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Original Essays | August 18, 2014

Ian Leslie: IMG Empathic Curiosity

Today, we wonder anxiously if digital media is changing our brains. But if there's any time in history when our mental operations changed... Continue »
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The Lost Entwife has commented on (170) products.

The Memory Garden by Mary Rickert
The Memory Garden

The Lost Entwife, August 8, 2014

I finished reading THE MEMORY GARDEN by M. Rickert last May and now, months later, I still have conflicted emotions when I think about it. I remember thinking that this should be the perfect story for me - an old family secret, a girl surrounded by characters who have rich pasts, conflict, friendship, love - maybe even a little magic, be it of the supernatural or the chemistry kind.

Unfortunately, I think THE MEMORY GARDEN really fell short for me on most of these. I remember, while reading, that I would feel these little kindling thoughts like.. this could be it, this could be where the story really gets moving - but instead those bits of kindling died out and, instead, I found myself trudging through more story and more text (because some of it, honestly, was quite dull).

That's not to say it was all bad. There were those moments. And that's why I'm having a hard time giving this book less than a 3-star rating, in spite of my reservations about it. Because those moments were...almost... magical. I can practically feel my fingertips tingling a bit as I remember the bits and pieces, and I just wish that the rest of the book would have followed suit.

THE MEMORY GARDEN by M. Rickert may just have been one of those books I read at the wrong time. Perhaps it needed to be read when there was rain outside and fall colors and a cup of tea by my side instead of in sunny Hawaii while sitting at the beach. Maybe I'll try it again and see if the setting can make a difference. I wouldn't discourage anyone to not pick this one up because maybe you will just have better luck with it than I did this time.
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The Returned by Jason Mott
The Returned

The Lost Entwife, August 3, 2014

It's been quite a few months since I read THE RETURNED by Jason Mott, but the story still lingers and every once in a while, when I see someone experience a loss on television, or hear of someone losing a loved on via my Facebook feed, or even the happy news of lost strangers being united with their families, my mind returns to the story in THE RETURNED.

It's quite the story. Imagine losing a child or a loved one and then, years later, they appear on your doorstep, completely unchanged. And it's not just happening to you - people around the world are experiencing the return of their loved ones. For Harold and Lucille, the story becomes very real when their son, Jacob, appears on their doorstep as a young, nine-year old boy, just the same age as when he was lost to them.

But Harold and Lucille have changed. And soon the town finds itself divided as some families seek to protect their returned and others fear who may just turn up on their doorstep; the fear being for various reasons. But even more than an interesting story line here is the light it shines on our society and our grief and coping mechanisms. Additionally, it questions just what our definition of life should be. Now, granted, I don't see a story like this happening any time soon, but it's really not a surprise that the Returned (as those who were dead but now aren't are dubbed) are treated in some sectors as less than human. There is so much in this world that is evidence of the inhumane treatment of those living that I can't say that I was really surprised by the events that unfolded in THE RETURNED.

I saw that THE RETURNED was also being made into a television show and, while I think that the concept would play well on the screen, it's not something I would care to see recreated. While the story still lingers in my mind, it's not a story that begs for me to return to it. Still, it was quite the interesting read and I can remember staying up late into the night to finish it.
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Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
Boy, Snow, Bird

The Lost Entwife, August 3, 2014

I'm struggling so much right now because I really, really wanted to fall in love with BOY, SNOW, BIRD by Helen Oyeyemi. I'm sitting here, struggling with a lack of words to convey my disappointment and struggling as well to try to articulate what exactly about BOY, SNOW, BIRD disappointed me. I asked myself when I finished reading if maybe I had expected too much - Snow White has always been one of my favorite stories, but I really went into this book without reading much of anything except the brief synopsis on the back. My mind was open to the possibilities and I had absolutely every hope of being drawn in.

What happened was that, ultimately, I got bored. I had a reasonable amount of interest during the entire first section, but after a while it felt like I was reading fragments of a story loosely bound together. When the sections shifted to a new voice, I struggled for almost 30 pages with trying to get my head in the right place. I felt like I'd been rudely ripped from one story and thrust into another without so much as a warning.

I really, really think that what Oyeyemi was attempting to do here is a fantastic thing. I really wanted to be blown away with her insights and strong characters that would pummel me from the pages and make me think long and hard. Unfortunately, my thinking was solely to do with wondering when the book was ending and asking myself if I should just put it down and DNF it. I didn't, but there's a strong part of me that wishes that I had, because BOY, SNOW, BIRD ended up being, in my humble opinion, a pretty cover, a cool concept for a story, but something that ultimately just did not deliver.
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The Children Act by Ian Mcewan
The Children Act

The Lost Entwife, August 2, 2014

There are three types of books I enjoy reading and, as a result, there's generally three types of authors that go along with those books. Sometimes an author will cross over and write something that dabbles a little bit (or jumps completely into) one of those other two types of books, but generally speaking, they stick to what's been done before under their name. One of those types of books (and authors) I really enjoy employs beautiful language and a storytelling ability that transcends everything else. When I read this type of book I can feel my world view expanding and my thoughts and ideas and preconceptions being challenged and tested. Ian McEwan writes books that not only deliver a sucker punch to my gut, but makes me grateful for being there to get punched in the first place. THE CHILDREN ACT delivered yet another punch and, while it didn't hurt as much as ATONEMENT or SOLACE did, the after-effects are still rocking me a bit.

There are really two stories happening in THE CHILDREN ACT. One story deals with the marriage of Fiona Maye and the bomb that's dropped into her lap by her husband of 30-odd years. The other story deals with the legal system in England, specifically those cases which, repeatedly, brought to mind the old stories of Biblical Solomon that I was taught as I was growing up. You know the cases - the separation of twins that will lead to the death of one of them; the determination of which parent takes the child home when, quite frankly, neither may deserve it, and finally, the case the book centers around, the battle between religion and medicine.

This second part of the story is a big part. It trumps even the issues within Fiona's marriage, but rather than completely overshadowing them, it brings details like the discussions and interactions of Fiona and her husband into delicate, crystal-clear view. Everything seemed so sharp and the case had me on such pins and needles that everything else just seemed to poke and prod at me in all my weak spots. If it was affecting me, the reader, in such a way, imagination goes crazy on how it would have affected anyone living this in real life.

McEwan is a masterful storyteller, there's no doubt about that. In the pitch I received for this book, the writer said he experiences awe and envy at the ability that McEwan has with words. There is absolutely no doubt that McEwan's vocabulary and, more importantly, his perfect execution of that vocabulary, makes anything he write a masterpiece. It's such an added bonus when the story lives up to it.
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Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

The Lost Entwife, August 2, 2014

I'm a fan of Scott Westerfeld, but his books make me often frustrated. He has this knack, this ability to come up with really interesting ideas and then get about 80% of the way into really knocking them out of the park but then the last 20% of that effort just never seems to match up with the rest of it. I was hoping AFTERWORLDS would finally push that 80% to a 90% or even, dare I say it, 100% ... but unfortunately, it fell right into the same trap that LEVIATHAN and UGLIES did for me.

What do I mean by that 80/20% thing? Well 80% of AFTERWORLDS was absolutely fantastic. I loved having a heroine last name Patel, I loved hearing descriptions about a life that is different from your average, run-of-the-mill white girl experience that YA fiction seems to center around. I loved the introduction of a very adult, very out-of-the-norm for YA fiction relationship as well as the family's reaction to it. I adored Darcy's little sister to pieces. But there were so many missing pieces connecting all of these things that I felt a bit, at the end of the book, as if I'd been smacked around.

While I love the concept of a novel within a novel (and the book is told in alternating chapters, we read Darcy's story in-between chapters of her own real life story), I think the effort put into creating a book like this means that something had to give. Unfortunately, in this case, it was Darcy's real life story. AFTERWORLDS became more believable in the Afterworlds sections of the book than in the real words section. I had a hard time getting behind an instant love connection. I had a very, very hard time with the simplistic budget that Darcy seemed to be able to live on (and honestly, $150k/year is not much at all when it comes to NYC). It felt very unreal that she was able, for example, to find an apartment that was large enough to host a fairly good size party and she didn't need a roommate to help with the payment of rent.

Then there's the Aunt figure, that mysterious family member who is able to grant wishes because it's inconvenient for the parents to do so. I just wasn't buying it all.

That said, I did love the introduction to the Hindu death god, and the whole incorporation of the Hindu religion. Not something you see in literature and something I would love to see explored more. I really enjoyed the AFTERWORLD part of the story, and although there were issues there as well, they were nothing as glaring as the real world story.

Would I recommend picking up AFTERWORLDS? That depends. If you are a huge fan of Westerfeld and have faith in his ability to tell a good story, yet still can accept some disappointment and move on, then sure - pick it up. If you don't want to sink into this 600+ page book without knowing that it will reward you for your efforts, I'd say move on. In fact, I wish it would have been possible to release this novel in a two-set book or something, allowing us to read AFTERWORLDS before, or after, we read Darcy's story. Probably impossible, but something neat to think about.
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