Covered in dog hair, Obsessed with books, Wondering what it's all about. I suspect the answer is ice cream and the ocean.
Original Publication Year: 2012
Genre(s): Non-Fiction, Biography/Memoir
Awards: Some reader’s choice awards, an Oprah pick
Format: Audio and eBook
Narrated by: Bernadette Dunne
In 7th grade I decided that my name was boring. Stephanie. A common named spelled in the most common manner. I wanted to be different, far from common and ordinary. So I informed my parents and anybody else that would listen that from that moment on I was going to spell my name Stefani. Ooooohhhh. Crazy! This spelling actually stuck with me until I was about 25 when I started a regular job and realized that having the legal spelling and my spelling of my name be different was just confusing and that I didn’t really care anymore about how my name was spelled and whether it was ordinary or uniquely me.
This whole name changing thing? That’s pretty much the only thing Cheryl Strayed and I have in common. She also (though she was 26) decided she wanted her name to be meaningful and uniquely her so picked the word Strayed as her last name. Unfortunately this playing with our names was not enough of a common thread for me to really get into this book.
There were a few reasons that had me really looking forward to Wild. 1) Last Fall I read Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things and really liked it. I really identified with her overall message, was impressed with the level of her compassion and lack of judgment and the writing was beautiful. It was a volunteer gig, obviously a labor of love and came straight from her heart and soul. Why wouldn’t I love to read more about this woman’s life? 2) I do truly and perhaps somewhat too strongly believe in the transformative power of nature which seemed like it would be a major theme for Wild. 3) I’d loved Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods about hiking the Appalachian Trail and while this book promised to be a bit more angsty than Bryson’s book, there was a precedent for me liking tales of unprepared people trying to hike long arduous distances.
The basic premise of Wild is this. At the age of 26, Strayed has lost her beloved mother to cancer and has subsequently, in her grief, confusion, and immaturity, ruined her marriage of 6 years. She’s confused by her feelings and her behavior - she feels lost. She decides that she needs to test herself and to spend some time truly alone in order to get her bearings back. She decides to hike a good chunk of the Pacific Crest Trail.
I’ve read a few reviews of the book that are scathingly critical of the author - calling her silly, stupidly reckless, shallow, egotistical and slutty. I can’t honestly say that none of those words didn’t float through my mind as well upon occasion while reading BUT I also recognized them as being judgmental and truly unfair. The fact is I’m a boring person. I would never have even considered getting married at the age of 19, would have been appalled if I even knew anyone who did heroin, and never in my wildest dreams would have been brave enough to go on a solo backpacking trip on the Pacific Crest Trail. Cheryl would find me incredibly boring and in return I had a hard time really feeling how she was feeling. I admire her guts but I also found her impulsive and reckless behavior a little ridiculous. And she does seem to spend perhaps a little bit too much time in the book detailing how much everybody she encounters likes and admires her. So I didn’t get along with the book as well as I’d hoped.
As a contemplation on grief and loss it left me feeling pretty cold. I have experienced grief, (though not at as young an age) and yet her language of grief, the way she expresses it, the way she reacted left me unmoved. In many ways this short review of C.S. Lewis’ work A Grief Observed written by Hilary Mantel expresses some of the same feelings that Strayed tries also to convey - the feeling of isolation and like your life has irrevocably changed and there is no going back. However the Mantel piece had me gasping with sobs by the end of the third paragraph. It’s not that Strayed isn’t a good writer but for whatever reason, while I felt sympathetic of her situation, I never felt her pain.
As a hiking tale it worked a little bit better for me but still not as I hoped. I still prefer Bill Bryson’s informative yet utterly charming account of his ramblings along the AT. (I'm not sure how thrilled I am that I identify more readily with a middle aged man than a hip young Bohemian but it is what it is.) However, her tenacity in finishing the her hike despite the scary trail conditions (snow), while frequently being completely devoid of cash and even after losing her boots is incredibly admirable.
FINAL VERDICT: In the end I think I hit this book at the wrong time, or the wrong age and I can’t help but feel that I am not the intended audience. My theory is that if you're more of a free spirit and tackle your life with gusto, consequences be damned, (and I say this with envy not criticism), I have no doubt you will enjoy Cheryl's journey.
The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes edited by John Joseph Adams
Original Publication Year: 2009
Genre(s): Anthology, Mystery, Speculative
Narrated by: NA
This was the last book I finished in 2014 and it fulfilled one of the categories in the Eclectic Reader Challenge (ERC). It is a good argument for participating in a challenge that is meant to push one out of normal reading ruts because this was fun and I can’t remember the last time I read an Anthology. Figuring out how to review it may be a challenge all in itself!
As the title suggests, the anthology is a collection of short stories by many different authors but all featuring the Sherlock Holmes “mythos”. Some of the stories are straight up mysteries that stay faithful to Conan Doyle’s vision, some stretch the boundaries and bring in speculative elements. It contains 28 different stories edited and compiled from various sources by John Joseph Adams who seems to have made a living curating various interesting looking anthologies (the link on the title will take you to his website). Some of the most notable authors (for me) with stories in the anthology include: Stephen King, Anne Perry, Mary Robinette Kowal, Laurie R. King, Sharyn McCrumb, Michael Moorcock, Barbara Hambly, Naomi Novik, Tanith Lee and Neil Gaiman.
I really enjoyed the collection as a whole. There was only one story (The Adventure of The Lost World by Dominic Green – yes it involves dinosaurs) that I didn’t like that much. Several of the stories shared a Lovecraftian influence but otherwise there was little to tie them together besides the characters and concepts of Conan Doyle’s creation. A couple of them feature different narrators besides Watson which was interesting.
A few highlights for me were:
Stephen King’s The Doctor’s Case – A locked room mystery where Watson gets to solve the crime!
Sharyn McCrumb’s Vale of the White Horse – Told from the perspective of a village healing or wise woman in rural England. It is short but complete and features a case where folk legend plays a surprising role. I really liked the unique voice and it made me want to pick up some of McCrumb’s novels.
Naomi Novik’s Common Places – A very different and more personal story set during the years that Holmes was missing presumed dead. Explores Holmes’ relationship with Watson and Irene Adler. Told from Adler’s POV.
Rob Roger’s The Adventures of the Pirates of Devil’s Cape – A rather unlikely but really fun and swashbuckling adventure that involves Pirates!!! (I like pirates.) The deductions in this one were particularly creative.
Tanith Lee The Human Mystery – Holmes miscalculates because his understanding of the fairer sex is not always spot on. Very atmospheric with a twist.
Other favorites include: Michael Moorcock’s The Adventure of the Dorset Street Lodger, Vonda McIntyre’s The Adventure of Field Theorems, Barbara Roden’s The Things that Shall Come Upon Them, and Barbara Hambly’s The Adventure of the Antiquarian’s Niece.
Final Verdict: If you enjoy Sherlock Holmes and you don’t mind having him played with a little I think you will find at least a few stories in this collection that will make you happy. 3 out of 5 stars ✪✪✪
Here are my bookish (and perhaps a couple non-bookish) resolutions for 2015!
1) Read 100 Books - I've been working towards this goal for a few years now, slowing adding to the number of books I read each year. This year my goal was 90 and I ended up reading 92 books. I can do this.
2) Read 25 books off my 100 Books Project list - I'll be entering year 3 of 5 in my 100 books project and the last couple years I've fallen short of the 20 book minimum per year I need to keep up. Time to pick up the pace!
3) Participate in and complete Book'd Out's Eclectic Reader Challenge and the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge - I'm a mood reader so don't like to plan out my reading too much but both of these look interesting and I thinking there will be a lot of overlap between these and the 100 books project list. I think with planning, I can complete all the challenges and have the challenge/project books be no more than a third of my reading. I hope.
4) Track Diversity - I'd like to do a better job of tracking how much racial and ethnic diversity there is in my reading so that I can be more aware of my reading habits and be proactive about reading more diversely.
5) Read the books I own - Between my eReader and two full shelves of unread books, I have plenty to read right here in my cozy home. However, like most book addicts I love to shop for books and the Library? It's like book shopping with NO MONEY BEING SPENT. I love my weekly trip to the library but I will make an effort to pick up more of the books I already have in my hot little hands.
6) MOUNT TBR, I will tackle thee! - This is somewhat related to number 5 and like number 5 I will be vague in my resolution and just resolve to pay attention to my TBR pile. Blogging has definitely brought me closer to the world of reading the bright shiny new things as they are released but I still mostly read back list and am pretty good at not requesting too many ARCs. This should be a cinch, right? Riiiiiggghhtt.
7) Find some time for Re-reading - I used to re-read like a champ all the time. For some reason I have gotten out of the habit and that makes me sad. There are a lot of books and series I'd like to revisit and I'm going to try to carve out a little reading time for them. Some books on that list would include: The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett, The Belgariad by David Eddings, Harry Potter, all the Song of Ice and Fire Books (once the final book in the series has been released - that'll happen this year right?:), His Dark Materials series by Phillip Pullman.
8) BALANCE, take two - This was actually my one life resolution from last year and it went surprisingly okay considering that this past year was probably a terrible year to try and achieve it. Truly, is there ever a really good time? It's still worth striving for and I will continue to keep it in the forefront of my mind.
9) Real Food and maybe even Real Exercise - Another life resolution and one that is over done, I know but I started trying to clean up my diet a couple of months ago and it is going somewhat well but needs continued refining. And no worries, I will not be joining a gym! However, I do need to figure out some alternative and more diverse exercising then endlessly walking my dogs.
What is that, you say? Walking us does not keep you at the peak of fitness? How is that possible?
I'll wrap it up there and leave a tenth spot open for any last minute resoluting that might need to happen:0)! What are your goals for 2015?
It's time to reflect on the past year's reading and try to choose the ones I loved best. I read more new releases then I used to in the past but my list is still going to be primarily books published outside of 2014.
My overall impression of this year's reading was that it was so-so. I don't feel like I found any books that I really love. However, I did give 7 books 5 out of 5 stars which I was surprised at. Upon revisiting to make this list I downgraded one to 4 stars but otherwise I stand by my ratings. I must be going soft in my old age. All the five star books are on here as books 1-6. Then I'll have to choose 4 out of the 29 books I gave 4 stars to??!! My overall impression of the year and my ratings don't really agree with each other! So maybe it was a better year than I am remembering...
A lovely poetic and philosophical book about nature and grieving. So many beautiful and incisive observations and so peaceful. [this book does not seem to be in the Booklikes library:(]
A 2014 release! I think this may be the only 2014 release on the list - sorry! A book that skates the line between fantasy and mystery with gods who interfere in every day life and a smart, funny and tough heroine. Icing on the cake is fantastic world building.
This book is set in 1950's England and cast as the journal of an old school Butler. The voice is entirely unique and the way the book slowly unravels and brings home its point is mesmerizing.
The hype around this book when it first came out made me avoid it for a long while, a fact for which I am now kicking myself. This may be the favorite book I read this year. Dreamy and atmospheric and utterly delightful. This book mixes mystery, fantasy, historical fiction and romance in a way that I was completely absorbed by.
I think I am starting to see somewhat of a trend in that many of the books I loved this year ignored the barriers of genre. The Shadow of the Wind is an epic historical romance and mystery which also flirts with the idea of the supernatural. Great characters and great storytelling.
This is book four in the Kate Daniel's Urban Fantasy series. This is a series that just keeps getting better with each successive book and I enjoyed this one so much. They won't win any awards for lyrical writing but the story is fast paced and well plotted, the characters and setting are complex and interesting, the romance is hot and believable and not over powering.
A group of unlikely people, led by Jesuit priests, make first contact on an alien planet and it does not end well. That's the basic plot but the book is so much more than that. It's a book about religion and faith which is filled with tragedy that somehow manages also to have a great sense of humor. An engrossing read that also happens to tackle some big ideas.
A generational tale spanning a family in Texas from the mid-1800s to the 1980s. It's a personal story of each of the three narrators which each have a very unique voice. Through the narrator it manages to tell the tale of this one crazy Texas family and also of how the west was won or more accurately perhaps taken by force and corruption. It's epic and brutal in the best possible way.
A fantasy middle-grade series that has a somewhat Dickensian flare and is based in a very rich imagination. I would love for there to be more sequels. It has one of the coolest and most interesting female characters I've encountered in a long time.
The last one is always the hardest to choose but think this one edges out a few others listed below. This classic Science Fiction Comedy novel just made me so happy. Satire at its most lovable.
Honorable Mention: 11/22/63 by Stephen King, The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, The Martian by Andy Weir, The Lunar Chronicles by Marrissa Meyer and The Lovegrove Legacy by Alyxandra Harvey, and Sabriel by Garth Nix.
What books had your toes curling in delight in 2014?
Original Publication Year: 1995
Genre(s): YA, Fantasy
Series: Abhorsen #1
Awards: Aurealis Award for Fantasy Novel and Young Adult Novel
Format: Audio and in print
Narrated by: Tim Curry
I’ve decided, based with an n=2*, that the most imaginative writers of young adult fiction are Australian. They certainly make me the happiest and I love the way they see the world. With Sabriel, Garth Nix has created a beautiful and vivid fictional world and placed within it a fast paced and exciting adventure story. It is lovely and charming, and scary and suspenseful and romantic and pretty much everything you want in YA Fantasy.
Sabriel Abhorsen is 18 and just finishing up her schooling in Ancelstierre when a messenger comes from her father bearing his sword and bandolier of bells. As we learn very quickly, Sabriel is a powerful though inexperienced magician and necromancer who was born under unusual circumstances in The Old Kingdom. Her father is also a powerful necromancer and in order to protect her he sent her away to the less dangerous (and less magical) Ancelstierre when she was five to attend school. Unfortunately he now appears to be in very serious trouble and Sabriel sets off to find and help him despite her inexperience and woeful lack of knowledge of The Old Kingdom. Her quest will see her chased by all manner of dead things, rescuing a prince who has been turned to wood, and sparring with a cantankerous cat who is really a magical and possibly dangerous creature that has been bound in Cat form.
The world that is created is complex, imaginative and easily pictured. Ancelstierre is reminiscent of Georgian era England while the Old Kingdom seems more Rennaissance. The two countries are separated by a wall and while there is some leakage around the edges, Ancelstierre is a country of science and technology while the Old Kingdom is governed by magic. The Old Kingdom has also been falling into anarchy for 200 years and the denizens of Death have started to take over more and more of the kingdom. As Sabriel learns, Abhorsen is an official title for a necromancer who serves as one of the protectors of the Old Kingdom and she is the heir apparent with her father missing. The Abhorsen is meant to keep the world from being overrun by creatures escaping Death. The Abhorsen keeps the dead at bay, by using a series of bells all with different properties. It is seriously cool and very well used in the story.
The characters were also pretty great and believable. Sabriel is very recognizable as an exceptionally brave, but bewildered teen who recognizes her weaknesses but doesn’t lack confidence. In fact she can be a little overconfident as teenagers are prone to be at times. She’s a good strong female character and her relationship with her father is pretty heartbreaking. Mogget serves as her sidekick/mentor for much of the story and has a personality suitable for a talking cat and also presents many mysteries. If I have any complaints, it is that most of the rest of the characters - Touchstone, Kerrigor–don’t get developed as much as I would’ve liked, mostly because the book covers a lot of ground and moves quickly. It’s not until you sit down to write about the characters that you realize that Touchstone is good and likeable but a tad generic and Kerrigor is a little one dimensional.
There is a little romance as well which is nice. It’s a little abrupt but I appreciated that the narrative wasn’t overly focused on it and there was very little angst.
I listened to the first half of the book narrated by Tim Curry and he was as amazing as you would imagine. He also had the perfect voice and tone for this type of story. I was really bummed when I had to return the audio book to the library because it was requested.
I have in the past read and really enjoyed Garth Nix’s short fiction and his middle-grade series The Keys to the Kingdom so the Abhorsen series has been pretty prominent on my TBR for a while. I am so glad I finally started it and that it did not disappoint in any way!
Final Verdict: A fast paced YA adventure story with unique and imaginative world building. I think it’s safe to say Garth Nix has a distinctive style and I am definitely a fan.
*The second Australian young adult author I encountered this year was D.M. Cornish and his Monster Blood Tattoo series was super imaginative and a favorite.
Original Publication Year: 1860
Genre(s): Fiction, Gothic Mystery
Narrated by: Ian Holm
There are two sisters (half-sisters really), one is beautiful, sweet and rich and the other is ugly, smart and poor. They are devoted to each other and they are mostly on their own in the world since their uncle/guardian is quite useless and self-absorbed. Enter a handsome young drawing master, hired to instruct the young ladies. Inevitably, the young drawing master (Walter Hartwright) falls in love with the pretty, sweet sister (Laura Fairlie) and she with him but alas, they are of different social classes and she is already engaged to the dashing older Sir Perceval Glyde. Unfortunately, while Sir Glyde is doting and charming, a strange letter arrives that hints at hidden and unpleasant depths to his character which produces foreboding amongst all who care for Miss Fairlie. Oh, the foreboding.
Throw in a mysterious and somewhat mentally unstable doppelganger for Miss Fairlie who always wears white and you have the beginnings of a dramatic and rollicking tale. I was not expecting this book to be such a page turner but it had pretty constant drama and action. There are several mysteries that drive the plot forward at a cracking pace. It definitely doesn’t feel like a 672 page book except when I reflect on all that happens it is not surprising it is on the longer side. The narrative moves around through several different perspectives with Walter Hartwright’s being the primary one but also contributing are Marian, the Fairlie’s solicitor, and the young ladies’ invalid uncle.
Collins’ characters are also pretty amazing. The invalid uncle is a indulgent, narcissistic hypochondriac to beat all others. My favorite characters were undoubtedly Marian Holcombe (the ugly, smart sister) and I somewhat more controversially love Count Fosco (not least of which because he is the only man in the story to have the good sense to fall head over heels in love with Marian). More on Marian later but Fosco is a larger than life character; an intelligent and charismatic villain. He is much more menacing then Percival Glyde and some of his monologues are epic.
Another thing I wasn’t expecting to see strongly messaged throughout the book was some pretty serious mid-nineteenth century feminism. There seem to be a lot of messages here about the inequality between men and women in society and marriage. Count Fosco even states in his ultimate letter confessing his dastardly deeds…
“What is the secret of Madame Fosco’s unhesitating devotion of herself to the fulfillment of my boldest wishes, to the furtherance of my deepest plans? I might answer this by simply referring to my own character, and by asking, in my turn, Where, in the history of the world, has a man of my order ever been found without a woman in the background self-immolated on the altar of his life? But I remember that I am writing in England, I remember that I was married in England, and I ask if a woman’s marriage obligations in this country provide for her private opinion of her husband’s principles? No! They charge her unreservedly to love, honour, and obey him. That is exactly what my wife has done. I stand here on a supreme moral elevation, and I loftily assert her accurate performance of her conjugal duties. Silence, Calumny! Your sympathy, Wives of England, for Madame Fosco!”
And then there is Marian who continually says things implying the weakness of women but then proving in her actions and her intellect that she is the equal if not the superior of most men. And she also has some things to say about marriage:
“No man under heaven deserves these sacrifices from us women. Men! They are the enemies of our innocence and our peace - they drag us away from our parents' love and our sisters' friendship - they take us body and soul to themselves, and fasten our helpless lives to theirs as they chain up a dog to his kennel. And what does the best of them give us in return?”
I vividly felt, as Marian and Laura’s position in Sir Glyde’s household became clear, the fear and helplessness they must experience as women of that era. Powerless and at the mercy of the men in their lives.
As a cherry on top, Ian Holm’s narration of the book was perfect in every way. He expertly captured the different voices as well as the exaggerated drama and foreboding that I think firmly makes this a Gothic novel.
It missed getting five stars because sometimes the manipulation of the reader was a little too blatant. I’m not sure this was a fault of the author but is probably just a characteristic of Gothic literature but I sometimes was imagining a tiny orchestra in my head going “Dun, dun DUN!” Also, I have to say I was a little put out that Marian’s prescribed life and path is as her sister’s companion and doting Aunty to Laura and Walter’s children. She says this is what she wants and we must take her at her word but I don’t quite believe it. For all the feminism run rampant in the novel, of COURSE Walter chooses the pretty, sweet one over the super duper awesome smart but ugly one. She has to settle for Fosco’s admiration.
And finally the BIG question!! Collins or Dickens? I feel like I’ve heard a few people of late claim that Dickens has wrongly been exalted as grand English literature while Collins has wallowed in the background. They claim that Collins is in fact the better writer. I have to say The Woman in White was a pretty serious page turner of a book and while I love many of Dickens’ books, I wouldn’t say they are always page turners. However, they do feel a bit more substantive, perhaps. I see why the two writers would be compared – writing at the same time and they each employ satire, especially in the form of some of their characters, to poke fun at institutions and certain types of people they despise. However, I don’t know that it’s fair to compare them. Dickens to me has more of a distinctive style but maybe that’s just because I have read way more of his books? Regardless, the jury is still out as far as I am concerned and may forever be out. Where do you come down on the matter?
Final Verdict: A page turner of a mystery with an interesting cast of characters and suitably Gothic storytelling. 4 out of 5 Stars! ✪✪✪✪
“In the forest of primeval
A school for Good and Evil
Twin towers like two heads
One for the pure
And one for the wicked
Try to escape you'll always fail,
The only way out is
Through a fairytale.”
The poem is a nice little summation of what the school in The School for Good and Evil is all about. The school trains the Villains, Princes and Princesses that play out their lives in fairy tales. Our two heroines, Sophie and Agatha are a bit different from all their classmates as they aren't the children of fairytale characters but were plucked from a regular “mundane” village. They were raised reading fairy tales not being part of them.
Sophie and Agatha are different in another way as well. Sophie is blonde and perfectly groomed – the perfect princess – while Agatha is dark and morbid and always dressed in black – the perfect villain. However, when the two unlikely friends are dropped at the School for Good and Evil by monstrous birds, it is Agatha who is enrolled in the School for Good and Sophie who is placed in the School for Evil.
So surely you can guess where it goes from there? Of course Agatha, while grumpy and anti-social, is at heart caring, loving and brave. Sophie, while beautiful, is shallow, lazy and selfish. The “sorting hat” put them where they belonged despite their outward appearances. Both girls must then deal with being the outsider as they don't fit the mold of their respective schools and their friendship also faces many challenges, namely a boy. King Arthur’s son to be exact. In many ways, it is a strange little book that aims to thwart the usual clichés while also affectionately embracing them.
So at this point you are probably thinking ho hum, a silly little book about how appearances can be deceiving. But hold up. I myself felt that way early in the book though I nevertheless devoured it greedily. It is a fun and snappy little story with engaging characters and a lot of humor and somewhere along the line this book surprised me. It took me somewhere a bit deeper than I was expecting to go. There was no profound life changing but it did become quite a bit more interesting than at first appearance.
The book is not just about not judging people on their appearances but also about not making the mistake of thinking of anyone as pure good or pure evil. Humans are more complex than that and any institution that supports the idea of a strict dichotomy is corrupt and wrong. It isn’t Sophie that is the Villain, though she does some truly horrible things, but the School for Good and Evil itself and even the society that insists on it existing that is the true menace. All of these ideas are presented in a fast paced, funny, harrowing adventure story. This was a very light and addictive read but it was also one that left me feeling surprisingly thoughtful at the end.
“You’re not evil Sophie," Agatha whispered, touching her decayed cheek. "You’re human."
FINAL VERDICT: A fun adventurous fairy tale parody aimed at middle grade readers which may surprise you (in a good way).
I do love suprises. As long as they are pleasant and not accidental. For the first quarter to a third of How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky, I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. It was weird and it seemed just weird for weird’s sake. I don’t mind weird as long as it has a purpose and in the end I think the strange beginning of the book does serve a purpose.
And maybe it’s not fair to call it weird. It’s quirky. It’s about two astronomers, George and Irene and it’s about their Mothers who raised them in Toledo. Their mothers were best friends growing up and decided that they would raise their children to be soul-mates using astrology and psychology. They do it as an experiment and so that their children can experience true love and be happy. It’s a quirky premise and in the beginning I felt like I was having trouble, connecting the dots and connecting with the characters. People don’t quite interact with each other in any kind of normally acceptable manner. There’s a side character who was raised by her priest father to not speak but only use music until he is arrested for child endangerment when she’s 5 or 6. She speaks without inflection, she sits with her feet dangling out the window of her office at the Toledo Institute of Astronomy and plays an instrument. Later she frolics in Lake Erie with Narwhals. So. Quirky.
George initially seems kind of stupid and shallow and wacky as he hallucinates gods and goddesses frolicking and speaking to him. Irene is cold and practically devoid of emotion. What kept me hooked through this first part of the book were the flashbacks to George and Irene’s mothers’ childhood. Sally and Bernice’s friendship is real and it anchors the more surreal parts of the narrative.
Then George and Irene meet and everything starts to make sense and feel more like real life. The book never becomes fully grounded in reality but the important word here is sense. It all starts to make sense. George and Irene transform each other into real live human beings who are funny and sweet and smart and even a little wise. I'm pretty this shift is deliberate and its kind of awesome. Before these two “stars” align everything is just a little off kilter but as soon as they come together, order in some sense is restored. In the first third of the book I could not in any way connect to the characters, once they meet I almost immediately began to sympathize with and love them.
“It’s more like every electron in every atom in the universe paused, breathed in deeply, assessed the situation, and then reversed its course, spinning backward, or the other way, which was the right way all along. And afterward, the universe was exactly the same, but infinitely more right.”
What else did I love? There is all sorts of fun astronomy speak. It is laugh out loud funny at times. The writing is lovely. The ending was completely unexpected and possibly quite clever – is it real? After I got through the first bit, I found it addictively readable.
The narration was very good and fit the book well. Like the style of the book, it did take me a while to warm up to it but once I did I loved it.
Final Verdict: This book was a pleasant surprise.
Original Publication Year: 2013
Genre(s): Historical Fiction
Format: Paperback from Library
Narrated by: NA
I make no secret that I am a fan of published Jane Austen fan fiction because that is what all the re-tellings or continuations written by modern authors essentially are. I have yet to meet one that really lived up to the source material but I love Austen’s characters and settings and I am obviously not enough of an Austen purist to be offended by all the little things that make these tribute stories fall short of the originals. I especially like stories that focus on another character within one of Jane Austen’s creations, which is the category this book falls into.
It especially caught my eye because I’ve always been intrigued by the middle Bennet sister. Mary is almost certainly the most unloved of the Bennet sisters. Lydia and Kitty may be silly but they have spirit while Mary is dull, priggish and socially awkward. She is also the isolated sister sandwiched in between two pairs of sisters who are close in age and as friends. In short, I feel bad for her and am curious how her life eventually turned out.
The Pursuit of Mary Bennet begins a few years post Pride and Prejudice. Both Lizzie and Jane have been happily married a few years and have children. Lydia and Wickham are also still together though less happily and the scandalous dissolution of their marriage plays a large role in the plot. Mary has mostly grown out of her prim and moralistic ways but she is still not the most socially minded of young ladies. She’d rather take long walks and read than attend balls or socialize. Years of being treated as the least charming and attractive sister and an assumption that she will never marry have weighed heavily on her. It is assumed that she will play nursemaid to her sister’s children before than retiring to care for her aging parents. She is understandably resentful of this plan and wants something different from her life but isn’t sure what. Marriage she doesn't even think is an option.
Enter Henry Walsh, a friend of Jane and Bingley’s who seems to find Mary’s more serious and intellectual demeanor appealing. However he has a secret and Mary has been too used to being disregarded and misused to really accept any interest or kindness from him. To complicate matters Lydia has showed up at Longbourn pregnant and having left Wickham. When the baby is born, Lydia shows little interest in caring for it and Mary must step in, at first resentfully but then perhaps a little too enthusiastically.
In general the premise of the book worked well even if it is perhaps it perhaps a tad too sensational for an Austen novel. It kept my interest and I was invested in the developing romance between Mary and Henry Walsh. I also liked her portrayal of Mary who was still recognizable as the middle, less charming sister but had shed some of the more unlikeable traits that had been the result of immaturity. It was easy to see the Mary portrayed, as an older wiser version of the character from Pride and Prejudice. After all she has had the lesson not only of her sister Lydia’s folly but also of the happy outcomes for Lizzie and Jane.
I was less content with Lydia and Kitty’s portrayal which seemed a bit too exaggerated. Not that Austen is averse to creating over the top characters but Kitty in particular is initially appallingly selfish, stupid and downright mean to Mary. It wasn’t enough of an issue to dim my enjoyment of the book however. What was big enough to dim my enjoyment a bit was the drama Mingle decided to use to prompt Mary’s further growth as a character. Basically she has Mary become obsessed with Lydia’s baby to the extent that she wants to take the baby away from Lydia and adopt her as her own. I found it a little crazy and decidedly odd, to be frank. It definitely broke my feelings of empathy with the character. This may just be a me thing though as I’m not a big kid person myself so really couldn’t relate. I just felt like Mingle took it a little too far and crossed a line into crazy town. For example at one point, Mary lets the baby suckle on her breast. It was too much for me.
In the end it averaged out okay though. I enjoyed seeing a more mature Mary and also seeing her find her happiness.
FINAL VERDICT: Definitely not a book for Austen purists but an enjoyable enough read for folks curious about Mary Bennet’s future after P&P.
Original Publication Year: 2012
Genre(s): Non-Fiction, Medical
Format: Audio (from Audible.com)
Narrated by: Heather Henderson
In 2009, Susanna Cahalan was a 20-something with a successful career as a journalist when her behavior became decidedly odd and erratic. It signaled the beginning of a weeks long odyssey into brain dysfunction most of which Susannah does not remember. Through the accounts of her friends, family, doctors and even some video footage, Cahalan tries to piece together the story of what happened to her brain and how by the slimmest of margins, she was able to recover.
For me, this book was a good example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. While reading, I wasn’t actually that engaged even though Cahalan lays things out as they happened, like a jigsaw puzzle and a mystery to solve. Through the first half to ¾ of the book she focuses on the personal, on how her friends and family reacted to her, how strangers and initial doctors responded to her and what she can remember of her thoughts and feelings as she got sicker and sicker. It’s interesting but there was something about her style and approach that was off-putting for me. Not awful but it kept me from really connecting with her and her story.
The story got more interesting as the ultimate team of doctors were able to, finally, figure out what was going on and she focuses a bit more on the science of neurology. Cahalan does her job as investigative reporter, following up with all the doctors that she had encountered during her illness and connecting with patients and families of patients who have gone through similar things as she. She also does not flinch away from describing everything that happens to her, no matter how embarrassing or upsetting.
The real strength of the book for me was when I put it down and reflected. Cahalan’s behavior was seriously bizarre and extremely out of character but a visit to a neurologist with a good reputation, showed no abnormalities and had him suggesting, based on little evidence, that she was an alcoholic going through withdrawal. A psychiatrist thought she may have been exhibiting the first signs of a bipolar disorder. Even after a couple of weeks in a hospital with a team of doctors there were still no clear medical results to explain her behavior, seizures and physical tics. In fact she may not have even gotten into the hospital as soon as she did if she hadn’t been who she was – a young woman with a strong social network and from a well to do, professional family who pushed for Susanna’s case to get the incredible amount of attention that was needed to get a diagnosis. She also lives in a big city (New York) where medical care is more sophisticated. She was extremely fortunate and a little bit lucky. Now think of all the people that don’t have her advantages and imagine all the missed diagnoses and even possible needless deaths and institutionalizations. Cahalan does a very good job making this point. There is also the point that with all the advancements we have made in medical science there are still a lot of unknowns, with the brain being one of the more complicated areas to study and understand. It is all, quite frankly, terrifying.
Final Verdict: While I found it hard to connect with Cahalan as she struggles with a “month of madness” the book packs more of a wallop when taken as a whole and was ultimately an interesting read, particularly if you are interested in medical science.
Narrated By: Kate Reading
Original Publication Year: 1871
Genre(s): Fiction, Classic
Recommended subtitle: A saga of ill-conceived marriages in mid-nineteenth century Britain.
Its actual subtitle that in fact works really well also: A study in provincial life
I did not immediately appreciate Middlemarch. In fact, if I had been reading it in the traditional way rather than listening, I likely would have given up on it early. It’s very long, it has a rather subtle story and I found it hard to engage with the characters in the beginning (they don’t necessarily improve on further acquaintance but they do develop interesting depth). Listening to it in episodic segments, however, it slowly grew on me until I was looking forward to getting in the car and spending time listening to the crazy shenanigans of the Middlemarchians. It was initially published in a serialized form, so perhaps approaching it in this manner is the best way to enjoy. I would have missed out on a very rewarding reading experience if I had given up on it.
As a literary work, Middlemarch is seriously impressive. On the surface, it is an account of everyday life in a mid-sized town in mid-nineteenth century England. Within this account is also an incisive and well observed critique of many of the social conventions of the time. The roles of women, particularly in marriage, but also in society; politics; the responsibility of the rural landowner; and class issues are all addressed, hidden within the mostly mundane, sometimes sensational happenings in the town and its environs.
The book mostly follows the trials and travails of three couples: Dorothea Brooke /Will Ladislaw, Dr. Lydgate/Rosamond Vincy, and Fred Vincy /Mary Garth.
Early on Dorothea and her crazy antics fill most of the pages. Dorothea is young when we meet her, rigid in her religious zeal and naively idealistic. She’s also very beautiful. In pursuit of her idea of a perfect marriage, her as the dedicated help meet to a man accomplishing a great work, she marries a truly unfortunate choice of mate twice her age. Her husband’s nephew Will Ladislaw quickly decides he worships her. Her husband dies after a short miserable marriage and at that point Dorothea decides she returns Will’s love but her first husband’s will has a provision specifying that she loses everything if she marries Will. Scandalous! Will and Dorothea don’t really make sense as a couple considering that they misunderstand everything each other says.
Seemingly the best match in the book for Dorothea would be Dr. Lydgate, a thoroughly modern doctor with an interest in changing the world with his medical research. Unfortunately he only has eyes for the vain, selfish, manipulative and shallow daughter of a local merchant, Rosamond Vincy. They eventually end up married and it goes about as well as you might suppose.
Finally, the equally selfish and lazy, though maybe not quite as mean spirited son of said local merchant, Fred Vincy, has been in love with Mary Garth since childhood. She is actually a very hardworking, practical and intelligent young woman who doesn’t seem to take Fred too seriously. At the same time one of the only other likable characters in the book, who is much more deserving than Fred of a happy ending, Reverend Fairbrother also has feelings for Mary. So who does Mary choose to marry? It isn’t who you might expect.
There are many other characters and plotlines and the occasional treatise about a political happening of the day. You get the idea. It does bog down in places and, as I think came through in my description, most of the characters and relationships made me want to bang my head against a wall but it is a really impressive description and commentary on the everyday life of the time period.
Kate Reading, besides having the best name ever for a reader, has a lovely voice and does a great job narrating.
Final Verdict: Reading episodically and exercising patience were needed but in the end this was a very rewarding and enjoyable book.
I feel like most of the reviews I read were either effusively positive or hateful but I kind of came down in the middle. Anyone there with me? Do you think George Eliot actually liked Dorothea? I wasn't entirely sure...
Format: Hard Copy
Narrated By: NA
Original Publication Year: 2001
Genre(s): Literary Fiction
Awards: A few including the National Book Critics Circle and the L.A. Times Prize for Fiction and was shortlisted for the Man Booker
I’ve wanted to read a book by Ian McEwen for many years because he seems to be a literary writer that is almost universally admired and enjoyed. But I approach literary fiction with some level of caution. Sometimes I feel like it is incredibly readable and it just blows me away but sometimes I feel a bit like Gavin of The Readers podcast that it's 300 odd pages spelling out a story about a guy walking to the shop. It’s just a sketchy label for a book - what does it even mean? So I wasn’t sure what I was going to get with Atonement but I was hopeful and my hope was fulfilled many times over. This was a spectacular read.
The book revolves around a crime committed on an English estate in 1934. The crime is compounded and made all the more tragic because of the faulty testimony of a 13 year old girl Briony Tallis. The repercussions of these events ripple out through the years and into World War II and beyond.
There is so much to talk about with this book. First, I have to say that while I never found myself yearning to get back to it, once I did pick it up I had a hard time stopping. I found it completely absorbing and mesmerizing and could have read it in one sitting if I’d had the time to devote. There is an almost constant sense of suspense and tension.
Second, there is both so much and so little going on in this book. The first third to half covers just about one day in the life of the Tallis family. The reader floats among the different characters; Cecilia, Briony, Robbie, Emily; getting different perspectives on the events and most interestingly on each of the characters. It is all building up to something, the foreboding clear in the writing, and when it crashes it is utterly devastating. Then we’re in World War II and Robbie is crossing France to get to Dunkirk. Briony has grown up and realizing the damage she has wrought, she is attempting to atone by not taking the privileges given to her and instead signing up as a nurse. The last half of the book is spent in Robbie and then Briony’s head and the grand events unfolding are seen through their eyes. In the end McEwen provides a wallop that will break your heart and leave you wondering.
Finally there are all the questions. I felt like McEwen captured perfectly the attitude and brain space of a 13 year old girl. Still a child with little experience and mostly a child’s perceptions but utterly convinced that she has an adult’s judgment. I wanted to throttle her as she completely misread almost every situation with an incredibly tragic result. But she is a child and what is the culpability of the adults surrounding her? Why are they so easily able to turn against a childhood friend, someone they know well and who is practically family? How can they believe such things of him? And for that matter why is life so very unfair? I found it impossible not to feel compassion for Briony and felt she was just as much a victim as the others. I think it is a book that would be very interesting to discuss with others.
It probably goes without saying, considering McEwen’s stature as a writer, but the writing at the sentence and word level is also breathtaking. The structure of the book is unique - it is not a straight through narrative and it's not even what the reader thinks it is. The book's full payoff and meaning comes in the last few pages.
Final Verdict: I believe I will likely be joining the ranks of readers who think Ian McEwen can do little wrong. Atonement was incredibly readable and while a lot of time is spent in people’s heads thinking their thoughts, it was never boring or too noodly. It provided hours of mesmerized reading and lots of thoughtful contemplation. 4.5 stars out of 5.
I also very much liked the movie of the book and enjoyed picturing James McAvoy as Robbie. Any other McEwen fans out there? What do you think is his best book?
Original Publication Year: 2014 (September 9th)
Series:?, I hope it’s the first in a series!
Format: e-Advanced Reader Copy through Netgalley. Provided to me for free in exchange for a fair review.
Narrated by: NA
For some reason, I had it in my head that this was going to be a serious and melancholy book. Maybe it's the cover? Or the blurb? I don’t know where the impression came from but I was pleasantly surprised by what I got. It is not a book without weight but it is decidedly more fun than melancholy.
Shara is an intelligence agent from Saypur, the current ruling power on her world, and she is called to the former ruling city of Bulikov, now occupied by Saypur, to investigate the death of a Saypuri historian. This historian is an authority on the Gods that used to play large roles on the continent, with Bulikov at its heart, and who had allowed the continent to oppress Saypuri for many years. The Saypuris had rebelled and developed a weapon that killed the Gods…or did they? I am doing a horrible job at explaining the plot but essentially it’s a mystery with a goodly dose of political intrigue. It's involved and complex but not confusing - just hard to explain adequately. The setting is fantastical but not completely unrecognizable and Bennett has created a rich and fascinating mythology and history for his world. There was lots of plot to get immersed in!
The biggest complaint I’ve seen in many places is that the book is too slowly paced. This leaves me agog as I thought nothing of the sort. However, I also really enjoy Jane Austen and novels about the everyday mundanities of people, particularly in a past or otherwise unfamiliar setting. So perhaps this is fantasy for Austenites? Regardless, I thought the pace was perfect and at no point was bored though I guess if you’re looking for non-stop action and adventure you may be disappointed. Lots happens it's just not all jumping, shooting and shouting.
One thing that really kept me reading were the fantastic characters. Shara is a great heroine and narrator. In fact, while it is very different narratively this book's general tone reminded me of The Rook(by Daniel O’Malley), mostly because Shara from this book and Myfanwy of The Rook were similar character types – career driven, ordinary in appearance, extremely clever and quite snarky and the reader is almost entirely in their head. Shara is backed up by some really great supporting characters, as well, especially her violent factotum Sigrud and the colonial governor of Bulikov, Mulaghesh. Bennett takes the time to give all the characters, even those of the secondary variety, some back story and depth. I LOVED this.
It’s fair to say that I’m a fan and really enjoyed the book. I’d describe it as a drily humorous multi-faceted mystery set in a richly drawn fictional universe and told with characters that I loved learning about and spending time with. It also contradicted my expectations at times, particularly with an ex-boyfriend that appears and in its portrayal of the two featured countries - both Bulikov and Saypur seem equally corrupt and damaged, i.e. the oppressors are not universally bad nor the oppressed all good. Plus I always enjoy a mythology where the Gods physically interact with their followers. In the end, it ticked all the boxes that I wish to be ticked!
Final Verdict: I loved it and I really hope this is not the last book that will be set in this universe!
Format: Hard Copy
Narrated By: NA
Original Publication Year: 1999
Series: Gaslight Mysteries #1
I went into my local book shop looking for something new. Once the bookseller had ascertained that I enjoy historical fiction and mysteries, she immediately suggested this series. It is nothing too unique or noteworthy but I was easily sucked into it and I particularly enjoyed the development of the two main characters.
The time and place setting is 1890’s New York. Sarah Brandt is a former debutante, who is now cut off from her family and working as a midwife. She is compassionate and curious which draws her into the investigation of a teenage girl’s murder in a boarding house where she helped deliver a baby. Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy is a New York City cop, who on the surface appears to be a stereotypical cop of the time, only interested in solving cases that come with a reward or bribe. The two make an unlikely detecting team and for the first half of the novel they mostly just irritate each other. It becomes eventually clear however that they can each provide something to the investigation that the other lacks and they begin grudgingly to work together.
As may be apparent from my plot synopsis above, the two main characters and their development and relationship was really the element of the book I liked the most. I have no doubt that the author will eventually get these two together romantically but she doesn’t rush things (which I appreciate) and by the end of the book they are barely on speaking terms. They’ve each developed respect for the other and they have each learned something about themselves and each other as they’ve worked together.
The mystery was pretty good though I guessed the solution fairly early on and was therefore irritated with the heroine’s denseness for not catching on. She can hardly be blamed however, since she hasn’t had the advantage I have of reading lots of mysteries like this! The point being, that it is not a mystery that surprised or amazed me but I was interested all the same because of the personalities involved. I also enjoyed the historical detail of the time period.
It struck me as being an American version of the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt mysteries by Anne Perry. It’s been a while since I’ve read any books in that series but I think it’s a fair comparison tonally etc….
Final Verdict: A competent historical mystery with engaging and interesting main characters. I will definitely pick up others in the series when I’m in the mood for a quick and enjoyable read.
Format: On Kindle
Narrated By: NA
Original Publication Year: 2010
Genre(s): Romance, Steam-punk Fantasy
Series: Iron Seas #1
Awards: Nothing major but a number of reader’s choice awards
Steam Punk, Pirates and the British Navy! With these three things going for it, I was very excited to read this book. I LOVE me some big old sailing vessels, be they legal or otherwise and I was imagining a steam punk Jack Aubrey with some romance thrown in. Expectations were therefore very high, so it’s important to say, right off the bat, that if this resembles your imagining in any way, you may be disappointed in the lack of shippy goodness. There are other things to like however.
The first thing to note is that this is very definitely first and foremost a romance novel. It comes along however with a pretty intricate plot and some heavy world building which I liked very much. In this way it reminded me a bit if the Soulless series by Gail Carriger though less competently done perhaps, because in The Iron Duke my feeble brain did have some trouble keeping up with things. I’m not entirely positive if my slowness was due to reading comprehension issues or if the plot/world-building was a little too complicated and/or under-explained. Regardless here is what I think I know.
We begin in a steam-punk Britain (indeterminate 18th century, with some steam powered mechanical gew gaws and airships). It is an England and Europe that has somewhat recently (within 5-10 years) been liberated from an enemy known as The Horde who seem to be middle-eastern in origin. The horde is technologically advanced and kept its empire under control by infecting the population with nano-agents which makes them uber-healthy and strong but also enslaves, because The Horde can send out a signal to direct the nano-agents and therefore those that are infected with them. Liberation was mostly achieved through the actions of one man, Rhys Trahaearn and his ship Marco’s Terror and because of his actions; he has reached legendary status and is known as the Iron Duke. In this post-liberation world, there is conflict between the people who stayed in England and were infected with the nano-agents, called Buggers, and the people who fled England for America and who do not have the nano-agents, called Bounders. You following me so far?
The heroine for the story is Mina Wentworth, a member of the nobility (I think her father’s an Earl) whose family stayed in England during the occupation and are therefore Buggers. She also happens to be a detective chief inspector with the police and the product of a Horde union. What this means, I think, is that during a frenzy (an orgy orchestrated by The Horde), her mother was raped by a member of The Horde and apparently this fact is very obvious just by looking at Mina though I can’t for the life of me remember if it was ever spelled out what about her and others like her makes it obvious that they are the product of such a union. This makes her an object of hatred and disgust by most of the British populace, however it does not prevent Mina from being loved by her family and being very good at her job. All right, we’re almost there.
Hero and heroine collide when a body appears as if out of nowhere on The Iron Duke’s well guarded estate. Mina is sent to investigate. Sparks fly and a convoluted plot is set in motion which involves flying all about Europe on an airship, running away from zombies, and battling a kracken and a ship of the line. There’s also some family drama in there. Phew!
Taken as a whole, I was swept up in the adventure of the novel and it was a moderately addictive page turner. Probably my favorite bit, however was the first third which takes place in England. I very much liked Mina as the tough and smart detective inspector who is awkward at tea parties and balls. When she gives in to The Iron Duke’s blackmail and sets off with him I actually started to like her less especially because he was pretty significantly uninteresting to me. Rhys is the stereotypical “Alpha Male” found rampant throughout the romance genre and I found very little depth to him otherwise.
Basically what I am saying is I thought this book had real promise as a steam-punk adventure and crime/mystery novel but unfortunately all that part of the plot was muddled and rushed because of the focus on a lackluster romance. This book would have worked much better for me as a steam-punk mystery with a side of romance, instead of a steam-punk romance with a mystery. The steam punk world being presented was intricate and interesting but I felt like it wasn’t allowed to be presented fully and clearly, because the romance needed to be the focus.
Final Verdict: For most people who are looking for a romance, this book will likely provide you hours of fun reading. Even if you are hoping for something more, you will likely still enjoy it. Despite my disappointment, I will likely seek out books two and three to learn more about the world.
Format: Audio from Library
Narrated By: Karen White
Original Publication Year: 2009
Musing about what is going on in a dog’s brain is pretty much a daily occurrence for me. I share my space with two of the hairy beasties and I’m always looking for that key piece of knowledge that will unlock the why of them and therefore enable me and the pups to live in perfect harmony. Don’t get me wrong, my dogs and I get on smashingly, but there are those moments of aggravation when they do something crazy at the worst moment and guilt that I am not providing them what they truly need to be as happy as they deserve. So I love books like Inside of a Dog which purport to tell me exactly what is going on in those floppy-eared heads of theirs.
My response to the book is a little ho-hum but it is not the author's or the book's fault really. The problem is that earlier this year I read The Genius of Dogs and the two books cover A LOT of the same ground. Therefore, I encountered very little new material in Inside of a Dog and was getting frustrated that I wasn't learning anything new. However, though I read Genius of Dogs first it was actually published four years after this book so it’s not really fair to judge this book as lesser based on “no new information” when it actually covered the ground first. Upon further thought and examination, while the books are similar, they do complement each other. My recommendation would be to read both but not in a short time frame and I would read Inside of a Dog first.
So, I don’t want to reveal all the secrets of a dog’s psyche that are revealed in the book but suffice it to say that dogs see the world quite differently than we do. Horowitz spends a lot of time examining the five senses and how a dog uses those senses vs. how people use them. None of it was terribly earth shattering but each was covered in sufficient and organized detail. The chapters dealing with dog cognition were most overlappy with The Genius of Dogs and it does not cover that topic as well as that book. However it covers the information on the senses in much greater detail which is why I think the books are complementary.
Horowitz’s writing style is pretty engaging and easy to get into. She gets downright poetical and florid when describing little vignette’s of her and her dog Pumpernickel. And of course the inevitable description of that dog’s death had me in floods of tears. It comes out in the writing that Horowitz is obviously a kindred spirit to those of us who are fascinated by and feel blessed to share our lives with the amazing balls of fur called dogs.
In the end, I don’t feel like I learned much that will change my relationship with my dogs but I read a lot of books like this. I was never bored and enjoyed spending time with Horowitz and Pumpernickel.