fantasy, mini review, Ohioana Author, young adult

Mini-Review – Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance tells the story of Weylyn Grey’s life from the perspectives of the people who knew him, loved him, and even a few who thought he was just plain weird. Although he doesn’t stay in any of their lives for long, he leaves each of them with a story to tell. Stories about a boy who lives with wolves, great storms that evaporate into thin air, fireflies that make phosphorescent honey, and a house filled with spider webs and the strange man who inhabits it.
There is one story, however, that Weylyn wishes he could change: his own. But first he has to muster enough courage to knock on Mary’s front door.
In this warm debut novel, Ruth Emmie Lang teaches us about adventure and love in a beautifully written story full of nature and wonder. – Goodreads

I have a soft spot for stories like these.

The whimsical type of stories that feel like modern day fairy tales. The rare Americana magic story. You can hear cicadas, feel the grass under bare feet, see the lightning bugs, smell the “just before a rainstorm” air while reading this book.

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance is a beautiful novel about the life of Weylyn Grey. It could have very easily veered into cliche. However, it managed to stay on tiptoes along the wall between logical and whimsy. Weylyn feels real, despite his almost mythical life. Despite all the magical, unreasonable things happening around both him and the other characters, they handle the situations reasonably (managing to stay clear of “Zany” or “Whacky” situations for the sake of plot entertainment).

This is truly a story about characters, from those ‘telling’ the story to the main character himself, Weylyn. Extra credit should be given to Lang for accurately depicting the main characters at various points of their lives, starting from childhood through adulthood. It’s a testament that the characters felt rightly aged at each point. Another feat is the reader’s empathy for Weylyn – we never hear from him personally, and likely no one will have lived a life like his, but we still feel for him and root for his success.

I would highly recommend this book for anyone who enjoyed Daniel Wallace’s (or the film version by Tim Burton) Big Fish. And while I haven’t read Forrest Gump, the author Wallace Groom also praised Lang’s take of “American Folktale” – I feel he likely has a good grip on the genre.

I will also add, I had the pleasure of meeting Ruth Emmie Lang at the 2019 Ohioana Book Festival.

Title: Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance
Author: Ruth Emmie Lang
Page #: 346
Published: November 2017
Goodreads: Here
My Rating:  ★★★★★ /5
Suggested Reading: Big Fish by Daniel Wallace

 

fiction, mini review

Mini-Review – Where’d you go, Bernadette?

Bernadette Fox has vanished.

When her daughter Bee claims a family trip to Antarctica as a reward for perfect grades, Bernadette, a fiercely intelligent shut-in, throws herself into preparations for the trip. But worn down by years of trying to live the Seattle life she never wanted, Ms. Fox is on the brink of a meltdown. And after a school fundraiser goes disastrously awry at her hands, she disappears, leaving her family to pick up the pieces–which is exactly what Bee does, weaving together an elaborate web of emails, invoices, and school memos that reveals a secret past Bernadette has been hiding for decades. Where’d You Go Bernadette is an ingenious and unabashedly entertaining novel about a family coming to terms with who they are and the power of a daughter’s love for her mother.  – GoodReads

I did not like this book.

I wanted to like this book, but I couldn’t.

The first half of the book is presented as a sort of case file of emails and magazine clippings that are to serve as an explanation for why Bernadette, a wealthy, mother of 1 on the west coast, ran away. First, I was thrown by the email correspondences. I had to double check when the book was written because I didn’t realize that people were still having long conversations via email. It feels more like a text sort of scenario. This might seem like an odd thing to get hung up on, but it just didn’t feel realistic to me that people would be communicating in this manner. It’s a single example for a lot of the issues I had with this book. I couldn’t suspend my disbelief enough to buy half of it. The second half of the book is set in typical prose – at least the first half attempted to be interesting with the format.

Not a single character is likable. I know not everyone is likable, but I didn’t even like the kid in this book. Reading about a handful of selfish people with no light at the end of the tunnel was a drag. I feel like the author wanted me to like Bernadette and her daughter, framing them as the “not like other people here” but they were equally selfish and horrible in their own special ways.

Overall, it felt like the book was trying to be a quirky cousin of Big Little Lies (in the vein of “Being a Mom is super hard and sometimes they act out and you think it’s because of the PTA but it’s more”) and it fell super flat.

Title: Where’d you go, Bernadette.
Author: Maria Semple
Page #: 326
Published: August 2012
Goodreads: Here
My Rating:  ★★ /5
Read instead: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

historical fiction, Review

Review – The Conqueror

A fictionalized biography, fast-moving and minutely-wrought chronicle about William, Duke of Normandy who became King of England in 1066.
The day she gave birth to William, the beautiful Herleva dreamt that a tree sprang from her womb–a giant among trees, whose mighty branches overshadowed all of Normandy and England. No sooner her half-noble bastard of the Duke of Normandy had grown to manhood than he forced the Norman lords to call him their Duke, and fought the King of France to regain his Duchy.
Only one woman could match William the Bastard’s lovely little Princess Matilda of Flanders. Rejected his proposal of marriage, Duke dares to take a whip to her in her own father’s palace, before making her his bride. In his strange and brutal way, he would conquer her too…
Then, thwarted by the Saxon warrior Harold of a promise of the throne of England, he gathered his vassals once more to challenge him. William the Conqueror sails to Hastings to claim the Saxon King’s crown and sceptre for his own. – GoodReads

Georgette Heyer is known for her Regency era romance novels. From the 1920s to the 1970s she wrote over 40 books, most of which were of the romance genre. Which is why I was shocked to find a historical novel by her. It was on my trip to Scotland (almost exactly a year ago) that in an old second hand book shop in Inverness I found The Conqueror mixed among the romance novels – and snatched it instantly knowing there was only one person who would receive such a title.

So, it was with my already formed love of Georgette Heyer’s writing and my interest in the problematic character of Rollo from the TV show Vikings (based on the historical Rollo Duke of Normandy, ancestor of William the Conqueror) that I decided to give a romance author a shot at writing history – and she surprised me.

Make no mistake, this is a historical novel. Even the small romance subplot seems to have been shoved in there (it’s really not deserving of a whole paragraph in the summary). On my edition (published in 1966) romance is mentioned twice on the cover, obviously someone was trying to draw in Heyer’s fans.

I say I was surprised because I was not anticipating the level of detail. And frankly I was anticipating the bulk of the plot to be on romance – but there was a ton of details and very little romance. Which I enjoyed. If you want to get technical, there was more of a love story between William and his fictitious friend Raoul than with his own wife.

The book is told primarily from the point of view of Raoul – William’s faithful and loyal councilor who gains favor by proving his loyalty to William very early on and stays by the king’s side for decades. You may be shocked to find this out because he’s not mentioned on the back cover or in the summary (These publishers trying to push that hardly existent romance on the masses.) Raoul, like all right-hand fictitious men, is a great source to tell William’s rise from. He’s always one step away from the action, able to report on it without being in the mess.

From my basic understanding (and sometimes wikipedia-ing) of the time period, events and history, it felt accurate to me. From the battle plans to the descriptions of armor and weapons. Heyer didn’t pull back from depicting the era in it’s harsher light either. When the summary says that William whipped his wife, that’s literally – he took a whip and beat her. You can see the gray through Raoul as he continues to love his King but realizes the man is cruel.

I was just as entertained by Heyer’s historical journey has I have been in the past by her romance books. She was a fantastic writer. However, I feel like you’d need at least some interest in the era, or at least the middle ages, to like the book, as it can get a little weedy surrounding the politics.

A side note: I mentioned my copy was picked up from a second hand shop in Scotland. The first page is an excerpt from a review of the book, the first sentence of which reads:

This novel is the fast-moving but minutely wrought chronicle of one of the great figures in British history – William, Duke of Normandy and King of England.

Whoever owned the book previously had underlined British and wrote in the margin “ENGLISH, NOT BRITISH!” That was the cherry on top that made me buy the book.

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ENGLISH, NOT BRITISH!

Title: Voices: The Conqueror
Author: Georgette Heyer
Page #: 349
Published: 1931
Goodreads: Here
My Rating:  ★★★★ /5

historical fiction, mini review

Mini-Review – Voices

Author David Elliott explores how Joan of Arc changed the course of history and remains a figure of fascination centuries after her extraordinary life and death.

Told through medieval poetic forms and in the voices of the people and objects in Joan of Arc’s life, (including her family and even the trees, clothes, cows, and candles of her childhood). Along the way it explores issues such as gender, misogyny, and the peril of speaking truth to power. Before Joan of Arc became a saint, she was a girl inspired. It is that girl we come to know in Voices. – Goodreads

I don’t normally read or review poetry, but the summary of this book really caught my attention. I knew the general story of Joan of Arc, but had never really read in depth into her life. Based strictly on the appendix I believe the author did his research rather well, and it aligned with the vague knowledge I knew.

On the basis of the poetry itself, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a different experience reading a collection of poems that collectively told a story, but interesting nonetheless. Each poem was like a short chapter in the story, if you’d like to visualize the set up. The tone was evident throughout, and the language wasn’t difficult at all to read.

Elliott was able to show off different types of poetry, even some that were more common in the age of Joan of Arc. What was particularly cool was the formatting of each poems. As mentioned in the summary, many of the poems are told from inanimate objects, such as Joan’s dress, her armor, her sword, ect. The poems were formatted into the shape of each object (imagine a word cloud, but the words are actually meant to be read in order). This often meant having to physically turn the book while reading, making it a very involved experience.

I would recommend this to historical fiction fans, even if poetry isn’t your go-to genre.

Title: Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc
Author: David Elliott
Page #: 208
Published: March 2019
Goodreads: Here
My Rating:  ★★★★ /5
Suggested Reading: Fierce Fairytales: Poems and Stories to Stir Your Soul by Nikita Gill

mini review, non fiction

Mini-Review – Witches, Midwives & Nurses

Women have always been healers, and medicine has always been an arena of struggle between female practitioners and male professionals. This pamphlet explores two important phases in the male takeover of health care: the suppression of witches in medieval Europe and the rise of the male medical profession in the United States. The authors conclude that despite efforts to exclude them, the resurgence of women as healers should be a long-range goal of the women’s movement. – Goodreads

This pamphlet, originally published in 1970’s, is straight out of the peak of second wave feminism. It is with that in mind that I looked at it. And that is to say that it didn’t age well, is very dated, and if you choose to read it you should keep that in mind too.

Progress of feminism aside, the first part of the pamphlet just made me want to read about the history of european witches and healers more as the pamphlet barely skims the surface to abstract points it wants to make. I saw a review on Goodreads that called it “one long thesis statement”, which is arguably true. But what it does, as a really long thesis statement, is cause readers to want to branch off on their own to read more.

I wish they had done more to connect the historical with, what was then, the current time. There was a lot of stretching and reaching done that I wish would have been backed up with a little more concrete thoughts than the justifiable anger.

I still think it would be good reading as a jumping off point, and as ever it’s good to see where we’ve been.

Title: Witches, Midwives, & Nurses: A History of Women Healers
Author: Barbara Ehrenreich & Deirdre English
Page #: 114
Published: Nov, 1970
Goodreads: Here
My Rating:  ★★★1/2 /5