Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

The Winter People (2014) by Jennifer McMahon is a wonderful book filled with excitement, mystery, troubling pasts, anticipation, and just enough of the supernatural (I won't say what kind -- that would give things away) to keep it interesting.

Flipping back and forth between the past and the present, I liked the connection that created, with the story weaving the two time periods together very effectively. The "New England" feel of both the setting and the story was very appealing and familiar to me as a life-long (and proud) New Englander myself.

Though the book has supernatural elements, the story was really more about loss and the relationships between mothers and daughters, both with good and especially with not-so-good associations, so don't let the idea of the supernatural turn you off if that's not normally your 'thing'. This is an excellent book to read in poor weather in a cozy chair with a hot drink. A perfect winter book (as the title implies)!

“I think people see what they want to see... But think about it: if you'd lost someone you love, wouldn't you give almost anything to have the chance to see them again?” 

Keep reading! Beth

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell

While Beauty Slept (2014) by Elizabeth Blackwell is a beautiful, more realistic, behind-the-scenes tale of Sleeping Beauty. A very nice adaptation of the classic story, this time told from the perspective of one of Beauty's mother's ladies-in-waiting, therefore mostly taking place before Beauty is born and during her childhood and not focusing on her directly.

The characters were highly developed and entirely sympathetic (including, in some way, even the "evil queen"-type character); I felt like I knew all the main characters very well, and I could understand why they did they things they did. The setting was fairly standard fantasy medieval fare (not that there's anything wrong with that), and the story certainly kept me interested and engaged.

I really love this genre of re-telling classic stories / fairy tales from another perspective. I've really liked most of the from-the-villan's-view versions, but this was a good twist as well. Definitely worth reading.
“I am not the sort of person about whom stories are told. Those of humble birth suffer their heartbreaks and celebrate their triumphs unnoticed by the bards, leaving no trace in the fables of their time.” 
Keep reading! Beth

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

On to-reads and re-reading

I mentioned in my last post about my plans for my reading in the year ahead. While I don't like to plan too much (in favor of allowing myself some flexibility and spontaneity in what I read, especially if something interesting comes through the circulation desk here), I do like to have a good stack of to-reads at home. I like to balance picking books from my 'offical' To Read spreadsheet with being able to grab something randomly off the shelf if it catches my eye. I keep my To Read and Read spreadsheets color-coded by genre, in my attempt to keep a rough balance of the types of books I read, throwing in some non-fiction and mysteries in my fantasy and historical fiction choices, for instance.

One of the top items on my To Read list will be Tolkien's Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings series, which I will be re-reading with some friends / colleagues in conjunction with a new series by one of our favorite podcasters, StoryWonk. Hosted by a husband-and-wife team of writers, they've analyzed many great book, tv, and movie series, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Outlander to the MCU. Now they're about to dive deep into the Lord of the Rings, first the books and then the movies. I'm really looking forward to re-reading this series and seeing it from a new perspective via both the podcast series and my friends! Feel free to join in as well.

2017 might end up being the year of the series for me. In addition to the Tolkien books and the other series I mentioned last time (Outlander, Dark Tower, V.I. Warshawski, and Anne of Green Gables), I have many others near the top of my To Read list. I've been thinking about giving Agatha Christie a try, which might be a good contrast to the modern setting of the Warshawski mysteries, and once I finish Outlander and Dark Tower, I'll be moving on to the Dresden Files. After Anne of Green Gables, I'll pick another children's series. Perhaps a new one, or I might go back and re-visit my favorite of all time, the Little House books. Though I usually have a hard time justifying re-reading books when I have so many not-read ones on my To Read list, sometimes it's nice to find comfort in an old favorite.

Keep reading! Beth

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

2016: Reading Year in Review

Now that 2016 is well and truly behind us (thank goodness), I thought I might take a look back at my reading from the past year. I have a personal, ongoing goal of expanding my reading horizons and making sure I don't stick to my mainstay genres -- namely fantasy -- so I keep track of what I've read by genre and my own rating.

In 2016 I finished reading 73 books:

14 Fiction
1 YA Fiction
10 Children's Fiction
2 Fantasy
4 YA Fantasy
4 Children's Fantasy
2 Science Fiction
6 Historical Fiction
6 Mystery
1 Thriller
4 Non-Fiction
7 Memoirs
12 Graphic Novels (not including all the Marvel, DC, etc. comic books I read)

This included a re-read over the summer of the Harry Potter series (the first half of which I count as children's fantasy and the last few books of the series as YA fantasy), catching up to the Ruth Galloway mystery series, and beginning the Dark Tower series in anticipation of the movie (starring Idris Elba!) coming out this year.

I started and did not finish an additional 2 books:

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin: I tried to read because of the hype, but I found the writing style to be very off-putting. Way too much telling and not enough showing, and after several chapters I still didn't feel that I actually knew any of the characters, even the main one.

Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded by Jim Offaviani: As a graphic novel, I had hoped this would be a more accessible way to read a biography about Alan Turing's life and work. However in this case the drawings made it harder to understand -- the people all looked so similar I had no idea who was who, and I was just hopelessly lost right away.

On the other end of the spectrum, the books I rated a full five stars (in no particular order) were:

Ready Player One (science fiction) - Ernest Cline
Drums of Autumn (Outlander #4) (historical fiction) - Diana Gabaldon
Paper Towns (YA fiction) - John Green
Marvel 1602 (graphic novel) - Neil Gaiman
Dad is Fat (humor / memoir) - Jim Gaffigan
Darkest Part of the Forest (YA fantasy) - Holly Black
Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine (non-fiction) - Sarah Lohman [stay tuned for my review soon!]

All in all, I think it was a very successful reading year for me! Now I still have several series I'm continuing to juggle (Outlander, Dark Tower, Sara Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski mystery series, and Anne of Green Gables) while also reading non-series books, and plenty more in my to-read list. So I'm really looking forward to what 2017 will bring (reading-wise...).

Keep reading!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar by Martin Windrow

The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar: Living with a Tawny Owl (2014) by Martin Windrow was a sweet book about an rather unusual (though at the same time so stereotypically British) relationship between a man and his owl.

It was truly fascinating to read about the habits of owls and how they did (and, in many ways did not) fit in with human habitation. Windrow made abundantly clear that he respected that owls, even owls that have been hatched and raised by humans, are still wild animals. In most cases, by adjusting his own habits and expectations to fit in with living with the owl rather than expecting the owl to do so. In short, he was never under the illusion that he could fully domesticate her to live as a pet but rather worked very hard to make co-habitation work.

While I loved the relationship between Martin and Mumble, he also very effectively dissuaded me from ever wanting to live with an owl myself -- issues with excrement alone would be a deal-breaker!

I won't spoil the ending by commenting on that, but at the end I was very glad to have read this short, interesting, funny book.

Perched on the back of a sunlit chair was something about 9 inches tall and shaped rather like a plump toy penguin with a nose-job. It appeared to be wearing a one-piece knitted jumpsuit of pale grey fluff with brown stitching, complete with an attached balaclava helmet. From the face-hole of the fuzzy balaclava, two big, shiny black eyes gazed up at me trustfully. 'Kweep', it said quietly. Enchanted, I leaned closer. It blinked its furry grey eyelids, then jumped very deliberately up on to my right shoulder. It felt like a big, warm dandelion head against my cheek, and it smelt like a milky new kitten. 'Kweep', it repeated, very softly.
Love at first sight – when it hits you late, it hits hard. It hit me at thirty-four, and I was a slave to it for the next fifteen years.

Keep reading! Beth

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Falling From Horses by Molly Gloss

Falling From Horses (2014) by Molly Gloss is a somewhat sad, disturbing story about Hollywood cowboy films in the 30s in which not very much good happens to any of the characters. Written as a memoir of someone well-known, who interacted with other well-known people -- even though (as far as I know) it's all fictional and none of the characters in the book are real (aside from a couple of real actors from the time who are mentioned only in passing and by name only) -- the structure of the story made it an interesting read, and made up slightly for the fact that there was more telling than showing in the prose.

The story jumped back and forth between different time periods, and I liked that the 'present' of the story (still a flashback) was told in the first person and the further back flashbacks in third person, which made it slightly easier to keep track of the jumps.

Though overall I think this was a good book that was worth reading, I will note that it is definitely NOT for anyone who gets upset about descriptions of animals being mistreated. I really appreciated that the story didn't gloss over the realities of the way animals were treated in the film industry before protective legislation was passed, but I still found many scenes very tough to read.

The subject matter was certainly a time and place I have not read much about before, and the beauty of stories such as this is that they transport us into their unfamiliar environments, good or bad.

Keep reading! Beth

Monday, October 31, 2016

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One (2011) by Ernest Cline is a fascinating commentary on humans and Western civilization and a brilliant, exciting love letter to geeks, video games, and pop culture.

Set only a few decades in the future (scary in itself), after civilization has mostly fallen apart and 'society' exists only in virtual spaces, the story kept me interested, engaged, and slightly tense the whole way through. Cline does an amazing job of creating interesting characters and putting them in situations that really keep you guessing.

I loved the idea of living 'in' a video game, and the virtual reality setting certainly gave Cline extensive leeway in what he could do in certain scenes, untethered as his world was from actual reality.

Though I'm sure most people who don't consider themselves geeks or nerds might initially dismiss this book as not for them, I would urge anybody to give it a shot -- it's that good. It does a great job of showing both the advantages and disadvantages of increasing reliance on continually improved technology, and while knowing all the pop- and geek-culture references probably brings more amusement and enjoyment to the reader, not knowing every one does not take away at all from the main themes of the story. In the end, the book is about what it means to be human, which applies to us all.
“Whenever I saw the sun, I reminded myself that I was looking at a star. One of over a hundred billion in our galaxy. A galaxy that was just one of billions of other galaxies in the observable universe. This helped me keep things in perspective.”
“Dilettantes,’ Art3mis said. ‘It’s their own fault for not knowing all the Schoolhouse Rock! lyrics by heart.” 
Keep reading! Beth