Crystal Eaters

CEbySJEveryone knows that you are born with a hundred crystals, and as you age, become injured or get sick, your crystal count depletes. Well, everyone in the small town believes this, but in the city things are… different. There is a general distrust between the “backwards” town and the modern city, but each day the city grows nearer. The townspeople may even be making a move against the city. A young girl named Remy lives in the town next to its crystal mine. Remy’s family, like her small town, is in turmoil. Her father is putting up a wall between himself and his emotions. Her brother is locked away in the city prison. And her mother’s crystal count is quickly being declining because of her sickness. Remy sets out to do something no one else has done before. She is determined to increase her mother’s crystal count and therefore her life expectancy with or without the help from the rest of her family.

If you’ve seen my Goodreads rating for this book, you know I wasn’t a big fan. However, I think it had a lot of potential. In the end, my opinion is that it was equal parts me not picking the right book and the book not quite coming together effectively for what I expected. I’ve talked about the publisher Two Dollar Radio on here before. They are from Columbus, Ohio, and they publish some very unique reads that usually involve current problems, social issues, and environmental concerns. I admire the work that they do and the books they put out, but sometimes the books are a little too experimental for my tastes, which is the case with Crystal Eaters.

Based on the blurb and everything I had heard about the book, I expected the following:

  • commentary on the family unit or just a family-oriented story
  • small town vs. big city or nature vs. civilization
  • dealing with and commentary on accepting grief, life, and death
  • some interesting world building
  • general societal commentary

Ultimately, many of these topics are covered, but I didn’t feel that they brought many new ideas to the table.

The story was centered on Remy’s family, and there is a fair bit of reading between the lines when the characters speak, write, or have scenes together. I really liked how there was more going on in the characters’ archs than what was explicitly written on the page, but you also had to look closely to see it. The family members are distant with one another for a number of different reasons, and it was interesting to see how their relationships affected affected each other relationship in the family unit. Grief and the acceptance of death are dealt with in the novel too, but I felt that the novel ended to abruptly to really consider what grief and acceptance of death mean in the novel.

However, the basics of the characters’ personalities did not feel unique. The father is emotionally closed off, the mother suffers in silence, the brother is caught up in something illegal, and the daughter is trying to fix everything even though she is young. We’ve seen these kinds of characters before, but Crystal Eaters did not do much beyond these tropes. I would have liked to have seen the character development go a bit further in order for them to feel more life-life and unique. After reading the novel, I could barely remember even Remy’s name.

The small town vs. big city aspect was there, but again (and this goes with my next point) it could have gone a bit further. I actually focused on this topic a lot in college, so I did not see the small town vs. big city or nature vs. civilization really take a different or interesting turn in Crystal Eaters from previous books I’ve read. There is of course some societal commentary, but I think it would have made many things work better if the world of the novel had been developed a bit more thoroughly. The novel was very experimental with stream-of-consciousness and drug-induced lyrical descriptions, but I did not find as much substance to these descriptions as I would have liked. Developing the word more would have allowed the characters and themes to have more to work with to help them expand more as well.

I gave Crystal Eaters two out of five stars. It bored me where it could have inspired me, but there’s a good possibly that it just wasn’t the right book for me, and that’s OK to admit because it might be the perfect book for you. I still highly recommend anything from Two Dollar Radio and their authors. They don’t sponsor me, but hey, I wish they would!

 

Mira Corpora

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This was a weird one. I keep seeing a specific line associated with this book everywhere. This novel is supposedly “a coming-of-age story for people who hate coming-of-age stories.” That alone got my attention. I am not a big fan of coming-of-age stories any more, but that’s a unique way to sell your book.

Mira Corpora is a fantastical autobiography. Some of it might be true, but there’s probably at least a little extra magic and drama thrown in. It is written as if the author, Jeff Jackson, went through everything, but it is also implied that some things are made up. I would put aside guessing what is true and what isn’t while you read the novel. Just enjoy the wild ride. It is dark, heartbreaking, and haunting. There are homeless feral children, a missing rock star, and a boy who seeks to find himself by himself.

Mira Corpora is not an enjoyable read in the same way that A River in Darkness is not “fun” to read. At least some of Mira Corpora really happened, and Jeff Jackson is just a kid throughout most of the book. There are some terrible things that happen to him, so I’ll just say that a broad trigger warning is probably needed for this one. If you can get past poor Jeff’s trials, it has a very interesting but meandering plot. Parts were surreal and felt like a drug-induced haze. Other parts are just tragic. The main character’s growth is easy to see. There are part or section headings that tell how old he is, but beyond his age, he slowly becomes more self assured and confident, while the earlier sections have a touch more innocence and child-like wonder.

I’ve really never read anything quite like this, so I am having a lot of trouble reviewing it. Think of something like Lord of the Flies, but with one kid trying to survive, some untrustworthy adults in our often strange and unforgiving society, and scenes that almost make you feel high but also sad. If you’re looking for something truly different and you want a book that is “a coming-of-age story for people who hate coming-of-age stories,” this might be for you. At the very least, the novel made me want to know more about the author’s life. Three out of five stars for Mira Corpora, mainly because there’s a lot to digest, and it was a bit too dark for my mood when I read it.

Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky

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I am back with another Two Dollar Radio book review. You know those “blind date with a book” things where you get a random book? The book might be wrapped up so you can’t see the cover, but a few details, like themes, setting, similar titles, are usually written on the wrapping. Anyway, I bought some surprises, and I was pleasantly surprised that I liked what I got!

Leah Shepherd’s life is rather mundane these days. Her job is to assist poor women and children at a nonprofit organization in Kentucky. She is not married and has no children, but she is active in her church and helps little old ladies. However, when Leah was a young girl, her brother Jacob went missing. His disappearance has haunted her for many years, but now she may have to confront her troubling past. A man contacts Leah at work claiming to be her lost brother.

There’s a mystery in this novel, but I am not sure if I would call it an actual mystery novel. The plot feels too quiet, too literary, and too experimental to appeal to readers who love traditional mysteries or thrillers. The prose in Ancient Ocean of Central Kentucky is very descriptive and very beautiful, but it is also a little on the experimental side because the author does not follow traditional grammar rules. There are incomplete sentences, run-on sentences, and though it is not written in verse, it at times reads like poetry. The feeling of the novel rests on the prose. Short, choppy lines make the plot hurried and urgent, while long, lazy lines evoke the slow, sticky feeling of a warm summer day. The author uses descriptions of people, places, and random objects to paint his settings. The description at times feel random in what is focused on or mentioned, but together, the lines paint a very realistic and lively sense of place.

The plot itself is realistic, but the writing gives the novel a surreal, dreamy quality. Much of the novel is in a kind of stream of consciousness style. Time periods, perspectives, and settings all come and go between paragraphs, but there are many page breaks between the paragraphs, so it does not feel too confusing. This is the kind of novel that you read less for the plot or character development and more for the feeling the words on the page evoke within you. The author gives a clear picture of the characters because he uses the same descriptive style. We may never find out exact answers about the characters’ lives, but we are given just enough details and scenes to ascertain who these people are and what drives them. Leah, of course, is the main focus, but even the nameless women who come into her office seem like real people.

This is a very unique novel in its writing and plot, but I wouldn’t say I felt confused during my reading experience. However, at times I felt like I was taking a peaceful but un-directed float down a lazy Kentucky river in the summer. If this sounds like your kind of thing, go for it. I had a great reading experience with this novel, and I hope other readers also give it a chance. I rated Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky four out of five stars.