Categories
Fiction Historical Fiction Literary Fiction Romance

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (Book Thoughts)

In an effort to broaden my reading horizons and shore up some of my literary gaps, I started reading a few classics every year.

For my summer session of classic torture, I was surprised to find that The Scarlet Letter was not really that challenging to read. It is fairly short and the language isn’t terribly insufferable either (My last classic was Notre Dame de Paris ((The Hunchback of Notre Dame)) and … Whew, no thanks).

So let’s talk about my reaction to the book, if I think it has relevance today, and I’ll treat you to my teen-speak synopsis of the book.

Originally published in 1850, here’s the Signet Classics synopsis:

This tragic novel of sin and redemption is Hawthorne’s masterpiece of American fiction.

An ardent young woman, her cowardly lover, and her aging vengeful husband—these are the central characters in this stark drama of the conflict between passion and convention in the harsh world of seventeenth-century Boston. Tremendously moving and rich in psychological insight, this dramatic depiction of the struggle between mind and heart illuminates Hawthorne’s concern with our Puritan past and its influence on American life.

Broadly – I enjoyed the read.  It’s not hard to know what’s happening, and minus a bit of minute descriptive language mostly in the first novella about the Custom House, it was pretty readable.

His author intro is everything: Oh you’re offended by my sketch? I think it’s fine, it’s not like I burned the place down!! I bet Hawthorne had a big personality.

Relevance: I think it has relevance as a cautionary tale today in a world where teen moms get “famous” on TV and you can’t even scroll Bookstagram without seeing books with x rated content advertised. I would definitely put this in a home school curriculum to talk about Puritanism, early settlements, guilt, adultery, having children out of wedlock, stigmas and identity, I mean there’s a lot of discussion content here that I imagine parents would rather handle.

Here’s my teen speak synopsis:

Part 1: So Mr. Hawthorne was in the hot seat for blasting his employer after being fired, and said HaHaHaHA I’m gonna publish this anyway because it’s not offensive so enjoy! Sticks and stones!

Part 2: The Scarlet Letter. Ok so this lady living in Puritan Salem/Boston finds this brown eyed pastor waxing poetic, and even though she’s married, they get their shenanigans on. What the heck did she think would happen when she had a baby? This wasn’t 2020 where Jerry Springer lets your baby daddy and your husband fight it out on live TV, your @$$ is going to be hung by the neck!

That didn’t happen because Hawthorne had to write a book longer than 5 pages, so the two men have to kill each other with psychological warfare instead. A good lesson about carrying around a guilty conscience.

Long story short – actions have consequenes

A few random thoughts:

  • I thought it was funny that even the beggars were shunning charity from Hester. These days everyone grabs all the free stuff regardless of who is handing it out
  • A character mentioned transmuting alchemy to gold, which is something I usually see in fantasy books or nonfiction moreso than historical fiction
  • The book takes place 50 years before the Salem Witch Trials and Hawthorne brought in some real historical figures as characters.  Bellingham was the real governor, as was Hibbins who mentioned witchcraft throughout the book and was hanged in real life shortly after it took place. I didn’t know how many women were hung before the actual frenzy took place

Overall thoughts: I didn’t feel bad for Hester at all. She wasn’t forced into marriage and knew the laws of the time. Dimmesdale probably took advantage of his authority position and that isn’t an excuse for either of them since she clearly knows how to say NO to men in power based off the rest of the book.  I know 2020 is whack but choices, actions, they all have consequences and I’ll never support adultery.  That’s why I think this is a good cautionary tale to lay against idiocracy like “Teen Mom”

This is a quicker, easier to pick apart classic and I definitely think it held up over the years.

Soooo what classic should I read in the fall?

Categories
Historical Fiction Young Adult

The Silent Unseen by Amanda McCrina

Thank you to Bookish First and the publisher for my free copy of The Silent Unseen in exchange for an honest review! I don’t remember entering this raffle. I also don’t regret the read, even if it ultimately fell flat for me

I am a terribly myopic history reader, so a book about WW2 era Ukraine + Poland + Russia was hard to put into context.  Apparently the Germans were mining the area for slave labor and worse, and once they left, the Russians were coming in to mop up the forces still fighting (Polish transplants vs native Ukrainians)?

This is the setting, with Maria and Kostya on two very different sides of what seem like the same page, yet having to work together. Both had villages ruined by war, dead family, and were fighting for whatever they had left.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  •  Title: The Silent Unseen
  • Author: Amanda McCrina
  • Publisher & Release: Farrar Strauss & Giroux (BYR) April, 2022
  • Length: 320 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟 yes for YA readers

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

Poland, July 1944. Sixteen-year-old Maria is making her way home after years of forced labor in Nazi Germany, only to find her village destroyed and her parents killed in a war between the Polish Resistance and Ukrainian nationalists. To Maria’s shock, the local Resistance unit is commanded by her older brother, Tomek—who she thought was dead. He is now a “Silent Unseen,” a special-operations agent with an audacious plan to resist a new and even more dangerous enemy sweeping in from the East.

When Tomek disappears, Maria is determined to find him, but the only person who might be able to help is a young Ukrainian prisoner and the last person Maria trusts—even as she feels a growing connection to him that she can’t resist.

Tightly woven, relentlessly intense, The Silent Unseen depicts an explosive entanglement of loyalty, lies, and love during wartime

I feel like this book is SUPER YA and missed it’s emotional impact due to the rushed and somewhat silly romance and ending. While I learned of some of the horrors (forced labor and murders and kidnappings and such) that happened, I had trouble with the broader historical context.

First let me say a few good things.  It was a quick read and the action (if not confusing at times) was constant.  I couldn’t keep the three resistance/military groups apart in my head very well without understanding their conflict and governmental reach.  It was an exciting plot though and I would like to know more about this area during the end of WW2.

Also I liked the characters.  Maria was brave and a little silly at times (like a teen) but I liked that she and Kostya showed both their strong and scared kid sides.  That made them feel like real people.

I wasn’t buying the romance though, not one bit, not at all. Even becoming friends would have been challenging for the two main characters, and meaningful, but they hadn’t even trusted each other before they started having feelings and it went from enemy to romance nearly instantaneously.

I also think the book wrapped up super quickly like it just glossed over the plot points towards the end, not explaining a lot.of things, and then ended. Maybe there’s meant to be a sequel but this ending was just silly to me and felt like it shrugged off the gravity of the rest of the novel.  That said though, the author probably did not want to leave YA readers feeling depressed afterwards so she gave all of the characters something to be hopeful about.

I didn’t dislike it but didn’t love it either. Would recommend for YA / WW2 readers who like YA romance elements.  The content (minus some violent acts and descriptions of violent acts) is appropriate for the age group and I think she left a lot of room for a sequel in Kostya’s storyline.

Categories
Adventure Historical Fiction

The New Kingdom (ARC Review) by Wilbur Smith & Mark Chadbourn

Thank you so much to Zaffre and Bookish First for the opportunity to read yet another new Wilbur Smith novel!

I swear by Smith’s historical fiction, with it’s  unapologetic brutality and what I feel is probably a pretty honest portrayal of how things would have been.  By all accounts his novels are well researched, plus always an interesting adventure whether the book is read in order or as a standalone.

That said, I will admit to seeing a huge difference in the writing quality of this installment vs. the original Smith novels.  If I remember correctly this one fits in sometime around Warlock, or it crunches the events of a few books…. Heck maybe I need a reread

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The New Kingdom
  • Series: Ancient Egypt, #7
  • Author: Wilbur Smith & Mark Chadbourn
  • Publisher & Release: Zaffre, 9/7/21
  • Length: 432 pgs
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes for fans of HistFic and adventure

Here is the description:

In the heart of Egypt,
Under the watchful eye of the Gods,
A new power is rising . . .

In the city of Lahun, Hui lives an enchanted life. The favoured son of a doting father, and ruler-in-waiting of the great city, his fate is set. But behind the beautiful façades a sinister evil is plotting. Craving power and embittered by jealousy, Hui’s stepmother, the great sorceress Ipsetnofret, and Hui’s own brother Qen, orchestrate the downfall of Hui’s father, condemning Hui and seizing power in the city.

Cast out and alone, Hui finds himself a captive of a skilled and powerful army of outlaws, the Hyksos. Determined to seek vengeance for the death of his father and rescue his sister, Ipwet, Hui swears his allegiance to these enemies of Egypt. Through them he learns the art of war, learning how to fight and becoming an envied charioteer.

But soon Hui finds himself in an even greater battle – one for the very heart of Egypt itself. As the pieces fall into place and the Gods themselves join the fray, Hui finds himself fighting alongside the Egyptian General Tanus and renowned Mage, Taita. Now Hui must choose his path – will he be a hero in the old world, or a master in a new kingdom?

Smith saw potential in the Hui character and wrote him a history/spinoff story, possibly series.  I totally 100% endorse this decision and can’t wait to see what the next one holds.

While each and every one of Smith’s books can be read as a standalone, the cameos in The New Kingdom are there along with quite a few easter eggs for returning readers.  I thought Taita’s eyes would fall off his face from rolling them so much.

Despite solid pacing and excitement throughout, I thought the book didn’t quite deliver on the synopsis. The Ka stone and the Gods were hinted to be a big part of the novel and to avoid spoilers, I will just say that I wanted more from both of those topics.

I wanted more from Hui becoming a charioteer as well, but I believe we will see the fruits of that in the next novel.

I liked watching Hui come so close to losing his true self. He was so sweetly naive until his family’s betrayal. Then he became a thief, a guard, a Little Rat, then a killer, and finally, in an amazing scene, a hardened captain.  Throughout the book Fareed, a scout, was a static character but acted as a soul mirror for Hui.  A running theme throughout the book was to find out how much humanity Hui retained through all his trials, and in another amazing scene Smith showed that through it all Hui never did lose his true self.

Smith is not an author for inner monologue but Hui is a fairly deep and interesting character.

Tanus and Taita, well, all I can say is go read the other Ancient Egypt books.

Tim Holland wrote a great afterward to provide a broad historical context for the characters, and I almost wish it had been presented as a forward.  It makes sense that with thousands of years of peace and prosperity, Egypt felt pretty invincible.

The other thing that makes these books seem so realistic is how well Smith brings the climate, setting, and mood of the populace into play: whether in a baking desert, war-torn city, refugee camp, or Pharaoh’s palace, I feel like I can picture those sun burnt dripping slaves and sandstorm, midden heaps and incense, terrified citizens… For historical fiction and immersion these things always feel important to me

The only other thing I would have asked for was either section breaks or dates, because it was very hard to tell how much time was passing between major events and I feel like that information would have been helpful to the story.

Overall, not Smith’s best but another very solid book.  He is one of my auto buy authors.  Definitely and always recommend for HistFic readers and adventure lovers.

Categories
Fiction Historical Fiction

ARC Review: Legacy of War by Wilbur Smith

Hi everyone! I have been taking some time away from bookish media and just focusing on life, spring cleaning, and reading some older books from my home library!

Legacy of War is the 19th book in the Courtney series, publishing on April 15th, so it seems like a good time to chat about this amazing book.  Thank you so much to Bookish First and Zaffre Books for my copy in exchange for an honest review!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Legacy of War
  • Series: Courtney #19 (**can be read as a standalone**)
  • Author: Wilbur Smith
  • Publisher & Release: Zaffre, 4/15/21
  • Length: 417 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes for fans of unapologetically gritty Histfic

Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

A nail-biting story of courage, bravery, rebellion and war from the master of adventure fiction.

The war is over, Hitler is dead – and yet his evil legacy lives on. Saffron Courtney and her beloved husband Gerhard only just survived the brutal conflict, but Gerhard’s Nazi-supporting brother, Konrad, is still free and determined to regain power. As a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse develops, a plot against the couple begins to stir. One that will have ramifications throughout Europe. . .

Further afield in Kenya, the last outcrop of the colonial empire is feeling the stirrings of rebellion. As the situation becomes violent, and the Courtney family home is under threat, Leon Courtney finds himself caught between two powerful sides – and a battle for the freedom of a country.

This is Historical fiction at it’s best, and not for the faint of heart! I love Smith because he has absolutely no filter, and I will continue to read anything he writes. This installment happens after the end of WWII, and the hunt for Gerhard’s Nazi Officer brother in on. Meanwhile, in Kenya, the Mau Mau rebellion is starting and the Courtney estate tribes are right in the war zone. Are they loyal enough to resist the uprising??

To touch on the series: this is, I believe, the third and final Saffron and Gerhard book (or maybe they are more of a duology, I’m not sure) but there is enough background given to read the end of their story as a standalone.  Enough new things are revealed that readers new and old will be in love with this pair and the Courtney family.

This is an absolutely brutal and brutally exciting novel! All of the Courtney family books seem to have this gritty accuracy and I love them so freaking much.  There does tend to be some gratuitous violence and murder, but these sadistic things happened in real life and I think they add to the nail-biting-ness of the novel.

This book, like the rest, is fast paced and unapologetic (but Saffron and Gerhard do apologize in their own sweet ways). Between the hair raising race to track down Konrad and the methods of the Mau Mau – chopped up babies, anyone? I couldn’t put this book down! Real historical figures like Jomo Kenyatta, Dior, Wangari, and a few others are present as well. Some events and people are given fictional names but mirror real life events, such as the broad daylight assassination of a chief in his vehicle.

Leon is an amazing character as well and I loved his friendship with the Kikuru chieftain.  The Courtney family dynamics are so just wonderful. I was thoroughly choked up at the end of the novel but I think Smith brought this era to a wonderful conclusion.  I have to wonder though – with the WWII storyline at a close and the Courtneys in Kenya kind of on their way out…will there be more books?

Do you like histfic? Have you read Wilbur Smith!?

Categories
Crime Historical Fiction Mysteries Suspense

Book Review: Germania by Harald Gilbers

Thank you so much to Thomas Dunne Books & St Martin’s Press for the lovely finished copy of Germania in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own!

I would start by profusely apologizing for my turnover time on this book, reading has been a little bit impossible as my work schedule still averages 4-5 12hr nights a week! The good news is: this is my last back logged book!! Literally all my books now are publishing in February or later! Yay for small victories and let’s hope the pandemic winds down soon so the hospital can go back to normal

Anyway anyway, without further adieu..

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Germania
  • Series: Richard Oppenheimer #1
  • Author: Harald Gilbers (tr. Alexandra Roesch)
  • Publisher & Release: Thomas Dunne Books, December 2020
  • Length: 348 pg
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟⚡ yes for mystery/investigative/WWII fans!

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

From international bestselling author Harald Gilbers comes the heart-pounding story of Jewish detective Richard Oppenheimer as he hunts for a serial killer through war-torn Nazi Berlin in Germania.

Berlin 1944: a serial killer stalks the bombed-out capital of the Reich, preying on women and laying their mutilated bodies in front of war memorials. All of the victims are linked to the Nazi party. But according to one eyewitness account, the perpetrator is not an opponent of Hitler’s regime, but rather a loyal Nazi.

Jewish detective Richard Oppenheimer, once a successful investigator for the Berlin police, is reactivated by the Gestapo and forced onto the case. Oppenheimer is not just concerned with catching the killer and helping others survive, but also his own survival. Worst of all, solving this case is what will certainly put him in the most jeopardy. With no other choice but to further his investigation, he feverishly searches for answers, and a way out of this dangerous game.

In Germania, Richard Oppenheimer used to be a detective for the Berlin police, but as a Jew under Hitler he is now forced to work a menial job. One SS agent is stumped when a serial killer starts leaving desecrated bodies in front of WW1 memorials, and he consults (forces) Oppenheimer to help catch the killer. Amidst air raids and bombs and constant fear of death in the rubble of Berlin, Oppenheimer and Vogler try to solve this case.

The setting felt so real as well with rubble strewn streets, frequent rain fall, bombed out buildings, and foreigners from everywhere.  It ties in perfectly with the blackouts, oppressive and depressing overall atmosphere of the book.

So much danger, whether from the constant air strikes, Hitler’s regime, or a truly brutal killer, makes this a quietly exciting mystery.  Oppenheimer is clever and an observant investigator, so many pages are spent as he puzzles out the case to his new boss, Vogler.   Some thoroughly brutal descriptions of desecration were enough to really give me the chills about this killer.

I liked the characters too, Richard knows that his life is hanging by a thread but he still feels the thrill of being back on the case.  He is an inherently good person.  I think Vogler is too, he would never admit it but he sticks his neck out for Oppenheimer quite a bit and has at least a small streak of humanity.  I would have liked a little more from the killer – they had a few paragraphs here and there but it was hard to tell when he was the one being featured, and the glimpses were small! I think he had a good and believable arc to insanity though.

As he is investigating, Oppenheimer learns that he is not being told all the facts.  That says, he does a phenomenal job with what he is given.  It’s definitely more of a literary investigative mystery than a thriller, although some parts are exciting.  I don’t know much about German history at all so it was also interesting to read about landmarks, architecture, and some of Hitler’s less than popular Aryan breeding and spy schemes.

It is also my first German translated book.  I don’t think a lot of German words and phrases translate well, which created some blocky language and curious phrases at times, but not enough to affect enjoyment.  Gilbers is a history proficient theater writer, so I felt like I was getting an accurate portrayal of Nazi politics as well as a dramatic and depressing atmosphere.

I definitely couldn’t figure out why the party cared so much about one murderer… But… You’ll find out why when you read it!

I took the 1.5 stars off for the book being a little anticlimactic – I think Oppenheimer should have been more present during the criminal apprehensions, but his role was only to figure out who did it. Also without knowing the German history I had to look up quite a few abbreviations, and lord knows that German words are a mouthful to pronounce. All the points for setting and atmosphere though and for the characters.

I think this is a wonderfully human mystery and would recommend to anyone interested!

Categories
Fiction Historical Fiction Young Adult

Book Review: Now I Rise by Kiersten White

Happy new year! I had always meant to read The Conqueror Saga one after the other, but life happens, and now I have finally finished Now I Rise!  You can see my review for book one, And I Darken, HERE

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Now I Rise
  • Series: The Conqueror Saga, #2
  • Author: Kiersten White
  • Publisher & Release: Delacorte Press, June 2017
  • Length: 476 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes!

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

Lada Dracul has no allies. No throne. All she has is what she’s always had: herself. After failing to secure the Wallachian throne, Lada is out to punish anyone who dares to cross her blood-strewn path. Filled with a white-hot rage, she storms the countryside with her men, accompanied by her childhood friend Bogdan, terrorizing the land. But brute force isn’t getting Lada what she wants. And thinking of Mehmed brings little comfort to her thorny heart. There’s no time to wonder whether he still thinks about her, even loves her. She left him before he could leave her.

What Lada needs is her younger brother Radu’s subtlety and skill. But Mehmed has sent him to Constantinople—and it’s no diplomatic mission. Mehmed wants control of the city, and Radu has earned an unwanted place as a double-crossing spy behind enemy lines. Radu longs for his sister’s fierce confidence—but for the first time in his life, he rejects her unexpected plea for help. Torn between loyalties to faith, to the Ottomans, and to Mehmed, he knows he owes Lada nothing. If she dies, he could never forgive himself—but if he fails in Constantinople, will Mehmed ever forgive him?

As nations fall around them, the Dracul siblings must decide: what will they sacrifice to fulfill their destinies? Empires will topple, thrones will be won . . . and souls will be lost.

The Story: The story itself is equally if not more interesting and engaging than book one.  There is absolutely no down time between the siblings and the skirmishes prior to the siege, Lada’ s bloody path, and all the political maneuvering (aka murdering) heheh.

‘Let them come,’ she said. ‘I will drink their blood and dance on their corpses’

The Characters:  Lada is razing cities, striking fear and seeking allies to take back Wallachia.  She gains some unlikely allies including John Hunyadi (an interesting historical figure), and a slimy politician that unbeknownst to Lada, thinks he can control her once she’s in power 😂 funny, right?  Lada is an unholy terror and I love her.  She is also very human in this book, once running out of the woods in her undergarments as she was trying to warn her men and forgot to get dressed 😂 another funny point was when they had to go on a treasure hunt to see if her castle actually even had a Treasury.  White is trying to make Lada more relatable, lonelier, more vulnerable, which contrasts so sharply with her brutal, impaling, murdery side.  The character arc is amazing in this book.

Perhaps she will find a balance”

“No. She will go down in flames and blood”

Radu is as whiny as ever, serving as a spy in Constantinople as Mehmed’s forces are getting ready to engage in the famous siege.  Now there’s not one, but two men that he has to constantly whine about and decide which one to betray.  When Radu isn’t being a terrible, cutthroat spy, he’s whining.  Radu once again gets the star docked from the book, even if he is a decent spy.

Hunyadi might have been my favorite side character for his fatherly advice to Lada and that whole wonderful beautiful alliance.  Constantine and Radu’s party in Constantinople really do a good job showing two sides of a conflict, how both are human and led by great, but terrible men.

Hold hands with the devil until you are both over the bridge

The Setting: the new setting is Constantinople, which is perfectly portrayed as a dying city.  In the one biblical/paranormal sequence of the book, there is a flood, followed by the light of God physically leaving the church and then bloody crescent moon when it should have been full.  Gave me the chills.  White does a great job with the moral and religious concerns of both sides, I mean who are the infidels in this case?  The wall and the siege and the desperation just felt so real, as did Lada’s trek through the borderlands seeing what the Boyars did to her country

It was always jarring to hear the Ottomans referred to as the infidels, because that was what they called the Christians

One quick note on the audiobook: at one point I wanted to keep reading and found the audiobook on Libby – it sounds like it’s read by a native speaker, which threw me off only because her pronunciations were so different than what I had been reading in my head that it threw me off.  I did listen long enough to get a better sense for the dialect but honestly didn’t love her as a narrator.

Put his body on a stake in the Square as proof that I keep my promises

Takeaway: The scope of these books is unbelievable and just so well done.  I love both dark and alternate history and the combination is first rate.  So much conflict, amazing characters, and all out war just makes these books unputdownable.  Book three, Bright We Burn, is definitely being read soon.

Categories
Fiction General Fiction Literary Fiction

ARC Review: The Butchers’ Blessing by Ruth Gilligan

Thank you so much to the publisher for my Advanced copy in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Butchers’ Blessing
  • Series: n/a
  • Author: Ruth Gilligan
  • Publisher & Release: Tin House Books, November 10th 2020
  • Length: 312 or
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟⚡sure,  because I think it’s a personal problem

Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

Every year, Úna prepares for her father to leave her. He will wave goodbye early one morning, then disappear with seven other men to traverse the Irish countryside. Together, these men form The Butchers, a group that roams from farm to farm, enacting ancient methods of cattle slaughter.  

The Butchers’ Blessing moves between the events of 1996 and the present, offering a simmering glimpse into the modern tensions that surround these eight fabled men. For Úna, being a Butcher’s daughter means a life of tangled ambition and incredible loneliness. For her mother Grá, it’s a life of faith and longing, of performing a promise that she may or may not be able to keep. For non-believer Fionn, The Butchers represent a dated and complicated reality, though for his son Davey, they represent an entirely new world—and potentially new love. For photographer Ronan, The Butchers are ideal subjects: representatives of an older, more folkloric Ireland whose survival is now being tested. As he moves through the countryside, Ronan captures this world image by image—a lake, a cottage, and his most striking photo: a single butcher, hung upside-down in a pose of unspeakable violence.

A widow’s grief after losing her 7 sons and husband in a war, led to the curse: no cattle can be slaughtered without 8 men present and touching the cow at the time, to celebrate her grief and keep it alive. Enter the butchers – a squad of men that go around Ireland, leaving their families behind to slaughter cattle for people that believe in the old traditions.

First off – I made the mistake of thinking this is historical fiction – and it is definitely more literary fiction and coming of age than historically true, as the curse and butchers are fictional.

I was 100% on board with this as fiction set in 1990s Ireland, until the last page, which made me re evaluate the whole entire book. I can’t say why it threw me without spoilers, but it was so out of character for the entire book. What did I miss? What happened next? I also wasn’t following some of the things that happened in the last few chapters, the finality didn’t make sense and I felt like the aim of the story unravelled a bit as it was coming to a close. I was at 5 stars until i finished the book and dropped to 3-3.5, and it didn’t help that I originally read it thinking “historical fiction,”

Set in a time of Irish cultural change, The Butchers’ Blessing is a meditation in faith, growing up, growing apart, and changing culture. My brain had it pegged as historical fiction but its just stereotypical of Irish legends, in a more modern setting. Regardless, this is a great story (minus the last page). It is labelled as a literary thriller and while definitely dark and poetic at times, I don’t think its really a thriller. There is the ever present issue though of how the heck a Butcher got hung up by his feet and left in a cold storage. Tension in the country surrounding BSE and old vs new in general, is a huge ongoing theme in the novel.

The chapters bounced between Gra, Una, Davey, and Fionn, four characters at different life stages. Una is probably the main character and has to cope with growing up while her dad is off slaughtering 11 months out of the year, targeted by her classmates, and wanting to follow in her dads footsteps. Davey is learning who he is before he heads off to college. Gra and Fionn both are dealing with growing apart from their kids, difficult parenting, and various senses of desperation and loss. Each character has to come to terms with the changes brought to their personal lives as Ireland and it’s people modernized.

For a meditation on growth, self discovery, a bit of corpse defamation and mystery, Irish legend, beautiful writing, and a whole lot of growing pains, this is an excellent read for anyone I would say 14+. I just didn’t like the ending and felt like it brought the whole book out of character, as well as some events occuring that I just don’t personally care to read about. I would still recommend to anyone interested in Irish folklore, life, and some 90s throwback culture!

Categories
Fiction Historical Fiction Literary Fiction

ARC Review: The Wrong Kind of Woman by Sarah McCraw Crow

Thank you so much to MIRA for the advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions are my own!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Wrong Kind of Woman
  • Series: n/a
  • Author: Sarah McCraw Crow
  • Publisher & Release: MIRA – October, 2020
  • Length: 320 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟 maybe for older women?

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

A powerful exploration of what a woman can be when what she should be is no longer an option

In late 1970, Oliver Desmarais drops dead in his front yard while hanging Christmas lights. In the year that follows, his widow, Virginia, struggles to find her place on the campus of the elite New Hampshire men’s college where Oliver was a professor. While Virginia had always shared her husband’s prejudices against the four outspoken, never-married women on the faculty—dubbed the Gang of Four by their male counterparts—she now finds herself depending on them, even joining their work to bring the women’s movement to Clarendon College.

Soon, though, reports of violent protests across the country reach this sleepy New England town, stirring tensions between the fraternal establishment of Clarendon and those calling for change. As authorities attempt to tamp down “radical elements,” Virginia must decide whether she’s willing to put herself and her family at risk for a cause that had never felt like her own.

Told through alternating perspectives, The Wrong Kind of Woman is an engrossing story about finding the strength to forge new paths, beautifully woven against the rapid changes of the early ’70s.

Man I have to say that it took me forever to get through this book. The Wrong Kind of Woman takes place in the early 70s during a time of political and campus unrest.  It follows a woman trying to find her way through the Clarendon collegiate (fictional) boy’s club after her husband dies. There is a group of four women pushing for coeducation, tenure, rights, recognition and etc. It also follows a confused young man named Sam who is a student of Oliver’s, and he incidentally botches a small bombing to impress a girl. Sounds exciting but it was honestly pretty tedious for me.

I was not really feeling anyone except Sam’s passion, and he confused me too. I wasn’t quite sure what the purpose of his character was.  At first he seemed like a sexually confused kid who had a crush on the dead teacher, but then he fell for a girl involved in domestic terrorism.  A lot of the book was Virginia’s inner monologue as she learned about the women’s movements and adapted her thinking to her own needs and those of the “radicals.”

The parts I found most interesting were the family issues as Virginia and Rebecca tried to make ends meet, and reconcile their household after Oliver (the husband) died.  They had some misadventures.  I would have not minded some more time spent on the commune out of town either.

I just feel like somehow it could have been a little more readable and engaging.  Something about the storytelling lacked for me.  Maybe slightly older women who can relate to the times and connect with the characters would enjoy the book a little bit more than I did, but I did finish it eventually.

Thanks again to the publisher for my copy!

Categories
Fantasy Historical Fiction

ARC Review: The Tower of Fools by Andrzej Sapkowski

     Thank you so much to Orbit Books for the eARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own.

Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Tower of Fools
  • Series: The Hussite Trilogy, #1
  • Author: Andrzej Sapkowski, translated by David French
  • Publisher & Release: Orbit Books, 10/27/20 (original 2002)
  • Length: 576 Pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Yes but apparently not for easily offended people

The synopsis from GoodReads:

Reinmar of Bielawa, sometimes known as Reynevan, is a doctor, a magician, and according to some, a charlatan.  When a thoughtless indiscretion finds him caught in the crosshairs of powerful noble family, he is forced to flee his home.

Once he passes beyond the city borders, he finds that there are dangers ahead as well as behind. Strange mystical forces are gathering in the shadows.  Pursued not only by the affronted Stercza brothers, bent on vengeance, but also by the Holy Inquisition, Reynevan finds himself in the Narrenturm, the Tower of Fools.

The Tower is an asylum for the mad, or for those who dare to think differently and challenge the prevailing order.  Escaping the Tower, avoiding the conflict around him, and keeping his own sanity might prove a greater challenge than Reynevan ever imagined.

Oh Reynevan, part of me thinks that him and his entire lot needed a turn in the asylum.  After bedding a knight’s wife and apparently falling madly in love (which she clearly didn’t return), Reynevan sets off on a series of misadventures when he should honestly be fleeing the country.

This is a very historically dense book, with many names and details that bogged the pace down quite a bit.  That said, I don’t know a darn thing about the Hussite wars so I felt like I learned SO much, and it was interesting too to see why the wars started and how the church kind of just devolved into heretical “witch hunts” and went to the crusades.  There is more history than fantasy but it felt so real that I had more than enough to keep my imagination going.

The atmosphere felt appropriate too, these religious groups hated each other.  There is suspicion and people were encouraged to rat out their neighbors for clemency.  Someone is killing merchants, the Knights are on their way out, and wallcreepers are turning into humans and making dark deals.  I know a lot of people aren’t liking all the Latin left in the book but like the prayers weren’t spoken in English and do y’all really care what they say?  Even the bits left in sentences make more or less sense if you know anything about word roots, and if not, I doubt much is being missed.

I did just love the characters too.  Scharley had me literally CRYING I was laughing so hard during one totally fake exorcism scene.  I didn’t realize that Sapkowski had a sense of humor but the banter and conversations and occasional one liners from side characters are amazing, and I think David French did a great job bringing the characters through the translation.  Reynevan himself is a moron though, he got so much great advice and ended up ignoring all of it, captured, and imprisoned instead.  Riding through the towns and hearing the different townspeople’s interpretations of happenings and politics was interesting too.

I think this series is really going to heat up in book two, with the wars starting and a lot of the setting and exposition out of the way.  I will definitely be reading on when the next book comes out!

Thank you so much again to Orbit Books for the early copy!