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Saturday, December 31, 2016

December Wrap Up

I read 12 books and 5 audio books this month, bringing my totals to 95 books read and 69 audio books completed in 2016. 

The most disappointing book of the year was Of Fire and Stars (review). My favorite book for December was Words in Blue (review), though Heartless (review) was close behind. My favorite book of the year was the Explorers Guild, with Kids of Appetite (review) as a close second. I read the Explorers Guild before I started reviewing again, but do plan to reread it in the next few months and will review it then. 






Thursday, December 29, 2016

Bookends

Showing off my amazing bookends, a gift from Mom.


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

More Austen

The Simpson & Vail "Jane Austen blend" was a fantastic gift from a dear friend, Raina.


Monday, December 26, 2016

Austen Action Figure

Bryan got me Cthulu, the War Doctor, and Jane Austen for Christmas!




Sunday, December 25, 2016

Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

Of Fire and Stars
Audrey Coulthurst
2/5 stars

Princess Dennaleia comes to the kingdom of Mynaria  to prepare for her marriage to the crown prince.  Mynaria is a horse-centered country, so she must learn to ride for her wedding ceremony, and is taught by her prickly, soon-to-be sister-in-law, Mare.   Denna is possessed of magic that is banned in Mynaira, leading to potential danger--or death.  Furthermore, a foreign power is attempting to assassinate Mynarian leaders, using magic.  Mare and Denna band together to search out the culprits, before Denna can be suspected, and end up falling in love along the way.

Despite how exciting it sounds, Of Fire and Stars is one of the most dull books I've read this year. The intrigue was slow to develop, then described in near mind-numbing detail, while the plot dragged on with nothing happening for most of the book.  I nearly gave up several times, only finishing it because it was recommended by a source I trust.

The horses that play such an important part in Mynaria also played a leading role in the book, with much attention paid to lessons, riding, grooming, and general discussion.  I'm not a horse person, so I found this a tedious filler.

The romance  grew in a natural and believable way, but the characters of Denna and Mare were not well-rounded, and at times seemed to be mere stereotypes.  The minor characters were even more stale, with very little personality to each.

By the end, when the action finally came, it was too little, too late.  I was past the point of being interested in the characters or the plot.

Overall, Of Fire and Stars was a book with great promise, but it failed to deliver.


George MacDonald


Saturday, December 24, 2016

Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas

Crown of Midnight
Sarah J. Maas
3/5 stars

In this second book of the Throne of Glass series, Celaena must carry out her duties as King's Champion, assassinating enemies of the Crown.  As she becomes involved in searching out conspirators, she suffers heartbreak, discovers more dark magic, and finds her loyalties tested.

The first three-quarters of Crown of Midnight move slowly, especially dragging during Celaena's period of grief.  I nearly gave up at several points, but I am interested enough in the overall story to stick with it.

The last quarter was action packed, with a shocking cliff hanger that nearly made up for the occasional tedium of the rest.  Despite it not being a gripping novel, I plan to continue the series, as I have enjoyed Maas' other series (Crown of Thorns and Roses) and expect that, as she matured as a writer, the Throne of Glass series improved.


Friday, December 23, 2016

Frogkisser! by Garth Nix

Frogkisser! 
Garth Nix
expected publication date: February 2017
5/5 stars

Princess Anya's stepstepfather is becoming an evil sorcerer, intent on taking over their small kingdom, transmogrifying people into animals right and left.  To return visiting Prince Denholm from his frog-form, Anya must make a Transmogrification Reversal Lip Balm.  Aided by one of the palace's talking dogs, and joined by a boy-turned-newt and an otter-turned-human, Anya goes on a Quest for the ingredients, while trying to avoid being captured by her stepstepfather.  Along the way, she learns about the All Encompassing Bill of Rights and Wrongs, the dangers of wielding power, and the importance of treating people fairly.

Anya is a wonderful heroine.  She is eager for knowledge, and is a believer that a princess should "rescue herself".   She was believable, especially as she was not fearless, but tried to be brave while frightened.  The other characters, while not all as fully fleshed out as Anya, were also a pleasure to know.

The plot was a delightful mix of fairy tale and fantasy, exciting and fun.  Nix writes well, and I was immersed in his world from the beginning.

Overall, Frogkisser! is a charming tale with lovable characters and an engaging plot. It is perfect for the recommended age group, but may also appeal to Young Adult readers.


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Caraval
Stephanie Garber
expected publication date: January 2017
4/5 stars

Caraval (the first in a projected two-part series) is a tale of two sisters who deeply love and look out for each other while thye live under the tyranny of an abusive father.  Since they were young, Scarlett and Donatella have both dreamed of joining in Caraval, a performance game full of illusion and mystery, where nothing is as it seems.  This year, they receive invitations, run away from their father, and enter the world of Caraval--opening themselves up for magic, love, and heartbreak.

I was captivated by Garber's storytelling from the very first sentence, and stayed entranced through out the entire novel.  Her descriptions and metaphors were stunning, and the imagery from Scarlett's ability to feel in color was remarkably beautiful.

This novel doesn't have extensive world building, but this is not missed, as most of the novel takes place during the game and environs of Caraval.  The characters and their actions were well-written and generally believable.  The plot was riveting, taking many turns and twists; often when I thought I knew what exactly was happening or would come next, I was completely surprised.

I was in awe reading this book, until the last few chapters.  I don't want to spoil any of the plot for anyone, but I must say that I found the deus ex machina solution to be down-letting,

Excluding that disappointment, Caraval is well worth reading, with the first 90% being phenomenal.

(On a personal note: It breaks my heart not to be able to give this book a five star review.  It was so amazing until the very end.  I nearly capitulated and gave it five stars anyway, but. . . I had to be honest.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Classics Club: To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

(about the Classics Club)



I first read Virginia Woolf for a Master's class about 20 years ago, and was immediately enamored of her and her style.  Over the years, I've read most of her works, and am slowly rereading them again as the desire takes me.  I wanted to reread To the Lighthouse, as I couldn't remember much about it.



I thought again and again how easy it is to read Woolf, to sink into her prose and just flow with it.  I thought about how each character saw the same events of the day so differently, and how believable each character and their views were.  I thought about how masterful Woolf is to present a novel with nearly no dialogue or action, and almost all introspection.  I thought about how much I love her subtle shifts of perspective.  One character will be thinking and it will gradually shift into another character's thoughts in the middle of a paragraph.




Reading Woolf always makes me feel like I'm floating on the ocean, just flowing with the waves, letting the wash over me or move me along.  I simply get lost in her prose, and let her lead me where she will.  I also felt a range of emotions while reading To the Lighthouse: I teared up a few times, I laughed, I felt conflicted, I was connected to the characters and felt their varied emotions.


"To pursue the truth with such astonishing lack of consideration for other people's feelings, to rend the thin veils of civilization so wantonly, so brutally, was to her so horrible an outrage of human decency that, without replying, dazed and blinded, she bent her head as if to let the pelt of jagged hail, the drench of dirty water, bespatter her unrebuked.  There was nothing to be said."


"They came to her, naturally, since she was a woman, all day long with this and that; one wanting this, another that; the children were growing up; she often felt she was nothing but a sponge sopped full of human emotions."

". . . but most of all he hated the twang and twitter of his father's emotion which, vibrating all around them, disturbed the perfect simplicity and good sense of his relations with his mother."

"His immense self-pity, his demand for sympathy poured and spread itself in pools at her feet, and all she did, miserable sinner that she was, was to draw her skirts a little closer round her ankles, lest she should get wet."


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Flicker and Mist by Mary G. Thompson

Flicker and Mist
Mary G. Thompson
projected publication date: 1/2017
3/5 stars

On the island of the Upland, people are divided into two races: Lefties and Plats.  Myra is the child of the only mixed race couple in the capital city of New Heart City, and both she and her parents face discrimination as a result.  In the past, Flicker Men invaded the Upland and bred with the Lefties, creating a sub race of Lefties known as the "Flickerkin".  Flicker Men, and the Flickerkin, can "flicker" or become invisible at will.  This ability is feared, and all Lefties are tested before they can enter New Heart City.  Myra's mother passed the test, somehow, but is actually a Flickerkin.  Myra herself has flickered once, and must be sure that it never happens again.  When it becomes obvious that Flickerkin have infiltrated New Heart City, Myra and her parents face great danger.

If it sounds confusing, that's because, at times, it is.  (I didn't even mention the sports, politics, religion, and dystopian elements, nor the quotes from the religious works and political documents.)  Thompson wants very much to create an original world, and she does, but she adds so much to it that the reader is overwhelmed, both by the world details and the complicated plot.

Flicker and Mist does have positive themes, which are certain to appeal to the young adult reader; themes of prejudices being broken, love overcoming hate, and people working together for peace.

Myra, as a character, is interesting and likable.  It's easy for the reader to want her to succeed with her sports, her boyfriend, and her life in general.  She is a strong female character, as is popular at this time, but she does feats that are, I think, above the ability of her age.  This is fantasy, of course, but the reader needs to be able to believe the fantasy, and I had a difficult time believing in Myra or her world.

Flicker and Mist is marketed toward an audience of ages 12 and up, and I think that this is too dense a book and world for that age group.  I think it is well suited for the older teen readers, though. (Note: this is my personal opinion, based on reading this book as an adult.)

Overall, while Flicker and Mist has an interesting premise, I found the plot to be over-complicated and slow paced, and the writing was not compelling enough to completely draw me into the story.  Other readers, however, and especially the traditional YA reader, may find this to be a thought-provoking look at race and equality.


Friday, December 9, 2016

One of My Favorites


Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

Words in Deep Blue
Cath Crowley
projected publication date: June 2017
5/5 stars

Rachel is in a deep depression after the death of her brother, and for a change of scene, moves back to her home town to live with her aunt.  While there, she reconnects with her former best friend, Henry, on whom she had a massive crush before she moved away.  Working with him in his family's second hand bookshop, she finds herself drawn to him again.

The bookshop has an unusual feature: the Letter Library.  These are permanent books for the purpose of highlighting favorite passages or even leaving letters in for other people.  One of the best parts of this Words in Deep Blue is reading the notes left in various books, plus the discussion of books by the characters.  Crowley herself leaves a note for the reader; a wonderful surprise and an fantastic addition.

 Crowley is an fine writer, and I was immediately captured by the plot and the realistic (and flawed) characters.  This is a quick read, but one that I feel will stay with the reader for some time.  In addition, Crowley gives some excellent book recommendations through her characters.

Words in Deep Blue is a teen love story, yes, but it's also a story about dealing with grief, taking chances, as well as a celebration of the written word.   I highly recommend it, especially for young adults that love books and the words therein.

Note: for adults that might not want a teen love story, a similar book is The Storied Life of A J Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, another 5 star read.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Sweet Dove Died by Barbara Pym

The Sweet Dove Died
Barbara Pym
4/5 stars

Leonora, beautiful, elegant, narcissistic, forms a relationship with Humphrey and his nephew James.  While she appreciates Humphrey's attentions, she finds the company of the much younger James to be more desirable, until his lover comes between them.

While reading the Sweet Dove Died, I was reminded of quote by Somerset Maugham regarding Jane Austen:
"Nothing very much happens in her books, and yet, when you come to the bottom of a page, you eagerly turn it to learn what will happen next. Nothing very much does and again you eagerly turn the page. The novelist who has the power to achieve this has the most precious gift a novelist can possess."
In this lightly comic book, the plot is minimal--nothing very much happens-- and yet the interest engendered by the characters compel the reader to continue to read.  The actions and reactions of these characters, particularly Leonora, were so believable that I couldn't be sure where the story would go.  The Sweet Dove Died is a satisfying exploration of various types of love, and yet Pym keeps her readers held at arms-length (like Leonora does her suitors) so there is little, if any emotional, involvement for the reader.  Excepting that sterile feeling, this is an excellent book, well worth reading.  (I would recommend, however, for new readers of Pym to start with Excellent Women.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

November OwlCrate

The theme for the November OwlCrate was Wonderland, and it is my favorite box so far!  It contained Heartless (which I reviewed earlier), a copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland with a matching bookmark, an exquisite brass "curiouser and curiouser" bookmark, a quote magnet ("imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality"), and a tin of an exclusive OwlCrate blend of tea (which is delicious).  I think this is my favorite OwlCrate!





August Folly by Angela Thirkell

August Folly
Angela Thirkell
4/5 stars

In the fictional county of Barsetshire is the small village of Worsted.  When the Dean family comes for the summer, the inhabitants are shaken up by a Greek play, a raging bull, a stubborn mule, misunderstandings, and, most of all, love.

August Folly is a typical Thirkell novel, gentle and witty.  It started off slowly, with a confusing introduction of many characters, but once that was out of the way it became tremendously enjoyable.  Unlike some of her Barsetshire novels, this one doesn't require a previous knowledge of any of the others.  Overall, I love her signature style and found August Folly to be a delightful read.





Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Pigeon Pie Mystery by Julia Stuart

The Pigeon Pie Mystery
Julia Stuart
3/5 stars

When her father, the Maharajah, dies, Princess Alexandrina (known as "Mink") finds herself in overwhelming debt.  Queen Victoria offers her a grace-and-favor residence in Hampton Court Palace. As Mink is still getting to know her eccentric neighbors, one of them dies after eating a pigeon pie prepared by her maid, Pooki.  With Pooki's life on the line, Mink decides to find the culprit herself.

The Pigeon Pie Mystery is a typical cozy mystery, with Victorian details and some good humor.  Stuart is a fine writer--I especially liked how she wove the backstories in with the main story--but the plot itself was only average.  Overall, this is a pleasant, fluffy read that most likely won't remain in the reader's memory for long.


Sunday, December 4, 2016

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Heartless
Marissa Meyer
5/5 stars



Heartless is a prequel to Alice's Adventure's in Wonderland, and tells how kind, happy Catherine turns into the "blind and aimless Fury" (to quote Carroll) that is the Queen of Hearts.  It all begins with Catherine's dream to open a bakery, but then life becomes immensely complicated: the unappealing King wanting to court her; she becomes attracted to the King's handsome, new Joker; and a Jabberwock appears to terrorize the kingdom.  Experiencing, for the first time, love, danger, and dismay, Catherine finds herself faced with a myriad of decisions that will affect not only herself, but many others as well.

Meyer skillfully entwines her original ideas with Carroll's established ideas to create a fully living world.  The sprinkling of Carroll quotes, and the visits from Wonderland friends, are a true joy.   The characters were fleshed out, with believable actions and reactions.  The prose was well-written, and drew the reader into the plot quickly.

The reader knows, before starting the book, that Catherine will become the Queen of Hearts, a passionately miserable individual.  The strain of melancholy that is woven through out the book purposefully keeps the reader anxious--it's always in the back of the mind that happiness is not the ending for Catherine.  I must say that Meyer did not disappoint, and delivered a heartbreaking ending that left me in tears.

Overall, I can find no fault with Meyer's beautiful, tragic novel, and recommend it wholeheartedly.


Note:  I do think, though, that readers will enjoy Heartless most if familiar with Carroll's original tales.  I paused a few chapters into the book to reread both Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and was extremely glad I did.


Friday, December 2, 2016

Recommendation

I didn't write a review of this one, but I highly recommend it!