Tuesday, April 10, 2018

REVIEW: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

Title: The Immortalists
Author: Chloe Benjamin
Genre: Literary/Magic Realism Fiction
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Release Date: January 9, 2018
Acquired: Print copy sent by publisher
Goodreads: ADD

If you were told the date of your death, how would it shape your present?

It's 1969 in New York City's Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

Their prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in '80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11, hoping to control fate; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

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What if you knew the exact day that you would cease to exist? It was literally the only question I asked myself as I read The Immortalist. It was literally the only question I asked anyone else who cared to answer. So enthralled was I with the concept of a book where it's characters have 'found out', at an extremely young and fragile age, just how long they were to be on the earth. I truly had no expectations beyond the first prophetic chapter. I had no idea where I expected, or even wanted, the author to take the storyline. Where she took it, however, was not somewhere I was consistently following.

Four Gold siblings. Simon, Klara, Daniel and Varya Gold. A secret shared around the town. A trip to a woman who claimed to be able to tell you the exact date of your death. What follows is a chapter dedicated to each of the four (now adult) children during the months/years leading up their predicted date. Simon and Klara have left home in pursuit of an unrestrained life and dreams come true, while Daniel and Varya chose a more practical and seemingly solid path. Will the prophecy be true? How deep-rooted is our fear of death? How strong is our will to survive? The Immortalists is an exploration of self under duress, under the ultimate and most final kind of pressures.

Chloe Benjamin's writing is tremendously readable and felt true to each era she attempted. If I had to choose a life chapter(s) I enjoyed the most, it would probably be Simon or Klaras. It was there I felt like the truest struggle existed. I felt the most emotion in the way these two internalized their fear, in their ability to simultaneously worry and not worry about their 'fate'. It was the greatest showcase of personality and flawed character. Of mental debilitation and realistic reactions to one's environment. I didn't, and couldn't, enjoy Daniel and Varya's chapters, simply because I couldn't relate to their decisions or eccentricities. I almost felt like I was reading two different books once I got to the halfway point.

For what it was obviously highlighting, The Immortalists was successful in being a novel about living to live vs. living to die. I appreciated the way the author seemed to build stories around four final dates, instead of the other way around. This novel could have been very different one if those prophetic days were revealed very early on and repeated throughout. I just wish it ended with a more powerful conclusion. 


Read if you like:  
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

Key themes: 
loss, death, family, mental illness, magic realism




Challenges: 

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credit: goodreads.com (author page)


Chloe Benjamin is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Immortalists, a #1 Indie Next Pick, #1 Library Reads pick, Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection, Amazon Best Book of the Month, and an iBooks Favorite.

Her first novel, The Anatomy of Dreams, received the Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award and was long-listed for the 2014 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize.

Her work has been translated into twenty-eight languages. Originally from San Francisco, CA, Chloe is a graduate of Vassar College and the M.F.A. in fiction at the University of Wisconsin. She lives with her husband in Madison, WI.


CONTACT LINKS 
Goodreads - Twitter - Instagram - Website

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A huge thank-you to Penguin Books for providing a hardcopy of this book for review

Thursday, April 5, 2018

REVIEW: The Beauty that Remains by Ashley Woodfolk

Title: The Beauty that Remains
Author: Ashley Woodfolk
Genre: YA Contemporary/LGTBQ
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release Date: March 6, 2018
Acquired: Print copy sent by publisher
Goodreads: ADD

Music brought Autumn, Shay, and Logan together. Death wants to tear them apart.

Autumn always knew exactly who she was—a talented artist and a loyal friend. Shay was defined by two things: her bond with her twin sister, Sasha, and her love of music. And Logan always turned to writing love songs when his love life was a little less than perfect.

But when tragedy strikes each of them, somehow music is no longer enough. Now Logan can’t stop watching vlogs of his dead ex-boyfriend. Shay is a music blogger struggling to keep it together. And Autumn sends messages that she knows can never be answered.

Despite the odds, one band's music will reunite them and prove that after grief, beauty thrives in the people left behind.

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Grief. Like a live, writhing entity in your gut. Once you've experienced it for yourself, you know it's near impossible to describe what it felt like. Impossible to use any existing words to relay the pain that carved irreparable wounds onto your entire being. Therefore, you know that if someone decided to write a book dedicated to grief, that this someone had to have survived this tidal wave of suffering. Found avenues that led to some kind of healing. The Beauty that Remains felt like a genuine attempt at capturing the many ways people begin to heal after loss. I just had a hard time inserting myself into the sorrow-I just couldn't make it past the surface level of that pain.

Three people have died. In three very different ways. This book follows the three people closest to them who must now learn to exist in a world void of their presence. We follow Autumn, who lost a best friend, Logan, who lost a lover, and Shay, who lost her twin sister. 

Writing multiple perspective narratives is surely a feat for a seasoned author, nevermind a debut one, so I admire Ashley Woodfolk for her choice. Each character, remaining and deceased, was obviously written to be diverse in personality, which for me, didn't come across as loudly as the diversity of their ethnic backgrounds, which was DELIRIOUSLY refreshing. For the majority of the novel, I felt like the characters were interchangeable when it came to their quirks, flaws, and dialogue. There were some individual hobbies, yes, but with music being the focal point of all of their lives (and one specific band at that), it was harder to separate each of them in my mind, even after scenes of joint interaction.

Most importantly, my empathy, my sympathy, and my real tears were kept closely locked away for the entirety of the novel. I never completely felt overwhelmed by Autumn's moments of unfiltered grief, or Shay's immeasurable longing for what used to be, or Logan's rage at an unjust situation. I just couldn't bring myself to care about the people that use to be a part of their world, and then just wasn't anymore. There was emotion spewing out by the bucketloads, but the deceased just never felt real enough to me. Woodfolk's writing was admirable for a debut, but I am looking forward to reading a narrative from her that weighs less on the subject matter scale, something that wasn't trying to evoke all this emotion, all at once.


Read if you like:  
Thirteen Reasons by Jay Asher
Looking for Alaska by John Green

Key themes: 
loss, death, friendship, love, family, music



Challenges: 

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credit: www.ashleywoodfolk.com/about


Cshley Woodfolk graduated from Rutgers University with a BA in English and her life-long love of books led her straight to the publishing industry. She's a member of the CBC Diversity Committee and markets books for children and teens. In her abundance of "spare" time, she writes contemporary YA. Indie movies, beer, books, and burgers are a few of her favorite things. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and pit bull puppy, Winnie. THE BEAUTY THAT REMAINS is her debut novel.





CONTACT LINKS 
Website - Twitter - Tumblr - IG - Pinterest

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A huge thank-you to Penguin Books for providing a hardcopy of this book for review

Monday, April 2, 2018

REVIEW: I Am I Am I Am by Maggie O'Farrell

Title: I Am, I Am, I Am
Author: Maggie O'Farrell
Genre: Memoir
Publisher: Knopf (PenguinRandomHouse)
Release Date: February 6, 2018
Acquired: Print copy sent by publisher
Goodreads: ADD

We are never closer to life than when we brush up against the possibility of death.

I Am, I Am, I Am is Maggie O'Farrell's astonishing memoir of the near-death experiences that have punctuated and defined her life. The childhood illness that left her bedridden for a year, which she was not expected to survive. A teenage yearning to escape that nearly ended in disaster. An encounter with a disturbed man on a remote path. And, most terrifying of all, an ongoing, daily struggle to protect her daughter--for whom this book was written--from a condition that leaves her unimaginably vulnerable to life's myriad dangers.

Seventeen discrete encounters with Maggie at different ages, in different locations, reveal a whole life in a series of tense, visceral snapshots. In taut prose that vibrates with electricity and restrained emotion, O'Farrell captures the perils running just beneath the surface, and illuminates the preciousness, beauty, and mysteries of life itself.

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Here's what happens when you read a title of a book, here's what I still do all of these reading years later: I judge. I form preconceived notions. I read the title of this memoir and I expected each story to be told essay-style, to simply be the how, when and where of each event. What I didn't expect was the incredibly and breathtakingly poetic depiction of fear, of trauma, and of a single life coming close to it's final seconds multiple times over. 

Maggie O'Farrell isn't a thrill seeker, by any traditional sense of the title. She was diagnosed, at a very young age, with a viral infection that dictated the way she would function for the rest of her life. Because of this, life for Maggie became days that involved pushing the envelope, just a little bit more than others would. Thus the reason(s) for this book was born. In I Am I Am I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death, Maggie recounts 17 (well, technically 16) moments in her existence (so far), that have almost ended in her demise. Not every single memory was a level 10 on the danger scale, but nonetheless deserving of a spot in this memoir. I thought the added touch of beginning each new story with the name (and visual) of the body part affected within was fantastically creative.

Literally all I thought about while reading this book was how immediately I could get my hands on Maggie's fiction. I thought to myself, "if her non-fiction, her REAL LIFE, can tear open my heart and spill it's entire contents, I cannot even begin to fathom what her fiction will do to me". I Am I Am I Am was written with an intent to pierce, it was written with a hand that felt every emotion so viscerally that it would have been an injustice to deliver it to readers using anything BUT a beautifully lyrical prose.

I couldn't stop reading about Maggie's life, I couldn't find enough emotion in me to express the disbelief, the awe, and the eventual relief that she survived. That she's still surviving despite the universe's every attempt to make it not so. I Am I Am I Am will change the moments you spend reflecting on your life, and it will definitely change the way you start living it going forward.


Read if you liked:  
Breathe: A Memoir of Motherhood, Grief, and Family Conflict by Kelly Kittell
fiction by Jodi Picoult, Kelly Braffet, or Lisa O'Donnell

Key themes: 
loss, family, near-death experiences, trauma, health




Challenges: 

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credit: goodreads.com (author page)

Maggie O'Farrell is the author of seven novels, After You'd Gone, My Lover's Lover, The Distance Between Us, which won a Somerset Maugham Award, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, The Hand that First Held Mine, which won the 2010 Costa Novel Award, Instructions for a Heatwave, which was shortlisted for the 2013 Costa Novel Award, This Must Be The Place and I Am I Am I Am. She lives in Edinburgh.



CONTACT LINKS 
Goodreads - Facebook - Website

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A huge thank-you to Penguin Books for providing a hardcopy of this book for review