The Last Equation of Isaac Severy by Nova Jacobs

The Last Equation of Isaac Severy by Nova Jacobs

At first, I was a little skeptical about this book. A story that has the word “equation” in the title reminds me of Mark Watney in The Martian and how much math I had to do. Happily, there isn’t much math in this book but a wonderful journey of a family coming to terms with their late father’s last wish.

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The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender

The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender

I went into reading this book without much premise on what it’s about. I received it as a part of my Capsule Books box hoping to read something that will nestle me into my chair and take me on a grand adventure. Instead, I read a collection of short stories that all shared one strange element or another, but ultimately played into the idea of loving someone for who they are. Let’s get right into it.

Here’s some more about the collection

A grief-stricken librarian decides to have sex with every man who enters her library. A half-mad, unbearably beautiful heiress follows a strange man home, seeking total sexual abandon: He only wants to watch game shows. A woman falls in love with a hunchback; when his deformity turns out to be a prosthesis, she leaves him. A wife whose husband has just returned from the war struggles with the heartrending question: Can she still love a man who has no lips?

Aimee Bender’s stories portray a world twisted on its axis, a place of unconvention that resembles nothing so much as real life, in all its grotesque, beautiful glory. From the first line of each tale she lets us know she is telling a story, but the moral is never quite what we expect. Bender’s prose is glorious: musical and colloquial, inimitable and heartrending.

Here are stories of men and women whose lives are shaped–and sometimes twisted–by the power of extraordinary desires, erotic and otherwise. The Girl in the Flammable Skirt is the debut of a major American writer. 

The book starts with the story about a woman who’s lover is devolving. You think that this was some sort of Benjamin Button thing, but what you’re seeing is a man who is now an ape and progressing back towards that single-celled organism everyone says we’re evolved from. While you’re reading this woman trying to cope with a man who is an ape, you also hear about her struggle to love someone like this. What do you do when something unfortunate happens to your lover? I’m pretty sure you would understand the character’s POV in this case.

This is what you come across while reading The Girl in the Flammable Skirt; stories that don’t quite make sense but deep down you understand where the characters are coming from. It was like reading Murakami with a little performance by Miranda July with the voice of Ernest Hemingway.

And this is the central theme of all the stories you read here. Each one has some quirk about it. It can be about a woman trying to fall back in love with her husband after he returns from war without his lips. It could be a story about a man who develops a hole in his torso. It could be the woman who falls in love with a thief and steals a ruby ring that turns the ocean red. These quirks are little, but remind me so strongly of Murakami; the magical realism of something so inane yet so impactful on the characters’ lives. It’s almost inconsequential how it shows up, but it impacts them the most throughout the story.

But overall, I wasn’t that big of a fan of this story. It was fun and interesting to see the different ways these characters confront certain situations, but I kind of shrug my shoulders at this. It was a fun read, but not one of my top favorites and kind of meh. I wish I was so enamored by it, but perhaps I’m the wrong person to read this. I’ve been reading magical realism for a while and this book was written in the 90s probably during a time when this kind of writing was considered more poetic than anything else. Perhaps you’ll like it. I’m not sure, but for me it was okay. Good stories. Good times. Like the roar of a fireplace; warm, relaxing, and ultimately extinguishable.

Simone and Her Books is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This in no way affects my opinion of the above book.

Sourdough by Robin Sloan

 

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I’ve only tried to make bread once in my life and while I did have a tasty loaf, I can’t say if it was the best bread in the world. However, I have an inkling that Lois can.

SOURDOUGH by Robin Sloan is the story about a woman named Lois Clary who arrives in San Francisco with a computer science degree. She begins to work at a small tech company building mechanical robot arms to help people do ordinary things.

As a newcomer to the city, she didn’t have many friends so she spent many of her nights at home ordering food from the local restaurant called Clement Street Soup and Sourdough. Every night, she would order the same delicious spicy soup with their famous sourdough bread. And as she ordered, she became friendlier with the two brothers who owned the restaurant.

That was until one day the boys had the move back home due to immigration reasons. Before the two boys left, they gifted Lois with their starter for sourdough bread. It’s an ancient starter that has been passed along generation to generation. The boys left the starter with Lois to keep providing that she takes care of it everyday and makes sure to feed it.

As the skeptic that she is, she goes ahead and does what the boys say, but little did she know that this starter is about to take her on an interesting journey.

San Francisco tech and sourdough go together like peanut butter and jelly. These two things are so synonymous with the city that it makes sense to put together a whole book about it. It was an easy read with an interesting story, but it wasn’t a wow for me. It was good and I liked it, but I wasn’t thinking this could be the best book he’s ever written. What I liked in reading a story about carbs also lacked in some other technical things.

The story is kind of set up like little pockets of time. Each chapter represents one story and the entire book is a culmination of all those stories. It didn’t have the same beat that your average book would have, but each story spoke along the same lines. It’s about bread.

You see Lois get the starter and try to bake her first loaf of sourdough bread. She’s never baked or cooked anything in her life, but she was somehow magically able to bake a loaf of sourdough bread. I know that bread isn’t easy and from the people I know who have tried to make it, no one has done it perfectly.

Yet, you see her bake a loaf and her reaction seemed like this was easy and doesn’t really require much. I understand if Robin Sloan was trying to use the starter as the reason for all the great baking, but I don’t know if you can bake great bread right from the get-go without considering that maybe it’s the starter?

Lois immediately catches the baking bug and start not only making bread for herself, for her friends, for her office, for everyone. One person suggests that she try and sell it and thus begins her story to really make something from the bread. Throughout this, you get little hints and clues as to what might be the cause for her success and you see the magic of the starter. It’s like reading someone’s diary on how they got started with baking bread and all the different things they did to get the bread they wanted. It was more telling than it was showing which made it kind of dull for me.

Then all of a sudden, the sourdough changes on her and about three quarters of the way into the novel, the story really picks up. I was kind of confused by why this didn’t happen much earlier in the novel to help really push the reader along. I really wanted to see what happened with the dough, but even the ending was wrapped up into a neat little bow. I just wanted a little bit more, just another taste of that delicious bread rather than being told.

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However, the book did keep me interested because I did end up finishing it. I think it had something to do with the starter, finding its origins, learning how to hone it, figuring out where all of this leads. You get to read about all these things through the email correspondences Lois has with Beoreg, the guy who gave her the starter. It almost feels magical and alive and that was more intriguing to me than listening to her figure out how to make more bread. Like well kneaded dough, these pieces were sprinkled in like bench flour to keep you from getting stuck.

My favorite part is really the descriptions of the bread. The fluffy and doughy centers where people slabbed butter on top and I wish that this story was more about that than learning how to double the bread output Lois was making everyday.

I think what really drew me to the story was the idea that Lois was going into a vocation that she was good at, but not passionate about. Then, you see her start to make bread and become obsessed with creating a beautiful loaf that pleases a lot of people. She questions her job, she questions her motivation, and then she finally figures out what she wants. I think that’s a story that a lot of people can relate to especially when you work in a field that you’re not a fan of. You just want to see Lois succeed because you want to succeed and that’s a resonance I know far too well.

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang

I don’t normally include a song to go with my reviews, but the entire time I was reading this book I kept thinking of this Selena Gomez song Wolves. I’m also a huge fan of hers and well, thought it would make sense for a book like this.

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When I was younger, I would concentrate super hard on the tops of trees. I would try to control the wind with my mind and a true test of that would be to make the branches sway. I did this up until I was in my teens always believing that the wind was on my side. The day that the branches did sway cemented in me that magic is real and we all have a little bit of it in us.

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance is the story of Weylyn Grey told through the eyes of the people who encounter him. Weylyn Grey was born with magical powers; powers that allow him to speak with animals, grow plants, and change weather patterns with his emotions. The only power Weylyn’s ever wanted was to feel normal. When his parents inexplicably die, he was raised by wolves and only to be caught by the police and brought to live with the rest of society. You could only imagine the kind of life a wolf boy may have lived.

This book was honestly one of my favorite reads of the year. It uses magical realism to an extent that it’s whimsical. I’ve read a lot of heavy magical realism where strange things happen to people and those stories always seem so depressing. Instead, the magic depicted in this book makes you wish that magic was real. I guess in some ways, magic is always real.

The story is told in several different parts from the point of view of various different characters. Each part is from a different point in Weylyn’s life and the people he comes across. There’s always one new person he meets and they get to experience his magic for the first time. I can only imagine the awe on their faces when they see him grow a tree back or harness the power of fireflies. And each time I read a new thing he was doing, I felt like a little kid again excited to go to Disney World because that’s where Mickey Mouse lived.

I was confused at first and it might have been the copy I was reading, but I couldn’t place the timelines. It first takes place in present day, but then it jumps back to the early 90s. Then it’s back up to 2017 and it was at that point that I realized that the story begins with Weylyn meeting a new friend. He tells him his story and how he came to be and the people he remembers from that life. After that point, it was smooth sailing as I voraciously read the rest of the book.

I think the story brings out the child in you; that one little being that doesn’t remember what responsibilities are and finds the sun glittering in water to be a gift. Of course the story has its skeptics and life wasn’t all that easy for Weylyn, but the people who did believe helped him out. And I think my favorite part in all of this is that Weylyn never let the opinions of other people keep him from being himself. This goes double for the years he spent alone in the woods.

I was so surprised to see this book not get as much hype as it deserved. I didn’t see a lot of people bring it up and especially as a follower of Book of the Month Club, I was surprised that most people focused on the other books that month. Honestly, I feel like I stumbled upon The Neverending Story and I was Bastian and the only one who can know about its richness.

So I decided to look into some of the feedback other people provided. Maybe I was missing something that other people noticed. While mostly positive, I did see some comments on how the main character, Weylyn, fell flat for them. Because he wasn’t well developed or explained, people gave some negative feedback about it.

I can see where people can make that conclusion. It’s a story about a guy with magical powers, yet you find out very little about his life with the wolves or how he’s managed to live with such a power.

However, I’d like to beg to differ here. While I understand that people wanted to know more about Weylyn, I think the author purposefully left out the details of his life to keep him a mystery. The story is in the perspective of the other characters and those other characters don’t know much. All they know is a boy who can control the weather, has a pet pig, and lived with wolves.

I loved hat the author used this as a literary device to under-explain why Weylyn did what he did and what he was capable of doing. He’s just a man that comes and goes as he pleases. He’s caring and still carries the same childish exuberance for life that he did when he was a kid raised by wolves. Asking for more than that almost reveals the wizard behind the curtain. Knowing this might actually change the way Weylyn knows himself and almost cheapen the story. I’m happy to not know anything about him other than the tidbits the characters reveals. We’re all on that same journey together.

I received this ARC from Netgalley in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not paid to review this book.