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review 2018-09-12 23:21
Superbly written novel based on the tragic true story of young Italian painter Artemesia Gentileschi
Blood Water Paint - Joy McCullough

My newly-formed little book club said they wanted a book possibly with poetry or essays, so this was one of my selections. I knew Joy McCullough’s book came with glowing reviews and it had been on my TBR for a while, but I wasn’t quite prepared for what I was about to read.

‘Blood Water Paint’, based on the true but heartbreaking story of the iconic young Italian painter Artemesia Gentileschi, literally took my breath away. 

 

Reading a novel based in verse (with some portions written in regular prose) with historical facts at its core, was quite new to me, and thank goodness for those mental (natural) breaks that came with the way it’s written, because it was one of the most astounding accounts of rape and incest I have ever read. This may well be based in Rome in 1610 and written in a way that doesn’t reveal certain details of such events as a reader may be used to reading, but I would still put up a big, red flag for a trigger warning. I had to put down the book for a breather about halfway through because of the tragic events unfolding within the pages. It is brutal, heart-breaking, and so emotional.

 

Artemesia was such a talented artist, but she and other women - within the book, we also learn the stories of both Susanna and Judith - basically had no rights or the right to an opinion in those days; women were stoned to death, and other brutal punishments were served at the hands of men who saw women as property. Artemesia’s father sees his own daughter as such, having her do the paintings and call them his own, and turns a blind eye to the events in this own home while he drinks after his wife/her mother dies. It’s hard to read such things, but throughout, Artemesia stays adamant that she will persevere and not let these men steal her ability to show her truth on the canvas. 

 

It’s uncanny that the ‘me too’ movement resonates so strongly when reading a book like this, but four centuries later we shouldn’t be having to make the comparisons, perhaps. I was so moved by this book, and by my own experience, and I hope many young women reach for this book and get a discussion going. I’m looking forward to our book club meeting; this isn’t ‘light poetry fare’ by any means, and this book SHOULD spark a lot of conversation. Artemesia’s life (and many others) shouldn’t be in vain, for these experiences are too common place. 

 

A note on the writing: Joy McCullough, as a debut author, has written a masterpiece. She wrote this as a play and then adapted it to be read as a book in this form. It’s masterful, and so beautiful to read. Since she’s local to Seattle, I’m happy to say she will be at the book club that will be meeting today; I’m glad we connected. I can’t wait for our group discussion. Absolutely superbly written. 

 

**Update: Congratulations go out to Joy for the announcement that Blood Water Paint is on the long list for the 2018 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

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review 2018-09-10 20:20
Halloween Bingo 2018 - Modern Masters of Horror
Slade House: A Novel - David Mitchell

'Slade House' by David Mitchell

 

I've been keeping my eye on this one for a long time, it had an intriguing premise, but I was not expecting what this book delivered. I thought this book would be a more traditional haunted house story mashed with the party game 'Sardines'. This was pretty cool, though.

 

Slade House is revealed through chronological point-of-views from various victims starting the the late 1970s and continuing to the present day. Every nine years the back garden door to Slade House appears in an alley and a new guest is lured in. The nature of the house, the 'magic' involved, the deconstructed fairy-tale elements, and the villains were great.

 

Mitchell does a good job of keeping his various character's voices distinct. With each perspective more of the history of the house is revealed, too. I learned in the afterword that 'Slade House' was originally released in a series of tweets, the pace of the story dictated by the author in a unique way.

 

The book suffers a little from repetition, but is genuinely creepy. You feel for these characters and it was hard for me to put the book down and return to the real world. Also

is there a sequel coming?! It works as is, but come ON.

(spoiler show)

 

I haven't read anything else from Mitchell, but I'd be willing to try them out.

 

 

I could have argued this into a few other categories, but I have some things in mind for those more specific boxes.

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review 2018-09-09 10:20
Whut?
Heart of Darkness - Robert Hampson,Joseph Conrad

I did not get this one at all. Well, more or less.

 

The setting and atmosphere is excellently done and chilling. The whole vibe of everyone being a bit skewed from right in the head persistent and disturbing. The content on colonization, "civilizing" other cultures, and the measure of human vs savage highly quotable. Actually, for such a short thing, the amount of bits I marked and saved is staggering.

 

And for such a short thing, the amount of time it took me to read is staggering. It's the way the book is written I think, with the chronicler speaking with little pauses and running the happenings together, till you have no paragraph breaks to help you organize what the hell is going on, what's important, how you go from this to that. You are mentally bombarded with chaos in a way, which, OK, might actually be the deliberate genius of the author, making you feel what the character is talking about. But hell.

 

It was an interesting experience that I more or less enjoyed till a third in, and then I just wanted to end. I'm absolutely baffled by Kurt, or the point the character's existence was making in the story, beyond being some mcguffin reason to have our teller go in and go back, because knowing that Conrad liked writing about the fragility of morals, sanity and civilized trappings under the cover of darkness, it seems to me Kurt was pretty well touched BEFORE going to rob African's of their ivory (his cousin says he would have made an excellent party leader, any party, because he was in essence an extremist, and god, how that reminded me of parts of Invisible Man), so it's not like he would be a great example?.

 

This review is a mess, but this book is messing with my head because I can't quite grasp it, or even rate it. I'm thinking of raisin the stars on the fact that it's making me wreak my brains alone, since it already got the "pass" 2 on quotes and atmosphere alone.

 

It is an usual obligatory read? My condolences.

 

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review 2018-09-07 10:33
The Last Werewolf
The Last Werewolf - Glen Duncan

by Glen Duncan

 

This started out with a different tone than I usually see in werewolf novels. More of a crime drama or conspiracy story tone as it's established that with the murder of a werewolf in Berlin, the protagonist is the last of his kind and an organisation that hunts down and kills werewolves will now be focused on him.

 

This was a very literary read. Despite a few descriptions of violence, the use of language made it a joy to read and the first person pov of the werewolf throughout felt very intimate and personal. I found myself wanting him to survive. It had a few very sexual references. Apparently being a werewolf sends the libido into animal rut. But both the sex and violence stopped short of becoming gratuitous, even if it nudged that parameter on occasion.

 

There was a lot of suspense well done and a few twists to keep things interesting. The last few chapters had me breathless!

 

The writing was so good that I went to see what else the author had written and found that this is actually a trilogy! I'll look forward to reading the next books. This was one of those stories that when it ended, I just had to sit a few moments, staring into space while processing the feels. It really had a strong emotional impact on me.

 

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review 2018-09-06 05:13
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Northanger Abbey - Jane Austen,Marilyn Butler,Claire Lamont

This book was lovely, unexpected fun. After reading Mansfield Park and Persuasion in recent years, I concluded that Jane Austen’s work was not for me: their characters seemed bloodless, their heroines prim and infallible, their subject matter a tedious catalogue of the social lives of the independently wealthy. But I may have fallen into the trap of judging an author by her worst works, having read her three most popular books while too immature a reader to judge them. Northanger Abbey, now: this book is just fun, a lively tale of a teenage girl discovering the world outside her town for the first time, falling in with some of the wrong people, having a bit of an adventure, all while the book pokes fun at melodramatic Gothic novels of the period.

Discussion of this book generally seems to revolve around Catherine’s wilder fantasies about Northanger Abbey, the home of some of her new friends, so I was surprised to find that this section is the smaller part of the book – most of which takes place in Bath – and the least convincing. Up to that point, Catherine is portrayed as a sensible if inexperienced girl, raised by an endearingly sensible mother (whose reaction to Catherine’s being sent on a sudden road trip alone by post is “well, that was strange and uncivil behavior on your host’s part, but now you’ve had to rely on yourself and managed, which is good for you"). On arriving at the abbey she abruptly throws common sense to the winds, only to regain it just as rapidly after a talking-to, the gist of which is “be sensible, those terrible things couldn’t happen here in England.”

That said, I enjoyed Catherine as a protagonist; she’s a naïve but appealing teenage girl, capable of standing up for herself and going after what she wants and not intended to be a paragon. The secondary cast is also strong, with believable and incisive characterization despite the book’s relatively short length. And I found Austen’s wit genuinely humorous, particularly enjoying the passages contrasting the characters’ real-life behavior with novelistic expectations. Here, for instance, is Catherine encountering her crush in public:

“He looked as handsome and as lively as ever, and was talking with interest to a fashionable and pleasing-looking young woman, who leant on his arm, and whom Catherine immediately guessed to be his sister; thus unthinkingly throwing away a fair opportunity of considering him lost to her for ever, by being married already.”

This book may be 200 years old, but it sped by for me. Life is an adventure for Catherine, and that energy seems to transmit itself to the pages. Perhaps I should be giving Austen more credit.

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