Rudy’s Rules for Travel

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Rudy’s Rules for Travel by Mary Jensen

I read it as an: ARC

Source: a site I review for

Length: 256 pp

Publisher: She Writes Press

Year: 2018

Jensen and her late husband, WWII veteran Rudy, have diametrically opposite personalities, but the combination makes for excellent travel stories. Jensen’s travel memoir highlights her husband’s list of rules he developed for travel, and over the course of their marriage and global adventures, he teaches her how to apply those rules to all things in life. The tales span from side-splittingly hilarious to utterly heartbreaking. All showcase the spectrum of the human condition and highlight Rule #11: “Relax – Some kind stranger will appear.” Throughout, readers are introduced to Rudy’s adventuresome spirit and absolute optimism. The book journeys from Scotland to Mexico, Egypt to Indonesia. The stories have the effect of teaching readers not necessarily about the places themselves, but rather how to live life to the fullest. “We don’t travel to have comfort…we can have comfort at home. And we don’t travel to meet Americans. We can meet Americans at home.” Traveling, according to Rudy, is for learning about a new culture and meeting people from that culture. To do that, you must “ride with locals, not tourists.” In Oaxaca, for example, the Jensens, eating at a tiny local taqueria, get swept up in a crowd headed to celebrate Holy Thursday in an unplanned local tradition. They would have missed the opportunity to participate in the ceremony if they had gone to the recommended tourist destinations, and indeed Jensen looked up “to see tourists in the two restaurants above us … straining to see, to understand what has happened on the streets below. I see what they had missed.” Other stories are laugh out loud funny, such as when the Jensens had to decide between one of two death-trap modes of transportation in Puerto Escondido. When in Egypt, the Jensens are faced with one of the most heartbreaking experiences of their travels, yet it also shows the generosity of people in a community when a family’s cow is killed by a car. The cow is the only thing they own and the villagers are trying to collect items from their own limited provisions to help. Not a lot of time is spent at any given location in each section. Instead, readers are taken to many places, each vividly but briefly described. In this way, Jensen is able to provide many examples for how Rudy’s Rules apply to a variety of scenarios.

Bonus points for feminist presses!

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Red Clocks

51vadbxr02bl-_sx328_bo1204203200_Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

I read it as a: hardback

Source: my own library

Length: 351 pp

Publisher: Little, Brown & Company

Year: 2018

Thoughts: What an interesting novel and writing style. I’ve heard it described as The Handmaid’s Tale for the 21st century. I’m not sure it’s quite that, but it does tell an important and terrifying story, made all the more frightening because it is one I can very easily see happening.

In a future-state America, the fucking old white Republican men have won and overturned Roe v Wade, and a personhood amendment has been passed. Abortion for any reason is illegal in all states, and any kind of fertilized egg has the same protection under law as existing, full grown humans. IVF is also outlawed because fertilized embryos can’t consent to being moved and they can’t consent to who their parents will be. My IQ dropped 10 points just writing that. As if any naturally conceived embryo has a say in who their parents will be. Most of us would probably swap out at least one of our parents if we did have a say as embryos. But I’m sure we all know at least one person in real life who thinks this should be reality. In Zumas’ novel, it has come to pass.

The story is told from the perspective of five different women, all of whom have differing relationships to pregnancy in this horrifying dystopia. Each has a name, but she is referred to mostly by her role. There is the Wife, who is stuck in a marriage she no longer enjoys, with two kids she loves but isn’t really sure are worth having given up a promising law career to have; the Daughter, adopted and doted upon, a math whiz, and incidentally pregnant at 15; the Biographer, a high school teacher desperate for a baby of her own, but single, unable under the new laws to adopt unless she’s married, and now biologically unable to have one of her own; the Explorer, a 19th century woman who studied ice and who is the subject of the Biographer and who wanted nothing more than to be taken seriously in her field, but was scorned and dismissed because she was a woman; and the Mender, a herbalist and hedge-witch, who will provide herbal remedies for what ails you, up to and including an inconveniently full uterus. Each character is connected in surprising and intricate ways in a well crafted narrative. My favorite was naturally the Mender. My least favorite was the Explorer, mostly because I just didn’t find much to identify with about her, but I also really didn’t like the Biographer. I thought she was weak and helpless. If you want something that bad and you know your time is running out, be bold and do more to get it. Instead, she was meek and retiring and I just didn’t care for her at all. However, in the end, she seemed like she’d had enough already and was ready to take on more of the world and possibly join the resistance and change things, so maybe there was hope for her.

Overall, I thought this was a beautifully written and terrifying glimpse into the ways in which women’s lives weave together. It is something that should worry any thinking person who has any woman in their life they care about.

Long Black Veil

Long Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boylan

I read it as an: ARC

Source: Blogging for Books

Length: 320 pp

Publisher: Broadway Books

Year: 2018

Thoughts: Well… the writing itself was good. The characters were fine. But a thriller, this was not. If you were going into this thinking you are going to get a thriller, you’ll be disappointed. It was a disappointment to me because I was expecting one thing – a kind of Gothic mystery thriller type of novel – and got something else entirely. If I’d had different expectations, I might have liked it better. Also, while there were a lot of ways in which this novel was very inclusive, the author’s bias against overweight people is glaringly obvious. “Fat fuck” is a common expression throughout, and it got annoying, especially considering that she seemed to go out of her way to be PC with every single other group in the book. Guess fat shaming is still ok…

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Misfortune of Vision

5182s1dgi4l-_sy346_Misfortune of Vision: Druid’s Brooch #4 by Christy Nicholas

I read it as an: ARC

Source: Helen Hollick/ DDRevs

Length: 307 pp

Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing

Year: 2018

Thoughts: In 12th century Ireland, the old ways of Druidism and prophecy are coming into conflict with the new ways of Christianity. Orlagh has been the Royal Seer to her chieftain for over 40 years. Recently, though, the chieftain has been disregarding Orlagh’s visions, to the detriment of the tribe. While Orlagh honors the old ways and the Fey Folk, she walks a fine line and knows that she must balance her gift of prophecy against the teachings of the new church, and tries to give proper credit to the new Christian god for her abilities. She knows, though, that her long life is soon to end, and since she is the only living member of her family left, she must find a worthy heir to whom she can pass on her family brooch, a faerie brooch that gives its owner magical abilities. In exchange for knowledge needed to fulfill her mission, Orlagh makes a deal with a faerie Lord. At the same time, her long-lost grandson, Declan, turns up, having traveled from town to town after the death of his parents. Declan is plagued by bad luck, mostly brought on by his poor decision-making skills and laziness, but his new sweetheart has given him a reinvigorated outlook on life and he is determined to make himself into a man worthy of her. When Declan and Orlagh reunite, will he be able to live up to everyone’s expectations, or will he revert to his past tendencies? And what of Orlagh’s agreement with the faerie Lord? For, as everyone knows, one does not lightly enter into a contract with the Fey…

Christy Nicholas has done it again with another vibrant, fast-paced, gripping tale. The tensions between the folk who incorporate the older ways into their daily habits and the priests of the Christian church are strong throughout. The cast of characters is complex and well drawn. I enjoyed Orlagh a great deal. She reminded me in many ways of my grandmother. I also tremendously appreciated reading a story where the protagonist was a woman older than 60. That’s not something readers get to see a whole lot of and it’s a shame, really. Older characters have a great deal to offer, so it is nice to see an older main character who is honored and respected. I hated Declan, as I think we were supposed to. Maybe he was supposed to instill some sympathy since we probably all know someone who can’t get out of their own way and keep making the same stupid mistakes, but I lack sympathy for people who can’t learn from their mistakes or who bring bad things upon themselves because they’re too lazy to work. I loved Cu-Ulaidh and absolutely adored the way he doted on Orlagh. I feel that Clodagh, Orlagh’s ward, could have been developed more, as well as her back story, but overall, this was a delightful read.

You can also read this review on DDRevs: https://discoveringdiamonds.blogspot.com/

 

Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed

51l6ucq47dl-_aa300_Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed by Meghan Daum, ed.

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Jo Anna Perrin, Johnny Heller

Source: library

Length: 7h 40 m

Publisher: Tantor Audio

Year: 2015

Thoughts: Eh. I liked most of the essays well enough. I think it is a topic that needs to be addressed, for sure. I do not think anyone is selfish for not wanting to have children. I think if anyone is hesitant, they should NOT have children. It is too big a deal, and can mess up a kid too badly, not to be sure you want them. And I think it is absolutely wrong for anyone to give anyone else shit about a decision that is entirely personal. The gall of some people is remarkable. I enjoyed the essay by Geoff Dyer, “Over and Out.” It was funny and insightful and just what I have thought a lot of the time. I didn’t want kids for a long time, until I did, and realized it wasn’t the kids I didn’t want, it was the man and the marriage. So there.

I did NOT care for the narration, though, on any of this. The lady narrator in particular sounded about as old as God and kind of robotic. I know they were essays, but that doesn’t mean they should be dry and boring and read without much feeling. I almost quit listening a few times because of the narration. It would have been faster and easier to eyeball read this one, but I had a bunch of other books to read, so I just kept on…

 

The Call

41ywomzzesl-_sx329_bo1204203200_The Call by Peadair O’Guilin

I read it as a: hardback

Source: personal collection

Length: 307 pp

Publisher: David Fickling Books

Year: 2016

Thoughts: If you’re into super dark faerie tales, this is the book you are looking for. In O’Guilin’s Ireland, the Sidhe, the faerie folk of Irish legend, have declared war upon the land and its inhabitants for forcing them into the Grey Lands. Twenty-five years ago, the Sidhe magically sealed off the borders of Ireland, preventing anyone from entering or leaving the country. Additionally, without warning, they steal the children who are between 12 and 18 and take them to the Grey Lands. These children then have 3 minutes in the human world to survive, though a whole day passes in the land of the Sidhe. During that time, the Sidhe hunt them, and when they catch the humans, they will change them into horrifying caricatures of people before sending them back, sometimes alive, usually dead. Across Ireland are military-like “survival colleges,” designed with the sole purpose of teaching children as much as humans know about the Sidhe to help them survive. Nessa is a student at one such school and she awaits her Call with more dread than most. She survived polio and her legs are atrophied as a result, leaving her unable to run as she will need to do when she is Called. She has to learn the best way to use the skills she has to survive when only 1 in 10 physically able children manage to make it back, and most of them don’t come back in one piece.

This was one of the darkest faerie tales I’ve ever read, and I loved it. None of the characters were very likeable, which I think is understandable and believable under those circumstances. Everyone in the book is traumatized in one way or another. I thought it was an interesting take on the legends that depict the conflict between humans and the Sidhe and other fey beings of Irish mythology. I also really liked that, although this is listed as the first of a series, it can be read as a standalone. It doesn’t end on a cliffhanger and it had a satisfying conclusion, although it has plenty of ground to continue the story. But I am thrilled that I don’t *have* to read the next book in the series. I enjoyed this book and I’m sure I will eventually read the rest of the series once it’s complete, but I get SO tired of series, especially fantasy or sci-fi series, that go on and on for a floppity jillion books. It is a welcome change of pace to find one that can be its own standalone novel.

Sea Witch

51bsi1ybail-_sx328_bo1204203200_Sea Witch by Helen Hollick

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my own collection. Actually, it was a gift from Helen for a favor I did for her on her website. ❤

Length: 314 pp

Publisher: SilverWood Books of Bristol

Year: 2011

Thoughts: I have to confess that if I hadn’t received the prequel to this series, I likely wouldn’t have read this, even though I’ve read all of Helen’s other books and loved them. I had never really been too interested in pirates beyond generally romanticizing them like everyone else, and enjoying the Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland. It’s not generally the time period I’m into. But she sent me the prequel to review and I LOVED it, and then she sent me this as a gift for some help I gave on her website, and now I want to read the whole series. I wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true. I LOVE this series so much.

In this first book of the Jesamiah Acorne series, readers are introduced to Jesamiah, obviously, and learn a little of his history. We get to know about life on the sea and I, at least, learned a whole lot of cool things about ships. And some truly delightful expressions and vocabulary. I am well equipped for the next International Talk Like a Pirate Day! This book was chock full of action and adventure, a ton of humor, and plenty of romance. I loved Tiola and her strength, I loved Rue and his wit, and I adore Jes for his bravery and his vulnerability. These are not characters on a page, they are people who breathe and feel and love and suffer and I tell the truth when I say I am going to run right out and pick up the rest of the series. I never thought I’d fall in love with a historical series that wasn’t medieval, Renaissance, or Victorian, but I did. I read this in one sitting and I can’t wait to jump into the next book.

My favorite scene in the whole book (and there were many awesome scene to choose from) was when Jes helped Tiola deliver a baby.

And another scene even had a line that I added to my commonplace book, which doesn’t happen often.

Helen’s personal site: http://www.helenhollick.net/

DDRevs: https://discoveringdiamonds.blogspot.com/

 

Sheriff and Priest

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Sheriff and Priest by Nicky Moxey

I read it as an: ARC

Source: got it from Helen Hollick to review on Discovering Diamonds

Length: 360 pp

Publisher: Dodnash Books

Year: 2017

In 12th century England, times are turbulent. Tensions between the lower class Saxon English and ruling class Norman nobles simmer, and The Anarchy is at its peak. This debut historical novel opens in the middle of these times, in a small town with a young boy, Wimer. He is a bright boy but, as a Saxon peasant, has few opportunities. His luck changes when he comes to the notice of the local priest, who sponsors his attendance at a school in Norwich. From there, Wimer has the option of becoming a monk or a chaplain. He decides to become a chaplain and go out into the world. He makes a name for himself in the service of Hugh Bigod, and is able to leave that house and work directly for Henry II as the High Sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk. In the course of discharging his duties, he runs afoul of Thomas Becket and is excommunicated, twice by Becket and once by the Pope. He also has a doomed love for Ida de Toscny, Henry’s ward. Eventually, Wimer is reinstated into the Church but in order to feel truly free of his mortal sins, both from his rifts with his religious superiors and because of his love for Ida, Wimer decides he needs to return to a life devoted to the Church and make an act of spectacular penitence.

Sheriff and Priest was a delightful novel. There are several novels available which tell the tale of The Anarchy, all told from the perspective of Henry II or Eleanor of Aquitaine, or perhaps from various other nobles. Getting the perspective of a man who began life as a Saxon peasant is a unique take, and a refreshing change. Wimer is a complex and sympathetic figure. He overthinks just about everything and makes life a lot harder for himself in many ways, which is a very believable character trait. Some of the secondary characters could have been fleshed out a little more, but the people readers encountered the most were not flat and were developed enough for the purpose. The only thing that was a little jarring was the reference to Thomas a’Becket. He wasn’t referred to as such during his life, and not until at least the Post-Reformation. Nitpicky thing, yes, but noticeable. Overall, though, this novel was full of wonderful medieval detail and flowed swiftly across the page. Highly recommended (4.5 stars if you want a star rating).

The Bear and the Nightingale

25489134The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

I read it as an: audiobook

Source: my own collection

Length: 11 h 48 m

Publisher: Del Rey

Year: 2017

Thoughts: In a medieval-ish Russian setting, Vasya is the daughter her mother most wanted, and the one who ultimately killed her. Growing up half wild at the edge of a deep forest, Vasya’s father eventually decides that he should remarry so that Vasya can have a mother. However, her new stepmother is city-bred and zealously religious. She forbids her household or the villagers from practicing the traditional rituals of honoring the spirits of the hearth, forest, and meadows which will protect their homes. Vasya knows this is wrong and is afraid, and she is right to fear. The crops and animals start dying, drought comes, and horrifying creatures straight out of Vasya’s nurse’s fairy tales begin walking the night. Her stepmother, convinced that Vasya is the cause of all the troubles, is determined that Vasya will either marry or go to a convent by midwinter. Vasya has to rely on her own talents, which she has kept hidden out of fear of being killed as a witch, to save her family and village.

“Vasilisa the Fair” is one of my favorite Russian fairy tales, and “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” is another of my favorites. This novel makes me think of both of these stories, drawing heavily from myth and folklore from a wide range of cultures. The setting is brutal and atmospheric – I got cold listening to parts of this! But I loved imagining the way the houses were set up and was curious about the stoves the family slept on. I had to look it up and learned a lot about the Russian oven! I loved the characters of the home, the house spirits and the men and women and the horses. Such horses! And Vasya is a tremendous character, brave and honest. I can’t wait to see what Arden comes up with for her next novel, which is supposedly set in the same world.

My only complaint is that the narration was a tad slow at times. But in general, I enjoyed listening to this on audiobook because I am unfamiliar with the Russian language. I would have been completely unable to pronounce the words correctly. I appreciated hearing them spoken aloud for me.

 

The City of Brass

32718027The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

I read it as a: hardback

Source: library

Length: 526 pp

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Year: 2017

Thoughts: Nahri is a young woman alone in 18th century Cairo, a place where young women should not be alone. To survive, she has established a reputation for herself as a healer and woman who can help with supernatural problems, such as banishing unwanted djinns from inhabiting a person. In reality, she is a con artist, using her reputation to find her next mark. She doesn’t actually believe in magic or djinns, despite the fact that she has an unnatural ability to heal people, and she can understand any language after hearing it just once. During a ritual to exorcise a young girl from demons, Nahri inadvertently summons a real djinn, Dara. This has the side effect of attracting the attention of several other wicked creatures who set out to find Nahri. Dara takes her with him on a journey to the city of Daevabad, the mythic home of all the djinn tribes. There, Nahri meets the royal family, including the younger prince Ali, who is a rebel and idealist struggling to find peace and equality for all the tribes as well as the shafit, the djinn-human mixed race people who are treated as second-class citizens. Nahri learns that she is the long-lost daughter of the last of a great tribe of djinn healers and is welcomed almost as a goddess. She has to learn how to navigate palace politics as well as learn new rules of healing with magic. In an effort to unite the tribes and put a halt to escalating violence in the city, the king decides that a marriage between Nahri and his eldest son is in order. Nahri is devastated to learn that Dara has a vicious history in the city and is known as the Scourge of Daevabad for his actions in a war 1400 years ago. She must decide whether to believe him when he has never been forthcoming with her before, trust her increasing friendship with Ali, or trust her own instincts which are telling her that nothing is what it seems.

This debut novel was rich with Middle Eastern mythology and culture, strong world building, and stronger characters. AND it’s an #ownvoices story, which is awesome. I’ve never read a Muslim fantasy before and let me tell you, it was so cool to read about a culture that is not as familiar to me. I LOVED it. I loved it so much. Chakraborty weaves a vibrant, rich tapestry for her readers and does a beautiful job painting a picture of life not only in her fantasy world, but also how elements of Islam are interwoven throughout seamlessly. I loved how descriptive the writing was. I could smell the spices in the air at the bazaar, and feel the heat of the desert air rising up from the dunes. The colors and sounds and scents were immersive, practically a virtual reality experience leaping out of the pages.

The characters are all flawed and deeply human and even the ones you aren’t really supposed to like, you still find yourself caring about in some way or another. That is a rare thing for me as a reader. I don’t often care about all the characters in a book, or even any of them, depending on the story. But this book made me love Nahri and Ali, made me frustrated with Dara, made me suspect the king but in a way that didn’t make me hate him. Every character had well defined personalities and behaved within the scope of them. It’s always annoying when characters have their personalities violated by their own authors; that never happened here. Everything the characters did, even if it was a surprise, was never out of character upon reflection.

I absolutely loved this book and cannot wait for the next book in the trilogy.