Saturday, October 3, 2015

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

genre: fiction

Cranford. A town comfortable in its aging skin, full of women whom have scarcely left its boundaries and whose companionship and small dramas are the meat of life.  Our narrator is a bit of an outsider - she lives in another town but comes and stays with two of our main characters, the spinster sisters Deborah and Matty.  Deborah, firm and harsh to a fault, Matty timid and ever-gracious.  Their relationships with their neighbors and with new-comers, especially, is at the heart of this absolutely delightful novel.

Sharp and witty writing - Gaskell's tongue-in-cheek and gentle mocking of her characters through the narrator was so fun to read.  Matty is such a special lady, and Miss Pole, especially, is a riot.  There are tender moments and bits that made me chuckle to myself, their problems are sometimes so trivial and other times so heartbreaking.  I loved being in a small British town in a time when a traveling magician was the highlight of the year, people might be inclined to knit pajamas for their cows to keep them warm and a new dress was the greatest splurge.    Mostly, it was just as comfortable as a favorite old sweater or a soft chair sitting in a sunny spot.  I felt right at home in that town and with those women, I wouldn't change a thing about this story.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Season of Storms by Susanna Kearsley

genre: paranormal mystery

Celia is an actress.  Well, she wants to be a real actress and has only ever really walked on until she is given the chance of a lifetime - to travel to Italy to perform in a special production of a play never before staged.  Italy, however, is full of secrets and from the moment she arrives, there is not only drama in rehearsal, but drama in her life as well, with people disappearing and one particular guest causing more than her fair share of trouble.

Yes, there is a brooding love interest and yes there is a little bit of paranormal intrigue.  But I enjoyed this in the same way that I enjoy all of Susanna's books.  They entertain me and are well written without ever wasting my time.  This one doesn't have the same sort of two-time-period element that I like better, it's more of a mystery, but it was still a good read.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer

genre: historical fiction

Lord Richard Wyndham is a Corinthian - a man with the finest principles, dressed in the finest styles.  He takes pride in his independent nature and his solid common sense - not to mention his wicked grasp of cravat-tying.  So when his mother and sister harass him about finding a wife, he wants nothing of it.  Soon enough, though, he is on the brink of giving in when the adventure of a lifetime drops, literally, into his arms.   From the seat of a stage coach to a woodland crime scene, Lord Richard's skills as a Corinthian have never been so needed.  

Delightful.  This book had me chuckling out loud at both Lord Richard as well as the young-woman-in-disguise whose company he joins.  Heyer's conversational banter can be so witty, her characters so full of life that it is just a joy to read her stories.  Seriously, Richard's penchant for tying the perfect cravat had me almost in hysterics.  I loved the slow romance of this one and my only complaint is that it ended too soon!  I wanted more!  I don't love all of her books but The Corinthian is exactly the style I love - uproarious, romantic and sharply witty.  

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan (audiobook)

genre: humor

Jim Gaffigan is your average guy in some ways - he loves sleep and cheese, hanging out and watching football.  However, in other ways, he is NOT so average.  He's a stand-up comedian and the father of FIVE.  Five children, whom he is raising with his wife in a two bedroom walk up in New York City.   I don't know about the rest of his comedy, but this book is a collection of short essays/vignettes/routines about the angst and drama that is raising a family of kids.

I don't even remember now who recommended this audiobook to me but OH it had me laughing outloud!  I love that he clearly loves being a parent - he's not glamorizing it, but he's not vilifying it either.  He's brutally honest about all ridiculousness we deal with as parents and as a parent of five myself, he knows what he's talking about!  I'm so glad I did the audio because he had me cackling with mirth when he was imitating his children.   I've heard that there are a lot of pictures in the actual paper book that are awesome but I'm glad I listened because I felt like I was at a live show.  Clean comedy about the kinds of crazy I spend my days dealing with  - this was a great one.

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

genre: historical fiction

Yes, I know I read a lot of books about World War 2.  A LOT.  Not only do I like historical fiction but I really love to read stories in which people choose to find things worth living for, find beauty amid horror and make the choice to be brave when it would be so much easier to give up.  WW2 just forced so many people to choose: do I turn a blind eye?  Do I take the path of least resistance?  Do I believe the rhetoric even when my own eyes see terror, hatred and persecution?

The Nightingale is such a story.

It's a story of two French sisters, both of whom were abandoned by their father as children.  Vianne is a mother, a homemaker, content in her life until her beloved husband is called up to fight against Hitler. Isabelle is on the brink of adulthood: impetuous, impulsive and desperate to be loved.  We follow their story from the beginning of the war to the end - as each of them must find ways to survive in desperate times as they watch friends and lovers become caught up in the cogs of war and that choice I described above has to be made: what do I do in the face of terrible, terrible wrong? It is a story of the French Resistance, a story of a broken family trying to keep the pieces together and a story of what a person can be willing to give up in order to survive with their soul intact: safety, comfort and even one's identity.  And sometimes, your own life may be required - if it's a sacrifice you can be strong enough to make.

This book made me cry the drippy tears - it made me FEEL.  I have read several stories of the French Resistance and it's always inspiring, this one is not different in that sense. What I liked about this book that made it different is the relationships - especially the sister dynamic.  Painful, yes, but believable.  This is a book full of pain, really - and it didn't have those "ah ha!" moments of inspiring beauty the way that All The Light We Cannot See has.  However, like I said before, it made me FEEL - I engaged with the characters, I cared about them, especially as a mom I felt for Vianne trying to keep it together for the sake of her child.  This story is as much about love as it is about war - how love can equally tear us apart or stitch us together, depending on whether we have it or not.

It's not for the faint of heart but it's not super graphic either.   I'm glad I read it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

genre: ya magical realism

Finn has always been known to the people of Bone Gap as a dreamer, someone really not completely "there." But Finn knows what he's missing: Roza who was there and then gone. He knows she was taken but in Bone Gap, he's the only one who believes she didn't leave because she wanted out. In a town where the corn speaks to those who listen and bee problems are solved by a girl with golden hair and a stinging edge to match the stinger of any worker bee, Finn knows what he needs to find but has no idea how to look.

For me, well-done magical realism has this otherworldy amazingness, like the world is crisper and more incredible than I could've imagined.  This story caught me from the first chapter - Finn's loss and how he grieves it, his brother who is so strong but so tender when he needs to be.  I liked the changing perspectives in the narrative and some of the ways the plot twisted just fit so gorgeously without making me feel like my mind was blown or like it was too much.  The love story (stories, really) is powerful and made me remember well those days of my first real relationship with a boy, how it's so beautiful and yet so painful at the same time.

This book just hit the spot.  I liked the story, its' resolution, its' creepiness and its' beauty.  Glad I found it on the shelf at my library.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Girl on a Wire by Gwenda Bond

genre: young adult

Jules Maroni is a wire walker - a pretty dang good one.  When her family of performers joins a new circus she's ready to show the world what she can do - but she doesn't anticipate meeting Remy. Remy the handsome trapeze artist, Remy who just happens to be a Garcia.  And Maronis don't become friends with Garcias - there is a history there that Jules doesn't understand and the consequences of the past are far-reaching.  Jules has to decide if she has the courage to be who she was meant to be and make her own rules in a tight-knit community where family is business.

I completely fell for this retelling of Romeo and Juliet.  The magical/fantasy element took me a bit by surprise and I had to stretch a little to just believe it but once I did, I really enjoyed myself.  Jules is a fleshed out teen - eager to prove herself and so breathlessly on the edge of a romance that she really wants.  The plot all plays out along the backdrop of the circus and its season - which I found fascinating.  I switched between audio and ebook on this one and the audio was quite good - the narrator had a good feel for the story.  The story got a little slow in places and a few of the secondary characters were a little flat but I still liked it a lot, especially the very end.  I love an ending that catches me by surprise in a good way.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Skullduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy (audiobook)

genre: middle grade horror

When Stephanie's horror-novelist uncle passes away, her life changes surprisingly drastically.  This is because in the wake of this tragedy she meets a talking skeleton.  Yes.  You read that correctly.  His name is Skulduggery Pleasant and he was once dead.  But now, instead of dead, he is a snarky and brilliant (and rules-bending) detective who is out to figure out what's behind Uncle Gordon's death. And he needs a side-kick, right?  Especially because unbeknownst to Stephanie, there is some ancient, evil magic at work and it's going to take the two of them to face it down.

I listened to this on a long road trip with my 12 year old son, my 10 year old son and my 60 something year old mother.  We ALL enjoyed it.  The writing is sharp and the plot moves quickly. The world building is unique but not too complicated.  The banter between Stephanie and Skulduggery is so fun and just Skulduggery himself had us laughing out loud.  The audio book is INCREDIBLY well done.  I put that in all caps because I think the narrator's voice was top notch - the variety of voices was amazing!  I would love to listen to something else that he's done.

One note for sensitive parents (like myself) - there are some swears in here, some *d* words and I think a few *h* words.   Whenever we heard them I just told my sons we don't say that word :)  And it is a dark story - there are some intense and mildly gory moments.  However, there is also a lot about doing hard things for the greater good and friendship and one quote actually made me TEARY in my car, when I thought about how hard it is to face great evil but that if no one is willing to be brave and do just that, evil will always win.  My sons would BEG for it every time we got in the car and I was happy to oblige and that, for me, means that this author did something right.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Moon Called by Patricia Briggs

genre: paranormal/urban fantasy

Mercy Thompson is car mechanic - a pretty dang good one.  She's also a friend to some werewolves.  And a vampire - her life is full of creatures that are more than human.  So when a new werewolf shows up at her garage, she feels like she can handle it except that he's not just any new werewolf and by helping him she unwittingly is neck-deep in a situation that is bigger than she could've imagined.  She's got to call on some old friends to help her figure out not just what's happening but who is behind it.

So, I'm glad I did NOT judge this book by its cover.  The first cover I saw looks like an absolute trashy romance novel and this book is actually not that at all. There is a thread of romance but mostly it's a paranormal mystery.  Mercy is tough and capable but also loyal and snarky.  The werewolves she works with are both dangerous and paradoxically kind and helpful.  I found myself engaged in the story and her world is one with some depth to it. The whole werewolf social hierarchies are interesting, and although I don't know if I care enough to read all the books, this one totally kept my attention.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley (audiobook)

genre: young adult urban fantasy

No one really knows what is making it hard for Aza Ray to breathe - but ever since she could remember, life has been doctors and hospitals, trying to figure it out.  Snarky and a bit of a loner, her best friend Jason is the one she confides in the she sees...something.  Something in the sky - something like a ship.  Jason, being the quirky guy he is, believes her.  And on the day that there is just no more air left for Aza, she's gone.  But not really GONE.  She's taken back to where she came from, a land of clouds and sky, just above our own water and land: Magonia.  And in Magonia, Aza is more capable than she ever could've imagined.

This book will take some serious suspending of disbelief.  Not just because we get very little backstory on the plot of the last 2/3 of the book, but because some things just don't sit as well as in your average fantasy.  However, if you are willing to do it, there is some crazy imaginative stuff here - bird creatures, singing powers and weather-making cloud whales.  I'm telling you, it's some really out-there stuff.   Aza is an intriguing and intelligent character and I particularly like her friend Jason, who is clearly on the autism spectrum - his issues are dealt with in a really respectful and believable way and I liked the switching between them as narrators.  The thread of romance was nice enough and I enjoyed it enough to want to keep listening, I just wasn't as thrilled as I'd hoped I'd be.

One note: I listened to the audio version, which for the most part I really liked.  However, Aza's voice is super gaspy.  I get that it's because it's hard for her to breathe but sometimes it was SUPER annoying.  But other times, it really seemed to fit the action in the story.  Jason's voice was very well done.
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