Catch-Up Round: Toxic Night and Worthy

Toxic Night by Daniel Mason

I read it as an: ARC

Source: Publicist/review site editor

Length: 270 pp

Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform (This has to be code for “self-published.” The quality of the writing would support this suspicion.)

Year: 2017Read More »

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A Man Like His Grandfather

A Man Like His Grandfather by R. Jack Punch

I read it as an: ARC

Source: review site

Length: 330 pp

Publisher: iUniverse

Year: 2017

Thoughts: During the Irish Potato Famine (1845-1852), many starving and desperate Irish immigrated to America in hopes of starting a new and better life. In A Man Like His Grandfather, Matt Donahee is one such immigrant. After the deaths of his mother and fiancee due to illness, Matt, bitter and full of rage, flees Ireland for America, determined to make a better life for himself. Upon arriving in New York City, he instantly lands a good job with a railroad company and quickly moves up the ranks, becoming a valued negotiator. He meets Jade Malloy, an abolitionist and suffragette who operates a branch of the Underground Railroad with her father. Eventually, Matt and Jade fall in love and marry, to her father’s delight, despite having “broken all the rules of Victorian courtship.” But, like, they’re in America, not England. Would they really know, or give a shit if they did? That seemed weird to me that Matt thought about this more than once. Over the years, Matt and Jade have four children. Their youngest son, Ross, carries the point of view during the next section of the novel. As the narratives continue on from Ross’s generation and through his children and grandchildren, the Donahee family continues its growth and progress through WWI, the Depression, WWII, and Vietnam, and I basically lost interest. Each generation always manages to come out a little further ahead than the one before, always at the right place at the right time, and making the most of the latest trends in technology. It were like magic! They are the epitome of the old fashioned American Dream, in a too-perfect, mostly unrealistic sense. They seem utterly unfazed by everything – all their immediate family is unscathed during WWI (a BIL is killed but he’s only related through marriage, so it felt like it didn’t matter. His widow, who was a Donahee, didn’t seem too fussed about it); they all land on their feet and aren’t starving and out of work during the Depression; no one dies in WWII or Vietnam. The only one who dies young is one of the Donahee grandchildren who falls off a newfangled trolley and gets run over when she’s 10, but hey, she’s just a girl and they had an abundance of boys. It felt like an afterthought. Her family was sad for a minute and then they moved on.

This novel had nothing really going for it to set it apart from any other multigenerational saga. It wasn’t *bad,* it just wasn’t good. It was too rushed and short for a really in-depth multigenerational novel, but too long for the lack of detail that we got. There was a whole lot of nothing really happening, only not in a “quiet novel” kind of way. It was mostly just blah and lucky white men. A big problem throughout is that the passage of time is really, really hard to keep track of. On one page, there’s a newborn baby and a page later, the baby is 17 years old and talking about getting married. In other cases, major historical events are almost entirely glossed over. Matt’s years fighting in the Civil War, for example, spanned two paragraphs (paragraphs, not chapters, not pages. Paragraphs. Short ones, at that), and the entire war lasted for eight paragraphs, including dialogue. Additionally, after Ross’s generation, which ends about halfway through the book, the narration speeds wayyyy up. Each successive generation gets less time spent with it, each point of view character has a shorter time to talk, and there are more and more of them talking. There were suddenly SO MANY people! It felt like the author got himself in a pickle and wasn’t quite sure how to wrap things up.

Ultimately, if you dig immigration narratives where every single point of view character is white, almost every single one is male, everything magically goes right for them almost all of the time, weird sexist comments that seem to be the author’s own biases leaking through rather than inaccurate historical character traits, and being beat over the head with the message that working is the only thing real men should do because education is for people who can’t make it in the real world, then this is the book you are looking for. If you are looking for something with actual character depth and historical detail, keep looking.

 

If We Were Villains

51atvtzdzkl-_aa300_If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Robert Petkoff

Source: library

Length: 12:51:00

Publisher: Macmillan Audio

Year: 2017

Thoughts: I loved this book so much I went out and bought my own kindle copy of it, even though this is supposed to be my year of not buying anything. This was a tale of madness and obsession and ALL the Shakespeare! A group of theatre students at a prestigious college, nearing graduation, are coming unraveled and their places in their group are not as secure as they once thought. Tensions come to a head when they receive their role assignments for a major play in the fall and not all goes as they expect. Soon after, one of their troupe ends up dead and the others know more than they are willing to admit. Someone has to take the fall for what turns out to be a killing rather than an accidental death, and the resolution does indeed “make mad the guilty, and appall the free.”

There was almost nothing I didn’t love about this book. The characters were well developed and complex. They all had flaws and some were just downright nasty. Some were confusing – I do NOT understand why Oliver did what he did, nor why the others let him. I loved all the Shakespearean quotes littered throughout the text, even if it was a hodge-podge and not always entirely accurate. The only thing I didn’t love was that sometimes I felt when they were acting the plays, it got a little too long. Too much direct quoting from Shakespeare. Just, maybe, sum up. We’ve all read those, we don’t need a whole act copied out again. So some of those scenes got a little long. But otherwise, the tension and the action and setting were all brilliant and I adored the final twist in the last lines. I can’t wait to read more by this author.

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!

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/