found it a quick, enjoyable read, and I love the author. I would read anything by her and find it entertaining. I think Adrienne has a solid fanbase and all of her current fans would enjoy reading this.

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Body Work by Melissa Febos

Body Work by Melissa Febos

Body Work: The Radical Power of Personal Narrative by Melissa Febos
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my first time reading anything by Melissa Febos, and now I’ve vowed to become a Febos completist!

Body Work by Melissa Febos offers creative nonfiction essays about the vital importance of writing about trauma in a society that shames people into silence and the transformative internal work that goes along with reclaiming your story. We delve into how to write honestly about sex, how the process can make us more aware of the difference between internalized misogyny and our own truest desires, how to write about other people without destroying them or ourselves in the process, and some of the deeply spiritual aspects of writing.

While reading this book, I was also taking an online course in creative nonfiction. As a newbie, I felt frozen, staring at the blank page, questioning whether I could really write about trauma. I wanted to write about sex, queer sex, dissociation, growing up an unusually precocious and sensitive child, the pervasiveness of patriarchal oppression, and I needed to make it compelling and honest and to “excavate events for which I had been numb on the first go-around.” I saw myself in Febos, and seeing her thrive and heal and do so through writing gave me a framework to visualize what I want in my own creative life. Body Work found me at the exact moment I needed it most.

One of my favorite essays in Body Work is A Big Shitty Party: Six Parables of Writing About Other People. I feel relieved to have read this essay before publishing anything of note! Febos shared her own mistakes, regrets, and shifts in perspective with such insight that my own immaturity as a writer felt impossible to ignore. I had ideas for essays that had long been brewing that weren’t necessarily cruel nor untrue, but they could sting someone. Febos reminded me, “There are good essays that there are good reasons not to write,” but also, “…a difference in individual truths is not always a conflict. So long as we don’t try to speak for each other, there is room in our house for more than one story.

I’m always looking for books that illuminate the experience of gifted children (a term that’s not always appealing, and yet we don’t have any other highly recognizable terms for intellectually advanced kids and adults), as these children tend to have difficulty seeing themselves reflected in the world. She describes her heightened perceptivity, openness to spiritual experience, early advanced reading and writing abilities:

I wanted to be a writer very young because writer was the only role I could see myself occupying in society, the only one that might hold everything that I was: queer, overly emotional, burdensomely perceptive, reluctant to do any kind of work whose purpose was opaque to me, ravenous in ways that made me an outlier. It was an occupation that seemed to offer respite and relief, but also was connected to the sublime—it offered the gift of self-forgetting, a transcendence on the other side of which lay insight. I did not think to compare this with any description of religious experience, because I had not read any. Now, it seems obvious.

My copy of Body Work is so laden with highlights, it’s impossible to pick out the most profound or exciting quotes. I felt magnetically drawn into the writing world of Febos with each essay. This book is like a course in itself, and I’m sure I’ll read it dozens of times over the next few years both to learn and measure my learning and just to hear the voice of someone who actually gets it…someone who has done the work, knows the work never ends, and sees transformation and art as necessary to one another.

I recommend this book to writers of all experience levels, and to anyone who has ever considered telling their own story through memoir. If you consider yourself an intersectional feminist, queer, contemplative, and literary, this book is a dreamscape of inspiration.

Thank you, NetGalley, for this ARC!

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Dune by Frank Herbert

Dune by Frank Herbert

Dune by Frank Herbert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dune is the only thing that makes extreme dehydration and risking my life to develop a utilitarian relationship with a huge worm seem magical.

Frank Hebert’s world in Dune is genius, and I’d love to have met his wife (she inspired the Bene Gesserit race). The unique vocabulary of this world can be jarring at first, but my book had a glossary in the back, along with a map of Arrakis, and a history of their ecology and religion. I highly suggest getting a version of Dune that includes these appendices.

What gives me goosebumps about Dune are the powers of the Bene Gesserit. They are gifted spiritualists, trained to hone their observational skills, to quickly develop a breadth of understanding about any person, place, or thing through their powers of perception. This makes them Truthsayers, able to read intentions and see who lies, trained in the art of influence and control.

The way in which the planet’s main resource, the spice, and its cousin the poison (created by drowning a worm), enhances the powers of the mind adds to the depth of this storyline. Paul and his mother are able to access the deepest recesses of their own unconscious mind and incorporate the consciousness of their Bene Gessirt ancestors. The spice, and even more so – the poison, enables this awakening of consciousness. My personal passion is studying consciousness and intuition, so I will reap a great harvest of notes from this novel!

What I didn’t like was the evolution of Paul Atreides. In the beginning, it was stressed that he had an intrinsic sense of rightness and egalitarianism. Over time, as his abilities developed and he began to believe in his own myth, he seemed to lose these qualities. Seeing “the big picture” through space and time seemed to alter his personal values, to push them to the side so he could achieve the greatest vision of power possible. While his personal Self didn’t dissolve completely, I can see that as his eventual future as he learns to master the powers inherent to his terrible purpose.

Also, the ending was abrupt.

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Devil House by John Darnielle

Devil House by John Darnielle

Devil House by John Darnielle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“What happens when somebody tells a story that has real people in it? What happens to the story; what happens to the teller; what happens to the people?”

Devil House by John Darnielle is part crime novel, part novel about a writer, writing. The main character, Gage Chandler, narrates most of the chapters. We hear the stories of his most successful book, The White Witch, and his current book, Devil House, and some of my favorite bits are the chapters that discuss his writing style and methods.

“I try to honor the dead in my books. It’s one of the things, I hope, that sets me apart a little from my partners in true crime. When I read what others write about places where the unthinkable became real, the focus always seems off to me. Victims spend their entire time in the spotlight just waiting for the fatal blow, on a conveyer belt that leads to the guillotine: I pity their fates, but it’s hard to grieve for them, because the treadmill on which they ran feels specifically designed to kill them.”

The undercurrent running through this book is about the act of creating a story and honoring the subjects. How can we do that and create a story people want to read? How can story possibly convey a version of truth reverent of all the people involved?

Perspective and place color any story, making the deeper truths, beyond objective statements of fact, mirage-like. Every person can be seen in a million different ways through a million different eyes. So what is the truth we tell? Is anyone truly interested, or are their curiosities really expectations?

The character Seth explains this conundrum well, “‘They didn’t see me, and you don’t see me, and nobody’s ever going to see me except the people who actually know me outside of that whole story,’ he concludes – there’s no rancor in his voice, no anger. He’s just laying out the facts on the ground for me, making his case. ‘Unless you were actually inside, any story you end up telling will be some distortion.’”

All of Darnielle’s characters have depth and complexity, and I love when authors include gifted characters. Seth is noted as having a fantastic memory, vivid imagination, issues with focusing when something isn’t interesting to him but he has laser focus with his passion projects. He’s entrepreneurial and prefers small intimate conversations with one other person to crowds which can feel overwhelming. Gage Chandler says, “I get the feeling that there is no point in trying to hide things from Seth, who reads moments accurately while they’re still developing.”

I found the writing to be spectacular, but there were a number of repetitive details. Derrick getting ready for college, for example, seemed a detail I heard so much about, many pages devoted to his background that could have made their point much more quickly. “Enough with his college applications,” was one of my notes mid-way through the book. My larger curiosity kept me interested despite the many detours and sometimes draining detail.

While I sense the writer had a deeper purpose in all of his choices, one that maybe even mirrored the internal experience of Gage Chandler, I found myself frustrated a number of times, wanting to get back to the really good stuff. There was an entire chapter that seemed completely unrelated to the story other than to link the truths of the children in Devil House to classic archetypes and mythologies (another version of their personal truths that would not be told in any crime novel, except Darnielle’s). As I write this, I might be changing my stance on this chapter.

I expected this to be a horror story going into it, and while there were components of the crimes that were grotesque, it was not a horror novel.

“Even when we don’t find ourselves doing something wild, we sort out several selves along the line as we’re becoming the people we will be. It’s a constant, half-conscious process.”

This quote is talking about the character Angela, but I feel this applies to Chandler. He is half-consciously communicating with several layers of his Self while writing this book, integrating his experience. This is my favorite aspect of Devil House. It’s not just telling you the surface stories, it’s leading you through a half-conscious journey of growth and connections, which is in part possible due to the method in which the story is told. Really fascinating.

I would recommend this book. It was dense and not something to be devoured in one or two evenings, but it was so well-written and had layers of depth that kept me reflecting on human nature, story, and my own expectations while reading.

Other writers, or wannabe writers, would enjoy this read as would people who enjoy true crime or historical fiction, and philosophers who love a read about human nature.

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Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert

Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert

Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“We didn’t wonder where the magic came from, or why it worked. We never asked ourselves, Is this ours to take? We were three damp ducklings, green as leaves, believing with all our crooked hearts that we were the ones writing this story. Even as a dead woman’s book paved the road beneath our feet.”

Incredible gifts and monstrous secrets can both be passed down through generations. Even the most powerful spells can’t keep them buried forever.

Our Crooked Hearts brought back memories of the magic that filled the air during high school summers, a time when possibility and curiosity come together to unearth the depths of oneself, to show you who you really are and who you could become.

Ivy, a young woman on summer break from high school, feels like she’s on the outside of her own life searching for something, but she’s not sure what. She doesn’t quite know herself, and she’s never really understood her mother, Dana, either. Dana thinks she knows what’s best for Ivy, and she’ll do whatever it takes to keep her own troubled past hidden and to protect Ivy from an unseen world of death, regrets, and promises of power that come at a price.

A dark mystery ignites Ivy’s pursuit of answers to questions she can’t quite reach:

“There was a quiet place at the center of me. A pool of black water frozen to a sheen. It was made up of the questions it was easier not to ask, the mysteries I didn’t bother prodding.”

This YA fantasy is for those of us who can’t get enough of witches, covens, and paranormal powers. Our Crooked Hearts is about a magical legacy, secrets coming back to haunt those who keep them, love lost and found, hunger for power, and good intentions but poor decisions. There are badass LGBTQIA characters and women who take risks with every part of their hearts.

Melissa Albert always delivers on the suspense, dynamic characters with ambiguous morality – questioning and reflecting instead of blindly upholding expectations. Fascinating, layered characters, expert world-crafting, and vivid prose make this tale captivating from beginning to end. I would love to read more in this universe.

Multiple worlds exist at once in this story. We have the real world in real-time, we dip into the past, there’s an alternate magical realm and the world of the subconscious where memories and dreams exist. Nostalgia for decades past is woven into each of these worlds with mentions of “…Bugles and Pop-Tarts and Cool Ranch Doritos,” swatch watches, late-night Denny’s trips, “nails painted in chipped black Wet n Wild.”

One of my favorite features of this tale are Ivy’s dream abilities and how the author describes the world of lucid dreaming so accurately and vividly:

“I knew how it should go next, how it had always gone, when I was young and dreaming was my kingdom: the dark would unpack itself like a trunk of costume clothes, spreading out into colors as soft as watercolor on an eggshell, drifting like curtains in a breeze. I could walk forward and touch them, all these sea and sky colors you couldn’t name, that shifted in your mouth when you tried. An infinite number to walk through, into a dream.”

Even though Ivy’s internal and external reality is like a clouded gazing crystal revealing more questions than answers, her powerful intuition keeps calling her to the truth. Like many of Melissa Albert’s characters, Ivy is gifted with amazing abilities but still struggles to trust herself, giving the reader something to identify with – this universal feeling that we know what to do and yet we fear we could be wrong.

Sometimes you want to erase what you think will cause your loved ones pain, but you can’t correct your mistakes by controlling someone else’s choices. People can’t be saved from themselves. We can only stand together, lend power to one another, and make each choice as you’re presented with options. Maybe those choices won’t be the best, but they’ll be yours.

In the next book of this series (that’s just me putting a wish out into the world for 2022!), I’d love to dive into the worlds of Fee and Billy. These two characters need more air time. I’d love to see Billy’s depth and imperfections. Fee is just so fascinating. I want to hear more about her inner world. I’d also like to explore the in-between places in this universe – dream landscapes, places between life and death. More, more, more!

I would enthusiastically recommend this book to my kindred fantasy, magic, and witch lovers.

If you enjoy The Magicians by Lev Grossman, the movie The Craft, the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the books Sorrowland, The Chosen and the Beautiful, A Deadly Education, or Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood, you will LOVE Our Crooked Hearts.

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