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review 2018-06-25 16:13
The Hazel Wood / Melissa Albert
The Hazel Wood - Melissa Albert

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

 

Don’t go into this novel expecting a romance featuring a handsome prince or some fae lord. It isn’t that kind of fairy tale. This is one with a dark overtones, like some of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales that lived up to the grim part.

The first section of the book sets up Alice’s life with her mother Ella. They have spent their lives in transit, trying to stay one step ahead of the weird bad luck that has dogged their lives. Ella refuses to talk about her own mother, Althea Proserpine, or Althea’s property, the Hazel Wood. The book that Althea wrote (Tales from the Hinterland) that made her famous (or infamous) is almost impossible to find and Alice has become quite fixated on acquiring a copy. When Alice’s grandmother dies and her mother is kidnapped, Alice must decide whether to follow her mother’s last instruction: stay away from the Hazel Wood.

Of course if Alice wants her mother back (and she does) there is only one thing to do—find the Hazel Wood and figure out what the heck is going on. She must brave the Hinterland and all its strangeness to learn about her heritage once and for all. She discovers that the Hinterland contains a variety of folk—those who are refugees from her world and those who are native, consisting either of Stories or those who surround the Stories as supporting cast so to speak. If you are a Story, you relive your Story over and over again without end. Can Alice disrupt the Story that holds her life hostage?

It struck me that many of us are caught in similar loops in our lives that we have a difficult time recognizing and breaking out of. Don’t we all have that one woman friend who flees one abusive man only to end up almost immediately in a relationship with another jerk? Or your friend who is so busy collecting people to take care of that her own life goes nowhere? Or the man walks by a room full of nice women directly to the one woman who will never be faithful or committed to a relationship? It’s easy to see these patterns in others, much more difficult to recognize them in our own lives and much, much tougher to actually break those patterns.

So no, this is not a fairy tale romance, but it speaks to the patterns visible in fairy tales and in our own lives.

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review 2018-06-25 11:45
Rain: A Natural and Cultural History
Rain: A Natural and Cultural History - Cynthia Barnett

Pretty much exactly what it says on the tin.  This is a history, not a science, text.  But as a history of rain, it's 100% more interesting than a book on rain would generally sound.  Filled with anecdotes that bring the history to life, and raise it a notch above a dry (ha!) academic narrative, once I got past the parts of history I always find slow (ie, any part we have to speculate about) I found it hard to put the book down.

 

The author tries tackle the subject globally, but generally, it's US-centric (which, if I remember right, she disclaims at the start).  There's a certain amount of doom and gloom when she gets to present day human vs. rain (spoiler: rain always wins), but I was incredibly please and very inspired by the stories she told about how certain cities are learning from their mistakes.  In a global culture that is so, I'm sorry, collectively stupid about climate change, it often feels like we're being beat about the head with it; we haven't yet figured out that, just as this tactic doesn't work on children, it doesn't work on humanity in general.  But a story about people learning from the past and taking steps to remediate the problems - that's what, in my opinion - is going to inspire the long-term change we so desperately need.

 

She ends the book with the most telling irony - her trip the the rainiest place on the planet, Mawsynram, where she experiences 5 cloud free, sunny days, while back home in Florida her family lives through the rainiest weather in the state's recorded history.

 

A pleasant, informative and well-written read.

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review 2018-06-24 06:05
Lowcountry Bookshop (Liz Talbot Mystery, #7)
Lowcountry Bookshop - Susan M. Boyer

There aren't many series left I look forward to, but this one is always satisfying.  Lowcountry Bookshop wasn't the strongest of the bunch, but still an enjoyable way to escape.

 

Liz and Nate are hired by an anonymous client, through their attorney, to prove a local mail carrier (Poppy) innocent of a hit and run perpetrated during a massive rainstorm.  This construct felt, for much of the book, forced, as though Boyer couldn't make it work any other way, but by the end, the anonymity makes complete sense and adds an additional layer of complexity to the plot.  By the end, it's only the revealed guilty party that doesn't really mesh with the story; as a lover of mysteries I have come to expect all aspects of the mystery to share context, but as Boyer writes it, it's likely a lot more realistic.  There's a plot twist but too many aspects of it are telegraphed early to be shocking.

 

Where the book shines is with any scene involving Liz's family.  Hand to god, I wish the Talbots were both real and part of my life.  I rarely laugh so hard as I do when I'm reading about what Liz's daddy is currently up to. 

 

The only really true let down in the book was sloppy editing; in the past Henery Press could be counted on for solid editing and proofing but lately standards have slipped.  Hopefully it's just a temporary indication of a growing business, and I still look forward to the the next Liz Talbot book.

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review 2018-06-19 17:15
Dora Doralina / Rachel de Queiroz
Dora Doralina - Rachel de Queiroz

"What kills you today is forgotten tomorrow. I don't know if this is true or false because all that's real for me is remembrance." In her old age, Dora reflects on the major influences in her life: her mother, her career in the theater, and her one true love. Set in Brazil in the early part of the century, Dora, Doralina is a story about power. Through her fierce resistance to her mother and her later life as a working woman and widow, Doralina attempts to define herself in a time and culture which places formidable obstacles before women. Married off by her mother to a man she does not love, told what to wear and eat, Dora's reclaiming of herself is full of both discovery and rage. For her, independence is the right to protect herself and make her own choices. From a life confined by religion and "respectability," even her passionate attachment to a hard-drinking smuggler contains an act of free will previously unavailable to her. Dora, Doralina is an intimate, realistic, and vivid glimpse of one woman's struggle for independence, for a life in which she owns her actions, her pleasure, and her pain.

 

I read this book to fill the Q position in my quest to read women authors A-Z in 2018. I will honestly tell you that it is not a novel that I would naturally pick up so I probably didn’t appreciate it as much as someone who regularly reads literary fiction.

This is a character driven story which reads very much like an autobiography. It is basically a window into the world of women in Brazil in the first half of the twentieth century. Brazilian society, as in many societies at the time, is extremely macho and women don’t have all that much latitude.

The book is divided into three sections, representing three stages in the life of our narrator, Dora. The first section is Dora growing up and struggling with the control of her domineering mother. Dora refers to her as Senhora, not mother, and seems to be one of the only people in the household who longs for freedom. Dora ends up in a marriage which was more-or-less engineered by Senhora, and while she doesn’t mind her husband, she’s not desperately fond of him either. When he is killed, Dora takes a page from her mother’s playbook and uses her widowhood to give herself more freedom in the world.

The second section is Dora’s adventures in the world outside her mother’s farm. She finds employment and eventually ends up on stage, despite her shyness. She is both fiercely independent and highly reliant on her friends in the acting company, a duality that she freely acknowledges. And it is during her travels with the company that she meets the love of her life.

Part three is her life with The Captain. He reminded me of her first husband in several ways (his drinking, his macho possessiveness) but Dora’s feelings for him make the marriage an altogether different experience from the first.

Documenting women’s lives is an important pursuit, filling in the blanks of previously ignored reality. The novel also shows the particular barriers that many South American women are up against culturally.

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review 2018-06-19 07:58
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand - Helen Simonson

A pleasant, well-written, if sometimes heavy-handed, story of love and romance after 60.  That sounds a bit milquetoast, but that's not what the book is; it may not have stirred my soul, but it was easy to pick up and hard to put down.  

 

Small village, small minds, race relations and a dying class system set the scene for a plot that is not unpredictable. But Simonson excels at writing rich characters that come alive on the page; the only time she failed for me was Roger.  Roger had no redeeming qualities and should have been disinherited posthaste.  Otherwise, the characters are what make the story.

 

A very solid 4 stars.

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