Ice Land by Betsy Tobin

COVER ice land by betsy tobinRating: 8 out of 10

Ice Land combines the gods of Norse mythology with the everyday lives of ordinary humans living in Iceland around 1000 CE, and the story itself was just as lovely as the paperback cover.

Fulla is coming into her own as a young woman living on her moderately wealthy grandfather’s farm. She’s pretty and she knows the practical things like making a meal and riding a horse. Looming in her near future is a betrothal which, as Icelandic society dictates, will be decided by her grandfather, since both her parents are dead. But this isn’t what Fulla wants.

She craves the unexpected. Each day, she rides her horse across pock-marked fields of blackened lava to the hot pool, her servant Helga two strides behind. And each day, she prays her life will somehow burst its narrow banks.

But the gods do not listen

Her future was set out long ago, like runes carved in stone. She will reach the age of consent, marry a man of her grandfather’s choosing, and bear him as many sons as she can endure. She will watch her boys grow into stout young men, learn to wield the sword and axe, and die violent deaths. Just as her father did.

Her father, Jarl, died in a land dispute against their neighbor, another large farm-owner named Skallagrim. This fighting and dueling has been going on for as long as Fulla can remember, and her grandfather, Hogni, has become bitter about the conflict, wishing only to enjoy his dwindling days as an old man.

Fulla encounters Vili, son of the enemy Skallagrim clan, through several escapades and a bond forms between the two young people, an impossible bond because of their shared history and the fact that Fulla will soon be betrothed and married to a man of her grandfather’s choosing.

In an alternating narrative, Freya, the famous Norse goddess of love, hears a prophecy and travels to the land of the dwarves in order to search out a mysterious golden necklace which will supposedly help her with a looming and deadly catastrophe: the volcano Hekla has been rumbling and causing earthquakes in the land of Asgard, and promises destruction in the near future. Freya has loved and lost in her own time, and knows that her race, the race of the “gods,” is a petty, jealous, and shallow group. Christianity is growing on Iceland, and the old gods are getting pushed backed.

I wasn’t entirely sure what exactly Ice Land would be all about–the summary provided on the back wasn’t very descriptive–and I admit, shallowly, that I picked it up because the cover was pretty, and also because I haven’t had much exposure to Norse mythology and I thought it would be interesting to learn something about it.

I feel like, all in all, the plot itself wasn’t spectacular–not particularly adventurous or exciting, but the characters themselves and Tobin’s writing created a different world. Tobin follows that writer’s maxim, “Show, don’t tell,” perfectly. She didn’t have to say “Fulla is a teenager and can be a little bit rebellious, but she’s also fairly intelligent and practical, she observes the world around her and understands a lot.” Tobin showed it through her narrative which allows the reader to get to know the characters as people, and not as little bits of text printed on a page. She did this with all the characters, and also with the way she described Icelandic culture and life.

Sometimes the alternating narrative thing doesn’t work out too well for me–usually I become more interested in one than the other. But in this case I enjoyed how everything was very balanced and and came together really well. Fulla and Freya both kept me interested.

Here was a great bit from Freya, Norse goddess of love:

Cats, I decided, had certain advantages over men. They were loyal without being sycophantic, independent without being absent, and affectionate without being rapacious. That they choke up balls of fur and leave dead rodents at my feet is unfortunate. But it is not grounds for divorce.

I was very engrossed by Ice Land, it was beautiful and mythical and I will be reading more from Betsy Tobin in the future.

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The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs

COVER the year of living biblically by a.j. jacobsRating: 6 out of 10
Summary: Raised in a secular family but increasingly interested in the relevance of faith in our modern world, A.J. Jacobs decides to dive in headfirst and attempt to obey the Bible as literally as possible for one full year. He vows to follow the Ten Commandments. To be fruitful and multiply. To love his neighbor. But also to obey the hundreds of less publicized rules: to avoid wearing clothes made of mixed fibers; to play a ten-string harp; to stone adulterers.

Jacobs’s quest transforms his life even more radically than the year spent reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica for The Know-It-All. His beard grows so unruly that he is regularly mistaken for a member of ZZ Top. He immerses himself in prayer, tends sheep in the Israeli desert, battles idolatry, and tells the absolute truth in all situations – much to his wife’s chagrin.

Throughout the book, Jacobs also embeds himself in a cross-section of communities that take the Bible literally. He tours a Kentucky-based creationist museum and sings hymns with Pennsylvania Amish. He dances with Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn and does Scripture study with Jehovah’s Witnesses. He discovers ancient biblical wisdom of startling relevance. And he wrestles with seemingly archaic rules that baffle the twenty-first-century brain.Jacobs’s extraordinary undertaking yields unexpected epiphanies and challenges. A bookthat will charm readers both secular and religious, The Year of Living Biblically is part Cliff Notes to the Bible, part memoir, and part look into worlds unimaginable. Thou shalt not be able to put it down. 

My Thoughts: This was fun, education, and entertaining. Posed some good questions.

The Garden by Elsie V. Aidinoff

COVER the garden by elsie v. aidinoffRating: 7 out of 10
Summary: In the beginning …

There was the Serpent, there for Eve’s awakening, and for all the days since. Teacher, mentor, companion, friend, and more. There was God. The Creator. Quick to anger. Dangerous. Majestic.

There was Adam: as God said, a joy to behold.

And there was Eve.

These four hold the future in their hands. And only Eve — or perhaps the Serpent, too — wonders what lies outside the Garden of Eden. Passionate, witty, beautifully drawn, and utterly unforgettable, The Garden, a debut novel, remakes and offers insights into a story that forms a cornerstone of our understanding.

My Thoughts: I quite enjoyed this, but just a heads-up: if you’re anything close to religious (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) you might find this novel offensive and possibly sacrilegious.

This is a retelling of the Garden of Eden story, except with a few strange and interesting twists. The Serpent is not the evil, devious being we know from the Bible, but a kind, wise, and intelligent force who raises and teaches Eve everything there is to know about the world. From the moment Eve is first created, the Serpent teachers her things–her name, the names of the things around her, how she came to be here, and greater questions like What is evil?

I liked Eve–her childlike curiosity and interest in everything around her was fun. God in Aidinoff’s novel is capricious and temperamental, an obvious foil and counterpart to the wisdom and patience of the Serpent. The pacing was good and although there are mature and sometimes disturbing aspects to the novel, anyone with an open mind should be able to enjoy Aidinoff’s clear style. The Garden tackles a lot of issues such as free will, good and evil, and mortality. Many of the best parts came from the philosophical/question-and-answer dialogue between the Serpent and Eve.

“How did you like the parade, Eve?” asked the Serpent after awhile.

“It was fun to see the animals all trotting along and turning together. Especially the birds, though they often fly that way by themselves,” [said Eve].

“What did you like best?”

“The eagle. But God didn’t like the eagle at all. He said it was evil. What’s evil?”

“Evil is bad: the opposite of good.”

“Why is the eagle evil? Because it refused to fly the way God commanded?”

“God thinks the eagle is evil because it disobeyed him.”

“That’s what evil means? Disobeying God?”

“Well.” The Serpent sighed. “It’s one definition.”

The Jigsaw Woman by Kim Antieau

COVER the jigsaw woman by kim antieauRating: 6 out of 10
Summary: Antieau’s amorphous debut, having no truck with orthodox novelistic ambitions, takes the form of an extended feminist polemic. Keelie, still healing and unable to talk yet, awakens to the realization that she’s a composite of three distinct individuals, surgically fused together. Her head once belonged to drowned Anna, her body is that of poor murdered Bella, while her dancer’s legs derive from suicide Lee. Keelie has been created by Victor to be his lover, and she’s attended by timid medic Griffin, psychiatrist Hart, and Lilith, Victor’s deformed wife.

All of these people, as the young woman’s experiences unfold, are shown to be related by blood or marriage, through space and time. Indeed, Keelie relives something of the miserable lives and sad deaths of the women whose hybrid she is. But before long she’s seized by the death-goddess, Eriskegal, and commanded to remember everything.

Soon Keelie recalls a time in the South American rain forests around the advent of Columbus, where she and the others live in idyllic circumstances—until a ship bringing Victor’s brutal and domineering father arrives to kill or enslave them all. Later, in a prehistorical matriarchy beset by vicious patriarchal invaders, Keelie must persuade her warrior lover, Victor, to reject his father and his horrific conquests. Finally, as she remembers

Summary: I have a mixed opinion about this. The ideas were good, the progression was good, and the characters were all interesting, although I’m still not 100% sure about Victor yet (who was an obvious reference to Victor Frankenstein from Mary Shelley’s classic).

However it did get very preachy in certain areas, no subtlety at all. I alternately enjoyed and raised my eyebrows at the dialogue. Sometimes I liked Keelie’s spirit, but sometimes she bothered me as a character–again, too obvious, not very well fleshed out. The author was successful, in the end, of convincing me of the romance. Very sexual in some parts.

Very feminist. Great ideas, could have done with a little more work.