Monday, August 11, 2014

New Releases: The Eye of Zoltar and Marina

Even though I bought The Eye of Zoltar a couple of months ago from the UK (it doesn't release in the US until October), I didn't read it immediately because, once again, it would leave me without an unread Jasper Fforde book on my shelves. But I recently needed a comfort read and nothing works better for that than Fforde so I had to give in. This is the third Last Dragonslayer book and it was surprisingly sad in parts. It was also surprisingly good, possibly the best of the series -- despite not having the Quarkbeast in most of the story. The development of the characters (especially Jennifer Strange) is coming along nicely and there was a great addition who I hope will at least have a minor role in the next story. I look forward to rereading all three when the fourth (and the last, according to Fforde) book comes out. I don't know how long I will have to wait though. His website also mentions a "standalone thriller of some sort" as his next book.

I also didn't want to read Marina right away, mostly because Carlos Ruiz Zafón's books are perfect fall reads and we're so close to RIP season -- but then I couldn't leave this gem sitting on my review shelf. It has a gorgeous cover and it is the final book in a loose collection of YA horror tales, following The Prince of Mist, The Midnight Palace and The Watcher in the Shadows. He wrote all of these books in the 1990s, before he wrote Shadow of the Wind.

I could actually see some of the seeds of Shadow in Marina. It was creepy and quite gothic and was another of CRZ's love letters to Barcelona, a city that I'm now equally excited and frightened to visit. It's the story of fifteen-year old Oscar, who is drawn to what he believes is an abandoned house, only to then be drawn into the quiet, mysterious lives of Marina and her father. Marina and Oscar are also dragged into a much more sinister mystery that begins in a graveyard and ends in flames. This book had a heartbreaking ending but the journey was well worth it. It had a slightly slow start but then it picked up and I couldn't put it down until I was done. I'm sad that this is the last of CRZ's early books to be translated to English.

I promised Trish that I would suggest which of these CRZ books to read first (they are all stand-alones). After finishing all four, I honestly can't decide. They are all equally good but different, so choose whatever you're in the mood for -- a ghost in Bombay, a monster in Barcelona, or one of two seaside terrors. You can't go wrong with any of them.

Back to waiting,

p.s. I received an ARC of Marina from the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Why Do They Keep Sending Me Lists?!?

random sunset photo by k
My email inbox has recently been torturing me as list after list drops in, taunting me with my incomplete reading canon. Okay, so maybe it's not that horrifying but lists always make me reevaluate my book choices and celebrate those ones that I have already read.

First up was Book Depository's The Best Kids' Books Ever. There are 99 books, broken down into about 20 books per age group--0-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12, and teen/YA. Some fabulous books are on these lists, both old and new titles and a few that I definitely want to add to my TBR (mostly from the 9-12 list).

Next, was Amazon's 100 Children's Books to Read in a Lifetime. This was the list I was most skeptical of but it's actually a beautifully-crafted list with a brief description of why each book made it to the list. I've read 74 of the books and I don't really disagree with any of them. They're good classics with a few newer ones sprinkled in. Some of the books are seemingly on the list for nostalgic reasons (ones like Hardy Boys and Pat the Bunny) but none of them are bad books either.

And finally, I got Powell's 25 Books to Read Before You Die. This is an interesting list of, not classics, but books that have "the ability to change the way you think and feel and reflects our diverse interests here at Powell's". I've only read five of these books on the list but they are definitely game-changer type books and, probably not coincidentally, five of my favorite books.

So, if you're in the mood for a book list, either to look for a great gift for a kid in your life or to broaden your own reading horizons, dive in!

Sharing the obsession,

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

New Release: The Visitors

When The Visitors by Sally Beauman arrived in the mail, I read the synopsis and thought "whoever sent this knows me well!" Then I remembered that I requested it from the publisher so apparently I'm the one who knows myself well ... but still! It was nice to have it arrive and still be excited about it. Now that I've finished it, I still feel the same. I loved this story.

Moving between the present-day life of Lucy Payne as an nonagenerian in England and her childhood trips to Egypt at a significant point in history, the season before and during the discovery of the tomb of King Tutankhamun, this is an historical fiction that makes use of all the known accounts of this event. Though the main character and her family are fictional, many of the characters are not. Together, they all form a narrative tapestry of friendship, competition, belief, memory, loss and death.

photo by k
I've had a fascination with this time and place in history for many years and am pretty well read in both fiction and non-fiction about it. This book definitely had the possibility of being a disappointment but it wasn't in the slightest. From modern-day Highgate to the Winter Palace hotel in Luxor to Lord Carnarvon's Highclere Castle (yes, Downton Abbey) and back to the Valley of the Kings, all of the settings were appealing and believable. The research was impeccable and I truly enjoyed this return to the tomb of the Boy King, to view his treasures but also to consider them in context of the true treasures of friendship and scholarship. This book was a treat.

Re-discovering everything,

p.s. I received an ARC of this book from the publisher.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

New Release: The Care and Management of Lies

Usually when there's a new Jacqueline Winspear book, I have to put my blinders on and avoid all details about them because they're new Maisie Dobbs stories and I'm still about three books behind the latest one (on purpose). But now she's written a stand-alone novel, The Care and Management of Lies, a very in-the-moment story of the First World War, so I got to read this one right away.

As you might expect from Winspear, this isn't a big action story. Rather, it's about the relationships between the characters, old school friends Kezia Marchant and Thea Brissenden, and their maturation into adults as they face the trials that come with a nation entering war. It's quiet and poignant, heartbreaking but also uplifting. It's a reminder that no lives were left untouched but that many people rose to the occasion and became the best version of themselves that they could be during a dark time. Winspear is really an expert at bringing this period of history to life.


p.s. I received a galley of this book from the publisher.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Short Story Summer: Update One

Apologies for the brief absence. We had something like fourteen 80 degree plus days in a row (that's hot for Seattle since we don't have air conditioning so whatever temperature it is outside is what temperature it is inside) and I didn't feel much like having a hot laptop anywhere near me! Now that it has cooled back down and a bit of rain is headed our way, I feel like doing a bit of catch-up blogging.

I am making progress on my short story summer, having read two anthologies so far --

Queen Victoria's Book of Spells: An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling is a collection of stories set in Victorian or near-Victorian times and exploring various forms of magic. There were a bunch of well-known authors with stories in here -- Jane Yolen, Gregory Maguire, Catherynne M. Valente, Caroline Stevermer and more. Of the eighteen stories, I really enjoyed about a third of them. Two of my favorites were "Smithfield" by James P. Blaylock (ghostly photography!) and "Phosphorus" by Veronica Schanoes (historical fiction with a bit of voodoo). And the very best story, in my opinion, was "The Vital Importance of the Superficial" by Ellen Kushner and Caroline Stevermer, written as a series of letters between two young people falling in love and dealing with really fun magic. Overall, I found this collection to be hit or miss but it has inspired me to look for the novels of a few of these authors.

I've read a couple of Mike Ashley's Mammoth anthologies and really enjoyed them. He's quite talented at collecting a cohesive set of stories, some of them quite obscure. This one was The Mammoth Book of Roaring Twenties Whodunnits and I thought ten of the twenty three stories were great fun. The others dealt with boxers and mobsters, things I'm really not interested in. I was hoping for more Bright Young Things but that's okay. It was fun to immerse myself in another time and to meet all sorts of crazy characters, even the ones I found distasteful. I've jotted down a couple of authors to investigate in the future and I look forward to my next Mammoth book.

I've been reading some novels recently but I'm going to give a couple more anthologies a go before the end of the summer.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

New Release: World of Trouble

Next week, the world will finally get the third book in The Last Policeman trilogy, World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters. I didn't expect this series to become one of my all-time favorites but somehow it did. Between the first book (The Last Policeman), the second (Countdown City), and this one, I only spent about four days reading. I just couldn't put these books down. I can't say if it was the sense of urgency of an impending asteroid strike or the need to help Detective Henry Palace find what he was looking for or simply the morbid desire to watch the breakdown of civilized society as the end of the world approached. Whatever it was, this was an incredible ride and I'm sorry it's over.

I feel like this post should be longer because I enjoyed this series so much but I don't know what to say besides READ IT.

Out with a bang,

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Six Years! of Blogging

The light breaks through
Z and I were sitting there yesterday morning (let's say morning because otherwise our summer laziness will be exposed), eating our cereal, when I suddenly realized that it was July and I needed to look up what date our blogiversary was so that I didn't miss it. For some reason, I can never remember it. Well, it turns out that it's TODAY, July 8th.
I never knew what the blog would blossom into.
Six years ago, I had a four-year-old preschooler who was needing less of my attention and I was finally able to start reading again during the previous months. I wasn't super familiar with anything but personal blogs (which I wasn't very interested in writing) but thought that I could probably write something about the books I was reading. I scoped out the existing book blogger community, pondered using an alias (no for me, yes for Z), came up with a catchy name (assonance, ftw), and decided to try it out for a year or so. At the time, I had a TBR stack of probably about 15-20 books.
An RIP-worthy photo!
Six years later, this is my 1204th post (in 2192 days). I've received 6231 comments. I've posted more of my photographs than I care to count. I've given away 24 books (on my own, with a couple of publisher-supported giveaways on top of that), 5 gift cards, and a necklace. I've participated in 8 read-a-thons, a couple of book/letter swaps, and lots of challenges (including 5 years so far of my favorite R.I.P. Challenge). I've also hosted three years of Diana Wynne Jones March and written about chapter books for almost two years on The Estella Society. And I now have a TBR of almost 200 books.
I'm not kidding about being lucky.
I've been so lucky to meet some real friends through blogging and to have been exposed to so many books I never would have found on my own. I really do want to thank my readers and friends for being there with me throughout this journey. I really don't want to miss anyone but I don't want to miss this chance either so, in no particular order (and with profuse apologies if I've missed you) ...

Thank you to

(deep breath)
(another deep breath)
(and another)
(one last breath)
(okay, I lied)
... and I think I might be short a Chris and a Jenny

Thank you all for your love of books, for sharing your favorites with me and for letting me share mine with you.
Yep, I pulled out the Neil picture again.
Finally, I want to remember how lucky I've been to meet some of my favorite authors -- Neil Gaiman, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Catherynne M. Valente, Ransom Riggs. Did I mention meeting Neil? I'm not sure if I did.

What am I hoping for the year ahead? I would love to get a chance to meet more bloggers, especially if I do actually make it to the UK as planned. I would love to meet more authors (fingers crossed for a Jasper Fforde Seattle visit because I've always been too nervous to go meet him). And, well, I would like to read more books and share them with all of you. How does that sound?

Stepping out toward seven,

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Playing at a Friend's House Today

Today you can peruse my list of books that "moved me" over at Tif Talks Books. Tif is in the process of moving to another state and she had this really fun idea for guest posts. Head over there and let me know if any of these books moved you too.

Sharing and caring,

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