Review: The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton

fmt1nxzgt0bf2
“Was she strong enough to carry all these Burdens on her own?
Or would they swallow her whole?”

I knew this book was the one I’d been looking for when I flipped to the last page of the prologue and saw a glimpse of a name I thought to be “Noa,” which was exactly what I was searching for the day earlier when on the look-out for fictional characters with the name Noah, for some inexplicable reason. (I never did find anything other than the biblical story, so please let me know if you have any solid book recommendations.)

The misread name turned out to spell “Nor,” but by then I was already too caught up in the world of The Price Guide to the Occult. I had Nor’s sardonic humor and devotion to anonymity, the promise of a book within a book, and exploring the realms of clairvoyance, telekinesis, divination to keep me satisfied.

To backtrack a bit, I’ve been a huge fan of Leslye Walton’s writing ever since I finished reading The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender back in January 2016. I think about that book more often than I think about any other. It holds such a special place in my heart because it introduced me to two of my favorite aspects in books: family-driven drama & magical realism.

Though I was caught up quickly in the storyline, as I mentioned above, it still took a bit of time to fully settle into the world of The Price Guide to the Occult… And then. Then we get some character dynamics introduced, from Nor’s sweet and lasting encounter with a certain boy to the story of her mother’s “formidable ability to manipulate the minds of those around her.” And it wasn’t long before I was lost in their world, repeating the same old mantra of “just one more page.” Once again, Leslye Walton excels at weaving together an intricately compelling family narrative.

I also had a few meta moments when it mentioned how Youtubers, reviewers, bloggers all raved about the book within our book, “after reading a glowing blog post about The Price Guide to the Occult,” because I was about to do the same.

Speaking of which, here are some noteworthy moments I cherished:

  • The fact that Nor doesn’t attend high school really hit that sweet spot for me. My main problem with YA books is that their setting is nearly always around a school, so I rarely if ever want to revisit those times of my life. So when we have a main character that feels the same and actually dares to drop out and get her GED instead, I’m left glowing.
  • The trusty old companion dogs at Nor’s unwavering side throughout the book.
  • What really got to me, though, was Nor’s unique characteristic of wanting to draw as little attention to herself as possible.

“Nor had never had the heart to tell anyone that all she wanted was to make the slightest mark as humanly possible on the world; she was too preoccupied with proving to herself that she was nothing like her mother to be focused on anything else.”

  • Which then leads me to discuss the subtle crushing she had on a certain someone (and I’m desperately trying to avoid spoilers here). Let me just say that after reading a whole anthology set around the meet-cute concept, I was more than ready for a full romance to sweep me off my feet already. And the author really knows how to keeps us on our toes when it comes to this one.

“This was what it felt like to be around him—constantly pulled in two directions, wanting to be both seen and unseen, and not knowing which one she preferred.”

I really wanted a solid build-up to happen for this couple so that by the time they got around to any kind of intimacy I’d be screaming inside. He could’ve just been standing behind her and my heart rate would pick up. It was refreshing to have love interest be so straightforward and honest about their feelings. I would leave the story to go to bed and then wake with a smile at realizing I’d left off right before he showed on the following page. But the romance was never overpowering in its role.

Anyway. I am sidetracking.

  • One thing I do wish we could’ve gotten a more extensive look into was the Blackburn lineage and their matriarch, Rona Blackburn. Like, exploring the different Burdens each Blackburn received. We got a little taste in the prologue but never fully explored past that point the true grandiosity of the first Blackburn women, which is what I loved so much in the author’s debut novel with her ability to flesh-out each generation coming before the main character.
  • The descriptions of imagery and inner monologue from Nor’s dreams were vivid, and it brought to mind Harry Potter’s struggle with seeing through Voldemort’s eyes. Which is why I was surprised when I read the Harry Potter reference to Azkaban in this book.
  • On that train of thought, Nor’s mother, Fern Blackburn, strongly represented the idea of Levana from The Lunar Chronicles, especially once I read the comparison below made by Nor’s best friend, Savvy. It gave me an unsettled feeling.

“Your mom is amazing,” Savvy continued, “but also kind of terrifying, in an evil queen kind of way. I can totally imagine her convincing the huntsman to kill me so that she can eat my heart, you know?”

  • Speaking of Savvy, aka the Guardian of Unwanted Things, I truly couldn’t have asked for a better best friend for Nor. This following quote speaks volumes about their friendship: “Though Savvy couldn’t actually solve the bulk of Nor’s problems, Nor felt better having been reminded that she had someone who gave enough of a shit to try.”
  • I wasn’t ready to be done with this book by the time I reached the ending, so I decided to read the acknowledgments, and I’m glad I did because of this touching paragraph:

(Trigger warning: self-harm.)

The Price Guide to the Occult 1-- bookspoils

All of the above were the things I would later remember. And I so hope that we’ll see more of Walton’s stories in the near future. I’m eager to know, in particular, if The Price Guide to the Occult will receive a sequel.

ARC kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Expected publication: March 13th 2018

bookspoilsbookspoilsbookspoilsbookspoils

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying The Price Guide to the Occult, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

Advertisements

Review: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

I’ve seen this book quite a lot online since its release a couple of months back and finally decided to give it a shot yesterday… and I was transfixed almost instantly with that first chapter, especially once the dynamic Nadia was introduced into my life:

“When Saeed and Nadia finally had coffee together in the cafeteria, which happened the following week, after the very next session of their class, Saeed asked her about her conservative and virtually all-concealing black robe.
“If you don’t pray,” he said, lowering his voice, “why do you wear it?”
They were sitting at a table for two by a window, overlooking snarled traffic on the street below. Their phones rested screens-down between them, like the weapons of desperadoes at a parley.
She smiled. Took a sip. And spoke, the lower half of her face obscured by her cup.
“So men don’t fuck with me,” she said.”

Reading her response was a surge of power.tumblr_ocnkae2ng01qh9nffo1_400

I continued on excitedly and became quickly invested in the narrative and the smooth switching point of views. I especially enjoyed how the story shifts from focusing on Saeed and Nadia to introducing swift tales of other character perspectives while stepping through a door that can whisk them far away from their homeland. The language in those stories was in particular eye-catching. And I cherished how it gave us a broader look on a vital topic such as migration.

But circling back to the main pair in this book, I was fascinated to follow the relationship and journey quiet and devout Saeed and fiercely independent Nadia undertook through their shifting positions in life after the imminent fall of their city. From students to lovers to migrants to survivors, and so much more… It was powerful and refreshing to witness.

And this quietly beautiful moment stands out most when I think of them:

“Her leg and arm touched Saeed’s leg and arm, and he was warm through his clothing, and he sat in a way that suggested exhaustion. But he also managed a tired smile, which was encouraging, and when she opened her fist to reveal what was inside, as she had once before done on her rooftop a brief lifetime ago, and he saw the weed, he started to laugh, almost soundlessly, a gentle rumble, and he said, his voice uncoiling like a slow, languid exhalation of marijuana-scented smoke, “Fantastic.”
Saeed rolled the joint for them both, Nadia barely containing her jubilation, and wanting to hug him but restraining herself. He lit it and they consumed it, lungs burning, and the first thing that struck her was that this weed was much stronger than the hash back home, and she was quite floored by its effects, and also well on her way to becoming a little paranoid, and finding it difficult to speak.
For a while they sat in silence, the temperature dropping outside. Saeed fetched a blanket and they bundled it around themselves. And then, not looking at each other, they started to laugh, and Nadia laughed until she cried.”

I was moved and strengthened by this passage.

However, their relationship hit a bit of a lull about halfway through the book for me when it was seemingly going nowhere in particular. And then also in terms of plot or character develemopent there wasn’t anything exciting on the table. But once the book managed to move from that rough spot, I was all the more enraptured.

All in all: Exit West was an impactful read about war and migrants and nativists while also veering into themes of love, desire, and religion.

4/5 stars

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Exit West, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

Review: All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman

“What would make this perfect?”

I read the description for this book and was instantly captivated by the premise of the magical blending in with the everyday:

All Tom’s friends really are superheroes.

There’s the Ear, the Spooner, the Impossible Man. Tom even married a superhero, the Perfectionist. But at their wedding, the Perfectionist was hypnotized (by ex-boyfriend Hypno, of course) to believe that Tom is invisible. Nothing he does can make her see him. Six months later, she’s sure that Tom has abandoned her.

So she’s moving to Vancouver. She’ll use her superpower to make Vancouver perfect and leave all the heartbreak in Toronto. With no idea Tom’s beside her, she boards an airplane in Toronto. Tom has until the wheels touch the ground in Vancouver to convince her he’s visible, or he loses her forever.

Honestly, I’m amazed with the author’s brain for coming up with each of the peculiarities in here. Superheroes include: the Couch Surfer (“Empowered with the ability to sustain life and limb without a job, steady companion or permanent place of residence”), the Falling Girl, the Shadowless Man, the Inverse (“Shake the Inverse’s hand and the exact opposite of your life will flash before your eyes”), The Projectionist, Hypno… and with the addition of an anxiety monster appearing at the door when, you guessed it, you’re feeling anxious (“There are two ways to get rid of an anxiety monster, my friend – you either have a bath or a nap.”).

This humorous love story between a normal man and a super-heroine, The Perfectionist, explores the power of ignoring someone and how it can drive them crazy or close to it… Which I found incredible because I had just recently talked about this exact premise and how nothing is quite as hurtful as ghosting someone out of the blue. All My Friends Are Superheroes is both silly and serious, which is quite a feat to concur in writing. Andrew Kaufman definitely succeeded, though, in my eyes.

Bonus points for making this feel like a short story, since it was a lot of fun to read I never noticed the page numbers changing while reading, and also because the book itself is on the slimmer side.

And the fact that there were stories inside of stories also enveloped me further into the book. I loved in particular this love story between two invisible people, who are painted in different colors (blue and orange) to remain visible to the outside world:

(It’s long but definitely worth the read.)

“Then one day, a Wednesday, the Blue Outcast worked late at the call centre. He waited for the 6:04 streetcar. Normally he got the 5:15. This is where he saw her. She was hard to miss. She was orange.

The Blue Outcast was in line for the front doors of the streetcar. The Orange Exile was exiting through the rear doors. They made brief eye contact, but nothing more.

The Blue Outcast changed his routine. He took that streetcar, the 504, at 6:04 every day. The Blue Outcast and the Orange Exile noticed each other more and more. They made eye contact for longer periods of time. The Blue Outcast made sure to be at the end of the line for the front doors of the streetcar. The Orange Exile made sure to be first out the back doors. They began waving to each other as they passed on the street. They still hadn’t chatted or exchanged names. That didn’t seem to be the point.

Six weeks after they’d become aware of each other, a thunderstorm rolled across the city. The rain backed up the storm drains. Lightning struck close to the Blue Outcast’s call centre. It was 7:30. He’d missed the 6:04. He was the only one in the office. The sound boomed through the room. He looked out the window to see if there was any damage.

At that exact moment, the Orange Exile was looking out the window of her apartment. The call centre and the Orange Exile’s apartment were directly across from each other, on the second floors of three-storey buildings.

The Blue Outcast looked at the Orange Exile. Lightning cracked again. She put her index finger in her mouth. She pulled it out. It wasn’t orange any more. It was invisible. She held it up for the Blue Outcast to see.

The Blue Outcast cried. His tears cut streaks of invisibility down his face. He stepped back from the window. He undressed. Naked, he left the call centre. He walked to the ground floor, stepped into the rain and looked across the street where orange feet and orange legs were standing in an orange puddle.

They stood in the rain. The Blue Outcast looked up at the sky and held out his arms. He let rain fall on his face. He looked down at his hands and didn’t see them. He looked back across the street and couldn’t see the Orange Exile.

Neither of them has been seen since.”

This was riveting.

With plenty of heart and more than a little humor, All My Friends Are Superheroes has  me intrigued to check out other works by Kaufman in the near future.

Oh, and I also listened to this next song on repeat while reading, thanks to the most recent Skam update:

4/5 stars

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying All My Friends Are Superheroes, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!