Hag-Seed

Hag-Seed

Hag-Seed
Hag-Seed

I’m going to hope that I can graze over the shameful fact that I haven’t written a blog post since before I turned 28, which was over half a year ago, and instead jump right into discussing Margaret Atwood’s latest novel: Hag-Seed.

This novel is a step away from her usual fare. Atwood always has something profound and meaningful to say about the world. Right now, especially, I feel like The Handmaid’s Tale is an incredibly relevant read and everyone should pick it up, read it, and pray that that’s not where our society goes. But I digress. In her moving somewhat away from this trend, this novel fell flat for me. I missed the powerful punch-in-the-face of her typical voice.

Books in the tumbleweed
Books in the tumbleweed

“Felix is at the top of his game as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival. His productions have amazed and confounded. Now he’s staging a Tempest like no other: not only will it boost his reputation, it will heal emotional wounds.
Or that was the plan. Instead, after an act of unforeseen treachery, Felix is living in exile in a backwoods hovel, haunted by memories of his beloved lost daughter, Miranda. And also brewing revenge.
After twelve years, revenge finally arrives in the shape of a theatre course at a nearby prison. Here, Felix and his inmate actors will put on his Tempest and snare the traitors who destroyed him. It’s magic, but will it remake Felix as his enemies fall?
Margaret Atwood’s novel take on Shakespeare’s play of enchantment, retribution, and second chances leads us on an interactive, illusion-ridden journey filled with new surprises and wonders of its own.” —Indiebound

Hag-Seed is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series, which showcases the talents of various best-selling novelists as they re-imagine the works of Shakespeare. Hag-Seed stars Felix Phillips, a deposed and embittered former theatrical artistic director with fantasies of revenge, and an amusing cast of convicted criminals in the drama of Felix’s vengeance. Most of the novel takes place inside a Canadian prison and follows the events of the original play in amusing and creative ways. At least, I think it does. Here’s the rub: I confess that I have never read or seen The Tempest, so I was going into this somewhat blind. The summary of the play’s events at the back of the novel helped me to find the parallels between the original text and the retelling, and I was impressed by how well Atwood worked them seemlessly into her plot. Also, if you know me personally, please don’t tell Dr. Stayton that I didn’t read The Tempest during our Shakespeare course. It was the last play of the semester and I was done. Shh!

Ready to bypass Thanksgiving and get straight to Christmas
Ready to bypass Thanksgiving and get straight to Christmas

I feel that some of the beauty standard to Shakespeare’s original works is lost due to both the use of modern vernacular and the removal of the setting from an enchanted island inhabited by elemental spirits to a sterile and austere prison environment, but the overall effect is still one that’s highly enjoyable. Felix is distinctly unlikable, but due to the fact that his enemies are even less likable, one cannot help but hope he comes out on top. My favorite part was his eclectic crew of convicts, who should be unpleasant and scary but in a fictional context are lovable. Sadly, perhaps because it’s a short novel and perhaps because it’s based on a play meant for the stage, I felt that it was very difficult to connect to characters and immerse myself in the story.

Ultimately, I felt that my initial feelings of excitement were somewhat let down. It was a good novel with a lot of excellent characters, and excellent bone structure, so to speak. Had it been written by someone else, I think I would have really enjoyed it. Coming from an author by whom I expect to be so profoundly moved and taught something new, it was not nearly what it could have been.

Verdict: Read it, but check it out from the library.

The Nightingale (And Why It Matters)

The Nightingale (And Why It Matters)

The Nightingale
The Nightingale

I have never been a tremendous fan of Kristin Hannah. Before this, I never felt that her novels had much substance. They are frilly chick-lit with very little real value. The Nightingale, however, took my breath away. It is an incredible novel with a lot to say, and it highlights several parts of history that I feel deserve more attention than they have received in the past.

“In love we find out who we want to be.
In war we find out who we are.

FRANCE, 1939

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gaetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.

With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France–a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.” –Indiebound

On the surface, this is just a historical fiction novel about two sisters.  It’s not really even about the two sisters together or their relationship. Much of the novel follows both of them separately, except in the few places where their paths overlap. Set in France, it has a natural appeal for me because France is one of my favorite places in the world. I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels that way. There are so many depths and layers to the story once you delve deeper into the book. I am really pleased with Hannah for making this novel more than just another empty piece of chick-lit.

Several things set this novel apart for me. The first is that the goal of the novel is a lofty and noble one. Both of the women in the novel recognize the horror of what is happening around them. Rather than choosing the safer path of compliance, as many women understandably chose when their men were gone and their homes were invaded, both of these women live dangerous double lives in order to defend their homeland. They rely on their wits and act in the face of overwhelming danger. They stare their fear in the face and they continue onward in spite of it. Their level of courage is hard to match and it made for a really great story.

What I think is most important and enjoyable about this novel, though, is that this story is not entirely fiction. I do not know if Hannah based her story on any one person in history, but I do know that there were people in France doing exactly what these sisters were doing. One historical figure I read about reminded me so much of Vianne that I thought surely Hannah was inspired by the real woman’s story. The uncommon courage that people found within themselves during this very difficult time is inspiring.

What’s more, it changed my perception of the area and its people during the war. Growing up in the United States, we are taught, in both school and at home, that the United States were the big heroes and we saved Europe from Hitler. That might be one way of looking at it, but reading this kind of novel is important because it makes one realize just how difficult it was for the people under Hitler’s thumb to survive, let alone resist. Though my worldview has expanded drastically since I was a child in history class, I still sometimes sense those lingering prejudices and biases. Reading this novel and others (The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak is another that will alter your perceptions of people in Nazi-occupied Europe) helps to combat some of that conditioning.

Here are a few things that I already suspected, but which this novel really helped to drive home for me:

-The people of France, or anywhere else in the Axis-occupied territories, were not cowards, and they didn’t just sit around waiting to be rescued. Hitler was not recognized for the threat that he was until it was too late, and he seized his power by degrees. In hindsight, it is easy to recognize his evil, but no one truly knew or believed how bad it would eventually get. And still, people were resisting his influence from the beginning of his power.

-Not all Nazis were evil. Just because they wore the armband and followed orders doesn’t mean all of them truly subscribed to the message. Many of them resisted in any way they could while still doing the minimum necessary to protect themselves and their families.

-Women played a vital role in the war. Many didn’t wear uniforms; they didn’t fire guns; they didn’t die in trenches. But they did more than “keep the home fires burning.” They protected children. They hid those people wanted by the Nazis. They smuggled fallen pilots out of Nazi territory and kept them from being murdered or made prisoners. They risked their lives to subvert the Nazis in countless ways, and it is a relief to see some of those stories being told at last.

This is a powerful, emotional novel that packs a lot of message in just a few hundred pages. It is beautiful, it is deep, and I believe it is an important work of historical fiction–one of those that reminds us that there are many tales to be told, even when we think we’ve heard them all.

Clan of the Cave Bear; Pigs In Heaven; Pax

Clan of the Cave Bear; Pigs In Heaven; Pax

There really isn’t a time when I’m not playing catch-up on this blog because I spend a lot more time reading than I do writing about the books I read, but I really am trying to get up-to-date on the books I’m reading. I hope someone is still reading this and finding useful suggestions for all of their reading needs.

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The Clan of the Cave Bear

The first book I’m reviewing today is Jean M. Auel’s The Clan of the Cave Bear. I tried to read this book when I was in middle school but it was just too much for me to get through at that age. This second attempt at reading it was successful, but it really took forever for me to get through.

“This novel of awesome beauty and power is a moving saga about people, relationships, and the boundaries of love. Through Jean M. Auel’s magnificent storytelling we are taken back to the dawn of modern humans, and with a girl named Ayla we are swept up in the harsh and beautiful Ice Age world they shared with the ones who called themselves The Clan of the Cave Bear.
A natural disaster leaves the young girl wandering alone in an unfamiliar and dangerous land until she is found by a woman of the Clan, people very different from her own kind. To them, blond, blue-eyed Ayla looks peculiar and ugly–she is one of the Others, those who have moved into their ancient homeland; but Iza cannot leave the girl to die and takes her with them. Iza and Creb, the old Mog-ur, grow to love her, and as Ayla learns the ways of the Clan and Iza’s way of healing, most come to accept her. But the brutal and proud youth who is destined to become their next leader sees her differences as a threat to his authority. He develops a deep and abiding hatred for the strange girl of the Others who lives in their midst, and is determined to get his revenge.”–Indiebound

I really wanted to like this novel more than I did. I would not say it is a novel of “awesome beauty and power.” It is much less interesting than all that. I admire Auel for her ability to work with a period in history about which little is known. It is an imaginative book, to say the least. But there was very little that stirred my emotion. Though she tried to make me care about the characters, I really did not. I think that perhaps this is a flaw of the time period in which she was writing. The style was so antiquated and old that I really did not connect much with the story or the characters. The character I felt the most emotion for was actually the villain. He was easy to hate, but no one else was really easy to love.

When the plot moved, my interest spiked, but it felt stagnant most of the way through. It could have been much more engaging. Less description, more story. And the violence against women, regardless of whether or not that’s the way cavemen lived, was really off-putting. That also took away from the story for me. I definitely won’t read the rest of the series, but I’m glad I finally alleviated my curiosity and finished the book.

Pigs in Heaven
Pigs in Heaven

The next book, Barbara Kingsolver’s Pigs in Heaven, I managed to enjoy despite realizing most of the way through that it was actually a sequel to a book I haven’t read yet. It is the story of Taylor and her adopted Cherokee daughter Turtle. When Turtle witnesses something no one else sees and ends up on TV after saving a man’s life, the Cherokee nation comes after the mother and daughter, claiming the adoption isn’t valid.

I don’t think I’ve read anything by Kingsolver that I don’t like. She establishes excellent rapport between characters, even if they’re supposed to dislike each other. She makes me laugh constantly, even when the situation calls for gravity. I did not feel like I was missing any part of this story despite it being a sequel.  The story stood very sturdily on its own two feet.  I really enjoyed every element of this novel, and I look forward to reading the first one, even if I did read them in the wrong order.

Pax
Pax

I was immediately drawn to this last novel because it is just so cute. And beautiful. The bookseller at Blue Willow Bookshop told me I would really love it, but sadly I was not completely taken with it. Perhaps, without her rave review, I would have loved it more. But it was very highly hyped to me and my own reading of it didn’t live up to her enthusiasm.

“Pax and Peter have been inseparable ever since Peter rescued him as a kit. But one day, the unimaginable happens: Peter’s dad enlists in the military and makes him return the fox to the wild.

At his grandfather’s house, three hundred miles away from home, Peter knows he isn’t where he should be with Pax. He strikes out on his own despite the encroaching war, spurred by love, loyalty, and grief, to be reunited with his fox.

Meanwhile Pax, steadfastly waiting for his boy, embarks on adventures and discoveries of his own. . . .”Indiebound

I did really enjoy this book. I thought the relationship and the bond between Pax and Peter was really sweet and quite moving. But there was something off-putting about the vague setting and time period, and I did not connect with the human characters much. The only character for whom I felt any warmth was Pax. He’s such a sweet fox and I was really attached to him. I also was somewhat disappointed in the Jon Klassen illustrations. For such a talented illustrator, I felt the chosen scenes did not contain enough color or creativity. They were bland illustrations that didn’t really add to the value of the book at all.

I wish there had been more to this story, but for me it wasn’t the grand, beautiful children’s book that I was led to believe. Yes, it was a sweet story and a good book for children to read, but it wasn’t one of those that swept me off my feet as an adult.

Greetings From Alpine, Texas

Greetings From Alpine, Texas

Welcome to Alpine
Welcome to Alpine

After months of waiting to be here, and years of wanting to come back after my birthday trip in 2014, I am finally and (semi?) permanently situated in Alpine, Texas. It’s the kind of cozy little town that you’d like to see in a movie–everyone friendly, houses and buildings with plenty of character, and a brilliant rainbow of people. The sky above is a scorched summer-blue, and the cacti stand in green defiance of the blazing sun. I was worried I wouldn’t love it as much as I remembered, but I am thrilled to say that I worried for nothing.

Mornings are not my favorite
Mornings are not my favorite

Moving day started early. I woke at 6:30 on Sunday morning and left my mom’s house around 7:15. I was nervous about the 8.5-hour drive for many reasons, chief among them that I don’t know how to change a tire. Fortunately, the drive passed quickly and uneventfully. You don’t really understand the vastness of Texas until you’re driving 80-85 mph (the posted speed limit) across the state and it still takes you most of a day to reach your destination. Once you leave most of the towns and cities behind, there aren’t many landmarks by which to track your progress. Cell coverage becomes spotty, and I was nervous at one point that I wouldn’t get enough coverage back to tell me which turn to take at the end of the 250 mile stretch of I-10 I was cruising down. I did get it back, but I think I’ll still keep a paper map of Texas in my car from now on, just in case.

On the road
On the road

Honey is happy to be with me, but she was not happy in the car. For most of those hours she just lay in her kennel giving me sad eyes, and she refused to drink water or go to the bathroom for the entire trip. She seems to be back to normal now, although the altitude and dryness are affecting both of us a bit. She was sick last night, but I’m hoping it was just stress from the drive. It’s the longest she’s ever been in the car! Now she’s content to curl up next to me at night, and use her nose to explore her new surroundings during the day. She’s allowed to be at work with me, and I think this may help her overcome her feelings of abandonment that still haven’t entirely faded since my return from Peru.

I arrived around 4 pm Sunday afternoon and introduced myself to the manager of Antelope Lodge, where I will be working and staying. I also officially met Mallory, who worked at BookPeople when I was there part time, but for whatever reason we never really got to know each other well. She is training me to take her place, and I am already sad at the thought of her leaving. Some people are just good to the core, and you know it from the moment you meet them. Mallory is one of those people. She even left me the sweetest welcome package in the kitchenette in my room.

Welcome package from Mallory
Welcome package from Mallory

I moved my things into my room and got everything set up and ready to go, with a few exceptions. I did some shopping for essentials, and visited Blue Water Natural Foods, which has much of what you can find at Whole Foods, except I’m supporting a local business instead of a corporation–always a favorite of mine. The person working was so friendly I was tempted to just stay and hang out right then, but I know from experience that most people think that’s weird. Still, I’m going to need to overcome my shyness at some point because I know very few people here and I will need friends!

Street view
My hat has found its new home
My hat has found its new home
So has Honey
So has Honey

On my drive yesterday, I stopped in Junction, Texas. This, too, is a small town, but one that had the feel of decay and death. Perhaps it was only because it was Sunday, and most of the shops I saw were closed, but it had the feeling of a town on its way out the door. Alpine feels the opposite. Driving through town last night, even on a Sunday evening, roads relatively devoid of traffic and many businesses already closed, it had the feeling of a town well-loved, well-maintained, and thriving. It seemed to wrap itself around me like a blanket and welcome me into its folds. As I drove back to my cozy little room, I saw the silhouettes of mountains and mesas against the deep turquoise of a sky lit by the very last light of the sun, and I felt my breath catch in my throat. I am so ecstatically pleased to be here, so comfortable already, so enamored of the personality and aesthetic of this place. It seems I’ve already lost my heart to the desert.

:D
:D
Courtyard
#
Room
My window flowers.

I worked my first day today, and while the job seems like it will be easy to adjust to, I have very few training days. Here’s hoping I’m smart enough to figure most of it out on my own. Mallory is a great trainer but she can’t prepare me for every scenario if I don’t have enough practice while we’re together. The lodge is very slow it would seem, with hours-long stretches between visitors. This will be great time for blogging and reading, but I hope I don’t get too lonely, as I will be working all of those shifts alone. Whatever happens, I’m thrilled and grateful for the opportunity to live and work out here for a while.

Hoka
Hoka
I’ll Be Brief

I’ll Be Brief

This is a post about a bunch of books I didn’t like because I read a whole collection of duds in a row. It was actually a pretty depressing time as far as reading went. So here they are.

Soundless
Soundless

Sadly, this is the first Richelle Mead I’ve ever read, and even though some people really love her, I’ve heard nothing but negative reviews about this one. I’m questioning whether I’ll read anything else by her because holy hell, this book went from bad to worse. It was SO bad. Boring, not at all plausible, lazy writing, and an absolutely atrocious ending. I don’t care if you like this author; don’t read this book.

Son of a Witch
Son of a Witch

So many people told me that they love this series, and I absolutely adored Wicked, but this book put me to sleep. It was so difficult to want to pick up this book and keep reading. It was so boring and even when things were happening it felt like nothing was happening. There wasn’t a single sympathetic character for whom I cared a fig. This book was a depressing pile of “nope.” Will not be continuing the series.

Burn
Burn

I don’t know if it’s because I’m mostly over dystopian fantasy, but this conclusion to the Pure series was really underwhelming. Even while I was reading I felt my eyes glaze over all the time. I finished it, but it was not enjoyable reading. That’s a total bummer because I really enjoyed the rest of the series. Sadly, the wrap-up just felt sloppy.

Necessary Errors
Necessary Errors

I really wanted to like this book. It was about a young, single, gay American man living in Prague just after the Velvet Revolution. He teaches English there, and since I so recently did the same thing in a different country, I was really fascinated by the premise. Unfortunately, I just don’t think this type of literature is my type of literature. It’s just the details about the everyday life of the character. Despite the fact that he was in a different country at a relatively interesting period in that country’s history, I still found this novel about his year abroad incredibly sluggish and not at all engaging.

Now that I’ve got all of those behind me, and you know which books to avoid, I can spend the next few posts writing about books I actually liked.

A TRAVEL POST! Because Three Months Is Too Long

A TRAVEL POST! Because Three Months Is Too Long

Once upon a time, I wrote this really sad blog about all the reasons I wasn’t going back to Peru. I do not regret that decision at all though I do wish I’d been smarter about how I packed to come home (I am STILL trying to get my suitcase home from Peru three months later). I told you guys that would not be the end to my adventures, and it definitely wasn’t. So what’s next?

Turns out that a really cool former manager of mine–the one that hired me at BookPeople–moved out to west Texas (specifically Alpine, Texas) with her husband, and was a manager at a little place called Antelope Lodge. She’s since moved on, but she got me in to cover reception while their regular employee (also someone from BookPeople!) is away for a writing residency in the northeast. I will be staying at the lodge and working for them part-time, utilizing the down time to explore the area.

Alpine is a great little town, judging from the day I spent there on vacation a few years ago. It’s near Marfa, which I love, near Fort Davis, near McDonald Observatory, and near Big Bend (keeping in mind this is the Texas version of “near”). It is at a higher elevation than I’m used to living, though nowhere near as high as I was when I lived in Peru. It’s also a desert, so it’s warm during the day, depending on the season, and really cold at night. The town’s population is only a few thousand people, so it’s much different from anywhere I’ve ever lived before. Needless to say, I’m totally excited to explore the area, both the little town and the surrounding nature.

I’m not sure when I’ll be back, as I’ve heard different estimates about how long the job will last. Could be a month, could be three, or I could stay there forever, because who knows? I may just love it to bits.

Stay tuned for pictures, because there will be a lot of them. Moving day is Sunday, February 28th, so check back here for first impressions!

 

Two Books to Finish Off 2015

Two Books to Finish Off 2015

 

This post contains two books that made me absolutely foam at the mouth in the best way possible.

Six of Crows
Six of Crows

The first is Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. Guys. GUYS. I loved her Grisha Trilogy, and I really didn’t know it was possible to admire and love anything more than I loved those. This book blew those out of the water. This was me while reading:

WOOOOWWWW
WOOOOWWWW

“Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price–and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction if they don’t kill each other first.” Indiebound

So, think about every point you can judge a book by. Characters, plot, setting, narrator’s voice, world-building, etc. In this book, it’s all incredible. This book is a crazy, exciting, suspenseful ride from start to finish. The Grisha world is one of my favorite fantasy worlds, and I’m so satisfied with this extension of the original trilogy. Kaz is a strange, badass enigma–he’s young, brilliant, tough, terrifying, and deep in a way that his crew does not expect. And of course, he’s responsible for possibly my favorite phrase in all of YA:

from evieseo on redbubble: http://www.redbubble.com/people/evieseo/shop
from @evieseo on redbubble: http://www.redbubble.com/people/evieseo/shop

Kaz isn’t the only great character. Most of them grab you and hold on. They’re engaging, talented, tortured, and they have a great rapport together that makes you want to be a part of their gang of thieves. This novel is a fantastic, suspenseful adventure. You know those movies that make you want to jump up and go do something badass? This book made me feel like that. I really think you should read it. And if you haven’t read The Grisha Trilogy, you can read this without reading that first, but I really think you should read the trilogy first.

Where'd You Go Bernadette
Where’d You Go, Bernadette

“Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle–and people in general–has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence–creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.”Indiebound

This novel carried me into the new year and it made for a very auspicious start to the reading year. Usually, when there’s a novel that takes off with such wild popularity, I’m immediately skeptical. Despite the hype surrounding this one, I was really quite pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this book.

Perhaps the most important thing is that it is hilarious. It takes a lot for books to make me laugh (unless the author isn’t trying to be funny–usually I laugh at moments that might not be intended to be funny), but this one had me embarrassing myself in all sorts of public places with snorts and guffaws and really, really loud, braying of laughter.

The main characters is an adorable, intelligent, and tenacious teenager whose mother holds some interesting secrets, which her daughter attempts to unravel throughout the novel. In addition to being told from the point of view of the girl, the novel is also composed of emails, journal entries, articles, and other various documents that make a complete picture of the events past and present. Also, part of this book takes place in Antarctica. I LOVE that. Who goes to Antarctica?  Cool people, that’s who. Get it? 😉

Though the novel is quirky, cute, and amusing, there are deeper themes lying just beneath its surface, and those are what I truly feel make this novel resonate with its readers. If you want to know what those are, you’ll have to read it yourself.

I highly recommend both of these reads. If you’re curious about either one, give in to your temptation. They’re both worth it.