Hi readers, and welcome back!
Thanks for your patience with me during our brief hiatus. We will be returning to our usual schedule going forward. This means books every other saturday, socials on non-book Saturdays, and socials on Tuesdays.
Additionally, our open mic nights will now be a monthly occurance. They will take place on the third Friday of each month over TeamTalk. They’ll start at 8:00 eastern unless I get enough requests for an alternative day/time. This is also dependent on my ability to remember when the third Friday of the month is, so wish me luck! This means our next one will be next Friday, April 21. Let me know if this doesn’t work for you, because it’s not set in stone, and I want it to benefit as many people who want to attend as possible.
I also wanted to check with you about Tuesdays and if that is still a good day to have a mid-week social. Your thoughts would be appreciated so I know if we need to change or keep it.
Finally in terms of scheduling, I have heard interest from a few of you in having a monthly game night. I’m thinking this could take place on a Friday similar to open mics. Maybe the first one of each month? Let me know if that works. You can reach me in regard to any of these by responding to the text announcement if you don’t have my contact info, otherwise feel free to message me wherever you have me.
I’d be incredibly grateful if you could respond even if you like things the way they are or don’t really care either way, because then I know you’ve at least read this. 🙂
Thank you for voting on our theme/genre poll! Our first genre and subject of this poll is magical realism. There is much debate over what exactly the genre encompasses, so I had to just do my best in terms of finding a couple books. Thank you for the submissions, as always. After magical realism, we'll be reading nontraditional fantasy. Please submit your recommendations at any time over the next couple of weeks. Please vote on this poll by this Saturday. Our first meeting will take place on April 29.
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying, but before she ends it all, Nao plans to document the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in a ways she can scarcely imagine.
Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.
Full of Ozeki’s signature humour and deeply engaged with the relationship between writer and reader, past and present, fact and fiction, quantum physics, history, and myth, A Tale for the Time Being is a brilliantly inventive, beguiling story of our shared humanity and the search for home.
Notable review by Rebecca
If I’d had my way, the 2013 Man Booker Prize would have gone to this novel-writing documentary filmmaker and Zen Buddhist priestess from British Columbia, Canada (by way of Japan). A Tale for the Time Being is a rich reflection on what it means to be human in an era of short attention spans, the dearth of meaning, and imminent environmental threat.
The time being: the present moment is what we’re stuck with now and must embrace. The time being: in the Buddhist viewpoint, each human is entrapped by time, which means that we are all in this together; this is an Everyman tale.
On present-day Vancouver Island, “Ruth,” a Japanese-American novelist who is attempting to write a memoir of her mother’s slow demise from Alzheimer’s but has a bad case of writer’s block, stumbles across a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on the beach. Inside she finds a cache of old letters and a teenage girl’s diary, disguised as a copy of Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu.
The diary belonged to sixteen-year-old Nao (pronounced “now” – is it all starting to fit together?) Yasutani, who cheerfully and informally confides in her imagined reader about her life. The past few years in Tokyo have not been easy for her – she’s been the victim of extreme bullying at the hands of her classmates, and suicide seems to run in the family – but she has a guardian angel in the form of her great-grandmother, Buddhist nun Jiko, who is approaching death at age 104 but still represents the voice of wisdom and a timeless perspective.
In a modified epistolary format that includes diaries, letters, e-mails, and an abstract of a disappearing journal article, Ozeki builds her gentle academic mystery: where did the lunchbox come from? How did it wash up in Canada? Are Nao and the other diary subjects still alive and well, or did they die in the 2011 Japanese tsunami? Alternating chapters contrast Nao’s diary entries with Ruth’s reactions and commentary a decade later. Yet, in a delicious outbreak of magic realism, it seems Ruth may actually have some power to change Nao’s fate.
This is a superbly intelligent novel, with concerns ranging from ocean currents and pollution to the wacky quantum physics theory of multiple worlds. Ultimately, it is about being happy in the here and now – not looking to the past or the future for contentment or hope; and not indulging in regret or wishes. As the character Ruth states in the epilogue: “I’d much rather know, but then again, not-knowing keeps all the possibilities open. It keeps all the worlds alive.”
Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura
Seven students are avoiding going to school, hiding in their darkened bedrooms, unable to face their family and friends, until the moment they discover a portal into another world that offers temporary escape from their stressful lives. Passing through a glowing mirror, they gather in a magnificent castle which becomes their playground and refuge during school hours. The students are tasked with locating a key, hidden somewhere in the castle, that will allow whoever finds it to be granted one wish. At this moment, the castle will vanish, along with all memories they may have of their adventure. If they fail to leave the castle by 5 pm every afternoon, they will be eaten by the keeper of the castle, an easily provoked and shrill creature named the Wolf Queen.
Delving into their emotional lives with sympathy and a generous warmth, Lonely Castle in the Mirror shows the unexpected rewards of reaching out to others. Exploring vivid human stories with a twisty and puzzle-like plot, this heart-warming novel is full of joy and hope for anyone touched by sadness and vulnerability.
Notable review by Althea
“How awesome it would be if one of them spotted her, and she could introduce them to her mother as ‘my friend’.“
I CRIED YALL. There are few books that i can claim i full-on bawled while reading that I couldn’t see the pages anymore…. but this is one of them.
The story is built around these children that find that they can enter their mirrors and be transported to a place with a castle. However, there are rules entering this place because of course, something like that can’t last forever.
This is the kind of portal magic/magical realism that leaves a lot to be explained and focuses a lot more on the characters themselves. It is in that Japanese style of writing that is a little straight to the point and sometimes the writing felt off but I feel that has to do more with the translation than the actual writing since this was originally written in Japanese. Don’t get me wrong though because i did love the writing aside from the pacing, it made the story feel that much more raw and real, that you cannot help but see either parts of you or your friends in them. That’s how it was for me at least.
I do have reservations about some parts of the story and how it all ties together but in the end, the character developments and relationships just hit a little deeper than I thought it did… that I couldn’t help but feel the emotions by the end. I buddy read this and we both agree that, no matter how slow u initially find it, u get to a certain point in this book and just cannot help but marathon it to the end.
My favorite part is how the story so successfully highlights the unique friendship built over friends you meet when you are “young” and are just starting to figure out your place in the world. Part of the characters interactions, as they are mostly middle school aged, is how complicated these friendships can be to navigate at times but also the unlikely friends and memories you make when you’re “forced” to spend a certain amount of time with people in school (or some place else 👀).
I also found out that the author wrote this book because of the lack of mental health rep/discussion in Japan and so mental health topics (especially of children) are very prominent in this story— which is something I really loved. I probably should mention that there are trigger warnings for child abuse and bullying but they aren’t explicit nor graphic.
It truly is a little too perfect for people who love magical realism animes like Makato Shinkai’s Your Name. This felt very nostalgic to me and reminded me a lot of being back in grade school/ high school. It’s not that long of a story but it certainly is the kind that sticks with you for a while. The longer the time I’ve spent away from this book, the more my appreciation for it grows. And I feel that’s one of the best things about finding a good book that resonates within you.
— 4.25 —
⇢ content warnings// Anxiety, Bullying, Child Abuse (not explicit), Depression
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.
But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.
True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus performers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.
Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.
Notable review by Maggie Stiefvater
Note: This books review section is fascinating. Nobody knows quite how to review it, and reviews are either insanely long or barely a few sentences. This is the best I could find without extensive searching.
Five Things About THE NIGHT CIRCUS.
Ordinarily when I do my recommendations, I do a “five reasons to read _____,” but I think opinions will be so divided on THE NIGHT CIRCUS that I think “things about” will be more useful.
- This novel is not what it says it is. Well, back page copy is always a weird thing anyway, as it’s not written by the author. And a weirder thing because it is essentially a glamour shot of the novel. It is not a lie. But it isn’t really what the novel looks like when it’s wandering around in its bathrobe getting coffee and trying to figure out if that smell is coming from the kitchen sink disposal or under the table. The resemblance is always a bit sketchy. THE NIGHT CIRCUS’ resemblance to its cover copy is sketchier than most.
This novel is about a thing. It has people in it, too, but it is mostly about a thing, the eponymous circus. It’s told in third person omniscient, which means it sounds like God is narrating the thing, if God decided he really loved black and white tents and fancy umbrellas. The voice that narrates this book is interested in humans, too, but mostly about how humans make the circus and the circus’ magic interesting.
This is not a romance. There is a love story in it, which is good, because love makes the world go round, but it is not a romance. If you go in imagining to be swept off your feet from page one, you can keep on imagining. The novel starts before our lovebirds have hit puberty, so you’re going to have to imagine for quite awhile.
The circus is not really a circus. This is fine by me, because I actually don’t care for circuses. They smell, the animals always have that look of dubious maltreatment, no, I don’t want to win a prize by shooting that thing off that other thing over there, and also, clowns look a little grubby to me. No, the Night Circus is a circus in the respect that there are tents, and there are performers, and some of them are acrobats. Mostly it is a place where pretty, pretty magic is passed off as illusion so that us muggles won’t be scared by it. I’d go to that circus.
This is not a thriller. This is a not an action-packed adventure. It’s not even a simmering revenge or bubbling rivalry novel. It is a novel about a thing, with love in it, and it spans over a decade. If you have a problem with that idea, it’s best you walk away now. But if you like Ann Patchett or Audrey Niffeneggar novels, or if you really thought JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORRELL was the bee’s knees, well. WELL. You have just found your next read. Enjoy. I did.
Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat
From the best-selling author of Brother, I’m Dying and The Dew Breaker: a stunning new work of fiction that brings us deep into the intertwined lives of a small seaside town where a little girl, the daughter of a fisherman, has gone missing.
Claire Limyè Lanmè – Claire of the Sea Light – is an enchanting child born into love and tragedy in Ville Rose, Haiti. Claire’s mother died in childbirth, and on each of her birthdays Claire is taken by her father, Nozias, to visit her mother’s grave. Nozias wonders if he should give away his young daughter to a local shopkeeper, who lost a child of her own, so that Claire can have a better life.
But on the night of Claire’s seventh birthday, when at last he makes the wrenching decision to do so, she disappears. As Nozias and others look for her, painful secrets, haunting memories, and startling truths are unearthed among the community of men and women whose individual stories connect to Claire, to her parents, and to the town itself. Told with piercing lyricism and the economy of a fable, Claire of the Sea Light is a tightly woven, breathtaking tapestry that explores what it means to be a parent, child, neighbor, lover, and friend, while revealing the mysterious bonds we share with the natural world and with one another. Embracing the magic and heartbreak of ordinary life, it is Edwidge Danticat’s most spellbinding, astonishing book yet.
Notable review by Kat
I confess. I picked this book simply because I fell in love with the cover. No other reason. Luckily, the pages inside match the cover’s beauty, and now I have a new author to love, so I guess my shallow selection criteria paid off this time. 😉
Nozias is a fisherman who lost his beloved wife during the birth of their child, Claire Limyè Lanmè, or “Claire of the Sea Light”. As she’s getting older, he’s struggling to provide and be present for her. Though he loves her deeply, he’s entertaining the idea of letting the wealthy local shopkeeper, who lost her own daughter, take her in and raise her, thinking she’ll have a better life. On the eve of her seventh birthday, when Nozias finally commits to his plan, Claire goes missing. What follows is not only the villagers’ search for her, but also many of their own stories, each with their own fascinating histories to explore.
This is lovely, lovely writing. Set in Haiti in the fictional town of Ville Rose, author Edwidge Danticat’s village by the sea contains a cast of flawed characters that span the economic and social status range, yet all are sympathetically portrayed, and my heart felt for each one of them. When events – both good and bad – happen, there’s a backstory to each individual that humanizes what brought them to that decision or act. These are fully-rounded characters shaped by joys, tragedies and everything in between, and their diverse stories interweave so nicely into one cohesive narrative.
What begins as an emotional story about Nozias and Claire, travels over the remaining chapters like a boat, navigating the depths and shallows of fellow villagers’ lives, interconnected with each other in a myriad of interesting or surprising ways, and ultimately making the journey round trip. It’s a quiet, poetically beautiful story with a touch of magical realism, and a quick read at only 238 pages. It won’t dazzle you with anything flashy and it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you just want a gentle piece of writing that reminds you of what it means to be human, in all our complexity, this is definitely worth your time.
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart–he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone–but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees. This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.
Notable review by karen
when i was about one hundred pages from the end of this book, i tugged on greg’s sleeve at work, and said, “is this gonna end sad??”
and he refused to answer.
i think that was a good impulse.
because i almost don’t wanna review this. this book was such a beautiful journey, and taking place as it does over a number of years, there are naturally high and low points, emotionally.
but i’m not going to tell you how it ends up.
i will tell you that i VERY NEARLY CRIED early on. like page 42-early.i misted, but nothing tumbled out.that is a big deal for me, and from that point on, i was hooked.
i suppose i can give you some brief descriptions, for those of you who strangely don’t see the cover and instantly think “must. read.”
jack and mabel are a couple who married late(r) in life than typical for the 1920’s, suffered a miscarriage, and move to alaska to try their hand at homesteading, as a way of isolating themselves from the constant reminder of their loss, their friends and families with their healthy children, and the sorrow hanging over them. now in their fifties, the idea was that the solitude would heal them, and together, they would build a new life and cleave together with a love stronger than ever.
this didn’t exactly pan out, and each of them descends into their own private griefs and the hardships the brutal carelessness of nature presents, and their own inability to communicate further isolates them from any potential for healing.
until one night, when an unexpected levity descends upon them, and they build a snow child together, dressing her in a hat and mittens that they have, and carving the face of a beautiful girl upon her.
the next morning, the snow child, and the clothing, are gone, and there are faint footprints leading away from where the snow child was built.
soon, they start seeing glimpses of a little girl in the woods in the company of a red fox. fleeting, shy, wild.
is this the snow child come to life? is it all a coincidence?? is there magic afoot? is it simply grief-fueled madness? cabin fever? any other explanation?
with the help of their neighbors; including the amazingly plainspoken and badass character of esther, and their elusive snow child, their solitude will lessen, and these questions will be answered, while a beautiful story unfolds.
this book may be based on a fairy tale, but there is no easy magical deus ex machina at work here.the bulk of the book is about survival – whether it be survival from poverty and lack, or from loneliness and loss. it is about the bonds of family, however “family” is necessarily redefined through circumstances,and the painful sacrifices we make for love.
it is a beautiful and mature debut novel, and although i read the ARC, i am definitely going to buy the book when it comes out, because this one is a keeper.
anything else i could say would ruin it. trust me.
What shall we read next? (Choose 2)
- The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (32%, 7 Votes)
- The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (27%, 6 Votes)
- Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura (18%, 4 Votes)
- A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (14%, 3 Votes)
- Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat (9%, 2 Votes)
Total Voters: 11