Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick

genre: alternative history, adult

At the end of World War II, America was defeated by the Axis.  What was once a continent that spread from ocean to ocean has been parceled into the Pacific States on the west, an extension of the Nazi Reich in the east and a no man's land in the middle.  As a conquered people, those formerly known as "American" have had to find a way to survive under whichever regime they happen to live under - neither of which tolerate political dissonance of any kind.

What would Americans be like without their power?  You'd want to hope they'd rise up and fight but in this alternative history, they's mostly found a way to survive.  They study the I Ching, making themselves believers in the kind of divination that such numbers and interpretations can provide.  Many of the populus gladly let their worst selves rise to the surface as they accept the slavery and anti semitism that have become, once again, socially acceptable views.  In this world we meet a few specific people, from very different parts of society, who are trying to, on one way or another, know what kind of life they should lead.  Some want more, some want less, some want to fit in and others would like to remove themselves.  And always, in the background, there is the idea that maybe this isn't the only way things could've happened.  Maybe the evil lurking constantly at the edges wasn't necessarily a given.  And if you think there is a real chance that things could be another way, what would you do be willing to do to make change?

I wanted more from this.  I chose it because I found the television adaptation so intriguing - it turns out that the screenwriters really fleshed out the characters and plot of the novel.  Parts of the book were philosophical to the point of nonsense, to me, and maybe that was the point but it lost me.  Important threads just ended, with no resolution at all.  I appreciated the choppy, Japanese-ized American that they spoke in the west, I liked the idea of "American products" being something that are now of historical value, as the idea of  American products becomes nothing but a dream,  I felt the weight of being an oppressed people, but the ending left me so wanting that I hesitate to recommend it too highly.  I think I'll just let the show fulfill my love for the genre instead.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin

genre: historical fiction

It's hard to imagine a time before Hollywood was itself - that glittering town where dreams are made, but The Girls in the Picture does just that, transports us back to the very beginning of what came to be known as "movies."  Mary Pickford is a young and firey actress, determined to make her mark and Frances Marion (TWICE divorced!) knows only that she wants to be a part of the art world somehow.  How these two make an acquaintance, which turns in a powerful friendship and partnership, is at the crux of this novel.  Mary and Frances, two women afloat in a sea of men, become legendary figures in the chronology of film production. 

There was much to enjoy in this novel.  So many familiar names (Charlie Chaplin!  Douglas Fairbanks! Cecil B DeMille!), so much cultural and pop history throughout the story.  We see with our own eyes the creation of celebrity - individuals whose lives in some ways, fall out of their control as society makes its demands of them.  Mary and Frances are both stubborn and complex women and I appreciated that we got to see the story from both of their points of view.  It went on a bit long for me and a few secondary characters were a bit caricatured.  Occasionally both women would drive me a bit crazy with their internal dialogue but I really enjoyed, especially, learning about the early days of movies.  So many times I would put the book down and go on YouTube and search up Mary's latest film that I was learning about.  Fascinating, to watch those movies with a bit more context under my belt.  The last thing I want to mention is how important it is to remember how hard it was for women to make their way in a men's world in the early 20th century - the book certainly brings home how challenging it was Mary and Frances and other women like them to get not just equitable pay but respect among their male peers. 

If you are a history buff or appreciate books about complicated relationships between strong women, I'd recommend Girls in the Picture.

note: I was given a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes only, all thoughts are my own.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

2018 in Books!!

I read 67 books in 2018!  Because this was the year of sell-a-house-and-move-across-the-country, I gave myself a lower goal of 35, thinking I'd be too busy to read but as it turns out, reading helps me cope with chaos :) 

I like to think about #1 what genre of books I've read most and #2 what format I read them in. 

50 of the 67 books were fiction
12 of the 67 books were non-fiction

So yeah, that adds up to 62.  I have no idea what the other five were :)

10 were from the library
21 audiobooks!!!
27 on my kindle
6 were actual paper books that I own

Again, I'm missing three, that's so annoying!  I try so hard to keep track, dangit. Anyway, clearly I do way more audio/kindle than actual paper book.  48 versus 16.  But that's okay, I like both a lot and often I read library books on my kindle and then if I love them I buy them used :)  Just sorta past spending lots of money on books I'm not sure I'll love!

Here are my favorites:

All of those are fiction.  Six of them are YA, one of them is Middle Grade and the other five are adult.  One is a re-read.  Oh, how I do love this hobby of mine.  And I know it's just a hobby and I do invest a lot of time in it but it really is so much fun :)

Friday, January 4, 2019

Frozen Reign by Kathryn Purdie

genre:young adult fantasy

Sonya’s gift to read other's auras is gone - and as much as it made her life challenging in so many ways, it was also an essential part of her. Moving forward in a country at war, on two fronts no less, feels nearly impossible without her ability to read emotions. Life doesn’t stop, however, and if she and Anton, the former prince, have any chance of succeeding and leading their new country to victory, Sonya has to find a way to contribute on new terms.  With a kidnapped princess and an evil former emperor to content with, she knows the odds are against them.

Turns out, this is the third in a trilogy - but the author did a great job helping me find my feet and I never really felt lost in the action. The world building is interesting - the only magical element is this female ability to read others’ emotions and it’s so unique and rare that much of the plot revolves around not just Soyna but others with this gift. I liked this twist on magic, for the most part. Sometimes the discussion about it felt a little repetitive but the action moved right along and I was always happy to pick it up.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

genre: contemporary fiction

Ove.  Crotchey, irritable, set-in-his ways.  Alone and just fine with it, Ove's new neighbors nearly drive him to the brink with their boisterous and needy ways.  Don't even ASK him to help you.  But darn it if Ove cannot HANDLE nonsense - and when he sees nonsense he has to solve it.  Don't thank him, though.  And don't ask again.  Except somehow Ove's neighbors AND his entire neighborhood will just NOT leave him alone!

I resisted reading this so much - it just sounded completely unappealing to me.  I can't even count how many people told me I'd enjoy it but I just had no interest in a book about a cranky old man.  Shame on me.  It's delightful. It made me chuckle and full-on laugh out loud. It made me cry drippy tears and feel ALL the feelings.  It's incredibly well-written and well translated from the original Swedish.  It is surprisingly tender and deals with some pretty heavy subject matter, most especially Ove's loneliness and feelings of being superfluous.  I read this quicker than any book I've picked up lately and reminds me of how important it is for me to read outside my comfort zone.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Poison's Cage by Breeana Shields

genre: young adult fantasy

As we read in Poison's Kiss, Marinda has the power to kill with a kiss.  Now that she knows who her true enemy is, she is prepared to sacrifice everything to bring down the Snake King.  Well, not everything.  Not Mani, her little brother or Ilya, her childhood friend that Marinda isn't completely sure she can trust.  Being a spy isn't for the faint of heart and Marinda soon learns that not only will she have to deceive someone she both fears and hates, even she might not recognize who she becomes.

So, I liked that this book was from both Marinda and Ilya's perspectives - it kept the story moving and Ilya is an intriguing character with a lot of emotional baggage to sort through.  There are some heavyish ideas here about family and loyalty.  However, I just had so so many questions that never were answered - questions that made me never feel firmly in the world our author created.  I actually made a list of them, hoping by the end I'd understand more but alas, not so much.  I hate spoilers so I won't include him but some of them were really important to the plot - but here's one that's not.  All the characters were constantly moving between places and nearly everywhere they went, at any time, took hours.  Hours of running.  Hours of stumbling with your hands tied behind you back.  Hours of hiking.  An hour is a really long time and to say you "ran for two hours" in the darkness, when you're a person who has never really mentioned that you're a runner, just makes me wonder how that's possible, it pulls me out of the story.  I know I'm a picky reader, but when I'm jarred by something that just doesn't sit right, the I have a harder time suspending my disbelief and letting my mind be settled into the story.  That's a bummer to me, because it's not a badly written. Some of the plots twists at the end were really good - if only the climax wasn't so full of plotholes.  I think if you weren't as picky as me, you could still enjoy the story for what it is.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Poison's Kiss by Breeana Shields

genre: young adult fantasy

Marinda is lethal.  With one touch of her lips, Marinda can kill.  Being a visha kanya means that she is a servant of the Raja, killing at his bidding in order to keep the land a safer place.  Killing strangers is one thing - but when Marinda is asked to kill someone she knows, she starts to ask questions.  And in the killing business, asking questions can lead to answers you don't like.  Not one bit.

This is a fast read and the overall plot moved along.  I liked the bones of the world building, but I would've appreciated more depth.  There were a few instances where things felt out of place in the world Marinda lived in - objects and conveniences that pulled me out of the story.  Marinda is a bit of a challenging protagonist to like.  I was empathetic with her conundrum, not being able to kiss anyone for love, being manipulated since she was young, etc.  But she's rather whiny and doesn't have any particular skill or even the kind of personality to make her super likable.  It made the insta-love a harder to believe.  I liked her more by the end of the book, as she found some backbone.  I care enough to read how the story ends.

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

genre: adult historical fiction

When Lavinia’s ship arrives arrives in America, there are two things that the ship’s captain knows about her. One, her parents have died on the journey over, so she’s an orphan. And two, she is white. What else can a captain do with a seven year old white orphan except put her in his kitchen house and make her an indentured servant? In antebellum Virginia, that’s about as good as Lavinia can get. So, this little white girl grows up among the slaves, cared for by Belle, the cook, who has secrets of her own. Life at Tall Oaks is both “black and white” and incredibly complicated. As Lavinia slowly begins to understand the relationships between owner and slave she cannot reconcile how loved and adored she is by her slave “family “and the way that they are treated on the plantation. How can Lavinia make a place for herself in this world?

With a strong and vivid cast of characters, I fell for this book hook line and sinker. The audiobook is a superb production, I truly felt immersed in this pre-Civil War plantation environment. There is so much pain. So so much pain in this book that I keep wondering what it is that is making me need to give it five stars. I think it is the people. It is their relationships and their resilience in the face of horror. It’s how I felt about them when they were hurting. It was the juxtaposition of those people completely enamored by the power and hatred of their slave-owning society against those who quietly and subtly worked against it. Some parts of the story went on a tiny bit long for me and sometimes I wanted to shake Lavinia for her choices but as I look back at my own life, especially when I was young, the things we do for the people we love do not always make a lot of sense. And in this period, in this place, the consequences for rash decisions could be so far reaching and so harsh, despite how completely irrational it may be. There is just a LOT to think about in this book and I do recommend it to those to are okay with darker subject material.

trigger warning: there is a lot of rape in this book - never graphic at all but you know that it's happening

Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Plastic Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

genre: young adult fantasy

As a polymaker's apprentice, Alvie Brechenmacher cannot wait to begin to learn the magic of plastic craft. With her mind always spinning with questions and measurements, she just knows that a life of creativity and learning is exactly what she wants. Learning polymagic, its spells and uses, is the reason she made her way to London - but it's not the only thing awaiting her there. Friendships and (maybe? hopefully?) romance, not to mention a rival polymaker who keeps her on her toes.

This was a delightful book.  I have already read the first book in this series, Paper Magician, but I'd forgotten essentially all of it and I didn't feel the least bit confused - this doesn't need to be read as part of a series, it's fine as a stand alone.  Alvie is so clever, such a strong willed and intelligent protagonist - not perfect but with a deep sense of herself and what she's capable of.  The romance was light but lovely.  I like the magical world building here, it's not incredibly intricate but believable and entertaining.  I did guess one plot point rather early on but still, there was a lot of action I didn't quite expect and I fell for all of it.  I really liked the writing here, the language surprised me sometimes, with lovely images.  For example, "so much excitement flashed through her she was surprised it didn't spill from her like water" and "her belly was filled with popcorn kernels and Bennet was the fire beneath them," images that just rounded out Alvie as a spirited and lively young woman.  No, it wasn't life-changing, but I had a grand time reading it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Untouched by Jen Atkinson

genre: young adult fantasy

Having been homeschooled all her life, starting high school for her senior year is more than a little daunting for Thankful Tenys.  It's REALLY daunting.  So when she meets the super standoffish Liam, that all the kids in her small town school are convinced is cursed, she knows it is in her best interest to just stay out of his way.  And yet, there is something about him and his "otherness" that really resonates with her own loneliness.  So she doesn't stay away - and Thankful learns enough about Liam and those "curse" rumors to start making her own choice about this untouchable boy.

It's a fast read and I particularly appreciated Thankful having a challenging home life with a sick parent, something you don't see super often in young adult books.  The romance is cute and for the most part I believed where the story took me - up until about the last 1/5.  Then it just became too Twilighty for me (and it had already reminded me of Twilight enough to make me roll my eyes a little).  I also found myself frustrated by Liam's constant growling, eyebrow knitting and Adam's apple bobbing.  I wanted more from him, a little more depth.  And it's hard for me to imagine a young man that is always growling.  Despite that, I did read it fast and there were a few good plot twists that I didn't totally see coming.   Less picky readers might like it a lot better than me.
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