Monday, May 30, 2016

TOP TEN TUESDAY | Tales of the Sea

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 topic is:
Beach Reads Week -- top ten great beach reads, ten books I plan to read on the beach, ten beach reads for those who don't like typical ~beach reads~, ten authors who are my go-to for beach reads, etc.

What a "beach read" is, is open to interpretation of course - it likely means different things to different people.  So I've decided to take it quite literally and list some books that feature the ocean in some fashion because being by the sea is my favorite thing about going to the beach.  The ocean never fails to entrance me and bring me peace - I love it.  Which calls into question the wisdom of my  moving to Iowa (about as far from the ocean as one can get in the U.S.) from Virginia (which sits on the Atlantic). *shrugs* That's what books that heavily feature the sea are for!  So these are books to read if you are a) yearning for the seaside or b) wanting a rollicking sea themed adventure to read while sitting by the seaside.


1) The Aubrey/Maturin Series by Patrick O'Brian |  Horatio Hornblower Series by C.S. Forester

Both of these series mostly take place on the high seas, on ships in His Majesty's Royal British Navy during the Napoleonic wars.

I have read all 20 complete books in the Aubrey - Maturin series and I wish there were 20 more, quite frankly.  Stephen Maturin, the physician/naturalist/spy is one of my favorite characters of all time and the friendship between him and Jack Aubrey is perfection.  After finishing this series I had a desperate desire to learn to sail.

I haven't read all the books in the Horatio Hornblower series but the ones I have read are charming and there is a terrific BBC mini-series inspired by the books that you could also indulge in.  These books made me wish I had a more interesting name.  Honestly, how can one not succeed in life with a name like Horatio Hornblower?

For a completely different take on sailing the high seas on a British ship in the 1800s try this mostly fun middle-grade novel about a girl who passes herself off as a boy to be able to go to sea.  This is a series which many people find delightful, though I kind of disliked book two and didn't continue.  Book one at least will give you a fun story though!

3) This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart

Mary Stewart is best known for her books about King Arthur (The Crystal Cave etc...) but she also wrote a number of romantic suspense novels that take place in contemporary times for her, so 1950s-1960s.  This Rough Magic was such a fun and engrossing read and it takes place on the island of Corfu and involves all kinds of sea-related drama and kissing.

4) The Lewis Trilogy by Peter May

If you are wanting a broody mystery, mixed in with some family drama and a terrific harsh island setting than you can't go wrong picking up The Lewis Trilogy.  The three books take place on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides off the coast of Scotland and feature a detective who has returned home here after his life in Edinburgh has fallen apart.  I've not yet gotten to book three but books one and two are really terrific and the setting adds serious amounts of atmosphere and is integral to the stories.

5) Hamish Macbeth Series by M.C. Beaton

Speaking of Scotland by the sea, another mystery series to check out that is not nearly so dark and brooding is the Hamish Macbeth series by M.C. Beaton.  It takes place in the small fictional Scottish highlands town of Loch Dubh which sits on the coast.  I came to this series after watching the BBC show featuring Robert Carlyle (in a not evil incarnation!) and I do actually prefer the show to the books but the books are fun fluff with a cast of eccentric characters.  Book 31 in this series is (or has been) appearing in 2016 so there is plenty to keep you busy!

6) Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

Depending on my mood, this is my favorite book in the Narnia series; it is at least always my second favorite.  Lucy and her cousin Eustace go on a sea voyage with a mature Prince Caspian to the ends of the Narnian seas.  Many islands and adventures along the way.

For those who like non-fiction in general and like reading about nature in particular, The Devil's Teeth is worth taking a gander at.  In my day job I am a wildlife biologist, and as such the final third of this book infuriated me.  Like literally caused rage and I know many other readers had a similar reaction (my review of this book on Goodreads is my most "liked" review) but the first two-thirds of the book are really interesting and cool.  About a particular population of Great White Sharks that spend part of the year around the Farallon Islands off the coast of California.

8) Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

A different kind of historical fiction.  This is the fictional tale of the real life Mary Anning who was one of the best fossil hunters on the south coast of England in the 1800s.  It imagines her friendship with a blue stocking London spinster.  Neither fits in the age of discovery mostly dominated by men.

Reading by the sea wouldn't be complete without a healthy dose of Pirates!  The following books will oblige!

9) The Princess Bride by William Goldman

To be honest, I definitely like the movie better than the book but the book has it's own unique charms and is a must read for fans of the movie.

10) Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton

Yup.  Michael Crichton wrote a book about pirates!  And it's pretty good!  A fun, silly romp of a book set in the Caribbean in the 1600s.  Perfect for reading by the sea.  

11) BONUS: Red Seas Under Red Skies (Book 2 in The Gentleman Bastards series) by Scott Lynch

So I tried to stay with first books in series or whole series for this list but this book AND series is just too good even if only book two takes place primarily on a boat.  I liked this book even better than the first in the series and that's saying something.  It features an awesome lady pirate captain!  

A few others just for fun....

The Unmapped Sea (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place #5) by Maryrose Wood
The Providence Rider (Matthew Corbett #4) by Robert McCammon
Abarat by Clive Barker
Perilous Seas (A Man of His Word Series #3) by Dave Duncan
Half a King (Shattered Sea #1) by Joe Abercrombie
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
Drowned Wednesday (The Keys to the Kingdom Series #3) by Garth Nix
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Crow in Stolen Colors by Marcia Simpson
White Heat (Edie Kiglatuk #1) by M.J. McGrath
Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series by Rick Riordan

That's my list of books about the sea to read by the sea.  Do you have any you would add?

Happy TTT!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

REVIEW | The Round House by Louise Erdrich

The Round House by Louise Erdrich
Publication Year: 2012
Genre: General Fiction, Crime
Series: NA
Awards: National Book Award for Fiction (2012), ALA Alex Award (2013) + several other smaller awards
Format: Kindle
Narrator: NA

WHY?:  I'd started hearing a lot about this book the last couple of years and it and the author sounded interesting.  I was supposed to read it last year as part of Book  Riot's Read Harder challenge but didn't get to it because I'm crap at challenges.  It was pretty high up on my TBR.  

THIS BOOK.  I don't even know how to begin talking about it.  It's one of those books.  It took me a long time to read but not because it wasn't engaging or it was too hard; every time I sat down with it, I got completely sucked in as if I was living in young Joe's head.  And that was the thing.  I felt like I wanted to have the brain space and time to really soak it all in every time I sat down to read it.  

SYNOPSIS:   The Round House is a coming of age tale that takes place in the mid-1980s on a North Dakota Indian Reservation.  Joe is 12 years old and is the only child of loving, stable parents who are financially pretty well off by reservation standards and certainly compared to his group of three best friends.  He and his friends are tight and spend their time scrounging food, watching and debating Star Trek, getting interested in girls and experimenting with being bad.  Then a violent act kicks the foundation out from under Joe's  family and his life is turned upside down.  He wants to fix it and his friends want to help him but what can a band of 12 year old Indian boys really do to get justice?  The thing this book reminded me the most strongly of is one of my favorite movies; Stand by Me (1986).  I've not read the Stephen King novella that the movie is based so I have no idea if there are similarities with it but the connection with the movie was strong in my head and it gave me a lot of the same feels.

First of all, a trigger warning.  The violent act that is at the center of the book is the brutal rape of Joe's mother by a white man.  Erdrich manages to make the attack and rape gut wrenching and terrifying though very rarely graphic.  It is as if the vagueness and hints about the attack make it all the more horrendous.  So please be aware that while there is not a lot of detailed discussion of the crime, it is still plenty disturbing.  

The first strength of this book is the first person narration by Joe.  He is narrating as an adult looking back on a momentous summer which allows for some hindsight commentary.  It also though gives the reader a view not only of the crime and its aftermath but also the everyday life of the reservation through the eyes of a 12 year old.  A 12 year old who is smart, and who has grown up in a household where his Tribal judge father has worked for justice in small ways.  A man who tries to wrestle justice in a country where the white law of the land is built on precedents that de-value native people and culture:
[in regards to a 1823 Supreme Court decision written by John Marshall] "Even to this day, his words are used to continue the dispossession of our lands. But what particularly galls the intelligent person now is that the language he used survives in the law, that we were savages living off the forest, and to leave our land to us was to leave it useless wilderness, that our character and religion is of so inferior a stamp that the superior genius of Europe must certainly claim ascendancy and on and on."
The second strength of this book is how funny it can be.  For having at its core something so deeply violent, the book and Joe frequently charmed me which helped it not be something I appreciated-but-dreaded reading.  I honestly really enjoyed the reading experience.  Erdrich's wit is dry and subtle and woven in seamlessly with the more difficult themes.
"My father could out-weather anybody. Like people anywhere, there were times when it was the only topic where people here felt comfortably expressive, and my father could go on earnestly, seemingly forever. When the current weather was exhausted, there was all the weather that had occurred in recorded history, weather lived through or witnessed by a relative, or even heard about on the news. Catastrophic weather of all types. And when that was done with, there was all the weather that might possibly occur in the future. I’d even heard him speculate about weather in the afterlife."
"I left. I’d learned from my mistake with Father Travis that unusual politeness from a boy my age is an instant suspicion-raiser."
The third strength of this book was that it is really a coming of age tale.  An adult man looking back at the key moments that made him become the man he is.  These moments are much more devastating than what most people face and his actions are equally as tough.  There is one 10-15 page section about 65-70% through the book that just completely blew me away.  His father lays out why, when his cases are so often petty and seemingly inconsequential, he continues to do his job to the best of his ability.  The first quote above is from this section and the whole interaction is powerful. We know from snippets dropped that adult Joe has followed in his father's footsteps and become a tribal judge.  He also learns about relations between men and women and how they can go wrong, not only from what has happened to his mother but through his infatuation with his "aunt" Sonja who used to be stripper.  
"She wouldn’t know that I put that souvenir tassel where I’ll come across it by chance, on purpose. Because every time I look at it, I am reminded of the way I treated Sonja and about the way she treated me, or about how I threatened her and all that came of it, how I was just another guy. How that killed me once I really thought about it. A gimme-gimme asshole. Maybe I was. Still, after I thought about it for a long time—in fact, all my life—I wanted to be something better."
Basically this is one of those books that manages to be about thought-provoking and difficult subject matter while also being a simple story about characters I cared about.  It doesn't over complicate or pontificate.  The language is beautiful but simple, real and compelling. A joy to read and get sucked into.   In short, it is my favorite kind of "literary" fiction - earthy, realistic and grounded; never pompous or self-important.  It definitely made me want to read everything Louise Erdrich has written.

FINAL VERDICT:  A coming of age tale beautifully told with characters it is impossible not to care deeply about.  A really engrossing read.  5 out of 5 Stars.

Other Opinions are Available*: Taking on a World of Words | Lit Lovers (round up summary of many professional reviews)

* I especially struggled this time around getting across my full thoughts and feelings on this book so please check out the linked reviews if my ramblings have left you feeling confused!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

SATURDAY in the GARDEN | That Moment Before it All Goes to Hell


My one irritation with this week is that the forecast was for rain everyday, and while it did rain part of each day, it ended up being quite beautiful if a little humid all the times it wasn't raining.  Because of the forecast I dismissed any plans for doing some gardening this week and consequently had a moment during every day where I exclaimed "dammit - I should be doing gardening type things".   If by the end of my time off I can at least have a sketchy plan for adding some plants to/cleaning certain areas of my yard I will be pleased.

Lots of developments in the garden of course even (especially?) without my intereference.  The green beans and lima beans emerged, my sugar snaps have flowers, my lilac bush bloomed for the first time since I planted it three years ago, the garlic is SO tall and the irises are having a great year.  Things are on the cusp of going horribly wrong, as they start to do each year in the garden but for now it's all good.
Spiderwort blooming through the rain

Monster Garlic

First salad from this year's garden




Last Saturday I rhapsodized while at the same time felt a little bad about having the week off work.  Despite my mixed empotions, it has been completely amazing and just what I needed.  The house is cleaner than it's been in 4 months, I had my first salad from the garden, I got a new pair of glasses, my car is all maintenanced up and by the time I go back to work on Tuesday the freezer will be full of healthy meals to get me through the the next few months.  I feel organized and content.  Hopefully, by Tuesday I'll even be ready to go back to work:0).  It's weird how I never had a dull moment and do think I could keep myself busy and entertained for another week or two before starting to get bored.  I am a ridiculous homebody.

I've also started to feel the need for an awesome goodreads type online service to track my TV shows and came across Trakt.TV.  I've just started playing with it but it seems pretty cool.  Anybody else use this or have another program they like to use?  Basically I wanted to keep track of shows I'd like to check out in the future, shows that are still going and I'm in the middle of so I know which seasons I've watched and haven't as well as a place to rate what I have watched.  It seems to be able to do all those things at numerous levels (by episode, by season or by show) as well as much more.


This week I didn't spend too much time in front of a screen but I did catch up with a few movies that I was behind on.  I rewatched the original Avengers movie in preparation of then watching Avengers: Age of Ultron. Verdict on Age of Ultron? Meh.  It was okay, not as good as the first.  I also caught up with The Martian and will be probably tonight with Captain America: Winter Soldier.  The Martian was good but (say it with me now) not as good as the book.

I also just started a re-watch of the first two seasons of Hell on Wheels, so that I can catch up with seasons 3 and 4.  If you like brutal shows, chock full of shady characters set in the historic American West, I highly recommend this show.  The end of season two did break my heart first time around so I'm wondering if/how they will repair that with season 3.  I think it is a show that does not embrace hope or happiness so it may just continue to break my heart.
Random Other Character: "What's the world coming to, Sir?"
Cullen Bohannon: "The world ain't coming to nothin' son. Same as it ever was."
Five of the last six books I've read I've rated 4 out of 5 stars!  It's been a nice run of reading.  They are: Lord of Scoundrels (Loretta Chase), The Last Olympian (Rick Riordan), The Scorpio Races (Maggie Stiefvater), The Battle of the Labyrinth (Rick Riordan), and The Raven King (Maggie Stiefvater). The lesson here?  Rick Riordan and Maggie Stiefevater are the bomb.  Yes I still say "the bomb", what of it?

Finished Last Week:

  • Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase:  Apparently a "classic" Regency Romance and I see why - it's fantastic and is a master class on how to write an Alpha Male hero.   LOVED it!
  • Murder in Chinatown by Victoria Thompson (Gaslight Mystery #9):   A favorite standby historical mystery series set in turn-of-the-last-century New York.

Currently Reading:

  • One Magic Square by Lolo Houbein: A gardening book about maximizing food production in a small space.  An ARC from Netgalley (though I think it's an older title).   
  • The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood:  I'm surprised I had not read it before.  This audio version is read by Claire Danes who has a really pleasing voice.  Is the cover above badass or what!?
  • A Quiet Life in the Country (Lady Hardcastle Mysteries #1) by T.E. Kinsey: Set in the early 1900s in rural England - mysteries investigated by a Lady and her maid.
  • The Aeronaut's Windlass (The Cinder Spires #1) by Jim Butcher:  The first in a new series by Jim Butcher.  There are sailing-type ships that fly. 'Nuf said.  A little over a 100 pages in and I just want to never stop reading.  So good!
  • Lord Peter Views the Body (Peter Wimsey #4) by Dorothy L. Sayers:  A collection of short stories in the Lord Peter Wimsey series.  

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!

A bunch were from listening to the Get Booked Podcast Hosted by Book Riot.  I did not do a good job of recording the episode number so you'll just have to listen to the whole run of podcasts which are very fun!
  • Mongrel by Stephen Graham Jones: Native American werewolf story.  I can't remember which episode this was from - Sorry!
  • A Spy in the House (The Agency #1) by Y.S. Lee:  Historical YA mystery/spy seceret society British.  All those words good. 
  • The Nutmeg Tree , The Eye of Love, and The Flowering Thorn by Margery Sharp:  Sharp is best known for writing The Rescuers series but she also apparently wrote a number of adult books.  She's one of those British women writers from the first half of the 20th century that folks have kind of forgotten about.  I love these writers (Barbara Pym, Georgette Heyer, Dodie Smith, Dorothy Gilman).  I learned about this from a sponsorship on the show.  Definitely want to check her out!
  • Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord: Fantasy inspired by a Senegalese folk tale.  
  • A Murder in Time by Julie McElwain:  I think this one actually came from one of Get Booked's sister podcasts, All The Books.  A time travel novel featuring a woman police detective and lots of murder!
From Other Sources...
  • Arabella of Mars by David Levine: I don't know where I stumbled across this one but it is a alt-history/sci-fi mash-up that takes place on Mars.  
  • Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal:  I've seen this talked about a lot lately but The Bibliosanctum was the final prompt I need to add it.  World War I and spiritualism.
  • The Voodoo Killings by Kristi Charish:  This one was also recommended by Mogsy at The Bibliosanctum  - she called it one of the most fun urban fantasy novels she's read of late!



SUNDAY: REVIEW of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series by Rick Rioridan.
TUESDAY: Top Ten Tuesday |  Books that Confound and Confund - About books that I changed my mind about after time has passed.

Have great week!

Chilling on the couch, watching Hell on Wheels

Monday, May 23, 2016

TOP TEN TUESDAY | Books that Confound and Confund

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.

Top Ten Tuesday's topic today (Hee!) is a particularly fun one that made me exercise the old gray cells.  My brain was so irritated by the overworking that it, in fact, convinced me to cheat.  Just a little.  But more about that later - first here's the topic:
Ten Books I Feel Differently About After Time Has Passed (less love, more love, complicated feelings, indifference, thought it was great in a genre until you became more well read in that genre etc.)
I completely understand the phenomenon the topic is referring to but actually changing my feelings about a book, reversing them especially, is somewhat rare for me.  It happens and I have a few examples below.  Here's where the cheating comes in.  The rest of the books are mostly those that I felt differently about at the end then I did while reading - that underwent some shift when taken as a whole.  Not exactly what this topic is about but close enough, my brain says.


1) Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

So I have been fascinated with vampires since I was a small child.  They're my monster of choice, if you will.  So I was of course intrigued by the phenomenon that was Twilight.  I was well beyond the target age bracket when I picked it up but I have to admit I got pretty caught up in it while reading.  It took me back and reminded me of all my teenage fantasies.  My very silly teenage fantasies but still I can't deny, I ate it up.  But as soon as I finished the book, all that nostalgia went away and I just felt mildly ill.  I've never had any desire to pick up the rest of the books in the series.

2) In the Woods by Tana French

Twilight is a book that suffered upon further thought.  This book is one that did the opposite.  One of the main characters in this book goes through a pretty profound transformation and while reading it felt like a betrayal.  I was upset and mad.  Then I finished the book and really thought about what the author had done and how she'd done it and what it really meant and Whoa.  This was a book that I realized was amazing only after moving away from the emotion of reading and thinking back on it more intellectually.

3) The Thomas Covenent Series by Stephen R. Donaldson

I read this series when I was quite young and it was my first real introduction to an anti-hero in fantasy literature.  It consequently Blew. My. Mind.  Thomas Covenent is an honest to god leper in the real world but his leprosy is gone when he crosses into the Land and his white gold wedding band, symbol of his failed marriage, becomes a token of power.  The thing is, one of the first things he does when he crosses over into the Land is rape a woman.  As a young person, I was of course bothered by this but mostly thought of it as being a gutsy move on the author's part.  I don't think older me would view this in the same light at all.

I re-read (for the first time) the entire Harry Potter series last year and was surprised to find that my feelings about several of the books changed.  Most notable was book 5, which had been my least favorite on the first go round and was probably my favorite on this second read.  I appreciated Harry's journey this time instead of being annoyed by it.  My Re-Read Review.

5) Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

Nothing much happens in this book and my review talked mostly about how charming, delightful and funny the book was.  And it was all those things - I read it in two days.  I realized as I sat with it though that it also had really spoken to me and had a deeper impact on me than I imagined.  It's a book that hides a really substantial core with a veneer of delightful wit and writing.

The rest of the books on the list are all books that while reading I struggled with parts or had portions of the book where I wasn't quite getting it but by the time I closed the back cover and reflected I realized I really loved the book/series as a whole.  The whole is greater than the parts and all that: 

Every single book in this series surprised me by the end. Every single one. In a good way.

I initially thought this book was just a string of imaginative imagery.  By the end it was SO MUCH more while still be an impressive display of a creative imagination.

8) A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

This one may just be a matter of starting off slow for me but regardless it really pulled off being awesome by the end.  It started lackluster but by the end I was in love.

In each of the three books in this middle-grade series there was a point where I wondered if it was going to work.  It always did and this series was one of my favorite reads of the year when I read it.  

10) The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt

This was a rambling beast of a book that had me occasionally screaming come on at my car's cd player but when it was over I was kind of lost without it for several days.

11) The Fall of Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos #2) by Dan Simmons

This is the sequel to one of my favorite all time Sci Fi Novels (Hyperion) and it's long and involved and so different from Hyperion.  I felt ambivalent and weird about it for much of the time I was reading but at the end I thought it worked and was excellent in its own right.  Though not as good as Hyperion.

This was definitely a TTT that made me wish my brain wasn't getting older and still worked because it was thought provoking.  Hopefully the books I chose work even if they didn't always fit the criteria.

What about you?  Have you had any books you've done a 180 on after having a few days to ruminate upon them?

Sunday, May 22, 2016

REVIEW | Percy Jackson and The Olympians Series by Rick Riordan

Book 1 | The Lightning Thief | 2005
Book 2 | The Sea of Monsters | 2006
Book 3 | The Titan's Curse | 2007
Book 5 | The Last Olympian | 2009

WHY?: Honestly I'm surprised it took me as long as it did to start this series.  I was (and still am) a HUGE Greek Mythology nerd as a kid and this series would have been a godsend (Hee!) for me back then.  It's natural that I would pick it up now.

This book was my entry into the sordid world of the Greek Gods.

If you've never read it and have any interest in Greek Mythology go get it and read it now. Go on.  I'll wait.  ......  Isn't it great and the artwork stunning?  I eventually graduated on to Bulfinch's Mythology and Edith Hamilton's Mythology but D'Aulaires' will always have my heart.  I would pore over it again and again and again and my young self was never even phased by the fact that the Gods?  Kind of assholes and really amoral.  It is one of the things that is so great  and impressive about Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series.  He manages to capture all the stuff that fascinated me as a child and he doesn't ignore the more troublesome aspects of the mythology but it also never seems sordid and ugly.  It's full of love, adventure and Satyrs just like D'Aulaires.
From D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths. I like how Aphrodite is at the bottom all "I was born of sea foam so who knows where I fit on this family tree!"

Persisus or "Percy" Jackson is a dyslexic 12 year old, apple of his mother's eye but who has seemingly been kicked out of every school in New York City.  Unbeknownst to him, his father happens to be a Greek God. I won't say which as that is a bit of a spoiler for the first part of book one but suffice it to say his dad is very powerful.  Percy becomes aware that there is something different about him when he starts to see things others do not.  Oh and his math teacher turns into a monster and tries to kill him.  Percy is what is known as a demi-god which are somewhat more  plentiful than you would assume (or if you've read the Greek myths maybe not) and all these children of the Gods are powerfully attractive to monsters.  Many don't live for very long and others are destined to be great heroes.  Before their fate is known however many, including Percy are found and brought to Camp Half-Blood, a summer camp in upstate New York where they are kept safe and trained to take on missions for the good of the Gods of Olympus.

Rather than going into the plot of each book, the overall trajectory of the series is to follow Percy from the age of 12 to the age of 16, when a great prophecy says he (or some child of the gods) will make a decision that will save or destroy the world.  Each book features a different quest-type adventure except for the final book in the series which focus on a war among the Gods and the fulfillment of Percy's prophecy.  On all his quests Percy has some help from his friends like Grover a somewhat bumbling but goodhearted satyr who just wants to find the lost nature god Pan; Annabeth, daughter of Athena and very smart; Tyson, Percy's half-brother and also a cyclops; Thalia, daughter of Zeus and somewhat too like Percy for them to work together comfortably; Chiron, the famous centaur and Percy's mentor; Dionysus, the negligent camp director; Nico D'Angelo, a mysterious young demi-god with troubling powers; Rachel Elizabeth Dare, a mere mortal who somehow can see through the "mist" which usually obscures anything magical from humans and many more of the campers.  All the Gods also make appearances, some to help, others...not so much.  In all it's a fun cast of characters and Percy's voice as the narrator of it all is pitch perfect.  He's very personable, funny and believably adolescent and his growth from kid to young man worked really well for me.

I haven't seen the movies but Logan Lerman looks perfectly cast to me (though he's too old)
I have to admit that I wasn't immediately drawn into this series.  I started it a couple times before I persevered and I'm really glad I did.  The Lightning Thief was a little slow for me; there was so much set up and the quest portion of the book ended up feeling very short and anti-climactic.  The Sea of Monsters (book 2) was also a little slow but it featured the introduction of Tyson, a character I really love, and  I liked it a bit better than book one.  Riordan really hits his stride though in Book 3, The Titan's Curse, and I think each of the following two volumes just get better and better.  Book 4, The Battle of the Labyrinth was probably my favorite. which isn't surprising considering it has a pretty baldly stated environmental message.  All that is to say, if you are like me and after book one are unsure what all the fuss is about, hang in there because ambrosia and nectar are on their way.  The books did not seem to age up quite as much as happens in for example the Harry Pottter series but they do become a little more complex and deal with some of the more interesting ethical debates that might be expected to be confronted when dealing with the ever so naughty Greek pantheon.  Basically the themes become a little more mature but it never loses it's overall playful spirit nor gets as dark as the HP series.

I also felt like in the first couple books that the slotting in of the Greek mythology into modern civilization was a little clunkier then it is in later books.  In fact, Riordan's skill at doing this in the later books is one of the total delights of those books.  It's fun to see his vision for how each of the Gods and mythological creatures fits (or not) into our modern culture.  As a hardcore Greek mythology geek, I love revisiting all the myths but seeing them in a new light.

I like how the series ends.  The final battle is sufficiently infused with tension and is exciting with the wrap up of all the moving pieces being mostly satisfying.  I was a little disappointed in the fate of Rachel Elizabeth Dare who kind of immediately became one of my favorite characters when she was introduced.  In fact,

I feel like I should also comment on how I think this series would work for the target audience since I am WAY out of it.  In a word, I think it would go over great and of course it has since it has sold a floppity-jillion books.  I know my nephews, who aren't big readers loved this series when they were younger (they are now teenagers).  I think Percy's status as the hero of the books despite his dyslexia and problems in school might be incredibly empowering to many kids. As I've said the Greek Myths do not always provide the best examples for good behavior but I think Riordan does a really good job presenting and addressing all things in a responsible way while also understanding that kids will eat up all that borderline scandalous behavior.

Finally, I listened to the whole series which had the same narrator, Jesse Bernstein, so I should say something about him.  For me Jesse was absolutely perfect for Percy.  His normal voice and the way he voiced Percy's thoughts and jokes and dialogue were perfect.  For everything else, he was somewhat less perfect, only because his voices for the other characters tended to be a little too exaggerated and cartoonish.  When voicing someone who is meant to have an American southern accent he sounds oddly Australian.  He voices Annabeth, with kind of a valley girl type inflection ending each line of dialogue on a up note which may have contributed to me not liking her as much as I could have.  Overall, I really enjoyed listening to the series and he did a great job conveying the meaning behind the lines but he did struggle with the voices.  So, if that's a pet peeve of yours beware.

FINAL VERDICT:  A fun middle-grade series that got better and better as it went along with an engaging cast of characters and action/adventure galore.  Plus GREEK MYTHS!  4 out of 5 stars for the whole series (3 out of 5 for the first two books and 4 out of five for the final 3).

Other Opinions Are Available: Writer of Wrongs | Indianapolis Public Library

Have you read this series? What's your favorite of the books?  How big of a Greek Mythology nerd are you?

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Saturday in the Garden | Play Time!


It's been one of those glorious weeks that just makes you thankful you live in this world and especially in a temperate climate.  Sunny, highs in the mid-60s to lower 70s, crystal blue skies.  It's hard to argue with springtime.

Last Sunday I got the rest of my planting done and mulch spread which is basically the bulk of the springtime work.  It is my second favorite moment in gardening - everything in and growing and I can just sit back and watch it.  (My favorite moment is of course harvesting but this comes pretty close).  I still have a lot to do in the garden but the important stuff is accomplished.  I ended up planting: Radishes, Sugar Snap Peas, Carrots, Kale, Green Beans, Lima Beans, Tomatoes, Peppers, Swiss Chard, Lettuce and garlic.  Everything is up except for the beans.


I have the next 9.5 days off from work!!!!  I am staycationing which I do at least a couple times a year.  I find stepping away from work and having the energy to get the house and my personal life a little more organized helps me re-focus and be better at my job when I return. I still always feel a little guilty though.  Regardless I needed this break and  am super happy about it.  I have a big long list of productive things I need to do - oil change and a cleaning for the car, eye exam and new glasses, freezer cooking, clutter purge and some of that additional garden work - but am struggling a little bit with fun, relaxing things to do.  I think I am going into both a reading and TV slump at the moment, which is just cruel timing.  I will undoubtedly do both of these things as well as some blog post writing but I'm not super excited about it at the moment.  I have a jigsaw to work on, some plans with friends and maybe a hike somewhere new. I have a couple of adult coloring books I haven't yet dived into.  Hmmm... None of it is really thrilling me.  So what would you do for fun if you had 10 days off work and all to yourself?  I'd be interested in some ideas.


Xerox from last week - I'm in the throes of an Arrow hangover so not watching much of anything.


Finished Last Week:

  • The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater:  This was really lovely.  I'm glad my instant repulsion to Shiver was a fluke. 
  • The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson and the Olympians #5) by Rick Riordan:  A really nice conclusion to this middle-grade series.  

Currently Reading:

  • One Magic Square by Lolo Houbein: A gardening book about maximizing food production in a small space.  An ARC from Netgalley (though I think it's an older title).   
  • Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson:  A non-fiction account about the sinking of the Lusitania.  I'm all about boats.  And disasters. I'm DNFing this for now because it was really boring me.  I was also super annoyed by the reader who infused all these needless and artificial dramatic flourishes into his reading.
  • Murder in Chinatown by Victoria Thompson (Gaslight Mystery #9):   A favorite standby historical mystery series set in turn-of-the-last-century New York.
  • The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood:  I'm surprised I had not read it before.  This audio version is read by Claire Danes who has a really pleasing voice.  Is the cover above badass or what!?
  • A Quiet Life in the Country (Lady Hardcastle Mysteries #1) by T.E. Kinsey: Set in the early 1900s in rural England - mysteries investigated by a Lady and her maid.

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!



TUESDAY: Top Ten Tuesday | Whimsy and Anarchy - about books picked up on a whim.
THURSDAY: Review of Longbourn by Jo Baker.  It was fantastic!

Have great week!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

REVIEW | Longbourn by Jo Baker

Longbourn by Jo Baker
Publication Year: 2013
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: NA
Awards: NA
Format: Audio (from Library)
Narrator: Emma Fielding

Snarky Subtitle: Why You Should Thank The Good Lord For Washing Machines

WHY?: I am practically an Austen fan-fiction aficionado.  I read most any Jane Austen re-telling, re-imagining, alternative perspective novel I can get my hands on and this particular book got a lot of praise a couple of years ago.  

The first thing to say about Longbourn is that it is such a brilliant, genius, fantastic idea.   It follows along the timeline of and takes place in the same space as Pride and Prejudice but it focuses instead on the small staff of Longbourn house rather than the daughters of the house.  It is easily the best and most inspired "re-telling" I've read.  This is probably because it really isn't so much a re-telling as it is its own story set against the backdrop of a more famous tale.  

The main player is Sarah, a young maid in the Longbourn household.  Despite her youth, she has been at her job many years and she is getting restless with her lot in life as she enters adulthood. About this time, a new footman, James, arrives bringing with him a relief from tedium but also confusion and mystery.  Rounding out Longbourn's staff are the motherly housekeeper/cook, her husband an aged and rather dull butler and a much younger housemaid still learning her way.  They form a kind of family of their own though they all seem to harbor secrets and have personal dramas.

I was a little nervous going in.  I've read one other book by Jo Baker, The Mermaid's Child, and it was rather grim, dark and depressing, certainly nothing like Austen's witty confections that always have happy endings.  My worries were mostly unfounded.  This is in no way the light-hearted romance of Austen's writing but it is also not overly grim.  It is dark and hard in a way that makes sense when telling the tale of people who spend almost every waking moment of their days serving others desires and needs.

In fact, I think that Baker's very different style, the fact that she does not try to ape Austen, is one of the book's strengths.  It sets it apart from Pride and Prejudice, makes it its own entity while still touching on the characters loved from P&P.  It's the different tone that makes it possible for Baker to highlight how thoughtless Lizzie and Jane and all the Bennets are of their servants without causing me to become overly protective of those beloved characters.  

Beyond the interesting story told about the servants of Longbourn, the book is also interesting for showing those interstitial moments for the P&P cast - what they are doing in between the moments of great import in their own stories.  It also suggest some character-deepening ideas about the secondary players in P&P, particularly Wickham and Papa Bennet.  I appreciated these speculations and thought they made a lot of sense based on what we learned of them in Austen's story.  I've read a few reviews from Austen purists that weren't particularly pleased with the liberties taken, particularly with the characters but while I love Austen a lot, I enjoy when people take her material and get creative.  It didn't bother me one bit and in fact I loved how different sheBaker goes with her perspective but be aware if you are someone who gets shirty when other authors mess with Austen.

For me, the one slight misstep the book took was when it took a tangent to tell James' back story.  It was surely interesting enough but it is the only part of the book that significantly jumps away from the timeline and events of Pride and Prejudice.  It felt jarring and the book works best when it stays connected to its "source".  

FINAL VERDICT:  A creative and well-written alternate perspective take on Pride and Prejudice which balances well the telling of it's own tale while shadowing the old.  4 out of 5 stars.

Other Opinions Are Available:  Austenprose | The Pathological Readers