The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Window by Rachel Swirsky

The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Window by Rachel Swirsky

pluckedredflowersThe Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Windowis a fantasy short story about how much one’s world view is shaped by culture, the time period in which one lives and love.

The main character, Naeva, is a powerful magician. She serves the queen of a matriarchal society to the best of her capability.

Naeva’s love for the queen is used to trap her soul, so she can be summoned from beyond the grave to serve forever.

“The Queen needs you, Naeva. Don’t you love her?” Love: the word caught me like a thread on a bramble. Oh, yes. I loved the queen. My will weakened, and I tumbled out of my body. Cold crystal drew me in like a great mouth, inhaling.

This binding is problematic, because the queen doesn’t live forever.

I was captivated by this story. It surprised me because short stories aren’t usually my thing.

During a bout of insomnia one night, I read The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers in one sitting.

You can read it too, if you’d like. It is available in its entirety online: https://subterraneanpress.com/magazin…

There are subtleties in the story about feminine and masculine power, but also mankind’s penchant for judging current culture as superior to all others that have ever or will ever exist.

“It was becoming increasingly clear that this woman viewed me as a relic. Indignation simmered; I was not an urn, half-buried in the desert. Yet, in a way, I was.”

Naeva suffers not only because she’s trapped and cannot die, but also because her matriarchal culture is left behind in the depths of time.

“I had never before been aware of the time that I spent under the earth, but as the years between summons stretched, I began to feel vague sensations: swatches of grey and white along with muted, indefinable pain.”

She changes, but reluctantly and slowly. And love has as large a role in shaping her development as it did in her entrapment.

It is a wonderful fairy tale. I highly recommend it for sleepless nights or a boring lunch hour.

Thanks for reading!

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Elizabeth I by Margaret George

Elizabeth I by Margaret George

elizabethiMargaret George writes about Queen Elizabeth I of England and the last years of her reign.

I think most people are aware that Elizabeth’s father was Henry VIII and the tumultuous going’s on that preceded and then ushered in her reign. But fewer are aware of what happened during the later years of her life.

The last years were still exciting and dangerous, filled with invading Spanish armadas (more than one) and power hungry lords. That’s what this book is all about.

I confess: I am a major fan of both Elizabeth I and Margaret George.

“I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble women, but I have the heart and stomach of a king and of a king of England, too- and think it foul scorn that Parma or any prince of Europe should dare to invade the borders of my realm.” pg 41.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of visiting Westminster Abbey and seeing the tomb of Elizabeth I. The crowds were such that I couldn’t linger by the effigy but was forced into constant motion, rushed past.

I burst into tears as I exited the area of the church that contained her tomb and I was completely overcome with emotion. My husband led me through the throng again, just so I could spend a moment more near one of my favorite historical figures.

What do I love about Elizabeth I? Let me count the ways!

First of all, she insisted that she was a ruler in her own right, not because she was married to a royal. Elizabeth used the game of courtship to increase her power. That’s hard core.

“Francois had been my last, and in many ways my only, serious marriage possibility. I had been wooed by twenty-five foreign suitors over the years. I never intended to marry any of them, but it was my best tool of diplomacy.” pg 72.

Second, she smart with her power rather than greedy. She navigated a world in which she had few allies because of her religion. And she never accepted defeat. “For my own part, I swear that my heart has never known what fear is. In ambition of glory I never sought to enlarge the territories of my land. If I have used my forces to keep the enemy from you, I have thereby done it for your safety, and to keep dangers at bay.” pg 145.

She was well-learned, charismatic and always knew what to say in public situations.

“It is not possible to see a woman of so fine and vigorous a disposition both in mind and in body. One cay say nothing to her on which she will not make an apt comment. She is a great princess who knows everything.” pg 363.

And finally, she was honest and true to the end of her life to the responsibility of leading her country. Elizabeth I loved her people.

“There will never queen sit in my seat with more zeal to my country, care to my subjects, and that will sooner with willingness venture her life for your good and safety, than myself. … And though you have had and may have many princes more mighty and wise sitting in this seat, yet you never had or shall have any that will love you better.” pg 608.

My quibble with this book was not with the research or the story, which were both fine in my opinion. It was the fact that George split the narrative- most of the chapters are told from Elizabeth’s point of view, but some are from Lettice’s point of view, the mother of Robert Devereux.

I understand Lettice’s narrative was used to explain Devereux’s motivations and unexplained behavior, but I felt as if it slowed the story down. Coming in at 662 pages, this was a book that needed to stay at a fast clip. I didn’t feel as if it achieved that.

That being said, George provides an amazing escape from the world and unparalleled historical fiction, with this story.

The weekend I started this book, my mother had an unexpected heart attack and nearly died. She was in good health and relatively young. It was quite a shock.

Some people spend hours worrying, others in conversation or watching TV to wile away stressful hours.

I picked up Elizabeth I by Margaret George and transported myself to Elizabethan England. There was worry, danger, intrigue… and when I needed to put down the book and attend to family concerns, I could. By the time the weekend was over, I had completed this book and my mother was discharged from the hospital.

It looks as if she will make a full recovery. And I learned quite a bit more about Elizabeth I.

If you are looking for distraction from every day life, this epic tale could fit the bill. Recommended for historical fiction lovers, of course, but also for anyone who desperately needs a way to pass the time.

Thank you, Margaret George, for providing that for me, just when I needed it most.

Thanks for reading!

What would it take for women to run the world?

What would it take for women to run the world?

thepowerA book review of The Power by Naomi Alderman.

In The Power, young women have developed the ability to control electricity. It shifts the balance of power between the sexes and the world begins to come apart at the seams.

It is told from the point of view of a few women and a man. They each have different stories and experiences that Naomi Alderman blends together to create a powerful statement about how we live.

This is one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever read, but also, most brilliant. It made me think about all of the internal biases I have when it comes to gender, cultural expectations and roles.

Who was it who said: “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This book is an examination of power and how it has shaped the world, not always for the better.

The monumental societal shift starts out small enough. A man named Tunde captures a moment between a young woman and a man who was hitting on her at the grocery store: “Tunde is recording when she turns around. … There she is, bringing her hand to his arm when he smiles and thinks she is performing mock-fury for his amusement. If you pause the video for a moment at this point, you can see the charge jump.” loc 261, ebook.

Those who have been abused are more likely to become abusers. And there are many, many abused women in the world.

“A strange new kind of fighting which leaves boys- mostly boys, sometimes girls- breathless and twitching, with scars like unfurling leaves winding up their arms or legs or across the soft flesh of their middles. Their first thought after disease is a new weapon, something these kids are bringing into school, but as the first week trickles into the second they know that’s not it.” loc 316, ebook.

Entire governments crumble to powerful women. Women who have been locked up their entire lives roam the streets, free. Soon enough, they’re locking up and abusing the men, because they can.

Religions change. Sexual predilections change. New politicians are elected. New soldiers are trained.

“Allie thinks, God is telling the world that there is to be a new order. That the old way is overturned. The old centuries are done.”loc 681, ebook.

The new scourge of third world countries are powerful, uncontrolled women.

“He wounds three of the women in the leg or arm and the others are on him like a tide. There is a sound like eggs frying. When Tunde gets close enough to show what has been done, he is perfectly still, the twisted-vine marks across his face and neck so thick that his features are barely discernible.” loc 884, ebook.

I think book clubs may find plenty to talk about in this book- if they can make it through. There are some very disturbing scenes.

“Gender is a shell game. What is a man? Whatever a woman isn’t. What is a woman? Whatever a man is not. Tap on it and it’s hollow. Look under the shells: it’s not there.” loc 4780, ebook.

In a time when so many women may feel powerless or voiceless, The Power may speak directly to them. It is, as I’ve said, a disturbing book, but also a conversation starter.

To quote Victor Hugo: Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come. And, in my mind, it was the perfect time for this book to be written.

Thank you to NetGalley for a free digital copy of this book and thanks for reading.

Room by Emma Donoghue

Room by Emma Donoghue

roomTold from a 5-year-old’s point of view, Room is the story of Jack, his mother and the room that they never leave. To Jack’s mother, it is a prison. To Jack, it’s just the world.

“…it was a garden shed to begin with. Just a basic twelve-by-twelve, vinyl-coated steel. But he added a sound-proofed skylight, and lots of insulating foam inside the walls, plus a layer of sheet lead, because lead kills all sound. Oh, and a security door with a code. He boasts about what a neat job he made of it.” pg 85.

Jack and his mother have no contact with the outside world, except for ‘Old Nick’ who only comes at night, brings food and the occasional ‘Sunday treat.’

They are his prisoners.

“…we mustn’t try and hurt him again. When he came back the next night, he said, number one, nothing would ever make him tell me the code. And number two, if I ever tried a stunt like that again, he’d go away and I’d get hungrier and hungrier till I died.” pg 97.

Though this book covers some seriously dark subject matter, it is told through the point-of-view and voice of a child.

At first, I didn’t like it, but then I realized- hearing the story from Jack made it bearable. I think if we had heard it from his mother’s point of view, it would have been too bleak.

Jack confuses television and reality because he’s never been outside ‘room’: “Women aren’t real like Ma is, and girls and boys not either. Men aren’t real except Old Nick, I’m not actually sure if he’s real for real. Maybe half? He brings groceries and Sunday treat and disappears the trash, but he’s not human like us. He only happens in the night, like bats. Maybe Door makes him up with a beep beep and the air changes. I think Ma doesn’t like to talk about him in case he gets realer.” pg 18.

The beauty of this story is in the resiliency of Jack and the love he and his mother have for each other. They keep each other going when life becomes unbearable.

There are also some surprising twists to the story too.

I loved it.

I took the time to watch the movie after I read the book and it is a great adaptation. Not, of course, as stellar as the book, but well worth the time.

Highly recommended, but keep your tissue box close.

Thanks for reading!

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

yearofwondersYear of Wonders tells the story of Anna, a servant to a pastor, and how she emotionally and physically survives the plague while the majority of her village falls ill around her.

I was enthralled. I listened to the audiobook on my daily commute and it was fantastic.

You get the very real drama of life in a small village mixed with the the despair that must have accompanied the plague. There’s finger-pointing, people taking advantage of other’s need and, above all, the need to rationalize why all of the deaths were occurring.

My favorite part of this book was when Anna stopped in the middle of her hectic life to reconsider how she viewed God. She uses common sense reasoning to pick apart why a deity would allow such tragedy to occur and then wonders why the young are taken rather than the old.

She comes to the conclusion that what’s happening is a biological thing rather than a divine thing. Then, once she has that straight in her mind, she’s better equipped to handle everybody else’s irrational responses to the plague without being bogged down by her own.

Anna is a great heroine. She has her flaws- a flirtation with opium addiction to dull her grief and a crush on someone else’s husband- but she tries to be a good person. Mainly, she’s just overwhelmed by what’s going on and wants to feel loved and safe.

She cares for the ill, helps an orphaned child hold on to her family’s lead mine and tries to help her village keep body and soul together.

The ending of Year of Wonders was incredibly shocking to me, but in a good way. Geraldine Brooks stayed true to her characters but took the story in such an unexpected direction, that I had to turn it off for awhile to absorb what I had just heard.

Highly recommended for book clubs or people who love historical fiction. Year of Wonders is wonderous indeed.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

we were liarsThe Sinclair family is blonde, beautiful and wealthy. They gather together in the summer on a private island owned by the patriarch of the family.

Cadence Sinclair Eastman is ill. A terrible accident a few summers ago left her with debilitating migraines and a faulty memory.

Can she put together the pieces of what happened before she has to leave for the summer?

We were Liars is a fantastic coming-of-age book with an unreliable narrator, forbidden love and an excellent twist that I’ll bet you won’t see coming. (I know I didn’t.)

“We are Sinclairs. No one is needy. No one is wrong. We live, at least in the summertime, on a private island off the coast of Massachusetts. Perhaps that is all you need to know.” pg 26, ebook.

This is not a family who wears their hearts on their sleeve: “We believe in outdoor exercise. We believe that time heals. We believe, although we will not say so explicitly, in prescription drugs and the cocktail hour. We do not discuss our problems in restaurants. We do not believe in displays of distress. Our upper lips are stiff, and it is possible people are curious about us because we do not show them our hearts.” pg 55, ebook.

Cadence, her cousins and Gat, the nephew of one of the boyfriends of a Sinclair daughter, call themselves, ‘The Liars’. Why they do so is one of the biggest mysteries in the story and I won’t ruin it for you.

I loved this book. I loved the tone, the mystery and the slow reveal.

I also loved how the reader gets to know Cadence so completely. This is not a story that leaves you wondering about character motivations.

Highly recommended for fans of young adult books, coming-of-age tales and stories with unreliable narrators. We were Liars may just be one of my favorite reads of 2017.

Thanks for reading!

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

darkmatterDark Matter is a fantastic, sci-fi read about regret, love and quantum mechanics.

My book club picked this wild ride of a book and everybody took something different out of it.

We all enjoyed it, which is weird for us. Usually, we have opinions across the spectrum. This one, though, was universally loved. That’s saying something.

“In the shadow of this moment, my life is achingly beautiful. “I have an amazing family. A fulfilling job. We’re comfortable. Nobody’s sick.” pg 28. And then, something truly surprising happens. No spoilers!

I think that, as time passes, we grow comfortable in our lives, our marriages and relationships. Part of this book is about appreciating what you may take for granted. “He says, “It’s like we get so set in our ways, so entrenched in those grooves, we stop seeing our loved ones for who they are. But tonight, right now, I see you again, like the first time we met, when the sound of your voice and your smell was this new country.” pg 67.

The leader of my book club picked quotations that had to do about self-knowing and quantum mechanics. It was no surprise that mine were all about love. I’m one of the hopeless romantics of the group.

And one of the most open-minded: “We all live day to day completely oblivious to the fact that we’re a part of a much larger and stranger reality that we can possibly imagine.” pg 96. I truly believe that.

A local physics professor joined our circle and gave a short lecture on basic quantum mechanics and wave theory. But, you don’t have to be an expert on the subject to enjoy this story. It’s approachable science, like The Martian.

Recommended for book clubs, especially, but also anyone who wants an unbelievable story will probably love this too.

I heard that this is going to be made into a film- read the book anyway. It’s always better.

Thanks for reading!