Book Review: Tyrant by Stephen Greenblatt

Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics by Stephen Greenblatt

Stephen Greenblatt is a noted Shakespeare scholar and here turns his analytical eye on Shakespeare’s treatment of tyrannical rulers in some of his most famous plays. Greenblatt brings us in-depth, yet highly readable, analyses of Macbeth, Richard II, Richard III, Julius Caesar, King Lear, and others. Greenblatt provides us with historical context for both the figures the play was based on, and the political and social (and religious) context of the years during which Shakespeare was writing.

As Greenblatt points out, the late Elizabethan era was a frought time, do I an aging and heirless monarch on the throne, increasingly violent religious fundamentalists threatening terroristic attacks and assassinations (if you guessed Roman Catholics, you would be right), and a society fraying apart in the face of external and internal strife.

While unwilling (or possibly simply unable, due to censorship) to speak directly to events in his lifetime, Shakespeare was a master of taking past (or legendary) events and people and creating a story that nonetheless spoke to his audience.

Greenblatt also brings this scholarship to bear on modern events. While he never names names, it is very clear which individual he is referencing in terms of a modern world leader with decided tyrannical propensities

This, to me, is both good and bad. Good because Greenblatt makes quite a few good points and parallels not just to Shakespeare’s work, but also to the historical events which inspired them. Bad because I feel like this book appeals to a certain kind of person, who I will collectively call “the choir,” and it is not them we need to preach to.

Ah well. This is a wonderfully researched book, well written and readable even to those who aren’t Shakespeare scholars. The subject matter is incredibly interesting, and Greenblatt’s treatment ofnthe material is refreshingly entertaining.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

Hanna is nearly perfect, at least according to her daddy. So what if she still isn’t speaking at age seven? She’s clearly very intelligent, and more than capable of communicating in her own way. Those schools she’s been expelled from? They just didn’t understand her. Suzette, Hanna’s mother suspects something is wrong. Her precocious child is displaying worrying tendencies towards manipulation and violence. While her husband remains blind to Hanna’s problems, Suzette begins to suspect she may be the target of Hanna’s wrath.

Let me say at the start that my interpretation of the book may be a bit different from most. I am emphatically childfree, don’t really care for children in any case, and tend to regard most of them as tiny little psychopaths until they reach their midtwenties. Am I justified in this point of view? Probably not. But that’s the mindset I’m coming from when reading this book.

And it was nightmarish. The book is great, don’t get me wrong. It is tightly written, and the alternating points of view between Suzette and Hanna let us truly get to know the central characters. I had to take a break from the book about 100 pages in because it was keeping me up at night. The utter despair and hopelessness of Suzette’s situation is wrenching. She is trying (though imperfectly) to do right by her daughter, though years of abnormal and worrying behavior from Hanna have made her a bit ambivalent about motherhood. Compound this with her husband’s need to see only the perfect, upper-middle class family he desires, and Suzette is entirely alone to deal with her daughter. This I find terrifying: when dealing with mental and behavioral abnormalities in childhood, it is generally left to the mother to wonder where she went wrong, and what she could have done differently. And in all cases, motherhood is a condition with no escape. Someone may regret bringing a child into the world, but there are few socially acceptable ways to divorce oneself from parenthood, especially when being “a good mother” is considered the epitome of female (and especially middle class) success.

Well, enough ranting. I did, obviously, pick the book back up (and finished the remainder in one sitting). In the interests of keeping this review spoiler-free, I’m going to say little about the latter part of the book, but I will say that I was surprised by the direction the story took.

In sum, this book is a nuanced look at motherhood and psychopathy, at the loneliness of being a stay at home mother, and the frustration of being an atypical child. This book intimately describes the horror of finding out that, rather than the sweet, beautiful child you may have dreamed about, you have given birth to a monster, and are now tethered to its side.

I’d be curious to see what more maternally-minded people thought of his book? We’re their sympathies (like mine) fully with Suzette? Or do they see something redeeming in Hanna? Do they feel the horror as “that could have been me”? Or does the horror lie in “Suzette should have done x,y,z”? I would love to hear your thoughts, feel free to leave me a comment or two!

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

It’s hard to be a single mom in London, but Louise feels like she might have lucked out when she meets a handsome, interesting man on a night out at the bar. Then, come Monday, she discovers her new boss–her new, married boss is none other than the man from the bar. Vowing not to take it further than a drunken kiss at a bar, Louise’s life gets more complicated when she winds up befriending the man’s beautiful, fragile wife. But the married couple hides some dark secrets in their past, and the more Louise learns about the pair, the more questions arise. Something is clearly very wrong, and Louise seems to be in danger, but from whom?

This was a surprisingly haunting psychological thriller. The story doesn’t turn the (rather tired) genre on its head, but rearranges the pieces a bit, adds some original new elements, and delivers a story with twists and turns and (I’m delighted to say) an unexpected ending. I’ve railed before about the saturation of psychological thrillers right now, and for the most part I’ve become just so jaded about the whole genre. It’s wonderful to know that there are author’s out there with the skill to make thrillers fun again.

So if you’re looking for something fresh in the thriller department, and an unpredictable, grab-you-by-the-back-of-the-neck plot, this is the book for you.

Book Review: Scandal Above Stairs by Jennifer Ashley

Scandal Above Stairs by Jennifer Ashley

This is the second book in the Kat Halloway Mystery series, so this review may contain spoilers for the first book. You can always check out my review for Death Below Stairs here.


Kat Halloway has settled into her role as cook for a wealthy London family after several months of murder, mystery, and fenian plots. When a friend of Kat’s employer is accused by her husband of stealing priceless artwork, Kat finds herself drawn into the scandals and betrayals of the above stairs world. When the rash of thefts spreads to neighboring houses and the British Museum, it seems Kat has her work cut out for her. Balancing her demanding work life, prickly new assistant, devotion to her daughter, and unofficial detective duties is hard, but cooks are very good at multitasking.

This is a strong second entry into the mystery series. Kat Halloway is quite a good protagonist, smart, quick-witted, and relatable. So many Victorian-era mysteries focus on upperclass women solving mysteries, it’s nice to see the belowstairs folks get their day in the sun. Ashley has also provided us a strong secondary character in the form of Tess, Kat’s sharp-tongued new assistant. While it would have been easy to leave Tess as a surly young woman (with or without a heart of gold) Ashley takes the time to flesh her out beyond the basics and make her someone the reader wants to root for.

This is a great series for folks who dig historical mysteries. If you’ve read and liked The Gaslight Mysteries by Victoria Thompson, or the Lady Julia Grey series by Deanna Raybourn, this is a great next stop for you!

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review and Cooking Party! Chloe Flavor by Chloe Coscarelli

Chloe Flavor: Saucy, Crispy, Spicy, Vegan by Chloe Coscarelli

I’m branching out a bit! I’ve never reviewed a cookbook before, but after receiving this review copy, I think I might have a new favorite review format! If there’s anything I like nearly as much as reading, it’s cooking (and my dogs…and the cat…and the husband, I guess).

Now, husband and I were vegan for many years. Though now a days we are inching closer to the vegetarian end of the scale, most of my home cooking is still vegan (I just can’t keep eggs in my house guys…gross). I’m always looking for new recipes, and I’m well aware of my tendency to fall into a cooking rut, especially with a physically and mentally draining day job. So I flipped through the book, picked out my test run, got a bottle of wine and time on a quiet Sunday, and proceeded to tackle– Burnt Garlic Un-Fried Rice.

Okay here me out. I love asian-inspired dishes. They tend to translate to vegan/vegetarian more easily than a lot of western (and especially American) dishes. They’re usually full of flavor, and I can make them spicy as fuck! Add that to the fact that husband and I are both big fans of garlic (seriously, I make a roasted garlic bread that has 8 bulbs of garlic in the dough), and you have an irresistible recipe.

The recipe calls for 20 cloves of garlic…I may have cranked that up a notch

So. Much. Garlic.

The tofu is this recipe is pressed, then crumbled into a scrambled egg consistency. People, especially if you’re new to the world of tofu, I can’t stress his enough: press the shit out of your tofu! The more moisture you get out of it before cooking, the better the end result is going to be! After years of wrestling with paper towels and balancing weights, I finally got myself a tofu press. Best investment I’ve made! They’re super cheap on Amazon, and they do the job quickly and easily! Go get one now!

Anyways, the tofu is crumbled, then sauteed in a pan with oil, coriander, curry powder, and tumeric. I added cayenne pepper as well, because I have a problem. With the spices and the heat, your tofu will go from this

To this

Take that pan of deliciousness off the heat and begin to burn most of the garlic by heating over oil and patiently stirring (not my forte)

The burned garlic (which smells like it should top a bagel…So good!) Heads over to the paper towels to drain.

Then, using the now delightfully garlicky oil, sautee the onion until tender. Once the onion has softened, add the ginger, cashews, lime juice, and rice (I used brown jasmine). I used my big (huge…just really large) cast iron wok for this part, because it cooks ever so nice and the large size means even I have a hard time sloshing food over the sides.

Almost a meal…

Once all that lovely goodness is cooked through (I had to add more oil a few times), dump in the tofufrom before, and the remainder of the chopped garlic. I (bad lady that I am) added more cayenne at this point. Let everything heat up and the flavors meld for a few minutes and serve!

Noms!

Delicious! The whole thing took maybe an hour, including cooking the rice and peeling and chopping all the garlic. The “burnt” garlic has a wonderfully mild taste, and even with the unburned garlic added at the end, the garlic flavor was not overwhelming.

The rest of the recipes in the book look equally as fascinating. Also nice, most call for ingredients that are generally easy to find in the grocery store, which is always the tricky part about specialty cooking. Additionally, many recipes include easy ways to convert the meal to be gluten free, a nice touch. So confirmed vegans and veggies will find many appealing recipes in this book, but omnivores will find stuff to enjoy as well

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Anomaly by Michael Rutger

The Anomaly by Michael Rutger

Nolan Moore is, for better or for worse, that “ALIENS” guy. A former Hollywood screenwriter and renaissance man, he now hosts a popular web series The Anomaly Files, where he seeks out evidence in support of theories not supported my mainstream science. For their latest episode (and a make-or-break moment for the show) Nolan and the Anomaly Files crew head to the Grand Canyon, where a Smithsonian expedition in 1909 is rumored to have discovered a hidden cave filled with wonderful and terrible things. When, with a bit of luck they do discover the cave, they find that what it contains is far more dangerous and horrifying than they could ever have guessed.

This was a fantastic book, the story somewhere between science fiction and horror. The giants of this particular genre– Michael Crichton, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child deliver stories that are out here, couldn’t possibly be true…but while reading, some small part of our lizard brain whispers “maybe.” The Anomaly treads along that fine line, with occasional lateral movements into Lovecraftian territory.

Perhaps my favorite part of this story is its self-awareness. Nolan makes a living trying to prove the conspiracy theorists right, but isn’t truly a believer himself. When confronted by a situation that represents both his life’s ambition and most primal nightmare, he has no roadmap for how to react to the situation.

If you like your genetics with a side of dinosaurs, or your rainforests with a touch of retroviral monsters, then dive into a story that gives us archaeology sandwiched between survival horror and an unknowable, unsympathetic force.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Body in the Ballroom by R.J. Koreto

The Body in the Ballroom by R.J. Koreto

This is the second book in R.J. Koreto’s Alice Roosevelt series, so there may be spoilers ahead for the first book. You could likely read this book as a stand-alone, but reading Alice and the Assassin first is a better choice.


Alice Roosevelt and her intrepid bodyguard, Secret Service Agent Joseph St. Clair, have been reunited and sent back to New York for the social season. When a man is poisoned at the coming-out ball of one of Alice’s friends, Alice can’t help but get involved in the investigation. As they dig deeper into the man’s death, Alice and St. Clair find rumors of a secret society, and a surplus of suspects. It seems a lot of people had good reason to wish the victim dead…

R.J. Koreto writes a great female protagonist. In this series, he bases his leading lady on real-life Alice Roosevelt, daughter of President Teddy Roosevelt, and verifiable hellion. Koreto brings the plain-talking, cigarette-smoking, taboo-busting Alice into a great historical mystery plot and lets her loose.

The first book had some rough areas, which can usually be attributed to the difficulty inherent in introducing a new world and new characters without sacrificing plot and pacing. Happily, this installment is a fun, engaging ride, with Alice and St. Clair hitting their respective strides. Fans of historical mysteries will find a lot to like in Alice Roosevelt.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Differently Morphous by Yahtzee Croshaw

Differently Morphous by Yahtzee Croshaw

For centuries, the Ministry of Occultism has worked in the shadows, keeping the world safe from otherworldly elder gods, “tainted” magic users, and monsters of all kinds. All this gets upended when a group of gelatinous refugees from another dimension garner a storm of media attention. Suddenly the Ministry of Occultism is thrown into the worst sort of attention. As awareness of shoggoths, er, fluidics suffuses the world consciousness, the Ministry finds itself on the wrong side of the political correctness debate. When a serial killer starts targeting fluidics, the agency’s top (read:only) field agents mget act quickly to save lives and prevent a PR Armageddon.

Croshaw is an author known for his irreverent, biting humor. His wit is on display here as he tackles the subject of political correctness in a bizarre, yet strangely relatable context. Before I get further, I am going to come down firmly on the side of political correctness. It takes little effort to take other people’s feelings and cultural history into consideration, and adjust your behavior accordingly. There’s nothing noble in adhering to the old days or old eays if that is just an excuse to be an uncaring asshat.

Now, as with any progressive movement, there is always pushback from people who feel uncomfortable with change, and who would rather not have to accept things they find disagreeable. Now, the line between acceptable and unacceptable in society is based on a lot of factors… not to long ago, being gay was officially considered a mental illness and criminal. The question recidivists often ask is where will acceptance end? When does it stop being acceptance of cultural or sexual differences and start becoming enabling of harmful behavior? The primary example pulled out for this is female genital mutilation, many cultures consider it a vital part of a girl’s development into a woman, but it has been recognized by many as harmful and cruel. What view takes precedence?

Croshaw heads into this thorny problem head on, and with his typical humorous twist. He, like South Park writers Trey Parker and Matt Stone, chooses to highlight he ridiculousness of both positions, leaving the reader bouncing against different levels of right and wrong: how can anyone hate the fluidics? They seem so polite and helpful? Do demons really require equal rights? Etc. Some people deride this as riding the median, but I think that exposing the flaws in both viewpoints forces people to examine their own thoughts and feelings.

Wow. That review got a lot more serious than I intended. Let me sum up by saying that this is an intelligent and entertaining story of monsters, bureaucracy, and modern life. It will make you laugh out loud and think deep(ish) thoughts. In a world were (justifiably) the subject of political correctness is an unchanging wall of seriousness and resentment, it is refreshing to look at the lighter side.

The book is currently available as an Audible original, meaning it is an audio book read by Croshaw himself. This is a role he is well suited for, after his years fronting the animated videogame review blog, Zero Punctuation. Fans of Yahtzee Crowshaw’s previous books, or fans of Christopher Moore and/or A. Lee Martinez are sure to enjoy this book.

Book Review: Dead Men Whistling by Graham Masterson

Dead Men Whistling by Graham Masterson

This is the ninth book in the Katie Maguire series, so this review will probably contain some minor spoilers for the previous books in the series. However, I read this book without having read the others, and was able to enjoy it on its own merits.


Garda detective Katie Maguire is still reeling from her last brutal case; her dog, Barney, was nearly beaten to death, and the man responsible for his condition has managed to avoid prosecution for his crimes.

When a Garda officer is found in a local park beheaded with a tin whistle sticking out of his neck, Katie Maguire finds herself thrown into a case that could bring down the entire Garda from within.

This is a dark, grim murder mystery, along the lines of Jeffery Deaver. Masterson was a horror writer prior to trying his hand at mysteries, and it shows. Beyond the gore, this is a book that doesn’t look away from the horror and terror of its plot. Many would try to come at the darkness of the plot from the side, or from any safer angle. Masterson sets off headlong into the jaws of the beast, and takes the reader along with him.

My biggest problem with the book is that it’s noisy. There are numerous subplots banging around in the background, and sometimes it is hard to find the thread of the main plot through all the chatter. Perhaps this is the inevitable result of a long running series, and those who have read the previous books may find more in hose subplots than I did.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: A Lady in Shadows by Lene Kaaberbøl

A Lady in Shadows by Lene Kaaberbøl

This is the second book in the Madeleine Karno series, so there will likely be spoilers in this review for the first book in the series. Or, if you’re like me and didn’t read the first book, Lady in Shadows is enjoyable as a standalone.


In 1894, the president of France was assassinated. In the wake of the riots and unrest that followed, the body of a young woman was discovered on the streets of Varbroug brutally mutilated in a fashion reminiscent of the Jack the Ripper murders which plagues London only a few years before. Madeleine Karno is struggling to continue her work as a female pathologist in a very male world. She has been accepted as the first female student at the University of Varbroug, but as a physiologist, not a medical student. With the brutal murder causing greater and greater amounts of sensation in the press and panic in the populace, Madeleine finds the investigation focused more on the victim’s status as a prostitute rather than who may have killed her. Determined to see justice done, Madeleine finds herself traveling farther and farther into the city’s dark secrets, and closer to a brutal killer.

This was a great historical mystery. The tone is dark where most entries in this genre tend towards the cozy. Madeleine Karno makes for a great protagonist. She is smart and driven, but not Wonder Woman. She makes mistakes, she falls into self doubt, and her struggles to reconcile her ambitions with her femininity seem very real and very relatable. This is no dilettante society dame dabbling in murder, or the ice queen career harpy we see so often. Rather, Karno knows she has brains and wants to use them, but is also trying to figure out how to balance her engagement to a German professor, the demands of running a household and (shudder) the possibility of children with realizing her goals of becoming a pathologist in her own right. This is a struggle that nearly every employed wo,an will recognize.

Those who enjoy period mysteries, especially featuring a strong and relatable female lead, should check this series out.

An audio book copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.