Monday, March 27, 2017

What I Read December 2015

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For the Library, I was running a "Mission: Possible" book club - essentially a support group for people who want to attempt to read books thought of as intimidating, long, or perpetually on their to-read list. We would read the first half of a book for one month and then the second half for the next month. We read The GoldfinchCrime & Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (which I have about 45 minutes left in the audiobook... I should really just finish it), and Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Though the group received a lot of verbal interest and enthusiasm, it seems that my community was not actually all that excited to come to a tough reads book club, so the program ended after Gone with the Wind. I don't read particularly quickly and those books took some time to read, so they definitely hampered the volume of my reading for a bit.


The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Literary Fiction (American)
Following the death of his mother during a devastating terrorist attack at a New York City museum, Theo Decker steals a painting from the museum and spends his formative years living with a furniture-restoring antique dealer dealing with the ramifications of his actions.

Though I really enjoyed this, I felt like it was about 1/3 too long. The book would have been just as strong with an entire section left out (a middle chunk post-Boris and pre-conclusion) or with everything after the first... 200? pages heavily edited. That being said, Donna Tartt writes lovely sentences even when they are about mundane or repulsive things.

Far Far Away by Tom McNeal
Socially isolated teen Jeremy Johnson Johnson has a psychic connection with the ghost of fairy tale author Jacob Grimm in this Hansel and Gretel update.

Suggested by my mother, this quirky fairy tale is charming and creepy all at the same time. I encourage you to listen to the audiobook; the narrator was fantastic. It also made me desperately want cake, but also maybe not...
Fragile by Lisa Unger
Maggie returns to her childhood home and must use her skills as a psychologist and her knowledge of an eerily similar disappearance years before to exonerate her son and find a missing girl.

This was fine and I wouldn't be upset if I found myself reading another by Unger (community reviews on GoodReads suggest that Unger's books vary quite a bit), but I don't know that I would seek them out either.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

What I Read November 2015

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Apparently, I was a little burned out November 2015. I definitely go through reading peaks and valleys, but only one book in an entire month is pretty slow for me. I spent most of December working my way through The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, which I finished early in December 2015.

Grave Peril by Jim Butcher
Urban Fantasy
With previously peaceful ghosts now wreaking havoc upon Chicago, professional wizard Harry Dresden is on the case to uncover the supernatural power driving the poltergeists mad.

I like so much about this series except for the books themselves. I am willing to give Harry Dresden one more shot (have I said that before?) to see how this evolves because so many of my friends and Library patrons enjoy these. I keep hearing the series gets better a few books in, but only having one interesting, robust female character -- who barely made an appearance in this story -- while all the other male characters get a less-sexualized (and frequently more thorough) treatment is getting frustrating.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

What I Read in October 2015

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As you may have noticed, I've fallen a teensy bit behind on logging my reading. (Okay, maybe a year or so...) I'm catching back up, but especially for months when I've read more -- like October 2015 compared to September 2015 -- it takes me longer to write a post. But it's the end of January 2017, so it's time for a Resolution! Time to get this up to date. Fortunately, I'm not so far behind that I've forgotten what I've read and what I forgot about them and for many of these books I actually kept some (frequently brief) notes on them.

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout
Jim and Bob Burgess are summoned home by their sister to come to the legal aid of her troubled teenage son.

I realize that my opinion is swayed by how much YA fiction I've been reading -- and how much of it was uninspiring -- that reading something meant for adults with larger language and character doors was really refreshing. That being said, I thought this was fabulous. With concise elegance, Strout introduces characters and then reintroduces them as they evolve.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Urban Fantasy
Returning to his childhood home -- no longer standing -- for a funeral, a man realizes the dark and mysterious occurrences of his youth have yet to be resolved.

I enjoy Neil Gaiman's fantasy. I like the quirky yet dire situations and settings. I liked this one in particular because it was so mundane and in many ways just a fictional memoir, but it maintained those elements of magic and the bizarre that are so special in Gaiman's books. This coming-home story was special and weird and an intriguing quick read.

Relic by Douglas Preston
Adventure Thriller
After acquiring a valuable South American artifact, the New York Museum of Natural History is wrought with gruesome murders and it's up to Museum researcher Margo Green to uncover the cause and save the Museum.

Murder in the Museum! A supernatural monster lurking in the shadows! Academic mystery solving! What a ride! For as much fun as I had reading this, it really took me absolutely aaaaages to slog through it. I also had every intention of picking up the next book in the series right away because it was just so exciting -- like Indiana Jones! -- and (as of January 2017) still haven't done so. Yet, I still remember how thrilling the transcontinental adventure was, how creepy the monster's claws were, and how generally enjoyable the story was. So take from that what you will.

The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi
Following death of their father and the ensuing financial strain, Emily, Navine, and their mother move to the home they inherited from their great-grandfather - an inventor who dabbled with dark forces.

This was a fine graphic novel. I liked the quirky characters the kids encounter (see bunny and octopus-creature on the cover) better than the kids themselves and the setting was interesting, but the story didn't feel very fresh. The art and the colors used, however, were enthralling. This is the first book in a series of graphic novels and I did not feel compelled to pick up book two.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Literary Fiction, International
An eloquent butler laments the decline of fine households, attitudes towards his profession, and Edwardian England.

Expressive and melancholy, The Remains of the Day moves at an astonishingly slow amble, but the story isn't really the point, so that's okay. Remains is more of a swan song and an exploration of a time and place than a story and it was lovely.

As an additional, silly thought, my favorite thing about this cover is that it says in small text at the bottom, "By the author of The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go" as though the book in your hands (or on your screen) is not The Remains of the Day. This book is by the guy who wrote it! Who wudda thunk?!

The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
To escape the stress and danger of war, Max Carver's parents move their family to a small, coastal town, but their anxiety continues to ratchet up as they discover that the accidental drowning of a young boy years before still impacts the community in otherworldly ways.

I wish this had been written for adults instead of for children. The villain was genuinely creepy and the story was tense and the setting appropriately eerie, but it felt like awareness of the intended audience held it back from being as magnificently mysterious as it could have been, leaving the book a bit tepid by the end.

Monday, September 12, 2016

What I Read in September 2015

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I didn't realize it, but all I read in September 2015 were two books in Kristin Cashore's Graceling Realm series. I was pretty busy this month - not only was it my birthday (yay!) but my wedding is in a little less than a year and Curtis and I really started the planning process. Who knew how much time that would take up?


Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Katsa must use her Grace - ultimate fighting power - to rescue her kingdom from its king.

Graceling has a lot of the elements I love: adventure, strong female characters, an interesting and unique magic system (that doesn't dominate the story to the point of making it boring), political intrigue, and an understated love story. I rarely read a series back-to-back, but I immediately sought out the next book I enjoyed Graceling so much.

Fire by Kristin Cashore
With the ability to tap into and control the minds of those around her, the beautiful half-monster Fire teeters on the may have the ability to save the Dells or let herself be destroyed by those around her.

After loving Graceling so much, Fire was a bit of a let down. Fire, the name of the main character, is a human monster of exceptional beauty and drives men wild. There are so many icky encounters with men that Fire neither shuts down or deals with in any way or ever seems to really process internally that it makes it hard for me to accept her as the strong character she is meant to be. Katsa, the protagonist in Graceling, had more depth and complexity in my opinion.

Both books feature fantastic world building with a fascinating history and magic system. The characters that populate the stories are interesting -- even when I find them frustrating -- and their stories intertwine in such a way that they build on each other, but are not dependent on the reader knowing the other books. If I'd read Fire independent of Graceling, I think I would have enjoyed it quite a bit more - I just expected it to be something different.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

What I Read in August 2015

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The Masque of the Black Tulip by Lauren Willig
Adventure Historical Fiction
Historian Eloise Kelly continues her research into the Napoleonic espionage society around the Pink Carnation and finds herself swept up into a historical romp and possibly starting a present day romance.

This is the second in the Pink Carnation series and I enjoyed it just as much as the first. These books are silly and exciting and romantic and should definitely be read in order.

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison
After reaching a crisis point in his life, an aimless Ben Benjamin trains as a caregiver and begins working with a sexually frustrated teenager with muscular dystrophy and a wicked sense of humor.

I spent an entire month (or more) promoting this book as part of my Library's community read and speaking about the positives of this book. It boasts a strong sense of place that if you live on Bainbridge Island, Washington you will sincerely appreciate; everywhere is recognizable. Trevor, the teenager who at first resents Ben, feels very real and though I personally found many of his jokes disagreeable, like an honest and true representation of a nineteen year old boy struggling to come to terms with his situation.

The Manual of Detection of Jedediah Berry
A lowly clerk at the Detective Agency gets an off-the-books promotion when his supervisor gets murdered and a famous detective goes missing.

What a strange book. My whole reading experience with this was entirely surreal. It was challenging to keep track of what was real and what was just a paranoid construction and what was part of the magical realism of this fantastically mundane universe. A little unsettling and required attention while reading, this reminded me of Paul Auster's New York trilogy and The City & The City by China Mieville. Both are also mysteries (sort of, more or less) and have fluid definitions of reality.
The Reader's Advisory Guide to Street Literature by Vanessa Irvin Morris
Whether you are new to Street Lit or looking for expert information on what's new in the genre as well as insight into cornerstone works, Morris' engaging voice provides context, insight, and guidance for readers and reader advisers alike.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Death is kept quite busy during World War II, but a German foster child with a penchant for petty theft and a warm heart catches his attention.

I didn't expect this book to be quite so funny -- it is a Holocaust story after all -- and was pleasantly surprised. I listened to this as an audio and the narrator, Allan Corduner, did an excellent job capturing the humor in Death's voice. This is a great book club read.

Doll Bones by Holly Black
When Zach's father tells him that he can no longer play the games of make believe with his two best friends, they set out on one last adventure to lay the china bones of a haunted doll to rest in this eerie tale of young friendship.

I'd heard so many wonderful things about Holly Black - so atmospheric and creepy - but I thought Doll Bones was underwhelming. It was too scary for the age group it targets and by the time you're "old enough" to read it, the plot feels too juvenile and that's the feedback that I get from Library patrons too. Parts of it reminded me a lot of The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, like the relationship dynamic the kids have based on games of make-believe. It was definitely strange and I wouldn't avoid it, but if you want to start dive into Holly Black novels, this isn't the one I would suggest starting with. For young readers, try The Field Guide (book one of The Spiderwick Chronicles). For teens or adults, try The Darkest Part of the Forest.

The Young Elites by Marie Lu
A survivor of an epidemic that claimed her mother and hundreds of others across the country, Adelina now possesses mystical, otherworldly powers that make her of interest to a secret society bent on overturning the corrupt government.

The magic system in this series is interesting and I hope it is further developed later in the series - a lot was left up to the reader to fill in. For another dark series fill with undertones of political unrest and one of the most interesting magic systems I've ever encountered, check out the Abhorsen series by Garth Nix (start with Sabriel -- the audiobook is narrated by Tim Curry and he does a marvelous job).

Monday, March 21, 2016

What I Read in July 2015

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What better to read in the middle of a hot summer than two stormy November novels?

Night Film by Marisha Pessl
When the daughter of a cult horror movie director is found dead of apparent suicide, investigative journalist Scott McGrath delves into the twisted, eerie world of the horror film industry and uncovers even more unsettling tragedies.

This is one of the rare occasions where I wish I had read the book rather than listened to it. There was a lot of visual content that supplemented the book and I think it would have made a big difference. As it was, I really think this would have been a better movie or television series (only one season, maybe two) because of how intensely strange and twisted so much of this story was. I would have like to have seen clips of the horror movies and witnessed some of the truly terrifying things; without the visual elements (yes, I know I listened to the audiobook, but I'm also not convinced that the pictures in the book would have been enough either) it fell a little flat and wasn't as creepy and haunting as I wish it would have been.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
In a small coastal village where the people share the beach with killer water horses, Puck does what no other woman has and enters the deadly Scorpio Races to save her family from financial ruin.

I was pleasantly surprised by this one. This was such an understated love story and yet, it wasn't a romance, and was so well-written. I don't even like horses (do you even know how many teeth they have?!), but I really liked this. A lovely balance of magic and atmosphere with real, nearly tangible economic and family tension.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

What I Read in June 2015

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I've got some catching up to do on my reading notes, so please bear with me...

June marks the start of Summer Learning at my Library and while it seems like everyone else is kicking their reading time into high gear, I take a vacation. Sometimes it is nice to give your brain a chance to reset a little bit. I am pleased to report that my June reading was happily vampire-free.

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig
Adventure Historical Fiction
Determined to discover the secret identity of the English spy who consistently thwarted Napoleon's efforts (and ignore her own floundering love life), historian Eloise Kelly sets off for England for an unexpected whirlwind of historical romance and adventure.

For an adventure novel, this had a heavy dose of romance. I thought the anachronisms were charming and found the whole thing delightfully entertaining. At the end, Willig even has a note that says (paraphrasing): "I'm an historian and I know a bunch of this stuff is wrong. Here's what is inaccurate and here is how it actually was in the time... But, come'on, wasn't the story fun?!" I have the next two on hold for me through the library. (Since this was written, I've read book two and I'm looking forward to book three).

The Bachelor Prince by Debbie Macomber
Women's Fiction
To save his country from financial ruin, Prince Stefano travels to Seattle, Washington to meet and marry an American heiress.

I appreciate that others may enjoy this book and will happily encourage readers seeking fast-paced, gentle romances with generally affable characters for a brief escape from day to day life to seek out this story.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
Emerging Authors Fiction
The children of two immigrant families find friendship and first love in Seattle during World War II in this novel of reflection and understanding.

I don't think I like "emerging authors" as a genre... I mean, the book, I liked. But a category called "emerging authors"... what does that even mean? "Literary Fiction by Authors Who Have Only Published a Few Books"? I'm not convinced that that is a genre. I'll need to do some more research on this category.

This was a 'Community Read' for my library system a few years ago (before I started working there) and I can see why it was a popular choice. It has local interest (Seattle and Bainbridge Island), historical (World War II and contemporary fiction, multi-generational and international without being a saga, enough story to move it along, but compelling and complex characters to keep the reader invested.

The Well by Catherine Chanter
Ruth and her husband flee from personal scandal and find a superficial refuge at the Well, but tragedy finds them even on a bountiful farm in a country plagued by drought.

The Well did not shape up to be the suspenseful novel I anticipated. I'm a little surprised how effectively Chanter avoided including the dark, moody atmosphere of the Well as a setting, the tension of the bizarre religious sect that converts Ruth, or the threat of real danger from any of the people around the Well. For being such a dark premise, this anxiety-free book managed to keep me interested, but felt very light and reflective. I liked it, I think, but it wasn't what I thought I was going to read. I mean, just look at that cover. If that doesn't say "menacing" I don't know what does, but this book doesn't menace, so much as it does linger and regret.

A Lonely Resurrection by Barry Eisler
Espionage Thriller
Despite his intention to retire, Tokyo hitman John Rain joins the world of Japanese Pride Fighting to take down a deadly opponent.

I don't know if I was just in exactly the right place, the right time, and the right frame of mind for A Clean Kill in Tokyo (the first book of the John Rain series), but I didn't enjoy book two as much. It may be because there weren't as many surprises -- I expected a thorough, detailed and accurate Tokyo setting and the political intrigue involves some of the same players without new insight -- and so I just wasn't quite as tickled to find this book as I was to discover the first one. Maybe there were just too many exotic dancers being treated callously by the jaded men around them (or maybe I preferred the female lead of the first book?). I'm not sure. I'll continue to pursue the series (Barry Eisler narrates the audiobooks and does a really nice job) and I am interested to see where the story goes.

Note: If you do decide to start this series (or continue reading it) look up the titles before you get the next book on the list. They have been published under several different titles. Example: A Lonely Resurrection is the same book as Hard Rain. Note sure which book is next? Check out sites like GoodReads.com or FantasticFiction.co.uk.
 
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