Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Wolf Hall (The Thomas Cromwell Trilogy #1) by Hilary Mantel - Review

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Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel traces Thomas Cromwell's rise to power in Henry VIII's court. Cromwell was essentially a nobody - a son of a blacksmith - who becomes Cardinal Wolsey's aide and a well-known lawyer, and eventually King Henry VIII's most trusted advisor. The story is primarily set between 1527 and 1535 as Cromwell, a proponent of the English Reformation, is working on Henry VIII's divorce from his first wife and union with Anne Boleyn.

This novel is an excellent work of historical fiction, to the point where you can almost forget it's a fictional account. It's thought-provoking, atmospheric, and commands your full attention. The cast of characters is broad, and well known to those knowledgeable on the Tudor court, but she has really succeeded in making Cromwell, often portrayed as a villain, her own and a sympathetic character at that.

Unfortunately, sometimes this novel is a little difficult to follow with the use constant use of "he" instead of names. It's hard to keep track of which character is speaking at any given time. It's also told from an unusual and sometimes jarring point of view.

I'll admit, I bumped this up on my reading list partially because I've been enjoying the PBS Masterpiece miniseries. I loved being able to find the scenes and dialog that appear in the show, sometimes even word-for-word. I don't often say this, but I actually prefer the adaptation. The casting, costuming, sets, direction, and even lighting make it well worth viewing, even if you couldn't get into the dense novel.

I sped through this novel between April 27 - 29, 2015 and my review is also on Goodreads.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Books Which Feature Characters Who Time Travel

Tuesday is here again and this week the theme for Top Ten Tuesday, a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is Books Which Feature Characters Who ______.  I decided to choose time travel - partly because I've recently rewatched the Back to the Future trilogy for the umpteenth time and I've been on a bit of a Doctor Who kick lately.  Honestly, though, I've always been intrigued by the concept.  Below are some of my favorite books with characters who time travel, in alphabetical order.

11/22/63 by Stephen King

All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

The Reluctant Assassin by Eoin Colfer

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle

So, what do you think of my list?  Are there any you love or is there a time travel book you'd recommend?

Fairest (The Lunar Chronicles #3.5) by Marissa Meyer - Review

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Think you know Queen Levana from The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer? Think again! Fairest, a prequel of sorts, tells the story leading up to her glamourous rise to power. We get an in-depth look at her life growing up with Channery, her skill and determination when it comes to glamour and manipulation, and how she becomes the twisted villain we know.

I can't express how excited I was to finally pick this up from the library. This series offers such great retellings of classic fairy tales, and this prequel is no exception. I loved getting to see Levana's development. From her family relationships to forced romance, it's easy to follow her trajectory into the villain she becomes. The Levana we're introduced to is a lonely little girl who just wants to be loved, but we see her sociopathic tendencies really start to come out as she learns to get what she wants by creating glamours. I can appreciate her determination, but what she does by trying to force emotion is undeniably despicable. By the way, we also get to see Selene, Winter, and Jacin as children and a few other familiar figures, as well early development of key events.

Fairest by Marissa Meyer is is an excellent origin story and not to be missed by fans of The Lunar Chronicles. In my opinion, Winter cannot come soon enough!

I read this book on April 27, 2015 and my review is also on Goodreads.

Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal - Review

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Maggie Hope graduated at the top of her Wellesley College class and planned to continue her studies in mathematics at M.I.T., but due to a change of events needed to travel to London to sell her grandmother's old house. Maggie knows she has the skills to make a name for herself in British Intelligence, but her gender only lets her rank as the newest typist at No. 10 Downing Street rather than as one of the Prime Minister's private secretaries. She knows it's not right, but what can she do aside from her best. It turns out that working where she does gets her a lot of access and she quickly finds herself wrapped up in an assassination plot that could potential take down the country at the height of the war.

I started this novel hoping it would be something like the tv shows The Bletchley Circle crossed with Agent Carter, but it just didn't have what made those shows so compelling. A good deal of the story could be cut down and the character's would benefit from being less one-note like they sometimes seem to be. I get what the author is trying to do by modernizing some attitudes and I appreciate it, but sometimes it was a bit much and didn't do the cast any favors. Another two notes about Maggie that got a bit annoying over the course of the story includes how she can't seem to decide how British or American she is and how damp her armpits were from fear at various points. I swear, her armpits began sweating at least four separate times - I didn't really need to know that.

Overall, MacNeal's first book in the Maggie Hope Mysteries series had its moments, but at times it felt overshadowed by soapy melodrama and more talk than action. I may continue to KPO (Keep Plodding On - rather than KBO since we're delicate ladies) with this series, but not anytime soon.

Note: Didn't Diana's description make her sound like Peggy Carter? If only we got to know her, and if only Maggie were that awesome and stylish.

I read this large print novel from April 26 - 27, 2015 and my review is also on Goodreads.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sunday Funday - Bloglovin'

Everyone can now officially Follow my blog with Bloglovin - yay!  Please, follow to your heart's content via email, GFC, or Bloglovin'. If you so desire, you can also find me on Goodreads, Twitter, and even Pinterest.  If you don't want to, though, that's perfectly alright, but you do have the options if you feel so inclined.

I haven't done one of my weekly updates in a while, so I figure it's time to post another one since I have the chance.

The highlight of my week: I went to my first ever Library Conference!  It was fantastic.  I made some new acquaintances, saw some old friends, and came away with so many refreshing ideas.  I even won a prize - how cool is that?

The lowlight: I've been quite sick with a bad cough for the past couple of days.  I'd managed to go more than a whole year without getting sick, but I guess my streak's been broken.  You know when you're so congested you feel like you're swimming?  That's been me.  Anyway, I've nearly finished off a bag of Halls Fruit Breezers in the past two days...thankfully my voice is finally starting to come back and I'm starting to feel a little better!

In reading news, I hoped to be a little further through my tbr pile that I made up not too long ago, but as it's turned out most of my holds came in at that kind of shot that plan.  A library I enjoy visiting is having a Downton Abbey inspired "Keep Calm and Read On" book challenge, so of course I had to take part in that - there's going to be a Downton related prize for the winner, too, and I plan on winning.  My current read, Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal, is for this challenge and I'm hoping I'll enjoy it.  It's the large print edition clocking in at 517 pages (about 300ish pages normally).

Next up for the library holds are Fairest by Marissa Meyer (I'm so excited!!!) and Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (Have you been watching the show? It's so good!).

Finally, I plan to host another giveaway when I reach 10,000 total pageviews on my blog, which is certainly coming up quickly so stay tuned if you're interested in winning free books!

On that note, it's time for me to get back to my recovery.  Thanks for reading and until next time!

A Darker Shade of Magic (A Darker Shade of Magic #1) by V.E. Schwab - Review

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Kell is one of two Antari, a magician who can travel to parallel worlds. He is the adopted Prince of the royals of Red London, a city where magic is respected and flourishes. He officially acts as courier by taking monthly messages to the rulers of the other Londons. These other London's include Grey London, boring and without magic, which is ruled by mad King George III and White London, a place where magic is to be controlled and is draining the city and people, which is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the top. There used to be a place called Black London, but no one speaks of it anymore. Unofficially, he smuggles goods to the highest bidder desperate enough to see a piece of a world they will never be able to visit - a potentially treasonous act. It's not a matter of if he gets caught, but when. When he does get caught and runs to Grey London, he crosses paths with Lila Bard, a thief with dreams of freedom, who robs him, saves him from an enemy, and then forces him to another world for a real adventure.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab is an imaginative and addictive read with brilliant characters, fantastic world-building, and a great magic system. Yes, it does start a little slow, but that allows the author to really delve into the world and characters she's created. Usually, a move like this doesn't work for me, but in this particular case it's handled fantastically, since we get such a good look at Kell, the Maresh royal family, and the City(s). Once the story and plot take off, it never lets up and keeps the reader intrigued and fully engaged in Schwab's lyrical prose.

The cast of characters are completely unforgettable and easy relate with and like. Kell is great as the main character, but Lila completely steals the show. The two of them together (not in a romantic way, thankfully) are a force to be reckoned with. Their dialog is electric, to say the least. In terms of Rhy, the Prince, I really wanted him to get more page-time. Regardless, his connection with Kell is great even if they are polar opposites. I can't leave out Holland, the other Antari. He's the main antagonist, but he's still incredibly interesting to see the differences between him, Kell, and their worlds.

Overall, this story is absolutely beautiful and I highly recommend it for fans of fantasy and sci-fi. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab definitely makes the Best of 2015 list! I can't wait for A Gathering of Shadows to be released on February 23, 2016 - I don't know if I can stand to wait that long!

I read this novel from April 17 - 22, 2015 and my review is also on Goodreads.

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James - Review

Six years after Pride and Prejudice ends is where we pick back up with Elizabeth, Darcy, and their two young boys. Their world seems perfect at Pemberley, Darcy's estate. Jane and Bingley live close and her father comes over often, and Georgiana may have marriage prospects. Preparations are even underway for their annual ball, but the night before it's to take place Lydia hysterically arrives at their home, screaming that her husband, Wickham, has been murdered. Just like that the idyllic calm has been shattered putting Pemberley at the center of a shocking murder mystery.

I was really looking forward to this - a sequel by P.D. James and a murder mystery at that - I mean, it sounds great. Unfortunately, Death Comes to Pemberley just didn't have the charm of Austen's classic at all. It doesn't really hold up as a homage, let alone a sequel. What got me most was the thin characterization of the cast I love. In this novel they come across as so flat (and wooden) rather than as fully fleshed out people. As for the "mystery", it was pretty flimsy and there didn't seem to be any real stakes, or real motivation for that matter. There was also a good deal of repetition when the characters would often reminisce about the events of Pride and Prejudice to the point where I felt I was being hit over the head. It's as if the author was working under the assumption that the reader was completely unfamiliar with Austen's original. One of the most disappointing things to me was also that the characters didn't really sound (or act) like themselves, not even when quoting their own dialog.

Overall, P.D. James has tried to copy the style/diction of Austen, but it's a very poor, plodding copy without that crucial spark of life to make me feel invested in the characters. After about 60 of 291 pages I realized that:

I read this novel from April 25 - 26, 2015 and my review is also on Goodreads.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Intern's Handbook by Shane Kuhn - Review

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John Lago is an assassin disguised as an intern. His employer is HR, Inc. a firm that places interns, in reality assassins, with high level companies to bump off executives for their contractors. Why interns? Because interns are invisible and unmemorable which is exactly how HR, Inc. likes it. John is about to retire at age 25 but first he has one last mission. Why 25? Because people working for free over the age of 25 is suspicious. Here he presents his last mission in handbook format for up-and-coming HR, Inc. assassins to give them insider knowledge from a seasoned killer.

John's last mission is one of his most difficult to date and it's a pretty good mix of crazy and awesome. I liked John's dark sense of humor and his taste in movies is pretty great. Let's just say he's not exactly a likable character, but he is a lot of fun to read about. I also liked Alice's character. She seems to be a such a good match for him, even though she is an (view spoiler). The one thing that made me drop down to a four star rating is the ending which just didn't work for me. Overall, John Lago's action-packed and gory "handbook" is an intensely fun, thrilling, and quick read.

I read this novel from April 22 - 24, 2015 and my review is also on Goodreads.

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman - Review

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In this short story anthology, Neil Gaiman does what he does best and tells engaging fantastical stories. If you enjoy his work, you won't want to miss out on this collection of previously published work plus an entirely new short. My favorites include "The Thing About Cassandra", "Orange", "A Calendar of Tales", "The Case of Death and Honey" (Sherlock Holmes!), "Click-Clack the Rattlebag", "Nothing O'Clock" (Doctor Who!), "The Sleeper and the Spindle" (Sleeping Beauty retelling), and "Black Dog" (the new story featuring Shadow from American Gods.  Definitely a must-read for Gaiman fans!

I read this short story collection on April 24, 2015 and my review is also on Goodreads.

Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie - Review

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You know the classic fairy-tales and you've seen the animated movies about princesses being kind and gentle and in the end get their happily ever afters. The short stories featured in this non-fiction book talk about real princesses who broke the mold and didn't live up to those expectations in various ways. Maybe they fought on the battlefield, maybe they schemed their way to the top, or maybe they were flat out lunatics on their quests to power. Regardless, McRobbie's Princesses Behaving Badly is a fascinating read for those looking for the parts of history, and the people involved, that are usually left out of the history books or overlooked for some reason or another.

Most of these tales are from the distant past where everyone involved is long dead and the stories take on a near legendary status, but there are a handful here that are much more recent to be within living memory. The author's decision to take a look at the more colorful members of royalty from around the world is definitely a great one letting us know that there's more than Cleopatra and Elizabeth I. My only complaints are the opening introduction which could have been left off entirely and the sometimes gossip magazine tell-all writing style it seemed to turn into, especially when it came to the partiers, floozies, and madwomen sections. Overall, though, this was a very interesting read and I think that several women here should have entire books devoted to their part in history.

I read this book from April 24 - 25, 2015 and my review is also on Goodreads.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Friday 56 (With Book Beginnings): Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman

Welcome to The Friday 56, a weekly meme hosted by Freda's Voice.

These are the rules:
1. Grab a book, any book.
2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader.
3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don't spoil it) that grabs you.
4. Post it.
5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda's most recent Friday 56 post.

I'm also taking part in Book Beginnings, a weekly meme hosted by Rose City Reader.
  The rules are pretty simple - you share the first sentence or so and your initial thoughts, impressions, or whatever else it inspires.  Don't forget to link up your post's url with Rose City Reader.

This Friday I'm spotlighting my current read, Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman.  Neil Gaiman is one of my favorites, so I was super excited when this finally came in for me at the library.  I'm not too far along yet, but I think these excerpts are really interesting.  

Book Beginning:

There are things that upset us.  That's not quite what we're talking about here, though.  I'm thinking rather about those images and words or ideas that drop like trapdoors beneath us, throwing us out of our safe, sane world into a place much more dark and less welcoming.  Our hearts skip a ratatat drumbeat in our chests, and we fight for breath.  Blood retreats from our faces and our fingers, leaving us pale and gasping and shocked.  (From the Introduction p. xi)


"They say that the cave makes you evil: that each time you visit it, each time you enter to take gold, it eats the good in your soul, so they do not enter."

"And is that true?  Does it make you evil?"

"...No. The cave feeds on something else.  Not good and evil.  Not really.  You can take your gold, but afterwards, things are"--he paused--"things are flat.  There is less beauty in a rainbow, less meaning in a sermon, less joy in a kiss..."  He looked at the cave mouth and I thought I saw fear in his eyes.  "Less."  (From "The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains" p. 56)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Disney Princess Tag

This tag looks like a lot of fun, so I've tagged myself from Brin's Book Blog.  Without further ado on to the tag:

My Disney Princess Facts:

1. My favorite Disney Princess is Mulan (although she's usually not considered part of the traditional pantheon) in part because it's not a traditional fairy tale or love story and because she's such an awesome character.

2. My favorite Disney movie growing up was The Little Mermaid - I even used to watch the animated tv series.  I mean, who wouldn't want to be a mermaid?

3. I grew up on Disney so I've watched them all (or most of the animated films) multiple times over.  I'm really looking forward to watching Big Hero 6.

The Main Event:

 1. Snow White - Name your favorite Classic.

There are so many to choose from that I adore, but I think I'm going to go with a series of novels and short stories that have been adapted over and over - The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle.  I love going back and rereading the stories, novels, and reading/ watching the adaptations.

2. Cinderella - Name a book that kept you reading well past your bedtime.

Most recently, then I would have to say A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab (my review can be found here).  I just finished it today and it was fantastic - if you haven't picked it up and you love fantasy, I highly recommend it!

3. Aurora - Name your favorite classic romance.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte easily could have been my answer to number one, but I decided to put it in this field.  Jane is a remarkably strong and likable heroine, my favorite character in the genre.

4. Ariel - Name a book that's about sacrifices and fighting for your own dreams.

I'm going to second Brin's choice here and go with The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater.  I don't think I could state my reasoning any better than she does in her post!  Essentially, she an admirable character who has to beat seemingly insurmountable odds to keep her family together.

5. Belle - Name a book with a smart and independent female character.

Honestly, how could I not select Hermione Granger, my favorite character from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling?  She's who I want to be when I grow up.

6. Jasmine - Name a book with a character who challenged the social conventions of his or her world.

I have to go with Kamala Khan of Ms. Marvel: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson.  Kamala struggles to fit in anywhere so when she receives fantastic new powers which allow her to begin to discover who she really is.  Let's just say she challenges the social conventions and expectations surrounding herself and her own identity as a Muslim teen growing up in the US.  It's a fantastic graphic novel that comes with high praise from me.

7. Pocahontas - Name a book whose ending was a roller coaster ride of emotions.

I know I've already mentioned A Darker Shade of Magic, but this one really deserves to be mentioned again.  I think I felt every I mentioned I can't wait to read the rest of this series and everything else by this author.

8. Mulan - Name a book with a kick-ass female character.

I imagine Celaena Sardothien, from Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, and Mulan would be good friends.

9. Tiana - Name a book featuring a hardworking and self-made character.

Daenerys Targaryen from A Song of Ice and Fire truly fits the criteria here.  Her character swiftly develops through lots of courage and hard work from powerless exile to a powerful queen in her own right.

10. Rapunzel - Name a book that features an artist.

Marguerite Caine from A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray, another novel I loved this year, stands apart from her physicist parents as a painter.  Luckily, her knowledge of art comes in handy during her dimension hopping.

11. Merida - Name a book that features a mother-daughter relationship.

City of Savages by Lee Kelly features a pretty strong mother-daughter(s) relationship, as well as a great one between sisters.  If you want to learn more about just how strong I recommend you check it out!

12. Anna and Elsa - Name a book that features a great relationship between siblings.

I'm going to go with a classic, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.  The Pevensie children may not always get along, but they do see things through together.

Alright.  That's it for this tag.  I'm not going to tag anyone specifically, but if you like what you see and want to complete the tag, feel free.  Please don't forget to link back to me so I can see your responses to this fun tag.