Book Review – “The Changeling” by Victor Lavalle


The ChangelingAs I was wading knee-deep through The Changeling, my primary thought was, “How is this book not a bigger deal? How was it not talked about more when it came out??” I was in the thick of it, and I couldn’t help marvelling at how simply good it was. A little research showed me that the book did get a fair bit of acclaim, but not nearly as much as I would have expected for a book this . . . showstopping. It’s not often that I’m flabbergasted by a novel, but this was one of those times when I was just blown away.

The Changeling tells the story of Apollo Kagwa. He is raised by his single mom because his father mysteriously vanishes when Apollo is four, leaving Apollo with nothing but a recurring nightmare and, later, a box of ephemera – including the book Outside Over There. As an adult, Apollo, a rare bookseller by trade, is deeply in love with his wife Emma, and they are expecting a baby. But he is still grappling with the effects of his past, the nightmare resurfacing as he eases into the idea of fatherhood. When the baby arrives, all seems to be well, though neither he nor Emma, now a part-time librarian, is particularly flush with cash. When Apollo starts taking the baby, Brian, with him to work, Emma starts receiving increasingly disturbing third-person, candid pictures of Apollo and Brian from Apollo’s phone. The photos disappear shortly after they arrive, and the last one comes with a terrifying message. In a short period of time, Emma begins to experience what appears to be some severe symptoms of postpartum depression, as well as exhibiting some alarming behaviors that set Apollo on edge. It all culminates in one gut-wrenching scene, when Emma finally reaches *ahem* her boiling point (I’m so sorry) and disappears. An angry and bewildered Apollo then sets out on a quest to find Emma, and to salvage what is left of the life he has known so far.

There is so much going on in this book that it is nearly impossible to categorize. Horror, fantasy, fiction, allegory, fairy tale, folklore, mystery…. I finally settled on “horror”, but that still doesn’t exactly feel right. The Changeling is unsettling, and horrific things happen, but it doesn’t fit neatly into any one category. It is a truly unclassifiable work of fiction. That’s what seems to make it such a wonderful mystery – it’s impossible to speculate about what comes next, or to guess who is culpable for the events that unfold, because the reader’s perception is Apollo’s perception, and he doesn’t know what the hell is going on either.

Many of the story’s elements are meant to confuse, and I loved that about it – the more fantastic mysteries tend to have very rational explanations, and the traditional mysteries have wild, often folkloric explanations. Moreover, we are seeing and experiencing it all through Apollo’s eyes, at first disbelieving, then incredulous, then finally resigned. When I thought I had something figured out, I realized that there was much more to the story than I had ever anticipated.

There is also a lot of subtle social commentary here surrounding race, class, and our dependence on technology. Apollo is half black, and his best friend an confidante Patrice is black. The two men constantly have to think about their actions, how they are perceived by the world, whether or not they are going to be stopped by the police, and what that might mean for them. These worries are just part of their lives, and it’s such a subtle thing, but so realistic. A lot of the story also focuses on the reach of technology, and who we are consciously and unconsciously letting into our lives. This facet of the story felt like very real modern-day horror to me.

One of my personal favorite aspects of The Changeling is that Victor Lavalle’s love of books is evident in every page. Outside Over There, one of the creepier Maurice Sendak books, is the most important book in this story, for various reasons. There are also several literary references hidden throughout the story like tiny clues. I love a good treasure hunt, and was delighted every time I came across one. The references are relevant to the particular events of the story when they appear, which feels like an added bonus if you catch the reference. (My two favorite finds were a nod to Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle and a quick but deft allusion to Wuthering Heights.) I’d like to reread The Changeling at some point, if only in an attempt to identify more of those references. I know I missed a ton of them simply because I didn’t expect them, or even really register one until I was smacked over the head by it.

I would be doing the book a disservice by trying to explain everything, so I am being purposefully vague about the intricacies of it. The Changeling is something best experienced personally, and if you step into this story with an open mind, you will not be disappointed. Please, do yourself a favor and go read it.

Recommended For:

Anyone who likes horror, folklore, and smart novels. Also, there is a little bit of gore, so also recommended for those who are not excessively squeamish (I am a wuss, but the quality of the writing and story line definitely outweighed the cringe factor for me).


Book Specifics:

Author: Victor Lavalle

Publish Date: 2018

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Genre: Horror? (See above)

Format: Paperback

Pages: 431

ISBN / ISBN13: 9780812985870

US Price: $18.00


Book Review – “A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares” by Krystal Sutherland


Semi-DefinitiveAs a general rule, I try not to judge books by their covers, or even by their synopses. I’ve found that typically, neither one can fully capture the essence of a book, which is of course understandable and expected. Having said that, I admit that I initially judged A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares by its cover, to the extent that I put it down without even bothering to read the synopsis at first. The cover is a somewhat cutesy lilac color – not quite what I would have chosen for a story about mental illness, murder, and fear. And what with the disembodied skeleton arm holding a purple orchid and the stereotypical black cat staring out from the bottom, it all just felt like a desperate attempt to cutely convey that THIS BOOK IS SPOOKY.

Once again, though, the old adage has proven true – you can’t judge a book by its cover. This book is much darker than one would think at first glance. The story centers around the Solar family curse, which leads each member of the Solar clan to their own unique death via one major fear (i.e. developing a fear of germs and ultimately dying of a common cold). But there are also heavier themes explored in the book, including severe and debilitating mental illness, rape, murder, neglect, and physical abuse. Had I given into my natural instinct to steer clear of a book with a cover like this one, I never would have discovered this strange and delightful story.

Esther Solar is a quirky, costume-wearing teenager whose family curse has been the stuff of legend for decades, and has set the family quite apart from the rest of society. The curse originated with her grandfather Reginald, a retired detective who is now deteriorating rapidly due to dementia, but whose stories about the curse have plagued the family for a long time. As the family legend goes, Reg met Death himself during the Vietnam War, with Death disguised as a soldier on the battlefield. This “man who would be Death” was just an apprentice reaper at the time, and divulged that Reg would die of drowning. So, convinced that he has been cursed by Death, Reg survives the war but avoids water for the rest of his life, and plants the fear of the curse into his own children and grandchildren.

Now suffering under the curse are Esther’s brother, who is a depressive artist-type with a deathly fear of the dark, her agoraphobic father, who has not left their basement for six years, and her mother, who obsessively gambles and fears bad luck enough that she’s surrounded the family house with rabbits, charms, and a “lucky” rooster. Esther hasn’t discovered her own worst fear, nor does she ever plan to. She creates the titular “Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares” which lists every single thing she is afraid of (many of which seem to come from her screenings of various scary movies), and naturally aims to avoid everything on said list because each item might end up being her undoing. However, after she is charmed and then hilariously pickpocketed by her childhood friend Jonah Smallwood, the two forge a somewhat unlikely bond and start facing Esther’s fears together, one by one, so that fear doesn’t take hold of and destroy her life.

This book flirts with some magical realism, which I always love in a story. Did Esther’s grandfather Reg really know Death as a real person? Does her brother Eugene really flicker in and out of vision/existence? Is her mother’s rooster really a goblin? There are lots of oddities in this book that strain credibility in that wonderfully magical way. There is also a pretty cute love story between Jonah and Esther, and much of the book is centered around them conquering and documenting Esther’s fears together, falling in love in the process. However, I found that the real meat of the book had to do with one of the central questions presented: Does the Solar family misfortune truly lie in the mystical, or is it simply a result of their shared and inherited mental illness?

Having been raised in a family fraught with generations of mental illness, but also raised with an unspoken, innate belief in the extraordinary, I connected with this book almost immediately. I wanted to see where the author would take such a story. Part murder mystery, part love story, part exploration of mental illness, and part commentary on the nature of belief, the book treads all kinds of ground very gracefully. Though it sounds convoluted, the story is actually pretty straightforward, and it’s compelling to boot, told in a way that doesn’t give away every plot point. Finding my way along with Esther, I too constantly wondered what was real and what wasn’t, not knowing if the fantastical happenings were truly inexplicable, or if they were just the result of garden-variety mental illness and family mythology run amok.

Although the ending is a little more outlandish than I would have liked (I preferred the ambiguity of not knowing if the fantastical elements were real or not), I found the conclusion to be satisfying, and the revelation of Esther’s fate to be appropriate, if a little on the silly side.


Final Impression:  

All in all, two thumbs up. I’m glad I ended up buying this one on a whim because, cover and all, it definitely deserves its place on the shelf.


Recommended For:

Fans of darker stories with a comic twist, and those who enjoy magical elements in a book. Also for those who can tolerate some mild but definitely off-putting descriptions of child/teen abuse and child murders.


Book Specifics:

Author: Krystal Sutherland

Publish Date: 2017

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Genre: YA Fiction

Format: Paperback

Pages: 349

ISBN / ISBN13: 9780399546600

US Price: $10.99

Book Review – “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” by Jenny Han

TATBILBFor one reason or another, young adult fiction has been my go-to genre of choice lately. For the most part, I’m finding these books to be incredibly diverse, interesting, sensitive, emotionally satisfying, and well-written. Whether it’s lighter fare such as the charming When Dimple Met Rishi, or darker matter like the gut-wrenchingly sad All the Bright Places, I am pretty much game, as long as the premise isn’t completely focused on stuff like who’s going to prom with whom or whatever. So, going against my better judgment, I recently chose to read To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. I’d seen it on several lists and on prominent display at the bookstore, and the premise sounded mildly interesting: girl writes letters to boys she’s loved, letters get sent out, chaos ensues. I thought it would be lighthearted and fun, and to some extent it was both light and fun, but I have confidently concluded that this book is unfortunately just not very good. Normally I’d be apprehensive about making such a bold statement regarding a book’s quality, but after reading this novel and seeing how many people love it, I need to relate my experience.

To All the Boys… has almost none of the wonderful traits that I’ve come to love and appreciate about YA. My apologies to Jenny Han, who has by all accounts managed to do something I can’t, which is to sit down and write a book with a beginning, middle, and end, and also to land on some of bestseller lists as a result of the three books that comprise the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before trilogy. Hats off. But one thing she was not able to do was to create complex, appealing, endearingly flawed characters who grow and change over the course of a novel. She also did not write a particularly compelling plot. Or really complete any truly coherent thoughts that weren’t at least a little vapid. She did, however, somehow succeed in keeping me, and many others, coming back for more.

The main character in this novel is Lara Jean Song Covey, a girl whose name, like her personality, I found immediately annoying. (The declaration of her full name over and over in the story is like hearing, “I’m six and THREE QUARTERS years old.”) LJ is very close to her older and younger sisters, but when her older sister decides to go away to college and break up with her perfect boyfriend Josh, LJ is forced to reckon with the un-sisterly crush she’s always had on Josh, and we are introduced to the secret hatbox full of letters written to all of the titular boys she’s loved before, including Josh. After a huge fight with her younger sister about said sister ALSO like-liking Josh (seriously, this guy has the whole family swooning), the hatbox goes missing and all of the letters are sent out. LJ CAN’T imagine HOW this happened or WHO could have sent them out. Really, dude? (And why were they addressed? Why not write the letters, stuff them in blank envelopes, and be done?) Anyway, with her secrets out, LJ goes for a decoy boy to like, and nobody ends up working better than old friend, previous letter subject, and current hunky high school classmate Peter Kavinsky! Might she end up…actually liking him?! The rest of the story is too silly to go into. That’s all you need to know, really. You can guess what happens. Or look at Wikipedia.

The book gets points for its attempts at diversity, as Lara Jean and her sisters are three half-Korean, half-white girls being raised by their white, widower dad, who is valiantly and adorably attempting to maintain the links to the Korean culture their mother cultivated. The book, to its credit, also has overtly feminist dialogue between LJ and her sisters, which is cool in theory. But in practice, LJ’s primary focuses are boys and baking. Like, lots of tedious thoughts from her concerning the intricacies of what boys MIGHT be thinking about her, and also concerning the intricacies of cupcake recipes that have nothing to do with the plot of the book. And believe me, I love both dudes and baking, but neither one of them deserves to take up that much space in a book that has so little plot. LJ strives to have substance (she’s a feminist! She loves to bake! She volunteers at a retirement home! She is the victim of fake-sex-tape bullying! She can talk about sex, which is scary but definitely great to talk about in personal, explicit detail with your older sister!), yet she is unfailingly one-dimensional. She is a nitwit. She speaks and behaves like a 12-year-old, and she is very privileged, yet wholly ignorant of that privilege in the way a small child is oblivious to its parents’ wealth. She is like the kind of entitled person who thinks that everyone lives as she lives, and who is surprised to find that not everyone has the advantages that she has – though LJ doesn’t ever truly come to this conclusion, because everyone she knows actually does live as she lives, and there is no broadening of her horizons. There is no depth to her at all. Lara Jean is the exact same girl at the end of the book as she was at the beginning. Almost all of her struggles are of her own making, a problem which doesn’t facilitate any sort of personal growth.

Something that also bothered me about this story was that although Lara Jean lost her mom at a young age, the loss doesn’t permeate the text or her life in any meaningful way. Her mother, who died in an oddly shocking and unusual manner, isn’t as present in the text as I would imagine her being, whether in memories or thoughts, or even in just a feeling of lack or loss. Their mom is mentioned here and there, and the girls miss her and wish she was around for many reasons, but it seems that her death was so long ago that it is almost of no consequence. It’s not even simply that the girls have grown and learned to cope, which they have – it’s that the mom isn’t physically there, so she just isn’t there. I don’t know how to explain it, except to say that having lost my own mom at a relatively young age, it feels like LJ’s grief was written by someone who has never personally experienced that kind loss, and has no scope of the way it colors every day of your life, for the rest of your life. If Jenny Han has experienced this type of loss, then she has surely not translated the magnitude of that grief to the page at all. This was incredibly disappointing, because I think focusing on the effects of a mother’s death would have lent some gravity to a book that sorely needed it, and could have fostered some character growth in LJ.

The book ends on something I reluctantly call a cliffhanger. In the end, you are left to imagine what might happen next in the story, but it’s pretty much spelled out for you. I didn’t care enough when I finished the book to think too hard about what the future held for LJ and co. I just remember thinking, “well that was light and fluffy, but I definitely wouldn’t reread it.” Ultimately, I felt like Jenny Han grossly underestimated the intelligence and maturity of her readers on the whole, and I wasn’t compelled to ruminate on it after I was finished.

So imagine my shock when I not only realized there were sequels, but also that the third book in the series was in the running for the Goodreads Choice Awards 2017 (in the same category as sweet When Dimple Met Rishi? Or heartbreaking Turtles All the Way Down? Or The Hate U Give? Seriously???). Since I read this, and it’s been a while, I have truly struggled to figure out why these books are such big hits. Maybe it’s an age thing, but I don’t think I would have been impressed by this kind of writing even at 14 or 15. And yes, in my continued shock and quest for understanding, I ended up reading the whole damn trilogy. I will likely not review the other two books. Suffice it to say that it is more of the same. Little character growth, dumb life decisions based around a boy, dumb boy decisions based on idiocy, and more talk about boys and baking than I would’ve previously thought imaginable. I guess I, like Laura Jean, didn’t learn anything over the course of these books either.


Final Impression:  

All told, this reads like a middle-grade book, but has some of the subject matter of a high school-level YA novel. It’s weird. This book doesn’t seem to know who or what it wants to be.

Recommended For:

Those who want a light read with some vaguely feminist themes, and little to no substance. Be warned that there is some pretty intense bullying surrounding a fake sex tape.

Book Specifics:

Author: Jenny Han

Publish Date: 2014

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Edition: 1st

Genre: Young Adult

Format: Hardback

Pages: 355

ISBN / ISBN13: 1442426705/9781442426702

US Price: $18.99

Book Review – “The Winter People” by Jennifer McMahon

The Winter PeopleI am a wimp. I don’t like scary things in general – I can’t even watch horror movie commercials without getting freaked out and paranoid that something sinister is hiding in every dark corner of my house. I do like the general spookiness of Halloween-time, but I’ve typically gotten my Halloween fill by watching themed competition shows on Food Network, or from cheesy “scary” movies like Killer Klowns from Outer Space. Occasionally I’ll branch out and watch something fantastic like Suspiria or the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, or read something truly frightening like The Shining, but I typically can’t do modern horror.

That being said, in the past few years I’ve really started to gain interest in more horror-type things, like the old and new TV/movie iterations of It, and, more recently, things that fit into both the horror and mystery camps, like The Winter People. Something about reading a spooky mystery in October really appealed to me this year, so I just went for it. This book is a supernatural horror/mystery about the power of lore, waking the dead, and how far we might go to get back what we’ve loved and lost.

Set in the fictional town of West Hall, Vermont, the story takes place both in 1908 and in the present day. The 1908 storyline centers around Sara Harrison Shea, who has just lost her beloved daughter Gertie and is in the deepest throes of grief. These sections are mostly told through Sara’s diary entries, and in them we learn that she has lived an unlucky life, losing her entire biological, immediate family by the time she’s an adult (except for the one sister who got married and skipped town). She lost her mother at birth and was raised by her father and “Auntie,”  a witchy woman who is famous for doling out remedies to the townspeople who venture out to see her. Auntie lives in a cabin close to a gigantic hand-shaped rock formation dubiously named “The Devil’s Hand,” and she is full of all kinds of innate gifts and knowledge. When Sara is little, Auntie writes down and seals the instructions for how to wake the dead, specifying that Sara should not break the seal until she needs to. Young Sara can’t imagine when she’ll ever need that ability. I think you can imagine when Sara needs that ability.

In present-day West Hall, 19-year-old Ruthie and her 6-ish-year-old sister Fawn live with their mother in Sara’s old house, almost completely off the grid. When their homey, hippie, dependable mom disappears one day, Ruthie and Fawn take it upon themselves to figure out what might have happened to her. In the process, they uncover secrets about their house, their family, and Sara Harrison Shea. Some of the creepiest things happen in and around the house; the girls find lots of hiding places, a secret passageway or two, an ominously boarded-up closet in their mother’s bedroom, and a copy of Sara’s diary, which was published by her niece Amelia after Sara’s untimely and gruesome death. A more minor but still important storyline in the present day involves a woman named Katherine whose husband recently died in a car accident close to The Devil’s Hand. When Katherine finds and reads her husband’s copy of Sara’s diary, she is compelled to move to West Hall to figure out what might have happened to him, and to find out if his death was truly an accident.

There is a barren, eerie atmosphere to this book. Lots of snow, silence, woods. Glimpses of movement in between trees and by The Devil’s Hand. Scrabbling sounds in the closet. The feeling that you’re being watched at all times. A disturbing, off-putting sensation permeates the entire thing, and I had an increasing sense of alarm and confusion as I got closer to the end. This, to me, marks great writing. Experiencing every bump, scratch, and shadow right along with the characters, panicking at the disappearance of little Gertie, feeling a sense of dread at the closed and boarded closet door. Jennifer McMahon’s storytelling pulls you right in.

Maybe I’m just sensitive because my grandparents had a closet in their room that held some weird energy, but the closet thing in particular freaked me out for days. There is one scene with a plate being dragged into the closet, and for some reason it was as vivid, mesmerizing, and horrifying as if I were watching it on a screen. I can still see it in my mind’s eye. It didn’t help that I had no idea what the hell was really going on through 75% of the book – that definitely added to the sense of panic, and made the whole plot all the more terrifying. Grade A, chilling stuff. At least to a wimp like me.

But. I was honestly a little disappointed by the ending. Once the truth of the situation was revealed and everything fell into place, nothing was quite as scary as it originally seemed. I guess I didn’t expect all of the mysteries to be solved so succinctly – I expected to be left with some level of unease at the end. As with most mystifying things, once we’ve gotten an explanation, the allure fades a little. The good thing, though, is that the creepiness and chilling beauty of the first three quarters of this book more than make up for the neat ending. I still can’t shake the image of that closet, or what might be scrabbling around in it.

I might be a relative horror literature newbie, but I know good writing when I read it. This is good.


Final Impression:  

Well, now I’m afraid of closets.


Recommended For:

Horror literature lovers. Anyone who likes eerie, atmospheric books.


Book Specifics:

Author: Jennifer McMahon

Publish Date: 2014

Publisher: Anchor Books

Edition: First Anchor Books Edition (2015)

Genre: Fiction

Format: Paperback

Pages: 382

ISBN / ISBN13: 9780804169967

US Price: $15.95


Book Review – “Anne of Green Gables” by L.M. Montgomery

Anne of Green GablesWhen I was about 13, my grandparents gave me special editions of both Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea, the first two books in the series about beloved Canadian wonder Anne Shirley. I watched the Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea miniseries endlessly, but for some reason, I never felt the inclination to crack open the copies so thoughtfully purchased for me. The little book duo was eventually relegated to one of my book drawers, and when I moved away from home, I forgot about them completely. Luckily, I’m a nostalgic kind of person, and a few years ago when I was visiting home and reliving my childhood, I came across the books in that wooden drawer, perfectly preserved, with that lovely, papery book smell still intact. Now, 19 years after the gift was given, I’m finally reading them. I wish I hadn’t waited so long. Anne is a plucky, charming orphan with plenty of temper to spare, and she spends the book getting into all kinds of mischief. I definitely would have identified with her as a 13-year-old, and would have devoured the entire series.

Set in the early 1900s, the book opens with aging Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert (brother and sister, not husband and wife, as I thought for about 75% of the book) setting out to adopt a young boy to help out with the farm and land they live on. Through some miscommunication, they receive a little girl instead, much to shy Matthew’s trepidation and sharp Marilla’s chagrin. The siblings want to trade Anne in for a boy, thinking that she’ll be a nuisance rather than a help, but the positive, whimsical little thing charms Matthew immediately, and eventually wins Marilla over too. And so, after some dramatics, Anne is allowed to stay at Green Gables, where the entirety of the story takes place.

Introspective and incredibly smart, Anne is a child with little upbringing and almost no formal education. Surprisingly, she speaks as well as some highly educated adults, and much better than most of the residents of Avonlea, her flowery sentences starkly contrasting with the clipped, countrified ones of Avonlea’s inhabitants. We don’t get too much explanation about this, but we do get the idea that Anne spent a lot of time reading as a young child. She is also prone to daydreams and finding “scope for imagination” almost everywhere, and we get more hints that this sort of escapism is, at least in part, the result of a troubled past.

Anne purposely doesn’t dwell too much on her life before Green Gables, but we do find out that she was orphaned in infancy, and by age 11 has bounced between something like three homes, raising other women’s broods of children while never being treated like a child herself, or loved, or even paid much attention to, really. Her only friend has been a girl she named “Katie Maurice” who is, quite literally, her own reflection. Which is heartbreaking, but in all honesty, the fact that this poor, neglected girl found her truest friend in herself is maybe not the worst lesson someone could learn…. Anyway, her preoccupation with seemingly frivolous and superficial things like having puffed sleeves on her clothing, or having black hair, or changing her name to Cordelia, belies a need to focus on something lighter than what probably threatens to consume her thoughts – loneliness, neglect, abandonment, and feeling unwanted. It also hints at some self-hatred, probably also borne from her tumultuous childhood. She hates her red hair and her freckles, and even goes so far as dying said hair, with unfortunate results, and asking Marilla to rename her Cordelia. (The ever-practical Marilla of course insists that she regrow her natural hair, and keep her given name, which Anne agrees to, of course with the caveat that “Anne” must be spelled “with an ‘e’”.) This focus on the superficial feels like a defense mechanism, which would have been interesting to see explored a little more. It’s clear that there’s much more to Anne than meets the eye, and the reader is never privy to all of the harsh realities of what made Anne who she is.

Most of the story focuses on her foibles as a young girl, such as when she unwittingly gets her best friend drunk, or accidentally breaks her ankle on a dare, or bakes a cake filled with painkillers. A lot of the story is also consumed by Anne’s disdain for a friendly but mischievous boy named Gilbert Blythe who joking calls her “Carrots” because of her hair. She holds it against him for YEARS. I’m talking a won’t-look-in-his-direction, change-the-subject-when-his-name-comes-up type of grudge. It’s sad and kind of hilarious, mostly because Gilbert clearly adores Anne, but she wants nothing to do with him until they’re teenagers. She learns, far too late in my opinion, that making rash decisions and holding fast to early judgments can alter the course of our lives and reflect our own shortcomings. She eventually befriends Gilbert, and it’s clear that there will be more to that story as the series progresses.

Over time, we witness Anne grow from a small, hot-tempered, dreamy little thing into a quieter, calmer, less hot-tempered, lovely young woman. When we see the person Anne grows into, we see what effect Matthew and Marilla’s care and attention have had on her. Matthew’s indulgence and unadulterated love for the girl has healed her in many ways. Matthew is, to her, a “kindred spirit.” Marilla is strict, to be sure, and has tried – and succeeded – in taming the girl and shaping her into a poised, fiercely intelligent, driven young woman. However, I was bitterly disappointed, to the point of feeling a sense of loss, when I realized that Anne had lost some of her wildness in the midst of growing up. Of course, Anne lived in a different time, and all women were expected to be reasonably mild-mannered, even when it went against their very nature, so I understand the decision to dial Anne’s frivolity back. But I liked her best when she spoke her mind without caring what anyone thought, stumbled into scrape after scrape, and floated into reveries mid-task. Even Marilla laments that her grown Anne isn’t as bubbly or talkative as she used to be, despite the fact that Marilla tried to stamp both the energy and loquaciousness out of Anne at every turn. (I kept thinking, “This is what you wanted, Marilla! This is what you did! And now we all have to suffer!”) But despite the radical change in Anne’s behavior, she is still an engaging and lovable character, and we find that though she has been subdued by custom and age, and touched by loss and heartache (I won’t divulge anything, but I definitely cried), she hasn’t lost all of her spark by the end of it all. I was so taken by the story that I immediately jumped into the sequel upon finishing.

I do have to note that this book is not all sunshine and roses – there are hints of racism in here. Marilla and Anne have a small interchange about the door-to-door salesman who sells Anne some hair dye, a man who Marilla thinks is Italian but Anne says is Jewish. I don’t want to delve too far into it, but it is a blight on the book. This incident forced me to start thinking about (rather than just noticing and moving on) how many mentions there are of “pale” complexions, and how only they seem to be revered and desirable in this fictional little world. Ugh. I hate that so much classic literature is problematic. This kind of thing draws me right out of the story and right back into myself, a self which I know they would have looked at with distrust and maybe hatred if they’d had the chance. But, as we do, I am chalking it up to the time period and ignorance, and choosing to move on. With one eye open, of course.

My next task is to tackle the Netflix series, which I hear is much darker and explores Anne’s past a bit more. We’ll see if I love it as much as I loved the original television series and the books.


Recommended For:

Anyone who loved the Canadian Anne of Green Gables TV series from the ‘80s. Any spunky, wild, imaginative kid, or any spunky, wild, imaginative adult who, like me, is still a kid inside. And anyone who, also like me, loves redheads AND their freckles indiscriminately.


Book Specifics:

Author: L.M. Montgomery

Publish Date: 1982 (originally pub. 1908)

Publisher: Bantam Books

Edition: Special Collector’s Edition

Format: Paperback

Pages: 314

ISBN / ISBN13: 055321313X / 9780553213133

US Price: $3.99

Book Review – “Carry On” by Rainbow Rowell

Carry OnI was reading the staff review of Carry On at my favorite local bookstore the other day, and the staffer who wrote their own little synopsis captured the twisty back story of this book so perfectly. This entire book review, like the staff member’s synopsis, is a little wacky, so bear with me. The synopsis basically said something about this book being fan fiction based on fan fiction that was originally fan fiction. Accurate, I think…. Carry On was originally conceived as fan fiction by the main character in Rainbow Rowell’s novel Fangirl. The (fake) Harry Potter-esque series in Fangirl was a favorite of the main character Cath, and so she writes her own spinoff fan fiction called “Carry On, Simon.” That fan fiction is actually fleshed out in this book, but Cath isn’t the author of the actual novel Carry On, Rainbow Rowell is, so I guess technically Rowell wrote fan fiction about her own fan-fiction? Whew.

Although I did read Fangirl before Carry On, there is no real need to have read one before the other – this novel can stand on its own. Carry On is about an orphaned “chosen one” named Simon Snow, the strongest magician ever born and consequently the only hope for the “magickal” world. This world is currently besieged by enemies without and within. There is a civil war a-brewing among magickal folks, and on top of that, the magickal world is being attacked by something called The Insidious Humdrum. The Humdrum is a strong, anti-magickal force that eats up magic wherever it appears, leaves nothing in its wake, and just happens to look like Simon did at 11 years old.

The real, 18-year-old Simon can’t really control his magic and is prone to dangerous eruptions. In addition to this, he also struggles with his longtime nemesis and roommate Baz, a Malfoy-esque vampire. He also has to deal with his girlfriend Agatha, who like-likes Baz and yearns to escape the magickal world, his bossy, Hermione-like bff named Penelope, and a mentor called The Mage who is the head of the magickal world and of the school. Much like Harry Potter, Simon has a lot on his shoulders, tasked with saving the world just because he was apparently sort of born to do so. But unlike Harry, he has no exceptional aptitude for it.  Though in this story, the spells are all cliches and common turns of phrase, Simon is not that great at casting. However, it’s kind of fun (and sometimes eye-roll-inducing) to hear him utter phrases like “Up, up, and away!” to cast flying spells, or witness other characters recite Queen lyrics while enacting horrific rituals.

Honestly, there is so much going on in Carry On, it’s hard to condense. The damn thing is over 500 pages long. When I started reading, I was initially a little irritated by how self-referential and cliched it was right out of the gate. I wondered how I was going to make it through the whole thing because from the get-go it seems that the reader has missed something. Simon speaks as if we should already have some sort of knowledge of his world and personal history, and although I did because I read Fangirl first, this method of narration was still a little off-putting. However, after I remembered that this was supposed to be the last book in a Harry Potter-like series, and that the reader in the fictional world (Simon’s or Fangirl’s, I’m not sure) would ideally know what was going on, I was able to accept it and move on. I’m not sure someone who was just jumping into the novel would be able to get past it so easily though.

Anyway, despite my initial reticence, I whipped through all 500-ish pages. Rainbow Rowell’s writing is magical. The story is part mystery (who/what is The Insidious Humdrum?), and part love story (who is really in love with whom?). It all sounds a little silly, but it’s actually pretty engaging. Especially the love story – because let’s not kid ourselves. Anyone who knows anything knows that anyone reading a Rainbow Rowell novel is at least partly reading it for the love story.  And though it’s only after the first 200 pages that Rowell gets to the lovey-dovey stuff, it is worth the wait. I warn you to stop reading now if you don’t want spoilers about the romance at the heart of this book.

Simon and Baz are sworn enemies, but forced to live together due to some ancient, Goblet of Fire-like roommate-choosing rule at their boarding school. Simon is on the outs with Agatha, partly because he caught her and Baz in the forest the previous year, holding hands and staring at each other intently (oh, youth). Simon, muscled and ginger and beautiful and fiery and wild, is a little lost. Baz, lithe and gorgeous and pale and elegant and mysterious and moody, is a little depressed. These two inspire such anger and obsession in one another, especially with Agatha thrown into the mix. But – twist – Baz is not into Agatha. He’s secretly in love with Simon, and always has been; the Agatha thing was just a ruse, at least on his end. He’s worried that Simon really hates him, and so tends to treat Simon like a clumsy oaf, which he admittedly sometimes is. For his part, Simon feels hunted, sure that Baz is going to kill him at every turn, and treats Baz with abject suspicion. But when Simon finally realizes that his incessant need to monitor Baz’s behavior and know his whereabouts is actually affection and concern, rather than fear, it’s incredibly sweet. It is also a surprise to Simon (but not to us), and he does have a brief struggle with understanding his sexual identity. Regardless, we get to see Simon and Baz’s tumultuous enemy relationship transform into what it probably always was under the surface: a strong but sometimes-turbulent bond with affection and passion at its core. And, true to form, these teenagers in love connect so easily, yet continue to treat each other with varying degrees of affection and venom. There was always a hint of competitiveness at the core of their bond too.

I have to break away and mention that I read Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park first, then Fangirl, then Carry On. I became beguiled with Rowell’s writing probably within the first 20 pages of Eleanor & Park, and after reading three of her YA novels, I have definitively confirmed that her writing is, again, magical. I’m not kidding. She is somehow able to transport this seasoned reader back to the days of heart-pounding, unrequited love and naive, optimistic hope. I get butterflies in my stomach every time I read one of her books. Every time. Being an adult in a long-term relationship, that doesn’t really happen to me much anymore. And she does this with WORDS ALONE. I can’t figure out how, but can conclude that maybe that particular part of adolescence is still alive and well in her.

Moving on, all of this mushy stuff is wonderful, of course, but it quickly takes a backseat when things start to get serious with The Insidious Humdrum’s “dead spots” appearing more frequently, Simon’s magickal outbursts getting more out of control, and the impending civil war bubbling up in the magickal community. It’s a mad dash to the end of the book, as dots are connected and everything comes to a head. I won’t go any further plot-wise, mostly because too much happens for me even attempt to explain. Suffice it to say that the sequence of events is wild.

I’m not really doing an adequate or concise job of reviewing this book. Briefly, I really enjoyed it. It’s detailed, engaging, and strange, and once I banged it closed, I immediately wished that it wasn’t over. Rainbow Rowell’s winks at the reader, with her references to other works of fantastical writing, are funny and satisfying. I wouldn’t say that I was particularly invested in the magickal world and all that it had to offer, but I did become invested in the main characters. And she did leave some room for the possibility of a sequel, which left me with some hope. After reading this book, you’ll probably want a sequel too. Trust me, if you pick it up, bear with all of the cheesy puns, and get past the confusing magick-speak in the first section, you will absolutely be rewarded.


Recommended For:

Rainbow Rowell fans, fantasy fans, love story lovers, and those who are interested in the fan fiction so central to the plot in Fangirl.


The BSC Project – #0.5/The Prequel “The Summer Before”

The Summer Before

And so The Project begins. I was a little apprehensive about reading this book, partly because starting this whole project is a daunting task, partly out of fear that I very well might have roped myself into reading a mountain of books with gigantic print, and partly because I have a deep-rooted fear of commitment that apparently extends to long-term reading projects. I was able put it off for a bit because I had a surprisingly hard time finding this book in my local bookstores, and had to order it online (boo). But once I had it, I couldn’t justify delaying for much longer. Sometimes you just have to do the damn thing, so I jumped in.

This book, a prequel that was actually written 10 years after the original stories ended, is set before the Baby-Sitters Club is officially formed. It revolves around the four original babysitters, Kristy, Claudia, Mary Anne, and Stacey. Fittingly, the prequel starts with 11-year-old (!!!) Kristy, a seasoned babysitter (AT 11) who was clearly born to be a boss babe. She is a tough little thing whose vulnerability only tends to show when she is struggling with the harsh realities of her father’s abandonment and her mother’s desire to move on. Then there’s Claudia, the gifted artist with strict-ish parents, a genius older sister (literally), and a kind grandmother who is her best friend and ally. Claudia, almost 12, has a growing interest in fashion and boys, and is afraid she’s outgrowing Kristy and Mary Anne, who have been her closest pals since forever. Mary Anne is trying to grow up, but her controlling/obsessive-compulsive dad is determined to keep her in pigtails, frilly outfits, and a vomitous pink bedroom. She is also struggling to know more about and connect with the memory of a mother who died when she was an infant. And Stacey, still living in New York through most of the book, is trying to cope with a disease her parents want to keep secret (it’s just type 1 diabetes, for god’s sake), and with her former friends who mysteriously start bullying her at school. So, these girls are dealing with a lot. I think most of us can relate to that.

In this book, each chapter is narrated by a different girl, so we get to see how different plotlines play out from different perspectives. For example, we see how Claudia’s blinding infatuation with her new boyfriend (who is 15…while she is just barely 12…) quietly distances her from Kristy and Mary Anne, or how Kristy’s misguided hope for her dad to be a better person inspires sadness, graciousness, and strength in the other two girls. We also see how Mary Anne’s father’s issues (setting down his paper involves adjusting it to perfectly fit the corner of the table) and suffocation affect the way people view Mary Anne. We even get glimpses of how something as simple as Mary Anne’s effortless act of decency towards new girl Stacey makes Stacey feel included and good again after the weeks (months?) of bullying and ostracism at her old school.

I was initially somewhat skeptical of the content, format, and style of this book. However, I very quickly remembered why I loved this series so much. The writing is simple but not overly juvenile, and the quality of the plot far outweighed any issues I might have had with the writing style. These girls are just young people dealing with universal problems, making mistakes, and trying to learn from them. It’s really the small moments that make these characters so lifelike and endearing, like watching Kristy waste her whole birthday, which her mother and brothers try to make really special, wishing and waiting for a dad who never shows up. Or when, at the end of the disastrous birthday night, Mary Anne sits down next to Kristy and wordlessly puts her arm around her friend. Ugh! The bond these girls share is enviable. A major part of what is really fantastic about these books is that they show young girls helping each other out and supporting one another, rather than the tired old tropes of girls constantly in competition for a boy’s interest, or girls putting each other down, or girls fighting over who’s prettiest. These books portray female friendships as they really are: complex, sometimes confusing, and generally pretty rad. It’s this portrayal, rather than some twee or sensationalized, cheap, unreal TV version of how girls treat and compete with each other, that helps make this series so wonderful.

I want more friends like these four little ladies in my life, but making friends as a grown up is as hard now as it was as a kid, if not harder. So until some awesome new lady friends magically appear, I suppose I’ll stick with the ones I find in books. These ones set a pretty good friend precedent, anyway.

The BSC Project – Mills’s Great Idea

BSC Logo

I’ve mentioned this before, but when I was a little kid, I was totally and completely wild about The Baby-Sitters Club. I inhaled it all, from the books (heart eyes) to the short-lived TV series (gold) to the movie (trash). One of my favorite childhood Christmas memories (and Mom memories) revolves around the book series: I must have been around 9 or 10, and I’d already gotten several great Christmas presents, when my mom told me that she and Dad still had the biggest, best present to give me. I certainly wasn’t expecting to get anything else, but then my mom walked in with a GIGANTIC plastic bag full of all of the BSC (Baby-Sitters Club) books she could find, particularly the ones I didn’t have in my collection. I freaked out and generally lost my mind. As I dug around the bag excitedly, I asked, “Are these ALL Baby-Sitters Club books?” I remember her delighted smile as she said, “Yep, all the ones you don’t have yet.” She succeeded in raising a geek; I was ecstatic about getting a bag full of books. Even now I can recall that feeling of intense elation, and I’ll never forget that it was the first time I had the desire to quite literally dive into a pile of unread books and not-quite-literally gobble them up whole.

Then, at age twelve I inevitably entered that dreaded hell, the deepest torture I believed was sent solely to rip me out of childhood and dangle me in that god-awful purgatory, before thrusting me into full-fledged adulthood. I’m talking about that rite of passage known as junior high school. Those were some of the worst years I’ve ever experienced. In junior high, everyone seemed so grown up, and I was really, really not. I wasn’t one of the tallest kids in class anymore (or ever again). Nobody ushered me from class to class. People had boyfriends and girlfriends. Hell, there were pregnant girls in my 7th grade class. Everyone was so cool (aside from the pregnant girls), and here I was, clutching a baby’s book as I buffeted my way through the halls. So I did the unthinkable: I abandoned the BSC, never to visit the hallowed halls of Claudia’s bedroom again.

I had some serious issues putting those books down then, and I still have an issue with that decision now. In an effort to fit in, I let go of something that brought me true joy and comfort, and I picked up JNCO jeans, which brought nothing but utter embarrassment. Also, I don’t think I was developmentally ready to just dump those books, or that part of my childhood. But we all do dumb stuff at that age, and I was no exception. Shocked that I stopped reading my BSC books, my mom questioned the decision and tried to encourage me to pick the series back up again, but I was moody and lacked a basic understanding of my own feelings, hormones, and reasoning. I just wanted to fit in, really, but I had no way to express or even fathom why I felt I had to stop at the time.

So it’s only fitting that exactly 20 years later, as a “mature” adult who generally doesn’t care what people think, I’m choosing to pick them up again. I’ve read such a multitude of books in the intervening years, and have obviously experienced such a shift in perspective between 12 and almost-32, that I’d like to return to the series with fresh eyes. I love reading books for younger people, because I feel like there are great lessons to be learned in them, some that we forget or simply take for granted as we age.

And so, the plan is basically for me to read every Baby-Sitters Club book I can get my hands on. I’m calling this ambitious venture “The BSC Project”. Luckily, I still have all of my original books and they’re in great condition, despite having spent 20 years in a storage shed with tiny spiders weaving colonies in their pages. This is really a way to revisit an old childhood love, and also an honest attempt to relearn some of those lessons I was taught as a kid but could probably stand to hear now. And the 12-year-old in me is also itching to know what the hell happened to those steadfast, fictional friends of mine. 

BSC Bracelet
My BSC bracelet from the ’90s….


  • The first and most important rule is that I don’t want to have too many hard and fast rules. That’s a surefire way for me to give up. However I will be following a few guidelines, because otherwise I will absolutely quit. I haven’t changed that much.
  • I have to read (and write about) all of the books from the original series.
  • I have to read all of the extra-long Super Specials (which were my favorites).
  • I will read all of the Friends Forever books, provided I can get my hands on them. They are the final installments in the girls’ storylines, and I’ve never read them. I’ll read the prequel too, since Ann M. Martin wrote it, albeit long after the series ended.
  • If I start feeling really ambitious, I might dig into the mysteries too. However I’m not making it a priority to read the numerous spinoffs, like the enormous Little Sister collection, because there are too many issues of them and they are boring. I might pick up The California Diaries that feature Dawn, because I’ve also never read them and they sound interesting; they’re apparently targeted to older kids and are darker than the main series.
  • MAYBE I’ll rewatch the series and the movie. Maybe. We’ll see how I feel. I love the series, but the movie is 90% garbage.

It’s hard to say exactly how many books I’m missing at this point, but I fully expect to spend hours upon hours reading, and to pay exorbitant amounts of money to complete my collection. I’ll do my best to chronicle it all and explain everything as I go along. And I imagine I’ll learn some stuff along the way. There will still be normal-person posts, though, because this is definitely a long-term project and my blog isn’t solely dedicated to this book series. It’s going to be a long ride, but a good one. I can feel it. I’m about to say hello to my (old) friends!


A Blog I Love – Meet Me At Mike’s

Meet Me At Mikes

I have a confession to make: though I like writing a blog, I am not great about reading other people’s blogs. It’s embarrassing, it’s probably blasphemous, and it feels selfish. But I’m not going to beat myself up about it right now, because I want to share with you one blog that I follow religiously. It’s wonderful and inspiring, and I don’t remember how or where I found it, but the Australia-based Pip Lincolne writes a blog called Meet Me at Mike’s that is definitely among my favorites.

Pip mostly focuses on crafting and visually appealing things, which I love. She so obviously takes such great joy in beauty, writing, creating, and in life in general that I always feel somewhat giddy and inspired after reading one of her posts. It’s a bit of positivity in my inbox every now and then, and adds a tiny punctuation mark to my week at a tedious office job. I don’t know Pip and she doesn’t know me, but in case you couldn’t tell, I adore her. After reading her blog, I feel more creative, I have more appreciation for my crafty side, and I look at the the things around me a little bit differently. I encourage you to take a (visual) stroll around Pip’s blog, especially if you’re a crafty-type person.

Pip does this thing once a month called “Taking Stock” where she makes a list of things that she’s currently doing, seeing, feeling, etc. It seems like a good way to slow down and take a few minutes to practice some self-awareness and to acknowledge and appreciate the things you’re thinking, feeling, and enjoying about life.

I’ve always been fascinated by time capsules and things like that, so I may start doing a Taking Stock list every now and again, if only to look back at a log of the things I’m interested in at a particular moment. I’ve created my first list below, and in the spirit of Pip, I’ll leave a little list below for you to fill in if you’d like. I’d love to know if you’ve checked out Pip’s blog, and if you decide to “take stock” too.


Making: A Majora’s Mask cross stitch that I got at Classic Game Fest last year. It will be amazing when I actually finish it.

Cooking: Some quinoa lately. I LOVE QUINOA.

Drinking: Lots of water. I used to have this Plant Nanny app that tracks water consumption by having you grow plants. I loved it, but they haven’t updated it in almost a year, so I grew all the plants and then begrudgingly deleted it.

Reading: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. I’m trying to read more YA, and I love Rainbow Rowell’s writing. It reminds me what I was like when I was a little younger – full of vim and vigor and imagination and tummy-butterflies and crushes.

Trawling: Other people’s blogs for similar ones I can follow.

Wanting: A newer laptop so that I can type away on my lunch breaks instead of stealing illicit moments and hoping nobody looks at my computer at work….

Looking: Out the windows at a grey sky and wishing I was at home.

Deciding: That I need to buckle down and start writing more. I love it, and I sometimes I really abuse my free time by watching YouTube and not putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).

Wishing: That my mom was here. I’ve been missing and needing her a lot lately.

Enjoying: Sitting outside on my lunch breaks and reading my book. I love the freedom of being outside and basking in the sun.

Waiting: For 5pm so I can go home and start my weekend!

Liking: These macrobiotic bars called . . . MacroBars. In “Protein Pleasure” particularly – peanut butter and chocolate chip. I’ve convinced myself that they’re a healthy breakfast even though they’re full of chocolate chips.

Wondering: If I should brave the city streets for food. I live in a festival city and work downtown, and there is a festival going on right now. Hipsters and pretentious DJs and rich girls with expensive bohemian clothes are swarming the sidewalks and roads and annoying the bejesus out of me.

Loving: My kitty Samadhi. She’s getting older and has some kidney issues, and I’m trying to lavish all the love I can on her while she’s still around, even if it means letting her crawl under the covers at night to administer sharp little love bites to my bare arms and legs, but also to spoon with me.

Pondering: What book I’m going to read once I finish this one. It’s easier than thinking about what’s going on in the world. Books are always the best thing to ponder.

Listening: To the “Feminist Friday” station on Spotify. It’s a Lilith Fair throwback this week, y’all! I LOVE that time in music. Ugh, it was the best.

Considering: Buying a Nintendo Switch. Whenever they’re available next. I must play Breath of the Wild.

Buying: Far too much makeup and makeup-related items lately. I’ve sadly realized that no matter how hard I try to find a cheap, good-quality drugstore setting spray, nothing comes close to Urban Decay’s All Nighter. Damn them. It’s so expensive.

Watching: “Chewing Gum” on Netflix. Michaela Coel has created an amazing show, and she’s a great actor! I relate to her character Tracey in so many ways; she’s such an awkward, weird creation.

Hoping: That I can stick with the promises I’ve made to myself regarding more writing and less consumption of sugar and fried foods….

Marvelling: At people’s capacity for hatred, meanness, and cruelty. I can’t relate in the least, or even understand what leads people to their heinous beliefs and behavior.

Cringing: Because I missed a beloved family member’s birthday last Sunday and only realized it this morning.

Needing: To stop clenching my teeth out of stress, but old habits die hard.

Questioning: Where I am in my life, work-wise, and why I’m doing what I’m doing.

Smelling: The perfume my dad bought me for Christmas.

Wearing: Very black pointy shoes. And nothing else. Kidding, kidding.

Following: The news. Reluctantly. But I do stay away from the news and social media on the weekends, because I would be clenching my teeth and pulling my hair out even more if I didn’t take a break.

Noticing: The new buds and leaves on trees, and how pretty and bright green they are.

Knowing: The lyrics to lots of songs from the ‘90s, apparently.

Thinking: About seeing my beau this evening.

Admiring: People who write full-time. Admiring/envying, potato/potahto.

Getting: A treat for myself today for making it through the week.

Bookmarking: Embroidery and cross stitch patterns I like on Etsy.

Disliking: The current state of the American government.

Opening: My mouth. The teeth-clenching! *eye roll*

Giggling: About some Harry Potter memes and tumblr posts and illustrations I saw yesterday. They had me laughing out loud, inappropriately.

Feeling: A little cold and headache-y from today’s chilly weather and my allergies.

Helping: A coworker with the grammar on some of his school assignments.

Hearing: People chatting in the hallway.

Celebrating: The end of the work week. And St. Patrick’s Day this evening, with my sister and a pint.

Pretending: That I don’t have work things I could be doing.

Embracing:  The fact that I’m not perfect, and that I don’t have to be. The idea that being my flawed self is okay and good and genuine.

And a blank list for your own sort-of time capsule:











































Book Review – “Delicate Edible Birds” by Lauren Groff

Delicate Edible BirdsI originally bought this book of short stories for my sister, but the description on the book jacket sounded so intriguing, I decided to get a copy for myself.  Full disclosure, it’s been a while since I’ve read this book, so I’m writing with a few notes by my side. However, I think my distance from the book has been beneficial, as I remember with greater clarity the stories in this collection that really stood out to and stuck with me.

One of my standouts was “Blythe”, narrated by a bored stay-at-home mom who was previously a busy attorney. Boredom leads this woman to join a poetry class, where she unexpectedly meets and befriends a glamorous, commanding fellow mother – the eponymous Blythe. A suicidal, dramatic poet and artist, Blythe rips the narrator out of the dullness of her everyday existence and draws her into a wild, lifelong friendship that ends up warping both of their lives. Over the years, the narrator’s life follows a more traditional trajectory, while Blythe becomes a well-known and provocative artist. Their friendship is at turns exhilarating and draining, but it’s overarching characteristic is its toxicity. The narrator comes to feel beholden to Blythe, catering to her every whim and playing stand-in mother to her neglected young sons. With time, Blythe becomes more and more volatile, growing in popularity, size, ego, and personality, and her very being seems to threaten to consume those around her, the narrator in particular. To me, the story felt very true to life; as someone who has experienced my share of toxic friendships, this story depicted all too well how easy it is to get dragged around and bled dry by the domineering Blythes of the world.

Another story I enjoyed was “Sir Fleeting”, recounted by an old woman looking back on her life after being visited by an old lover. As a very young woman on her honeymoon, the narrator falls in love and lust with a wealthy, wandering French traveler she meets in Argentina. As this man drifts in and out of her life over the years, she seems to want to hold on to him, but also enjoys the fleeting nature of their trysts, knowing that she can never have a true relationship with him. No matter where they are in their lives and personal relationships, the two always happen to bump into each other and rekindle the common spark that attracted them in the first place. But this playboy is slippery, and usually disappears before she can fully understand what she is to him, or what she even really wants from him. However, upon their final meeting as old friends and lovers, things take an interesting and rather melancholy turn as the veil of infatuation is lifted and truth finally begins to break the spell he has on her.

Two of the most heartbreaking stories in the collection were “Watershed” and “L. Debard and Aliette”. The former revolves around a woman who falls in love with, marries, and then loses a man in a tragic accident following a newlywed marital tiff. Again told by a woman recounting her past, this story is arguably the saddest of them all. I will not do it the injustice of trying to relate all of the particulars – you just need to read it. The latter follows the lives of a young poetry-loving girl with polio and the much older, very accomplished Olympic swimmer and poet she falls in love with. Set in the early 1900s, the two eventually begin an illicit affair that challenges the mores of the day, and when they are finally found out, their lives are violently and irrevocably changed. The story manages to be dark, romantic, weird, and somehow sadly uplifting. Wikipedia tells me that this is a more modern depiction of the story of Abelard and Heloise. I’m no expert on that story, but I did enjoy this one.

Overall, I found this short story collection to be odd, gloomy, and therefore satisfying. Each story has dark undercurrents flowing beneath the surface, and nothing is tied up quite neatly in the end. I like that women are centrally featured in these stories, and there is an intense examination of women’s expected roles in society, and of the consequences of breaking from convention. Maybe it’s because of the reference to the grossly inhumane “delicacy” ortolan in the book’s title, but when I think of this collection, I imagine each of the stories as a tiny little bird, beautiful and ostensibly fragile, but full of crunchy, sharp little bones that are revealed upon delving in. The bones of these stories definitely stick in the mind for quite a while.


Recommended For:

Those who like reading about the nuances in the female experience from different perspectives. Also for those who enjoy stories that end up being much darker than they first appear.