Quickie Book Review: Circe

Author: Madeline Miller

Published: April 2018, Hardback

Length: 394 pages

Genre: fiction, fantasy/mythology

Source: I bought it.

Stars: 4 1/2 Stars

 

Summary:

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child–not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power–the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians.

“Humbling women seems to me a chief pastime of poets. As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep.” –Madeline Miller, Circe

Like:

I love mythology. And anytime I can read a story based in mythology, I will do it. So, you know this book was at the top of my TBR pile. And Amazon in the week or so before its official release put it on sale for less than $3, so of course I bought it. And I am glad I did.  This is a story which seems to focus on what happens when female rage and power is contained. Circe is a potentially powerful witch and is angry, and this must be contained. It’s this rage and power that fuels her story and interactions with various gods and goddesses and humans that visit her island. And this is what Odysseus finds when he happens upon her island’s shore.

Not so much:

I really can’t think of anything as I write this. It has been a while since I read this.

What I’ll remember:

The cathartic power of reading this story. And that it’s nice to find someone else who sees Odysseus as the jerk he is.

Do I recommend it?:

Solid yes. This would be such a great thing to read in conjunction with The Odyssey. I enjoyed it so much that I plan on going back and reading The Song of Achilles soon. And I hope that Madeline Miller focuses a novel on Medea soon. That one is rage and power all out of control! I would love to read her take on how Medea’s rage and anger and shocking revenge came to be.

Here is a link to my Friday 56 Meme featuring Circe.

Have you read Circe? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments below.

Happy Reading, y’all!

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Quickie Book Review: The Essex Serpent

 Author: Sarah Perry

Published: Custom House paper back, 2018

Length: 416 pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

Source: #GoodReadsGiveaway

Stars: 4 Stars

 

 

Summary:

When Cora Seaborne’s brilliant, domineering husband dies, she steps into her new life as a widow with as much relief as sadness: her marriage was not a happy one. Wed at nineteen, this woman of exceptional intelligence and curiosity was ill-suited for the role of society wife. Seeking refuge in fresh air and open space in the wake of the funeral, Cora leaves London for a visit to coastal Essex, accompanied by her inquisitive and obsessive eleven-year old son, Francis, and the boy’s nanny, Martha, her fiercely protective friend.

While admiring the sites, Cora learns of an intriguing rumor that has arisen further up the estuary, of a fearsome creature said to roam the marshes claiming human lives. After nearly 300 years, the mythical Essex Serpent is said to have returned, taking the life of a young man on New Year’s Eve. A keen amateur naturalist with no patience for religion or superstition, Cora is immediately enthralled, and certain that what the local people think is a magical sea beast may be a previously undiscovered species. Eager to investigate, she is introduced to local vicar William Ransome. Will, too, is suspicious of the rumors. But unlike Cora, this man of faith is convinced the rumors are caused by moral panic, a flight from true belief.

These seeming opposites who agree on nothing soon find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart—an intense relationship that will change both of their lives in ways entirely unexpected.

Like:

This book is like reading a big, juicy 19th century Gothic novel. And that, for me, is a good thing.It’s all about the clash between religion, science, and superstition. the clash between the Angle in the House and the New Woman.  And what historical fiction novel focused on the 19th century in Britain be without class system tension? And on top of all this it is a beautifully written book. I love all of this in the novel, but the main thing I love is the characters. I love Cora, who is the protagonist. She has survived a crappy, abusive marriage yet manages to come out of it interested in finding who she is and what she wants in this new chapter in her life. She is interested in the world and interested in finding a place for herself in it.

Not so much:

Dr. Luke. Such an unlikable character. Perry did a great job making him almost unbearable. I d have one small complaint. I just wish it was a bit more Gothic. Just a tad bit more unnerving moments like the incident with the girls in the classroom.

What I’ll remember:

As I mention above, this book is beautifully written. So, I’m taking away a couple of quotes that I love.

You cannot always keep yourself away from things that hurt you. We all wish we could, but we cannot: to live at all is to be bruised.

And this which seems to be the thesis of the story:

I think the whole village is haunted. Only–I think they’re haunting themselves.

And

Lately I’ve thought not even knowledge takes all the strangeness from the world.

Have you read The Essex Serpent? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Quickie Book Reviews: Dead Girls

Title: Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession

Author: Alice Bolin

Published: 2018, William Morrow Paper Backs, eBook Edition

Length: 288 pages

Genre: Nonfiction, Essays, Memoir

Source: My Public Library

Stars: 3.5 Stars

Summary:

A collection of poignant, perceptive essays that expertly blends the personal and political in an exploration of American culture through the lens of our obsession with dead women.

In her debut collection, Alice Bolin turns a critical eye to literature and pop culture, the way media consumption reflects American society, and her own place within it. From essays on Joan Didion and James Baldwin to Twin Peaks, Britney Spears, and Serial, Bolin illuminates our widespread obsession with women who are abused, killed, and disenfranchised, and whose bodies (dead and alive) are used as props to bolster a man’s story.

From chronicling life in Los Angeles to dissecting the “Dead Girl Show” to analyzing literary witches and werewolves, this collection challenges the narratives we create and tell ourselves, delving into the hazards of toxic masculinity and those of white womanhood. Beginning with the problem of dead women in fiction, it expands to the larger problems of living women—both the persistent injustices they suffer and the oppression that white women help perpetrate.

Sharp, incisive, and revelatory, Dead Girls is a much-needed dialogue on women’s role in the media and in our culture.

Like:

There is nothing I love more than essays analyzing pop culture. And this summer the zeitgeist is full of dead girls in pop culture. The number of books and TV shows and movies which focus on violence against women seems to be coming to a head. And Alice Bolin has noticed this trend. She makes the connections between all the dead white girls of pop culture and her own life. I especially like the connections she makes between all the current dead girls and the OG dead girl of pop culture: Laura Palmer of Twin Peaks.

Not so much:

I wish she had spent more time unpacking the books, TV shows, movies and less time examining her own life. The personal memoir essay. I’m just not a fan of most memoirs. Even one that connects the author’s life to pop culture. And in theory this melding should be my jam. And yet…..no. It’s not.

What I’ll Remember:

I’m not sure. I’ve read so many think pieces this week about dead girls and violence perpetrated on women’s bodies and how that is now entertainment that I’m not sure what is from an article and what is from this book of essays. so I think that will be what I remember. It’s part of that zeitgeist moment in 2018.

What do you think? Have you read this book? Would you? What do you think about the way pop culture uses dead girls as entertainment? Let me know in the comments below.

Thanks for visiting my blog. Happy Reading, y’all!

Quickie Book Review: Bone Gap

Author: Laura Ruby

Published: March 2015 Harper Collins audio book read by Dan Bittner

Length: 345 pages (in paperback. No pages listed for the audio book.)

Genre: Fiction, Magical Realism, Young Adult

Source: Free audio book from audiobooksync.com. Click here for more information on how to participate in this program.

Stars: 5 Stars

 

Summary:

Bone Gap is the story of Roza, a beautiful girl who is taken from a quiet midwestern town and imprisoned by a mysterious man, and Finn, the only witness, who cannot forgive himself for being unable to identify her kidnapper. As we follow them through their melancholy pasts, their terrifying presents, their uncertain futures, acclaimed author Laura Ruby weaves a heartbreaking tale of love and loss, magic and mystery, regret and forgiveness–a story about how the face the world sees is never the sum of who we are.

I’ve had this audio book for a year or two and finally made myself listen to it. I’m not really a fan of audio books and have only listened to a few. But this story could make me listen to them more often. Bone Gap is a free giveaway by Audiobooksync. Click on the link above to get more information about the program and how you too can receive free audio books.

Before I start the review I must point out the cover. I’m a huge sucker for book covers. If I like it I’ll probably buy the book. Which means I’ve read some awful books with gorgeous covers. I love this cover. Love it! And happily I love this novel too.

Like:

I am a huge fan of the magical realism genre so there are many things that I like about this book. Many of my favorite books over the last few years are books from this genre. So it really isn’t a surprise to me that I really love this book. I love the rural farm town setting, and the hints that something is just, I don’t know, off in this place. And I love that the off-ness of the place isn’t inherently evil. I love all the symbolism hinting at the off-ness of this place, this gap. The whispering corn fields that talk to Finn, one of the main characters. And Finn’s struggles with a mysterious problem. Roza, the other main character, and her struggle to find her place in the world are so well done in this story, not to mention her struggle as kidnapping victim. And Laura Ruby is a beautiful writer. I just loved hearing the writing so much that I went to Goodreads to read some of quoted passages for myself. And I really like Dan Bittner’s narration of the lovely passages which is so well done. This story is like a wonderful re-telling of fairy tale that’s been long forgotten.

One more thing: I love the reference to the OG of Midwestern magical realism Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. It’s done so delicately that if you blink you’ll miss it.

Not so much:

I’m not sure there is anything. But the resolution of the kidnapping is not my favorite part of the story. I want something more definitive to close that story line satisfactorily for me.

What I’ll remember:

Two things: First, Roza. She is a strong female protagonist. She doesn’t allow herself to be the victim of this story that must be saved by someone (aka male hero). She actively struggles against the man who has taken her captive, and in the end, makes a sacrifice to save herself and Finn. I like that young adult novels are making the heroines of the the stories more active in their own “saving.”

Second: The delicate use of magical realism in the story. It seeps into all the nooks and crannies, but doesn’t completely overwhelm and take over the story. If I had a friend (or a book club) that hadn’t read any magical realism but wanted to try it for the first time, this would be the book I will recommend. And really, if you haven’t read it yet, you should. Especially if you like magical realism and fairy tale re-tellings.

So let me know what you think in the comments below. Let me know if you have a favorite magical realism novel you would like to recommend. Or let me know what you think of listening to audio books.

Happy reading, y’all!

Quickie Book Review: The Long and Faraway Gone

Title: The Long and Faraway Gone

Author: Lou Berney

Published: 2015, William Morrow, Trade Paperback

Length: 456 pages

Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Crime

Source: Quarterly Book Box that I purchased. #Lit06

Stars: 4.5 Stars

Synopsis:

Edgar Award-nominee Lou Berney’s The Long and Faraway Gone is a smart, fiercely compassionate crime story that explores the mysteries of memory and the impact of violence on survivors—and the lengths they will go to find the painful truth of the events that scarred their lives.

In the summer of 1986, two tragedies rocked Oklahoma City. Six movie-theater employees were killed in an armed robbery, while one inexplicably survived. Then, a teenage girl vanished from the annual State Fair. Neither crime was ever solved.

Twenty-five years later, the reverberations of those unsolved cases quietly echo through survivors’ lives. A private investigator in Vegas, Wyatt’s latest inquiry takes him back to a past he’s tried to escape—and drags him deeper into the harrowing mystery of the movie house robbery that left six of his friends dead.

Like Wyatt, Julianna struggles with the past—with the day her beautiful older sister Genevieve disappeared. When Julianna discovers that one of the original suspects has resurfaced, she’ll stop at nothing to find answers.

As Wyatt’s case becomes more complicated and dangerous, and Julianna seeks answers from a ghost, their obsessive quests not only stir memories of youth and first love, but also begin to illuminate dark secrets of the past. Even if they find the truth, will it help them understand what happened and why they were left behind that long and faraway gone summer? Will it set them free–or ultimately destroy them?

This is the most melancholy story I’ve read lately. The sadness just permeates this book. I put off this review in order let that sadness dissipate, but it really took a long time. The sadness of this book just settled hard into my bones. I think it does because I was a teen and I remember what it was like to be a working class kid during those years. It’s easy to have nostalgia for the flashy stuff (see Ready Player One for nostalgia for the glossy, fun ’80’s.) But instead this book cracks open and examines what it is like to survive the ’80’s and survive violent crimes that seemed to be emblematic of that decade. And ultimately the book really asks the question How do survivors of devastating violence survive the guilt of living? And does knowing why the crime happened really help the survivors survive?

What I liked: I think what I like most about this story is that it’s not a story of triumph over a tragedy. Wyatt and Julianna have suffered as a result of the crime and this story is about how they suffer and their desire to know why this all happened to them. and sadly, the answers they get are not necessarily the answers they want or need to help them make sense of the crimes they endured. By the end of the tale we know the truth and why of what happened in August of 1986, but it isn’t a neat and tidy ending like in a TV movie.

Each and every decision they have made in their lives has been driven by that crime. And while they both chose professions that help people , Wyatt is a private detective and Julianna is a nurse, their work and personal lives area mess. It feels right that their lives are such a mess even years after those violent crimes. I also like that Berney doesn’t try to force a relationship between Wyatt and Julianna. The do meet briefly, but neither really knows who the other is. In fact many of the characters in this story do have connections to one or the other crime, but this detail doesn’t seem to intrude and knock me out of the tale.

What I didn’t so much: I’m not as fond of the Julianna. She is much more reckless and unthinking in her pursuit of why her sister disappeared all those years ago. She puts herself in situations that make me want to crawl into the book and smack some sense into her. And I’m also not as fond of Wyatt’s subplot. It serves more as a distraction from his real purpose in the story which is to find out why he survived the mass shooting.

Would I recommend: Yes. Read it when you are in the need of a sad story. If you are looking for something to cheer you up and give you faith in humanity, well, avoid this book. That said, this book is one of the best I’ve read so far this year.

Click here for Friday 56

And here for It’s Monday, What are You Reading?

Have you read this book or any others by this author? If so, can you recommend any other of his books? Or any other books that seem to be similar to this one? Let me know in the comments below, and happy reading, y’all.

Quickie Book Review: The Masked City

Title: The Masked City

Author: Genevieve Cogman

Published: 2016 by ROC, Trade Paperback

Length: 372 pages

Genre: Fantasy

Source: A bookstore. I paid full price, too.

Stars: 4. 5 stars.

Summary:

Working in an alternate version of Victorian London, Librarian-spy Irene has settled into a routine, collecting important fiction for the mysterious Library and blending in nicely with the local culture. But when her apprentice, Kai, a dragon of royal descent, is kidnapped by the fae, her carefully crafted undercover operation begins to crumble.

Kai’s abduction could incite a conflict between the forces of chaos and order that would devastate all worlds and all dimensions. To keep humanity from getting caught in the crossfire, Irene will have to team up with a local fae leader to travel deep into a version of Venice filled with dark magic, strange coincidences, and a perpetual celebration of Carnival—and save her friend before he becomes the first casualty of a catastrophic war.

But navigating the tumultuous landscape of fae politics will take more than Irene’s book-smarts and fast-talking—to ward off Armageddon, she might have to sacrifice everything she holds dear…

Here is a link to my gushing review of the first book in the series.

What I Like:

Well. Everything. This book is a fast, fun adventure ride. All my favorite characters from the first book in series return: Irene, Vale, Lord Silver, and Kai. And this time we delve a bit deeper into the world of the dragons and the fae. Most of the adventure takes place in an alt world that is completely dominated by the Fae. And it’s a world of nothing but chaos. And reading about all that chaos is awfully fun. But I think the thing I really loved about this story is that it’s not just about the library, but about the creation of story and how chaotic it and the characters the writer is trying to wrangle them into a coherent story can be. I’m such a sucker for books about books.

Didn’t like as much:

I really can’t think of anything I didn’t like. But I will say that I would love to spend more time exploring the Library. I would read a book that just describes the library and everything it with Irene as a tour guide. Wouldn’t that be a fun read.

Would I recommend?:

Yes, yes, and yes. Read it right now. I’ll wait. When you come back we can gush about it together.

 

Let me know in the comments if you have read this series and recommend it. As always, Happy Reading, y’all.

Quickie Book Review: See What I Have Done

Author: Sarah Schmidt

Published: August 2017 by Atlantic Monthly Press eBook

Length: 328 pages

Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Crime, Thriller

Source: Public Library

My rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Synopsis:

In this riveting debut novel, See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt recasts one of the most fascinating murder cases of all time into an intimate story of a volatile household and a family devoid of love.

On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid: Someone’s killed Father. The brutal ax-murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts, leaves little evidence and many unanswered questions. While neighbors struggle to understand why anyone would want to harm the respected Bordens, those close to the family have a different tale to tell—of a father with an explosive temper; a spiteful stepmother; and two spinster sisters, with a bond even stronger than blood, desperate for their independence.

As the police search for clues, Emma comforts an increasingly distraught Lizzie whose memories of that morning flash in scattered fragments. Had she been in the barn or the pear arbor to escape the stifling heat of the house? When did she last speak to her stepmother? Were they really gone and would everything be better now? Shifting among the perspectives of the unreliable Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, the events of that fateful day are slowly revealed through a high-wire feat of storytelling.

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one
I think this rhyme is familiar to almost every school kid in America. I skipped rope while chanting this as a child almost a full continent and 80 years away from Fall River, Massachusetts. The fascination with the murders lingers on for so many, including me. So much so that I had a long wait to re-check this book out of my local library.

 

What I Like:

I love a story based on infamous murders. And this one is a crazy tale. The writer, Sarah Schmidt, is an Australian and brings an outsider perspective to this story. She explores the Borden family and it’s dynamic through the senses. The overwhelming heat of that hot August day. The sweat and odor of unwashed bodies. The spoiled mutton broth that they were all forced to eat due to Andrew Borden’s stinginess. The sickness that pervades the house due to that rotten mutton broth. The rotting pears in the yard. So, yes, this family is sick and full of decay.

I also like that there are so many 1st person perspectives for the event. We have Lizzie’s, Emma’s and Bridget the maid’s. We also have Benjamin’s, a man hired by Lizzie and Emma’s Uncle John to kill Andrew Borden. Like any mystery, we need different perspectives to get to the truth of what happened that day.

What I don’t love:

Some of the same things I like about the story, I dislike too, if that makes sense. The descriptions of the decay and sickness and rot of the family become overwhelming. I’m also not a fan of the inclusion of Benjamin in this story. I’m not sure we need his point of view of the events. At the end he causes action, but again, not sure it needs to be him that causes that event?

Would I recommend?:

Yes. Especially if you enjoy true crime that we can’t solve 100 plus years later, then I think you will enjoy this story.

**Edited to add:   After I posted this review I listened to a podcast about Lizzie Borden. Click on this link to The History Chicks see the show notes and listen to the podcast.

Have you read See What I Have Done? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments below.