Things in Jars by Jess Kidd

BLOG“A cloth covers the jar that Bridie took from the bookcase in the nursery, and Ruby is thankful for this. For the contents have the ability to rearrange even a dead man’s sense of reality. As with all terrible, wondrous sights, there is a jolt of shock, then a hypnotic fascination, then the uneasy queasiness, then the whole thing starts again; the desire to look and the desire never to have looked in the first place.”

Bridie Devine is a well-known detective who takes on a case involving the kidnapping of Christabel Berwick, the secret daughter of Sir Edmund Berwick. Few people were aware of her existence but it becomes clear that the girl possesses supernatural qualities, which have drawn the attention of collectors who specialize in oddities. Bridie is intent on finding the child and uncovering the truth behind her disappearance, especially as Sir Edmund himself proves to be less than forthcoming. But in order to do that she will need to reconnect with parts of her past that she had long buried. To assist her is Cora, her seven-foot tall housemaid with a sharp tongue, and Ruby, a tattoo-covered ghost. What unfolds is a story of secrets that blends light and dark along with the surreal.

‘’The woman is made of boot polish and pipe smoke, clean cloth and the north wind. And as for the dead man walking behind her, well, he means no harm.’’

Initially I was just going to read a chapter of this book to get a sense of the story because I wasn’t sure what exactly I was in the mood to read. But then I just kept reading and reading well into the night. The writing is lovely and completely drew me in. I am generally not a fan of very descriptive writing styles, but here there was this perfect balance of imagery and story progression. My absolute favourite aspect of a novel is compelling characters, and Things in Jars delivers that as well. Bridie especially is intelligent, brave, and a wonderful protagonist. What I enjoyed the most was the dialogue and banter between characters, particularly with Bridie and Ruby, the ghost. In fact that part of the story I found to be really touching. And Cora is the kind of friend you definitely want to have. There is the mystery aspect of the story, but there is also time spent going back to Bridie’s childhood and discovering how it may relate to present day events. Even though I am such a big fan of mysteries, I found myself mostly drawn to the characters and the strangeness of the things presented in this world. Some things made me chuckle and there were moments that left me feeling unsettled. As with any story that utilizes magical realism, it was strange and bizarre, but written in a way that gives that nostalgic feeling of fairy tales. I am eager to read many more books by this author.

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

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“I’m homesick all the time,” she said, still not looking at him “I just don’t know where home is. There’s this promise of happiness out there. I know it. I even feel it sometimes. But it’s like chasing the moon – just when I think I have it, it disappears into the horizon. I grieve and try to move on, but then the damn thing comes back the next night, giving me hope of catching it all over again.”

Following the death of her mother, Emily Benedict moves to Mullaby, North Carolina to live with the grandfather she never knew. In fact, her mother’s past and life in Mullaby is one big mystery to Emily and upon her arrival she gets more questions than answers. Not only are the reactions to her by the townspeople somewhat strange, but there are bizarre occurrences that show that there is more to this little town than meets the eye: Unknown lights appear in the woods behind her grandfather’s house, the wallpaper in her room changes to suit the mood, and her next door neighbour, Julia, bakes hope in the form of cakes. As Emily slowly learns the stories behind the mysteries of Mullaby, Julia has to come to terms with her own past and hopefully find a sense of home she lost so long ago.  Continue reading “The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen”

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

IMG_4300“In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, a young man met a young woman in a classroom and did not speak to her.”

As war and unrest is slowly taking over their country, Saeed and Nadia meet in a night class, each equally drawn to the other. They strike up a friendship that leads to romance, and as the situation in their country becomes more and more perilous, they begin to seek a way out. Amid rumours of secret doors that lead to places far away they decide to take a chance on an uncertain future, as their reality becomes one of danger and desperation.

“Rumour had begun to circulate of doors that could take you elsewhere, often to places far away, well removed from this death trap of a country. Some people claimed to know people who knew people, who had been through such doors. A normal door, they said, could become a special door, and it could happen without warning, to any door at all. Most people thought these rumours to be nonsense, the superstitions of the feeble-minded. But most people began to gaze at their own doors a little differently nonetheless.”

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Exit West is a novel that both surprised and greatly impressed me. I came across it by chance and was quite taken by its premise. As I read through the story it delivered on so many levels, the main one being the way in which it captures the reality and emotions of those caught up in conflict situations; the desperation, despair, fear, and the loss of humanity.

“What she was doing… was for her not about frivolity, it was about the essential, about being human, living as a human being, reminding oneself of what one was, and so it mattered, and if necessary was worth a fight.”

In the midst of everything we have our two main characters and the subtle yet significant ways their circumstances and journey affect them as individuals, and in turn their relationship. There is a slight fantasy element to the novel in the idea of doors that lead to a different and far away place, which is subtle and adds a charming element to the overall story. A beautiful and thought-provoking novel.

“… decency on this occasion won out, and bravery, for courage is demanded not to attack when afraid.”

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

img_3051“To the boys who get called girls,
the girls who get called boys,
and those who live outside these words.
To those called names,
and those searching for names of their own.
To those who live on the edges, 
and in the spaces in between.
I wish for you every light in the sky.”

What a wonderful way for an author to introduce a novel. When the Moon Was Ours is a magical realism novel that tells the story of love and friendship between Miel and Sam. Miel is an outcast who fell out of a water tower when she was five years old, and roses grow out of her wrist. Sam is a young trans boy, struggling with his identity, and known for painting moons and hanging them in trees. We are taken on a journey through their personal struggles and stories, which are expressed through beautiful writing.

There is a very whimsical and dream-like quality to this novel, which is absolutely lovely and reminded me why I adore stories with magical realism. The characters are compelling and the way in which the author tackles different social issues along with those surrounding identity is effective, relatable, and ultimately very powerful. There are moments throughout the early sections that are a little confusing and hard to follow, however once I got into the flow of the story it became quite engaging. A truly beautiful novel I recommend for anyone who enjoys magical realism.

*ARC provided by NetGalley. Publication date: October 4, 2016.

Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

IMG_1957“Her heart was heavy because it was open, and so things filled it, and so things rushed out of it, but still the heart kept beating, tough and frighteningly powerful and meaning to shrug off the rest of her and continue on its own.”

Novelist Mr. Fox has a habit of killing off the heroines in his novels.  His muse Mary comes to life and turns Mr. Fox into a tragic character through her own stories, while he in turn does the same to her.  In the meantime, his wife Daphne is convinced that he is having an affair and soon becomes involved in the game between Mary and Mr. Fox.  With stories within stories Mr. Fox is an interesting adventure with a fairytale feel.

Helen Oyeyemi is a wonderful writer, and her prose is absolutely beautiful. There are a number of lovely quotes that I couldn’t help but mark and reread. The concept is unique and many stories are quite captivating, however I feel the overall book would have been much stronger if some of the content had not been included.  There are a lot of little stories and not all worked with the concept.  By the latter part of the novel it does start to drag and unfortunately lose the charm of its initial beginning, although it is unique and the writing is lovely.  If you prefer novels with a linear plot then this book is probably not for you.  However, if you like lots of stories, fairytales, and getting lost in beautiful language, then Mr. Fox is definitely worth a read.

“The girl tried, several times, to give her love away, but her love would not stay with the person she gave it to and snuck back to her heart without a sound.”