Monday, January 30, 2017

TOP TEN TUESDAY | Graphic Novels

 
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme for bloggers who like books and lists. It's awesome and is graciously hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  
I'm still a relative newbie to Graphic Novels so this I really don't have a top 10 GNs that I've read.  I can manage a top 5 however and I'll make the other five those I'm most hoping to read soon. Someday I aspire to be a Graphic Novel reader that can make a top ten!

***********  
TOP FIVE READ

1) Fables by Bill Willingham and numerous artists most especially Mark Buckingham

This was my first Graphic Novel series and it's probably still my favorite though it had its ups and downs and ended with a bit of a whimper. Put out by Vertigo, the series recently ended with 22 collected volumes. My favorite was Volume 18: Cubs in Toyland which was seriously devastating and was a bit of a departure for the series which had its dark moments but mostly kept things light.  Definitely an adult comic.  Fairy Tales written for adults and brought into the modern world.


2) Saga by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples

Is there anyone who has read any of this series and not loved it?  I've only read the first 4 collected volumes and it looks like volume 7 will be out this year.  Again, definitely an adult comic and is a bawdy, beautiful space opera at its very best.  It will make you laugh, cry and everything in between. and the art is stunning.

3) Locke and Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

With Joe Hill writing, this is as you would imagine a horror comic.  It's creative, creepy, poignant and has great character development. It's about a family that moves to a large old house after a tragedy in the family and awakens a malevolent spirit which is after a series of magical keys.  The artwork is atmospheric and absolutely gorgeous and crisp.  Definitely for adults and it's finished with 6 volumes.

4) Avatar: The Last Airbender by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru

I don't know that this is so much about what brilliant comics these are, though they are good, but may be more about my love for this TV show.  This is a middle-grade YA comic series which accompanies the popular show.  There are currently 5, short 3-volume series that continue the story of Aang and the gang post defeating the Fire Lord.  The art is practically identical to the cartoon and Gene Luen Yang is a great storyteller.  I hope they continue writing them forever and ever.

5) Rapunzel's Revenge Series by Shannon and Nathan Hale and Dean Hale

This is a two volume middle-grade comic series that re-tells the tales of Rapunzel and Jack and the Beanstalk with a wild west/steam-punky/magical setting.  I found it completely charming and love the colorful, crisp art.

Honorable Mention: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson, Alex+Ada by Jonathan Luna, The Wicked and the Divine by Kieron Gillen and The Olympians Series by George O'Connor

************
TOP 5 ON MY TBR

1) Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Shannon Watters, and Brooke A. Allen

I have the first 5 volumes sitting on my nightstand right now:). Volume 6 comes out this year.

2) Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona

So part of the reason I've shied away from superhero comics is that the read order is just so confusing.  I've been told that No Normal (above) is where to start with this series.

3) The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North and Erica Henderson

I've heard so many good things about these comics and they just look adorable.  Plus I am pro any super hero that is part human - part critter.

4) The Dreamer  by Lora Innes

This is a long running web comic about a high school student that starts traveling back in time to the American Revolution.

5) Buffy the Vampire Slayer by Joss Whedon and Georges Jeanty

Like with Avatar above, the tale of Buffy and the gang was continued in Graphic Novel form.  I've heard mixed things about these but I'd like to give them a try!  I'd really like to see a reunion with Angel!

*********

This is a medium where I could really use some recs!  I'll be looking at everybody's lists but I'd love it if you'd mention your favorite comic of all time in the comments.  Also, if I was to delve into more superhero comics - where to start??  (I know that's  the most asked question in all of comic time.)

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Saturday in the Garden | Peek-A-Boo

OUTSIDE

Winter Wonderland...

In indoor bulb starting news, I decided to play it fast and loose and just put the grape hyacinth bulbs that have been sitting in my refrigerator waiting for me to perform a complicated planting ritual (involving planting and then keeping them in a basement for several months while keeping them watered) into some containers with rocks and water.  It works for the paperwhites so....  They had already started to sprout in the fridge and with just a day in water they look like they are starting to put out roots. I'll keep you posted. 

A good day at the bird feeders too...
Northern Cardinals are a fairly common feeder bird in Iowa but not at my feeder - if you squint just right you can see a male sitting on the feeder and below a nice flock of dark-eyed juncos. I am also reaping rewards from not "cleaning" my garden before winter.  A couple of juncos were using this little bower as shelter and to pick around on the ground.  It's right outside my back door though, so I couldn't get a good picture of them using it without scaring them off. 


WATCHING, READING and BLOGGING

Watching 

I finally finished Inuyasha! I had gotten a little nervous that I was going to be disappointed by the ending (because I had semi-spoiled myself) but instead I was pleased and think it ended just right.  This is an example of a love triangle, that frustrated the heck out of me for much of the show, but which ended up being, when take in it's entirety, surprisingly nuanced, complex and interesting. If you like fantasy and are interested in anime, it's a series worth watching though a little too long (190 episodes!).

I just started a K Drama tonight called City Hunter.  The first episode was completely bonkers so of course I think I will likely love it:0).  This is how episode 2 started:

Reading 

Finished Since the Last Time I Posted

  • The Twelve (The Passage #2) by Justin Cronin: The second book in The Passage trilogy.  The last third of this book was amazing and I ended it with so many questions!  However, the first 2/3rds of the book I found frustrating and slow.  I think I will have to finish the trilogy but since the last book is the least universally liked, I'm kind of dreading it.

Currently Reading:

  • Memories of Ash (Sunbolt #2) by Intisar Khanani: I loved book 1 so much, I immediately had to jump into book 2!
  • Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch: A book about how to improve your relationship with food.
  • The Dark Days Club (Lady Helen #1) by Alison Goodman:  As I suspected I would, I am loving this book which the author describes as Buffy the Vampire Slayer in Regency England.  

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!
  • All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai:  One of the books on The Book Smugglers Radar that looks like an interesting time travel and thought exploration.  About a man, Tom Barron, who is living in a Utopian version of 2016, but then finds himself stranded in our less perfect reality and faces the decision of  fixing things or embracing imperfection. 
Otherwise lots of romances this week!
  • Act Like It (London Celebrities #1) by Lucy Parker:  I rarely add contemporary romances to my TBR but Fine Print convinced me this one was worth checking out!
  • Ever The Hunted by Erin Summerill: Recommended on The Silver Petticoat Review which mostly specializes on books and media with a romantic leaning.  A YA fantasy with a strong female protagonist.
  • How the Duke Was Won by Lenora Bell:  A Regency romance included on a rec list from Book Riot's Get Booked podcast of romances that bring the humor.

On the BLOG LAST WEEK:




Have a Great Week!

Friday, January 27, 2017

REVIEW | Sunbolt by Intisar Khanani

Sunbolt by Intisar Khanani
Publication Year: 2013
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Series: Sunbolt Chronicles #1
Awards: None
Format: eBook (I own)
Narrator: NA


WHY?:  I had seen this book and author recommended several times around the blogosphere in very glowing terms.  I was curious enough about it and confident enough that I would like it that I bought it some time last year when it was on sale.

SYNOPSIS: Hitomi is an orphan making her own way on the streets of Karolene, an island nation with an increasingly despotic government.  In fact, she has connected herself with a group of dissidents that are resisting the government.  She is also hiding a dangerous secret. When a mission goes horribly awry, Hitomi finds herself sold and transported to a far away land where she must risk revealing her dangerous secret to save her own and a fellow prisoner's life.  

THOUGHTS:

This novella length book (~145 pages) completely captivated me and was a great introduction to the character of Hitomi, the world she lives in and the political machinations that make things interesting.  I loved it so much that I immediately bought and started the full length sequel, A Memory of Ashes.

The book is told entirely from Hitomi's perspective and we come into her story kind of in the middle.  We don't know how Hitomi was orphaned or why she got involved with the resistance but she obviously has established relationships with all the members of the group.  Despite not knowing how she knows them or why she helps them, Khanani establishes her loyalty well enough that it is easy to understand Hitomi's actions which are selfless and heroic.  

Hitomi's street-wise, smart, abrasive demeanor balanced by her compassionate and honorable nature make her a character that I immediately loved and got behind.  She is also incredibly stubborn and determined which leads her to not give up in what seem to be hopeless situations.  She's admirable and heroic but real as well.  She is the first thing to really make this book (and series, I wager) special. 

The second thing to make it special is the world-building.  Khanani manages to open up the door to a complex world, with some very interesting creatures and political intrigue but she doesn't get too bogged down either.  She does this while also propelling the plot at rocket speed, covering a lot of ground.  The remarkable thing is that it didn't feel rushed to me.  It flowed and was paced just right.

I don't read many novellas, but I feel like there's a danger of the story feeling incomplete.  I think Sunbolt was done really well - I was definitely glad that we were going to get more of Hitomi's story but I didn't feel totally unsatisfied with the story as a whole.   There are so many pieces on the game board for Khanani to develop and play with and I am interested in all those pieces and would like them all explored.  It left me full but wanting more because it was so delicious!

FINAL VERDICT:  The very enjoyable start of a YA fantasy series that is well written and has characters that are complex, realistic and easy to care about.  4 out of 5 stars.



Wednesday, January 25, 2017

REVIEW | H is for Hawk by Helen McDonald

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
Publication Year: 2014
Genre: Non-fiction, Natural History and Memoir
Series: NA
Awards: None
Format: Audio (from Audible)
Narrator: Helen Macdonald

WHY?: For a myriad of reasons.  I love natural history, I have experienced loss and grief, The Once and Future King is one of my favorite books and finally the book had so many great recommendations.

SYNOPSIS: Helen Macdonald's life becomes rudderless after her father suddenly dies.  In part to deal with her grief, she throws herself into training one of the most ornery of falconry birds, the Goshawk.  The process also drives her into a contemplation of T. H. White's book The Goshawk which she had been disdainful of as a child.  Reading it at this time in her life leads her to a new understanding of White which ultimately helps her to address her grief and the new world she lives in without her father.

THOUGHTS:

This book really spoke to me on a number of different levels but I have to admit it may not do so for everyone. It's an odd book really. Part memoir, part nature essay, part biography of T.H. White.  The connections between these topics aren't obvious but they are woven together in Macdonald's grief stricken brain and that is what ultimately makes them work as a whole. The T.H. White portions are the pieces that seem the most separate but for Macdonald, his book The Goshawk and his life gained new meaning in her time of grief.  

Macdonald is a falconer and has been obsessed with birds, particularly raptors since she was a child.  The Goshawk, a big vicious brute of a predator, is acknowledged as one of the hardest falconry birds to train and "domesticate".  While she's never really had much of an affinity with Goshawk's before, when Macdonald's father dies, suddenly and unexpectedly, she feels an urge to throw herself into the challenge of training this wildest of raptors.  And throw herself she does, almost losing herself in the hours upon hours of solitary time working with and developing a relationship with her new Goshawk.  It's fascinating and beautiful and it is where her gorgeous prose shines the brightest in my opinion, especially when describing the hawk and its natural behaviors, its wildness.  
“I stalked around the edge of the wood, crouching low, holding my breath. My attention was microscopically fierce. I'd become a thing of eyes and will alone. Mabel held her wings out from her sides, her head snaking, reptilian, eyes glowing. It felt like I was holding the bastard offspring of a flaming torch and an assault rifle.” 
“A short scuffle, and then out into the gloom, her grey crest raised and her barred chest feathers puffed up into a meringue of aggression and fear, came a huge old female goshawk. Old because her feet were gnarled and dusty, her eyes a deep, fiery orange, and she was beautiful. Beautiful like a granite cliff or a thunder-cloud. She completely filled the room. She had a massive back of sun-bleached grey feathers, was as muscled as a pit bull, and intimidating as hell, even to staff who spent their days tending eagles.” 
She completely captures the essence of these magnificent birds.  I work with a pair of biologists whose expertise is birds, particularly raptors and I continually wanted to shove this book at them even though I'm not sure the introspective grief management and T.H. White portions of the book would work for them.  Honestly though, even if they didn't, the bits about natural history would be worth it.
“Of all the lessons I’ve learned in my months with Mabel this is the greatest of all: that there is a world of things out there – rocks and trees and stones and grass and all the things that crawl and run and fly. They are all things in themselves, but we make them sensible to us by giving them meanings that shore up our own views of the world. In my time with Mabel I’ve learned how you feel more human once you have known, even in your imagination, what it is like to be not. And I have learned, too, the danger that comes in mistaking the wildness we give a thing for the wildness that animates it. Goshawks are things of death and blood and gore, but they are not excuses for atrocities. Their inhumanity is to be treasured because what they do has nothing to do with us at all.” 

It is a book that dwells on the past while ultimately deciding that it is best to move and look forward - a rather unconventional view for a historian;)(Macdonald's vocation).  Her father's death, training the Goshawk, T.H. White's troubled life all point her towards a new understanding of the world and it's really beautiful.   We venerate the past  - in world history and in our own personal lives and it does a disservice to our world and to ourselves.  It's important to look at and study history but focus on how it moved us forward.
“Old England is an imaginary place, a landscape built from words, woodcuts, films, paintings, picturesque engravings. It is a place imagined by people, and people do not live very long or look very hard. We are very bad at scale. The things that live in the soil are too small to care about; climate change too large to imagine. We are bad at time too. We cannot remember what lived here before we did; we cannot love what is not. Nor can we imagine what will be different when we are dead. We live out our three score and ten, and tie our knots and lines only to ourselves. We take solace in pictures, and we wipe the hills of history.”
I can't give the book 5 stars because I do think the portions of the book focused on T.H. White, while interesting, didn't quite flow but it is a really highly recommended 4 stars especially if Natural History is your jam. 
  The author narrates the book which is sometimes cause for alarm but in this case it works great.  Her words and the way she reads them are powerful and she also brings out the subtle humor with which she writes and which may not have been as apparent when reading the text.  

FINAL VERDICT:  A beautifully written and engaging memoir that I think will appeal to natural historians, book geeks and folks who have experienced loss.  4 out of 5 Stars


OTHER OPINIONS ARE AVAILABLE: Cornell Lab of Ornithology | A Little Blog of Books

Monday, January 23, 2017

TOP TEN TUESDAYS | Tropes I Have Loved, Part I

 
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme for bloggers who like books and lists. It's awesome and is graciously hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  
This week's Top Ten Tuesday is a freebie!   I decided to list a few of my favorite tropes.  Sometimes tropes get a bad rap and certainly if they are written poorly they can feel stale and derivative.  When they are done well however....Boom!...it's magic.  There are probably literally hundreds of tropes that I like to read so consider this the first ten that came to mind (hence the Part I in the post title).

*****************
1) Cross-dressing females.

When a girl has to hide her gender in order to pursue her dreams or otherwise do something she can't do as a female.  I think this trope has such appeal because usually these women are rejecting female oppression and they tend to be strong and brave characters.  Also, there is a lot of drama in someone hiding their identity and it brings up all kinds of complex emotions and psychological questions.
EXAMPLES: Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott (non-fiction - a goodly number of ladies did this so they could fight in the Civil War! For reals!); Alana by Tamora Pierce (YA, Fantasy); Coffee Prince and Splash, Splash, Love (K-Dramas)

2) Love Triangles 

Don't shoot me! This is an easy one to do poorly AND I so mostly only love it when it's two girls and one guy.  Honestly I don't want to examine too closely the possibly non-feminist implications here.  I think maybe what I actually like the most is rooting for the under-dog and of course I identify more with under-dog women and their love being requited. And now that I think about it I don't know that gender matters so much as the situation... but this is getting really complicated so I'm gonna shut up now. 
EXAMPLES:  Some Kind of Wonderful (John Hughes Film); Persuasion by Jane Austen (Hero makes right choice, yay!); Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (Hero makes wrong choice, boo!), Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (Hero makes right choice, yayish!) [are you starting to see a pattern with Austen, lol], The School for Good and Evil Series by Soman Chainani


3) Bad-ass Loner Lady Finds Love

I think the feelings involved with my love of number two, also motivate my love for this trope.  
EXAMPLE: The Kate Daniels Series by Ilona Andrews (Kate Daniels is the best bad ass loner lady!), Dana Scully from The X Files (TV), Sam Carter from Stargate SG-1.

Source
4) Rich and Popular Guy/Girl falls in love with Poor and Unpopular Guy/Girl

Again, I think this is very closely related to the two above - the underdog getting what in a fictional world is a happy ending.
EXAMPLE: Cinderella:0)

5) Chosen Families 

I love my family and think they're pretty all right but there's nothing like the family you choose. Those friends and companions that you know have got your back and love you because you're awesome and not just because they have to.
EXAMPLE: Firefly (Television show by Joss Whedon), Lord of the Rings (Frodo and Sam), most any quest fantasy honestly, The Palace Job by Patrick Weekes, The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

6) Scrappy Orphan Saves the World/Kicks Butt

Sometimes it seems like every fantasy novel hero or heroine is an orphan.  The thing is, It usually totally works.  It sets up the character to be self-reliant and resilient and usually makes them the underdog.  And again is their anything better than the underdog winning?
EXAMPLE: this little series called HARRY POTTER by J.K. Rowling - maybe you've heard of it?

7) Hate-to-Love Romances and It's Opposite Friends to Lovers 

Wow. I have a lot of love related tropes that I like.  Ahem.... The Hate to Love romance is all about the banter and the the slow-burn nature of these relationships.  Friends to lovers can be equally satisfying because they also tend to be slowly developing and evolving.
EXAMPLES: Hate to Love - Starflight by Melissa Landers, Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell, Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase; Friends to Lovers - Lost Stars by Claudia Gray; Oddly Both - A Rogue by Any Other Name by Sarah MacLean, Anne of Green Gables L.M. Montgomery

8) Vampires

This feels like a guilty confession:0). I can't help it, Vampires have been my favorite monster (everyone has a favorite monster, right?) since I was a wee thing.  True not all vampires are created equal and I don't love every story that involves them, but I do at least have a spark of interest when vampires are invoked.  
EXAMPLES: Salem's Lot by Stephen King, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV Show by Joss Whedon), Dracula by Bram Stoker, Sunshine by Robin McKinley

9) Quests

There is just something about a quest fantasy that I can't get enough of.  The adventure, the hardships and the heart it takes to get through them, it just never gets old.  
EXAMPLES:  The Belgariad by David Eddings, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum, Avatar: The Last Airbender (TV Show)

10) Headstrong Fancy Ladies that Head West

This is one of the more obscure tropes that I love and I've encountered it most frequently in TV. This is when an upper class East Coast lady in the U.S. or Canada moves out to the frontier during the "wild west" period.  The attraction I think is watching these women that are fish out of water, find their strength and adapt.
EXAMPLE: Deadwood (TV Series - Alma Garrett); When Calls the Heart (VERY cheesy TV Series based on a book - Elizabeth Thatcher); Hell on Wheels (TV Series - Lily Bell); Sawbones by Melissa Lenhardt

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

That's just the tip of the iceberg as far as favorite tropes goes but it's a good start.  What are some of the tropes that you really enjoy?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Saturdays in the Garden | Fired Up and Ready To Go!

OUTSIDE

Inside, the Narcissus is really blooming now.

While outside it's been warm but gray and wet. I just keep trying to think of it as Gothic Horror Weather.  Any minute now I will be beset by vampires and werewolves emerging out of the swirling fog.  Well-mannered and charming werewolves and vampires of course:0).


GAK

It's been a fascinating week.  I am taking an online workshop called Hibernate (by Beauty That Moves) and it's been  lovely.  One of the initial exercises was to sit and think about those things that would make us feel amazing this winter and from that create our Winter Wellness Recipe.  Mine's below!


Second, I am overwhelmed with emotion right now after attending the Women's March in Des Moines.  It was a memorable, empowering, inspiring, uplifting experience and I'm fired up and ready to go.  #FaithinHumanityRestored. 




WATCHING, READING and BLOGGING

Watching 

Still watching Inuyasha and I have to admit to be getting a little weary of it.  In the final season at least!

Reading 

Finished Since the Last Time I Posted

  • Moon Called (Mercy Thompson #) by Patricia Briggs:  Recommended to me highly many times because I love the Kate Daniels series.  I'm really enjoying it!
  • Sunbolt (Sunbolt Chronicles #1) by Intisar Khanani:  This novella (~150 pages) was superb.  Immediately jumping into book 2! I am going to try to post a review this week.

Currently Reading:

  • The Twelve (The Passage #2) by Justin Cronin: The second book in The Passage trilogy.  To be honest I am halfway through and while I'm driven to keep reading I am alos pretty frustrated with this one.  I've thought about quitting a time or two. 
  • Memories of Ash (Sunbolt #2) by Intisar Khanani: I loved book 1 so much, I immediately had to jump into book 2!
  • Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch: A book about how to improve your relationship with food.

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!

First here are some books I bought this week despite the fact that one of my resolutions was to stop my profligate book expenditures but these were on sale!  What was I supposed to do?!
  • First Grave on the Right By Darynda Jones: This paranormal romance/mystery has been on my TBR for a while and it's NEVER available at the library.
  • The Bone Knife by Intisar Khanani: This short story was free!  I read one of Khanani's books this week (see above) and LOVED it.
  • A Glass of Blessings by Barbara Pym: Barbara Pym is my jam.
  • Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh: A paranormal romance that's been on my TBR for a while.
  • Have His Carcase (Lord Peter Wimsey #8) by Dorothy L. Sayers: Because Lord Peter Wimsey is my jam.
  • Blood Bound (Mercy Thompson #2) by Patricia Briggs:  I really enjoyed book one of the Urban Fantasy series so....Yeah.
Now books for which I controlled myself and just added to the TBR:

On the BLOG LAST WEEK:




Have a Great Week!

Friday, January 20, 2017

REVIEW | Starflight by Melissa Landers

Starflight by Melissa Landers
Publication Year: 2016
Genre: YA, Science Fiction
Series: Starflight #1
Awards: None
Format: Audio (from Library) - 9 hours, 44 minutes
Narrator: Amanda Dolan


WHY?:  Recommendations from awesome blogger friends, particularly Selah (from A Bibliophile's Style) who described it thus:  " YA sci-fi, Serenity-esque ship & crew, slow burn romance. "  No way I'm not reading that.

SYNOPSIS:  Solara Brooks is an orphan on Earth with brains and some important skills but with less than no prospects.  The solution?  Hitch a ride as an indentured servant, out to the outer rim of planets where her mechanical skills will be a hot commodity.  Doran Spaulding is practically the polar opposite of Solara - rich, arrogant, privileged and incredibly obnoxious.  He offers Solara the opportunity to be his servant in exchange for passage and Solara is desperate enough that she accepts.  Circumstances occur which land the two of them on a scrappy ship called the Banshee, running for their lives which are forever altered.

THOUGHTS:

I don't like to closely read too many other reviews of books before writing my own but I happen to glance at a 2 (out of 5) star review on Goodreads that started with: "Welcome to yet another teen romance." (source)  The reviewer is not wrong, I mean just read the synopsis above.  Of COURSE one of the main characters is an orphan and the other is rich and pretty.   So, if you are really bothered by well-worn tropes, no matter how well they are done, this may not be the book for you.  Me, however?  I LOVE tropes... just call me a sheep.  As long as they are tropes I like and they are written well, you won't be able to tear me away.  And Starflight has everything that I love....
  • Hate to Love Romance
  • Scrappy lower class girl/guy attracts rich, popular guy/girl who turns out to be not so bad.
  • Slow Burn romance
  • Chosen Family
  • Eccentric crew of misfits doing crime but with hearts of gold
  • David vs. Goliath
  • Witty Banter
  • Ode to Firefly

None of it original or startling, all of it like catnip to my weary soul, ha-ha.  For example, I feel like good chunks of my life have been devoted to finding that "thing" (tv show, book, movie, manga, whatever) that delights and entertains me like Joss Whedon's Firefly did. I am almost always disappointed BUT NOT THIS TIME!!  To be fair, Landers practically rips off whole chunks of the Firefly 'verse.  Rich and privileged inner planets with a corrupt big brother type of government, outer rim of planets that are ignored and are basically like the wild west, super, terrifying Reaver-lite bounty hunters that can show up out of nowhere, crew of misfits on a rust bucket of a ship that have each other's back and who do crime but only very mildly. 

So, I loved it.  I finished it in two days and if I'd had the luxury, I would have probably sat down and devoured it all in one day.  One of my key caveats to loving something heavily laden with tropes, is that it must be written well and Landers hits a home run.  She should teach a class on how to properly and realistically evolve and develop a slow-burn, hate-to-love romance.  Solara and Doran's relationship was both lovely and fun.  The insults they hurl at each other for most of the book had me smiling in delight (what?  I enjoy a really clever witty insult) and sometimes laughing out loud.  The community she creates on board the Banshee feels warm and inviting.  

But what about the plot, you say?  It's a blast.  There are space pirates, inter-galactic conspiracies, dirty duels to the death(ish).  It has a nice overflowing arc, encompassing a couple of mysteries, but also an episodic feel that allows room for getting to know the characters and developing relationships. No real complaints and I'm excited that this was just the first installment.

I enjoyed the audio narration.  Amanda Dolan did a good job reading both males and females.  Most of the perspective was from Solara, with occasional sections from Doran, and her voice had a good quality for representing the feisty and sarcastic 18 year old. 

FINAL VERDICT:  An absolute delight.  Especially recommend for fans of Firefly as well as those that like their space operas with plenty of witty banter and romance. Perfect for a gray day when you want to curl up and lose yourself in an adventure. 4 out of 5 stars.
Other Opinions are Available: Metaphors and Moonlight | The Eater of Books


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

BRIEF THOUGHTS | The Enola Holmes Series by Nancy Springer

Several years ago (okay, so apparently it was 2014 which wasn't that long ago), I read the first in Nancy Springer's Enola Holmes series, The Case of the Missing Marquess.  This is (ostensibly) a middle-grade series featuring Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes' heretofore unknown 14 year old sister Enola Holmes.  Every bit as brilliant as her sleuth brother and not inclined to life as a proper young lady in Victorian England, when Ma Holmes disappears, Enola chooses to strike out on her own.  Along the way of course she solves some mysteries.  

Sounds fun, right?  Well it is and it isn't but more on that in a sec.  I am a bit of a Sherlock Holmes fan fiction junkie and will read anything that has that Holmesian flavor.  Picking up this series was a no brainer and with the set up I was ready to be delighted.  After recently reading the second and third books in the series, The Case of the Left-handed Lady and The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets, I instead found myself mildly depressed, stressed and a little confused. 

My memories of the first book were vague but I feel like Enola interacted with a few other children her age and I went into these two books expecting those characters to be recurring and to play a part in Enola's adventures.  Springer makes the bold and unusual choice of not going that direction and keeping Enola completely alone.  It is obviously what she intended for the character from the beginning judging by the fact that Enola's named spelled backwards is 'alone'.  It's an interesting choice and unfortunately it doesn't really work for me.  

First of all it stresses me out.  Enola is 14 and while in my head I know that girls of that time matured faster or at least more mature things were expected from them at that age and that Enola in particular is especially smart, my heart was not okay with this situation.  How dare Enola's mother purposefully abandon her child to the mercy of her chauvinist brothers and an even crueler world. In books two and three, Enola has accepted her mother's leaving her but spends most of the time in her head, where the reader resides, pining for her mother and feeling desperately lonely. It was distressing in the extreme to me.  As such, I also thought the books read older than middle-grade and are more properly young adult.

Enola being always alone poses a narrative problem as well.  Enola has no one to talk to or interact with  - the reader is stuck in her head as she talks to herself and follows logic trains.  I found it rather tedious and boring.  Even the notoriously odd and anti-social Sherlock has a companion, because hanging around in his head might be an interesting story but not perhaps a very gripping one.  Relationships and their evolution are interesting to me so to give Enola none, even with her brothers, is kind of a bummer.  I respect that Springer avoided the ubiquitous romance found in female character led YA and middle-grade lit but a friend or two would have really made these books work so much better for me.

There are positives of course.  The mysteries are interesting and involve a lot of secret codes.  The secret language of flowers is used frequently particularly in Bizarre Bouquets.  The series is also unapologetically feminist and Enola is an independent girl rebelling against society's sexist expectations.  I just wish the the books weren't so darn grim and melancholy. I listened to the audio of Bizarre Bouquets and it is read by one of my favorite narrators, Katherine Kellgren but unfortunately the rather sober tone of the book is much suited to Kellgren's enthusiastic and vocally acrobatic style.

Okay, so maybe my thoughts weren't all that brief. Anyway, I'm left feeling a little unsure about whether I will continue with the series. I suspect that much of my negative reaction to the books is really just disappointment of my expectations of zany and charming Holmes stories. Has anyone else read this series? What are your thoughts about it?  Am I being overly sensitive and critical?

Monday, January 16, 2017

TOP TEN TUESDAY | Underrated Reads

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme for bloggers who like books and lists. It's awesome and is graciously hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  

I love this topic but we did just do a version of it in July of this past year (that topic was actually "Best books under 2000 ratings on Goodreads").  I used the Goodreads technique (looking at number of ratings) and produced a handful from the last year that weren't on the July list and then did a more subjective evaluation of "underrated" to fill out the list.  The official topic for this week is:
Ten Underrated/Hidden Gem Books I've Read In The Past Year Or So (up to you if you want it to be those published in the past year or so or just ANY underrated book you've read recently)
These are all books I read (though they weren't necessarily published) in 2016.

***********


1) Sawbones by Melissa Lenhardt
# GOODREADS RATINGS: 226 | AVERAGE RATING: 3.8 out of 5

I've only mentioned this book about 789 times on the blog.  If you like historical fiction, with a strong female protagonist, particularly set on the American frontier, you must read this.  It is not however for the faint of heart.

2) Appleseed Creek Series by Amanda Flower
# GOODREADS RATINGS: 2,408 total for the whole 4 book series | AVERAGE RATING: 4.15

This is not a series that will change your life but it's an interesting cozy mystery series featuring a young computer scientist who gets a job in Amish country.  These were such addictive comfort reads for me with a dash of romance and good characters.  The first book is very overtly religious/Christian but this is toned down in the final 3 books.  For cozy mystery/romance fans. Christian fiction fans.

3) Avatar: The Last Airbender  - Smoke and Shadow by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru
# GOODREADS RATINGS: 246 ratings | AVERAGE RATING: 4.30

Were you fan of the awesome Avatar: The Last Airbender show on Nickelodeon?  If so you will absolutely enjoy the follow-up graphic novel series which continues Aang and the gang's adventure.  This most recent installment has Aang and Zuko teaming up and brings Mai back into the picture.  They are written by the award winning Gene Luen Yang (along with the TV series creators) and the art is very familiar. I need people to buy and read these so they keep being written until Aang retires.

4) Silence for the Dead by Simone St. James
# GOODREADS RATINGS: 2,731 | AVERAGE RATING: 3.88

If you enjoy mildly creepy, atmospheric, post World War I British Gothic romance mysteries, Simone St. James can't be beaten, lol.  She's definitely got herself a niche. This book takes place in a big old country house by the sea which has been converted into a psychiatric hospital, primarily for soldiers suffering from PTSD after World War I.


5) Duplicate Death by Georgette Heyer
# GOODREADS RATINGS: 1,459 | AVERAGE RATING: 3.7

Georgette Heyer is best known for her absolutely brilliant Regency romances but she also wrote a number of mysteries during the Golden Age of mysteries.  While she doesn't threaten to outdo Agatha Christie or Dorothy L. Sayers, her mysteries are pretty dang delightful, set during the 1920s-1950s and filled with witty repartee and just a smidge of romance.

6) The Palace Job by Patrick Weekes
# GOODREADS RATINGS: 3,936 | AVERAGE RATING: 3.82

This is such a fun fantasy heist novel with a diverse cast of characters and a really interesting world/setting.  Why isn't everyone reading it?!

7) A Corner of White (Colours of Madeleine) by Jaclyn Moriarty
# GOODREADS RATINGS:3,133 | AVERAGE RATING: 3.79

Part of my affection for this book may be related to a good chunk of the action taking place in Cambridge, England, a town I have spent a good bit of time in but most of my love is for its originality and the very interesting characters.  I don't know why it isn't a bigger YA hit.

8) Rapunzel's Revenge and Calamity Jack by Shannon and Nathan Hale and Dean Hale (Illustrator)
# GOODREADS RATINGS: 16,864 | AVERAGE RATING: 3.85

So this series has a decent number of ratings, and maybe I am just out of touch with the middle-grade set (probably) but I had never heard of this two book graphic novel series before randomly stumbling upon it at the library. These books are intertwined and respectively re-tell the story of Rapunzel and Jack and the beanstalk but with a American wild west/steampunky twist.  Shannon Hale is no slouch in the fairy tale re-telling department and I thoroughly enjoyed both of them!

9) Enchanted, Inc. Series by Shanna Swendsen
# of GOODREADS RATINGS (collectively for 8 books): 31,366 | AVERAGE RATING: 3.9

This is Urban Fantasy at its lightest and most fluffy and it's delightful.  Kati Chandler is just your average down to Earth small town Texas girl trying to make a living in the Big Apple when she discovers she's a Magical Immune and gets recruited to work for a company which produces magical products and whose C.E.O. used to answer to the name of Merlin.  Definitely has a chick-lit flavor but Kati is a thoroughly likeable characters, her romantic lead is a thoroughly beta hero and the adventures they have are delightful.

10) The Lewis Trilogy by Peter May 
# GOODREADS RATINGS (collectively 3 books): 31,292 | AVERAGE RATING: 4.09

SO maybe it's a bit of a stretch to say this stellar mystery series is underrated but I don't feel like I hear much about it or the author.  It's a brilliant and beautifully written series of mysteries set in the Outer Hebrides.

***********

That does it for me!  What book did you read this year that you wish more people were screaming joyfully about?