Empire of Sin

As a sophomore in college, I visited New Orleans for a week during Spring Break. Our church group went the year after Katrina to help with flood relief–which at that point meant tearing down moldy drywall, pulling up carpets…really breaking the sodden houses down to their studs so the families could rebuild. As a pretty sheltered white girl from small-town Indiana, it was a pretty eye-opening experience. Not only had I really never been to a city that big, I hadn’t ever seen devastation like that either.

But, day after day that week, we ripped apart people’s homes…and when we came out, they would hug us with gratitude, and there would be prayer circles and Creole (or Cajun, I apologize, my 19 year old self did not know the difference at the time) blessings. It was all so beautiful and unexpected. Everyone was so resilient and strong and lovely and I just fell in love with the city.

And then I got to the French Quarter, and found the food and the music and well…the rest is just history.

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Since then I’ve added quite a bit of New Orleans-themed books to my TBR, and every once in awhile one will pop up. Recently, Blogging for Books had Empire of Sin as one of their choices, and I grabbed it.

Gary Kirst’s latest book is a history of New Orleans at the turn of the 20th century, right before Prohibition, when sex, jazz and alcohol fueled the town. There’s so much dark, fascinating stuff here, I don’t know where to start!

I guess, first off, let me be frank. This is a book about the south in the late 1800s. That means this is a book filled with racism. There’s just no way around it. To say I struggled with parts of it is to put it mildly. It’s not even just black racism either–though that is a huge part of it.

One of the major themes in Krist’s book is the civil war between the three peoples of New Orleans:  the white politicians/police, the blacks, and the Italians. There were constant battles between the groups, and often the blacks seemed to take a lot of the blame–with one of the riots ending with any black man out on the street being shot by a group of vigilantes.

Another theme we see repeated is the battle for power in Storyville–the prostitution district. I got a little confused over some of the politics in this area–who was on what side–but the fight for respectability was an interesting thing to read about, when I am so used to reading about prostitution as a negative profession.

Lastly, there was the music. And that was my favorite part of the book. I’ve been a fan of the blues for years (probably since I went to New Orleans, to be honest), so to hear about some of the old greats and how they got their start was fascinating. We get to hear about Little Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet, and all the struggles they went through to just play their hearts out.

New Orleans is one of those cities that you just have to touch. And when you do, it gets inside of you and never lets go. I can’t wait to go back someday, as an adult, when I can really appreciate it. Empire of Sin shows some of those dark corners that all cities have, but it also gives us the great things that comes out of those dark corners.

Oh, and if you pick this up, make sure you read past the bibliography and index in the back. Kirst has included both a pretty epic blues/jazz playlist with all the great albums and a New Orleans fiction list!

 

Blogging for Books provided this book for an unbiased review. Released on June 16th.

Trollhunters

Trolls get a pretty bad rep in the fantasy world. They are dumb, slow, dirty, mean. Really the only likeable trolls I have ever seen have been in Frozen…I’ve yet to see Boxtrolls, so maybe those are ok too. But for the most part, trolls are pretty foul creatures.

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The mind of Guillermo del Toro is a wild and crazy place, so when I saw he had a new book coming out, I jumped at the chance to read it. I was not disappointed.

There’s something afoot in San Bernadino. It begins in 1967 when hundreds of kids go missing suddenly. Then, just as soon as it began, it stopped. Now, it’s starting again. Jim, whose dad has always been afraid of his own shadow, is starting to wonder about those bumps in the night. But when those “bumps” come for him, he finds out they are actually recruiting him to help save the town from the real problem–the Voldemort of the troll world. He had been defeated in 1967, but now he’s back, and seriously pissed off.

Trollhunters is no sophisticated novel, my friends, but the kids are going to love it. It’s akin to Goosebumps and Gremlins, and everything wonderful about middle school horror from the 80s and 90s. Deliciously ridiculous and just enough cheese and slime. Put this in the hands of a 10 year old and they will not come out of their room until it is finished. It’s one of those books that you just expect to find on a library shelf in worn paperback–I mean, did the Goosebumps books ever actually look pristine, or did they just come off the printer torn and dirty?

I’m not sure if del Toro has plans for a movie on this one. 2015 is almost too high quality for it. It needs to be on a fuzzy VHS tape. You’ll know what I mean when you read it.

 

NetGalley provided this ARC for an unbiased review. Published June 30.

The Flying Circus

Aw man, guys! I was doing so well with posting every day, and then I finally ran out of posts. I knew it would happen at some point. Sorry to leave you hanging yesterday.

But…we were out of town this weekend for my 10 year reunion, so while I was reading, I didn’t have time or access to type it all up. It was a whirlwind of 14 hours in the car, dinner with his family, drinks with some awesome Indy friends, more time in the car, having an amaaaaaaaaaaazing time with some people I haven’t seen in a decade, a day with my family, and then another 14 hours in the car. PHEW. I am exhausted!

The title of today’s book is especially apt, because my weekend WAS The Flying Circus!

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This was a fun book to read on the way up through the south, because we are obsessed with the cropduster planes in Arkansas. They are so fun to watch swooping and diving across the highways and fields. We even saw one dive parallel to the other side of the interstate, to spray directly under some powerlines that left one tiny strip of field close to the road. I would have been terrified to be driving next to him!

The Flying Circus is set in the 1920s years when flapper/prohibition was raging. Three people running from their lives find each other in small-town Indiana and put together a stunt circus with an airplane and a motorcycle. Oh, and don’t forget Mercury, the sausage stealing dog! They become a surrogate family for each other and travel around Indiana and Illinois, selling their show, mostly making just enough to live on and pay for gas. Their love of adventure and need for the road/air is what drove them, not money. They did know they couldn’t do it without each other.

I’m usually not in to the flapperesque period pieces, but I really enjoyed this one. I had a hard time putting it down, and it was a great one to read while travelling. There was a triangle romance, and plenty of other drama, but it ended quite sweetly. This comes out next week on July 7th, and it comes highly recommended by me!

 

NetGalley provided this ARC for unbiased review.

Desperation

Gotta tell you guys, I’m a little nervous about writing this review. You all know that I am very honest about how I feel about books I read. Some are fantastic! I wouldn’t love to read if they weren’t. But, some fall short of my enthusiasm.

Really, I shouldn’t phrase it that way. I am almost always enthusiastic when it comes to reviewing a book…just sometimes I am enthusiastic in the wrong direction.

Some of the adult booklrs (as in age, not XXX) have started a chat, and I was grumbling about reading this month’s “husband book”–Desperation by Stephen King. I no more told them that I didn’t like it…and then there was a huge BOOOOOOOM and I lost all my power!!

Apparently, the fiction gods did not agree with my assessment.

And so, I’m writing this on a notepad, to be posted later…we’ll see what happens when it goes live. Please, Mr. King, don’t shut my power off again.

*fingers crossed*

(Ok. This is getting creepy guys. I wrote that line, and my power came back on. I cannot make this shit up.)

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I am finding that Stephen King is a mixed bag. I didn’t hate Cujo and The Shining. And 11/22/63 was brilliant, but it was so different than anything he’s ever written that it’s hard to compare that with his other books.

Most of them are 300 pages too long, so the middle is stuffed full of nothingness. I guess it is supposed to draw out suspense, but to me it just seems like that second movie in a trilogy–the one everyone hates because absolutely nothing happens. Sure, the monsters are scary, but a scary monster can only carry you so far if the plot is a dud and the rest of the characters lack the depth of a plastic kiddie pool!

Desperation is all of these things. I really wish I had done a “hate read” on Tumblr, because it would have been hilarious. Next time I read Stephen King, I’m doing it. #haleyreadsherhusbandsbooks

Several different stereotypical groups of people go on roadtrips to middle of nowhere desert town and get stopped by giant creepy cop guy. He arrests them all on bullshit charges and begins attacking them. It’s very icky and gorey, just like a Stephen King novel usually is.

There’s two people who are on their way to rescue everyone! YES! Everyone is going to be saaaaaaved!!!! But wait…it’s only like page 250, what? Oh, right, they meet up with everyone and get trapped two. Wah whoooomp. Pretty much the plot flatlines for the next 300 pages.

And at page 524 it got interesting. All of the sudden it somewhat made sense.

But that’s my point–it shouldn’t take FIVE HUNDRED AND TWENTY FOUR PAGES for a book to make me interested. If this wasn’t a “husband book”–something we owned so I feel I need to try to finish–I would have trashed it 100 pages in.

 

Now you’re starting to see why the God of Fiction struck me down today, right? I’m going to be on the road to Indiana when this post goes live, so hopefully nothing terrible happens! This book has been out for decades, so I’m hoping Mr. King is ok with one person not caring for his book. My husband loves his books…they just aren’t for me.

 

Goldengrove

I like thrillers, right? I like to be creeped out.

But there is scary horror psychological thriller creepy…

…and then there is legit sexual predator “all my hair standing on end because this person is just not right” creepy. Sometimes it’s a fine line, but there is a difference. One gives me goosebumps. The other makes me want to puke.

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At first, Goldengrove is just sad. It’s a book about grieving and healing. The oldest daughter in a family of four has a heart condition, and dies suddenly, leaving her younger sister and parents to mourn.

Pretty simple premise for a book, really. The dad buries himself in his work, mom finds solace in pain medication for her arthritis. Unfortunately, that leaves the 13 year old daughter without much of a support system, and so the only other friend she has is her sister’s boyfriend, Aaron, who is also grieving.

The problem is that Nico looks so much like her sister that Aaron’s grief becomes very confusing. He starts asking of Nico some pretty creepy things. Small requests at first, but they get bigger and bigger.

As an adult, looking in from the outside, I was screaming at her to stop. But it was like that frog in a pot of slowly heating water. She didn’t realize what was happening until it was boiling over. To be honest, I’m not sure Aaron did either (although his response does make me hesitate on that), but it was still just…creepy. *shudder*

The book itself wasn’t bad. The writing was great, to be honest–and obviously I had a very real emotional response to it. It’s one of those books that I don’t know how I feel about it. I can’t say it’s a “good” book, because the emotional response I’m having is not a good feeling. But it is a well written one. It’s a book that probably should be read, for awareness and emotion, something like reading All the Rage, just go into it knowing that it’s not going to be entertainment or relaxing.

Agnes Grey

Most book lovers have heard of the Bronte sisters. And it’s pretty hard to be a romance loving biblophile without reading at least Jane Eyre OR Wuthering Heights…if not both. Charlotte and Emily are famous names in reading culture. Their tropes are everywhere, from the dark and brooding Heathcliffe-like teen boys in YA EVERYTHING, to the plain Janes of this world who go unnoticed but have so much to offer.

What a lot of people don’t realize is that there was a third Bronte sister, Anne. I’ll admit, she’s missing from my shelf too, as I look up at my two beautiful Barnes and Noble Leatherbound copies of the two books above.

But this weekend, I sat down with Agnes Grey, and I fell just as much in love with Anne Bronte as I did with the more recognizable sisters, and I wonder why she is not just as famous.

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At it’s base, Agnes Grey the basic 1800s story of a young girl from a family on the outskirts of society, who decides to become a governess, and falls in love with one of the men she meets along the way. Pretty typical baseline for that period.

However, there are some things I want to point out that interested in the characters and the story:

1. Mrs. Grey could have been rich. She came from a wealthy family, but fell in love with a poor man, and even though her father disowned her, she married him anyway.

2. Agnes was the youngest child, and doted on. When her family needed money, she decided she was going to become a governess to help earn it, even though her mother and sister told her they would handle the situation and she should stay home and be idle. She was determined to help.

3. I’m not sure if they had a diagnosis for “sociopath” in the 1800s, but the first children certainly showed signs of it. The older boy, Tom, liked to trap sparrows and pull their heads and wings off for sport, because “he was not a bird and so he couldn’t feel what they felt”. His father even encouraged this behavior. His sister was much the same way. It was very alarming. I was very glad that the book was not staged around that house for long.

4. I loved Mr. Weston. He was just so sweet and friendly, really quite adorable in how he just wanted to spend time talking with her, without being a bumbling fool like some guys can be in these novels.

 

I could go on, but it’s just a sweet, simple novel. Nothing overly complicated or twisted or dark. I was expecting something a little more gothic, because of her sisters’ writing styles, but this is really nothing like that. The romance is almost set up more like a Jane Austen novel, but with much less drama. It made for a very nice Sunday afternoon.

 

Fulfills Boxall  #88

 

 

My Stroke of Insight

The brain fascinates me. Everybody’s neurons fire in such different ways and it’s amazing to me how it all works. When things go wrong, the brain reacts in some seriously interesting ways to compensate and heal.

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Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor was a successful neurological expert at Harvard, with a focus in schizophrenia (and some other things that were far above my intellectual level). One morning, she was getting ready for work when she was struck with crazy waves of euphoria and pain. Her left brain, where our analytical side (and thus, all her neurological study knowledge) resides, was screaming at her that something was wrong. Unfortunately, that side was quickly becoming overwhelmed with a hemorrhage due to stroke. And so, her right side was taking over to compensate. She could see the “bigger picture” but mostly she was overcome with an inner peace, hence the euphoria feeling.

Thankfully, she was able to get help, and thus began an 8 year period of recovery, from a unique perspective of someone who understood the brain. Taylor has written a book of her journey, My Stroke of Insight. She shares the terrifying moments of the day of her stroke, her struggle to regain control of her mind and body, and what life is like now. She also gives a lot of advice for caregivers of stroke patients, since most of us know someone who has had a stroke–but it’s so hard for us to reach them to know what they need or want.

My favorite part about this book is the last few chapters where she talks about how the right brain functions, and how it affected her perspective on life. Because the stroke was in her left side, she spent a great deal of time functioning in her right brain–the “big picture” side. This is the side that gives us meditation, creativity, beauty. She talks a great deal about finding your deep inner peace. For someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, these sections were extremely inspiring to me.

Dr. Bolte Taylor is an extremely courageous woman. I can’t imagine the amount of pain she’s gone through to get to where she is today. My Stroke of Insight is so inspiring, and I would recommend it to anyone who needs to be moved. This will be my meditation for the week, for sure.

She also gave a Ted Talk about her stroke, you can watch it HERE. It’s a really great addition to the book, hear her up close and personal about her experience through her stroke. It’s very emotional, and really shows just how strong and courageous she is.

Oscar Wilde

June is Pride Month, and so to celebrate, I added some specific books to my TBR. The Empty Family had several gay narrators. I’m listening to Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe on audiobook on my walks, so I’ll review that one when I am finished. And Under the Lights was a bit of a surprise that I’m not revealing, but that one turned out perfect for the theme too!

I wish there were more books out there with LGBT characters, and my library has been posting a lot of recommendations, many of which I have added to my TBR. If you have some good ones, shoot them my way!

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The book I was most excited to read for Pride was about one of my favorite authors, Oscar Wilde. Written as part of a series called Lives of Notable Gay Men and Lesbians, Jeff Nunokawa gives us a short but informative piece on Wilde’s struggle to be a prominent gentleman in 19th century England, while living his life the way he needed to.

I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed. Obviously, you can’t fit that much life into 100 pages. The information was there, it just wasn’t that grandeur you expect when reading about Oscar Wilde. It was very “This happened on this date.”

And ok, I can live with that. What really got to me though was that here we have a book about a gay man in the 19th century, at the height of Victorian censorship. His very name stood for persecution.

And then in the book written ABOUT this man…this happens:

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Now, I am sure it was a publishing error, but still. There was about 10 pages missing, randomly in the middle of the book. And in a 100 page book, that’s a lot of information.

Just kind of makes you wonder, huh? It IS a library copy.

Anyway. It left a bad taste in my mouth. I skipped to the end, past the snow white pages, and read about the trial and sad end to this brilliant man’s career.

Time to read something a little less sad.

What are you reading for Pride? I hope all my LGBT friends are having a fantastic month!

 

The Quest, De Kleine Johannes

Remember my tangent from the other day about historical context, and how important it is to know the environment in which the book you are reading was written?

I just finished a horribly confusing book–until I googled. Sometimes, I just get so far in over my head that I have to look up what the book is about. And that’s ok. Reading these great works is about learning–if I don’t understand something from the book itself, I’m not above looking up the SparkNotes or Wiki!

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When I started reading Frederik van Eeden’s book, I thought it was going to be a book for children. Part I begins so sweetly, sort of an Alice in Wonderland meets The Hobbit type story. Johannes comes across a dragonfly that turns into a fairy-like creature, who shrinks him down to grass-size and takes him on an adventure. It’s a story that begs to be read chapter by chapter at night to a couple of tucked-in youngsters.

But then, the story kind of goes off a cliff and gets dark and darker. It twists and turns and becomes unrecognizable from where it begins, almost if the author descended into madness after he started. I quickly became confused, and probably should have given it up–but Part I was so delightful, I kept hoping it would go back to that.

It never did. The book becomes extremely evangelical, almost punishing in its sermons–at the same time it is full of crushing doubt. Like I said…it really felt like the narrator, if not the author himself, was not in control of his mind.

And then, in Part III, the book starts eluding to socialism and the Social Democratic Workers’ Party. It’s called a different name in the book, but it sounded so familiar that it clicked, and I knew the book was written in Holland just before WWI, so bam, that was it! Once I looked up that Party (<–Click there) it all made so much more sense. All the back and forth between religion and doubt, I THINK is a metaphor for the extremes in the party. There was so much that eluded to the battles between the branches. The Twelve Apostles fit in with that too. I could be way off, but it sure made the book come together for me.

This was a very difficult book to read, but it’s the first Dutch translation I’ve read, so I wanted to stick with it. If anyone has additional analysis on this, I’d love to hear it. I’m still very unsure about how I’ve interpreted it, but I had a hard time finding notes on this in English.

 

Also–I’ve been doing really great about getting a post up every day, but I’ve finally caught up with myself! Because I finished this book late in the day (and we have plans tonight) I am not sure I’ll be able to get one up tomorrow. We’ll see. If not, I’ll resume on Monday. Have a great weekend!

The Empty Family

Of course, I read an amazing, wonderful book…and I have to follow it up with a terrible one. It never fails, does it?

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I’ve had The Empty Family on my shelf for awhile–it was one I picked up from the $1 shelf at Half-Price. I had liked Brooklyn, so I thought I’d pick something else up from Toibin. I didn’t realize until I got it home that it was a collection of short stories.

Which, ok, short stories do not always doom a book. But, I just have such a hard time with them. There’s never enough time to get into anything. Some authors are great at this. Most just don’t cut it for me.

If you’ve been around for awhile, you know how much I HATE JAMES JOYCE. Nothing EVER happens in his stories. These were a lot like modern day Joyce. There is a main person, usually a gay male, has a very vague problem to solve. There’s some tragic backstory that we get very little of, but it really is super important to the whole underlying issue. It’s all very dark and sad and it’s supposed to be beautifully depressing, but mostly it just comes off limp.

Next please!