Analysis of The House in Smyrna by Tatiana Salem Levy

a chave de casa tatiana salem levy

In August I reviewed this unique, amazing book, and I mentioned I wanted to write an Analysis and Discussion post for it, because I thought it had so many layers and interpretations, and while I’ve seen a few articles about it in Portuguese, I hadn’t found a comparable article in English (naturally, as the book is originally written in Portuguese). I tend to avoid spoilers in my review, and to discuss this book in depth I had to write a separate post, so that if you’re looking for a review, check out this post instead: Review: The House in Smyrna by Tatiana Salem Levy.

I’m no Literature graduate, my views here presented are not scholarly but rather a result of reading the book, analysing/interpreting it and reading a few articles. My aim here is to have a layman discussion on the book in case it gets picked up by English-speaking readers who want to talk about it. Where the ideas come not from my personal conclusions but from others, I’ve named the source and linked it in Further Reading at the end of this post.

Also my quotes are free translations of the Portuguese edition and may differ from the official English translation!

This post is full of spoilers!

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Review: The Fire Starters by Jan Carson

The Fire Starters by Jan Carson

Categories: Literary Fiction, Magical Realism

First Publication Date: 4. April 2019

Synopsis: Dr Jonathan Murray fears his new-born daughter is not as harmless as she seems.

Sammy Agnew is wrestling with his dark past, and fears the violence in his blood lurks in his son, too.

The city is in flames and the authorities are losing control. As matters fall into frenzy, and as the lines between fantasy and truth, right and wrong, begin to blur, who will these two fathers choose to protect?

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Weekly Wrap Up 15 – 21 Sept: Short Break So I Can Get Drunk in Peace (Yay Vacation!)

Hello readers!

I have vacation starting this week! This means little or nothing to you, unfaithful readers who won’t miss me, except that I will not do Wrap Ups for the next couple of weeks. I will be hiking with my husband, drinking several kinds of wine abundantly (it’s called tasting) and partying with our cat (lmao) and at least during the hike we will not bring computers so I won’t be blogging. Do not fret, I would never disappoint my readers (I totally would) and I’ve left lots of posts scheduled.

That is also the reason why I will sadly not participate on Latinx Heritage Month readathons! My reading will be very non-structured the next couple of weeks and I’m also trying to read more ARCs, which are mostly non-Latinx (also sadly). But that’s okay, I’ll catch up on my Latinx reads later on.

This week I added to my e-reader, from my subscription to Chelle’s TBR recommendations:

I was gonna add more (she always recommends me around 10 books per month!) but then I looked at my TBR and thought “huhhhhhhh maybe I start with these three”.

I also received from Netgalley:

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eARC Review: The Harpy by Megan Hunter

Categories: Contemporary Fiction

Lucy and Jake live in a house by a field where the sun burns like a ball of fire. Lucy has set her career aside in order to devote her life to the children, to their finely tuned routine, and to the house itself, which comforts her like an old, sly friend. But then a man calls one afternoon with a shattering message: his wife has been having an affair with Lucy’s husband, Jake.

The revelation marks a turning point: Lucy and Jake decide to stay together, but make a special arrangement designed to even the score and save their marriage—she will hurt him three times.

As the couple submit to a delicate game of crime and punishment, Lucy herself begins to change, surrendering to a transformation of both mind and body from which there is no return.

As I started the book, it seemed to me it would be too much of an indulgent revenge fantasy story, and it is definitely that, but it’s also an addictive read and with surprising depth. There is definitely no shortage of books about infidelity in marriage, but this one definitely stands out with its daring plot.

The author tries to give us glimpses of the life of Lucy and how she came to have this violence inside her, how the patterns of the life of her parents repeated themselves and so on, which I found a bit overdone. The interesting thing about the story, for me, was that she could have been any wife, any woman who’s been cheated on and fantasized about taking revenge. By giving Lucy so much backstory, it felt to me that she was over-explained.

If you enjoy stories about messy women making bad choices on purpose (this reminded me a bit of Supper Club in that regard: a story about women’s hunger for darker things than society expects them to), then I think this will be an enjoyable read! If you hope for a literary work with a deep exploration of relationship dynamics, violence and guilt (as I did), then you will be disappointed – this is more a revenge story that also showcases the daily pressures, trauma and violence women go through. I also expected a more lyrical prose (the blurb talks of poetic prose), but found it quite regular. As a last and petty complaint, I love magical realism in a story, and I really liked the harpy allegory, but I did not think the magical part of the story was well-executed, it felt clunky and forced.

In the end, I enjoyed the read and devoured this book, but I doubt it will be very memorable for me down the line. This is Megan Hunter’s sophomore book, and I think it was a very intriguing one even though I did not love it, and I will keep an eye out for her next books.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review: The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

Categories: Literary Fiction, Mystery

Vincent is a bartender at the Hotel Caiette, a five-star lodging on the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island. On the night she meets Jonathan Alkaitis, a hooded figure scrawls a message on the lobby’s glass wall: “Why don’t you swallow broken glass.” High above Manhattan, a greater crime is committed: Alkaitis is running an international Ponzi scheme, moving imaginary sums of money through clients’ accounts. When the financial empire collapses, it obliterates countless fortunes and devastates lives. Vincent, who had been posing as Jonathan’s wife, walks away into the night. Years later, a victim of the fraud is hired to investigate a strange occurrence: a woman has seemingly vanished from the deck of a container ship between ports of call.

In this captivating story of crisis and survival, Emily St. John Mandel takes readers through often hidden landscapes: campgrounds for the near-homeless, underground electronica clubs, the business of international shipping, service in luxury hotels, and life in a federal prison. Rife with unexpected beauty, The Glass Hotel is a captivating portrait of greed and guilt, love and delusion, ghosts and unintended consequences, and the infinite ways we search for meaning in our lives.

The Glass Hotel is a literary mystery that explores the consequences of Jonathan Alkaitis’ Ponzi scheme on the lives of several people. Vincent, who pretends to be his second wife, is arguably one of the main characters, but we get insights into the lives of others, old friends, an estranged brother, some victims, whose stories are connected by the crime and form one narrative of broken relationships, unsolved issues, chance, corruption.

I first approached this book expecting a regular mystery, in the line of The Sundown Motel by Simone St. James minus the ghosts or The Hunting Party by Lucy Foyle but more literary, but it reminds me far more of Disappearing Earth by Julia Philips. Like the latter, the beauty of this book is on the portrayal of the lives of the people in the story, some of them only marginally connected to the crime. It’s a lovely book to sit down with for several hours and get lost in.

Because I expected something a bit different from the book, my experience was not optimal, and it took me several chapters to really get into the story; the change in points of view made me get distracted a lot. By the time I was halfway through I had gotten used to the book’s rythm, and then it was a really wonderful read. I would be curious to re-read this knowing now what to expect from the story format.

The beautiful writing really brings this to another level and makes the book a poignant read that I highly recommend.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Anti-TBR: Popular New Books I’m Not Gonna Read (2020 Edition)

Hello readers!

I like writing these posts because they make me feel in control of my TBR (a lie). These are books that for one reason or another I’ve decided not to add to my TBR, although they are very popular in the bookish community. If you read and loved any of the books below, let me know! I could surely change my mind. I am fairly sure these books all come out on 2020.

I am not including YA books on my list because I have been moving away from YA for the past couple years so a list of popular YA books I won’t read would be redundant.

House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City Book 1) by Sarah J. Maas

I read the entire ACOTAR series, which I definitely don’t regret but also don’t remember fondly either. I think it’s just a matter of having outgrown her books and craving different kinds of stories at this point. I’ve heard that her fans are really enjoying this new book, though!

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WordPress Block Editor: Quick Tips for Book Bloggers

Hello readers!

Welcome to the WordPress Block Editor: we hate it here. In case you just got it (like me) and have more or less understood how it works but insist on using the Classic block because Who Has the Time, I thought gathering a couple tips that helped me actually almost enjoy (gasp!) using it by now would be a good idea. They’re simple things but maybe you find something that helps!

1) Use a fixed toolbar

If you click on a block and every time it drives you crazy when the toolbar hovers over it, you can fix it to the top instead: click on the “…” on the upper right corner of the screen and select “Top Toolbar” (image on the left). See image on the right on how it will look like. The toolbar will stay fixed on the top of the screen even when you scroll down, so no need to scroll back up to use it!

2) Use keyboard shortcuts

If you hate clicking and searching all the time, you can use a few shortcuts to make your life easier:

  • Enter / to search blocks, for example, if I type /image it will show the options below. Click on any of them to add as a new block.

You can see all shortcuts by clicking on the “…” on the upper right corner of the screen next to the green symbol, and then “Keyboard Shortcuts”, or by clicking Shift + Alt + H.

On a similar note, if you want to write a text and add blank lines, but don’t want to create a new paragraph block for every empty line, just use shift + Enter.

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Weekly Wrap-Up 8 – 14 September: An Excellent Reading Week

Hello readers!

As I struggle to keep up with my ARCs, we slowly approach the end of the year! By October I will be reading mostly creepy stuff, then November I will panic realizing I need to read a thousand ARCs and some books in genres I’m sorely lacking, and by December I will half-heartedly attempt to read books I lost interest in since I requested/bought them while eyeing greedily next year’s books. So I am trying to get a bit ahead now in September with some ARCs. Oh, the life of a book blogger.

I’ve been playing around with the block editor and I have *gasp* started to get used to it and even enjoy some aspects – I’ve now created a “Book Review” block so it will be quicker to write my reviews! Do expect some weird-looking posts as I try to decide for a look, especially for the reviews, which I have changed a bit (you’ll see on my review of The Harpy this week!). I quite like to play with new toys. So much for my complaining before. Let me know if you would like a short list of tips for using the block editor as a book blogger. I’m assuming by now most people are quite used to it but just in case that would be actually useful, let me know!

This week I got approved for:

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Resenha: A Falência por Júlia Lopes de Almeida

a falencia julia lopes de almeida

Nota: ★★★★★

Categorias: Ficção Clássica

Bem recebido pela crítica em seu lançamento (em 1901), A Falência destaca-se da produção de obras dessa época. Em um cenário de romances amorosos, Júlia Lopes de Almeida narra com crueza o enredo de uma mulher adúltera em busca de realização, entremeado à derrocada de um exportador de café. Camila, de origem pobre e casada com Francisco Theodoro em virtude da comodidade que a riqueza do marido lhe traz, descobre a paixão tardiamente nos braços do doutor Gervásio. Francisco de nada desconfia, mas terá seu ideal de família perfeita abalado após um mau negócio que o leva à falência. A Falência, segundo biografia ainda não publicada pela filha da autora, levou mais de quinze anos para ser produzido, tornando-se a obra-prima de Júlia Lopes de Almeida, uma das maiores escritoras da literatura brasileira.

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Thoughts on the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020 + the Winner Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Hello readers!

The Women’s Prize for Fiction winner will be announced tonight! I can’t believe it’s been almost five months since the shortlist has been announced, it seems like a lifetime ago. Two seasons have gone by and I am already reading some books I think have a chance of making it to the longlist for next year.

This year was an incredibly disappointing one for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, remarkably by some brilliant titles that did not make it to the longlist, and the inclusion of others that failed to impress. It’s especially disappointing to me, personally, that the only Latinx book added to the mix had such a lower quality than others that it made me ask myself whether it was there just to be “diverse”, much like what happened with Number 1 Chinese Restaurant last year (which I really liked! It was just not WP material in my opinion). Truly a missed opportunity for diversity, especially on the shortlist.

For a short recap, here are the six shortlisted books, announced all the way back in April 21:

My preferred order for winning is:

  • Girl, Woman, Other
  • The Mirror and the Light
  • Weather
  • Hamnet
  • A Thousand Ships
  • Dominicana

This is not ordered by books I loved the most, but rather by what they would bring to the table as a winner of the prize which is, after all, to celebrate women’s writing, creativity, talent and unique experiences. I think GWO brings something new, fresh and relevant and deserves to win, even though I enjoyed The Mirror and the Light more. And although both Weather and Hamnet left me wanting something different out of them (I wanted more from Weather and less from Hamnet… way less), both of them do something interesting, whereas A Thousand Ships, which I loved, brings absolutely nothing new, especially to this prize, which has seen far too many Greek retellings. Finally, I was disappointed with Dominicana in a way that I just cannot hope for it to win, even if it’s a story that could have touched my heart and done so much by bringing to life the struggles of an immigrant woman and touch on identity, language, agency and so on.

I did not read the entire longlist, but here are the reviews on those I did read:

I also wrote a few posts related to this prize, including a conspiracy theories post and one about the alternative WP longlist a few brilliant bloggers and I put together!

Basically, this blog is 70% reading and reviewing Women’s Prize longlisted or potentially longlisted or should’ve-been-longlisted books and then raving/ranting/creating conspiracy theories about it. The other 30% is me yelling about Latin American literature and Sapphics. We have a grand old time here and my followers always get high-quality educational content (ha!).

[Edit] Thoughts on the Winner: Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

The result is out!

Hamnet has won the prize, rather predictably! Okay I didn’t predict it, but most bloggers I follow did, and honestly I am quite disappointed. This is a gorgeous book, written masterfully (although overdone, in my opinion) and with a theme that resonates with a lot of readers right now. The reasons why I am disappointed at the result has nothing to do with Maggie O’Farrell’s talent, in fact I quite enjoyed some parts of the book, despite all my complaining about it, and it’s technically among the best ones of the list for sure.

My main issue with it winning is who I think should’ve won instead:

  • The Mirror and the Light would’ve brought to the forefront a powerful, unique and incredibly executed historical fiction that explores the final years of Cromwell’s life and is an interesting, complicated take on several characters that have been otherwise cartoonishly overrepresented in the genre.
  • Ducks, Newburyport (yes!! I’m bringing this up again) was mysteriously ignored by the prize, despite being a challenging book that had people laughing, crying and holding their breath in expectation. It remains one of the best books I’ll read all my life, with a perfect execution of a very difficult writing style.
  • My Dark Vanessa would’ve brought an insightful, sensitive, complicated look into what it’s like to be groomed by your teacher and struggle with who you are if what you lived for so, so long is not in fact the love story you’ve been telling yourself. A painful but so relevant and so well portrayed read, it’s truly unforgettable.
  • How We Disappeared is a historical fiction for people who don’t like historical fiction: a mystery and a fresh, necessary look into the victims of WWII that we don’t talk enough about, the women who were used as “comfort women” by Japanese troupes.
  • And finally, Girl, Woman, Other was my champion and continues to be, first because it would be an incredible statement to have it win the WP after it had to share the Booker win with Atwood and thus being “the other writer who won the Booker” in several articles, when she was not overlooked altogether. But also this book is such a vibrant look into the lives of twelve people, focused on Black women and so full of heartbreak but also joy.

I am surely missing on several other fantastic, groundbreaking reads, but those were on the top of my head. I am not upset that the win will make people read Hamnet – I think it is quite good and most people will like it. I am however upset at all the books people will NOT pick up instead, all the missed opportunities for showing what women’s writings can do, how unique they can be and to tell the stories of women who have been forgotten or silenced.

Still, I am happy for the author, and just rather freshly upset about GWO not winning, so please take my comments with a grain of salt, I am sure this post would have a milder tone if I’d written it in a couple days, but I wanted to have it done today! I am glad for some of the books I read for the longlist, and I am excited already for the one for next year. At least we have conversations about these books (some of which I’d not have heard about otherwise), and I feel that more and more people are following the WP from early on, and it’s exciting to see people get involved, discuss books and cheer for favorites. Here’s to a more interesting list next year, but also for celebrating women’s books!