R.I.P. Challenge: White Is For Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

My second pick for the R.I.P. Challenge is Helen Oyeyemi’s White Is For Witching, and I loved it.  I’m not sure I fully understood it, or even that it is a book than can be fully understood, but I’m okay with that.

6277227It’s the story of teenage twins, Miranda and Eliot, both about to graduate the British version of high school and embark on their lives as adults.  It’s also the story of a house in Dover, England, the house where the twins live with their father, Luc, who runs a bed and breakfast there.  And it is also the story of Ore, a young black woman adopted and raised by white parents, who meets Miranda at Cambridge.  It’s told from multiple perspectives, including one from the (malevolent) house itself.

One evening she pattered around inside me, sipping something strong that wedged colour into her cheeks, and she dragged all my windows open, putting her glass down to struggle with the stiffer latches.  I cried and cried for an hour or so, unable to bear the sound of my voice, so shrill and pleading, but unable to stop the will of the wind wheeling through me, cold in my insides.  That was the first and last time I’ve heard my own voice.  I suppose I am frightening.  But Anna Good couldn’t hear me.  When she closed me up again it was only because she was too cold.  Most nights she went with the moon, and when it was round she stayed in my biggest bedroom and wouldn’t answer the thing that asked her to let it out

(let you out from where?

let me out from the small, the hot, the take me out of the fire i am ready i am hard like the stones you ate, bitter like those husks)

Miranda suffers from a condition called pica, in which people compulsively eat non-food items; apparently all the women in her mother’s lineage suffered from it as well.  her favorite thing to eat is chalk.  She suffered from it even before her mother Lily’s death, but her mental and physical health take a dramatic turn for the worse after Lily dies. She can’t sleep.  Her brother and father are aware of her condition but are powerless to stop her from harming herself.  Eliot feels the full weight of responsibility for her, since Lily is gone and Luc is pretty much going through the motions of parenting.  After defending Miranda from a serious accusation of violence, the reader sees him sag under the pressure.51ggkdnfrdl

The duty to speak when Miri couldn’t, to make sense when she didn’t.  I checked that no one was around, then put my forehead to my locker and stood against it like a plank, with all my weight in my head.  I stood like that until I stopped feeling like breaking something.  Otherwise I could snap the Biros in my pocket, go into the nearest empty classroom and slam the chairs into the bookshelves, then what?  Go home and smash Lily’s camera?  Thank you, Lily, for leaving me in charge of someone I just can’t be responsible for.  She won’t forget or recover, she is inconsolable.

As the house divulges information about the women in Miranda’s family, it also describes terrifying acts it performs on guests at the B&B.  People who work there feel the evil presence. The house does not like that Miranda has gone away to school.  It does not like that Miranda has a special relationship with Ore.  Ore comes to visit her on a school break and strange and scary things happen to her as well. Miranda knows that something is very wrong, something that she is not strong enough to escape from.  The ending is sad, unsettling, and decidedly ambiguous, with a strong sense of magical realism.

I found myself more engaged with and moved by this novel than by the only other Oyeyemi book I’ve read, Boy, Snow, Bird, which I appreciated but didn’t love.  I will be seeking out the rest of Oyeyemi’s books for sure – she is a strikingly original author.  This is the quintessential October book, equal parts sad and creepy: a mystery, a ghost story, and a haunting love story all at once.  An excellent choice for my first R.I.P.!



My Very Late #10BooksofSummer Wrap-Up

I promise I’m not ignoring the book blogging world on purpose, guys.  It’s just that life has been really hectic lately.  I hope things start to calm down soon!

I wanted to wrap up my experience participating in Cathy’s #20BooksofSummer Challenge.  Exercising my self-knowledge, I chose the #10Books path rather than 20.  I know that too much pressure to read results in me NOT reading, just as too much pressure to drop desserts results in my bingeing on chocolate chip cookies.  (Readers and eaters, know thyself!)10booksfinal

So here are my results:

  1. Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye – Five stars – Loved it!
  2. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren – Had book from library and didn’t finish it in time.  It still has a waiting list on it, and I’m back on the list, so hopefully I’ll get to finish it in the next two months!  What I’ve read was very good.
  3. Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor.  My first Nnedi book, and I enjoyed it very much.
  4. Open City by Teju Cole.  DNF, sadly.  I really enjoyed his Every Day is For the Thief, but this one was too slow and ponderous for my tastes/mood.
  5. Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia.  So good!
  6. Means of Evil and Other Stories by Ruth Rendell.  Inspector Wexford doesn’t let me down, y’all.
  7. The Vegetarian by Han Kang.  One of the most memorable books I’ve ever read.  Note I didn’t say I loved it.  But I didn’t hate it either.  It remains an enigma.
  8. High Rising by Angela Thirkell.  Light, cheery, British, fun read.
  9. Writing My Wrongs by Shaka Senghor.  So GOOD.  Highly recommend for those interested in social justice issues.
  10. The Book of Night Women by Marlon James.  ALL THE STARS.  Marlon James is now on my Top Ten Favorite Authors list.

I think 8/10 is a very respectable showing, and I am so glad I took the chance and participated!  Thanks to Cathy at 746 Books for hosting this.  I came away with two five-star reads that will go on my year end Top Ten for sure.

In other news, I’ve once again returned to reading more than one book at a time.  I have decided that I’m cool with alternating between a few things, as long as they’re in different formats (audio, fiction, nonfiction.)  Currently I’m listening to Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton.  So far it’s not knocking my socks off, but I’m still interested.  I’m also reading Sister, Outsider by Audre Lorde, which is TOTALLY knocking my socks off, but it’s so good that I don’t want to rush it.  I just finished Glennon Doyle Melton’s Love Warrior and it hit me right in the gut.  It’s just a beautiful, raw look at how messy being a human being who loves other human beings is.  And it’s about honoring your inner voice and strength, and following your heart.  I loved it.

That’s all from me for now.  I hope you’ve had a very good weekend and that you’re enjoying some good books!


My First R.I.P Challenge!

ripeleven250I’m just a little bit excited about this, can you tell?

I was still feeling like a new-ish blogger last fall, and I did not participate in the challenge. As I approach my second blogging anniversary, I am eager to jump in!

This is the 11th Annual R.I.P. Challenge (Readers Imbibing Peril) hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings.  You can read more about it and join here.

From September 1 to October 31, you can read books (or watch movies/shows, or play games) from these genres, perfect for chillier Autumn nights:

Dark Fantasy

Given my mediocre showing in reading challenges, I’ve chosen Peril the Second.

“Simply halve the requirement of Peril the First. If you choose to take on this Peril, read two books of your choosing that you feel fit the various R.I.P. categories.”


I haven’t quite nailed down what I’ll read to fulfill my Peril, but I’m considering Lauren Beukes’s The Shining Girls and Shirley Jackson’s The Sundial (since I own them both and haven’t read them yet.)  But I’d also like to include an author of color so I may read something from Octavia Butler, Tananarive Due, or a mystery by Attica Locke.

In any case, I think it will be fun to read about what everyone else chooses.  I’m kind of a wimp when it comes to scary entertainment, but I do appreciate a nail-biting page-turner. If you have a creepy(ish) book you really love, please suggest it in the comments.  This should be fun!


Ten (Not Twenty) Books of Summer

Cathy at 746 Books is hosting her annual 20 Books of Summer event for the third year running.  I have been mulling over participating for days now, and today I finally decided to take the plunge and join in.  See, I’m a notoriously contrary reader, as my lackluster attempt at participating in the TBR Triple Dog Dare earlier this year proved.  I hate feeling hemmed in, both physically and in my reading choices.  I now embrace the “mood-reader/free-range reader” tag joyfully.  This is me being me!10booksfinal

Mercifully, however, Cathy is generous and flexible with her rules, so she is allowing participants to structure their challenges to their tastes.  I am joining a few others in a TEN Books of Summer option.   So from June 1 through September 5, I’ll be reading ten books from my ridiculous and ever-growing Goodreads TBR.  I figure that I can commit to reading ten titles that I would have wanted to read anyway, and that still leaves me breathing room for book choice whimsy!

Here are my ten (in no particular order:)

  1. Jane Steele by Lyndsay Fay.  Supposedly a Jane Eyre-ish retelling, except this Jane is a Victorian SERIAL KILLER.  I hope this is as fun as I want it to be.
  2. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren.  I’ve seen nothing but praise for this science/nature non-fiction title, from trusted sources.  Really looking forward to it.41QVmFj2U9L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
  3. Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor.  I’ve been meaning to read something by this author for a while now, and this one looks super interesting to me.  Plus it’s set in Lagos, Nigeria, which is the setting for my current read, Every Day is For the Thief by Teju Cole, and I’m completely fascinated by that part of the world.  Which brings me to…
  4. Open City by Teju Cole.  I’m REALLY liking Every Day, so I think I want to jump right into his other book.
  5. Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia.  Gin Jenny from Reading the End called this a grown-up version of Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game and that was all that I needed!
  6. Means of Evil and Other Stories by Ruth Rendell.  Because Ruth Rendell. Inspector Wexford forever!56abcc1b1f00007f00216f6a
  7. The Vegetarian by Han Kang.  I was on the fence about this one until I read positive things from many trusted sources.  Plus, I bet it will be a Tournament of Books choice for next year.
  8. High Rising by Angela Thirkell.  I looooove me some mid-20th century British fiction.  I hope this scratches that itch!
  9. 51SX3bAWW0L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Writing My Wrongs by Shaka Senghor.  After Whitney at Brown Books and Green Tea gave this a stellar review, I knew I had to read it.  Looks really powerful.  Speaking of powerful…
  10. The Book of Night Women by Marlon James.  I ADORED his History of Seven Killings, so this is a no-brainer for me.  It’s probably going to wreck me, but I think I’m ready for it.

I own but three of these titles and the rest are coming from the library.  I’ve got Jane Steele checked out right now so that might be my next read.  I’m on a waiting list for Writing My Wrongs but I am hopeful that it will become available before Sept. 5!

If you’re feeling like taking the (small-ish) plunge with me, head over to Cathy’s 746 Books for more info!


Reading Challenge Fail?

Happy March!  This is the final month of the TBR Triple Dog Dare hosted by James at James Reads Books.  With my stated exceptions (a book on hold  at the library since October, and my book group books) I’ve only read books that I physically owned as of December 31.  But I feel like I may not make it through the month of March.  Okay, I know that I won’t – because I’ve signed up to participate in Reading Ireland Month over at 746 Books!

I don’t know what I was thinking – except, oooh, Ireland, I love Ireland!  (I’ve been there, once, almost ten years ago when my then-boyfriend/now-husband went with me to visit my aunt and uncle, who live there in County Kerry.  They moved back to the US – long story – for a period of years, and now they’re living in Ireland once again.)  Anyway, I don’t know when I’m going to read the book I’ve chosen – Edna O’Brien’s House of Splendid Isolation.  I’m reading the hefty Middlemarch right now and I’ve got to read Super Sad True Love Story for my book group by March 20.  I suspect that Middlemarch will get put on the back burner and I’ll split my energy between the O’Brien and the Shteyngart.  Oh, a reader’s life!  Juggling all the books!

So I’m wondering what you all think about reading challenges and failure.  I have enjoyed reading some things that have been sitting neglected on my shelves at home.  I’ve finished six of my own books and am currently reading two more.  It’s made me think about how and why I purchase books, and made me re-think purchasing any more until I read more of the ones I already own.  So this Dare has been a win for me already, regardless of whether I stick it out until the end of the month.

Have you “failed” a reading challenge before?  Do you think that there is such a thing as reading challenge failure?  Or is any attempt at broadening our reading horizons automatically a win?  Yoda would say, “Do, or do not.  There is no try,” but I’m cutting myself some slack here.  No one is giving me a medal or a cookie for completing any reading challenges.  Eight books have gotten some well-deserved attention that they probably wouldn’t have otherwise gotten if I hadn’t accepted the Dare.  And I’ve learned some things about my reading preferences.  I just might buy myself that cookie after all.

The TBR Triple Dog Dare, One Month In

It’s February 1st!  Wasn’t it just Christmas?!  I’ve got one month of the TBR Triple Dog Dare Challenge under my belt, two months to go.  I’ve read three of my own books (Housebound, The Progress of Love, and Song of Solomon,) and one library book that was a built-in exception since I’d had it on hold for a while (Career of Evil.)  I have to say, being new to this particular reading challenge, that it’s harder than I expected.  Maybe if I didn’t work in a library and see all these new, shiny books (and simply new-to-me books) coming in and out right under my nose everyday it would be easier.  How they tempt me!

Last year I managed to read quite a few books published in 2015 and it felt really good to be in on the current book conversation.  I’ve realized that as much as I like to delve into the backlist, and I do, I really enjoy keeping up with books that will probably be on the end-of-year “Best Of” lists.  I’ve got a list going and will dive into some new releases as soon as April 1 rolls around!

So, if I’m reading the books I bought myself with my own money, why do I feel so constrained?  Perhaps I just don’t like being having limits on my reading.  It makes sense. I hate being told what to eat (or not to eat,) hence my inability to adhere to any weight-loss diet.  These books have been good – and in the case of Song of Solomon, truly great – but maybe I’m just in the mood for other things.

I willingly signed up for the Dare as a way to deal with these books on my shelf.  I need to read them sometime, right?  Alternately, if I decide I really don’t want to read them, I need to just let them go and find the right readers who will appreciate them.  Maybe my reading tastes have changed since I’ve bought some of them.  In any case, I’m going to see this Dare through.  I’m learning too much about my reading process to give up.  It’s sort of an eye-opener.

Do you enjoy completing reading challenges?  Or do you tend to shy away from them?  Let me know your thoughts.