Coming up to Christmas, and with long dark days drawing in, there’s even more of a good excuse to curl up with a good book…
The Witch of Little Italy, by Suzanne Palmieri
Logline: When artist Eleanor finds out she’s pregnant to her abusive college boyfriend, her distant mother refuses to help her, so she decides to return to a family she hardly remembers, and to the magic and mystery that surrounds them. But they also hold the keys to some dark secrets, like why Eleanor can’t remember a thing before she was ten years old.
I have to say, this book was disappointing. I was kind of drawn to it by the magical elements, because I love whimsy and magic realism in books, and it has a good reputation online, but it lacks something. Possibly suspense. At no point did I really feel like there was much at stake in this book, and the family secrets that were revealed were pretty mundane. I think there’s a basic lack of understanding of human nature, as the bad guy, Cooper, doesn’t seem psychologically real as a man who beats his girlfriend, and it never really feels like a threat that he might find her and do her or her family harm. The new love interest, or old flame really, is completely immersed in her to the point of having very little personality or even masculinity about him, and quickly accepts her unborn child. There isn’t a lot of talk about the future and of the biological fathers place in it’s life, or how that might come back to haunt the child. That said, there were things I rather enjoyed about it all, they just seemed a bit recycled and watered down. The apartment building the family occupies, the magical garden, the three older women who perform magic, and the sense of destiny and discovery were all quite fun. Eleanor herself as the lead isn’t bad, though her transformation seems to be fairly smooth from an awkward girl to her magical maturity and confidence. You can find better books in this kind of genre, (Chocolat or Alice Hoffman books come to mind) but if you like your books lite, then you could do a lot worse than this.
Waiting To Exhale by Terry McMillan
Logline: The lives of four women in the 90’s intersect as they try to balance their lives and find real love.
This book sparkles. I found myself laughing out loud several times, or sighing under my breath. It’s funny, because in a way the book doesn’t have a really strong beginning/middle/end type structure. It’s more about flowing through the lives of the four women it revolves around, and watching them learn by going through things, making mistakes and trying to grow, but this really works as a format, as the story flows from one woman’s story to the next, and from first person narrative to second person, in a really natural way. This book just works, it’s about normal life and dealing with everyday problems, mostly to do with relationships, career and money, but also how those things shape you and make you see yourself as a person. It’s also got this lovely core of female friendship, with four women who berate each other, boss each other and nurture each other. Something about the characters feels so real, they feel real, their actions and thought processes make sense, and you want to see things work out for them. And because it was written in the 90’s, the references to music and culture are really nostalgic. If you haven’t read anything by Terry McMillan, you’re really missing out, she’s such a wonderful writer, and this might be a good place to start to get into her books.
The Witches of East End by Melissa De La Cruz
Logline: Bookish Ingrid, sparkling Freya and their homely mother Joanna live quiet lives in the sleepy town of New Hampton, bound by an age old edict to deny their witchy natures and not practice magic. But when strange deaths and illnesses occur in the sleepy town the three women might have to break the rules to save their friends.
I guess this kind of literature isn’t for everyone, but I really enjoy a good book about witches. So this is the second one I’m reviewing this month, and this one is better than the previous one. De La Cruz is venturing here for the first time into adult fiction, and some characters from her previous works appear as sort of guest cameos in a way that I really like. You feel like you’re entering an established world, and ok, some of it is all a bit soap opera-ish, but it never descends into trash or stupidity. I like that you’re on an adventure with these three women, and the plot developes with each chapter, who all have a unique voice and perspective, and are often very funny too. The plots ticks along and reveals things, but you don’t guess everything before the author gets around to revealing it, and the goings on in the town are equally dark and light. It’s not using cheap sensationalism to keep you interested, it lets the characters and the story do that. It’s a lot of fun. I have the next book in the series in my basket already, on Amazon…
The Dead Women of Juarez by Sam Hawken
Logline: In Juarez, Mexico, over 5oo women have gone missing, some of their bodies are never found. Some people will not stop in their quest to find the truth and stop the violence, including Kelly’s sometime girlfriend, Paloma, and an ageing cop called Sevilla.
A complete change of pace, and not for the faint-hearted, this book is moving, intelligent and fast. It’s based around the women who go missing in Juarez and the fact that the UN are distracted from this by the rise in drug related crimes, though the characters portrayed are fictional. The authors background as a historian is put to good use here, with his attention to detail, creating a mood and sense of place through simple, evocative phrasing. You are drawn in to the characters lives gently, as they are slowly revealed to us, though there is a distinct lack of gentleness in the lives of the occupants of Juarez, where the lines between rich and poor are so clearly drawn. Because of this, this book is a little confronting, though never preachy. It’s a violent world down in Mexico, and author does not shy away from this, nor does he sensationalise the events at all, which gives the reader the full impact of the truth behind the narrative.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Genre: Coming Of Age
Logline: In the year 1941, no marigolds would grow anywhere in the town, where two sisters try to comprehend the tragic life of one of their school mates, Pecola, a black girl who wishes for blue eyes.
Written by the author of the bestselling book Beloved, this very short novel was written in the 60’s by Toni Morrison who wanted to speak about the way in which beauty was considered to be held only by the dominant race. It’s quite a poetic read, and ultimately very moving, as it shifts perspective and tone from character to character as the story unfolds. It’s a very ‘literary’ choice, but one that works quite well. Morrison’s idea was to make the reader complicit in the ostracism of the little girl Percola, by drawing the reader into the way that others see and feel about her, as well as how she feels about herself. It is ultimately a very sad book, and it really bothers me that people might not see that black is beautiful, or, more importantly, that those people might be black women. It’s a thought provoking read, and this edition has a short piece at the end written by the author about her own artistic choices, which is quite interesting reading too.
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Genre: Fairy tale/Drama
Logline: In 1920’s Alaska, an ageing, childless couple live a small, sad life until the day they make a tiny snow girl. When they start to see a girl in the woods around their property, the mystery begins.
This is the debut novel by this author, and I’ll be looking out for other stories in future. There’s something about the story that is powerful, mysterious and also mundane, real. It’s a lovely juxtaposition of the fairy tale elements with the practical and almost modern. I liked hearing about the landscape and the life of farmers in Alaska at that time. I liked the main characters, the older couple, and the way they were with each other, and their developing relationship with their neighbours. The Snow Child herself is really beautifully realised, a lovely, mysterious force of nature. The way the story unfolds draws you in, keeps you wondering what will happen, and thoroughly enjoying the journey.