Total Money Makeover

17591758The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness by Dave Ramsey

I read it as a: hardback

Source: library

Length: 237 pp

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Year: 2013

My mom occasionally listens to one of the more conservative radio stations in my hometown. That would be horrifying except they have plenty of *opinions* about 45 which are quite in alignment with my own, which is a delightful surprise given that I am…super not conservative. Anyway, this station plays Dave Ramsey every day for 2 hours and I’ve often heard his show. I have always enjoyed listening to him when I catch his show because so much of his financial advice is so common-sensical and down to earth. I like his tough love approach and how he tells people what they need to hear rather than what the want to hear. Since I have a little bit of debt – thankfully not very much at all – I decided to take a look at his book. I am glad I did because I learned a lot of things that are relevant even for people without a crushing amount of debt!

I found the book to be broken down in a clear and easy to understand format. You would think that should be a given, but nope. I’ve read other finance books and it was like, “WTF does that even mean?” I have literature degrees for a reason, folks. Anyway, Ramsey’s premise for becoming debt-free is to follow his Baby Steps. These steps are:

  1. Save $1000 for an emergency fund
  2. Pay off all debt (except mortgage) using the debt snowball
  3. Save 3-6 months of expenses in a fully funded emergency fund
  4. Invest 15% of your income in retirement
  5. Save for your children’s college funds
  6. Pay off your home early
  7. Build wealth and give

The first two steps are supposed to take the longest, especially if you have a ton of debt. Since I don’t have a lot of debt and only recently discovered Dave Ramsey, I already have well over $1000 for an emergency fund. I’m sure he would think it is an excuse, but I will never use all my money to pay off the one debt I have because I have a house and the mortgage is more than $1000 a month. But I did recently manage to make a giant payment to the one loan that I have, and am making a budget, which I’ve never done before. I will be able to get that thing paid off within this calendar year if I plan right, and then I will be able to start saving for a new car, finally, which I’ll pay cash for. I will be able to save money for my daughter’s college fund, and invest for retirement the way I want to. I want to follow a mix of Dave Ramsey/ Mr Money Mustache/ The Minimalists approach to life, because that seems the type that is the likeliest to bring the most joy and value to my life.

Is this book for everyone? Nope. If you have the attitude that the world owes you something or that certain things are just *necessary* for life when they really aren’t, or you aren’t willing to make sacrifices for a while to get out of debt, then you probably won’t respond well to this book. Ramsey is also religious and he sometimes throws in quotes from the Bible to support his financial practices. I’m as atheist as they come, but I didn’t find these to be irritating or anything; they were the common sense kind of quotes, like “Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth” (Prov. 10:4). The source here is irrelevant. The message is the same – getting out of debt and gaining financial freedom is hard work and you can’t be lazy about it. But I suppose it might be annoying to some people who aren’t able to separate their secularism from everything else.

I also learned some things that I should have learned long before now, in my early 40s, but I suppose better late than never. Like about the protections on debit cards, for example. Never knew how those worked before now. Made me feel dumb, but now I am glad to know how it works because I can use my debit card with no concerns now. It will make things easier to budget, that’s for sure!

Even though I don’t have a ton of debt, I am still really glad I read this book and will be using the steps to pay off what debt I do have, and to help me manage my money better in the future. Definitely recommended for people who are in debt and are motivated to get out, who want to manage their finances better, and who want to understand how their money works better.

Arthurian Novels Round-Up!

It’s been a while since I did any kind of round-up post, and I’ve been thinking a lot about Arthurian novels. Arthurian legend is probably my absolute go-to favorite for fantasy literature. I love a ton of different kinds of sci-fi and fantasy, of course, but if I had to pick one specific subgenre that really blows my skirt up, it has to be Arthurian. I’ll take it in just about any setting, I’ll read it without forgetting, I’ll read it at school, I’ll read it in the pool, I love stories of Arthur the King… I’ll stop. Ahem. Sorry.

Anyway, in no particular order, below are some of my favorites and I hope some are new to you!

51itaibuaqlOur Man On Earth (The Swithen Book 1) by Scott Tilek. An account based on some of the oldest extant manuscripts describing Merlin.

Black Horses for the King (Magic Carpet Books) by Anne McCaffrey. My beloved author wrote an Arthurian novel (yay!) about horses (winning!!), which is even better. All about the quest to find the perfect breed of warhorse for Arthur and his knights.

51ln1vvcazl._sx331_bo1204203200_The Kingmaking: Book One of the Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy by Helen Hollick. An historic retelling, stripped of magic and placed in a realistic medieval setting. One of the best, on par with Bernard Cornwell’s Arthurian Trilogy (The Warlord Chronicles: Books 1, 2 & 3: Excalibur / Enemy of God / The Winter King), which is also legit.

The Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy (Daughter of Destiny, Camelot’s Queen, and Mistress of Legend) by Nicole Evelina. The Arthurian legends told from Guinevere’s perspective. The tales get a fresh, feminist revision with a fierce new look at Camelot’s queen.

Child of the Northern Spring: Book One of the Guinevere Trilogy by Persia Wooley. Guinevere is a Welsh princess tomboy who was raised to become a queen.

Knight Life by Peter David. Arthur and Morgan in modern Manhattan, as told by the hilarious Peter David, whose Star Trek books I have universally loved. Especially Imzadi.

51gzvucvqfl._sx354_bo1204203200_Song Of The Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell. Actually, this is the story of the Lady of Shallott, told in verse, and it is lovely.

The Excalibur Murders: A Merlin Investigation by JMC Blair. Excalibur is stolen and a squire is murdered, so Merlin has to use his magic to solve the crime.

The White Raven by Diana Paxson. An historical setting of the Tristan and Iseult story, placed in medieval Cornwall. It is told from the perspective of Branwen, Iseult’s cousin and lady in waiting. Alas, I think this one is out of print, but I know you can get it from used bookstores and Amazon, because that’s how I got my copy. Just sayin’… 

The Green Phoenix

36085083The Green Phoenix: A Novel of the Woman Who Re-Made Asia, Empress Xiaozhuang by Alice Poon

I read it as an: ARC

Source: Helen Hollick at Discovering Diamonds

Length: 372 pp

Publisher: Earnshaw Books

Year: 2017

The Green Phoenix by Alice Poon is a sweeping saga of a fascinating woman, the Empress Xiaozhuang. She began as Bumbutai, a Mongolian princess who became a concubine at the Manchu court when she was 12  and later, became the first empress of the Qing Dynasty. She guided her country through political machinations, upheaval, and strife to see it become one of the most powerful dynasties on earth.

I confess that I know nothing at all about Chinese history. Going into this, I couldn’t have been more ignorant about a topic if I tried. That said, The Green Phoenix was an absolutely riveting novel, and appears to be meticulously researched. The atmosphere hooked me from the start and I simply didn’t want to put it down. I lost rather a lot of sleep over this book. The politics of court life were complex and, at times, harrowing, on par with anything the Tudors or Plantagenets could come up with. The intrigues and plots were so intricate and delicately wrought that I found myself breathless, wanting to know how this woman would make things right or take advantage of the situation. I found myself rooting for a person who has been gone for nearly 400 years – her story is over and unchanging at this point, but it was as gripping to me as if it were happening in real time.

The characters in this novel are people readers grow to care about. Some of them I hated, but I was supposed to. I admit that I did have some trouble keeping many of them straight, partly because there were so many of them and partly because I was having a hard time with the names. That is all on me, though; I wonder if it might be easier to keep characters straight if I could listen to this as an audiobook. Perhaps one day it will be available through Audible, but it seems not to be at the moment.

Poon’s use of language can only be described as elegant. I highlighted many of my favorite passages, as is my habit when reading any book, but I think my favorite was, “A kind ruler is an invincible ruler,” something many leaders even today need to learn. Hong Taiji really embraced that when Bumbutai first joined his court as a child bride/concubine. He allowed her to continue her education, something that was precious to her, and he was kind to her. It can be hard to understand, even for seasoned readers of historical fiction, a girl marrying at 12 years old. For Bumbutai to go from a child at the beginning of the book to the formidable woman she was is a treat to witness, all thanks to Poon’s masterful wordsmithing. Bumbutai was a woman of great strength, generosity, love, and humility. I would have liked to know her, and after reading this book, I felt almost like I did.

Overall, this was a captivating book, and it read very quickly despite its length. Very highly recommended!

 

Catch-Up: Early American and Post-War novels review*

Title by Author

Layout 1Sarah’s Secret: A Western Tale of Betrayal and Forgiveness by Beverly Scott

Cathy read it as an: ARC

Source: Helen Hollick at Discovering Diamonds

Length: 308 pp

Publisher: SWSM Press

Year: 2017

Sarah’s Secret: A Western Tale of Betrayal and Forgiveness is a story of Sarah, a mother who is widowed at the turn of the 20th century, left with five children to raise. Feeling alone and abandoned, she decides to make the journey from the barren New Mexico territory back to her home in Nebraska. After settling back in with her extended family, Sarah soon discovers that her deceased husband, Sam, had lived a different life before their marriage. This secret life not only haunted Sam when he was alive, but it also affects Sarah and her children after his death.

The author does well weaving historical facts into the three story sections that unfold the tale of Sarah’s and Sam’s lives. From the descriptions of the barren New Mexico desert to the wild streets of Dodge City, Kansas, Scott paints pictures of the past that bring life to the story’s characters and their frontier adventures.

Growing up west of the Mississippi, and being fortunate to have heard the stories of the late 19th century and early 20th century women in my own family helped me to appreciate the struggles faced by this young mother who was left to raise five children. Each chapter was a reminder of how women helped to define the true essence of the pioneer spirit.

Although the story came together eventually, the transition from the first section which describes Sarah’s journey home to the second section which provides back-story about Sam was initially puzzling because the second section describes Sam with a different name. It was toward the end of this second section that the puzzle pieces of Sarah’s life are realized. After reading the second section, I reread the first section with more appreciation and understanding.

In general, however, the story was an insightful tale of one woman’s journey and the experiences she had that defined her strength. It was easy to feel compassion for Sarah as she overcame obstacles and found ways to succeed throughout her life. 

36161409Mist-chi-mas: A Novel of Captivity by J. L. Oakley

Cathy read it as an: ARC

Source: Helen Hollick at Discovering Diamonds

Length: 526 pp

Publisher: Fairchance Press

Year: 2017

Mist-chi-mas: A Novel of Captivity is a powerful story of two people’s lives, their joys, and their heartaches. When Jeannie Naughton Pierce leaves England and journeys to the Pacific Northwest of the 1860s, she hopes to find peace and a life free from the meddling banter of friends and family.  Jeannie turns to the one person in her life, her deceased aunt’s husband, for support and a chance to start anew.  Once Jeannie arrives to the Northwest Territory with her young son, the one person Jeannie does find in her new life is Jonas Breed, her heart’s true love.  Their forbidden romance spans decades and takes readers on the unexpected journeys of the two star-crossed lovers.

The author does an exceptional job weaving the events of the time period into the conflicts that create the adventures experienced by Jonas and Jeannie. Oakley opens the readers’ eyes to the struggles of the native cultures, the discord between the immigrant cultures, and the sea faring trades that are shaping the future of the territory. Not only does Oakley capture the strength of the people, but she also captures their weaknesses. Her knowledge of the 1860s generate a passion and hope in her readers that Jeannie and Jonas eventually find a way past the worldly disputes of the time to find their everlasting fairytale ending.

What everlasting means in a fairy tale is wholly different to what it means in a story mirroring characters that could have lived in a real place and time. As much as an everlasting fairytale ending would be stereotypically satisfying, Oakley stays true to her story. She respects the realities of life and stays true to the story’s theme, and the meaning of mist-chi-mas.

Mist-chi-mas: A Novel of Captivity is a story that dives deep into the human psyche.  It is the story of how a young boy rises above his fate to become the master of his destiny.  It is the story of a young woman who overcomes the ideologies of her society to free her inner soul to become the woman she was born to be.  It is, in short, a wonderful story!

I read it as an:

Narrator:

Source: HNS* Helen Hollick at Discovering Diamonds

Length: pp/time

Publisher: Year:

Everything That Remains

22666558Everything That Remains: A Memoir by The Minimalists by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus (The Minimalists)

I read it as a: paperback

Source: library

Length: 216 pp

Publisher: Asymmetrical Press

Year: 2013

This memoir/introduction to minimalism, Everything That Remains is a slim book that covers a whole lot of ground. Written primarily by Joshua Fields Millburn (the footnotes are all by Ryan Nicodemus), it is the author’s memoir, his early life with an addicted mother, his rapid rise in the corporate world, and how he had all the outward appearances of wealth and success but none of the actual realities of it. His discovery of minimalism changed his life and, in many ways, probably saved it.

I picked this up from my local library because I love listening to The Minimalists podcast, but I’m not always a huge fan of memoirs. I do have their other book, Minimal, but haven’t read it yet. This one is a good though typical memoir, discussing Joshua’s road to discovery and why he chose a minimalist lifestyle. It is a helpful tool for anyone wanting to learn more about this lifestyle, and can help to figure out one’s own version of minimalism. I liked that it stressed minimalism looks different for everyone. I think that is an important point and something not everyone stops to think about.

Ultimately, this was a useful memoir for me, as I am going full stop on embracing minimalism. I am doing all I can to learn about it, and this was one way to learn one way to go about it.

In the Shadow of the Enemy

42070912In the Shadow of the Enemy (A Christine de Pizan Mystery) by Tania Bayard

I read it as an: ARC

Source: HNS*

Length: 224 pp

Publisher: Severn House

Year: 2019

In late-14th century France, Charles VI “the Mad,” rules. Probably a lot of people would like for France not to be ruled by a guy who is off his rocker, including his brother, the Duke of Orleans. Then, at a masquerade ball, the king and several of his friends decide to cause some mayhem and dress up like wildmen. To do so, they stick fur and leaves to themselves using pitch. This turns out to be a spectacularly bad idea, because a spark, presumably from the Duke of Orleans’s torch, catches on one of their outfits, causing four of the men to burn to death and the king to narrowly escape the same fate. Everyone suspects the Duke. However, some other people attending, including Christine de Pizan (yes, that Christine de Pizan) see something others didn’t – another torch, which was thrown from a spot far away from the Duke’s location. He still had both of his torches and yet there was a third torch on the floor, in the middle of the burning men. The Queen, Isabeau of Bavaria, asks Christine to find out who wants the king dead, for she is certain that he was the target of an attempted assassination. Aided by a colorful array of sidekicks, including a prostitute who actually makes her living at embroidery, a dwarf who works for the Queen, and a deaf girl who takes care of the King’s lions, Christine undertakes an investigation. It leads her from the twisted politics of the court, to various potential targets and culprits with different reasons to want the victims dead, and straight into the sights of a killer.

In the Shadow of the Enemy is actually the second in the Christine de Pizan series, but it was the first one I’ve read. That made no difference to my utter enjoyment of the book, though, as this story is a standalone. The first book was referenced enough that it filled in any gaps there might have been, sometimes a little too thoroughly – there are totally spoilers for the first book, so I didn’t think that was very well done at all. I’m still going to read the first book, though, and just hope that I’ve forgotten what the spoilers are by the time I actually get around to it.

I adore the fact that Christine de Pizan, author of The Book of the City of Ladies (Penguin Classics), is the protagonist here. I love it when real women from history are the stars in literature interesting new ways. She is a complex character, and all the secondary characters are multifaceted as well. Marion the prostitute was my second favorite, with her big personality and capacity for warmth and generosity and her inexplicable reluctance to tell people she isn’t actually a prostitute anymore. Christine’s mother, Francesca, was also a fun, minor addition. She reminds me of my grandmother in a lot of ways. The one thing I thought was weird was Klara’s utter and sudden change of heart regarding her husband Martin and her views on her brother, Willem. Those both seemed too convenient for me, but in the scheme of things, I can overlook this minor quibble.

The mix of medieval attitudes towards people, including those deemed “defective”, such as dwarves or deaf people, and even towards Christine herself, is so realistic. People thought Loyse, the deaf girl, had demons because they didn’t understand that she acted as she did simply because she couldn’t hear or understand others. The dwarf, Alips, was viewed with deep suspicion and hatred because it was thought that dwarves bring bad luck, or that the way they look on the outside reflected a corrupt soul.  And, of course, women were viewed as second class citizens and were treated as such. So much religious bullshit. The research that clearly went into the novel is apparent and appreciated. The imagery brings to life medieval France in an immediate way, from the descriptions of the court and its kitchens and gardens to the streets and their various inhabitants. The plot was pleasingly complex and included a lot of history about French warfare, or at least one battle in particular. Overall, this was a fast, fairly light read and I happily recommend it. I even went to the library and got the first one in the series. I’ll read a few other books before I read that one, though, to see if I forget the spoilers for it that were in this book. Hmph.

*This is a much longer and more detailed review of the one which was originally published by the Historical Novel Society.

Best lines from Circe

It’s been a loooooooooooong time since I wrote a ‘favorite lines from…’ kind of post. I can’t think of a better one to start back up with than Madeline Miller’s CIRCE. Miller’s prose is simply magical. Every pun intended. Assume there will be spoilers below.

35959740

  • When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.
  • That word, nymph, paced out the length and breadth of our futures. In our language, it means not just goddess, but bride.
  • Nothing is empty void, while air is what fills all else. It is breath and life and spirit, the words we speak.
  • What was I truly? In the end, I could not bear to know.
  • It was not a word I knew. It was not a word anyone knew, then. Pharmakis,’ I said. Witch.
  • I thought: this is how Zeus felt when he first lifted the thunderbolt.
  • ‘Tell me,’ he said, ‘who gives better offerings, a miserable man or a happy one?’ ‘A happy one, of course.’ ‘Wrong,’ he said. ‘A happy man is too occupied with his life. He thinks he is beholden to no one. But make him shiver, kill his wife, cripple his child, then you will hear from him. He will starve his family for a month to buy you a pure-white yearling calf. If he can afford it, he will buy you a hundred.’

Fear of failure was the worst thing for any spell.

  • My sister might be twice the goddess I was, but I was twice the witch.
  • This was how mortals found fame, I thought. Through practise and diligence, tending their skills like gardens until they glowed beneath the sun.
  • Whatever you do, I wanted to say, do not be too happy. It will bring down fire on your head.
  • But in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation he was to me.
  • As it turned out, I did kill pigs that night after all.
  • When there is rot in the walls, there is only one remedy. …Tear down, I thought. Tear down and build again.
  • Brides, nymphs were called, but that is not really how the world saw us. We were an endless feast laid out upon a table, beautiful and renewing. And so very bad at getting away.
  • They never listened. The truth is, men make terrible pigs.
  • War has always seemed to me a foolish choice for men. Whatever they win from it, they will have only a handful of years to enjoy before they die. More likely they will perish trying.

Witches are not so delicate.

  • Most men, in my experience, are fools.

Humbling women seems to me a chief pastime of poets. As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep.

  • Would I be skimmed milk or a harpy? A foolish gull or a villainous monster? Those could not still be the only choices.
  • When Achilles puts on his helmet and cleaves his red path through the field, the hearts of common men swell in their chests. They think of the stories that will be told, and they long to be in them. I fought beside Achilles. I stood shield to shield with Ajax. I felt the wind and fan of their great spears.
  • I was a golden witch, who had no past at all.
  • They have wrinkles, but no wisdom. I took  them to war before they could do any of those things that steady a man. … I fear I have robbed them not only of their youth, but their age as well.
  • Heroes are fools.

When you are in Egypt you worship Isis, when in Anatolia you kill a lamb for Cybele. It does not trespass on your Athena still at home.

  • I washed him and rubbed oils into his skin, as carefully as if he could still feel my fingers. I sang as I worked, a melody to keep his soul company while he waited to cross the great river to the underworld.
  • I touched the thought like a bruise, testing its ache.
  • He showed me his scars, and in return he let me pretend I had none.
  • I would look at him and feel a love so sharp it seemed my flesh lay open. I made a list of all the things I would do for him. Scald off my skin. Tear out my eyes. Walk my feet to bones, if only he would be happy and well.
  • Her only love was reason. And that has never been the same as wisdom.
  • Gods and mortals do not last together happily.
  • Witchcraft transforms the world. He wanted only to join it.

‘…I cannot say how I knew. It was as if…as is all this while, my eyes had been waiting for just that shape.’ I knew the feeling. It is how I had felt first looking down at him in my arms.

  • But perhaps no parent can truly see their child. When we look we see only the mirror of our own faults.
  • ‘It is strange to think of a goddess needing friends.’ ‘All creatures that are not mad need them.’

I remembered what Odysseus had said about her once. That she never went astray, never made an error. I had been jealous then. Now I thought: what a burden. What an ugly weight upon your back.

  • ‘I warned her once that grief would come of her marriage. There is no pleasure in hearing I was right.’ ‘There seldom is.’
  • Penelope said, ‘What makes a witch, then? If it is not divinity?’ ‘I do not know for certain. …I have come to believe it is mostly will.’ She nodded. I did not have to explain. We knew what will was.
  • That is how things go. You fix them, and they go awry, and then you fix them again.

Life is not so simple as a loom. What you weave, you cannot unravel with a tug.

  • …some people are like constellations who only touch the earth for a season.
  • One of us must grieve. I would not let it be him.
  • ‘You have always been the worst of my children,’ he said. ‘Be sure you do not dishonor me.’ ‘I have a better idea. I will do as I please, and when you count your children, leave me out.’
  • Do not try to take my regret from me.
  • ‘We are not our blood,’ he answered. ‘A witch once told me that.’

He does not mean that it does not hurt. He does not mean that we are not frightened. Only that: we are here. This is what it means to swim in the tide, to walk the earth and feel it touch your feet. This is what it means to be alive.

Black Lily

39305353Black Lily by Philippa Stockley

I read it as an: ARC

Source: HNS*

Length: 253 pp

Publisher:  Pimpernel Press

Year: 2018

**This review very much contains spoilers**

Black Lily is the tale of Zenobia and Lily. Zenobia was born into poverty, the daughter of an impoverished young girl who became the mistress of a shipping mogul. It is possible he was Greek or Middle Eastern but if it ever said, I missed that part. He was surprised when Zenobia was born blonde. Lily is a black woman who was brought to London from the Caribbean on a sugar and slave ship as a toy to a rich lord. She was a kept woman for a rich merchant who ended up being connected to Zenobia in a surprising way. The lives of these women  continue to intertwine in intricate, often horrific, ways, and they both have to learn how to navigate society to her best advantage when her value is entirely decided by the men who control them. Lily ends up being a hidden driving force throughout Zenobia’s entire adult life in ways she never even knows. In turn, Zenobia unwittingly is a savior of sorts to Lily. Another woman, Lily’s maidservant, Agatha, is yet another link between the three women, forging deeper connections and bonds that are strong enough to keep the secrets they all hide from society and the men around them. Read More »

Circe

CirceCirce by Madeline Miller

I read it as a: hardback

Source: my own collection

Length: 333 pp

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing UK

Year: 2018

Circe is the tale of a fascinating but somewhat overlooked woman from Greek myth. She is the daughter of the sun god Helios, a lesser divinity, immortal, and a witch. She has the power to transform things and she knows the inherent magic in plants. Most of us know her from her role in The Odyssey, which was significant even if it wasn’t long. This novel tells her tale from her childhood, her self-discovery, and how she finds a place for herself in the harsh world of the gods.

I absolutely loved how Circe deals with her role in and among the gods. She never has an easy time – she has the worst time, really – but she is a woman in a man’s world and she still makes a place for herself. She is seen, and forces the divinities to acknowledge her in some way, whether any of them like it or not, including her. I think this really mirrors the experiences of modern women in that we still struggle to be seen and be taken for granted, not be underestimated, and not shuffled off or ignored as though we are worthless.

When Circe encounters Prometheus, it sets the stage for her entire life. She learns she can defy the gods to an extent. Perhaps she will be punished for her defiance if she gets caught, but she also learns they don’t actually know everything and there are things people can do and get away with that they never know about. She manages to make this idea central in her own life, defying the gods in subtle and not so subtle ways.

I really loved the way crafts were woven throughout as well. They were, however, divided by traditional gender roles. It makes sense within the context of the narrative, though, since Circe, Penelope, Medea, were expected to know certain things and not others, and vice versa for Odysseus or Daedalus. The women knew weaving and spinning, herb lore, healing and midwifery. The men knew smithing, metalwork, sculpting, and woodworking. Breaking down crafts by gender roles reinforces the  roles and highlights the fact that even the gods are similar to humans in this world, which is super interesting because, even though the gods are immortal and have various powers, they are still limited in some ways with what they can do. They are governed largely by their emotions and desires. In many of the ways that count, they act more like immortal toddlers than as wise beings. Humans tend to be more reasonable in some situations than the gods, which I think is interesting. Is it how Circe sees the gods and humans, or is that how it truly is here? Intriguing commentary, either way.

There are just too many things that could be discussed for one review – how parents view their children and vice versa; the relationship between Circe and her sister Pasiphae or her brother Aeetes; how Daedalus affects Circe; Medea; Penelope, Telemachus, and Odysseus; power dynamics; transformations of a multitude variety. Like the Greek myths themselves, you could probably write a dissertation about the ways to interpret this novel, how the characters influence each other and the world around them, gender roles and expectations, or the role of choice and fate. I loved this book, and I love strong women, and strong women figuring out that they are strong is just the best.

I haven’t even gotten into the sheer beauty of Miller’s writing style. I think I will have to do a separate post just with my favorite lines from the book.

In any case, this is very highly recommended and an excellent way to get a ton of Greek mythology without reading the source material, if that isn’t really your thing. Though everyone should read The Iliad and The Odyssey at least once in their life.

Catch-Up: Victorican Era and Pirate novels review*

36269117The Brotherhood of the Black Flag: A Novel of the Golden Age of Piracy by Ian Nathaniel Cohen

Cathy read it as an: ARC

Source: Helen Hollickat Discovering Diamonds.

Length: 260 pp

Publisher: Amazon Digital Services

Year: 2017

In an action-packed, heroic story, Michael McNamara leaves Bristol, England, in search of himself. McNamara starts with a dream to become an officer in the Royal Navy. When an opportunity presents itself, he is accepted into the navy as a volunteer – per – order, after providing a reluctantly written letter from his father. When McNamara is then drummed out of the navy, he uses his skills with a small sword to become a fencing instructor, only to be let go from this position a year later. He then decides to pursue a fresh start in Kingston, Jamaica. Once McNamara arrives there he finds himself in a duel with a group of ruthless Caribbean pirates and thus is set in motion a series of events that leads him to the magnificent Dona Catalina Moore Viuda de Caldeira and her infamous fiancé pirate, Captain Stephen Reynard.  What happens next takes our hero on a journey that comes to define his purpose in life through his experiences with The Brotherhood of the Black Flag, and this is where the real story begins.

Cohen does an excellent job building a fast-paced story that moves McNamara’s adventures forward with vivid descriptions of battles and fights that take place on land and at sea. His knowledge of 18th-century weapons, specifically swords, helps readers to visualize the time period and the character’s personas. Readers feel McNamara’s tenacity and commitment to life by Cohen’s balance of the accuracy of facts with the originality of his fictional story.

Throughout the book, readers come to respect McNamara for his loyalty and duty to those in his life. The character builds relationships and establishes his reputation as a strong, principled individual who holds steadfast to his ideals. Equally, readers also come to know and understand the beautiful Catalina, whom McNamara comes to love; and the pirate Reynard who appears to be working on changing his swashbuckling lifestyle. When Cohen moves the story into a sudden and unexpected twist of events, readers wonder whether they missed something along the way – but soon realize the author’s masterful writing skill.  

The only thing that lets the book down is the cover. The narrative is exciting, the cover isn’t – for young adults or a children’s book it would have been fine, but not for an adult read.

The Brotherhood of the Black Flag is a must read for anyone who is captivated with the Age of Piracy. Cohen has done a remarkable job developing a story that places readers in the middle of the action, and into the heart, soul and spirit of the hero, Michael McNamara.

An excellent read.

34526009Hooks & Eyes: Part 1 of The Ambition & Destiny Series by VL McBeath

Cathy read it as an: ARC

Source: Helen Hollick at Discovering Diamonds.

Length: 442 pp

Publisher: Valyn Publishing

Year: 2017

Set in 1846 England, Hooks and Eyes by V. L. McBeath is the story of Mary Jackson, a young widow, and the journey she takes to ensure that she can aptly raise her two young children during the Victorian Age. After the death of her husband, Mary decides to leave her in-laws’ country home to live with her deceased husband’s Aunt Lucy and Aunt Rebecca in the city.  Determined to make her own choices about what is best for her family, Mary, against the advice of her aunts, marries William Wetherby, her former employer, a bully, and a womanizer.

Throughout the novel, McBeath intertwines the lives of multiple families while incorporating accurate historical elements into each chapter. She touches on how the non-mechanized businesses transitioned into the mechanized factories of the Industrial Revolution. Most importantly, McBeath opens the reader’s eyes to the difficulties faced by widowed and older, unmarried women during the mid-1800s.

The author did a good job capturing the emotional struggles faced by the women throughout the novel. Readers will sympathize with Mary’s emotional and psychological pain. Seeing how women could choose to support one another, as Mary’s aunts try to do, was enlightening. Unfortunately, some of Mary’s choices do not set well with her Aunt Lucy.

Instead of using Mary and Wetherby’s marriage to focus the many subplots more effectively into the central narrative of female strength, McBeath moves the story forward by introducing multiple characters to create short, family dramas that are frequently left unresolved or are irrelevant, and because of this, the one storyline that moves the main idea forward is unresolved. Had it been, it could have given Mary profound insight into her original choice, creating a smoother transition into the final scene.

Hooks and Eyes starts with a narrative that captures the emotions of the main character and the journey she takes because of the death of her true love. The subplots are interesting and build a sense of the period, but  they fall a little short of connecting that main storyline introduced in the beginning of the novel, with the climax in the final paragraphs.

However, an interesting novel for those readers interested in this period.

The Year the Swans Came is a tragic story for anyone who wants to become captivated by the lives of two girls who are literally polar opposites of each other.  It is a story of one girl’s love of herself and her physical world, and the story of another girl’s unconditional love for the people in her life. It is a story of passion and a story of anguish. Spencer has done a wonderful job subtly showing how magical realism is a real part of the mythologies of a culture. 

**This is a guest post by Cathy Smith.