Tuesday, June 27, 2017

What's In My Stack

Hi! It’s Ashley today for your dose of All The Books I Should Read. I don’t know about you, but I am one of those people who reads several books at once. I know some people have a major problem with this—how do I keep them all straight?! How do I remember what characters are what?! How do I not finish one thing and just plow right through?! Why do I do all the things I do?! I can answer a few of those, but probably not the last, all-encompassing one. So here is what I wish I could say to the incredulous naysayers about my polybibliophiling.

1.      Books are like friends to me. Yes, I have friends as well, but I also like books. I do not get them confused with each other. Do you get Sally confused with Sandra when you meet with each one? (Do you even have friends with these names? You get my drift anyway, right?). No. You probably don’t get them confused. It’s the same for me with books. They look different, they feel different, the font is different, their weight and size is different…I mean. Come on. They’re different. Disclaimer: In ten years, I may not remember the intricate details of each book and if they are similar I may get them somewhat confused. But while reading several at once? Not usually. Also: It’s not good if I get a book confused with another book. That means it’s unoriginal and has its own issues. I do not get my friends confused no matter what. Please be my friend. J
2.      I like to have different reads for different moods. Sometimes I want something heavy. Sometimes I want something light. Sometimes I want something indulgent. Sometimes I want to learn. The list could go on and on but you get my drift. I like to have different books for each of these things. Granted, a good book will cover many of these bases at once, and of course there are times when I just read an entire book without stopping and feel nary a stitch of guilt. However, most times I like to have lots of stuff to read. Even if I am sitting down to read for a spell (which I try to do daily, although it doesn’t always happen), I will have at least two books with me.
3.      As a book reviewer, sometimes I have to review things that I don’t really want to review. It’s just the way it is. If I request a book from a publisher and then I agree to get a copy, I have to read that book and review it. However, that doesn’t mean I have to like it nor that I have to read it exclusively. Sometimes while reading a book I don’t always love I will reward myself intermittently with a book I’m really enjoying. It’s an effective way to get done what I need to without gouging my eyes out in the middle of it. Sometimes I even like the book and it is one I want to read (whether it is a review book or not) but it is just so intense or heavy or hard to read that I need a break, and a lighter book will provide that escape. I get my reading in, I get what I need done, my kids get ignored for a few more minutes, it’s a win on all fronts.

There are many books that are pending for me right now. I've got them lined up and ready to go on my special "I'm reading this next" shelf, as opposed to my Goodreads "To Read" list which is at least 29 pages long, and I'm not exaggerating about that. These books are ready to step in at any whim, and I will often have at least five books that I am currently reading, sometimes more. I am only listing three books that I'm actively reading currently, two of which are due at the library and cannot be renewed and so they must be finished now. "Actively reading" means I carry them out with me when I'm reading and leave them out for the day in my reading chair so that I can read whichever one I'm in the mood for at the time. So without further ado, I present to you What’s On My Shelf Summer 2017:

Summary: From the #1 bestselling author of The Historian comes an engrossing novel that spans the past and the present and unearths the dark secrets of Bulgaria, a beautiful and haunted country. 

A young American woman, Alexandra Boyd, has traveled to Sofia, Bulgaria, hoping that life abroad will salve the wounds left by the loss of her beloved brother. Soon after arriving in this elegant East European city, however, she helps an elderly couple into a taxi and realizes too late that she has accidentally kept one of their bags. Inside she finds an ornately carved wooden box engraved with a name: Stoyan Lazarov. Raising the hinged lid, she discovers that she is holding an urn filled with human ashes. 

As Alexandra sets out to locate the family and return this precious item, she will first have to uncover the secrets of a talented musician who was shattered by oppression and she will find out all too quickly that this knowledge is fraught with its own danger. 

Kostova's new novel is a tale of immense scope that delves into the horrors of a century and traverses the culture and landscape of this mysterious country. Suspenseful and beautifully written, it explores the power of stories, the pull of the past, and the hope and meaning that can sometimes be found in the aftermath of loss. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

Summary: The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

Welcome to Weep. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

Summary: Between the first revolution in February 1917 and Lenin’s Bolshevik coup in October, Petrograd (the former St Petersburg) was in turmoil – felt nowhere more keenly than on the fashionable Nevsky Prospekt where the foreign visitors and diplomats who filled hotels, clubs, bars and embassies were acutely aware of the chaos breaking out on their doorsteps and beneath their windows.

Among this disparate group were journalists, businessmen, bankers, governesses, volunteer nurses and expatriate socialites. Many kept diaries and wrote letters home: from an English nurse who had already survived the sinking of the Titanic; to the black valet of the US Ambassador, far from his native Deep South; to suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst, who had come to Petrograd to inspect the indomitable Women’s Death Battalion led by Maria Bochkareva.

Helen Rappaport draws upon this rich trove of material, much of it previously unpublished, to carry us right up to the action – to see, feel and hear the Revolution as it happened to a diverse group of individuals who suddenly felt themselves trapped in a ‘red madhouse.’ (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

And, as always, there will be some reviews for these books once we begin again in the fall!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

What's In My Stack

Patrick Griffin's Last Breakfast on Earth--Ned Rust

When Patrick Griffin passes out after a chemistry experiment gone bad, he wakes up in a strange parallel world, where everyone has huge eyes and tiny ears, and is addicted to smartphones called "binkies." Patrick thinks it's all a weird dream, but he's about to wake up to an adventure beyond his wildest imagination.

Meanwhile, a huge rabbit-like creature named Mr. BunBun is roaming through Patrick's hometown, leaving a trail of chaos behind it. Its mission? To save Earth from imminent doom.

See what happens when the fate of three worlds lies in the hands of one boy and one gigantic bunny in this first book of a hilarious and mind-bending new adventure series. (blurb from goodreads.com)

The Last Monster--Ginger Garrett

Sofia has never felt special. Not at school, or with her track team, and especially not since she’s become sick.

She’s always been different, but this doesn't make her stand out . . . it's makes her invisible. Then something special lands right in Sofia’s lap. An ancient book that serves as a portal for the Greek philosopher, Xeno, one of Aristotle’s lost students. Sofia has been chosen to be the next Guardian.

Suddenly Sofia is not only trying to survive middle-school cliques and first crushes, she’s in charge of protecting grotesquely beautiful, lonely monsters that have roamed the Earth for centuries. Drawn into Xeno’s violent and unpredictable world of mystery, Sofia learns that loving outsiders has a price. (blurb from goodreads.com)

The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian--Lloyd Alexander

When fourth fiddler Sebastian loses his place in the Baron's orchestra, he has to leave the only home he knows--which turns out to be the least of his troubles. He rescues a stray cat from a group of tormentors, who then smash his precious violin; and the troubled young boy he tries to help turns out to be the Crown Princess, on the run from an arranged marriage. Sebastian, Princess Isabel, and Presto the cat soon find themselves fleeing stuffy officials, hired assassins, furious guardsmen and sentries--and, in their journey, find out what is truly important in life. The action and humor never stop in Lloyd Alexander's classic novel, written on the heels of his famed Prydain Chronicles. (blurb from goodreads.com)

Doglands--Tim Willocks

Furgul is a puppy born in a slave camp for racing greyhounds, and he has a terrible secret--he is himself only part greyhound. When the cruel owner of the camp recognizes Furgul's impure origins he takes Furgul to be killed, but Furgal manages a spectacular escape. Now Furgul must confront the indifference, complexity, warmth, and ferocity of the greater world, a world in which there seem to be two choices: live the comfortable life of a pet and sacrifice freedom or live the life of a free dog, glorious but also dangerous, in which every man will turn his hand against you.

In the best tradition of The Call of the Wild and Watership Down, novelist Tim Willocks offers his first tale for young adults, an allegorical examination of human life through a dog's eyes, infused with heart, heroism, and the mysteries of the spirit. (blurb from goodreads.com)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

On This Day...

On this day in 2009...

We reviewed Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (this is my all time favorite book in Rowling's series).  See the review here

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Bear and the Nightingale - Katherine Arden

Summary: At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: I don’t know about you, but I have read many JFic and even YA Fic fairytale retellings over the past several years. Their popularity seems to have made resurgence not only in books but in TV as well. Even Disney is getting in on it—revamping their old tried and true fairytales for new versions or new reinterpretations or even just live action. I’ve enjoyed this movement quite a bit, actually. That’s not to say that all of the things I’ve read or seen have trumped the originals, but I think fairytales are an interesting lot and to have them be revisited and retold is really fun—especially when it’s done by a competent author who brings something new to the table.

The Bear and the Nightingale is just such a fairytale. Except it’s for adults. And that’s awesome, people. Because so many fairytales are told for the JFic and YA Fic audience. Those are fun, and I do love me some well-written JFic and YA Fic, but having an adult version really ups the ante. First of all, the story can be really complex. And this is such a story—it is many-layered and the culture plays a huge part of it. The layers bring about the complexity of the story. The culture not only houses the story, but provides a backdrop for the happenings and the beliefs of the people. These well-ingrained beliefs are the causality of the fairytale as well as the life in Russia during this time. It’s a fun juxtaposition of reality and shared cultural mythos. The new existing with the old. Those who are trying to move away from the beliefs of the past but are also paying the price for leaving the old beliefs behind.

But I think the thing that really makes this an adult book verses a book for a younger audience is that the villains are actually really scary—both the humans and the monsters. There is one particular human villain (and I’m trying not to give anything away here) who really is not what they appear to be. The monsters themselves are scary as well, and some are even scary in their ambivalence. They are not evil per se, but they just are. They do what they do and that happens to be something that maybe isn’t in line with humanity’s best interest. But that doesn’t necessarily make them evil outside the realm of humanity—they just are what they are. There are certainly some evil villains as well, and they are quite scary and do scary things. I’m being purposely vague here. This is a book you’ll want to enjoy by discovering these things yourself.

I loved the setting of this book. I felt like Arden did a good job of creating a world where both the mythical and non-mythical world could co-exist. I could feel the history and heaviness of the winters in Russia, as well as the heaviness of the circumstances in general. It is a complex book in the way that life is complex—there is a lot going on and not everyone may be working toward the same goal in the end.

If you enjoy fantasy or fairytales, and especially those with a specific cultural element to them, you should definitely check out this book. It really has a lot to offer.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and some sex as well as violence, some of it involving fantastical creatures, but not all. I would rate it a modern PG. It is not squeaky clean but it is not excessive, either. 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

On This Day...

On this day in 2016, 
Nick and Tesla's Solar-Powered Showdown.  
Click here to  see what we thought!

On this day in 2015...
Dead Wake.  
Our review is HERE!!

On this day in 2014...
...we took a nap. 
But a day later we posted 

On this day in 2013...
We can't go into the details as they are top secret 
but we were too busy saving the world to post.

On this day in 2012...
We posted an awesome list (with links when available) 
of all the Newberry Medal and Honor Winners from 1922 to 2012.

On this day in 2011...
we won $532 million in the lottery and then lost it all playing blackjack.  
We were too busy bawling to post, but we pulled ourselves together 
and the next day we reviewed one of my favorite children's books HERE!

On this day in 2010...
we reviewed the final book in a fantastic series, HERE.

On this day in 2009...

We were underwhelmed.  HERE.

And on this day in 2008...
RFS was naught but a twinkle in my eye. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

What's In My Stack

Hey all!  Mindy, here!  Mother of four, LEO wife, and lover of all things literary. I hope you are enjoying your summer (or are about to enjoy it)!  My kids are still in school for another ten days so I'm going to try to cram in some reading before they are home and all hell breaks loose.  Here is what is currently sitting in my stack.

I'm about three chapters into Read Right! and while we haven't gotten to the practical application yet, the theory is fascinating.... "According to  the latest breakthroughs in cognitive theory and brain research, excellent reading ability involves a complex process that is "figured out" by every reader.  Preschool-age children with a wide range of IQs are capable of figuring out the complex process for themselves, which is the basis of Dr. Dee Tadlock's innovative Read Right system.  Read Right! provides simple techniques to help parents guide young children into their own reading excellence, with fun, easy activities designed to be integrated into everyday life.  Based on nearly 25 years of research, the Read Right system is a proven alternative to phonics-based or whole-language methods.  Most important, this interactive system can teach anyone, even adults, how to "figure out" the process of reading."  (blurb from back cover)
In Anna Quindlen's Rise and Shine..."It's an otherwise ordinary Monday when Meghan Fitzmaurice's perfect life hits a wall.  A household name as the host of Rise and Shine, the country's highest-rated morning television talk show, Meghan cuts to a commercial break--but not before she does something that, in an instant, marks the end of an era, not only for Meghan, who is unaccustomed to dealing with adversity, but also for her younger sisters, Bridget.  A social worker in the Bronx, Bridget has always looked up to Meghan while living in her long shadow.  What follows is a story about how, in a very different ways, the Fitzmaurice women adapt, survive, and manage to bring the whole teeming city of New York to heel by dint of their smart mouths, quick wits, and the powerful connection between them that even the worst tragedy cannot shatter?"  (blurb from back cover)

In Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard... Magnus Chase has seen his share of trouble.  Ever since that terrible night two years ago when his mother told him to run, he has lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, staying one step ahead of the police and truant officers.  One day, Magnus learns that someone else is trying to track him down -- his Uncle Randolph, a man his mother had always warned him about.  Whn Magnus tries to outmaneuver his uncle, he falls right into his clutches.  Randolph starts rambling about Norse history and Magnus's birthright: a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years.  The more Randolph talks, the more puzzle pieces fall into place.  Stories about the gods of Asgard, wolves, and Doomsday bubble up from Magnus's memory.  But he doesn't have time to consider it all before a fire giant attacks the city, forcing him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents...Sometimes, the only way to start a new life is to die.  (blurb from back cover)

 Since its original publication in 2000, Leadership and Self-Deception has become a global phenomenon with sales increasing year after year and editions available over thirty languages.  Its powerful ideas are based on Arbinger's work over the last 35 years -- work that has fueled the success of thousands of organizations around the world.  Through an engaging story about a man facing challenges on the job and in his family, the authors expose the fascinating ways that we blind ourselves to our true motivations and unwittingly sabotage our own efforts to improve performance and achieve success.  Read this extraordinary book and discover what millions have already learned -- how to tap into an innate ability that dramatically improves both your relationships and results.  (blurb from back cover)
The Orphan Keeper is based on a remarkable true story...Seven-year-old Chellamuthu's life is forever changed when he is kidnapped from his village in India, sold to a Christian orphanage, and then adopted by an unsuspecting couple in the United States.  It takes months before the boy can speak enough English to tell his parents that he already has a family back in India.  Horrified, they try their best to track down his Indian family, but all avenues lead to dead ends.  Meanwhile, they simply love him, change his name to Taj, enroll him in school, and make him part of their family.  And his story might have ended there had it not been for the persistent questions in his head:  Who am I? Why was I taken?  How do I get home?  More than a decade later, Taj meets Priya, a girl from southern India with surprising ties to his past.  Is she the key to unveil the secrets of his childhood or is it too late?  And if he does make it back ot India, how will he find his family with so few clues?  From the best-selling author of  The Rent Collector, this is a deeply moving and gripping journey of discovering one's self and the unbreakable familiy bonds that connect us forever (blurb from back cover)

Stars Above is a actually a compilation of short stories set in the world established in the Lunar Chronicles collection.  You can read my review of the first book in the series, Cinder, here (spoiler: I loved it!).....  The universe of the Lunar Chronicles holds stories -- and secrets -- that are wondrous, vicious, and romantic.  How did Cinder first arrive in New Beijing?  How did the brooding soldier Wolf transform from young man to killer?  When did Princess Winter and the palace guard Jacin realize their destinies?  With nine stories -- five of which have never before been published -- and a special bonus excerpt from Marissa Meyer's most recent novel, Heartless, about the Queen of HEarts from Alice in Wonderland, Stars Above is essential for fans of the bestselling and beloved Lunar Chronicles. (summary from book cover)
A vicious fifteen-year-old droog is the central character of this 1963 classic, A Clockwork Orange.  In Anthony Burgess's nightmare vision of the future, where the criminals take over after dark, the story is told by the central character, Alex, who talks in a brutal invted slang that brilliantly renders his and his friends social pathology.   A Clockwork Orange is a frightening fable about good and evil, and the meaning of human freedom.  And when the state undertakes to reform Alex to "redeem" him, the novel asks, "At what cost?"  This edition includes the controversial last chapter not published in the first edition and Burgess's introduction "A Clockwork Orange Resucked."

Friday, June 2, 2017

Happy Summer!!

Happy Summer! We'll be checking in occasionally this summer (Tuesdays and Thursdays), but for the most part, we plan on doing lots of this!

Enjoy your summer reading, and we'll see you when school starts again!!


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