Tuesday, April 29, 2014

TOP TEN TUESDAY - Media Mixing Madness

This weeks TTT topic from The Broke and the Bookish is to list the Top Ten Books If You Like X tv show/movie/comic/play etc. (basically any sort of other entertainment).  I LOVE the topic this week even though my list is going to be seriously lame-o.  I can't seem to cross the media divide.  There are a ton of TV shows that I love but I've never really been able to hit on good book substitutes.  I can do a little bit better at comparing books to books but for some reason if it's in a different media I'm stumped.  The reason I'm excited about this topic is that I can't wait to see other people's lists!

Here's my best try at a list.  Some of them, quite frankly, are cheats.

Oh!  I should also mention that I think what was intended was for me to pick one show/movie etc... and list out ten books that are complementary but that's not gonna happen.  I'm lucky if I can come up with one idea per show!

1. If you liked Gormenghast then you might enjoy D.M. Cornish's Monster Blood Tattoo series.

This is one of my cheats because Gormenghast the TV mini-series is based on a trilogy of books.  But I haven't read those books so that's something.  D.M. Cornish's series is a similarly dark, strange and rich setting but for a younger audience.

2. If you like The James Bond Movies (and you're 14 years old) you may enjoy The Alex Rider Series by Anthony Horowitz.

Again, it's movies based on books.  But I've never read any of the books so I'm going with it.  The Alex Rider series is very much a James Bond-esque series of books featuring a 14 year old protagonist.

3. If you liked the TV show House you may enjoy When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa James

Ever wonder what a 19th century Gregory House might be like? You need wonder no longer.

4. If you like Game of Thrones then you may enjoy The First Law series by Joe Abercrombie (Book 1, Book 2, and Book 3)

This one is a big cheat because I have also read the source books.  But it's worth it to bring up Joe Abercrombie's awesome First Law Series. Complex characters who straddle the line between good and evil? Check! Unpredictable twists? Check! Political machinations that make your head spin? Check! Dark, rich and gritty plots? Check!

5. If you like Doctor Who then you may enjoy Jasper Fforde or Douglas Adams

Both Fforde and Adams have a similar absurdist and often clever humor and can also convey the same manic nature as the show. 

6. If you like Star Wars then you may enjoy The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold

This is a bit of a stretch but they are both Space Operas extraordonaire! The Vorkosigan Saga is well written Science Fiction which focuses more on it's characters, relationships and adventurous plots then on the  technology.

7. If you liked Oceans 11 you may enjoy The Gentleman Bastards series by Scott Lynch

Loveable rogues pulling elaborate heists.  Both of the above have them.  The only difference is that Scott Lynch's books take place in a slightly fantastical, rennaissance-esque type setting. Okay there are more differences than that but that's the big one.

8. If you like Star Trek then you may enjoy Red Shirts by John Scalzi

This comparison is embarrassing because it's so blatantly obvious.  Scalzi purposely set out to satirize Star Trek. I've just realized that I don't read enough comedic science fiction.

9. If you like Downton Abbey then you may enjoy The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt

I don't think I need to link to Downton Abbey as it has practically caused mass hysteria.  Byatt's The Children's Book may work for fans of the show because it takes place during the same era and is essentially a family drama focused on two generations of a well to do family in Victorian and then Edwardian Britain. 

Well I think that's all I got in me!  I can't wait to explore other folks lists!  I would particularly like to find a book or preferably a series of books for fans of any Joss Whedon show but especially Firefly and The X-files.  Please? Anybody?

Sunday, April 27, 2014

REVIEW: Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books,  #1)The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Original Publication Year: 2005
Genre(s): Fiction (perhaps of the historical variety or even with a dash of Magical Realism), Mystery?
Series: NA
Translated by: Lucia Graves
Awards: Barry Award for Best First Novel (2005) plus a bunch of others
Format: Audio
Narrated By: Jonathan Davis

Recommended subtitle: The Insane Compulsions of the Human Heart

The recommended subtitle makes this sound like such a heavy book but it is not. It is one of those unique books that manages to be both charming and highly emotional. It is hard to categorize. It crosses genres with disregarding abandon – at times an absorbing mystery, at others a sentimental romance, than dabbling with some magical realism and swooping in with the beautiful language of literary fiction. It is also historical, taking place in 1945 Barcelona and frequently made me laugh. At times it feels very epic and at other times it is beautifully and heartbreakingly intimate. I feel like it is could be all things for all people. I can’t imagine a reader that would not get something out of this beautiful novel. It is a book with heart and soul.

However, I didn’t immediately connect with it. The book starts with our main protagonist Daniel as an 11 year old boy and tells the story of how he becomes obsessed with a girl, ten years his senior. He generally acts foolish and childish until the cathartic events of his sixteenth birthday. In this one night of Daniel’s life, Zafon creates a series of shaping events the culmination of which is quiet and beautiful and from which Daniel emerges as an adult. I got sucked into the story of this night and wept copiously as Daniel and his father come together again in the early hours of the morning. It was at this moment that I knew this book was going to be special.

It is really two stories; that of our main protagonist Daniel and of the enigmatic writer Julian Carax with whom he becomes fascinated. Daniel is inexplicably drawn to Carax’s book, The Shadow of the Wind, when his bookseller father is initiating him into the mysteries of the Cemetary of Forgotten Books. Daniel quickly discovers that Carax’s books are extremely rare and that in fact a mysterious figure has been tracking down all copies of the books and burning them. Daniel’s investigation into the mystery of the book takes on extra urgency when he is approached by this mysterious character and threatened unless he turns over his copy of The Shadow of the Wind. His investigation uncovers an epic story of love and betrayal and death and ultimately puts Daniel himself in great danger. Along this journey, Daniel is also learning what it means to grow up and fall in love.

This book isn’t perfect – it’s a little flabby and meandering at times and can be blatantly manipulative. There are multiple love triangles that would put a soap opera to shame if diagrammed out of context. The flaws didn’t matter to me at all though, because the book does so many other things so very well. The characters are a pure delight particularly Fermin Romero de Torres and Daniel. Fermin is one of those characters who is a little crazy but who spouts wisdom in every other sentence. His monologues are both hilarious and profound. The plot could easily have been overwrought but it walks the line and somehow delivers melodrama without a single eye roll. It’s fun and sad and touching and gripping. Basically it is everything one expects and wishes for from a great book.

Comments about the Audio: This audio version of the book was pretty good but I did have a couple of nitpicks. One was that the reader was American or Canadian but whenever he got to a Spanish word like Barcelona or the character’s names he would abruptly say these with a proper Spanish accent and pronunciation. While saying this makes me feel like an insular self-absorbed ‘Merican, it did kind of drive me crazy. Also there is some very romantic piano music that sort of randomly intrudes on the reading and was obviously not meshed with the narration. The narration just continued as usual but with this florid piano all the sudden appearing. This also drove me a little crazy but then I felt bad when it is credited to the author at the end of the book; i.e. the author wrote the music! It was pretty and I did appreciate it for itself, but I kind of wish it had just been played during interludes, between chapters etc… rather than under the narration.

Final Verdict: I laughed, I cried, It was better than Cats. Wonderful novel that should have wide appeal to all sorts of readers! Book nerds should especially appreciate!

I make some sweeping claims that everyone should find something to like in this book.  Anybody who's read it disagree with me?

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Readathon is On!

Hour Nineteen Update (2am)

I think this will be my final update of the readathon.   It has been much fun but the punchiness is taking over and I do need to meet some folks for brunch tomorrow morning.  I'm off to bed, feeling pleased with the day. Thanks to the organizers!  Night All!

Currently reading: Enchanted, Inc. by Shanna Swendsen
Books finished: 1
            The Beekeepers Apprentice by Laurie R. King
Pages read: 73 pages
Running total of pages read: 481 + 2 hours and 55 minutes of audio (not sure how to translate that into pages)
Amount of time spent reading: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Running total of time spent reading: 14.5 hours

Hour Seventeen Update (Midnight!)

I'm fading fast now but think I have a little more reading time in me.  I've started a fun little paranormal romantic comedy on my e-reader.

Currently reading: Enchanted, Inc. by Shanna Swendsen
Books finished: 1
            The Beekeepers Apprentice by Laurie R. King
Pages read: 58 pages
Running total of pages read: 408
Amount of time spent reading: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Running total of time spent reading: 13 hours

Hour Fifteen Update (10pm)

I finally finished a book!  The Beekeeper's Apprentice was really excellent and I could've continued reading it a while longer.  I am starting to feel a little fatigued but I'll keep at it as long as possible.

Currently reading: Fables, Vol 17 - Inherit the Wind by Bill Willingham and Enchanted, Inc. by Shanna Swendsen
Books finished: 1
            The Beekeepers Apprentice by Laurie R. King
Pages read: 100 pages
Running total of pages read: 350
Amount of time spent reading: 2 hour, 15 minutes
Running total of time spent reading: 11.5 hours

These guys are not being motivating in the staying awake department:

Hour Twelve Update (7pm)

Halfway Mark!  In the last couple I took some breaks to check out other blogs (one of the highlights of the readathon thus far) and snuck in ten minutes of audiobook listening while getting dinner ready for me (pot roast from the crock pot) and all the animals.  My next update may be a little bit longer interval as I need to go out for a while but I'll be back!  Still loving and not tired of The Beekeeper's Apprentice.

Currently reading: The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
Books finished: 0
Pages read: 50 pages, 10 minutes of listening
Running total of pages read: 250
Amount of time spent reading: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Running total of time spent reading: 9.25 hours

1. What are you reading right now?
The Beekeeper's Apprentice (print) and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (audio). 
2. How many books have you read so far?
Just been working on those two.  This has really impressed upon me what a slow reader I am! I am enjoying both and not tired of them but it sure would be nice to say I had finished something!
3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?
I've got some Fables graphic novels by Bill Willingham waiting in the wings!
4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day?
Nope.  The timing was perfect with the start of vacation and all.
5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?
Not really.  It's been a smooth and great day!
6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?
How fast the time is flying!
7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
I think it is organized SO well!  Don't really have any suggestions.
8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do this again next year?
I think if I can participate next time I'll take on some other duties like cheerleading.  Didn't want to do that this first time as I wasn't sure what to expect.
9. Are you getting tired yet?
10. Do you have any tips for other Readers or Cheerleaders, something you think is working well for you that others may not have discovered?
Not sure if it's "new" but switching between audio and print is working really well.  The audio lets me continue reading while letting me get up and move around and get some things accomplished.  It also means I've had two books going all day which has helped keep both fresh.

Hour Ten Update (5pm)

This day has flown by!  I can't believe it is 5 pm.  In the last couple hours I have taken the dogs for another walk as well as doing some general sitting and reading.

Currently reading: The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
Books finished: 0
Pages read: 40 pages, 30 minutes of listening
Running total of pages read: 200
Amount of time spent reading: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Running total of time spent reading: 8 hours

Hour Eight Update (3pm)

I'm starting to see why people suggest shorter books.  I am not tired of The Beekeeper's Apprentice yet but it would instill a feeling of accomplishment if I could say I had finished something.... And it makes these updates pretty redundant! It doesn't help that I am also a really slow reader. Ah well...here goes.

Currently reading: The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King
Books finished: 0
Pages read: 55
Running total of pages read: 160
Amount of time spent reading: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Running total of time spent reading: 6.5 hours

Hour Six Update (1pm)

A quarter of the way and feeling grand!  Hour 5 was spent cleaning the house and listening to some more N.K. Jemisin and in hour 6 I got to gobble up some leftover chinese and a diet mountain dew getting sucked back in to The Beekeeper's Apprentice.  It's a really nice day outside so think I need to spend some time reading outside this afternoon.

Currently reading: The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
Books finished: 0
Pages read: 34 pages read, 60 minutes listening
Running total of pages read: 105
Amount of time spent reading: 1 hour, 50 minutes
Running total of time spent reading: 5 hours

Hour Four Update (11am)

I spent the first part of hour three hopping about the internet so only about 30 minute of reading there but steady ever since curled up on the couch.  I think it's time to get up and move around a bit and switch back to my audio book.  Really enjoying The Beekeeper's Apprentice!

Currently reading: The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King
Books finished: 0
Pages read: 50 pages read
Running total of pages read: 71
Amount of time spent reading: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Running total of time spent reading: 3 hour, 20 minutes

 Hour Two Update (9am)

Hour one and half of hour two was spent walking the dogs at the park and doing some house work while listening to N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdom's which is all about treachery and magic.  I was about half way through it to begin with. Nice way to start the day?  With a little violence and treachery?

Currently reading: The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King
Books finished: 0
Pages read: 75 minutes of audio, 21 pages read
Running total of pages read: 21
Amount of time spent reading: 1 hour, 50 Minutes
Running total of time spent reading: 1 hour, 50 Minutes


 It's almost time here in the Midwest of the U.S. to start reading!  I think I will keep all my updates for the day in this one post and see how that goes. For the first hour 7-8 am I will be throwing on my headphones and spending some time in N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms while I take the dogs and myself for a walk!  

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
The state of Iowa in the U.S.A.
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
Bruegger's bagel and cream cheese
4) Tell us a little something about yourself!
I'm a wildlife biologist by day which keeps me pretty busy.  I am actually kicking off a much needed week off with the readathon!  Besides reading I also really love my dogs, Llamas, traveling, learning new things and gardening.  I've been blogging for a little over a year and enjoy that as well!
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?
 This is my first!  I'm just looking forward to putting everything else aside for a day and focusing on reading!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Top Ten Characters Who I'm Surprised How Much I Love

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish blog and each week provides a book-related topic on which to go all listy.  This weeks topic is to make a list of the Top Ten Characters Who X... with X being a random variable chosen by each individual blogger.

I'm going to call out some characters that surprised me particularly in how much I liked or enjoyed spending time with them.  I'm pretty horribly judgmental of characters and I'm sometimes unsure why some characters speak to me and others don't. Here Goes:

1. Scarlett O'Hara from Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
I'll start with a character that most everyone knows.  She's selfish and thoughtless and criminally self-unaware but I always rooted for her and defended her when my friends blamed all of her and Rhett's problems on her. I think it's her backbone, her screw you attitude to life that makes me smile and like her despite my better judgement.  "There is one thing that I do know and that is that I love you Scarlett. In spite of you and me and the whole silly world going to pieces around us, I love you. Because we're alike.  Bad lots, both of us. Selfish and shrewd , but able to look things in the eye and call them by their right name." Rhett Butler, GWTW Movie.

2. Sand dan Glokta from The First Law series by Joe Abercrombie
These books have a lot of despicable and complex characters but Glokta is one of the most despicable.  He doesn't even have any pretensions of wanting to do anything that would be good for mankind or be a better man.  However, again, I think I was attracted by his survivor attitude and his snarky sense of humor. I kind of even developed a little crush on him...

3. Johnny Nolan from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Johnny is the protagonist's father and he does very little but let his family down and drink himself to death. He is handsome, talented and sentimental but he is too weak to deal with the pressures of supporting a family on the brink of poverty.  The reader sees him only through his daughter's eyes and my heart broke along with hers for him and his family.  Smith really made me care for him though he is a destructive presence.

4. Merricat and Constance Blackwood from We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Charming, Creepy, Whimsical and Sinister.  These are the four words I used to describe this novel and which also do a good job of describing the characters.  One of them is likely a murderer and severely unhinged but I really liked them anyway. Way to go Shirley Jackson.

5. Jean from Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch
Locke is the main character in Scott Lynch's Gentlemen Bastards series and Jean is his sidekick.  Locke is the charismatic and brilliant one.  He's also the one who falls apart in Red Seas Under Red Skies while Jean cowboys up.  I didn't really pay much attention to Jean in book one of the series (The Lies of Locke Lamora) but he became my favorite character in book two.  Yup, I like him more than Locke.  Again its the admiration for a steely spine under adversity and sorrow.

6. Maisie Dobbs from The Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear
There is nothing I hate more than a Mary Sue character but despite her tendencies that way, I do love Maisie Dobbs.  I'm not sure I can even explain it.  Maybe it's because she keeps herself pretty isolated and can be kinda of a pushy bitch which I think pulls her out of the Mary Sue realm.  Also a survivor.

7. Dexter from Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
Umm...He's a serial killer but I had no problem feeling connected and sympathetic to him as a character.  Way to walk that line Jeff Lindsay!

8. John Thornton from North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
He's a Master, an exploiter of workers and children and he's got a bad temper!  But Man is he dreamy.  I don't know how much of this might be being influenced by Richard Armitage in the BBC Mini-series, probably a good bit but he's easy to get behind in the book too despite some pretty off-putting behavior.

9. Mildred Lathbury from Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
Mildred is a Vicar's daughter, devoted to doing good works at the church and taking care of all those around her.  In other words, we are nothing alike but I felt such an affinity and admiration for her.  I think what makes me like her so much is her sense of humor and once again her ability to survive even when life is a little bleak. 

10. Willoughby from Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Don't get me wrong.  I don't really like Willoughby but I do feel kind of sorry for him in the end as it is clear he truly did love Marianne. I probably would like him more if his only bad deed was being weak and marrying for money but there's the thorny issue of getting a girl pregnant and then abandoning her.  I do feel like Austen was a little torn about he and Marianne's relationship.  Is anybody truly happy she ends up with Colonel Brandon?

That's it for now.  I think I've learned that I really admire characters who are exceptionally good at withstanding hardship.  Interesting and not surprising. Do you have any characters who you are surprised you like so much? What is it about them that you think that you like?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

REVIEW: Lamplighter by D.M. Cornish

Lamplighter (Monster Blood Tattoo, #2)Lamplighter by D.M. Cornish
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Original Publication Year: 2008
Genre(s): Middle Grade Fantasy
Series: Monster Blood Tattoo #2
Awards: Aurealis Award Nominee for Best Young Adult Novel 2008; Children’s Book Council of Australia Award Nominee for Book of the Year – Older Readers
Format: Audio and Kindle
Narrated By: Humphrey Bower

The first book in this series, Foundling, left me bemused but intrigued. It was terrifying and rather dark but ostensibly for middle-grade aged children. I wasn’t particularly anxious to jump into book two in the series but while it was still fresh in my mind I picked it up at the library and I’m so glad I did. Somewhere in the middle of Lamplighter my vague interest in this series turned into true love. I feel like now I get it. I get the Half Continent and the world D.M. Cornish has created in such painstaking detail. Cornish’s imagination is a wonder to behold.

As book two begins, the enigmatically named Rossamund is finally beginning his study to become a lamplighter. He makes a few new friends while also getting caught up in a web of bureaucratic corruption that is infesting the Lamplighter Corps. It results in him being sent to the farthest and most dangerous reaches of the Kingdom where much to his surprise her feels like he might fit in and belong for the first time in his young life. Unfortunately, before too long, disaster strikes as it often does in this series, and Rossamund is facing his biggest challenge – the truth of who he is. As with book one, this is a relatively dark and rather complex, narratively and language-wise, book and I found myself once again being surprised in some ways that it was for 10-14 year olds.

The primary strength of these books is the intricate world-building, almost rivaling Tolkien himself. Cornish has imagined a history and a society for his world and developed or resurrected a whole new vocabulary to describe it. The books have a tangible atmosphere and mood to them that is all their own.

However, while the world-building is exceptionally well done, Cornish also does an increasingly good job with the development of his characters and plots. The main characters are nuanced and interesting. We see all of what is happening from Rossamund’s point of view and he is a good soul to be spending time with. Staying in his perspective also helps lend the other characters mystery. The fulgur Europe continues to play a key role in this book and she remains an interesting and ambiguous character. One of the new characters Threnody (sp?) is also written as difficult to like except for her utter devotion to Rossamund. Another of the new characters, Numps is written with such loving care it is easy to see why Rossamund quickly becomes attached and protective of him. No one fits into a standard mold though the bad guys do seem, without exception, bad.

The story also continues to grow in complexity but also follows a clearly laid out plan. One of the key pieces of evidence used in the final trial of this book was something that first made its appearance in the first few pages of book one. The heart of the trilogy is the relationship between humans and monsters. This relationship continues to be slowly fleshed out and it is clear that all parties, human and monster, are capable of great evil and great good. Will Rossamund be the key to establishing peace?

While it was really good, the book was not perfect and there were some things I could do without:
- The use 10 different made up or obscure terms or names for the same thing. I know it’s part of creating a realistic world but it adds a lot of confusion that I didn’t think needed to be there. The first line of the April 1st 2008 Kirkus review review is: “Cornish again buries a likable protagonist and perfectly viable plot under a mountain of obscure words and pretentious prose in this overweight sequel (Foundling, 2006).” While I think that is definitely too harsh, it did sometimes feel like Cornish was so enamored with the vocabulary that he sublimated the plot. It’s hard to complain about this because the language is really important in creating the unique atmosphere of the book but it took over in places. There is apparently a 94 page glossary at the end of the book. 
- Most of the characters in the book are male and almost all of the female characters that are included are moody and difficult, namely Europe and Threnody. It’s a little annoying though I have to say I find them to be the most interesting characters so it’s not really a big deal.

One note on the audio. It’s pretty excellent and the narrator does a great job with all the strange words and strange characters. However, I ended up having to finish the book on my kindle and discovered that the book has a smattering of wonderful illustrations. D.M. Cornish is also an illustrator and he’s definitely visualized both in words and art all of his characters. I feel like this gives the print version an advantage.

Final Verdict: Stellar world-building coupled with complex and interesting characters and plot makes this a well-rounded and increasingly addictive series! I am excited to see how it all concludes in book three Factotum.

I feel like one of the reasons the world building is so fantastic in these books is that Cornish is also an illustrator.  Do you know of any other examples that "illustrate" this idea of an author who is also a visual artist being very good at creating a really palpable feel to their settings?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Library Haul in Preparation for Dewey's Read-A-Thon

My job has seriously been kicking my butt for about a month and semi-seriously beating me to a pulp for an additional two.  But Hark, there is light! In a week's time there is a slight break in the craziness and I have decided to take full advantage and skip out on work for a week to putter around the house and generally be lazy.  The best part is that it happens to coincide with Dewey's Read-A-Thon on April 26th!  I have really wanted to participate in this since I first heard about it last Fall but before I signed up this go round, I did think about it long and hard. I was cautious because it's a 24 hour read-a-thon and I like sleep y'all.  A lot.  However, I also like to read.  The idea of giving myself an excuse and reason to just ignore everything else and read for a day is too good an opportunity to pass up.

With the goal of keeping myself engaged with reading for the full 24 hours, I've starting amassing a big old pile of books that are various and hopefully engaging.  Here's what I picked up at the library this past weekend:
From Library:
Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo (Fantasy, YA)
Fortune's Pawn by Rachel Bach (Science Fiction)
The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King (Mystery)
One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson (Mystery)
On my e-reader:
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (Literary Historical Fiction)
Enchanted, Inc. by Shanna Swendson (Goofy Paranormal Romance)
The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine (Middle Grade Fiction)
On Audio:
Factotum by D.M. Cornish (Middle Grade Fantasy)

The idea is not to read and complete all of these in the 24 hours (but wouldn't I be a superstar if I did!) but to have enough available that something will strike my fancy regardless of my reading mood or how tired I become.  I think it's a pretty good list to choose from.  All of them sound exciting and fantastic to me at this moment. I would like to add in another audio possibility or two and a couple of really engaging and not too heavy Graphic Novels.  Any suggestions?

So now I just need to get through one more week....

Anybody else out there participating in the Read-a-Thon?  What have you got lined up to read?  Have you participated in a Read-a-Thon before?  Any advice?

Monday, April 14, 2014

REVIEW: Unwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson

Unwrapped SkyUnwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Original Publication Year: 2014 (April 15)
Genre(s): Fantasy
Series: Likely but not sure what it will be called
Awards: None
Format: E-book – Advanced Reader Copy from publisher through Net Galley in exchange for a fair review.
Narrated By: NA
Unwrapped Sky is being described as a new entry into the “New Weird” genre. Authors that are credited for writing in this genre include China Mieville, Jeff Vandermeer, K.J. Bishop and Steph Swainston. The label appears to be applied to speculative fiction that subverts the normal tropes of fantasy and aims to challenge the reader. It can also be seen as a cross-over between fantasy and horror fiction. The only writer on the above list that I have experience with is China Mieville so I likely can’t shed light on how similar or different Unwrapped Sky is to other books in this genre but I would say this was definitely a weird read for me.

The setting for the book is the coastal city of Caeli Amur, a corrupt city with a vaguely Roman feel to it that is run by three elite Houses: Marin, Arbor and Technis. The Houses in turn are beholden to a strange race of alien creatures called the Elo-Talern who have recently become more involved in the politics of the Houses after a long absence. The rest of the city is made up mostly of oppressed people who are exploited by The Houses to create technologies that are half mechanized, half magic. The magic used is called Thaumaturgy and its practice warps the user and eventually kills them. Also playing a role in the tale is the submerged sister city of Caeli Enas which is guarded by sea serpents and is thought to hold lost secrets in its great library. Mythical creatures such as Minotaurs and Sirens are also present in this world though their mythical power is mostly gone.

It is definitely clear to me why this book would be included in the New Weird because it did seem to be a blending of fantasy and horror. There are a lot of grotesqueries and ugliness - suicide attempts, rape, slavery, murder and dismemberment.

The setting and world-building is one place where I felt the novel succeeded. Davidson has imagined a detailed world that felt very original even though it incorporated some elements of ancient Greece and Rome. Caeli Amur felt like a fully realized society with a rich past and mythology. The writing was also very good though there was no prose that caught my attention enough to make me want to write it down. Here is an example from near the end that evokes the book’s name:

“Above her, the wind whipped the clouds away, as if they were pulling back a great sheet. The unwrapped sky was littered with stars of diamond-white brilliance. In between them, patches of jet black, the vast reaches of the universe. In that moment everything was bathed in clear light.”

Unfortunately for Unwrapped Sky, the things I appreciate most in a good book are primarily well- developed and interesting characters and secondarily a strong plot. I did not feel the book succeeded in either of these points. The tale is narrated from the perspective of three characters: Boris, a troubled house bureaucrat addicted to an exotic narcotic; Kata, practically a slave to the houses (although perhaps a better analogy is being in the mafia) serving as an assassin; and Maximilian, a young seditionist who wishes to overthrow the houses. Their stories are initially only tangentially related but they do eventually become more connected. Even though I had access to these characters innermost thoughts, I never felt like I knew, understood or liked any of them. Their motivations and actions seemed stilted and not born of any logical or even illogical reason. I did not find them interesting at all. Kata was probably the most sympathetic for me but even she does things that I felt were without true motivation. Their relationships are also flat and come out of nowhere. There is romance but it is sudden, unexplained and passionless. Basically I had little to no investment in the characters and their connections.

The plot also felt lackluster to me. It’s a story of revolution but because I didn’t care about any of the people involved I really couldn’t care about what was happening to them. The pacing felt uneven and was mostly quite sedate for a story about revolution. Somewhere around the 80% mark things picked up and I did get engaged until about the 90% mark but otherwise I was pretty disconnected. Also, it sometimes seemed like ideas were included for the “isn’t this a cool idea” factor and they did not add to the overall vision or movement of the plot.

Overall, I was disappointed and that may just be because this was not my type of book or that I was just not in the mood for a slow-paced and abstract sort of fantasy. It succeeded in creating a unique vision but that wasn’t enough to make up for my lack of connection with plot and characters.

Anybody a big fan of the New Weird genre?  If so what are your favorite books that fit into this mold?