Sunday, July 31, 2016

REVIEW | A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Publication Year: 2015
Genre: Fantasy
Series: Shades of Magic #1
Awards: NA
Format: Audio (
Narrator: Steven Crossley

WHY?:  I've been wanting to read something by Schwab forever and the premise for this book sounded like one with a lot of promise.

SYNOPSIS:  There are three Londons left, each existing in a parallel universe to the others.  Gray London is (mostly) the one we are familiar with circa 19th century.  Red London is the one with just the right amount of magic, a stable government and residents and objects that naturally smell like flowers.  Finally there is white London, drowning in magic, brutal, ugly and unstable.  Kell, from Red London, is one of only two magicians who has the ability to cross in between these Londons and as such he plays a very important role, diplomatic and otherwise, for Red London's monarchy.  It is not surprising, then, that he gets caught up in a play for power by White London which also throws him together with Lila, a street rat from Gray London who gets caught in the cross fire when she steals from Kell.  The two must return a dangerous object across the three Londons in order to keep White London from taking over all.  So basically a quest fantasy with some twists!

From the first moment I heard about the premise of this book I was dying to read it. I love the idea of being able to cross between parallel worlds/dimensions and examining how the absence of this or the addition of that changes a point in space, in this case London.  It's a great concept which is simple and easy to understand but poses all kinds of cool scenarios and complexities.  Schwab does a pretty job taking advantage of all the promise inherent in parallel worlds with the level of magic being the changing factor.  The idea of having just a few mysterious people who are born with the ability to  go between these worlds is also cool.  They become valuable and are loaded down with expectations and it serves to make the characters of Kell and Holland that much more complex and interesting but more on that later. 

Despite, or maybe because of, the cool premise, the book started rather slowly for me.  The first 20% or so involved a LOT of world building that felt kind of static but after that, the action picks up and keeps accelerating to the end.  The plot is relatively straight forward but the stakes and suspense continue to build as the book rolls on making the resolution satisfying if not mind blowing.

The focus on establishing "the scene" also delayed some of the character development that was needed to engage me right away.  I liked Kell from the beginning. Immediately it is clear that he is compassionate and has a good heart but he is not 100% heroic.  The royal family of Red London have adopted him as their own but Kell, while mostly appreciative and loyal, also resents this and cynically believes that they don't truly value him as much as his power. He chafes under the responsibility his power necessitates.  However, Ry, the crown prince is his best friend and is his brother in name if not in blood, so Ry knows about Kell's small rebellions, trading goods between the Londons which is strictly forbidden.  The only other magician who can cross between worlds is Holland from white London and he is a delicious and terrifying henchman reminiscent of the villainous henchmen of James Bond.   
Kell Fan Art by

Where I struggled to connect character-wise was with Delilah Bard aka Lila.  She is a type of character that I normally don't connect with - very fly by the seat of her pants/impulsive/reckless and I initially didn't love her but by the end of the book I really liked her and think I probably would have loved her if it wasn't for the narrator.

And that's my last big complaint about the book which isn't really about the book but about the narrator of the audio.  He had a fine voice and is in fact a much used and award-winning narrator but I did not like him for this book.  He is obviously an older man by his voice and this is a book that is 90% about people in their early 20s or younger.  Kell whose voice was closest to his own, therefore sounded growly and too mature, Ry, the crown prince sounded like a 14 year old who hadn't gone through puberty yet and Lila's voice and speech patterns were just weird. It made her sound immature and petulant.  I think the way he voiced Lila really impacted how I felt about her as a character.  I will definitely read the next book of this series in print!

FINAL VERDICT:  Despite a slow start, I ended up loving this atmospheric and unique quest fantasy! 4 out of 5 Stars.

Other opinions are Available: The Bibliosanctum |  Of Dragons and Hearts

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Saturdays in the Garden | Superheroes and Butterflies


I still haven't done any work in the yard and garden.  Hopefully tomorrow?

Instead, here's a picture out my office window.

Two Eastern Tiger Swallowtails,  nectaring on Bee Balm



I finished my Arrow re-watch and have started on an Agents of SHIELD (AoS) re-watch so that I can start season 3 which was recently released on Netflix.  Superheroes everywhere.  I hated the first half of the first season of AoS when I initially watched the show but am finding it not so bad this time around.  Probably because I'm already attached to the characters. I still love May and kind of hate Skye If you watch superhero shows, what's your favorite?


Finished Last Week:

  • Queen of Sorcery (Belgariad #2) by David Eddings:  This is a re-read of a much beloved epic fantasy series from my youth.  It holds up surprisingly well.  Great quest epic fantasy!
  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith: I will try almost any take on Jane Austen's novels, even (especially?) ones involving zombies. I enjoyed re-reading P&P and didn't mind the occasional insertion of zombies.
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).  
  • Magician's Gambit (Belgariad #3) by David Eddings: See above!  Book 3 reread from a muc beloved series.  
  • Magic Rises (Kate Daniels #6) by Ilona Andrews: I love this urban fantasy 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!
  • Smoke by Dan Vyleta:  I've heard about this book from a few different locations and it sounds fascinating.  It takes place in the late 1800s in an England where every sin a person commits makes them emit visible smoke.  
  • Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton:  I didn't write down where I read about this dang it but it's a YA novel that apparently has a wild west vibe but set in a middle eastern culture.  



SUNDAY:  Mini-Reviews | KDramas | Oh My Ghostess, Splash Splash Love, Noble My Love
TUESDAY: Top Ten Tuesday | Crazy Things I Want To Do Because Books Told Me To

* I really need to get some reviews written so hopefully get some done this week?  

Have a Great Week!

Monday, July 25, 2016

TOP TEN TUESDAY | Crazy Things I Want To Do Because Books Told Me To

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 prompt is thus:
Top Ten Things Books Have Made Me Want To Do or Learn About After Reading Them
Hoo boy, do I have a LOT of things that could be on this list.  Books make me want to do the craziest things.  Things that I know would actually be miserable in reality or that I would be horrible at or that actually don't exist.   I touched on a couple of these two weeks ago, mentioning my desire to sail on a Napoleonic war ship and join a medieval era monastery.  Here I will name all the other crazy things books make me want to do:

1) Live In A Charming British Village With An Exceptionally High Murder Rate

This one is totally Agatha Christie's fault.  

2) Live in a Heavily Fortified Fort/Compound in a Dystopic Universe

I think it's something about the sense of community you get when you're all huddled together fighting for your lives.  Most recently, I just finished The Passage by Justin Cronin.  

3) Slay Demon Spawn from Hell (or know...any kind of evil monster)

SO. MANY. BOOKS.  Currently I'm reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith and Jane Austen and then there's the Kate Daniels Series by Ilona Andrews, 

4) Solve Crime

Somewhat more reasonable than #3 but just as unlikely in reality.  Inspired by every mystery ever.  I actually really enjoy some true crime non-fiction as well.  

5) See Ghosts

I mean I know that this would probably be super creepy?  Probably?  But it might also be pretty interesting and could help solve crimes?  Some favorite books that have inspired this?  Shades of London Series by Maureen Johnson and the Peter Grant Series by Ben Aaronovitch.

David Eddings, The Belgariad
6) Go on a Quest with a Band of Friends

This is one of those things that is probably, in reality, terrifying in the extreme and uncomfortable at best but every epic fantasy ever has convinced me it would be the most fun to be had in life.

7) Be a governess

So, I don't exactly hate children but the idea of being a teacher/being around kids all the time, amkes me want to run off a cliff, so the fact that there are books that have made governess seem like the easiest and most rewarding and fun job to me is very impressive.  Most recently the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series by Maryrose Wood that has inspired these feelings.

8) Be an international spy

Again, I am a HUGE chicken and I don't think well on my feet so spy is pretty much the last job I should ever apply for.  But Dorothy Gilman's Mrs. Pollifax Series has kind of made me feel otherwise.

9) Be a musical genius

I've always wanted to be able to play an instrument.  The thing is I don't like doing it - I played both the flute and the piano in my younger days and never wanted to practice either.  Musicians in books always seem so cool and have this thing that zens them out.

10) Move to a Northerly Situated Island with a Harsh Environment 

I feel like I would have this strong sense of community and feel so connected to nature.  No way would I be depressed by the constant rain, cold and wind, the lack of jobs or my inability to enjoy gardening.  Lately, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater made me have this wish.


So what crazy things have books made YOU want to do lately?  

Sunday, July 24, 2016

MINI-REVIEWS | KDrama | Oh My Ghostess, Splash Splash Love, and Noble My Love

From Left to Right: Oh My Ghostess, Splash Splash Love and Noble,My Love

Oh My Ghostess (2015)

SYNOPSIS:  (16 episodes) Na Bong Seon is a very shy and timid woman working as the most junior assistant in a famous Chef's restaurant kitchen.  The thing is, she can see and talk to ghosts, which frightens her and which has always made her an outcast.  She is most comfortable when she is making heartfelt meals so she is pursuing her dream of being a chef by working under a man she much admires, Kang Seon Woo.  Kang Seon Woo is a tastemaker who was made famous by winning a cooking reality show on TV.  He's arrogant, authoritarian but fair AND a really extraordinary chef.  He is initially very frustrated by Na Bong Seon's extreme timidity, and is therefore taken by complete surprise when  her personality seems to make a complete 180 into a bubbly, playful and aggressive flirt.  The thing is, Na Bong Seon has been possessed by the ghost Shin Sun Ae, a young woman who died young and is stuck as a ghost, she thinks, because she died a virgin. She thinks that if she can get Kang Seon Woo to have sex with her (while she's possessing Na Bong Seon's body) she will be able to ascend to the afterlife.  Problem is her unrest may have nothing to do with her thwarted love life but may instead be because of how she died which she can't remember.  

THOUGHTS: As you can probably tell from the synopsis, there is a LOT happening in this mostly light-hearted romantic comedy.  It also skims along the edge of being a little disturbing, and perhaps its most notable triumph is that it avoids making the the possible HUGE wrong moves regarding free will and consent and personal identity.  Back to that in a minute though!  

In the synopsis, I mention the 3 main characters but this actually has a pretty large cast.  There are the three other cooks in the kitchen, there mostly for comic relief; there's Seon Woo's sister who is in a wheel chair and her policeman husband (the 4th in the dark suit picture above) who has a mysterious connection to the dead girl Sun Ae; there's also his mother and a long time friend that he thinks he's in love with; there's Sun Ae's father and brother who run a much more humble restaurant not too far from Seon Woo's; and finally there's a psychic who is trying to keep Sun Ae from going bad.  So, a large cast and lots going on - it's part romance, part spiritual journey and personal growth, part mystery.  It does a respectable job keeping all the story lines straight and understandable and each of the 16 episodes feels necessary.

This drama gave me serious Coffee Prince flashbacks because there were many similar elements. It takes place in a restaurant, with the three young men who work in the restaurant providing comic relief.  They are similar even down to the fact that two of them are buffoons while one is a rather sensible and decent person.  Seon Woo initially fancies himself in love with his closest friend's beautiful widow and she is partially why he has stayed single into his early 30s.  He also has to make a pretty big leap of faith to embrace his love for Bong Seon - he has to believe in ghosts.  So while I would not say that it hits the emotional heights of Coffee Prince it would be a good one to watch if you were in the mood for something Coffee Prince-like.

The most important thing about a KDrama is its primary couple; so how was the chemistry?  Interesting. And mostly okay.  I like Chef (Seon Woo) but never really warmed up to him completely.  He's pretty stiff and serious and disapproving for a romantic hero and while he does go through an evolution, he is not very different at the end versus the beginning.  I really liked both Bong Seon and Sun Ae and did eventually really like where they went with their stories. However, I spent the first 6-7 episodes feeling very nervous about what was going to happen.  Sun Ae has possessed Bong Seon without her consent and is doing all these things with her body that just made me extremely jittery and made me dislike Sun Ae at times, especially when it is revealed that Bong Seon has no memory of anything that happens while she is possessed.  Later, they hatch a scheme to capture Chef's love by Sun Ae consensually possessing Bong Seon's body and using her more outgoing and aggressive personality to win him.  This also feels seriously icky.  Chef does fall in love but who exactly is he in love with?  For a while I was worried the show wouldn't address these issues but they do and in a way that was satisfactory for me.  I really enjoyed Bong Seon's journey that involves coming out of her shell and gaining more confidence.  I'd give the chemistry of the main couple a 7 out of 10. 

One last note: The subtitles on Viki aren't great  - I think they tend to be more literal translations that don't always make sense rather than translating the intent.  It was occasionally jarring but didn't detract too much from my enjoyment.  

FINAL VERDICT:  An enjoyable and complexly plotted romantic comedy with an interesting twist on a love triangle.  Worth watching!

P.S.  SO this wasn't much of a "mini" mini-review, ha ha, but the other two will be I promise!

Splash, Splash, Love (2015)

SYNOPSIS: (2 episodes) Jang Dan Bi is a senior in high school getting ready to take some extremely important placement tests that she in no way feels prepared for. She struggles a lot with math and these tests will play a huge role in how her future will go.  She is so scared and miserable that she wishes herself far far away and magically ends up 300 years in the past.  There she manages to pass herself off as a man and wows and terrifies the king's court with her vast knowledge of math and language and agriculture, etc....  The progressive king, Si Jong Yi Do, starts trying to learn all he can and also manages to fall in love with this strange person who finally comes clean and confesses that she's a she and that she has come from the future.

THOUGHTS:   This was pure delightful fun.  It's pretty much 100% comedy with a couple of tense moments scattered here and there.  I absolutely loved watching Dan Bi as she gained confidence by navigating her way through court politics and literally being the most knowledgeable person in the whole kingdom.  The romance between she and the king is super sweet and they have a lot of great romantic AND comedic chemistry.  They seem like they are having a lot of fun.
Selfies with the King in Ancient Korea:)
The magic that makes time travel possible is of the Wizard of Oz variety - just wish it hard enough and it will happen and then afterwards it is completely unclear whether it was real or not.  It works for this short drama.  It plays with the idea that a high school senior from modern times could have spurred Korea's period of enlightenment and instigated the creation of their own alphabet.  It's ridiculous and fun!

The subtitles on Viki were stupendous.  One of the main plot points/jokes of the show is based on a play on words - the word for High School Senior is the same or very similar to the word for Eunuch so everybody thinks Dan Bi is a eunuch which ends up working to her advantage!  The subtitles do a good job of explaining this and making it all clear.

FINAL VERDICT:  A completely delightful time-travel, romantic comedy.  Highly recommend if you are in the mood for something light and funny!

Noble, My Love (2015)

SYNOPSIS: (20 15-minute episodes) Cha Yoon Seo is a spunky, struggling, and hard-working veterinarian.  She's kind of a hot mess but good at her job.  One night by chance she saves a very handsome young man's life, Lee Kang Hoon.  Lee Kang Hoon happens to be the CEO of a very prominent Chaebol run company and he feels indebted to Cha Yoon Seo.  When she doesn't try to take advantage of the situation, he proceeds to bully her into accepting his money, help, and attention.  Of course they end up falling in love.

THOUGHTS:  This is another one that is almost pure fluff.  With its unique structure, made up of many super short episodes, it can't really delve too deeply into melodrama or complex character development so it stays pretty surface.  

Cha Yoon Seo is a pretty fun character, very compassionate, self-sufficient and independent as well as a bit of a spaz.  Lee Kang Hoon comes across as a cold arrogant bully and while he softens a touch by the end of the drama, I never really warmed up to him.  Both actors are extremely pretty to look at but don't necessarily light up the screen with their acting talents.  Or it could be the material which was goofy in the extreme and could've been hard to sell.  There is one scene where Cha Yoon Seo falls off a ladder into Lee Kang Hoon in such a way that there lips meet - this is their first kiss and it could be a scene out of a cartoon.  

With these problems I had, I still mostly enjoyed it and the short episode format was kind of interesting.  I watched it on Netflix and the subtitles were fine.  

FINAL VERDICT:  Fine if you're wanting something short and fluffy to watch.  The hero is an Alpha in the extreme and the shorter format doesn't allow any room for deeper development so in the end I didn't love it.  


That's it for my thoughts!  Have you seen any of these Dramas?  If so, what did you think?

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Saturday in the Garden | Attack of the Out-of-Control Tomato Plants


The garden has gotten to the overgrown and messy stage. It's been hot and we've gotten lots of rain in the last week and a half so it feels like everything has doubled in size.  I have hopes for good veggie harvests but it is kind of a mess.  I need to spend tomorrow morning, if it's not rainy and as muggy as this morning is, cleaning things up.

We have a couple of Barn Swallow nests around the front entrance of the building I work in and the young fledged this week.  They weren't very steady on their wings so would just kind of hang around and let you get way closer than they should have.  They were also landing on every possible surface in a panicked and clumsy sort of way.  Super fun to watch!


On the schedule today is sushi followed by kick ass female Ghostbusters.  Yay for Saturday!



I'm in a bit of a KDrama hangover after watching the stupendous Queen In Hyun's Man, so I've been distractedly re-watching the first three seasons of Arrow.  Again.

With some distance from my initial obsession with this show I am finding that I am not so convinced by Oliver and Felicity's pairing.  I think the two have amazing emotional chemistry but there is not a lot of physical chemistry.  That doesn't mean they shouldn't be together of course but I do wish they had a little more obvious attraction to each other.  I think during my initial obsession, I just loved the character of Felicity so much and was super thrilled to see a character like her get the guy that I kind of fan wanked away their lack of physical connection.  Anyway, It's just interesting how things change with time, even just a little time.  Don't get me wrong I still ship the hell out of them but am maybe a little more sympathetic to the anti-shippers:0).


Finished Last Week:

  • Tiger Eye by Marjorie M. Liu:  This is a paranormal romance with a super promising premise and which started well enough.  I ended up powering through (skimming) the last 100 pages or so.  Not my cup of tea I'm afraid.  And it was damming up my reading!  It's a library book so I felt like I needed to concentrate on it before picking up anything else. 
  • The Passage (The Passage #1) by Justin Cronin:  This literary novel about a vampiric plague has been recommended to me a thousand times in a thousand ways.  I am happy to announce that despite it causing some early eye-rolling, this book ended up being awesome!
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).  
  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith: I will try almost any take on Jane Austen's novels, even (especially?) ones involving zombies. This was the book that was really on hold while I struggled with Tiger Eye. Now making good progress with it!

Added to the TBR:

This is a list of books that I have added to my Goodreads TBR list this week.  It helps to burn the books I want to read a little more firmly into my mind, maybe get them on some other folks TBRs and gives me a chance to recognize a lot of the awesome bloggers that add stuff to my TBR!
  • The Emperor's Arrow by Lauren D.M. Smith: A new epic fantasy/romance that looks very fun! Discovered on Reading Reality.
  • The Bard's of Bone Plain by Patricia McKillip:  I've shockingly never read anything by McKillip and I think it's about time to fix that.  This one blends fantasy and archaeology and sounds cool.  Recommended on the Get Booked Podcast by Book Riot.
  • The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte: I read a book by Perez-Reverte a few years ago which I liked but I'd kind of forgotten about him.  A Myriad of Books was kind enough to remind me of him and recommended this book in her Top Ten Tuesday post.  



Friday, July 22, 2016

REVIEW | The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher

The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher
Publication Year: 2015
Genre: Fantasy
Series: The Cinder Spires #1
Awards: Hugo Award Nominee, 2016
Format: Hardcover
Narrator: NA

WHY?:  I love me some Jim Butcher.  Plus sailing ships that fly.   

SYNOPSIS:  In what appears to be a far future Earth (?), human kind has built a civilization on Spires of rock in the sky that seem to have been built by some unknown entity in the far past.  Captain Frances Madison Grimm is a free lance airship captain, a job he took up after being dishonorably discharged from Spire Albion's navy.  Gwendolyn and Bridget are from completely different different backgrounds but both are new recruits to Spire Albion's guard.  The lives of these three characters come together when the leader of Spire Albion calls on them to perform a special mission after a rival Spire, Aurora, launches an attack.  Far from being a simple escalation of tensions between the two spires, the forces at work driving these two spires to conflict are mysterious and dark and perhaps originating from the surface of the ruined planet.  All that Captain Grimm, Gwen, Bridget and a few other of their ensemble cast know however, is that they must defend their Spire at all costs.   


This was overall a pretty satisfying book and from my perspective (I haven't read his Codex Alera series), a departure from Butcher's other work. I don't totally understand or see the big picture of the world he creates here but I really like it nonetheless and it feels like it is laying the foundation for some epic reveals and narrative twists in future books. There is just enough detail to get on with, give context and uniqueness but without bogging down the narrative with too much description and world building.  I thought it very well done for my tastes though it may frustrate folks who really enjoy intricate world building.

As far as is revealed, it is a far future of our world, bordering on dystopia.  Humans live in the air on giant spires above a planet where the surface has been somehow corrupted.  The world has a strong steampunk flavor with the society being somewhat feudal in structure but they have access to electricity by harnessing etheric energies using crystals that are grown.  There are different spires that don't always get along with each other and each spire has many separate levels called Habbles that operate somewhat independently though all are under a single spire ruler.

One aspect of the book that got me very excited was that is has an ensemble cast with two main groups operating separately before the story weaves them together. The story is told from six different points of view and Butcher does an acceptable job of making this work though it's not perfect. I definitely had my favorite POVs and got a little impatient from time to time when the story shifted.  The holy grail, and it is truly magnificent when it happens, is to suck the reader in so hard to every single storyline/POV that you're almost equally excited at the start of each new chapter (the earlier installments in The Song of Ice and Fire come to mind).  The Aeronaut's Windlass didn't hit that sweet spot for me but it was still a heck of a lot of fun and I'm pleased that Butcher went with this type of storytelling (which may be my favorite).  

I think where the book struggled the most for me was with the characters.  Oddly Gwendolyn (and Benedict) were my favorites which is a not what I would have expected.  I think Gwendolyn was the only character that came off as individual and unique enough under the book's structure - she had a personality that stood out and she and Benedict had a sense of humor and fun banter. Benedict, while not a POV character (though I kinda wish he was), is interesting because he is a warriorborn, meaning he is part human, part feline. We spend a lot of time with Captain Grimm but to be honest he was kind of boring - very proper and bursting with integrity and valor.  I feel like Butcher spent a lot of time trying to convince me how awesome Grimm was instead of giving him an interesting personality. Bridget also was a little boring though she is the type of character I would normally love.  I also can't forget to mention Rowl and his clan who are definitely the most interesting and fun characters.  Their cats, you see, that talk, and are bad-ass.  Butcher nails what a cat society might look like and it's fun that Rowl, Bridget's constant companion and protector, is one of the POV narrators.  Regardless, all the characters are perfectly likeable enough to carry the real star of the show which is the world-building and story.

The plot is actually fairly straight-forward but hints at complexities to come.  Butcher's strength, in the Dresden Files at least, is creating fast-paced plots that leave you breathless and frequently cheering.  The Aeronaut's Windlass doesn't quite reach Dresden levels of awesome chaos but it trundles along at a respectable pace and kept me interested.  Honestly, Butcher had his hands full in this book - establishing an ensemble cast, a complex society and world AND keeping the plot pumping along.  As a result, perhaps not all the elements are as strong as they could be but they're not bad and I am definitely excited for what's coming next in the series.

FINAL VERDICT:  An enjoyable first installment for a series I have high hopes for!  3.5 out of 5 stars.

Other Opinions Are Available: The Bibliosanctum | Reading Reality

Monday, July 18, 2016

TOP TEN TUESDAY | Books That Are Out of This...Country.

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.

Being a sheltered, self-absorbed American, I was excited for this week's topic to give me a new way to look at my book list. The topic is:
Ten Books Set Outside The US (I don't know about you but sooo much of what I read is set in the US and I love finding new recs of stuff set outside of it!)
How diversely, geographically speaking do I read? The answer?  Not very.  My reading is very U.S. and U.K.-centric, I'm afraid and I have read very little outside of Europe.  Those books that are further afield are not generally books in translation either but written by an American or European.  Nice wake up call that I am likely missing out on some great literature so I am really looking forward to getting some recs from this week's lists.


1Still Life (Chief Inspector Gamache #1) by Louise Penny

First our neighbors to the north!  I've likely read a few books set in Canada or at least written by Canadians but this is a recent mystery that I very much enjoyed.  It also had an incredibly strong sense of place, set in a charming, small (I think fictional) town called Three Pines.  

2This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart

This Rough Magic is a delightful romantic suspense novel that takes place on the Greek island of Corfu which lies off the Greek and Albanian coasts.  It is also one of the islands suspected to be the inspiration for the island in Shakespeare's The Tempest.  This speculation as well as the island's unique culture and scenic coastlines play a large role in this fun book.

3. Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

This book is a super fun young adult novel focused on an albino Nigerian girl named Sunny who finds out that she is heir to a magical heritage.  Rooted in African myth and a great story.

4. The Blackhouse and The Lewis Man (The Lewis Trilogy) by Peter May

This a vividly atmospheric mystery trilogy (I haven't yet read book 3) about an Edinburgh cop who returns to his home  - the Island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of the coast of Scotland.  The island's character is the biggest contributor to the unique atmosphere of these books.  

5. State of Wonder and Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

This feels like a bit of a cheat because Ann Patchett is solidly American and the country of setting for Bel Canto is never explicitly mentioned but the settings in both novels are so evocative and the characters are eclectic in their origins.  State of Wonder takes place in the Amazon Rainforests of Brazil. I love both these novels and they made me a solid fan of Ann Patchett's writing. 

6. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

This is another book where the setting is almost a character.  This is also one of the few works in translation on the list and it is so fantastic and very bookish.

7. The City & The City by China Mieville

So with all the speculative fiction I read, there had to be an imaginary location:).  I chose this one because it is so unique and the place is so important.  It feels very real.  A noir detective novel that takes place in two vaguely Eastern European cities that occupy the same space and citizens of each are trained not to see the other city.  It's freaky and pretty awesome.

8. Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg

A great mystery/suspense novel set in the cold north.  Really lovely writing and a great female protagonist. A precursor to all the "cold crime" that is so popular these days?

9. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

This is a book I don't think I've talked about before on the blog? And I don't know why cause I really loved it.  About the unlikely friendship between a precocious 12 year old girl, a Japanese businessman and the bookish concierge in their Paris apartment building.  

10. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I can't remember if it is explicit that this takes place in England but it stills feels very grounded there. One of my favorite books of all time and a unique future look at England.


So that's my very Eurocentric tour of books that I've enjoyed that took place outside of the U.S.  I look forward to getting ideas on expanding my travels from the rest of the Top Ten Tuesday lists! 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

TV REVIEW | K Drama | Queen In-Hyun's Man (2012)

This show people. THIS. SHOW.  I don't think I can talk about it coherently  - all that may come out is gushy nonsense interspersed with squeals of delight.  So, to get the ball rolling a random stream of consciousness list:

1) This is definitely the best K drama I have ever seen - almost perfect.  Of course I have to admit, before you get too impressed, that it is only the fifth one I've watched, ha ha, so it's at the top of a very short list BUT I can't imagine anything surpassing it.  Honestly if there is a better drama of this type (I think I'd categorize as romantic comedy) point me to it now!

2) Kim. Boong. Do.  The best lead male character ever. know...of the 5 K Dramas I've watched.  But seriously he is pretty darn perfect. 

3) Ji Hyun Woo  - the actor who plays Kim Boong Do is seriously my type looks-wise (no idea about his personality, you'll be shocked to know we haven't met).  Not sure how much a role this plays in #2 but there is definitely some correlation.

4) The lead characters'/actors' chemistry is seriously off the chart.  

5) The Kissing.  OMG The Kissing.

6) The combo of historic and modern is brilliant and is used SO well to tell a lovely complete tale.

7) I was a little irritated after watching episode 12 which seemed to wrap everything up so nicely.  How on earth were they going to drag things out for another 4 episodes?  The answer?  Really damn awesomely.  I ended up really liking every episode of the entire run and felt none of them were wasted.

Despite the fact that I am now distracted by all the kissing GIFs, I will move on and try to write some coherent thoughts on the drama.  This drama is 16 episodes long. 


First of all, what's the story?  Kim Boong Do is a noblemen in the late 1600s (Joseon era) of Korea.  The King has set aside his wife the Queen (yup, the one in the title) because of the machinations of some (well one in particular) corrupt minsters.  Through this kerfuffle all of Kim Boong Do's family is killed - Mother, Father, Wife, Child - despite the fact that the king refers to Boong Do as his best friend.  Not sure how one remains friends with someone who has caused the death of your family but ...whatever...Boong Do blames the minister and sets about for revenge and to reinstate the Queen back at court.  Alongside him are his humble servants (slaves) or ex-servants, a somewhat feckless guy but more importantly a beautiful gisaeng, Yoon Wol, who holds a serious torch for Boong Do.  Knowing what he is up against and worrying about him, she has the Buddhist monks make a talisman for him that is meant to protect his life.  And it does, by shooting him 300 years into the future whenever his life is threatened.  The first person he meets in the future and who eventually becomes his guide to the modern world is an actress named Choi Hee Jin.

Hee Jin is an up and coming new actress who has gotten her first break playing Queen In Hyun in a historic drama focused on all the events Kim Boong Do is living.  She is trying to navigate her new fame with the help of her friend and manager Jo Soo Kyung and also trying to avoid getting entangled with her ex boyfriend who is a famous actor and is playing the king in the drama.  She is initially confused but intrigued by her encounters with Kim Boong Do and quickly believes that he is a time traveler and also becomes quickly smitten with him.  Boong Do is a little slower to fall, probably because he has a lot going on what with all the time travel and avenging of his family, but he eventually does and drama, oh so deliciously, ensues.  


Of course I have to start with Kim Boong Do.  All of the dramas I have watched thus far have for the most part featured the same kind of male lead character.  They're rich and arrogant and self-absorbed though deep down we know they are honorable good men. The whole point of these dramas is that these men learn to care for someone more than they care about themselves and become supportive, respectful and awesome though perhaps still a little arrogant. If they were in a romance novel they'd be the classic Alpha males. The lead female characters are in a position of weakness and steadily gain power and independence.  

Queen In Hyun's Man doesn't follow this formula.  Kim Boong Do is rich and certainly very confident and he knows how to boss people about - he's a nobleman after all - but he's also very respectful and understanding of others from the very beginning.  The show further humbles him by its very nature - Kim Boong Do is thrust into a world he cannot begin to understand and in which he is basically a child and at least initially wholly dependent on Hee Jin.  He is not resentful of being reliant on her but is instead deeply grateful and curious about everything.  And he quickly begins to learn on his own because he is incredibly smart and clever.  His cleverness is the source of many of the dramas best moments as he puzzles things out and figures out fantastical ways to outwit his enemies.  The world of political scheming and treachery have also made him intuitive and able to read people - their motives and the emotions behind their words.  This helps him to survive in the dangerous world he lives in and it has the dreamy side effect of making him a very thoughtful lover and friend.  To top things off, he's good with words and completely genuine  - there is no bluster or artifice about him  and it's these character traits that draw Hee Jin in and lead to her teasing him that he is player.  

One of my favorite things about him also is that he has a cheeky and adorable sense of humor.  Probably my two most favorite scenes in the drama are when he whips out this humor to slyly tease Hee Jin (the car scene in episode 8 and when he admits that maybe he IS a player in episode 11).   And despite all the horrible things that have happened to him in his life, he is completely open to the wonder of the new world he finds himself in. He's got an adventurous and playful spirit which responds strongly to Hee Jin's impulsiveness and "passionate" nature.   He also never dis-respects her or is impatient with her even when she does some immature and annoying things.  He knows why she is acting that way and wouldn't dream of de-meaning or begrudging her feelings. Sigh...... As you can tell I am seriously in love with this character and we haven't even gotten to the fact that he's a martial arts bad ass melon farmer AND a big goofy nerd.  Or how quirkily and boyishly handsome he is or that he's got eyes that smile.  And a super dreamy voice. Yup, I've got it real bad, lol.

And I shouldn't forget Hee Jin.  While much of my love for this drama is concentrated on the character of Kim Boong Do, Hee Jin is also a well developed and interesting character and she is played to perfection by actress Yoo In Na.  Seriously, a really stunning performance.  I fully loved the character and she had all my loyalty even though on the surface she is not the type of character to earn my sympathy.  She's pretty, successful, impulsive and not all that interested in learning and books.  She has a wall-sized portrait of herself hanging in her apartment and she boasts that she is famous because she's so pretty.  Despite all that she's incredibly loveable.  She's kind-hearted and generous, transparent with her feelings, adventurous and has enough self-respect not to let herself get sucked in by her obnoxious, though very handsome and famous, ex-boyfriend.  As mentioned above she does occasionally act a little immature and annoying but it is always with good and understandable intent.  Her chemistry with Kim Boong Do is seriously intense.

That chemistry between the leads is what I think makes this drama truly awesome. The scenes between them sparkle and feel completely natural  - like you are really watching two people fall in love.  Which you may actually be since the two actors did date at some point for an indeterminate length of time after or during the filming (reports are confusing, at least to me).  They feel so right together that I didn't even once 'ship Boong Do with his servant Yoon Wol, who has had a hard life with few advantages and has loved him unrequited for years so much so that she is the reason he can travel in time.  She is the type of character I would usually root for in a romance but nope, it had to be Hee Jin. Never any doubt. Did I mention the kissing?  The chemistry is helped along by a really soaringly romantic original sound track.  The lovers have two theme songs:

1. Their theme song for their happier more romantic moments:  I'm coming to see (Or meet) you by Deok Hwan (non-spoilery link)  And for a video that does a great job showcasing the chemistry between these two ... (But has spoilers)
2. Their theme music for when they are separated and sad and longing: Same Sky, Different Time by Joo Hee (NOTE:  the video with this may be a little spoilery so if you haven't watched the drama I would just open in a different window and just listen and not watch.

So this is a romance, plain and simple, and it succeeds so so well in this department but it ain't no slouch in the overall plot department either.  The writing of the show is really great with plenty of suspense and nuances.  The overall tone of the drama is light though there are of course many emotional twists and turns and I will admit to tears in the last few episodes.  There's some lovely parallels between the historic and modern-day story that are fun to pick apart and serve to strengthen the characterizations.  

In the Joseon era, Boong Do is looking for revenge but is more trying to set things right by championing the Queen who has been bullied by one of the King's consorts and pushed into exile by corrupt political machinations in the court.  In the modern day story line, Hee Jin is trying to navigate her place in Korea's new "royalty" (it's drama stars) and she is being bullied by her co-stars.  The two "Queens" are in very similar positions so it's not surprising that Boong Do feels the need to champion Hee Jin even as he falls in love with her.  There are so many connected themes and plot points that occur early on and than pay off or re-appear in surprising and interesting ways later on.  It's thoughtfully and smartly plotted down to the last minute of episode 16.  Perfection, really.  

And then there's the time travel which can be tricky to pull off.  Boong Do's adaptation to the modern world is done really well and is a blast to watch while he at first must rely on the somewhat unreliable Hee Jin to orient him.  
“When I listen to you, it seems as though the reason for everything in this world is to enable kisses. What kind of lustful world is this?”  HEE!
Because he's so smart and curious, he starts to reason things out himself and this is equally fun to watch.  It's clear how he uses the skills he had to develop in his much more treacherous time of origin to help him adjust relatively quickly to modern times. 

The mechanism of travel is also dramatic and interesting and ends up playing a major part in the story on several different levels.  The talisman is powerful but also unpredictable and fragile.  The show does not shy away from investigating the ramifications of messing around with time but it is also not a slave to it.  It's the perfect mix.  There is some controversy about the resolution at the end but I for one thought it made perfect sense (as long as we're accepting the concept of magic to begin with:) and was a lovely and well-prepared ending.  

FINAL VERDICT:  Grade A, 9.5 out of 10 Stars, All the loves and hearts.

This is a well-written and plotted romantic-comedy-fantasy that is bound to give your heart some flutters with the chemistry of its lead couple and the well chosen actors that play them.  Watch it. Now.  You won't be sorry.  Unless you hate romance.  In which case, K Dramas probably aren't your thing so....

Don't just take my word for it!: