The Furious Gazelle

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Book Review: Open Me by Lisa Locascio

Review by Tess Tabak

When a mixup sends Roxana, an 18-year-old girl, to Copenhagen, a mysterious Danish man named Soren whisks her away to live out one of his sexual fantasies.

I’m not quite sure I’d describe Open Me as an erotic novel, even though it’s marketed as such. It contains elements of that genre – the story exists in somewhat of a fantasy state. Through a series of odd circumstances, our heroine is trapped in another country, completely alone, at the mercy of an attractive stranger. But I’m hesitant to label this book erotica. There is a strong sense of the body in this book, but actually very little sex. It dwells more on the protagonist, Roxana, and her growing understanding of what it means to be a woman. She feels a strong desire at the start of the book to be acted upon, to be a completely passive participant in lovemaking. By the end, she learns that passivity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Erotica or not, Open Me is a gorgeously written book. The author, Lisa Locascio, takes impossible-to-describe feelings and puts words to them. Roxana talks about her “cathedral feeling,” the private thrill she felt when hearing music played on a church organ for the first time. The author has an intimate understanding of the inner workings of young girls, and the loneliness of not being able to share those special feelings. When Roxana tries to tell her best friend about the cathedral feeling, a sarcastic comment bursts the bubble. “And again I was a bag of feelings with no start and no end, a tunnel through which sensation moved.” Continue reading

Book Review: This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga

Review by Tess Tabak

In This Mournable Body, a woman named Tambudzai grapples with the harsh realities of living in Zimbabwe after the Revolution of the 1990s.

The author, Tsitsi Dangarembga, writes on familiar topics (anxiety, existential dread) but set against a backdrop that’s truly harsh and depressing. Tambu is mistrustful of white people living in Zimbabwe – but this isn’t the crystal clear “us vs. them” of books set further in the past, like Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. The white people in this novel are somewhat further removed from the atrocities of their ancestors. In modern Zimbabwe, the lines have blurred. The white people that Tambu loathes haven’t done anything “wrong,” per se, except for profiting off the crimes of previous generations. Tambu acknowledges her advantages – she received a Western education at a prestigious school – but oppression means that she still can’t find a suitable job, unable to tolerate the way that white men steal her work for their own, or how she’s paid far less than her peers just because she’s black. Continue reading

In Conversation with novel translator Tina Kover

As a translator, Tina Kover bridges gaps between cultures. For over ten years, she has been translating novels from French into English, so that they can be read and appreciated by a wider audience. This year alone, Kover has translated two wildly different books: Disoriental by Negar Djavadi (read our review here) and The Beauty of the Death Cap by Catherine Dousteyssier-Khoze, forthcoming this fall from Snuggly Books.

This year, Kover even helped to bridge the gap between a married couple. “[Catherine’s husband] doesn’t speak French, so he actually couldn’t read her book until I translated it, which is quite funny.”

When asked if he liked the book, Kover laughed. “He loved it,” she said. “But [Catherine] said she was a little frustrated because as he was reading it, he kept saying more about how much he liked the translation than the book itself.” Continue reading

Book Review: Sick, a memoir by Porochista Khakpour

Review By Tess Tabak

 

When a slew of mysterious symptoms leaves you terribly ill, how long does it take to have your illness validated, to receive a diagnosis? If you are a woman, especially a young woman of color with patchy health insurance and little money, it can be a very long time.

In Sick, Porochista Khakpour takes us through her journey as she struggles with poor health, drug addiction, and a quest for a diagnosis. She also takes us through her history with Lyme, both in herself and others: a boyfriend’s mother who became seriously ill with it; a dog she adopted that suffered from the disease; the many places she visited where she saw and ignored Tick Check warnings.

Sick is engrossing, reading somewhat like a lurid “it happened to me”-type article, written by a literary master. She spares few details, including raving emails she sent to friends at the height of her desperation about the undiagnosed illness: “I’ve realized my urine is entirely too alkaline.” Continue reading

Book Review: Disoriental by Négar Djavadi

By Tess Tabak

Disoriental, a new novel by Négar Djavadi, tells the epic story of a family, the Sadrs, across a century of true Iranian history. Kimia, the youngest daughter of Darius and Sara Sadr, is the self-appointed keeper of family lore. She tells her own story through the lens of her extended family’s history, weaving the tales in and out of each other like a modern day Scherzerade. The family currently lives in France and Disoriental’s message is particularly poignant, and relevant, in today’s political climate, when refugees are not freely welcome in many Western countries.

The novel opens slowly, on Kimia attempting to receive fertility treatment, in a room filled with couples desperate for a child. She is the only one who came to the appointment alone, without a partner. Once you get started this is a hard book to put down. While she waits for the doctor, Kimia braids her present story in and out of her family’s history, set against the backdrop of Iran’s tumultuous political history. Anecdotes fluidly move from one into the other, and the tale jumps back and forth between spans of 20 to 50 years at a time (there’s a helpful key in the back of the book if you lose track of the characters). Continue reading

Book Review: Where Night Stops, by Douglas Light

Review by Tess Tabak

 

Where Night Stops, a new novel by Douglas Light, is a gripping thriller written in deliciously literary prose. The protagonist ends up over his head in a money laundering scheme when a homeless man named Ray-Ray hands him a message in a bar of soap. That message leads him to the local library, which sets him off on a series of jobs that seem easy enough, and pay well. There’s just one problem: he has no idea what he’s doing, no idea why someone is paying him $300 to pick up checks from pre-arranged points and deposit them in library books. He calls these mysterious jobs “Kam Manning,” and inches in further and further, convincing himself that he’s not doing anything wrong.

The novel unravels slowly. It starts with our narrator in a bar with a woman who complains of being ugly. She sits next to our protagonist, trading a few lines of witty banter. She says that “My heart is a divided Vienna,” referencing Orson Welles’s The Third Man. Continue reading

Book Review: Searching for Someday by Jennifer Probst

Review by Tess Tabak

Searching for Someday is like a lollipop. You unwrap it, excited. I shouldn’t be reading this, you think. It has no real sustenance. But then you do read it, and you think, ugh, this is too sweet. And the prose is horrible. Did I ever use to like these? But it goes down quick before you really have a chance to think about it.

As a bodice-ripper, this book sort of succeeds. I’m saying “sort of” because it was page-turning and somewhat engrossing, which is really the only thing one asks for in books like this. I finished it in about three days. But the cringe factor is very high. I’ll leave aside the ridiculous nature of the premise – Kate runs a matchmaking agency called Kinnections, where she uses a combination of her supernatural ability to detect compatibility and real world dating advice to create lasting connections for her clients. She is also cursed to find one true soul mate in life. No one else will do it for her. OK, that part is fine.

Where the book starts to fall apart is when Slade enters the picture. A no-nonsense, super hot divorce lawyer, he becomes Kate’s client as a way of keeping tabs on his sister, who’s recently signed up for Kinnections. No. No no no no. Kate and her friends frequently cite Slade’s “protectiveness about his family” as a plus, but really? His behavior toward his sister is controlling, obsessive, unhealthy. Continue reading

Book Review: Dead Spider, by Victoria Houston

Review by Tess Tabak

 

In Dead Spider, the 17th installment in Victoria Houston’s Loon Lake mystery series, Charles Pfeiffer, the wealthiest man in town is murdered. It’s up to police chief Lewellyn Ferris and her deputy coroner Paul Osborne to find his killer. Dead Spider is a standalone story, and Houston briefly tells you anything you need to know about the characters in the first few pages so you don’t need to read any of the other books in the series before picking this one up.

A fast moving story, Dead Spider is a good beach read. It’s a light, airy page turner with a well-crafted mystery. The book relies on some mystery tropes (the murdered man has a bitchy daughter-in-law and a gold-digging wife, for example), but colored with Houston’s charming cast of small town characters, and the active fly fishing economy, it feels fresh. Loon Lake is based on the small Wisconsin town where Houston grew up, and you can tell she has a deep love for the area. Continue reading

Book Review: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao

Review by Tess Tabak

 

This debut novel by Julie Dao is the first book in the Rise of the Empress series. The series explores the imagined youth of Snow White’s Evil Queen in an East Asian-inspired fantasy setting. Xifeng, the protagonist, is a strong, complex young woman struggling to choose between a path of light and dark. She knows the right thing to do, but a voice inside of her urges her on towards evil.

There’s a lot to praise about this novel: Xifeng, our heroine, is strong and powerful, but at the same time she is not immune to the culture and mores of her time. She has to be careful to seem humble and ladylike as she forges her way towards becoming the next Empress of Feng Lu. At the same time, she is more spirited than the women in classic fairy tales. She propels herself by her own choices, not quietly accepting what the world throws at her. Another divergence from the norms: following her destiny for greatness means leaving behind Wei, Xifeng’s handsome boyfriend who longs to marry her and live a quiet life together. We are told that Wei is meant to play some role in Xifeng’s fate, but it’s clear that Xifeng’s journey will be more about realizing her destiny than finding her one true love. Continue reading

Book Review: Royal City, volume 1

Review by Tess Tabak

 

In Royal City volume 1: Next of Kin, a new graphic novel by Jeff Lemire, a family grapples with the ghost of their dead son. Tommy died in 1993, but he left an indelible presence on the Pikes.

Royal City starts when Patrick Pike comes home to visit his father, who’s just had a stroke. It slowly becomes clear that each character is seeing a different version of Tommy’s ghost. Patrick grapples with guilt about using his dead brother as the inspiration for so much of his writing. Patrick’s mother sees him as the priest he could have grown up to be. His sister sees him as the child she desperately wants to have. In this volume, Lemire doesn’t cover much ground in plot. He’s laying the latticework for future volumes, developing a rich family history and taking his time to set up the mystery of what happened to Tommy in 1993. Lemire is known for his literary, quietly plotted graphic novels, such as the award-winning Essex County. Continue reading

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