Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker (audiobook)

genre: historical fantasy

The Golem is new.  New as in, she was just molded out of clay into the obedient servant she is, subject to her husband, her master. While Jewish tales of the Golem have been told for centuries, this golem is a real woman living in New York City at a time when immigrants from everywhere are flocking to those golden shores. She is naive and untethered in a world full of new experiences.

Another recent arrival in New York City: the Jinni.  The Jinni is NOT new. He has lived for ages and has just been released from an old copper flask into a new land and a new time.  With considerable skills and very little patience, the Jinni would like nothing more than break the band that ties him to an unknown master.

How these two find each other, and how their stories intertwine, is at the heart of this well-researched historical novel.  Their contrasting personalities, their ethnic identities and the way they interact with the human world around them all paint a vivid picture of not only a vibrant city in a time long gone but also two cultures with distinct folklore that somehow seamlessly forges together into one unique and thoughtful story.  The evil tide that these two creatures are fighting against is ancient and powerful - making the power of choice and free will the most beautiful gift one can have.

By the end, I really liked it.  I knew that if the author could tie all her ends together in an intriguing way, that I would be satisfied, and I really was.  The climax was very well done and I love a story with so many different characters and storylines that end up meshing well.  However, truth be told, it was slow going for me.  Granted, it is a NINETEEN HOUR audio book but it took me three and half months, which is a record.   I felt like it was just a slow moving story, which was fine, it just meant I wasn't always dying to pick it up.  All those different threads took a long time to build up and it took time to get invested in the characters.  The writing is strong and lyrical.  The sense of place is powerful.  I loved the Jewish mysticism piece of it as well as the connections to the desert and Arabic traditions.  I never wanted to give up on it - and I'm glad I didn't.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story by Peter Bagge

genre: adult graphic novel biography

Margaret Sanger.  I'd never heard this name, but at the library, the cover caught my attention.  What I know about her now: that she was a pioneer in the birth control movement, an advocate for the poor and an outspoken champion of women's rights.  I forget, sometimes, that birth control is a very (historically speaking) recent advancement.  I forgot what a miracle it is that we can have a say in when we become parents - that is so huge.  Life-changingly huge.  Margaret wasn't a saint, the book makes that very clear, but you do get the sense that she gave up a "normal" life in order to help women all over the world have choices.  The illustrations themselves are very...rubbery.  Floppy. The style is very old-school newspaper-type comic and I mostly liked that (note: it's NOT for kids, Margaret was actually a proponent of free-love and so there are a couple sensitive scenes). Sometimes it felt a little too - raw, maybe?  Ugly?  Maybe it's just caricature at it's finest, but I didn't always love the look.  It's hard to read about how women were devalued, how their opinions and causes were so much harder to get support for than anything a man would propose.   One heck of a life is within these pages.   I need to give three cheers to Margaret and others like her for paving the way for us.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Vision in Silver (A Novel of the Others) by Anne Bishop

genre: paranormal fiction

This book is third in a series, Written in Red and A Murder of Crows should be read first :)

For blood-prophet Meg, the Courtyard at Lakeside is a safe space to learn and grow, to expand her mind after the rigid convinces of the Compound where she was housed all her life.   For the other blood-prophets that have been rescued, the world outside the Compound is just all Too Much - they aren't thriving.  At all.  While Meg tries to help solve this problem, Simon is working on his own issues - the growing threat of an anti-terra indigene group and the safety of those he feels responsible for, both Other and human.  When the fall-out from a power play on the East Coast hits the Lakeside Compound, it will be time for everyone to choose sides, and the resulting fight is going to have massive consequences for humans all over the planet.

I kind of can't believe I am still engaged in this story.  It's so unlike what I usually read, but I can't lie, I AM still engaged in it.  The world building is just too awesome, and that makes up for the sometimes super-cheesy dialogue and cliched scenes.  I don't feel like a whole lot happened in this book except we do meet a few new characters and there is a sense that something big is coming.  The relationship between Meg and Simon is SO slow moving, but it's okay.  I am still wrapping my brain around shape-shifting in general, but I like it.  The plot moves along fast enough that I am always eager to pick it up and that's something.  The whole idea of humans being the lesser species, needing to prove themselves, is an intriguing one.  I don't need her to tell me, AGAIN, that humans are just meat.  I get that.  When she SHOWS me that humans are expendable, that interests me more, but despite the little things that annoy me, I'm pretty sure I'm in for the long haul, because I do think this is an interesting place to spend my time.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The End of Innocence by Allegra Jordan

genre: historical fiction

As a place of learning, Harvard stands out like shining star.  During the dark days of The Great War, however, as a place of tolerance for Germans, it fails miserably.  And Wils Brandl should know. Desiring nothing more in life than to write poetry and be left in peace, War has brought hatred and violence to the German Wils' door.  And then in walks Helen, the passionate and blue-blooded American, who sees in Wils so much more than a nationality.  As Helen navigates her first university experience, her mother's unfortunate choices and a country on the brink of entering the war, she knows that it will only be time until War touches her own life in a way that will change her forever.

As I read back through my summary in the previous paragraph, it sort of makes this sound like a romance novel, but let me assure you that it's not.  There is romance in it (which I liked) but it really is a story of war and friendship, and especially of how those left behind handle a loss of such a magnitude in a world where nothing is as black and white as we'd like it to be.   Bad people fight on the "good" side of a war and good people fight on the side of the oppressors.  Winners, rather than losers, are the ones that write history and that prejudice colors everything.

I liked Helen's spunk.  I liked her loyalty.  I liked Wils and his quiet strength and willingness to do his duty. War is horrible. I don't really like reading about War, in general, but I thought that the big chunk of the book that takes place during the war was pretty well done, a few scenes stood out as very touching.  One big glaring part bothered me a lot, I felt like I was thrown off a cliff, as it were, and until the last page was waiting for a different kind of resolution - this is what prompts me to give the book three stars instead of the four I feel like it probably deserves.  I really felt like this one particular, unmistakable, part was dropped into my lap without the same kind of care or detail that the entire rest of the novel exemplified.

I appreciated the divided loyalties, the dense sense of time and place of the novel.  I like the authors notes at the end helping me understand what was fact and what was fiction.  This was a good read.

note: if you're interested in the content of the books I read, please go to http://ratedreads.com

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Find Me by Laura Van Den Berg

genre: new adult apocalyptic

The silver bubbles on your skin are the first sign.  But by this point, even though you can't see it, your mind is turning to mush.  You are forgetting everything to the sickness that is spreading like wildfire across the United States.  Joy, who somehow does not get sick, finds herself in The Hospital, where she and others like her are waiting and donating their bodies to helping find a cure.  The endless waiting, the swirling winter, it plagues Joy as thickly as any sickness.  As lonely as a person can possibly be - can Joy find a way to feel anything real?

I tried this one because I do enjoy apocalyptic fiction - and the premise of this one does not disappoint.  A raging epidemic, a select few that are immune, that plot line grabbed me.  But Joy is a tricky person.  And I mean TRICKY, the wells of her sorrow and loss, the depth of her pain and desire to mute it all, that was hard for me to read.  I never found myself relating to Joy as a character - and there are several extreme coincidences, completely crucial to the plot of the story, that I just found myself unable to completely immerse myself in.  The writing is SO BEAUTIFUL, I mean, this author has a captivating way with words, but sometimes the things she is saying and talking about are just dripping with hopelessness and depravity, it reminded me somewhat of The Road.  Almost like I was walking around in a strangely psychedelic dream, high on some kind of drug, with things trudging along very slowly.  Things seemed like they SHOULD matter but I just couldn't figure out how.  Every once and a while something beautiful would shine through but mostly not.  I can see why people like it, but the lack of real redemption just makes it too dark for the place I'm in right now.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Cave by Michela Montgomery

genre: new adult

Kate's plan was perfect: spend four days hiking through Wind Cave with her best friend Ano and her mentor, Percy.  Having just finished her degree at Standford, this trip through one of the world's longest caves would be the perfect time to tell Percy how she feels about him him, as well as do some in-the-field scientific research.

Of course, nothing ever really goes as planned.  Instead of a party of three, they end up heading into the cave with a party of six. Naive and with no family of her own anymore, negotiating large groups is not Kate's greatest strength and when something like an earthquake rocks the cave, she is just ready to be done and get out.  But, there is no getting out.  Because what seemed like an earthquake was actually a devastating attack on the United States and the only way to get back out is through the cave - hoping there is something to come back to on the other end.

I am a sucker for apocalyptic stories so when I got a review request for this one, I decided to give it a try.  The writing itself isn't stunning - not poetic or lyrical, but I found myself drawn into the plot anyway.  It's a unique type of survival story with twists that kept it moving right along.  I like the best friend character and the love triangle was predictable but not lame.  Kate drove me crazy sometimes - she was super wishy washy with the boys and indecisive enough I sort of wanted to shake her.  And yet, I got it.  When boys liking you is new, even if you're in your 20s, it's still hard to figure out what you want.

Point is, I liked it enough that I do really want to know what happens next - even if I didn't love it.

Note for sensitive readers: two vaguely explicit scenes that you might want to skip over.

note: if you're interested in the content of the books I read, please go to http://ratedreads.com

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Guest Review: Son of Shadow, Hero of Light by C. Louis S.

genre: middle grade

I was given a review copy for my 12 year old son to read.  His thoughts:

This is a story about how bad things in the world can make themselves look like they're good.  

Leon has the worst power you can have - he's a "glow."  He can create light - everyone else has powers that are awesome, like becoming a hulk or flying or mindbending. Leon eventually learns how to get all the powers and when a plot for revenge goes bad,  Leon has to make hard decisions about power and how to treat people.

This book was okay.  I liked how Leon went from being the most picked on kid to being one of the most popular. I didn't like how Leon became the most powerful.   I liked the writing style and probably would read something else by this author. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

A Murder of Crows (A Novel of the Others) by Anne Bishop

genre: adult paranormal fiction

A Murder of Crows is the sequel to Written in Red, so there will definitely be spoilers for that in this review.

Meg finally feels safe in the compound.  She's found a place for herself and the Others treat her as one of their own.  When violence in the Midwest increases and her prophesies begin to warn of imminent danger, humans and earth natives have to find a way to work together if a certain collector of blood prophets is going to be stopped.

I cannot deny that I totally am loving these books.  They are fast paced and the world building is pretty dang awesome.  The idea of blood prophets who can foretell the future with a cut of their skin is a fascinating plot device.  Having the elements of the earth be actual beings also creates a new kind of havoc.  Sometimes, again, Meg's naivete grated on my nerves a little bit, but she is definitely coming into her own.  The way everyone rallies around her sometimes rings a little too "Pollyanna" but for some reason, I just like it.   Sometimes the internal dialogue is romantically cheesy, and yet I like it.  Sometimes I want to not read the word "pup" one more time, and yet I keep reading because I've found that I care about these paranormal characters.   I like the slow way that Meg and Simon Wolfguard's relationship is developing, even if I cannot believe I am typing those words!  Ack!  I never would have thought about relationships between humans and shapeshifting wolves, but there you go. I'm doing it and I like it.  The end.  And I've requested the third one :)

note: if you're interested in the content of the books I read, please go to http://ratedreads.com

Friday, April 10, 2015

Red Scarf Girl by Ji-Li Jiang

genre: middle grade/young adult memoir

Ji-Li, at twelve, feels like her life is on a path that would make Mao Tse-tung proud.  She excels at her schoolwork.  She works hard at everything she tries.  She understands the plight of the people and is willing to fight for the glorious revolution.

But then she finds out something about her past that makes her and her family at risk in this new China.  Despite all her efforts to be a model citizen, she may never get what she desires most: a place of honor in the service of Chairman Mao.

My son read this for his 6th grade English class and so I thought I would give it a try so we could talk about it.  It was so engaging! I'm not surprised that he actually has already read it twice :)  Ji-Li's story is so painful and frightening - we watch her go from a place of glowing pride and a sense of happy expectancy to a life where she is dealing with not only ridicule from her peers but actual fear for the lives of her parents and pressure from unkind adults in authority.  Even young readers can see how unfair the situation in her country is but at the same time, you can see how brainwashed Ji-Li is.  You can contrast the way people are treating each other with what they claim to believe.  You can see power go to people's heads and how truly ridiculous the entire Cultural Revolution was.  More than ridiculous, a tragedy of massive proportions.  Whenever I read about what was lost it makes me feel so sad and angry - the art, the culture, the beauty of China burned and mocked in the street.

I love how hard she is trying to be a good daughter and a good friend.  The writing is sparse and straightforward and gives you a great sense of what life was like for an average Chinese person living in the city during the 1960's.  I really hope it makes the kids in my son's class think about the freedoms that we take for granted here, I know it certainly did that for me.  My only qualm is that I would've liked a little bit more about how she figured out how she and her fellow counrymen had been completely deceived - by the end of the book you can tell by her choices that she's figuring it but it ended a little soon for me.  Despite that, I would recommend this book for kids and adults interested in the topic.

note: if you're interested in the content of the books I read, please go to http://ratedreads.com

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Books I've Given Up On part 2

Adaptation by Malinda Lo - the beginning was so gripping!  And then it just dragged and dragged.   There was crazy bird happenings and but then there were huge gaps in the narrative where I had to say, "WHAT?"  I made it 1/3 of the way through until she was having her sexual awakening with a girl she met the day before and I just had to be done. Too bad because the premise is so interesting.

Perdita by Hilary Scharper - this was touted to be for lovers of Susanna Kearsly (whom I adore) but I just could not get into it.  I got about 50 pages or so in before the plot (the idea of a woman being 134 years old) just didn't engage me, although the writing itself was good.    I did try.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews - while the teen male protagonist was quite funny and I liked the idea of the story a lot, actually, it was just too dang crass for me and the mood I was in while I tried to read it.    I've heard other people like it though so it might have been that I stopped before it got better.

Red Rising by Pierce Brown - this was recommended to me as the next Enders Game and Hunger Games.  I read five chapters and was vaguely annoyed by the narrator's style and somehow just didn't care about his plight.  I don't know why - maybe it just all feels too familiar and I've read enough of these stories lately.  It's got fabulous reviews so clearly people like it.  It's on lists of the best 100 books of the year.  Maybe I'll try again when all the books are out - this is first in a trilogy, I think.  But maybe not.  I sort of don't care about it.

Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafon - this is a young adult gothic story by the same author of The Shadow of the Wind (which I LOVED).  While the writing is as good as I'd expect, it just moved too slow for me.  There were some deliciously scary scenes and the plot is thick and interesting but I just found that I was never wanting to pick it up, so even though I'd made it 60% through, I gave up.

The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook - a great reader friend of mine recommended this to me as a great steampunk story.  She also gave me warning that I might find it steamy - she totally warned me and I tried anyway because I love steampunk.  I actually made it more than halfway through before there were scenes where I had to say WOAH, okay.  That is probably enough of that.  And too bad because the plot is actually super creative and fast-moving.  I liked it, but it turned out that I hit my limit of steaminess in this one.

note: if you're interested in the content of the books I read, please go to http://ratedreads.com
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