Mantel writes beautiful prose and has a deeply held perspective on history. After a zillion books about Anne Boleyn and her fair, but lost head, ManteMantel writes beautiful prose and has a deeply held perspective on history. After a zillion books about Anne Boleyn and her fair, but lost head, Mantel's telling of this story is rich and compelling. Seen through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell, the Tudor court is both glittering and rotting. As Henry's top advisor it is up to Cromwell to re-write the past, to punish transgressors to Henry's vision, and to remove any obstacle to Henry's desire for a son.
Henry is an after-thought here. He's the Wizard of Ozian character, back behind the curtain, pulling the levers and setting the task. The stars here are Anne and Cromwell as they pursue a fever-pitched battle for survival. If you know only the bare bones of this history, you know who won (and no, it was neither Anne nor Cromwell).
Mantel's writing is impeccable, her plot and timing spot-on, her imagery vivid. This is not your average historical fiction, but rather a deep dive into the history of the Tudor court in all its tarnished beauty. A must read....more
As enlightened as we like to think ourselves, mental illness is an area where we still have a long way to go. Stigmatized as weak-minded people who suAs enlightened as we like to think ourselves, mental illness is an area where we still have a long way to go. Stigmatized as weak-minded people who suffer from mental illness find it very difficult to receive the treatment that they need - sometimes due to lack of money and health insurance, often because admitting to this is taboo in their culture (yes, even here in America). The human and economic cost of mental illness is a large one and yet we continue to say, in our own Puritancial manner - "Just pull yourself up by your bootstraps and stop sniveling." Think I'm kidding? Read any news article about PTSD and whether or not it's "real" and then come back to me.
During the eighties some huge and distressing scandals in mental health institutions combined with a desire to spend less money on our people and more money on defense to close many inpatient facilities, dumping thousands of people with long-term mental illness on the streets of our nation. Among mental health professionals the idea behind deinstitutionalization was to give people an opportunity to live as normal a life as could be managed for them and included plans for transitional housing, permanent assisted living in group home situations for those who needed the structure, and a robust network of outpatient mental health care. Most of this got lost in translation. These days we spend a whole of money institutionalizing those we consider criminals and sometimes inpatient programs for the mentally ill become dumping grounds for these people - diagnosed or not.
I knew we were in yet another bad economic downturn when the number of homeless and mentally people dramatically increased here in Berkeley (where I live) and in Oakland (where I work). I've watched the past four years as these numbers increase with new members from other places, or with those who have been on the street long enough to be driven insane. It is a moral catastrophe and it makes me feel sad and helpless. I give food where I can and try to speak to many, but I can't get them off the street and I can't give them the care many of them desperately need.
The Devil in Silver explores the plight of the mentally ill - those locked up because they should be, those locked up by accident or design; many of these people will never see the outside world again because there just isn't anywhere for them to be. What if you were institutionalized because it was convenient? What would it be like to be in this new environment? What if you discovered that the Devil was locked up with you? What then?
Filled with authentic voices, a killer story playing with a number of horror tropes, and a pinch of social commentary, The Devil in Silver is a book that will scare you while making you question yourself and your society. Well-written, never preachy, this book is a masterful experience. Highly recommended....more
Lucretia and the Kroons is a novella with all the punch of a full-length novel. It's not often that authors write about children dealing with their frLucretia and the Kroons is a novella with all the punch of a full-length novel. It's not often that authors write about children dealing with their friends' deaths, but Victor LaValle is not afraid.
Lucretia's best friend, Sunny, suffers from an illness (probably cancer) that has slowly taken her away from her friend. Treatment and medication have rendered her almost unrecognizable, but still Lucretia remains faithful. Then comes the day when Sunny disappears and Lucretia finds herself on a mad and frightening and marvelous adventure into the unknown with only a mysterious and monstrous woman as her guide.
I very much enjoyed this book. It was sweet and genuine and scared the pants off of me. Mr. LaValle has a great way with words and storytelling and opens a big picture window for his readers and characters to step through. Wonderful read and appropriate for middle grade kids and all of us older kids who aren't easily frightened or just love to be scared! ...more
If you are a fan of Norse mythology, historical fiction, and legends of Viking warriors come from the mists of the sea to change lives, Blood Eye's aIf you are a fan of Norse mythology, historical fiction, and legends of Viking warriors come from the mists of the sea to change lives, Blood Eye's a great book for you. Wrap it up with a tale of a boy's journey to manhood and you've got the first in a trilogy that promises to be entertaining throughout.
Osric is shunned throughout his adopted village for his blood-red eye - loved only by the mute carpenter who takes him under his wing. All of that changes on the day that Jarl Sigurd and his Fellowship (think of a Band of Brothers, only Norsemen) arrive on the shore of his village for a bit of trading that goes poorly. Osric finds himself drawn to these men who believe him to be blessed by Ódin. Taken up by Sigurd and given a place of his own among The Fellowship, Osric battles his conflicted feelings about the violence and bloodshed he's seen these commit as balanced against the violence and bloodshed committed by the Englishmen he's lived among for so long. Enraptured in the myth of Sigurd, Osric finds his own way through the world.
Great for fans of Bernard Cornwell or for anyone looking for a ripping yarn with plenty of battles, brutality, and a damsel who might or might not be in distress, Blood Eye is a lot of fun to read. I look forward to Book 2 in the series which promises to expand on the many unanswered questions in the original. A satisfying and entertaining escapist read. ...more
Val McDermid is one of the great writers of thrillers - particularly those with both a psychological bent as well as a stunning amount of brutality thVal McDermid is one of the great writers of thrillers - particularly those with both a psychological bent as well as a stunning amount of brutality that manages to be essential to the plot rather than a voyeuristic add-on. She is unusual in that she manages to write both series books and standalones that all each work on their own merits. Usually series writers don't write very good standalones and vice versa, but McDermid is utterly dependable. Her books are always well-plotted and fun to read, but also full of humanity in all its dreadful beauty. Can you tell I like her writing?
The Vanishing Point takes on the world of reality television stars in the UK (although it's not much different than in the US) - these "ordinary" people who become famous mostly for making asses out of themselves on television for the world to see. McDermid argues that this behavior is part of a carefully plotted strategy to grab fame and fortune, but becomes self-limiting because while bad behavior is amusing for awhile at some point people just get bored with the trainwreck and the money stops coming in. "Oh, look, another head on the tracks - how expected." If you've followed the history of many of these people their lives become this tawdry public tragedy with little of happiness in them, perhaps because most have nothing to offer but their spectacle. It's bread and circuses, right? Not just circuses.
In Scarlett, the mother of the child taken in this book, McDermid creates a character struggling to free herself from the bad reputation that built her career - trying to change it up, to be someone different. Much of this seems inspired by the impending birth of her child, Jimmy, and her desire to provide a good home for him (where good means continuing to have loads of money), but there are glimpses of someone trying to rise above circumstance and bad choices to become a real person rather than a caricature. Scarlett's change is chronicled by her ghost writer, Stephanie, a woman who specializes in ghost writing for celebrities, but who becomes drawn into Scarlett's world through the friendship that grows between them. Someone's using someone, but it's hard to decide who or when or even why. When Scarlett dies tragically from cancer - brave and fighting until the end, her reputation utterly redeemed - she leaves her son to Stephanie, but not her money.
At the point where we come in, Jimmy has been taken from Stephanie at an airport in the US from right beneath her nose. TSA doesn't notice and labels Stephanie a danger from the moment she breaks free of security to go after her child. The Vanishing Point tells the story of before and after and draws the reader into all of its different worlds. It's a great read, loads of fun, and plenty to keep the reader turning pages. Highly recommended....more
I had mentally applauded James Lee Burke for appearing to kill off Clete and Dave at the end of The Glass Rainbow - I was sad, but also thought it wasI had mentally applauded James Lee Burke for appearing to kill off Clete and Dave at the end of The Glass Rainbow - I was sad, but also thought it was time for them to have a more or less graceful exit from the stage. Mr. Burke has let them age throughout the series and I was beginning to wonder what trouble they might find themselves in that they might not be able to survive. In the latest book, Creole Belle, it is apparent that this was not the plan.
I will take a ride with James Lee Burke anywhere he wants to go. I love his writing, his stories, and his characters - they've all been like family to me as I've read about them for so many years. Tin Roof Blowdown was Burke's paen to Katrina and the damage wrought by her and by a neglectful government at all levels. It was beautiful, impassioned, and one of the few Katrina books I've been able to read (it all still makes me too angry and sad). Creole Belle is about the post-Katrina world, but in particular the post BP oil spill world - a pean to a way of life that is quickly vanishing into the black tar left behind by oil company carelessness and by the state's own dependence on the industry for much of its livelihood.
I liked Creole Belle. It's poignant and contains many of the elements I expect from Mr. Burke's novels - the Bobbsey Twins, the sense of place, the mystery of the haves and the have-nots, the desire to right wrongs and the regret that sometimes you just can't win. It works as a thriller, but ultimately feels a lot more like a diatribe against the outside forces the Louisiana has allowed to come in and rape its beauty. This isn't the best novel Mr. Burke's ever written, but I'd recommend the worst James Lee Burke novel over dozens of others. If you haven't read this series, you're really missing out. ...more
I've been very fortunate over the past several weeks to read a number of wonderful books that take folk tales, fairy tales, mythology as their heart.I've been very fortunate over the past several weeks to read a number of wonderful books that take folk tales, fairy tales, mythology as their heart. The Salt God's Daughter is one of those books. Ruby's story, based on the Celtic tradition of the selkie - uncanny creatures who appear as seals on the sea, but can shed their skins and walk when on land. Traditional tales of the selkie often lead to tragedy as a selkie and human fall in love (or not) and make a life together. It's the "making a life together" element that's tricky since often this part happens because the human partner steals and hides the selkie's skin so s/he cannot go back to the sea. I know you're thinking of The Little Mermaid (the Disney version). Stop. This folklore is a lot more complex and dark than anything anyone from Disney ever conjured.
The Salt God's Daughter is also about mother/daughter relationships. As a daughter I know how conflicted and complex these relationships are. Ruby weaves a tale of mothers and daughters and their bonds. Rich in imagery of the sea and of the moon, The Salt God's Daughter is a great follow-up to Ruby's first novel, The Language of Trees. Ruby has a talent for threading disparate parts of story into a coherent whole and I am glad to say that her sophomore effort is just as wise and wonderful as her first. Highly recommended....more
Xenia is Russia's most-beloved saint. She lived in the 18th century, beginning as a woman of influence and privilege and then giving away everything aXenia is Russia's most-beloved saint. She lived in the 18th century, beginning as a woman of influence and privilege and then giving away everything after her husband's death to help the poor. Her family was shocked to see her living in the slums and Catherine the Great considered her a threat.
Told through the eyes of Xenia's cousin, Dasha, The Mirrored World is a story of Catherine the Great's court and of all of the people outside looking in. Through Dasha's frank clear voice, Xenia stops being a figure on an icon and becomes an actual person whose sainthood is understood within the context of her history. Aren't we all the sum of our choices and of our history - guided this way and that, sometimes by choice, sometimes by chance. Xenia's life in many ways illustrates the fact that life can go almost anywhere - anything can happen. It's a magical tale told well. ...more
One of the best things about Giving up the Ghost is that it is not the memoir you expect. From the publisher's description it sounds like it's going tOne of the best things about Giving up the Ghost is that it is not the memoir you expect. From the publisher's description it sounds like it's going to be sort of a search for information about his friend, but mostly a somewhat serious/somewhat silly romp through paranormal places. It's not that. Not even close.
If you were ever different as a kid, ever bullied or just shunned by the other kids around you, you're left with two basic choices: conform or defy them. Mr. Nuzum chose to defy his classmates and it's a choice I can relate to because I also steadfastly refused to conform and made a lot of bad choices along the way. It was very easy to me to relate to Mr. Nuzum, stuck in small town Ohio, wanting something different, but not sure what, doing too much damage to yourself along the way. I was fortunate because my early bout with depression was caught at its beginning and I was very fortunate to see a wonderful therapist where I was first in college. At that time there weren't a lot of anti-depressant options, but she saw me three times a week, listened to me, guided me firmly, and helped me talk my way through to the other side. I don't know what would have happened if I hadn't had her help.
We all know what it's like to be haunted, I think - by people or places or dreams that never came true - something about all the possibilities that didn't reach their potential sticks with us. It is all of that that is so hard to forget. Mr. Nuzum's brutally honest memoir takes the reader through one person's life (so far) and that person's attempts at self-destruction and ultimate desire to be whole. While I'm not sure he reached the conclusions he might've wanted, the journey is interesting and I'm glad he chose to share it. Lots of people have similar pasts, similar ghosts, but not everyone writes about it with such straightforward honesty. A good, if sometimes difficult, read. ...more