Book Review: Oona Out of Order, by Margarita Montimore

You guys, this book is an absolute delight.

Imagine what it would be like to wake up on your birthday, all out of sorts, and find out that you’ve jumped ahead years into the future, or years into the past. Your mind is still the age it should be. Your memories encompass only those years you’ve already physically lived through. But instead of being the same age as your mind, your body is much older or much younger.

That is the life that Oona Lockhart lives, and no one has any idea why.

It’s New Year’s Eve 1982, and Oona Lockhart has her whole life before her. At the stroke of midnight she will turn nineteen, and the year ahead promises to be one of consequence. Should she go to London to study economics, or remain at home in Brooklyn to pursue her passion for music and be with her boyfriend? As the countdown to the New Year begins, Oona faints and awakens thirty-two years in the future in her fifty-one-year-old body. Greeted by a friendly stranger in a beautiful house she’s told is her own, Oona learns that with each passing year she will leap to another age at random. And so begins Oona Out of Order…

Hopping through decades, pop culture fads, and much-needed stock tips, Oona is still a young woman on the inside but ever changing on the outside. Who will she be next year? Philanthropist? Club Kid? World traveler? Wife to a man she’s never met?

Goodreads

I absolutely love the premise of Oona Out of Order, and the more I think about it, the more it intrigues me. I have a number of unanswered questions about how it all works, but that’s a good thing…those questions have given me lots to think about, even a week or more after finishing the book. (Very, very sneaky, Margarita Montimore. [fist bump])

So, think about it:

You’re about to turn 19 years old. You faint and wake up in your 51-year-old body. In your mind, you’ve just turned 19. The only memories you have are of your first 18 years. You’re in a strange house, which you’re told is yours by the stranger standing over you. As you look around and come out of the fainting fog, you realize you obviously have a lot of money. You look in a mirror and see your 51-year-old face staring back at you. What the heck would you do?!

The next year on your birthday, you wake up in your 27-year-old body. You’re now 20 in your mind. You have the memories of your first 18 years, and now your 51st year. Wuuuuut?

What is your life like this year?! Who are your friends?! Do you have a significant other?! KIDS?! Whoa.

“Most people’s lives are novels, but yours is a series of short stories.”

I have tried to imagine what that would be like, and all I can come up with is “confusing, terrifying, exciting, sad, happy,” depending on the situation. I can think of situations where having this “affliction” would be awesome, and situations where it would be devastating. But no matter what, I think it would always be a good lesson in living life in the moment and not taking the people you love for granted.

“All good things end, always. The trick is to enjoy them while they last.”

Actually, this would teach you SO MANY LESSONS, which is exactly what happens to Oona.

And while Oona Out of Order is an absolute delight, it is also heartbreaking and frustrating. Oona does some very stupid things, and I had to keep reminding myself that she wasn’t really an adult yet (being 18 or older does not necessarily equal being an adult), even when she was in a very adult body. Some of Oona’s years are full of fun and good friends…and some of them are full of heartbreak and loneliness. But each year teaches Oona a lesson of some sort before she moves on.

“After all, you need to experience the lows along with the highs. Otherwise, you end up with a safe, sterile, painless life, and who wants that?”

Oh, and the characters are great. Well, they’re not ALL great (a few of them are assholes, heh), but the vast majority of them are wonderful. And I enjoyed so many of the pop-culture references (especially those from the 80s). Some of the plot was entirely predictable, but I was totally okay with that in this case. The coolness of the premise and the general lightness of the story made up for that.

I don’t want to put my unanswered questions in this review, because I feel like most of them would give too much of the story away, but I’d be interested to discuss them in the comments if any of you have read the book.

If you’ve read the book, what did you think? What was your favorite of Oona’s years/ages? Any unanswered questions you’re still thinking about?

Book Review: Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens

UNPOPULAR OPINION FORTHCOMING!

Well, folks…

The Hype Monster got me on this one.

But before I get into my feelings about it, here’s the synopsis from Goodreads:

For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life – until the unthinkable happens.

Goodreads

Okay, where to start?

Where the Crawdads Sing was published In August 2018, and I *think* it’s been on the bestseller list ever since. It’s fourth on the NYT best seller list right now, and according to that, it’s been on the list for 77 weeks. Y’all, this book has been HYPED. People LOVE it. I don’t think I’ve heard one bad thing about it. People can’t stop raving about it and recommending it.

Hello, Hype Monster.

I think my expectations were too high. The publisher’s blurb about the book (taken from Goodreads and the copy I read) also says that Where the Crawdads Sing is “perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver.” Well, I’m a Barbara Kingsolver fan, and while I can see one particular similarity, that statement is misleading. This book is not on par with Kingsolver’s work.

There was something I really liked about the book, so let me speak on that first.

I loved Kya’s ecosystem and her relationship to it. This is where the Kingsolver statement comes in, I think. Kya is a natural biologist, even as a child. She doesn’t just live in the marsh, she is a part of the marsh. She knows more about her marsh ecosystem than any biologist. She interacts with every living thing in the marsh, and she treats the plants and animals of the marsh like family. Considering her family is so shitty and everyone abandons her, this isn’t surprising. Reading about the marsh and Kya’s relationship to it was the best part of the book, and I loved it.

I could have left the rest of it. The story didn’t draw me in at all. Typically, I can only read for pleasure on the weekends, and when I have to put a book down on Sunday evening that won’t be opened again until Saturday morning, I’m upset about that. All week I’m left wondering what’s going to happen next. That was not the case with Where the Crawdads Sing. I put it down on a Sunday night, and almost didn’t pick it back up again the next Saturday morning. I almost DNF’d it because I really didn’t care how it ended. The only reason I kept reading was because I had maybe 80 pages left to read and finished it out of principle.

And I can’t quite put my finger on where it went wrong. The story felt…cliche? I don’t know if that’s the word I want, necessarily. It didn’t feel original. It felt like a million other stories I’ve read, just in a different setting. The characters fell flat for me. I’m not sure I can believe Kya’s transformation. I’m not sure I’m cool with everyone who had any effect on Kya’s life — good or bad — being men. There were only a couple women in the story who really helped her, and they barely get any page time; they’re part of the background. I just…I don’t know. And I don’t like Owens’ writing style. The writing felt a bit choppy or stilted.

Why is it that I can write more about a book I didn’t like than I can about a book I loved? Sigh.

I gave the book three stars on Goodreads because the descriptions of the marsh and the way Kya interacted with it really saved the book for me. I loved that part of it. But I don’t think it deserves the amount of praise and hype it’s getting from all corners of the reading world. I don’t understand the high praise. Again though, that Hype Monster is real, and maybe my expectations were too high. The letdown might have been inevitable in this case.

Have you read Where the Crawdads Sing? Were you as enamored with it as everyone else seems to be? If not, what didn’t you like about it? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

Book Review: The Vanished Birds, by Simon Jimenez

Nia Imani is a woman out of place and outside of time. Decades of travel through the stars are condensed into mere months for her, though the years continue to march steadily onward for everyone she has ever known. Her friends and lovers have aged past her; all she has left is work. Alone and adrift, she lives only for the next paycheck, until the day she meets a mysterious boy, fallen from the sky.

A boy, broken by his past.

The scarred child does not speak, his only form of communication the beautiful and haunting music he plays on an old wooden flute. Captured by his songs and their strange, immediate connection, Nia decides to take the boy in. And over years of starlit travel, these two outsiders discover in each other the things they lack. For him, a home, a place of love and safety. For her, an anchor to the world outside of herself.

For both of them, a family.

But Nia is not the only one who wants the boy. The past hungers for him, and when it catches up, it threatens to tear this makeshift family apart.

Goodreads

I loved The Vanished Birds so much, I don’t even know where to start.

The Vanished Birds is a character-driven literary science fiction novel. And while I love idea-driven or plot-driven hardcore science fiction, there are times when I love a book like The Vanished Birds more. With all of the vintage science fiction I read in January, The Vanished Birds was a much-needed reprieve from that kind of hardcore science fiction.

The Vanished Birds gave me a book hangover, and I haven’t had a true book hangover in a long time.

I didn’t want it to end.

I sighed and just sat there, staring off into space (pun totally intended), for a good amount of time after I finished reading it.

The Vanished Birds has a great plot, yes, but it’s really about the connections made (and lost) over the span of a millennium. It is told from a few different points of view, but the whole story really revolves around Nia and the boy — Ahro — placed in her care. Their relationship is not necessarily the most important one in the book, but it is the most focused on, and it is important in terms of how it drives their actions and how it drives the story.

It’s not all about the characters, though. Jimenez writes about some important ideas and issues in The Vanished Birds, too, such as colonization, resources, and ownership (of worlds and people). The way the Ahro is treated at the end is absolutely rage-inducing.

When I truly love a book…when it really moves me…I can never put into words exactly how it made me feel. I’m repeating myself here, but all I can say is that The Vanished Birds really pulled me in and I didn’t want to put it down, while at the same time, I didn’t want it to end. It gave me a real book hangover. Jimenez’s writing is lovely, the story is lovely and bittersweet, and the characters are so well done.

Even if you aren’t into science fiction generally, I highly recommend reading The Vanished Birds.

Book Review: Weather, by Jenny Offill

Lizzie Benson slid into her job as a librarian without a traditional degree. But this gives her a vantage point from which to practice her other calling: she is a fake shrink. For years she has tended to her God-haunted mother and her recovering addict brother. They have both stabilized for the moment, but Lizzie has little chance to spend her new free time with husband and son before her old mentor, Sylvia Liller, makes a proposal. She’s become famous for her prescient podcast, Hell and High Water, and wants to hire Lizzie to answer the mail she receives: from left-wingers worried about climate change and right-wingers worried about the decline of western civilization. As Lizzie dives into this polarized world, she begins to wonder what it means to keep tending your own garden once you’ve seen the flames beyond its walls. When her brother becomes a father and Sylvia a recluse, Lizzie is forced to address the limits of her own experience–but still she tries to save everyone, using everything she’s learned about empathy and despair, conscience and collusion, from her years of wandering the library stacks . . . And all the while the voices of the city keep floating in–funny, disturbing, and increasingly mad.

Goodreads

There is a lot going on in this little, 200-ish-page book that’s written almost like a collection of tweets. Each (short) page consists of maybe four paragraphs that are made up of just a few sentences. It immediately reminded me of Twitter and how the novel felt like Lizzie had collected her tweets over a series of months and put them in book form. I could have read Weather in just a few hours, had I not been under the weather (pun totally intended, heh).

I knew this was going to be a five-star book when I was maybe ten pages in.

What I loved:

— The format. The short paragraphs and the way they’re written read like the way my brain works — bouncing from one thought to the next, some thoughts taking my brain down a rabbit hole until I’m thinking about something totally different (and sometimes off the wall). It felt totally natural, like Lizzie was just writing her thoughts down as they were happening. But as a whole, they are organized in a way that makes sense and keeps the story flowing.

— I love that Lizzie works in a library. Be still, my heart. And I love that she’s called a “feral librarian” by her colleagues because she doesn’t have her MLS. [EYE ROLL] Whatever, dudes. The patrons don’t know the difference between someone who has their MLS and someone who doesn’t, and you’re all doing the same job. Get over it. Hahahaha!

— Lizzie’s answers to some of the more “out there” emails are fantastic.

— Lizzie avoids other mothers at her son’s school the way I used to when my kids were in school. I could never be a “soccer mom” or one of those mothers who gossiped with other parents. Nope.

— Offill is so good at capturing people in one short sentence. “…begins to act and she does not stop acting until the problem is solved” says so much about a person in so few words. You can picture that kind of person, right?!

— So much more, but no spoilers!

The title of the book has a double meaning, I think, because one of the main topics in Weather is climate change, but it can also refer to the changing social and political climates of this country after the election of Trump. And these two things together — answering doomsday emails and listening to people talk about where the country is headed — begin to affect Lizzie to the point of wondering how far she could carry her son on her back if it came down to that, and starting to think about who she would invite to live on her “Doomstead.”

It’s hard for me to put into words exactly how this book made me feel. It’s delightful even while the subject matter is sometimes very serious. One minute I would laugh out loud, and the next minute I would feel very contemplative. The way the novel is written and organized forces the reader to fill in the blanks, while it feels like Offill has already done that for us somehow. I give Offill all the props for making such a small book feel so large and powerful.

I borrowed this one from the library and I think I might read it again before I return it. I am contemplating purchasing it for my personal library so I can go back to it in the future.

Highly recommended.

Book Review: How Long ’til Black Future Month?, by N.K. Jemisin

In these stories, Jemisin sharply examines modern society, infusing magic into the mundane, and drawing deft parallels in the fantasy realms of her imagination. Dragons and hateful spirits haunt the flooded city of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In a parallel universe, a utopian society watches our world, trying to learn from our mistakes. A black mother in the Jim Crow south must figure out how to save her daughter from a fey offering impossible promises. And in the Hugo award-nominated short story “The City Born Great,” a young street kid fights to give birth to an old metropolis’s soul.

Goodreads

Y’all, I love N.K. Jemisin (and her books, heh). I started with her Broken Earth series and immediately recommended it to everyone I know who loves fantasy. Then I read her Inheritance series, which in my mind is the tiniest bit less good than the Broken Earth series, but I still loved it.

And now I’ve *finally* read How Long ’til Black Future Month?, and she is just as good at writing short stories as she is at writing novels.

In the Introduction, Jemisin talks about why she started writing short fiction. While attending a writing workshop, she was advised to learn to write short stories. She didn’t understand the advice — she knew the short story is a completely different art form than the novel, and the pay for short stories was, at that time, “abysmal.” What finally convinced Jemisin to start writing short stories was the argument that writing those would improve her longer fiction. She didn’t know if that was true, but she decided to spend a year writing short fiction to find out. And she found out that writing short fiction *did* improve her longer-form fiction.

She says she wasn’t too good at the short story at first, but she definitely improved, because the stories in How Long ’til Black Future Month? are SO GOOD. And it’s obvious that some of the short stories in BFM were expanded on and used for her novels.

I enjoyed all of the stories in BFM, but my favorite is “The City Born Great,” and it just so happens that this story is the basis for her upcoming novel The City We Became, so I’m super excited for that. (I was already super excited, but now I’m doubly super excited, which is a lot of excitement.) I just love the idea of cities going through stages until their souls are ready to be born, and having one person chosen to represent the soul of a city and be its midwife, so to speak. I’m really looking forward to a longer version of this one.

I also loved “Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters,” about the haunting of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. If there were ever a time that supernatural and mythical creatures were going to show themselves, I have no doubt that it would be directly after a natural disaster like a hurricane or a major earthquake when people are already dazed and have let their guards down.

If Jemisin’s How Long ’til Black Future Month? sounds like your kind of thing, I highly recommend it.