Review// Enigma Variations by André Aciman

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Author: André Aciman
Series: Standalone
Genre: Fiction
Release Date: January 3, 2017
Book Length: 266 pages 
Publisher: Straus & Giroux
Review: 4/5

My Review:

What I find interesting about my feelings towards this book is that I didn’t entirely love any part of the story or characters, like, at all, yet I could not put it down at certain points due to how lovely the writing was.

This book is about a man named Paul and his love interests throughout his life. I don’t believe it was ever explicitly stated, but from what I gathered, he was in his forties by the end of it. The love interests each had their own section of the book which detailed the relationship Paul had with them respectively.

Though I was intrigued by some stories more than others, especially Star Love, I can’t say that I really felt a connection to either Paul, or any of the men and women who played a significant role in his life at different stages. If anything, I would say that Paul was unlikable. The way he talked about his lovers made me feel like he didn’t care about any of them; he just wanted them around to make him feel good about himself. He would describe each one in such an unhealthy, obsessive manner that quite frankly made me feel uncomfortable at times, and yet he would always be searching for the next best thing. I also felt dissatisfied every time one story ended because I felt things weren’t explicitly clear with regards to how the relationships ended. Regardless, I have to say that I really didn’t care whether Paul found love, or whatever he believed love was. What I did care for, however, was the writing style. André Aciman knows how to write beautiful prose, and for that reason alone, I would definitely consider giving any other books of his a read.

“Our star life, yours with mine. As someone said over dinner once, each of us is given at least nine versions of our lives, some we guzzle, others we take tiny, timid sips from, and some our lips never touch.” Neither of us asked which was our life. We didn’t want to know.

-Catherine

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Review// Magic by Mike Russell

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Author: Mike Russell
Series: Standalone
Genre: Fantasy
Release Date: March 5, 2020
Book Length: 268 pages 
Publisher: StrangeBooks
Review: 4/5

Goodreads Synopsis:

Does magic exist? Charlie Watson thinks it does and he wants to tell you all about it. Before he was famous, Charlie Watson decided to write a book to share with the world everything he knew about magic. This is that book. You will discover why Charlie always wears a top hat, why his house is full of rabbits, how magic wands are made, how the universe began, and much, much more. Plus, for the first time, Charlie tells of the strange events that led him from England to the Arctic, to perform the extraordinary feat that made him famous, and he finally reveals whether that extraordinary feat was magic or whether it was just a trick.

My Review:

First off, I would like to thank the author for providing me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

I’ve read almost all of Mike Russell’s books, and I have to say that this one is my favourite one. The beginning where the inception of magicians was described was one of the best parts, it was very clever and set the tone for the rest of the book. Something about this kind of reminded me of something you’d see in a Tim Burton movie – at least, that’s the way I pictured things in my head! Charlie was silly and sweet, and I fell in love with him and his quest for magic. I remember going to magic shows as a kid and being amazed at all they could do right in front of our eyes – reading this book gave me that feeling again.

I especially liked the message of the story, I thought it was really heart warming and sweet: everything is magic, even the most mundane, and if you go about your life believing in magic, you will always find it. 😊

-Catherine

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Review// In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

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Author: Rebecca Serle
Series: Standalone
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Release Date: March 10, 2020
Book Length: 272 pages 
Publisher: Atria Books
Review: 3/5

Goodreads Synopsis:

Where do you see yourself in five years?

When Type-A Manhattan lawyer Dannie Cohan is asked this question at the most important interview of her career, she has a meticulously crafted answer at the ready. Later, after nailing her interview and accepting her boyfriend’s marriage proposal, Dannie goes to sleep knowing she is right on track to achieve her five-year plan.

But when she wakes up, she’s suddenly in a different apartment, with a different ring on her finger, and beside a very different man. The television news is on in the background, and she can just make out the scrolling date. It’s the same night—December 15—but 2025, five years in the future.

After a very intense, shocking hour, Dannie wakes again, at the brink of midnight, back in 2020. She can’t shake what has happened. It certainly felt much more than merely a dream, but she isn’t the kind of person who believes in visions. That nonsense is only charming coming from free-spirited types, like her lifelong best friend, Bella. Determined to ignore the odd experience, she files it away in the back of her mind.

That is, until four-and-a-half years later, when by chance Dannie meets the very same man from her long-ago vision.

My Review:

This book took me through a rollercoaster of emotions – happiness, shock, sadness, annoyance… it was all in here. I should probably preface this by saying that this isn’t a love story, as I had initially thought. And you know what, I’m really glad it wasn’t, because the ‘lovey’ parts were probably my least favourite about it. This book is about friendship; it’s about how life is fragile and complicated, and about how as much as you meticulously plan for the future, it can, and will, surprise you.

I’ll start off with my favourite thing: that the book centred around a female friendship. If you have a friendship like Dannie’s and Bella’s in your life, consider yourself lucky. I liked that they were almost completely opposite and complimented each other in ways that the other needed. I’ve recently found that this is a trope that I adore, and an underrated one at that. I’d love to read more books surrounding female friendships like this. At one point, their dialogue actually made me tear up; it was really heartwarming.

The setting of this book is in New York, and I loved all the references to the city. However, there was a point where it felt like too much. It set the scene really well, but I think it would have been just as effective in a smaller dosage – it almost felt forced after a while, like it was being shoved down my throat. The whole scene that took place in Dannie’s premonition also annoyed the heck out of me. I know that people cope with grief in different ways, but I found it highly far fetched that Dannie would do that. Also, Aaron in general… *facepalm*. He was being painted as such a good guy the entire time, but I don’t think that’s true based on everything that happened all the way back to the beach conversation. I also wish they had built up Dr. Shaw’s character a bit, because by the time things were revealed as far as he’s concerned, I truly felt no emotion for the situation. I was like cool… but who really is this guy? I had no attachment to him and I wish I did.

But anyway, I flew through the book, I really couldn’t put it down. This ended up not being what I expected, but more so in a good way. Had the story revolved around anything but Dannie’s and Bella’s friendship, I don’t think I would have liked it as much, due to the nature of how the ending unfolded. I’m glad I didn’t feel invested in the love portion of the story, or else I surely would have been disappointed.

-Catherine

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Review// The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante

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Author: Elena Ferrante
Series: The Neapolitan Novels #2
Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: September 22, 2012
Book Length: 471 pages 
Publisher: Europa Editions
Review: 5/5

Goodreads Synopsis:

My Brilliant Friend introduced readers to the unforgettable Elena and Lila, whose lifelong friendship provides the backbone for the Neapolitan Novels. The Story of a New Name is the second book in this series. With these books, which the New Yorker‘s James Wood described as “large, captivating, amiably peopled … a beautiful and delicate tale of confluence and reversal,” Ferrante proves herself to be one of Italy’s most accomplished storytellers. She writes vividly about a specific neighborhood of Naples from the late-1950s through to the current day and about two remarkable young women who are very much the products of that place and time. Yet in doing so she has created a world in which readers will recognize themselves and has drawn a marvelously nuanced portrait of friendship.

In The Story of a New Name, Lila has recently married and made her entrée into the family business; Elena, meanwhile, continues her studies and her exploration of the world beyond the neighborhood that she so often finds stifling. Love, jealousy, family, freedom, commitment, and above all friendship: these are signs under which both women live out this phase in their stories. Marriage appears to have imprisoned Lila, and the pressure to excel is at times too much for Elena. Yet the two young women share a complex and evolving bond that is central to their emotional lives and is a source of strength in the face of life’s challenges. In these Neapolitan Novels, Elena Ferrante, the acclaimed author of The Days of Abandonment, gives readers a poignant and universal story about friendship and belonging.

My Review:

“… she was explaining to me that I had won nothing, that in the world there is nothing to win, that her life was full of varied adventures as much as mine, and that time simply slipped away without any meaning, and it was good just to see each other every so often, to hear the mad sound if the brain of one echo in the mad sound of the brain of the other.”

I loved this book so much! The dynamic of Lina and Lila’s friendship as they’re growing into young adults was enthralling. They could not be more different, yet they compliment each other; they really are two sides of the same coin. Together, these two reach an equilibrium that could not be possible alone.

Admittedly, I really saw a lot of myself in the narrator, Lina. Lila is definitely the ‘pain in the ass’ of the two, as one character had put it, yet something about her draws Lina to her (and vice versa). The same could be said for me – as much as Lila annoyed and frustrated me at certain points in the book, I still couldn’t get enough of her; her energy was contagious, pulling me in like a magnet.

One of the best things about this series is that the author really makes you feel like you are there in Naples with the characters. I feel such a connection to the people sights in ‘the neighborhood’ – the old grocery, the new grocery, the Solara’s bar and pastry shop, the Cerullo shoe store, the old library, all of it. My favourite parts had to be all the ones surrounding the summer holiday in Ischia. This author really has a way of making you feel like you are there while reading, and it was a lovely escape from the state the world is in right now. Not to mention, the juiciest parts of the book happened in Ischia! I was truly shocked by what had transpired and was so eager to keep reading to see what was going to happen next. I would love to visit Ischia one day on summer holiday, if only to recount the feelings the book gave me in real life.

Just like the first book, the second also ended on the biggest cliff hanger! I am so eager to start the next book and admittedly also a little apprehensive because once it is done, there is only one more left, and I am not ready to say goodbye to these two just yet!

-Catherine

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Review// The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

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Author: Chloe Benjamin
Series: Standalone
Genre: Fiction
Release Date: January 9, 2018
Book Length: 346 pages 
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Review:3.5/5

Goodreads Synopsis:

If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?

It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

The prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

A sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, The Immortalists probes the line between destiny and choice, reality and illusion, this world and the next. It is a deeply moving testament to the power of story, the nature of belief, and the unrelenting pull of familial bonds.

My Review:

What I loved most about this was the premise: the whole, ‘four siblings living in NYC in 1969 go and visit a psychic that tells them each the day of their death’ thing sounded pretty cool from the onset, and I just knew I had to read it. All of them are told their death day in private, therefore, each sibling does not know the dates given to the others. The rest of the book, told in four separate parts – one for each of them – centres around their lives and events leading up to and including their death days.

I thought that this book was going to have a little more magical realism than it did, however, you don’t really figure out if the fortune teller had any ‘real’ powers or not. If anything, it leans more toward it all just being coincidence and rather, it appears as though each Gold sibling – Simon, Klara, Daniel, and Varya – is the victim of self-fulfilling prophecy. I don’t believe their deaths would have happened on those exact days had they not spent their lives obsessing over what the fortune teller predicted.

The two siblings whose stories I found most interesting were Simon and Klara. I loved how close they were, how their relationship evolved in their youth, and how the death of one affected the other. Unfortunately, those were parts one and two of the book; by the middle and end when I got to Daniel and Varya, I wasn’t as intrigued by what was happening. Since they are the older siblings and the first half centred around the other two, by the time I got to Daniel and Varya, it felt like I had missed some of their major character development. I didn’t get to read about them growing up – it kind of just skipped forward in time to their adulthood’s – so there was a bit of a disconnect for me with regards to how invested I felt in their story lines.

Nonetheless, this book was a thought provoking one. If given the opportunity, I would never want to know my predicted date of death. You’d think that it would have the power to make you live life to the fullest and soak up every moment you have, but as illustrated by these siblings, I think it would definitely freak me out too much! 🙅🏻‍♀️

Have you read this book? Do you want to read this book? If given the chance, would you want to know your predicted death day – why or why not?! Let me know, I’d love to know other people’s opinions!

-Catherine

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