Among the Lesser Gods, by Margo Catts

margo-lesser-gods Among the Lesser Gods by Margo Catts

Among the Lesser Gods explores the question, “If we make a decision in childhood how does that shape and mold our present?” This lovely story is set in the mining town of Leadville, Colorado. A young woman, Elena Alvarez, has made many bad choices in her life beginning with a deadly fire at the age of five. She begrudgingly completes college and is in an unwanted pregnancy. Now, her grandmother invites her to stay with her for the summer and care for a family who has suffered their own losses.

Margo Catts’ debut novel is beautifully written. Catts shows how a young woman comes to terms with her past through living in the present. The story pulls the reader in, weaving a delicate tapestry of joy, sadness, elation, devastation, and fulfillment. A great read.

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Star Struck

margo-lesser-gods

On May 15th, 2017, Margo Catts launched her debut novel, Among the Lesser Gods. Normally I would be writing a review of her book – which I will be doing soon – but today I am writing about my experience of being “Star Struck”.

I have always felt that every human is just a person no matter their social or economic status. As the old saying goes, we all put our pants on one leg at a time. Shirts only go on one arm at a time, and skivvies are in the same category. We all wear them (ok, some people feel skivvies are too binding) and we all put them on essentially the same way. Thus, Mark Zuckerberg and I are on the same playing field in the basics of life. I’m sure that if I met him on the street he may look familiar to me, but I would not really recognize him, much less be star struck for him.

But, on that evening in May, I was struck by Margo. Her book launch was at the Tattered Cover,  a bookshop where friends gather to sip tea and talk books. It is cozy. When I arrived, Margo had already started her presentation to a group of about 40 adoring fans. Up to this point I had only known Margo during our critique group and at her home for coffee. I met a new side of her.

Her presentation had everyone laughing and crying. Her slight nervousness gave her a down to earth eloquence. She spoke of her inspiration for the book and how her curious mind took a tiny article about a fire and turned it into a wonderfully moving novel.

After her presentation we all clutched our copies of her books to wait for a few moments with the author and have our copies signed. I ended up toward the end of the line, and was able to chat with several of our writing friends to pass the time. I watched as each new person smiled and had kind words for Margo, and in turn she generously shared hugs and laughter.

I wondered what they all were saying. “Great job Margo!” “Loved your book Margo.” “When will the next book come out?” “I couldn’t put it down.” The compliments just flowed and Margo beamed. My turn finally arrived and I walked up to the table grinning from ear to ear and my mind just went blank. I stood in front of Margo with this smile, and I couldn’t get any words to come out of my mouth. I really was star struck. I was (and still am) so proud to stand in front of this wonderful author. Margo Catts, my friend, was now a published author and I was beside myself with awe. I finally was able to push out a single word…WOW. That’s all I could say in that moment. I went around the table and gave her a hug and whispered, “I’m so happy for you.”

As soon as I got home, Margo’s book was put where all of my signed copies go – in a book cabinet that holds all of my closest friends (that is, book, friends). I never read the signed copy of a book. That one gets put away to be treasured and I purchase a second copy to dog ear and love. Thank you Margo, for making my first star stricken experience a great one! I can now go back to my regular life putting my pants on one leg at a time.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell


★★★★☆
This hefty novel opens in 1806 with the meeting of the Great Magic Society. Theoretical magicians meet to discuss their discoveries while reading about, but not practicing, magic. A gentleman does not, after all, practice magic.

Ms. Clarke weaves a wonderful tale filled with shadows lurking in dark corners and chilled breezes that sneak through the window cracks. Magic is coming back to England after a 300-year absence, and Mr. Norrell and Jonathan Strange are in the middle of it all as they fumble through dusty spell books.

The reader spends the first third of the book with Mr. Norrell and his fussy approach to magic. His counterpart, Jonathan Strange doesn’t make his first appearance until well into the story.  The two characters are the opposite of one another in every respect. Mr. Norrell is small, mousey, and reserve in personality and magic. On the opposite side, Jonathan Strange is tall, handsome, and bold.

Their lives become deeply intertwined and neither Johnathan Strange nor Mr. Norrell understand the depth until the last chapters and pages.

I loved the writing style of Ms. Clarke, which is reminiscent of the time-period in which the book takes place. The humor is dry, and hidden among the words. If you are not an English major, you may miss many of the jokes that are drizzled throughout the book. The writing style is colorful and the reader will be treated to smelling the acrid air and feeling the rough textures.

The use of end-notes gives the reader some backstory of side characters and events. They are a fun diversion away from a long story, but they were a little disruptive at times. I skipped a few just to continue with my reading.

Overall, this is a great book to lose yourself in.

The Buried Giant

The Buried GiantThe Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Buried Giant is a book that will leave you thinking long after you have finished reading the last words. Kazuo Ishiguro masterfully weaves a tale of things forgotten, covered in the mists that hang like a curtain at the edge of remembering.

The main characters, Axl and Beatrice, are saddened that they live on this precipice to remember their son and, one day, decide to leave their lives behind in order to see him once again. During their journey, across the bleak landscape of Arthurian England, they cross paths with Sir Gawain, the last knight from King Artur’s time, Master Wistan, a Saxon warrior, and young Edwin a cursed boy who becomes Wistan’s apprentice. Mirrored in the undercurrent of the forgotten brutalities during the Briton and Saxon wars the characters face trials in morality, honor and love.

The reader is left a little off balance trying to find the thread of The Buried Dragon story, but this seems exactly how it should be. The allegory is strong only if the reader chooses to remember.

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The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

The Sound of a Wild Snail EatingThe Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey
★★★★☆

I was pleasantly surprised with this book. The writing is very eloquent. It has a quiet strength to it that the reader may not realize until after reading Ms. Bailey’s story. The main character (the author), who is gravely ill, finds her own strength and resolve through her observations of the daily challenges faced by an unassuming creature. The snail’s simplicity brought a bit of joy to what was a difficult time in her life.

I know more about snails than I ever thought possible and was entertained while learning and reading. Some of the historical quotes, facts, and figures got a bit tiring, but it was well balanced with the humanness of the story. I don’t think I’ll look at a snail the same way.

From Goodreads: In a work that beautifully demonstrates the rewards of closely observing nature, Elisabeth Bailey shares an inspiring and intimate story of her uncommon encounter with a Neohelix albolabris —a common woodland snail.

While an illness keeps her bedridden, Bailey watches a wild snail that has taken up residence on her nightstand. As a result, she discovers the solace and sense of wonder that this mysterious creature brings and comes to a greater under standing of her own confined place in the world.

Intrigued by the snail’s molluscan anatomy, cryptic defenses, clear decision making, hydraulic locomotion, and mysterious courtship activities, Bailey becomes an astute and amused observer, providing a candid and engaging look into the curious life of this underappreciated small animal. 

Told with wit and grace, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is a remarkable journey of survival and resilience, showing us how a small part of the natural world illuminates our own human existence and provides an appreciation of what it means to be fully alive.

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Beastkeeper

BeastkeeperBeastkeeper by Cat Hellisen
★★★★☆

I LOVED the writing style that carried me through this quaint story. The plot was not earth shattering so my rating of a four instead of five stars. I still really enjoyed reading this and recommend it to adults as well as young adults.

From Goodreads: Sarah has always been on the move. Her mother hates the cold, so every few months her parents pack their bags and drag her off after the sun. She’s grown up lonely and longing for magic. She doesn’t know that it’s magic her parents are running from.

When Sarah’s mother walks out on their family, all the strange old magic they have tried to hide from comes rising into their mundane world. Her father begins to change into something wild and beastly, but before his transformation is complete, he takes Sarah to her grandparents—people she has never met, didn’t even know were still alive.

Deep in the forest, in a crumbling ruin of a castle, Sarah begins to untangle the layers of curses affecting her family bloodlines, until she discovers that the curse has carried over to her, too. The day she falls in love for the first time, Sarah will transform into a beast . . . unless she can figure out a way to break the curse forever.

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The Hundred-Year House

The Hundred-Year HouseThe Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai
★★★★☆

The Hundred-Year House takes a look at a family’s estate from the recent past (Y2K era) back to the 1900’s through the quirky characters that occupy it. This is a treasure hunt disguised as a book. Rebecca Makkai pulls the reader back through a century of people who lived, and some died, at the Devohr estate, and slowly unravels mysteries that have been secreted away for a century. The narrative is cleverly written. Don’t look for a “happily ever after” in this tale, but it does satisfy.

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