An Untamed State by Roxane Gay



I really wanted to like this book, but I just couldn’t.  The characters were not believable.  The main character, Mireille, is a Haitian American woman who visits her wealthy parents in Haiti along with her American husband and infant son. While there, she is kidnapped and held for ransom, but her father refuses to pay on principle.  She is held for 13 days, and she suffers all of the horrible things you could imagine happening to a woman kidnapped by a group of ruthless men.  The story itself is compelling and dramatic.  There were times it made me cry, and I certainly wanted to see what happened, but Mireille is just not realistic.  She’s too passionate and colorful before her kidnapping, too injured and crazed afterwards.  There’s no subtlety to it.  I didn’t underline a single passage, which is highly unusual for me, and I think speaks to the type of writing used in the book – simplistic, unbeautiful.  The short sentences –  rather than make the story feel fast paced and raw – seemed gimmicky.  An Untamed State got a lot of attention when it was released, so I was really looking forward to it, and I almost went ahead and bought Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist when I bought An Untamed State, but now I’m glad I didn’t.

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss


Oh, I liked this book.  The main character, Leo Gursky – a large, old, lonely, Jewish, Polish immigrant living in New York City – reminded me of the protagonist in A Confederacy of Dunces.  Alternate chapters focus on fourteen-year-old Alma, holding her mother and brother upright after the death of her father and, meanwhile, searching for her namesake. The novel bounces back and forth between Leo and Alma, slowly and remarkably bringing their stories together in a very satisfying way.

Some passages I underlined:

“No jew was safe.  There were rumors of unfathomable things, and because we couldn’t fathom them we failed to believe them, until we had no choice and it was too late.”  p. 8

“I started to write again.  I did it for myself alone, not for anyone else, and that was the difference.” p. 9

“Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.” p. 11

“…she’d be there, looking out the window or into a glass of water as if there were a fish in it that only she could see.”  p. 44

“Perhaps that is what it means to be a father – to teach your child to live without you.  If so, no one was a greater father than I.”  p. 164


The World to Come by Dara Horn


While at a single’s event at a museum, Benjamin Ziskind steals a million-dollar Chagall painting that once hung in his parents’ living room.  While this begins the story, be forewarned – this isn’t a fast-paced art theft novel.  Instead, its a slow-moving, gentle story of Benjamin and his family.  Through the book, you learn how their history intertwines with Marc Chagall.  I picked this book up after noticing it in the bookstore of the Tenement Museum in NYC and seeing that Lev Grossman wrote a blurb for the back cover.  Overall, the main story didn’t capture my attention, but this book did make me want to find out more about the history of Jews in Soviet Russia.  Additionally, there is a small section at the end (Chapter 19) that is so well-written and thought-provoking, it made the whole book worth reading.  The chapter could stand alone, and I don’t know for sure, but I imagine it was a short story at some point.  It salvaged the book.

Some lines I underlined throughout the book:

“…from the days when he had been a child prodigy, before he had learned the horrid truth that there is no such think as an adult prodigy…”  p. 44

“You are seduced by beauty, and you think if you can write a pretty sentence about something, then it doesn’t matter where the story goes or how it ends.”  p. 84

“As he walked back up the narrow staircase to his own home, he wondered if it was even possible to have happiness in a story, when one was required to imagine both a beginning and an end.”  p. 88

“One night when he was still a young man, the headmaster dreamed that he had died, and had arrived in the next world.  When it was the headmaster’s turn to appear before the divine throne, the Holy One took him by the hand and brought him to a small door.  The door opened, and the headmaster found himself in a luminous room filled with books: shelves and tables loaded with books, manuscripts in high stacks all over the floor.  The headmaster looked around the secret library and smiled.  He was sure this room was the place that had been reserved for him in paradise.  But as he reached to take a volume off the shelf, the divine hand suddenly grabbed his shoulder and held him back.  ‘These are all the books you were supposed to have written,’ the Holy One said.  ‘Why didn’t you write them?'” p. 194



Six Word Reviews

Here are some books I’ve read in the last few weeks and, in the spirit of Hemingway’s Six Word Story (“For sale: baby shoes.  Never worn.”), I’ve written six word reviews for each….  Enjoy!


Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (audiobook)

Long but SO worth the time.


Lexicon by Max Barry

Like Hunger Games.  Good but forgettable.


The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien (audiobook)

Dark Vietnam War “memoir.”  Suffered through.

Dept of Speculation

Department of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Devoured in one sitting.  Loved it.


All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Enjoyable. Would be good for bookclub.


The Shining by Stephen King (audiobook)

Deliciously creepy.  Better than movie.  Long.


The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood (audiobook)

Meh. Crime novel.  Didn’t grab me.


Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

Adult fairytale with twists.  Only liked.

Orphan Train

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Saccharine. Overhyped. Characters lack depth. Unimpressed.


Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (audiobook)

Liked but won’t be continuing series.


The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Hilarious. Why didn’t I discover sooner?


The Restaurant at the of the Universe by Douglas Adams (Book 2 of Hitchhiker’s Guide series)

Read if you love Hitchhiker’s Guide.


The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

Literary critics probably love.  Unrelatable narrator.


Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Enjoyable. Recommend for 1980s kids, gamers.

Upon review, it’s an eclectic list.

Means there’s something for every taste.

Click linked pictures to purchase the books!

Can’t stop speaking six word phrases!

Oh, no. I’ve created a monster.

The Enchanted: A Novel by Rene Denfeld


Having read a lot of war fiction and nonfiction lately, and with several “heavy” books coming up on my To Be Read list, I decided to opt for a shorter, lighter read in the meantime.  Judging The Enchanted solely by its title and cover (something I rarely do and will be wary of in the future), I assumed it was a magical fiction story and started reading.  I could not have been more wrong.

This is no light read.  The horrors inked into these pages made my chest ache at times, and yet I could not put this book down.

The Enchanted is narrated by a mute psychopath on death row.  He’s created an enchanted fantasy world (hark, the title) to overlay the brutal realities of life in prison – a place filled with both innocents and monsters.  Frighteningly, the inmates and the guards alike fall into both categories.

Beautifully written, The Enchanted also follows a woman’s quest to get one inmate off of death row.  Simply referred to throughout the novel as “The Lady,” her storyline is one of the most absorbing.

I hate to give so-called ‘trigger warnings’ about a book because they are overused today and because I don’t like to make assumptions about what other people will find disturbing, but I feel compelled in this instance to assign a trigger warning for anyone who has experienced childhood sexual abuse.  This book may be difficult for you.  That said, to the rest of you, steel yourselves for the terrors of prison life, and read this book…if only so I have someone with whom to discuss it!

I am simply in awe of Rene Denfeld after reading this novel.  How anyone can tell such a bone-chilling story so beautifully is beyond me.

Click here to purchase The Enchanted: A Novel by Rene Denfeld in hardcover and here for the Kindle ebook.

As always, feel free to let me know what you think about the book in the Comments.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki


I recently finished reading A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki and enjoyed much of the story.  Because the book has multiple narrators and several different storylines, there’s a little something in here for everyone.  I could see this being an good choice for a book club, because it be interesting to hear which narrator and plot each reader finds compelling (but a word of caution: it may not be appropriate for every group, because there is some semi-graphic language and content).

The narrator switches back and forth from a 16-year-old Japanese girl (Nao) and a middle-age woman on an island off the west coast of Canada (Ruth).  Ruth finds a bag of items on the beach, including a lunchbox, a diary, a watch, a notebook, and a pack of letters.  She begins to read the diary – written by the teenage Nao – even though it takes time away from the memoir she is supposed to be writing.  The diary illustrates Nao’s life in Tokyo, her relationship with her suicidal father, the brutality she experiences at a Japanese school, and her reverence for her 104-year-old great-grandmother, Jiko, a Buddhist nun.  It also tells the story of Jiko’s son, Haruki, who was forced to be a kamikaze pilot for the Japanese army during World War II.  Mixed in with these plotlines is Ruth’s own story: living on a remote western island far-removed from her beloved New York City, her anti-social (dare I guess autistic?) husband, her chronic writer’s block, her grief over her mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease, and her fears about her own growingly-unreliable memory.

I thoroughly enjoyed the sections of the book about Jiko, life at Jiko’s Buddhist temple, and about Haruki’s experience in World War II.  I found Nao’s story to be enthralling, although it is, at times, quite dark and gritty.  Some of the scenes from Nao’s life were as disturbing as, if not more disturbing than,  the World War II recollections, which is saying something.

Ruth’s storyline took a while to hook me, though by the end of the novel I had developed a soft spot for her as well. I particularly identified with her writer’s block and frustration over her inability to finish her novel – or, more accurately, her inability to even force herself to sit down and continue pecking away at it!  One of my favorite lines comes from Ruth: “An unfinished book, left unattended, turns feral, and she would need all her focus, will, and ruthless determination to take it again.”

A few things to note about this book… First, there are loads of footnotes, which made it difficult to read on Kindle (my Kindle makes me click each footnote to read the note text, then click ‘back’ to return to the page I was reading – an exercise in frustration when you are trying to lose yourself in the story); however, I eventually stopped looking at the footnotes unless I had to and found that, for the most part, it didn’t matter.  Second, there are a few sections where the book gets rather “heady” (e.g. a lengthy discussion about quantum physics and Schrodinger’s cat), but don’t let that dissuade you from reading.  Just plow on through those parts unless you find them particularly interesting.

Overall, I would recommend this book to someone who enjoys literary fiction.  It is not a ‘beach read’ by any means, but I found it to be thought-provoking, gripping, and, at times, darkly humorous.  I read it after completing the audiobook for Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (blog post on that one to come), part of which takes place in a Japanese POW camp, so it was especially interesting to dive into a novel contemplating modern-day Japan immediately after that.

If you read this book, let me know what you think about it in the comments section.

Click here to purchase A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki.