Friday, April 18, 2014

Review: "Dark Lord of Derkholm" by Diana Wynne Jones

Mr. Chesney's Pilgrim Tours are a dream come true for the diehard fantasy fan. Now you, too, can go on a thrilling adventure in a magical world, battle monstrous hordes, fulfill prophecies, find treasure, and--of course--overthrow the Dark Lord himself. Book your ticket today!

The Tours are viewed with less delight by inhabitants of the world in question, which is ravaged on a yearly basis by hordes of tourists wielding swords and cameras.

This year, the responsibility of playing the Dark Lord falls to the eccentric and ingenuous Wizard Derk. According to Mr. Chesney's guidebook, Derk's farmhouse must become a forbidding Dark Citadel; his wife Mara, the requisite seductive Dark Enchantress; his children, guides for the Tours. Derk himself will be killed, twice a day, by tours of Pilgrims reaching the end of their tightly scheduled adventures.

The life of a Dark Lord isn't an easy one. Derk is singed by dragons, haunted by blue demons, fined by auditors, all while stamping out a revolution he'd really rather join. Meanwhile, his marriage slowly crumbles, taking with it Derk's reason for cooperating with Mr. Chesney's demands.

  3 out of 5 stars

Friday, April 4, 2014

Review: "The Storyteller" by Jodi Picoult

The nocturnal hours of her profession suit baker Sage Singer. In darkness and isolation, she nurses her pain over her mother's death, killed in the same car accident which disfigured Sage's face.

In her grief support group, Sage bonds with elderly widower Josef Weber. But her new friend discloses a terrible secret: he was a member of the SS, overseeing a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. Josef believes Sage's Jewish ancestry grants her the authority to forgive him--and the right to assist in his suicide plan.

Sage is no stranger to guilt and despair, but Josef's confession and its accompanying plea horrify her. She is convinced to endure the truth by Nazi hunter Leo Stein; by her own grandmother, a survivor of the camps; and by her lingering compassion for Josef. For the sake of the Holocaust's victims, she must see Josef's story to its end--no matter what skeletons they unearth along the way.

  3.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Review: "Blood, Bones & Butter" by Gabrielle Hamilton

 Gabrielle Hamilton has never been to a culinary institute or apprenticed herself to a professional chef. She learned to cook from the lessons taught by two sublime tutors: Hospitality and Starvation.

After her parent's divorce, Gabrielle is left behind--literally--in an empty house to fend for herself. She offers herself up to the restaurant life, relying on bravado and the cooking skills learned at her mother's elbow to hide the fact that she is only a cigarette-smoking thirteen-year-old who steals cars.

By force of will and a healthy amount of luck, Gabrielle survives her teenage years. She wanders through urban hotspots and European villages, where the alternation of desperate hunger with the generosity of strangers forms her dream of the eclectic, all-embracing restaurant she will someday own. Vagrant, dropout, activist, she toys with a dozen different identities, but in the end she always wanders back to her passion and to her gift: cooking.

  3 out of 5 stars

Guest Review: "Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn (Revisited)

 My friend Traci of Traci J. Brooks Studios took exception to my review of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. She took away a very different message from the book than I did. I invited her to write her own review, which she has graciously permitted me to post here for you, dear reader.

 A Portrait of Marriage
This is not a book review of the New York Times Bestseller by Gillian Flynn. If you haven’t read the book, it’s going to get spoiled for you – and I’d hate to do that, because it truly is a magnificent piece of writing. You have been warned.

What this entry is, is catharsis. This book annihilated me. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book that not only kept me twisting as a reader, but sucker-punched me in the emotional gut. I’ve needed to talk about this book since I finished it at breakfast many months ago, absolutely exhausted from the crazy ride on which it took me.

What I want people to understand, is that while this book is fantastical (I’m sure psychopaths like Amy exist, but the events in this book are pretty extreme), the elements of marriage as it portrays it are not. It’s temping to write off all of Amy’s fake diary as just that, when we as a reader feel duped and a little stupid for believing her tale – but don’t. This book paints a horrifying portrait of a marriage, brushstrokes of embarrassing emotion admissions and all too real truth. And being that I am myself committed to a wonderful man in that same union, I didn’t even have to search for similarities in our life to Nick and Amy’s… they were there before I even tried to find them.

That’s enough to turn your stomach, right there.

These are two awful people. Flynn crafted a man and a woman so real in their flaws, I cringe to think they exist. But I know they do. Pieces of them exist in every single marriage out there. I am Amy. My husband is Nick.

It starts so innocently. Amy’s entry about first meeting Nick rings true to me especially, because I met my husband at a party. And her description of being “fat with love” is so perfect. She writes that she has become a wife, a bore, that she finds chances just to say his name out loud. It is exactly how every love story begins! Flynn does a spectacular job on describing what it feels like to fall in love, to find your soulmate.

She does an even more spectacular job of detailing its unraveling. Flynn nails how simply the end begins. A forgotten anniversary. Not apologizing. Resentment. How Amy/I would do something meant to be nice for Nick/JD and he would take it the wrong way. How Amy/I would nag about something like laundry. How Amy’s/my ego would get in the way of admitting what I really wanted to Nick/JD. It’s a slow, magnificent catastrophe that I swear I have experienced only a year, a few months, a week ago in my own life. The walls have crumbled before you even knew there were cracks.

But Gone Girl is not the end all, be all of marriages, thank God. While almost every one of Amy’s fictional scenarios easily could happen (and have) in my own life – that is not the way every marriage’s story ends. Ulitmately, the takeaway from this book is that marriage is not a game where the spouses try to outwit each other. It can’t be, or it will be miserable like the ending of Gone Girl. Marriage, for all it’s horrible parts, is also filled with moments of utter ardor – and we so easily forget about them in the daily grind.

I hope that in writing this entry, I will remember in crafting my own metaphorical and literal diary of being a newlywed, to remember the great times, just as much as the bad, and also to remember in marriage, I am not the protagonist. We are the protagonist, and where one fails, so does the other. That’s where Gone Girl gets it wrong – or perhaps, gets it right. One spouse in a marriage cannot disappear and the marriage still survive. Marriage creates a bond so intimate and intricate, that you can’t have one without the other. Gone Girl teaches its readers that marriage is for richer or pooer, sickness and in health, til death do you part.

Hopefully I never have to learn it Amy’s way.  
Traci J. Brooks Studios
Posted with permission.