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February 2017 Reads – #romance, #scifi, #thriller

October 14, 2017 1 comment

12656935You may have noticed (if I have any constant readers left) that things have become awfully quiet around here. All I can say is my priorities have changed. I thought it was a funk but it seems to be a constant. I’m no longer so interested in writing in-depth book reviews (although I’m still reading voraciously). Writing reviews was starting to feel like an unwelcome chore rather than a joy. But I do still love the online book reading community. It can be a challenge to find fellow voracious readers, and this helps me connect with you. So what to do? I tried out the haiku reviews. Those were fun but also too time-consuming for my average week. So I’m going to try this out. Summarizing my month of reading once a month. This will also free me up to do occasional posts of other varieties if I want to. Thoughts on book trends, summaries of new sewing projects, news of my gardens (both productive and succulent), and more. If I feel like it. So sorry for no more formal book reviews, but I do hope you’ll still enjoy the monthly summaries and find some good reads for yourself through them. Also in light of wanting to keep things simpler around here, I’ve decided to only feature the cover of my favorite read of the month.

As you can tell from the title, I’m very far behind in my book reviews. My oldest month was the month of February! So you’ll have a few of these in a row while I catch up, and then we should be onto a monthly schedule.

I started off February devouring a romance, which seems appropriate enough for Valentine’s Day month. Stay Until We Break by Mercy Brown is the second in her new adult series about a punk rock band in the 90s. This one centers around Sonia, the band’s business manager. She’s the type of character I usually struggle with empathizing with (a poor little rich girl) but it worked for me anyway. I think I just really enjoy the setting and I find it a real hoot that the 90s count as historic fiction now.
(4 out of 5 stars; buy it)

Next I tackled the scifi classic Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr. It’s the scifi novel that inspired the movie classic The Thing. It centers around a team of Antarctic researchers, and, of course, things go awry. I read it with the intention of watching the movie, but I basically found it to be a less interesting Alien vs. Predator so I never got around to watching the movie. I did listen to this on audiobook format, though, and I found the narrator to be so good that it bumped up my enjoyment a bit.
(4 out of 5 star; buy it)

I wrapped up the month with another audiobook (I can’t remember at this point why I was reading so many audiobooks) in the form of a Scandinavian thriller: Unwanted by Kristina Olsson. As is the case with many thrillers, this centers around a mismatched investigative team looking into the mysterious disappearance of a child. The narration was mysteriously accented (I know it’s in translation. You don’t have to drive that point home by having the narrator have a thick accent….) but I found it deliciously spine-tingling, nonetheless.
(4 out of 5 stars; buy it)

(I also read five other books at the beginning of February, but I’ve previously reviewed them here).

My total for the month of February 2017:

  • 8 books
    • 7 fiction; 1 nonfiction
    • 5 female authors; 3 male authors
    • 3 ebooks; 2 print books; 3 audiobooks
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Categories: Book, Review

A trio of #nonfiction Reviewed in #Haiku

anne frank

We All Wore Stars: Memories of Anne Frank from Her Classmates
By: Theo Coster

Summary:
Theo Coster was one of 28 Jewish Dutch students segregated into their own classroom by the Nazis. Another one of these students was Anne Frank. Theo gathers stories from other surviving students and himself both of their experiences of the Holocaust and their memories of Anne.

Haiku Review:
All together yet
Each experience unique
Grounding reminder.

4 out of 5 stars
Source: Gift
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crazyenough.jpg

Crazy Enough: A Memoir
By: Storm Large

Summary:
Storm knew growing up her mother was crazy so it was pretty scary when a doctor responded to her inquiry if she was crazy like her mother that she wasn’t yet but was going to be. Follow Storm through her journey of multiple diagnoses and a search to be more than just crazy.

Haiku Review:
A one-woman show
Reflects in the narrative
Left with some questions

3 out of 5 stars
Source: Publisher
Buy It

tidying up

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing
By: Marie Kondo

Summary:
Japanese cleaning consultant vows she’s never had a client relapse after following her sort everything once by category not by room and then organize it method. You may have heard jokes in social media about her sorting method being based on “does this spark joy?”

Haiku Review:
Some good tips mixed with
Animism but take it
With a grain of salt

4 out of 5 stars
Source: Library
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A Trio of #chicklit Reviewed in #Haiku

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Valley of the Dolls
By: Jacqueline Susann

Summary:
The 1960s classic about four women and how fame and drugs destroyed them.

Haiku Review:
My dolls! My dolls! But
Hard to compete with modern
Opioid crisis.

4 out of 5 stars
Source: Gift
Buy It

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The Runaway Princess
By: Hester Browne

Summary:
Amy Wilde’s new boyfriend has a secret….he’s a prince! Can she fit into his world without losing herself in the process?

Haiku Review:
The Prince and Me but
British with saving the bees
Left me wanting more

4 out of 5 stars
Source: Library
Buy It

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Cocktails for Three
By: Madeleine Wickham

Summary:
Three friends meet for cocktails every month but life events and secrets start to pull them apart.

Haiku Review:
If you can manage
To laugh at alcoholism
Then you might like it

3 out of 5 stars
Source: Library
Buy It

A Trio of Disappointing Reads Reviewed in Haiku

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A feature for the disappointing reads: I spent enough time reading them. The reviews shouldn’t waste more time. See all haiku reviews here.

coverrumourhastit

Rumour Has It
By:
Jill Mansell

Summary:
Newly single, Tilly Cole impulsively accepts a job offer in a small town as a “Girl Friday.” Fun job, country house, fresh start, why not? But soon she finds herself in a hotbed of gossip, intrigue, and rampant rivalry for the town’s most desirable bachelor-Jack Lucas.

Haiku Review:
What’s woman’s worst foe?
Other women. Defeat with
cancer. Stay at home.

3 out of 5 stars
Source: Library
Buy It

coverwelcomechaos

Welcome, Chaos
By: Kate Wilhelm

Summary:
When Lyle Taney took leave from her teaching job to live high in the mountains, researching the ways of eagles, she was just planning to write her next book. Lasater was an unscrupulous, skilled operative who thought he could maneuver her as he pleased. He believed women were incapable of making ethical or moral decisions. He was wrong.

Haiku Review:
So little chaos
for a book with it in the
title. One word? Meh.

3 out of 5 stars
Source: Audible
Buy It

coverexponentialapocalypse

Exponential Apocalypse
By: Eirik Gumeny

Summary:
A tale of crappy jobs, a slacker cult, an alcoholic Aztec god, reconstituted world leaders, werewolves, robots, and the shenanigans of multiple persons living after the twentieth-aught end of the world.

Haiku Review:
Listening at three
times speed did not make it go
by any faster.

2 out of 5 stars
Source: Audible
Buy It

Book Review: An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows (Series, #1)

26225506Summary:
When Saffron Coulter stumbles through a hole in reality, she finds herself trapped in Kena, a magical realm on the brink of civil war.

There, her fate becomes intertwined with that of three very different women: Zech, the fast-thinking acolyte of a cunning, powerful exile; Viya, the spoiled, runaway consort of the empire-building ruler, Vex Leoden; and Gwen, an Earth-born worldwalker whose greatest regret is putting Leoden on the throne. But Leoden has allies, too, chief among them the Vex’Mara Kadeja, a dangerous ex-priestess who shares his dreams of conquest.

Pursued by Leoden and aided by the Shavaktiin, a secretive order of storytellers and mystics, the rebels flee to Veksh, a neighboring matriarchy ruled by the fearsome Council of Queens. Saffron is out of her world and out of her depth, but the further she travels, the more she finds herself bound to her friends with ties of blood and magic.

Can one girl – an accidental worldwalker – really be the key to saving Kena? Or will she just die trying?

Review:
A fantasy written from a queer, female perspective that explores race and social justice featuring the common trope of multiple parallel worlds.

The basic plot is an intertwining of two common to fantasy: 1) there’s multiple parallel worlds 2) political intrigue warring societies etc… These are both done to a level I appreciate. They make sense without overwhelming me with world building and pages of explanations of how a society that doesn’t really exist works.

Both of these basic plots are used to explore queer viewpoints, feminism, and race, all through the lens of social justice. How much you’ll enjoy this lens depends upon the reader. I think the queer part is fairly well-done with a broad representation including: bisexual (by name!), lesbian, trans*, and polyamory. I’m not big on polyamory plots but I thought its inclusion in a parallel world made sense and was clearly not written from a perspective intended to purely titillate, rather, the emotional aspects of these relationships was explored. I do think the explorations of race lacked some of the subtlety present in the explorations of queerness. The white Australian girl being thrust into a parallel world where the majority race is black who is guided by another “worldwalker” who similarly fell through but decided to stay because she’s black and this world is better than Thatcher’s England struck me as a bit heavy-handed and overly simplistic. I’m also not sure how I felt about the black character being put into a secondary role as guide. I kept finding myself thinking how I would have preferred to have read her story. (You quickly find out she stayed in the world, gained some power, joined a polyamorous marriage, had a child, and more! What an interesting life!)

All of that said, I don’t often enjoy traditional style non-urban fantasy, and this one did keep me reading and interested. It’s fun to read a book about political intrigue and multiple worlds dominated by women, touched by dragons, and with no male gaze. I doubt I will seek out the second entry in the series, though, because I feel I’ve already got everything out of the story I’m going to get.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: NetGalley

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Book Review: Dinosaur Tales by Ray Bradbury

March 15, 2017 2 comments

Book Review: Dinosaur Tales by Ray BradburySummary:
Dinosaur Tales is a Magnificent Collection of Famous Tales by RAY BRADBURY, One of America’s Best-Loved and Best-Selling Authors. In This Elegantly Designed and Illustrated Book, Bradbury Presents All of His Dinosaur Stories in One Volume! “I have an idea that Bradbury’s work would have given Edgar Allan Poe a peculiar satisfaction to have written them himself.” -Somerset Maugham

Review:
Ray Bradbury clearly loves dinosaurs. This collection of short stories just about dinosaurs was obviously a labor of love. The introduction to the book where Bradbury discusses at length his deep love of dinosaurs and complete disbelief that anyone could possibly not love them is one of the best parts of the book and totally sets the tone. Heck, I love dinosaurs myself but even I found his tone infectious and sent my own love soaring higher than I thought possible.

The collection consists of 5 short stories and a poem. The short stories range from a little boy who wants to be a dinosaur when he grows up to a time-traveling business that obviously goes awry to a lonely sea monster who mistakes a lighthouse for a friend. They alternate between hilarity and bitter-sweet, all touched with pure Americana. In news that surprises no one, the poem was my least favorite but I didn’t hate it (and that’s strong praise for a poem). All of the stories (and poem) are lovingly illustrated by a team of illustrators, with each one receiving its own unique style. It’s definitely a book that I think is well worth owning in print, and it’s taken up residence on my shelf as a reminder that I don’t always dislike short stories. They’ve just gotta be the right ones.

Recommended to dinosaur fans, and to quote Bradbury, who doesn’t love dinosaurs?

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift

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Book Review: He, She and It by Marge Piercy

February 19, 2017 2 comments

Book Review: He, She and It by Marge PiercySummary:
In the middle of the twenty-first century, life as we know it has changed for all time. Shira Shipman’s marriage has broken up, and her young son has been taken from her by the corporation that runs her zone, so she has returned to Tikva, the Jewish free town where she grew up. There, she is welcomed by Malkah, the brilliant grandmother who raised her, and meets an extraordinary man who is not a man at all, but a unique cyborg implanted with intelligence, emotions–and the ability to kill….

Review:
I picked this up because of how incredibly moved I was by Woman on the Edge of Time (review) by the same author. While I found this interesting and unique, it didn’t move me in quite the same way. I imagine it would probably move a reader more if they are Jewish or a mother.

The book is richly steeped in Jewish culture and history. All of Earth is either a slum or run by corporations in basically corporate states except for a few free towns which manage to exist due to their value in trade. Tikva is one of these, and it’s made clear this is partially so because the founders were concerned about maintaining Jewish culture in a world being overcome by just a few corporations. The corporation Shira works at before returning to Tikva judges her in her performance reviews for staying too attached to her home culture, including things like naming her son a traditionally Jewish name. So there is this very interesting thread about how minority cultures can maintain themselves in the face of economic threat and assimilation. When Shira gets a divorce, the corporation grants majority custody to her ex-husband and ultimately essentially full custody when he is sent to work off-world. Overcome with grief, Shira moves home to Tikva. Here we learn that Shira’s grandmother Malkah raised her and see how differently her own mother approaches motherhood than Shira does. This is one of the key threads of the book.

The other key thread is personhood and what makes us human. One of the residents of Tikva has succeeded in making an illegal cyborg. There are periodic chapters where Malkah is telling him the story of the Jewish myth of the Golem (a human-like beast made of clay to protect the Jewish people from persecution. More info). Very clear lines are drawn between the golem and the modern-day cyborg, who was made to protect Tikva and keep it free. Of course people start to have mixed feelings about the cyborg and asking not just what makes him human but also if he can be Jewish? (He himself identifies as Jewish and attends synagogue). I particularly enjoyed that Malkah isn’t just the story teller to the cyborb but she’s also one of the most important and most intelligent programmers in Tikva. The programmers essentially are what keep Tikva free, and an elderly woman is one of the most important ones.

Even though it’s a topic I’ve read a lot in scifi, I always enjoy the exploration of what makes us human and at what point does intelligent technology gain personhood, and the way it was explored here was different from what I’ve seen elsewhere. In particular, I thought the not just female but female Jewish lens was new and great. But I will admit that I had trouble relating to Shira and her struggle with motherhood and types of motherhood. I think motherhood can sometimes be overly thought about and held up on a pedestal in our culture and in feminism too. While mothers who choose to mother differently are acknowledged in the book, women who choose not to mother are not. It’s as if mothering is a natural part of womanhood, and that was not something I felt I could connect to in the book.

Overall, though, this was a wonderfully different take on the scifi exploration of cyborgs and artificial intelligence. Recommended to scifi readers, but particularly to those seeking a Jewish lens or an exploration of motherhood in addition to cyborgs.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Paperbackswap

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