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August 23, 2016

The Tenth Circle



The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult
Fiction
2006 Atria Books
Finished on March 30, 2016
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Trixie Stone is fourteen years old and in love for the first time. She's also the light of her father's life--a straight-A student; a freshman in high school who is pretty and popular; a girl who's always looked up to Daniel Stone as a hero. Until, that is, her world is turned upside down with a single act of violence... and suddenly everything Trixie has believed about her family--and herself--seems to be a lie.

For fifteen years, Daniel Stone has been an even-tempered, mild-mannered man: a stay-at-home dad to Trixie and a husband who has put his own career as a comic book artist behind that of his wife, Laura, who teaches Dante's Inferno at a local college. But years ago, he was completely different: growing up as the only white boy in an Eskimo village, he was teased mercilessly for the color of his skin. He learned to fight back: stealing, drinking, robbing, and cheating his way out of the Alaskan bush. To become part of a family, he reinvented himself, channeling his rage onto the page and burying his past completely... until now. Could the young boy who once made Trixie's face fill with light when he came to the door have been the one to end her childhood forever? She says that he is, and that is all it takes to make Daniel, a man with a history he has hidden even from him family, venture to hell and back in order to protect his daughter.

The Tenth Circle looks at that delicate moment when a child learns that her parents don't know all of the answers and when being a good parent means letting go of your child. It asks whether you can reinvent yourself in the course of a lifetime or if your mistakes are carried forever--if life is, as in any good comic book, a struggle to control the good and evil, or if good and evil control you.

I've read quite a few novels by Jodi Picoult, but at some point in time, I grew tired of her predictable style and ignored her new releases, as well as what I already own on my shelves. However, after thoroughly enjoying Leaving Time (Picoult's book about an elephant sanctuary), I decided to give her another try. In typical Picoult fashion, The Tenth Circle is told in alternating POVs, this time substituting an attorney with a detective. It's been five months since I finished the book and until I started to type up the publisher's blurb, the plot was long forgotten. I didn't really care for the inclusion of the graphic novel elements, but the panels weren't too intrusive or distracting. 

I no longer have the worries of a parent of a teenager daughter (my daughter is a successful young woman, living in Texas), but I do have a granddaughter who just turned 14, so this passage (as well as the theme of date rape) is particularly disturbing.


On teenage girls:

He had assumed that a kid who slept with stuffed animals would not also be wearing a thong, but now it occurred to Daniel that long before any comic book penciler had conceived of Copycat or The Changeling or Mystique, shape-shifters existed in the form of teenage girls. One minute you might find your daughter borrowing a cookie sheet to go sledding in the backyard, and the next she'd be online IMing a boy. One minute she'd lean over to kiss you good night, the next she'd tell you she hated you and couldn't wait to go away to college. One minute she'd be putting on her mother's makeup, the next she'd be buying her own. Trixie had morphed back and forth between childhood and adolescence so easily that the line between them had gone blurry, so indistinct that Daniel had simply given up trying for a clearer vision.

Final Thoughts:

The Tenth Circle is a compelling page-turner that kept me guessing, but it's not one I'd read again.

August 22, 2016

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
Children's/Fantasy
2015 Pottermore by J.K.Rowling Audio (Originally published in 1999)
Read by Jim Dale
Finished on March 24, 2016
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

"'Welcome to the Knight Bus, emergency transport for the stranded witch or wizard. Just stick out your wand hand, step on board and we can take you anywhere you want to go.'"

When the Knight Bus crashes through the darkness and screeches to a halt in front of him, it's the start of another far from ordinary year at Hogwarts for Harry Potter. Sirius Black, escaped mass-murderer and follower of Lord Voldemort, is on the run - and they say he is coming after Harry. In his first ever Divination class, Professor Trelawney sees an omen of death in Harry's tea leaves.... But perhaps most terrifying of all are the Dementors patrolling the school grounds, with their soul-sucking kiss....

It's been years since I've read this series, and since I stalled at book 5, I decided to start listening to the remaining books before the new one was released in July. The first books in this series are by far my favorites. I love Jim Dale and this was an especially entertaining listen!
 
Final Thoughts:

Well worth a third reading! And, this pretty much sums up my feelings:
"To call Dale a 'reader' of books is like saying Monet was a Sunday painter." (Los Angeles Times)

August 20, 2016

The Age of Miracles



The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
Fiction
2012 Random House
Finished on March 17, 2016
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good!)

Publisher’s Blurb:

Luminous and haunting, The Age of Miracles is an unforgettable debut novel about coming of age during extraordinary times, about people going on with their lives in an era of profound uncertainty.

On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, Julia and her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray. Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday life—the fissures in her family, the loss of friends, the hopeful anguish of love. As Julia adjusts to the new normal, the slowing inexorably continues.

“A stunner from the first page.” ~ Justin Cronin

Daylight Savings Time remains a controversial topic here in the U.S., and while I hate to lose an hour of productivity (and sleep!) I do love the longer days of spring and summer. After dinner, my husband and I like to go for walks, bike rides or simply enjoy a cocktail on our front porch. Imagine, though, if our days suddenly shifted from 24 hours in length to 28 or 30, or even, as much as 48! Not only would the slowing of the earth’s rotation disrupt our normal sleep patterns and the normal routines of society (government, work, school, etc.), but it would also cause serious problems for the tides, plant life and the earth’s magnetic field. Karen Thompson Walker’s debut novel explores these situations, convincing this reader of the plausible outcome of such a disaster. Suffice it to say, I was just a little bit scared.
We didn’t notice right away. We couldn’t feel it.

We did not sense at first the extra time, bulging from the smooth edge of each day like a tumor blooming beneath skin.

We were distracted back then by weather and war. We had no interest in the turning of the earth. Bombs continued to explode on the streets of distant countries. Hurricanes came and went. Summer ended. A new school year began. The clocks ticked as usual. Seconds beaded into minutes. Minutes grew into hours. And there was nothing to suggest that those hours, too, weren’t still pooling into days, each the same fixed length known to every human being.

But there were those who would later claim to have recognized the disaster before the rest of us did. These were the night workers, the graveyard shifters, the stockers of shelves, and the loaders of ships, the drivers of big-rig trucks, or else they were the bearers of different burdens: the sleepless and the troubled and the sick. These people were accustomed to waiting out the night. Through bloodshot eyes, a few did detect a certain persistence of darkness on the mornings leading up to the news, but each mistook if for the private misperception of a lonely, rattled mind.

On the sixth of October, the experts went public. This, of course, is the day we all remember. There’d been a change, they said, a slowing, and that’s what we called it from then on: the slowing.

[…]

Our days had grown by fifty-six minutes in the night.
Since this novel is set in San Diego, I found myself reminiscing about my childhood. I moved to Southern California shortly after my 11th birthday, so not only did I relate to Julia’s experiences in sixth grade, but I recognized the locations to which Walker refers. As a matter of fact, if I were able to chat with the author, I’d love to see if I could guess her exact setting based on the details of her narrative. Like her protagonist, she grew up in San Diego and I can almost speculate where she spent her youth. I found it very easy to picture Julia and Seth hiking through the sage brush-filled canyons, heading toward the beach after hearing the news of a beached whale. I, too, have walked those canyons.

We were Californians and thus accustomed to the motions of the earth. We understood that the ground could shift and shudder. We kept batteries in our flashlights and gallons of water in our closets. We accepted that fissures might appear in our sidewalks. Swimming pools sometimes sloshed like bowls of water. We were well practiced at crawling beneath tabletops, and we knew to beware of flying glass. At the start of every school year, we each packed a large ziplock bag full of non-perishables in case The Big One stranded us at school. But we Californians were no more prepared for this particular calamity than those who had built their homes on more stable ground.

and
This was middle school, the age of miracles, the time when kids shot up three inches over the summer, when breasts bloomed from nothing, when voices dipped and dove. Our first flaws were emerging, but they were being corrected. Blurry vision could be fixed invisibly with the magic of the contact lens. Crooked teeth were pulled straight with braces. Spotty skin could be chemically cleared. Some girls were turning beautiful. A few boys were growing tall. I knew I still looked like a child.
On gravity:

We were living under a new gravity, too subtle for our minds to register, but our bodies were already subject to its sway. In the weeks that followed, as the days continued to expand, I would find it harder and harder to kick a soccer ball across a field. Quarterbacks found that footballs didn’t fly as far as they used to. Home run hitters slipped into slumps. Pilots would have to retrain themselves to fly. Every falling thing fell faster to the ground.
On snow in California:
“Holy shit,” said my mother in her green bathrobe.

I looked out the window: snow.

This was California, sea level, spring.

Five inches had fallen while we slept, and it was still snowing. Temperatures had been dropping further and further as each darkness stretched longer. Now the neighborhood shimmered, bluish in the moonlight: sugarcoated cars, fences frosted white, the terracotta roofs encrusted in snow. The sidewalks looked repaved. The artificial lawns had been swallowed whole overnight in one smooth sheet of clean, creamy white. Our street sparkled.

Seth showed up on my porch in a red ski parka I’d never seen before and a frayed knit cap, which sat crooked on his head. Snowflakes were melting on his shoulders.

“We have to go sledding,” he said. He held up the blue boogie board he’d carried down from his house. […]

We were beach kids, sunshine kids. We did not know the properties of snow. I had never seen it fall, never knew how soft if felt at first, how easily it collapsed beneath feet, or the particular sound of that crunch. I never knew until then that snow made everything quiet, somehow silencing all the world’s noise.
The Age of Miracles is not categorized as a Young Adult (YA) book, but it is a book I can recommend to teens as well as adults. It’s one I will recommend to book groups, as there are so many thought-provoking situations to discuss. How would you react to the longer days of sunlight and conversely, longer nights, as the darkness bleeds into the middle of what used to be mid-day? Would you try to stay on “clock time” or follow others who attempt to live in sync with the rising and setting of the sun, even if that means staying awake for two full days?

As I read the author’s conversation with Kate Medina (Random House Executive Vice President, Associate Publisher and Executive Editorial Director) I read Walker’s response to Medina’s question about her research, which is so realistically rendered. Walker says,
In general, I wanted my book to seem as real as possible. I recently read a Guardian interview with the Portuguese writer Jose Saramago, who said that his books were about “the possibility of the impossible.” He explained that even if the premise of a book seemed “impossible,” it was important to him that the development of that premise be logical and rational. That’s exactly the way I wanted The Age of Miracles to function.
Go figure! I loved Saramago’s novel, Blindness, which aroused a visceral fear similar to that of Walker’s catastrophic disaster in The Age of Miracles.

Final Thoughts:

I loved this book! Part coming-of-age, part dystopic thriller, I couldn’t read fast enough. In some ways, The Age of Miracles is a quiet novel. Unlike The Dog Stars (Peter Heller), The Fifth Wave (Rick Yancey) or The Passage (Justin Cronin), the central disaster of Walker’s magnificent story does not involve a pandemic or an attack on earth by aliens or zombies. Other than some aggression shown toward the “real-timers,” this isn’t a violent book. It’s the unknown that’s so terrifying. I highly recommend this compulsively readable and highly imaginative novel. I can’t wait to read another book by Karen Thompson Walker!

August 19, 2016

Looking Back - A Bridge Between Us


Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.


A Bridge Between Us by Julie Shigekuni
Fiction
1996 Anchor
Finished on August 8, 1996
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Four generations of Japanese American women make their home in a large house in San Francisco, united by the obligations of family and tradition and, perhaps, by love. In alternating chapters, the four women--Reiko, Rio, Tomoe, and Nomi Hito--speak with unflinching honesty about their lives, the secrets that have separated mother and daughter, and the fierce ties of intimacy that form an inextricable bridge between them.With the touch and power of a master storyteller, Julie Shigekuni gracefully interweaves four distinctive voices to shape a moving story of love and the courage it requires. In baring the heart of one family, she illuminates the truths about families, real and imagined, we all create.

My Original Notes:

Very, very good. Reminded me of Amy Tan's style of writing. I really enjoyed it, except the last couple of chapters were strange and disturbing. But really a great novel.


My Current Thoughts:

Once again, this is a book of which I have no recollection. So odd since I obviously enjoyed it.

August 17, 2016

Wordless Wednesday

This summer's window displays brought to you by my talented family!






For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

August 16, 2016

The Preacher



The Preacher by Camilla Lackberg
Mystery
Patrick Hedstrom Series, #2
2011 HighBridge Audio
Read by David Thorn
Finished on March 15, 2016
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

In the fishing community of Fjällbacka, life is remote, peaceful, and for some, tragically short. Foul play was always suspected in the disappearance twenty years ago of two young campers, but their bodies were never found. But now, a young boy out playing has confirmed the grim truth. Their remains are discovered alongside those of a fresh victim, sending the tiny town into shock.

Local detective Patrik Hedström, expecting a baby with his girlfriend Erica, can only imagine what it is like to lose a child. When a second young girl goes missing, Hedström's attention focuses on the Hults, a feuding clan of misfits, religious fanatics and criminals. The suspect list is long but time is short—which of this family's dark secrets will provide the vital clue?

Oh my goodness! I really needed a family tree for this cast of characters. The narrative was very confusing until I finally got everyone (and their relationships to one another) sorted out. This may have just been a problem with the audio version, since so many of the names sound similar to each other, but it was definitely a hindrance to my listening pleasure. There is also quite a leap forward in time from where the previous book (The Ice Princess) left off, which made me feel like I had accidentally skipped a book in the series. And, I can't remember when I read such a convoluted denouement! If I didn't like the main characters so much, I would have ditched this book after reading 3 or 4 chapters.

Final Thoughts:

Blergh.

August 14, 2016

Giveaway!




As you all may know, my husband has recently published a new book (Leveling the Playing Field). He is currently running a contest on his blog (The Geekly Weekly), as well as his Facebook page. Here are the details:
So, my ace marketing team (i.e., Lesley) noticed that we have seen several photos of people holding/reading/standing near their copies of Leveling the Playing Field, and this gave us an idea for another giveaway! This time it’s worth $50 at your favorite retailer! (As long as your favorite retailer is either Barnes and Noble or Amazon.com.) See the rules and fine print and such below:

NEW GIVEAWAY! Enter to win a $50 Barnes & Noble or Amazon gift card (your choice). Post on your Facebook wall a photo of yourself, your spouse (or S.O.), or a pet reading Leveling the Playing Field. (Photos taken in a bookstore don’t count.) :) Don’t forget to tag me, so I’ll know that you posted, and for a second chance to win, share THIS post with your friends. Winner to be announced on Sept. 30th. Thanks again for all your support. The “likes” and “shares” really help get the word out!

Notice that the contest ends September 30th. That’s so you’ll be able to attend the book signing (SouthPointe B&N, September 24th at 2:00), get your book signed, and still have time to enter the contest.

Also, don’t forget that you can get a second entry in the drawing by sharing my Facebook post.

Thank you all again for your help. It’s been a great journey so far, and it wouldn’t have been possible without your support.

So there you are. Good luck and thanks for all your support, friends!

August 12, 2016

Looking Back - The Sound of Waves


Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.



The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima
Fiction
1994 Vintage Books
Finished on August 4, 1996
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good!)

Publisher's Blurb:

Set in a remote fishing village in Japan, The Sound of Waves is a timeless story of first love. It tells of Shinji, a young fisherman, and Hatsue, the beautiful daughter of the wealthiest man in the village. Shinji is entranced at the sight of Hatsue in the twilight on the beach, upon her return from another island, where she had been training to be a pearl diver. They fall in love, but must then endure the calumny and gossip of the villagers.

My Original Notes (1996):

Very good! Beautifully written. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. A quick read, also.

Some of the dialogue seemed simplistic, maybe due to the translation?

My Current Thoughts:

Yikes. I have no recollection, good or bad, about this novel.

August 10, 2016

Wordless Wednesday












Germany
October 2015


For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

August 8, 2016

City of Thieves



City of Thieves by David Benioff
Fiction
2008 Viking
Finished on March 8, 2016
Rating: 5/5 (Outstanding!)

Publisher's Blurb:

From the critically acclaimed author of The 25th Hour, a captivating novel about war, courage, survival--and a remarkable friendship that ripples across a lifetime.

Stumped by a magazine assignment to write about his own uneventful life, a man visits his retired grandparents in Florida to document their experience during the infamous siege of Leningrad. Reluctantly, his grandfather commences a story that will take him almost a week to tell: an odyssey of two young men determined to survive, against desperate odds, a mission in which cold, hunger, and the Russian authorities proves as dangerous as the invading Wehrmacht.

Two young men meeting for the first time in a jail cell await summary execution for crimes of dubious legitimacy. At seventeen, Lev Beniov considers himself "built for deprivation." Small, smart, insecure about his virginity, he's terrified about the sentence that awaits him and his cellmate, the charismatic and grandiose Kolya, a handsome young soldier charged with desertion. However, instead of a bullet in the back of the head, the pair is given an outrageous assignment: In a besieged city cut off from all supplies, secure a dozen eggs for a powerful colonel to use in his daughter's wedding cake. Lev and Kolya embark on a hunt to find the impossible in five days' time, a quest that propels them from the lawless streets of Leningrad to the devastated countryside behind German lines. As they encounter murderous city dwellers, guerrilla partisans, and finally the German army itself, an unlikely bond forms between this earnest teenager and his unpredictable companion, a lothario whose maddening, and endearing, bravura will either advance their cause or get them killed.

Hailed for his brilliantly drawn characters and incisive ability to capture the pulse of urban life, David Benioff rises to new heights in this portrait of two unforgettable young men and Soviet Russia under siege. By turns insightful and funny, thrilling and terrifying, City of Thieves takes us on a breathtaking journey into the twentieth century's darkest hour even as it celebrates the power of friendship to transform a life.
My grandfather, the knife fighter, killed two Germans before he was eighteen. I don't remember anyone telling me--it was something I always seemed to know, the way I knew the Yankees wore pinstripes for home games and gray for the road. But I wasn't born with the knowledge. Who told me? Not my father, who never shared secrets, or my mother, who shied away from mentioning the unpleasant, all things bloody, cancerous, or deformed. Not my grandmother, who knew every folktale from the old country--headed by witches--but never spoke about the war in my hearing. And certainly not my grandfather himself, the smiling watchman of my earliest memories, the quiet, black-eyed, slender man who held my hand as we crossed the avenues, who sat on a park bench reading his Russian newspaper while I chased pigeons and harassed sugar ants with broken twigs.
And so begins our tale.

Tense. Humorous. Touching. Unforgettable. This is by far one of the best novels about World War II that I've read this year or, for that matter, in many years. I loved Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See and Kristen Hannah's The Nightingale and Jodi Picoult's The Storyteller, but Benioff's is the best of the best. I've had the book on a shelf for several years and I'm so glad I finally decided to give it a go. If you have not yet read City of Thieves, I urge you to get a copy. You won't be disappointed.


On hunger:
You have never been so hungry; you have never been so cold. When we slept, if we slept, we dreamed of the feasts we had carelessly eaten seven months earlier--all that buttered bread, the potato dumplings, the sausages--eaten with disregard, swallowing without tasting, leaving great crumbs on our plates, scraps of fat. In June of 1941, before the Germans came, we thought we were poor. But June seemed like paradise by winter.

and
The boy sold what people called library candy, made from tearing the covers off of books, peeling off the binding glue, boiling it down, and reforming it into bars you could wrap in paper. The stuff tasted like wax, but there was protein in the glue, protein kept you alive, and the city's books were disappearing like the pigeons.
On compartmentalizing:
That is the way we decided to talk, free and easy, two young men discussing a boxing match. That was the only way to talk. You couldn't let too much truth seep into your conversation, you couldn't admit with your mouth what your eyes had seen. If you opened the door even a centimeter, you would smell the rot outside and hear the screams. You did not open the door. You kept your mind on the tasks of the day, the hunt for food and water or something to burn, and you saved the rest for the end of the war.
On friendship:
I heard the bedsprings creaking and looked up to see Kolya leaning over the side of the top mattress, his upside-down face peering at me, his blond hair hanging in filthy clumps. He looked like he was worried about me, and all at once I felt like crying. The only one left who knew how frightened I was, the only one who knew I was still alive and that I might die tonight, was a boastful deserter I'd met three nights before, a stranger, a child of Cossacks, my last friend.
Final Thoughts:

City of Thieves is a beautifully written novel by an amazing storyteller! I read the last few chapters very slowly, trying to savor the details, not wanting to say goodbye to Lev and Kolya. Excellent novel! Highly recommend.

August 5, 2016

Looking Back - A Long Fatal Love Chase


Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.




Fiction
1995 Random House
Finished on June 21, 1996
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Written in 1866, this heretofore undiscovered gem by the author of Little Women tells the story of Rosamund Vivian, an intelligent, strong-willed, 18-year-old young woman who longs for adventure. But when she marries a wealthy, jaded young man, and is swept off to Europe, Rosamund too soon learns that her new husband is not as he had presented himself.

From Wikipedia:

In 1866, Louisa May Alcott toured Europe for the first time; being poor, she traveled as the paid companion of an invalid. Upon her return, she found her family in financial straits, so when publisher James R. Elliot asked her to write another novel suitable for serialisation in the magazine The Flag of Our Union (mockingly referred to as The Weekly Volcano in Little Women), Alcott dashed off a 292-page Gothic romance entitled A Modern Mephistopheles, or The Fatal Love Chase. She gave the novel a European setting and incorporated many of her still-fresh travel experiences and observations; Elliot, however, rejected it for being "too long & too sensational!", whereupon she changed the title to Fair Rosamond and undertook extensive revisions to shorten the novel and tone down its more controversial elements. Despite these changes, the book was again rejected, and Alcott laid the manuscript aside.

Fair Rosamond ended up in Harvard's Houghton Library. The earlier draft was auctioned off by Alcott's heirs and eventually fell into the hands of a Manhattan rare book dealer. In 1994, Kent Bicknell, headmaster of the Sant Bani School in Sanbornton, New Hampshire, paid "more than his annual salary but less than $50,000" for the unexpurgated version of the manuscript. After restoring it, he sold the publication rights to Random House, receiving a $1.5 million advance. Bicknell donated 25% of the profits to Orchard House (the museum of the Alcott Family), 25% to the Alcott heirs, and 25% to the Sant Bani School.

In 1995, Random House released the novel in a hardbound edition under the title A Long Fatal Love Chase. It became a best-seller, and an audiobook version soon followed. The novel is still in print (September 2007) as a trade paperback from Dell Books.

My Original Notes (1996):

Pretty good. Certainly started off very well and kept my interest. I really couldn't put it down. Very suspenseful. Then it began to sound a lot like a Sidney Sheldon novel (Rage of Angels, I think.)

Lots of symbolism - birds, roses, storms.

Tempest was such a villain! I hated him. So wicked. And Rosamond continued to be tempted by him, in spite of his evil ways.

Lots of similarities to Jane Eyre. Young orphan falls in love with a married man (unknowingly), to name just one.


My Current Thoughts:

I think I had high expectations for this novel, but was ultimately disappointed. Too much of a bodice-ripper for my taste.

August 3, 2016

The Magicians


The Magicians by Lev Grossman
The Magicians Series #1
Science Fiction
2009 Penguin Audio
Read by Mark Bramhall
Finished on March 1, 2016
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

The Magicians is to Harry Potter as a shot of Irish whiskey is to a glass of weak tea. … Grossman’s sensibilities are thoroughly adult, his narrative dark and dangerous and full of twists. Hogwarts was never like this.” —George R. R. Martin, author of Game of Thrones


Publisher's Blurb:

Quentin Coldwater is a high school senior, but he’s still secretly obsessed with a series of fantasy novels he read when he was little, about the adventures of five children in a magical land called Fillory. Compared to that, everything in his real life just seems gray and colorless. That changes when Quentin finds himself admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the practice of modern sorcery.

But magic doesn’t bring Quentin the happiness and adventure and meaning he thought it would—until he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real. The Magicians is a grand, glittering fantasy that reinterprets the grand tradition of C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling in a brilliant novel for adults.


I can't remember the last time I vacillated so much while reading a book! One minute I was falling in love with the story and the next I was ready to throw the book across the room. Such a roller coaster! And while some may say it's a nod to Harry Potter and Narnia, I thought it was more of a ripoff, especially of J.K. Rowlings' series.

A school for magicians. Check.

Separate living quarters based on your magical abilities. Check.

"Send me an owl." Check.

A game called Welters, which sounds vaguely familiar. "Hang on," he said. "Gotta get my quidditch costume. I mean uniform. I mean welters." Check.

I discovered the following while reading other reviews and had to laugh because it's spot on:
I felt like I was doing peyote buttons with J.K. Rowling. (Mickey Rapkin, GQ)

The book pulled me in right away, but then my interest began to wane. Things picked up again when the group went to Brakesbills South in Antarctica, and the ending was great, but over all the pacing is uneven and the characters are flat and tiresome. I have no desire to read the next two books in this series and after watching about 20 minutes of the first episode of the series on DVD, my husband and I both agreed to call it quits. 

Final Thoughts:

While entertaining and somewhat imaginative, this mash-up of Harry Potter, The Night Circus and Ready Player One left me wishing for something more.

August 1, 2016

A Month in Summary - July 2016


Yes, it's definitely summer, as my reading (or lack thereof!) will show. One would think the lazy days of the season should provide countless hours of reading on the porch, but my summer days tend to be full of extra chores (weeding and watering!), house guests (our annual visit with our granddaughter) and a trip to the Pacific Northwest thrown in for good measure. Other than the flights to and fro, I can't seem to make time to read while on vacation. There are always too many distractions, whether those are conversations with family and friends or the beautiful surroundings we happen to be so fortunate to enjoy. While at home, we spend more time on the porch, but it's our time to sit and relax after a long day at work, enjoying a glass of wine or chilled beer. Reading is usually the last thing I do before falling asleep, so it's no surprise I only finished two books this month. Last month wasn't much better, but at least this month's numbers are due to a busy schedule rather than a reading slump.


Before the Fall  by Noah Hawley (Borrowed - Audio) 3/5

The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens (Borrowed - Audio) 4/5

Keeping the Feast: One Couple's Story of Love, Food, and Healing in Italy by Paula Butturini (Own) 2/5

Stats:

Triple Dog Dare Challenge - I stuck to my goal to read from my stacks, since the borrowed books were an audio. I think it's time to go through my shelves once again and reassess what I want to hold on to for future reading.
 

3 books
2 novels

1 memoir 
2 mystery
3 new-to-me-authors 
1 print
2 audio
1 female
2 male
2 borrowed
1 from my stacks 

Favorite of the Month: The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens


Reviews to follow  


July 31, 2016

Anya's Ghost


Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol
Graphic Novel
2011 First Second Books
Finished on February 24, 2016
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

Anya could really use a friend. But her new BFF isn't kidding about the "forever" part . . .

Of all the things Anya expected to find at the bottom of an old well, a new friend was not one of them. Especially not a new friend who's been dead for a century.

Falling down a well is bad enough, but Anya's normal life might actually be worse. She's embarrassed by her family, self-conscious about her body, and she's pretty much given up on fitting in at school. A new friend―even a ghost―is just what she needs.

Or so she thinks.

Spooky, sardonic, and secretly sincere, Anya's Ghost is a wonderfully entertaining debut graphic novel from author/artist Vera Brosgol.






Meh. I didn't care for the art in this one as much as Jillian Tamaki's in This One Summer. The plot was alright, but again, a little juvenile. Really wondering if graphic novels are my thing.

Final Thoughts: 

While I didn't fall in love with Verga Brosgol's book, it appears that it's a winner with many other readers! It's also a very quick read, so maybe give it a try, if you're curious.


  • Bram Stoker Award Nominee for Best Graphic Novel (2011)
  • School Library Journal Best Book of the Year (2011)
  • Harvey Awards for Best Original Graphic Publication For Younger Readers (2012)
  • Boston Globe-Horn Book Award (2011)
  • Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards for Best Publication for Young Adults (ages 12-17) (2012)
  • Cybils Award for Graphic Novels (Young Adult) (2011)
  • Kirkus Best Teen Book of the Year (2011)

July 29, 2016

Looking Back - The Blacker the Berry


Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.




The Blacker the Berry by Wallace Thurman
Fiction
1996 Scribner (First published in 1929)
Finished on July 30, 1996
Rating: 2/5 (OK)

Publisher's Blurb:

One of the most widely read and controversial works of the Harlem Renaissance, The Blacker the Berry...was the first novel to openly explore prejudice within the Black community. This pioneering novel found a way beyond the bondage of Blackness in American life to a new meaning in truth and beauty.

Emma Lou Brown's dark complexion is a source of sorrow and humiliation -- not only to herself, but to her lighter-skinned family and friends and to the white community of Boise, Idaho, her home-town. As a young woman, Emma travels to New York's Harlem, hoping to find a safe haven in the Black Mecca of the 1920s. Wallace Thurman re-creates this legendary time and place in rich detail, describing Emma's visits to nightclubs and dance halls and house-rent parties, her sex life and her catastrophic love affairs, her dreams and her disillusions -- and the momentous decision she makes in order to survive.

A lost classic of Black American literature, The Blacker the Berry...is a compelling portrait of the destructive depth of racial bias in this country. A new introduction by Shirlee Taylor Haizlip, author of The Sweeter the Juice, highlights the timelessness of the issues of race and skin color in America.


My Original Notes (1996):

Not the greatest book. Somewhat dull. Didn't care for the main character at all. Wouldn't recommend.

My Current Thoughts:

I think I chose to read The Wedding (Dorothy West) and this book in an effort to learn a little bit about the Harlem Renaissance. Unfortunately, neither book appealed to me. I might have enjoyed them more had I read them in a literature class or for a book club, as I think they would both benefit from discussion with others.

July 26, 2016

Tuesday's First Chapter, First Paragraph


Each Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile By the Sea shares the first part of a book that she is reading or thinking about reading. This week I'm sharing a portion from my husband's new book! I didn't want to read the book until it was in its final version, so it wasn't until last week that I eagerly started reading Rod's book. I quickly became engrossed and found myself staying up far too late, telling myself, "Just one more page!" I can't remember the last time I've read such an intelligent and interesting work of nonfiction. 


by Rod Scher

Publisher's Blurb:

Leveling the Playing Field explores the technologies that "trickle down" to the rest of us, innovations that were once the domain of the wealthy and powerful--and which therefore tended to make them even more wealthy and powerful. Now, though, these technologies--from books to computers to 3D printing and beyond--have become part of a common toolkit, one accessible to almost anyone, or at least to many more than had heretofore had access. This is what happens with most technologies: They begin in the hands of the few, and they end up in the hands of the many. Along the way, they sometimes transform the world.

Since we all love books, whether in print, audio or digital formats, while not the first chapter or first paragraph, I thought you'd enjoy this particular passage:

Digital Books
When I travel, I read a lot. On the plane, in the car, relaxing on a relative’s back porch or a hotel balcony, even when dragged along on a shopping trip to visit those quaint (read: expensive) little shops—almost everywhere I go, I have a book with me. It might be work-related, it might be for research, it might be something I’m reading for pleasure. In fact, when I pack my bags for a trip, I generally include well over one hundred books tucked in among my jeans, shirts, and toiletry kit.
But of course I don’t actually carry one hundred printed books; together, those could easily weigh well over seventy-five pounds, and take up my entire suitcase. Instead, I carry the digital versions of those books, e-books, which weigh essentially nothing. There are several excellent dedicated readers available (the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook readers stand out, of course), but I like to use a small general-purpose tablet, since I already have it with me for e-mail, music, web surfing, and note-taking. (Right now my go-to tablet is an iPad mini. It’s about the size of a paperback book, though much thinner, and weighs about three-quarters of a pound. I can easily store hundreds of books on it.)

Not only do I save weight, but I also save a good deal of money when I buy the digital version of a book. The large-format paperback edition of one book I recently read (Erik Larson’s enthralling Dead Wake; Larson is an incredible researcher and a gifted storyteller), costs $17 from Barnes & Noble. The e-book version of the same publication costs $11, or about 34 percent less than the printed book. (If you purchase one hundred e-books and save two or three dollars apiece on them, you will have just paid for your tablet or reader. Of course, if you borrow digital books from a library, your savings are even more impressive.)

I also appreciate the authorial advantages offered by digital text. I can search for a term, a name, or a phrase; I can highlight and make notes, and I can then list all of those highlights or notes together in one place. If I’m quoting a passage, I can copy and paste that passage into a manuscript, thus ensuring that accessing the quote is convenient and that the quote itself is accurate. Although it takes some getting used to, there are undeniable advantages to using digital books.


Now, having said all of that, I should point out that I do realize not everyone is comfortable with e-books. Many of us (including myself; I am an English teacher, after all) enjoy the experience of handling and reading from a printed book; we feel that although the informational content may be the same, the experience of reading an e-book does not quite measure up to that of reading the printed version. The fact of the matter is that we love books, and printed books are what we grew up loving.

And there is a great deal to be said for the love of books—physical, printed, bound, ink-on-paper books. The inexplicable but undeniable beauty of them, stacked in disordered piles, or arrayed neatly on a shelf, or scattered about the house on every horizontal surface. The heft of them. The musty, paper-y smell of old books and the sharp, fresh-ink-on-paper smell of new books. The subdued colors of the bindings and the flash of cover photos. The tactile and aural experience of flipping a page. The convenience of scribbling in a margin or using a brightly colored sticky note to mark a favorite spot. (And some of you, I daresay, dog-ear pages in books. It’s okay, you can admit it. I’ve done it. But when I do, I can hear the angry voice of my mother: “Books are important! You don’t treat them that way.” And Mom was right, of course.)

I know (and agree with) all of that, but it’s difficult to ignore the ecological and economic imperatives that are driving the adoption of e-book technologies. Information, after all, is a weightless, formless commodity. For centuries, the best way to share that information was to attach it to a great deal of weight (in the form of paper), and then pay to ship that weight all over the world.

That is no longer the best way (that is, the most efficient, least harmful way) to communicate, to share information; it’s no longer the best way to show people how to do things, or to explain the world to them. Nor is it the most efficient way to allow people to share in the breathtaking adventure that is Moby-Dick, or to enjoy the whimsy of Peter Pan or the biting wit of Shakespeare; it’s no longer the least-expensive, most-accessible way to get caught up in the excitement of the latest political thriller, the currently popular young adult fantasy, or the most recent medical mystery.
Printed books, as much as many of us love them, are becoming less necessary because we now have alternatives to them that are more affordable and less injurious to the environment. Will physical books go away? Someday, perhaps, though surely not for quite a while. Still, I can see (and not without some profound misgivings) a new Middle Ages for books: a future in which printed books are once again so rare and so expensive that they are the province only of the wealthy, displayed for their beauty (and, of course, to advertise their owners’ affluence), but chained in place because their loss would be financially catastrophic.

The University of Nebraska’s Stephen Buhler doesn’t quite agree, though. Dr. Buhler feels that the printed book is here to stay, in some form or another, even as digital books increasingly make sense when presenting and discussing certain types of material.

“I foresee ways of managing ‘print-on-demand’ that keeps costs low without economies of scale. I also foresee different kinds of books suited to different technologies. The e-book is ideal for . . . [multimedia] presentation. A lot still has to be resolved over issues of Fair Use and intellectual property, but I would love to see books of criticism devoted to, for example, film or music that provide samples from (or links to) all the works under discussion. As much as I love the traditional book and as firmly as I believe in its continuance (and some studies suggest its revival is already under way), there are some things that e-book technology can do so very much better.” (If Dr. Buhler is right about print-on-demand technologies, perhaps printed books might once again become what Simon Horobin earlier called “a bespoke trade,” only this time a much more affordable, more accessible one.)

If the printed book does become a rarity, it will be a sad time, and we will have lost something important—something magnificent, in fact. But we will not have lost—in truth, we will have greatly enhanced—the ability to transmit information, to communicate with readers; the power that derives from knowledge will be available to more people, rather than to fewer.
I am not the only fan of Rod's new book. Here are a few blurbs from early readers (including one from our dear friend, Bellezza!):

An extremely relevant book for our times, Leveling the Playing Field does an amazing job documenting how technology has changed our society. Written in a style reminiscent of the James Burke Connections series, Rod drives home why the encryption debate is so important for the preservation of our rights, and why some governments so desperately want to restrict access to encryption technology. (Jim O'Gorman, Security expert, author, Metasploit: The Penetration Tester's Guide)

Don’t let the cover fool you. Although this book’s plot line traces the history and democratization of technology, its heart is about human nature: how and why we create tools, how tools are used to dominate and suppress others, and how in the end our inventions become accessible to everyone – sometimes for the worse, but far more often for the better. Scher is a witty tour guide as he illuminates more about humankind and our inventions than you might expect. (Calvin Clinchard, editor of CyberTrend magazine)

I read Leveling The Playing Field in two days, thoroughly engaged by the topic and author's writing style. Rod Scher clearly shows how technology is a powerful tool for disseminating information that began as early as prehistoric days. The questions he raises about the possible consequences that technology brings to everyday life are truly alarming, making this an important and fascinating book with a theme that affects all of us. (Meredith Smith, Dolce Bellezza)

Rod's extensive research into the history of technology is both impressive and engrossing. I found myself being drawn into each chapter and having a hard time putting it down. Rod takes an approach that gives you the deep dive history into the tech he is talking about and applies that history to its impact today. Rod is equal parts entertaining and educational. (Christopher Hadnagy, author of Unmasking the Social Engineer: The Human Side of Security)

A fast-paced and enlightening adventure, Leveling the Playing Field journeys from from fire to Firebee drones to the infinite possibilities of 3D printing. While Gutenberg's "start-up company" in Germany and Agatha Christie's husband's excavations in Mesopotamia will engross you, the author's asides about a potbellied piglet, Betamax, and presidential canines will amuse you. (Jenifer Edens, teacher at University of Houston – Language and Culture Center)

Leveling the Playing Field is engaging, entertaining, and often sneakily profound, offering expansive historical overviews and taking seriously the pitfalls of technology – all while remaining appreciative of its past accomplishments and hopeful about our shared future. (Stephen M. Buhler, Professor and Past Project Convener for the W. K. Kellogg Foundation's Leadership for Institutional Change, University of Nebraska)

A fascinating, educational and insightful narrative look at the march of technology from cave fire and the invention of language to the Internet and 3-D printing—and the competition, politics, privacy issues and moral quandaries it has produced in its wake. Leveling the Playing Field is a swift journey through history from simple convenience and self defense to the relevant and sometimes frightening questions surrounding the technology we readily take for granted today. I thoroughly enjoyed Scher’s depth of research as well as his wit. (Tosca Lee, NYT bestselling author)



Happy Tuesday, friends! Visit Bibliophile By the Sea for more introductions.