Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Review: Uprooted

Warning: ahead be spoilers. Continue at your own risk.

I was looking for a book that was a good October read (fantasy or something equally unique) that wasn't a series, a fete increasingly hard to accomplish. I had begun listening to it a few months ago, and it was interesting, so I gave myself a reason to carry on.

I am so glad I did. That was one rocking, rollicking ride!  Every time I thought a storyline was resolved and wondered what in the world could come next, Naomi Novik came up with something totally original, logical to the story, and fantastic. 

It felt like an Old World fairy tale, and the audiobook reader had a Polish accent - which, after reading the afterward, made total sense. I also thought it was brilliant to include Baba Yaga, the European witch of lore, and introducing Jaga was a very subtle move to provide that element and make it feel as old as that tale.

As much as I love the first line — indeed, the first paragraph — the story started out a little slow for me, which is why I set it aside the first time. I am a firm believer that books should contain only the "good stuff," and the beginning felt like it wasn't doing that. But it was, I saw when I started it again, and the writing was clever and interesting, and the characters were rich and full-bodied, and the dialog was conducive to the story and true to the tale/characters/timeframe.

Our heroine, Agnieszka, is an amazing, strong character. She respects the Dragon, but allows her fear to ebb and even dissolve when she needs to. Her power she discovered in the Wood was brilliant: almost a "knock it off!" power. I like her when she's angry, and when she needs to solve issues on her own, and when she puzzles through a problem. It's her love of her home and the people in it that saves her, and them, and ultimately the Dragon.

The women in this book were well-written characters, sometimes literally strong enough to carry everyone else. The strongest Wizard, the warring monarch, the most flexible Witch, the townsperson who could ask for help ... all amazing women and robust characters.

My heart hurt when the story of the Wood-queen came to light. Like Agnieszka and the people of the land, I saw the Wood as evil, when it was so much more tragic and complicated than that.I loved Agnieszka's natural solution, and how she became the best of the girls who left the castle: she was no longer of the people, but she was their advocate and protector. 

At times, I was exhausted by the story: what else could possibly move it along? What other plot complication was worthy and logical? What else could I face as a reader?  The chapters were not all cliffhangers, which was nice; that is an exhausting trick to pull on readers, Γ  la Lianne Moriarty (of whom I am now a fan). I followed Agnieszka's logic: okay, Kasia's safe and we can save people, so what now? okay, so we saved the Queen, what now? So, the Queen is pure, what now? We found the bestiary, what now? Crap, war, well, okay, darned Wood, but — wait, who is in on this? Why? What now, Ms. Novik, can you possibly trot out with any success? oh, fine, you win, and I will follow you and Agnieszka as far as you take me.

I somehow pictured the Dragon as Gandalf rather than Aragorn, so the initial magical lust between the Dragon and Agnieszka sort of freaked me out. However, their relationship was wonderful: he was all " discover your power, Grasshopper," and she was all "you may be the Dragon, but I know I am right and you'd better recognize." and the moment when he revealed why he put her in the heavy "princess" gown? Priceless. (I thought that's what all girls want.) And she was so much more practical. Talk about preconceived notions!

The ending was perfect. While I didn't need the sex scene, it made sense, moving them past teacher/student into equals and mutual adults. However, for me, the joining of their powers for spells was very intimate and trusting and loving. The Summoning for Kasia was such a loving and generous act, and changed them forever. Their relationship at the end was so well-suited for the: she remained a mess and open, he remained neat and gruff, but they were perfect for and accepting of each other. They respected and valued each other, and were powerful and fulfilled apart and together.

I am still glowing from that book. Crazy, but true. I discovered that listening is much slower than my own reading, so I need to factor that in when necessary. I don't want to listen to every book, or even listen exclusively rather than read it myself — but some books I want read to me, and this fairy tale fit the bill.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Review: Origin

I love Dan Brown. From Angels & Demons to The DaVinci Code, he was on-point. I'll never forget the early excitement and thrill of the chase with the brilliant Harvard swimmer — er, professor.

But my love for Robert Langdon and his adventures thins out in subsequent novels, and Origin doesn't revive it.

In fact, I stopped reading Brown's latest novel about a quarter of the way through.I feel like I kept reading a lot longer than I wanted, but I was trying to get to the "good part" before I surrendered.

Origin made me start counting how many ways smiles could be used as adjectives. The villain nearly twirled his big black mustache every time he appeared on the page. The villain was so much like Silas, deep in his misguided faith in his boss and his deity, I kept expecting references to albinism.

I appreciated Brown's patient, thorough, and loving description of the Guggenheim Bilbao; someday, I may return to the book just to see to what other geographic locations he spreads the love.

If the Robert Langdon series remain as formulaic and tedious as Origin, perhaps Brown can branch out and consider taking up travel writing, or write art catalogs; everyone wants to visit a place or view art someone else loves, and Brown obviously loves his locations, and the museums and art in them.

What I don't appreciate is Brown's repetitive story elements. Robert Langdon's claustrophobia. His athletic swimming abilities, and how that keeps him trim and youthful-looking. His ability to attract perfect specimens of femininity, and for them to have an instant, perfect, and lasting attraction. That aspect of his character is very "daytime drama," falling deeply in love with every beautiful, toned, and brilliant heroine with whom he shares an adventure, then having to explain away the deep, true love in the next novel because he's destined to fall in love as deeply and truly with yet another perfect woman. I've grown tired of the perfect physicality and intellectualism of Langdon and his partners, and the perfect villainy of Langdon's foes.

Somehow, other series I read don't inflect this tedium. Stephanie Plum, Flavia de Luce, Encyclopedia Brown, and Jackaby all seem to be fresh and new (though, to be fair, I'm not sure I can take Stephanie's love triangle much longer). I understand some familiar story elements needs to be re-introduced, or at least referred to, in each book to clue in new readers. However, it isn't supposed to seem to readers as if the author globally replaces words in an old manuscript to create a new book.

Robert Langdon doesn't have to save the world from God yet again. Maybe he doesn't have to save the world at all. Like Indiana Jones, who also doesn't know how to retire, maybe it's time for the Pilgrim to hang up the Mickey Mouse watch. Being a cranky professor who can recite his lectures verbatim from memory isn't a good look for such a dashing adventurer.

Have you read Origin? What did you think? Am I wrong? Comment below or email me!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Summer Reading: Did You Make It Count?

Happy autumn! 

It's been a busy reading summer. I tried to keep the pages turning relatively consistently as the summer progressed, but at times battled reading ennui

However, I refused to be thwarted, and managed to get a couple dozen books under my belt under the summer sun — or in the summer air conditioning. Either way, I read.

I didn't beat my personal best — that would be summer 2015 — but I read widely and bravely. Plus, I read multiple books at a time, so my TBR shelf continues to groan from books begun in the heat of summer.

I re-read The Magicians, because the author will be at this year's Fall for the Book Festival When I originally read it a few years ago, I really wanted to like it. This summer, I can honestly say I liked it, and have just begun reading the second novel in the series. 

I discovered some great graphic novels, including one about a young girl with cystic fibrosis and her older sister's understanding of loss. In contrast, I did not like a new-to-me graphic novel by Neil Gaiman — which may sound heretical, but is completely true. Graphic novels also taught me a little more about love, patience, and dementia.

As always, many — okay, most — of the books were not on my original summer reading list. I don't mind so much this year, in part because it was more important to me that I read, rather than read specific tomes. I wandered the library as an antidote to my self-diagnosed reading ennui, and I reminded myself the books I didn't read yet will be there when I'm ready.

Here is the list of the books I read for the 2017 Summer Reading Program between Friday, May 26 and Sunday, September 24:
  1. The Magicians πŸ“²
  2. Ghosts πŸ“²
  3. Gwendy’s Button Box πŸ“²
  4. Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? πŸ“²
  5. Yesternight πŸ“–
  6. Paws and Effect πŸ“²
  7. My Cousin Rachel πŸ“–
  8. Murder Under Cover πŸ“–
  9. The Graveyard Book Graphic Novel, Vol. 2 πŸ“–
  10. Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire πŸ“–
  11. Other Wordly πŸ“–
  12. Wrinkles πŸ“–
  13. The Clockwork Scarab πŸ“²
  14. Star Wars: Jedi Academy 1 πŸ“²
  15. The Case Against Sugar πŸ“²
  16. Pride and Prejudice πŸŽ§
  17. The Handmaid’s Tale πŸ“² πŸŽ§
  18. Forgotten Bones πŸ“–
  19. My Best Everything πŸ“–
  20. The Lies That Bind πŸ“–
  21. Anna Karenina πŸ“–πŸ“² πŸŽ§
  22. Big Little Lies πŸ“–
  23. The Inexplicable Logic of My Life πŸŽ§
  24. Speaking From Among the Bones πŸ“–
  25. The Burning Page πŸ“²
  26. Ruined πŸ“–

I mixed up my media, spending time on the page via print (πŸ“–), e-book (πŸ“²), and audio (🎧) — and, in one case, all three with a single book.

Only two books were read totally audio. I will always love the lyricism of Benjamin Ailres SΓ‘enz's prose, and I suspect Jane Austen was written to be read aloud.

The books I enjoyed least were, surprisingly enough, written by my favorite authors. I think Cat Winters really misstepped in her "adult" novel, and Forbidden Brides was, in my opinion, not one of Gaiman's finest stories.

I adored spending time with teenagers in the company of novelist SΓ‘enz, whose characters showed great maturity and restraint. Alas, Sarah Tomp's teens didn't show the same maturity, which may serve as a lesson as to what moonshine is capable of doing to reasonable people.

I got a few more classics under my belt, including a story that remains creepily prescient three decades after its original publication — and others that remind us that, in the words of a modern poet, love is love is love is love is love.

I tried steampunk and found it little gritty and weird. I didn't realize how important the "steam" was to steampunk, so I learned something new.

As always, my reading will help others: Main Street Child Development Center will receive $5 per book, and my public library will receive three new books.

How was your summer reading? Did you read more than you expected? Were you surprised by the novels you liked the most or least?  Do tell! Feel free to comment below, or send me your thoughts.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Summer Reading: August Reads

August was my month away from most social media (and a few other distractions), so I finished quite a few books.

I got into a groove with a few graphic novels. I laughed, I cried, I coveted the skill of illustration. (My stick figures frighten children, so I don't doodle. I take copious notes. Seriously, people, even my less than stellar handwriting is better than my doodles.)

I met a few characters I never knew, including relatives of daring adventurers pressed into service in a steampunk world and an impetuous man-child who really needed the very role model he lost.

I indulged my new interest in mystery novels with a couple of ridiculously fun novels that featured smart women and their cats. (I could have done without the romance, but at least one of the series isn't too sappy about it.)

I read a new novel by an old favorite author — and hated it.

I read a book I read once before, a few years ago, and all the while kept wondering why it was so familiar.

And, just hours before August began, I finished listening to what I think may have become one of my favorite books. A second Desert Island Book. What a treat!

Of course, many of the books on my TBR pile remain there, but I am okay with that. I enjoyed what I have read, and I can't wait to tell you more about my summer reading.

What have you been reading? Where did you get your books? Would you recommend any of them to others? Do tell!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Gone Reading!

August is Summer Reading Program go-time!

Looking for a good book? E-mail me for suggestions, or pick a title or two from my summer reading list:

  • The Descent
  • Wolf Hall
  • Bone Season
  • The Keeper of Lost Things
  • The Book of Harlan
  • The Clockwork Scarab
  • Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter 
  • The Sixth Extinction


See you in September — let's compare our reading list successes then!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Summer Reading: The July Update

My summer reading is progressing deliciously. I continue to savor the wonderful Pride and Prejudice, days after the final words were spoken to me by the lovely Rosamund Pike.

I loved that book not just because the audio version was wonderful, but the book itself was amazing. I knew the story from various resources, but each different performance could nowhere nearly match the magic of the original. I suspect I shall re-read this classic more than once in the coming years.

Additionally, I think I found another Desert Island Book.

But Darcy Love aside (and I mean Elizabeth), I am enjoying the summer. I stay up much later than I should and choose books based on my whim.

To date, I have finished the following:
  1. Ruined
  2. The Burning Page
  3. Speaking from Among the Bones
  4. The Inexplicable Logic of My Life
  5. Big Little Lies
  6. Anna Karenina
  7. The Lies that Bind
  8. My Best Everything
  9. Forgotten Bones
  10. The Handmaid's Tale
  11. Pride and Prejudice


I am currently reading:
  1. Star Wars: Jedi Academy
  2. The Miniaturist
  3. The Clockwork Scarab
  4. The Fall of the House of Cabal
  5. The Reluctant Fundamentalist


Yes, I really am reading five books at a time. I will need to restart (again!) my final Cabal book because it's a little slower-moving than the previous ones. Jedi Academy is way too cute to postpone, and I am on the fence on whether I appreciate steampunk London. I read the first two chapters of #6 as soon as it arrived in the mail, and I can't wait to return.

I do not expect to break any reading records this summer, but I am fine with that. What I want to do is enjoy a few books, and I have been able to do so thus far.

How goes your summer reading?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Listening to the Classics: How They Were Intended?

What if we are meant to listen to classic novels?

I asked myself that as Rosamund Pike thrilled me this evening with her reading of Pride and Prejudice, a well-known romance novel with a timeless plot and enjoyable characters. (My personal favorite re-telling is set in India with a cast that included the former Miss World. And elephants. And hijra.) 

As I listened to the actress who played Jane in a Hollywood version reading (and appreciate the stuffy and breathy Mr. Collins all the more because of her), I realized the cadence and presentation of the language easily lent itself to audio enjoyment. (Thanks, Audible!)

I also thoroughly enjoyed Juliet Stevenson reading Sense and Sensibility last year — so much so that I purchased the book to enjoy again. 

I have listened to Anna Karenina being read by Maggie Gyllenhaal (but only snippets so far), and was transfixed by the throaty tones of the reader and her obvious affection for the work.

David finished The Picture of Dorian Gray with the assistance of Simon Vance, another favorite narrator.


I have to admit, I was very skeptical about audiobooks until my friend Melanie began listening to them, and Caitlin Moran wooed me with her self-narrated memoir How to Be a Woman.

To be fair, I have not found all audiobooks to be enjoyable, usually when I was not in the mood to listen to them. However, every classic novel I have read I have enjoyed, and the luxurious language has been delicious when delivered directly to my ears by a favorable reader.

Are you inclined to listen to a classic novel via audio? If so, which have you enjoyed? If you haven't ventured into the world of audio classics, which would you choose to start your journey?