Unnatural Magic by C.M. Waggoner
Unnatural Magic by C.M. Waggoner
Thanks to Netgalley for the early copy and to Blackstone for approving my request to read.
Well, The Queen of Paris gets two stars from me. First, the good. Pamela Bunnings Ewen writes beautifully. She uses lush prose and brings the beautiful scenery and luxury of Coco Chanel’s lifestyle to the page with astounding clarity. She has certainly done a thorough job with her research. That’s THE only reason I’m giving the book any stars.
Now, the bad. I somehow did not know that Coco Chanel was a Nazi Collaborator. I could blame that on not really being familiar or a fan girl of the Chanel brand, but my own ignorance is appalling. I requested this book because I figured it would be cool to learn about a woman who built a legacy long after she had passed on.
Coco seems like the type of woman who ruthlessly went for what she wanted. To the point of selfishness and at times, humiliation. This story does not depict a kind or even likable person in my eyes. It might just be the subject matter, but I could not find admiration in Coco’s choice to collaborate with Nazis, and even take a Nazi lover, even if it was to help her friends and family. I can understand her thought process, as it would be unimaginable to know that your friends and family were in the hands of terrible people (that you are also willingly sleeping with). But, I think the admiration for people in that time lies with the ones who did everything to survive and fight AGAINST the Nazi wishes.
This book made me realize that Coco Chanel was talented and commanding, but a terribly lonely social climber… willing to tear the world apart to suit her whims and fancies. I could find no joy in this book because of what I learned, but sadly, I know there’s plenty of people out there who are Chanel fans who will use this book as a means to heighten her pedestal.
“The things we do to girls, whether we put them on pedestals only to tear them down, or use them for parts and holes, we are all complicit in this. But everything touches everything else, and I have to believe some good will come out of all this destruction. The men will never end the grace year. But maybe we can.”
Holy shit. You know when you finish a book and you have this adrenaline rush because you just enjoyed a book so wholly that it sparks something inside of you? Nothing to See Here did that for me.
Margaret Atwood wrote the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale 30 years after its publication. The Testaments gets 3.5 stars from me. This is something I should have also addressed in my first blog: I will be THE FIRST to admit that I’m a pretty lenient rater. I’m getting more critical as I get older, but I also prefer to critique than tear down. Ya wrote a damn book, and that’s fucking awesome. You should get some praise just for that! Other people are harsher raters than me and that’s completely fine.
So… Was this book needed? Not for everyone. The thing is… with the state of our world, for some people, this will offer relief. For some people, it will be exactly what they needed. Atwood could have been more cruel to her characters in this book, but Handmaid’s Tale covered that. This book offers hope in the face of tyranny and doesn’t spotlight the abusive techniques used as heavily as it did in HT. June, Nicole, and Agnes are the beacons of that hope. Aunt Lydia offers that hope. Somewhere out there, people are brave enough to start the revolution. People are able to attempt atonement for their wrongdoings by setting the world onto a better path.
This book most certainly has a different tone than Handmaid’s. Not AS dark. It should have a different tone though, in my opinion. Testaments isn’t June’s story. She had very little reason for hope in her telling of Handmaid’s Tale, and so the gloomy tone suited the story. This was told from three POVs. One: Aunt Lydia’s, which is fascinating, as we have been exposed to all of the cruelties she has inflicted on others. But we get to see a different side of her, we get to see background and how she got involved with Gilead. Which answered a question that plagued me: how the heck do you get involved in the abuse and control of your fellow women? We see some fight vs flight instincts from her. Her POV in this story confirms one thing: Lydia gets shit done, one way or another. Those second and third POVs are June’s daughters. One who has grown up within the borders of Gilead and one who hasn’t. This is excellent for contrasting the modern world with Gilead’s drab world.
Margaret Atwood is good at writing different voices. June was solemn but sassy. Aunt Lydia is hard and often cruel, but nurturing and calculating. Agnes is submissive and tender, as Gilead has raised her to be, but cunning with a defiant streak. Nicole is headstrong and reckless, but brave. June’s daughters’ voices also show their immaturity, as two young girls, they aren’t as sure of themselves as June was.
As I said earlier, Atwood COULD have left us with Handmaid’s. The tale would forever haunt us and things could have been left to our imagination. That would have been fine. But people wanted to know these answers. For decades, she’s been asked them. I think if I was her, at this particular time, I would have been moved to give answers. We are a nation under stress, and currently Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu is larger than life and looming like a warning in front of us. If this book doesn’t fit your ideal of what you wanted Gilead’s history to be, keep your memory of Handmaid’s and don’t reread Testaments. Simple as that. I think this book was a good reminder that history may be dark, humans may never fully find peace and learn from the mistakes of the past… but we evolve. We fight. We are entitled to change our political opinions and affiliations and rally against the injustices in the world. A book that shines light where there was once only darkness is not a flaw. It’s a reprieve.
Another theme I loved from this book is that sisterhood is what you make of it. Women supporting women creates a love like no other, blood relation or not. There’s something to be said about women choosing to help one another, even if it means you might carry the burden of consequence for it.
Some cons: the pacing was off. While the message was beautiful, it could have been much more powerful if the pacing was a bit more believable. Daisy’s timeline into Nicole into Jade into Pearl Girl seemed very skewed and unbelievable. Her circumstances could provide a little leeway in the storyline but not enough to make the rush totally plausible. I’m pretty sure it would take me more than a day or so to be convinced by almost total strangers to sneak into one of the most brutal and ironclad regimes in the world, especially when your parents have kept you sheltered your entire life… and you just witnessed firsthand the harm that Gilead could do. I’m not saying she SHOULDN’T have agreed, because she is June’s daughter (aka badass runs in her blood), I just think it might have taken more coaxing. Agnes’ and Aunt Lydia’s pacing were more on par with what I could expect. Aunt Lydia’s plot has been building over the entirety of Gilead, after all. And Agnes has grown up over a many years span in an unloving environment, with the exception of Tabitha and Becka, has been exposed to files upon files of corruption in the government, and is offered an opportunity to escape. Much more realistic pacing. Also… the actual escape was a bit too easy and fell a bit flat. This is the catapult to destroy an entire of a regime of terror. If we had more detail and suspense during the escape, it would have been more satisfying. There were also cheesy moments that could have held more emotion, for example, when *certain characters* reunite.
Final thoughts: This book may not have been necessary. But I enjoyed it. I’ve been missing Handmaid’s on Hulu. This offered a nice bridge in the wait. It’s a quick read. It doesn’t hold the same appeal the first one did, but like I said, it shouldn’t. Handmaid’s was the story of a spiral into destruction within a world. This book is climbing out of that grave. Some of Atwood’s final words in the acknowledgment gave me pause. To paraphrase, she said that humanity never repairs the damage in quite the same way. Sometimes it takes an army from without. Sometimes it takes one person from within. Our past doesn’t always have the right answer to fix our current problem, it’s always going to be approached in a slight (or major) different way. That’s a good thing to remember.
One of my Book of the Month Club picks this month was the memoir, Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me by Adrienne Brodeur. I loved it. Personally, this rates as a 4.5 stars to me. Almost perfection.
So, there are no perfect parents, right? No matter what you do as a parent, your actions will always affect your children. The good, the bad. The small stuff, the big stuff. Some parent/child relationships are more toxic than others, though, and it can go beyond your usual standard for abuse. For example, burdening your children with things that they shouldn’t be worrying about. In my opinion, putting adult matters on a child’s shoulders is selfishly stealing the carefree aspect that is unique to childhood. Children aren’t meant know EVERYTHING that troubles an adult. This is the type of abuse that takes place in this story.
Adrienne Brodeur was a mere fourteen years of age when her mother giddily confided in her about her affair with her husband’s best friend of fifty years, Ben. Adrienne loves her stepfather but had spent her whole life vying for the attention of her mother, and thus eagerly became her only confidant in the affair for more than a decade. Her mother, Malabar, is known for being charming, intoxicating, and an extravagant cook. She is also utterly selfish, though it took years for Adrienne to see this. At the time, she simply idolized her mother and knew she had to help her mother achieve the love that she insisted she deserved. Malabar climbed the social ladder quite a bit when she married her current husband, Charles. He ended up having a stroke right before their marriage, but she went through with the marriage and took care of him. The diligent care she provided him starting slowly diminishing over the years of her affair. She soon hired a nanny, essentially, to care for him while she would sneak off with Ben. She held extravagant dinners featuring wild game that she would prepare solely so she could continue the affair under her own roof.
We see two perspectives through Adrienne’s eyes: one of the young adult, whose been brainwashed by her mother that SHE is the victim since her husband is not fully capable of taking care of himself. She tells her daughter that they’re doing the best thing, because she couldn’t leave Charles in his state, but that she craves the excitement that Ben provides to her life. Malabar spends a decade lying to her husband, to Ben’s wife (who is also her good friend), and asking her daughter to be complicit in the affair by lying for her and helping them set up dalliances. She idolizes her mother and constantly makes excuses for her. She knows that her mother had an dysfunctional childhood and pities her for the impact that had on her, even though she can’t yet see the way her own mother is impacting her.
Then, we see Adrienne growing into a woman. Her relationships with men have been entirely influenced by her mother’s actions. More than once she is unfaithful or is the other woman in a relationship… and she even ends up marrying BEN’S ADOPTED SON before the affair goes public. Her mother approves of this relationship because she thinks she will be able to see Ben more because of it. As Adrienne matures, she falls into a deep depression. She has mysterious stomach pains and anxiety, and thinks about killing herself. It isn’t until she’s in therapy that she realizes that subconsciously, she’s been agonizing over the fact that Malabar has terribly abused her relationship with her. Her mother always treated her as a friend and if Adrienne didn’t comply with whatever made Malabar happy, she would stop speaking to her, punish her with coldness, or hold her most prized possessions above her head. Malabar promises for Adrienne’s whole life that she will let her wear a family heirloom necklace when she gets married. I won’t spoil what happens there, but I assure you, it solidifies Malabar’s narcissism. Adrienne realizes her mother’s life will always be about what makes Malabar happy, even at the detriment to her daughter’s mental health. She eventually ends up cutting ties with her mom until she is at a more stable place in life.
There’s a lot I haven’t included about Adrienne and Malabar’s relationship because I want readers to still get something out of this book, to really see the depth of how Malabar mistreated her daughter.
Why do I love this book? Because it is a story about family. It’s not the typical heartwarming story. It shows that there can be an ugly side to family. As a kid, you don’t have a say in your environment or the way that people around you treat you. It is only when you get older that you look back at situations and wish you could have sheltered your younger self against them before they changed who you were. Wild Game highlights how we learn to live with what has happened to us, and how we learn to set boundaries and heal. It’s about loving people despite their flaws, but not having to accept the way that they affect you. It’s about forgiving yourself. I love Wild Game because it is a story of a woman who broke the cycle of abuse, and this novel is Adrienne’s enlightened proclamation to the world that you can live a healthy life after toxic parenting. One of the aspects I loved about this book was that it is this heartbreaking and ultimately, empowering true story set against a vivid Cape Cod background. You can truly tell Adrienne loved growing up in Cape Cod despite looking back at her relationship with her mother. She grew up clam digging, fishing, and eating these fresh, succulent catches. She spent her years combing the beaches for sea glass and treasures. The beauty she sees in the world around her offers relief from the story she’s telling. Often books with subjects like this can depress you while you’re reading them, but Adrienne contrasts the toxic relationship with a warm, inviting background. If you like memoirs or books that highlight the intricacies of family relationships, or subtly delve into the way environment can affect your psyche, this book is for you!
My first review! And if you know me, you’re as surprised as I am, because this isn’t a fantasy novel. Yet, here we go:
It took me a bit to read this. Not because it was boring, but most of my readings into Nazis and the Holocaust were when I was younger. I had a bit of an obsession with reading about this topic. It was safer to read them then. It seemed like such a faraway experience that it couldn’t touch my life. Which is silly to say, because I am German/Dutch and have family that relocated partly due to effects of the war. I currently live in a Michigan community heavily known for its Polish roots. Seriously, you can’t wag a stick without hitting a person whose family emigrated from Poland within the last few generations. But when you’re a child, nothing truly worries you to the bone. Through an adolescent’s eyes, it was a horrible experience that happened, but surely that was because people in the past were cruel and stupid. Surely, we had evolved as humans. When you start to worry and feel anxious over the past (or future), that’s when you know you’re losing your childlike innocence. At the time, it was heartwarming to think that though humanity goes through horrors, but we would always come together to defeat them. Now, these horrors are too close for comfort. What had seemed like “ages ago” as a child, is just a few short years as an adult. In the modern age, children are confined and taken from their parents. It is something that we see in the news daily. We have seen countries gassed. We see war and genocide. You can’t hide from the cruelties of humanity in the age of the internet. So, I’m not ashamed to say that I didn’t devour this book. Simply because I am more aware of the horror inflicted during the reign of Nazi Germany. I am aware of countless parents watching their children die or suffer from unwarranted hate and cruelties that nobody should ever know. Once you become a parent, everything is more terrifying. To say that it is a heavy subject is an extreme understatement… but it is an important one. And maybe the child in me DOES still hope that we will still come together to defeat the hate in the world, and that’s why I still turn to books like this. Don’t let me scare you! I had built up in my mind how hard this book was going to be to read, when it was actually quite gentle in its storytelling.
The Things We Cannot Say offers us two narratives. Alina, a Polish girl whose family owns a farm during the invasion of Poland. Alice, a present day woman dealing with her Babcia’s decline and the daily stresses of mothering a child on the Autism Spectrum (specifically: echolalia). Alice is very close with her Babcia, and her nonverbal son, Eddie, is as well. She’s navigating through life while trying to minimize the amount of things that trigger a panic in Eddie. She lets him eat the few things he will without a meltdown, Go-Gurt and Campbell’s soup. Which, is fine and dandy until the inevitable happens: labels change, products change, and life is disrupted. Needless to say, the impending death of a family member is something that goes from heartbreaking to downright catastrophic to Eddie’s life. Alice’s grief and terror over the outcome is crippling. But, as a mother always does, she fights on. She’s become a shell of who she was, as motherhood can do. Her days are dedicated to her family. She left her job long ago, and life is monotonous, yet stressful. Until… Babcia asks her to visit Poland. In the end of her days, Babcia becomes unable to communicate, except through an app that Eddie has learned to use on his tablet which helps you select pictures of things to turn into words that you’re looking for. She is able to write a few names and locations in Poland and is insistent that Alice goes immediately to find some information out for her before she dies. Alice internally fights with herself on leaving, as she is the one who has maintained a carefully outlined schedule and lifestyle for her son. Her husband is a good man, but he is more apt to let Alice deal with Eddie, as they disagree on approaches to parenting him. She likes structure, he’s likes to push the Eddie past the limitations that Alice has set for him. But he encourages her to take the trip for Babcia and leave the children in his hands. He reminds her that there’s more to life than JUST mothering. A person must live for themselves, as well as their children. Plus, how do you deny a dying woman her final wish? She takes the trip, which leads us unto a journey to find where Babcia’s family ended up after she fled Poland.
With Alina, we follow the journey from girl into womanhood. It starts when her and her betrothed are separated as he leaves to study medicine. Shortly after, the invasion of Poland goes into effect. Alina is the sole child permitted to stay and work her family’s farm while the rest are sent to “work camps” to feed the army. Eventually, she is reunited with her fiancé, Tomasz. He has been aiding Jewish refugees while hiding after refusing to help the Nazi army. Alina and Tomasz’s story is one of pure love and bravery.
I won’t go into too much more, because I don’t want to spoil the story. Alina and Alice’s histories are intertwined. It’s only until Alice goes to Poland that she finds out how. Her grandma has kept the secrets of many people her entire life in America, because it would have cost more lives if she didn’t.
If I were to rate this book, I would give it a 3.5 out of 5 stars. There are many books about the holocaust, but this added some unique elements. First, despite the fact that I started the book with trepidation for what was to come, it manages to tell the story without getting graphic. In fact, it was almost too composed. The story didn’t make me fear for the characters lives as much as it should have, given the setting. I believe that when it came to Alina’s story, the ending was rushed. There was a mystery wrapped in her story that, and even though several of the storylines pertaining to her were predictable to me, it could have still felt thrilling if it was done more masterfully. That bit felt a little too tidy, with not enough emotion to make it quite as unforgettable of a story as it could be. The story was slow-paced the first three-quarters, and then smashed all the excitement and answers to a few chapters. Some of the relationships fell flat when this book has all of the elements of a story capable of building heartfelt and unforgettable relationships. Overall, the premise of the story is a wonderful idea, and the writing was enjoyable but not groundbreaking. If you’re interested in historical fiction, general fiction, and a bit of romance, you’ll probably enjoy this book. It combines those elements with family dynamics, the duality of personal independence to impassioned parenting, and the lengths that one is willing to go to save the ones they love from a harsh world.
Hello! I figured I would introduce myself before I start my first book post, on the off chance that this reaches past my friends and family. My name is Cassidee, and I’ve loved reading since I was old enough to do so. My interests heavily lie within the fantasy genre, and I am unabashedly involved in the fandoms that I enjoy. I have a tattoo that combines my three favorite authors’ work: Patrick Rothfuss, Robin Hobb, and George R R Martin. While fantasy is always going to be my first pick, I am pretty open to all flavors of novels, and love historical/historical fiction, general fiction, a bit of chick-lit and romance, as well as memoirs. This blog will mostly feature book reviews & my “to be read” lists, but may occasionally delve off into musings, recipes for my friends and family (I love to cook), and ravings about my latest obsessions (as I hinted at, I’m pretty passionate about the things I love). I have a three year-old momma’s boy at home, bartend, watch my nephew, and try to put my family first, so these blogs may not be as often as I’d like, but I appreciate anyone that takes the time to read them. Spreading a love of reading is something that I’m passionate about, and I’m always open to book suggestions or requests!
I’m also on Goodreads! Username Cassidee Lanstra.