Book Review: The Witches of Echo Park

cover of Witches of Echo ParkHere’s what you should know about The Witches of Echo Park, which is out today:

1.  It’s not YA despite having a young protagonist.

2. There’s an explicit rape scene and an explicit sex scene.

3.  There’s barely any plot – it’s all set up.

4.  What’s with all the bashing of intellectual men?  Lyse and Eleanora both comment disparagingly about the intellectual men Lyse has dated in the past.  Not all intellectuals are snobs, Lyse and Eleanora.  Lighten up.

The Witches of Echo Park is about a young woman, Lyse, who leaves her adult home of Athens, Georgia to visit her dying great-aunt in Echo Park, a neighborhood in Los Angeles, CA.  Lyse’s aunt, Eleanora, is dying of cancer.  She is also the member of a coven, and she wants Lyse to take her place.

There’s a lot in this book about bonds between women, which is one of my favorite topic.  The bond that came across most strongly is the one between Lyse and her best friend in Georgia, which makes me hope that the Georgia friend will join Lyse in Echo Park in future books.  There’s also a lot about how love can be a positive or destructive force.  Eleanora suffered terrible abuse at the hands of her grandmother, and only gradually comes to accept that her grandmother truly loved her and abused her in hopes of saving her from the Devil.  Eleanora is portrayed in a sympathetic light, but she does damage as well, raising Lyse in a web of lies that causes her considerable grief as a child and trauma as an adult, even as Eleanora also provides Lyse with a loving and stable home.

What this book lacks is any forward momentum.  It’s an entire book of exposition.  I enjoyed just kicking back and hanging out with the characters, but the slender plot is tacked on and is clearly intended to kick into action in future books.  If you are looking for an evocative, slow-paced, female-centric read, you will probably enjoy Witches.  If you want more focus on plot and action, start with book two.  There isn’t a second book yet but I have every expectation that it will be more plot-driven given the hints that are dropped in book one.

Note: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

I Resolve Not To Make Late Resolutions Next Year

calvin-hobbes-new-years-resolutionsLast week many of you may have been surprised to get alerts about posts on Monday night that clearly belonged elsewhere. That is because instead of going to bed when I was sick, I tried working on my blog posts for January.  Let this be a lesson to you.  GO TO BED WHEN YOU ARE SICK.  I’d make that a resolution, but since I’m sick now and working on my blog, I think it’s clear that the whole resolution thing is just not going to happen over here.

Since I’m not so good at resolutions, personally, here’s a lovely one from Neil Gaiman, from 2001:

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.

And here’s his resolution for this year:

Be kind to yourself in the year ahead.
Remember to forgive yourself, and to forgive others. It’s too easy to be outraged these days, so much harder to change things, to reach out, to understand.
Try to make your time matter: minutes and hours and days and weeks can blow away like dead leaves, with nothing to show but time you spent not quite ever doing things, or time you spent waiting to begin.
Meet new people and talk to them. Make new things and show them to people who might enjoy them.
Hug too much. Smile too much. And, when you can, love.
You can find more at Neil Gaiman’s Journal.  For my writer friends, be sure to check out a wonderful post, “2015 Resolution for Writers: Be Big, and then be Small”, by Chuck Wendig from his blog, Terrible Minds.  It’s so good.   I hope you are all enjoying 2015 so far and that your year is full of great things!

Between the Lines Book Club is Back with: Little Failure

between the lines book club logoAfter a break for the month of December, Between the Lines Book Club is back!  This book club meets right here every Friday.  If you are in the Sacramento, CA area, you can also join us in person at 10:30AM on the fourth Saturday of every month at Arden Dimick Library.  This month we are reading Little Failure, by Gary Shteyngart.  This memoir is tragic and funny, often simultaneously.  Shteynhgart writes of his parents with anger, sadness, and compassion.  Here’s the publisher’s blurb from Random House:

Little Failure is the all too true story of an immigrant family betting its future on America, as told by a lifelong misfit who finally finds a place for himself in the world through books and words. In 1979, a little boy dragging a ginormous fur hat and an overcoat made from the skin of some Soviet woodland creature steps off the plane at New York’s JFK International Airport and into his new American life. His troubles are just beginning. For the former Igor Shteyngart, coming to the United States from the Soviet Union is like stumbling off a monochromatic cliff and landing in a pool of Technicolor. Careening between his Soviet home life and his American aspirations, he finds himself living in two contradictory worlds, wishing for a real home in one. He becomes so strange to his parents that his mother stops bickering with his father long enough to coin the phrase failurchka—“little failure”—which she applies to her once-promising son. With affection. Mostly. From the terrors of Hebrew School to a crash course in first love to a return visit to the homeland that is no longer home, Gary Shteyngart has crafted a ruthlessly brave and funny memoir of searching for every kind of love—family, romantic, and of the self.

I’ll write more about this book next week, but here’s an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air program to tide you over.  Enjoy!

cover of Little Failure