Archive for December, 2016

Yo! I’m still on my two week holiday break from blogging (I meant to post my review of Marissa Meyer’s Winter by now, but, alas, the holidays! The food, the games! Next week, I promise), but I couldn’t resist writing the ubiquitous Best of 2016 list. I got to read such a great stretch of books near the end of 2016, and I found a couple of new to “go-to” authors throughout this year. That’s a good reason to come back from my break for a day, right? You know it!

I read something like 65 books this year (not counting rereads such as Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park audiobooks I enjoyed this Fall). Many were new releases, but, happily, I also managed to fit in some backlist reading! Most of my 11 favorites are books published pre-2016, but the best books published this year were smash hits. I grouped them all together, below, roughly in the order of favorites; but really? The books in the top two rows are basically all tied with each other, as are the bottom two. I just loved so many books this year! It’s been wonderful!

Favorites of 2016

  • Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone. Max Gladstone is one of those clever authors who subvert expectations constantly with humor and unique religious insight (this time about Mesoamerican ideas of sacrifice). Definitely one of my faves! Even though I enjoyed book I (Three Parts Dead) more than Two Serpents Rise, book II still earned a whopping 4.5/5 stars.
  • The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson. This year has been a Sanderson Epoch for me! I read and loved the original Mistborn trilogy on audiobook. All in all, I will have read seven and started an eighth Sanderson book, all in the course of 2016.
  • The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks. Because if a book makes me laugh this hard, it belongs in my favorites!
  • Waer by Meg CaddyA gorgeous YA travel fantasy by a debut Australian author. Told in the style of Juliet Marillier. Published in 2016.
  • Railhead by Philip Reeve. Sentient trains ship passengers throughout the galaxies. Great setup for a great series, I hope!
  • The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima. I really enjoyed this YA Fantasy and would love to finish the series. Just bought book two with Christmas money!

 

2016 Runner-Ups

  • Ibenus (Valducan #3) by Seth Skorkowsky. I was really impressed with this gritty adult urban fantasy (published in 2016). If that’s your jam, you should definitely check out this series.
  • Emperor of the Eight Islands by Lian Hearn. A literary Asian-influenced adult fantasy (2016). I really enjoyed this dark fantasy, much more so than the other book I’ve read by Hearn, The Nightingale Floor.

And that’s it! What a great year. What did you enjoy reading in 2016? Link your recap posts to mine so I can read them!

Madeleine L’Engle, beloved author of such Newbery winners as A Wrinkle in Time and A Ring of Endless Light, begins her series of four memoirs with A Circle of Quiet.

About:

Wife-mother-writer. This is how Madeleine refers to herself, and it’s just one of many things that make this book feel so relevant. I can hardly believe A Circle of Quiet was published almost half a century ago, and I’m so glad Open Road Integrated Media is republishing it as an ebook.

L’Engle is an irresistible study in contradictions: episcopal and agnostic. An American born, European bred New Yorker who loved her country home in rural Connecticut. A writer, theoretical physicist and theologian (unofficially, those last two). An apolitical, but concerned environmentalist. A successful author married to a successful actor. It is she who first encouraged me (through her books; I wish I could have met her! She died in 2007) to seek harmony between modern science and my own faith (although my thoughts on the subject fall more in the realm of C.S. Lewis‘s conclusions, in The Abolition of Man, than in hers).

I wrote a paper on her poetry for one of my final BA projects—I studied literature and creative writing, which is why I generally stick to reviewing novels instead of nonfiction. But when A Circle of Quiet popped up on Netgalley, I turned in my chair to look at my book shelves and spotted the pristine, unread copy that I’d bought at a library sale a few years before…

I knew the time had come. I picked it up and drifted away, happily bemused, in the current L’Engle’s quietly explosive ruminations.

A Circle of Quiet breezes through the decade Madeleine spent at her rural “commune” of Crosswicks, raising her children and writing books that publishers refused to buy. I say the book “breezes” through this period because I felt light, reading much of it, as I already have wrestled with many of her concepts in her other works; but for readers new to her bewildering assortment of convictions, the experience of reading a L’Engle memoir may be less of a breeze and more of a gale.

A Circle of Quiet examines creativity, cosmology, science, God—all the big questions. But Madeleine is especially taken with the concept of ontology, in this volume. The study of existence and being.

When speaking with troubled teenagers, her thought was,

“They really don’t want me to answer their questions, nor should I. If I have not already answered them ontologically, nothing I say is going to make any sense.”

She sides with rebellious teenagers on most things, at least in her heart, which might be why her books have always been so appealing to young people. Her ideas about ontology did give me a calming peace, as a teenager. Take a look at the stars and breathe. It’s okay. That kind of thing.

She also talks a lot about how mythological truth is different from provable fact. Whenever she wrote (fiction, memoir and everything else), she drew directly from her own experience, perhaps more so than most writers I’ve read before; but she doesn’t stick close to the facts. She tells a story to make her point. While a long, important story in her memoir perfectly communicates her feelings about a certain city couple (the Brechsteins) who have moved into her rural community, she openly acknowledges that the exact facts—their names, the locations, the words spoken in their encounters—are not exact.

“Thinking about the Brechsteins, attempting the not-quite possible task of separating fact from fiction in this sketch, teaches me something about the nature of reality. On one level, one might say that the Brechsteins are not real. But they are. It is through the Brechsteins, through the world of the imagination which takes us beyond the restrictions of provable fact, that we touch the hem of truth.

The truth, not the facts, are what concern her. Creative writing is not journalism, she harps.

But even as she tackles heavy topics, she illustrates them with highly entertaining anecdotes, such as this one about entering church for the first time in a while, after moving into Crosswicks:

Madeleine to the minister:

“‘As long as I don’t need to say any more than that I try to live as though I believe in God, I would like very much to come to church—if you’ll let me.’

So I became choir director.”

Overall :

While the memoir can occasionally feel childish in its emotional coloring, it is more often delightfully childlike—a distinction she herself makes—in its wonder and joy for life itself. She’s a sharp observer, even if her observations may, at times, be suspect. I really enjoyed A Circle of Quiet  for the illumination of her life, convictions and writing habits. And I already have a copy of book II! Yay!

Recommendation :

If you enjoyed the theoretical and emotional tones to Madeleine L’Engle’s stories, or if you’re just curious about this career and family woman, you might very well enjoy any of her memoirs or other nonfiction works. (I personally adored Walking on Water.)

****4/5 STARS

WWW Wednesday #4

Posted: December 14, 2016 in WWW Wednesday
Tags:

backgroundWWW Wednesday is a weekly MEME hosted by Taking on a World of Words. I got the idea from Socially Awkward Bookworm. The three W’s are these:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

And I’m adding my own section to this list:

What have you recently reviewed?

Click the book titles for more information about each!

Recently Reviewed

The top spot goes to the charming contemporary sci-fi,

Crosstalk was closely followed by the fabulously immersive travel fantasy,

But really, I loved almost my entire list! It was a terrific crop, authors. Keep up the good work! And here they are:

Recently Finished

A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle: Open Road Integrated Media recently republished Madeleine L’Engle’s four Crosswicks Journal memoirs. As I saw book I, A Circle of Quiet, pop up on Netgalley, I turned to look at my bookshelves and saw the 1972 softcover edition sitting on my shelves, as yet unread. I had bought it at a library book sale several years before, and there it still sat.

It’s time, I thought. Providence! Madeleine L’Engle wrote such children’s classics and Newberry winners as A Wrinkle in Time and A Ring of Endless Light. She was a staple of my childhood and teenhood reading binges and remains one of my top 4 favorite authors ever. I’ll be reviewing A Circle of Quiet later this week!

Winter by Marissa Meyer: And next week, you can look for my review of Winter, the final installment of Marissa Meyer‘s spunky Lunar Chronicles!

Currently Reading & TBR Next

I’m continuing my Brandon Sanderson reading spree with Elantris as my bedtime reading, and I’m inhaling The Way of Kings during the daylight hours. I’m going to take the two weeks of Christmas and the New Year off from blogging so I can really focus on finishing the Stormlight Archives and start Arcanum Unbounded immediately following the Christmas and New Year celebrations. I love these holidays and I spend them with family and friends, usually in vast board game competitions with my husband, his brothers and our devious grandmother. (She cheats, I tell you. 90-something is not to old to cheat!) Anyway, after that, I’m planning to dive into a Christmas haul and enjoy the fruits of finally finishing The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance: Arcanum Unbounded. Phew, that’s a lot of pages, but I’m determined! And I’ll talk to you more on the other side of winter.

That’s it for this girl. What are you reading? Looking forward to reading? Have you recently reviewed something that’s still on your mind? Tell me, tell me! And share links to your blog posts. I love to see what you’re all reading!

About :

Dresden needs a job, but he can’t seem to find the motivation. After his vampire girlfriend Susan leaves town, he’s consumed with finding a cure for her condition, and he neglects every other concern that should be getting his attention. Like the toads falling from the sky, for instance, or the parade of hit men sent his way courtesy of the Red Court of vampires.

But the appearance of a faerie queen can pull anyone out of even the most impassioned self-absorption. Showing up in his office, one day, the Winter queen of faerie makes Harry an offer he can’t refuse: find who killed the Summer Knight and the queen will absolve his godmother’s hold over him. Adult Urban Fantasy Published September 3rd 2002 by Roc.

Thoughts (The Good) :

I started this audiobook immediately after finishing the audiobook of book III, Grave Peril. The humor and ghosties of book III made me eager to jump into the next installment. I have to admit, I had very high expectations starting this book (because “It gets better!” says everyone says ever).

The book starts strongly, which was an encouragement after the engrossing opening of book III. (I loved that chilling opening of Grave Peril with the ghost of Agatha Hagglethorn.) The mystery plot of book IV improves on book III, somewhat, in complexity and conclusion—I didn’t guess the culprit, this time, and it takes readers for an interesting trip through both faerie and wizard council politics. James Marsters once again kept me laughing with his terrific narration on the audiobook.

Character Problems:

Unfortunately, although many readers clearly love Harry and the rest of the cast, I’m still struggling to really about them. My main problem with the series is, I think, Harry himself.

I’d asked her to marry me. She told me no.”

I tried not to cry. I willed myself not to with all of my years of training and experience and self-discipline.”

And of course,

The skirt showed exactly enough leg to make it hard not to look, and her dark pumps had heels just high enough to give you ideas.”

While Harry can be charming and adorable, sometimes this style of first person narration can ruin a character for me. Harry constantly has me bouncing between, “HAHAHAHAHAH-“ to “You’re drooling/whining AGAIN?” Granted, he can be very funny, but I don’t necessarily want to be in Dresden’s pervy head—or any guy’s pervy head—for 15 books.

As another literary character so rightly says, “It’s a cesspool in there.” Heh…so true. This is clearly a matter of personal taste, as many people love Dresden; I just can’t seem to care overly much about him.

In fact, as a completely personal side note, I think I might just prefer high fantasy character tropes to modern tropes. Harry is about as cute and cuddly and whiny and hilarious as a wizard can conceivably get, but give me Merlin any day.

In fact, give me the Codex Alera. Give me Tavi, baby. I dig those hackneyed hero king tropes, and Butcher pulls them off with skill.

I also tend to prefer series that make certain characters integral to the plot. An interchangeable cast makes it difficult for readers like me to connect with a series. I loved the interplay between Harry and his friend Michael in book III, and I sorely missed it in book IV.*

Overall :

Solid three stars. I like much of the humor and worldbuilding, even if the characters don’t appeal to me. This series may or may not improve on me, but I can see why others like it so much: it’s clever and funny in how it interacts with ancient mythology in modern Chicago.

Recommendations :

Even though I complain a lot about Harry, Summer Knight will still appeal to readers who like the idea of a lovable, if whiny, supernatural sleuth who always barely manages to pull out a win.

***3/5 STARS

 

*Note Update: In reference to the “pervy” comment about Harry, I just wanted to clarify that it’s nothing like, “MMM, THAT CHILD SURE IS JUICY!!!” But because the cast in the series is mostly interchangeable, it’s tough to get beyond caricature, sometimes, with the female characters especially. Butcher compensates for that lack of character growth with humor. And since our first person narrator is a guy…we get lots of commentary about the breasts and buttocks and relative attractiveness of every woman he meets!  It’s not offensive, or anything, because it usually makes me laugh. But it’s just not very interesting to me, beyond the laugh of the moment.

waer

“I forced myself to accept his help. I needed to regain my strength. I had not escaped Caerwyn to just like down and die.”

About :

Young waer Lowell Sencha and his family live in the sheltered, idyllic Gwyndhan Valley, where they can shift into and out of their wolf forms without fear of persecution from the prejudiced blood-purists residing in other parts of Oster.

But when a wounded female waer named Lycaea washes up on the shores of the valley river, everything changes. Lowell helps the renowned healer Moth Derry care for Lycaea until, suddenly, a powerful blood purist attacks the valley in a frenzied hunt for the waer girl. The two women convince Lowell to travel to Lycaea’s home-city of Luthan to gather allies against the blood purists. Debut standalone YA Fantasy by Australian author Meg Caddy, a personal mentee of Juliet Marillier. Waer was published March 1st 2016 by Text Australia and available in the US on Book Depository. Shortlisted for the Text Prize.

Thoughts :

In the tradition of Juliet Marillier, Caddy brings a legend to life and surrounds it with a lush world of tradition, travel and diverse cultures. Readers journey with the characters through the lands of Oster, discovering mythology, new terrain and the ins and outs of shape-shifting.

‘There are waer in the southern desert, near where Dodge Derry comes from. But they are…different from us.’

‘How?’

‘Much bigger, and more savage. They do not cook their kills, they take meat raw. And some other are not…born waer.’”

I wish I could quote half the book to you, just to prove how wonderful the travel-writing is; but rest assured, I got lost in this world and you will, too, if you read Waer. One of my favorite things about the worldbuilding is how tenderly Caddy builds Lowell’s shape-change religion (and, later, challenges it and everything it means to Lowell).

I burned a sprig of rosemary in the candle, and let the ashes fall into the water in homage to Freybug, born from a rosemary bush. Finally, I blew out the candle, sipped from the bowl and trickled some of the water over the stranger’s brow. It was a bitter brew, but all elements of life joined in the water. Drinking it was a giving of thanks.”

And the characters! If Tamora Pierce wrote in first person, she might write characters like these. Lycaea is a prickly new shape-changer. She has a complicated relationship with her Waer form, but luckily for her, Lowell, a believably perceptive and wholesome country boy, understands this.

It was clear to me from the beginning that she had her own distaste for our people, complicated by the fact she was one of us.”

Caddy develops the characters well enough that they have actual fights about things that matter. I wish I could quote one for you, but as with the travel scenes, it’s probably better if you experience them in the context of the story.

As for the plot, the twists didn’t surprise me, but Caddy still uses the main one effectively as a psychological expression of Lycaea’s internal struggles. And although one character is clearly a convenient plot device, the writing, characters and worldbuilding far outweigh an any problems with the fast-paced and straight-forward plot, especially for such a young author with her debut.

I just had such an emotional, immersive experience with this book, I can’t seem to care about anything else!

Overall :

What a fabulous surprise! This is exactly what I want, when I pick up a YA Fantasy. It’s so nice when YA—which has so much potential for emotionally impactful coming-of-age fantasies—gets the details right. I love everything about this book. An ungrudging five stars for Waer!

Recommended To :

Fans of Juliet Marillier, Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley. At the risk of sounding like the complete fangirl I am, I would say, were J. R. R. Tolkien writing in the modern YA field, he would write something like Waer. I can’t wait for my birthday, so I can buy this for my personal library. And when it becomes available on Amazon, I’ll be getting it for the teen section at my work! I can’t wait for Meg Caddy to publish something else!! Hurryhurryhurry….

Thank you so much to Meg Caddy, Text Publishing and Netgalley for my e-galley of Waer.

*****5/5 BRILLIANT STARS

graveperil

Wire. Strands of barbed wire ran about the ghost’s flesh, beneath her torn clothing. The barbs had dug cruelly into her flesh every two inches or so, and her body was covered with small, agonizing wounds….The wire was a single strand that began at her throat and wrapped about her torso, beneath the arms, winding all the way down one leg to her ankle. At either end, the wire simply vanished into her flesh. 

‘Sun and stars, I breathed. ‘No wonder she went mad.’”

About :

Someone is torturing the ghosts of Chicago, and the victims are none too happy about it. But why torture a ghost? And why do so many of the ghosts have a connection with our wizarding detective hero, Harry Dresden? Harry, along with Michael, a holy knight named after the avenging angel, work together to solve the case before the mastermind gets his way. Adult Urban Fantasy Published September 1st 2001 by ROC. Jim Butcher is the author of the Dresden Files, the Codex Alera, and a new steampunk series, the Cinder Spires (which I have also reviewed)!

Thoughts :

A friend and I read Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series as teenagers, rushing from our rural hometown to a Barnes and Noble over an hour away to buy First Lord’s Fury on its first weekend out, despite AP homework and college assignments and everything else modern high school entails. So when my friend raved about The Dresden Files, I gave it a shot. I pushed through books one and two, but I lost interest halfway through three, despite promises that the series would improve. I just didn’t find the direction all that interesting. I think this was my first—or at least one of my first—urban fantasy series, and I just wasn’t…that impressed? I didn’t like Susan, I couldn’t relate to Harry, I hadn’t read much in the way of noir—or Urban Fantasy, for that matter….it just didn’t work for me.

Recently, I decided to give book III another shot via audio. I had been scolded, encouraged and pleaded with by enough library patrons to try them again. I promised myself to read book III, at least. I’m glad I finished it because I feel like I can now express a valid opinion!

I have to say that from what I remember, Grave Peril is better than the first two books, largely due, I think, to the relationship between Harry and Michael.

‘Oh, Jesus,’ [Harry] whispered. ‘Son of a bitch.’

‘He didn’t mean it, Lord,’ Michael said. ‘Harry? What did you mean?’”

😄

The contrast between these two kept me in fits. But there’s lots more humor where that came from, and that’s my favorite thing about this series. I really enjoyed laughing my way through the audio version of Grave Peril on my way to work, every morning.

As far as the plot, it kept me guessing about the culprit, although there’s a rather short list of Harry’s enemies, and I had guessed the “big reveal” before we got there. The series seems to focus less on plot and more on detailing the world of Dresden’s Chicago and all of its magical power players. I’m trying to be patient with that.

I did enjoy a lot of the ghostly encounters—very creepy and suspenseful—and how Michael has his own sort of power, quite unique from Harry’s. The worldbuilding and magics seem to have endless, fun layers to explore.

I think I quit this series, the first time, because of the characters. I like do like Murphy and I adore Michael, but everyone else is mainly meh.

But I still wanted to keep listening, by the time I finished book III, so it has that going for it. In fact, I’ve already finished book IV and will be posting my review next week!

Overall :

It was funny, but nowhere near amazing, so I’m just sticking around to find out what all the fuss is about.

Recommended To :

So many people love this series, I would have to say “give it a shot.” Maybe you’re one of the readers who will find a soulmate in Harry Dresden. I don’t know what book will tell you that for sure, or not, but I don’t recommend skipping any of them. There’s a lot of set up in these first three books that you might miss, if you jump straight into book IV.

4/5 STARS