Wednesday, August 24, 2016

My Chapter Book Summer

In an effort to clear my TBR bookcase more quickly, I, of course, picked up a few of the chapter books that I had sitting around.

I mentioned Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer in my RMODB post last month but I wanted to sing its praises one more time.

Charlotte heads off to boarding school and, as she is first in the dormitory, she gets her pick of beds. She decides on the one with the fancy wheels by the window and thus begins an unbelievable adventure. Every other morning, she wakes up forty years in the past, during the First World War, in the body of a girl named Clare.

Once again I am going to lament that my suburban Southern California library didn't have a selection of British children's fiction for me to fall in love with when I was a kid. I don't know what last prompted this complaint but it might have been Tom's Midnight Garden or The Children of Green Knowe. These are all books that would have stretched my imagination and started my Anglophilia early.

There are a lot of similarities between Eva Ibbotson's children's fantasies and they are, coincidentally, the things that make me love them the most -- a strong respect for nature, a distaste for spoiled, thoughtless people, and a belief in secret creatures. The Secret of Platform 13 is a simple story about an abducted fantasy-land prince and the attempt by a motley crew to rescue him from the horrid London home of an early version of the Dursleys.

Ibbotson's books aren't the most complex but they are possibly the most thoughtful. I fall in love with her a little bit more with each sweet tale.

This one wasn't technically on my TBR because it was an ARE but it was sitting unread in my house and so it eventually had to be read, right? The Extincts by Veronica Cossanteli delivers just what it says in the title, a whole bunch of amazing, supposedly extinct or very mythological creatures on a secret farm. George gets a job at Wormestall Farm and also makes a new friend -- Prudence, whose evil stepmother is an evil taxidermist who would love to get her horrid, evil hands onto the special creatures (to murder them and stuff them).

This was a crazy, fun story! The creatures were AMAZING and Prudence's mother was a terrifying villain. And did I mention the creatures? Because now I really want a farm with some lovely aurochs, a unicorn, a couple of dodos, and maybe even an ichthyosaur in the pond. I'll skip the toilet kraken though! (See, now you have to read it to find out about that ...)

Did you read any fun chapter books this summer?

Craving time travel and dodos,

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Do Not Miss: The Great Library Series

I've spent a lot of this summer searching for fun, escapist reads and I stumbled across Rachel Caine's Great Library series. It's an alternate history YA dystopia full of forbidden knowledge and peril and a wee bit of romance.

The first book in the series is Ink and Bone, the story of Jess Brightwell, a book smuggler from London who earns a place in the newest group of Great Library trainees. The Great Library (in Alexandria -- it never burned) is the ruling force of the world, keeping books and knowledge under lock and key, doling out only what they deem safe and in the best interests of the Library. Shortly, Jess and some of his fellow postulants will discover that their best interests might not be those that the Library has always dictated to them.

Picking up right where the first book left off, Paper and Fire follows Jess and friends as they become scholars, soldiers, and captives. However, the more information that they are exposed to, the more they are determined to help the Library become what it should be--a beacon of light and knowledge--rather than a scary, totalitarian regime.

I sped through these books. Seriously. I couldn't read them fast enough. They're chock-full of excitement, but excitement that has secret depth and some important themes about why we should value free-flowing information and ideas. The relationships are complex and no character seems off-bounds for disaster. I've already been shocked a few times, both by current actions and about revelations from the past.

I don't know how long this series is going to be but I'm a bit bummed that this second book JUST came out because I'm dying to know what is going to happen next!

Feeling the burn,

Sunday, July 31, 2016

#ReadMyOwnDamnBooks : July Edition

July went by in a blur but I made an effort to keep on track with this and I'm still in the running to reach my goal of 80 books for the year from my own shelves, whether they're new books from the TBR or rereads. Admittedly, two of these books were recent acquisitions (one purchase, one gift) but I actually read them in the same month I got them which hasn't happened in ages with anything but a new release. I have almost forgotten the days when I went out and bought a new book because I literally didn't have any other unread ones in the house! Ahh, blogging ...


The Magician's Ward by Patricia C. Wrede
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer
London: A History by A.N. Wilson
My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell
The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson

Monthly Total: 6
Yearly Total: 46

My favorite book was Charlotte Sometimes, which was everything that I could have hoped for -- time travel, history, and sisterly angst.

London: A History was a short little thing that gave an overview of London's history by highlighting certain elements like architecture. I enjoyed it, though the timing was a bit bad because he talks a lot about how essential immigration and immigrants have always been to the health of the city, a fact that quite a few people seem to have forgotten lately. The heartening part is that London is cyclical and so there's always hope for a return to sanity.

Code Name Verity was unexpected even after all this time of hearing about it from everyone. I didn't speed through it the way I thought I would but I certainly enjoyed it.

So, I think I'm going to tackle S by Doug Dorst and J.J. Abrams in August. I keep saying I need a time when I can focus on the complexity of it and what better time than the dog days of summer, right? I can't linger over it too much though because I'll need to read five other books from my shelves to stay on track. I have a feeling a few of them will be rereads though because I'm in the mood!

What books are you planning on reading in August? Any rereads?

Keeping cool with indoor reading,

Friday, July 22, 2016

Joining Up: #24in48 Readathon

Because of houseguests and cleaning and yardwork and ice cream making and such, I feel I haven't had the lazy reading summer I wanted so I've decided to join the 24 in 48 Readathon for the first time!

It's a pretty simple premise -- try to read for 24 hours during the 48 hours that are this Saturday and Sunday. The good news for me is that it starts at midnight eastern on Saturday which is 9pm here on Friday night (tonight!), prime reading time! So really, I'll probably read for 4-6 hours on Friday night and then go until 9pm on Sunday night. I don't know if I'll get a full 24 hours of reading in but I really just want to have fun and escape into a few good books for a while.

Here are the books I grabbed for my readathon stack. They all seem like fun, escapist reads so I'm not sure how I'll choose! I think I'll keep the extras out as my choices for the rest of the summer.

I'll be posting my updates on Twitter and Instagram. If you're also participating, come find me!

Reading for the weekend,

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Books That I've Read Lately But Haven't Reviewed Because They Were Weird

My stack of books to review has been sitting here a while and I keep picking up books from it and then setting them back down and I couldn't figure out why. Then I realized ... it's because they're weird.

I got Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia from the library because Jenny raved about it. This book about high school musicians at a statewide event at a big old hotel (The Bellweather) who get snowed in was full of ups and downs. There was a suicide mystery and that was totally not the main point of the book at all. The point was all of the strange people that it skipped between -- the aged concierge, the twins (chorus and bassoon), the Scottish conductor that is missing fingers,and the music teacher/chaperone who is severely damaged because of the harridan mother/musician/teacher. All of the people were interesting but they were also just all so ... crazy. I had lots of feelings during the book but I can't figure out what exactly to say about them. Was the book good? Yes-ish. It was weird.

Mendoza in Hollywood is the third in Kage Baker's Company series. Mendoza is sent to the hills of what will eventually be Hollywood in a time before Los Angeles even exists. She stays in a roadside inn with a few other immortal cyborgs, one of whom is obsessed with early cinema. So, this story is really just a lot of California history and some very long passages where the group sits and watches a classic silent film and the reader gets a scene by scene walkthrough of it. Very little actually happens except for a weird time glitch that is pushed off to be explained at a later time. I did however love the California history as I am actually a 5th generation Californian and my great-great-grandfather was a main figure in making Los Angeles habitable. So, it was the history of a region that is literally in my blood. But there was the lack of actual story and the really LONG film parts, so this wasn't my favorite Company novel but I still liked it quite a bit. But, well, it was weird too.

Elijah's Mermaid by Essie Fox has probably been sitting on my review pile the longest. I really liked Fox's first book The Somnambulist but this one didn't really work for me. It's got artists and prostitutes and families but they are all broken and creepy. But if you liked The Crimson Petal and the White (which I didn't) you will probably like this one. I felt the same about both, that some parts were just too gratuitous for my tastes. And, well, some things in this book were just weird.

And finally there is Penny Dora and the Wishing Box, a graphic novel for tweens. Penny finds a mysterious Christmas present left on her front porch and it turns out to be a box that grants wishes. Penny makes the mistake of showing it to her best friend and that horrid friend "borrows" it and goes all megalomaniac with it, eventually making Penny her servant. The friend was seriously awful, the art was sometimes, well, not good, and this story was not the magical tale I was expecting. It was super weird and negative.

Is there a book sitting on your review stack that you just aren't sure how to review?

Clearing the weird,

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Eight Years of Blogging Here

Eek! I have managed to miss my actual blogiversary again. On July 8, 2008 I started this little blog, planning to keep it going for about half this time, maybe three or four years. But then I became a part of one of the brightest, most supportive communities out there. Now when I think about quitting, I feel preemptively sad about missing out on my favorite community events and I worry about losing the connections I've forged with some of my favorite people on Earth.

When I started this blog, it was a month before the Beijing Olympics and we were still four months away from electing President Obama to his first term. I had a four year old kid and I was looking for people to talk to about something other than parenting. I had finally found the time to start reading again after Z started preschool a year earlier and I felt confident that I could contribute something to the (then fairly small) book blogging world. Little did I know how much blogging would become a part of my life. I read as much as I want now because I can justify it by writing a blog post afterward. I host DWJ March/March Magics annually to celebrate two beloved authors and it is the highlight of my year. Close on its heels in my heart are the annual R.I.P. event and the two 24-Hour Readathons. I base my reading year off of them, tucking aside books that I think would be perfect to give me the creeps or to keep me awake at 2 am. But most of all it's the people. I chat with many of you on Twitter regularly and follow your lives on Instagram. I even get to meet some of you in the physical world and it's always a treat! I have yet to be disappointed by a single one of you and am happy to call many of you friends.

Anyway, thank you for supporting me for eight years, for commenting and participating and suggesting books. I couldn't have done it without you.

Grateful and a bit emotional,

Friday, July 8, 2016

The Apothecary Series

After hours of walking around my neighborhood (not all at once!), I've finally just finished listening to the third book in the Apothecary trilogy by Maile Meloy. Since I walked through all of these books in just a couple of months, I can talk about them together today!

First of all, I highly recommend the audiobooks, narrated by Cristin Milioti. She is so good at doing the various voices that sometimes I would forget that it wasn't an ensemble performance. The Apothecary follows Janie Scott, a young American in 1952 whose family has fled to London after her Hollywood writer parents become targets of the McCarthy-era Communist witch hunt. She meets a boy at school, Benjamin, who happens to be the son of the kind apothecary near her new home. What Janie doesn't know is that Benjamin's father isn't a regular shopkeeper and that she and Benjamin are about to become tangled up in a race against time and the threat of nuclear war. Luckily, they have the weapons of science and nature to fight the poison the Russians are preparing to unleash on the world.

The first two books in the series fit together perfectly, with The Apprentices continuing the fight against those who are attempting to escalate the Cold War toward a nuclear end. In this book, however, Janie and Benjamin have been separated and are trying to find each other again. Janie is fighting against her need to prove herself and Benjamin is simply focused on reuniting with her.

And finally, in The After-Room, the teens have to deal with the consequences of their actions in this dark tale of loss. But, whereas the first two stories are based on the idea that there is a secret association of apothecaries/scientists/herbalists who understand the power of science and nature in such a way that it seems that they can do magic, the third part all of a sudden brings in real magic with no explanation. It was a very strange direction for the story to take and I didn't enjoy it as much as the original premise. However, I still highly recommend this trilogy, although for a slightly older reader than the middle grade audience it's marketed toward. Some parts are very dark and violent and there's a lot of relationship stuff that I'm not sure 10 year olds need to be reading about.

Believing in the magic of nature,

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Manga Classics: Great Expectations

I read this Manga Classics version of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations back at the beginning of May but, because it reads from the back, it ended up on my review stack without the spine showing and I completely forgot about it!

I was super curious about this one when I was offered a review copy and luckily it didn't disappoint. I'm not sure that it would be a good starting point for readers completely unfamiliar with the story because it cuts a bunch out and skips around but, for fans of the original, I think this is a great companion book. It takes some of the most interesting parts of the classic tale and gives them life. If you would like to see a preview of the art and story, visit the catalog website. I particularly liked revisiting the relationship between Pip and Joe Gargery and I loved the way that Miss Havisham was drawn, beautiful but broken.

Some of the other Manga Classics titles are Pride and Prejudice, Sense and SensibilityLes Misérables, and the one I think I will look for next, Jane Eyre. I would also love to see them tackle Wilkie Collins at some point!

Enjoying a different view,