Thursday, August 21, 2014

REVIEW: Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

Siege and Storm (The Grisha, #2)Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Original Publication Year: 2013
Genre(s): YA, Fantasy
Series: The Grisha #2
Awards: NA
Format: Audio (Audible)
Narrated By: Lauren Fortgang

The problematic middle book of a trilogy! I can imagine it poses a special kind of challenge for authors. How to keep the story moving forward and compelling, when it’s really just the build up to the big finish. Siege and Storm, book 2 in The Grisha series, worked out all right but it does suffer a bit from the middle book doldrums.

Alina and Mal find themselves very quickly thrown back into the thick of the things that they were trying to get away from. Problem is, Mal is really grumpy about this but Alina? Alina is kind of relieved to be back in the game helping out and using her sun summoner powers again. In fact, she’s worried that she’s a little too comfortable to be all powerful and important again. Spectral-ish visits from the Darkling whenever she’s feeling her most lonely and isolated are also leading her to suspect that she may have more in common with the Darkling then is good for her or Ravka.

So book two is a lot of soul-searching and planning and worrying and serious amounts of angst. It’s the lull before the storm, when everybody starts to question everything – themselves, each other, everything they’ve done this far, whether they are doing enough or perhaps too much. I appreciate so much that Alina has this complexity and that her development and doubts are laid bare and believable. But while it never got boring per se, I did not enjoy it quite as much as book one of the series.

There is an attempt to add some excitement to the plot by adding a new important character who started off as fun and interesting but got less interesting for me once his “secret” was revealed. And he can’t really make up for the relative absence of the Darkling who is by far the most interesting character being both sinister and seductive.

Another weakness for me was Alina and Mal’s relationship. I like Mal and I like them together but Bardugo couldn’t just have them be in a happy and settled relationship so we get all kinds of roller coaster. It portrays both the characters in a pretty negative light, with Mal feeling like he’s being shut out and shut down and Alina IN FACT shutting him out and down. But he also makes very little effort to understand what she must be going through. It’s all so angsty. I also found it a little weird that after weeks of being on their own together and living together that they were both still so physically shy and awkward with one another.

The ending of this installment felt a little bleak though that must be the way of middle books. Things have gotta be bad for the appropriate level of come back to occur in the finale.

Final Verdict: Pretty okay sequel in a good, original YA fantasy series. Bring on Ruin and Rising!

Monday, August 18, 2014

BOUT of BOOKS 11 - Updates

Bout of Books
This is the update post to keep track of my reading for Bout of Books 11.

What is Bout of Books?
The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 18th and runs through Sunday, August 24th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 11 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

If all goes well, I will add my daily updates to this one post.  

Time Spent Reading:  4.5 hours

Books Read: (links to Goodreads)
Throne of Glass by Sara J. Maas (audio)
11/22/63 by Stephen King (audio)
City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett (20% read)
Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature by Kathleen Dean Moore (Page 155, 79% read)

Books Finished: 0

Comments: Feeling happy about lots of reading time and in all 4 of my current reads despite it being a pretty crazy day.  I may need to my goals adjust midway because I think I may surpass them.  If I didn't just jinx myself with the cockiness:).

Favorite quote of the day came somewhat obviously from Wild Comfort.  I feel like I highlight something on every other page of this beautiful book of essays:
The sound of wind bringing rain, the rattle of surf-driven stones—didn’t these tell him what he needed to know? That he is alive in this place, at this time, alive in the midst of all this life. That he is aware in the midst of all that is mysterious, every fact that might not have been and yet is. Stinging sand, the storm-driven waves, the swirling gulls—they are all cause for surprise and celebration.

Time Spent Reading: 4.25 hours

Books Read: (links to Goodreads)
Throne of Glass by Sara J. Maas (audio) - DONE
11/22/63 by Stephen King (audio)
City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett (30% read)
Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature by Kathleen Dean Moore (Page 169, 85% read)

Books Finished: 1

Comments:  Finished Throne of Glass! I have mixed feelings about it which I will sit with for a bit before trying to get my thoughts down on paper. It is definitely worth reading.

Will be on the road starting early tomorrow morning through Friday so may throw my reading schedule off a bit.

Favorite Quote of the Day:  I could put another from Wild Comfort but instead will highlight some words about one of my favorite characters in City of Stairs, Sigrud:

"Well we are in some danger," she admits. "But we just... We just need to wait." The two attackers she notes are growing increasingly uncertain, so when Vohannes says "For what?" they look a little relieved he asked.  "For Sigrud." "What? What are you talking about?" "We just have to wait," Shara says, "for him to do what he does best." .... "Who is... Sigrud?" asks Vohannes.  There is a horrific scream from nearby and a burst of breaking glass.  "That is Sigrud." says Shara.

Time Spent Reading: 4 Hours

Books Read: (links to Goodreads)
11/22/63 by Stephen King (audio) - DONE
City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett (39% read)
Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature by Kathleen Dean Moore  - DONE
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (audio)

Books Finished: 2!  That's a total of three so far for the read-a-thon.  I was in the middle of all of them going in so it may be cheating but it's good to get them read.

Despite the traveling I got a decent amount of reading done mostly because everything kind of went horribly wrong and I ended up with some unexpected time on my hands.  Nice to turn a crappy work day into a good read-a-thon day!

Finishing both of these books was significant for me.  I have struggled to finish two other  Stephen King books with no success so I was super excited to finish this one.  It's long but good.  I have been wanting to read Wild Comfort, my first Kathleen Dean Moore book, for years now and I am so glad I finally did.  It is such a beautiful book.  My review I think will consist mostly of quotes. If you enjoy nature writing and haven't read her, I recommend you do so asap.  Now to Bed!

Time Spent Reading:
Books Read:
Books Finished:

Time Spent Reading:
Books Read:
Books Finished:

Time Spent Reading:
Books Read:
Books Finished:

Time Spent Reading:
Books Read:
Books Finished:

Sunday, August 17, 2014

REVIEW: The Blackhouse by Peter May

The Blackhouse (Lewis Trilogy, #1)The Blackhouse by Peter May
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Original Publication Year: 2012?  [I’m very confused about the pub history for this book – I’ve read in various places that it was published in 2009, 2011, 2012, it won the 2013 Barry Award and then it was offered as an ARC on NetGalley so who knows!]
Genre(s): Mystery/Thriller
Series: Lewis Trilogy #1
Format: Advanced Reader Copy provided for free through Net Galley in exchange for a fair review.
Narrated By: NA

Fin Macleod has had a tough life. He’s just lost his son to a hit and run and his boss in the Edinburgh PD is forcing him to come off leave to go back to a home he hasn’t been able to face for 18 years. Home is the Isle of Lewis, part of the Outer Hebrides off of Scotland’s Northwest coast and it holds many mixed memories for Fin.

In The Blackhouse, we read about Fin’s investigation of an old adversary’s murder which bears a striking resemblance to a murder in Edinburgh. This mystery gives the book its framework but the real story is about Fin’s rather tragic childhood in an insular community and its ripple effect on the present day. If there is anything unbelievable about the book it is that Fin remains relatively well adjusted considering the amount of woe that was heaped on his childhood’s head. I thought that the dual narratives worked pretty well and the way they were sewn together was smoothly and convincingly done.

I’ve always romanticized the idea of living on an island and being on such intimate terms with the sea but my fantasies are no match for the bleak though believable picture painted by Peter May. He emphasizes the poverty, not just of money but of color and trees among other things. The only things the islanders seem to have plenty of is howling wind, gray skies and religion. The descriptions of the Guga or Gannet harvest are fascinating and detailed and give insights, along with the islanders continued use of Gaelic, into how the culture on the islands is trapped somewhere between the past and present. The portrayal of the Isle was one of the strengths for me though I don’t know how accurate it is. It felt real.

Final Verdict: A pretty standard British mystery/thriller (and I mean that in the best sense) elevated beyond ordinary by the setting and the intimate nature of the mystery so that it becomes part coming of age story as well. I will definitely be picking up the other two books in the trilogy.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Saturdays in the Garden - Leopard Frogs and Bacon Grease

Saturdays in the Garden is my attempt to reflect on the week just gone and informally serves as my garden journal.



Once again I did very little in the garden this week though  did have to water which has been a rare enough occurrence this year.  My first peppers are ripe  - the sweet Italians to the left - and will promptly be used with my still thriving tomatoes to make some spaghetti sauce.  There is a basic recipe in the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook (11th edition) cookbook which freezes well and it feels pretty awesome that  at least half the ingredients will come from the garden.  It would be nice someday if all (but the meat) the ingredients could be right out the kitchen door.  Some day.... Here's the recipe:

Classic Spaghetti Sauce

12 ounces ground beef or bulk pork sausage
1 cup chopped onion (1 large)
1/2  cup chopped green sweet pepper
1/4 cup chopped celery
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups chopped, peeled tomatoes (6 large) or two 14-1/2-ounce cans tomatoes, cut up
1 6 ounce can tomato paste
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons snipped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon snipped fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
1 tablespoon snipped fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried basil, crushed
2 teaspoons snipped fresh marjoram or 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram, crushed
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
8 ounces dried spaghetti, vermicelli, or other pasta
Grated parmesan cheese (optional)


  1. In a large saucepan or pot cook ground beef or pork sausage, onion, sweet pepper, celery, and garlic until meat is brown. Drain fat.
  2. Stir in the fresh or undrained canned tomato, tomato paste, water, parsley, basil, oregano, marjoram, sugar, salt, and pepper. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Uncover and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes more, or to desired consistency, stirring occasionally.
  3. Meanwhile, cook spaghetti for 10 to 12 minutes or until tender but still firm. Drain well. Serve sauce over spaghetti. If desired, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Nutrition Facts

(Classic Spaghetti Sauce)
    Per serving:
  • 503 kcal cal.,
  • 13 g fat
  • (4 g sat. fat,
  • 53 mg chol.,
  • 374 mg sodium,
  • 71 g carb.,
  • 6 g fiber,
  • 28 g pro.
  • Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet

I didn't have much time to spend in the garden this week because I was out in Western Iowa doing field work.

It's a hard knock life.  And yes that is, in fact, Iowa.  It may be 80% corn and soybeans but the state does have some natural beauty tucked away here and there. I was looking for butterflies and didn't find many of interest but I did find this little fellow who seemed out of place on the top of a ridge very far from any water.

It's a northern leopard frog and I have noticed before that they do range quite far from their watery birthplaces. 



Everywhere in the news this week was the the death of Robin Williams.  There is a huge outpouring of sadness and I really get it.  I am of an age that I feel like I grew up with Robin Williams.  Not growing up while he grew up but his comedy and movies were some of my favorite things as a kid and teenager.  Some of my favorite movies of his, all of which I watched many times were Good Morning Vietnam ("Big Dogs Landing on my face"), Aladdin, Dead Poet's Society, Good Will Hunting, Hook.  I adopted the quote above from Good Morning Vietnam as a kind of catch phrase for a while because something about the absurdity of it just brought me so much joy.  He had a particular talent for conveying both the humorous and poignant sides of life and all I can say is Thanks for all the laughs and all the tears Mr. Williams. Please rest in peace.

On the lighter side of things some of my favorite things this week were:

- Getting my hair significantly cut for the first time in almost a year.  Is there anything more sublime?
- BLTs with heirloom tomatoes.
- Using the grease from the bacon to make these dog treats:

Here's the recipe.  I threw in some shredded parmesan and sharp cheddar cheese that I had around.  The dogs seem to like them.
- Black Mango Iced Tea.  There's an awesome tea shop down in the big city of Des Moines, Gong Fu Tea, and their Black Mango tea blend makes the most amazing iced tea ever in the history of iced tea.

Summer is good.

BOOKS and the BLOG

Reading has been pretty good this week.  Earlier today I finished The Blackhouse by Peter May, an atmospheric coming of age/mystery thriller sort of tale.  I am also closing in on the end of 11/22/63 by Stephen King which is quite a feat.  Not only is the book super long but it will be the first out of three of King's books I will manage to finish.  I am currently at the point in the book where it is 11/22/63 and yet there are still five discs to go so I don't know what it has in store for me but I'm guessing it will be something.

I also hurried on over to my favorite library in the world in the next town over because they will be closed for a whole month!!  It's been at a temporary location for 2 years while substantial renovations were made at the real location and now they are moving back in to their new fancy digs.  I stocked up on some cozy mysteries and a book in a fantasy trilogy I've been reading.  Less books for them to move:)

Before you feel too sorry for me I should mention that I actually live almost directly across the street from my town's library.

View from my front porch
The problem is that while it's a lovely old building with tons of space their selection is pretty poor.  I've joked ever since I moved here that I was going to get on the library board and shake things up but as of yet I have made not one single move towards accomplishing this.  Has anybody else ever served on such a committee - I'm wondering how rewarding or horrendous it might be...

I followed my new plan on the blog this week and it went okay.

SUNDAY:  I posted about the most awesome Locke and Key graphic novel series by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez.  It's beautiful and creepy and good fun.  4 out of 5 stars.
TUESDAY: Participated in The Broke and Bookish's Top Ten Tuesday meme about books I'm not too sure I want to read.
THURSDAY:  I posted a review of the thoughtful and engrossing The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.  4.5 out of 5 stars.
FRIDAY: I'm gonna give the Bout of Books 11 read-a-thon a try.  I want to catch up with my goodreads goal that I set. 

This coming week:

SUNDAY: Review of The Blackhouse by Peter May
TUESDAY:  First Bout of Books update.  I think I will skip Top Ten Tuesday this week which is about books you feel pressured to read.
WEDNESDAY: Update Bout of Books progress.
THURSDAY: Review of Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo and Bout of Books update.
FRIDAY: Bout of Books update.
SATURDAY:  Saturdays in the Garden.

So what's been up in your life or garden?  Favorite moment or book of the week?