White Chrysanthemum

It is nearly dawn, and the semi-darkness casts strange shadows along the footpath.

Do you need to use trigger warnings when the trauma shown is part of history? White Chrysanthemum is about (Korean) comfort women, used in the Second World War. If you don’t know what that means, it means rape.

White Chrysanthemums are flowers of mourning (for the Koreans), so don’t expect a clean escape as a reader either. This is a story of one of the many, both of the side of those left behind and those taken.

And yet, or maybe because of that, Mary Lynn Bracht manages to show such an appealing, visually attractive and easily to envision world and surroundings. Maybe to show that through it all, the environment will continue existing. Maybe to show that no matter how ugly the actions of humans, the world will keep turning. Maybe the author is just really good in descriptions.

The stories of Emi and Hana are worth your time. Not just to learn, but maybe also in a way – to mourn. That they were far from the last female victims of war crimes, even if it was less than hundred years ago.

White Chrysanthemum, Mary Lynn Bracht, Chatto & Windus 2018

 

The Locals

They were saying that all appointments were canceled, indefinitely, that it was the end of everything, but why would they assume that?

Last time I read this author I wasn’t quite sure how to recommend the book, and this time it isn’t much different. There’s an appeal to his writing, but the story? Not just a collection of too human people (you start with the honeymoon phase and you end up wanting to throttle them), but mostly not much happens? So why would I still, pretty surely, recommend this novel?

Maybe because it offers an uncensored view of “normal” Americans outside one of the well known states. Small town in Massachusetts in the aftermath of 9/11, but soon moving their attention back to their small town politics and each other. Not even the rich outsider can change that (permanently).

I like family sagas, following the same people through time and (family) issues. Usually I try to pick less familiar surroundings than western society, but these people are so alienating in their paranoid and petty thoughts, that things turn out pretty exotic after all.

The Locals, Jonathan Dee, Random House 2017

Autoboyography

The end of our final winter break seems almost like the beginning of a victory lap.

Smartest title encountered this year or too thought through? Because y’all, this book is about two young book writers following in love with each other! I think it’s cute, just as the story.

Tanner is a bisexual male teen that kind of goes back into the closet after his family moves to Utah, specifically a town with a Mormon majority. He’s not even out to his best friend, so how do you handle falling in love with the wonderful, beautiful, very Mormon TA?

It would have been easy to turn this into a pro or con story about religion and Mormons, but both authors stick close to the love story and darn, do they do it sweetly. Just like Tanner and Sebastian can’t seem to think about anything else, it’s sometimes a challenge to not discard the pages without them. Will they? Won’t they? In how many ways will organised religion ruin this?

Characters that aren’t these two sometimes get a bit the short end of the stick, but both secondary characters and surroundings make this a cute high school romance.

Autoboyography, Lauren Billings & Christina Hobbs, Simon & Schuster 2017

 

De geniale vriendin

Vanochtend belde Rino.

Naar mijn idee is de meeste hype over Elena Ferrante (wie is het echt?) en haar boeken alweer voorbij, maar zoals wel vaker gezegd: soms lees ik het liefst gehypete media ver na de hype, zodat ik ze neutraal kan ervaren. Voordeel met boeken is dat ze dan ook makkelijker in de bieb verkrijgbaar zijn.

Ik ben nog steeds vrij van mijn TRL, en De Geniale Vriendin leek licht genoeg tussen wat ik net had gelezen en nog ging lezen. Plus dat het gewoon een titel was waarvan ik net genoeg wist om het te herkennen in de bibliotheekkasten.

Enfin, dit is pas het eerste boek uit een serie, maar ik vermoed dat de anonimiteit van de auteur flink heeft bijgedragen aan de hype. Want ja, men krijgt een eerlijk kijkje in naoorlogs Napels, armoe versus rijkdom, de rol van meisjes en vrouwen en hoe sommigen daar uit proberen te klimmen. De levens van Elena en Lila in fijn detail, met Napels als heel de wereld. Een variatie van afwijkende karakters komt langs, en het is allemaal makkelijk weg te lezen. Maar wat wordt er gelezen?

Met een mannelijke auteur was dit alles waarschijnlijk een Groots Literair Werk genoemd, waar deze boeken weer als pulp en vakantieverhalen worden genoemd. Er is weinig meer dan het opgroeien van de twee meiden, en in hun opgroeien zit protest tegen de rol van vrouwen, het gezin als bouwsteen van de samenleving, hoe (gebrek aan) geld verschillende soorten rijkdom in de weg zit. Het is een interessante en frustrerende blik op recente geschiedenis, maar het eindeloos meeslepende en verslavende heb ik niet ervaren. Voor wie dat wel doet: er zijn nog drie andere boeken.

De geniale vriendin,  Elena Ferrante, Wereldbibliotheek 2013

Gentlemen prefer blondes

A gentleman friend and I were dining at The Ritz last evening and he said that if I took a pencil and paper and put down all my thoughts it would make a book.

I didn’t know there was a book before there was a movie, but the title is such a solid part of entertainment (history) that when I saw the book in the library, I was sure it was related to the Marilyn Monroe’s movie. I was right.

I haven’t watched the movie (yet), but if it’s as much as cheeky fun as the book, I’ve cut my next movie night planned. The only thing you might have to get to used to is the grammar and spelling used. This is from another time after all, and Lorelei doesn’t sound like the kind of woman whom cares about language. So no, it’s not like there was never an editor involved. Heck, after a while it becomes almost as charming as Lorelei herself.

Anyway, we move through the USA and Europe in a time when two women could without a worry in the world, and plenty of men would rain gifts, money and attention on them, without (really) knowing them. Lorelei knows which one to play best, while Dorothy sometimes makes the silly mistake of getting a crush of them. London doesn’t do much to them, but Paris does, and French really isn’t that hard (is that the last time an American felt like that?)!

It’s a tiny ball of silly fun with a world so far away from our reality, that it might well be a fantasy novel.

Gentlemen prefer blondes, Anita Loos, Liveright 1925

Son of a Trickster

His tiny, tightly permed maternal grandmother, Anita Moody, had never liked him.

This was such a much weirder story than I expected. I expected a YA novel about a dark and moody male teenager that throws in some (Norse) mythology to make it urban fantasy. Instead I got ..what did I precisely get?

Jared is a weed cookie maker, problem finder, care taker for his dad and stepsister, mother and senior neighbours. He almost can’t help himself, taking care while he should be getting some. For a long time this just seems to be it, a story of a screw up screwing up, surrounded by losers and failures. Until it isn’t, and there’s talking ravens and people-eating otters and things you can’t keep blaming on eating mushrooms. Mythology is added, but not in the cookie cutter Marvel way. No Norseman to be found either, because we’re in Canada, and their First Nation People have got some different stories to build on.

Even though the reader knows this isn’t just mushrooms any more, it’s tempting to blame them; the weirdness just builds up with left and right some violence thrown in. Where is this story going, why is main character Jared still at the unlikely part of the trope ‘unlikely hero’? Is this because it’s the first book in a trilogy? Either way, this might be the first YA that leaves you completely bewildered by what you’ve just been put through. And yet I don’t know how I should change anything if I could.

Son of a Trickster, Eden Robinson, Knopf 2017

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Film legend and ’60s It Girl Evelyn Hugo has just announced that she will auction off 12 of her most memorable gowns through Christie’s to raise money for breast cancer research.

No-one is (very) likeable in this story. Not that that is a requirement for a story (in my opinion), nor that it means that The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is less accessible and/or entertaining because of it. I’m just saying there isn’t much people to root for.

The stories are entertaining enough, old Hollywood glam with a woman who will do many things to get where she wants to go. Evelyn Hugo is the embodiment of self-made, and now, close to her death, she wants someone to write a biography of her. Journalist Monique doesn’t know why Evelyn picked her all of people to do so but don’t worry: you Will Find Out (dramatic soundtrack).

Per husband, Evelyn explains her life decisions and shares the saucy anecdotes freely. It’s a novel for those that like pretty things; romance and likeability is sacrificed for it. Is it too early to call this a proper beach read?

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Taylor Jenkins Reid, Simon & Schuster 2017