Call Me By Your Name

name

“It’s Oliver,” he said. He had forgotten.”

Elio’s parents helped young academics revise manuscripts by letting them board at their home in Italy for six weeks. The summer Oliver came to stay Elio was 17. Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman tells the story of their attraction and eventual romance fueled by desire and obsession, and the lifetime effect it has on their lives. Expressed through raw human passion Call Me By Your Name is an unforgettable story of intimacy and acceptance.

*Review may contain spoilers*

Is this another read because of a future movie and cute leading man, this one called Armie Hammer?

Why, yes, yes it is.

I’d never heard of this book before the movie and Armie Hammer’s tennis shorts started becoming common conversation. Wanting to start off December right (compared to November that is) I decided to read it. It’s not terribly long and I was able to read it in a few hours.

I wouldn’t call the structure entirely conscious thinking as there definite quotations and such, but there are moments where it’s hard to discern what is real and what is Elio’s fantasy. Most times I would think I had it down, knew what was going on, only to blink and realize I was completely wrong.

While the conscious stream isn’t my favorite literary device I understand why Call Me By Your Name is written in the style. It helps show Elio’s fantasies and his coming of age through understanding what he wants and needs from Oliver.

Granted, I couldn’t help but hate Elio for most of this story.

I get it. He’s 17 and doesn’t always make the best decisions, hastily making conclusions when there are none, and I was 17 once too. Youth makes us do stupid things. But, that doesn’t excuse Elio’s behavior toward Marzia.

He does apologize for not meeting with her, but he shoves her feelings to the side once he and Oliver get together. Hell, he still sleeps with her while sleeping with Oliver too and never brings it up with her or even tells her he can’t see her anymore.

I don’t know why, but most coming of age stories have this ‘throw away’ character just to show the ‘confusion’ of the main character and I’m just done with it. There’s no reason for me to support an ass of a character who only concerns themselves with their own wants and feelings then gets upset when the ‘throw away’ tells them off. Had Elio and Mariza had a conversation about it and she understood or something I wouldn’t be making such a fuss. But Mariza was only created for sex and she deserves better.

I found myself recalling Maurice for quite a bit of this reading and it helped me navigate my feelings toward the two men. And, while there are plenty similarities, I believe I prefer Oliver and Elio’s story to theirs. And while there were parts of both Oliver and Elio I didn’t particularly like, but at the same time, I understood why Aciman wrote them that way.

I almost wish there had been an insight into how Oliver felt about the relationship and why he chose the path he did. It might have helped me understand both characters further and not remind me so much of Maurice and fear what Oliver would do.

Despite this, I still enjoyed the story, making me want these two to figure their feelings out in time before the end of the six weeks and causing me to gasp out loud in pain when Oliver began to forget.

Aciman has a way with words and can speak straight to the human soul about passion, ache, and acceptance. It’s beautifully raw that anyone, despite age, sex, or preference, can relate.

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Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch

good-omens

“You don’t have to test everything to destruction just to see if you made it right.”

The end of the world is coming, on a Saturday. Or, at least, that’s what’s supposed to happen. Because ever since the Antichrist was given to the wrong family nothing seems to be going to plan according to the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley, much to their delight, however, for after a few centuries, they’ve come to appreciate earth. Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett throws this unpredictable (Agnes would say otherwise) wrench into the coming Apocalypse with wit and humor that’ll make even the Devil laugh.

*Review may contain spoilers*

I became a Doctor Who fan around my junior year of high school and it’s all because of David Tennant (though I started with Nine because you don’t skip Nine) and his freaking beautiful face as he spouted Shakespeare in the 2009 BBC Hamlet movie.

I picked up Good Omens because of him too.

He’s playing Crowley in the upcoming television series with Michael Sheen as Aziraphale and, with the pictures I’ve seen so far, it’s going to look fine as hell.

So, naturally, I had to read this.

I’m no newbie when it comes to Neil Gaiman, Coraline being my personal favorite, but this was my introduction to Terry Pratchett and I was utterly crushed when I learned he’d passed in 2015.

If anything, Gaiman for me is either a hit or miss. Sometimes I find myself entrapped with his style and others I’m utterly confused by the paragraph I’ve re-read five times. So it’s probably why Pratchett’s writing felt like a cool drink of water. It helped keep Gaiman steady and on a single path. And, damn it, I just really loved his humor. It’s exactly like mine and he’s making cracks at the Apocalypse no less.

First things first: if you know nothing, or quite little, about the Apocalypse or The Book of Revelations you might want to do a quick Google search before reading this book. Or, maybe, just watch a few episodes of Supernatural. Either would work.

I went to Christian school for a few years and though I learned nothing of true value I have retained most of the Bible stories. It also helps that my brother did an End of the World research paper and used me as his guinea pig when deciding how to explain it to his fellow classmates.

So, yes, I understood the slight cracks at certain aspects of Heaven and Hell, the characteristics of the four horsemen (though I’m personally glad they changed it to Pollution. I can’t even say the other one let alone write it correctly), and the possibility that the ‘prophesy’s’ of the end of the world aren’t going to be quite what anyone expects them to be.

Honestly, I’m a huge fan of dark humor toward the Christian religion and how Gaiman and Pratchett practically told tightwads (angels, demons, and humans alike) to chill made my life. It’s the best part of the entire story and is quite refreshing to all the dark, brooding apocalyptic stories out there.

Though I figured the book would be told through third person I did not expect there to be so many characters, especially ones that are given a name, are around for a few pages, disappear, then show up again when I’ve long forgotten them. It was slightly infuriating since the story is on a time crunch and hindered the full arches of the main characters. And, so, considering, I have to be basic and say Aziraphale and Crowley were the highlights of the entire story and kept my interest peaked.

Adam, aka the Antichrist, was overbearing at times (though it could just be that he’s 11) and I wish there’d been more time with just him and not the collected group known as Them. I wanted insight into his true feelings about his powers. I felt there should have been a moment where Aziraphale and Crowley actually told him things rather than letting everything happen and Adam accepting it.

Newt and Shadwell were my least favorites. Introduced too late and with their witch hunting operation, they seemed so out of place and a last minute decision that I couldn’t make myself care. And Newt’s ‘relationship’ with Anathema was so unnecessary (yet very enlightening on the male mind when the world is ending) that I felt she had gotten the worst of it out of all the characters.

I did enjoy the modern take on the four horsemen (as well as Crowley’s understanding and appreciation for modern technology) and am pleased that Pollution will be female in the show rather than War being alone in the endeavor. They were interesting and I’m glad their true nature wasn’t announced right away. Although, at the end, they weren’t as epic as I hoped, but eh, what can you do when an 11-year-old is in charge of the Apocalypse?

All in all, there were just too many people who had little or no impact, making the story lag when it shouldn’t, and keeping the interesting characters from having bigger roles.

The beginning half of the book was my personal favorite and I wish the latter half had been able to keep that same tone and humor. But, overall, I really liked it and highly recommend this book. Gaiman and Pratchett make a brilliant team and certainly know how to entertain readers with their unique styles and humor.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

ari

“I could be something and nothing at the same time. I could be necessary and also invisible. Everyone would need me and no one would be able to see me.”

When Ari, a boy full of self-doubt, meets Dante, a boy everyone likes, it seems an unlikely pair, but the boys become friends, best friends, in no time. However, the end of summer is looming and they find themselves faced with new responsibilities, new life lessons, and new discoveries of who they are, not only to themselves and families, but who they want to be for one another in Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz.

*Review may contain spoilers*

If there’s one thing I’m set in my ways about it’s not reading YA literature. It might have to do with growing up with a brother who read Les Miserables for fun and trying to keep up with him or just being utterly confused about why the popular YA books of my time were actually popular (honestly, I’m still upset Katniss survived the Hunger Games, but whatever)

I’ll never know the true reason, but it’s shaped me as a reader, for better and worse, and in the case of Aristotle and Dante it’s the latter. Ask my two best friends, who suggested this book months ago, and are now gleefully rejoicing in their victory.

Along with the best friends’ recommendation, I’d heard about this book and knew it was LGBT+ positive, which is the whole reason I decided to finally read it. Growing up, there weren’t many YA’s like this and I’m glad to see more representation nowadays.

But, within the first 15 pages, I found myself doubting whether this was worth the hype. The writing’s plain and simple, my personal preference, but there was just something…off about Ari’s character. I don’t know if it’s just Sáenz’s way of trying to convince me Ari was a 15-year-old, but I know if Dante had not been introduced when he was I might have given up.

In fact, had it not been for Dante’s presence throughout the book, I wouldn’t have found any reason to care about Ari because he’s so one dimensional in the beginning that it wasn’t until he beats up Julian, and learns of Aunt Ophelia I found myself rooting for him, which is after halfway through the book. The book is told from Ari’s POV and there’s only so much I can take of hearing the same thoughts and feelings over and over again. Like, I was 15 once too. I don’t need to relive all of it.

If anything, it was the parents who were the shining grace of this book. And compared to most YA parents these ones were a fucking godsend.

Despite the usual parent’s not understanding their child cliché it was expertly overshadowed by the evident love and support they showed both Ari and Dante, which I personally think is the major reasons this book made me teary-eyed. These parents were real. Not conflicts the boys needed to conquer, but people they grew to understand and appreciate even if they didn’t know everything.

This is what sold the story for me.

Yes, the relationship between Ari and Dante was adorable, at times very realistic, but there were times where I wanted more information about their families, especially Ari’s. And, thankfully, this came to light near the last half of the book and made both Ari and Dante grow into developed characters, in my opinion.

I’m really glad I read this and am going to allow my best friends to gloat about their rightness in this for quite some time.

 

The Virgin Suicides

Girls

“In the end we had the pieces of the puzzle, but no matter how we put them together, gaps remained, oddly shaped emptinesses mapped by what surrounded them, like countries we couldn’t name.”

It was June when Cecilia Lisbon cut her wrists in the bath, creating a domino effect of unanswered questions among her family as well as the community around them, especially the neighborhood boys. Transfixed by these unusual girls and the deep mysteries they are The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugendies tells of the impact the Lisbon girls had on these boys, then and decades later, through an unforgettable year of youth, unease, and death.

*Review may contain spoilers*

It’s safe to say this story, thanks to the movie, has become a cult classic. Published in 1993, The Virgin Suicides was the debut novel of Jeffrey Eugendies, which started out as a short story and won the 1991 Aga Khan Prize for Fiction. The subject matters of suicides, adolescence, and dark humor helped establish Eugendies as a major American author.

Despite the hype, I have not watched the movie nor have read any of Eugendies other works. Honestly, I picked this up on a whim, wanting something to read that wasn’t terribly long and something different from previous readings this month.

I think I waited until now to pick this up due to the fact I kept hearing how it beautified suicide and tragic females. And there wasn’t much else anyone was saying about it. Not about the style, characters, or even plot. I knew nothing and didn’t care to know more. Well, until now. So, thanks, bored me, I guess.

First off, this book passes the Bechdel test on page 2 and took me back a bit. Of all the books I’ve picked up since deciding to apply the test none have passed so quickly. And considering this is a book told from the perspective of a group of neighborhood boys I was pleasantly surprised.

In fact, I was pleasantly surprised with how much I ended up liking this story as a whole.

Cecilia immediately drew me in, along with the unsettling way her family ends up coping with her death. It set off a spark of disconcerting alarm and I just couldn’t put down the book. I, like the neighborhood boys, wanted to know intricate details of these girls, not as sex filled as they were though, and why no one was trying to help this obviously hurting family.

The one thing I didn’t care for was the way the other sisters, beside Cecilia and Lux, were cast off. I wanted to know as much about Bonnie, Mary, and Therese as the other two. They felt wasted and their ends hit me harder than Lux because I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about her by the end after the constant parading throughout the story and trying to make her the ‘important’ Lisbon sister.

Originally, when Lux’s relationship with Trip is beginning and more information about her comes up I was fine with it, thinking it would be like Cecilia’s part, giving slight details and an understanding of the girl before moving on to the other sisters.

I suppose the heavy focus on Lux is because she’s ultimately the reason the girls become trapped in the family house, but what about the other sisters? I wanted to know each individual girl, their separate personalities, rather than group them together in the end. Even if it was as simple as understanding why each girl chose their way of suicide, like, Lux had a thing for cars, they meant freedom to her, but what about her sisters? Why pills? Why hanging?

They deserved more time to be fleshed out and, in a way; I wish there had only been 3 sisters to save time.

As for the beautifying of suicide and tragic females, I have to agree that it’s blatantly there as the neighborhood boys keep talking on and on about the girls, making them into these untouchables who they loved so much, causing me to roll my eyes. Though, I might point out, they did the same when describing Trip.

But, I personally feel it’s more of accepting what the girls did. These boys, just like readers, still don’t know why they did it and that’s what their obsession is really about: trying to understand why the Lisbon girls did what they did and included them in it. Heck, if I saw a body hanging from the rafters I wouldn’t get over it anytime soon either. And I think that’s where the confusion comes from. They’re obsessing is a coping mechanism. Is it the greatest way to cope, probably not, but it’s how they’re trying to move on, which, from the very beginning, readers know isn’t working. And while it does feel they’re overthinking, overreaching, on their ideas of who these girls were, with only the evidence they’ve gathered over the years, it’s all they have.

I feel they’re obsessing and not beautifying and while it isn’t the best way to handle things for this story, for these boys, I feel it’s their best option. And, while many may disagree with me, throughout the story I felt the media was beautifying the girls not the boys. Making them out to be these unreal, unfeeling girls who don’t matter beyond the suicide. At least the boys try to make them into real human beings, remembering them as human beings.

My main complaint though is how the Lisbon parents are never brought to justice or even punished, whether for their imprisoning of the girls or even for the disgusting household they kept them in. There were so many times I wanted to scream with frustration. Like, this is set in the ‘70s, someone should have called Child Services, which was founded in 1912, with new amendments in ’58, and so it could have totally been plausible.

Ugh, it was the worst part of the story and I will most likely never get over it.

I enjoyed this more than I anticipated and recommend people read it at least once. It’s hard, it’s real, and, in a way, it’s extremely eye-opening on all topics it covers. It might not sit right with most people, but that’s the point, isn’t it?

Till We Have Faces

face

“Are the gods not just?”

“Oh no, child. What would become of us if they were?”

C.S. Lewis wrote Till We Have Faces, his last novel of his life, to retell the Greek tale of Psyche and Cupid through the mouth of her elder sister, Orual, a story he’d been working on for over 35 years. It is through her readers will learn of Orual’s possessive love of Psyche and the moral changes she makes to understand why the gods did what they did to them.

*Review may contain spoilers*

This…this was a doozy and I don’t know why.

Maybe it’s because I thought this would be more about Psyche and Cupid, changing their story and her trials, rather than just about how Orual, Psyche’s elder half-sister, who comes to terms with losing her to the god of love.

I’ll be honest: I really didn’t care for Orual. Her constant complaining and ‘poor me’ attitude were off-putting and even after she learns her lesson and receives her answer from the gods she’s pretty much the same, no apparent difference her personality.

It began as soon as her obsessive love toward Psyche became blatantly clear, which sometimes bordered on incest fantasies and her desire to be Psyche’s true mother…

To be plain: it was weird.

And, in a way, I was extremely glad Psyche was able to get out of that situation before it became even worse.

This story is in two parts. The first being the longest section and the introduction into Orual and her adolescence, losing Psyche, her rise to becoming Queen, and her complaints against the gods. It’s a lot to take in at one go, which I did, but overall I got the gist.

Now, with the second part, I kind of waited a few days to read it and I just…I just couldn’t care.

Like, I don’t know, I feel like Orual should have been punished in some way for doing what she did to Psyche. And, some people might say the whole obsessive complaint against the gods was enough, but in retrospect, it was hardly anything compared to what her sister had to do.

It did pass the Bechdel test, but there were multiple instances of women hate, especially toward the other sister and wife of Bardia. Orual also did the whole ‘woe is me’ act too many times for me to sympathize with her even though there are multiple reasons to do so such as the abuse her father subjects her to, the constant berating she receives from the public and so forth. It also distracts from the pretty awesome acts she later performs in life, distancing herself from traditional views and showing skill in a variety of topics.

Beside the Narnia series, this is the only other C.S. Lewis I’ve read, partly because he’s a tad too religious in his stories for my liking (which is evident in this one with regards of how the gods act toward mankind) but Till We Have Faces pleasantly surprised me.

Granted, it wasn’t my absolute favorite though I agree that his other works might have a hard time adding up to this one if I ever get around to them.

Deathless

Death.jpg

“Only a fool is so innocent as to think he can measure up to a woman’s first love, can measure up to deathless.”

Koschei the Deathless asked for the girl at the window, a girl named Marya Morevna, who became his bride as well as his undoing. In Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente, the classic Russian folklore tale is retold, modernized, colliding both history and magic along the way as Marya tries to stop Koschei’s tale from repeating, as it has so many times, before it’s too late for them both.

*Review may contain spoilers*

Deathless, much like The Snow Child, is a retelling of a Russian tale and I didn’t know anything before going in beside what the blurb told me. So, Public service announcement: If you know nothing about Koschei the Deathless before you pick up this book read the Wikipedia page or look up the original tale. It helps. A lot.

Straightaway, the magic-reality-history meshing was brought up and developed quite nicely throughout the book. It was by far my favorite aspect as it made the magic seem just as real as the war. At times, it did dip into major fairytale structure, but that was hardly annoying as everything else.

Deathless is separated into six parts (gag me), but for easier clarification, I will clump them together as Part I (Parts I – III) and Part II (Parts IV – VI) to clear up my thinking.

See, Part I of this book felt fairytale like and though this was a retelling I could feel the original source shining through when it needed to, making it fun and interesting, especially when Buyan (Koschei’s homeland) was introduced and it wasn’t quite what you imagine the land of Life to be. It was developed quite nicely.

But then, when Part II began, introducing Ivan, the man who steals Marya away, Valente took the story for a world wind of a spin of her own ideas before realizing she’d avoided the actual plot of the fairytale she’d set up and needed to ‘clean up’ loose ends.

It didn’t work.

I assumed the story would focus more on the war between Life and Death, or how Marya would get back at Koschei for lying to her about the other women and bringing about his downfall that way, rather than the relationships between the three main characters, which only accomplished passing Marya around like property with no opinion of her own.

If you asked me what the point of this book is I can’t tell you. Unlike the fairy tale Deathless doesn’t have a clear moral. And it’s overcompensated at the end with even more massive character soliloquies and some strange limbo land inhabited by clones of Russian figures of history in order to distract readers enough to think it was just a weird story than a 300-page-book with no point.

As I mentioned in The Last Nude review I’m keeping track whether a book fulfills the standards of the Bechdel test and I’m pleased to say Deathless passed with flying colors with multiple, named women, talking about things other than a man. In fact, it passed within the first 40 pages though I’m not sure if the women have to be the same species or just identify as female…

However, the insta-love and pretty hazy lines between consent and abuse, both physical and mental, which litter the book, heavily overshadow this victory.

Many would probably argue Marya and Koschei’s relationship blossoms as time goes on, coming to terms with the whole ‘no rules’ thing and being more of a BDSM couple than anything. But, like, that doesn’t erase his initial treatment of her or her tying him up in the basement for years (though that’s part of the original tale and I can maybe forgive it, but STILL.) And Ivan’s treatment toward Marya is the typical ‘I ran away with you and now realize it wasn’t as picture perfect as I wanted’ cliché.

A simple explanation for this is all the characters are pretty basic, one-dimensional creations. I can’t tell you what any of the main characters wants other than someone to fuck them. I could possibly say Koschei wants to win the war against his brother, but even that’s a slim answer considering how he abandons it when Marya leaves him.

Another problem, which I didn’t fully realize until reading other comments about the book, was the culture appropriation by Valente, who’s only real connection with the Russian tale is through her husband, which she mentions in the acknowledgment page in the back of the book.

Do I believe Valente piled her plate too high with all the Russian folklore and jargon, trying to convince readers she knew her stuff? Yes. But without this new take on the tale, I wouldn’t have ever become curious and decide to read the original, figuring out what Valente choose to keep and disregard from it to make Deathless her own creation.

Had Valente kept herself limited and focused on a thought-out story rather than trying to force everything in Russian folklore down readers throats Deathless might have accomplished more in introducing Koschei the Deathless to a new audience as a force to be reckoned with instead of just another handsome, horny, god-like man and Marya as an intelligent, independent woman instead of insta-loving every man she comes in contact with.

Because of Part I and the intricate, developed settings and fantasy-reality meshing, as well as passing the Bechdel test, I find myself liking Deathless enough not to say it’s bad, but because of Part II, I can’t say I love it and have any plans on reading the potential sequel anytime soon. I would recommend this only if someone wanted to read a modern take about Russian folklore, but only after they’ve read the original tale.

The Turn of the Screw

Turn

“Of course I was under the spell, and the wonderful part is that, even at the time, I perfectly knew I was.”

A young governess is hired to take care of a brother and sister at their uncle’s summerhouse in Essex. Initially, everything runs smoothly, but soon the governess begins to notice strangers around the property who seem to be looking for something or someone. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James is considered one of the most regarded gothic ghost stories, causing readers to debate what exactly the true evil is lurking within the pages.

*Review may contain spoilers*

Of my October reads this is by far the most ‘ghosty’ of them. Dealing with evil spirits, an unreliable narrator, and debatable truth of what really occurred, The Turn of the Screw is definitely a read I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

Admittedly, I wasn’t captivated by the story for the entire duration. In fact, I only found myself becoming truly interested when Flora goes outside without permission and appears to be looking for the ghost of Miss. Jessel though claiming to have never seen anything.

My initial feelings were mainly because the governess was fairly annoying for 85% of this story. She’s young and naïve, but her constant exclamations of seeing ghosts and trying to save the children from the evil within became worn-out and I started skipping the rants just to get on with the story.

I did enjoy the obvious clash of the social classes and how the governess, representing the middle class, handled the situations between the children (upper) and Mrs. Grose (lower) showing how it ultimately became her downfall with trying to appease both without ‘stepping out of place.’

Regarding the ending, I feel as if Miss. J was the only real ghost haunting the place, while Quint was the imaginings of the governess, almost as a replacement for being watched by the absent uncle, her employer, and finding herself overcome with the idea that she’s not doing her job accordingly in the ways of the upper class, especially when it comes to Miles education.

I thought this simply because, in the end, Miles asks if ‘she’ is with them and seems rather confused when the governess mentions that it’s Quint. It’s also somewhat supported by Flora, who seems to ignore Miss. J, but knows she’s there. I feel as if it’s just because she was their governess and thus had a closer bond with them and that they didn’t ever really notice Quint’s presence, alive or dead.

I honestly don’t have much to say about this story except that the ending is what saved it from me believing this to be a ‘classic’ just because the world decided it should be with no merit other than it was written a century ago.