August 21, 2014

Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel by Anya Ulinich: Review

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lena finkle Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel by Anya Ulinich has a weird title but is an excellent graphic novel. You could call it a coming of age story where the youth in question is thirty-seven years old. Lena’s first marriage was one of convenience since it got her a green card; her second marriage was horrific but it got her two children. Now divorced, Lena realizes that she’s never fallen in love, or had a wild phase like so many of her New York lady friends. When she was a teen, she had a relationship with a boy in Russia. She’s never cut ties with Alix and after a visit with him during a book tour, she thinks he’s The One. A friend advises that maybe she shouldn’t get ahead of herself and date a few more guys before turning her life upside down. Lena takes this advice with enthusiasm and fills her calendar with OKCupid dates. Although she meets some interesting men, nothing really sticks until she meets The Orphan.

I enjoyed reading Lena’s dating experiment. As someone who was married long before the online dating culture, I find it fascinating. It’s seems both exciting and terrifying. Lena compares it to buying shoes online.

lena finkle

She ends up having a lot of sex, whether or not she actually enjoyed it was questionable. It’s more a part of figuring out what she wants. Even a more experienced friend tells her not to sleep with them all on the first date (not that she listens). I felt like she wasn’t trying to get to know any of the men, rather she was just trying to get through them to some other goal. Then she meets The Orphan. The Orphan (all her dates have nicknames) isn’t an OKCupid date but a guy she meets on the bus. She gets overly attached to him. I cringed through this whole part. I literary shook my head and thought, “No, Lena, no!”

Interspersed throughout are Lena’s memories of her childhood and marriages. She struggles with her immigrant identity. Her parents are always “coming to America” conversely she believes they have arrived. Her past, her life in Russia and a recent immigrant, constantly influences her present relationships.

Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel might be the longest graphic novel I’ve read (362 pages). There’s a lot of text as well as illustration. The drawings are in black and white. Lena’s present is realistically drawn while her memories are more cartoonish. The book seems autobiographical; Anya and Lena look alike, for sure. I’m not certain how much is from the author’s life, and maybe I don’t want to know!

I loved that Lena was a woman my age rediscovering herself, and her willingness to put herself out there without a lot of angst over her age or appearance. She doesn’t change anything about herself physically other than getting her bangs cut (something she does for herself!). She dates men of all ages without moaning, “Oh no, he’s too young! What could he want with an old biddy like me?” (I’m looking at you Stella.) She just gets out there and does it. Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel was funny, touching, and sometimes cringe worthy.

My thanks to Penguin Books for sending me this book for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

August 19, 2014

Mind of Winter by Laura Kasischke: Review

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mind of winter


Holly Judge and her daughter Tatty are trapped alone in their house on Christmas Day as a snowstorm rages outside. Holly woke with the unsettling sensation that “Something followed them home from Russia” where she and her husband adopted Tatty 13 years earlier. Holly’s husband left that morning to retrieve his parents from the airport, and as the day progresses, it becomes clear that they and the rest of their guests will not arrive. Holly tries to keep Tatty’s spirits up but Tatty is determined to make her mother miserable. Holly’s sense of unease grows as Tatty exhibits more and more strange behaviour. Is Holly right? Did some evil force follow them from Russia?

Mind of Winter is such a claustrophobic novel, it’s Hitchcock-esque. It reminded me of We Have Always Lived in the Castle too. Everything happens in one day between two people in one house. Holly thinks back to how she and her husband went to Russia to adopt Tatty. She muses over her motherhood experience and whether or not she’s done right by Tatty. I’ve got to say Tatty seemed like a real pain in the rear, as teenaged girls often are to their moms, but she is a special case. After a while though, I started to suspect that Holly was a bit off herself. And then the end, wow, I did not see that coming.


Even though Holly is a little wacky, I sympathized with her and her struggles with motherhood. In fact, it’s scary how much of myself I saw in her. There is no way to know if you’re doing the parenting thing right. Nobody can tell you. I know I don’t have the patience of that Duggar mom, and fear that my kid will be writing posts for xoJane 15 years from now (It Happened to Me: My Mom Wouldn’t Buy Me an iPhone).

I managed to read Mind of Winter in one day. I couldn’t put it down. I wanted to know what was going on in that house. It’s a slow build, a psychological thriller, with a somewhat unreliable protagonist. Be patient. The payoff is worth it.

August 18, 2014

This Just In…

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Good news, everyone! I will be going back to work. I just found out and I’m rushing around getting all my ducks (my kid, and husband) in a row. I’m looking forward to it because Money, but it’s going to slow down my blogging. Just as I was getting back into the blogging mood. I hope once I get into a routine that I’ll get back to a normal reading and blogging schedule. I have so many books I want to read.

Speaking of books…

Here’s a couple that came in the mail last week.


I actually finished Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel today. I’ll get a review of that up soon. Horrorstor looks so fun! It’s so cleverly designed. I’ve also downloaded an audiobook of 2am at the Cat’s Pajamas.

If you’d like to read a review from me, check out The Project Gutenberg Project where I reviewed Le Petit Nord. There is a twist in this review. I got fooled!

Stay tuned for reviews!

August 14, 2014

A More Diverse Universe 2014

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I’ve been putting off signing up for Aarti’s A More Diverse Universe Challenge because I have no idea what I’m going to read for it! I can no longer plan that far ahead. So I’m just going to say I’m doing it and see what happens.

I think I’ll be in the mood for something spooky by then. Any ideas?

The rules are to read at least one POC book during the week of September 14-27. That’s it. Oh and probably post about it.

If you’d like to join up, see Aarti’s post and link up!

August 12, 2014

Wayward Girls and Wicked Women edited by Angela Carter: Review

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“…the title of this collection is, of course, ironic. Very few of the women in these stories are guilty of criminal acts, although all of the have spirit and one or two of them, to my mind, are, or have potential to be, really evil.” So starts Angela Carter’s introduction to Wayward Girls and Wicked Women.

This collection includes a diverse group of women writers of a variety of races and nationalities about women living in a variety of social classes and conditions. There are clever mothers, vivacious prostitutes, determined girls, and abandoned housewives. These aren’t evil women but women who live outside the norms of their societies. A lot of these stories wouldn’t pass the Bechdel test, but that’s not the fault of the characters or the writers. These are women who live in a man’s world after all. Some of the stories are told from a male point of view, but most are from women.

In Collette’s Rainy Moon, a woman gets back at her ex with witchcraft, Bessie Head’s Life tells of a prostitute who decides to settle down, Djuna Barnes’s The Earth has sisters fighting over land, and the clever mother in Elizabeth Jolley’s The Last Crop outwits a doctor. Angela Carter herself contributed one of her wicked fairy tales to the collection: The Loves of Lady Purple. It’s a twist on Pinocchio, only this puppet awakens with disastrous consequences for its male creator. I haven’t read a Carter story yet that works out for the dude.

Every Angela Carter story ending.

There are two stories that stand out for me in the book. The first is from The Gloria Stories by Rocky Gamez. In it the unnamed protagonist moves away but receives letters of home from Gloria. Gloria is quite a woman- “she wanted to be a man.” She dresses like one, acts like one, drives a fast car, and womanizes as much as any guy. Until she meets Rosita. Gloria declares in one letter that she will marry Rosita. When the protagonist comes home, she finds Gloria convinced that she’s impregnated Rosita and there is no talking her out of it. I would love to read the rest of Gloria’s adventures.

The second story I loved for different reasons. In The Long Trial by Andree Chedid, a poor mother in a small Egyptian village hopes for advice from a holy man. Instead, he tries blessing her with a benediction of “seven more children.” She flips the F out. She’s already got nine kids! This story shows how important birth control is for impoverished women. It got me right in the heart.

For the most part, I enjoyed the stories. There were a few weird ones and I couldn’t make heads or tales of Wedlock by George Egerton since the dialogue was in a dialect. Still, I would definitely recommend Wayward Girls and Wicked Women. There is something for everybody.