Archangel Academy Series – Unnatural, Unwelcome, and Unafraid

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This review will cover all three books in the ‘Archangel Academy Series’ which are, in order; Unnatural, Unwelcome, and Unafraid. There won’t be any spoilers.

The main character, Michael Howard, is a boy from Nebraska. After his mother’s apparent suicide he goes with his father to England where he is put in an all boys boarding school called, you guessed it; The Archangel Academy. With a title like that, you might believe this story involves angels, or fallen angels and it kinda does, but mostly it’s about vampires.

However, there’s a twist. Michael’s love interest, Ronan, is a special kind of vampire. He’s a “water vamp,” that is, a water vampire. He is part of a breed of vampires who get their strength from a magical well in a cave on the Irish coast somewhere. This means they can walk in sunlight and don’t actually drink blood. Meanwhile, normal vampires are a thing, but they can also walk in sunlight on the Academy grounds.

The plot is basically that there is a war between normal vampires and the water hybrid vampires. Normal vampires are jealous of the water vamps and want to take their power.

There’s a lot of teen angst and misunderstandings in these books. Overdramatic inner monologues and such. The plot moves a little slowly in the first book, but picks up in the second and third. Reviews at Barnes&Noble.com as well as GoodReads call it a gay version of Twilight, but I think that’s doing a disservice to Griffo’s series.

One of the things that sets this apart from other YA vampire romances is that Michael and Ronan’s relationship is never called into question. What I mean is that, unlike the entirety of Meyer’s New Moon, Ronan never tries to leave Michael. Even after the disastrous way Ronan turns Michael into a water vampire, Michael doesn’t leave Ronan. Their relationship is a focal point of the novel, but in such a way as to show its strength and how people who love each other communicate and reassure one another of their affections. The plot is formed outside of their relationship rather than around it, and that’s refreshing in a genre where the main conflict is the vampirism of one love interest.

The writing itself is nothing special. The books are written in third person and switch to different points of view throughout. That was my main gripe with the series. The style is choppy and the POV switches are sudden and at times hard to follow. I read all three books in quick succession, so by the third book I had kind of acclimated to the style, but it was frustrating.

Overall, it was nice to have a gay protagonist, but the series could have been better. It could have been written better, there could have been more world building around the magical well and how these water vampires came to be. It was original and enjoyable, but a little predictable when it came to the direction the plot took with the war between vampires.

I would recommend this series if you like twists on vampire lore or gay romances. But I would suggest getting it from a library, not buying it.

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What does Tess of the D’Urbervilles Have in Common with Fifty Shades? Abuse.

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This post isn’t like my previous reviews. I wrote this essay for my application to graduate school. The topic is something I’ve wanted to explore for a while, which is the romanticizing of abuse in Fifty Shades of Grey. The phenomenal response to Fifty Shades is highly troubling to me because this is the type of relationship people believe they want. My essay doesn’t even touch on the poor writing and infantilization of a grown woman.

This essay compares Fifty Shades with the novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. I chose Tess because within Fifty Shades, Anastasia compares herself to Tess and Christian to Alec as if Tess of the D’Urbervilles is a romantic story like Pride and Prejudice. It is not. Warning, there are spoilers for both Tess and Fifty Shades.

I have a lot of problems with Fifty Shades of Grey. If women want to read porn and erotica, I could not care less, but Fifty Shades is the worst thing you could choose, in my opinion.

Continue reading

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One Year!

One year ago today, I began this blog. Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep up with my posting ambitions. My apologies to anyone who cared.

Happily though, I would like to start posting again. Lots of things have been happening! I lived in England for six months, but that was not as exciting as I had hoped. There’s a funny thing that happens when you legally cannot hold a job. You run out of money to do fun things. Yeah.

It was an adventure though and I’m very glad I took that leap. It also gave me plenty of time and panic to really get writing. Nothing motivates like fear, amirite? So I am getting a short story published and a novella e-published! Yay! I’ll give more info on those things as they happen, including links and pretty covers.

Another thing that I will keep you all updated on, is my MFA program. I was accepted into Minnesota State University, Mankato. I’ll be teaching 101 composition courses and earning a Master’s in Creative Writing. I’m sure those experiences will give me plenty of blog fodder.

So, a year ago today I published a list of books I wanted to read. I did keep up with that list until near the end and I plan to write reviews of all those books still. Today is earth day and spring is about rebirth, right? So this is to the rebirth of my blog. I’ll give a few ideas of the posts coming up, which I plan to post every Tuesday and Friday.

This Friday, I’ll post the essay that got me into Graduate School. It’s a comparison of Fifty Shades of Grey and Tess of the D’Urbervilles. If you’re rolling your eyes, you might want to take a peek at it anyway. The thesis is basically that Christian is actually the villain of the story because Ana romanticizes the abusive relationship between Alec and Tess. I’d love to start a conversation about it.

Then I’ll get back to my old list of books, starting with the Unnatural series and then The Yellow Birds. I visited the Bronte Parsonage Museum while in England, so I might do a post about that. There might be updates on my current writing projects. I’m taking a short break from writing fiction to read and recuperate, but plan to start again May 1st. I never really plan to do movie reviews, they just happen, so we’ll see what I find interesting. There will probably be a review on God’s Not Dead because it made me really angry, and probably not for the reasons you think.

Thanks for sticking around. Here’s a list of the books that I already read, that aren’t on my list.

The Bloody Chamber – Angela Carter

Boys on the Rock – John Fox

Sparkling Cyanide – Agatha Christie

Kissing Sherlock Holmes – T.D. McKinney and Terry Wylis

Bluebeard – Angela Carter

Beauty – Robin McKinley

Deviations: Submission – Chris Owen and Jodi Payne

The Peach Keeper – Sarah Addison Allen

One Night Stand – Ben Tyler

Strangers on a Train – Patricia Highsmith

I will be reviewing these after I get through my previous list. If you haven’t realized yet, I love making lists. If I have readers, and if you readers have any suggestions, please go for it in the comments.

Anywho, Happy Earth Day everyone!

I’ll see you Friday.

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Man of Steel – On Action Scenes and Tension

MAJOR SPOILERS

Let me start by saying that I really liked Man of Steel. I think they did a great job giving Clark depth of character, the plot was fairly tight. I did like it. It was entertaining, it was a good story. I’ll probably watch it again at some point. I’ll probably buy it.

That being said, I still had a few issues with this movie.

First of all, I got bored in the middle. This movie felt really long. It was long, but a good movie shouldn’t feel like it goes on forever. You should be involved in the story and not want it to end. I wanted Man of Steel to end about 20 minutes before it actually ended.

I’ve discussed this phenomenon with someone else and he said he got bored in the middle too. The difference was he enjoyed all the fight scenes. Personally, I think that’s why I got bored. There was so much fighting that just felt all the same. Explosions, Clark gets thrown down, he gets up again, they’re never gonna keep him down.

Yeah, that just happened.

At the end, after the alien ship had been blown up and we all thought the movie would be over. That one guy, General Zod wouldn’t DIE! In the theater, I literally rolled my eyes and muttered to myself ‘come on! Another fight scene?!’

I think one of the reasons the fight scenes wore on me so much, was because nothing was at stake. We know that Superman won’t die. He wasn’t even seriously injured by any of the battles. There was no tension; it was just people punching each other. Even the scene where Superman was weakened and they took blood wasn’t really long enough to create worry. They took some blood and then Lois fixed things and he was strong again. They didn’t even get to torture him it was over so fast.

I loved Amy Adams as Lois Lane. Loved her. Her characterization was perfect. She took charge, she wasn’t afraid to get dirty or follow the fighting. She was relentless, but did the right thing when she found the truth. There aren’t words for how relieved I am that they did Lois Lane justice. She’s a badass all on her own.

There was one scene, before Superman gets on the ship with General Zod where Clark Kent and Lois Lane are holding hands and seem very intimate. I’m not sure what was going on, but I felt like I was missing something. How did they become so close so fast? Lois has seemed professional if not intrigued up until this point. Was there a scene cut from the movie between the point where she was ‘interrogating’ him and when they were standing in the desert? If so, I’d like to see it, because their ‘romance’ felt forced at that point. Though the kiss at the end was like FINALLY! And I’ve heard some complaints that the two had no chemistry, but I don’t think that’s true. I think the writing of their romance was a little stilted and uneven at times.

The flashbacks into Clark’s past were wonderful. Those were my favorite parts of the movie. The actors who played young Clark Kent were perfectly cast. I understand that as a superhero movie there needs to be action and fighting, but there can be development and fighting at the same time. In fact, at the very beginning of the movie at Krypton the writers managed to impart important plot information while fighting was happening.

That’s probably my biggest issue with Man of Steel. There was so much fighting and fight scenes that all felt the same. And maybe, if I took a timer, the fight scenes actually didn’t take up that much of the movie, but it felt like they did.

The problem is that we all know how powerful Superman is. When he is fighting with someone, there’s nothing at stake, he can’t get hurt, and so you’re not really that worried. There’s no nail biting going on. It’s just ho-hum Superman’s beating another baddie. If I could make a comparison to Iron Man 3 (I’ll give one for Batman in a moment because they’re both DC), when Tony is out of his suit, we know he’s vulnerable. He says it himself; he’s just a man in a can. He can get hurt, he can die. When he’s fighting people who shoot fire, or stuck in a house that is crumbling around him, there’s a certain amount of tension and worry going on in the audience.  Superman doesn’t have that. What the next Superman movie needs is something or someone that can be hurt. The tensest parts of Superman are when Lois is in danger or when Clark’s mother is in danger. Because they can be hurt.

What Superman needs is a scene like the one in The Dark Knight when the Joker rigged those two boats to explode if people pressed a button, one with convicts the other with regular people. That was intense because lives were at stake, and it wasn’t even Batman. The writers were on the right track when General Zod threatened to destroy Earth if Superman wasn’t surrendered, but the tension didn’t hold for very long.

In conclusion, Superman was good, it had its strengths, but there were some pretty weak parts. The acting was solid and enjoyable from all parties, the effects were good, the soundtrack moving (because Hans Zimmer is the best ever) and it’s an enjoyable movie overall, if not a bit long.

Any thoughts?

Next Post: Unnatural by Michael Griffo

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Beautiful Chaos – Series Wrap-up

Warning! Spoilers for the Beautiful Creatures series books 1, 2, and 3!

Alright peeps, this is where it gets real! I lent my copies to a friend, so if I misquote or get something wrong please let me know with some comments.

Show of hands, please, who know that the “one who is two” was Ethan? I think that Beautiful Chaos went on a smidge too long? But at the same time I didn’t want it to end. Does that make sense? A little bit? I will admit I teared up at the end. How could I not? We’ve been following this boy for two other books, we want him to succeed and now his train is cut short!

Then again, there is another whole book. (Which I will not be reading until it comes out in paperback.)

I love the changes going on with Macon, he’s probably my favorite character and I nearly cheered when he came back in the second book.  I’m glad he got to be a light caster and I’m glad Lena didn’t have to choose what to be and kill half her family. Then again, part of me just wanted her to choose the light already, especially once Ridley was human, because if she had just chosen light, Sarafine would have died and half of their problems would have ended. So every now and then I’d get annoyed with Lena because all her justifications for not choosing the light had suddenly disappeared.

Can we talk about Linkubus? He’s consistently been a sweetie and I adore him. I’m conflicted on his change into an Incubus, because on one hand it brings him closer to Ridley and Lena’s world, on the other it kinda takes him away from Ethan and the human world and that’s sad. In fact, I’m disappointed that this can’t be made into a movie because the producers and writers shot themselves in the foot with the changes made in the movie. Even if they wanted to make a sequel it would be hard to fix what they’ve changed and the movies would just get further and further away from their source material.

One of the things I didn’t like about this entire series was the way the adults in the novel were constantly keeping secrets and sabotaging Ethan and Lena. It does create the atmosphere of suspense a little, but after some time, the fact that every adult in Ethan’s life is keeping something important from him, gets annoying and suspicious. There should be at least one adult on his side who will let him know what’s going on. He’s a seventeen year old in the apocalypse, baby’s gotta grow up.

Overall I liked the series, it got better as it went and there was always a surprise around the corner. It becomes less about their romance and more about Ethan as you get further into it. I’m glad there’s a fourth book.

If you have some thoughts you want to share on this series, go for it, I’ll be excited to discuss it!

Next Post: Man of Steel movie review

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Beautiful Darkness – A Sequel that Doesn’t Suck

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No spoilers

Beautiful Darkness is the second book in the Beautiful Creatures series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. And when they call it darkness they’re not kidding. That book gets dark real quick. Nothing is quite right after the events of the first book and Lena starts pulling away from Ethan.

After being a little bored with the first book, the second was a welcome change. There are a lot of secrets and a lot of adventures in this one. A new character gets introduced; she’s from England and seems to be a foil for Lena. She’s there to tempt Ethan and to add a little bit of a complication to the story.

The one thing I did not like in this book was the way Lena acted. Throughout my entire reading I was just angry. Her reasons for acting out were justifiable, and yet I couldn’t help but be angry with her. It might have been because the novel is narrated by Ethan and he was angry and sad, so I was angry and sad? I’m not quite sure.

Overall it was a pretty good read, an exciting second novel, unlike a lot of second novels which just seem to be fillers between the first and third. But Beautiful Darkness sets in motion the events that culminate in the third book without being boring.

Not much to say about this book. Next review will have spoilers for the whole series.

Next Post: Beautiful Chaos by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

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Beautiful Creatures – As Lena Would Say “Define Good”

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No Spoilers

Darn, I broke my streak of posting when I said I would! Oh well, it’s still Friday somewhere, right?

In February I saw the film adaptation of the Beautiful Creatures novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. The film was only the first book, but there are no plans to make a sequel at the moment. This is a real shame, I think, because the books just got better and better. Though the changes they made in the film would make it difficult to recreate the events of the second book.

So this is going to be a review of the book and the movie, not as a compare and contrast, but just as two separate but related entities.

I’ll begin with the movie, because I enjoyed it a lot. Alden Ehrenreich is utterly charming as Ethan Wate. He’s gives Ethan a smile and accent to steal hearts. I have to admit that a lot of the appeal of this movie, for me, comes from Ethan and Lena’s bonding over books and the many literary mentions within the first half of the movie. I really enjoy witches/casters though, so that’s another like button of mine they hit.

There’s comedy, mystery, and supernatural action. It’s so much more than just a romance. I think that’s one of the reasons this movie didn’t do so well in theaters, from the posters and the trailers it seems they were trying to market this movie as something like Twilight. Which sucks, because Beautiful Creatures is much better than Twilight. The characters are deeper and more complex, the story is darker, and as I said, it isn’t entirely about the romance of these two young people.

One of my favorite scenes in the film is when Ethan is angry at Lena for “acting like a brat” because he gives voice to the moviegoers who might be annoyed with Lena’s attitude closer to the end of the movie. Ethan gives her a speech about what it means to be normal and human and that he’s angry because he cares about her. It’s a great speech to give someone when you actually just want to bitch slap them.

There is a point in the movie that is actually a little more heart rending than any scene in the first book of the series. I won’t spoil it, but it was, in my opinion, a really great twist, and it makes the ending much more satisfying than it would have been otherwise.

Ah, the ending. Some people have had issues with the climax/ending of the film, but I thought it was brilliant. It’s fairly simple and very surprising. It keeps the tension and then when the tension breaks, the heartbreak is still there.

So all in all, I liked the film, though I liked it more before I read the series, because if they wanted to make three or four movies then there were a few things they shouldn’t have changed in the film. As a one film thing though, it’s pretty entertaining and satisfying. I mean, just look at the cast, you’ve got the voice of Scar, Professor Trelawney, and Octavia Spencer. It doesn’t get much better than that.

After I saw this great film, I was hankering to read the books; you’ll notice they were at the top of my list. I’ve wanted to read these since February.

However, because I had seen the movie, the first book seemed a little slow to me. I knew what was going to happen, I knew who the characters were, and I knew how it would end.

That being said, it was a fairly good book. Ethan’s narration was funny, sarcastic, and just as charming as his film counterpart. There’s actually more supernatural stuff going on in the book than the movie and there’s more Ridley involved in the book, so anyone who liked Emmy Rossum’s character, you get more of her.

The one thing I had issues with was the ending. It gets really confusing because for the entirety of the novel, we’re getting Ethan’s point of view. Then something happens and the narrative switches to Lena for a chapter and then we’re back with Ethan. It probably confused me because of the movie and when something happened differently I didn’t understand what was going on. So if anyone who read the book before the movie wants to discuss how the end/climax went down, I’m totally game. This means there might be spoilers in the comments.

I understand why it had to switch to Lena’s point of view, because Ethan isn’t aware of what happened, but I still feel like there was something confusing in the way ‘Lena’ narrated it.

Basically Beautiful Creatures, movie and book are both good. The movie is better than expected and the novel was alright, but not as good as I wanted it to be.

Next Post: Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

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The Great Gatsby – Spectacular Spectacular~

On Tuesday the 29th I saw The Great Gatsby for the second time. I’ll probably see it a third time. When the movie finished, and Tobey Maguire’s final words faded, the gold design fading back onto the screen, there was a hush in the audience. No one was talking, no one wanted to breathe. Gatsby casts a spell over the theater that is palpable.

There is no doubt that Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is a spectacle. It’s vivid and beautiful and heart wrenching. A faithful adaptation to the novel, this movie will quickly become a classic.

The acting in this film is completely wonderful. Carey Mulligan is charming and beautiful as ever in this role. The film cleverly makes us fall in love with her too. We know her husband is cheating on her, we can see the sadness of her life and our hopes are raised even more that she will choose Gatsby. The affection between Gatsby and Daisy is tangible, which makes their ending that much more tragic.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays obsession well and we all know it; as early as the Aviator and Catch Me If You Can Leo was playing crazy like he plays charming, flawlessly. We can never quite tell when Gatsby is telling the truth, and Leo plays it just this side of shifty. The scene with Wolfsheim felt tense and strange while Leo as Gatsby remained cool and in control. A perfect illustration of the relationship between him and Nick.

I’ve read a few criticisms that suggest the new film erases some of the ambiguity about Nick Carraway’s sexuality (Tobey Maguire). There is a scene in the novel during the party in the city with Myrtle and Tom where Nick finds himself alone with the photographer guy and the man is in his underwear in bed. It’s quite strange and raises a lot of questions. Nothing like that happens at the party in the film, however, I think Tobey Maguire’s portrayal of Nick Carraway and his awkwardness with Jordan Baker at times, makes up for leaving out a scene that makes us questions Carraway’s sexuality.

The staging and effects on this film were magnificent. Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s home is grand beyond belief. In the novel, I could never quite picture that scene with the billowing curtains and the girls lounging on the couch, but the film absolutely brings it to life. Daisy’s entrance in the film is magical.

And can we talk about the soundtrack a little? Because OH MY GOD! It’s wonderful. The Big Band orchestration of Crazy in Love sounds so 20’s it blows my mind. I’m not usually a fan of Lana Del Rey, I think a lot of her songs sound the same, kinda trance-y mellow music, but her song Young and Beautiful is so full of longing and sadness, and the scenes they underline with it in the film are perfect. Will. i. Am’s Bang Bang is one of my favorite songs on this CD, it’s classy, it’s twenties and techno hip hop romantic dance-y, this song has everything. I can’t stop listening to this soundtrack.

I cannot rave enough about this movie. Of course there will be some differences, but this seems to be as close as one can get to great adaptation.

Next Post: Beautiful Creatures by Margaret Stohl and Kami Garcia

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Moll Flanders – A Feminist from Olden Tymes

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Moll Flanders is the story of a woman trying to survive in the 1600’s. I was required to read this for one of my classes this past semester and I didn’t manage to finish it until a few weeks ago, not because it’s long or difficult, but because school keeps me too busy to even finish the assigned books.

The style this book is written in is completely fascinating. It’s passed off as a true account of Moll Flanders, which Defoe (author of Robinson Crusoe) allegedly ‘cleaned up’ for public consumption, according to the preface of the story. It’s written in what could be considered free indirect discourse, or stream of consciousness. There are all these pieces that are skipped over though! There is a scene where Moll Flanders mentions that the ship she was on was attacked by pirates and that many horrible things happened, but she and her husband made it safely to America eventually. But she glosses over it as unimportant and a story for another time. Then the story moves on to her time in America and never returns to this story of the pirates.

Moll Flanders’ tale is one of debauchery, trickery, deceit, and thievery, and it’s pretty awesome. She details her life, how she found husbands and how she lived to support herself. One of the questions in my class was “Is this a feminist text?” which I would answer with a resounding yes.

Despite using the means of the time to survive (aka husbands) Moll Flanders boasts her own agency. She makes her decisions for her own benefit; she is not the pawn of men. They are her pawns. At one point in the novel she goes on a little tirade to say that if women didn’t fear becoming old maids so much, they wouldn’t be as hasty to enter into a bad match. They wouldn’t let the men call the shots; they would play the game with a clearer head and therefore catch the guy they desired. This, for the 1600’s is a pretty big step. Moll Flanders doesn’t think that women should fear growing old without a husband and that they should use intelligence and strategy if they really want one, rather than desperation.

And for a man to write a book like this, well, Daniel Defoe seems like a pretty awesome guy.

Another thing this book plays with is the idea of corruption versus redemption. In the preface by Defoe, he claims that it is more satisfying to read about someone else’s corruption, decay, and bad choices, than about their sweet redemption. I think I have to agree, at least in part. The redemption of a character wouldn’t be as sweet if we hadn’t seen the depths to which they sank. Even then, sometimes, we’d prefer to see a character come to a tragic end instead of gain redemption and forgiveness.

But read the preface and give me your own opinion.

Next Post: The Great Gatsby movie review

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Sula – How Deep Does Friendship Penetrate?

Warning; slight spoilers for one scene of the novel.

It’s been quite a while, hasn’t it?

I think one of the reasons I’ve taken so long to write about Sula is because I still don’t know how I feel about this book. A month after finishing it, I’m still trying to grapple with whether or not I liked it, let alone the deeper thoughts inspired by this slim novella.

Sula is by Toni Morrison and my copy is only 174 pages, so it’s a quick little book. It reminds me a bit of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway with its timeless narration and the period that it’s set in, which is post-WWI. Where Mrs. Dalloway deals with England and several old friends, Sula is set in Medallion, Ohio and deals with the black population in that small town.

(I’d like to mention before we go further that I’m still feeling out the tone I want these posts to take, so these first posts might be a little strange or different.)

There’s really so much to discuss in Sula that I’m stumped as to what to write about. It’s a beautifully written piece, even though the events depicted are not nearly as pleasing as the language itself.

One of the things that really caught my attention in this book was the friendship between Nel and Sula. It is described as being sudden and intense, where “in the safe harbor of each other’s company they could afford to abandon the ways of other people and concentrate on their own perceptions of things.” They’re described as being two halves of a whole.

In the later half of the book, I began to wonder if perhaps there was some unspoken, unacknowledged longing to their friendship. At one point Sula sleeps with Nel’s husband, which causes Nel’s husband to leave her with their children. Nel, understandably, can’t get over this betrayal for quite some time, but on her deathbed Sula reproaches Nel for not being able to let it go. She cites the fact that they were so close they were almost the same person, so why should it make a difference if Nel slept with him or Sula? Or that’s the general gist of what she says. This brought to mind an essay in which it was postulated that men create relationships with each other through the trade of women, however, Sula seems to be the opposite.

Did Sula want a closer relationship with Nel by sleeping with her husband? Was there something lesbian in their relationship? Something that was never mentioned and never consummated? Some deeper love? The very last page of the book convinces me that there was something rather sexual/sensual between Nel and Sula. Some deep longing that they never understood.

There are a few spoilers in this post but not many. I’ll attempt not to spoil the books I write about in my posts, but if I do I’ll put something at the top of the page to warn everyone. I’m still unsure how to go about these posts, but I’m going to attempt to make a new blog post every Monday and Friday. I’m several books ahead of my posts, so as long as I keep up I shouldn’t have a problem.

Next post: Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe.

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