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Books #9, 10 and 11

  I'm going with a Fantasy Theme today, hooray!

Title: A Game of Thrones
Author: George R. R. Martin
Genre: Fantasy

a game of thrones cover Everyone has heard of this series. These books were turned into a show on HBO, and for a good reason. I watched the first 3 seasons of the show and decided to give the books a try. First of all, I was trying so hard to understand what is going on with the show that I didn't realize there was a murder mystery involved. It also seems like there is no way you can keep all the characters straight, but rest assured, you can keep it straight.
  It might be cheating to say I read the book this year. More like I finished it this year. It took me almost a year to get through the book due to the density of it. After a few chapters I would need to take an extended break. Also, I will try to be vague about this, I would need to stop after a certain character's chapter because of the horrible life choices they had made and I would become increasingly frustrated with it (you know who I'm talking about). All in all, a very good book, an intense reading (I'm trudging my way through the second one. That looks like it may take awhile as well), but the characters and the world they live in is vast and colorful. Warning, the book is very graphic, sexually and violently.

Title: Dragon-Princess
Author: S. Andrew Swann
Genre: Fantasy

Dragon-Princess Frank Blackthorne is a thief, and not a particularly good one. He was hired by the court wizard of Lendowyn, Elhared the Unwise to rescue the Kingdom's princess Lucille from a dragon. However the rescue does not go as planned. Turns out Elhared tricked Frank and attempted to switch bodies with him. What ends up happening is everyone is switched, Frank into the Princesses body, the princess with the dragon, the dragon with the wizard, and the wizard with Frank. The four are then separated and need to find each other to undue the spell.
  A light-hearted and enjoyable read, but with a poor ending. This book is not going to change any lives, or be remembered real well, but it is entertaining if you have time to waste.

Title: How to Train Your Dragon
Author: Cressida Cowell
Genre: Young Adult/Juvenile Reader, Fantasy

how to train your dragon book cover If you pick up this book expecting the movie, you will be sorely disappointed. The book and the movie are not alike at all. I am a huge fan of the movies and decided to read the book, expecting a viking war with dragons, an adorable nightfury, and dragon-killing classes. There is none of that. In the book series, the vikings are keeping dragons as pets. As boys trying to become men, Hiccup and his friends have to climb a cliff into a dragon lair and steal a dragon egg. The boys then have to hatch the egg and train their dragon. The boys from the tribe and a sister tribe then come together to show off their training skills. So yeah, very different from the movies. Still a cute book, took a couple of hours to read it.

Books 25-27

25. Half Brother, by Kenneth Oppel. Oppel packs a lot of story and a lot of information in relatively few pages. In this book, Ben discovers that his parents have adopted a baby chimp to use for an experiment on language learning. Ben's father, a prominent professor, wants to see if the baby chimp, whom they name Zan, can learn and use sign language. Of course, anyone today who has read about gorilla and chimp studies probably knows the answer is a definitive yes, but this story takes place in an earlier time. Ben is at first not happy about not only moving across the country for his father's new job, but having to view Zan as his new baby brother. But Ben soon becomes attached to Zan, and the feeling is mutual. Zan is very affectionate and picks up sign language, but there are constant reminders that Zan is not a human, despite his human clothes and surroundings. Problems soon ensue; it is painfully obvious the father has not thought things through. Ben and his family are soon faced with many hard decisions concerning Zan's ultimate fate. I really enjoyed this story, save for the very ending. I thought the author cheated a bit. The ending was sweet but I think the point could have been brought home in a way that didn't feel so deus ex machina. But other than the ending, this is a good, thought-provoking read about human responsibility.

26. Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut. This is the fourth Vonnegut book I've read. I didn't care for this one. I really liked it at first, but then it just got weird and not a little bit crude, and for no apparent reason. I don't mind odd or crude if there is a purpose. The ending was a bit unexpected, which I did like. In this book, a mediocre author finds himself surprised that he has had an impact after all- but not necessarily in a positive way. The illustrations were an interesting and fun touch, as well as the little explanations throughout of sundry, ordinary things.

27. Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens. I really enjoyed this one. It's a bit slow and long-winded in places but the story itself is great, as are the characters. Pip, the hero of the story, has grown up with his harsh, even abusive sister and her kinder, good-hearted husband. His life is spent dodging his sister's wrath and attending the eccentric Miss Havisham. He falls for Miss Havisham's adopted daughter Estella. One day, when he's a teen, he gets a mysterious message- an anonymous benefactor aims to bring up Pip like a gentleman, with money, fine clothes, education and more. Pip is ecstatic - finally he sees a way to be worthy of the proud and beautiful Estella. But the teen soon realizes that money and prestige can only do so much to make him happy. Pip watches his ideals and his scruples change, and he is not happy with the changes he sees in himself.

Will be picking up tomorrow: Grapes of Wrath, Game of Thrones (graphic novel), Stayin' Alive and Hollow City.
Title: Percy Jackson and the Olympians
Author: Rick Riordan
Genre: Young Adult/Juvenile Reader, Fantasy
percyjacksonbazbox I actually started the year off reading this series. I have gone a very long time with out reading a book, and then I got at Barnes & Noble, so of course I was exposed to books every day. With this series, I had heard so much about it and my sister had read the first book. I borrowed it from her and read it fairly quickly. It is fast-paced, funny and entertaining. I proceed to go to work the next day and bought the rest of the series and the next series Heroes of Olympus. I read through those just as quickly. The last book however, The Last Olympian, I read in a single day. The action was more intense, the stacks were higher, I could not put it down. It was a good ending to a good series. For those who are fans of Harry Potter, I would highly recommend this book.


Although I haven't posted any book reviews since late January, there is a stack of work to be done, and there is now some time to get to it.  We'll get back to speed with an easy read. Book Review No. 3 is F. Beverly Kelley's Denver Brown and The Traveling Town.  It was de-accessioned from the Circus World Library and a bargain purchase for me at the recent circus model show.  Mr Kelley worked as a circus publicist and Broadway front-man. Denver Brown would be shelved in the youth or young adult collection in a library.  Young adult writing used to present gritty realities in a less direct manner.  Thus, if you want the seamier details of circus life, stick with Water for Elephants.  But Denver Brown makes it clear that the circus is a hard-knock life.  Its protagonist is a young man struggling in school who runs away with the circus.  But several people reinforce the idea that finishing school first is a wise move, even for a young person with sawdust in his hair.  And along the way, one learns a lot of the tricks of the animal-trainer's trade.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)
Book 136: Searching for Arthur (The Return to Camelot #1).
Author: Donna Hosie, 2013.
Genre: Contemporary Fantasy. Arthurian Legend. Young Adult.
Other Details: ebook. 300 pages.

It is hard to make friends when you’re constantly on the move. Seventeen-year-old Natasha Roth’s father is a diplomat, and so her mother – who is paranoid about terrorists – has moved Natasha and her brother, Arthur, to their eighteenth house in seventeen years: Avalon Cottage, deep in the heart of a Welsh forest. Yet the terrorists are closer than they realize. While out running, Natasha falls into a hidden tomb and awakens the legendary knights of Camelot: young warriors who have been in an enchanted sleep for a thousand years. All have been waiting patiently for the return of Arthur from the mysterious land of Avalon. And now the knights are awake, they intend to reclaim their king.

When Arthur goes missing, Natasha joins forces with his girlfriend, “Slurpy” Samantha, in order to look for him. Natasha believes Samantha has fewer brain cells than an amoeba; Samantha believes Natasha is a freak. Retracing Natasha’s original steps to the hidden tomb, they bicker their way into a Welsh mountain and beyond, to the realm of Logres where the Knights of the Round Table are rallying once more.
- synopsis from author's blog.

I found myself enjoying this even though at times I wanted to throttle its narrator, Natasha, over her immature behaviour especially in regards of Sir Bedivere. Her jealousy was so infantile and kicking blokes in the goolies really is a very unattractive quality. Still, she also was extremely possessive of her brother as well, making for a lot of tension between her and his girlfriend, Samantha, who she dubs Slurpy Sammy. I will admit that Sir Bedivere is my favourite of the Arthurian knights and she just seemed unworthy of him. I could not see for the life of me why he was attracted to her. One might expect a diplomat's daughter to be less of a spoiled brat.

Yet despite Natasha I did feel that the author's heart was in the right place in terms of wanting to update the Arthurian legend for a new young adult readership. The fight scenes were well realised and quite brutal in places.

I have bought Book 2 in the series, which is a good indication that I enjoyed this to the point of wanting to see how things continue for Natasha , Arthur and the delightful Sammy, who seems to be taking her notions of evilness from studying episodes of 'Merlin' and then emulating Katie McGrath's Morgana.

#68: Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis

Amara is never alone. Not when she's protecting the cursed princess she unwillingly serves. Not when they're fleeing across dunes and islands and seas to stay alive. Not when she's punished, ordered around, or neglected.

She can't be alone, because a boy from another world experiences all that alongside her, looking through her eyes.

Nolan longs for a life uninterrupted. Every time he blinks, he's yanked from his Arizona town into Amara's mind, a world away, which makes even simple things like hobbies and homework impossible. He's spent years as a powerless observer of Amara's life. Amara has no idea . . . until he learns to control her, and they communicate for the first time. Amara is terrified. Then, she's furious.

All Amara and Nolan want is to be free of each other. But Nolan's breakthrough has dangerous consequences. Now, they'll have to work together to survive--and discover the truth about their connection.

This is a deep sort of YA novel that could have so easily been confusing or contrived, but in Duyvis's deft hands, it's a thing of beauty. The two parallel stories are distinct: Nolan would be a typical American boy if not for the so-called seizures he has dealt with on a daily basis since age 5. The truth is that when he blinks, he sees through Amara's eyes and experiences a world of magic far different from Earth. The thing that intrigued me is that both story lines are very intense, though Amara's is where the real action occurs--she's a servant to a cursed princess in exile. Nolan also suffers in his own way, especially as their stories converge near the end.

I appreciated how sexuality is handled within the book, too. Nolan can't help but see what Amara experiences. Her bisexuality isn't an issue within the book at all--it is what it is, and doesn't stand out in her culture.

There's a reason why there is so much buzz about this book. I will happily be passing my copy along to my teenaged niece.

Books 21 & 22 - 2012

Book 21: Radiant Darkness by Emily Whitman – 274 pages

Description from
He smiles. "Hello." It's a deep voice. I can feel it reverberate in my chest and echo all the way down to my toes. I know I should leave, but I don't want to. I want to keep my senses like this forever. I'm all eye, all ear, all skin. Persephone lives in the most gorgeous place in the world. But her mother's a goddess, as overprotective as she is powerful. Paradise has become a trap. Just when Persephone feels there's no chance of escaping the life that's been planned for her, a mysterious stranger arrives. A stranger who promises something more--something dangerous and exciting--something that spurs Persephone to make a daring choice. A choice that could destroy all she's come to love, even the earth itself. In a land where a singing river can make you forget your very name, Persephone is forced to discover who--and what--she really is.

Of all the Greek myths, the story of Persephone and Hades is my favorite. Persephone is my favourite Goddess, because she is the balance of light and dark – Goddess of Spring, Queen of the Underworld. She is the personification of duality. I seek out retellings and analyses of the Persephone/Hades myth like most people read crime novels. This is another of these – a young adult version. Of course, as in most retellings, the plot is romantic – Persephone’s mother Demeter is overprotective of her daughter, and then along comes a mysterious man who promises Persephone adventure and she takes it. My main problem with this retelling is that Persephone felt very young, and Hades felt very old (not like old man old, but like a forty year old seeking out a teenager), and it made the romantic aspect of the story feel lecherous and slightly inappropriate. Perhaps if the book hadn’t been aiming to being romantic, but was aiming for the ‘kidnapped and raped’ version of the story, it would have worked better. It was still an okay read particularly for a young adult novel, with more of a plot than a number of other retellings I’ve read, but it would have been better without the slight creep factor.

21 / 50 books. 42% done!

7371 / 15000 pages. 49% done!

Book 22: Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House: Official Souvenir Guide by John Martin Robinson – 56 pages

Description from
Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, built by the famous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens between 1921 and 1924, is one of the most beautiful and extraordinary dolls’ houses in the world. Standing over 2 meters (or 7 feet) high, it is a perfect replica of an Edwardian private residence of the grandest possible design, complete with Saloon, Library, Dining Room, private apartments, servants’ rooms, kitchen, wine cellar, and garage full of vintage miniature limousines—plus working lifts, running water and electric light. Every room is fully furnished with miniature replicas of the contents of a real Edwardian house—from the kitchen, with its copper pans and kettles, to the Saloon, with its tiny full-length state portraits. The wine bottles in the cellar each contain less than a thimbleful of vintage wine, the linen cupboard has a full complement of miniature sheets and tablecloths, and in the Strong Room minute replicas of the Crown Jewels are on display. It also has an art collection, by all the leading painters of the day, including Sir William Nicholson; and extraordinary Library, with miniature volumes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Thomas Hardy and Edith Wharton, among others, and as the final touch, a garden designed by Gertrude Jekyll.

When I lived in England I did a lot of travelling to all the tourist hot spots. One of the places I went was Windsor Castle. At Windsor Castle, the home of the British Queen (and my Queen, being an Aussie!), one can see Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, a magnificent dolls house created in the 1920s. I saw it while I was there, and it is truly extraordinary, with a million little intricate details that make it much more than a dolls’ house and instead something akin to a small functioning home for Thumblina people. This souvenir book takes one through the house’s creation and through the structure itself and many of the fascinating details. An interesting read for anyone who is interested in the British Royal Family or dolls’ house or exceptional feats of carpentry!

22 / 50 books. 44% done!

7427 / 15000 pages. 50% done!

Currently reading:
-        The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown – 509 pages
-        The War That Killed Achilles: The True Story of the Iliad by Caroline Alexander – 277 pages
-        Flame by Amy Kathleen Ryan – 326 pages

And coming up:
-        The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: Volume 3: White Gold Wielder by Stephen Donaldson – 500 pages
-        The Odyssey by Homer – 324 pages
-        One for the Money by Janet Evanovich – 290 pages

Books 17 & 18 - 2013

Book 17: Awaken by Meg Cabot – 343 pages

Description from
Seventeen-year-old Pierce Oliviera knew that by accepting the undying love of John Hayden she'd be forced to live forever in the one place she's always dreaded most: the Underworld. The sacrifice seemed worth it, but now her happiness and safety in the realm are threatened. The Furies have discovered that John has broken one of their strictest rules and revived a dead soul. If the balance of life and death isn't restored, both the Underworld and Pierce's home on Earth will be wiped out by the Furies' wrath. Pierce has already cheated death once ...can she do it again?

This is the final book in Meg Cabot’s Hades and Persephone retelling trilogy. It had a plot, I’ll give it that, but it felt pretty weak. There was some stuff involving the god Thantos (God of Death, if my memory of Greek mythology is okay), and Pierce’s cousin, and after all the angst of her stalker boyfriend, John Hayden, in the first book, Pierce seems quite okay with his behavior and happy to wander off into a happy ending with him. There is revenge on the horrible popular kids who bullied Pierce and her brother, and defeat of the Furies who have possessed various people throughout the series, namely Pierce’s grandmother. I really didn’t get much out of the series, which disappointed me, because I really love the Persephone and Hades myth and really wanted to like this trilogy, but it read like any other angsty teen novel with misdirection and confusion and silly arguments. Overall, I think Meg Cabot writes adult books much better than teen ones…or I’m just too old to appreciate teen fiction anymore.

17 / 50 books. 34% done!

6464 / 15000 pages. 43% done!

Book 18: Spark by Amy Kathleen Ryan – 375 pages

Description from
Waverly, Kieran and Seth are in a race against time - and with the future of humanity hanging in the balance, there's no room for mistakes... After a desperate escape from the enemy ship, Waverly has finally made it back to the Empyrean. The memory of home has been keeping her alive for the past months... but home is nothing like she left it. Forced to leave their captive parents behind on the New Horizon, she's returned only to find that Kieran has become a strict leader and turned the crew against Seth. What happened to the Kieran she thought she knew? Now Waverly's not sure whom she can trust. And the one person she wants to believe in is darkly brilliant Seth, the ship's supposed enemy. Waverly knows that the situation will only get worse until they can rescue their parents - but how? Before they have time to make a plan, an explosion rocks the Empyrean, and Seth and Waverly are targeted as the prime suspects. Can they find the true culprit before Kieran locks them away... or worse? Will Waverly follow her heart, even if it puts lives at risk? Now more than ever, every step could bring them closer to a new beginning - or a sudden end. "Spark "is book two in Amy Kathleen Ryan's thrilling young adult science fiction series Sky Chasers.

This is the second book in the Sky Chasers trilogy about a two starships travelling across the universe to relocate a group of humans to a new world. After their parents were killed by the adults of the New Horizon, the children of Empyrean are left to fend for themselves and work out how to save the small contingent of parents still alive and held prisoner on board the New Horizon, as well as unravel exactly why their parents were taken in the first place and what can be done to get revenge. In true Lord of the Flies fashion, its as much the internal fight for power that almost undoes these kids. Kieran has got the role of leader, a role he believes he deserves, and Seth is in hiding. Caught between the two of them is Waverly, Kieran’s former girlfriend who has separated herself from the growing religious fervor Kieran is preaching to the children. Meanwhile, Seth believes someone has gotten aboard the ship, but has no way of communicating this to Kieran, without revealing himself.
This is a complex young adult novel, filled with interesting ideas about power, religion, belief, love, revenge, violence and legacy. The adults on the New Horizon have some pretty questionable morals, but it also becomes clear that the adults on the Empyrean did too, which raises some concerning questions about why these people were chosen to seed a New Earth. The kids, unfortunately, seem to as much products of questionable parenting, as they are of their situation. The ending of the book opens up a really difficult situation, so I’m looking forward to seeing how Ryan resolves it. Definitely stronger than the average young adult novel.

18 / 50 books. 36% done!

6839 / 15000 pages. 46% done!

Currently reading:
-        The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown – 509 pages
-        The War That Killed Achilles: The True Story of the Iliad by Caroline Alexander – 277 pages
-        A Series of Unfortunate Events: Book the Sixth: The Ersatz Elevator by Lemony Snicket – 259 pages

And coming up:
-        The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: Volume 3: White Gold Wielder by Stephen Donaldson – 500 pages
-        The Odyssey by Homer – 324 pages
-        One for the Money by Janet Evanovich – 290 pages

#62: The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron

When Katharine Tulman’s inheritance is called into question by the rumor that her eccentric uncle is squandering away the family fortune, she is sent to his estate to have him committed to an asylum. But instead of a lunatic, Katharine discovers a genius inventor with his own set of rules, who employs a village of nine hundred people rescued from the workhouses of London.

Katharine is now torn between protecting her own inheritance and preserving the peculiar community she grows to care for deeply. And her choices are made even more complicated by a handsome apprentice, a secretive student, and fears for her own sanity.

As the mysteries of the estate begin to unravel, it is clear that not only is her uncle’s world at stake, but also the state of England as Katharine knows it.

This historical fiction novel with a touch of steampunk is a solid YA read. In particular:
- I like how her uncle is most certainly on the severe end of the autism spectrum, but how it is shown in a very positive light. Most everyone loves him and fiercely protects him. Within the context of the period, perhaps that attitude is almost too optimistic, but as the mother of an autistic child I really appreciated the way it was handled.
- there's a romance there, but it's not handled in a traditional way, nor is it a pat "happily ever ever" in that regard.
- it's a fast read with a good pace.

On the more negative side, I did find the villain to be predictable, though there were still other twists and turns at the end that I did not expect.

Book 47

The Iron-Jawed Boy (The Sky Guardian Chronicles, #1)The Iron-Jawed Boy by Nikolas Lee

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I won this from goodreads in exchange for a review. Honestly it's more 3.5 but I rounded up. There are inevitable comparisons to Harry Potter (school of magic, funky named foods) and Percy Jackson (indifferent gods mucking about with their offspring) but while it certainly shares things with them, it is also plenty different.

Ion is a young boy, a caller, and the story opens with his father being dragged off and his last act is to attach a sheet of iron to Ion's jaw telling him it would be important one day. Ion is then taken as a slave. He is barely surviving as such after months when a young and malicious goddess pays his master a visit. Ion is nearly killed but at the end of the day he is rescued and his powers awaken.

To his surprise, he is reunited with his sister, Oceanus and is entered into the magic school run by the gods. He is met with the young goddess who tried to kill him and her brother who resent callers like Ion and Oceanus. The school is also attended by elves and other magical creatures.

As Ion trains and tries to keep out of sight of those who don't particularly like him, his magic grows in leaps and bounds becoming a wild thing. Ion is special and he is also in a bad position, believing his mother who died in the war the gods are waging is haunting him. She has plans for him.

But things go sideways and he might have doomed them all.

The good: I like Ion a lot and there is a lot of action.

The less good: I think the world building could have been a bit stronger. It was a tad confusing in spots. I have to admit, I don't get why the only food the kids have are sweets. I get that the head of the gods has a soft spot for them (and I'm still wondering how much of his addlepated nature was a put on) but to be the only food source? Also while some of the action is wrapped up, it's a very open ending and those drive me nuts.

The not rated because they are personal quirks: I wish this had been just a straight fantasy. It is on earth but you only know that because it tells us so. I really dislike that. I'd rather fantasy not be on earth if it's not really recognizable as such.

Overall, it was a good story that kept my interest

View all my reviews

Books 17 & 18 - 2012

Book 17: Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore – 559 pages

Description from
The long-awaited companion to "New York Times" bestsellers "Graceling" and "Fire" Eight years after "Graceling," Bitterblue is now queen of Monsea. But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisors, who have run things since Leck died, believe in a forward-thinking plan: Pardon all who committed terrible acts under Leck's reign, and forget anything bad ever happened. But when Bitterblue begins sneaking outside the castle--disguised and alone--to walk the streets of her own city, she starts realizing that the kingdom has been under the thirty-five-year spell of a madman, and the only way to move forward is to revisit the past. Two thieves, who only steal what has already been stolen, change her life forever. They hold a key to the truth of Leck's reign. And one of them, with an extreme skill called a Grace that he hasn't yet identified, holds a key to her heart.

This is the final book in the Graceling series, and its set in the same part of this world as the first book, which puts it, timeline wise, some fifty or sixty years after the second book, Fire. I was really sad to not read more about Fire (the character) as I loved her, but I was excited to get back to reading about Katsa and Po and to see how Bitterblue had grown up (she was a child in the first book – this one is set eight years after the event of the first book). Obviously Bitterblue is the star of this story, Katsa and Po playing fun supporting characters this time around. And poor, poor Bitterblue. Her story, her reign as Queen, so marked by the actions of her evil father. It is this, his actions, his motivation, and his power, that makes up this monster of a book. For despite her best efforts, it slowly becomes apparent that Bitterblue can’t as easily escape her father’s power as his death might suggest.
Cashore continues to do in this book what she set up in the previous two: create a complex, clever, realistic world, alongside a cast of funny, quirky, flawed characters. She manages to imbue her characters with tolerance, humility and some very much appreciated sarcasm. I think the thing I love the most about this book is that there are at least three openly gay characters, but at no point does Cashore make a big deal about them. They are people, not stereotypes. This might seem like an odd thing to like, but one thing that genuinely frustrates me (and something I try to avoid when writing myself) is when a writer creates a character to fit a niche, to show to their audience that they are in with the minority group (the ‘token black guy’ mentality, if you will) and then proceeds to go on and on about that character’s minority aspect to such an extent that it reduces them to a stereotype, to that characteristic alone, rather than who they are as a whole person. We are all so much more than gay, or black, or female or Jewish, even if that characteristic is a large or important part of who we are. I love that Cashore manages to get across to the reader that these characters are gay, without having to turn it into the only thing important about them.
Either way, this conclusion to the Graceling series does exactly what I would have wanted: it ties up the loose ends, answer the important questions whilst leaving enough unsaid to wonder about, and even manages to bring back Fire for a little bit. A really good conclusion to a really good series. Definitely recommended!

17 / 50 books. 34% done!

6003 / 15000 pages. 40% done!

Book 18: Culture Smart! Britain: the essential guide to customs & culture by Paul Norbury – 164 pages

Description from
Whether you are setting off to Britain to travel, learn, work or relocate, Culture Smart! Britain will provide a wealth of information on everything from cultural sensitivities to business and socialising. Culture Smart! offers an indepth insight to the customs and culture of Britain, an area where many other guidebooks only scratch the surface.

I worked in England for ten weeks in 2012. I was sent over by the auditing firm I worked for at the time, a reward given to hard working employees – ten weeks in London, accommodation, flights etc paid for, and the implied opportunity to travel Europe on weekends. As part of the experience, I was made to go to ‘culture’ training to adapt to working with the English (something I found hilariously funny seeing as I’m Australian, and I’ve worked with tons of Poms my whole working life). They gave me this book at the training, and it was actually quite interesting. It explains standard customs and cultural sensitivities about the whole of Great Britain, and it had some advice I definitely ended up bearing in mind while there (I knew I’d been there too long when I started getting annoyed when ‘bloody foreigners’ didn’t queue properly). One of these days, I’ll seek out the version of this book for Australia just to see what it recommends!

18 / 50 pages. 36% done!

6167 / 15000 pages. 41% done!

Currently reading:
-        The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown – 509 pages
-        I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes – 700 pages
-        Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – 399 pages

And coming up:
-        The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: Volume 3: White Gold Wielder by Stephen Donaldson – 500 pages
-        The Odyssey by Homer – 324 pages
-        One for the Money by Janet Evanovich – 290 pages

Books 17-19

17. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker. The depth and breadth of this book is amazing. There is a large cast of well fleshed out characters. Not all of them are likable, but all are interesting. What I found neat is how much the characters, particularly the main protagonist Celie and her husband, change through the years. The husband starts out as a jerk, but by the end slowly has mended his ways. Celie seems a passive, fearful. woman but survives a good deal to even get to where she is. The book is told through a series of letters, mostly written by Celie, who first writes to God, then to her younger sister Nettie, whom she becomes separated from. You see glimpses of Celie's world - a world of low education, lower social standing, Jim Crow and prejudice - and Nettie's world, where she serves as a missionary in Africa, in its early days of colonialism by Europeans. Many large issues are addressed through the eyes of Celie and Nettie. Also impressive is Walker's handling of Celie's written voice. From the dialogue, it's obvious Celie is not well educated but the words still flow well, and the dialect does not prove a stumbling block to the pace of the story.

18. Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe. what made reading this book interesting was reading The Color Purple at the same time, and reading The Ecyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits just beforehand. The former has scenes taking place in Africa around the same time period, and the latter addresses some of the ghosts and spirits mentioned in Things fall Apart. The story centers on Okonkwo, a well-regarded leader in his fictional village in Nigeria. Okonkwo prides himself mightily in the fact that he pulled himself up through the ranks through his own strength and courage, and he looks down on those he perceives as weak. He especially has nothing but scorn for his late father, a gentle but weak man whose shadow Okonkwo has sought to wrest himself free of his entire life. Okonkwo is a hard man, even abusive, to his family. His downfall, though, happens after he accidentally shoots and kills the son of a recently deceased elder. During his time in exile, in his mother's home village, Okonkwo's village sees major changes from the influx of white colonists eager to take over the land to plant rubber trees. The book is balanced and unflinching in dealing with both Okonkwo's tribal customs and the white settlers - including white missionaries. Both have issues and problems, both have good. Still, it is painfully apparent (as history shows) how disasterous colonialism was to Africa. Okonkwo's end is sad but seems inevitable; he represented the old ways, the old leadership, which has effectively been nullified by the outside world.

19. Doll Bones, by Holly Black. I really liked this coming of age story for the most part, although i'm not sure I liked the ending. The story follows three longtime friends, Poppy, Alice and Zach. We hear the story mostly through Zach's voice. The three have been playing an intricate fantasy game for years, using numerous dolls and figures, including the "Queen," an antique china doll. But when Zach's recently returned father decides that his son shouldn't be playing fantasy games with two girls, but should be spending more time with boys playing basketball, Zach finds himself torn. It looks like the end to the threesome's adventure until Poppy has a dream involving the antique doll, which propels Zach, Alice and Poppy into one final and real adventure. Mystery, adventure and a good dose of outright spookiness make for a fast-paced tale. What I liked was watching the three change on their adventure, particularly Alice. The very end felt a bit forced, as if the author was trying very hard for an upbeat ending. Not sure a happy ending was fitting, though. All three were beginning to change even before the story got going, and I got the impression that after this final fling, the three would eventually drift apart, as what happens so often in real life. All in all, though, I found this an enjoyable tale.

Currently reading: Darius and Twig, by Walter Dean Myers, and Half Brother, by Kenneth Oppel.

Book 40

SilverboySilverboy by N.M. Browne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'll be honest it's more like a 3.5 (the ending drags it down a bit). This was one of those books that I bought for the cover. The narrative is a bit uneven over all but still I enjoyed it.

There are several point of view characters but most of the story is told from Tommo's point of view. Tommo is a young man of indeterminate age (mid-teens) who has been a slave to the spell grinders who carve spellstones for use by the Protectorate, Fallon. Tommo, like most of the spell grinders, is sick from the stones. He has turned spellstone silver from head to toe and glows like the moon. He knows that the quivers will soon follow and death follows the quivers, a shaking disease that most of the spellgrinders die of.

Tommo escapes and is granted a week of sanctuary to go to the ocean before he dies. If's not back, he'll be hanged. On the way, already weakened from malnourishment, Tommo is near collapse when he meets Akenna, a fisher's daughter. Their relationship is an odd one. Akenna can be harsh and demanding but she sees in Tommo the means to escape her abusive father because she believes he has the Inward Power, the ability to do magic without spellstones. But Fallon, using his one-time friend and now dungeon inmate, Haver-Snatcher, has hunted down and killed all those with the power to threaten his rule. Even the high priest Gildea or so everyone thinks.

Fallon, Haver-Snatcher and Vevena (Fallon's ensorcelled wife and Haver-Snatcher's daughter) are other point of view characters that help some with the world building (though in other places it comes as info dumps).

Tommo is especially a sympathetic character, particularly when the quivers start and he knows he's dying. He fights to live long enough to help Akenna especially after it's revealed they may a much larger role in their world than they could ever dream of.

The ending was a tad rushed and chaotic which was my biggest quibble with the book. This is one of those sadly under the radar kind of books and I thought it was pretty enjoyable.

View all my reviews
32. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, 2011, 353 pages.
This is a beautiful book, a re-read, at a time when I needed something to read that I knew I'd enjoy. It's about a female doctor/scientist who travels to a scientific camp in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, to find out the circumstances of the death of her lab partner, who succumbed to a fatal illness when he visited the same encampment the previous month. Marina's fascination with the native tribe being studied, the elderly scientist in charge of the camp, and with a small orphaned boy of prodigious intelligence, are the focus of the book, as are the changes that the camp causes in her. It's a wonderful story, written by a woman with a gift for words and phrasing; I sometimes re-read sentences and paragraphs simply to enjoy the mellifluous flow of her prose.

33. I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak, 2002, 357 pages.
This was an astonishing, unique, and brilliant novel. Written for young adults, it tells the tale of Ed, a taxi-driver and a bit of a loser, who lives in suburban Sydney, Australia, and who spends his off-time playing cards and being hopelessly in love with his best friend Audrey. After Ed foils a bank robbery, playing cards with mysterious tasks on them start arriving at his home; his curiosity about his assignments, and the way he carries them out, bring about huge changes in his life and in his outlook. The story was simply gorgeous and had me in tears on and off throughout the book. It is a rare book that can make me cry, but this one did so repeatedly. There are lessons to be learned from this story, but it's not pedantic, it's magical and transforming, and I loved it.

34. Maskerade by Terry Pratchett, 1995, 381 pages.
It is a rare thing to be giving a poor review of a Pratchett book, as PTerry is one of my favourite authors, but this particular novel did not fly with me at all. It's a send-up of the story of The Phantom of the Opera, but I contend that only people who have seen the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical in a theatre would understand the gist of this book, and even they might be mystified as to some of the goings-on. (I was, and I've seen it staged twice.) There were parts of the book that I liked: Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg were in it, and their presence, particularly Granny's, is not to be sneezed at. Overall, however, I found the book quite uninteresting, and the endings (there were several) confusing and convoluted. I apologize to Sir Terry for ever disliking anything he's written, considering the enjoyment and laughter he has added to my life over the past twenty-odd years.

Record of Books I've Read this year, With Ratings given.Collapse )

Book 35

#47: Zero by Tom Leveen

For aspiring artist Amanda Walsh, who only half-jokingly goes by the nickname Zero, the summer before college was supposed to be fun—plain and simple. Hanging out with her best friend Jenn, going to clubs, painting, and counting down the days until her escape. But when must-have scholarship money doesn't materialize, and she has a falling out with Jenn that can only be described as majorly awkward, and Zero's parents relationship goes from tense to relentless fighting, her prospects start looking as bleak and surreal as a painting by her idol Salvador Dali. Will life truly imitate art? Will her new, unexpected relationship with a punk skater boy who seems too good to be real and support from the unlikeliest of sources show Zero that she's so much more than a name.

This YA novel is a fast, intense read. Leveen does a masterful job of creating a realistic and heavily flawed cast of characters, all viewed through the eyes of seventeen-year-old snarky artist Amanda, aka Zero. She's full of angst and melodrama, traits that normally would turn me off of a character pretty fast. Her behavior did irritate me in a few spots but overall I found her sympathetic. Her home life is wretched. Her father is a drunk. Her mother tries to glue the family together through nagging. Amanda's one escape is through her art--but her dream of getting into the School of the Art Institute of Chicago just cracked into a million pieces when she was accepted into the school but failed to get a scholarship. She's angry at the world, but mostly herself.

Mike, her love interest, is the drummer of an rising local Phoenix band called Gothic Rainbow. Mike is a good guy. I liked that Leveen went that route. He's really more level-headed and realistic than Amanda. The novel doesn't skirt around adult themes. The book does include sex. It's... honestly portrayed. This is not a romance book. The sex that happens is not ideal. It carries some regret, and there's also honest talk about disease and risk of pregnancy. It's well-handled, if discomforting to read--I wish I could reach into the book and slap Amanda, tell her to stop and THINK.

There's also a theme through the book of adults letting Amanda down. It's devastating at times, especially a subplot involving her art teacher. It creates an interesting dynamic. So many books have an orphaned main character, struggling to make it on their own. Here, it's the teenagers who are all orphaned in their own ways just as they struggle to find themselves. Leveen handles it very well.

In all, it's a good book. Definitely one for older teens, or those who are ready for heavier content. Books like this end up banned at school libraries, but really, there's nothing in here that teens don't already know about. The book just highlights it--but also has the benefit of showing the consequences and that there's hope in the future.

April books

Last month I got behind with my reading and even more behind with my posting, so without further delay …
11.   The Girl in the Green Raincoat by Laura Lippman – the 11th installment in the Tess Monaghan series. Spoiler alert: Tess has a baby! But first … she has to solve a mystery. While on mandatory bed rest during her third trimester, she watches the world from her window. For several days she observes a young woman in a green raincoat walking her dog, until one day the girl is nowhere to be seen and the dog is running free. Using her phone and computer to do research, as well as cajoling her friends and associates to do her leg work, she discovers there is far more to the young woman’s disappearance than she expected. She also uncovers some surprising information about her parents’ marriage and ponders the changes in her life and career that will surely come about with the birth of her child. The series itself will also change tone and character now that Tess is a mother, and I was pleased with the way this story closed out this segment of her life.
12.   Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan – the 4th book of 5 in the series. Percy and his cohorts continue to explore the demigod world and continue their mission to protect the world at large from the Titan Kronos and his followers. While this installment still has Percy’s self-conscious humor and the easy-going camaraderie among the main characters, there’s a darker and more wistful tone as Percy and his friends begin to appreciate the full gravity of the task they have taken on and the challenges they have ahead of them. I’m torn between wanting to devour the last book in the series and holding off for a while because I don’t want to get to the end.
13.   Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective by Donald Sobol – first installment of a children’s series. I recently came across Amazon’s list of 100 mysteries/thrillers to read in a lifetime, and I decided to start working my way through those I haven’t read (most of them!), which is timely now that I am more or less current with my personal favorite authors of the genre. This particular entry is a charming collection of vignettes involving a precocious young man who solves petty crimes in his community through a combination of keen observation, common sense, and calm under pressure.
14.   In the Woods by Tana French – first in the Dublin Murder Squad series. In 1984 three 12-year-old kids disappear in the woods adjoining their neighborhood in suburban Dublin; one child is found several hours later with bloody shoes but no memory of what happened to his friends, who remain missing. The boy and his family move away shortly thereafter, and as he gets older he keeps this aspect of his past a secret. Twenty years pass, and he is working on the Dublin Murder Squad when a young girl is murdered in the same town. He wonders if he has a chance to solve not only the current crime but also the mystery of his past, but as one might expect there are many twists and turns before he and his partner uncover the true culprit. Along the way he jeopardizes their partnership as well as his own career. On a certain level this plays out like a straight procedural police drama, but the many layers to the story add complexity and poignancy.

Whoops! Forgot 3 books

I realized I forgot to include the following books for April:

Amulet #2: The Stonekeeper’s Curse by Kazu Kibuishi
Amulet #3: The Cloud Searchers by Kazu Kibuishi
Amulet #4: The Last Council by Kazu Kibuishi

The Amulet series is a wonderful YA series where humans have been affected by a disease that slowly turns them into various animals and sea life. It's inventive, wonderfully drawn and filled with action. I recommend reading it if you like YA graphic novels.

Books completed: 19/50

Books 15 & 16 - 2013

Book 15: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thomson Walker – 369 pages

Description from
'It is never what you worry over that comes to pass in the end. The real catastrophes are always different - unimagined, unprepared for, unknown...' What if our 24-hour day grew longer, first in minutes, then in hours, until day becomes night and night becomes day? What effect would this slowing have on the world? On the birds in the sky, the whales in the sea, the astronauts in space, and on an eleven-year-old girl, grappling with emotional changes in her own life? One morning, Julia and her parents wake up to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth is noticeably slowing

This was not a good book to read during my audit busy season. That’s not to say it’s not a good book. Because it is. In a weird kind of way. But it’s depressing. It’s sad. It’s the kind of book that comes back to you when you feel a little down, or when you are lying in bed at two in the morning, unable to sleep. Or when something goes wrong in the world, and it takes a while for the powers to be to work out why. The premise of the story is that the Earth begins to slow on its axis, spinning slower and slower with the inevitable implication being that it will eventually stop. Gravity won’t work properly should the Earth stop. The beautifully precarious relationship we have with our planet comes into question in this debut novel. I’ve always felt that we – as in humanity – don’t truly appreciate the wonderful gift that is our planet. Not in a tree-hugging, do-gooder kind of way, because I truly believe that if we were to be ripped from this world tomorrow our world would be as if we’d never existed in a 100 years – a mere blink of the eye in planet life terms. But more in a ‘we are nothing in the scheme of things, and yet we have this amazing sphere flying through space to live on and its perfectly equipped to support us’. A too-near-flying asteroid could wipe us out tomorrow. And yet we all stress about our little problems in our little lives, and forget we are less than a drop in the ocean that is our universe. To my mind, this book looks at the idea behind ‘what if our planet decided our time was up?’. Over the course of the book, the Earth turns on humanity. Food becomes more and more difficult to grow, the days become hotter and the nights colder, the beautiful balance our bodies have with the rise and fall of the 24 hour day becomes increasingly irrelevant. And humanity struggles on, desperately trying to turn the Earth to facilitate our existence. Of course, some people try to adapt to this new world, in particular, the hours of day and night, trying to stay ‘off the clock’ and stay awake during days that stretch for days, sleep through nights of an equally long length. But the rest of the world very quickly moves to a 24 hour clock at complete odds with the rise and fall of the sun.
Don’t get me wrong. There are things about this book I didn’t like, despite my musings above. The story is told through the point of view of Julia, who is eleven. To be honest, I didn’t care all that much about Julia. I cared about the Earth, and Julie is a means through which to tell Earth’s story. But to me, the story is Earth’s and not Julia’s, even though I think the author did not intend it to be that way. I don’t care about an eleven year old, and I think the idea behind this story has so much potential and so many interesting questions that it would have been better served through a different protagonist. Or maybe not a protagonist at all. Then again, maybe it is Julia that gives this story its wistfulness.
I also had some problems with some of the effects of the slowing. To be honest, I’m not a hundred percent sure they are accurate or reasonable. But I can look past them. It’s not like there’s a lot of literature out there on the impact on the potential slowing of the Earth. I also felt the slowing happened too quickly; it seemed to jump from a few minutes of extra time to a whole day to several days quite quickly. But again, I can look past this. Overall, the idea fascinated me, and like the very best ideas (and I say ideas, not stories, because a great story can be a very simple, ordinary idea, and a great idea can be told in a story that is not at all interesting or enjoyable to read) it crawls under your skin and stays there, popping up to remind you of its existence whenever it feels it should. A fascinating debut with some flaws inevitable when trying to draw an Earth-changing idea into a mere 369 pages.

15 / 50 books. 30% done!

5727 / 15000 pages. 38% done!

Book 16: Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter – 394 pages

Description from
"She won't rest until she's sent every walking corpse back to its grave. Forever." Had anyone told Alice Bell that her entire life would change course between one heartbeat and the next, she would have laughed. From blissful to tragic, innocent to ruined? Please. But that's all it took. One heartbeat. A blink, a breath, a second, and everything she knew and loved was gone. Her father was right. The monsters are real. To avenge her family, Ali must learn to fight the undead. To survive, she must learn to trust the baddest of the bad boys, Cole Holland. But Cole has secrets of his own, and if Ali isn't careful, those secrets might just prove to be more dangerous than the zombies.

Alice Bell’s father is insane. Her mother won’t stand up to him, won’t leave him, just exists beside him. And her little sister Emma is Alice’s light, the one thing in her tormented life that she adores. But there’s a reason for Alice’s father’s insanity, and it’s not till the events of an evening that steal Alice’s family from her, that she understands what this reason is. There are zombies. And Alice’s father knew this, but not how to fight them entirely. It’s after her family are taken by the zombies that Alice is able to see them. At first she thinks she is going insane. But when she moves to a new school, she discovers that there are others like her. Including the very attractive Cole Holland, whom Alice seems to have some mystical connection with. The zombies are real, but can only be seen by some, and those some fight the zombies at night. So Alice is recruited into their little group, and oh yes, there might be something romantic going on with that Cole boy.
This is a pretty good book for a young adult novel set in the real world. I often find these kind of books make the teenage protagonists so annoying that they distract from the story (I much prefer young adult novels set in, essentially, another universe. The teenagers are, often, basically teenagers only in age.). The teenagers in this book manage to not be too annoying in this one (they get worse in the sequel) though Cole has a troubled past and Alice is still recovering from the death of her family. Setting off these two is Alice’s new friend Kat, who clearly has some health issues that she’d prefer to keep herself. Showalter doesn’t shy away from the inevitable practical problems that arise when one is fighting zombies at night – for example, missing schoolwork – and there is a nice sense of camaraderie among the zombie fighters even when half of them have dated the other half. The actual zombie fight that drives the plot is obviously setting up the overall trilogy, though even at the conclusion of the second book I still can’t work out what that conclusion might be. Overall, a clever play on some of the lore of the Wonderland stories coupled with the scary undeadness of zombies certainly had me looking at the dark in a different way afterwards.

16 / 50 books. 32% done!

6121 / 15000 pages. 41% done!

Currently reading:
-        The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown – 509 pages
-        Man Drought and Other Social Issues of the New Century by Bernard Salt – 276 pages
-        Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge – 342 pages

And coming up:
-        The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: Volume 3: White Gold Wielder by Stephen Donaldson – 500 pages
-        The Odyssey by Homer – 324 pages
-        One for the Money by Janet Evanovich – 290 pages

Books 14, 15 & 16 - 2012

Book 14: The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty – 388 pages

Description from
Sophie Honeywell always wondered if Thomas Gordon was the one she let get away. He was the perfect boyfriend, but on the day he was to propose, she broke his heart. A year later he married his travel agent, while Sophie has been mortifyingly single ever since. Now Thomas is back in her life because Sophie has unexpectedly inherited his aunt Connie's house on Scribbly Gum Island -- home of the famously unsolved Munro Baby mystery. Sophie moves onto the island and begins a new life as part of an unconventional family where it seems everyone has a secret. Grace, a beautiful young mother, is feverishly planning a shocking escape from her perfect life. Margie, a frumpy housewife, has made a pact with a stranger, while dreamy Aunt Rose wonders if maybe it's about time she started making her own decisions. As Sophie's life becomes increasingly complicated, she discovers that sometimes you have to stop waiting around -- and come up with your own fairy-tale ending. As she so adroitly did in her smashing debut novel, "Three Wishes," the incomparable Liane Moriarty once again combines sharp wit, lovable and eccentric characters, and a page-turning story for an unforgettable "Last Anniversary."

I read Liane Moriarty’s book ‘Three Wishes’ several years ago and really liked it, and I’ve read most of the books by her sister Jaclyn Moriarty and really liked those too, so I gave this one a try. It’s an odd book, but that’s the Moriarty sisters’ style. Sophie inherits a house owned by her ex-fiancé’s aunt. Odd, but not the oddest part of the story. This house has a story behind it, an unsolved mystery involving her ex-fiancé’s mother (I think – I can’t quite remember anymore). At the same time this is all happening Thomas’ wife, Grace, a new mother, is suffering with undiagnosed post-partum depression. The story jumps perspectives, and as Sophie becomes more involved in Thomas’ family’s lives and the mystery in the house, Grace spirals further into her depression. I had a fair idea of what the mystery was right from the start, but Grace’s story made the book tough reading. It reminded me why I normally read fantasy. Whilst I appreciate the importance of the topic (ie. Post partum depression), I read to escape reality, not to immerse myself in it. Call me selfish or misguided if you will, but I don’t want to be depressed when I’m reading. So it took me a while to get through this one, because I really struggled to work through Grace’s issues. If the overall story itself had been more engaging I probably would have enjoyed it more, but given I’d already worked it out, that did little for me as well. So good, but not great! Having said that, I really liked the ending which was very…’modern’. Not as good as ‘Three Wishes’ but a good read if suburban family drama/mysteries are your thing.

14 / 50 books. 28% done!

4873 / 15000 pages. 32% done!

Book 15: Hatter M: Volume 3: The Nature of Wonder by Frank Beddor and Liz Cavalier; illustrated by Sami Makkonen – 187 pages

Description from
In Volume 3, "The Nature of Wonder", Royal Bodyguard Hatter Madigan follows the Glow of the setting sun into America's wild west in search of Wonderland's lost princess. Hatter's adventures will include a shamanic vision quest in the Grand Canyon and tracking Black Imagination through San Francisco's Barbary Coast where he discovers an astounding clue to his own haunted past.

This is the third of the Hatter Madigan graphic novels, filling in the years between Princess Alyss of Wonderland being tossed into our world and her finally getting back to the Queendom she rightfully rules. I love the character of Hatter Madigan (he’s like a nicer version of Vegeta from Dragonball Z, in my head) and its fun to read about his exploits, particularly given how Beddor and Cavalier interweave his story with history, Forrest Gump style. Alas, another volume must come, as Hatter does not succeed in finding the lost Princess at the end of this story. A cool companion piece to one of my most favourite series.

15 / 50 books. 30% done!

5060 / 15000 pages. 34% done!

Book 16: Fire by Kristin Cashore – 384 pages

Description from
A must-read title for all fans of Patrick Rothfuss and Trudi Canavan, FIRE is an exceptional fantasy novel. From the deft characterisation to the gripping story, the fast-paced action to the evocative prose, this is one of the strongest fantasy novels of the year. Set in a world of stunningly beautiful, exceptionally dangerous monsters, Fire is one of the most dangerous monsters of all - a human one. Marked out by her vivid red hair, she's more than attractive. Fire is mesmerising. But with this extraordinary beauty comes influence and power. People who are susceptible to her appeal will do anything for her attention, and for her affection. They will turn away from their families, their work, and their duties for her. They will forget their responsibilities to please her ...and worse, crush nations, neglect kingdoms and abuse their power. Aware of her power, and afraid of it, Fire lives in a corner of the world away from people, and away from temptation. Until the day comes when she is needed - a day when, for her king, she has to take a stand not only against his enemies, but also against herself ...

I have absolutely fallen in love with this book. The character of Fire reminds me vividly of the main character in my book, and yet is quite different. I think it’s their spirit that is similar and that in of itself draws me to this story. Her position as the only living ‘monster’ and the psychological battle she undergoes in order to accept herself and her role in the world is heartbreaking and beautiful. But its not just Fire who makes this story. It’s the ensemble cast, comprised, mostly of the Royal Family of the Dells, the region this book is set in. The region itself sits in the same world as Graceling but in a part of said world that is not known to the Seven Kingdoms mentioned in the previous book (a mountain range divides them). I love ensemble casts. My own story has a massive ensemble cast (almost a 100 characters, spanning 13 books and 35 years) and its ensemble casts that usually keep me going through a series. Harry Potter would have been unbearable if it hadn’t have been for the ensemble cast because Harry in himself got really annoying after awhile. Similarly, I finished the Twilight Saga and kept reading the Merry Gentry books not for the main characters themselves but for the supporting cast, the ensemble. Luckily, in Fire, both Fire herself and the ensemble cast are magnificent, but even if I hadn’t had liked Fire, I would have kept reading just to find out what happens to the ensemble. The book has some of the best (as in funny) lines I’ve ever come across in a fantasy novel (I’ve liked about 10 of them on goodreads) and the pace is solid, allowing sufficient reflection time whilst still cracking along nicely. I can’t say enough good things about this series and I genuinely can’t think of anything I’d change. The saddest thing about the entire affair is knowing that its set significantly before the events of Graceling (the previous novel in publishing order) and Bitterblue (its successor) and as such the characters I had grown to love are rather old when they make an appearance in Bitterblue. Without a doubt, one of the best fantasy novels I’ve read ever!

16 / 50 books. 32% done!

5444 / 15000 pages. 36% done!

Currently reading:
-        A Series of Unfortunate Events: Book the Fifth: The Austere Academy by Lemony Snicket – 221 pages
-        The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown – 509 pages
-        Man Drought and Other Social Issues of the New Century by Bernard Salt – 276 pages

And coming up:
-        The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: Volume 3: White Gold Wielder by Stephen Donaldson – 500 pages
-        The Odyssey by Homer – 324 pages
-        One for the Money by Janet Evanovich – 290 pages

Book 33

Book 82: Marie Antoinette: Serial Killer.
Author: Katie Alender, 2013.
Genre: Young Adult. Mystery. Romance. Serial Killer.
Other Details: Paperback. 301 pages.

Colette Iselin is excited to go to Paris on a class trip. She’ll get to soak up the beauty and culture, and maybe even learn something about her family’s French roots. But a series of gruesome murders are taking place across the city, putting everyone on edge. And as she tours museums and palaces, Colette keeps seeing a strange vision: a pale woman in a ball gown and powdered wig, who looks suspiciously like Marie Antoinette. Colette knows her popular, status-obsessed friends won’t believe her, so she seeks out the help of a charming French boy. Together, they uncover a shocking secret involving a dark, hidden history. When Colette realizes she herself may hold the key to the mystery, her own life is suddenly in danger . . . - synopsis from author's website.

I fancied something non-demanding to read one afternoon this week and this fit the bill. It turned out to be pretty much what I expected from the title, a rather fluffy story of a young American girl in Paris dealing with a vengeful ghost and discovering along the way important lessons about being true to yourself and the value of friendship.

Colette starts as something of a 'Heather'; she is trying to fit into a Mean Girl clique with mixed results. The Two other girls are so self-absorbed that they don't realise that Colette's circumstances have changed since her parents' divorce and so she's always on thin ice around them. I was perplexed as to why she was even bothering. There were a few unsettling scenes if you suffer from claustrophobia but the murders themselves are pretty tame.

The police in Paris seemed very laid back about the investigation into this bizarre series of murders though as the story is from Colette's point of view and she speaks little French (despite being there on a French class field trip) maybe this can be presumed to be taking place elsewhere. Still, even royal ghosts don't usually have the ability to run about cutting off heads and Marie Antoinette came off as less than one-dimensional, even if a ghost. Still it wasn't a novel that I was going to take at all seriously and while I wished that it had turned out to be a meatier murder mystery, with or without a supernatural element, my investment in it was minimal.

#36: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor... Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough...Eleanor.

Park... He knows she'll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There's a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises...Park.

Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.

Rowell is THE YA author to watch. I loved her book Fangirl, and she proves herself again with this book. Really, it made me uncomfortable at times because I related so strongly to Eleanor since we were both overweight and bullied in high school, but I love that Rowell made Eleanor a beautiful and strong heroine because of that. Not in spite of it. Because of it--there's no mention of diet or exercise or any attempts for her to change herself in that way. Park is slight, somewhat effeminate and trying to understand that aspect of himself, so there's a lot for boys to see through his point of view as well.

It's a romance, but there's a lot of darkness here, too. Eleanor is really going through hell in her home life. I foresaw the big revelation at the end, but that didn't really take away the tension because I had no idea how Eleanor and Park would take it. That was the surprise. As with Fangirl, Rowell creates an ending that lets the reader know these are very much lives in progress. It's just part of the masterful realism of the story.

Books 13 & 14 - 2013

Book 13: Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan – 385 pages

Description from
16 years ago, Waverly and Kieran were the first children born in space. Now a perfect couple, they are the pride and joy of the whole spaceship. They represent the future. The ship is their entire world. They have never seen a stranger before. Old Earth is crumbling, and the crew is hoping to reach (and colonise) New Earth within fifty years. Along with their allies on the second spaceship - who set off a year before them and whom they have never met. One day, Kieran proposes to Waverly. That same morning, the 'allies' attack - and Kieran and Waverly are separated in the cruelest way possible. Will they ever see each other again?

This was a really interesting, though at times, frustrating, book. The concept was quite cool, and something I’d seen pondered in a number of Star Trek episodes in various different ways. Kieran and Seth and Waverly are raised on what is effectively a generational ship, but there are poisoned people on this ship, and Kieran is little too religious for the atheist ship he lives on (the other ship, 6 or so months ahead of them, is the religious ship). Unexpectedly, at least to the children, the other ship, the New Horizon, has slowed down to match up to its sister ship, and New Horizon attacks. In a manner that is just a slight stretch (but its necessary for the purpose of the story), the majority of the adults are killed, and all the girls are kidnapped. What subsequently unfolds is a Lord of the Flies type story tainted by religious fanaticism and humanity’s terror at not being able to reproduce. None of the characters in this book are perfect, even if their intentions are understandable, and I really appreciated that. Kieran is annoying and has elements of one of the cult like figures, who starts to believe his own hype, but you can kind of appreciate that he thinks he’s doing what’s best for the community. Seth hates Kieran and its not necessarily hard to understand why, though he takes his dislike way too far. Waverly is caught in the middle, and she often appears the voice of reason, but she too suffers and makes questionable decisions. All are put in inevitable positions, and its fascinating to see them cope. This is the first in a trilogy, and definitely an interesting sci-fi version of Lord of the Flies. Worth a look.

13 / 50 books. 26% done!

5064 / 15000 pages. 34% done!

Book 14: Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto – 294 pages

Description from
Three years after her husband Max's death, Shelley feels no more adjusted to being a widow than she did that first terrible day. That is, until the doorbell rings. Standing on her front step is a young man who looks so much like Max-same smile, same eyes, same age, same adorable bump in his nose-he could be Max's long-lost relation. He introduces himself as Paolo, an Italian editor of American coffee table books, and shows Shelley some childhood photos. Paolo tells her that the man in the photos, the bearded man who Paolo says is his grandfather though he never seems to age, is Max. "Her" Max. And he is alive and well. As outrageous as Paolo's claims seem-how could her husband be alive? And if he is, why hasn't he looked her up? - Shelley desperately wants to know the truth. She and Paolo jet across the globe to track Max down-if it is "really" Max- and along the way, Shelley recounts the European package tour where they had met. As she relives Max's stories of bloody Parisian barricades, medieval Austrian kitchens, and buried Roman boathouses, Shelley begins to piece together the story of who her husband was and what these new revelations mean for her "happily ever after." And as she and Paolo get closer to the truth, Shelley discovers that not all stories end where they are supposed to.

I’m not sure what I expected, but this was a really beautiful story. Shelley’s beloved husband Max dies in an explosion on a train. Three years later, a man comes to her door who looks just like Max. Shelley is shocked when this man, Paolo, tells her that he is Max’s grandson. So begins two stories: the story of how Shelley and Max met, and the story of how it is that Max could possibly have a grandson. It’s a very clever story, but also very beautiful, and I certainly wasn’t expecting the ending. Max’s story is a reflection on what makes a life. Shelley’s love for her husband is one of those special one of a kind type of loves. Max’s stories, told in the flashbacks that explain how Max and Shelley meet, are obscure little tales that you almost wish were real. It’s a whimsical, meandering kind of story with a beautiful heart.

14 / 50 books. 28% done!

5358 / 15000 pages. 36% done!

Currently reading:
-        The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory – 437 pages
-        Celebrity Crimes: The Dark Side of the Limelight by Xavier Waterkeyn – 233 pages
-        A Series of Unfortunate Events: Book the Fifth: The Austere Academy by Lemony Snicket – 221 pages

And coming up:
-        The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: Volume 3: White Gold Wielder by Stephen Donaldson – 500 pages
-        The Odyssey by Homer – 324 pages
-        One for the Money by Janet Evanovich – 290 pages

Books 12 & 13 - 2012

Book 12: Graceling by Kristin Cashore – 370 pages

Description from
In a world where people born with an exceptional skill, known as a Grace, are feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of a skill even she despises: the Grace of killing. She lives under the command of her Uncle Randa, King of the Middluns, and is expected to carry out his dirty work, punishing and torturing anyone who displeases him. Breaking arms and cutting off fingers are her stock-in-trade. Finding life under his rule increasingly unbearable Katsa forms an underground Council, whose purpose is to combat the destructive behaviour of the seven kings - after all, the Middluns is only one of the Seven Kingdoms, each of them ruled by their own king and his personal agenda for power. When the Council hears that the King of Liend's father has been kidnapped Katsa investigates ...and stumbles across a mystery. Who would want to kidnap him, and why? And who was the extraordinary Graced fighter who challenged her fighting skills, for the first time, as she and the Council rushed the old man to safety? Something dark and deadly is rising in the north and creeping across the continent, and behind it all lurks the shadowy figure of a one-eyed king ...

I adored this book. I can’t remember what made me put it on my to-read list, but then I was standing there in Barnes and Noble (I think) when I was living in London, and they had a special – 3 books for £30, or something to that effect – and given that books are ridiculously expensive in Australia and I had already read nearly all the books I’d brought with me from home for my three month stint (I hadn’t counted on just how much reading I’d get done during my 3 hour commutes) I justified it. This was one of the books, as was ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ and ‘Flat Earth News’ (both also on my to-read list). I instantly fell in love with it. It has everything Twilight didn’t have, and which would have made said teenage vampire saga so much better! A strong, female lead, an equally strong male lead, lots of self-deprecating humour, a thought-provoking plot, characters with questionable motives, and that beautiful awareness of the world very few authors manage to convey, making ‘controversial’ things perfectly pedestrian, noting in this way that readers actually have the ability to read between the lines, to interpret, and to accept that people are people, in however which way that presents itself, and most of the time, we are perfectly capable of just getting on with life. Katsa is a truly awesome character. She bares some resemblance to Katniss from the Hunger Games, but I love both equally. She is manipulated but strong, loyal and loving, flawed but relatable. Po, her unlikely ally, is one of those men evolved enough to be completely comfortable fighting alongside a woman, who, maybe, just maybe, is more powerful than him. The plot starts in one place, and leads you down into a wicked web set up years earlier, and eventually explained in the equally wonderful prequel/sequel, ‘Fire’ (which I also adored – review to come!). Less depressing than Hunger Games, superior in every way to Twilight, and in my mind, reminiscent of the Looking Glass Wars, but with less magic and maybe a little more ‘grown-up’, I highly recommend this addition to the Young Adult trilogy category.

12 / 50 books. 24% done!

4189 / 15000 pages. 28% done!

Book 13: Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell – 296 pages

Description from
In this stunning new book, Malcolm Gladwell takes us on an intellectual journey through the world of "outliers"--the best and the brightest, the most famous and the most successful. He asks the question: what makes high-achievers different? His answer is that we pay too much attention to what successful people are like, and too little attention to where they are from: that is, their culture, their family, their generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing. Along the way he explains the secrets of software billionaires, what it takes to be a great soccer player, why Asians are good at math, and what made the Beatles the greatest rock band. Brilliant and entertaining, OUTLIERS is a landmark work that will simultaneously delight and illuminate.

This is a fascinating, quotable read. Basically it looks at what it is that makes some people able to do extraordinary things, what makes high-achievers high-achievers. I’m not sure how consistent some of Gladwell’s assertions are if you were to look at a broader population than he has, but the idea of the 10,000 hours rule (i.e. that one must practice something for 10,000 hours to master something) definitely has merit, and makes a lot of sense to me. It also genuinely made me think about what I have achieved in life, and the challenges I have faced, and perhaps understand them in a different light. In particular, his piece about when you are born, and therefore, how old you at any point in school makes a lot of sense to me in reflecting on the difference experiences in learning experienced by myself (a January baby – the start of the Australian school year in my day), and my sister (a July baby – mid year in the Australian school year when she went to school; the cut-off has since changed to July to June, which makes no sense, given our school year still starts in January). I really enjoyed the various famous and non-famous people anecdotes, and Gladwell’s style is just generally very readable. An interesting read!

13 / 50 books. 26% done!

4485 / 15000 pages. 30% done!

Currently reading:
-        The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory – 437 pages
-        A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life and Death of my Husband, Danny Pearl by Mariane Pearl with Sarah Crichton – 272 pages
-        Celebrity Crimes: The Dark Side of the Limelight by Xavier Waterkeyn – 233 pages

And coming up:
-        The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: Volume 3: White Gold Wielder by Stephen Donaldson – 500 pages
-        The Odyssey by Homer – 324 pages
-        One for the Money by Janet Evanovich – 290 pages

Books 9 & 10 - Book club books

9.     The Paris Wife by Paula McLain – “A deeply evocative story of ambition and betrayal, The Paris Wife captures a remarkable period of time and a love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley.” – They met in Chicago in 1920, and they were married in less than a year. Just a few months later they moved to Paris where Ernest wrote and Hadley cooled her heels during the day, and at night they partied with other writers such as Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein. Though money was tight, whenever there was a little extra from an assignment they’d travel through Europe, and in due course these travels formed the basis of The Sun Also Rises (which he dedicated to Hadley and their son). Ernest was a petulant and self-absorbed fellow, however, and their union did not last once another woman entered the picture. It was fascinating (and a little exhausting) to read about their whirlwind courtship and later their frenetic and “modern” life among the literary elite of their time; it was also sad and frustrating to observe the slow unraveling of their marriage. This was the book club selection for March, and we had an interesting discussion about (among other things) whether the “progressive” living arrangements some of the Hemingways’ cohorts exhibited were really as outrageous as they may have seemed at the time.

10.   The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – “Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.” I inadvertently spoiled myself reading an article on BookRiot, but even so it was still a moving story. Meanwhile, I see that another community member recently described this book more proficiently than I would, so I have nothing more to add on that account. This is my book club’s April selection, and I’m looking forward to the discussion. Not only is it our first YA selection, but also there are several mothers in the group who are bound to have some noteworthy contributions about the themes of the book.

I never did finish our book for February. It was a good selection, but it just didn’t particularly grab my attention. Perhaps I will pick it up again later so I don’t have another partial read on my ledger. For now, though, I’m moving on to more of my own choices.
A heart-stopping story of love, death, technology, and art set amid the tropics of a futuristic Brazil.

The lush city of Palmares Três shimmers with tech and tradition, with screaming gossip casters and practiced politicians. In the midst of this vibrant metropolis, June Costa creates art that’s sure to make her legendary. But her dreams of fame become something more when she meets Enki, the bold new Summer King. The whole city falls in love with him (including June’s best friend, Gil). But June sees more to Enki than amber eyes and a lethal samba. She sees a fellow artist.

Together, June and Enki will stage explosive, dramatic projects that Palmares Três will never forget. They will add fuel to a growing rebellion against the government’s strict limits on new tech. And June will fall deeply, unfortunately in love with Enki. Because like all Summer Kings before him, Enki is destined to die.

Pulsing with the beat of futuristic Brazil, burning with the passions of its characters, and overflowing with ideas, this fiery novel will leave you eager for more from Alaya Dawn Johnson.

I read this YA book because it was on the Norton shortlist. It's not the sort of book I would have ever picked up otherwise, but I found it an intriguing read. Johnson created a very different sort of post-apocalyptic Earth. Generations after civilization restarted, June Costa is very much a "poor little rich girl." She's well off but plays at rebellion through her graffiti artwork. June is the sort of character I would hate if I actually met her, but the first person viewpoint grants more intimacy and understanding.

As a YA book, this surprised me with the fluid nature of sexuality. It's not a book I could send to my teenage niece, that's for sure... or some adults I know. But as a vision of the future, it made sense.

Books 6-8

6. The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green. Wow. I've heard this recommended many times, and it did not disappoint. I was also warned to have hankies on hand for the final few chapters. Yes, that was good advice as well. I finished this in two days. The protagonist is Hazel, 17, who has terminal cancer. A new drug has bought her some time, but she is acutely aware of her own mortality. In many ways, she is a typical teen, trying to find her place in the world, but at the beginning you get the sense that she's (understandably) discouraged and frustrated by her limitations. One night, however, during a support group meeting she's dragged to by her mother, she meets Augustus, a cancer survivor, and they both share strong feelings for each other. Their journey includes a trip to Amsterdam to meet the author of Hazel's favorite book. This story is humorous and heartbreaking by turns (the later especially in the final chapters), with fantastic characters. The book doesn't whitewash going through cancer. What I really liked, too, were Hazel's parents. They are good, ordinary people - neither horrible nor saintly- trying their best under incredibly difficult circumstances (and that is putting it mildly).

7. Flora and Ulysses, the Illuminated Adventures, by Kate DiCamillo, with illustrations by K.G. Campbell. This is a charming and quirky story good for older grade school. The story is embellished with wonderful black and white illustrations. Flora, a young girl who latches on to the label of "cynic" that her mother has given her, loves comics, much to her mother's chagrin. Her life changes when she rescues a squirrel and adopts him. The squirrel had a near-death experience after being sucked into an overly powerful vacuum cleaner belonging to a neighbor but comes back to the brink with the power to fly, to write and to understand the humans around him. Together, Flora and Ulysses seek adventures. Parts of the book are told from Flora's point of view, and others from the squirrel's. Only complaint is labeling the mother a villain early on (although in the end she does come around). I realize this is for children, and from a child's point of view, but a lot of literature and television portray parents as dumb and to be disobeyed. It bothered me here.

8. Me talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris. One word can describe this collection of essays from Sedaris: hilarious! This compilation includes several stories about his family, including his early childhood, his battle of wills with his elementary school speech therapist, his brief "career" in jazz, his brief stint as a performance artist, and his trips to France. The opening story on his dealings with his speech therapist and his stories on trying to learn French were among my favorites. Definitely want to read more of his books!

Currently reading: Catch-22, by Joseph Heller (a little more than halfway through), and Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut (just started)
A Victorian boarding school story, a Gothic mansion mystery, a gossipy romp about a clique of girlfriends, and a dark other-worldly fantasy--jumble them all together and you have this complicated and unusual first novel.

Sixteen-year-old Gemma has had an unconventional upbringing in India, until the day she foresees her mother's death in a black, swirling vision that turns out to be true. Sent back to England, she is enrolled at Spence, a girls' academy with a mysterious burned-out East Wing. There Gemma is snubbed by powerful Felicity, beautiful Pippa, and even her own dumpy roommate Ann, until she blackmails herself and Ann into the treacherous clique. Gemma is distressed to find that she has been followed from India by Kartik, a beautiful young man who warns her to fight off the visions. Nevertheless, they continue, and one night she is led by a child-spirit to find a diary that reveals the secrets of a mystical Order. The clique soon finds a way to accompany Gemma to the other-world realms of her visions "for a bit of fun" and to taste the power they will never have as Victorian wives, but they discover that the delights of the realms are overwhelmed by a menace they cannot control. Gemma is left with the knowledge that her role as the link between worlds leaves her with a mission to seek out the "others" and rebuild the Order. A Great and Terrible Beauty is an impressive first book in what should prove to be a fascinating trilogy.

I can see why this book earned such acclaim. It's a fast young adult read that blends teenage angst with a gothic, creepy Victorian boarding school setting. Add into that dark magic, murder, sexual awakenings, and there's a whole lot going on. I did find major plot elements to be fairly predictable but there were some nice twists along the way, including the surprising friendship between four girls who start as vicious enemies.

Book 62: Briar Rose by Jana Oliver

Book 62: Briar Rose.
Author: Jana Oliver, 2013.
Genre: Fantasy. Southern Gothic. Re-told Fairy-tale. Young Adult.
Other Details: Paperback. 470 pages.

For Briar Rose, life is anything but a fairy tale. She’s stuck in a small town in deepest Georgia with parents who won’t let her out of their sight, a bunch of small-minded, gossiping neighbors and an evil ex who’s spreading nasty rumors about what she may or may not have done in the back of his car. She’s tired of it all, so when, on her sixteenth birthday, her parents tell her that she is cursed and will go to sleep when the clock strikes midnight, she’s actually kind of glad to leave it all behind. She says her goodbyes, lies down, and closes her eyes …

And then she wakes up. Cold, alone and in the middle of the darkest, most twisted fairy tale she could ever have dreamed of. Now Briar must fight her way out of the story that has been created for her, but she can’t do it alone. She never believed in handsome princes, but now she’s met one her only chance is to put her life in his hands, or there will be no happy ever after and no waking up.
- synopsis from author's website.

I enjoyed this re-telling of Sleeping Beauty very much, loving the Southern Gothic elements, dreams and use of hoodoo. However, if my parents had named me Briar and my surname was Rose then I'd be a little worried even before there were murmurings of curses and everyone being skittish about my forthcoming birthday. So yes, for a while Briar seems oblivious to the way in which her life is mirroring one of her favourite fairy tales.

The small town Southern USA setting with a protagonist who ached to get away to a wider world along with a local Civil War re-enactment brought to mind Beautiful Creatures, which was a book fail for me. I certainly enjoyed this novel much more for a number of reasons including the setting and an interesting set of characters both in the waking and dream worlds. The magical system used in the narrative drew upon the folk magical traditions associated with that part of the USA and based on my limited knowledge of hoodoo was depicted well.

Jana Oliver had a light touch with the humour and popular culture references sprinkled about. The romantic elements were not overly cloying, which is always a strong point for me. That Briar's fantastic adventures took place in a dreamscape was another plus as the landscape of dreams and lucid dreaming is an long time interest. There was plenty of action and a nail-biting climax. I also felt it was nice to have a story that was self-contained in a single book.

I initially borrowed the novel from the library but bought myself a Kindle edition for my own.



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