Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery

genre: fiction

Valancy is on the verge of being an old maid - the rest of her life is stretching out in front of her as lonely and painfully boring as its been so far.  Living with her overbearing and obnoxious family is bad enough, but when a startling letter arrives, Valancy knows that she must change her own stars.  If she is ever going to live in the Blue Castle of her imagination, she's going to have to take matters into her own hands.

And so she does.

And I'm not going to tell you how but it was delightful to find out all on my own.  Oh, this was fun - watching Valancy morph from dutiful and dull daughter and niece to a snarky young woman speaking her mind and following her dreams.  It's both romantic and woodsy, a love song to the Canadian wilderness and to people living the lives they choose instead of what's been chosen for them.  Yes, sometimes the descriptions of the wilds got super wordy and there had to be some skimming, that's the only reason I'm giving it 4.5 stars instead of 5.  Otherwise, there were not one but TWO fun plot twists (although they were thrown at me right in succession a little quickly) and the romantic climax is quite dreamy.  The writing is solid, I underlined way more in this book than I have in anything I've read in recent memory - L. M. has a way with WORDS, I tell you.  I couldn't stop smiling for Valancy after I'd finished it.

No, it didn't change my life but it sure made me happy.  I wish there was a movie to watch, I'd go watch it right now.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Bridge to Haven by Francine Rivers

genre: Christian romantic fiction

Pastor Zeke has no idea how much that little bundle on the riverside is going to change his life.  That little bundle is Abra, abandoned at birth - a fact which will have consequences for not just Abra and Pastor Zeke, but for their entire town as Abra grows into a teen unable to love herself.  Set in post-WWII California, Abra's journey will take her to into the glittering world of Hollywood, with all the shine and sparkle you could imagine but even all of that somehow doesn't really give Abra the peace and belonging she yearns for.  

Yes, this is a Christian romance.  Not my usual read, however, a friend recommended it as a page turner and I won't deny it caught my attention and kept it until the end.  Yes, it is predictable, to a certain extent.  You know who the final love interest will be very early and I saw another plot twist coming half way through the book.  I found the "love" scenes a little too cheesy for my taste, but I guess cheesy is better than graphic :)  The time period is intriguing, especially with the Hollywood scene from that era.   The story itself is surprisingly edgy - edgy enough that it made me believe Abra's self-loathing and really made me feel for her.  Parts did have me crying drippy tears!  I'm such a sap!  But to be honest, I AM a Christian and I LIKED how this book lets Abra have her arc of conversion - I appreciated how she screwed up royally and then found a way to make it right - by realizing that her Savior would love her no matter what she did.  That's a lesson I'm still trying to learn but I believe that it's true.

For those who like Christian fiction, this Prodigal Daughter story is worth picking up.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

genre: historical fiction

Sarah is the daughter of a fine Southern Gentleman Lawyer.

Hetty (or Handful, which she was named by her mauma) is a slave.

Their home is in Charleston, at a time when slave-owning is a white man's right and the law will defend that slave-owning-man and that practice to the death.

As soon as she is old enough to be aware, Sarah is uncomfortable with slavery.  Soon, that discomfort turns into something deeper - and even as a child, she knows that Handful is a person just like she is.  And that keeping her as a slave is wrong.

While Handful's life as a slave is harsh and frightening, there is comfort to be found with her mauma, a strong and capable woman who knows exactly how she feels about slavery as well.  She teaches Handful that her soul cannot be owned and with her needle and thread she also teaches her the history of her people.

This book is the story of real life suffragette and abolitionist Sarah Grimke.  I was so glad that my sister in law told me that it was based on the life of a real woman, it made the story that much more meaningful.  The writing is lyrical and nuanced - told from the point of view of these two women, we are forced to see how trapped one can be by one's society.  I loved the motif of the quilt that Handful's mauma made, I loved Sarah's journey to figure out how a woman can make a place to be something other than a wife and mother.  I loved to watch her passion ignite and her relationship with her sister was powerful.

When you read books about slavery such as this one, when it is portrayed in all its raw ugliness and is given a face and name and a reality - a one singular person who lived all her life unable to do what she wanted for fear of being beaten or worse, it makes you feel actually sick.  It makes me hope that I would've been as brave as Sarah and other women and men who stood up to a society that believed that it was okay to own a person.

I was really engaged by this pre-Civil War story.  As I followed Sarah up and down the East Coast, trying to figure out who she was and what she was brave enough to stand for, I began to care for her and believe in her.   I love knowing that she really was one of the forerunners of the feminist and abolitionist movements.

Great read.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

William Shakespear's Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope by Ian Doescher (audio)

genre: um, I have no idea

This is exactly what you'd imagine it might be.  It is the story of the movie Star Wars, A New Hope (the classic of my childhood) only told in the style of William Shakespeare.


First off, I listened to this and it is done as a full cast recording with sound effects and everything and it is incredibly well done.  I was completely transported to Outer Space.  The dialogue is practically word for word, such as it is, so you really get the nuance of Shakespeare's language.  Parts had me laughing out loud, rewinding, and laughing out loud again.  I had to share with my father, especially the scene when Luke and Leia and Han lock themselves in the garbage pile.  It is actually hilarious.

I actually also loved that the asides and monologues (really the whole thing is done in Shakespeare style including some stage direction) - these speeches give us some insight into characters that we normally only get a glimpse of - Obi Wan, for example, and even R2D2 gets to share his mind with us.  Beyond that, our main characters, too, have moments of thoughtfulness and reflection that go deeper than the movie but fit right into the action.

If you are a fan of either Shakespeare of Star Wars, I highly recommend this as a fun time.  There is depth in this story, if you care to find it - that fight between good and evil within ourselves, the drive to do what's right for rightness sake versus the love of power.  For the comic banter and clever execution, take a listen.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Mind's Eye by K. C. Finn

genre: young adult paranormal

Even if Kit wasn't able to put herself into other people's minds, she would still be different.  She spends her days in a wheelchair and when Kit is sent from London to the Welsh countryside for the duration of the war, she has a hard time believing there will be anything to look forward to.  But soon Kit finds herself in a stranger's head by accident, and this Norwegian boy is in a city on the cusp of occupation and Kit isn't able to forget him or the danger he's in.  With her psychic powers, the war is suddenly at Kit's feet and even without the use of her legs, she knows she has the ability to help.

This was engaging.  I'm not a huge paranormal fan so the psychic thing took me a while to get into but I liked how Kit's story was interwoven with real world war intrigue.  Some of the plot was a little hard for me to believe (SO many coincidences!) - I had to decide to suspend my disbelief instead of it naturally happening but I liked Kit and Henri enough that I wanted to follow their story through.  The at-home-in-Wales plot was as well done as the bits of actual war action and I thought the secondary characters were well fleshed out.  Kit's disability and struggle to be at peace with her best self is a nice twist.   4 stars worth of enjoyment.

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers (His Fair Assassin Book 3)

genre: ya historical fantasy

In book three of the His Fair Assassin series, we continue forward in time with our story only in Mortal Heart, we are in the mind of Annith, the third of three friends at the Convent of Mortain.  While Ismae and Sybella have been sent out on assignments at the will of Mortain and direction of the Abbess, Annith has been assigned a most unwished for role: that of seeress.  Being seeress means that Annith will never leave the convent, and based on Annith's history at the convent itself, this feels like the worst of all punishments.  How can she spend her life there when she has been honed into one of Mortain's own assassins?  When whispered conversations reach her ears and the questions begin to weigh heavy, Annith makes a decision that will send flying a web of lies and secrets - and the future of Brittany hangs in the balance.

Again, I couldn't put this book down - three for three in the series in terms of tight plot development and an engaging storyline.  I think I liked Annith the least of all three main characters - her inner monologue was far more circular and almost repetitive.  I never did find as much sympathy for her as I did for Sybella.  However, I loved her romantic storyline and I really liked how the plot twists were woven into the history of France and Brittany.  This felt by far the most "fantastical" of the three, also, which took me some getting used to - and once I did, I loved the depth that it brought to the series.  I have to also say, because I'm like that, that I found at least three serious editing mistakes that jarred and annoyed me.  What is up with that?  But because I couldn't put this down, it still gets 4 stars.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers (His Fair Assassin Book 2)

genre: young adult historical fantasy

When Sybella leaves the convent to return to her father's house, she has been trained as an assassin but she is still broken inside.  After years of being abused, she has learned how to survive but not how to love.  As a servant of Death, she wants more than anything to send her father, D'Albret to his underworld but instead, she is given a most unwelcome assignment that, in the end, will change everything.

This was better than the first, I think because the ending felt more solid to me in this one.  I loved how the story continued on but just from the point of view of another character - a nice twist on the usual trilogy.  It completely absorbed me and while Sybella's story is very harsh at times, the historical period and the romantic plotline are engrossing.  I love the mix of the otherworldly gods and the solid historical footing, and even though we really delve into the two main characters (everyone else is fairly two dimensional) those two main characters are incredibly complex and I loved Sybella's arc.  The way she grew and changed felt very realistic.  I loved the idea of us finding our strength in our love for others.

Now I have to go read the last one.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Texts From Jane Eyre (and Other Conversations With Your Favorite Literary Characters) by Mallory Ortberg

genre: humor

Imagine that Jane Eyre had a cell phone and so did her beloved Mr. Rochester.  What would they say to each other? What about the girls from the Babysitter's Club?  Or Scarlett O'Hara and Ashley or Rhett?  This book imagines such conversations, stretching many characters to their snarkiest and most obnoxious or contrasting that to another character's mild disbelief and discomfort at someone's ranting.  To set the stage, the book's format even looks like the sort of text bubbles you see on your cell phone.

I got this as an ARC because I thought it sounded quite hilarious - and parts of it were.  A few conversations had me cackling, laughing so hard I couldn't repeat it outloud to my husband when I wanted to share.  But some of it I just didn't understand and other parts I didn't understand but they fell flat, for whatever reason.  Sometimes it was the foul language and other times I felt like the conversation just wasn't a good representation of the book she's referring to, but again, sometimes they were spot on and very funny.  It's a mixed bag, I guess.  I liked it 3.5 stars worth and if your friends don't mind lots of f-words, this would be a funny gift for a bibliophile like myself.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

genre: adult fiction

Abandoned at birth, Victoria has spent her life in and out foster care and group homes.   With no one and nothing, she ages out of the state's system and ends up on the streets of San Francisco.  Her only hope: to somehow use her knowledge of flowers to make a living for herself.  Staunchly and purposely unlovable, Victoria's only passion is for the meanings of the flowers themselves - the historical language of friendship and love that was communicated through bouquets and single stemmed blooms.  As we watch her slowly, SLOWLY, figure out how to function in adult society, we also learn about her past, about decisions that change everything and how having even just one person love you can be enough.

This isn't an easy tale to read.  Victoria is broken and (for me) it takes a while to feel attached to her as a character, she's so prickly.  Her childhood was so horrible it's almost hard to believe.  No wonder she's broken, never having been in a loving relationship with anyone her entire life.  But the relationships that she DOES end up creating, especially one that we see in her past and in her present, is very satisfying without being saccharine.  I had a hard time sometimes believing the flower-arranging storyline, it felt borderline magical realism to me which caught me in my tracks and made me have to suspend my disbelief, which was jarring.  That being said, I did LIKE it as an intriguing plot element.  I think I liked this book, even if Victoria's decisions sometimes made me just want to shake her.  It's not my usual style of book but I think it will make a good book club discussion.

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Sunday, November 2, 2014

Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

genre: ya dystopia

For all of Lynn's life she's known one thing: if you don't defend your water, you loose your water. And if you loose your water?  You might as well be dead.  Because in the world Lynn grew up in, fresh water is a commodity so scarce that it requires diligence and a heart hard enough to cold-blooded kill to protect whats yours.  When strangers lurk and the solitude is deafening,  Lynn finally looks to a neighbor for help, and in trusting one, she finds herself on the brink of letting herself be a part of a tiny community in a world where everyone needs help to survive.

This was engaging enough - a harsh world, to be sure, but a pretty believable one.  The world building I believed, the dialogue and character development I didn't.  The romance fell completely flat and ended up being completely unfulfilling.  I don't mind violence in a dystopian world, but for some reason this just felt almost commonplace.  Like our protagonist never got to the point where killing people was a problem - and maybe that's the kind of grit you need to survive in her world but as a reader, it was hard to feel like the girl was really growing as a character.  Strangely enough, I think I liked it better when I was reading it than I do know when I'm thinking about it.  Probably would really appeal to teens who love Hunger Games.

note: if you're interested in the content of the books I read, please go to
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