Norse Mythology

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Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Published: February 7, 2017

Taken from Goodreads.com: In Norse Mythology, Gaiman fashions primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds; delves into the exploits of the deities, dwarves, and giants; and culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and the rebirth of a new time and people. Gaiman stays true to the myths while vividly reincarnating Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki, the son of giants, a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator. From Gaiman’s deft and witty prose emerges the gods with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to dupe others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.

I’ve never had the opportunity to advance read one of Mr. Gaiman’s books, so I jumped at the chance when I saw it on Netgalley. Plus it’s about one of my favorite subjects that I have loved since a child, and I could identify with Mr. Gaiman’s similar experience, in regards to the introduction of Norse mythology into his life, in the foreword. His writing is beautiful as it always is and I discovered stories I had never heard before, but I guess I just thought it would be different and a better interpretation because of his past work involving Norse mythology (Odd and the Frost Giants and American Gods). 3-1/2 stars. 

Disclaimer: I received a copy from the publishers, WW. Norton & Company on Netgalley, in exchange for my honest review. 

The Kaiser’s Last Kiss

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The Kaiser’s Last Kiss by Alan Judd

To be published: Jan 3, 2017

Kaiser Wilhelm has been exiled to the Netherlands since 1918. In 1940, the German Army (the Wehrmacht) have invaded Holland and are interested in him, or rather interested because of what he might do to support the Allies or the Third Reich. So they send a twenty-three year old SS officer named Martin Krebs to gather intelligence on the former emperor. His secondary mission is to find the British spy known to be in the area and trying to recruit the Kaiser. Despite deciding to use the SS as a way to further his career, he has become a bit disillusioned with the Nazis and what they are doing. Everything goes a little pear-shaped after Krebs falls in love with a young Jewish woman who is a servant at the Kaiser’s house. Will Krebbs be able to complete his missions? 3 stars. 

I really wanted to like this book, but I just felt like it fell flat for me. I liked the parts about the Kaiser, and I think he really stole the show away from Krebs and the Jewish maid. Apparently Christopher Plummer as the Kaiser in the movie adaption does the same thing. I always think of Wilhelm as the young man from the BBC series, Edward the Kingand Judd’s interpretation is pretty similar. I loved that he liked to talk in English and read out passages of Wodehouse to his guests. Krebb and the maid were just a kind of boring story. Yes, it was a forbidden love, especially because he was in the SS, but it didn’t do much for the story. I thought the visit from Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS and the Gestapo, to the Kaiser’s house was much more interesting and wondered if it was true. Apparently no, though he did get a visit from Goering at some point during the war. 

And I Darken

And I Darken

And I Darken (The Conqueror’s Saga #1) by Kiersten White

To be published: June 28, 2016

Lada is the daughter of Vlad Draculesti, otherwise known as Vlad the Impaler. Only he is not pleased to have a girl as she is not pretty enough to be married off for an advantage. She is trained from an early age to fight and Vlad recognizes that strength in her and is proud of her viciousness, but not enough to give her love or attention. Her younger brother Radu is handsome, fair and meek, everything is sister is not. But their father doesn’t care for him either. So it is not surprising that Vlad, the ruler of Wallachia, a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire in Southern Romania, uses his two children as bartering chips with the Ottoman ruler, Sultan Murad. Lada and Radu spend the majority of their childhood in Eridne in the palace, learning to survive in a place and with a religion not their own. Eventually they become friends with Mehmed, the third son the Sultan, and it is he who changes their life forever. Will Lada finally get the recognition and power that she deserves? Will Radu finally come into his own and become his own man and not an extension of his sister? To find out, read the exciting first book in The Conqueror’s Saga. Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars.

I adored this book. I’ve been fascinated with the Ottomans for awhile now and I love stories that are twists on the original. Everyone pretty much knows who Vlad Dracul is, but to imagine his daughter (a noblewoman in 15th century Romania) as the brutal vicious one is a definite twist. It’s so rare to find such a richly detailed story, with a non-preachy view on religions (especially Islam), and such complex characters. In fact, the author made Islam sound really peaceful and centering, like I think it really is based on my studying of it. The executioner being labeled “the head gardener” was an interesting concept for me, as was the knowledge that it was the Ottomans (or more accurately the Ancient Mesopotamians who preceded them), not the Wallochians, who came up with the idea to impale people as punishment. The fratricide law that Mehmed enacts at the end of the book was based on historical fact and did basically give the sultan the right to get rid of his male siblings so that

Lada’s character is fascinating and it’s nice to hear about a rather unconventional heroine who is not flawlessly beautiful and is bitter and vengeful and ready to kick ass and take no prisoners. And she has a right to be, as life has always been hard on her and she really has no one to confide in about her deepest darkest feelings, even though she can barely admit those to herself. She is manipulative and strong and feisty and someone I would want to fight for me.

Radu is completely different from her in a way – he is softness and civility, to Lada’s anger and violence. He gains power not by force but by being charming, sophisticated and courtly. He has to hide the biggest part of himself to survive. But they both want the best for Mehmed, even though they disagree on what exactly that is. And they both love him, something I know he is aware of and does exploit to his better end.

My biggest gripe with this book was how much the story got bogged down in the middle with politics. I’m all for story-building but I felt that the author could’ve skipped a bunch of not vitally important stuff to get to more meatier parts. I hadn’t seen that it was part of a trilogy until I was about to write this review. I’m not surprised as the author has set up way too much of the story for it to be a single volume, plus I’m interested to see where she goes from here with it. It was just starting to get good, with Lada finally coming to terms that she might actually have some real power, Radu learning that even though he can never openly show his feelings for the sultan, he can still be around to protect and advise him, and Mehmed finally becoming the ruler he is meant to be.

Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia

Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O’Keeffe by Dawn Tripp

To be Published: Feb 9, 2016

Based off actual letters between Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Steiglitz, Georgia tells about the life and artistic pursuits of painter Georgia O’Keeffe and her breakthrough into the boys-only club of the art world in the 1920s-50s. The book goes into great detail about Georgia and her first lover then husband, photographer and art gallery owner Alfred Steiglitz, who really helped launch her art career. Will she be able to forge her own path in a world where everyone is trying to control her and her art? 4 stars.

I have been a bit obsessed with Georgia O’Keeffe ever since I did some research on her for an art program I was doing at work. So this book seemed the next logical step in getting to know more about her before committing to reading an in-depth biography. Overall, I enjoyed the book and Georgia’s insights on art and love. It was interesting to know the background of why and how she came to paint the things she did paint, especially as painting the enlarged flowers (the thing that made her the most famous) was kind of a casual idea. I thought it was a bit weird, especially given what I have read about her relationships with men outside of her marriage, that the author tried to paint Steiglitz as the womanizer and didn’t say much of anything about her dalliances. My biggest complaint about the book was that the ending really dragged.

I liked how the author added excerpts from real letters between O’Keeffe and Steiglitz to add to the story. You really got an insight into how Georgia felt about being an artist and her relationship with Steiglitz. I’m not 100% sure (unless it specifically says so) which is from a letter and what is the author’s original work, but the book does have some great quotes. In the beginning of the book, Steiglitz sends her some photos he has taken of her during the affair before their marriage, and she sees herself through his eyes, she has “that quizzical, almost feral expression in her eyes–a restless ambition fused with desire.” Steiglitz says this about art the first time she meets him when she was an art student in New York and it really stuck with her: “Art is life. Not reiterative. Not imitative, ever. It’s always new. Otherwise, it is not Art.” Or later when Georgia is frustrated with Steiglitz for how the critics view her and her work, and she tells him:

“I’m an artist, Stieglitz. All this nonsense about the eternal feminine and essential woman and cleaving and unbosoming. This both they smear on my work. It rips away the value of what I’ve tried to do. You tell me not to let talk like this interfere with my work. Well, it does interfere. It will. How can it not? You have to set them straight.”

I think that’s how most professional women feel about their work. We don’t want to be viewed as the feminine version, but as our own version. It is fascinating to see how she viewed herself as an artist because she was so revolutionary. She was an artist at a time where there were hardly any other female artists, and became hugely famous, even after changing her style so much. I also liked how the author described Georgia’s decision to move to New Mexico, that it was “curious, how something as inarguable and simple as wide-open space can rearrange me back into myself.” That’s kind of how I feel about living in the Southwest. Although I miss seasons and trees, there is something that really draws you in about the barren openness and rugged beauty of the Southwest.

Bairdston

Bairdston

Bairdston by Robert Cook

Published Dec 7, 2015

Karim and Salima Kufdani are two orphaned street kids from Tangier, Morocco. They are rescued from anonymity by Alejandro Muhammad Cuchulain (Cooch) and educated by his team, which include a martial arts expert and a mathematical genius. After spending some time with them, they are shipped off to a Scottish boarding school called Bairdston to receive a more rounded Western education. But will they be able to survive this new climate, in the face of racism and bullying? Recommended for ages 14+, 2-1/2 stars.

I originally picked this book because I thought the subject matter was interesting. Two Muslim kids from Africa trying to adapt to life in the bitter cold of a Scottish boarding school. What I did not know until I read someone else’s review and the author’s note at the end of the book (which really should’ve been in the beginning), was that this story came from a brief mention in the author’s last book Pulse, an adult thriller. That book is all about Cooch, a half-American/half-Bedouin former CIA agent who becomes the guardian for the teens in this book. You could tell that the author had never written a book for teens before as the writing was pretty dry and didn’t really draw you into the lives of the characters, but kept things mostly on the surface. I didn’t feel like this book had an ending; the story just sort of stopped. Karim and Salima are pretty viciously bullied by teachers and students alike, but nobody seems to want to help them, with the exception of their caregivers and that response is pretty brutal. The only time Islam is really mentioned is at the end when Karim tries to “educate” his teammates on what Islam is and really means. Honestly, the only part I found really fascinating is when Karim joins the soccer team and the author vividly describes a soccer game that the team has with a rival team, and really puts you in the minds of the players.

Calvin

Calvin

Calvin by Martine Leavitt

To be published: Nov 17, 2015

Written as an epistolary novel, seventeen-year old Calvin has always thought of himself as emboding Bill Waterson’s comic strip character Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes. After all, he was born on the day the last strip was published, his grandfather gave him a stuffed tiger named Hobbes when he was a baby, and his best friend’s name growing up was Susie. Calvin has pretty much been coasting through high school not really applying himself when he is diagnosed with schizophrenia. Hobbes the tiger comes back into his life as a delusion, but can’t control anything that he says or does. Calvin decides that the only thing that will make him better is to get Bill Waterson to draw a comic strip of a healthy Calvin with no Hobbes in it. So he sets out on journey across Lake Erie in the middle of winter to get to Mr. Waterson’s house, with the aid of Susie and Hobbes. Will he be able to make it there in one piece? To find out, read this delightful book. Recommended for ages 16+, 4 stars.

I originally picked up this book because I was a big fan of the comic strip and I’d always been curious about schizophrenia and its effect on people. I had an aunt with it but I never really knew her. The book kind of glazed over the main character actually having schizophrenia (a major mental illness), focusing instead on Calvin and the person he becomes after this life-changing journey. And I will admit that I was okay with that, because the language and the story were so good. I read the book back in October, but the review took me forever to write. I liked the book, but it was hard to summarize it because it was so much more than just dealing with a mental illness book. The book ended up being really profound and thought-provoking. It talked about what things you really need to be to be happy and have a good life, the kinds of things you can live without, and first love. It was about acknowledging your problems and dealing with your life instead of just cruising through it.

It also had some brilliant quotes. In the beginning of the book Calvin is talking to the Doctor about mental illness and tells him “It’s the death of normal.” and that “Normal is not sick. Normal is blending in, like not having a psychotic episode in the middle of school, which makes you stand out.” Or when Calvin is trying to convince himself that Hobbes is a figment of his imagination and Hobbes replies “Humans are doofuses,”which has a very large ring of truth to it on many levels. Or later towards the end when Calvin can’t quite figure out if Susie is real and did accompany him on this trip or is a figment of his cold-addled brain, and she tells him that she loves him because he has “the guts of a tiger, a space explorer, a race car drive, a luge athlete. You have this amazing imagination. You’re never boring. You aren’t afraid to ask hard questions and find out there aren’t any answers. And you – you also know me in a way nobody knows me.” That is exactly how I would love to be described by someone I love.

Disclaimer: I received this book, from Netgalley and the publisher Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, in exchange for my honest review.

Esther

Esther

Esther by Rebecca Kanner

To be published: Nov 3, 2015

Esther is a fourteen year old orphaned Jewish girl who is kidnapped by soldiers of King Xerxes of Persia, and taken to his harem in the palace. It is there she must learn to protect herself against the vicious concubine who has been scheming for years to become queen. After a year of preparation, she is presented to the king. Esther manages to capture his heart and attention and is made queen. Now she must watch out for herself more than ever, as she has fallen for one of the Immortals, an elite soldier of the king. Her cousin Mordecai is the king’s accountant and he warns her about Haman. He is the king’s most trusted advisor, who plots the downfall of the Jewish people to increase his own power and prestige. Will Esther be strong enough to risk her life to defeat Haman and save her people? Find out in this lushly described tale of one woman’s journey to greatness. 3-1/2 stars.

I’ve always been fascinated by the story of Esther but never knew much about it, so I figured this book was a good way to get a glimpse. The book does remind me of Tosca Lee’s The Legend of Shebaanother religious fiction ARC about a strong female lead. I love books that are well-researched and pay close attention to detail, and with this book, the reader could really imagine themselves as a young girl surving in Xerxes’ palace. It makes me want to read a biography of the king. I must say that the whole time I was reading it though, I kept picturing him as Rodrigo Santoro, that Brazilian actor who starred as the king from the movie 300It’s kind of hard to believe that all the events in the story happen in little over a year, as it seems like much longer because so much happens to the unlikely heroine. The time she spent in the harem were particularly fascinating, and I enjoyed learning about all the intrigue and backstabbing. It’s crazy to think that any woman would wait a year to get ready for a man to have sex with them and this act alone would determine their fate. I’m guessing the author put the Esther-Erez romance in to counter the transaction-like relationship between the queen and Xerxes. While I enjoyed that part of the story, it does kind of take the attention away from the Biblical tale. Overall, I liked the book but it did drag a bit.

Disclaimer: I received this book, from the publisher Howard Books, in exchange for my honest review.