Mini-Reviews: Norse Mythology, We’ll Fly Away, and I Capture the Castle

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: February 7, 2017
Source: Borrowed

Neil Gaiman, long inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction, presents a bravura rendition of the Norse gods and their world from their origin though their upheaval in Ragnarok.

In Norse Mythology, Gaiman stays true to the myths in envisioning the major Norse pantheon: Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki—son of a giant—blood brother to Odin and a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator.

Gaiman fashions these primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds and delves into the exploits of deities, dwarfs, and giants. Through Gaiman’s deft and witty prose, these gods emerge with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to duping others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.

Way back in 2012, I DNFed American Gods about three times. I tried really hard to like that book, but it just wasn’t happening. After that, I avoided Gaiman even though I’ve consistently heard that his writing is amazing. Well, I needed a book set in Scandinavia for a reading challenge, so what better than some Norse mythology?

This book was so good! I don’t really have any background in Norse mythology — I think the extent of my knowledge comes from the Thor movies — but you don’t really need any prior knowledge to enjoy this book. Gaiman writes a funny, engaging story of all the Norse gods interacting with each other and getting into shenanigans.

Norse Mythology gave me hope for other books by Gaiman, so I went out and got The Ocean at the End of the Lane for myself and added a bunch of his other books to my library wishlist.

#ps19: a book set in Scandinavia

We’ll Fly Away by Bryan Bliss
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 8, 2018
Source: Borrowed

Uniquely told through letters from death row and third-person narrative, Bryan Bliss’s hard-hitting third novel expertly unravels the string of events that landed a teenager in jail. Luke feels like he’s been looking after Toby his entire life. He patches Toby up when Toby’s father, a drunk and a petty criminal, beats on him, he gives him a place to stay, and he diffuses the situation at school when wise-cracking Toby inevitably gets into fights. Someday, Luke and Toby will leave this small town, riding the tails of Luke’s wrestling scholarship, and never look back.

But during their senior year, they begin to drift apart. Luke is dealing with his unreliable mother and her new boyfriend. And Toby unwittingly begins to get drawn into his father’s world, and falls for an older woman. All their long-held dreams seem to be unraveling. Tense and emotional, this heartbreaking novel explores family, abuse, sex, love, friendship, and the lengths a person will go to protect the people they love.

I actually DNFed We’ll Fly Away last summer, not because it was bad, but just because it was a much heavier book than I was in the mood for. I ended up picking it back up (audio this time) and connecting with it a lot more.

Still, it was a lot heavier of a book than I normally read. In general, I’m not a big fan of stories that pack a big emotional punch, and this one, a book about a teenage boy on death row, his neglectful mother, and the physical abuse his best friend endures, definitely fits that description. I really felt for both Luke and Toby, and, though I knew it was impossible, I just wanted everything to turn out okay for them in the end.

I saw the ending coming, but I don’t really think it’s supposed to be a surprise. I mean, the whole book builds up to the climax of what exactly landed Luke in prison. So, I don’t love the theme, I saw the ending coming, it’s no wonder I didn’t love this book. But the characters really made it worth the read. I loved reading about their friendship. It’s so rare in YA to find a supportive friendship like this between two boys, and it was so nice to read about.

If you’re in the mood for heartbreak and strong friendships, I’d highly recommend this one.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: 1948
Source: Borrowed

Through six turbulent months of 1934, 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain keeps a journal, filling three notebooks with sharply funny yet poignant entries about her home, a ruined Suffolk castle, and her eccentric and penniless family. By the time the last diary shuts, there have been great changes in the Mortmain household, not the least of which is that Cassandra is deeply, hopelessly, in love.

I checked out I Capture the Castle solely because I needed a classic romance for one of my 2019 reading challenges. It’s not something that I would have checked out otherwise, but I ended up really enjoying it!

Cassandra was such an upbeat, fun narrator. The whole book is told through her journal entries, and despite everything going on around her, she keeps a positive attitude. For being written in journal entries, the book does a surprisingly good job of setting the scene. I felt like I was in that crumbling castle with the Mortmains, watching everything unfold right along with them.

I didn’t really expect to enjoy this book, but it was a lot of fun.

#romanceopoly: austen row

Have you read any of these books? Are any of them on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book review: Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger

Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 1961
Source: Purchased (twice)

The short story, Franny, takes place in an unnamed college town and tells the tale of an undergraduate who is becoming disenchanted with the selfishness and inauthenticity she perceives all around her.

The novella, Zooey, is named for Zooey Glass, the second-youngest member of the Glass family. As his younger sister, Franny, suffers a spiritual and existential breakdown in her parents’ Manhattan living room — leaving Bessie, her mother, deeply concerned — Zooey comes to her aid, offering what he thinks is brotherly love, understanding, and words of sage advice.

When I was in high school, this guy I was kind of/sort of friends with gave me a list of 25 books everyone needs to read before they turn 25. I checked a lot of them out from the library and bought a bunch of the others. Franny and Zooey was one of those that I bought, but I’ve moved a lot since I graduated from high school and it got lost somewhere. Over the summer, I bought myself another copy so that I could finally take it off my TBR.

I can tell you one thing — I would have hated this book (which is really two separate yet connected stories) if I’d read it in high school. Luckily, my reading tastes as an adult are a bit different. I enjoyed Franny, but Zooey did leave a bit to be desired. I think my biggest problem with Zooey is that I was so annoyed with him that I couldn’t bring myself to read more than a few pages at a time. I finished Franny in about 45 minutes. Zooey took me four days.

After loving my reread of The Catcher in the Rye so much, I kind of expected to love Franny and Zooey more. It was still a good story, just not quite as good as I’d hoped.

#killingthetbr: eleven(ish) years on shelf

Have you read Franny and (or) Zooey? Do you like to read classics?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book review: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: AmazonTBDGoodreads
Publication Date: 1959
Source: Purchased

First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

A courtesan, a pilgrim, a princess, and a bullfighter. Hill House has surely never seen our like.

I bought this book shortly after I finished We Have Always Lived in the Castle. As usual, it took me a little while to actually get around to reading it, but my goodness, was it worth it. I don’t really do well with spooky things, as we’ve previously established, and I don’t tend to make great decisions about when to read spooky things, as we’ve also previously established. I read this book while alone in my friend’s house and I jumped at every tiny noise.

So, I put a sticky note in this book every time I freaked out. The comments I put on each sticky note range from “WHAT” to “OMG WHY” to “WHAT THE FUCK” to “oh GOD.” I also put a sticky note in this book every time I laughed or smiled, and there are almost as many of those stickies are there are spooky ones. I didn’t expect to have nearly this much fun with a horror novel, but I did.

I’m going to stop the review here to avoid accidentally spoiling anything. Four stars because I didn’t have trouble putting it down (it took me four days to read 182 pages), but I really love Shirley Jackson’s writing.

#mm18: don’t turn out the light

Have you read The Haunting of Hill House? What’s your favorite spooky book?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: AmazonTBDGoodreads
Publication Date: 1962
Source: Borrowed
Merricat Blackwood lives on the family estate with her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian. Not long ago there were seven Blackwoods—until a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl one terrible night. Acquitted of the murders, Constance has returned home, where Merricat protects her from the curiosity and hostility of the villagers. Their days pass in happy isolation until cousin Charles appears. Only Merricat can see the danger, and she must act swiftly to keep Constance from his grasp.

I was in the library picking up my copy of Godsgrave when I saw a whole entire pile of We Have Always Lived in the Castles by the door. It was a little odd, but I wasn’t going to say anything. I ended up checking out a copy along with Godsgrave and then reading it (mostly) on a plane. And what can I say, I usually end up really liking books that I read on planes.

This was my first book by Shirley Jackson, and as soon as I finished, I dragged my best friend to a bookstore with me where I almost bought The Haunting of Hill House before I realized that I literally did not have any room left in my suitcase. It’s okay, though, because I bought it once I got back to New Jersey.

I’m not really sure what I can say about this book other than it’s creepy and I liked it. I don’t really ever read books like this, but I think I might start now?

#mm18: vacation reads

Have you read We Have Always Lived in the Castle? Is it on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book review: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: TBDAmazonGoodreads
Publication Date: July 16, 1951
Source: Purchased

The hero-narrator of The Catcher in the Rye is an ancient child of sixteen, a native New Yorker named Holden Caulfield. Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, secondhand description, he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days. The boy himself is at once too simple and too complex for us to make any final comment about him or his story. Perhaps the safest thing we can say about Holden is that he was born in the world not just strongly attracted to beauty but, almost, hopelessly impaled on it. There are many voices in this novel: children’s voices, adult voices, underground voices-but Holden’s voice is the most eloquent of all. Transcending his own vernacular, yet remaining marvelously faithful to it, he issues a perfectly articulated cry of mixed pain and pleasure. However, like most lovers and clowns and poets of the higher orders, he keeps most of the pain to, and for, himself. The pleasure he gives away, or sets aside, with all his heart. It is there for the reader who can handle it to keep.

J.D. Salinger’s classic novel of teenage angst and rebellion was first published in 1951. The novel was included on Time‘s 2005 list of the 100 best English-language novels written since 1923. It was named by Modern Library and its readers as one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. It has been frequently challenged in the court for its liberal use of profanity and portrayal of sexuality and in the 1950’s and 60’s it was the novel that every teenage boy wants to read.

Sometimes I think it’s easier to write a negative review than it is to write a positive one. Don’t even get me started on a book I hated. I can talk for hours about everything that’s wrong with a book, but when it comes to a book I loved, I almost always draw a blank. I mean, how am I supposed to put into words everything that I loved about this book? I’ve reviewed close to 600 books over the years, but today, I seem to have forgotten how.

Maybe I should start by saying that I last read this book back in (probably) 2006 when I was a teenager with bad taste. I say “a teenager with bad taste” because, let’s be honest, I thought Twilight was the best thing I’d ever read and I was unimpressed with this book. Thankfully, Daniel asked me if I wanted to do a buddy re-read of The Catcher in the Rye and I said yes. It ended up being a great decision all around. I’d like to issue a formal apology to J.D. Salinger for all of the years I spent thinking I didn’t really like this book. I was wrong.

Why do I love Holden so much? I don’t remember thinking anything about him the first time, but he’s pretty much my favorite literary character ever right now. I love his sarcasm, I love his exaggerations, and I love how honest he is. I love how much he loves his sister. I love how he talks about Jane. I love how he sits down with a couple nuns in a train station and discusses Romeo and Juliet. All I want is to give him a hug and tell him that everything is going to be okay.

Some quotes: 

  • “I’m pretty sure he yelled ‘Good luck!’ at me. I hope not. I hope to hell not. I’d never yell ‘Good luck!’ at anybody. It sounds terrible, when you think about it.”
  • “He was one of those guys that think they’re being a pansy if they don’t break around forty of your fingers when they shake hands with you.”
  • “What I think is, you’re supposed to leave somebody alone if he’s at least being interesting and he’s getting all excited about something. I like it when somebody gets excited about something. It’s nice.”
  • “Certain things they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone.”
  • “People are mostly hot to have a discussion when you’re not.”
  • “Don’t tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”

I don’t think there’s actually anything about this book that I didn’t like.

Have you read The Catcher in the Rye? Do you love it or hate it?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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