For Your Own Good is more than the title of Samantha Downing’s summer, 2021 release. It’s also the philosophy of one of the book’s main characters, Belmont Academy’s newest teacher of the year, Teddy Crutcher. His single-mindedness precludes the interference of others’ invasive thoughts on his methods, some of which return to demand accountability.
Infused with oddball, dark humor, this book’s told from multiple perspectives, but beyond that, it reminded me of The Talented Mr. Ripley. Fans of the Netflix series “You” would most likely enjoy this book, though I understand it is to be adapted in its own right by HBO soon.
A small group of college students study ancient Greek with an eccentric professor. These people are quirky at best, including the gent from whose P.O.V. the story discloses. They question conventional morality and explore ancient rituals.
In truth, I didn’t like most of the characters in Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. They all reeked of narcissism and looked down on everyone, even each other, and yet they presented as actualized and rounded. A good deal of the strength of the novel stems from the character explorations.
There’s a murder mentioned right at the beginning,and the book explores what lead to the demise of the character. Tensions build. Psyches fray and break. Set in an elite school in the frozen New England, the over 570 pages of this book contain many lyrical descriptions and insights. It reads as more literature than thriller, with many intelligent references and a presupposition by the author that her readers will either know what she’s describing or will be intellectually inquisitive and look into the matters with which they were previously unacquainted.
Take magical teens and throw them into a potentially deadly school with no really noticeable adult involvement. Isolate them from most contact with their families and keep them there until they are skilled enough and connected enough to, by theory, face the constant onslaught of dark forces attempting to kill them. They attend the school because to remain in the outside would leave them even more vulnerable to attack by the monsters (which considering not a chapter seems to go by without at least one attack, that must be saying something – although one does suppose the adult in the kids’ lives in their magical enclaves and communities should be able to do something to keep their young safe.)
Add to these terrified youngsters a glowing hero named Orion. The entire student body woos fellow student Orion who dispatches the evil intentioned creatures with seeming ease.
Well, everyone except our first person lead POV character. Orion keeps “saving” her, though she’d really rather he didn’t. She has plenty of power on her own and doesn’t need Orion strutting in and making messes for her to clean up. Especially if she’s to form any alliances of her own, despite a terrible (and foretold) potential she may yet grow into.
In A Deadly Education, Naomi Novik created a truly intriguing and misunderstood lead character, an interesting setting, and a new approach to magic. It is told through the (most likely) tainted perspective of a prickly, mostly antisocial loner, though El (short for Galadriel – yes, she’s named for the Tolkien character) does make strides toward a more civil outlook during her character arc. The book built a world ripe for exploration by the terrified-but-talented students (most of whom the author will doubtless explore in greater detail in the next installments), and although I saw the end’s twist coming, it provided a great building block for the sequel. Because, yes, this apparently is the first in a series.
Greek mythology, dark academia at Cambridge, and mysterious murders keep the thrills coming in Alex Michaelides’ The Maidens. Told from two alternating perspectives, the novel’s plot involves a grieving widow, her collegiate ward, and a tremendous amount of coincidence, serendipity, contrivance – or perhaps the goddesses Demeter and Persephone guided the action. The main character, Mariana, leads group therapy sessions for a living, yet she ignores her own mental health and jumps to a great number of ill conceived, even childish and fool-hardy actions throughout the story which calls into question her reliability as a narrator. Between these short chapters, an unidentified second voice, a decidedly male and ill-intentioned character, gives chilling insights into the actions in the story.
The ending. I’ll be honest. I didn’t care for it, and considering the profession of the individual in question, I find it a bit difficult to believe. True, we’re all flawed people, but with the years of study involved, I would expect more compassion and insight.
Overall, though, The Maidens offers an interesting diversion with some beautiful bits of writing. In particular, I found an early description of grief breathtaking.
Charli and the great gang at https://carrotranch.com “Carry On” their 99 word challenges with some poignant responses. Below is mine. I’m sure it will illustrate my present frustration. As ever, please let me know if you give the challenge a try so I can pop by and read what you’ve created.
Work and Play
Written by Kerry E.B. Black
The cheeky cursor blinked on the screen. The hopeful writer glanced at the time. 1:37AM. She sighed.
She squinted through the laptop’s glare without adding any words. She caressed the keys, hoping to somehow funnel inspiration from the depicted alphabet.
She reread earlier chapters, referred to her painstakingly created outline, and suppressed another gaping yawn. She recalled Kubrick’s lead in “The Shining.” This evening, no work and no play made her novel a “dull boy.”
Her vision swam. “Fine! I’ll try again tomorrow.” She closed the laptop. “But I’m adding today’s missed words to tomorrow’s required count.”
Some of the truest horrors are those perpetrated by people. In fact, many read horror as a way of dealing with the many terrible and evil things in this world.
Ring Shout by P. Djeli Clark is not subtle in its characterization of evil. In this historical supernatural fiction novella, D.W. Griffith is a sorcerer who used the film “Birth of a Nation” as a spell that harnessed all of the prejudice and hate in America to create genuine monsters. Many members of the KKK transform into these Lovecraftian-like things, and to make matters worse, there’s about to be another public viewing of the film in Georgia which might just release Hell on earth.
Luckily, Maryse is an excellent warrior who fights these evils using magic swords and the help of a couple of talented good friends.
The title itself refers to a religious singing and dance circle, clapping and chanting. There were many things I learned from Ring Shout, in truth. My favorite line comes from one of the monster hunters who explained why they didn’t just outright kill the clan members before they turned into beasts, and that was because while we’re alive, we all have a chance to “get it right.”
This little book has a lot to say, and it says it with humor. There’s a lot of heart included as well, so be ready for the pulls on the heart strings. I acquired this audiobook from my excellent library, and I thoroughly enjoyed Channie Waites’ entertaining narration of P. Djeli Clark’s Ring Shout. The book won a ‘21 Nebula Award, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find it’s won many other awards as well.
Mary Downing Hahn wrote another triumphantly spooky Middle Grade book with Guest, a Changeling Tale, her retelling of the Tam Lin story. Mollie is a big sister to an insufferably adorable baby brother, Thomas. The local wise woman even gave him a beautiful silver plated locket to keep him safe from the “Kinde Folk,” and everyone who cared to protect the lad told untruths aloud to keep the sidhe from carrying the bonnie boy away. While minding her brother, Mollie decided to try on the locket, and she mentioned aloud how everyone thought her brother adorable. Before you could admire the pure Irish air, Thomas is swapped for a changeling, which is a sickly fairy child. Mollie’s whole life turns upside down. The replacement Thomas squalls and is always hungry for Mam’s milk. Dadoe takes off when the wise woman suggested treating the changeling kindly. It’s up to Mollie to brave the wild, dark forest and the tricky fair folk to rescue her true brother.
The main character experiences lovely character growth. She befriends a traveller along the way and learns much more about the ancient ones during her time in their lands. Many times along the way, though, my kiddos shook their heads and asked, “When will she learn?” They enjoyed the tale tremendously, and it is my favorite of Ms. Hahn’s books that I’ve read thus far.
Let me begin this review by explaining my son is reading Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain for school, and he and I had some serious discussions about race as a result. Mr. Twain is not one to shy away from the offensive “n” word.
Neither is George R.R. Martin in this vampire novel, Fevre Dream. Mr. Martin’s book is set in the antebellum south (and continues to later in the 1800’s.) Yes, I know he was going for “authenticity” by using the disgusting language, but whereas Mark Twain lived in a time when such disregard for other human beings was in full swing, one hopes that Mr. Martin in the early 2000’s would have found a better way to show the horrors of slavery in his historic fiction.
The story follows a steam boat captain who enters into a partnership with a mysterious and aristocratic gentleman. The steam boat Fevre Dream sails America’s rivers, a floating palace with a secret mission – find vampires. These are not the sparkling kind of vampires but the fierce predators, one of whom develops not only an appreciation for humans but also a way to interact with them without endangering them. To some of his race, he’s a king come to lead them to their sacred city. To others, he’s a misguided human-lover who needs to be taught the ways of his race.
The salty captain of the Fevre Dream is an interesting and moral fellow, as is his partner. They are better rounded than the secondary characters, including the main antagonist. The story plays with mystery and horror while including much of the back story while the characters dine on the ship’s cook’s excellent meals. It’s not a fast plot, and Mr. Martin makes some interesting adaptations to the classic legends and creates an intriguing mythology all his own.
Fans of Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire should find much to admire in this book.
In America in the early 1980’s, students at an exclusive arts school, and in particular a freshman named Sarah, navigate the pitfalls of high school. Sounds like a simple premise for a novel, one explored in many ways. However, Trust Exercise by Susan Choi does interesting things with formatting and basic structure. It won great acclaim and received scathing reviews.
For me, the multi-layered novel forced me to think of things differently.
Readers begin in this exclusive arts school where nothing is as important as ART. We meet the seemingly brilliant Mr. Kingsley and learn some of his teaching methods. His students labor to elevate themselves and win recognition. A traveling troupe from England brings a different perspective.
But none of it is as simple as that. But then again, are first loves, friendships, coming to understand oneself, or even objectively and honestly examining memories ever simple?
The title refers to a theatre technique, but also it feels like a description. The reader must trust the author to tell the story in an understandable way, and the author must trust the reader will bring an open mind to the story.
This would be a great book club pick, because there’s so much open to interpretation. Lively discussion is sure to follow!