Thursday, 25 May 2017

Shakespeare Saved My Life / Laura Bates

4.5 stars out of 5
Just as Larry Newton, one of the most notorious inmates at Indiana Federal Prison, was trying to break out of jail, Dr. Laura Bates was trying to break in. She had created the world’s first Shakespeare class in supermax – the solitary confinement unit.

Many people told Laura that maximum-security prisoners are “beyond rehabilitation." But Laura wanted to find out for herself. She started with the prison's most notorious inmate: Larry Newton. When he was 17 years old, Larry was indicted for murder and sentenced to life with no possibility of parole. When he met Laura, he had been in isolation for 10 years.

Larry had never heard of Shakespeare. But in the characters he read, he recognized himself.

In this profound illustration of the enduring lessons of Shakespeare through the ten-year relationship of Bates and Newton, an amazing testament to the power of literature emerges. But it's not just the prisoners who are transformed. It is a starkly engaging tale, one that will be embraced by anyone who has ever been changed by a book.


My inspiration to read this book was Margaret Atwood’s fiction Hag-Seed (and secondarily The Heart Goes Last), as well as a memoir by former prisoner, Stephen Reid (A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden). Additionally, I had just finished If We Were Villains, in which Shakespearean plays may have played a role in sending the main character to prison, the very opposite of this memoir.

Now, I am predisposed to enjoy a memoir of the redemptive value of literature, particularly Shakespeare, for whom I have an abiding love. Add to that the fact that I have considered doing literacy work with prisoners (although I have not yet taken the plunge) and I appreciated Laura Bates’ description of the perils and the pluses of doing such work.

This is real-life, not fiction, so I didn’t get exactly the story that I hoped for. There is no ending, really, because Larry Newton will never get out of prison. All projects must come to an end eventually, and the author is no longer teaching Shakespeare to prisoners. Still, it was very readable and inspirational. If nothing else, I am encouraged to study the works of the Bard more closely myself.

Shakespeare's Landlord / Charlaine Harris

4 out of 5 stars
TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE — To Lily Bard, the sleepy town of Shakespeare, Arkansas, was the perfect place to hide from the violence that nearly destroyed her life years before. Today Lily is strong, confident in the martial arts she studies, her looks disguised by her closely cropped hair and baggy clothes. Working as a housecleaner, Lily comes and goes without anyone noticing -- until she witnesses a murder.

What Lily Bard saw on that dark night has stripped away her, anonymity and earned her the unwanted attention of a homicide detective and a suspicious community. And with her intense, married, karate instructor showing a passionate interest of his own, Lily's plan of a private, well-ordered life is coming unhinged. The killer of an unlamented landlord is lurking close by. And while Lily knows the dirt on her neighbors' dust, drawers, and private live , must admit to a secret of her own: that in the shadow of a brutal murder, she is coming alive again...
 
I really enjoyed this little mystery, set in Shakespeare, Arkansas. Lily Bard, the community cleaning lady, has chosen this small town on a whim because of her last name. It seems like the perfect sleepy little community in which to avoid her traumatic past and live a quiet life.

Harris excels at portraying small town life, using ordinary people as characters. Lily is not someone that most people pay a lot of attention to—as a cleaning lady, she tends to blend into the background. The only place where she stands out is in her karate dojo, where she excels. She reminded me of Harris’ other small town character, Sookie Stackhouse, who is often overlooked because she is “just” a bar maid, but has unknown talents (telepathy).

Lily has a skill that many women have—she pays attention to detail and she can analyze those details to come to accurate conclusions. Not the most exciting mystery that I have every read, but I am already invested in Lily’s life and hope to read the next book in the series very soon.

Silence Fallen / Patricia Briggs

4 out of 5 stars
Attacked and abducted in her home territory, Mercy finds herself in the clutches of the most powerful vampire in the world, taken as a weapon to use against alpha werewolf Adam and the ruler of the Tri-Cities vampires. In coyote form, Mercy escapes only to find herself without money, without clothing, and alone in the heart of Europe...

Unable to contact Adam and the rest of the pack, Mercy has allies to find and enemies to fight, and she needs to figure out which is which. Ancient powers stir, and Mercy must be her agile best to avoid causing a war between vampires and werewolves, and between werewolves and werewolves. And in the heart of the ancient city of Prague, old ghosts rise...


A very satisfying installment in the Mercy Thompson series—in fact, it may be my favourite of the entire run.

I always love the books where the vampire seethe figures prominently, and this book is all vampires all the time! My only disappointment is that Stefan doesn’t get quite as much page time as I would like, while the Master of Milan (Jacob Bonarata) gets lots, but isn’t nearly scary enough. After all of the foreshadowing in previous books, I thought he was remarkably easy to get along with!

Also refreshing was the setting—Europe. Quite a change from the Pacific Northwest and very enjoyable. Grumpy European werewolves and plentiful European ghosts aid Mercy along the way. Also interesting in that we get to know a bit more about Adam’s friendly witch, Elizeveta. Not to mention some insight into submissive wolf, Zack.

Mercy, as usual, is underestimated by the people who don’t know her and she uses that lack of expectation to her advantage. Like the old Timex watch ads, she takes a licking & keeps on ticking! And thinking and planning. She’s smart, strong, and skilled. What a nice way to see a woman portrayed in fiction.

If We Were Villains / M.L. Rio

5 out of 5 stars
Enter the players. There were seven of us then, seven bright young things with wide precious futures ahead of us. Until that year, we saw no further than the books in front of our faces.

On the day Oliver Marks is released from jail, the man who put him there is waiting at the door. Detective Colborne wants to know the truth, and after ten years, Oliver is finally ready to tell it.

Ten years ago: Oliver is one of seven young Shakespearean actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, a place of keen ambition and fierce competition. In this secluded world of firelight and leather-bound books, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingĂ©nue, extra. But in their fourth and final year, the balance of power begins to shift, good-natured rivalries turn ugly, and on opening night real violence invades the students’ world of make believe. In the morning, the fourth-years find themselves facing their very own tragedy, and their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, each other, and themselves that they are innocent.

Part coming-of-age story, part confession, If We Were Villains explores the magical and dangerous boundary between art and life. In this tale of loyalty and betrayal, madness and ecstasy, the players must choose what roles to play before the curtain falls.


Wow, that was a first novel? For me, it was perfection. A good twisty mystery, lots of Shakespeare, and THAT ENDING.

Dellecher Classical Conservatory is like Hogwarts for Arts students and this novel focuses on the fourth year Drama students. They’ve been marinating in Shakespearean drama for four years and have maybe absorbed more than they think. The narrator, Oliver, is most often cast as a supporting character and the others agree that he is a giving actor and a giving person. Despite that, the reader realizes that he seems to be pretty clueless—not very observant, he makes some of his most important realizations during performances of the Shakespearean tragedies.

The little that we see of Oliver’s family indicates that there is something desperately wrong—Oliver doesn’t want to go home to them and can hardly wait to leave. One of his sisters has a serious eating disorder and Oliver resents that his family can’t pay for her treatment AND his tuition. There is a serious attitude of entitlement, not only in Oliver, but in all of these students. I didn’t like a single one of them, but I loved the story!

I would love to be able to conduct conversations in Shakespeare quotes! That level of expertise in the plays would delight me. If nothing else, this book has certainly inspired me to continue with my project to see all of Shakespeare’s plays.

Every Heart a Doorway / Seanan McGuire

4 out of 5 stars
Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere... else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced... they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost.


What if you weren't reliant on authors to be transported to another reality? What if, like Alice, you really fell down a rabbit hole, or like Dorothy, you were carried off by a tornado to a magical world where you fit in perfectly? When the saying, "There's no place like home" sounds like a curse.

You've been forced back to "reality" and find that no one believes your story or even cares about it. All they from you is a return to "normal," a state which you've always hated.

There's grief, mourning your lost perfect world. Now surround yourself with others in the same predicament from very different worlds, doing group therapy to try to come to terms with this old, unsatisfactory existence.

This lovely little novella explores this dilemma beautifully. I think each of us probably has a "golden age" in our past that we remember with nostalgia and we can recognize that longing in this book.


 

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Shadow Games / Glen Cook

4 out of 5 stars
After the devastating battle at the Tower of Charm, Croaker leads the greatly diminished Black Company south, in search of the lost Annals. The Annals will be returned to Khatovar, eight thousand miles away, a city that may exists only in legend...the origin of the first Free Companies.

Every step of the way the Company is hounded by shadowy figured and carrion-eating crows. As they march every southward, through bug infested jungle, rivers dense with bloodthirsty pirates, and cities, dead and living, haunted by the passage of the Company north, their numbers grow until they are thousands strong.

But always they are watched--by the Shadowmasters--a deadly new enemy: twisted creature that deal in darkness and death: powerful, shadowy creatures bent on smothering the world in their foul embrace. This is the first round in a deadly game, a game that the Black Company cannot hope to win.


A smattering of the Black Company still remains and they have decided to head back to their beginnings, heading south to the legendary city of Khatovar.  They are in search of the lost Annals of the Company, so you may be sure that this operation is being headed by our cranky Annalist, Croaker.

Croaker isn’t sure that he likes being in charge, but he shows an aptitude for it, thinking up sneaky surprises for the enemies that they encounter and showing that knowing some history gives a leader a good grasp of the many things that can go wrong.  He informs the reader that “I guess I suffer from an impoverishment of the sociopathic spirit necessary to go big time.”  He is selling himself short.

Finally, I see why so many other readers love Lady.  She is down, but not out.  She still has the governing touch and retains buckets full of knowledge about battle, administration, and politicking.  And she’s not afraid to use it.  A peek at the next book reveals that she will take up the pen as Annalist and I can hardly wait to get her take on things.

Book 258 of my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

The Sweet Scent of Blood / Suzanne McLeod

4 out of 5 stars
'My name is Genny Taylor. I work for Spellcrackers.com. It’s a great job, pays the rent, lets me do the thing I’m good at – finding magic and cracking it – and the bonus is it’s run by witches, which stops the vamps from taking a bite out of me.

Not that vampires are the big bad any more, not since they launched a slick PR campaign – ­ oh, and they brought the goblins on board. Now the vamps are sought-after celebrities, and Getting Fanged and taking the Gift are the new height of all things cool.

But only if you’re human.  And I’m not.  I’m Sidhe fae.  And I know firsthand just how deadly a vampire can be.’

When Mr October, a sexy calendar pin-up vamp, is accused of murdering his girlfriend, an old debt is called in and Genny is forced to help prove his innocence, risking her job and the protection it offers – and threatening to expose her own dark secrets. Searching for the killer plunges Genny deep into the hidden heart of vampire society. It’s not long before she realises that she and Mr October are both unwitting pawns in a centuries-old power struggle between London’s non-human communities . . . and it’s not just her own neck that’s at stake, but the lives of all London’s supernaturals.


I am a fan of all things Fae, so I was predisposed to enjoy this book. The main character, Genny, is Sidhe fae and she reminded me a little bit (but only a little bit) of October Daye (written by Seanan McGuire). McGuire’s fae world doesn’t include vampires, witches, or goblins, so McLeod has taken things in a very different direction.

As in so much urban fantasy, the vampires have ‘come out’ of the coffin and have become wildly popular, but regular humanity doesn’t know everything that the other supernatural creatures know. Genny has an interesting history with vampires, which will no doubt shape upcoming books.

As is traditional in this genre, there is a bit of a love triangle, between Genny, the handsome Satyr who she works with, and an alluring vampire. It doesn’t overwhelm the plot, thankfully, but will probably provide some tension for at least one more book.

I chose to start this series as I’ve heard through the rumour-mill that characters from another favourite series (Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London) make an appearance in this one at some point.