“Our revels now are ended.”

Hag-Seed4/5 Stars

I should have read The Tempest ahead of this, but I was over-eager in my excitement at getting my greedy little paws on a copy of Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed. It worked out in the end, though, because she so kindly explained the basic plot of The Tempest at the end of the book, which helped clear up some of my questions.

Hag-Seed starts off a bit slow, with the betrayal and then multiple chapters of Felix sinking into delusions of the daughter he lost living with him. That is why this book, which I actually really loved, is a 4-star read and not 4.5 or 5. After 75 pages, I was actually thinking I might DNF this one, which is a very, very rare occurrence for me as I am stubborn and unable to let go of books once I start reading them.

Then I decided on a whim to push on, anyway.

Boy am I glad that I did. I recognized many of the basic elements of a good revenge plot as I read and, as Felix helped his prisoners, and thus the reader, get more familiar with the story of The Tempest, I slowly began to pick up on the lines Atwood had drawn between her characters and Shakespeare’s.

Of course, the end result of a modern take on an old story is that the basic character, plot, and world development have been done, they just need embellishing and cleaning up a bit. We’ll call that the gold paint on the cloak, for those who get the reference. This, I think, Atwood did very well. I felt bad for Felix, certainly, after what was done to him in the name of getting ahead, but also felt his madness just as Prospero in The Tempest was also a bit mad, and even questioned if he had gone too far at times. I think my favorite was 8Handz, though, for reasons I don’t want to list here because it would give away too much of the story.

Overall, if you’re a fan of retellings and/or Shakespeare, I would say to give this one a go. General Margaret Atwood fans may be a bit more split.

Historical uncertainties leave room for fictional invention

The Scribe of Siena4.5/5 Stars

The fun thing about historical fiction is that ambiguity and uncertainty inherent in certain time periods leave a lot of room for play. That leads to stories like The Scribe of Siena, about a neurosurgeon in New York who travels to Siena, Italy to continue her recently deceased brother’s research. From there, she winds up on the trail of a possible conspiracy leading to the fall of the city, assuming she can survive long enough to share what she has learned.

I want to say upfront that the half star was docked from this book’s score solely because of the length of some of the chapters. One was 43 pages and I am not a fan of chapters exceeding 15 pages in length. As you can likely see by the number of books I have going at any one point in time, I’ve got a bit of reading ADD.

That said, this book has FAR more strengths than weaknesses. Chief among them is Winawer’s attention to detail, which feeds into and strengthens the narrative of the story. The world she creates in mid-14th Century Siena is rich and deeply imagined, coming to vivid life in my mind as I read. I don’t remember the last book that was this effortless for me to imagine how things looked, felt, and smelled. As an example, I had never seen pictures of the Ospedale before, yet the other day I googled it out of curiosity and it was identical to what I had pictured as I read the book, down to the set-up of the other buildings and streets around it.

That takes a special level of skill and Melodie Winawer has got it.

Beatrice, our main character on this historical romantic adventure, was another relatively strong point. While she maybe could have been a little more flawed, it wasn’t particularly necessary in this case due to the inherent flaws that came with a 21st Century woman being transported to 1347 and required to figure out how to function in a new, but old, society.

Overall, I very highly recommend this book and actually intend to buy a hard copy myself. I may even spring for a hard cover, and I save those for special cases.

A solid start with appeal to fans of Sherlock Holmes

A Study in Silks.jpg4/5 Stars

This, the first book of the Baskerville Affair, is a solid start to a trilogy that will appeal strongly to any who count themselves fans of Sherlock Holmes, so long as they don’t mind a bit of magic alongside their mayhem.

While it wasn’t a perfect book, with a complex and sometimes difficult-to-follow plot floating between multiple characters’ points of view, I did find it highly intriguing and have to wonder if I read the same book as those who claim nobody cared about the murder 200 pages in. I also normally abhor love triangles, but again I wonder if I read the same book as those who said that the love triangle was the sole focus of the book.

It really, truly was not. The complex murder case and the intrigues going on below the surface were what grabbed my attention as being the focus of the book, which was, I believe, much the purpose of the book. All that said, I personally really enjoyed this book and am glad I have the other two books in the series to read. I’ll be hard-pressed to resist jumping into A Study in Darkness right away.

Is this what society is bound for?

The Circle4/5 Stars

Unfortunately, common sense does not always win out.

Don’t get me wrong, this was a really enjoyable book and I read it rather quickly – in a weekend, basically. But it was also creepy and terrifying and deeply unsettling.

I was introduced to Dave Eggers’ 2013 novel The Circle by way of the movie, which will be released later this year. As a fan of Emma Watson, I naturally was intrigued by the trailer, and then by the premise of the movie and book. I had seen the title floating about a few places online and decided that this time I would actually check it out. A couple weeks later, I had the opportunity to order a copy. Upon its arrival, I found I couldn’t resist it and started reading, just a couple pages here and there as I toyed with the idea of starting yet another book when I had, at the time, a stack of five plus an ebook to be getting on with, as well.

I wound up falling into it, hook, line, and sinker the day after I received it, including staying up until 4:30 am reading in bed and then promptly digging back into it upon waking up the next day. That’s how intrigued I was by the premise of this book.

That said, this book creeped me out in numerous ways. Video of sexual encounters without the consent of both people involved? Forced social interactions online and in real life, which then translates to online behaviors? Basically being lured into literally living at work, with long work hours and guilt-trips if you don’t spend time socializing at work events after? This does not sound like the kind of world I would want to live in, yet it sounds eerily like one that we could be headed toward, with some of the biggest names in the Internet already having unprecedented access to any information we’ll let them see.

I think I’ll be taking more precautions about what I post from here on out as I seek to strike a better balance. I don’t particularly want my entire life to become digitized.

I do think that more people should read this book, especially before the movie comes out in April. It’ll probably make a lot of people uncomfortable and squirmy, but it also makes an important point about our right to privacy.

A great book giving long-overdue credit to amazing women

Hidden Figures.jpg5/5 Stars

It has been a really long road for women, black women in particular, to get to where we are today. Don’t try to argue and fight with me over this, either, it’s written in enough history books just how much discrimination there was (and still is) on the basis of gender/sex, race, ethnicity, and nationality. Remember, just because there’s a rule against it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

Hidden Figures was, for me, an exhilarating account of Civil Rights, feminism, and aeronautics, flight, space, engineering, and mathematical history all rolled into one neat little ball and tossed into the world, only for Hollywood to come along and royally screw it up with a movie. Don’t get me wrong, the movie is really, REALLY fantastic and I adored it, but history is nothing like the movie. It never is.

I felt so much anger and pain for the women mentioned in the book, as well as those unnamed hundreds implied, throughout the course of my reading. The brick walls they faced in the forms of discrimination, segregation, and simply being a woman and thus thought of as somehow less capable – despite the job performance reviews and outcomes of their work clearly demonstrating otherwise – were beyond aggravating. To know that performing to a higher level than some of the men would result in nothing more than a slap on the wrist for trying to be more involved is to experience empathy for those who had to go above and far, far beyond in order to accomplish anything.

We still have a long ways to go as a society, but this book does a good job of demonstrating how far we have already come. It’s time we band together and try to go the rest of the way.

Because sometimes a body count is necessary

POOF4.5/5 Stars

What do you get when you mix angels, gorgons, pixie dust, NYC, magically-infused napalm, and a barista-turned-fire-breathing-unicorn?

RJ Blain’s newest book, Playing with Fire, is the simple, short answer.

The much longer answer is a madcap magical romantic comedy with a body count, a lot of fire, and a lot of highs that left me actually CAPSLOCK YELLING at the author for the second book to be written. And I don’t even like romance novels, which this definitely is.

Here’s the thing, though. Chief Quinn is hot. Bailey is hot but doesn’t realize it due to a craptastic upbringing by parents who sucked at being parents. Of course they’re meant to be together, as the rules of RomCom go. But when you throw in the fact that Bailey is the reason Quinn isn’t married, the fact that she’s a poverty-stricken barista with many other things working against her, and the fact that absolutely everything is insane in this particular version of the world, things don’t click together quite as easily.

And I love that.

Just as one who has read anything by RJ Blain might expect, this book was loaded with some crazy shark-jumping in a the funnest way possible, twists and turns, and hilarity. Most characters are clearly muddy shades of grey, with ulterior motives for those serving on the antagonistic side of the story. I don’t really want to say too much because I am not a fan of spoilers, but if you enjoy rather weird fiction and are open to the idea of entertaining new ways of thinking about nearly every kind of supernatural anything you can think of, I’d HIGHLY recommend giving this one a try.

This one, while not my thing, does raise important questions

Me Before You4/5 Stars

There’s more to this post than JUST the review, but the content ties into why I enjoyed the book. The story itself was sweet and simple, if a bit predictable. I found Treena and Pat, particularly, really irritating and self-centered. Lou was decent but cliché. Will was depressing, but I don’t mind a depressing character here and there. I loved the very British humor demonstrated Lou’s family, as it helped set the darker tone for the book without making it dark. What I really loved was the thought-provoking questions it brought up for readers, which kept it from being an average 3-star read for me.

One of the major questions that this book brings up is at what point does a person whose condition is terminal get to say “no, I cannot keep living like this?” Should we be allowing more people who are able to make coherent decisions decide the conditions under which they want to die? Lou struggles with this question throughout the book, and while she thinks she is firmly against it, in the end she starts to see just how much Will is suffering as a result of other people’s determination to dictate to him what he needs in life.

I think this is a major moral issue and I can understand where those on each side are coming from, including those in the novel. On one hand, you’ve got those firmly against it. They love Will, they want him to live because they know that even if he only lives five or ten more years, he’ll be surrounded by people who love him and want to help him, even if they don’t always understand the best way to do so.

On the other hand, there are those who do think that Will (to keep this post from straying away from the topic at hand, which is supposed to be a review of this book) should have the choice of when to end his life. He’s miserable in his chair and feels like an alien in his own skin following the accident. People are constantly trying to tell him what he wants to do without stopping to think that he’s capable of making those decisions still. Nathan, possibly my favorite character in the book, is one of few people who truly gets it: why should Will be forced to live a life he feels so separated from?

While the case can be made that Will is too depressed to really see the opportunities in front of him, it’s made clear that the depression came after he worked incredibly hard to improve following the accident. He did everything he could and tried to will into being his ability to recover fully, but his injuries were simply too great.

Bodily autonomy is a HUGE thing nowadays, and honestly I think that’s something that comes up indirectly in this book. Kudos to Jojo Moyes for bringing it up. Ultimately, we get to decide what happens to our bodies, or that’s how it should be. Scientists can’t even take organs from a corpse unless the person gave permission while sound-of-mind. For me, this is (not-so-)simply another issue of bodily autonomy. For those with terminal illnesses, those who know with a very high degree of certainty that their condition will result in their death, I think the most loving thing to do would be to let them pick. Counsel and guide them, certainly, and feel free to try to do as Lou did and show them the possibilities in life if they choose to stay with you, but the pain and suffering they’re going through must also be taken into consideration. After all, the disabled, the chronically ill, and the terminally ill are every bit as human as the rest of us.

You are more than welcome to voice your disagreement or agreement in the comments if you wish. I welcome and enjoy a good discussion on difficult issues such as this.