magical realism

Review: Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson

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*I received a copy of Falling in Love with Hominids through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

That first noise must have come from the powerful kick. It crashed like the sound of cannon shot. A second bang followed, painfully, stupefyingly loud; then a concussion of air from the direction of the front door as it collapsed inward. Jenny didn’t even have time to react. She sat up straight on her couch, that was all. The elephant was in the living  room almost immediately. Jenny went wordlessly still in fright and disbelief. She lived on the fifteenth floor.

Nalo Hopkinsons’ Falling in Love with Hominids has some fantastic gems. The book collects short stories from throughout her career. Each story has a brief introduction about what led to the story’s creation. The topics are wide ranging and include viral-infection induced apocalypses, fire breathing chickens, and Shakespearean retellings.

I’ve been on a bit of a Nalo Hopkinson kick over the last few months. Generally speaking, I like Nalo Hopkinson. I think her stuff is interesting and creative. Granted, not everything always hits home, but overall, I find her writing enjoyable. So, of course, I was so excited to find out there was a new Nalo Hopkinson.

The stories in this collection are great. There’s a very dynamic feel to them and the characters are well-developed given the page lengths. I was (pleasantly) surprised to see that there was a good deal of variation in length. While many of the stories are about what I’d consider average length for a short story (around the 15-20 pg mark), there were some short but sweet additions to the collection as well.

One of the best parts for me was the introductory paragraphs. At the stories’ starts, there’s a brief introduction in Nalo’s words about the inspiration or prompting for the stories. Some of these are funny and others more serious, but I enjoyed the contextualizing of the tales. It added value to my experience.

The only thing I wish were in the collection was a date or year that the story was originally written. This would have given a sense of chronology and connection. The stories aren’t necessarily themed, and they don’t build off one another necessarily. The connectivity there would have been nice, but that’s much more of a perk than a needed addition to the collection.

Overall, it was a fantastic collection with a lot of variety and satisfying stories.

You can find Nalo Hopkinson’s Falling in Love with Hominids on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1I5vwSx

or on Goodreads: http://bit.ly/1AJ7KMg

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Review: Among Others by Jo Walton

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It’s been a week or two since I read this one, but the more I think about Among Others, the more I like it. I’ll be the first to admit it, this story is total sucker-bait for a scifi nerdlette who loves character building and magic that just may be someone’s hallucinations. It follow Mor, a young girl from Wales who has escaped from her mother’s home after an accident killed her twin sister. Mor has bunkered down with her father’s family and is attending boarding school far from home, hoping against hope that her mother who may or may not have magical powers won’t find her.

The best part of this story is Mor. She’s the kind of 16 year old girl that feels so familiar to me. She loves books. She’s smart but spends a lot of time in fantasy land. Mor is funny and clever in a way that’s very accurate to her age. Yes, she’s a bit angst-y (what teenager isn’t) but she makes sense.

Walton spends a lot of time with the idea of grief and family illness. She looks at the way they create complex relationships between family units as a whole. Mor has just lost her sister, which she attributes to her mother’s mental instability combined with volatile magic. But Walton doesn’t just leave the blame solely in that relationship. Mor’s grief affects the way she perceives her largely absent father, her aunt and grandfather who lived with the twins, and herself. In this way, Walton’s portrayal of grief and family mental illness is very accurate. Mor doesn’t just mourn her sister, she blames her mother for the part she played; she holds her father accountable for leaving the girls in a vulnerable position; and she strongly believes that her aunt, who knows about both her mother’s instability and magic, should have done more to protect the twins.

The magic system Walton uses is complicated, largely because the reader is never quite sure if it’s actually magic or the fantasies of a young girl who reads more than may be healthy. Mor’s magic is conducted through faries who look like trees or rocks and who only speak Welsh. If something goes wrong, she’s pretty convinced it’s because of the magic, but Mor is clear, magic doesn’t work in obvious ways; magic almost always looks like something that could have just happened on it’s own. The reader is often left guessing. I really liked that aspect of the story.

The book has a lot going for it, and it’s the kind of book that sticks with you after you’ve read it. No, it’s not your typical fantasy, but it’s enjoyable in a slower-paced, more literary way. If nothing else, I immediately went out and got another Walton book, just to see what her other stories have to offer.

Overall, a 4/5.

Review: She Will Build Him a City by Raj Kamal Jha

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She Will Build Him a City is a poetically written tale that follows a cast of characters including an elderly woman, an orphan, a killer, and a dog. Set in India in a variety of settings, Jha tries to thread together disparate stories.

The story follows largely unnamed characters through their struggles in modern-day India, where despite living in a world of cell phones and modern medicine, most of the characters live in squalor, unable to afford even the most basic of necessities. The story incorporates elements of the unreal and magical realism.

The stories are largely thread through two characters: an elderly woman whose daughter has left her and an infant named Orphan who, by a twist of fate, toddles out of the orphanage where he has been kept and into the world with only a stray dog as his guide.

Jha’s novel isn’t so much a plot-driven story, nor is it a character study. It feels a bit fairy-tale like and meanders about, seemingly without purpose. Accordingly, there’s no really fast-paced plot, and there’s not really any character development. It seems more like a snapshot, blurred by magical realism elements. I think that can be appealing if it’s what you’re in the mood for.

There’s a lot of uncertainty in the novel. It’s never really clear if some of the character are doing what they say they are doing (the killer character in particular) or if the character actually exists. Part of this appeals to me. I like a bit of mystery in my stories. However, I thought it was often too confusing and a bit disjointed. The characters and their stories’ endings often seemed rough and incomplete.

I can’t really speak to the style much. The story’s grammar is going to be shifted around and some of the style may change as a result.

Overall, I think I wanted to like this story more than I did. I’d give it a weak 3/5, but would say it’s promising.

Book Depository: http://www.bookdepository.com/She-Will-Build-Him-City-Raj-Kamal-Jha/9781408855041
Release date: March 3, 2015

Note: I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review