#BookReview: Dear Edna Sloane by Amy Shearn

#BookReview: Dear Edna Sloane by Amy ShearnDear Edna Sloane by Amy Shearn
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: epistolary novels, literary fiction
Pages: 250
Published by Red Hen Press on April 30, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

Edna Sloane was a promising author at the top of her game. Her debut novel was an instant classic and commercial success, vaulting her into the heady echelons of the 1980s New York City lit scene. Then she disappeared and was largely forgotten. Decades later, Seth Edwards is an aspiring writer and editor who feels he’s done all the right things to achieve literary success, but despairs that his dream will be forever out of reach. He becomes obsessed with the idea that if he can rediscover Sloane, it will make his career. His search for her leads to unexpected places and connections, and the epistolary correspondence that ensues makes up this book, a novel infused with insights and meditations about what our cultural obsession with the "next big thing" does to literature, and what it means to be a creative person in the world.

My Review:

There are plenty of variations on the saying that “Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed.” (I’ve always thought this was Hemingway, but a bit of Google-Fu turns up an earlier attribution to sports writer “Red” Smith in 1949.

But the story in this book has things a bit differently – at least from a certain literary point of view.

Writ-ING is actually easy, full stop. Lots of people do it every day in one form or another. We may not write letters much anymore, but we “tweet” tweets – or we did when it was called ‘Twitter’. Do people now ‘ex’ on X? (Just those types of digressions are common in the correspondence that makes up the bulk of this epistolary novel.)

Whatever tweets are called these days, we also write emails, memos and reports, caption Facebook and Instagram posts and text each other incessantly. It’s all writ-ING. Which doesn’t mean that any of it is either good or effective – just that it happens a lot more than we think it does.

But we’re not writ-ERS, and that difference is a big part of what this book is exploring.

Once upon a time in the 1980s, Edna Sloane was a young WRITER, a debut novelist, a literary wunderkind, whose first novel, An Infinity of Traces, took the book world by storm and became an instant classic.

Then she disappeared from the scene – at least the literary scene. The speculation was endless – even without social media as we know it today. Whether Edna Sloane was murdered, kidnapped, walked away on her own recognizance or got locked up in an institution of one kind or another, the woman was nowhere to be found.

Agatha Christie famously disappeared in 1926 but she was found in a spa hotel two weeks later. Edna Sloane wasn’t found at all until a junior editor at an online literary magazine tracked her down in 2017.

Dear Edna Sloane, the book, is the cumulated correspondence between the titular novelist, now nearing 60, and Seth Edwards, the young would-be writer who pretends he’s pursuing the elusive Sloane for an article to save his job. What he’s really doing is pouring out all of his own angst about just how difficult it is to be a WRITER no matter how desperately he tries to hold onto his dream.

And Edna answers. Not with platitudes, but with truth – the kind of truths that her own novel was so rightfully famous for. Seth’s quest for Edna brings Edna back into the world – even as it echoes the plot of her famous novel and pushes him out of it.

Escape Rating B-: There’s a life imitates art imitates life aspect to this story that draws the reader in more than one might expect – certainly more than this reader expected. At the same time, it is also very, ‘lit-ficcy’ in that there’s not a lot of action but there is a ton of angst.

That it doesn’t wallow in itself or its angst – in other words, that it goes about its business without getting carried away endlessly – makes it a relatively short bit of literary fiction, and the quest to find Edna Sloane carries the story along even though the events that take place around it fade into the background more than a bit – much as Seth does in the end.

What Seth’s side of the correspondence brings to the table – or screen – is his desperation to hang onto a dream that is slipping away. Seth is caught on the horns of the dilemma about the circus worker stuck with the job of cleaning up elephant poop who won’t leave because he’d have to give up show business.

Edna, on the other hand, brings back the heady, glorious days of the literary scene in the 1980s, even as she puts perspective on just how naive and innocent she was in her 20s – just as Seth is now. She also stands at the crossroads of her own dilemmas. Then, it was about balancing so-called ‘real life’ with her burning need to write – and being forced to choose and adopt a persona that would get her through the day and get the work of living done.

As well as discovering that she could either be feted for the work or do the work when it came to writing, but not both. Writing was easy, but being a writer in the sense of being part of the star-making machinery and finding a way to support herself as a writer was damn hard and in the end she set it aside even if that was not what she planned or desired.

And yes, there’s plenty about the emotional labor of women in that part of her life but it’s not the whole of the thing at all.

Still, Edna needs her writing to reconcile her past – and even more so the effect of her father’s past as a Survivor (of Auschwitz) – whether she’s feted or celebrated for it or not. So she’s never really stopped, even when it seemed like she really, truly, seriously had stopped. She stopped being ‘a writer’ but that vein was still open so she never stopped writing after all.

Grade A #BookReview: A Short Walk Through a Wide World by Douglas Westerbeke

Grade A #BookReview: A Short Walk Through a Wide World by Douglas WesterbekeA Short Walk Through a Wide World by Douglas Westerbeke
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fantasy, magical realism, literary fiction
Pages: 399
Published by Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster on April 2, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue meets Life of Pi in this dazzlingly epic debut that charts the incredible, adventurous life of one woman as she journeys the globe trying to outrun a mysterious curse that will destroy her if she stops moving.
Paris, 1885: Aubry Tourvel, a spoiled and stubborn nine-year-old girl, comes across a wooden puzzle ball on her walk home from school. She tosses it over the fence, only to find it in her backpack that evening. Days later, at the family dinner table, she starts to bleed to death.
When medical treatment only makes her worse, she flees to the outskirts of the city, where she realizes that it is this very act of movement that keeps her alive. So begins her lifelong journey on the run from her condition, which won’t allow her to stay anywhere for longer than a few days nor return to a place where she’s already been.
From the scorched dunes of the Calashino Sand Sea to the snow-packed peaks of the Himalayas; from a bottomless well in a Parisian courtyard, to the shelves of an infinite underground library, we follow Aubry as she learns what it takes to survive and ultimately, to truly live. But the longer Aubry wanders and the more desperate she is to share her life with others, the clearer it becomes that the world she travels through may not be quite the same as everyone else’s...
Fiercely independent and hopeful, yet full of longing, Aubry Tourvel is an unforgettable character fighting her way through a world of wonders to find a place she can call home. A spellbinding and inspiring story about discovering meaning in a life that seems otherwise impossible, A Short Walk Through a Wide World reminds us that it’s not the destination, but rather the journey—no matter how long it lasts—that makes us who we are.

My Review:

The title is only half right. The world that Aubry Tourvel walks through is indeed wide, but her walk is far, far from short – especially from her own perspective.

That walk begins in 1885, when Aubry is all of 9 years old, the protected and spoiled youngest child of middle-class parents in Paris, France. Whether her condition is caused by a mysterious puzzle ball, her unwillingness to sacrifice it, or merely the whims of fate is never 100% certain – and it doesn’t need to be.

However the malady, or perhaps curse is a better term, was visited upon her, nevertheless one evening Aubry sits down at the dinner table and starts bleeding from seemingly every orifice while going into convulsions that wrack her entire body.

Medical science has neither diagnosis nor cure. All Aubry has to go by, on, for, and with, is her meager experience that when she changes location she immediately starts to heal, but when she stays in the same place for too long, the blood starts dripping out of her nose and her condition takes over.

Fast, hard and with extreme pain in every limb.

So Aubry is off, and so is the story. At first, with her whole family, moving from hôtel to hôtel in the suburbs of Paris, but then, as she runs out of places she hasn’t been yet, out into the countryside with her mother, Aubry’s knowledge of her mother’s utter exhaustion and total depression, and her awareness of her family’s dwindling finances.

Aubry runs away and leaves her mother behind. She’s all alone, walking that wide, wide world, at the age of twelve.

This is her story. It’s not exactly an adventure, although there are certainly adventures within it. It’s absolutely a story about the journey and not the destination, because as far as Aubry can discover, the only destination is death.

But along the way, for as many steps and as much time as Aubry has, there’s an ever-changing, always moving, and utterly fascinating life.

Escape Rating A: If you could put Journey to the Center of the Earth and Around the World in 80 Days, both by Jules Verne and both still fairly new when Aubry begins her walk, into a book blender, you’d get at least the basic broth of Aubry’s long journey. A broth spiced with a bit of Nnedi Okorafor’s Remote Control.

The difference is that both of those classic stories are ‘there and back again’ adventures. The protagonists set out with every expectation that they will return home at the end, more or less safe and sound.

Aubry can neither go home, nor can she make a new one. She’s a human turtle, carrying her home on her back. And it’s HARD. It’s a hardness that both does and does not define her, and that’s what makes her journey so compelling to follow.

On the one hand, she has to be as self-sufficient as possible, because she knows that she will often be utterly alone, not because she wants to be, but because she travels through many of the empty places of the world, frequently on paths that no one else can see. At the same time, she learns that when she does find companions, the only thing she has to trade is her ability to use her self-sufficiency to help others.

But what keeps the reader with her is the emotional journey. She goes from spoiled to über capable. She goes from being done for to doing for others when possible and whatever is necessary to survive all the time.

And she goes from child to young woman to middle-aged and to elderly – one step at a time and always with the monkey of her condition on her back. She makes friends and loses them and drinks from all the springs of the world – but only to the shallowness of a teaspoon.

She samples but never stays. And we’re right there with her.

This is a story that grabbed me from the first page with the sheer puzzle of it. The idea of her endless journey, and even more fascinating still, the progress of it in a world where all the corners had not yet been filled in.

And that it was a woman’s journey and not a man’s. There were (and are) plenty of such journeys undertaken by men in fiction. When Aubry sets out, it was the age of such stories, often written by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. Their tales often told stories of ‘big’ adventures of one sort or another.

Instead, Aubry’s journey is long rather than ‘big’. She’s not trying to become famous – although she does. She’s trying to survive and that gives her story a much different flavor and leads it towards a more authentic conclusion. In the end, as much as we may envy her ability to pick up stakes and travel, to make herself comfortable wherever she goes, we feel for her inability to ever take a break from it.

So, if you’re ever feeling like home is a bit too comfortable to ever leave, take A Short Walk Through a Wide World with Aubry Tourvel and travel by armchair with gratitude for the ability to take that walk with her without having to leave everything behind, and see the world from the perspective of someone else’s aching feet.

#BookReview: Welcome to the Hyunam-dong Bookshop by Hwang Bo-Reum translated by Shanna Tan

#BookReview: Welcome to the Hyunam-dong Bookshop by Hwang Bo-Reum translated by Shanna TanWelcome to the Hyunam-Dong Bookshop by Hwang Bo-reum, Shanna Tan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: books and reading, literary fiction, world literature
Pages: 320
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing on February 20, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

The Korean smash hit available for the first time in English, a slice-of-life novel for readers of Matt Haig's The Midnight Library and Gabrielle Zevin's The Storied Life of AJ Fikry.
Yeongju is burned out. With her high-flying career, demanding marriage, and busy life in Seoul, she knows she should feel successful, but all she feels is drained. Yet an abandoned dream nags at her, and in a leap of faith, she leaves her old life behind. Quitting her job and divorcing her husband, Yeongju moves to a small residential neighborhood outside the city, where she opens the Hyunam-dong Bookshop.
For the first few months, all Yeongju does is cry, deterring visitors. But the long hours in the shop give her time to mull over what makes a good bookseller and store, and as she starts to read hungrily, host author events, and develop her own bookselling philosophy, she begins to ease into her new setting. Surrounded by friends, writers, and the books that connect them all, she finds her new story as the Hyunam-dong Bookshop transforms into an inviting space for lost souls to rest, heal, and remember that it's never too late to scrap the plot and start again.

My Review:

The title of the book makes the point of the story, as 30something, utterly stressed out Yeongju transforms herself into an independent bookstore owner in a close-knit but off the beaten path community.

Just as her high-pressure job and her equally pressured marriage once consumed Yeongju – sending her into a spiral of depression – opening the bookstore and returning to her childhood love of reading starts out as the antidote to those feelings.

Not that either the reader nor her concerned customers are entirely aware of that at first. We’re all aware of her depression, as her initial months of opening the store consist of her sitting on a stool inside the store with tears running down her face.

She’s clearly hit bottom in a whole lot of ways, but neither the reader nor her potential customers know precisely why. Not that her customers necessarily should, at least not until she’s willing to tell someone, but she’s drowning so hard that she’s closed off her internal life to the reader as well.

Which is similar in a lot of ways to the opening of the utterly charming and absolutely marvelous Days at the Morisaki Bookshop – with one critical difference. The reader gets a much more thorough picture of that protagonist, Takako, and her internal, utterly depressed, life because even though Takako isn’t talking much her mother and her uncle talk at her, to her, and about her enough for the reader to see inside her slough of despond and start to feel for her even as she starts to pull herself out.

At first, we know very little of what brought Yeongju to the bookshop or much of why she’s sitting in the midst of it weeping. But we do see the bookshop-owning butterfly emerge from her dark and tattered cocoon to take stock of the life she actually has and start looking towards its sustainability – for herself and for the people who come to see her bookshop as part of the warp and weft of their lives as much as she does.

And as Yeongju invests herself in welcoming others to the Hyunam-dong Bookshop, we finally begin to see glimpses of what drives her, what occasionally drives her back into her shell of depression, and the way that once she begins reaching out to others, they all begin to sustain each other.

Escape Rating C: I fell in love with both last week’s The Kamogawa Food Detectives and Days at the Morisaki Bookshop and picked this up hoping for something similar – or even in a sweet spot in between the two.

Sadly, that was not to be.

As much as I love books about books and reading, especially stories about bookstores and bookstore owners, I had a hard time getting into this one. It took me a while – entirely too long for the sake of my own personal reading schedule, in fact – to figure out that what was missing here that both of those books I hoped it would be a readalike for had was a central character or characters to carry the story.

Not that Yeongju isn’t there, but, well, for the first half of the book she really isn’t all there. She’s going through the motions, but we don’t see inside her nearly enough to be certain about what has brought her to that initial, depressing pass or get truly invested in how she gets herself out.

As she comes back to herself, and the bookshop reaches out to its community and the wider world as a result, we do start getting glimpses into what brings the other characters in the story to become part of the shop and the stories within, but Yeongju uses the increasing busy-ness of the shop and the life she has focused around it as a way of not looking back at what brought her there in the first place.

In the end, this was okay but not what I was hoping for. It has some of the elements of the two books that brought me here, that journey from depression to healing through the power of books and reading and community that is at the heart of Days at the Morisaki Bookshop and the loosely linked slices of life stories of The Kamogawa Food Detectives, but it doesn’t have the strong, central linchpin character to carry the book as a whole the way that both of those books did.

Which leaves me looking forward that much more and harder to the follow-up to Days at the Morisaki Bookshop, titled More Days at the Morisaki Bookshop, coming in July. Because I do, still, very much, love books about books and reading and the transformative power of the two and have high hopes that the second book in that series will hit the same sweet spot as the first.

#BookReview Wild and Distant Seas by Tara Karr Roberts

#BookReview Wild and Distant Seas by Tara Karr RobertsWild and Distant Seas by Tara Karr Roberts
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: historical fantasy, historical fiction, literary fiction, magical realism
Pages: 304
Published by W. W. Norton & Company on January 2, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

A gorgeous debut, laced through with magic, following four generations of women as they seek to chart their own futures. Evangeline Hussey’s husband is dead―lost at sea―and she has only managed to hold on to his Nantucket inn by employing a curious gift to glimpse and re-form the recent memories of those around her. One night, an idealistic sailor appears on her doorstep asking her to call him Ishmael, and her careful illusion begins to fracture. He soon sails away with Ahab to hunt an infamous white whale, and Evangeline is left to forge a life from the pieces that remain.
Her choices ripple through generations, across continents, and into the depths of the sea, in a narrative that follows Evangeline and her descendants from mid-nineteenth century Nantucket to Boston, Brazil, Florence, and Idaho. Moving, beautifully written, and elegantly conceived, Wild and Distant Seas takes Moby-Dick as its starting point, but Tara Karr Roberts brings four remarkable women to life in a spellbinding epic all her own.

My Review:

He said “Call me Ishmael” – and she did. But that is not where this distaff perspective on Moby-Dick begins.

It begins with Evangeline Hussey reinventing herself for the second time. The first time was when she ran away from a past we never see and found herself on Nantucket Island as the whaling industry was nearing the end of its heyday. She marries an innkeeper and intends to settle down for the rest of her life making chowder.

But Evangeline has a gift. She has just a bit of magic, a spark that allows her to do two things she’s going to rely on and fight against in the years to come. She can see through the eyes of people she knows, and she can make people believe and even DO what she wants. Through her gift, she sees that her husband’s small boat has capsized and he has drowned at sea, but she enforces the belief among the townspeople that he is just away on a business trip and will be back sooner or later.

It’s a lie she continually reinforces because she knows that his family – who have lived in Nantucket for generations – mightily disapprove of her and her marriage, and that they will take the inn away from her if they can. It’s the only home she knows and she can’t let that happen, so she lies and MAKES people believe it – for so many years that the lie reinforces itself.

Until Ishmael and Queequeg arrive at her Try Pots Inn, just before they sign up for Captain Ahad’s ill-omened and ultimately ill-fated voyage on the cursed Pequod. The story that Ishmael eventually tells in Moby-Dick.

But before the Pequod set sail, Ishmael and Evangeline had a brief dalliance that resulted in a child. A daughter born with no knowledge of her father but an even greater portion of her mother’s gifts.

Wild and Distant Seas is the story of Evangeline’s legacy, both her gifts and the endless pursuit of the missing Ishmael that she bequeathed to her daughter, her granddaughter, and even her great-granddaughter as they journey endlessly and fruitlessly, until at last one of them finally finds her way home.

Escape Rating B: Wild and Distant Seas is a story that is constantly in dialog with its predecessor, Moby-Dick. At points it hews close, and at others it is at more than a bit of a remove, but the great white whale is always swimming in the background.

And this is the point where I confess that I never read the damn thing. Yes, I know it’s considered to be one of the ‘Great American Novels’ and a literary classic, etc., etc., etc., but I was never forced to read it in high school and had no inclination afterward. It’s somewhere between a complete sausage fest and a boys’ own adventure (even if in the same way that Lord of the Flies is a boys’ own adventure) and the American literary canon is just full of those.

So part of my interest in Wild and Distant Seas was that it gives a distaff perspective on a story that otherwise doesn’t have a female perspective in it AT ALL. Considering how many men never came home from the whaling industry, a story about what happened after that was itself an interesting possibility for historical fiction, even if this book also has a bit of a literary fiction vibe to it.

What makes the story work is that it is absolutely NOT Ishmael’s story, as the original was. Instead, it’s the story of his absence and the lengths that absence drives Evangeline and her descendants to in pursuit of the truth of their origins. He’s a gaping hole in each of their histories that they are all trying to fill.

As each of the women in Evangeline’s line tell their stories, the other thread that links them is their use, misuse and abuse of the gift that they’ve inherited from her. Each of them is capable of bending others to their will, none of them are able to resist the impulse to use that power, and all of them ultimately realize that their gift has cost more than they’ve ever gained from it, which brings them, at last, back to their point of origin.

But the way each of their stories is told is through their first person perspective, with the torch of story passing from one woman to another when they each first use their gift, making each of their stories about the price they pay for that use.

Which, oddly enough, brings the story back to Moby-Dick and the price of Ahab’s obsession, in more ways than one.

In the end, as the story shifted protagonists and perspectives, I found some of their journeys more compelling than others, and I empathized more with Evangeline’s adult perspective than I did the learning period that her descendants inevitably went through. So ultimately I have mixed feelings but this turned out to be a fascinating way to explore a classic from a sideways point of view.

Review: Shark Heart by Emily Habeck

Review: Shark Heart by Emily HabeckShark Heart by Emily Habeck
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: literary fiction
Pages: 416
Published by Simon & Schuster on August 8, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBetter World Books
Goodreads


A lyrical and provocative debut novel about newlyweds Wren and her husband, Lewis, who over the course of nine months, transforms into a great white shark.

For Lewis and Wren, their first year of marriage is also their last. A few weeks after their wedding, Lewis receives a rare diagnosis. He will retain most of his consciousness, memories, and intellect, but his physical body will transform into that of a great white shark. As Lewis develops the features and impulses of one of the most predatory creatures in the ocean, his complicated artist’s heart struggles to make peace with his unfulfilled dreams.
At first, Wren internally resists her husband’s fate. Is there a way for them to be together after Lewis fully transforms? Then, a glimpse of Lewis’s developing carnivorous nature activates long-repressed memories for Wren, whose story vacillates between her childhood living on a houseboat in Oklahoma, her time with a college ex-girlfriend, and her unusual friendship with a woman pregnant with twin birds. Woven throughout this daring novel is the story of Wren’s mother, Angela, who becomes pregnant with Wren at fifteen in an abusive relationship amidst her parents’ crumbling marriage. In the present, all of Wren’s grief eventually collides, and she meets her fears with surrender, choosing to love fully, now.
An emotional exploration of motherhood, marriage, transformation, and letting go, Shark Heart is an unforgettable love story about mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, animals and people—all while examining what it truly means to be human.

My Review:

Thanks mostly to superhero movies, when we hear the term mutant we tend to think of science experiments gone awry and people who have just a little bit extra in the DNA and what they do with that extra – as well as what gets done to them because of it.

This isn’t that kind of story about mutants and mutations. It’s both a bit more – and a bit less.

This also isn’t really a story about a man who became a shark and the woman who loved him. Although I wanted it to be – sort of a shark toothed version of The Shape of Water. But it isn’t that either. Shark Heart is a story about change and the way that love changes when the person we love goes through a transformation that we can’t follow.

And what happens after that. And after that. But also, before that.

Lewis and Wren marry, as so many people do, buoyed on a wave of love and hope. They expect the first year of their marriage to be the beginning of lifelong bliss and joy – albeit with a few of the typical bumps in the road for any couple that plans on being together for the long haul.

But it’s not to be. Well, it’s mostly not to be.

Early in that first year of bliss, Lewis is diagnosed with Carcharodon carcharias mutation. Putting it less scientifically, he’s turning into a Great white shark. Rapidly. Literally and not figuratively. In the version of our world that Wren and Lewis inhabit, this isn’t even all that uncommon. Lewis’ particular mutation is, but this is a world where it seems to have become relatively commonplace for people to mutate to animal form.

There are entire hospitals and specialty medical institutes and protocols and laws to deal with all the issues and medical needs of people who mutate and their caregivers. (And I am so curious about how this world works, but that’s not the story we get, either.)

Which gets back to what I said at the beginning, that Shark Heart is a story about change and transformation, and what happens to the humans when they make a drastic change or when drastic change is thrust upon them.

And definitely, absolutely, about what happens to the people who love them.

Escape Rating B-: Wren isn’t the first person – or unfortunately the last – to discover, after it’s too late in one way or another, that their new spouse is a gigantic, all-consuming predator and that they are now on a menu they didn’t know existed. The question is whether Wren’s situation is literal or merely a metaphor.

Which is a bit like The Crane Husband, not just because people transform into animals, but because it’s possible to interpret the transformation as metaphor even more than it is.

There were also a whole LOT of SFnal possibilities, and I confess that I wanted the story to go there rather than into the literary fiction it most definitely is. It’s clear from the bits we see in the story that a whole medical infrastructure has been created to deal with the issue of mutations, but for an SF reader we don’t get nearly enough of it for the world to make sense. (John Scalzi’s Lock In, especially the prequel Unlocked, did an excellent job of showing the institutional effects of the introduction of a planet-wide shift in lifelong medical conditions and their treatment.)

I did get really caught up in the part of the story about Lewis and Wren’s year of dealing with what’s happening to them both and their desperate and increasingly separate paddles up the River DeNial as it goes along. And I think I’d have liked the book a lot more if it stayed with them.

But this IS literary fiction, which means it has to take the reader backwards and forwards in time, both to how Wren got to be the person she is and to what happens to both Lewis and Wren after. Even though he’s a shark. For this reader, those later bits detract – at least until we get to the end and back to Wren and her life after Lewis and what he left behind.

I wanted this to be something other than it was, which is a ‘me’ thing and may not be a ‘you’ thing. I would have preferred the story I got if it had stuck with Wren and Lewis in a mostly forward-moving timeline – even if he was forcibly dropped out of that story halfway through. Because a story of her coping, whether literally or as metaphor, would have been enough to carry me through because I liked Wren and empathized with her a lot more than I expected to.

I picked this up because I was flailing, and it looked interesting and different. It was different and the first half was interesting and even sometimes compelling, but the second half just didn’t keep that momentum. But if you like literary fiction more than I do it might work better for you.

Review: Days at the Morisaki Bookshop by Satoshi Yagisawa

Review: Days at the Morisaki Bookshop by Satoshi YagisawaDays at the Morisaki Bookshop by Satoshi Yagisawa, Eric Ozawa
Narrator: Catherine Ho
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via Libro.fm
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: books and reading, literary fiction, world literature
Pages: 160
Length: 5 hours
Published by Harper Perennial, HarperAudio on July 4, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.org
Goodreads

Unable to accept being dumped by her colleague, Takako quits her job and moves into the used bookstore owned by her uncle, Satoru, in Jinbocho. Despite her initial lack of interest in novels, Takako is slowly drawn into the world of books as she comes into contact with the unusual customers who frequent the store.

My Review:

Takako has sunk into a slough of despond, depressed beyond imagining after learning that her boyfriend had been engaged to someone else during the entire year of their relationship. As they worked together – along with his fiancee! – Takako has quit her job to get away from the pain, and seems to be intent on leaving the waking world behind.

It’s a bit like the opening of Cassandra in Reverse – without the time travel. Or at least, without Cassandra’s peculiar method of traveling through time.

Takako, with more than a bit of a push from her mother, finds herself being herded in a direction she had no intention of going. But helping her uncle Satoru with his used bookstore – while living rent free above the shop – is at least half a step up from returning home and letting her mother remind her she’s a failure at every turn.

Which is where the story stops resembling Cassandra in Reverse, as the only time travel that Takako is capable of is the kind that happens when you step into the pages of a book and are whisked away, whether to the past, the present, or the future.

As the days slip past, at first slowly – and mostly in sleep – Takako emerges from her blanket-wrapped cocoon and becomes involved with what’s inside her uncle’s store. At first it’s the customers, and then it’s the books and then it’s the whole neighborhood.

The store and the books within it are the saving of Takako. And as her year of taking a vacation from her life saves her, so is she able to save her uncle as well.

Escape Rating A-: This is simply a lovely story. It’s a bit of a combination of Cassandra in Reverse, The Girl Who Reads on the Métro and The Cat Who Saved Books, but it’s considerably more down to earth than any of those antecedents.

This is not a highly dramatic story. After the opening, where Takako learns that her boyfriend is a narcissistic asshat, there are no big scenes until very nearly the end. Rather, the story quietly unspools as we climb into that cocoon with Takako and then watch her gently pull herself out.

The story of those Days at the Morisaki Bookshop is really a story about the way that books cushion us, comfort us and save us. It’s about the joy of discovery and the even greater joy of sharing that discovery. It’s a story that starts out quietly sad and quietly and charmingly goes on its way to becoming quietly happy.

Which made this little book an unexpected comfort read and an equally unexpected comfort listen. I fell into Takako’s life just as she fell into sleep, but the waking up was considerably less traumatic for the reader than it was for the character – who was perfectly embodied by the narrator. I didn’t feel like I was reading a book, I felt like Takako was telling me the story of her year at her uncle’s bookshop and what happened after.

And it was an utterly charming story, extremely well told, every step of her way. It was exactly what I was looking for, and I hope that when you’re looking for a lovely read or listen to let you slip into a world of books, it will be that for you, too.

Review: Dear Chrysanthemums by Fiona Sze-Lorrain

Review: Dear Chrysanthemums by Fiona Sze-LorrainDear Chrysanthemums: A Novel in Stories by Fiona Sze-Lorrain
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, literary fiction
Pages: 176
Published by Scribner on May 2, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads


A startling and vivid debut novel in stories from acclaimed poet and translator Fiona Sze-Lorrain featuring deeply compelling Asian women who reckon with the past, violence, and exile—set in Shanghai, Beijing, Singapore, Paris, and New York.

“Cooking for Madame Chiang” set in 1946: Two cooks work for Madame Chiang Kai-shek and prepare a foreign dish craved by their mistress, which becomes a political weapon and and leads to their tragic end. “Death at the Wukang Mansion” set in 1966: Punished for her extramarital affair, a dancer is transferred to Shanghai during the Cultural Revolution and assigned to an ominous apartment in building whose other residents often depart in coffins. “The White Piano” set in 1996: A budding Asian pianist from New York settles down in Paris and is assaulted when a mysterious piano arrives from Singapore. “The Invisible Window” set in 2016: After their exile following the Tiananmen massacre, three women gather in a French cathedral to renew their friendship and reunite in their grief and faith.
Evocative, vivid, disturbing, and written with a masterful ear for language, Dear Chrysanthemums renders both a devastating portrait of diasporic life and inhumanity, as well as a tender web of shared memory, artistic expression, and love.

My Review:

In the beginning, or at least the chronological beginning of this “novel in stories”, there are two women in a third woman’s kitchen. That story, “Cooking for Madame Chiang, 1946” manages to both tell a complete story AND weave together all the threads that permeate the entire work in a way that seems to achieve more depth and more interconnectivity the more I think about it.

The two women in that kitchen, Little Green and Chang’er, are cooking for Madame Chiang Kai-Shek in 1946 after the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War, known in the West as World War II and just prior to the Chinese Communist Revolution.

All the stories in this collected novel relate back to those three women and what they represent, sometimes figuratively, often literally as many of the stories are centered around Chang’er’s descendants.

So this is a collection of stories of women’s perspectives on 20th century China, as seen through the eyes of Chang’er and her daughters and granddaughters who became part of the Chinese Diaspora in Singapore, while Little Green’s story is hers alone as her service to the Westernized Madame Chiang made her a target of the Revolution.

Some of the stories’ connections to Chang’er and Little Green are not obvious at first (“Death at the Wukang Mansion, 1966” is one such story) and are only revealed as the reader follows the course of the braided novel back and forth through time.

It is also symbolic that all of these stories take place in years that end in the number six, from the 1946 of “Cooking for Madame Chiang” to the 2016 of “The Invisible Window”. The number six in Chinese divination signifies a “smooth life”, something that none of the women in these interconnected stories manages to achieve.

But in their less than smooth lives we get glimpses of the choppy seas that each of them navigated, whether they remained in China or fled to far-distant shores, and how the experiences that led or followed them impacted the rest of their lives – and their century.

Escape Rating B+: I left this collection feeling both enchanted and teased. Each story is a bit of a treasure hunt and a chef’s kiss wrapped into one. The treasure is figuring out how each woman connects to the others. The chef’s kiss is in the way that each story is complete in itself, beautifully told, but still leaves the reader wishing for more – not necessarily more of that story in particular, but more of the history and background in general. The way the stories are each told make it clear that there are vast depths to be explored that this collection can only hint at.

I was also struck by the way that Dear Chrysanthemums manages to achieve the result that last week’s Daughters of Muscadine fell short of. Both are attempts to tell a kind of braided, linked story through a collection of stories, but Daughters missed that connectedness where Dear Chrysanthemums achieved it in every story through that treasure hunt of hints and references and casting back on long lives lived after tragedy and loss.

While there were a couple of stories that either didn’t work for me at the initial read (“Death at the Wukang Mansion”) or didn’t work at all (“The White Piano”), for the most part this collection told fascinating stories of women’s lives that hinted at so much to explore beneath the surface. I was initially a bit reluctant (last week’s reads were really frustrating) but I’m happy I picked up this gem after all.

Review: You Are Here by Karin Lin-Greenberg

Review: You Are Here by Karin Lin-GreenbergYou Are Here by Karin Lin-Greenberg
Narrator: Jennifer Aquino
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: literary fiction
Pages: 304
Length: 8 hours and 39 minutes
Published by Counterpoint, HighBridge a division of Recorded Books on May 2, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

The inhabitants of a small town have long found that their lives intersect at one focal point: the local shopping mall. But business is down, stores are closing, and as the institution breathes its last gasp, the people inside it dream of something different, something more. You Are Here brings this diverse group of characters vividly to life.
The only hair stylist at Sunshine Clips secretly watches YouTube primers on how to draw and paint, just as her awkward young son covertly studies new illusions for his magic act. His friend and magician's assistant, a high school cashier in the food court, has attracted the unwanted attention of a strange boy at school. She tells no one except the mall's chain bookstore manager, a failed academic living in the tiny house he built in his mother-in-law's backyard. His family is watched over by the judgmental old woman next door, whose weekly trips to Sunshine Clips hide a complicated and emotional history and will spark the moment when everything changes for them all.
Exploring how the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves are inextricably bound to the places we call home, You Are Here is a keenly perceptive and deeply humane portrait of a community in transition, ultimately illuminating the magical connections that can bloom from the ordinary wonder of our everyday lives.

My Review:

You are here, in an America where the driving economic engine and social-type phenomenon called a “shopping mall” is clearly dying. All you have to do is look at the vacant storefronts in even the largest and seemingly busiest malls around you. Or at the vast acreage of sparsely populated parking lots that surround them.

There are lots of stories about what happens in small towns when the largest employer in the area leaves or dies. Stories about the economic depression and eventual death of the town it once supported.

But what happens when a shopping mall dies? (We’re probably in the process of finding out in real life, as they do seem to be dying all over.) Greenways Mall in upstate New York has been dying for years at the point where this book picks up its action.

Or rather, the lack thereof, which is the problem in a nutshell. There is very little going on at the mall. It’s dying and everyone knows it. It’s been dying for years, to the point where its actual demise won’t be much of a blip in the local economy. Not many stores are still open, not very many people still work there, not many people, even in the neighborhood, still shop there. It’s a vicious circle, cycling rapidly towards the drain.

But the lack of traffic in the mall, writ large, does not mean that the place isn’t the hub of several people’s lives and/or their economic mainstay. They are the central figures in You Are Here, Tina Huang who is the last stylist at Sunshine Clips and her little boy Jackson who spends his after school hours doing his homework at the salon. Kevin, the manager of the chain bookstore outlet, is killing time in a dead end job because he can’t make up his mind about what he really wants to be doing with his life. And all too aware that his wife is running out of patience with his lack of pretty much everything except crazy business ideas that will only eat up money they don’t have.

Then there’s Ro Goodson, an elderly widow who comes to the mall because she’s lonely. She’s Tina’s only regular customer, and she’s a fixture at Greenways. A disapproving one who bestows judgemental advice on everyone she meets, making it clear that none of them are measuring up to whatever standards have ossified inside her barely polite and unconsciously bigoted head.

The mall and its denizens all seem accepting of their fate, trapped in a cycle where nothing good ever seems to happen, until something truly terrible occurs to shake them out of their respective sloughs of despond. It may be the making of each of them. Or it may mow them under.

Time will, as it always does, tell.

Escape Rating B-: The premise of this book has a tremendous amount of potential. Shopping malls, once a bright fixture of the landscape, are dying pretty much everywhere. So there are lots of Greenways Malls out there and probably one near where you live just as there is here. So this sounded like it would have lots of story potential. Which it does.

The question for the reader is whether or not the book in hand lived up to that potential. As you might surmise from the rating, I ended up with very mixed feelings.

One of the parts that is done very well is that each of the individual characters, from 9-year-old Jackson Huang to 89-year-old Ro Goodson, is distinct and distinctly well portrayed. We get to know who these people are and how and why they’ve ended up in this crumbling place – and just how much of their lives will crumble with it.

But not a lot happens in You Are Here. It’s a slice-of-life kind of story, where every character is shuffling along in their rut – except for 9-year-old Jackson – and can’t see over the edges of the rut they’ve worn down for themselves.

Even the big event that knocks everything off course is downplayed as it happens very late in the book. The chapter with the most verve is actually an epilogue, where we learn the effects of that event nearly a decade later.

The story as it goes along is a story of quiet desperation told in plots and subplots that knit together well but don’t seem to go much of anywhere until that sharp break almost at the end.

And that was pretty much where this story fell down for me on not one but two fronts. As I said above, the characters are distinct and well-drawn, which should have made this a great book for audio. But it wasn’t, which was pretty jarring after the marvelous performance of The Wager earlier this week.

In the case of You Are Here the narrator is very precise but her reading is flat. She doesn’t voice the characters enough to make each one as distinct as they are in the text. I had to drop the audio and switch to text very early in the story just to keep going with this one, as my reading group recommended it and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

The other reason this didn’t work for me as well as it did for others in that group is that it is VERY much in the literary fiction tradition, which means that not much really happens but the characters angst about it a lot. If that’s your jam this will work for you, but if it’s not, it likely won’t.

Which is too bad, because this slow build of a novel confronts a whole lot of serious issues in 21st century life, and does a great job of making the reader feel those issues through those well-drawn, distinct, characters. For this reader, that made You Are Here an interesting but not compelling book.

Short and Unsatisfactory: Books and Reviews

Short and Unsatisfactory: Books and ReviewsThe Piano Tuner by Chiang-sheng Kuo, Howard Goldblatt, Sylvia Li-Chun Lin
Format: eARC
Source: publisher
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: literary fiction
Pages: 168
Published by Arcade Publishing on January 3, 2023
Publisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

Winner of every major literary award in Taiwan, an elegiac and deceptively quiet novel about love and loss, broken dreams and desolate hearts—and music   A widower grieving for his young wife. A piano tuner concealing a lifetime of secrets. An out-of-tune Steinway piano. A journey of self-discovery across time and continents, from a dark apartment in Taipei’s red-light district to snow-clad New York. At the heart of the story is the nameless narrator, the piano tuner. In his forties, he is balding and ugly, a loser by any standard. But he was once a musical prodigy. What betrayal and what heartbreak made him walk away from greatness? Long hailed in Taiwan as a “writer’s writer,” Chiang-Sheng Kuo delivers a stunningly powerful, compact novel in The Piano Tuner. It’s a book of sounds: both of music and of the heart, from Rachmaninoff to Schubert, from Glenn Gould to Sviatoslav Richter, from untapped potential to unrequited love. With a cadence and precision that bring to mind Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Nocturnes, and Yasunari Kawabata’s Snow Country, this short novel may be a portrait of the artist as a “failure,” but it also describes a pursuit of the ultimate beauty in music and in love. 

I’ve been caught between two books this week that should not have anything in common – and yet they do. And not just my reaction to both of them. So here you have two short but not so sweet reviews.

The Piano Tuner by Chiang-Sheng Kuo

This is the story of one man, his late wife, her music career and the piano tuner who lovingly tends her pianos. Or at least that’s how it starts, as the man, the widower Lin, is in the throes of dealing with his late wife’s music studio. Which is where he comes upon the aforementioned piano tuner. There’s a reason the book is named for that piano tuner, as it is really his story, told backwards, forwards and sideways, about his life and especially the choices he made to become a tuner of pianos instead of the concert pianist his prodigal talents would have allowed him to be. Through his life, we see both the choices that he let slip away – and the ones that he never believed were truly his to begin with – as well as his acceptance of his role as the trusted person working in the shadows who makes genius possible for others.

Escape Rating C: As the story slips from past to present, and from the piano tuner’s past to the widower’s past, it speaks of both of them interchangeably both the first person and the third person in a way that never allows the reader to be certain who is “I”, that first-person voice, as the narrative continues. It’s a confusion that kept tripping me up and dropping me out of the story, even as I already felt distanced from it by its steeping in classical music and the performance thereof.

Daughters of Muscadine by Monic Ductan
Format read: eARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages:144
Published by on November 14, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Amazon, Barnes & NobleBookshop.org
Goodreads

Two events tie together the nine stories in Monic Ductan’s gorgeous the 1920s lynching of Ida Pearl Crawley and the 1980s drowning of a high school basketball player, Lucy Boudreaux. Both forever shape the people and the place of Muscadine, Georgia, in the foothills of Appalachia. The daughters of Muscadine are Black Southern women who are, at times, outcasts due to their race and also estranged from those they love. A remorseful woman tries to connect with the child she gave up for adoption; another, immersed in loneliness, attempts to connect with a violent felon. Two sisters love each other deeply even when they cannot understand one another. A little girl witnessing her father’s slow death realizes her own power and lack thereof. A single woman weathers the excitement—and rigors—of online dating. Covering the last one hundred years, these are stories of people whose voices have been suppressed and erased for too Black women, rural women, Appalachian women, and working-class women. Ductan presents the extraordinary nature of everyday lives in the tradition of Alice Walker, Deesha Philyaw, James McBride, and Dorothy Allison in an engaging, engrossing, and exciting new voice.

My Review:

Daughters of Muscadine is another book that got derailed by that question of who is “I”. These are linked short stories, all taking place in a small town in northeast Georgia that is part of the Appalachian Region. The stories are linked by two events, the lynching of Pearl Crawley in 1920, and the drowning of Lucy Boudreaux in the 1980s. Both stories are told by one of Pearl’s descendants, as Pearl still haunts the area decades after her death.

The idea that all of the stories in this collection are linked into a sort-of novel is an interesting one, but the execution of that idea fell apart at “I”. Many of the stories are told in that first-person “I” voice, but the possessor of that “I” changes from story to story without explanation. So they didn’t link the way I (there’s that “I” again) expected. Or much at all.

Escape Rating D+: I shouldn’t have picked this up right now, because it won’t be published until November. But more than half of the short stories in this linked collection have been previously published so I don’t feel as bad about that as I otherwise might. But I got lost, over and over, because the speakers seemed to change without much warning and just didn’t link into a whole. I think this just needed something it didn’t have in the way of an introduction to each story to set them into the narrative as a whole. The description in the blurb was awesome, but the book unfortunately did not live up to it.

My two cents and your reading mileage may vary.

Review: Yellowface by R.F. Kuang

Review: Yellowface by R.F. KuangYellowface by R.F. Kuang
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: literary fiction
Pages: 336
Published by William Morrow on May 16, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.org
Goodreads

What's the harm in a pseudonym? New York Times bestselling sensation Juniper Song is not who she says she is, she didn't write the book she claims she wrote, and she is most certainly not Asian American--in this chilling and hilariously cutting novel from R. F. Kuang.
Authors June Hayward and Athena Liu were supposed to be twin rising stars: same year at Yale, same debut year in publishing. But Athena's a cross-genre literary darling, and June didn't even get a paperback release. Nobody wants stories about basic white girls, June thinks.
So when June witnesses Athena's death in a freak accident, she acts on impulse: she steals Athena's just-finished masterpiece, an experimental novel about the unsung contributions of Chinese laborers to the British and French war efforts during World War I.
So what if June edits Athena's novel and sends it to her agent as her own work? So what if she lets her new publisher rebrand her as Juniper Song--complete with an ambiguously ethnic author photo? Doesn't this piece of history deserve to be told, whoever the teller? That's what June claims, and the New York Times bestseller list seems to agree.
But June can't get away from Athena's shadow, and emerging evidence threatens to bring June's (stolen) success down around her. As June races to protect her secret, she discovers exactly how far she will go to keep what she thinks she deserves.
With its totally immersive first-person voice, Yellowface takes on questions of diversity, racism, and cultural appropriation not only in the publishing industry but the persistent erasure of Asian-American voices and history by Western white society. R. F. Kuang's novel is timely, razor-sharp, and eminently readable.

My Review:

In the beginning, Yellowface read like a bit of a thriller. In that beginning, 20something Yale MFA graduates Athena Liu and June Hayward are both published authors. But Athena is a self-absorbed cross-genre media darling, and June Hayward is just a typical white, MFA graduate writer whose first novel didn’t even get a paperback reprint.

Or at least, that’s how it seems from June’s own self-absorbed, self-justifying and self-flagellating perspective.

But a night on the town leads to a drunken pancake eating binge in Athena’s expensive DC apartment leads to the media darling’s accidental death by pancake. She glues her own throat closed when a partially uncooked pancake gets stuck in her windpipe. It’s completely tragic, more than a bit comic – and a huge opportunity for her hard-done-by and totally ignored but only friend.

The only copy of Athena’s latest manuscript is waiting by Athena’s typewriter for a curious, desperate and determined fellow author to pick up on her way out the door – after she’s cleared of any possibility of murdering her friend. Because she honestly didn’t.

Which may be the last honest thing that June Hayward says or does in reference to the late Athena Liu. Because once she’s edited that poor, orphan manuscript and presented it as her own, lying to pretty much everyone about pretty much everything is her only way forward.

To literary fame and stardom. To paranoia. To exposure. To infamy.

Escape Rating C: I probably re-wrote this review two or three times – and several more times in my head. Because first I needed to rant a bit. Then I needed to look back at the rant and bring it back down to Earth. Then I needed to have a cocoa and a lie down as I realized that I’d gone off the rails in contradictory directions.

Because there’s so much to unpack in the story of Yellowface – and in what it’s saying about the publishing industry and the way that some authors get anointed and others are cast in shadow. The way that racism and other isms affect both parts of that equation, the anointing and the shadowing, and that the humans involved in all of it throw their own biases over everything – with both the best and the worst of intentions and whether they intend to at all or not.

But, and this is the very big but where my own reading of the book went more than a bit pear-shaped, is that no matter how much truth is being told – and a TON of truth is being told – it still has to be readable and it still has to tell a good story. And that’s where Yellowface fell down on its job – at least for this reader.

I’ll confess that I would have been all in if this had been the thriller I was originally hoping it would be. Someone IS stalking June, but the revenge that is going to be served cold is on ice and locked in a deep-freeze by the time we get to it. The fast pace of a thriller got bogged down in the slow, angst-riddled, self-absorbed pace of literary fiction. June’s endless self-flagellation and self-deception just got boring because there was so much of it.

As the story is told in June’s first-person perspective, we spend the story inside her head and that was a place I tired of being imprisoned in relatively early on.

The meat of the story is intended to be a satire of the publishing industry and its long history of racism and cultural appropriation and the erasure of Asian voices as well as any other voices that are outside the so-called mainstream as defined by Western white society that it has created to center itself above all others.

But the method of satire used in Yellowface is exaggeration. The others are Incongruity, Reversal and Parody. All are used but it’s the exaggeration that stood out. Everything that the author had to say about the way that the publishing industry treats authors outside of its self-defined ‘mainstream’ read as utterly true. It’s all real and it’s all pretty much that bad.

Howsomever, just as June’s self-deception and self-flagellation is so constant that the reader feels equally flagellated, so too with the endless drumbeat of how truly awful conditions in the publishing industry in general and how pervasive situations are in the world at large, reaches a crescendo that never lets up or moves on with the story.

I left Yellowface with conflicting thoughts and feelings. The author had a lot of very important things to say about serious issues, but the vehicle through which those things were conveyed did not work for this reader. Your reading mileage may definitely vary. A LOT of readers have LOVED this book. I’m just not one of them.