Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Review: Apocalypse Nyx by Kameron Hurley

Apocalypse Nyx (Bel Dame Apocrypha #1.5, 1.7)
Released on July 17th, 2018 by Tachyon Publications
Available for purchase on Amazon

Move over Mad Max―here comes Nyx.

Ex-government assassin turned bounty-hunter, Nyx, is good at solving other people’s problems. Her favorite problem-solving solution is punching people in the face. Then maybe chopping off some heads. Hey―it’s a living.

Her disreputable reputation has been well earned. To Nyx’s mind, it’s also justified. After all, she’s trying to navigate an apocalyptic world full of giant bugs, contaminated deserts, scheming magicians, and a centuries-long war that’s consuming her future. Managing her ragtag squad of misfits has required a lot of morally-gray choices. 

Every new job is another day alive. Every new mission is another step toward changing a hellish future―but only if she can survive. 



ANNA'S REVIEW
★★★
3.5 stars.

There was a lot to like about this book (slash collection of short stories?) - it's written well, the characters are interesting and unique, and the world was really fantastic (set in a Middle Eastern-esque world and full of assassins and heists). It was an enjoyable read and made me interested in reading the rest of the series.

Nyx's character development was a bit of a sore spot for me, however. For most of this book, I was rooting for her to start making some changes in her life, even if they were minor ones. But I kept reading and Nyx kept going through the same motions she had in each story in the collection - getting annoyed with her team, lusting after someone in her team, making it clear that she doesn't care about her team members at all, barely completing the job, and sleeping with someone to blow off some steam. Each story had a unique job and some unique aspects to it, but the changes fell flat because Nyx was approaching each situation as exactly the same person. Finally, at the very end, Nyx experiences what could be counted as change, but it's unclear whether this is actually a chance for her to become a dynamic character, or just a new revelation of the character she already is. I would have loved to see some more changes and new experiences across the stories, but each story felt similar and that made it somewhat less enjoyable as I continued to read.

All that being said, this is a really great collection of heist and assassin-for-hire stories and is great fun for SFF-interested folks to read.




Have you read this book? Have you read Kameron Hurley's work before? What assassin books have you previously enjoyed? What are your thoughts on this book?

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Review: Mystic Dragon by Jason Denzel

Mystic Dragon
Released by Tor on July 17, 2018
Available for purchase on Amazon

The second book in the enchanting epic fantasy series for fans of Robert Jordan from the founder of Dragonmount

Seven years have passed since Pomella AnDone became the unlikely apprentice to Mystic Grandmaster Faywong. Despite having attained significant accomplishments as a Mystic, Pomella feels incomplete. She laments that her Master isn’t teaching her quickly enough.

As a rare celestial event approaches, Pomella feels her lack of experience more than ever. The Mystical realm of Fayün is threatening to overtake the mortal world, and as the two worlds slowly blend together, Moth is thrown into chaos. People begin to vanish or are killed outright. Mystics from across the world gather to protect them, among them Shevia, a dark and brilliant prodigy whose mastery of the Myst rivals even that of the greatest High Mystics. 

Shevia will challenge Pomella in every possible way, from her mastery of the Myst to her emotional connection with Pomella's old friend Sim, in this fantasy adventure perfect for readers of Robert Jordan from one of the strongest voices in the Wheel of Time community.


ANNA'S REVIEW
★★

This book started on a really strong note and quickly got off track.

This book was interesting to begin with. Though it is technically a sequel, it didn't feel like one and it opens on an interesting magic system (where you harness Myst, which feels kind of like the Force) and a compelling action scene. And for the first several chapters, I was very engaged and really excited about this book. The characters were fascinating and their backstories really felt like they added to the world and to the story. And the magic system kept getting more complex and the politics of magic wielders really fascinated me. It was a slow build that really felt like it would pay off and I was really enjoying reading it.

And then, about halfway through, things changed suddenly. The slow crescendo picked up without warning and immediately went from a growing p to fff. It was an abrupt shift that felt forced and unnatural and it was unclear how we got from the first half to the second half. Suddenly, we're at what feels like the climax of the book, but we're only 2/3 through and it keeps building and building, but without any breaks or really any additional character development. It felt like the first half of the book was completely dedicated to setting the scene and getting to know characters and the second half was completely action. And that was unfortunate. Plus, the longer the action went on, the less sense it made. The ending came out of nowhere and really didn't make any sense and I felt like we had suddenly (again, everything in the second half is sudden and unexpected) come to a halt and the book was over. And I didn't even quite understand what had happened - there were no signs or clues of the twist ending that the author tried to throw in and so it really fell flat and felt forced.

It feels like this author excels at character development and struggles with coherent plot. Reading the characters' backstories and how they get to the action made a lot of sense and was really rewarding. As soon as we got away from character development and focused completely on THINGS ARE HAPPENING NOW, a lot was lost and it felt like an entirely different (and much worse) book.

I may be interested in giving this author a second try because I was so impressed with the first half of this book, but the second half made me lose a lot of faith in this author's ability to craft a coherent story and I'll be approaching his future books warily.




What are you looking for in a fantasy sequel? What magic systems appeal to you?

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Review: Space Unicorn Blues by T.J. Berry

Space Unicorn Blues
Released by Angry Robot on July 3, 2018
Available for purchase on Amazon

A misfit crew race across the galaxy to prevent the genocide of magical creatures, in this unique science fiction debut.

Having magical powers makes you less than human, a resource to be exploited. Half-unicorn Gary Cobalt is sick of slavery, captivity, and his horn being ground down to power faster-than-light travel. When he's finally free, all he wants is to run away in his ancestors' stone ship. Instead, Captain Jenny Perata steals the ship out from under him, so she can make an urgent delivery. But Jenny held him captive for a decade, and then Gary murdered her best friend... who was also the wife of her co-pilot, Cowboy Jim. What could possibly go right?


ANNA'S REVIEW
★★


I have some mixed feelings about this very complicated and bizarre book.

Gary is half unicorn, half human and has just been released from prison when he gets pulled into a plot to deliver mysterious packages across the universe. Will he be able to let go of old grudges to complete the mission?

There was some good in this book, in spite of the 2 star rating. The world-building (or rather, universe building) was complex and interesting. It was a strange mix of science fiction and fantasy. Not only is there space travel, but typically fantastic creatures exist across the universe. The author obviously had put a lot of thought into the politics and cultures within the world. While things sometimes were confusing or a little too convoluted, for the most part, the universe was built well and was interesting to read about.

The diversity was also well-done. For the most part, it wasn't too heavy handed or down-played. Characters are accepting of their (and others') identities - except for the bigoted villains, of course. And there was a lot of diversity - different races, sexualities, and gender identities.

But....even with all that, this book had some serious issues. Below are some SPOILERS because I cannot stop myself from talking in-depth about the problems in this book.

The biggest issue I took was the poor development of characters. While the author obviously had some ideas about how characters were supposed to be, often the actions of the characters didn't fall in line with the overtly-mentioned aspects of their personalities.

Take Jenny, for example. Throughout the book, Jenny is shown to be a take-charge kind of person who never stops fighting. She always has a plan and is never afraid to fight for those she loves. This is all mentioned explicitly and shown implicitly throughout the book. However, at the beginning of the book, we are told that Jenny has spent the previous 10 years waiting around for Gary to get out of jail. She's bummed around doing small jobs, but couldn't do much else because she didn't have a ship. With everything that we're shown about Jenny's character throughout the book, this doesn't make any sense - she just sat around doing nothing for a decade and then she's ready to be a go-getter once again?

What also confused me was Jenny's feelings toward Bala - or magical creatures. Jenny is in a relationship with a magical tree/druid creature. However, it is told many times that Jenny (while in this relationship), took Gary (our half-unicorn character) captive for years and mistreated him. This discrepancy felt odd to me - why would Jenny be okay with Bala in some instances, but feel justified in taking one as a slave in others? If this discrepancy had been addressed head on, I would have felt better about it.. But it's never mentioned. And we're just told that, in the 10 years she did nothing, Jenny changed and now feels more sympathetic to Bala and their plight. But why didn't she feel that way the whole time she was married to a Bala who was losing rights and constantly on the run from the authorities? It made no sense.

Jim is another character I took issue with. His character makes little sense and entirely functions as a villain. He is very clear about his hatred for Gary throughout the entire book, but is okay moving forward with a plan to bring Gary on board and helps moves this plan along. It is only when Gary is back on board that Jim is shown to have a problem with Gary and starts doing little things to antagonize him. Why would Jim go along with this plan at all if he hated Gary? And if he chose to go along with it in spite of hating Gary, why wouldn't he try to kill Gary on sight?

Along those same lines, the author seemed to be unsure about whether Jim was supposed to be a quirky, but likeable character, or an evil villain. There are a lot of characters who are written to show both their good and bad characteristics, but Jim's character was not written well to show this balance. Obviously, most people have some good and some bad in them. But Jim's character felt disjointed when he was obsessed with grilled cheese in one paragraph and turning in Bala to the authorities in the next. It didn't feel like the same character. Also, grilled cheese isn't a personality trait and I wish the character of Jim had been fleshed out more than being 1) useless, 2) obsessed with grilled cheese sandwiches, and 3) evil.

And with that in mind, here is what confused me most- why are Jim and Jenny still hanging around together? Jenny is clear about thinking Jim is useless and sketchy. Jim gets irritated with Jenny. Jenny knows that Jim hates Gary. Why would Jenny invite Jim to help in a mission to rescue Gary with all that in mind? And why would Jim accept? On top of that, Jim and Jenny supposedly hung out for 10 years doing almost nothing or reconnected after 10 years to do this job - which makes no sense. Ten years is a long time - neither of them found any new connections or realized their incompatibility in that time? What's keeping them together - a love for Jim's deceased wife? Their relationship makes no sense, especially as it becomes more and more clear that Jim isn't useful on board and that Jenny doesn't trust him at all.

The writing is often unclear. It took me a long time understand the cultures and the universe because things were revealed just a little at a time, but in a very confusing and disorienting way. For the first 1/3 of this book, I really had no idea what was going on (partly because the first 5-6 chapters are a contest taking place in a bar that has no real impact on the rest of the story).

Overall, this is a fun book for people who enjoy silly sci-fi stories. But if you want good character development, don't pick up this book.



Have you read this book? Are you interested in reading this book? What do you look for in a science fiction story?

Friday, June 29, 2018

Review: City of Lies by Sam Hawke

City of Lies (Poison Wars #1)
Released by Tor on July 3rd, 2018
Available for purchase on Amazon

I was seven years old the first time my uncle poisoned me... 

Outwardly, Jovan is the lifelong friend of the Chancellor’s charming, irresponsible Heir. Quiet. Forgettable. In secret, he's a master of poisons and chemicals, trained to protect the Chancellor’s family from treachery. When the Chancellor succumbs to an unknown poison and an army lays siege to the city, Jovan and his sister Kalina must protect the Heir and save their city-state. 

But treachery lurks in every corner, and the ancient spirits of the land are rising...and angry.


ANNA'S REVIEW
★★★★

What an excellent fantasy debut!

This is a unique book. Many fantasy stories deal with all-out wars and very overt aggression. This story, while it did featured a siege, was a lot more concerned with subtle aggression - poison, political intrigue, spying, etc. And that made it very interesting and unique. None of our characters are paladins or warriors. In fact, they can barely hold weapons some of the time. Our main characters are much more concerned with learning about poison and finding hiding places to spy on people from. They aren't effective in the ways some fantasy characters typically are and I found that change refreshing and interesting.

The world in this story was really unique in some regards. The main city comes from a matriarchal society - women bear children and those children remain part of the woman's family. In fact, it seems that marriage is not a concern in this society at all - when a woman gives birth, there is no concern for the father and the children are raised within the large extended family. That was very unique and I wish this had been a bigger deal in the story - it's mentioned in passing a few times and comments are made about how weird it is when people leave their families (their aunts and uncles and mother, etc) to start their own family (two parents and children). Perhaps in future books, this will be addressed in more depth. The rest of the world was interesting, but not all that unique or significant. There are guilds that basically run the city. There's a lower class that's been treated unfairly by the ruling class and they want change. The "magic" system was interesting, though as a religion (which it is), it isn't that unique. But regarding it as magic makes it more interesting. Overall, it was an interesting world in so many capacities, but a fairly typical fantasy world in other capacities.

The main characters were the one part of this book that I didn't like. While most of the characters were written in interesting ways and had some personality, the two main characters just felt....meh. Our two main characters take turns narrating and there was nothing about their views of the world or their narrating voices that helped to tell them apart. Often, I'd have to go back to the chapter heading to remind myself who was narrating currently. I should have been far more attached to the main characters than I was and I should have been able to get a sense for their personalities and their wants and needs and interests, but most of what I learned about the main characters were things they revealed about each other - i.e. "Jovan cares so much about Tain," "Kalina is sickly and weak and needs me to take care of her," etc. There are ways to reveal your character without making other characters do the work of explaining them and I wish these characters had more clear personality.

Overall, this is a rewarding and interesting read and I'm excited to see more from this author.



Have you read this book? Are you interested in reading this book? What do you look for in a fantasy novel?

Friday, June 22, 2018

Resolutions: Read 100+ books in 2018

Huzzah! Another 2018 resolution completed!



Last night, I finished my 100th book of the year. Given how much I've been working these past couple months, I wasn't sure I'd be able to keep up on reading. And while I honestly haven't read as much as I would like to, I was still able to finish my goal very far ahead of time - which gives me hope that I get a lot more reading done before the year is out. Ideally, I'd love to beat my 2017 record of 187 books in one year, but that may or may not happen.

You can see my 100 books here!


How is your 2018 reading challenge going? What recommendations do you have for people who are falling behind?

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

On reading to become well-educated

I've recently been exposed to Susan Wise Bauer's list of books for the Well-Educated Mind (this blog has the neatest and clearest copy of her list that I could easily find). The friend who told me about it talked about how she and her partner were working through the list separately and that they felt it would be a lifelong project to read through this list. I was impressed with her dedication and with the broad range of perspective that her exposure to this list had given her so far.

That being said, this list is one person's perspective of what a well-educated person should have read. There are a lot of classic texts and a lot more modern ones. There's some diversity on this list as well. It got me thinking about what I would add to this list or what more I would want to consider someone well-educated. And here are a few of my ideas:


  • Eastern books - Most of the work on this list comes from Western authors. Though there is a lot of diversity on the list, it is mostly confined to Western countries or ancient Greek and Roman writings. I'd love to see some ancient Chinese, Indian, or Japanese works in translation listed on here. And the broadness of this request shows how little I know about Eastern literature, but I'd love to learn more and this list could be an excellent start to that exposure. And knowing about world cultures should be an important part of being well-educated.
  • More work by women - This is another area that I feel like this list could be expanded more. I understand that throughout history, women's writing has not been as prominent or as beloved as men's writing. However, there are plenty of modern women writers that deserve recognition or that must be read for one to be considered well-educated. I was glad to see Toni Morrison on this list, but the poetry section seemed especially sparse for women. Again, I wish I knew more about poetry to better recommend specific women poets to be included, but this list would be an excellent opportunity to expose people to more important women's writing.

What would you add to or remove from this list? What books do you think someone must read to be considered well-educated?

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Updates and new adventures

Guys, blogging is tough. When I started this blog, I was certain I'd have the time, energy, and creative power to post 3 times a week. And for awhile, I kept that up. Then, a few months ago, I brought that down to twice a week (plus blogging memes periodically when I felt like it). Now, my life has changed again and I'm realizing that there is no way I can keep up with twice a week. I just started an internship that occupies my 9a-5p hours, plus I'm working many evenings and weekends. There simply isn't time for me to blog so often at this point in my life. So, for the remainder of the year, I'll be doing at least one post every week (and hopefully more blogging memes or posts when I have time and energy to do more).

I've also started posting reviews on my blog. When I first started, I wanted this blog to be a place for book discussions and book lists and I hoped that book reviews could stay on my Goodreads account. However, as I've gained more perspective on book blogging (and lost free time), it's become clear to me that posting reviews makes a lot of sense (especially since I have more blog followers than Goodreads followers).

I'm excited to continue this blogging adventure and I'm so glad I've kept this up as long as I have (15 months so far)! Hopefully, I can continue this for many more months:)

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Review: Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Fruit of the Drunken Tree
Released by Doubleday on July 31, 2018
Available for purchase on Amazon

In the vein of Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a mesmerizing debut set against the backdrop of the devastating violence of 1990's Colombia about a sheltered young girl and a teenage maid who strike an unlikely friendship that threatens to undo them both

The Santiago family lives in a gated community in Bogotá, safe from the political upheaval terrorizing the country. Seven-year-old Chula and her older sister Cassandra enjoy carefree lives thanks to this protective bubble, but the threat of kidnappings, car bombs, and assassinations hover just outside the neighborhood walls, where the godlike drug lord Pablo Escobar continues to elude authorities and capture the attention of the nation.

When their mother hires Petrona, a live-in-maid from the city's guerrilla-occupied slum, Chula makes it her mission to understand Petrona's mysterious ways. But Petrona's unusual behavior belies more than shyness. She is a young woman crumbling under the burden of providing for her family as the rip tide of first love pulls her in the opposite direction. As both girls' families scramble to maintain stability amidst the rapidly escalating conflict, Petrona and Chula find themselves entangled in a web of secrecy that will force them both to choose between sacrifice and betrayal. 

Inspired by the author's own life, and told through the alternating perspectives of the willful Chula and the achingly hopeful Petrona, Fruit of the Drunken Tree contrasts two very different, but inextricable coming-of-age stories. In lush prose, Rojas Contreras sheds light on the impossible choices women are often forced to make in the face of violence and the unexpected connections that can blossom out of desperation


ANNA'S REVIEW
★★★★
I have definitely never read a book like this before and I learned so much about Columbian history while reading.

Chula and Cassandra are young when their mother hires Petrona to clean their house. What starts as a working relationship soon becomes much more than that for Chula - and getting close to Petrona will change their lives in ways they never could have imagined.

For the first several chapter of this book, I was intrigued by the beautiful writing and the well-done character development. It was a lovely book and I was enjoying getting to know about another culture. But as the book went on, that changed considerably.

Is it wrong to say I was not expecting this book to be what it was? I expected a deep, lovely, sweet book about a family accepting a young girl into their home. And for a long time, that's exactly what it seemed like. But the book got darker and darker as it went on, but in a really satisfying and meaningful way. I wasn't expecting to get so attached to these characters or to want to know so much more about the conflicts they experienced.

The author was especially masterful in showing that not everyone gets a happy ending. Some books end on a happy note, but it feels artificial. This book presents itself in the beginning as one that ends on a happy note (The family immigrated! The girl got married! There's a cute little baby!), but by the end, you understand that it's so much more complicated than that for our characters and there's so much more to consider when trying to understand their happiness. The ending is bittersweet and the author handled this perfectly - along with leaving some hope and change open for Petrona in the end.

I especially was intrigued by Pablo Escobar, who I know was a real person who really terrorized Columbia for years. Hearing old news reports is one thing, but reading about how one man tore apart so many lives and families puts things into a new context. I want to learn more about that period in Columbian history and not a lot of historical fiction books make me that excited to learn more. This book is fantastic in that regard - you're so wrapped up in the lives of the characters that you don't notice how much you're learning until the guerillas are a central part of the plot. I was slowly eased into learning more and now I want to keep going.

Highly recommended to lovers of Latin American literature and those with an interest in family dramas.


Have you read this book? Are you interested in reading this book? What cultures are you excited to read more about?

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Review: Lost Gods by Micah Yongo

Lost Gods 
Released by Angry Robot on July 3rd, 2018
Available for purchase on Amazon

In an epic fantasy kingdom inspired by African legends, a young assassin finds himself hunted by the brothers and sisters he has trained alongside since birth.

A teenaged assassin is hunted by his own Brotherhood as he seeks to uncover a supernatural conspiracy before it’s too late

Neythan is one of five adolescents trained and raised together by a mysterious brotherhood of assassins known as the Shedaím. When Neythan is framed for the murder of his closest friend, he pursues his betrayer, and in so doing learns there’s far more to the Brotherhood, and even the world itself, than he’d ever thought possible.


ANNA'S REVIEW
★★★
This was an intriguing start to a new fantasy series, but I don't know that I'll pick up the next book.

Neythan has just received his first mission as a newly-graduated assassin and is thrilled to be joining the Brotherhood after years of work. But after an unexpected murder, Neythan's world spins out of control and he is set on a path that he never thought he'd be on - one that might threaten the Brotherhood and everything he was raised to believe.

The surest sign that I love a fantasy series is that I can't shut up about it. I most recently experienced this with a Robin Hobb series - I've talked about it enough that my husband has vaguely followed the storyline over the months I've read the series, even though he's never read the books. Lost Gods was a book that I have hardly talked about and have hardly thought about since I put it down. While I enjoyed it, that's a sure sign to me that it didn't rock my world and now I'm beginning to understand why.

This book certainly had a lot of good things. The world building is incredible in this book and if I were to continue reading the series, it'd probably be to see more of the world. There are so many cities and lands and customs and governments and secret societies to keep track of, but it's a deeply built world that obvious has parts that we aren't shown in the book. The government feel vaguely ancient Egyptian to me, but it's obvious that it's meant to be its own government and not one that closely based on anything else. The author obviously put a ton of thought and care into building an interesting and well-developed world and I was very impressed.

The plot grabs you right away and that was something I appreciated about this book. A lot of books try to draw you in, but it feels so forced. This felt like a very natural place to begin our narrative and interesting things start happening immediately. The author structured his book well in that regard.

I also liked the progression of time in this book - the author jumped to important bits and didn't keep you sitting with characters all through their travels. At one point, a character mentions that they've been away from the Brotherhood for six months and I was really surprised at that. The plot felt like it had taken place in a short amount of time, but because our characters are often shown on the road for a short time before arriving at their destination, that estimation made a lot more sense. And it was cool to see how much our characters grew in that time.

Now, on the other hand, there were a few things that were kind of meh about this book. For instance, the characters weren't anything special. Now, in their world, they definitely were, but here was nothing to set them apart from other fantasy characters I've read. There was also no character I felt really connected to or invested in and I think a little more character development (besides just the main character, Neythan) would help me care more about their lives.

Also, the plot was obvious fairly high-stakes, but I couldn't bring myself to care about it. I think this was partly due to it being not all that different from a lot of other fantasy plots. Plus, the author shows you things from various perspectives and, while this is fun, you often know a lot more than the characters do. In some books, this would be maddening in the best kind of way, but in this book, it just made the stakes a lot lower and made me care less about the outcome.


Overall, this is an exciting new series and I think there are a lot of people out there who will enjoy it. But I'll probably stick to other fantasy for now.


Have you read this book? Are you interested in reading it? What draws you to a new fantasy series?

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

State of the ARC #3

Today, we're continuing State of the ARC - where I talk about how behind I am on my ARCs and make excuses for why I'm not through them yet. State of the ARC is run by Avalinah's Books. Read the official rules HERE.


ARCs can be really difficult for me. As much as I love reading, I don't often get books that I thoroughly enjoy in the form of ARCs - I'm still catching up from my initial flood of Netgalley requests and I requested every book in sight, no matter how odd they looked. Now that I'm starting to be a little more discerning about which books I'll request, things are getting better, but there's still that pile of books I no longer care about that I have to force myself through and that's just....bleh.

BUT in spite of this, I managed to get some ARCs read this month and make a little progress! Here is where I was at the beginning of May:


While my requests definitely aren't completely out of control (for now....), there's still a lot of work I could do in order to catch up (and try not to fall so far behind again). Here are the books I've finished since State of the ARC #2:

Diary of a Beatlemaniac: A Fab Insider's Look at the Beatles Era  Sheets  Where I End: A Story of Tragedy, Truth, and Rebellious Hope

Two Girls Down  Lost Gods  Fruit of the Drunken Tree  Carnegie's Maid


And while I did finish a lot of books (for which I'm very impressed with myself), I also requested a lot of books (there are so many good SFF books coming up!). So....my end of the month chart does not fully show how much progress I made and how proud of myself I am.


The overall numbers stayed about the same, but my overdue books went way down! And I'm striving to keep up on my books that are coming due (and actually doing a decent job of that). 


Have you heard of any of these books? How do you keep ahead of your ARCs? How many ARCs did you read this month?

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

On recently released or upcoming books you should check out

It's been a couple months since I've written about this! And, to be fair, there haven't been many brand new or upcoming books that I've read that deserve to make the list. But luckily, there have been a few here and there and I'm excited to talk about them more here!

The Sisters Mederos
  • The Sisters Mederos by Patrice Sarath (April 3rd) - This fun fantasy book about a pair of sister who must save their family will be a hit with YA readers. It's clean, hilarious, and full of brave and daring young women who will stop at nothing to help their family. It's a fun read and the cover is astounding.

Sheets
  • Sheets by Breanna Thummler (August 28th) - After her mother's death, it's up to Marjorie to run her family's laundry business and care for her brother and dad. Enter a ghost to change everything. This graphic novel is bittersweet and adorable. The characters are memorable, the artwork is AMAZING, and the story is touching. This is a great middle grade or YA read.

Lost Gods
  • Lost Gods by Micah Yongo (July 3rd) - A young and newly graduated group of assassins have their world completely change when one of their number is unexpectedly murdered. This new fantasy series is exciting and has a beautifully built world that I'm excited to learn more about.

Fruit of the Drunken Tree
  • Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras (July 31st) - Two sisters' lives are about to change when their mother hires a new house servant. Taking place in Columbia during Pablo Escobar's reign, this story will teach you about Columbian history and also about sticking together as a family in the midst of turmoil. This is a beautiful and surprising book that I highly recommend.

What upcoming books have you been excited about? Have you read any of these? Do you plan on getting any of these books?

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Book Club Discussion: Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank

Unsure of what your next book club read should be? Not sure how to get a good discussion started during book club? Don't want to waste time finding "inspirational" quotes to share with your club? You've come to the right place. We've got you covered. Today's Book Club Discussion is centered around Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank.

Why should this be your next book club read?

  1. This has a fascinating and somewhat dated view of nuclear warfare and it can bring up interesting discussions of how conversations around nuclear warfare have changed or how some of the science mentioned by Frank was not entirely accurate.
  2. It's not your typical sci-fi - it's very much centered around the "what if" of nuclear apocalypse and after that, it's just people trying to make it work. Plus, since it doesn't have a ton of sci-fi tropes, readers who don't usually enjoy sci-fi will be more likely to enjoy this.
  3. This book is wholly centered on what people would do if the world were to end - and it makes for a personal read so you can put yourself in the character's shoes and wonder how you'd survive.
  4. This is a great start to talking about emergency preparedness - a topic which some people are really passionate about and which other people know almost nothing about. But this book will definitely motivate your readers to get thinking about preparedness.

Alas, Babylon

Author information: (taken from HarperCollins' websitePat Frank (1908–1964) is the author of the classic postapocalyptic novel Alas, Babylon, as well as the Cold War thriller Forbidden Area. Before becoming an author, Frank worked as a journalist and also as a propagandist for the government. He is one of the first and most influential science fiction writers to deal with the consequences of atomic warfare.

(taken from the Florida Backroads Travel BlogPat Frank was born Harry Hart Frank in Chicago in 1908 and died in Atlantic Beach, Florida in 1964. He is not well known today as one of the leading Florida authors of his time, but he really was. 
He spent some of his life living in Tangerine, Florida, a small rural community a couple of miles south of Mount Dora. 
It was here that he wrote his best selling novel, Alas Babylon. This novel immediately gave him recognition as one of the most famous Florida authors. He wrote this novel about survivors of a nuclear holocaust during the peak of the Cold War in 1959. Many Americans were required to read it in high school or college. The novel is a classic story about how people cope with disasters and deal with the darker side of human nature. Many observers believe that the novel's fictitious town of Fort Repose is actually based on Mount Dora, Florida. After attending the University of Florida for two years, Pat began his career as a reporter at the Jacksonville Journal in Florida. He later worked for the New York Journal and the Washington Herald. While with the Herald, he became very knowledgeable about government and world affairs, and eventually became a government consultant. Like an early Tom Clancy, he had an ability to portray government secrets in a very realistic way. When World War Two ended, Pat started a full time career as a writer.

Book inspiration: (taken from Grade Saver) Alas, Babylon tells the story of what would have happened if the Cold War did result in a nuclear attack, set entirely in the small town of Fort Repose, Florida, which is based on the real city of Mount Dora, Florida. The novel was published in 1959, making it one of the first apocalyptic novels of the nuclear age. To this date the novel is still extremely popular with science fiction and apocalyptic literature fans. The name of the book is taken from the Bible passage Revelation 18:10.

According to Frank himself, a simple question asked by a friend inspired this work. "What do you think would happen if the Russkies hit us when we weren't looking—you know, like Pearl Harbor?" Frank's recent experience working with the government and military during the World War II meant that things of this nature were constantly on his mind, and he used his expertise while writing this novel.


Setting information: This series of articles on Pistolville (a town just outside Mount Dora, FL, historically occupied by poor black workers) help give more context to the racial and socioeconomic setting of Alas, Babylon and how the area has changed in the past few decades.


Discussions questions:
  • Before the bomb, Lib tells Randy 'I think you ought to go to New York or Chicago or San Francisco or any city with character and vitality. You should go to work. This place is no good for you, Randy. The air is like soup and the people are like noodles. You're vegetating. I don't want a vegetable. I want a man.' How does Randy change after the Day? What opportunities are available to him in a post-bombing society that were not available to him pre-bomb?
  • When this book was published in 1959, many women were confined to the home and to specific occupations. While many women in this book are employed or have been educated, their opportunities are limited. How are their opportunities changed after the Day? Are there broader spaces for women after the Day or are their opportunities more limited? Are these opportunities different for each woman?
  • After the Day, the library becomes an important part of society in a way that it wasn't before. Today, we rely on the internet far more than we do on books. Do you think people today would utilize the library in the same way as characters in the book do? Are there other ways to learn available for people today to use?
  • Missouri and Malachai are an important part of the Randy's group and contribute and benefit alongside everyone else. However, in 1959, they would not have been part of white society except as laborers. How does the Day change their place in society? Does the Day put them on a level playing field with everyone else, or do they still have to work twice as hard to have a place in society? Is racism still as prevalent in their new society as it was in their old one?
  • Today, we know that nuclear bombs will likely destroy all electronics. However, in 1959, this would not have been widely known. Given this information, would things have changed in the book if electronics had ceased to work? How might that change how the characters handle post-Day life?
  • Which characters do you feel are most suited to survive after the Day? Which ones need others to help them survive? Which traits to our surviving characters share that enable them to continue on?
  • In Alas, Babylon, Josephine Vanbruuker-Brown was secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare before the Day. She eventually becomes president because everyone in line before her has died or cannot be found. How would you feel if the current secretary of Health and Human Services or Education was made president? Do you feel they have the knowledge and background necessary to lead the country?
  • In the book, Rita begins collecting valuable items, thinking that she'll use them after things are over. Randy tells her that these things have no value in their new society. In our society today, do things like gold and jewels have value, or is it simply that we put value on them? If the events in this book were to take place today, what "valuable" items would people collect?
  • How would you survive in the event of a nuclear apocalypse? Did any of the actions characters took in the book surprise or inspire you? Is there anything you plan to do/buy to be better prepared in case of emergencies?
  • How do you think this book would be different if it took place today? 
  • How do you think this book influenced the direction of science fiction? Do you think it influenced post-apocalyptic media (i.e. books, movies, video games, etc)?

Have you read this book and if so, did you enjoy it? What about this book makes it a valuable book club read? 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Resolutions: Read 8+ backlisted ARCs (& The Herd Presents Challenge)

Guys! I did it! I actually finished one of my 2018 book resolutions!

I'm not usually one for New Year's Resolutions, so when I decided to make a few blogging and bookish resolutions, I didn't think I'd follow through. But posting them on the blog has made me feel accountable to all you folks and has encouraged me to actually work towards these resolutions.

So today, I'm happy to announce that I've finished one!  When the year started, I had a mountain of overdue ARCs that I wanted to start cleaning up. The Herd Presents posted about a Blogger Shame Challenge they were running and I immediately knew I needed that support. I set of goal of reading 8+ backlisted ARCs and got to work.

And you know what? It's actually been kind of fun. I've been training myself to take breaks from library books to read an ARC and it's been really helpful to have a semi-schedule to reading them. I also have worked a lot on prioritizing what books I'll need to read in what order to get things done before they're due. And it's been great.

I think this also helped me focus more on working through ARCs than just reading library books - something I'm often guilty of doing because there are SO MANY BOOKS to read in so little time! But I'm starting to get my ARC pile down to size and I'm really happy about it!

Here are the 8 backlisted books I've read so far this year - and there will be many more to come as the year goes on:


Stranger No More: A Muslim Refugee’s Story of Harrowing Escape, Miraculous Rescue, and the Quiet Call of Jesus  Smoke Eaters  Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance  Wolf's Revenge (Leo Maxwell #5)
  
A Guy Like Me: The John Scott Story  Seven Suspects  Two Girls Down  Where I End: A Story of Tragedy, Truth, and Rebellious Hope


How are you doing on your yearly resolutions? What backlisted ARCs have you read so far this year? Have you read any of these books?

Monday, May 21, 2018

Music Monday #8

Music Monday is a weekly meme hosted by Lauren Stoolfire at Always Me that asks you to share one or two songs that you've recently enjoyed. For the rules, visit the page HERE.

I love this blog meme. It's so much fun to work on and gives me a nice break from talking about books. Thanks, Lauren!

I'm going to a wedding in a couple weeks and I was asked to help make the wedding playlist. Since that's coming up soon, all those songs have been fluttering around in my head and I thought I'd pick a couple of my favorites from the playlist to post here!


I think this is a hilarious song for wedding receptions - it's great to dance to, but the lyrics are also pretty hilariously complimentary to the bride. And it's a fairly well-known song, so people at the wedding will love it.





This one is a slower tune, but I think it's an excellent cover of the classic Police song. Plus, it's great for a wedding - a classic that everyone knows, but also romantic and adorable and wonderful for dancing to if the couple wants to.



What songs have you been listening to lately? What songs do you like to hear played at weddings? Had you heard either of these songs before?

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Book Club Discussion: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

Unsure of what your next book club read should be? Not sure how to get a good discussion started during book club? Don't want to waste time finding "inspirational" quotes to share with your club? You've come to the right place. We've got you covered. Today's Book Club Discussion is centered around A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin.


Why should this be your next book club pick? Well, for a few simple reasons:

  1. This is classic fantasy and you need to recommend it to everyone who didn't read it as a child.
  2. It's incredibly well-written and has such an intricate world and plot.
  3. Le Guin is an early author who valued diversity in her writing and world-building, so the characters in this book are quite diverse (especially when you take into account when Le Guin was writing). 
  4. There are life lessons to be learned from this book and they aren't too heavy-handed.
  5. It's a fairly simple and accessible read, so you should be able to recommend it to anyone who is able to read chapter books and they should understand and will probably enjoy it.

A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1)

If you want to run a book discussion centered around Le Guin's work, look no further than her website - it's a treasure trove of information about the author, her life, and her work. There are interview and speech transcripts, documentaries, links to her blog, lists of awards she won (and she won A LOT of awards) and endless amounts of things to parse through. Here, I've gone through some of what I think will be most fruitful to a book club discussion and linked it in here.

Author information: (taken from the author's website) Ursula Kroeber was born in 1929 in Berkeley, California, where she grew up. Her parents were the anthropologist Alfred Kroeber and the writer Theodora Kroeber, author of Ishi. She went to Radcliffe College and did graduate work at Columbia University. She married Charles A. Le Guin, a historian, in Paris in 1953; they have lived in Portland, Oregon, since 1958, and have three children and four grandchildren.

Ursula K. Le Guin writes both poetry and prose, and in various modes including realistic fiction, science fiction, fantasy, young children’s books, books for young adults, screenplays, essays, verbal texts for musicians, and voicetexts. She has published seven books of poetry, twenty-two novels, over a hundred short stories (collected in eleven volumes), four collections of essays, twelve books for children, and four volumes of translation. Few American writers have done work of such high quality in so many forms.

Most of Le Guin’s major titles have remained continuously in print, some for over forty years. Her best known fantasy works, the six Books of Earthsea, have sold millions of copies in America and England, and have been translated into sixteen languages. Her first major work of science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness, is considered epoch-making in the field for its radical investigation of gender roles and its moral and literary complexity. Her novels The Dispossessed and Always Coming Home redefine the scope and style of utopian fiction, while the realistic stories of a small Oregon beach town in Searoad show her permanent sympathy with the ordinary griefs of ordinary people. Among her books for children, the Catwings series has become a particular favorite. Her version of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, a translation she worked on for forty years, has received high praise. Her poetry has drawn increasing critical interest; Finding My Elegy, published in 2012, contains poems selected from previous volumes and new work.

Three of Le Guin’s books have been finalists for the American Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, and among the many honors her writing has received are a National Book Award, five Hugo Awards, five Nebula Awards, SFWA’s Grand Master, the Kafka Award, a Pushcart Prize, the Howard Vursell Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the L.A. Times Robert Kirsch Award, the PEN/Malamud Award, the Margaret A. Edwards Award, and in 2014 the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

Le Guin has taken the risk of writing seriously and with rigorous artistic control in forms some consider sub-literary. Critical reception of her work has rewarded her courage with considerable generosity. Harold Bloom includes her among his list of classic American writers. Grace Paley, Carolyn Kizer, Gary Snyder, and John Updike have praised her work. Many critical and academic studies of Le Guin’s work have been written, including books by Elisabeth Cummins, James Bittner, B.J. Bucknall, J. De Bolt, B. Selinger, K.R. Wayne, D.R. White, an early bibliography by Elizabeth Cummins Cogell and a continuation of the bibliography by David S. Bratman.

Le Guin leads an intensely private life, with sporadic forays into political activism and steady participation in the literary community of her city. Having taught writing workshops from Vermont to Australia, she is now retired from teaching. She limits her public appearances mostly to the West Coast.

As of 2015, Le Guin’s most recent publications include The Unreal and the Real, 2012, and Steering the Craft: A 21st-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story, 2015. Forthcoming in December 2015 is a new volume of poetry, Late in the Day. For the full list of the major publications see this website: About Ursula K. Le Guin



Book inspiration: (from Ursula LeGuin's Magical World of Earthsea by Jan M. Griffin) LeGuin began the trilogy when a publisher invited her to write a fantasy for children. She developed the novels from stories she had written earlier about the world of Earthsea, a place similar to the United States in climate, and much like the fifteenth century in its lack of industrialization.

(from Schmoop) To understand A Wizard of Earthsea, we have to start by imagining what the world was like before the Harry Potter books (we know, tough to imagine). Before the first Harry Potter books came out, if someone said "wizard," your mind probably didn't pull up the image of a teen at a boarding school. Back then, when someone said "wizard," instead you likely pictured an old man with a long white beard and immense wisdom – you know, someone like Gandalf from Lord of the Rings.

Now imagine this: it's 1968, practically eons before Harry Potter, and Ursula K. Le Guin wants to know where all these old men with long white beards and immense wisdom come from. Are they born like that? Or do they start out as regular kids who have to learn how to be wise and grow beards? This curiosity on her part turned into the inspiration for A Wizard of Earthsea.

In Earthsea, Le Guin takes a wizard who will one day be immensely powerful, and she shows us what he's like as a teen and a young man. In her story, this wizard childhood isn't terribly pretty: Ged will one day be wise and kind (and bearded), but when he's young, he's reckless and proud and gets into some terrible trouble that follows him and nearly kills him.

That's a pretty serious change to the fantasy story, but Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea makes several other interesting changes to the old fantasy standards too. Take this example: you know how in many fantasy stories, we have good and evil fighting, and (hopefully) good wins in the end? Gandalf (and team) fights Sauron, Aslan defeats the White Witch, and Harry Potter takes care of Voldemort – all great. But in A Wizard of Earthsea, it's not so easy to defeat evil. In fact, it's sometimes hard to even know what's good and what's evil in the first place. In that way, it's a lot like Le Guin's other works, which tend to avoid simple moral victories. At the end, it turns out that what we thought was evil was really a part of the hero himself.



Discussion questions:

  • Le Guin is known for choosing not to write about the conflict between good and evil, but about inner conflicts. In A Wizard of Earthsea, do you feel as though the inner conflict of Ged outweighs the outer conflict against the being he's summoned? (This interview may provide more clarification on her views of Good vs. Evil)
  • How do you think this book has influenced changes in children's literature and the fantasy genre in general?
  • When this book was published in 1968, diversity in fictional characters was not nearly as discussed as it is today. As an American author, Le Guin was writing during a time of change regarding racial acceptance (the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, just a few years earlier). Why do you think Le Guin chose to include characters of color in her books at this time?
  • Ultimately, Ged is forced to deal with the demons inside and to confront the consequences of his actions. As a reader, how did learning the true nature of the being Ged summoned change your perceptions of the story and of Ged?
  • In the book, names are of huge importance. “Who knows a man's name, holds that man's life in his keeping. Thus to Ged, who had lost faith in himself, Vetch had given him that gift that only a friend can give, the proof of unshaken, unshakeable trust.” Do names in reality hold power? Does giving your name to someone show some level of trust in them?
  • How do the various communities and lands differ from each other? Which land and culture did you connect most with? Which land and culture was most shocking to you?
  • Why do you think this became a fantasy/children's classic?
  • Have you read this book before? How was this reading different from previous readings?
  • “The truth is that as a man's real power grows and his knowledge widens, ever the way he can follow grows narrower: until at last he chooses nothing but does only and wholly what he must do.” How does this quote apply to Ged? Does it apply to Vetch or Ogion?
  • (quote taken from Jan M. Griffin's work, as mentioned earlier) Earthsea revolves around the principles of Taoism. As a self-proclaimed Taoist, LeGuin manufactures a world based on two of the main principles of Taoism: 1) the theory of inactivity in which one acts only when absolutely necessary, and 2) the relativity of opposites which is the belief that opposites are interdependent, and their interdependence results in the equilibrium. Where do you see these principles of Taoism in this book? Are there any characters who you see as opposites, and therefore interdependent?
  • Le Guin is also known for her love of Native American legends, as well as Norse Mythology. How have these influenced her work in this novel?

What did you think of this book? What kinds of things do you like to talk about during book discussions? What is your book club reading next?

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Do-over #2: On books for a calm summer evening

This is the beginning of The Bibliotaph's blog meme and link-up: Do-over. To participate, go through your blog posts from the past years (post must be at least a year old) and do the post over - either update it to fit your current perspectives or add new material to make it more application currently. Our next Do-over linkup will be on July 10th.

You can read the original blog post here.

When I first started blogging, I was so excited to get started - so I quickly queued up several months of quickly written posts and didn't include pictures or even much information about my thoughts on each book. In this post, I was really good at summing up each book, but didn't include any commentary on my opinions or experiences with the book - or even why I chose to include it on this list. I also was great at making longer lists of books - these days, I often only add a few books to lists, but this is a pretty sizeable one. Today, I'm going to alter things a bit by adding the pictures and adding in some thoughts on why each book made it onto the list. I'll also be adding real bullet points and adding questions to the end.


There’s a park behind my apartment with a set of perfect hammock trees. On warm (but not too warm) evenings, it’s the perfect place to enjoy nature. Or ignore nature and escape into a book.
Here are some slow, thoughtful books to compliment that calm moment.


The Muse

  • The Muse by Jessie Burton - Odelle Bastien lives in 1960’s London and has just been employed at the Skeleton Art Gallery. Odelle strives to uncover the secrets of her employer while balancing the changes in her personal life. Olive Schloss is a refugee living in 1930’s Spain. While the story bounces between these two heroines, the leader slowly learns how they connect. This book is somewhat slow-paced, but a lot of fun and you spend most of the time getting to know the characters instead of being in the midst of insane action.

Strands of Bronze and Gold

  • Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson - Newly-orphaned Sophie Petheram has just moved to Wyndriven Abbey and begins piecing together the past of her mysterious guardian. This Bluebeard retelling isn't entirely slow, but what little action it includes happens quickly and has a slow build-up. It's at the more exciting end of books on this list, but it's still a somewhat calming book most of the time.


Remembering Isaac: The Wise and Joyful Potter of Niederbipp (Remembering Isaac, #1)

  • Remembering Isaac: The Wise and Joyful Potter of Niederbipp by Ben Behunin - Niederbipp needs a new potter. But Jake Kimball didn’t know what he was signing up for when he agreed to take the position. His predecessor, Isaac, left some big shoes to fill, but maybe with some peppermint tea and a good listening ear, Jake can adjust to his new surroundings. Everything about this book is slow and sweet. Most of the story is filled with people talking about their lives over cups of tea.

Breakfast at Tiffany's

  • Breakfast At Tiffany’s by Truman Capote - Holly Golightly is anything but quiet - on the surface. Underneath, complex feelings and deep hurt and a distorted sense of wanderlust live and guide her strange decision making. This slow (and strange) book tell of the people who love her - and how she struggles to love them back. Most of the drama happens in small spurts between people.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer - Shortly after WWII, acclaimed author Juliet Ashton begins corresponding with the residents of Guernsey, a small island she’s never visited. Through Juliet’s letters, the reader sees how the events in Guernsey have changed the lives of all who live there, and how Juliet’s life is changed by meeting these people. Since this story is told through letters, you only hear about the conflict - there's very little of it that you see directly. This book is also great at making you fall in love with characters - they're so fun and wonderful.


Trains and Lovers

  • Trains and Lovers by Alexander McCall Smith - Four people meet on a train ride and share their stories - often being reminded of their own heartaches by their companions. The entire book takes place on a train and every story that is shared is about love and loss. It's a very quiet (and quick) book to read.

Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus

  • Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card - Pastwatch is a futuristic company that observes the past. But after many years of study, the question arises - what if Pastwatch researchers are affecting the past much more than they realize? This book takes awhile to get into the real action, and even when it gets exciting, it's still slow and thoughtful and philosophical. Definitely a great read when you need some quiet time to think.

What books would you add to this list? What genres of books do you read on quiet summer evenings? Have you read anything on this list? What blog posts would you like to do-over?



Friday, May 11, 2018

The Friday 56 & Book Beginnings #7

The Friday 56 is a weekly meme hosted by Freda's Voice where every Friday you pick a book and turn to page 56 or 56%, and select a sentence or a few, as long as it's not a spoiler. For the full rules, visit the the page HERE.

Book Beginnings is a weekly meme hosted by Rose City Reader that asks you to share the first sentence (or so) of the book you're reading.


Skyscraper of a Man

Skyscraper of a Man is a truly American story. Rooted in the homogenous suburbs of the 1970s, the novel explores the American propensity to pursue great ambitions, regardless of upbringing, that can result in lives that are larger than life. The four main characters meet at college and forge such lives, each achieving remarkable success in their chosen pursuits while condoning the choices that enable their success. The main character, Benjamin Franklin Matthews, the son of a printer and avid Revolutionary War buff, believes deeply in America, its founding principles, and “by the people, for the people” government. Inspired by the grand ideals of the Founding Fathers, Ben starts a newspaper and runs for political office, efforts aimed at righting a nation he perceives as falling short of its potential and promise. His three college friends, a writer who is also his business partner, a television news anchorwoman who was his lover, and a former college football star, play contributing roles in his rise to national prominence. In the end, Ben learns that grand ideals are elusive, difficult to maintain, and better left to the perfect among us. 


Book Beginnings: Few can truly relate, but most would judge my circumstances during the fifteen years as quite fortunate. I know I do.

The Friday 56:  After a short silence, I observed, "The vote was nine to one. Who do you think voted against us?"
Both sure of the nay vote, Ben and I looked at one another, smiled and simultaneously declared, "Sweeney," before breaking into gut-busting laughter.


What are you reading this week? What do you think of this book?

Thursday, May 10, 2018

On reading Shakespeare with my sister

Image result for henry v

My family is big on reading. Like, BIG on reading. Dad would read us Dr. Seuss every night before bed, the parents would take us to the library at least once a week, Mum tried to read us The Hobbit (but gave up after a few chapters because some of the kids were way too young to care or appreciate it), and Mum was always reading in her free time (even enforcing a “quiet time” in our rooms a couple times a week so she could have some peace to read). As we grew up more, introducing each other to new books was an important part of my life and my siblings’ lives.
There was one period of time that was especially interesting. I took a Shakespeare class in high school and fell in love. Wanting to expand my knowledge and read more, I decided to start reading Shakespeare at home. But reading to myself made it difficult to follow along (it can be tough to know what exactly he’s saying if you accidentally skim parts of it). So I enlisted the help of my then twelve-year-old sister. We’d assign characters and spend hours reading Shakespeare plays out loud in the front room. We made it through Much Ado About Nothing and Twelfth Night and a few others before I moved away to college.
It’s been a few years (obviously), but last year, my sister called me up and asked to read Shakespeare with me again. SInce we live in different states, we opened Skype, assigned characters to read, and got down to business with Shakespeare Henry V. She’s now the age I was when we started this, so it was interesting to see how her love of Shakespeare has changed over time and how much more she understood this time around.
And I realized that reading Shakespeare is so different when you’re experiencing it with someone. Often, we’d stop and talk about parts that interested us or wording that was confusing or the reasons good ole Will would include certain pieces of dialogue. And in doing this with my sister, we got to connected over something we both love and share that experience together - Henry V will now always remind me of my little sister stumbling through very long speeches about war and patriotism.
It took a few days, but we powered through and were able to discuss the famous speeches, the significance of the play, the confusing parts, the inspirational parts, the parts that made us laugh. We couldn’t do that a few years ago, but both of us are much smarter, better read, and more knowledgeable than we were when we first did this. And I think this ultimately brought us a lot closer.


How do you read plays? Do you like to read Shakespeare aloud or is it easy enough for you to understand while reading to yourself?

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

On my mystery picks

Mystery is a genre I honestly haven't read a lot of. My mum is a hardcore mystery reader - when I was a kid, she read little else. I didn't take after her. While I read mysteries now and then, it definitely isn't my bread-and-butter. Which is one reason I was kind of excited to write this post - it was a great opportunity to take a good look at the mysteries that I've loved and what makes a good mystery. Writing this post made it even clearer that I'm not a mystery reader - it took a lot of digging through my "read" shelf to find a bunch that I liked. But it was fun to remember why some of these books were wonderful. And if you're looking for a good mystery, now you have a few suggestions:



Six Stories
  • Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski - I haven't blogged about this book enough. It's one of the better mysteries I've ever read, but I don't get many chances to talk about it. It was so unlike anything else I've read that it's hard to blog about it without specifically thinking about this book. An old cold case is brought to public attention again when the death of Tom Jeffries becomes the focus of a new podcast - and everyone involved is suddenly thrust back into the events of many years ago. This was one of the better books I read in 2017 and it needs more attention than it's getting.


The Westing Game
  • The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin - As a kid, this book rocked my world - and the ending shocked me beyond anything else I'd read up to that point. This story about solving clues to win a bunch of money is hilarious and perfect for any middle grade reader.


Who Could That Be at This Hour? (All the Wrong Questions, #1)
  • Who Could That Be at This Hour? by Lemony Snicket - I've read few authors that make me chuckle as much as Lemony Snicket. This is another delightful children's mystery - though it may end up leaving you with more questions than answers.


Crooked House
  • Crooked House by Agatha Christie - It wouldn't be a mystery list without Agatha Christie and I hadn't read this mystery story of hers until recently. As always, Agatha Christie leaves you guessing who the murderer is until the very end and makes you suspect everyone. This story is no different and she does a better job than usual of ensuring that you feel you can't trust a single character.


What mystery books would add to this list? Are there any good mystery book blogs you can recommend to me (so I can expand my mystery book collection)? Have you read anything from this list?

Monday, May 7, 2018

Music Monday #7

Music Monday is a weekly meme hosted by Lauren Stoolfire at Always Me that asks you to share one or two songs that you've recently enjoyed. For the rules, visit the page HERE.

Guys! It's so nice out! It actually feels like spring and life is so happy. Plus, there are great books and good music to enjoy, so what more could one want?

In all seriousness, though, life has been chaotic these past few weeks and I've needed some upbeat and inspiring music to belt out. Here are a couple songs I've been rocking to lately.



I've long enjoyed Belle & Sebastian, but I hadn't heard this song until recently. I was looking through a bookstore and they were playing B&S non-stop and this track came on and I immediately added it to one of my playlists. And it's hardly been out of my head since. 



The Mountain Goats are another band that I've enjoyed for a long time. Their newest album is odd and a much different sound for them, but I've liked it more than I thought I would. This is one of the songs that's been stuck in my head quite a bit and it chugs along in a way that encourages me to keep moving forward.



Do you listen to either of these bands? What have you been listening to lately? What music has caught your ear from this meme this week?

Thursday, May 3, 2018

4 types of diversity we need more of in books

I recently read The Pixie Chronicles' post 8 types of diversity books need more of and was so inspired by it. It's an excellent list and highlights the good and the bad of bookish diversity - and shows some pretty obvious holes in bookish inclusion. With that post in mind, I'd like to expand by adding my own thoughts on additional diversity we need in the bookish community - and offer a couple books in each category that do this well.



Mental illness besides anxiety and depression 

I have loved the good publicity mental health issues have been getting in recent years, but there's still a lot of work to be done. I've enjoyed reading book after book about depression and anxiety, but I think the bookish community (especially YA bookish people) could benefit a lot from seeing more mental illness and how it can affect people - and how people deal with it. 

Books that handle it well
Challenger Deep  Made You Up  Impulse (Impulse, #1)



Wheelchairs
This is one diverse category that I've only seen once or twice in books and I'd love to see more. I didn't realize how difficult being a wheelchair could be until I became friends with a few people in wheelchairs and realized how difficult just going to see a friend can be if their home isn't accessible enough. I want to see more of this in media in general - and especially in books.

Books that handle it well
Are You Alone on Purpose? Out of My Mind


Religion
I partly got thinking about this because The Pixie Chronicles mentioned this one, so I am including this to put an emphasis on this. In recent years, religion has become something that people don't really talk about - and especially in books, people often don't view religion as being an important piece of diversity. I personally really think that religion is part of diversity -people all over the world believe in different things and it colors their culture and traditions. I love reading about character for whom religion is important while they also deal with their other conflicts.

Books that handle it well
A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy, #1)  Does My Head Look Big in This?  Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites (Tennis Shoes, #1)


Polynesian characters
I've been so impressed with all the racial diversity that I've been seeing recently in media (especially books), but we very rarely see polynesian characters in books or movies. While Pacific Islanders are a somewhat smaller group of people, it's still important that they get included in literature, as they have a rich culture that's often overlooked.

Books that handle it well
The Whale Rider  Moloka'i  Call It Courage



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Want to help promote disabled diversity and help real-life people in addition to reading books with diversity? Creative Souls is a company that gives disabled people a chance to use artwork to stay employed. The company provides disabled individuals with the supplies to decorate shoes and then sells the shoes while giving the artist a profit. They're also currently working towards buying a printer so that they can print artists' designs on shoes instead of having to paint them by hand (and so they can sell multiple copies of the same shoes in different sizes). This will help artists make much more money off the same piece of artwork (aka making fair wages for their work). If you know someone who could benefit from this job (or who would love a hand-painted pair of shoes), spread the word!

Have you read any of these books? What kinds of diversity would you like to see more of in books? What books would you add to these lists? How do you help real-life diverse people?