The Lunatic, the Lover and the Poet by Myrlin A Hermes

The Lunatic, the Lover and the Poet by Myrlin A. Hermes carries the subtitle “Shakespeare turned topsy-turvy” and that is indeed an apt description; this is a book that takes everything you know about Shakespeare and his plays, especially Hamlet and completely turns them on their head.  Horatio is a scholar at Wittenberg University, but he is also a poet.  When he is commissioned to turn a love story into a play by a baron and his wife Lady Adriane, Horatio never expects for his life to get quite so turned upside down.  He meets the beautiful Prince of Denmark, named (you guessed it) Hamlet.  What follows is a love circle of Elizabethan proportions, when Horatio and Hamlet begin to see more and more of each other.  Lady Adriane, obsessed with Horatio’s love poetry to Hamlet, seduces him into being her lover.  When a mysterious man named Shake-Speare enters the picture, things get even more confusing.

When I started reading The Lunatic, the Lover and the Poet, I really loved it.  The beginning is solid and the writing is very readable.  Plus there is enough mystery to keep anyone reading.  The best part about this book is the way that Hermes takes things that most everyone knows from Shakespeare and cleverly integrates them into the novel.  I haven’t read most of Shakespeare’s plays, so I’m sure there were even more references that I didn’t get, but I really enjoyed them when I did.  For the most part, I really loved Horatio and he was a wonderful, insecure narrator.  Unfortunately, this novel did not quite live up to all of its promise.

Unfortunately, the relationships in this novel confused me.  I certainly understood the love that existed between Hamlet and Horatio, it was a touching romance and that was what I really wanted to read about.  I did not understand Lady Adriane or her motivations at all, and when everyone starts doing every one else, well then I really didn’t understand anyone’s motivations.  That is not to say that I don’t think there shouldn’t have been betrayals, because that’s what makes an interesting story, but there was no reasoning behind them or, if there was, it went completely over my head.

I did not love the alternative perspective that seemed randomly placed within the novel.  In terms of a writing technique, it was only useful for one scene.  Though I have read Hamlet, which is the most important play you have to have read for this book to be funny, I am less knowledgeable about some of Shakespeare’s other plays and I wonder if that would have made a difference.  Nonetheless, I really enjoyed Hermes’s wit and her writing style.  I would absolutely be interested in reading her previous novel Careful What You Wish For and anything she writes in the future.  There are a lot of folks out there who really loved this novel, but it just didn’t live up to the promise that I had for it at the beginning.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

I received this book as a part of the TLC Book Tour for the novel.

Other tour stops: Book Addiction, Life in the Thumb, Steph and Tony Investigate, Raging Bibliomania, Wordsmithonia, Eclectic/Eccentric, Books for Breakfast, Worducopia, Write Meg!


Ada Lovelace Day!

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, which if you do not know, is a day to celebrate women who have made achievements in technology and science.  Ada Lovelace was one of the first computer programmers.  She wrote programs for the Analytical Engine invented by Charles Babbage.  Though the machine was never built Lovelace was one of the first people to think of such a thing as a computer program and to understand the concept of software.  So basically, she was awesomely brilliant.

My intention for today’s post was to have finish the book I’m going to tell you about read, but unfortunately I didn’t make the deadline.  In any case, I wanted to feature on my blog today a book about a fascinating woman who have done some pretty amazing things for science.

The first book I am going to talk about Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis by Kim Todd.  What originally interested me about this book was its lovely cover.  Why I kept me interested and made me check it out from the library was the fact that the illustrations on the cover were by Merian herself.  Little is truly known about Merian, other than some astounding facts about her life, including her obsession with metamorphosis.  After reading the introduction to this book, I became amazed myself.  In her 50s, Merian dedicated herself to illustrating the process of metamorphosis, eventually publishing a book of all her illustrations.  Merian discovered many things that we now accept as scientific fact, but those things are attributed to men who thought them up later.  I can’t wait to read this book, what I have read of it so far is amazing!

Maria Sibylla Merian, born in 1647, defied all conventions for women during that era.  She left her husband and joined a religious commune.  Afterward, nearing 50, she embarked on a journey to chronicle metamorphosis, a natural miracle.  Through her original observations, later scientists were able to understand the process.

What books would you recommend for Ada Lovelace Day?  What books do you want to read for Ada Lovelace Day next year?

Secrets in the Sand: The Young Women of Juárez by Marjorie Agosín

Ciudad Juárez is a border town in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.  Depending on who is counting, anywhere from 350-5, 000 women have been killed or gone missing in Ciudad Juárez since the mid 1990s.  A conservative estimate is over 350 women. It’s not even a number you can really fathom.  Ciudad Juárez was recently in the news because a USian couple were killed at the consulate, but why is that what finally gets our attention, when according to one columnist 2, 600 people were killed in Ciudad Juárez in 2009 alone?  I have an add-on for my blog that collects news articles that might be interesting based on what my blog post says.  All of the articles are about the couple killed a couple weeks ago, none of them are about the femicides.

Published in 2006, Secrets in the Sand is a volume of poetry written by Marjorie Agosín and translated by Celeste Kostopulos-Cooperman.  This is a bilingual edition that features the Spanish on one page and the English on the other, plus an introduction by the translator.  Marjorie Agosín is a professor and poet at Wellesley College and she is known for her commitment to women’s rights and human rights.  Secrets in the Sand is a demonstration of both of those commitments that describes the terror that happens daily in Ciudad Juárez in beautiful, chilling verse.

What struck me most about this collection of poetry is how quiet it is.  What I mean by quiet is not that these poems are not full of anger, sadness and pain, because they are.  But there is a silence in this verse that is palpable, that appears in almost every poem.  It is found in between every line, it is found in the blank space on the page, it is in everything that is said about these women, but what is not said.   It is contemplation and meditation; it is a slow burning sadness that fills page after page of haunting images.  It is brutal and it is beautiful at the same time.

Some of my favorite poems:


She was dreaming about borders
To cross them and gain permission to enter them
To be another and not to be another
To cross, to travel and to invent another landscape.
Her mother would tell her:
Be careful at the border
Women should not leave   home
Words would not be sufficient to save oneself
Poor women don’t know how to save themselves
Through words.

She dreams about borders
And on a night when the moon is full and calm like a woman
She crosses them
Her feet know the night desert
The sounds of emptiness
The sounds of absence
The hours of death.

It rains
And only death awaits her
Like in the dreams foretold to her by the wise women
The grandmothers of Chihuahua.

News Reports

The news report of  Ciudad Juárez
Announces another death
The child says that it looks like the same woman
All of those women are the same, the father replies
The mother prepares the food
She sees herself in those women
The news report continues
They announce the winners of the soccer tournament
The child asks his mother why
They always kill the same woman
The mother’s voice is strange
Like that of a little girl
And a well of silence
Forms on her sad mouth.

I really can’t recommend these poems enough.  To end this review, I would like to close with the last words of Celeste Kostopulos-Cooperman’s introduction: “The world cannot afford to ignore these crimes against humanity that continue to destroy so many lives.  The rights to life, physical integrity, liberty and personal safety must be protected and ensured wherever they are threatened.”

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

TSS – In which I get much too philosophical about book reviews

I just finished (and loved) A Reliable  Wife this morning and I’ve been sitting down and thinking about why I chose to read it.  A few months ago, this book was all over the blogs and most people were giving it rave reviews.  Everyone loved it (including me!) and talked about how engrossing it is (it is!) and how intense it is (it is!).  But when I was thinking about what eventually caused me to remember this book, when usually I forget books unless I write them down on my list, was not necessarily all of its rave reviews, but instead the impassioned negative reviews that eventually pushed me towards this excellent novel.

Sometimes, when there is nothing but praise about a book, it doesn’t necessarily make me want to read it.  No matter how  many people tell me The Help is awesome, I can’t bring myself to sit down and read it.  I really have zero idea why this is.  I’ve purchased the book, but every time I start it, I get bored and put it down.  The same thing happened with A Reliable Wife, five star after five star review did not get me interested, but those three or four negative reviews did.

I have two theories about this.  The first one is that, in my mind, a book that only gets good reviews is boring — there’s nothing in it to stir people to up, to make them question its greatness, no risks were taken.  I’m not saying that this is necessarily true, especially not of The Help (since obviously I can’t make a judgement about a book I haven’t read yet), but I would say that is generally a direction that my thoughts go in.  If there is no one that can question any single part of the book that has been written, then the author just didn’t do enough to make it worth reading.  Let me reiterate!  That’s not necessarily true with every book, but it’s something to consider.  Eventually, if a book has been universally loved, I get to it and I either love it or I don’t.

And that brings me to my second theory.  If I do begin that book that everyone loves, what happens if I am the sole curmudgeon on the planet who didn’t like it?  What if I am the one that has to do all the questioning and in the process step on many toes to get there?  What if it is just some flaw in me as a reader that I don’t love a book that has been so universally praised?  I begin to question not what is wrong with the book, but instead what is wrong with me. Now, I realize that that kind of makes me a coward, unafraid to step forward and have a different opinion than the masses, but I’m trying to be perfectly honest here.   If there are other people who have disliked a book, then I am in the free and the clear to dislike it as well.

The whole purpose of a book review is to influence people.  It’s to say, “Hello, I loved this book, I hope you will too!”  Or, “Please don’t waste your time on this one like I did.”  Hopefully, to be successful, both reviews are filled with the whys and the why nots.  But it is a nerve-wracking process, this influencing people.  What if I recommend a book that you end up hating?  What if I tell you not to read a book that would have been your favorite book of all time?  I worry about this!  Regularly!

But I keep reviewing books and obviously I’m not losing too much sleep over it since I slept a total of 10 hours last night.  In the end, I don’t think a negative review is a bad thing.  I think a mediocre review is much worse.  Strong emotion and passion, a prevalent theme in A Reliable Wife, whether that passion is positive or negative are much more powerful.  Sometimes, the truth of the matter is, that a negative review might just get me to read a book more than a positive review will.

Often, as reviewers, I think we feel bad about writing overly impassioned reviews.  Too much passion means that we can’t look objectively at something.  There are books that I am passionately in love with and books that passionately despise.  I love Time Traveler’s Wife, and even if it is flawed, that love is unconditional.  I despise Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying with such an intense hatred that trying to convince me of its merits will do little to change my opinion of it.  I’d be lying if I said that I wished every book created such passion in me, because I think it would get exhausting.   But we shouldn’t be afraid of that passion; a passionate book review, filled with love or hatred, should be our favorite kinds of book reviews, because it means there’s something in the book worth reading.

Maybe none of this  is exactly revolutionary, but my basic point is that it’s not always going to be the positive after the positive that gets a book talked about, that gets a book read.  It’s not always going to be the talking points that matter.  Sometimes it is our gut reaction to a book, those things that make us question the very purpose of a book, that lead to greatness.  I really disliked the novel Disgrace by JM Coetzee, and by disliked I mean hated, but at the same time, I do not deny that is powerful, haunting and disturbing.  Two years later, I have difficulty putting into words why I reacted so strongly against this book.  But, I think I’ve realized sometimes you don’t have to like a book to admit that it is great, you don’t have to enjoy a book to think that it is important or worthwhile.   I don’t think I would tell someone not to read Disgrace, but I would certainly try to prepare them for the intense emotion it gives its readers.

And then that just opens a whole other can of worms about the purpose of reading, but I think I’m going to leave that for another Sunday.

Sky Coyote by Kage Baker

Dear Kage Baker,

Yes, I am writing you a letter.  You know that I only write letters to really special authors, right?  I wrote one to Elizabeth Strout after she blew me away with Olive Kitteridge and I wrote one to Sarah Waters after she frustrated me and wowed me with The Little Stranger.  I’m really sorry I didn’t get a chance to write you this letter before, I think I would have actually sent it to you.  I had to let you know though, I’m in love with your Company novels.

For folks who don’t know, the Company novels are science fiction books about a group of immortals (cyborgs who were once human and trained by the Company since they were young) who are employed by the Company Dr. Zeus to live through history in real time and save historical items.  Don’t worry, you can’t change the past.  Well, at least you can’t change recorded history.   Dr. Zeus is somewhat dubious, but for the most, their employees are genuinely trying to do good things, while hiding the reality of what they are.  In Sky Coyote, Joseph is a facilitator who is on a mission to save the Chumash, a Native American tribe in what will be Southern California.

I read In the Garden of Iden and I liked it, but I didn’t love it.  What I did love was what it promised me — a series that has an awesome premise and plenty of time to grow into something amazing.  You didn’t let me down, Kage.  I loved Sky Coyote.  It was charming and mysterious and funny. It has a hugely diverse cast of characters and breaks every possible stereotype that you could possibly think of.  It’s inventive and an absolute joy to read.

Like this quote.  It made me laugh out loud:

“Hey, Sky Coyote, You should have been here this morning!  We had quite a shaker!”

“Hell of a quake,” agreed Nutku, beating his best bearskin robe until the dust flew. […]

“I know.  Khutash is very angry.  She found out about Sun’s white men last night,” I told them.  They looked surprised.

“Khutash is angry?  Is that what makes earthquakes?” Sepawit blinked.  “Well, I guess You’d know, but we always thought it was a natural phenomenon.”

“What?” Oh, boy, I wasn’t at my quick-witted best today.

“We always thought it was the World Snakes down there under the crust of the earth, the ones who hold everything up?  We thought they got tired every now and then and bump into one another,” Nutku explained.  “The astrologer-priest says they push the mountains up a little higher every year.”

“Oh,” I said. (229)

So thank you, Kage Baker.  For having such an original idea, for writing so many books for me to read.  Thank you for making science fiction approachable for all readers, but incorporating historical and literary elements to make any literature junkie like myself smile.  I cannot wait to read all of these books and I will be devastated when I have read them all.  I wanted to let you know all of this, even if it’s too late for me to actually tell you.  You will be greatly missed, but your voice lives on, in all its delightful humor and wit, all its tenderness.

Love, Lu

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

In the Woods by Tana French

I really tried to write this review without spoilers, but I failed.  So, the spoilers are in white text, just highlight them and you’ll be able to read them. In the Woods by Tana French is a mystery/detective/thriller novel that follows Rob Ryan , who used to be named James Ryan, and Cassie Maddox on the most important case of their detective careers.  A young girl is murdered in his old hometown and they hit dead end after dead end.  To top it all off, when Rob was a young boy, two of his friends disappeared in the same woods where they found the murder victim.  The only real clues left over from the old case are the blood that was found in Rob’s shoes and a hair clip.   The writing is beautiful!  I listened to the audiobook and the actor who voices Rob did a wonderful job.

This book has left me so conflicted. Rob made me angrier than any character I’ve read lately and I’m sure there are some really freaked out people on I-95 who saw me screaming at my car radio for him to stop being an ass and get over it.  Seriously, rarely has a main character, whom I am supposed to like, pissed me off the way Rob did.  I hated him.  I spent days going around saying things like, “God, Rob is being such a jerk right now.”  With some unsuspecting person asking me, “Who’s Rob?”  And me sheepishly responding, “Oh you know… just some guy in a book I’m reading right now.”

And then I felt so bad for him.  Never have I wanted to use so many foul words in a post before.  I’m mad at Rob, I’m mad at Tana French, I’m mad at Cassie, I’m mad at SPOILER Rosalind.  But any book that has elicited such a response in me has to be good, right?  I think so?

Highlight text below to for spoilers:

So I’m super pissed that we don’t learn anything about what actually happened to Rob, even though, TECHNICALLY, I know it makes a stronger novel because things are neat and tidy, but dammit, sometimes I really want something tidy. I thought the mystery was fairly well-played. SPOILER  That last scene with Rosalind and Cassie was INTENSE and really stressed me out. So yes, I liked it.  I mean, I hated every minute of it, but in a wonderful way.  Plus, I really can’t wait to get my hands on The Likeness even though SPOILER it doesn’t look like we’re ever going to learn anything about what really happened to James.  Jerk.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

Other reviews: Hey Lady! Watcha Readin’?, Caribousmom, Big A Little A, Care’s Online Book Club, books i done read, Stephanie’s Written Word, The Book Lady’s Blog, Firefly’s Book Blog, Book Addiction, Presenting Lenore, S. Krishna’s Books, Linus’s Blanket, Savidge Reads, Save Ophelia.

Poetry Wednesday: Music

I started Poetry Wednesday for a couple of reasons.  One, selfishly, was to get me reading more poetry on a weekly basis and I have loved it.  Sometimes I read one poem and know that it is the one I am going to post.  Sometimes I weed through ten or twenty poems trying to find exactly the right one to post and talk about.  While Poetry Wednesday is neither the most popular nor the most commented on of my posts during any given week, it’s one of my favorite posts to share with you.  I hope that it has brought just a little bit of poetry into your life and made the whole form a little less scary, if you’re one to think poetry is scary.  If not, I hope I have shared with you a poem or two that you haven’t read before.

I hope that poetry seems a little less scary now.  Like any form, poetry is a broad term that can encompass so many things.  Not all poetry is difficult, not all poetry is hard to understand, not all poetry is pretentious (all complaints I have heard about the form), just like not all novels are any one thing either.  In fact, I guarantee you that you are exposed to poetry every single day of your life, whether you realize it or not.  There are some folks out there who would argue that I am too inclusive when it comes to what poetry is — after all, not everything can be art, right?  Meh.  I don’t know about that.  I have a very loose definition of poetry.  If you tied me down and asked me to define it, I guess I would say that it is anything that pays special attention to the sound of words to create imagery and/or convey emotion.  That is very broad and, yes, there are novels that would then fit into that definition.  But right now, I’m in an inclusive mood so, heck, those are poetry too.

The whole point of the above paragraphs (summary for you skimmers out there: poetry is awesome, poetry isn’t scary, poetry is everywhere!) is to introduce you to some poetry that you probably are familiar with.  Music is absolutely, positively poetry set to song.  Are there things that set song apart from poetry?  Sort of, but not really.  Song has music, first of all.  You usually hear it rather than read it.  Songs have choruses and refrains.  (But poems can be put to music, you should really listen/read out loud all the poems you read, some poems can have choruses and refrains.)  So you see my point?  It’s certainly poetry.

Evidence a: Mumford and Sons

This whole post is based on a realization that I had while listening to Mumford & Sons on Monday — these guys are poets, man!  This is the song that started it all: Winter Winds


As the winter winds litter London with lonely hearts
oh the warmth in your eyes swept me into your arms
was it love or fear of the cold that led us through the night?
For every kiss your beauty trumped my doubt

And my head told my heart
Let love grow
But my heart told my head
This time no,
This time no

We’ll be washed and buried one day, my girl
And the time we were given will be left for the world
The flesh that lived and loved will be eaten by plague
So let the memories be good for those who stay

And my head told my heart
Let love grow
But my heart told my head
This time no
Yes, my heart told my head
This time no
This time no

Oh the shame that sent me off from the God that I once loved
Was the same that sent me into your arms
Oh and pestilence is won when you are lost and I am gone
And no hope, no hope will overcome

And if your strife strikes at your sleep
Remember spring swaps snow for leaves
You’ll be happy and wholesome again
When the city clears and sun ascends

And my head told my heart
Let love grow
But my heart told my head
This time no

And my head told my heart
Let love grow
But my heart told my head
This time no
This time no


Really, the whole line that inspired this post is “And if your strife strikes at your sleep/Remember spring swaps snow for leaves” because it is amazing.  It is a perfect combination of sound and meaning, and if maybe it is obvious, it is still beautiful.  Also, it is unique, because we associate leaves with fall, but really that’s what Spring is all about as well, the new green where once there was none.  I have to tell you that I am a sucker for slant rhymes that sound amazing, such as again/ascends, sleep/leaves, girl/world.   The combination here of words and music is gorgeous and is matched perfectly.

Like I said, this is certainly poetry.

For the next couple weeks, I will be finding songs that I believe are pure poetry.  Next week I will be featuring K-OS.

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