Thursday, August 17, 2017

Catch a Falling Star by Kim Culbertson

genre: young adult

Carter lives in the aptly named town of Little, California.  She's spending the summer before her senior year making sandwiches and waiting tables at her dad's cafe.  When Adam Jakes, teenage moviestar, comes to town to film a movie, her quiet summer gets far more complicated.  Family circumstances lead Carter to make a crazy decision: agree to be Adam's pretend girlfriend for the length of the shoot.

This was cute.  That's the best word for it.  I liked all the star/astronomy threads and I liked Carter's relationships with her friends.  The dialogue is pretty sharp and the plot moved along well enough.   A few plot points fell a little flat and the ending was sudden in a predictable way, but still cute.  That word again :)     I really did like Carter's arc about her future, some deep thoughts there about talents and hobbies and how complicated it can be on the cusp of growing up.  The romance is pretty predictable but I still liked this one enough to read it in a day.  It's brain candy but sometimes I need that in my life.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J Maas

genre: new adult fantasy

read Court of Thorns and Roses and Court of Mist and Fury first :)

It's time.  Hybern is ready to march on the world and those against him have to find a way to unite or there is no chance of survival.  But Feyre isn't at home preparing with her family, she is in the Spring Court, playing spy and trying to learn all she can.  Can Feyre figure out who to trust in time to find a way for Fae and Human to come together and defeat Hybern?

This is a swift-paced, violent and battle-filled book.  There is action and secrets and plot twists and heartache.  It completely engaged me and I think I liked it best of the three.  I liked how pieces from the first book shifted into place, how ideas that had already been planted in the past could be shaped to change the future.  It is desperate and yet filled with hope.  There were a couple parts that bordered on cheesy for me but I already cared enough about the characters that I could let it go.  I really liked how the bits and pieced tied together at the end, one scene even made me teary in a good way.  This was a pretty epic story overall and between the characters and their powers and the world-building, I was all in.  Great story.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

genre: NEW adult fantasy

Feyre survived her harrowing experiences Under the Mountain, but at a very steep cost.  Not only is she in a newly made body but her heart feels shattered.  Broken and depressed, being with Tamlin SHOULD make her feel safe again, but it doesn't.  And it doesn't help that Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court, is now calling in his bargain to spend part of every month with him in his court of darkness.  When she starts experiencing a power she doesn't understand, Feyre knows that she needs to learn more than how to be politically suave and host dinner parties - but with the world becoming an ever more dangerous place, that's not going to be easy.

First off, this was an absolute page-turner for me.  I loved what happened with these characters and all the new ones I met.  Feyre is an intense and sympathetic woman who learns a lot about herself and what she's capable of - both good and bad.  I appreciated that what she went through Under the Mountain affected her so deeply and how hard it was for her to work her way through.  Second off, I need to note that this is NOT a book for young adults.  It has many graphic sexual scenes that I wouldn't hand to a young teenager.  Sometimes it bordered on gratuitous and it was frustrating because people would be having important, plot-relevant conversations about things while having detailed sex and so when you skipped you missed stuff.

Overall, though, when I get past that, I couldn't get enough of the story.  The magical world-building, the abilities, the romance.  I loved it.

Monday, July 24, 2017

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

genre: NEW adult fantasy

In order to provide for her destitute family, Feyre has become a hunter - and she's very good and very focused.  When desperation leads to her to kill an animal that's more than it seems, Feyre is taken from her home to the land of faerie - where humans are most unwelcome.  With a shape-shifting captor (who of course is also incredibly handsome in his faerie-form) and a stubbornness and strength that will either allow her to earn her freedom or get herself killed, Feyre knows one fact: nothing is what it seems.

This story engaged me really quickly.  It's a mesh of Beauty and the Beast and Tam Lin, which worked great for me.  It's violent and sometimes more racey than I'd anticipated but the plot moves along quickly and Feyre is an intriguing character.  I liked the secondary characters a lot also and even though it was vaguely predictable, I enjoyed this read enough to continue the series.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd by Alan Bradley (audiobook)

genre: mystery

Flavia.  I love you.  Your wit and your razor sharp powers of observation, your chemical prowess and your surprising sensitivity.  In this latest installment, you wind up in the midst of a murder investigation, again, and the thrill of the mystery is as exciting as ever.  A grotesque corpse, mistaken identities, winter festivals, man-eating seagulls, personal troubles at home and, as ever, your chemical lab sanctuary play a part in this story. This time you are getting older, going farther afield in your investigations and that does make things a bit spiced up.  Once again, I chose audiobook, which I will always do.  Jane Entwistle makes you come alive and I am listen half for you, half for her.  You always entertain me and while it is astonishing that you are STILL finding yourself involved in every murder in Bishop's Lacey or the surrounding towns, I'm STILL all in.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Great Passage by Shion Miura

genre: modern fiction

The creation of a Japanese Dictionary is the passion of a few dedicated men at Gembu Publishing.  When the situation in Kohei Araki's home life means he needs to step back and hire a new editor, he finds a kindred, if quirky, spirit in Mitsuya Majime. Mitsuya is passionate about language, both modern and antiquated and is the perfect leader for a dictionary that aims to lead readers over the sea of words.

Because I got this for free as a Kindle First read, my expectations were really low.  I was surprised by how engaged I became in the story.  The characters themselves didn't super intrigue me - Mitsuya seems to almost have borderline Aspberger's, he's that quirky, but I liked the whole process of creating a dictionary and the look it gave me into Japanese life and the complexity and subtlety of the Japanese language..  As an avid reader, I found a lot of quotes that resonated about the power of words and although I wasn't dying to read it, I cared enough to finish it.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Wagons West: Brigham Young and the First Pioneers by Richard E. Turley Jr. and Lael Littke

genre: middle grade non-fiction

Say the name Brigham Young and for most people, immediately "Mormon" and "Pioneer" come to mind. This book is a younger middle grade account of Brigham's experience as a leader of that first pioneer trek - I had expected more general "pioneer stories" but really, this is the story of the first specific journey.

It is heavily based on original sources and the text is seemingly non-biased, truly only accounting what happened and what people said about it without judgement. Sometimes he was frustrated and sometimes the pioneers were petty and that's ok. People are complicated and I appreciate that students who read this can get a real sense of how hard the journey must've been as well as the complicated and contentious history that led to the Mormons heading west in the first place. As the descendent of dozens of pioneer families, this kept my interest and provided some new insights.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Practice House by Laura McNeal

genre: historical fiction

When two missionaries knock on Adeline's front door in Scotland, she has no idea that this visit will change the course of her life.  When her sister is converted and moves to America, Adeline eventually decides to join her, while soon after choosing to go even farther west on her own just as the Dust Bowl is threatening to shroud and suffocate midwestern civilization.

Wow this was a depressing book.  I'd loved the author's previous work I'd read, Dark Water, and when the blurb talked about Mormon missionaries I thought I'd give it a try.  I should've given up half way through - I kept hoping that somehow SOMETHING would go right for someone, or SOMEONE would make a choice that would bring them actual happiness but nope, not really. I get that the Dust Bowl period was brutal - and what I DID like about this book was the solid historical setting, the gritty life of a Kansas farmer in the thirties, all of that is very real.   But nothing and no one ever felt redeemed in this story and it's hard to work through such a long book never feeling any kind of relief, a time to enjoy what's happening instead of always being uncomfortable because someone's in a strange unrequited relationship and someone else is ready to commit adultery and someone else is always trying to uncut everyone happiness.  The writing is good enough that I wasn't annoyed by it but after a while, I just finished it because I felt compelled to.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Boy on the Wooden Box: How the Impossible Became Possible...on Schindler's List by Leon Leyson

genre: middle grade non-fiction/memoir

Leon Leyson's idyllic Jewish childhood in a tiny town in Eastern Poland is only a fond memory as his family begins a new life in Krakow, just as Hitler is setting his sites on this neighbor country to Germany.  Soon, like all other Jews in Poland, Leon finds himself in terrible danger, moved into a ghetto and fearing for his life and the lives of the people he loves most.  Still so young, only a teenager, when a chance meeting of Leon's father's will put him on a list that will change everything.   A man named Oskar Schindler is going to have an impact on Leon that will last for his entire, long life.

I really appreciate this addition to the middle-grade canon of Holocaust Memoirs - what an incredible, painful and inspiring story.  Leon is both a typical child/teen but also courageous and passionate.  To read the story of Schindler's list through a child's perspective really gives you a sense of Oskar Schindler as a compassionate and aware individual.   Leon doesn't ignore his faults but he doesn't harp on them either.  What Leon does is share one story - HIS story - a story of one life whose course was changed because of another person's decision to take a great risk for someone else.  It's readable, emotional and tender.  I liked the map at the beginning and the photos as the end.  I loved hearing Leon's voice through his words, not just his memories but how he's processed them as an adult, how he knows what happened then but what he understands about it now.

This is an incredible book and I'm so glad I found it by chance at the library.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Joys of Travel: And the Stories that Illuminate Them by Thomas Swick

genre: non-fiction, essays, travel

Thomas Swick is a traveler's writer - if you already enjoy travel, chances are you will feel like he is articulating ideas you had but never had words for.   The anticipation before a journey, the way just being somewhere new can heighten the senses and make you feel more alive, the constant drive for novelty.  All those ideas really resonated with me.  His essays also take us to foreign destinations and explore his own experiences there - Poland, Key West, Germany, Bangkok.  Since he is definitely more into meeting strangers than I am, I marveled at how often he ends up in the homes of people he doesn't know. Truthfully, he did inspire me to try and reach out a bit more when I am out, to strike up conversations if for no other reason than to get outside myself and really try to learn about other ways of living.

Sometimes I found our author a bit condescending - he's SUCH a travel, it's SO obvious.  Maybe if I just read the essays one at a time in a newspaper or magazine over a long stretch it wouldn't have bothered me, but to read them all at one time felt a bit like he was shoving the awesomeness of his experience in my face.  Not all the time, but occasionally.   One thing I really liked was how often he would quote other familiar writers and their feelings about wandering.

This short compilation didn't bore me and feel like I did widen my horizons a bit by reading it - I think my next travel experience (which of course can never come soon enough!) will be a bit different because of his perspective, so that's something.
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