Thoughts on The Love Artist

The Love Artist by Jane AlisonThe Love Artist by Jane Alison was assigned for an online class I took in the fall of 2013 called Plagues, Witches, and War. The first few weeks of class were spent reading articles and chosen chapters so I was excited to get to the books that were going to be discussed as part of dialogue sessions with the authors. However, I was slightly apprehensive about this book. While I like antiquity, I don’t always like reading about antiquity. Something gets lost in translation for me and I somehow end up being disappointed, so I went in a bit skeptical about whether or not I would enjoy a story about the Roman poet, Ovid.

When I’m wrong, I’m wrong.

I fell in love with this story. It was a bit slow for me to get into. Obviously, I needed to let a few thoughts go before I was able to get lost in it. Once lost, I was sold — even about the magical realism that doesn’t always work but works so very well in the context of this story. I prefer when magical realism is subtle and rolled into believable traits and actions of the characters and that’s what happened.

Basic premise. Ovid, a Roman poet, travels to the Black Sea, and while there, he meets a woman. He becomes obsessed — almost possessed by his obsession — and feeling so inspired by her and their relationship that he brings her back to Rome with him. Xenia, a woman like no other, with no need or want to become a woman of Rome, practices her arts as if she never left her isolated island home. A witch? Maybe. A healer? Also. But what she is a mystery and she remains that way, especially to Ovid who in the thralls of his latest work, becomes even more entangled in a web he can’t get out of.

The Love Artist is not a fast moving story. As a reader, you spend a strange amount of time navigating Ovid’s ego which grows only larger with thoughts of immortality,  knowing he’ll be read far into a future he can’t imagine. The love part of the story isn’t love either. Is there admiration? Some. Is there manipulation? A whole lot, actually. There’s jealousy and raw emotion. Deceit. While the action is very little, it’s not what moves the story. The emotions of the characters push it forward to a conclusion.

One of the interesting things about this book being part of the class was having the opportunity to hear the author talk about the book and her inspiration. What seemed to interest her most was the fact that there is no record of why Ovid was banished from Rome by Augustus. She makes an attempt at filling in the details with this story and her interpretation as to why it might have happened. It’s an interesting thought for a story catalyst. I, personally, liked that she didn’t go so far as to fill in the blanks about why he was banished. I liked that sense of mystery surrounding the ending. It fit so well with the mystery that was Xenia, the mystery that was the future, and the mystery that was their life together.

So, final my thought is this: while I wasn’t initially sold on the story, I was sold by the end and the by the way Alison wove a mystery around a historical figure.

The Love Artist by Jane Alison

Picador

ISBN: 9781429962193

Those Mountains of Madness

I read H.P. Lovecraft’s At The Mountains of Madness (my review), and while it was interesting, it left me wanting. I didn’t love it, but I wanted to. I was sad it didn’t happen that way. This was a story I should love, or at least, that’s what I thought.

Then came along Tales to Terrify which was featuring the story. Audio books aren’t my thing but why not give it a go. It’s three podcasts and I could stop listening at anytime. Since I was already familiar with the story, it should work out fine.

Can I tell you how happy I am that I gave it a try! I *happy dance* was so happy and totally creeped out. It was everything I wanted from this story which I didn’t get from my reading experience.

I came to love the words used by Lovecraft: ‘purposeful malignancy,’ ‘morbid survival,’ ‘from nightmarish antiquity,’ and ‘cosmic octopi.’

Part one of the story is all about the staging of the expedition. Generally, I enjoyed this part of the book in both reading and listening forms. For some reason I can’t understand, I liked the lists of needed materials for the expedition. Part two was lost on me while reading but not listening. It’s an exploration of the dead city of a once thriving civilization that inhabited Earth long before humans. Shoggoths of the sea with accidental intelligence, cthulhu spawn — seriously, let those words sink in and you’ll be checking under the couch for monsters too. As part three begins, and it comes to a close, it’s pure dread mixed with remorse and a hint of foreboding — all in the name of science.

If you listen, you’ll be rewarded by the wonderfully creepy voice of Bob Nuefeld. Actually, his voice isn’t creepy at all but the perfect choice for this tale. He reads Lovecraft’s words with an incredible voice that warbles in all the right places. Also, in part two, there’s a great discussion of horror works that is absolutely worth listening to.

Go listen. Then hide from the shoggoths.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Let me tell you about a place

The Black Fire ConcertoA post-apocalyptic place unlike the world we know. Where people eat the flesh of ghouls under the misguided belief it will prolong their lives. Where magic, light and dark, exist. Where machines are a thing of the past but knowledge of their misuse has shaped the sad state of the present. A place where humans hide not wanting to live out a half-dead fate if bitten by a ghoul. A place ruined by storms that scorched the land and transformed its people. A place where music can shape destiny. A place of creatures shaped by magic. A place full of fantastical landscapes. A place to instill wonder and fear.

This is the world of The Black Fire Concerto.

Erzelle is 12 years-old and a captive on a riverboat called the Red Empress. Imprisoned when she came aboard with her parents — musicians invited to play for guests  —- Erzelle waits, knowing she will one day meet the same horrible death. While she waits for that day to come, she plays her harp while guests feast on the flesh of ghouls. When a new guest, a fellow musician named Olyssa, befriends Erzelle, her life changes forever. Once they escape the Red Empress, Erzelle accompanies Olyssa on her journey to find her sister. Along the way, Olyssa teaches her new music — music fueled by magic that can tame ghouls and kill their enemies. Music that will forever change, not only Erzelle, but their world.

I listened to the first part of this book when it was featured on Tales to Terrify. It was wonderfully creepy and I had a picture of this world in my head so when the book arrived I was anxious to get started. The world of Erzelle and Olyssa held true and I found myself rushing through this story full of ghouls, flesh eaters, magically driven harvesters of the dead, and creatures in hiding from a terror that will bring on a long and sad death.

One thing I wanted more of, well, was more of the story. At less than 200 pages, The Black Fire Concerto packs a lot into it’s few pages. I was satisfied by the end but I wanted more. It was just that good and I was so sucked into the story by this point that when the end snuck up on me, I wasn’t ready for it. That’s a good thing.

If you’re the type of person that likes to hoard creepy books for October, this is one more. I should caution though, reading this book during lunch will probably make you want to stop eating. Descriptions of stretched sinew and joints popping aren’t conducive to eating. Just a warning.

Thanks to the author, Mike Allen, who sent me a copy of this book for review.

If you’re interested, some other thoughts on The Black Fire Concerto:

Little Red Reviewer

Lynn’s Book Blog

Lynn also asked Mike a few questions too.

Review – Advent

AdventGavin Stokes is an awkward teenager. In fact, he’s always been awkward. He talks to people who aren’t there, see things that aren’t there, and has parents that want him to pretend everything that happens to him, doesn’t. When the opportunity comes to visit his aunt in the country, the only person he ever thought understood him, he jumps at the chance. One strange things after another happens to him and he starts to think that maybe he isn’t so awkward after all and there are a lot of things in this world that can’t be explained.

I don’t know what to make of this book. On one hand, I really liked it. On an entirely different hand, I didn’t really think much of it. Sadly, I’m having trouble pinpointing why this is so. Here’s the thing, the story has a bit of a time slip thing going on. So, when you’re not in the present watching a teenager make a total mess of things, you’re back in the 1500s with a magician who is also making a mess of things. I liked both stories. Each had their strong points. It was when the stories merged that I had trouble. Here’s the thing — the two timelines fit well together, character and plot wise. But I didn’t really care for them meshing. Does that make sense? Ignore me if it doesn’t, I won’t be offended.

One of the reasons I put this book on my list was because I knew it had a few Arthurian legend references and as we all know, (I’ve repeated it often enough) I’ll read anything that has Arthurian elements. That aspect of this book kept me reading and I liked the rather subtle way in which it was introduced. Although, I didn’t like when Gavin’s name went from Gavin to Gawain. It annoys me when characters change names halfway through a book. It was necessary and certainly made sense within the context of the story but it just doesn’t work me. I’m all for people (re: characters) finding themselves but, again, annoying for me. You may love it. Again, ignore me if needed.

The good thing and why this book is worth a try. It’s a book about magic! The magic follows traditional rules, there’s nothing wrong with that, I’m just pointing it out. And I liked that it was dark and sinister, the way I think magic should be. The way the magic is tangled throughout the centuries is great too. The estate, Pendura, in Cornwall that Gavin retreats to where his aunt is living, is an interesting place as well. It’s almost suspended in time and home to creatures that are only known to exist in the imagination.

Advent is the first book in a trilogy, and according to the author’s website, the second book, Anarchy, it will be out in September in the US. After writing this review, I think I might have talked myself into looking at the second book after all.

Advent

By James Treadwell

Emily Bestler Books/ATRIA

ISBN: 9781451661668

Review – Silent on the Moor

Silent on the MoorI started this series with book five, I think. It was a few years ago so I’m fuzzy on details but I remember enjoying it immensely even though I knew very little of the characters. Based on that one book, I decided the series was worth a look and started at the beginning, like one should when they read a series. This is book two in the Lady Julia Grey series following Silent in the Grave, and if you happen to like your historical fiction tied up with a bit of romance, try these books.

Lady Julia Grey, once more far away from Nicholas Brisbane, takes off with her sister to his home in the country to get re-acquainted, and more. Things of course, aren’t what they seem at Brisbane’s Yorkshire home, Grimsgrave. The estate, old and moldy, is falling down and the once proud family that used to own it is more than strange. Julia, after snooping around, manages to get herself involved in a family mystery and let’s face it, sometimes things are better left unsaid. From there, everything goes downhill.

Can I just tell you how much I like Brisbane? He’s moody, slightly unpredictable, and well, hot and lovable. Yes, there’s a reason Julia becomes all unladylike in his presence. I don’t usually go for these sorts of things in books but I think I found my guilty pleasure and I don’t care. I want to read more of these and I will. Bring on book three, library!

Silent on the Moor

By Deanna Raybourn

Mira

ISBN: 9780778326144

Review – Circle of Shadows: A Westerman/Crowther Mystery

Circle of ShadowsLately, everything I want to read is a series and a suspense filled historical mystery at that. I want that back story, the intimacy between characters, rich historical details, and a strange murder to be solved of course. Luckily for me, I found all those characteristics in Robertson’s Circle of Shadows.

Harriet Westerman is home at Caveley with her family attempting to forget the sorrowful events of the past few months. Hurtful rumors have plagued Harriet and she’s done her best to pretend none of it has bothered her but it has. All she wants now is quiet but when a letter arrives from her sister, Rachel, the quiet home life Harriet longed for evaporates. Rachel’s husband, Daniel Clode, has been accused of murder and Rachel needs her help. Harriet calls for her close friend, Gabriel Crowther, who is just as bothered and dismayed by the news as Harriet. Crowther, a reclusive anatomist and Harriet’s partner in several investigations, accompanies her to Germany and the Duchy of Maulberg, a strange little court that prides itself on its opulence but is a place they will need every observance of etiquette to remain safe.

While traveling to Germany, Harriet and Crowther look over the facts of the case and find it all too strange to believe. Daniel had been found with the body of Lady Martesen, a favorite of the Duke of Maulberg, completely incoherent and bleeding from a cut on his wrist. The theory of the local district investigator is that Daniel felt remorse after killing Lady Martesen and tried to take his own life. A theory Harriet and Crowther adamantly don’t believe. Daniel remembers nothing of the evening; especially not the murder or how he even came to be in the room with the dead woman. Crowther, a man all too familiar with the details of murder from his anatomy work, knows that the woman wasn’t killed by Daniel because she was in fact drowned — a pronouncement that throws the entire investigation into upheaval on their arrival.

After their arrival in Maulberg, Harriet and Crowther, and their traveling companions, are quickly schooled in the court etiquette which is rather more complex than what they’re used to in England. It will take every bit of decorum not to be thrown in jail with Daniel in the eccentric court where asking questions seems to be a nonstarter.

Making the case even more dangerous is the appearance of a man Harriet hoped never to see again alive — Manzerotti — the man who ordered the death of her beloved husband. Manzerotti is a spy caught up in the same case as Harriet and Crowther although no one but Manzerotti knows the details and he isn’t sharing.

The dynamic between Harriet and Crowther is what makes this series for me. Harriet is an outspoken woman who has no trouble saying what’s on her mind and acting on impulse — an unusual trait for a woman of the 18th Century. Crowther, on the other hand, would prefer to be alone with a corpse shunning pretty much everyone but Harriet. Their relationship is odd but makes the cases they get involved in so much more interesting for their personalities. The appearance of Manzerotti shakes Harriet’s rather stable emotions in this case, and while Crowther isn’t the most effusive of men, he is when it comes to protecting and helping Harriet, or at least keeping weapons out of her sight when Manzerotti enters a room.

I’ve read previous books in the Westerman/Crowther series and if you have as well, you’ll be happy to know this one lives up to the others. While the setting is interesting, it’s also slightly creepy, the way a murder setting should be. If you’re a fan of Robertson and the Westerman/Crowther series, this one is a good addition and one to be read.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

Circle of Shadows: A Westerman/Crowther Mystery

By Imogen Robertson

Pamela Dorman Books/Viking

ISBN: 9780670026289

Review – Lords of the North

Lords of the NorthThis is the third book in the Saxon Stories series following The Last Kingdom and The Pale Horseman. I’ll try to avoid spoilers but you know the drill.

Uhtred helped Alfred win his last war against the Danes, but now, Uhtred is bored and tired of Alfred and his priests. Feeling unappreciated — Alfred rewarded him for his war efforts but minimally at best — Uhtred buries his hoard and leaves for the north with plans to capture Dunholm, a northern stronghold. After he inadvertently frees slaves, he also frees the region’s king, Guthred, and he now the men he needs to help him win Dunholm. Except, the gods are no longer smiling on Uhtred and his life, which had been running relatively smoothly, once more takes a strange turn when Guthred sells him into slavery. In an odd twist of fate, his only ally in the north, Hild, a former nun, convinces Guthred she must return to Alfred in Wessex and her nunnery. Upon returning to Alfred, she becomes Uhtred’s only hope for rescue.

Uhtred is a bastard in many ways, except when he’s not, and that can be a lot of the time. He’s a lord in his own right, except he has no land and the land that is his is being ruled by his uncle who usurped Uhtred’s father. Uhtred wants his land back and going north is his way of signaling to Alfred that he’s done with the war. Alfred isn’t ready for that to happen yet, and while he won’t admit it, he needs Uhtred more than Uhtred needs him. While Uhtred might be unreliable, when he makes an oath he won’t break it and Alfred keeps using that one very loyal part of Uhtred. Uhtred knows it but keeps letting it happen because he knows it’s the only way. To be fair though, Uhtred keeps using the oaths to his advantage as well so it’s fair play on both sides.

This is the third book in the Saxon Tales and I have a huge lag between books. Not because I wasn’t enjoying the series, I have been, but I forgot about the series until my last visit to the library when I decided to pick them up again. Cornwell is a favorite when I need some historical fiction, even though he can be a bit on the brutal, bloody side. Then again, he is writing about a very brutal time in history so it all fits. Besides, I like Uhtred. He’s surprising in that he’s extremely loyal, can be a very good guy when he wants to, which happens more often than he cares to think about, and he’s a bit of a softie, especially when it comes to the ladies. I swear, this man is always falling in love. It never gets mushy though which is what I like.

Here’s to the fourth book — Sword Song.

Lords of the North

By Bernard Cornwell

HarperCollins Publishers

ISBN: 9780060888626

 

Review – World War Z

World War ZMy husband, who doesn’t read much fiction, bought World War Z one night as we were browsing our local bookstore. I’d heard about it, good things too, but I figured I was done with the zombie thing. A few weeks after said purchase, we find ourselves at the movies and on comes the preview of the movie version of World War Z, which looks awesome by the way. We get home and my husband goes looking for the book, and for the next two evenings, does nothing but read. For a man who doesn’t read fiction, he can’t get enough of it. Of course, I had to read it. And now that the movie is coming out, I’m finally getting around to my review. Here’s my take.

There’s a reason this book is subtitled an oral history of the zombie war. It’s exactly what it is. The author himself plays a part as the curator of the stories of individuals that have survived the zombie war. He travels the world speaking with people who have, in some way, large or small, made an impact in the war. The introduction of this book is critical to understand why these stories are being collected and told this way. You see, Brooks was an agent of the United Nations that helped to document the ten year war against the zombie outbreak, but when the final document is published, he realizes how much was left out. He plans to change that with this book.

I have to give it to the author — this was an incredibly effective way to make this fiction seem real. The individuals’ stories fake or not, are scary and totally believable. He pulls in religious factors, political factions, impact of political decisions, and the final result on not just humanity but the world as a whole. I have to say, bravo on that one. Brooks made a zombie story completely believable. The way he describes the spread of the plague — organ donation as one way — is brilliant and the political ramification in attempting to stop it are so detailed you can picture this happening in the world we live in.

OK, so I’ve gushed but I do have some little complaints. It began to feel repetitive and tedious to me. There’s a ton of military interviews and only so many descriptions of how to shoot a zombie in the head that I can take. But, it makes sense, he’s describing a war and I get that. I’m just not much for reading battle scenes, of which there are many here. Also, he interviews very few women. Jenny, over at Jenny’s Books, talk about this so I hand it over to her. Go read it.

I didn’t read The Zombie Survival Guide, which is Brooks’s first book. My sister, a zombie aficionado, did and when I told her I was reading this I’m pretty sure she starting salivating and wanted to get her hands on it.  I promised I’d send it as soon as I finished the review, which oddly, I wrote after only a few days which is totally not my style but anything for the sister.

So, the movie. Will I be seeing it? Probably. I have to say the preview looked damn good and if it’s anything like the book, I’ll probably not want to leave my house for a bit. Until I’m sure there aren’t any walking dead in my hallway. But, I know to aim for the head so I’m prepared.

World War Z

By Max Brooks
Crown Publishing Group
ISBN: 9780307346612