Synopsis (from GoodReads): Six years after her perilous exploits in Eriga, [Lady Isabella Trent] embarks on her most ambitious expedition yet: a two-year trip around the world to study all manner of dragons in every place they might be found. From feathered serpents sunning themselves in the ruins of a fallen civilization to the mighty sea serpents of the tropics, these creatures are a source of both endless fascination and frequent peril. Accompanying her is not only her young son, Jake, but a chivalrous foreign archaeologist whose interests converge with Isabella’s in ways both professional and personal.
Science is, of course, the primary objective of the voyage, but Isabella’s life is rarely so simple. She must cope with storms, shipwrecks, intrigue, and warfare, even as she makes a discovery that offers a revolutionary new insight into the ancient history of dragons.
I didn’t know what to expect with this book, but it caught my eye every time I found myself in Barnes and Noble—the cover is just that damn beautiful. Eventually, I gave in and bought it, even though I hadn’t (and still haven’t) read any of the preceding books in the series.
I wasn’t disappointed, even though it’s not a particularly unique world and I’m not terribly fond of the Victorian-diarist writing style (it just comes off as affected to me, and it pulls me out of the story).
One of this book’s most distinguishing features is actually in the printing. It’s all blue. Text, pictures, front matter—everything is printed not in black ink, but in a lovely dark blue color. I have no idea why, but it’s striking, and certainly not something you see every day. It made a good impression.
I found Lady Trent immediately likable as a character—she’s not perfect, but she’s smart and self-assured despite living in a Victorian-type society that undervalues the contributions of women. I was quickly drawn in by her adventures, all of which take place on an exploratory sea voyage around the world, à la Charles Darwin. I’m a biology student myself, so I found that interesting—particularly because her subjects of study aren’t everyday creatures, but dragons.
The pacing of the story and the development of the characters/their relationships (both romantic and otherwise) are just perfect, and the conclusion wasn’t a cliffhanger, but still left me wanting to know what comes next. I think it’s very likely I’ll pick up more books in this series.
This book satisfied the category The first book you see in a bookstore in the Popsugar 2016 Reading Challenge, and the category A book with the ocean on the cover in the Popsugar 2016 Summer Challenge.
Synopsis (from GoodReads): One of the 20th century’s enduring works, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a widely beloved and acclaimed novel known throughout the world, and the ultimate achievement of a Nobel Prize winning career.
The novel tells the story of the rise and fall of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the family. It is a rich and brilliant chronicle of life and death, and the tragicomedy of humankind. In the noble, ridiculous, beautiful, and tawdry story of the family, one sees all of humanity, just as in the history, myths, growth, and decay of Macondo, one sees all of Latin America.
Imagine you’re a dog. You’re a dog, and you’re running through some wild place—a forest or a field, it doesn’t matter. Your senses are open to everything around you, and you’re taking everything in at once, a sort of sensory kaleidoscope that gives you an ever-updating understanding of your surroundings. Once in a while, a particular thread of scent catches your attention, and for a moment you are blind and deaf to everything else. You race ahead or you suddenly backtrack on your course and you sniff this one thing, probing for detail until you know all there is to know about it. Does the thing make sense? Is it normal? It doesn’t matter! You’re a dog, and you have no interest in logical or moral judgments. All you have are your senses and your observations, and all you care about is the impression they give you, which helps you navigate your world.
That’s what reading this book is like.
The dog from the metaphor is Marquez’s narration. It moves in a generally forward direction through the rise and fall of his fictional Latin American town, with the occasional leap forward or back in time, seemingly at whim. It ranges in scope from events involving the entire country and lasting months or years, which are described in broad and unspecific terms, to events involving single individuals, which take place in great detail over the course of maybe an afternoon. It is both extremely expressive and completely dispassionate. At no point does it make any sort of judgment regarding whether the events it describes are morally acceptable or even realistic, no matter how horrifying or fantastic they might be (and there’s a lot in this book that might strike the reader as shocking: pedophilia, incest, massacre, suicide…you get the idea).
Marquez wasn’t the inventor of magical realism, but his writing was extremely well known for it. It’s surprisingly approachable in this book. No matter how magical what he describes might be, the realism underneath is generally clear. (Although since finishing the book, I read this article about his inspiration, so maybe the magical stuff is more real than I’d originally thought.)
Ultimately, I wouldn’t say that this is an easy read. It takes time, and concentration, and a willingness to suspend disbelief. But it’s almost certainly worth the trouble.
This book satisfied the category A book from Oprah’s book club in the PopSugar 2016 reading challenge.
#ReadThemAllThon came to a close yesterday. I didn’t get as much read as I’d hoped, but that’s to be expected, I suppose—the start of the semester has kept me very busy, and there’s been work on top of that. Here are my final stats (at least my little Dratini got to evolve once), and three short reviews to wrap up the readathon.
Synopsis (from GoodReads): Roman Britain, AD 366. Minna, a beautiful Roman serving girl, finds herself thrust into the wilds of barbarian Scotland with acrobat Cian, a tribeless youth loyal only to himself. Here, they are trapped between Roman scouts fighting to subdue the dark, tattooed Picts, and the Scottish warring tribes themselves.
Caught between these forces is Cahir, King of the Dalriadans of western Scotland, who has watched his power dwindle and his people fall under the Roman yoke.
At Dunadd, Cahir’s fort, Minna hears songs that tell of his ancestors, Rhiann and Eremon, and it stirs dreams and visions within her: visions of Scotland, battles and bloodshed. And despite her loyalties to her Roman upbringing, as the war for Scottish freedom unfolds, Minna struggles against an irresistible call of her blood, a call that reveals a destiny she shares with the wounded king Cahir, and which binds her inevitably to Dalriada and its people.
Well, the book didn’t make me cry. In fact, it left me feeling distinctly indifferent. I’d suggest that if you’re interested in this trilogy, you stop after the first two (which are so good, and definitely worth your time). Don’t bother with the third.
This book is meant to be a conclusion to the story of Rhiann and Eremon, the main characters of the first two books. But Rhiann and Eremon already get a satisfying conclusion in book two. The references to them in the third book are interesting, but it just ends up feeling tacked on. The story arc is extremely similar to the one that takes place in the first two books, and since it’s restricted to only a single book, it ends up rushed and incomplete. The characters are relatively one-dimensional, which is really a shame, because character development was one of the absolute best things in the early books. Minna in particular is a textbook Mary Sue.
I still love Jules Watson’s use of language, and the way she describes life in ancient Scotland. She writes a great romance. But everything that she does well in this book, she does three times better in the first two (The White Mare and The Dawn Stag). You’ll miss out on nothing by skipping Song of the North.
Synopsis (from GoodReads): EVERY DAY THE SAME Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. Jess and Jason, she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.
UNTIL TODAY And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel goes to the police. But is she really as unreliable as they say? Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the investigation but in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?
Ultimately, I was disappointed by this book. I know it’s incredibly popular right now (I picked it based on its place on the NYT Best Sellers list), but I found it underwhelming. I loved the unreliable narrators and the way the different timelines end up coming together (there are three narrating characters in the book, each with their own chapters that take place during a distinct period of time), but the “twist” at the end wasn’t nearly as shocking or unpredictable as the back of the book made it sound, and I didn’t really find any of it particularly thrillingor mysterious.
It’s a quick read, and it definitely has its good points, but all in all I don’t think it’s as fantastic as the hype would have you believe. (Side note—I recently heard someone refer to The Girl on the Train as “the poor man’s Gone Girl.” That could be a good option if you’re looking for something similar in style but higher quality. I haven’t actually read Gone Girl myself yet, so take this with a grain of salt.)
Synopsis (from GoodReads): When a massive object crashes into the ocean off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous and legendary city, three people wandering along Bar Beach (Adaora, the marine biologist; Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa; Agu, the troubled soldier) find themselves running a race against time to save the country they love and the world itself… from itself.
I’m typically not a fan of magical realism or an overly colloquial narrative voice, but somehow Nnedi Okorafor manages to make me love both in this book. Some other highlights include the conception of the aliens, the chapters told from the perspective of wildlife (each of the three sections begins with one of these), the interweaving storylines, and all the the dialogue that takes place in Pidgin English (there is a glossary at the very end of the book, if needed, but for the most part you get the gist of what the characters are saying, even though the vocabulary and grammar are unfamiliar—it’s sort of a fun linguistic/logical puzzle).
As a “book with diversity” (the requirement for the Rainbow badge), this one really knocks it out of the park. The characters are a huge collection of various species, races, ethnicities, nationalities, economic brackets, religions, genders, and sexual orientations. All in all, a really interesting and enjoyable read. Highly recommended.
Synopsis (from GoodReads): An undisputed classic of epic fantasy, Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast novels represent one of the most brilliantly sustained flights of Gothic imagination, Titus Groan, the first book in this timeless series, is the start of an unforgettable journey.
As the novel opens, Titus has just been born. As heir to Lord Sepulchrave, he stands to inherit the miles of rambling stone and mortar that form Castle Gormenghast. Inside of Gormenghast, all events are predetermined by complex rituals, the origins of which are lost in time. Dreamlike and macabre, Titus Groan is one of the most astonishing and fantastic works in modern fiction.
I’m almost always apprehensive about books published prior to 1950. The prose style is very hit or miss, and the further back you go, the more likely you are to run across casual misogyny or racism, which I find extremely jarring.
Fortunately, this time my fear was unfounded. In fact, the prose wasn’t just acceptable, it was great. Extremely rich and descriptive, with a consistently grim and satirical edge. The characters, who have ridiculous names like “Prunesquallor” and “Sourdust,” are all completely of their minds, each in their own unique way. The complicated rituals and ceremonies that the castle’s life are based around never go right—not once in the whole book. This is usually the characters’ fault. I found myself laughing out loud several times because it’s all just so ludicrous. Everything is a caricature of itself.
That said, the story was pretty slow, and I don’t know why. A lot happens, plot-wise. But there’s little emotion in it. It doesn’t grip you. Everything is presented in a completely impartial way. All in all, I’m giving in three stars: I enjoyed it, and I’d recommend it, but I probably won’t be picking up the sequels.
This book satisfied the category A satirical book in the PopSugar 2016 reading challenge, and the category A used book in the PopSugar 2016 summer challenge.
There are two components to this readathon. The first, and most important, is the reading part. There are eight categories, each of which correspond to one of the eight gyms the player faces in the original Pokemon games. Finish a category’s book, and you’ve earned that gym’s badge. (If you want to stay true to the games, make sure you do them in order!)
The second, optional part is the Pokemon training. If you’re not into Pokemon, maybe you don’t care about this part, and that’s okay. I am, so I do! Here’s how it works:
You pick a “starter” Pokemon—any Pokemon you want. It starts with 10 combat power (CP), or 50 CP if you choose a Pokemon that doesn’t evolve (like Tauros, for example).
For every 10 pages you read, your Pokemon gets a boost of 1 CP.
For every badge you earn, it gets 20 CP.
For each book review you post during the readathon (even if it’s not for one of the gym badge books), it gets 20 CP.
When you reach 150 CP, your Pokemon can evolve, gaining a 50 CP boost. If it has a third form, it can evolve again at 400 CP, and get another 50 CP boost.
At the end of the readathon, whoever has the highest CP Pokemon wins!
FYI, there are some special rules for Magikarp/Gyarados, and some more ways to earn CP by posting on Twitter. Check out the sign-up link above if you want more detail on that.
I’ll be training Dratini, one of my original favorites.
Here are the books I’m planning to read:
Boulder Badge (first book in a series) –Titus Groan, by Mervyn Peake
Bout of Books is a low-key, week-long event that just so happens to coincide with the first week of the semester. So convenient right. Even so, I’m planning to participate. I found out about the event just a little too late to participate in the last one, and I don’t want to miss out again!
If you, like me, had never heard of it before, here’s what the organizers have to say:
The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 22nd and runs through Sunday, August 28th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 17 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. – From the Bout of Books team
I hope that come August 22 you’ll enjoy some reading along with us.
I don’t know about you, but I like it when bloggers talk about themselves. About Me pages are great, but they can’t tell the whole story, and blogging is a much more personal medium than other types of writing.
With that in mind, books are taking a backseat today. Instead, here are ten things you might not know about me.
1. I’ve lived in California my whole life
…except for a year I spent abroad in college. I was born and raised in Sacramento, moved away to Santa Cruz for school, and eventually ended up in Chico, where I’ve been ever since. Chico is a smaller town, but thanks to the university and the park (fun fact: it’s one of the largest urban parks in the country), there’s always a lot to do!
2. I speak German (fairly well)
During that exchange year I mentioned, I lived in Berlin and went to classes at the Free University. I’d studied the language for two years beforehand, but there is absolutely nothing like total immersion to make it stick. I don’t have the opportunity to actually speak German anymore (sad face), so I can’t call myself fluent, but I do read German books on the regular!
3. I have the same birthday as my favorite character on Star Trek
The character is Data, from Star Trek: The Next Generation. In fact, the actor—Brent Spiner—has the same birthday too!
4. I have one sibling
She’s my younger sister. We’re four years apart.
5. My husband proposed to me with a custom quest in Skyrim
I met my husband—who is a software developer—at a release party for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. When he proposed, it was with a custom questline he coded himself and added to the game!
6. I play several instruments
Both sides of my family are musical, so my music lessons started when I was quite young. I sang in a children’s choir from elementary through high school, and I was always one of the band kids. Yes, I even went to band camp! After college, I worked for a while as a substitute church organist, and I played in a community orchestra until I moved away from Sacramento. My instruments are piano, organ, French horn, flute, and bass guitar. And I do still sing sometimes…when I’m alone in my car!
7. My favorite color is green.
I was surprised to learn recently that my own mother didn’t know this!
8. I’m preparing for a master’s degree in biology.
It’s a complete 180 from my undergraduate field, which was literature. That means I have a lot of lower-level prerequisites to complete before I can start the master’s program. I’ve been working on those at the local community college since last year. In one more year, I should be ready to apply!
9. I am a freelancer.
I work from home as a manuscript editor, and I truly love it. Most of my clients are in either academia or business; I prefer the structure of that work to fiction editing, which is by nature much more subjective. One of the reasons I want a degree in biology—beyond the fact that I think science is a vitally important field, and worth dedicating one’s life to—is so I can edit more technical documents and journal papers.
10. The best book I ever read is The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
If I had several hours, I might be able to list everything I love about this book. It’s the epitome of fantasy done well. If you’ve already read it, I hope you have a sense of what I mean. If you haven’t, drop everything and I mean everything, and go get it right now.
Synopsis (from GoodReads): In 1937 Ernest Hemingway traveled to Spain to cover the civil war there for the North American Newspaper Alliance. Three years later he completed the greatest novel to emerge from “the good fight,” For Whom the Bell Tolls.
The story of Robert Jordan, a young American in the International Brigades attached to an antifascist guerilla unit in the mountains of Spain, it tells of loyalty and courage, love and defeat, and the tragic death of an ideal. In his portrayal of Jordan’s love for the beautiful Maria and his superb account of El Sordo’s last stand, in his brilliant travesty of La Pasionaria and his unwillingness to believe in blind faith, Hemingway surpasses his achievement in The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms to create a work at once rare and beautiful, strong and brutal, compassionate, moving and wise.
Have you ever met someone who didn’t have a strong opinion on Ernest Hemingway?
In my entire life, I’ve only met one person whose feelings were lukewarm. Everyone else has been either an avid supporter or full of disdain. In fact, I once read an article that blacklisted him as an author No Woman Should Ever Read, and had the following to say about his work: “the terse, repressed prose style is, in his hands, mannered and pretentious and sentimental. Manly sentimental is the worst kind of sentimental because it’s deluded about itself.”
I couldn’t disagree more. I’m in the camp that loves Hemingway, and while I have no illusions about the fact that he was a pretty awful human being, I think his writing, and the effect it had on contemporary literature, is important. More than that, it’s good.
So let’s talk about For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Reading this book is like listening to a piece of music in a minor key. It’s not happy, though there are moments of happiness. It’s not hopeful, though there are moments of hope. A deep current of emotion (something much more substantial than “pretentious, manly sentimentality”) runs underneath every word, and it doesn’t always surface where you expect, with significant effect. For example, the complete nonchalance with which Robert Jordan considers some truly horrific aspects of war is chilling. It makes you wonder—how much does a person have to live through to become so completely inured? And at the same time it makes you realize—that’s what war is. That’s what war does to people. If they live long enough.
One of my favorite things about Hemingway, which abounds in For Whom the Bell Tolls, is his subtlety. I know, I know. How can he be subtle when he is the number one stereotype for direct and obvious prose?
What you have to keep in mind is that what he doesn’t say is often as or more important than what he does. All joking aside, Hemingway is a master of the art that is show, don’t tell. In this particular book, he never actually mentions that the characters are speaking Spanish. But you can tell, because the grammar of their dialogue is unusual, and they use Spanish idioms that have been literally translated into English.
This book also contains some of the most beautiful use of metaphor it’s ever been my pleasure to read.
So should you read it?
If you’ve already made peace with the fact that you just can’t stand Hemingway and never will (believe me, I understand! For me, it’s Jane Austen), then skip it. This book is Hemingway through and through.
Otherwise, do yourself the favor. You won’t regret it.
This book satisfied the category A book that takes place in Europe in the PopSugar 2016 reading challenge.
Synopsis (from GoodReads): “Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge…”
More than fifty years on, Iris Chase is remembering Laura’s mysterious death. And so begins an extraordinary and compelling story of two sisters and their secrets. Set against a panoramic backdrop of twentieth-century history, THE BLIND ASSASSIN is an epic tale of memory, intrigue and betrayal…
I never know how it’s going to go with Margaret Atwood. The Handmaid’s Tale was excellent. Oryx and Crake was not. Unfortunately, this book is one on the lower end of the spectrum.
I love books that weave together multiple plot lines. This one incorporates stories from Iris and Laura’s childhood, narration of Iris as an old woman in the present, chapters from Laura’s posthumously published book, and saved newspaper clippings. The promise was there. I thought I’d like it.
Unfortunately, Iris—who does most of the storytelling, Laura being dead and all—is such a bland character that it’s hard to like or relate to her, and at over 600 pages, it’s just too much. That’s a shame, because the novel excerpt chapters are interesting (those are multi-level, also, incorporating pieces of a science fiction short story that the unnamed main character and her lover write together), and the mystery that the plot is built around is a good one, with a satisfying reveal at the end. The good parts might have been able to shine if they hadn’t been bogged down by all the rest.
Synopsis (from GoodReads): The Bands of Mourning are the mythical metalminds owned by the Lord Ruler, said to grant anyone who wears them the powers that the Lord Ruler had at his command. Hardly anyone thinks they really exist. A [no spoilers, GoodReads!!] researcher has returned to Elendel with images that seem to depict the Bands, as well as writings in a language that no one can read. Waxillium Ladrian is recruited to travel south to the city of New Seran to investigate. Along the way he discovers hints that point to the true goals of his uncle Edwarn and the shadowy organization known as The Set.
Sanderson has never disappointed me. (Well, okay, once: but it was his first book. I can forgive that. He didn’t know better yet.) He has a brilliant imagination, and—unlike some other authors I could name—the technical proficiency to do it justice. This results in book after book with richly complex worlds, relatable and believably flawed characters, and a thrilling, clever plot lines.
I was an immediate fan of the original Mistborn trilogy, books 1-3. The events of books 4-6 (which are officially recognized as part of the trilogy, but are also something of a spinoff) take place a few centuries later, with accompanying advancements in social organization and technology. Readers of the original trilogy will enjoy the easter-egg type references to those events and characters.
Because this is book 6, I can’t say too much without betraying things that are revealed in previous books. But I will say this:
First, Steris is a delightful character. Initially, it seems that the reader isn’t meant to like her, but I always have. Subsequent books have only increased my opinion of her. She’s the perfect foil for Wax.
Second, the ending of this book is a mindblower. It takes one look at the known boundaries of the Mistborn world, and then mows them right down. Turns out the universe is a lot bigger than we readers or any of the characters thought—and one of those characters is an omniscient god!
This book satisfied the category A book published this year in the PopSugar 2016 reading challenge.