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Original Essays | September 18, 2014

Lin Enger: IMG Knowing vs. Knowing

On a hot July evening years ago, my Toyota Tercel overheated on a flat stretch of highway north of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. A steam geyser shot up from... Continue »
  1. $17.47 Sale Hardcover add to wish list

    The High Divide

    Lin Enger 9781616203757


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nrlymrtl has commented on (196) products.

Anne of Green Gables (Anne of Green Gables Novel) by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Anne of Green Gables (Anne of Green Gables Novel)

nrlymrtl, June 8, 2014

Somehow, I missed this series in its entirety (never read it, never watched the many version of it, no plays, etc.) growing up. But I know by now the fine work the folks at Post Hypnotic Press do. So I gave it a try. And I was charmed. In fact, if I was ever a cleaned mouthed, less jaded person, I think I may have been much like Anne. I can be distracted by beetles, I have a tendency to be blunt, and I love the realm of fantasy. Anne is a little heavier on the romance in her likes, but I am sure she and I could be friends.

While it is obvious that the book is set in the early 1900s, with the ‘proper’ roles of women (like women don’t have the legal right to vote), church is a mandatory weekly occurrence, and there was one remark about letting strangers in the house that could be construed as racist (against Italians, which seemed odd to me), these few negatives are balanced out by Anne’s huge imagination, and the trouble she gets into. This novel spans several years of Anne’s life, so there are plenty of humorous events to enjoy. Anne hates her red hair, and attempts to dye it black. But it comes out this muddled green. So, they have to shave it off. Haha! I found this pretty humorous, and part of it was because of the location and times. In today’s day, green hair, or a bald head isn’t so unusual. But for 1909 Canada, well…I expect it was the talk of the village for at least a week.

Besides the humor, there are also scenes of more seriousness that give this tale a weight that many children’s’ books lack. Anne was an orphan and spent time in several homes before coming to the Cuthberts. Most often, she was set right to work taking care of the children and hence wasn’t allowed to be a child herself, to go to school, or attend social events. On one house, she had to contend with an alcoholic. While much of Anne’s life before the Cuthberts was merely alluded to, there was enough there to let the life experienced reader fill in the gaps.

All in all, I enjoyed this book more than I expected. I found it a good mix of magical innocence of growing up in the countryside and remembered hardship of starting off an orphan. Anne’s lasting friendships with the people of Avonlea were also quite touching.
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Dragon Stones
Dragon Stones

nrlymrtl, June 8, 2014

I was hooked on this book from the beginning. It starts with a dark scene �" the Emperor’s men have been out searching and destroying dragon nests and they have just found one. While not overly graphic, the point comes across loud and clear with the killing of newly hatched dragons. I definitely like my fantasy to have a little bit of a darker side, a more serious side, as this shows there are real consequences for the characters to consider. Then we moved to Elias and his grandma. She was a strong, guiding force in his life and such an integral character before Elias set off on his adventure. Through her, we have just enough background to be very curious about many things: her own past, Elias’s parents, dragon riders and dragons in general, etc. I definitely wanted more and the author delivered.

Pretty soon, Elias comes across the dwarf Thorin (and I think Thorin is actually a half-breed dwarf-halfling, but I could have that wrong). And yes, is Thorin a nod to Tolkien’s work? Thorin and Elias become quick friends, mostly because Thorin has recently fallen out of a tree and needs some healing and Elias obliges. They adventure off together, dodging the Emperor’s men and necromancers, meeting more dwarves, ever heading for safety. The necromancer we meet was freaky scarey and the voice the narrator gave her was quite fitting and a little frightening.

The adventure scenes are speckled with scenes of another kingdom �" the last hold out from Vosper’s tyrannical reign. Dragons, their riders, and magic users are welcomed and safe there (or at least not actively hunted by the government). We meet some of the dragon riders, the dragons, and the king. There is an interesting scene involving star fruit (a personal favorite of mine). And in the second half of the book we meet a dragon and her rider who were once imprisoned and tortured by Vosper and his minions. Wow! I don’t know if they are the good guys, good guys gone a little insane, or potentially a chaotic bad element off on their own. I am fascinated by these two and really, really look forward to learning more about them in the next installment.

This was a great start to a fantasy series. While suitable for most (if not all) audiences, it has enough gravity to strongly appeal to most adult readers. The characters have depth and history, the world building is just enough to give scope and interest without bogging down the story. The narration was excellent.
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Arrow Through the Axes by Patrick Bowman
Arrow Through the Axes

nrlymrtl, May 31, 2014

Book 3 picks up where Book 2 left off. Our young hero Alexi is now somewhere between 17 and 19 years old and he has done a lot of learning and growing in Books 1 & 2. With the death of an enemy in Book 2, he finds himself escaping the island of the sacred cattle with Lopex and crew. Only, there is this big thundercloud chasing them, raining down lightning bolts. Pretty soon, the ship is torn apart. Alexi finds himself rescued by the young woman who warned him about the cattle on the island. His wounds are tended and eventually he leaves to go in search of his (hopefully) alive sister. His travels take him on many adventures through Greek lands. On the way, he befriends Orestes and meets Agamemnon and the infamous Helen. Later, he meets Telemachus (Tel to his friends) and finds himself in the middle of the ribald wooing of Lopex’s wife (everyone assumes Lopex is dead since he has been gone for so many years).

If you checked out my reviews of Books 1 & 2, then you know I have quite enjoyed this series. While Book 3 was still enjoyable, I felt that Alexi’s character backslid in age and intelligence a bit. Perhaps this was done on purpose to keep Book 3 suitable for a certain age of readers? I am not sure. I did enjoy Alexi’s growth in Books 1 & 2. He lived through the siege of Troy, most of it without parents. Lived through the sacking of Troy and was made a slave. He has been a slave for 2 books and 3-5 years of sailing around on adventures with rough men. So by Book 3, I would think that he would be a little more jaded about a lone woman on a sacred island populated by sacred cattle. Every evening, she makes him a nice tea, and after consuming it, he grows very weak. This goes on for just over a month. Alexi’s father was a healer and Alexi himself has been tending sailors with poultices and concoctions and stitches for years. And yet, he doesn’t suspect this tea. Since this event happens early in the book, I don’t mind using it as an example, but it is not the last example of Alexi’s sudden dimwittedness.

Still, if I set that aside and pretend that Alexi is 12 or 14 again, then the story is quite fun. Two adventures really stand out for me. He meets Orestes and at the court of Agamemnon, he meets Helen. Agamemnon is a little crazy and very possessive of Helen. This spells trouble for even young, innocent Alexi. Helen gets a chance to tell her side of the love story between her and Paris, and that was a nice touch. The second scene that I thoroughly enjoyed was at the very end. I can’t say too much about it, but the title and the cover will click once you get there. It was intense and a very good wrap up to this trilogy (though part of hopes that Bowman goes on to write the further adventures of Alexi, the Adult).

Telemachus was an odd character. His father went off to participate in the siege and sacking of Troy, so the lad grew up with out a father. He is a bit socially inept, yet friendly. I did find it a weak plot point to say that his social ineptness was due to not being raised by a man, so he doesn’t know how to behave as a man. Yet he is traveling with a male companion as he searches for his father, interacting with lots of men. Seems to be plenty of men in this story line, and around his mom’s house (the steward, the hopeful suitors, the slaves, etc.). Later, we see Telemachus become more ‘manly’ which seems to be mostly the character trait of decisiveness (I guess Tel never saw his mom be decisive).

Which points to the women of the story. There are a few and they have small roles. And they are mostly cast in the roles of love interest, slave, wife. We do have one who helps Alexi escape at one point and it would have been nice to see a more balanced arrangement of characters and roles. But this might have been difficult to do and stay mostly true to the ancient original storyline. So I won’t harp on the point too much.

Over all, this has been a great trilogy and a fun retelling of this ancient tale. While I missed having Lopex in the bulk of this story line, I did find Alexi’s adventures through Greece as he searches for his sister to be amusing. Also, it was very interesting to see through Alexi’s eyes how the lengthy siege against Troy took its toll on the Grecian lands, and not just on Troy. The lengthy war was not good for the masses and few people profited from it. The side jaunt over to Agamemnon’s court was quite chilling and it was a good way to show how one of the main provocateurs of the war fared.
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In Velvet by Burt Weissbourd
In Velvet

nrlymrtl, May 14, 2014

This book had a lot of interesting characters and I was never bored with it. I also enjoyed the setting �" watching these folks traipse around in small towns, rural areas, and out and out wilderness. Some were equipped for it, others were not. Rachel’s character was probably the most interesting for me as she is a biologist (same as me) and I instantly related to her.

The pace is very fast, with the narrative quickly flipping from one to another. In some instances, we just get to know a character before they are killed off. So if you are concerned you would get stuck on the biology passes, don’t worry. You won’t as they are brief. I especially liked the descriptions of the animals behaviors (both normal and aberrant) and of the mutated animals and what the consequences could be.

While Rainey could be thought of as the main character, I felt he took a back seat as the story progressed. Jesse as the master mind villain took center stage with Rachel flying a close second with her bear knowledge. While some of the characters find Rainey to be a very interesting character, I did not. But that’s OK.

My few criticisms for the book reside with characters making choices that either don’t fit their characterization or those choices not being believably explained. early on, there is a car explosion, with someone in it, and I didn’t feel that the reason behind this was fully explained. Also, Jen the cop comes onto the scene via a snake-infested suitcase. This seemed like a very odd thing and I never really bought into it, especially since Jen doesn’t show much outdoors or animal knowledge later. Also, Jen has been trying to get her son back from her divorced husband. But then she leaves him in the hands of strangers while she goes camping on this adventure, with her new beau. Either she is a questionable parent and that was intended or the character had a great need to leave her traumatized child and the greatness of that need didn’t come across.

Still, in the big picture, these small things did not deter me from simply shaking my head a little and continuing to enjoy the mystery and the thrill. Oh, and there are Irish Elk. This was a new one for me and I enjoyed learning just enough about them to have me go digging for more info.
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The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman
The Museum of Extraordinary Things

nrlymrtl, May 5, 2014

This was my first Alice Hoffman book but it will not be my last. The Museum of Extraordinary Things is a tale of the human spirit, the limits it can be pushed to, and the simple, beautiful things that bring it back to life. OK, it’s about more than that. Hoffman captures the essence of 1911 New York from the working person’s point of view, using characters that were considered the outcasts of the mainstream. Coralie, born to the life of the ‘freak show’, doesn’t really see her coworkers as people first. Maureen, her constant companion and the all-around maid of the house, has been scarred by acid many years ago. the Wolfman, Mr. Morris, is well-read and a proper gentleman at all times, except when doing his daily show for the Museum of Extraordinary Things, at which sits in a cage and growls at the paying crowds. The Museum was also filled with other odd things such as rare birds and insects, and taxidermied beasts (Professor Sardie may have modified with big wolf or shark teeth).

I was fascinated by Coralie’s life. At first, she is simple, having been told a simple, but beautiful, story of her dead mother and how her father and her came from France to New York. Coralie’s mild deformity is a gift, one that allows her to entrance the public and her father puts it to good use. However, as the story moves forward and Coralie starts to push against her father’s rules, she starts to see him as the egotistical control freak that he is. The Museum slowly changes from a place of wonder and magic to a place of oppression as Professor Sardie squeezes every coin he can from his workers, his creations, and the public.

It took me longer to warm up to Eddie. Perhaps I didn’t immediately see the charm in this young man who severed himself from his emotions at such a young age. In many ways, he is a man of two worlds. He sees, vaguely and always in the distance, what life could have been for his father and himself �" both pursuing the scholarly Jewish life. On another path, he could have stayed with his father, stayed in the Jewish quarter, and stayed working at the clothing factory. But he had to walk away from that life too. He found magic and beauty in photography and was lucky enough to find a mentor willing to teach him. He is a full photographer when the historical Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire occurs.

I had not heard about this factory fire before reading this book, even though the aftermath of this event was instrumental in setting safety standards for workers. It was described so well, raising the hairs on the back of my neck. This event and other historical bits from the time were effortlessly woven into the storyline. Out of this also comes a murder mystery which made for an interesting side plot.

The ending was horrific, terrifying, filled with hope, and satisfying. Deeply satisfying. I was horrified by the tragedy that wraps up this tale (I’ll leave that for you to discover). I was terrified that my two lead characters may not make it out alive. I had also become attached to Maureen, Mr. Morris, the tortoise, and Mitts (Eddie’s pitbull). How would they all make it out of this book alive, healthy, sane? But there was hope as these characters rallied together, along with other side characters. And the ending gave me great satisfaction as I felt the main evil doers got some decent payback.
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