Monday, February 27, 2017

New Releases: The Ferryman Institute and All Our Wrong Todays

After these two review copies, I will be caught up on reviews. Yay! Considering this first one was the book that finally interested me after the election last November, you will agree that I have been in a bit of a slump. It's nice to have the time and will to do some of the things I love again.

The Ferryman Institute by Colin Gigl was indeed the book that finally got me reading again after the shock and horrors of the election. I needed a true escape and I found it with Charlie Dawson, ferryman extraordinaire. Ferrymen are the ones who are there at the moment you die, meant to help you head to the afterlife. Charlie is the best at the Institute but the job has taken its toll on his sanity and he wants nothing more than to leave and rest. Then he gets a mysterious assignment where he is given a choice whether or not to save someone from suicide. His choice changes everything.

I got so lost in this book. It was deep and dark, delving into hopelessness and depression, but beautiful. There are chase scenes but also long, thoughtful talks with friends. There's even a romance -- though I didn't find it very probable. It reminded me of a Georgette Heyer mystery where two people bicker non-stop through the entire novel and then VOILA, they are madly in love, with no logical reason why. But, as with Heyer's improbable couples, it didn't really affect my enjoyment of the book. I loved its quirkiness and heart and plan on rereading it at some point.

You've probably seen All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai around. It has been getting a lot of press and publicity. It's a pretty basic story -- boy grows up in ideal future, loses his mom and best girl, messes with his dad's time machine, and inadvertently screws everything up, giving us, well, the "dystopian today" you and I are living now. He then has to decide whether to find a way to reset the future, restoring the people who ended up not existing in this timeline, or accepting the current timeline where his mom is still alive, his best girl is even better, and there's a sister who he is beginning to love.

Mastai is a screenwriter and this book definitely reads like a movie. That's not a bad thing. In fact, if you're having trouble focusing on books for any particular reason right now, this might be a good one to pick up. The time travel is very well thought out and is different from any method or process I've read about before. There are also some serious philosophical questions to ponder and I definitely kept thinking about them days after finishing the book. (Also, I have an extra ARC of this one if anyone wants me to send it their way.)

Wishing for that alternate today or an unexpected way out,

Sunday, February 26, 2017

New Releases: Traveler and Freya

I wanted to get a couple of reviews written before March Magics so today you get two YA new releases --

Traveler by L.E. DeLano was released a couple of weeks ago and is the story of Jessa, a girl who is having very vivid dreams of a boy that she doesn't even know. When she finally sees him one day in real life, she isn't quite sure how to react -- especially because moments later, he saves her from certain death. It turns out that the boy, Finn, is from an alternate reality and can travel through mirrors. He's come to tell Jessa that she can do the same ... and that Jessas in other realities are being killed. Whether he can save her in this world depends on if she can trust him and figure out who is out to get her and why.

This book is part of Feiwel and Friends' Swoon Reads crowdsourced imprint. I'm glad that DeLano finally got her chance to be published because this was a compelling story. I loved the idea of travelling to parallel universes by trading places with the "you" in that place. The peril in the story seemed real, the mystery was complex, and the characters with disabilities or struggles were portrayed honestly but with sensitivity. I especially appreciated that a variety of kids were shown who were on the autism spectrum because it is indeed a spectrum. I did have a bit of trouble siding with Jessa because she was all over the place and not always in a tolerable way. Also, there was no indication until the very last moments that this was going to be the start of a series and it had very little closure. It seemed like the middle of one big story instead of the end of the first chapter of that tale, if you know what I mean. I'm not sure if I will look for the next book in the series but I did enjoy reading this one overall.

Freya by Matthew Laurence will be out in mid-March (but I'll be busy then so I'm mentioning it early) and is pretty much an intersection between one of my favorite books, American Gods, and one of my favorite t.v. shows, The Librarians. As you can guess from the title, this is the story of Freya, Norse goddess of love and war, and where she is now -- a mental hospital in Orlando, Florida. She's been hiding out voluntarily for decades, weakened from a lack of belief and weary from being around for a thousand years. She still has value to someone though because a man shows up, offering her strength and believers, if she will only come and use her skills to help the corporation he works for. She refuses and immediately becomes a target for destruction. Her only chances for survival are the acquisition of a high priest, Nathan (who she abducts from the hospital), and the will to overcome her own godly nature.

With just a few iffy descriptions (ie., lots of throwing around of the word "crazy" at the beginning of the story in the hospital) that may have gotten fixed before the final version, this story was incredibly fun and action-packed. Freya a.k.a. Sara was a great main character and I really enjoyed exploring her inner self. The tie-ins to Walt Disney World were amusing and the other gods were varied and interesting. Even the villains had some depth to their characters, which made for a more satisfying read. There was also a nice mix of magic and technology, of ancient and modern.

And unlike in the other book, it became apparent at just the right time in this story that it was the first in a series and I couldn't be happier. Laurence could only introduce so many gods in this book and there are many more that I'm now dying to see in a modern setting. I also wouldn't mind if this got picked up and made into a movie because there are so many strong females and good magic and action in it! However, I would want Freya to be played as a curvy and beautiful size-10, the way she is described in the story, and not as the svelte girl the publisher chose to put on the cover. (Sorry, svelte girl.)

Transporting and transfiguring,

Saturday, February 18, 2017

New-ish Release: The Great Derangement

After I decided to make climate change and the environment my issue, I searched "climate change" on my library system webpage and first got a lot of either kid books or books that looked overly alarmist. Then I was surprised to see a recent book by a well-known novelist, Amitav Ghosh. The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, is based on four lectures that Ghosh gave at the University of Chicago in 2015. It's a short book--only 160 pages--but I'm still absorbing and thinking about its ideas weeks later.

The book is divided into three parts. The first, which takes up half the book, is called Stories and it mainly explores the current state of fiction and literature and why Ghosh believes it rarely addresses climate change even though this is something looming quite large on our human horizon. He wonders why books that work all-too-real future scenarios into their plots are immediately shunted off into the fantastical bin of science fiction. He also tells his own story of being caught in a freak weather event as a young man and how this underlying story in his life has occasionally surfaced in his own fiction. This section of the book was frankly completely unexpected but utterly fascinating as a reader and I can only imagine it would be even more so for a writer. The details are explored in both his home country of India and his adopted home of New York City and it was eye-opening to explore the problem of climate change perception from opposite sides of the globe.

The second part of the book is called History and was equally fascinating. Finding out little known tidbits about Asian history (like the history of oil production in Burma) and exploring the effects of colonialism on emerging carbon-based economies was yet another aspect of climate change that I had never considered. One tends to gloss over the past and look to the future for solutions but an understanding of the past enhances the picture of what we are facing and why.

The final part of the book is Politics and was every bit as disheartening and frustrating as you might imagine. I was honestly in tears while reading one passage that voiced the futility of many of our efforts as individuals and citizens because of the far-stronger forces of corporations whose interests do not line up with an effort to combat climate change. As I was making calls to my Senators denouncing a political appointee who obviously detested the organization that he was about to head, I was forced to acknowledge that my voice would never be as loud as the dollars that were flowing in to the opposing party from powerful fossil fuel barons. I honestly set down the book at that point and questioned my choice to choose this issue as my battleground. But eventually I picked it up again and found small glimmers of hope -- from the words of Pope Francis in his Encyclical Laudato Si' in regards to our stewardship of the Earth to the ability of the U.S. Defense Department to ignore the politics of the day and focus on the real effects climate change will have on our nation and world.

This book is not an easy read, probably more so because it doesn't delve into any of the unemotional science of climate change but rather into the souls, imaginations, and intentions of flawed humans. But, if we are to survive the Great Derangement--this time when we focus too much on self when a global viewpoint is essential to survival as a species--we need a change in attitude and focus as much as we need technological innovation. I am grateful to Ghosh for tackling this tough subject in a completely unique way.

Turning my inner eye outward,

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

#MarchMagics / #DWJMarch Reading Schedule

Time has flown by and there are only two weeks left until we get to officially celebrate Terry Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones! As previously announced, I've crazily scheduled eight books for the month so feel free to pick and choose your own reads and rereads. I may be the only one who is going to read all eight but I've thoughtfully added up the pages and divided them out and spaced the dates to make enough time for all of the varying lengths of books. Why yes, I am a nerd.

Friday, 3/3 - Charmed Life (DWJ)
Monday, 3/6 - Mort (TP)
Friday, 3/10 - The Lives of Christopher Chant (DWJ)
Tuesday, 3/14 - Reaper Man (TP)
Friday, 3/17 - Conrad's Fate (DWJ)
Weds, 3/22 - Soul Music (TP)
Sunday, 3/26 - The Pinhoe Egg (DWJ)
Friday, 3/31 - Thief of Time (TP)

Because many of us are stressed these days, I want to keep the work part of the month low. I'll have a post up on each of these dates with a question or thought for us to discuss. Feel free to join in even if you've just read the book in the past. All DWJ and Sir Pterry fans are welcome!

Preparing for joy,

Friday, February 10, 2017

New-ish Releases: Kid Power Galore

Because I focused so much on my TBR last year, I ended up with a teetering stack of review copies. My goal now is to clear most of them out by the summer. These are three middle grade books that have come out recently.

First up is the delightful The Adventurer's Guide to Successful Escapes by Wade Albert White. It's the story of Anne, an orphan who sets out on an unexpected but apparently fated quest to find out what exactly she is the rightful heir to/of. With a girl of color as the main protagonist (woot!), this story also has a surprising mix of fantasy and science fiction elements that all come together to create a dangerous but exciting world. Two of the three main kiddos are girls and most of the adults (and the dragon) are female as well, which was refreshing. This is the first in a new series but it wraps up nicely enough to be a standalone.

Next is Shadowsmith by Ross MacKenzie, the story of Kirby, a Scottish boy whose mom is in a coma after a freak accident. He soon starts to have a sneaking suspicion that the spiders he keeps seeing are actually watching him and then a girl named Amelia shows up and says that this is exactly what is happening. That's the least of Kirby's problems though because things quickly escalate and he must fight a host of creatures to save his world and his mom. This story was dark and frightening, even for me. It's definitely for older middle school kids who love to be scared. The peril was realistic but so were the relationships between Kirby and his dad and Kirby and Amelia which made it well-worth reading, even if I had to stick to reading it during daylight hours!

Finally, I read Sea Change by Frank Viva. This one is an illustrated short novel about Eliot, a boy who gets sent from his Canadian home out to a fishing village in Nova Scotia to spend the summer with his great uncle. He thinks he is being sent to the worst place imaginable but instead finds that there are many things that make Point Aconi special. Life isn't perfect there but it becomes the place where Eliot grows up and learns about life. Viva himself spent summers in Point Aconi as a boy and his love for the place and its quirky people really comes through. One warning though, there is an abusive father in the story, which could be a hard topic for some young readers.

Adventuring near and far,

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Summing It Up: January

I liked writing the RMODB summaries at the end of each month last year so I've decided to write up little summaries of what I read each month this year, especially since I'm no longer writing full posts about every single book I read. It's also an easy type of post that I don't have to think too much about but that is also distracting. I need both of those things right now.

I listened to Betsy-Tacy and The Tale of Despereaux for the Top 100 Chapter Books Project over at The Estella Society. I only have three books left for the project (that I've been doing since September 2012) and they're all rereads (Pippi Longstocking, Anne of Green Gables, and Charlotte's Web). I already know they're all good so I'm looking forward to these comfort reads over the next month and a half.

I also listened to The Raven Boys (first in Maggie Stiefvater's Raven Cycle) and Wintersmith (third in Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching series), both rereads and both definitely comfort reads. They are what is getting me through the horrors of being an American right now. In fact, I'm currently listening to I Shall Wear Midnight (book 4) and I just downloaded The Dream Thieves (book 2). Maybe when I'm done with these series I will start on Harry Potter or Thursday Next relistens!

I have a couple of review books to tell you about -- All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai, Sea Change by Frank Viva, and Shadowsmith by Ross Mackenzie. They were all good for different reasons so I'll see if I can get posts written up in the next week or so to spread the good word!

Finally, I read The Old Curiosity Shop, my first new Dickens in a while, and I loved it. It was almost more like a Wilkie Collins book with its dark plot and vivid characters. I'm glad that this was the one I happened to pick up at the beginning of this month.

Right now I'm finishing up my first climate change book -- The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable by Amitav Ghosh. I have SO much to say about it so that will be another post you can look forward to soon. Reading about climate change from a non-Western perspective has made a huge different in how I think about it.

It really felt like I didn't read much this month but this isn't bad. I'm glad I took the time to gather this all together!

What was your favorite read of January?

Putting one foot ahead of the other,

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

New-ish Release: Ghostland

This past weekend I participated in the 24 in 48 Readathon and the book I started with turned out to be a great one and probably my favorite of the weekend -- Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey. On the surface, this is a collection of some of the different kinds of hauntings, grouped by the types of places where they happen -- private houses, commercial buildings, civic buildings and graveyards, and whole cities. The wonderful surprise of the book is the fact that Dickey talks mostly about the social reasons for believing in ghosts, the shortcomings of local folklore, the whitewashing of ghost stories, and other tangents. This was an incredible social science volume and I found a wealth of things to think about.

For example, one of the locations that claims to be highly haunted is an area of Richmond, Virginia called Shockoe Bottom, one of the two main ports for the reception and trade of slaves from Africa. It seems obvious that there would be copious amounts of pain and sadness in this area, right? But here's the catch. All of the ghost stories attached to local bars and stores are about WHITE ghosts. Yep. But Dickey is smart and so he spends almost all of the chapter talking about all of the horrors and history that could have/should have been preserved by ghostly means and only briefly mentions the actual stories that you will hear in Richmond. I loved this.

With very thoughtful assessments of asylums, prisons, and even religions, I couldn't get enough of this book and I plan to buy a copy (this was a library book) and use it as a launching place to learn more about some of these issues (ie, Spiritualism as a feminist movement, the history of Kirkbride psychiatric hospitals, and the haunting trope of "Indian burial grounds").

Digging up the past,

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Announcing: #MarchMagics and #DWJMarch, 2017 Edition

On my post about Discworldathon, Lory and I were going back and forth in the comments about which Pratchett books we could focus on for this year's March Magics event. She suggested the Death books as nobody else on the schedule had chosen them and then, all of a sudden, I had a super fun idea!

(Sidenote: If you've somehow missed this event I host annually, DWJ March began in March 2012 as a celebration of Diana Wynne Jones and last year I added Terry Pratchett as he had passed the year before. I changed the name to March Magics but a few of us didn't want to let go of the DWJ March name so now it kind of has two names. I guess this is the 6th year of the event!)

I've wanted to focus DWJ March on Chrestomanci for a while and there are four main books and they happen to be about nine-lived enchanters. When paired with four of the five DEATH books (I'm skipping Hogfather since it will have its own celebration in December), we end up with ...

A Matter of Lives and DEATH

(My alternate event name was The Lives and DEATH Brigade ... Anyone #teamlogan out there?)

To give all of you enough time to dust off personal copies, shop, or get your library holds in on all eight books, here's the basic schedule:

Week 1: Charmed Life and Mort
Week 2: The Lives of Christopher Chant and Reaper Man
Week 3: Conrad's Fate and Soul Music
Week 4: The Pinhoe Egg and The Thief of Time

I'll post the actual dates for each book around the middle of February. Also, I would love to have guest posters to share thoughts, come up with discussion questions, or whatever else you think would be fun to do with any of these books. If you're interested in being in charge of one or more of these books, let me know in the comments or send me an email.

Are you excited about the theme this year? Will you try and read all eight books? How many will be rereads? (Seven of the eight will be rereads for me and I'm so excited!)

Feeling the magic building up,