Tuesday, July 18, 2017

REVIEW | The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
Publication Year: 2016
Genre: Fantasy, YA
Series: The Star-Touched Queen # 1
Awards: A bunch of local YA awards
Format: Audio (from Library)
Narrator: Priya Ayyar

WHY?:  The book internets went berserk over this one and I was intrigued by it's Indian mythology inspiration. 

SYNOPSIS:  Maya is a princess with a horrible horoscope hanging over her head.  To escape her fate, or perhaps at its whim, she marries the mysterious Amar and becomes the queen of Akaran.  Unfortunately the strangely deserted court of Akaran is steeped in secrets and mystery which leads Maya to make an ill-informed decision that might have dire consequences.  

THOUGHTS:

Well, it's unpopular opinion time because this book just wasn't for me and I knew it pretty early on.  Since it's not a book that angered me, beyond the disappointment, so this shouldn't be too much of a rant and I'll make it short.

The book is inspired by a number of Hindu myths and it has a very fable-like feel to it which I think may be at the heart of why it did not work for me.  Straight up fables and fairy tales work for me if they are short, but most don't have enough character depth or detail to work as a long-form narrative. They are the sketch of a story with a simple theme and characters that are mostly important for what they symbolise.  That's why it is awesome when authors take a fairy tale and really flesh it out  - breathe life and recognizable motivations into the characters and surround the framework with a fully realized society and world.

One thing I thought The Star-touched Queen did pretty well was the setting and world development.  It's a unique setting and I liked that it was a little unsettling and on the edge of creepy.

AND...I struggled with pretty much everything else.  The protagonists, Maya and Amar, felt very flat to me.  I had little interest in either of them and their romance felt forced and insta-lovey even though it's not really?  The character's motivations were too opaque or seemed inconsistent or just didn't make sense to me.  When Maya shows up at Akaran, nothing makes sense and Amar keeps saying that he is prevented from telling her anything, because reasons.  This is frustrating for her and she is extremely wary and untrusting. Okay fine.  But then another character comes along, unknown to her, who blatantly manipulates her and she trusts this person immediately, no problem.  She is also extremely protective of her homeland and family even though, because of her horoscope, she had been treated mostly abusively and shunned.  It would make sense for her to have some loyalty but I'm not sure the solidarity and betrayal she feels when her people are in danger, really makes sense with what we know? Basically, neither character felt real or understandable nor were they compelling and with that the case the rest of the book was going to have an uphill climb.

And it just didn't get up the hill.  I thought the storytelling was choppy and erratic and much of the conflict in the story felt forced.   I also really didn't love the prose which was a little flowery for my taste.  In short, it felt like a fable that was awkwardly stretched to novel length and not enough was done to give it more depth.  The setting and circumstances were often interesting and strange but the characters lacked understandable motivation and the whole book had a rather dream-like quality which tends to not appeal to me. Also the demon flesh-eating horse that everyone loves?  I just thought she was weird.  

I listened to the book on audio and the narrator Priya Ayyar was good.  Nothing special but nice voice and good fit with the character of Maya who has the perspective.  

FINAL VERDICT: This fable-like book just did not work for me on many levels (character, storytelling, prose) but it should be noted I am in the minority, big time!   2 out of 5 stars

OTHER OPINIONS ARE AVAILABLE: The Bibliosanctum | Fantasy Cafe

Saturday, July 15, 2017

SATURDAY in the GARDEN | Look At Them Roots!

I like to garden and generally putter around in my yard and my Saturday in the Garden posts serves as my pseudo- garden journal, plus a round-up of my week in reading, watching and blogging.  Occasionally, I'll whine, rant or gush about something in a GAK section. 

OUTSIDE


You may have heard before that prairie/prairie plants are fantastic at holding soil, preventing erosion, loss of topsoil and improving water quality by keeping the soil out of streams, rivers, lakes and ponds.  This is why:



Holy roots, batman!  Prairie plants have prodigious root systems!  That little squiggle on the far left is Kentucky Bluegrass, the most popular lawn grass.  Buffalo grass is a prairie grass often suggested for lawns because it stays quite short, like Kentucky blue, but it's root system does not - it's the plant on the far right.  One of my favorite prairie plants has one of the longest root systems and it is having a spectacular year in Iowa this summer.  It's Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum) and is 5th from the left in the diagram above.

It's tall, has a bright sunflower like bloom and staghorn shaped foliage.  They make me happy everytime I see them looming over the prairie at work or in the prairie roadsides.  Definitely a plant I will try to establish if I ever have a sunny yard, though I will need to be patient - Compass Plants take a few years to mature to the point of looking like the above but once they do each plant can persist up to a hundred years!  Now that's a perennial.  By the way they are called compass plants because their leaves tend to orient in a north-south direction so also useful for navigation in case my yard is so large or I get so dotty that I get lost easily:). 

In my vegetable garden, I am excited, as I often am, about root vegetables. I am actually, for real, getting some edible beets for the first time, ever!  They aren't huge but I have 5 at the moment that are of a size I can cook and eat. Wow.  I gotta get excited by the little things.

Yum!


WATCHING, READING and BLOGGING

Watching 

I finished the K Drama I was watching, Faith - it was okay but not one of my favorites.

I started watching some episodes of Shetland on Netflix which Greg at A Book Haven brought to my attention. This is a British crime drama set in the Shetland islands.  Doug Henshall is the lead actor who I last saw chasing dinosaurs, and looking, quite frankly, awkward about it, in Primeval. He is a much better fit here.

Reading 

Finished Since the Last Time I Posted:

  • Checkmate (Lymond Chronicles #6) by Dorothy Dunnett:  The last one *sobs*!  
  • The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson:  YA epic fantasy that has been on my TBR for ages. It's pretty good though I do agree that the body image/eating disorder stuff is a little on the sketchy side which was the main complaint I heard about it going in. Overall, though I found it to be mostly kind of generic so not sure what the buzz about it was?  It's fine, just nothing special in my book. 
  • The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co. #1) by Jonathan Stroud:  A middle-grade novel about ghost fighters in Britain.  This book is great  - gave me some Jackaby feels.  Will be continuing with this series.
    CURRENTLY READING
    • Intuitive Eating by Tribole and Resch:  Non-fiction about eating psychology and biology.  I've been dipping in and out of it for the last few months!
    • The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima:  Epic YA fantasy that sounds super duper amazing!  Starting to make some headway on this one though I am having a little bit of trouble engaging.  Problem isn't the book, I don't think, but the fact that my mood right now is for mysteries.
    • Career of Evil  (Cormoran Strike #3)by Robert Galbraith: Listening to in the car.  I think Robin may be a target in this one (to get at Strike) and I am not sure I feel good about this?  But so far liking it.   
    • A Perilous Undertaking (Veronica Speedwell #2) by Deanna Raybourn: A mystery set in the Victorian Era in Britain, featuring a pair of Natural Historians as the amateur sleuths.  Book one was one of my favorite reads during the first half of the year.

    Added to the TBR:

    This is a list of books that I have added to my Goodreads TBR list this week.  It helps to burn the books I want to read a little more firmly into my mind, maybe get them on some other folks TBRs and gives me a chance to recognize a lot of the awesome bloggers that add stuff to my TBR!
    • Merivel: A Man of his Time by Rose Tremain:  This was on sale on Kindle and it looked like an intriguing Historical Fiction novel about Robert Merivel, who was a courtier to Charles the II during the Restoration period in England.  He apparently made an appearance in one of Tremain's earlier novels as a side character.  
    • They Found Him Dead by Georgette Heyer: Got this through Audible's sale this week.  I love Heyer's mysteries almost as much as her Regency Romaances. Almost.
    • Berkley Street by Ron Ripley:  This was free on Kindle though I found it through the Audible sale.  It sounds like a mystery but more on the horror/suspense side?
    • A Useful Woman by Darcie Wilde:  Another through the Audible sale.  This is a mystery with a female sleuth, set in Regency Era England.  Yay!
    • Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier: A retelling of Beauty and the Beast by one of the masters of fairy tale re-telling.  Recommended by Fine Print.
    • Time and Time Again by Ben Elton:  An interesting looking time travel novel recommended by Mogsy at The Bibliosanctum.
    • The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss: Also recommended by Mogsy at The Bibliosanctum.  This is a YA novel that features a gang of some of the daughters of historic "monsters" (such as Dr. Jekyll, and Dr. Frankenstein). 
    • All System's Red by Martha Wells: A science fiction novel about a "murder bot" who achieves sentience and independence.  Recommended by Greg at A Book Haven
    • Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner: I've never read anything by Ellen Kushner and since I recently read an article about how she is one of the authors that is a huge fan of Dorothy Dunnett, I decided I need to.  This one was recommended by my favorite podcast, Get Booked. 
      On the BLOG since I last Posted:

      Wednesday, July 12, 2017

      The Lymond Chronicles By Dorothy Dunnett - The Beginning


      I recently embarked upon a re-read of the uncontested favorite-of-my heart historical fiction series, The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett.  I hadn't read them since I first picked them up back in College. I know it was college when I read them first because I have a clear memory of being on a plane on a class trip to Belize and asking around to see whether any of my classmates spoke French because Dunnett had dropped one of her infamous untranslated, non-English passages at a particularly crucial moment in the story.  No one spoke French.  Thankfully this was one passage she did in fact translate, several pages later just when my franticness to know what it meant was at its highest pitch.  Dunnett's manipulative and brilliant like that.

      I'm not sure why I waited so long to do a re-read but I think it had something to do with remembering that reading the series was intense and I was afraid that maybe my youthful impressionable self was more easily wowed by the series and it wouldn't be as good.  Would the books still appeal to my middle-aged curmudgeonly heart?  So as not to keep you in suspense. Yes, they most certainly, definitely and heartily did.  Maybe even more so.

       Now I'm left with the Dilemma with a capital D of how and what to write about the series.  I do feel compelled to write about the books but it's a huge and daunting task   Do a brief google search for the series and you stumble upon articles gushing about this series and its near perfection.  It does not inspire tame emotions.  Also, is there a way for me to talk about these books without spoilers so as to convince folks to read them while still being able to express all my tumultuous thoughts and feelings?  In the end that is why I decided to begin with this introductory post.  This will be a  mostly spoiler free retrospective of the entire series and then I will do individual posts for each of the books that will be a free for all.

      The six books in The Lymond Chronicles cover 11 years in the life of one Francis Crawford of Lymond, Scottish nobleman, as he navigates the political intrigues of Europe, Malta, Turkey, and Russia in the middle of the 16th century.  If you know your Tudor history, at the start of the series young King Edward is on the throne of England, is succeeded around book three or four by Queen Mary and ends as Elizabeth I takes the throne in 1558.  All the books have titles alluding to the game of chess in a not-so-subtle nod to the complexity and trickiness of navigating European politics of this era.  By the time you finish the series you will feel as if you've lived through it all and understand all the intricacies of the complex web of alliances and successions and war-making.

      It is a HUGE canvas and Dunnett delves in and exposes it all.   At the same time there are so many details, casually referred to by the characters which I think lends the series an air of authenticity not easily found in Historical Fiction. I think Dunnett's greatest achievement (out of many, many achievements), is that despite the epic-ness of the saga, it all feels very grounded, steeped in the everyday lives of both ordinary and extraordinary people.  Characters interact and talk with one another, using renaissance allusions, multiple languages, and on an intellectual level far beyond my ken, but the interactions feel genuine and familiar.  It feels like you are having the rare opportunity to travel in time and be a fly on the wall during the renaissance.  One review I was reading made the point that the characters for the most part all genuinely think and act like 16th century people, with 16th century reactions that aren't always easy for modern readers to understand. It's like Dunnett was able to immerse herself in what a person during that time would be.  I think this is totally spot on and is why the book feels so authentically 16th century and also so natural.

      So what are each of the books about?  They are about Francis Crawford of Lymond and he is the tie that binds the books together in a long and epic tale.  But each book also has its own adventure, each succeeding in developing Lymond as a character and also slowly revealing more and more about him because he manages to remain pretty elusive.  His motivations are usually only revealed through the speculation of his friends....but I am getting sidetracked. The plots in short are thus:

      The Game of Kings:  Francis Crawford of Lymond, Master of Culter returns to Scotland after a 4-5 year absence and proceeds to start wreaking havoc.  He was exiled to France as a teen for allegedly passing secrets to the English and he has spent at least 2 of the interim years as a galley slave.  Hence, he comes back a 21 year old, brilliant, worldly, cynical and deadly and no one knows what his motivations are.

      Queen's Play:  Two years have passed since The Game of Kings, during which Lymond has been kicking it in Scotland and driving everyone crazy. The Dowager Regent Queen of Scotland (Mary of Guise) recruits Lymond to travel to France to protect her daughter, Mary Queen of Scots, who is living at the French Court and whose life is being threatened.  Lymond does this in his own special and spectacular way while navigating the complicated interplay between England, Scotland, France and Ireland.

      The Disorderly Knights: Lymond's exploits have attracted the attention of the Knights of Malta, God's Soldiers against the Turk, and everyone is particularly anxious for Lymond and Graham Reid Mallet aka Gabriel to meet. Everybody is sure that these two highly charismatic dudes will become BFFs.  After some fighting with knights in Tripoli and elsewhere, Lymond returns to Scotland, with Gabriel in tow, to start his own mercenary force.

      Pawn in Frankincense: Lymond has a son!  Who is lost and probably in danger in the world.  His search for the bairn leads him eventually to the court of Suleiman the Great of the Ottoman Empire with a strange band of companions in his wake.

      The Ringed Castle:  Devastated by the events of the previous book, Lymond runs as far away as he can - to Russia and Ivan the Terrible where he sets out to build the wackadoodle Tsar his own army.  Political machinations force him back to England however and the court of Queen Mary.

      Checkmate: Lymond is intent on going back to Russia, but his friends think this is a really bad idea so they kidnap him to France where the French King blackmails him into helping lead the French army into battles against Spain and England. At the same time an investigation is being done into who Lymond really is and what his origins were. He is now close to 30 and has had one hell of a decade.  :)

      There are so many things that are brilliant about this series - the intricate and complex plots, the clever humor, the set-piece scenes that will blow your mind, the erudition, the feeling, already mentioned, of being immersed in and getting an in depth understanding of the 16th Century. Some of the plots, if described all plain like, would make you roll your eyes at the utter melodrama and unbelievability and yet, Dunnett reels you in and ties up your emotions so thoroughly into the action that you hardly notice the preposterousness.   I mean, we're talking about Francis Crawford of Lymond, late Master of Culter, Comte de Sevigny, Voivoda Bolshoi.  Anything is possible.

      And that is of course Dunnett's secret weapon and crowning jewel - Lymond.  He is the very epitome of a renaissance romantic hero but he is dark and complex and quite frankly a little hard to take at times.  But you can't look away.  He is not a character I have a crush on or would even want to meet.  He'd be incredibly intimidating, with his quick wit that leaves 99% of the room in a whirl, and he is not easy on his friends.  He's a masterpiece character that I could analyze until the end of time.  He's a 16th century James Bond/Rock Star/Dumas Hero.  One article compares him to Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey, which I at first rebelled against but it fits  - his sharp wits that outsmart everyone which he keeps hidden behind a playful, insouciant, sometimes goofy facade.

      Lymond started life as a slight, rather delicate-looking boy, blond and blue-eyed, who loved music and books.  So a great big old nerd.  That deceptive exterior hid a will of iron and a strength that is put to the test and honed when he becomes a prisoner of war at 16.  Being passed around Europe and spending two years as a galley slave. When Lymond appears again 5 years later he has become tall and handsome, he can fight, speak several languages, and he has become an effortless leader of men.  He's learned how to hide his feelings and presents a face to the world that is unconcerned and sardonically amused.
      “To the men exposed to his rule Lymond never appeared ill: he was never tired; he was never worried, or pained, or disappointed, or passionately angry. If he rested, he did so alone; if he slept, he took good care to sleep apart. “—I sometimes doubt if he’s human,” said Will, speaking his thought aloud. “It’s probably all done with wheels.”


      I ran across this video of violinist David Garrett a couple of weeks ago and it may have just been the fact that I was in the middle of a re-read but it totally gave me Lymond vibes.  First because Lymond loves music above most everything else and is a talented musician. Then the music and persona of Garrett  - the furious, riotous music coupled with the rock-star look and feel, the adoring crowd.  And the blond hair:).
       
      Lymond has the fortitude to make the hard choice and do the despicable thing if it is the right thing to do  for the greater good but it does tear him up inside.  And it is that core of moral fortitude and self-loathing that really makes the men and women fall in love with him in droves.  He is in control, he is always right, he has boundless energy, he will do what it takes but he is in fact human.  He is more at home with women than men.  He's a pain in the ass and he is brilliant.  You could never hope for a better ally but he won't be quiet about it.  Go big or go home could be his motto and yet his mind is endlessly perceptive and subtle.  Are you getting the picture?  Some of my favorite quotes by or about him:
      “It was one of the occasions when Lymond asleep wrecked the peace of mind of more people than Lymond awake.” 
      “Lymond's behaviour, as always, went to the limits of polite usage and then hurtled off into space.”  
       “Today,’ said Lymond, ‘if you must know, I don’t like living at all. But that’s just immaturity boggling at the sad face of failure. Tomorrow I’ll be bright as a bedbug again.”
       “What’s wrong? Has Francis been rude? Then you must try to overlook it. I know you wouldn’t think so, but he is thoroughly upset by XXXX's death; and when Francis is troubled he doesn’t show it, he just goes and makes life wretched for somebody.” 
      “He regards boredom, I observe, as the One and Mighty Enemy of his soul. And will succeed in conquering it, I am sure—if he survives the experience.” 
       “Jerott, for God’s sake! Are you doing this for a wager?’ said Lymond, his patience gone at last. ‘What does anyone want out of life? What kind of freak do you suppose I am? I miss books and good verse and decent talk. I miss women, to speak to, not to rape; and children, and men creating things instead of destroying them. And from the time I wake until the time I find I can’t go to sleep there is the void—the bloody void where there was no music today and none yesterday and no prospect of any tomorrow, or tomorrow, or next God-damned year.”
       “And if there’s no trouble, you’ll make it,’ offered Will Scott, his eyes bright, his cheeks red. ‘No. At the moment,’ affirmed Lymond grimly, ‘I am having truck with nothing less than total calamity.” 
      And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

      Lymond is the star but there are many, many other characters to love or to love to hate. In fact one of the other characters is my very favorite, but this person is a bit of a spoiler, so I'll save it for the individual book reviews.

      Finally, this series is one of my very favorite romances.  If you are anti-romance, don't worry, these are not romances except in the classical sense but they do have a central building romance that is slowly developed, fraught and so, so perfect.  Almost everything about it. Perfect.

      As I mentioned above, I first read this series in College.  At the time I found it baffling and wonderful.  My impressions were that I only understood about 70% of what was happening in any given book and that most of the text was untranslated French or some other language and yet I was still so completely captivated and obsessed.  Every time I have recommended the series in the intervening years, I have warned the recommendee that book one is almost incomprehensible but just soldier through and it will pay off.

      And now?  If anything this re-read has illustrated to me how much I have matured as a reader.  I think it was one of the first really complex and authentic historical fiction books I had read.  I was baffled by the Scots dialect in book one and I couldn't keep any of the lairds straight nor follow half of the European political machinations.  This time around, this was not even close to the problem it was the first time around.  I've been exposed to so much more literature and culture in the intervening 20 years that many of those struggles I had with comprehension in my initial reading were gone.  The result was a completely different but equally delightful reading experience.  I was able to appreciate the plotting even more and grew attached to side characters who I was kind of muddled about first go round.  Without a doubt, some of the esoteric allusions still fly over my head and there is a LOT of untranslated French in here, lol but it was not nearly so frustrating - those things give the books ambience and fun detail to dig into if you wish.  It's erudite and scholarly but to an experienced reader, incredibly addictive reading!

      Also different this go round was that I listened to all the books but the last one.  This was a fun way to consume the books though I don't think they quite got the right narrators.  The first book was narrated by Samuel Gillies, who was obviously an older gentleman with Shakepearean training who was ALL wrong for telling the story of the very youthful Lymond.  The narrator for books 2 through 5 was Andrew Napier, he was better but still read Lymond without a lot of inflection or character.  His accents were great and his reading was fine but not what it could be.

      Finally, so that I'm being fair, was there anything about these books I didn't love this second go round?  Sadly but honestly, yes.  My feminist reading glasses which have been honed over the years didn't love some things that went down.  They are spoilers so I won't mention them here but will mention them in the individual book reviews.  The main one involves Lymond and a young woman in book 3 for those of you who have read the books.  Dunnett actually does a great job, in the historical context, of revealing the strength and power of women overall, there are just a couple of incidents that I wish had been handled differently.  Also, and I am really sorry to say this, Lymond and his lady love kind of drove me up a wall in Checkmate.  This time around, I didn't entirely love how Dunnett handled the relationship even though I do love the final result.

      Well, I think that's enough words even though it feels like I could go on and on. I haven't even really mentioned how funny the books are.  Laugh out loud hilarious at times.  In short, they have everything: political intrigue, swashbuckling adventure, laugh out loud wit, historical insights, romance and finally characters that will break your heart and make it overflow.  If you like historical fiction at all, you owe it to yourself to give this series a shot. It may not be for everyone, but if you are one of the lucky ones that connects, you are in for the ride of your life!

      And please note that now that I've done a re-read and know just how many riches these books hold, this series holds the number one slot on my list of books I'd want on a desert island.  

      Some other articles I love about Dunnett and Lymond

      The Pinterest Page for The Lymond Chronicles (The fantasy castings on this page are fantastic)


      Monday, July 10, 2017

      Troperiffic Books | 20 of My Favorite Found Family Books

      Ahhhhh...Tropes.  Do you love 'em or hate 'em?  I think most readers have ones they love and ones they hate. For me, while I do admire a really original novel and kind of love when tropes are turned on their head, there is nothing more satisfying than a good trope written well.  And it's impressive!  Because tropes are by definition, scenarios or ideas that are used over and over, readers have read them a million times and therefore have fodder to be super critical.  So bravo, you authors that tackle these common themes and make them your own!


      One my all time favorite tropes is the idea of "found families".  Basically, this is about the families you choose - friends that go beyond just simple friend status.  While I love the family I was born into, I am also lucky to have a found family, friends for 30 years who have grown and changed and yet still we remain friends.  Who I would drop everything and go if they needed me, no questions asked and vice versa.  So I think that is why this trope resonates so much for me and why I love it.  I've read a number of books this year that do this trope well and I wanted to see how frequently this phenomenon shows up in my reading.  Below are some of my favorite books/series that feature this trope prominently (4 stars out of 5 or greater rating, mostly read in the past 10 years or so).

      *************

      1) Six of Crows series by Leigh Bardugo

      This trope is frequently present in heist or quest narratives because you have a gang of folk, with complementary skills who must spend lots of time together and place their lives in each others hands.  This series has a terrific gang. 💗

      2) Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

      Since Harry is an orphan and comes from an abusive home, finding and bonding with Ron and Hermione and eventually the Weasley clan is really important for him making it through.  In a wider sense the entire wizarding community, Hogwarts and particularly Hagrid and Dumbledore also become his family.  It could be said this is the mother of all found family stories and it is what gives the books their warmth.  It is a certainly a big reason why I love the books!

      3) Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

      Man oh Man, this book.  Gus and Call were Texas Rangers together and after surviving that, they set up a ranching operation as partners.  When Call gets the idea to do a cattle drive to Montana, Gus grumbles about it but there's no doubt he'll go along.  They put together a crew for the long arduous journey and there is lots of bonding and relying upon one another.


      4) The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

      This series is full of found families.  Certainly Blue, Gansy, Ronan and Adam but the adults also.  I love Blue's house full of women, supporting one another.

      5) The Rogues of the Republic Series by Patrick Weekes

      As I mentioned with the Six of Crows series, heist stories lend themselves to this trope.  In the case of the Rogues of the Republic it is an eclectic and diverse family indeed.  A unicorn, a wizard, a death priestess, a grouchy safe cracker, a nobleman's daughter, her sidekick, and a monk contortionist who has sworn off violence.

      6) Starflight by Melissa Landers

      Another story that lends itself to the trope of found families is when a small scrappy crew works on a small spaceship together.  Starflight is YA science fiction book that is a really good example of this.

      7) The Lovegrove Legacy series by Alyxandra Harvey

      This series just breaks my heart.  At its core is a trio of best girl friends trying to meet society's demands in Regency Era England while also grappling with the newly acquired knowledge that they are all witches.  I loved Emma, Gretchen and Penelope's friendship.  Sadly this was supposed to be a trilogy but the publisher declined to publish the third volume.  Grrrr....

      Art by Aaliya.mj - couldn't find source!
      8) The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

      I love how this science fiction series not only adapts several fairy tales into a future setting but also intertwines the different heroines Cinder, Scarlet, Cress and Winter with a few additional folks including a spunky AI into a fellowship.  They are united by rebellion and become family to each other.



      9) The Gentleman Bastards series by Scott Lynch

      More heisty goodness with this series.  The central found family is really just two - Locke and Jean. I love these two and their relationship.

      10) Still Life (Chief Inspector Gamache series) by Louise Penny

      I'm not sure if this trope is more prevalent in SFF or if that's just where most of my reading happens but it does show up in a few other types of books, in this case a mystery.  This mystery takes place in the fictional town of Three Pines in Canada which seems to be populated by middle aged artsy folks who get together twice a week for chats and dinner.  It's totally charming!  You know, except that one might be a murderer. 😉

      11) Avatar: The Last Airbender series by Gene Luen Yang

      So I know Avatar started its life as a TV show but it now has a regular series of graphic novels so it counts! Aang certainly becomes part of Katara and Sokka's family and they become even more of a gang when Toph and then Zukko join.  Momo and Appa are also part of the family! I love these characters and their bonds so much that I haven't been able to watch the follow up series (The Legend of Korra), even though I've heard it's great, because it means Aang is dead:( while some of his found family remain living. It's just too sad!

      12) Akata Witch series by Nnedi Okorafor

      Many found families revolve around young people who are different in some way and who become close with those that share the difference and come to rely on each other, through a shared secret or shared ostracism.  In SFF, finding out you have magic is a big one and Akata Witch is another in the vein of HP and The Lovegrove Legacy.

      13) The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

      Another "we're all stuck on this space ship so let's bond" situation!  A very diverse cast of characters and they don't all get along but if one's in trouble, they are all going to come running.  They're crew.

      14) Fairyland Series by Cathrynne M. Valente

      September is swept away from her home in Omaha to Fairy Land where she must complete a quest.  She meets some friends along the way who become her family in Fairy Land  - A-through-L (a wyverary, half wyvern, half library) and a mysterious boy names Saturday.  One needs strong allies when (circum)navigating the treacherous and wondrous Land of Fairy and September has them!

      15) Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series by Rick Riordan

      This book combines camp, kids that are out of the ordinary and quests - it's the perfect alchemical ingredients for the found family trope.  Percy, his best friend Grover, his half brother Tyson and of course Annabeth become Percy's perfect allies as he figures out the whole demigod thing!

      Source
      16) Aubrey/Maturin Series by Patrick O'Brian

      This long series of books about a Royal British Navy Captain during the Napoleonic wars and his best friend and ship's surgeon is really wonderful.  The central relationship between Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin is what really makes the series special and since both men spend most of their time on a boat in the middle of the ocean, they have to find family where they are and rely on one another.

      17) Alanna (Song of the Lioness, Book 1) by Tamora Pierce

      The found family feel doesn't really carry on into the later books but it is definitely strong in this first book of the Song of the Lioness. With her parents gone and her brother off pursuing his own dreams, Alanna finds a family when she sneaks her way into the king's training program for knights.

      Source
      18) The Mortal Instruments Series by Cassandra Clare

      I only read the first three in The Mortal Instruments series and I'm happy to keep it that way as it was great.  Clary and her best friend Simon find their way into a secret society of demon hunters who live in a big posh house and are inseparable.  All of them must band together to fight the big bad and come to rely on each other completely.


      19) The Passage Trilogy by Justin Cronin

      This trilogy goes in so many different directions but its beating heart and what made it a series I loved was the group of courageous friends from the First Colony in California that decide to brave the scary world beyond the walls to try and save their community.  Peter, Alicia, Michael, Sarah, Hollis, Theo, Moussami and Amy.  They keep being split up but when crisis hits, they are there for each other and for the fight.

      20) Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

      I think the inclusion of this trope is why this book has the impact that it does.  A group of teens, isolated, that share something out of the ordinary.

      ****************
      Yes, this is definitely one of my very favorite tropes.  How about you?  Do you have any books that you'd add to this list?


      Saturday, July 8, 2017

      Saturday in the Garden | Pepper Surprise!

      OUTSIDE

      At the end of last year I bought a gardenia and jasmine plant and one of them bloomed!  I didn't keep the tags and can't tell them apart!  I think it was the gardenia!  It was nice and smelled pretty.


      I have had no luck growing milkweed at home, because of the oft whined about fact that my yard is shady and any moderately sunny bits have food plants growing.  My work place has LOTS of milkweed though and I came across this fellow on Friday.  A big ole Monarch butterfly caterpillar, munching away. nom, nom, nom.


      Good news and bad news in the garden?  I have a pepper?!  A very odd pepper.  I don't remember that either variety I chose to plant was long and skinny like this....hmmmm.... The bad news?  My first and biggest tomatoes have blossom end rot.  This happens every year, dang it and is due to a lack of a particular mineral in the soil (calcium maybe?).  The culprit for there being a deficiency is usually a watering issue, usually not enough.  In the past, I have sucked at watering because I am lazy but I thought I was doing so well this year. :(  Back to good news!  I harvested the garlic!




      GAK

      It's been a short but sadly traumatic week at work.  Several people were abruptly fired and a major re-organization took place.  It was done in a manner that showed a real lack of empathy and respect and at least two of the folks that were unceremoniously laid off had 30+ years of service in an agency where the majority of employees are passionate about what they do and see it as a vocation and calling.  They are not just working for a paycheck, in other words.  Being fired is not just scary from a I just lost my job perspective but also means that this thing you care about and have devoted your life to is not valued and is going to receive at best, much less care.  In other words it's devastating.  The positions were eliminated because of budget cuts.  

      Along with my sorrow for these people, is also the fear and anxiety this causes for the future.  Could this happen to me?  Is someone who has no idea what I do or what impact it has going to decide my job is non-essential because of politics essentially?  Will my decisions, instead of being motivated by what would be best for the resource I am charged with protecting, start to be colored by what is politically acceptable in the current climate?  It's a slippery slope that undermines morale, and has an insidious effect on how everything is done.  All I can do is do my best, try to hold onto my self-respect and start socking away as much money as I can in an emergency fund.  

      So. How do you deal with uncertainty?

      In other news, I offered Ella one of my precious few sugar snap peas and SHE GROWLED AT IT!! What sort of rabbit am I raising?


      WATCHING, READING and BLOGGING

      Watching 

      Weirdly, I am having a similar issue with both my current TV show and one of my current books.  They both have gotten SUPER angsty in the romance department and I guess I'm just not in the mood so I'm dragging my feet with only a teeny tiny bit left to go. My lack of tolerance probably has to do with the real life drama this week has thrown at me (see above).  The TV show is the K Drama I started last week, Faith (or The Great Doctor).  I actually really like the central couple a lot, they may actually be my fave K Drama pair ever, though the rest of the show is just okay, but they have gotten so freakin' emotional.  Because she's dying of poison. Again. Pfft. #KDrama-Drama

      Reading 

      Finished Since the Last Time I Posted:

      • Strong Poison  (Lord Peter Wimsey #6) by Dorothy L. Sayers: This one was a little disappointing for me, I'm sad to say and I think Lord Peter's grand romance is a bit of a let down but I'm guessing it picks up a bit in future books.  
      • A Murder in Time by Julie McEwain:  About an FBI agent who ends up sent back in time to Regency era England, just in time for a series of gruesome murders to take place which she must solve.  Fun book though it had some problems.  
      • Grace (Eventually) by Anne Lamott: Anne Lamott is a famous writer about faith from a very liberal standpoint.  This is a series of essays with no strongly discernible theme besides getting through life, while trying to be a decent human being.  It was good.
        CURRENTLY READING
        • Checkmate (Lymond Chronicles #6) by Dorothy Dunnett:  The last one *sobs*!  This the book I'm dragging my feet on a bit (see above) - I KNOW.  I can't believe I'm saying it.  It's one of my favorite romances of all time and this is still my favorite HF series but only 40 pages left to go and I just can't even with Lymond and his lady love.  *exasperated sigh*
        • The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co. #1) by Jonathan Stroud:  A middle-grade novel about ghost fighters in Britain.  
        • Intuitive Eating by Tribole and Resch:  Non-fiction about eating psychology and biology.  I've been dipping in and out of it for the last few months!
        • The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima:  Epic YA fantasy that sounds super duper amazing!  I haven't made it too far into this yet because I'm physically reading so many things right now.  If I can just finish Checkmate...
        • The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson:  YA epic fantasy that has been on my TBR for ages.  Listening to this on my phone.  It's pretty good though I do agree that the body image/eating disorder stuff is a little on the sketchy side which was the main complaint I heard about it going in.
        • Career of Evil  (Cormoran Strike #3)by Robert Galbraith: Listening to in the car.  I think Robin may be a target in this one (to get at Strike) and I am not sure I feel good about this?  But so far liking it.   

        Added to the TBR:

        This is a list of books that I have added to my Goodreads TBR list this week.  It helps to burn the books I want to read a little more firmly into my mind, maybe get them on some other folks TBRs and gives me a chance to recognize a lot of the awesome bloggers that add stuff to my TBR!
          On the BLOG since I last Posted:

          TUESDAY:  My Favorite TV this Year
          THURSDAY: REVIEW |  Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo  Absolutely adored this duology.


          HAVE A RELAXING WEEK!


          Thursday, July 6, 2017

          REVIEW | Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

          Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
          Publication Year: 2016
          Genre: Fantasy, YA
          Series: Six of Crows #2
          Awards: A bunch of local YA awards
          Format: Audio (from Audible)
          Narrator: Jay Snyder, Lauren Fortgang, Roger Clark, Elizabeth Evans, Fred Berman, Peter Ganim, Kevin Collins and Brandon Rubin


          **SPOILERS AHOY!  This is the second book in a series and there will be spoilers for book one though I'll try not to reveal anything too earth-shattering. **

          WHY?:  After the stunning first volume, Six of Crows, I snatched this bad boy up immediately.  I have never been so glad that I waited to start a series until it was done and all books available!

          SYNOPSIS:  Kaz and the team have finished the biggest heist job of their lives but they are unsurprised to be welcomed home to Ketterdam with treachery and double-dealing.  Kaz needs all his wits and his team's talents and loyalty to turn the terrible situation to their advantage and get what they deserve.  It's David vs. Goliath but David has never been so wily nor had such friends.  

          THOUGHTS:

          I am in awe of authors who write heist novels.  They must have so much fun mapping it all out but it must also be so hard.  I think the key might be to make sure your players are interesting and charismatic, so if the pieces of the puzzle aren't an airtight fit, the reader is too busy making heart eyes at the relationship dynamics to even notice.  As far as I know, Leigh Bardugo built several great heist operations, but I'm not sure if I would've noticed if there was a flaw because of Kaz, Inej, Mathias, Wylan, Nina and Jesper. I was so completely sucked into all of their lives that I doubt I would have noticed if I got carried away by a tornado in the middle of reading.

          So, you know, not a bad book, lol.  This book takes book one, brings all the unresolved things from that book to a head and throws in a whole barrel full of other issues.  Jesper must face his good-hearted, farmer father; sharp-shooting pistols and gambling debts in hand.  Kaz has had one goal in mind from the beginning, r-e-v-e-n-g-e, but he is starting to wonder whether it is really what he needs. Nina, after one dose of a new dangerous drug, is an addict and is struggling with that and the self-loathing it brings while Mathias desperately tries to help her and overcome the brainwashing of his youth. Wylan is trying to come to terms with his Father's cruelty and learn that he does have talents to offer.  Inej has conjured a dream for herself but it doesn't take her back to her family nor keep her with the difficult boy she has come to love.  And that's just the personal struggles!

          Kaz's personal ambition and desire to gain back control of their own lives is further complicated by the presence of this drug that turns Grisha into super Grisha but also kills them and makes them slaves.  Resisting and getting their own back puts them up against the most powerful and wealthy people in Ketterdam.  They can't afford to be divided but it takes all of Kaz's scheming to see a way through.  There are heists galore with complications and clever moves and death-defying feats  - paired with the personal journeys each character is navigating, alone and as a team. It is a non-stop and completely engrossing ride. I couldn't read it fast enough.

          I haven't enjoyed a YA series so much since The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater.  It's a completely different style and setting but there is the same emphasis on characters that are real and damaged, a found family, beautiful prose, and romantic scenes so intense, subtle and fraught with emotion you almost feel like you should look away.  It's as close to a perfect fantasy duology and I can't wait to see what Bardugo has for us next!!   

          Final note, the audio version of this series is great.  Each character gets their own voice actor which works well as the perspective rotates through and all the voice actors were good to great.  I recommend consuming the books this way!

          FINAL VERDICTSO SO Good. The Grisha series was great and I enjoyed it but it had some missteps, it missed its footing from time to time. But THIS series - like Inej Ghafa on a high wire, it had perfect balance. Or if it did bobble? I was too wrapped up in these characters' lives and Kaz's devious and audacious schemes to notice. 4 out of 5 stars

          OTHER OPINIONS ARE AVAILABLE: Paper Fury |  Star-Crossed Book Blog

          Tuesday, July 4, 2017

          2017's Favorite TV and Movies Thus Far

          Top Ten Tuesday is taking a much deserved break for the next couple months but I like making lists and am a creature of habit so....  Here's my own lame list topic!  Last week was books of the year so far, so this week I thought I'd highlight some of my favorite other media.

          To be clear these are not show/movies that have been aired for the first time in 2017, just stuff I've happened to watch.  Which happens to be dominated by Asian Media?  I had no idea how much of my watching has been focused on Asian-based entertainment. This is why lists like this are so interesting to me! Also, this is kind of the whole list.  There are a couple of other shows I've dabbled with that I can't really say I loved...Season 4 of Arrow, The Flash, Father Brown.  Also, there is a two month gap where I wasn't really writing things down and I was mostly re-watching some of my older favorites (Galavant, I think Avatar...again) that are easy and make me happy.

          So the list below is short and kind of bizarre.... Here goes!

          ************




          This was kind of my first foray in to full on Anime and I started it back in 2016.  At 170 or so episodes it took a while to get through them!  It's about a girl from the modern era who travels back to feudal era Asia and teams up with a half dog-demon/half human boy named Inuyasha to try and save the world from demons.  Along the way they pick up other companions and have many adventures.  It's available in dubbed or subbed formats on Hulu. My Review.


          This is a 2011 South Korean drama starring Lee Min Ho as a vigilante seeking revenge against the powerful men in the Korean government who are responsible for his father's death.  This Drama's got lot's of awesome action scenes, a complicated relationship with a father figure and terrific production values. It's also got a sweet romance with a pretty kick butt heroine as well though my one complaint was that the drama kind of dropped the ball on that in the end. My Review.


          I picked up on this re-make of the 1980s(?) cartoon from the Book Smugglers blog and it is really great fun.  Season 2 did not let me down.  Quick watch + great characters + giant robot lions fighting in space = awesome! My Review.


          A 2016 Japanese Anime that also features giant fighting robots from space.  Also a a feudal era warrior who travels to modern times and helps Japan and the world defend itself from a UN base.  My Review.

          5) Glitch

          This is an Australian Sci Fi drama about a small town where several of the residents suddenly rise from the dead and are inexplicably alive again.  The town's sheriff and the local doctor try to figure out what's going on.  The first season is short and was excellent!


          This was all set to become my favorite Anime until it just....ended.  The show got canceled before it was finished ...or something.  Anyway, that makes me reluctant to put it on here but what there is of it is great - gorgeous animation and a good strong female lead. The soundtrack is also amazing which is why this show even deserves a video of the opening credits.


          7) Stranger Things

          Finally a show you've probably heard of, lol!  This is a Netflix original production which released season 1 last year.  It's a paranormal show about strange happenings in a small town in middle America.  It has a large cast but focuses on a group of 12 year old boys, D&D players and best friends.  It's a hark back to 1980s Steven Spielberg type movies ...most reminiscent of Poltergeist I think.  It is as fabulous as everyone says it is - creepy, funny, warm-hearted in the best of ways and really authentic to that time period.  By the way, I think Glitch, above, is a good watch-a-like if you enjoyed this show.

          ***********

          Overall, a pretty atypical TV watching year for me thus far.  I've obviously needed some serious escapism, lots of fantasy/sci-fi, and all of these shows provided that.  And no movies because I'm not sure I've watched any!

          So how about you?  What's been your favorite non-book media of the year so far?  Anything you'd recommend?