Friday, December 27, 2013

Chunkster Challenge -- wrapping up . . .

Well, I admit it: I'm proud of myself.   Not only did I get back to blogging again, but I actually finished the one book challenge I signed up for.    The Chunkster Challenge (see my Challenged page) seemed like something I could handle, and as it turned out, I totally could.   I had signed up for the: Do These Books Make My Butt Look Big? level and was surprised by how many pages some of my choices actually had.

Looking back at what I read, I realized that some of these books were ones I picked up because of my book groups.  Catherine the Great was a re-read (and I liked it just as much the second time through) for a book group, and so was Reamde.   Out of all of the books, I think I enjoyed the ones by Stephen King and Joe Hill the most: NOS4A2 and Doctor Sleep.   And out of all of the big books, those are the two, along with Lonesome Dove, that I plan on re-reading in the future.

Now that I've finished the year, I think I'll probably take a pass on this challenge in 2014 (although if it turns out that I'm picking up big books, I might sign up after all.  I see there are no levels in 2014, which might make it easier for me).   But, it was a great challenge -- I did feel challenged to find some books, and it made me expand some of my reading boundaries.  Many thanks to the challenge hosts!  

Monday, December 23, 2013

Review: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

Summary (Courtesy of Goodreads):   A love story, an adventure, and an epic of the frontier, Larry McMurtry's Pulitzer Prize-winning classic Lonesome Dove, the third book in the Lonesome Dove tetralogy, is the grandest novel ever written about the last, defiant wilderness of America. Journey to the dusty little Texas town of Lonesome Dove and meet an unforgettable assortment of heroes and outlaws, whores and ladies, Indians and settlers. Richly authentic, beautifully written, and always dramatic, Lonesome Dove is a book to make us laugh, weep, dream, and remember.

And here's what I thought:  I love this book.  I've read it many times over the years, and my big paperback copy is now getting a little worn and yellowed.  But each time I read it, I enjoy it, even though I know what's going to happen in the story, because it's just such a great story.

For me, this book is the perfect example of how a wonderful storytelling sense can be combined with well-written, unforgettable characters, and merged with a steady pace.  From the beginning, we get a great sense of our main characters, and the life they're leading.  Even if you've never spent a lot of time out in the American West (or are that familiar with the history of the setting of the book), I think you get a good sense of what it was like.  McMurtry uses a lot of good imagery to paint a true sense of what life was like for the men and women who chose to live in places where things were dangerous a lot of the time.  And he doesn't shy away from details that are grim, which I like.  I don't want a sanitized version of things; I want something that makes me imagine what real life was like back then.

I admit, even though I know what's going to happen to the characters, I still get choked up at certain points.   Maybe it's because I get invested in these people each time I read the book --- because they're well-written.   Many of the characters are very compelling, not just the two main two (Call and McCrae).   And you don't just get one story here ---- there are a few running storylines that come together.  So, you get a sense of how intertwined people's lives could be, even if they intersect for only a short time.

The funny thing is, none of McMurtry's books have ever had the same kind of resonance with me.  I've tried a few, but I've never wanted to re-read them, and instead, just revisit this one book every so often.

There was a TV miniseries made of this book, which starred Tommy Lee Jones and Call, and Robert Duvall as Gus McCrae, and frankly, I think it's probably the best miniseries I've seen.  The casting felt spot-on, and now, that's who I imagine when I re-read the book.

You might think that westerns are your thing, and as a result, you might not pick up this book.  However, I'd encourage you to reconsider, especially if you like a page-turning adventure story, where the characters are compelling and sympathetic.   This is one heck of a book!

First lines:  When Augustus came out on the porch, the blue pigs were eating a rattlesnake -- not a very big one.  It had probably just been crawling around looking for shade when it ran into the pigs.  They were having a fine tug-of-war with it, and its rattling days were over.  The sow had it by the neck, and the shoat had the tail.

Chunkster Challenge info:  At 945 pages (paperback edition), this is the final book for my Chunkster Challenge.  Woohoo!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Review: Pantomime by Laura Lam

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):  R. H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic is the greatest circus of Ellada. Nestled among the glowing blue Penglass—remnants of a mysterious civilisation long gone—are wonders beyond the wildest imagination. It’s a place where anything seems possible, where if you close your eyes you can believe that the magic and knowledge of the vanished Chimaera is still there. It’s a place where anyone can hide.

Iphigenia Laurus, or Gene, the daughter of a noble family, is uncomfortable in corsets and crinoline, and prefers climbing trees to debutante balls. Micah Grey, a runaway living on the streets, joins the circus as an aerialist’s apprentice and soon becomes the circus’s rising star.

But Gene and Micah have balancing acts of their own to perform, and a secret in their blood that could unlock the mysteries of Ellada.

And here's what I thought:   This is one of those reviews where I have to figure out how I can write it without giving away any spoilers.  And believe me, it's tricky.

So let's see what I can do here.   As you can see from the summary, we have two characters, a boy and a girl, whose stories are entwined.   Actually, completely entwined.  Gene struggles against what her noble family expects of her, and the role that she feels she cannot completely play.   Micah joins the circus, unsure of what his place can turn out to be, and unsure of who he can trust.

The book has some twists to it that make it turn out to be something you might not expect.  For example, you might think there is some romance in this story... and there is, although it's not between Gene and Micah.  You might think there is a bit of fantasy here, and there is ... although it's not very well explained.  For example, there is mention of "the magic and knowledge of the vanished Chimaera" but not much else than the mention.   It's the kind of story that isn't set in a particular time period that you can establish, and the world-building isn't complete enough that I could really imagine the setting, other than the circus, too well.   But, if you think of the world of the book really being mostly the circus, itself, then I think it's a bit smoother.

The author has a descriptive writing style, and most of the time, I found I could imagine the various characters and settings.  I've read enough nonfiction books about circuses that I felt I could imagine the circus, itself, as well as the performers.

However .... this is the kind of story that left me feeling perplexed at times.   The flashbacks at times were confusing, because I felt they threw off the pace of the story.  The author sometimes hints at things that then don't really come too much to fruition.   I will say, the story did stick with me, mostly due to how the author handled Gene and Micah, and how unusual that pairing is.    And, ok, that's probably as far as I can go without giving away anything.

The Book Smugglers wrote a great review of this --- and a much better review than I could write on this book.

I thought this was an interesting story, although I didn't feel it was a "must suggest" to everyone else as a good read.   It kept me turning the pages, sometimes mostly out of curiosity, and I might just pick up the sequel when it eventually comes out.

First lines:  "Well, boy," the ringmaster said.  "What can you do?"
I swallowed.  The clown who had found me eavesdropping tightened his grip on my shirt.  "Pardon?" I asked.
He chuckled.  "Don't tell me you're simple.  What can you do?  Are you a fire-eater? An acrobat? A freak?"
I was a freak, but I could not tell him so.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Review: Heat Wave: The life and career of Ethel Waters by Donald Bogle

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):  Almost no other star of the twentieth century reimagined herself with such audacity and durable talent as did Ethel Waters. In this enlightening and engaging biography, Donald Bogle resurrects this astonishing woman from the annals of history, shedding new light on the tumultuous twists and turns of her seven-decade career, which began in Black vaudeville and reached new heights in the steamy nightclubs of 1920s Harlem.

Bogle traces Waters' life from her poverty-stricken childhood to her rise in show business; her career as one of the early blues and pop singers, with such hits as "Am I Blue?," "Stormy Weather," and "Heat Wave"; her success as an actress, appearing in such films and plays as The Member of the Wedding and Mamba's Daughters; and through her lonely, painful final years. He illuminates Waters' turbulent private life, including her complicated feelings toward her mother and various lovers; her heated and sometimes well-known feuds with such entertainers as Josephine Baker, Billie Holiday, and Lena Horne; and her tangled relationships with such legends as Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, Harold Clurman, Elia Kazan, Count Basie, Darryl F. Zanuck, Vincente Minnelli, Fred Zinnemann, Moss Hart, and John Ford.

In addition, Bogle explores the ongoing racial battles, growing paranoia, and midlife religious conversion of this bold, brash, wildly talented woman while examining the significance of her highly publicized life to audiences unaccustomed to the travails of a larger-than-life African American woman.

Wonderfully atmospheric, richly detailed, and drawn from an array of candid interviews, Heat Wave vividly brings to life a major cultural figure of the twentieth century—a charismatic, complex, and compelling woman, both tragic and triumphant.

And here's what I thought:   I admit, part of why I picked this up is because I'm trying to finish up the book challenge I signed up for ....   but also because I happened across it on my library's shelves, and I was curious.  I was familiar with Ethel Waters, but mostly by name only.   After reading this book, I now feel like I know not only about Ms. Waters, but also about some of the history of Black performers in the United States.

The author has written other books, and it appeared that he did exhaustive research for this book.  He takes the reader from Ethel Waters' childhood all the way up to her death, and gives you so much detail that you feel like you're right there with her most of the time.   Ethel was an extremely talented performer, and it was interesting to read about not only how she started out in her early performances, but also how she continued to build upon her success .... and pick herself up when she wasn't as successful and find a way to keep going.   I like how Bogle would give additional information on other performers, and explain not only what the entertainment atmosphere was for Black performers, but also how Waters influenced other performers.  He writes not only about women like Ma Rainey, whose style impacted Waters, but also how Waters' own style was influential on other artists, as well.

As I mentioned, Mr. Bogle puts a lot of detail into this book.  I will admit that a few times, I skimmed ahead a bit, because I was bogged down a bit.  However, the book overall is very interesting, and a good read.   After reading this, I'm interested in finding more information on some of the other artists mentioned in the book, and I'd like to try to find some recordings to listen to, as well.  

First lines:  With only a few minutes to curtain time, Ethel Waters stood in the wings of Broadway's Empire Theatre, ready to take her place onstage on the evening of January 5, 1950, in the drama The Member of the Wedding.  Though nervous, she knew she could not let her nerves get the best of her.  After all, she had made countless entrances countless nights before in countless theaters and nightclubs around the country.

Chunkster Challenge info --- 624 pages.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs ---- trailer!

I don't think I've ever posted a book trailer on this blog before ....   but I'm really looking forward to this book, and the trailer is just too cool not to share:

Monday, December 9, 2013

Review: The Onion Girl by Charles DeLint

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):
In novel after novel, and story after story, Charles de Lint has brought an entire imaginary North American city to vivid life. Newford: where magic lights dark streets; where myths walk clothed in modern shapes; where a broad cast of extraordinary and affecting people work to keep the whole world turning. At the center of all the entwined lives in Newford stands a young artist named Jilly Coppercorn, with her tangled hair, her paint-splattered jeans, a smile perpetually on her lips--Jilly, whose paintings capture the hidden beings that dwell in the city's shadows. Now, at last, de Lint tells Jilly's own story...for behind the painter's fey charm lies a dark secret and a past she's labored to forget. And that past is coming to claim her now. "I'm the onion girl," Jilly Coppercorn says. "Pull back the layers of my life, and you won't find anything at the core. Just a broken child. A hollow girl." She's very, very good at running. But life has just forced Jilly to stop.

And here's what I thought:   Several years ago, I discovered this author in my library, and I read book after book, glutting myself on his stories.   And then, I felt a little too full (kind of like gorging on a delicious meal ... until suddenly you feel a bit stuffed and sick).    But, since then, I have come back again to some of his books, and re-read them over a few times.  

I have sometimes wondered just what it is about this book that has made me pull it from my shelf for an occasional re-read.  Maybe it's the author's blending of stories, where there are elements of Native American tales and mythology, with a contemporary setting and characters, and then adding in a dream world.   Maybe it's some of the characters, who I feel I'd like to know in real life.  I'm not sure, but either way, every time I read this book, I enjoy as much as I did the first time.

As you can see from the summary, this story focuses on Jilly, an artist who has just experienced a horrible accident.   While she has created a life and family of friends for herself in Newford, it seems like she can never quite escape her past.  

The story alternates between Jilly's waking time in Newford, recovering, but also her time spent in the dreamworld, where there are people who can walk between both worlds.   It's a beautiful, but dangerous place to be.   DeLint does a wonderful job of creating both places, I think.  Newford seems like a place I could actually see being possible (more or less), and in my mind, I imagine it being like a much smaller version of Chicago --- or perhaps a place like Louisville or Minneapolis.   The dreamworld he creates is wonderful and scary, and I like how it can be somewhat different for the people who can enter it, like Jilly and some of her friends.

And speaking of her friends, there are recurring characters in many of DeLint's stories, like Jilly, which I like.  I feel like when I encounter them, that I already know them, or know of them through another character.  He imbues a lot of them with some pretty interesting characteristics, which make them memorable.

I will say, though, that the one thing I can get a little frustrated with is that sometimes, it seems like the author is weaving in too many storylines.   They sometimes get a little tangled, and then it seems like they speed up to converge and get resolved at the end, which can feel a little rushed.  In this book, we have Jilly's story, as well as that of her long-lost sister, and those two storylines are enough.  However, there are some other threads running through the story that at times can become too convoluted.

But, overall, I do enjoy this book each time I read it.  If you're new to DeLint, I would recommend beginning with some of his short stories, to introduce yourself to Newford and some of the characters.   That way, you have some familiarity before venturing into a full-length novel.

First lines:  Once upon a time ...
I don't know what makes me turn.  Some sixth sense, prickling the hairs at the nape of my neck, I guess.  I see the headlights.  They fill my world and I feel like a deer, trapped in their glare.  I can't move.  The car starts to swerve away from me, but it's already too late.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Review: The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):   Her new novel, The Story Sisters, charts the lives of three sisters–Elv, Claire, and Meg. Each has a fate she must meet alone: one on a country road, one in the streets of Paris, and one in the corridors of her own imagination. Inhabiting their world are a charismatic man who cannot tell the truth, a neighbor who is not who he appears to be, a clumsy boy in Paris who falls in love and stays there, a detective who finds his heart’s desire, and a demon who will not let go. What does a mother do when one of her children goes astray? How does she save one daughter without sacrificing the others? How deep can love go, and how far can it take you? These are the questions this luminous novel asks. At once a coming-of-age tale, a family saga, and a love story of erotic longing, The Story Sisters sifts through the miraculous and the mundane as the girls become women and their choices haunt them, change them and, finally, redeem them. It confirms Alice Hoffman’s reputation as "a writer whose keen ear for the measure struck by the beat of the human heart is unparalleled" (The Chicago Tribune).

And here's what I thought:   Some of my favorite books are by Alice Hoffman.  While I don't always love every book, I do love some of them enough that I re-read them from time to time (like The Ice Queen and Blue Diary).   And this one?   Well, I think I'll be ready for a re-read at some point, too.

There are several things that I enjoy in this book, and in other books by Alice Hoffman.  I like that she will work in small elements of magic into the real world, sometimes just in a whisper-thin amount, so that it feels completely believable, even as it may be unrealistic.  You think to yourself that magic does surely exist in this world, even if you've never experienced it in such a degree as her characters.   And speaking of her characters, Alice Hoffman doesn't shy away from creating flawed characters -- and I like this, as well.

In this story, we have three sisters, although a lot of the focus is on Elv, the eldest sister who is flawed, but fascinating.  At times, it's very difficult to like her at all --- but I found it impossible to not keep turning the pages because I found her to be riveting.    Elv's influence and impact on her sisters and her mother and grandmother drive a lot of the story.   Claire and Meg are no less compelling, and when their lives diverge from Elv's, they are still quite connected.

One of the other things I enjoy about Hoffman's books is her writing style.  She doesn't just turn phrases in a way that make you clearly see a place, or a person, but she has the ability to evoke a lot of emotion (at least, for me).   Even if I don't necessarily feel a connection to a character, I can feel a connection to something they are feeling.   Here's an example, from page 110, where Elv is with a horse she is taking care of: "Jack banged his body against his stall and whinnied like crazy when Elv got there in the morning.  When she whistled, he came right over, like an enormous, well-trained dog.  Sometimes she sat in the straw in his stall and just talked to him.  He looked at her with his big dark eyes and she felt tears rising.  Not crocodile years, but real ones.  Maybe when she left she would steal him.  Or she would leave his stal door open and he could run away and be free.  The horses didn't judge Elv by the way she looked or discvern that she was marked and ruined.  They didn't care that something had happened to her and that one saw who she was."

Hoffman doesn't shy away from some of the ugly things in this world, and truly, what happens to the sisters in this story isn't always pleasant.  In fact, it is something that happens to Elv as a child that impacts everyone else, both shaping Elv and the people around her.  Even as there are slight magical elements, there is realism that grounds the characters and the story.

First lines:  Once a year there was a knock at the door.  Two times, then nothing.  No one else heard, only me.  Even when I was a baby in my cradle.  My mother didn't hear.  My father didn't hear.  My sisters continued sleeping.  But the cat looked up.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Review: Perfect Ruin by Lauren DeStefano

Summary (Courtesy of Goodreads):  On Internment, the floating island in the clouds where 16-year-old Morgan Stockhour lives, getting too close to the edge can lead to madness. Even though Morgan's older brother, Lex, was a Jumper, Morgan vows never to end up like him. She tries her best not to mind that her life is orderly and boring, and if she ever wonders about the ground, and why it is forbidden, she takes solace in best friend Pen and her betrothed, Basil.
Then a murder, the first in a generation, rocks the city. With whispers swirling and fear on the wind, Morgan can no longer stop herself from investigating, especially when she meets Judas. He is the boy being blamed for the murder — betrothed to the victim — but Morgan is convinced of his innocence. Secrets lay at the heart of Internment, but nothing can prepare Morgan for what she will find — or who she will lose.

And here's what I thought:  I liked the author's previous series, the Chemical Garden books, so when I saw this was a different series opener (Internment Chronicles), I thought I'd give it a try.  I really like the worlds that the author sets up, because I think they're not only imaginative, but thought-provoking, as well.  In this book, the characters live in a world that floats in the clouds, where everything is very strictly regulated (including births and deaths).   At first, it seems like all is well, although there are so many rules.  However, it becomes apparent pretty quickly that no, not everything is well -- there are several cracks in the veneer of "it's a wonderful life" going on.

The author's writing style is descriptive, and she has a nice flow to not only the pace, but the character development.  I found Morgan to be an appealing and sympathetic character, and I liked how, as the story progressed, that her views on her world seemed to open up, and she became more mature.  The supporting characters are just as good -- her best friend, her brother, and her brother's wife are all interesting and developed.

One of the other things I liked in the book was that in the world the author has created, there seems to be a blend of the somewhat futuristic, and the archaic, both in objects and in language.  For example, there is some kind of field that keeps this place floating, but at the same time, they rely on simple-sounding electricity and plumbing.   On page 18, it's explained: "The city's electricity is generated by the glasslands, which is a series of panels and globes that gather the sun's energy and store it so that it can be converted into electricity.  But there are ground technologies we don't use because the king believes they would complicate our world, make it too dangerous.  The king says that the ground makes people greedy and wasteful, while the people of Internment are resourceful and humble."   It reads in the book like people are using solar energy, and composting technology -- but it makes you wonder what's going on below, on the ground.     The language, as well, is an interesting combination of things.  For example, Morgan has a betrothed Basil, who is apparently her fiance' in an arranged marriage.  The word "betrothed" is one that we often think of as old-fashioned.   Similarly, Morgan at one point refers to her future years, where old people live in what's called "dodder" housing.  "Doddering" is a verb that we don't really use a lot (at least, I don't hear it used a lot).

And speaking of the dodder housing, remember how I mentioned that in this world, things are strictly regulated?  On page 138, for example: "That's how long we have left - not quite sixty years, give or take a few months.  At age seventy-five, we'll be dispatched in order to make room for new births.  To live beyond our useful years would be selfish.  That's how we show our gratitude to the god in the sky.  We live our lives, and then when we have no more to give but our lives, that's what we do."

There are a lot of thought-provoking elements to this story, and really, that's one of the things I've grown to like about this author.  She doesn't shy away from things, or putting elements into a story that might be a little disturbing.   There's a lot to think about, beyond the individual characters and what they are doing, and instead, you find yourself contemplating the greater world that the author has created.

This is the first in a series, and I'll be interested to see where things go.   And I shall attempt to now wait patiently for the next book.   Sigh.

First lines:  We live encapsulated by the trains.  They go around in a perfect oval at all hours, stopping for thirty-five seconds in each section so the commuters are able to board and depart.  Beyond the tracks, after the fence, there's sky.  Engineers crafted a scope so that we can see the ground below us.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

A very Happy Halloween to you!

headless boy 2.JPG

This is a new photo I took and modded.  This little boy is found in Woodlawn Cemetery in Des Moines, Iowa.   Nothing like finding a headless figure .... and then making it a little spookier with some photo effects.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Miss Peregrine sequel coming soon!!!

Hollow City, the sequel to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs, is coming soon!   I absolutely loved the first book, so I am all kinds of excited for this new book to arrive.  

Quirk Books has an excerpt, if you'd like to see it (and then also get all kinds of excited for the book to arrive).  I wish it were coming in time for Halloween, but it won't be here until January.   sigh.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Review: Reality Boy by A.S. King

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):  Gerald Faust knows exactly when he started feeling angry: the day his mother invited a reality television crew into his five-year-old life. Twelve years later, he’s still haunted by his rage-filled youth—which the entire world got to watch from every imaginable angle—and his anger issues have resulted in violent outbursts, zero friends, and clueless adults dumping him in the special education room at school.

Nothing is ever going to change. No one cares that he’s tried to learn to control himself, and the girl he likes has no idea who he really is. Everyone’s just waiting for him to snap…and he’s starting to feel dangerously close to doing just that.

In this fearless portrayal of a boy on the edge, highly acclaimed Printz Honor author A.S. King explores the desperate reality of a former child “star” who finally breaks free of his anger by creating possibilities he never knew he deserved.

And here's what I thought:  I admit that I don't really watch much reality tv based on people's personal lives.  What I mean is, I watch Top Chef and American Pickers, and once in a while, I admit to a few episodes of Counting Cars and House Hunters International.   But, I don't have much interest in watching any of the Housewives or the Karsdashians.  Just not my thing.

However, when I read about this book a few months ago (when I ordered if for my library), I was completely intrigued.  Because even though I don't watch reality TV shows that focus on the personal lives of people, it doesn't mean that I'm not aware of them.  And I sometimes wonder what life is really like for some of them, especially after the show has finished.   This book takes that premise and gives us Gerald, a young man who is working on managing his anger issues, and just getting through his life. His family is completely dysfunctional (and actually, a little hard to believe .... but then, if you think about some of the f-'d up families on TV, maybe not too hard to believe after all), and it's easy to see why Gerald is so angry.

What I found really compelling about the book is that you have this 17 year-old who is talking about what's going on his present-day life, but reflecting back on moments when he was 5, and on camera all the time.  It's a perfect way to see how much his life has been shaped by what happened when he was a small child, and how, even now, as a young adult, he is still struggling.   The author has a way of making everything seem very realistic, and Gerald's a very sympathetic character.   The way that he reacts to not only his family, but the other kids at school (who, of course, think they know everything about him, since they watched the TV show), and even strangers he encounters.   In fact, the one encounter he has with a woman at a hockey game is one of the most touching moments in the book (at least, I thought so).

And speaking of characters, while Gerald is compelling, the supporting characters are really well-written, as well. His one sister, Tasha, who is his main tormenter, is seriously scary -- sociopath scary.  And his mom is scary in a different way, because she seems to tune out everything and act like Tasha's perfectly fine.  Reading about them is like seeing a car crash on the side of the road; you don't really want to look, but you kinda can't stop yourself.

I really enjoyed this book, even as I worried sometimes for Gerald, because I got completely caught up in it.  I found myself wanting to reach out and give this kid a hug, because I felt that connected.

First lines:  I'm the kid you saw on TV.  Remember the little freak who took a crap on his parents' oak-stained kitchen table when they confiscated his Game Boy?  Remember how the camera cleverly hid his most private parts with the glittery fake daisy and sunflower centerpiece?  That was me.  Gerald.  Youngest of three.  Only boy.  Out of control.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Review: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):   On highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless—mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. But as Dan Torrance knows, and spunky twelve-year-old Abra Stone learns, The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the “steam” that children with the “shining” produce when they are slowly tortured to death.

Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father’s legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and a job at a nursing home where his remnant “shining” power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes “Doctor Sleep.”

Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan’s own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra’s soul and survival. This is an epic war between good and evil, a gory, glorious story that will thrill the millions of devoted readers of The Shining and satisfy anyone new to the territory of this icon in the King canon.

And here's what I thought:   I finished this book, choked up a little, and said, out loud to myself, Good Book.  Good Book!

If you weren't already aware, this book is the sequel to The Shining --- and while you don't need to have read the book (or seen the movie) to enjoy this book, it doesn't hurt to have some of that background knowledge.   At the end of the book, in the author's note, King says, "I enjoyed finding Danny Torrance again and following his adventures.  I hope you did, too.  If that's the case, Constant Reader, we're all good."     I have not read The Shining in several years, but that didn't stop me from remembering parts of it, and having enough to link things together in this book.

This book, like Joyland, reminded me of what I really enjoy about some of Stephen King's books: the great storytelling.   I find I get swept up in the characters, and the story, and the steadily increasing pace, and then time just slips away as I turn the pages.   I appreciate that King doesn't rely on blood and guts to relay the sense of horror.  I delight in how he conveys the sinister things that we may see just out of the corner of our eye, the shadowy bits just slipping around a corner, and the sense we have about some people that something's just not right.   I enjoy his characters, especially young women like Abra in this story, who are smart.    I like that the characters are often pretty realistic people (even if they might have some extra special qualities) and are fallible, and that their faults can threaten to undo them completely.   I appreciate the supporting characters, who often have more to them than meets the eye.   I'm always pleased that there are little bits of humor to periodically lessen the tension.

I also like that King gives me no guarantees.  There is no guarantee that all of the good characters will make it through the book unscathed, or even alive.   There is no guarantee that once they discover the bad person or people, that they will triumph in their first meeting.   I can't necessarily predict what's going to happen, and it keeps me invested, and turning the pages.

If you don't think you like Stephen King, try this book.   Well, maybe try Joyland first.  This book benefits from a read-through of The Shining (and don't think you can get by just on the movie alone .... while the movie is pretty good, it's nowhere near as good as the book).  I think anyone who thinks "Stephen King = horror" should perhaps try my spin on him: Stephen King = one helluva storyteller.

First lines:  On the second day of December in a year when a Georgia peanut farmer was doing business in the White House, one of Colorado's great resort hotels burned to the ground.  The Overlook was declared a total loss.  After an investigation, the fire marshal of Jicarilla County ruled the cause had been a defective boiler.  The hotel was closed for the winter when the accident occurred, and only four people were present.  Three survived.  The hotel's off-season caretaker, John Torrance, was killed during an unsuccessful (and heroic) effort to dump the boiler's steam pressure, which had mounted to disastrously high levels due to an inoperative relief valve.

Note: this book goes towards fulfilling my goal for the Chunkster Reading Challenge -- at 528 pages.


We have reached October, my favorite month.  It's my birthday today -- and while that's not why October is my favorite month, when I get to this day every year, it's a good time to reflect and also to look ahead.

To me, October means cool weather (please!  after enduring summer, I would like the coolness to kick in ....), apples, leaves changing color, and Halloween.   It's a good month to start back up with more visits to cemeteries.   And, it's a good month to post some cemetery photos.

Happy October, everyone!

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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Review: Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads): Pulitzer Prize winner Sheri Fink’s landmark investigation of patient deaths at a New Orleans hospital ravaged by Hurricane Katrina – and her suspenseful portrayal of the quest for truth and justice

In the tradition of the best investigative journalism, physician and reporter Sheri Fink reconstructs 5 days at Memorial Medical Center and draws the reader into the lives of those who struggled mightily to survive and to maintain life amid chaos.  After Katrina struck and the floodwaters rose, the power failed, and the heat climbed, exhausted caregivers chose to designate certain patients last for rescue. Months later, several health professionals faced criminal allegations that they deliberately injected numerous patients with drugs to hasten their deaths. 

Five Days at Memorial, the culmination of six years of reporting, unspools the mystery of what happened in those days, bringing the reader into a hospital fighting for its life and into a conversation about the most terrifying form of health care rationing.

In a voice at once involving and fair, masterful and intimate, Fink exposes the hidden dilemmas of end-of-life care and reveals just how ill-prepared we are in America for the impact of large-scale disasters—and how we can do better.  A remarkable book, engrossing from start to finish, Five Days at Memorial radically transforms your understanding of human nature in crisis.

And here's what I thought:  This book was a big mix of scary and fascinating.  The author, who did exhaustive research, writes the first half of the book, which focuses on the five days at the hospital like a tension-filled thriller.  As a reader, you feel like you don't want to keep reading .... but you must.  And this is the stuff of nightmares, at least, for me.  

In the second half of the book, the tension is relieved somewhat, but it still retains some of it, but reads more like a half legal novel/half legal examination.  That's not to say that it didn't remain a page turner, but I felt the pace of it slowed down a bit (which makes sense).  

The author really delves into a lot of different facets of what happened in the aftermath of Katrina, when the floods brought the worst devastation to the hospital.   She details not only what the doctors and nurses were facing, but what some of the patients, themselves, went through.  She includes detailed floor maps at the beginning, so you can go back and reconstruct what you're reading about. Because she brings in so much detail, it all felt very vivid.   Which is great ... and kinda awful at the same time.

Reading this book gave me insight into many things, including how poorly not only this hospital, but other hospitals, have been prepared for disaster.  The events caused by Hurricane Katrina shone a spotlight on just how poor communication was, and how awful planning was.   It's an eye-opening read just for this.    Is it a book for everyone?  Definitely not.  However, I found it to be fascinating, and a worthy read.

First lines:  At last through the broken windows, the pulse of helicopter rotors and airboat propellers set the summer morning air throbbing with the promise of rescue.  Floodwaters unleashed by Hurrican Katrina had marooned hundreds of people at the hospital, where they had now spent four days.  Doctors and nurses milled in the foul-smelling second-floor lobby.  Since the storm, they had barely slept, surviving on catnaps, bottled water, and rumors.  Before them law a dozen or so mostly elderly patients on soiled, sweat-soaked stretchers.

Note: This book, which weighs in at 486 pages (and that's not including the acknowledgments and notes) will go towards my goal in the Chunkster Reading Challenge

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Review: Joyland by Stephen King

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):  "I love crime, I love mysteries, and I love ghosts," says Stephen King, who has combined these elements into a wonderful new story. Joyland is a whodunit noir crime novel and a haunting ghost story set in the world of an amusement park.

It tells the story of the summer in which college student Devin Jones comes to work as a 'carny' in small-town North Carolina and has to confront the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and the way both will change his life forever. It is also a wonderful coming-of-age novel about friendship, loss, and your first heartbreak. Who dares enter the funhouse of fear?

And here's what I thought:  Reading this just made me happy.   As soon as I started it, I knew I was going to settle in and enjoy myself.  King keeps it pretty simple here, with one main character, and some supporting characters, but with a focus on a specific place and a specific time.  He doesn't spread the story out over years, but instead, focuses on a pretty short time period.  That's not to say that not much happens; on the contrary, quite a bit happens.  There is a lot of character development, and a lot of story packed into this book.

One of the things that I liked about this book was that the pacing was consistent, and then, towards the end (of course), it sped up a bit.  But, even though there was some reflection going on by the main character from time to time, I didn't feel like there was any choppiness, or stalling out.  I also liked that this book had a realistic set of characters, and a realistic setting, with the bit of the supernatural edge to some of it.   This is something I've liked in other books by Stephen King, and I actually prefer it over the more horror-focused stories.  Plus, throw in an old amusement park as a setting, and I'm hooked.

I have read almost all of Stephen King's books and find that I enjoy his later books more than his early books.  Sure, the first time I read Christine, I thought it was cool.  And I think I was maybe 10.   But going back for a re-read a few years ago, I just didn't like it as much.   The books I find I enjoy tend to be ones that he wrote later on, like It, and Bag of Bones, The Stand, Insomnia....

This is a smart book, with a lot of appeal.  I found it to be a page-turner, and it kept me thinking after I had finished it, which I appreciate.

First lines:  I had a car, but on most days in that fall of 1973 I walked to Joyland from Mrs. Shoplaw's Beachside Accomodations in the town of Heaven's Bay.  It seemed like the right thing to do.  The only thing, actually.  By early September, Heaven Beach was almost completely deserted, which suited my mood.  That fall was the most beautiful of my life.  Even forty years later I can say that. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Review: MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):  A man-made plague has swept the earth, but a small group survives, along with the green-eyed Crakers – a gentle species bio-engineered to replace humans. Toby, onetime member of the Gods Gardeners and expert in mushrooms and bees, is still in love with street-smart Zeb, who has an interesting past. The Crakers’ reluctant prophet, Snowman-the-Jimmy, is hallucinating; Amanda is in shock from a Painballer attack; and Ivory Bill yearns for the provocative Swift Fox, who is flirting with Zeb. Meanwhile, giant Pigoons and malevolent Painballers threaten to attack. 

Told with wit, dizzying imagination, and dark humour, Booker Prize-winning Margaret Atwood’s unpredictable, chilling and hilarious MaddAddam takes us further into a challenging dystopian world and holds up a skewed mirror to our own possible future.

And here's what I thought:   I have been eagerly waiting for this book, which is the third in a trilogy.   I had just re-read Oryx and Crake and After the Flood last December, so they were really fresh in my mind.

One of the things I enjoy the most about Atwood's books is that while they are entertaining, they make me think.    This trilogy brings up a lot of issues, like bioengineering gone wrong, and what it would mean to try to survive in a world where almost all of the humans have died.  Heavy stuff --- but somehow, it doesn't make for a depressing read.  Instead, I find myself wondering about what it would be like to have things like rabbits that glow in the dark, or pigoons.  And let me just say ... the whole Chickie Nobs Bucket o'Nubbins was something that stuck in my head after I read the first book, Oryx and Crake.   

What I think is immensely cool is that Atwood uses real things, like the properties of real plants, in the story.   She says, in the Acknowledgments section, "Although MaddAddam is a work of fiction, it does not include any technologies or biobeings that do not already exist, are not under construction, or are not possible in theory."    It's a bit sobering to think that some of these things that exist in the story, could potentially exist in a world that wanted them.

While the settings are vivid, it's the characters and the wonderful storytelling that makes it all come together for me.  Not all of the characters in this book are necessarily wonderful people.  However, they are compelling; when you are learning about their story, you are curious, and want to know more (well, at least I did).   And the humans are made even more human by the comparison to the Crakers, the engineered people created before the huge disaster.   It's a clever way to show characteristics of the different groups.

I did like how Atwood very nicely gave a recap of the stories from the first two books, at the beginning of this one.  Having it all there, before you start the story, is helpful --and I found it really got me in the mood of the story.

The one drawback I found in the story is that now, after waiting for this book, I have gulped it down .... which means I will need to wait to see what the author writes next.   sigh.

First lines:  In the beginning, you lived inside the Egg.  That is where Crake made you.  Yes, good, kind Crake.  Please stop singing or I can't go on with the story.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

TBR jar ---

I've been seeing TBR jars mentioned around the blogosphere -- like here -- and here -- and here.

Managing a TBR (to be read) list is something I've struggled with in the past.   When I started out, I typed books into a spreadsheet I mean, it seemed like a smart idea: easy to do, easy to organize, easy to sort, etc.

And then ..... it grew out of control.   Soon, it was past 100 books.  Then, 200 books.  And somehow, it wasn't fun ... it was scary.  And overwhelming.

You might be wondering how the list got so huge.  Well, since I'm a librarian, and I purchase books for my library, I'm always reading journals, and book reviews.  And blogs.  So, I come across descriptions of good-sounding books all the time.   It's pretty easy to have your TBR list get out of control as a result.

So, back to the spreadsheet.  I deleted it.  Cold turkey.   I figured there was no way I'd get to all those books, especially since every time I opened the spreadsheet, I felt like hyperventilating.

When I saw the ideas for a jar, I thought I could make this work.  After all, it might get full, but it would only make it more attractive.   So, I grabbed an antique jar I had, and some slips of colored paper ---- and now, voila!  TBR jar!     I'm thinking that my bag of library books will dwindle by the end of next week, which will give me the perfect opportunity to dip into the jar.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Book Blogger Hop ---- what are your beginnings?

Billy over at Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer has kindly taken up the mantle of hosting the Book Blogger Hop (thank you!).    This week's question, submitted by Judy, is: What got you started as a blogger?  Everyone has a story/reason -- what's yours?

I started blogging because I had started reading book blogs, and liked that even though they were all different, there was this common theme of sharing thoughts on books.  There was also this feeling of community that appealed to me.   I've always been a book addict, but had never really thought about sharing my own thoughts on what I was reading, beyond the occasional comments to my husband, or my co-workers.   For a long time, I worked in an office, where no one really seemed to talk about books.   Of course, that all changed when I got my MLIS and became a librarian ---- now, I work with people who love to read, and talk about books.  

Anyway, getting back to the whole blogging thing (sorry, I got off track for a moment there) ---- I decided that if all of these other people could write about what they were reading, I could too.   As I said, I also liked that there was this feeling of community -- that even someone like me, who is pretty shy by nature, could feel like I was part of a bigger group, where there could be some back-and-forth discussion.   Looking back at some of my early posts, I cringe a bit.  However, now that I've been blogging for a while, I feel like I've become more comfortable with my writing style.

I'm looking forward to seeing what other bloggers have to say on this!  

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Review - Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):  Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND PARK is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.

And here's what I thought:  A friend of mine at work mentioned Rainbow Rowell and how awesome she was .... and now I know this to be true.

I absolutely LOVED this book.  And once I picked it up, I didn't want to put it down -- which meant that I stayed up way too late one night to finish it.  And then, when I was finished, I just wanted more.

I really liked how the author wrote both characters, and how realistic, and different, that they were.   I also really liked how you get the viewpoints from both of them.   The way that the two of them feel about each other, and how that changes through the story was so well written, that it felt completely natural.  The ups and downs that they go through also seemed very realistic.  There wasn't a moment where I thought, oh no, school wouldn't be like that, or that character is unrealistic -- and this was with all of the characters.  I wound up really caring about both of them, but especially Eleanor, who I worried about the whole way through the book.  I just wanted to scoop her up, and take her away from her family.   To have that kind of emotional reaction to a book is pretty rare --- and I really liked that I got that caught up in it.   This is a love story that you can appreciate even if you've never met someone like Eleanor or Park.  You don't have to be a teenager to enjoy it, either --- this is one of those timeless-seeming stories that I think would appeal to many readers.

I will admit, I was a freshman in high school in 1986 (so yes, now you can figure out about how old I am), and while I wasn't listening to all of the music mentioned in this book, I was listening to some of it then, and then in the years following high school.   So, reading about Morrissey, and The Smiths, and Skinny Puppy, and all the other music made me want to go through my CDs and my iTunes and just listen.   I'm sure there are playlists out there that people have made in response to this book, but here are some of the songs on my list (which aren't limited to just 1986):

Dear God by XTC
There is a Light that Never Goes Out by The Smiths
Cities in Dust by Siouxsie and the Banshees
A Strange Kind of Love by Peter Murphy
Assimilate by Skinny Puppy
I'll Fall With Your Knife by Peter Murphy
Pictures of You by The Cure
Walking in My Shoes by Depeche Mode
Light by KMFDM
Asleep by The Smiths
Kinda I Want to by Nine Inch Nails
Thieves by Ministry
Hole in the Ground by Sister Machine Gun
Marian by Sisters of Mercy

First lines:  XTC was no good for drowning out the morons at the back of the bus.  Park pressed his headphones into his ears.  Tomorrow he was going to bring Skinny Puppy or the Misfits.  Or maybe he'd make a special bus tape with as much screaming and wailing on it as possible.

Wordless Wednesday -- Bibbit

Bibbit under MayApples

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Review: Codex Born by Jim Hines

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads): Isaac Vainio’s life was almost perfect. He should have known it couldn’t last.

Living and working as a part-time librarian in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Isaac had finally earned the magical research position he dreamed of with Die Zwelf Portenære, better known as the Porters. He was seeing a smart, fun, gorgeous dryad named Lena Greenwood. He had been cleared by Johannes Gutenberg to do libriomancy once again, to reach into books and create whatever he chose from their pages. Best of all, it had been more than two months since anything tried to kill him.

And then Isaac, Lena, and Porter psychiatrist Nidhi Shah are called to the small mining town of Tamarack, Michigan, where a pair of septuagenarian werewolves have discovered the brutally murdered body of a wendigo.

What begins as a simple monster-slaying leads to deeper mysteries and the discovery of an organization thought to have been wiped out more than five centuries ago by Gutenberg himself. Their magic rips through Isaac’s with ease, and their next target is Lena Greenwood.

They know Lena’s history, her strengths and her weaknesses. Born decades ago from the pages of a pulp fantasy novel, she was created to be the ultimate fantasy woman, shaped by the needs and desires of her companions. Her powers are unique, and Gutenberg’s enemies mean to use her to destroy everything he and the Porters have built. But their plan could unleash a far darker power, an army of entropy and chaos, bent on devouring all it touches.

The Upper Peninsula is about to become ground zero in a magical war like nothing the world has seen in more than five hundred years. But the more Isaac learns about Gutenberg and the Porters, the more he questions whether he’s fighting for the right cause.

One way or another, Isaac must find a way to stop a power he doesn’t fully understand. And even if he succeeds, the outcome will forever change him, the Porters, and the whole world.

And here's what I thought:  This is the second book in this series, after Libriomancer, which I really enjoyed.   In this book, Hines seamlessly picks up from where the first book left off, and while he continues that storyline, he spends some time also giving some back-story to Lena Greenwood, who we meet in the first book.

One of the things I really like about Jim Hines is that he writes a great female character; he spends a lot of time making Lena seem very realistic, in her mannerisms, and her emotions, especially.  He also treats her fairly ---- and what I mean by this is that he doesn't spend tons of time describing what she looks like, but instead, spends time creating who she is.  I'm mentioning this because it seems like there are a lot of stories where the male character is rounded out as a realistic person, while any female characters have the focus more on what they look like, and how they thus relate to the male character.   This is something I find annoying when it happens.  If you don't do this to a male character, then don't do it to a female character, okay?

But, I wouldn't expect anything less than this from Jim Hines.  I've read other books by him, and I've met him at conventions, and I read his blog on a regular basis.   He's a nice guy, and he's an intelligent guy.  And, I agree with his views on a lot of things .... especially on issues of gender.

So, that being said, I'll get back to my views on the book.  I liked everything about this book, except that it had to end, and that I now have to wait for the next book.   This is something that always happens with a good book, doesn't it?  You get all excited about it, and you sit down, and get all caught up in it, and then ..... you're done, and you have to wait for the author to write the next one.     I think Hines does a nice job of combining storytelling that has elements of humor, and drama, with characters that are interesting (and frankly, people I'd like to hang out with in real life).   I love his idea of libriomancy, where talented people can reach into books and pull things out. But, I also really enjoyed his exploration of things like werewolves, and dryads, and how these people relate to the people around them.  The background he gives Lena is really interesting, and now, I feel like I know her character so much better.  And, okay.... I also really like Smudge, the fire spider.  I mean, he's so cool.....

I get the impression that Jim Hines really enjoys writing, and that makes his books a treat to read.

First lines:  As a libriomancer and a researcher, this was one of the moments I lived for.  I loved that this brilliant, untrained fourteen-year-old girl had just shattered an entire body of magical theory.  I hated the fact that I couldn't figure out how she had done it.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Book Blogger Hop ----- born this way

Billy over at Ramblings of a Coffee Addict has very generously taken up the mantle of hosting the Book Blogger Hop (thank you!).      I'm trying to get back on track with blogging, to post at least one review a week, and one other post ---- so the Hop is great incentive for me.  :)

This week's question, which comes from Kero, is: Were you a born bookworm or did somebody get you into the habit of reading?

I was born into a family of readers, so I guess being a bookworm is genetic.  My parents started me off with how to read at a very early age, and I know my older sister also helped me --- but pretty quickly, I was off and running.  Once I figured out the basics, there was no stopping me; I would read anything I could get my hands on.  Whether it was a book, or a magazine, or even the back of a cereal box, I would read it (or at least try to).    I'm the youngest in my family, and my siblings are 8 and 11 years older than me, so while there was a lot of reading material in the house, some of it was beyond where I was at, reading-wise.    However, I was always several grades ahead with my reading-level, so being surrounded by material (and a family of readers) encouraged that.

Going to the library was always a lot of fun, too.  My brother or sister would walk with me (we could walk to the library from my house, although part of the walk was on a busy road), but as soon as I could go by myself, I would go and fill up my arms with books.  My mom would also sometimes take me to the library at the Art Institute in Chicago.  Although we couldn't check out books, it was always nice to sit there and read with her.

Now that I'm a librarian, I've got access to all kinds of books and reading material (which is wonderful, and also sometimes a bit awful --- too many books, too little time!)

I hope everyone is having a wonderful Friday -- and reading some good stuff!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Review: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):  Tana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown’s gates, you can never leave.

One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a wholly original story of rage and revenge, of guilt and horror, and of love and loathing from bestselling and acclaimed author Holly Black.

And here's what I thought:  I was fortunate enough to get an ARC of this book at ALA, so I was able to read it before it comes out in September, 2013.   Holly Black is an author I'm familiar with, so I expected to enjoy this book --- and I did.

I liked the original idea here of the Coldtowns, where the people inside are quarantined, and where the outside world, while separated, is still very much affected.   The concept was cool, and the author did a great job of crafting the whole thing, whether it was the physical aspects of the Coldtown, or the people inside.  I also liked how she made the media an integral part of how people on the outside both romanticized and feared the Coldtowns.    I also really liked that she brought in realistic elements into the Coldtowns, like how if you entered one, you'd need to bring a lot with you, because everything worked on a barter system (smart!)

I also thought the first chapter was one of the best I've read in a long time.   It doesn't happen all the time, but it's wonderful when a first chapter starts out and you find you're reading faster and faster because you want to know what's going to happen next.    And speaking of chapters, Holly Black did something I found really added an interesting flavor: she adds a little quote at the start of each chapter.  These are quite varied, and I made sure I was reading each of them, because they were each like a little treat.  For example, "And what the dead had no speech for, when living, they can tell you, being dead.  The communicated of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living." - T.S. Eliot

As far as characters went, I thought Tana was written well.  As a main character, there's a lot of background explained for her, and I felt she was pretty realistic.   Our two main supporting characters are her ex-boyfriend, Aidan, and a edgy, bad-boy vampire named Gavriel.  I actually thought Gavriel was a much more interesting character than Aidan (and frankly, wished Aidan would just get eaten up and disposed of).  And, as far as vampires go, there were some interesting details in this book, which I always appreciate.   After all, how many vampire books can you read without feeling like the subject material has been beaten into a dry pulp?

However, the overall feeling I got from this book was that it was a bit of a bumpy ride.  As much as I liked some of the concepts and characters, the pacing felt really off at times.  There's no doubt in my mind that the book is well-written, and Holly Black has a deft hand with her prose.  She spent time with backstory, which I understood, but somehow, it sometimes felt a bit forced in -- kind of like when you're driving fast in the far left lane, and you come up behind someone going slow, and you have to take off your cruise control.

So, overall I thought it was okay.  This book is a nice combination of the familiar and the new, with a couple of interesting characters.  Was it the best book I've read this year?  No, but it's a pretty good one.

First lines:   Tana woke lying in a bathtub.  Her legs were drawn up, her cheek pressed against the cold metal of the faucet.  A slow drip had soaked the fabric on her shoulder and wetted locks of her hair.  The rest of her, including her clothes, was still completely dry, which was kind of a relief.  Her neck felt stiff; her shoulders ached.  She looked up dazedly at the ceiling, at the blots of mold grown into Rorshach patterns.  For a moment, she felt completely disoriented.  Then she scrambled up onto her knees, skin sliding on the enamel, and pushed aside the shower curtain.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Book Blogger Hop ---- what to do when faced with a request

I feel like I've been away from my blog forever .... probably because I haven't had much to say about the books I've been reading.    I haven't participated in Book Blogger Hop for ages and ages .... but the question this time caught my eye, and it's been interesting to read what other bloggers have had to say.

Book Blogger Hop is now generously hosted by Billy at Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer, and this week's question (from Elizabeth at Silver's Reviews) is:   If you don't like a book that you said you would review, do you graciously turn it down and explain why or do you struggle through it and hopefully come up with a half decent review?

I have had this happen in the past, where I accept a request for a review, and then the book just isn't my cup of tea. I usually manage to put together as balanced of a review as I can, but sometimes, I find myself making a list of what I liked and didn't like, so I can make sure I'm being fair.   I realize that every reader might have a different reaction, and just because a book didn't resonate with me when I read it doesn't mean it's a bad book -- it just means that when I read it, it wasn't my kind of book.  

I have had it happen, however, where I can't figure out how to write a review like this --- basically, where I just didn't like the book at all.    When this situation came up, I contacted the publisher who sent it to me and politely explained that I was having a really difficult time with my review, and it wound up that I just didn't post my review, and passed the book along to another reader.   I'd rather be gracious about it, and contact the publisher (or whoever sent it to me) than post a review that really doesn't have balance, or have anything positive to say.

These days, I am very careful about the books I accept for reviews.   Mostly, it's because my time is more limited than it used to be, and I can barely keep up with my own reading for my 2 library book groups, plus the other books I check out.    However, I also don't want to accept a book that I think doesn't sound like my kind of book --- it's a potential waste of my time, but even more importantly, it's a waste of the publisher or author's time if I accept it, and then wind up dragging my heels on a review.   I'd rather a book go to the right reader who's going to enjoy it.

You can see everyone's answers to the Hop question here, on Billy's blog.    

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Wordless Wednesday --- Venice building at night

Venice night buildings 1.jpg

Can you believe this is unretouched?  It looked like this right from my little camera!  
See MORE WW here ....

Monday, July 22, 2013

Review: The Humans by Matt Haig

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):  “I was not Professor Andrew Martin. That is the first thing I should say. He was just a role. A disguise. Someone I needed to be in order to complete a task.”

The narrator of this tale is no ordinary human—in fact, he’s not human at all. Before he was sent away from the distant planet he calls home, precision and perfection governed his life. He lived in a utopian society where mathematics transformed a people, creating limitless knowledge and immortality.

But all of this is suddenly threatened when an earthly being opens the doorway to the same technology that the alien planet possesses. Cambridge University professor Andrew Martin cracks the Reimann Hypothesis and unknowingly puts himself and his family in grave danger when the narrator is sent to Earth to erase all evidence of the solution and kill anyone who has seen the proof. The only catch: the alien has no idea what he’s up against.

Disgusted by the excess of disease, violence, and family strife he encounters, the narrator struggles to pass undetected long enough to gain access to Andrew’s research. But in picking up the pieces of the professor’s shattered personal life, the narrator sees hope and redemption in the humans’ imperfections and begins to question the very mission that brought him there.

And here's what I thought:   I thought this was an interesting, thoughtful, clever, touching, and amusing book.   I suppose that's a lot to say about one book, but I enjoyed how this book made me think, and feel, when I was reading it.

The way that the author sets up the book (as you can see from the summary), we have a narrator who is observing everything through a lens of being a non-human --- so he's able to be very removed from everything, whether it's about himself, or the people around him, which makes for a fascinating, and often amusing, perspective.   The way that "Andrew" learns about himself, and people in general, is interesting because he doesn't have many reference points, and the ones he does have just sound academic.  Imagine reading about a human in a science textbook the way that we might read about an animal in the wild, breaking it down into dry paragraphs about diet, habitat, lifespan, etc.   Andrew's perspective is usually pretty dry, which results in many things sounding pretty humorous.  This isn't to say that I laughed out loud when I was reading -- but I did smile to myself from time to time.

One of the other things I found interesting about this book is that Andrew isn't just learning about humans in general, but he's learning about what it is to be human, with all of the subtleties, and complications that we have.

I think what really makes this an enjoyable read is the author's writing style.  Sure, you have an interesting story, but without the wonderful writing, the story would fall completely flat.  Everything in this book is in first-person, from Andrew's perspective, and the way that he sees things is pretty unique.    Here's an example from page 32:

Humans, as a rule, don't like mad people unless they are good at painting, and only then once they are dead.  But the definition of mad, on Earth, seems to be very unclear and inconsistent.  What is perfectly sane in one era turns out to be insane in another.  ... Basically, the key rule is, if you want to appear sane on Earth, you have to be in the right place, wearing the right clothes, saying the right things, and only stepping on the right kind of grass.

I also liked how Andrew starts the book as being a somewhat cold observer, intent on fulfilling his assignment, and then as he learns more, he warms up, and becomes more sympathetic (to humans, and also, becomes a more sympathetic character, himself).    I liked how he started to relate to his wife, and his son --- and also, their dog, Gulliver (who, by the way, is a great character).   Reading this book is like going on a steady exploration of something you've never seen before, and then recognizing that you're kind of exploring your own self at the same time.   

First lines: I know that some of you reading this are convinced humans are a myth, but I am here to state that they do actually exist.  For those that don't know, a human is a real bipedal life form of midrange intelligence, living a largely deluded existence on a small, waterlogged planet in a very lonely corner of the universe.
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