Sunday, December 27, 2015
While book one focused on Fitz's coming of age in Buckkeep, this delves further into the lore/use of magics, disillusionment with King Shrewd, and that pesky rascal Regal. The Red Ship Raiders are still threatening the Six Duchies, and that is the main external conflict. We get a bit more from the awesome ladies in this one, with many of these characters quickly becoming my favorite of all time.
I'm continuing to adore the way this series is unfolding. It doesn't feel cumbersome, the facts are presented in a well-paced way, and there is a great mix of good and bad characters. The Fantasy tropes of using insanely long names and lots of info dumps are not part of this trilogy, which is oh-so refreshing. We learn more about the Six Duchies and why there are resentments between the inland vs coastal duchies, and how these relationships affect fighting a mutual enemy.
Hobb is a master with her storytelling. I love the moral lessons and word play that the reader experiences with a character such as the Fool. Bits and bobs pertaining to loyalty are always highlighted with characters like Chade, Burrich, and Fitz. The developing friendship between Patience and Kettricken is something I'd been rooting for since the beginning. Verity is admirable and Chade makes me sad, anxious, and appreciative that there are people in this world willing to do their work quietly for the benefit of all.
The story progresses to a very dark place near the end, which is expected so the final book will have situations to resolve. The suspense I felt on the last page was appropriate. Even though it's evident the story is incomplete, it wasn't an unsatisfying, burning cliffhanger as Hobb could have made it. I appreciated that, especially with the strong feelings she evokes for these characters in her writing. Needless to say, (but obviously, still saying it!) I have the highest hopes for the last installment in this trilogy. Robin Hobb is brilliant.
Monday, December 14, 2015
Robin Hobb has been all the rage this year among my friends on YouTube. I now completely understand the hullabaloo! I'm going to keep this review fairly short, since so many things have already been said about this novel. It is a phenomenal Fantasy story with a rich world that sets up nicely for a long story arc. We follow Fitz, bastard son to Prince Chivalry, who is unceremoniously dumped at the castle by his maternal Grandfather and mom one day when he is six. He is taken under the wing of the Stablemaster Burrich, and thus builds a life at Buckkeep. This installment is his coming of age.
Not only is the writing great, the characters are fantastically developed and evoke empathy or hatred. I really like George RR Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series, but most of those characters are unequivocally bad. It's also hard to form attachments when you think a character is going to die any second anyway. I loved the magic present, from the Skill to Fitz's use of the Wit, evoked when bonds are formed with animals. I liked the Mountain people presented later in the story...particularly the novel concept that royalty pitches in and performs the same duties as servants, because everyone works together in a true attitude of service for their community.
Fitz's observation skills, particularly when he apprentices under Chade, are fun and unique. For whatever reason, it reminded me of mom and I eavesdropping on people in the grocery checkout lines. Nice to hear a male doing that in a novel for a change! There is political intrigue galore, all of it well-paced. This is one of my favorite books of the year. I journaled the maps, characters, and main plot points while reading- because I know I will be reading all books by this author. If you know my commitment issues with series (as in stopping after the first or second book) this is high praise indeed. I find this a great intro into Fantasy, especially for those who love literary fiction and are interested in exploring another genre. I've heard this series pales in comparison to the next trilogy, The Liveship Traders, which must be really fantastic. I can't wait to keep reading!
Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Published by Viking (an imprint of Penguin Random House), 2015. Hardcover, 312 pgs
I was happy to read this when I did! Since I live in the United States, the entire month of November feels like one big lead up to Thanksgiving- cooking heartier meals for the coming winter, prepping meals for church potlucks, and gearing up for Turkey day itself. When my friend Elena from ElenaReadsBooks asked if I'd be interested in a buddy read, that made it all the better! This month was a bit unusual for me reading wise. I was very distracted with other obligations, and was also bitten by another hobby, the crafting bug. I needed a less-heavy read for this mindset.
In this debut, we follow Eva Thorwald, a young girl who has experienced tragedy early in life, is a misfit at school, and has a hard time relating to her parents. She finds solace in the kitchen and excels at all culinary endeavors. The reader hears her life in different stories from people who surround her. Whether it be a jealous co-worker, boyfriend, a cousin, or friend, the reader gets various perspectives on Eva's life. Different ingredients or foods are mentioned within these narratives, which also make up important parts of her meals and life story.
The recipes were enticing, there was a cute, realistically-portrayed romance, and we had a deeply devoted father figure. All these things were refreshing. I also enjoyed that Eva worked in a Mexican restaurant at one point- that's my favorite kind of food so that set my mouth a-watering:-) However, while I enjoyed this, it didn't blow me away. I was impressed with Eva's culinary abilities and wished her well, but the book jumped around so much in trying to tell her complete life story that I ended up not feeling connected to any one person. Thus, I didn't feel invested in the outcome. Some characters I just hated. However, in the cut-throat world of haute cuisine and foodie culture, this is a reality.
I realized half-way through the story that I was subconsciously comparing this to A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. This is totally unfair since both of those are memoirs while this is fiction, even though they talk about food as well. Those had the emotional punch that I just didn't get with this one. While there were many little things I liked, it just didn't add up to a memorable whole. It's an easy, fun read.
Monday, November 23, 2015
I'm always on the lookout for engaging children's books, especially since I'm encouraging a seven year old to read. In trying to participate in #ReadKidsLit for November, featured on YouTube by Leslie from Words of a Reader channel, I was browsing titles at my library. The wonderful Hannah Lamb (whose channel is also her name) loves Kate DiCamillo, and that has further encouraged me to pick up her work.
After reading the first page, I stopped until my daughter, Natalie, could get home from school. The beautiful illustrations and the connection between this little girl's "pet rabbit" is similar to my daughter's love for her ratty old stuffed cat. We follow Edward Tulane, an arrogant china rabbit who belongs to a sweet, attentive 10 year old named Abilene. Every morning, she sits him in a chair facing the window with a watch on his leg- so that he will be able to know the exact time and see her return from school at 3:00pm. Edward is not grateful to be owned by the doting Abilene, and often finds her conversations boring and insubstantial. He wishes for greater adventures and more self-satisfaction. Through various circumstances, he unintentionally gets his wish to travel and have life experiences. With these positive and negative experiences, his attitudes towards love and friendship evolve.
This is a wonderful story about appreciation for life and love, and teaches children not to take things for granted. There were some deeply sad moments, and I cringed a lot at some truly callous adult behavior. Unfortunately, this is the world we live in, and Di Camillo gives a realistic representation. I think Natalie was a little young for a couple scenes, but they were easily glossed over. I also edited out a brief part about a drunk man for when she's older and has more context. I was very impressed with Kate Di Camillo's writing and storytelling. It's so engaging, and you get the added benefit of teaching valuable lessons to kids.
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
I don't read a lot of mysteries these days. I don't have anything against them, but other books usually attract my attention first. I heard great things about this from Michael Kindness of the Books on the Nightstand podcast, as well as my friend Rachel from the YouTube channel Shades of Orange. Eskens was present at Book Expo America this past May to promote his follow up novel, The Guise of Another, which was released last month. Since I picked that one up based off this one's high praise, I figured it was time to read the debut.
In this story, we follow a broke young college student named Joe Talbert. Besides going to school full-time and working in a bar, his mother has some serious issues and his brother Jeremy has autism. As he is dealing with these life stresses, he is tasked with writing an elderly person's life story for a Biography class. Choosing a nursing home to carry out the project, Joe meets Carl Iverson, a Vietnam vet and convicted murderer/rapist who is dying of cancer. The two begin warily interacting and eventually Iverson starts revealing details of his life as a type of dying declaration. Joe quickly becomes entangled in Carl's account (and in particular his passivity) and they become confessors to each other. In this process, alarm bells go off for Joe that this case has serious discrepancies. He then starts digging into prior case evidence for clues.
Eskens is an attorney by trade and this is his first novel. I'm not surprised that Eskens works in the legal system. For me, there is a noticeable difference between even the most well-researched books and the authors who have personal/professional experience with their writing subject...there is this element of truth and authenticity. I felt that here quite strongly. I think the pacing of this book is perfect. There isn't anything that felt unnecessary or artificially inserted for shock value to keep the reader engaged. It feels like a naturally progressing story arc. Highly recommend for all mystery lovers who are looking for an original, well-written story.
Wednesday, November 11, 2015
I was lucky enough to buddy read this with a fellow Booktuber, Otavio from the Galilean Library. I have heard nothing but great things about this science fiction award winner for ages. This is also my first Ursula K. Le Guin novel. The reader primarily follows Mr. Ai, who is an envoy sent to planet Winter (specifically the nation Karhide, city of Erhenrang) in hopes of forming an alliance between the Ekumen (his people) and Gethenian people. The book opens on a parade held in the capital city of Erhenrang to celebrate the completion of an arch, where we meet King Argaven briefly. We also meet Estraven, the Prime Minister of Erhenrang, whose narrative quickly becomes entangled with Ai's in a jumbled mess of power plays and general strife. Sorry for all the names, but it's that type of book so you need to know what you're getting into!
From the beginning, you can feel the political tension and tip-toeing that Ai experiences in his mission. Le Guin has created a rich and thorough world with detailed history, geography, and beliefs. I liked the cold weather setting. It is so bitter and varied that the inhabitants have over sixty terms to describe the type of snowfall. That's my kind of place (no, I'm not being sarcastic!) Give me all the snow! Her commentary on society, particularly how urban structure affects us (advanced vs. developing regions) is accurate to what many people in various nations feel today. There is some great dialogue on patriotism being more about fear than love in the beginning of the story. She addresses the role of religions in these places, and how being gender neutral hinders yet also expands their capacity as human beings. She packs quite a bit in the 304 pages!
My favorite part was the evolving relationship of Estraven and Ai. I don't want to say more because their development is a key part of the story. My least favorite parts were some of the interludes. While they provide additional anecdotes on culture, I found certain ones (like "An Orgota Creation Myth") that just felt tedious and a little confusing. However, I suppose a lot of traditions are shrouded in myth and don't make a ton of sense.
This is a book that would benefit from a reread due to all the nuances in political strife and culture. I can certainly understand why this book was an achievement, and am happy to soundly recommend it to all science fiction lovers. My rating of three versus four stars was strictly a personal preference, and I can't even pinpoint what I'd have the author change to make it better. It just didn't resonate as strongly with me as I'd hoped. For whatever reason (mood, plot, pacing), I found myself zoning out and being a little anxious to finish. I've also been reading slower this month due to distractions so that could be part of it. I appreciate Le Guin's mastery of the genre and can see why she is held in such high esteem.
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
I heard about this on a YouTube channel and reserved a copy at my library. It was quite popular so I waited awhile. If you are familiar with my blog or channel, you will know that books about books are my genre kryptonite. This is slated to be the first in a series, and it sets up well for the next one. We follow Jess Brightwell, a street urchin under the thumb of his corrupt book-smuggling father. When his father deems him of no further use at procuring outlawed tomes, he sets up a new scheme to get Jess employed in The Great Library. In this world, the library disseminates information and literature through blank slates, and the personal ownership of books is expressly forbidden unless one has scholar-type privileges. What follows is an adventurous journey of Jess and his classmates as they are slated with protecting volumes in a war-torn area. Secrets abound and the road is fraught with peril type of thing. It seems Caine drew influences from the classic book Fahrenheit 451, as well as Harry Potter. Harry Potter in the sense that the students had personality traits similar to Harry's crew.
Caine explores troubled relationships between parents and children- particularly how our failures and insecurities can transfer and burden our kids. I was happy that these characters had each other, because most of their parents were the pits. There were predictable elements and some overdone scenes near the end, but I was relieved this book didn't suffer from poor writing. I loved the automatons guarding the library and the ideas presented in general.
Oddly, I don't have a lot to say about this story even though I really enjoyed myself while reading it. I'm bummed that the second installment won't be released until July 2016! I liked the evolution of the small romance, it developed tastefully and realistically (well, as realistically as possible considering the setting.) I thought it was cool that the author included a playlist of music that inspired her when she wrote. I think this is an absorbing tale for anyone who enjoys secret societies and bookish ephemera, and is a truly fun story about the danger of imagination and the difficulty of enacting change (in general, but particularly in institutions). Great for literature-loving folks! Nice, easy read.
Saturday, October 31, 2015
Hmm...how to review. This is a rare novel where I could detail half of the book's information and it wouldn't seem spoilery, making little sense on the surface. I'm still not quite sure I understood everything. This is classified as Fantasy, and also contains Horror/Mystery/Comedy elements. We follow an odd cast of characters assembled by "Father" to study different courses in a supernatural-type library. Each Librarian has a strict regimen of study in their own catalogue, and must not deviate from their specialty or face pretty severe punishments. When "Father" goes missing, the Librarians band together to search for him and find out why certain occurrences are happening. Beyond this, we have parallel universes, resurrections, lots of bloodshed, a pile of dark comedy, strange outfits, and a perfectly bizarre story. Trigger warning for anyone who has a hard time with blood and gory descriptions. There is also some animal death...boo (but mostly in a feral sense).
In spite of these weird aspects (or maybe because of), it kind of worked for me. The writing was quite good even though the plot and scenarios were all over the place. It was fast-paced and that was nice since I desperately wanted to know what the heck was going on. Keith Donohue (author of The Stolen Child) has a blurb on the back cover which captures the essence of this Fantasy novel quite succinctly "This book is batshit crazy." True. Very true. I noticed a couple similarities to this story and Lexicon by Max Berry. This was mostly due to the linguistic element of Carolyn's studies and how that gave her power in certain situations, like the powerful language utilized in the academy in Lexicon. I preferred this story.
While I wasn't blown away enough to consider for a reread, it was a unique experience. Go in expecting to be confused and scratching your head continuously. Hawkins has a neat style that pulls you through the book, if you don't mind feeling a little grossed out occasionally. Points for originality, and making me feel like I was in a fever dream. I recommend for anyone looking for a spooky read that is unusual indeed.
Sunday, October 25, 2015
The first thing I remember hearing about Munro (besides that she is Canadian and a Man Booker Prize winner) was that she wrote stories about ordinary people living ordinary lives. Munro's particular gift is writing about relationships. Adultery seems to be a theme, with various outcomes. I've always thought it a strange statement when people describe a book or a movie (ha, or childbirth) "It will break your heart in the best possible way." However, I felt that truth in this collection. It gets gritty in highlighting ways we disappoint each other, but manages to be subtle at the same time- which packs an emotional punch with it's realness.
As far as writing quality, she was right in there with other great short story collections I've read, from Julie Orringer's How to Breathe Underwater to Joan Wickersham's The News from Spain: Seven Variations on a Love Story. Munro doesn't need flowery language or tons of dialogue, her sentences are often sparse and spot on.
I started off loving this collection of stories, but unfortunately toward the middle they started running together for me a little. The characters and situations were different, but the prevailing issues of adultery or some other form of abandonment started to wear me down. She does write realistically and well. While I realize life is rarely a fairy-tale with a storybook ending, I felt a sense of despair reading most of them, like I was waiting for the impending shoe to drop. I wanted some ice cream and tissues after 2/3 of the book, so that was a little taxing. Of course, this could be my mood at the time I picked this up as well.
Also, the same thing that frustrates me with short stories in general raised it's ugly head with this book too... going "meh" with some, and being bummed that others ended when I wanted so much more development. I always try to think of each story like a snapshot in time, but my love for novels makes this hard to do! This is obviously a personal reading preference and no reflection on the quality of this book. I would like to read more Munro when I'm in the mood for short stories, because I admire her prose and themes. She is also immensely celebrated and prolific, with many more collections. I'll return to her great writing when I'm in the right head space for these topics.
Friday, October 23, 2015
I read Of Mice and Men years ago in high school. This is my second Steinbeck work, which might seem a strange choice since it is a reflection on many years of his life, and a rediscovery of an America he has written about for years. At age 60, Steinbeck decides to travel cross country with his French poodle Charley for three months exploring interstates, back roads, and small -town stores/diners to reflect on our vast country and the opinions/thoughts/lifestyles of the people who live here.
The opening to this book is just awesome. It's a beautifully crafted page detailing all the excuses we make at different ages not to do stuff- in this case, travel. Steinbeck also appreciates the beauty of Fall and the feeling of a chilly day, a man after my own heart: "And in the humid ever-summer I dare his picturing mind not to go back to the shout of color, to the clean rasp of frosty air, to the smell of pine wood burning and the caressing warmth of of kitchens. For how can one know color in perpetual green, and what good is warmth without cold to give it sweetness?" A most excellent argument for living in places with seasonal weather, especially the cold ones! Three cheers for Steinbeck!
Traveling books are inherently interesting to read regardless of the writer's skill (in my opinion of course!), because most of the enjoyment is living vicariously through the newness of the locations and experiences. However, coupled with Steinbeck's prose, this memoir exceeded most in quality. There was so much nostalgia in this book- from the usage of paper maps to the fascination he has with vending machine coffee and instant soups. When I had this book in a To Be Read video for my YouTube channel, a viewer commented that it would be impossible to do most of the stuff he does constantly on his travels- from the way he meets people, picks up hitchhikers, and allows strangers into his camper for a meal, conversation, and drinks. It's a sad reflection of our culture that we now have to be so guarded to maintain safety, but it's an unfortunate reality that can't be ignored.
Steinbeck writes poignantly about being present during one of the newsmaking Louisiana protests (in 1960) where protesters picket outside of a desegregated elementary school. The feeling of disappointment in the human race is heartbreaking and overwhelming in these pages, almost making you nauseous with the prejudice. He has a succinct way of describing the facts as he saw them that terrible day, and how far the country has to go in terms of race relations. We still do. Finally, I loved the end of his journey where he hopes he's presented a good picture of his travels, but will never have everything figured out- and wouldn't attempt to anyway. Regardless of whether you are a Steinbeck fan already, this travel memoir will not disappoint.
Genre: Young Adult Horror/Mystery
*I was kindly provided an e-Pub version of this novel by Jolly Fish Press in exchange for an honest review*.
This title is currently an Amazon Kindle special for October #Spookreadinggoals for $1.99 if interested Link here to purchase!
During this spooky time of year, I was hankering for a creepy read. Somehow I had managed until mid-month without one. Just in time, I received a nice email from the folks of Jolly Fish Press, asking if I would be interested in reviewing a book. After perusing the titles, I was initially attracted to the green and black imagery of the Pitch Green cover, as well as the story description. This is the first book in a three book series, with book two currently available as well, Mojave Green. I also found the author bios of the Washburn brothers quite interesting, and thought it would be so fun to collaborate with a sibling to write your dream story.
Cammy and some younger children are trick-or-treating in their old mining town of Trona, California. Cammy is the oldest, so has designated herself to babysit the little ones of the group. Her best friend Cal's little brother, Hughie, has dressed as a ghost and lags behind as they are walking. A quick distraction later, Hughie has disappeared and the case is never solved. The reader is then moved forward seven years to the aftermath of this tragedy, and how Cal and Cammy are moving forward. The mystery of these recurring childhood disappearances is brought to the surface again, and the two are pulled into the investigation.
I'm predisposed to like any old mansion or motel setting. I liked the addition of the decrepit, sulfuric smelling mining town to add to the icky feels. Any reader who passes factories or lives near one on a daily basis can relate to the stench! The permeating stink affects ones mood and the town surroundings. I also liked how the authors touched on how grief touches everyone differently- while some wallow in guilt and self-doubt, others sweep their emotions under the proverbial rug and thrown themselves into every activity.
I think this a good story for a young adult reader. I'm in my early thirties, and it is particularly hard to scare me, so I'm a bit of a tough customer for this genre. I didn't care too much for the italicized paragraphs of the monster's bloodthirsty thoughts in between the regular narrative. It is straightforward that it is some kind of monster. I felt it would have been more climactic and mysterious without them. Having children of my own, a vanishing child is enough to terrify me-I don't need the additional goading to be scared. I also like subtle psychological horror best. However, I feel it would have been fun for a young teenage reader who hasn't had that life experience. I appreciated that this is an appropriate level for it's age group. There is death and some blood, but otherwise a tame romantic element and little harsh language.
This was a fast-paced read and would appeal to those who like a good old- fashioned monster book. There is good setup for the following story. If you loved Goosebumps, this will be one you want to pick up. Thanks again to Jolly Fish Press, and I look forward to seeing what the Brothers Washburn produce next.
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
I received this book in a Books & Bloggers swap from my fellow cat-loving friend Jo, who raved about the feline narrator as being one of her new favorite main characters. I had it on my wish list from the moment I saw her review, and squealed with delight when I unboxed it. The edition is beautiful, with great page quality and flaps. Luckily, the content was just as wonderful. This story is translated from Greek by Konstantine Matsoukas. Occasionally the structure felt a bit unusual, but that could have been due to the cat narrator as opposed to that it was a translated work. The language was clever and I really enjoyed the writing.
We follow Zach Sugar, a white kitten with one green and one blue eye who is on his seventh and final life. Yes, our feline narrator confirms that cats do have multiple lives. We open with his discussion on the disgusting nature and morals of his feline mother, and hear of his plans to leave the shrub he is hiding under and procure a human owner to better his position in life. He has chosen a woman referred to as "Damsel" who is attending an outdoor party. Yes, reader. Cats choose their owners, not vice versa. We learn many cat truths and get various myths debunked along the way. In addition to nuggets of wisdom, the story focuses on Zach's insistence to form a relationship with this lady who is not a cat person, and is very independent and reserved to boot.
The snarky feline narrator reminded me of the cat protagonist from Lynne Truss's Cat Out of Hell novel. Luckily, while that one fell a bit flat, this one was an improvement in that it simply told the ups and downs of a human/cat relationship, and didn't muddle itself with a weird mystery. Both books do confirm that my cat is inwardly laughing at my obsessive/fawning behavior, particularly in my constant efforts to appease her. Apparently I need to play hard to get. This book is further proof that cats are complex, observant, opinionated, and generally great for most bookish people. I laughed at Zach's plaintive speech on how his mistress obviously didn't get the memo that cats are a writer's muse.
There are chuckle-worthy twisted logic statements that have surprising truth. "I urgently need to become less of a cat. I need to let the dog in me out so she'll love me like I was human." (pg. 88). Another fantastic quote "Besides, we are all a little boring at our happiest. Like advertisements of ourselves." (pg. 87). The chapter headings are funny and often poetic, and I loved the "Meow Rules" sprinkled throughout. There are even a few pencil drawings included in various chapters.
There is some sadness, which I was anticipating. I appreciated that it came in the expected manner and in a more abrupt fashion. I can't take the long, drawn-out stuff, especially when I read about animals and children. Big wimp here. At it's heart, this novel talks about the powerful impact of the human and cat interaction- their power struggles, emotions, and bonds with each other. If you like cats, please read! If not, there's not much else in this story for you- but I hope you'll read it to see how magnificent these creatures are, and why I love them so much. Plus it's short, so what do you have to lose really? :-)
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Carriger is wonderfully consistent! As with her first novel Soulless (review found here) , the writing is witty and snappy from page one. Tarabotti has climbed the social ladder with her marriage to Lord Maccon (an esteemed Werewolf), and her hobnobbing with Queen Victoria. In this installment, something or someone is making werewolves and vampires "Changeless" in certain territories, meaning they are unable to shift from their human to animal form, leaving them vulnerable to attacks that would otherwise not be fatal. Alexia's position as muhjah is meant to act as a legislative peacekeeper between the vampire and werewolf agenda, and provide opinions and guidance to the queen. As the back cover describes, this book takes her investigations to Scotland "the backwater of ugly waistcoats". She is trying to find out what this condition means for England, while also tracking down her husband who has hurried off with no explanation.
Old characters are back in all their glory- particularly Ivy Hisselpenny with her ugly hats and a new love interest. The reader gets a few brief details on Tarabotti's deceased father, as well as some backstory on her husband Lord Maccon. I enjoyed this one just as much as the first, perhaps more because now I'm even further invested. This one also ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, so that will hopefully be enough prompting for me to swiftly move onto book three, Blameless.
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
Review of book one in this series- Serpents of Chaos
I'm so excited to get back to Theodosia's world, with her witty humor and demure black cat, Isis. The Serpents of Chaos are wreaking havoc again- and it's up to Theodosia and Lord Wigmere (leader of the Brotherhood of the Chosen Keepers) to eradicate them once and for all. Another secret society becomes involved in the mysterious mummy case for good measure. Theo is also aided once again by her friend Sticky Will- the pickpocket from book one.
The side story of Grandmother Throckton's search for a proper governess for Theodosia was super entertaining, especially with there being a slew of applicants before a match was found. As with many adult characters in this story, the ones who don't outright ignore her are hateful and she's forced into a battle of wits to move forward with anything. That part of the book started to get me a bit down. It's handled in a semi-comical way, but like the first installment, she's a total latchkey child as her parents go off gallivanting. Very little thought goes into leaving her food or a chaperone. Most of the other adult figures are openly hostile or form thinly-veiled insults about her being a bother or too smart for her own good. Poor Theo! Good grief. I wanted to grip all the adults by the ears and scream at them, or do worse to others (like her parents, they could have an unfortunate accident and she'd probably be better off in the care of ANYONE else).
I love the simple fact that Theodosia knows her way around a library. She is a bit like Matilda in her forced underage self-sufficiency and solitary quest for knowledge. Theo also seems like she could be the daughter of Alexia Terrabotti from Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series. Theo and Alexia are head strong and resourceful, and have a similar sense of humor and manners. They also have very vocal opinions on unnecessary nonsense. I would preorder a mashup novel of those two characters immediately!
This book was just as strong as the first, even though I missed Isis a bit. However, as I saw a fellow Booktuber (Allyson) mention on her channel, the cat makes appropriate entrances throughout, making the book feel realistic. To throw her in at other random points would feel forced and contrived. This reader is just a little odd in her feline obsession. I could read any story where cats randomly jump in with no bearing on the narrative- and I'd be just peachy. I highly recommend this book to any middle grade readers or adults who love museums, Egyptology, Archeology, CATS, cheeky young heroines, and mysteries on the lighter side.
Saturday, October 10, 2015
First, big big thanks to Matt and Jess Norcross, owners of the independent booktore McLean and Eakin in Petoskey, Michigan. This book was listed in their Bookseller Recommendation session at a reader's retreat and was enticingly described. I was riveted to the crazy idea that 12 people would seek an adrenaline high by climbing Mt. Denali in no more than the weekender camping gear available in 1967. Many of them were students, and barely had the money to buy necessities and equip the car with supplies and gas needed to drive the hundreds of miles to reach the mountain base. The author is a journalist who was a small boy at the time of this tragedy. His dad was the park superintendent in Alaska. Andy Hall remembers riding around with his unusually somber father in the truck as he was trying to save the remaining climbers that fateful July.
I feel weird giving a book like this a star rating. We get a lot of necessary geographical facts, biographies of the climbers, and mind-boggling statistics on the extreme weather systems that produced a superarctic storm that had previously been unrecorded. I applaud Andy Hall for his telling of this tragedy. A book like this can be easily sensationalized for sales reasons, but he provided an unbiased account based on radio transmissions, agency records, and extensive interviews. He honestly admits when there are conflicting accounts of one situation. He presents the various statements, and will occasionally remark if one was plausible considering the conditions and supplies available, and moves on- stating simply that it's impossible to know for sure. Some things must remain a mystery. Occasionally, truth is found. In one case, a climber was obviously lying by stating a pressure release valve malfunction on a stove was the reason for a cooking fire. The model didn't even have a pressure release valve. Oops.
This story is a scary reminder of the force of human nature. At the end of the day, regardless of preparation, if the force is against you..not a lot can be done except hunkering down (if possible). In this case, the sheer brutality of the winds and temperature- sustained not over the course of a few hours but a full week, became insurmountable. Rescue planes that needed to make tight turns for crevasses while carrying additional supplies were grounded. This is an epic adventure story that will make you want to stay inside this winter (if you have my temperament at least!). This mission helped bring about important changes in rescue organization, radio communication, and requirements for climbing applications to be approved. I enjoyed that Andy Hall caught up with the survivors close to publication and gave an update on what their lives became after this harrowing event. Great, great nonfiction.
Thursday, October 8, 2015
As a young child, Natalia regularly visits the tigers at the zoo with her Grandfather. This is a beautifully detailed opening scene. Years later, she is volunteering with United Clinics to provide vaccines to children in war torn Brejevina when she gets word from her Grandmother (Bako) that her Grandfather was traveling to see her (Natalia) and was found dead under mysterious circumstances. Interspersed with Natalia and her friend Zora's work in the community, there are vignettes on her Grandfather's unusual upbringing in a rural village, folklore, and anecdotes of his life. Natalia and her Grandfather have the added connection of both being doctors.
Obreht is a wonderful writer. I enjoyed the stories featuring "the deathless man" and any discussion of her Grandfather's odd, out of the way village. I loved Barba Ivan's little Pointer dog Bis, and the obvious affection the family had for him due to the number of watercolor portraits featuring him in their house, as well as the monastery. A lot of the other animal content is rough stuff, but luckily Bis isn't one of those! There is a great scene where children are receiving shots in a subdued fashion, and Natalia is bothered because the kids don't seem to be affected like children who have not been in war torn areas. Her relief when she is kicked in the shin restores balance and is a powerful image to the reader.
I appreciated all the stories about her Grandfather....from the lighthearted ramblings to his dog "You're a dog, where are you?", to the more serious discussion concerning what specialty of medicine Natalia should pursue (pg 152 in my edition). I stopped after reading that page and read it two more times, even reading it aloud to my husband. Those were (by far) the two paragraphs in the novel that were the most powerful and honest feeling- conveying a sentiment that can be so very hard to describe. I felt like I knew this intelligent, nuanced man from Natalia's remembrances.
I did have some struggles. I know embarrassingly little of the Balkans conflicts and the Yugoslav Wars. I Wikipedia'd and found myself fascinated with the repeated uprisings and rich history of this area. I think I would have a deeper appreciation for the story if I understood more, because I still feel quite uninformed...which then translated to the reading experience and made me feel slightly disconnected.
Since there were a lot of anecdotes, the book felt a lot like a short story collection in ways...and I struggle with those. I didn't care about certain surrounding characters to the Grandfather (even though I realize this was included to give context on the people in his life), I just wanted more of Natalia and his relationship. The ending was fitting and expected for this type of book, but still left me feeling a little unsatisfied. There's also a small disconnect for me in this book besides the historical situation, and I honestly can't put my finger on it- even though I have stewed on it a few days before typing this review. I recommend this to literary fiction lovers who enjoy fables and family stories filled with reflection on relationships.
Tuesday, October 6, 2015
Published by Scholastic, 2012. Hardcover, 408 pgs
Blue Sargent's family is full of seers and fortune tellers. While she doesn't share these abilities, she amplifies energy and enhances her relative's psychic powers. Every year on St. Mark's Eve (April 24), she and her mom (in one case her aunt) travel to the church graveyard and wait for the parade of near dead souls- those who will die in the coming year. This year Blue actually sees someone in the graveyard for the first time. This boy, Gansey, is from the prep school Aglionby. The school mascot is the Raven. Through a series of events, Blue becomes involved with these Raven Boys to satisfy some of her curiosities, and becomes their friend. I can't take credit for this since I saw it on an Amazon review, but it's accurate: "This book is like if Edgar Allan Poe taught the boys from The Dead Poets Society."
I love books featuring fortune telling. It can be a tricky writing subject, because if not told in a certain way, it can sound campy and completely absurd. I listened to Jodi Piccoult's Leaving Time on audio and loved the story of a young girl trying to find her missing mom through a fortune teller. Stiefvater also delivered in writing a quirky, heartfelt family who just happened to have these psychic abilities. I loved all her crazy aunts and cousins at 300 Fox Way. Also, here's a random lovely quote: "She recognized the strange happiness that was sometimes so big it felt like sadness. It was the way she felt when she looked at the stars."
I'm from Virginia, and always appreciate reading about this location and the beautiful surrounding mountains. Since privileged characters can leave the reader feeling cold, I think it's important for the author to make them distinguishable in some way to make us care. In this case, Stiefvater creates Gansey, a boy bent on finding ley lines- invisible energy lines that connect spiritual places. An eclectic interest indeed! "From his father, Gansey had gotten a head for logic, an affection for research, and a trust fund the size of most state lotteries." I liked Gansey and his friend Adam immediately, but also disliked the Lynch brothers (Declan and Ronan) from the start. Big props to Stiefvater for addressing the issue of money and the class system in a heartfelt way through Adam. Money can create an unintentional divide among friends, and whether wealthy or poor, everyone has their own awful crap to deal with.
Blue's relationship with Maura (her mom) was of particular interest to me. Blue says when she is expected to do something it is never demanded, but the question is "phrased more as an imperative." Another scene in the kitchen where her mother is quiet "in that heavy way that was louder than talking"could describe a lot of tense teenage girl/mother mornings and interactions.
I highly recommend this book. I found it unique, and I cared about all the characters so much that I would have been really sad if they died. This might seem a callous barometer, but some characters being killed off doesn't bother me in any way (besides kids and animals of course!). I do have one complaint. I must say I wasn't crazy about the supernatural story line. I found it a bit odd that people would go to such lengths for the reasons given. I felt it was silly and too contrived- but I liked the characters so much I forgave it, even though it probably dropped the star rating from a 5 to a 4. Looking forward to book 2- Dream Thieves!
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
I was excited to return to the Sanderson world of the Mistborn trilogy- set 300 years in the future from the final events in Hero of Ages. Our main character Waxillium Ladrian is a rare Twinborn, which means he has Allomantic and Feruchemical powers. The former allows for metal manipulation, while the latter allows him to become lighter and heavier at will. He was originally from Elendel, House of Ladrian, but left the city to be a lawman in Weathering (the Roughs). His trusty deputy is Wayne, who has special magical powers of his own. Years later he returns home to run Ladrian mansion and assume city duties in the wake of his Uncle's death. At the heart, there is a mystery that arises dealing with phantom railcars and kidnapping of women and other resources.
I did enjoy the dynamic between Wax and his friend Wayne, even if some of the humor between the two fell flat. The problem with this book for me was one of the female leads, Marasi. She felt contrived and convenient for the circumstances. While she was able to shoot a gun, she was still depicted as weak for most of the narrative. Therefore, she didn't feel empowered to me. She was a law student, so some of that was useful in presenting urban planning and the psychology of crime facts to the story. The most irritating element was the frequency with which she is described as "blushing", or even "blushing furiously". It must have been over 30 times, I lost count. Sanderson even addresses this in her internal monologue- with some comment about how she realizes she needs to stop doing it. Unfortunately, it didn't take away from the nuisance of the constant references.
If you haven't read the Mistborn trilogy, this book would still be feasible with the attached glossary for magical terms. However, you would miss a lot of passing references to the Lord Mistborn, the Survivor and his religion, Terris traditions, and groups of people (such as the Koloss and Ironeyes). Basically, I wouldn't recommend. While I liked being back in this world briefly, I felt a bit letdown. However, if you are looking for a fast-paced action/adventure and don't mind characters that are a touch underdeveloped and have some stereotypical behavior, this book would be a fun, quick adventure.
Saturday, September 26, 2015
I went into this with a bit of trepidation. I have a bad track record when it comes to vampire novels. The Sookie Stackhouse books and Twilight were a struggle for me. That, combined with the positive hype from YouTube, made me nervous. Quite pleased that this was a total blast! I love the character of Alexia Tarrabotti- an assertive spinster who is well-read, enjoys her tea and a good meal, carries a Parasol, demands proper manners from her male companions, and just happens to be Soulless. Being Soulless means she can neutralize those with an over-abundance of soul, namely werewolves and vampires. The relationship she develops with a werewolf was one of my favorite narratives throughout the story, and I usually don't like romantic elements in books. I appreciated how cheeky Carriger was with her supernatural creatures- infusing witty humor into most of the story. Tarrabotti's family was such a funny crew, and I loved the inclusion of Queen Victoria. Also, Gail Carriger's author blurb is fantastic and worth a look! Overall, this was super fun and there was a great setup for the other books in the series. I look forward to reading Changeless soon!
I enjoyed this book immensely! This was a fast-paced thriller with a great premise and structure. The reader follows two sisters, Rose and Sylvie, who live in the Tower Motel in Northern Vermont in the 1950's. Sylvie is the charismatic one, having aspirations of living in Hollywood and being an actress in Alfred Hitchcock films. Flash forward to 1989, and we follow Amy (Rose's daughter) and her two friends (also sisters) Margot and Piper. The hotel has long since closed, and they spend their days wandering around the property- roller skating in the empty swimming pool and goofing off in the old rooms. The last time period is modern day, where Margot and Piper find out a horrible crime has been committed on the property. This forces them to re-evaluate their childhood spent at the hotel, and investigate to figure out the sinister connections between unexplained events.
I read this in a few hours one afternoon and a couple hours the next day. The transition between the time periods was seamless, and never left me with that all-too-often feel of "I don't want to switch to this section, I want more time in this perspective". I loved that McMahon acknowledged Psycho and wasn't trying to deny the connection between both creepy motels. There was enough substance to keep me guessing, and the perfect balance of reality and magical realism to make the story eerily believable. I liked how it explored the relationship between siblings and friends, particularly how those bonds can be fractured and the extent of loyalty. The Winter People was a fantastic late season ghost story last year, and McMahon has grown even further with this book. I recommend for anyone looking to get out of a reading slump, and particularly for a spooky Halloween/Fall read. Also, I got to hear her speak and she's just super cool and an awesome person. So that's nice too:-)
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
This book is incredibly popular, constantly discussed on blogs/podcasts/Youtube. I fear I won't have anything productive to add to the discussion, but here are just a couple thoughts. The first chapter, with it's famous "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again", immediately sets the tone. I was captivated by the atmospheric and beautiful descriptions of the estate from page one. The one recurring thought while reading this is how timeless the story felt, and thus how appropriate that it is a classic.
The characters in this are strongly developed and wholly original. I will always remember Mrs. Danvers, Maxim, the second Mrs. De Winter, Frith, Robert, Favell, and even Jasper the dog. I loved how Manderley was a character even as an inanimate object, and Rebecca was incredibly present through remembrances, even in her physical absence. The second Mrs. Maxim De Winter (whose first name we never find out) serves as the narrator as she struggles to acclimate herself to this place and emotionally distant man. The reader feels immense frustration with her indecisiveness and timidity, especially since she realizes this shortcoming, and is still powerless to speak up- even in the most mundane situations. In escaping her role as assistant to an older lady, she simply landed in another bad situation. The dream of life at the estate certainly didn't match the reality.
The twists in this were fantastic. I hate to be another one of those bookish people who compares suspense novels with a twist to the recent phenomenon by Gillian Flynn, but this book seems like it could have been the Gone Girl of it's day quite easily. I look forward to a book group discussion of this read, as well as watching the Hitchcock film. There will be certain iconic scenes I will be on the lookout for. Highly recommend to anyone who enjoys romantic suspense and beautiful writing.
On the night of a production of King Lear, popular actor Arthur Leander unexpectedly falls dead. What follows is a swift flu pandemic that decimates earth's population in a matter of days. The reader follows a young girl Kristen Raymonde, who was present on stage and witnesses Leander's death, through her journey to adulthood with the Traveling Symphony- a collection of actors and musicians who put on plays in passing remaining cities and towns. The caravan they travel in bares the slogan "Survival is insufficient", from a Star Trek episode. The narrative is also told through other perspectives, both before and after the apocalypse...from the paramedic who tries to assist Arthur on stage, to Arthur's friend and confidant, to a librarian in a small town trying to archive events. We even hear from two of Arthur's ex-wives.
There is no shortage of post-apocalyptic fiction. While some are literary and diverse, most focus on why the apocalypse occurred, are often action/adventure based, and deal (appropriately) with finding food and basic survival. Mandel briefly addresses these necessities, but mainly highlights the need for humans to retain artistic expression in some way to make life worth living. The very title of the book relates to a comic book that forms meaningful connections throughout the novel. Humans need stimulation through cultural means of plays, music, books, art, poetry...anything that can connect us in the face of tragedies. It is a way of feeling less lonely, whether there are people around or not.
The most poignant moments in the story (for me) were the sections detailing with what people take for granted in today's day and age. Not only that, but what would we most miss? It forces you to take stock of your life- and evaluate the most important pieces that make up the whole. I appreciated the nuances of human existence, the connections Mandel made among the characters, and the notion that the important parts of life are made up of accrued small moments and coincidences, not big events. Really pleased I got to this one...you should too! Mandel is a gifted writer and I'm glad her book has received acclaim.
Thursday, September 10, 2015
In this first installment of a Young Adult Fantasy trilogy, our main character Katsa has an extreme talent for killing. In this culture, anyone with an inherent gift and eyes of two different colors possesses a "Grace" and is known as a Graceling. Katsa despises that she is under the employ of her uncle Randa, King of the Middluns. Her assigned tasks include punishing those who have bothered the king in any way, whether that be removing fingers or being an executioner. Wishing to use her gift for combat in an honorable way as well, she embarks on covert side jobs to protect and free oppressed peoples in other kingdoms. Upon meeting Prince Po, a young man also Graced with fighting skills, her life changes in unexpected ways as she discovers more about her abilities.
I really enjoyed this. It's been on my TBR for awhile, and I was happy when it was chosen for me to read by my BookBuddyAThon partner, Felica. This fulfilled one of five challenges in a readathon I participated in on YouTube, particularly reading a book your friend gave five stars. I really liked the world building and the characteristics of the seven kingdoms, as well as the strong female lead. She reminded me a lot of Lia from Kiss of Deception by Mary E Pearson, in that she rebelled against the life set out for her.
I preferred Po a bit more than Katsa. Along with her gifts, her level of angst and bad temperament could be grating (even though this was resolved by the middle to end of the book). While the Graceling talents could feel convenient for the situations sometimes, I liked the progression of the story-and it was incredibly well-paced! Po is so well-drawn because Cashore makes him seem genuinely humbled that Katsa's talents are often superior, and he's refreshing because he doesn't feel threatened. Other authors attempt this, but often I think it feels forced.
This was a great story, quite jealous at the selection of wonderful YA options available for teens today. I've always been a voracious reader, but would have been more so at a younger age with this kind of diverse content. Two thumbs up!
Monday, September 7, 2015
What would you do if you knew the world was ending in two years? What preparations would be made to ensure a genetic legacy through the survival of a few? "Send the best and brightest to space" Stephenson says. This is the most visionary and epic book I've ever read. A mysterious "Agent" from space has broken the moon into fragments that are colliding with each other at an alarming rate. Scientists have studied these fragments from afar and agree that in a few years there will be a White Sky (cloudy debris whiteout), followed days later by Hard Rain...which will effectively be trillions of meteors striking the earth for centuries, decimating every living thing and turning the Earth into a molten wasteland.
The book is divided into the before, the handling of the catastrophe (political and engineering wise), and a period 5000 years in the future where the seven space races are trying to rebuild planet Earth for habitation. This is an insanely oversimplified explanation, but the process of building structures for survival is one of the incredible parts of the reading experience- so I don't want to detract by sharing details of the journey.
The majority of the book deals in heavy technical science. The attention to detail is fascinating, even though by the middle I was feeling a bit worn out with some info-dumps. There was a particular 10 page section that could have just said a thermal shield fell off and wasn't protecting some vital material on the spacecraft. Those instances were frustrating, and felt like a chance for Stephenson to show off what I'm sure was an incredible amount of research...but it still didn't detract from my overall enjoyment.
Due to the apocalyptic nature of the book, the story focuses more on the "How" and "Why" than the "Who". These people need to solve the most serious problem imaginable.You will not find heavy character development, even though there are a few set characters we follow through 2/3 of the story. I think Stephenson is more than capable of developing wonderful characters, but for the purpose of this book it needed to take a backseat- with the human capital being discussed in terms of reproduction and genetic traits instead of extensive social backgrounds and relationship drama. I still thought there were nuanced characters, and even humor- but it certainly doesn't dominate the story line. These nerds in space have a job to do, and they are on a bit of a schedule. This is obviously a depressing time, and the characters have achieved victory if they've simply advanced the space station and surrounding arklets in some way (even when succumbing to radiation poisoning, equipment failure, or a million other accidents).
I recommend to anyone who loves science, world-building, problem solving, and doesn't mind a long narrative where the character development is secondary to an epic main plot. I think Stephenson is fantastic. Seveneves was incredibly memorable and I can't wait to read more of his work.
Isabel Moore, in her early forties, is an elementary school teacher in Milwaukee. Her best friend has died, she is recently divorced, and her adolescent daughter is going through the usual angst with life. Basically, Isabel is sad and trying to pull herself out of depression. This is not a plot driven book, the main events are laid out right at the beginning and the rest is a focus on Isabel's internal struggles and some poor discussions she makes in an attempt to pull herself out of her mid-life crisis. The decisions aren't overly destructive, just a bit insensitive in that she tries to use other people to feel better, and causes a couple scenes with old friends when they try to move on with their lives. I really liked the interactions with Isabel's mom, as it shows our parents have been through some of our own experiences and can help put things in perspective.
While the events she experiences are sad, I was only slightly sympathetic with Isabel's character. Sounds bad, but I didn't even like the enigmatic and wild friend she was mourning either. I just didn't connect, except in some instances with raising girls and the heartbreak that can entail. All of the men present were wishy-washy and meh too, with a few points awarded to Isabel's ex for being a good dad. Due to the disconnect, I didn't feel invested in the story.
The writing was quite lovely and there were some nice quotes. However, the narrative just felt a little recycled and stale...like a story that has been written time and time again. I understand it's because these are common life experiences, especially for women who might want to start over. However, I've read novels that spoke to me in a more interesting and nuanced way. One such book with an unlikable protagonist is the teacher from Claire Messud's The Woman Upstairs (strange parallels even though that character was unmarried and without children). She made you cringe but there was this draw to find out more and become invested in her life. I feel bad, but don't think this book will be particularly memorable in a few months.