Tuesday, September 20, 2016

#RIPXI: 5, The Left-Handed Fate

About a year and a half ago, I gushed over what an amazing story Greenglass House was (as did Lory, Ana, and Kim in the comments section). Now that I've read my second Kate Milford book, the newly-released The Left-Handed Fate, I have to do it all over again.

Set in the same slightly-askew Nagspeake-ian universe, this is a nautical adventure full of peril, mystery, magic, and more. The story takes place right at the start of the War of 1812, off the east coast of the United States. The Left-Handed Fate is a British privateering ship, currently assisting young natural philosopher Max Ault to continue the work his father began -- namely, to find the pieces of what might be a weapon to end all wars. With the help of the captain's children, Lucy and Liao, and the rest of the Fates, there is a race over sea and land to solve this mystery and escape the mysterious men in black and the dastardly French.

Now, I keep writing sentences here and then erasing them because they are too bland and formulaic and this book is the exact opposite. It's chock-full of battles and races and puzzles and magic. There are tiny romances and slightly larger betrayals and kids who are learning and growing and figuring out their value systems. There's also enough history to get the reader interested in finding out more. I adored it all. I read so fast that my eyes hurt but I also kept slamming the book shut when the intensity rose to an almost unbearable level. I wished it would never end but also couldn't get to the resolution fast enough to calm my pounding pulse. It was definitely all I look for in an RIP read!

As I near the end of my Top 100 Chapter Books project over at The Estella Society (I'm on book #88/100 right now), I've determined that one of the main qualities of a truly great middle-grade story is that it should be a satisfying read for a wide range of ages, including adults. This book, with its light dusting of mild swears and truly adult dilemmas, was entirely satisfying to me while also being a book that I plan to hand right over to the twelve-year-old boy sitting next to me.

Setting sail for adventure,

Saturday, September 17, 2016

#RIPXI: 4, The Book of Speculation

I was hoping that The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler would be something special but, sadly, I found that it fell short in the details -- starting with the cover that is so strangely photoshopped. I feel like the impossible stack of books with two that should be different but aren't should have clued me in that this book was going to be slightly off. There are a lot of people who loved it and found it magical. I, however, was too distracted by impossible dates, improbable coincidences, and undefined magic to fall under its spell.

This is a dual narrative book, moving back and forth between the present and the late 1700s. The two are connected by a book, a journal that was kept by Peabody, the owner of a traveling show. The book ends up in the modern-day hands of Simon, an orphan with a home on the northern coast of New York's Long Island, a house that is in imminent danger of falling off a cliff. The house is symbolic of Simon's life as he's about to lose his job and his whole sense of reality. The truths that are held in the book--the facts about people that may be Simon's ancestors--are not easy to deal with but do explain some of the things he knows/fears about his own family.

I really did want to love this story but I found myself getting stressed and/or annoyed far too often. From the spoken and internal dialogues that were written in a confusing way to the impossibility of the timeline based even on generous generational spreads, I had to fight through the rough stuff to see the glimpses of good. I love magical realism but this one had very little rhyme or reason to the magic. Last night was the worst though when I started complaining about plot details to the husband and it perfectly mirrored what was annoying us about the season 4 episodes of Gilmore Girls that we had just watched. It was off-putting and made this original tale seem a bit predictable.

I know I tend to be overly critical of RIP reads. I save some of them for months and months and I can only read so many of them and so I put pressure on the poor books to be stellar. Some will only be perfectly fine, which would be okay at other time of the year. This one was indeed fine -- but not for me, not right now.

Traveling on,

Sunday, September 11, 2016

#RIPXI: 3, The Graveyard Game

My third RIP read is the fourth novel in Kage Baker's The Company series. The first three books have fairly standard mishaps and perils as the immortal cyborgs that work throughout time for the company called Dr. Zeus (collecting artwork, literature, historical artifacts, animal, and plant species that would otherwise have been lost in time) interact with humans and each other. This book, though, reveals a couple of major conspiracies and also takes us into our future, a time that is not pleasant in many parts of the world. I found it very hard to read right now, as we too have a very uncertain future. Mention of a second U.S. Civil War never seemed like such a threat as it does right now. And targeted pandemics in a time of such open and unrepentant racism seem just as likely. I truly hope that Baker's bleak visions of the future end up to be nothing more than science fiction after all.

If you're interested in starting this series, there's a great recent post by rocalisa that lists all of the books, novellas, and short stories by publication date (and also includes where to find them, which can be tough these days -- many Kage Baker books are out of print). There's also a big reread going on at tor.com and they're only in the middle of the third book so you could easily start and read the posts that are already up!

Hoping for the best,

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

#RIPXI: 2, The Evil Wizard Smallbone

My second read for the RIP XI Challenge was The Evil Wizard Smallbone, a new middle grade fantasy tale from Delia Sherman (out on September 13). It's the story of twelve-year-old Nick, an orphan who lives in an abusive home with his uncle and cousin. He finally runs away in the middle of winter only to collapse on the doorstep of Evil Wizard Books, domain of the Evil Wizard Smallbone. Once Nick is there, he's trapped by the wizard and the wards around the shop and town of Smallbone Cove that keep away the evil French loup-garou, Fidelou -- a wizard-werewolf hybrid. If Nick could only find a way to learn a little magic of his own, he might finally get the safe life he dreams about.

With a setting in rugged, coastal Maine and many unexpected twists and turns and changes of character, this story is quite the adventure. Nick is surly and reckless but also earnest and determined and I very quickly found myself rooting for him. His relatives are truly horrid, almost as bad as either of the wizards, which was reminiscent of Diana Wynne Jones. I greatly enjoyed the magic system in the story, especially the way Sherman dealt with transfiguration. And I'll let you in on a little secret -- the bookshop is magical! By the end, I was reading as quickly as possible, hoping for the best but never quite sure where the tale would go. This tale has as much adventure in it as it does heart.

Searching for the books with magic,

Saturday, September 3, 2016

#RIPXI: 1, Ghostly Echoes

I have a goal to review each RIP book I read this season the day I finish it (or the next day if it's late) so that I don't end up with a backlog. And yes, I already finished my first book -- Ghostly Echoes by William Ritter, third book in the Jackaby series. I actually reread the second book right before so I was totally in the mood to spend more time with R.F. Jackaby, supernatural detective, and his apprentice, Miss Abigail Rook. I really love this pairing. Jackaby is definitely a Sherlock-like character but he knows his limitations. While he is a Seer and can see things like auras and spiritual residues, he knows that this causes him to overlook the more mundane but just as important details. Abigail is perfect at spotting these things and quickly seeing their value. This book ends right in the middle of the overarching storyline so if you want to wait until the fourth (and final, I believe) book is published, feel free. But if you just can't wait to read about creatures, ghosts, mad scientists, and peril in nineteenth-century New England, by all means, pick up this series ASAP!

I read the first book, Jackaby, for RIP in 2014 --
I loved, loved, loved this book. It has some of everything and it is all brought together in an interesting and fun way. Jackaby is smart and amusing and Abigail is brave and also intelligent. But what I loved most is that they still needed each other. Their world views are very different but they are definitely complementary.
-- and reread Jackaby and read Beastly Bones for RIP last year.
With a smart and secretly caring detective and a strong and capable female assistant, these stories are a pleasure to read. The crimes are bloody and the climaxes are explosive but everything is tempered with a bit of humor and romance, which makes these my ideal RIP books.
This series is definitely one of my favorite new traditions and I know I'll be rereading them over the years.

Straining to see,

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Kick-off: RIP XI

Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! It's September 1st, the day I can officially begin flooding my reading list, my bookshelves, and my blog with perilous reads. Today, my friends, is the start of the Readers Imbibing Peril XI challenge! Eleven is a great number --

(if you haven't watched Stranger Things yet, what are you waiting for? It's a perfect RIP show!)
The eleventh Doctor
Make a wish!
"These go to eleven."
James K. Polk, of course!
This year, I will be focusing on my TBR but also on rereads. Obviously, many of the books on my shelves are former RIP reads (or hail from before my blogging days) and I've forgotten the specific twists and turns that thrilled and chilled me. So I'm going to revisit old favorites and hopefully find some new ones!

My top TBR shelf now looks like this ...

The thin volume on the left is the second Edward Scissorhands graphic novel, perfect for Readathon-ing with in October! I'm going to be spending some time with Agatha Christie and Poe, two of my favorites, both in fiction and non-fiction. I'm also going to work on some of the perilous series that I have on my shelves. But first, I'll be reading Ghostly Echoes, the third Jackaby book which I've been impatiently waiting for! I've just finished up a reread of Beastly Bones (book two) in preparation.

I also have a stack of review copies and a library book that I'm going to try and get to as well. I'm especially excited about Delia Sherman's The Evil Wizard Smallbone!

I have put in a couple of holds on library audiobooks for rereads -- Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and Hollow City by Ransom Riggs. I'm also still waiting for The Raven King so I'll be dropping whatever I'm reading at the time when that finally is available!

Some other rereads that I'm considering this year are The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes, The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox, The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue, The Lighthouse at the End of the World by Stephen Marlowe, We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, and some of my Josephine Tey, Agatha Christie, and/or Ngaio Marsh mysteries. There are so many other fantastic books on my shelves, though, that I'm not limiting my reread options to a specific stack.

Once again, I must and will thank Carl, both for creating and for sustaining this annual reading event. I would still be reading these sorts of books at this time of year on my own but it's much more fun to do it with friends! Also, Carl sources the best artwork each year and Abigail Larson's gothic gal in a red scarf is fantastic.

Are you going to join the RIP fun? What book are you most looking forward to reading or rereading?

Bracing for peril,

#ReadMyOwnDamnBooks - August Edition

Once again, I find myself lamenting the end of summer. Z starts back to school today (seventh grade!!! how did that happen?!?) and the warmest days of the year are now behind us here in Seattle. The only thing that is soothing my wounded heart is that the RIP season begins tomorrow. Stay tuned for that post shortly. Today, let's look back at August!


Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney (reread)
S by Doug Dorst and J.J. Abrams
The Invisible Code by Christopher Fowler
The Foundling by Georgette Heyer
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (reread)
The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home by Catherynne M. Valente
Maps and Legends by Michael Chabon

Monthly Total: 7
Yearly Total: 53

I'm so glad I finally got to S! It did take me longer than normal to read but my mind stayed in that world for days afterward and I kept forgetting that I had finished the book.

I decided to choose something from my TBR that was the complete opposite of an RIP read so I went with The Foundling, a Heyer regency romance. However, it turned out to be ridiculously perilous! It was also quite funny and sweet though so it turned out to be a perfect summer read.

I anticipate a LOT of TBR reads in September and October as I always save some books just for this season. My first will be Ghostly Echoes, the third Jackaby story, which just came out. I am also doing another TBR cull at the moment. As I get closer to having all of my unread books fit in one small bookcase (and a nightstand), I also have been a bit more honest with myself about which books I keep skipping over when I look for a new read.

Has your TBR pile managed to shrink at all this year?

Preparing for peril,

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,