‘The Rook’ by Daniel O’Malley

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley was the very first book I checked out of my new public library after moving at the beginning of September.

(And, for those of you following along at home, I truly hope this move was the last in the string of roughly 12 moves I’ve chronicled over the last 16 months. At least for a while. I’m actually unpacking all my books, which means this new home is at least approaching something like stability.)

O’Malley’s inaugural novel was released three years ago, but it came to my attention only recently via Book Riot’s latest attempt to “help fill the Harry Potter void” in our lives. These lists are probably the most common sort of list when it comes to the bookish internet (heck, we here at Literary Transgressions have often wondered what to do post-Harry Potter), but I can’t stop myself from reading them every time a new one appears. Will there finally be something on this new list that actually fills the Harry Potter-shaped hole in my reading life? I wonder. Even though there rarely (um, never?) is, the optimist in me always excitedly whispers, yes, maybe this time!

I don’t want to hold you all in suspense, so: no, not this time. Book Riot’s list included the usual suspects and then some books that captured some aspect of Harry Potter (boarding school or magic or an orphan or England) or were straight-up High Fantasy. None sounded appealing.

Then, at the very end of the list, there was a little trio of recommended books clustered together: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, The Night Circus, and The Rook. Now, the first two are two of my all-time favorite books. Ever. But the third? I’d never even heard of it. I was halfway out the door and heading to the library almost before I read anything about it. You group an author together with Susanna Clarke and Erin Morgenstern and, Harry Potter comparisons aside, you have my attention. And, in this case, I couldn’t be gladder of the recommendation. (more…)

October 1, 2015 at 3:17 am Leave a comment

On story overload

Wolfs_bloodI have mentioned before that I am a story junkie. While usually this is great — such as when I can get through a three-hour road trip by listening to an audiobook, or when the promise of getting back to my book spurs me to empty the dishwasher in record time — it can have its downsides.

For example, I had trouble sleeping last night. Ugh, it was one of those insomniac nights when I was so tired, and so happy to be snuggled up in bed, but my mind just wouldn’t stop. My husband had caught me watching Orphan Black earlier that evening, entering the room during a particularly gruesome scene and, incidentally, making me jump about a foot in the air. He shook his head, announced, “Don’t blame me when you can’t sleep,” and exited the room.

He was right, as he almost always is. But it wasn’t the nature of the scene that kept me from sleeping that night, or worries about schizophrenic clones creeping around my house at night. (more…)

September 29, 2015 at 12:04 am 5 comments

Rereading (and Re-watching): ‘Mansfield Park’ by Jane Austen

Join me as I rant about Jane Austen’s classic morality tale for probably far longer than necessary (seriously: buckle in, Janeites, it’s going to be a bumpy ride) in this week’s edition of “Rereadings.”


For a long time, I irrevocably tied together Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park with its 1999 film adaptation. Indeed, I believe I saw the movie first and then tackled the book. Consequently, perhaps, I enjoyed the book rather more than I would have under other circumstances.

The film’s version of protagonist Fanny Price bears almost no resemblance to the book version, although both generally make the same decisions for generally the same reasons. However, film-Fanny did these things with a fiery spunk and thoroughly modern attitude that would be utterly anathema to book-Fanny. Film-Fanny was given literary pretensions (she’s an aspiring writer, like young Austen herself, and reads voraciously) as an explanation for occasional social awkwardness while book-Fanny is your garden variety introvert, no further explanation required.


Film-Fanny was, in short, an utter anachronism, but one that aligned nicely with late-nineties pop feminism. The film reimagined Fanny Price to fit within 1990s female empowerment and, at the time, I ate it up. I loved her frustration with society’s confinements. I loved her dreams of writerly success. (Something film-Fanny shared with another of my favorite literarily-inclined firebrands, Jo March.) And I loved her slow-burn love affair with cousin Edmund.

So, when I read the book shortly after seeing the film, I overlayed the film’s version of the story on top of the actual book. In consequence, I loved the book, too. I felt closer to Fanny Price than I did to any other Austen heroine. I knew I was no Elizabeth Bennett or either Dashwood sister. I was an introvert, quiet and bookish myself, and reveled in the mixture of film- and book-Fanny provided in Mansfield Park.


For some reason or other, I was lately inspired to revisit both versions of Mansfield Park. I started reading the book and, midway, paused to watch the 1999 film and then finished the book a couple of weeks later. In these revisits, I was shocked at how little either compared to my memory of them. (more…)

September 24, 2015 at 2:30 am 6 comments

‘Matched’ by Ally Condie

41-NcdNDtQL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Let’s start at the beginning. Matched is the story of a 17-year-old girl named…crap. What is her name?

Okay. Matched is the story of a teenaged girl named Cassia Reyes, who lives in a dystopian future nation called The Society. We are, apparently, meant to believe that this is as a result of some kind of war, that The Society was created as a place where people can live peacefully and contentedly, without violence, doubt or really any unhappiness or injury until the age of 80, when they die. Yes, it is ripped off from The Giver (a far superior work, but I digress).

The story starts on the night of Cassia’s Matching Banquet, a night sort of like a prom where she’ll find out who she is going to marry. Oddly, teenagers have to decide at this age whether or not they want to spend their lives with someone at all. But the point is, Cassia’s personal information has been run through some sort of database along with the personal information for a bunch of other people her exact age and she’s been matched with — oh boy! — her childhood best friend.

But wait. When she goes to insert a MicroCard into her Port to reveal more information about her Match, a different face appears. Could The Society have made a mistake?

Yes. They could have. But not one bigger than the mistake I made in trying to listen to this book. (more…)

September 22, 2015 at 12:56 am 6 comments

‘Kushiel’s Dart’ by Jacqueline Carey

Kushiel's_DartIf Jane Lindskold, Phillipa Gregory and George R. R. Martin (and perhaps Alison Weir) all banded together to write a book, it might turn out like Kushiel’s Dart. But it could hardly be better than Jacqueline Carey’s work, which is suspenseful and compelling, somehow managing to encompass a huge plot of epic proportions while keeping the reader’s attention locked into each individual scene.

The premise of the work is that, in some alternate history, the blood of Yeshua ben Yosef (let’s assume that name is recognizable) mixed with the tears of Mary Magdalene and the earth, from which was wrought an angel named Elua. A number of angels descended from heaven to become Elua’s companions when he refused to ascend, and, in accordance with some apocryphal stories recognizable from Jewish folklore and the Old Testament, these angels mingled with humans and begot a race of nearly-divine people known as the D’Angeline, who have settled an area of Western Europe known as Terre d’Ange. (You will note that, apparently, the angels spoke French.)

One of these companions was called Namaah, and her story is that, in order to serve and protect Elua, she gave herself to a number of important people as a sexual plaything. But, in honor of her, prostitution is legal and even revered in this alternate medieval Europe, with codes and rules and regulations and various, um, flavors. “Love as thou wilt” is a key aphorism.

Enter Phedre, who, like her Greek namesake, has some desires generally considered non-traditional. (more…)

September 15, 2015 at 12:41 am Leave a comment

A reading pickle: Despising the characters, intrigued by the story

air-and-shadowsThis week’s reading pickle began when I checked Michael Gruber’s The Book of Air and Shadows out of the library. It’s one of those books billed as a “literary thriller,” which usually have something to do with antiquarian books and a literary celebrity.

In this case, the main plot mover is the (possible) discovery of the world’s only extant Shakespeare manuscript. As hackneyed as the lost-Shakespeare-manuscript construct is, I was willing to along with it because I’m a sucker for bookish mysteries. (Seriously. It’s an on-going problem in my reading life.)

So I started in on The Book of Air and Shadows vaguely hopeful. However, about 150 pages in (of 466), I sat up and realized I found pretty much every single character detestable. (more…)

September 10, 2015 at 2:53 am Leave a comment

‘Middlemarch’ by George Eliot

9780141199795I have rarely felt as rewarded and accomplished at the end of a book as I did when I finished Middlemarch. And for good reason — my copy was 889 pages of dense copy, filled with romance, politics, intrigue and a lot of historical issues that, sadly, made little to no sense to me.

Middlemarch is George Eliot’s fourth novel, and was originally published in eight installments in 1871 or so. The novel contains two main plot arcs: one concerning Dorothea Brooke, a young woman faced with an interesting choice regarding her marriage, and the other concerning a young man named Tertius Lydgate, a doctor who arrives in Middlemarch with grand plans and ideas. The two are eventually connected by the story of Nicholas Bulstrode, a staunch Methodist about whom little else is known.

It’s a testament to the magnificence of this novel that, despite its addressing many political issues of the early 19th century, I found something true and applicable to today in nearly every chapter. Eliot was a student not only of history (she was writing about the 1830s while living in the 1870s), but of human nature, and the ways in which humans “make do” with what they are given. (more…)

September 8, 2015 at 12:50 am 2 comments

Older Posts

Connect with LT

literarytransgressions (Gmail)

@LitTransgressor (Twitter)

LT RSS feed (Subscribe)

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 125 other followers


LT Archives

In accordance with FTC regulations…

...we must disclose that we are independent bloggers with no ties to authors, publishers, or advertisers. We are not given books or monetary compensation in return for favorable reviews or publicity.

Where we have received advance or complementary copies of books, it will be noted in the body of the entry, and will not affect our review or opinions in the slightest.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 125 other followers