Review: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Enter a world of Napoleonic rule, dark alleyways, and reclusive estates.
Enter a world of apprenticeship and fa(e)teful dealings.
Enter a world of practical magic; a world exclusive to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

Allow me a moment of honesty - this book requires commitment to complete. Don't get me wrong. It is masterfully written in a beautiful, educated language filled with rich descriptions, enthralling subject matter, and perfectly timed dialogue. There is nothing I can say against this novel; it truly is a work of art. I admire Susanna Clarke for her talent, ability to organize such a large project, and knowledge of such a subject. But had I not been previously invested in the subject of faeries and old England prior to picking up the book I likely would have set it down one day, mid-read, and walked away forgetting it completely.

Perhaps the magic within the pages spilled out somehow and left me feeling an uneasiness about the life of it. Believe me when I tell you, the world changes a little with each page you turn.

The footnotes may have been my favorite part. They became something to look forward to - a further indulgence of folklore or historical occurrence that broadens the reality of the era in which this story is set without distracting from the narrative with facts and figures. (Some four pages long!) If you wanted to, you could pass the footnotes by without a second glance and not miss out on Jonathan or Mr. Norrell's doings, but you would be at a disadvantage to the mastery of this novel. It is obvious that Clarke was dedicated to this project and had a specific vision for it. I hope the TV show available through the BBC will do it justice. Clarke seems to have done all the research for producers anyway - it'll be hard for them to screw it up!

In all, the novel reads as a historical non-fiction, although it isn't, based on real and true people who lived, breathed, and spit fire. Before the story is through you will question reality and from the forgotten depths of your inner-child's heart you will believe in magic once more.

Susanna Clarke does such an amazing and thorough job in citing sources and connecting historical non-fiction with the lives of Jonathan and Mr. Norrell that the clouds of doubt begin to clear away and although it may seem impossible you begin to wonder why not. Stranger things have been proven to be true. In fact, the realm of the fae must exist; the folklore bred in a depth of truth. It's made me envious of the English for their rich history. And it's left me still wondering.

Review: Flowing Gold

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rex Beach is a favorite of mine. Long since passed, his life was filled with adventure, prospecting failure, writing success, and Olympic silver! Flowing Gold was not the first book of his that I picked up, but it is the one I seem to pick up repeatedly.

Calvin Gray is a conman who commands the reader's immediate championship. He is smooth, classy, intelligent, and full of life. The best part about him, though, is that he is genuine, noble, and always on the right side of the law. He knows how to play the game is all. Calvin finds himself in Dallas during the oil boom (thus, Flowing Gold), and is without a penny to his name. Yet, he stays in the Governor's suite in the nicest hotel in town. He walks around in the nicest suit and eats meals at the nicest restaurants. Perhaps he's floated a few checks along the way, but soon makes up for the financial deficit by making acquaintances in all the right places.

His first friend being a jeweler in need of a runner to a client who has too much money and not enough brains living out in the middle of no where. Calvin gladly takes on the errand, disguising it out of good will and nature from one business man to another, and even saves the jeweler from robbery in the process. His clients turn out to be the Clampetts of the era who are in desperate need of refinement for their drought stricken farm has struck a heavy oil deposit and Ma, Pa, daughter, and son just aren't sure what to make of it all. Calvin gladly takes them under his wing - connecting the daughter with an etiquette coach, the son with a college, and Ma and Pa with a mountainside resort where Ma comes into her own as a daydreaming pirate queen.

Calvin isn't without the pangs of love which strike hard and swift, a history of wrongfully accused inglorious military records, and successful business dealings which turn this conman into a noted, and beloved, citizen of Dallas and surrounding areas. There's a crescendo of adventure in a burning, flooded oil field that will have the reader flipping through the pages at an alarming rate.

This is a story about success, flippant money spending, confidence building, unwavering support, and revenge. You won't want to miss it!

Review: Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rumo is a Wolperting, although he doesn't know it yet. His life begins lazily as a Hackonian farmer's pet pup; spoiled and loved. His only responsibilities to accept belly rubs, the cooing of admirers, and occasionally come to understand the world around him. All is disrupted, though, when he and his caretakers are kidnapped by a carnivorous band of Demoncles who traversed the world on a floating rock, only coming to shore when the rock landed and their stores were depleted. This is where Rumo meets Smyke, a shark grub, and his life begins to pursue his real potential as the intelligent, upright walking, battle ready Wolperting he is. And this is just the beginning.

Adventures (it's in the title, after all) ensue for Rumo which lead him to the mysteriously blockaded town of Wolperting - a town filled with his own species, all of varying breeds, and a dome no one knows anything about. He gains a roommate, goes to school, learns to fence and play chess, to read and write, and becomes a master carpenter. Oh, and he falls in love. But when he returns from a lover's mission outside the walls of town, he finds the bustling city vacant and an empty void where the dome once stood. Into the depths of Hell he wanders seeking his friends and teachers and the second half of Rumo's life begins. Will he arrive in time to save them? You'll have to read it to find out!

I bought Walter Moers' Rumo in 2007 for $3.00 at Half Priced Books (my absolute favorite store on this planet.) The cover intrigued me and when I flipped through the pages which included character attributed fonts and original artwork by the author I was sold. I had never read fantasy fiction before, but I couldn't resist. The presentation of the 689 page tomb was too creative to pass up. It's a refreshing publication as it didn't just tell a story from front cover to back, but rather it included the reader in the journey by playing with the traditions of published work. Art, font, black pages, text layout, and maps were constantly shifting so the eyes never grew tired or bored. The design of the book is just beautiful.

Eight years later and I can still remember the moments I spent reading it. If I close my eyes I can see myself there laying on my stomach in our guest bedroom the door shut and the light filtering in through the closed blinds; sprawled out in the Arizona summer heat, lost in the world of Zamonia. Looking at my dogs with a sideways glance wondering when they would challenge me to a game of chess. My entire world came to a halt when I first started reading Rumo. I became useless to those around me and cared little for anything else - who needs food, right? 

It took me three days and two sleepless nights to finish. And then I was on the hunt for more. I purchased every English translated book he had and devoured them like a starving Demoncles. Although he has many books published in his native tongue, German, the English translations slowly trickle our way. I've even considered learning the language so I can have greater access to his work. In the meantime, I'll continue to stalk Moers' website and Amazon page for new releases and pre-release purchases.

If I could give a six or seven or eight star review, I would. To see a strong sampling of Moers' artwork, click here.

Other great, English translated works by Moers include:

Review: To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a writer I was determined to find out why this book was so highly praised to the point that within a year of printing it had landed the most coveted of writer's awards: the Pulitzer Prize.

Was it because it spoke boldly about the civil rights of all men?
Was it because Harper Lee emphatically decried the injustice of racism in our courts?
Was it because she demanded to be heard on a grand platform?

No. I don't believe so.

Rather, her writing is subtle. Beautifully subtle. We are told a story, quietly and innocent. The truths which come out are that which come from the mouths of babes; the wisdom of children.

I see it now, the simplicity of her work yet the enormity of its message no matter how gently it was delivered. As a writer I can see how she did not over complicate things, but instead allowed her readers to make intelligent connections and assumptions.

As a reader I was invested - oh boy was I invested in the man known as Atticus Finch! I instantly took a liking to him and may even place him as my newly crowned favorite leading male character of all who have paraded before me. He was noble in a time of duress, he was honest and steadfast, and, most importantly, he listened to his children.

If you haven't read it, I recommend it. If you were forced to read it as a teenager for school and didn't like it, I recommend you revisit it. In a world where messages are loudly thrust at us from every angle covering every agenda; in a world where literature has become watered down and blatantly in your face this piece of history is not only refreshing, but endearing.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

"Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved reading. One does not love breathing."
- Scout, To Kill a Mockingbird

"Of course he shouldn't, but he'll never change his ways. Are you going to take out your disapproval on his children?"
- Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

“… You’re not gonna change any of them by talkin’ right, they’ve got to want to learn themselves, and when they don’t want to learn there’s nothing you can do but keep your mouth shut or talk their language.”
– Calpurnia, To Kill a Mockingbird

View all my reviews

Review: The Golden Isle

The Golden Isle, pub. 1947

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dr. Michael Stone has refused a lucrative offer as a slave ship doctor only to find himself kidnapped and floating across the Atlantic Ocean like the stock in the hold beneath him. Although paid for his work, he is made aware that his presence there is negligible to the crew and one wrong step could send him overboard with a bullet in his chest. Dr. Stone makes the best of his situation by realizing he may be the only hope the poor, confined souls below deck might have. In his efforts to create as comfortable and healthy a living environment for the voyage as possible, he, in turn, ensures more slaves survive it; much to the delight of his boss.

After a few years at sea, Dr. Stone finally takes measures into his own hands and releases himself from the bondage of his contract with the slave company - a night which ends with a bang! But it isn't until he reaches the shores of Florida that things begin to really heat up.

As a lover of all things history and adventure, this second-hand-store-find was a lucky strike! Frank G. Slaughter spares no details on the nitty gritty of the slave trade and its consequences. His leading character is noble in nature and progressive in his methods, the author himself being a physician and well versed in the medical world.

In retrospect of the times, I am delighted to see that the author was able to walk the fine line of staying true to the mentality of the slave trade and the era it occupied and the slowly declining racism of 1947 when the book was published. This is a poignant piece of this story - the language, hostility, and honesty shows us just how the African-American race was described through the eyes of a white male in the late 1700's as well as a more modern scope without apology. I will admit that while reading some descriptions and brutal depictions of rape or abuse I felt pangs of the heart. Fiction is best when you realize it must not be far off the mark to what the world truly was like a short few hundred years ago.

The storyline as a whole is enthralling. As a reader you find yourself invested in the happiness and success of Dr. Stone and the characters around him while at the same time rooting for power to be given back to a people.

I highly recommend this sharp glance into a dark time of the modern world. Not only will the story stay with you long after you read it, but the content itself will touch the reality of slavery deeper than any history book ever could.