Tuesday, February 28, 2017

February OwlCrate

The February #OwlCrate was wonderful!  One of my favorites!  It included:

A tote with a  quote from The Night Circus tote by @eviebookish This book is still on hold at my library, and hope to read it soon.

"Le Cirque des Rêves ("Circus of Dreams") candle by @frostbeardmpls which smells of caramel corn, chestnuts and bonfire.  It's delicious!

Yummy cinnamon doughnut lip balm from @geekfirelabs

A recycled playing card notepad from @atticjournals

Circus/fair themed sticky page flags from @girlofallwork

'Caraval' by which also came with a signed bookplate, quote card, and letter from the author. I read the ARC of Caravel and it was nearly phenomenal.  (my review here)

Monday, February 27, 2017

February Book Haul

The back rows are freebies from McKay books, and I forgot to show three ARCs that also came this month.  For buying, though, I did really well and didn't spend a whole lot.  The Bible is illustrated by Doré.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Corto Maltese: Under the Sign of Capricorn by Hugo Pratt

Corto Maltese
Corto Maltese: Under the Sign of Capricorn 
Hugo Pratt
3/5 stars

Corto Maltese is an independent Italian sea captain during the earlier years of the 20th century.  This volume takes place during 1916-17.  Corto is a rogue who says he's out only for himself, but still somehow manages to help out the underdog.  He is an extremely appealing character, and his adventures are fun to read, though not particularly in depth.

There is little character development, unfortunately, even though some of the stories were continuations of the previous ones.  Also, while Pratt is excellent at drawing action and personalities, I felt that the emotions weren't always as clear as I have seen in other graphic novels (The Explorer's Guild springs to mind).  The conversations also seemed stilted at times--perhaps as a result of the translation?

Under the Sign of Capricorn is an enjoyable, short read, but not exceptional. Nevertheless, I am certainly intrigued enough to want to learn more about Corto, and plan to read the next volume.


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Classics Club: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

(about the Classics Club)

The Turn of the Screw
Henry James
4/5 stars

An inexperienced governess takes charge of two young pupils, a girl, and her brother who has been expelled from his school.  The siblings are both preternaturally beautiful and good, never giving her any trouble, until she realizes that they are fraternizing with ghosts.

Published in 1898, the supernatural element would have been truly shocking; in 2017, it wasn't nearly as hair-raising.  James' convoluted style is also a distraction.

Despite that, it's a story that keeps the reader guessing the whole time.  It is told from the first-person point-of-view of the unnamed governess, and after a while, one must question the validity of what she says.  As she becomes more and more hysterical about the ghosts, the reader becomes more and more dubious.  Can she be trusted?  Has she gone crazy or are the children really possessed?  There are the unanswered questions, too, of what happened after the incidents related--we know she ended up in another post, so does that mean she was telling the truth?  What exactly did James intend for the reader to assume from hearing the preface, and why was there no postface?  I like a book that leaves me with questions, and the Turn of the Screw certainly does just that.

On a side note: this was a reread for me, after 20+ years, and I listened to it on audio book with Emma Thompson narrating.  Unfortunately, she overacted it a bit, giving into the hysteria with abandon, and made it harder for me to connect to the thrill of the story than I did with the first reading.  I would like to read it a third time, and see if, without Thompson shrilling in my ear, I would find it creepier and more nerve-wracking like I did on the first read.


Monday, February 20, 2017

The Classics Club: Cheerful Weather for the Wedding

(about the Classics Club)

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding
Julia Strachey
5/5 stars

This novella recounts the events of one day: Dolly Thatchum's wedding day.  She is nervous, her mother is flitting about oblivious, and another man is just dying to have a word with her.

Strachey has an amazing ability to describe her characters so that they are perfectly visible to the reader.  The small details and the clever descriptions of actions and looks are simply perfection.

The plot itself is secondary to the character studies, but it is acerbically witty and profoundly real.   Her metaphors, similes, and use of symbolism (oh, that tortoise!) were also astounding.

After I finished, I started it again immediately.  Now that I knew everyone, I wanted to read it over with that knowledge.  That being said, I'm not for certain that I "liked" it.  I certainly didn't always enjoy Strachey's observations of these characters, as it seemed so personal, as if I knew them and hated to have their weaknesses exposed.

As a side note, I will say that I thought Joseph's explosion weakened the force of the story. (And was his announcement even true? How can one trust him at this point?) It didn't lessen the brilliance of the novella, though, or of Strachey's talent.  I'm sad that she wrote so little.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Brandons by Angela Thirkell

The Brandons
Angela Thirkell
4/5 stars

Lavinia Brandon, a beautiful widow with grown children, tries her hand at matchmaking in this delightful novel.  Lavinia's young cousin, Hilary, falls victim to her charm, their Aunt Sissie tries to cause some exciterment over her will, and the village fête enlivens the residents.  Old friends from previous Barsetshire novels play supporting roles, while the new characters are soon as dear as the old.  As with all of Thirkell's novels, the Brandons (published in 1939) is amusing--often read-out-loud funny-- and charming, a pure pleasure to read.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Classics Club: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

(about the Classics Club)

The Remains of the Day
Kazuo Ishiguro
5/5 stars

Stevens, a butler of many years, reminisces on his life in service with Lord Darlington and his relationship with the housekeeper, Miss Kenton, some twenty years previously.  In addition to his reminiscences, Stevens muses on dignity, what makes a good butler, the importance of banter, and loyalty.  Another theme is the role of perspective in shaping memory.

The Remains of the Day begins slowly, and seems a bit dry at first.  As Stevens' story progresses, however, it becomes a compelling book with a slow, stately pace, echoing the perfect butler.  I especially liked how Ishiguro assumes the intelligence of his readers, that they will be able to make connections and piece together the whole from the bits he reveals.  The restrained emotion throughout the book was particularly moving.  Ishiguro is an excellent writer, and I can certainly see how this became a modern classic.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Mad Richard by Lesley Krueger

Mad Richard
Lesley Krueger
expected publication date: 14 March 2017
5/5 stars

This is the fictionalized history of Victorian artist Richard Dadd, and of Charlotte Brontë's last two years.  Krueger links the two through a visit that Brontë made to Bedlam to meet Dadd, and through their mutual acquaintances in the world of Victorian literature.  Charles Dickens is also featured, and several prominent artists have cameos.

Richard Dadd
The link between Brontë and Dadd is tenuous--and did they actually meet outside of Krueger's mind?--and yet the novel flows easily back and forth between the two, comparing and contrasting their personalities and artistic temperaments.  Dadd's slow spiral into madness is both believable and touching.  The prose is beautiful, at times nearly poetic.  The story moves seamlessly back and forth in time and between characters, never feeling disjointed.

I mean no disrespect to the author when I say that I did wonder if she wrote a partial novel about Dadd, then later a partial novel about Brontë, and found that she didn't have enough material to finish them both, so combined them.  A sort of Lennon-McCartney song, if you will.  Yet, that speculation does nothing to diminish my enjoyment of Mad Richard.  It is a solid, strong novel, intriguing and compelling, well-written and polished.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Gilded Cage by Vic James

The Gilded Cage
Vic James
publication date: February 14, 2017
5/5 stars

In this dystopia, Great Britian is ruled by the Equals, an elite class born with magical powers referred to as Skill.  The commoners must spend 10 years as slaves, either in a manufacturing town or as servants to a family of Equals.  The Hadley family begins their 10 years as servants to the Jardines, the most important of the Equal families.  They are split up, however, and teenaged Luke is sent to the brutal factory town of Millmoor, where he becomes involved with revolutionaries.  Meanwhile, the Jardines and their allies work behind the scenes for a political coup.

A book like this, with a complicated plot-line, is nearly impossible to describe, but suffice it to say that James weaves multiple, compelling plots with incredible skill.  The chapters alternate between several viewpoints, and James masterfully creates the multiple personalities.

This is a phenomenal book--something I don't say often.  James has created a believable dystopia with a living world and convincing characters resulting in a engrossing and magnificent story.  The Gilded Cage is the first part of a duology, and I eagerly anticipate the finale.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

The Ghost Bride
Yangsze Choo
5/5 stars

In British ruled Malaya, the family of recently deceased Lin Tian Ching requests that Li Lan become his ghost bride.  After refusing this offer, she begins to be haunted by Tian Ching, as he presses his suit in her dreams.  To further complicate matters, Li Lan becomes attracted to his cousin, Tian Bai, angering Tian Ching.  She consults a medium to find some peace from her ghostly suitor, but instead finds herself living on the borders of the spirit world.  She must help a guardian spirit investigate the Lim family, find a way to put an end to Tian Ching's haunting, and somehow return to the world of the living.

This mix of historical fiction and supernatural fantasy is an enthralling and enchanting novel, with a deliciously tangled plot.  Choo's lyrical and descriptive writing is a delight to read. The world-building of the spirit lands is well crafted, the historical atmosphere quite believable, and the characters full and engaging.  This unusual book undoubtedly deserves a five star rating.

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Classics Club: The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

(about the classics club)

The Phantom of the Opera
Gaston Leroux
2/5 stars

(Please note: I am a great fan of both Victorian and Edwardian novels, especially the thrillers, and am no stranger to this style of writing.)

The Phantom of the Opera is a classic gothic horror story, about the Opera Ghost ("Erik") of the Paris Opera House, and his unrequited love for singer Christine Daaé.  The plot, with Erik's tragic history, the sad one-sided romance, and love triumphing over all, is a marvelous one.  The presentation of it, not so much.

Leroux's chronicler vacillates--sometimes mid-chapter--between an investigative reporter recounting the facts he has uncovered, and an omniscient narrator sharing the thoughts of the characters.  These changes are intrusive and break the flow of the account over and over again.

The conversations are stilted, unnatural.  The characters, especially Christine and Raoul, are one-dimensional.  The telling of the mysteries and horrors is so flat that they are simply not shocking.  The repetitive phrases, especially in dialogue, but also in description and narration, are jarring and annoying.

The story itself is fascinating, and it's easy to see why it has had such far-reaching influence.  How the book has become a classic, though, is a conundrum.

For the Classics Club, I'm supposed to write what this book made me feel and think, and I have to say that I was bored and just trying to get through to the end.  I kept thinking that it would get better--and I was right.  The last chapter was good, and even moving, but by then I just wanted it to be over.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

Furiously Happy
Jenny Lawson
5/5 stars

In Lawson's memoir, she shares funny stories of her life along with more serious stories about her mental illness.  The book is often laugh-out-loud funny, but there were also times that I cried.  She encourages the reader to enjoy--be furiously happy in fact--the times that are good, to make memories for the bad times that will inevitably come.

I can't recommend this book universally, as her humor is often what would be considered offensive by some.  Also, as she points out in the introduction, a person without mental illness may not be able to appreciate some of the experiences she recounts.  I'll be brave, thanks to her example, and simply state that I was able to connect with nearly every thing, and even learn from some.

The bottom line is that, with her own brand of humor, Lawson uses this book to let those with mental illness know they are not alone.  Thank you Jenny.

(Note: It's rare for me to give 5 stars.  The book has to be jaw-droppingly excellent or on a literary plane that knocks my socks off.  However, I will admit that I scored this book 5 stars on emotional effect alone.  It's not Slaughterhouse Five or Persuasion, but it hit me right in the gut, and taught me a few things about myself.  That's worth 5 stars as far as I'm concerned.)

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

January OwlCrate

I'm late in sharing my January OwlCrate!  It was another great box.

It contained:

-The Little Prince rose and mint tea by First Edition Tea

-The Secret Garden soap by TeaSoapBooks

-A swoon-worthy Slaughterhouse Five bookmark by Lexy Olivia

- Phantom of the Opera magnet by Sweet Sequels. 

-Gorgeous literary calendar by Obvious State 

-RoseBlood by A.G. Howard.  I'm really looking forward to it, and am currently reading (on audio) Phantom of the Opera in preparation.  

January Wrap Up

Books read:

Giant's Bread by Mary Westmacott  5/5 stars (my review here)

Bobbie, General Manager by Olive Higgins Prouty 4/5 stars (my review here)

The Fifth Wheel by Olive Higgins Prouty 3/5 stars (my review here)

She and Allan by H. Rider Haggard 3/5 stars (my review here)

The Girl from His Town by Marie Van Vorst 3/5 stars (my review here)

Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner 4/5 stars (my review here)

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut 5/5 stars (my discussion here)

Circles by James Burke 5/5 stars (my review here)

Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller 4/5 stars (my review here)

Audiobooks completed:

A Body in the Bath House by Lindsey Davis  4/5 stars
Another delightful Falco mystery, this time in Britain, as he attempts to trace two murders, protect his sister from a jealous lover, keep his two brothers-in-law in check, and audit the expendatures of a Togidumnus' palace.

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells  (my discussion here)

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness  3/5 stars (my review here)

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (my discussion here)

And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander 4/5 stars
This is a mystery set in Victorian England by a current author.  I knew the solutions to the strange behaviors of both gentlemen very early on, but still enjoyed the character of Lady Emily.  I will certainly read the next in the series.

Death of an Outsider by M.C. Beaton  3/5 stars
The third in the Hamish MacBeth mystery series.  The mystery was solved by Hamish with information that the reader did not have, a situation I dislike.  Other than that, it was cute and Hamish is likable.  I'll most likely continue the series.

A Christmas Beginning by Anne Perry 3/5 stars (my review here)

There's Trouble Brewing by Nicholas Blake 3/5 stars
This mystery was a bit far-fetched, but entertaining.  I especially like the bizarre characters Blake creates so well.

Cat Among Pigeons by Agatha Christie 5/5 stars
Thoroughly enjoyable, with engaging characters, a compelling plot, and many twists and turns.

Seventy-Seven Clocks by Christopher Fowler 4/5 stars  (my review here)

Did Not Finish:

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
I read this multiple times as a young teen, and thought it was time for a reread.  As an adult, I found Scarlet completely unappealing and Mitchell's writing to be amateurish.  I listened to a chapter, and gave it up.

The Golden Bowl by Henry James
I'm no stranger to James, and have enjoyed the three or four of his novels I've read.  I thought this one, however, was simply terrible!  Here is an example of a sentence in this book:
 "He watched her, accordingly, in her favourite element, very much as he had sometimes watched, at the Aquarium, the celebrated lady who, in a slight, though tight, bathing-suit, turned somersaults and did tricks in the tank of water which looked so cold and uncomfortable to the non-amphibious."
And another:
He “did” himself as well as his friends mostly knew, yet remained hungrily thin, with facial, with abdominal cavities quite grim in their effect, and with a consequent looseness of apparel that, combined with a choice of queer light shades and of strange straw-like textures, of the aspect of Chinese mats, provocative of wonder at his sources of supply, suggested the habit of tropic islands, a continual cane-bottomed chair, a governorship exercised on wide verandahs. 
I tried daily readings for a week, but it just didn't get any better for me.

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
Due to the great critic reviews, I've been on the waiting list since July to read this one.  I finally got it on audio book, and two hours in just was not impressed.  The protagonist, Lo, is always drunk or drinking, and when she isn't (okay, sometimes when she is) she's crying or whining.  The idea of the murder is exactly like 4:50 from Paddington.  The writing is not strong enough nor the plot interesting enough to make me sit through 8 more hours of Lo complaining.  Frankly, the thought of going back and finishing this is totally unappealing.

Warlock Holmes: A Study in Brimstone by G. S. Denning
This is an alternate reality Holmes, in which he is a Warlock, Lestrade is a vampire, and Watson--still a doctor--is the sane one doing the detecting.  It was cute and funny, but it got to be too cute and funny.  I've not nixed it entirely, and may try reading it again later.

It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover
I had heard nothing but praise for this book and for Hoover in general, so despite it not being my preferred genre, I decided to give it a try.  Hoover is a good enough writer that I was compelled to read long past my point of appeal.  In the end, I gave up, not because it wasn't well-written, but because I just was not interested or involved in the plot.  On the strength of what I read, I can certainly see why she has a devoted fan base.

January Book Haul