Results of our Net Galley Knock Down Challenge

Back at the beginning of July we decided to sign on to Pretty Deadly Reviews Net Galley Knock Down Challenge. We had many galleys waiting for our attention (and, well, still do too) so this was a beautiful opportunity to knock some off the list. It would also knock some reviews out of the way before we started on our BookerMarks collaboration as well. I think we fared pretty well in knocking out some of the titles that have been waiting for us and we also reviewed some Stellar reads and well, some duds too.

Below are the books we read, and if you click on the cover it will take you to our reviews:

so, all around, not too shabby for a one-month challenge! 🙂

We’re now knee deep (neck deep??) in the BookerMarks collaboration, which will take us in to the Fall dates when the short list and subsequent winner of the Man Booker Prize is announced. So for us, this will be the biggest challenge and reviews we will be taking on for the next little while. But the Net Galley Knock Down challenge was fun and thank you to Pretty Deadly Reviews for calling our attention to it.

Book Review: The Bellwether Revivals

The Bellwether Revivals opens with the caterwaul of sirens as paramedics arrive to a smoke-filled scene littered with 3 bodies and 1 barely clinging to life. They are pointed out by another group sitting outside waiting for the police.  The 3 bodies are not identified, nor is the group of people sitting outside. The only identification is of the person barely breathing, Eden Bellwether. Eden is identified by the only other person named in the prologue of activities taking place one night in 2003, and he is Oscar.

The first chapter opens with Oscar as narrator, obviously building the story up to and including the prologued events of 2003.

My thanks go out to Net Galley and McClelland & Stewart for the opportunity to read The Bellwether Revivals. This is now my 3rd tackled for the Net Galley Knock Down! (and sorry, it’s coming later, as I read I think 3 other books in between finishing this one.) (another aside, it sort of tells you how easily I put this one aside to read the others before picking this one up again.)

A bellwether is any entity in a given arena that serves to create or influence trends or to presage future happenings.

The term is derived from the Middle English bellewether and refers to the practice of placing a bell around the neck of a castrated ram (a wether) leading his flock of sheep.The movements of the flock could be noted by hearing the bell before the flock was in sight.

The definitions provided for a bellwether are quite fit for the story that unfolds between the pages. And I’ll just say upfront, this wasn’t a favourite of mine although it held such promise based on its description. I must say I endured and battled on to finish. 😦

The Bellwether Revivals centres upon 3 main characters, with other characters contributing but it is very focused on Oscar, Eden and Iris.

Oscar: is the main character that sits on the outside of the priviledged life of the Bellwether’s. Not a Cambridge attending elitist, but a nursing home employee with working-class parents. On the Bellwethers, Oscar says:

They had that impossible confidence that comes from wealth, the self-righteousness that comes from piety.

Iris:Iris is a Bellwether that Oscar is fascinated by and in love with. She is very obviously not the favoured Bellwether like her brother Eden and flip-flops between declaring him mad and enlisting Oscar’s help to believing Eden is extraordinary, special and truly has these healing powers.

 Eden: suffers horribly from Narcissistic personality disorder. An extreme snob, elitist and ultimate narcissisist. Eden feels he has the power to heal people through hypnotism and music and has subjected himself upon Iris countless times throughout their childhood and in to present adulthood. He is unfortunately the family favourite and whom Iris is convinced is crazy. Iris enlists Oscar to help her prove that Eden is insane. using music and hypnotism. He’s despicable and I was not at all interested in reading about his behaviour which was bratty and self-absorbed.

Oscar, poor Oscar becomes but a pawn in what increasingly seems to be a dangerous game in which Iris and Eden play – almost like something they’ve done since childhood and Oscar is the unfortunate victim this time around, with disasterous consequences. Eden continues to unravel and his behaviour becomes increasingly erratic and bizarre. As this occurs, his parents pull the “we can’t let the neighbours know, for what would they think” attitude and disassociate themselves from believing he needs help and work to cover up his insanity. The ending reveals the mystery written in the prologue, the identities of the bodies and the subsequent courtroom drama complete with a “shocker” (not really) tossed in the end.

Throughtout the novel, themes are heavy on music, God, religion and philosphy. Unfortunately, for me it was very, very repetitive, page after page described the same behaviour and crippling narcissism in Eden and all of his charades. I simply could have cared less. The entire time I was reading this story, this was the movie that played continuously through my mind, The Talented Mr. Ripley: (so I suppose you could assume that it is something that was done and read before.)

Substitute the two lovers with brother and sister with the brother being insane and it was simply an image that would not leave me. I pictured Iris as Gwennie, Eden as Jude and Oscar as Matt.

Sigh, I felt this had such great promise, but I struggled through it and hurried to the end just so I could uncover the mystery written in the beginning and put my mind at rest. 2.5-3 stars for me.

Book Review: Shout Her Lovely Name

In case you’re wondering, I hate you.”

“Yes, but she used to love me.

Here is book #2 in the Net Galley Knock Down Challenge done and dusted! Thank you to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Net Galley for the opportunity to read this collection of stories.

This 11-story collection is about varied mother & child relationships. Ah, yes, we all have a mother, and some of us have a daughter or daughters. It is this relationship between a mother and a daughter that can range in such massive complexity you can imagine walking through a mine field to be a walk through a patch of daisies instead of the roads travelled between a mother and daughter.

This collection of stories examines many of the varied and wide-ranging types of women that become mothers, it ranges from the trepidation of first learning of pregnancy and the decisions to face about keeping or letting go of a child to coping with brand new motherhood. Primarily, it is a suite of stories centered around two characters, Ruby and her daughter Nora.

In Shout Her Lovely Name, a mother and daughter are at war over food. The food her daughter will no longer eat. The story takes place over the course of a year with the mother trying to help her daughter overcome anorexia, or disordered eating.

Ruby Jewel is the second in the series and centres around a father and daughter drinking at the bar upon her return from college. They are prolonging their trip home to see her mother, and often talk of her in the past tense. Both Ruby and her father are alcoholics and her mother is a saddened resigned woman. This story does not focus so much on the mother as much however. My guess is that it is more about the mother as a background, resigned role.

Alone as She Felt All Day: Can’t say I cared much for this story at all. It’s about Ruby, who awaits confirmation of her pregnancy in the doctor’s office and spends the rest of her days finding ways to rid herself of it.

Free to a Good Home: This one takes up after Ruby has told the boyfriend, Marco, of their “unfortunate circumstances” (as written). Ruby has the baby early and is torn and pushed in many directions towards giving her daughter up for adoption (Marco’s choice, and would mean Marco stays) or leaving Marco and raising the baby alone with family. With $25 left and a note of apology, Ruby names her daughter Nora and takes the latter choice.

This is So Not Me: This story was quite good and amusing! One of my favourites in the collection. A tale of a couple with a newborn dealing with a long flight delay and the cranky passengers it invokes along with other cauterwaling babies on board. It is also about the woman and her newborn “progeny” and how this life came to be with her professor, now husband, whom is 25 years older than her.

Manx: Here we find ourselves further along in life with Ruby and her daughter, Nora. Manx is a type of cat that is naturally mutated by having a shortened or no tail, and Ruby has brought one home for Nora hoping it may improve her life some. In this story we see how other’s view Nora as a mother and the hardscrabble life she has been living and how the cat, Phil Donahue, becomes an example or metaphor I suppose of the relationship between Nora and her mother Ruby.

Take Your Daughter to Work: Is another story about Nora and Ruby. Basically Ruby is a train-wreck and I’m wondering if the author is subtlety suggesting that those many years ago that the boyfriend Marco was right in saying Ruby should have given Nora up for adoption to a more stable family. Or is the author perhaps suggesting that this is their particular family arrangement and one cannot judge who’s a better or more fit person to be a mother? Here we see Nora coming to age and trying to find herself after moving to so many different schools and adapting to her mother’s haphazard lifestyle.

A Whole Weekend of My Life: Here, Nora meets her father (Marco) for the first time in her fourteen years of life. Nora stands in the airport staring at the man that is her father and realizes that when Ruby decided to keep her, this is what she lost. And this is the man that Nora lost as well, that her life wasn’t full, “it had plenty of room for lawn mowers, half sisters and a dad.” This was a very sad story, as Nora must realize that her father, while open to meeting her, has and will not include her in his life – she will remain a secret.

Plum Tree: We see the unfortunate upbringing that has defined Nora in this story. Nora is hanging out with the “wrong crowd” and doing drugs and skipping school. Nora is in the mindset that she is rebelling against Ruby, that she is nothing like her mother and she can make her own new and unique mistakes.

Rate my Life: Ugh, by this point I’m just weary and fed up with the train wreck Nora’s life is becoming as well.

Developmental Blah Blah: Finally, a story that did not feature the Ruby & Nora Show but again, by this point I was so detached from these stories I didn’t read it.

This collection simply did not appeal to me. Since many in this collection centred around Ruby and Nora, I found myself hyper-judgemental about Ruby as she is a mere flake and a floozy who bounces from man to man like she’s changing underwear. She is/was neither mature or stable enough to raise her daughter in an environment or lifestyle one would deem suitable. Perhaps I am being overly judgemental and critical here, but the stories and sad, pathetic lives they lived did not connect with me.

Mennonites Don’t Dance by Darcie Hossack and The Divinity Gene by Matthew J. Trafford will remain my favourites for the time being.

3 stars overall I suppose for Shout Her Lovely Name.

If you wish to read two wonderful collections of short stories, I highly encourage you to pick these two: