Book Review: Beloved

wThis book has been highly, highly heralded as one of the great American novels. The descriptions remind me somewhat of Native Son, which I read in high school and still think of as the best book I read at that time, and that excites me.

The Book

412b8ib2b0uql._sx322_bo1204203200_Beloved
Author: Toni Morrison
1987
Amazon Link

This was an easy enough book to find at my libary. Not only is this book considered a Great American Novel, but the author won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1997. Now, I usually don’t enjoy much of this critically acclaimed stuff, but the subject matter presented in the blurbs seems right up my alley.

After I read it, I think I need to admit that Beloved was so good that I can’t even explain it. It was powerful, riveting, beautiful, haunting. It’s one of the best classics I’ve ever read.

Non-Spoiler Review

First off: My god. MY GOD. I didn’t go in expecting to like it – I went in expecting this to be like Oscar bait movies: vapid, containing some exciting elements that are there to make people think it’s ok, and then mostly garbled quotes that are supposed to be inspirational.

This book was a constant train ride of excitement, perfect, perfect character development, and a plot that just wouldn’t be silenced. The tone of the book was successfully different from the outlooks and tones of the characters, and it added such depth to the book’s impact. This book deserves every accolade it has, and even if Toni Morrison wrote nothing else, this thing is so top notch.

Second off: THIS BOOK IS THE BEST EXAMPLE I’VE EVER SEEN FOR HOW YOU DO A SEX SCENE. There were a few sex-scenes in the book, but the objectives of the scenes were very clear. It was explicit, but not to the point of erotica – each action was strangely, beautifully symbolic, and the thoughts and feelings of the characters molded during these scenes. That’s what made these scenes, bar none, the best sex scenes I’ve ever read: plot and characterization were crystal clear during them.

You know what? They should just stop reading Great Gatsby in high school. People should read this instead. Best classic I’ve read in a long time, and I don’t care that it was written as recently as 1987. It’s going to be a classic, period.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

Something that I loved from this book was the magical realism. In the book, a girl named Beloved shows up at Sethe’s doorstep. Sethe, who had killed her oldest daughter in effort to keep her from being whipped by her masters, had bought a headstone for that little girl and gotten “Beloved” inscribed in it. When Beloved shows up at her door, Sethe believes it’s her daughter returned to forgive her – but Denver, Sethe’s living daughter, believes Beloved has come to take Sethe’s life in return for the one stolen from her. However, it’s unclear if Beloved really is this daughter, or if she’s just a weird girl.

My personal opinion is that Beloved really was a ghost, but I can see how people could make the argument otherwise. Instead of Beloved taking Sethe’s position slowly away, one could say that Beloved was simply a very disturbed child who got pregnant by a nasty horndog. Instead of exorcising an evil spirit, the community could have banished someone who desperately needed help.

Something else I found interesting in the book was the positions of the white people. The tone of the book made it clear that the author thought white people were, similar to black people, trying to look out for themselves but had enough benefits that they were also able to destroy others’ lives. The way the characters in the book spoke, however, white people felt like English fairies: sometimes randomly benevolent, but mostly mean-spirited, unpredictable, and powerful. It was a really interesting look at race relations, especially for a book set around the Civil War.

If you’re in the mood to read a classic, consume this one. Do it.

Next week:

Oh lord, I’m doing Moby Dick next. Pray for me.

The Communion Wafer

The priest, exasperated from his loud and charismatic exhortations, bowed and wiped a bead of sweat from his brow. He picked up the cracker. “Lord Yarenth, bless us with your presence!”

As he broke the wafer, it turned black and fell to pieces.

Out of the bowl and over the priest’s hands spewed thousands of black spiders. Far more than there could have been wafers poured from some dark portal in the bowl.

“Save us! Lord Yarenth, we have sinned!” a woman in the front rows screeched, her voice soon drowned by screaming. The parishioners fought for the exit.

This was written for the Carrot Ranch flash fiction challenge, “unexpected.” Well, if communion wafers turning to spiders isn’t unexpected, then I don’t think I want to know what is.

For the first time ever, I think, I took a passage from a longer work I’ve written and made it into a flash. This was based on a scene from Manifest Destiny, the first novella in a trilogy of the same name. I’ve finished the novella and gotten through the first draft of parts 2 and 3, but 2 and 3 need such serious reworking that I’m getting through them very slowly. If you want to know more, hit me up in the comments.

Photo by Julia Volk on Pexels.com

Book Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses

When I couldn’t finish Outlander, I freaked out that I was a bad reader and just yanked for any old audiobook at my library so I could finish something.

This was that book.

The Book

A Court of Thorns and Roses read 2021A Court of Thorns and Roses
Author: Sarah J. Maas
2015
Amazon Link

Honestly I have no idea what this one’s going to be about heading into it, but I’m guessing it’s supposed to be like store-brand Game of Thrones going by the title and date of publication.

Non-Spoiler Review

When I first started reading this book, I thought it seemed a lot like The Hunger Games series. It used words like “blood” and “roast” and “roses” more than should be theoretically possible. It contained a main character who was a hunter using bows and arrows. That character, Feyre, was a woman, and she had useless sisters (sure, Katniss had one sister, but whatever). If you have a problem with Collins’s writing style, the writing style of this book won’t please you.

The plot, as well, was pure disappointment. About 1/3 of the way through, I thought to myself, “Is this Beauty and the Beast but with characters sexy in the way Edward was sexy in Twilight?” That is to say, “are these creepy, immortal pedophiles stalking this young woman and giving her Stockholm syndrome?”

And the answer is yes, yes that was what the book was about. If you’ve watched/read/heard glancingly about Beauty and the Beast, there’s no real reason to read this book. There’s no surprises.

There were some attempts made to show the character wasn’t a terrible pushover, and there were obvious struggles to get Feyre not to seem brainwashed (they failed). Something that bothered me a lot though was how many times she was covered in blood. It seemed like every other chapter she became drenched with blood and talked about it profusely. Sure, you can do that once or twice a book, but this was ridiculous.

1/5 Discoball Snowcones

1 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS AHOY

I spoiled it above because I said it was Beauty and the Beast. Sure, there was the “epic battle scenes” where Feyre has to defeat the witch who put the spell on the Spring Court (fey Tamlin’s castle thingy), but really there was nothing to the book. People on writing websites keep wanting revamped fairy tales, though, so I guess this fits the bill.

But why Beauty and the Beast? It’s a terrible story, really. I don’t see why someone would want to start with that as an inspiration.

Next week:

It’s the beginning of December, so there’s something new in the air! Stick around!

Meet the Muse

“Pah! You’ve never had such adventure. How do you expect to write about space warriors or musketmen if you’ve never been one?” He leans over a bit and lights a pipe, but as he puffs the smoke has no scent. He’s not exactly real. He’s a figment, a muse.

Or so he’s led me to believe. Otherwise this smoke crap’s going to make me sick one day.

I type with nimble fingers despite his prodding. “If you’re such a stone-cold killer, why don’t you tell me how to write this? Get through this battle scene so I can go on with the politics I’m better at?”

“I will! I am your muse, after all. I’m also better at politics than you, so you can rely on me to help with that.” He clears his throat, straightens his bow tie, and puffs on his pipe. “Now, let me point you to some first-person accounts of a similar battle to the one you’re writing. It’ll tell you about how you trap them on a peninsula, burn their houses, and shoot the enemy as they swim across a river. It’s genius strategy, I tell you, genius.”

“Sounds like a massacre, not a battle.”

He points his pipe at me. “A massacre that worked, by the eternal. Did what it was supposed to.” It isn’t long before he returns the pipe to his mouth, puffing once more.

I put down my pen with a clack. “Do you just want me to chat with you instead of getting this done?”

“By no means! I just think you should wait until I get in a passion and write a first draft. Then you can flog my drivel and reminiscing into shape, and then we’ll publish.”

“Yeah. Rely on me to get published.” I snort. “Good plan.”

“It sounds like we are in total agreement then! You shall wait, and I will get out my pen to write something you can fix up. You won’t let me down, will you?”

I sigh. “I’m just going to do this myself. Even if your writing is realistic, there’s no literary quality at all.”

He puffs. “What happy circumstance! It seems we’re in agreement. I’ll get that rough draft done soon, after I finish this pipe. Perhaps after get some more reading done, maybe after Christmas, things like that.”

I type…

This was written as a response to D. Wallace Peach’s Meet the Muse. I’ve never thought much about my muse before, but I guess it’s probably a stodgy old man in a long-tailed tuxedo with a pipe. Then again, I’ve been told I’m really an old man anyway. Image is provided by D. Wallace Peach as well.

Pool of Transformation

Unsought reflection –
Can the magic pool free her
From unwanted husk?

“Hush your mouth,” her parents say. “Hush your mouth, and let us cut your hair. It’s not good for a boy to have hair like that.” She runs out the door and runs through the woods to where the water glows and the trees grow too straight, where the wind doesn’t blow and the birds sing while they wait for him to arrive. She takes off his clothes, laments, and asks the pool to change the reflection. A crow caws in the distance: “No.”

See reality
Nature gave her the wrong skin,
But not the wrong heart.

This was written for Collen Chesebro’s Tanka Tuesday #203, an ekphrastic challenge based on the picture at the top. I saw the naked person, and there’s always something about naked children that bothers me, so I decided this was a slender young woman with long hair. However, there are no hips or breasts, so I went with the interpretation you see above.

North Carolina has a history of anti-trans legislation that I have written glancingly about before and which also was part of the influence for this haibun. Parental support of a transgender child is very important, and I hope this haibun accurately recognizes the pain of having parents who refuse to listen and force conformity.

Book Review: Rebel Mechanics

I’m a sucker for weird alternate histories. An absolute sucker.

In this one, the British nobility have magical powers that helped them put down the damn 1776 rebellion. Since the rebellion, though, industrialization has happened and the nonmagical might be catching up.

OH. YEAH.

The Book

51s4riwsw5lRebel Mechanics
Author: Shanna Swendson
2015
Amazon Link

I saw this book in my library and for some reason read the back cover. I saw that it was YA/middle grade, so I begrudgingly put it back, thinking it was ridiculous to read this sucker. Ridiculous, yes, but exactly up my alley. Steampunk? Alternate history? Fantasy? How had I thought this wasn’t for me in the first place?

I went back to the library and checked that sucker out.

Non-Spoiler Review

I really enjoyed this book. Like, really enjoyed this book, probably more than I rightfully should have. This was the first book in a long time that I literally couldn’t put down.  There were a couple chapters I re-read not because I didn’t grasp them but because I was like “OMG I HAVE TO.” In fact, I liked it so much that I swear I’ll finish them one day when I feel like I have the time to finish the series all in one go.

That hasn’t happened since Ancillary Justice with me.

Now, don’t get me wrong – it’s not the most artful book. It’s not a complex book or one filled with intriguing adult themes. It’s an absolute romp, but the plot kept me on the edge of my seat. The relationships, even the love angle, were done beautifully. Every single twist was built with intricate detail. Not only that, but the ending wrapped up all the plot lines but left you with this desire to see how the newest relationships and the still lingering societal threat of revolution would play out.

If you are at all interested in steampunk or Victorian books, this one is an absolute gem to start with.  It’s also fine for the youts.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

This was a plot-centered book, so spoilers really are crappy if you plan on reading it. TURN BACK NOW.

Anyway, main character Verity started out as just a normal bastard child who had silly, romantic dreams of being a governess like Jane Eyre. By witnessing a robbery on her train, she is late for the interview and forced to accept transportation from some mechanics and their machine.

Turns out, those people were rebels.

Turns out, they figured they could befriend her and get her to spy for them.

Turns out, the man Verity was going to work for had been the asshole who’d robbed the train in the first place!

In the end, Verity had to convince her magical/thieving boss to work with her rebel mechanic friends to save a bunch of machines and prevent the revolution from breaking out immediately, which would have caused untold deaths.

My god, the twists just sound ridiculous here, but Swendson puts hints and tips in just right. Verity works well as a main character because she possesses those heroic traits that keep her right on the edge of trouble.  Damn, people, just read this book. It’s underrated.

Next week:

I’m going to be reading another novel that I classified as ‘trashy’: Mass Effect: Revelation. I was pleased as punch by this book, so will the next one be as successful? Tune in next time to find out!

Book Review: The Spinner’s Child

Those of you active in the Writing WordPress circle have probably seen the announcements about Crispina Kemp’s quintet of books. The Spinner’s Game quintet begins with The Spinner’s Child and I bring you now (at long last) my review of this first book in the series.

The Book

The Spinner's Child Spinner's game read 2020

The Spinner’s Child
Author: Crispina Kemp
2020
Amazon Link

I pre-ordered The Spinner’s Child because I’d enjoyed Crispina’s build-up posts throughout the phases of editing and getting the book all polished. This book has been highly anticipated on blog world for quite some time now, and I’m thrilled to finally be posting this review on my blog.

Also, I was convinced I wanted to read this book when I found out the main character’s name was Kerrid: what a fantastic fantasy name!

Non-Spoiler Review

Just so it’s out of the way: 100%, definitely worth the read. There aren’t many books set in an ancient world, and I’ve never read a created universe with such a detailed set of religious, spiritual, and cultural nuances. The small bits of world info are delivered at such a pace that it never feels bloated, and the information gained can allow the reader to make their own decisions.

That’s what made the twist so delightful – I could see it looking back, once it was revealed, but I didn’t see it coming. Any book that can pull off such a twist is going to get a 5/5 rating from me.

Also, despite being the first in a 5-book series published at once, this book does wrap up a significant plot element and gives a nice, satisfying ending. It doesn’t leave you hanging, doesn’t make you mad for it being unfinished. There are unfinished elements that need tying up, but they feel like part of a larger story that could not have been finished within just this one book.

Now, for some minimal critiques: this book does have a rather gloomy outlook, and the main character suffers from a rare form of loneliness throughout. Literally everyone hates her (for reasons explained, so don’t worry about that), and it’s so pervasive that at times I found it hard to believe. The logic of when/why the clan(s) would kick her out didn’t always feel right to me. Getting past the twist helped significantly, but for a good portion of the book, it felt like there wasn’t a light at the end of the tunnel.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

As this book is pretty new, I’m not going to have a big spoilers section. I don’t feel right giving too much away about this book.

However, because the twist showed up about 60% of the way through, I will say things that lead up to that point.

Kerrid’s adventures with Bargli and Sarat were very calming, and I felt like they should have been able to help Kerrid or fight for her more. Kemp did weave in enough honor into the societies to make it reasonable that Kerrid had to leave for Dvar-Usas, but the constant downward trend of Kerrid’s life was very sad. A lot of the feminist messages about the fate of Kerrid depended on her inability to make her own decisions, and this did frustrate me a lot. However, the tone of the book was well-done, and the good messages behind it were clear.

There was a character named Paddlo who I’m sure will show up again later – he’s too terrible not to! I really disliked Paddlo as a person, and I sincerely hope he one day gets his wish to die.

Next week:

I’ll be reading Her Name was Abby, a book I got a review request for! It’s the last indie book of the year for me, too, so make sure to stick around for it!

Book Review: Soul’s Choice

I’ve been on Twitter for a while, and an enterprising woman from Canada caught my eye early on. Funny, nice, and infinitely helpful, Kerri Davidson wrote a words-only novel following three volumes of graphic novels. She doesn’t go through Amazon, either, which was interesting, and also what probably kept me from downloading earlier.

But, seeing as my computer and Kindle are still operable, I can claim I went through her site with zero issues. So, without further adieu…

The Book

52265195._sx318_sy475_Soul’s Choice
Author: Kerri Davidson
2019
Purchase Link

Quick warning before you start: this book can be emotionally intense. If you aren’t in a good place mentally and/or emotionally, you might want to put this off. Kerri is pretty available on twitter, so I’m sure you can get a list of trigger warnings if you want.

I was a little shook, myself.

Non-Spoiler Review

Holy mother of God (or of atheism, if that’s your thing) – this book was an absolute whirlwind. Roller coaster. Emotional disastrophe.

And I mean that in a good way.

From the very beginning, Davidson’s book grips you with a family situation that is difficult to watch. With her mother, Amelia, dead and watching from “heaven”, Amy Clarke must find her own path through the world. Her dad, Jason, is a cop who’s trying his best to make it through. But with Amelia’s death, the two are facing down monumental levels of depression, lack of self-confidence, and other health issues.

The side characters in this book are phenomenal. People like Stacey, who only shows up intermittently as a foil, are still so vivid even without much description. The way everything leads down its path to the end just amazed me.

Small spoiler, though: the end was a cliffhanger, but it was actually something I found not-too-bad. I’m not a fan of cliffhanger endings, but the book did wrap up several plot lines and had left off at a point where it was almost complete. The cliffhanger was more one of those little additions to the end where you’re like “Oh snap! There’s got to be another book after this.” So take that into consideration.

But, like I said in the intro, this book is not for the faint of heart. I didn’t quite realize that going in, and not realizing how intense it was is probably my biggest complaint. Perhaps it’s just because I expected something different because Davidson had previously published humorous graphic novels, but I should have known.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

Oh man. This is a big spoiler, so really hold onto your butts:

This is a bad ending.

Not for the reader – for the characters.

The book is truly a tragedy on the order of Death of a Salesman or some such thing. Just when you think things may be looking up, just when someone picks Amy Clarke up from the depths and it seems things will be ok, they get so, so much worse.

For most of the book, I couldn’t relate with the characters on an experience level. I was never rich growing up, never had rich grandparents, and have very long-lived relatives. At the same time, I’m not used to making such terrible decisions as the characters in this book did. I am familiar, however, with the crippling levels of self-compassion, and I can’t help but feel for Amy as she struggles through things like body image issues and (big spoiler) her dad’s death.

Don’t expect any uppers in this book to last. If you’re like me, you’ll be eagerly awaiting book 2 just to see if these characters get a break.

Next week:

I’ll be reading Crispina Kemp’s The Spinner’s Child!

 

God’s Program

God saved their computer program then recompiled it with some new updates. The opening sequence, light and dark, went as planned. Then came oceans, land, plants, and animals. The computer at last compiled the while loop they’d been working on for quite some time. Mankind popped up, but once again the program’s asinine “people simulations” betrayed God.

They’d spent so long on this program and it never worked. Maybe they would patch it later.

This was written for Sammi Cox’s Weekend Writing Prompt #178, “Asinine“. At first I just thought of computer programming, but then I wrapped it together with a religious context and it worked out this way.