Sunday, July 31, 2016

Sunday Salon: Finishing July

Musing for this week's Sunday Salon.

This past week, I  bought a copy of a Court of Mist and Fury from Target (I read a library copy) because the Target copy contained a bonus short story--which was awesome!  It was well worth buying the book to get it.  Besides, I enjoyed it enough to want to reread bits, if not the whole.  I plan to buy a Court of Thorns and Roses with a gift card I got for my birthday--again because I liked it enough to want to reread it.  (Just because I didn't give these two novels 5 stars doesn't mean that I didn't think the plots were just plain great!)

I got another order of (mostly) bookish stickers from RedBubble.  I'm so happy with them! My laptop looks awesome!  (The first photo is of the new stickers; the second is of the first set I got.  I now have them all on my laptop!)  My favorite is still a tie between the Fifth Doctor playing cricket, and River and Twelfth Doctor standing so close.

This month, I read 10 books and listened to 4 audio books.  My low number of audio books is because I've been listening to Agatha Christie's extremely long (but enjoyable) autobiography.
Here is what I read:
1. My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows (4/5 stars)
2. The Black Dream by the Little Sisters (4/5 stars)
3. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard (4/5 stars)
4. Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick (5/5 stars)
5. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas (4/5 stars)
6. 100 Dresses: If the Magic Fits (ARC) by Susan Maupin Schmid (5/5 stars)
7. This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab (5/5 stars)
8. A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas (4/5 stars)
9. Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo (3/5 stars)
10. The Uncommoners: A Crooked Sixpence by Jennifer Bell (4/5 stars)
Here are the audio books I finished:
1. Thou Shell of Death by Nicholas Blake (4/5 stars)
2. Cinder by Marissa Meyer (3/5 stars)
3. The Water Room by Christopher Fowler (4/5 stars)
4. Scarlet by Marissa Meyer (4/5 stars)

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Uncommoners: The Crooked Sixpence by Jennifer Bell

The Uncommoners: The Crooked Sixpence 
Jennifer Bell
  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
projected publication date: January 2017
4/5 stars

The Uncommoners: The Crooked Sixpence is a fantasy-adventure, the first in a projected series, intended for children 8-12 years-old.  In this story, Ivy Sparrow and her brother Seb find themselves in a strange adventure after their grandmother has an accident.  While she is in the hospital, her home is ransacked and two very odd policemen chase them with a horse-drawn hearse.  Soon they find themselves in an underground city, Lundinor, where ordinary objects do unusual things and the dead walk the streets with the living.  They become immersed in a life or death mystery as they try to unravel their grandmother's forgotten past.

This is an enjoyable book, with a feisty heroine and an interesting plot.  The plot is just convoluted enough to keep a middle grade reader engaged and guessing, without being difficult to follow  It is faced paced and should hold the attention of the appropriate aged group..  Bell's descriptions of Ludinor and the explanations of that world are well-written and, while the characters aren't fully fleshed out, they are appealing.

The plot of the Crooked Sixpence relies a great deal on coincidence, and was therefore not believable to this adult reader.  I don't know that it would be a problem for the intended audience, though.

There were also several things that were reminiscent of other popular fantasy series, but I can't really hold that against Bell.  The very nature of fantasy is full of common tropes; it's impossible for a fantasy writer to be completely original.

Despite it's length (over 300 pages), I think this book is quite suitable for--and should be enjoyable for--the older end of the intended audience.

(I was given this ARC by the Amazon Vine program in exchange for an honest review.)

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Shadow and Bone
Leigh Bardugo
3/5 stars

Shadow and Bone is a fantasy set in a country that resembles Tsarist Russia, called Ravka.  In Ravka's world, magic is real and their exists a caste of magicians referred to as Grisha.  Splitting Ravka in two is the Dark Fold, a shadowy stretch of land inhabited by monsters that is impassable without the aid of the Grisha, and sometimes not even then.

Alina, a cartographer in the army, is discovered to have a rare form of magic and is uprooted to the world of the Grisha to learn to use her power.  The leader of the Grisha, the Darkling, takes her under his wing and tells her that together they can free Ravka from the Dark Fold.  Alina becomes involved in intrigue and treachery, risking her life and that of her best friend, Mal.

I liked this book, but I didn't love it.  The plot was interesting, and the world of magic well created.  Ravka and how the world functioned was fascinating, but I didn't feel enough time was given to explaining this world.  In addition, the two romantic/emotional plot lines didn't ring true.

Alina's background was not fully explained, which isn't always a bad thing, but as a result in this novel, there were not always explanations for her way of reacting to situations.  Alina was also not fully convincing as a character, nor was she endearing in any way.  She was not a particularly strong character, and though flaws are important to make a character real, her obsession over her looks, her low-self esteem and her inexplicable naivete were frustrating.  I simply could not become invested in her as a main character.

I read it all, and found most of it interesting, but not engrossing enough to finish the series.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

July OwlCrate

I forgot to show off my July OwlCrate!  The theme was "Good vs Evil" and half the boxes were "good" and the other half "evil".  I got the "good" crate and here is what was in it:

  • Hard cover copy of This Savage Song (which I read immediately) by Victoria Schwab, with a letter from her and an autographed book plate. 
    Alice bookmark from Jane's Tiny Things.  (The "evil" box got the Queen of Hearts.)
    Full sized Dobby Funko Pop.  (The other "good" one was Luna Lovegood; the "evil" box got either Draco or a Dementor.)
    Millennium Falcon necklace from Vector Engraving. Look at the detail! It's become my new favorite necklace! (The "evil" box got the Deathstar.)
    Illuminae sticker from Drop and Give Me Nerdy. I've not read this book yet, but I picked it up from the library today.  (The "evil" box got a different quote from the same book.)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Mist and Fury
Sarah J. Maas
4/5 Stars

A Court of Mist and Fury is the sequel to A Court of Thorns and Roses, and the second book in a projected trilogy.  This book opens with our heroes from the last book, Feyre and Tamlin, experiencing severe PTSD (or the fairy equivalent) and struggling greatly with memories from the last book.  From there, the book takes a drastic turn, and Feyre finds herself in the Night Court and involved with politics, intrigue, and plans for war.

This is a funny, moving, and exciting novel--and quite different in plot from A Court of Thorns and Roses.  Maas is an excellent writer and I was truly invested in the characters.  The camaraderie of the Court of Dreams was truly enjoyable to read. Feyre's growth, and the unfolding of Rhysand's character, were exceptionally well done.  Overall, this is a stunning sequel to A Court of Thorns and Roses and it's cliffhanger has left me eager for next year's concluding novel.

Note: This novel contains graphic, consensual sex. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Sunday Salon: The Little Prince

Musing for this week's Sunday Salon.

This week I started reading the Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

I'm about to make a lot of people upset, but. . . 

I didn't really like it.  

I went into the experience with high expectations, due to the devotion this book engenders.  I kept waiting to be charmed and awed, but I never was.  I made it about a quarter of the way through, and dreaded having to go back to it, so I gave up.  

I don't know what exactly about it I didn't like, only that I didn't like it.  

One smallish thing that colored my view of the book was this:  I think he got sheep and goats mixed up.  Sheep don't eat everything, like he said.  The eat grass and clovers and the like.  Goats eat EVERYTHING and would have had no trouble eating the baobab shoots.  I found this most distracting!

Then there was the shifting of point of view.  Sometimes the pilot is talking to the reader, and sometimes to the Little Prince.  This kept the narrative from running smoothly and drove me batty.

On the positive side, I loved the artwork.  It was enchanting and appealing--like I expected the prose to be.

Have you read it?  Did you love it?  What am I missing?  Why is this a classic of children's literature?

Anyone got answers for me?

Saturday, July 23, 2016

This Savage Song by Victoria E. Schwab

This Savage Song
Victoria E. Schwab
5/5 stars

I'm struggling with how to describe This Savage Song.  It was so good, just so darn good--how can I convey just how good it was?

This dark, urban fantasy takes place sometime in the future, in a world where monsters now exist.  The location, Verity City, is split between two factions: one ruled by Harker and his tame monsters, and the other governed by Flynn and his task force.  The children of these two men, August Flynn and Kate Harker, become schoolmates, enemies and then allies as they try to prevent another war between the two factions.

Don't think this is some sort of Romeo and Juliet love story.  It's not.  There is no romance: just a lot of action, violence, strong emotion and darn fine story telling.

Schwab had me hooked from the beginning, and I became more and more involved as the story went along.  She drops the reader straight into this world, and the reader spends several pages picking up clues and arranging them to discover just what sort of world this is, where the monsters come from, and how our two protagonists fit.  It was fantastically well done, actively involving the reader right from the start.

The prose is as good as the plot, with some nicely turned phrases such as "The thoughts fell like dominoes inside his head, one knocking into the next into the next into the--"  I also found the character development to be impressive; the characters grew into complex personalities as the book progressed.

I know that this is a book I'll be raving about all year; I high recommend it.

Red Books

Friday, July 22, 2016

100 Dresses: If the Magic Fits by Susan Maupin Schmid

100 Dresses: If the Magic Fits
Susan Maupin Schmid
  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • projected publication date: October 2016
  • 5/5 stars

100 Dresses: If the Magic Fits is a delightful novel with a spunky 11-year old heroine, Darling.  Darling works in the castle kitchen and dreams of having just one adventure.  She discovers a room full of enchanted dresses and her dream of adventure comes true.

In this part-fantasy, part-mystery, Darling overhears a plot to release the stone dragons of the castle and take over the kingdom.  Using the magic of the dresses, she seeks a way of thwarting the villains.

This book is charming, funny and well written.  Despite being well over the intended audience age, I was captured from the first page and enjoyed reading all the way through.  Darling is well-rounded and believable--the kind of girl one would want for a friend and a heroine that any child could safely emulate.  

Schmid is an excellent writer, and used several fun descriptive passages, such as "The fabric slipped on like butter over toast. . . " and "(the word) hung in the air of the dressing room like a damp petticoat on a laundry line."

The only potential problem with this book is it's length.  At nearly 300 pages, it is, perhaps, too long of a novel for readers of the younger end of the suggested age-range.  Older pre-teens, though, would be a perfect audience.

This book was such a joy to read--enough so that I, as an adult, plan to watch out for the next installment of Darling's story.

(I was given this book to read by the Amazon Vine program in return for an honest review.)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Water Room by Christopher Fowler

The Water Room  
Christopher Fowler
4/5 stars

The Water Room is the second in the Bryant and May series.  I found the first, Full Dark House, to only be worthy of 3 stars, but liked the characters enough to try the second novel.  It was much more polished and with a better plot, and I did enjoy it.

Bryant and May are senior citizen detectives that work in the Peculiar Crimes Unit--the department that is given any bizarre cases that the Met doesn't wish to tackle.  They've been partners in the PCU for 50 years and have the rapport of a golden anniversary married couple.

The plot begins when an elderly woman is found dead, sitting in a chair, fully clothed and dry, yet she appears to have died by drowning.  Her brother asks Bryant to help out, and he willingly involves the PCU.  As they investigate her death, other strange things seem to be happening on the same street, culminating in another murder.  Bryant and May scramble to solve the case before an impossible deadline set by their supervisor.

The characters of Bryant and May are both well developed with distinctive, and engaging  personalities.  The mystery was interesting, and the solution believable.  Bryant's tangents into more eccentric possible solutions is a great addition to the main story line.

The Water Room is a solid, entertaining read, and I look forward to reading more in the series.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: International Books

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme by The Broke and the Bookish.

The topic for this week is actually "top ten books set outside the US", because the meme creators stated that they mostly read books taking place inside the US.  Because I mostly read books taking place in the UK, I decided that I couldn't include any of these books as well, and have made the topic "non-US/UK books", or "international books" for a smoother topic.

These are not necessarily my TOP ten, but rather ten that I have given a 5 star review.

1. Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin (my review here)
This book was a joy and delight to read.  It takes place in Kigali, Rwanda and is serious and funny all at the same time.  I highly recommend it.

(my review here)
This beautiful book is Di Robilant's memoir of his search for a nearly extinct rose.  The story takes him through several countries, as well as into the history of roses.  It's an excellent read.

(my review here)
I just recently read and reviewed this book about the lives of five ladies in Madrid, and the boss's son who comes to fire them.  It was thoroughly enjoyable.

4. Britt-Marie Was Here by Frederik Backman  (my review here)
This is another recent read, taking place in Sweden.  It's a feel good novel that kept me guessing till the end.

5. Geisha: a Life by Mineko Iwasaki (my review here)
This is the autobiography of the most successful geiko of her time.  I found it fascinating, and felt it was like talking to a good friend.

6.Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi (my review here)
A truly passionate book about books.  All bibliophiles should read it.

7.  In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson (my review here)
This is a nonfiction book about the US Ambassador to Hitler's Germany.  Larson is a stellar writer and this reads like a novel.

8.  King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard (my review here)
This is my favorite adventure story.  It takes place in Africa, real and imagined.  While it is dated, it is still a great yarn.

9. Sky Burial by Xinran (my review here)
There has been some discussion over the years as to whether this is really based on a true story.  That doesn't matter as far as I'm concerned--it is a gorgeous story that made me long to visit Tibet.

10. The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy (my review here)
This is a hilarious story of an American in Paris.  It had me laughing out loud often.

Monday, July 18, 2016

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Thorns and Roses
Sarah J. Maas
4/5 stars

A Court of Thorns and Roses, the first of a series, is an engrossing YA fantasy with an exciting plot and lots of action.  It is very loosely based on the Beauty and the Beast story, which gives it a familiar feel, but it also contains some lovely twists and turns.

I would give a synopsis, but it is a difficult plot to explain--especially if one doesn't wish to give spoilers.  Suffice it to say that there is a strong-willed heroine who fights fairy creatures, falls in love, and makes difficult choices.  There is also a handsome fairy Lord, a curse that needs lifting, and a sadistic Queen.

Yes, these are all standard fantasy cliches, but Maas writes well enough to give life to the story.  Her characters had backstories that explained their actions in a credible way, and the plot progressed in a believably.  Despite it being over 400 pages, I read it quickly and was completely immersed in that world while doing so.  I cared for the characters and was interested in what would happen next.  I look forward to the next book in the series.

Note: This book contains graphic, consensual sex scenes.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Sunday Salon: Week in Review

Musings for this week's Sunday Salon.

Gave up on another novel this past week: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson.  I read her second novel, the Summer Before the War, and other than wondering why it had been misnamed, thoroughly enjoyed it (5 star read).

Major Pettigrew is her first novel. The writing is good, and I was quite interested in the relationship between Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali.  I was not, however, interested in the other conflicts in the book.  I kept getting bogged down with these episodes, skimming pages and trying to get back to Mrs. Ali.  Finally, I decided to skip to the last chapter and call it quits.

I managed to buy nine books this week.  Nine.  I bought books at the used bookstore, the thrift store, Sam's Club and the Dollar Tree.  I'll never get all I've got read, thanks to the library book sale last month and going overboard this week.  I've got to give myself a book buying ban again.

After I wrote this, I remembered the tenth book I bought this week, using the Amazon Prime Day discount, so the grand total of books purchased is ten.  I really need to slow down!

Speaking of the local used bookstore, here is what is looks like:

It was a good week for reading; I read and thoroughly enjoyed three novels, and am enjoying the one I started last night (a Court of Thorns and Roses).

Plus I'm listening to Agatha Christie's Autobiography and it is fantastic.  She was born in the tail-end of the Victorian age, and has so many interesting things to tell about her childhood.  I'm not up to the Great War yet, so I don't know if her style will change as the book progresses, but so far it is engaging, delightful and informative!

Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick

Every Exquisite Thing 
Matthew Quick
5/5 stars

(I was given this ARC by the Amazon Vine program in return for an honest review.)

Eighteen-year-old Nanette has spent all her life living up to the expectations of others, too afraid to do what she really wants with her life. She is given a book with a protagonist that "quits", rebels, and does things his own way, which changes her outlook on life. Nanette becomes friends with the author, gets her first boyfriend (an aspiring poet who is also a fan of the book), and begins to make her own decisions--becoming a rebel herself. She finds that rebelling can have drastic repercussions on herself and others.

Every Exquisite Thing, like Quick's other novels, deals with the serious subject of mental health issues. Again, as with his other novels, he treats this subject with delicacy and understanding, and without condescension. For those not familiar with mental health issues, this book will reveal a world that needs to be comprehended; for those that are familiar with these issues, it will be a comfort to see that they are not alone.

Told by Nanette in first person, this moving novel is immediately engrossing and stays so until the end. The situations are real, the characters well developed, and the prose excellent. It is marketed as a Young Adult book, but I found it equally suitable for an adult.

While it wasn't as stunning as the Silver Linings Playbook or the Good Luck of Right Now, Every Exquisite Thing is a fantastic read and I highly recommend it.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Why the Dutch Are Different by Ben Coates

Why the Dutch Are Different
Ben Coates
3/5 stars

(I was given this ARC by the Amazon Vine program in return for an honest review.)

In Why the Dutch Are Different, a Brit living in the Netherlands writes a mix of travelogue, history, anecdotes and personal narrative apparently with the intent of showing just why the Dutch are different.  Coates visits throughout the Netherlands and, in a rambling way, gives a great deal of information about each location.  For the most part, though, this information gives a feeling of how the Dutch came to be "Dutch", but not why they are different.  Frankly, he covers that early in the book, with the reason for the Dutch being how they are due to the obvious answer of land and water issues--an answer which honestly does not take nearly three hundred pages to explain.

This book is densely packed with information; so much so that it is overwhelming.  Since much of it didn't seem to relate to the point I was expecting him to eventually make (why the Dutch are different), and since the prose was not engaging, I found myself wanting to skim and skip.  I think this book would be best read by picking it up occasionally and reading one or two of the short essays, instead of trying to read it all at once.

Coates seems ambivalent toward the Dutch.  At one moment he is admiring their ingenuity, the next he is using stereotypes in a derogatory way.  I'm sure it's his way of introducing humor  (". . . shared the common Dutch belief that there was no such thing as too much hair gel"  and "towns with names that could choke a child") but it seemed disrespectful to the people that he was showcasing.

Furthermore, while Coates writes well technically, there was no sparkle to his prose; he never pulled me in and made me genuinely interested.  I don't know if this is the fault of the writer or of the reader.

Why the Dutch Are Different is certainly interesting, but not gripping.  I think a better title--a more achievable central idea--and a lot of editing out of anecdotes would have improved it.  This is, of course, only my personal opinion (which is what a review is, after all) and I've no doubt it will appeal more to some readers than it did to me.

Note: This is just my opinion; 41% of the reviews are 4 stars.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Red Queen
Victoria Aveyard
4/5 stars

Red Queen is the first in a projected four part series.  To give a synopsis of this novel is difficult.  It is a dystopia where the world is divided into two types of people: the Silvers (silver-blooded with magical powers) who keep the Reds (red-blooded, with no power) under oppressive rule.  Mare, after discovering that she is unique from the other Reds, helps to start a revolution against the Silvers.  (I realize this doesn't sound particularly exciting, but that's due to my poor explanatory skills.)

At first, I was skeptical.  Seventeen-year-old Mare--with suddenly found magical powers and just as unexpectedly engaged to a prince--seemed to me to be a Mary Sue*.  Despite my reservations, I was soon drawn into the story and invested in the characters, and the improbability drifted away as unimportant.
*from Wikipedia: Mary Sue is an idealized and seemingly perfect fictional character, a young or low-rank person who saves the day through unrealistic abilities

Aveyard builds her world well and makes it believable. The characters were equally real, with actions, and the reasons behind those actions, being convincing.  The plot was exciting, and even though I anticipated the plot twist, it was still thrilling.

Red Queen is a fun and fast read that should appeal to those who enjoy a credible dystopia, a little romance, and a good deal of action.  I certainly enjoyed it and look forward to reading the next installment.

Thursday, July 14, 2016


The Black Dream

The Black Dream
Constance and Gwenyth Little
4/5 stars

Constance and Gwenyth Little were sisters who co-wrote mystery novels during the 1940s-50s.  Channeling the popular humor of the time, these books are screwball comedies with a fast pace, witty dialogue, and bizarre plots.  I've yet to read one that disappointed me, though some are, of course, better than others.

In the Black Dream (1952), Agatha keeps a boarding house of sorts and employees a cook, Em, that she despises.  A funky clause in Agatha's father's will keeps her from being able to fire Em.  Agatha has been under so much stress lately that she's been walking in her sleep; when she discovers Em's murdered body, she just knows that she killed Em while sleepwalking.  She hides the body, and then things get complicated.

With a full boarding house of characters it could be difficult to give them various personalities and quirks, but the Littles pull it off nicely.  The sub-plots running along side the major plot are funny and add to the general mayhem without detracting from the mystery.  There were enough twists in the plot to keep me guessing, even when I was certain I knew the answer.

While this isn't the best of the Little mysteries, it is a delightful novel and well worth a read.

Some of my favorites: