Saturday, December 31, 2016

December Wrap Up

I read 12 books and 5 audio books this month, bringing my totals to 95 books read and 69 audio books completed in 2016. 

The most disappointing book of the year was Of Fire and Stars (review). My favorite book for December was Words in Blue (review), though Heartless (review) was close behind. My favorite book of the year was the Explorers Guild, with Kids of Appetite (review) as a close second. I read the Explorers Guild before I started reviewing again, but do plan to reread it in the next few months and will review it then. 

Thursday, December 29, 2016


Showing off my amazing bookends, a gift from Mom.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

More Austen

The Simpson & Vail "Jane Austen blend" was a fantastic gift from a dear friend, Raina.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Austen Action Figure

Bryan got me Cthulu, the War Doctor, and Jane Austen for Christmas!

Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

Of Fire and Stars
Audrey Coulthurst
2/5 stars

Princess Dennaleia comes to the kingdom of Mynaria  to prepare for her marriage to the crown prince.  Mynaria is a horse-centered country, so she must learn to ride for her wedding ceremony, and is taught by her prickly, soon-to-be sister-in-law, Mare.   Denna is possessed of magic that is banned in Mynaira, leading to potential danger--or death.  Furthermore, a foreign power is attempting to assassinate Mynarian leaders, using magic.  Mare and Denna band together to search out the culprits, before Denna can be suspected, and end up falling in love along the way.

Despite how exciting it sounds, Of Fire and Stars is one of the most dull books I've read this year. The intrigue was slow to develop, then described in near mind-numbing detail, while the plot dragged on with nothing happening for most of the book.  I nearly gave up several times, only finishing it because it was recommended by a source I trust.

The horses that play such an important part in Mynaria also played a leading role in the book, with much attention paid to lessons, riding, grooming, and general discussion.  I'm not a horse person, so I found this a tedious filler.

The romance  grew in a natural and believable way, but the characters of Denna and Mare were not well-rounded, and at times seemed to be mere stereotypes.  The minor characters were even more stale, with very little personality to each.

By the end, when the action finally came, it was too little, too late.  I was past the point of being interested in the characters or the plot.

Overall, Of Fire and Stars was a book with great promise, but it failed to deliver.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas

Crown of Midnight
Sarah J. Maas
3/5 stars

In this second book of the Throne of Glass series, Celaena must carry out her duties as King's Champion, assassinating enemies of the Crown.  As she becomes involved in searching out conspirators, she suffers heartbreak, discovers more dark magic, and finds her loyalties tested.

The first three-quarters of Crown of Midnight move slowly, especially dragging during Celaena's period of grief.  I nearly gave up at several points, but I am interested enough in the overall story to stick with it.

The last quarter was action packed, with a shocking cliff hanger that nearly made up for the occasional tedium of the rest.  Despite it not being a gripping novel, I plan to continue the series, as I have enjoyed Maas' other series (Crown of Thorns and Roses) and expect that, as she matured as a writer, the Throne of Glass series improved.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Frogkisser! by Garth Nix

Garth Nix
expected publication date: February 2017
5/5 stars

Princess Anya's stepstepfather is becoming an evil sorcerer, intent on taking over their small kingdom, transmogrifying people into animals right and left.  To return visiting Prince Denholm from his frog-form, Anya must make a Transmogrification Reversal Lip Balm.  Aided by one of the palace's talking dogs, and joined by a boy-turned-newt and an otter-turned-human, Anya goes on a Quest for the ingredients, while trying to avoid being captured by her stepstepfather.  Along the way, she learns about the All Encompassing Bill of Rights and Wrongs, the dangers of wielding power, and the importance of treating people fairly.

Anya is a wonderful heroine.  She is eager for knowledge, and is a believer that a princess should "rescue herself".   She was believable, especially as she was not fearless, but tried to be brave while frightened.  The other characters, while not all as fully fleshed out as Anya, were also a pleasure to know.

The plot was a delightful mix of fairy tale and fantasy, exciting and fun.  Nix writes well, and I was immersed in his world from the beginning.

Overall, Frogkisser! is a charming tale with lovable characters and an engaging plot. It is perfect for the recommended age group, but may also appeal to Young Adult readers.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Stephanie Garber
expected publication date: January 2017
4/5 stars

Caraval (the first in a projected two-part series) is a tale of two sisters who deeply love and look out for each other while thye live under the tyranny of an abusive father.  Since they were young, Scarlett and Donatella have both dreamed of joining in Caraval, a performance game full of illusion and mystery, where nothing is as it seems.  This year, they receive invitations, run away from their father, and enter the world of Caraval--opening themselves up for magic, love, and heartbreak.

I was captivated by Garber's storytelling from the very first sentence, and stayed entranced through out the entire novel.  Her descriptions and metaphors were stunning, and the imagery from Scarlett's ability to feel in color was remarkably beautiful.

This novel doesn't have extensive world building, but this is not missed, as most of the novel takes place during the game and environs of Caraval.  The characters and their actions were well-written and generally believable.  The plot was riveting, taking many turns and twists; often when I thought I knew what exactly was happening or would come next, I was completely surprised.

I was in awe reading this book, until the last few chapters.  I don't want to spoil any of the plot for anyone, but I must say that I found the deus ex machina solution to be down-letting,

Excluding that disappointment, Caraval is well worth reading, with the first 90% being phenomenal.

(On a personal note: It breaks my heart not to be able to give this book a five star review.  It was so amazing until the very end.  I nearly capitulated and gave it five stars anyway, but. . . I had to be honest.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Classics Club: To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

(about the Classics Club)


I first read Virginia Woolf for a Master's class about 20 years ago, and was immediately enamored of her and her style.  Over the years, I've read most of her works, and am slowly rereading them again as the desire takes me.  I wanted to reread To the Lighthouse, as I couldn't remember much about it.

I thought again and again how easy it is to read Woolf, to sink into her prose and just flow with it.  I thought about how each character saw the same events of the day so differently, and how believable each character and their views were.  I thought about how masterful Woolf is to present a novel with nearly no dialogue or action, and almost all introspection.  I thought about how much I love her subtle shifts of perspective.  One character will be thinking and it will gradually shift into another character's thoughts in the middle of a paragraph.

Reading Woolf always makes me feel like I'm floating on the ocean, just flowing with the waves, letting the wash over me or move me along.  I simply get lost in her prose, and let her lead me where she will.  I also felt a range of emotions while reading To the Lighthouse: I teared up a few times, I laughed, I felt conflicted, I was connected to the characters and felt their varied emotions.

"To pursue the truth with such astonishing lack of consideration for other people's feelings, to rend the thin veils of civilization so wantonly, so brutally, was to her so horrible an outrage of human decency that, without replying, dazed and blinded, she bent her head as if to let the pelt of jagged hail, the drench of dirty water, bespatter her unrebuked.  There was nothing to be said."

"They came to her, naturally, since she was a woman, all day long with this and that; one wanting this, another that; the children were growing up; she often felt she was nothing but a sponge sopped full of human emotions."

". . . but most of all he hated the twang and twitter of his father's emotion which, vibrating all around them, disturbed the perfect simplicity and good sense of his relations with his mother."

"His immense self-pity, his demand for sympathy poured and spread itself in pools at her feet, and all she did, miserable sinner that she was, was to draw her skirts a little closer round her ankles, lest she should get wet."

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Flicker and Mist by Mary G. Thompson

Flicker and Mist
Mary G. Thompson
projected publication date: 1/2017
3/5 stars

On the island of the Upland, people are divided into two races: Lefties and Plats.  Myra is the child of the only mixed race couple in the capital city of New Heart City, and both she and her parents face discrimination as a result.  In the past, Flicker Men invaded the Upland and bred with the Lefties, creating a sub race of Lefties known as the "Flickerkin".  Flicker Men, and the Flickerkin, can "flicker" or become invisible at will.  This ability is feared, and all Lefties are tested before they can enter New Heart City.  Myra's mother passed the test, somehow, but is actually a Flickerkin.  Myra herself has flickered once, and must be sure that it never happens again.  When it becomes obvious that Flickerkin have infiltrated New Heart City, Myra and her parents face great danger.

If it sounds confusing, that's because, at times, it is.  (I didn't even mention the sports, politics, religion, and dystopian elements, nor the quotes from the religious works and political documents.)  Thompson wants very much to create an original world, and she does, but she adds so much to it that the reader is overwhelmed, both by the world details and the complicated plot.

Flicker and Mist does have positive themes, which are certain to appeal to the young adult reader; themes of prejudices being broken, love overcoming hate, and people working together for peace.

Myra, as a character, is interesting and likable.  It's easy for the reader to want her to succeed with her sports, her boyfriend, and her life in general.  She is a strong female character, as is popular at this time, but she does feats that are, I think, above the ability of her age.  This is fantasy, of course, but the reader needs to be able to believe the fantasy, and I had a difficult time believing in Myra or her world.

Flicker and Mist is marketed toward an audience of ages 12 and up, and I think that this is too dense a book and world for that age group.  I think it is well suited for the older teen readers, though. (Note: this is my personal opinion, based on reading this book as an adult.)

Overall, while Flicker and Mist has an interesting premise, I found the plot to be over-complicated and slow paced, and the writing was not compelling enough to completely draw me into the story.  Other readers, however, and especially the traditional YA reader, may find this to be a thought-provoking look at race and equality.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

Words in Deep Blue
Cath Crowley
projected publication date: June 2017
5/5 stars

Rachel is in a deep depression after the death of her brother, and for a change of scene, moves back to her home town to live with her aunt.  While there, she reconnects with her former best friend, Henry, on whom she had a massive crush before she moved away.  Working with him in his family's second hand bookshop, she finds herself drawn to him again.

The bookshop has an unusual feature: the Letter Library.  These are permanent books for the purpose of highlighting favorite passages or even leaving letters in for other people.  One of the best parts of this Words in Deep Blue is reading the notes left in various books, plus the discussion of books by the characters.  Crowley herself leaves a note for the reader; a wonderful surprise and an fantastic addition.

 Crowley is an fine writer, and I was immediately captured by the plot and the realistic (and flawed) characters.  This is a quick read, but one that I feel will stay with the reader for some time.  In addition, Crowley gives some excellent book recommendations through her characters.

Words in Deep Blue is a teen love story, yes, but it's also a story about dealing with grief, taking chances, as well as a celebration of the written word.   I highly recommend it, especially for young adults that love books and the words therein.

Note: for adults that might not want a teen love story, a similar book is The Storied Life of A J Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, another 5 star read.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Sweet Dove Died by Barbara Pym

The Sweet Dove Died
Barbara Pym
4/5 stars

Leonora, beautiful, elegant, narcissistic, forms a relationship with Humphrey and his nephew James.  While she appreciates Humphrey's attentions, she finds the company of the much younger James to be more desirable, until his lover comes between them.

While reading the Sweet Dove Died, I was reminded of quote by Somerset Maugham regarding Jane Austen:
"Nothing very much happens in her books, and yet, when you come to the bottom of a page, you eagerly turn it to learn what will happen next. Nothing very much does and again you eagerly turn the page. The novelist who has the power to achieve this has the most precious gift a novelist can possess."
In this lightly comic book, the plot is minimal--nothing very much happens-- and yet the interest engendered by the characters compel the reader to continue to read.  The actions and reactions of these characters, particularly Leonora, were so believable that I couldn't be sure where the story would go.  The Sweet Dove Died is a satisfying exploration of various types of love, and yet Pym keeps her readers held at arms-length (like Leonora does her suitors) so there is little, if any emotional, involvement for the reader.  Excepting that sterile feeling, this is an excellent book, well worth reading.  (I would recommend, however, for new readers of Pym to start with Excellent Women.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

November OwlCrate

The theme for the November OwlCrate was Wonderland, and it is my favorite box so far!  It contained Heartless (which I reviewed earlier), a copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland with a matching bookmark, an exquisite brass "curiouser and curiouser" bookmark, a quote magnet ("imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality"), and a tin of an exclusive OwlCrate blend of tea (which is delicious).  I think this is my favorite OwlCrate!

August Folly by Angela Thirkell

August Folly
Angela Thirkell
4/5 stars

In the fictional county of Barsetshire is the small village of Worsted.  When the Dean family comes for the summer, the inhabitants are shaken up by a Greek play, a raging bull, a stubborn mule, misunderstandings, and, most of all, love.

August Folly is a typical Thirkell novel, gentle and witty.  It started off slowly, with a confusing introduction of many characters, but once that was out of the way it became tremendously enjoyable.  Unlike some of her Barsetshire novels, this one doesn't require a previous knowledge of any of the others.  Overall, I love her signature style and found August Folly to be a delightful read.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Pigeon Pie Mystery by Julia Stuart

The Pigeon Pie Mystery
Julia Stuart
3/5 stars

When her father, the Maharajah, dies, Princess Alexandrina (known as "Mink") finds herself in overwhelming debt.  Queen Victoria offers her a grace-and-favor residence in Hampton Court Palace. As Mink is still getting to know her eccentric neighbors, one of them dies after eating a pigeon pie prepared by her maid, Pooki.  With Pooki's life on the line, Mink decides to find the culprit herself.

The Pigeon Pie Mystery is a typical cozy mystery, with Victorian details and some good humor.  Stuart is a fine writer--I especially liked how she wove the backstories in with the main story--but the plot itself was only average.  Overall, this is a pleasant, fluffy read that most likely won't remain in the reader's memory for long.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Marissa Meyer
5/5 stars

Heartless is a prequel to Alice's Adventure's in Wonderland, and tells how kind, happy Catherine turns into the "blind and aimless Fury" (to quote Carroll) that is the Queen of Hearts.  It all begins with Catherine's dream to open a bakery, but then life becomes immensely complicated: the unappealing King wanting to court her; she becomes attracted to the King's handsome, new Joker; and a Jabberwock appears to terrorize the kingdom.  Experiencing, for the first time, love, danger, and dismay, Catherine finds herself faced with a myriad of decisions that will affect not only herself, but many others as well.

Meyer skillfully entwines her original ideas with Carroll's established ideas to create a fully living world.  The sprinkling of Carroll quotes, and the visits from Wonderland friends, are a true joy.   The characters were fleshed out, with believable actions and reactions.  The prose was well-written, and drew the reader into the plot quickly.

The reader knows, before starting the book, that Catherine will become the Queen of Hearts, a passionately miserable individual.  The strain of melancholy that is woven through out the book purposefully keeps the reader anxious--it's always in the back of the mind that happiness is not the ending for Catherine.  I must say that Meyer did not disappoint, and delivered a heartbreaking ending that left me in tears.

Overall, I can find no fault with Meyer's beautiful, tragic novel, and recommend it wholeheartedly.

Note:  I do think, though, that readers will enjoy Heartless most if familiar with Carroll's original tales.  I paused a few chapters into the book to reread both Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and was extremely glad I did.

Friday, December 2, 2016


I didn't write a review of this one, but I highly recommend it!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

November Wrap Up

This month, I played a new game for a while and neglected my reading/cross stitching some, so my numbers were a bit low.

I read four books:

  • Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter
  • Poison's Kiss by Breeana Shields
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  • Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

I listened to five audio books:
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling
  • Innocent Blood by PD James
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
  • Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
  • Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by JK Rowling

This brings my total for the year to 83 books read and 64 audio books completed.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

November Book Haul

After splurging on the entire Penguin Drop Caps set in October, I took it easy this month.  Two are from my November OwlCrate and the other three are ARCs.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Mexico: Stories by Josh Barken

Mexico: Stories
Josh Barken
4/5 stars
projected publication date: January 2017

Mexico: Stories is a collection of short stories that takes place in current-day Mexico.  In each story, the characters, simply going about their daily lives, are somehow affected by the corruption, brutality, and danger that are created by the drug cartels.

I will be frank: I did not enjoy reading Mexico.  I was not a good match for Barken's raw style or violent stories. Despite that, I must say that Barken is a fine writer.  The characters were fleshed-out and seemed so real they could have been based on actual people.  The plots were well crafted and compelling, drawing me back to read even while I disliked what I read. Though Mexico was not for me, I've no doubt that this collection will be a perfect fit for a great many other readers.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Poison's Kiss by Breeana Shields

Poison's Kiss
Breeana Shields
3/5 stars
projected publication date: January 2017

Marinda is a visha kanya, a girl so full of venom that she can kill with simply a kiss, and is an executioner for the Raja.  When she is ordered to kill a boy she knows, she questions her orders, then her entire life.  Her little brother, Mani, becomes a pawn in the game and Marinda must make difficult choices to save him.

As a character, Marinda was well-developed, with believable conflicting emotions and hard decisions.  Her back story was nicely told, as well.  However, the insta-love that occurs was not just annoying, but was also out of character based on what had been told of Marinda's past and personality.

Sundari, the world of this fantasy, is similar to India and with similar mythology.  While Shields' world building skills are not excellent, it was enjoyable to learn about Sundari, finding the "real" in the fiction.

The plot was good--not great, but good.  The premise was interesting, and the twists and turns that it took were nicely surprising.  Despite this, the book lagged for me; it was as though it had been padded out to make it into more than one book.  I truly felt like it could have all been wrapped up with the dramatic scene near the end, and been a solid stand-alone.  As it is, it's an okay book, but it didn't draw me or stay with me, and I'm not interested enough in Marinda and her story to read the next book.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Innocent Blood by P.D. James

Innocent Blood
P.D. James
4/5 stars

Phillipa was adopted around the age of 8, but has no real memories of what her life was like before Maurice and Hilda adopted her.  At 18, she requests the information about her birth parents, and is surprised to find that what little she's been told was not true.

To tell any more of the plot is to spoil the surprises for the reader--and Innocent Blood does contain excellent surprises and plot turns.  It is not James' usual mystery, but rather a suspense novel.  The reader is slowly given information and left to wonder just what will happen when the important characters finally meet.

As is true of all of James' novels, Innocent Blood is excellently written, with a gripping plot.  Her ability to bring the reader into the life of her characters is amazing. The only thing keeping this from being a five star novel is that Phillipa, a spoiled and "entitled" young adult, is an annoying and unlikable (for me anyway) character.

Other than that, this is a well-crafted novel that will keep the reader engaged until the end.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

Vassa in the Night
Sarah Porter
4/5 stars

In Vassa's working-class Brooklyn neighborhood, the dancing (yes, dancing, and on chicken legs) convenience store (BY's) has a strict policy for dealing with shoplifters: they are beheaded, their heads stuck on poles around the parking lot.  Run by Babs and her two bodiless-hand henchmen, BY's is a formidable place that people rarely frequent.

Vassa has to make an emergency late night trip, and finds herself an unwilling BY employee for four days--or until her death.  Luckily, Vassa has one ally to help her: an enchanted doll (Erg) left to Vassa by her mother.  Together, Vassa and Erg fight Babs and the hands, to free Vassa from the nightmare, and Brooklyn from an evil witch.

Vassa in the Night is a fun, exciting, and sometime moving retelling of the Wassalissa and Baba Yaga (Russian) fairy tales.  My credulity was never strained, regardless of how bizarre the plot got, as Porter created an excellent and believable world.  Vassa was a likable, engaging heroine and it was easy to care about her and her predicament.  It was by turns dark and humorous, with good writing and a plot that moved quickly, making it hard to put down the book.

Overall, I enjoyed this enormously and would recommend it to YA and adult fantasy readers, especially fans of Neil Gaiman and A. Lee Martinez.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Gentleman by Forrest Leo

The Gentleman
Forrest Leo
4/5 stars

Victorian poet Lionel Savage marries the lovely and wealthy Vivian, loses his ability to write as a result, and subsequently falls out of love with his wife.  After a pleasant surprise visit from the Devil, Savage finds that his wife is missing and realizes that he has, unknowingly, sold his wife to that Gentleman.  Suddenly in love with Vivian again, he recruits friends and family to storm the gates of Hell to get her back.  Things, as you might expect, don't turn out quite the way anticipated.

The Gentleman is a delightfully absurd novel, written in the first person by Savage with footnotes by an editor (which are as fun as the book itself).  Leo balances the over-the-top-ness by having Savage completely serious about the events.  Occasionally the silliness becomes a bit stereotypical, but the book never looses it's charm.  It's a quick, fun read that both my husband and I thoroughly enjoyed.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Hallowe'en

The CEB Women's Bible

The CEB Women's Bible

5/5 stars

This edition is truly excellent. The CEB translation is both accessible and well-researched. The study guides are well-written, designed for a layperson yet with scholarly insights. It is referred to as a "women's" study Bible, and does gear some of the features towards women, and has a panel of women writers.

 It includes introductions to each book, giving background information and noting themes; "reflections" before chapters, briefly explaining what the section will be about; more than 200 sidebar articles which expound on Biblical themes, social issues or personal relationships, with an index in the back for these articles; character sketches of over 100 Biblical women, with an index in the back listing each portrait; "discussion and reflection questions" for each Sunday of the church year, broken into year A, B, and C; three reading plans; and a section of maps with an index of place names. 

Overall, this is a comprehensive study Bible that encourages and enables the reader to delve deeper into the history, themes, and meanings of the various books. I am extremely pleased with it, and can honestly say that I like it best of the many versions and translations I have owned.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Penguin Drop Caps Complete Set

Penguin Drop Caps Complete Set
Various Authors
5/5 stars

Yes, I did!  I bought the complete set!

This set of books is simply amazing to see. Each cover and spine is intricately designed and unique. The graduated spectrum of colors is perfect. The selection of classics and modern classics is excellent. These are books that are more for decoration than reading, and are worth every penny. I'm delighted with my set.

The set contains:
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, My Ántonia by Willa Cather, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Middlemarch by George Eliot, Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce, The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, Native Speaker by Chang-rae Lee, Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, Five Children and It by E. Nesbit, Butterfield 8 by John O'Hara, Swann's Way by Marcel Proust, The Greek Coffin Mystery by Ellery Queen, Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie, Cannery Row by John Steinbeck, The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, Kristin Lavransdatter: The Wreath by Sigrid Undset, Candide by Voltaire, Leaves of Grass and Selected Poems and Prose by Walt Whitman, Sky Burial by Xinran, When You Are Old: Early Poems and Fairy Tales by W. B. Yeats, and The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

A Tangled Web by L.M. Montgomery

A Tangled Web
L.M. Montgomery
3/5 stars

Aunt Becky is the holder of the family heirloom.  On her deathbed, she holds a levee, saying she is going to tell who is next in line for the coveted jug.   Instead, she informs her relatives that she has written the name of the inheritor and passed it to her executor, to be opened in one year.   This sets in motion many events that only come to pass as a result of Aunt Becky's levee and announcement.

The amount of characters that Montgomery introduces right at the beginning is overwhelming, and somewhat off-putting.  It's nearly impossible to remember who is who and how they relate to the others.  In addition, with so many characters, she wasn't able to give them as much personality as she has in other novels.

Instead of one large plot, Montgomery tells several stories encompassing many of the characters.  The stories are generally good, but so little fleshed out that they seem like sketches instead of complete tales.

On the whole, A Tangled Web is just that: a tangled web of characters and stories that are sometimes hard to unravel into any sense.  It was a good premise, promising an engaging story, but Montgomery simply put too many elements into it for it to be a quality novel.  I'd only recommend it to long-time Montgomery fans that haven't yet read it.  If you are new to Montgomery, I recommend reading the 5 star Anne of Green Gables series or my favorite, the Blue Castle, instead.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Three Mysteries

Well-Schooled in Murder
Elizabeth George
4/5 stars
This is one of the Inspector Lynley novels.  It started with finding the tortured body of a schoolboy, and I wasn't sure I'd be able to read it.  It turned out to be a well-crafted, well-written mystery.  The more I read by George, the better I like her.

Diamond Solitaire
Peter Lovesey
4/5 stars
A child is found in Harrods, and no one comes forward to claim her.  Ex-CID Diamond falls under the spell of the unwanted child and makes it his personal mission to uncover her identity. I nearly gave up on this one, as it is SO different from the first Peter Diamond mystery.  I stuck with it, though, and am so glad I did.  The plot occasionally strained credulity, but it was funny and interesting, and I enjoyed it tremendously.  I'm looking forward to more Diamond mysteries.

Swing, Brother, Swing
Ngaio Marsh
4/5 stars
Marsh always acquaints the reader with the principal players in advance of the crime, and does so expertly in this mystery. The solution to the murder was a little bit far-fetched, but the journey to the denouement was a great deal of fun.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Catching Up

I've finished six books so far this month, and only just posted my first review.  I don't want to start feeling under pressure to review, so I'm just going to sum up October to this point.

1. Idaho by Emily Ruskovich
I just posted the review for this ARC.  Excellent, haunting book.

2. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
This is a memoir written by a man with locked-in syndrome.  He dictated it, letter by letter, by blinking his one eye when his helper reached the correct letter.  This is just not a book that can be reviewed or rated.

3.  Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. R. Rowling
Bryan and I are rereading the Harry Potter series by listening to the audio books.  It's Steven Fry's narration, and is excellent.  There is no need to be one of the million to review these novels.  Besides, the simple fact that we're rereading them is enough.

4. Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
This is the sequel to Six of Crows (review) and oh my goodness was it great!  A 5 star adventure.  I loved it, and I might give it a real review later.

5. Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Contemporary fiction/romance is not my usual genre, but Rowell added a phone that could dial the past, and I was hooked.  Her writing is excellent; her characters are so believable.  I decided to read this after reading Eleanor and Park (review), one of her YA books.

6. Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell
I have become a massive Thirkell fan this year.  Her books are gentle stories, with a bit of light romance, that are funny and thoroughly enjoyable.  This one had me laughing out loud several times.

Idaho by Emily Ruskovich

Emily Ruskovich
publication date: 1/2017
5/5 stars

Idaho is a difficult book to summarize.  It begins with Ann.  She is Wade's second wife, and wants desperately to understand more of the tragedy that occurred in his recent past.  The focus then moves to various characters that are involved in some aspect of the tragedy, sharing small slices of their lives.  The state of Idaho, itself, as well as Nature, feature as important characters throughout the book.  The main theme is memory, both fallible and infallible, with atonement, love, human needs, and, finally, hope, as other themes.  To tell any more than this would, I think, spoil the experience of reading this book.

The story is told in a nonlinear fashion, so that the past is told side by side with the present, and then even with the future.   Ruskovich's prose is haunting, unsettling, poetic.   There is no real climax, and no real conclusion, and yet it is a compelling read.  I was left swimming in emotions that took days to sort through before I could review it.

 Idaho raises so many questions and invokes so many feelings, that it would be a great book for discussion; I would especially recommend it for pairs of readers or for a book club.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Mosquitoland by David Arnold

David Arnold
4/5 stars

In a quick-moving chain of events, Mim's parents divorce, her father remarries, and Mim is moved nearly 1000 miles south from her mother.  After overhearing that her mother is ill, and being convinced that her step-mother is keeping them apart, Mim makes a snap decision to take a Greyhound to Cleveland and help her mom. Mosquitoland follows Mim's journey, both physically and emotionally, as she makes friends, faces tough decisions, and learns a good deal about herself.

Arnold's debut novel is smooth and polished, with a plot that flows well and nicely defined characters.  It is also funny, and heartbreaking.  With a few exceptions, Mim finds herself in situations that are realistic, and the choices she makes are also believable--even the bad ones.

On a side note, as a former special educator, I am in awe with Arnold's beautiful treatment of , and discussions about, atypical children.   I hope this lesson will be embraced by all who read it.

Mosquitoland is memorable, touching, and an overall good novel.

(I previously read Arnold's Kids of Appetite and found it amazing.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows
Leigh Bardugo
4/5 stars

In the fictional town of Ketterdam, a team of misfit miscreants is hired to do an impossible heist.  These five teenagers, under the leadership of the equally young "DirtyHands" Kaz Brekker set out to make a fortune, if they can keep from killing each other in the meantime.

Six of Crows, the first of a duology,  is an adventure novel with a bit of fantasy thrown in.  It has an exciting, bold plot that reminds me of a Mission: Impossible story line.  The outrageous plans Kaz makes sometimes work, and sometimes have to improvised while lives are on the line, leaving the reader wondering just what could possibly happen next.  Several times I gasped, seeing no way out of the situation.

The writing is solid and vivid, flowing quickly from one escapade to the next.  The chapters are told in first-person from the point of view of one of the characters.  Kaz's team of a magician, a demo expert, a sharpshooter, a Wraith, a prisoner forced to work against his country, and himself, an expert pickpocket, have distinctive personalities and voices, making this work excellently.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book; enough so that I immediately purchased the finale.  I'll admit that I did find the ages of the characters to be too young for their experiences, but that didn't diminish the pleasure of the book.  Overall, it is a great yarn, and I recommend it to any reader looking for an epic undertaking against the odds.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Three Dark Crowns
Kendare Blake
5/5 stars

On the island of Fennbrin, queens are always born as triplets.  These queens are endowed with magical gifts and are trained from children to use them.  Only one can be made THE queen, though, and at the age of 16 they begin a ritual that will end with only one survivor.

Three Dark Crowns is a fantastic book. Blake skillfully goes from the perspective of one queen to another, with each queen having a distinctive personality.  The world-building is excellent, with customs and religion being explained as the story goes along.  The prose is engaging and Blake writes well.  The plot is exciting; I was left guessing through the entire novel, never able to know for certain where the story would go.  This is the first of a series, and Blake ended on a cliffhanger that took my breath away.  I highly recommend this for all fantasy lovers.