Need to Know: Things We Lost in the Fire is creepy, sinister, and mesmerizing.
After reading Mariana Enriquez’s short story collection*, Things We Lost in the Fire, I’m a little scared to go to bed tonight.
The stories are macabre and grotesque, teeming with people, things, and phenomena that should not exist, but do. Set in Argentina and primarily featuring female narrators, the stories are linked together by common themes including, as others have noted, pervasive violence and destruction. But what I found even more fascinating is how the women in Enriquez's stories respond to the violence and destruction: whether they act in some way--and how those efforts do or do not pay off--, or whether they do nothing, which offers a kind of hollow safety.
One of my favorite stories in the collection is “End of Term,” a haunting story focusing on teenage girls, one of whom is seemingly mentally ill. The narrator is one of many at the school who observes Marcela pull out her own nails and later, cut herself on the face. Other incidents of Marcela’s self-harm follow, and the narrator finds herself first interested in a detached sort of way, and then, increasingly invested in finding out why Marcela harms herself. In this story, Enriquez plays with distinctions between madness and truth and the thin line between being a detached observer and someone who has become too dangerously involved.
Enriquez paints Buenos Aires and other cities within Argentina compellingly, if terrifyingly. She focuses little on the natural landscape except to indicate how it’s been affected by elements of the supernatural. Instead, her stories are primarily grounded in the places where people dwell: the “slums,” strange houses, police academies turned inns, and most frightening of all, the homes where the characters should be safest.
Sometimes relationships with others provide some type of bulwark against outside forces, but many times, the stories highlight how very alone these characters are.
Most of these stories provoked a visceral response from me: a clenched, tense stomach or a wince. But I kept reading, and that’s because Enriquez offers much to her readers. Concise prose, often with the air of the colloquial. Characters who are relatable in their uncertainty and their fear. And a sharp and unsettling exploration of how fragile the borders are between safety and danger.
*Translated by Megan McDowell.
I received a copy of this book from Blogging For Books, but all opinions expressed in this post are my own.
She wrapped her arm around his elbow and tilted her head back to look at the stars.
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Um, what just happened? Wait a minute. What?! No!
Those were some of my responses to the end of Sarah Pinborough’s thriller/mystery Behind Her Eyes. I had been warned that the ending has a killer twist, so I had my eyes open, my senses on full alert, my imagination rattling off the dozens of possibilities for the novel’s ending. But still I was surprised (and also horrified, if I may be honest) once I reached the last page and realized that it was over.
But let’s start at the beginning.
This is the basic plot: Single mom Louise kisses a stranger named David who it turns out is married, and it also turns out, is her new boss. David is a psychiatrist who is married to Adele, a beautiful woman who chiefly stays at home during the day. Louise and Adele become friends. Louise and David begin sleeping together.
Are you still with me?
Then Louise gets the sense that there’s something wrong with Adele and David’s marriage. To be specific, that there are several things wrong, and that something very dark lies at the center of that wrongness.
Louise is sleeping with David, and friends with Adele, and her complicated feelings for both people means that she’s even more conflicted about who the guilty party in the marriage is.
It's hard to reveal too much about the plot without ruining the book. A big part of the fun and the mastery of Pinborough's storytelling is how marvelously she has structured the book. We read Louise’s perspective and we read Adele’s, we read from a notebook that Adele has gifted Louise, and we jump in time from the present moment to the past. The structure of the book ensures that the reader’s tension is amped up to the thousandth power. We see the lies that each character tells to herself and to others, and we see the manipulations and the violations.
Pinborough skillfully plays with the reader’s expectations, heightening the drama and the anxiety within the story and all the while leading us to a truly explosive ending.
You don’t know how many times I wanted to talk to the characters while reading this book. It was frustrating and also wonderful.
If you’re in the mood for a beautifully written, smart thriller, check out Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes.
I got my copy of the stellar book, Behind Her Eyes, from the Book of the Month Club, a site that I’ve praised on the blog before. When you subscribe to Book of the Month, you select one book a month from five options, all carefully selected by a panel of prestigious judges. The book offerings are diverse, but if you’re not enticed by any of the options, you can choose to skip a month and save your book for another month. I subscribed to the three-month plan, and chose Behind Her Eyes the month that it was offered. If you subscribe and select a book, your hardback book will ship to you in a cute box with a cute bookmark, and then you can add your pretty copy to your bookshelves with a feeling of supreme joy.
This month (March 2017), Book of the Month is offering two special deals. Check them out below.
3-months Membership For $9.99 Per Month + Free BOTM Tote
$5 for 1-month memberships
Amber Tamblyn’s Instagram post. Ladies who have breastfed, I think that the image Amber Tamblyn posted to Instagram will resonate.
Lucky Charms Cereal. This week I picked up a giant box of Lucky Charms cereal and it has been a delicious way to start my day. I’d worry more about it if the label didn’t specifically say, “First Ingredient Whole Grain,” right there on the box. My son likes to search for the marshmallows and eat only those. He's a smart kid.
LuLaRoe Carly Dress. I know that I’ve spoken about LuLaRoe a couple of times here lately, and now that I’ve earned some free stuff thanks to the party I hosted with the wonderful Meg Gregory, I’m likely to keep it going. You all, I have really liked everything that I've ordered from LuLaRoe but the Carly might be my fave. It's a swing dress that’s both flowy and flattering, a harmonious combination. If you’re ever interested in checking out LuLaRoe, head on over to Meg’s page.
Viola Davis’ Oscar Speech. I love Viola Davis. She is a phenomenal actress who steals every scene (as they say in movie-speech)--and I mean that sincerely. She also gave a riveting, beautiful speech when she won an Oscar recently. "Exhum[ing]...stories" is a beautiful and admirable project, and one that all artists should be concerned with.
My new computer. A couple of weeks ago I asked my friends for advice on whether I should get Mac or not, and many said: YES. I value the advice of my friends so much, but after a GREAT DEAL of debate—seriously—I decided to go with a cheaper PC. This Samsung Notebook 7 is amazing. It’s so fun to type on it. I have no idea why. I love how petite and light it is, and it’s pretty cool how it turns into a tablet; I read a book on my computer yesterday comfortably. All I all, I am in love with this inanimate object.
Chrissy Teigen’s essay on postpartum depression. When you have postpartum anxiety or depression, as I have had, it makes it even a little easier to hear other people say: I also have/had it. Chrissy Teigen wrote a beautiful, moving, funny essay in Glamour about her experience. It’s a must-read.
The Need To Know: An inventive, captivating tale perfect for all YA and fantasy-lovers.
The Bone Witch is a feast of magic, grotesquerie, and heart.
From the first two sentences: “The beast raged; it punctured the air with its spite. But the girl was fiercer”—to the last, I was engrossed in the story of the bone witch, Tea. This is a young woman who is intelligent and brave and by turns secretive and cunning, who is not afraid to risk anything—even alienating those she loves—if only she might save their lives.
The novel opens when a Bard approaches Tea, the bone witch, who has been exiled to a beach littered with animal’s skeletons. The Bard asks to hear her story and Tea acquiesces. The rest of the book intersperses the Bard’s observations and conversations with Tea with Tea’s account of the last three-ish years of her life.
Tea’s story begins when she was 14, when she brought her dead brother, Fox, back to life. A bone witch named Mykaela comes to retrieve Tea and tells her that she will be taken away to receive bone witch training. Where Tea is from, bone witches, witches who are capable of bringing beings back from the dead and sending them back, are highly feared. Though she is not eager to leave her family behind, something within Tea luxuriates in the feeling of the magic within her.
Once Tea reaches Ankyo, the seat of her training, she must face enemies within her own community and also those without. And her journey is more complicated than others’ because she is extraordinarily powerful and she senses the injustices of the bone witch’s life more than most.
This novel is action-packed, with Tea and others battling grotesque creatures which rise from the ground, taking combat and dancing lessons, and learning to create runes made of blood. But The Bone Witch doesn’t sacrifice thoughtful characterization for the sake of plot. The characters are nuanced and well-developed, and Chupeco deploys her stellar vocabulary to create a world that is vivid and atmospheric.
This was a fantastic YA fantasy read that kept me riveted to the page, lost in a world that Chupeco created.
The exciting news doesn't end: there will be a sequel!
I received a copy of this book free from Netgalley but all opinions included here are my own.
His flyaway curls smelled of baby shampoo and maple syrup.
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The Need to Know: A witty, steamy, heartwarming read. Don’t mind me…I’m just reading all the other books in the mega-talented Meredith Duran’s catalog asap.
I live for banter.
Okay. I don’t live for it. But when it’s done well—I’m talking the Katharine Hepburn and anybody else
variety--it’s enough to make an embarrassing smile come to my face and butterflies come to life in my stomach.
I found the banter that I’ve been looking for in Meredith Duran’s lovely, satisfying, and witty latest release, A Lady's Code of Misconduct.
This stellar novel was my introduction to Duran, and I’m pretty happy about it.
First, the setting. The place: England. The time: 1860.
Crispin Burke is an unlikable but also very attractive man who has no scruples about using bribery and manipulation to get what he wants in the political sphere. After he angers the wrong person, he’s attacked and left for dead; when he awakens, he’s informed that he has a wife.
Believing that Crispin would die, Jane Mason conveniently claimed (read: lied) that she and Crispin were married so that she could leave her aunt and uncle’s oppressive home and gain control over her inheritance.
But Crispin does not die, and when he awakens, he does not remember the last several years of his life. He’s also much different from how Jane remembers him. He’s warm, tender, and conscientious, but he’s also still hot. Sounds pretty amazing, right?
Jane and Crispin both find themselves fighting their sexual and emotional attractions to one another, as the past looms large. Will Crispin regain his memory? And if he does, how will he and Jane reconcile the earlier Crispin—the unscrupulous one whom Jane was acquainted with—with the man whom she has romantic feelings for? And, what will Jane do about the lie she told, you know, the little one about being married to Crispin when she actually wasn't?
There’s so much to adore in this book. First of all, I really like Jane, who is an unapologetic philanthropist and feminist. She has a strong interest in politics and living in her uncle's home hasn't squashed that out of her. Her belief that she has something to contribute to conversations, to politics, and to the lives of the less fortunate, makes her nuanced and admirable. And, Crispin’s insistence that those qualities of hers are important to him, too, are lovely—precisely because every partner would love to hear that their passions, if not shared, are at least appreciated.
As I mentioned above, the witty repartee is so good, without seeming mannered. Jane and Crispin’s observations about the society around them are similarly trenchant and often amusing. There are some really incredible observations made about the perceived role of women which made me LOL and also cringe the tiniest little bit (because, to state the obvious, gender relations in nineteenth-century England were not amazing, and let's not even get started about what life would have been like then for non-privileged white women or women of color).
Finally, I was quite enamored with the characters' evolutions throughout the novel. Duran paints the development of Crispin's personality, and his growing awareness of how he's affected others and they've affected him, with sensitivity. Though Crispin arguably achieves the greatest transformation, I also appreciated the growth that Jane attains throughout the book.
See? So much to adore here.
As far as I’m concerned, devouring Duran’s A Lady's Code of Misconduct over the last two days was an excellent use of my time, and I’m already looking forward to reading her other books.
Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a free copy of this book. All opinions provided in this review are my own.
She lingered over her morning coffee and tried (unsuccessfully) to pretend that it was a normal Saturday and not the morning after she had made out with the worst person she had ever met.
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