The Confessions of Young Nero

516-ss-grll-_sx331_bo1204203200_Margaret George has done it again –  she’s delivered another vivid, dramatic historical fiction that sweeps readers along on a journey of exhilaration and betrayal. This time, her focus is on ancient Rome, beginning around the year 40 AD, and the early life of Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, later called Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus Germanicus. The novel opens with an early memory of Lucius, when his uncle, the infamous Emperor Caligula, tries to drown him in the sea and allows a sympathetic sailor to rescue him. From then on, Lucius’s life is one set of traumas, upheavals, and betrayals to the next as he struggles to find his place in a dangerous political world he doesn’t yet understand. When he does eventually and unexpectedly rise to power as the youngest man ever to become the emperor of Rome, he must learn to trust himself and figure out the intricacies of Roman politics while still coming into his own as a man.Read More »

Lightning Round: Grayling’s Song and Black Man in a White Coat

513x9-sswyl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Grayling’s Song by Karen Cushman

Publisher/Year: Clarion Books, 2016

Format: Hardback

Pages: 213

Source: my own collection

Thoughts: It was ok. I got it from Amazon on sale and couldn’t pass up a YA book about hedge witches. That’s totally in my wheelhouse and I was excited to read it. But the writing wasn’t very tight, I got tired of all the whining and complaining the travelers did real quick, and I felt the ending left too many unanswered questions. Overall, it was fine for younger readers but for teens, adults, or advanced young readers, it would likely fall pretty short of the mark. 


51zdrdf1ypl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Black Man in a White Coat by Damon Tweedy, M.D.

Publisher/Year: Picador, 2016

Format: audiobook

Time: 8 hours 44 min

Source: Audible.com

Thoughts: I read this for a book club I joined at work. I am glad they picked this one because I have always been interested in medical memoirs anyway, even though I tend not to care about memoirs in general. I also appreciated learning more about how race affects the medical treatment and practice of American society. Intellectually, I knew race affects medical care and how healthy people are in general, but I liked learning about it in more detail. I could have done without the multiple references to Ben Carson, though. Surely there are at least a few other black doctors he could have referred to who aren’t politically insane.

H is for Hawk

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A MUCH shorter version of this ran initially on Book Riot. I’m just now getting around to posting my full review here. BR post: http://bookriot.com/2017/02/01/riot-round-best-books-read-january-2017/

When I first saw this book at the bookstore, I picked it up because I thought the cover looked vaguely medieval. I thought maybe it was a historical fiction that I might want to read. Then I saw that it was a memoir and dropped it like a hot rock. Personal memoirs have never really been my bag, although I’ve read a few of them. I’m typically not too into personal memoirs unless you are Dr. Salk and literally cured polio or something. However, once I started writing for Book Riot, everyone there who had read this book raved about it. The more I heard about it, the more interesting it actually sounded. Then, when I saw that it was available for free on the Audible Channels, I figured what the hell. I started listening to it. And it consumed my brain like some kind of bookish zombie hawk.

The author, Helen Macdonald, was very close to her father. Naturally, she was devastated when he dropped dead unexpectedly one day. She was a falconer, so to work through her grief, she decided to raise and train a goshawk. Previously, she had only ever trained smaller birds of prey like merlins and peregrines. The goshawk is apparently one of the largest and wildest and most difficult to train. So, challenge accepted.

I learned so much from this book. I mean, it would have been impossible for me not to, since I knew absolutely nothing about falconry before reading it. But now I know what jesses are (I’d always wondered when I read the term in historical fiction novels. I don’t know why I never figured it out from context, or why I never looked it up. Usually I do.); what bating is and why it is upsetting to Macdonald when Mabel does it; and, from one of my very favorite scenes in the whole book, that goshawks love to play and have expressions indicating joy and bird laughter. Mabel really fucking loves paper balls (they’re crunchy!) and sticking her head into rolled up magazines while Macdonald talks to her through the other end of it. LOL. I learned that there are very good reasons falconry is so classist and why birds such as the peregrine are considered the elite of the falcons. I learned that goshawks, or at least Mabel, have breath that smells like “pepper and musk and burned stone” and now I hope BPAL makes it into a perfume. I learned that it is a falconry tradition (or superstition?) that if you give your bird a badass name like Nazgul or Killer, it will be a shit hunter, but if you give it sweet little old granny names like Opal or Rosie or Mabel, it will be death on wings.

I loved the writing style. Macdonald makes beautiful words. One of the first sentences that caught my attention, and apparently the attention of many other readers, was when she stated that “Looking for  goshawks is like looking for grace – it comes, but not often, and you don’t get to say when or how.” And when Macdonald talks about her scars: “One is from her talons when she’d been fractious with hunger; it feels like a warning made flesh. Another is a blackthorn rip from the time I’d pushed through a hedge to find the hawk I’d thought I’d lost. And there were other scars, too, but they were not visible. They were the ones she’d helped mend, not make.”

H is for Hawk is, to me, a perfect blend of memoir and nature writing. I got to learn more about falconry, got to know and love Mabel, got to ramble along through the Cambridgeshire countryside with them as they went looking for things to kill (which isn’t as fucked up as it sounds), and got to learn some comparisons to other kinds of hunting birds. I was sad when I got to the end.

Now I am off to find falconry groups in my area to see if any teach total n00bs.

I read it as an: audiobook

Source: Audible.com Channels

Time: 11 hours 6 min

Publisher: Grove Press

 

Treehouse Monster

My daughter, who is six, has decided she also likes to write stories and begged me to put hers on the internet. So I did. I think it’s cute, and not too bad for a little kid. Of course, I’m terribly biased. 🙂

Chapter One

The books

It was almost nigt, and to freinds, little Harry, and little Angilina, were going to the tree house, and they were reading a monster book called ‘the monster of dawn’ and it was scarey.

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Read More »

A monster they understand

This is a guest post by my friend Anne Graue. She was invited to write a review of Hag-Seed by the Margaret Atwood Society. Of course she said yes! She retains the rights to her review, so it is reposted below, with her permission.

Anne is a wonderful poet, as well. She has her first chapbook coming out in the fall, writes reviews for a ton of various literary journals, and has her own poetry published in a multitude of print and online journals an magazines, including The Fem Lit and The Five-Two. You can (and definitely should) follow her at @agraue on Twitter. And buy her chapbook when it comes out this fall. I can guarantee I’ll be writing about it when it comes out!  ~KM

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This Brave New Rendering: A Review of Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed: The Tempest Retold

By Anne Graue

It’s all there: the isolation, the vengeance, the forgiveness. Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed: The Tempest Retold is the story of Felix Phillips, a modern-day Prospero making magic in the theatre until he is set adrift by those who want him to disappear. His boat is a cabin without modern amenities, and he’s accompanied by the spirit of his dead daughter Miranda. Her presence “began when he was counting time by how old Miranda would be, had she lived….Call it a conceit, a whimsy, a piece of acting: he didn’t really believe it, but he engaged in this non-reality as if it were real” (45). He renames himself Mr. Duke and becomes a teacher with revenge always on his mind, consuming him as it would any of Shakespeare’s protagonists. Atwood’s novel takes the reader from exposition to denouement with Shakespearean precision, demonstrating how Shakespeare’s characters and themes are universal and eternal while shedding important light on the themes of literacy, art, and human nature.

Hag-Seed is primarily the story of Felix, the Art Director of an annual theatre festival. His attention to Shakespeare’s work and language in his theatre productions is unappreciated and misunderstood by coworkers with aspirations of ascending through the ranks of local politics. Felix’s plans to stage a production of The Tempest are thwarted, and he vows revenge on those who have unseated him. With careful attention to dramatic irony, readers are told that Felix “needed to get his Tempest back” and that “he wanted revenge” (41). The second story in the novel is the retelling of the play as social commentary on the need for education in prisons. The characters in this play, the medium security inmates of the Fletcher County Correctional Institute, read and perform in Felix’s class; they are the ones deemed most unworthy, the ones who most identify with Caliban in his exile and disgrace. He is a monster they understand. Atwood explores the connections her characters make with literature and the resulting connections to their own humanity.

Atwood’s meticulous use of Shakespeare’s language is so nuanced that the movement from one episode to the next is seamless and credible even as readers are invited to understand the presence of spirits and even magic in lives that on the outside might appear ordinary. Time is masterfully handled with titles and subtitles that indicate the divisions of the work that mirror those of the play. As Felix’s plans for revenge meld with the performance at the prison, he is sure that “whatever the form the thing assumes, it will depend on exact timing” (113). Atwood’s storytelling dexterity takes readers through Felix’s years of teaching until time catches up to the opening scene, and readers, with dramatic irony in tact and waiting with baited breath, experience the denouement with all of the catharsis expected from Shakespearean drama in this brave new rendering of archetypal themes.

Works Cited

Atwood, Margaret. Hag-Seed: The Tempest Retold. Penguin Random House, LLC., 2016.

Graue, Anne. “This Brave New Rendering: A Review of Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed: The Tempest Retold.” Margaret Atwood Studies Journal, vol. 10, 2016, https://english.sxu.edu/sites/atwood/journal/index.php/masj/article/view/103. Accessed 22 February 2017.

 

The Dark Days Pact

the-dark-days-pact-alison-goodman-133x200Picking up the narrative in 1812, just a few weeks after the end of the preceding book, The Dark Days Pact jumps right back into the action with Lady Helen Wrexhall and Lord Carlston. Now removed to Brighton in disgrace, Lady Helen begins her Reclaimer training in earnest with Carlston and his Terrene (a sort of supernatural bodyguard), Quinn, learning about her new abilities to fight the Deceivers and keep them from overrunning England. At the same time, Carlston seems to be getting overwhelmed with the Reclaimer vestige, the residual dark energy all Reclaimers retain over time from killing Deceivers and which, if ignored, will render him insane. Adding to Helen’s burden, Lord Pike, the odious bureaucrat in charge of the Dark Days Club, has tasked her with a secret mission to track down a lost journal written by a renegade Reclaimer which has the power to destroy all Deceivers or Reclaimers. And Duke Selburn just doesn’t know how to take no for an answer to his marriage proposals…

Sequels often have a hard time living up to the hype. Many times they do not compare in quality to the first book of a series, or are not as fun or well-written or any number of other sins. Such is definitely not the case with The Dark Days Pact. Goodman keeps the pace going strongly throughout while still generating a lot of terrific character development along the way. And the ending! I am not sure I will be able to stand the wait until the third book in the series. Hugely fun, highly recommended.

The Apothecary’s Curse

the-apothecarys-curse-barbara-barnett-133x200In Victorian England, apothecary Gaelan Erceldoune, whose knowledge comes from a mysterious manuscript passed down through his family for generations, is viewed with the usual skepticism reserved for members of his profession. His friendship with Dr. Simon Bell leads him to make a tonic to cure Bell’s wife of cancer when Bell begs him for help. Through a mishap, the elixir is ruined, Bell’s wife dies, and Bell, seeking to commit suicide, drinks the leftovers, only to discover that they made him immortal instead. Over the years, he and Gaelan learn that they both share immortality. They join forces to recover Gaelan’s lost manuscript so that they can reverse the effects of the elixir and release themselves from never-ending life.

The novel seamlessly weaves dual timelines together, shifting from Victorian England to modern-day America. In each, Simon and Gaelan work to hide their immortality while either striving to evade “mad doctors,” recover the missing manuscript and keep it (and themselves) out of the hands of unethical pharmaceutical researchers, and unlock the modern marvels of genetics.

I loved this book. I thought at first that it took too long for the modern-day geneticist, Anne Shawe, to make her appearance, but upon consideration, it seemed a very deliberate choice on Barnett’s part. Delaying the love interest’s appearance, then making her immediately interesting and invaluable, gives readers a sense of what it might be like to live forever, want to die, and then be faced with something worth living for. I also loved that the novel touched on many facets of medical ethics. It highlights a lot of things we need to discuss within the medical community. I don’t know if Barnett did that intentionally or not, but it was nicely done all the same, and goes to show that sci-fi/fantasy is an ideal medium in which to discuss some heavy topics.

Review originally published on the Historical Novel Society website: https://historicalnovelsociety.org/reviews/the-apothecarys-curse/

The English Agent

the-english-agent-phillip-depoy-132x200I’ve often found that when I inadvertently pick up a book that is later in a series, I have a difficult time getting interested in the characters or plot. That was not at all the case with The English Agent, second in DePoy’s Elizabethan England/Christopher Marlowe mystery series. Immediately, I was intrigued by the plot, which revolves around the infamous Babington Plot to murder Queen Elizabeth in which Marlowe played a role. DePoy uses the Marlowe angle and his suspected involvement as a secret agent in the employ of Sir Francis Walsingham and puts them to good use in a storyline that twists and turns throughout. It is fast-paced and fun, even for those of us well-versed in Tudor history.

DePoy’s writing is a genuine delight. In the space of a single page, I found myself laughing at a witty line, choked up at a poignant comment, and tense with excitement. His fictional characters are just as well developed as Marlowe, Dr. Lopez, Walsingham and Philip Sidney, and I found myself caring particularly about one of them. Dialogue moves smoothly, as did the general narration. I appreciated also how DePoy sprinkles into the characters’ conversations fragments of Elizabethan poetry from Marlowe, Shakespeare, Sidney, and Kyd, easily and without pretension. It suits the novel very well. Very highly recommended.

Review originally published on the Historical Novel Society website: https://historicalnovelsociety.org/reviews/the-english-agent/ 

Read Harder 2017 – My List

As I posted a few weeks ago, I’m planning to do the Book Riot 2017 Read Harder Challenge. I probably would have gotten a lot of the tasks checked off just in my own reading life anyway, but I wanted to make it official. I also like to make lists. I’m weird. Mostly I like to cross things off of lists. I am also lazy and I don’t want to have to think about things when it is time to make a decision. Having a list I already made ahead of time saves me from having to make a decision or do more research. I can just pick the book!

So I did a lottle research (which was really a lot but it was kinda fun because I’m a nerd, so it only felt like a little, thus a lottle) and came up with the below list for the 2017 task list.

I don’t feel stress about the list, either, because I reserve the right to change my mind about a book on the list. So there.

  1. Read a book about sports: Wild (Cheryl Strayed). Hiking is totally a sport in my world.
  2. Read a debut novel: Cinder (Marissa Meyer)
  3. Read a book about books: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane (Katherine Howe)
  4. Read a book set in Central or S. America written by a Central or S. American author: House of Mist (Maria Luisa Bombal)
  5. Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative: Funny in Farsi (Firoozeh Dumas) or maybe Kabul Beauty School (Deborah Rodruguez)
  6. Read an all-ages comic: Phoebe and Her Unicorn – DONE
  7. Read a book published between 1900 and 1950: I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith); The Door in the Wall (Marguerite DiAngeli); And Then There Were None (Agatha Christie); 1984 (Orwell); House of Mirth (Edith Wharton)
  8. Read a travel memoir: Gorge (Kara Richardson Whitely)
  9. Read a book you’ve read before: undecided. 2017 was going to be my year of rereads, so…
  10. Read a book set within 100 miles of your location: for me, one of these will do. I’ll probably pick a Kingsolver or maybe a Hillerman I’ve never read his stuff.
  11. Read a book set more than 5000 miles from your location: Flirting with French [Provence] (William Alexander); The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones [London] (Jack Wolf); The World We Found [Bombay] (Thrity Umrigar); Wave [Sri Lanka] (Sonali Deraniyagala); The Light Between Oceans [Western Australia] (ML Stedman)
  12. Read a fantasy novel: Miranda and Caliban (Jacqueline Carey) – DONE
  13. Read a nonfiction book about technology: Innovating Women (Vivek Wadhwa); Rise of the Rocket Girls (Nathalia Holt); She’s Such a Geek! (Annalee Newitz); Dot Complicated (Randi Zuckerberg)
  14. Read a book about war: The House of Splendid Isolation (Edna O’Brien); One of the Guys (Tara McKelvey)
  15. Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author of color who identifies as LGBTQ+: Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel (Sara Farizan)
  16. Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country: The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
  17. Read a classic by an author of color: Lakota Woman (Mary Crow Dog)
  18. Read a superhero comic with a female lead: Captain Marvel (Kelly Sue DeConnick)
  19. Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey: Ceremony (Leslie Marmon Silko)
  20. Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel: Tipping the Velvet (Sara Waters)
  21. Read a book published by a micropress: Deer Woman (Elizabeth LaPensee) – DONE
  22. Read a collection of stories by a woman: Interpreter of Maladies (Jhumpa Lahiri)
  23. Read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love: Old Norse Women’s Poetry (Sandra Balif Stranbhaar)
  24. Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color: A Bollywood Affair (Sonali Dev); The Association of Small Bombs (Karan Mahajari); might be time to read another Amy Tan…