The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern (3/100)

FYI, I’m blogging my way through what I hope to be 100 books read in 2020.

I really enjoyed listening to The Night Circus on audiobook so when Erin Morgenstern’s new novel The Starless Sea came out I figured why not go with the same format. My reward?An enchanting, mythical, romantic and adventure filled story about stories. Rich with characters, world building, and storytelling of the highest order.

Publishers Description:

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues—a bee, a key, and a sword—that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to an ancient library hidden far below the surface of the earth. What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians—it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also of those who are intent on its destruction. Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose—in both the mysterious book and in his own life.

As noted, I started with audiobook, which I listened to in the car, but I had to read it when I wasn’t driving because I was so enthralled with the writing, story and characters. Having read some of the reviews, I will admit I am open to the idea that the audio version is the more engaging one.

After all, it is a story about stories. And what better way to get sucked into a story is to have it told to you complete with characters, voices, and all that modern audiobooks provide? Now, granted not all audiobooks pull you in and hold your attention but great storytelling with audio production values can really work.

Once I was sucked into the story, I quickly found myself reading the Kindle version when I wasn’t in the car. But I listened to the vast majority of the book.

Here is what I wrote about The Night Circus:

Morgenstern builds her world slowly and at first you might be tempted to ask “Where is all this going and what does it mean?” But the details are worth reading even as the world begins to come together.  And even as you know in some important ways what will happen you are carried along increasingly pulled into how it will happen and what the ramifications will be for these future events.  And just as you begin to get a sense of understanding all of the intertwining threads Morgenstern begins to pull at these threads and reveal more in the unraveling.

And there is a sense that the details are more important than the larger picture. If you are looking for intellectual or philosophical depth or coherence I am not sure you will find it. Instead, it works best if you can lose yourself in the details.

I think that is equally true for The Starless Sea.

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1/100 – The White Hare by Michael Fishwick

I am trying for the first time in my life to read 100 books in 2020. I plan to document all 100 here. Hence, the 1/100 above.

I saw The White Hare at the local library and was intrigued.

A lost boy. A dead girl, and one who is left behind.
A village full of whispers and secrets.
When the white hare appears, magical and fleet in the silvery moonlight, she leads them all into a legend, a chase.
But who is the hunter and who the hunted?

It turned out to be the first book of 2020 for me and it is a good one.

A tad too much teenage angst for me (I’m clearly not the target audience) but a wonderful mix of tension and mystery with just enough myth and otherworldly aspects. A definite page turner despite not being a thriller or action style plot.

Kirkus captures what makes it such an enjoyable read:

Finely tuned prose, a rich sense of place, magical folklore elements, multidimensional characters, and a well-paced plot create a suspenseful contemporary tale of grief, retribution, and healing.

Evening Standard gets at some of the awkwardness as to target audience:

Michael Fishwick, a publisher-turned-novelist, retells the white hare legend in this coming-of-age story which wavers uncertainly between young-adult fiction and a crossover modern folk tale.

Forward Reviews artfully describes both the subjects touched on and the writing style:

Fishwick wields strangeness rather than certainty, and specificity rather than answers, in this rare offering filled with mystery and emotional depth. A treatise on the brutality of love and the pain it frequently leaves behind, The White Hare looks to the wild places and feral people that grief creates. The beauty of its prose lingers, a grace note amidst the heartbreaking realization that, often, “it’s hard to know how guilty you are.”

Like I said, solid start to 2020. Outside of some ambiguity about the age or message, and that ambiguity can be a strength, The White Hare is a lyrical and engaging read for ambitious readers of varying ages.

The Day The Angels Fell by Shawn Smucker

I believe I came across this book via Twitter and as it was $.99 I grabbed it. I have been piling up non-fiction lately but then suddenly my brain is tired and I need some fiction to capture my imagination and allow me to relax.  This fit the bill.

And I really enjoyed The Day The Angels Fell even if I am not sure I agree with its theology – if you can call it that. Not surprising given my enjoyment of stories with mythical and spiritual components.

The mythical elements are mixed well with a sort of coming of age story about friendships, family and loss. While it isn’t exactly a thriller there is a nice mix of mystery, suspense and reflection. The characters are filled out enough to make the story work but there isn’t a constant attempt to fill in the details and give everyone a complete backstory.

The pacing is well done; just enough inner dialog and suspense to go along with some action and tension.

As noted, I am not really sure I am in agreement with the idea that death is a gift and the way that plays out concerning the fall, humans, etc. But it is a fascinating exploration as one thread in a larger story about loss and choice.

Troy: Last War of the Heroic Age by Si Sheppard

I stumbled upon Troy: Last War of the Heroic Age (Myths and Legends) while at NetGalley looking for something else entirely.  But my interest in Greek and Roman myths pulled me in.  This seemed something I would enjoy:

TroyWhen Paris, prince of Troy, ran off with Helen, wife of the king of Sparta, it launched the greatest war of the mythic age of Greece. Heroes and gods assembled on both sides, as the combined armies of Greece launched a siege that would last for ten years. During that time, famous heroes, such as Achilles, Ajax, and Hector, would find glory on the battlefield, before being cut down by their enemies. Others, such as Agamemnon, Odysseus, and Aeneas, would survive the war, only to face even greater challenges in the aftermath. Thanks to the Iliad of Homer, and numerous other ancient sources, the story of the siege of Troy has survived for over 3,000 years. In this new book in the Myths and Legends series, Professor Si Sheppard draws together all of these ancient texts to tell the complete story of the Trojan war, from the flight of the ‘face that launched a thousand ships’ to the great wooden horse that brought the city to bloody ruin. Accompanied by both classical and modern artwork, this book is the perfect primer for those interested in the greatest war of the ancient world, and the last great conflict between the gods of Ancient Greece.

It took me a little longer to finish because I became distracted by other books but it turned out to be a handy primer on this ancient epic story.

The book has a couple of components. One is a pretty straightforward retelling of the story contained in the Iliad including pretty detailed battle scenes. Alongside this are breakouts that include artwork inspired by the story both ancient and modern.  There are also some breakouts focused on the history and archeology of the story and the region.

I thought the retelling aspect was well done. Granted I am not enough of an expert to offer much criticism but it read to me like a useful summary for students and those seeking an understanding of this classical tale without reading the source material. And it really is a classic story.

I, however, read it on my Kindle and this made it hard for me to judge the other aspects.  For whatever reason, the artwork and sidebars didn’t really format well on my Kindle (I received an ARC from NetGalley). This made it hard to judge the artwork and sidebars but also broke up the story in disorienting ways.  You would have to note where the straight narrative broke off and then pick up again when it restarted after the art or historical interlude.

The only other complaint was that at times the names and characters get a little overwhelming.  So and so killed so and so, when you really have no idea who so and so was and then forget whose side they were on.  A reference guide to names and the same for Greek gods and goddesses would have go along way.

But as a basic introduction to this foundational tale, this volume was pretty handy and one you could recommend to any one wanting just the basics.

Troy: Last War of the Heroic Age by Si Sheppard

I stumbled upon Troy: Last War of the Heroic Age (Myths and Legends) while at NetGalley looking for something else entirely.  But my interest in Greek and Roman myths pulled me in.  This seemed something I would enjoy:

TroyWhen Paris, prince of Troy, ran off with Helen, wife of the king of Sparta, it launched the greatest war of the mythic age of Greece. Heroes and gods assembled on both sides, as the combined armies of Greece launched a siege that would last for ten years. During that time, famous heroes, such as Achilles, Ajax, and Hector, would find glory on the battlefield, before being cut down by their enemies. Others, such as Agamemnon, Odysseus, and Aeneas, would survive the war, only to face even greater challenges in the aftermath. Thanks to the Iliad of Homer, and numerous other ancient sources, the story of the siege of Troy has survived for over 3,000 years. In this new book in the Myths and Legends series, Professor Si Sheppard draws together all of these ancient texts to tell the complete story of the Trojan war, from the flight of the ‘face that launched a thousand ships’ to the great wooden horse that brought the city to bloody ruin. Accompanied by both classical and modern artwork, this book is the perfect primer for those interested in the greatest war of the ancient world, and the last great conflict between the gods of Ancient Greece.

It took me a little longer to finish because I became distracted by other books but it turned out to be a handy primer on this ancient epic story.

The book has a couple of components. One is a pretty straightforward retelling of the story contained in the Iliad including pretty detailed battle scenes. Alongside this are breakouts that include artwork inspired by the story both ancient and modern.  There are also some breakouts focused on the history and archeology of the story and the region.

I thought the retelling aspect was well done. Granted I am not enough of an expert to offer much criticism but it read to me like a useful summary for students and those seeking an understanding of this classical tale without reading the source material. And it really is a classic story.

I, however, read it on my Kindle and this made it hard for me to judge the other aspects.  For whatever reason, the artwork and sidebars didn’t really format well on my Kindle (I received an ARC from NetGalley). This made it hard to judge the artwork and sidebars but also broke up the story in disorienting ways.  You would have to note where the straight narrative broke off and then pick up again when it restarted after the art or historical interlude.

The only other complaint was that at times the names and characters get a little overwhelming.  So and so killed so and so, when you really have no idea who so and so was and then forget whose side they were on.  A reference guide to names and the same for Greek gods and goddesses would have go along way.

But as a basic introduction to this foundational tale, this volume was pretty handy and one you could recommend to any one wanting just the basics.

MIND MELD: What is the Literary Appeal of Gods, Goddesses and Myths?

MIND MELD: What is the Literary Appeal of Gods, Goddesses and Myths?  This week on The SF Signal Mind Meld, the Melders got mythical:

Q: Gods, Goddesses and Myths: From Rick Riordan to Dan Simmons, the popularity of Gods, Goddesses and Mythology, especially but not limited to Classical Greco-Roman and Norse mythology seems as fresh as ever. What is the appeal and power of mythological figures, in and out of their normal time? What do they bring to genre fiction?

 

Queen of Kings by Maria Dahvana Headley

Queen of Kings is a rather campy, sometimes overly melodramatic and at times keenly mythological novel; part romance, part horror, part fantasy and part historical thriller. Quiet frankly it is a bit of a mess. But I was interested in how the author would handle the historical and mythological aspects and thought it might make an entertaining read.

It did – sorta.

Basic Plot (short version): Cleopatra in death reborn as world threatening vampire.

Basic Plot (longer version): As the Romans prepare to conquer Egypt, and trick her husband Marc Antony into suicide, Cleopatra desperately seeks the help of an ancient goddess. But insted of simply adding a powerful ally to her side she inadvertently unleashes a monster she can’t control, loses her soul and turns a traditional war into a supernatural one.

Sounds interesting, no?

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The Young Merlin Trilogy by Jane Yolen

I recently took my kids to the public library and, as usual, came home with a couple of YA titles – three to be exact. They make up the The Young Merlin Trilogy: Passager, Hobby, and Merlin by Jane Yolen.

The books I read were actually three separate books (as pictured throughout) but I figured I would review them all under this one combined volume:

This is the legendary story of Merlin–from his abandonment by his parents at the age of eight to the discovery of his powers at twelve. Together, these three novels reimagine the origins of the greatest wizard of all time, giving readers a Merlin at once more human and more magical than any that has appeared before.

I found them to be interesting chapter books that explore the childhood of Merlin in poetic and dream like prose. Despite their unique style and structure they are captivating and entertaining reads.

More below.

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