My rating: 5 of 5 stars
ARC received by the author in exchange for an honest review
Publication date: Nov 1st 2017
Can’t even count all the stars!
”I think love is a big wisdom made up of small understandings.”
I’ve been putting off writing this review because a Charm of Finches is not an easy book. It’s not the kind of book you read while commuting or in your three minutes between classes (believe me, I know). This book leaves something inside of you and, while you’re reading, it requires something of you. It commands your attention. It grabs you by the shoulders and screams: “this is important!”
And it is. Oh, how important it is. This book dealt with some themes that very, very rarely are portrayed in today’s literature.
But let’s start with order otherwise I’ll just keep jumping randomly from one topic to the other. Also, a warning. I highlighted a looooot of quotes. So it’ll get quotey around here.
And let’s start with my favorite characters of all: Jav.
I know that lots of readers after reading Finches have shoved Jav away from the pedestal to make room for Geno. I adored Geno, I adored his character, his complexity, his pain and the way he pulled through it.
But seeing Jav grow into himself and letting himself be happy maybe for the first real time in his life… it was an honor. At the end of Larks I knew that the author was going to continue his story, but somehow I had convinced myself it was going to be as a very secondary character. Some cameo scenes, a couple of apparitions.
Jav was as much of a main character here as Geno and Steffen were.
He pulled in a deep breath, aimed the nets toward the sky and willed them to
– what are you doing tomorrow?
– Working. Gym. Research. Phone interview. Errands. Typical Thursday. Want to grab a beer and bore each other?
A relieved joy cascaded from Ste’s eyebrows to his heels. He pulled against the net’s strength and swung out into the night.
– Sure. Your lame neighborhood or mine?
Stef was five minutes early, but Jav was already there, sitting at the bar with a beer and a book. Cargo pants, work along the seams and a hole in one knee. A dark green T-shirt. Unshaven as well. Attractive in a way that felt foreign in Stef’s veins. He was no stranger to appreciating a good-looking guy’s body, but not to the point where it stopped him in a doorway. Made him stand still and pick out holes in knees and the color of a shirt. Note the length of sideburns and the curl of a foot around the stool leg. This keen, detail-oriented interest was what he experienced with women. So was this goofy coil of warm excitement in his gut, a double helix of sexual and cerebral interest lassoing him across the floor to the bar.
But let’s talk about Steffen too. After the “Alex’s debacle” in book one, and my still undying love for him (and my 100% “ship” for him and Jav), I had my serious doubt I’d ever feel like someone else belonged to Jav.
I was wrong.
Stef and Jav together were a pleasure to read. Their love story isn’t loud, isn’t even that angsty if you think about it. It’s easy, peaceful. Not un-romantic, if that’s what you’re thinking. But… natural. They like each other and they slowly fall more and more for each other. They are both mature men, with already established careers. They are at a good place in their lives on their own, but together, they make life better, happier. And don’t get me started on how hot that letter was… (not the quote beneath. I want you to read that letter during the book.)
When you needs were met, you were comfortable. When you wants were met, you were happy. You could be uncomfortable yet happy. You could want for the sake of wanting. You could want without having.
”You’re the last chapter,” Jav said. “I went from the prologue to you. I skilled everything in the middle and now I’m in love with you and I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.”
Seeing them come together as a couple was magic. Stef is not even sure if Jav is into men, and yet he can feel the pull. And Jav is so wary of love that his heart is a fortress.
Stef hesitated. “You want to come in?”
Still leaning on the steering wheel, Jav looked at him. “Maybe someday.” His full lips parted in that shy smile, and Stef’s own heart curled invward, hiding behind his ribs, just as bashful.
Something I really appreciated also is that the author was very honest even when it came to the tricky parts of writing about their physical relationships. Communication was key. Jav had never been with a man before. Ste had but had never really had a true relationship with one. Sometimes they were walking on eggshells trying not to shatter this new beautiful think growing between them.
”Your, I believe?” he said.
“I lied about the art therapy thing,” Stef said. “I’m a professional thief.”
“I’m not a writer, I’m an assassin.”
“I knew it”
“Glad I got your card. I may have a job for you.”
At the end of the book, though, I felt like finally Jav had reached his so well-deserved happy ending. His peace.
Trelawney came around the bar and wiggled back between Jav’s knees, pulling his arms around her from behind.
Well, you’re awful cute together, Stef thought. You must lay around naked and stare at each other all day.
Like he needed that visual.
Behind him, Jav mumbled something and Trelawney laughed. “Aren’t I lucky then,” she said.
Stef turned and smiled at them. “I’d say she’s lucky.”
“He’s the best hugger,” Trelawney said. “He really should get paid for it.”
Over her shoulder, Jav mouthed. “I do.”
Then he winked.
Stef chest dropped into his shoes and the attraction yanked him back in and French-kissed him
Being a psychologist, I could not not appreciate Stef’s character, his work, his soul. Laqueur created a very interesting character. Balanced, very “zen”, but also not devoid of an inner turmoil. He can’t always strip his job off at the end of the day and leave it outside of the house.
Seeing Stef and Jav work with each other’s personalities, loving even the nights in which Stef’s work gets heavy on his shoulders, or The Thing has Jav under its thumb… it showed us how strong their love for each other was.
It’s a funny thing about being a writer. Or any kind of artist, I guess. Sometimes an idea comes to you and it patiently waits its turn. Other times it’s like a cat lying across your keyboard, demanding attention right now or it’ll make your life hell.
Finally, let’s talk about Geno, the brother, the son, the fighter, the survivor. His story broke me, there are no other words. His story is the reason why I found out reading this book in the subway is not a viable option. I loved seeing his journey back to life, and how hard and arduous it was. Not devoid of fallbacks, of remissions and again fear and pain.
”His memory of that night would always be fractured, shards and slivers scattered across his mind like broken glass. Some were crystal clear and sharp. Others blurred and scratched. Some had turned to obsidian, blacked-out and useless.”
Again, the psychologist in me was in awe of fantastic portrayal of the consequences of what happened to him. Laqueur took a tragedy, a psychological condition, and wove poetry around it and in it. Not masking its horribleness, but finding words to explain it, to paint it, to make you feel what Gena was truly going through.
This book was also very different from Finches. With less characters, it was more oriented to the present without a lot of build up for the characters. I remember reading Lark and how every character was described through decades of their life. To the point that it felt like a family’s chronicle (not in a bad sense. I adored Lark to bits). Finches instead revolved around some clear core themes and three characters principally. Still, we find new secondary characters that are equally as fantastic, like Stavroula, or Micah, or Steffen’s mother, or Ben, Geno’s friend. Laqueur and great characterization go hand in hand so it’s no surprise she made me fall in love with every one of them, with their stories, their past, their loyalty, their goodness.
Geno moved the last strands of spaghetti around the bottom of his bowl and wondered how it was possible you could crave physical affection even as the thought of it terrified you. His eyes found Seth’s fingertips scratching circles between Jason’s shoulders blades and he wanted to run crying from the house. He stared at Ben’s hand buried in Natasha’s cotton candy tresses and he wanted, wanted, wanted…
This is how my life is going to be. Included but excluded. An extra at the table and the one missing from the group photo
Another difference was definitely the emotional charge. In Lark there was an underlying sadness, especially when it came to Jav (beside that brutal moment. You know what I’m talking about). Like he was never going to reach out for what he really wanted. Like he was stuck, or not living as happy as he should. Also in the Lark’s family, we are introduced to their everyday pains and gripes, but also to some big sorrow. Still, there was nothing too life-shattering. The main conflict towards the end was angsty and painful, yes, but you knew that one way or the other, it was going to resolve itself. It was… bearable. Barely, but it was.
In Finches Laqueuer doesn’t hold any punches. She literally shatters one of her character’s soul to pieces. Crushing, stomping, running it over and then finishing the job in reverse. And the book from there goes, from that utterly destructive moment, it starts. The path to healing, the rocky process of finding a life again amid the rubble.
Building trust was like building a fire. If you hovered over the baby flame, you’d cut off the air and kill them. It required an anxious blend of feeding and benign neglect.
I was quite taken aback at the beginning by the “loss” of certain characters. A part of me had hoped before starting that we’d get more Ari, more Alex, more Valerie. All the people in the old crew. But the more I read the more I felt like it wouldn’t had been right. Jav was moving on. Not to say he didn’t love those people anymore. They’d always be his family in a sort. But he was turning another page in his book, starting something new, a new chapter. I liked sensation that we got of knowing that Alex, Valerie and all the Larks’ crew were already living their happily ever after. It made me say to myself: okay Talia, you read their story, they are in a good place. Now let’s read somebody else’s story.
”Genghis Caan,” he said. Softly, then louder. It never occurred to him. Caan sounded like Khan, or that Caan had the signature sound of a leader.
“Khan,” Geno said. It was a word you didn’t fuck with. King was light and noble but Khan was a hammer on an anvil. Khan. A strike on a gong. Name and title. Caan and Khan.”
Honestly, I could spend hours and hours talking about this book and telling you how amazing this book is, how realistic and full of life and emotions and characters so vivid it will surprise you not to see them jump from the pages. But this is a book you have to experience for yourself. I cannot be your surrogate reader. I won’t make this book justice even if I kept talking for a decade.
Stef rested on Jav’s eyes the way a classic rock song always sounded good to your ears, even for the eight millionth time in your life. You knew the words, you sang without thought, you air guitared or drummed on some available surface. Because you couldn’t not. Your ears heard and your soul obeyed.
Jav looked at Stef and goddammmit, his soul started singing. Making up verses about Stef at work and at play. Resting or running. Eating, sleeping, shaving, showering. Anxious, brooding, worked-up, let down, excited frustrated. Coming an going. And best of all, the bridge before the key change into the chorus – looking right back at Jav.
One word of advice, though. This book can be read as a standalone. It’s true. You will miss a bit of subtext but whatever, right? No. Do me a favor. No, do yourself a favor and read An Exaltation of Larks before. Want to know why? Because I don’t think you could appreciate Jav’s newfound love, his struggle, his happiness as deeply. You will want to see him from his teen years, when all he has is striking features and a gift for writing. You want to see him grow into a man, making mistakes, tentatively tip-toeing around love and being crushed by it. You want to see him becoming a brother and an almost father.
Believe me. You want to read every word written out there about his character before Finches. So when you finally crack this book open and start reading, it will have a different meaning. It will feel like finally landing after a turbulent flight. He will reach his safe haven and with him you’ll sigh in relief. Home.
”The three friends sprawled on Stef’s couch, slowly demolishing the last of Lilia’s apple pie, passing the aluminum plate down and back.
“God, we are just torturing Roman,” Stav said. “Look at his face.”
“I see the humans have pie,”” Jav said. “I also enjoy pie.”
Of course, I want to dedicate my last words to the writing style. Laqueur has a gift, much like Jav, or maybe I should have said it the other way around 😉 Her writing style is pure poetry, without coming out redundant or unnecessary. It’s not Baroque’s embellishment meant to distract from the story. Her style is an integral part of the story. He narration the red ribbon that runs throughout the book like a familiar hand clasping yours and guiding you through it. It’s reassuring. It’s masterful. Original. Poetic.
I especially love her musings regarding certain words, how she analyses then, finds new meaning, new associations. It gives new life to words.
The word was a vocal workout. Pushing the klutzy double-consonant “pr” took effort. The “sti” and “tu” blocked the way like bouncers, trying to get you to stutter or trip. Soft, almost genteel, yet loaded with judgement and disdain for the world’s older profession. The lowlifes shunned from decent society.
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes, since there were not enough in the review already (rolls eyes)
Mine. My most treasured friend and mate and lover and partner and… man
I am a man and you are my man.
He felt it in his core. In his bones and marrow and DNA. This is how I was born to love.
The world can call me whatever label they want. I know who I am.