Utopia by St. Sir Thomas More

Utopia Cover

Caidyn – 3/5
Chantel – 2.5/5

In terms of the writing, Book 1 was a lot more interesting than Book 2. Book 1 was a discourse of what was wrong in typically monarchical Western civilization while Book 2 was a manifesto of what Utopia was like, from their legal system, or lack thereof, to their religion. As a book, it wasn’t terribly interesting, even if the ideas put forth were.

What Sir Thomas More had in mind, however, weren’t ideas that every one of his time would agree upon. In fact, they are closer to our modern ideas in a lot of ways. When reading this, one can see a very odd combination of socialism/egalitarianism, communism,  and utilitarianism, all while keeping with traditional Christian ideas of brotherly love, the dangers of idleness, and how good works can help the whole society. These ideas don’t seem to come together. Communism called for the erasure of religion. Egalitarianism just isn’t inherent in how Christianity gets played out in reality, despite Christ’s teachings.

It’s not uncommon to read a book written a long time ago and find that things are similar to modern life. One thing in particular that stood out for me (Chantel) was the concept of slavery in Utopia, they weren’t people brought over from a foreign land against their will. No, they were people who’d committed crimes in Utopia. In a way, it’s not much different than our own prison systems. Is it humane to strip a criminal of their rights as opposed to an innocent person? Well, when things like adultery are severely punished according to the penal system, then maybe it’s not a perfect system. Just like our own system isn’t perfect.

When it comes to crime in Utopia, there’s definitely an undercurrent of strong Christian values which isn’t surprising. Sir Thomas More was incredibly religious and it shows. Things like premarital sex and adultery were the most shameful in the land of Utopia. From my (Caidyn’s) perspective, it seems that More says that Christianity is inherent to all people. At least, all “civilized” people. The Utopians are civilized, but around this time period, people were discovering new worlds full of people who had practices that were distinctly non-Christian.

There are many interesting ideas in this book that Sir Thomas More puts forth and ideas that I think are relevant even to this day. That’s incredibly progressive at the time he wrote this in the 16th Century. However, we all have our own vision of what a true utopia would be and this is just one man’s vision.

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Ghost Hunt, Volume 8 by Shiho Inada and Fuyumi Ono

Ghost Hunt, Vol. 8 (Ghost Hunt, #8)

(Caidyn)

4/5

I’ve only really had one manga that I like and this is it. I watched the anime series on Netflix as a whim. I love ghost-y things and being creeped out is my aesthetic, so it had looked up my alley. And, now I’ve wound up going through interlibrary loan a million times to get the mangas one at a time, even though all of them were made into different episodes.

This didn’t disappoint me on the creepy factor. Possessed people. Weird dreams. Premonition. Terrifying kids. All up my alley completely. And, for a while, I didn’t recognize this story. I still don’t remember the ending, but my heart rate went up for sure. I had on something cheerful in the background because I have to multi-task. Still got freaked out.

However, I still have my problems. As I did in the anime and in the other volumes, I find Mai extremely annoying. She’s just one of those annoying people I hate spending time around. Especially since her mood swings are insane, like in many teen girls. She’s also too perfect, too. In an odd way. Yes, she has her flaws, but she still seems perfect. Everyone sort of just goes with her actions, when I know I’d be calling her out on her shit.

Then, there’s Naru. I like him and I find him interesting, but he’s a Gary-Lou (or whatever the male equivalent of a Mary-Sue is called) to the extreme. He’s 17 and running his own company with tons of money at his fingertips. It’s so unbelievable. Not only that, but he’s so perfect. He can do nothing wrong. Even when he messes up, there’s some way that he fixes it all. I mean, that’s just not how the world works. I worry about anyone giving a teenager that much money and power.

The high rating is just because of the plot and great use of mood to create that intense feeling of foreboding. The main characters could be better. I prefer the side characters to Mai and Naru.

Tales of Yoruba Gods and Heroes by Harold Courlander

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(Caidyn)

3.5/5

Ever since I read God Is Not One, I’ve had a bit of an interest in Yoruba practices. There’s a whole section dedicated to the religion. It talks about the different orishas, divining, some of the stories, and also what it looks like in diaspora communities, how it’s formed and shaped into something new and covert thanks to other religions. I found it fascinating to read and I’ve finally gotten around to reading a book about it.

For once, I read a non-fiction book from cover to cover. I read the introduction, which I only sometimes do. I read the stories, obviously. Then, I went and I read the notes on the different stories — basically explaining the differences within the stories depending on the region and culture since all of this is based on oral history. I also read the appendixes. Or sort of did since one of them were just songs. But the appendixes talked about Yoruba practices in the Americas and Cuba.

The stories Courlander chose were pretty interesting. Repetitive and I had to be in the mood to read them, but interesting nonetheless. I still had some problems getting all of the orishas down. I wish there had been a place where Courlander explicitly put the names of different orishas and a brief explanation of who they were in relation to others. It just would have made it clearer for me since all of them had similar names.

The Raven’s Widow: A Novel of Jane Boleyn by Adrienne Dillard

The Raven's Widow: A Novel of Jane Boleyn

(Caidyn)

4/5

Full disclosure: I know the author. I’ve read her past books and she asked me to read this. All opinions in this review are my own. And I’m sure that she’s damned relieved to see them.

To be fair, I didn’t like her first fiction novel. I thought that the writing was immature and the characterization wasn’t up to what it should have been. It didn’t read in a way I liked, so I DNFed it and left a bad review. Adrienne was very sweet about it. Then, some months ago, she approached me through Goodreads and told me she had another book coming out. She wanted me to read it to see if she could change my mind. We had a whole long talk about the premise and it’s something I could connect with deeply. More on that in a bit.

Since my primary problem with her last book was with general writing and characterization, I’ll start there. This book was fantastic to read. It read easily, yet it was also written maturely. Basically, it didn’t feel like I was reading the first draft. It felt like I was reading a finely polished book that was completely ready for publication. The writing was great and easy, although there were times when it got wordy thanks to the weird way people spoke in the 16th century.

The characters were also great. This book focused on the relationship between three people who have been demonized over the past almost five hundred years. Jane, Anne, and George Boleyn. All executed for crimes that Henry VIII took offense to. I’ve seen The Tudors. Most people have. The relationships portrayed were utterly wrong. Adrienne took the more recent views that newer historians have uncovered about them. Jane and Anne had a loving relationship. Jane even went so far as getting banished from court to defend her. Jane and George were likely happily married. They didn’t have any children, but there is no evidence to say they hated one another. Nor is there any evidence that George was a homosexual. (And I use that word since the concept of gayness is a recent one and I’m not going to apply recent terminology to something that wasn’t around.) Jane probably didn’t completely condemn her husband, purposefully or accidentally. Cromwell and other interrogators would have probably found some way to execute them no matter what Jane said.

I’ve read the books Adrienne has — Jane Boleyn: The True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochford and George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier, and Diplomat — where they throw out those ideas, ones that are very different from the past centuries of research. It was wonderful to finally read a book that tackled those theories and actually showed me a good relationship. I’ve never seen anything positive. From The Tudors to Phillipa Gregory’s retelling in The Other Boleyn Girl (which I hate deeply), they always portray Jane’s relationship with either or even the three characters, as horrible people when they just weren’t.

I also loved the way the story was set up. There were two stories going on at the same time, one of the Boleyn rise and fall, then of Jane’s own fall and execution. They were told in alternating chapters, really. Adrienne, as she and I spoke in messages, thinks that Jane’s actions in the 1540s were a product of PTSD and depression from losing her husband and sister-in-law. Now, in the book, it doesn’t go so far as saying that. I would have liked more portrayal of PTSD (unless you argue the alternating chapters were flashbacks) in different symptoms rather than the hysterical grief. Jane was killed despite going insane, as they put it, and I loved how Adrienne wove it in. It wasn’t insanity, as the male doctors thought, just an outpouring of grief that the men didn’t understand and labeled as an unfit mind. Like hysteria was with the floating uterus.

Adrienne went above and beyond from her first book until now. However, I still did have some issues. I would have liked seeing more symptoms of PTSD. That’s probably because I’m a psychology major and have an interest in PTSD research, so I always enjoy seeing it represented in fiction. Then, there were also just character additions that made no sense. They basically played no role in the plot, so I was confused as to why they were there. Especially since I thought there would be a random love triangle when the stories about Jane, George, and Anne. For me, characters should be used smartly, not just tossed in for some drama and never used again.

Despite that, this book was really excellent on so many different levels that they were minor detractions. They didn’t take away from my overall experience and it’s a very unique take on an important time in history.

Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

Of Fire and Stars Cover

(Chantel)

4/5 – I’d just like to start by saying that this is a queer romance within a fantasy setting and I need more books like this, right now.

I’m no stranger to contemporary LGBTQ+ books, as evidenced by books that I’ve reviewed already, but this was a whole different experience for me. Honestly, I should’ve finished this book soon after I started reading it because it took me about three days to get through the majority of it.

What I was taken aback by was the political intrigue and the mystery of the book, there was something more than the romance at the forefront of the plot and I loved it. Instead of the two Princesses, Denna and Mare, instantly falling for each other and having that be the main conflict. They don’t like each other at all and slowly develop a friendship which then becomes romantic. I found it beautiful to read and it was hard to put down, and I mean that literally because I stayed up past midnight to finish the book. I had a similar experience with Everything Leads to You.

On top of the political conflict is the problem that Denna is betrothed to Mare’s brother who is in line to be King. That is one more thing that keeps them apart once they realize their feelings and honestly, I had no idea how it was going to turn out. I didn’t know if things were going to end happily or not. That’s what kept me reading. I had to figure out how or if they were going to be together. I was invested.

There are a few negatives I had, sometimes the political intrigue was hard to follow, the pacing was inconsistent, and there are a few other things. However, none of those things took away from my enjoyment of the book. I’m easy to please and this book was very pleasing. It was something new to me and a breath of fresh air. I will absolutely read more by Audrey Coulthurst when she publishes new books.

Prince of Thorns (The Broken Empire #1) by Mark Lawrence

Prince of Thorns cover

(Chantel)

4/5 – I’ve always struggled to get into fantasy because there’s always a lot of detail and world building. However, I love world building and I love when it’s done well. So, I have to ask myself why I resisted fantasy for so long. When fantasy is done well, it’s absolutely engaging and fun. It can just be intimidating when there are series of seven books that are 500+ pages long. Luckily, you can start small and start with specific authors.

Caidyn recommended Mark Lawrence to me, and specifically Prince of Thorns which is the first book of his Broken Empire series. It’s his first series and the first book he’s ever written, and all I can say after finishing it is I can’t wait to read the next book. Even before I’ve finished this series, I can’t wait to read his others.

Now, Caidyn did warn me about the main character of the series, Prince Jorg. To put it simply, he’s a little shit. He’s a horrible human being. He’s a murderer, rapist, and overall despicable person. I did avoid reading the book at first because I was worried. I’m not a huge fan of unlikable characters and anti-heroes. I don’t root for the villains and while I don’t see the world in black and white, things like rape are unforgivable in my eyes. Not everyone is going to like Jorg and honestly, I don’t blame you if you don’t.

However, Jorg is a complex, well-written character, and a charming narrator who just happens to be an awful person. It’s important to remember he’s thirteen years old, which just makes the book that much darker and him more unreliable. He could easily be embellishing the things he’s doing.  He knows he’s a terrible person and he’s unapologetic about it. Throughout the first book, he’s not seeking redemption. In fact, he’s seeking revenge. I am certainly not rooting for Jorg to go around murdering and raping, but I’m curious as to what he’s going to do next and how the series continues.

I don’t think I can really put into words how I feel about such a complex character this soon after I’ve finished the book. All I know is he’s a terrible human being and he knows it. He’ll admit it to your face and probably stab you while doing it.

 

Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

Born a Crime

(Chantel)

4.5/5 – I became a fan of Trevor Noah through his standup comedy. However, I think that Trevor Noah is delightful no matter what he’s doing, whether it’s standup, The Daily Show, or narrating a collection of stories from his life. It was only fitting that I listen to this on audiobook because I like the way he performs.

Of course, it wasn’t all comedy. Trevor Noah is from South Africa and was born under apartheid to a black mother and a white father which was illegal at that time. The heart of the relationship was the relationship between Trevor and his mother. It reminded me a lot of my own relationship with my mother. He talked about her honestly and talked about decisions he didn’t understand. She wasn’t perfect and he didn’t talk about her like she was, but you knew he loved and respected her. She made him the man he is.

My favorite part of the book was how he integrated South African history into his own story because the two intertwined. In South Africa, he could’ve been taken away from his parents if they’d found out he was mixed, or colored which is what they call biracial people. I didn’t know a lot about South Africa at all, but I know a lot more about it coming from someone who lived there and lived through a huge part of their history.

I’d love to talk about my favorite stories or the passages that made me laugh the most, but honestly go out and read it or listen to it. I’d highly recommend it. It was one of my favorite reads so far this year.

At its core, I saw it as a tribute to his mother and I found that very powerful and moving.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, #1)

(Caidyn)

1/5

I guess I read this wrong.

I really didn’t like it. I got a tiny bit over 30% done before I called it quits. Stephen Fry narrating it was amazing and I would have listened to it just to hear his voice, but other than that? No thanks. While I enjoy Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, whose writing is a lot like this, I couldn’t get into it. I wanted something more to it. Just a bit of an oomph. There were times where I cracked a smile or snorted. However, there were more times where I just spaced out and forgot what was going on since there was a lot of information I didn’t need. And found that when I tuned back in, I missed nothing whatsoever since nothing had really happened.

It’s an adventure story without a real adventure for me. I can’t remember any of the character’s names and I don’t really care to. Maybe I’ll try it again some other time, but, right now, it’s really not for me.

The Shining by Stephen King

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(Caidyn)

5/5

This is the second time I’ve read this book and, this time, it’s definitely bumped up in my mind from a four star read to five. Why? Because of many things, but the main one is how I read and interpret the story.

I love any story where there are multiple ways to interpret it and each interpretation is equally interesting. My favorite is when it’s either a supernatural phenomenon or it’s a mental illness. Is it something supernatural affecting this person, or is it mental illness taking control? The way I specifically read this book is from Jack’s point of view. Yes, Danny is great. So is Wendy and Holloran and everyone else. But, for me, the story is Jack’s. It’s his progression to becoming the man he never wanted to be.

And, each time, I ask myself: Is it the hotel or psychosis?

Because you can interpret it both ways. He hears and sees things that aren’t there, holds conversations with possibly invisible people, has intense delusions that someone’s controlling him, delusions of persecution, extreme paranoia, and a drug addiction. Those are symptoms of psychosis, specifically schizophrenia. Drugs (pretty sure alcohol can get lumped in) can lead to someone developing it.

Then, you can also say that it’s wrong and it’s all the hotel. And I’d say that you’re completely right. Yet, I’m also completely right.

The hotel is the literal interpretation and the symbolic interpretation is the mental illness and what drugs can do to people. I mean, Stephen King had a severe drug problem that most people know about. When you look at what I’m trying to say — in other words that Jack had a predisposition for schizophrenia that was aggravated by “cabin fever” and alcoholism — then you can see it as King almost writing to himself. Stop or this may be you. It’s a pretty deep meaning for a simple horror book.

Not only that, but Jack is just a great poster for mental illness. On the severe end. Most schizophrenics don’t hurt others. They’re more of a threat to themselves. (I’ve researched schizophrenia excessively, so I do have the sources to back this up.) You have drugs that lead to psychosis. The drugs are the problem. It’s a heavy message for this book.

And it really makes it for me. I love the hotel and the supernatural aspect, but the meditation on mental illness really does it for me.

The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple by Jeff Guinn

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(Caidyn)

3.5/5

I received an ARC from Netgalley and the publisher for an honest opinion.

My first brush with Jim Jones and his Peoples Temple was through a movie called The Sacrament, which is basically a fictional (and semi-paranormal) retelling of it. Tons of the reviews for it talked about Jim Jones so I researched on the internet and read up on the actual Peoples Temple. Their fate and the suicide and Jones’ corruption. So, I had a rudimentary idea of things going into this book, but I was completely off base with how I thought this book would be.

As the title suggests, and I was too dense to pick up, it’s all about how they got to Jonestown. So if you want a bit of juicy gossip about the suicides and last moments, this isn’t the book for you. One chapter is dedicated to that. The third to last chapter. The last two chapters are about the immediate aftermath and the long-term aftermath.

You might be thinking, then what the hell is this book all about? Well, it’s about Jim himself. The first chapters talk about his upbringing and immediate family, then his family. You also learn about his wife, Marceline, and various things about their lives. I mean, you go through everything. From the beginning of his life to becoming a priest and into the Peoples Temple. There’s everything that you wanted to know and more.

For me, that was a bit dull. It’s very repetitive and Guinn handles it in a very balanced way. While I appreciate that since I know he’s just telling me the information, not trying to twist my emotions. He really just wanted to show every aspect. The good that Jones did and the bad. Perhaps that he had good intentions then got twisted, or that he had bad intentions the whole time. Guinn leaves it up for the reader to decide.

What you learn is about Jones himself. His life. How he got to that point in his life. What happened in the past years and months that led to the mass suicide. It was good, but perhaps not what I really wanted. This definitely gave me a great basis for how Jonestown happened, which was exactly Guinn’s point for this book.