Hipster Ariel's Literary Grotto

I read all kinds of books (one of my friends jokes that I will read anything that holds still long enough), but sci fi/fantasy is my favorite. I also love books on anthropology and archaeology and other sciences.


Slow Burning; Leaves You Questioning

Dance Hall of the Dead - Tony Hillerman

I liked that this mystery had to be solved in a certain span of time or else it would turn out to be deadly. A lot of police cases do have to be solved quickly, and to me, this was realistic. I also liked that this was not a classic case of the mystery being solved in time, because that to me is so cliche as to be a cardinal sin of writing.


The story took me a long time to read because there wasn't as much of a sense of urgency as I should like in my mystery novels. I want to be held deeply in the grips of the mystery, wanting to know and question everything. It's a bit of a disappointment, really, as the last Hillerman I read did just that.


Despite the story lacking the sense of urgency, I liked that the facts of the mystery were broken down in the end, and the perpetrator not only got his just desserts for the murders he committed, but also blacklisted from his profession as an archaeologist. That to me rings true as an archaeological technician because even getting artifacts from questionable sources is enough to get you blacklisted from the American Archaeological Association.


One thing I didn't find so realistic is, the connection between the Zuni and the Navajo tribes. I know there's a lot of animosity between most of the Pueblo tribes, including the Hopi and Tewa people, but I'm not sure about the Navajo. I didn't see much of the lack of friendliness I would have expected from the Zuni as a result, but I know Hillerman did his research, so I could very well be wrong, in this estimation.

Fascinating, But Dry in Places

The Secret History of Wonder Woman - Jill Lepore

As a second generation nerd, I grew up with various comic books at my disposal. Because of a family allegiance to Marvel, we never really had too many DC comics lying around, but we did enjoy the occasional Wonder Woman appearance on the Justice League cartoon series.


I did not expect to find so much about the creator and his inspiration. It was hard to read the first half or so because Marston's youth was not of particular interest to me, but after having finished the book, I see why it was included. The inclusion of Olive Byrne's history, on the other hand, made far more sense to me, as learning about her connections to the women's liberation movement and the birth control movement explained a lot about what happened between her, Marston, and Holloway. 


As Holloway would often say, it was interesting to read about a man who was truly ahead of his time. I'm glad I took the time to read it and to learn about Wonder Woman's journey from comic book heroine that nearly passed into obscurity at the hands of reactionary critics to third wave feminist icon. I honestly would have liked to see more focus on that, however, than the book mostly following Marston and his relationship with Holloway and Byrne.

A Fun Mystery Novel

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon

This has been on my list for quite some time. I heard the protagonist was autistic and, while it was never explicitly stated, I appreciated this. Characters with autism are hard to come by, and those that are well written are even rarer. I found myself completely understanding him in many ways, even though his autism doesn't manifest in the same way as my autism.


The unconventional chapter markings were quite good. It really helped solidify the idea that the credited author did not write it, considering the main character had a special interest in math and prime numbers. It helped lift him off the page and into my living room. 


I liked that the mysteries in the book were only solved halfway through the novel. Too often mystery novels end at the resolution of the mystery, so we don't get a good picture of the fallout that often results from the revelation. Getting to see Christopher, the main character, react to these revelations was wonderful, and honestly very logical, in my opinion.


Overall, it was just what I needed after reading a heavy book in the form of Flowers for Algernon. I feel much better after reading it.


I Don't Know If It Was Supposed To, But I Was Left Horrified

Flowers for Algernon - Daniel Keyes

I'm a neurodiverse person and, while I have fantasized about understanding others with some scientific procedure, I've always said I wouldn't change my position for the world. This book solidifies it. Just as a heads up for anyone, I do use the "r" word in the following paragraph, and I cover a lot of ableism, so if those are triggers for you, I recommend proceeding with caution.


The ableism that occurred throughout the book really hit close to home. Despite my hyperlexia, I was often called "retard" as a kid because I was socially awkward, shy, and my maiden name rhymed with the word. Like Charlie, my world was very closed off for a long time because I never related to my peers; to this day, I mainly hang out with people old enough to be my grandparents instead of people my own age. I was told I would never be able to hack it at a four year institution (I eventually did, although many years later) and that I would be lucky to be able to live on my own. I beat the odds, but I still am highly deficient.


When Charlie discovered he was deteriorating back to his original intelligence, I found myself horrified. When I was growing up, my only friends were characters in books, and I can't imagine having that ripped away from me the way it was ripped away from Charlie. Even worse, to understand the deterioration and why it's happening is utterly frightening to me; I'm always terrified that I will lose my intelligence, the one thing I have going for me, in my mind, is my ability to read and understand the world around me despite my inability to understand others. 


I have relatives who died from Alzheimer's disease on my dad's side of the family, and I wonder if they ever had the moments of lucidity that Charlie experienced as he was slipping back into his original level of intelligence, knowing that they were slowly losing who they were and the memories of everyone around them.



Nice Novella

The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince - Robin Hobb

I honestly had no idea what to expect with this particular novella. I liked the irony of the name Princess Caution, considering she largely threw all caution to the wind in many respects. 


The relationship between Felicity, the narrator, and her mother was interesting. I found it interesting that her mother found Felicity stupid because of how pure of heart she was and how largely innocent she was. Her mother was ridiculously ambitious, and, while it thrust Felicity into a most interesting position later on in the book, it seemed like she largely resented her mother after a few really negative events. 


The description was quite good throughout the book, and the characters were quite likeable. I really found myself upset when characters were hurt or discriminated against. I would have liked to have seen a bit more dynamism with some of the characters, but this was a really short book, so that would have required the book to have been longer.


Pretty Good

The Golden Braid - Melanie Dickerson

I found this story to be a little less formulaic than the other stories I have read by Dickerson. For one, instead of having a naive, literate, and independent woman, Rapunzel is, by contrast, illiterate for at least the first third of the book, naive, and completely dependent on her mother for most of the book.


What struck me as interesting was Rapunzel's dynamism in this book. As soon as she learns to read, she starts questioning almost everything her mother taught her, and even goes so far as to get a job about halfway through the book.


The religion in this book played a much larger role in this than in the other books I read by Dickerson, but again, it still makes sense. Because Rapunzel is illiterate to start out with, one of the easiest books to get in print at this time was the bible, so it makes sense that she would have memorized parts of the bible. When she's kidnapped, it basically needs a miracle for Garek, the knight who teaches her to read and ultimately befriends her, to find her, so it makes sense for him to experience divine intervention. Overall, it wasn't overly jarring to the plot of the story, but it was still there.


I really liked Garek's transformation from a guy who was only interested in proving himself better than his older brother to a man who was okay with not having huge tracts of land or many riches. It was really interesting listening to his inner monologue, which features much more strongly than in the other Dickersons I read. It was really quite interesting and lent a lot to the plot because we got to witness more of his transformation as a person.


Overall, I recommend this story to others. It is a really fun tale with quite a few good plot points.


Another Solid Book

The Beautiful Pretender (A Medieval Fairy Tale) - Melanie Dickerson

This was another book from that set I got on my Nook. I found this story, a fractured version of The Princess and the Pea, to be better written in some areas and not as well written in others.


I find the idea that the Margrave of Thornbeck would want a bride that would show compassion and interest in the plights of his people, and that he would orchestrate a series of tests to make an arranged marriage a bit more palatable. I also find the idea that the Earl of Plimmwald would send someone to disguise herself as his runaway daughter; however, I would have chosen someone who resembled his daughter more and would be better educated as an Earl's daughter.


I found Avelina, the main character, to be highly compelling. She was strong in much the same way as Odette was in the previous book, but also in different ways. As a servant, much of what she knows is from her skills to better serve her lady, such as braiding hair, picking locks to give her lady access to things her father didn't want her to get at, etc. i also found her to be highly headstrong and slightly less naive than Odette, which makes sense from the fact that she is a maidservant who has had to grow up very quickly. One thing I could not reconcile, however, is Avelina's knowledge of how to read Latin. I'm not sure a maidservant would be approved of being learned enough to read Latin, considering women reading at all was considered dangerous for centuries.


The overall mystery and political aspects of the story were very well written. It honestly had me guessing to the end as to what would happen. I like how the elements of the previous book, particularly the rumor that Margrave Reinhart had murdered his brother, really came to the forefront in this book.


Again, there were strong elements of Christianity in this book, but like before, it mostly involved praying and reading the Bible, both of which made sense in the context of 15th century Holy Roman Empire.

An Interesting Story

The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest - Melanie Dickerson

This was by and large an impulse buy in a set on my Nook because the plots of many of her books sounded interesting, and I'm a sucker for a good fractured fairy tale. While this one isn't a fractured fairy tale in the sense that the source material (Robin Hood) is not a fairy tale, it was still a solid story.


I liked the more feminist aspects of this story; a woman who is opinionated, educated, intelligent, and pretty independent in a historical setting is a pretty big deal to me. The setting was rich and very interesting, and the main character, Odette, was relatable in that she was well-meaning, but a lot of her actions had some pretty major consequences and she was pretty naive about much of the world.


I didn't realize this author was specifically a Christian fiction author, and normally I don't like the preachy nature the genre often features as an atheist, but I'll make an exception for her works, if they all follow this same pattern. The elements of Christianity in this story was pretty mild and actually made sense to me, since they are in the Holy Roman Empire pre-Reformation. The fact that Odette even studies the Bible under a local priest in secret makes it historically accurate, as does the occasionally sexist behavior exhibited by said priest.

Very Cute Story

A French Girl in New York - Anna  Adams

This is another book I got as part of Nook's Free Fridays program. Unlike the last Free Friday book I tried and failed to read, this one was actually decent.


First, having a non-white protagonist who was described rather ambiguously instead of using the classic, hit-you-over-the-head language to obviate a character's ethnicity was a breath of fresh air. Maude, the main character, was also written to where she was relatable even if I don't see much of myself in her image, proof positive that non-white characters have a certain relatability to those who do not share the character's ethnicity.


The grammar in it was pretty clearly marked by a non-native English speaker's pen. It wasn't overly distracting from the story, but it was obvious. The lack of commas in particular made for an occasional challenge in reading.


Finally, the plot was good. The standard rags to riches story was spliced with a coming of age story, a dash of mystery, and a bit of romance. All of this led to a highly unique story that only left me knowing the ending within the last 20 or so pages.

Dear God, Why?!

Doctor Who: Only Human - Gareth Roberts

I got this book as part of Barnes and Noble's Free Fridays program. Usually they're misses, but sometimes you get a great book. This was not one of those times.


I got about 20 pages in and could not handle it. It seemed to have no plot, and the characters just fell flat. I don't understand how this book got a publishing deal, as there is no actual merit to it. It doesn't seem to have much in the way of depth, and the trope of "super skinny pretty new girl at school is special" is becoming rather trite, to be honest.


If any writers are reading this, please remember to give your characters more depth and to avoid trite tropes such as the above. Your readers will thank you.


Not What I Expected

The Wisdom of Jane Austen (The Wisdom Series) - Philosophical Library

I was expecting more of an analysis of Austen's works and the literary value therein. Instead, I got a brief biography and collection of quotes. I'm glad this was free, as I would have been sorely upset at wasting money on this.

So Much Better Than the Show

Witches of East End - Melissa  de la Cruz

I started off watching the show when it became available on Netflix, and it wasn't bad, but it definitely wasn't great either. I picked up the book, thinking it couldn't be any worse than the show and was rather surprised.


First, the whole genre itself was changed to adapt it for television. The book is pretty solidly a mystery with a dash of romance and fantasy elements, while the show focuses more on romance than anything else. Second, the main characters' powers are far more pronounced than they are in the show. This makes them far more interesting than in the show.


One thing that really surprised me was how badly dumbed down the book was during the adaptation process. There is so much to the plot based in history and mythology that is largely glossed over. Considering that other shows have focused on Norse mythology and been relatively successful, it wouldn't really be much of a stretch to say that the Norse mythology elements could easily have stayed in and been successful. It's almost like the networks assume anything geared toward women has to be vapid and shallow because our little minds can't handle anything smart.


In short, I recommend skipping the show and picking up this book instead. You'll enjoy yourself far more than binging the series.

A Fun Ethnography of British People at the Turn of the First Century

The Year 1000: What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium, An Englishman's World - Robert Lacey, Danny Danziger

As I said above, this book was quite fun to read. It was an interesting angle to use archaeological evidence and historic documentation to extrapolate an ethnography of the early English people. The division of the chapters to reflect aspect of culture based on what the common man of the day would have relied on, the Julian work calendar, was quite excellent, and aided in driving the point home. Due to the main focus of archaeology on elites, this work's focus on the common man was that much more impressive. The dearth of information that is sadly given to the common person invariably made the research that much more arduous, yet the sheer wealth of information covered betrays this dearth, and makes the information displayed that much more impressive.


My only complaint is that, in a couple of chapters, it dragged a little bit, disrupting the overall flow of the book. Had that not occurred, it would easily have been a five star work.

A Unique Perspective on the Classic Tale

Beastly - Alex Flinn

I really liked the idea of looking at the story of Beauty and the Beast from a male perspective. I always have thought of the story as more of the transformation of a man from an unkind human being to one who understands and appreciates the world around him, especially with iterations such as the Disney version.


The fact that some of the traditional stories were utilized in this retelling was a great homage to the original iterations of the tale. The ways of modernizing the tale by using issues such as bad home lives to me makes it a better story than the original because our heroine has more of a happily ever after situation than women in the original tales, who more often than not had great home lives with loving fathers. To me, this made the story more powerful.


The fact that the protagonist was able to connect to other fairy tale characters through a chat room was also pretty cool. I like thinking that, as these stories occur in a generally ambiguous setting, it's possible that they occur within the same fantastical setting.

Well Written, Fun Brain Candy

1632 - Eric Flint

This book had a great deal going for it; Eric Flint clearly did a lot of research on military strategy, history, and both early modern and modern weapons. This is evident throughout the novel, and helped make his novel a superior and interesting work of fiction. However, his research was not the only thing that made this book wonderful.


One problem I have with a lot of science fiction and fantasy novels written by men is a lack of credible female characters. Throughout the story, there were several wonderful female characters, none of whom were the same. One woman was a nurse, another a polyglot and diplomat, and another was an olympic biathlon participant who became one hell of a sniper. They were respected by their male peers as equals, even those who were non-Americans from the past.


Overall, I would recommend this novel, as it is well worth the necessary time to read it. It does drag in a couple places, but that is a pretty small complaint in the grand scheme of things.



Well Written and Well Researched, Although a Few Things Bothered Me

The Blessing Way - Tony Hillerman

I was recommended to read this series from a gentleman while I was visiting the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff during my archaeological field school. I wish I'd gotten the guy's name, because I would love to thank him for introducing me to this series.


One reason I never read books about Native Americans written by a white person is the fact that it is really easy to screw up important details about the overall culture. Hillerman clearly spent a lot of time on the Diné reservation, and also appears to have mostly done oral research. I say this because some of the spellings for Diné Bisaad words are a little funky. The word that struck me as being particularly odd is the word "Diné" itself; in this book, the word is spelled "Dinee," a spelling which I have never seen in any other publication. 


While the plot itself dragged in some places, the overall story was highly engaging and interesting. I highly recommend people read this book and hope it encourages people to visit Native American reservations and learn more about the beautiful cultures that may soon be lost due to hegemonic influences.

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