Monday, August 26, 2013

Peace Like a River - Have you read this book yet? Go, get it, and start reading now!

b Peace Like a River by Leif Enger:  This book.  Wow.  It has been on my list for a long time, and I will not waste time kicking myself for not reading it when it first came out or in any subsequent years.  It is amazing, and I love it.  There is something so incredibly kind about it that makes me want to go out and read it again as soon as I finish because I don't want to let the characters and their voices go.  There were things about the audiobook that I wasn't fond of, but on the whole, the reading of the story was very good.  Chad Lowe helped to bring each character to life with a different, distinct voice, and his narrator's voice just made this a wonderful story to listen to. 

The characters were wonderful.  They didn't always do the right things, and the consequences were often hard to swallow.  I got angry, I laughed, I cried.  The plot wove together beautifully, and the stories just rolled out.  I loved the journey; I really didn't want it to end.  And then what an ending.  Holy cow.   

I liked what it had to say about miracles, about how they intrude and make people uncomfortable because they overturn the natural order of things.  This God is not tame or predictable, and His people suffer.

I wish I could communicate to you how much I loved listening to this book.  There was a sale at Half-Price Books while I was finishing it, and I went to 4 different stores before finding a good paperback copy.  I want to see if the physical reading experience is as good as I think it will be.  I suspect this will be a book/audiobook I will revisit many times over the coming years.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Middlesex - no wonder it won the Pulitzer and the Audie

b Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, read by Kristoffer Taboli: The problem with listening to a really good audio book is that for a while, every other audiobook you listen to will make you kind of sad because of its wasted potential.  Middlesex is the story of three generations of a family starting in a Greek-occupied area of Turkey and moving to Detroit in the 20s and then all the way up through maybe the 90s in Germany.  It follows three generations and covers some history of the Greeks in Turkey and a lot of the history of Detroit.  It made the recent problems with Detroit declaring bankruptcy hit home a lot more to me. 

I knew absolutely nothing about the city of Detroit, even though it was rather close to where I grew up.  Eugenides grew up there, and he brought the city's history to life brilliantly.  (All of that stuff about the beginnings of Islam in America were just fascinating.  This book covers a ton of unexpected ground in an interesting way.) 

The story is epic but deeply personal.  It dragged in the third quarter for me (I find stories of blooming sexuality uninteresting, even when they are complicated with hermaphroditism), but I really liked the smooth weaving of the timelines together by the omniscient narrator.  I also liked Cal's narrative voice in general.  The balance of humorous foreshadowing (always referring to Cal's brother as "Chapter 11") and down-played pathos was well done.  I found myself sympathetic to characters I didn't think I would. 

This is just a great ride, especially when performed by an amazing, 110%-engaged narrator who brings each character to life separately and pulls you in.  (Especially great if you only paid two dollars for it.)  I don't know if the physical book-reading experience would be comparable, so if you have long drives, give this audiobook a try.  Just don't listen to any other audiobooks for a couple of months.  Maybe then you'll be able to avoid the feeling of being let down by lesser audiobook narrators. : )

Monday, August 19, 2013

Hungry Monkey: Making Me Wish I Had a Cook

b Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father's Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater by Matthew Amster-Burton:  This was a fun little book about this dad who wanted his child to be a foodie from birth, not a picky eater like all those other kids.  Reality is a bit different, but it doesn't stop him from trying.  Each chapter deals with food in a different context (eating out, farmer's markets, preschool snacks, etc.), and each chapter (except the first) contains recipes, some of which I really want to try eating sometime.  Mmmmm, food.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Hunter's Oath - the pretty cover makes up for the publisher's lies

b Hunter's Oath by Michelle West:  I must admit: I bought this book for its cover.  Well, I found it because of its author (a buddy from my bookstore days really loves this author), but I adored the cover colors enough to get it when I had a coupon for the used bookstore.  It has blue and green and every combination of them both, and I am a sucker for those lovely jewel-tone colors.  Of course, before I bought it, I looked everywhere to make sure it was a standalone novel.  There was no indication on the back cover, any of the inside covers, or at the end of the book that this was anything but a standalone novel. 

It's a fantasy with some fascinating mythology and one of those characters I usually adore who has pretty much sacrificed everything for some higher purpose and is somewhat miserable.  (This is a repeating theme.)  You're pretty sure it's a good purpose, but she has to be ruthless to stay on task, and there are some devastating moments, as a result.  She doesn't live in/experience time like everyone else, so most of the time, her early experiences are confusing and (needlessly?) mysterious.  Things start to build and come together slightly more coherently by the end when the plot threads begin to intertwine.  The other main protagonist is a nice guy, and you're pretty sure he is totally going to get the short straw in the end.  The occasional foreshadowing seems to support this theory, which may be why it was so hard for me to get into things in the beginning.  I mean, if you're told this guy is going to die horribly by the end of the story, the nicer of a guy he is, the less you want to get attached.

It's not brilliant or anything, and it's a bit difficult to get into (I am told this is kind of typical for this author), and it uses some techniques that I'm not fond of in my current less-than-mental-best state, but it's pretty compelling once you get involved with a lot of the characters. I used it as an exercise book (book to read while exercising), and that backfired a bit in the beginning when it was hard to get attached to, but towards the end, it was causing me to extend my exercise time unwisely.  And then, it just ended. 

I was wondering for about the last quarter of the book how it could possibly end satisfyingly in just that book, but there were no indications it had a sequel or was part of a series.  By the end, I knew there had to be another book.  This fact was pretty irksome.  I don't like being deceived like that.  But I'm still reading the sequel.  I'm not sure what that says about me.  The sequel has a shiny cover.  I'm so weak.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Guardian of the Dead: the first book I've read with an important asexual character

b Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey: You know, mythology is so R-rated.  I forget that sometimes because the United States' national myths are kind of weak in the violence and weirdness department.  (Not that I mind.)  This book is set around a boarding school in urban-ish New Zealand.  Ellie is 17, a bit overweight, and apathetic.  Her best friend Kevin has just told her that he's asexual, and she has an increasing crush on Mark, the school's dark and odd mystery boy.  Then there are these murders and this extremely creepy woman and the fact that Ellie starts seeing things no one else seems to see.

Those things are out of this world.  I like reading books that involve myths (real or fictional, as in the Queen's Thief books by Megan Whalen Turner).  These kinds of stories peoples tell about themselves are a fascinating way to learn about other cultures.  There is the added interest here in that the mythology is from the aboriginal culture, and Ellie in particular is from the culture that conquered the old one.  I am coming at it from a totally different culture, but it's a conquering culture as well, so there is an echo for me of the richness of the native cultures that were over-run when mine took over.

Mostly, this is just a weird fantasy adventure.  I found out about it in the comment thread of a publisher's weekly post about the need for diversity in YA literature.  (I wrote 5 responses to it, starting here.)  I was surprised there were any books that featured important asexual characters.  That this one's asexuality was actually central to part of the plot impressed me.  At first it just seemed like a clumsy attempt to tack on an unusual sexual orientation, but then it was necessary, and I was more impressed.  And then kind of taken aback by the mythology, which was, well, as dark as some of the really dark European stuff and way more explicitly sexual.  Definitely an interesting read with some real tragedy mixed in.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Clockwork Princess or how can I cry during this much of a single book?

b Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare: If I thought the last book was full of sad and heartwrenching, it was light, fluffy cake compared with this final book.  I think there were maybe, oh, 35 pages I read while I was not crying.  Even Magnus Bane's awesomeness could not keep the tears from falling. 

More of the past is revealed, and pretty much none of it is happy.  There are some touching redemptive sacrifices and some satisfying deaths.  There is a nicely surprising resolution to the evil plot.  Many other loose ends are tied up.  There is a happy ending, and then there is a lovely epilogue that I totally also cried through.  The epilogue is apparently tied in with the last book of the Mortal Instruments series, which is coming out next year, so I guess I will have to re-read them all again when that one comes out.  Oh, darn.  Maybe I won't get so dehydrating on the second reading . . .

When I was online trying to find out when the last Mortal Instruments book would come out, I found out that there will be a book of short stories.  Oh, Magnus Bane, you are awesome.  Finding out that you will get your own book of short stories makes me happy.  Short stories seem the right amount to showcase what makes you great without you getting on my nerves.

Also, there will be a new series with different characters from Mortal Instruments.  And there will NOT be a love triangle.  Whether that means there will not be romantic geometry is a bit unclear.  I'm looking forward to it anyway.

I've read online reviews claiming that this series isn't worth reading because it is exactly like The Mortal Instruments because it has Shadowhunters, Downworlders, and a love triangle.  Seriously, people?  Of course there are similiarities.  It's a prequel.  It's supposed to be connected to the later-in-time MI series.  And love triangles are at the dramatic heart of any number of stories through the ages. And the construction of the two triangles are very different.  The resolutions are really different, too.  I appreciate the idea that one can love two people equally, and I'm glad that particular triangle worked out eventually into a happy sort of ending.  Anyway, maybe you just need to space the readings out to not get burned out on the same author's works?

The story was compelling, the characters were interesting, there was humor and drama and a good mix of interesting elements.  I was glad it was a trilogy and that things wrapped up well in that time frame.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Clockwork Prince: Vindication of the demon pox theory

b Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare: Demon pox totally exists!  So, bad stuff happened at the end of the first book.  There are those within the Shadowhunters who decide to use that as a reason to try to kick Charlotte out as leader of the London Institute.  Lots of politics and intrigue get thrown into the mix of action, romance, drama, and mystery.  There are some unexpected betrayals and some unexpected loyalties.  Tessa learns more about who she is, and some of the Shadowhunters suck even more in this book.  There were certainly some stinkers among them in the Mortal Instruments series, but I feel like a lot of these folks are even more vile, sometimes making me hope they have terrible deaths.  Then I feel bad about that.

I expected the choice from the love triangle to be dragged out, but it resolves itself in a horribly messy fashion in the second book.  For now.  Oh, it's heart-wrenching.

I haven't read the other series in a while, so I don't always remember names, but there are some that I just seem inclined not to trust from the beginning.  And some that confuse me (wait, wasn't that the name of a bad guy later, but this guy seems really good?).  A lot happened in this volume, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it all concludes in the last volume.  There are a lot of unhappy people at this point, and I really want them to be happy in the end.  Right now, it doesn't seem possible.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Reading the Clockwork Angel again

b Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare: I read this first book in the trilogy when it was released.  Then I waited for the rest of the series to come out.  Will is a Shadowhunter with a bad attitude; his parabatai Jem does his best to keep Will's recklessness in check while dying from an addiction to a demon drug that he can't live without.  Tessa is an unfortunate American who came to England at the behest of her brother Nate after the death of her only other living relative, her Aunt Harriet.  Upon arriving, she is forcibly picked up by two very creepy individuals and forced by them to learn how to control a power she never even knew she had.  She is rescued by Will and Jem and then taken to the London Institute where she learns about Shadowhunters (in all their ugliness and glory) and Downworlders while trying to discover who (and what) she really is.  And who she loves.

Magnus Bane is awesome.  There are a lot of other good characters in here with familiar names (if you've read the Mortal Instruments), and things are rather mysterious.  There is amazing loyalty alongside awful betrayals, action, adventure, mayhem, and manners in an interestingly steampunk-tinged Victorian England.  I liked it.