Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review – In Calabria by Peter Beagle

In CalabriaIn Calabria by Peter S. Beagle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ever since I was introduced to the Last Unicorn living alone in her lilac woods, Peter Beagle has been one of my all-time favorite authors and my go-to writer for unicorn stories. Over the years, he has revisited the magical beast that made him famous with his book, The Unicorn Sonata, a sequel to The Last Unicorn entitled Two Hearts, and as an editor for The Immortal Unicorn anthologies, (which incidentally contain the best short story ever written, Peter Beagle’s Professor Gottesman and the Indian Rhinoceros). I always enjoy Peter’s work – not just the unicorn books – but since I never completely out-grew that unicorn-crazy phase I went through in my pre-teen years, I was especially looking forward to getting my hands on Peter’s latest unicorn story, In Calabria.

SUMMERY: In Calabria tells the story of a curmudgeonly, old farmer, Bianchi, who lives on a tiny farm in Italy, too far from anything to be a tourist attraction, and spends his days tending to his cows, writing poetry, and basically living a solitary, 19th century life while ignoring the modern world around him. But when a pregnant unicorn chooses to have her baby on his farm, Bianchi’s quiet existence comes to an abrupt end as reporters, tourists, animal rights activists, hunters and gangsters descend on him.

MY THOUGHTS:  First things first, I know we aren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover, but the cover art on the hardcover edition of this book is beyond gorgeous! I have a stunning, leather-bound Easton Press edition of The Last Unicorn and In Calabria can more than hold its own on the bookshelf next to it.

And I really enjoyed what was inside the book as well. One of the great things about Peter Beagle’s work is how he can create a totally new world for each book. If another author kept coming back to unicorns time and time again, I would probably get a little bored after a while, but each of Peter’s unicorn books have such a distinct flavor and tone to them that he never seems to retread the same ground. In this book, there is a focus on time and the reader gets a sense of several different eras converging on each other, with Bianchi’s old-world life (and his inability to let go of the past) colliding with the modern world – both in the form of threatening mobsters and his unexpected, (and rather sweet), romance with the postman’s sister – and then both the old and the modern contrasted with the agelessness of the unicorns. The setting of a small mountain village in Italy, the cover art featuring a classic image from the Unicorn tapestries, and the little smatterings of Italian scattered throughout the dialogue all reinforce the sense of a medieval fable brought into a modern story.
All in all, I really enjoyed In Calabria and highly recommend it for fantasy fans who enjoy timeless stories of magic found in unexpected places.

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Book Review – Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

Miranda and CalibanMiranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Now that Memorial Day weekend is finally here, book lovers everywhere are looking for their next summer read and I recommend Jacqueline Carey’s Miranda and Caliban. An interesting read for Shakespeare fans, Jacqueline Carey’s Miranda and Caliban, tells the back-story behind William Shakespeare’s Tempest. While Carey’s re-telling of the tale gives the ending a much more bittersweet, conflicted resolution, I really enjoyed her attempts to flesh out Miranda and Caliban, taking them from Prospero’s pawn and slave to independent characters with feelings and motivations of their own. All in all, Miranda and Caliban is a great summer read for theatre lovers looking for a good beach book.

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Have you read Miranda and Caliban? I’d love to hear what you thought of the book. Let’s chat in the comments below!

For more Shakespeare – inspired summer fun, check out this summer outfit inspired by Miranda from The Tempest. Featuring a handmade Tempest pendant from the C. S. Literary Jewelry Etsy shop and crochet barefoot sandals, this outfit is perfect for dreaming on the beach or soaking up some sun while re-reading your favorite Shakespeare plays.

 

Miranda

 

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Happy reading, book lovers, and have a happy and safe Memorial Day weekend!!!!

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Book Review – Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay

Dear Mr. KnightleyDear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dear book lovers, I have to admit that I’ve been stressed lately, and with the state of the world as it is, I have been indulging in more than a little literary escapism. It’s not unusual to hear book lovers talk about books as a safe place they go to whenever they are upset or in trouble but the main character of Dear Mr. Knightley, Samantha, takes this concept to an extreme. After a traumatizing past and years in the foster care system, Samantha has trouble relating to people and has distanced herself from her own emotions. She copes with this by emotionally retreating behind the characters of the books she loves and often using their words instead of her own to express herself. But all that gets challenged when Sam gets a grant to go to grad school. There are two conditions of the grant. The first is that she study journalism instead of English lit, forcing Samantha out of her comfort zone and out into the real world. The second is that she write letters to “Mr. Knightley,” the anonymous benefactor who is funding the grant, telling him about her experiences at school. The name, taken from the hero of Jane Austen’s Emma, has comforting associations to Sam and she decides to take the letters, which are never returned or answered, as an outlet for all the thoughts and feelings she has trouble expressing anywhere else as she struggles to break through the walls she has built around herself and begin to live as the main character in her own story.

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Of all the books I’ve been reading lately, I had the most fun reading Dear Mr. Knightley. While the idea of a tough-shelled former foster kid talking almost exclusively in adapted Jane Austen quotes took me a little while to adapt to, Sam’s story was an interesting look at the strengths (and limitations) of living inside your favorite books. But to be honest my favorite part of Dear Mr. Knightley, was how much I got into the story. I can’t tell you how long it’s been since I’ve yelled out-loud at a book but that’s how invested I got in this one. If you are looking for a touch of literary escapism with lots of heart, I definitely recommend Dear Mr. Knightley.

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P. S. Want your own Mr. Knightley? Check out this sweet heart necklace inspired by Jane Austen’s Emma or click here to see more Jane Austen jewelry for book lovers.

 

Until next time, book lovers, take care and happy reading!!

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Book Review – Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them by J. K. Rowlings

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original ScreenplayFantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am not the most devoted of Harry Potter fans. Don’t get me wrong. I loved the books and I have been known to embark on passionate rants about (among other things) the sheer awesomeness of Neville Longbottom and how he is the true hero of the story. But, Niffler-like, I’ve been known to get distracted by something shiny – in my case, other books and series – and miss out on the later additions to the Harry Potter universe. This is why, sadly, I am coming late to the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them party. And it is truly sad because Fantastic Beasts was simply the most fun I have had in the Harry Potter world. I am sure I am not alone in this but I want a Niffler and a Bowtruckle as pets, (Despite the fact that a Niffler in my jewelry studio would surely be a disaster in the making!)


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I also think the 1920’s style and flavor blended beautifully with the Harry Potter universe – A Diagon Alley-esque speakeasy? Brilliant!!) If nothing else, Harry Potter cosplay just got a million times more fabulous! All in all, I really loved Fantastic Beasts and I will be first in line to check out the further adventures of Newt Scamander and his suitcase of fantastic beasts!

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Book Review – Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

Hello again book lovers! Sorry it’s been so quiet here lately. I’ve been dealing with some health issues and had to spend some time in the hospital recently.  I am home now and recovering but updates are probably going to be sporadic as I rest and recover. I also have to have an operation in a few weeks time so it will be a little while before things completely get back to normal around here. (Sorry about that). But with Black History Month coming to an end and since the film version of the book is up for a couple of Academy Awards this weekend, I wanted to pop on and share my book review of Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures. Enjoy!

 

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space RaceHidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A few weeks back, my family and I went to see Hidden Figures. The film – the story of three African American women, Katherine Goble Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson, and their contributions to the space race – was excellent and I highly recommend it. It was so good, in fact, that I wanted to know more about Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary’s story so – despite being an almost exclusive reader of fiction – I decided to pick up the book that the movie was based on, Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterley. If my goal was to know more about this topic, this book more than delivered. The book is a much broader and deeper look at the hidden figures of the space program. Rather than a feel-good story about just three remarkable women, the author gives a detailed and in-depth account of several generations of African American women who worked as computers, engineers, and mathematicians in the Space and Aeronautics program at Langley Research Center. The book also covers a much longer period of time than the movie did, celebrating the contributions the women made to Langley from World War II to the space race and beyond – rather than just focusing on the 1960’s – and placing those contributions in the social and technological context of the times. I am not very mathematically orientated so – I have to admit – I glazed over a little when the writer delved into the technical aspects of the women’s work, but otherwise I enjoyed getting to know more about the (until now) hidden figures of the space program and their contributions to history.

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Book Review – The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden

The Bear and the NightingaleThe Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s a snowy day here in New York, the kind of day that is perfect for gathering round the fire and listening to old tales of clever heroines having adventures in wintry Russian forests. Of course, if you don’t happen to know any old Russian folktales, you can get the same sort of effect by curling up with The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden.  There’s been a lot of buzz about The Bear and the Nightingale lately. I’ve seen it compared to the Night Circus and to Neil Gaiman’s work so I was extremely eager to get my hands on the book and see if it lived up to the hype. I am also a big fan of books that play with fairy tale motifs and this story, which plays with Russian folklore and stories, seemed to have a lot of potential.

The book tells the story of a young girl, Vasya, who is able to see and interact with the household spirits and various fey-like creatures in the fields and forests that surround her father’s home. This ability and Vasya’s family observance of the little offerings and rituals that honor these creatures keeps the family safe and ensures their prosperity. When Vasya’s father brings home a new bride – a hysterical, tortured woman who can also see the household spirits but who is convinced they are demons to be feared – the balance between their people’s Christian faith and the old ways is thrown off. And when a charismatic, fanatic of a priest arrives – bringing fear and threats of hellfire with him – the protections erode completely. The dead begin to walk, a cruel winter descends, and a dark force starts to rise in the forest. Only Vasya, with the help of Lord Frost, the spirit of Winter and of Death, can stand between her family and the Bear who is coming to devour them.

Now that I’ve read The Bear and the Nightingale, I must admit to having a more mixed reaction than I expected. I hated the one-dimensional, tired old trope of a villain, a fanatic, intolerant priest who, in his quest for glory and control, dominates the village with his message of fear and becomes an unwitting pawn of the darkness. But the world that Katherine Arden built is rich and interesting and I loved her use of Russian myths and fairy tales. From what little I know about Russian folk stories and the little details Arden weaves into the tale, especially the part of the story where Vasya is brought to Lord Frost’s home, there is room to delve deeper and explore in this world. It also seemed to me that The Bear and the Nightingale had every indication of being the first books in a series. If I am right about that, then all the interesting characters  that are introduced and then disappear, (like Sasha, Vasya’s brother who leaves home to become a warrior monk in the service of God and Russia’s Grand Prince),  and all of Vasya’s future adventures that are alluded to but never explored go from being a side note to potential books look forward to. So, while The Bear and the Nightingale didn’t exactly live up to my immediate expectations, I am willing to say that it is an excellent investment in future stories and I look forward to seeing what Katherine Arden does next.

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What do you think, book lovers? What’s your favorite book to curl up with on a snowy day? What should I read / review next? Let me know in the comments below. And until next time, take care and happy reading!

P.S. Looking for the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for your book-loving Valentine? There’s just a few days left in the C. S. Literary Jewelry Valentine’s Day Sale.

 

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New Year, New Books

The TypeThe Type by Sarah Kay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t know about you but I always have such a hard time getting back into the swing of things after the holidays. It’s partly because I need a little while to recover from the craziness of the last few weeks of the year but it’s also because I always get a pile of new books for Christmas and I can’t resist the temptation to spend more time than I should reading them once the holidays are over.
This year Santa was kind enough to bring me two new poetry books by the spoken word poet, Sarah Kay. Each book is a standalone volume containing a single poem, B and The Type. Neither poem is particularly new. B, sometimes called “If I Should Have a Daughter” is one of Kay’s best-known poems and was performed at the Ted Talks Conference in 2011. (You can see the video of that performance here.) And both B and The Type were included in Kay’s beautiful anthology of poems, No Matter the Wreckage, which I own and highly recommend!! But when I discovered that these poems came in their own books, beautifully illustrated by artist Sophia Janowitz, I knew I wanted to add them to my poetry collection anyway.

The thing I love about both these poems – and one of the reasons I am so glad they exist as their own books instead of nestled in among other poems – is that they are so very warm, empowering, and totally accessible even for folks who don’t read a lot of poetry. B, a collection of wisdom and life lessons that Kay would like to pass down to her daughter, if she should ever one, would make a beautiful gift for mothers and daughters alike. Full of encouragement for times of disappointment and struggle, this wonderful poem is a love-song to the power of optimism and a tribute to the mothers (and mother figures) who will always have our back. Meanwhile, The Type is a poem about womanhood and how we define ourselves and build ourselves up. A perfect gift for a girlfriend going through a break-up or struggling with relationship issues, The Type is also a beautiful way to recenter and refocus yourself when your self-esteem starts to drift.

All in all, I am so happy to add The Type and B to my library and would love to give a copy of each (along with Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman) to every woman I know.

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Book Review: Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

Hag-SeedHag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Some of you may remember that this time last year I made a New Year’s Resolution to read every Shakespeare play by the time 2016 was done. I hate to admit it but I met my match this year. 2016 brought with it too much chaos and upheaval, both personally and in the world in general, and it seriously cut into my reading time. So now I am heading into 2017 with my head bowed and many Shakespeare plays still on the to-read pile. But even if I didn’t meet my reading goals for the year, I am very glad that I made time for Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed.

SYNOPSIS: A modern re-telling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Hag-Seed was a fascinating story of loss, revenge, and letting go of the past. Theatre director, Felix Phillips, grieving the loss of his infant daughter, Miranda, and obsessed with the production of The Tempest that he is planning as a tribute to her, is devastated when his right-hand man betrays him. Exiled from his job, powerless and bitter, he retreats from the world and plots his revenge. All alone, except for a vision of his daughter that keeps him company, he waits for his opportunity to strike back at his enemies and regain his rightful place. Eventually he gets a job at a prison, teaching Shakespeare and producing plays with the inmates there. When he learns that his enemies, now powerful government officials, will be attending the prison’s production of The Tempest, he sees his opportunity for revenge at last.

MY THOUGHTS: Ask anyone who’s read The Handmaid’s Tale and you’ll know that Margaret Atwood is a master story-teller in her own right so it should come as no surprise that an Atwood and Shakespeare partnership is simply spellbinding. Atwood added a play within a play aspect to the story that was interesting. It was fascinating to watch some of the characters shift roles as the book progressed, especially Felix’s Miranda who drifted back and forth from Prospero’s daughter to the spritely Ariel in a way that reinforced the dreamlike fantasy of the original story. I also loved how Atwood used the prisoners turned actors to add depth, context, and sympathy for the Hag-Seed, Caliban and to explore the deeper themes of the play.

I’ve been anxiously awaiting the upcoming adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale that is coming to Hulu in 2017 but I would also love to see a film version of Hag-Seed. With extremely visual, almost cinematic descriptions, and passages of the play adapted into rap music and dance, Hag-Seed, and especially the Fletcher Correctional Player’s production of The Tempest would translate beautifully to film.

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