Book Review | Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi

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Three generations of Lee women occupy Oyeyemi’s latest novel. Perdita is a high school girl in London. Her single mother Harriet teaches classes at a night school to support them. Grandma Margot is a strong willed interior designer of sorts. Gingerbread focuses on a brief retelling of Harriet’s childhood. Growing up in a sort of fantasy land, she is “rescued” from her poor crop farming family and whisked away to the big city where she becomes a “Gingerbread Girl” in a tourist attraction. From there she again needs rescuing and is brought with her mother Margot to London by their benefactors.

This is the straight forward part of the story. Talking dolls, semi-imaginary friends, and powders that allow travel between the real/non-real world are some of the aspects of fantasy Oyeyemi employs. There are also family quarrels, mysterious characters and a few loose ends. The text is well written, and the plot can be followed, but it may leave the reader wondering what the point really was. Probably best to judge for yourself, check it out from a library near you.

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Book Review | The Lonesome Bodybuilder by Yukiko Motoya

More than surreal, this collection of almost otherworldly short stories are sure to open your eyes wide with the unexpected. I offer a one sentence introduction for each of the 11 tales.

The Lonesome Bodybuilder: A woman working at a department store decides to pursue bodybuilding.

Fitting Room: A retail clerk goes to excessive lengths attempting to find the perfect garment for an unusual customer.

Typhoon: A youth at a train station takes cookies from a stranger who doles out strange predictions about umbrella-wielders in a typhoon.

I Called You by Name: A woman in a business meeting is completely unable to pay attention when she perceives a bulge she thinks may be moving behind a curtain in the meeting room.

An Exotic Marriage: A woman and her husband begin to resemble each other as their marriage progresses and they lose themselves.

Paprika Jiro: A market is repeatedly terrorized by a strange tribe of invaders who may or may not be real.

How to Burden the Girl: The girl next door cries tears of blood and is attacked by a rival gang members, some of whom are killed and buried in the forest behind the house.

The Women: Women challenge their partners to duels and take them to the riverbanks to fight it out.

Q&A: An advice columnist shares truths during a final interview prior to her retirement.

The Dogs: A woman living in solitude on a mountain befriends a pack of wild dogs who encompass her as she sleeps standing up.

The Straw Husband: After taking his wife running, a man made of straw berates her for her careless attitude about his fancy new car.

While some have compared this Motoya collection to writings of Haruki Murakami, I’d have to call the connection slim. Though a few of the stories do bring thoughts of Murakami, for the most part this collection is much farther out there. Though a few tales may leave the reader bewildered, some do provide some food for thought. The book is a quick read and would work well for entertainment while commuting. Check it out from a library near you!

Book Review | Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami

killing commendatore book cover.jpgAt over 680 pages, this tome may be daunting, but the story is well worth your time. More like Murakami’s earlier writings, specifically The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the WorldKilling Commendatore is a real winner. The basis of the story is a painter who has recently separated with his wife, goes to live in the mountains as caretaker for the remote residence of another famous painter. Once a diverse cast of characters is introduced, the plot takes a surreal dive into a literal pit the painter is drawn to unearth in his back yard.

Murakami’s signature writing style will have fans smiling from the beginning of this book. The novel includes ample twists and turns, and the author does a fabulous job of weaving together many themes and plot lines. Magical realism works so well as a binding agent for these various subjects. While not all long-time Murakami fans may have enjoyed his last few publications as much as the oldies, this serves as more of a return to his writing roots and is sure to entertain the critics. Check it out from a library near you!

*Fans of Killing Commendatore, may enjoy Taduno’s Song by Odafe Atogun (2017).

Book Review | How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

how to stop time cover.jpgImagine living for hundreds of years, but aging very, very slowly. Haig’s most recent novel, How to Stop Time, presents a protagonist and members of the supporting cast with such a condition. Although the rule for people with ‘anageria’ is not to fall in love, Tom Hazard finds the love of his life and fathers a daughter who shares his condition. Forced to leave her behind in dangerous times, Tom then spends several lifetimes searching for her and reliving memories of interactions with Shakespeare, a witch hunter and Captain Cook to name a few.

This book is interesting from the beginning. Interwoven historical flashbacks are very entertaining and mesh well to tell a story that has been happening for centuries. This thought provoking read keeps a good clip going, with a surprisingly small cast. Recommended to fans of historical fiction and mild fantasy. Check it out from a library near you.

I received a copy of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway.

*Fans of How to Stop Time, may be interested in Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.

Book Review | The Coincidence Makers by Yoav Blum

coincidence makers cover.jpgSomewhat surreal, The Coincidence Makers is a fictional fantasy where what seems to be happening by chance is actually carefully planned. Protagonists Guy and Emily have gone through training together and work as coincidence makers who receive special projects that they must enact. Whether making a piano fall from a window unto a passerby or sparking the urge in an accountant to write poetry, the coincidences they create are often life altering. A romantic undercurrent helps drive the novel forward.

Blum has penned a quick and enjoyable read. His relatable characters and relaxed tone make the book easy to get into and maintain the reader’s interest. Some of the concepts he’s developed are a little complicated or convoluted, but the text flows well and the story comes out a winner. This book would be great for fans of surreal fiction or those interested in the inner workings of the universe. Check it out from a library near you.

I received an advance readers’ edition of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway.

*Fans of The Coincidence Makers, may be interested in The Room by Jonas Karlsson.

Book Review | Taduno’s Song by Odafe Atogun

tadunos song coverAs Atogun’s debut novel, Taduno’s Song is a real winner. This novel takes place in a present day African military dictatorship. Taduno is a renowned musician who returns home after months away to find the country has forgotten him entirely, save for his voice. The government has kidnapped his girlfriend to use as a bargaining chip to get him to sing their praises instead of using his music to stand up for the people. Involving a colorful cast of supporter’s, Taduno’s quest to regain his voice and save his lover provides a very inviting tale.

This novel is thought provoking and entertaining, relaying a story that will stay with the reader long beyond the book’s end. As soon as I finished reading it, my thoughts were of how to get my hands on more of Atogun’s writing. His clean and concise style makes the text very easy to follow. This is not often an easy task when employing surrealism in literature. This book will appeal to fans of Haruki Murakami, having some stylistic similarities. Readers may also gain insight or additional understanding of the inner workings of a military dictatorship. A highly recommended quick read, check out Taduno’s Song from a library near you!

Book Review | Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar

29567845At the opening of Spaceman of Bohemia, protagonist Jakub is leaving Prague on a solo mission into space to collect cosmic dust. Leaving behind his wife Lenka is stressful for him and it’s not long before she runs away from being the “astronaut’s wife”. Jakub quickly grows weary of his alone time and makes friends with a giant spider-like creature he encounters aboard the ship. Coupled with alternating chapters from Jakub’s youth, the book is an existential voyage of an engaging nature.

For fans of the surreal and thought provoking, this debut novel would be a solid choice. A limited cast of characters and concise writing style make the text easily digestible. Some of the “flashback” chapters are a bit slower moving, but overall the book flows well. References to places in Prague will be appreciated by travelers. Spaceman of Bohemia is definitely literary fiction, not science fiction. Check it out from a library near you!

I received a copy of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway.

*If you’ve enjoyed reading Spaceman of Bohemia, you may be interested in The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia (2005).