REVIEW: Matchmaking for Beginners by Maddie Dawson

36439363I am not a reader of romance novels. When I thought to give it a try, I spent a cople weeks looking for something that wasn’t an harmony or a rip-off of 50 shades. I had almost given up when I stumbled into Maddie Dawson’s last book.

I really enjoyed the premises of the story: girl meets her fiancé family and they are terrible, except for the weird great-aunt that everyone ignores. Too strange for a good family in high society. But marnie’s wedding goes sideways and when Blix’s dies from cancer, she inherits her Brooklyn house. With all the magic and the people living in it.

I appreciated the fact that this book, though a romance novel, is about finding out what you want from life and where’s the place you belong to. Usually romance media are concerned only with love, leaving all else in the background like life stops because you’re in love. In Matchmaking for Beginners, Marnie has also to understand if the life she has always dreamt about is also the life she wants. She makes friends along the way, so we see different love potrayed in the novel (family love, friendship, eros). I appreciated this side of the narration.

However, there were many downsides to this book.
First and foremost, there were too many males in this story for the romance to be believable. Marnie goes from divorce to new boyfriend to new fiancé to going to bed with her ex-husband to finding the love of her life in a span of four months. Things that make you go mmmh. If there had been more pages, or the narration had spanned at least a year, it might have made more sense. Like this, it seems that Marnie is desperatly looking for a lover instead of falling in love, which should be her growth arc, especially when Patrick is concerned. Speaking of which, I haven’t really felt their relationship build up. Their moments happen when the reader was already supposed to know that Marnie was in love with him and prior to that their friendship wasn’t shown much. Yes, I would’ve read chapters made entirely of texts and messages between the two of them. I hoped there was at least one.
I feel like the author wanted to make her experience a quicker version of Blix’s: the self-centered husband who goes to Africa, the boring one and the final, perfect match. But what makes Blix believable is that she was 80 years old and that her experiences happened organically throughout her life. Since it takes away the credibility of the story, I wouldn’t have put this parallel between the two of them. The idea of Marnie being a sort of spiritual daughter to Blix could’ve been reinforced with more universe blessings and magic.

At least the characters were decent. Noah was enough of a brat to hate him and when you can hate a character, then the writer has done her job. I have no opinion on Jeremy, which might be the point since he was supposed to be the boring guy. Did I like the implicit “nice guy” thing when Marnie dumped him again? No, of course not. I found Marnie to be the least relatable of the lot, while Blix was the most interesting. I also enjoyed how Patrick was portrayed: he was the typical nice but damned, don’t pity me guy, but he wasn’t trope-y (as it’s cool to say nowadays) about it. If only we could’ve seen more of his development arc! If only!
I enjoyed the writing, though I found the story to slow after Marnie goes to Brooklyn and starts to settle, since nothing really happens for some chapters and I couldn’t see the point in all the pages when there was nothing going on.

In the end I gave two stars to this book. I enjoyed reading it even, but it’s started dragging on a bit after the first half and the romance wasn’t portrayed in a way I could relate to. I enjoyed the characters, but there wasn’t much in term of the relationship built between characters.

firma

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REVIEW: Jane & Prudence by Barbara Pym

A1IuI2HRDSL.jpgI’ve had a copy of Jane and Prudence sit in my Kindle since I finished Excellent Women last January. I don’t read many classics from the 50s but sassy depictions of British society never fail to make me laugh. I distractedly started it because I felt guilty I hadn’t got to it already and found myself unable of putting it down.

The book follows the life of Jane, a vicar’s wife, and her friend Prudence, a young “spinster”. Jane’s family moves to a country village and she is full of expectations about their new life there. Unfortunately, her hopes clash with the reality of her sharp tongue and sometimes inappropriate (for a clergyman’s wife) manners.

Anything was better than having to pretend you had winter and summer curtains when you had just curtains

Despite being aware of her shortcomings it doesn’t seem that she does much to master herself. And if it’s true that her husband shows himself bothered by her remarks, he isn’t a stranger to quirky behaviour himself. His soap carved into animal form is just the most striking evidence of it.

Then there’s Prudence, whose defining trait seems to be her past, failed relationship. She works and lives in London, but Jane worries about her possible spinsterhood. Fancying herself “an Emma Woodhouse” she decides to introduce Prudence to Fabian, the village widower. I admit that I don’t know why she wanted the two of them to fall in love and marry; I wouldn’t give a friend to a man that is a known cheater. Their relationship seems to take off at first, but Prudence doesn’t appear to be really in love with him. She doesn’t seem to have ever been in love at all. Even if it’s Jane the scatter-brained ones, with her flights of imagination, Prudence is a romantic (in the most Byronian sense) in how she approaches her relationships.

It certainly is a British novel. That genre of British novels where people’s passions, shortcomings and behaviour are dissected and put onto paper with grace, wit and charm. I did find the writing lovely and I believe the book is worth reading more for the writing than for the story. And talking about the story, there are no big things happening; the book is more an observation of the life of underemployed, educated women. Jane gave up her literary career and Prudence is stuck with a job where she herself doesn’t know what is that she does.
Pym’s observations revolve around marriage, the relationship between man and women, and life. Her insights are pretty much what you’d expect from an observant woman of the 50s especially when she is describing marriages that are, in some aspects, unsatisfactory.
What I find disappointing of the two novels I read by Pym is the lack of development. At the end of the book, the characters are as they were at the beginning. The narrative climax comes and goes without the characters taking any notice of it. It does take pleasure away from the reading, especially because it’s a portray of common life and we don’t have much happening in the book at all. It made me feel disappointed because Prudence had so much to gain and all it took was to take one sentence away from the ending.

Overall, I liked the book. At first, I got grabbed quickly by the narration and I wanted to know everything about the characters. Three chapters from the ending I started to feel a bit disappointed because of where the story was going, but I believe the book was worth it. It is a pleasurable reading if the genre is your cup of tea. I’m not sure I’m interested in reading other Pym’s works, though.

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REVIEW: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

855060I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, it was a decent read. It wasn’t the book I expected to read and certainly not what the synopsis painted it to be. It started like the mystery novel it should be: the neighbour’s dog is killed and Christopher, the protagonist, wants to know who’s the killer. We’re also introduced into Chris’s world: his school, his routine, his likes and dislikes, his way of thinking. It was an engaging read, though Chris doesn’t find any leads for his investigations. He might have if his logical brain had understood other people’s feelings better.
By the time we understand who the murderer is, we are much more concerned with another discovery: Christopher’s mother isn’t dead. She lives in London with the man she eloped with.
This second half of the book felt dull and boring. The narrator repeats himself over and over, which I found a bit heavy at this point. Christopher takes everything literally and that’s how he explains himself. Since the book is written in the first person, there’s a lot of repetition that stands in the way. I can understand when he repeats himself about his dislikes and the things making him uncomfortable. However, the “he said” and the “then I said” during the conversations, for instance, slow the narration without adding anything to it.
Truth be told, I could have accepted any and all repetitions if the story had been handled a bit better. The meeting with his mother, her reaction, the two of them going back to Swindon and the ending felt a bit rushed. I would’ve preferred to see how Christopher reworked the relationship with his father, for example. The mother’s internal struggle is another thing I wish we could’ve seen. I know this is impossible because of who narrates the book, but I believe it would’ve been rather interesting to explore.

I understand why it is so praised and recommended so much, despite having a style that is bound not to suit everyone’s tastes. It’s a successful portrait and study of a character. Unfortunately, I can’t really look past how bored I felt after around page 140. It was nice, but it had its flaws. Don’t read it if you want a story. Read it if you want to get into someone else’s mind.

firma

REVIEW: A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Oima

A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Oima is a series of manga in seven volumes. In 2016 a movie by the same name has been released (sometimes it can be also found as The Shape of Voice). The movie was one of the most aesthetically pleasing animations I’ve experienced in a while and I loved it so much I decided to read the manga. If you’re interested, both the movie and the manga series can be found on archive.org!

a_silent_voice_2_1024x1024.pngShoya is a kid like many others: he spends time with his friends doing reckless things and playing video games. One day a new girl comes to school, Shoko. She smiles a lot and is really shy, but still tries to be friendly. There’s only one thing: Shoko is deaf.
At first, it seems everything might be well, but soon everyone in class starts making fun of her, Shoya being the one who harasses her the most. Even those who don’t participate actively, stand by and look. Or make fun of her behind her back, like the girls do. When the games go too far, Shoya becomes the scapegoat for the mischief he helped creating and enjoys the same bullying he inflicted on the girl.
As the years’ pass and Shoya move to middle school and high school, nothing changes. He isn’t bullied anymore, but he has withdrawn from society, has no friends and shows what to me seemed like social anxiety. He decides to throw himself off a bridge, but first, he wants to see Shoko for the last time and apologize to her. When he finally meets her, everything changes.

9781632360595_manga-A-Silent-Voice-Graphic-Novel-4.jpgFrom there, the story goes on portraying the will of Shoya to be forgiven and reclaim his life, Shoko dealing with depression, her sister Yuzuru’s struggle to save her and Shoko and Shoya’s former classmates trying to make up for the past.
Bullying, depression and suicide are the big themes of the story (so yeah, big trigger warning for that!) but overall it’s not pessimistic. As much as it gets sad sometimes, it surprisingly manages to also be heartwarming and make you smile. This is partly due to the fact that is easy to sympathize with the characters, to the point that even the least likeable have understandable motives.
It’s not only about the bad things: the story portrays how powerful forgiveness and compassion can be. That’s why it manages to be so full of hope, despite it all. Despite the fact that some characters don’t seem to feel there is any. We need more stories like this one: hopeful and gentle, instead of the many nihilistic portrays of life that we so often see around. Especially in the teenage section of the bookstores.

I hope to write more extensively about how forgiveness is central in this series, hopefully, the post will be out in a week.

firma

REVIEW: Owning Your Own Shadow by Robert A. Johnson

The shadow is that part of ourselves that we fear, that we strive to keep inside of us no matter what. Most of the time we don’t want to recognise we even have a shadow and do the impossible not to meet and confront it. Owning Your Own Shadow is a book about the importance of facing that part of ourselves we fear the most.

THE BOOK
The book is short, 112 pages, and it took me around three hours to finish. Even if it’s a book about Jungian psychology, it’s not as dense as you might expect. The author does not use psychological jargon all the time, I’d say it’s more colloquial in tone compared to other books. I believe this makes it a nice read for those who, like me, are interested in Jungian psychology, but haven’t studied it formally.
I found it an informative read, even if I had some knowledge on the topic before starting the book. It makes a good introduction on the topic of the shadow, although there isn’t a thorough explanation of Jung’s analytical psychology. Some concepts are mentioned, but it won’t give more than a general idea of the theory behind it. If you’re new to the entire topic, maybe a general introduction to Jungian psychology might help you understand where the whole shadow business comes from.
The first two chapters discuss the shadow: what it is, why we escape it, and why it is important for people to confront it. The core idea is that shadow work helps both us and society; if we integrate our shadow and recognise how it plays, we can stop projecting it onto others and refuse when others project theirs on us.
The last, brief chapter of the book – called the Mandorla – describes how the author sees shadow integration and how one could go about it. Johnson itself states there is no one way to confront and integrate one’s shadow, so there is no universal recipe either. I don’t find it surprising, coming from a therapist.

SPIRITUALITY AND THE SHADOW
Throughout the book, there is a strong spiritual and religious influence that I couldn’t always agree with. Partially because of the heavy Christian-based belief and symbolism (I don’t relate to Christ as the role model for humanity’s inner work, for example) and partially because sometimes it felt to be a little extreme, in a way. However, I do agree on three basic spiritual ideas shared.
The first one is that shadow work is spiritual work and that in doing it, we can get closer to the Divine. Not only does shadow work allow us to know ourselves and understanding better ourselves, but to better understand others as well. It is also a work of synthesis, the synthesis between the opposing forces inside of us. Both ideas can be found in a variety of spiritual traditions. I enjoyed the idea that paradox is our primary tool in this work, it reminded me of Buddhist philosophy.
The second spiritual idea I share with the author is that religious and everyday life shouldn’t be separated and put into different boxes. It furthers the idea of dichotomy and separation, whereas shadow work is – as I mentioned before – synthesis. The split is counterproductive and can also result in guilt and fear (the big fear of sin in Christianity comes to mind).
The third idea is that ritual can help us with our inner work, that through ritual we can integrate our shadow. Johnson uses the idea of Mass being a shadow experience for the Christian but also talks about personal rituals that can be ordinary actions such as taking out the trash. One of the things that find me a sceptic is in this section: the author states that since people don’t go to Mass as before, we make and consume movies and novels to project our shadow. Even if I can agree, to an extent, it is put down in a way that seems to suggest storytelling didn’t exist when Mass was popular. I bet this isn’t what the author meant, but it was what got through.

I liked this book and I think I’ll revisit it in the future. It’s short, so it’s not a comprehensive introduction, but there’s enough information to make it useful. Even if the topic is discussed from a very subjective point of view, the author’s opinions are firmly grounded in psychology. I’d suggest, if it’s a first read on the topic, to pair it with a more objective essay. It’s always useful to hear a second opinion, anyway.

firma

REVIEW: Practical Sigil Magic by Frater U.:D.:

305318After almost a year, I finally finished this book. Now, it took it so much because I decided to go slowly and experiment with the various techniques before proceeding with my read (and obviously this means a long span of time in which I didn’t use anything written on these pages at all). I also wanted to work a bit with sigils before getting into the chapter about “how does this thing work?”, as to not make up my mind on sigil work before actually doing some of it.

I am not a chaos magician. I have read about Chaos Magick and its principles, I find it fascinating, but I also don’t think it is what I want to do in my practice. My main interest is religious, magic and witchcraft are…something I am drawn to, but also something I am a bit scared of. They also tend to come up a lot. Sigil magic seemed an interesting starting point to explore magic, so I tried it. That being said, on with the review!

The book explores the modern method of sigilisation derived from the works of Austin Osman Spare, which is the same that can be found in Carroll’s Liber Null. The word, pictorial and mantric methods are explained with the use of examples, which I found extremely helpful. I had a bad time with the aesthetic of my sigils, being too much…bare? Common? Non-graphic? I don’t even know. However, seeing how the author makes and works on sigils really helped me gain confidence over mines. The explanation is simple, straightforward and non-dogmatic. Methods of activation have their own dedicated chapter; although I admit that I might have found a couple more methods helpful, I understand that this is not a book about gnosis and how to achieve it. The Alphabet of Desire (which I find a fascinating topic) is also described in its two different iterations. Closing the book is a chapter on “traditional” sigil work, as known in high magic and hermeticism, which refers to Israel Regardie’s How to Make and Use Talismans.

I found this book very comprehensive, easy and practical. It gives all the information a person who has never heard about sigil might need, delivered clearly and without too much speculation. The chapter in which the *why* sigil magic work is discussed is very adamant on proposing models of explanation, theories instead of dogmas. I appreciated this because the author invites the reader to try and understand magic for themselves; furthermore, sometimes trying to understand the technicalities and the reasons behind magic might hold back from doing and experiencing it. I will surely keep this volume as reference as I go on experimenting with sigil work.

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