"A haunting story that reimagines the consequences of Shakespeare’s The Tempest."
After the tempest, after the reunion, after her father drowned his books, Miranda was meant to enter a brave new world. Naples awaited her, and Ferdinand, and a throne. Instead she finds herself in Milan, in her father’s castle, surrounded by hostile servants who treat her like a ghost. Whispers cling to her like spiderwebs, whispers that carry her dead mother’s name. And though he promised to give away his power, Milan is once again contorting around Prospero’s dark arts. With only Dorothea, her sole companion and confidant to aid her, Miranda must cut through the mystery and find the truth about her father, her mother, and herself.
I was sold on this book after I first read the premise on Tor.com's instagram page months ago, before it was released. My Libby hold finally came in, and I started this late at night on Saturday.
First off, I recommend a refresher on The Tempest before you dive in. Just read the synopsis and cast of characters. I tried to stick it out for a good long while: I saw The Tempest in Stratford (Canada) at their Shakespeare festival last summer, so me and my hubris thought I was an expert. The more I read the more came back to me. but it was not sufficient, and eventually I had to admit defeat and just go over to wikipedia. I should've done it in the first place and saved myself a lot of confusion, but I'm stubborn.
Once I had my bearings, I absolutely LOVED this book. It was very....fun.
Have you seen the classic lesbian film D.E.B.S? If not, do so.
Now that you've seen D. E. B. S, we can talk about the similarities. Super fast pace! Characters that don't get a lot of time to fall for each other, but have done enough to make you really want them to get their happy endings together. A sort of enormous premise that you wish took more time to savor and explain itself because you SERIOUSLY dig what's happening. And a love interest that is SO interesting and should probably have a movie just about them? Is anybody working on that?
So, let's go pros and cons.
In the Pro column, we've got the premise. This books is endeavoring to answer questions we should have had at the end of The Tempest; i.e., what the hell does the island-wild-girl do when she gets to Milan, and is Prospero an ok guy because it feels like probably no? We've also got the characters, which are an interesting mix of old characters and new ones. We've got it getting less white and more diverse, which brings a lot of depth to the world in the story and makes it feel so much more real--and yet, we are undeniably not in a real world because it gets SUPER Frankensteinian, which should've been my very first thing in the Pros list. The entire sequence that explains what happened before and during their island...un-vacation was the best part of the book, and I already want to go back and reread it.
When it comes to Cons, we've got a murkier task ahead of us, because...it's some of the same things. This is a novella, so it was fast--it moved really quickly. Sort of disconcertingly quickly. It felt like a big story packed into a tiny package, which left me wanting more. I wanted more about Dorothea and her background: she's lived so many places, and she's got these awesome sounding siblings and she's a witch?? I'd like to know a whole lot more about her background, and her as a character. She stands up for herself and wants to be seen as more than Miranda's maid and lover-in-the-nighttime, yet we don't really get to see her any other way in the story. We see her do a little magic, but it happens so fast, and mostly she acts as an extension of Miranda in the story. I'd like more for her, and more of her.
That being said, it's not really fair to criticize a novella for being a novella. It was short, but it was fun, and I enjoyed every bit of it. Especially where it turned into Frankenstein. It was a total page turner and I was done with it in 2 sittings--would've been one if I'd given myself the right timeframe to sit with it.
TL;DR: This book is like D.E.B.S and I loved it. It's not what I expected, and I wish there were more of it.
It is said that opposites attract. And in the case of werewolves Anna Latham and Charles Cornick, they mate. The son—and enforcer—of the leader of the North American werewolves, Charles is a dominant Alpha, while Anna, an Omega, has the rare ability to calm others of her kind.
When the FBI requests the pack’s help on a local serial-killer case, Charles and Anna are sent to Boston to join the investigation. It soon becomes clear that someone is targeting the preternatural. And now Anna and Charles have put themselves right in the killer’s sights. . . .
**I've not reviewed any of the Patricia Briggs/Mercyverse novels on this blog before, so I'll get into that a little bit here. Additionally, I wasn't originally savvy to this sister-series, so I've read the books pretty out of order: all the Mercy books to date, after which I started the Alpha & Omega. (It was confusing, do not recommend.)
First off, doesn't it suck when there's a sister series to something you've been gobbling up, and it just isn't scratching the itch the same way?
I like the Mercy Thompson novels, in a consistently 4 star kind of way: I don't think I'm a die-hard fan, yet I did drive an hour to hear her speak at a bookstore in May, and for most of this year I've chosen to read the next in the series instead of dipping into the rest of my TBR. So maybe I like them more than I realize.
I think what makes it weird for me is that I like the mysteries and the world a LOT more than the character dynamics and the relationship arcs. Which is pretty much the opposite of how I typically consume media. But I don't like alpha male types--I'm a lesbian. It's like, the opposite of what I like. So all the crazy-town territorial bullshit is where I skim to the bottom of the paragraph.
Which brings me to my feelings on this book (and series): I expected to like it SO much. Charles is such a fascinating character! But I have to tell you, I find his narration absolutely unbearable.
It. Is. So. Redundant.
He CONSTANTLY thinks about A) how territorial he is about Anna; B) his status as a dominant wolf; C) how territorial he is about Anna. I put that Anna bit in there twice in an attempt to imitate his internal monologue. I mean, it's every page! It's just absurd. We get it!
I feel like, with Charles, we should be getting more strategic thinking, more history, more fascinating perspective, but instead we just mostly get whether or not Brother Wolf approves of everything Anna or anyone within 15 yards of Anna does. Honestly, it reads like bad fanfiction.
So with this book, I was pumped from the beginning: started a little darker, with the Charles-and-Anna situation (which, truth be told, I have not found compelling--I like both characters, but I'd like to see them grow to like each other, instead of what we got--but I digress,) as well as a dark start with the premise. We've got this spooky serial killer in Boston, so we're looking at a procedural drama, fae politics, historic setting: a great combination.
I've been really into true crime the last year or so, and this serial killer read very true to me. It all tracked with what happens in the horrible real world, which made it scary and fascinating. As always with Briggs, I LOVED the mystery element. Her plots and mysteries are always so well done. I loved the cast of characters: all the different law enforcement entities, the Boston pack, the introduction of Beauclaire. I loved the pub owned by the Boston Pack, the Irish Wolfhound: fabulous.
There is really just one thing (aside from 70% of what went on in Charles' head) that I was not a fan of, and that was a VERY weird scene on some island off the coast of Boston. If you've read this book, you might know what I'm about to get at.
They're hot on the trail of at least one of the perpetrators of our heinous crime. They've just gone over how they do NOT trust at least one member of their little search party. It is the middle of the night, in what they are sure is enemy territory. Charles and Anna are all in their own heads, freaking out about their confusing relationship. They're surrounded by a black magic miasma. They are undeniably in enemy waters, and as we know, Charles is stupidly protective of Anna.
And then they...fuck?
Outdoors, in earshot of THE MAN WHOSE DAUGHTER IS HELD CAPTIVE BY THE HEINOUS SERIAL KILLER THEY BELIEVE TO BE VERY NEARBY IN THE DARKNESS.
It was...astonishingly inappropriate. It was uncomfortable to read! I hated it! It was so weird!!!
This is what I mean when I said it read like bad fanfiction. I hated that scene. I couldn't believe it was really happening! I was expecting it to be some weird effect of the black magic seepage on the island. But no...that's just actually what happened. On top of how weird and, frankly, gross it was with Beauclaire there worrying about his daughter being tortured (or worse) in the vicinity, it was out of character. Charles isn't stupid, but that was a stupid thing to do. It was half-heartedly explained as being a combination of the black magic fog and his personal demons, but that didn't really make sense. Felt more like....porn. Badly timed porn.
This scene was bad enough that this isn't a book I would recommend to my friends. It was one of those scenes that makes you go 'yeah, I like that book, but please don't think that that scene is what I'm about. Don't think that that represents me.' You know?
I like these books! I can't stop reading them. I see some issues with them, and I think that there's some criticism to be had. But this one...that scene really bothered me. It felt so not okay.
Apart from that, the mystery was as good as ever. I LOVED the FBI character, and I loved getting to see the wolves through the eyes of humans in their universe. It's so fun to know the answer to the things they're wondering, being an expert and feeling like you're on the side of the dangerous and mysterious.
All in all, I'm not sure what to rate this. The sex scene was just....bad. But the mystery was good! I don't find their relationship anywhere near as compelling as Adam's and Mercy's--because they almost never talk to each other in any real way--but I like the characters as individuals. I'm landing somewhere in the 3-3.5 range.
An adaptation of Shaftesbury's award-winning, groundbreaking queer vampire web series of the same name, Carmilla mixes the camp of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the snark of Veronica Mars, and the mysterious atmosphere of Welcome to Nightvale. Newly escaped from the stifling boredom of a small town, college freshman Laura is ready to make the most of her first year at Silas University. But when her roommate, Betty, vanishes and a sarcastic, nocturnal philosophy student named Carmilla moves into Betty's side of the room, Laura decides to play detective.
Turns out Betty isn't the first girl to go missing ? she's just the first girl not to come back. All over campus, girls have been vanishing, and they are completely changed when (or if) they return. Even more disturbing are the strange dreams they recount: smothering darkness, and a strange pale figure haunting their rooms. Dreams that Laura is starting to have herself.
As Laura closes in on the answers, tensions rise with Carmilla. Is this just a roommate relationship that isn't working out, or does Carmilla know more than she's letting on about the disappearances? What will Laura do if it turns out her roommate isn't just selfish and insensitive, but completely inhuman? And what will she do with the feelings she's starting to have for Carmilla?
Produced by Shaftesbury, and available on the YouTube channel KindaTV, Carmilla is a global sensation. A scripted transmedia series that puts a modern spin on the cult-classic gothic vampire novella by Joseph Sheridan LeFanu, Carmilla has generated over 71 million views and 245 million minutes of watch time across three seasons since its launch in 2014. It has been translated into more than 20 languages and also been made into a feature film. Author Kim Turrisi brings her trademark humor and sensitivity to an adaptation that offers a deep dive for existing fans and a portal for new fans around the world.
I was really pumped when I found out there was going to be a Carmilla book. I LOVED this webseries. I watched it when I was in college, catching on around the middle of season 1 and watching it weekly or in quick catch-up spurts from then on. In October of 2018 (so like 6 months ago) I rewatched the whole series. Still haven't watched the movie, but I plan to.
I really like the webseries. I think it's fun, and meaningful, and well-made within the parameters of obvious budget limitations. Because of the webseries, I actually read the original novel: the Victorian vampire story by J. Sheridan Le Fanu that influenced Bram Stoker in his writing of Dracula. And the webseries is really clever and inventive in the way it adapted things from the original in this format! If I'm being honest, I even buy U by Kotex because they funded the webseries. That's gotta be the most successful marketing ever leveled at me. I do it on purpose, to say--hey, keep helping people make cool stuff.
This book novelization, though, fell far short of the mark for me.
Firstly, it doesn't appear well proofed. There are several mistakes when it comes to LaFontaine's pronouns: I don't mean the intentional ones, where Perry is getting it wrong, I mean the narrator will say "they" in the first half of the sentence and then switch to "she." It happens at least 6 or 7 times. This was an ARC copy, so maybe they fixed it before publication. I really hope so.
But I had bigger issues with the book than problematic pronoun mistakes. I disagree with what the author chose to do with this opportunity. Instead of embracing the new format offered, Turrisi created a book that reads like a summary of the webseries. There are large sections that are just transcripts of the show, with a little description thrown in. It does not offer anything on top of what we already had.
But Lauren! You say, it's a novelization! It's supposed to retell the same story! This is true. But in the webseries, we stayed in Laura's room because that's the set we had. Things that occurred outside the room had to be described to us upon the characters' return. Why on earth would we continue to do that in a book?
Things this book could have done, but didn't:
I also really did not enjoy the writing style. It was rushed, and lacked depth. There was little to no description, not only of places and scenes I wanted to know more about, but even of the characters and places we had already seen. We get some description of Danny and of Carmilla, but very little of anyone else. Laura's room was easy for me to picture because I know what it looks like, but it was skimmed over in the narration.
The book didn't savor...anything. It ran through the story at breakneck pace, and ended up feeling like "and then, and then, and then, and then...." like some very strange sports broadcast.
Turrisi really did not embrace this format and the freedom it offered. She just documented the webseries, as if for people who don't have youtube. But really drily, for people who don't have youtube and have to be presented the story in a courtroom.
This would be 1 star, but it's stealing that second star from the webseries. Honestly, I'm really sad that people read this before hitting the series. It turned them off! I want to shout, hey! This doesn't represent us, it got it all wrong!
I'm really disappointed. To all my friends out there: skip this. Just head on over to watch or re-watch the webseries.
Play me out with the theme song.
Whew, I did it!
This was hands-down the best reading year I've had in a long time. Since before I started college in 2011.
I set my reading goal at 52 books for the year: at least a book a week, expecting to have a healthy chunk of that collection populated by graphic novel titles. But sometime around April I discovered the magic of borrowing audiobooks on Libby, and my monthly reading jumped from 2-3 books in March to 17 in April alone.
During the summer months I had a lighter work load (I teach online high school courses, and enrollment drops significantly.) I worked on special projects: writing curriculum, finding cool art stuff to show to kids and making presentations/lessons; and during the more mindless of these tasks, I listened to books, and I spent relaxing evenings on my balcony and in coffee shops with a book or two.
I even read some of my Book of the Month titles (I'm so, so bad at getting those read, especially when they first come. Most of them are still on the TBR shelf, but every time I cancel it I get drawn back in by their come-back deals. I'm a sucker)
So here we are: late December, and its time to break down the best books of (my) 2018.
1. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
I had purchased this on audible a long time ago and never gotten around to reading it. I started it on a whim after finishing Ruta Sepetys' Salt to the Sea and still wanting some historic, WWII-era fiction. I didn't really have a large understanding of what the novel was, only the era in which it took place and that I'd had it recommended to me by a couple of different sources and figured I'd probably enjoy it. that was very true. I devoured it, and fell absolutely in love with Guernsey and its community. Place is one of the most important parts of a story for me, and this one completely transported me. I remember being late to trivia one week because I sat outside in my car before going in, trying to get through a few more scenes. This was probably the first book in 2018 that I stayed up far too late to finish.
2. A Closed and Common Orbit
As a veteran listener of the podcast Get Booked (which I highly recommend) I knew I had to read The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. Which I enjoyed, early in 2018! But I didn't enjoy it as much as I expected to--I thought it was good, but it wasn't a fave. I decided to go ahead and give the second book a shot as well, and it completely blew me away.
This story was so compelling. I absolutely loved it--it's one of my favorite books ever. The setting, the characters, and the two complementary storylines about the relationships between an AI and a human were so amazingly told and cleverly organized. I'm excited to reread this.
Hey, look! I read a Book of the Month book!
I actually did this on audio. But it counts.
I've always adored Greek mythology--from the mythology for kids book I had when I was little to the 1000-page Costco-book-table Mythology Compendium my parents graduated me to around 6th grade, with is mostly post it notes and highlighter. They way that this book was tackled, with Circe's whole story and her point of view on things we'd only seen from other angles, was so satisfying. I loved seeing her get a voice, and I loved what Mitchell did with it. This book was so smart and fascinating and compelling and satisfying. It was my top book of 2018.
4. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
I got really into nonfiction this year: I read a number of true crime books, and a few general nonfiction, but this one was my absolute favorite.
It was my first Mary Roach, although I've since continued my way through her works, and I so enjoyed the way it was smart and well researched but readable and entertaining. That can't be an easy medium to reach, and there wasn't a single section in this book that I didn't find totally fascinating. She answered so many questions I didn't know I had! I talked about this book incessantly for weeks, much to the disgust of my dinner companions.
5. I Shall Wear Midnight
In September I was fresh off of the high of reading Circe, and my mind was swimming with the history and concept of witches in fiction. I also re-organized my bookshelves, which forced me to face the backlog of books I haven't read yet. I committed myself to reading a bunch of witch-themed books for the season: I wanted to marathon them and keep thinking about and dissecting the concept of witches and the different ways they're tackled in fiction, so I set myself the thematically appropriate goal of 13 witch books in the fall/Halloween season (Sept & Oct.)
This sort of worked: I read some books I already owned. But mostly, I read all of the Tiffany Aching books.
My favorite book when I was young was Good Omens, so I knew I would love Discworld, and I even have a couple of the books--weirdly, I've even played a Discworld board game--but I hadn't read any yet. These were my first, and I absolutely adored them.
The pile of witch books I owned fell by the wayside and I read Tiffany Aching. I loved The Wee Free Men, but I found that I loved each book in the series even more than the last. I read all the way up to I Shall Wear Midnight, deciding to wait on the final Discworld novel until I read the backlog, since I get funny about final books. I Shall Wear Midnight was true to the pattern: I loved it even more than its predecessor. This series is now so close to my heart, and although I only met Tiffany a couple of months ago, she feels like an old friend.
6. The Prince and the Dressmaker
This book and I have had a hard time getting together. When it was first announced, I preordered it on Amazon. I was so excited about this book!
Then, a couple of months later, I preordered it again. Somehow.
Then, a couple of months after that, I noticed I had preordered two copies of this book, and attempted to cancel it. If you're starting to get a feeling for my style you won't be surprised to learn that I didn't check my work, and I ended up cancelling both orders and not receiving the book at all.
Then I was on Libby in the "available now" section and saw it! Hey, I know you! I borrowed it and devoured it and screen shotted pages to save as art inspiration, and I reread it before I sent it back to Libby.
Then I ordered it. Just once--and it should be here soon.
I'm closing out 2018 with a scramble to close out the last 4 spots on my Read Harder challenge: I never should've left the Oprah book club slot, because that lady does not read short books! I'm wrapping up a children's classic and an AOC's romance novel now, and revving up to finally read the Underground Railroad.
Here's to 2019!
Download Challenge Graphic & List as a PDF
Last night I dyed my hair bright orange, and today it's 94 degrees. In Michigan. When is autumn coming?
I'm so ready for cooler weather, cinnamon in everything, pumpkins, and Halloween. I bought an autumnal wreath at Michael's (it was 40% off and it has pumpkins on it, I had to.)
I'm very seasonal in the way I do things: I paint my nails in colors that seem to match the month of the year, and I listen to music that has the right seasonal vibes: and I do the same thing with books. Since autumn is my favorite season, I have an absolute ton of autumn themed books sitting around that I haven't quite gotten to yet.
This year, I decided to set a goal for myself: I wanted to do a deep dive into the theme of witches. I went through my shelves (physical and digital) and rooted out 13 books on the theme of witches.
My parameters were the following: the book had to be ABOUT witches or witchcraft: they couldn't be on the sideline, they need to be a major focal point.
I also wanted to make sure that I looked at this in a few different ways: I wanted to read across genres and perspectives, keeping in with this theme. I tried to be diverse in the genres, authors, settings/cultures, and formats to get a good variety of books.
When I'm done, I want to feel like I read a lot of different types of witches: this should end up being more like a sculpture viewed in the round, rather than a painting viewed head on.
Here's my (tentative, and surely to be amended) list for the challenge:
This list is not as diverse as I want it to be author-wise, partially because I built it largely from what I own that I haven't read yet: a limited pool of books that wasn't compiled with that in mind. As I go forward I'm planning to keep on looking up witch-themed books, with a focus on expanding to have more authors of color represented. What are some that I should look into?
It's Sept. 3rd and I've already finished up Jinx (what a weird thing, returning to Meg Cabot after all these years: I read her almost obsessively as a tween and it was like a funky kind of time travel) so only twelve to go.
These last two months have been a big triumph for me: I read 25 books. 25! I haven’t had stats (do I sound like I know about sports?) like that since I was, I dunno, a freshman in college? Six or seven years ago, at least.
It has me thinking a lot about the nature of reading: why I do it, and if it's kinda not great that I'm so excited about the number of books I read, rather than the books themselves--although I'm excited about them too! Just...separately.
Am I reading because I think I should? Is there part of me that sees it as a funky kind of duty, rather than a passion? (If so, is that why I haven’t read this much in recent years?)
At the end of the day, I'm no fool: if my checklist-oriented mindset is helping me read more, it's a win-win. I get to feel satisfaction and pride over the numbers, and I get to finally tackle a bunch of books that have been on my TBR for years. So what’s been on my mind most is...why now? What’s the recipe for my perfect reading life?
It's not like I didn't read at all these last few years: I've had spurts and sprints during that time. During the summers in college, I read a ton of audiobooks while I worked a very weird job at the university library where I read articles about golf course maintenance from magazines and made them searchable in a database. It was the Most Boring Job Ever, and I got so weirdly good at it that I could index the articles while listening to an audiobook: I had these two simultaneous lines of text moving in my head, because one was just essentially a paragraph formatted word search.Sometimes I’m reminded of one of those books and I have a weird backflash where I can see that office right in front of me: it's kinda eerie, when the book is medieval fantasy and I'm envisioning a filing cabinet.
But unlike every other reading spurt I've had the last few years, it hasn't come at the cost of my other passions (read: art.) Even now that I don’t have homework to complete or 3 part time barista gigs, time in the day is limited. I need to double up on some of these tasks.
Onto the subject of this love letter: Libby.
Audiobooks from Libby! You give me life! My days are busy: I work from home, so I don’t have a commute like many audiobook enthusiasts but I do have a big ol’ speaker that I can listen to things on all darn day. I have an art business that’s just getting off the ground that I’m working on with my brother, with periodic art commissions to worry about: the kind of work that’s just taking up the visual part of my brain, while the narrative side runs rampant. Audiobooks seem like a pretty obvious choice, but since cancelling my audibile subscription (It’s price-y for an entry level salary!) they hadn’t really been available to me.
I know what you’re thinking: Lauren, go to the library! There are CDs and books and options for you! A quick interlude to explain my personal shame:
The reason I’m so late to the libby party is that when I was in 7th grade, in 2006, and I walked to my local library and borrowed a 2-disc Tchaikovsky album.
It is in my closet.
For years, I got the late notices from the library: telling me about my fines, which were unreasonably high. The last letter I opened said something about $38, and to tween me it might as well have been 2 grand. I was so amazingly anxious about the library and my crimes that I have spent the last decade actively forgetting libraries existed.
This is ridiculous for many reasons: I could have just told my Mom, and she’d have paid the library the cost of the CD (like $12) and it would’ve been fine. I also moved out of that city in 2013, and could have gotten a new library card: a new identity, to leave my life of crime behind. I also worked in a library for 3 years! (I get a pass on this one: it was an academic library, and I was stuck in the section with books about mowing grass. It was neither an inspiring nor an enlightening place.)
But sometimes we aren’t smart! Sometimes we’re dumb. I was dumb. But in the end, I went to the library and got a new library card from the city where I live now.
Borrowing books from Libby is the BEST. It's a perfect combo of I'll-Get-There-When-I-Get-There and Lauren-There's-A-Deadline-On-This. I'm bad at deadlines: even now in post-school adulthood I find ways to procrastinate reading deadlines. I've read the last 3 picks for my book club the day or night before we've met (lookin' at you, the whole day I spent marathoning The Handmaid's Tale.) I love reading, I just hate doing what I'm told. High school Lauren makes sporadic appearances.
But with Libby, I know I can renew the book: but if I do it a bunch of times, I'm being a jerk. I hate doing what I'm told, but I hate feeling like a jerk more. Voila, my Libby shelf gets read!
Then shame kicks in: Lauren, you bought a LOT of books the last couple of years. They're closing in on you. Voila, I read the books on my shelves.
Being able to read so much again has helped me feel like I'm back to being myself. Not that I was any less me these recent years--I just take comfort in re-embracing this part of me. I'm at a point where I'm settling into my new-normal (Big Girl Job, apartment I don't need to move out of after one year, a good stock of candles for evening reading.) I'm glad that books are a big part of it.
Onto the next read.
Annual Goal: 52
I mentioned that I've been unable to stop thinking about Circe, right?
It crept into my art as well. And infuriatingly, I spent 9 hours on a piece that ended up being dull and lifeless. I drew a lionness! It was hard! And then in a straight 2 hours knocked out a portrait I totally ended up loving.
The kind of book you love so much you start bargaining with your friends to read it so you can talk about it
Let's get one thing clear right away: every time I read a fantasy book on audio, I swear never to do it again. It's so hard when you can't see words you don't know. I must have hated being a baby.
When will I learn my lesson? I’ve got a respectable knowledge of Greek mythology which helped keep me afloat, but I still don't know if that's how Miller spelled Aeaea. Wikipedia has betrayed me and offered about 12 options, so I'm just taking a shot in the dark. Seriously...let me know.
To keep it short, I loved this book. I finished it up and I wasn't sure what to do. I wanted to go back to the beginning, like when I finished Frasier on netflix and wanted to go watch the Pilot: to re-experience where it all started. What was I like back then? Yesterday, when I didn't know how good this book was?
I have this about once a year. You finish the book and feel like just holding your hands out: more, please!
The only thing to do is start your personal campaign for Everyone To Read It. I know you've been there. You're trying to give your friends the gift of This Book. They can't know how much they need it until you tell them!
My close friend chose Circe as her book of the month, but she has a demanding job and reads slowly. She’s been plugging through Pope Joan for a long time, and singing its praises: but it’s all I can do to keep from texting her every other day to ask if she’s started Circe yet. Friend, I say! You have a long commute, let me help you download Libby and you can listen to it on audio! But she hems and haws and doesn’t want to try it. She plugs on with Pope Joan.
I’m so anxious for someone to read it! For someone to know what I’m going through!
I offered to buy it for my brother, who likes mythology: he said something about not reading much right now. My sister will only read Scottish cozy mysteries. I read the first three in her favorite series, and still she hasn’t made good on her end of the bargain. My Father would love it, but asked if I’d yet read the newest Young Wizards book: after all, I got him into that series, and now he can’t even discuss the latest with me. (Imagine his reproachful and disappointed look.)
Isn’t it funny how reading becomes a bartering system? We know what’s best for our friends, and we know their recommendations will bring us joy: but it’s so hard (for me) to read what feels assigned. I read The Handmaid’s Tale in a single afternoon on the eve of my bookclub’s first meeting. What’s worse, I did the same thing the following month with Exit West, which was my own pick.
Anyways, I’m settling into Pope Joan. Maybe if I spoil the ending I can drag her, kicking and screaming, onto starting Circe.
An open offer to everyone: I'll read your new favorite book if you read Circe. Then, we can set aside a good 5 hours to meet up for coffee and wax poetic.
What happens when you're bad with money and also disorganized: Or, how I managed to accidentally not read this book I owned for years, and how I'm now kicking myself because it was really good
(not including minisodes) to work my way through, it had become cemented as part of my routine. Then I realized I was caught up. No new episodes till Thursday. Weird.
So I went back to my long-lost podcast love: Get Booked, by bookriot. Amanda and Jenn and their roughly-an-hour book recommendation podcast were my constant car companion in college, when my parents lived roughly-an-hour from campus, as well as during my student teaching year when I made the same drive in reverse each Friday for some (bogus) graduate courses. (We did mock interviews and talked about what was hard about teaching, and they charged us grad rates for it--but that's a whole different post.)
As always happens when I listen to Get Booked, I became very excited to read. But as always happens when I listen to Get Booked, I listened to like 10 episodes in a short period of time and wound up so torn about what to read first that I watched 30 Rock again, even though I can recite all the punchlines by heart.
However, after a few episodes, I was able to put forth even the slightest effort when it came to picking, and I opened my dusty Audible app.
There they were, the books I had spent credits on but never read: the relics of my almost forgotten time working at the Most Boring Library In All The World, the Turfgrass Information Center which is a real place.
In college, I was both poor and bad with money: no doubt in training for the type of adult I've blossomed into. So by the time I cancelled my audible subscription during my senior year of college, I had 11 credits I needed to use and I just spent them on any random thing that tickled my fancy. Thus, I had owned this audiobook for almost 3 years before I ever bothered to play it.
So we're finally to the good part. I listened to it. I hit play during the middle of my work day, when I'd finished grading papers and was onto the visual arts that required less reading and writing attention. (Listening to audiobooks at the turfgrass library while I indexed articles has given me this, my greatest skill.) I listened throughout the afternoon, and while I cooked dinner, and on the way to trivia, and then I sat in the car until I absolutely had to walk into the restaurant. (We won our tournament, by the way, Go Team Farm Fresh Eggs!) Then I listened to it on the way home, and drew a bath, and realized after about 20 minutes that baths aren't as nice as they sound and my shoulders were cold, so I took my little speaker out into the living room and snuggled underneath all the blankets as it wound to a close.
The book is an epistolary novel set just after the end of WWII. London is largely rubble, and the main character Juliet Ashton has just published a book. The book flopped, which was difficult for her after her success during the war as a columnist about the home front. She's feeling down, wondering how she can write the content she wants to now that the war is over.
Her publisher and editor, Sidney Stark, is encouraging her to find a new journalistic project that inspires her when she receives a letter from a man on Guernsey: he has an old book of hers, and after finding her name and address on the inside cover he hoped to write to her and ask if she can point him in the direction of more about the author. He explains that on Guernsey, things are still in turmoil and its been hard to get news or books on the island the last several years.
She writes back and they strike up a correspondence in which he shares the story of his Literary Society, which was founded during the war while trying to cover up some hidden livestock from the occupying nazis. Despite its shaky beginnings, the society became exactly what it claimed to be: each member choosing a book, reading it, and speaking about it at the meetings. (The meetings were described as a time for the reader to try and convince their friends to read it too, which made me smile as I thought back to my return to Get Booked being the catalyst for finally picking this up.)
She's fascinated by this unique story about the war, and begins corresponding with many of the members of the club, before ultimately deciding to travel to the island herself to meet them.
I loved this book. I loved everything about it. I loved the epistolary format; I loved the wide cast of characters; I loved the way experiences from the war were shared both through the lens of books and the book community they had formed, but also in their rawest state, as simply the stories that human beings carry with them. I loved the love story, with its charming and well-earned happy ending.
It's always interesting to take a look at the sort of quieter ways that war affects people. Being raised in America (and especially in Detroit, the Motor City) the narrative surrounding WWII has always been one of optimism and triumph: we crushed the bad guys, we came back from the Great Depression. But that war wasn't fought on our soil, and there were no Nazis patrolling our neighborhoods. The stories of the ways that these islanders suffered during the Nazi occupation of Guernsey were as beautiful as they were complex.
Often, it can be easy to strip a Nazi soldier of anything that would make them a character: to turn them into a one dimensional baddie. Their crimes are irrefutable and unjustifiable: my own Grandmother was captured and put into a labor camp when the Nazis invaded Poland, and she suffered so greatly that she was unable to talk about it for the rest of her life. But the book takes a careful look at these soldiers, reminding you that they weren't all Hitler. They did kind things, and some were kind people in the right situations. Then, they also did terrible and cruel things. It wasn't black and white. Being isolated together on the island with the locals, the lines blurred between the occupiers and the natives and that formed a complex community that was hard to define in any simple terms.
I am always a sucker for a story that paints a portrait of a community and gives voices to the different members of that community: the prime example being Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, which is my favorite book of all time provided you don't catch me at a time when I've been staring dramatically out the window thinking about Mary Shelley. This book did that so, so well. I fell in love with the characters, and even more so with the island.
I felt like I was there, and at the same time I was very aware that I wasn't there: probably because I wanted to be so badly. Part of me wonders if I could find statistics about tourism rates to Guernsey before and after the book's release.
There were multiple cast members reading novels from different characters, and they were all fantastic. It can be so hard to get through an audiobook when someone is trying to do too many voices and they're really only good in a few: this one didn't need to deal with that. From the Londoner Juliet Ashton to the brogue-wielding Dawsey, everyone had a great voice bringing their letters to life.
To cap off the many ways I was late to this party, I didn't know until google imaging the book cover for this post that it has been adapted into a film: the world premiere is occurring as I write this on the evening April 9th, 2018. I'm curious how they'll translate the epistolary format to the screen, and super excited to see it when it premiers on Netflix later this month (??? the articles were less than clear.)
MFM! I'm finally up to date, waiting for the Thursday drop dates. So I returned to my original podcast love: Get Booked by Book Riot.
Since I've listened to the show for years, I'm familiar with so many of their sort of stock-recs: the ones they love enough to recommend periodically, whenever they hear the keywords that remind them why these books are so fantastic.
Horrorstör is one that's been in the back of my mind, floating around as something I was interested in, since whenever the first time I heard them describe it was. But in that funny way that sometimes happen, I heard them bring it up again, and pulled out my schedule to see when I had time for the bookstore.
Which is funny! The book has a great balance of humor and spook. If handled differently, either of these could've negated the other: but instead, the satire is humorous but also eerie, and the scary bits can be really, truly scary (trigger warning for body horror and a potpourri of other standard horror movie fare.)
The illustrations interspersed within the book were so expertly done. The diagrams of furniture (both benign and diabolical) were so...IKEA. And the breakdown of how the Corporate regulations and verbiage are designed to disorient and control you was at once humorous, thought-provoking, and downright unsettling.
This isn't a full 5 stars from me, only because the story wasn't terrible original: Spoilers ahead, the spirits haunting the Orsk were the inmates of a 19th century prison on the same land, who were murdered by the unhinged Warden. It's a super run-of-the-mill horror film plot: so much so that it almost seems, as I write it out, that it could be a part of the satire as well, but it wasn't played for laughs. It was just very meh.
However, the characters and their interactions were fabulous. I loved the store manager, Basil: he's a lawful-good type, quoting the employee handbook and fretting over the Corporate inspection scheduled for the next day. He was such a good dude! Definitely infuriating, and nobody I'd want for my boss, but I also couldn't help but love him.
Overall, I thought it was a fantastic premise, and it was pulled off really well: the way the IKEA/bix box retail store elements went hand in hand with the horror plot was really well executed. The ghosts themselves were pretty predictable, but having a haunted house story set in something that is at once a house and not a house was undeniably fun to read.
Lauren A. Nalepa
*Thanks to Netgalley for providing the book in exchange for an honest review. This was a fun enough read. It straddled the line between a weekly, gag-centric comic strip and an ongoing story unfolding over time. I found it fun, but a...