Book Review – The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

The Year of the Witching by Alexis HendersonI can’t remember how many of the book recommendation algorithms last year recommended Alexis Henderson’s debut novel The Year of the Witching to me in the weeks and months after it released. The concept sounded right up my alley but it took a while for my “currently reading” pile and the library waitlist to sync up so I was only really able to dive in a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the engaging read I’d hoped and expected it to be. The concept was everything I’d thought and wanted it to be, but there was something in the execution that fell flat and made it difficult for me to engage with the book. I’ve since learned there will be a second book in this sort-of duology releasing later this year (interviews with the author are a little vague on whether it’s a sequel or not but it is definitely going to be related to The Year of the Witching). At this point I’m undecided whether or not I’ll add that one to my “to read” list.

Immanuelle Moore grew up in the shadow of her dead mother’s sin. Not only had her mother taken a lover (Immanuelle’s father, sent to the pyre for daring to love her mother in defiance of the Prophet), she had attempted to kill the Prophet himself. Because of her origins, Immanuelle was determined to show how different from her mother she was, following the religious teachings and customs of Bethel without questioning them and resisting the lure of the Darkwood. But when she finds herself in the Darkwood by chance and is gifted with her mother’s journal, Immanuelle has a harder and harder time resisting its pull. When the first plague begins, she senses she’s the only one who can stop them but it will require breaking from what she’s grown up believing and delving into her parents’ past. Continue reading

LGBTQIA+ Books

In honor of Pride, here are some books by LGBTQIA+ authors and/or telling LGBTQIA+ stories.

Hala Alyan

Nicole Dennis-Benn

Naoise Dolan

Jeffrey Eugenides

A.J. Hackwith

Alexis Hall

Casey McQuiston

Erin Morgenstern

Matthew Norman

Anna North

Rivers Solomon

Heather Walter

Book Review – Ties That Tether by Jane Igharo

Ties That Tether by Jane Igharo Every once in a while, I need an easy and fun read which made it the perfect time to dive into Jane Igharo’s Ties That Tether. Guaranteed to have a happy ending, Ties That Tether is a bit of a romance but more time is spent exploring the repercussions of the romance on the heroine’s relationship with her family and culture – particularly her relationship with her mother – than on the couple themselves. Delving into the immigrant experience and the impact that has on one’s sense of self, I found Ties That Tether to be the right balance of light-hearted fun with the dash of serious undercurrents that I need to thoroughly enjoy myself.

Azere immigrated to Canada from Nigeria with her mother and younger sister shortly after the death of her father. She was twelve and made him a promise that she wouldn’t forget or forsake her heritage – when the time came, she would marry a Nigerian man. Her mother refuses to let her forget that promise and so Azere is on yet another painfully disastrous setup when she meets Rafael Castellano. He’s white but he’s only in town while he interviews for a new job and they hit it off immediately so Azere breaks her rule for one night, figuring she’ll never see him again or have to worry about disappointing her mother. A few weeks later she not only sees Rafael again, avoiding him is going to be impossible and disappointing her mother looks inevitable. Continue reading

Book Review – Whiskey & Ribbons by Leesa Cross-Smith

Whiskey & Ribbons by Leesa Cross-SmithIn the wake of the BLM rallies last summer, I promised myself I would try to read more books by Black writers. I bookmarked and saved many of the lists making the rounds during the #BlackoutBestsellerList push and Whiskey & Ribbons by Leesa Cross-Smith was one of the books I bought that week after seeing it on this list of books by Black women. The heartbreaking premise was so powerful I added it to my cart immediately. But I also hesitated to start it for that same reason – I’ve got to be in the right headspace to face something I know is going to make me cry. And while Whiskey & Ribbons DID make me cry, there was so much hope and happiness in its pages that the heartbreak wasn’t as thoroughly devastating as I expected it to be. It shows how much grief really is a part of life and how it’s up to us whether or not we let loss destroy us – how much life is about choice even if death rarely is.

Two weeks before Evangeline gave birth to her son, her husband, Eamon, was killed in the line of duty. From the day Noah was born, Eamon’s adopted-brother and life-long best friend, Dalton, was there to help take care of both Evangeline and the baby – fulfilling a promise to Eamon. But six months later, when Evangeline and Dalton find themselves snowed in with Noah at Evangeline’s parents’ house, the two of them must finally confront where they stand with one another and with their grief. Continue reading

Book Review – Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo

Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo Rule of Wolves was the first book in the Grishaverse that I had to wait for. I had it pre-ordered and had hoped to read it before the first season of Shadow and Bone dropped on Netflix, but I had a few too many other books I’d committed to previewing during those weeks so I ended up watching the show first. Luckily, getting to see Leigh Bardugo’s incredible characters brought to life so brilliantly only made me more eager to finally dive into what promises to be the last Grishaverse novel for a while. Though it left off in a thoroughly satisfying place and could easily be a final resting point for the Grishaverse, I truly hope this isn’t the last of these characters or this world because it’s been such an enjoyable ride that I’m not ready for it to end (and given the final scenes, it does leave considerable space still open for future tales).

Ravka continues to face potential war on too many fronts. The Fjerdans are determined to attack from the north to remove Nikolai from the throne and impose a puppet ruler who will help them wipe out the Grisha. To the south, Queen Makhi of Shu Han also continues to conniving a way to both remove the threat her beloved sister, Ehri, and start a war with Ravka that will have the people’s support. But perhaps the greatest threat to Ravka comes from the failed attempt to rid Nikolai of the beast that shares his body – a failed attempt that resurrected the Darkling and reactivated some of the destructive powers of the Fold. Continue reading

Book Review – The City of Tears by Kate Mosse

The City of Tears by Kate Mosse I read Kate Mosse’s The Burning Chambers after I learned that The City of Tears was actually the second book in an ongoing series. And though I felt The Burning Chambers had its issues when it came to establishing the characters, setting, and story, I was eager to dive into The City of Tears to see what happened next to those characters I’d come to enjoy so thoroughly. And I did begin reading pretty soon after finishing the first book. About halfway through the novel, however, I hit a bit of a wall where my enjoyment of the characters themselves became too stalled in a combination of disappointment and boredom for me to do more than wade through the rest slowly. While I’m sure there will be more installments in this series, I doubt I’ll bother with them.

The City of Tears picks up where the epilogue of The Burning Chambers left off (after another prologue set far into the future). Minou must decide if she and the rest of their family are going to join her husband, Piet, in Paris over the summer to celebrate the marriage of Henri of Navarre to Marguerite de Valois, the sister of the King – a marriage designed to help unite the warring Hugenot and Catholic factions of France. But the specter of Vidal still looms from time to time and someone from Amsterdam has been trying to get in touch with Piet, though whether it has to do with the Protestant cause or the death of his mother, they aren’t sure. Ultimately choosing to go to Paris with their children, tragedy is in store for the Reydon-Joubert clan even before the horrors of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre start to unfold. Continue reading

Book Review – Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace

Creativity, Inc. by Ed CatmullWhen I choose to veer away from my usual fiction stomping grounds into the realm of non-fiction, it’s usually with an eye toward history. So, if it hadn’t been the selection for our first book club at work, I don’t know that I ever would have looked twice at Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull. As familiar as I am with the works of Pixar having grown up with them and then watched my niece enjoy them – and having thoroughly enjoyed the Pixar exhibit while it was at the Museum of Science in Boston back in 2015 – I wasn’t as interested in a book about the philosophies and day-to-day business practices their leadership put in place to develop their now famous (and in some ways, infamous) workplace culture and extended success. But, I was excited about book club at work, so I waded in and through an interesting introspection that, in some key ways, hasn’t aged well.

Beginning with Ed Catmull’s fascination with Disney and animation as a child, the book takes the reader through the earliest days of computer graphics development and the birth of Pixar as a division of Lucasfilm that George Lucas ultimately sold in the 1980s to a notoriously demanding (and many would say ‘difficult’) Steve Jobs. Once Toy Story proved that computer animated motion pictures were viable in the market, Catmull and the others at Pixar looked for new ways to challenge themselves and the accepted practices of the industry as they continued to grow. With the successes piling up, he takes the reader through the surprising buy-out by Disney in 2006 and the responsibility he had as he helped revive Disney Animation while still in his role at Pixar (and keeping the two entities separate companies in practice as well as intention). Continue reading

Book Review – Malice by Heather Walter

Malice by Heather WalterYou can’t judge a book by its cover but the cover art is meant to catch the eye and capture interest. The cover for Heather Walter’s Malice certainly caught my attention and once I read the description, I knew I had to read it. I’m a sucker for reimagined fairy tales and this one promised plenty of intriguing twists on the classic Sleeping Beauty story. As I approached the end, however, I began hoping that there would be a second book in the series because there was no way enough could happen in the dwindling page count for me to find the ending satisfying. Luckily for me, it does look like there will be a sequel (though I can’t find anything about a tentative release date yet). As such, the ending to Malice left me torn.

Alyce lives in the kingdom of Briar as one of the magically skilled Graces… but she isn’t a Grace. While the Graces are gifted with magic from the light Fae of Etheria, Alyce’s magic comes from the parents she never knew, at least one of whom was a Vila, the main foes of Etheria and Briar who were (almost) entirely eliminated by the humans of Briar during the war. Found as an infant and raised to be the Dark Grace, Alyce has always been treated with contempt, fear and disgust by her fellow Graces and everyone else in Briar. Until she happens to make the acquaintance of the last crown princess of Briar, Aurora. Alyce soon finds herself trying to help Aurora break the curse that all the women of Briar’s ruling line face before Aurora runs out of time. Continue reading

Book Preview – One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

book cover - one last stopAfter reading Red, White & Royal Blue two years ago, I’d been keeping an eye out for what Casey McQuiston’s next book would be, hoping to maybe get a preview copy. It just so happened that I was lucky enough to win an advance copy of her upcoming One Last Stop in a Goodreads giveaway late last year. Currently slated to hit book stores at the start of Pride, One Last Stop is both a queer romance and an exploration of the LGBTQ community and its history.

August has spent the better part of her life helping her mother search for a long-lost uncle and the skills she learned as part of that search have left her more than a little socially uncertain. She’s transferred colleges several times and the latest switch means a move to New York City where roommates and a job are a necessity. Despite her efforts to remain a loner, she realizes her new roommates are becoming her friends and there’s a girl on the subway who’s become the highlight of August’s commute. But she soon learns there’s more to Jane than just coincidence or an overlapping commute that keeps them running into one another on the Q train. August is determined to help Jane, even if it means putting herself through the emotional wringer. Continue reading

Book Review – Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade

Spoiler Alert by Olivia DadeAfter a few heavier reads, it was time for something in the “just plain fun” category and the gods of the Library Waitlist agreed. A recommendation from a friend, Olivia Dade’s Spoiler Alert falls squarely into the category of romantic comedy, reveling in some of the tropes of the fanfiction it celebrates. It also happens to be both a celebration and critique of fandom culture, celebrating the communities it creates while also calling out some of its most prominent flaws.

Marcus is wrapping up filming on the final season of the hit show he stars in but it’s been a while since he’s found the material satisfying (and he isn’t alone). Since he’s contractually obligated to keep his mouth shut about any criticism along with the new plot lines, he’s relieved to have found a mostly-safe outlet for those frustrations: fanfiction and a server dedicated to his character and the show. It’s been a space for him to develop skills like writing alongside close but also anonymous friendships. April also knows what it’s like to keep her professional life separate from her personal obsession with the show and its relationships, but she’s ready for all that to change. Determined to stop hiding pieces of herself from the world, she works up the courage to post a picture of herself in cosplay to Twitter. When the photo unintentionally goes viral and captures Marcus’ attention, circumstances threaten to expose Marcus’ secret but if it means getting to be with April, the risk might just be worth it. Continue reading

Book Review – A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

A Thousand Ships by Natalie HaynesI’m still not sure how it happened, but I managed, in all my years of schooling – including getting both a BA and MA in English literature – to read either The Iliad or The Odyssey. And I’m not saying it was assigned to me and I just didn’t bother cause I found them boring or tedious or anything. No, I unintentionally found a slew of courses that never saw it on the syllabus. I was actually rarely assigned anything from that particular classical canon. Nope, the entirety of my knowledge of them comes second hand through the allusions to the classics in other works like Shakespeare and so many early British novels (and I think there was definitely an episode of Wishbone where the cute pooch was cast as Odysseus). Despite my patchwork knowledge of the Trojan War’s literary history, when I saw an NPR tweet about Natalie Haynes’ A Thousand Ships and its premise of telling the story through the women of the tale, I could not get my hands on a copy fast enough. Having completed this account of events with the focus on the ladies (and with so much irreverence for the original epics’ approach), I find myself pondering tackling The Iliad or The Odyssey now…

Calling on female perspectives from each side, each class, goddess and mortal woman alike, A Thousand Ships presents the harsh reality of the aftermath of war for the women of both sides. The women of Troy wait on the beach for the Greek victors to divvy them up as slaves, to separate them from one another and take them once and for all from their home. While waiting, they discuss where and when things went wrong, they speculate of the fates of those absent from their group, and they grieve their innumerable losses. Through their eyes, the sheen of battlefield glory dulls and every bit of blood spatter and dried sweat gets examined. When the heroes are all dead, when both sides have lost more people than remain and one side declares ‘victory,’ it doesn’t mean the death and destruction are over. Far from it. Continue reading

Book Review – A Court of Silver Flames by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Silver Flames by Sarah J. MaasIt’s been a few years since there was a new installment in Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses series. Last week’s release of A Court of Silver Flames brought a return to the familiar characters of the Inner Circle. With a slight shift in focus, quite a few new characters and new threats, the series is poised to continue expanding its borders and scope. Compared to Maas’ Throne of Glass series, this series relies far more on the strength of its characters to carry the reader through a sometimes-shaky plot. Delving into darker, more psychologically difficult places than the previous books of this series, A Court of Silver Flames also indulges more in the explicitly “smutty,” weaving a compelling journey of a character’s journey from determined self-destruction to forgiveness and hope.

In the aftermath of the war with Hybern, the peoples of Prythian are still working to rebuild and recover from their various traumas. It’s become clear to the members of the Night Court’s Inner Circle that giving Nesta time and space hasn’t worked and some form of intervention is needed. She’s offered two options: first, she can live at the House of Wind away from Velaris, train with Cassian in the mornings and spend her afternoons working in the priestesses’ library, or second, she can return to the human lands and make her own way alone. Reluctantly agreeing to the first option, Nesta digs her heels in, determined to be as disagreeable and vicious as everyone around her apparently believes her to be. But Cassian has always had a knack for figuring Nesta out and getting under her skin and getting her away from the triggers that send her spiraling might just allow them the space needed for him to help her make progress in facing her trauma and building a new life for herself.

Continue reading

Book Review – Last Act in Palmyra by Lindsey Davis

Last Act in Palmyra by Lindsey DavisI adored Poseidon’s Gold, the fifth book in Lindsey Davis’ Marcus Didius Falco series. After a that spent so much time and focus in Rome and on Falco’s family, it makes sense that book six, Last Act in Palmyra would bring a significant change of scene. While I wasn’t as underwhelmed as I was with Iron Hand of Mars, I am ready for a return to Rome and the familiar supporting cast of characters that are so much of what I enjoy about this series. Given where Last Act in Palmyra leaves off, I’m hopeful for book eight.

Having been disappointed in his hopes of being raised to a socially acceptable position that would have enabled him to marry Helena Justina, Marcus Didius Falco is reluctant to take any more work from the emperor. However, when an old friend asks for Falco to travel across the empire in search of a runaway musician and it happens to overlap with some reconnaissance work in the same area, he’s willing to kill two birds with one stone and escape Rome (with Helena) for a bit. But it doesn’t take long for things to start going wrong. At one of the first significant stops on their journey, Falco and Helena stumble across the body of a recently murdered playwright. Soon, they’ve joined the traveling acting group as they try to uncover the murderer and find the missing musician. Continue reading

Book Review – The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse

The Burning Chambers by Kate MosseWhen it comes to books and series, I’m a completist. That means when I pick up a book, go to start it, and discover it’s actually the second or third book in a series, nine times out of ten, I’ll put the book aside until I can read the ones that come before it. As soon as I realized that Kate Mosse’s recent The City of Tears is actually a sequel to The Burning Chambers, I immediately went to my library to make sure I started at the intended beginning (and going back to read the description of The City of Tears after having finished The Burning Chambers, I know I’m going to be glad to have the familiarity with the characters and their histories). While I was initially wondering if I’d bother with book two as I stumbled through the first half of The Burning Chambers, the back half brought much more focus and purpose to the story and I will be diving into The City of Tears very soon to see what’s in store for these characters.

The unrest in sixteenth-century France between the Catholics and the Huguenots is growing and beginning to tear cities apart across the country. In the Joubert household in Carcassone, a twenty-year-old secret soon becomes entangled in the power struggle as well. Nineteen-year-old Marguerite “Minou” Joubert does what she can to care for her younger brother and sister since their mother’s death but her father’s recent ailments have added to her worries. As the situation continues to develop, Minou finds her path repeatedly crossing with that of Piet Reydon, a Huguenot hoping a peaceful and tolerant resolution can be reached. The threads of Piet’s personal mission to hide and protect a valuable artifact overlap more and more with the nefarious forces tugging at Minou from the past approaching an unavoidable collision in the mountains of Puivert. Continue reading

Book Review – The Empress by Laura Martínez-Belli

The Empress by Laura Martínez-BelliThere are periods of history and figures in history that I return to time and again and, as a result, I’ve become familiar with them. Then there are those whose stories capture my attention and I am compelled to learn more. Charlotte of Belgium who became Carlota, Empress of Mexico for a few brief years, falls into the latter category. Her story and that of her husband, Maximilian, have crossed my path a few times (most frequently in the feeds of various history podcasts I enjoy). So, when I saw that there was a novel about Charlotte/Carlota being released, I jumped at the chance to read it. Having now finished Simon Bruni’s translation of Laura Martínez-Belli’s The Empress, I find my interest has shifted from the story being told to the process of translation itself. My proficiency in Spanish has improved as I’ve worked at it during the pandemic, but I’m nowhere near a point where I could compare the translation against the original Spanish novel. With such incredible material to work with, I found the novel to be a bit of a mess and as I worked through it, I was couldn’t help but wonder (and speculate) where that might be due to the translation, where it might carry over from the original novel and how much it might be intentional.

Ambitious and seeking more for herself and her marriage, Charlotte of Belgium throws herself into becoming Carlota, Empress of Mexico when Napoleon III presents the opportunity to her and her husband. But Carlota’s devotion to her new country and people is quickly tested when less than two years after their coronation she must flee to France to beg for further aid in order to sustain their Empire. Fears of poisoning and conspiracy drive Carlota to meander along the border between sanity and insanity, but her fears may well have been warranted. As the narration jumps back and forth in time as well as between Carlota, one of her ladies in waiting, Constanza, a soldier from her protective detail, Philippe, and a few others, the defining tragedies of Carlota’s life unfold for the reader. Continue reading

Book Review – A Sky Beyond the Storm by Sabaa Tahir

A Sky Beyond the Storm by Sabaa TahirThe wait for the next book in a series is always a difficult one. That is compounded when the coming book is both the final installment and released after a longer wait than the others. I made my way through the first three books of Sabaa Tahir’s Ember in the Ashes series pretty quickly and around the time the third book (A Reaper at the Gates) was released back in 2018. Now, I had originally thought it was a trilogy and that there would be no waiting but upon finishing book three realized I would be playing that waiting game after all but I was eager to see how the series would end. Then the wait turned out to be two years and by the time A Sky Beyond the Storm was released last month, I had a bit and was left with more memories about where my emotional investment stood than the particular details of certain plot threads. Still, I was excited for the final volume and (after reading through my old reviews and a recap of the series as a whole) delved into Tahir’s world once more. In many ways a satisfying conclusion, A Sky Beyond the Storm still struggles at times, especially with pacing and setting up key revelations leaving some plots more rewarding than others.

The Commandant with her army continues to wage war alongside the Nightbringer and his jinn, devastating the Empire and massacring the different peoples who have defied them. Blood Shrike, Helene Aquilla, is determined to win back her infant nephew’s kingdom, though the reforms her sister the regent is pushing for threatens to cost them allies. Laia is certain that the only way to end the war is to kill the Nightbringer but isn’t even sure such a feat is possible. The Soul Catcher, Elias Veturius fights to stay out of the affairs of humans, even as they argue that the concerns of the human world do affect his work passing the souls of the dead to their final rest. As the war rages, the three find their paths drawing closer and closer to the center of a maelstrom that threatens to bring destruction to more than just the Nightbringer’s human targets. Continue reading

Book Review – The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

The Red Queen by Philippa GregoryI don’t write a review for every book I read (though I do come pretty close). There are always going to be those guilty pleasure reads that I enjoy but don’t pay close enough attention to or books that stall so much merely finishing them is accomplishment enough. For the most part, Philippa Gregory’s books fall into the former category for me. I think I tend to read her books as a way to inspire my history major side to then find non-fiction works on the same figures and time period. Also, because there tends to be so much overlap between her novels, I find myself skipping around (which is not something I feel is generally conducive to writing a series of comprehensive reviews). Long story short: I wasn’t planning to review Philippa Gregory’s The Red Queen when I began reading it. A little more than halfway through I started to change my mind. Writing about the way Gregory crafts the narrative of Margaret Beaufort (the mother of Henry VII) and explores her psychology is simply too irresistible.

As a child, Margaret Beaufort was convinced she was called by God to serve some divine purpose. Obsessed with tales of the undoubtedly holy Joan of Arc, Margaret sought out those who met or saw her in action and begged her mother to let her join a convent where she could dedicate herself to serving the church. But Margaret is also a direct descendant of the house of Lancaster and King Henry VI’s reign is starting to show cracks. Margaret is married off to the king’s half-brother, Edward Tudor, and urged to perform her duty – bear heirs for her family. After narrowly surviving the birth of her son, Margaret’s understanding of her divine calling shifts: God will someday make her son the King of England and, as his mother, she must help him and the royal house of Lancaster to prevail. Continue reading

Book Review – The Camelot Betrayal by Kiersten White

The Camelot Betrayal by Kiersten WhiteI’ve been looking forward to Kiersten White’s The Camelot Betrayal since I finished The Guinevere Deception last year. White’s twists on the classic Camelot mythology continue in this second installment of her Camelot Rising Trilogy. The Camelot Betrayal expands further into the familiar cast of characters while fleshing out their alternate backstories and feeding Guinevere’s confusion around her sense of self and purpose as the larger conflict plays out. I appreciated the way that responsibility is tied into Guinevere’s journey to figure herself out. It’s one of those themes that comes up frequently in series but is often only half addressed. Characters will step up to take responsibility through action but the consequences – or more precisely, the wider ripples of consequence – are often glossed over.

After having been manipulated by Mordred into raising the Dark Queen, Guinevere is determined to do everything in her power to help Arthur protect Camelot in the coming conflict. Trying to balance playing a more active role against Arthur’s fears for her safety, Guinevere is finally finding herself at home in Camelot and settling into her role as queen. The unexpected arrival of Guinevere’s sister, Guinevach threatens to throw a wrench into everything. Guinevach is the real Guinevere’s sister and could so easily expose the careful deception Guinevere and Arthur have been executing. Is the girl really who she says she is, or could she be an agent of the Dark Queen? Continue reading

Book Review – Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn

Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-BennUsually I come to authors through recommendations for a specific work. In this case, it was the writer – Nicole Dennis-Benn – that I first saw recommended. Looking through my library’s digital catalogue, I ended up requesting the first book of hers that was available and going in kind of blind. While I did thoroughly appreciate Here Comes the Sun, I also wish I had paid attention to the synopsis before just diving in. From page one, Dennis-Benn holds nothing back and when issues of sex work and sexual assault feature so prominently in the plot, it’s probably better to be at least a little prepared. It didn’t take me too long to adjust to Dennis-Benn’s brutally honest approach to her characters or their stories, painting the vivid and harsh reality of a time and place that to many outsiders has always been portrayed as paradise.

Margot has been working at the local resort longer than most, even surviving the transition of power from father to son within the owner’s family. She learned early to use her body and sex to her financial and personal advantage. And she’s willing to do anything to ensure her little sister, Thandi, never has to do the same. In fact, Thandi’s future is the one thing Margot and her mother, Delores agree on – Thandi will go to the expensive, private school, she’ll ace her exams, and will go on to be a doctor and escape their desperate circumstances. Margot has plans for herself, as well, once Thandi is safe – a big promotion at the hotel and the financial security to leave her loathsome mother and their rickety shack behind for a luxury home of her own, somewhere that might even be safe enough for her to live with her maybe-girlfriend, Verdene, if she can convince Verdene to join her. But Thandi has dreams and struggles of her own and Delores and their larger community have never made things easier for Margot or anyone with aspirations like hers. Continue reading

Book Review – The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

The Red Tent  by Anita DiamantI don’t remember when The Red Tent first hit my radar as a book to look out for, but as soon as I spotted it at the annual book sale last year, I added it to my pile. As I continue with my efforts to read and remove more titles from my ‘To Read’ bookcase than I add to it (a feat I may actually accomplish this year thanks to the pandemic), I finally picked up Anita Diamant’s novel that tells the story of Dinah and, through her, the lives of several other Biblically famous women. The novel provides a far more complete picture of these women as individuals, defining them beyond their relationships with the men in their lives. Always fascinating, occasionally infuriating, The Red Tent gives incredible texture to a specific time and place that (in my experience) religious instruction leaves feeling flat.

Dinah is the youngest child and only daughter of her mother Leah, the famous (or infamous) Jacob’s first wife. She begins her story first with that of her mother and her mother’s sisters as they become the wives of Jacob and the mothers of his twelve sons. It is among her mother and aunts in the red tent that Dinah learns the ways of their people and where their ways eventually conflict and give way to the ways Jacob has brought with him from his father and his father’s god. But Dinah finds her true calling at her aunt Rachel’s side – as a midwife. But betrayal lies in Jacob’s history with his brother and it lies in Dinah’s future through her brothers as well. Continue reading

Book Review – Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

Cat's Eye by Margaret AtwoodMargaret Atwood is one of the writers I admire most and a huge part of that is the range she exhibits in her work. From the futuristic speculations of her Maddaddam trilogy and eerie prescience of The Handmaid’s Tale to the psychological twistings and turnings of Alias Grace. I’ve been gradually making my way through her extensive bibliography, most recently finishing Cat’s Eye. While I wasn’t immediately drawn into the novel (perhaps because it doesn’t have an intricate plot or much world-building which are so often what capture my interest), it is an incredible exploration of female relationships and the societal forces in defining and directing what it means to be female during a period in history when the power structures around those forces were being challenged and changed. What’s more, it is done in a way that is somehow both explicit and subtle, in a way that shows the changes were both conscious and unconscious. Atwood packs the layers of narrator Elaine’s reflections with so much commentary delving through time and distance from her late-middle-age present to her earliest childhood memories in WWII Toronto.

Even as a child, Elaine knew (and in many ways rebelled against) the fact that girls and boys were treated differently by adults in society. There are many times that she is uncomfortable with the company of her fellow girls, however. Among her group of friends, Elaine is often the butt of their games – they aim to improve her appearance, her behavior, her respectability. As she gets older, Elaine shirks the friends whose opinions and approval she suffered for and new dynamics develop, specifically between herself and the often-ringleader of their one-time group, Cordelia. Returning to Toronto in her late-middle-age for a special showing of her art, Elaine finds herself drawn to memories and musings of Cordelia and what has become of her in the decades since they parted. Continue reading

Book Review – The Archive of the Forgotten

The Archive of the Forgotten by A.J. HackwithAfter finishing The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith back in July, I figured I’d have to wait for my library to get a copy of its sequel, The Archive of the Forgotten when it came out in October. To my surprise and delight, I was able to secure an advance reader copy in September… but what I was unable to secure was the time to read it before it hit shelves (the worst thing about busy season at work is how it cuts into my reading time and energy). Though it took me longer to get to it than I’d hoped, The Archive of the Forgotten proved to be as thoroughly engaging a follow-up novel as I’d anticipated… just not in the directions I had expected (which actually made it that much better).

Some time has passed since Andras’ attack on the library and things should be settling into a new normal with Claire in her new position as Arcanist and her former apprentice Brevity stepping up as the Librarian of the Unwritten Wing. But even with Hero recovered from his injuries (and working as Brevity’s new apprentice) and Ramiel adjusting nicely to his new place as Claire’s assistant, things between them all are a little… off. Continuing to ignore the imbalance or whatever it is ceases to be an option when two things appear: first, one of Brevity’s sister muses, Probity, visits from the Muse Corps to see how the former muse is managing her position as Librarian and second, a mysterious pool of ink has appeared in the Arcane Wing – a pool of ink that appears to be attracting damsels from the Unwritten Wing. As Claire and Brevity clash over what the pool of ink is and what should be done about it and the tension in their relationship begins to bubble over into their relationships with the others around them. Is it a difference of opinion and philosophy or something deeper, more fundamental and dangerous? Continue reading

Book Review – The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi CoatesTa-Nehisi Coates’ The Water Dancer is one of those books that was in my peripheral vision for a while. It was on my ‘To Read’ list but I hadn’t actually put a hold on it for my library (partly because I’d already maxed out the number of holds allowed and partly because I figured it was a long waiting list). But just when I was between books and nothing was really appealing to me, I checked the available titles and The Water Dancer happened to be among them (so not as long a waitlist as I’d been thinking). I snatched it up and plugged away at it as other things in my non-reading life got chaotic. But I think that having to take my time with it was actually a good thing. I could have (and probably would have) devoured it quickly, but not having the time to read it quickly forced me to slow down and truly appreciate the writing itself and not just the plot or characters. The subject and how it’s told deserve to be read carefully (add it to the list of titles I wish I could have read in a college seminar setting with extensive discussion).

Hiram occupies an interesting position on the Lockless plantation. He is enslaved, one of the Tasked. But he is also his master’s son and gifted with near perfect memory. Near perfect because he can’t remember his mother or the circumstances surrounding when she was taken from him and sold Natchez way. He also holds the key to another mythical gift, Conduction – a way by which he can transport himself and others over impossibly long distances. As Hiram gets older, he learns more about his place at Lockless, his particular gifts, and exactly how he wants to be free.

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Book Review – Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

Boyfriend Material by Alexis HallAfter reading a few things that were on the heavier side in terms of content, I needed something that was lighter and more in the vein of “just plain fun.” Alexis Hall’s recent, Boyfriend Material fits the bill much as Red, White & Royal Blue did last summer. In fact, a lot of outlets are invoking RW&RB in their praise for Boyfriend Material. While I can see how and why that’s happening (both feature a male/male romance as well as relationships that begin as arrangements for publicity purposes), they’re actually about very different things in terms of the emotional side of the story. Where last year’s RW&RB is very much about discovering and coming to terms with one’s sexuality (and doing so in a public spotlight), Boyfriend Material is more about rebuilding – rebuilding trust, rebuilding confidence and self-worth, rebuilding your understanding of your friends and family… As with RW&RB, I was thrilled to find a “just plain fun” romance that also had incredible character development and thematic depth.

Lucien “Luc” O’Donnell is the son of two legendary 80s musicians. His mother made her mark and left the music scene, raising Luc on his own after his father abandoned them when Luc was three. Luc would be fine with it except that he’s still gotten a fair amount of attention for his celebrity-by-proxy status and very little of that attention has been good. With his father making a comeback, the pressure is on and recent mishaps have led to donors pulling out of the charity he works for, threatening his job in the process. A colleague suggests he find a “suitable” boyfriend for some good press to preserve his job but Luc finds an arrangement with a friend-of-a-friend to be more plausible: they’ll pretend to date and help each other out. Oliver will be Luc’s date to the charity’s annual fundraiser and Luc will accompany Oliver to a family function. But as they put on a show for the cameras, their fake relationship progresses, it’s remarkable how much a fake boyfriend can feel like a real boyfriend. Continue reading

Book Review – Ophelia by Lisa M. Klein

Ophelia by Lisa M. KleinI think I came to Lisa M. Klein’s Ophelia through the trailer for the film adaptation. It caught my attention and looking more at the movie itself (probably to figure out if it had made its way to a streaming service yet), I learned it was based on a book, so naturally I promptly went online to buy a copy. In need of more light, summer reading, a reimagining of a story I was familiar with seemed like just the right thing – and it was. I remember having discussions of the way the female characters in Hamlet were treated in the text going back to the first time I read the play in high school. It made sense that someone would one day write an alternative version from Ophelia’s perspective and I’m glad that Klein did more than just flesh out the existing character. Klein continued to explore many of the same themes at the heart of the play, and from a perspective every bit as complex and torn as Hamlet’s, but with an amazing capacity for hope, not just despair.

Starting with what amounts to a prequel to Hamlet, Ophelia is educated from a very young age, learning alongside her brother, Laertes, and watching as their common-born father works to raise their status, eventually landing a place for them at court. Once inside the walls of Elsinore, Ophelia’s rougher habits become a liability and she is made a lady in waiting to Queen Gertrude, taken under the monarch’s wing and taught how to behave and navigate life amidst the deceptions and scheming of the court. Her new position also brings the attention of Prince Hamlet and romance blooms before the familiar events of the play unfold and Ophelia’s life is more seriously threatened. Madness, vengeance, and grief seem all that’s left if she stays at Elsinore, so Ophelia makes a difficult decision – she must escape, even if it means deceiving those she loves best. Continue reading