Friday, December 20, 2013

Reading...The Lies of Locke Lamora

127455I can't remember how long it's been since I put The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch on my Kindle...but it's been a while. My good friend Heather suggested I read it, but somehow it kept getting pushed to the back of my to-read list. But it popped back up on my radar when Hubby listened to the audio several weeks back and really enjoyed it (and the sequels).

The Lies of Locke Lamora is a deceptively layered book, and highly enjoyable. The author sets you down in the middle of a unique world, and immediately introduces you to thieves and con artists operating in an often brutal, gritty, blood-thirsty place, an island nation that has some pretty chilling pasttimes (the Roman Colloseum has nothing on the Revels of Camorra). I'll admit, it took me a while to get into the story and develop a picture of the place, but there was a spark to the story that kept me going. Then all of a sudden everything locked into place, and I found myself fully invested the characters and their story. The author employs a style of storytelling that has the not-quite-straightforward flavor of oral storytelling -- which I almost always enjoy. He starts out in the past, jumps to the present, then intersperses the present with more glimpses of the past. 

But, at the end of the day, you come for the story and the setting and stay for the Gentleman Bastards. They are witty and cocky and vulgar and a big pack of liars....but they are a family. The characterization of the Gentlemen and of their untraditional family is one of the richest things about the book in my opinion.

The book is sly and witty and has the feel of a good caper, but this is definitely not a "feel good" story. It's messy and bloody and gets pretty grim at the end. Brace yourself. But it's also rich and layered and worth your time. Bottom line: if you want some immersive fantasy and don't mind some grittiness with your wit  -- check it out.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Reading...Across a Star-Swept Sea

Across a Star-Swept Sea (For Darkness Shows the Stars, #2)This summer, I finally read Diana Peterfreund's For Darkness Shows the Stars which I loved so much I almost turned to the first page and just read the whole thing again. (Instead, I picked up the inspirational material: Jane Austen's Persuasion). And earlier in the year (or maybe late last year...) I blew through the Secret Society Girls series. Needless to say, I was counting down the days for Peterfreund's latest book, set in the same world as For Darkness Shows the Stars, and a retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernell.

Across a Star-Swept Sea had all the things I love about Peterfreund's books - a vivid world, interesting characters, a well-placed plot, friendship, family, and swoony romance. Because I loved this book's companion so much, I did have to remind myself at the beginning that this was a completely different book - where as FDStS was about love and duty and freedom, this book is about power, revolution, making your own choices, and recovering from mistakes. There's intrigue and espionage, and a healthy dose of secret keeping (which is always so frustrating! know...sometimes in a good way when it comes to stories). It was interesting to see a new side of the same world -- both civilizations reacting to the same historical events, but in radically different ways. One of the other things that stood out to me in this book were the villians. The Scarlet Pimpernell is set during the French Revolution, an event in history that gives me chills when I read about it, a sobering example of good ideas gone horribly, horribly wrong. Peterfreund really captured that sense of overwhelming vengeance, hypocrisy, and lust for power in the villians of Across a Star-Swept Sea.

Bottom line: if you just love a good story, pick up this book.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


FirecrackerFirecracker, by David Iserson had me giggling almost at every page. I'm sure my co-workers in the break room thought I was crazy, and I know my husband gave me some strange looks. But it was just the kind of book I was in the mood for - light, funny, engaging, yet with just enough depth and heart to keep it from being complete cotton candy.

Astrid Krieger comes from a long line of powerful, influential, filthy rich people -- the kind who actually fit into that much-aligned "one percent." She lives in a defunct rocket ship in her family's back yard...she's never owned a pair of jeans...she's been arrested multiple times and has no qualms at throwing money at any problem...she's never been to a drive-through restaraunt...she doesn't know how to drive (why would she, when she has a private car and driver at her beck and call)...and has never been roller skating. Astrid doesn't have any friends (except her Grandfather -- who uses his diplomatic immunity to shoplift candy in foreign countries), but she doesn't really care. Her counselor and former dean of students calls her a "firecracker" which "in certain social circles is code for a**hole." Her self-proclaimed gift is seeing people's usefulness...and using (exploiting) that for her someteims elaborate schemes and plots. When one of those long-running plots (cheating) gets her expelled from yet another private school, her punishment is one she deems worse than death: public school. And with it, actual friends, personal and family revelations, new enemies, old enemies, and one very elaborate revenge scheme.

The plot in this book really centers around Astrid's personal growth as a character -- we get to know her better and see her grow. Astrid's not really a "nice" person -- but she's layered and more vulnerable that one would initially guess. I liked that her new surroundings bring people who look past that arrogant, clueless, prickly exterior and help bring out the best in her. And I really liked that while yes, Astrid's story is one of a girl getting in touch with her humanity and learning to be just a little less's not one of those stories where the character makes a huge, life-altering change. Even those people who are helping her grow aren't trying to change her, they like her and love her just the way she is -- and simply encourage her to be the best version of herself. At the end of the story, Astrid is still Astrid -- she's still a firecracker. But she's a better Astrid in some ways: a little more aware of other people, a little more open.

bottom line: if you're looking for a funny, character-driven book with a different kind of heroine, check it out.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Reading....Pardonable Lies

Pardonable Lies (Maisie Dobbs, #3)I love Maisie Dobbs (here's where I thank the lovely Rita for introducing me to her). They are quiet mysteries, but not boring. Jacqueline Winspear creates a sense of place that goes beyond just the location of England, but of the time -- the changes and struggles of post-World War I Europe. And she does it subtlely, not with broad, sweeping commentary, but with personal interractions. The mysteries have that classic feel, but with a twist -- mainly in Ms. Dobbs herself. Not only is Maisie unique as an independent, single woman who owns her own business -- the forerunner of the middle class -- she is a woman who has studied meditation and psychology and yoga. And she just might have a bit of a psychological "gift." It keeps this classic, historical detective story fresh and interesting.

I also like that while each book has a mystery or mysteries that are solved by Maisie by the end of the book, the characters continue to grow and change throughout each book. Pardonable Lies is the third book in the series, and is as much about Maisie's experience in the war and her relationship with her mentor as it is about the mystery. Maisie's demons come back to haunt her and you're not really sure at the end if she's gotten rid of them or just buried them more deeply.

Bottom line, if you like quiet mysteries, historical fiction, and a strong heroine, you'll love Maisie Dobbs.  

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Reading things everyone else has read too....

Allegiant (Divergent, #3)I've managed to pick up quick books lately -- books that are either action-packed, or breezy, or just short reads. As one might guess (well, someone who is at all aware of the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth), Allegiant falls in the action-packed-can't-put-down category. I really enjoyed the first two books in this trilogy - the action, the characters, the interesting set-up, the twists, and the love story (relationship growth and no love triangle -- thank you!). Although many of the dedicated and devoted fans of the books are divided when it comes to this final installment -- with reactions that range from dissapointed to enraged -- I actually thought Roth did an excellent job with this last book. Did everything get tied up with a nice, neat bow? No. But realistically, I don't think it could have. I loved that the world "outside" was not exactly what everyone expected. And again, I liked that Roth managed to fit character growth into all the action. I liked that life continued to be messy, just like real life. It was a bittersweet ending, but ultimately satisfying as well.

The Fault in Our Stars
When I first discovered John Green, I went on a bit of a binge, reading everything by him that our library had. I fell for that John Green wit and snappy dialog. But I may have burned myself out -- what started out as smart and funny began to strike me as smug and condescending. So it was with trepidition that I picked up The Fault in Our Stars. Unfortunately, I listened to the audio book, and I have to say the narrator did not do anything for me. There were parts that worked -- Hazel, Isaac, Peter Van Houten -- and parts that didn't -- the parents, Augustus. So it was hard for me to separate the actual book from the narration. Ultimately, I liked it, but I didn't love it. I liked its separate parts -- the relationship between Hazel and Gus and their parents, the quest to find the ending to Van Houten's book, the trip to Amsterdam. I liked the contrast between Hazel's synicism and her genuine love and compassion for her parents and other people. I even liked Augustus's self-awareness and posing and his desire to live a life bigger than himself. I liked that the characters didn't seem to have clear answers. But somehow, I didn't connect with the book as a whole.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Reading...Spirit and Dust

Spirit and Dust
Spirit and Dust, by Rosemary Clement-Moore is a companion book to Texas Gothic, a book that introduced us to the supernaturally gifted Goodnight family. In Spirit and Dust, we meet Daisy, a psychic whose particular gifts manifest in an ability to speak with the dead and help them pass over to the other side...whatever that is (she doesn't ask). Like her aunt before her, she's a regular consultant for the FBI, and that gig lands her in Minnesota, at the scene of a murder and possible kidnapping. Before too long, Daisy herself is kidnapped and forced to use her powers to investigate on behalf of a local crime lord.

The Goodnight books essentially classic mysteries with a supernatural twist and a little swoon thrown in for good measure. The characters are one of the strongest things about these books, in my opinion, especially this latest one. I could not stop thinking and wondering about what happened to the characters after the book ended. I just wanted more, more, more. And that's a successful story for this reader.

bottom line: read if you're in the mood for a ghostly, fun mystery.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Reading...Forgive me, Leonard Peacock

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock

I knew going into it, that Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick was going to be a tough read in some ways. After all, you find out within the first few pages that Leonard Peacock is planning to shoot a classmate then kill himself. This plot point on its own is heavy stuff, not to mention the likely revelation of what event or events are motivating Leonard to walk toward this choice. However, having read Matthew Quick's novel Silver Lining's Playbook, I was confident in Quick's ability to handle serious subjects. Thankfully, my confidence was rewarded. Quick sheds light on subjects like depression, severe loneliness, bullying, abandonment, and abuse, and puts them in a context of hope. He tells a story that is respecful of pain, trauma, and despair, but approaches it from the viewpoint of someone who believes that people can help each other through these desperate situations.

Now, I'm not going to lie: this book was heartbreaking, and it's not going to be for everyone. Kids being abused isn't exactly easy to read about, even in past tense. It would be easy to get bogged down thinking about how there are real kids going through this kind of stuff (and more) every day. And the ending isn't exactly "and they all lived happily ever after." Of course...that all depends on how you look at it.

Clearly, I connected with the tone and heart and themes of this book. But more than that, Quick is a talented writer. Leonard's voice rings true, and each character is distinctive. And something that stood out to me personally: Leonard strikes up a slightly odd relationship with a teenage girl who hands out Christian tracts at the train station, and I appreciate that Quick writes this character respectfully. Lauren is very firm in her faith and beliefs, but it's a blind faith -- the faith of a teenage girl who hasn't delved deep into the things she's always been taught. Leonard asks her some valid and tough questions, and she doesn't really have satisfactory answers (in fact, she gets a little upset at Leonard's challenges). As a Christian, I wanted to sit down with Leonard and answer his questions -- they were good questions! Perfect for some honest dialog about faith and God. And I wanted to sit down with Lauren and say -- look, sweetie, I appreciate your determination and doggedness, but you need to step back and really THINK. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Don't be afraid of a deeper look.

Anyway, that stood out to me, but probably won't to other readers in quite the same way. The bottom line is: this book is heartbreak and hope. A wake-up call and a challenge.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Reading...The Dream Thieves

The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle, #2) The Dream Thieves, by Maggie Steifvater is the oh-so-delicious sequel to Raven Boys. I kind of wish I'd re-read Raven Boys just to help me remember some of the details of the story, but I still thoroughly enjoyed this latest adventure with Gansey, Ronan, Adam, Noah, and Blue (and Blue's family....and the Grey Man...not Kavinsky, because he's just CRAZY and super creepy and pretty much a sociopath). So here are some thoughts...

1. Ronan takes center stage in this book, and becomes more than the slightly unhinged, rough around the edges, unpredictable one. He's a kid who is confused and hurting and lost.

2. As much as I despised Kavinsky, he's kind of the anti-Ronan. By that, I mean that Ronan could have been Kavinsky. They have some striking similarities....but Ronan has his brothers (ok, he has Matthew. What's Declan good for at this point?), he has Gansey and Adam and Noah. And before his dad died, he had a mom and a dad who loved him. And in a lot of ways, I think it's these relationships that really ground Ronan and help him take a healthier path.

3. Love all the relationships in this book and how they're alive (you real live relationships). Adam and Gansey, Adam and Blue, Blue and Gansey, Ronan and Gansey, Blue and her mom and her aunts/cousins....

4. Still fantastically atmospheric. I was there in the hot, summertime Virginia mountains. In Gansey's parent's mansion.

5. For some reason during this book I kept picturing Logan from Gilmore Girls as Gansey.

6. The Grey Man = nice addition to the cast of characters.

All in all, a great sequel. It was great spending time with the kids of Henrietta and Aglionby.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Reading...The Bookman's Tale

The Bookman's Tale: A Novel of ObsessionThe Bookman's Tale: A Novel of Obsession, by Charlie Lovett was given to me by a friend who knows my bookish weaknesses. The book opens in a bookshop in Hay-on-Wye, Wales (see: bookish weakness, stories set in Great Britain), where an antiquarian book dealer stumbles upon a Victorian painting that looks exactly like his recently deceased wife. Peter Byerly is not dealing well with his grief and the loss of his wife, and this picture lights a fire inside of him, urging him to figure out where it came from, who painted it, and who is pictured. His quest leads him into a mystery surrounding a history-making rare manuscript, a centuries-old family feud, a blackmail scheme and murder.

As Peter's present-day story unfolds, the author uses alternating chapters to also tell us the story of the manuscript and more of Peter and Amanda's story. I enjoyed the alternating time periods and point of views, the reveal of more layers to both Peter and the mystery. The author is also clearly a rare books officianado himself, because this story is as much a story about books and the love of books (the older the better) as it is about the characters and plot. It's a book for booklovers.

For a mystery, the pace was a bit slow, but personally I don't think that detracted from the story at all. I actually enjoyed it. Reading the book brought to mind chilly, rainy days, crackling fires, musty libraries, and good strong cups of tea. In a word: yes, please! (okay, that's two words)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


I got to attend the Austin Teen Book Festival last weekend. Fun times! I'd never been to a book festival like that before, so it was a cool experience. I went to three author panels and got a book signed (Dream Thieves by Maggie Steifvater. CANNOT wait to read it!). Hubby came along to get a book or three signed by Brandon Sanderson who was there with his new YA book Steelheart which has a pretty cool premise: what if people started getting super powers but did not take the advice of Peter Parker's uncle? What if all the super powered people were jerks and the regular people wanted to fight back. It looks like a quick read, so hopefully I'll get to pick it up soon as well. It's always a good time to hang out with people who share your interests and who get excited about the same things you're excited about.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Reading...The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks


I don't read a lot of non-fiction, but The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is my kind of non-fiction. Educating, but entirely engrossing. Skloot weaves a story instead of just laying down the facts. Henrietta Lacks was a poor black woman in Baltimore who died in the early 1950s of ovarian cancer when she was 31. As was a common practice in the 1950s, a doctor took a tissue sample from Henrietta -- one of healthy cells and one of her cancerous cells -- for research. A biologist at Johns Hopkins was attempting to grow cells in culture and asked the doctor for part of the sample for his research. Henrietta's cells -- dubbed HeLa -- did what none of the scientist's cells had done before. They survived, and they grew, and they thrived. They made it possible for scientists to experiment and conduct studies on live human cells, paving the way for amazing advances in medical and scientific research -- from the polio vaccine, to a multitude of medications. Her cells have been in space and have been blased with a nuclear bomb.

But what Skloot does is give you a context beyond just research and science -- she tells you the story of Henrietta and her family. She takes you to a small tobacco farm in Virginia, and to the streets of Baltimore. She shows how Henrietta's death affected her family, while her immortal cells were simultaneously affecting the whole world.

In some ways, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is controversial, because readers are presented with ethical issues of tissue rights and informed consent. Who should or should not profit from tissues taken from a person's body? Who should have say over what research is done with a person's tissue? In an age of genetic research, what are the implications to people's privacy? Race, poverty, education, healthcare, medical reasearch, ethics, and faith are all themes that run through this book. However, Skloot skillfully weaves all of this into a wonderful, fair, and very informative narrative. I learned something, I was outraged, I was inspired, I may have teared up a bit at one point, and I was most of all interested until the last page.

Bottom line: if you like biographies, history, or science and narrative non-fiction, pick up this book.

Friday, September 13, 2013

A few book things I'm excited about

Cole & Isabel get their own story

Only a month(ish) until the release of Across a Star-Swept Sea

Austin Teen Book Festival -- I may actually, finally get to have a book signed by Maggie Stiefvater. Plus...I will finally have my grubby little hands on a copy of Dream Thieves. I AM SO EXCITED!!! (and I wonder if my wallet can stand to get a copy of Spirit and Dust by Rosemary Clement-Moore. Because her books are just cool).

I'm currently trying to furiously read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks for work (it's really good, by the way. I'll talk about it more when I'm finished) while also trying to finish the never-ending moving/unpacking to-do list. (tip: it takes much longer to unpack/get things settled and sorted when you immediately start work upon moving. I know, I know....amateur stuff. It's been a few years).

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Reading...Siege & Storm and Crown of Embers

The upside of a city commute is the perfect opportunity to listen to audiobooks. The upside of a two day half-way-across the country drive (and the ability to read while riding in a moving vehicle), is the plentiful down-time in which to read. Which means...despite my slow pace through most books lately, I've finished two in the past few weeks, a couple of really enjoyable young adult fantasies (and, oddly enough, both are second books in planned trilogies).

Siege and Storm (The Grisha, #2)Siege and Storm, by Leigh Bardugo is the second in the author's Grisha trilogy. And I may like this book even more than the first (perhaps helped by the excellent narrator of my audiobook). The Russian-inspired setting still shines -- rich, detailed, and evocative. Bardugo has really ramped up the tension in this book, right from page one. I continue to think Alina is one of the most annoying yet sympathetic protagonists I've met in a while. Mal continues to be awesome, and the Darkling is the creepiest creepster around. There are some really fantastic character additions: Tamar, Tolia, Nikolai/Sturmhond. The pacing was spot on -- the story going deeper, deeper, deeper and with plenty of "What?!" moments.


The Crown of Embers, by Rae Carson is another solid sequel. Elisa is now the queen of Joya de Arena, trying to establish her rule, navigate court politics, and learn more about her power as a Bearer. One thing that really struck me while reading this book, is how this series is really a coming-of-age story. Sure, there's plenty of magic, intrigue, political maneuverings, assassination attempts, and adventure. But, at its heart, it's the continuing story of a girl learning that she isn't the fat, ugly, helpless girl she believed herself to be. It's about a girl realizing that instead of just reacting (sometimes ineptly) to what goes on around her, or relying to other people to make decisions for her, she truly has the power to make her own decisions, to take charge of her own destiny, to be a real leader, and to be a queen. I continued to enjoy the world Carson has created, and my only complaint is that it occasionally seemed a bit....much. A bit overly dramatic. Lots of gasping. But overall a really enjoyable and solid fantasy.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


I went through a Jane Austen kick several years ago, and read all of her books. So while I know that I read Persuasion at some point, somehow it didn't make much of an impact. However, like I mentioned in my last post, I was in the mood to read the book that inspired the wonderful For Darkness Shows the Stars. And, can I just say, that this time it made a much bigger impression. You can tell that this is one of Austen's later works. Everything wonderful is there: the pitch-perfect characterisation, the keen observation, the social interactions, and the wonderful love story. But everything is refined and honed and mature. Austen is at the top of her game.

In addition to the beauty of the book from a craft perspective, the love story really resonated with me this time around (you could argue that perhaps that is directly related to the quality of the writing). The characters are in a different place -- the "meet-cute" has already happened. The initial rush of love has come and gone. In its place is longing, regret, hurt, resignation, pride, and a deep steadfastness. I like that the obstacle that Anne and Wentworth face in getting to their happy-ever-after (which all Austen heros and heroine's face) is not misunderstanding, or miscommunication, or the lack of revelation. Everything is out there: they love each other, they communicate that, then Anne makes a choice to step back, they fight, they part. And eventually, they face each other again, to see what time and distance have done. I love that Captain Wentworth goes from basically ignoring Anne (although you know he is painfully aware of her at all times) to being jealous (even though Anne is the smartest person in the room and can smell Elliot's smarminess a mile a way) to realizing how awesome Anne is. And I love how Anne is sweet and loyal and true and kind, but also strong and confident (in her way) and steadfast. I would want her for my best friend. And I love how she calls Wentworth out -- she could never have gone after him because she's not one to buck the system entirely, but when he's all "would you have accepted me the first time I came back from sea" she's all "duh, you big idiot".

And of course, there's that letter. Watch out Knightly, you've got some competition for my favorite Austen man.

Anyway, lots of rambling to just say that I think I have rediscovered my favorite Jane Austen novel.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Reading bits and bobs

I'm dividing my time reading-wise at the moment. I'm officially a commuter at the moment, so I've got Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo on audiobook (I really like the narrator, by the way), and I was in the mood for some Jane Austen, so I'm reading Persuasion. I think my desire to pick up that particular Jane Austen novel stems from my recent read of For Darkness Shows the Stars, by Diana Peterfreund. I am obsessively waiting for her next book Across a Star-Swept Sea, because I've realized that she is one of those authors who speaks my literary language. (L.M. Montgomery...Alysia Painter...Melina Marchetta...Maggie Stiefvater...also authors who speak my literary language. There are more, but those are a few who come to mind).

I recently read a fun YA book as well -- Bittersweet, by Sara Ockler. Considering I'm currently living in the oven of central Texas at the moment, it was the perfect time to pick up a book set in Western New York in the middle of winter. Setting aside, this book had a lot of other things going for it to: a clean, yet descriptive writing style (I really did feel cooler reading it), realistic characters (sometimes I wanted to hug Hudson, sometimes I wanted to smack her), sweet and also conflicted teenage romance (i.e., a love triangle that actually felt genuine and kind of heartbreaking), sports (ice skating! hockey! -- shades of The Cutting Edge!), friendship, family, and a girl who is just trying to figure her life out. She's torn between her home and family, and the lure of getting out of town and dreaming big. And she makes a lot of mistakes in the process. She also makes AMAZING sounding cupcakes. Seriously.  

Monday, August 12, 2013

Reading....Cold Steel

Cold Steel (The Spiritwalker Trilogy #3)
 Why, yes, I DID finally finish a book! Who knew a cross-country move could have such a slow-down affect on reading?

Anywho...Cold Steel is the final installment in Kate Elliott's Spiritwalker trilogy, and it's a solid conclusion to the story. I think Elliott did a great job with making the three books feel like one continuous story. Sometimes with trilogies, one or two of the books really stand out from the rest, but all three of these felt pretty seamless to me. 

So, SPOILERS AHEAD:  a lot happens in these books...a LOT. Especially this last one. We go from Expedition (where Vai has been stolen and Cat is being accused of murder) into the Spirit World, out of the Spirit World, on the run, back into the Spirit World where Cat goes to rescue Vai. There's a lot of running for your life, hiding out, spying...oh yeah, and Bee becomes a leader of the Revolution in Europa. There's a war going on, because Camjiata makes his way back to Europa, and there's a good measure of divided loyalty and learning to communicate. This book is about Bee and Cat...Cat and Vai...Cat and her past...and about being free. There are dragons and angry mages (of both fire and ice varieties) and Amazons and creepy blood sucking spirit creatures and a skull that can talk to you under the right circumstances. I know this is all kind of vague, but seriouisly...a LOT happens in this book. The plot is lightning fast, and a few times I got whiplash as one part ended and we were on the move again. My only tiny quibble is the occasional choppiness of the writing. Elliott has some beautiul descriptions and turns of phrase, and sometimes Cat makes some very thoughtful, poetic, almost philisophical observations....just sometimes they don't flow well.

That said, there are several things I loved about this trilogy (and this book):
1. The worldbuilding. Unique, interesting, and well-thought out
2. The characters. I love them!
3. The relationships. Each relationship evolves and grows over the course of the three books -- Vai and Cat (swoon!), Cat and Bee, Bee and Vai, Rory and Cat, Rory and Vai, Cat and the mansa.
4. The humor and sassiness (which is the best word I could come up with today). There's this sarcastic humor that peeks through in this book that I just love. It especially comes in through the interactions between characters, and it lends another dose of reality. The characters tease each other, but also love each other. The enemies trade witty barbs, and it's all just done very nicely.

Bottom line: thanks for recommending this auhor to me, Heather!

Monday, August 5, 2013

West of the Mississippi

So, I've left my temporary (of nine years -- longish temporary) East Coast digs for someplace West of the Mississippi. (on a side note -- I thought I was pretty big stuff in elementary school when I could spell Mississippi) The past nine years have been fantastic -- amazing friends and community who we are very sad to leave physically. I've enjoyed exploring the area -- the beach and the mountains, the D.C. area. It's been fun, and we already have dreams of buying a vacation home in the area one day so we can spend lots of time in our second home. And in the meantime, we'll start saving up for plane tickets for a shorter vacation. But as I crossed the bridge over that big, muddy river last week, I realized again that there's something about the great wild West that really feels like Home. (of course, on the flip side, I'm generally one who feels like home is really about people....but we are often connected to our environment as well)

But enough moving and transitioning brain has a list, of things I forgot about moving in the past nine years:

1. There's a lot of little stuff to do
2. There's a lot of big stuff to do
3. Starting a new job is way disorienting. I feel like a fish out of water
4. Moving from a small city/big town to a Big City causes me to feel like a country mouse. I feel in the way, out of place, a bit lost
5. You're not going to learn your way around overnight.
6. Finding a place to live can be complicated, and is often an exercise in prioritizing and compromize.

so, that's it from my random brain today, at least, the little bit not taken up by thoughts of house-hunting.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Well, hello, internet

Vacation + prepping for a move and a new job = not a lot of progress made reading books. BUT...of course I'm still reading! I'm working my way through Cold Steel right now, the third book of the fantastic Spiritwalker trilogy by Kate Elliot.

I did take a quick break this week to read If I Stay, by Gayle Forman. It's a relatively short young adult novel about a teenage girl caught between life and death. It's about life and love and loss and family and relationships. The writing is simple and clean, but also rich with emotion. Music plays a big role in the book and the lives of the people in it, which of course I love. And the main character plays the cello! (makes me want ot break mine out and lament that I was too lazy/chicken to continue studying the cello in college and become a music major)'s good stuff. Now I just need to get my hands on the sequel: Where She Went.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Reading...A Sense of the World

A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History's Greatest TravelerA Sense of the World, by Jason Roberts is the biographyof a man who, despite having lived a remarkable life, was nearly lost to history. Roberts found mention of James Holman by chance, a single paragraph in a book about unique travelers. It inspired him to do more research, and in doing so he uncovered the story of a man who loved learning, craved adventure, and wanted to explore the world. After serving for three years in the British navy, Holman developed a disease that caused him to go blind. As the fourth son of a chemist, he had little money and his future to anyone else might have seemed grim. But Holman held on to his dreams and remained undaunted. He found a way to travel literally around the world -- and then some -- experiencing it through sound and smell and touch. And as he was traveling on a tight budget, he arranged and conducted his travels primarily on his own. But he made friends wherever he went, and inspired others along the way.

I don't read a lot of nonfiction, but I do enjoy a good biography, and this is certainly a good one. I especially appreciate how the author counters the 18th century thoughts and prejudices of blindness against the realities. He clearly did his research, and I appreciate his effort to dispell myths, some of which prevail even today. The author writes with a fondness for James Holman, which gives an added bit of life to the story.

Pick up this book if you like history, a well-written biography, or have that yearning for travel and adventure.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Reading...Ready Player One

Ready Player OneReady Player One, by Ernest Cline is a super fun book. Set in a not-too-distant future, life is pretty grim. Most people -- like 18 year old Wade Watts -- spend their time plugged into the virtual world of the Oasis. What started out as a multiplayer online computer game has become a substitute for reality. In the Oasis you can attend school, get a job, fall in love, have adventures, travel, play games, fight dragons...the possibilties are endless. Oasis currency is more real and valuable than any other currency in the world, and its creator James Halliday revered as a god. When Halliday dies, the world is shocked to learn that (with the exception of his arcade collection), Halliday has left his fortune -- and his company -- to the first person who can find the "easter egg" hidden somewhere in the Oasis. Figure out the clues, find the three keys, the three gates, and complete the tasks set up in each one. Success depends on skill, luck, and knowledge of 80s pop culture -- Halliday's obsession.

Ready Player One will probably appeal most to anyone who enjoys video games and/or 80s pop culture, because at times it almost feels like the author wanted a way to get nostalgic and rosy-eyed over his own love of the 80s. But while it occasionally feels a little self-indulgent, it's also a good story on its own, easily enjoyed by anyone who likes a good action/adventure with a sprinkling of sci-fi (Although I will say, if you hate video might want to pass). Cline's pacing is spot on, keeping you glued to each page, not wanting to put it down. I listened to it on audio -- often while running -- and I have to say, I ran a lot of miles while I was reading this book! I also thought Cline did a great job with the primary characters -- Wade in particular has a stong voice -- a sarcastic, synical, snarky, smart-mouthed teenage boy voice. Some of the more outlying characters (like the villain) were a little one-dimensional, but in some ways that's kind of fitting for a video game masquerading as a book. Ready Player One also gives voice to outcasts -- to people who believe they need a little alternate reality in order to be accepted. I like the way this theme plays out -- empowerment ftw!

My words aren't very eloquent today, so I'll stop rambling and finish with this: if you like 80s pop culture, video games, stories about outcasts, adventures, light sci-fi, action, or fun and witty dialogue, then you should pick up this book. (in audio -- Wil Wheaton is a great narrator)

Monday, June 24, 2013

Reading...Quintana of Charyn

Quintana of Charyn (Lumatere Chronicles, #3)Oh, Melina Marchetta....I've said it before and I'll just keep saying it again -- this woman knows how to write words that go straight to your heart. Her stories resonate with such emotional depth and heart and hope and I LOVE THEM.  So, Quintana of Charyn is third book in the Chronicles of Lumatere. I may give away some slight spoilers as I talk about Quintana, so if you haven't read the first two books -- be warned (and go read the books!). There is a long going on in this book: Isaboe and Finnikin are waiting to hear what happened to their would-be assassin, Froi, while continuing to re-establish their kingdom. Gargaran and Arjuro and a bunch of other Charyns are trying to salvage their kingdom's soul and future and prevent war. Quintana is her crazy self, now on the run, in hiding and trying to protect herself and her "little king." Froi is recovering from being shot by eight arrows (Froi, you are such a bad-ass), and desperate to find Quintana. Lucian is still figuring out what it means to be the leader of the Monts, grieving the wife he didn't realize he loved. And there's still a bunch of hated Charyn refugees down in Lucian's valley, desperate and lost. And the spirits of the dead cry and ache for the living to do the things that will bring them rest and resolution.

So, the story is excellent -- a great resolution to the tale that began in Finnikin of the Rock. Marchetta weaves back together all the threads of the story, and brings clarity to some of the more murky aspects of what's been going on. You have great writing, a great story, complex characters, and one of the things Marchetta does so well -- relationships. Blood families, adoptive families, friends, lovers, comrades, enemies -- it's all there. And we get to see how all these different relationships help shape who we are, and how even when relationships grow and change, that's okay. We get to see people fighting and making up, having misunderstandings and then figuring it out. We see people muddle through as best they can, but never giving up.

Froi of the Exiles was a heavy, dark book. In that book, the reader sees heartbreak, madness, ugliness, despair, vengeance, and true evil. In the end, there is little hope...but there is the promise of hope. And in Quintana of Charyn, that hope flourishes, and it is so beautiful.

I'm really not doing this book (and this series) justice, so just go read it!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Iron sharpens iron

I'm going to let out a little secret (okay, not so secret) -- I like to make up stories. And I have a dream to write a novel (or several). And right now, I'm actually working on it actively, albeit slowly.  And when I tell my friends and family "I want to write a novel" they say "awesome! let me read it when it's finished!" They aren't patronizing me. They take me seriously and genuinely believe in my dream. I have some pretty amazing friends. Full stop. And I could just finish this post right here, because the ways in which my friends blow my mind and humble me and make me grateful on a daily basis is worth saying all by itself.

But lately, something more specific has been on my mind: an idea that having friends who share your passion/dream/hobby can be invaluable.

I have quite a few creative, artistic friends, many of who make their living -- or part of their living -- at making art. And they are inspiring. Their creativity and productivity and passion make me want to be creative as well. And that by itself would be enough.


I am a notoriously lazy writer, an un-finisher. I'll start a story, but let life distract me when the writing becomes work. I'll abandon my characters and plot...or I'll rush an ending (build up, build up, build up......and they all live happily-ever-after-the-end. Or....mystery, mystery, Last year, I set a pretty big goal for myself. And I failed to meet it. Or even come close. It was pretty discouraging and I'd basically decided that I was operating under a delusion, and I was going to stop calling myself a writer. Stop listing it as one of my hobbies. Stop pretending that "one day"....

I hadn't really told anyone. Then on New Year's Even, I'm chatting with my super-creative-talented-hardworking-artist friend Doc. Doc and Julie (photographer, seamstress, artist) are inspiring: working and creating to slowly but surely make their dreams come true. So, Doc and I are chatting. And he says "by the way, how's your writing coming?" I admit that I'm pretty much ready to abandon any pretense and just throw in the towell. Doc's expression became a mixture of shock and sadness that surprised me in its intensity.

"Please don't give up," he said. "Just...don't give up."

His strong reaction blew me away. There was no way I could refuse his plea.

Because Doc's reaction was not just that of a friend -- but from a fellow artist. Because what I read between the lines was: "if you give up on this dream, you aren't just giving up on yourself, you're giving up on art. You are betraying artists everywhere of every vareity who have sacrificed and sweat and bled and poured themselves into creating. If this truly is your dream, if you truly want to tell stories, DO NOT GIVE UP. "

That's a lot of between the line reading, and sure...maybe that's not quite what he meant, but that's the message I got, and the one I needed to hear. Because deep down...I didn't want to give up. But up until that moment, the only person I was letting down was me. Now -- whenever it gets hard, whenever my laptop is screaming at me and I just. don' -- I feel like I'm not just letting myself down, I'm letting down a lot of people. People who believe in me, and people who believe in the beauty and gift of art.

Which sounds like a lot of pressure. But you know's a good kind of pressure.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Reading....The Rithmatist

The Rithmatist (Rithmatist #1)The Rithmatist, by Brandon Sanderson, is what I like to think of as classic "fun" Sanderson. By that I mean that it's a fast-paced, mystery-adventure set in a fantasy world with one of Sanderson's trademark amazing and complex magic systems (Rithmatics -- chalk drawings are imbued with two-dimensional power in the hands of a Rithmatist. It's geometry come to life).

Joel is the son of a chalkmaker, an ordinary, non-Rithmatist. Joel is a smart kid who regularly fails classes just because he doesn't find them interesting. He's obsessed with Rithmatics, and can draw Rithamtic defenses and offenses as well as or better than many of the Rithmatic students he attends school with. He knows a lot of people, but doesn't really have any friends.

Melody is the fourth Rithmatist child of Rithamtist parents. She's bold and outspoken, a bit of a dramatic free spirit. She's not that good at Rithmatic lines and circles, and feels the pressure pretty intensely (although she's very gifted at drawing the chalk creatures called chalklings). She's not very popular, and sometimes coves up that loneliness with loudness. Oh, and her favorite chalklings are unicorns.

Melody and Joel end up spending their summer elective being tutored by the same professor -- a brilliant, kindly, but recently professionally humiliated Professor Fitch. The summer brings with it a rash of mysterious disappearances of Rithmatic students, and a lot of resulting rumors and unrest in the American Isles. Melody, Joel, and Fitch end up personally involved in the mystery and the dramatic conclusion that brings up a lot of questions and reveals a very mysterious and dark potential villian. In the meantime, the two loners begin to grow the kind of frienship in which each person is pushed to be better (there's a scene at the end of the book that KICKS BUTT. These two are going to be a powerful duo).

Bottom line: if you like mysteries, adventures, cool magic systems, fantasy, friendships or all of the above -- read this book.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Reading and watching and a little Star Trek love

Well, the trend continues of reading multiple books at once...which means they all take longer to finish (and talk about). Although I did finish An Irish Country Village (sequel to Irish Country Doctor) by Patrick Taylor, and enjoyed it just as much as the first book. You can read what I thought about it here. Currently, I'm listening to Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline and I highly recommend consuming this book on audio, as it's expertly read by Wil Wheaton. I'm also reading The Rithmatist,  by Brandon Sanderson, and very slowly working my way through Walking Israel, by Martin Fletcher. And, because that's just the way things work, I've gotten three books in the past week that I'd previously put on hold at the library. Ahhh!!! It's a good problem to have, but still....choices! time!

Anyway, speaking of Wil Wheaton (like that segway there?), I've recently begun a re-watch of Star Trek: The Next Generation. A variety of factors have made me nostalgic for the t.v. series. Obviously, Ready Player One is one of those factors. Plus, recently watching the new Star Trek movie (I know, I know...not the same characters. But the same world...I'm flexible), and just general blog reading in the sci-fi and fantasy fandom. I like good storytelling in a lot of forms, not just books, and me and Star Trek go way back. My dad (hi Dad!) is an original Trekkie, and I pretty regularly watched The Next Generation with him back when it was airing for the first time. I'd occasionally watch reruns of the original show, and Dad and I also watched Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I've seen some episodes of Voyager, but by then I was in college and in my unintentional four year "story drought" (i.e., I watched a lot of movies, but only really read non-school related books and watched t.v. on semester breaks).

I read a lot more fantasy fiction than I used fact, up until 13 years ago, I probably couldn't name one fantasy or science fiction novel that I'd read (oops, just kidding...I read The Princess Bride and went through a major fairy tale phase). I wasn't really into video games like my brother, or comic books or fantasy-type tabletop games (although I'd like to think that last was simple lack of exposure...none of my friends played Dungeons & Dragons or anything similar). But I did watch Star Trek, and I loved a good game of Risk, or almost any board game, really. Quite a few years later, I married my husband, an avid fantasy reader, comic book lover, and gamer. He convinced me to read Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan and the rest is history. Games, books, t.v. shows, superhero's a fun world out here in geekdom (for lack of a better term). I'll admit -- I'm geek light. I don't know all the references, there's a lot I'm new to, and a lot I will never play/read/do/see (I only have so much time after all). But one thing I do know: I'm really thankful for each step into this incredible world of storytelling. Thanks for making me a Trekkie, Dad!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Valuable vs. Free

So, this is one of those kind of long, somewhat philisophical, almost political posts that connects two random thoughts knocking about in my brain. You've been warned!

A few months ago, I read this article on the American Library Association web site by D.J. Hoek and it really struck a chord with me. In it, the author makes the point that when it comes to public library advocacy and education people tend to really emphasize the fact that services and materials at the library are FREE. When in fact....those services and materials and databases and tools are NOT free. They're paid for by taxes or grants or fund raising or tuition and fees. Now, libraries are free in the sense that there is some level of easy/open access, and most goods and services do not cost anything out of pocket. But the most true statement is that libraries offer their community and customers a good VALUE. In our county library system, for example, an out-of-county library card costs $30 per year, because that's what finance has estimated as the amount per year per taxpayer that goes to the library budget. $30. Dollars. Per. Year. What a value! Access to high speed internet (okay, so "high" is maybe a stretch some days), hundreds of thousands of books, expensive academic databases, genealogy databases, educational and entertainment programs, author events, a job seeking lab, and expert research or reader's advisory assistance -- all for $30 per year. And you know that out-of-print book that the library doesn't own? Or the $200 academic door-stopper that you don't want to buy? Even if the library doesn't carry it, we can request it from out-of-system libraries through Interlibrary Loan. That does cost $2 out-of-pocket for shipping costs...but still, $2 is a lot cheaper that what you can buy it for.

The thing is -- and the Hoek makes this point as well -- by telling people over and over that the library is free, we are actually DEVALUING the library. If it's free, it must not be worth anything, right? I've used examples of tangible, physical library services, but the value of a library goes so far beyond just books and movies and internet access. You can read this article for examples of some of the more intangible benefits of a public library (now, I will say that as my political views lean more libertarian these days, I have some unique opinions on how a public library could and should be funded/run, but that's a discussion for a different post! It still doesn't diminish my passion for the vaule of public libraries). And librarians for the most part really GET the value of the library, and work very hard to make sure that each dollar is used to its full potential. We take care of our resources because they are limited (it's why we want those books back!) and because we are, in essence, stewards of a small bit of your hard-earned money.


The other day, I was thinking about other "free" things: free healthcare, free childcare, free schooling, free food. And the thing is, none of these things are actually free. Someone is paying for them. Sure, they may cost nothing to the customer/user. But those doctors/nurses/teachers/farmers/ranchers/shop owners are getting payed. Who is paying them? Obviously, government subsidised services are payed for through taxes. But even when those free services that are offered through non-government organizations, they still cost something. The doctor in Guatamala offering free care to poor families is giving of his own time and money. The non-profit food bank got that free food using monetary donations and funds. The school in Haiti run by an NGO is paying its staff with some kind of donation system. My point is not whether or not any of those things should be offered at no direct cost to the user. Again, that's a whole other debate. My point, is that by calling any no-direct-user-cost goods or service free we are devaluing those goods and services, regardless of who is subsidizing the program (public or private). If it's free, it must not be worth anything, right? It's subtle, and it's subconscious. And honestly, at times it's fake and disingenuous and sometimes condescending. I will admit, that there are times and places when the value of free goods and services is fully realized by everyone involved. And it's great. What would happen, if everyone started to recognize the value of "free" goods and services. Not in a way that divides the giver and receiver (because at some point, we are all a giver or receiver). But in a way that allows gratitude to grow and seep into our subconcious and become who we are. Just simply recognizing that all things come at a cost.

Think about that for a minute: all things come at a cost.

Food, water, shelter, education, medical care, toilet paper, indoor plumbing, art.



Because when something costs SOMEONE SOMETHING, it is infinitely more valuable.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Reading...The 5th Wave

The 5th Wave (The Fifth Wave, #1)

Ya'll. This book is SO GOOD. Here's the short Goodreads blurb: "After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one."

This book is the literary equivelant of the best kind of action movie. It sucks you in from page one and stays plugged into your brain even when you're not reading it. It's super quotable, full of snappy dialog (spoken and inner), and some truly great action scenes. But it's got a lot of substance too:  it's smart, well-written, with fleshed-out characters and a tight plot. And, like many science-fiction/post-apocolyptic novels, it asks those philisophical and existential questions like why are we (humans) here? What does it really mean to be human? Why do we fight to survive? Should we even bother? And I really can't say enough about these characters: I want them all to come live with me.

Bottom line: if you're in the mood for some smart, heart-felt, alien-invasion-style action, check out The 5th Wave, by Rick Yancey (fair warning: it's the first in a series).

Friday, May 17, 2013

Reading...The Shoemaker's Wife

The Shoemaker's Wife
The Shoemaker's Wife, by Adriana Trigiani...a list:

1. Italy!!!!
2. Food!! (seriously, this book should come with a warning label: do not eat while hungry)
3. Ciro
4. Turn-of-the-20th-Century New York
5. Opera

Do you like historical fiction? Read this book. Do you like an epic-style romance? Read this book. Are you willing to overlook or perhaps enjoy unrealistic coincidences that bring lovers together? Read this book. Do you enjoy detailed and lush descriptions? Read this book. Do you like books about families and family history? Read this book.

What are you waiting for?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Reading...Daughter of the Forest

Daughter of the Forest  (Sevenwaters, #1)It may be too soon to say this, but I think I may have found a new favorite author. I'd seen several people on other blogs mention Juliet Marillier as one of their favorite fantasy authors (most recently at The Book Smugglers) and I picked up Daughter of the Forest, first in the Sevenwaters series. And it was so, so good. It's historical fantasy, loosely based on an old fairy tale (The Six Swans) and set (very loosely) in ninth century Ireland and England. It's the story of a family torn apart by dark magic, about a cultural feud, about the whiles and whims of the fey, about brothers and sisters who will do anything for each other, and about a strong girl who sacrifices herslef in seemingly impossible ways.

So here's where I gush: the beautiful and lyrical writing was the perfect vehicle for this story and setting. It pulled me gently into the mystical forests of Ireland, and into a world that values storytelling and legends. The setting and story were magical and fairy tale-esque, but the rich characters kept the story grounded. Marillier also has a gift for writing relationships of all kinds -- friends, lovers, siblings, father-child, mentor-mentee, lord and cottager, human and nature, adversaries, and even the relationship between the earthly world and the fey. There's an interesting contrast in the book between the relationship of Sorcha and her brothers and the relationship between blood brothers Simon and Red (and, now that I think about it, the brotherly relationship between Red, Ben and John). I could picture the deep forests and lake surrounding Sevenwaters, and the gentle rolling hills and pastoral beauty of the Northern England estate. I was also impressed with the authentic conflict and tension in this book -- Marillier did not shy away from letting bad things happen on our characters' journey. There is genuine danger and grief in this story, as well as happiness and joy.

And last but not least -- the love story. Beautiful and quiet and epic and true. Here's a taste:

" matters not if you are here, or there, for I see you before me every moment. I see you in the light on the water, in the swaying of the young trees in thh spring wind. I see you in the shadows of the great oaks, I hear your voice in the cry of the owl at night. You are the blood in my veins, and the beating of my heart. You are my first waking thought, and my last sigh before sleeping. You are -- you are bone of my bone, and breath of my breath."

I mean. Come on. Are you swooning yet?

Bottom line: a beatiful, fairy tale fantasy.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Reading...Swimming at Night

Swimming at NightI mentioned Swimming at Night, by Lucy Clarke last week as my book-on-deck. It was passed along to me by a friend who was college housemates with the author's husband. (I guess friend of a friend would have been a bit shorter way of saying that, no?). It's the story about two sisters, about the way our relationships influence who we are, about choices and consequences.

The book opens with older sister Katie learning of her sister Mia's apparent suicide in Bali. Mia had been on a year-long traveling adventure with her best friend Finn. Katie, struggling to cope with her grief and understand why her sister would commit suicide, decides to read Mia's travel journal and follow in her footsteps to try and figure out what happned. The book is told from both viewpoints: alternating between Mia's experiences on her trip leading up to Bali and on Katie's journey to retracer her steps. As the story unfolds, we also learn more of Mia and Katie's history, more of their relationship, and some of the defining moments that have led up to where they are now.

I really enjoyed this book. Clarke did an excellent job at unfolding the story in a backwards-forwards kind of way -- the trip part of the story was the forward motion, the "what's happening now." But at the same time, Clarke begins to reveal more about the two characters as she tells us about their past as children, teenagers, and young women, even the events that led to Mia's trip to beging with. There's a lot of misplaced guilt in this book, and a lot of this-all-could-have-been-avoided-with-some-better-communication. But, that's kind of how life is, right? Hind sight is 20-20, and all you can do is move forward, hopefully learning from the past. That's another thing I liked about the book: there's a deep sadness for things lost, but at the same time, there's healing and hope for the future.

Another highlight of the book is the secondary character of the sea. You can sense the author's own connection with the water. Living in a beach town, I've met people who "like the beach" and people for whom being near the water is as essential as breathing. The people who have saltwater running through their veins and a permanent crust of sand on their feet and who feel claustrophobic if they spend too much time land-locked. Thinking about it now, I would say that the along with the well-drawn human characters, it's pervasive presence of the sea that keeps what could be an overly-dramatic plot from being overwraught.

Bottom line:  lovely writing, a tightly plotted dramatic story, well-drawn characters, sisters and the smell of salt water.

Friday, April 26, 2013


My reading life has been funny lately. The past few weeks have been busy. Every time I think "today is the day I curl up with my book for more than my lunch break or the 15 minutes before I fall asleep" I get sidetracked or distracted by things like Plus, there have been a lot of activities going on and I'm finding myself a bit ADD when it comes to what I'm reading. One day, I'll read book x, the next I'm reading some of book y, etc. I know a lot of people read this way regularly and on purpose, but I've not done that for a while. I think it's a response to not having as much time as I want to read. I'm trying to read ALL THE BOOKS at once. But it's making me a little crazy. I did read a Kristan Higgins book I hadn't yet: Just One of the Guys. I think it's one of her better ones, with a unique heroine, big family dynamics, small town charm, and an I'm-in-love-with-my-best-friend kind of romance -- sweet but with just the right amount of sizzle. I'm in the middle of reading The Walking, by Laleh Khadivi. It's about two Kurdish brothers from Iran, set right around the hostage crisis in 1979. So far, I'm entranced by Khadivi's beautiful writing, and her ability to tell a small part of the story of a people, through the experience of these two young men. Oh, and I just finished a non-fiction book (very rare for me, I'm not going to lie) How Israel Lost the Four Questions, by Richard Ben Cramer. Pretty interesting stuff. The author (a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist) has an easy way of presenting his points and telling the stories of the people he talked to. One benefit to reading a book written by a journalist: he's not unnecisarily wordy. Cramer comes off a little sarcastic and smug at times, but he very clearly illustrates how the conflict in Israel and Palestine is both complex and simple at the same time. And while at times he seems a little biased against Israel, it seems to me that it's because he sees a country he grew to love turning into something he doesn't recognize. It's a frustration born out of love and high expectations.

Waiting in the wings is Swimming at Night, by Lucy Clarke. I don't know much about this book, except that it's about sisters and it was written by the friend of a friend, so I'm looking forward to it.

So that's what I'm reading these days.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Reading Defending Jacob and Sixteen Brides

Defending Jacob
Defending Jacob, by William Landay is a fast-paced legal mystery. It was a book club pick, and generated quite a lively discussion about being a parent, what it means to support your children, and the classic comparison of nature versus nurture. Landay, a former attorney, is skilled at creating legal drama without letting the book get dry or heavy (fans of John Grisham would definitely enjoy this book). In addition to the tight writing, one of the book's strengths is in its narrator -- Andy is an assistant district attorney -- professional, experienced, expert. He narrates with the confidence of someone who is just giving you the facts of the story, someone who is used to being right. The thing is...Andy's pretty biased in relation to the story he's telling. You have to read between the lines to try and figure out what's going on, and even sure are you? This is certainly a plot-centric book, but with well-written characters to give it more depth.

(hmmm....why is it I seem to be posting thoughts about two books at once lately. Laziness?)

Sixteen Brides Sixteen Brides, by Stephanie Grace Whitson is a pleasant post-Civil War story about sixteen women -- mostly widows, with one divorcee -- who sign on with a company promising to help them secure land grants in the Nebraskan territories. When they find out that their guide to the territories is really trying to sell them off as brides, several of the women band together in the tiny town of Plum Grove, Nebraska to hold on to their original dream -- freedom, independence, and land of their own. Adventure, discovery, and romance ensue. I have a soft spot in my heart for Western romances -- I think it's the Missouri girl in me -- and I enjoyed meeting the residents of and newcomers to Plum Grove. I was inspired by their adventuresome spirit, by the way they fought against society's expectaions, and by the way they determined to make a life for themselves. My only complaint is that I wish Whitson had turned this into two or three books. I wanted more! The book focuses on five of the "sixteen brides," and I think the ladies got a little short-changed. There wasn't room for the kind of development the stories needed, and you ended up with a lot more "tell" than "show."

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Reading On the Island and Arranged

On the Island

Both of these books were light, quick, enjoyable romances. On the Island came across my desk at work and had an interesting premise, so I decided to investigate it (after all, I need to know which of my patrons to recommend it to!) so I took it home and flew through it in a weekend. Arranged caught my eye on a list of new women's fiction, it had a very intriguing premise, and it was available to check out as an ebook from my library. Since it was the premise of each book that caught my eye, here's a couple of very, very brief summaries: On the Island: a high school boy and his tutor are stranded on an uninhabited South Pacific island when their plane crashes on the way to meet the boy's family for the summer. Arranged: fresh off heartbreak, Anne Blythe (yes, named after my favorite heroine) calls what she thinks is a dating service but is actually an arranged marriage service. She's ready for marriage and burnt out on falling in it worth a shot?

On the Island: I was curious if this book was going to end up being....weird and/or gross. I mean, we can see where it's going right? But kudos to Tracy Garvis Graves for taking what could have been weird and making it into a survival story with a sweet, gradual, organic-feeling romance. First off, there's never any kind of tutor/student relationship that devleops. That's the set-up, but because the plane crashes the reality is during good chunk of the book the characters are just trying to survive and holding out hope that rescue will come. They're allies and friends, and come to depend on each other in a very basic, human way. In a you're-the-only-thing-keeping-me-from-going-crazy-we're-in-this-together kind of way. Slight spoiler: and you know, after two and a half years -- especially two and a half years of basic life or death survival -- T.J. isn't a boy anymore, he's a man. I completely bought that, and Graves did a good job in that development. The love between T.J. and Anna grew very slowly, and very naturally. My biggest complaint with this book is that it felt kind of emotionally flat, almost journalistic in its tone. But on the other hand, that tone may have kept it from feeling too melodramatic. Bottom line: if you aren't squicked out by May-December romances, give this book a try.

Arranged: I'm much more conflicted about this book. I was really excited about the premise of people forgoing modern dating in search of marriage and family and relational stability. I completely agreed when the company psychologist pointed out that lasting relationships take work and commitment and friendship, and that "falling in love" can sometimes set us up for dissapointment when that early relationship-rush fades. When it comes to long-term commitment, love is a choice. (Some days it's easy and glorious and you are 100% "in" love. Some days...not so much). Plus, the main character's mom is obsessed with Anne of Green Gables (the author is Canadian, by the way), so there are a TON of AoGG references in the whole story. LOVE. (relevant digression: there's a scene at the end where not only does Jack send Anne a pink enamel heart on a gold chain , but he quotes Gilbert in Anne of the Island as he's trying to win Anne back. Sa-woon. It's impeccibly done). I liked the main characters and even the supporting characters, who were relatively minor but completely sold every scene they were in. I was rooting for the couple to fall in love and make it work. BUT...I felt like this really original premise devolved into a very predictable romance -- guy and girl meet (albeit in an unconventional way)....guy and girl fall in love...girl find out that guy made a huge mistake and was lying to her the whole time...guy is genuinely sorry and tries to make amends...etc. It's not that I haven't enjoyed books (and movies) with that plot structure in the past, it's just that I was expecting something different. Bottom line: a fantastic, Anne of Green Gables-referential long as you're okay with a slight let-down.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A list

1. Finally got around to reading Birds of a Feather, book two in the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacquelyn Winspear. I love these books. Read them if you like post-WWI fiction, classic detective mysteries, descriptive (but not flowery) writing, layered characters, strong female leads, anything English.

2. Our book club had the most interesting and lively discussion we've had in a while last night, talking about the book Defending Jacob, by William Landay. It's a mystery-thriller with a somewhat unreliable narrater, a lot of questions, and not very many answers. Two words: nature vs. nurture (is that three words?) One member called it "haunting." Everyone (except me, because I've only been able to read it on lunch breaks) read it in two days. It's compulsively readable and fast-paced.

3. It's starting to warm up outside, which means it's time for iced coffee! Mmmm...iced coffee. With lots of milk.

4. Post-vacation I'm wanting to read books about/set it the Middle East (starting with Israel) -- fiction and non-fiction. But I'm overwhlemed because I want to read ALL THE BOOKS RIGHT NOW.

5. So it's time for another season of Ultimate Frisbee Spring League. Something about playing Ultimate makes me in the mood for a beer, so Sunday I had the most healthy dinner ever: french fries, beer, chocolate chip cookies. Makes me think of high school, when I'd eat a post-volleyball dinner of a McDonald's chocolate milk shake and large fries.

6. Can you tell? French fries are my kryptonite.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Reading two books

Die Siedler von Catan

An Irish Country Doctor

An Irish Country Doctor, Patrick Taylor

This book hit just the right notes for me. Set in 1970s Ireland, the book shares the story of a young doctor in his first job as the assistant to a small-town general practitioner. I'm predisposed to love anything set in Ireland, and the setting did not dissapoint, Taylor painted a clear and loving portrait of the country and of its small towns. The story moves at a leisurly pace, but to me it felt comfortable. There was a heavy emphasis on the medical stuff in the book -- the book is genuinely about a doctor -- which could be a turn off to some, but I enjoyed it. This is a very character-driven, slice-of-life kind of book and sometimes that's just what I'm in the mood for. Bottom line: I'm definitely checking out more from this author.

Settlers of Catan, by Rebecca Gable
Unfortunately, I don't speak German, so I read the English translation of Settlers of Catan, but I kind of love this original German cover. Settlers of Catan is, in fact, inspired by the board game of the same name. I was expecting an entertaining, campy fantasy. In reality, it read more like wonderfully done historical fiction centered around the Vikings (although, the setting and story were definitely made-up, I think the culture portrayed was obviously well-researched Viking-inspired). Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It was a strange combination of slow-paced with a what-happens-next readability -- the most boring book I couldn't stop reading. Like tubing down a lazy river, but never wanting to get out. The author explored issues of family, community, leadership, slavery, and religious freedom. The conflict between the community's old gods (Thor, Odin, etc.) and the growing presence of Christianity was particularly well done, and a good setting for smaller, more interpersonal conflicts as well. In addition, the character development was really fantastic. Candamir in particular was an extremely nuanced, layered character, but really all of the characters were fully three dimensional.  Bottom line: a superbly written historical fantasy for those who don't mind a long slow journey.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

odds and ends

So, I just got back into the country yesterday. Hubby and I went with my dad to Israel for 10 amazing days. It was my first time to Israel, and my first time anywhere in the Middle East. Awesome! I'm in a bit of a jet-lagged, post-vacation fog at the moment, but eventually I'll settle back into a routine. I'm in the middle of a book right now (Settlers of Catan...yes, it's inspired by the board game) and thinking of seeking out some good Middle Eastern literature for my next read. Also, anyone knowledgeable about oud music and musicians? I heard some while I was there and loved it. 

In the meantime, here's a list:

Rugged mountains
Banana trees, date palms, olive groves
Floating in the Dead Sea
History come to life
Lots of people in small spaces
Wading in the Jordan River and Sea of Galilea
Beach day in Tel Aviv
Walking and people watching

Friday, March 1, 2013

Reading Girl of Fire and Thorns

The Girl of Fire and Thorns (Fire and Thorns, #1)The Girl of Fire and Thorns, by Rae Carson is on the surface a fantasy story about a princess who becomes a hero. At it's core, it's a book about a teenage girl with a seemingly perfect older sister, low self-esteem, and a destiny/calling she can't quite wrap her head around. It's about a girl who learns to rise to the occasion, to believe in herself, and learns about frienship, family, and love.

I enjoyed a lot of things about this book. For one thing, I enjoyed the Spanish/Latin-inspired world. It's always nice to see a fantasy world that doesn't look exactly like Western Europe in the Middle Ages (not that I don't love those too). A very Catholic-inspired religion factors heavily into the story -- Elisa is the bearer of a godstone, a jewel magically (divinely?) placed in her naval at her christening (so...a supernatural belly-button ring?) which sets her apart as being chosen by God for some great purpose. It's interesting to see Elisa's relationship with this destiny -- she is very devout, but still has a lot of doubts and questions. She's been kept in the dark about a lot of things most of her life, despite years of study, so it's neat to see her process things when she makes new discoveries and revelations.

And speaking of her! She's got the self-pity thing going for a while, but it's great to see her overcome that. She really grows in a very realistic and organic way throughout the book. One other interesting aspect to the story, is that Elisa is very overweight through a big chunk of the book. Due to some external circumstances (a forced trek through the dessert and some other spoilery things I won't mention), she does end up losing some weight. Some reviewers have expressed disspointment that Elisa doesn't gain confidence until she loses some weight...but I think that her losing weight is only a small part of the journey Elisa makes. She doesn't even notice for quite a while how much different she looks physically. I think it's all the circumstances surrounding her weight loss that really cause her to change her view of herself. It is interesting though, to see her realize the power that comes with a more socially-acceptable body. Overall, I like the inclusion of this character aspect, and think Carson handled it well.

There wasn't really anything I disliked about the book -- some of the secondary characters were more three-dimensional than others, but all were well-drawn and real. I especially loved the two different priests that Elisa befriends and talks to -- each different and unique. While they each helped Elisa figure things out that further her journey (and the plot), they managed to be much more than just expositionary plot-devises. The romance didn't really make me swoon -- but I found it believable, and really to me this book was less about romance and more about Elisa's personal journey and that whole there's-a-nation-with-sorcerers-coming-to-slaughter-us thing. So kudos to Carson for using a light touch. It should also be noted that Carson is not afraid to kill off a character -- the danger is not imaginary, readers. The pace of the book was also really spot on -- the action moved along at a steady pace but never felt rushed. There was plenty of time for the introspection needed for me to really buy Elisa's growth, but it fit seamlessly into the plot.

Bottom line: an excellent coming-of-age book with magic, princesses, and fantasy kingdoms.

Friday, February 22, 2013

On the nature of appeal

A large part of my job is helping readers find their next book to read ("readers' advisory" in the jargon). My patrons and I talk about authors and books they like and don't like, and based on those conversations I'll try and pick out some books that they'll enjoy reading the next time around. There are lots of great tools out there for this (from Readers' Advisory databases to review web sites and book blogs), and I've learned (and am still learning) to ask certain questions when a person tells me about a book they did or didn't like, and to hone in on certain appeal factors when they do.

Immersed as I am in this discourse on books and stories (which, on a side note, is basically my favorite part of my job hands down), I am frequently struck by the wide variety of tastes among readers, and the difficulty sometimes in really honing in on what it is that a person finds appealing and enjoyable about a certain book. Sometimes you have to learn to read between the lines -- to listen to what a person means, not just the words they say. For example, I heard two of my patrons discussing 50 Shades of Gray, by E.L. James. Ms. B asked Ms. A if she'd enjoyed the book. "Yes, I'm really enjoying it," Ms. A said. "It's very well-written." My brain froze for a moment. Really? I thought. How interesting! Because, while I haven't read the book myself, everyone else I've talked to and every review I've read pretty much says the same thing: not well-written AT ALL (from a purely objective perspective, regardless of if that type of story is appealing). So in this case, I'm reading between the lines. Other reviews offer a more obviously objective and critical approach: this book is poorly written because of X, Y & Z factors. But Ms. A's review offered a more subjective, appeal-oriented approach: she enjoyed this book and enjoyed the writing style. TO HER, it was well-written because she enjoyed it.

Book appeal is so nebulous...unfixed and changing. I had a patron tell me once that as a retired English teacher she spent a lot of years reading books that made her think...and now she was ready to read some books that required no thinking at all! Even her personal appeal factors had adapted (although I'm pretty sure that because of her background, that person would particularly enjoy light, fun, easy-reading...but still objectively well-written books). Appeal can change from day to day, week to week, and year to year. Appeal is affected by your background, education, personality, mood, and current life situation. I did a paper once on the original appeal of Ian Fleming's James Bond books and the enduring appeal of the James Bond character today. James Bond's stories and adventures were so drastically different from the day-to-day lives of the post-war English men and women. But see...that was part of the appeal, to believe, even for a moment, that there was "life" beyond rations and rubble. My friends and I discussed this just the other day in light of the ever-changing interpretations of James Bond. Everyone's got their favorite...Daniel Craig, for example, exemplifies our more modern desire for a rough-around-the-edges-bad-ass-masculine hero.

When picking a "next read" for someone else or even for yourself, there are a lot of factors that inform that choice, either consciously or unconsciously. And sometimes it's as much about what a person doesn't say, as it is about what they do.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Reading A Memory of Light

A Memory of Light (Wheel of Time Series #14)
So, this isn't really anything close to a review, and promises to be even more rambly than most of my book discussions. Forewarned is forearmed and all that.
I finished a Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, the final volume in the mega and epic Wheel of Time series. I spoke a bit about the series a couple of weeks ago, so I'm not going to try and summarize much. Suffice it to say, this last book is the final showdown...tyng up loose ends, making some final plays, and the gathering together of people and nations and armies to fight The Dark One and his followers. 
Yeah, that about sums it up: pretty freaking fantastic. Here are some thoughts in list form (to keep them semi-coherent): 
1. So many times I've yelled at a character and questioned their choices and wanted to smack them repeatedly. Many, many characters in fact. But you know what...they've grown and learned and you really see that in this book. And it's awesome. 
2. The important loose ends get tied up, but with a surprising amount of open-endedness as well. I mean, part of me wants a "flash-foward twenty-years" type epilogue, but the other part of me firmly believes the ending was just right. I saw enough to get a vision of what could be...and to feel that these characters I'm so fond of still have life after the book is closed.
3. Brandon Sanderson makes me want to read battle scenes. That is no small feat.
4. One of the things I love about this series is the overarching theme of Hope, and you really see that in this book.
5. This book was quite an emotional roller coaster I spent a lot of time stressed out, crying, or fist pumping. 
6. Lots of twists and surprises. Lots of moments with me going "what?! what?! what?!"

Slightly Spoilery Section:
7. Ogiers!!!
8. Oh became such an awesome amazing leader. And the true definition of a badass. I will miss you. (although...I won't miss Gawyn, sorry. Not that I wanted anything to happen to him! But seriously...that guy is so. dense.)
9. Lan!!!!! Seriously, this guy...
10. Loved that Mat and Rand finally got to see each other. Loved their interaction
11. Talmanes! Who knew you were so cool. (and I seriously enjoyed the firing cannons out of a cave with no entrance. Genius!
12. Oh're the best. Seriously. You really proved (once again) in this book that at your core you care about people and about doing the right thing. Like Rand said -- you're a hero who will deny it to his last breath. I so much loved that memory Egwene had of you jumping in to save that child's life when you were a kid. And I hope you can somehow manage to completely undermine the crazy Seanchan society (especially that whole thing with enslaving women who can channel).
13. Min....finally, you grew on me. 
14. Moirane, I wish we'd gotten a little more time with you, but I'm so glad you were around. One of my first fist pumps was when you showed up at the fastly deteriorating meeting and completely schooled everyone. You're my hero!
15. Olver! 
16. Loved the father-son interaction.

So, those are some of my thoughts at this point. Well done, Robert Jordan and well done Brandon Sanderson. I feel I will be talking about this book to anyone I can in the next few weeks.  

Monday, February 11, 2013

Reading...Days of Blood and Starlight

Days of Blood & Starlight (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, #2)Christmas was good for me this year book-wise, and the first gift I picked up to read during the first days of January was Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor, the sequel to Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I LOVE these books. Immediately upon reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I passed it on to all my reader friends. Laini Taylor's writing is gorgeous and evocative. She has created a unique mythology, layered characters, and a story that is both beautiful and heartbreaking.

I won't say too much about Days of Blood and Starlight so as not to spoil it, but it's a seamless sequel. I'm not going to lie: there's not a lot of happiness or "good" in this second book -- but my husband is of the firm opinion that the job of the middle part of a trilogy is to present the case that all hope is lost (his classic example - Empire Strikes Back). The characters and plot continued to move forward, and we got to delve more into the world of the Seraphim and Chimaera. Karou, especially, went through a difficult transition in this book. At the end of the first book, she's faced with an epic betrayal by someone she loved fiercely and passionately. She has to come to grips with a whole bunch of conflicting emotions: grief and anger and the rememberance of love and hope all wrapped up in a package of guilt. I particularly enjoyed the character development of more of the secondary characters: Akiva's brother and sister, as well as some of the Chimaera. This book really explores the ideas of redemption, vengeance, atonement, consequences and how life isn't always black and white, especially in war. Like , Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Days of Blood and Starlight is a slow build to a pretty climactic ending and I can't wait to see how book 3 plays out.

Bottom line: why haven't you read these books?