Wednesday Whimsy? Alice

Posted 25 November, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Wednesday Whimsy? AliceAlice by Christina Henry
Published by Penguin Publishing Group on August 4th 2015
Genres: Dark Fantasy, Fantasy, Fiction, General, Historical
Pages: 304
Format: eARC

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for consideration of an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

In a warren of crumbling buildings and desperate people called the Old City, there stands a hospital with cinderblock walls which echo the screams of the poor souls inside. In the hospital, there is a woman. Her hair, once blond, hangs in tangles down her back. She doesn’t remember why she’s in such a terrible place. Just a tea party long ago, and long ears, and blood… Then, one night, a fire at the hospital gives the woman a chance to escape, tumbling out of the hole that imprisoned her, leaving her free to uncover the truth about what happened to her all those years ago. Only something else has escaped with her. Something dark. Something powerful. And to find the truth, she will have to track this beast to the very heart of the Old City, where the rabbit waits for his Alice.

Okay, so I love me some Alice in Wonderland spin-offs and reimaginings, and Henry’s novel Alice had real potential. Where it fell flat for me was the world-building. Honestly, I’m not sure where or when this version of Alice is supposed to be set in. There’s talk of the shining New City where Alice originally comes from and the Old City which feels a bit like the atmosphere that the proles from Orwell’s 1984 live. But what happened to divide the cities? What’s the government doing? What is the government? Why did they banish the Magicians?

Anyway, you get my point that Henry tries to create an atmosphere for the reader, but fails to flesh out enough of the world for it to take. This is very much a plot driven novel, there is action, some suspense, intrigue, and of course a love interest of sorts.

It’s a fairly quick read. As far as fairy tale reimaginings go, I’ve seen much much worse. But I’ve also seen better. It felt like Henry was going for something with more depth and just kind of fell flat at it, which was disappointing.

You could do worse on an airplane.

So, Reader, how do you feel about fairy tale reimaginings? Are they your jam? I tend to love them myself.




Maggie Monday: The Heart Goes Last

Posted 23 November, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Maggie Monday: The Heart Goes LastThe Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
Also by this author: Positron Serials, Surfacing, Good Bones and Simple Murders, Positron Serials
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on September 29th 2015
Genres: Action & Adventure, Dystopian, Fiction, Humorous, Science Fiction
Pages: 320
Format: eARC

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for consideration of an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Stan and Charmaine are a married couple trying to stay afloat in the midst of an economic and social collapse. Job loss has forced them to live in their car, leaving them vulnerable to roving gangs. They desperately need to turn their situation around—and fast. The Positron Project in the town of Consilience seems to be the answer to their prayers. No one is unemployed and everyone gets a comfortable, clean house to live in . . . for six months out of the year. On alternating months, residents of Consilience must leave their homes and function as inmates in the Positron prison system. Once their month of service in the prison is completed, they can return to their "civilian" homes.     At first, this doesn't seem like too much of a sacrifice to make in order to have a roof over one's head and food to eat. But when Charmaine becomes romantically involved with the man who lives in their house during the months when she and Stan are in the prison, a series of troubling events unfolds, putting Stan's life in danger. With each passing day, Positron looks less like a prayer answered and more like a chilling prophecy fulfilled.

So I know that Atwood’s latest, The Heart Goes Last was disappointing to some people. While I’ll agree it’s not her finest novel, it’s far from twaddle either. The story of Stan and Charmaine escaping an economic collapse by signing on to the Consilience project was compelling to me, though I’ll readily admit it was because I was already invested in the characters as this book was originally started as a serial novel by the defunct Byliner publisher. The most intriguing parts of The Heart Goes Last were those that she had already written in serial format and incorporated into this finished novel. NPR reviewer, Tasha Robinson might put it best:

The Heart Goes Last is packed with the kind of morally and socially complicated ideas that usually intrigue Atwood, and it’s impossible not to wonder what she would have done with these ideas in a more heartfelt book, or one that used the serial-installment model to stretch out and explore more of this lightly sketched world. (Full Review)

This is so apt for this book. Atwood sketches out some excellent ideas and important concepts but by the end of the book there’s a little bit of a failure to launch.

We discussed all the spoilers over at The Socratic Salon, come talk with us!

Other reviews of The Heart Goes Last

Monika at A Lovely Bookshelf

Shannon at River City Reading

What about you, Reader? Did you love this Atwood or love to hate it?




Sunday Salon: Hamilton Edition

Posted 22 November, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in blogging, memes


Listening // to Hamilton. I’m practically totally obsessed with this musical. Shannon at River City Reader and I even started a quirky Tumblr about it. Elect Hamilton. It’s a crazy mashup between the Hamilton musical and the 2016 American Presidential elections. Apparently the Hamilton musical and Harry Potter mashed up is a thing too, Tumblr’s a weird place.

Finished up // with a game night with co-worker friends. We started tame with a game of ‘Encore’ which is a board game circa 1987 that involves music. Ended, naturally, with a completely magically horrific game of Cards Against Humanity. Goooood times.

Game Night!

Game Night Selfie!

Reading // Getting over my reading slump. Knocked out about four books in the past week, I also feel as if I might be getting some blogging mojo back, but I don’t want to say that too loud for fear of jinxing myself. I’m still six books behind on my Goodreads goal, but I’m hoping I can knock some out during all of my downtime. (I have no downtime.)

Cannot be trusted with // Star Wars merchandise. Seriously, this news that Disney plans on putting out one Star Wars movie a year until people stop buying tickets could be terrible news for my checkbook. I totally have a thing for Darth Vader. Nothing you can say will stop me.

So it’s been a pretty good week. How was yours, Reader?




Fantastic Friday: Fates and Furies

Posted 20 November, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Fantastic Friday: Fates and FuriesFates and Furies by Lauren Groff
Published by Random House on September 15th 2015
Genres: Fiction, General
Pages: 400
Format: eBook
Every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. At the core of this rich, expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of twenty-four years.At age twenty-two, Lotto and Mathilde are tall, glamorous, madly in love and destined for greatness. A decade later, their marriage is still the envy of their friends, but with an electric thrill we understand that things are even more complicated and remarkable than they have seemed. With stunning revelations and multiple threads, and in prose that is vibrantly alive and original, Groff delivers a deeply satisfying novel about love, art, creativity and power that is unlike anything that has come before it. Profound, surprising, propulsive and emotionally riveting, it stirs both the mind and the heart.

So, this is the book that broke one of the slumpiest slumps that I’ve had in a long time. I read it because I’d already told the gals at The Socratic Salon that I would. I steeled myself to be bored out of my mind during Lotto’s section, as I had been forewarned by so many people. But I actually found myself enjoying it.

Sure, as a character Lotto is self absorbed, one dimensional, and really grows… not at all. But he does some charming things and I must admit that I was especially intrigued by his obsession with the opera composer towards the end of the section. However, Mathilde’s section was absolutely stunning and I don’t think that the reveal would have worked the other way around. Unbeknownst to poor Lotto, Mathilde is ‘the fury’.

Mathilde is amazing and dynamic, honestly Groff has produced some of the best writing I’ve seen in a long time in the second half of this novel. I found it to be literary but not inaccessible. I think that if one so desired, this book could be read at strictly a surface level and still be very enjoyable. But the real enjoyment for me came with delving a little deeper and looking underneath the surface of Groff’s prose to find such amazing depth and breadth of characters.

What about you, Reader? Read any excellent literary fiction lately? Have you read Fates and Furies? Don’t be shy, join us over at The Socratic Salon to discuss it! 




Furiously Happy: A Night With Jenny Lawson

Posted 17 November, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Authors, Reviews

Furiously Happy: A Night With Jenny LawsonFuriously Happy by Jenny Lawson
Also by this author: Let's Pretend This Never Happened
Published by Pan Macmillan on September 24th 2015
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, General, Humor, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 256
Format: Hardcover
In Let's Pretend This Never Happened, Jenny Lawson regaled readers with uproarious stories of her bizarre childhood. In her new book, Furiously Happy, she explores her lifelong battle with mental illness. A hysterical, ridiculous book about crippling depression and anxiety? That sounds like a terrible idea. And terrible ideas are what Jenny does best.As Jenny says: 'You can't experience pain without also experiencing the baffling and ridiculous moments of being fiercely, unapologetically, intensely and (above all) furiously happy.' It's a philosophy that has - quite literally - saved her life.Jenny's first book, Let's Pretend This Never Happened, was ostensibly about family, but deep down it was about celebrating your own weirdness. Furiously Happy is a book about mental illness, but under the surface it's about embracing joy in fantastic and outrageous ways. And who doesn't need a bit more of that?

So, once again, my sister and I had the opportunity to seek out Jenny Lawson and get signed books. This time however, we also got to hear her speak and read. We also encountered some of the weird counter-culture that Lawson seems to attract.

But let’s start with the book. Furiously Happy is not nearly as funny as Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, but I will venture to say that it is infinitely more important. The essays in the book on mental health were so raw, so real, and so incredibly honest it was almost painful to hear her read them in the auditorium. While not as painful to read them on my own – they did have a sense of heartache surrounding them, more so when you consider that one in four Americans is affected by mental illness and there is still such shame and stigma surrounding it.

Furiously Happy starts out strong, but then as the chapters roll on it begins to fizzle out. Interspersed in the book are essays having little or nothing to do with mental illness that feel a bit forced in an attempt at levity, which admittedly, perhaps Furiously Happy needs to be bearable at all, so painful and honest are the essays concerning Lawson’s mental health.

So then there was the question and answer session and the book signing. Lawson’s presentation on stage was engaging and wonderful. The fans she attracts are… devoted, to say the least. Not that it can be blamed on Lawson, but many of the questions weren’t questions at all — they were long personal stories that I can’t imagine much of the audience cared about. However Lawson responded to each anecdote with poise and charm. Despite her anxiety issues, she is a complete pro. A memorable part of the evening was when her husband Victor called and she decided to take the call on speakerphone. Why yes I did take video of it…


You may recall last time I had a book signed by Lawson I asked her to sign it as Stephen King. I cursed myself while waiting in line to get Furiously Happy signed that I failed to bring a Stephen King book with me for her to sign as herself. C’est la vie.

Me, Jenny Lawson, and a fabulous inscription.

Me, Jenny Lawson, and a fabulous inscription.

Overall the night was a success and while Furiously Happy does have its weaknesses, I definitely think that it’s important for the normalization of mental illness the way the world stands today.

Monika at A Lovely Bookshelf had a completely different take on things, however.

What about you, Reader? Do you enjoy Lawson’s blog? What’s your take?




Threesome: Shirley Jackson’s Women

Posted 16 November, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Authors, books and publishing, Genres, Reviews

shirley jackson threesome

So I love me some Shirley Jackson, but it wasn’t until I recently finished A Bird’s Nest that I had perhaps the belated revelation that Shirley Jackson writes primarily about young women who are suffering from some sort of arrested development.

Consider Eleanor Vance, from Jackson’s classic The Haunting of Hill House. One of the first lines in the novel is:

“Eleanor Vance was thirty-two years old when she came to Hill House. The only person in the world she genuinely hated, now that her mother was dead, was her sister. She disliked her brother-in-law and her five-year-old niece, and she had no friends.”

If that’s not a description of someone who is emotionally stunted, I’m not sure what is. Eleanor is consistently unsure of herself and lacks self confidence in the worst of ways. While she is supposed to be thirty-two, her character often feels no older than sixteen or seventeen. Her self consciousness is exacerbated by the stresses of Hill House, makes her teeter even more off balance than she was before.

Looking at Eleanor next to the lively and confident Theodora, one has to stop and wonder what emotional juxtaposition that Jackson was going for. Does Theodora genuinely become irate and hostile towards Eleanor or is this completely happening in Eleanor’s perception?

Next we have both Merricat and Constance Blackwood, from We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Merricat is supposed to be eighteen years old, but her rhetoric and behavior make that incredibly hard to remember. It took several close readings before I realized that she wasn’t supposed to be a thirteen year old adolescent. While Constance does play a central mother figure in the novel, girl hasn’t left the house in six years. At the climax of the story instead of pushing forward and growing into themselves, we see both women retreat farther into themselves, continuing to stunt their emotional growth and we are left wondering how they can possibly survive.

Finally, we have Elizabeth Richmond, from The Bird’s Nest. Meant to be 23, Elizabeth is tormented by three other personalities of varying ages. This is a novel about dissociative identity disorder (not to be confused with schizophrenia, don’t cross Heather on this one). Interestingly, this book also has a mother figure that is less than motherly with Aunt Morgan. I find Aunt Morgan interesting the same way that I find Theodora interesting, she seems to care for Elizabeth, but at times she seems downright hostile. Is she? Ah, the wonder of unreliable narrators and partial information.

I’ve probably read The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle five or six times each, but this was my first go at A Bird’s Nest, and if you look at the publication date, you realize that Jackson pre-dates the modern tropes of multiple narrators and psychological fiction nearly twenty years before Sybil made it popular.

Anyway, Reader. What do you think of women in Shirley Jackson’s novels? Do her other novels conform to these patterns? What does it mean?




Stephen King: A Primer

Posted 31 October, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Authors


Stephen Edwin King. Born in Portland, Maine on September 21, 1947. He and his wife Tabitha, own two residences in Maine and also owns property in Sarasota, Florida. May be considered by Floridians as a ‘snow bird’.

He is the undisputed master of horror, taking on the genre and breathing new life into it with his first novel Carrie in 1974. Less than a year later the veritable ‘Salem’s Lot was published. ‘Salem’s Lot is still hailed as a fantastic novel in the vampire sub-genre.

This Constant Reader first discovered Stephen King as a part of her father’s library with the novel Cujo. I was 11. I never looked back, my days with Nancy Drew and The Babysitter’s Club were over.

King has three distinct periods of his writing. His early career spans from Carrie in 1974 until The Dark Half in 1989. During the 1980’s King admittedly had a serious drug and alcohol problem until his friends and family staged an intervention, dumping evidence of his addiction in front of him. King agreed to seek help and has been sober since 1990. His early career is characterized by easily recognizable monsters such as Kurt Barlow in ‘Salem’s Lot, Pennywise in It, Randall Flagg in The Stand. Admittedly this is a vast oversimplification of King’s early works, but in general one can see the distinction.

The second period of King’s writing begins in 1990 with Needful Things, his first novel written in sobriety and ends with the vehicle accident that almost claimed his life in 1999. King’s ‘sobriety period’ is recognizable by a shift from outright ‘balls to the wall’ horror to something more subtle and closer to home. Rose Madder deals with domestic violence, though often overlooked by fans AND critics there were many individuals that came forward during a Reddit AMA that King did recently praising the strength and realness of the characters and stating that the novel was instrumental in helping abused readers realize they could get out of their situation. The Green Mile, which was originally published in serial format (more on writing gimmicks and innovations later on) deals with capital punishment and the reality that the American justice system sometimes executes innocent men and women. Most of King’s novels in this ‘sober period’ retain an element of supernatural and horror, but the monster is quieter and closer to home than most of us feel comfortable with.

In 1999, King was walking along the side of Route 5 in Lovell, Maine when he was struck from behind by a minivan. The driver was distracted by an unrestrained dog in the back and was not drunk or otherwise incapacitated. His injuries were severe, including a punctured lung, shattered hip and leg. King purchased the wreckage of the minivan to avoid parts of it from showing up on eBay. He also expressed a desire to smash up the van with a sledgehammer. It was crushed in a junkyard before he had the opportunity to do so.

By 2000 King was back to work on his memoir On Writing, despite being able to sit for periods of only about forty minutes without pain. On Writing is an invaluable source to burgeoning writers and Stephen King fangirls alike. From 2000 to present King’s work (for the most part) have become even more subdued. Though books like Cell hearken back to the gore and horror of his early works, there’s something different, more nuanced about it. Duma Key, Lisey’s Story, and Under the Dome, are all still steeped in the supernatural but also very character-centric.

For this Constant Reader, 11/22/63 (2011) was a return to King’s heyday. Combining time travel with specific rules and deep personal connections, King crafts a story of a man who goes back in time to stop the assassination of JFK. It sounds hokey, but in the hands of the master it’s a compelling, deeply moving tale. His most recent novel Doctor Sleep, the much anticipated sequel to The Shining is a brilliant blend of the old and new King warm, yet scary, and yes, I just took a 12 hour car trip. and eyed every single RV with suspicion.

Finally there is King’s magnum opus. The Dark Tower it spans all of his works and worlds. Beginning with The Gunslinger in 1982, Roland and his ka-tet, Eddie, Susannah, and Jake travel mid-land through eight books in search of the Tower. It’s a brilliant blend of fantasy, spaghetti westerns, horror, and a touch of science fiction. Space between the worlds are thin. It’s a long strange ride that’s so satisfying, after finishing the last novel The Dark Tower (2004) I immediately wanted to start again with The Gunslinger. Theses will be written on this work. I’ll spare you, for now.

Stephen King keeps himself relevant in kind of the same way that Cher and Madonna do – except that it seems he actually has it easier. But that’s what I like about Stephen King, he keeps re-inventing himself and his works and has delved into almost every ‘literary’ medium conceivable, even though he doesn’t have to. The Green Mile released as six serial novellas in 1996 are an example of the ways King is always trying to get to new readers. He’s always been interested in film and often cameos in the movie adaptations of his books. He collaborated with John Mellencamp for the musical Ghost Brothers of Darkland County which is currently touring! He released one of the original Kindle Singles with a delightful little piece entitled ‘UR’ when the Kindle 2 was launched in 2009.  He had a small guest role on Sons of Anarchy last season.

The best thing about Stephen King? He seems like a pretty awesome person. He does a lot of grassroots charity things like giving to local libraries, using his fame and money to do good things within his own community. He chooses to use his voice in a constructive manner to promote literacy. His essay Guns is easily one of the most rational and poignant pieces of commentary we have about the U.S. gun debate. Also, he loves to write. The fact that he writes because its his passion is inspiring to me everyday. How are we so lucky to have Stephen King as a national treasure?

Tabitha. It’s a great love story. From her pulling the first pages of Carrie out of the trash and encouraging him to keep going, to her threatening to leave and take the kids if he didn’t sober up when he was a millionaire it seems like she’s always been there by his side. So, thank you Tabitha King. Now I must go and rectify a problem that I am ashamed has gone on too long. I must read a Tabitha King novel.

Loves the Red Sox, but always takes a book to the games.
Was in a rock band with Amy Tan and other literary giants. The Rock Bottom Remainders
Everything about Richard Bachmann.

May I also suggest you take a look at the piece from the New York Times entitled King’s Family Business?

Happy Halloween, Reader!




Sunday Salon: Saturday Night

Posted 17 October, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in blogging, musings


Time // Saturday, 10:25 PM EDT

Watching // George Lucas films. Just finished up A New Hope, starting up on Raiders of the Lost Ark. Why? Well…


16 foot Darth Vader Christmas Lawn Decoration

Sixteen foot Darth Vader Christmas Lawn Decoration

I have researched my new HOA bylaws and there is nothing that should prevent me from putting this sixteen foot magnificence in my front yard. At least not this year. There have to be perks to owning a home, right? I am so freakin’ excited.

Reading // A little bit of this, a little bit of that. Still wending my way through Accidental Saints and Furiously Happyreally need to start of Fates and Furies for the upcoming Socratic Salon discussion.

Work // My last trial week before the new boss officially starts is coming up. I’ll be so happy when he starts because it should take my caseload down by a third

Writing // …or thinking about writing, a comprehensive review on my re-listening of Stephen King The Dark Tower series, a chat about hearing Jenny Lawson speak and meeting her a second time, and probably a review of the newest Atwood. Among other things.

I thought I had more to say, but apparently I was wrong. How was your week, Reader?




Sunday Salon: Where I’ve Been Busy

Posted 11 October, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in blogging


Time // 9:30 AM EDT

Excuses // I’ve been away for a hot minute y’all. Which I know is what I say in every Sunday Salon post that I write after a prolonged absence. I’m clearly not blogging, I’m not doing much reading anything that requires my eyes, but what am I doing you might ask? Moving, working, general adulting. I refuse to join the cult of busy for the sake of busy… but I’ve been busy.

The House // Is moved into and in order. Painters are coming tomorrow on the U.S.’s ‘Subjugation of Indigenous Populations Day‘ I mean, Columbus Day. But since it’s a federal holiday and I work for the county, I will work on this most noble of holidays. (I mean seriously, how come we haven’t done away with Columbus Day yet? I don’t get it.) Anyway.

Work // Is what is keeping me away.

Exhibit A: My Active Caseload

Exhibit A: My Active Caseload

I know that John Oliver (who I adore) did a whole segment about the problems we have in the U.S. with the lack of public defenders — and I agree, but I really felt that the segment was one sided. It’s true that 90 – 95% of cases will plead out before going to trial and while I am in whole-hearted agreement that there are people who are unfairly targeted by the police and who are indeed innocent of the crimes they have been arrested/indicted/accused of – I’ve also seen enough evidence, even in the backwoods south that many that plea out are guilty of what they’ve been charged with. The unfortunate truth is that the U.S. justice system would collapse without plea bargaining, we don’t have the infrastructure or the manpower for every case to go to trial. Right, wrong, or otherwise – this is the case. I’m not claiming our system is perfect, but to paraphrase Winston Churchill, it’s the worst justice system in the world, except for all the rest.

Lately // I did finally start Furiously Happy and it’s furiously amazing. AnnaSaurus Rex and I went to see Jenny Lawson read and get book signed and I had her sign as Stephen King just like last time. I’m still wending my way through Rev. Weber-Bolz’s essays in Accidental Saints. Expect a write-up soon on how fabulous she was to meet again.

Next Up // I’m going to start Fates and Furies as soon as I finish off these two essay collections. That’s coming up for Socratic Salon pretty soon.

Playing // Deck building games! Largely on my iPhone. Anyone play Tanto Cuore, Penny Arcade: The Game, or Dominion? If so – hit me up, I’m often looking for a game!

Okay, it took me all day to write this post, Readers. How was your week?