Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Vanishing Throne by Elizabeth May

genre: young adult paranormal historical fantasy

This is the second book in the Falconer series, so anything you read here is a spoiler :)

Aileana has been caught by the Fae. Lonnrach has her captive and, having imprisioned Aileana in a hall of mirrors, is prepared to nearly break her to get what he wants. While the human world spins along without her, she is caught in a torrent of memories and false hopes until a stranger helps her escape. But will the human world be so changed that there's no place for her and the woman she's been forced to become?

Yes.  I read this in a day.  It's not perfect - it's repetitive at times and they aren't the most fleshed out characters.  There were also a few instances where the timing of things felt off to me but it's action-packed and well, I have NO time to read and yet I had to read it in a day.  The romance is satisfying, the new revelations make the Falconer's role even more intriguing and it's definitely a harsh battle in a world where there can't be just good versus evil - there are way too many sides and people are too complicated for that.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Falconer by Elizabeth May

genre: young adult steampunk/historical urban paranormal

One night, one horrible, traumatic event and life for Aileana will never be the same. Her knowledge that the fae are real and ruthless means that can she no longer be the proper society girl she was raised to be, preparing for life as a wife and mother in Edinburgh. Instead, her life is ruled by a fierce and unrelenting hatred of the fairies and a desire to wipe them out. Luckily for her, she has a limited few fae on her side, one of whom is ruthless enough himself to teach her a least a little - but the secrets he keeps may do more harm that any teaching is worth.

I could not put this one down. It’s action-packed and I loved the steampunk atmosphere and the romantic tension. Its a little repetitive but I forgave it because the banter was fun and I was swept along enough to want to know what was next.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle

genre: science fiction, children's literature

Meg is a bit like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. She loves math and science but can't just put a smile on at school to save her life. Her father's missing which makes life with her mother and three brothers both lonely and challenging.

One dark and stormy night a visitor arrives at Meg's home and suddenly everything she knew about the universe is broadened and her father’s fate becomes a tangible puzzle to be solved. She has no idea the danger that awaits her.

I read this child and really enjoyed it. I was worried it would not have the same charm for me as an adult but I found myself pleasantly entertained and at the end, actually moved. There are some deep ideas here, some clearly Christian allegorical, which were lost on me as a child. I appreciated them more now and I’m glad that I revisited one.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

All the Truth That's in Me by Julie Berry

genre: young adult

When Judith returns to her extremely conservative town after having disappeared for four years, she is missing more than her childhood and her innocence.  In an act of violence, Judith has lost the ability to speak.  Unable to explain what happened and what she saw, Judith lives a shadow life - there, watching, but either unable and sometimes forbidden to participate in the community around her.  Her thoughts, instead, are poured out into a journal to the boy she has always loved, the boy she watches with a keen eye.  When circumstances dictate that Judith must either act or her whole town may be in danger, she has to decide if it is worth the struggle of making a place for her in the world after all.

Not historical fiction, exactly, but set in a Puritain-type society, this story delves deep into voice and belonging, into hatred and scapegoats, intolerance and sexism.  It makes you think about the people we disenfranchise and how important it is to give every person - male and especially female - the space to feel like what they have to say is valid and that justice belongs to everyone.

It was slow-going, I'll be honest - it never really gripped me until the last fourth, but I also couldn't let it go: the ideas and Judith herself and her love for Lucas kept me wanting to know what happened.  I loved the early-America-but-not-quite setting and the constructs it places on the story,  I liked the second-person narrative and even the not-quite-chronological flow worked for me.  I liked that I really didn't know how things were going to sort out, the mystery and the suspense.  I really liked the sensitivity some tough issues were tackled and how it was all wrapped up in a sad but in a really good story.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I'm not sure how many times I've read this book.

And I never tire of it.

This time, I read it out loud to my boys, five year old twins, it was their first chapter book listen and a perfect choice for them.  They were already very familiar with the characters and stories from the Little House picture books, which certainly helped them stay interested. 

I love Laura's personality.  She's fiesty and aware, she loves her family and is so comfortable in her life.  I like the stories that Pa tells of his childhood and family - my boys especially loved these.  Tales of panthers and bears and forbidden sledding trips.  I even like the chapters that are just about what life was like during this period - how Pa make a smokehouse out of a tree, how he collected honey or butchered a pig, how Ma made butter or cheese.  You'd think my wild and crazy sons would get bored but they never did!  It helps that the edition I read was doubly big - a read aloud edition - so the pictures were big and this story does have many illustrations.  Yes, it's a big didactic at times and can be a tiny bit repetitive but the changing of the seasons and their hard-working life dictate a lot of that. 

We loved spending time with this Big Woods family and we had a good enough experience that I think we might try more in the series!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Ready Player One by Ernest Line (audiobook)

genre: young adult dystopia

Wade lives in a not-so-future world in which hope is hard to find.  Desperate and gray, it's not hard to understand why Wade much prefers leaving the real world to spend his time in The Oasis - a virtual reality universe that nearly everyone in the world can access and where you can be anyone you want.  Part video-game and part social interactive platform, the Oasis is worlds upon worlds to explore.  And when the man responsible for its creation dies, he posthumously announces a contest to win his fortune.  Wade's life is never the same as he devotes himself to a study of this one individual and the decade he adores, the 80s, in order to have a fighting chance at winning the biggest prize the world has ever seen.

I'm giving it 5 stars.  I can't believe I liked it that much, but I did.   I put off trying this book for so long because I have a hard time with teenage male protagonists, in general (not fair, I know, but there you are) but this one really captured my attention from the start.  Yes, it helps that I grew up in the 80s and the pop culture references were beyond fun.  But it's also a rollickingly adventurous story.  It's intense and incredibly creative.  It kept me guessing and made me feel things, and although it lulled a tiny bit in the middle, by the final third I was practically on the edge of my seat, wondering how it would all shake down.  I found myself thinking about the "virtual" world that I, too, spend a lot of my time in and I appreciated the overall message of the novel, about how as amazing as the virtual world we can create are, we do actually need real people in our lives. 

note to parents: language, some discussion of sexual topics

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Scarlet Pimpernel Emmuska Orczy (audiobook)

genre: historical fiction

I was only 15 when I fell in love with the movie the Scarlet Pimpernel. Then I fell in love with the music and saw the musical, which was phenomenal. For some reason, though, when I tried the book many years ago I couldn’t get into it. This time, though, my 12-year-old is reading it for his middle school English class and so I decided to try again. Oh my goodness. I should have persevered last time. I loved it!

Who is the elusive Pimpernel? That dashing hero saving beleaguered aristocrats from the blade of the guillotine? Well, isn’t that the mystery? For Marguerite St. Just, the Scarlet Pimpernel is everything she wishes she had in a husband. Instead, Sir Perceval Blakeney is more than a bit of a Who is the elusive pimpernel? That dashing hero saving beleaguered aristocrats from the blade of the guillotine? Well, isn’t that the mystery? For my cure songs used in, the scar the pimpernel is everything she wishes she had in a husband. Instead, Sir Percy Blakeney is more than a bit of a fop and their relationship is shallow and unfeeling.  But when her brother gets caught up in the intrigue, suddenly Marguerite no longer has the luxury of admiring the Scarlet Pimpernel's deeds from a far. She is soon in the thick of the horror that is the French revolution and knowing the identity of that scoundrel my be her only hope.

I found myself drawn into Margurite’s cares, I fell for the romance of it all. The last third of the book really had me dying to know what would happen. Was it repetitive? Yes, sometimes. Is there some intense anti-Semitism? Yeah, that was bristling. But the STORY. The deception and intrigue. The whole ending is so different than the movie that it was exciting to see how it would work out.

Now, I must rewatch my beloved film!!

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui


Until she was an adult, Thi Bui did not know the stories of her parents. She knew they came from Vietnam but the world they knew, the circumstances that created her life, all that was a mystery until she began to dig. The Best We Could Do is the story of Thi’s family: what they experienced and overcame. And it’s not pretty. It is the story of people living in a Vietnam in flux, a county shifting and changing until it is a place of fear and danger. As she sorts through her roots, she slowly begins to understand herself.

This was powerful and very sad. It’s a story that puts a face to the plight of refugees, fleshing out how truly terrorizing life can be and what people are willing to sacrifice to get a chance for their children. I liked the graphic novel format for this tale that taught me about a Vietnam that no longer exists and about the complicated web of experience that makes us who we are.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See (audiobook)

genre: historical fiction

One girl from the Akha Ethnic Minority culture.

One tea cake.

In the far mountains of China lives a community of tea growers.  Tight-knit with incredibly strict traditions, Li-yan grows up knowing exactly where she fits in the world.  She appeases the spirits, she helps her mother who is a healer and midwife, and she picks tea.  It isn't long, however, before the tranquilly of this mountain life is disrupted by an outsider and Li-yan's choices lead to an untenable situation: she is pregnant and unmarried, a taboo in her culture.  Li-yan's decisions, the friends she makes, the place she finds herself in between traditional and modern life, all of this is at the crux of this book.  

I found myself completely immersed in this story, especially enjoying learning about the tea-making culture and the struggles of adoptees from China.  I cared about Li-yan and while somethings seemed too horrible to bear, some things also seemed too good to be true, but I was able to suspend my disbelief for both.  As an audiobook, I loved the voice of Li-yan and to hear the words spoken in Chinese. The other narrator's more juvenile voice grated on me a bit - it never seemed to age the way I expected it too, but still, I'm not disappointed I listened instead of read.  

Thursday, November 30, 2017

My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business by Dick Van Dyke (audiobook)

genre: memoir

It’s true that Dick Van Dyck has lead a pretty astonishing life. In this memoir he takes us from his early childhood to the present time, telling his life stories and sharing anecdotes of the different performances he has been in. There is gossip, there are trials, and through it all you get a sense of the rich life that he has lived. From early vaudeville-type acts to Bye-Bye Birdie on Broadway to the Dick Van Dyke show to Mary Poppins, he’s lived his adult entire life amongst the Hollywood A List.

I think I probably chose this because it was read by the author and I have liked everything that I have seen him in. It’s an engaging enough book, a little bit scattered at times, a little bit preachy and a little bit "look at how amazing my life is."   Because I didn’t really know anything at all but his personal life, I’ll be honest and say that I wasn’t super thrilled with what I saw. I appreciate that he is honest about his personal choices and demons, I just found myself a little disappointed with the disconnect I saw between the kind a family man he says he is and some of his choices. But, that is my own experience and values making that judgement and for the history of television comedy and the look at a life-well lived, it was pretty good.
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