Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing

WOW!!! What a ride this one took me on! I devoured this book in a few days after finishing from Dawn to Decadence. I was desperate for a good read to take my mind on an adventure and boy did I find that here! Also, I must add a disclaimer that I loved reading this book but I also really enjoy the genre of true-crime in books, podcasts, or even television shows. If you don’t love crime or are not a huge fan of thrillers, this book will not be for you. It’s definitely got a deeper exploration into the suburban mentality that some may enjoy but it is very heavy on the crime drama and the suspense!

The book follows the perspective of the husband who has been married to his “lovely” wife Mildred for fifteen years. The pair have to hustle everyday for a place in their suburban paradise of Hidden Oaks in Florida and to raise their two children. However, their relationship takes an interesting turn when they decide to begin murdering together! Normal spousal fun right? Things take a turn for the worse when the pair resurrect a serial killer to cover their crimes and their deadly romance takes a turn for the worse.

As mentioned, I really enjoyed this one. It kept me on the edge of my seat but I was a little disappointed in the end. I felt that Millicent wasn’t as fleshed out as a character as she could have been but if she had been, the final twist wouldn’t have caught me like it did. I would recommend this but probably not to younger readers! It’s one to take on a nice long road trip or just to bring with you to the beach! Happy reading and let me know what you think if you happen to pick up a copy!

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Book Review: From Dawn to Decadence by Jacques Barzun

All I can say is OMG I FINALLY FINISHED!!! This book is a WHOPPER of a read and it was recommended to me by a very dear family friend. This family friend has recommended many books to me over the years and it was a treat when he was able to drop this book off for me during the early months of our societal quarantine. I started this book in April which both seems like yesterday and like a lifetime ago! This book is around 800 pages, give or take a hundred additional pages for the references and notes. I’ve been reading this in the background as I couldn’t tackle it all by itself without a serious headache. I feel very accomplished that I was able to finish it but I don’t know if I volunteer for the task again anytime soon.

This tome by Barzun is truly a masterpiece of Western cultural life. I am glad that I read this book; just by reading a few pages a day I’ve learned so much more about the history of culture in the West. While I’ve always treated culture as an interesting footnote in my historical studies, Barzun shows how culture plays such a meaningful role in shaping history and the course of the world. My biggest issue with the book was that Barzun did such an excellent job of describing the first 450 years covered in his book and did such a poor job describing the most recent years that his book purported to cover. I felt that the last fifty years have been done a great injustice by Barzun. Perhaps he was writing from a spot that made him too near to something to write objectively. Barzun’s description of the last fifty years before the close of the work, 1995, was a confused diatribe against modernity. Barzun did a wonderful job of shedding light on the cultural pathways of the west before World War 1 but after his writing is disorganized and extremely critical. Perhaps in the last fifty years, our society has descended into such a state of decadence that it will collapse but I felt that Barzun didn’t do the recent past justice. I enjoyed the experience of reading Barzun’s work but would not recommend this to be consumed by the average reader.

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Book Review: Three Dark Crowns

Now I’ve wanted to read this series for quite some time but books cost money and it looked like this would be a doozy of a series. I also don’t like to wait in between books so I’ll often wait to purchase parts of a series until the series is almost complete because I have a hard time remembering the details between books. This is the first book in a larger series by Kendare Blake that I believe has just concluded with the book “Queens of Fennbirn”. I saw this book at my favorite secondhand bookstore here in Baltimore, The Book Escape, when it was having a moving sale. I couldn’t wait any longer to start the series so I snatched it up and waited to dive right in. After finishing my last read, I took this off the shelf and dived into the magical world of Fennbirn and its three queens.

The concept driving the book is fascinating. The setting is Fennbirn, right before the beginning of Ascension Year for the three queens of Fennbirn. In Fennbirn, the throne is claimed by whichever of the royal triplets is able to survive the Ascension Year. This translates into an all out battle between the royal siblings and their power bases which are rooted in whatever mystical ability that have inherited. The three camps that dominate the book are the Poisoners who have raised Queen Katharine, the Temple who have raised Queen Mirabella, and the Naturists who have raised Queen Arsinoe. Unfortunately, this being the first in the series, this book really just sets the stage for the grand conflict of the Ascension Year. It draws to a close just as the murderous triplets are unleashed upon each other and the reader is left hanging.

Although the premise of the book sounds awfully gory, it’s more of an exploration of the affect that this impeding fate has upon each of the three sisters. It’s an interesting topic to explore and takes the normal sibling rivalry to an extreme. I did enjoy the book with its lush world building and fleshed out characters and I would recommend it for fans of the “young-adult” genre of books. It’s a good read but be prepared for an investment! Even on Thriftbooks, the whole set of books will cost you close to $60 so if you’re looking to go easy on your wallet, this may not be the best read because once you start, you may not be able to stop!

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: Down and Out in Paris and London

It has been a while since I’ve reviewed a book about Paris/France in general on my list and I was excited to read something a little different after being spellbound to the Chaos Walking trilogy. Down and Out in Paris and London was George Orwell’s first published novel and it details, with some embellishment, his experiences being broke and trying to make it on the streets of Paris and then later in London. Orwell’s writing is both entertaining and enlightening, a perfect combination for the subject material. As the book opens, Orwell finds himself completely broke in Paris with no prospects for work anytime soon. During this period, the number of unemployed upon the urban streets was vast and it was incredibly difficult to find work that paid a livable income. After several weeks of scrimping, Orwell finds himself a dishwasher at the very prestigious Hotel X. Orwell is well fed and moderately well paid for a time but describes the appalling state of the kitchen hygiene in a very expensive establishment. Orwell then travels back to London on the prospect of a well-paying job but finds that he needs to make his way upon the streets for another month until the employer returns from vacation. Orwell proceeds to adopt a state of homelessness and wanders the streets with other tramps such as Paddy and Bozo.

While Orwell did have access to funding through various friends and family, for reasons unknown, he chose not to take it. While I don’t love the fact that he viewed his experience with those in abject poverty as entertaining “research”, he does provide a critique towards the way that society treats those on the lowest part of the social ladder. Orwell mostly critiques this in London as he finds the aid provided by secular and ecclesiastical authorities to be both inadequate and humiliating towards the impoverished. Orwell’s writing about poverty in Paris is more revealing of the daily struggles of the impoverished Parisian migrant and the horrific conditions in which he worked. I liked the tenor of the book but there are several obvious issues. While casual anti-semitism was a norm of Orwell’s time, it’s jarring to read. I found it a upsetting but didn’t find that it was so pervasive that I couldn’t finish the book. Orwell’s racial and ethnic attitudes are reflective of a time with very different social norms and should be read with such a perspective. Orwell’s book is a good read but perhaps for the more mature reader who can contextualize his narrative.

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Book Review: The Orchid Thief

I’m writing this post after just finishing this book less than ten minutes ago. It was such a thought-provoking read that I feel like I both digested it as I read it but also have no idea what kind of literary journey I just took. The Orchid Thief was Susan Orlean’s debut novel after being a staff writer at The New Yorker for many years. I actually read her second novel, The Library Book, over the summer. The Library Book was such a poetic tribute to the power that books and the literary arts hold over ordinary lives that I limited myself to a certain page count per day in order to stretch out the reading experience and savor the words. I enjoyed The Library Book so much that I couldn’t help but search out Orlean’s first book in an effort to repeat the experience. While I was disappointed that The Orchid Thief didn’t evoke such an emotional response for me, it was a great book. Orlean spends the novel both detailing her experience with the exotic plant world of Florida while recounting the history of exotic plant collection. She interweaves the story of John Laroche, the orchid thief of the title, with a larger reflection on the existence of Florida as both a part of the United States that stands truly alone.

Some of the description in this book didn’t resonate with me very much but I’m also not an attentive plant lover. Orlean’s writing was powerful in this first novel and I think that she really perfected her prose in The Library Book. I’m also from California and was able to find resonance in her words about California and its history more than I was able to relate to the story of a state that I have never visited. Orlean does meditate on a lot of the elements of modernity in this novel and I would say that for that alone, The Orchid Thief deserves a read. Orleans passes no strong judgement upon the people that populate her book which I think is part of the fun. Orlean’s presence as a neutral narrator makes the reader think harder about their own biases in life. Definitely a book for an adults, The Orchid Thief is a unique reflection on life and plants and everything in between.

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Book Review: Monsters of Men

I could not believe how fast I finished this book. It’s the third in the Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness that I posted about about a week ago. Wow!!!! This was a thrilling conclusion to the books and most of it was totally unexpected and the action kept coming! I started on a Wednesday and finished by Thursday evening! I absolutely ripped through this book and am still reeling from the ending!

The last installment of Ness’ trilogy brings us right back to the end of the second book, The Ask and the Answer. Just as Mayor Prentiss and Mistriss Coyle are about to have their epic showdown, their rivalry has to be put on pause to combat the massive Spackle army that has marched on their city. The Spackle previously appeared in the trilogy but not as main protagonists. When the settlers from the Old World settled on the New, a massive Spackle war ensued with several thousand Spackle being enslaved to the settlers as part of the peace agreement. These enslaved Spackle are slaughtered wholesale by Mayor Prentiss in the second book, leading to the mobilization of the Spackle across the planet. In the third book, the settlers face extinction in the face of the imminent arrival of more settlers and the rivalries of the second book haven’t gone anywhere. Tension is high and Todd and Viola are doing all they can to save each other while saving the rest of humanity but will they succeed and keep their lives?? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

I talked over the entire trilogy with the aforementioned friend who introduced me to the trilogy and we both had some pretty strong opinions about each of the characters in a world where nothing is quite black and white. I found that this trilogy is incredibly insightful in its treatment of humans and the basic moral battle of good versus evil that has faced humanity for many millennia. Ness does a really good job of showing how easy it is for evil to seep into our lives but encouragingly shows how to confront that same evil. I cannot believe how much I enjoyed reading these books and would recommend them to YA lovers. It provides a layered and nuanced story that makes you question even your own perceptions of the world.

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Book Review: The Ask and the Answer

It’s been a hot minute since I’ve had time to review a book but I absolutely raced through this one! I started in on a Sunday night and was finished by the next evening, I just couldn’t put it down! This novel is the second in the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness. I was introduced to this trilogy by a dear friend from high school who kindly provided the first one, “The Knife of Never Letting Go”. Unfortunately, I was hooked on that book and finished it with similar speed and my friend did not have the rest of the trilogy so I had to wait! I was able to find the second and third books on Thriftbooks at the end of July and was very excited to dive into the world of Patrick Ness once again!

The Chaos Walking trilogy tells the story of the settlements on a New World after the inhabitants of the Old World had to leave it. The series specifically follows Todd, a young man born in the New World settlement of Prentisstown where there are no women, and Viola, a scout from a new group of settlers from the Old World. “The Knife of Never Letting Go” follows Todd and Viola as they race to stop Mayor Prentiss from conquering the other settlements of the New World. The second book focuses on what happens after they fail and Mayor Prentiss becomes President Prentiss of the New World. Viola and Todd are separated and have to find themselves before they can find each other once again.

This novel is nuanced and absolutely devastating at points. It asks the questions that we are often afraid to ask in our day and age of the Trump Presidency. It asks how far will you go to save your own skin? Ness also explores the power of the individual throughout the novel which I found very thought provoking. I think this book is appropriate for 10 and up and especially for adults but it does contain dark topics so read with discretion. I cannot wait to read the next one to learn the final fates of Todd and Viola.

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Book Review: Courting Darkness by Robin LaFevers

Wow! I just finished this book a night or two ago and wow! We love a book that sets up the next one in a series….Honestly, it was a great read for me but I do get a little frustrated when it feels like the whole book is just the lead up to another book. That being said, this book was absolutely action packed! There are queens and assassins and ambushes and prisoners and a little bit of history! This book is actually the fourth in a series by LaFevers and I have thoroughly enjoyed both this book and the preceding novels.

LaFevers recreates Brittany during the war torn years before it merged with the larger state of France. The main characters, Sybella and Genevieve are daughters of death in a literal sense that the Breton god of Death is their actual father but they’ve also been schooled in the killing arts. Honestly, this book is absolutely classic Young Adult fiction and I absolutely devoured it. Sybella is definitely my favorite character of the book, she had her stand alone novel as the second in the series but she is no less a delight to follow in this novel. I also find her character highly relatable and wish that I had her AMAZING skills. I would recommend this novel and series to a reader on the older end of the young adult reading spectrum, probably no one younger than 15 as there is some content of a sexual and adult nature. That being said, I did start the series when I was slightly younger than 15 so who am I to say anything about it. I hope that you enjoy LaFevers’ work just as much as I did, there’s really nothing like diving into the rich world of Brittany and the complex female characters that populate this series.

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Book Review: A Bite Sized History of France

Ah yes, yet another book review regarding my research on France! Oh boy! Actually, my mother very kindly got me this book while I was recovering from my wisdom teeth surgery, which took much longer that I had thought. She is a thoughtful and wonderful person and I am so glad that she found this book! It was an absolute delight to read and can be read very fast or very slow. The book is structured into small chapters that each contain an anecdote about French cuisine and its’ link to French history. As I haven’t done that much research into the past of France, it was a good primer on French history for a foreigner. It also featured all sorts of regional French cuisine and was a tasty exploration of French food.

This book can be read by readers of all ages and enjoyed by all! It did make me a little hungry every time that I cracked it open but that’s a minor problem and not a bad one to have! It was a joyous celebration of the role of food in the storied past of France while tastefully acknowledging the darker side of French history. One of the things that I thought was well-addressed on a surface level was France’s colonial past and direct role within the North Atlantic Slave trade. This book was also a good debunker of many french myths surrounding their own cuisine and was an all-around good read! I would absolutely recommend this book to all and hope that many more get to enjoy the delights of this particular tome!

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Book Review: A Wizard of Earthsea

It’s been a rough summer for everyone around the world right now, with raging coronavirus and protests over the systemic inequalities within our society so I decided it was a great time to get my wisdom teeth out because I wanted to add some more pain and suffering into my life…yay? This past week has been pretty miserable for me so I took the time to watch four whole seasons of Grantchester (fantastic but a lil moody) on Prime and finish up this little book. A Wizard of Earthsea was Ursula Le Guin’s breakout novel, leading to a longer series that follows the exploits of Sparrowhawk, the most powerful sorcerer in all of Earthsea. I’ve been reading a fair amount of non-fiction recently, with all my France research, and decided that this would be a lovely fantasy book vacation.

I did like this book but did not find that I preferred it over many of the more modern fantasy writers that I’ve read. Le Guin’s style is revolutionary for her time but appears a bit dated to the reader who have such a large collection of available books of fantasy and science fiction from female writers. Furthermore, I have always found books with a male protagonist to be a little harder for me to read. I’m not sure why, but I think that in fantasy I like to envision myself in the protagonist’s shoes and it’s a bit more difficult for me to do this for a man. It took me a little longer that I thought it would to get through this book. It’s no more than 180 pages, but it look me about two days. Le Guin introduced some pretty thought-provoking themes into her novel such as the importance of names, the true nature of good and evil, and the balance that is needed for the world to continue to turn. It’s pretty deep stuff for a fantasy novel but it’s presented in a way that is digestible for a younger reader. Le Guin takes the time to dwell on some heavier themes than normally seen in fantasy writing and I really appreciate the gravity that she was able to bring into the genre.

Because I’ve been spoiled by modern fantasy writing that is more detailed and action packed, I am not able to fully appreciate the ingenuity that Le Guin brought to the genre when A Wizard of Earthsea was first published. I would recommend this book for younger readers, around early adolescence. My father enjoyed the book far more than myself so perhaps a male reader would be more appreciative of the travails of Ged/Sparrowhawk the young protagonist.