Book Related Topics, Fantasy, Fiction, LGBT, literary fiction, romance

Book Review: Under the Whispering Door by T. J. Klune

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“Everyone loses their way at some point, and it’s not just because of their mistakes or the decisions they make. It’s because they’re horribly, wonderfully human. And the one thing I’ve learned about being human is that we can’t do this alone. When we’re lost, we need help to try to find our way again.”

Wallace is dead. He knows he’s dead because he is watching his own sparsely attended funeral and a reaper is telling him that he’s dead. Wallace cannot believe it though, he still has so many things to do. The reaper takes Wallace to a small village and to a little tea shop run by a man called Hugo. Hugo is a ferryman, he houses ghosts until they’re ready to make the crossing to the afterlife. He is basically a therapist for ghosts, helping them make peace and accept the fact that they’re dead before leading them to the door that takes them to whatever comes next after death.

With Hugo’s help, Wallace begins to rethink the way he lived his life, trying to make peace with the way he squandered his one chance at life and also starts to fall in love with Hugo. When the Manager, Hugo’s boss, comes and gives Wallace an ultimatum to cross over in 7 days, he tries to rewrite some wrongs and make peace with crossing over to whatever comes next.

“Life is senseless, and on the off chance we find something that does make sense, we hold onto it as tightly as we can.”

Last year, we talked about Klune’s The House in the Cerulean Sea on our instagram (follow us @nightstands2). I really enjoyed the book so much and recommended it to everyone. It was an absolutely delightful book and if you’re looking for a feel good book, you should definitely check it out. Anyway, I picked up this book just off of how much I enjoyed his previous book. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this one as much as I did his last. Under the Whispering Door never became the book I feel like Klune promised us by having this intriguing premise. It said nothing profound or different about life and death.

I kept waiting for Klune to say something, anything at all of note but he never rose to the occasion. This book brings nothing new to the table and it really disappointed me. The world Klune imagines here isn’t even intriguing enough to bring comfort to its readers. The ghosts are not diverse enough in their experiences with life to give us a full picture of different people’s experiences with death. We only get people who didn’t get to live a full life. So many people die everyday who lived a full, interesting and long life and we couldn’t get one example of a satisfied and happy ghost who didn’t need therapizing?

“It’s never enough, is it? Time. We always think we have so much of it, but when it really counts, we don’t have enough at all.”

This book is 373 pages but honestly, it could have been half that because nothing happens. We don’t see Wallace actually confronting his life and the decisions he made while living it. Wallace’s transformation to suddenly being a good person felt ridiculous because nothing prompted it. A lot of the sentences were repetitive and cliche and Lord, that contrived romance Klune shoved in there was the most eye rolling thing in the whole book. Hugo and Wallace had nothing in common, their love for each other seemed forced and completely out of nowhere. One of the reasons I loved House in the Cerulean Sea so much is because the romance between the two main characters was slowly built up. You could see it coming and you wanted it for both of them.

In this book, the main characters go from not getting along to suddenly being soooo in love without any leadup for us. I think one of the problems with this book is that Klune was committed to telling us instead of showing us a lot of things. If a ghost and a ferryman are going to fall in love when the ferryman has seen lots of ghosts and helped them cross without any entanglement, you better let us see exactly what is so different about this particular ghost.

“He hoped wherever he was going that there’d still be the sun and the moon and the stars. He’d spent a majority of his life with his head turned down. It seemed only fair that eternity would allow him to raise his face toward the sky.”

I don’t want to give the impression that there was nothing good about this book. I just have such high standards for Klune that I was simply more disappointed than I’d be with other authors. Klune’s signature humor is still in this one especially the first 20% of the book while Wallace is still trying to accept the fact that he’s a ghost. I also appreciate how much the author is committed to telling gay stories. His characters are always LGB and he always makes them full and realized human beings where being gay isn’t ever their entire story arc, just one important part of who they are.

Ultimately, this book was too drawn out and never strayed past the shallow. It’s like a book filled with cliche platitudes about how amazing life is and how we should live life to the fullest without actually digging deep and offering anything interesting or different. I gave this one 2 stars on Goodreads.

Have you read any T. J. Klune? Are you going to read this one? I really recommend The House in the Cerulean Sea. It’s fantastic.

Leggy.

african author, african stories, Book Related Topics, Fiction, LGBT, literary fiction, Nigerian Author

Book Review: Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi

Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi

Life is an ambivalent lover. One moment, you are everything and life wants to consume entirely. The next moment, you are an insignificant speck of nothing. Meaningless.

Kambirinachi is an ogbanje. She is a spirit that keeps getting born as a human, but she never lives long enough and always dies and returns to the spirit world. Then she makes the decision to live and lives in fear of a retaliation from the gods for not returning. She lives a full life and experiences love, loss and gets married. She has twin girls – Taiye and Kehinde. The three of them become estranged when Kehinde suffers a traumatic experience and the three end up in different countries. Kambirinachi remains in Nigeria, Taiye moves to the UK and Kehinde is in Canada.

A long time has passed and the three reunite in Lagos as Taiye has moved back and Kehinde is visiting with her husband. The three have to come together and relearn each other and the book tells us their life stories from each of their perspectives and how each, in their own way, dealt with the fallout from what happened to Kehinde.

I finally gave a book 5 stars y’all.

It’s so hard to believe that this is a debut effort because it was so beautifully written. It had all the elements of things I enjoy in a book – complex/flawed characters, family sagas that span generations and beautiful writing that draws you in. Over the years when the sisters were estranged, Taiye wrote letters to Kehinde that she never sent. Taiye’s ex sends the letters without her knowledge and Kehinde reads them when she is in Lagos. Ekwuyasi’s choice to narrate their stories and go back in time, through these letters was such a fantastic choice. We go through the past and the present so seamlessly.

“Our relationship has always struggled against our twinness.”

The friction between the twins were the focal point but Taiye read like the main character. And boy was she a fully fleshed out character. Queerness is still not embraced in the Nigerian culture and I enjoyed how Ekwusayi didn’t make it an issue or a big deal. It was just Taiye’s sexuality, nothing to make a big deal about. Taiye was hella flawed but I am so glad that it had nothing to do with her being gay. Oh and even as flawed as she was, Taiye was the character that you were rooting for.

Taiye loves food and cooking and wants to be a chef and this was made clear throughout the book. Ekwuyasi gave us recipes for every thing Taiye cooked. When I say we were given recipes, I don’t mean in the typical way of listing ingredients and steps. We were given those but I don’t know the magic Ekwuyasi performed but it was written so beautifully and woven into the story. She made it clear thatcooking was a love language of Taiye’s.

The one gripe I had is there seem to be an influx of Nigerian writers who are writing about ogbanjes. As a Nigerian, I am familiar with it and I know it is part of the culture but it now seems like a lazy trope that is being infused for a western audience that isn’t as familiar with it. I often wondered why the author chose to make Kambiri’s issue her ogbanje-ness vs. what seemed like a mental illness or depression.

I honestly could go on and on forever as I remember various parts of the book. Even though it details the unpacking of a trauma. It still goes through a lovely friendship, a loving marriage, a loving yet toxic relationship. I don’t think it matters what the topic was, the best thing about this book was the writing, you’d be willing to go on the journey. I highly recommend this book, if you couldn’t already tell!

Taynement

Book Related Topics, christmas, Fiction, LGBT, romance

Book Review: The Guncle by Steven Rowley

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“Grief orbits the heart. Some days the circle is greater. Those are the good days. You have room to move and dance and breathe. Some days the circle is tighter. Those are the hard ones.”

Patrick’s sister-in-law and friend, Sara, dies and his brother has to go to rehab for addiction and convinces Patrick to take the children back with him from the funeral to Palm Springs for 3 months while he takes care of his addiction. At first Patrick is very hesitant. Yes, he loves his niece and nephew but in short bursts. He’s fine handling them for weekend long visits with their mother or when he flies back to Connecticut to see his family but being their primary guardian for 90 days alone seems nuts to him.

Patrick has no idea what to expect – he’s been dealing with the loss of the love of his life in a car accident for years and doesn’t think he’s the right person to guide his niece and nephew through their grief when he hasn’t even handled his yet. With humor and a lot of heart, Rowley leads his readers through a journey of grief and family.

I really enjoyed this one. I think most of the characters were very likeable (except Patrick’s sister, yeesh, talk about overreacting to things). I especially liked GUP (Gay Uncle Patrick). I like that they made Patrick a super likable person whose vices and excesses never came before his own niece and nephew. It was easy to find his shenanigans cute and funny because you knew he would never do anything purposely to endanger the kids’ lives. Patrick used to be a famous movie star who was in a popular TV show that made lots of money (a la Friends) and after it ended, he moved out of LA to Palm Springs and stopped socializing with anyone but his gay throuple neighbors.

Even though this book is light hearted and funny, it deals with grief and death in a very real way. Rowley does not at all shy away from the hard parts of losing someone you love. Patrick is very determined to make sure the kids mourn and are able to talk about their mother in an open way, without pressuring them to snap out of it. Patrick even hopes that their kid resilience will be a way for him to mourn Sara too but he soon finds out that he would have to be the adult in this situation and show them a way to grieve in a healthy way. To do that, Patrick is forced to deal with the loss of the love of his life in a tangible way instead of the avoidance game he’s been playing with himself for years.

At some point while reading this book, I had to google – “Is Steven Rowley gay?” because this character would seem super stereotypical and offensive if it wasn’t another gay man writing this. Thankfully, he is gay and all my apprehensions vanished. This is my first Rowley book and I definitely will be picking up his backlist titles especially when I am going through one+ of my reading slumps. This book was utterly delightful and funny and I recommend it. I gave this 3 stars on Goodreads.

Leggy