Monday, June 27, 2016

Named of the Dragon by Susanna Kearsley

genre: paranormal fiction

Convinced by her crazy friend Bridget to spend holidays on the Welsh Coast, Lyn is hoping for some peace along with the chance to explore the ancient sites and getting to know Bridget's latest boyfriend, who just happens to be a famous author.  With feverish nightmares plaguing her since the stillborn death of her only child, Lyn's dreams begin to change as she meets the mother of a young son who fears for his life.  Cryptic clues from Arthurian legends give clues that there is a mystery that goes even deeper than Lyn can imagine.

Truth: this is not my favorite Susanna Kearsley.  I didn't super love how the Arthurian threads tied in and I like her duel-time-period books better.  BUT.  This caught and kept my attention and I liked Lyn as a character.  It definitely made me want to visit Pembrokeshire, she does a wonderful job creating a sense of place.  I have never yet been actually disappointed by one of her books and while I can't rave about it, it was exactly what I needed for my beach week.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Books I've Given Up On Part 5

Marked in Flesh by Anne Bishop - I'd enjoyed the first three while I read straight through them but the wait for this fourth one, apparently, dampened my interest.  I tried it and after a couple of chapters I found I just didn't care that much anymore.  I'm kind of bummed about that.

You were Here by Cori McCarthy - this just didn't ever hit the spot.  When I was 1/3 through and realized it was due at the library, I didn't care enough to renew it and I felt like that was reason enough to just be done.  Maybe the characters just didn't strike me as likable, at all or maybe in some ways the tragedy at the heart of the story just feels too real.  Either way, time to try something different.

The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston - I picked this up at the thrift store because I thought it was a memoir of growing up the daughter of Chinese immigrants.  It was that, for about the first chapter (and I really liked it) but the rest was imaginative stories based on Chinese folklore and legend and I wasn't in the mood for that at all.

Ludwika: A Polish Woman's Struggle To Survive In Nazi Germany by Christoph Fischer - oh man.  I tend to try any story about World War 2 but I only made it through the first half of the first chapter because EDITING.  It was making me twitch with the errors and plot holes.  I'm sure it's a good story under there but if you love your story PLEASE PAY THE MONEY AND HAVE AN EDITOR EDIT IT.  The end.

50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple's Extraordinary Rescue Mission into the Heart of Nazi Germany by Steven Pressman - again, World War 2.  This time there was just too much back story about all the different family members right at the beginning and I couldn't keep it straight and, rude, I know, I just didn't care that much.  Clearly I'm in the mood for a good, plot driven book.  I'm going to try something different now.

(all three of those last books I gave up on happened in a two day period. That's a problem!)

The Moonlit Garden by Corina Bowmann - I rarely give up on a book when I am so far into it but IT WAS DRIVING ME CRAZY.  Not just the anachronisms (did they REALLY say the word "guy" back in 1902 Sumatra?) but it was going so slow and the romance was too cheesy. I decided I would just skim the last two chapters and the epilogue and skip the 200 more pages and I totally did the right thing.

House of Royals by Keary Taylor - Well, on the second page the main character told me that she "doesn't know anything about Mississippi at all except that the river was named after it."  Shut. It. Down. Now.  Are you kidding me?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson (audiobook)

genre: nonfiction, historical

William Shakespeare is, truly, a household name. Whether you appreciate his works or not, it's hard to avoid him either because you are forced to read his plays in your English class or because you use his own phrases in your daily language. In this book, Bill Bryson has attempted to consolidate all that we actually know about William Shakespeare and his time period. While there are probably millions of actual pages written about the man and his history and his literature, this is more of a giant overview, a look not at theories but at actual evidence - what does the historical record actually say and how does that compare to the "common knowledge" that has been thrown around about him for centuries?What are the controversies surrounding the Bard and how can we take a side using as much factual information as is available?

If you are not already a fan of Shakespeare, then this probably is not the book for you. It is not a particularly humorous book (although he's so good that there is still some), a departure from other of Bryson's more popular works. However, it is incredibly interesting and well-researched. I feel like I not only learned a lot but also unlearned some things that I have heard that are not actually true. It's full of historical names that I stopped worrying about keeping straight but don't let that deter you if you are a fan - it's super readable (well, I listened because I love his narrative voice, it's a quick listen). I wish I'd read it before my visit to the recreated Globe last fall but at least it's all in my brain now.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade by Patrick Dennis

genre: adult fiction

When Dennis becomes an orphan at the age of 10, he is shuttled off to the New York City apartment of his, shall we say, eclectic Auntie Mame. Auntie Mame is not your typical auntie. She is dramatic and impulsive and bordering on wacko. She puts on personas like outfits depending upon her goals and on the needs of the time. While she doesn't make Dennis's life easy, she certainly keeps it interesting. As Dennis grows up under her watchful eye, she is constantly getting caught up in ridiculous schemes that always involve Dennis in one way or another.

This book! I didn't know anything about it when I bought it on sale so with my fresh eyes I must say I was a little startled by how forward thinking Auntie Mame is. I loved how she stood up for the downtrodden (the LGBT community, prostitutes, refugees, Jews - really, all those who can be scapegoated) even if her defense wasn't in the most conventional manner. I can imagine that it was rather shocking back when it was written, as it pokes fun at so many different kinds of people and parts are a bit racy.  The writing is witty with occasionally hilarious slapstick-type humor but sometimes it was too much for me - Auntie Mame was too much. Obviously she's supposed to feel like a caricature but it made it harder to loose myself in the story at different points. The narrative style is very clever, with Patrick our author himself telling the story and comparing his Auntie Mame to a far more traditional type do-gooder.  Watching Mame turn from a southern belle to an Irish writer to an Indian maiden really did keep the plot moving along as her antics and charm help her weasel her way through all kinds of mishaps.  While I was ready to be done by the end, it was definitely a unique story.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

genre: contemporary adult fiction

Lou Clark needs a job.  Desperately.  With few skills and no desire to look farther than her tiny home village, she ends up a caregiver for a young quadriplegic named Will.  Will, whose life had been as full of adventure as Lou's was empty of it.  Will, whose wheelchair-bound existence doesn't help him be a pleasant person to care for.   While Lou becomes increasingly invested in Will's life, she begins to learn that there are things that can only be learned out in the wide world and helping Will be a part of that wide world again is even more challenging that she could've imagined.

I picked this one up (I actually paid full price for a Kindle book, what?) so I could go see the movie with my sister and I have a strict read-the-book-first policy.

I have to say that I did fall pretty hard.  As in, I walked around with my Kindle in my face all morning and afternoon until I finished it.  In a day.  It's not super deep, no, but there was an ethical piece that I wasn't expecting and while I wasn't completely sold on it I did find myself very invested in both Lou and Will and the choices they made.  It's got nice witty undertones and the family characters are fleshed out and real - I particularly liked the sisters relationship.  I got emotionally invested and it's a been a while since I read a nice solid chick-lit novel whose love story didn't fall into a romance novel-y predictable blah.  YES, of course it's a little predictable but not in an annoying way.

Point is, I read it in a day and I really loved it.  4.5 stars for hitting the spot.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Last Girl by Joe Hart

genre: dystopia/science fiction

For some reason, women are no longer having girl babies.  When the female birthrate drops to nearly nothing and governments and scientists can't figure out why, the world that was disappears.  By the time Zoey is old enough to ask questions, she knows that a plague wiped out nearly everyone else on the planet and that the compound where she lives is the only safe place for a surviving girl like her. But that safety comes at a huge price.  Living like a prisoner, always watched and with nothing to call her own, Zoey is done with safety - what she craves is freedom, whatever the cost.

This book.  I got it for free from Kindle First.  Here is why I finished it: because I had to give up on the last THREE books I've tried and I was sick of reading poorly written and edited books and I hoped that if I just kept going it would get better.

It didn't.

The world building doesn't sit right.  The plotholes.  The violence (so much in-your-face slaughter, like, actually blood spraying onto your face kind of slaughter).  So many paragraphs about being in pain in one way or another, it got really annoying.  I just couldn't suspend my disbelief for so much of it and that actually annoyed me because I think this is an intriguing idea - what WOULD the world do if it ran out of girls?  The writing isn't BAD.   It got too wordy sometimes and I had to skim but it's readable and that's the only thing that kept me going except that Zoey does have a compassionate side that I liked but then there is just SO MUCH DEATH AND VIOLENCE that at the end I wanted to throw my kindle out the car window.  I couldn't even appreciate the little redemption at the end because I was so annoyed at the needlessness - it didn't feel just callused, it felt more like the author was trying to just WABAAAAMMMM it to me and it makes me feel disrespected as a reader.

Not good.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

genre: historical fiction

In a France of the 1600s, there lived a band of men who worked and fought at the will of the King.  Their dedication to the gentlemanly arts, good food and excellent swordplay was only surpassed by their loyalty to the king and to each other.  As Cardinal Richelieu, advisor to the king, hatches plots and dispatches assassins, some few fearless men are needed to undermine his devilry.

Athos.  Porthos.  Aramis.   They are the Three Musketeers.  And while they are absolutely crucial to the plot of this epic novel, our real hero is the fourth musketeer: d'Artagnan.  d'Artagnan, a brave and intrepid young man who comes to Paris to hopefully join the musketeers and change his stars.  Of course, his fiery temper and impulsive nature mean that he is always getting into scrapes and falling deeply in love with women who can hardly bring him true happiness.  His great companions Athos, Porthos and Aramis not only aid him in his antics but also have their own schemes that D'artangan's intrigues both compliment and complicate.

I did it!  I read this really long book! I've had it in the back of my head to read for ages, ever since my kids were small and my husband would make up stories about these four adventurers.   I found it a highly entertaining read.  Parts were laugh out loud funny - those musketeers are delightful caricatures but not in an annoying way.  Their whims and duels, their sensibilities and quirks - so much of this book is the interactions between these men.  I love their loyalty and their "all for one and one for all."  I actually really do love that, the scenes where they back each other up no matter what are some of my favorites.  Also one in which one man must run through the streets of Paris in naught but a ladies dressing gown.  I loved that scene too.

There is all kinds of adultery (which apparently was acceptable at the time?) and devious deeds - and the worst of the enemies, even worse than the Cardinal is a woman.  This mysterious woman is evil incarnate and sometimes her portrayal bothered me, as a woman, but I'd imagine that at the time when it was written no one would've seen it as strange.  It read quickly except for about five chapters near the end that really dragged - if I hadn't already known it was a serial, I would've guessed it at that point.  I had to skim.  But the ending wrapped things up in a consistent way and I am so pleased that this novel is a solid presence in my mind now.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

genre: historical fiction

Emmy Downtree knows exactly what she wants in life.  Living in London as World World 2 is just beginning, she wants to design bridal gowns and NOT end up like her mother.  Except, of course, war picks up our dreams and tosses them into the air and we don't get to choose where they fall, and as the Blitz turns one choice into a life-altering heartbreak, dreams have to take a backseat to a very harsh reality.  

Set in the 1930s-50s but bookended by the modern day, this story read really quickly for me.  I loved and was completely engaged in Emmy's life, her hopes and devastation as war takes away so much of what she holds dear.  I believed in her teenager-ness and her choices felt as passionate and misguided as a real teen's.   The storyline was complex and engaging and in the end, I believed almost all of it. At one point the story switches narratives and that part felt a bit less set in the time period - some questions were answered in a way that made sense but others felt rushed and I did see the ending ahead of time.  But the overall conclusions I really liked - about how one decision can change everything, for good or bad, but that doesn't mean it can't resolve in a way that we can be at peace with later.  About how we can only make choices based on the options handed to us in any given moment, and about how we can only do our best to find happiness when we've solved everything we can possibly solve.  A few parts made me feel emotional, in a powerful and good way, so even though I'd have liked the book to feel more "British," and a few things stretched my imagination a bit,  I did enjoy it a lot.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Mater Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich

genre: historical fiction

With only a suitcase of sausages and his butcher knives, WWI veteran Fidelis Waldvogel arrives in America from Germany. Knowing he must set up a life for Eva, his wife, and young Franz left in Europe, he makes a home for himself in Argus, North Dakota - an unremarkable town that becomes the backdrop for this story of immigrants and soldiers, drunkards and circus performers.  Argus is also the home of the capable and complicated Delphine, and when Eva makes a place in her life for Delphine, their stories intertwine until Old and New World mesh and create a friendship that changes not just both of them, but Fidelis too and even Argus itself.  

I love immigration stories, first of all. It is such a huge decision to pick up one's life and give it a go somewhere else, the ebb and flow of the foreign-born parents and the "American" children is so interesting.  Fidelis is a complex human being in some ways, having seen the horror of World War I and sorting through the loss of his homeland as he chooses to come to America.  But he's also passionate and easily satisfied with his knives and his songs.   His relationships with those he loves are as complex as he is and as nice as it is to just read "typical" love stories, I believe in this type of of story too, a story as real and convoluted as life can be, especially in times of depression and war.

The writing is lyrical, so lovely.  I liked the arc of Delphine as a woman, as a daughter and as a friend, I believed her as she took sides and made a world for herself as she sorted through all of the hard situations that came her way.  It's not a particularly happy novel - there is war and murder and people make poor decisions whose consequences ripple into the lives of others.  But somehow I became so invested in Fidelis, Eva and Delphine that I wanted to know what happened to them wherever the path took, knowing that real life is not always pretty.  A few anachronisms caught my attention and while I didn't love how things wrapped together in the end, I wasn't unsatisfied.  I like Erdrich as an author and would read her work again.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Queen of Always by Sherry D. Ficklin (Stolen Empire Series Book 3)

genre: young adult historical fiction

With the Empress's health failing and her relationship with Peter on the verge of catastrophe, Catherine soon realizes that her troubles are not only within her own court.  There are those outside that want Peter off the throne of Russia, which puts both Catherine and her young son in danger. Soon Catherine is going to have to decide if she is strong enough to wield her own power among so many she cannot trust.  Amid wars and plauge from without and conniving and hatred from within, there is really only one way she can win - the questions is if she is willing to sacrifice what it will take to get there.

Catherine's love life has always been an important part of the books, which I understand, and this one is no different.  But this one was my least favorite, especially after she threw a very unrealistic threesome into the mix.  It felt very unbelievable and like the author was just trying to be scandalous. The plot is fast-paced, again, and I believed in her political frustration, ambition and lack of options, Catherine's choices were always made with such high stakes and the lack of morality among all the characters was sometimes frustrating - Elizabeth, especially, would stop at actually nothing.  It entertained me and wrapped things up well enough but I didn't love it.  What it did make me do is go and learn more about the real story and I do appreciate that the author did base a lot of big happenings on fact, more or less.
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