"All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened
and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you
and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse,
and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was."
Ernest Hemingway

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Fairy Godmother: Revisited

Luna Books
The Fairy Godmother
Mercedes Lackey

The Summary
"In the land of the Five Hundred Kingdoms, if you can't carry out your legendary role, life is no fairy tale...

"Elena Klovis was supposed to be her kingdom's Cinderella--until fate left her with a completely inappropriate prince!  So she set out to make a new life for herself.  But breaking with 'The Tradition' was no easy matter--until she got a little help from her own fairy godmother.  Who promptly offered Elena a most unexpected job...

"Now, instead of sleeping in the chimney, she has to deal with arrogant, stuffed-shirt princes who keep trying to rise above their place in the tale.  And there's one in particular who needs to be dealt with.

"Sometimes a fairy godmother's work is never done..."

The Good
I decided to reread The Fairy Godmother on a whim.  I liked it the first time around and I was craving something with adventure, magic, fantasy and romance.  And, honestly, I wasn't disappointed when I picked up Mercedes Lackey's novel.

It's chock full of fairy tales:  Cinderella, Rapunzel, the Fairy Godmother, Prince Charming, Snow White, the Evil Queen, and much more.  Each one is given a fresh twist that draws their stories together in new and exciting ways.  Plus, it has fairies.  Not the dainty little sprites you might imagine, but the tall, lithe fair folk--the kind you meet in The Lord of the Rings--which, somehow, I'd forgotten.

I found it interesting to reread The Fairy Godmother.  Despite knowing how the story ends, I enjoyed going back and seeing the small details I'd missed during my previous trip.  More importantly, I took the story at a slower pace and I enjoyed it far more than I expected.

I mean, in my last review (which you can check out here), I pointed out that Lackey's novel was missing some indefinable quality that would have made it perfect.  While I still don't think it's the perfect fantasy novel, I do have a new appreciation for the characters and the stories as a whole.  I loved the different strands of folklore and fairy tales that come together to create a wonderful story that's full of humor, heart, magic, and adventure.

It was just the thing I need.

The Bad
No complaints.  Like I said, I enjoyed The Fairy Godmother much better the second time.

The Ugly
These fairy tales are not for children.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Glass Castle

Image result for the glass castle book
The Glass Castle
Jeannette Walls

The Summary
"The Glass Castle is a remarkable memoir of resilience and redemption, and a revelatory look into a family at once deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant.  When sober, Jeannette's brilliant and charismatic father captured his children's imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly.  But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive.  Her mother was a free spirit who abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn't want the responsibility of raising a family.

"The Walls children learned to take care of themselves.  They fed, clothed, and protected one another, and eventually found their way to New York.  Their parents followed them, choosing to be homeless even as their children prospered.

"The Glass Castle is truly astonishing--a memoir permeated by the intense love of a peculiar but loyal family."

The Good
It took me a long time to pick up and read The Glass Castle.  Like literal months.

First, I wasn't sure I wanted to read a memoir.  I was firmly entrenched in my romance novels and fantasy stories, and I didn't want to burst my own bubble by reading about the real world.  Second, I'd never read anything by Walls and, if I'm being honest with myself, I wasn't sure I wanted to start reading her now.  I mean, what if she was awful?  I hated the idea of slogging through a poorly written memoir.

However, The Glass Castle is anything but poorly written.  Jeannette Walls is a phenomenal writer.  As I settled in to read, I discovered she had a compelling voice and an incredible story to tell.  Her memoir tackles difficult subjects--like neglect, abuse, mental illness, homelessness, etc.--but Walls treats these things delicately.  She recounts her life in such a way that you are able to see it through her eyes as she grew from a child to a young woman.

The Glass Castle is sad and tragic, but it's ultimately a compelling and hopeful story about survival.

The Bad
Read below.  I have a bit of a spiel.

The Ugly
This book infuriated me.

Walls is a wonderful writer and her memoir is insightful, thoughtful, and incredibly fascinating; however, I wanted to argue that this was not a memoir about "the intense love of a peculiar but loyal family."  I didn't see loyalty (except between Jeannette and her siblings) and I didn't see love and I didn't see a quaint, peculiar little family; I saw intense neglect, if not outright abuse, and child endangerment and alcoholism.

I understand Walls loved her father and I understand that her father, as much as he was capable, loved his children.  However, I thought both her father and her mother were selfish, neglectful, and thoughtless to the health, well-being, and safety of their children.  I have only to point out that the first chapter that Walls was severely burned as a child while trying to cook her own food.  She was hungry and her mother wasn’t going to make her anything, so she did it on her own.  She couldn’t have been more than five.

Or then there’s the incident where she was flung from a moving vehicle.  Accident or not, that’s just reckless endangerment and it could have killed her.  Or there’s also the chapter where she speaks about digging old food out of the trash cans at school, so she wouldn’t starve.  All the while, her mother was squirreling away food for herself and not bothering to feed her children when she obviously could.

I only saw loyalty between the Walls children.  They protected and looked out for each other, they would help provide for the others; in fact, I imagine the only reason they survived their heinous childhood in West Virginia is because they stuck together.  Even after their parents undermine them again and again, they stick together.  Her sister escapes to New York first and then, one by one, they all manage to leave West Virginia--and their parents--behind.

Her father, no matter how much he professed to love his children, did not.  I understand that some parents or guardians struggle to provide for kids; however, sometimes you have to make difficult choices to provide for your children.  He could have sacrificed his pride and applied for federal assistance; they obviously needed it, so why wouldn't he ask for help?  Instead, he would lie and cheat and steal, and then blow his money on alcohol and hookers.

And why couldn't their mother do the same?  She could hold on to a job; in fact, she did for a little while.  I know she didn't like it.  No one wants to work at a job they hate, but, in order to provide for her children, couldn't she have kept a job long enough to put food on the table and start her search for a new job in the meantime?

Obviously not.  That would require a sense of selflessness and empathy she didn't possess.

This book disgusted me on so many levels, and it infuriated me.  I couldn't stand reading about how much Walls adored her father, only to have him disappoint her time after time.  It's heartbreaking as she comes to realize that the Glass Castle--her and her father's shared dream--will never become a reality.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Kings of the Wyld

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Hachette Book Group, Inc.
Kings of the Wyld
Nicholas Eames

The Summary
"Glory never gets old.

"Clay Cooper and his band were once the best of the best, the most feared and renowned crew of mercenaries this side of the Heartwyld.

"Their glory days long past, the mercs have grown apart and grown old, fat, drunk, or a combination of the three.  Then an ex-bandmate turns up at Clay's door with a plea for help--the kind of mission that only the very brave or the very stupid would sign up for.

"It's time to get the band back together."

The Good
This is arguably one of the best books I read in 2017.  Sometimes ridiculous, sometimes gory, Kings of the Wyld is an unexpectedly endearing and simultaneously adventurous novel.  It's hilarious, heart-warming, and yet still action-packed.

I absolutely loved it.

I first stumbled across this book at my local library (though I will probably be acquiring a copy for my own shelves) and I was immediately caught by the cover.  At first, I couldn't quite reconcile the gritty, fantasy-esque cover image with the rock band motif.  I mean, "the boys are back in town"?  Really?

It just seemed so weird.  Mercenaries treated like rock stars?  It's absurd, but it was just the right level of absurdity to draw me in to the story.  Full of odd creatures and fascinatingly complex characters, it's a story that turns fantasy (as I have known it) on its head.

As far as fantasy heroes go, Clay and his band are not quite your typical heroes.  Granted, no one is perfect, but Moog, Gabriel, Matrick, and Ganelon are about as far from perfect as you can get.  Moog is a bit demented and terribly forgetful; Gabriel is a drunk whose life has spiraled out of control; Matrick is caught in a loveless marriage with a queen who wants him dead, not to mention he's kind of a horrible person; and Ganelon--well, Ganelon has spent the last decade or two trapped in stone, but, before that, he was a stone-cold killer.

They are seriously flawed, but they kind of grow on you.  I mean, Gabriel, despite being a crappy husband and a not-so-great dad, is setting out to save his daughter, Rose, against all odds, and Clay is going to help him do it.  They're fighting against age, personal demons, and time to save Rose.  While they may be a little more willing to break laws (and bones), they're ultimately good people.

And, personally, I found I liked Clay the best.

He wasn't the narrator, but much of the story is told from his perspective and he offered uncanny insight into the story.  Jaded and tough, gifted with a deadpan sense of humor, Clay was by far my favorite character.  (Moog, however, comes in at a close second.)  He was the driving force within the book, a steady voice, almost like the conscience of the story.

He has a dark past, but I admired him for his tenacity and loyalty.  Moreover, I couldn't help but appreciate the way he loved his wife, Ginny, and his daughter, Talley.  Clay is a big brute of a man, as you read on the first page:  "[His] shadow, drawn out by the setting sun, skulked behind him like a dogged reminder of the man he used to be:  great and dark and more than a little monstrous."

He was not a good man; in fact, he may not even be a very good man, even now.  But he cares about Ginny and Talley, and he'd do anything to protect them.  He respects Ginny, and he admires Talley.  If nothing else, I liked him for being a decent human being who cares about his family and doggedly follows his friends into battle to save another man's daughter.

The Bad
Admittedly, the story is a bit drawn out.  There's always so much happening, so many plot twists and adventures are thrown at our heroes that it can get a little tedious; however, it's an easily forgivable sin.  The ending was so satisfying, the absurd adventures in between were totally worth it.

Overall, it's an excellent debut.

The Ugly
People are not perfect.  They can make terrible mistakes and they can commit truly horrible atrocities.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

A Dad for Billie

HQN Books
A Dad for Billie
Susan Mallery

The Summary
"From the moment a baseball smashes through his window, banker Adam Barrington's life is never quite the same.  The guilty party, an eight-year-old tomboy, soon turns his household upside down.  But that shock is nothing compared to when Adam discovers who Billie's mother is...

"Jane Southwick knows that coming back home won't be easy, and that living next door to Adam again will be sweet torture.  But it's pure joy to see the delightful bond growing between him and her daughter, despite the guilty secret that clutches at Jane's heart."

The Good
I love Susan Mallery.  She's one of my favorite contemporary romance novelists, and I can't say I've really been disappointed by any of her books.  While A Dad for Billie isn't my absolute favorite by Mallery, it's a fun, sweet story with an adorable kid (she's so accident prone and messy; she's wonderful) and a lovely, complex romance that will warm your heart.

The Bad
It has many of the tropes familiar to romance novels.  It's predictable; however, I found the predictability reassuring.

The Ugly
Nothing, truthfully.  It's a sweet, mild little romance that invariably made me smile and feel all the warm fuzzies.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

William Morrow
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
Tom Franklin

The Summary
"In the 1970s, Larry Ott and Silas "32" Jones were boyhood pals in a small town in rural Mississippi.  Their worlds were as different as night and day:  Larry was the child of lower middle-class parents, and Silas, the son of a poor, black single mother.  But then Larry took a girl to a drive-in movie and she was never seen or heard from again.  He never confessed...and was never charged.

"More than twenty years have passed.  Larry lives a solitary, shunned existence, never able to rise above the whispers of suspicion.  Silas has become the town constable.  And now another girl has disappeared, forcing two men who once called each other "friend" to confront a past they've buried for decades."

The Good
I enjoyed this book so much.

I typically do not read mysteries, especially mysteries that showcase dark secrets and some of the more unsavory aspects of small-town life.  (I live in a small Southern town, so it's a bit unnerving to see similarities between my hometown and the one pictured in Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter.)  However, I was hooked by Tom Franklin's novel almost from the start.

The pace is excellent, as it doesn't dwell for long moments and it doesn't fly through the story; the tone it sets feels distinctly Southern, it feels like it's set in the heart of Mississippi; and the writing is excellent, so easy to read and yet descriptive enough to keep me interested.

While it does get a little too descriptive, particularly in respects to describing murder scenes, I found I enjoyed Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter for it's ability to conjure a setting.  When I was reading, I could really imagine Larry and Silas's town.  I could see the kudzu, envision the dirt roads and the mosquitoes swarming around the swamps, feel the stifling summer heat.  It was exciting to read a book that felt so real, that held such a visceral impact.

The Bad
No complaints.  It reads well and I enjoyed it immensely.

The Ugly
I felt so bad for Larry.

I mean, here's this smart, sweet, and socially awkward young man who's blamed for a murder he didn't commit and then he spends the rest of his life suffering under that dark shadow.  It's heart-breaking, especially as new light is shed on the case and you realize that Larry has been shunned by his entire community simply because he was different.

It's a bit sickening.

Oh, and fair warning, there's a number of murders and attempted murders in this book.  It's not for the faint of heart and it's doesn't shy away from the ugly topics of racism, infidelity, and abuse.  It's jarring how many dark secrets lurk under the facade of one, small Southern town.