Historical fiction and a multi-generational tale, set in the freezing Newfoundland seaside town of Paradis...moreOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
Historical fiction and a multi-generational tale, set in the freezing Newfoundland seaside town of Paradise Deep. Layered with snippets of the resident’s lives containing a touch of myth and small tastes of paranormal.
About: Galore is a complex and page-turning book, set in an area and time where living is bleak – a frigid seaside town in the mid 1800’s. Sadly the locals are starving, so when a dying whale swims into the harbor the town folk eagerly wait for the animal to take its last breath. All are lurking on the beach, with their knives and buckets and plans to use every part of its body for sustenance; to their surprise when removing its stomach they discover the body of a man. Thinking it’s a corpse they plan to bury it, but are shocked to find that he is still alive. Judah, as they name him, is at first feared due to the nature of his arrival, his unusual appearance, a lack of apparent ability to speak, and a very strong odor. However, in time he is thought to be the reason for an increase in the fish being pulled in by their once empty nets and other improvements in the relative comfort of the remote community.
My Thoughts: The above is only a short description of the very first part of the book; the rest contains interwoven stories around the numerous characters developed within the text. The author skillfully and incredibly weaves together the complex personalities of the resident’s lives in an earthy, heartbreaking, and at times starkly hilarious way. It includes some interesting twists, a full circle and an appropriate ending. The story is a take on a universal theme of a man being swallowed by a whale - this is a myth which is found in various cultures, religious text, and folk stories. Although Galore does not have an ancient setting and it is also not religious, it does contain a strong thread containing two Christian factions and several colorful local clergymen.
Michael Crummey is an exceptional writer with an unusual style that is at once page-turning and complex. With so many tangled threads it’s a good thing there are two genealogy trees located at the beginning of the book; it is needed. Highly recommended for historical fiction lovers, those who enjoy a mythic theme, and those who love complex colorful characters in their reads. I rate Galore at 4 stars; I loved it and now know why this author has won so many awards.(less)
A darkly intriguing mystery/romance and the second book in an action packed steampunk series. Including a brillia...moreOriginal review at Layers of Thought.
A darkly intriguing mystery/romance and the second book in an action packed steampunk series. Including a brilliant and strong willed female lead that goes against the Victorian-like social norms of the setting, and perhaps a glimpse of a “Jack the Ripper–ish” sort of villain.
*(SPOILER ALERT) Please note if you have not read the first in this series this review does contain spoilers. Read my review for Tarnished (book #1) and pick it up first. I believe that they are still selling the ebook version for .99 cents at various online retailers. What a deal!
About: In a realistic yet fantastical setting – a steam powered Victorian London - we have the second in this atmospheric series. The complex and strong main character, Cherry St. Croix, was once a circus waif and performer, giving her physical attributes which allow her to pursue and apprehend persons of greater strength and stature than herself. A petite red-head with striking thick hair which she covers with lampblack on her outings into the polluted city underworld, she is not of bad character. Her darkness is due to forced circumstance. She is addicted to Laudanum (a poppy -derived opiate that was popular during Victorian times) and is also what is termed a “collector” – where she finds wanted persons or information for nefarious others for a price. It’s her way to maintain her addiction and to prevent herself from going mad due to the constrained mores for women of the times. Cherry does her best to get by in this world where women aTarnishedre not allowed to own property and are considered wards of their male family members.
In the first book of the series (Tarnished) we become familiar with Cherry, her romantic entanglements, and find out that she is the daughter of a crazy scientist and a beautiful socialite. In this second book, Cherry is in pursuit of a killer (she thinks Jack the Ripper perhaps?) who is dissecting the underworld “sweets” (prostitutes.) However, she finds that there is in fact another killer – so another mystery ensues.
Thoughts: Karina Cooper writes in an old fashioned convoluted style in this series, which works very well for the setting. It creates text that feels authentic and Victorian-ish. I do need to mention that readers may have to consult Google when looking up some of the old fashioned English words the author uses. Even John (my UK/English dictionary/husband) had some difficulty telling me what several words meant. But this is all good. We both “learnt somefink”.
It also has another fun cover much like the first in the series. I am really glad there is not a naked guy or a lot of skin featured on it. Which brings me to mention that I liked the light and tasteful romantic involvement included in both books since there’s nothing worse than a sex scene that makes me laugh when it’s not supposed to.
What happens to Cherry as we find out more about her and her romantic interests is the best part of this story. Cooper does romance well. But most compelling is how the author sets up this book for the next in the series with it’s heart pounding, drop off the edge of your seat ending. So don’t expect closure, I am thinking the next in this series will have a “Kill Bill-ish” flavor set in steampunk Victorian times? I can’t wait.
Recommended for readers who like strong and dark female leads, unexpected twists, a bit of a murder mystery and of course romance and steampunk. Skip this if you are looking for a solid ending, want happily ever after, or are not interested in being addicted to a series. I enjoyed this book A LOT. It’s a fun second book to hopefully a long series. 4 stars. My only regret is that I am not reading this series after the entire collection has been completed. (less)
A steam punk novella which won a 2009 Nebula award. It has a bit of a satirical twist, where the women of...moreOriginal review posted on Layers of Thought.
A steam punk novella which won a 2009 Nebula award. It has a bit of a satirical twist, where the women of this “special organization” help with the fight against evil in their special and socially unaccepted way.
About: “The women of Nell Gwynne’s” is set in an alternative England where steam has a decidedly different technological aspect than the standard historical Victorian era model; this is definitely steam punk. The unique aspect of the story is the women. As high class call girls, each of these special women has been selected by the madam for their strength, feistiness and other special talents - all which help them in their fight against the darker aspects of their time. As you might imagine, their main way of ascertaining secret information is especially intriguing, and revolves around the high-standing men who possess it being in the awkward and vulnerable position of having “their pants around their ankles”.
Thoughts: I completely enjoyed this short novel and was immersed in it. A key to Kage Baker’s talents is that the novella is a page turner that took me on a trip into an alternative Victorian era - it included some fictional technological inventions which combined to create a story that anyone interested in steam punk should read. It was dryly funny too. I understand from my digging around for information on the author and the back story that she had a cutting wit and sense of humor; and it shows. I giggled a lot.
Although done tastefully it’s important to mention that since the story is about “ladies of the night” there are some interesting sexual involvements, so I consider parts of this story to be light erotica. Readers bothered by this kind of read should give the story a miss. But it is highly recommended for all steam punk fans and anyone interested in a fun read. It’s a 4.5 stars and darn near a 5 in my opinion. I will be reading a lot more by this author, which is heartbreaking since her books are numbered, considering her death prior to winning the Nebula for this book.(less)
As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. – Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis
A novella published in 1915, it is set in Europe in the early 1900’s. The main character, Gregor Samsa wakes one morning to find that he has transformed into a bug. Being the sole support of his aging parents and teenage sister he becomes increasingly worried about their future. They are appalled at his appearance and leave him in his bedroom alone while hoping he disappears.
Thoughts: John (husband) and I listened to this audio book while driving. It was unabridged.
We both agreed that, while the narration was done with an English accent and was pleasant it was surprisingly upbeat in tone, it felt like a slightly bizarre period piece, telling of woes in that particular time. Where instead of the main character having a terminal disease he turned into a beetle.
This horrific event espouses the horrors of loss, abandonment, loosing one’s ability to communicate, and station in life, as well as our ability to truly recognize who we are or what we have become.
I felt that although the writing/reading was intriguing, I wanted more. Perhaps it is being so accustomed to drama and hype within modern day reading The Metamorphosis went comparatively limp. We agreed and gave this book 3 Stars. We liked it but it was not what we expected.
An Austrian/Czech author born – July 3, 1883 died – June 3, 1924. He is purported to be one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. Sadly, he was not well known until after his death.(less)
John’s quick take: A clever and entertaining mash-up of cowboy Western, mysticism, mythol...moreOriginal review written by John posted at Layers of Thought.
John’s quick take: A clever and entertaining mash-up of cowboy Western, mysticism, mythology, urban fantasy, and horror – all set on the edge of the Nevada desert in the late 1860s, in the weirdest little town you can hope to imagine.
John’s description: After the disappearance of his beloved dad, who is a deeply scarred Civil War veteran, young Jim Negrey’s life turns upside down. With secrets to hide and on the run, he heads out west and eventually finds himself crossing the deadly 40-Mile Desert in Nevada. Out of water and with his horse on the point of dying, Jim is in a desperate situation, but he’s discovered and rescued by a strange outcast Native American Indian, who seems to have an odd affinity with the wild coyotes. The Indian, whose only name is Mutt, is deputy at the nearby wild town of Golgotha, and that is where he takes Jim.
Golgotha turns out to be weird beyond belief – with a host of oddball characters and a history of strange happenings. One of these characters is the town sheriff, Jon Highfather, who has “the mark of the noose” around his neck and is believed by many to be a dead man whose time has not yet come. Being a new friend of Mutt, who is deeply trusted by the sheriff, Jim is taken under the wing of Highfather.
Almost immediately that Jim arrives in town, all manner of madness and mayhem breaks out - much of which seems to stem from the old silver mine on the mountainside overlooking the town. With the help of a strange preacher, a primordial evil is stirring deep in the bowels of the earth beneath the silver mine. With the very fate of Heaven and Earth hanging in the balance, a motley crew of local people seem to be the only ones who can save the world.
Mutt and Highfather may, or may not, be able to rely on the help of the Mormon mayor with his trove of mythical treasures, the leader of the local Chinese tong and a powerful but shady saloon owner whose family has owned the silver mine and surrounding land for many generations. But central to it all is Jim and a strange artifact that used to belong to his father.
John’s thoughts: Although fantasy and mysticism are not my usual shtick, it’s good to try something different now and then and this seemed like an unusual and interesting story. So I’m glad I gave it a go because The Six-Gun Tarot is a real melting pot of content and themes creating an entertaining read.
At its heart it’s a fantasy thriller set in the wild West, but it includes shades of mysticism, Chinese and Mormon mythology, Native Indian lore, theology, zombie-ism and Frankenstein! Oh, and it’s a coming of age tale. And did I mention the secret order of assassins? Sound intriguing? It definitely was.
What I like most about the story was the characters that Belcher created. The lead characters are complex, well developed and just flat-out interesting. This starts with Jim, Mutt and Highfather, but many of the supporting cast are also three-dimensional with lots of quirks to them. And come to think of it, some of the characters may have more than three dimensions.
If there was anything I wasn’t crazy about it was some of the religious mythology and underpinning of the tale, but this wasn’t too over the top and didn’t get in the way too much for me – and it did mean that we could have fallen angels added to the mix. One other minor niggle was one key thread to the story’s conclusion which wasn’t explained well (of if it was I missed it).
All in all this was a complex and fun mash-up creating a fast-paced, entertaining story. Although Fantasy really isn’t a big draw for me, I enjoyed this book and I’d rate it four star. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in urban fantasy, steampunk or “weirdo-Westerns”. (less)
John’s quick take:A couple of paranoid loners find themselves in a web of conspiracy in this science fiction thriller.
John’s description: It’s far into the future and humanity has spread itself wide across the universe, seeking out new worlds that can be colonized and exploited for natural resources. In all this time and space, there has been no sign that another sentient species exist. It seems that humans are all alone in the universe.
Then Prudence Falling, a space trader in charge of a freighter and a ragtag crew, alights on Kassa, a farming planet that has been brutally attacked by secret assailants and whose population has been mostly slaughtered. She is soon joined by Kyle Daspar, a policeman who has been put in charge of a military patrol vessel. The space traders live on the edge of the law and naturally distrust everyone so she is suspicious of Daspar. Unbeknown to her Daspar is an undercover agent secretly acting against the powerful League for whom he supposedly works. He has been undercover so long that he is no longer sure who he can trust. The two are attracted to each other but their suspicious minds creates a wall of tension between them.
While trying to help the survivors on Kassa, Falling and Daspar make a shocking discovery - an alien spaceship that crashed during the attack. It is clear that they were not supposed to find the alien craft and yet Daspar had been tipped off in advance that something on the planet needed investigation. They smell big trouble and despite their natural caution soon find themselves entangled in a complex conspiracy where nothing is as it seems. With their lives in constant danger and an alien invasion seemingly imminent, the two loners are eventually drawn to each other.
John’s thoughts: I liked the story Planck has concocted. It’s a good mixture of science fiction, political thriller, and adventure romance. The two central characters are nicely developed and you have that feeling that they will end up together despite the difficulties, which adds a bit of spice to the mix. Also the future that Planck creates is interesting and has been well thought out, and is sufficiently different from the many other sci-fi novels that I’ve read recently – which helped to draw me in and keep me reading. It’s definitely a fast-paced book that can be breezed through quickly, and the plot also has enough twists to keep the reader guessing.
I like the two main characters and found myself rooting for them, though the relationship that develops between them isn’t the strongest part of the novel - it somehow felt a bit thin and unconvincing and not particularly lifelike. The other problem for me was the ending of the story; it was rather rushed and an awful lot was crammed into the final few pages. But beyond that this was a fun and interesting read and I’d rate the book 3.5 stars. It’s a fine first novel that will move me to look out for more work by Planck. If you like your science fiction mixed up with a bit of political conspiracy and a slight romantic element, then this is definitely one for you.
Not for just vampire lovers, this is another compelling and diverse collection of horror from some of the...moreOriginal review posted on Layers of Thought.
Not for just vampire lovers, this is another compelling and diverse collection of horror from some of the best in the genre, edited by Ellen Datlow. What’s great about these stories, is they are not all based upon traditional “fangy” blood suckers since the cravings and feedings in this book are not only about blood.
About: Published in the Fall of 2011, this is my second horror collection edited by Ellen Datlow. Although all the stories in this collection are exceptional, I have my favorites and have marked them with asterisks. In my opinion it’s one of those perfect Fall reads, especially for any reader who enjoys short stories, likes a scare before going to sleep (to induce interesting dreams), or who may be short on reading time.
**All You Can Do Is Breathe ~ by Kaaron Warren: A stunning short that’s a 2012 Ditmar Award nominated story. It’s about a “very thin man” who feed on the survival instincts of the strongest survivors from close-to-death experiences. This story is one of my favorites from the collection.
Needles ~ by Elizabeth Bear: Demons, vampires, and tattoo needles are the theme of this story which is set in the town of Needles, Arizona.
Baskerville’s Midgets ~ by Reggie Oliver: It’s a dark competition between preforming midgets and dwarves that stretches beyond the grave, all set in a boarding house in what feels like 1930’s England.
Blood Yesterday, Blood Tomorrow ~ by Richard Bowes: Two middle aged memorabilia sellers and “recovering blood-addicts” remember and long for the days when their addictions were active. And become seduced back into their old lifestyle’s drama.
X for Demetrios ~ by Steve Duffy: Based on a bizarre yet true story found in a newspaper article, this short is about a man with an extreme vampire phobia and obsession, and his relationship with the garlic he believes will protect him.
Keeping Corky ~ by Melanie Tem: A “special” mom with paranormal abilities decides to take back her beloved child from his adopted parent and the system that placed him, both of which are attempting to prevent her from contact with her boy.
Shelf-Life ~ by Lisa Tuttle: A childhood doll house takes on a life of its own and creates problems for a woman and her daughter in England.
**Caius ~ by Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malsberg: One of my favorites, it’s a short story based on a radio talk/help show featuring a modern day messiah, his would-be worshipers, and his relationship to madness.
Sweet Sorrow ~ by Barbara Roden: A very dark short about an elderly couple who feed on the sorrow of grieving parents and friends of lost children.
First Breath ~ by Nicole J. LeBoeuf: A bizarre, twisty and surreal story with LGBT and reincarnation elements.
Toujours ~ by Kathe Koja: An obsessed butler becomes an even greater part of his talented employer’s life, not only to be close to him but to spite the artist’s new wife.
Miri ~ by Steve Rasnic Tem: A photographer is pulled into an imbalanced relationship with an anorexic woman who sucks out of him a key ability that he uses in the creation of his work.
**Mrs. Jones ~ by Carol Emshwiller: My favorite from this collection, this short is about two “old-maid” sisters, living together on their family farm. After years of juvenile-like conflict and competition between the two, they have an odd visitor who one of the sisters seduces. It’s darkly hilarious with a feminist twist.
Bread and Water ~ by Michael Cisco: A dark short about an ill and constantly thirsty man, who is quarantined with others who have caught the same virus.
Mulberry Boys ~ by Margo Lanagan: A revengeful short about surgically altered, bizarre “silk” producing and imprisoned boys, that has Margo Lanagan’s characteristic dark fairytale quality.
**The Third Always Behind You ~ by John Lanagan: Another favorite from this collection, it’s about a dark love triangle that continues even after the death of one of the participants. It is wonderfully disturbing.
The Siphon ~ by Laird Barron: An eternal bachelor con/salesman, after years of scummy behavior gets his just desserts by attracting a bevy of diverse and ancient demons.
Highly recommended, this is a great collection at 4 stars!
Blood and Other Cravings, has several significant award nominations:
This a page turning coming of age story with a dark Southern Gothic tone and an intriguing twist.
Mini Synopsis: A realistic tale cen...moreActually 3.5 stars
This a page turning coming of age story with a dark Southern Gothic tone and an intriguing twist.
Mini Synopsis: A realistic tale centered in a pre Katrina New Orleans, the main character Haley is a 16 years old girl whose family is having financial difficulties among other sad things. Mom has had a recent miscarriage and is bedbound. Pop is out of work, is spending his time and what little money they do have at the local bar/pool hall, and is involved with a local stripper/waitress.
With all these elements we can see the main character is caught in a situation which is less than ideal. It is a slippery slope as she tries to emotionally balance the events occurring around her and manage her own maturation and the realizations which adolescence provokes.
The story includes a variety of motley characters, and when Haley gets sucked into some gang like activities, the events conspiring against her culminate into an original, intriguing, slightly paranormal, and heart wrenching ending which is connected to the title – Dirty Little Angels.
My Thoughts: I devoured this short novel, it was a definite page turner! Chris Tusa captures the confusion of a teenager spiraling out of control, writing of her confusion, contemplations, and angst. In doing so he uses a simple language appropriate for the background of the characters. Here is an example which is in part both funny and dark. Haley and her brother Cyrus are being questioned by a local detective:
When we got there, the officer brought Cyrus and me into a white room with glass walls. A few minutes later, another man came in and sat down. He was an older fat man with a stubbly chin and a bald, liver spotted skull. He had tiny baby teeth that looked like someone had plugged little white Chiclets into his gums, and you could smell Old Spice seeping from his pores. His hips where someone else’s hips welded onto his skeleton, and his chest looked like Brandon Piggert’s chest the summer he’d grown little midget boobs after shooting up a batch of steroids.
This novel asks the questions: How does one become involved in situations we know are not quite right? Where does one fit in within a world that values unreal perfection? And although not a religious book, it examines the concept of whether saving ourselves is right even if it conflicts with our religious beliefs (or lack thereof) or those of others.
The ending, which is connected to the concept of the title, is the clincher, where the title is not at all what it seems. The connection is dark, a bit other worldly, has a touch of insanity, and is something I keep thinking about. I give this great little book 3.5 stars. I am really looking forward to more of this author’s work.(less)
If you love books and lists, and are an eclectic reader, you will adore this series. Each recommend...moreOriginal series review posted at Layers of Thought.
If you love books and lists, and are an eclectic reader, you will adore this series. Each recommends books which are organized into themes, with great little descriptions; all are softbound, small and easy to read.
Books reviewed: Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason ~ by Nancy Pearl More Book Lust: Reading Recommendations for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason Book Crush: For Kids and Teens
Thoughts: Nancy Pearl, librarian extraordinaire, has created this series of books (with the fourth to be released in a few days - its one for travelers) which contain organized collections of book recommendations, labeled under catchy little categories. Inside the categories are enticing snippets of the books in a very readable format.
The books are small and easy to handle with a soft cover. With her “lust” of reading, Pearl shares with the reader the books she loves and those which she knows about, creating more desire and adding to your ever expanding book list. I spent hours perusing these books, enjoying her fun and interesting recommendations.
Better yet, Nancy has a variety of philosophies which she labels “Pearlisms”. One is the “rule of fifty” which I have used recently when an abandoning a book (Pride and Prejudice – sorry Jane). What I love is that she gives you permission to stop reading a book when you are not enjoying it. It’s a free “get out of guilt card”. Here is her rule:
If you’re fifty years of age or younger, give a book fifty pages before you decide to commit to reading it or give it up. If you’re over fifty, which is when time gets even shorter, subtract your age from 100—the result is the number of pages you should read before making your decision to stay with it or quit. Since that number gets smaller and smaller as we get older and older, our big reward is that when we turn 100, we can judge a book by its cover!
I loved these little books and will be purchasing every one for my personal collection. 4 stars for Book Lust and Book Crush, and 4.5 stars for More Book Lust – since it has so many books I had never heard of. Highly recommend resources for teachers, librarians, and book lovers within every genre.(less)
Shellie’s quick take:Set in England in the 1800’s, in a Yorkshire mill town and on the outskirts of Londo...moreOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
Shellie’s quick take:Set in England in the 1800’s, in a Yorkshire mill town and on the outskirts of London, this literary thriller has a dark, otherworldly, and mysterious thread with a hidden moral. It also includes facts and mythology about the Rook woven through its story-line.
Shellie’s description:Bellman & Black is primarily about the life of the main character, William Bellman. It begins on a fateful day when the youthful William kills a Rook (a crow of sorts found mostly in Europe) during a moment of bravado in front of a group of his amazed friends - via a lucky catapult from his slingshot. This unlikely once-in-a-lifetime strike turns out to be an example of the luck and success of William’s life. In addition to being lucky, he is handsome and driven, and the world appears to open its arms for the young man.
But like every human, life delivers William Bellman the hard knocks that are unavoidable. It is during one of these periods that he encounters Mr. Black - a man who is to become for William the metaphor for the one thing that he cannot escape.
Shellie’s thoughts: This is a gothic-like literary thriller. Although technically not a gothic novel, it has some aspects that make it feel like it is - for example there is that dark, moody feel to the tone of of the story. And because it is a literary novel from an established author, there is definitely strong character development. I found myself knowing and understanding the main character quite well. There is also a great plot with interesting ups and down throughout, including a light paranormal thread. Happily I found myself wondering what was going to happen next, including some nice chills every so often, that will appeal to horror fans.
I liked that the author uses lovely period-styled prose, though paradoxically she kept it modern-ish, giving the book an authentic feel without the difficulty of having to decipher the old-fashioned writing style often found in Victorian literature. I definitely liked this particular aspect of the novel, which is perfect for anyone who enjoys historical fiction.
Recommended for anyone interested in literary thrillers and horror, those who enjoy a gothic feel to their reads, readers interested in a light paranormal element, and anyone who is interested in historical England. I would also recommend it to readers interested in birds. A terrific and well-written book, the author has apparently taken years to complete it and it shows. It’s highly recommended at 4 stars. (less)
A complex, fantastical novel with philosophical musings and literary tropes discussed throughout. Translat...moreOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
A complex, fantastical novel with philosophical musings and literary tropes discussed throughout. Translated to English from Japanese, it is a novel that has the distinct feel of its country’s setting.
About: There are a a number of story lines in this complex and layered story, with the two primary ones based around Kafka Tamura and Mr. Nakata. The story starts with fifteen year old Kafka in the process of running away from his home in Tokyo, perhaps due to his emotionally unavailable father or to find his mother and adopted sister, who left when Kafka was little. As a usual sort of intelligent teen with some unusual attributes (he has an imaginary boy named crow who advises him on various issues), he takes his “road trip” to escape.
Then there is Mr. Nakata, a lovely “simple” older man who cannot read but can amazingly speak to cats (and boy are the cats amusing and well done). He has a “Zen” like characteristic to his attitude and also to his speaking quality in the audio version. Although the two men never actually meet, they move inside the story with their own personal quests overlapping frequently - with the intricate connections becoming clear as the story progresses.
Thoughts: Kafka on the Shore has a variety of themes which may intrigue potential readers, as they did me. Some of these are - cats; World War II; philosophical musings; discussions around literature; the use and discussion of literary tropes such as metaphor, allegory and more; and the arts, including music. Murakami addresses gender and feminism in an indirect way. He has also woven in Asian spiritual themes such enlightenment and rebirth, and some interesting imagery regarding body fluids. The strongest thread in the story is its connection with the mythical story of Oedipus, that creates an unusual twist within the book. For a bit about this myth, here is a short definition:
As a Freudian psychological metaphor describing son–father psychosexual competition for possession of mother, the Oedipus complex derives from the 5th-century BC Greek mythological character Oedipus, who unwittingly kills his father, Laius, and marries his mother… (via Wikipedia)
It’s interesting that several of Murakami’s major themes for Kafka on the Shore are metaphor and the myth of Oedipus, and that this shocking complex is also considered a metaphor in its definition above.
I felt that the readers’ voices for the characters where done very well, giving life to the various and well developed characters. I liked that so many of the themes stimulated an intellectual side for me and that better yet I learned a few things. However, I had a conflict – there were too many sexual references and scenes, some were too detailed. Indeed the end of the novel became more about our main protagonist Kafka’s sexual desires and experiences than anything else. Otherwise a very worthy read and well done in this audio version. I give this intriguing audio book 4 stars; more if the sex had been a bit more subtle. (less)
Set Up: This story is a version of the tale Rose Red and Snow White, which, according to the link, has no connection to the American version or any oth...more Set Up: This story is a version of the tale Rose Red and Snow White, which, according to the link, has no connection to the American version or any other version of Snow White. Wikipedia states the original story is about a poor widow and her two daughters, whom have a wild bear as a companion. It also involves an evil dwarf and treasure.
Unlike the actual tale, and with some artistic license given by Margo Lanagan to give it depth and interest, this retelling of the tale has an interesting bear connection. The author apparently viewed an actual bear festival on television prior to writing the story. This was consequentially added to her story.
An additional difference is that the setting is within two parallel worlds connected by magic, where the real world is a version of our past being lit only by fire. The second realm is called the false world or that of the “heart’s desire”. It is an idealized version created in desperation by the main character Liga (the mother), through personal trauma and her inability to deal with reality.
My Thoughts: There are many things I like about Tender Morsels. The writing is evocative and disturbing; the language used is set in period with an English/Australian bent, making it feel old and rural; the book cover renditions support some of the major themes within the story (I am highly visual); and the evil characters are given a perspective which helps the reader to sympathize with them – because that's what happens in real life.
It is a wonderfully complex rendition of the original story. It is multilayered where the author brings in some important themes, two of which are Women’s issues around social oppression and strength.
Here is a quote which shows the oppressiveness of the social structure of the real world compared to the “heart’s desire” world:
Annie peered and grinned. “Heh-heh. There is nothing like upbringing up in a heaven to give a girl a false confidence.” “False, you think?” said Liga anxiously, dropping the lace back across the windo. “The size o’ that mob, Liga? I say false. Get yourself dressed, girl, in your very best; we will need to summon all the menfolk and all the respectability we can, if she’s not to be whipped in the street.”
To be raised in an environment with no constraints one may have a false confidence about one’s ability to counter social mores of a present society, no matter how warranted they are.
Another quote regarding one woman’s strength:
…She, Urdda, must see that place someday, where women dressed so beautifully yet so plain, rode about alone. No one would dare spit upon this woman, or call out at her. She had a different kind of boldness, a strength that did not defy that of men so much as ignore it, or take its place without question beside it – Urdda wanted some of that boldness.
A wonderful role model for young women.
Be forewarned this is not a light story, and addresses some very very dark and difficult issues. Which I have not mentioned here. It is not a story which everyone is going to enjoy or even like.
Tender Morsels won the World Fantasy Award for 2009 covering the year 2008. Personally, I can see why. I love dark fantasy which touches on important social issues and is also well written. This is exceptional. I have given this story a rare 5 stars.(less)
Touted as a book with magical realism, I have to agree. Garden Spells is a sweet and enchanting novel that takes the reader into a world that is real...moreTouted as a book with magical realism, I have to agree. Garden Spells is a sweet and enchanting novel that takes the reader into a world that is real to life but it has elements that are supernatural. It is not literature. It is wonderfully fun fluff. Mini Synopsis: The Waverleys have been residents of this small Southern town for generations. That the women of this family have special gifts is common knowledge in the community. The main character Claire is a 30 something woman with a fear of commitment who has a magical gift of being able to take the herbs from her garden and create food that influences the eater's feelings. Her aunt Evanelle is compelled to give people “things” which they will need in the near future. To her chagrin and other’s she has no idea why. Her sister, Sydney, whom has recently reappeared after a 10 year disappearance has narrowly escaped a violent relationship with her little girl in tow. All this, combined with a few romantic interests, an apple tree that wishes and acts as if it were human, and you have the magical basis for a very cute story. Highly recommended for a quick, feel good, romantic, girly read. Read it after a long or short, difficult and/or emotional book. I would give this book 4 stars. I loved it. (less)
A tragic page turning story that has madness, and themes of water and fire at its core...more3.5 stars actually. Original review posted at Layers of Thought.
A tragic page turning story that has madness, and themes of water and fire at its core.
About: This is the second version of Vincent Zandri’s award nominated story first published in 1995. It’s a heartbreaking thriller with a broken main character named Mary Kismet. She has a family history of mental illness, her first baby drowned accidently in the household bathtub and her husband has subsequently left her. As she struggles to keep herself together, her only solace is her weekly visit to her psychiatrist, who has overstepped his professional boundaries. But he too has his secrets, which he is unable to share. The question is: will it take Mary over the edge?
Thoughts: The above is the first part of a heart-stopping story which although interspersed with some happier moments spirals down, becoming more convoluted until its heartbreaking ending. Told in an unusual writing style, Zandri is both down to earth and unique in his word usage. He also does a fine job of taking the perspective of a woman on the edge or sanity.
With its theme of water running through the novel, there is a drowning and a trip to Venice as key events. So be prepared to be taken on a trip to Italy and more, where you have to keep reading to find out what’s going to happen next. I enjoyed this novella, give it a 3.5 stars, and recommend it for those who enjoy tragic thrillers.(less)
The original review for this book is posted at Layers of Thought. There is also a giveaway for it there that ends October 3rd - 2010 for the US and Ca...moreThe original review for this book is posted at Layers of Thought. There is also a giveaway for it there that ends October 3rd - 2010 for the US and Canada.
A “trip” into the realistic yet magical where an urbanite discovers herself in the rain forest of Mexico. It’s city girl goes jungle Jane with consciousness altering plants.
About: Lila is from NYC. She is in her thirties and cynical as well as wounded from her recent divorce. She has sworn off men and most attachments - “no pets, no plants, no people, no problems”. However she breaks her rule when she decides to buy herself a bird of paradise plant from the hunky greenery vendor around the corner from her studio. This starts her adventures and discovery about the mythical 9 plants of desire.
This humorous story, with its self- depreciating main character, takes the reader to the rain forests of Mexico. Where Lila is propelled by her quirky yet mystically oriented friend Armand to search for the illusive plants in order to repay a debt. As they enter into foreign territory into a place where fantastical elements are the norm, Lila herself makes a mildly hallucinogenic ride into self discovery and more.
Thoughts: Funny, fluffy and a very easy read, it was a needed break from the heavier stuff I have been recently reading. It was a foray into the magical. A chick lit escapist read with some mild romance which includes a gorgeous Huichol Indian from the mountains of Mexico.
As Lila gets to know these plants with their anthropomorphic attributes, we get an interesting mix of fact and fun fiction about each, where all of the short chapters are headed with a plant (and a few critters) and their description. I think my favorite section was on the chocolate plant, native to Southern America, where the author includes a recipe on how to make chocolate from the actual pods. Fun stuff!
I think this book will be perfect for any woman recovering from a recent break up or for anyone needing a light yet magical read. My mom is going to love this book being a plant person extraordinaire – me, the black thumb of the family killing cactus in the desert, enjoyed it just as much. I even found a few new books to add to my tbr list within the text of the novel - The Sheltering Sky by Philip Bowles and one by Carlos Castaneda. I love that. I give this fun book 3.5 stars. It was a blast.(less)
A page turning paranormal thriller series with historical fiction and an ancient religious...moreThis is a series review. Original post at Layers of Thought.
A page turning paranormal thriller series with historical fiction and an ancient religious belief system embedded in the stories.
Mini Synopsizes ~ The Reincarnationist: Some precious stones with paranormal properties have been stolen from a newly discovered pre-Christian archeological site in Rome, dating around 400 AD. The stones purportedly can help one to remember past lives.
The story is primarily set in the present but moves back in time to the 1800s and to 400 AD - with linking story lines through the past lives of several of the main characters.
The Memorist: The second book has music at its core, where another antiquity is found which also purportedly helps one to remember past lives. It is called a memory flute.
This story is set primarily in Vienna where the flute has connections to Beethoven and ancient Hindu reincarnation beliefs. Also included are a few key characters from The Reincarnationist, making the first book an important first read.
The Hypnotist: This third in the series, is a story based around an ancient statue of the god Hypnos. However, this artifact has powers which are more mystical and powerful than the above two antiquities.
Within The Hypnotist are connections to The Metropolitan Museum of Art – in New York, so the story revolves around art as well as some of the legal issues around US ownership of foreign artifacts. To complicate things there are Islamic factions wishing to claim the statue as a lost national treasure.
All three connected books have people and groups vying for these paranormal items for nefarious and pure reasons. All mixed up with murder, drama, historical and factual data, as well as the paranormal - making the books, at times, heart pounding reads.
My thoughts: This is an excellent series combining historical fiction, paranormal, ancient religious belief, and cultural information all within page turning thrillers. The books can be seen as an interesting way to begin to understand reincarnation through a variety of religions - Kabbalahism, Pre-Christian Paganism, pre 400 AD Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and more.
Here is a key quote from the first book, The Reincarnationist, which describes the religious fears around reincarnation regardless of the author’s manufactured stones; these fears are at the heart of the series:
Weren’t the highest echelons of the church worried about the magic stones? And for good reason. If man discovered that Nirvana was within his reach – if it was in his own hands, not in the hand of God – What authority would the church hold over him?
This is interesting when looking at if from the perspective that various religions through the centuries have been extinguished for reasons as suggested above – fear of loss of power, and control of their adherents. (The books include much of this type of insight).
As for the actual writing – Rose has a style that flows so easily that one may think it would be easy to replicate. However, it is often the experts who appear to make their art look simple. I am thinking that this is the case with this author.
I also like that the books have been written with short and exciting chapters so they are easy to pick up and put down, but one could carry on and complete each of the books in a couple of sittings. Also included at the end of the books are listings for further reading, for those so inclined.
I hear that the latest of the series, The Hypnotist, is not the last of the collection. I am looking forward to reading more about the other “memory tools” the key elements of the series.
I give this series a 4 star, with parts of the book reaching a 4.5 star. Its a great series which I completely enjoyed. A highly recommended escapist story, as well as insightful reading.(less)
Mini Synopsis: Bruce and Andrea Leininger married in the late 90s. This was his second marriage and her first - he a well paid top ex...moreActually 4.5 stars
Mini Synopsis: Bruce and Andrea Leininger married in the late 90s. This was his second marriage and her first - he a well paid top executive and she an ex ballet dancer. Soon after being married the couple gave birth to a healthy little boy. Everything was normal until James, their son, started having unusual and violent nightmares. In addition he displayed unexplainable knowledge of a technical nature regarding WWII air planes. To add to the family’s distress, Bruce’s personal belief system was at odds with the idea that his son could be a reincarnated soul. This is the story of a skeptic (Bruce) and his wife and their in-depth search for the truth. As the Leiningers find evidence that their little boy is experiencing the terrors of a man who was killed during an air attack on Japan during WWII, questions arise which invariably change the way they think about life and what they believe to be the meaning of death. My Thoughts: This books was wonderful. I even enjoyed the historical parts, although I disliked history in high school and college and for the most part still do. Amazingly, because of the Leniningers’ process and their in depth research, they begin to connect with a number of surviving and aging veterans and their family members, and they find it difficult to ignore the information connecting their son with the pilot’s death. As the veterans' connection with James and what is understood to be his previous life evolves, and the evidence keeps emerging it becomes difficult to disbelieve. I like to think of myself as rational and not prone to support things that are unexplainable. However, as the facts are brought to light, and experiences are remembered, the story becomes heartbreaking, undeniable, and ultimately redemptive. It was very close to the end that I cried which is very rare for me. (less)
A translated novel set in a futuristic and twisted democracy, it borders on horror with a realistic feel making i...moreOriginal review at Layers of Thought.
A translated novel set in a futuristic and twisted democracy, it borders on horror with a realistic feel making it all the more terrifying.
Set Up: A story taking place in Sweden at some undisclosed time in the future, where there has developed a truly warped social system.
The main character is a single women turning fifty. She has no family connections and is struggling financially. Dorit is required to enter a governmentally mandated enclave called “the unit”. A place where all persons – men of sixty years and women of fifty - move to if they are deemed “dispensable”. That is if they do not have anything which is considered of economic value to give. In turn they live a life of luxury yet must submit to medical testing and donate vital organs.
My Thoughts: I really enjoy dystopian novels and this one appeared to have an unusual twist with a character to whom I could easily relate – a middle aged women with bohemian tendencies. There are a number of things that I liked about the book.
It felt like a translation and I love translations. You can explore the locale and psyche of another country through the text with its unusual language nuances. This book was no exception with its lovely description of the local plants, landscape, and weather, as well as subtle differences in its cultural perspective.
There is a secondary plot line which could be described as a romance. I particularly liked that the few unusual sex scenes included are not like your standard fare, which I usually skip over or laugh at.
There are a few political topics which come up in the novel such as ageism and a subtly twisted version of feminism, which make for great for discussion topics.
The novels I enjoy the most leave me with questions, and The Unit poses a few good ones. What kind of a democracy would value economic growth so much that it would sacrifice its older members? Is the nature of democracy only about growth? How could a political system purportedly concerned with freedom develop like the one which is represented in this book?
A fairly short novel it starts out slowly yet picks up considerably where it becomes both illuminating and heart wrenching. It summarizes a few subtle elements of human experience in enlightening and relatable ways. And the best part is that it was just plain scary. It is because of these things it will be placed in my favorite’s list - on balance 4.5 stars.(less)
Shellie’s quick take:A sweet and “bookish” story about a house that helps lost but tal...moreOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
2.5 stars actually.
Shellie’s quick take:A sweet and “bookish” story about a house that helps lost but talented women find themselves. It’s magical realism for female bibliophiles.
Shellie’s description: There is a special house near London located on a street called Hope. It calls to exceptional women to live in its walls when they are in crisis. What’s unusual about the house is that you cannot see it unless you have been chosen by it. In fact many famous women have arrived and received its help over its 200-year life and their pictures cover the walls.
As the story alternates between a handful of characters that are in need of assistance, we slowly get a picture of why the current set of women are there. They are then magically given what they require so that they can move on in their lives.
Shellie’s thoughts: On the plus side it’s an easy-to-hold and physically small book with some cute ideas. It has an eclectic group of gifted main characters including one that is over 60 and another that is LGBT. There is also an impressive list of the long-deceased prior inhabitants, whose ghosts visit its current residents with their advice and insight. With the dead’s accomplished mini bios at the end for reference, the book has a slight feminist perspective highlighting the women that have paved the way both for the current residents and for women in general.
However, even though it has chocolate, ghosts, fashion, romance and advice, it was a bit trite for my tastes. And sadly, though the story line gave me the desire to want to know what was going to happen to the characters, the writing did not pull me into the text and consequently I felt the desire to skip parts of it.
Do not let my slightly negative thoughts deter you; I am seeing positive reviews from a variety of readers. I did think the book was okay, but would not put in on my favorite list for magical realism. I would recommended it for literary-minded romance readers who want everything tied up neat and sweet in the end and who like a bit of magic in their reads. 2.5 stars for this debut novel.(less)
Lisa Lillien is a blogger gone mainstream author. I am now seeing her books in the grocery store. Her philosophy is to eat and to no...more
3.5 stars actually
Lisa Lillien is a blogger gone mainstream author. I am now seeing her books in the grocery store. Her philosophy is to eat and to not be hungry but to cut out where ever you can. Her avatar and attitude is cute fun and positive...
She has a great website which features the latest calorie skimming foods you can easily purchase from your local grocery. (Hungrygirl.com is her site where you can sign up for daily emails for recipes and tips - which include what to eat at popular restaurants and what to avoid - so this is great for guys too.)
I do have to note that the recipes she publishes have been designed and taste tested by her growing staff and are really good. However she tends to veer toward the artificial and center aisle stuffs of the grocery store where most health and diet professional suggest that you steer clear. Most of her recipes include artificial ingredients such as sugars and non fat items which are kinda scary. However they are delicious. I have cooked quite a few and have not been disappointed and neither has my husband.
She take a number of old favorite recipes which are extremely fattening and creates low fat, low calorie dishes which you would enjoy and not feel cheated when eating. Try her site first which I did and love.(less)
A historical telling of how Bram Stoker’s 100 year old cultural icon – Dracula - was created and became th...moreOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
A historical telling of how Bram Stoker’s 100 year old cultural icon – Dracula - was created and became the character that holds awe even today. This book goes into some of the significant happenings going on around the creation of the novel Dracula.
Vampire fascination is not going to go away. We can see that in the popularity of books and cinema that include vampires. Interest in the novel Dracula, even a 100 years beyond its publication, proves this well. In the non-fiction book Who Was Dracula? author Jim Steinmeyer attempts to enlighten and dispel some long held ideas about who the character was, who Stoker based his character on, how the novel was created, and some intriguing historical details surrounding Stoker at the time.
It appears that Steinmeyer wants readers to believe that Dracula was not entirely based upon Bram Stoker’s boss Henry Irving (many Dracula scholars believe it was). In fact the character is influenced by some famous individuals and events that Stoker came across in his life. These include Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman, Jack the Ripper and many more.
Less surprisingly, Steinmeyer believes that the mythology we have built around vampires is based upon what Bram Stoker created. He also states that Dracula became a powerful mystical figure a long time ago – indeed he says that Dracula was a revered pop cultural icon 100 years ago. So Vampire love is not new.
This was not an all-encompassing read for me; I felt compelled and intrigued in some parts but a bit lost in others. Generally, I find non-fiction historical books a bit hard to read, but I gave this a go because I loved the novel Dracula and feel that the character Stoker created is an exceptional and memorable one. So naturally I was curious as to what influenced Bram Stoker when he was writing this popular novel.
There are a lot of meaty historical details around a variety of characters and Bram Stoker’s connection to them, as the author attempts to support his theories. This pulled me in and kept me reading, but at times I felt like I was reading more about Henry Irving (Bram Stoker’s boss and a popular actor and theater owner) than I was about the novel Dracula or Stoker himself.
I did enjoy the book and in the end would say that Who Was Dracula? is for anyone who is interested in the elements that create a character such as Dracula; anyone interested in the historical situations that surrounded Bram Stoker and influenced him; and those interested in the reasons why it is still so popular 100-plus years after its publication. 3 stars for this intriguing historical book.
*A note to readers: if you are planning on reading this book you may want to read a few other things first – including Dracula, The Picture of Dorian Grey, Leaves of Grass and the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It does contain some spoilers for these classics. Alternatively, be prepared to skip a bit here and there so you can still enjoy these great books to the full.(less)
By the year 2042 white people will be a minority in the United States. With this in mind, Rich Benjamin takes a trip a...moreActually 4.5 stars
By the year 2042 white people will be a minority in the United States. With this in mind, Rich Benjamin takes a trip around the country where he explores the areas of the US where the majority of the population, curiously, is not a blend of color. He then strives to define these enclaves, which he terms “Whitopias”. They are popping up in spots all over the country for reasons which he questions in his book. As he does his personal research in this sort of “reverse ethnography”, he boldly goes into the territory to interview, live with, and experience the life style which defines these areas and the population.
Rich Benjamin is a very intelligent, highly educated, and extremely articulate individual. His writing is lyrical, satirically humorous and sensitive, and he has a very advanced fashion sense which adds some levity to the book. He is thorough and backs up his findings with statistics and references - be aware this book is somewhat academic in nature. But most significantly he’s brave, and goes into areas which for me as a white person would even be scary; areas where there are known connections with extremists who may threaten violence to people of color and/or their supporters.
He is welcomed warmly within these “white enclaves”, and what he finds is interesting, enlightening, and often quite difficult to swallow. It was for me. Although Benjamin specifically states that as a culture we have moved mostly beyond blatant personal racial discrimination, racism still exists within most static bureaucratic structures within the country. He also supports the adage that classism and racism are intimate partners. Knowing that both also exist among these “Whitopias” he further supports their link within the text.
This is a great book. My only negative thoughts around it is that it is so information packed it will probably not be a quick or easy read for most. It wasn’t for me. More importantly the subject matter is emotional and difficult, and one which many people do not want to deal with. Although the author does a brilliant job of attempting to making light of some situations, how can it be? Sadly, and most significantly, I also do not believe it will actually reach his intended audience. Considering myself for example, although white, to me I believe he is “preaching to the choir” - albeit I am the white kid in the back, who doesn’t quite know the words, and whom annoyingly sings a bit off key, but I certainly won’t stop singing. I give this excellent yet difficult book 4.5 stars. (less)
This was, of course, a heartbreaking book. An excellent translation and a page turner. A tribute to the ideal that to forget our history often leads u...moreThis was, of course, a heartbreaking book. An excellent translation and a page turner. A tribute to the ideal that to forget our history often leads us to repeat it. Wiesel eloquently states more than this in his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize for this work. This is not really a review, because this book is truly beyond that, but my thoughts and questions about this important book. I am also writing this with the knowledge that a natural confusion, while trying to make sense of this horrific event, must be normal. I could not help but thinking that this dehumanization of the Jewish during the Holocaust had to be as extremely well planned as it appeared to be implemented. Wiesel simply describes how the Germans step by step took away their dignity and broke their spirit. As their autonomy was taken away there was an almost rejection of the idea that this could be truly happening and then a futile acceptance of each gradual removals of basic human rights and needs. A collective annihilation where each individual was left feeling and considered to be, by the Nazis, less than an animal. It is now with morbid curiosity and the desire to understand human nature that I want to know what went on psychologically and sociologically for Hitler and the Nazi party as they destroyed fellow human beings in such a calculated and diabolical manner, and why similar things still can occur today. (less)
Shellie’s quick take:A complexly interwoven and otherworldly mystery that is also a dark coming-of-age st...moreOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
Shellie’s quick take:A complexly interwoven and otherworldly mystery that is also a dark coming-of-age story. It centers around the events leading up to several devastating tornados and a painful loss.
Shellie’s description: Set near some woods in Alabama, Danny and Walter are on the verge of being forced into becoming adults. Danny’s mother and sister have disappeared before a powerful storm and Walter and his friend Seth are targets from violent and heartless bullies. Each story is set within two different times, one current and one during the 1960’s, with the boys each telling their sad stories in the first person. They relate their tales in alternating chapters, slowly unraveling the mystery of the disappearance of Danny’s family.
Shellie’s thoughts: An intense read, this book feels somewhat paranormal in nature. However, it’s one of those reads that leads you into a hidden world but then brings you back to reality in the end. What also adds to the thrilling nature of the book, is that how the boys are connected does not become completely clear until the last third of the book. It has a satisfying and twisty plot and a surprising ending.
Even though this book has a great structure that kept things moving along, and the more I think about the storyline the more I admire its complexity, I do have one minor grumble - the voices of the boys were so similar that several times I found myself confused about which one I was reading about.
Beyond that it’s a terrific book that is highly recommended for those wanting a thrilling and otherworldly coming-of-age story, and of course those looking for literary horror. 4 stars for this creative and twisty story.(less)
About a persistent woman who holds onto her dreams. It is about her life during the sexual revol...moreThis review is originally posted at Layers of Thought.
About a persistent woman who holds onto her dreams. It is about her life during the sexual revolution, developing feminism, and the war in Vietnam.
About: A contemporary story about the life of Merrilee Hennessy, a woman born in the US during the late 1950’s. It extends through her life experiences into the early 2000’s. With an omnipresent narration we see her life and what she feels and thinks, as a strong and driven woman, at first in her late teens and then into her middle age. With the historical back drop of the Vietnam war, the sexual revolution and the growth of feminism, it is a look inside a woman, her beliefs and the myths of her life and the generation.
Thoughts: Chasing Stardust starts out slowly, almost like a diary, with the issues being resolved through the main character’s ability to hold on to her dreams through pure perseverance and positive thinking - an important perspective for understanding the character and her life during that time. As she struggles with her dreams of a romantic ideal, akin to the romance novels she devours, she is strengthened by the ideals (held internally and supported culturally) of the perfect home and family. While things are not quite right for her, she perseveres by pushing the acknowledgment of her difficulties out of her consciousness; a key element for the story.
Some significant themes within the novel are - contrary to our internalized myths about motherhood, at times and even with a woman’s best efforts, bonding with one’s child is not a possibility; the love of a woman’s life is not necessarily a romantic love, but can be the love of a child; issues related to drug and alcohol abuse; the US legal system and its methodology for placing children from neglected and abusive homes.
My recommendation for the reader is to be aware that the first part of the novel moves along with Merrilee with her ups and downs just a bit slowly – as readers we are sometimes accustomed to the “drama and trauma” contained in the very beginning of books. It is, however, important for understanding this character. The story significantly picks up about a third of the way through and becomes heart wrenching and insightful where the consequences of the main character’s choices are made clear.
Highly recommended if you enjoy women’s fiction, strong female characters, this recent era in period fiction, and/or if you like stories with addiction and recovery as a theme. It is a wonderful self published and edited novel, amazingly without any errors in syntax as well as spelling. I give this excellent effort and book 4 stars.(less)
There is a reason why some novels win multiple awards; this historical fantasy is one example of a book th...moreOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
There is a reason why some novels win multiple awards; this historical fantasy is one example of a book that deserves all the accolades it has received. An incredible tome which is a grand meandering adventure into the historical, magical, and darkly hilarious. It is a perfect read for fall.
About: Set in the early 1800’s during the end of the Napoleonic wars in an England where magic and fairies exist; the story begins with Mr. Norrell as the self proclaimed “magician” of the age. He has delegated himself the task of re-establishing an order to English magic so that it can become as highly valued and respected as it once was. So in a twisted effort he eradicates every other magician/practitioner in the land.
Enter Jonathan Strange, a younger and more socially adept individual, who becomes Norrell’s student, learning what the older magician deems important to his acolyte. Sadly Norrell also hordes and hides all the most important information. Still his student develops, as Jonathan Strange is everything Norrell is not - possessing a natural ability for creating spells and magic.
This natural conflict is mixed together with an “evil fairy” and well developed characters. Woven into the mix are interesting historical facts, fantastic fairy history and a make-believe history of English magic. The result is a multi-layered, complex, dryly funny and wonderfully meandering story.
Thoughts: As mentioned there are many well developed and intriguing characters in this huge book (900 or so pages or 32 hours of listening time). It has human sized fairies (not the fluffy kind) and a mix of curious and down to earth servants -including appropriate roles for men and women during this historical period. It has a writing style which has an old fashioned English feel; quite proper and appropriate for a pre-Victorian historical era.
This book was so much fun and I learned some actual history (which I am completely inept at), as a lot of the detail is actually grounded in fact. But the best part is the intriguing amount of imaginary fairy and magic history included, which is entertaining and wonderful. A perfect historical book for those who don’t like history.
Listened to in audio, the male narrator did an excellent job of moderating his voice for each of the characters, classes, and genders. I was even surprised that the footnotes worked well in the audio version - as there are many. Here are two short and fun examples of magical spells which the author included in one of the many footnotes, which I could imagine using at one time or another:
Chauntlucet: a mysterious and ancient spell which encourages the moon to sing. The song the moon knows is apparently very beautiful and can cure leprosy or sadness in anyone who hears it.
Stokesey’s Vitrification turns objects – and people – to glass.
I loved this wonderful book and give it 5 stars. Highly recommended if you enjoy historical fiction and/or fantasy; also for non fantasy readers who may be interested in reading something with magical elements. This was a fabulous and complex tale!(less)
A complex literary crime novel, based in 19th century France and revolving around the life, death and relationships of controversial poet Charles Baudelaire.
Description: It is 1870 and the Franco-Prussian war is not going well for France – the Prussians are advancing on Paris while many of the French population are close to starving. The aristocracy behaves as if nothing is wrong and seems oblivious to the plight of the working classes; the French capital becomes a hotbed of discontent. Against this backdrop, a man is murdered in a brothel and Commissioner Lefèvre is called in to investigate. Lefèvre, who has a colorful past including a bloody stint in the French army, is himself no stranger to the Parisian brothels.
The Commissioner, who is a lover of poetry, finds on the body a handwritten verse from a poem by Charles Baudelaire which appears to have been written by the poet himself, though Baudelaire has been dead for some time now. Lefèvre and his right-hand man, Inspector Bouveroux, are soon embroiled in a series of grisly murders that all seem to point to the dead poet or to someone who must have been very close to him. As Paris is drawn ever closer to anarchy and chaos and the two policemen seek clues in the darkest corners of the capital, they find themselves in grave danger.
John’s thoughts: This is a clever story with an unusual plot and a cast of complex and well-developed characters. It keeps you guessing right up to the last page and in truth it still had me scratching my head long after I’d read the last page. A simple and easy read it is not.
In reading the book I learnt quite a bit about 19th century French history and also about French literature of that period – the former interested me a lot, the latter not so much. This is a reflection on me rather than the novel, as poetry and most of the associated literary circles leave me rather cold. Consequently I did find the first half of the novel slightly heavy going and had difficulty reading more than 20 pages at a time, but once I got beyond that things went much more smoothly and overall I did enjoy the read.
Putting the historical and literary connections to one side, this is actually a smart and extremely dark crime novel. You get to visit the underbelly of society and meet some gloriously twisted characters. This is not a simple whodunit.
If you like dark historical crime novels with a literary twist then you will love this book - I am sure that many reviewers will rave over it. It didn’t quite hit the mark for me personally but I’d still rate it 3.5 stars. And I do find that my mind keeps wandering back to the story which says a lot for it (the book that is, not my mind!) (less)
I really enjoyed this book. I think, in part, it may be my inner child connecting to what we adults consider "poop humour" but in an adult way. Even though the issues in this book are not funny some of the situation described by the author are. The book takes a look at what we in the Western world take for granted, but for others - whom do not have access to safe disposal of their waste it is a serious life and death health issue. The author interviews a large number of "unsung heroes" whom are battling bureaucratic beliefs, cultural ideals and habits, and environmental issues around what we and other countries do with our/their waste. I think what I found interesting is how other cultures exhibit their "toileting habits". For example, the Japanese are open about this need and have as a result developed extremely high-tech toilets. Having traveled there it is a bit of a culture shock using the toilets for the first time. Trying to figure out all the little gadgets - front and back warm water spray nozzels, heated seats, and recordings of water running so that the potty sounds are not heard by others is daunting, comical, and interesting. I recommend this book to anyone interested in human behavior and cultural differences, as well as those whom are interested in environmental issues and the social costs of the lack of adequate disposal/reuse of human waste. (less)
Mini Synopsis: Actually 3.5 stars - (This is a series review with basic set up and setting information included but no spoilers.)
This is a young adult...more Mini Synopsis: Actually 3.5 stars - (This is a series review with basic set up and setting information included but no spoilers.)
This is a young adult series with the latest book This World We Live In being the last of the trilogy (I think.) It is set within the present day where an apocalyptic event has occurred. The moon has been knocked off its orbit causing a plethora of environmental disasters all over the planet. Tsunamis destroy coastal cities and that is just the beginning. As all normal life deteriorates the 17 year old main character, Miranda, in the first book tells us through her diary the events and her feelings as her life completely changes. It occurs within a Pennsylvania suburb setting. The second book is a parallel book where the main character, Alex, lives in New York City. In the third book the two main characters’ lives come together.
The last in the series – This World We Live In, was released on April 1, 2010.
The books all have a realistic feeling for what could happen if the world’s food, communication services, and other vital systems were to break down and gradually collapse and disappear. The author does a nice job of giving the reader a feel for this type of event and doesn’t skirt painful happenings such as death, which she does tastefully for a younger audience.
It’s a page turning series for young men and women which I would “safely” recommend for my nieces, grandchildren, and/or students. The behaviors of the main characters in the books show strong character; I would almost say an unrealistic sense of self and behavior (I think I would have gone bonkers under the circumstances). Nevertheless, it’s what I believe to be exemplary behavior for young adults, which I support. I also liked the fact that the two character’s belief systems, atheism and Catholicism, are non-judgmentally contrasted.
Susanne Beth Pfeffer has a strong and easy to follow writing style, which sucks you in and keeps you reading while caring about the characters. I completely devoured this series. I would rate the first two books in the series as 3.5 stars. I would say I liked the latest book the best due to its incredible and heartbreaking ending. This, I think, takes the book over the 4 star edge with its deeper internal conflict. Highly recommended for adults and teens alike. I also recommend that they are read in order, don’t be tempted to skip the second book – I almost did.(less)
Shellie’s quick take: A sweet yet dark and mind-bending coming-of-age romance about a sensitive and small...moreOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
Shellie’s quick take: A sweet yet dark and mind-bending coming-of-age romance about a sensitive and small clown who is traveling with a circus during the 1960s.
Shellie’s description: It’s a slightly bizarre novel based upon the experiences of its relatable main character Webern (Bernie) Bell. What is special about Bernie is that he is only about 4 feet tall and has a hunch on his back. Not a typical person physically, he is, however, a natural fit as a circus clown for a small traveling show. While riding his unicycle near his home, he is discovered by the show’s dramatic owner, Dr. Shoenburg (Dr. Show for short). Dr. Show recognizes Bernie’s talent and propositions him for the circus. Bernie is happy to leave behind his childhood home to join the troupe, because he’s always felt like he doesn’t fit into a “normal” life. Within the circus he meets Nepenthe, the lizard girl, and falls in love; and finally he feels at home.
As this crazy story about love and growing up unfolds and events push him to face his inner workings, it becomes apparent that Bernie has his demons to work through – but he has his work cut out for him. Things become out of the ordinary when Bernie faces issues of death and has to question his identity, his familial attachments, his heart and some other weird happenings that he experiences.
Shellie’s thoughts: This is a terrific story with fun characters. I was completely intrigued about the main character Bernie, who is a sensitive soul and easy to like, which creates a desire to continue reading the story. Consequently I would say that this is more of a character-driven novel rather than action based, although it has its drama with its far-fetched ideas and happenings. It is certainly weird fiction, though what I liked best about Goldenland Past Dark is that it also feels realistic – well, almost.
In addition I particularly enjoyed the author’s simple and straightforward writing style which also sucked me in. Very clear and thoughtful, the writing just flowed for me. It’s a writing style that is relaxing without having to reread parts or to look up definitions for words.
I’d recommend this for fans of the circus and for those who enjoy likable yet non-mainstream characters - for example a bearded lady, a chimpanzee who’s behavior is almost human, a lizard girl with a disfiguring skin condition, and a grandmother who captures, cooks, and eats raccoons. It’s especially for those who want realism included within surreal events. 3.5 stars for this heartfelt and offbeat novel. I will definitely be looking for more from this author.(less)